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« Reply #4320 on: Jan 31, 2013, 08:21 AM »

Spain: Corruption weakens the state

30 January 2013
El País, El Periódico de Catalunya
El País, 30 January 2013

"Gotcha," says Catalan daily El Periódico regarding several celebrities currently implicated in various corruption scandals. In the latest instalment on January 29, Carlos García Revenga, secretary to Princess Cristina, is suspected of being implicated in the "Urdangarin Affair."

Revenga was ordered to appear before a judge on February 23 with Iñaki Urdangarin, the princess' husband and son-in-law to King Juan Carlos. Urdangarin was ordered to pay an €8.1m bond. If he fails to pay, his home and belongings up to the value of €8.1m will be seized. These conditions also apply to Diego Torres, his partner in the Institue Noos, the firm suspected of being used to win public contracts that had not been offered for public tender.

"The political parties and the institutions are overwhelmed with corruption cases," warns El Periódico, noting that in Catalonia, elected officials from the (centre-right, Catalan nationalist) CiU and from the Catalan Socialist Party are accused of malfeasance and that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's Popular Party is embarrassed by the 'Bárcenas' Affair, in which the former party treasurer is accused of corruption.

All of these scandals, says Enric Hernández, editorial director of El Periódico, could call into question the foundation of the political system –

    Either through complicity or foolishness, politicians seem to not understand what is endangered. It is the survival of democracy and not their electoral expectations. And as long as they do not hurry to revive the political-financial system, populism is next in line to cash in on it.

This outcome is a direct threat to the premier institution in the country, the Crown, says daily El País. On the 45th birthday of Prince Felipe, the heir to the throne, the paper is calling for greater transparency regarding the public and private roles of the members of the royal family –

    The Urdangarin case presents a genuine risk for the Crown's prestige, as is show by opinion polls. Steps must be taken towards financial transparency and establishing institutional rules for the Casa Real [the Royal Household, responsible for managing royal affairs]. A clear separation between the public functions of the royals and all other activities or private business would have avoided the confusion that now surrounds the secretary of the princesses [Cristina and Elena]. These institutional rules require that the heir also be considered. Felipe de Bourbon, who does not have his own properly defined status, continues [...] to prepare to play a key role in the institutional stability and balance of a country suffering from strong political and territorial tensions.
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« Reply #4321 on: Jan 31, 2013, 08:26 AM »

Banks: ‘Croatia and Slovenia close to bank dispute solution’

31 January 2013
Novi List, 31 January 2013

The foreign ministers of both countries decided at a meeting in Brussels to accelerate negotiations on settling differences arising from the bankruptcy of Slovenia’s Ljubljanska Banka, which was prompted by the implosion of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. More than 130,000 Croats had accounts with the bank when it ceased trading.

The affair, which has poisoned relations between the two countries, is the reason for Slovenia’s refusal to begin ratification of the treaty for Croatia’s accession to the EU, which is slated for July 1 of this year. If Ljubljana does not ratify the treaty by April 1, Croatia’s accession may be postponed.
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« Reply #4322 on: Jan 31, 2013, 08:30 AM »

01/31/2013 11:19 AM

Risks and Rewards: Deutsche Bank Returns to Commodities Speculation

By Martin Hesse, Michaela Schiessl and Anne Seith

Many financial institutions and multinational organizations view speculating on food commodities as a dangerous game and a contributor to global hunger. Despite its bruised reputation, Deutsche Bank is leaping back into the business.

In May 2012, shortly before ending his term as CEO of Deutsche Bank, Josef Ackermann realized with some remorse that "no deal is worth risking the good reputation of Deutsche Bank."

But, by then, the reputation of Germany's largest bank was already somewhat battered -- and it's suffered even more since. The latest scratch came on Thursday, when the bank reported a surprise net loss of €2.2 billion ($3 billion), for the fourth quarter of 2012, citing numerous lawsuits and official investigations among the reasons.

This makes it all the more surprising that Jürgen Fitschen, who succeeded Ackermann along with co-CEO Anshu Jain, is now returning to the type of business that could further damage the bank's image: speculation in agricultural commodities.

This is precisely the business that organizations such as Foodwatch and Oxfam, and even United Nations institutions such as the Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), hold partially responsible for hunger in the world.

The fact is that, in recent years, an enormous market has developed for financial products used to speculate on fluctuations in food prices. Critics say that these deals drive up the prices of corn, rice, wheat and other commodities, making food unaffordable for many in the Third World.

The accusations have been so vehement that Deutsche Bank suspended its business in agricultural commodities until it could be proven that speculation didn't harm anyone. Such proof has apparently now been supplied, at least in the bank's view.

The Key

Deutsche Bank can now cite a study by Ingo Pies, an expert in business ethics from the eastern German city of Halle. After reviewing selected publications, he concluded that the agricultural markets would function worse, not better, if speculation were curtailed. "Trying to ban it would torpedo the moral concern for sustainably fighting worldwide hunger," says Pies. He concludes that putting more rather than less emphasis on the free market is the key to achieving this objective.

The study's findings didn't surprise Fitschen. He believes that the discussion over food speculation is headed in the wrong direction. As the son of a farmer, he saw firsthand how price fluctuations could cause problems for farmers. When harvests were bad and the price of hog feed went up, a farmer could quickly be driven to the brink of ruin. Today, Fitschen argues, so-called derivatives enable farmers to hedge against price fluctuations.

Through futures transactions, banks give farmers, exporters and other business owners the ability to set the price at which they will buy or sell commodities, such as wheat, pork or coffee beans, in six or 12 months' time. Soybean producers in Brazil, for example, are often unable to receive loans for production unless they can ensure that they'll be able to sell a certain amount of soybeans at guaranteed prices.

Even conservative managers in the finance industry admit that there are risks involved. But, they add, the true villains in the markets are completely different. They include, for example, global commodities giants such as Switzerland-based Glencore, which, unlike Deutsche Bank, is relatively unknown to the general public.

Companies like Glencore own mines and large tracts of land, which allows them to exert considerable influence on prices. Commodities giants based in Switzerland alone, a center of the industry, control 15 to 25 percent of the global ore, oil and agricultural trade. Industry revenues went up fivefold between 1998 and 2010.

Proponents of the business even believe that restricting it is wrong. They point out that it's impossible to monitor who buys the futures contracts. You don't even know who is sitting at the other end, Alexander Dibelius, head of the German operations of the investment bank Goldman Sachs, said in a recent SPIEGEL interview. It could be "the good farmer or the evil speculator, or perhaps both in one person, because the farmer could also be speculating on what the weather holds, couldn't he?"

What's more, for every risk that food producers sell, there also have to be buyers -- that is, speculators betting that this risk will become reality. In these transactions, the bank is generally merely an intermediary between seller and buyer.

Ethical? Too Risky?

There is no lack of investors willing to accept the risk of price fluctuations in food and other commodities. Goldman Sachs is involved in 25 to 30 commodities markets, including coffee, soybean, wheat and beef markets. Agricultural commodities make up about 20 percent of the business. On the whole, investment banks have greatly expanded their commodities businesses over the last decade. Even after the financial crisis, speculating in commodities is still considered lucrative.

As a result, the markets in which contracts for agricultural commodities are traded have developed a life of their own. The volume of financial transactions is between 20 and 30 times as large as the real transactions. This would certainly be unnecessary if it were purely for the purpose of hedging against risk. In other words, speculation is the real objective. And, yet, are we to believe that speculation doesn't impact real prices?

Critics of the analysis of Pies, the business ethics expert, say that it is precisely here that one can find one of its weaknesses. They cite other studies, the experiences of international organizations and the sheer volume of money being invested. For José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), speculation is "an important reason for fluctuating and high prices." In his view, the only ones who profit from speculation are banks and hedge funds, not producers, buyers and investors. This has led the European Union to want to approve new restrictions and rules for financial investors in the agricultural sector. A number of German financial institutions, including Commerzbank, Deka-Bank and the state-owned banks known as Landesbanken, have pulled out of the business.

