on: Dec 09, 2013, 07:52 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Apple, Google, Microsoft and more demand sweeping changes to US surveillance laws
AOL, Twitter, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Apple and LinkedIn to call for reforms to restore the public's trust in the internet
Dan Roberts in Washington and Jemima Kiss in London
theguardian.com, Monday 9 December 2013 10.26 GMT
Tech comp AOL, Twitter, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Apple and LinkedIn say: 'The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual'
The world's leading technology companies have united to demand sweeping changes to US surveillance laws, urging an international ban on bulk collection of data to help preserve the public's “trust in the internet”.
In their most concerted response yet to disclosures by the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Twitter and AOL will publish an open letter to Barack Obama and Congress on Monday, throwing their weight behind radical reforms already proposed by Washington politicians.
“The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual – rights that are enshrined in our constitution,” urges the letter signed by the eight US-based internet giants. “This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for change.”
Several of the companies claim the revelations have shaken public faith in the internet and blamed spy agencies for the resulting threat to their business interests. “People won’t use technology they don’t trust,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel. “Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.”
The chief executive of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, said: “Recent revelations about government surveillance activities have shaken the trust of our users, and it is time for the United States government to act to restore the confidence of citizens around the world."
Silicon Valley was initially sceptical of some allegations about NSA practices made by Snowden but as more documentary evidence has emerged in the Guardian and other newspapers detailing the extent of western surveillance capabilities, its eight leading players – collectively valued at $1.4tn – have been stung into action amid fears of commercial damage.
“We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens,” they say in the letter. “But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide.”
A separate list of five “reform principles” signed by the normally fiercely competitive group echoes measures to rein in the NSA contained in bipartisan legislation proposed by the Democratic chair of the Senate judiciary committee, Patrick Leahy, and the Republican author of the Patriot Act, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner.
Crucially, Silicon Valley and these key reformers in Congress now agree the NSA should no longer be allowed to indiscriminately gather vast quantities of data from individuals it does not have cause to suspect of terrorism in order to detect patterns or in case it is needed in future.
“Governments should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of internet communications,” says the companies' new list of principles.
They also argue that requests for companies to hand over individual data should be limited by new rules that balance the “need for the data in limited circumstances, users’ reasonable privacy interests, and the impact on trust in the internet”.
This places them in direct conflict with Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who is sponsoring a rival bill that would enshrine the right of security agencies to collect bulk data.
Feinstein, who represents California, has been accused by critics of being a cheerleader for Washington's intelligence committee but now faces opposition from her state's largest industry.
The companies also repeat a previous demand that they should be allowed to disclose how often surveillance requests are made but this is the first time they have come together with such wide-ranging criticism of the underlying policy.
The industry's lobbying power has been growing in Washington and could prove a tipping point in the congressional reform process, which has been delayed by the autumn budget deadlock but is likely to return as a central issue in the new year.
The Feinstein and Leahy/Sensenbrenner bills agree with technology companies that there should be greater transparency of court rulings regulating surveillance and more opportunity for privacy advocates to argue against intelligence agency requests.
The eight technology companies also hint at new fears, particularly that competing national responses to the Snowden revelations will not only damage their commercial interests but also lead to a balkanisation of the web as governments try to prevent internet companies from escaping overseas.
“The ability of data to flow or be accessed across borders is essential to a robust, 21st century, global economy,” the companies argue in the list of reform principles. “Governments should permit the transfer of data and should not inhibit access by companies or individuals to lawfully available information that is stored outside of the country. Governments should not require service providers to locate infrastructure within a country’s borders or operate locally.”
And they argue foreign governments need to come together to agree new international standards regulating surveillance, hinting at legal disputes and damage to international trade otherwise.
“In order to avoid conflicting laws, there should be a robust, principled, and transparent framework to govern lawful requests for data across jurisdictions, such as improved mutual legal assistance treaty – or “MLAT” – processes,” say the companies. “Where the laws of one jurisdiction conflict with the laws of another, it is incumbent upon governments to work together to resolve the conflict.”
Official responses to the Snowden revelations have been angriest in countries subject to US surveillance such as Germany and Brazil, but more muted in countries such as Britain and Australia, whose governments are close partners of the NSA.
Martha Lane Fox, who recently resigned as the British government's digital champion, responded to the new letter by expressing concern at the lack of understanding of both the scale and complexity of the surveillance story within Britain's government.
"We do have an issue in this country among the corporate world, the political establishment and the general population where we have a shortage of skills and understanding for the digital age," she told the Guardian. "There is an absence of a clear, coherent debate around this subject in this country and it's a very big issue that will only become more frequent the more technologically dependent we become."
She pointed to comments made by the former Conservative home office minister Lord Blencathra and the Labour peer Lord Soley, who both expressed concern at the scope of surveillance by the security services.
"[The government] needs to listen to people, to examine whether their policies are fit for the digital age. It's not that people aren't used to their data being collected, but what it is being collected for, and there needs to be a distinction between the average person and a security threat."
The eight internet companies behind the new letter also acknowledge that business also has a responsibility to protect privacy.
“For our part, we are focused on keeping users’ data secure, deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorised surveillance on our networks, and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope,” they conclude.
“We urge the US to take the lead and make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight.”
Google, Twitter, Yahoo and last week Microsoft have all responded to public concerns over surveillance by increasing the security of their products, introducing “perfect forward secrecy” encryption to protect information travelling on their internal systems.
"The security of users' data is critical, which is why we've invested so much in encryption and fight for transparency around government requests for information,” said Google's chief executive, Larry Page.
“This is undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world. It's time for reform and we urge the US government to lead the way.”
Revealed: spy agencies' covert push to infiltrate virtual world of online games
NSA and GCHQ collect gamers' chats and deploy real-life agents into World of Warcraft and Second Life
Read the NSA document: Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments
theguardian.com, Monday 9 December 2013 12.00 GMT
To the National Security Agency analyst writing a briefing to his superiors, the situation was clear: their current surveillance efforts were lacking something. The agency's impressive arsenal of cable taps and sophisticated hacking attacks was not enough. What it really needed was a horde of undercover Orcs.
That vision of spycraft sparked a concerted drive by the NSA and its UK sister agency GCHQ to infiltrate the massive communities playing online games, according to secret documents disclosed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The files were obtained by the Guardian and are being published on Monday in partnership with the New York Times and ProPublica.
The agencies, the documents show, have built mass-collection capabilities against the Xbox Live console network, which boasts more than 48 million players. Real-life agents have been deployed into virtual realms, from those Orc hordes in World of Warcraft to the human avatars of Second Life. There were attempts, too, to recruit potential informants from the games' tech-friendly users.
Online gaming is big business, attracting tens of millions of users world wide who inhabit their digital worlds as make-believe characters, living and competing with the avatars of other players. What the intelligence agencies feared, however, was that among these clans of innocent elves and goblins, terrorists were lurking.
