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Showing posts with label United States. Show all posts
Showing posts with label United States. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

US says sorry to Pakistan, opens Afghan supply lines

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
In this June 12, 2012 file photo, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the State Department in Washington.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ending a bitter seven-month standoff, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton apologized to Pakistan on Tuesday for the killing of 24 Pakistani troops last fall and won in return the reopening of critical NATO supply lines into Afghanistan. The agreement could save the U.S. hundreds of millions of dollars in war costs.

Resolution of the dispute also bandages a relationship with Pakistan that will be crucial in stabilizing the region. The ties have been torn in the past year and a half by everything from a CIA contractor who killed two Pakistanis to the unilateral U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden's Pakistan compound.

But the accord carries risks for both governments - threatening to make Pakistan's already fragile civilian leadership look weak and subservient to the United States while offering fodder to Republicans, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who contend that President Barack Obama says "sorry" too easily.

The first trucks carrying NATO goods should move across the border on Wednesday, U.S. officials said. It could take days to ramp up supplies to pre-attack levels, but around two dozen impatient truck drivers celebrated the news in a parking lot in the southern city of Karachi by singing, dancing and drumming on empty fuel cans.

"We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military," Clinton said, recounting a telephone conversation she had with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar concerning the deaths that led Pakistan to close the supply routes. "I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives. Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives."

"I am pleased that Foreign Minister Khar has informed me that the ground supply lines into Afghanistan are opening," Clinton added in her statement.

It marked the first time any U.S. official formally apologized for the deaths, a step hotly debated within the Obama administration and one demanded by Pakistan before it would reopen the supply routes. Pakistani lawmakers also wanted Washington to halt all air strikes in the country and stop shipping weapons and ammunition to Afghanistan through Pakistani airspace, demands the U.S. has ignored. Negotiations stumbled at one point over transit fees Pakistan sought to charge.

The November incident was the deadliest among the allies in the decade-long fight against al-Qaida and other extremist groups along the Afghan-Pakistani frontier.

An American investigation found that Pakistani forces fired first and U.S. soldiers responded in self-defense. It blamed bad maps, poor coordination and Islamabad's failure to provide the locations of its borders for the failure to determine if Pakistani forces were in the area. Pakistan argued that its troops shot at militants who were nowhere near coalition soldiers, and accused the U.S. of launching a deliberate attack.

The breakdown of the U.S.-Pakistani partnership arrived at an awful time, only weeks after Clinton and CIA Director David Petraeus went to Islamabad to patch up the relationship and secure a Pakistani commitment to snuff out support given by its intelligence services to the Taliban - support that Washington sees as a threat to the Afghan war effort.

The Obama administration, in an election year, expressed regret for the deaths but dug in its heels over the word "sorry," fearful it might open the president to criticism from Republicans already critical of Pakistan's links with militants fighting in Afghanistan.

It is also unclear what the apology will mean for the U.S. call for Pakistan to crack down on the militant Haqqani network, which is believed to use Pakistan as a rear base for attacks on American troops in Afghanistan.

Having titled his campaign book, "No Apology," Romney accuses Obama of having gone "around the world and apologized for America." The accusation refers to Obama's trip to Cairo early in his presidency, when he sought to repair U.S. relations with the Muslim world. Clinton's remarks made no reference to an "apology," though she did use the word "sorry."

Obama made no comments about Pakistan on Tuesday, leaving Clinton's statement as the only official U.S. explanation of the agreement. It was released just as Pakistani civilian and military leaders were meeting to discuss whether to reopen the routes, and there was no confirmation from Islamabad of a decision for more than two hours.

"The main thing is that a superpower has acknowledged our principled stance, and they have shown flexibility," said Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, speaking in Urdu. "It was not the issue of money. It was the issue of our sovereignty," he said, adding that American authorities assured Pakistan there would be no repeat of the incident.

The prime minister's office said the government reopened the supply lines in and out of Afghanistan to help its northern neighbor's "transformation process" more than a decade after bin Laden used the country to launch the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the U.S. responded by helping overthrow the Taliban.

It stressed that re-opening the supply lines would help the U.S. pull out of Afghanistan sooner, saying the transition was in "Pakistan's interest." The statement sought to head off the inevitable political backlash in a country where anti-American sentiment is rife and the United States is often blamed for internal problems.

Still, Pakistan's more conservative political groups rejected the decision. Amirul Azim, a top leader of Pakistan's radical Jamaat-e-Islami party, said, "The main thing is that we should not reopen the NATO supply route, and we should isolate ourselves from this so-called war against terrorism."

The Pakistani Taliban vowed to attack the supply trucks once they started moving.

"We will do our best to stop the NATO supply and will never allow someone to ship weapons for killing Muslims," Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan told The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.

The fallout over the re-opened supply lines could hurt Pakistan's civilian government, which was re-established four years ago after a history of military coups. It has struggled to assert itself against the powerful Pakistani army and hardline Islamist religious leaders and politicians, who will likely point to the several parliamentary demands the U.S. ignored, including the call for an "unconditional apology" for the attack. Washington mentioned mistakes on both sides.

Clinton said Pakistan wouldn't charge any new transit fee and the reopening would help the U.S. draw down its forces in Afghanistan "at a much lower cost."

The U.S. government has never paid transit fees directly. Pakistan charges companies $250 per truck for transit, and the U.S. accounts for those fees in its contracts with those companies, so it pays indirectly. During negotiations Pakistan had asked for a flat fee of up to $5,000, but Washington offered extensive road construction projects to sweeten the deal.

With the supply lines closed, the U.S. has been forced to use more costly transportation routes through Russia and Central Asia. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had estimated the cost at an extra $100 million a month, warning that it could get more expensive as the U.S. started to withdraw equipment in advance of the 2014 troop drawdown in Afghanistan.

Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said that once the backlog of materiel clears the re-opened supply routes, "we expect to be able to save between $70 million and $100 million per month."

The $100 million a month estimate would mean the lengthy standoff cost U.S. taxpayers some $700 million, and denied Pakistan's revenue-starved government millions of dollars in transit fees.

The total could be more.

The Pentagon asked Congress last week for approval to transfer $2.1 billion from other funds to cover costs largely resulting from the closure of the Pakistan supply routes.

Three separate transfers totaling $1.7 billion covered increased fuel and transportation costs for the Army resulting from the closed routes. A fourth transfer of about $370 million was for the Air Force, which had to increase the transportation of supplies by air in part to compensate for the shutdown of the ground routes through Pakistan. The budget request did not specify how much of the $370 million was related to the Pakistan problems and how much was just additional support for the war.

Much of those added costs already have been incurred, but the Pentagon plans to do a review of the transfers to see whether any of the money can be saved, although no major changes are expected.

Panetta said Tuesday he welcomed Pakistan's decision.

"We remain committed to improving our partnership with Pakistan and to working closely together as our two nations confront common security challenges in the region," he said.

According to a senior defense official, the agreement also could cost the U.S. as much as $1.1 billion. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the details were not final, said the Pentagon intends to submit $1.1 billion in approved requests for reimbursement of money the Pakistan government has spent on counter-terrorism operations that were incurred largely along the border.

The requests for aid are approved by the defense secretary and then Congress is notified. Lawmakers can vote to reject them.

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Saudi News: Crown Prince Nayef has died

Saudi Crown Prince Nayef has died
Saudi Arabia said Saturday, June 16, 2012 that Crown Prince Nayef has died.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- Crown Prince Nayef, the hard-line interior minister who spearheaded Saudi Arabia's fierce crackdown crushing al-Qaida's branch in the country after the 9/11 attacks in the United States and then rose to become next in line to the throne, has died. He was in his late 70s.

