Archive for June, 2013
Vice President Joe Biden called Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, asking him to reject an asylum request made by fugitive former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, it was revealed today.
‘They did discuss Snowden, but I don’t have additional details,’ Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with President Barack Obama in Africa.
It’s the highest-level conversation between the U.S. and Ecuador that has been publicly disclosed since Ecuador began considering the possibility of offering Snowden a sanctuary.
During his regular Saturday television appearance, President Correa spoke about his phone conversation with Mr Biden, stating that no decision will be made on Showden until he sets foot on Ecuadorian soil, be it in the country itself or in one of its embassies, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Mr Correa added that the NSA leaker ‘will have to assume his own responsibilities’ for blowing the whistle on secret programs the U.S. intelligence agencies have been using to spy on foreign and domestic targets.
Ecuador’s leader also pointed out that the world’s attention should be on America’s clandestine data collection scheme rather than Snowden’s fate.
Earlier this week, Correa said that a letter of safe passage that was allegedly issued to the 29-year-old NSA hacker by an Ecuadorian diplomat stationed in London was void.
Since fleeing Hong Kong to Russia last weekend, Snowden had his U.S. passport revoked, and he is believed to be still holed up in the transit area of a Moscow airport.
Mr Correa also promised that the first ones to be consulted on Snowden’s asylum request ‘would be the U.S. as we did in the [Julian] Assange case with England.’ He was referring to the elusive WikiLeaks founder, who has been staying in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for nearly a year.
Meanwhile, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said on Friday that his government had held talks with Russian officials about when and how Showden, who has no travel documents, could leave the terminal where he has been staying for a week in a state of legal limbo.
Earlier this week, Ecuador revealed it could take months to decide whether to grant asylum to Snowden. He is currently in a transit area of a Moscow airport but it is believed he is hopeful Ecuador will protect him.
Foreign Minister Patino compared Snowden’s case to that of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who has found refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
‘It took us two months to make a decision in the case of Assange, so do not expect us to make a decision sooner this time,’ Patino told reporters.
Snowden, who is charged with violating American espionage laws, fled Hong Kong last Sunday and flew to Russia.
Russia only acknowledged his arrival only on Tuesday, when President Vladimir Putin said Snowden was still in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed that he remained there on Wednesday.
Snowden had also booked a seat on a Havana-bound flight on Monday en route to Venezuela and then possible asylum in Ecuador, but he failed to board the plane.
Despite U.S. officials called for Snowden to be extradited immediately, but Russia said it would not as they have no extradition treaty with the country and Snowden has not committed a crime in Russia.
‘He hasn’t violated any of our laws, he hasn’t crossed our border, he is in the transit zone of the airport and has the right to fly in any direction he wants,’ Lavrov said.
Asked if Ecuador would provide protection to Snowden while considering his request for asylum, Patino said through a translator that if Snowden ‘goes to the embassy, then we will make a decision.’
Patino refused to say what criteria his government would use, but added that it would ‘consider all these risks’, including whether it could hurt trade with the U.S. and damage Ecuador’s economy.
WikiLeaks gave a terse update on Snowden’s condition earlier on Wednesday, saying in a statement posted to Twitter that Snowden was ‘well’.
Edward Snowden the former contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency, charged by the United States with espionage, was allowed to leave Hong Kong on Sunday because the U.S. extradition request did not comply with the law, the Hong Kong government said.
Snowden left for Moscow on Sunday and his final destination may be Ecuador or Iceland, the South China Morning Post said, a move that is bound to infuriate Washington.
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was unaware of Snowden’s whereabouts or travel plans. The WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website said it helped Snowden find “political asylum in a democratic country”. It did not elaborate.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said last week he would not leave the sanctuary of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London even if Sweden stopped pursuing sexual assault claims against him because he feared arrest on the orders of the United States.
U.S. authorities have charged Snowden with theft of U.S. government property, unauthorized communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person, with the latter two charges falling under the U.S. Espionage Act.
The United States had asked Hong Kong, a special administrative region (SAR) of China, to send him home.
“The U.S. government earlier on made a request to the HKSAR government for the issue of a provisional warrant of arrest against Mr Snowden,” the Hong Kong government said in a statement.
