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News In Brief

President Clinton is scheduled today to hold his first formal news conference in nearly a year. The White House has been taking some steps to improve relations with the press, which were strained during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Spokesman Joe Lockhart said there will be more frequent news conferences in coming months.

Northern Ireland politicians David Trimble and Gerry Adams were upbeat after talks in Washington, a day after separate meetings with Clinton. Trimble is the Protestant who would lead a new Northern Ireland government; Adams is leader of Sinn Fein, the political ally of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Although nothing was resolved, they indicated progress toward resolving the issue of when the IRA will begin to disarm.

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The Senate overwhelmingly agreed on a policy of deploying a missile-defense system as soon as technology permits. The legislation, approved 97 to 3, calls for a shield against limited missile attack, but is not otherwise specific. The White House dropped a veto threat after the Senate adopted an amendment to ensure the policy wouldn't jeopardize arms-control talks with Russia. The House is weighing a similar bill.

A measure setting limits on steel imports passed the House 289 to 141 over the objections of GOP leaders and Clinton, who has threatened a veto. Quotas set by the bill would reduce shipments of foreign steel by 25 percent. Supporters criticized US trade policy for an alleged lack of commitment to an industry struggling against low-priced imports from Japan, Russia, and other nations.

A federal judge in Miami ordered that more than $6.2 million owed to Cuba by US-based telephone companies be paid instead to families of three south Florida residents who died when their planes were shot down by Cuban jets in 1996. The families of three of four fliers killed in the attack won a judgment of $187 million against Cuba in 1997, but have been unable to collect. Cuba's phone company severed most direct service to the US Feb. 25 because American companies - expecting a court decision - have since December withheld payments for calls between the two countries.

National Football League owners voted 28 to 3 in favor of installing an instant-replay system for the 1999 season. Coaches will have two challenges a game; referees will make decisions from monitors on the sideline. Any challenge not supported by referees would cost challenging teams a timeout. An NFL assistant in the press box will review controversial plays in the final two minutes of both halves and during overtime periods, but referees on the field - after a review - will determine whether decisions are reversed.

A retired Army general was reprimanded and fined $10,000 after pleading guilty to conduct unbecoming an officer for having affairs with the wives of four subordinates. The judge also ordered Maj. Gen. David Hale to forfeit $1,000 of his retirement pay each month for a year.

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