Negligible Risks

What happened to the American real estate market in the 2008 financial crisis shows what distortions can occur when too much money flows into a market, and when too many derivatives are tied to a limited scope of real goods.

This is the fundamental problem of all financial derivatives, whether they concern mortgages, currencies or agricultural commodities: They can be helpful in offsetting price fluctuations, but they can also amplify these fluctuations. The higher the volume of financial transactions in relation to the underlying business, the greater the risk of such amplification.

Nikolaus von Bomhard, CEO of the reinsuring giant Munich Re, feels that speculation in food commodities isn't entirely harmless. "There is a limit at which additional liquidity no longer creates additional value," he says.

Munich Re doesn't invest in food commodities, nor does it offer any derivatives to hedge against risk in food production. As a result, the company avoids the risk of ever being labeled a villain if food prices shoot up and it can be demonstrated that the financial industry was responsible.

Deutsche Bank, under Fitschen's leadership, recognizes that the business is not without risk. But it also apparently believes that the risks are negligible.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #4323 on: Jan 31, 2013, 08:33 AM »

South Africa's only black billionaire donates half his fortune to charity

Patrice Motsepe follows Bill Gates and Warren Buffet in giving wealth to philanthropic foundation he launched with his wife

Sipho Hlongwane for Daily Maverick, part of the Guardian Africa Network, Thursday 31 January 2013 09.35 GMT      

When South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe announced that he would be making an important announcement, the speculation was that he would be buying himself some newspapers. He was in Davos, and at the same time, Independent News and Media's biggest shareholder Denis O'Brien met President Jacob Zuma. The Irish group owns several papers, including The Star, Cape Times and Pretoria News, and has been seeking to unbundle its South African assets.

As it turns out, Motsepe's announcement was of a different sort. The beneficiary will be the Motsepe Foundation, which was founded in 1999 by the African Rainbow Minerals chairman and his wife, Precious. It oversees the philanthropic work done by the family, which includes education and health; the development and upliftment of women, youth, workers and the disabled; churches; the development of entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs; rural and urban upliftment; soccer including youth soccer development and music.

"I decided quite some time ago to give at least half of the funds generated by our family assets to uplift poor and other disadvantaged and marginalised South Africans, but was also duty-bound and committed to ensuring that it would be done in a way that protects the interests and retains the confidence of our shareholders and investors," Motsepe said.

The give-away is a part of the Giving Pledge, which encourages wealthy people to donate their fortune to charity. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett (formerly the world's wealthiest man) founded the campaign in 2010 and have both committed large chunks of their sizable wealth to charitable organisations around the world. As of November 2012, 91 billionaires – mostly Americans – have committed to the pledge.

Motsepe said, "I was also a beneficiary of various people, black and white, in South Africa and in the US who educated, trained, mentored and inspired me and whose faith and belief in me contributed to my success in my profession, business and elsewhere. The same can be said about my wife, Precious, and we are deeply indebted to them and many more.

"Most of our donations have been private, but the need and challenges are great, and we hope that our Giving Pledge will encourage others in South Africa, Africa and other emerging economies to give and make the world a better place."

Motsepe met Buffett in the US in August 2012, and with the Gates family in Cape Town later last year. The foundation will appoint an advisory council which will consist of "church and religious leaders, traditional, disabled, women, youth and labour leaders and other respected NGO and community upliftment leaders".

According to Forbes, Motsepe's net worth stood at $2.65 billion (£1.67bn) in November 2012. ARM, the company he founded and chairs had a market cap of R43.47 billion at the time of the give-away announcement. It isn't clear when the donation will happen, but it is understood that it will happen in perpetuity.

Motsepe's rise to the stop started in earnest when he became the first black partner at law firm Bowman Gilfillan in 1994. As a specialist in mining and business law at a time when black economic empowerment was just starting up, he had a front-row seat to some of the biggest mining deals of the day. He soon founded a venture which gleaned gold dust from inside shafts and began to buy marginal gold mines from Anglo Gold under very favourable financing terms when the gold price dipped in 1997.

At the beginning of the 2000s, Motsepe began to found a number of companies which would constitute the ARM conglomeration. One of the most important acquisitions was the 20% stake in Harmony Gold, the 12th largest gold mining company in the world with three mining operations in South Africa. The company soon expanded its range to include interests in platinum and platinum group metals, iron, coal, copper, and gold.

ARM's reach now includes Zambia, Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea. Motsepe's personal interests expanded into football in 2003 when he bought PSL side Mamelodi Sundowns. Motsepe is named on the board of Sanlam, Absa and Harmony Gold.

He topped the Sunday Times rich list in 2012 with an estimated fortune of R20.07 billion. Despite winning many entrepreneurial awards and being hailed as a success story, Forbes noted that his wealth can't just be explained by good business nous. His political connections made the difference.

"But for all the adulation, in South Africa such success comes with a price: being labelled an oligarch. Even many blacks have complained that the country's 1994 transformation from Apartheid to democracy has benefited only the elite few. The criticism stems from laws that require substantial black ownership in certain industries, including mining. A handful of politically connected individuals have grown enormously wealthy as a result," Forbes said in a 2008 article.

Motsepe's older sister Bridgette is married to Jeff Radebe, the minister for justice and constitutional development. He also chairs the ANC's national disciplinary committee of appeals, a subcommittee of the national executive committee. Dr Tshepo Motsepe-Ramaphosa, Motsepe's other sister, is married to Cyril Ramaphosa, another black business mogul and current deputy president of the ANC. Motsepe is a known funder of the ANC.

Speaking about South Africa's new black elite, economist Moeletsi Mbeki said, "It's crony capitalism. It's an anti-competitive system."

The tradition which inspired Buffet and Gates to start the campaign is a rich one – at least in the United States. Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie donated $350 million of his vast fortune to charity just before his death in 1919, and so did the one man whose name came to be associated with Great American Wealth: John D. Rockefeller. In fact, it was he who started the trend of targeted donations to aid medical, educational and scientific research.

Motsepe may be South Africa's first, and only, black billionaire, but he is hardly the continent's wealthiest man. That title goes to Nigerian industrial magnate Aliko Dangote, with an estimated net worth of about R113.6 billion. On a continent that consistently ranks as the worst-off in terms of quality of life, it remains to be seen if its wealthiest citizens will join Motsepe in giving away half their fortune to the less fortunate.

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« Reply #4324 on: Jan 31, 2013, 08:40 AM »

January 31, 2013,

You Think the Air in Beijing Is Bad? Try New Delhi.


NEW DELHI—Beijing’s air pollution has reached such toxic levels recently that the Chinese government is finally acknowledging the problem – and acting on it.

But in New Delhi on Thursday, air pollution levels far exceeded those in Beijing, only without any government acknowledgement or action. It is not the first time pollution in India’s capital has outpaced that in China.

The level of tiny particulates known as PM 2.5, which lodge deep in the lungs and can enter the bloodstream, was over 400 micrograms per cubic meter in various neighborhoods in and around Delhi Thursday, according to a real-time air quality monitor. That compared to Beijing’s most-recent air quality reading of 172 micrograms per cubic meter. (The “Air Quality online” link to the left of the Delhi website gives you real-time monitoring of Delhi’s pollution levels.)

At the University of Delhi’s northern campus at 12:30 p.m., the reading for PM 2.5 was 402 micrograms per cubic meter; in the eastern suburb of Noida it was 411; at the Indira Gandhi International airport it was 421.

Beijing’s government on Wednesday introduced emergency measures to curb pollution, ordering cars off the roads and factories to shut down, and warning citizens to avoid activity outside. The measures came after two straight days that the readings were higher than 300, a level the United States Environmental Protection Agency considers “hazardous.”

The forecast for Delhi’s air pollution Friday is “critical,” according to the Ministry of Earth Sciences. So far, though, Delhi’s government has made no announcements about the city’s air pollution, nor introduced any emergency measures, a spokesman for chief minister’s office said. Sheila Dikshit, the chief minister, said in an interview in December that the city could not keep up with the factors that cause air pollution.

