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News Briefs

60 Million Lack Health Insurance


Nearly 60 million people lack health insurance at some point in the year, the Congressional Budget Office said Monday, adding that official estimates fail to distinguish between people who lack coverage for a few months and those who are uninsured for a full year or more.

Members of Congress, administration officials, lobbyists and advocates often cite the Census Bureau when they declare that 41 million people have no health insurance.

But in a new report Monday, the budget office said the bureau’s figure “overstates the number of people who are uninsured all year,” while significantly understating the number who are insured for only part of the year.

The report said 57 million to 59 million people -- “about a quarter of the nonelderly population” -- lacked insurance at some time in 1998, the most recent year for which reliable comparative figures were available.

At the same time, the budget office said, government surveys suggest that the number of people uninsured for the entire year was 21 million to 31 million, or 9 percent to 13 percent of nonelderly Americans.

U.N. Council May Request Foreign Force for Congo


With memories of unheeded warnings about Rwanda clearly on their minds, Security Council ambassadors discussed on Monday the possibility of inviting a foreign military force to help avert any increase in violence in the Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, has called on council members to develop “a coalition of the willing” to provide troops to end the power vacuum. Diplomats from several delegations said they hoped France would lead the effort. The French mission’s spokesperson, emphasizing that the request went to all council members, said the French government was studying the question.

After the meeting, one U.S. diplomat said, “We support a member state that is willing to consider this task quickly” -- an implicit nudge to the French to take on the responsibility.

“Regarding troops, every member of the Security Council is considering the request made by the secretary-general,” a spokesperson for the French Embassy said Monday. “We perfectly well understand the security situation on the ground is not secure” and that the U.N. forces present are not equipped to deal with a mounting conflict.

Lebanese Welcome Iranian President


Iranian President Mohammad Khatami arrived on Monday to a glowing embrace from the Lebanese government and tens of thousands of chanting, cheering Lebanese Shiites. His visit was the first here by an Iranian president since the 1979 Islamic revolution, and represents a major diplomatic reaction in the Islamic world to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Washington will be listening closely to what Khatami says. The United States considers Iran the leading state sponsor of terrorism and has raised concerns recently about whether it is developing nuclear weapons. It has demanded that Iran end the support of militant groups like Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon.

Nevertheless, Iran and the United States seem to be moving toward a new phase in their often hostile relationship, with Bush administration officials confirming in recent days that the two countries have been holding secret contacts.

Khatami moves on to Syria after his three-day visit here, and many in the region see his trip as an attempt to bolster ties among countries in the Middle East that appear to be next in line for U.S. wrath after the Iraq war. The visit also marks a milestone in Iran’s growing closeness to Lebanon. The two countries on Monday signed economic agreements, including provision of a $50 million Iranian loan.