US exempts India from Iran sanction12-06-2012
Washington, (Hindustan Times):
The US on Monday said that India and six other countries had significantly reduced their crude oil imports from Iran therefore their financial institutions will not be subject to sanctions.
"Today I have made the determination that seven economies-India, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Taiwan--have all significantly reduced their volume of crude oil purchases from Iran," said secretary of state Hillary Clinton in a statement.
This announcement ends months of speculation and anxiety for India starting with the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act in December 2011.
India's initial reluctance to go along with US sanctions saying it was under no obligation to abide by unilateral sanctions had created tensions in the relationship.
Coming just a day ahead of the India-US strategic dialogue here, the announcement will allow the two countries to get on with other items on the agenda.
Technically, India is in the clear for now, as under the Act the administration has to review the situation after 180 days and then do a fresh announcement.
Indian government told parliament that it would be reducing its crude imports from Iran by 11% by the end of fiscal 2012-13 and that seems to have done the trick for India.
"I will report to the Congress that sanctions pursuant to Section 1245(d)(1) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 will not apply to their (India and the six countries announced on monday) financial institutions for a potentially renewable period of 180 days," Clinton said in the statement.
US fighting its own war in tribal areas in Pakistan: Panetta10-06-2012
WASHINGTON, (Dawn): US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta while giving an interview to a US television channel on Saturday said that the United States(US) is fighting its own war in the tribal areas of the Pak-Afghan border region and that military safe havens in Pakistan would not be tolerated, DawnNews reported.
During the interview, the US defence secretary without specifying any further said that the US would take every possible step to protect its troops.
While reiterating the stance against military safe havens in Pakistan’s tribal areas, he said that the US would continue to pressurise Pakistan to act effectively against the Haqqani network.
He warned that incidents of militants’ cross-border movement between Pakistan and Afghanistan resulting in attacks that kill US troops stationed in Afghanistan would not be tolerated in any case.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson while rejecting Panetta’s remarks said that certain complicated matters were being viewed lightly by the US and that the Nato supply route through Pakistan would not be restored without a US apology.
US: Obama orders accelerated cyberattacks on Iran02-06-2012
WASHINGTON, (Xinhua): U.S. President Barack Obama ordered stepped-up cyberattacks on Iran's nuclear program months after taking office, significantly expanding America's first sustained use of cyberweapons, The New York Times reported on Friday.
The program, launched by the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games, targets the computer systems that run Iran's main nuclear enrichment facilities, the paper said.
However, a programming error allowed the worm, Stuxnet, which was developed by the United States and Israel, to escape Iran's Natanz plant and go around the world on the Internet in the summer of 2010.
Obama decided to press ahead with the program after seeing evidence that it was still causing havoc for the Iranians. In the following weeks, the Natanz plant was hit by a newer version of the computer worm, and then another after that.
"The last of that series of attacks, a few weeks after Stuxnet was detected around the world, temporarily took out nearly 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges Iran had spinning at the time to purify uranium," the Times said.
The Times based its report on interviews over the past 18 months with current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program, as well as a range of outside experts.
These officials gave differing assessments of how successful the sabotage program was in slowing Iran's progress toward developing the ability to build nuclear weapons.
"Internal Obama administration estimates say the effort was set back by 18 months to two years, but some experts inside and outside the government are more skeptical, noting that Iran's enrichment levels have steadily recovered, giving the country enough fuel today for five or more weapons, with additional enrichment," the Times said.
It said the U.S. government only recently acknowledged developing cyberweapons, and it has never admitted using them. There have been reports of one-time attacks against personal computers used by members of al-Qaida, and of contemplated attacks against the computers that run air defense systems, including during the NATO-led air attack on Libya last year.
Olympic Games was of an entirely different type and sophistication.
"It appears to be the first time the United States has repeatedly used cyberweapons to cripple another country's infrastructure, achieving, with computer code, what until then could be accomplished only by bombing a country or sending in agents to plant explosives," it said.
Iran agreed to meet again in Moscow on June 18-19 with the six powers -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany, over its disputed nuclear program, following two rounds of talks respectively in April and in May.
Iran insists on the peaceful nature of its nuclear program, while the Western countries say it is a cover for developing nuclear weapons.
US: Obama refuses to rule out more US-led invasions29-05-2012
US President Barack Obama refused to rule out further invasions in the Middle East as he spoke to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on Monday.
Obama said sending troops into battle was the “most wrenching decision” a president could ever make but refused to specifically rule out attacks on Iran and Syria, saying the country would attack if "necessary."
The majority of US troops left Iraq last year after a decade-long occupation that destroyed the country, while thousands remain in Afghanistan despite opposition.
"As commander in chief, I can tell you that sending our troops into harm's way is the most wrenching decision that I have to make," Obama said at a ceremony commemorating US soldiers who have been killed in previous wars.
"I can promise you I will never do so unless it is absolutely necessary and that when we do, we must give our troops a clear mission and the full support of a grateful nation."
Obama did not mention tension with either Iran or Syria, with suggestions that US forces could be involved in attacks on either country in the coming months.
Israel has consistently called for a bombing campaign against Iran's alleged nuclear program, but is unlikely to attack with backing from its key ally the US.
The US President appeared to be referring to war only in terms of physical invasions and not bombing campaigns.
Since becoming president in 2010 Obama has expanded the use of drone attacks in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, despite fury from the national governments that it murders civilians.
US man gets 20 years in prison for attempting to help al-Qaida25-05-2012
HOUSTON, (Xinhua): A Texas man was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Thursday for allegedly trying to sneak out of the U.S. to help al-Qaida.
Texan Barry Walter Bujol Jr. was also fined 10,000 U.S. dollars for trying to give al-Qaida restricted military documents, GPS equipment and money, according to ABC news.
Bujol, 30, was arrested in 2010 while trying to leave the U. S. for the Middle East using counterfeit identification.
He was convicted last November on charges of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and aggravated identity theft.
Prosecutors said Bujol, a U.S. citizen, sought to join al- Qaida and provide it with money and material support. Prosecutors also said Bujol had been in email contact with Anwar al Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric with ties to al- Qaida.
Bujol denied the charges and said he was targeted by the U.S. government because he disagreed with its foreign policy.
Editor: Mu Xuequan
US Senate passes Iran sanctions ahead of Baghdad talks22-05-2012
The US Senate has passed new Iran sanctions as Israel warns against concessions during upcoming talks with Tehran in Baghdad. The UN atomic watchdog's Iran trip, meanwhile, appears to have not produced concrete results.
The United States Senate passed a new round of sanctions against Iran on Monday, ahead of a meeting in Baghdad this week between Tehran and world powers over the Islamic Republic's disputed nuclear program.
The sanctions target dealings with the National Iranian Oil Co. and the National Iranian Tanker Co., in an attempt to close a loophole through which Tehran could have continued to sell some it its oil. Iran is the world's third largest petroleum exporter.
The bill also targets the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and requires companies that trade on the US Stock exchange to disclose any business with the Islamic Republic. Penalties on companies involved in joint energy or uranium mining ventures would also be expanded. Visas would also be denied to any person or entity supplying Iran with hardware it could use to crack down on its population.
The bill now has to be reconciled with legislation passed by the House of Representatives in December and then signed into law by President Barack Obama. Senate Republican Minority leader Mitch McConnell said his party had insisted that the "Senate pass nothing less than the president's commitment that all options are on the table."
"Any comprehensive policy that seeks to end Iran's effort to acquire a nuclear weapon needs to convince the rulers in Tehran that their survival is in question," McConnell said in a release.
No signs of IAEA breakthrough
The US Senate passed the legislation while International Atomic Energy (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano held talks with Iranian leaders on Monday over inspections.
On his first visit to Iran since becoming the UN nuclear watchdog, Amano sought to convince Tehran to give the IAEA access to facilities, nuclear scientists and documents needed to check intelligence that suggests Iran is covertly developing a nuclear bomb.
Iran claims its nuclear program aims to produce electricity as well as isotopes for cancer treatment. The Islamic Republic is currently enriching uranium to 20 percent, which is far higher than what is needed for energy producing reactors, but is used in medical research.
"(Monday's) negotiations were very useful," Amano was quoted as saying by the website of Iranian state television. "We held expanded negotiations in a good atmosphere."
The UN nuclear watchdog met with the head of Iran's nuclear agency, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, and its top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. Yet there was no sign that Iran had assented to any of the IAEA's demands.
Israel warns against concessions
The Security Council's five permanent members - the US, UK, France, China and Russia - as well as Germany are set to meet with Jalili in Baghdad on Wednesday. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will represent this six power coalition, called the P5+1.
The main goal of the coalition is to get Iran to stop producing higher-grade uranium with a 20 percent fissile concentration, which could potentially speed up an alleged weapons program. But Israel is reportedly concerned that the talks could end in a deal that would allow Iran to enrich some uranium.
"They do not need to make concessions to Iran," Prime Minister Netanyahu said. "They need to set clear and unequivocal demands before it."
"Iran must halt all enrichment of nuclear material," he continued. "It must remove from its territory all nuclear material that has been enriched up until now and it must dismantle the underground nuclear facility in Qom."
The nuclear talks with Iran were started last March in Istanbul, Turkey after a 15-month freeze. Those negotiations produced no results.
slk/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)
NATO declares first stage of missile shield operational21-05-2012
The 28 NATO allies have moved the first stage of their joint missile shield into place over Russian objections. The allies have also unveiled plans to pool their resources in order to make up for defense budget cuts.
The NATO allies on Sunday announced that the first stage of a European missile defense shield had become operational, despite Russian objections to the project and threats of retaliatory steps.
US President Barack Obama declared during the Western military alliance's summit meeting in Chicago that the missile shield had an "interim capability." The operational first stage of the shield consists of a radar facility in Turkey and US ships with anti-missile interceptors in the Mediterranean Sea. The command and control center is located in Ramstein, Germany.
The missile defense shield is scheduled to be fully operational by 2020, with SM-3 missile facilities to be stationed in Poland and Romania. Russia has long objected to the NATO project, arguing that the missile shield would undermine its nuclear deterrent.
'A NATO decision'
Moscow has threatened in the past to retaliate by stationing Iskander missiles in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania. The US and NATO maintains that the system is designed to defend against missiles from Iran.
During its 2010 summit in Lisbon, the alliance offered Russia cooperation on the missile defense shield. The two sides have been unable to reach an agreement since then, with NATO rejecting Moscow's calls for joint control of the system and legal guarantees that it won't be aimed at Russia.
"We have invited Russia to cooperate on missile defense and this invitation still stands," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference.
"We continue our dialogue with Russia, and I hope that at a certain stage Russia will realize that it is in our common interest to cooperate on missile defense," Rasmussen said, while adding that the shield "cannot be blocked by Russia, it's a NATO decision."
Russian President Vladimir Putin opted not to attend the NATO summit, sending instead a lower-level delegation to represent Moscow's interests. Putin also skipped the G8 summit at Camp David over the weekend, with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev attending in his stead.
The missile shield is one of NATO's flagship projects, part of a new strategic concept called "smart defense," which is supposed to help compensate for defense cuts during a period of "acute financial crisis," according to the alliance's leaders.
The allies agreed to more than 20 new multinational projects aimed at pooling resources, including the joint management of precision-guided bombs and the development of remotely controlled robots to clear roadside bombs.
"Together, we will keep NATO capable of responding to the security challenges of tomorrow, because no country, no continent can deal with them alone," Rasmussen told the leaders ahead of the discussion about budget cuts. "We can find common solutions to common problems."
Afghanistan withdrawal plans
On Monday, the alliance is expected to focus more directly on Afghanistan, with French President Francois Hollande's campaign promise to withdraw his nation's 3,500 troops a year ahead of schedule raising concern among some allies.
The commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), US General John Allen, told reporters that the allies "had the capacity to ensure that there is no degradation in security" despite France's hastened timetable for withdrawal.
President Obama, meanwhile, said that the world backed plans to end the decade-long Afghan war by 2014.
"We're confident that we're on the right track, and what this NATO summit reflects is that the world is behind the strategy we've laid out," the president said.
slk/pfd (AFP, dpa)
Zardari urges for a ‘permanent solution’ on US drone strikes21-05-2012
CHICAGO, (Agencies): Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari pressed the United States during a Nato meeting on Sunday to help find a “permanent solution” to US drone strikes that have fueled tensions between the two uneasy allies.
“The president said that Pakistan wanted to find a permanent solution to the drone issue as it not only violated our sovereignty but also inflamed public sentiments,” President Zardari’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar said in a statement after the Pakistani leader met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the sidelines of the summit.
