Saturday, June 13, 2009

US envoy set for key Syria talks

President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, has arrived in Syria for talks with officials including President Bashar al-Assad.
He is the highest-ranking US diplomat to visit Damascus since Barack Obama's administration took office.
Correspondents say the US is testing Syria's support for America's stated new drive for peace in the region.
But Mr Mitchell has assured Lebanon that securing Syrian co-operation will not come at Beirut's expense.
He arrived in Syria from Beirut, and has already visited Israel, the West Bank, Egypt and Jordan.
Key player
Mr Mitchell is set to meet President Assad on Saturday morning, after which he will deliver a statement.
The BBC's Lina Sinjab in Damascus says Syrians are looking forward to the meeting.
Improved relations could mean a lifting of sanctions and many new business deals - something many ordinary Syrians are hoping for.
However, our correspondent says, the government and people here want to see pressure from the superpower on the Israelis to deliver long-awaited promises of peace.
The visit comes just a week after President Obama's ground-breaking speech in Cairo, in which he called for a "new beginning" between Muslims and the US, and vowed to pursue aggressively an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He did not mention Syria in the speech, but Damascus, where the United States still does not have an ambassador, remains a key regional player, says the BBC's diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus.
It has an influence over events in Lebanon; it shares a crucial border with Iraq; it has a significant relationship with the Islamist Palestinian movement Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip; and it is a close ally of Iran, he says.
But above all it wants Syria to push Hamas along the road to Palestinian unity - and ultimately Washington would like to woo Damascus away from Tehran.
Lebanese unease
Syria also has issues: It wants to get back the Golan Heights, territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. It also wants to see an end to US economic sanctions.
While in Beirut, Mr Mitchell stressed that Mid-East peace could not be achieved "at Lebanon's expense", reported the news agency AP.
Factions in Lebanon are concerned that improving relations could see Syria reassert its influence in Lebanon.
Under international pressure, Syria withdrew soldiers from Lebanon following the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

After 7 years at Gitmo, resettled Uyghurs grateful for freedom

Two of four Uyghurs relocated to Bermuda after seven years of detention in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, denied Friday that they had ever been terrorists, and expressed gratitude toward President Obama for working to free them.
Salahidin Abdalahut and Kheleel Mamut were two of four Uyghurs released from Gitmo. Thirteen remain there.
Asked what he would say to someone who accused him of being a terrorist, one of the men, Kheleel Mamut, told CNN's Don Lemon, "I am no terrorist; I have not been terrorist. I will never be terrorist. I am a peaceful person."
Speaking through an interpreter who is herself a Uyghur who said she was sympathetic toward the men, the other man -- Salahidin Abdalahut -- described the past seven years as "difficult times for me ... I feel bad that it took so long for me to be free."
The two Chinese Muslims were among four relocated from Guantanamo to Bermuda; another 13 remain in detention on the island.
He said he had traveled to Afghanistan not to attend any terrorist training camps, but because -- as a Uyghur -- he had been oppressed by the Chinese government. "We had to leave the country to look for a better life, a peaceful life, and Afghanistan is a neighboring country to our country and it's easy to go," he said. "It is difficult to obtain a visa to go to any other places, so it was really easy for us to just travel to Afghanistan."
Asked what he hoped to do next, he said, "I want to forget about the past and move on to a peaceful life in the future."
In addition to the four relocated from Guantanamo to Bermuda, another 13 Uyghurs remain in detention on the island.
The four were flown by private plane Wednesday night from Cuba to Bermuda, and were accompanied by U.S. and Bermudian representatives as well as their attorneys, according to Susan Baker Manning, part of the men's legal team.
The men, who are staying in an apartment, are free to roam about the island.
Mamut accused the Bush administration of having held them without cause, and lauded Obama for having "tried really hard to bring justice and he has been trying very hard to find other countries to resettle us and finally he freed us."
He appealed to Obama to carry out his promise to shut Guantanamo Bay within a year. "I would like President Obama to honor that word and to free my 13 brothers who were left behind and all of the rest of the people who deserve to be free," Mamut said.
Asked how he had been treated in Guantanamo Bay, Mamut said, "It is a jail, so there will be difficulties in the jail that we have faced and now, since I am a free man today, I would like to forget about all that. I really don't want to think about those days."
He cited a proverb from his homeland that means, "What is done cannot be undone."
Asked if he had anything to say to anyone watching, he said, "Thank you very much for those people who helped me to gain freedom."
He said he had spoken earlier in the day with his family. "They told me, "My boy, my son, congratulations on your freedom.' "
The move has had international repercussions, including causing a rift between the United States and Britain.
A British official familiar with the agreement but not authorized to speak publicly on the matter told CNN the United States had informed London of the agreement "shortly before the deal was concluded."
A U.S. official, speaking on background, said the British feel blindsided.
Bermuda is a British "overseas territory."
The four were twice cleared for release -- once by the Bush administration and again this year, according to a Justice Department statement.
The issue of where they go is controversial because of China's opposition to the Uyghurs being sent to any country but China.
Uyghurs are a Muslim minority from the Xinjiang province of far west China. The 17 Uyghurs had left China and made their way to Afghanistan, where they settled in a camp with other Uyghurs opposed to the Chinese government, the Justice Department said in its statement.
They left Afghanistan after U.S. bombings began in the area in October 2001, and were apprehended in Pakistan, the statement said.
"According to available information, these individuals did not travel to Afghanistan with the intent to take any hostile action against the United States," the statement said.
However, China alleges that the men are part of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement -- a group the U.S. State Department considers a terrorist organization -- that operates in the Xinjiang region. East Turkestan is another name for Xinjiang.
China on Thursday urged the United States to hand over all 17 of the Uyghurs instead of sending them elsewhere.
The United States will not send Uyghur detainees cleared for release back to China out of concern that they would be tortured by Chinese authorities. China has said no returned Uyghurs would be tortured.
A senior U.S. administration official told CNN that the State Department is working on a final agreement with Palau to settle the 13 remaining Uyghur detainees.

