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World Briefs I

China's Foreign Minister Announces He'll Resign

Los Angeles Times

Foreign minister Qian Qichen, one of the architects of China's gradual re-engagement with the United States following the 1989 incident in Tiananmen Square, announced Thursday that he plans to resign.

"My age does not allow me to continue this job," said Qian, who will be 70 years old in November, "So I plan to resign." It is unclear whether Qian would retain his other title as vice-premier of the State Council, China's Cabinet, when a new government is formed here next week. Last September he was re-elected to the powerful Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, a position that will continue to give him clout in the power structure for the next five years.

The top candidate for the job is Tang Jiaxuan, 60, a Japan specialist who has served as vice-minister of foreign affairs since 1993. Another possible choice is Liu Huaqiu, 59, whose current position is director of the office of foreign affairs at the State Council.

Despite his resignation, diplomats here said Qian will continue to play an active role in foreign policy.

Blair Says Parties Close to Accord

The Washington Post

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday the Northern Ireland peace talks were "agonizingly close" to a framework agreement following a meeting with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams at which Blair urged the ally of the Irish Republican Army to return to the bargaining table.

Adams, whose party was suspended from the talks two weeks ago for two Belfast killings deemed to be handiwork of the IRA, said, "Sinn Fein is deeply committed to negotiations as a means of resolving conflict. We will face up to our responsibilities."

Adams and the other Sinn Fein leaders did not say, however, when they would re-enter the talks. "We should seek to go back to the talks at the earliest possible opportunity," Adams said. The talks are scheduled to resume in Belfast on March 23.

"I hope Sinn Fein (will) come back to the process. We are agonizingly close to agreeing certainly the framework - the outline - of a settlement," Blair told Independent Television News.

In order to place a referendum before the people of both Ireland and Northern Ireland on the chosen date of May 22, negotiators must forge a solution by late April.

"There is no doubt we are closer than we ever have been before," said Britain's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Marjorie Mowlam. "The ballpark we're in - I think most people could draw the parameters."

Bighorn Sheep Will Be Declared an Endangered Species

Los Angeles Times

Bighorn sheep that inhabit Southern California's desert mountains and foothills, including prime real estate in the Palm Springs area, will be declared an endangered species early next week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Thursday.

The decision culminates more than a decade of research that points toward a swift and steep decline of the reclusive mammals, which have been dying off because of a combination of factors, particularly development of their habitat, disease and predation by mountain lions.

An estimated 280 Peninsular bighorn sheep existed in the wild last year, down from about 1,200 in 1971 and about 600 in 1991, according to annual counts by state wildlife officials.

"This may be be the only large mammal that has been listed in Southern California," said Pete Sorensen, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's division chief for the California desert.

The decision to invoke the Endangered Species Act to protect the desert sheep, which live only in Riverside, San Diego and Imperial counties, could change the pace of development around Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage.