Iran's proposal for new negotiations on its suspected nuclear weapons program is likely to be rejected by UN Security Council members, informed diplomats said Thursday. With the UN's deadline for halting uranium enrichment due to expire next Thursday, the government in Tehran said it would not suspend the process but was willing to discuss the subject further. The Bush administration offered little immediate comment on Iran's response but said it is consulting with other council members on "the next steps" – presumably sanctions that would need to be voted on if the deadline is not met. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose government has worked intensively with council members on the issue, said Iran's response was not satisfactory.
In a television address to the nation Thursday night, French President Jacques Chirac was expected to announce that he'll increase his government's commitment to the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon by hundreds more soldiers. Diplomats said such a move would make it easier to recruit other nations to the mission. France currently has about 200 troops in Lebanon, out of the 15,000 approved for the force by the Security Council. Italy, which is expected to lead the mission, has said it will send up to 3,000 men.
An ecumenical delegation led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson was expected to go to the Middle East to try to arrange the release of two Fox News employees kidnapped Aug. 14 in the Gaza Strip. Jackson has succeeded in negotiating for the release of other political hostages. He announced his plan as the State Department rejected a demand by the kidnappers, who call themselves the Holy Jihad Brigades, for all Muslims in US prisons to be discharged within 72 hours. One of the hostages, Steve Centanni, is American. His cameraman, Olaf Wiig, is from New Zealand. But that nation's government said, "[Our] policy is exactly the same.... We will not negotiate with terrorists or militant groups like this."
A new cease-fire with Tamil Tiger rebels would be agreed to, but only if offered personally by elusive leader Velupillai Prabha-karan, Sri Lanka's government said Thursday. Since the government and the rebels agreed to a truce in 2002, lesser Tamil chiefs repeatedly have broken promises to stop violence, Foreign Minister Mangela Samaraweera told Parliament. Against that backdrop, the government demanded that rebels withdraw from a strategic area where they threaten the vital seaport of Trincomalee on the northeast coast. There was no immediate reply, but a rebel spokesman said, "When the ... military launches an offensive, we have to neutralize their capabilities."
Aides to President Gloria Arroyo called for Philippines politics to "just move on" Thursday after the lower house of Congress easily defeated the second attempt to impeach her in less than a year. The vote denies her opponents the trial they sought in the Senate on allegations of corruption, election fraud, and human rights abuses. She denies any wrongdoing. The failed impeachment effort appears to clear the biggest obstacle to finishing her term, which ends in 2010.
Six foreign oil industry employees were freed by their captors in Nigeria's southern delta late Wednesday, after local officials said a ransom had been paid for their release. Unidentified gunmen seized the men – an American and five Europeans – in a Port Harcourt nightclub Aug. 13. A spokesman for the governor of Rivers State said, "Naturally, the government spent money to ensure [their freedom], but I cannot say exactly how much went to who[m]." The release came amid a crackdown on kidnapping in the region that has resulted in more than 100 arrests. Seventeen foreign nationals have been taken hostage this month, of whom one – a Lebanese – is still being held.
Pluto lost its status as a planet Thursday, by a vote of the International Astronomers Union. Meeting in the Czech Republic, the organization approved a proposal that leaves the cosmos with eight planets defined as "classical." The move means that Pluto, which was discovered in 1930, is relegated to a category of "dwarf" planets. Reports described the debate on the matter as tumultuous.