Assad downplays U.S.-Syria talks

DAMASCUS, Syria - President Bashar Assad said yesterday that last week's talks between Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were not a "breakthrough" and accused the Bush administration of making Damascus a scapegoat for the failures in Iraq.

Thursday's talks between Rice and Moallem on Iraq's deteriorating security situation were seen by many as a diplomatic turning point for the Bush administration, which has long refused to talk to Damascus.

But Assad, speaking on NBC's Today show, would not go so far to say the talks were the end to poor ties between the two countries, saying it was difficult to make progress on Iraq's security when there are "bad political relations."

Iran seeks delay in nuclear deal

VIENNA, Austria - A 130-nation nuclear meeting stalled for a sixth day yesterday after Iran refused to commit itself to a compromise meant to break a deadlock over Tehran's opposition to language of the agenda.

Diplomats at the conference, meant to work on strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, said the issue would not be addressed until at least today, after the Iranian delegation asked for an extra day of consultations with their capital.

The diplomats, who demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss confidential issues, suggested Iran's request was a tactic to prevent debate on its defiance of a U.N. Security Council demand that it stop enriching uranium. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki suggested the onus was on other nations to break the deadlock by accepting Tehran's demand. - AP

German terrorist is denied clemency

BERLIN - Germany President Horst Koehler has refused a clemency request from a former left-wing terrorist serving life in prison for taking part in killings carried out by the notorious Red Army Faction three decades ago, Koehler's office said yesterday.

The plea by Christian Klar, 54, jailed for 24 years and ineligible for parole until 2009, has made Germans relive the days in 1977 when a small band of radicals that emerged from the student antiwar movement of the 1960s turned to terror. Fighting what they viewed as U.S. imperialism and capitalist oppression of workers in what was then West Germany, the group killed 34 people before declaring itself disbanded in 1998.

Koehler's office said he consulted widely and met with Klar before deciding.- AP

Elsewhere:

Russia accused the European Union and NATO yesterday of conniving with nations that disrespect the memory of Soviet soldiers and seek to rewrite history, the latest angry words in a dispute deepened by Estonia's relocating a World War II monument.

Former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, previously barred from returning there after she was accused of speaking against its military-backed interim government, arrived in Dhaka, the capital, yesterday to the cheers of thousands.