Posts Tagged U.S. President Barack Obama

China Sends Missiles to Disputed South China Sea Island

Woody islandChina has deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile system to one of the disputed islands it controls in the South China Sea, Taiwan and U.S. officials said, ratcheting up tensions even as U.S. President Barack Obama urged restraint in the region.

Taiwan defense ministry spokesman Major General David Lo said on Wednesday the missile batteries had been set up on Woody Island. The island is part of the Paracels chain, under Chinese control for more than 40 years but also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. A U.S. defense official also confirmed the “apparent deployment” of the missiles.

China’s foreign minister said the reports were created by “certain Western media” that should focus more on China’s building of lighthouses to improve shipping safety in the region. “As for the limited and necessary self-defense facilities that China has built on islands and reefs we have people stationed on, this is consistent with the right to self-protection that China is entitled to under international law so there should be no question about it,” Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year, and has been building runways and other infrastructure on artificial islands to bolster its title.

The United States has said it will continue conducting “freedom of navigation patrols” by ships and aircraft to assure unimpeded passage through the region, where Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.

Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said the deployment of missiles to the Paracels would not be a surprise but would be a concern, and be contrary to China’s pledge not to militarize the region.

“We will conduct more, and more complex, freedom of navigation operations as time goes on in the South China Sea,” Harris told a briefing in Tokyo. “We have no intention of stopping.”

News of the missile deployment came as Obama and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations concluded a summit in California, where they discussed the need to ease tensions in the South China Sea but did not include specific mention of China’s assertive pursuit of its claims there.

China’s increasing military presence in the disputed sea could effectively lead to a Beijing-controlled air defense zone, analysts

A U.S. Navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracels last month, a move China condemned as provocative.

China last month said it would not seek militarization of its South China Sea islands and reefs, but that did not mean it would not set up defenses.

Taiwan President-elect Tsai Ing-wen said tensions were now higher in the region.

“We urge all parties to work on the situation based on principles of peaceful solution and self-control,” Tsai told reporters.

Vietnam’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But in a rare move, the country’s prime minister on Monday pressed Obama for a greater U.S. role in preventing militarization and island-building in the South China Sea.

Images from civilian satellite company ImageSat International show two batteries of eight surface-to-air missile launchers on Woody Island, as well as a radar system.

The missiles arrived over the past week and, according to a U.S. official, appeared to show the HQ-9 air defense system, which has a range of 125 miles (200 km) and would pose a threat to any airplanes flying close by, the report said.

In November, two U.S. B52 strategic bombers flew near artificial Chinese-built islands in the Spratly Islands.

Asked about the report, Bill Urban, a Pentagon spokesman, said: “While I cannot comment on matters related to intelligence, we do watch these matters very closely.”

 

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Paris & The World Mourns in Wake of ISIS Terrorist Attack in Paris

ParisGunmen and bombers attacked restaurants, a concert hall and a sports stadium at locations across Paris on Friday, killing 127 people in a deadly rampage that President Francois Hollande was the work of Islamic State.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Islamic State released an undated video in which a militant said France would not live peacefully as long it took part in U.S.-led bombing raids against its fighters.

A Paris city hall official said four gunmen systematically slaughtered at least 87 young people at a rock concert at the Bataclan concert hall. Anti-terrorist commandos launched an assault on the building. The gunmen detonated explosive belts and dozens of shocked survivors were rescued, while bodies were still being removed on Saturday morning.

Some 40 more people were killed in five other attacks in the Paris region, the official said, including an apparent double suicide bombing outside the Stade de France national stadium, where Hollande and the German foreign minister were watching a friendly soccer international. Some 200 people were injured.

The coordinated assault came as France, a founder member of the U.S.-led coalition waging air strikes against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, was on high alert for terrorist attacks ahead of a global climate conference due to open later this month.

It was the worst such attack in Europe since the Madrid train bombings of 2004, in which 191 died.

Hollande said the death toll stood at 127. Officials said eight assailants had died, seven of whom had blown themselves up with explosive belts at various locations, while one had been shot dead by police. It was not clear if all the attackers were accounted for.

“The terrorists, the murderers raked several cafe terraces with machine-gun fire before entering (the concert hall). There were many victims in terrible, atrocious conditions in several places,” police prefect Michel Cadot told reporters.

After being whisked from the stadium near the blasts, Hollande declared a national state of emergency – the first since World War Two. Border controls were temporarily reimposed to stop perpetrators escaping.

