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A proposal that would offer North Korea security guarantees without the need for a nuclear deterrent was being promoted by Russia's government - in addition to any concessions the US might make when six-way talks open Aug. 27. The proposal surfaced after the Pyongyang regime reissued a demand for a nonaggression treaty with the US in return for abandoning its nuclear weapons program. As a precondition to the talks, the North also said it would require diplomatic relations with the US. Only those, it said, would prove that the US has ended its "hostile policy" toward the North. The Bush administration has said written security guarantees could perhaps emerge from the talks, but a treaty requiring congressional approval would not.

The rebels holding the port district and other key sections of Liberia's capital said they'd pull back from the city by midday Friday "for reasons of humanity." The pledge prompted new hopes by residents of Monrovia that food aid would flow through the port freely, with a senior UN relief official saying the "situation of the ground is very desperate here." Meanwhile, US military jets were expected to begin patroling the skies over the war-torn country "within a few hours," interim President Moses Blah said.

None of the Al Qaeda members in Iran's custody may be interviewed by agents of the US government, President Mohamad Khatami said. Iran has said it is holding more than a dozen Al Qaeda members - among them the older son of Osama bin Laden - in "safe houses." Khatami said the government would "have no problem" extraditing any who are Saudi nationals to their home country.

At least 62 people died in one of the worst days of violence in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime two years ago. In what a local commander said was the "most serious of all" attacks by regrouped Taliban forces in Khost Province bordering Pakistan, Army units were mopping up pockets of resistance after fighting that killed 20 people, five of them border police. In a neighboring province, suspicion fell on the Taliban for a bomb that destroyed a bus, killing 15 others. The other fatalities came in fighting between forces loyal to rival warlords and in the explosion of a bomb being built by students in the capital, Kabul.

Hopes rose for lasting ethnic peace in the Solomon Islands after a notorious militant leader surrendered to Australian soldiers. Harold Keke will be investigated for murder. He reportedly has boasted of killing a government minister and that six missionaries seized by his followers on the island of Guadalcanal died while in custody. Last month, Keke's rival, Jimmy Rasta of the Malaita Eagle Force, said his loyalists would surrender their weapons in exchange for amnesty.

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