Saturday, May 1, 2010
*Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday she expected Israel and the Palestinians to begin indirect peace talks next week, breaking months of deadlock over a key U.S. foreign policy goal.
Source: DTN News / Int'l Media
(NSI News Source Info) CAIRO, Egypt - May 1, 2010: The Palestinians are seeking the Arab League's backing Saturday to resume peace talks with Israelthrough a U.S. mediator.
A first attempt to get indirect talks going collapsed last month when Israel announced a new Jewish housing project in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as a future capital. That drew fierce criticism from the United States and led to the worst rift in decades between Washington and its chief Mideast ally.
Foreign ministers from several top Arab League member nations will meet in Cairo Saturday to decide whether to endorse the indirect talks.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signaled earlier in the week that he would be willing to resume negotiations.
"We will be starting with proximity talks next week," Clinton told reporters, saying U.S. special envoy George Mitchell would return to the Middle East next week to get the process under way. Clinton said the United States expected an Arab foreign ministers meeting on Saturday to endorse the new talks, which would give Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas political cover to resume indirect negotiations that he pulled out of in March after Israel announced new Jewish settlement construction.
"Ultimately we want to see the parties in direct negotiations and working out all the difficult issues," Clinton said during a meeting with visiting Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Sabah.
"They've been close a few times before," Clinton said. "So we are looking to see the resumption of those discussions."
Israeli and Palestinian officials declined comment. One Abbas aide, Saeb Erekat, said his side would await the results of the Arab meeting on Saturday as well as of a Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee meeting next week.
Kuwait's Al-Sabah said he was confident Arab states would back the initiative to get talks back on track. "We support fully the position that the United States has taken," he said.
Clinton's statement signaled that weeks of intense U.S. diplomacy were bearing fruit and both sides were again ready to relaunch the Mideast peace process through indirect "proximity" talks -- in which U.S. mediators shuttle between negotiators.
"We've worked intensively in this. We've asked both sides to take actions," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.
"I think there's an understanding that the proximity talks are valuable. I think there's a commitment to engage seriously in them and to begin to address the substantive issues at the heart of the search for peace," he said.
Analyst Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International studies think tank in Washington, said the hard work lay ahead.
"Proximity talks are not in and of themselves an accomplishment," Alterman said. "The question is can you move from this arrangement to something that is much more dynamic and direct, and builds support among both the Israeli and the Palestinian publics."
Mitchell, who held three days of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders last week, was expected to travel again in coming days and would have meetings in the region toward the end of next week, Crowley said.
The Obama administration has been pushing hard for the two sides to resume negotiations stalled since the three-week Gaza war that began in December 2008, calling it a direct security concern to the United States.
Hopes that indirect talks would start in March were dashed when Israeli officials announced plans to build 1,600 new homes for Jewish settlers, ignoring U.S. and Palestinian objections.
Abbas had long insisted Israel freeze Jewish settlement building before the talks resume, and had rejected a temporary construction freeze ordered by Netanyahu last year as insufficient.
But Palestinian sources have said that Mitchell offered them an unwritten commitment to assign blame publicly to any party that takes actions which compromise the negotiations in exchange for coming back to the table.
Clinton declined to discuss any specific U.S. offers to the Palestinians, but said that both sides recognized the importance the Obama administration placed on reaching a peace deal which eventually delivers independent states for both Israel and the Palestinians.
"We've been very clear in our efforts that the resumption of talks is absolutely essential for the progress we seek toward a two-state solution," she said.
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem, editing by Eric Beech)
(NSI News Source Info) VENICE, La.- May 1, 2010: Way down near the mouth of the Mississippi River, in a place local fishermen call "the end of the world," John Pope stepped back from the water's edge to snap a few pictures of his day's catch.
It was an impressive display — a dozen fresh redfish that Pope pulled from the still-clean waters of the Louisiana delta.
But he wondered if they might be his last.
"It's a terrible thing that's happening, a terrible thing," Pope, a recreational fisherman from Georgia, said of the massive oil spill lurking in open water just a few kilometres from this fishing village on the Mississippi's west bank."I just hope the folks are able to get this cleaned up before it does too much damage."