NASA scrubs Saturday launch of space shuttle Endeavour

A gaseous hydrogen leak on the space shuttle Endeavour forced NASA to cancel Saturday's planned launch, the space agency said.
NASA officials postponed Saturday's scheduled launch of space shuttle Endeavour.
NASA halted fueling of the shuttle after detecting the leak on a vent line that leads from the ground umbilical carrier plate to the launch pad and to the "flare stack" where vented hydrogen is burned off, the space agency said.
The leak is similar to the one that happened during the first launch attempt of space shuttle Discovery in March, NASA said.
Shuttle managers will assess the leak and meet Saturday morning to discuss what steps to take next, including setting a new launch date, NASA said.
Endeavour, carrying seven astronauts and a key component for Japan's Kibo science laboratory, is scheduled for a mission to the International Space Station.

Ahmadinejad 'wins Iran presidential vote'

Mr Ahmadinejad won his first term in a close race four years ago
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been re-elected as president of Iran with a resounding victory, the electoral commission says.
With more than 80% of results in, the commission said he won 64% support in an election marked by high turnout.
Reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi also claimed victory, calling the result a "dangerous charade", as supporters vowed to appeal for a re-run.
Police have sealed off Mr Mousavi's campaign HQ, preventing his supporters from holding a news conference.
Mr Mousavi was hoping to prevent Mr Ahmadinejad winning more than 50% of the vote, in order to force a run-off election.
However, the Iranian election commission said Mr Mousavi's share of the vote was around 32%.
Earlier, the state news agency Irna declared Mr Ahmadinejad the "definite winner", and his campaign manager was quoted as saying "any doubts cast on this victory will be treated as a joke by the public".
Danger of 'tyranny'
Mr Mousavi issued a statement shortly after 1300 local time (0930 GMT) on Saturday, after the scale of the hardline president's victory became clear.
The former prime minister dismissed the election result as deeply flawed.
"I personally strongly protest the many obvious violations and I'm warning I will not surrender to this dangerous charade," the Reuters news agency reported him as saying.
Voting age 18 years; electorate of 42.5m people
President to serve maximum of two consecutive four-year terms (or three non-consecutive)
Election won by absolute majority
Second round held between top two if no candidate wins majority
"The result of such performance by some officials will jeopardise the pillars of the Islamic Republic and will establish tyranny."
Mr Mousavi has already said there was a shortage of ballot papers and alleged that millions of people had been denied the right to vote.
His election monitors were not allowed enough access to polling stations, he added, saying he would deal seriously with any irregularities.
The head of the Committee to Protect the People's Votes, a group set up by all three opposition candidates, said the group does not accept the result, alleging fraud.
They have asked Iran's Guardian Council - a powerful body controlled by conservative clerics - to cancel the results and re-run the elections.
The BBC's Jon Leyne, in Tehran, says the result has been greeted with surprise and with deep scepticism by many Iranians.
The figures, if they are to be believed, show Mr Ahmedinejad winning strongly even in the heartland of Mr Mousavi, the main opposition contender.
The scale of Mr Ahmadinejad's win means that many people who voted for a reformist candidate in the previous presidential election four years ago have apparently switched their votes to Mr Ahmadinejad, he adds.
Police presence
Although there were few signs of organised dissent on the streets, police in Tehran moved to prevent protests on Saturday.
There was heavy security around Mr Mousavi's campaign headquarters and reports that at least one rally for Mr Mousavi was broken up by police using truncheons against small groups of people.
The AFP news agency said police dispersed opposition supporters on Saturday morning, quoting a senior police official as saying: "The time of dancing and shouting is over."
One opposition supporter who gave her name as Shirin, told the BBC she still had confidence Mr Mousavi would become president.
"But he advised us, the supporters, not to do anything harsh or trying to... clash with Ahmadinejad's supporters," she said.
Our correspondent says the reaction of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will be extremely important.
BBC Iranian affairs analyst Sadeq Saba says the result means that hope for peaceful reform in Iran may die for a long time.
Large turnout
There had been a surge of interest in Iran's presidential election, with unprecedented live television debates between the candidates and rallies attended by thousands.

Mr Mousavi has alleged widespread electoral fraud
There were long queues at polling stations, with turnout said to be higher than 80%.
Four candidates contested the election, with Mohsen Razai and Mehdi Karroubi only registering a small percentage of votes.
President Ahmadinejad draws support mainly from the urban poor and rural areas, while his rivals have support among the middle classes and the educated urban population.
Iran is ruled under a system known as Velayat-e Faqih, or "Rule by the Supreme Jurist", who is currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
It was adopted by an overwhelming majority in 1979 following the Islamic revolution which overthrew the autocratic Western-backed Shah.
But the constitution also stipulates that the people are the source of power and the country holds phased presidential and parliamentary elections every four years.
All candidates are vetted by the powerful conservative-controlled Guardian Council, which also has the power to veto legislation it deems inconsistent with revolutionary principles.

Robust message for North Korea

"Actions must have consequences." That was US President Barack Obama's cry in the wake of North Korea's second underground nuclear test at the end of last month.
Accordingly, the unanimous adoption of this resolution containing tougher sanctions against North Korea represents a significant rebuff for the Pyongyang government.
Russia and China backed the agreed text. North Korea can be in no doubt about the concerted international disapproval for its actions.
Tough words have been accompanied by tougher actions - up to a point.
A battery of measures are set to reinforce the sanctions regime against Pyongyang. There is a total embargo on exports of weaponry from North Korea and significantly expanded controls on arms exports to it.
A new framework is being established for international co-operation to inspect North Korean cargoes for anything associated with weapons of mass destruction.
There are additional financial sanctions too, along with strengthened measures to monitor the whole sanctions regime.
However, much of this still depends upon the actions of individual governments and none more so than North Korea's giant neighbour - China.
'Complex and sensitive'
China's UN ambassador Zhang Yesui took a more nuanced approach to the resolution insisting that it was "an appropriate and balanced response" and that it sent a positive signal to Pyongyang that its nuclear problems had to be resolved by negotiation.
All eyes now will be on Pyongyang's reaction with many analysts fearing it may respond with more bangs - in the form of missile tests - and more bluster.
It is clear that China remains deeply uneasy about the whole business of cargo inspections.
This was, he said, a "complex and sensitive" matter. China is urging countries to approach this in a legal and reasonable way and that there should be no question of using force.
Russia too stressed that this resolution was not offering an opportunity for military action against Pyongyang and that the measures outlined on stopping and searching ships were circumscribed and narrow in scope.
None of this suggests that the new sanctions regime is necessarily going to bite.
But the US and its allies like Japan and South Korea will want to bank the fact that Russia and China are on board.
The diplomatic front at least against Pyongyang is reasonably solid with a clear message for North Korea to return to the negotiating table.
Dangerous times
What is not yet clear is what additional unilateral steps the Obama administration might take against Pyongyang. It could seek to toughen financial restrictions and it might even restore North Korea to the list of countries sponsoring terrorism.
North Korea's actions are clear but its motivation is much less so.
Some analysts argue that North Korea is trying to attract the attention of the new US president to push the whole issue of its nuclear programme higher up Washington's agenda.
Others argue that North Korea's nuclear and missile tests relate more to internal developments, bolstering the public image of the regime and possibly preparing the way for a transfer of power from the ailing, elderly Kim Jong-il to one of his sons.
But these are dangerous and uncertain times.
There are growing fears of a possible incident between North and South Korean ships along the Northern Limit Line - the disputed western maritime extension of the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas.
All eyes now will be on Pyongyang's reaction with many analysts fearing it may respond with more bangs - in the form of missile tests - and more bluster.

