Posts Tagged Obama

Islamic State Issues Statement Claiming San Bernardino Terrorist Couple Were Followers

San BernardinoIslamic State said on Saturday that a married couple who killed 14 people in California in an attack the FBI is investigating as an “act of terrorism” were followers of the militant group based in Syria and Iraq.

The group’s declaration, in an online radio broadcast comes three days after U.S.-born Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his spouse, Tashfeen Malik, 29, a native of Pakistan, carried out the attack on a holiday party for civil servants in San Bernardino, about 60 miles (100 km) east of Los Angeles.

The two died hours later in a shootout with police.

U.S. government sources have said Malik and her husband may have been inspired by Islamic State, but there was no evidence the attack was directed by the militant group or that the organization even knew who they were. The party the couple attacked was for workers in the same local government agency that employed Farook.

If Wednesday’s mass shooting proves to have been the work of people inspired bys as investigators now suspect, it would mark the deadliest such attack in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001.”Two followers of Islamic State attacked several days ago a center in San Bernadino in California,” the group’s daily online radio broadcast al-Bayan said on Saturday.

The broadcast came a day after Facebook confirmed that comments praising Islamic State were posted around the time of the mass shooting to an account on the social media website established by Malik under an alias.

However, it was uncertain whether the comments were posted by Malik herself or someone with access to her page.

“I know it was in a general timeline where that post was made, and yes, there was a pledge of allegiance,” David Bowdich, assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Los Angeles office, told a news conference about a reported loyalty pledge posted on Facebook by Malik on the day of the attack.

A Facebook Inc spokesman said the profile in question was removed by the company on Thursday for violating its community standards barring promotion or praise for “acts of terror.” He declined to elaborate on the material.

CNN and other news media outlets reported the Facebook posts on Malik’s page included a pledge of allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

FBI officials said mounting signs of advanced preparations, the large cache of armaments amassed by the couple and evidence that they “attempted to destroy their digital fingerprints” helped tip the balance of the investigation.

“Based on the information and the facts as we know them, we are now investigating these horrific acts as an act of terrorism,” Bowdich told reporters.

He said the FBI hoped examination of data retrieved from two smashed cellphones and other electronic devices seized in the investigation would lead to a motive for the attack.

The couple had two assault-style rifles, two semi-automatic handguns, 6,100 rounds of ammunition and 12 pipe bombs in their home or with them when they were killed, officials said. And Bowdich said they may have been planning an additional attack.

Speaking to reporters separately in Washington on Friday, FBI Director James Comey said the investigation pointed to “radicalization of the killers and of potential inspiration by foreign terrorist organisations.”

 

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State Dept. Discovers Undisclosed Benghazi Emails and Will Turn Them Over to Committee

Hillary Clinton emailThe Obama administration has discovered a chain of emails that Hillary Rodham Clinton failed to turn over when she provided what she said was the full record of work-related correspondence as secretary of state, officials said Friday, adding to the growing questions related to the Democratic presidential front-runner’s unusual usage of a private email account and server while in government.

The messages were exchanged with retired Gen. David Petraeus when he headed the military’s U.S. Central Command, responsible for running the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They began before Clinton entered office and continued into her first days at the State Department. They largely pertained to personnel matters and don’t appear to deal with highly classified material, officials said, but their existence challenges Clinton’s claim that she has handed over the entirety of her work emails from the account.

Republicans have raised questions about thousands of emails that she has deleted on grounds that they were private in nature, as well as other messages that have surfaced independently of Clinton and the State Department. Speaking of her emails on CBS’ “Face the Nation” this week, Clinton said: “We provided all of them.” But the FBI and several congressional committees are investigating.

The State Department’s record of Clinton emails begins on March 18, 2009, almost two months after she entered office. Before then, Clinton has said she used an old AT&T Blackberry email account, the contents of which she no longer can access.

