Category - USA: Foreign Relations

U.S. optimistic global trade deal will come into force this year

Reuters, By Krista Hughes, March 4

Washington – The United States expects a global deal to cut customs red tape and streamline import procedures to come into force this year, a senior trade official said on Wednesday.

Mark Linscott, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for World Trade Organization and Multilateral Affairs, said Washington was “pretty confident” the deal agreed in Bali in 2013 would be up and running by year-end.

“It’s quite realistic to expect that the trade facilitation agreement [wikipedia: The “Bali Package”, WTO: Trade Facilitation] can come into force by the end of the year,” he told a Washington International Trade Association event.

[…]

Virginia Brown, director of trade and regulatory reforms at USAID, said the aid agency was ready to work with countries on implementation steps, which in many cases require lawmakers’ approval. “Our bread and butter is drafting that legislation and getting it through the legislative process,” she said.

US to Deploy Six National Guard Companies to Ukraine This Week

US 173rd Airborne Brigade Commander Michael Foster said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC said the US would deploy personnel by the end of this week to train the Ukrainian national guard.

Sputnik News, March 3

Washington – The United States will deploy personnel by the end of this week to train the Ukrainian national guard, US 173rd Airborne Brigade Commander Colonel Michael Foster said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC on Monday.

“Before this week is up, we’ll be deploying a battalion minus… to the Ukraine to train Ukrainian forces for the fight that’s taking place,” Foster stated. “What we’ve got laid out is six United States companies that will be training six Ukrainian companies throughout the summer.”

The training will take place at the level of US and Ukrainian national guard companies, Foster explained, adding that “we have nothing above battalion staff level” engaged in the military training.

The current plan is for US forces to stay six months, he said, and noted there have been discussions about how to increase the duration and the scope of the training mission.
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Obama Vetoes Keystone XL Bill

The Canadian Press, By Alexander Panetta, February 24

Washington – U.S. President Barack Obama made good Tuesday on a threat to veto a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, bringing the two sides in the long-running controversy to a rare point of agreement: their battle is far from over.

”The president’s veto of the Keystone jobs bill is a national embarrassment,” said the top Republican in the House of Representatives, John Boehner.

”We are not going to give up in our efforts to get this pipeline built — not even close.”

[…]

Even the White House concurred that the issue is far from settled. It pointed out that Tuesday’s announcement was a step in a long, winding process — not a final destination.

The president cast the veto as a matter of procedural principle. In his letter to Congress, Obama said the bill he was scrapping had improperly tried to usurp presidential authority.
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U.S. fears Palestinian ruin as Israel denies funds

AFP, February 20

The United States voiced fears Thursday that the Palestinian Authority may be teetering on the brink of collapse because of a lack of funding, as Israel withholds taxes and donor aid stalls.

Washington has been in urgent talks with regional leaders as well as other stakeholders in the frozen Middle East peace process in a bid to try to release more funds. “It’s true we’re very concerned about the continued viability of the Palestinian Authority if they do not receive funds soon,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. Such funds would include the resumption of monthly Israeli transfers of Palestinian tax revenues, or additional donor assistance, she said.

In January, Israel suspended $127 million in tax revenues which should have been transferred to the Palestinian Authority as punishment for its move to join the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Palestinians’ membership in the ICC, which takes effect on April 1, sets the scene for potential legal action against Israelis for alleged war crimes, in a move which has infuriated the Jewish state.

U.S. Is Escalating a Secretive War in Afghanistan

Data From Seized Computer Fuels a Surge in U.S. Raids on Al Qaeda

New York Times, By Matthew Rosenberg & Eric Schmitt, February 12

Washington — As an October chill fell on the mountain passes that separate the militant havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a small team of Afghan intelligence commandos and American Special Operations forces descended on a village where they believed a leader of Al Qaeda was hiding.

That night the Afghans and Americans got their man, Abu Bara al-Kuwaiti. They also came away with what officials from both countries say was an even bigger prize: a laptop computer and files detailing Qaeda operations on both sides of the border.

American military officials said the intelligence seized in the raid was possibly as significant as the information found in the computer and documents of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, after members of the Navy SEALs killed him in 2011.

In the months since, the trove of intelligence has helped fuel a significant increase in night raids by American Special Operations forces and Afghan intelligence commandos, Afghan and American officials said.

Al Qaeda’s Bookkeeper Spills the Beans

RINF, By Eric Zuesse, February 11

Zacarias Moussaoui was the bookkeeper for Al Qaeda, but the U.S. intelligence services have been keeping this fact secret as much as they can, because what he knows about the crucial financial backers of Al Qaeda can be very damaging to the U.S. aristocracy, which is heavily oil-based and closely allied with the Saudi royal family, which created Al Qaeda in order to please the Saudi clerics, who are Wahhabist Muslims who constantly threaten the royals with exposure of their economic and sexual corruption unless the royals finance the spread of the Wahhabist sect (such as by Al Qaeda), and thereby finance the spread of those clerics’ own international influence and power.

Or, so says the former bookkeeper of Al Qaeda, who was selected by Al Qaeda’s military chief, Abu Hafs (also known as “Mohammed Atef”), to serve Osama bin Laden in that capacity: Zacarias Moussaoui. This is his testimony, in brief.

