ISRAEL - LEBANON: U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says he is confident that a 15-thousand-member peacekeeping force with troops from Europe and elsewhere will deploy soon in Lebanon. Speaking in Brussels, Mr. Annan said he expects to have a "good start" at today's (Friday's) meeting with European Union foreign ministers, and feels certain he will finally get the required number of troops. Ahead of the meeting, France boosted its troop commitment to two thousand. A contingent of about 150 French troops reached southern Lebanon (at coastal town of Naqura) today, joining about 400 French soldiers already there with U.N. peacekeepers (UNIFIL). Italy has offered up to three-thousand troops.
IRAN - NUCLEAR: Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov says he thinks it is premature to talk about U.N. sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program. (Speaking to reporters in Russia's far east today / Friday) Ivanov also reiterated Russia's stance that efforts to resolve the dispute through negotiations should be given more time. On Thursday, the Bush administration said it remains committed to a diplomatic solution to the issue. But a State Department spokesman (Gonzalo Gallegos) also said Washington will push for expedited sanctions if Iran does not comply with a U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for Iran to stop its uranium enrichment activity by August 31st.
CHINA - US JOURNALIST: A U.S. newspaper researcher based in China has been convicted of fraud in a Chinese court, but acquitted on charges of leaking state secrets. The lawyer for Zhao Yan told reporters today (Friday) in Beijing that his client has been sentenced to three years in prison. It is unclear whether he will file an appeal. The charges against Zhao stemmed from an article in "The New York Times" that correctly predicted former President Jiang Zemin would resign as head of the country's armed forces.
US - ASEAN: The United States has signed a new trade and investment agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. The Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement (TIFA) establishes standardized import procedures for U.S. goods entering the 10 ASEAN member countries. It is seen as a precursor to talks on eventually reaching a full free-trade agreement. U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab signed the pact with her Southeast Asian counterparts today (Friday) in Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur. Two-way trade between the United States and ASEAN jumped more than 12 percent in 2005, to 152-billion dollars. Direct investment from the United States to the region also increased. ASEAN member nations include Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Burma and Brunei.
BIRD FLU DATA BASE: Seventy of the world's leading scientists have agreed to create a global database to share genetic data from bird flu cases. The scientists, including six Nobel laureates, signed a letter published Thursday in the scientific journal "Nature" announcing the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data. The scientists promised to share all data from their individual research, then jointly analyze and publish their results. The report in "Nature" says many scientists and research organizations hoard data so they can be the first to publish in scientific journals.
SCIENCE - PLUTO: Scientists at the International Astronomical Union meeting in Prague decided Thursday to demote Pluto to the classification of "dwarf planet." The astronomers declared that Pluto is simply too small to be regarded as a full-fledged planet. From now on, students will be taught that there are eight planets in the solar system, and thousands of smaller bodies. Pluto was first recognized as a planet in 1930.
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