The Petraeus emails, first discovered by the Defense Department and then passed to the State Department’s inspector general, challenge that claim. They start on Jan. 10, 2009, with Clinton using the older email account. But by Jan. 28, a week after her swearing in she switched to using the private email address on a homebrew server that she would rely on for the rest of her tenure. There are less than 10 emails back and forth in total, officials said, and the chain ends on Feb. 1.

The officials weren’t authorized to speak on the matter and demanded anonymity. But State Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed that the agency received the emails in the “last several days” and that they “were not previously in the possession of the department.”

Kirby said they would be subject to a Freedom of Information Act review like the rest of Clinton’s emails. She gave the department some 30,000 emails last year that she sent or received while in office, and officials plan to finish releasing all of them by the end of January, after sensitive or classified information is censored. A quarter has been made public so far.

Additionally, Kirby said the agency will incorporate the newly discovered emails into a review of record retention practices that Clinton’s successor, Secretary of State John Kerry, initiated in March. “We have also informed Congress of this matter,” he added.

These steps are unlikely to satisfy Clinton’s Republican critics.

The House Benghazi Committee plans to hold a public hearing with Clinton next month to hear specifically about what the emails might say about the attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya that killed four Americans on Sept. 11, 2012. And the Senate Judiciary Committee’s GOP chairman said he wants the Justice Department to tell him if a criminal investigation is underway into Clinton’s use of private email amid reports this week that the FBI recovered deleted emails from her server. The Senate Homeland Security Committee also is looking into the matter.

Clinton has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. “When I did it, it was allowed, it was above board. And now I’m being as transparent as possible, more than anybody else ever has been,” she said earlier this week.

In August, Clinton submitted a sworn statement to a U.S. District Court saying she had directed all her work emails to be provided to the State Department. “On information and belief, this has been done,” she said in a declaration submitted as part of a lawsuit with Judicial Watch, a conservative advocacy group.

The Clinton campaign didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment, but on Twitter, Brian Fallon, the Clinton campaign’s press secretary, wrote Friday: “We always said the emails given to State dated back only to March 09. That was when she started using http://clintonemail.com .”

Clinton has been dogged for months by questions about her email practices. She initially described her choice as a matter of convenience, but later took responsibility for making a wrong decision.

Separately Friday, State Department officials said they were providing the Benghazi-focused probe more email exchanges from senior officials pertaining to Libya. The committee broadened its scope after examining tens of thousands of documents more specifically focused on the Benghazi attack.

 

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Putin-Poroshenko Meet and Call for an End to Ukraine crisis

Poroshenko talks to Putin after a group photo  in BenouvilleRussia signalled the first signs of a detente in its conflict with Ukraine on Friday, as President Vladimir Putin met Ukraine’s new leader-elect and called for an end to fighting on both sides.

While attending commemorations of the D-Day landings in France, Mr Putin held what aides described as a brief but significant meeting with Petro Poroshenko, the victor of last month’s Ukrainian presidential elections.

The encounter, which took place on the sidelines of ceremonies to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Normandy D-Day landings, was the first time the two men had met since Moscow annexed Crimea, where Mr Poroshenko was chased by an angry pro-Russian mob in February.

“In a brief conversation, both Putin and Poroshenko called for a speedy end to the bloodshed in southeastern Ukraine as well as to fighting on both sides – by the Ukrainian armed forces as well as by supporters of the federalisation of Ukraine,” said Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, in comments cited by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency.

“They also confirmed that there was no alternative to resolving the situation with peaceful political methods.”

It followed a warning on Thursday from Barack Obama, the US president, that if Russia failed to recognise Mr Poroshenko as Ukraine’s new leader, it could face further sanctions on top of those already placed on the Kremlin for annexing Crimea.

“If he does not, if he continues a strategy of undermining the sovereignty of Ukraine, then we have no choice but to respond” Mr Obama said.

Friday’s exchange came during a lunch hosted by French President Francois Hollande in Benouville, attended by leaders from around the world.

Mr Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, added: “Putin and Obama spoke for the need to end violence and fighting as quickly as possible.” There was no discussion of rolling back Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea, which the West says was illegal.