Australians demand climate action

Thousands of demonstrators have rallied across Australia to demand greater government action to protect the environment from climate change.
The National Climate Emergency Rallies called on Australia to take the lead at the UN environment summit in December in Copenhagen.
Activists also want an end to Australia's dependence on cheap and plentiful supplies of coal.
It is one of the world's worst per capita emitters of greenhouse gases.
'Strong grip'
Protesters were urged to wear red to highlight the risks of global warming.
In Sydney, rally organiser Moira Williams said that a coalition of trade unions and religious groups, as well as students and environmental campaigners, was pushing for immediate action.
"We need to be making these alliances and be stronger than the fossil fuel industry that currently has such a strong grip on climate policy in Australia.
"That is the positive in this rally and in this year - that we need to build that movement and it does need to come from the ground up, because at the moment we are not seeing any action from the top down."
Scientists have warned that Australia is particularly vulnerable to the effects of a shifting climate.
As temperatures increase, there are predictions that coastal communities will be threatened by rising sea levels, while other parts of the country could suffer more severe droughts, cyclones and bushfires.
The government in Canberra has repeatedly stressed that tackling climate change is a priority.

Environment fears halt China dams

China's environment ministry has suspended construction of two dams on a tributary of the Yangtze River.
The projects on the Jinsha River had been started without environmental assessments or approval from the ministry, officials said.
The dams are part of a series of eight power stations planned for the Jinsha.
The $30bn (£18bn) project has been criticised by conservationists, who say it will damage the region's environment and biodiversity.
The power stations are expected to generate as much electricity as the controversial Three Gorges Dam - about 20 gigawatts.
The series of hydro-electric stations is planned for a 560km (350 mile) stretch of the Jinsha River in south-west China's Yunnan province.
Public outcry
The dams suspended by the environment ministry at Longkaikou and Ludila were being built by two of China's largest power-generating companies - Huaneng Power and Huadian Power.
"To protect the management of the environment... and to punish the violation of the environment and illegal acts regarding the environment, the environmental ministry decided to suspend the construction projects in the middle reaches of the Jinsha River," a statement from the Ministry of Environmental Protection said.
The ministry also suspended approvals for the two companies' other projects, except those involving energy-saving and pollution prevention measures.
At the same time, the ministry said it was suspending construction projects in eastern Shandong province begun by a state-owned steel company because it had not submitted an environmental impact assessment.
Two other dams in the Jinsha River project have received approval from the environment ministry, but another dam planned for the Tiger Leaping Gorge area was suspended after a public outcry in 2005.
Tiger Leaping Gorge and the nearby town of Lijiang are popular with tourists and trekkers.
Further hydro-electric dams are also planned for elsewhere on the Yangtze River system, as Chinese authorities attempt to reduce their reliance on burning coal to produce power.

Gaddafi no-show angers Italians

The Italian lower house has cancelled a high-level conference with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi after he failed to turn up after a two-hour wait.
Calling the delay "unjustified", Speaker Gianfranco Fini called the meeting off to applause from the crowd.
Col Gaddafi has prompted a number of controversies on his first visit to Italy, Libya's former colonial ruler.
An earlier address to a group of 700 Italian women - for which he was also late - drew both applause and jeers.
He and his 200-member entourage arrived to a red-carpet welcome on Wednesday hosted by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
But at a debate in Rome University on Thursday, the colonel was heckled by students who were protesting against his human-rights record and a deal with Italy to forcibly return African migrants.
Long wait
The streets of Rome around the lower house of parliament were reportedly shut down in a security operation by police, and senior politicians had gathered in anticipation of Col Gaddafi's visit.

Col Gaddafi's visit sparked protests
He had been due to begin meetings at 1430 local time (1230 GMT), but by 1630 had failed to arrive.
The conference was then called off "due to the delay" by Gaddafi, said Mr Fini to applause from the waiting crowd.
"A delay that has not been justified to the lower house speaker and for which... I consider this conference cancelled," he said.
Observers say Col Gaddafi has made a habit of failing to appear on time for his appointments while on his Italian visit.
They say he was half an hour behind schedule for his meeting with the Italian head of state, President Giorgio Napolitano; an hour late for government President Berlusconi; an hour late for the Senate; and an hour-and-a-half late for La Sapienza University.
'Forced by necessity'
Col Gaddafi was also an hour late for his audience with prominent Italian women from the fields of business, politics and culture earlier on Friday.
Nonetheless, he entered the gathering at Rome's concert hall to loud applause, and was introduced by Italy's Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna, a former beauty queen.
Col Gaddafi spoke about the condition of women in Europe and Africa with some of his trademark female bodyguards standing by.
"In society I think there is complete equality between men and women," he told the audience, which included some women who were carrying posters of him.
"The European woman has arrived where she is today, driving trains and buses, travels on her own, sleeps in hotels, and so formally she is emancipated.
"But this wasn't because of her free choice or development but because she was forced by necessity," he added.
Although the comment drew boos from many of the women present, other remarks were met by applause and laughter.

