Archive for May, 2014

Hillary Clinton: Partnership with President Obama unexpected

Secretary of State Clinton speaks during a luncheon in honor of Indian PM SinghHillary Clinton reflects on her long life in politics and her “unexpected” partnership with President Barack Obama in excerpts released Tuesday of her upcoming memoir.

In Clinton’s “Hard Choices,” which is due out on June 10, the former secretary of state writes that when making decisions during her life she “listened to both my heart and my head.”

Among those decisions was her “unexpected” partnership with Obama after the contentious 2008 presidential primary.

“I’ve served our country in one way or another for decades. Yet during my years as Secretary of State, I learned even more about our exceptional strengths and what it will take for us to compete and thrive at home and abroad,” Clinton writes. “I hope this book will be of use to anyone who wants to know what America stood for in the early years of the 21st century, as well as how the Obama Administration confronted great challenges in a perilous time.”

The excerpts,  released by Simon & Schuster,  the book’s publisher, and provided by representatives for Clinton, come from the memoir’s four-page author’s note section. The release also comes with a 10-minute audio clip of Clinton reading the passage.

Clinton adds that she didn’t write her memoir for the “followers of Washington’s long-running soap opera,  who took what side, who opposed whom, who was up and who was down.”

Instead Clinton writes that she wrote the book for “Americans and people everywhere who are trying to make sense of this rapidly changing world of ours” and “anyone anywhere who wonders whether the United States still has what it takes to lead.”

“Talk of America’s decline has become commonplace, but my faith in our future has never been greater,” Clinton adds. “While there are few problems in today’s world that the United States can solve alone, there are even fewer that can be solved without the United States. Everything that I have done and seen has convinced me that America remains the ‘indispensable nation.’ I am just as convinced, however, that our leadership is not a birthright. It must be earned by every generation.”

Clinton’s memoir has been highly anticipated since she left her role as America’s top diplomat in early 2013, primarily because the former first lady has been weighing a run at the presidency in 2016.

Because of that, the release of “Hard Choices” is an important moment for Clinton. Critics have charged that her time at State was marked by a lack of a crowning achievement, while Clinton confidants have looked to frame those years as a success and see the book as the most potent way to do that.

Clinton has crisscrossed the United States for the past six months, giving speeches to different corporate groups and college campuses. The themes of those speeches – America’s future and Clinton’s decision making process,  are seen throughout Tuesday’s excerpt release.

The former first lady and senator from New York has said the book begins with her accepting President Barack Obama’s offer to become secretary of state and covers a range of topics, including Iran, Syria and Libya.

She has joked that the memoir will be “just another light summer read” and will cover topics from “Crimea to climate change.”

But the book will also likely reflect on the whole of Clinton’s life, too. In the author’s note, Clinton references her decision to follow her heart and move to Arkansas with Bill Clinton and how her heart “burst with love at the birth of our daughter, Chelsea.”

This is the second release of “Hard Choices” excerpts.

 

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Cameron : Road to General Election Victory A Tough One But Not Impossible

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he could still win general elections in the U.K. next year after his Conservative Party came in third in Sunday’s European Parliament vote, but achieving victory would be tough going, and the Conservatives would have to convince voters their economic plan was working.

The Conservatives won 19 of the 73 seats the U.K. holds in the 751-seat European Parliament, finishing behind the small, euroskeptic U.K. Independence Party, led by Nigel Farage, which won 24 seats, and the center-left Labour Party, which won 20 seats. The biggest losers were Mr. Cameron’s coalition partner, the pro-European Liberal Democrats, which won only one seat, dropping 10 seats from its previous holding.

EU elections aren’t always a reliable guide to how voters will behave in a national election. Still, Sunday’s vote sends a strong message of discontent to the Tories, barely a year ahead of a general election scheduled for May 2015.

Between now and then, Mr. Cameron must contend with another wild card in the form of a September referendum for Scottish independence. The prime minister acknowledged the raised degree of difficulty heading into next year’s vote.

“I’m not saying it’s easy to win the next election,  it is going to be a really tough struggle, we have got to convince people that the plan is working, we should stick with it….It is possible to win from here, we have just got to have a real focus on what really matters, which is completing our economic plan and turning the country around,” he told the BBC.

Mr. Cameron’s coalition government has relied on a combination of budget cutting and loose monetary policy to bring the U.K. economy out of recession. Yet while unemployment has sunk to a five-year low and the economy is growing at a brisk pace again, consumer prices have risen faster than wages and many Britons have yet to feel the benefits of the recovery.