Local sports events were suspended, the rock band U2 cancelled a concert, the Paris metro railway was closed and schools, universities and municipal buildings were ordered to stay shut on Saturday. However some rail and air services were expected to run.

“This is a horror,” the visibly shaken president said in a midnight television address to the nation before chairing an emergency cabinet meeting.

He later went to the scene of the bloodiest attack, the Bataclan music hall, and vowed that the government would wage a “merciless” fight against terrorism.

Sylvestre, a young man who was at the Stade de France when bombs went off there, said he was saved by his cellphone, which he was holding to his ear when debris hit it.

“This is the cell phone that took the hit, it’s what saved me,” he said. “Otherwise my head would have been blown to bits,” he said, showing the phone with its screen smashed.

French newspapers spoke of “carnage” and “horror”. Le Figaro’s headline said: “War in the heart of Paris” on a black background with a picture of people on stretchers.

Emergency services were mobilised, police leave was cancelled, 1,500 army reinforcements were drafted into the Paris region and hospitals recalled staff to cope with the casualties.

Radio stations warned Parisians to stay at home and urged residents to give shelter to anyone caught out in the street. The hashtag #porteouverte (open door) started up on Twitter to offer people a place to stay.

The deadliest attack was on the Bataclan, a popular concert venue where the Californian rock group Eagles of Death Metal was performing. The hall is near the former offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, target of a deadly attack by Islamist gunmen in January.

Some witnesses in the hall said they heard the gunmen shout Islamic chants and slogans condemning France’s role in Syria.

France has been on high alert ever since the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a kosher supermarket in Paris in January killed 18 people.

Those attacks briefly united France in defence of freedom of speech, with a mass demonstration of more than a million people. But that unity has since broken down, with far-right populist Marine Le Pen gaining on both mainstream parties by blaming immigration and Islam for France’s security problems.

It was not clear what political impact the latest attacks would have less than a month before regional elections in which Le Pen’s National Front is set to make further advances.

The governing Socialist Party and the National Front suspended their election campaigns.

Hollande cancelled plans to travel to Turkey at the weekend for a G20 summit.

U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel led a global chorus of solidarity with France. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the “despicable attacks” while the Vatican called the killings “mad terrorist violence”.

Italy tightened security measures.

There was no immediate verifiable claim of responsibility but supporters of Islamic State said in Twitter messages that the group carried them out.

“The State of the caliphate hit the house of the cross,” one tweet said.

Two explosions were heard near the Stade de France in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis, where the France-Germany soccer match was being played. A witness said one of the detonations blew people into the air outside a McDonald’s restaurant opposite the stadium.

The match continued until the end, but panic broke out in the crowd as rumours of the attack spread, and spectators who were held in the stadium assembled on the pitch.

Police helicopters circled the stadium as Hollande was rushed back to the interior ministry to deal with the situation.

In central Paris, shooting erupted in mid-evening outside a Cambodian restaurant in the capital’s 10th district.

Eighteen people were killed when a gunman opened fire on Friday night diners sitting at outdoor terraces in the popular Charonne area nearby in the 11th district.

The prosecutor mentioned five locations in close proximity where shootings took place around the same time.

The Paris carnage came within days of attacks claimed by Islamic State militants on a Shi’ite Muslim district of southern Beirut, and a Russian tourist aircraft which crashed in Egypt.

Earlier on Friday, Kurdish fighters retook the Iraqi town of Sinjar from Islamic State and the United States and Britain launched an air strike on a British Islamic State militant known as “Jihadi John”, but it was not certain if he had been killed.

 

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Putin Brushes Obama Aside and Launches All-Out Russian Airstrikes in Syria

RUSSIA-MILITARY-AIR-FORCE-COMMEMORATIONRussian President Vladimir Putin brushed aside the empty rhetoric of U.S. President Barack Obama by deploying an increasing number of armed forces in the Middle East and launching air strikes to defend Russia’s beleaguered ally Bashar al-Assad.

Russia carried out its first air attacks against Islamic State targets in Syria, hitting arms and ammunition stores and transport and communication equipment, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said by phone. Syrian state-run TV cited an unnamed military source as saying Russian jets struck several Islamic State targets in Syria’s central Homs and Hama provinces. U.S. and French officials questioned whether Russia hadn’t instead targeted other opposition groups fighting Assad.

It’s the second time in as many years that Putin has sought and gained approval to use force abroad as he seeks to carve out a bigger role in global affairs. While his actions in Ukraine last year drew international condemnation, he pushed for a wider alliance to counter Islamic State during a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama this week.