The statement did not specify what such a solution might entail.
The tempo of drone strikes, the centerpiece of US strategy to fight militants based in Pakistan, has increased substantially since President Barack Obama took office in 2009.
Zardari also called for the United States to do more to make amends for the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers killed in November by US aircraft along the border with Afghanistan.
Pakistan has demanded a high-level apology for that incident, which the White House has resisted so far.
The Pakistani leader accepted a last-minute invitation to attend the Nato summit, focused on outlining a Nato path out of the long Afghan war. There, he is likely to be pressed by Western leaders to crack down on militants attacking Karzai’s government and Nato forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistan defends its record against militants and points out that many of its own soldiers have died in that fight.
Zardari’s talks with Nato leaders may be overshadowed by Nato demands that Pakistan reopen ground routes used to supply alliance soldiers in Afghanistan. Pakistan closed those routes after the November border deaths.
It’s unclear whether a deal reopening those roads will occur this weekend as US officials had hoped earlier in the week.
Zardari also voiced support for efforts to broker a peace deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban, whose leaders are believed to live in Pakistan.
“The president said that Pakistan strongly supports an intra-Afghan and Afghan-led reconciliation process and believes that no military solution alone can find a permanent resolution to the problem of militancy and extremism,” Babar said.
The Obama administration had hoped to make progress by the Chicago meeting in its effort to broker a peace deal. Initial talks were put on hold in March when the Taliban suspended its participation.
Zardari, who arrived in Chicago on Saturday, also met on Sunday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, DawnNews reported.
During the meeting both leaders discussed establishment of peace in Afghanistan, the peace dialogue process, regional issues and its wellbeing. The two leaders also agreed on expanding the Afghan transit trade to Central Asia region.
Mexico: 49 dissembled bodies found in northern Mexico14-05-2012
MEXICO CITY, (Xinhua): At least 49 mutilated human bodies on Sunday were found next to a highway in the municipality of Cadereyta in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, Mexican authorities announced.
The number of mutilated bodies, found on a road adjacent to Monterey, amounts to 49, of which 43 of them are men and six are women, an official source said. Initially the authorities had counted 37 bodies dumped in black plastic bags beside the road in the morning.
The state prosecutor in Nuevo Leon, Adrian de la Garza, told a press conference that authorities received a report at around 4 a.m. (0900 GMT) on the presence of bodies, which were thrown from a truck at kilometer 47 of a highway that connects to the border city of Reynosa of Tamaulipas state, on the border with the United States.
He said that after the report, the highway was closed and the place was guarded by local police and soldiers and federal policemen. The experts from the state forensic service reached the site to perform the analysis of the remains and collect evidence.
De la Garza said that a message left near the scene may suggest that the extremely violent Zetas drug cartel was responsible, in which it confirmed the victims were from the Gulf Cartel and also launched threats against the Sinaloa Cartel and the state government.
The prosecutor said it will be harder to identify the victims, because all were decapitated and their hands were amputated.
"In all cases, to complicate the investigation, their heads and limbs had been cut off," he said.
The prosecutor said he had received no reports of missing people in recent days, "and less on that amount," so he did not rule out the possibility that "victims may be migrants" from other Latin American country.
Meanwhile, Jorge Domene, the government security spokesman of Nuevo Leon, said some bodies have tattoos of the Santa Muerte, a religious cult popular among members of organized crime.
The spokesman said the governor Rodrigo Medina had requested federal support for investigation to seek out those responsible for the slaughter.
This finding comes just four days after another 18 decapitated and mutilated bodies were found in two cars on a road near Guadalajara, Jalisco state capital, which was also attributed to the revenge of the drug cartels.
Mexico is experiencing an escalation of violence by the disputes between drug cartels and military deployment for combat, leaving more than 47,000 killed in drug-related violence for the last five years.
Nuevo Leon and especially its capital Monterrey, the wealthiest city in the country for years remained safe from the violence of drug cartels, whose clashes escalated from 2006, when President Felipe Calderon launched the "war against organized crimes."
Since 2010 the region has witnessed numerous bloody clashes between Los Zetas and the Gulf cartel. Los Zetas is now more powerful and engaged not only in drug trafficking but also in kidnapping and extortion, and have been identified as responsible for massive attacks against innocent civilians.
In August 2010, the Los Zetas cartel killed 72 Central American immigrants allegedly on the latter's refusal to join the criminal group.
In April 2011, 180 bodies were found in the town of San Fernando of Tamaulipas state, which was the worst slaughter on record since Calderon's anti-drug campaign and were also attributed to Los Zetas.
Most of the victims were Latin American immigrants heading to the U.S. border and were killed allegedly for refusing to join Los Zetas or did not pay the extortion they demanded.
US: Bomber in al Qa'ida plot was 'double agent,' say US reports09-05-2012
A man under orders from Al Qaeda to blow up a US-bound airliner was a double agent, according to media reports. The operative is believed to have infiltrated the group and volunteered for the mission.
The al Qaeda plot to bomb an airliner heading for the United States was disrupted with the help of a Saudi double-agent, according to media reports late on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia's intelligence service played a pivotal role in planting operatives within the group known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), including the Washington Post and New York Times.
One man is reported to have spent several weeks undercover in Yemen, where a bomb designed specifically to escape detection at airports was being prepared for an attack.
The agent is understood to have volunteered for a mission to smuggle the bomb aboard an aircraft and detonate it.
CIA operatives spent weeks tracking the bomb, which was eventually handed over by the Saudi agent after he left Yemen.
Experts investigate bomb design
FBI Experts are reported to be analyzing the device, to see if it could really have been smuggled aboard a plane. The New York Times reported a senior US official as saying the bomb was sewn into "custom fit" underwear that would not be detected in a security pat-down.
Officials did not disclose the identity of the agent or the intelligence service that recruited him. However, they said it was not the CIA. The White House made the bomb plot public on Monday, saying they had thwarted an attack which was scheduled to take place in April.
Unlike the device used by AQAP in a failed December 2009 plot against an airliner bound for Detroit, the explosive had a back-up detonation mechanism.
Officials in Yemen announced on Sunday that Fahd al Quso, believed to be a leading AQAP figure involved in the plot, had been killed in a drone airstrike.
rc/ccp (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
US thwarts al Qaeda airliner bomb plot, officials say08-05-2012
US officials have said they foiled a plot by al Qaeda's branch in Yemen to blow up an airliner in April. US officials have said the recovered devise was a sophisticated version of the 2009 Christmas day "underwear bomb."
A US counterterrorism official said on Monday that the CIA foiled a plot by al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen to blow up an airliner in April.
US officials have stressed that the plot, reportedly hatched by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was uncovered at an early stage, meaning that "at no point were any airliners at risk."
"The device never presented a threat to public safety, and the US government is working closely with international partners to address associated concerns with the device," the FBI said in a statement.
Reports suggest that no target for the attack had yet been chosen and no plane tickets had been bought.The status of the alleged suicide bomber is currently unknown.
The FBI is conducting technical and forensic analysis on the recovered device, which they described as a sophisticated upgrade of the so-called "underwear bomb" that failed to detonate aboard an airliner over Detroit on Dec. 25, 2009.
"Initial exploitation indicates that the device is very similar to IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that have been used previously by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in attempted terrorist attacks, including against aircraft and for targeted assassinations."
Obama informed in April
White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said President Barack Obama was first briefed about the plot back in April. She added that Obama was told by his deputies that lives were never in danger.
"While the president was assured that the device did not pose a threat to the public, he directed the Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement and intelligence agencies to take whatever steps necessary to guard against this type of attack," Hayden said in a statement.
AQAP has been linked to the 2009 Christmas plot in which the device was sewn into the underwear of would-be suicide bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
It has also been linked to a 2010 attempt to blow up cargo planes bound for the United States with explosives hidden in printer cartridges.
ccp/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)
US: 9/11 mastermind, co-plotters defiant in military court06-05-2012
The self-confessed mastermind and accused co-plotters of the 9/11 attacks on the United States have delayed entering a plea to murder and terrorism charges after a defiant appearance at a US military court.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four co-defendants exercised their right to indefinitely delay entering a plea to murder and terrorism charges on Saturday as they appeared at an arraignment at a military tribunal at the US base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It was the first time the men had been seen in public in more than three years.
They are accused of planning and executing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York, Washington, DC, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, including 2,976 counts of murder. The charges can carry the death penalty.
The disorderly arrangement hearing, which should have taken a couple of hours at most, lasted almost 13 hours and was marked the defiance and regular outbursts of the defendants.
The proceedings got off to a rocky start, as one of the accused, Walid bin Attash was put in restraints. The five - Mohammed, Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi and Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali - also declined to respond to the judge's questions, removing their earphones over which they could hear a translation.
At one point the exasperated judge asked the four defendants, “Why is this so hard?"
Defense attorney David Nevin said Mohammed had refused to respond to the judge's questions because "“he is deeply concerned about the fairness of the proceeding" and had been tortured.
The military tribunal was adjourned until June 12. According to army Colonel James Pohl, it may be at least a year before the trial starts.
The CIA has admitted that Mohammed was subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding some 183 times. During that time he said he was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks and numerous others.
A first attempt to put the men on trial in 2008 failed. At that time, Mohammed had mocked the court and said he and his co-defendants would plead guilty and welcomed the death penalty.
ccp,ncy/sb (AP, AFP, Reuters)
Mexico: 12 people killed in clashes in northern Mexico03-05-2012
MEXICO CITY, (Xinhua): At least 12 people were killed on Wednesday during clashes between troops and armed drug gangsters in the northern Mexican state of Sinaloa, an official source said.
The State Attorney General's Office said in a statement that the incident occurred Wednesday morning in the town of Guasave, where 10 suspected gangsters and two soldiers were killed.
The military said the gunmen ambushed an army patrol using grenades, automatic weapons and an armored vehicle. Federal, state and municipal police reinforced the military operation and repelled the assailants.
This is the second clash between soldiers and gangsters in a week in Sinaloa. Last Saturday, 15 people died in the town of Choix, including 13 gunmen, a soldier and a policeman.
The clashes came just hours after Governor Mario Lopez announced a tougher strategy to combat organized crime groups.
"An operation is under way to ensure that calm and security return to the Guasave area," he said, denying that the authorities were losing control of security in the state.
Violence has been escalating in the northwestern state, which is dominated by the Sinaloa cartel, the country's most powerful drug gang, led by Mexico's most wanted fugitive, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
Mexico is plagued by drug-related violence between rival drug cartels and government troops, which has left more than 50,000 dead since President Felipe Calderon launched a "war against organized crimes" in 2006.
Year after bin Laden's death, US-Pakistani ties still difficult02-05-2012
The killing of bin Laden triggered a serious, albeit temporary, crisis in US-Pakistani relations. But more importantly, it redefined the relationship between the Pakistani civilian government and the military.
The killing of Osama bin Laden caused the greatest crisis in US-Pakistan relations in memory. It is possible that the US special operation had an even worse effect on Pakistan's domestic politics because it made clear that despite the denial of the military's powerful spy agency, ISI, the al Qaeda chief had been hiding in Pakistan for years.
The attack was a humiliation for Pakistani politicians who had been swearing to Washington for years that bin Laden was definitely not in Pakistan. Beyond that, it made the country's civilian government realize that the all-mighty ISI, or at least part of its leadership, knew that bin Laden had been hiding out in the garrison town of Abbottabad.
Sympathizers in high places
Iqbal Haider, former law minister under Benazir Bhutto, told DW that bin Laden was hiding out in Pakistan because there was no doubt that "the Pakistani establishment, if not the whole of it, are totally devoted to (protecting) extremists. The very fact that few days ago the Taliban attacked the Banu jail, would not be possible without the support and patronage of influential forces in Pakistan.“
Islamabad saw the incident as a degradation. Neither President Asif Ali Zardari nor the Pakistani military were informed about the US operation beforehand. The fact that the US Special Forces' helicopters were not detected by Pakistan's air defense challenged the presumption that the military was the only Pakistani institution still intact. On top of all that, the Pakistani president is said to have asked for help from Washington to avoid a coup d'etat shortly before May 4, rounding out the picture of a helpless Pakistan.
Owais Tohid, a political analyst from Karachi, said the killing of bin Laden not only redefined the ties between Islamabad and Washington, but also the future relationship between Pakistan's military establishment and extremists within Pakistan.
"The incident has allowed Washington to pressurize Islamabad ... It also put a lot of pressure on the Pakistani establishment domestically because before that there was no open criticism of Pakistan's policies vis-a-vis extremists and extremist organizations."