Obama to Seek War Power Bill From Congress, to Fight ISIS

New York Times, By Jeremy W. Peters, February 11

Washington – The Obama administration has informed lawmakers that the president will seek a formal authorization to fight the Islamic State that would prohibit the use of “enduring offensive ground forces” and limit engagement to three years. The approach offers what the White House hopes is a middle way on Capitol Hill for those on the right and left who remain deeply skeptical of its plans to thwart extremist groups.

The request, which could come in writing as early as Wednesday morning, would open what is expected to be a monthslong debate over presidential war powers and the wisdom of committing to another unpredictable mission in the Middle East while the nation is still struggling with the consequences of two prolonged wars.

Congress has not voted to give a president formal authority for a military operation since 2002 when it backed George W. Bush in his campaign to strike Iraq after his administration promoted evidence, since discredited, that Saddam Hussein’s government possessed unconventional weapons.

As leaders gather to discuss Ukraine peace, war intensifies

Washington Post, By Michael Birnbaum, February 11

Moscow — Pro-Moscow rebels and Ukrainian forces waged intense battles over strategic ground Wednesday as leaders gathered for high-stakes talks seeking to quell the escalating conflict and close rifts between Russia and the West.

“This is really a last-chance negotiation,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France Inter radio before the meeting in Belarus to try to restore a collapsed cease-fire in eastern Ukraine. “There is a risk of war a three-hour flight from Paris.”

But fighting has spiked even as the peace bids look for footing.

US, UK and France announce closures, evacuations of embassies in Yemen

Fox News, February 11

The State Department announced late Tuesday that the U.S. Embassy in Yemen had been closed and evacuated after much of the country was taken over by Shiite rebels last month.

Hours later, Britain and France followed suit and ordered their citizens to leave Yemen as soon as possible.

The U.S. embassy had already been operating with severely reduced staff for several weeks. State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said remaining diplomatic personnel had been relocated “due to the ongoing political instability and the uncertain security situation.”

Al Arabiya: France, Britain suspend embassy work in Yemen

Syria being tipped off about US-led strikes against ISIL, says Assad

Syrian president says details fed through third parties and denies army’s use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs.

Al Jazeera, February 10

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said third parties, including Iraq, have been conveying information to Damascus about a US-led campaign of air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in his country.

In an interview with the BBC, broadcast on Tuesday, Assad said there was no direct cooperation with the U.S., whose air force has been bombing ISIL in Syria since September.

Asked if there was indirect cooperation, he said: “That’s true, through third parties, more than one party, Iraq and other countries, sometimes they convey message[s], general message[s], but there is nothing tactical”.

The FBI Is Making House Calls to Keystone XL Opponents

Climate Progress, By Katie Valentine, February 9

Tar sands activists in several states have been getting visits from the FBI, and no one knows yet exactly why.

Federal agents have been contacting activists who have participated in anti-Keystone XL and anti-tar sands protests, according to the Canadian Press. The visits have been happening to activists in Oregon, Washington state, and Idaho, and a lawyer working with the activists told the Canadian Press that he has advised them not to talk to the agents.

“It’s always the same line: ‘We’re not doing criminal investigations, you’re not accused of any crime. But we’re trying to learn more about the movement,’” he said.
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Russian-backed rebels massing to attack key Ukrainian towns: Kiev

Reuters, By Aleksandar Vasovic, February 7

Donetsk, Ukraine – Pro-Russian separatists have intensified shelling of government forces on all front lines and appear to be amassing forces for new offensives on the key railway town of Debaltseve and the coastal city of Mariupol, Ukraine’s military said on Saturday.

Five Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and 26 wounded in fighting in the past 24 hours, spokesman Volodymyr Polyovy told a briefing in Kiev.

The center of the main regional city of Donetsk echoed on Saturday with the sound of artillery blasts coming from the north and east. “The situation inside the city is tense and we can hear powerful artillery fire … but we have no immediate information about casualties and damages,” an official of the rebel-controlled city administration said by phone.
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Venezuela: a Coup in Real Time

Counterpunch, By Eva Golinger, February 2

There is a coup underway in Venezuela. The pieces are all falling into place like a bad CIA movie. At every turn a new traitor is revealed, a betrayal is born, full of promises to reveal the smoking gun that will justify the unjustifiable. Infiltrations are rampant, rumors spread like wildfire, and the panic mentality threatens to overcome logic. Headlines scream danger, crisis and imminent demise, while the usual suspects declare covert war on a people whose only crime is being gatekeeper to the largest pot of black gold in the world.

This week, as the New York Times showcased an editorial degrading and ridiculing Venezuelan President Maduro, labeling him “erratic and despotic” (“Mr. Maduro in his Labyrinth”, NYT January 26, 2015), another newspaper across the Atlantic headlined a hack piece accusing the President of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, and the most powerful political figure in the country after Maduro, of being a narcotics kingpin (“The head of security of the number two Chavista defects to the U.S. and accuses him of drug trafficking”, ABC, January 27, 2015). The accusations stem from a former Venezuelan presidential guard officer, Leasmy Salazar, who served under President Chavez and was recruited by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), now becoming the new “golden child” in Washington’s war on Venezuela.
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Obama assures Netanyahu on Iran nuke deal

AFP, January 13

Washington DC – U.S. President Barack Obama told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that America was committed to a “comprehensive” nuclear deal with Iran, and said that Palestinian ICC membership was not “constructive,” officials said.

“The United States is focused on reaching a comprehensive deal with Iran that prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and verifiably assures the international community of the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program,” the White House said in a statement.

“The president underscored the United States’ enduring commitment to the security of Israel and the importance of continuing close cooperation with Israel on this issue.”