“The main task is to fight terrorism and to support the legitimate government of Syria in the fight against terrorism and extremism,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters during a conference call. The Assad government had requested Russian military assistance, he said.

Putin won unanimous approval from legislators in the upper house of parliament to use Russian armed forces in Syria, Kremlin Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov said Wednesday on state television. Russia will use its air force, not ground troops and the mission will be for a limited duration, Ivanov said, without specifying the duration. Strikes will target Islamic State, including several thousand Russians fighting for the militant group who could be a threat if they returned to their homeland, he said.

Russia’s military involvement “helps increase pressure on the U.S. and Europe to accept that the new parameters of a political settlement in Syria must include the Assad regime at the helm of power and that the settlement will be defined by Russia,” Ayham Kamel, Middle East and North Africa director at Eurasia Group, said by phone from London.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry discussed Syria by phone on Wednesday with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, who later called for coordination in the fight against Islamic State and presented a resolution at a United Nations Security Council meeting in New York. Lavrov called for the world to create a “strong bulwark” against Islamic State. On Monday, Putin told the UN he supports a parallel political transition in Syria, where the Soviet Union deployed about 6,000 troops in 1983 and 1984 to help protect it from Israel.

“Considering the rapid increase in the threat of Islamic State, practical coordination of all anti-terrorist forces must be set up now,” Lavrov told the Security Council. Russia is “ready to establish permanent channels of communication” with the U.S. and other countries fighting Islamic State “to ensure maximum efficiency in the fight against terrorist groups,” he said.

Russian strikes will be in support of operations by the Syrian army and won’t target opposition forces other than those of Islamic State, Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the upper house’s International Affairs Committee, told state television.

“This concerns Syria and is not about achieving any foreign policy goals or satisfying some ambitions, as we are regularly accused of by our Western partners, but only the national interests of the Russian Federation,” Ivanov said.

Russia, which has its only naval facility outside the former Soviet Union in the Syrian port of Tartus, has been sending troops and weapons to bolster Assad, a longtime ally. In recent weeks, Russia has deployed more than two dozen fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, surface-to-air missile defense systems and hundreds of troops to a base in Syria, according to U.S. officials.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told lawmakers in Paris that Wednesday’s strikes didn’t target Islamic State, and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said at the UN that the targets had to be verified. A senior U.S. official said Russia had appeared to hit other opposition groups, rather than Islamic State, the Associated Press reported. The official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the attacks publicly, said Islamic State militants aren’t in the western part of the country where the strikes happened.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Tuesday instructed his staff to open lines of communication with Russia to avoid any clashes between U.S.-led coalition planes and Russian aircraft. U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Russian officials requested that U.S. aircraft avoid Syrian airspace while Russia starts air strikes.

“The US-led coalition will continue to fly missions over Iraq and Syria as planned and in support of our international mission to degrade and destroy ISIL,” Kirby said on Wednesday, using an alternate acronym for Islamic State.

Russia would do better to join the existing U.S.-led coalition bombing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria than start a second coalition in support of Assad, Saudi Foreign MinisterAdel al-Jubeir said. Saudi Arabia supports a political transition away from the Syrian leader, though that could take “a long time,” he said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said anyone who provided arms to either side in Syria were “only contributing to further misery – and the risk of unintended consequences.” U.K. Premier David Cameron said his country would look very carefully at the Russian actions, and that if they were part of the international coalition fighting Islamic State, “then that is all to the good.”

“If, on the other hand, this is action against the Free Syrian Army in support of Assad the dictator, then obviously that is a retrograde step,” Cameron told reporters during a visit to Jamaica on Wednesday. “But let us see exactly what has happened.”

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Obama warns of grave consequences without NSA resolution

NSA SurveillanceU.S. President Barack Obama warned on Friday that surveillance powers used to prevent attacks on Americans could lapse at midnight on Sunday unless “a handful of senators” stop standing in the way of reform legislation.

Obama said he had told Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other senators that he expects them to act swiftly on a bill passed by the House of Representatives that would renew certain powers and reform the bulk collection of telephone data.

“I don’t want us to be in a situation in which for a certain period of time, those authorities go away and suddenly we’re dark and heaven forbid we’ve got a problem,” Obama told reporters in the Oval Office.

McConnell has called the Senate back to Washington for a rare Sunday session to deal with the expiration of three provisions of the Patriot Act, including Section 215, used to justify the National Security Agency’s collection of billions of Americans’ telephone call records.

