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Biden says US may stay in Afghanistan after 2014

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 7:06 am

KABUL (AFP) – US Vice President Joe Biden stressed Tuesday that his country’s troops could stay in Afghanistan after 2014 if Afghans want them to, on day two of a surprise visit to the war-torn nation.


Speaking after talks with President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, Biden said: “We’re not leaving if you (Afghans) don’t want us to leave”.


But he also emphasised that the planned handover of responsibility for security from international troops to Afghan forces in four years, agreed at a NATO summit in November, was on track.

AFP file – US Vice President Joe Biden (C) talks with a US soldier as US General David Petraeus (2nd L) looks on at a US base in Maidan Shar Wardak province.


“It’s not our intention to govern or to nation-build — as President Karzai often points out, this is the responsibility of the Afghan people,” Biden told reporters at a press conference.


“We stand ready to help you in that effort and we’ll continue to stand ready to help you in that effort after 2014.”


A senior White House official said Biden was not announcing a change in policy.


“The vice president was simply restating for the public what he had said to the president (Karzai) which was that the United States wants an enduring partnership with Afghanistan,” the official said.


There are about 97,000 United States troops serving in Afghanistan as part of an international force of some 140,000.


Limited, conditions-based withdrawals are due to start in July ahead of the scheduled 2014 transition.


In 2010, coalition troops suffered their bloodiest year yet in Afghanistan with 711 deaths, according to the icasualties.org website, while opinion polls suggest increasing numbers of Americans want their troops to come home.


Biden said Afghanistan was now in a “new phase” and insisted that Taliban momentum had been “largely arrested” in key areas such as the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.


His comments came despite several recent attacks in the south, seen as the focus of the war, including a suicide bombing at a bath house in Kandahar province last week which killed 17 people.


“We have a strategy and the resources in place to accomplish the goal of a stable and a growing and an independent Afghanistan able to provide for its own security,” Biden said.


But he added that gains made were “fragile and reversible and the president knows that sustaining them is going to require the Afghans to improve… security and governance”.


Karzai said he and Biden had held one-to-one talks that lasted one hour and 45 minutes.


“We discussed the transition process in 2014 and how best to proceed with it. We had a good discussion, it made me happy,” Karzai told the press conference, which came a day after Biden’s surprise arrival in Afghanistan.


Biden held talks and had lunch with Karzai after visiting a training facility for Afghan security forces just outside Kabul. He later met US troops serving in Wardak province, central Afghanistan, plus local officials.


Shortly after arriving late Monday, Biden spent nearly two hours with the commander of international troops in Afghanistan, US General David Petraeus, and US ambassador Karl Eikenberry.


A US official travelling with Biden said the vice president’s trip came at a “pivot point” for the US in Afghanistan, adding it would allow Biden to review progress towards handing responsibility for security to Afghan forces.


The complex relations between the Western-backed government in Kabul and the US were laid bare by recent comments by Karzai accusing foreign countries of meddling in Afghanistan.


And last month, whistleblowing website WikiLeaks published leaked cables in which Eikenberry described Karzai as sometimes “paranoid and weak”.


The ambassador also reportedly highlighted corruption among key government officials in Afghanistan.


The visit, Biden’s first to Afghanistan since taking office, was not pre-announced due to security concerns, although Karzai was informed of the trip last week, the US official told reporters.


Biden’s trip began four days after the US announced it was sending an extra 1,400 Marines to southern Afghanistan, seen as the heart of the Taliban insurgency, in a bid to pre-empt an expected spring offensive in April or May.

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Source: SGGP

WikiLeaks says US grand jury requests supporter Twitter data

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 12:01 pm

WikiLeaks said Saturday the Twitter accounts of four supporters had been subpoenaed in connection with an espionage investigation into the whistleblowing website led by a secret US grand jury.


WikiLeaks, which began releasing 251,287 US diplomatic cables in November, added it had reason to believe Facebook and Google had also received court orders requesting details on users.


