ARLINGTON, Va. – Strategies for fighting terrorism can be found in Boston’s successful gang-prevention efforts and in the resolution of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, former Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O’Toole said today.
“Whether Republican dissidents in Northern Ireland, gang members in Boston or LA, or young Muslims facing poverty or prejudice in the UK, many of them are totally disaffected. We need to identify the most vulnerable and engage with them,” she said.
O'Toole, who has been chief inspector of Ireland’s national police since 2006, talked about lessons from Boston in her address to a gathering of intelligence analysts and others who use sophisticated data analysis software to track criminals and terrorists.FULL ENTRY
MANCHESTER, N.H. Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney was headed from New Hampshire to Washington this afternoon so he could speak tonight at the Faith and Freedom Conference.
Just don't expect much talk about social conservative issues, which were the bane of his first campaign for the presidency in 2008.
Instead, advance excerpts show a reprise of the economic focus that permeated Romney's campaign kickoff speech yesterday.
It's part of his campaign's message-management the second time around:
“President Obama said that unemployment wouldn’t go beyond 8 percent. Today it is over 9 percent. We are going backwards, and that is the wrong direction for America. President Obama has failed.
“Unemployment is not just a statistic. Unemployment means kids can’t go to college; that marriages break up under the financial strain; that young people can’t find work and start their lives; and men and women in their 50s, in the prime of their lives, fear they will never find a job again. President Obama has failed these good and decent Americans.
“Sixteen million Americans are out of work or have stopped looking for work. Make no mistake. This is a moral tragedy - a moral tragedy of epic proportion.
"President Obama should have had one central mission when he took office - put Americans back to work! Fight for every job! Because every job is a paycheck and paychecks fuel Americans dreams. Without a paycheck, you can’t take care of your family. Without a paycheck you can’t buy school books for your kids, keep a car on the road or help an aging parent make ends meet.
“The debt we are amassing as a nation and passing on to our children is immoral. It was once said that we should pass a torch to the next generation. Instead, we are passing on an unpaid bill. Throwing more money at our problems is not the answer.”
MANCHESTER, N.H. Prospective Republican presidential contender Sarah Palin will continue her "One Nation" tour beyond Washington, D.C., and the New England states.
She said this morning that she plans to take her tour to Iowa and South Carolina, two early voting states.
She made the announcement after having breakfast in Portsmouth with US Senator Kelly Ayotte.
While Palin insisted her visit to the Granite State wasn't a poke in the eye to Mitt Romney as her potential rival held two days of events in New Hampshire, news of her visit trumped coverage of Romney’s formal announcement speech yesterday.
"Palin hits the Seacoast," blared a four-column headline in today's New Hampshire Union Leader.
A story about Romney's speech was relegated to Page A3.
Glen Johnson/Globe Staff
STRATHAM, N.H. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney today publicly launched his second bid for the presidency with an outdoor speech at a farm in the lead primary state of New Hampshire.
1:16 p.m. - "I refuse to believe that America is just another place on the map with a flag," Mitt Romney told the crowd.
"We know we can bring country back," he said, before reprising a line from the movie, "The American President." "I'm Mitt Romney. I believe in America. And I'm running for president of the United States.
The declaration triggered a chorus of "Go, Mitt, Go."
With that, the speech was over.
1:12 p.m. - "Turning around a crisis takes bold action," Mitt Romney declares.
He says he will cap government spending at 20 percent of the budget and "finally, finally" balance the budget.
Then, channeling a famous Democrat, President John F. Kennedy, he says his generation will pass a torch to the next generation "not a bill."
He pledges his primary focus from Day One as president will be job-creation.
"You know, if you want to create jobs, it helps to have actually had a job and I have," he said.
Of course, Romney has joked that he has been unemployed since leaving the governor's office in January 2007.
1:09 p.m. - Unlike President Obama's European-style solutions, Romney is saying he will bring a CEO's acumen to the White House.
He recalls that he balanced the Massachusetts budget without taxes but fails to mention he also jacked up fees for a variety of services.
And, despite criticism from conservatives and some of his presidential contenders, Romney says his Massachusetts health care plan was "a state solution to a state problem."