Nayef's death unexpectedly reopens the question of succession in this crucial U.S. ally and oil powerhouse for the second time in less than a year. The 88-year-old King Abdullah has now outlived two designated successors, despite ailments of his own. Now a new crown prince must be chosen from among his brothers and half-brothers, all the sons of Saudi Arabia's founder, Abdul-Aziz.

The figure believed most likely to be tapped as the new heir is Prince Salman, the current defense minister who previously served for decades in the powerful post of governor of Riyadh, the capital. The crown prince will be chosen by the Allegiance Council, an assembly of Abdul-Aziz's sons and some of his grandchildren.

A statement by the royal family said Nayef died Saturday in a hospital abroad. Saudi-funded pan-Arab TV station Al-Arabiya later confirmed he died in Geneva.

Nayef had been out of the country since late May, when he went on a trip that was described as a "personal vacation" that would include medical tests. He travelled abroad frequently in recent years for tests but authorities never reported what ailments he may have been suffering from.

Nayef had a reputation for being a hard-liner and a conservative. He was believed to be closer than many of his brothers to the powerful Wahhabi religious establishment that gives legitimacy to the royal family, and he at times worked to give a freer hand to the religious police who enforce strict social rules.

His elevation to crown prince in November 2011, after the death of his brother Sultan, had raised worries among liberals in the kingdom that, if he ever became king, he would halt or even roll back reforms that Abdullah had enacted.

Soon after becoming crown prince, Nayef vowed at a conference of clerics that Saudi Arabia would "never sway from and never compromise on" its adherence to the puritanical, ultraconservative Wahhabi doctrine. The ideology, he proclaimed "is the source of the kingdom's pride, success and progress."

Nayef had expressed some reservations about some of the reforms by Abdullah, who made incremental steps to bring more democracy to the country and increase women's rights. Nayef said he saw no need for elections in the kingdom or for women to sit on the Shura Council, an unelected advisory body to the king that is the closest thing to a parliament.

His top concern was security in the kingdom and maintaining a fierce bulwark against Shiite powerhouse, Iran, according to U.S. Embassy assessments of Nayef.

"A firm authoritarian at heart," was the description of Nayef in a 2009 Embassy report on him, leaked by the whistleblower site WikiLeaks.

"He harbors anti-Shia biases and his worldview is colored by deep suspicion of Iran," it said. "Nayef promotes a vision for Saudi society under the slogan of `intellectual security,' which he advocates as needed to `purge aberrant ideas'" and combat extremism, it added, noting that his was in contrast to Abdullah's strategy emphasizing "dialogue, tolerance of differences, and knowledge-based education that is objectionable to many conservatives."

Nayef, who was interior minister in charge of internal security forces since 1975, built up his power in the kingdom though his fierce crackdown against al-Qaida's branch in the country following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States and a broader campaign to prevent the growth of Islamic militancy among Saudis.

The 9/11 attacks at first strained ties between the two allies. For months, the kingdom refused to acknowledge any of its citizens were involved in the suicide airline bombings, until finally Nayef became the first Saudi official to publicly confirm that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, in a February 2002 interview with The Associated Press.

In November 2002, Nayef told the Arabic-language Kuwaiti daily Assyasah that Jews were behind the Sept. 11 attacks because they have benefited from subsequent criticism of Islam and Arabs. Nayef came under heavy criticism in the U.S., especially because he was the man in charge of Saudi investigations into the attack. Criticism grew in the United States that the Saudis were not doing enough to stem extremism in their country or combat al-Qaida.

In mid-2003, Islamic militants struck inside the kingdom, targeting three residential expatriate compounds - the first of a string of assaults that later hit government buildings, the U.S. consulate in Jiddah and the perimeter of the world's largest oil processing facility in Abqaiq. Al-Qaida's branch in the country announced its aim to overthrow Al Saud royal family.

The attacks galvanized the government into serious action against the militants, an effort spearheaded by Nayef. Over the next years, dozens of attacks were foiled, hundreds of militants were rounded up and killed.

By 2008, it was believed that al-Qaida's branch was largely broken in the country. Militant leaders who survived or were not jailed largely fled to Yemen, where they joined Yemeni militants in reviving al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Nayef took a leading role in combatting the branch in Yemen as well. In 2009, al-Qaida militants attempted to assassinate his son, Prince Muhammad, who is deputy interior minister and the commander of counterterrorism operations: A suicide bomber posing as a repentant militant blew himself up in the same room as the prince but failed to kill him.

The cooperation against al-Qaida both in the kingdom and in Yemen significantly boosted ties with the United States.

The anti-militant campaign also boosted Nayef's ties to the religious establishment, which he saw as a major tool in keeping stability and preventing the spread of violent al-Qaida-style "jihadi" theology. The Wahhabi ideology that is the official law in Saudi Arabia is deeply conservative - including strict segregation of the sexes, capital punishments like beheadings and enforced prayer times - but it also advocates against al-Qaida's calls for holy war against leaders seen as infidels.

Nayef's Interior Ministry allied with clerics in a "rehabilitation" program for detained militants, who went through intensive courses with clerics in "correct" Islam to sway them away from violence. The program brought praise from the United States.

Nayef never clashed with Abdullah over reforms or made attempts to stop them - such a step would be unthinkable in the tight-knit royal family, whose members work hard to keep differences under wraps and ultimately defer to the king. But Nayef was long seen as more favorable to the Wahhabi establishment. In 2009, Nayef promptly shut down a film festival in the Red Sea port city of Jiddah, apparently because of conservatives' worry about the possibility of gender mixing in theaters and a general distaste toward film as immoral.

Nayef, a soft-spoken, stocky man of medium build, was born in 1933, the 23rd son of Abdul-Aziz, the family patriarch who founded the kingdom in 1932 and had dozens of sons by various wives.

Nayef was one of the five surviving members of the Sudairi seven, sons of Abdul-Aziz from his wife Hussa bint Ahmad Sudairi who, for decades, have held influential posts. That made him a half-brother of King Abdullah. Before being appointed interior minister, he held the posts of Riyadh governor, deputy minister of interior and minister of state for internal affairs.

Nayef has 10 children from several wives.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

US President Barack Obama sees 'new day' 1 year after bin Laden raid

U.S. President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama delivers a speech from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- On a swift, secretive trip to the war zone, President Barack Obama declared Tuesday night that after years of sacrifice the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan is winding down just as it has already ended in Iraq. "We can see the light of a new day," he said on the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death and in the midst of his own re-election campaign.

"Our goal is to destroy al-Qaida, and we are on a path to do exactly that," Obama said in an unusual speech to America broadcast from an air base halfway around the world.

He spoke after signing an agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to cover the decade after the planned final withdrawal of U.S. combat troops in 2014. Obama said American forces will be involved in counter-terrorism and training of the Afghan military, "but we will not build permanent bases in this country, nor will we be patrolling its cities and mountains."

In a blunt reminder of Afghanistan's fragile security situation, a series of explosions and gunfire erupted in Kabul just hours after Obama left, killing at least six people. The attacks occurred near a private armed compound that houses hundreds of international workers. One of the blasts was a suicide car bomb, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

The president landed in Bagram in darkness, and his helicopter roared to Kabul for the meeting with Karzai, under close guard with only the outlines of the nearby mountains visible. Later, back at the base, he was surrounded by U.S. troops, shaking every hand. He ended his lightning visit with the speech delivered straight to the television camera - and the voters he was trying to reach back home.

Two armored troop carriers served as a backdrop, rather than the customary Oval Office tableau.

His Republican re-election foe, Mitt Romney, was in New York, where the destruction of the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, set in motion the decisions that led to the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Romney accused Obama of politicizing the fleeting national unity that came with the death of bin Laden, the 9/11 terror mastermind.