Obama pledges aid for Zimbabwe

President Barack Obama has announced $73m (£44m) in aid for Zimbabwe.
The US president was speaking at the White House in Washington, where he met the visiting Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mr Obama said he wanted to encourage the rule of law, human rights and basic health and education in Zimbabwe.
Mr Tsvangirai - who entered a power-sharing agreement with President Robert Mugabe in February - is on an international tour to seek aid.
President Obama said he had "extraordinary admiration for the courage and tenacity" shown by Mr Tsvangirai, the leader of the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe.
Contrast with Mugabe
The US president said the power-sharing coalition in Zimbabwe was showing promise, following what he termed the "very dark and difficult" period the country had been through.
Correspondents say the warm welcome given to Mr Tsvangirai is in sharp contrast to the attitude towards President Mugabe, who is the subject of a travel ban and assets freeze by the United States and European Union.
Earlier, Zimbabwean Finance Minister Tendai Biti said the country's economy could grow by between 4% and 6% this year.
Tendai Biti is optimistic about the prospects for economic growth
Mr Biti said steps would be taken to restrict central bank activities such as borrowing and that Zimbabwe was coping with a lack of foreign aid.
The Zimbabwe economy has been battered by years of hyperinflation.
Mr Biti was speaking at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town.
"I think we will be able to achieve a growth rate of at least 6%, although conservatively it will be 4% in 2009," he told journalists.
Zimbabwe's economy has been shrinking for years. It contracted by 6.1% in 2007, according to the International Monetary Fund.
The power-sharing government has said the country needs about $10bn (£6bn) to stabilise its economy.

Nasa cancels space shuttle launch

The launch of space shuttle Endeavour has been cancelled due to a hydrogen leak, Nasa officials have announced.
Endeavour was due to take off from Cape Canaveral with seven astronauts at 0717 local time (1117 GMT), but launch was cancelled several hours beforehand.
The problem was discovered during fuelling, before the astronauts had donned their spacesuits.
The shuttle was to deliver equipment for space experiments, as well as drop off a new station crew member.
Mission controllers are expected to meet on Saturday to decide when to reschedule the launch.
Crew switch
The leak was found on the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate, which is attached to the shuttle's external tank.
The leak is similar to one which grounded the Endeavour's sister shuttle Discovery in March.
The ship would have taken three days to reach the International Space Station (ISS), where six astronauts work.
The mission would have meant 13 astronauts were on the space station - a new record.
Endeavour will carry its usual complement of seven astronauts
It was to deliver the final components of Japan's Kibo laboratory.
During five scheduled spacewalks, an external platform was to be added to the lab that would enable experiments to be performed that require materials to be exposed to the harsh environment of space.
Endeavour astronauts also need to fit equipment to the exterior of the platform such as batteries and a spare space-to-ground antenna.
Endeavour was to deliver a new crew member (Tim Kopra) to the ISS and bring back another (Koichi Wakata) who has lived aboard the platform for more than three months, as well as spare part for other equipment.
When it does take off, Endeavour will be making the 127th space shuttle flight, and the 29th to the station.

North Korea in plutonium threat

North Korea has said it will weaponise its plutonium stocks amid threats to take military action over United Nations sanctions, state media said.
Pyongyang would view any US-led attempts to "blockade" it as an "act of war", the Associated Press (AP) said.
The warning from North Korea's foreign ministry was carried by Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Saturday.
It follows a toughening of UN sanctions against the communist state.
'Unacceptable behaviour'
On Friday, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to impose tougher sanctions on communist North Korea, after its nuclear test on 25 May.
The North also tested a rocket thought to be capable of carrying a warhead, though Pyongyang said it was designed to carry a satellite.
The UN sanctions include the inspection of North Korean ships, a wider ban on arms sales and other financial measures.
The US deputy ambassador at the UN, Rosemary DiCarlo, said the new vote was a strong and united response to North Korea's "unacceptable behaviour".
The North Korean foreign ministry statement said: "Firstly, all plutonium to be extracted will be weaponised. One third of used fuel rods have so far been reprocessed.
"Secondly, we will start uranium enrichment," the statement added.
North Korea is thought to possess enough reprocessed plutonium for between six and eight nuclear weapons.
However, analysts say Pyongyang has not yet mastered the technology to make a nuclear warhead small enough to place on a missile.
Pyongyang has stated its nuclear weapons programme is purely a defensive measure to protect it against a US attack.
Washington has said it does not intend to attack the North, and is concerned Pyongyang's nuclear knowledge could be passed to other states.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad nears Iran election win

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is on course to be re-elected as president of Iran with a resounding poll win, according to electoral commission figures.
With 80% of the vote counted, the commission said Mr Ahmadinejad had 65% support. He has claimed victory in an election marked by high turnout.
His main rival, reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi, also claimed victory and has complained of voting irregularities.
A candidate must secure 50% in the first round to avoid a run-off vote.
However, the Iranian election commission said Mr Mousavi's share of the vote was around 32%.
The state news agency Irna has declared Mr Ahmadinejad the "definite winner".
His campaign manager Mojtaba Samareh Hachemi was quoted by the Fars news agency as saying: "According to the votes counted so far, the distance between Ahmadinejad and his rivals is so great that any doubts cast on this victory will be treated as a joke by the public."
This election brought hope to millions of people that they could change the direction of the country through the ballot box, and those people are going to be deeply disappointed
Sadeq SabaBBC Iranian affairs analyst
The president's supporters celebrated by taking to motorbikes on the streets of Tehran, chanting "God is Great", while there were reports that a rally for Mr Mousavi was broken up.
Those backing Mr Mousavi are waiting to hear from their candidate, who was reported to have cancelled a news conference scheduled for Saturday morning.
The BBC's Tehran correspondent, Jon Leyne, says Mr Mousavi's next move is extremely important, adding that the reaction of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will also be telling.
Mr Mousavi could dispute the expected result and may feel it could only be possible with massive vote-rigging. Earlier, he said there was a shortage of ballot papers and alleged that millions of people had been denied the right to vote.
His election monitors were not allowed enough access to polling stations, he added, saying he would deal seriously with any fraud.
Rival claims
BBC Iranian affairs analyst Sadeq Saba says nobody expected the margin of Mr Ahmadinejad's apparent victory to be so big.
He says supporters of Mr Mousavi have expressed shock and disbelief.
Voting age 18 years; electorate of 42.5m people
President to serve maximum of two consecutive four-year terms (or three non-consecutive)
Election won by absolute majority
Second round held between top two if no candidate wins majority
Overall, he adds, a victory for Mr Ahmadinejad would mean no significant change in Iran's foreign and domestic policy.
However, this election brought hope to millions of people that they could change the direction of the country through the ballot box, and those people are going to be deeply disappointed, our correspondent says.
The hope for peaceful reform in Iran may die for a long time to come, he adds.
Shortly after polling ended, both Mr Ahmadinejad and Mr Mousavi had declared victory.
But as the results began to come in, Iranian TV began putting out calls for calm. One opposition newspaper has been closed down and BBC websites appear to have been blocked by the Iranian authorities.
There was no evidence of major demonstrations or protests throughout Saturday morning, with our correspondent in Tehran saying the city appeared to have returned to the pattern of two months ago, before election campaigning brought thousands of people onto the streets.
Large turnout
There had been a surge of interest in Iran's presidential election, with unprecedented live television debates between the candidates and rallies attended by thousands.
Mr Mousavi has alleged widespread electoral fraud
There were long queues of voters at polling stations, with officials predicting an "unprecedented" turnout as they extended voting hours by several hours to accommodate the queues on Friday.
Election officials said the turnout was possibly higher than 80%.
Four candidates contested the election, with Mohsen Razai and Mehdi Karroubi only registering a small percentage of votes.
Police have increased security to try to head off trouble from supporters of the losing candidates and all gatherings have been banned until the official results have been published.
A report by the AFP news agency said that a group of Mousavi supporters had been dispersed from outside his campaign office by baton-wielding police.
US President Barack Obama said as the polling drew to a close that he was "excited" by the robust debate taking place in the country.
President Ahmadinejad draws support mainly from the urban poor and rural areas, while his rivals have support among the middle classes and the educated urban population.
Iran is ruled under a system known as Velayat-e Faqih, or "Rule by the Supreme Jurist", who is currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
It was adopted by an overwhelming majority in 1979 following the Islamic revolution which overthrew the autocratic Western-backed Shah.
But the constitution also stipulates that the people are the source of power and the country holds phased presidential and parliamentary elections every four years.
All candidates are vetted by the powerful conservative-controlled Guardian Council, which also has the power to veto legislation it deems inconsistent with revolutionary principles.