Beijing’s air quality is so bad that living there is like living in a smoking lounge, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. The levels of air pollution Bloomberg cited as Beijing’s average were half that of New Delhi early Thursday afternoon.

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« Reply #4325 on: Feb 01, 2013, 06:36 AM »

February 1, 2013

Syria Says It Has Right to Counterattack Israel


BEIRUT, Lebanon — Tensions over the Israeli airstrike on Syrian territory appeared to increase on Thursday as Syria delivered a letter to the United Nations declaring its right to self-defense and Israel’s action was condemned not only by longstanding enemies, including Iran and Hezbollah, but also by Russia.

Israeli officials remained silent about their airstrike in Syrian territory on Wednesday, a tactic that experts said was part of a longstanding strategy to give targeted countries face-saving opportunities to avoid worsening a conflict. But Syria’s own confirmation of the attack may have undercut that effort.

“From the moment they chose to say Israel did something, it means someone has to do something after that,” said Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser in Israel and a longtime military leader. But other analysts said that Syria’s overtaxed military was unlikely to retaliate and risk an Israeli onslaught that could tip the balance in its fight against the 22-month Syrian uprising. They also said Syria’s ally Hezbollah was loath to provoke conflict with Israel as it sought to maintain domestic calm in neighboring Lebanon.

Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon declared that Syria had “the option and the capacity to surprise in retaliation.” The Iranian deputy foreign minister warned that the attack would have “grave consequences for Tel Aviv,” while the Russian Foreign Ministry said the strike “blatantly violates the United Nations Charter and is unacceptable and unjustified, whatever its motives.” Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry also condemned the attack — as did some Syrian rebels, seeking to deny President Bashar al-Assad of Syria a chance to rally support as a victim of Israel.

Many questions swirled about the target, motivations and repercussions of the Israeli attack, which Arab and Israeli analysts said demonstrated the rapid changes in the region’s strategic picture as Mr. Assad’s government weakens — including the possibility that Hezbollah, Syria or both were moving arms to Lebanon, believing they would be more secure there than with Syria’s beleaguered military, which faces intense attacks by rebels on major weapons installations.

American officials said Israel hit a convoy before dawn on Wednesday that was ferrying sophisticated SA-17 antiaircraft missiles to Lebanon. The Syrians and their allies said the target was a research facility in the Damascus suburb of Jamraya.

It remained unclear Thursday whether there was one strike or two. Also unclear was the research outpost’s possible role in weapons production or storage for Syria or Hezbollah, the militant Lebanese Shiite organization that has long battled with Israel and plays a leading role in the Lebanese government.

The Jamraya facility, several miles west of Damascus, produces both conventional and chemical weapons, said Maj. Gen. Adnan Salo, a former head of the chemical weapons unit in the Syrian Army who defected and is now in Turkey.

Hezbollah indirectly confirmed its military function in condemning the attack on Arab and Muslim “military and technological capabilities.” That raised the possibility that Israel targeted weapons manufacturing or development, in an attack reminiscent of its 2007 assault on a Syrian nuclear reactor, a strike Israeli never acknowledged.

But military analysts said that the Israeli jets’ flight pattern strongly suggested a moving target, possibly a convoy near the center, and that the Syrian government might have claimed the center was a target to garner sympathy. Hitting a convoy made more sense, they said, particularly if Israel believed that Hezbollah stood to acquire “game-changing” arms, including antiaircraft weapons. Israeli leaders declared days before the strike that any transfer of Syria’s extensive cache of sophisticated conventional or chemical weapons was a “red line” that would prompt action.

Hezbollah — backed by Syria and Iran — wants to upgrade its arsenal in hopes of changing the parameters for any future engagement with the powerful Israeli military, and Israel is determined to stop it. And Hezbollah is perhaps even more anxious to gird itself for future challenges to its primacy in Lebanon, especially if a Sunni-led revolution triumphs next door in Syria.

But if weapons were targeted, analysts said, it is not even clear that they belonged to Hezbollah. Arab and Israeli analysts said another possibility was that Syria was simply aiming to move some weapons to Lebanon for safekeeping. While there are risks for Hezbollah that accepting them could draw an Israeli attack, said Emile Hokayem, a Bahrain-based analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, there is also an upside: “If Assad goes down, they have the arms.”

Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese general and professor at the American University of Beirut, said that SA-17s made little sense for Hezbollah because they require large launching systems that use radar and would be easy targets for Israel. Syria, he said, needs SA-17s in case of international intervention in its civil war.

Those suggestions comported with the account of a Syrian officer who said in a recent interview that the heavily guarded military area around the Jamraya research facility was used as a depot for weapons being transferred to southern Lebanon and Syria’s coastal government stronghold of Tartous for safekeeping, in convoys of tractor-trailer trucks. (The officer said he had lost faith in the government but hesitated to defect because he did not trust the rebels.)

The attack on Wednesday, in all its uncertainty, pointed to the larger changes afoot in the region. Hezbollah may be looking at a future where it is without Syria’s backing and has to defend itself against Sunnis resentful of its role in the Syrian conflict. And Israel may find that its most dangerous foe is not Hezbollah but jihadist Syrian rebel groups that are fragmented and difficult to deter.

If Syria’s weapons end up with jihadist groups like Al Qaeda or its proxies, that would be a global threat, said Boaz Ganor, executive director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. “If one organization will put their hands on this arsenal, then it will change hands in no time and we’ll see it all over the world,” he said.

Anne Barnard reported from Beirut, and Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem. Reporting was contributed by Irit Pazner Garshowitz from Jerusalem, Ellen Barry from Moscow, Thomas Erdbrink from Tehran, and Alan Cowell from London.


Israel faces repercussions of air strike on Syria

Jewish state maintains its traditional silence in the face of accusations that it violated Syria's sovereign territory

Harriet Sherwood, Thursday 31 January 2013 16.56 GMT   

Israel faces threats of retaliation after Wednesday's bombing on the Syrian-Lebanese border, with Russia and the Arab League describing it as a violation of Syria's sovereignty. Syria and Iran threatened to respond to the military intervention, which was widely ascribed to Israeli forces.

Warplanes targeted a "scientific research centre" near Damascus, according to Syrian state television. Other reports said a convoy believed to be carrying Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles across the border to Hezbollah in Lebanon was struck.

The Israeli military declined to comment.

A spokesman for the Arab League said the bombing was a "glaring violation" of Syria's sovereignty. The "silence of the international community about Israel's bombing of Syrian sites in the past encouraged it to carry out the new aggression, taking advantage of political and security deterioration in Syria," Nabil al-Arabi, the league's head, said.

The Russian foreign ministry said: "If this information is confirmed, then we are dealing with unprovoked attacks on targets on the territory of a sovereign country, which blatantly violates the UN charter and is unacceptable, no matter the motives to justify it."

Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamic militia, pledged full solidarity with the Syrian regime, saying Israel had "perpetrated a barbaric attack"."In line with its inherent spirit of aggression and criminality, and in accordance with its policy of preventing any Arab or Islamic power from developing technological and military capabilities, Israel perpetrated a barbaric attack against a Syrian installation for scientific research on Syrian territory, causing the death of a number of Syrians, the injury of others, and the destruction of the installation," the Hezbollah statement read. Two people were killed and five wounded in the attack, according to Syrian state television.

The Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul-Karim, said Damascus retained "the option... to retaliate". The Iranian deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, was quoted as saying the attack would have significant implications for Tel Aviv, which is within range of Hezbollah rockets.

The US administration was warned of the attack, according to the New York Times.

Israel continued to maintain an official silence on the air strike, following a pattern of previous military interventions attributed to its forces. Some analysts said this was to minimise the likelihood of retaliatory action.

"Clearly someone attacked something on the Syrian-Lebanese border," said military expert Yossi Alpher. "But it's extremely important in these situations that Israel does everything possible to avoid being accredited with these actions. There's a danger of retaliatory action, whether by Syria or Hezbollah."

