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Russia to approve nuclear treaty with US

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2010 at 5:57 am

 Russia was due Friday to give initial approval to a historic nuclear arms pact with the United States that opens the way for the former Cold War foes’ cooperation on everything from Afghanistan to Iran.

The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that was passed after a months-long political battle by the US Senate on Wednesday has been the centerpiece of Washington’s efforts to “reset” lagging relations with Moscow.

The agreement slashes the two sides’ nuclear arsenals to 1,550 deployed warheads per side and leaves each country with no more than 800 launchers and bombers.

But besides also restoring vital inspections the treaty also goes a long way toward easing Russia’s worries that it will soon begin losing nuclear parity with the United States — a point of national pride since the Soviet era.

US President Barack Obama leaves the White House.

The State Duma lower house of parliament was scheduled to hold the first of three required votes on the treaty in its final session of the year Friday.

But a top ruling party member said that no emergency sessions would be held next week and that final passage was not expected until lawmakers returned from their New Year’s vacations on January 11.

“Further work on the ratification bill will continue once the Duma resumes its work in January,” news agencies quoted the Duma’s foreign affairs committee chairman Konstantin Kosachev as saying.

Yet the timing glitch seemed of secondary importance as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev phoned US President Barack Obama in the wake of the Senate vote, according to a statement from Obama’s office Thursday.

“President Medvedev congratulated President Obama on the Senate’s approval of the new START Treaty, and the two leaders agreed that this was an historic event for both countries and for US-Russia relations,” said the White House statement.

Pro-Kremlin deputies also took turns hailing the agreement as an important signal that relations between the two one-time rivals were finally getting back on track.

“There are times when our interests do not contradict each other. This is precisely one of those times,” said the upper chamber’s foreign affairs committee chairman Mikhail Margelov.

“We are standing side by side on this one without stepping on each other’s toes.”

Obama and Medvedev had signed the agreement in April as part of a renewed US commitment to win both Russia’s trust and cooperation in the handling of pressing international disputes.

The treaty works in Moscow’s favour because it slashes the United States’ nuclear arsenal to a size that Russia can keep up with despite its financial difficulties and its need to take old nuclear warheads out of commission.

But it also suits the United States because it removes a major roadblock in the two sides’ relations and paves the way for Russia joining international efforts to halt the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran.

Russia’s assistance is also important in transporting support equipment for the NATO-led campaign in Afghanistan and deputies said that all types of cooperation were possible now that the Senate had passed the pact.

“Ratification will have a positive effect on all areas of our bilateral cooperation — especially Afghanistan and Iran,” ruling United Russia party deputy Ruslan Kondratov said in comments posted on the party’s website.

Yet some lawmakers are uneasy about the non-binding amendments that US senators attached to the so-called “resolution of ratification” that was aimed at soothe sceptical Republicans’ worries about the pact.

Duma deputies were expected to add their own non-binding resolutions to the text that did not change the essence of the treaty but underscored Russia’s displeasure with US plans to deploy a new missile defence system in Europe.

The disputed US amendments are already a part of the treaty and several lawmakers said they understood that the additions were primarily meant for US audiences.

“This is all a part of a grand chess game … that Obama is playing home,” Margelov said.

Source: SGGP

Clinton hopes ‘lame-duck’ Congress will pass nuclear treaty

In Uncategorized on November 5, 2010 at 10:56 am

EU leaders wary of plan to re-open Lisbon treaty

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2010 at 9:35 am

A fractious European Union summit looms this week as the bloc heads for a hard hurdle — a fresh and risky rewrite of its treaty demanded by France and Germany to shore up the euro.

Leaders of the 27-nation bloc face the challenge at a two-day summit starting Thursday to turn the lessons of the 2008-2009 economic crisis into hard and fast rules tightening debt and deficit discipline.

But a controversial Franco-German proposal issued days ago, denounced by many as a “diktat”, calls for the rules to be enshrined in a new draft of the hard-fought Lisbon treaty, which came into force only last December after eight years of tough talks and failed referenda.

