World and Nation

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E.U. Temporarily Suspends Travel Ban for Belarussian Leader

Belarus, which is often described as the last dictatorship in Europe, emerged from the diplomatic deep freeze Monday when the European Union temporarily lifted a travel ban on the country’s president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko.

With ties between the European Union and Russia severely strained over the recent conflict in Georgia, European foreign ministers decided to relax travel restrictions on the Belarussian government in the hope of luring the country away from Moscow’s sphere of influence.

Officially, the move Monday was in response to the recent release of political prisoners by the Belarussian government. But diplomats in Brussels said they thought that the brief war between Georgia and Russia in August might have prompted alarm among Russia’s other neighbors, including Belarus, about their own independence.

Some European governments, however, are skeptical that such fears can be exploited diplomatically, and they doubt that overtures will have a significant effect on the Belarussian government. That caution was reflected in the temporary nature of the concession on the travel ban; it lapses automatically in six months unless there is unanimous support from European Union members to continue it.

For U.S. Astronauts, A Russian Second Home

Garrett Reisman was on his way to this formerly secret military base for several weeks of training, making his way through Kennedy Airport, when his cell phone rang. It was his boss, Steven W. Lindsey, the head of NASA’s astronaut office.

“Come back to Houston. They’ve canceled your training — they’re playing hardball,” Reisman recalled his boss saying. He was caught in a momentarily important dispute between NASA and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos.

Ultimately, Reisman’s aborted trip was just a bump in the road on the way to space: he spent three months aboard the International Space Station earlier this year, performed a spacewalk and even traded jokes over a video link with Stephen Colbert.

Everyone who works with the Russian space program has similar stories to tell of implacable bureaucrats, byzantine rules and decisions that seem capricious at best.

And many of those stories are played out here in Star City, where cosmonauts and, now, astronauts from all over the world train to fly on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to go to the $100 billion International Space Station.

Star City has become an important second home for Americans working with their Russian counterparts, and it is about to become more important still. During the five-year gap after NASA shuts down the space shuttle program in 2010 and the next generation of spacecraft makes its debut by 2015, Russia will have the only ride for humans to the station.

For Culturati in Naples, the City’s Notoriety Is Outshining Its Beauty

The posters on Claudio Velardi’s office walls mix alluring Neapolitan sites with phrases like “Monnezza a chi?” (Who are you calling trash?) Velardi, a public relations whiz recruited from Rome, runs the regional tourism office here. His advertising campaign to counter images that have plagued Naples since last year — the endless news photographs of rotting garbage in the streets — clearly hasn’t done much, not yet, anyway, to turn around the city’s fortunes. Tourists still stay away in droves, notwithstanding that for months the center of town has been immaculate.

Culture was supposed to be Naples’ salvation, as so often is the hope in former industrial centers. The steelworks that drove much of the local economy had mostly closed by the end of the 1970s. The earthquake in 1980 compounded the misery. Then things looked up, for a while.

“We had a dream,” said Nicola Spinoza, who is in charge of Naples’ state museums. He shook his head, remembering the promise squandered by the time Antonio Bassolino, an ex-Communist who became mayor in 1993, had left office and moved on to be governor of the region.

Israel’s Leading Parties Sign Coalition Pact

The main partners in Israel’s departing government, the Kadima Party of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and the Labor Party of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, signed a draft coalition agreement on Monday, moving Livni an important step closer to forming a new government, representatives of the parties said.

Assuming that Barak and Livni sign off on the entire agreement — which they have not yet done — her principal remaining task will be to bring on board the ultra-Orthodox party Shas to reach a majority in Parliament.

The most significant part of the draft accord between Kadima and Labor grants Barak official status as the Cabinet’s second in command, especially regarding Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians and Syria.

“No issue will be decided in the Cabinet without the coordination and agreement of Barak,” one of his associates said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not his spokesman. “It amounts to almost, but not quite, a veto power.”

Barak entered the coalition talks with hopes of being appointed to lead the negotiations with Syria, but Livni refused. Still, it is clear that if this deal sticks, whoever becomes foreign minister will have substantially less power in foreign affairs than Barak. It remains unclear, however, how Livni and Barak will divide their responsibilities for the negotiations.