1:04 p.m. - The speech is not much of a departure from what Mitt Romney has been saying for the past couple years.
Romney says he believes in a country of freedom and opportunity, propelled by entrepreneurship.
He complained that a newly inaugurated President Obama traveled the world, "apologizing" for America.
And he said the president is treating Israel "the same way so many European countries have, with suspicion."
1:01 p.m. - The audience applauds as Mitt Romney delivers the signature line of his announcement speech: "Barack Obama has failed America."
Three years later, he said, jobs are hard to come by, grocery and gas prices are up.
"It breaks my heart to see what is happening to our country," he said.
12:59 p.m. - Mitt Romney is lauding the country's history as a democracy, and a republic, not a monarchy.
"Who is it that rules this great nation?" he said. "You do."
The voters, in 17 months time, will choose who gives the State of the Union speech.
12:56 p.m. - Ann Romney is testfying to her husband as a partner, father, and problem-solver.
"That's why I have all the confidence in the world that this man standing next to me will be the next nominee for the Republican Party and will be the next president of the United States."
12:54 p.m. - Ann and Mitt Romney are taking the stage. She will introduce him.
"Thank-you; very generous," Mitt Romney said to Doug Scamman.
As he has said elsewhere this second campaign, Mitt Romney told the crowd, "Old friends."
12:53 p.m. - Doug Scamman, a former speaker of the New Hampshire House, is now introducing the Romneys.
The Scammans supported John McCain the last time around, and now they are with the proverbial party "next-in-line."
But Doug Scamman is citing Romney's business and civic background as the basis for his support.
"We need somebody in the White House who can work with everybody," Scamman said.
12:50 p.m. - The program is beginning with Stella Scamman saying hello and a 12-year-old leading the Pledge of Allegiance.
12:31 p.m. - Events are running behind schedule, as Mitt and Ann Romney greet their supporters amid a scrum of TV cameras...
12:22 p.m. - Former New Hampshire governor and Bush 41 White House Chief of Staff John Sununu is among those on hand.
12:11 p.m. - It IS a different kind of campaign the second time around.
Mitt Romney emerged the Doug and Stella Scamman's farmhouse clad in an open collar and lacking a suitcoat, and then he and his wife, Ann, made their way not to the stage for his announcement speech, but to a table of crockpots to serve her recipe of chicken-and-bean chili.
"Who wants some chili?" the candidate said as he served up heaping scoops.
12:04 p.m. - Ace campaign photographer Brooks Kraft reports the chili being served in conjunction with the announcement speech is fantastic.
Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom says volunteers had 36 crockpots in the campaign headquarters yesterday to cook chili according to Ann Romney's family recipe.
11:55 a.m. - They've brought the crowd in front of the stage to provide a populist scene for the announcement speech.
Old Romney hands Eric Fehrnstrom, Peter Flaherty, and Russ Schriefer are working through the crowd of supporters and reporters.
Also here is at least one of Mitt Romney's sons, Josh, a father of five who deals in real estate in Utah.
11:40 a.m. - For Republicans who like to criticize President Obama and his use of TelePrompTers, Romney will be speaking from one.
His campaign has also set-up a tripod just below his podium so it can get close-up shots for use in future videos and campaign commercials.
11:18 a.m. - It has been hard to blog from the site, with the wind whipping and the excessive glare from the sun as it jumps in and out of the clouds.
Nonetheless, the report begins: A crowd is assembling at the Scammans' farm, including New Hampshire politicos such as Tom Rath and former Massachusetts supporters including House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones Jr. He brought his father-in-law.
Groups of Romney aides, dressed in blue T-shirts with the campaign slogan "Believe in America" are racing around, completing last-minute preparations.
Mitt Romney was doing a handful a pull-aside interviews beforehand, including with the Fox New Channel's Sean Hannity and ABC News correspondent John Berman, whose network broadcasts over WMUR-TV, the dominant television station in New Hampshire.
Romey is slated to begin speaking about noon.
10:24 a.m. - The bucolic setting at Doug and Stella Scamman's Bittersweet Farm was leavened with blustery conditions in the aftermath of a tornado-laden weather system that blew through Romney's home state overnight.