Ten days after an oil rig under lease to British Petroleum exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, the prospects of averting a major environmental calamity dimmed Friday as high winds pushed a vast oil slick to the edge of Louisiana's sensitive coastal marshlands.
The bad weather forced BP to halt efforts to skim oil from the water's surface, adding to the frustration of federal and state government officials who blamed company officials for a sluggish response to a spill that is pumping 210,000 gallons of light crude into the Gulf each day.
"We need to work more speedily to protect wetlands, to protect marshes, to protect our ecosystem here," said U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. She said the Obama administration "will continue to push BP to engage in the strongest possible response."
Official with BP said they welcomed any ideas and assistance — both from Washington and competing oil firms. But the company also said there was little they could do to stop the spill's spread until the weather improves. The National Weather Service currently predicts the high winds could last until Monday.
"When winds come up and the seas come up, unfortunately we can't do much on the surface of the sea," said Doug Suttles, a BP spokesman. "Because of wave heights we are not able to skim."
BP said it is spending between $6 million and $7 million a day to try and contain the spill.
"Clearly as the oil reaches the shoreline, those costs will increase as we mount cleanup activities," Suttles said.
"Like everyone we understand and completely agree that we need to bring this event to closure as quickly as possible."
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, speaking at a news conference in Robert, La., said booms deployed to control the spread of the oil slick are being overwhelmed by rough water. He said the next several days would be "critical" and called up 6,000 National Guard troops to aid in potential cleanup efforts.
"I do have concerns that BP's current resources are not adequate to meet the three challenges we face," Jindal said.
In Washington, President Barack Obama announced he was ordering a halt to new offshore drilling leases as the federal government investigates the cause of the explosion that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon rig. The blast ruptured an oil well located about 80 kilometres offshore and 1,500 metres underwater. Eleven rig workers were killed.
"I continue to believe that domestic oil production is an important part of our overall strategy for energy security," Obama said at the White House. "But I've always said it must be done responsibly, for the safety of our workers and our environment."
The president has dispatched inspectors to the Gulf to examine all deepwater rigs and platforms for ensure they meet safety requirements.
The Obama administration pledged to provide every available resource to help BP fix the oil leak and contain the spill.
More than 66,000 metres of protective boom have been laid in the Gulf to help block the oil from shorelines. More than 300 Coast Guard and Naval vessels have been deployed alongside 1,900 federal personnel.
While winds wreaked havoc with the response on the water, the U.S. air force continued to dump dispersant chemicals over the oil slick using two C-130 planes. To date, more than 530,000 litres of dispersant have been sprayed into the Gulf.
Some residents of Plaquemines Parish, which includes most of the Mississippi River wetlands, reported seeing the first fingers of oil wash up onshore at Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Reserve — although the U.S. Coast Guard had not confirmed a widespread landfall.
Still, the anxiety is growing among Louisiana residents who fear one of the richest fisheries in North America will be badly damaged — or destroyed — if BP is unable to quickly find a way to close down the offshore well.
The fishing community of Venice, one of the last slips of land reachable by car, has become a hub of activity as the response to the oil spill intensifies.
The Cypress Cove Marina, where shrimp and oyster boats line the dock, was crowded with TV satellite vehicles and oil spill recovery trucks. Coast Guard boats shared the narrow channels with the few remaining fishing charters still plying the delta's waters.
Environmentalists say it's only a matter of time before the crude begins to slip into the hundreds of estuaries and coves that are home to some of the continent's biggest bird, fish and wildlife populations.
"This is the nursery of North America — and we have spilled oil right across its surface," said Mark Floegel, a senior investigator with Greenpeace USA. "Anything that swims, flies or crawls in the Gulf, this is where they feed. They feed on the surface."
While the oil spill is — so far — much smaller than the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska's Prince William Sound, the potential for environmental ruin may be higher, environmentalists say.
That's because the oil spilling from the BP well is a light crude that stays on the surface. While Alaska's rocky coastline aided removal of the oil, the Mississippi Delta is full of marshes and reeds that could make cleanup far more difficult.
"Here we've got barrier islands. We've got swamps and bayous . . . It's not like scrubbing rock. It's devilishly hard to get this oil out of there," Floegel said. "And the coastline is exponentially much larger because of all the little inlets."