“This is an extremely sensitive isssue that frightens the life out of some nations,” said a senior EU diplomat. “It’ll be the hot theme of the summit.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, pictured at a meeting of her Christian Democratic Union party in Goslar, Germany, on Saturday, has agreed a controversial deal with France’s Nicolas Sarkozy on the future of EU funding…

The notion of rewriting the fledgling treaty surfaced last week when French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel plastered over their own differences over economic governance in a sudden deal.

In efforts triggered by the emergency rescue of Greece and fears of a cascade of national basket-cases, EU leaders had this year created a 440-billion-euro rescue fund — the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) — set to expire in 2013.

Germany, which has been the biggest contributor to EU rescue efforts, favoured a temporary fund to ensure reining in spendthrift nations.

But Merkel last week caved in to Sarkozy’s call for the facility to be made permanent to shore up Europe’s monetary union, which dates back to 1999.

To meet the requirements of the German constitution, however, giving the EFSF eternal life requires a change to the Lisbon treaty, which currently outlaws EU member states from flying to the rescue of a bankrupt eurozone partner.

“The summit will have to indicate how to create a credible mechanism, given concerns in Germany, which refuses to extend it unconditionally,” the diplomat said.

Sarkozy for his part obtained a softening of already tentatively agreed sanctions against deficit offenders, which were supposed to be automatic but now would be more flexible while biting sooner.

The deal has raised hackles across the bloc of half a billion people.

“We’re not happy with what the French and the Germans did,” European Parliament spokesman for economic affairs John Schranz told AFP as lawmakers too prepared to mull the new rules this week.

“We want sanctions to be heavy-hitting and automatic” as opposed to the watered-down vision agreed by Sarkozy and Merkel, he said.

The sanctions climbdown has already been the subject of stern criticism from the head of the European Central Bank, the formal guardian of euro stability.

Budgetary hawks also including the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland do not think the proposed new rules go far enough.

Some in Berlin accuse Merkel of buckling, but others accuse EU finance ministers as a whole of getting “cold feet”.

“It is a step backwards,” said Austrian conservative Othmar Karas.

Worries are high too of opening a new Pandora’s Box in rewriting the Lisbon treaty, though some officials say the new rules could be simply written in when Croatia becomes the EU’s 28th member — which it hopes will be in 2012.

But other members could pile up new demands in exchange for green-lighting the Franco-German accord.

Non-euro Britain for example could come armed with a shopping list, even if senior EU officials insist sanctions will only apply to nations using the single currency.

British Prime Minister David Cameron “will not support anything that involves a transfer of powers from Westminster to Brussels,” a government spokesman said.

While Britain ratified Lisbon without a referendum, Cameron is already planning to bring forward legislation that would make any further dilution of “sovereignty” an issue requiring popular assent.

Source: SGGP

Nations pledge clean energy amid treaty stalemate

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2010 at 3:23 pm

 Nations pledged to work together to improve the efficiency of energy-guzzlers from televisions to cars, showing practical cooperation on climate change despite a deadlock on sealing a treaty.

Senior officials from economies that make up more than 80 percent of global gross domestic product agreed on 11 initiatives during talks in Washington, which betrayed none of the sharp divisions typical of climate negotiations.

A factory chimney in a residential area emits smoke as haze casts a blanket over Bangalore, India.

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who led the meeting, said Tuesday that the clean energy projects would eliminate the need for more than 500 mid-sized power plants around the world over the next 20 years.

“This is about taking concrete action and concrete steps. This is not about philosophical positioning,” Chu said after two days of talks among 21 nations including key emerging economies China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

“Yes, we have to deal with international agreements, but we can’t wait for those to move,” Chu said. “We know the energy challenge won’t wait, and we won’t wait either.”

While the two-day talks were not designed to pledge funds, Chu said that the nations together have invested “hundreds of millions of dollars” in developing green energy, and several states said they were boosting resources in research.