“Since the documents provided by the U.S. government did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law, the HKSAR government has requested the U.S. government to provide additional information … As the HKSAR government has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong, a former British colony, reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 and although it retains an independent legal system, and its own extradition laws, Beijing has control over Hong Kong’s foreign affairs.
The South China Morning Post earlier quoted Snowden offering new details about the United States’ spy activities, including accusations of U.S. hacking of Chinese mobile telephone companies and targeting China’s Tsinghua University.
Documents previously leaked by Snowden revealed that the NSA has access to vast amounts of data such as emails, chat rooms and video from large companies, including Facebook and Google, under a government programme known as Prism.
The government statement said Hong Kong had written to the United States “requesting clarification” on earlier reports about the hacking of computer systems in Hong Kong by U.S. government agencies.
“The HKSAR Government will continue to follow up on the matter so as to protect the legal rights of the people of Hong Kong,” it said.
China’s Xinhua news agency, referring to Snowden’s accusations about the hacking of Chinese targets, said they were “clearly troubling signs”.
It added, “They demonstrate that the United States, which has long been trying to play innocent as a victim of cyber attacks, has turned out to be the biggest villain in our age.”
French President Francois Hollande said on Friday the big spending and ultra-loose money aimed at boosting Japan’s flagging economy was “good news” for austerity-weary Europe.
Speaking in Tokyo, where he is on a three day visit, he noted the apparent early success of policies implemented by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his bid to end 15 years of growth-sapping deflation.
“The Japanese government has taken a number of measures since Mr Abe’s team came to power,” he told reporters. “It is not for me to judge them, they are a matter for Japan.
“But the priority given to growth and the fight against deflation, along with the emphasis on competitiveness for business… is good news for Europe, because in Europe we also have to give priority to growth.”
France is leading a growing charge in Europe against Germany’s insistence on fiscal discipline as the eurozone tries to dig itself out from under a mountain of uninspiring economic news.
In a draft document released in April, Hollande’s Socialist Party pilloried German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her “selfish” insistence on austerity as the solution to Europe’s debt crisis.
It said she was obsessed with “Berlin’s trade balance and her electoral future”.
Since his election a year ago, Hollande has vowed to tip the main focus of Europe’s economic recovery efforts towards growth rather than austerity.
Japan’s Abe announced huge fiscal stimulus measures and pressed the country’s central bank into a huge easing programme as he tries to get the economy moving after years of its treading water.
Although the sheen has somewhat dulled after steep falls in the last two weeks, the Tokyo stock market had lapped up the moves, rising by around 80 per cent at its highest point.
- Francois Hollande mixes up Japan with China (telegraph.co.uk)
- French president Francois Hollande tells Japan that eurozone crisis is over (independent.co.uk)
The missiles hit a compound in Shokhel village, more than 100 kilometres southwest of Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan tribal district that is known as a stronghold of Taliban and al Qaeda-linked militants.
“The US drone fired two missiles targeting a militant compound and killing at least seven militants,” a senior local security official told AFP.
Another official confirmed the strike and casualties but said the identities of those killed were not yet known.
The strike came just two days after Sharif was sworn in for a historic third time and asked the United States to end its campaign of drone attacks against militants.
“We respect the sovereignty of others and they should also respect our sovereignty and independence. This campaign should come to an end,” he said after lawmakers endorsed him as premier on Wednesday.
He had also publicly criticised the drone strike that killed Taliban deputy Waliur Rehman last week, echoing long-held Pakistani complaints that the US campaign violates national sovereignty.
Waliur Rehman, the number two in the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) faction, died along with at least five others when a drone fired two missiles on a house in North Waziristan on May 29.
Waliur Rehman, who had a $5 million US government bounty on his head, was killed after US President Barack Obama outlined new more restrictive guidelines on drone use.
Washington had accused Waliur Rehman of organising attacks against US and NATO forces in Afghanistan and also wanted him in connection with a suicide attack on an American base in Afghanistan in 2009 that killed seven CIA agents.
Drone missile strikes are very unpopular in Pakistan, but Washington views them as a vital tool in the fight against Taliban and al Qaeda militants holed up in the lawless Tribal Areas along the border with Afghanistan.