Worries about the oil spill extend well beyond the Louisiana coast to Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, where Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency in six counties on Friday.
(NSI News Source Info) BANGKOK, Thailand - May 1, 2010: Anti-government protesters, showing little sign of wearing down after seven weeks of protests, said Saturday that supporters from around the country were sending reinforcements to fortify their encampment in the Thai capital.
With negotiations between the protesters and the government on hold and hopes for a peaceful end to the standoff dwindling, calls grew for international mediators to be brought in to bridge the gap between the two sides.
The protesters have barricaded roads and paralyzed much of the city's commercial center for weeks in a campaign to force the government to disband parliament and call elections. At least 27 people have been killed and nearly 1,000 wounded in ensuing violence between protesters and security forces.
Some officials have expressed hopes the protesters will grow weary and go home soon, but Weng Tojirakarn, a Red Shirt leader, said they planned to beef up their presence in the streets of the capital.
"Red Shirts, people from the provinces, are coming in to Bangkok, starting from today. And this time they will stay a long time," he said.
The Red Shirts, drawn mostly from the rural and urban poor, are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, saying he came to power through the connivance of Bangkok's elite bureaucrats and the military.
As the crisis dragged on, the International Crisis Group think tank appealed for foreign mediation, possibly led by East Timor President Jose Ramos Horta, to encourage both sides to stand down and help prepare for new elections and a government of national unity.
"It is time for Thailand to consider help from international friends to avoid a slide into wider violence. Even the most advanced democracies have accepted this," the think tank said in a statement.
The government has repeatedly rejected efforts to bring in foreign mediators.
"This is a domestic situation with sensitivities and complexities that the international community may not be fully aware of," said government spokesman Panithan Wattanayagorn.
New York-based Human Rights Watch also called on the protesters and security forces to endthe violence.
"All sides need to rein in their supporters, order the attacks to stop and negotiate a political solution before the situation escalates," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wednesday that U.S. diplomats were "intensively engaged in discussions" with Thai government officials and opposition forces, and E.U. diplomats said they have met with opposition figures as well.
Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya censured some foreign diplomats for meeting with Red Shirt leaders this week. "We do not want to see that happening again," Kasit told reporters.
The Red Shirts have drawn fire in recent days for breaking into a hospital in the protest zone, prompting medical officials to evacuate patients.
The incident exposed a possible rift among the protest leaders, some of whom tried to make amends by removing barricades blocking the hospital only to be overruled by others who had them restored.
The government also has stepped up accusations the protesters were trying to undermine the monarchy — which the Red Shirts deny — and said Friday that a grenade attack last month near the Defense Ministry was actually targeting one of the country's most sacred Buddhist shrines.
(NSI News Source Info) SHANGHAI, China - May 1, 2010: Shanghai opened its multi-billion dollar World Expo to the public on Saturday, showcasing China's booming economy and resurgent national pride, as well as the latest green technology from 189 countries.
Visitors reported long lines, and occasional angry exchanges about queue-jumping, to get into some exhibitions in the enormous Expo site, which is 20 times bigger than the last World Expo held in Spain's Zaragoza in 2008.
Separate tickets for the most popular pavilions, such as China's, were in short supply.
"This is a great event as it's a good forum to communicate with the world," said Shanghai resident Lao Chen. "But it's very disorganized. There are just too many people in China."
Another visitor, a retiree from Shanghai who gave his family name as Zhao, said he was upset not to be able to get into the hulking China pavilion, one of the few that will not be demolished when the six-month extravaganza ends on October 31.
"I will never be able to see it. I can only look at it from the outside, and what's the point of that?" he said, bitterly.
But others said they were enjoying themselves, adding they thought it was money well spent by the Chinese government.
"It's not a matter of money. It's our pride that China can host the Expo," said 30-year-old Ning Lifang, a bank clerk from the nearby city of Suzhou.
China says it has spent $4.2 billion -- double what it spent at the 2008 Beijing Olympics -- to host the world's largest exhibition. It is the most expensive Expo to date and local media have reported the true cost, including upgrades to the city's infrastructure, is closer to $58 billion.
