UNITED STATESA planned cutback in the US nuclear weapons arsenal means fewer workers building missile parts, far more people cleaning up from nuclear waste products, and new efforts to develop a few modern production facilities, the Department of Energy says. The consolidation will result in a loss of 4,000 jobs and will save the government $100 million each year by the middle of 1994, Energy Secretary James Watkins said Dec. 16.... Manuel Noriega's lawyers, acting on reports that he cooperated in a US government dru g intelligence program, asked a judge to delay the opening of their defense in the ousted Panamanian dictator's trial. Newly disclosed documents are said to show that the US enlisted Noriega's help in 1983 and 1984 in monitoring flights that brought millions of dollars in cash from Colombia to a Panamanian airstrip. The revelation could greatly bolster Noriega's defense.... Federal thrift regulators have filed a civil suit against Arizona's governor, Fife Symington, accusing him of negligence and self-deali ng during his term as a director of failed Southwest Savings and Loan Association.... Gov. Mario Cuomo, angry at reports that the Republican National Committee plans to open an Albany office if he runs for president, has challenged President Bush to a debate.... Economic woes have cut Bush's job approval rating to 47 percent, the lowest of his presidency, according to an ABC News-Washington Post poll. MIDDLE EAST An Iraqi opposition group said Dec. 17 that the world's highest-ranking Shiite Muslim scholar was gravely ill and accused Iraq of denying him special medical treatment. The Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq said in Beirut Grand Ayatollah Abolaqassem al-Khoei's health had deteriorated since Dec. 13.... The chairman of Israel's Holocaust Memorial Museum has appealed to the national orchestra to abandon plans to lift its 53-year-old ban on music by Richard Wagner, Adolf Hitler's favorite com poser. Yitzhak Arad of the Yad Vashem memorial said Dec. 17 he asked the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra not to play works by the German composer at a Tel Aviv concert on Dec. 27. LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN Uruguay's leftist PIT-CNT labor union confederation said Dec. 16 it would go ahead with threats for a 36-hour general strike starting Dec. 17 to protest President Luis Lacalle's free- market reforms. The group, claims to represent over 300,000 workers.... Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister A. N. R. Robinson conceded defeat Dec. 16 in general elections held 17 months after he survived a bloody attempt to topple his government. His National Alliance for Reconstruction trailed badly behind two opposition pa rties.... Exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said Dec. 16 that the country's current leaders, who took power by overthrowing him in a coup, are responsible so far for the deaths of 2,000 Haitians.