Though they are by far not the majority in Pakistan, liberal politicians like Haider speak out and voice criticism of the country's leadership.
"Religious fanaticism is not liked by me or any liberal person in Pakistan. But religious fanaticism and religious extremist forces have been patronized in the country … Forces that created the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (alliance of religious parties during Musharraf's rule) have now created Difa-e-Pakistan Council, the 'alliance for the defense of Pakistan.' They are rolling with billions of rupees. Also, the Arab countries are financing them. These forces love and support the Taliban. They refuse to condemn suicide bombing and terrorism by the Taliban."
Simply put: "Pakistan is at war from within," said Haider.
When a breakdown in communications in November last year led to friendly fire from the US that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at the Afghan border, bilateral ties sank even lower.
"The killing of bin Laden did not harm US-Pakistani relations as much as the killing of about two dozen Pakistani soldiers in Salala last year," said Haider.
"That harmed the US-Pakistani relations quite severely."
Islamabad responded to the incident by boycotting the Afghanistan conference held in Bonn in December last year and by closing its Afghan border to NATO convoys.
The NATO attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers fueled anti-US sentiment
It will most likely take months, but Islamabad and Washington will find a way out of the current crisis. Both need each other. Pakistan needs domestic and military aid from Washington and Washington needs support from Pakistan to fight the Taliban and stabilize Afghanistan - prerequisites for a pullout of US forces from Afghanistan.
Domestic politics in Pakistan are changing. Not long ago, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that the current crisis has weakened the military's traditional influence on the country's foreign and security policies. Evidence for this, she said, was an improvement in ties to India as well as the recent parliamentary debate over ties with the US. The debate, which took place two weeks ago, was a first; up to that point, it had been up to the military to debate bilateral ties with Washington.
The parliament decided that if the US stopped conducting drone attacks and also apologized for the November attack on Pakistani soldiers, it would open the border back up to NATO convoys. That may just be wishful thinking. But the fact that members of parliament and the foreign minister are speaking openly about relations with the US shows that the special operations killing of bin Laden put a lot in motion in Pakistan.
Author: Grahame Lucas / sb
Editor: Shamil Shams
US officials admit Al-Qa'ida "essentially gone"29-04-2012
A leading American official has admitted that Al-Qaeda is "basically gone," seemingly undermining US government claims about the continued threat posed by the group.
The official on Friday said the core Al-Qaeda network in Pakistan was effectively finished and it was highly unlikely that they would be able to organize another attack such as those on September 11, 2001, which they are widely credited with orchestrating.
"It's really hard to imagine Al-Qaeda's core gathering together the resources, the training, the talent, the money to repeat a 9/11 type of attack," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"Some could argue that the organization that brought us 9/11 is essentially gone," the official added.
But "the movement certainly survives, the ideology of the global jihad survives, bin Laden's philosophy...that survives in a variety of places outside of Pakistan," the official added.
The comments were echoed later on Friday by US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who spoke to reporters aboard a military plane on his way from Latin America, where he visited Colombia, Brazil, and Chile.
"Having been involved in the operations, even before we did bin Laden, it's clear that there is no kind of silver bullet here to suddenly being able to destroy Al-Qaeda, and that includes even going after bin Laden," Panetta said.
"But the way this works is that the more successful we are at taking down those who represent their spiritual and ideological leadership, the greater our ability to weaken their threat to this country and to other countries," he added.
US officials have continually used the threat of Al-Qaeda as a justification for so-called "pre-emptive" attacks, with unmanned drones carrying out attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and other countries, despite criticism from some of the governments.
The continued threat of Al-Qaeda is also used as a justification for US forces remaining in Iraq and Afghanistan after the official drawback of troops.
Robert Cardillo, deputy director of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, also admitted the threat from the group has faded, saying the clearest evidence was "the reduced threat of a mass-casualty attack."
Cardillo reiterated previous US intelligence assessments that a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear attack on the United States by Al-Qaeda was unlikely in the next year.
The official also said that Al-Qaeda was hoping to exploit continuing violence in Syria to gain a foothold, adding that Al-Qaeda is "interested in not only affecting the result but in contributing to the fighting."
The official suggested that Al-Qaeda leaders were seeking to avoid the mass killing of civilians that marked the network's attacks in Iraq.
US: House passes cybersecurity bill, ignores veto threat27-04-2012
WASHINGTON, (Xinhua): Ignoring a veto threat from the White House, U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a controversial cybersecurity legislation, which would make it easier for companies to share information with the government about threats their networks face.
Members approved the bipartisan Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection (CISPA) act in a 248-168 vote. The bill was supported by 42 Democrats, while 28 Republicans opposed it.
The House approved the bill after making a number of changes aimed at limiting the way the government could use the information that companies provide.
CISPA would make it easier for companies to share information with the government about the threats facing their networks. Supporters said the proposal is a reasonable compromise between the need for privacy and security.
The bill enjoyed strong bipartisan support before the administration issued a veto threat and sided with privacy advocates who argue the bill does not do enough to protect consumers' private information.
The bill is one of four cybersecurity bills the House is expected to consider this week. House Republicans have put the other three bills on the suspension calendar, a process usually reserved for non-controversial bills that will require them to pass by two-thirds majority.
Editor: Lu Hui
US; Shah Rukh Khan detained at New York airport for over 2 hours14-04-2012
New Haven, (PTI): Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan was detained at a New York airport for over two hours by immigration officials after arriving from India in a private plane with Nita Ambani, to address students at Yale University here.
While Nita, wife of Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani, and the rest of their group were cleared immediately, Khan was stopped and was given immigration clearance only after about two hours, sources told PTI.
46-year-old Khan was to address a press conference at 2 pm and deliver his lecture at 4 pm at the Yale University.
However, he arrived for the press meet three hours behind schedule and his hour-long lecture started at about 6 pm.
"Whenever I start feeling too arrogant about myself I always take a trip to America. The immigration guys kicked the star out of stardom," Khan said with some sarcasm while addressing the students at the University.
He added that he always has his "small victories" even in such circumstances. "They (immigration officials) always ask me how tall I am and I always lie and say 5 feet 10 inches. Next time I am going to get more adventurous. (If they ask me) What colour are you, I am going to say white," Khan said.
Earlier, when informed about Khan being held up at the White Plains airport in New York, Yale University officials "contacted and spoke with officials at the Department of Homeland Security and Department of US Immigration and Customs in Washington," the sources said.
They added that Khan was "very very upset" at the episode and it "took time for the university officials to make him comfortable again."
The actor, who flew back to India last night, had visited Connecticut-based Yale University, which had conferred him with its prestigious Chubb fellowship.
As part of the fellowship, Khan addressed a gathering of hundreds of Yale students, parents, faculty and other members of the Indian-American community at the Yale campus.
Before beginning his address to the students, Khan, dressed in a chic black suit, said that it had been a long flight and thanked Ambani for getting him to the US.
Ambani's daughter Isha is a student at Yale and is also president of the South Asian Society at the university.
Khan went on to say that he was "detained at the airport as always."
"It was nice, as it always happens," Khan said with a slight smile even as students in the audience gave out a large sigh and booed the US authorities when they heard Khan telling them he was detained.
While Khan told the students he was stopped for about an hour and a half, sources said he was at the airport for over two hours.
They said he told them that this is not the first time he has been stopped at an airport in the country and this has happened to him "three to four times before."
The most recent one was in 2009 when Khan was detained at the Newark Airport in New Jersey.
Khan had said at the time he was detained for nearly two hours at the Newark International Airport because of his last name.
The private plane carrying Khan, Ambani and their group landed at White Plains Airport, which is about 53 kilometres from Manhattan, at around 12:45 in the afternoon.
Sources said while everyone with him cleared immigration soon, he was stopped and had to wait till 2:30 pm before he was cleared by the immigration.
The sources said since the White Plains airport is a small facility, everyone who was with Khan waited together for him to get his clearance.
The detention had caused "tense" moments for Khan and his team, who sources said were "struggling" to get the situation sorted out.
Khan did not mention anything about the detention during the nearly 20 minute press conference.
Members of his team as well as the university officials too did not talk about the reasons for his detention.
When contacted, Khan said through a member of his team that he would not make any comments on the episode.
The person said Khan stressed that the American immigration officials "kick the star out of stardom," adding that the episode had left a bad taste.
US: Our men in Iran?08-04-2012
The New Yorker:
From the air, the terrain of the Department of Energy’s Nevada National Security Site, with its arid high plains and remote mountain peaks, has the look of northwest Iran.
The site, some sixty-five miles northwest of Las Vegas, was once used for nuclear testing, and now includes a counterintelligence training facility and a private airport capable of handling Boeing 737 aircraft. It’s a restricted area, and inhospitable—in certain sections, the curious are warned that the site’s security personnel are authorized to use deadly force, if necessary, against intruders.
It was here that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) conducted training, beginning in 2005, for members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a dissident Iranian opposition group known in the West as the M.E.K.
The M.E.K. had its beginnings as a Marxist-Islamist student-led group and, in the nineteen-seventies, it was linked to the assassination of six American citizens.
It was initially part of the broad-based revolution that led to the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran. But, within a few years, the group was waging a bloody internal war with the ruling clerics, and, in 1997, it was listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department.
In 2002, the M.E.K. earned some international credibility by publicly revealing—accurately—that Iran had begun enriching uranium at a secret underground location. Mohamed ElBaradei, who at the time was the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear monitoring agency, told me later that he had been informed that the information was supplied by the Mossad.
The M.E.K.’s ties with Western intelligence deepened after the fall of the Iraqi regime in 2003, and JSOC began operating inside Iran in an effort to substantiate the Bush Administration’s fears that Iran was building the bomb at one or more secret underground locations.
Funds were covertly passed to a number of dissident organizations, for intelligence collection and, ultimately, for anti-regime terrorist activities. Directly, or indirectly, the M.E.K. ended up with resources like arms and intelligence. Some American-supported covert operations continue in Iran today, according to past and present intelligence officials and military consultants.
Despite the growing ties, and a much-intensified lobbying effort organized by its advocates, M.E.K. has remained on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations—which meant that secrecy was essential in the Nevada training. “We did train them here, and washed them through the Energy Department because the D.O.E. owns all this land in southern Nevada,” a former senior American intelligence official told me. “We were deploying them over long distances in the desert and mountains, and building their capacity in communications—coördinating commo is a big deal.” (A spokesman for J.S.O.C. said that “U.S. Special Operations Forces were neither aware of nor involved in the training of M.E.K. members.”)
The training ended sometime before President Obama took office, the former official said. In a separate interview, a retired four-star general, who has advised the Bush and Obama Administrations on national-security issues, said that he had been privately briefed in 2005 about the training of Iranians associated with the M.E.K. in Nevada by an American involved in the program. They got “the standard training,” he said, “in commo, crypto [cryptography], small-unit tactics, and weaponry—that went on for six months,” the retired general said. “They were kept in little pods.” He also was told, he said, that the men doing the training were from JSOC, which, by 2005, had become a major instrument in the Bush Administration’s global war on terror. “The JSOC trainers were not front-line guys who had been in the field, but second- and third-tier guys—trainers and the like—and they started going off the reservation. ‘If we’re going to teach you tactics, let me show you some really sexy stuff…’ ”
It was the ad-hoc training that provoked the worried telephone calls to him, the former general said. “I told one of the guys who called me that they were all in over their heads, and all of them could end up trouble unless they got something in writing. The Iranians are very, very good at counterintelligence, and stuff like this is just too hard to contain.” The site in Nevada was being utilized at the same time, he said, for advanced training of élite Iraqi combat units. (The retired general said he only knew of the one M.E.K.-affiliated group that went though the training course; the former senior intelligence official said that he was aware of training that went on through 2007.)
Allan Gerson, a Washington attorney for the M.E.K., notes that the M.E.K. has publicly and repeatedly renounced terror. Gerson said he would not comment on the alleged training in Nevada. But such training, if true, he said, would be “especially incongruent with the State Department’s decision to continue to maintain the M.E.K. on the terrorist list. How can the U.S. train those on State’s foreign terrorist list, when others face criminal penalties for providing a nickel to the same organization?”
Robert Baer, a retired C.I.A. agent who is fluent in Arabic and had worked under cover in Kurdistan and throughout the Middle East in his career, initially had told me in early 2004 of being recruited by a private American company—working, so he believed, on behalf of the Bush Administration—to return to Iraq. “They wanted me to help the M.E.K. collect intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program,” Baer recalled. “They thought I knew Farsi, which I did not. I said I’d get back to them, but never did.” Baer, now living in California, recalled that it was made clear to him at the time that the operation was “a long-term thing—not just a one-shot deal.”
