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RUSSIA TO JOIN `PARTNERSHIP FOR PEACE' Russia has told NATO it will join the ``partnership for peace'' plan for military links with the alliance, helping to calm concerns it may be on a course of confrontation with the West, alliance sources said yesterday. NATO sent a mission to Moscow this week to convince the alliance's main cold-war foe it should sign on to the partnership, which offers joint military training, exercises, and cooperation in defense planning. After two years of diplomatic cooperation between Russia and the West, Moscow has warned against any expansion of NATO that would take in Eastern European states and opposed the recent threat of allied airstrikes in Bosnia Herzegovina. NATO has been worried that its plans to expand cooperation with Russia, Europe's biggest military power, could run aground and that tensions could increase across the continent.The centerpiece of that cooperation is supposed to be the partnership scheme. US economy

The Commerce Department reported yesterday that the US merchandise trade deficit in 1993 shot up 37.9 percent, to $132.5 billion. That is the largest deficit since a $159.6 billion gap in 1987. In a separate report, the government said sales of new homes plunged 20.1 percent in January, the steepest decline in nearly 14 years. Wintery weather and rising interest rates were blamed. UN aids Afghanistan

The UN sent 90 tons of badly needed food on the road to Kabul yesterday, its first attempt to deliver supplies since a major battle erupted two months ago. Meanwhile, renewed fighting broke out yesterday as President Burhanuddin Rabbani's forces traded tank and rocket fire with its Islamic rivals. Renegade Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar holds the city outskirts and has imposed a blockade on the main highway leading into Kabul. UN officials negotiated for weeks before he finally agreed to allow the aid convoy. Attack on Jews in New York


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