The NSA program has worried privacy advocates since it was exposed to journalists two years ago by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, now a fugitive in Russia.

On Friday, online activists blocked congressional offices’ access to thousands of websites to protest the Patriot Act.

Republicans, who control both the Senate and House, have been unable to agree on how to deal with the expiration. Late last week, the Senate failed by three votes to advance the USA Freedom Act, the reform bill backed by Obama and passed overwhelmingly by the House.

A senior Republican leadership aide said late on Friday that the party’s leaders in the House wanted the Senate to take up and pass the Freedom Act.

The Freedom Act would end the bulk collection of telephone records and replace it with a more targeted system for retrieving the information.

In the Senate, the measure is supported by Democrats, but opposed by Republican security hawks, who want to extend the Patriot Act provisions, and libertarian-leaning Senator Rand Paul, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate.

Paul and other privacy advocates have blocked Senate efforts to pass any extension.

Congressional aides said backers might be able to win the additional three Senate votes to advance the Freedom Act, possibly by allowing opponents to offer amendments.

The Patriot Act has allowed the NSA nearly unobstructed access to information about phone numbers called and the times of the calls. The government claims they do not have access to the content of those phone calls, but some have raised suspicion over that point.

If the program expires, such records would be kept by the phone companies and would only be available to the NSA via search warrants.

Also set to go down with telephone data would be the use of two wiretap techniques: roving and lone-wolf. Roving wiretaps allow investigators to track a suspected terrorist known to often switch telephones. Lone-wolf wiretaps which the Times reports, has never been used allow the tracking of suspects not linked with a specific terror organisation.

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Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Hails Nuclear Talks Victory

Iran Nuclear talksAll United Nations Security Council resolutions related to Iran’s nuclear program will be lifted immediately if a final deal is agreed, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Saturday, stressing the benefits to Iran of this week’s negotiations.

After leading Iranian negotiators to a preliminary deal with world powers in Switzerland, Zarif must now convince a domestic audience that the talks are heading toward a final deal that is in Iran’s interest.

He disputed a “fact sheet” released by the United States shortly after the deal that emphasized Iranian concessions and referred to sanctions being suspended rather than lifted.

“The Americans put what they wanted in the fact sheet… I even protested this issue with (U.S. Secretary of State John) Kerry himself,” he said in a television interview cited by the Fars news agency, adding that the U.N. Security Council would oversee any deal.

“Either side in this agreement can, in the case of the other side violating the agreement, cease its own steps,” Zarif said. He mirrored earlier comments by U.S. President Barack Obama that sanctions could be reapplied if Iran did not stick to its word.

“Whatever work we have on the nuclear program can be restored… Our knowledge is local and no one can take that away from us,” he added.

Iran’s lead negotiator, who was welcomed back to Tehran by cheering crowds on Friday, insisted that Iran had negotiated from a position of strength to secure a good preliminary deal.

He pointed to the changes in the demands of the P5+1 group of countries – the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China,  as evidence of the success of negotiations that began two years ago.

“Before the Geneva agreement (of November 2013), they wanted to bulldoze Arak, reduce Fordow to dirt….But these positions changed,” he said.

“They realized they can’t shut down Iran’s nuclear program.”

Zarif said Iran would stick to its promises so long as the West also did so, and suggested a deal could open the door to more productive relations with the international community, echoing comments on Friday by President Hassan Rouhani.

“Inside the negotiation room we are honest and outside the negotiation room we are honest,” he said.

“We don’t want anything more than our rights. We’ve never pursued a bomb in the past or now. We’re also not looking for regional hegemony. We want good relations with our neighbors in the region.”

Hardliners in Iran have criticised the preliminary agreement with world powers on their country’s nuclear programme.

The framework deal, the full details of which have still to be agreed, will see Iran curb sensitive nuclear activities in return for relief from sanctions.

Hossein Shariatmadari, an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Iran had exchanged its “saddled horse” for one with a “broken bridle”.

U.S. negotiators reportedly lowered the bar for their own goals during talks over Iran’s nuclear program in response to resistance from the Tehran team. And, on the heels of a framework deal being announced in Switzerland, France’s top diplomat on Friday admitted his country had initially held out for firmer terms.  The emerging reports indicate the U.S. team, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, gradually backed down over the course of the talks as Iran’s delegation dug in.

