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News Briefs

Bush Puts Brakes On North Korean Negotiations

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

President Bush told South Korean President Kim Dae Jung on Wednesday that he is skeptical about North Korea’s commitment to current and future arms deals, and said he won’t soon reopen negotiations with the Communist regime in Pyongyang to curb its long-range missile program.

Bush, in his first talks as president with an Asian leader, said all parties dealing with the reclusive regime of Kim Jong Il must be “wise and strong,” a signal of the administration’s wariness about relations with the Cold War holdover.

“When you make an agreement with a country that is secretive,” Bush said, “how are you aware as to whether or not they are keeping the terms of the agreement?”

The talks with South Korea’s Kim, described as “frank and forthright,” were in stark contrast to earlier, more upbeat meetings Bush held with Mexican, Canadian and British leaders.

Kim Dae Jung, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his “sunshine policy” designed to end the North’s isolation and eventually reunify the Korean peninsula, said Bush had been very frank and honest in sharing his perceptions about the North Korean regime.

“This is very important for me to take home and to consider,” the South Korean leader said.

U.S. involvement is considered vital, because Washington has taken the lead in negotiating deals to curb North Korea’s weapons programs, which pose a security threat to South Korea and the entire region.

Bush said he hopes to resume the dialogue with North Korea at some point. But he warned that any new deal on missiles would require complete verification.

New Quebec Premier Vows To Continue Independence Fight

THE WASHINGTON POST -- TORONTO

Bernard Landry was sworn in Thursday as premier of Quebec, promising to fight for independence for the province that he believes is already a nation.

“I will continue the quest for national sovereignty,” Landry told the National Assembly in Quebec City.

Landry replaced Lucien Bouchard, the charismatic leader who resigned in January saying that his efforts to achieve independence for the French-speaking province “were in vain.” Landry, who is considered to be a hard-liner on independence, has promised to hold another referendum on separating from Canada when he feels certain it would pass. Two previous referendums, in 1980 and 1995, failed.

Earlier this week, Landry told members of the governing Parti Quebecois, which he helped found in the 1960s, that Canada should be worried about Quebec. He said momentum for sovereignty was growing -- even though opinion polls show a majority of Quebecers are opposed to it -- and that he that believes he will be the one to lead Quebec to independence. Landry, who turns 64 on Friday, said he will begin immediately to promote Quebec as an emerging nation.

Landry says support for sovereignty has grown from 40 percent in 1980 to 49 percent in 1995, when the last referendum was barely defeated.

Socialists Poised For Historic Win in Paris

THE WASHINGTON POST -- PARIS

For the first time since Parisians began electing the city’s leader 24 years ago, the Socialists appear poised for victory. That would give the left control of the third-most prominent job in the country, after president and prime minister.

Leading the Socialists is the soft-spoken -- some say bland -- Bertrand Delanoe, the first openly gay French politician to run for office at this level. His sexual orientation has caused barely a notice here, another sign of changing times in Parisian politics. He has consolidated his lead in opinion polls in the days before the first round of voting Sunday in the city’s complicated system of indirect election.

A Socialist victory in Paris, coupled with possible wins for the left in two other longtime conservative bastions -- Toulouse and Lyon, France’s second-largest city -- would be a severe embarrassment for the rightist president, Jacques Chirac, who must face the voters for a second term next year.

U.S. Gets Low Ranking On Some Health Care Issues

NEWSDAY -- UNITED NATIONS

American women are more likely to have sexual or reproductive health problems than women in other developed countries, two nongovernmental organizations reported Wednesday.

“The key reason for the low U.S. ranking is that while most women in the United States have excellent prenatal care, and very few women die from pregnancy-related causes, the United States has more teen-age mothers than any other industrialized country,” said a report put out by CARE and Population Action International.

“We just haven’t made the commitment to our kids that we need to,” said Population Action International President Amy Coen, arguing for more comprehensive sexual education and family planning services for teens at a news conference Wednesday.

The report ranked 133 countries on the basis of 10 indicators: teen and adult births, contraceptive use, HIV/AIDS rates, access to pregnancy and childbirth services, pregnancy and childbirth mortality, abortion policies and anemia in pregnant women.

All of the 10 lowest-risk countries -- the United States ranks 14th -- are in Europe except for Singapore and Australia. The 10 highest-risk countries are in sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of Afghanistan.