The NSA document, written in 2008 and titled Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments, stressed the risk of leaving games communities under-monitored, describing them as a "target-rich communications network" where intelligence targets could "hide in plain sight".
Games, the analyst wrote "are an opportunity!". According to the briefing notes, so many different US intelligence agents were conducting operations inside games that a "deconfliction" group was required to ensure they weren't spying on, or interfering with, each other.
If properly exploited, games could produce vast amounts of intelligence, according to the the NSA document. They could be used as a window for hacking attacks, to build pictures of people's social networks through "buddylists and interaction", to make approaches by undercover agents, and to obtain target identifiers (such as profile photos), geolocation, and collection of communications.
The ability to extract communications from talk channels in games would be necessary, the NSA paper argued, because of the potential for them to be used to communicate anonymously: Second Life was enabling anonymous texts and planning to introduce voice calls, while game noticeboards could, it states, be used to share information on the web addresses of terrorism forums.
Given that gaming consoles often include voice headsets, video cameras, and other identifiers, the potential for joining together biometric information with activities was also an exciting one.
But the documents contain no indication that the surveillance ever foiled any terrorism plots, nor is there any clear evidence that terror groups were using the virtual communities to communicate as the intelligence agencies confidently predicted.
The operations raise concerns about the privacy of gamers. It is unclear how the agencies accessed their data, or how many communications were collected. Nor is it clear how the NSA ensured that it was not monitoring innocent Americans whose identity and nationality may have been concealed behind their virtual avatar.
The California-based producer of World of Warcraft said neither the NSA nor GCHQ had sought its permission to gather intelligence inside the game. "We are unaware of any surveillance taking place," said a spokesman for Blizzard Entertainment. "If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission."
Microsoft declined to comment on the latest revelations, as did Philip Rosedale, the founder of Second Life and former CEO of Linden Lab, the game's operator. The company's executives did not respond to requests for comment.
The NSA declined to comment on the surveillance of games. A spokesman for GCHQ said the agency did not "confirm or deny" the revelations but added: "All GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that its activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the Intelligence and Security Committee."
Though the spy agencies might have been relatively late to virtual worlds and the communities forming there, once the idea had been mooted, they joined in enthusiastically.
In May 2007, the then-chief operating officer of Second Life gave a "brown bag lunch" address at the NSA explaining how his game gave the government "the opportunity to understand the motivation, context and consequent behaviours of non-Americans through observation, without leaving US soil".
One problem the paper's unnamed author and others in the agency faced in making their case – and avoiding suspicion their goal was merely trying to play computer games at work without getting fired – was the difficulty of proving terrorists were even thinking about using games to communicate.
A 2007 invitation to a secret internal briefing noted "terrorists use online games – but perhaps not for their amusement. They are suspected of using them to communicate secretly and to transfer funds." But the agencies had yet to find any evidence to support their suspicions.
The same still seemed to hold true a year later, albeit with a measure of progress: games data that had been found in connection with IPs, email addresses and similar information linked to terrorist groups.
"Al-Qaida terrorist target selectors and … have been found associated with XboxLive, Second Life, World of Warcraft, and other GVEs [Games and Virtual Environments]," the document notes. "Other targets include Chinese hackers, an Iranian nuclear scientist, Hizballah, and Hamas members."
However, that information wasn not enough to show terrorists are hiding out as pixels to discuss their next plot. Such data could merely mean someone else in an internet café was gaming, or a shared computer had previously been used to play games.
That lack of knowledge of whether terrorists were actually plotting online emerges in the document's recommendations: "The amount of GVEs in the world is growing but the specific ones that CT [counter-terrorism] needs to be methodically discovered and validated," it stated. "Only then can we find evidence that GVEs are being used for operational uses."
Not actually knowing whether terrorists were playing games was not enough to keep the intelligence agencies out of them, however. According to the document, GCHQ – the UK's equivalent to the NSA – already had a "vigorous effort" to exploit games, including "exploitation modules" against Xbox Live and World of Warcraft.
That NSA effort, based in the agency's New Mission Development Centre in the Menwith Hill UK air force base in North Yorkshire, was already paying dividends by May 2008.
At the request of GCHQ, the NSA had begun a deliberate effort to extract World of Warcraft metadata from their troves of intelligence, and trying to link "accounts, characters and guilds" to Islamic extremism and arms dealing efforts. A later memo noted that among the game's active subscribers were "telecom engineers, embassy drivers, scientists, the military and other intelligence agencies".
The UK agency did not stop at World of Warcraft, though: by September a memo noted GCHQ had "successfully been able to get the discussions between different game players on Xbox Live".
Meanwhile, the FBI, CIA, and the Defense Humint Service were all running human intelligence operations – undercover agents – within the virtual world of Second Life. In fact, so crowded were the virtual worlds with staff from the different agencies, that there was a need to try to "deconflict" their efforts – or, in other words, to make sure each agency wasn't just duplicating what the others were doing.
By the end of 2008, such human intelligence efforts had produced at least one usable piece of intelligence, according to the documents: following the successful takedown of a website used to trade stolen credit card details, the fraudsters moved to Second Life – and GCHQ followed, having gained their first "operational deployment" into the virtual world. This, they noted, put them in touch with an "avatar [game character] who helpfully volunteered information on the target group's latest activities".
Second Life continued to occupy the intelligence agencies' thoughts throughout 2009. One memo noted the game's economy was "essentially unregulated" and so "will almost certainly be used as a venue for terrorist laundering and will, with certainty, be used for terrorist propaganda and recruitment".
In reality, Second Life's surreal and uneven virtual world failed to attract or maintain the promised mass-audience, and attention (and its userbase) waned, though the game lives on.
The agencies had other concerns about games, beyond their potential use by terrorists to communicate. Much like the pressure groups that worry about the effect of computer games on the minds of children, the NSA expressed concerns that games could be used to "reinforce prejudices and cultural stereotypes", noting that Hezbollah had produced a game called Special Forces 2.
According to the document, Hezbollah's "press section acknowledges [the game] is used for recruitment and training", serving as a "radicalising medium" with the ultimate goal of becoming a "suicide martyr". Despite the game's disturbing connotations, the "fun factor" of the game cannot be discounted, it states. As Special Forces 2 retails for $10, it concludes, the game also serves to "fund terrorist operations".
Hezbollah is not, however, the only organizsation to have considered using games for recruiting. As the NSA document acknowledges: they got the idea from the US army.
"America's Army is a US army-produced game that is free [to] download from its recruitment page," says the NSA, noting the game is "acknowledged to be so good at this the army no longer needs to use it for recruitment, they use it for training".
on: Dec 09, 2013, 07:46 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Venezuela goes to polls in crucial test for Nicolás Maduro
President's supporters mobilise vote with early morning bugle calls as inflation soars and economic problems hit ratings
Reuters in Caracas
theguardian.com, Sunday 8 December 2013 17.25 GMT
Venezuelans have voted in municipal elections that will serve as a test of the popularity of President Nicolás Maduro seven months after he came to power.
