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History > 2008 > USA > International (V)




Obama Defers to Bush,

for Now, on Gaza Crisis


December 29, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — When President-elect Barack Obama went to Israel in July — to the very town, in fact, whose repeated shelling culminated in this weekend’s new fighting in Gaza — he all but endorsed the punishing Israeli attacks now unfolding.

“If somebody was sending rockets into my house, where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that,” he told reporters in Sderot, a small city on the edge of Gaza that has been hit repeatedly by rocket fire. “And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

Now, Mr. Obama’s presidency will begin facing the consequences of just such a counterattack, one of Israel’s deadliest against Palestinians in decades, presenting him with yet another foreign crisis to deal with the moment he steps into the White House on Jan. 20, even as he and his advisers have struggled mightily to focus on the country’s economic problems.

Since his election, Mr. Obama has said little specific about his foreign policy — in contrast to more expansive remarks about the economy. He and his advisers have deferred questions — critics could say, ducked them — by saying that until Jan. 20, only President Bush would speak for the nation as president and commander in chief. “The fact is that there is only one president at a time,” David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, reiterating a phrase that has become a mantra of the transition. “And that president now is George Bush.”

Mr. Obama, vacationing in Hawaii, talked to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday. “But the Bush administration has to speak for America now,” Mr. Axelrod said. “And it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to opine on these matters.” As the fighting in Gaza shows, however, events in the world do not necessarily wait for Inauguration Day in the United States.

Even before the conflict flared again, India and Pakistan announced troop movements that have raised fears of a military confrontation following the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. North Korea scuttled a final agreement on verifying its nuclear dismantlement earlier this month, while Iran continues to stall the international effort to stop its nuclear programs. And there are still two American wars churning in Iraq and Afghanistan. All demand his immediate attention.

Mr. Obama’s election has raised expectations, among allies and enemies alike, that new American policies are forthcoming, putting more pressure on him to signal more quickly what he intends to do. In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, Mr. Obama has not suggested he has any better ideas than President Bush had to resolve the existential conflict between the Israelis and Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls Gaza.

“What this does is present the incoming administration with the urgency of a crisis without the capacity to do much about it,” said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington and author of “The Much Too Promised Land,” a history of the Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. “That’s the worst outcome of what’s happening right now.”

The renewed fighting — and the international condemnation of the scope of Israel’s response — has dashed already limited hopes for quick progress on the peace process that Mr. Bush began in Annapolis, Md., in November 2007. The omission of Hamas from any talks between the Israelis and President Mahmoud Abbas, who controls only the West Bank, had always been a landmine that risked blowing up a difficult and delicate peace process, but so have Israel’s own internal political divisions.

Mr. Obama might have little to gain from setting out an ambitious agenda for an issue as intractable as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But the conflict in Gaza, like the building tensions between India and Pakistan, suggests that he may have no choice. “You can ignore it, you can put it on the back burner, but it will always come up to bite you,” said Ghaith al-Omari, a former Palestinian peace negotiator.

For Mr. Obama, the conundrum is particularly intense since he won election in part on promises of restoring America’s image around the world. He will assume office with high expectations, particularly among Muslims around the world, that he will make an effort at dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Early on as a candidate, Mr. Obama suggested that he did not necessarily oppose negotiations with groups like Hamas, though he spent much of the campaign retreating from that position under fire from critics.

By the time he arrived in Israel in July, he suggested he would not even consider talks without a fundamental shift in Hamas and its behavior, effectively moving his policy much closer to President Bush’s. “In terms of negotiations with Hamas, it is very hard to negotiate with a group that is not representative of a nation-state, does not recognize your right to exist, has consistently used terror as a weapon, and is deeply influenced by other countries,” he said then.

Mr. Obama received an intelligence briefing on Sunday and planned to talk late on Sunday to his nominee for secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and his choice as national security adviser, James L. Jones, according to a spokeswoman, Brooke Anderson.

One option would be for an Obama administration to respond much more harshly to Israel’s policies, from settlements to strikes like those this weekend, as many in the Arab world and beyond have long urged. On Sunday, though, Mr. Axelrod said the president-elect stood by the remarks he made in the summer and, when asked, noted the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel.

Otherwise, Mr. Obama could try to pressure surrogates to lean on Hamas, including Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza. He can try to build international pressure on Hamas to stop the rocket attacks into Israel. He can try to nurture a peace between Israel and Mr. Abbas on the West Bank, hoping that somehow it spreads to Hamas. All have been tried, and all have failed to avoid new fighting.

“The reality is, what options do we have?” Mr. Miller said.

Jackie Calmes contributed reporting from Honolulu.

    Obama Defers to Bush, for Now, on Gaza Crisis, NYT, 29.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/29/washington/29diplo.html






Iran Urges Obama to Change Approach


December 9, 2008
The New York Times


TEHRAN — Iran said Monday that it would not abandon its nuclear program and urged President-elect Barack Obama to change America’s carrot-and-stick policy toward Iran, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Hassan Ghashghavi, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Monday that Iran, which has repeatedly refused to suspend its efforts to enrich uranium, would not change its nuclear policy. He added that Iran expected Mr. Obama to stick to his campaign promise to change the previous administration’s policy.

“What Mr. Obama said is the same old carrot-and-stick approach,” he said. “He must be able to change this policy based on his slogan of ‘change.’ ” Mr. Ghashghavi spokesman said that the carrot-and-stick approach “is a failed policy” and that Iran expected Mr. Obama to change the “confrontational policy to one based on interaction.”

“They have to recognize our legal rights, and we are willing to engage in an interaction to resolve their concerns,” he said. “We need to engage in progress and development.”

Mr. Ghashghavi’s comments were a response to televised statement by Mr. Obama, who said Sunday that he would pursue the carrot-and-stick approach toward Iran.

“In terms of carrots, we can provide the economic incentives that would be helpful to a country that despite being a net oil producer is under enormous strain, huge inflation, a lot employment problems,” Mr. Obama said.

“But we also have to focus on the sticks,” he said, adding that to force Iran to change its behavior it may be necessary to tighten economic sanctions. The United Nations Security Council has already imposed three sets of sanctions on Tehran for refusing to halt its enrichment program.

Western countries accuse Iran of having a clandestine weapons program under the guise of a civilian one. Enrichment is a process that can be used to make nuclear bombs if the uranium is enriched to high levels. Iran contends that its program is peaceful.

    Iran Urges Obama to Change Approach, NYT, 9.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/09/world/middleeast/09iran.html






U.S. Says Mugabe's Time Is Up


December 5, 2008
Filed at 10:12 a.m. ET
The New York Times


HARARE (Reuters) - The United States said Friday that President Robert Mugabe's departure from office was long overdue and a food crisis and cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe meant it was now vital for the international community to act.

Zimbabwe has declared an emergency and appealed for international help to battle a cholera outbreak that has killed 575 people, with 12,700 reported cases of the disease, according to the United Nations.

"It's well past time for Robert Mugabe to leave," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Copenhagen.

In a further sign of growing international pressure, European Union diplomats said the bloc planned more sanctions against Zimbabwe next week unless progress was made in ending a political deadlock over how to implement a power-sharing deal.

Nobel laureate and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu said Thursday that Mugabe must step down or be removed by force and that the Zimbabwean leader faced indictment for war crimes in the Hague unless he quit.

Rice said the stalled power-sharing talks, a "sham election" earlier this year, economic meltdown and the humanitarian toll from the cholera epidemic required swift action.

"If this is not evidence to the international community that it's time to stand up for what is right I don't know what will be," Rice told a news conference.

"Frankly the nations of the region have to lead it."

South Africa said Friday that Zimbabwe's call for international help was encouraging. "We think that that's a major breakthrough," government spokesman Themba Maseko said.

