* Ahmadinejad craves Zionist-free ME The United States should pack up and leave the Middle East and stay out of regional affairs, Iran's president said Thursday.
* Turkey's Gul seeks to calm military 'coup plot' fears Turkey's president has said tensions over an alleged military coup plot will be resolved within the law, after meeting the head of the armed forces.
* Peres: Chance of peace with Syria about to dissipate President Shimon Peres said Thursday that the chance of peace with Syria is about to dissipate, in a speech during a national ceremony in Tel Hai.
* China snubs US call for harsher Iran sanctions Beijing once again has shrugged off Washington's call for harsher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear activities.
* Moscow pushes for link between new arms deal with U.S. and missile defense Moscow expects a new nuclear arms reduction treaty between Russia and the United States to be linked to Washington's plans to deploy missile shield elements in Europe.
* Afghan government claims Taliban stronghold The Afghan government took official control of the southern Taliban stronghold of Marjah on Thursday, installing an administrator and raising the national flag.
* Sunni leader decides to take part in Iraq election A top Sunni lawmaker who just last week pulled his party out of Iraq's upcoming election backtracked Thursday.
* Israel, US hold strategic talks on Iran Israel and the US were holding a one-day, high-level strategic dialogue on Thursday expected to focus on sanctions against Iran.
* US slams Israel over designating heritage sites The Obama administration criticized Israel for designating two shrines on Palestinian territory as Israeli national heritage sites.
* Ashton's absence from defence gathering raises eyebrows Defence ministers gathering in Palma de Mallorca on Wednesday (24 February) "regretted" the absence of foreign and security policy chief Catherine Ashton.