"All patriots must vote so we can give a victory to our commander [the late previous president Hugo Chávez] and guarantee peace and future for the fatherland," Maduro, 51, said on Twitter in exhortation to supporters.
In Caracas, shantytowns and elsewhere, pro-Maduro activists woke up supporters before dawn with bugle calls and trumpets in an election mobilisation tactic begun under Chávez.
"It's important to vote, though I don't think it will bring the changes I want," said graphic designer Antonella Gutierrez, 45, on her way to vote at a primary school in a pro-opposition upscale suburb of Caracas nestled under the Avila mountain.
"I want changes from the presidency down. This government is tearing the country into bits, destroying my Venezuela."
Unlike the presidential votes that Maduro won in April and Chávez last year, morning queues appeared thin at poll stations. A healthy turnout of 60% or more was forecast.
Though local issues such as roads, street lights and utility services were bound to affect individual mayoral races, both sides in the polarized Opec nation also see the overall results as a crucial show of their standing at national level.
The ruling Socialist party was likely to win a majority of municipalities thanks to its popularity in rural areas, where most of the mayorships are located, while the opposition wants to keep control of big cities such as Caracas and Maracaibo.
Since taking office, Maduro, a 51-year-old former bus driver, has maintained core support among "Chavistas" by keeping his popular welfare programmes and repeating his rhetoric and politics. But Venezuela's economic problems have worsened.
Inflation in Venezuela has hit 54%, scarcities of basic products from flour to milk have led to queues and anger around the country, power cuts are frequent, and the local bolivar currency has tanked against the dollar on the black market.
The economic problems had been weighing on Maduro's ratings, but his recent aggressive drive to inspect shops and businesses suspected of price-rigging – and arrests of several dozen retailers – has proved popular among core supporters. Results were expected to start coming in on Sunday evening.
Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro cements power with victory in local elections
President's party thwarts opposition hopes of denting Maduro's power in what it called a referendum on his performance
Reuters in Caracas
theguardian.com, Monday 9 December 2013 05.20 GMT
President Nicolás Maduro's party won the most votes in Venezuela's local elections on Sunday, disappointing the opposition and helping his quest to preserve the late Hugo Chavez's socialist legacy.
With votes in from three-quarters of the nation's 337 mayoral races, the ruling party and allies had combined 49.2% support, compared with 42.7% for the the opposition coalition and its partners, the election board said.
"The Venezuelan people have said to the world that the Bolivarian revolution continues stronger than ever," Maduro said, referring to Chavez's self-styled movement named after the independence hero Simon Bolivar.
In a triumphant speech in Bolivar Square in downtown Caracas, Maduro mocked the opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, and urged him to resign.
"They underestimate us. They call me a donkey, there is social racism," he said. "They said that today was a plebiscite, that Maduro would have to leave the presidency after today."
The government took nearly 200 municipalities, with three-quarters counted, reflecting the traditional strength of "Chavismo" in rural and poorer areas.
As expected, the opposition performed well in urban centres, keeping the principal mayorship of the capital, Caracas, and that of Venezuela's second city, Maracaibo. The opposition also won the capital of Barinas, Chavez's home state.
But its failure to win the overall vote share was a blow to Capriles. Capriles had repeatedly called for the vote to be seen as a referendum on Maduro's performance.
"I did everything humanly possible," Capriles said after the results were out. "Remember that Venezuela does not have a single owner. A divided country needs dialogue."
Since taking power in April, Maduro, a 51-year-old former bus driver, has faced a plethora of economic problems including slowing growth, the highest inflation in the Americas and shortages of basic goods including milk and toilet paper.
Yet an aggressive campaign launched last month to force businesses to slash prices proved popular with consumers, especially the poor, and helped Maduro's candidates on Sunday.
Sunday's election was the biggest political test for Maduro since he narrowly won the presidential election after Chavez's death from cancer ended his 14-year rule of the OPEC nation.
Winning the overall vote share may help Maduro shake off perceptions of weakness, enabling him to exert more authority over the different factions in the ruling Socialist Party and perhaps take unpopular measures such as a currency devaluation.
Opposition activists alleged some irregularities on Sunday, including intimidation of some observers and the use of state oil company PDVSA's vehicles to ferry pro-government voters.
Capriles accused the government of intimidating local media to silence his voice and running the most unfair campaign in Venezuelan history.
"I had to go round the country practically with a megaphone in my hand ... This campaign saw a brutal waste of Venezuelans' resources (by the government)," he said in a midnight speech.
But unlike after April's vote, Capriles did not appeal against the validity of the results.
Capriles may find his authority challenged within his coalition after Sunday's results.
"They did not achieve their objective of a protest vote against Maduro," local pollster Luis Vicente Leon said.
on: Dec 09, 2013, 07:42 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Obama and Netanyahu downplay differences on Iran nuclear deal
Israeli prime minister says he shares US preference for ending Tehran's alleged weapons programme through diplomacy
Dan Roberts in Washington
theguardian.com, Sunday 8 December 2013 18.50 GMT
Binyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama sought to heal their rift over Iran during a weekend conference in Washington, as United Nations nuclear experts began visits to a heavy-water production plant opened for inspection under the recent peace deal.
The leaders of Israel and the US, who clashed repeatedly over western strategy for containing Iran's nuclear programme during last month's negotiations, appeared in more conciliatory mood at a conference organised by the Israeli-American donor Haim Saban – suggesting the affair may have done less damage to relations between the two allies than hawks in Washington have claimed.
"While Israel is prepared to do what is necessary to defend itself, we share President Obama's preference to see Iran's nuclear weapons programme end through diplomacy," Netanyahu told the Saban event via video link on Sunday. "A diplomatic solution is better than a military solution."
On Saturday, Obama stressed that the interim deal with Iran, which loosened sanctions in exchange for steps toward blocking its path toward nuclear weapons, should not be seen as weakening Washington's commitment to defending Israeli interests.
"We will continue to contest [Iran's] efforts where they're engaging in terrorism, where they're being disruptive to our friends and our allies," he told the conference, at the Willard Hotel in Washington. "We will not abide by any threats to our friends and allies in the region, and we've made that perfectly clear."
Substantial policy differences remain, but both leaders downplayed any damage to US/Israeli relations – a bond that Netanyahu called the "critical anchor" in the region.
Obama said: "There are times where I, as president of the United States, am going to have different tactical perspectives than the prime minister of Israel – and that is understandable, because Israel cannot contract out its security. In light of the history that the people of Israel understand all too well, they have to make sure that they are making their own assessments about what they need to do to protect themselves. And we respect that."
