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EUROPESoviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said yesterday his government would soon begin discussions with Cuba on withdrawing 11,000 Soviet troops from the island. US Secretary of State James Baker III, in Moscow, immediately hailed the news. Baker also reiterated the Bush administration's cautious approach on granting US financial assistance to the Soviet Union until viable economic plans are formulated. Gorbachev is pressing for aid to help his people make it through the winter. Baker met with both Gorbachev and Russian Republic President Boris Yeltsin and also discussed nuclear policy and pending military treaties with new Soviet Foreign Minister Boris Pankin, who offered assurances that Moscow would fulfill its international obligations, including those on arms control. German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher said yesterday in Moscow that Soviet officials had never been so ready for arms reductions and that the West must seize the opportunity while it lasted. In another first, Baker was to meet today w ith the new chief of the KGB, Vadim Bakatin.... Albania has filed a formal protest with Yugoslavia over what it said was the cold-blooded killing of three Albanian border guards - who Tirana said had mistakenly strayed over the border - by Yugoslav border troops. Belgrade radio said the Albanians were armed, refused to heed warnings, and were trying to smuggle weapons into Kosovo, Yugoslavia's ethnic Albanian province.

MIDDLE EAST In the latest signs of a hostage breakthrough, the head of the South Lebanon Army, an Israeli-backed militia, yesterday said the group was releasing 51 Arab prisoners. Gen. Antoine Lahd also said that Israel had earlier handed the bodies of nine Lebanese to the Red Cross.... UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar met Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati yesterday for talks on the plight of Western hostages.

UNITED STATES Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, a conservative black, said he would not forget growing up in poverty and segregation if approved to serve on the powerful court. His background, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee, which began hearings on his nomination Tuesday, would make him a fair, decent Supreme Court judge. He declined, however, to discuss specific issues, such as abortion, although he said he believes the Constitution guarantees the right to privacy.

LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN Guatemala yesterday opened diplomatic relations for the first time with neighboring Belize in the latest move to end its four-century-old dispute with the former British colony. Since the 16th century, Guatemala has claimed parts of Belize. Britain still keeps troops in Belize. Guatemalan officials say the dispute will probably be settled according to international law.

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