Rehnquist's Absence Points

To a More Serious Illness

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist did not appear as planned Monday at Supreme Court oral arguments, announcing that his pledge to do so after receiving a cancer-related tracheotomy late last month was "too optimistic," and that he would remain home while receiving radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

Rehnquist's first public comment since the court announced Oct. 25 that he had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer offered circumstantial evidence that he has the most serious form of the disease, several experts said.

The court faces a full caseload, and Rehnquist's absence from oral arguments was the first public confirmation that his illness had affected the functioning of the court.

Justice John Paul Stevens presided in the chief justice's absence.

Rehnquist, 80, said in his statement that he is working on court business at home, including some opinions in cases that have already been argued.

But Leonard Wartofsky, chairman of the department of medicine at the Washington Hospital Center, was skeptical that Rehnquist will be able to read, write and make decisions normally. "With those therapies, he is going to feel lousy," Wartofsky said. "His ability to eat, drink, speak and breathe are all in that area of the neck."

Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg declined to comment.

A diagnosis of anaplastic thyroid cancer, the most serious of four forms of thyroid cancer, would account for Rehnquist's situation, several thyroid cancer experts said. And no other diagnosis would adequately explain his doctors' treatment decisions, the experts said.

-- Shankar Vedantam

and Charles Lane

American Soldier Who Deserted

To N. Korea Is Sentenced

A 64-year-old American soldier pleaded guilty to deserting to North Korea in 1965, receiving a relatively light sentence of as much as 30 days confinement and a dishonorable discharge from a U.S. military judge in Japan.

The sentence for Sgt. Charles Robert Jenkins was part of a plea bargain he struck with U.S. officials in which Jenkins is likely to provide information on his 39 years spent in Communist North Korea.

Japan had asked U.S. officials for leniency in his case after winning Jenkins's release from North Korea in July.

Japan intervened on Jenkins's behalf because he is the husband of Hitomi Soga, a Japanese citizen abducted by North Korean spies in 1978 and repatriated in late 2002 following diplomatic overtures by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Jenkins and Soga have two daughters whom the North Koreans surrendered along with Jenkins last summer.

The case garnered massive media attention in Japan, where the unlikely love story of the U.S. deserter and his Japanese wife gripped the nation. After serving his time, Jenkins is likely to resettle with his family here with the blessing of the Japanese government.

Jenkins admitted that he had willingly abandoned his post along the Demilitarized Zone in 1965. He said he feared his hazardous duty on the tense Korean Peninsula, and wanted to avoid being redeployed to Vietnam.

He said he grew to despise his new homeland, and that only meeting Soga -- who had been kidnapped to teach Japanese to North Korea's spies -- kept him going emotionally.

-- Anthony Faiola

U.N. Nuclear Agency Chief

Urges Iran to Halt Activities

Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, appealed to Iran to suspend its nuclear activities and expressed concern that efforts to halt the spread of atomic weapons have been undercut by North Korea's refusal to allow inspections and by a black market in nuclear materials.

ElBaradei offered a sobering assessment of nonproliferation efforts in an annual address to the 191-member General Assembly of the United Nations. Speaking one day after Iran's parliament voted to affirm the country's right to enrich uranium, ElBaradei urged Iran "to build confidence" by suspending those activities as part of a "comprehensive settlement" to end a nuclear standoff.

France, Britain and Germany offered Iran a deal last month to end its enrichment work in exchange for political and economic incentives, including a guarantee that Iran would not be referred to the Security Council, where the United States could press for sanctions. U.S. diplomats have expressed concern that any agreement could be written in a way that gives the Islamic state wiggle room to continue nuclear experiments that could enhance its bombmaking capabilities.

ElBaradei's address came in an eventful year in which Libya forswore its nuclear arms program, a Pakistan-based marketplace in nuclear weapons components was unmasked, and North Korea continued to pursue its nuclear program beyond the view of international monitors.

The U.N. nuclear chief said he cannot "provide any level of assurance" that Pyongyang is not diverting nuclear material to a weapons program, noting that IAEA inspectors have been barred from the country since 2002.

-- Colum Lynch and Dafna Linzer

Western Monitors Criticize

Presidential Elections in Ukraine

This past Sunday's presidential vote in Ukraine fell short of "European standards for democratic elections," a Western monitoring team said in a statement citing bias by state-controlled media, disruption of opposition campaign events and government interference on behalf of its favored candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych won about 40 percent, and the leading opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, had about 39 percent, according to the Central Elections Commission. Because the official figures showed neither candidate with a majority, a runoff election will be held Nov. 21.

"Ukraine now has three weeks to show that it is willing to organize democratic elections in accordance with its commitments," Doros Christodoulides, head of the delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, said.

Nearly 75 percent of registered voters turned out in Sunday's election, a national record for the post-Soviet era and a measure of the campaign's intensity.

-- Peter Finn

October Retail Sales Up,

But Growth Is Uneven

Retailers posted higher-than-expected sales in October, but the growth was uneven, favoring high-end stores over discounters and suggesting that lower-income consumers remain pinched by rising energy costs and sluggish wage growth.

The International Council of Shopping Centers, which tracks the performance of 75 chain stores, said same-store sales grew 4.1 percent for the month, up from a 3.3 percent increase a year ago.

It was the industry's best monthly performance since May and a notable improvement over the past two months, which had left retailers jittery. Sales rose 2.4 percent in September and just 1.3 percent in August.

-- Michael Barbaro