In a statement released by his campaign later, Romney said he was pleased that Obama had returned to Afghanistan, that the troops and the American people deserved to hear from the president what is at stake in the war. "Success in Afghanistan is vital to our nation's security," he said.

At the air base, Obama said, "This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end. ... With faith in each other, and our eyes fixed on the future, let us finish the work at hand and forge a just and lasting peace."

Earlier, he delivered a similarly upbeat message to the troops. Noting their sacrifice, he said, "There's a light on the horizon."

It was Obama's fourth trip to Afghanistan, his third as commander in chief. He was less than seven hours on the ground in all. He also visited troops at a hospital at the Bagram base, awarding 10 Purple Hearts.

According to the Pentagon, more than 1,800 American troops have been killed across more than a decade of war in Afghanistan.

Some 88,000 remain stationed there.

The wars here and in Iraq combined have cost almost $1.3 trillion. And recent polls show that up to 60 percent of Americans oppose the continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

In his speech to the nation, Obama said, "I recognize many Americans are tired of war."

He said that last year, "we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. After that, reductions will continue at a steady pace, with more of our troops coming home. And as our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country."

Without mentioning the political campaign back home, Obama claimed that on his watch the fortunes of the terrorists have suffered mightily.

Over the past three years "the tide has turned. We broke the Taliban's momentum. We've built strong Afghan security forces. We devastated al-Qaida's leadership, taking out over 20 of their top 30 leaders," he said.

"And one year ago, from a base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin laden."

In a reference to the destruction of New York's World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, he added, "As we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it is time to renew America ... a united America of grit and resilience, where sunlight glistens off soaring new towers in downtown Manhattan, and we build our future as one people, as one nation."

He spoke for less than 15 minutes, beginning at 4 a.m. in Afghanistan, 7:30 p.m. on the East Coast of the United States. Minutes later, Air Force One was on its way back to Washington.

Obama flew to the site of America's longest war not only as commander in chief but also as an incumbent president in the early stages of a tough re-election campaign. Nor were the two roles completely distinct.

His presence was a reminder that since taking office in 2009, Obama has ended the war in Iraq and moved to create an orderly end for the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan.

In the political realm, he and Vice President Joe Biden have marked the one-year anniversary of bin Laden's death by questioning whether Republican challenge Romney would have ordered the daring raid that penetrated the terrorist leader's Pakistan hide-out. Republicans are accusing the president of trying for political gain from the event, and Romney is insisting that he would indeed have ordered U.S. forces into action.

The deal signed with Karzai does not commit the United States to any specific troop presence or spending. But it does allow the U.S. to potentially keep troops in Afghanistan after the war ends for two specific purposes: continued training of Afghan forces and targeted operations against al-Qaida. The terror group is present in neighboring Pakistan but has only a nominal presence inside Afghanistan.

Obama said the agreement was meant in part to pay tribute to the U.S. troops who have died in Afghanistan since the war began. He also underlined his message to Afghans.

"With this agreement I am confident that the Afghan people will understand that the United States will stand by them," he said.

Karzai said his countrymen "will never forget" the help of U.S. forces over the past decade. He said the partnership agreement shows the United States and Afghanistan will continue to fight terrorism together. The United States promises to seek money from Congress every year to support Afghanistan.

To the troops, he readily conceded continued hardship.

"I know the battle's not yet over," he said. "Some of your buddies are going to get injured. And some of your buddies may get killed. And there's going to be heartbreak and pain and difficulty ahead." He added that his administration is committed to ensuring that once the war is over, veterans will be given their due.

Officials have previously said as many as 20,000 U.S. troops may remain after the combat mission ends, but that still must still be negotiated.

The president's Tuesday night address was coming exactly one year after special forces, on his order, began the raid that led to the killing of bin Laden in Pakistan.

Since then, ties between the United States and Afghanistan have been tested anew by the burning of Muslim holy books at a U.S. base and the massacre of 17 civilians, including children, allegedly by an American soldier.

Obama had gone twice before to Afghanistan as president, most recently in December 2010, and once to Iraq in 2009. All such trips, no matter how carefully planned, carry the weight and the risks of considerable security challenges. Just last month, the Taliban began near-simultaneous assaults on embassies, government buildings and NATO bases in Kabul.

Besides the U.S. troops in Afghanistan, there are 40,000 in coalition forces from other nations.


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Saturday, April 07, 2012

Isner powers to victory as U.S. draw level with France in Davis Cup

Tennis
John Isner (right) beat Gilles Simon in straight sets to tie the Davis Cup
(CNN) -- The United States are tied 1-1 with France after the first day of the Davis Cup World Group quarterfinal at the Monte Carlo Country Club in Roquebrune, France.

France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga gave the hosts the initiative with a four-set 7-5 6-2 2-6 6-2 win over Ryan Harrison in the opening rubber.

But the United States hit back to level the tie as big-serving John Isner fired nine aces in a straight-set 6-3 6-2 7-5 win over Gilles Simon.

"I took the court very confident," Isner said, DavisCup.com reported.

"To me no matter who I was going to play today, I was going to feel confident no matter what. So that was the case today," he added.

"I went out there and I played very well, simple as that. I was very happy with how I played and I am happy that I was able to help the team out."

The U.S., who are without Andy Roddick or Mardy Fish, will look to the Bryan brothers (Bob and Mike) to edge them into the lead tomorrow as they face Michael Llodra and Julien Benneteau.

Meanwhile in Castellon, Spain took a firm hold on their tie against Austria as Nicolas Almagro and David Ferrer recorded straight set wins over Jurgen Melzer and Andreas Haider-Maurer respectively.

The five-time champions, who are without the services of an injured Rafael Nadal, can now clinch the tie on Saturday with victory in the doubles.

Almagro was on court for just under two hours in his 6-2 6-2 6-4 win over Melzer while world No.5 Ferrer demolished Haider-Maurer 6-1 6-3 6-1 to continue his unbeaten status in Davis Cup singles matches.

"I won relatively easily and am happy with my game. Maybe the opponent played a little bit bad and made many mistakes but I played very solid and consistent," Ferrer said, DavisCup.com reported.

Over In Prague, Serbia, who are without the services of World No.1Novak Djokovic, got off to a bad start against the Czech Republic as Tomas Berdych cruised to a straight-set win over Victor Troicki 6-2 6-1 6-2.

But Janko Tipsarevic overcame Radek Stepanek in a five-set thriller 5-7 6-4 6-4 4-6 9-7 to level the tie.

The winners will face either Argentina or Croatia who are battling it out in Buenos Aires.

That tie is nicely poised after Croatian No.1 Marin Cilic beat David Nalbandian 5-7 6-4 4-6 7-6 6-3 before Juan Martin del Potro hit back leveling the match with a straight sets victory over Ivo Karlovic 6-2 7-6 6-1.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

U.S. autism rates reach new height: CDC

U.S. autism rates reach new height
Tarya Seagraves-Quee bathes her six-year-old autistic son Joshua in their room at a motel
(Reuters) - About one in 88 children in the United States has autism or a related disorder, the highest estimate to date and one that is sure to revive a national argument over how the condition is diagnosed and treated.

The estimate released on Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention represents an overall increase of 25 percent since the last analysis in 2006 and a near-doubling of the reported rate in 2002.

Among boys, the rate of autism spectrum disorders is one in 54, almost five times that of girls, in whom the rate is one in 252.

"One thing the data tells us with certainty - there are many children and families who need help," said CDC Director Thomas Frieden. "We must continue to track autism spectrum disorders because this is the information communities need to guide improvements in services to help children."

Advocates for people with autism seized on the apparent spike in the prevalence of the disease to call for more research to identify its causes and more services for those affected by it.

