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World briefly 2/6

Obama urges budget deal to avoid deep cuts

WASHINGTON — Eager to buy time and avoid economic pain, President Barack Obama urged Congress on Tuesday to pass targeted short-term spending cuts and higher taxes as a way to put off sweeping, automatic cuts that would slice deeply into military and domestic programs starting March 1.

Obama’s appeal came as Congress’ budget office projected a yearly federal deficit under $1 trillion for the first time in his presidency and as Republicans applied political pressure on the president to submit balanced budgets, pushing fiscal issues back to the forefront in Washington.

A short-term deficit-trimming measure would once again delay the broad and onerous spending cuts that are unpopular with both political parties, underscoring the government’s difficulty adopting long-term budget policies. Obama conceded the problem, even though he has previously scoffed at temporary budget reprieves.

Illustrating the challenge for the government, the Congressional Budget Office said the government will run a $845 billion deficit this year. That’s down from last year’s $1.1 trillion but still high enough to require the government to borrow 24 cents of every dollar it spends. The report predicted the deficit would decline to $430 billion by 2015, the lowest since President George W. Bush’s last year in office.

British Parliament approves gay marriage

LONDON — British lawmakers voted Tuesday to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed, siding with majority opinion in the country but exposing major divisions within the ruling Conservative Party.

Nearly seven hours of debate in Parliament culminated in a 400-175 vote in favor of a bill that authorizes same-sex marriages but also exempts religious organizations from having to perform them.

The bill now goes to committee and then to the House of Lords.

Approval of the bill allows Prime Minister David Cameron to portray himself and his government as in tune with public opinion and modern values, but it came at the cost of an angry mutiny by his own Conservative backbenchers, who said he had no mandate to press for such a change.

The result is a blow to Cameron’s authority as head of the Conservatives at a time when the party’s rank and file are already nervous about his administration’s ability to turn around Britain’s sputtering economy. In a rare move, Cameron showed up in the House of Commons to cast a vote Tuesday evening.

“I think it’s right that gay people should be able to get married too,” the British leader said in a last-minute televised interview.

Iran to hold nuke talks

WASHINGTON — Six world powers and Iran agreed to hold talks on Tehran’s disputed nuclear program this month in Kazakhstan in the latest attempt to avoid a military confrontation over the issue.

After three months of negotiations, Iran’s national security council reached agreement with the office of the European Union’s foreign policy chief and point person for the six powers involved, Catherine Ashton, for a meeting Feb. 26.

The six countries — Russia, China, France, Germany, Britain and the United States — have been urging Iran to accept limits on a nuclear program that many countries fear is aimed at developing a nuclear weapon. Iran insists that its program is intended only for peaceful purposes, but the regime is eager to win relief from international sanctions that are crushing its economy.

A senior U.S. official said the agreement was “positive” but added that “we’ll be looking to see if they are prepared to engage seriously.”

Several Western diplomats were cautious about prospects for the talks, saying they had seen little from the Iranians to indicate that they are willing to bring their program in line with the requirements of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency.

Several senior Iranian officials have questioned Western motives in the negotiation.

By wire sources