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Iran warns US over Syria as crackdown intensifies

CAIRO — Two Iranian warships docked in a Syrian port Monday as a senior Iranian lawmaker denounced the possibility that the U.S. might arm the Syrian opposition, adding to the international tensions over the nearly yearlong crackdown by President Bashar Assad’s government.

As government forces continued to pound opposition strongholds, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it was trying to negotiate a brief pause in the violence to deliver aid to the most devastated areas.

Activist groups reported intensified attacks on the Baba Amr neighborhood in the central city of Homs. They said the government’s inability to eradicate the opposition there despite weeks of bombardment could be keeping the military from striking deeper and harder into other parts of the country where armed resistance and rebellion are believed to be growing, including Hama and Idlib to the north.

“The biggest challenge in Homs is Baba Amr,” said Wissam Tarif, of the activist group Avaaz. “They cannot move military power to Idlib or Hama without finishing Homs first. They cannot leave any pockets of resistance behind them.”

“The presence of Iran and Russia’s flotillas along the Syrian coasts has a clear message against the United States’ possible adventurism,” said Hossein Ebrahimi, a vice chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s national security and foreign policy commission, Fars reported.

—Liam Stack, The New York Times

North Ko

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea’s Workers’ Party will hold a conference in mid-April, the government announced Monday, affording its new leader, Kim Jong Un, the opportunity to inherit top party posts held by his late father.

Neither the meeting’s date nor the agenda was disclosed, but party conferences have in the past helped leaders bolster their authority. At the most recent conference in September 2010 — the first in 30 years — Kim made his debut as his father’s successor and was made vice chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission. At this one, he and his closest aides are expected to dole out important party posts among themselves and their trusted associates.

“The April party conference means that North Korea is intent on an early completion of power transfer to Kim Jong Un,” said Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea. “It is likely that those party elders who didn’t play key roles in Kim Jong Un’s consolidation of power will recede and those younger and closer to him will make their way into the party’s Central Committee and get promoted.”

Choe Sang-Hun, The New York Times

China official visits investment-hungry Ireland

DUBLIN — Ireland has positioned itself to become China’s springboard into Europe, Irish government officials said Monday at the conclusion of a three-day official visit by Xi Jinping, the vice president of China, who is expected to succeed Hu Jintao as its paramount leader next year.

Xi came to Ireland, the only EU country he will visit on his world tour, accompanied by a delegation of 150 business executives. The Irish government is hoping that Chinese companies will follow the lead of many U.S. multinationals, like Pfizer, Google and Facebook, that have based their European headquarters in Ireland.

“We had very fruitful discussions in our meeting, and we also concluded a number of important memoranda of understanding between Ireland and China in the areas of investment, education and business,” Prime Minister Enda Kenny of Ireland said Monday.

—Douglas Dalby, The New York Times