Top Stories: Worldwide

The following are the day's top general news stories:

1. Obama Says Tax Cut Extension Must Include Jobless Benefits, Credit Plans 2. North Korea Says South Korean Drills Push Peninsula Tensions to `Extreme' 3. Clinton Cable Shows Frustration With Saudi Failure to Stop Terrorist Funds 4. Iran Nuclear Negotiators Seek Framework, Don't Foresee Quick Breakthrough 5. Serbia Recovers to Defeat France 3-2, Win Davis Cup for the First Time

1. Obama Says Tax Cut Extension Must Include Jobless Benefits, Credit Plans

President Barack Obama, making his first demands in negotiations to sustain Bush-era tax cuts, said any legislation must extend federal jobless aid and include his own soon-to-expire tax policies. Obama told Democratic leaders in Congress he´d reject even a temporary extension of the Bush-era tax cuts if the legislation doesn´t encompass his own policies, which include the "Making Work Pay" tax credit that adds up to $800 per year in a married couple´s paycheck, an administration official said. Obama also wants more generous credits for the working poor, college students and adoptive parents enacted in 2009 to be renewed. The ultimatum ratchets up the stakes as negotiators race the calendar before the tax cuts lapse; the jobless aid ended Nov. 30 and the Bush tax-cuts expire Dec. 31. Obama´s demands also would add about $150 billion in cost to the bill, all of which would be financed by deficits. Allowing his own tax cuts to expire, Obama told lawmakers, would result in a tax increase on 95 percent of Americans, according to the official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Obama made his demand after the U.S. Congress failed to advance legislation that would renew the Bush-era policies only for American individuals who earn less than $200,000 and couples who make under $250,000, thresholds Obama set as a campaign promise. The Senate yesterday rejected legislation with that cap as well as another measure with a $1 million threshold.

2. North Korea Says South Korean Drills Push Peninsula Tensions to `Extreme'

North Korea said South Korea is raising tension on the Korean Peninsula to an "uncontrollable extreme phase" by holding military exercises with the U.S. and planning a live-firing drill today by navy ships. The South Korean government "is so hell-bent on the moves to escalate the confrontation and start a war that it is recklessly behaving bereft of reason," the state-run Korea Central News Agency said in a commentary yesterday. North Korea is "now maintaining a maximum self-possession and self- control," it said. Today´s drills will include live firing from ships into seas near Daecheong Island, South Korea´s Joint Chiefs of Staff said last week. North Korea said the exercise will result in shells landing in its territorial waters. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have increased since North Korea shelled South Korea´s Yeonpyeong island Nov. 23, killing two soldiers and two civilians. South Korea´s new defense minister, Kim Kwan Jin, on Dec. 3 vowed retaliation that would include airstrikes if North Korea attacks again.

3. Clinton Cable Shows Frustration With Saudi Failure to Stop Terrorist Funds

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revealed frustration at the reluctance of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia to cut funds to Islamic extremists, according to a classified memo obtained by Wikileaks and published today by the New York Times and Guardian. In a Dec. 30, 2009, cable, Clinton said "more needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba -- but the Saudi government is reluctant to stem the flow of money." Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates were also singled out in the diplomatic memos as suppliers of cash to terrorists. In the same dispatch, Clinton points to donors in Saudi Arabia as the "most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide" and complained that "it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority." This latest batch of leaks will do little to improve U.S. relations with its oil-rich allies in the Middle East and contradicts public statements by the U.S. administration about the progress made in cutting off terrorist fund-raising.

4. Iran Nuclear Negotiators Seek Framework, Don't Foresee Quick Breakthrough

U.S. and European diplomats will seek to build a framework for future talks with Iran over its nuclear program when negotiators meet for the first time in a year in Geneva. The goal of the talks today will be to find a way for the so-called P5+1 group, composed of China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and U.S., to build some momentum for further negotiations, say past and present diplomats from countries participating. An immediate breakthrough isn´t likely, they say. "The objective is to engage Iran into a phased approach to confidence building which should lead to meaningful negotiations," Ruediger Luedeking, Germany´s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Dec. 2 in Vienna on behalf of the European powers participating in the talks. The two-day meeting is the latest chance to avert a clash with Iran, holder of the world´s No. 2 oil and natural gas reserves, over its nuclear program. The U.S. and European countries accuse Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is designed to generate electricity for a growing population.

5. Serbia Recovers to Defeat France 3-2, Win Davis Cup for the First Time

Serbia won tennis´s Davis Cup for the first time after recovering to win 3-2 against France as Viktor Troicki beat Michael Llodra in the final match in Belgrade. Troicki, in his first career meeting against Llodra, won 6- 2, 6-2, 6-3 to complete a turnaround after Serbia entered the final day trailing 2-1 ahead of the last two singles matches. Earlier, Novak Djokovic defeated Gael Monfils 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 to tie the match. "This is the most unbelievable moment of my life," the British Broadcasting Corp. cited Troicki as saying. France was seeking its 10th title in the sport´s elite team competition for men and the first since 2001. Serbia was taking part in the final for a first time.

-0- Dec/06/2010 00:35 GMT

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