Latvian minister speaks for better relations with Russia

RIGA, June 12 (RIA Novosti) - Latvia is interested in the constructive development of cooperation with Russia, but does not plan to turn to Moscow for financial assistance, the Latvian economy minister said on Friday.
"The relations between our countries are developing constructively. We [Latvia] are interested that the relations between Latvia and Russia will be further developing in this constructive manner," Artis Kampars said in an interview with RIA Novosti.
But the minister said that Latvia, which recently suffered a sharp economic decline, is not planning to turn to Russia asking for financial assistance.
"I do not believe that Latvia needs any direct aid from Russia. But I believe that cooperation between our countries could be beneficial both for us and for them," the minister added.
Latvia has been one of the hardest hit of all EU states by the global financial crisis. The former Soviet republic's government resigned in February after a wave of street protests against a planned increase in VAT and other unpopular measures to help the budget meet EU commitments.
International financial organizations are due to grant Latvia 7.5 billion euros in a rescue package before 2011.

NATO defense ministers agree to continue fighting Somali pirates

BRUSSELS, June 12 (RIA Novosti) - Defense ministers of the NATO 28 member states have agreed at their two-day meeting in Brussels to continue anti-piracy efforts off Somalia, the alliance's secretary general said on Friday.
"NATO will continue to play its role in the fight against piracy," Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said after the meeting.
The current NATO operation to tackle pirates off the coast of Somalia ends later in June.
Somalia has been without an effective government since the Revolutionary Socialist Party was overthrown in 1991. The internationally recognized federal government controls only the capital city of Mogadishu and part of central Somalia.
The United Nations said Somali pirates carried out at least 120 attacks on ships in 2008, collecting $150 million in ransom payments from ship owners. Total losses from piracy were estimated at $13-16 billion, including the soaring cost of insurance and protection for vessels, as well as sending ships on longer routes to avoid high-risk areas.
Around 35 warships from the navies of 16 countries are involved in anti-piracy operations off Somalia.

Russia to make WTO bid jointly with Belarus and Kazakhstan

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti economic commentator Oleg Mityayev) – After 16 years of touch-and-go accession talks with the WTO, the Russian authorities have decided to stop the process of individual accession and make a joint bid with Belarus and Kazakhstan instead.
The decision was announced at a meeting of their Customs Union on June 9.
Later that day, the meeting of the Eurasian Economic Community established Eurasec’s Anti-crisis Fund to the amount of $10 billion.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on June 9 after a meeting of the Customs Union’s Supreme Body that Russia would no longer have to negotiate accession to the World Trade Organization as an independent state.
“WTO accession remains a joint priority for us,” he said. Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are still seeking WTO entry, “but as a united customs union, not as separate countries.”
However, they first need to formalize their union, which is to become operational on January 1, 2010, when its common customs tariff will be applied.
Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said the tariff had been fully coordinated, with a transition period established for sensitive groups of goods during which the three countries will apply their own tariffs for such goods.
By July 1, 2011, customs control will be moved to the three countries’ common border and the customs borders between them will be liquidated.
The possibility of a joint bid by several countries is stipulated in the WTO procedure. However, Russia has covered 95% of the road as an independent state. Since 1993, it has coordinated with the WTO member states the most complicated terms and conditions for its entry, such as the mechanism of foreign banks’ access to the Russian banking system.
However, President Dmitry Medvedev said the accession process was taking too long and looked more like insincere promises than a genuine desire to admit Russia in the past few years.
Moscow has likely come to see that some Western countries are using the WTO accession talks for political bargaining.
Moreover, accession benefits are questionable especially since the global energy markets are already open to Russia’s main export commodity – energy. Metallurgy is one of the few Russian industries that may benefit from WTO accession, while other sectors will most likely lose. Besides, a crisis is not the best time for opening one’s market.
Russia’s intention to bid for WTO accession jointly with Belarus and Kazakhstan will put off accession for years. But Moscow has apparently decided that strengthening economic ties with its closest neighbors is more important than the WTO entry.
On June 9, Moscow also hosted a meeting of Eurasec’s Interstate Council.
Eurasec comprises Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, while Moldova, Ukraine and Armenia have observer status.
It was announced after the meeting that Eurasec and Armenia had set up an Anti-crisis Fund to the amount of $10 billion. Since Russia will contribute $7.5 billion, its finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, was elected chairman of the fund.
The money will be used to issue sovereign loans to the member states and finance interstate investment projects.
The Fund will become a regional analogue of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which issues stabilization loans, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which finances investment projects.
Russia has recently refused to increase its IMF fees, which are used to issue stabilization loans to countries worldwide. It is now using the money to set up a regional fund for assistance to its allies.

