Bush establishes panel to ensure safety of imports

n WASHINGTON - President Bush on Wednesday established a Cabinet-level panel to recommend how to guarantee the safety of imported food and other products brought into the country and how to better police them.

The White House denied the effort was aimed at China, though the announcement came the same day that senators heard testimony from regulators about problems caused by the extremely rapid growth of imports from China.

The panel, chaired by Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, is expected to report its recommendations to the president in 60 days. It will review procedures and regulations and look at safety issues in countries that send goods to the United States.

U.S. troops arrest al-Qaida leader

n BAGHDAD - The U.S. command announced on Wednesday the arrest of an al-Qaida leader it said served as the link between the organization's command in Iraq and Osama bin Laden's inner circle, enabling it to wield considerable influence over the Iraqi group.

The announcement was made as the White House steps up efforts to link the war in Iraq to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, with a growing number of Americans opposing the Iraq conflict.

Some independent analysts question the extent of al-Qaida's role in Iraq.

British police arrest man in plot against Russian tycoon

n LONDON - Police said Wednesday they had arrested a man suspected of plotting to kill Boris Berezovsky, the exiled Russian tycoon and vehement Kremlin critic who is one of the key figures in the escalating tensions between Moscow and London.

The Metropolitan Police said the man was arrested June 21 and turned over to immigration authorities two days later.

The police did not further identify the man and British immigration officials declined to comment; the Russian Embassy said it had not been notified of such an arrest.

The police statement came hours after Berezovsky said he had fled the country for about a week in mid-June after police warned him his life was in danger.

Pakistani militants bomb army convoy

n ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Militants bombed an army convoy then raked it with gunfire Wednesday, killing 17 soldiers and continuing a wave of violence that has stirred doubts about Pakistan's stability.

At least five suspected militants also died in clashes with security forces in North Waziristan, a Taliban and al-Qaida stronghold on the Afghan border where a disputed peace deal has collapsed and Pakistani troops have moved in.

Iran confirms 2nd round of talks with U.S. over Iraq War

n TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's foreign minister said Wednesday that his government had accepted a U.S. request for ambassador-level talks on Iraq, to be held 'in the near future.'

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the talks - the second in two months - would be in Iraq but he did not say when. In Washington, the State Department said a meeting was 'likely' and that the date and time were still being discussed.

Mottaki said the request for a new meeting was initiated by Washington because of the hardships faced by U.S. troops in Iraq.

Republicans thwart Democrats' plan to pull out U.S. troops

n WASHINGTON - Senate Republicans torpedoed legislation Wednesday to force the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq, bowing to President Bush's adamant refusal to consider any change in war strategy before September. The 52-47 vote fell far short of the 60 needed to advance the legislation and marked the final act in an all-night session Democrats engineered to dramatize their opposition to the war.

'Time and the American people are ... on our side,' said a defiant Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who has made ending the war the Democrats' top goal since they took control of the Senate in January.

5 killed in Lebanon as army advances

n BEIRUT, Lebanon - Four Lebanese soldiers were killed as Lebanese troops battled militants Wednesday inside a northern Palestinian refugee camp, a senior military official said. A teenager was later killed by a militant rocket. In response to the Lebanese army's bombardment in the Nahr el-Bared camp, Fatah Islam militants fired 18 more Katyusha rockets Wednesday on nearby villages, killing the teenager, injuring a young girl and damaging homes, the state-run National News Agency reported.