Wednesday, April 1, 2009

China, U.S. to build positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship in 21st century

LONDON, April 1 (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Hu Jintao and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama agreed to work together to build a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship in the 21st century when they met here Wednesday.Hu said China-U.S. ties have got off to a good start since Obama took office. "I have been keeping close relations with Obama and the foreign ministers of both countries have exchanged visits in a short time," he saidThe current international situation is undergoing complicated and profound changes, and the international financial crisis continues to spread and go deeper, he said, adding that global challenges are markedly increasing.China and the United States share more extensive common interests in tackling the financial crisis, striving to recover global economic growth, dealing with international and regional issues and safeguarding world peace and security, the Chinese president said.He said China and the United States need to view each other from a positive perspective and push forward dialogue and cooperation with positive moves despite the differences in their social systems, historical background, cultural tradition and phases of development.The two countries should also work together to tackle the complicated and thorny issues facing the humanity in the 21st century to achieve mutually beneficial cooperation and common development, he said. China and the United States should deepen exchanges and cooperation in economy, fighting terrorism, non-proliferation, law enforcement, energy, climate change, science and technology, education, culture, healthcare, and boost exchanges between the military of the two nations, he said. The two countries should also strengthen communication and coordination on international and regional affairs and global issues, he added. Hu invited Obama to visit China in the second half of this year, and Obama accepted the invitation with pleasure.This was the first meeting between the two heads of state since the new U.S. administration came into office in January. The two presidents had an "extensive" exchange of views on bilateral relations and global issues of common interest and agreed to work toward an enhanced bilateral relationship, the White House said in a statement.The two leaders decided to establish the mechanism of "China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogues," and agreed that the first round of the dialogues will be held in Washington this summer. Speaking at the start of their meeting, Hu said: "Good relations with the United States are not only in the interests of the two peoples, but also beneficial to peace, stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region, and the world at large." China is willing to work with the United States to make even greater progress in advancing their bilateral relations, Hu said, adding he hoped to establish "good working relations and personal friendship" with Obama.The U.S. president said the relations between the United States and China have become "extremely constructive." "Our economic relations are very strong." "I said publicly our relations are not only important for citizens of the two countries, but also help set the stage for how the world deals with a host of challenges," he said.China is a great power and has a long and extraordinary history," Obama said.The Chinese president also said during the meeting that no matter how the situation across the Taiwan Strait evolves, China will steadfastly adhere to the one-China policy and resolutely oppose "Taiwan independence," "One China, one Taiwan" and "Two Chinas." Obama said the U.S. government is committed to the one-China policy and the three Chinese-U.S. joint communiques, adding that this stand will not change.The United States welcomes and supports efforts to improve relations across the strait and hopes for greater progress in the relations, the U.S. president said. Observers say the China-U.S. relationship is one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world in the 21st century, and amid the spreading international financial crisis and mounting global challenges, it is all the more important to further develop China-U.S. relations.Over the years, leaders of the two countries have maintained close communication on major issues concerning bilateral ties through mutual visits, meetings, telephone calls and correspondence. These exchanges have given a strong boost to the sustained, sound and steady growth of bilateral relations.The Chinese and U.S. leaders met in London on the sidelines of a Group of 20 (G20) summit on the financial crisis slated for Thursday.The London summit brings together leaders of the G20, and representatives of international organizations and financial institutions to work to restore stability and stimulate global economic growth.The summit will focus on enhancing the coordination of macroeconomic policies, pushing for necessary reforms in the world financial system and stabilizing global financial markets. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei said last month that President Hu will deliver a speech at the summit to elaborate China's opinions and proposition.China endeavors to push for positive and pragmatic results at the London summit, He said.The G20 consists of China, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, Britain, the United States, and the European Union.

U.S. Jews offer cautious support for Netanyahu government

WASHINGTON - The American Jewish community, whose leaders had kept silent about the results of the Israeli elections, has begun to speak out, cautiously.

The picture that emerged from talks with community leaders in Washington this week is that not everyone is thrilled with the new Israeli government, but most believe that support for Israel is more critical now than ever in the face of the current threats, chief among them Iran.

The head of one of the most influential local Jewish Federation branches in the United States, who declined to be named, admitted that the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman is "not good" in terms of public relations. He quickly added, however, that the American Jewish community must nevertheless express support for Israel's government.

"I know Lieberman, he's not an outsider. His views have support in Israel, even if the American Jewish community doesn't support him," he said.

"It's a problem that in the press he's been labeled a fascist, but we must tell the new [U.S.] administration in no uncertain terms: 'He's a minister, talk to him.'

Jewish Democratic congresspeople also expressed support in the new government.

"I think it's a good thing that Labor is in the government. That creates more of a centrist government," Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) said. "I think that Lieberman needs to design his rhetoric not only for the domestic Israeli market but for the world as well. It is one thing to say that everyone in public office must pledge allegiance to the flag, and it is another thing to say: 'This particular group, Israeli Arabs, needs to take an oath of loyalty.'"

Are you personally willing to give him a chance?

"I'm open-minded. Regarding the future relations between the governments - in the long term, it's not a matter of personalities, but the image perceived by Americans. All too often I see terror incidents in Israel, and we get what I call the 'screaming general syndrome.' CNN picks a general who thinks he speaks English well, and he is angry, as you would expect someone to be over a terror incident. And the image that is projected is the angry screaming general who may or may not have a command of the English language. This is not the best television," Sherman said.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY): "The people of Israel have the right to elect any government they like, and no other country, including the U.S., has the right to criticize them or to make negative remarks when Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.