Underscoring the political capital China is attaching to the Expo, an event that has somewhat faded from the world's view in recent years, a host of foreign leaders attended its opening, most notably French President Nicolas Sarkozy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
Even Greece, currently working on a bailout deal with the EU and International Monetary Fund to save it from default on its debts, sent a top official -- a testament to the importance of good ties with China, which Athens hopes can be an increasing source of tourism and shipping revenue as well as investment.
Greece had to cut the budget for its pavilion by 40 percent on account of its debt woes, skimping on everything from design to the brochures on offer, but it was determined to be there, said Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos.
"Greece participating in the Shanghai Expo was a promise to China and the people of Shanghai, which we have fulfilled today. We could not cancel on this international event," he said.
Cosmopolitan Shanghai expects 70 million visitors will attend the Expo -- an average of nearly 400,000 per day -- though just 5 percent will be foreigners.
Chinese President Hu Jintao, speaking to Barroso, thanked the world for supporting the event.
"Despite the onset of the global financial crisis as we were preparing for the Expo, we kept our promises and made vigorous efforts toward the goal of making Expo 2010 in Shanghai a successful, splendid and unforgettable event," Hu added.
The Expo has been accompanied by heavy security, with x-ray checks for bags at subway stations, a very obvious police presence, and bomb-recognition pamphlets distributed to offices in the Pudong financial district.
Many countries have gone to extravagant lengths, spending huge sums to boost their image in China. Attendees include not only large countries like France, Russia and the United States, but also Turkmenistan, Oman, Costa Rica and many others.
Saudi Arabia has spent $146 million on its spaceship-shaped pavilion, which features date palms, while India plans to fly a cast of Bollywood stars to the site to perform.
Still, despite the hoopla and spectacle the event promises, the run-up to the Expo has not been without controversy.
Rights groups have complained about forced evictions of residents to make way for the Expo, lack of compensation and violence visited on those who complained.
Some national pavilions are also still not ready.
Kuwait, Bhutan and poverty-stricken Burkina Faso dropped out of the Expo completely this week, local media reported.
(Additional reporting by Farah Master, Edmund Klamann and Royston Chan; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jason Subler and Jeremy Laurence)
(NSI News Source Info) WASHINGTON, U.S. - April 30, 2010: The scheduled arrival of 50 additional U.S. military personnel to Pakistan in June, accompanying four new F-16 fighter jets, will increase the official number of American boots on the ground there by 25 percent. It is enough to make the Pakistani government shudder with trepidation.
Exaggerated tales of U.S. soldiers and spies flooding the country are regular front-page fare in Pakistan, and cause for strident political criticism of Western intervention that sometimes erupts into violence. Pakistan's military and intelligence services remain highly suspicious about the motives and methods of their U.S. counterparts, a wariness mirrored in American attitudes toward Pakistan.
But a strategic decision by both sides to improve counterterrorism cooperation, along with the personnel requirements of increased U.S. aid, have led in recent months to a small but significant expansion in the U.S. presence in Pakistan.
There are currently about 200 U.S. military involved in security assistance in Pakistan, including a Special Operations training and advisory contingent, initially set at 80 troops, that has twice been enlarged since last year and now totals up to 140 troops in two Pakistani locations, according to senior U.S. military officials. The Pakistani government prohibits U.S. combat forces.
The CIA has sent additional intelligence-gathering operatives and technicians in recent months. Plans are underway to establish a joint military intelligence processing center. After an initial period of tension, Pakistani officers are using cross-border intelligence compiled at two joint coordination centers on the Afghan side of the frontier.
Although news media and the public continue to criticize the CIA's drone-fired missile attacks targeting insurgent figures in western Pakistan, intelligence cooperation in directing the missiles has improved, according to Pakistani officials who say U.S. operatives have gotten better on coordinating such activities to prevent conflicts with Pakistan's own air operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, along the Afghan border.
Under agreements connected to Pakistan's purchase of 18 F-16s scheduled for staggered delivery this year, a U.S. military team must be on hand to ensure that sophisticated, top-of-the-line avionics, weapons and data systems aboard the aircraft remain secure. The planes, which for the first time will allow Pakistan to conduct nighttime air operations, are far more advanced than the 30-year-old U.S. aircraft that are the current air force mainstay.