"The time for action is now and we believe that the Zimbabwean government is on board, wants help from the international community, and we want to lead that help as South Africa," he added.

Zimbabwe's neighbors in the 15-nation Southern African Development Community have so far failed to persuade Mugabe and the opposition to implement a September 15 power-sharing agreement.

But faced with Zimbabwe's worsening economic collapse and the humanitarian crisis spilling over into their own countries, Southern African leaders may now be forced to take a stronger stand against the veteran Zimbabwean leader.

Economic meltdown in Zimbabwe, isolated by Western countries under Mugabe's increasingly authoritarian rule, has left the health system ill-prepared to cope with the cholera epidemic that it once would have prevented or easily treated.


The country has the highest official modern-day inflation of 231 million percent but inflation is seen much higher with prices doubling every 24 hours. Basic foods are often unobtainable and the currency is worthless.

The cholera cases have been fueled by the collapse of the water system, which has forced residents to drink from contaminated wells and streams. The disease has spread to neighboring South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia and Botswana.

South Africa said it would send a team of senior government officials to Zimbabwe next week to assess the food crisis and investigate what aid is needed.

Thousands of Zimbabweans are believed to cross the border, often illegally, into South Africa each day. A cholera center has been set up in the South African border town of Musina.

Neighboring Mozambique said Friday it had put all border areas on maximum alert over the threat of cholera entering while Zambia said the cholera outbreak had spilled over its border.

One Zimbabwean died from the disease in a Zambian border town while two others were receiving treatment.

Zimbabwe does not have the funds to pay doctors and nurses or buy medicine and aid agency Oxfam said at least 300,000 people weakened by lack of food are in danger from the epidemic.

South Africa will announce an aid package for Zimbabwe next week, Maseko said, adding Zimbabwe's political parties have agreed that all aid should be distributed in a non-partisan way.

Western nations, which accused Mugabe of running the once prosperous nation into the ground, have promised aid. European Union ministers have agreed to provide an initial 200,000 euros ($253,800) to the Red Cross and other aid agencies.

In Geneva, the United Nations said Zimbabwe needed a huge influx of emergency aid to repair its collapsing health and sanitation systems and fight the epidemic.

"It is major public health crisis," WHO's global cholera coordinator Claire-Lise Chaignat told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Sue Pleming in Copenhagen, Wendell Roelf in Cape Town, Charles Mangwiro in Maputo, Shapi Shacinda in Lusaka, Ingrid Melander in Brussels, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Marius Bosch; Editing by Michael Roddy)

    U.S. Says Mugabe's Time Is Up, R, 5.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/world/international-us-zimbabwe-crisis.html






China Tells US to Get Economy in Order


December 4, 2008
Filed at 12:20 p.m. ET
The New York Times


BEIJING (AP) -- China promised more currency reform to ease trade tensions but told Washington to get its own economy in order as the two sides opened high-level economic talks Thursday amid a global financial crisis.

The unusual Chinese appeal at the Strategic Economic Dialogue highlighted the close links between the world's largest and fourth-largest economies and the global importance of their ability to keep relations smooth.

China's envoy, Vice Premier Wang Qishan, said Beijing was contributing to global stability by keeping its own economy growing strongly.

The chief U.S. envoy, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, said engagement between China and the United States has helped in managing the crisis. Officials said both sides stressed the importance of cooperation to combat a potential rise in trade protectionism.

But in unusually pointed language, China's central bank governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, blamed the crisis on U.S. financial excesses and said they should be fixed.

''The important reasons for the U.S. financial crisis include excessive consumption and high leverage,'' Zhou said in a speech to the meeting, according to Jin Qi, a central bank official who briefed reporters. ''The United States should speed up domestic adjustment, raise its savings rate and reduce its trade and fiscal deficits.''

The two-day meeting was not expected to produce breakthroughs on trade or other sensitive issues. The two sides signed a pact Thursday to cooperate in financing for projects to improve energy efficiency and were due to work Friday on an investment treaty.

Speaking earlier as Paulson listened, Wang appealed to Washington to ''take the necessary measures to stabilize the economy and financial markets, as well as to guarantee the safety of China's assets and investments in the United States.''

Wang did not elaborate, but Beijing owns $585 billion in Treasury debt that has helped to finance U.S. budget deficits, and a weak dollar and financial turmoil have fueled Chinese anxiety about such investments.

U.S. officials said the Chinese side promised more currency reforms. Washington and other trading partners say China's yuan is kept undervalued, giving its exporters an unfair price advantage and adding to its trade surplus. Some American lawmakers are calling for punitive action against Beijing.

''The Chinese continued to reinforce to us that they were committed to continued reform, and by that I mean continued appreciation (of the yuan) over time,'' said an American official who briefed reporters on condition he not be identified further.

The American officials said they did not know details of what Wang meant by protecting Chinese investments. But they said there was extensive discussion of steps the United States was taking to stabilize its economy.

The yuan has risen 20 percent against the dollar since Beijing cut its peg to the dollar in July 2005. But it has fallen this week in government-controlled trading -- including a nearly 1 percent decline Monday, its biggest one-day drop in three years -- in what analysts suggested was a message from Beijing to go easy on the issue.

The yuan's drop Monday also might have been meant as a warning to President-elect Barack Obama, that talks will be more effective than confrontation, said Frank F.X. Gong, chief Asia economist for JP Morgan Securities Ltd.

Obama has yet to say whether he will continue the dialogue. Some analysts have speculated that Obama and the U.S. Congress will take a harder line on China.

China's economic growth is expected to slow this year to about 9 percent, down from last year's 11.9 percent. Communist leaders worry about rising job losses, especially in export industries, and the possibility of unrest.

Beijing is launching a 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus package meant to revive slowing growth through heavy spending on construction and other projects.

''We have always believed that if China can manage its own affairs well and maintain relatively stable and fast development of the domestic economy, that is itself the biggest contribution we can make to international economic and financial stability,'' said Jin, the central bank official.

Paulson is accompanied by U.S. secretaries of agriculture, labor and health, the U.S. trade representative, officials of the Treasury and Commerce departments, and others.


Associated Press Writer Henry Sanderson contributed to this report.

    China Tells US to Get Economy in Order, NYT, 4.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/business/AP-AS-China-US-Talks.html






Attacks Imperil Delicate U.S. Role Between Rivals


November 30, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON— As evidence mounts that last week’s attacks in Mumbai may have originated on Pakistani soil, American officials’ aggressive campaign to strike at militants in Pakistan may complicate efforts to prevent an Indian military response, which could lead to a conflict between the bitter enemies.

In December 2001, when Pakistani militants attacked India’s Parliament, and again this summer, when militants aided by Pakistani spies bombed the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan, the Bush administration used aggressive diplomacy to dampen anger in New Delhi.

This time, however, the Indian government might not be so receptive to the American message — and that could derail the coming Obama administration’s hopes of creating a broader, regional response to the threat posed by Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has already faced months of criticism from political rivals in India about his government’s decision not to respond forcefully to past acts of terrorism, and domestic anger over the carnage in Mumbai has increased the pressure on his government to strike back.

Officials in New Delhi might also feel less compelled to follow calls for a controlled response from the Bush administration, which has steadily escalated a campaign of airstrikes on Pakistani soil using remotely piloted aircraft. The Pentagon has even sent Special Operations forces into Pakistan to attack suspected militant targets, partly in an attempt to stop the militants from crossing the border into Afghanistan, where they are helping fuel an increasingly robust Taliban insurgency.

The White House has adopted a clear position to justify those attacks: if a country cannot deal with a terrorism problem on its own, the United States reserves the right to act unilaterally.

Should it become clear that the men who rampaged through Mumbai trained in Pakistan, even if the Pakistani government had no hand in the operation, what will stop the Indians from adopting the same position?