Campaign workers had erected tents and sunscreens for a chili cookoff following the speech, but they dismantled them to avoid them going airborne.
In a nod to the setting, hay bales ringed the stage, media riser, and even the speaker stands.
Be sure to return to "Political Intelligence" before noon tomorrow for coverage as Mitt Romney's publicly declares his second campaign for the presidency.
My Globe colleague Matt Viser and I will be on hand at Doug and Stella Scamman's Bittersweet Farm in Stratham, N.H., for the speech and ensuing chili cookoff.
Ann Romney will be offering her signature campaign; does that stack the odds in her favor?
We plan to live-blog the pre-speech activities and announcement itself, wrap up Romney's remarks, and gather video to complement the coverage.
Mitt Romney is publicly announcing his second presidential campaign tomorrow in Stratham, N.H., and he'll get down to work fast.
His campaign committee has announced that he will hold a town hall meeting in Manchester, N.H., on Friday.
It will take place at the University of New Hampshire Manchester Campus at 8:30 a.m.
For anyone who listened to Mitt Romney during his first campaign for president, it’s no surprise that Olympic speedskater Dan Jansen attended the biggest fund-raiser to date for Romney’s second campaign.
Jansen became an international sports celebrity with his example of picking himself up after defeat and pushing on to victory.
It’s an example the former Massachusetts governor hopes to emulate starting tomorrow, when he publicly kicks off his 2012 White House bid.
WASHINGTON -- Democrats and some Republicans in the US House of Representatives sought to buck the White House today over the war in Afghanistan, illustrating growing impatience in Congress over the military’s role there since the death of Osama bin Laden earlier this month.
Representative James McGovern, a Worcester Democrat, spearheaded an effort with Republican co-sponsor Walter B. Jones of North Carolina to pass a measure that would require planning for a speedier withdrawal of troops from the nation where bin Laden plotted the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The amendment to the defense authorization bill failed 204-215, but it gained far more than the 162 votes that it received last year when Democrats controlled the House. Both of the chamber’s Democratic leaders, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland , supported it, along with 26 Republicans.FULL ENTRY
Democrat John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today said China must do more to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons and promote human rights given its growing economic power.
Speaking at the start of a confirmation hearing for Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, nominated to be the US ambassador to China, the Massachusetts senator said Locke will face a great challenge if approved by the Senate.
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters today in Pakistan that "there is too much at stake" for the United States and Pakistan to abandon their alliance.
He said he and Pakistani officials have agreed on a series of steps that each side would take to improve relations, but declined to detail what those steps were.
"There are real differences between our two countries, but the bonds that tie us together in the fight against the threat of extremists is stronger than those differences," he said during a news conference in Islamabad.
There's never been a shortage of people willing to lampoon Senator John Kerry, or who have delighted in him being roasted.
Kerry has inflicted some of the damage himself, from trying to register a yacht in Rhode Island in an apparent Massachusetts tax dodge, to heading out windsurfing when presidential campaign advisers said it would underscore the elitist image they were trying to overcome.
Other damage has come from piling-on, all too easy with a person who can spend nearly as much time deciding what brand of beer to drink as it takes to down the first pint.
But those thoughts, emotions, or memories can seem petty when considering the duties he undertook today: representing the United States and delivering its complaints in the aftermath of the May 2 raid that found and killed Osama bin Laden while he hid amid a Pakistani military garrison.
WASHINGTON -- After Navy SEALS shot Osama bin Laden early this month, the Situation Room photo of President Obama and his national security team gravely monitoring the operation across the globe quickly became a defining image of that long night.
The White House’s high-tech bunker, where the president held a ceremony today, was quickly built in what had been an old basement bowling alley fifty years ago because of another overseas operation that ended with far less success: the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
“The seeds of what we saw in that photo were planted in the Kennedy administration,” said Tom Putnam, director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
Tying together the half-century of history, President Obama renamed a secure conference room today after President Kennedy. The assassinated president's daughter Caroline Kennedy attended, along with grandson, John "Jack" Schlossberg.