Alpher said he was "not in the least surprised" by the attack. In the past few days, high-level Israeli emissaries have been despatched to Washington and Moscow, while warnings that weapons, both chemical and conventional, could reach Hezbollah or jihadists inside Syria had become more shrill."Anyone who puts two and two together is likely to come to this conclusion [that Israel was responsible]," Alpher said.

Gerald Steinberg, of the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies, said Israel's political, military and intelligence leadership would have made calculations about the risks of retaliation before ordering air strikes. "This is a government that is very focused on rational cost-benefit analyses. There is no question in my mind that they would have calculated the risks. The costs of not acting would be deemed to be greater than the potential repercussions," he said.

Israel, he added, had "not acted nor spoken publicly about the upheaval in Syria for almost two years. If something has changed, it's because something has changed on the ground."

Amid confusion over the target or targets of the air strike, reports suggested that a convoy carrying conventional weapons, most likely Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, from Syria to Hezbollah depots in Lebanon was targeted.

"These are game-changing weapons," said Miri Eisin, a former Israeli military intelligence officer. Syria, she said, had received cutting-edge military hardware from Russia, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft surface-to-air missiles. "These are some of the most advanced technologies. If they go to Hezbollah - a non-state terror actor on Israel's border - that's a game-changer. Then you are going to prefer pre-emptive action."

The pre-dawn air strike on the Syrian-Lebanese border closely followed reports of intensive sorties by Israeli military planes. United Nations forces on the Israel-Lebanon border "recorded a high number of Israeli overflights throughout the day and the night", UN spokesman Andrea Tenenti told the Guardian.

UN forces had no evidence of illegal weapons or increased Hezbollah presence in their area of operations, close to the border with Israel. "We haven't seen any suspicious activities in the south," he said.Israel is widely believed to be behind previous attacks that it never publicly acknowledged. In 2007 Israel was accused of destroying a site in Syria that was believed to be a nuclear reactor under construction. Syria claimed it was a non-nuclear military site.

Israeli fighter planes are believed to have carried out an air strike on an arms factory in Khartoum last October and an attack on an arms convoy in 2009, also in Sudan, in which scores of people were killed. Both were thought to be aimed at preventing the manufacture or transport of weapons to Hamas in Gaza

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« Reply #4326 on: Feb 01, 2013, 06:51 AM »

David Cameron in Liberia: we must eradicate extreme poverty

PM also calls for focus on education during visit to school with Liberian president ahead of role co-chairing UN poverty meeting

Patrick Wintour, Friday 1 February 2013 11.00 GMT      

David Cameron has called for the next wave of international development targets to focus on extreme rather than relative poverty. The dispute about poverty targets is one of a set of differences due to be thrashed out at a UN high-level meeting on the next millennium development goals after 2015.

Cameron is co-chair of the panel that is meeting in Monrovia, Liberia.

Before the start of the panel on Friday, Cameron went to a local school with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the charismatic 74-year-old Liberian president. The children told them they needed books and computers. Cameron then asked what they wanted to be when they became adults and many replied doctors or lawyers. Cameron joked: "That is very impressive. In my country, they all want to be footballers or pop stars," before adding that was not fair.

The children had written a welcome sign for their two special guests in chalk on the blackboard in their dark and crowded classroom. Cameron told the children he would like world poverty goals to include higher quality education.

In interviews he insisted bolstering security and civil structures was crucial, alongside aid measures.

Speaking to reporters on Friday morning, Cameron said: "Liberia is a country that was absolutely devastated by conflict and civil war.

"It is now recovering but there is still desperate poverty. I think it is very important we keep a focus on eradicating extreme poverty.

"Here in Liberia, one in 10 children do not make it to the age of five. But I also think it is important we look at those things that keep countries poor. Conflict, corruption, lack of justice, lack of the rule of law. These things matter, as well as money."

The premier was forced to concede on Thursday that the defence budget could face more cuts in 2015-16, while the international development budget is protected.

Cameron is also pressing for new goals not to focus only on the number of children in school, but also the quality of education.


January 31, 2013

Cameron Shows Grit in North Africa, but Stirs Concerns About New Entanglements


LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron emerged Thursday from hurried visits to two North African capitals boasting a sheaf of commitments to new partnerships in the fields of defense, counterterrorism, intelligence-sharing and military training, including for special forces.

He also won plaudits for courage. In Algiers on Wednesday, he became the first British prime minister to visit since Winston Churchill wallowed in warm Mediterranean dips during stopovers to and from Egypt in World War II. Postwar British leaders shunned Algeria through its bloody war against the colonial French and, after 1962, for the appalling human rights record of the country’s post-independence rulers, mostly involving the torture and killing of Islamist opponents.

In Tripoli, Libya, on Thursday, Mr. Cameron braved the warnings issued by his own Foreign Office, which acknowledged only days ago that it had received threats against the British Embassy there and urged British citizens to leave Benghazi, Libya’s second city. Mr. Cameron entered Tripoli in a cavalcade of armored cars and mingled with ordinary Libyans in Martyrs’ Square as a military helicopter hovered overhead and sharpshooters stood watch on neighboring rooftops.

Still, skeptics have taken to Britain’s airwaves and news columns to ask whether Mr. Cameron’s focus on marshaling a concerted Western response to security threats in North Africa is based on an overreaction to the Islamist threat, and whether he is dragging Britain relentlessly into another foreign quagmire just as it is heading for an end to combat in Afghanistan later this year.

Adrian Hamilton, writing in The Independent newspaper, observed, “There is a real danger for Europe and the wider world from the threat posed by insurgent groups invading states too weak to defend themselves.” But he cautioned that grappling with the survival of such states will not be helped by “muddling it up with all sorts of ill-defined nightmares about religious terrorism.”

“Yet that,” he wrote, “is what the prime minister is doing.”

Some of the more positive commentators here have suggested that Mr. Cameron’s language has had Churchillian overtones that are ill measured to the nature of the threat. In the wake of the French military intervention in Mali, and the seizure of a remote gas plant in the Algerian desert that ended with scores of dead hostages and militants, including six Britons, the prime minister has spoken of the challenge in North Africa being a particularly menacing component of a global threat from Islamist militants that demands a “response that is about years, even decades, rather than months,” that is “patient and painstaking,” and that is characterized by “an absolutely iron resolve.”

While vowing that Britain “has no intention” of getting involved in combat, he has sent 330 British service members to assist the French in Mali, with transport aircraft to help airlift French troops and equipment, a top-secret surveillance aircraft to provide the French with intelligence about the Islamist fighters, and 200 “advisers” — most of them, for now at least, to be based in Nigeria and Ghana — to assist in training Malian troops. Newspaper reports have said that British special forces units, some transferred from Afghanistan, have also been deployed.

But many in Mr. Cameron’s own party and beyond have asked whether the prime minister has followed in the footsteps that a predecessor, Tony Blair, left in Iraq and Afghanistan, succumbing to the desire to break free from the draining compromises forced on him by the convolutions of domestic politics, and seeking renown for tough, statesmanlike action abroad.

And they have questioned Mr. Cameron’s judgment in his choice of Algeria and Libya as partners for his venture into the eddying waters of North African politics.

On his visit to Tripoli on Thursday, Mr. Cameron won a renewed Libyan commitment to cooperate in investigating Libya’s role in the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, 189 of them Americans — a pledge Mr. Blair also secured on a visit in 2007. In the years since, there has been little concrete Libyan assistance.

While Algeria’s current leaders and the repressive government they oversee seem to have an iron grip on the country, one that has so far shown little sign of descending into the chaos the Arab Spring has brought elsewhere, the same could hardly be said of Libya’s current leaders.

They have shown little sign of establishing a stable government in the face of the challenges of tribal militias, remnants of the Qaddafi era and, perhaps most ominously, from militant Islamist groups like the one believed to have led the fatal attacks on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi last September.

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« Reply #4327 on: Feb 01, 2013, 06:55 AM »

January 31, 2013

As Arab Spring’s Glow Fades and Turmoil Rises, Unsettling Questions


BEIRUT, Lebanon — The scenes of chaos came in swift succession over the past week.