One key initiative will look at ways to improve the energy efficiency of home appliances such as televisions, which the US Energy Department estimated would reduce the need for about 80 power plants by 2030.

A number of nations will participate in the appliance research, including the United States, Japan, South Korea, India and European nations.

In another initiative, Britain and Australia promised to take the lead in accelerating work on so-called carbon capture and storage (CCS) — which lowers the output of carbon, which is blamed for global warming, from power plants.

CCS is considered crucial for the future of coal, which provides more than one quarter of the world’s energy supply and is politically sensitive in major polluters such as Australia, China and the United States.

“We have literally only 10 years to scale up and deploy CCS globally,” said Chris Huhne, Britain’s minister for energy and climate change.

“Each year of delay will lock in an increased amount of old technology which we won’t get rid of,” he said.

Another project, which includes major governments and corporations, will look at ways to collaborate in design efficiency standards for large buildings including factories — which account for more than half of global energy use.

Nations also agreed to exchange notes on one another’s pilot programs to develop electric vehicles, as well as to coordinate in designing so-called “smart grids” that manage community power consumption.

The United Arab Emirates said it would host follow-up clean energy talks in early 2011, with Britain holding a third meeting at a later date to be determined.

The talks, an offshoot of the US-led Major Economies Forum, include both rich and emerging nations but not smaller states such as Sudan and Venezuela whose strident criticisms dominated parts of December’s Copenhagen summit.

Kandeh Yumkella, director general of the UN Industrial Development Organization which champions the economic uplift of the world’s poor, said rich nations still needed to follow through on commitments at Copenhagen to offer 30 billion dollars through 2012 to help poorer nations cope with climate change.

But he said that the Washington meeting should offer hope to developing countries.

The world’s energy demand is estimated to jump by nearly half in the next 20 years, fueled by the developing world.

“If they decide to produce, use and consume energy the same way as the US and OECD (developed) countries have done, we will not be able to deal with climate change,” Yumkella told AFP.

“What this meeting does is to send a message that there are things we know already how to do. They are practical and we can deploy them now.”

Source: SGGP

UN watchdog seeks ideas to get Israel to join nuclear treaty

In Uncategorized on May 6, 2010 at 4:38 pm

UN atomic watchdog chief Yukiya Amano is asking IAEA member states for ideas on how to persuade Israel to sign up to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), according to a document seen by AFP on Thursday.

Israel’s Defence Minister and Labour party leader Ehud Barak speaks during a party conference in Tel Aviv January 7, 2010. Israel says “no” to signing NPT.

In a letter, dated April 7 and circulated to the foreign ministers of members states of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Amano asked ministers to “inform me of any views that your government might have” on the issue.

At the IAEA’s last general conference in September 2009, member countries passed a resolution entitled “Israeli nuclear capabilities” which called on the Jewish state “to accede to the NPT and place all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards.”

Israel is widely considered to be the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear power and is not a signatory to the NPT.

The symbolic, non-binding resolution — which had been tabled by Arab states — was passed, after some controversial debate, with a total of 49 countries in favour, 45 against and 16 abstentions.

And although it was only a non-binding resolution, it urged the IAEA’s director general “to work with the concerned states towards achieving that end”.

And it requested the director general “to report on the implementation of this resolution” to the agency’s board of governors and the upcoming general conference in September.

Thus, Amano’s letter appears to be simply the follow-up to that resolution and was not a targeted effort to put pressure on Israel, observers said.

Just this week, in a speech to the NPT Review Conference in New York, Amano noted “that the IAEA General Conference has adopted resolutions in recent years on the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.

“Last year’s General Conference also adopted a resolution on Israel’s nuclear capabilities. I am following up on these resolutions as requested by the General Conference,” Amano said.

Source: SGGP

Obama, Medvedev meet before nuclear treaty signing

In Uncategorized on April 8, 2010 at 11:48 am

PRAGUE (AFP) – US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev met in Prague on Thursday before signing a treaty slashing their countries’ nuclear arsenals.