"This is a national emergency and it's time for a national strategy," said Mark Roithmayr, president of the research and advocacy group Autism Speaks. He called for a "national training service corps" of therapists, caregivers, teachers and others who are trained to help children with autism.

Some researchers have questioned whether the increases over the last decade are real or reflects greater awareness that has led parents and teachers to see symptoms of autism in children who would not have received the diagnosis a generation ago.

Changes in how the disease is diagnosed explains a large fraction of the reported increase in prevalence, even advocates acknowledged.

EXAMINING RECORDS

"Inevitably when these statistics come out, the question is, what is driving the increase?" said Roithmayr. Better diagnoses, broader diagnostic criteria and higher awareness, he said, account for about half the reported increase.

The new estimate from the CDC comes from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, which operated in 14 states.

To determine whether a child has autism or a related disorder, what CDC calls "clinician reviewers" examined the medical and school records of 8-year-olds in the 14 states and also conducted screening. Children whose records included either an explicit notation of autism-spectrum disorder or merely descriptions of behavior consistent with the disorder were counted as falling on the autism spectrum.

CDC investigators warned, however, that the 14 sites are not "nationally representative." As a result, the rate of autism being reported on Thursday in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, "should not be generalized to the United States as a whole."

Autism spectrum disorders are marked by a suite of symptoms, all arising from atypical brain development that results in problems with socialization, communication, and behavior.

Although the disorder can be mild or severe, in general children with autism have difficulty communicating and making friends. Many find it painful to look other people in the eyes, which impairs their ability to understand what others are thinking and feeling.

News by Reuters

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Supreme Court moves to heart of healthcare case

US President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about health insurance reform
(Reuters) - The Supreme Court confronts the core of President Barack Obama's healthcare law on Tuesday when it hears arguments on whether Congress had the power to require most people in the United States to buy medical insurance.

The two-hour session on the second day of a historic three-day oral argument will offer a first concrete look at how the nine justices view the law Obama signed two years ago and that still divides his Democrats and rival Republicans.

No past rulings are completely on point and speculation has been rampant about how the ideologically divided justices will decide the limits of congressional power to address society's most intractable problems. Not since 1936 has the Supreme Court struck down a major piece of federal economic legislation as exceeding Congress' power.

A ruling, expected in late June before the Democratic and Republican party conventions, is likely to become a flashpoint in the November 6 presidential and congressional elections.

The court's ruling on the insurance requirement could decide the fate of the massive multi-part healthcare overhaul meant to improve access to medical care and extend insurance to more than 30 million people.

On Monday the justices took up a procedural tax-law question about the timing of lawsuits and suggested by their questions that they could decide the merits of case.

The centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act is the mandate that most people buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a tax penalty. The challengers, including 26 states and a small-business trade group, contend Congress exceeded its authority to regulate commerce with that so-called individual mandate.

In more practical terms, the challengers say that if the government can force people to enter the insurance market, it would have latitude to force people to engage in other behavior, whether it be to buy American-made cars or, in a mantra of the current litigation, to eat broccoli.

The Obama administration argues that virtually everyone will need medical care and that those who opt not to buy insurance put a disproportionate burden on the system. It has defended the law as a response to a national crisis.

In the United States, annual healthcare spending totals $2.6 trillion, about 18 percent of the annual gross domestic product, or $8,402 for every man, woman and child.

COURT DIVISIONS

The Supreme Court is deeply split on ideological and political grounds, with the five conservative Republican-appointed justices often in the majority: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

The four liberal Democratic appointees are Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

A looming point of interest for the 400 spectators who will crowd into the courtroom on Tuesday is whether that 5-4 division becomes evident or appears to splinter.

All four liberals are likely, based on their past decisions and statements, to vote to uphold the law. If that occurs, they would need only one of the conservatives for a majority. An American Bar Association legal group survey of academics and lawyers found that 85 percent thought the law would be upheld.

Among the justices most likely to become swing votes in the dispute are Roberts, a 2005 appointee of President George W. Bush who has often deferred to Congress in rulings and has signaled an interest in avoiding a deeply divided ruling.

Another conservative justice who could defy political-based assumptions is Anthony Kennedy, a 1988 appointee of President Ronald Reagan. Kennedy has straddled the middle and has most often been the swing vote when the liberals prevailed.

Based on his opinions, Justice Clarence Thomas is most likely to vote to strike down the law. Justices Scalia and Alito cannot be as easily predicted as Thomas.

CONGRESS VERSUS THE STATES

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the administration's top lawyer at the court, will argue that the individual mandate flowed naturally from Congress's authority to regulate commerce, including its longstanding authority in the insurance field.

In his brief to the justices, Verrilli said the law addresses an existing problem in the healthcare market brought on by the uninsured consuming health care they cannot afford.

He said that had led to at least $43 billion of uncompensated healthcare each year, much of which is passed on to people who have insurance. Verrilli estimated such "cost-shifting" adds $1,000 a year to a family's insurance policy.

Representing the 26 states is Washington lawyer Paul Clement, formerly a solicitor general under President George W. Bush. He deems the mandate "unprecedented" and said it could lead to limitless intervention by Congress in people's lives.

Washington lawyer Michael Carvin, who represents the National Federation of Independent Business, stressed in his written filings that the new law forces healthy people to purchase insurance against their will.

The Supreme Court cases are National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, No. 11-393; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, No. 11-398; and Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, No. 11-400.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Yen drops to its lowest level in eight and a half months

Yen drops to its lowest level in eight and a half months
Yen
Yen Hui to its lowest level in eight and a half months against the dollar on Tuesday after strong economic data in the United States increased the expectations of investors to raise interest rates this year.

And approached the lowest level of the euro in the year with the growing concerns about the success of the plan of financial assistance to Greece and settled the Australian dollar was up before an expected increase in interest rates.

The dollar rose 0.4 percent to 94.98 yen, its highest level since 24 August. And later settled near 94.90 yen.

The Commerce Department reported Monday that manufacturing in the United States recorded the fastest growth rate in nearly six years in April and rose U.S. consumer spending, which represents more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity in March for the sixth consecutive month.

The yen fell against the euro and Australian dollar.

The euro of $ 1.3195, unchanged from the closing price in New York, which fell 0.7 percent.

The transaction is expected to be light due to the closure of the market in Tokyo on Tuesday.

News by Mecbiz



Sunday, February 19, 2012

South Korea carries out military drill despite threats from North

war between South Korea and North Korea
A South Korean K-1 tank fires live rounds during a military exercise 
Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- South Korea fired live artillery on Monday in a military drill near the country's heavily armed border with North Korea, which has described the exercise as a provocation.

The drill Monday involved howitzers, mortars and attack helicopters, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported. It took place on islands off the west coast of the Korean peninsula where tensions have flared in the past.

Seoul notified the North on Sunday of the drill, a regular live-fire exercise that lasts an hour. About 1,000 island residents were moved to safe areas during the drill, Yonhap reported, citing military officials.

"This is a very dangerous play with fire to ignite a war against the North as it is a clear declaration of war against it," Pyongyang's state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Sunday, citing a bulletin from the Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea.

In late 2010, North Korea responded to a South Korean military exercise in the same area by firing artillery at Yeonpyeong Island, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians.

"If the puppet warmongers preempt reckless firing despite our warning, they will not escape punishment thousands-fold severer" than the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, the bulletin said. It identified "the puppet warmongers" as being South Korea and the United States, which has tens of thousands of troops in South Korea.

The death in December of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and the subsequent anointment of his son and chosen successor, Kim Jong Un, has created uncertainty about the future direction of the secretive regime in Pyongyang.

Further tensions over military maneuvers on the Korean peninsula are expected in the coming weeks. There are two joint exercises planned involving thousands of U.S. and South Korean forces scheduled between February and April.

