IRAQ: New U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he is preparing to give President Bush an assessment of the situation in Iraq based on his meetings with U.S. military and Iraqi leaders in Baghdad. Gates, wraping up a three-day visit to the Iraqi capital (today/Friday), said he will report to Mr. Bush in the coming days. He declined to say whether he plans to recommend a short-term increase in U.S. troop levels to help stem growing sectarian violence in Baghdad. Gates said the U.S. and the Iraqi government are in "broad strategic agreement" on how to improve security, and that military leaders from both sides are to draw up a specific plan.
NORTH KOREA-NUCLEAR: The latest round of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program has ended in Beijing without a breakthrough and no new date set for more negotiations. The five-day talks that ended today (Friday) were the first held by the six nations involved in more than a year, and the first since Pyongyang conducted a nuclear test in October.
PHILIPPINES-US MARINES: The United States has canceled its annual military exercises with the Philippines after failing to regain custody of a Marine convicted of rape. A U.S. embassy spokesman (Matthew Lussenhop) made the announcement in Manila today (Friday). Earlier this week, the Philippines' second highest court (Court of Appeals) rejected a request for U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith to be handed over to the U.S. embassy while he appeals a 40-year sentence for his rape conviction.
US SNOWSTORM: The governor of the U.S. state of Colorado has declared a state of emergency as heavy snowstorms hamper holiday travelers and mail delivery on one of the highest-volume days of the year. The storm struck Wednesday and continued today (Thursday) across much of the United States' central plains region. Some areas are buried under 61 centimeters of snow.
AVIAN FLU MORTALITY: A team of scientists says some 62-million people, mostly in the developing world, could die if a long-feared avian flu pandemic erupts. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (in the northeastern U.S. state of Massachusetts) published the mortality estimates Thursday in the medical journal Lancet
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