An announcement is expected Monday on the resumption of six-way negotiations over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, reports said. The Kyodo news agency quoted Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso as saying the talks probably would begin Feb. 8 in Beijing. Russia's Foreign Ministry put the new date at Feb. 5. The latest round ended without a breakthrough in December. Meanwhile, the North's government denied allegations published last week in the Daily Telegraph (London) that it is helping Iran to prepare for an underground nuclear test.
Nuclear power officials in Iran quickly contradicted the claim by a senior member of parliament that 3,000 new centrifuges were being installed at the nation's Natanz facility. Asked to explain the discrepancy, the Foreign Ministry said it was "a technical matter." Even the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has concluded that the centrifuges, used in enriching uranium, are ready for installation. Meanwhile, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, IAEA chief Mohammad ElBaradei proposed a face-saving solution to Iran's confrontation with the West over its nuclear program. He said Iran should halt the enrichment of uranium at the same time "the international community" takes "a time-out" in implementing the sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council.
Delegates from 30 nations agreed to resume "full-scale activity" for a new global free-trade agreement. None, however, offered concessions that could be seen as a breakthrough to end the deadlock that caused suspension of the talks last July. Analysts said it is not clear, for example, how far the US can go in cutting back its system of farm subsidies. Agricultural exports remain the most politically charged issue in reaching a free-trade deal.
In a move long seen as unthinkable, the leaders of Sinn Fein recommended to party members Sunday that they accept the legitimacy of Northern Ireland's police force. A vote on the matter was expected later in the day at a special conference in Dublin. If, as expected, a majority votes "yes," it would be seen as a landmark in the peace process in Northern Ireland and could help to end the political stalemate with Protestants, analysts said. Sinn Fein is the Catholic party allied with the Irish Republican Army. Acceptance of the police, who are dominated by Protestants, is the key concession asked of Catholics if Northern Ireland's power-sharing, self-rule government is to be reinstituted. Approval, however, would be contingent on Protestants agreeing to transfer Northern Ireland's justice system to local control by May of next year.
New worries arose in Somalia over the government's ability to maintain control as suspected remnants of the ousted Islamist militia attacked police stations in the capital, Mogadishu. Witnesses said at least two people were killed and seven others were hurt. Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi, whose troops helped to oust the Islamists, warned that they had the capacity to regroup unless Somalia's government and rival clans reconcile their political differences.
Union leaders called off the 18-day general strike in Guinea after winning agreement from President Lansana Conte to name a new prime minister with strong executive powers and to lower the prices of fuel and rice. Conte also agreed to crack down on corruption. No details were provided, however, on when or how the new prime minister will be selected. Fifty-nine people were killed during the strike when security forces turned on anti-Conte demonstrators.
Three Tamil rebel boats penetrated a "high security zone" outside Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, and were sunk by government forces, the Defense Ministry said Sunday. It said the pilots had ignored orders to stop and that one of the craft "experienced a large explosion" when hit by gunfire from a Navy vessel, leading to suspicion that a suicide attack was planned. Colombo has not been hit by the rebels since April 1996.