"It’s the nerve center for the U.S. government, the place where we come together to make policy and respond to crises from wars abroad to floods at home," President Obama said.
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, a Democrat who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is drafting legislation that would allow the opposition in Libya to access about $180 million in funds that have been frozen in Moammar Khadafy's overseas bank accounts, according to Libyan opposition leader Mahmoud Jibril.
Kerry announced the legislation Wednesday after a meeting with Jibril, but did not give a dollar amount.
But Jibril, who is being referred to as prime minister of the self-appointed opposition government that has taken charge of the effort to bring down Khadafy, told an audience at the Brookings Institution in Washington the amount of money Kerry is offering might be too little, too late.
He said the rebels need about $3 billion to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in cities besieged by Khadafy's forces and camps of fleeing refugees.
A spokesman for Senator Scott Brown refused to say if he will travel to the CIA to see photos of a dead Osama bin Laden, after the agency offered today to show them to members of a congressional committee upon which the Republican serves.
The only other member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation who would qualify under the same offer, Democrat Niki Tsongas, will decline.
“The congresswoman is convinced that Osama bin Laden was killed and will not be requesting to see the photos,” said spokesman John Noble.
Brown spokesman Colin Reed said, “No comment on this.”
Senator John Kerry today labeled Osama bin Laden's death "a potentially game-changing opportunity" for a political solution in war-torn Afghanistan.
Kicking off the third of six hearings on Afghanistan and Pakistan this month by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, Kerry said that could "bring greater stability to the region and bring our troops home." The Massachusetts Democrat serves as chairman of the committee.
"Let me be very clear: A precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan would be a mistake and I, for one, would take that option off the table," Kerry said in his prepared remarks. "Instead, we should be working toward the smallest footprint necessary, a presence that puts Afghans in charge and presses them to step up to that task at the same time that it secures our interests and accomplishes our mission of destroying Al Qaeda and preventing Afghanistan from ever again becoming a terrorist sanctuary.
"But make no mistake, it is unsustainable to continue spending $10 billion a month on a massive military operation with no end in sight and the good news is, we don’t have to. I am convinced that we can achieve our core goals at a more sustainable cost, in both lives and dollars," he added.
President Obama has pledged to begin removing some of the 130,000 US troops by July 31.
Tom Rettig / Worcester Telegram & Gazette
On Saturday morning, Scott Brown joined his Senate colleague, John Kerry, as well as Governor Deval Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray in Auburn for the funeral of an Air Force officer killed by a rampaging gunman in Afghanistan.
In so doing, the officeholders conferred the weight and stature of their respective offices on the event, signaling to the public in deed if not in word that this was a moment worthy of pause amid the motion of daily life.
It’s because of the esteem the public holds for such high office that people also stopped and listened last week when Brown went on television and weighed in on the debate about whether to release photos showing Osama bin Laden after he had been shot to death by US troops in Pakistan.
“Hello, I’m Scott Brown, and I have the honor of representing Massachusetts in the United States Senate.
“Last Sunday night, we heard President Obama deliver the message that Americans have been waiting for since September 11, 2001. It’s a very rare thing when so many people across the world observe the loss of life with something other than regret. But this man, the late Osama bin Laden, had chosen his fate long before in a life filled with cruelty. If he expected mercy when our forces found him that was asking much more than he was ever known to give.
“This was a man who rejoiced in the suffering and death of others, who set in motion all the horror and grief of 9/11 and considered it just a start. He was a teacher of evil, and now, for him, the lesson is over. It ends not in the fulfillment of some fanatical vision, but in the depths of the
The Massachusetts Democratic Party issued a statement today saying Senator Scott Brown "owes" Massachusetts residents an explanation after the Republican asserted and then retracted that he had seen postmortem photos of Osama bin Laden.
“As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Brown owes the people of Massachusetts more details as to what led him to believe that he was shown an authentic photo, and then what led him to feel comfortable enough to speak out publicly about the photo," party Chairman John Walsh said in a statement.
"He needs right away, today to provide answers to the following questions: who showed him the fake photo; who told him it was genuine when it wasn’t; and what are the procedures he uses to make sure he has reliable information before he gives voters that information?" Walsh added.