Massoud Khodabandeh, an I.T. expert now living in England who consults for the Iraqi government, was an official with the M.E.K. before defecting in 1996. In a telephone interview, he acknowledged that he is an avowed enemy of the M.E.K., and has advocated against the group. Khodabandeh said that he had been with the group since before the fall of the Shah and, as a computer expert, was deeply involved in intelligence activities as well as providing security for the M.E.K. leadership. For the past decade, he and his English wife have run a support program for other defectors. Khodabandeh told me that he had heard from more recent defectors about the training in Nevada. He was told that the communications training in Nevada involved more than teaching how to keep in contact during attacks—it also involved communication intercepts. The United States, he said, at one point found a way to penetrate some major Iranian communications systems. At the time, he said, the U.S. provided M.E.K. operatives with the ability to intercept telephone calls and text messages inside Iran—which M.E.K. operatives translated and shared with American signals intelligence experts. He does not know whether this activity is ongoing.
Five Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated since 2007. M.E.K. spokesmen have denied any involvement in the killings, but early last month NBC News quoted two senior Obama Administration officials as confirming that the attacks were carried out by M.E.K. units that were financed and trained by Mossad, the Israeli secret service. NBC further quoted the Administration officials as denying any American involvement in the M.E.K. activities. The former senior intelligence official I spoke with seconded the NBC report that the Israelis were working with the M.E.K., adding that the operations benefitted from American intelligence. He said that the targets were not “Einsteins”; “The goal is to affect Iranian psychology and morale,” he said, and to “demoralize the whole system—nuclear delivery vehicles, nuclear enrichment facilities, power plants.” Attacks have also been carried out on pipelines. He added that the operations are “primarily being done by M.E.K. through liaison with the Israelis, but the United States is now providing the intelligence.” An adviser to the special-operations community told me that the links between the United States and M.E.K. activities inside Iran had been long-standing. “Everything being done inside Iran now is being done with surrogates,” he said.
The sources I spoke to were unable to say whether the people trained in Nevada were now involved in operations in Iran or elsewhere. But they pointed to the general benefit of American support. “The M.E.K. was a total joke,” the senior Pentagon consultant said, “and now it’s a real network inside Iran. How did the M.E.K. get so much more efficient?” he asked rhetorically. “Part of it is the training in Nevada. Part of it is logistical support in Kurdistan, and part of it is inside Iran. M.E.K. now has a capacity for efficient operations that it never had before.”
In mid-January, a few days after an assassination by car bomb of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, at a town-hall meeting of soldiers at Fort Bliss, Texas, acknowledged that the U.S. government has “some ideas as to who might be involved, but we don’t know exactly who was involved.” He added, “But I can tell you one thing: the United States was not involved in that kind of effort. That’s not what the United States does.”
US; CIA Wining and dining Lebanese students in US07-04-2012
A Lebanese collegiate network established “to develop Lebanese-American students academically and professionally” and provide them with “professional career opportunities” is doing so through “info-sessions” financed and run by the CIA.
Several CIA agents walk into a room full of Lebanese students. It is decorated with the flags of Lebanon, the United States, and the CIA.
The participants’ eyes glow as they stare at the spymasters who have decided to pay them a visit in appreciation of their intelligence.
They give their full attention to a presentation about the different sections of the CIA. They note down information about the agency’s need to recruit smart, ambitious, and multilingual young Lebanese like them.
When they are done, students and agents go out to lunch where they eat hummus, grilled meats, tabbouleh, and flat bread. The CIA’s long experience taught it that recruiting a Lebanese agent starts with a hummus plate and a shawarma wrap. So, following each session, the CIA hosts and pays for a traditional Lebanese spread.
None of the above details are embellished or fabricated. Such meetings have been taking place since 2008 in the US after a Lebanese American student group decided to connect Lebanese students with one another in various states and cities.
Under the guise of working toward providing them with employment opportunities in the US, they hold yearly recruitment sessions for the CIA.
Once again, some Lebanese find the usual clever excuse to collaborate with the CIA. The smart alecks this time are a bunch of Lebanese students and Lebanese American citizens studying in US universities. They founded or joined a “non-profit” organization known as the Lebanese Collegiate Network (LCN).
The network is run by Lebanese and aims “to connect and develop Lebanese collegiate clubs, students, and alumni within the United States.”
The LCN which claims to work toward providing students with employment opportunities in the US has been holding information sessions sponsored and run by the CIA since its inception in 2007 up until last week.
The lecturers are CIA agents who are openly recruiting and hiring students. The last such meeting took place between March 30 and April 1, during LCN’s fifth Annual Convention at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California.
But the CIA’s contribution is not limited to hummus. It is an LCN “Gold Sponsor” in 2012, alongside other, “Silver,” sponsors like Rotary and RotarAct.
The financial contribution of the CIA to the LCN could be a violation of the CIA’s regulations about working on US territory. US laws allow the CIA to directly recruit agents in the US but not to fund US organizations with US citizens as members inside the country, except in extraordinary circumstance.
One Organization for All
LCN’s activity calendar published on their website shows that a few months into its founding in April 2008, LCN hosted the first CIA Info Session.
LCN explains that the aim of such sessions is to encourage institutions to employ members. But for five years in a row, the CIA was the only “institution” to provide career training for students!
Moreover, minutes of an LCN meeting held on 31 May 2011 show how some LCN leaders are satisfied with the CIA being the only sponsor and organizer of the sessions. The meeting involved several members of LCN’s board and staff and drew up a five-year workplan for the organization.
During discussions, LCN Treasurer Elect Tammy Ayoub suggested that, “other than the CIA maybe we can get a professional to come in and talk about their profession.” Another official, Anthony Gemayel, replied by saying “this might be difficult because not your whole club would be one specific major.”
They were answered by Patrick Sislian, LCN founding member and first president. “[The] reason the CIA works is because it works across all fields, LCN doesn’t specialize in Engineering, etc.,” he said.
At the end of the session founding members and former presidents Serge Haddad and Sevag Sislian recommended a career fair and suggested two guest institutions: the CIA and the US Army!
LCN mission states that it is “a non-political, non-religious, and non-profit organization aiming to connect and develop Lebanese collegiate clubs, students, and alumni within the United States.”
On the other hand, the CIA’s mission says, “We are the nation’s first line of defense. We accomplish what others cannot accomplish and go where others cannot go. We carry out our mission by collecting information that reveals the plans, intentions, and capabilities of our adversaries, [...] Producing timely analysis that provides insight, warning, and opportunities for the President and decision makers charged with protecting and advancing America’s interests. Conducting covert actions at the direction of the President to preempt threats or achieve US policy objectives.”
In the meantime, several people in the US are voicing their objections to the utmost secrecy of the CIA’s policies, financing, budgeting, and spending inside and outside the country. Its lax regulations, contrary to other US government agencies, are also under scrutiny. Several famous US commentators have also criticized the agency for being a killing machine.
LCN considers the “CIA info sessions” as one of its major achievements. In its first communique about the issue it claimed that “more than 100 students attended and engaged the CIA representatives with several intuitive questions that ranged from salary, commitment, and policies.”
The student network does not deny CIA funding. Its website and annual letters indicate that “the CIA donated US$500 per info-session to the LCN.” It also “purchased the food for all student attendants.” It goes on to add that “each dollar is invested back to the LCN membership.”
Nevertheless, several leaks from inside LCN indicate that the CIA’s contribution is upward of US$10,000 annually, thus giving it the Gold Sponsor status.
A “Non-Political” Organization?
When LCN hosted its first info and recruitment session sponsored by the CIA in 2008, several students complained to its leadership. Former LCN Treasurer Serge Haddad replied in a signed official letter titled “Response Letter to CIA Info-Session.”
He defended LCN’s partnership with the CIA while “understand[ing] the sensitivity in this issue” and attempting “to clarify any misconceptions or myths.”
“The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is not an elected part of the United States Government, it is an apolitical (vice appointed) institution. In this aspect, it is similar to institutions such as the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Each institution provides a vast array of job opportunities,” the letter claimed.
It continues, “As a student in the U.S. with a U.S. Citizenship and/or proper paperwork, you have a right to be employed at any one [and more] of the above listed institutions.”
He reassures supporters that they “discussed this event thoroughly within the LCN board and got feedback
and approval from several University Lebanese Club presidents.”
They also “sat down with CIA representatives in Washington, D.C. and discussed both the job opportunities as well as the negative perspective the CIA may have with the Middle Eastern community.”
Then he goes on to list possible career opportunities in the CIA and says that they “believe in open, respectful, and constructive dialogue.”
Speaking about the relationship with the CIA, he says, “On a personal level we are citizens and residents of the United States, as an organization, LCN is recognized by the United States. The CIA mission does not conflict with the LCN Constitution and Bylaws.”
He concludes by saying, “Remember, we are here to serve you.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
US charges five 9/11 terrorist suspects05-04-2012
WASHINGTON, (Xinhua): U.S. Defense Department on Wednesday announced charges against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and four others also involved in the 2001 attacks.
The charges were referred to a military commission in the case of "United States v. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin'Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi."
It alleged that the five terrorist suspects are responsible for planning and execution of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York, Washington D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, resulting in the killing of 2,976 innocent people.
The five suspects are litigated with charges ranging from terrorism, hijacking aircraft, conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians and civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, to destruction of property in violation of the law of war.
The Pentagon has referred all charges to a joint trial.
According to Military Commissions rules and procedures, the chief judge of the Military Commissions Trial Judiciary will assign a military judge to the case, and the five accused will be arraigned at the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within 30 days of service of the referred charges upon them.
The Pentagon also said it referred the case to a capital military commission, meaning if convicted, the five accused could be sentenced to death. It also said the defendants have been provided counsel with specialized knowledge and experience in death penalty cases in a bid to assist them in their defense.
USA: Seven people shot dead at Oakland Christian university03-04-2012
Police say seven people have been shot dead after a gunman opened fire in a classroom at a private Christian University in Oakland, California. A suspect has been taken into custody.
A suspect was taken into custody Monday after a gunman opened fire at a private Christian University in Oakland, California. Police said seven people were killed and three wounded.
Officer Johanna Watson of the Oakland police confirmed that a suspect had been detained "that we believe is possibly responsible for the shooting."
Witnesses say a student in one of the classes at Oikos University stood up in the middle of class and began shooting.
SWAT teams soon arrived on the scene and began evacuating students and faculty and loading them into police vans.
In a tweet from the Oakland Police Department, the suspect was described as "male, Asian, heavy build" and wearing khaki clothing.
According to local media quoting witnesses to the arrest, the man was taken into custody at a shopping center near the university.
Oikos University's website says its goal is to "provide highest standard education with Christian values and inspiration."
The school focuses on "religious studies, music, and vocational nursing" and caters to the area's Korean community.
mz/gsw (Reuters, AP, DPA)
Obama imposes more sanctions on Iran as 'enough global oil supply'31-03-2012
WASHINGTON, (Xinhua): U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday that he believed there was sufficient global oil supply to fill in the gap by reducing exports from Iran, making it possible for more sanctions on Iran's energy sector and countries buying oil from the Islamic republic.
Obama said in a statement that his conclusion was made after carefully considering the current global economic conditions, increased production by some countries, the level of spare capacity, and the available strategic oil reserves, among other factors.
He determined that there was a sufficient oil supply from other countries to permit a significant reduction in oil purchased from Iran, said the statement.
"I will closely monitor this situation to assure that the market can continue to accommodate a reduction in purchases of petroleum and petroleum products from Iran," Obama said.
According to the National Defense Authorization Act, Obama is required to determine by Friday, and every six months after that, whether the United States can endure the impact of a significant cut of oil output from Iran.
The law, passed by the U.S. congress and signed by Obama in December last year, is aimed at choking off Iran's crucial oil revenue by targeting its central bank and financial sector, a move that allows penalties on foreign banks that settle oil imports with the Iranian central bank.
However, the law offers waivers to firms from countries that significantly reduce their crude imports from Iran. On March 20, the United States announced that it would initially exempt 11 countries from the new tough sanctions, citing their significant reduction of oil imports from the Islamic republic. The 11 countries include Japan, Belgium, Britain, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain. The exemption period, which is renewable, is for 180 days and valid until Sept. 16.
Washington is currently continuing its conversations with countries including India, China, Turkey, South Korea in an effort to persuade them to reduce dependence on Iran's oil.
