US responds to Iraqi proposals on US troops

BAGHDAD - The U.S. responded Thursday to Iraqi proposals for changes in the draft security pact that would keep American troops here for three more years, saying it now considers the text final and it is up to Iraq's government to push the process to approval.

U.S. and Iraqi officials would not release details of Washington's response, which was contained in a letter from President Bush to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

But a senior Iraqi official familiar with the negotiations said Washington accepted some proposals and rejected others.

Pope meets with Muslim scholars

VATICAN CITY - Christians and Muslims must overcome their misunderstandings, Pope Benedict XVI told Muslim clergy and scholars Thursday as he pressed for greater freedom of worship for non-Muslims in the Islamic world.

His meeting in the Apostolic Palace with a delegation of scholars and other Muslim representatives capped a three-day conference in Rome involving Catholic clergy and professors and Islamic experts. Benedict told participants he had followed the 'progress' of the talks closely.

Russians may allow Putin to return to office

MOSCOW - Russia's constitution will be amended by year's end to extend the presidential term to six years, lawmakers promised Thursday - a move that could pave the way for Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin.

It would be the first change to the Russian constitution since its adoption in 1993. A six-year term could mean 12 more years as president for Putin - the current prime minister - who has not ruled out getting his old job back.

Rice: Mideast peace by '09 no longer possible

TEL AVIV, Israel - The Bush administration conceded Thursday that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by a year-end deadline is no longer possible.

'We do not think it is likely it will happen before the end of the year,' White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in Washington, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged as much at the outset of a Mideast trip meant to secure the modest gains from a year of U.S.-sponsored talks between Israel and one part of the fractured Palestinian leadership.