“Today, the existence of a secret US government grand jury espionage investigation into Wikileaks was confirmed for the first time as a subpoena was brought into the public domain,” WikiLeaks said in a statement.


WikiLeaks said legal action taken by micro-blogging website Twitter “revealed that the US State Department has requested the private messages, contact information, IP addresses, and personal details of Julian Assange and three other individuals associated with WikiLeaks, in addition to WikiLeaks’ own account, which has 634,071 followers”.


It did not name the three other people, but Icelandic lawmaker Birgitta Jonsdottir said on her Twitter feed on Saturday US authorities had asked Twitter to submit her account details and personal information.


“Just got this: Twitter has received legal process requesting information regarding your Twitter account in (relation to wikileaks),” the media freedom champion posted overnight.


“The request for my tweet information is from the US department of justice.” “The request for information from twitter is also for my personal information not just tweets,” she said.


Jonsdottir — a close associate of WikiLeaks who in September suggested Julian Assange step aside as the site’s spokesperson because of rape allegations against him — said she discussed the request with Iceland’s justice minister.


“He is looking into the case of demands of DoJ (department of justice) wanting my twitter details,” she posted shortly after 1100 GMT Saturday.


She explained she had 10 days to stop the legal process and stressed the US Department of Justice, not Twitter, was to blame.


WikiLeaks said Saturday it was “opposing the subpoena order and is currently taking action to instruct US lawyers”.


It urged Twitter to protect its users’ private information and stressed that other than Assange, the three people whose accounts had been subpoenaed had never worked for the site.


“Two were instrumental in helping WikiLeaks bring the Collateral Murder video — which showed a US helicopter crew celebrating as they gunned down civilians — into the public domain,” WikiLeaks said.


The April 2010 release of the classified video, which shows a US Apache helicopter strike in Baghdad that killed several people in 2007, helped push WikiLeaks into the global spotlight.


The site has since angered the Pentagon by posting in July 2010 secret documents on the war in Afghanistan, followed in October by a massive leak of so-called “Iraq war logs”.


Its November release of US diplomatic cables has embarrassed governments worldwide and prompted many calls for WikiLeaks to face legal action.


The site has also faced financial pressure when credit card giants Visa and Mastercard said they would stop facilitating donations to the website.


“Having tried to silence WikiLeaks by pressuring Paypal, Visa and Mastercard to cut off funds, the US government is now intruding into the private lives of some of WikiLeaks most high-profile supporters,” WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange said Saturday.


Assange, the 39-year-old Australian who is the public face of WikiLeaks, is currently on bail in Britain facing extradition proceedings to Sweden on charges of sexual assault.


 

Source: SGGP

Republicans retake US House, target expenses

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 4:14 am

 A day after retaking the House of Representatives, US Republicans moved Thursday to make good on a campaign vow to slash spending with a mostly symbolic vote to cut lawmakers’ office budgets.


President Barack Obama’s Democrats were expected to join Republicans to pass a bill to slice five percent from House expenses, a 35-million-dollar drop in the roughly 3.6-trillion-dollar bucket of annual US government outlays.


Republicans also planned to read aloud from the US Constitution — but omit sections later amended, such as the original language defining black slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of apportioning congressional seats.


The symbolic moves aimed to please arch-conservative “Tea Party” activists who powered Republicans to regain control of the House of Representatives and slice deep into the Democratic Senate majority in November 2 elections.


Republicans aimed to set the tone ahead of Obama’s annual “State of the Union” expected January 25, a high-profile chance to retool his presidency in the wake of what he has called a ballot-box “shellacking.”


Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor urged Obama by telephone Wednesday to unveil new plans for spending cuts including a ban on pet project “earmarks” and sweeping tax code reforms and said Republicans were “hopeful that we can work together.”


As a tense new era of power-sharing dawned in Washington, newly minted Republican House Speaker John Boehner warned lawmakers they faced “great challenges” as his party readied a fresh assault on Obama’s agenda with an eye on thwarting his 2012 reelection bid.


“Hard work and tough decisions will be required” at a time when the US economy is struggling to emerge from the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, Boehner said in his inaugural address.