Britain Prime MinisterThe gains by UKIP raise the most unexpected challenge to Mr. Cameron’s and Labour’s strategy for 2015. UKIP jumped to the top of some pre-election opinion polls by waging a campaign warning that immigrants wanted to take British jobs and claiming that the U.K. was run by the EU. Its success wasn’t damped by Mr. Cameron’s pledge, if he wins a second term, to renegotiate the U.K.’s relationship with the EU and then hold a national referendum on Britain’s redefined membership of the bloc by the end of 2017.

Mr. Cameron said the clear message from the European elections was that people were deeply disillusioned with the EU and wanted change. Britons wanted a government plan that would target EU-related problems such as immigration, as well as the lingering legacy of the U.K.’s painful economic slump, Mr. Cameron said.

UKIP was buoyed by a potent mix of anti-establishment rhetoric and opposition to immigration and EU membership. Mr. Farage repeatedly denied UKIP was racist, most recently after saying people would be right to be concerned if a group of Romanians moved in next door.

A string of offensive comments by members of the party didn’t dent its appeal. In a victory speech in central London, a jubilant Mr. Farage said Sunday’s result was an “earthquake in British politics” and showed that UKIP was a nationwide party asking profound questions of all mainstream parties.

“Our game is to get this right, our game is to find the right candidates, our game is to target our resources on getting a good number of seats in Westminster next year,” he said.

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UKIP Storms to Historic UK European Elections Victory

Ukip leader Nigel FarageUKIP leader Nigel Farage said his “people’s army” was on its way to Westminster after securing first place in historic elections for the European Parliament.

Mr Farage said that the eurosceptic party will “give it our best shot” in next week’s by-election in Newark – an area where it finished top last night despite trailing the Tories by 25,000 votes in the 2010 general election – and was hoping to secure “a good number” of MPs when the country goes to the polls in May 2015.

Arriving to address supporters at a victory party, Mr Farage made clear his eyes were on the Newark by-election on June 4, where Conservatives are defending a 16,152 majority.

“The people’s army of Ukip are on their way to Newark,” he said. “We are going to give it our best shot.”

Summing up the aftermath of last night’s results, he said: “Nick Clegg’s in the most trouble, Ed Miliband’s in quite a lot of trouble, David Cameron’s in some trouble.

“If we were to win Newark, David Cameron would be in even more trouble than Nick Clegg. If we were to overturn this massive majority they have got, it would be a very hot, long summer in the Tory Party.”

Asked whether his victory was the result of a protest vote, Mr Farage said: “It’s beginning to look like a permanent protest.”

In a press conference in central London, Mr Farage said that what he described as the “legacy parties” were “like goldfish that have just been tipped out of the bowl onto the floor, desperately gasping for air and clinging on to the comfort blanket that this is a protest vote”.

He said: “This is an earthquake in British politics, it is a remarkable result and I think it has profound consequences for the leaders of the other parties.”

Mr Farage said he was “extremely grateful” to Mr Clegg for challenging him to a pair of TV debates, which he said had “allowed us for the first time in 40 years to put the argument why this country is better off outside a political union.”

He said: “I find it very difficult to believe he will lead the Liberal Democrats into the general election.”

The Ukip leader said he believed Mr Miliband would be forced to offer an in/out EU referendum by the time of the Labour annual conference in the autumn, and warned he would become “Ukip’s greatest recruiting sergeant” if he failed to do so.

Although Mr Cameron was the “least scathed” of the party leaders last night, his test would come in Newark in 10 days time, said Mr Farage.

“Ukip, with the wind behind it, has got momentum,” he said. “The plan short term for us is very simple. The people’s army of Ukip now marches on Newark. We will do everything we can in the next 10 days to help and aid Roger (Helmer)’s candidacy.

“We are going to do our damnedest to try to pull off an even more spectacular result. If we do that, I suspect Mr Cameron will also begin to feel some of the pressure.”

Mr Farage accepted there was no prospect of Ukip winning next year’s general election, but said that it was “perfectly realistic” to think that it may be able to pick up seats where it has strongholds in district and county councils, naming Great Grimsby, Boston, Yarmouth, Thanet, Folkestone, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Aylesbury, Rotherham, Eastleigh and parts of Cambridgeshire as targets.

“Our game is to get this right and find the right candidates and target our resources on putting a good number of seats in Westminster next year,” he said. “Who knows, if Ukip hold the balance of power then there will be a referendum.”

