The announced plan by North Korea to test a nuclear weapon is not a bluff, a newspaper that reflects the communist government's positions said Thursday. But it also said that if the US takes action on the denuclear- ization of the Korean peninsula, there is still room for negotiations – although it wasn't clear whether any talks could forestall the weapons test. Against that backdrop, however, Japan's Kyodo News Agency reported the takeoff from an air base on Okinawa of a US military plane carrying equipment that analyzes radiation in the atmosphere, such as from a North Korean test. In China's most pointed comment yet on the situation, its ambassador to the UN warned North Korea to expect no protection from anyone if it goes ahead with "bad behavior." Russia's foreign minister said his government is "working with the leadership of North Korea to stop steps that could negatively impact the situation."

A surprise visit to Baghdad by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was overshadowed Thursday by controversy over whether the new leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq had died in a US airstrike. Iraqi politicians claimed that DNA tests showed Abu Hamza al-Muhajir was killed earlier this week along with several followers in an assault on their safe house in the western city of Haditha. But US military spokesmen dismissed the claim. Rice and Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki were to discuss the latter's new plan to curb sectarian violence, reports said.

NATO officially assumed responsibility for security over all of Afghanistan Thursday, with its commanding general virtually guaranteeing progress against a resurgent Taliban. The move unites the 10,000 American troops who've been operating in eastern Afghanistan with a force of more than 20,000 from Britain, Germany, Canada, and other alliance partners. As the ceremonies were taking place in Kabul, the capital, military spokesmen announced the capture of 17 men who said they'd attended terrorist training camps in neighboring Pakistan.

Decoy motorcades were sent to the site in Pakistan's capital where President Pervez Musharraf was to give a speech Thursday, as concerns for his safety rose to a new high. Musharraf arrived later by helicopter. The security measures were taken after the discovery of two launcher-mounted rockets pointed directly at his home. Both were connected by wires to a cellphone, indicating that they were to be triggered by remote control. The discovery, in turn, followed a bomb explosion in a park also near Musharraf's residence. His cooperation with the US in the counterterrorism fight has made him a top target of Islamist militants. He survived two assassination attempts in December 2003.

More pressure was heaped Thursday on the former Soviet republic of Georgia by authorities in Moscow. They abolished the quota for Georgians who may obtain permits to work in Russia and asked neighboring Belarus to clamp down on visas as well. Belarus has a loosely monitored border with Russia, which Georgians theoretically could sneak across. Russia's Foreign Ministry, however, ruled out the use of force in the confrontation. Georgia has released four Russian Army officers accused of spying, which started the trouble, but the Kremlin has rejected all calls not to retaliate.

Army commanders were summoned to an emergency meeting in Nigeria's capital after the latest attack by militants against foreign oil interests. Nine military guards were reported missing after the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta ambushed a convoy Wednesday that was carrying supplies for employees of the Italian energy company Agip. That attack was the third this week, following a relatively quiet September in the delta. On Tuesday night, seven foreign oil industry employees were kidnapped. The captors have demanded $10 million each for their release.

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