Iran allows Swiss to see US hikers

WASHINGTON - The State Department on Tuesday welcomed Iran's decision to allow Swiss diplomats to meet with three Americans who have been detained in Iran since being arrested for illegal entry in late July.

The move could be seen as a conciliatory gesture on Iran's part, coming two days before a high-profile meeting between Iran and five world powers seeking to persuade Iran to abandon any effort to build nuclear weapons.

The Swiss government, which represents U.S. interests in Tehran, offered few details of the visit.

Iraq budget poses security challenge

BAGHDAD - Iraq's budget shortfall due to low oil prices presents a challenge to building up the country's army and raises questions about whether it will be able to protect itself when U.S. troops leave, a top American commander said Wednesday.

Iraq's security plans have been derailed because of the drop in oil prices, hampering efforts to buy ships, planes and weapons and slowing down the construction of the necessary national supply chain.

With a looming deadline for American troops to pull out of Iraq by 2012 under a U.S.-Iraqi security pact, the clock is ticking on U.S. training efforts.

President Barack Obama has ordered all combat troops out of Iraq by Aug. 31, leaving up to 50,000 troops to train and advise until the end of 2011.

Kenya, Ethiopia seize ivory stash

NAIROBI, Kenya - Authorities in Ethiopia and Kenya have seized more than 2,600 pounds of bloodstained ivory from about 100 illegally killed elephants at airports, the head of Kenya's Wildlife Service said Wednesday.

Julius Kipng'etich said trained dogs sniffed out a consignment of bloodstained tusks at Kenya's national airport late Tuesday. Another shipment of tusks sent by the same individual had been seized Monday at the airport in Ethiopia's capital.

Both shipments were sent as unaccompanied luggage to Bangkok. Police have launched an investigation and wildlife officials said they will continue to patrol the airport with dogs.

Congress OKs more Pakistan aid

WASHINGTON - Legislation to triple aid to Pakistan and stem the tide of radicalism and anti-Americanism in that Asian nation cleared Congress on Wednesday and moved to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The bill, approved by a voice vote in the House, would provide Pakistan with $1.5 billion in aid a year over the next five years focused on democratic, economic and social development programs.