The chairman said the senator needs to “understand that his words matter, and his assertions are taken at face value because of his position."
Brown spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom replied: "With the Sal DiMasi corruption trial going on, I'm surprised that John Walsh has the time to criticize Republicans."
US Senator Scott Brown said in several televised interviews today that he had seen perhaps the most controversial and closely guarded photos in the world: those showing Osama bin Laden’s dead body.
Brown, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, suggested he had viewed them as part of an official briefing, and he argued that they were too graphic to be released to the public and could enflame terrorists.
Brown later acknowledged that he had fallen victim to a hoax, apparently the same doctored images that were making the rounds on the Internet.
‘‘The photo that I saw and that a lot of other people saw is not authentic,’’ the senator said in a one-sentence statement issued hours after the interviews aired.FULL ENTRY
WASHINGTON Having seen unreleased photos of Osama bin Laden’s corpse, US Senator Scott Brown does not believe pictures of the dead terrorist leader should be made public, the Massachusetts Republican said in an interview on NECN.
“Let me assure you that he is dead, that bin Laden is dead I have seen the photos,” Brown said hours before President Obama declared he would not release the images.
During an interview with "60 Minutes," the president told the CBS News program that "we don't trot out trophies."
Asked directly if the pictures, which have been described as bloody and gruesome, should be made available for everyone, Brown told NECN: “If it’s to sell newspapers or just have a news cycle story, no, I don’t think they should be released. We’re still dealing with the sensitivities of the Muslim and Arab world. And we still have men and women serving throughout the world.”
WASHINGTON -- Likely presidential candidate Mitt Romney this morning said President Obama deserved to be credited with an “enormous success” for overseeing the mission that killed Osama bin Laden.
“We’ll all remember where we were when Osama bin Laden was finally killed,” Romney told reporters this morning, according to an NECN video. “I congratulate the president, the intelligence community, our military. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment.”
“The bad guy took one in the eye,” he added.
Romney, who is considering vying for the role of occupying the Oval Office, was also eager for some more behind-the-scenes details.
“I look forward to hearing more,” Romney said. “How did we find out where he was located? What sources of intelligence were developed over the years? How many blind allies did they have to pursue until they finally found this guy?”
WASHINGTON Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican who is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said today the strike on Osama bin Laden in Pakistan raises questions about whether the continuing war in Afghanistan is worth the cost.
“With al Qaeda largely displaced from the country, but franchised in other locations, Afghanistan does not carry a strategic value that justifies 100,000 American troops and a $100 billion per year cost, especially given current fiscal restraints,” Lugar said in his opening statement at a hearing on Afghanistan.
Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who serves as chairman of the committee, called the death of bin Laden a "seminal moment." Questions about the future US role in Afghanistan are even more relevant now, he said.
"The death of Osama bin Laden is obviously an event with enormous consequence," he said. "It doesn't end the threat, however, but still it is a major victory in the long campaign against terrorism waged by our intelligence agencies and our military."FULL ENTRY
WASHINGTON Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is seeking to refocus the nation's focus on Pakistan and Afghanistan in the run-up to a scheduled withdrawal of some US forces from Afghanistan, set to begin in July.
On Tuesday morning, Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Princeton University Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, Ronald E. Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy will appear before the committee.
It has already conducted 14 oversight hearings on the war, including the first congressional hearings on reconciliation and the mission in Marja.
The latest hearing was planned before Sunday's surprise announcement about the killing Osama bin Laden.
“The killing of Osama bin Laden closes an important chapter in our war against extremists who kill innocent people around the world." Kerry said in a statement. "A single death does not end the threat from al Qaeda and its affiliated groups and highlights the need to thoroughly evaluate our strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We need to make certain we are asking tough questions about the direction and effectiveness of our policy/"
Farah Stockman can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @fstockman.
Senator Scott Brown just issued a statement saying he requested his annual summer Massachusetts National Guard service period in Afghanistan.
“As a lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts Army National Guard, I have service obligations that I fulfill each year.
"Following in the tradition of other lawmakers who have completed their military service requirements overseas, this year I have requested to conduct my annual training in Afghanistan.