Ties with Washington will be a key part of Nawaz Sharif’s tenure, particularly as NATO withdraws the bulk of its forces from Afghanistan by the end of next year after more than 12 years of war.
The families of Pakistani victims of US drone strikes on Thursday wrote to Nawaz Sharif urging him to stop the campaign – by shooting the unmanned aircraft down if necessary.
The Peshawar High Court on May 9 declared the CIA drone strikes targeting suspected militants to be a “war crime” and ordered Islamabad to take steps to halt them.
Victims’ families and their lawyer Mirza Shahzad Akbar have written to Sharif urging him to heed the court’s ruling, which calls on the government to take the matter up at the UN Security Council. Akbar said that if Pakistan failed to persuade the US to stop the strikes through the United Nations, “the court has very clearly ordered to shoot down the drones”.
Throwing formality aside at a desert retreat, the US and Chinese leaders pledged a new approach in ties, but President Barack Obama took the rising power to task on cyber-hacking charges.
Skipping the usual summit pageantry, Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping both went without neckties at a resort under the blazing California sun as they looked to forge a personal chemistry that could shape the years to come.
In their first meeting since Xi assumed power in March, Obama voiced hope the US superpower and fast-growing China “can forge a new model of cooperation between countries based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
“It is in the United States’ interests that China continues on the path of success because we believe that a peaceful and stable and prosperous China is not only good for the Chinese, but also good for the world and the United States,” Obama said before a leisurely dinner.
Hovering over the summit at the Sunnylands retreat was a vexing question for both countries — whether China’s rise to regional and global prominence will mean an inevitable clash with the United States.
Obama wasted no time in hitting a key theme of the visit from the US side — complaints of an alleged Chinese Internet spying effort targeting American military and commercial secrets and intellectual property.
He voiced concern over the alleged theft — which a recent study said was costing the US economy hundreds of billions of dollars a year — and urged “common rules of the road” to protect against hacking.
“President Xi and I recognize that, because of the incredible advances of technology, the issue of cybersecurity and the need for rules, and common approaches to security, have become increasingly important,” Obama said.
“It’s critical, as two of the largest economies and military powers of the world, that China and the United States arrive at a firm understanding,” Obama said.
Obama, who will hold a second day of talks with Xi on Saturday, said they had not yet discussed cyber-security in-depth. Ahead of the summit, the two countries announced working-level talks to clear up the issue.
Xi said he wanted “good-faith cooperation” to clear up “misgivings” by the United States about cybersecurity, telling reporters that China was also “a victim of cyberattacks.”
“The Chinese government is firm in upholding cybersecurity and we have major concerns about cybersecurity,” Xi said, adding that recent media coverage “might give people the sense that cybersecurity as a threat mainly comes from China.”
Xi invited Obama to pay a parallel informal visit to China. Mirroring his host’s theme of a new approach, Xi said: “The vast Pacific Ocean has enough space for two large countries like the United States and China.”
“We’re meeting here today to chart the future of China-US relations and draw a blueprint for this relationship,” Xi said, next to aides in identical business casual outfits.
Xi, who is expected to lead China during a decade in which it will overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy, reiterated his frequent, if occasionally vague, call for world powers to think differently about relations.
“We need to think creatively and act energetically, so that, working together, we can build a new model of major country relationship,” Xi said.
The 59-year-old leader holds credibility as the son of one of China’s founding revolutionaries and speaks in a confident, free-flowing style, a shift from the stilted formality of his predecessor Hu Jintao that frustrated the White House.
The two leaders had not been expected to meet until the G20 summit in Russia in September. But both sides, sensing uncertainty seeping into a complicated and often difficult relationship, saw value in an earlier encounter.
“Our decision to meet so early I think signifies the importance of the US-China relationship,” Obama said.
The president also pledged that the United States would raise the issue of human rights, a longstanding concern of US lawmakers and campaigners who deplore China’s harsh treatment of democracy advocates, religious groups and ethnic minorities.
“History shows that upholding universal rights will ultimately be a key to success and prosperity and justice,” Obama said.
In troublesome optics for Obama, the summit comes as he faces criticism over revelations that the United States has run a massive Internet and telephone surveillance program for security purposes.
The White House rejected charges the scandal weakened Obama’s hand and instead said the row showed how the United States holds vibrant discussions on individual rights.