"We had a good first day," US representative Christopher Hill told reporters of the resumed negotiations over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. In a rare sign of progress, the North's negotiators agreed in principle to "discuss first-stage measures" in the dismantling of the program. But they also said such moves would depend on change in the US attitude toward North Korea, adding that "there are still many points of confrontation to resolve." In September 2005, North Korea agreed to halt the program in exchange for aid and security guarantees. The pledge has yet to be fulfilled.

Iranian forces completed two days of war games in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman, testing a new missile system obtained from Russia and warning that any attack by the US would result in retaliation against American interests "all over the world." The maneuvers were the second set since the UN Security Council imposed economic sanctions against Iran Dec. 23. The missile system is capable of sinking "big warships" as far away as the Indian Ocean, a military spokesman said in a reference to the two aircraft carrier groups ordered to the region by President Bush. But a White House spokesman said the test is not seen as provocative.

Rivals Hamas and Fatah hurdled one obstacle to the formation of a Palestinian unity government. In talks in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, they agreed that some of the most sensitive cabinet posts – the finance, foreign affairs, and interior ministries – should go to persons independent of either faction. Hamas also reportedly said it was ready to "respect" existing peace accords with Israel, but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah was holding out for a "commitment" to them, sources at the talks said.

No casualties were reported in an exchange of gunfire between Lebanese and Israeli soldiers as the latter patrolled the border late Wednesday. But Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora angrily called the incident "new Israeli aggression on [our] sovereignty." It was the first of its type since the first few days after a cease-fire was agreed to in last summer's war between Israel and Hizbullah. Israel's Defense Ministry said it hoped to avoid an escalation of hostilities but "will have to respond where dangerous shooting takes place."

Militants in the oil-producing delta of Nigeria freed a hostage from Britain but abducted two other foreigners Thursday – one of them the first woman known to have been seized. The latest kidnappings came in separate incidents. The woman is a Filipina who had just left a bank carrying a large sum of money; the other hostage was identified as a French engineer who has lived in Nigeria for many years and is married to a local woman. The Briton had become ill and was let go on humanitarian grounds, authorities said.

A 10-day halt to the protests for autonomy in southern Nepal was called by one of the sponsors. But the Tarai People's Rights Forum said it still wants the resignation of the government's home minister and an official investigation into the deaths of more than 20 demonstrators. It also said the protests will resume unless Prime Minister G.P. Koirala "creates a conducive environment" in which the ongoing confrontation can be resolved. Koirala has pledged an amendment to the Constitution giving the southerners more seats in parliament.

Postage stamps in Taiwan soon will carry that name rather than "Republic of China," President Chen Shui-bian said Thursday – a move almost certain to worsen his government's already poor relationship with the communist mainland. China still claims sovereignty over the democratic and self-governing island and regularly threatens war when it perceives a Taiwanese administration to be taking any step toward formalizing independence or playing down their cultural and historic ties.

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