Pyongyang, North Korea
Defying Clinton:
North Korea responded angrily this week to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s warning not to follow through on its repeated threats to launch a test missile. Speaking from Tokyo during her first trip abroad as secretary, Clinton told North Koreans: “We are watching very closely.” Just a day after her remarks, the official Central News Agency said that Washington had threatened North Korea and would face “destruction” if it attacked. North Korea “has not made a concession despite threat and blackmail from the U.S., nor will it make one in the future,” the news agency said. Last year, North Korea agreed in principle to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs in return for aid and diplomatic benefits, but it still refuses to accept a verification plan.

Tipsy-looking minister resigns:
Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa has resigned over allegations that he was drunk at the G-7 meeting in Rome last week. Nakagawa swayed and closed his eyes frequently while taking questions at a press conference, and his speech was slow and slurred. He said his condition was the result of having taken cold medicine while suffering from jet lag. The vacancy at the Finance Ministry couldn’t come at a worse time. The Japanese economy just recorded its worst quarter since 1974, shrinking nearly 3.3 percent, and parliament is bogged down in negotiations over the 2009 budget. The global meltdown has hit Japan especially hard because its economy is highly dependent on exports of expensive consumer goods.

North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan
Taliban sanctuary:
Pakistani authorities this week struck a deal with Islamist leaders, accepting a system of strict Islamic law in a district just 100 miles from the Pakistani capital in exchange for a truce with militants. The move effectively concedes the area as a Taliban stronghold and suspends a faltering effort by the army to defeat the insurgents. Local leaders said if they were allowed to impose Islamic law, they could persuade the militants to lay down their arms. But critics, including the Islamabad News, said the deal was “bowing to the terrorists.” The U.S., which continues to bomb militant areas using unmanned drones, has long urged Pakistan to keep military pressure on the militants. Similar deals with Islamist groups in Pakistan’s territories have failed in the past, as the militants continued to attack troops, bomb government buildings, and burn girls’ schools.

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
First woman minister:
In a rare breakthrough for women’s rights, Saudi Arabia appointed its first female Cabinet minister this week. Noura bint Abdullah al-Fayez became deputy education minister in charge of a new department of girls’ education. “This is an honor not only for me but for all Saudi women,” she told the Riyadh Arab News. “I’ll be able to face challenges and create positive change.” In his first Cabinet reshuffle since assuming the throne in 2005, King Abdullah also replaced the chief of the religious police and the country’s top judge—two men who were known as enemies of women’s rights. The judge, Sheikh Salih Ibn al-Luhaydan, ruled last year that TV station owners that broadcast “immoral” programs showing unveiled women could be killed. “This is the true start of the promises of reform,” said Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent pro-reform newspaper editor.

The pope is coming:
Pope Benedict XVI will visit Israel as part of a Mideast tour in May, the Vatican said this week. The pope is expected to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem and to meet with both Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The last papal visit to the Holy Land was in 2000, when Pope John Paul II made a pilgrimage. This visit, though, comes at a time of poor relations between the Vatican and Israel, after the pope last month rescinded the excommunication of a bishop who has denied that there had been a Holocaust.

Harare, Zimbabwe
Sharing power at last:
Zimbabwe’s new prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, pledged this week to repair the country’s shattered economy and end the cholera epidemic. Tsvangirai, a longtime opponent of President Robert Mugabe, was sworn in last week under a deal in which the two men, who both claimed to have won last year’s presidential election, will share political power. “We are opening a new chapter for our country,” Tsvangirai said. “There can be no turning back.” His task is enormous: Twenty years of Mugabe’s rule have resulted in hyperinflation and a 90 percent unemployment rate. Nearly half the population depends on food aid.