"Doing so will help me to better understand our ongoing mission in that country, and provide me first-hand experience for my duties on the Senate Armed Services, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs committees," he said.
Brown has been in the Guard since 1979, but he has never been deployed to a war zone. His service this summer will come around the July set by President Obama for beginning to start removing some of the 132,000 US troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Typically such training periods last two weeks. It would not be considered a formal activation of his JAG unit.
The statement was issued about 90 minutes after Brown spoke with the Globe about heading to the war zone.
The Atlantic magazine has a fascinating interview with the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, in which he attempts to deflect criticism of his country's efforts to root out Osama bin Laden from its midst by comparing it to the ongoing search for Boston fugitive James "Whitey" Bulger.
"If Whitey Bulger can live undetected by American police for so long, why can't Osama bin Laden live undetected by Pakistani authorities?" asked Ambassador Husain Haqqani.
Read the full story here.
WASHINGTON -- Just after President Obama made the most important announcement of his presidency, the field of candidates hoping to unseat him began reacting to the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed.
"Welcome to hell, bin Laden," former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said, in one of the bluntest statements.
The shocking news is likely to temporarily divert away from any talk of the economy and high gas prices -- topics that Republican candidates have focused on in recent months. It could also bolster Obama's low approval ratings, and could expose a Republican presidential field that so far lacks a candidate with substantial foreign policy experience.FULL ENTRY
Senator Scott Brown issued a statement this morning saying he has requested to conduct his annual National Guard training in Afghanistan.
“As a lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts Army National Guard, I have service obligations that I fulfill each year.
"Following in the tradition of other lawmakers who have completed their military service requirements overseas, this year I have requested to conduct my annual training in Afghanistan.
"Doing so will help me to better understand our ongoing mission in that country, and provide me first-hand experience for my duties on the Senate Armed Services, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs committees," he said.
Brown has been in the Guard since 1979, but he has never been deployed to a war zone. His service this summer will come around the July set by President Obama for beginning to start removing some of the 132,000 US troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Typically such training periods last two weeks. It would not be considered a formal activation of his JAG unit.
About 90 minutes before issuing his statement, Brown said in a telephone interview with the Globe, "I’m going to be going over at some point to do some missions.”
After President Obama told the nation last night about the death of Osama bin Laden, senior members of his administration held a conference call to brief reporters on the details of the mission.
Following is a transcript of that call, as provided by the White House, with all but one of the speakers identified as "senior administration officials."
It was led by Tommy Vietor, the chief spokesman for the National Security Council:
Following are the full texts of statements issued last night by President Obama and Massachusetts Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown after the death of Osama bin Laden:
Jason Reed / Reuters
President Bush started the search for Osama bin Laden on Sept. 11, 2001, and President Obama ended it yesterday, and each man took special pride in the accomplishment.
Bush, in a statement posted on the Facebook page of his wife, former first lady Laura Bush, said: "The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done."
Obama, meanwhile, wore an American flag pin on his lapel as he strode to a lectern in the East Room of the White House to make the official announcement.
"Justice has been done," the president said in remarks that began at 11:35 p.m.
Obama also went to lengths to detail the circumstances that led to bin Laden's death, as well as his leadership of it, starting with him saying he made it his top terrorism priority since shortly after taking office in 2009.
"Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice," said the president.
Then, in his crescendo, he added: "Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan."
Obama's backers will surely argue that the achievement validates his effort to shift the focus from the war on terror from insurgents and Saddam Hussein's loyalists in Iraq to the Taliban in Afghanistan, part of a campaign pledge he made to target bin Laden, the culprit of the 9/11 attacks.
As a senator, Obama declared he would authorize US forces to go into Pakistan to get bin Laden if that was where he sought refuge. In the end, that is what happened, with uncertain diplomatic repercussions for the country.
The president himself did not have to gloat, the facts potent enough to speak for themselves.
Jim Wilson/Globe Staff
Listening to Donald Trump yesterday, speaking caustically and bombastically against the backdrop of a gleaming helicopter emblazoned with the name "Trump," I was struck by the contrast between him and the late Senator Paul Tsongas.
