In a mission that took only 12 hours, Iran's senior negotiator won the backing of China for the fight to keep his nation's nuclear program from being referred to the UN Security Council for the possible imposition of sanctions. Ali Larijani told journalists in Beijing that the views of both governments "are extremely close on ... the nuclear question" and that China is opposed to bringing the issue before the Security Council. China sits on both the council, where it holds veto power, and on the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which would have to refer the question. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said sanctions would "only complicate matters." On Wednesday, the Bush administration repeated its contention that it has enough support among other IAEA members to refer Iran's nuclear program to the council.

Amid the controversy over its nuclear ambitions, Iran also sought US compliance in resuming direct commercial air service between the two countries. Iranian airliners have been barred from the US since diplomatic relations were broken off following the 1979 Islamic revolution. The chief of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization said the request was made because the large population of Iranian exiles in the US has "repeatedly complained" about the time lost in making connecting flights and that it did not signal any move to improve relations. As if to underscore the latter point, the Tehran government accused the US - along with Israel and Britain - of playing a role in two major crashes involving military planes over the past two months.

Citing a need to "protect state security and social stability," a senior official in China's Ministry of Public Security said the government is making preparations to "strike hard" against the rising tide of unrest. He invoked terms from the Maoist revolutionary era such as "contradictions within the people" to warn that China faced the possibility of a lengthy period of social discontent as the gap widens between rich and poor and as people in rural areas rebel at the seizure of their properties for economic development. He went further than did President Wen Jibao last week in discussing how the government would deal with the problem. The government has said 87,000 riots, demonstrations, and protests took place last year, up almost 7 percent from 2004. The spokes-man singled out the western region of Xinjiang, whose mostly Muslim residents have campaigned for independence, as the No. 1 threat.

An unspecified number of military officers were caught passing state secrets of Venezuela to the Bush administration, the government in Caracas claimed in a development that analysts said could worsen the already poor relations between the two countries. Some naval officers had been arrested, Vice President José Vicente Rangel said, although it appeared others had fled the country. The US is a key customer of Venezuela's oil industry, but official relations began deteriorating soon after leftist President Hugo Chávez assumed office in 1999. He has repeatedly accused the US of backing efforts to overthrow him.

A police officer taken captive last September by Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka was freed Thursday in a goodwill gesture - one day after they agreed to meet with government representatives on neutral soil to discuss peace. But two other policemen were being kept in custody as bargaining chips, and tensions rose further as the Navy said it had intercepted a boat carrying explosive devices apparently intended for the rebels and a Tamil noncombatant was shot to death overnight by unknown assailants. Diplomats said they worry that more such incidents could sabotage the discussions, set for next month in Geneva.

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