The first working session of Iraq's newly elected parliament will convene not later than Saturday, senior legislators said, once its Shiite and Kurdish blocs sign an agreement on the role of Islam and on the status of the vital oil center of Kirkuk. The lawmakers' chief responsibility will be to decide on a prime minister and president, but also the key cabinet posts of defense, finance, and oil minister. The Jan. 30 elections gave the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance 140 of the 275 seats in parliament, to 75 for the Kurds.

Signs of softening appeared in the ranks of Lebanon's anti-Syria movement, as the opposition leader in parliament said he no longer seeks the resignation of President Emile Lahoud. Walid Jumblatt said he now wants reappointed pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karami to form a new government so that elections for parliament can begin on time next month. Jumblatt previously had rejected all overtures to join a "unity" government. He said, however, "After we win the elections ... I will then advise President Lahoud to step down and there will be a new regime."

In its most conciliatory statement in weeks, North Korea's regime indicated it was prepared to join six-way negotiations over its nuclear weapons program "if conditions are mature." In Beijing for consultations with China's leaders, North Korean Premier Pak Pong-ju, however, said his government had followed through on its threat to "boost" its nuclear arsenal. His remarks followed by a day Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's declaration that the US would have to "consider other means" if the North continued to prevaricate over rejoining the negotiations.

A second West Bank city was under Palestinian control Tuesday after Israeli forces pulled back, and a third appeared on schedule to follow next week. Commanders for each side shook hands outside Tulkarm before the Israelis ended an almost 4-1/2-year presence under terms of a deal that requires the Palestinians to keep terrorists in check. Tulkarm is on the line between Israel and the West Bank, as is Qalqilya, which is expected to be handed over next week. The Palestinian Authority assumed responsibility for Jericho, farther east, a week ago.

Antigovernment protesters scorned a new assertion by Kyrgyzstan President Askar Akayev that the nation's disputed parliamentary election was legitimate. The dissidents, who have seized the No. 2 city, Osh, said they'd compromise with Akayev only on his safety once he resigns. Akayev has ruled for 14 years. He has pledged to step down when his term ends in October. But the opposition worries that he may use his majority in parliament to amend the Constitution so he can remain in power.

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