The two heads of state will sign a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expired last December, in the city where Obama called for a nuclear-free world in a keynote speech a year ago.

US President Barack Obama (R) with his Czech counterpart Vaclav Klaus (C) and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at Prague Castle. AFP photo

The signing is to take place in at Prague Castle at midday (1000 GMT) after a one-on-one meeting expected to focus on Iran’s nuclear programme, the Kyrgyzstan uprising and US missile defence in Europe.

Following the ceremony in the castle’s lavishly decorated Spanish Hall, Obama and Medvedev will give a joint press conference.

Sticking to diplomatic protocol, Obama had to wait for Medvedev at the castle as the Russian president has been in office longer than him.

Both presidents walked on a red carpet flanked by army officers in full dress, before Czech President Vaclav Klaus took them to the castle gardens, where they posed for photographers in the spring sun in front of Prague’s historic skyline.

Obama and Medvedev then went into the castle for talks.

Medvedev arrived in Prague on Wednesday evening, while Obama landed after 0900 (0700 GMT) on Thursday.

The Russian president is due to leave Prague on Thursday afternoon.

Obama will later on Thursday meet 11 central and eastern European leaders, whose countries have fretted about eroding support from Washington as the Obama administration pursues closer ties with Russia.

He will spend the night in Prague and leave for Washington around noon (1000 GMT) on Friday after bilateral talks with Czech leaders.

Source: SGGP

EU president makes low-key entry as Lisbon Treaty enters force

In World on December 3, 2009 at 2:34 am

The European Union’s first president Herman Van Rompuy and its new foreign affairs chief took office Tuesday, as the Lisbon Treaty came into force amid concerns at such low-profile leaders for Europe.

Detractors have voiced doubts over whether Van Rompuy and foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, a British peer and formerly EU trade commissioner, were the dream ticket to lead Europe and stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of the United States and China.

But speaking at a ceremony in the Portuguese capital, the former Belgian prime minister promised a new era for the 27-member bloc.

“We are leading today a new phase in the construction of Europe,” he said.

New European Union president Herman Van Rompuy attends a press conference in Milan’s prefecture.

The Treaty of Lisbon, after a difficult journey, has reached its port. The Treaty of Lisbon will allow us to make decisions more swiftly, (but) it can only play its role if the union is really a union.”

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose nation holds the office of the rotating EU presidency until the end of the year, insisted that the bloc had emerged stronger from the often painful reform process.

“Let us make this first of December the first day of a new beginning. It was not an easy journey, but the voice of Europe will be stronger in the world,” he vowed.

Van Rompuy, who spent his first day in office on a tour of European cities, has made a low-key entrance into his new job.

Speaking in Slovenia, one of three stops on Tuesday, he said his “key words will be continuity and coherence.”

Later in Milan he promised to “listen carefully” and “take into account the interests and sensitivities of everyone.”

He will certainly do more listening than orating until the new year: he told journalists in Ljubljana that he would not make any political statements until 2010.

However, the softly-softly approach has not prevented him from declaring himself a “European federalist,” while assuring he is “not a fundamentalist,” a comment bound to send shivers down eurosceptic spines.

Europe’s first president will be “more of a ‘chairman president’ than a leader president’,” said Thierry Chopin of the Robert Schuman Foundation think tank.

Indeed it may suit some of the bigger EU member states not to have a political heavyweight presiding over them.

The Lisbon Treaty, drawn up to replace the aborted EU constitution, is designed to boost the bloc’s global standing and streamline the institutions which represent half a billion people.

“The Treaty of Lisbon puts citizens at the centre of the European project,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a statement.

Now “we can focus all our energy on delivering what matters to our citizens,” he added, in reference to the years of institutional navel-gazing which ended with the treaty coming into effect.

The treaty will also reinforce the EU parliament’s role and cut the number of national vetoes on European policy.

But most attention is on the two new top jobs, the immediate and visible effects of the treaty which came into being at midnight (2300 GMT Monday).