In remarks that seemed calculated to add to the mood of reconciliation, both David Cameron and Mr Hollande used the D-Day occasion to stress the role played by Russia in liberating Europe from Nazi tyranny.

Mr Cameron said: “Yes, of course we have our disagreements today with Russia, but we should never forget that Russia – the Soviet Union – was an ally of Britain and America, the Free French, Canadian and Australian forces, that liberated this continent from the tyranny of Nazism.”

Mr Hollande, meanwhile, paid tribute to the “courage of the Red Army” and the “decisive contribution” of the former Soviet Union in winning World War II.

Mr Cameron became the first Western leader to hold face-to-face talks with Mr Putin since the Ukraine crisis began when they met in Paris on Thursday night.

Outside the building where world leaders met for lunch, reporters saw an animated conversation lasting about one minute which also included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who at a much more public commemoration at Sword Beach appeared to be shuttling back and forth between Mr Putin and Mr Poroshenko.

The meeting came, however, as violence continued unabated in eastern Ukraine, where more than 180 people have died in clashes between pro-Russian separatists and Kiev loyalists in the last two months. Unconfirmed reports from Russian media on Friday spoke of Ukrainian government tanks being deployed in eastern city of Slavyansk, the centre of much of the recent trouble.

Pro-Russian separatists operating from the grounds of a church in Slavyansk also killed a member of the Ukrainian interior ministry’s special forces and seriously wounded two others in a mortar attack on Friday, Ukrainian officials said.

 

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NATO suspends cooperation with Russia

NATO suspends cooperation with RussiaNATO said Tuesday it has suspended all cooperation with Russia over the Crimea crisis and questioned Moscow’s claim to have withdrawn troops from near the Ukrainian border, saying it could not confirm any pullback.

The Western alliance’s latest statements came as Moscow heaped even more pressure on Ukraine’s teetering economy with a painful gas-price hike, undermining what had been tentative signs of a calming in the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.

Ukraine’s parliament met one of Moscow’s key demands by voting unanimously to disarm all self-defence groups that sprang up across the country during its political crisis, which first erupted in late November over the then-government’s decision to ditch a landmark EU alliance.

But tensions remained high more than two weeks after Moscow formally annexed Crimea, and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance was “suspending all practical cooperation with Russia, military and civilian”.

He added however that “diplomatic lines of communication” remained open.

Rasmussen warned he could not confirm Russia had pulled away from the Ukrainian border.

“This is not what we have seen,” he said as NATO foreign ministers gathered for two days of talks, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, who flew into Brussels between shuttle diplomacy stops in the Middle East.

Ukraine and the United States have accused Russia of massing thousands of troops near the border and have expressed concern that Moscow plans to seize southeastern parts of Ukraine that are home to large populations of ethnic Russians.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office said Russian President Vladimir Putin had personally informed her of the troop pullback in a telephone conversation and on Tuesday said she had “no reason” to doubt his word.

Ukraine also reported Monday that Russian troops were leaving the sensitive area, adding it appeared to coincide with a phone call that Putin had unexpectedly placed to US President Barack Obama on Friday.

With the assurances from Moscow, NATO stepped back from a floated idea to reinforce the alliance’s military presence in countries bordering Russia, preferring for now to suspend cooperation and give more time to talks.

“I think everybody realises that the best way forward is a political and diplomatic dialogue,” Rasmussen said, though he added NATO was “very determined to provide effective defence and protection of our allies”.

One counter-measure apparently off the table for now is the idea to set up permanent military bases in NATO countries bordering Russia.

The move would be highly controversial for Moscow, reversing an informal agreement made when NATO expanded east to include former Warsaw Pact countries that were eager to break away from years of Soviet domination.

But Dutch Foreign Minister Frank Timmermans said that for now “we don’t need NATO troops at the border with Russia,” adding there was “no need for sudden moves”.

Eastern NATO members, such as the Baltic nations and Poland, want a tougher stance against Russia and would welcome a deeper NATO presence within their borders.

