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Gates, Petraeus differ over Afghanistan exit

In Uncategorized on August 16, 2010 at 11:22 am

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US Defense Secretary Robert Gates insisted Monday the July 2011 date to start withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan was set in stone, putting him at odds with his top Afghan war commander.

Gates and General David Petraeus were in lock-step on the need for a gradual withdrawal, but a series of interviews exposed discord over the flexibility of the start date given last November by US President Barack Obama.

AFP/File – US soldiers patrol with Afghan National Army soldiers in Kukaran in Kandahar province.

“There is no question in anybody’s mind that we are going to begin drawing down troops in July of 2011,” Gates told The Los Angeles Times.

But Petraeus, asked in a separate interview whether he could reach that juncture and have to recommend a delay to Obama because of the conditions on the ground, replied: “Certainly, yeah.

“I think the president has been quite clear in explaining that it’s a process, not an event, and that it’s conditions-based,” he told NBC television’s “Meet the Press” program on Sunday.

“The president and I sat down in the Oval Office and he expressed very clearly that what he wants from me is my best professional military advice.”

Afghanistan, with the help of its Western backers, is trying to build up its army and police so that they can take responsibility for security from US-led NATO forces by the end of 2014.

The Taliban, toppled in a 2001 US-led invasion, still control large swathes of the south and have put up stiff resistance to a surge of 30,000 more US troops due to swell American numbers to 100,000 in the coming weeks.

US public support for the near nine-year war and Obama’s handling of it are at an all-time low, according to opinion polls here, while the death toll for American troops hit a record monthly high in July of 66.

Both Gates, in the LA Times, and Petraeus, in a series of interviews with NBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post, sought to reassure a skeptical public that the American-led coalition can succeed in its aims.

Petraeus told The New York Times he did not just want to preside over a “graceful exit,” while Gates suggested some security responsibilities could begin to be transferred to Afghan forces as early as early next year.

Obama’s mid-2011 deadline to begin a limited withdrawal has been strongly criticized by some who believe it sent out the message America is not in the fight for the long-term and boosted the Taliban’s resolve to wait it out.

Others attack him for not pulling out troops fast enough as they believe US and NATO forces are bogged down in an unwinnable conflict.

Petraeus, giving his first major interviews since assuming command of more than 140,000 coalition troops in Afghanistan last month, also said he would be prepared to negotiate with Taliban with “blood on their hands.”

The general, who helped turn around the Iraq war for Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush — partly by wheeling and dealing with warring factions — said a new reconciliation and reintegration strategy aimed at persuading Afghan insurgents to change sides was “fairly imminent.”

There is “every possibility, I think, that there can be low- and mid-level reintegration and indeed some fracturing of the senior leadership that could be really defined as reconciliation.”

In his interview with The Washington Post, Petraeus said 365 insurgent leaders and 2,400 rank-and-file fighters have been killed or captured over the past three months.

The operations have led “some leaders of some elements” of the insurgency to begin reconciliation discussions with the Afghan government, he told the newspaper, characterizing the interactions as “meaningful.”

Petraeus formally took over command of the Afghan war in July after Obama dismissed General Stanley McChrystal after he and his staff made disparaging comments about senior US administration figures.

The interviews came hours before the website announced that the total number of foreign troops killed since the start of the Afghan war in 2001 had topped 2,000, including 1,226 Americans and 331 from Britain.

Last week, the United Nations said the number of civilian casualties in the Afghan war had risen sharply in the first six months of this year to reach 1,271 Afghans. Another 1,997 people were wounded.

Source: SGGP

Top ECB officials differ on bond purchase policy

In Uncategorized on June 1, 2010 at 7:46 am

FRANKFURT (AFP) – The head of the European Central Bank differed sharply Monday with his possible successor over a radical switch of ECB policy to buy up government bonds which critics say could stoke inflation.

ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet defended the ECB’s bond buying scheme, telling a conference organised by the Austrian central bank in Vienna that it did not undermine the ECB’s core policy of stable prices nor its independence.

ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet has called in an interview for a eurozone fiscal union to monitor public finances, saying France, Germany and Italy had set very bad examples. AFP file

“We are not printing money,” he declared, answering directly the charge that a central bank which buys government debt effectively creates money over which it then cannot exert any control.

“This confirms and underpins our commitment to price stability,” he said.

The ECB has come under fire for its unprecedented move earlier this month to buy up government debt in an effort to halt speculative attacks on eurozone members and restore stability to bond markets.

However, in Mainz, western Germany, German central bank governor Axel Weber, a key member of the ECB governing council, reiterated his criticism of the ECB programme.