"I believe that this government, now with the inclusion of Labor, will work toward peace. People forget that when Netanyahu was prime minister in the past, he showed a great deal of flexibility.

"I think Avigdor Lieberman's image is much harsher than some of his positions are. He said that he favored the two-state solution. And I think that if Palestinians truly want to make peace with Israel, any Israeli government will accept this peace. But it has to be a strong, durable peace. The United States, in my opinion, needs to stand with Israel, because the world doesn't."

But it seems that with its massive outreach to the Arab World, the new administration is trying to be more balanced.

"I think the Obama Administration will be a strong ally and supporter of Israel," Engel said. "I'm not worried. Will there be tensions from time to time? Sure. But the bottom line is that I believe the U.S. will always stand with Israel."

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) is very generous in his evaluation of Netanyahu.

"I think Israel is one of the great democracies in the world and it just had elections, and we all should celebrate it. Bibi Netanyahu is a very smart guy. And I have a lot of confidence that the prime minister of Israel will do the right thing for the people of Israel."

So how do you think it will work with the new U.S. administration?

"Everybody has difficulties working with everybody, so you work it out. Israel has one of the smartest prime ministers they could have, and we have one of the smartest presidents we could have. And it's a good dynamic. I'm very optimistic - I deal with the Middle East, I have to be optimistic."

What about the disagreement between Israel and the U.S. regarding the "Iranian nuclear bomb deadline"? Some say the Israeli clock ticks faster.

"It's three seconds faster, this a very fast-flying world we're talking about. So there's not such a big difference between Israel and the United States. We are very, very concerned. For me and many others here it's a number-one concern. There are differences in intelligence estimates - it's like a doctor estimating a due date, and estimates can be slightly different. But I don't think this administration is soft on Iran. Being willing to talk shouldn't be confused with being soft."

Oil-Rich Arab State Pushes Nuclear Bid With U.S. Help

ABU DHABI -- The mating of the words "nuclear" and "Persian Gulf" normally sets off alarm bells in Washington. Yet this oil-rich Arab state just across the gulf from Iran is on a crash course to develop nuclear power with U.S. backing.

Dozens of American engineers, lawyers and businessmen have converged on Abu Dhabi in recent months to help the United Arab Emirates get the Arab world's first nuclear-power program running by 2017. "I don't know anyone else who has rolled out a nuclear program of this magnitude this fast," says Jeffrey Benjamin, an American engineer who in October was named project manager for Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp., which oversees Abu Dhabi's nuclear program.

Even as the U.S. remains determined to block Iran from developing nuclear weapons, President Barack Obama sees the U.A.E. program as a "model for the world," according to a senior White House official, and by mid-April could move to present a bilateral nuclear-cooperation treaty to Congress for approval. The ability to make electricity through nuclear power is a long way from the ability to build weapons -- and, proponents say, the agreement could make bomb-making harder.

The treaty, signed by former President George W. Bush during his last week in office, would allow American firms to engage in nuclear trade with the U.A.E. To build support, the U.A.E. is agreeing to buy approved nuclear fuel on the international market, rather than enriching uranium or reprocessing plutonium, both of which can be made into weapons-grade material. It will also open its facilities to random international inspections.

The U.A.E.'s push represents a test for nuclear-power advocates who want countries across the globe to go nuclear -- so long as they play by the rules. The U.S. and United Nations officials are championing the U.A.E. as a role model for other developing countries and as a counterexample to Iran. Tehran has repeatedly rebuffed international inspectors, while amassing large quantities of materials that can be used to build bombs. A spokesman at the Iranian mission to the U.N. says Iran's nuclear program is purely for civilian purposes, and says Tehran believes "peaceful nuclear programs" are the right of all signatures to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Some U.S. lawmakers have threatened to block the U.A.E. deal, saying the risks of letting that country split the atom are too large. They cite the U.A.E.'s history as a transit point for sensitive military technologies to Iran, Iraq and Libya. They also make the slippery-slope argument: If one Arab country has nuclear power, others may pile in, and perhaps down the road, seek nuclear weapons as well. Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt have recently announced their desire to develop nuclear-power programs with U.S. assistance.

Western and Asian companies are already salivating at the chance for lucrative contracts with the U.A.E., which has set the end of April as the rough deadline for bids. General Electric Co. and Westinghouse Electric Co. are among the U.S. firms interested in the initial $20 billion in reactor work, say officials familiar with the bidding process. GE and Westinghouse declined to comment.

Facing ambitious timelines set by officials bent on growth, Mr. Benjamin, the American engineer, and his colleagues rarely get far from the Emirates Nuclear Energy headquarters in downtown Abu Dhabi. Many live in an apartment building next to the office and exercise at the same gym. Mr. Benjamin lives three floors above his office.

Surge in Demand
The U.A.E. began exploring nuclear power three years ago as it faced a surge in electricity demand, say Emirati officials. The Persian Gulf country is a federation of seven states, among them Abu Dhabi, the capital, and Dubai. It has among the largest oil reserves in the world. But it's short of the natural gas that is used to fuel power and water-desalination plants, and imports most of its gas from neighboring Qatar.

Abu Dhabi's ruler, Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, commissioned a white paper that concluded the country's electricity demand would reach 40,000 megawatts by 2020 from around 16,000 megawatts currently. Nonnuclear options, such as coal-fired plants, solar energy or alternative fuels, were seen either as insufficient to meet demand, too expensive or harmful to the environment.

"Nuclear power was seen both as practical and clean," says Hussain al Nowais, an Abu Dhabi industrialist who took part in the study.