“In some ways, it doesn’t even matter whether this attack was hatched in some office in Islamabad,” said Paul Kapur, a South Asia expert at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and Stanford University. “The provocation in this case is orders of magnitude more than anything that’s happened before.”

Even if the Bush administration can keep the situation from escalating, President-elect Barack Obama will find his administration trying to broker cooperation between two aroused and suspicious regional powers.

An important element of Mr. Obama’s plan to reduce militancy in Pakistan and turn around the war in Afghanistan has been to push for a reconciliation between India and Pakistan, so that the Pakistani government could focus its energy on the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan that are controlled by Islamic extremists.

Mr. Obama’s advisers have spent the past few days watching the unfolding crisis for hints about how the situation might look after Jan. 20. While they said they understand that the tensions unleashed by the Mumbai attacks might hobble the new president’s aspirations, they held out hope that the attacks might, instead, open the door to increased cooperation between Pakistan and India to weed out militants intent on more attacks.

Some in the Bush administration, as well as outside experts, agree that an Indian military response is not a foregone conclusion. Mr. Singh’s government has long believed that the instability caused by a conflict with Pakistan would act as a brake on the rapid economic growth India has enjoyed. Mr. Singh has also seen Pakistan’s new civilian government as a hopeful departure from the militarism of President Pervez Musharraf’s government.

Washington could use Mr. Singh’s past hopes for better relations to try to shape a modulated Indian response. Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University, said one possibility was that the Indian government could decide to strike Kashmiri militant training facilities in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, rather than facilities in the heart of the disputed territory of Kashmir, where Pakistan’s government has a greater presence.

Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani author whose work has been studied by the Obama team, said that any hint of a military mobilization by the Indians will give the Pakistani military the excuse it wants to shift forces away from its western border areas and back to its eastern border. If that happens, he said, it could cause a repeat of 2002, when a standoff between the nations forced the United States to turn at least some of its attention away from fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda to work to avoid war between Pakistan and India.

That time, the impetus was an assault on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 that India said was the work of Kashmiri militants.

So far, Mr. Obama has tried to walk a careful line during the latest crisis, expressing support and concern without appearing to get in the way of President Bush. Even as Mr. Obama was preparing to host several dozen guests for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, a foreign policy adviser, Mark Lippert, and a Central Intelligence Agency official arrived at his house in Chicago to brief him on the latest from Mumbai, according to an aide. Mr. Obama ushered them into a side room as the rest of the house buzzed with dinner preparations.

Mr. Obama also called Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice three times over the last few days seeking information. But he waited until after Mr. Bush called Mr. Singh to place his own call to the Indian prime minister late Friday night. (The call was patched through the State Department operations center.)

Advisers to the president-elect said that while they were not aware of everything the Bush administration has done during the crisis, they knew of nothing that Mr. Obama would have necessarily done differently.

Given the disastrous implications of any armed conflict between India and Pakistan, it is not hard to envision the Obama administration following a similar playbook to the one the Bush administration followed during the two countries’ occasional flare-ups.

As some experts see it, though, there is a danger in the United States’ continuing to intervene directly when tensions between India and Pakistan escalate.

“If both sides think they can afford to go closer to the edge because the U.S. is always going to keep them from going over,” said Mr. Kapur, “then they are more likely to edge up to the precipice.”

Mark Mazzetti reported from Washington, and Peter Baker from Chicago.

    Attacks Imperil Delicate U.S. Role Between Rivals, NYT, 30.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/30/world/asia/30diplo.html?hp






Pakistan Says 13 Killed in US Missile Strike


November 8, 2008
Filed at 2:43 a.m. ET
The New York Times


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- A suspected U.S. missile targeting a Taliban commander killed 13 people near the Afghan border Friday, a sign that America's new general for the region is not heeding Islamabad's pleas for a halt to the strikes.

There has been a surge in U.S. cross-border attacks since August, angering Pakistani officials who say the raids violate the nuclear-armed country's sovereignty and undermine its anti-terror war in the border region.

Repairing strained ties while keeping the pressure on al-Qaida and Taliban commanders leaders hiding in the lawless frontier area will be a key challenge for Barack Obama when he becomes U.S. president in January.

The latest attack took place in Kam Sam village in North Waziristan region, a stronghold for militants blamed for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan and suicide blasts within Pakistan.

A Pakistani intelligence official said an agent who visited the village reported that 13 suspected militants were killed. The official said the targeted house belonged to a Taliban commander and that authorities were working to determine the identities of the dead.

A government representative in the region also put the death toll at 13.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Pakistan's Information Minister, Sherry Rehman, said late Friday that such ''unilateral actions'' by Washington on Pakistan's soil are a ''self-defeating strategy.'' She said such attacks damage the global efforts to combat terrorism and urged the U.S. to halt them.

It was the first suspected American attack since Gen. David Petraeus took over as head of the U.S. Central Command on Oct. 31, giving him overall command of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He visited Pakistan and Afghanistan this week.

In an interview with The Associated Press in Afghanistan on Thursday, Petraeus said the border strikes have killed three ''extremist leaders.'' He did not identify the men.

There have been unconfirmed media reports that senior al-Qaida operatives Abu Jihad al Masri, described by the U.S. government as the terror network's propaganda chief, and Khalid Habib, a regional commander, died in missile strikes in Pakistan in October.

Similar attacks in the border region killed senior al-Qaida commander Abu Laith al-Libi in January and Egyptian explosives and poisons expert Abu Khabab al-Masri in July.

The rugged, mountainous region where the government has never had much control is considered a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden and his No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri.

There have been at least 18 missile strikes into Pakistan since August, more than three times as many as in 2007, apparently reflecting U.S. frustration at insufficient action by Islamabad against extremists.

Pakistan leaders said they asked Petraeus to call a halt to the strikes, which they said were angering residents, making it more difficult to get their cooperation with military offensives.

Petraeus said he would ''take on board'' what they said, but Pakistani officials said he gave them no promise the attacks would stop.

During the election campaign, Obama said he would attack al-Qaida targets in the border area if Pakistan was unwilling or unable to do so, suggesting he would not stop the strikes.

The frequency of the raids has led some analysts to speculate that Pakistani leaders have privately agreed to them on the understanding they will publicly criticize them -- something denied by Pakistani officials.

Pakistan's elected leaders have little leverage with the United States to force it to stop the strikes because they need Washington's help to get the country out of a crushing economic crisis.

The Pakistani army is undertaking a major offensive in the border region against militants.

Late Thursday, Pakistani helicopters and jets killed 17 suspected militants in Taliban strongholds near the Afghan border, said Jamil Khan, the No. 2 government representative in the semiautonomous Bajur region.

Meanwhile, authorities exchanged three captured Taliban militants -- including a deputy to Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud -- for 10 military personnel held by insurgents.

Haji Afzal Khan, the mayor in northwestern Hangu district, said the prisoners were swapped Wednesday and that Mehsud's freed deputy Rafiuddin had assured authorities he would help with peace efforts.

Rafiuddin was captured in July and the soldiers were seized later that month. The government has made similar prisoner exchanges in the past.


Associated Press Writers Ishtiaq Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Habib Khan in Khar and Riaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report.

    Pakistan Says 13 Killed in US Missile Strike, NYT, 8.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-AS-Pakistan.html






In Rare Turn, Iran’s Leader Sends Letter to Obama


November 7, 2008
The New York Times


TEHRAN — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran sent an unusual letter congratulating President-elect Barack Obama on Thursday for his victory in the American presidential race, even though the two nations have had no diplomatic ties for nearly 30 years.

Mr. Ahmadinejad has written letters to world leaders in the past, including one to President Bush. But this is the first time an Iranian leader has congratulated the winner of an American election, at least since the Iranian revolution.