The Obama administration, according to the law, can slap sanctions after June 28 on foreign banks that engage in oil transactions with Iran's central bank and cut them off from the American financial system.
Experts condemn US plans for Gulf missile defense shield28-03-2012
Experts have criticized US plans to build a shield against ballistic missiles for Gulf states, saying it will further increase tension in the region.
The US Pentagon disclosed on Tuesday that it intends to construct the shields for parts of Asia and the Middle East, in a similar fashion to a controversial defense system in Europe.
The Middle Eastern missile shield will protect the six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council against cruise and ballistic missile attacks, officially in a bid to counter the threat of low-flying cruise missiles fired from close range.
This is widely interpreted as referring to Iran, which has historically been hostile to the Gulf monarchies.
Madelyn Creedon, US assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs, said Washington would work to promote "interoperability and information-sharing" among the members of the GCC – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman.
Experts poured scorn on the plan, saying it was likely to inflame conflict in the Middle East.
Patricia DeGennaro, an adjunct professor at New York University's Department of Politics, said America was “continuing to antagonize what it considers to be enemies, and in this case it's obvious that it's going to antagonize Iran.”
She said that such overt support for the Gulf countries may also upset Israel, a key US ally in the region that receives overwhelming military support from Washington.
“In the long run I'm sure that the Israelis are not going to be happy about that,” she told Al-Akhbar.
Officials in Washington were yet to accept the realization that US power in the Middle East is on the decline, and are attempting to salvage influence in the region by projecting its military power, DeGennaro argued.
“There is still this idea that America has tremendous influence and power. I think Washington does not understand its influence in the region has diminished and is diminishing on a continuous basis. So there's still a large-scale feeling that we have to continue to intervene,” she added.
Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a Beirut-based political analyst, said the decision was more about image than practical capabilities.
“It could be seen as an alternative to attacking Iran or sanctioning an Israeli attack. The defense shield has more sabre rattling threat value than any meaningful attempt at self-defense.”
Saad-Ghorayeb added that it was likely to aggravate Russia and China and increase division between the world's leading powers.
“While the purpose behind the US missile shields is protecting its interests in region, for Russia and China it actually threatens their very security,” she said.
The Syria crisis has seen Russia and China assert their interests in the face of the US, refusing to budge on Western attempts to dislodge President Bashar Assad from power.
US consolidation of its alliance with Gulf Arab states via a missile defense shield, on the heels of a similar European shield already scorned by Moscow, will only deepen Russia and China's relations with America's regional nemeses, Saad-Ghorayeb said.
“This is only going to further entrench [Russia and China's] alliance and regional policies and deepen the cold war between the two sides."
US: Journalist fired after calling Israeli occupation 'brutal'23-03-2012
A veteran American journalist has been fired after referring to Israel's occupation of Palestinian and Syrian land as "brutal."
Sunni Khalid, managing news editor at WYPR-FM in Baltimore, was dropped by the public radio station on Thursday after more than nine years on the job.
He had been on probation following criticism of comments he made on Facebook about Israel's continued illegal occupation of Palestine.
"I, for one, have had enough of this pandering before the Israeli regime," he wrote.
"The war-mongering toward Iran has, once again, distracted the world from Israel's brutal military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights."
Khalid, who previously worked for National Public Radio, has also written for Time Magazine, The Washington Times, and USA Today.
Israel maintains economic control over Gaza and the West Bank, with devastating consequences for the Palestinian civilian population.
Rights groups including Amnesty International have repeatedly condemned rights abuses against Palestinians.
US gives 11 countries exemptions from Iran sanctions21-03-2012
The Obama administration on Tuesday granted exemptions from economic sanctions to 10 European Union countries and Japan, in a further sign that the US is concerned the sanctions may slow the global economy.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave the waivers to Belgium, Britain, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and Japan, meaning that banks and other financial institutions based there will not be hit with penalties under US law for 180 days.
President Barack Obama has until March 30 to determine whether oil prices and supplies are sufficient enough to levy sanctions later this year on countries that still buy oil from Iran.
Pending that decision, another 12 nations – including India, China, and South Korea – that are deemed to be major importers of Iranian oil have until the end of July to take similar steps or face sanctions.
In a statement, Clinton lauded the countries granted exemptions, saying that these states had significantly reduced their purchases of petroleum from Iran.
"They had to rethink their energy needs at a critical time for the world economy and quickly begin to find alternatives to Iranian oil, which many had been reliant on for their energy needs," she said. "We commend these countries for their actions and urge other nations that import oil from Iran to follow their example."
Clinton singled out Japan for praise, noting that it had acted despite severe energy constraints brought about by last year's earthquake and tsunami. Japan has reduced its imports by between 15 percent and 22 percent by finding other suppliers and focusing on alternative energy sources, according to US officials.
The US sanctions have brought about a hostile reaction from many of the world's leading developing nations, with India, China, and Sri Lanka among those who have threatened to get around them by trading in currencies other than dollars.
US soldier in Afghan shooting identified17-03-2012
WASHINGTON, (Xinhua): U.S. officials have identified the soldier accused of killing the 16 Afghan civilians as Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, as he is on his way to be transferred back to the United States.
According to the CNN, the soldier, who was identified by anonymous officials, is on his way to a U.S. army base in Kansas Friday.
Bales has been in protective custody in Kuwait after he was flown out of Afghanistan, and was expected to arrive at Fort Leavenworth army base in Kansas later Friday.
The weekend shooting spree, which killed nine children, three women and four men, has sparked fury in Afghanistan. Despite Afghans' strong demand that the suspect be tried publicly in the country, the U.S. side transferred him to Kuwait Wednesday out of "legal considerations."
The incident further strained the relationship between Washington and Kabul, which has already been clouded by other recent incidents including the burning of Korans at a U.S. base in Afghanistan and reports of U.S. service members urinating on the corpses of Taliban soldiers.
StratforLeaks: Claims that Google Ideas Director involved in ‘Regime Change’16-03-2012
Top Google execs, including the company’s CEO and one of Barack Obama’s major presidential campaign donors Eric Schmidt, informed the intelligence agency Stratfor about Google’s activities and internal communication regarding “regime change” in the Middle East, according to Stratfor emails released by WikiLeaks and obtained by Al-Akhbar.
The other source cited was Google’s director for security and safety Marty Lev.
Email exchanges suggest that Google execs were suspicious that Cohen was coordinating his moves with the White House.
The briefings mainly focused on the movements of Jared Cohen, currently the director of Google Ideas, a “think/do-tank” billed as a vehicle for spreading American-style liberal democracy. Cohen was also a former member of US Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff and former advisor to Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton.
Email exchanges, starting February 2011, suggest that Google execs were suspicious that Cohen was coordinating his moves with the White House and cut Cohen’s mission short at times for fear he was taking too many risks. Stratfor’s vice-president of counter-terrorism Fred Burton, who seemed opposed to Google’s alleged covert role in “foaming” uprisings, describes Cohen as a “loose Cannon” whose killing or kidnapping “might be the best thing to happen” to expose Google.
The Cohen Conspiracy
Stratfor’s spotlight on Cohen began on 9 February 2012 after Burton forwarded to the secure email list a Foreign Policy article discussing Cohen’s move from the State Department to Google Ideas. With this article, Burton noted that Cohen had dinner in Cairo with Wael Ghonim on January 27, 2011 just hours before the Egyptian Google Executive was famously picked up by Egypt’s State Security. (doc-id 1122191)
On the same day, Stratfor’s staff make reference to a Huffington Post article which highlighted Cohen’s role in “delaying the scheduled maintenance on Twitter so the Iranian revolution could keep going” and a Foreign Policy article that noted that Cohen “was a Rhodes scholar, spent time in Iran, [and] hung out in Iraq during the war…”. These casual discovers further perked Stratfor’s curiosity about Cohen. (doc-id 1629270)
The following day, Burton forwarded a message to the secure email list from “a very good Google source” who claimed that Cohen “[was] off to Gaza next week”. Burton added, “Cohen, a Jew, is bound to get himself whacked….Google is not clear if Cohen is operating [with a] State Dept [or] WH [White House] license, or [is] a hippie activist.”
Korena Zucha, another senior analyst on the list, queried, “Why hasn’t Google cut ties to Cohen yet? Or is Cohen’s activity being endorsed by those higher up in the [company] than your contact?”
In turn, Burton replied, “Cohen’s rabbi is Eric Schmidt and Obama lackey. My source is trying to find out if the billionaire owners are backing Cohen’s efforts for regime change.” (doc-id 1111729)
Later on, Burton forwarded information from the “Google source” of Cohen’s links in establishing Movements.org. The source added, “A site created to help online organization of groups and individuals to move democracy in stubborn nations. Funded through public-private partnerships.” Burton pointed out that the US State Department is the organization’s public sponsor.” (doc-id 1118344)
Indeed, the State Department, partnering with a number of corporations, was the main sponsor for the 2008 inaugural Alliance of Youth Movements summit in New York City that subsequently established Movements.org. Hillary Clinton endorsed the organization and presented a video message during the second summit held in Mexico City a year later.
On 11 February, Burton wrote to the secure email list that Cohen was still planning to head to Gaza. He added, “The dude is a loose can[n]on. GOOGLE is trying to stop his entry into Gaza now because the dude is like scorched earth. It’s unclear to GOOGLE if he’s driving without a license, but GOOGLE believes he’s on a specific mission of “regime change” on the part of leftist fools inside the WH who are using him for their agendas.” (doc-id 1113596)
Throughout this day, the idea proposed by Burton, and seemingly felt by his Google contacts as well, of Cohen and the White House’s involvement in the uprisings was actively discussed among the analysts, especially in regards to who would be targeted next. (doc-id 1113965)
By Monday, 14 February 2011, Burton shared intelligence with George Friedman, Stratfor’s founder, and Scott Stewart, vice-president of Stratfor’s tactical department, from his source in Google that Cohen was ordered not to go to Gaza. Burton’s Google source further stated, “Also, thinking I [the unnamed source] may be on the right track about him despite his denials [in reference to Cohen working for the White House/State Department].”
When asked to clarify his sources on Cohen, Burton claimed that they were Marty Lev, Google’s director for security and safety, and Eric Schmidt, the current CEO of Google. (doc-id 398679)
A week later, Burton forwarded an internal Google email obtained from a ‘senior Google executive’. This email was seemingly sent by Cohen to the senior Google executive to discuss Cohen’s planned trip in March.
“GOOGLE are doing things the CIA cannot do."
In it, Cohen wrote, “I wanted to follow-up and get a sense of your latest thinking on the proposed March trip to UAE, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. The purpose of this trip is to exclusively engage the Iranian community to better understand the challenges faced by Iranians as part of one of our Google Ideas groups on repressive societies. Here is what we are thinking: Drive to Azerbaijan/Iranian border and engage the Iranian communities closer to the border (this is important because we need the Azeri Iranian perspective).”
After reading Cohen’s email, Stewart remarked, “Cohen might end up having an accident if he is not careful. This is not child’s play.”
Burton responded, “GOOGLE is getting WH [White House] and State Dept. support and air cover. In reality, they are doing things the CIA cannot do. But, I agree with you. He’s going to get himself kidnapped or killed. Might be the best thing to happen to expose GOOGLE’s covert role in foaming up-risings, to be blunt. The US Gov’t can then disavow knowledge and GOOGLE is left holding the shit bag.” (doc-id 1121800)
On 10 March 2011, Burton forwarded another message from his ‘senior Google executive’ source detailing how Cohen was requested not to travel on his proposed trip. The source explained that Google had concerns over Cohen’s “baggage” as a “US State Dept. policy maker, his research and publications on Muslim extremists and youth movements and his presence in Egypt just as the uprising started.”The source also stated that Cohen was recommended to “take a lower profile on this specific trip and let time pass before being visible and associated with people known by their states to be active in challenging repressive societies.” (doc-id 1164190)
A subsequent message from Burton’s source on 22 March 2011 affirmed that Cohen “heeded the advice not to go to Turkey or UAE for those meetings.” (doc-id 1133861)
The final email dealing with Cohen was on 30 March 2011.
Here, Burton forwarded to the alpha (secure) email list a response by his source to Burton’s question of whether Cohen was playing any role in Libya at the time. The source stated, “Not that I’m aware of. He heeded the advice to avoid Turkey and UAE and didn’t go on that trip.” (doc-id 1160182)
Google Ideas: Politicizing Technology
Certainly, there is more than meets the eye to Cohen and his actions; even his superiors in Google seem to think so.