The U.A.E.'s foreign minister announced Abu Dhabi's intentions to pursue nuclear power last May. Officials here say they believe the global economic downturn is temporary and are sticking to ambitious growth plans that assume rising electricity demand.

Bush Initiative
The Bush administration quickly emerged as a powerful partner. Former Bush officials say they wanted to tout the U.A.E.'s nuclear approach to developing nations and to pressure Iran to follow suit. Some former officials say they believed nuclear power was inevitably going to spread farther into the Middle East. A deal with Abu Dhabi could also set a precedent by binding a key economic powerhouse to U.S. technologies and international standards.

"This is the kind of counterexample to Iran we need to actively support," says Jackie Wolcott, a former U.S. envoy who helped negotiate the pact Mr. Bush signed in January.

David Scott is one of the Americans helping to build the nuclear program in the U.A.E. Mr. Scott served as the National Security Council's director for the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa during President Bush's first term. In 2006, he became the director of economic affairs for Abu Dhabi's Executive Affairs Authority, which is run by the crown prince.

Frenzied Growth
On a recent morning, Mr. Scott was in a helicopter over Abu Dhabi, pointing out the frenzied growth of skyscrapers and apartment blocks that he hopes will soon be powered by nuclear energy. Mr. Scott, a graduate of Utah's Brigham Young University, has worked for the U.S. military, the State Department and Occidental Petroleum Corp. On weekends, he and his family ride wakeboards on Abu Dhabi's turquoise waters.

Also in the helicopter was Mohamed al Hammadi, the chief executive of the Emirati nuclear company. Mr. Hammadi was tracking the flight path using the global-positioning system on his cellphone. The 33-year-old, a graduate of the Florida Institute of Technology and a native of Abu Dhabi, said he hardly recognized the town he grew up in.

"Most of this was just desert," said Mr. Hammadi. The Louvre and Guggenheim museums are building branches on an island next to Abu Dhabi's downtown waterfront. A Formula One racetrack built on another nearby island will stage its first event later this year. Farther away from the city, one of the world's largest aluminum smelters is under construction.

Mr. Hammadi's job includes choosing sites for the reactors that are in secure locations and away from population centers, but still close to desalination plants and the power grid. He'll also decide which designs the U.A.E. adopts. Plants must withstand sandstorms and summer heat that can reach 120 degrees.

Following the Western model, the U.A.E. has established an independent regulator to monitor nuclear safety. The regulator's first director general is set to be William Travers, a 58-year-old Florida native. In the 1980s, he was dispatched by the U.S.'s Nuclear Regulatory Commission to help clean up America's worst nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Travers oversees a staff of 30 American, Emirati and European officials that's expected to grow to more than 100 by 2013. The regulatory office is seeking to put in place licensing requirements so the U.A.E. can begin importing components for its nuclear reactors. Mr. Travers says he plans to retain his independence, which is one reason his offices have been literally walled off from the nuclear-energy company, even though they share the same floor. "What they want from me is a safety call," Mr. Travers says from his spartan office.

Emirati officials say they've started developing homegrown talent to run and maintain the reactors. Khalifa University, Abu Dhabi's largest technical school, is teaming up with European and U.S. colleges to create nuclear science and engineering degrees. The government is offering to retrain engineers already working in the nation's petroleum sector.

'Serve My Country'
"I want to see myself in a stronger position so that I can serve my country," said 30-year-old Fahad al Rumaithi, who's preparing for a degree in nuclear engineering after working for the Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Co. in Malaysia and South Korea. He said he spends his spare time reading engineering books on thermodynamics.

Most critics of the program, including some U.S. lawmakers and nonproliferation experts, believe the U.A.E. is unlikely to turn to nuclear weapons. But they have reservations about the country's past role in the flow of sensitive military technologies. The rogue Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan used the port of Dubai to transfer centrifuge technologies to countries like Libya, according to American and U.N. officials. Mr. Khan's network grew to include nuclear sales to North Korea and Iran, before American and international investigators shut him down in 2003.

Iran has allegedly obtained materials for its missile program from front companies based in Dubai. Iran and the U.A.E. are trading partners, exchanging more than $5.5 billion in goods in 2007, according to the European Union.

Some American lawmakers have said they want to block the U.S.-U.A.E. deal on the grounds that the U.A.E. hasn't done enough to combat the flow of funds and technology into Iran.

"If this is to be the model for future nuclear cooperation agreements, don't we want to get this right the first time?" asks Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the Republican vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Ms. Ros-Lehtinen wants more assurances that the U.A.E. will support U.S. efforts to confront Iran and that it won't pursue nuclear weapons.

U.A.E. officials say in the past they have been lax in monitoring the flow of sensitive technologies through the ports. But they say they have stepped up enforcement of U.N. sanctions against Iran and tightened business-license regulations for Iranian nationals. They have also signed on to U.S.-led efforts to track air and sea shipments to Iran.

Iranian Crackdown
Over the past three years, U.A.E. officials say, they have shut down 40 Iranian companies operating in Dubai over either export-control violations or lack of proper licenses. In the past six months, Emirati authorities have also blocked more then 10 shipments of goods for potential military use heading to Iran through Dubai, largely from Asia. "We will not allow anyone to use our territory to harm anybody else," said Yacub al-Hosani, a Foreign Ministry official.

The U.A.E. points to Iran's stepped-up rhetoric over Persian Gulf islands that are in dispute between Abu Dhabi and Tehran as evidence that its harder stance isn't going unnoticed.