In a joint statement, ministers confirmed that military and civilian cooperation between NATO and Russia was suspended, but said projects in Afghanistan would remain and diplomatic channels were still open.

Rasmussen added that joint efforts to fight narcotics traffic in Afghanistan would continue.

Ukraine is not a NATO member but it did form a “distinctive partnership” with the Alliance in 1997 and has been staging joint exercises with its state members ever since.

The Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday approved a new series of joint military exercises with the alliance that would put US troops in direct proximity with Russian forces in the annexed Crimea peninsula.

The exercises would partly occupy a 25-day span between July and October based around two Odessa ports and “along the waters of the Black Sea”.

Meeting a key demand posed by Russia, the parliament also voted to disarm all self-defence groups that had sprung up across the country during its political crisis.

The move came after a member of the radical Ukrainian nationalist group Pravy Sektor opened fire in central Kiev late Monday, injuring three.

The crisis is at an especially critical juncture in Kiev as Ukrainian politicians jockey for position ahead of May 25 presidential elections after the fall of president Viktor Yanukovych.

And with Moscow able to use gas as a lever, Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller said Ukraine will now pay $385.5 dollars per 1,000 cubic metres of gas from the previous cut rate of $268.5.

The discount had been agreed between Yanukovych and Putin in December 2013 as a form of financial aid to the former regime.

The price hike, although widely expected, is a new blow to the Ukrainian economy, which needs an international rescue to stave off the risk of default.

To counter Moscow’s power over the energy supply throughout Europe, Polish Prime Minister Donald said Poland on Tuesday he had begun campaigning in favour of an EU energy union.

“The Ukraine context… means that the question of energy independence, not just of Poland but of the entire continent, is starting to take on an importance that extends beyond the economic factor,” said Tusk.

 

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SCOTUS expresses skepticism over Obama Executive Over-reach

Microphones are set up for attorneys in front of the U.S. Supreme Court for them to talk after delivering oral arguments in a U.S. President Barack Obama recess appointments dispute being heard by the court starting today in Washington, January 13, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing

The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to rein in President Barack Obama’s power to temporarily fill senior government posts without the Senate’s approval, a move that would curb his ability to bypass a gridlocked Congress.

Most of the nine justices expressed skepticism, during 90 minutes of oral arguments, about so-called recess appointments Obama made to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in 2012.

The court is expected to issue a ruling in the case by June that has the potential to shift the balance of power between the White House and the Senate. While both are now controlled by Democrats, Republicans hope to win control of the Senate in congressional mid-term elections in November.

The Supreme Court could decide the case in various ways, but even a narrow ruling against the administration could be bad news for Obama in the last two years of his term, especially if Republicans control the Senate.

The arguments before the court on Monday dealt with a case in which soft drink bottler Noel Canning Corp is challenging an NLRB ruling against it. The company argues the ruling was invalid because some of the NLRB board members on the panel that issued it were recess appointees picked by Obama.

With the intervention of senior Republicans, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business interests, the Yakima, Washington-based company’s case has become a much broader fight over the president’s ability to make appointments while the Senate is in recess and what exactly constitutes a recess.

Obama used his recess appointment power to name three members to the five-member NLRB in January 2012. Democratic and Republican presidents have made many such temporary appointments – valid for up to two years – of officials who otherwise would have had difficulty winning Senate confirmation.

Underscoring the political stakes involved in the court case, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who has sought to stymie Obama’s legislative agenda, attended the arguments.

Under McConnell, Republicans had used Senate rules to frustrate Obama’s attempts to fill various positions, including vacancies at the NLRB, up until a Senate rule change was pushed through by Democrats late last year.

“The president made an unprecedented power grab by placing political allies at a powerful federal agency while the Senate was meeting regularly and without even trying to obtain its advice and consent,” McConnell said in a statement afterward.

White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler and White House spokesman Jay Carney were also present. Carney told reporters the administration was “confident that the president’s authority to make recess appointments will be upheld by the courts.”

The administration says it is following the long-established interpretation of the recess appointments clause of the U.S. Constitution, dating back to President George Washington.

