North Korea "will make efforts" to "denuclearize" in keeping with the final wish of its late founder, the government's No. 2 leader pledged Thursday. Kim Yong Nam's declaration, in the highest-level contacts between North and South Korea in seven months, appeared to be another in a series of developments that are easing tensions on the divided peninsula. But the two sides still were well apart on the issues of humanitarian aid and expanded reunions for families divided by the 1950-53 war. Talks between the US and North Korea on normalizing relations are scheduled for next week.

Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran is due in rival Saudi Arabia as soon as Saturday for high-profile discussions on how to defuse conflicts between Shiite and Sunni Muslims around the Middle East – especially in Iraq and Lebanon. Saudi leaders say they want Iran, which backs Hizbullah in Lebanon and militant Shiites in Iraq, to take a more neutral stance before such tensions explode out of control.

The first British soldiers to be withdrawn from Iraq will leave for home by the end of May, the Army's chief of staff said. Gen. Richard Dannatt offered no details other than to say, "We are following the plans that our government laid down" last week, when Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the recall of 1,600 of the 7,100 Britons deployed there. The government also said its remaining 630 troops with the European Union peacekeeping mission in Bosnia will return home.

Thirty-five Army officers from Uganda stepped off a cargo plane in Somalia Thursday, becoming the first contingent of African Union (AU) peacekeepers to arrive in the fractious nation. But their spokesman wouldn't say when the remaining soldiers in Uganda's 1,500-man deployment would arrive, since Islamist militiamen have threatened them with attack. In all, the AU mission is planned to consist of 8,000 peacekeepers.

By a five-vote margin, members of Italy's Senate expressed confidence in embattled Prime Minister Romano Prodi Wednesday night. A wider margin is expected when the lower house votes Thursday. But while communists in his coalition backed him in the Senate, they said they won't do so when the issue of funding for Italy's military mission in Afghanistan comes to a vote later. It was the loss of a vote on that issue that led Prodi to quit last month, only to be reappointed.

Employees staged another work stoppage at Airbus plants in Germany and France Thursday to protest the announcement of heavy layoffs, and sympathetic union members in France planned a nationwide walkout Friday. Still more job actions are planned for next week, reports said. Analysts predicted that a lengthy strike would have serious consequences for the company, which has conceded that its financial status is "unsustainable." But in better news for Airbus, France's government pledged $132 million in new aid for research.

Warning that, "We shall go back to the barrel of the gun," leaders of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army refused to renew a truce with the government of Uganda after it expired Wednesday night. But one rebel chief told Agence France-Presse, "We feel like we want to negotiate peace" with President Yoweri Museveni's government. Talks broke off in January, although mediators have been trying to bring the rivals together again. Each regularly accuses the other of cease-fire violations.

Leftist Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez announced a South American tour of his own next week but denied that its purpose is to "sabotage" President Bush's visits to Brazil, Uruguay, and Colombia. Chávez, who is known for his strident anti-Bush rhetoric, said it was a "coincidence" that his itinerary would cause them to "almost cross paths by plane." His tour was not revealed until now for security reasons, he said. He also said an anti-Bush protest march would be held in Vene-zuela during the latter's trip.

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