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News Briefs

U.N. Diplomat Reportedly Sought Oil Deals For Egyptian

Benon Sevan, a career U.N. diplomat who headed the oil-for-food program for Iraq, solicited favors from Saddam Hussein’s government on behalf of an Egyptian trader who made more than $1.5 million in profits from his privileged access to Iraqi oil contracts, according to an investigative report released Thursday.

The trader, Fakhry Abdelnour, who is based in Geneva, also paid an illegal surcharge of $160,000 to the Iraqis, in violation of the U.N. sanctions against Iraq, while he and Sevan were lobbying for more business, the report said.

In securing the oil contracts for Abdelnour, Sevan allegedly introduced him into one of the byways of the giant program, one that enriched a small group of traders while pouring money that was meant to buy food and medicine into secret Iraqi slush funds.

Through the intercession of Sevan, the report said, Abdelnour was put on a list of individuals who received coupons, or allocations, that gave him the right to buy millions of barrels of Iraqi crude oil, beginning in the summer of 1998.

Gonzales Confirmed Over Democrats’ Torture Protest

Alberto R. Gonzales, a longtime advisor to President Bush who rose from poverty to shape the White House’s aggressive response to the Sept. 11 attacks, won confirmation on Thursday as the nation’s first Hispanic attorney general despite protests from Senate Democrats over his record on torture.

The Senate approved his nomination on a largely party-line vote of 60 to 36, with six Democrats crossing the aisle to vote with Republicans. The vote, with much stronger opposition than many lawmakers had predicted when Gonzales was nominated for the post in November, reflected the deep divisions between Republicans and Democrats over the administration’s counter-terrorism policies and whether those policies led to the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere.

Vice President Dick Cheney swore in the soft-spoken Gonzales, 49, as attorney general in a small ceremony at the Roosevelt Room at the White House at 5:35 p.m., shortly after the Senate vote.

President Bush, who was traveling, also called to congratulate his friend and senior advisor. “The president knows that Judge Gonzales will make an outstanding attorney general,” said Erin Healy, a White House spokeswoman.

New Questions On Depression Drugs In Pregnancy

In the wake of a yearlong debate over the risks of antidepressants to minors, an analysis of World Health Organization medical records has found that infants whose mothers took the drugs while pregnant may suffer withdrawal symptoms.

The study challenges the assurances that many doctors have long given pregnant women with depression that taking the drugs will not affect their babies.

But experts said that the study, appearing Friday in the journal Lancet, was not definitive and needed to be weighed against the benefits of drug treatment. Untreated maternal depression can also harm a developing fetus, the experts said, and may lead to lasting childhood problems; all of the infants in the study recovered completely from withdrawal symptoms within 24 hours.