Noel Canning and its backers say the administration has ignored the original intent of the Constitution’s drafters, who included the recess appointments clause to ensure the government could continue to function when the Senate was in recess for months at a time and senators would travel to Washington on horseback.

The court could decide the case in various ways, but even a narrow ruling against the government could be bad news for Obama in the last two years of his term.

If Republicans win control of the Senate in November, they would be able to reject Obama appointments outright and would have more sway over when to declare recesses.

Republicans and business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have long been eager to prevent Democratic presidents from appointing pro-labor members to the NLRB, an independent federal agency which has the power to address unfair labor practices and safeguard employees’ rights.

These groups were particularly outraged at Obama naming the three NLRB members while the Senate was not conducting business, but was not technically in a recess.

At least one justice appeared to see the dispute as primarily political.

Justice Stephen Breyer, an appointee of Democratic President Bill Clinton, said the Constitution clearly envisioned that appointments had to be agreed upon by both the president and Congress. “Now that’s a political problem, not a constitutional problem” if the two sides disagree, he said.

Despite apparent misgivings about whether the courts should be deciding such an issue, justices from both sides of the ideological divide expressed skepticism about the administration’s use of the recess appointment power.

Justice Elena Kagan, appointed to the court by Obama in 2010, was one of those critical of Solicitor General Donald Verrilli’s legal arguments on the administration’s behalf. The administration, for example, says that it is up to the president to determine when exactly the Senate is in recess.

But, to Kagan, some of Verrilli’s arguments seemed to confirm that “it’s really the Senate’s job to determine whether they’re in recess,” she said.

Chief Justice John Roberts defended the right of senators to object to appointments they do not like. “They have an absolute right not to confirm nominees that the president submits,” he said.

Verrilli’s defense was that the way the recess appointments clause has been used over the years has changed in an effort to create a “stable equilibrium” between executive branch and congressional power.

If a majority of justices were to buy that argument, the administration could still lose on a narrower ground, but the recess appointment power would not be entirely disabled. Monday’s argument indicated that, although there could be a clear majority to rule against the administration on that narrow ground, some justices might be willing to go further.

If Noel Canning wins its case, the practical fallout for the NLRB would be limited. In July, a Senate deal paved the way for the confirmation of five board members, marking the first time in a decade that the board had a full complement.

If the bottler prevails, those members would have to re-examine some board decisions made by the contested recess appointees.

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Obama Issues Rare Veto Threat on Iran Bill

Obama Oval

The White House issued a rare veto threat in response to a bipartisan Senate bill that would slap Iran with new sanctions if it violates an interim deal reached last month to curb its nuclear program.

The threat sets up a standoff in the new year between President Barack Obama and more than two dozen Senate Democrats and Republicans who introduced the legislation on Thursday. The challenge to Mr. Obama is particularly stark because half of the lawmakers sponsoring the new bill are from his own party.

The bill could also imperil Mr. Obama’s efforts to reach a diplomatic end to the decadelong standoff over Iran’s nuclear program, which administration officials hope will be a signature achievement of his second term.

Iranian officials have repeatedly threatened in recent days to back out of negotiations with the U.S. and other global powers over Tehran’s nuclear program if Washington enacts new sanctions.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney criticized the Senate move, saying such sanctions would undermine Mr. Obama’s diplomatic efforts “no matter how they’re structured.”

“We don’t think it will be enacted. We certainly don’t think it should be enacted,” Mr. Carney said. “If it were to pass, the president would veto it.”

Iranian officials didn’t comment Thursday on the introduction of the legislation. But in recent days they have described Iranian President Hasan Rouhani as in a power struggle with hard-liners in Iran’s military and clergy over the November agreement with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, a bloc called the P5+1.

Any moves by the U.S. to impose new sanctions on Tehran, said these officials, could weaken Mr. Rouhani’s hand.

“Naturally, there is opposition to this agreement, both inside Iran and elsewhere,” said Iran’s Ambassador to France Ali Ahani, at a conference last weekend. “There are people who say you can’t trust the Americans.”

