World briefs: Group visits North Korea

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SEOUL, South Korea -- Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, led a private delegation including Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, to North Korea on Monday, a controversial trip to a country that is among the most hostile to the Internet.

Mr. Richardson, who has visited North Korea several times, called his four-day trip a private humanitarian mission and said he would try to meet with Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old South Korea-born U.S. citizen who was arrested on charges of "hostile acts" against North Korea after entering the country as a tourist in early November.

Mr. Richardson said his delegation planned to meet with North Korean political, economic and military leaders and visit universities.

Mr. Schmidt and Google have kept quiet about why Mr. Schmidt joined the trip, which the State Department advised against, calling the visit unhelpful.

Japan reviews military

TOKYO -- Japan's new conservative government announced a review of military strategy Monday that analysts said was aimed at offsetting China's growing military power and that may increase defense spending for the first time in a decade.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered his government to replace the nation's five-year military spending plan and to review defense guidelines adopted in 2010 by the left-leaning Democratic Party, which his party defeated in elections last month. Those guidelines called for gradual reductions in defense spending, and also in the size of Japan's military, particularly in the number of tanks and infantry members.

Assad denounced

BEIRUT -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday expressed disappointment with Syrian President Bashar Assad for rejecting the most important elements of an international roadmap to end the country's civil war -- a political handover and establishment of a transitional governing body.

Mr. Assad in a rare speech Sunday outlined his vision for ending the country's conflict with a plan that would keep him in power. He dismissed any chance of dialogue with the opposition.

The West, including the United States and Britain, denounced Mr. Assad's speech.

Iran sanctions broadened

WASHINGTON -- New U.S. sanctions have broadened the front in the West's escalating economic conflict with Iran, targeting large swaths of the country's industrial infrastructure even as Iranian leaders are indicating a willingness to resume negotiations on the country's nuclear program.

With Iran's economy already reeling from previous sanctions, the new measures passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama last week are intended to deliver powerful blows against key industries ranging from shipping and ports-management to the government-controlled news media, congressional officials and economic experts say.

Also in the world ...

Italy's former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, announced a deal Monday with the right-wing Northern League ahead of next month's national elections, potentially opening up a tighter contest in a race being closely watched by financial markets. ... Venezuela is heading toward a constitutional crisis as allies of Hugo Chavez and the opposition accuse each other of using the socialist president's battle with cancer to plot a coup.

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