Their remarks came amid media reports that progress was under way in Iran to ensure it abides by the interim agreement struck in Geneva last month. The Associated Press reported claims on Iranian state TV that UN nuclear inspectors had begun their visit to a heavy-water production plant that Iran agreed to open to inspection last month. Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman of Iran's nuclear department, said two inspectors were at the Arak heavy water production plant, 150 miles south-west of Tehran.
Netanyahu argued that the next round of negotiations in Geneva must also include a demand for Iran to cease verbal threats against Israel.
"This is a regime committed to our destruction," said Netanyahu. "There must be an unequivocal demand alongside the negotiations in Geneva for a change in Iran's policy [toward Israel]. This must be part and parcel of the negotiation … there must be a demand to change its genocidal policy."
Netanyahu also suggested that progress toward tougher restrictions on Iran's nuclear ambitions was vital to separate talks over Palestinian peace.
"Our best efforts to reach Palestianian/Israeli peace will come to nothing if Iran succeeds in building atomic bombs," he said. "A nuclear-armed Iran will give even greater backing to the radical and terrorist elements in the region. It will undermine the chance of arriving at a negotiated peace."
But the Israeli prime minister said he welcomed US efforts to promote a peace agreement, joking that his own cabinet was complaining he spent more time negotiating with the secretary of state, John Kerry, on the subject than he did with them.
"I am ready for historic compromise that ends the conflict between us once and for all," Netanyahu said. "My willingness to make peace flies in the face of a persistent myth that Israel is unwilling to show flexibility."
Speaking to the conference on Saturday, Kerry, who has just returned from a trip to Jerusalem and Ramallah, said a study by US general John Allen showed it was possible to establish a permanent Palestinian state without compromising Israeli security.
"We are convinced that the greatest security will actually come from a two-state solution that brings Israel lasting peace," he said.
on: Dec 09, 2013, 07:39 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
The day South Africa came to pray, sing and celebrate in Soweto's cathedral
The Regina Mundi church still bears the bullet-holes of apartheid and finds the spirit of '94 revived in Nelson Mandela's passing
The Guardian, Sunday 8 December 2013 20.39 GMT
With hips swaying, shoulders bobbing and Bibles held aloft, the congregation at Soweto's Regina Mundi church thanked God for Nelson Mandela. Suited and booted, with shirts neatly pressed and hair freshly plaited, the faithful flocked to this Catholic church, while others went to mosques, temples and synagogues across the country, to pay their respects.
Sunday was designated a national day of prayer, but the supplications varied. Keorapetsa Marasela, 28, prayed that "everyone would come together" while Sy Mokadi prayed for "Mandela's spirit to go well" and George Tsholo, 49, gave thanks that "the Lord had seen fit to give this great man to us".
Ever wary of the hero-worship that marred the credibility of other former freedom fighters, Mandela always recoiled at attempts to canonise him. "I am not a saint," he once said. "Unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying."
But that did not stop the congregation nodding in agreement when Father Sebastian Rossouw suggested that "God sent us Madiba". Drawing parallels between those who did not believe in Jesus's impending arrival in the Bible and those who feared apartheid would continue forever, Rossouw said: "We have asked ourselves, where is God? Where is the light? Why does he allow such evil? Why has he deserted us? Why has he forgotten us? … Madiba did not doubt the light. He paved the way for a better future, but he cannot do it alone," he said.
Everyone, he said, had a Mandela in them somewhere.
The priest's words were more than just rhetorical questions for the parishioners of Regina Mundi, which has a history of protest as well as prayer. Those who knew where to look, as they raised their eyes heavenwards, could spy the bullet holes in the church ceiling and windows left by the apartheid regime.
Known as "the people's cathedral" it came by these wounds during the 1976 Soweto uprisings when apartheid police followed demonstrating students, who sought sanctuary, into the church and unleashed gunfire and teargas on them. It has kept them as a badge of honour.
After liberation it played host to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, presided over by Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu.
Elsewhere in South Africa, at more official events, the mood appeared sombre, with functionaries wearing black clothes and dark frowns looking into their laps.
But if Soweto is anything to go by then the nation at large seems to be bearing its grief in a festive spirit. On Saturday night, in the township's nearby Vilakazi street, crowds of youngsters danced outside Mandela's former home and poured out of bars to join in resistance songs.
On Sunday in Regina Mundi, there were only dry eyes in the house. "We are celebrating the fact that he lived his life to the fullest and was always humble," said Mokadi.
But the mood seems to go beyond the man to a nostalgic embrace of the moral certainty and sense of resistance that he came to personify. The scenes of people dancing, waving flags and singing about Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC, feel like a revival of the spirit of 1994 when first democratic elections took place.
That does not mean there is no grief. "Of course we are sad," said Tsholo. "But he was an old man and we had come to expect his passing and prepare for it. It wasn't like Lady Di where one day she was there and the next she wasn't. We knew this day was coming."
"It is a celebration," said Marasela. "But it is diluted with sadness."
Thought it may seem counterintuitive, Mandela's death appears to have injected a sense of hope and optimism in many South Africans by reminding them of the longer journey on which the country has embarked and how far they have come.
Mandela stood against apartheid and for a non-racial democracy – the rest was detail. To vote for him in 1994 was to vote for liberation. Things were black and white back then. Every election since then has been about the details and inevitably things have turned a murky shade of grey.
The transition from resistance to governance does not lend itself well to chants.
There has been progress, but not enough for many. Corruption remains, and by most counts is getting worse. "Mandela was an invaluable teacher of how a politician should be in relation to values," said Mokadi. "The leaders we have now are failing more and more."
Some argue the ANC has lost its way. But even if it hadn't, its path would not be nearly as captivating or clear as 20 years ago. That's why it has to keep reminding people of its achievements. On the drive from Soweto to Johannesburg ANC posters declare: "Free education and meals for 1.1 million learners" and "Gauteng [the local province] now a better place to live."
So the blanket coverage of Mandela, on every talkshow, television station and newspaper front page, helps make historical sense of the hardships that remain and apparently gives heart to some, particularly to those in the townships who never experienced apartheid first hand but are burdened with its legacy.
One song on Vilakazi street called for former apartheid president PW Botha, who stepped down in 1989, to stop harassing former ANC leader Oliver Tambo, who died in 1993. It looked as though few of those singing it were even born when either man was in office.
"Before we couldn't speak our language, we couldn't live where we want. Now we are free and we have hope," says Marasela, who recalls watching Mandela's release on the television with her grandmother as a five-year-old and dancing in the street on the first election day "as though had voted".
How long this mood lasts and what effect it might have if it does is impossible to tell. The day before Mandela died a leaked report alleged the president, Jacob Zuma, had spent 200m rand (£12m) of taxpayers' money upgrading his own house in Nkandla and then lied about it – an accusation he denies.
Nobody's talking about that now. Whether the current ANC leadership can ride this wave of nostalgia or the comparisons will make them look out of their depth remains to be seen.