The 27 EU heads of state and government chose Van Rompuy for the top job at a summit last month, after rejecting a British bid to have ex-premier Tony Blair installed.

His post, the President of the European Council, is for a two-and-a-half year term renewable once.

Ashton will be a quasi foreign minister for Europe, with a larger role than her predecessor Javier Solana and a vast new diplomatic corps — a major task for someone with no foreign policy experience and who has never been elected to office.

“As respectable and nice as she might be, she doesn’t seem to match the ideal profile of a European foreign minister,” the Schuman Foundation report opined.

“She doesn’t know the diplomatic issues and has never held a major ministerial position at home. In truth, she appears to have been appointed by default,” it added.

Ashton’s first real task could be a baptism of fire at a preliminary hearing in front of the European parliament on Wednesday, where some Euro MPs plan tough questioning.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

EU president takes office as Lisbon Treaty enters force

In World on December 1, 2009 at 4:57 am

The EU’s first president, Herman Van Rompuy, officially took office Tuesday as the bloc’s reforming Lisbon Treaty entered into force, giving the European project a human face as it enters a new era.

Belgium’s outgoing Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, who was elected European Union President during an EU leaders summit last week, leaves his office in Brussels November 23, 2009(AFP Photo)

British peer Catherine Ashton at the same time became the European Union’s foreign policy supremo, a post already dubbed “EU foreign minister”.

The treaty, drawn up to replace the aborted EU constitution, is designed to boost the bloc’s global standing and streamline the institutions which represent half a billion people.

“The Treaty of Lisbon puts citizens at the centre of the European project” EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said in a statement.

“I’m delighted that we now have the right institutions to act and a period of stability so that we can focus all our energy on delivering what matters to our citizens,” he added, in reference to the years of institutional navel-gazing which end with the treaty coming into effect.

The treaty will also reinforce the EU parliament’s role and cut the number of national vetoes on European policy.

“The EU will be better equipped to meet expectations in the fields of energy, climate change, cross-border crime and immigration. It will also be able to speak with a stronger voice on the international scene,” promised Barroso.

But most attention is on the two new top jobs, the most immediate and visible effects of the treaty which came into being at midnight (2300 GMT Monday).

The 27 EU heads of state and government chose Van Rompuy, who was the serving Belgian prime minister, for the top jobs at a summit this month after much behind-the-scenes horse-trading.

His post, the President of the European Council is for a two-and-a-half year term renewable once.

One goal is to give the EU a more stable leadership than the current system, whereby the EU presidency rotates among the member states every six months.

The leaders also chose Ashton, who was EU trade commissioner, to become the bloc’s high representative for foreign and security affairs for a straight five years.

She replaces Spaniard Javier Solana, who steps down as head of European diplomacy after 10 years. However the role is significantly expanded under the treaty and comes with a huge new diplomatic corps.

The choice of the relatively unknown pair leaves them plenty of convincing to do if they are to stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of the US and China in negotiations.

Europe’s first president will be “more of a ‘chairman president’ than a leader president’,” according to the Robert Schuman Foundation think-tank.

It may suit some of the bigger EU nations not to have a political big beast presiding over them.

The national leaders will certainly have been attracted by Van Rompuy’s ability to keep a fragile Belgian coalition government together during his 11 months in office.

Ashton, who proudly asserts she is not an “ego on legs,” has nonetheless quickly built up a reputation in Brussels as a quiet but effective negotiator.

But she in particular has come in for criticism due to her lack of diplomatic experience and doubts have been cast over the wisdom of choosing someone from Britain, given its failure to embrace key European concepts such as the euro and the Schengen open borders zone.

A ceremony to mark the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, and the positions it creates, will take in the Portuguese capital Tuesday, where the text was first signed, with Van Rompuy and Ashton attending.

The treaty also enshrines a European charter of fundamental rights — though Britain, Poland and the Czech Republic have secure full or partial opt outs.

In another innovation, the text gives Europe’s citizens the possibility of directly initiating policy ideas, if a million signatures are collected.