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg insisted he would not resign, despite pressure for a change in leader from activists horrified by a disastrous night for the party, which lost all but one of its 12 MEPs and trailed in fifth in the national vote and sixth in Scotland.

Former MP Sandra Gidley said the Lib Dem brand had become “toxic”, while Lib Dem MP John Pugh said he wanted Business Secretary Vince Cable to take over as leader, warning that a fundamental cause of the Lib Dems’ “abysmal” showing was the fact that voters were no longer willing to listen to Mr Clegg.

“If we carry on as usual, we are like the generals at the Somme, because these losses are horrendous,” the Southport MP told the BBC News Channel. “Given the scale of the losses, to call for business as usual is frankly ludicrous.”

Speaking at Lib Dem HQ in central London, Mr Clegg said the results in local and European elections were “gutting and heartbreaking”, but insisted he would not resign, vowing to “finish the job”.

Following criticisms of his decision to take Ukip on directly over EU membership – including in a pair of TV debates with Mr Farage which he was widely judged to have lost – Mr Clegg said: “It didn’t work but it was right that we stood up for the values we believe in.

“Of course it is right to have searching questions in the wake of such a bad set of election results but if I’m honest the easiest thing in politics – just as in life – sometimes when the going gets really tough is just to walk away, to wash your hands of it. I’m not going to do that and my party is not going to do that.”

After votes were counted in all 11 of Great Britain’s constituencies, Ukip was dominant with 24 MEPs, including one in Wales and its first representative in Scotland. Its 27.49% share of the national vote was up 10.99 points from the last Euro elections in 2009, when it secured 13 seats.

It was the first time for more than a century that a national vote has not been won by either the Conservatives or Labour, as voters turned away from mainstream parties throughout Europe.

David Cameron came under pressure to consider an electoral deal with Ukip amid fears that the two parties could split the right-of-centre vote in the May 2015 general election.

Mr Cameron insisted he was not ready to countenance any pact with Ukip, saying that all-out victory for the Conservatives was “achievable” and was the only way to guarantee an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union (EU).

Ed Miliband insisted that Labour was “in a position where we can win the general election”, despite disappointing results which saw the party perform strongly in London but barely scrape into second place nationally, less than two percentage points ahead of the Tories.

With counting completed in England, Scotland and Wales, Labour had 20 MEPs and a 25.4% vote share, the Tories 19 MEPs and a 23.93% vote share, the Greens three MEPs and a 7.87% share while the Lib Dems managed a solitary MEP and 6.87% of the national vote.

The Scottish National Party held onto its two MEPs and led the pack with a 28.9% share of the vote north of the border, ahead of Labour on 25.9%, Tories on 17.2% and Ukip on 10.4%. Liberal Democrats came sixth in Scotland.

Votes were being counted in Northern Ireland over the course of the day

 

 

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Obama to defend foreign policy in West Point Speech

Obama foreign policyStung by criticism, President Barack Obama will use a speech on Wednesday to launch a sweeping defence of his approach to foreign policy, one that he will say is reliant on multilateral diplomacy instead of military interventions.

Obama is to deliver the commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, the first in a series of speeches that he and top advisers will use to explain U.S. foreign policy in the aftermath of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and lay out a broad vision for the rest of his presidency.

The president has come under withering fire in recent months for what his critics say is a passive approach to foreign policy, one that has allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to flex his muscle in Ukraine, and left the Syrian civil war to fester and China to threaten its neighbours in the South China Sea.

Shortly after a trip to Asia late in April during which he strongly defended his incremental approach, he directed aides to frame a speech to explain his foreign policy and how he plans to handle world hot spots during his remaining two-and-a-half years in office.

“You will hear the president discuss how the United States will use all the tools in our arsenal without over-reaching,” a White House official said on Saturday. “He will lay out why the right policy is one that is both interventionist and internationalist, but not isolationist or unilateral.”

Obama, determined not to repeat what he views as the mistakes of his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush – U.S. involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has leaned heavily on diplomatic activity instead of military force.

In the case of Ukraine, he has ordered sanctions against some of Putin’s inner circle and businesses associated with the Kremlin power structure but has made clear he will not threaten military force for Moscow’s seizure of Crimea.

The fear among some in Washington is that Obama’s handling of Russia will prompt China to flex its muscles in the South China Sea, where tensions have already been rising over such actions as the placement of a Chinese oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam.

On Syria, Obama backed away from a threat to use military force over the use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians by the Syrian government. While a deal struck with Russia is leading to the disarming of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, the three-year-old Syrian civil war rages on and President Bashar al-Assad remains in power.