Ever the populist, Zuma, has given voice to the zeitgeist. "We should, while mourning, also sing at the top of our voices, dance and do whatever we want to do, to celebrate the life of this outstanding revolutionary who kept the spirit of freedom alive and led us to a new society," he said.
"As South Africans, we sing when we are happy, and we also sing when we are sad to make ourselves feel better. Let us celebrate Madiba in this way, which we know best. Let us sing for Madiba."
Nelson Mandela shared final moments with wife and former wife, says friend
Graça Machel and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela were at bedside of former South African president, according to Bantu Holomisa
David Smith in Johannesburg
The Guardian, Sunday 8 December 2013 15.24 GMT
Nelson Mandela's final moments were spent off a life support machine, with his wife, Graça Machel, and his former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at his bedside, witnesses have said.
The former president died at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, at 8.50pm on Thursday,sending millions into mourning in South Africa and around the world.
Bantu Holomisa, a politician and close family friend, recalled how less than three hours earlier he found Mandela asleep and struggling to breathe but "still fighting". Holomisa, 58, said he received a call on Thursday afternoon telling him to come urgently. "They said on the phone that Madiba [Mandela's clan name] doesn't look good," he told the Guardian. "I immediately drove straight to his home and went to his bedroom."
The time was 6.35pm and Mandela's condition was clearly deteriorating. "I could confirm this wasn't the Madiba we've seen since he went into hospital. He was sleeping with no life support machine. You could hear from his breathing that he was struggling.
"Winnie and Graça were at the bedside of Madiba. You could see the tension. I bowed to acknowledge them then gave myself a moment of silence with Madiba, said thank you to the doctors and then left at 6.50pm for another engagement."
At that point Holomisa did not realise he would never see his mentor again. "I was still in a state of denial. He's still fighting, but it was not to be. I was not that shocked when he died because I had just seen him. My mind was conditioned from the time I received the call."
The national outpouring of song and dance in honour of Mandela's life has moved Holomisa, who remained close to him despite being expelled from the African National Congress (ANC) and setting up the rival United Democratic Movement. "It reminds me of the day Mandela was released or, after his election, the day we inaugurated him as president. The mood is one of celebration and he would appreciate it as typical of him," said Holomisa.
Dali Tambo, son of Mandela's friend and ally Oliver Tambo, was woken by his son with the news at around midnight on Thursday. He went to Mandela's home to find Machel, Madikizela-Mandela and other family members, relatives of the late Walter Sisulu, as well as President Jacob Zuma and several government ministers.
"There was a prayer and a hymn," he said. "The leadership consulted with the family about arrangements. The body was brought down and taken to a morgue. It was very sad, very sombre. It's always a hard experience for the family when the deceased leaves. I remember with my father we had an argument about wanting him to stay longer. It's like a full stop."
The public gathered outside the high walls of the home in a tree-lined suburb, lighting candles and singing liberation-era songs. Tambo added: "You could hear the crowd. It was beautiful and spontaneous. They were first who'd heard the news and had rushed there. They were emotional. My last words to a group of ANC people who asked me to toyi-toyi [protest dance] with them were, 'I'm going to bed.'"
South Africa's Sunday Times reported that Mandela's daughter Makaziwe and grandson Mandla were also at his deathbed. Mandela's daughters from his marriage to Winnie, Zindzi and Zenani, were both in London for the royal premiere of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and left the screening for the first flight home.
The military arrived with a casket to collect Mandela's body at about midnight so it could be taken to a military hospital in the capital, Pretoria, where it will lie in state this week. As the casket left draped in the South African national flag, Mandla Mandela sang his grandfather's praises with the words "Aah Dalibunga" and was joined by family members and political leaders, the paper reported.
According to the City Press newspaper, it was Tuesday night when Zuma learned of Mandela's deteriorating condition and that his death was imminent. "On Wednesday, word came from his house in Houghton that his already critical condition had worsened," the paper said. "He was fading fast. Mandela had not spoken a single word for months.
"On Thursday night, he was entering the final moments of his life. His former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, was there and preparing to stay overnight. Those in the house speak of an overwhelming sadness that engulfed it. Family members were allowed into his room in pairs or in threes and allowed private moments with him."
The paper cited different sources making different claims about the cause of death: fluid on the lungs, a serious infection that was antibiotic resistant, blood pressure that dropped too low. On Sunday the presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj did not respond to requests for comment.
on: Dec 09, 2013, 07:33 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
North Korea's Kim Jong-un purges his uncle in spectacularly public fashion
Previously powerful Jang Song-thaek accused of factionalism, corruption, drugs, gambling and 'dreaming different dreams'
Tania Branigan in Beijing
theguardian.com, Monday 9 December 2013 03.41 GMT
The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has overseen the ousting of his previously powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek for crimes including faction-building and “dissolute and depraved” behaviour involving drug use, womanising and gambling, North Korean media has announced.
The unprecedented and lengthy dispatch from the state news agency KCNA followed claims of the purge last week by South Korean legislators briefed by Seoul’s spy agency.
Less than two years since becoming leader, Kim has made sweeping changes to the power apparatus in North Korea. Another key figure who had been seen as a mentor – Ri Yong Ho, then military chief – was removed due to “ill health” last year.
But the toppling of Jang is remarkable because he is being attacked so publicly and aggressively, and because of his family ties. The North Korean state broadcaster showed a photograph of him being forcibly removed from the meeting that announced his fate by two uniformed men.
“It is the most prominent disgrace of an official in North Korea’s entire history,” said Andrei Lankov, an expert on the North at Kookmin University, who noted that the whole front page of the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper was devoted to Jang.
“Purges in the past have seldom touched members of the family; the only precedent I remember was in the mid-70s when the brother of Kim Il-sung was removed. As far as I understand there was no official accusation brought against him; he was simply sent to the countryside.
“Secondly, when they have purged people in the past it was mentioned in passing.
“It tells us something about the new leadership’s style: the young man seems really tough and brutal in dealing with people he wants to destroy.”
Jang had been purged twice before but rose again towards the end of Kim Jong-il’s life as the leader sought to ensure a smooth succession for his son, picking his brother-in-law to help ease the transition.
KCNA said Kim Jong-un “guided” the Sunday politburo meeting that removed Jang from all his posts and expelled him from the ruling Workers Party.
It accused Jang of anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts and criminal acts "baffling imagination". It said he had disobeyed Kim despite repeated warnings.
“Jang pretended to uphold the party and leader but was engrossed in such factional acts as dreaming different dreams and involving himself in double-dealing behind the scene,” it said.
“Prompted by his politically-motivated ambition, he tried to increase his force and build his base for realising it by implanting those who had been punished for their serious wrongs in the past period into ranks of officials of departments of the party central committee and units under them.”
Lankov said such accusations of faction-building were standard in North Korean purges, although their prominence this time was unusual.
Daniel Pinkston, north-east Asia deputy project director at the International Crisis Group, said: “It is all about power politics ... [In a centralised dictatorship] you have to spend a lot of time monitoring who is loyal and disloyal – and the greatest challenge are the closest confidantes like Jang and Ri Song Yo.
