Top Stories: Worldwide

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

1. Obama Says Tax Compromise Will Spare Middle-Class Americans Rate Increase 2. U.S. Ends Push to Renew Israeli Settlement Freeze as Part of a Peace Deal 3. Halliburton Worker Was on a Smoke Break When BP Spill Began, Panel Is Told 4. China Calls Nobel Committee `Clowns' for Giving Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo 5. Elizabeth Edwards, Political Wife Shaped by Losses, Dies From Cancer at 61

1. Obama Says Tax Compromise Will Spare Middle-Class Americans Rate Increase

President Barack Obama defended the deal he struck with Republicans to temporarily extend Bush-era tax cuts as necessary to spare middle-income Americans a tax increase and to spur job creation. Confronting complaints from Democrats in Congress that he gave too much ground by keeping lower rates for the wealthiest Americans for two more years, Obama said the government "will never get anything done" without compromise. "A long political fight that carried over into next year might have been good politics, but it would be a bad deal for the economy and it would be a bad deal for the American people," Obama said at a White House news conference. He said he will fight to let the tax cuts for the wealthiest taxpayers expire in two years, as they would under the agreement.

2. U.S. Ends Push to Renew Israeli Settlement Freeze as Part of a Peace Deal

The U.S. will stop pushing Israel to freeze settlements in the West Bank as a condition for restarting direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, a U.S. official said in Washington. The move leaves renewed peace talks in doubt, after three weeks of negotiations with Israel in September failed to yield an agreement before a previous Israeli moratorium expired Sept. 26. Palestinian Authority leaders have said they won´t return to face-to-face negotiations without a halt to settlement-building. The Obama administration concluded that a moratorium by itself couldn´t bring the sides closer to a peace agreement, said the official, who asked not to be named because the U.S. move hadn´t been announced. The U.S. decided that it was more important to focus on fundamental issues needed to achieve a lasting peace, such as borders and the status of Jerusalem, the official said. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will outline a new U.S. strategy on Mideast talks in a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Dec. 10, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

3. Halliburton Worker Was on a Smoke Break When BP Spill Began, Panel Is Told

A Halliburton Co. technician missed key signals that BP Plc´s doomed Macondo well was on the verge of blowing out because he was taking a smoking break, a federal investigative panel heard. Joseph E. Keith, a senior unit manager for Halliburton´s Sperry subsidiary, told the U.S. Coast Guard-Interior Department panel in Houston today that he left his post aboard the Deepwater Horizon for about 10 minutes on the night of the April disaster to drink coffee and smoke half a cigarette. While he was away from his monitors, pressure data indicated the well was filling up with explosive natural gas and crude, according to charts entered into evidence today by the panel in Houston. Keith said that had he seen the pressure data, he would have "called the rig floor" to warn fellow workers they were in danger. The April 20 catastrophe killed 11 employees, injured 17, sank the $365 million Transocean Ltd. vessel and triggered the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Millions of barrels of crude gushed into the ocean for almost three months, fouling beaches, fishing grounds and marshes, and bringing deep-water oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico to a halt.

4. China Calls Nobel Committee `Clowns' for Giving Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo

China´s government branded members of Norway´s Nobel Peace Prize committee as "clowns" for giving this year´s award to jailed writer Liu Xiaobo, and derided the decision as a "farce." "Cold War practices" were at play during the selection process, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters in Beijing today. Such efforts to change China´s political system will fail, Jiang said. Since the Oslo-based committee´s Oct. 8 decision to award the prize to Liu -- a writer jailed by Chinese authorities on charges of plotting to subvert the ruling Communist Party -- relations between Norway and China have deteriorated. Jiang said last week it will be difficult to repair ties. Chinese officials have yet to tell the Nobel committee whether they´ll allow Liu to attend a Dec. 10 award ceremony in the Norwegian capital. "We are against anyone making an issue out of Liu Xiaobo and interfering in China´s internal affairs and judicial authority," Jiang said. "We will not change because of interference by a few clowns; we will not change our path. We will stick to the path of ruling the country by law and its national conditions."

5. Elizabeth Edwards, Political Wife Shaped by Losses, Dies From Cancer at 61

Elizabeth Edwards, a popular figure in the Democratic Party whose life was shaped by loss, first of a teenage son, then of her husband´s two presidential campaigns, then of a marriage torn by his infidelity, has died. She was 61. She died today at her home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, surrounded by friends and family including her estranged husband, former Democratic U.S. Senator John Edwards, the Associated Press reported, citing a statement from the family. Throughout a six-year battle with breast cancer, she devoted herself to raising son Jack, 10, and daughter Emma Claire, 12, her two youngest children. "In her life, Elizabeth Edwards knew tragedy and pain," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "Many others would have turned inward; many others in the face of such adversity would have given up. But through all that she endured, Elizabeth revealed a kind of fortitude and grace that will long remain a source of inspiration." Edwards endured cancer treatments while supporting her husband´s bid -- against Obama, among others -- for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Later, she concluded her husband shouldn´t have run because of his 2006 affair with a filmmaker traveling with his campaign. She separated from her husband in January.

-0- Dec/08/2010 00:35 GMT

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