American forces surrounded the restive Sunni triangle town of Samarra, battering through the gates of homes and doors of workshops in one of their most aggressive searches for terrorist insurgents. The sweep followed the arrest of a suspected insurgent chief and 78 others there Tuesday, all of them inside a building where they appeared to be planning attacks. Meanwhile, in Tokyo, reports said an advance group of Japanese troops would leave for Iraq next week - the nation's first dispatch of military personnel to a combat zone since World War II.

The State Department offered free flights home to all its nonessential diplomats in Saudi Arabia and the families of all US Embassy personnel in the capital, Riyadh. All other Americans in the kingdom were advised to consider leaving. An embassy spokeswoman cited no specific security threat, but terrorist attacks in Riyadh alone have killed more than 50 people since May, nine of them Americans. A Saudi analyst called the timing of the advisory "odd" in view of the fact that the kingdom has been calm since a crackdown on terrorism began there more than a month ago.

Saying, "The answer is affirmative," Russian President Vladimir Putin told a nationally televised meeting with ordinary citizens that he'll seek reelection next March. But he appeared to discourage the widely held view that he wants to rule even longer, telling a questioner "I disapprove" of amending the Constitution to make more than two terms possible.

In a new attempt to resolve one of the world's most dangerous disputes, Pakistan's president offered to drop a demand for a referendum in Kashmir on whether his country or India should control the state. Pervez Musharraf said, "Both sides need to talk with each other [about Kashmir] with flexibility, meeting halfway somewhere." Pakistan has demanded such a vote, to be sponsored by the UN, for more than 50 years. The rivals have been making conciliatory gestures toward each other in recent months, and Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee both are expected to attend a conference on regional cooperation in less than three weeks.

After two months of promising to do so, Iran signed an agreement allowing UN inspectors wide access to its nuclear facilities. Vice president Gholamreza Aghazadeh said his government wanted "to demonstrate that our nuclear activities are peaceful." The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency criticized the Tehran regime last month for an 18-year cover-up of potentially arms-related nuclear research and warned of possible UN sanctions if it continued.

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