“Monetary policy has taken new paths to fight the crisis that I continue to view critically owing to the risks” involved in buying a country’s debt, said Weber, an unofficial candidate to become the next ECB chief in late 2011.

The ECB decision covered bonds issued by troubled eurozone countries such as Greece, Portugal and Spain, allowing cash-starved commercial banks in those countries to now sell them to the ECB to get funding in return.

Weber voted against the measure and has repeatedly challenged it since.

The German central bank governor said Monday he was concerned above all about the ECB’s independence from political pressure.

One should “draw a clear line of separation between responsibility for monetary policy and fiscal policy,” Weber said.

Some analysts have argued that the ECB risks turning into a “bad bank” if it keeps buying government bonds from troubled eurozone countries.

The term “bad bank” refers to a financial structure created to take on risky debt from commercial banks so that they can get their own finances in order.

Trichet disagreed with this view.

“The latest measures address a malfunctioning of certain market segments,” he said in Vienna.

“Without such measures, the market problems could have created risks to the favourable outlook for price stability. However, we have not gone beyond the goal of re-establishing a more correct transmission of our monetary policy.”

Weber argued meanwhile that the ECB’s duty was to maintain price stability and that only an independent central bank can do that.

“We should now limit the risks,” Weber said. “The operation must be carried out in a very targeted and limited way.”

It should “serve as a bridge until new state financing facilities” agreed by the European Union can take over, Weber said in reference to a 750 billion euro rescue package drawn up by the EU and International Monetary Fund.

The German news weekly Der Spiegel said in its latest edition the the ECB is buying Greek bonds even though it no longer needs to do so because an EU-IMF rescue package for the country has already taken effect.

Quoting sources within the German central bank, the magazine claimed that the ECB was underpinning rates and allowing French banks, which have the biggest exposure to Greek debt, to sell their holdings down.

Der Spiegel spoke of fears of a “French plot” under which Trichet, who is French, had “ceded to massive pressure” from French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

German banks have pledged to hold on to their Greek bonds until 2013, the magazine added.

Source: SGGP

Ministry, universities differ on higher education standards

In Vietnam Education on November 20, 2009 at 8:35 am

The Ministry of Education and Training should change its approach to higher education and make big changes at universities, said Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan at an online conference on higher education for the 2009-2010 academic year.

Graduates from the HCM City University of Pedagogy. The Ministry of Education and Training will make big changes in the 2009-2010 academic year, Deputy PM pledged.

Mr. Nhan, who is also the education minister, said that in line with this year’s academic theme: “Renovating Management, Raising Education Quality and Focusing on Meeting Demands of Society,” universities and colleges would participate in evaluating the ministry’s management.

They would also help create improved standards and launch new training programs, he added.

 “Because of this renovation, universities will not be peaceful this year,” said Mr. Nhan.

However, the ministry presented only general measures for such an overhaul while failing to explain the specifics of how to revamp the system, which has been increasingly criticized by the public. 

Regarding the quality of new schools in the country, a report presented by the ministry at the conference said that 20 percent of the schools fail to meet standards for infrastructure, lecturers, investment capital, and curricula. In addition, there are no formal regulations for launching training programs or recruiting students, the ministry said.

In addition, penalties for universities which fail to meet standards are not strong enough.

Evaluating the quality of the country’s higher education, the ministry said, “In reality, the ministry cannot control the quality of higher education due to a lack of standards. There is not yet a body in charge of higher education quality.

“The ministry has not had annual reports to evaluate the … quality of universities or the entire higher education system,” the ministry outlined in the report. 

Responding to the ministry, school rectors asked that higher education institutes be allowed to set their own tuition and fees.

Ph.D. Thai Ba Can, the rector of the HCM City University of Technical Education said that universities need regulations allowing them to decide tuition fees and expenses by themselves.

“The Ministry should change the framework of tuition fees and use the state budget to pay the tuition fees for poor students,” he added.

Ph.D. Mai Hong Quy, rector of the HCM City University of Law, said that public universities were facing financial challenges because they were not allowed to increase tuition fees.

“Universities cannot earn enough money to pay for good lecturers or attract good graduates to work in universities,” she said.

“Graduates from schools of law who speak and write a foreign language fluently can earn a much higher salary than lecturers can,” Ms. Quy added.

However, Mr. Nhan said that universities who set their own fees must still follow general rules and the Ministry of Education and Training must have the right to regulate and monitor a university’s operations.

“Education is a special provisory service because poor training leads to [unskilled] graduates,” he said.

“Who will be responsible for poor training? No one other than the Ministry of Education and Training can do that.”

“The responsibility of the ministry is to protect learners’ interests and that does not mean to closely control schools.

“In the case of public universities, the ministry invests and monitors educational quality on behalf of the state,” the minister added. 

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share