USA

Congressional leaders said they will push for a compromise within 48 hours on an economic stimulus package after President Bush paved the way by agreeing to scale back his proposed corporate and individual tax cuts and increase federal assistance to the unemployed. After a breakfast meeting at the White House, Speaker Dennis Hastert (above, center) said "everything's negotiable at this point." Republicans and Democrats acknowledged they were closer to a deal, but major differences remained over plans to boost economic growth.

At the same meeting, Bush informed the leaders of his decision to withdraw the US from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, Senate majority leader Tom Daschle said. Russia's Interfax news agency reported diplomatic sources in Moscow were expecting an announcement today. Although it is unclear how the move will impact bilateral relations, it will give the Pentagon the green light to conduct missile-defense tests outlawed by the treaty.

Setting the stage for a major legislative battle next year, the Bush administration asked Congress to increase the government's borrowing limit to $6.7 trillion. Treasury Secretary O'Neill told legislators that disaster recovery and assistance efforts after the Sept. 11 attacks, the war on terrorism, and resulting negative effects on the economy meant the current debt limit of $5.95 trillion could be reached as soon as February.

Investigators in Afghanistan have been told by captured Taliban fighter John Walker that Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda organization plans a biological attack on the US before the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Sunday, reports said. Walker was said to have told them it would be the second phase of a three-phase plan, the third resulting "in the destruction of the entire country." Meanwhile, the nation's response to bioterrorism moved to the forefront on Capitol Hill with the House pushing a $2.9 billion package that boosts vaccine stockpiles and protects food and water supplies. The bill had yet been to be voted on as the Monitor went to press.

The US trade deficit fell to $94.98 billion in the third quarter, the smallest in almost two years, reflecting an economy in recession and huge payments by foreign insurers because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Commerce Department said the deficit in the current account dropped by 11.7 percent from a second-quarter imbalance of $107.58 billion.

Federal indictments accused 69 foreign nationals working at Salt Lake City's International Airport of using false immigration and Social Security documents to get jobs that gave them access to restricted areas. US attorney for Utah Paul Warner said that although there were no known links to terrorism, the indictments still were important to national security because such people had left themselves open to blackmail.

Compiled from wire service reports by Robert Kilborn and Steven Savides

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