North America Stay updated with Business News, Pakistan news, Current world news and latest world news with Business Recorder.. Fri, 19 Dec 2014 15:50:42 +0000 SRA Framework 2.0 en-gb US-Cuba ties thaw, White House open to Castro visit

imageWASHINGTON: A US visit by Cuban President Raul Castro is a possibility, the White House said Thursday, a day after he and US President Barack Obama announced a historic bilateral rapprochement.

With developments proceeding apace, a high-level US diplomat, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, revealed she will travel to Havana in late January for the first direct talks to "begin the process of restoration of diplomatic relations."

But amid celebrations on Havana's streets and plaudits ringing out from China to Chile over the prospects of burying a final vestige of the Cold War, American lawmakers smothered prospects of any rapid roll-back of the trade embargo at the heart of the dispute.

Obama, who said Washington will move to "end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests," on Wednesday raised the previously unthinkable possibility of his visiting the island.

When reporters Thursday broached the subject of a Castro visit to the United States, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: "I wouldn't rule out a visit from President Castro."

Earnest cited Obama's trips to China and Myanmar (Burma), and the visits by those nations' leaders to Washington, to argue that engaging with such figures "can actually serve as a useful way to shine a spotlight on the shortcomings of other country's records as it relates to human rights."

Beijing meanwhile said it hoped the US would lift its embargo on Cuba as quickly as possible.

But that harsh cornerstone of US policy is here to stay, at least for the near future.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2014

]]> (Parvez Jabri) North America Fri, 19 Dec 2014 05:50:26 +0000
White House fence must be raised immediately: panel imageWASHINGTON: The White House fence should be immediately raised by four or five feet to prevent people from breaking into the grounds, according to an independent security review made public Thursday.

A public summary of the panel's classified report also warned that the Secret Service -- the US agency that guards the president -- is "starved for leadership" and needs root and branch reform.

It called for an outside leader, better training and more staff to boost an agency that has grown "too insular."

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson set up the four-member panel in September after a mentally disturbed veteran scaled the fence and burst into the White House carrying a knife.

President Barack Obama and his family were not present at the time, but the incident was the latest in a string of security failures surrounding the US leader.

The panel suggested building a taller fence, saying that an extra four or five feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters) would make a difference, though it stopped short of detailing a specific design.

The White House, it suggested, should eliminate horizontal bars in the design or place them so that they provide little assistance to climbers, while curving the top of the fence outward.

"As the executive branch, Congress, and the service itself have all recognized, the fence must be addressed immediately," it said.

The report also suggested that designers pay attention to the appearance of a building seen by hundreds of tourists every day.

"Importantly, designers of the new fence must balance security concerns with the long and storied tradition of the White House being the 'People's House,'" the report's summary said.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2014

]]> (Parvez Jabri) North America Fri, 19 Dec 2014 05:49:22 +0000
McCain, Graham denounce Obama's shift in US Cuba imageWASHINGTON: Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two of the leading Republican voices on US foreign policy, on Wednesday denounced President Barack Obama's plans to ease US restrictions on Cuba.

The policy shift reflected "America and the values it stands for in retreat and decline," they said in a statement, one of several issued by Republicans seeking to line up against the change in policy.

"It is about the appeasement of autocratic dictators, thugs, and adversaries, diminishing America's influence in the world," said McCain and Graham.

The two lawmakers will hold important foreign policy positions in the Republican-majority Senate that will be seated in January.

McCain will be chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Graham will lead an appropriations subcommittee that oversees State Department spending, including on a potential embassy in Havana.

Copyright Reuters, 2014

]]> (Shoaib-ur-Rehman Siddiqui) North America Thu, 18 Dec 2014 05:57:05 +0000
US, Cuba announce historic thaw in ties imageWASHINGTON: The United States and Cuba moved to end five decades of Cold War hostility Wednesday, agreeing to revive diplomatic ties in a surprise breakthrough that would also ease a crippling US trade embargo.

In the wake of a prisoner exchange, President Barack Obama said Washington was ready for a "new chapter" in relations with communist Cuba and would re-establish its embassy in Havana, shuttered since 1961.

"We are all Americans," Obama declared, breaking into Spanish for a speech that the White House portrayed as a bid to reassert US leadership in the Western Hemisphere.

Cuba's President Raul Castro, speaking at the same time in Havana, confirmed that the former enemies had "agreed to re-establish diplomatic ties" after a half century of rancor.

"President Obama's decision deserves the respect and acknowledgement of our people," Castro said, while warning that the embargo -- which he calls a "blockade" -- must still be lifted.

In Washington, Obama admitted the US trade ban had failed and said he would urge Congress to lift it, while using his presidential authority to advance diplomatic and travel links.

"We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries," Obama said.

"Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas."

Obama later raised the hitherto unthinkable prospect of a US president embarking on a visit to Cuba, saying nothing was ruled out.