Diplomatic ties between Iran and the United States were severed in 1979, when radical students attacked the United States Embassy in Tehran and took American diplomats hostage.

Iranian leaders continue to use hostile language toward the United States, and Mr. Ahmadinejad had said that he did not think a black candidate could be elected because of racial discrimination.

“I congratulate you for attracting the majority of votes in the election,” Mr. Ahmadinejad wrote in his message, an Iranian news agency, ISNA, reported. “As you know, opportunities that are bestowed upon humans are short lived,” he wrote, adding that he hoped Mr. Obama would make the most of the opportunity.

The delivery of the letter coincided with a move by the Bush administration to put more pressure on Iran by adding measures that prohibit financial institutions from helping Iranian banks, the government or others in the country, the Treasury Department said Thursday.

Previously, American financial institutions were allowed to handle certain money transfers that might have directly or indirectly helped Iranian interests. But the action announced Thursday ended what the Treasury Department called “the last general entry point for Iranian banks.” Still, exceptions will be granted in certain cases, like individual remittances and humanitarian aid.

In his letter, Mr. Ahmadinejad said that people in America and around the world expected Mr. Obama to make major changes in domestic and foreign policy, and to limit American interference in other parts of the world.

“People in the world expect war-oriented policies, occupation, bullying, deception and intimidation of nations and imposing discriminatory policies on them and international affairs, which have evoked hatred toward American leaders, to be replaced by ones advocating justice, respect for human rights, friendship and noninterference in other countries’ affairs,” the letter said, according to ISNA.

“They also want the U.S. intervention to be limited to its borders, especially in the sensitive region of the Middle East,” it said. “It is expected to reverse the unfair attitude of the past 60 years to restore the rights of people in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Mr. Obama has said that he would engage in aggressive diplomacy with Iran, and that he might offer economic incentives if Iran were more cooperative on issues like terrorism and nuclear development.

His position has stirred concerns among some world leaders. The Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, expressed her concerns on Thursday after Mr. Obama’s victory became clear, saying that he should not talk to Iran because it might send the wrong signal.

“We live in a neighborhood in which sometimes dialogue — in a situation where you have brought sanctions and then switch to dialogue — is liable to be interpreted as weakness,” Ms. Livni said in an interview on Israel Radio.

Iran’s foreign policy is decided by the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

It was not clear whether Mr. Ahmadinejad had the ayatollah’s approval to send a message to Mr. Obama, but his letter to Mr. Bush raised speculation that Iran was trying to open a dialogue with the United States.

Ethan Bronner contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

    In Rare Turn, Iran’s Leader Sends Letter to Obama, NYT, 7.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/07/world/middleeast/07iran.html






Russia Warns of Missile Deployment


November 6, 2008
The New York Times


MOSCOW — In a wide-ranging attack on the United States as it elected a new president, the Russian leader Dmitri A. Medvedev warned on Wednesday that Moscow might deploy short-range missiles in the Baltic region to counter a perceived threat from a proposed American missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.

Mr. Medvedev also proposed to extend the constitutional term of the presidency from four years to six — a move that could enable future Russian presidents to serve 12 years in two consecutive terms. His remarks, in his first state of the nation address since assuming the presidency in May, were delivered within hours of the election of Barack Obama and offered a chilling glimpse into the potential issues and tensions confronting the new American leader when he takes office in January. His comments also seemed at odds with the broader groundswell of support for the American president-elect from many governments across the globe.

In his speech, Mr. Medvedev did not congratulate Mr. Obama on his victory, saying only that he hoped that “our partners — the new U.S. administration — will make a choice in favor of a full-fledged relationship with Russia.”

But he sent a telegram later saying that “Russian-American relations have historically been an important factor for stability in the world and have great importance and sometimes key significance for resolving many of today’s international and regional problems.”

‘“I hope for a constructive dialogue with you based on trust and consideration of each other’s interests,” Mr. Medvedev’s telegram said, according to the Kremlin Web site.

In his speech a few hours earlier, Mr. Medvedev spoke of a “new configuration for the military forces of our country” that would include abandoning plans to dismantle some missile regiments and the stationing of missiles in Russia’s Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad.

“We earlier planned to take three missile regiments within the missile division stationed in Kozelsk off combat duty and discontinue the division itself by 2010. I have decided to refrain from these plans,” Mr. Medvedev said.

“The Iskander missile system will be deployed in Kaliningrad region to neutralize, when necessary, the missile shield,” Medvedev said.

“Radioelectronic equipment located in the western region” of Russia in the Kaliningrad region “will jam objects of the U.S. missile defense system,” Mr. Medvedev said.

“These are forced measures,” Mr. Medvedev said. “We have told our partners more than once that we want positive cooperation, we want to act together to combat common threats, that we want to act together. But they, unfortunately, don’t want to listen to us.”

He was apparently referring to discussions on the proposed missile shield with the United States.

Kaliningrad lies between Lithuania and Poland on the Baltic Sea, a wedge between countries firmly aligned with the West since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Lithuania and Poland are members of the American-led NATO alliance.

Iskander missiles have a range of about 250 miles and use conventional warheads, according to news reports. The United States say the missile shield is needed to intercept missiles from states including Iran and does not threaten Russia. But Russia says it regards the system as a threat and has warned that it would target such installations in lands that belonged to the Warsaw Pact.

In the 90-minute speech, he rounded on the United States, saying the global financial crisis had begun as a “local extraordinary event” in American markets and blaming the August war in Georgia on “the U.S. administration’s policy which is selfish, cannot stand criticism and prefers unilateral decisions,” Reuters reported.

He said Washington’s belief in “its own opinion as the only right and indisputable one” had “in the final account led the United States to economic blunders.”

Referring to the fighting in Georgia, he said: “The conflict in the Caucasus was used as a pretext for sending NATO warships to the Black Sea and then for the forceful foisting on Europe of America’s anti-missile system, which in its turn will entail retaliatory measures by Russia.”

The fighting in Georgia was “among other things, the result of the arrogant course of the U.S. administration which hates criticism and prefers unilateral decisions,” Medvedev said, according to news reports.

His speech was broadcast live on television and radio.

Speaking about Russia’s constitutional arrangements, Mr. Medvedev said he proposed increasing term limits for presidents from four to six years and for lawmakers from four to five years. He did not say when the changes would come into effect.

The issue of term limits surfaced during the eight-year rule of Mr. Medvedev’s successor, Vladimir Putin, when there was speculation that Mr. Putin might seek to remain in office by changing the Constitution to secure a third term. Instead, Mr. Medvedev appointed his predecessor to the prime minister’s post.

Mr. Medvedev said the proposed extension was necessary to confront challenges. And, he said, he wanted to enhance the powers of Parliament.

“I am convinced that our movement toward freedom and democracy will be successful and steadfast only if the authority of the president and the State Duma will be high,” he said, according to Reuters. He said the authorities should have “enough time to implement what they announced and show the results of their work to the people.”

Ellen Barry and Sophia Kishkovsky reported from Moscow, and Alan Cowell contributed from Paris.

    Russia Warns of Missile Deployment, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/world/europe/06russia.html?hp






North Korea Is Off Terror List After a Deal With the U.S.


October 12, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Bush administration announced Saturday that it had removed North Korea from a list of state sponsors of terrorism in a bid to salvage a fragile nuclear deal that seemed on the verge of collapse.

Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said that the United States made the decision after North Korea agreed to resume disabling a plutonium plant and to allow some inspections to verify that it had halted its nuclear program as promised months earlier.

The deal, which the Bush administration had portrayed as a major foreign policy achievement, began slipping away in recent weeks in a dispute over the verification program. Just days ago, North Korea barred international inspectors from the plant.