In Egypt, angry crowds overran police stations and killed officers. In northern Syria, more than 90 bodies were pulled from a river, many bound and shot. Israeli warplanes struck Syria on Wednesday after Israeli officials expressed concern that Syrian weapons would fall into the hands of militants — an attack that fueled fears of escalating regional conflict.

Two years after largely peaceful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt toppled dictators, unleashing hope and instability across the Arab world, the transformation of the region’s long-calcified political systems has taken a violent turn in many quarters, raising unsettling questions: Was this postrevolutionary tumult inevitable, a product of missteps by local leaders and foreign powers, or perhaps a bit of both?

With Syria mired in a bloody civil war and Arab newspapers debating whether Egypt’s new government will disintegrate or be taken over by the military, the most important players — ordinary citizens trying to seize a long-denied say in their destinies — are uncertain how long they will live in a state of upheaval, and what their lives will be like when things finally settle down.

“The revolution is like a baby,” Rami, a Syrian activist, said in an interview on Sunday in a Beirut cafe. “You can’t say if this baby is going to be a doctor or a lawyer, smart or dumb. Even if this baby throws his mother’s purse, I can’t complain — he’s a baby.”

Rami, who asked that his last name not be used for safety reasons, said he expected the revolution to include wrong turns.

“In revolution we destroy, we build,” he said. “Sometimes we get a distorted shape which will automatically be torn down.”

In Tunisia and Egypt, citizens deposed presidents largely by flooding the streets, but in Syria, at least 60,000 people have died in a violent struggle that has deepened sectarian animosities and has yet to topple the government. In Egypt, hopes for power sharing have been dashed as President Mohamed Morsi rammed through a new constitution and did not overhaul the security services. The country appears trapped in a spiral of street protests, random violence, economic stagnation and political paralysis.

But Middle East analysts and scholars of revolutions say that it would be naïve to expect smooth transitions in countries where political debate was repressed for decades, and that political change will be slow, messy and often violent.

At the same time, the analysts say, it is impossible to draw broad conclusions about the Arab uprisings, which are still young and are taking place in very different countries — Libya, with six million people and vast oil reserves, Egypt with more than 80 million people and few natural resources. In each, the incentives of local players and foreign meddlers vary widely.

“We have leapt to the conclusion that all the transitions should be smooth,” said Jon B. Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “That’s pretty ahistoric.”

The American Revolution eventually produced a stable system, but the Constitution did not take effect until 13 years after the Declaration of Independence, and the effects of upheavals like the Whiskey Rebellion and repressive measures like the Alien and Sedition Acts played out into the 19th century.

Whether a transition is going well is “often impossible to judge at the time,” Mr. Alterman added. “The Arab world’s transitions are a process that will take at least a decade to unfold.”

The countries in transition have few political institutions, after decades of repression. Political debates that usually unfold over decades are being compressed into lightning transitions.

“You’re moving from one-man or one-military rule to the masses,” said Joyce Karam, the Washington bureau chief of the newspaper Al Hayat, a pan-Arab publication based in London.

With few parties or charismatic leaders to shape people’s broad aspirations for a better life into a political strategy, Arab societies in transition are vulnerable to the resurgence of entrenched interests, and to outside manipulation. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies, for instance, fear that smooth transitions could embolden their people to rise up. Their public and private support for various competing rebel factions may also prolong instability, Mr. Alterman said.

The Arab uprisings have been interconnected, as movements inspire and instruct one another, and have reawakened a sense of regional identity and common purpose for a generation too young to remember the heyday of Arab nationalism.

But activists tend to see events in their own countries as sui generis, driven by the mix of domestic politics and foreign interests affecting their country rather than a uniform regional narrative — and to reject suggestions that the Arab uprisings as a whole are a threat, or a failure.

“It’s tough to generalize,” Ms. Karam said, contending that although they all have their problems, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and in some ways even Yemen, where the state structure, unstable as it was, remained intact after the president stepped down, offer “less chaotic models than Syria.”

The Western powers that initially welcomed democracy movements increasingly appear more concerned with containing instability than with promoting democracy, Ms. Karam said.

The United States and its allies continue to hesitate over arming Syrian rebels for fear of empowering extremists among them, while France bombarded Mali last month, targeting militants linked to Al Qaeda, and the United States signaled its willingness to help. France, like the United States, has refused to intervene directly in Syria. That Western powers were quicker to intervene in Mali than against Mr. Assad, who has used ballistic missiles against his own people, particularly angers Syrians, who have begged in vain for the kind of assistance that helped rebels prevail in Libya.

“It reinforces the image that Washington and the West are not interested in democracy and human rights in the region, that they won’t intervene unless there is Al Qaeda or oil,” Ms. Karam said.

Turmoil, failure and unintended outcomes are hardly unique to Arab revolutions.

Iran’s overthrow of the shah in 1979 began as a people’s revolution, but impotent new leaders lost a power struggle with the theocratic founders of the Islamic republic. Many revolts in the 1960s across the developing world replaced colonial tyranny with local tyranny.

The collapse of the Soviet Union is perhaps the best recent parallel, as a stagnant order gave way to a multitude of new systems.

For the people caught in the middle, the fear is undeniable. In Egypt, no one seems able to control the streets, and for the first time, guns are appearing in the hands of protesters. Syrian refugees pouring into Lebanon say that regardless of the war’s outcome, they will have to rebuild their lives from scratch.

But one, Abu Shadi, said there was no going back.

“If Assad falls, we will suffer for a couple of years,” he said, “but things will improve. But if he stays, we suffer forever.”

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut.
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« Reply #4328 on: Feb 01, 2013, 07:05 AM »

January 31, 2013

Iran Said to Be Set to Hasten Uranium Enrichment


LONDON — Iran has told the United Nations nuclear supervisory body that it plans to install more sophisticated equipment at its principal nuclear enrichment plant, a diplomat said Thursday, enabling it to greatly accelerate processing of uranium in a move likely to worry the United States, Israel and the West.

The diplomat, based in Vienna, where the International Atomic Energy Agency has its headquarters, cited a letter from Iranian officials to the agency saying that Iran wants to upgrade its main enrichment plant at Natanz. The upgrade could speed up enrichment by as much as two or three times, the diplomat said on the condition of anonymity, in light of the confidential nature of the Iranian note.

The United States and its allies accuse Tehran of seeking the technology for nuclear weapons, but Iran says it wants to use enriched uranium purely for civilian and peaceful purposes.

The disclosure came at a time of high regional tension, a day after American officials said Israeli warplanes struck deep inside Syrian territory. The American officials said they believed the target was a convoy carrying sophisticated antiaircraft weaponry on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, that had been intended for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iran is a close ally of Syria and Hezbollah. While an accelerated Iranian nuclear program would add to regional uncertainties — possibly renewing Israeli threats to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities — there was no immediate indication that the timing of Iran’s note to the I.A.E.A. was related to the events in Syria.

International negotiations on the nuclear program are stalemated by disagreement over the venue and date for the next encounter between Iranian negotiators and outside powers.

Iranian officials offered no immediate comment on the note, but nuclear experts said Iran’s ambitions to install more sophisticated centrifuges had been known for some time. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran first hinted publicly that Iranian scientists were conducting research to make these machines back in 2006. According to news reports, Tehran began testing prototypes in 2010.

It was unclear from the Iranian note whether the new centrifuges would be used to enrich uranium to the roughly 4 percent purity level used for civilian power generation, or to the 20 percent purity level that can be used in medical isotope production. The higher purity is a short technical step away from the highly enriched uranium used in nuclear arms.

Cliff Kupchan, an Iran specialist at the Eurasia Group, a Washington-based risk consultancy, said in a note to clients on Thursday that the faster centrifuges, assuming they work well, “would mark a significant technological breakthrough” that could shorten the amount of time Iran would need to create fuel for nuclear arms should it choose that path.

But Mr. Kupchan cautioned that “Iran has a long history of overstating its capabilities, and both the number of machines that Iran can deploy and their effectiveness is not yet known.” News of the Iranian note emerged days after Iran said it lofted a monkey into space as a prelude to human spaceflight.