News by CNN

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Iranian company wants to send toy drone to Obama

Iranian company wants to send toy drone to Obama
Toy-Drone made by Iran
Tehran, Iran (CNN) -- An Iranian non-profit company says it will honor U.S. President Barack Obama's request that Iran return a drone that crashed there last year.

But instead of the actual drone, the company says it will send miniature toy versions. A lot of them.

"We plan to send a full squadron of 12 to the White House for President Obama as a present," said Reza Kioumarsi, a spokesman for the Aaye Art Group, a Tehran-based non-profit, non-governmental company that makes novelty items.

The company is trying to determine what Obama's favorite color is before sending the drones, which are 1/80th the size of the real drone, Kioumarsi said.

In December, Obama said the U.S. has asked Iran to return the highly classified RQ-170 Sentinel drone.

"We've asked for it back. We'll see how the Iranians respond," Obama said at the time.

This is probably not the response Obama was seeking.

Iran has said the country's armed forces had downed the drone near Kashmar, some 225 kilometers (140 miles) from the border with Afghanistan on December.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a speech in December that seemed to suggest that Iran wouldn't return it.

"The North Americans at best have decided to give us this spy plane," Ahmadinejad said.

The RQ-170 Sentinel is one of the United States' most sophisticated drones and flies at up to 50,000 feet. It is designed to evade sophisticated air defenses.

One former intelligence official said it's "impossible to see" and discounted Iranian claims that it had been brought down by some form of electronic counter-measures. "It simply fell into their laps," he said -- after satellite communication was lost.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

How Pakistan helps the U.S. drone campaign

US Drone
US Drone
(Reuters) - The death of a senior al Qaeda leader in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan's tribal badlands, the first strike in almost two months, signaled that the U.S.-Pakistan intelligence partnership is still in operation despite political tensions.

The Jan 10 strike -- and its follow-up two days later -- were joint operations, a Pakistani security source based in the tribal areas told Reuters.

They made use of Pakistani "spotters" on the ground and demonstrated a level of coordination that both sides have sought to downplay since tensions erupted in January 2011 with the killing of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor in Lahore.

"Our working relationship is a bit different from our political relationship," the source told Reuters, requesting anonymity. "It's more productive."

U.S. and Pakistani sources told Reuters that the target of the Jan 10 attack was Aslam Awan, a Pakistani national from Abbottabad, the town where Osama bin Laden was killed last May by a U.S. commando team.

They said he was targeted in a strike by a U.S.-operated drone directed at what news reports said was a compound near the town of Miranshah in the border province of North Waziristan.

That strike broke an undeclared eight-week hiatus in attacks by the armed, unmanned drones that patrol the tribal areas and are a key weapon in U.S. President Barack Obama's counter-terrorism strategy.

The sources described Awan, also known by the nom-de-guerre Abdullah Khorasani, as a significant figure in the remaining core leadership of al Qaeda, which U.S. officials say has been sharply reduced by the drone campaign. Most of the drone attacks are conducted as part of a clandestine CIA operation.

The Pakistani source, who helped target Awan, could not confirm that he was killed, but the U.S. official said he was. European officials said Awan had spent time in London and had ties to British extremists before returning to Pakistan.

The source, who says he runs a network of spotters primarily in North and South Waziristan, described for the first time how U.S.-Pakistani cooperation on strikes works, with his Pakistani agents keeping close tabs on suspected militants and building a pattern of their movements and associations.

"We run a network of human intelligence sources," he said. "Separately, we monitor their cell and satellite phones.

"Thirdly, we run joint monitoring operations with our U.S. and UK friends," he added, noting that cooperation with British intelligence was also extensive.

Pakistani and U.S. intelligence officers, using their own sources, hash out a joint "priority of targets lists" in regular face-to-face meetings, he said.

"Al Qaeda is our top priority," he said.

He declined to say where the meetings take place.

Once a target is identified and "marked," his network coordinates with drone operators on the U.S. side. He said the United States bases drones outside Kabul, likely at Bagram airfield about 25 miles north of the capital.

From spotting to firing a missile "hardly takes about two to three hours," he said.

DRONE STRIKES A SORE POINT WITH PAKISTAN

It was impossible to verify the source's claims and American experts, who decline to discuss the drone program, say the Pakistanis' cooperation has been less helpful in the past.

U.S. officials have complained that when information on drone strikes was shared with the Pakistanis beforehand, the targets were often tipped off, allowing them to escape.

Drone strikes have been a sore point with the public and Pakistani politicians, who describe them as violations of sovereignty that produce unacceptable civilian casualties.

The last strike before January had been on Nov 16, 10 days before 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in what NATO says was an inadvertent cross-border attack on a Pakistani border post.

That incident sent U.S.-Pakistan relations into the deepest crisis since Islamabad joined the U.S.-led war on militancy following the Sept 11, 2001 attacks. On Thursday, Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar said ties were "on hold" while Pakistan completes a review of the alliance.

The United States sees Pakistan as critical to its efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan, where U.S.-led NATO forces are battling a Taliban insurgency.

Some U.S. and Pakistani officials say that both sides are trying to improve ties. As part of this process, a U.S. official said, it is possible that some permanent changes could be made in the drone program which could slow the pace of attacks.

The security source said very few innocent people had been killed in the strikes. When a militant takes shelter in a house or compound which is then bombed, "the ones who are harboring him, they are equally responsible," he said.

"When they stay at a host house, they (the hosts) obviously have sympathies for these guys."

He denied that Pakistan helped target civilians.

"If ... others say innocents have been targeted, it's not true," he said. "We never target civilians or innocents."

The New America Foundation policy institute says that of 283 reported strikes from 2004 to Nov 16, 2011, between 1,717 and 2,680 people were killed. Between 293 and 471 were thought to be civilians -- approximately 17 percent of those killed.

The Brookings Institution, however, says civilian deaths are high, reporting in 2009 that "for every militant killed, 10 or more civilians also died." Pakistan's interior minister, Rehman Malik, also said in April 2011 that "the majority of victims are innocent civilians."

Still, despite its public stance, Pakistan has quietly supported the drone program since Obama ramped up air strikes when he took office in 2009 and even asked for more flights.

According to a U.S. State Department cable published by anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks, Pakistan's chief of army staff General Ashfaq Kayani in February 2008 asked Admiral William J. Fallon, then-commander of U.S. Central Command, for increased surveillance and round-the-clock drone coverage over North and South Waziristan.

The security source said Pakistan's powerful spy agency, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, also was supportive of the strikes, albeit privately.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Iran calls for Israel to be "punished"

Iran-Israel

(Reuters) - Major powers signaled on Friday their willingness to reopen talks about curbing Iran's suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons but said Tehran must show it is serious about any negotiations.

The focus on diplomacy follows weeks of rising tensions between the West, which is seeking to cut Iran's oil sales, and Tehran, which has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz through which almost one-fifth of oil traded worldwide flows.

Alarmed Arab neighbors made a plea to avoid escalating the dispute over Iran's nuclear program while an ally of Iran's supreme leader called for Israel to be "punished" for allegedly killing an Iranian nuclear scientist.

The West suspects Iran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop atomic weapons and has pursued a two-track approach of sanctions and diplomacy to try to rein it in. Iran says its nuclear program is solely to produce electricity.

While major powers stressed their openness to renewed talks,

diplomats said they remain divided on their approach, notably on whether to let Iran keep enriching uranium at some level.

The group, known as the P5+1 and as the EU3+3, includes Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the group, issued a statement making clear that a diplomatic path remains open to Iran despite tougher sanctions and fresh speculation of a military strike on its nuclear facilities.

"The EU3+3 has always been clear about the validity of the dual track approach," Ashton's spokesperson said in a statement that included her October 21 letter to the Iranians laying out the possibility of talks. "We are waiting for the Iranian reaction."