In Washington, Mr. Obama has little political capital with a divided Congress that has given him few recent victories. He is already bracing for tough legislative battles next year.

Republicans are weighing a fight over the need to raise the debt limit early next year, and Mr. Obama is set to give a speech in January outlining potentially sweeping changes to the government’s contested spying programs. The programs, like Iran diplomacy, have prompted some members of the president’s own Democratic Party to criticize his administration.

A presidential veto, while unusual for Mr. Obama—particularly on Democratic-backed legislation—could appease all sides. Mr. Obama may strengthen his hand in negotiations by keeping Congress at bay, while lawmakers who are under pressure over Iran get to vote for additional sanctions.

And a veto threat by Mr. Obama could provide American diplomats with a way to assure Iran that they are earnest about the diplomacy. Iran last week objected to U.S. moves to enforce existing U.S. sanctions against alleged violations by more than a dozen Iranian individuals and businesses.

But the White House also risks seeing Mr. Obama’s veto overridden, if Republicans in the Senate remain unified and Democrats continue to feel emboldened to challenge the party line.

Mr. Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other top administration officials have worked vigorously to keep Congress from enacting new sanctions against Iran while the U.S. and other world powers negotiate a long-term diplomatic agreement with Tehran to curb its nuclear program. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes only.

Negotiators now are working on details of an interim six-month deal, reached last month in Geneva, which would remain in place during talks over a comprehensive agreement. Administration officials succeeded in delaying Senate and House action this year.

Under the interim agreement, Iran has committed to freezing elements of its nuclear program most objectionable to the West, including the production of near weapons-grade fuel, in return for an easing of some sanctions and the release of more than $4 billion in Iranian oil revenue.

But both congressional chambers appear poised to take up new sanctions legislation after the holiday break.

The new sanctions in the Senate bill seek to enforce a total embargo on Iran’s oil exports over the next two years and to choke off Tehran’s ability to access any of its revenue held in foreign bank accounts. They also seek to curtail Iran’s ability to gain revenue from economic sectors so far not significantly hit by sanctions, such as the mining, engineering and real estate industries.

Sanctions imposed on Iran by the U.S. and European Union over the past two years have decimated the Iranian economy, cutting its oil exports to less than one million barrels a day from around 2.5 million just a few years ago.

The Senate bill would enact the sanctions on Iran if the country cheats on the interim agreement or if a comprehensive deal isn’t achieved within a year. Iran’s testing of a ballistic missile or its connection to a terrorist act on the U.S. would also put in place the new sanctions. The House passed a similar bill in July.

“The burden rests with Iran to negotiate in good faith and verifiably terminate its nuclear weapons program,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.). “Prospective sanctions will influence Iran’s calculus and accelerate that process toward achieving a meaningful diplomatic resolution.”

Under the current deal, the suspended sanctions would be reimposed if a comprehensive agreement isn’t reached. But the international powers have the leeway to extend the six-month negotiating time frame.

Mr. Kirk urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) to bring the legislation up for a vote next year, saying, “This is a responsible, bipartisan bill to protect the American people from Iranian deception.”

Other sponsors include Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), a White House ally who has been a vocal skeptic of Mr. Obama’s diplomatic overtures to Iran.

Congressional staff and analysts estimate that the new sanctions, if imposed, could cost Iran has much as $50 billion annually in lost revenue. The bill specifically would aim to force Iran’s major remaining oil buyers, including China, India and Turkey, to cut their purchases to zero over the next two years, or risk facing U.S. sanctions themselves.

“Iran cannot walk away from negotiations without paying a heavy economic price,” said Mark Dubowitz, who advised Congress on the new sanctions as an expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative Washington think tank. “Unless Iranian leaders believe that they can rescue their failing economy through nuclear escalation, which is always possible given the Supreme Leader’s intransigence, their best alternative remains a diplomatic deal.”

Article originally written by: Carole Lee & Jay Solomon (WSJ)

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U.S. – China seek improved relations amid hacking scandal

US China Relations

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.

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