News In Brief

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that if political parties wish to hold open primaries, states may not bar independent voters from casting ballots to determine the parties' nominees. By a 5-to-4 vote, the justices refused to resurrect a 1955 Connecticut law challenged by Republican leaders who sought participation in the party's primaries by unaffiliated voters. Justice Thurgood Marshall, writing for the court, said the law violated the right of free political association guaranteed by the Constitution.

In 1984, the state GOP led by Sen. Lowell Weicker, a moderate Republican with appeal to Democrats and independents, amended its rules to allow independents to cast ballots in the primary for the US Senate and House, governor, and other statewide offices. The rule change conflicted with a 1955 state law barring unaffiliated voters from voting in primaries.

US panel said to check tie on African arms via Israel

An Israeli newspaper reported yesterday that the US Senate Subcommittee on Africa is investigating whether Israel helped the US ship weapons to South Africa or to antigovernment rebels in Angola. The daily Haaretz reported from Washington that the subcommittee will also investigate whether Lt. Col. Oliver North was involved in the alleged arms transfers in contravention of a US arms embargo on South Africa.

Sudan says it has surplus of food; south getting aid

Sudanese Prime Minister Sadiq al-Madhi said Tuesday that his country has a food surplus and will begin exporting, which he acknowledged might seem ``ridiculous'' for a nation in which relief officials say 2 million people face starvation. Famine conditions have been reported in southern Sudan, where rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army have been fighting the government since 1983.

Mr. Mahdi said access routes to southern Sudan that had were cut by rebels had been reopened and food supplies are getting through. ``River, rail, road, and air routes have been reopened and food ... is being stockpiled in these areas,'' he said. ``We do not think the situation has normalized in the south, but it has improved immensely.''

Philippine truce takes effect without incident

The first nationwide cease-fire of the 17-year communist rebellion began on schedule yesterday, with no reports of violations and President Corazon Aquino expressing hope for a ``longer and honorable peace.'' Government negotiator Teofisto Guingona, appearing with a rebel counterpart, declared the 60-day truce in force at noon.

3rd-quarter trade deficit in US tallied at new peak

The US foreign trade deficit totaled $37.7 billion from July to September, the largest three-month imbalance in history, the government reported yesterday. The Commerce Department said the deficit for the third quarter of the year was up 5.6 percent from the $35.7 billion shortfall posted in the second quarter. The new report confirmed parallel figures released earlier which showed a $43.9 billion deficit for the third quarter.

The discrepancy exists because yesterday's report on trade on a ``balance-of-payments'' basis omits such factors as military sales and the cost of shipping and insurance.

Honduran troops enter area left by Nicaraguans

Honduran soldiers began moving into a border area yesterday reportedly abandoned by Nicaraguan forces after six days of fighting. The Honduran high command said late Tuesday that Sandinista troops still held four small villages in the area but that most of the Nicaraguan force had withdrawn. Honduras claimed that a force of between 800 and 2,500 Sandinistas crossed the border last Thursday. The Sandinista soldiers began their retreat, the government said, after some 3,000 Honduran soldiers were airlifted into the area aboard US helicopters.

Moscow `Rights Day': stonewalling

The Soviet public-relations machine moved sharply into reverse Wednesday at a press conference called to commemorate International Human Rights Day. A battery of officials, including Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Mikhail Kapitsa, met journalists, clearly hoping to push their idea of a human rights conference in Moscow, which was first raised last month in Vienna. Instead, they were faced with questions on Anatoly Marchenko, the human rights activist whose death in prison was announced Tuesday; on Andrei Sakharov; and on Jewish emigration. The officials replied with one-liners and sarcasm.

The first question was on Mr. Sakharov. Did the government plan to make his exile permanent, or was there a chance he might be released sometime next year? The answer, by Vsevolod Sofinsky of the Department for Humanitarian Affairs, was short: ``There is no such thing as permanence in this world, but the temporary is the most permanent.''

The next question was on Mr. Marchenko. The Foreign Ministry's deputy spokesman, Boris Pyadishev, reached for a piece of paper. ``Anatoly Marchenko, born in 1938, died of illness. ... That's all I can say.''

A Dutchman got little further with a question on new emigration procedures. Vladimir Plechko of the Consular Department answered, ``I'm a little surprised that a representative of Holland for some reason or other is discussing the question of emigration to Israel.'' One European newsman said he was reminded of ``the bad old days,'' when every question was considered an attack on the system.

Iran-contra update. Casey claims he didn't know

CIA Director William Casey denied in a congressional hearing yesterday that he had any direct knowledge of profits from arms sales to Iran being diverted to Nicaragua's contras. Mr. Casey testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he had no knowledge of the Iran-contra connection until told of it by Attorney General Edwin Meese III. Among other developments yesterday:

The Democratic chairman and ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee disagreed yesterday on whether to seek legal immunity for two former National Security Council officials.

Rep. William Broomfield (R) of Michigan said Vice-Adm. John Poindexter and Lt. Col. Oliver North ``deserve immunity'' from prosecution for their actions. ``We can't have a prolonged investigation on this entire Iran initiative,'' he said. But committee chairman Dante Fascell (D) of Florida said he is ``certainly not ready to do that right now.'' He said the committee should not ``rush out there immediately to get their testimony before an independent prosecutor has been named....''

A Swiss Justice Ministry spokesman said the US has not yet supplied documentation necessary to support its request that Swiss banking secrecy be lifted in the US probe of arms sales to Iran, leaving one of the two bank accounts in question free for further transactions.

The former director of Israel's Foreign Ministry, David Kimche, convinced Robert McFarlane, then US national-security adviser, in July 1985 that it was time to explore a possible thaw in relations with Iran, the Jerusalem Post reported. The Post said Mr. McFarlane testified that Mr. Kimche brought him proof that Iran's attitude toward the United States had shifted. The newspaper said that by July 1985, McFarlane favored an approach to Iran, but Secretary of State George Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger were opposed to it.

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