The Massachusetts Democrat announced his candidacy for the presidency 20 years ago Saturday, on April 30, 1991, and the approaching anniversary had prompted me to reminisce in recent weeks about the first White House campaign I covered.
The difference between Tsongas and Trump could not be more pronounced.
Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert has weighed in on Mitt Romney's suggestion earlier this week that President Obama had engaged in a huge "peacetime" spending binge.
Romney's staff later clarified that in his op-ed piece Monday for The New Hampshire Union Leader, the prospective Republican presidential contender meant to blast the incumbent for the largest expenditures since World War II.
Colbert addressed the situation last night on his satirical pundit program.
President Obama didn't exactly blame the American people for missing the point last night as his poll numbers have plunged, but he did state they have been so focused on their daily lives they haven't focused deeply enough on the broader, more thematic underpinnings of the great recent congressional debates.
Addressing a star-studded fundraiser audience at the Tavern restaurant in Los Angeles that included actors Tom Hanks and George Clooney, Obama said he expected the majority of voters to end up siding with him when they focus their attention on the candidates, the policies they propose, and their personal values during next year's campaign.
Massachusetts listeners can't but hear the echoes of the "values" focus that Governor Deval Patrick offered during his successful reelection campaign last fall, and which he has continued amid his recent book tour.
Those of us who covered the Kerry for President campaign in 2004 felt a special horror in yesterday's news about the two photographers who were killed in Libya.
The more widely known to the world, perhaps, was Tim Hetherington, who received an Academy Award nomination for "Restrepo," his documentary about a US platoon in an Afghanistan valley.
The more closely known to the campaign travelers, though, was Chris Hondros of Getty Images. He rode the Kerry plane often and brought his combat photography skills to the political arena.
Senator John Kerry just issued a statement in which the Massachusetts Democrat recounts many of Hondros's traits and campaign moments:
WASHINGTON Likely presidential contender Mitt Romney today criticized President Obama for not being clearer on the mission in Libya, saying that the United States was entering into a "mission creep" in the war-torn country.
“It is apparent that our military is engaged in much more than enforcing a no-fly zone,” Romney wrote in a blog post on National Review Online. “What we are watching in real time is another example of mission creep and mission muddle.”
“Military action cannot be under-deliberated and ad hoc,” Romney added. “The president owes it to the American people and Congress to immediately explain his new Libya mission and its strategic rationale.”
The United Nations confirmed today that last week’s Iraqi army raid of Camp Ashraf resulted in the deaths of 34 Iranian exiles. Camp Ashraf is home to many members of the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, a group in opposition to Iran’s clerical leaders that had found refuge in Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s regime. The Iraqi government has announced an investigation into the incident.
"The current situation at the camp is untenable,” Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts said in a statement that condemned the Iraqi military’s “massacre.” Kerry also called on the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, to help all parties find "a peaceful and durable solution," and permanent homes for the Camp Ashraf residents.
Read Kerry’s full statement below.
Glen Johnson/Globe Staff
HOOKSETT, N.H. With a 22-person media contingent outside, and only a handful of prospective voters inside, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour wasn't trying to conceal the message he was sending to New Hampshire voters as he wound down his first visit of the year as a prospective presidential contender.
I'm one of you, he said with deeds as much as words nonetheless spoken with a Southern drawl.
Glen Johnson/Globe Staff
BOW, N.H. Southern charm collided with Yankee skepticism last night as Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour made his first visit of the year to New Hampshire as a prospective presidential candidate.
With his trademark drawl and affable demeanor, Barbour worked a crowd of about 30 people at the home of former New Hampshire Republican Party chairwoman Jayne Millerick, introducing himself by saying simply, "Hi, I'm Haley."
(See my earlier post here.)
Then he was peppered with questions about everything from his views on spending cuts and entitlement reform to US intervention in Libya, as voters in the lead presidential primary state upheld their tradition as vetters-in-chief of would-be commanders-in-chief.
Glen Johnson/Globe Staff
BOW, N.H. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour tonight told an audience in the lead presidential primary state of New Hampshire he would offer "casual, comfortable, plainspoken commonsense" if he decided to seek the Republican nomination.
