Leader again open to nuclear talks
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told a visiting Chinese envoy that his government would return to six-party nuclear disarmament talks if the United States shows "sincerity," the communist state's official news agency said today.
The announcement -- the latest in more than two years of conflicting statements over North Korea's nuclear program -- came less than two weeks after Kim flouted Washington and its allies by claiming that it had nuclear weapons and would boycott the talks.
"We will go to the negotiating table anytime if there are mature conditions for the six-party talks thanks to the concerted efforts of the parties concerned in the future," Kim said today, expressing the hope that the United States would show "trustworthy sincerity," according to the Korean Central News Agency.
Kim spoke of his government's new position on the nuclear issue in a meeting with Wang Jiarui, head of the Chinese Communist Party's International Department, KCNA said.
Shiites to vote on PM candidate
Ahmad Chalabi, a secular Shiite once known for his ties to Washington, and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the conservative interim vice president, will face off in a secret ballot today to determine who will be the Shiite majority's choice for Iraqi prime minister, officials said.
The decision to hold a secret ballot came after the clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance, which has most of the seats in the 275-member National Assembly, was unable to decide on a nominee -- despite days of negotiations.
Whoever wins the ballot, he will face interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, 59, whose party came in third after a Kurdish coalition and received 40 seats.
Al-Jaafari, the president of the Islamic Dawa Party, is also Western-oriented but is considered by many to be a cleric in a business suit.
Defense Ministry starts patriotic TV channel
Russia's Defense Ministry has launched experimental broadcasts of a new TV channel intended to boost military prestige and counter negative reports of hazing, desertions and corruption in the armed forces, its creators said Monday.
The new channel -- Zvezda or "Star" -- is aimed at developing "the feeling of national pride among its citizens ... a feeling of responsibility for Russia's fate and pride for the nation's great historic past and belief in its future," producers said in a news release.
Sergei Savushkin, the channel's director, said the channel will dedicate 10 percent of its programs to military topics -- movies, documentaries, talk shows and a planned reality show detailing the lives of conscripts in barracks. Savushkin added that Zvezda will also appeal to a broader audience with children's programs, sports coverage and music shows.
2-year-old betrothed as adultery punishment
A tribal council in Pakistan has ordered the betrothal of a 2-year-old girl to a man 40 years older to punish her uncle for an alleged affair with the man's wife, police said Monday.
The council decreed the girl must marry 42-year-old Mohammed Altaf, her uncle's cousin, when she turns 18, police said.
Altaf, a farmer, divorced his 32-year-old wife over her alleged love affair with his 20-year-old cousin, Mohammed Akmal. Akmal, a bachelor and also a farmer, has no children.
Altaf asked tribal elders in the village of Kacha Chohan, in Punjab province, to convene a panchayat, or council, on Feb. 15 to arbitrate and propose a punishment. As punishment, the elders ordered the girl's betrothal and ruled Akmal should also pay a $3,800 fine to the husband.
Village councils in conservative rural regions of Pakistan traditionally rule on local disputes including those involving a family's "honor" purportedly being besmirched by allegations of improper sexual behavior.