The release of the statement and letter appeared to reflect frustration at Iran's statements hinting at a willingness to resume talks but Tehran's failure to formally respond to the letter and commit to discussing the nuclear program in earnest.

CONCILIATORY TONE FROM CLINTON

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton struck a decidedly conciliatory tone at a news conference with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in Washington.

"We do not seek conflict. We strongly believe the people of Iran deserve a better future," she said. "They can have that future, the country can be reintegrated into the global community ... when their government definitively turns away from pursuing nuclear weapons.

"We have to see a seriousness and sincerity of purpose coming from them."

Westerwelle said, "One thing is clear: the door for serious dialogue remains open but the option of nuclear weapons in Iran is not acceptable."

Diplomats said major powers are divided over what incentives to offer Iran if talks were to resume.

A central issue is whether the group might ask Iran to cease enriching uranium to the higher level of 20 percent but allow it, at least for a time, to continue enriching at lower levels -

a stance partly at odds with the group's past positions.

Uranium enrichment is a process that at low levels can yield fuel for nuclear power plants or, if carried out to much higher levels of purity, can generate fissile material for bombs.

To let Iran enrich at lower levels would be something of a concession by the P5+1, although it has previously offered a temporary "freeze-for-freeze" in which Iran would not expand its nuclear program and the powers would not pursue more sanctions.


IRANIAN CALLS FOR PUNISHING ISRAEL

After Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei paid his respects to the families of two scientists assassinated on what Tehran believes were Israel's orders, one of them just last week, a close ally demanded retribution.

"Terrorism has a long history in some countries like the Zionist regime," Ali Larijani, speaker of Iran's parliament and a former nuclear negotiator, said Israel, which views an atomic bomb in Iran's hands as a threat to its survival.

"The Zionist regime should be punished in a way that it can not play such games with our country again."

Such threats have been made before in Tehran and it is unclear how or when they might be carried out. Israel, widely assumed to have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, is on guard against attacks on its borders and within, notably by Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, which is supported by Iran.

Obama's top military official, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, briefly visited Israel and was quoted by its Defense Ministry as telling officials there that Washington was keen to coordinate on strategy.

"We have many interests in common in the region in this very dynamic time and the more we can continue to engage each other, the better off we'll all be," Dempsey was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Israeli Defense Ministry.

The comments may reflect U.S. concerns about the possibility that Israel, which has previously bombed nuclear facilities in Iraq and in Syria, might launch an attack on Iran.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Friday that time was running out to avoid a military intervention and appealed to China and Russia, veto-wielding U.N. powers who have been reluctant to tighten sanctions, to support new sanctions.

"Time is running out. France will do everything to avoid a military intervention," Sarkozy told ambassadors gathered in Paris. "A military intervention will not solve the problem, but it will unleash war and chaos in the Middle East."

"We need stronger, more decisive sanctions that stop the purchase of Iranian oil and freezes the assets of the central bank, and those who don't want that will be responsible for the risks of a military conflict," Sarkozy warned.

"We really need you," he said in an appeal to Moscow and Beijing.

With tensions, including mutual threats of disrupting the oil trade, creating worries across the region, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, the wealthy, U.S.-allied state sitting across the Gulf from Iran, offered a warm welcome to a call for calm on Thursday by his Iranian counterpart.

"It's important to get far away from any escalation and we stress the stability of the region," Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan was quoted as saying by state news agency WAM.



Thursday, January 19, 2012

Megaupload file-sharing site shut down

megaupload
Megaupload charged users a fee to upload large files anonymously
Megaupload, one of the internet's largest file-sharing sites, has been shut down by officials in the US.

The site's founders have been charged with violating piracy laws.

Federal prosecutors have accused it of costing copyright holders more than $500m (£320m) in lost revenue. The firm says it was diligent in responding to complaints about pirated material.

The news came a day after anti-piracy law protests, but investigators said they were ordered two weeks ago.

The US Justice Department said that Megaupload's two co-founders Kim Dotcom, formerly known as Kim Schmitz, and Mathias Ortmann were arrested in Auckland, New Zealand along with two other employees of the business at the request of US officials. It added that three other defendants were still at large.

"This action is among the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought by the United States and directly targets the misuse of a public content storage and distribution site to commit and facilitate intellectual property crime," said a statement posted on its website.

In response, hackers targeted the US Department of Justice and FBI websites.

The FBI website is intermittently unavailable due to what officials said was being "treated as a malicious act".

The hackers' group Anonymous said it was carrying out the attacks.
Third-party sites

The charges included copyright infringement, conspiracies to commit racketeering, copyright infringement and money laundering.

A federal court in Virginia ordered that 18 domain names associated with the Hong Kong-based firm be seized.

The Justice Department said that more than 20 search warrants had been executed in nine countries, and that approximately $50m in assets had been seized.

It claimed that the accused had pursued a business model designed to promote the uploading of copyrighted works.

"The conspirators allegedly paid users whom they specifically knew uploaded infringing content and publicised their links to users throughout the world," a statement said.

"By actively supporting the use of third-party linking sites to publicise infringing content, the conspirators did not need to publicise such content on the Megaupload site.

"Instead, the indictment alleges that the conspirators manipulated the perception of content available on their servers by not providing a public search function on the Megaupload site and by not including popular infringing content on the publicly available lists of top content downloaded by its users."

Before it was shut down the site posted a statement saying the allegations against it were "grotesquely overblown".

"The fact is that the vast majority of Mega's internet traffic is legitimate, and we are here to stay," it added.

"If the content industry would like to take advantage of our popularity, we are happy to enter into a dialogue. We have some good ideas. Please get in touch."
Blackouts

The announcement came a day after thousands of websites took part in a "blackout" to protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (Pipa).

The US Chamber of Commerce has defended the proposed laws saying that enforcement agencies "lack the tools" to effectively apply existing intellectual property laws to the digital world.

Industry watchers suggest this latest move may feed into the wider debate.

"Neither of the bills are close to being passed - they need further revision. But it appears that officials are able to use existing tools to go after a business alleged to be inducing piracy," said Gartner's media distribution expert Mike McGuire.

"It begs the question that if you can find and arrest people who are suspected to be involved in piracy using existing laws, then why introduce further regulations which are US-only and potentially damaging."

News by BBC


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Sunday, January 15, 2012

New Miss America of 2012 gets crowned

Miss US 2012 Laura Kaeppeler
Miss US 2012 Laura Kaeppeler
Miss America 2012
Laura Kaeppeler, Miss America 2012
Laura Kaeppeler, Miss America 2012
Laura Kaeppeler, Miss America 2012
Laura Kaeppeler, Miss America 2012
Laura Kaeppeler, Miss America 2012

Laura Kaeppeler, a 23-year-old beauty queen from Wisconsin, was crowned Miss America 2012 on Saturday after beating 52 other young women from across the United States. Her win marks the first time Miss Wisconsin has taken home the crown since 1972. Kaeppeler won a $50,000 scholarship and a yearlong run with the crown after answering a question about whether Miss America should declare her political affiliation by saying, "Miss America represents everyone ... Miss America represents all." Miss Oklahoma Betty Thompson came in second while Miss New York Kaitlyn Monte placed third.

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Sunday, January 08, 2012

Iran to launch nuclear work in bunker in "near future"

nuclear plant in Iran
Nuclear plant in Tehran, Iran
(Reuters) - Iran will in the "near future" start enriching uranium deep inside a mountain, a senior official said, a move likely to further antagonize Western powers which suspect Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons capability.

A decision by the Islamic Republic to conduct sensitive atomic activities at an underground site - offering better protection against any enemy attacks - could complicate diplomatic efforts to resolve the long-running row peacefully.