The Ohio lawmaker choked back tears and wiped his eyes with a handkerchief as he took his new office’s symbolic gavel from Nancy Pelosi, the first woman US speaker and now Democratic minority leader.


Fired-up Republicans also enjoyed a stronger Senate minority thanks to a pack of new conservative members who won office on November 2, when voters angry at the sputtering US economy and high unemployment routed Democrats.


Republicans have vowed to slash spending, scrap “job-killing” government regulations, overhaul the tax code, crack down on undocumented immigration, cut diplomatic and foreign aid funds, and investigate the administration.


And Republicans set a January 12 vote on repealing Obama’s signature overhaul of US health care — a purely symbolic step because the Democratic Senate majority can block it and the president can veto it.


Senate Democrats, captained by Majority Leader Harry Reid, planned to push ahead with rules changes that complicate the minority party’s efforts to kill legislation by delaying it or to anonymously block key nominees.


And they warned Republicans would have to break their lockstep opposition to White House-backed initiatives over the past two years in favor of bipartisan compromise in order to deliver on their campaign pledges.


“We have to do even more to help middle-class families, to create jobs, to hasten our energy independence, to improve our children’s education and to fix our broken immigration system,” Reid said.


At the White House, Obama held the traditional post-transition telephone call with Pelosi and Cantor and press secretary Robert Gibbs quipped that the president hoped for a round of golf with Boehner, an avid player.


Gibbs also warned House Republicans against using their newfound powers to investigate the administration to engage in “partisan, ideological, political witch hunts.”


Obama was also re-jigging his inner circle, as Gibbs announced he was leaving amid talk that Clinton-era commerce secretary William Daley, a free-trade champion, could step in as the new White House chief of staff.

The president was also expected to soon name a new chief for his National Economic Council following the departure of Lawrence Summers last year.

Some observers said Obama would seek the political center, knowing that his 2012 reelection hopes may rest with independent voters who could be alienated if Republicans appease the radical right.

Republicans, meanwhile, signalled they were pulling back from a campaign pledge to find 100 billion dollars in savings their first year, saying the actual figure would run closer to half that amount.

Source: SGGP

S.Korea, US lukewarm on North’s call for talks

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 4:13 am

The United States and South Korea responded cautiously Thursday to North Korea’s call for unconditional talks, saying Pyongyang must be judged on actions rather than words.


North Korea offered “unconditional” negotiations with the South Wednesday, in its most conciliatory remarks since the nuclear-armed state sent tensions on the peninsula soaring in November by shelling a South Korean island.


In an unusually cordial statement, carried by its KCNA agency, North Korea said it “courteously proposes having wide-ranging dialogue and negotiations”.


Pyongyang is “ready to meet anyone, anytime, anywhere”, it said, calling for “unconditional and early opening of talks” with officials with “real power and responsibility”.

South Korean Special Warfare Forces hurl snow during a winter exercise in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on January 4, 2011.

But South Korea dismissed the approach.


“We don’t consider it as a serious offer for dialogue,” Unification Ministry Spokeswoman Lee Jong-Joo told AFP.


She noted the North had regularly issued similar statements until 2007 as part of what she said was a long-standing strategy of driving a wedge between the South Korean government and its people.


The North should instead show it was serious about its obligations under a 2005 agreement on denuclearisation and apologise over the November shelling and the sinking of a South Korean warship in March last year, she said.


Washington echoed Seoul’s response, saying that the North had to take “useful steps” to show that its proposal was serious.


“It needs to demonstrate it is sincere in the offer,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters, noting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the plan with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.


“There are still things that North Korea has to do to demonstrate a seriousness of purpose,” Crowley said, such as ending its provocative behaviour and recommitting itself to a 2005 declaration for nuclear disarmament.


The offer came as the top US envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, held talks with his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei and Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun in Beijing, after a visit to Seoul focused on reducing tensions.


Bosworth was expected to head for Tokyo later Thursday, while US Defence Secretary Robert Gates was also scheduled to meet his Chinese counterpart in a visit to Beijing starting January 9.