“Jang had things he could do for the Kim family, but if he’s worn out his welcome, why keep him around? This is the political economy of dictatorship.
“It is time for the younger generation. Kim has an opportunity and if he is a prudent and pragmatic ruler will be putting in people loyal to him.”
The KCNA report said Jang had “seriously obstructed the nation's economic affairs and the improvement of the standard of people's living”.
It went on: “Affected by the capitalist way of living, Jang committed irregularities and corruption and led a dissolute and depraved life.
“By abusing his power, he was engrossed in irregularities and corruption, had improper relations with several women and was wined and dined at back parlours of deluxe restaurants.
“Ideologically sick and extremely idle and easy-going, he used drugs and squandered foreign currency at casinos while he was receiving medical treatment in a foreign country under the care of the party."
Images of Jang were removed from a propaganda film reshown by the North this week and the state news agency appears to have been removing or amending old reports which included him.
Pinkston said: “I imagine because of his marriage ties he will probably just get permanent house arrest, but his underlings and confidants and ‘co-conspirators’ may not be so lucky.”
Two of Jang’s close aides are believed to have been executed recently. South Korean media claimed last week that an aide who managed funds for him has sought asylum from Seoul. The cable news network YTN and the Kyunghyang Shinmun newspaper said the man was being protected by South Korean officials in a secret location in China.
on: Dec 09, 2013, 07:31 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
December 8, 2013
South Korea Announces Expansion of Its Air Defense Zone
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — Defying both China and Japan, South Korea announced on Sunday that it was expanding its air patrol zone for the first time in 62 years to include airspace over the East China Sea that is also claimed by Beijing and Tokyo.
South Korea’s expanded “air defense identification zone” was the latest sign of a broadening discord among the Northeast Asian neighbors, who are already locked in territorial and historical disputes.
With South Korea’s newly expanded zone, the air defense zones of all three countries now overlap over a submerged reef called Ieodo in South Korea and Suyan Rock in China. The reef is controlled by South Korea, which maintains a maritime research station there, but China also claims it. The seabed around the reef is believed to be rich in natural gas and minerals deposits.
The South Korean move came two weeks after China stoked regional tensions by unilaterally expanding its own air patrol zone to partly overlap with South Korea’s and include airspace over the reef. The expanded Chinese air control zone also covers a set of East China Sea islands, called Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, which are at the heart of a territorial feud between Japan and China.
The airspace disputes were a major topic when Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. visited Japan, China and South Korea last week.
With its announcement on Sunday, South Korea expanded its air defense zone more than 300 kilometers, or 186 miles, to the south. It said its new zone would take effect in a week. There was no immediate response from Beijing or Tokyo.
The expanded air defense zone follows the boundaries of South Korea’s existing “flight information region,” an area assigned to South Korea for civilian air traffic control under an agreement with the International Civil Aviation Organization. It will have no impact on civilian flights, said Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry.
But the announcement of the expanded zone raises the risk of an accidental military clash in the region. A military plane entering another country’s air defense identification zone must notify that country in advance. If it fails to do so, the country operating the zone may order it to leave, or dispatch military jets to confront the intruding aircraft.
Maj. Gen. Chang Hyok, a senior policy coordinator at the South Korean Defense Ministry, said Sunday that his government had explained its new air patrol zone to China and Japan. President Park Geun-hye also discussed it with Mr. Biden on Friday.
“Our top priority is to prevent accidental military clashes in the area,” General Chang said at a news briefing.
The State Department offered support for South Korea’s approach, saying that keeping open the lines of communication with China and Japan “avoids confusion for, or threats to, civilian airlines.”
“The United States has been and will remain in close consultation with our allies and partners in the region to ensure their actions contribute to greater stability, predictability, and consistency with international practices,” said Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman.
When China declared its new air defense zone on Nov. 23 and demanded that planes flying in the area first notify Chinese authorities, both Japan and South Korea immediately rejected it. Their military aircraft have since flown through the disputed airspace without informing China.
The United States has also flown two B-52 long-range bombers through the contested airspace, a move seen as a warning by Washington that it would defy what it considered a provocative attempt by China to expand its control over airspace in the region.
South Korea’s air defense zone was first established in March 1951 by the United States Pacific Air Forces command, which wanted to guard against China, which had just joined the Korean War.
Until China expanded its air defense zone, the sky over the submerged reef of Ieodo was covered only by Japan’s air control zone. South Korea did not attempt to expand its air patrol zone over the reef, partly for fear that such a move might prompt Japan to claim the airspace over a disputed set of islets off the eastern coast of South Korea.
The South Korean-controlled islets, called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan, are the source of another long-running territorial disagreement between the nations.
Under Ms. Park, South Korea has emphasized building what it calls a “strategic cooperative partnership” with China, by far its largest trading partner. It also recognizes the growing importance of Beijing’s role in international efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Ms. Park has met President Xi Jinping of China twice, but the territorial and historical controversies rooted in Japan’s regional aggression in the early 20th century have kept her from meeting Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe.
China’s attempt to police additional airspace over the East China Sea has highlighted a potentially volatile dispute between China and South Korea. The South Korean Navy is already building a $970 million base naval base in Jeju, an island off the southern coast of South Korea, to protect shipping lanes for South Korea’s oil-dependent, export-driven economy as well as to respond quickly to any dispute with China over the submerged reef.
on: Dec 09, 2013, 07:30 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Thailand elections proposed for 2 February
Decision to call elections aimed at ending crisis caused by weeks of demonstrations aimed at bringing down government
Reuters in Bangkok
theguardian.com, Monday 9 December 2013 02.19 GMT
Thailand's government has proposed new elections be held on 2 February, hours after the prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved the lower house of parliament in an attempt to calm the country's deepening political crisis.
Thailand's election commission must formally approve the date, and electoral officials will meet with the government in the next few days to discuss it.
"At this stage, when there are many people opposed to the government from many groups, the best way is to give back the power to the Thai people and hold an election. So the Thai people will decide," Yingluck said in a televised address as thousands of protesters resumed demonstrations across Bangkok.
The leader of the anti-government movement, Suthep Thaugsuban, said he would not end his demonstrations and would continue a march to Yingluck's offices at Government House.
"Today, we will continue our march to Government House. We have not yet reached our goal. The dissolving of parliament is not our aim," Suthep, a former deputy prime minister under the previous military-backed government, told Reuters.
The ruling party said Yingluck would run in the election.
"She will definitely run as she has worked with the party all along. We dissolved parliament because we are confident ... We want the Democrat Party to take part in elections and not to play street games," Jarupong Ruangsuwan, head of Yingluck's Puea Thai Party, told reporters.
About 100,000 protesters, including former MPs from the opposition Democrat Party, marched through Bangkok on Monday.