The treaty also sets up a process whereby a country can leave the group altogether.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

US, Russia expect missile treaty deal by year-end

In World on November 15, 2009 at 2:35 pm

SINGAPORE (AFP) – Russia and the United States said Sunday after talks between their leaders that they expect to agree on the text of a new missile cuts treaty by the end of the year.

US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during meetings in Singapore. (AFP photo)

“I expect that we can have a final text of the agreement by December,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said, referring to a successor to the Cold War-era START agreement.

Medvedev said there were “technical” issues that need to be resolved.

White House advisor Mike McFaul said that while an agreement was expected in December, it could not be ratified by the legislatures in both countries by December 5 when START elapses.

“What I do know for sure is that we will not have a ratified treaty in place by December 5. It still has to go through the US Senate and the Russian Duma,” he told reporters.

“What is for sure is that we do need a bridging agreement.”

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

Ireland heads to polls for European treaty vote

In World on October 2, 2009 at 4:21 am

Ireland votes Friday on the EU’s Lisbon Treaty in a crunch second referendum which Europe’s leaders hope will overturn last year’s No vote and avoid plunging the bloc into chaos.

Polling stations are set to open across the republic at 7:00 am (0600 GMT) as more than three million voters have their say on the treaty that would reform how the European Union is governed.

Prime Minister Brian Cowen has warned that another rejection would damage Ireland’s attempts to reverse its sharp recession and marginalise it on the European stage.

European leaders are hoping for an end to the constitutional deadlock gripping the EU since June 2008 when 53.4 percent of Irish voters rejected the treaty — designed to streamline decision-making in the 27-member bloc.

A total of 3,078,032 Irish citizens are eligible to vote.

Some have already cast their ballots on remote islands off the western Atlantic Ocean coast. The islands vote early in case bad weather delays bringing the ballot boxes back to the mainland.

A sticker with the word ‘Lies’ is placed over a poster urging voters to accept the Lisbon Treaty in Dublin, Ireland

Five islands voted Wednesday — one with just seven voters — with eight more islands having voted Thursday.

Poor visibility stopped helicopters taking the boxes Wednesday to the furthest two islands, so they arrived by boat instead. Returning officers estimated a 40 percent turnout.

The final opinion poll before the vote, in the Sunday Business Post newspaper, put support for the treaty at 55 percent, with 27 percent planning to vote against it.

Irish bookmaker Paddy Power says the odds on a Yes result are 1/25, while a No is priced at 8/1.

However, there are concerns that some voters will use the referendum to kick Cowen’s unpopular government over the spectacular collapse of Ireland‘s long-booming “Celtic Tiger” economy.

This year, Ireland’s gross domestic product is set to shrink a record eight percent, while the jobless total could exceed 15 percent, three times its June 2008 level. Interview: Ireland’s Europe chief confident

Foreign Minister Micheal Martin urged voters to back the treaty to help pull the country out of recession.

“A Yes vote is a road map to economic recovery,” Martin said.

“We have held a unique position as the country which is known for both being a Euro-positive country and having strong links to the rest of the world.

“We have been the place to invest not just because we are members of the Union, but because we are at the table both shaping and participating in the development of the Union.

“Ireland is a small country with an open economy and we need to send a clear message that we want to be part of a stronger, more effective EU.”

Ireland is the only EU country constitutionally obliged to put the treaty to a referendum. Of the 27 EU states, Poland and the Czech Republic are the only others yet to ratify it.

Dublin agreed to hold another poll after securing guarantees on key policy areas which it felt were behind last year’s rejection, such as its military neutrality, abortion and tax laws.

The referendum paper is in Gaelic and English, with voters being asked: “Do you approve of the proposal to amend the constitution contained in the undermentioned bill?

“Twenty-Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty of Lisbon) Bill 2009.”

Voters then have to mark X in the box besides “ta/yes” if they approve of the proposal, or “nil/no” if they do not approve.

The counting will start Saturday, with the full results possible as early as Saturday afternoon.

Source: SGGP