Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert balked Thursday at a total freeze in settlement activity as demanded by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli officials said. The two-hour meeting at Olmert's Jerusalem residence was their first since last month's peace conference in Annapolis, Md., where they set the goal of reaching a statehood agreement before President Bush leaves office in January 2009.

North Korea may miss a year-end deadline to disable key nuclear facilities and declare all its nuclear programs because of an alleged delay in international aid, South Korea's foreign minister said the North has warned. North Korea began disabling facilities at its plutonium-producing complex north of Pyongyang earlier this year in return for energy aid and political concessions.

Russia is preparing to equip Iran with a powerful new air-defense system that would dramatically increase its ability to repel an attack, Iran's defense minister said Wednesday.

In a hostage-release arrangement expected to enhance Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's image in the region, his government agreed to send planes and a helicopter into neighboring Colombia to pick up three people held for years by leftist rebels. The release would allow Chavez to outshine US-backed Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who has taken a hard line against the rebels.

Terri Irwin, the widow of TV "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, announced Thursday she will launch nonlethal research of whales in Antarctic waters next year in hopes of showing that Japan's scientific whale kill is a sham. Tokyo has staunchly defended its annual cull of more than 1,000 whales as crucial to research.

Japan's prime minister arrived in Beijing Thursday for summit meetings with China, promising to capitalize on a recent thaw in relations to reverse a history of animosity between the two countries. Yasuo Fukuda promised to do everything in his power to build good relations while holding "candid discussions" about historical differences. Agreements on youth exchanges and cooperation on combatting climate change are expected.

Peru has ordered 272,000 child-friendly "XO" laptop computers from the One Laptop Per Child Program, organized by the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Mass., more than any other country. The program is designed to offer poor, rural schoolchildren with a low-cost, compact learning tool. Many of the machines have been paid for in an arrangement in which people buy two for $399 but donate one or both. In early 2008, more laptops will be shipped to Haiti, Rwanda, and Afghanistan.

The average Chinese city dweller's income was 3.28 times that of a rural resident's in 2006, up from 3.23 times in 2003, Agriculture Minister Sun Zhengcai said in a report quoted by a state news agency.

Deposed Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will be arrested if he returns home from a self-imposed exile as planned, even if his victorious allies form a government following last weekend's general election, officials said Thursday. Thaksin and members of his family face an array of corruption-related charges.

In an effort to formally end a crisis between Sudan's once-warring partners in peace, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's new cabinet was scheduled to swear in 16 new ministers from the government's southern foes Thursday.

Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, has set a miniaturization record by placing the Hebrew Bible on a chip smaller than a pinhead, according to the BBC News.

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