Clifford Kupchan: The race will be close, but Mousavi has the upper hand

The head of the Russia and CIS team at Washington-based Eurasia Group and an analyst on Iranian issues, Cliff Kupchan shared his opinions with RIA Novosti on Iran's presidential elections scheduled for Friday.

What are your predictions for the presidential elections in Iran on June 12 between the two main candidates, current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former prime minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi?
Iranian elections are extremely hard to predict because they are very competitive, but there is no reliable polling. That said, my instinct is that Mousavi will win in a second round runoff on 19 June. The Mousavi campaign has surged in the past two weeks, which is very important. [Mohammad] Khatami's win in 1997 and Ahmadinejad's victory in 2005 were both the result of late surges of support. Mousavi's "wave" is coming mainly from young voters, who comprise roughly 45% of the electorate. The vote is being delivered to Mousavi in large part by former President Khatami, who retains his extraordinary popularity with young voters. Also, Ahmadinejad in my view made serious mistakes in his 3 June debate with Mousavi, when he accused former President Rafsanjani of corruption and advisor to the Leader Nateq Nuri of living a lavish lifestyle. He also accused Mousavi's wife of improprieties in obtaining her academic degrees. Many Iranian voters and elites were offended by Ahmadinejad's remarks. But Ahmadinejad could win if [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei decides to strongly support Ahmadinejad, and mobilizes voters who support him. And many Iranian experts believe the vote may be affected by some ballot stuffing and fraud, which would benefit Ahmadinejad. -- The race will be close, but Mousavi has the upper hand.
Does Mousavi have a chance at getting the office? If so, do you expect to see protests and disorder in the country?
I do think Mousavi has a good chance. If he wins, there may be some protests and violence by the paramilitary Basij and other radical conservative groups. I would not expect the protests to seriously interfere with Mousavi's ability to govern.
Do you think it will be a fair election?
That is a key question. The Leader or conservative forces can produce an unfair election -- by mobilizing certain constituencies, by ballot stuffing, and possibly by fraud.
What benefits would Mousavi bring to the world if he were to become president?
Mousavi would bring a number of important benefits. First, while he strongly supports the Iranian nuclear program, Mousavi would probably be at least somewhat more flexible on the issue -- and he would likely appoint more open-minded and creative nuclear negotiators. Iran will not cease uranium enrichment. But the chances of a deal on the nuclear program go up under Mousavi. Second, he espouses a policy of detente in foreign relations, which would help relax tensions in the Persian Gulf region and perhaps the entire Middle East. Third, he would not voice Ahmadinejad's comments about the Holocaust and Israel, which have offended the international community.
Since the U.S. has stated that it plans to move toward dialogue with Iran, could you argue or support both candidates' approach to such a dialogue? Will dialogue move forward with Ahmadinejad or will it be stagnant and a lot of tongue wagging? Will Mousavi be able to break ground in dialogue with Obama?
I believe that the US and Iran will engage in a dialogue regardless of who wins the election. The talks would be more promising if Mousavi wins. He will be beholden to Khatami, and is likely to appoint more liberal Khatami-era diplomats to key positions. I'd say there's a reasonable chance of a deal on the nuclear issue under Mousavi, though Iran's policy toward Israel and support for Hizbullah and Hamas will remain problems for some time. If Ahamdinejad wins, the talks will be tougher. My sense is that Ahmadinejad and his circle would like better relations with the US on selected issues -- Afghanistan and possibly Iraq. But I think Ahmadinejad will be less flexible on the nuclear issue.
How much power does the Iranian president really have? Or does much depend on the Leader?
The Leader makes final decisions in Iran. Ultimate power rests with Khamenei. But the president sets the tone of Iranian policy, and he has significant power on economic and social issues. The president also has an effect on the atmospherics of foreign policy, and plays an important advisory role. Iran's very different images under Khatami and Ahmadinejad show that who is president matters. Also, Ahmadinejad's aggressive style has in effect expanded the powers of the presidency -- he has carved out more freedom of maneuver for that office. Still, the Leader makes decisions on nuclear and foreign policy issues, not the president.
Could you discuss the "triangle" of misunderstandings with Iran in regard to U.S.-Russian-Iranian commitments? Especially in the US's demands in regard to Iran's nuclear program and Russia's support for Iran's program for peaceful purposes.
I think the main difference between the US and Russia on Iran is over the use of sanctions. The US thinks they can work, Russia believes sanctions won't work on Iran and could induce a belligerent reaction. I think that's an honest policy difference.
I also think both countries are comfortable with a purely civilian Iranian nuclear program. The US did not object very strongly to Bushehr, and the US together with the EU have offered to help Iran obtain light-water, energy-producing reactors.
Beyond that, I don't think the US and Russia are that far apart on the threat posed by Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile program. Both countries recognize that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon in the not distant future, and that Iran is making progress on ballistic missile technology -- just having successfully launched a multi-stage, solid fuel missile. Increased bilateral cooperation on Iran is possible.
Interview by David Burghardt, RIA Novosti

1st Day for France Back in NATO Military Command

BRUSSELS - France returned June 11 to NATO's command fold, taking a seat for the first time in more than 40 years at the military alliance's defense planning committee.
At a meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, French Defense Minister Herve Morin took his place alongside the 28 NATO allies, along with ministers from new members Albania and Croatia.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer welcomed Morin's participation as a symbol of "France's decision to recover its full place within the structures of NATO."
At a NATO summit in April, French President Nicolas Sarkozy reversed former leader Charles de Gaulle's 1966 decision to pull out of NATO's integrated military command.
France was a founder of NATO and has always remained a member, contributing to missions around the world including in Kosovo and Afghanistan, but de Gaulle pulled out of the integrated military command over perceived U.S. dominance.