The decision to remove North Korea from the terror list was a dramatic moment for President Bush, who had called the country part of an “axis of evil” and had only reluctantly ordered administration officials to engage in negotiations, saying that the United States had made deals with the nation’s leaders before without winning enough concessions.

That calculus changed in 2006, when North Korea exploded a nuclear device.

But Mr. Bush is already having trouble selling the new agreement to his own party. Republican lawmakers, including the presidential nominee, Senator John McCain, quickly expressed concern, complaining that North Korea had yet to demonstrate that it was serious about adhering to its commitment to denuclearize.

Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for president, called the deal “a modest step forward” in dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Other Democrats said they welcomed the agreement but noted that it did not go much beyond an agreement President Clinton reached with North Korea in 1994, which the Bush administration, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, criticized as inadequate.

Bush administration officials, trying to head off potential criticism that they were simply seeking a foreign policy victory in their last months, said the agreement was the best the United States could get at this time.

Ms. Rice “very strongly feels that it is our own responsibility, until Jan. 20, 2009, to act as good stewards of the national interest,” Mr. McCormack said during a news conference.

In the most significant part of the accord announced Saturday, North Korea agreed to a verification plan that would allow United States inspectors access to its main declared nuclear compound, at Yongbyon; international inspectors have worked at the site on and off for years. But the deal puts off decisions on the thorniest verification issue: what would happen if international experts suspected the North was hiding other nuclear weapons facilities, particularly those related to uranium enrichment.

The United States wanted the North to agree to inspections at sites that raised suspicions, but North Korea balked. The new agreement calls for United States inspectors to be granted access to such sites “based on mutual consent” with North Korea.

Experts on North Korea say that the concession by the United States was probably necessary to achieve a deal, but that it no doubt will lead to future fights, since the North’s leaders will not want to give inspectors free rein to travel the country.

Patricia A. McNerney, one of the State Department negotiators, acknowledged that issue would probably lead to a hornets’ nest of problems. “Going into verification with North Korea will not be easy, we know that,” she said. “This is the most secret and opaque regime in the world.”

North Korea, which has long sought international acceptance, had been pushing hard to get off the terror list. But Mr. McCormack made clear on Saturday that North Korea is still subject to numerous economic sanctions.

The agreement follows weeks of intense negotiations and high-stakes brinkmanship, as North Korea, furious that the Bush administration had not removed it from the terrorism list as it agreed last summer, threatened to restart its plutonium-based weapons program and barred international inspectors from the Yongbyon plant. In Washington, State Department proponents of the deal, including Ms. Rice and her top North Korea envoy, Christopher R. Hill, battled critics inside and outside the administration who castigated them for trying to salvage the accord.

The administration has been at war with itself over whether to go ahead with the North Korea pact despite objections from critics in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, and even some members of the State Department’s verification and compliance office. That rift spilled into the open at the news conference on Saturday, when a reporter asked Paula A. DeSutter, the assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation, how she responded to criticism of the deal from John R. Bolton, her former boss at the State Department.

Ms. DeSutter did not defend the accord, saying simply, “John is the epitome of a skeptical policymaker, and that’s appropriate.”

Despite the internal fights, Ms. Rice convinced President Bush last week that this was the best the administration could get in its remaining time in office. But as late as Friday, things remained up in the air, said one administration official, who, like several other officials and diplomats interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue. Another senior administration official described the internal deliberations as a “close call.”

Senator McCain said in a statement that he would not support the deal until he got some questions answered. “I expect the administration to explain exactly how this new verification agreement advances American interests and those of our allies,” he said. He added that he was “concerned that this latest agreement appears to have been reached between Washington and Pyongyang, and only then discussed with our Asian allies in an effort to garner their support.”

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican of Florida, issued a statement strongly criticizing the deal. “I am profoundly disappointed,” she said. “By rewarding North Korea before the regime has carried out its commitments, we are encouraging this regime to continue its illicit nuclear program and violate its pledge to no longer provide nuclear assistance to extremist regimes.”

Two of the Bush administration’s main criticisms of the 1994 accord were that it did not mandate the removal of nuclear material from North Korea and that international inspectors were limited to Yongbyon.

The 1994 accord collapsed in 2002 after the Bush administration accused North Korea of circumventing the agreement by pursuing a second path to a bomb, based on enriching uranium. The White House said at the time that it would require full verification that any uranium program had been halted, though later the intelligence community expressed some doubts about how far the program had gotten.

Although the new agreement leaves open the possibility of future inspections outside Yongbyon, it leaves vague what mechanism would be used to determine the status of a uranium program.

The North has agreed in principle to give up its nuclear material and any weapons, but that seems almost certain to be subject to negotiations with the next president. During the Bush administration, North Korea is believed to have produced enough bomb-grade plutonium for six or more nuclear weapons.

Bush administration officials have been consulting about the latest deal with its partners in the so-called “six-party” talks, the group including Russia, South Korea and Japan that negotiated the agreement in 2007 for the North to halt its nuclear activities.

Diplomats said that Japan had expressed reservations about removing North Korea from the terror list because the North still had not addressed all of their concerns about abductions of Japanese citizens decades ago.

After the official announcement on Saturday, Japan’s finance minister, Shoichi Nakagawa, called the American decision “extremely regrettable.”

South Korea has been more supportive.

“We welcome the agreement because we believe this will help put the six-party negotiations back on track and eventually lead to the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear programs,” said Kim Sook, South Korea’s main nuclear envoy, during a news conference in Seoul on Sunday.

The South Korean foreign minister, Yu Myung-hwan, had stressed Friday that if the six-party negotiations fell apart now, the next administration would have difficulty restarting them.

Gary Samore, a nonproliferation expert in the Clinton administration, characterized the deal as probably the best that could be gotten at this time, but warned of stormy times to come.

“Every agreement you ever have with the North Koreans always contains certain ambiguities, and that ends up being the basis for which you have the next round of talks,” he said. “It’s always two steps forward and one step back.”

For instance, he said, besides the issue of access to suspected nuclear sites, the United States and North Korea appear to have fudged the critical issue of whether American inspectors will be allowed to take all the samples they want out of the country to foreign laboratories for inspection.

According to a fact sheet issued by the Bush administration, the two sides agreed “on the use of scientific procedures, including sampling and forensic activities,” although the sheet doesn’t say where those tests would be done.

Mr. Bolton, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations under Mr. Bush, said that the Bush administration had “punted” the hardest issue, that of inspections beyond declared nuclear sites.

“This means that North Korea has a veto over everything beyond Yongbyon,” he said, “so that’s a clear victory for North Korea.”

Choe Sang-hun contributed reporting from Seoul, South Korea.

    North Korea Is Off Terror List After a Deal With the U.S., NYT, 12.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/12/world/asia/12terror.html






US: Libya Begins Payments

for US Terror Victims


October 9, 2008
Filed at 12:52 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Libya has started making payments into a fund to compensate the families of American victims of Libyan-linked terror attacks in the 1980s, another step in the full normalization of long-strained ties between Washington and Tripoli, a senior U.S. official said Thursday.

The ''substantial amount'' deposited into a U.S. bank account is not the full amount needed to fulfill a compensation agreement reached earlier this year, but the official said it demonstrated Libya's willingness to resolve outstanding claims, particularly over the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland and the 1986 bombing of a German disco.

''We believe that direct deposit of these funds ... is evidence of Libya's commitment to fully implementing the claims settlement agreement,'' the official told reporters on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement.

''This initial deposit to implement the claims agreement demonstrates Libya's commitment to fully resolving outstanding claims,'' the official said. ''We will continue to work with Libya to ensure the expeditious receipt of the remaining agreed funds to compensate the victims and families.''

The official would not quantify the amount of the payment or say whether it had been deposited by the Libyan government or private Libyan entities that have paid similar compensation in the past.

