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Angry Iranian leaders said they'll halt spot inspections of their nuclear facilities by UN technicians and repeated their intention to resume the enrichment of uranium if - as appears increasingly possible - their case is referred to the Security Council. Such a move, they said, "will be the end of diplomacy" - a reference to negotiations with Britain, France, and Germany to seek a solution to the impasse. In London Tuesday, the five permanent members of the Security Council signed a statement that calls on the International Atomic Energy Agency to make the referral when its board meets Thursday. Still, senior French, Russian, and European Union diplomats said they foresee the possibility of a solution that doesn't involve sanctions or military action against Iran.

A new generation of missiles capable of penetrating any defense system are in Russia's arsenal and have been tested, President Vladimir Putin claimed. At his annual news conference in Moscow, he said the missiles can carry nuclear warheads and "are capable of changing their flight path" as they approach targets. On other issues, Putin:

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** said the restive republic of Chechnya is "fully" back inside Russia's constitutional fold, with local government structures again in place after more than a decade of separatist conflict;

* again gave no clue as to who might succeed him when his second term ends in 2008, but said he favors a "strong presidential republic";

* rejected criticism of his approach to democracy, such as neutralizing political opposition and curbing freedom of the press. He argued that under his policies Russians are living better than ever;

* hailed the 6.4 percent growth in gross domestic product and 88 percent expansion of the stock market as proof that Russia deserves its place in the Group of Eight industrialized nations, which it now chairs.

Hundreds of thousands of domesticated fowl were being put to death in Iraq as health authorities there reported the first human death from bird flu. The World Health Organization (WHO) said it was seeking urgent tests to confirm that diagnosis. But as it did, officials in Iraq's Kurdistan region said they suspected 12 more people were infected with the deadly strain of the virus. Iraq is considered especially vulnerable to the spread of bird flu because of the relentless armed resistance to demo cratic rule, which means it lacks the resources of other nations to address the problem. Worldwide, the WHO said, the number of people with confirmed infections has risen to 160.

Despite its promise to end violence against British rule in Northern Ireland, the Irish Republican Army hasn't stopped smuggling, counterfeiting, or spying on its adversaries, The Irish Times reported. Citing the findings due to be published Tuesday by the independent commission that monitors the IRA, the newspaper said the intelligence-gathering appears to be sanctioned at the leadership level. Against that backdrop, Northern Ireland's dominant Protestant political party, the Democratic Unionists, said it won't join a power-sharing government with Sinn Fein, the IRA's political ally.

The peace talks set for later this month between Tamil separatist rebels and the government of Sri Lanka appeared in jeopardy after the former accused paramilitaries of kidnapping five accountants who work for an aid agency. A spokesman said they were seized Monday after passing an Army checkpoint and that others in the party were instructed to tell their families to "buy coffins." The Army denied any knowledge of the incident, but the US Embassy called for an investigation and urged "all parties to exercise restraint" so the talks in Geneva can go forward. The rebel spokesman said his side's participation now depends on what steps the government takes to end harassment of Tamils.