In his first news conference as President-elect of Iran, landslide winner Mahmoud Ahmad-inejad vowed to keep his country on the course of "peaceful nuclear technology" and said relations with the US aren't necessary to its "path of progress." Ahmadinejad, the hard-line mayor of Tehran, easily defeated former President Hashemi Rafsanjani last Friday in a runoff, largely by attracting votes of the poor and unemployed. Analysts around the Middle East said they thought Ahmadinejad's victory would have a negative effect on Iranian relations with its neighbors. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said the international community "more than before" must formulate a unified and stern policy toward Iran.

Senior US officials in Iraq held secret discussions with the leaders of "several" resistance groups as recently as two weeks ago, The Sunday Times (London) reported. It said one of the groups involved was Ansar al-Sunnah, which exploded a bomb in the dining hall of a US military base last Christmas, killing 22 people. The newspaper cited a Pentagon "representative" as saying he was ready "to listen to demands and grievances," among them a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. Asked about the report Sunday, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said: "I would not make a big deal out of it. Meetings go on frequently with people."

US and Afghan forces won a promise from tribal leaders to help track down remnants of the Taliban following heavy fighting last week that killed as many as 178 rebels. Fifty-six others were captured, an Afghan spokesman said, although about 80 others are believed still to be hiding in a mountainous area near the southern border with Pakistan.

At least 25 government soldiers were killed and 18 others were reported missing in clashes with communist rebels in Colombia Saturday - the worst one-day casualty count since President Alvaro Uribe came to power three years ago vowing to crush the insurgency. An Army commander said his unit had been ambushed by up to 300 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in a region known for cocaine production.

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