Emirati officials say their nuclear program won't be derailed by international pressure. The country has already signed a nuclear-cooperation agreement with France, and has tentative deals with Japan and Britain. Companies such as Frances's Areva SA and Korea Electric Power Co. are preparing to make bids for contracts that could ultimately top $40 billion.

G20 summit: Barack Obama set for clash with European and Asian export powers

President warns protectionist exporters • Germany defies call to change outlook • America resumes Russia relations.
Barack Obama does not see eye to eye with Angela Merkel over exports Photo: PA
US President Barack Obama has issued a veiled warning to the export powers of Europe and Asia that they risk setting off a protectionist backlash unless they do more to restore global demand."If there is going to be new growth it can't just be the United States as the engine. Everybody is going to have to pick up the pace," he told a joint press conference with Gordon Brown before the G20 summit.
"Our goal is simply to make certain that each country, taking into account its differences in economic circumstances and political culture, is doing what is necessary to promote economic growth. The US will do its share but in some ways the world has become accustomed to the United States being a voracious consumer market, the engine that drives a lot of economic growth worldwide," he said."In the wake of this crisis, we have to take into account our own deficits. To the extent that all countries are participating, that strengthens arguments we make in our respective countries about the importance of world trade, the sense that this isn't a situation where each country is only exporting and never importing, but rather that there's a balance," he said.While the comments were couched in diplomatic language – and included praise for "significant packages" by the EU, Japan, and China – they reflect irritation in Washington that US fiscal stimulus is leaking out to "free rider" countries. The US budget deficit may reach 13.7pc of GDP this year.
The current US Congress is the most protectionist in half a century. It has already inserted a "Buy American" clause in Mr Obama's fiscal package. It is unclear how far Mr Obama will go – or can go – to restrain the populist mood.A 530-page report by the US Trade Representative this week reads like an indictment of half the world, with a long chapter on methods used by China to rig its internal market. China had $401bn (£278bn) surplus over the last year.But it is Germany that has emerged as the villain in this G20 drama because of its attacks on the "crass Keynesianism" of the Anglo-Saxon powers and its willingness to let German GDP contract at a brutal pace despite having ample firepower in reserve.Chancellor Angela Merkel has blamed the crisis on US "casino capitalism", ignoring the role of massive trade imbalances in generating the deeper economic turmoil. Germany has a surplus of $224bn, or 5.3pc of GDP.
She has given the impression that Germany hopes to carry on running export surpluses for ever as if nothing had happened. "The German economy is very reliant on exports; this is not something you can change in two years. It is not something we even want to change," she said.Asia has been quicker to join the stimulus coalition. Japan's premier Taro Aso is preparing a third fiscal package, allegedly worth $200bn over three years. China has pushed through stimulus of nearly $600bn.
Mr Aso said Japan had learned during its "lost decade" that pump-priming can prevent a downward spiral at key moments. "There are countries that understand the importance of fiscal mobilisation, and there are some other countries that do not, which is why I believe Germany has come up with their views," he said.Western Europe may have blundered by failing to offer Mr Obama more support for his agenda. The new president already views the region as an inhospitable place, judging by his book Dreams of My Father. Europeans have not done much to win him over.Mr Obama has instead hit the "reset button" in US relations with Russia, holding a one-on-one meeting on Wednesday with President Dmitry Medvedev.The likely outcome of this G20 will be a US strategic tilt away from Brussels and the Nato alliance.

Iran: U.S. troops in Afghanistan raise "radicalism"

TEHRAN - The presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is encouraging "radicalism" there and will not lead to peace and stability, the official IRNA news agency quoted a senior Iranian official as saying in The Hague on Monday.Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzadeh, who will attend a U.N. conference on Afghanistan on Tuesday proposed by Tehran's old foe the United States, said Iran supported the creation of peace and security in Afghanistan, Iran's neighbor."The presence of foreign troops cannot bring peace and stability for Afghanistan," said Akhoundzadeh. "It encourages radicalism (in Afghanistan)," he said, adding that a regional solution was needed."This policy that others (the West) decide for the Afghan nation and for the Afghan officials does not work out any more," he said.Tehran has yet to announce whether Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki will attend the conference on Tuesday, or whether Akhoundzadeh will lead the Iranian delegation.Iran says the United States is failing in Afghanistan but that Tehran is ready to help its eastern neighbor. It has often called for U.S. forces to leave the region, saying they are making the situation there worse.U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and delegates from nearly 90 countries will take part in the conference on the future of Afghanistan.On Friday U.S. President Barack Obama announced the results of a review of Afghan policy, including the dispatch of 4,000 more U.S. troops to the country to help those battling Taliban insurgents and supporting the Kabul government. Last month he ordered an increase in the U.S. force there of 17,000 troops.Obama has offered a "new beginning" of diplomatic engagement with the Islamic Republic after years of hostility under the Bush administration and its predecessors.Shi'ite Muslim Iran and the United States share an interest in ensuring a stable Afghanistan and oppose the growing insurgency by the Taliban, a Sunni Islamist movement which is also spreading its influence in neighboring Pakistan.Iran and the United States have had no diplomatic ties for three decades and are at odds over Tehran's nuclear program.The United States also accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism in the Middle East and of backing and arming Shi'ite militias in Iraq, charges Iran has denied. But they share an interest in Iraq's stability and territorial integrity.

