World

Grudging endorsement of the American plan for dividing postwar Iraq came from European Union foreign ministers meeting in Greece. But Germany's Joschka Fischer and France's Dominique de Villepin said the US plan for a stabilization force that excludes the EU does not diminish their wish for the UN to play the key role in rebuilding Iraq and only "widens the number of countries on the ground." It calls for Britain and Poland to control two Iraqi zones and for the US to take a third, with Danish, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Bulgarian, and Ukrainian troops also serving. Speaking for the EU ministers, Greece's George Papandreou said, "... yes, there is a crisis, or at least a problem" in their relationship with the US over Iraq.

Saying, "This time will be decisive," Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced agreement to resume diplomatic relations with rival Pakistan and to attempt new negotiations on the bitter divisions between them. The move also calls for resumption of talks on commercial aviation links. Pakistan's Information Ministry promised reciprocal gestures in the near future. But analysts said the dispute over Kashmir and "what postures are adopted by both countries" would remain the keys to success.

In a first for the space program, two US astronauts and their Russian colleague returned to Earth aboard a Soyuz module that landed 300 miles off-target in a barren region of Kazakhstan. The errant landing triggered an intense search for the men by spotter planes. Their mission aboard the International Space Station was prolonged because of the shuttle Columbia disaster Feb. 1.

Only essential staffers remained aboard four offshore oil rigs in Nigeria after a 15-day hostage drama ended peacefully. Seventeen Americans were among the 97 foreign nationals held by some of their Nigerian co-workers, and both groups were evacuated by helicopters or naval boats. The cause of the standoff, a demand by the Nigerians that the US company operating the rigs provide transportation by air instead of by boat, was to be addressed at a later date.

Muslim rebels overran a town in the southern Philippines, killing at least 22 people, most of them soldiers stationed at a battalion headquarters. Dozens of others were wounded in fierce fighting, and the rebels fled with four hostages. The separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front acknowledged conducting the raid, saying, "We hit where the enemy is weak."

Under fire for its delay in releasing information on the SARS infection, China's government took the unprecedented step of announcing a submarine accident that killed all 70 seamen aboard "recently." It was blamed on a mechanical malfunction during an exercise in the Yellow Sea. Foreign experts in submarine warfare said such an accident would be unusual if, as reported, the vessel was able to be recovered.

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