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Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was authorized by his cabinet to reopen discussions with the US on the vital status-of-forces pact. A spokesman said "essential amendments" to the deal were proposed by some cabinet ministers, although not all would be subject to negotiation. If approved by parliament, the agreement would keep American forces in Iraq through 2011. If legislators don't OK it by Dec. 31, there would be no legal basis for the US to continue operating there.

An American school and cultural center in Damascus were ordered closed by Syria's government after reports that a US air raid on a border village last weekend killed an Al Qaeda operative known to be funneling militants into Iraq. Syria has said eight civilians also died in the raid. The Bush administration hasn't confirmed what would be the first US military strike inside Syria since the Iraq war began in 2003. Iraq's government joined in condemning the raid Tuesday, saying its soil is not to be used for attacks on neighbors.

A new naval base on the Strait of Hormuz has been opened, Iran's state-run radio said Tuesday, claiming it will allow any "nonregional enemy" to be blocked from entering the vital Persian Gulf. The 21-mile-wide strait is the only water passage to the Indian Ocean for petroleum-exporting nations along the Gulf, such as Iraq, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. Tankers carry about 40 percent of the world's crude through it each year.

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With some of its harshest language in years, North Korea warned Tuesday that its forces would turn rival South Korea into "debris" unless a pattern of "confrontational" activities ends. South Korean activists have angered the North by sending tens of thousands of leaflets critical of its communist regime across the border by balloon. The North also has complained of comments about leader Kim Jong Il's health made by South Korea's Defense Minister.

Members of parliament in Israel agreed on Feb. 10 as the date for a new national election. The vote became necessary after Prime Minister-designate Tzipi Livni halted efforts to put together a ruling coalition, saying prospective partners had made "impossible" demands in exchange for joining her Kadima party.

A special week-long conference of Tibetan exiles has been called for mid-November by the Dalai Lama to discuss new strategies for confronting China over the issue of autonomy, sources said. The 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner said last weekend he'd "given up" on efforts at dialogue aimed at convincing Chinese leaders that autonomy for Tibet is necessary to preserve its Buddhist culture. He told supporters, "There hasn't been any positive response."

An agent of Interpol, the global police network, has told prosecutors that he relayed classified details of antidrug operations in Mexico to traffickers from inside the US Embassy there. Embassy spokesmen wouldn't comment on the matter, but security experts called it the worst compromising of law enforcement in Mexico in years. It surfaced less than a week after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in Mexico City to discuss a $400 million drug-fighting initiative with Central American leaders.

Radical clerics and other extremists will have to renounce their views publicly or they'll be refused entry to Britain, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced Tuesday. In some cases, the names of persons who are excluded will be made public and shared with other governments, she said. Critics called the new policy a "gimmick" that would not apply to extremists already operating in Britain or to those "preaching hate" via the Internet.

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