USA

Setting up a possible showdown over Iraq at the UN Security Council meeting, Secretary of State Powell indicated he would challenge France and Germany for seeking more time for UN arms inspections. More than 150,000 US troops will be in the Persian Gulf by Saturday, a number US military officials said is sufficient to launch an attack if President Bush so orders. And more troops, like these at Fort Campbell, Ky., are preparing for deployment. At stops Thursday in Jacksonville, Fla., President Bush sought to rally support for action on Iraq and for his $1.3 trillion tax cut plan. (Stories, pages 1, 2, 6; related opinion, page 11.)

In sharp contrast to its stance on Iraq, the Bush administration won't call for UN sanctions against North Korea, US Deputy Ambassador Richard Williamson said. North Korea has stated it would regard sanctions as an act of war. Williamson's comment came a day after a Senate hearing in which CIA director George Tenet said the Pyongyang government "probably" has one or two nuclear devices and another intelligence official said it has developed, but not tested, a missile capable of reaching the US West Coast.

The House was voting on a $396 billion spending bill, with the Senate expected to follow soon, after their respective Republican leaders agreed on a compromise package. The measure lumps together 11 spending bills left over from last year and includes $3.1 billion in new drought aid for farmers.

Up to two more inches of rain was forecast for California, a day after record downpours caused mudslides, power outages, flooded streets, and roof collapses in the south of the state. Several area motorists were rescued from vehicles stalled in floods.

Retail sales fell 0.9 percent in January, fueled by a steep 7.5 percent drop in car and truck purchases, the Commerce Department reported. While the decline was the biggest in four months, analysts noted that excluding the volatile auto sector, retail sales rose by 1.3 percent.

In what is being hailed as a milestone for professional golf as well as for her own career, Annika Sorenstam accepted an invitation to test her skills against male players in the Colonial Invitational Tournament in May outside Fort Worth, Texas. Sorenstam, who is Swedish and whose impact on the women's professional tour often has been compared to that of Tiger Woods, will be the first female to play in a PGA Tour event since Babe Didricksen Zaharias in 1945.

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