USA

The Bush administration is seeking assurances of political reform and a tightening of curbs on militants in meetings with three Palestinian cabinet ministers Thursday and Friday in Washington. The results of the scheduled sessions with Secretary of State Powell and Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, will be factored into an ongoing administration review of terror attacks on Israel. The delegation, headed by Saeb Erekat, an adviser to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, will discuss aid for Palestinian projects Friday with the deputy director of the US Agency for International Development.

After spending the first night of his month-long summer vacation at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, Bush was in Mississippi Wednesday, where he renewed a pledge to fight corporate scandals at a high school not far from where WorldCom's headquarters are situated. The president, who will mix vacation time with official and political activities, was then scheduled to speak at a $1,000-a-plate fund-raising lunch for Rep. Chip Pickering (R) of Mississippi, and to attend a $25,000-a-ticket fund-raiser for the Republican Party.

The Pentagon has not gained much ground in efforts to improve its intelligence gathering, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld told Pentagon employees Tuesday. "We've not made many strides since I've been here in improving the intelligence take," Rumsfeld said, adding that's why the creation of a high-level Pentagon post to oversee all of the military's spy agencies is essential. Commanders in Afghanistan have repeatedly called for more and better information to help them target Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

Congressional investigators have asked for additional records from Martha Stewart as they widen a probe into the home-decor diva's sale of 4,000 ImClone shares in December, one day before their value plummeted. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has requested some of Stewart's e-mails, records from her business manager, and more information on her phone numbers. Stewart's lawyer said they would do everything possible to comply with the request.

Citing a recent Supreme Court ruling that "appears to invalidate the death penalty scheme in Idaho," the state's high court has thrown out a convicted killer's death sentence. In June, the Supreme Court held that in the sentencing phase of a capital crime, a jury, not the judge, must decide whether aggravating factors are sufficient to warrant execution. The Idaho ruling made no reference to the 21 other inmates on death row.

A coalition of environmental groups is filing suit in San Francisco to prevent the Navy from using a powerful new sonar system that scientists say could injure whales and other marine mammals. The National Marine Fisheries Department last month granted the Navy permission to operate its new low-frequency active sonar system, capable of detecting submarines equipped with "stealth" technology. But environmental experts say the ambient noise levels produced can harm creatures or alter migration or other behaviors vital to their survival.

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