USA

In her much-awaited public testimony before the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said President Bush understood the threat and its importance in advance. "He made clear to me that he did not want to respond to Al Qaeda one attack at a time," she said. "He told me he was 'tired of swatting at flies.'" While offering no apologies for the events of that day and indicating that the US was "not on a war footing" at the time, she also said, "As an officer of government on duty that day, I will never forget the sorrow and the anger I felt."

Against a backdrop of growing violence in Iraq and questions about available US forces, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said Wednesday that more troops could be sent into the conflict and soldiers already there could stay on longer. The continuing rotation of forces there gives the US about 20,000 more troops than would otherwise be available, and "we're taking advantage of that increase," Rumsfeld said. The US command in Iraq has not decided whether, or how, to increase the regular military presence in the country.

The number of people filing new claims for unemployment benefits dropped to its lowest level since Jan. 13, 2001, the week before President Bush's inauguration, the Labor Department reported. Applications for jobless claims for the week ending April 3 declined by a seasonally adjusted 14,000 to 328,000.

Seeking to focus on his economic vision and to counter criticisms that he's a tax-and-spend liberal, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry acknowledged in a "major policy address" Wednesday at Washington's Georgetown University that he'd have to back off certain campaign promises to halve the federal deficit in four years and cap spending at the rate of inflation. He said only spending on homeland security, education, Medicare, and Social Security would be exempt in his plan.

For the first time, the Federal Aviation Administration Wednesday issued a one-year license to a commercial aviator to fly to the edge of the Earth's orbit. Burt Rutan, a competitor in a contest to send humans on a suborbital roundtrip in a reusable craft, secured the license for his rocket-powered-craft group in Mojave, Calif. Rutan's SpaceShipOne is launched from a plane at 50,000 feet.

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