The belief, chiefly by Burton, that Cohen had seemingly played a role in fermenting the uprisings that toppled Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak underplays, and at times entirely disregards, the ability and agency by local movements in Tunisia and Egypt.
Nevertheless, Google Ideas, which Cohen directs, is a new animal. According to a report by the Financial Times published last July, Google Ideas seems to bond idealistic activist sensibilities with Google’s pursuit for continued global expansion - blurring the lines between business and political action. Schmidt and Cohen dub Google Ideas as a “think/do-tank” that aims to tackle political and diplomatic matters through the use of technology.
The first public event for the think/do-tank, in partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations and the Tribeca Film Festival, was held last June in Dublin. It gathered around 80 ‘former’ extremists, including former Muslim radicals, neo-Nazis, US gang members, and others, in a “Summit Against Violent Extremism”. The announcement by Google declared that the summit’s aim is “to initiate a global conversation on how best to prevent young people from becoming radicalised and how to de-radicalise others” and that “the ideas generated at the Dublin summit will be included in a study to be published later in the year.”
One spin off was the creation of the Against Violent Extremism group, apparently a network for those who attended the Dublin Summit. Beyond merely networking, the group also advertises certain projects that are in need of funding. Notably, much of the projects pertain to the Middle East, including an “Al-Awlaki Counter-Campaign” - Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen of Yemeni origin, was assassinated in September of last year by the US for his alleged al-Qaeda connections.
But the Against Violent Extremism site does not seem to be presently active. The last update for projects in need of funding was made in September and the last announcement regarding the workings of the site was made in October.
More recently, Foreign Policy reported in January that the Brookings Institute, one of the oldest and most influential think-tanks in Washington, DC, named Google Ideas as “the best new think tank established in the last 18 months.” Such accolades arguably suggests that Google Ideas is expected to be a major player in the near future.
'Mossad stealing companies’ secrets' according to Global Intelligence Files16-03-2012
Stratfor emails which are part of the Global Intelligence Files release by WikiLeaks imply that the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad has infiltrated a global non-profit organization.
An email exchange, dated 25-26 March 2010, began with Fred Burton, Stratfor’s vice-president of counter-terrorism, sharing a link to The Society of Competitive Intelligence Professional (SCIP)’s webpage with a secure email list. In his email Burton said, “According to the FBI (not for attribution) the MOSSAD has infiltrated this organization.” (doc-id 382150)
SCIP, founded in 1986, is located in Washington, DC. According to its own website, SCIP aims to be “the global organization of choice for professionals engaged in competitive intelligence and related disciplines.”
SCIP defines competitive intelligence as “the legal and ethical collection and analysis of information regarding the capabilities, vulnerabilities, and intentions of business competitors.”
Burton, in a later email within the same exchange, delves into what he sees as the reason behind this Mossad operation: “Business intelligence. There is a MOSSAD operative under business cover stealing other companies’ secrets from this group.”
When asked by a senior analyst whether Chinese and American intelligence agencies were doing so as well, Burton replied, “Chinese are a given, the Americans are way too concerned about getting caught. The CIA can only infiltrate an American company with witting knowledge of the American company. Usually the CEO and Corporate Legal counsel are the only ones who know. For the most part, the CIA gets the bums rush when they ask Fortune 50’s. Times are different in America. We are no longer a patriotic nation. Shareholders rule. SEC rules.” (doc-id 98966)
Burton lamented what he saw as the better days of American intelligence agencies. He claimed, “Back in the day, the Agency were in just about every major MNC (Multinational corporations) with international operations. Today, I know one. How many Chinese or Israeli companies have plants? Oh about 90 percent.”
George Friedman closed the discussion with his own insight on the matter. He wrote, “Nocs [Non-cover operatives] who are simply given a business cover are easy to spot...Having someone become an executive of a foreign company and be a foreign national is what is essential. This requires the use of first generation immigrants as the Chinese do and as the United States does intermittently. The problem is that the security people set standards that people can’t possibly meet. Some DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] waive the standards and some tighten them.”
To this problem, Friedman suggested a long term solution to “employ first or second generation Chinese at an early early age, craft the needed cover meticulously, and have them live in China, speaking native Chinese, marrying Chinese spouses, and growing that way. It requires the FBI to hire hundreds of first generation Chinese to meet and double Chinese operatives.”
Friedman then stressed that “the same applies to all nationalities” and that the “greatest advantage” for American intelligence agencies is its “immigrant population.”
“Slipping a NOC into a foreign country is hard. You start with a native and then work like crazy. Everything else is pseudo intelligence,” he concluded.
Turkey: CIA chief discusses Syria, Iraq in surprise talks in Ankara14-03-2012
Ankara, (Today's Zaman with AP):
CIA Director David Petraeus has paid a surprise visit to Ankara, discussing developments in Syria and Iraq, a news report said on Tuesday.
Patraeus met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan during his visit, private broadcaster NTV reported. NTV also said Erdoðan and Patraeus will discuss the latest specter of sectarian strife in Iraq amid its worst political conundrum.
Iraq's Shiite-led central government had previously issued an arrest warrant for Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi -- one of the country's top Sunni politicians -- on charges of running death squads in a case that raised fears of an increase in sectarian tension after US troops withdrew from Iraq in December.
Turkey, which earlier conducted shuttle diplomacy between rival Iraqi politicians, was critical of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as a chief culprit in the current political impasse.
The US Embassy in Ankara said Petraeus met with top officials during his visit.
An embassy statement said Petraeus, a former top general in Iraq and Afghanistan, had "productive meetings" on Monday and Tuesday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan and Hakan Fidan, chief of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MÝT).
The statement said Petraeus and Turkish leaders discussed "regional security issues and counter-terrorism cooperation." It described the relationship between the countries' intelligence services as "excellent."
The CIA director and Erdoðan also discussed the activities of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq, where Turkish fighter jets have frequently conducted airstrikes since last summer.
The US and Turkey have been closely cooperating in intelligence sharing on PKK activities and its camps in northern Iraq.
According to the report, the Turkish prime minister and US intelligence chief also discussed the escalating violence in neighboring Syria. Turkey is scheduled to host a second meeting for the “Friends of Syria” in late March in a bid to find a political solution to the year-long violence in the country and to seek ways to establish a humanitarian aid corridor to help civilians.
Another topic officials discussed in the meeting was a standoff between Iran and the West over the Islamic republic's suspected nuclear program. Erdoðan is set to visit Tehran late in March to discuss the nuclear imbroglio and nuclear talks with major powers expected to be held in Turkey in April.
Israel: US buys Israeli restraint on Iran with new weapons09-03-2012
The United States offered Israel advanced weaponry in return for it committing to not attack Iran's nuclear facilities this year, Israeli daily Maariv reported on Thursday.
Citing unnamed Western diplomats and intelligence sources, the report said that during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington this week, the US administration offered to supply Israel with advanced bunker-busting bombs and long-range refuelling planes.
In return, Israel would agree to put off a possible attack on Iran till 2013, after the US elections in November.
Israel – the only nuclear power in the Middle East – fears Iran's nuclear program masks a weapons drive, a charge Tehran denies, and it was top of the agenda at talks between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama in Washington this week.
The US and Israel are at odds over just how immediate the Iranian threat is. Netanyahu said on Monday that sanctions against Iran have not worked, and "none of us can afford to wait much longer."
A key difference between Washington and Israel has emerged on the timeline available for a military strike against Iran, with the Jewish state warning that the military material available to it gives it a shorter window for action.
In response, the report said, the US administration offered to give Israel weapons and material that could extend its window to act against Iran.
In particular, it would offer bunker-busting bombs more powerful than those currently possessed by Israel, which would allow the Jewish state to target Iranian facilities even under solid rock.
The report comes shortly after world powers known as the P5+1 – five UN Security Council members plus Germany – offered to resume long-stalled talks with Tehran over its contested nuclear program.
Israel has cautiously welcomed the talks, but warned it must be prepared for the potential failure of any new dialogue with Iran.
Israel's threats of war with Iran have irked world capitals, fearing military action against the Islamic republic will spark a regional conflict and jeopardize oil supplies.
US deepens ties with Syria opposition as UN meets08-03-2012
US President Barack Obama said it was inevitable Syrian President Bashar Assad will leave office, as Washington prepared to strengthen its support for Syria's opposition groups, according to media reports.
"Ultimately this dictator will fall," Obama said at a news conference in Washington on Tuesday, adding that it was not a question of if, but when Assad would be forced out.
But he opposed a call by US Senator John McCain, who lost to Obama in the 2008 presidential election, for the United States to lead an international effort to protect population centers in Syria with air strikes on Assad's forces.
"For us to take military action unilaterally, as some have suggested, or to think that somehow there is some simple solution, I think is a mistake," he said.
The White House said Obama was committed to diplomatic efforts to end the violence, saying Washington wanted to isolate Assad, cut off his sources of revenue, and encourage unity among his opponents.
While the US has so far publicly ruled out military intervention, it is still considering arming Syria's opposition, according to a Foreign Policy report on Tuesday.
The American magazine cited US officials as saying there was a "recognition" within the Obama administration for "lethal assistance" to Syrian rebels, "but not at this time."
The US ironed out a package of "humanitarian and communications assistance" to both Syria's external opposition — the Western-backed Syrian National Council — and rebels inside, the report said.
Washington will also not stand in the way of its allies if they wish to arm Syria's rebels, according to the article, noting that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states had previously indicated their intention to equip fighters against the Syrian regime.
American involvement is seen as crucial to the opposition's hopes, but it faces stiff resistance from Russia and China, both determined to thwart Western interests in Syria.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Morocco held on Tuesday what US Ambassador Susan Rice called "preliminary discussions ... about whether there is any possibility of reaching agreement" on a US-drafted resolution.
The draft, obtained by Reuters, demands "unhindered humanitarian access" and "condemns the continued widespread, systematic, and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities and demands that the Syrian government immediately put an end to such violations."
Russia already poured cold water on the new draft prior to the meeting, stating it was still unbalanced.
The "new US draft of the UNSC resolution on Syria is a slightly modified version of the last vetoed document. It should be substantially balanced," Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov wrote on his Twitter account late Monday.
Several Western diplomats also expressed disappointment with the draft, saying it fell far short of an appropriately stinging condemnation of the Syrian government.
It remains unclear whether the draft, which follows two proposed condemnations of Damascus that Russia and China vetoed, has any chance of success in the 15-nation council, which has been deadlocked over Syria for almost a year.
A Chinese diplomat arrived in Damascus on Tuesday to outline Beijing's peace plan.
UN ambassadors from the United States, Britain, France, China, and Russia, along with the sole Arab state on the 15-nation Security Council, Morocco, avoided detailed comments when they left a 1-1/2 hour meeting on the draft on Tuesday.
Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong told reporters: "We're still working on that."
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos and the joint UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan are due to visit Syria this week to see first hand the effects of a conflict that the United Nations says has killed more than 7,500 people.
Ranking U.S. senator calls for air raids on Syrian forces06-03-2012
WASHINGTON,(Xinhua): Ranking U.S. Senator John McCain on Monday called for U.S.-led air strikes on Syrian forces to protect key population centers in the Arab nation.
"Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is necessary, but at this late hour, that alone will not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save innocent lives," the Republican from Arizona said in a Senate floor speech.
"The only realistic way to do so is with foreign air power," he argued. "To be clear: This will require the United States to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country."
The Obama administration favors a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian crisis for now, calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down to make way for a peaceful transition in his country.
"The United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes on Assad's forces," McCain stated.
He said safe havens should be established and defended for delivering humanitarian and military aid in Syria.
The senator, who lost to Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, proposed last month that the Syrian opposition should be armed, an idea rejected by the Obama administration.
Obama tells Netanyahu considering "all options" on Iran06-03-2012
US President Barack Obama and Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu held key talks on Monday about a potential attack on Iran, with each publicly seeking to stake out some common ground.
Obama said he was considering "all options" against the Islamic Republic and encouraged Iran to reopen diplomatic channels.
"Even as we continue on the diplomatic front, and we will continue to tighten pressure when it comes to sanctions, I reserve all options," he said.
"My policy here is not going to be one of containment, my policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons."
"However both the prime minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically," he added.
Netanyahu thanked Obama pledged to continue to support American interests in the Middle East but warned that Israel was willing to take action against Iran unilaterally, even without US backing.
"When Americans look around the Middle East today they see one reliable, stable, faithful ally of the United States and that is the democracy of Israel," he said.
"Israel must have the ability always to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. When it comes to Israel's security Israel has the sovereign right to make its own decisions...that is the very purpose of the Jewish state - to restore to the Jewish people control of its destiny."