Protesters have been on the streets of the capital for weeks, clashing with police and vowing to oust Yingluck and eradicate the influence of her self-exiled brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The clashes petered out last week as the nation celebrated the king's birthday, but political hostilities have resumed in earnest.
Puea Thai won the last election in 2011 by a landslide, enjoying widespread support in the north and north-east, Thailand's poorest regions. The Democrats have not won an election in more than two decades.
Suthep, aware that Yingluck would probably win an election, has been urging the setting-up of a "people's council" of appointed "good people" to replace the government. Yingluck has dismissed the idea as unconstitutional and undemocratic.
The pro-establishment Democrat party said on Sunday all its members of the House of Representatives would give up their seats because they were unable to work with Yingluck's ruling party.
Without the Democrats, the 500-member lower house will have 347 members.
The demonstrations are the latest eruption in nearly a decade of rivalry between forces aligned with the Bangkok-based establishment and those who support Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon who won huge support in the countryside.
Calling an election would not end Thailand's political deadlock if the Democrats boycotted it, said Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Kyoto University's Centre for South-east Asian Studies.
In 2006, amid mass protests, the Democrats refused to contest a snap election called by Thaksin, who was deposed by the military five months later.
"This is only a short-term solution because there is no guarantee that the Democrats will come back and play by the rules," says Pavin. "We don't know whether they will boycott the elections or not."
"It seems like Thailand is going nowhere," he said.
Suthep has told his supporters they have to take back power from what he calls the illegitimate "Thaksin regime" and that they cannot rely on the army to help.
The army, which ousted Thaksin in 2006, has said it does not want to get involved though it has tried to mediate.
Thaksin fled Thailand in 2008 to avoid a corruption conviction, but has remained closely involved with his sister's government. The protests were sparked last month by a government bid to introduce an amnesty that would have expunged his conviction.
on: Dec 09, 2013, 07:28 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
US defence secretary Chuck Hagel arrives in Pakistan for talks
US-Pakistan relationship strained amid protests over drone strikes which have halted US shipments from Afghanistan
Associated Press in Islamabad
theguardian.com, Monday 9 December 2013 09.15 GMT
The US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, has arrived in Pakistan for meetings with the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and the nation's new army chief, hoping to improve the strained relationship with Washington and Islamabad.
His visit follows the latest interruption of US military shipments out of Afghanistan through the main border crossings into Pakistan. Anti-American protests along the route in Pakistan prompted the US to stop the shipments from Torkham Gate through Karachi last week, due to safety concerns.
The protests centre on the CIA's drone programme, which has killed many terrorists but has also caused civilian casualties. Pakistan has called the drone attacks a violation of the country's sovereignty, but Islamabad and the Pakistani military have supported at least some of the strikes in the past.
Shireen Mazari, the information secretary for the political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, said in a statement on Monday that the government should demand an end to the drone attacks.
The Pakistani government blocked the routes for seven months following US air strikes that accidentally killed two dozen soldiers on the Afghan border in November 2011. Pakistan finally reopened the routes after the US apologised.
The rift led the US to sever most aid to Pakistan, but relations were restored in July 2012. Since then, the US has delivered more than $1.15bn (£700m) in security assistance to Pakistan, including advanced communications equipment, roadside bomb jammers, night vision goggles and surveillance aircraft.
A senior defence official said these issues would be discussed at Hagel's meetings, and acknowledged the lingering tensions between the two countries. Over the past year, relations between Washington and Islamabad have improved, and Sharif met President Barack Obama and Hagel in late October in Washington.
Hagel is expected to tell Pakistani leaders that the US wants the border crossings to remain open, said the defence official.
The US has also been frustrated by Pakistan's unwillingness to target the Haqqani terrorist network, which operates along the border and conducts attacks on US and coalition troops in Afghanistan.
Defence officials said Hagel was the first high-ranking US official to meet General Raheel Sharif, who took over as head of Pakistan's powerful army at the end of last month.
Following their meeting in Rawalpindi, Hagel and Sharil echoed each other's desire to work to strengthen the countries' relationship.
The last Pentagon chief to visit Pakistan was Robert Gates in January 2010.
Hagel flew to Pakistan from Afghanistan, where he visited American troops but declined to meet President Hamid Karzai, who has irritated the US by refusing to sign a security agreement before the end of the year.
on: Dec 09, 2013, 07:26 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
December 8, 2013
Afghan Leader Agrees to Talks on Closer Iran Ties
By ALISSA J. RUBIN
KABUL, Afghanistan — Amid highly public tensions with the United States over a long-term security deal, Afghanistan’s president looked to forge closer ties with neighboring Iran, agreeing in principle to start negotiating an economic and security “pact of friendship,” Afghan officials said.
During a one-day trip to meet with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, President Hamid Karzai not only got a chance to reach out to a neighbor, but also to tweak the Western allies he has been at loggerheads with in recent weeks.
While Mr. Karzai and his staff have repeatedly said the intent is eventually to sign the bilateral security pact with the United States, allowing an American troop presence beyond the 2014 withdrawal deadline, Mr. Karzai has also added conditions before he signs it. Both American and Afghan officials see the chances of a completed deal by year’s end as basically dead, despite a recent vote by an assembly of Afghan leadership figures instructing Mr. Karzai to sign it.
Now, with the deadlock continuing, Mr. Karzai has publicly focused on bolstering regional ties. In addition to the Iran trip, he recently met with Prime Minister Nawaz Shari of Pakistan, and in coming days is to travel to India.
And while he has not explicitly been seeking an endorsement of refusal to sign the American security deal, he still received one on Sunday. President Rouhani, who is in the midst of delicate nuclear negotiations with Western nations, explicitly said he viewed the continuing presence of foreign forces in the region as a danger.
“We are concerned about the tensions arising from the presence of foreign forces in the region and believe that all foreign forces should exit the region and Afghanistan’s security should be ceded to the people of that country,” Mr. Rouhani said.
Mr. Rouhani’s statement was a bit of a departure from the official Iranian line on Afghan deals with the United States. In general, Iranian officials, while expressing discomfort with the American troop presence next door, have stated publicly and repeatedly that Afghanistan is a sovereign country able to sign pacts with any other nation.
In describing the mutual deal that Iran and Afghanistan will now explore, Mr. Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, described it as a “pact of friendship and cooperation,” much like understandings that Afghanistan has signed with India, France and Italy.
While such pacts are to some extent symbolic, they provide the basis for more extensive involvement. For instance, India is providing intensive training for Afghan military personnel in counterinsurgency techniques, is training members of the Afghan civil service, and has made room for several thousand Afghan students in its universities.
“This pact will include political, security cooperation and economic development,” Mr. Faizi said.
Since trade with Iran is still constrained by international sanctions because of the country’s nuclear program, it is unclear what kind of economic cooperation would be possible. And, while the United States gave limited short-term sanction relief to Iran as part of the deal reached last month in Geneva, there was no overall lifting of the sanctions.