G20 protests in London

Day of protests that began peacefully turn sour as man dies during G20 demonstrations.Police use batons as protesters converge on the Bank of England yesterday. A man died last night during the G20 protests in central London as a day that began peacefully ended with police saying bottles were thrown at police medics trying to help him.The man had collapsed within a police cordon set up to contain the crowds who had assembled in central London and the City to protest over the G20 summit. There were 63 arrests on the day.The Independent Police Complaints Commission was being notified last night. Scotland Yard said the alarm had been raised by a member of the public who spoke to a police officer on a cordon at the junction of Birchin Lane and Cornhill in the City.He sent two medics through the cordon line and into nearby St Michael's Alley where they found a man who had stopped breathing. They called for ambulance support at about 7.30pm and moved him back behind the cordon where they gave him cardio-pulmonary resuscitation."The officers took the decision to move him as during this time a number of missiles – believed to be bottles – were being thrown at them", said a police statement. The ambulance service took the man to hospital where he died.A London ambulance spokesman said: "Our staff immediately took over the treatment of the patient and made extensive efforts to resuscitate him both at the scene and on the way to hospital."The directorate of public standards at both the Metropolitan and City of London police had been informed, the statement said. One protester at the scene said the man was in his 30s and died of natural causes, the Press Association news agency reported.The man's death ended a day in which the contrasting faces of British policing were on display in London.The Met called in support from 30 forces across the country to create a 5,000-strong team of officers for at least six diverse demonstrations in the City of London and Trafalgar Square. Outside the Bank of England police horses and riot officers were pushed back by the sheer force of demonstrators – helmets were torn from officers' heads and cans, fruit and flour rained down. In retaliation the police surged forward, cracking heads with batons, using pepper spray and CS gas, and sirens wailed all around.Three minutes' walk away, in Bishopsgate, smiling officers shared a joke with men and women pitching tents along the road, a family offered them chocolate brownies from an organic food stall and a few lads politely queued up outside the compost toilet tent.But late last night there was a stand-off as officers moved to start to break up the climate camp that had been set up.Violence spread as far as London Bridge, with riot police chasing groups of demonstrators, who responded with bottles and other missiles.Commanders at the Met, who are said to be among the best public order officers in the world, insisted they would not let the city be brought to a standstill.They used familiar tactics to trap 4,000 people into streets outside the Bank of England in a practice known as "kettling", tightening the cordon when violence flared in one part of Threadneedle Street and a group of protesters, whose faces were covered, broke into the Royal Bank of Scotland.Commander Bob Broadhurst, in charge of the operation, said his aim was to facilitate peaceful protest. But those peaceful demonstrators caught inside the cordon with no toilet facilities, and little water, questioned the idea that they were being allowed to exercise their right to march."The police should let us dribble out when we need to," said June Rogers, a gardener from south London. "We've just come on a peaceful protest. We've got fire in our belly and we want to say something and be heard, we are just ordinary people but they made the situation worse."Jeannie Mackie, a barrister who had attended the climate camp as an observer, was penned in for two hours after police cordoned off both ends of Bishopsgate."I thought it was completely unnecessary," she said."I was kept for two hours. Lines of police lined up with their batons and they were completely pumped up and looking to have a go. My feeling was everyone in there was peaceful but they wanted to clear them out." Responding to the police use of the kettling technique she said that although the courts had ruled that it was legal, there had to be a good reason. "I asked one officer could I go and he said no – I might to and cause trouble. I giggled and said that wasn't very likely and he said, 'you can never tell with these people'."Scotland Yard said a cordon was used because missiles were being thrown at officers. It also said that portaloos and water had been moved in.Earlier in the day demonstrations had started close to the Bank of England, storming a Royal Bank of Scotland branch, and baton-wielding police charging a sit-down protest by students.Much of the protesting was peaceful, but some bloody skirmishes broke out as police tried to keep thousands of people in containment pens surrounding the Bank of England on Threadneedle Street.Some buildings in the City had been boarded up in anticipation of trouble, with staff warned to work from home or dress down.As protesters began to gather, after 11am, some City workers were seen waving £10 notes at them from office windows.After the charge against the sit-down protest at students, there were complaints that officers had been heavy handed."When people surrounded RBS, I could understand police tactics," said Jack Bright, 19. "We were sat down, trying to have a peaceful protest, but they started whacking us."

G20: Deal? Or no deal?

Gordon Brown's hopes of forging a united response to the global recession at today's G20 summit were thrown into jeopardy when France and Germany demanded much tougher rules for the financial system to prevent a repeat of the crisis.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, also rebuffed a plea by Barack Obama for them to stimulate their economies further to help kick-start a worldwide recovery.

The surprise Franco-German offensive, launched at a joint press conference in London last night, left Mr Brown, as the summit chairman, battling to broker a deal ahead of the critical meeting at the ExCeL Centre in London's Docklands. Over a working dinner of the G20 leaders at Downing Street last night, the Prime Minister was trying to persuade emerging economies, particularly China, to swallow some of France and Germany's demands on financial regulation.

Senators grill Petraeus on new Afghanistan strategy

Senators grilled Pentagon officials Wednesday about the new US strategy for countering Islamist extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, pressing them on whether President Obama was committing enough troops to the fight and how America would measure progress in the region.

While lawmakers indicated general support for the new plan, unveiled March 27, some see the administration’s postponement of key decisions about troop levels as evidence that the strategy is still a work in progress.

They asked Gen. David Petraeus and others about the need to identify a target size for the Afghan army and police, and tried to probe why the president did not deploy to Afghanistan the full number of forces requested by Gen. David McKiernan, the top commander in Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama is boosting the US force in Afghanistan by about 21,000, on top of the 7,000 additional troops former President Bush had ordered to the country. But General McKiernan’s request for another 10,000 troops won’t be decided on until later this year, General Petraeus and other defense officials acknowledged this week.
“If the troops were needed, would they be sent?” asked Sen. Mel Martinez (R) of Florida.

