Powell works for N. Korea solution

WASHINGTON

Democrats said yesterday that President Bush, in a push for war against Iraq, is ignoring a potentially greater danger in North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear program.

The White House, however, said it is has “robust plans for any contingencies” involving North Korea. Secretary of State Colin Powell repeated that the United States has no plans to attack North Korea, but that Bush “has retained all his options.”

Concern about the nuclear program has grown after North Korea announced Wednesday it was putting the operation of its nuclear facilities on a “normal footing.” That could mean it is about to produce nuclear weapons.

Bush administration officials have said North Korea’s program does not constitute a crisis, and Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “I still feel it is possible to find a diplomatic solution.”

Democrats, though, said Bush was not taking the threat seriously enough. In contrast with their praise of Powell’s presentation Wednesday on Iraq to the United Nations, they pounced on what they saw as weakness and inconsistency in the administration’s North Korea policy. “Mr. President Bush, please, please, if you don’t want to enunciate it, in your mind Mr. President, treat this as a crisis because it is, if not contained now,” Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware said.

NASA expands Colombia investigation

HOUSTON

NASA is casting a wider net in the space shuttle investigation now that it has essentially ruled out a theory that a breakaway piece of foam may have caused Columbia to rip apart.

Other possibilities abound, from an accidental triggering of explosive devices on board to a collision with a piece of space garbage, or perhaps a flaw in a wing that caused the spacecraft to swing out of control and disintegrate moments before it was to land.

Space shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore said every theory was being examined.

“Was it something that happened after launch? Was it something that happened during the entry? Or was it something that happened during ascent (launch) and we didn’t see it? Those are all possibilities,” Dittemore said at a news conference yesterday searchers returned to the woods of East Texas and Louisiana in heavy rain to scour the ground for debris that could yield clues to the shuttle’s destruction. Reports of debris as far west as Arizona and California – which could help experts determine what parts of the shuttle broke up first – were still unconfirmed yesterday morning.

Palestinian leadership claimed by Hamas

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip

Hamas is prepared to assume leadership of the Palestinian people, a senior Hamas official said yesterday in a rare expression of the goal of the violent Islamic movement.

Hamas has avoided direct conflicts with Yasser Arafat’s leadership, although from time to time, clashes between the groups have erupted.

Mahmoud Zahar, a leader of the Hamas political wing, told The Associated Press in an interview yesterday that his group is “absolutely” prepared to lead the Palestinian people now. He said Hamas has the infrastructure to take over leadership “politically, financially (and) socially.”

Polls have shown consistently that Arafat’s Fatah movement is more popular than Hamas among Palestinians, but Arafat has not visited Gaza in more than a year. He has been confined to his Ramallah West Bank headquarters by the Israeli military presence.

Business leaders blast Chavez’s proposal

CARACAS, Venezuela

Venezuela’s business leaders warned yesterday that foreign currency controls imposed by President Hugo Chavez will breed corruption, fuel inflation and push the nation’s fragile economy to the brink of collapse.

They also suspect Chavez will use the controls to repress opponents and punish those who staged an unsuccessful two-month strike seeking to oust him.

Chavez announced the controls late Wednesday night, two weeks after suspending the sales of U.S. dollars as the bolivar currency sank to record lows. The fixed exchange rate took effect yesterday, and trading in dollars resumed.

The new controls fix the bolivar currency’s value at 1,596 per dollar for sales and 1,600 for purchases, but the government can adjust those rates as it sees fit. The bolivar closed at 1,853 on Jan. 21, the last day of trading, but on the black market it traded at 2,500.

Bush pushes for cars fueled by hydrogen

WASHINGTON

President Bush on Thursday urged Congress to “think beyond the normal” and approve his plan to spur development of clean-burning hydrogen fuel cells to power cars that he said would reduce pollution and America’s foreign oil dependence.

In a National Building Museum speech, Bush promoted his request for $1.2 billion in federal money over five years into hydrogen fuel cell research. The money is aimed at finding ways to get the fuel to where it can be used. Without fueling stations, nobody will want to buy the cars even when they land in showrooms a decade or more from now. “What we do today can make a tremendous difference for the future of America,” Bush said.

Beforehand, the President spent about 20 minutes watching demonstrations of cars, a scooter and portable electronics such as cell phones and lap tops, all powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

– Compiled from Daily wire reports.

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