USA

In a clear sign that war with Iraq is edging closer, President Bush met with congressional leaders, reviewed battle plans with his national security team, consulted allies, and received an envoy carrying an antiwar plea from the Vatican. The war plans were presented by Gen. Tommy Franks, who will lead the expected attack. Officials said US forces planned to drop 10 times the number of bombs in the opening days of the air campaign than they did in the first Gulf war. Meanwhile, Cardinal Pio Laghi was to relay the pope's admonition.

The Supreme Court ruled that states may put pictures of convicted sex offenders on the Internet without unconstitutionally punishing them twice. The justices also turned back a challenge from offenders who argued that they deserve an opportunity to prove they aren't dangerous so as to avoid having such information put on the Internet.

The Supreme Court also upheld long sentences meted out under the US's toughest three-time offender law, ruling that a prison term of 25 years-to-life is not too harsh for a thief who shop-lifted golf clubs. California's three-strikes law does not lead to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment, the high court said.

The Bush administration's push for substantial tax cuts is based on a belief that the economy badly needs a boost despite the possibility of war and rising deficits, Treasury Secretary Snow said. "Whether there's a war or not, I think we have to keep focused on the basics of the American economy," he told ABC's "Good Morning America." The proposed cuts are expected to cost more than $1.57 trillion over the coming decade.

The US sent 24 long-range bombers to a base within reach of North Korea and said it will formally protest the communist nation's "reckless actions" in using jet fighters to intercept a surveillance plane last Sunday. Shifting the bombers to Guam was described "as a prudent gesture to bolster our defense posture" and as "a deterrent," by a Pentagon spokesman.

A spray of molten aluminum found on much of Columbia's debris bolsters the theory that the shuttle was destroyed last month by hot gases that penetrated a damaged spot on one wing, investigators said. The melted aluminum is present on both sides of the spacecraft, especially the left.

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