USA

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, whose last full day in office will be Dec. 17, paid a surprise farewell visit to US troops in Iraq Saturday. He used his 15th trip to the country to express appreciation to the soldiers as well as their families. A day earlier, in saying his goodbyes at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld defended his oft-criticized record in Iraq and Afghanistan and said the worst day of his nearly six-year tenure occurred when he learned of the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal.

The US will sit down with North Korea and four other nations beginning either Dec. 16 or 18, according to media sources, to reconvene long-delayed talks aimed at halting the latter's nuclear arms development. North Korea, which exploded a nuclear device and tested a long-range missile earlier this year, has stayed away from the talks for more than a year. The other nations involved in the negotiations are Russia, China, Japan, and South Korea.

US Rep. William Jefferson (D) of Louisiana, an eight-term incumbent under investigation by the FBI for bribery, easily prevailed over Democratic challenger and state Rep. Karen Carter in Saturday's runoff election. Although Jefferson was forced into the runoff by failing to win at least half the vote in a multiparty primary, he received 57 percent of the vote this time, compared with 43 percent for Carter, who sought to become the first black woman from Louisiana elected to Congress. Jefferson is the state's first black congressman since Reconstruction.

Next spring's anticipated postage-rate increase may be delayed following Senate legislation passed Saturday. The measure lifts a pension financial obligation off the shoulders of the Postal Service, which has been required to pay retirement benefits to workers for time spent in the armed forces. The Treasury will now make these payments, which amount to $3 billion annually. The bill now goes to the president.

Ford Motor Co. continues its downsizing efforts Monday by offering buyout offers to an unspecified number of white-collar workers. The company's goal is to trim about one-third of its salaried employees, or 14,000 jobs, this year. Involuntary cuts could be made if enough workers don't accept buyout offers by Jan. 5. Last month, 38,000 unionized employees, or about half the hourly workforce, agreed to accept buyouts or early retirement.

Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith was the runaway winner Saturday of the Heisman Trophy, awarded by a vote of the sports media to the nation's best collegiate football player. Smith, whose team has been ranked No. 1 all season, accepted the award in New York at a nationally televised presentation.

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