Sarkozy, Merkel Agree To Delay Decision on A400M

PARIS - France and Germany have decided to delay for six months a decision on the future of the problem-plagued Airbus A400M military transport plane, President Nicolas Sarkozy said June 11.
Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the fate of the plane being built by Airbus, a subsidiary of European aerospace giant EADS, during a meeting at the Elysee presidential palace.
"We talked about the A400M and decided that it would be good to give ourselves a small delay of six months to continue discussions and to find the best possible solution," said Sarkozy at a joint news conference.
The A400M was initially scheduled to start being delivered at the end of 2009 but the program has suffered from a delay of at least three years and clients have threatened to cancel their orders.
The military transport plane was unveiled last year but it has been hit by delays in building its massive turbo-prop engines, putting the 20-billion-euro ($28 billion) project at risk.
Spain, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Turkey are participating in the A400M program.
"We are in full agreement. ... We will give ourselves a few more months and then we will see," said Merkel, who added that France and Germany "need a transport plane in any case."
French Defense Minister Herve Morin said this month that there would likely be a meeting of ministers from the seven participating countries and EADS to renegotiate the delivery contracts.

India To Sell 3 Helos to Namibia

NEW DELHI - India's state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. has won an order from the Namibian armed forces for two Chetak and one Cheetah light utility helicopter for $10 million, an Indian Defence Ministry source confirmed.
The sale of the three helicopters comes after the Indian Foreign Affairs Ministry last year withheld the export of the Indian-made Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) to Bolivia because its end use was for military purposes. The Indian government has allowed the sale of the ALH to Mauritius, Nepal, Ecuador, Peru and Turkey since 2004.
India's defense exports are marginal, totaling about $80 million annually, compared with about $6 billion in defense imports each year.
The Chetak is a multipurpose, seven-seat helicopter; the Cheetah is a light observation helicopter. Both are used by the Indian Air Force and the Army's Aviation Corps, especially in the upper reaches of the Himalayas.

Trackers of Orbiting Junk Sound Warning

There are 19,000 pieces of debris larger than a softball orbiting the Earth. They travel at about 17,000 miles per hour, fast enough for a relatively small piece of junk to destroy a satellite or even the space shuttle.
There are 300,000 pieces of debris the size of a marble or larger, according to Paul Graziani, chief executive of Analytical Graphics, Exton, Pa., a maker of software for the space and defense industries.
There are 3,000 "payloads" in space - sensors, transponders and other equipment used by the communications industry, the military, scientists and others, Graziani said. And 1,400 times each week, a payload comes within three miles of a piece of debris that could damage or kill it.
Graziani knows. His company produces the software that the U.S. government uses to track space debris.
With so much junk and so many near misses, there have been surprisingly few disastrous collisions - about eight, according to Andrew Palowitch, director of the U.S. Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office Space Protection Program.
In 1996, a French satellite was hit and damaged by debris from a French rocket that had exploded a decade earlier.
In 2007, a spacecraft built by China and Brazil suddenly broke apart, likely the result of a collision with space junk.
The most spectacular space crash occurred Feb. 10, when a defunct Russian satellite collided with and destroyed a functioning U.S. Iridium commercial satellite. The collision added 1,131 pieces of trackable debris to the inventory of space junk.
China's 2007 anti-satellite test, which used a missile to destroy an old weather satellite, added 2,500 pieces to the debris problem.
A similar demonstration by the United States in 2008 was conducted at a much lower altitude - about 180 miles compared with China's 500 miles - so the debris re-entered Earth's atmosphere and burned up within about two weeks, Graziani said.
The increase in space debris has greatly increased danger to the space shuttle and astronauts at certain altitudes, Palowitch said.
During the recent mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis faced a 1-in-229 chance of suffering a disastrous collision with space junk. The risk was high enough to prompt NASA to prepare a backup shuttle for a rescue mission.
Astronauts working in space on the Hubble faced a 1-in-89 chance of being killed by space debris, Palowitch said.
Over the next five years, 2,200 additional satellites are scheduled to be launched, and there are likely to be at least 10 more major collisions in space, he said.
Palowitch and Graziani explained the problem of space debris to a gathering of congressional staffers and news reporters June 10.
Palowitch's Space Protection Program was created last year to search for solutions to the problem of space debris.
The first step is to prevent it, Palowitch said. Spacefaring nations must agree to limit the number of rocket parts that they leave in space, he said.
Second, there is a need for better tracking and identification of debris and for calculating the likelihood of collisions. The United States has no debris-tracking capabilities in the southern hemisphere.
Third, there is a possibility that some space debris could be cleaned up, Palowitch said.
U.S. government research laboratories are experimenting with the possibility of using ground-based lasers to burn the surfaces of space debris to create more drag as the pieces fly through space, causing them to re-enter the atmosphere sooner and burn up.
"But lasers and space are very touchy," Palowitch said. U.S. adversaries - and some allies - are likely to take a dim view of the United States firing lasers into space. Lasers might also be used as anti-satellite weapons.
Space could be partially cleared if dead satellites could be repositioned, either to re-enter the atmosphere or to be placed in "garbage orbits," where they are out of the way of working spacecraft, Palowitch said.
The United States is spending $3.2 billion this year and $7 billion over the next five years on "space situational awareness" programs to improve the ability to track debris.
"It's a good start," he said, but in the long run, it might not be enough.

Commission Finds U.S. Paid For Shoddy Work in Iraq, Afghanistan

The Commission on Wartime Contracting released its interim report June 10, telling U.S. lawmakers of cases of shoddy construction, redundant work and a general lack of oversight of construction and support contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Examples included substandard work on the future headquarters for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the New Kabul Compound. Members of the commission toured the facility in April and found unusable bathrooms, cracks in the structure, sinking sidewalks and broken pipes. In another example, the Army awarded a $30 million contract for the construction of a dining facility at Camp Delta, Iraq. The request for that contract was based on outdated paperwork that didn't take into account that an existing dining facility at the camp was being remodeled and expanded. Though the final report is to outline recommendations for fixing contracting problems, the issues are so pressing that the commission urged corrective action well ahead of its final report, which is due next year, Michael Thibault, co-chairman of the commission and a former deputy director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency, told congressmen on Capitol Hill. Members of the commission described their findings at a hearing of the House Oversight Committee's national security panel in conjunction with the report's release.
There are more than 240,000 contractors supporting U.S. activities in Iraq and Afghanistan - more than the number of U.S. military personnel in those areas, Thibault said. About 80 percent of those contractors are foreign nationals, according to the report.
Congress has appropriated about $830 billion to fund U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. As of May 27, 1,360 contractor employees have died in Iraq and Afghanistan; 4,973 military personnel have died in the two war zones.
The bipartisan, congressionally mandated committee was created last year and has gathered information from visits to bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, and dozens of meetings with military, contractors and employees from the State Department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
One worry voiced repeatedly during the hearing was that the military will have to depend on contractors even more, and with even less oversight, with a drawdown of troops from Iraq.
As troops are withdrawn, "we're probably going to have to rely on contractors who remain there to close down those bases" and transfer appropriate equipment to Iraqis, said Grant Green, a member of the commission and a former undersecretary of state for management and assistant secretary of defense.
One contract that got a lot of attention at the hearing is the massive Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP), which covers a wide range of logistics and support activities. The current iteration of the program, LOGCAP III, is a 10-year, multibillion-dollar sole-source contract held by KBR. The Army is in the midst of transitioning to the next iteration, LOGCAP IV, under which KBR, DynCorp International and Fluor International compete for task orders, but commissioners told the congressmen that the transition isn't happening quickly enough. Moreover, the addition of two contractors to the program will exacerbate the shortage of military personnel picked to oversee contracts in addition to their regular duties.
The military's LOGCAP management office is handling the transition to the next LOGCAP program with not more than 13 personnel on its staff at a time and has augmented its staff with personnel from another contractor, Serco, according to the report.

