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News Briefs

Bush Cautions Against Speculation on Mideast Time Line


President Bush said Thursday that he discussed the possible formation of a provisional Palestinian state in talks with the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, but he warned against speculation that he would adopt it, or any other specific proposal, in the next phase of his Middle East peacemaking efforts.

Bush said he would “lay out my vision at some point in time,” while declining to provide any hint of what that vision would include or when he would reveal it. “I think it’s probably wise for people not to spend a lot of time speculating.”

But apparent contradictions and ambiguities among recent statements by Bush and his White House aides, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Middle East and European leaders seemed likely to inflame speculation.

At a meeting of foreign ministers of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in British Columbia Thursday, Powell refused to be drawn into further comments on the provisional state idea, saying all would be revealed “in due course.”

Meanwhile, Egypt, widely thought to have been the proximate proponent of the idea that a state could be quickly declared on the shrinking portion of the West Bank and Gaza Strip controlled by the Palestinian Authority, pending final agreement over borders at a later date, said it did not support such a proposal. And Israel, thought to be adamantly opposed to any early statehood declaration, provisional or otherwise, appeared willing to consider it under certain circumstances.

India Considers Military Pullback


India is considering the withdrawal of some fighter aircraft and ground troops from its border with Pakistan, possibly within the next several weeks, if it sees further evidence that Pakistan is ending its support for Islamic militants in Kashmir, a senior government official said Thursday.

At the same time, the official said, there’s general recognition in the Indian government that although Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has pledged to cut off the flow of militants moving from Pakistan’s portion of the divided region into India’s, he doesn't exercise total control over them. As a consequence, India will not automatically respond to a terrorist attack inside its borders by striking at targets in Pakistan, the official said.

“If we see Pakistan is making sincere attempts at implementing what it has committed, if that is happening, then if there is a violent incident in Jammu and Kashmir, we won’t have a knee-jerk reaction to that,” the official said. “Then we can say, ‘No, no, no, Pakistan is cooperating in turning off the taps.’”

The official said, however, that India would not relax its military posture in Kashmir itself, where hundreds of thousands of Indian soldiers are deployed along the line that separates them from Pakistani forces, until after state elections there in the fall.

Imclone’s CEO Testifies About Timing of FDA Rejection


The brother of former ImClone Systems CEO Samuel D. Waksal testified Thursday that he phoned Waksal with bad news about the company’s flagship product the day before family members began dumping shares in allegedly illegal insider trading.

Harlan W. Waksal, who replaced his older brother as ImClone’s CEO last month, told lawmakers he informed Samuel Waksal on Dec. 26, 2001, that the Food and Drug Administration was about to reject the company’s application to market a widely touted experimental cancer drug. By the time the rejection was announced publicly two days later, causing the share price to plummet and outside investors to suffer big losses, Waksal family members had sold $10 million worth of stock.

The younger Waksal’s testimony appeared to corroborate key elements of the government’s criminal case against Samuel Waksal, who was arrested Wednesday by FBI agents on eight charges of securities fraud, conspiracy and perjury.

Appearing before the committee shortly before his younger brother, Samuel Waksal declined to answer lawmakers’ questions, asserting his constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination.

Lawmakers Vow Quick Action On Homeland Security Department


Congressional leaders outlined an ambitious legislative schedule Thursday to enact President Bush’s government reorganization plan, vowing to create a Homeland Security Department by Sept. 11.

House and Senate leaders established separate procedures for handling the administration’s proposal, whose details may arrive on Capitol Hill as early as next week. The Senate will simply amend a bill recently approved by the Governmental Affairs Committee, but the House will assign several established committees -- plus a new leadership panel -- to conduct hearings on the plan, key members said.

The creation of a massive new federal agency presents a major challenge to lawmakers, who have feuded over far less ambitious legislative proposals this year. Republican and Democratic leaders will have to bridge ideological differences while resolving jurisdictional battles within their own caucuses.

In a joint press release Thursday, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) expressed confidence they could complete their work by the anniversary of the terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 people.

“The speaker and I stand ready to work with the White House and the Senate in a bipartisan way to get this bill done by September 11,” Gephardt said.