Under the agreement, the Bush administration pledged to restore the Libyan government's immunity from terror-related lawsuits and dismiss pending cases, but the official stressed that it is not obligated to do so until the full compensation is paid.

The first payment had been expected in early September but was inexplicably delayed.

It was received just days after the opening of a U.S. commercial office in Libya's capital and a historic visit there last month by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the country in more than 50 years.

U.S.-Libyan relations hit a low point in the 1980s but began to improve after Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi -- whom President Reagan called the ''mad dog of the Middle East'' -- renounced weapons of mass destruction and terrorism in 2003.

The rapprochement stalled after Libya halted payments to the families of Lockerbie victims under a previous compensation deal and in the absence of an agreement on the La Belle disco bombing in Berlin.

But it picked up again in August when Libya and the United States agreed to a new, comprehensive compensation package for both U.S. and Libyan victims of 1980s-era attacks. The exact amount of the package has never been made public, but it is believed to be in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars.

All 269 passengers and crew, including 180 Americans, on the Pan Am flight and 11 people on the ground were killed in the Lockerbie bombing. Three people, including two American soldiers, were killed and 230 wounded in the Berlin disco attack. That attack prompted Reagan to order airstrikes on targets in Tripoli and Benghazi that Libyans say killed 41 people, including Gadhafi's adopted daughter.

Numerous lawsuits have been filed in both countries seeking damages for the attacks, and the settlement scheme is intended to satisfy all U.S. and Libyan claims. No U.S. taxpayer money will be used to compensate the Libyan families, officials say.

The developments come amid a huge increase in interest from U.S. firms, particularly in the energy sector, to do business in Libya, where European companies have had much greater access in recent years. Libya's proven oil reserves are the ninth largest in the world, close to 39 billion barrels, and vast areas remain unexplored for new deposits.

    US: Libya Begins Payments for US Terror Victims, NYT, 9.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/washington/AP-US-Libya.html






US Opens Trade Office in Libya


October 6, 2008
Filed at 12:42 p.m. ET
The New York Times


TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) -- The United States has opened a trade office in Libya, the latest in a concerted push to normalize relations after three decades of confrontation and sanctions.

The opening of the trade section follows U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's landmark meeting with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi last month.

The visit came about after Gadhafi renounced terrorism in 2003 and the government agreed to pay compensation to the families of the 1988 bombing of PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

According to Monday's statement from Libya's trade ministry, U.S. Assistant Commerce Secretary Israel Hernandez, Libyan officials and businessmen from both countries attended the office's opening on Sunday.

    US Opens Trade Office in Libya, NYT, 6.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/business/AP-ML-Libya-US-Trade-Office.html






Rice primed for historic Libya visit


September 5, 2008
Filed at 7:51 a.m. ET

LISBON, Portugal (AP) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she's excited about a landmark trip she will make to Libya on Friday, becoming the highest-ranking American official to visit the North African country in more than a half-century.

''I am very much looking forward to it,'' she said here before leaving for Tripoli, where she will meet and shake hands with Moammar Gadhafi and close a nearly three-decade era of bitter animosity between the United States and Libya.

''It is a historic moment and it is one that has come after a lot of difficulty, the suffering of many people that will never be forgotten or assuaged, Americans in particular for whom I am very concerned,'' Rice told a news conference in Lisbon.

''It is also the case that this comes out of a historic decision that Libya made to give up weapons of mass destruction and renounce terrorism,'' she said. ''Libya,'' she added, ''is a place that is changing and I want to discuss how that change is taking place.''

The visit is part of a dramatic turnaround in U.S. relations with Libya that hit their low point in the 1980s with Libyan-linked terrorist attacks and American retaliation. At one point, former President Ronald Reagan called Gadhafi a ''mad dog.''

As the first secretary of state to visit the former pariah, oil-rich country in more than a half-century, Rice's visit will represent a foreign policy success for a Bush administration badly in need of one in its final months.

Libya has agreed to pay compensation to the families of victims of the 1998 Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, and those of a 1986 attack on a disco in Berlin, which prompted President Reagan to order retaliatory airstrikes on Libyan targets. The money is not yet all there, but U.S. officials say they are confident it will be paid soon.

Yet relations between the countries -- once marked by violence and insults -- still will face strains on a number of fronts, ranging from human rights to the final resolution of legal claims from the terror bombings.

Despite Gadhafi's 2003 decision to abandon nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs, renounce terrorism and then begin to compensate victims, not all questions have been settled.

Even as Rice prepared for her face-to-face meeting with Gadhafi, a fund set up last month to compensate U.S. and Libyan victims of those bombings remained empty.

A leading Libyan reformer, Fathi al-Jhami, whose case has been championed by the Bush administration and by Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, remained in detention, where he has been near continuously since 2002. Rights groups say hundreds of other political prisoners are still being held.

Libya, now an elected member of the U.N. Security Council, has voted with the United States on issues related to Iran's nuclear program and has helped with the Darfur crisis. But its support on other key issues, notably the Middle East peace process, is far from clear.

Among the biggest question marks is the often unpredictable behavior of Libya's mercurial supreme leader, the sunglasses-clad Gadhafi, who has cultivated images as both an Arab potentate and African monarch since taking power in a 1969 coup.

U.S. officials say they expect Rice may see Gadhafi in a tent, his favored location for high-level meetings, surrounded by an all-female bodyguard corps, but that plans could change. By all accounts it will be a meeting to remember.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera television last year, Gadhafi spoke of Rice in most unusual terms, calling her ''Leezza'' and suggesting that she actually runs the Arab world with which he has had severe differences in the past.

''I support my darling black African woman,'' he said. ''I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders ... Leezza, Leezza, Leezza. ... I love her very much. I admire her, and I'm proud of her, because she's a black woman of African origin.''

Rice will be the first secretary of state to visit Libya since John Foster Dulles in 1953 and the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit since then-Vice President Richard Nixon in 1957.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack noted that in that period, ''we've had a man land on the moon, the Internet, the Berlin Wall fall, and we've had 10 U.S. presidents.''

''It's a historic stop,'' he said.

Rice has yet to discuss her expectations for her talks with Gadhafi, but U.S. interests include combatting terrorism in North Africa -- where al-Qaida offshoots have launched attacks in Algeria and Morocco, two countries Rice also will visit on her tour this week -- and perhaps most importantly settling the claims for the Lockerbie and La Belle bombings.

U.S. officials had hoped that Libya would have deposited hundreds of millions of dollars into the compensation fund by the time Rice arrived. But the State Department said Thursday that the account remained empty.

Some of the families of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing have raised vehement objections to Rice meeting with Gadhafi, whom they consider to be unrepentant for the deaths of the 280 people, including 180 Americans, who died in the attack.

The Bush administration has expressed sympathy with the families but said it is time to move ahead with Libya, which is the first, and thus far only, country designated by the State Department to be a ''state sponsor of terrorism'' to be removed from that list by its own actions.

Rice's visit comes amid a surge in interest from U.S. companies, particularly in the energy sector, to do business in Libya, where European companies have had much greater access in recent years. Libya's proven oil reserves are the ninth largest in the world, close to 39 billion barrels, and vast areas remain unexplored for new deposits.

    Rice primed for historic Libya visit, NYT, 5.9.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-US-Libya-Rice.html






Cheney to Ukraine:

US supports your security


September 5, 2008
Filed at 7:12 a.m. ET
The New York Times


KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney has pledged U.S. support for Ukraine following last month's war between neighboring Russia and Georgia.

Cheney says in remarks Friday that Ukrainians should be able to live ''without the threat of tyranny, economic blackmail and military invasion or intimidation.'' He says the United States has a ''deep and abiding interest'' in Ukraine's security.

Cheney spoke after meeting with President Viktor Yushchenko. Cheney's visit to Ukraine and two other ex-Soviet republics signaled that the United States will continue cultivating close ties in the region.