In an address to the powerful pro-Israel lobby on Sunday, Obama criticized "loose talk of war" but gave his backing to an Israeli attack if Iran were to develop nuclear weapons.
"No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel's destruction," he said, to the applause from members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Israel is the only nuclear power in the Middle East, but has threatened to declare war on Iran unilaterally if the US does not back the attack. Iran has consistently argued its nuclear program is purely peaceful.
Obama also acknowledged "Israel's sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs," drawing a swift vote of thanks from Netanyahu.
"I appreciated the fact that he said that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat," the Israeli prime minister told reporters in Ottawa on Sunday, during a weekend stopover in Canada on his way to Washington.
"I very much appreciated the fact that President Obama reiterated his position that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and that all options are on the table," Netanyahu added.
The Israeli premier arrived in the American capital late on Sunday evening and will meet Obama in the White House on Monday morning US time, addressing AIPAC himself later in the day.
While Obama does not rule out the use of US military force against the Islamic republic if diplomatic and economic pressure fails, Israel has been bellicose in its push for a war against Iran.
World powers have warned Israel against any attack on Iran, with Russia, China, Britain and France in recent months urging restraint from the Jewish state.
The White House appears to share a similar view, but is under increasing pressure from Republican presidential candidates who have been hammering Obama on what they perceive as a "soft" stance on Iran.
Wary of the power of the pro-Israel lobby and American Jewish votes, Obama may succumb to Netanyahu's push to provide a green light for an Israeli attack on Iran, despite the feared devastating effects on the world's economy.
Analysts believe Netanyahu will be seeking more precise guarantees in his private talks with Obama, while the president will want to retain room to maneuver.
Speaking at the AIPAC conference before Obama, Israeli President Shimon Peres insisted that Israel "shall prevail" if forced to fight Iran, which he called "an evil, cruel and morally corrupt regime" bent on controlling the Middle East.
Peres later welcomed Obama's speech, saying he had shown the maximum support for Israel's plans.
"He didn't talk about dates, but he spoke about actions," Peres said.
The stand-off has pushed the continued oppression of the Palestinian people far into the background, although US efforts to revive stalled peace talks will be discussed in the Oval Office.
In January, five rounds of "exploratory talks" between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators ended without the US being able to draw any concessions from the Jewish state.
US: Clinton threatens Pakistan with sanctions of over Iran pipeline01-03-2012
WASHINGTON, (The News): As the United States seeks to tighten the financial noose around Iran, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned that Pakistan could face American sanctions if it continues with its proposed pipeline project with Tehran — foreshadowing what could become another fray in an already tense relationship with a difficult ally.
With roughly $1 billion allocated in the State Department’s budget request for fiscal 2013 to help Pakistan address its energy challenges, Rep Jerry Lewis, R-Calif, asked Clinton about the US response if the Pakistan-Iran pipeline project proceeds. Clinton said sanctions could be triggered if the pipeline is constructed either as an Iranian project or a joint project with Islamabad.
“(This) would be particularly damaging to Pakistan because their economy is already quite shaky,” Clinton told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. “This additional pressure that the United States would be compelled to apply would further undermine their economic status,” she was quoted as saying by National Journal.
“As we are ratcheting up pressure on Iran, it seems somewhat inexplicable that Pakistan would be trying to negotiate a pipeline,” Clinton told the panel. Pakistan’s relationship with Washington been strained in recent months. After Islamabad expelled hundreds of American trainers from the country in the fallout after the covert US raid that killed Osama bin Laden within its borders, tensions escalated further last fall when errant Nato strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
The US has been working with Pakistan for three years to help upgrade its existing energy infrastructure and is encouraging Pakistan to seek alternatives to the pipeline — namely one with Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and India. “We think that that is a better alternative, both in terms of predictability and to avoid doing business with Iran,” Clinton said.
INP adds: Hillary Clinton and lawmakers expressed concern over diversion of US aid money by Pakistan for other purposes, even as the US has tried to build a firewall in this regard.
“Well, we certainly have constructed one,” Clinton told lawmakers at the Congressional hearing on Tuesday when Senator Jim Webb asked if the US has developed a firewall in the financial aid going into Pakistan, so that they do not directly or indirectly assist in expansion of their nuclear programme.
“I think the fair question is: Even with a firewall, if you provide aid for other purposes, does that permit the government then to divert funds that should be spent for health, education, energy, etc to that programme? And it remains a serious concern of mine,” Clinton said.
She said that part of the ongoing dialogue with Pakistan is around the reforms they need to make for their own people, adding that the latter over the years has invested a great deal in its military.
“They have invested the great bulk of their revenues into their military establishment, including their nuclear programme, to the great cost of providing basic education, healthcare, electricity — the kinds of things that would demonstrate to the people of Pakistan they had a government that number one, cared about them; and number two, produced for them,” she said.
“So I can answer the direct question: Yes, we have a firewall, but that isn’t the end of the dialogue — as you know very well. And we’re going to keep pressing hard to make sure that, you know, the IMF and the World Bank and we and others are working towards the kind of reforms that are going to stabilise Pakistan for the long term,” Clinton said.
Meanwhile, Senator Webb said that the Obama administration has increased its financial aid to Pakistan in the fiscal 2013. He said the financial aid of $2.4 billion into the country actually reflects an increase in funding for its military as compared to last year.
US: Inside the world of a private CIA27-02-2012
The leak of over five million emails of US-based intelligence firm Stratfor, including information about credit card details, passwords, and the identities of sources, sheds new light on the rapidly changing world of intelligence gathering and exposes those behind it. Al-Akhbar gained access to the data obtained and published by WikiLeaks, including sensitive material pertaining to the Middle East.
The Strategic Forecasting Inc., commonly known as Stratfor, is a private firm dealing in the lucrative business of intelligence gathering and assessment.
Founded in 1996, the company gained global prominence during the NATO bombing of Kosovo in 1999 when its seemingly cutting-edge analysis was publicized by various news agencies. But it was the events of 9/11 and the subsequent “war on terrorism” that elevated the stature of the firm, turning it into a highly sought after informant for major Western media organizations like Bloomberg, Associated Press, Reuters, The New York Times, and the BBC.
Commonly referred to as the private CIA, Stratfor claims that it gathers its intelligence through a number of publicly accessible sources, such as wire services, chat hubs and other Internet sites, unclassified government studies, in addition to well-placed sources internationally. The agency now boasts close to 300 thousand subscribers and over 2 million recipients of free email updates.
Until recently, much of the inner workings of Stratfor had been shrouded in mystery. But last December, members of the hacking cooperative LulzSec, an offshoot of the increasingly popular group Anonymous, hacked into the system during the 'LulzXmas' campaign to highlight the plight of Bradley Manning, an American soldier currently incarcerated by the US government for suspicion of passing on information to WikiLeaks.
Preliminary readings of these new emails gradually shed light on how the institution is structured, the process of bringing and building up sources, and an intriguing insight into how employees interact with each other. Notably, and contrary to the impression Stratfor tries to project, the emails reveal a corporation that has organizational issues, at times shockingly uninformed, and over-dependent on certain sources in manufacturing their predictions that are highly coveted.
What is Stratfor?
Stratfor was founded over a decade ago in Austin, Texas by George Friedman, a former political science professor. Friedman is the company’s chief intelligence officer, financial overseer, and CEO.
Presenting himself as a “best selling author” on the company’s About Us page, Friedman has a history of working on matters of security and defense with the American military, as well as other institutions like the notorious RAND Corporation.
A self-proclaimed disciple of neo-conservative icons like Leo Strauss, Friedman has routinely emphasizes the 'jihadist threat' of al-Qaeda. Indeed, the (1) forecast report compiled by members of Stratfor for the decade between 2005 and 2015 is mainly concerned with the prominence of the United States as a global hegemonic power and its conflict with al-Qaeda.
Friedman's wife, Meredith Friedman, is actively involved in the operations of the think-tank. She is Chief International Officer and vice-president of Communications. From the emails, it seems her role is to expand Stratfor's public relations network, setting up events and interviews for her husband with the media, as well as academic, and political personalities. Moreover, Meredith organizes the international wing of Stratfor, where employees are sent off to conferences overseas.
Fred Burton, Stratfor's vice-president for Counter-terrorism and Corporate Security, makes up the final component in leadership of the think-tank. He was a special agent with the US Diplomatic Security Service and was appointed by Washington to investigate the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane, and a number of bomb plots by al-Qaeda prior to 9/11.
Burton has clear pro-Israeli sentiments with links to the Israeli military and intelligence sectors. In one email discussion regarding the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, Burton, adopting the Israeli narrative, argues that the flotilla was funded by questionable sources.
Sources: The Double-edged Sword
Certainly, some type of relationship exists between Stratfor and official security agencies, particularly within the United States. A number of internal emails circulated within Stratfor have (2) attachments of internal, albeit unclassified, documents from the FBI and other agencies. Digging further within the leaked emails may provide more concrete evidence of such a direct link.
The organization is structured like a pyramid. At the top, as noted, are the Friedmans and Burton who make the decisions. Below them are Watch Officers (WOs) who comb over the various sources of intelligence for any significant value. Next are Analysts, also at times called “handlers”, they are employees that discuss and scrutinize intelligence tasked to find, collect, and build up relations with individuals in order to exploit information. Finally, at the base are sources. (See details in box below).
Sources are indispensable for Stratfor to operate. They are the lifeline for the think-tank, whether acquaintances of a Stratfor employee or highly placed individuals.
Sources are rated with basic grading (3) scale, with “A” denoting the best, and “F” denoting the worst. They are also (4) coded according to the region or topic they represent and are assigned a number.
However, the internal emails of Stratfor suggest a level of (5) frustration, and at times confusion, in terms of employees following through with regulations. It was only in last April that an overall source review process took place. Following the email trends for this review, one can sense frustration by those tasked with getting the source lists together. In one case, a source list was mistakenly leaked into the OS list.
In one email exchange between Anya Alfano, who works as a briefer, and Meredith Friedman, Alfano outlined an (6) overview of source review process. The overview suggests Stratfor is not as informed as it would like others to think. Most sources are located in particular countries and are not available region-wide nor are they spread in a variety of sectors. Stratfor’s major source in the Middle East, codenamed ME1, is a case in point.
According to various emails, ME1 has been actively involved with Stratfor as far back as 2006, maybe even earlier. It seems that the source is someone from the Lebanese military, has a good grasp of English, and seems to be a major supplier of a number of other sources for Stratfor that apparently include college students to Hamas members, a number of Arab diplomats in Lebanon, and others.
The importance of ME1 is further highlighted by a (7) pay increase he received in October 2011, bringing his salary to $6,000 per month. The (8) wire transfer list for 2011 shows that ME1 is the third highest paid source.
The confidence in ME1 is reflected in two emails. The (9) first shows that members of Stratfor believe they have “journalist contacts (editors) for pretty much every Lebanese media agency of any significance via ME1”. The (10) second, and perhaps the one that exemplifies the lack of actual knowledge by members of Stratfor and their over-reliance on outsourcing intelligence gathering, shows a debate regarding the sectarian identity of Assef Shawkat, the Syrian deputy Minister of Defense and husband to Bushra Assad, and Ali Mamlouk, the Syrian General Intelligence Director. Despite 'OS' information detailing that Shawkat and Mamlouk are Sunnis, as one analyst points out, ME1's handler Reva Bhalla firmly writes back, “I trust ME1 on this question. I hate this region, aaaaargh”.
Behind Stratfor's Hype
Putting aside the obviously embarrassing and damaging security breach for an institution that thrives on the need of privacy for sources, the general knowledge of the employees seemed to be filtered through a specific paradigm.
Stratfor is an institution that is ideologically based on neo-conservative ideas of pragmatism. There is an underlining sense of delight for the global power projected by the United States, and its allies. More pointedly, there is a total disconnect to actual realities and vast complexities of the regions and topics they cover. The analysis and discussion regarding the Middle East is most noteworthy in this regard.
For members of Stratfor, a Palestinian editor is deemed a (11) “nut job” for expressing his belief that Jerusalem will be liberated through “military honor”. In contrast, despite (12) clear racism exhibited by an Israeli army intelligence officer towards Arabs, his comments still have value. What is more telling in the email regarding the officer, is the admission by the analyst that Stratfor is similarly to the Israel Defense Intelligence office because they both are “disconnected with domestic policies” of the regions they deal with.