Iran has said for months that it is preparing to move its highest-grade uranium refinement work to Fordow, a facility near the Shi'ite Muslim holy city of Qom in central Iran, from its main enrichment plant at Natanz.

The United States and its allies say Iran is trying to build bombs, but Tehran insists its nuclear program is aimed at generating power and for medical purposes.

"The Fordow nuclear enrichment plant will be operational in the near future," the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, said.

Uranium refined to purity levels of both 3.5 percent and 20 percent can be produced at the site, he added in comments carried by Iran's Kayhan newspaper on Sunday.

One Western official said with the start-up of Fordow, Iran would send a political signal to show it will not bow to international demands to suspend uranium enrichment, activity which can have both civilian and military uses.

The West has imposed increasingly tight economic sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program, culminating with a new law signed on New Year's Eve by President Barack Obama aimed at preventing buyers from paying for Iranian oil.

"I would see it as another escalatory step on the Iranian side," the official, who declined to be named, said.

As the sanctions pressure mounts on the major oil producer, Iran has called for fresh talks on its nuclear program with the permanent members of the Security Council and Germany (P5+1), which have been stalled for a year.

CLOSER TO WEAPONS MATERIAL


Western powers have repeatedly made clear they are also ready for renewed diplomacy, but stress that Iran must show it is willing to engage in meaningful discussions and start addressing growing international concerns about its work.

"They have to demonstrate they are going to be serious," the Western official said, speaking prior to Iran's latest announcement on Fordow's planned inauguration.

Diplomats in Vienna, home to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog, told Reuters on Friday that Iran was believed to have begun feeding uranium gas into centrifuges in Fordow in late December as part of final preparations to use the machines for enrichment.

The centrifuges and other equipment needed to start enrichment were installed at Fordow last year.

Iran is already refining uranium to a fissile purity of 20 percent - far more than the 3.5 percent level usually required to power nuclear energy plants - above ground at Natanz.

The country said last year it would move this higher-grade enrichment to Fordow, which like other Iranian nuclear sites is regularly inspected by the IAEA, and also sharply boost output capacity.

The United States and Israel, Iran's arch foes, have not ruled out strikes against the Islamic state if diplomacy fails to resolve the dispute.

Iran disclosed the existence of Fordow to the IAEA only in September 2009 after learning that Western intelligence agencies had detected it.

Tehran says it will use 20 percent-enriched uranium to convert into fuel for a research reactor making isotopes to treat cancer patients, but Western officials say they doubt that the country has the technical capability to do that.

In addition, they say, Fordow's capacity - a maximum of 3,000 centrifuges - is too small to produce the fuel needed for nuclear power plants, but ideal for yielding smaller amounts of high-enriched product typical of a nuclear weapons program.

Centrifuges spin at supersonic speeds, which enriches uranium by increasing the concentration of fissile isotopes.

Nuclear bombs require uranium enriched to 90 percent, but Western experts say much of the effort required to get there is already achieved once it reaches 20 percent purity, shortening the time needed for any nuclear weapons "break-out."

They give different estimates of how quickly Iran could assemble a nuclear weapon if it decides to do so - ranging from as little as six months to a year or more.

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Saturday, January 07, 2012

World's biggest tech show searching for "wow"

razor-thin laptops
Biggest tech show
(Reuters) - The world's biggest technology trade show will feature razor-thin laptops, powerful new smartphones and fancy flat-screen TVs, but talk in the cavernous halls of the Consumer Electronics Show, which kicks off on Monday night, may focus on whether the show itself has a long-term future.

Apple Inc, which has set the agenda in consumer electronics for the past decade, does not even attend the show. Microsoft Corp, desperately trying to catch up, is making this show its last. It has been a few years since Las Vegas-based CES had the "wow" factor.

"There's a lot of hype. The promise exceeds the deliverable a lot," said Todd Lowenstein, portfolio manager at HighMark Capital Management, which owns several technology stocks. "I take an interest in it only to the extent that there's market-moving information that comes out of there, which I find is rare."

Steve Jobs' stylish and dramatic product launches came to dominate the popular tech world, and rivals are looking to copy that outside of the hubbub and razzmatazz of CES in Las Vegas.

"A lot of companies are trying to imitate Apple's success in a lot of areas, and one area where Apple has been extremely successful is in controlling its message by controlling the event and the timetable of its announcements," said Avi Greengart, research director for consumer devices at Current Analysis, a business intelligence firm.

Microsoft, which is trying to win back its technology crown from Apple and newcomer Google Inc, has long said that CES in early January does not fit its product release timetable, meaning it has little new to share in the opening keynote, which has for years been given by Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, and before him by co-founder Bill Gates.

"Microsoft can do this on their own, they don't need CES," said Hanson Hosein, a specialist in technology and media at the University of Washington in Seattle. "It's a lot of money. These shows are generally declining in popularity anyway."

WHAT'S NEW?

This year, the buzzwords look similar to last year, including "connected," "always on" and "voice recognition," whether in new, more powerful phones and tablets or in cars or even watches.

"This year there's going to be a focus on connectivity and mobility that continues the momentum we've seen for the past few years, even though we may not see quite so many big announcements by (mobile) carriers as we did last year," said Ross Rubin, executive director, Connected Intelligence, at retail research firm NPD Group.

The latest crop of light and thin laptops, which Intel Corp has dubbed "Ultrabooks," is set to dominate the hardware displays, from the likes of Toshiba Corp, Asustek Computer Inc and Lenovo Group Ltd.

On the other side of the floor, the latest high-definition, Internet-enabled TVs from Sony Corp, Panasonic Corp, Sharp Corp and LG Corp will also draw crowds.

Wireless carriers AT&T Inc and Verizon Wireless are expected to unveil devices to take advantage of their new high-speed networks, and phone-maker Nokia is preparing to reintroduce itself to a U.S. audience with new handsets running Microsoft's latest Windows software.

Tablets may take a backseat after dominating the show last year, as hardware makers lick their wounds after failure to match Apple's all-conquering iPad.

Some suspect tablet makers are not fully committing to Google's Android as a tablet platform, knowing that Microsoft's tablet-friendly Windows 8 system is likely set to hit the market in the next 12 months. Microsoft showed off a flashy Samsung Electronics tablet running a prototype of Windows 8 in September, and more up-to-date demo versions are expected to be circulating at CES.

Somewhere in between the phone and tablet is the "phablet," the tag applied to Samsung's new 5.3 inch- (13.5 cm-) screen Galaxy Note.

So far available only in Europe and Asia, there is talk that AT&T will announce plans to launch the Android-based device in the United States at CES.

Sensor-laden, low-power devices with a constant connection to the Internet -- whether a phone, or smaller device hidden in your car or on your wrist -- will be the theme of the show, tech-watchers seem to agree. That allows users to move digital content around or get real-time feedback on where they are and what they are doing.

"The CPU is in your pocket, the data is all in the cloud," said John Elliott, senior executive at consulting firm Accenture's Mobility practice.

STILL HEAVING

CES, which started in 1967 in New York, was the launchpad for the VCR, camcorder, DVD, HDTV and many other pivotal home tech developments. It grew rapidly in importance after the COMDEX tech show folded a decade ago.

It has been a while since CES showcased such game-changing inventions, but it is still popular with technology exhibitors and buyers, although it may suffer a dip in overall attendance this year.

The 2012 International CES -- to state its full title -- is set to be the second-biggest on record, with more than 2,700 exhibitors taking up over 1.8 million square feet of show floor. The largest-ever CES was in 2008, with 1.85 million square feet of paid-for exhibition space.

The organizers said they are expecting 140,000 to 150,000 attendees this year, but acknowledge it will be tough to beat last year's 149,000.