The two presidents, as well as the Iranian foreign minister, also discussed problems faced by Afghans in Iran, including peremptory deportations, limits on visas and difficulties obtaining residence permits. Officials said the Iranian leadership agreed to work closely with the Afghan Foreign Ministry to improve the situation.
According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, there at least two million undocumented Afghans in Iran, beyond the 800,000 officially registered. Most are there seeking better economic circumstances, though they often face arbitrary abuse.
With such issues in common, Mr. Karzai’s outreach to Mr. Rouhani seemed at least in part a recognition that the United States and European countries are far away and that Afghanistan, for better or worse, has to deal its powerful neighbors.
“Our relations with Iran will not effect our relations with the United States,” Mr. Faizi said. “We need to enhance our relationships with our neighbors because these are the countries we have our future with.”
on: Dec 09, 2013, 07:24 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
December 8, 2013
Eyes on Iran, Navy in Gulf Stays at Ready
By ERIC SCHMITT
ABOARD THE U.S.S. WHIRLWIND, in the Persian Gulf — In the past six months, this small United States Navy coastal patrol ship has engaged Iranian gunboats three times in international waters here.
Crew members on both sides came up on deck to snap photographs or take video from 300 yards away — souvenirs for the Americans, surveillance for the Iranians, Navy officials say — before the vessels went their own ways without incident.
“They eyeballed us, and we eyeballed them right back, but everything was professional,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jared W. Samuelson, 33, the skipper of the Whirlwind and its 27-member crew. “It was not confrontational.”
That has not always been the case in recent years, as Iranian fast-attack boats have harassed American warships and in recent months as the government in Tehran has deployed remotely piloted aircraft that carry surveillance pods and that someday may carry rockets.
There are multiple political bases of power in Iran. In the aftermath of the temporary nuclear agreement reached last month between the world powers and the moderate government of Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, it was unclear to American officials whether Iran’s hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps might try to provoke a conflict with the United States Navy to undercut the accord.
The navy of the Revolutionary Guards consists of fast-attack speedboats with high-powered machine guns and torpedoes, and crews that in the past employed guerrilla tactics, including swarming perilously close to American warships.
Iran has scaled back its most belligerent naval activities in recent years, and senior Navy officials said they saw no major shifts after the nuclear deal. “We haven’t detected any notable change in their behavior,” said Vice Adm. John W. Miller, commander of the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which has its longtime headquarters in Bahrain, directly across the water from Iran.
That said, the United States is taking no chances. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told skittish Gulf allies who gathered in Bahrain on Friday and Saturday that the United States would maintain military pressure on Iran while giving diplomacy a chance to work.
Last year, the Pentagon moved significant military reinforcements into the Gulf to deter the Iranian military from any possible attempt to shut the Strait of Hormuz, through which 450 vessels pass every day, many carrying oil, natural gas and other energy products.
As part of that longer-term effort, the number of coastal patrol ships based in Bahrain to conduct maritime security missions is set to double, to 10 ships, by next spring, from five vessels two years ago. Six Coast Guard vessels perform similar duties. Ship crews are now assigned one- and two-year tours, instead of rotating every six months.
That change increases cohesion among crew members, improves their understanding about operating in the complex Gulf environment and, Navy officials say, also lessens the chance of a miscalculation that could lead to unintended hostilities.
The patrol ships are among the Navy’s smallest. Six of the 179-foot Whirlwinds placed end to end would still come up shorter than one of the behemoth American aircraft carriers that also ply the Gulf waters.
But they are about the same size as the ships used by many of the Gulf states like Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, and thus they have developed an unusual kinship with their maritime brethren in the region.
“These ships are less intimidating to the local navies,” said Cmdr. John Howard, 44, who oversees the eight patrol vessels now stationed in Bahrain. “They’re more like their own ships, and so they can relate to these ships better.”
The Whirlwind’s crew of 24 sailors and four officers is a tight-knit group, and small enough that everyone is trained in more than one job. The ship’s cook can stand occasional security duty with his M-4 rifle.
The crew of the dull gray vessel, commissioned in 1995, is filled with the diverse personal stories typical of today’s Navy. George Velasquez, 49, a Philippine-born corpsman, or medic, from Chicago, cares for minor cuts, bruises and seasickness, a respite from the daily trauma he treated during tours with the Marines in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Second Lt. Graig Withrow, 31, the ship’s new operations and navigational officer, quit his job as a high school music teacher in Southern California three years ago to join the Navy.
Commander Samuelson, a bespectacled man who majored in journalism at the University of Southern California, followed the footsteps of an uncle and grandfather, both naval officers. He took command of the Whirlwind’s crew in February, after a stint as an operations officer on a Navy destroyer and a three-year exchange program with the German Navy.
The Whirlwind typically carries out patrols for up to a month at a time. Much of its work resembles that of a beat cop making the rounds. The ship often asks permission to come aboard one of the scores of tiny fishing or cargo boats that traverse the Gulf. There, crew members pass out gloves, first-aid kits and sunglasses to ward off glare in the searing 120-degree summer days.
In exchange, they ask fishermen about any suspicious activity they have seen, including by pirates and smugglers. The Navy forwards that information to regional partners and lets their navies investigate or interdict the suspect vessels in their territorial waters. The practice builds confidence and skill among allies, and relieves pressure on the United States to be the major enforcer in the Gulf, Navy officials said.
And then there is the occasional brinkmanship with the Iranian Navy gunboats in these waters, which the Navy calls the Arabian Gulf, not wanting to cede even a place name to Tehran.
During a large demining exercise last year, several Iranian patrol boats steamed close to some of the allied vessels, presumably to conduct surveillance, said a Navy official who monitored the incident. As the Iranians drew closer and closer, an American ship moved to block them from interfering with the exercise. The jockeying for position continued, until the Iranian captain finally saluted his American counterpart and sailed off.
A more significant confrontation between the United States and the Revolutionary Guards was in 2008, when five of Iran’s armed speedboats made aggressive maneuvers as they approached three American warships in international waters in the Strait of Hormuz.
The commander of a Navy destroyer was on the verge of issuing an order to fire when the speedboats pulled away; no shots were fired. That is why ships like Whirlwind must stay vigilant, Navy officials said.
During a 10-hour trip in the Gulf last week, 50 miles from the Navy base in Bahrain, the Whirlwind’s crew performed a series of tests in preparation for a major inspection next year.
They need to work out a few kinks before then. One of the diesel-powered engines overheated after a seawater cooling system broke down, forcing the ship to operate at 80 percent of its top speed. A 25-millimeter machine gun suddenly malfunctioned toward the end of its live-fire drill.
Senior officers and crew members insisted that bad luck and normal wear and tear from busy operations, not budget cuts in Washington, were to blame for the minor mishaps.
“There’s ample time to get everything corrected,” said Commander Samuelson, trying hard not to show his disappointment.