Gates hopes Iraq asks U.S. extension

WASHINGTON - Noting the enormous American investment in Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Tuesday that he hoped Baghdad asked U.S. troops to stay beyond their scheduled Dec. 31 departure in order to preserve the relative peace.

"I hope they figure out a way to ask, and I think that the United States will be willing to say yes when that time comes," Gates said in response to a question about Iraq after delivering a speech on Pentagon budget cuts.

Gates' comments were in line with what he said while visiting Iraq last month.

During his policy speech, at the American Enterprise Institute, he said defense spending was about to enter a steep decline that might force the Pentagon to abandon some military missions, shrink the armed forces, and perhaps limit the U.S. role in the world. - AP

Mars Spirit rover given up for dead

LOS ANGELES - Spirit, the scrappy robot geologist that captivated the world with its antics on Mars before getting stuck in a sand trap, is about to meet its end after six productive years.

Spirit has been incommunicado for more than a year despite daily calls by NASA. It is likely that the bitter Martian winter damaged its electronics.

Project manager John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said the last commands would be sent up Wednesday. Although orbiting spacecraft will continue to listen through the end of May, chances are slim that Spirit will respond.

The solar-powered rover and its twin, the still-active Opportunity, parachuted to opposite ends of Mars' southern hemisphere in 2004. Their greatest achievement was uncovering geologic evidence that Mars, now dry and dusty, was far more tropical billions of years ago. Spirit is the second Mars craft in three years to stop working. - AP

Biden cites need for new revenues

WASHINGTON - Vice President Biden said Tuesday that new revenues needed to be part of any agreement with Republicans on legislation to raise the limit on how much money the government can borrow to continue to meet its obligations.

Biden's pronouncement, after a meeting with GOP negotiators, puts the administration at odds with Republicans, who insist revenue increases are off the table.

"Tax increases are not going to be something that we'll support," said House Majority Leader Eric Canter (R., Va.), but he concurred that "progress is being made."

Biden was not specific about what new revenues the White House wanted as part of any deal. He also said talks were on pace to produce deficit cuts exceeding $1 trillion. - AP

Elsewhere:

Two more Somalian men, Abdi Jama Aqid and Said Abdi Fooley, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Norfolk, Va., to piracy charges in February's hijacking of a yacht off Africa that left four Americans dead. Seven Somalis have now admitted guilt this week in the case and could get life terms.

Endeavour astronauts on NASA's next-to-last space shuttle flight hit the halfway point Tuesday in their 16-day mission.