"I don't have any current plans, but let's see how things evolve," Obama told ABC's "World News Tonight" in an exclusive interview.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2014

]]> (Parvez Jabri) North America Thu, 18 Dec 2014 05:03:54 +0000
Eleven dead in vigilante shootout in western Mexico imageMEXICO CITY: A shootout between rival vigilantes in Mexico's western Michoacan state has left 11 dead, authorities said on Tuesday, in the clearest sign yet of renewed unrest in an area President Enrique Pena Nieto's government said had been pacified.

The federal government's security commissioner for the state, Alfredo Castillo, told reporters the clash pitted two rival vigilante groups against each another in the town of La Ruana, about 150 miles (241 km) from Morelia, the state capital.

Castillo did not elaborate on what provoked the shootout.

Copyright Reuters, 2014

]]> (Parvez Jabri) North America Wed, 17 Dec 2014 08:01:49 +0000
Blinken confirmed as State Department number two imageWASHINGTON: The US Senate confirmed Tony Blinken as deputy secretary of state on Tuesday, installing a seasoned insider who has served as a close advisor to President Barack Obama.

Blinken, the outgoing deputy national security advisor, was confirmed on a vote of 55-38, becoming Secretary of State John Kerry's number two.

Blinken endured a confirmation process that included scathing criticism led by hawkish Republican Senator John McCain, who took to the Senate floor to blast him as "unqualified."

McCain argued that Blinken has been "abysmally ignorant, or he's simply not telling the truth," in a series of proclamations of foreign policy achievements, including Obama's responsible ending of the war in Iraq and decimating the Al-Qaeda leadership.

Blinken helped draft the Obama administration's fight against militants, and reportedly has played a behind-the-scenes role in the Iran nuclear negotiations.

Democrats stressed the need for rapid confirmation of Blinken so Kerry has a fully staffed team as the State Department confronts international and diplomatic challenges.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2014

]]> (Parvez Jabri) North America Wed, 17 Dec 2014 06:42:07 +0000
Obama bars oil, gas drilling in Alaska haven imageWASHINGTON: President Barack Obama declared Alaska's ecologically rich Bristol Bay off-limits for oil and gas exploration on Tuesday, saying the move was necessary to safeguard the region's fishing and tourism industries.

The area was being withdrawn from consideration for all future oil and gas leasing, extending indefinitely a temporary ban issued by Obama in 2010, a White House statement said.

"I took action to make sure that one of America's greatest natural resources and a massive economic engine for not only Alaska but for America, Bristol Bay, is preserved for future generations," Obama said in a video.

"It is something that is too precious for us to put out to the highest bidder."

The decision protects millions of acres of pristine coastline and terrain from drilling.

The administration of former president George W. Bush had originally planned a lease sale for the area in 2011.

Bristol Bay forms part of one of the world's most valuable fisheries, helping to provide 40 percent of America's wild-caught seafood and supporting a $2 billion annual fishing industry, the White House said.

The area also generates around $100 million each year from tourism and recreational fishing.

It is home to the world's largest runs of wild sockeye salmon while also providing a haven for many species including the threatened Steller's eider, sea otters, seals, walruses, Beluga and Killer whales, and the endangered North Pacific Right Whale.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2014

]]> (Parvez Jabri) North America Wed, 17 Dec 2014 06:03:08 +0000
Boston suspect to make first appearance in 17 months imageNEW YORK: Accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is due to make his first public appearance in 17 months when he steps into court Thursday for final preparations for his January trial.

Held in Fort Devens prison hospital around 70 kilometers (44 miles) from the federal court in Boston where he will face trial, 21-year-old Tsarnaev, has not been seen in public since he pleaded not guilty in July 2013.

He faces the death penalty over the April 15, 2013 attacks, which were the most serious in the United States since the 9/11 Al-Qaeda hijackings.

Two pressure cooker bombs planted at the finish line of the Marathon killed three people and wounded 264, plunging the world-famous sporting event into mourning and reviving domestic fears of terrorism.

His trial is due to begin on January 5 with jury selection and Thursday's hearing will be the last to wrap up the final details.

Tsarnaev, emigrated with his family to the United States in 2002 and became a naturalized American in 2012.

He and his older brother Tamerlan alone are accused of planting the bombs in back packs near the finish line of the marathon.

Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with police as the pair tried to escape the Boston area several days later. An injured Dzhokhar was captured while hiding in a boat parked in a suburban backyard.

Three months later in July 2013, Tsarnaev, appeared in a federal court in Boston with a cast on his left arm down to his fingers and his left eye swollen.

He wore an orange prison jumpsuit as the 30 charges were read out against him, which include conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and bombing a public place resulting in death.