That's even after Russia showed it was willing to use military force against countries along its border.




THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney met with top Ukrainian leaders Friday, calling their country's relationship with the United States ''very important,'' as Washington sought to reassure its allies in former Soviet states following Russia's war with Georgia.

Sitting down with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Cheney praised the changes he saw since he was last in Ukraine 20 years ago.

''There have been remarkable changes,'' he said. ''My delegation and I are grateful for the hospitality. This is indeed a very important relationship between Kiev, Ukraine, and the United States.''

Yushchenko, meanwhile, emphasized that he shared the United States' critical view of Russian military intervention in Georgia. Yushchenko has been among Russia's harshest critics in the aftermath of the five-day war last month.

''We value our strategic bilateral relationship highly,'' Yushchenko said. ''On the majority of the issues, including Georgia, we have an understanding with the United States.''

He added he believed the conflict over Georgia's two separatists regions could be resolved peacefully.

Earlier Friday, Cheney met with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. According to Tymoshenko's aides, the two leaders discussed regional security and stability, as well as efforts to diversify energy supplies.

Cheney's visit came during a political crisis pitting Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, coalition partners, against one another, setting Ukraine's government teetering on the verge of collapse. The two are bitter rivals before Ukraine's 2010 presidential election.

Cheney's trip signaled that the United States will continue cultivating close ties with Ukraine and its neighbors even after Russia showed it was willing to use military force against countries along its border.

Before Ukraine, Cheney visited oil-rich Azerbaijan and then Georgia, where Russia has recognized the independence of two breakaway regions: South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

There are concerns the Kremlin might next seek to squeeze Ukraine as it tries to reclaim dominance in the former Soviet Union. The strategically located country of 46 million has pipelines that carry Russian gas to European consumers and a Black Sea port that is home to a key Russian naval base.

Yushchenko has pushed strongly for closer ties with the European Union and NATO. That in turn has upset the country's large Russian-speaking minority, who want deeper relations with Moscow.

Yushchenko has also objected to Russia using its ships stationed in the Ukrainian base in the war, thus dragging Ukraine into the conflict, and condemned Russia's decision to recognize Georgia's separatist areas as independent states.

The moves have angered Moscow and further strained relations which were already tense over energy disputes and the Russian navy presence in Ukraine.

Cheney told Georgian leaders the United States strongly backed its efforts to join NATO and was expected to say the same to Ukrainian officials.

In Moscow, a Russian Foreign Military spokesman said Friday that U.S. aid to Georgia and Cheney's recent comments will only encourage Georgia's ''aggressive ambitions.''

Washington announced $1 billion in U.S. economic aid for Georgia earlier this week.

Angry Russian officials have repeatedly said U.S. military aid was instrumental in emboldening Georgia to try to retake South Ossetia by force on Aug. 7. The attack sparked five days of fighting and resulted in Russian forces driving into South Ossetia and on into Georgia.

Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia's lower house of parliament, accused Cheney of trying to forge an ''anti-Russian axis.''

''It's Cheney who was behind all recent events on the former Soviet turf,'' Kosachyov said Thursday.

    Cheney to Ukraine: US supports your security, NYT, 5.9.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-Ukraine-US-Cheney.html






Bush heads to Asia for diplomacy

and sports


August 4, 2008
Filed at 3:05 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush's agenda in Asia this week is front-loaded with trouble on the continent: nuclear worries, political repression, recovery from natural disaster.

Then comes plenty of sports.

Bush embarks Monday on his last venture as president to the Far East, a trip built around the Olympic Games in Beijing. The president will stop en route at an Alaskan Air Force base to speak to military personnel and get his plane refueled, then fly through the night to South Korea.

With less than six months left in office, Bush is out to show that the United States is engaged in Asia's affairs, and that the economic and security dividends pay off back home.

His enthusiastic plans to attend the Olympics are meant to pay respect to the Chinese people in their moment of glory. Yet as hard as Bush tries to define the games only in the context of sports, there is no escaping the politics of a world event held in a police state.

China, trying to ensure the event is clean of controversy, has only intensified its repression of political dissent, religious expression and press coverage. Bush says he can and will candidly raise concerns about China's human rights record to President Hu Jintao.

Given the long travel and time differences, Bush begins his agenda in earnest on Wednesday in Seoul, South Korea.

The country is a key partner in the six-country coalition striving to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons. Progress has been stop and start as the world watches to see whether North Korea will come to terms on allowing its nuclear dismantling to be verified.

The timing of Bush's visit to Seoul is a bit better than just a few weeks ago. Public unrest over U.S. beef imports has receded, and the U.S. has reversed course on a decision that angered South Korea regarding some disputed islands between Japan and South Korea.

In Thailand, where a coalition government is enduring rocky times, Bush will spell out his vision for the U.S. presence in the Far East after he leaves office. He will also meet with activists who oppose the repression of the military junta in neighboring Myanmar.

That country, also known as Burma, sustained a cyclone in May that killed roughly 80,000 people and put more than 2 million people in need of aid. Bush will be briefed on recovery efforts during his Thailand visit.

The president caps his trip with four days in Beijing, mixing in a dash of diplomacy with plenty of unstructured time to watch Olympic sporting events. Bush will be joined by members of his family, including his dad, a former president who once served as an envoy to China.

    Bush heads to Asia for diplomacy and sports, NYT, 4.8.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/washington/AP-Bush-Asia.html






U.S. Presses Pakistan

on Control of Its Spy Agency


August 2, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is increasing pressure on Pakistan’s fledgling civilian government to bring the country’s spy service under civilian control, according to American and Pakistani officials.

During meetings in Washington this week with Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, senior Bush administration officials pressed their Pakistani counterparts to assert control over Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, the American officials said. The pressure comes as relations between India and Pakistan deteriorate following reports of ISI involvement in the recent bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The American pressure reflects heightened concerns at the State Department, Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency that operatives in the ISI, who have long been believed to have close ties to Pakistani militants, have become bolder and more open in their support for militant Islamist organizations.

The New York Times reported this week that American intelligence agencies had said they have evidence that members of the ISI helped plan the deadly July 7 bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul.

In an interview on Friday, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, said that American authorities have yet to show Pakistani officials specific evidence to support that conclusion.

“If any evidence were to be presented against any individual in Pakistan, or against the interest of Pakistan’s neighbors, then the government would certainly act on that evidence,” he said.

Mr. Haqqani hinted, however, that the civilian government would investigate any ISI officers who might be in league with militants, and laid blame on President Pervez Musharraf, who was firmly in power until elections earlier this year.

“Several outstanding problems in the relationship between the United States and Pakistan that the elected government inherited from the past are currently being resolved,” Mr. Haqqani said. “These include issues of trust between our two intelligence services.”

But bringing the ISI under civilian authority is easier said than done, as Pakistan’s new government found out last week. On Saturday night, while Mr. Gilani was en route to Washington, his government announced that the ISI would report to the country’s Interior Ministry.

One day later, after objections from inside Pakistan’s security apparatus, the government issued a clarification, saying that it had been “misinterpreted” and that the decree only “re-emphasizes more coordination” between the Interior Ministry and the ISI.

The Indian foreign secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon, said Friday that his country’s relationship with Pakistan had sunk to its lowest level since 2003, when the nuclear rivals stepped back from the brink of war and began peace talks.

“If you ask me to describe the state of the dialogue, it is in a place where it hasn’t been in the last four years,” Mr. Menon told journalists at the annual meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka.

“We face a situation where things have happened in the recent past which were unfortunate and which, quite frankly, have affected the future of the dialogue,” he said.

India has not cut off the peace talks, and Indian officials have said privately that the peace effort has been strained by political problems in Pakistan and the openings they may have created for hard-line forces.