Foreign ministry officials said Bosworth stressed during talks in Seoul that Pyongyang needed to show it was sincere about mending ties with Seoul if six-party international talks on its nuclear programme were to resume.


The North has previously refused to discuss the nuclear issue directly with the South, saying it only wants to deal with Washington, but its latest statement suggested it may be willing to engage with Seoul on the topic.


The North’s proposal put the South in a dilemma, analysts said.


“This dialogue offer places the South in a very awkward position, especially when both China and the United States want to see tension reduction through dialogue,” Hong Hyun-Ik at the private Sejong Institute said.


“The North is shifting the blame for the lack of dialogue to the South.”

He added that the North could conduct a third atomic test unless progress is made at stalled six-party talks on ending the North’s nuclear programme — a scenario echoed by Professor Kim Yong-Hyun of Dongguk University.

The North quit the six-nation talks in April 2009 and staged a nuclear test a month later, its second since 2006, in protest at continuing “hostile” US policy toward the communist state.

Efforts to resume the talks recently gained momentum as Beijing called for renewed dialogue and Pyongyang signalled it was willing to return to the negotiating table.

Relations between the two Koreas were stretched to breaking point after the North’s shelling in November, which killed four people, including two civilians.

But tensions have softened since the New Year, with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak offering closer economic ties if Pyongyang changes course.

Source: SGGP

US probe shares out ‘systemic’ blame for oil spill

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 4:12 am

A US panel has spread blame for the deadly Gulf of Mexico oil spill beyond BP to Halliburton and Transocean, accusing all three of “systemic” management failures that could happen again.


The presidential commission’s assessment was part of its final report on the deadly April blowout of BP’s Macondo well, which killed 11 workers and spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over three months.


It said oil services giant Halliburton and offshore drilling group Transocean were also very much at fault in ignoring key warnings and failing to take the necessary precautions to avert the massive spill.

A dead sea turtle lies on a beach in Waveland, Mississippi at the height of the US Gulf oil spill

The blowout “was the product of several individual missteps and oversights by BP, Halliburton and Transocean, which government regulators lacked the authority, the necessary resources and the technical expertise to prevent,” read the advance chapter. The full report is due out next week.


Transocean owned the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon platform that sank in the accident. In October, Halliburton admitted skipping a key cement test before the blowout, but blamed BP for not testing the integrity of the job.


The root causes of the blowout were “systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur,” the report said.


“Whether purposeful or not, many of the decisions that BP, Halliburton and Transocean made that increased the risk of the Macondo blowout clearly saved those companies significant time (and money).”


Saying it supported the presidential commission’s probe into the incident, BP stressed that preliminary findings concluded that “the accident was the result of multiple causes, involving multiple companies.”


The beleaguered firm said it was working with regulators and the industry “to ensure that the lessons learned from Macondo lead to improvements in operations and contractor services in deepwater drilling.”


It cited launching a new division devoted to safety and operational risk that reports directly to the firm’s CEO Bob Dudley and will provide “independent oversight” of safety-related operational decisions.


The findings “only compound our sense of tragedy because we know now that the blowout of the Macondo well was avoidable,” said former Florida senator Bob Graham, the commission’s co-chair.


“This disaster likely would not have happened had the companies involved been guided by an unrelenting commitment to safety first. And it likely would not have happened if the responsible governmental regulators had the capacity and will to demand world class safety standards.”


According to the report, the Macondo well blew out when a series of “separate risk factors, oversights and outright mistakes combined to overwhelm the safeguards” designed to prevent such an event.


“But most of the mistakes and oversights at Macondo can be traced back to a single overarching failure — a failure of management,” it added.


“Better management by BP, Halliburton and Transocean would almost certainly have prevented the blowout by improving the ability of individuals involved to identify the risks they faced, and to properly evaluate, communicate and address them.”


Former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator William Reilly, another co-chair of the commission, pointed to a “system-wide problem.”