The answer: Time-lines presented to Obama allow him to make a decision later this year that could put additional forces in Afghanistan in 2010. Unspoken but implied: A force of 10,000 simply may not be available now because of commitments in Iraq. Petraeus emphasized that the Afghanistan mission requires more than just military forces, anyway.

“While additional military forces clearly are necessary in Afghanistan, they will not by themselves be sufficient to achieve our objectives,” said Petraeus. “It is important that the civilian requirements for Afghanistan and Pakistan be fully met as well.”

A bigger Afghan force sought

Besides the added US forces, Obama’s new strategy relies on a “surge” of civilian expertise and a more defined focus on defeating extremism in the region. It also calls for a larger Afghan army – widely seen as a crucial ingredient to success in Afghanistan – but does not prescribe a specific size for the army or police.

The Afghan army is expected to grow from 90,000 to 134,000 by the end of 2011. The police force is close to reaching its 82,000 target, but many officers need retraining and, perhaps, replacement. The size of both forces should total about 400,000 in the next several years, some experts and lawmakers say.

“We know that [a larger force] was a vital element to our success in Iraq, and to dribble out these decisions, I think, can create the impression of incrementalism,” Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona told Petraeus and other administration officials at Wednesday’s hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senator McCain makes a good point but should temper his criticism, says Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“The word ‘incremental’ is a bit too harsh, but [McCain’s] overall points, especially about the Afghan forces, are still generally correct,” he says. “Then again, so is the general thrust of Obama’s policies – even if the goals aren’t yet ambitious enough.”

Obama’s strategy may be vague about the target size of the Afghan army as American officials negotiate for more resources from allies this week in Europe, some analysts say.

A fast troop buildup

A contingent of about 70,000 US and NATO forces is already on the ground in Afghanistan. With fresh US forces now arriving and 21,000 more soon to come, logistical challenges loom large. The US and its allies will need to build up bases and airstrips to support them.

Indeed, the US runs the risk of sending too large a force too fast, says Seth Jones, a political scientist at the RAND Corp. Besides, he says, the size of the Afghan military or the buildup of American forces is not necessarily the most important issue right now. Instead, the US must think about what incentives it will use to co-opt militants and turn them against the Taliban.

“That is a much bigger issue,” he says. The president’s Afghanistan-Pakistan plan “is not specific on how to do that…. There is a very broad statement, but it is pretty vague on how to do it and when.”

Strategy aside, concern exists in and outside the military that the US and its allies still don’t have an objective way of measuring success. Top military officials testified recently that the information in Afghanistan is far too “anecdotal” to be used effectively.

Lawmakers Wednesday echoed the concern.

“How will we assess whether the new strategy is working? How will we know if we’re winning?” asked Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine.

The Defense Department is working on it, answered Michele Flournoy, the Pentagon’s top policy official.

“I can promise you we will in a very short amount of time be able to come back and talk to you in detail about metrics,” she said.

Danger in Dir

The situation in Dir remains tense, three days after a clash between militants and police resulted in five deaths. The police had been attempting to rescue a bank officer kidnapped by the militants. The district police officer and a former nazim were among those killed. There is, as yet, no clue as to the safety of the bank official; we do not know if he is dead or alive.

There are some especially dangerous dimensions to this situation. Reports from Lower Dir, a district that lies adjacent to Swat, say there has been a distinct increase in militant activity in the area since the peace deal was reached in Swat. The implication is that militants from Swat may have now drifted into Dir, seeking new territory to conquer in their quest to take control of all they can. The fact that the leader of the TNSM, Sufi Mohammad, belongs to Dir adds to the risks. He has been present in the area for some days but insists this is merely a recreational visit. It is though not difficult to imagine a situation in which militants at their meetings contemplate repeating the tale of their conquest in Swat in other tracts of NWFP. After all they have emerged victorious in Swat, forcing the authorities to bow down to them. It can only be expected that they will, buoyed by this triumph, be eager to repeat the experiment elsewhere.

People in Dir have, in the past, made a valiant effort to push militants out of their villages and towns. The attacks on schools for girls in Dir, apparently carried out by militants from Swat, have been greeted with anger by communities who had struggled hard to bring education to their remote district. The situation unfolding now has given rise to similar sentiments. A strike to protest the kidnapping of the bank official has been held across upper and lower Dir. But the latest sequence of events goes only to show how dark the shadows of militancy that hang over Dir really are. It seems quite clear that the forces that rampaged through Swat, creating terror and fear as they enforced their arcane version of Islam, are now eager to do the same in Dir. It is time the provincial government roused itself from its slumber, gave up its pretence that all is well in Swat and began a real effort to tackle the militants who have in Dir once more proved just how deadly they can be.

Militants occupy another emerald mine in Swat Valley

BISHAM: More than 70 armed militants stormed the second famous emerald mine in Gojarao Killay Amnavi area here Wednesday and started mining.

Sources said the armed militants made trenches and bunkers around the second largest emerald mine in Shangla district. The militants declared that those who wanted to work with them against 50 per cent share were welcome and they could start work in the mine. They added that the money generated from the sale of emerald would be distributed on equal basis.

The people of the area confirmed the forcible occupation of the mine, which was earlier leased out by the government to an American firm, Luxury International, for Rs40 million per annum. When contacted, the director of mines licensing said the mine was leased out to the American firm that left the area when violence intensified in the valley.

The official said as the American firm could not meet the terms, hence date of April 18 was fixed to re-auction the mine and the pre-qualification tenders had already been floated.Meanwhile, after capturing the mine by force the militants employed the local people and work to mine emerald started.