Exhibitors tend to make reservations on next year's space while at the show, or shortly afterward, so CES will soon find out if its waning influence, or hard economic times, will take a bite out of next year's show.

CES is "a good opportunity to discuss the Intel products and technologies that consumers want to hear about," said Robert Manetta, a spokesman for the world's biggest chip maker.

The show is also still popular with smaller companies looking for a big stage to show off their wares.

"CES is hands-down the best venue to debut cutting-edge hardware and software to the world," said Michel Tombroff, CEO of Softkinetic, a Belgian firm which designs motion-sensing technology for controlling TVs and computers with your hands.

Technology buyers also like it.

"We are always looking for new, new, new," said a buyer at an upscale retailer focusing on teens. "For electronics, we wouldn't even bother with anywhere else."

Ultimately, CES still sets the pace in technology for retailers, said Rubin at NPD.

"CES has become the place where the expectations for the year are set in terms of the state of the art."


Wednesday, January 04, 2012

U.S. to unveil "more realistic" plan for military

obama
Barack Obama, US President
(Reuters) - The Obama administration will unveil a "more realistic" vision for the military on Thursday, with plans to cut tens of thousands of ground troops and invest more in air and sea power at a time of fiscal restraint, officials familiar with the plans said on Wednesday.

The strategic review of U.S. security interests will also emphasize an American presence in Asia, with less attention overall to Europe, Africa and Latin America alongside slower growth in the Pentagon's budget, the officials said.

Though specific budget cut and troop reduction figures are not set to be announced on Thursday, officials confirmed to Reuters they would amount to a 10-15 percent decline in Army and Marine Corps numbers over the next decade, translating to tens of thousands of troops.

The most profound shift in the strategic review is an acceptance that the United States, even with the world's largest military budget, cannot afford to maintain the ground troops to fight more than one major war at once. That is a move away from the "win-win" strategy that has dominated Pentagon funding decisions for decades.

The move to a "win-spoil" plan, allowing U.S. forces to fight one campaign and stop or block another conflict, includes a recognition that the White House would need to ramp up public support for further engagement and draw more heavily on reserve and national guard troops when required.

"As Libya showed, you don't necessarily have to have boots on the ground all the time," an official said, explaining the White House view.

"We are refining our strategy to something that is more realistic," the official added.

President Barack Obama will help launch the U.S. review at the Pentagon on Thursday, and is expected to emphasize that the size of the U.S. military budget has been growing and will continue to grow, but at a slower pace.

Obama has moved to curtail U.S. ground commitments overseas, ending the war in Iraq, drawing down troops in Afghanistan and ruling out anything but air power and intelligence support for rebels who overthrew Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

The number of U.S. military personnel formally assigned to bases in Europe - including many now deployed in Afghanistan - is also set to decline sharply, administration sources said, while stressing that the final numbers have not been set.

'BASICALLY DISAPPEAR'


"When some army brigades start coming out of Afghanistan, they will basically disappear," one official said.

Many of the key U.S. military partners in the NATO alliance are also facing tough defense budget cuts as a result of fiscal strains gripping the European Union.

The president may face criticism from defense hawks in Congress, many of them opposition Republicans, who question his commitment to U.S. military strength.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, are set to hold a news conference to flesh out the contents of the review after Obama's remarks, which are also expected to stress the need to rein in spending at a time when U.S. budgets are tight.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the defense cuts stemming from an August debt ceiling deal - worth about $489 billion over 10 years - need to be enacted carefully.

"The president made clear to his team that we need to take a hard look at all of our defense spending to ensure that spending cuts are surgical and that our top priorities are met," Carney told reporters this week.

The military could be forced to cut another $600 billion in defense spending over 10 years unless Congress takes action to stop a second round of cuts mandated in the August accord.

Panetta spent much of Wednesday afternoon briefing key congressional leaders about the strategic review. Representative Adam Smith, the senior Democrat on the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, said after speaking to Panetta that the review was an attempt to evaluate U.S. strategic priorities for the future rather than identify specific budget reductions.

Maintaining a significant presence in the Middle East and Asia, especially to counter Iran and North Korea, was a leading priority in the review, Smith said. So was making sure that military personnel are sufficiently cared for to guarantee the effectiveness of the all-volunteer force. Reductions in the size of U.S. forces in Europe and elsewhere are a real possibility, he said.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain John Kirby said with the military winding down a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is appropriate to re-evaluate the role of U.S. forces abroad.

"From an operational perspective it's ... an opportune time to take a look at what the U.S. military is doing and what it should be doing or should be preparing itself to do over the next 10 to 15 years," he said on Wednesday.

"So, yes, the budget cuts are certainly a driver here, but so quite frankly are current events," Kirby said.




Saturday, December 31, 2011

Romney leads Paul in Iowa poll, Santorum surges

united states
Romney
(Reuters) - Republican Mitt Romney narrowly leads rival Ron Paul in Iowa three days before the state kicks off the party's presidential nominating race, according to a Des Moines Register poll released on Saturday.

The closely watched poll, which has a strong track record in Iowa races, showed Rick Santorum surging past Newt Gingrich into third place in a fluid race where 41 percent of likely caucus-goers said they could still change their minds.

The newspaper's poll, conducted Tuesday through Friday, showed Romney with 24 percent support, Paul with 22 percent, Santorum with 15 percent and Gingrich 12 percent. In fifth place was Rick Perry with 11 percent while Michele Bachmann was sixth with 7 percent.

The poll was released as candidates launched the final stretch run for Tuesday's contest in Iowa, the first in the state-by-state battle to choose a Republican challenger to Obama, a Democrat, in the November election.

The results were a huge boost to Romney, who has resumed his front-runner's role in the Republican presidential race in the last few weeks after the slide of Gingrich.

A victory for Romney in Iowa, combined with a win in the next contest on January 10 in New Hampshire could put the former Massachusetts governor on a path to clinching the Republican nomination early.

But Santorum was the candidate with the momentum. The Register poll was taken over a four-day period and the newspaper said that in the final two days of that period, Santorum was in second place with 21 percent. Romney stayed the same at 24 percent.

The poll was more bad news for Gingrich, the former House speaker who led the race a few weeks ago but has faded under an onslaught of attack ads from Paul and an outside group that backs Romney.

At a stop in Iowa earlier on Saturday, Gingrich said he would adjust his campaign strategy to respond more forcefully to the attacks.

'NASTIER AND DISHONEST'

"We're learning a lot about what our opponents will do. They are nastier and more dishonest than I expected. So we'll have to make some adjustments," Gingrich said in Atlantic, Iowa.

But Gingrich said he would not respond directly to negative ads run by the group that supports Romney.

"We may go to a much more clearer contrast but we're not going to respond in kind," Gingrich said. "Those ads are dishonest and he knows it. They are factually false and he knows it. And we're not doing anything like that."

The candidates rolled across Iowa in buses on Saturday, stopping at coffee shops, restaurants and even a car museum to try to win over doubters and energize supporters to turn out to the caucuses.

In Iowa's quirky caucus system, voters gather to cast ballots in public meetings after listening to pitches on behalf of the candidates.

Paul, known for his libertarian views, is taking the holiday weekend off in Texas before returning to Iowa on Monday.

Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania with a strong social conservative message, is trying to unite Iowa's influential evangelical Christian voters behind him and score an upset with a surge in the final days.

"If you really want to transform America, it has to be about values, faith and freedom," he told a crowd in Knoxville, Iowa.

Gingrich, along with Santorum, Bachmann and Jon Huntsman, also joined a lawsuit already filed by Perry against Virginia's Board of Elections to qualify for the state's 2012 primary election.

Romney and Paul were the only candidates who managed to submit the required 10,000 verifiable signatures collected by registered voters in the state in order to get on Virginia's ballot for its March 6 primary.


News by Reuters


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