 

 

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Amid Another Administration Scandal President Obama Carefully Weighs In On Hillary Emails

ObamaU.S. President Barack Obama said he learned through news reports that Hillary Clinton used a personal email account for official business while she served as his secretary of state during an interview with CBS News.

“I’m glad that Hillary’s instructed that those emails about official business need to be disclosed,” Obama said, according to an excerpt of an interview with CBS released by the network.

Clinton, seen as the front-runner for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2016, said on Wednesday she wanted the State Department to release the emails quickly.

“I think that the fact that she is putting them forward will allow us to make sure that people have the information they need,” Obama said in the interview, versions of which will be aired on Sunday morning on CBS.

“The policy of my administration is to encourage transparency, which is why my emails, the Blackberry I carry around, all those records are available and archived,” Obama added.

The growing controversy over Clinton’s use of personal email for work while she was U.S. secretary of state threatens to cloud the expected launch of her campaign.

Clinton tried to quell the growing controversy late on Wednesday, saying she wanted the State Department to release the emails quickly. But a senior State Department official said on Thursday the task would take time.

“The review is likely to take several months given the sheer volume of the document set,” the official said.

The State Department has said there was no prohibition during Clinton’s tenure on using personal email for official business as long as it was preserved.

A total of 55,000 pages of documents covering the time Clinton was in office has been turned over, according to the State Department. But Clinton and her aides controlled that process, and the emails were not archived on government servers.

 

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North Korea Internet Link Restored After Outage

North korea InternetNorth Korea, at the center of a confrontation with the United States over the hacking of Sony Pictures, experienced a complete Internet outage for hours before links were restored on Tuesday, but U.S. officials said Washington was not involved.

U.S.-based Dyn, a company that monitors Internet infrastructure, said the reason for the outage was not known but could range from technological glitches to a hacking attack. Several U.S. officials close to the investigations of the attack on Sony Pictures said the U.S. government had not taken any cyber action against Pyongyang.

U.S. President Barack Obama had vowed on Friday to respond to the major cyberattack, which he blamed on North Korea, “in a place and time and manner that we choose.”

Dyn said North Korea’s Internet links were unstable on Monday and the country later went completely offline. Links were restored at 0146 GMT on Tuesday, and the possibilities for the outage could be attacks by individuals, a hardware failure, or even that it was done by North Korea itself, experts said.

Matthew Prince, CEO of U.S.-based CloudFlare which protects websites from web-based attacks, said the fact that North Korea’s Internet was back up “is pretty good evidence that the outage wasn’t caused by a state-sponsored attack, otherwise it’d likely still be down for the count”.

Almost all of North Korea’s Internet links and traffic pass through China and it dismissed any suggestion that it was involved as “irresponsible”.

Meanwhile, South Korea, which remains technically at war with the North, said it could not rule out the involvement of its isolated neighbor in a cyberattack on its nuclear power plant operator. It said only non-critical data was stolen and operations were not at risk, but had asked for U.S. help in investigating.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on Tuesday the leak of data from the nuclear operator was a “grave situation” that was unacceptable as a matter of national security, but she did not mention any involvement of North Korea.

North Korea is one of the least-connected nations in the world, and the effects of the Internet outage would have been minimal.

Very few of its 24 million people have access to the Internet. However, major websites, including those of the KCNA state news agency, the main Rodong Sinmun newspaper and the main external public relations company went down for hours.

“North Korea has significantly less Internet to lose, compared to other countries with similar populations: Yemen (47 networks), Afghanistan (370 networks), or Taiwan (5,030 networks),” Dyn Research said in a report.

“And unlike these countries, North Korea maintains dependence on a single international provider, China Unicom.”

The United States requested China’s help last Thursday, asking it to shut down servers and routers used by North Korea that run through Chinese networks, senior administration officials told Reuters.

The United States also asked China to identify any North Korean hackers operating in China and, if found, send them back to North Korea. It wants China to send a strong message to Pyongyang that such acts will not be tolerated, the officials said.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday it opposed all forms of cyberattacks but there was no proof that North Korea was responsible for the Sony hacking.

North Korea has denied it was behind the cyberattack on Sony and has vowed to hit back against any U.S. retaliation, threatening the White House and the Pentagon.

The hackers said they were incensed by a Sony comedy about a fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which the movie studio has now pulled from general release.

China is North Korea’s only major ally and would be central to any U.S. efforts to crack down on the isolated state. But the United States has also accused China of cyber spying in the past and a U.S. official has said the attack on Sony could have used Chinese servers to mask its origin.

 

 

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