While American analysts said the missile technology used in the experiment appeared to have little military relevance, James E. Oberg, a former NASA engineer and author of a dozen books on human spaceflight, said Iran’s civil space advances also had propaganda value because the peaceful flights could take global attention off the nation’s military feats and ambitions.

“Like the North Koreans, they get to present their program as peaceful when lots of it has to do with weapons development,” Mr. Oberg said.

The diplomat based in Vienna said the I.A.E.A. director general, Yukiya Amano, had circulated a note to the organization on Wednesday saying Iranian officials had informed the watchdog on Jan. 24 that “centrifuge machines type IR2m will be used” in the Natanz enrichment plant.

The I.A.E.A. replied on Jan. 29, seeking technical information about the plan, Mr. Amano’s note said.

Currently, Iran uses IR1 models developed in the 1970s, but has been reported for several years to be trying to enhance its enrichment capability with newer centrifuges developed domestically from technology initially acquired from Pakistan.

Last week, Israel’s departing defense minister, Ehud Barak, said the Pentagon had prepared sophisticated blueprints for a surgical operation to set back Iran’s nuclear program should the United States decide to attack — a statement that was a possible indication that Israel might have shelved any plans for a unilateral strike, at least for now.

Iran’s nuclear program also faces a threat of sabotage since a computer worm known as Stuxnet was used to attack its centrifuges more than two years ago. American intelligence officials believe the attack caused many of the machines to spin out of control and self-destruct.

The Natanz plant, southeast of Tehran, has been used to enrich uranium at low levels. But a newer uranium enrichment plant, known as Fordo, has raised Western concerns because it is buried deep underground, making it more impervious to scrutiny or attack.

The Fordo plant takes uranium fuel that has been enriched to 4 percent purity at Natanz and enriches it to 20 percent purity.

Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York.
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« Reply #4329 on: Feb 01, 2013, 07:06 AM »

White House condemns Iran for nuclear ‘escalation’

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, January 31, 2013 18:10 EST

The White House warned Thursday that Iran’s decision to install more modern equipment at its Natanz nuclear plant was a “further escalation” in the showdown over its atomic program.

“The installation of new advanced centrifuges is a further escalation and a continuing violation … of Iran’s obligations under relevant United Nations Security Council and IAEA board resolutions,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

A document seen by AFP on Thursday shows that Iran intends to install more modern equipment at Natanz, one of its main nuclear sites.

The UN atomic agency document said that Iran informed it in a letter dated January 23 that “centrifuge machines type IR2m will be used in Unit A-22″ at the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz.

A Vienna diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity that the new machines would likely be used to enrich uranium to fissile purities of five percent.

Of greater concern than Natanz is Iran’s Fordo site, which enriches uranium to 20-percent purities, significantly closer to the 90-percent level needed for a bomb.
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« Reply #4330 on: Feb 01, 2013, 07:10 AM »

Turkey: Erdogan looks east for a little love

31 January 2013
Milliyet Istanbul

Faced with a European Union procrastinating over Turkish accession, the country's prime minister is threatening to hook up with other global bodies, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Even if it is just a bluff, it reflects growing impatience in Ankara.
Sami Kohen

Interviewed last July on Turkish television channel Kanal 24, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan half-jokingly referred to his response to Vladimir Putin's teasing question, “But why are you still interested in Europe?” “Well, bring us into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)”, replied the Turkish Prime Minister, “and we'll forget about the European Union.”

On January 25, Erdogan returned to the subject on the same television channel. This time, though, he wasn't joking. The hypothesis, he felt, had entered the realm of the “serious”, and the realm of “intentions”.

He recalled what he had told Putin and strove to make it clear that he had seriously evaluated the scenario of abandoning the goal of the European Union and of joining SCO. Noting that Turkey shared some values with the member countries of an organisation that was turning out to be an alternative to the EU, he said: “The group of five of Shanghai is better and stronger.”
Shanghai Five

Although the remarks were made hastily on television, they nevertheless clearly reflect the feelings, if not the intentions, of the prime minister on the issue. The first alternative that sprang to his mind, discouraged by the process of accession to the EU, is the group of the “Shanghai Five” (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan) which became “six” in 2001, when Uzbekistan joined.

The organisation promotes cooperation between its members in security, energy, trade and political matters. Turkey does not have observer status, but it has just become a “dialogue partner”. Turkey could, the PM asserted, join the SCO at the same time as India and Pakistan. This remark let drop by Erdogan may be a way for him to score some points and force the EU down off the fence and to make a decision on Turkey's proposed accession.

It also reveals, especially if the EU fails to budge, that Erdogan is determined to make this notion of joining the SCO one of the top priorities of Turkish foreign policy.
Change of course

It's clearly a subject that will call for much thought and debate, since it would result in a change of course for Turkey. If it turned its back on the West and looked East, it would find itself in a unique position, in both internal and external policy. It remains to be seen whether Russia and China will want a NATO member in their organisation. If that answer is yes, the next question is whether NATO will go along with it.

The real question is whether the SCO truly is a better alternative for Turkey. Principally because the EU, despite the crisis it is in today, preserves an undeniable superiority in a whole slew of areas, such as democratic values and economic integration.

Certainly, Turkey will find it useful to collaborate, as part of its ambitious foreign policy, with organisations such as the SCO – but it would be wise to measure the impact this could have if it meant turning its back on the West. The truth is, it's no longer a joking matter.   

Reactions: An understandable annoyance

"If this is how it is, we'll say goodbye to the EU." Die Presse gives front-page coverage to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's remarks about the footdragging of the Europeans on the accession of his country to the EU. The Austrian daily can understand the disappointment of Erdogan and sees it as a call to European leaders –

    For half a century, Ankara has worked hard to be accepted into the European club. And for half a century, the club has continually come up with new rules on accession to delay or prevent Turkey joining it.

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« Reply #4331 on: Feb 01, 2013, 07:13 AM »

January 31, 2013

As NATO Prepares for Afghan Withdrawal, Uzbekistan Seeks War’s Leftovers


MOSCOW — With planning for the Western military withdrawal from Afghanistan in full swing, officials in Uzbekistan want to make a deal: we will provide the roads out if you leave some of those extra vehicles and supplies behind for us.

Uzbek officials have quietly contacted American, German and British officials with the offer, in their latest bid to supplement their military despite international embargoes, according to officials in NATO countries, human rights advocates and German news reports. On the wish list are armored vehicles, mine detectors, helicopters, navigation equipment and night-vision goggles — used and dusty would be fine.

It is a proposal that has won the attention of Western capitals and that is said to have annoyed the Kremlin enough that it is pushing through an arms deal with Uzbekistan’s neighbor, Kyrgyzstan.

“The Uzbeks see this as their window of bargaining leverage,” Alexander Cooley, a professor at Barnard College and an authority on the former Soviet states of Central Asia, said in a telephone interview. Both Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan were once Soviet republics.

Uzbekistan is ranked as the sixth most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International and has been banned from most arms purchases in Europe and the United States since political prisoners were discovered to have died in detention a decade ago from scalding water — from, in fact, being boiled alive.

But what Uzbek officials are offering, however, has value. Over the next two years, NATO forces are expected to remove about 70,000 vehicles and 120,000 shipping containers from Afghanistan, and the way out will require rail lines and well-surfaced roads.

Although Pakistani ports are seen as the most efficient avenue for the cargo’s withdrawal, alternatives will be important, and allied officials are mindful of a potential disruption if Pakistan ever decides to again close the routes or ask for more money, as it did during a diplomatic crisis with the United States in 2011 and 2012.

The United States government has taken the Uzbek proposal seriously enough to partially lift a set of arms sales restrictions that have been in place for about a decade. And it has held interagency meetings in Washington this month to consider the latest Uzbek proposal, according to nongovernmental experts on American policy in the region.

The Uzbek request illustrates the difficult logistics of winding down the war, an unglamorous coda to a fight that began with troops parachuting in out of the night sky.

