Iran's formal response to the offer of incentives to stop enriching uranium will come on Aug. 22, as originally pledged, the government said Thursday. But it insisted it wants dialogue with the governments offering the incentive package first and will have no choice "but to reconsider our nuclear policies" if the UN Security Council votes to impose sanctions beforehand. Senior Iranians have suggested that they may withdraw from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and halt cooperation with UN inspectors if those governments choose "the path of confrontation." They've also said repeatedly that they will never give up the right to enrich uranium on their own territory. Iran's program is before the UN Security Council, which is deliberating a binding resolution, sought by the Bush administration, that would make the suspension of enrichment by Iran mandatory.

For defensive purposes, advanced Patriot interceptor missiles will be deployed on Okinawa as a shield against "ballistic missile threats," US and Japanese officials said Thursday. The Patriot batteries are expected to be operational by year's end, they said. The announcement came as Japan called for increased international pressure to force North Korea to abandon test launches of its missiles. That provoked a warning from South Korea that applying too much pressure would be an "overreaction." But Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok said it was "very regrettable" that the North had halted reunions of families divided by the 1950-53 war on the peninsula and acknowledged that relations with the communist government in Pyongyang "will be difficult for a while."

US marines were in Lebanon Thursday for the first time in 23 years to help evacuate Americans from the path of hostilities between Israel and Hizbullah. Nine ships were involved in the operation, and a spokesman said he expected as many as 6,000 civilians to be out by Friday. The Marine Corps withdrew from Lebanon in 1983 after a truck bomb exploded outside barracks in Beirut, killing 241 people.

Patriot missiles and jet fighters backed thousands of ground troops Thursday in the largest military exercise in Taiwan's history against a simulated invasion by forces from mainland China. The two are 100 miles apart, across the Taiwan Strait, and China is pledged to bring the self-governing island back under its rule. The exercise is held annually, but this was the first one showcasing the US-made Patriot II missile interceptor system and the first since President Chen Shui-bian scrapped his administration's office responsible for negotiating eventual reunification with the mainland. The Chinese government in Beijing offered no immediate comment on the drill.

Despite their announced intention to capture the only town held by the transitional government of Somalia, militiamen from the Council of Islamic Courts (UIC) said Thursday they'll halt their advance and pull back about 40 miles. The US had said it was "gravely concerned" at the plan, and the UN's special representative for Somalia urged restraint. Against that backdrop, witnesses said Ethiopian Army units pledged to defend the weak interim government were on the streets of Baidoa, its base, and a UIC spokesman said they had become its new focus of attention. "God willing, we will remove the Ethiopians from our country and wage [jihad] against them," he said.

Six more people were killed in a bold afternoon attack by Islamist separatists on a police checkpoint in southern Thailand, bringing the number of deaths to more than 1,300 since their campaign of violence began in January 2004. Authorities said the incident was "unusually well coordinated." Three other people died and a fourth was wounded in drive-by shootings Wednesday. The latest violence followed a 90-day extension of the state of emergency imposed on three mainly Muslim provinces, which Thailand's cabinet OK'd earlier this week.

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