Top U.K. Defense Associations Set To Merge

LONDON - Britain's top aerospace and defense trade associations are to merge following final approvals from the members of both organizations in the last few days.
The Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC) and the Defence Manufacturers Association (DMA) announced June 10 they are set to form an as-yet-unnamed trade organization in October.
The new association will represent around 800 companies in the defense, civil aviation, space and homeland security industries. Rees Ward, director general of the DMA, is set to become chief executive of the merged organization; Ian Godden, the SBAC chief executive, is chairman-designate.
News of the merger came the same day as the SBAC released performance figures for the British aerospace industry for 2008, showing overall sales were flat at 20.57 billion pounds ($33.7 billion).
The SBAC survey said, however, that with the pound down substantially against the U.S. dollar and the euro, they would have expected "a more substantial gain in turnover."
There was further bad news on orders and employment for the aerospace sector.
The SBAC reported a 23 percent slump in orders to 35 billion pounds last year and an 11 percent drop in employment numbers across the defense and civil aerospace sectors.
In the defense sector three performance figures stood out.
Domestic sales in defense fell 13.2 percent while exports headed in the opposite direction with a 21 percent rise during the year.
On June 9, the United Kingdom Trade & Investment's Defence and Security Organisation, Britain's government-run export sales operation, issued figures for 2008 showing that the air sector accounted for about three quarters of the 4.2 billion pounds overseas sales total last year.
Potentially the most worrying figure from the SBAC survey was that research and development spending by defense companies in the U.K. plummeted by 30 percent.
The SBAC cautioned that a good chunk of the fall was represented by a number of large defense programs moving out of their research and development phase.
A spokesman for the trade body said figures in research and development were volatile and officials would have to see whether the downturn was replicated in future years before drawing any conclusions. Godden said the figures on aerospace performance would come as no surprise in the current economic climate: "There has been a slowdown in the sector but compared to the rest of the economy, aerospace has held up well thus far. Our industry is in for a difficult period in the immediate future, but the degree of that difficulty is yet to become clear.
"Of particular concern is the decline in the domestic market for civil and defense products as well as the large fall in R&D spending and employment," Godden said. "One year's results do not make a trend, but the danger to the future of what is a successful manufacturing and engineering industry for the U.K. from this fall in investment is all too obvious. In partnership with the government, we will have to address this urgently, despite the current pressure on budgets, to maintain our position as the second-largest nation in the global aerospace industry behind the USA."

Russia Will Protect Interests in Arctic: Official

MOSCOW - Russia will defend its interests in the Arctic amid the race for the region's energy riches, a Russian official said June 10, while dismissing the possibility of open conflict over the far north.
"We will protect our interests in the future, but I don't see that it will lead to a conflict in the near future," said Artur Chilingarov, the Kremlin's representative for international cooperation in the Arctic and Antarctic.
"We will build up our scientific, economic and research interest in the Arctic, but not our military," he told reporters in Moscow.
Moscow raised the stakes this year in the diplomatic tug-of-war with the four other Arctic states - Canada, Denmark, Norway and the United States - by declaring plans to station more troops in Russia's northern regions by 2020.
Chilingarov, a celebrated polar explorer and lawmaker, himself spearheaded a highly-publicized expedition in 2007 to plant the Russian flag on the Arctic seabed in a not-too-subtle demonstration of Russia's territorial ambitions.
Interest in the economic exploitation of the Arctic has snowballed in recent years as the melting of the polar icecap has increased access to oil reserves and energy firms have sought to diversify away from older, depleted fields.
The Arctic likely holds 30 percent of the world's untapped gas and about 13 percent of its oil, a U.S. geological survey published last month in Science magazine said.
"Everyone has their own national interests. I'll say again that Russia's interests in the far north, in the Arctic Ocean, are tied to the region's economic potential for Russia: gas, oil, gold, diamonds," Chilingarov said.
"These are all in Russia's economic interests and we will protect them."
Moscow has lodged a claim with a United Nations commission on a huge swath of Arctic seabed, arguing that the underwater Lomonosov Ridge, a geological structure which stretches across much of the pole, is a continuation of its continental shelf.

S. Korea Completes Space Center For Rocket Launch

SEOUL - South Korea has completed a space center which will be used to send a satellite into orbit from its own territory for the first time, officials said June 10.
Education, Science and Technology Minister Ahn Byong-Man said the government would hold a ceremony on June 11 to celebrate the opening of the Naro Space Center in Goheung, 475 kilometers (300 miles) south of Seoul.
The center, which cost 312 billion won ($250 million), will on July 30 launch the KSLV-1 rocket, which will put a satellite into orbit.
South Korea has already launched 10 satellites using overseas launch sites.
The rocket, which cost 502.5 billion won, will be the first space vehicle launched from South Korean soil.
Its Russian-built first-stage thruster will arrive next week, Ahn said.
Russia also helped design the launch pad. South Korean engineers built the rocket's second stage and the satellite.
"The Naro center will be the hub for our space development," Ahn told reporters.
Seoul's rival North Korea in April fired a long-range rocket for what it called a peaceful satellite launch.
Other nations said no satellite was detected and the exercise was a disguised test of a long-range missile.
The United Nations Security Council condemned the launch and tightened sanctions, prompting Pyongyang to quit a nuclear disarmament deal and to stage its second atomic test.