The seven-member panel was set up by US President Barack Obama and tasked with finding out what caused the accident.

Source: SGGP

US envoy seeks Chinese help to ease Korea crisis

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 4:12 am

A top U.S. envoy sought China’s help Thursday in easing the threat of war on the Korean peninsula, hoping to gain insights about a Chinese official’s recent meeting with North Korea’s absolute leader, Kim Jong Il.


Stephen Bosworth met with Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun, Senior Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs Wu Dawei and Wang Jiarui, director of the International Department of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. Bosworth was expected to travel to Japan later Thursday.


“Ambassador Bosworth and Chinese counterparts had useful consultations on how to coordinate moving forward in dealing with North Korea,” a U.S. Embassy statement said.

A body guard, left, tries to shield off journalists while U.S. special envoy for North Korea Stephen Bosworth, second right, walks out of an exit upon arrival at the Capital Airport in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei confirmed Bosworth’s meetings. “The sides agreed to remain in contact on maintaining peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and over the six-party talks,” Hong told a news conference. The talks on North Korea’s nuclear program involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, but have been on hold for nearly two years.


Bosworth had been expected to ask China for information on last month’s talks in Pyongyang between North Korean leader Kim and Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo, Beijing’s top foreign policy official. China has come under growing pressure to push North Korea, its close ally, to change its behavior after the communist country shelled a South Korean island late last year, killing four people.


North Korea will be a key issue during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington later this month.


Bosworth met Wednesday in Seoul with South Korean officials and said he was hopeful for “serious negotiations” soon on the North.


In Washington on Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi held “lengthy discussions” on North Korea and ironed out details of Hu’s visit Jan. 19, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.


Crowley said both the United States and China want stability on the Korean peninsula. “Neither one of us wants to see the emergence of a North Korea that is a nuclear state,” he said. “We hope that coming out of the visit and the discussions with President Hu Jintao we would have a consensus on the best way to move forward.”


Also on Wednesday, North Korea called for “unconditional and early” talks with South Korea to end months of tensions. Seoul quickly dismissed the offer, carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, as insincere and said it was waiting for an apology for two deadly attacks blamed on Pyongyang.


Tensions between the two Koreas have been at their highest level in years since North Korea showered artillery on a South Korean-held island near their disputed maritime border in November, killing four South Koreans. The attack was the first on a civilian area since the 1950-53 Korean War, and occurred in waters not far from the spot where a torpedo sank a South Korean warship eight months earlier, killing 46 sailors.


The attack on the warship was also blamed on the North — an allegation the country denies.


But North Korea has made some conciliatory moves recently. On New Year’s Day, the government issued a lengthy statement calling for warmer ties and the resumption of joint projects with South Korea. Pyongyang, eager for food and fuel assistance, has said it wants stalled nuclear disarmament talks to restart.


Washington and Seoul have said the North must first fulfill past nuclear disarmament commitments before talks can resume.

Source: SGGP

Citing deficit, Gates moves to cut US defense budget

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 4:10 am

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Citing “dire” fiscal pressures, Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposed deeper cuts than planned in US military programs, scaling back ground forces for the first time since the 1990s.


Gates, in a compromise with the White House, said the 78 billion dollars in cuts and other measures would result in a slower pace of growth in defense budgets over the next five years, despite earlier plans to keep spending at a higher rate.


The proposed cuts will require reducing the size of the Army and the Marine Corps in 2015-16, with the Army reducing its force by 27,000 troops and the Marines by 15-20,000, he told a news conference.


The US Army and Marines have not faced reductions since the post-Cold War cuts in defense spending in the 1990s, and the size of the ground force — unlike the Air Force and Navy — has expanded since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

AFP file – A US soldier gets a hand to climb a wall during a patrol in Arghandab Valley, Afghanistan.

The decision reflected the shifting political climate in Washington, with the spotlight on the government’s deficit overshadowing a long-running focus on national security after 2001.


The Pentagon chief said he would have preferred to avoid such cuts, “but this country’s dire fiscal situation and the threat it poses to American influence and credibility around the world will only get worse unless the US government gets its finances in order.”