Earlier, the militants forcibly occupied a famous mine at Fizza Gat on the outskirts of Mingora, the district headquarters of Swat. However, people of the area said the authorities’ silence over the occupation had emboldened the militants to occupy a mine in Shangla.

The area of Gojaro Killay was very close to the famous resort of Malam Jabba where the mine was located. The militants earlier also destroyed the Malam Jabba health resort and the place used to be a stronghold of the militants during the military operation.

The owner of the mine said nobody was even allowed to go near the boundary when the reserves were in the control of the Mines Department but now more than 1,000 labourers had started work in the mines.

Police officials stationed at the Shangla Top also confirmed occupation of the mine by the militants. However, despite repeated attempts the district coordination officer and district police officer were not available for comments.

CM lays foundation stone of Abdul Wali Khan Varsity

MARDAN: Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti has said that the provincial government had signed a peace deal with Swat-based Taliban in consultation with federal government and central leadership of the party by keeping the interest of people of the province in view. This he said while addressing a ceremony held in connection with inauguration of classes of Khan Abdul Wali Khan University. The classes will start in 11 different disciplines from May 4.
Education Minister Sardar Hussain Babak, Minister for Information Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Minister for Special Education Asad Qazi, MPA Ghani Dad Khan, MNA Khanzada Khan, district Nazim Himayatullah Mayar and other officials of the district government were present on the occasion.
Speaking on the occasion, the chief minister said that Pakhtuns were deliberately pushed towards darkness and illiteracy under a well-conceived conspiracy.
He further said that Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan had set up more than 100 schools in order to educate Pakhtuns, adding that present government was also committed to ensure provision of modern education facilities to its people at their doorstep.
Commenting about prevailing situation, he said that they would take decisions for the security of their homeland and for the establishment of peace, adding that further bloodshed and destruction were un-bearable.
The chief minister said that the establishment of university in the district was not only dreamed by the people but was also his desire which was fulfilled.
The chief minister thanked District Nazim Himayat Ullah Mayar, Dr Ihsan Ali, Sahib Zada Shakib for their efforts in materialising the establishment of Abdul Wali Khan University in the district.
He appealed the political parties to bury their political differences and work collectively for the development of the province which is the need of the hour.
On the occasion a shield was presented to the chief guest on behalf of the university and district government. While chief minister in turn presented shields to Vice Chancellor Abdul Wali Khan University Dr Ihsan Ali, Sahib Zada Ahmad Shakib,Ijaz Khan Yousuf Zai,Ameer Abd-ur-Rahman and others for their valuable services. Later on the chief minister laid down the foundation stone of administration bloc of the university.

Life in Dara Adam Khel returns to normalcy

KOHAT: Life on Kohat Road in Dara Adam Khel has returned to normalcy however, security forces have continued patrolling in the restive areas here on Wednesday.The villages Dara Bazar, Shenay Qilay and others have witnessed life returning towards normalcy after long series of skirmishes meanwhile security forces have been put on high alert to tackle any untoward incident.Local people have breathed sigh of relief over the normalcy of life and slash in clashes among tribesmen here in tribal areas, local people told Geo news.

Afghan and Pakistan leaders pledge cooperation

ANKARA - Pakistan and Afghanistan pledged closer cooperation in the fight against al Qaeda and Taliban militants during a summit hosted by NATO member Turkey on Wednesday.

Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of not doing enough to stop militants crossing the border to carry out attacks, but ties have improved under Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, whose country is facing a growing Islamist insurgency. The Obama administration wants more regional support in Afghanistan.

Zardari and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, after a day of high-level talks in Ankara also attended by senior military commanders and intelligence chiefs from the two countries, agreed to boost military and political ties to tackle violence.

A statement issued after the meeting said foreign ministers and military and intelligence chiefs from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey will meet once a year to expand cooperation.

"We can collectively work together for stability and security in the region," Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, told a university audience later Wednesday.

"Our political leadership, our ministers and our army chiefs met and evaluated today our security situation. I don't think this nature of meetings have taken place anywhere at any time."

Muslim Turkey, which will host U.S. President Barack Obama next week, has long-standing ties with Afghanistan and Pakistan and hosted two high level meetings between them before Wednesday's talks.

A close ally of the United States, Turkey hopes it can play a key role in Obama's plan to bring Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together in tackling insurgents. A Turkish diplomat told Reuters Wednesday's meeting was a good way of "ironing out any wrinkles in the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan."

Obama has unveiled a new strategy which will combine extra troops, funds for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a renewed focus on targeting al Qaeda militants on the Afghan/Pakistan border.

More than 70,000 U.S. and NATO troops are in Afghanistan battling a growing insurgency by the Taliban movement, which is also spreading its influence in Pakistan through the porous mountain border between the two countries.

World officials met in The Hague Tuesday for a U.N.-backed conference on Afghanistan at which Washington appealed for international support to defeat militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In a reminder of the violence plaguing Afghanistan, which has reached its bloodiest level since the Taliban's removal in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, a group of suicide bombers raided a provincial council building in Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar Wednesday and killed 11 people.

Obama tries to rally world to cope with downturn

LONDON -- President Barack Obama sought Wednesday to rally the world's top and emerging powers to help cope with a global economic downturn, saying, "We can only meet this challenge together."

The president also disputed criticism that the United States was feuding with other nations about the need to pump more money into economic stimulus policies, saying any differences are "vastly overstated."

"I am absolutely confident that this meeting will reflect enormous consensus about the need to work in concert to deal with these problems," Obama said before the G-20 economic crisis summit.