“If you have this fluid situation, you have elements within the army, within the ISI, who have the opportunity to move forward with their own agenda, with respect to Afghanistan and India,” a senior Indian official said last week.

“The peace process is in limbo,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. “There is no direction. This is what has opened up the door to these elements.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India is scheduled to meet with Mr. Gilani on Saturday in Colombo.

At the State Department, Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte has been in charge of the administration’s efforts to press Pakistan, administration officials said. Several officials noted that some officials in the Bush administration had begun to express a nostalgia for Mr. Musharraf, who has largely been pushed to the sidelines since his party lost elections in February.

While the State Department has publicly called for democratic elections and civilian rule in Pakistan, some officials said they believed that Mr. Musharraf had more authority to bring reform to the security services.

Another Bush administration official said Pakistan’s government had yet to assure the administration that it could control the ISI. “There are real questions about the organization’s loyalty,” the official said. “In the wake of political gridlock and a lack of a clear political direction, some elements of the ISI have started to exercise certain prerogatives.”

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic rules.

But some experts said the Bush administration should be more patient in allowing the new Pakistani government to assert its authority after years of military rule in Pakistan.

“In general, this administration at its upper reaches has been cool to the elected government from the start,” said Teresita Schaffer, a Pakistan expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “They like to look at Musharraf as a factor for stability.”

A senior Pakistani official sharply disputed that Mr. Musharraf had been more effective at exerting control over the ISI. “It’s not disarray in the civilian government that has brought a lot of this to light,” the senior official said. “It’s the fact that the change of government has brought out to the open a lot that was kept secret before.”

Several foreign policy experts noted that there was nothing new in the ISI’s close ties to militant Islamist groups. “People tend to forget the frustrations that were there when Musharraf was in place,” said Daniel Markey, a former South Asia expert at the State Department. “The civilians are a mess right now, and the government is in a state of flux. When there’s flux, individuals in the ISI revert to form.”

Somini Sengupta contributed reporting from Bangalore, India, and Salman Masood from Islamabad, Pakistan.

    U.S. Presses Pakistan on Control of Its Spy Agency, NYT, 2.8.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/02/world/asia/02diplo.html






Pakistanis Aided Attack in Kabul,

U.S. Officials Say


August 1, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — American intelligence agencies have concluded that members of Pakistan’s powerful spy service helped plan the deadly July 7 bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to United States government officials.

The conclusion was based on intercepted communications between Pakistani intelligence officers and militants who carried out the attack, the officials said, providing the clearest evidence to date that Pakistani intelligence officers are actively undermining American efforts to combat militants in the region.

The American officials also said there was new information showing that members of the Pakistani intelligence service were increasingly providing militants with details about the American campaign against them, in some cases allowing militants to avoid American missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Concerns about the role played by Pakistani intelligence not only has strained relations between the United States and Pakistan, a longtime ally, but also has fanned tensions between Pakistan and its archrival, India. Within days of the bombings, Indian officials accused the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, of helping to orchestrate the attack in Kabul, which killed 54, including an Indian defense attaché.

This week, Pakistani troops clashed with Indian forces in the contested region of Kashmir, threatening to fray an uneasy cease-fire that has held since November 2003.

The New York Times reported this week that a top Central Intelligence Agency official traveled to Pakistan this month to confront senior Pakistani officials with information about support provided by members of the ISI to militant groups. It had not been known that American intelligence agencies concluded that elements of Pakistani intelligence provided direct support for the attack in Kabul.

American officials said that the communications were intercepted before the July 7 bombing, and that the C.I.A. emissary, Stephen R. Kappes, the agency’s deputy director, had been ordered to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, even before the attack. The intercepts were not detailed enough to warn of any specific attack.

The government officials were guarded in describing the new evidence and would not say specifically what kind of assistance the ISI officers provided to the militants. They said that the ISI officers had not been renegades, indicating that their actions might have been authorized by superiors.

“It confirmed some suspicions that I think were widely held,” one State Department official with knowledge of Afghanistan issues said of the intercepted communications. “It was sort of this ‘aha’ moment. There was a sense that there was finally direct proof.”

The information linking the ISI to the bombing of the Indian Embassy was described in interviews by several American officials with knowledge of the intelligence. Some of the officials expressed anger that elements of Pakistan’s government seemed to be directly aiding violence in Afghanistan that had included attacks on American troops.

Some American officials have begun to suggest that Pakistan is no longer a fully reliable American partner and to advocate some unilateral American action against militants based in the tribal areas.

The ISI has long maintained ties to militant groups in the tribal areas, in part to court allies it can use to contain Afghanistan’s power. In recent years, Pakistan’s government has also been concerned about India’s growing influence inside Afghanistan, including New Delhi’s close ties to the government of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president.

American officials say they believe that the embassy attack was probably carried out by members of a network led by Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose alliance with Al Qaeda and its affiliates has allowed the terrorist network to rebuild in the tribal areas.

American and Pakistani officials have now acknowledged that President Bush on Monday confronted Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, about the divided loyalties of the ISI.

Pakistan’s defense minister, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, told a Pakistani television network on Wednesday that Mr. Bush asked senior Pakistani officials this week, “ ‘Who is in control of ISI?’ ” and asked about leaked information that tipped militants to surveillance efforts by Western intelligence services.

Pakistan’s new civilian government is wrestling with these very issues, and there is concern in Washington that the civilian leaders will be unable to end a longstanding relationship between members of the ISI and militants associated with Al Qaeda.

Spokesmen for the White House and the C.I.A. declined to comment for this article. Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, did not return a call seeking comment.

Further underscoring the tension between Pakistan and its Western allies, Britain’s senior military officer said in Washington on Thursday that an American and British program to help train Pakistan’s Frontier Corps in the tribal areas had been delayed while Pakistan’s military and civilian officials sorted out details about the program’s goals.

Britain and the United States had each offered to send about two dozen military trainers to Pakistan later this summer to train Pakistani Army officers who in turn would instruct the Frontier Corps paramilitary forces.

But the British officer, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said the program had been temporarily delayed. “We don’t yet have a firm start date,” he told a small group of reporters. “We’re ready to go.”

The bombing of the Indian Embassy helped to set off a new deterioration in relations between India and Pakistan.

This week, Indian and Pakistani soldiers fired at each other across the Kashmir frontier for more than 12 hours overnight Monday, in what the Indian Army called the most serious violation of a five-year-old cease-fire agreement. The nightlong battle came after one Indian soldier and four Pakistanis were killed along the border between sections of Kashmir that are controlled by India and by Pakistan.

Indian officials say they are equally worried about what is happening on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border because they say the insurgents who are facing off with India in Kashmir and those who target Afghanistan are related and can keep both borders burning at the same time.

India and Afghanistan share close political, cultural and economic ties, and India maintains an active intelligence network in Afghanistan, all of which has drawn suspicion from Pakistani officials.

When asked Thursday about whether the ISI and Pakistani military remained loyal to the country’s civilian government, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sidestepped the question. “That’s probably something the government of Pakistan ought to speak to,” Admiral Mullen told reporters at the Pentagon.

Jalaluddin Haqqani, the militia commander, battled Soviet troops during the 1980s and has had a long and complicated relationship with the C.I.A. He was among a group of fighters who received arms and millions of dollars from the C.I.A. during that period, but his allegiance with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda during the following decade led the United States to sever the relationship.

Mr. Haqqani and his sons now run a network that Western intelligence services say they believe is responsible for a campaign of violence throughout Afghanistan, including the Indian Embassy bombing and an attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul earlier this year.

David Rohde contributed reporting from New York, and Somini Sengupta from New Delhi.

    Pakistanis Aided Attack in Kabul, U.S. Officials Say, NYT, 1.8.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/01/world/asia/01pstan.html



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