USA

Shortly before departing Sunday on a crucial Middle East peace mission, Secretary of State Powell once again spelled out President Bush's demand that Israel withdraw its troops from Palestinian cities in the West Bank and that Yasser Arafat call publicly for a halt to violence. On the Sunday morning news circuit, Powell said he would spend "whatever time and effort" is necessary to ease the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, but added he did not expect to leave the region with a peace treaty or even a ceasefire in place. He expects to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as early as Thursday, though a meeting with Palestinian leader Arafat will take place "if circumstances permit," Powell said.

The crisis in the Middle East was also on the agenda at the weekend summit between Bush and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, with the US leader interrupting a session Saturday afternoon to speak with Sharon by telephone. However, the talks at the President's ranch near Crawford, Texas, were dominated by another Middle Eastern country – Iraq. In a joint news conference, the close allies on Saturday vowed to tackle Saddam Hussein over the threat he poses with weapons of mass destruction, saying inaction is not an option. Bush explicitly reiterated he wanted Saddam removed from power.

A plan calling on Congress to overhaul the operations of the post office includes such possibilities as closing some offices, phasing in price increases, and cutting back on six-days-a-week delivery. Facing rising costs and shrinking business, the Postal Service lost $1.6 billion last year. Failure to make fundamental changes would force it to operate under its "present increasingly outmoded business model until enough customers abandon the system to make financial failure unavoidable," the Postal Service said in the proposal released Friday.

Amtrak, citing potential help from Congress, has backed away from its threat to issue notices that would allow it to cut its long-distance train network as early as this fall. Instead, in letters to the governors of the 46 states it serves, the railroad sent an update about its continuing quest to win $1.2 billion in federal funds for the upcoming fiscal year.

An American-born man captured by US forces in Afghanistan has been transferred from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the US Navy base at Norfolk, Va., where he is being held in an isolated cell. Pentagon and Justice Department officials have yet to decide on the legal status of the prisoner, Yasser Esam Hamdi, who was seized with Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters following the November prison uprising at Mazar-e-Sharif. Justice Department officials found a birth certificate to back up Hamdi's claim that he was born in Baton Rouge, La., where his Saudi parents worked.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) officials were expecting space shuttle Atlantis to roar into orbit today, following delays caused by a major fuel leak. The leak of highly volatile hydrogen from a 16-inch pipe, part of a system that feeds super-cold liquid hydrogen and oxygen into the orbiter, was discovered Thursday. NASA blamed the problem on "cryoshock," the sudden contraction of the pipe when exposed to cold hydrogen.

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