Obama will emphasize that Syria remains a counter-terrorism threat as a haven for militant groups. U.S. officials have debated whether to supply heavier weapons and increase covert aid to Syrian rebels.

“We do see Syria as a counter-terrorism challenge. However, the right policy approach continues to be strengthening the moderate opposition, which offers an alternative to both the brutal Assad regime, and the more extremist elements within the opposition,” the White House official said.

The official said Obama will say the United States is the only nation capable of galvanizing global action and why “we need to put that to use in an international system that is sustainable and enduring, and that can address challenges from traditional ones, like maritime and trade issues, to emerging ones, like climate change.”

 

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Pakistan PM to attend PM Designate Modi’s inauguration

India PakistanPakistan’s Prime Minister will attend the inauguration of India’s Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi, a first for the nuclear-armed rivals, officials said Saturday.

Pakistan and India have a history of uneasy relations and they have fought three wars over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir since their independence from Britain in 1947. Saturday’s decision by could signal a further easing of tensions.

A Foreign Ministry statement said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will travel to New Delhi to attend the ceremony Monday. On Tuesday, Sharif will meet with Modi, it said.

Sharif’s special assistant on foreign affairs and Pakistan’s foreign secretary also will accompany him, the statement said.

Sharif already congratulated Modi over his Bharatiya Janata Party’s landslide victory in the elections that concluded last week. Sharif’s office also confirmed the visit.

No foreign leaders were invited to outgoing Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s inaugurations in 2004 and 2009.

Relations between Pakistan and India froze after an attack on Mumbai in 2008 in which Pakistani terrorists killed 166 people. A mild thaw since has helped trade, though not much progress has been made in normalizing bilateral ties.

During the election campaign, Modi took a tough stance on Pakistan’s role in sponsoring terror attacks in India. But since his victory, Modi has softened his stand somewhat. He has said that he would like to engage India’s neighbors and have friendly relations with them.

Indian leaders welcomed Sharif’s decision to attend the inauguration.

“This is the beginning of a new relationship. It is good news,” said Prakash Javadekar, spokesman of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

The top elected official in Indian Kashmir, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, also said he hoped the visit would mark a new start for the country’s relations.

“It shows that he can prevail over forces inimical to good relations with India,” Abdullah said.

Around 3,000 people, political leaders and BJP supporters from across India, are expected to attend the inauguration ceremony Monday.

Meanwhile Saturday, bomb attacks in Pakistan killed at least seven people. The deadliest attack happened when a roadside bomb exploded near the village of Shati in the Mohmand tribal region, killing six soldiers, the military said. In a statement, the military said “terrorists” planted the bomb, without elaborating.

In the capital, Islamabad, a bomb exploded in a supermarket parking lot at about 2 a.m. Saturday, killing a guard and wounding a passer-by, police officer Chaudhry Abid said. A second bomb exploded outside another market about 5 kilometers (3 miles) away, breaking windows but wounding no one, police officer Mohammad Shafqat said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombings, though authorities have blamed the Pakistani Taliban for similar attacks across the country. The attacks come days after Pakistani warplanes pounded militant hideouts in the North Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan, killing 60. The military said those killed were militants. Local residents said civilians also died.

Pakistan’s government, led by Sharif, has been negotiating with the Taliban to end their violent insurgency, which has killed thousands.

 

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Putin: Russia will recognize outcome of Ukraine election

Vladimir PutinPresident Vladimir Putin announced Friday that Russia will recognize the outcome of Ukraine’s presidential vote this weekend but voiced hope that Ukraine would halt its military operation against separatists in the east.

In Kiev, Ukraine’s leader urged all voters to take part in the crucial ballot to “cement the foundation of our nation” but pro-Russia insurgents still battled government forces in eastern Ukraine.

Speaking at an investment forum in St. Petersburg, Putin said Russia will “respect the choice of the Ukrainian people” and will work with its new leadership. He said Russia wants peace and order to be restored in Russia’s neighbor.

Yet earlier, Putin had blamed the West for both encouraging a “coup” in Ukraine when the nation’s pro-Russian president was chased from power and for plunging the country into what he described as “chaos and a full-scale civil war.”

In a live televised address from Kiev, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, who is not running, emphasized the importance of Sunday’s vote to choose a new leader.

“Today, we are building a new European country the foundation of which was laid by millions of Ukrainians who proved that they are capable of defending their own choice and their country,” Turchynov said. “We will never allow anyone to rob us of our freedom and independence, turn our Ukraine into a part of the post-Soviet empire.”