He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2014

]]> (Parvez Jabri) North America Wed, 17 Dec 2014 05:57:27 +0000
Huge crowds mourn Kim Jong-Il on third death anniversary

imageSEOUL: North Korean television showed tens of thousands of mourners bowing before a huge statue of Kim Jong-Il, as the regime marked the third anniversary of the former dictator's death on Wednesday.

Wrapped up against the biting cold, endless rows of people were shown paying their respects to a 22-metre (72-foot) statue of the late leader and his father on Mansu Hill in Pyongyang, the epicentre of the personality cult surrounding the ruling Kim dynasty.

"Despite the freezing December weather this morning, our heart for him grows warmer and our loyalty becomes stronger," said a commentator on state broadcaster Korean Central TV.

Mourners bowed deeply and laid bouquets of flowers at the foot of the statue of Kim Jong-Il, who ruled the secretive communist nation for 17 years before his death in 2011, when his son Kim Jong-Un became leader.

"We yearn to see the gracious Father General," the Korean Central TV commentator said, praising the late leader for developing nuclear weapons.

"In the Marshall, however, we see the General live eternally," she added, in reference to Kim Jong-Un.

Pyongyang newspaper Rodong Sinmun splashed its pages with pictures of the late leader and articles idolising him, saying in a frontpage banner that Kim would "live forever as the Sun".

Kim Jong-Un, accompanied by top party and military officials, was expected to pay homage at Kimsusan Palace of the Sun, a mausoleum in Pyongyang where the embalmed bodies of his father and grandfather are preserved.

The leader will then likely take part in a mass gathering in Pyongyang honouring his father.

Workers and students have held meetings nationwide to mourn the late dictator and pledge loyalty to his son, according to state media.

The North this week accused the United States of seeking to topple its regime through allegations of human rights abuses, and threatened to hit back with its "toughest-ever counteraction".

The comments came with the UN Security Council due to meet next week to discuss North Korea's rights record amid calls for Pyongyang to be referred to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

A UN inquiry released a report in February charging that North Korea has committed human rights abuses "without parallel in the contemporary world", documenting a vast network of harsh prison camps holding up to 120,000 people along with cases of torture, summary executions and rape.

North Korea has in turn asked the UN to investigate the United States after CIA torture revelations last week, which the North called "the gravest human rights violations in the world"

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2014

]]> (Parvez Jabri) North America Wed, 17 Dec 2014 05:30:11 +0000
Obama likely to sign two bills that could impact arms sales imageWASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama is expected to sign in coming weeks two bills passed by Congress despite concerns raised by U.S. officials that they could add time and cost to the already complex process for approving foreign arms sales.

One bill would allow leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate foreign affairs committees to request 30-day notification of certain arms shipments to specific countries, if concerns arose after the sales were approved.

The other would require more elaborate explanations about how major arms sales to the Middle East would affect the "qualitative military edge" that U.S. law mandates for Israel.

Both measures, passed as part of wider bills by Congress this month, aim to give lawmakers more oversight over arms sales at a time of rapid political and national security changes in the Middle East. Neither has drawn a White House veto threat.

U.S. officials, speaking on background, said the provisions could slow approval of foreign arms sales and add administrative costs for the U.S. government, but the president was unlikely to veto the bills, given their importance to U.S. allies. One permits the transfer of older U.S. warships to Mexico and Taiwan; the other underscores U.S. strategic ties with Israel.

The State Department, Pentagon and White House had no immediate comment on the provisions.

Industry executives, who are counting on foreign arms sales to offset declines in U.S. military spending, said the provisions could further complicate the complex process for winning approval of weapons sales to U.S. allies abroad.

Congress has already revised the first measure to account for some of concerns raised by the Obama administration.

It now requires both the leader and ranking member of the Senate and House foreign relations committees to back a request for an arms delivery notification, instead of just one, and applies only to government-to-government, not commercial, sales.

One Senate Republican aide said the measure would improve transparency by allowing Congress for the first time to monitor actual arms shipments, without adding new obstacles.

One U.S. official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said the government would need a new process for tracking such shipments, which often occur years after a sale is approved.

Andrew Shapiro, who previously headed the State Department office that oversees foreign arms sales, said the provision would only be used in cases involving "significant events" and did not give Congress the ability to block sales.

The other bill requires the administration to spell out more specifically how major weapons sales to the Middle East would affect Israel's "qualitative military edge."

Such issues are already addressed in classified documents provided to Congress in conjunction with the proposed sale of major weapons to the Middle East, but the new measure would beef up that analytical process, said Shapiro, currently managing director of Beacon Global Strategies.

It requires a detailed explanation of Israel's ability to respond to the improved capabilities, how a sale would alter the balance in the region, and whether the U.S. government had made any security assurances to Israel in conjunction with the sale.

Copyright Reuters, 2014

]]> (Imaduddin) North America Tue, 16 Dec 2014 16:04:39 +0000