Iran offers to negotiate over its disputed nuclear program

Iran offered Friday to negotiate with six world powers — the U.S. Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — about its disputed nuclear program in a new bid to end growing concern that it could be used to produce weapons.

The move, after a hiatus of more than a year, was anticipated in the wake of an invitation to the Iranian leadership last month by chief EU envoy Catherine Ashton and following repeated statements by Tehran officials that they were ready for talks.

Ashton called the Iranian offer “a very important” development. Still, after eight years of Tehran refusing to halt uranium enrichment, despite U.N. Security Council sanctions, officials from the main countries trying to engage Iran expressed little hope of a breakthrough.


French strikes come to a halt following pension vote

French workers ended their strikes at all oil refineries and at strategic fuel terminals following weeks of protests over President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, unions and French officials said Friday.

The decisions bring to a close a series of walkouts that left motorists without gas and threatened to cripple the fuel-needy industrial sector.

The protest movement has been losing steam since parliament this week approved the plan to reform France’s pension plan in order to keep it solvent.


Suicide bomber breaks peace, kills at least 21

A suicide bomber wearing an explosives belt killed at least 21 people, mostly Shiites, on Friday in a town north of Baghdad, shattering what had been weeks of relative calm, the town’s mayor said.

The blast emphasizes the delicate nature of Iraq’s security gains and comes as the country is approaching its eighth month without a new government since the March elections.

The suicide bomber blew himself up inside a popular cafe in Balad Ruz, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad.