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No help with Iran: Russia disappointed the Obama administration this week when it backed away from a recent pledge to consider tougher new sanctions against Iran. After meeting with Hillary Clinton on her first trip to Moscow as secretary of state, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that threatening Iran with sanctions would be “counterproductive” to negotiations over its nuclear program. Clinton argued that diplomacy had to be backed by a credible threat of sanctions to keep Iran from stalling. After Obama recently canceled the missile-defense program in Eastern Europe that Russia had fiercely opposed, Russia’s president said additional sanctions on Iran were “inevitable.’’

Pyongyang, North Korea

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Talking and shooting: North Korea sent mixed signals about its intentions this week, agreeing in principle to return to nuclear talks but then shooting off a barrage of short-range missiles. Chinese diplomats said North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il told them he would return to stalled, six-nation nuclear negotiations if the U.S. would agree to bilateral talks. North Korea routinely shoots missiles to “demonstrate its guts” before sitting down to talks, said Korean scholar Ryoo Kihl-jae. Separately, North Korea agreed to meet with South Korean officials to discuss flood control on rivers that start in the North and end in the South. Last month, North Korea opened a dam that sent a wall of water surging across the border, killing six South Koreans camping downriver.

Haryana, India

No toilet, no bride: Indoor plumbing is becoming more common in rural India thanks to the 2-year-old “No toilet, no bride” campaign. The government-run campaign, part of an initiative to improve sanitation and combat diseases such as typhoid and malaria, urges women to refuse to marry any man who can’t offer them a home with a bathroom. With slogans like “No loo, no ‘I do,’” the campaign has gotten results; more than 1 million toilets have been built in the rural north since it was launched. Because of India’s frowned-upon but still-practiced policy of selective abortion of female fetuses, brides are in short supply. So women can afford to be picky. “I won’t let my daughter near a boy who doesn’t have a latrine,” Usha Pagdi tells The

Washington Post.

South Waziristan, Pakistan

War moves: Pakistani fighter jets pounded Taliban mountain sanctuaries this week, killing at least eight people as thousands fled amid signs that the government was launching a major offensive. Government troops massed in the region, after the Taliban claimed responsibility for the latest in a wave of attacks that killed 125 people in a week. A suicide bombing in Islamabad last week was followed by a car bombing at a Peshawar market, a suicide bombing in the Swat Valley, and a brazen siege of the army headquarters at Rawalpindi that went on for nearly 24 hours. Responding to the bloody spate of attacks, Interior Minister Rehman Malik vowed to wipe out the Islamist extremist threat in Pakistan, and a massive military operation against the Taliban sanctuaries is believed to be imminent. “We will defeat them and send them on the run,” Malik said.

Kabul, Afghanistan

Election fallout: Accusations flew this week after a member of the commission investigating fraud in Afghanistan’s August presidential election abruptly quit. Maulavi Mustafa Barakzai, one of two Afghans on the Electoral Complaints Commission, resigned after charging that the three foreigners on the panel—an American, a Canadian, and a Dutchman—were “making all decisions on their own.” President Hamid Karzai said the allegation cast doubt on the integrity of the commission. But former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s top challenger, said Karzai himself had engineered Barakzai’s resignation precisely to discredit the commission, which is believed to be leaning toward calling a runoff. Karzai maintains he won the election outright.


Journalists flee: Hundreds of Iranian reporters, photographers, and bloggers who chronicled the violence and fraud in Iran’s recent presidential election are desperately trying to flee their country, an independent press group reported. The Iranian government has cracked down on anyone caught disseminating information about its bloody repression of protesters. Since the June election, it has closed six newspapers and arrested hundreds of journalists, accusing them of being “agents of the West.” Some claim that they were tortured in prison, and many have gone into hiding. The watchdog group Reporters Without Borders said conditions in Iran haven’t been this dangerous for journalists since right after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. “Physical and psychological pressure is being used to force detained correspondents to make confessions,” the group said.

Khartoum, Sudan

American’s killers to hang: At the request of the victim’s mother, a Sudanese court has sentenced four men to death by hanging for the murder of a U.S. diplomat. John Granville, 33, and his Sudanese driver were killed in January 2008 as they returned from a New Year’s Eve party. Four Islamist militants who were convicted in the killings claim innocence, saying they were tortured into falsely confessing. Under Sudan’s Islamic law, the family of a victim can pardon the killer or request the death penalty. Granville’s mother, Jane, opted for death, saying she wanted to “safeguard the lives of others from those who killed my beloved son.”

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