The Bush administration has not yet decided to "exercise a military option" to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said Tuesday. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a second day of hearings on the matter. The panel's chairman, Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware, said he believes President Bush is "nowhere near to making a hard decision as to when and how" to invade Iraq.

In a possible thaw in relations with North Korea, Secretary of State Powell met briefly with the Pyongyang government's foreign minister, telling him, "We should stay in touch and see how to pursue our dialogue." Powell conveyed that the US wants to discuss arms proliferation and North Korea's commitments not to develop nuclear weapons in return for US aid, the State Department said. The chat occurred on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations conference in Brunei.

The Senate failed to approve a proposal to provide prescription drug benefits for Medicare recipients, in its fourth such attempt in a week. Democrats tried to add an amendment to a bill that would make it easier to bring generic drugs to market. That measure was expected to pass, but the proposal to spend $390 billion over 10 years to help impoverished senior citizens pay high drug bills fell 10 votes shy of the 60 needed for approval.

Authorities warned 17,000 residents in southwest Oregon to be ready to flee on 30 minutes notice, as two wildfires threaten to merge. One, near the Illinois Valley, has consumed 145,000 acres; the other 35,000 acres.

Economic growth slowed in the second quarter to an annual rate of 1.1 percent, the Commerce Department reported. That's far below the 2.2 percent gross domestic product growth many analysts expected. GDP, which measures the total value of goods and services, grew at a revised 5 percent rate in the first three months of this year.

The Justice Department has joined an investigation into AOL Time Warner's accounting practices, the online and media company said, confirming a report in USA Today. The Securities and Exchange Commission already was looking into whether AOL may have inflated revenues during its 2000-2001 takeover of Time Warner. The company has said its accounting met generally accepted principles and was approved by auditor Ernst and Young.

Despite the rescue efforts of hundreds of volunteers, 56 pilot whales died after repeated beachings on Cape Cod, Mass. Marine experts euthanized the last 31 animals in the pod Tuesday night after they became stranded near the town of Eastham in the third such incident in two days.

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