As a major portion of the US budget, “the Pentagon cannot presume to exempt itself from the scrutiny and pressure faced by the rest of our government” to scale back spending, he said.


Some Republican leaders in Congress promptly criticized the proposed budget as a threat to the military’s health, while some budget hawks have argued for much deeper cuts in defense spending.


Gates said the Pentagon needed to steer a middle course without dramatic cuts, but insisted the bureaucracy had to change the way it operated.


“This department simply cannot risk continuing down the same path — where our investment priorities, bureaucratic habits, and lax attitudes towards costs are increasingly divorced from the real threats of today, the growing perils of tomorrow, and the nation’s grim financial outlook,” he said.


Despite talk of fiscal constraints, the vast American defense budget still far exceeds other countries and comes as European allies face drastic cutbacks to core military programs.


Gates had hoped to avoid any cuts that directly affected the fighting force but said the reductions in the Army and Marine Corps will not come until 2015 — when Washington hopes Afghan forces will take over responsibility for their country’s security.


The Army is currently at 569,000 troops, after a temporary increase of an additional 22,000 troops, and the Marine Corps has about 202,000 personnel.


The proposed defense budget for fiscal year 2012 will reach 553 billion dollars, growing at a modest rate of three percent, he said. But future budgets will gradually be scaled back to zero real growth in 2015 and 2016, Gates said.


Gates, mindful of a growing push to rein in the country’s deficit and national debt, has for months signaled plans to find tens of billions in savings in the defense budget with the aim of preserving key military programs.


The department found 150 billion dollars in savings that were meant to be plowed back into the defense budget, but the White House demanded a cut of 78 billion in military spending over the next five years.


The Pentagon used savings in overhead costs of 54 billion dollars to meet the White House request, but Gates still had to find an additional 24 billion.


The additional savings were found by adjusting economic forecasts for budgets in coming years, streamlining plans for the F-35 fighter and cutting the Army and Marine Corps, he said.


Gates confirmed that the cuts included cancelling an amphibious landing craft favored by the US Marine Corps, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, which he said had been plagued by repeated delays and rising costs.


Apart from cancelling the amphibious craft, Gates also proposed changes in the costly F-35 fighter jet program, putting the troubled Marine version of the aircraft on a two-year “probation” to resolve persistent technical problems.


For more cost savings, Gates proposed streamlining the Defense Department’s “sprawling intelligence apparatus,” maintaining a freeze on hiring civilians for three years, eliminating more than 100 general and senior officer positions and scrapping nearly 400 internal reports.

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Source: SGGP

Korean, US forces lower alert status: report

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 4:10 am

SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea has lowered its military alert status, prompting similar moves by Seoul and US forces as tensions on the Korean peninsula showed signs of easing, a report said Friday.


The apparent moves came as South Korea held its latest war games to simulate an infiltration by North Korean troops across the disputed Yellow Sea border, officials said.

Tensions have been high since the North shelled South Korea’s frontline Yeonpyeong island on November 23.


Yonhap news agency quoted unidentified South Korean government sources as saying that the North recently lifted a special alert it issued on November 21 for its military forces on the coast near the tense sea border.


“The North Korean military recently withdrew an order for special military readiness it had issued in connection with our Hoguk military drills (in November),” a source was quoted as saying.


The South Korean military and US forces in South Korea had consequently reduced their own alert status by one notch to a normal level, the source said.


A defence ministry spokesman declined to comment on the report.


But he told AFP the computerised military exercise involving the South Korean navy and marines “began as planned”, declining to give details.


Navy officials said Friday’s manoeuvres were designed to enhance the South’s capability to repel a surprise landing on islands.


Command posts were involved in the simulated war games but it was unclear whether troops were involved in any physical manoeuvres.


Besides the shelling in November, the North also raised security fears that month by disclosing a uranium enrichment plant to visiting US experts.


But after a difficult year on the Korean peninsula, 2011 started on a more peaceful note.