Most of the employees have a fleeting understanding of the topics they cover. It seems that analysts are tasked with topics that they commonly have no background in. In an informal (13) email exchange, aside from the questionable jests by the parties in regards to AIDS, the first line transcribed lets on that the analyst placed in charge of Latin America is not actually an expert on the region, yet was still able to gather intelligence to the satisfaction of her superiors.
Furthermore, many of the internal documents forwarded around are from Western or Israeli agencies, rather than from other sources in the region, which reinforces the disconnection within Stratfor.
Stratfor has been a critical tool for various western media agencies and intelligence organizations. The light shown into the secretive corporate intelligence entity presents a partial explanation of why western media agencies and intelligence organizations have persistently failed to understand non-Western societies. Most of the analytical thinking developed within organizations like Stratfor and then distributed on a wide scale is defined by a narrow narrative, which does not truly capture the complexities and sentiments of individuals living in the region nor its vibrant political, economic, and social structures.
The video in which Friedman introduces Stratfor’s work to potential clients gives the opposite impression. Friedman dismisses the Washington-based culture of policy papers that as he put it no one reads. Boasting about the superiority of intelligence to journalism, an unassuming but confident Friedman argues that journalism is “backward-looking” while intelligence is all about the “why” and what is “going out happen.” Little did Friedman know that looking-back at the way his organization operates by journalists around the world today will tell us a lot more about the “why” he is after, and will affect what will happen next to intelligence gathering in the Middle East, and beyond.
In future articles starting next week, Al-Akhbar will examine the workings and findings of Stratfor in the Middle East.
Stratfor is a corporate think-tank that is concerned with accumulating intelligence that is internally assessed, discussed, and graded. Most of the information relates to military, political, and economic matters, and email is a primary tool for knowledge exchange amongst its staff.
The intelligence extracted from sources is usually compared with publicly accessible data, termed Open-Source (OS), and then incorporated in various assessments and reports to publicize. This is shared with a public news subscribers list, tailored according to the subscriber’s regional interest or subscription package.
Internally, Stratfor depends heavily on mailing lists in its communications. From the privileged “alpha” list to the “analysts” list to regional team list such as “MESA”, “LATAM”, and “Eurasia”, each piece of intelligence is shared through specific channels for processing.
The company has a number of departments dealing with compiling information. Currently, there are more than 130 employees at the (3)the think-tank. Many of the employees have more than one operational position. For example, Jennifer Richmond is the China Director and Director of International Projects. The emails reveal that she played, and possibly still does, an administrative role as well, trying to organize and coordinate source lists for evaluations and labors to ensure that employees follow through with the (14) insight scoring criteria.
Speed is key in the Stratfor’s intelligence game and the role of Watch Officers (WOs) is essential. They act as “objective source evaluators” who comment on information given by sources and compare it with what is publicly available. As one employee termed them during an internal email discussion, WOs “hold (15) the family jewels of the company”. This department is headed by Michael Wilson.
Analysts are the next crucial cog in the machine. Analysts are expected to collect sources, categorize them along lines of reliability, timeliness, accessibility/position, credibility and uniqueness of insights provided. How they recruit sources varies, but mainly the source is painstakingly (16) charmed into cooperation.
Described as “handlers”, analysts have a direct connection with the source and their priority is ensuring that the relationship continues.
Additionally, analysts with Stratfor are expected to interact with subscribers to extract further information and groom possibly sources for future use. This is clear in one email exchange in which a lower-level tactical analyst outlines how he has developed a new source, an individual within an unnamed German security office who had been a subscriber to Stratfor for over nine years.
Tactical analysts within Stratfor are mainly concerned with observing and commenting on military, intelligence, and other security operations within the United States and beyond. Scott Stewart, Vice-president of Tactical Intelligence and affectionately dubbed “Stick”, heads the department.
US: 'Afghans should apologise to US over Qur'an burning'27-02-2012
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum accused Afghans on Sunday of "overreacting" to Quran burning as he stepped up his criticism of President Barack Obama for apologizing over the incident.
The Republican presidential candidate said there was "no deliberate act...of disrespect" when US authorities at Bagram airbase north of Kabul apparently disposed of the Islamic holy books in a fire.
The United States rushed to condemn the burnings and Obama apologized to the Afghan people for what he said was a mistake.
President Hamid Karzai went on television Sunday to appeal for calm, after an explosion of outrage over the burning resulted in dozens of deaths, including two US military advisers killed in Afghanistan's interior ministry.
Obama's apology in itself had "made it sound like there was something that you should apologize for, and there was no act that needed an apology," Santorum told NBC's "Meet the Press" talk show.
"I think the response needs to be apologized for, by Karzai and the Afghan people, for attacking and killing our men and women in uniform, and overreacting to this inadvertent mistake. That is the real crime, not what our soldiers did."
Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak telephoned Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Saturday and apologized for the killing of the Americans, the Pentagon said.
Santorum's main Republican rival, Mitt Romney told Fox News Sunday that "with regards to the [Obama] apology, I think for a lot of people, it sticks in their throat.
"The idea that we are there, having lost thousands of individuals through casualty and death – we've made an enormous contribution to help the people there achieve freedom, and for us to be apologizing at a time like this is something which is very difficult for the American people to countenance."
Santorum said he does "commend the president for his commitment of troops" in the counterinsurgency mission in Afghanistan, while Romney acknowledged the need for Americans to continue helping in the transition from US to Afghan control of security.
A third Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, made more strident denunciations of Obama's apology, labeling him an appeaser and saying he was "deeply offended" that Obama didn't hold Karzai responsible for the killings.
"There doesn't seem to be any request for an apology from Karzai," Gingrich told Fox News on Saturday.
"And I frankly just think this one-sided process of apologizing for America has gone too far," he said. "Churches get burned in Nigeria, there are no apologies. Churches get burned in Egypt, there are no apologies."
Pakistan: PM Gilani decries US bill on Balochistan19-02-2012
KARACHI, (Dawn): Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Saturday took exception to two pronouncements made in the United States on Pakistan this week — the bill tabled in the House espousing self-determination for Balochistan and the statement warning Islamabad against going ahead with the Iran gas pipeline project.
The prime minister said he was dismayed to learn about the bill since it constituted challenging Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Republican Dana Rohrabacher moved the bill in the House of Representatives on Friday. An excerpt from the draft resolution read: “The Baloch people have the right to self-determination and to their own sovereign country and they should be afforded the opportunity to choose their own status.”
About the gas pipeline, Mr Gilani said no pressure would be acceptable from the US and “we will definitely go ahead with the project”. He was speaking to media after a ground-breaking ceremony of a project for upgradation of six berths at the Karachi Port.
The prime minister parried queries about his trial for contempt of court, saying the matter was sub judice. “Since the case is still being heard in the Supreme Court, I cannot speak on it.”
People need not worry and let the Supreme Court decide about his fate, Mr Gilani remarked.
The premier seemed perturbed on being asked to clarify Pakistan’s position on restoration of US and Nato supplies. “If we can take extreme measures like stopping Nato supplies and declining to attend a conference (in Bonn) on Afghanistan, we can take any action and decision in the national interest,” he retorted.
However, when a questioner pointed out that Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar had recently told media that Nato supplies had been restored, Yousuf Raza Gilani asked him to put the question to the minister.
Referring to the summit with Afghanistan and Iran, he said Islamabad was committed to good relations with all neighbouring countries.
Minister: The foreign minister termed the bill in the US House of Representatives an isolated move by a few individuals, agencies add.
She recalled that the National Assembly had unanimously adopted a resolution condemning a recent open hearing on Balochistan by the Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on Oversight and Investigations.
Hina Rabbani Khar said the National Assembly resolution had represented the legitimate reaction of the people of Pakistan.
“An unfriendly and irresponsible attempt by a few individuals in Washington is aimed at creating distrust between the people of the two countries,” she observed.
She expressed the hope that the bill would not sail through the House as “a vast majority of US Congressmen cherish friendly relations with Pakistan”.
Pakistan: ‘US bill on Balochistan driven by arrogance and ignorance’18-02-2012
ISLAMABAD, (Dawn, Agencies): Pakistan has severely criticised and condemned a move by three US lawmakers of tabling a resolution in the House of representative which said the Baloch nation has a historic right of self determination.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office on Saturday termed the resolution ill-informed and expressed the hope that it would not be accepted.
“This is a self-serving attempt on the part of those who are driven by arrogance and ignorance. The bill shows utter disrespect for international norms and practices,” foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said in a statement.
The resolution moved by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, said the Baloch people “have the right to self-determination and to their own sovereign country; and they should be afforded the opportunity to choose their own status.”
It also noted that in Pakistan, the Baloch people are subjected to violence and extrajudicial killing.
Congressman Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, and Steve King, an Iowa Republican, have also signed on as original co-sponsors of the bill.
Republican Rohrabacher is Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. He created uproar in Pakistan last week when he held the first-ever exclusive hearing on human rights violations in Balochistan.
Pakistan had earlier called the hearing interference in its internal affairs while Baloch nationalists welcomed it as a much-needed move which they said could relieve their sufferings and ultimately lead to their freedom.
The US State Department, however, distanced itself from the hearing, saying that it recognised Balochistan as part of the Pakistani state.
US: Court jails 'underwear bomber' for life17-02-2012
A US federal judge on Thursday sentenced a Nigerian man who pleaded guilty to trying to blow up an airliner bound for Detroit to life in prison.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab - who became known as "the underwear bomber" - admitted to eight charges including the attempted murder of 289 people on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253.
US District Judge Nancy Edmunds decided that existing sentencing guidelines, stipulating a mandatory life sentence, should stand. Abdulmutallab, who has maintained that his actions were righteous, appeared to show no emotion as the maximum sentences were handed down for each count.
"The defendant has stated and it is clear that he has enormous motivation to carry out another terrorist attack," Edmunds said.
"This court has no ability to control the defendant's motivation, which does appear to be unchanged, however I can control the defendant's opportunity to carry out those actions."
Plea for leniency
Abdulmutallab's lawyer, Anthony Chambers, had asked for a lighter sentence on the grounds that the defendant was not guilty of killing anyone in the attack on Christmas Day, 2009.
The bomb hidden in Abdulmutallab's underwear failed to properly detonate, instead causing a fire as the plane began its descent. Passengers and crew members restrained Abdulmutallab and extinguished the blaze, allowing the plane to land safely.
During the trial, Abdulmutallab claimed he had been carrying a "blessed weapon" to avenge Muslims who have been killed or badly treated throughout the world.
He admitted to having been inspired by US-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, believed to have been al Qaeda's chief of operations in Yemen. Awlaki was killed in a drone attack in Yemen last September.
rc/dfm (AP, AFP, Reuters)
Iran accuses US of 'psychological warfare'08-02-2012
The Iranian Foreign Ministry has accused the US of conducting "psychological warfare" a day after President Obama imposed new sanctions against Iran's central bank. It said the move would not affect its economy.
Iran's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that fresh US sanctions amounted to "psychological warfare" which would fail to disrupt its nuclear program.
US President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Monday imposing stricter sanctions on Iran and its central bank in a bid to tighten pressure on Iranian commerce and ultimately disrupt the country's nuclear ambitions. The new measures gave US banks the power to freeze assets linked to the Iranian government.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast asserted, however, that Iran's central bank had no financial transactions with the United States and therefore would not be affected by the measures.
"Many of these [US] activities are in the sphere of psychological war and propaganda, and they cannot affect our work," he said.
He added that the latest penalties would also not deter Iran from pursuing its nuclear program.
"No country, no power has the ability to deprive the Iranian nation of its [nuclear] rights," he stressed. "Our history has shown that sanctions, which are totally illogical, have accelerated our nation's progress."
Among accusations leveled at Iranian banks, the White House said there were deficiencies in Iran's anti-money laundering regime, making it necessary to have the power to block all Iranian government assets held or traded in the US.
By ordering the new sanctions, Obama was moving to enforce a wide-ranging defense bill he signed into law in December 2011. They add to other US and EU sanctions imposed since November which target Iranian oil exports in an attempt to restrict Iran's access to foreign finance and commerce.
The sanctions are a response to Tehran's alleged nuclear ambitions. Israel and the West have accused Iran of developing a nuclear bomb - claims which Tehran denies.
On Tuesday Iranian lawmakers vowed to retaliate by speeding up the passage of a bill banning crude oil exports to European countries.
"The draft bill has been almost finalized. It will oblige the government to immediately cut oil exports to the EU. The bill also will ban import of any goods from the EU," lawmaker Parviz Sarvari told Iran's semi-official Fars news agency. An EU ban on Iranian oil imports has already been imposed, but was not scheduled to affect existing contracts until later this year.
ccp/msh (AP, Reuters, AFP)