As was the case in the withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, the cost of shipping used equipment to the United States often exceeds its value. The Army left tens of thousands of air-conditioned residential trailers in Iraq, and many of the armored vehicles that were rolled across the border into Kuwait were mothballed there.

A legacy of abandoned weapons is a common one in battle zones, including Afghanistan, which became a bustling secondhand arms bazaar after the Soviet pullout in 1989.

The State Department issued a statement saying that it was “premature to speculate on plans for any transfer of excess equipment, or even what equipment may be declared excess” after the withdrawal, but it clarified the parameters for any potential deals with Central Asian countries. “Only equipment deemed in excess of operational needs by the Department of Defense would be provided to foreign countries, including Northern Distribution Network host nations in Central Asia,” the statement said, referring to the name of the northern supply lines into Afghanistan.

Delighted with that possibility, the Uzbeks have been broadening the scope of their demands, said a senior American official directly involved in the diplomacy of the Afghan logistical routes, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the delicate negotiations.

The requests have gone from relatively common items like night-vision goggles to large and expensive American-made goods like MRAP vehicles, the 14-ton armored utility trucks that help protect troops from roadside bombs.

Other items that the Uzbeks have eyed in the American arsenal in Afghanistan are small arms, mine detectors, navigation equipment and possibly drones, according to Der Spiegel, the German newsmagazine, suggesting that the Uzbeks are looking at the pullout next year as a sort of everything-must-go moment for military shopping.

The government is trying to broaden its scope beyond Russian military equipment standards, lest Uzbekistan be beholden to Moscow in regional conflicts over water rights or border enclaves with its neighbors.

In December, Uzbekistan pulled out of Russia’s regional security bloc, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, as it stepped up its requests for Western weapons. Russia responded by offering a $1 billion arms deal to Kyrgyzstan.

Against the backdrop of its dispute with Moscow, the Uzbek government is said to have quietly conveyed its requests for military surplus to officials from NATO countries.

After years of watching helicopters fly in and out of Termez airfield, which is used as a German base in Uzbekistan, the government in March told Germany’s defense minister, Thomas de Maizière, who was visiting, that it would not mind getting its hands on a few of them, the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported.

A British delegation passed through in July. On the diplomatic agenda between the two countries, according to Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and now a critic of British policy in the region, is the handover of used Land Rovers or other military vehicles as partial payment for shipping out other items.

Such talks have alarmed members of the German Parliament, who requested clarification from their government.

“Either the Uzbeks want money, and quite a lot, or they want weapons,” Viola von Cramon, a member of Parliament, said in a telephone interview. “What I’ve heard from informed sources is they are not interested in civil assistance, or anything progressive like university exchanges. It’s really hard in that respect. They really prefer the military sector.”

Human rights groups harbor apprehensions at the thought of a second life for Western military hardware in Uzbekistan.

“Uzbekistan has one of the most abysmal and atrocious records of any of the countries we work on here at Human Rights Watch, which is well over 100 countries,” Steve Swerdlow, the group’s Central Asia researcher, who was expelled from Uzbekistan in 2010, said in a telephone interview.

In one horrific episode, the Uzbek military fired on protesters in a public square in Andijon in 2005, killing as many as 745 people, according to an opposition party. And the nation’s economy depends heavily on the forced labor of children and adults in cotton fields.

While Western militaries still deal with Uzbekistan, more than 100 apparel brands, including H & M, Gap and Walmart, have signed a pledge not to buy Uzbek cotton.

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« Reply #4332 on: Feb 01, 2013, 07:16 AM »

February 1, 2013

Under Cover, North Korea Steps Up Activity at Nuclear Site


SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea has been making brisk movements in its main underground nuclear test site, but has put up a cover over the entrance of a tunnel to foil American intelligence efforts to determine whether a detonation there might be imminent, South Korean officials and media reported on Friday.

North Korea has said it would conduct a third nuclear test to retaliate against the United Nations Security Council’s unanimous decision last month to tighten sanctions on the country. Its media cited its top leader, Kim Jong-un, as ordering his military and government last week to take “high-profile” measures, indicating that a third nuclear test might happen soon.

In recent months, U.S. and South Korean officials have detected new tunneling activities and what appeared to be other efforts to prepare for a third underground nuclear test at Punggye-ri in northeastern North Korea, where the country conducted an underground nuclear test in 2006 and again in 2009. North Korea can now conduct a nuclear test any time once its leadership in Pyongyang makes up its mind, officials here said.

The North Korean threats have kept officials and analysts in the region on tenterhooks as any test is likely to aggravate tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Earthquake monitoring stations and military planes are on standby to detect seismic tremors and measure increased radiation in the air in case of a detonation in the North. U.S. and South Korean officials were scrutinizing daily updates from satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri site, which features three tunnels dug into a 7,380-foot-tall mountain and multiple support buildings.

Still, predicting when a test might happen has been difficult because the satellites cannot observe what was going on under the tunnels. So U.S. and South Korean officials have been particularly zeroing in on the entrance of the newest of the three tunnels, where a test was most likely; sealing the entrance would be a clearest sign of an imminent test.

Lately, they have faced a further complication.

A South Korean military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media on the record, said on Friday that North Korea has recently put a large cover at the entrance of the tunnel in an apparent attempt to block U.S. spy satellites from monitoring what was happening there. South Korean news media, including the national Yonhap news agency, also cited military sources on Friday in reporting on such a cover.

The official’s remarks elaborated on a comment that Army Gen. Jung Seung-jo, the chairman of the South Korean military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, made a day earlier.

“We have detected brisk activities at Punggey-ri,” General Jung told reporters on Thursday. “We are watching closely whether this is for a nuclear test or is just a camouflage.”

His comment was made the same day as President Lee Myung-bak called a meeting of security-related officials to warn that North Korea would face much tougher sanctions if it pushed ahead with a nuclear test in defiance of the international community’s warnings. But General Jung’s comment was embargoed until Friday.

Days before North Korea launched its rocket in December, North Korea put a cover over its rocket launching pad, making it difficult for U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials to monitor the area. It then told the rest of the world that it was having technical problems.

A day before North Korea launched its rocket on Dec. 12 and successfully put a satellite into orbit, some officials and analysts in Seoul said that a long delay was likely, some of them even suggesting that the rocket had been removed from the pad for fixing. Many U.S. officials were also caught off-guard by the subsequent launching.

The Security Council adopted a resolution on Jan. 22 to punish North Korea for the rocket launching, which it considered a test of intercontinental ballistic missile technology. Earlier resolutions banned the country from such tests.

“The North Koreans engaged in deceptive moves before they launched a long-range missile, and this time too, there is a limit in our monitoring because things are taking place underground,” General Jung said. “We stay vigilant 24 hours a day because a nuclear test can happen any time.”

General Jung made the comment to domestic reporters touring a nuclear-powered U.S. submarine on Thursday.

Also on Thursday in Washington, speaking at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for defense secretary, said, “North Korea is beyond a threat. It’s a real nuclear power and quite unpredictable.”

As the developments were unfolding, the U.S.S. San Francisco, a Los Angeles-class nuclear submarine, was docked at the Jinhae naval base on the southern coast of South Korea ahead of a joint U.S.-South Korean submarine exercise slated for next week. Gen. Jung said the drill was not timed to North Korean moves for a possible nuclear test, but added that South Korea and its American ally were guarding against possible North Korean provocations involving submarines.

In 2010, a South Korean warship exploded and sunk, killing 46 sailors. The United States and South Korea blamed it on a torpedo attack by a North Korean submarine, despite Pyongayng’s denials.

U.S. nuclear submarines have occasionally visited South Korean naval ports, and North Korea has often cited such port calls in justifying its attempt to build what it calls a “nuclear deterrence.”

North Korea said its upcoming atomic explosion will be a “high-level” test. A new test can help analysts determine whether North Korea was making advances in its bomb-building technology. The analysts say North Korea may this time detonate a device made from highly enriched uranium, which would show that the country has acquired a second source for manufacturing bombs in addition to plutonium.

