USA

President Bush has placed the war against terrorism and disarming Iraq at the top of his agenda for the coming year. In his weekly radio address, Bush on Saturday said his agenda also includes turning the economic recovery into sustained growth. He claimed his administration was responsible for improvements in the sputtering economy, highlighting congressional passage of new trade promotion legislation, passage of an economic stimulus bill, laws against corporate fraud, and terrorism insurance legislation. (

As proof of the president's resolve to act against Iraq, thousands of troops and dozens of warships are being ordered to the Persian Gulf, defense officials say. Since Christmas, the Pentagon has been alerting units at home and abroad about their deployments. Secretary of State Powell told NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that Bush has not yet made a decision on using force. The US, he said, is positioning itself militarily for whatever may be required.

Saudi Arabia has assured US officials in private that American forces can launch air-support missions from Saudi air bases and use an operations center there in the event of war with Iraq, media reports said. Publicly, Saudi officials have been noncommittal about aiding US military operations and have at times issued contradictory statements.

Federal unemployment benefits for nearly 800,000 Americans ended Saturday, touching off a wave of criticism on Bush and the GOP. Democrats and union leaders accuse the president and his party of inaction on the issue. Despite Democratic efforts, Congress left for the year without extending benefits to the unemployed workers. Another 95,000 will exhaust their state benefits each week from now on.

Motivated by some of the lowest mortgage rates in decades, home shoppers turned into buyers and propelled new-home sales in November to their highest monthly level on record. Sales of new single-family homes clocked in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.07 million last month, representing a 5.7 percent jump from October's level, the Commerce Department reported. Despite economic uncertainties, new-home sales are on track for their best-ever year.

Scientists offered skepticism and ethicists expressed concern at a company's claim that it has cloned a human. Clonaid chief executive Brigitte Boisselier said at a press conference in Florida Friday that the cloned baby girl had been born at an undisclosed location to unidentified parents. Cloning experts say they need to see DNA evidence - like that done in criminal cases - to verify the claim. But the company, linked to the Raelian religious group, has so far produced no such proof.

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