Obama prodded nations to spur growth and work together on regulatory reform, and not fall into the kind of protectionism and other mistakes that helped fuel the Great Depression.

"That is a mistake that we cannot afford to repeat," Obama said alongside British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Asked about whether the U.S. was to blame for causing the economic slide, Obama said he preferred to look ahead, not back. He said he had no worries about the stability of the U.S. economic system.

"I think that there is a vibrancy to our economic model, a durability to our political model, and a set of ideals that has sustained even through the most difficult times," Obama said.

Brown, too, sought to play up consensus. "As President Obama has said, never before has the world come together in this way to deal with an economic crisis," Brown said.

He added, "We are within a few hours, I think, of agreeing a global plan for economic recovery and reform."

Obama sought to put a human face on the suffering economy, often turning his exchange with reporters back to those who have lost their jobs and their homes. Pressed about whether consumers should be saving or spending during the crisis, Obama said that was a decision for families.

But he added that people should consider spending now to invest in their future.

"Basing decisions around fear is not the right way to go," Obama said. "We are going to get through this difficult time."

Obama is meeting separately later with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao. Officials in both countries have called for a new global currency to end the dollar's dominance.

Dramatic in itself, the suggestion is also a sign of broader questions about whether U.S. status in the world could be threatened by the rise of a competing power bloc. Still, it's not likely that the new currency idea will gain immediate traction.

Both meetings are being held at the U.S. ambassador's residence, with the news media only allowed into the room before the talks take place and without the ability to ask questions.

The G-20 meetings open with a working dinner Wednesday night and continue throughout Thursday.

Before then, Obama is squeezing in talks with Brown's main rival _ David Cameron, the leader of Britain's opposition Conservative Party. In the afternoon, Obama heads to Buckingham Palace for an audience with Queen Elizabeth II.

With U.S.-Russia relations having deteriorated in recent years to lowest point since the early 1980s, the Obama administration has announced its desire to "press the reset button." The Kremlin has made clear it believes it is up to Washington to open the effort with concessions.

Obama has indicated less enthusiasm than predecessor George W. Bush for a proposed new U.S. missile defense system based in Eastern Europe, an idea that has enraged Russia. Another key area of discussion is the possible replacement of the dying 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which limited the world's two largest nuclear arsenals. START expires Dec. 5. Obama and Medvedev are expected to announce talks on a new pact.

They would be the first major arms control negotiations since 1997. But a thicket of disputes makes meeting the deadline unlikely.

Obama's talks with Hu are sure to address Beijing's concerns about the safety of its position as Washington's biggest foreign creditor, with about $1 trillion in U.S. government debt. For the U.S., there are fears that any Chinese flight away from those investments would erode the U.S. ability to spend more on recession-fighting.

For China, unusually forthright of late in challenging the U.S.-led global order, its goal is a greater say in how international finance is regulated and managed.

Beijing and Washington also have sparred over military matters.

Suspected US drone hits alleged Taliban training centre in Pakistan, 12 dead

The strike was the first drone attack in the Orakzai ethnic Pashtun tribal region, which is near the Afghan border, southwest of the city of Peshawar.
The raid came a day after the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, said his group had carried out an assault on a police training centre in the eastern city of Lahore in retaliation for US drone attacks.Mehsud also gave warning that his men would attack the White House in retaliation for the "drone attacks".
Baitullah Mehsud, who has a $5 million bounty on his head from the United States, vowed to "amaze everyone in the world" with an attack on Washington.
Residents of Khadizai village said a missile hit a Taliban headquarters and 12 suspected militants were killed.
A Pakistani Taliban official said the missile had hit a "camp for guests".
"Some foreigners are believed to be among those killed," the official added.
Pakistani officials use the word "foreigner" in reference to suspected al-Qaeda fighters, but the precise identities of the dead was not confirmed.
The United States, frustrated by an intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan getting support from the Pakistani side of the border, has recently increased the frequency of drone attacks.
Since last year, more than 30 US strikes have killed about 300 people, including mid-level al-Qaeda members, according to reports from Pakistani officials, residents and militants. Wednesday's strike was the first reported attack from a pilotless US aircraft since President Barack Obama last week unveiled a sweeping new strategy designed to defeat Islamist militants holed up in Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan.
"Some foreigners are believed to be among those killed," the official added.
Pakistani officials use the word "foreigner" in reference to suspected al-Qaeda fighters, but the precise identities of the dead was not confirmed.
More than 35 such strikes have killed over 340 people since August 2008, shortly before President Asif Ali Zardari, a key Washington ally, was elected, fanning hostility against the weak Pakistani government and the United States.

Pakistan is 'centre of terrorism'

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described Pakistan as the "epicentre of world terrorism".In an interview with the British Financial Times newspaper, he said that Islamabad had failed to take effective action against militants.
He said that Pakistan was either "unable" or "unwilling" to control the militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).Delhi accuses the Let of staging November's attacks in Mumbai when more than 170 people were killed."That the attacks on Mumbai were planned and acted upon in Pakistani territory is now admitted by everybody, including the intelligence agencies of developed countries," Mr Singh said."That is living proof that despite many promises made by Pakistan since 2004 to my predecessor and to me that Pakistan will not be used to undertake acts of terror against India, in practice no effective action has been taken."The prime minister said that there are elements in the armed forces of Pakistan, some segments of its intelligence agency (the ISI) involved in "perpetrating acts of terror" especially the attack in July on the Indian embassy in Kabul which killed 41 people."The world has a responsibility that Pakistan lives up to the promise that it will not allow its territory to be used to promote acts of terror directed against India," he said.