North Korea watchers in South Korea are speculating on various dates for a possible nuclear test. Some predict that it would happen before the Feb. 16 birthday of Kim Jong-il, the late North Korean leader and father of Kim Jong-un, who has inherited leadership after the senior Kim’s death in December 2011.
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« Reply #4333 on: Feb 01, 2013, 07:18 AM »

02/01/2013 12:30 PM

Global Leadership Vacuum: Europe Incapable, America Unwilling

An Analysis By Gregor Peter Schmitz in Munich

US Vice President Joe Biden is visiting Germany this week in an effort to strengthen trans-Atlantic ties. Global politics have come to a standstill in recent years, with the United States unwilling to show leadership and Europe and other major powers unable to fill the vacuum.

Ernest Rutherford, the chemist and nuclear physicist, wanted to conduct massive experiments in his laboratories in Britain. He had won the 1908 Nobel Prize in chemistry and would go on to become one of the legends in his field. But he often simply didn't have the funds. Legend has it that he gathered together his team and said: "Gentlemen, we have run out of money. It's time to start thinking."

These words attributed to Rutherford have become world-famous -- also in the realm of politics. And they could hardly be more applicable than to United States Vice President Joe Biden's upcoming trip to Germany. On Friday afternoon, Biden will hold a powwow with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. On Saturday, he is scheduled to deliver a speech at the annual Munich Security Conference.

The reason is clear: Biden might still speak eloquently in public about trans-Atlantic cooperation. But, behind closed doors, his main message will be that America and its allies need to come up with a new way of divvying up responsibilities in this uncertain world.

The Exhausted Nation

In 1998, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called America the "indispensable nation." But now, 15 years later, it is primarily an exhausted one, a global power in decline that has its gaze turned toward the domestic front rather than Afghanistan or the Middle East.

This should come as no surprise. Since the end of the Cold War, US soldiers have spent almost twice as many months at war than they had in previous decades. The country has pumped a phenomenal amount of money into its military. Indeed, in 2011, it spent more on defense than the next 19 military powers combined. And, of course, this only contributed to its record mountain of $16 trillion (€11.8 trillion) in public debt.

When Biden gets up to speak, he will relay a message from his boss, US President Barack Obama. And the message will be: "Enough!" After all, when Obama recently gave his second inaugural address, he avoided making any reference to John F. Kennedy's 1961 inaugural speech, in which he said that America would "pay any price, bear any burden … in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty" around the globe. Instead, the key sentence of Obama's speech was: "A decade of war is now ending."

Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, didn't focus on creating a better world in his speech. Instead, he talked about a better America, one with more opportunities for immigrants, more rights for homosexuals and less social inequality. Today's America is deeply divided, but all sides agree on one point: America's well-being is more important than the world's.

Obama's predecessor, President George W. Bush, had far-reaching, messianic visions for American foreign policy. But what remains of that in the Obama era is the so-called "Eisenhower Doctrine," as US commentators are re-discovering it. As a general, Dwight D. Eisenhower was the hero of World War II. But, as America's president from 1953 to 1961, he wanted to avoid bloodshed at all costs -- or at least the spilling of American blood. According to biographer Jean Edward Smith, from the end of the Korean War till the end of his presidency, America didn't suffer a single combat fatality.

A Foreign Policy with Few Tangible Results

Obama has now nominated Chuck Hagel to become his new secretary of defense. Hagel, a former Republican senator and decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War, gave Obama an Eisenhower biography as a gift and wants to keep today's GIs out of harm's way. Indeed, Hagel shares Obama's global vision of "leading from behind" -- whether it's in Libya or, more recently, in Mali, where the US is happy to let France take the lead.

Still, this new division of duties isn't the end of the world anymore than cuts in US military spending are. They are easier to implement than the grumbling military brass lets on. The real drama would be if America decided to completely retreat behind its own borders.

The fact is that, when it comes to America's standing in the world, the Obama-Biden team has made up a lot of ground. But its foreign policies have yielded hardly any real results. Indeed, even the Brookings Institution, the respected Washington-based think tank, believes that Obama has yet to chalk up many foreign policy successes.

In countries that take a hostile stance toward America, such as Pakistan, Obama is just as unpopular as Bush was -- perhaps as a result of deploying more drones than diplomats. It appears more likely than ever that Iran will develop nuclear weapons, the battle against climate change is stalling, the Israelis and Palestinians are back at each other's throats, and Sino-Western relations are still on shaky ground.

Is the World Shifting Into Reverse?

You would think it were high time for Obama to jump back into the saddle before he gets reduced to a lame-duck status. But no matter how many blinding smiles the notoriously perky Biden flashes in Berlin and Munich, this is probably too much to expect.

Of course, this gives rise to the question: Which country could step in and replace the United States? China is panicking about whether its economy is losing steam, Russia has degenerated into a petro-dictatorship, and Brazil and India are faltering. At the same time, international institutions, such as the United Nations, NATO and the European Union, are suffering from an identity crisis about what they're supposed to do.

As political scientist Ian Bremmer suggested in his recent book "Every Nation for Itself," we currently find ourselves in an era marked by a global "leadership vacuum." This could turn out to be a time of forward progress, especially for the Europeans, who may ultimately become the new global police.

The Washington Post says this isn't an idea to be scoffed at. But it still seems more entertaining than probable. If you exclude Britain, European nations have slashed their defense budgets by an average of 15 percent since the end of the Cold War. Worse yet, as illustrated by the euro crisis and the most recent brouhaha over London's role in the EU, diplomatic unity in Europe has yet to make the leap from paper to reality.

Indeed, rather than making progress, it is much more likely that the world will shift into reverse. Europe isn't in a position to provide decisive leadership. And the US doesn't want to anymore.

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« Reply #4334 on: Feb 01, 2013, 07:29 AM »

01/31/2013 05:35 PM

Trial in Spring: Court Approves Neo-Nazi Terror Cell Trial

By Birger Menke and Sven Röbel

NSU terror cell member Beate Zschäpe has been charged with complicity in 10 murders. According to information obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE, the Higher Regional Court in Munich has allowed the prosecution's charges against the suspected neo-Nazi terrorist and four of her presumed accomplices to stand.

The Higher Regional Court in Munich has approved the prosecution's charges against Beate Zschäpe, a suspected member the National Socialist Underground terror cell, along with four presumed accomplices in what is expected to be one of the most closely monitored trials in recent German history.

A spokesperson for the Higher Regional Court in Munich told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the defense lawyers have yet to be notified of the decision and that no comment would be made until that time.

The office of the German Federal Public Prosecutor also refused to comment before the defense had been informed, instead referring queries to the Higher Regional Court.

Almost 500 pages long, the bill of indictment signed by Chief Federal Prosecutor Harald Range charges Zschäpe with being an accessory to the murders and bomb attacks carried out by the NSU terror call, as well as arson, founding a terrorist organization and facilitating robbery. In a seven-year killing spree that began in 2000, the NSU claimed responsibility for murdering at least nine men of Turkish and Greek origin as well as a policewoman.

Trial Expected in Spring

Formally accused along with Zschäpe is Ralf Wohlleben, a long-standing official in the far-right extremist National Democratic Party (NPD) who is believed to have played a key role in acquiring the cell's murder weapons. Also in the dock will be Holger G., believed to have provided the members of the cell with identity papers, as well as Carsten S., who admitted to supplying the Ceska-brand pistol used as a murder weapon. The fifth defendant is André E. of Zwickau, who is accused of having organized apartments and vans that federal prosecutors believe the cell used in robberies and a bomb attack in Cologne.

The trial is expected to open this spring.

Prosecutors believe that Zschäpe was an accomplice to the string of murders committed by her alleged colleagues in the terror cell -- Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, who committed suicide as police closed in on their trail -- and that she holds equal responsibility. But to back that suspicion, they will have to prove that the defendent had been aware of each individual murder.

So far, Zschäpe has remained silent about her alleged involvement in the crimes. But she has left open the possibility that she may ultimately speak. During an interrogation with an investigating judge, she is reported to have said that she "didn't turn herself in to not testify."

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