VIENNA, Austria

Iran pledges no centrifuge testing

Just a day before an international deadline, Iran agreed yesterday not to test any centrifuges as part of a total suspension of nuclear activities that can yield uranium for atomic weapons. Diplomats described the about-face as an effort to avoid possible U.N. sanctions.

Diplomats from the European Union and elsewhere said on condition of anonymity that the International Atomic Energy Agency received a letter from Iran containing a pledge not to test 20 centrifuges during the freeze it agreed to Nov. 7 during negotiations with Britain, France and Germany, who were working on behalf of the European Union.

Diplomats accredited to the IAEA said the Europeans were still checking the offer for loopholes late yesterday and could not conclude that the Iranians had accepted a full freeze until the contents of the letter to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency were analyzed fully.

But the pledge appeared to resolve a dispute that threatened to escalate at today’s IAEA board meeting into consultations on possibly referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council for defying the board. The Security Council could then impose sanctions against Iran.

 

JERUSALEM

Israel, Palestinians to plan Gaza pullout

Israel is prepared to coordinate its pullout from Gaza with a new Palestinian government, officials said yesterday, a shift from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s concept of “unilateral disengagement” and a sign that cooperation may be restored in the post-Arafat era.

Security forces already are quietly cooperating with each other, Israeli officials said. One went so far as to say, “It’s back to business.”

However, Palestinian and Israeli security sources said beyond routine contacts at field commander level, which have been maintained despite the violence, no coordination is underway.

Since Arafat’s death on Nov. 11, both sides have been projecting positive signals about cooperation for Palestinian elections on Jan. 9 and resumption of peace talks. Israel boycotted Arafat, charging he was involved in terrorism, and no significant contacts between the two sides have taken place for more than a year.

Now, the Israelis are promoting the idea that with Arafat gone, things can change.

 

KIEV, Ukraine

Ukraine presidential turmoil gets worse

The crisis over Ukraine’s disputed presidential election intensified yesterday, as a key eastern province called a referendum on autonomy and the opposition demanded the current president fire his prime minister, the official winner of last week’s vote that has bitterly divided this former Soviet republic.

The opposition warned President Leonid Kuchma it would block his movements unless he fired Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and fulfilled other demands within 24 hours.

Earlier, Kuchma called on the opposition to end its four-day blockade of government buildings, saying compromise was the only solution to the crisis that has developed into a tense political tug-of-war between the West and Moscow over Ukraine’s future.

On Saturday, Ukraine’s parliament declared the election invalid amid international calls for a new vote, and lawmakers also passed a vote of no confidence in the Central Elections Commission, which declared Moscow-backed Yanukovych the winner.

 

WASHINGTON

Americans support Supreme Court age limits

Six in 10 Americans say there should be a mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court justices, according to an Associated Press poll.

The survey found public support for an idea that has arisen periodically in Congress without ever making headway.

Only one of the nine current justices is younger than 65. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, appointed to the court by President Nixon, has thyroid cancer. In the survey, people were asked if they could identify what job Rehnquist held, and 59 percent did not know.

The appointment of justices without term limits or a mandatory retirement age has historically helped to insulate the court from politics, said Dennis Hutchinson, a Supreme Court expert from the University of Chicago Law School.

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