They will be housed at Shahbaz air base in south-central Pakistan, one of three bases where Pakistan allowed limited U.S. use for several years after the 2001 beginning of the war in Afghanistan. Far from advertising the arrival of a new contingent of Americans at Shahbaz, the Pakistani military is building a cloistered facility to house them amid some 5,000 of its own troops that will occupy the newly expanded base. Pakistani and U.S. military and intelligence officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to do so on the record.
"Certainly, this is a delicate area," a Pakistani military official said of the American presence. Both Pakistani and U.S. officials expressed concern about how the previously unpublished news of the team's deployment would be played in the Pakistani press, and emphasized that the U.S. personnel would have no operational role.
"For someone against the United States, it is not all that easy to make him like the U.S. overnight," Nawabzada Malik Ahmad Khan, Pakistan's minister of state for foreign affairs, said in an interview.
Progress in bilateral relations culminated with last month's meeting between senior Pakistani cabinet and military officials in Washington. Although it did not eliminate problems and mistrust, it does appear to have achieved a new degree of mutual candor and tolerance.
During a recent PowerPoint briefing in Islamabad, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligencedirectorate, ISI, provided a comprehensive list of U.S. complaints about them.
The Obama administration, a senior ISI official said, remains "suspicious of ISI linkages with the Afghan Taliban," thinks that the ISI is indifferent to the threat posed by al-Qaeda and that it promotes anti-American diatribes in the Pakistani media. The United States, the official said, sees Pakistan as incapable of guaranteeing the security of its nuclear arsenal, irrationally obsessed with the threat from India and generally not serious about either democracy or fighting terrorists, he said.
The Pakistanis plead guilty as charged to some of the U.S. concerns. Al-Qaeda -- whose presence in its territory is officially disputed by Pakistan -- is not seen as a domestic threat. Links with the Afghan Taliban and other insurgent groups fighting U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan are long-standing and considered a strategic necessity to protect Pakistan's western flank. Should the Americans withdraw from Afghanistan or allow Afghan President Hamid Karzai to reconcile with insurgent leaders without input from Islamabad, Pakistan believes it would need allies among the Pashtun tribes there to maintain its influence and protect its western flank from Indian inroads.
"They don't believe we don't know what Karzai is doing," a State Department official involved in Pakistan policy said. "They're afraid that we're going to cut a peace deal without them. We've told them that as soon as we know, they'll know."
A separate ISI PowerPoint slide listed Pakistan's complaints with the United States: unfounded nuclear concerns, not enough assistance, unrealistic accounting and audit demands on aid funding, and "insisting on actions that Pakistan views as inconsistent with its own concerns."
The Obama administration has additional complaints. The slow issuance of visas for additional U.S. personnel remains a sore point, along with harassment of U.S. military and civilian officials at military and police checkpoints.
But it has quieted its public criticism of Pakistan, hailing military successes against the Pakistani Taliban and easing up on pressure to do more. "We can be taken to task for giving too much advice" in the past, a senior U.S. military official said.
(NSI News Source Info) TEHRAN, Iran - April 30, 2010: A senior Iranian Air Force officer does not rule out reports that an Iranian fighter jet might have flown over a US aircraft carrier last week in the Arabian Sea.
The incident was first reported by CNN on Tuesday. According to the report, a plane belonging to the Iranian Navy was flying as low as 300 feet near the USS Eisenhower on April 21.
The Eisenhower was in the northern Arabian Sea when the Iranian maritime patrol aircraft flew within 1,000 yards of the vessel, US military officials claimed.
Mohammad Alavi, deputy commander of the Iranian Air Force said that the fighter jet may have come close to the US aircraft carrier during a routine patrol.
"Iran has scheduled flights in the air corridor in the altitude of up to 20,000 feet, and its plane might have come close to the US aircraft carrier while flying in this corridor," Fars news agency quoted Alavi as saying on Thursday.
He added, "Nobody can criticize such flights because they are being conducted within the framework of international law. We conduct routine reconnaissance flights with different aircrafts, including drones, and they may have come across the US forces."
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