The North began the year calling for improved relations with Seoul, while South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak Monday also reached out, saying he was open to talks and offering closer economic ties.


Efforts to resume long-stalled nuclear disarmament talks with the North also gained momentum as Beijing urged dialogue and Pyongyang signalled it was willing to return to the negotiating table.


In an unusually cordial statement, carried by its KCNA agency, North Korea said Wednesday the communist nation “courteously proposes having wide-ranging dialogue and negotiations”.


But South Korean officials were dismissive of the comments.


Vice Unification Minister Um Jong-Sik said on KBS radio that the North should show seriousness of purpose by acting on its obligations under a 2005 agreement on denuclearisation and apologising for the November shelling and the sinking of a South Korean warship last year.


Amid the more positive tone, Japan’s foreign minister called for renewed dialogue on the divided Korean peninsula in Washington on Thursday, but said the North should first take “concrete actions” to lower tensions.

Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC. AFP

“The nuclear and missile development issue of DPRK (North Korea) is a cause for major concern,” Seiji Maehara said in a speech to a Washington think tank before meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.


“What is most important is that a North Korea-South Korea dialogue be opened up,” Maehara said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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Source: SGGP

US cannot accept China military power: state media

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 4:10 am

BEIJING, Jan 7, 2011 (AFP) – China will eventually have a military powerful enough to compete with the United States, state media said Friday ahead of the visit of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.


The claim in a newspaper editorial followed reports that China had completed a prototype of a stealth fighter and after a top US military official said Beijing was stepping up efforts to deploy a “carrier-killer” missile system.


“Whether the reported new weapons are true or not, in the long run, China will own first-class weapons that are capable of competing with the US war machine,” said the Global Times, known for its nationalist tone.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (R) meets with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the United Nations headquarters in New York, January 6, 2011. AFP

Gates arrives in China on Sunday to smooth over tense defence relations between the two countries — one year after Beijing cut military ties with Washington in protest against US arms sales to rival Taiwan.


“Apparently, the US is not ready to treat China as a major power. They cannot accept the fact that China will sooner or later possess a first-class military,” the editorial said.


“They are too used to the old power structure, in which China and other developing countries have long been treated unfairly.”


In an interview last week with a Japanese newspaper, the head of the US Pacific Command Admiral Robert Willard said China was pushing development of “carrier-killers” and aimed to project its influence beyond its regional waters.


US military analysts have warned China is developing an anti-ship ballistic missile — a new version of its Dongfeng 21 missile — that could pierce the defences of even the most sturdy US naval vessels and has a range far beyond Chinese waters.


Whereas Gates’s Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie has said that China will push forward with modernisation of its military thanks to a booming economy, the United States is facing major cuts.


Citing “dire” fiscal pressures, Gates on Thursday proposed deeper cuts than planned in US military programmes, scaling back ground forces for the first time since the 1990s.


Gates, in a compromise with the White House, said the 78 billion dollars in cuts and other measures would result in a slower pace of growth in defence budgets over the next five years, despite earlier plans to keep spending at a higher rate.


China has long described its military build-up as “defensive” in nature but top armed forces officials have recently made increasingly strong statements about its quest for a powerful military. 

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Source: SGGP

US to help Vietnamese farmers in growing subsidiary crops

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 4:03 am

The US Embassy has said that the US Agency for International Development (USAID) will grant US$500,000 for implementing a cooperative program on the growing of subsidiary crops in both Vietnam and Cambodia.

A research group from California University in coordination with Hanoi University of Agriculture, and the Ho Chi Minh City University of Agriculture and Forestry will conduct the program.


The program will run until 2013 and will help farmers improve the growing of subsidiary crops. The program will also assist in conducting market research and post-harvest activities in both Vietnam and Cambodia.

Farmers will be involved in courses about production procedures, in order to limit post-harvest losses. The training course will also help improve food and hygiene safety, increase market access, and increase farmers’ income.

The program is part of five projects, funded by USAID in 15 developing countries, aiming to help develop a new method of growing subsidiary crops, which is based on research activities.

Source: SGGP