Authorities in Kiev had hoped that a new president would unify the divided nation, where the west looks toward Europe and the east has strong traditional ties to Russia. But they have now acknowledged it will be impossible to hold the vote in some areas in the east — especially in Donetsk and Luhansk, where insurgents have declared independence and pledged to derail the vote. Election workers and activists say gunmen there have threatened them and seized their voting materials.

Joao Soares, coordinator for an observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Friday he expects problems with voting in “less than 20 percent of the polling stations.”

Twenty-one candidates are competing Sunday to become Ukraine’s next leader. Polls show billionaire candy-maker Petro Poroshenko with a commanding lead but falling short of the absolute majority needed to win in the first round; his nearest challenger is Yulia Tymoshenko, the divisive former prime minister, who is trailing by a significant margin.

If no one wins in the first round, a runoff will be held on June 15. Most polls predict Poroshenko’s victory in that contest.

At a security conference in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov urged the West to reach a settlement based on mutual interests.

“If we sincerely want to help the Ukrainian people overcome this crisis, it’s necessary to abandon the notorious zero-sum games, stop encouraging xenophobic and neo-Nazi sentiments and get rid of dangerous megalomania,” Lavrov said.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s southern Crimea Peninsula in March, triggering the worst crisis in relations with the West since the Cold War. Pro-Russian insurgents also have seized government buildings in eastern Ukraine and fought government troops for more than a month.

In the deadliest attack yet, pro-Russia insurgents attacked a military checkpoint and killed 16 soldiers Thursday, casting a shadow over the presidential vote.

The head of the General Staff of the Russian military, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, on Friday criticized Ukrainian authorities for what he said was using artillery and other heavy weapons against civilians. He also charged that radical paramilitary forces and private security companies were spearheading the Ukrainian offensive.

While many in eastern Ukraine resent the government in Kiev, they are also growing increasingly exasperated with the insurgents, whom they blame for putting civilians in the crossfire.

The village of Semenovka on the outskirts of Slovyansk, a city that has been the epicenter of clashes for weeks, has seen continuous shelling by the Ukrainian government forces retaliating to rebel fire.

Early Friday, a house was destroyed by mortar fire that came from Ukrainian government side, but locals reported no casualties.

Shelling continued later in the day, targeting Slovyansk, where several other buildings were also damaged. There was no word of casualties.

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Now Democrats are calling for VA Secretary to Resign

veteransTwo Democrats in high-profile 2014 races are calling for embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign over a scandal that has rocked his agency and again placed the spotlight of scrutiny on the Obama administration.

Alison Lundergan Grimes, running for Senate in Kentucky, and Charlie Crist, seeking to regain his old job as Florida governor, are going beyond sentiment expressed publicly by Democrats in Washington, who are overall sticking with Shinseki so far.

Asked whether the former Army general should step down over alarming allegations of delayed care for some veterans with potentially deadly consequences, President Barack Obama said he needed more information, but promised accountability if those assertions prove true.

Shinseki says he has no plans to resign, citing an ongoing internal review and an independent probe by the VA inspector general’s office.

But Crist, a Republican turned Democrat, released a statement on Thursday saying that “his confidence is gone” in the VA’s ability to provide care to veterans.

“I appreciate Secretary Eric Shinseki’s service to his country, and while we don’t know precisely what happened here, we do know that there must be accountability and confidence in leadership in order to get to the truth and provide veterans the medical care they’ve earned and deserve,” Crist said.

“I think it would be best if the secretary stepped down and allowed others to get the VA fixed once and for all.”

Grimes also released a statement Thursday calling on Shinseki to step down.

“We owe a solemn obligation to our veterans and must repair the breach of trust,” she said.

Grimes is facing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who’s trying hard to make this election a referendum on Obama, who lost Kentucky big in 2012 and is highly unpopular now.

Like many Republicans, McConnell has sharply criticized the Obama administration’s handling of the situation, though he has not called on Shinseki to step down or be fired.

Crist’s opponent, Rick Scott, on the other hand, has joined a number of Florida Republicans in calling for Shinseki’s resignation.

Another Democrat running for Senate – albeit in a less competitive race – Rick Weiland, also said Thursday that Shinseki should go.

A CBS News poll released Thursday shows about a third of Americans surveyed think Shinseki is to blame for the VA problems. Republicans blame Obama more than Democrats and independents, who the poll indicated are more likely to fault Shinseki or the local hospitals.

 

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