He argued that the American people "are tired of happy talk," and need straight information about cutting government spending while also resisting the temptation to raise taxes.
He pledged a decision about his candidacy by the end of the month, as he kicked off a two-day trip that was his first to the state this year.
Former US Representative William Delahunt has joined the Boston office of a Pittsburgh-based law firm as special counsel.
Eckert Seamans Cherin and Mellott LLC announced Monday the Quincy Democrat started Friday and will "provide strategic counsel to firm clients on complex regulatory issues such as healthcare, financial services, and energy and environmental matters."
"After serving in the House for 14 years, Bill Delahunt brings to Eckert Seamans incomparable insight and connections at the busy intersection of business and politics, as well as insight, experience, and seasoned judgment to our clients and their business affairs," Timothy P. Ryan, the firm's chief executive officer, said in a statement.
Last month, the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian tribe announced Delahunt will represent the group and its interests including its ongoing efforts to host casino gambling at the state and federal level.
Delahunt stepped down in January as 10th District congressman. Previously, he served as Norfolk district attorney.
Expected Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney today gave a Bronx cheer for the Obama administration's decision to hold trials for the top 9/11 suspect and four alleged co-conspirators at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, instead of as planned in New York City.
“An inexperienced and naïve president has finally reversed himself on Guantanamo and terrorist trials; let’s hope he sees the light on his other flawed policies," the former Massachusetts governor said in a statement.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the others will appear before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay rather than before a civilian court on Manhattan.
Another Massachusetts Republican, Senator Scott Brown, lauded the reversal, too.
Senator Scott Brown today issued a statement in reaction to the Obama administration's decision to forgo a civilian trial in New York City for alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other suspects.
Instead, they will appear before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Brown, a military lawyer in the Massachusetts National Guard, had opposed the New York plan and advocated for a Guantanamo proceeding.
LAS VEGAS – It was billed as a foreign policy address, but it didn’t take long before the most prominent issue that could haunt Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign came up.
The first question from the audience after his 24-minute address before the Republican Jewish Coalition here was not about Israel or unrest in the Middle East. It was about Romney’s health care plan in Massachusetts.
Romney largely defended the rationale of the Massachusetts plan, saying that it helped spur greater health care coverage so uninsured residents wouldn’t simply go to emergency rooms for care.
But he sought to distinguish the plan from President Obama’s national plan by casting it as an issue of states’ rights.FULL ENTRY
WASHINGTON Can the $30 billion Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy has squirreled away in foreign bank accounts be used to reimburse the very nations making war on him right now?
That was a question that came up repeatedly today at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as members from both parties seized on the idea of using Khadafy's nest egg to finance the no-fly zone over his country imposed by the United States and an international coalition.
Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, started it all by asking Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg about the costs of the military operation in Libya.
Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today presided over a congressional hearing focused on future steps in Libya.
The North African nation has been under assault by an international coalition after its leader, Moammar Khadafy, began using military force against protestors opposed to his authoritarian regime.
Kerry called for institution a no-fly zone, which President Obama initiated.
Senator Scott Brown said this morning he supports the unfolding wave of U.S. air strikes on Libya, saying they are necessary to stop the killing of innocent civilians.
The Massachusetts Republican, confronting the first military action launched since he took office a year ago, said, "I support the administration's involvement at this point. Obviously, it gets to a point where you have to draw a line in the sand, and when innocent civilians are being killed, it's important for the world community to step forward, and we're doing it in a coalition manner, and I'm supportive of that."
Brown, who also is a JAG officer in the Massachusetts National Guard, refused to say if he would support the additional use of ground troops. President Obama has repeatedly said the action will be limited to air support in the form of an opening wave of cruise missiles attacks, as well as an overnight B-2 bombing run and the possibility of combat air patrols to enforce a UN-backed no-fly zone.
"That's a hypothetical I'm not really ready to comment on," Brown told a pair of reporters as he arrived at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center for the annual South Boston St. Patrick's Day breakfast and political roast.
"But I think that we're going to follow the lead and work together with other countries to determine what the obstacles are and where it goes from here," he added. "I think it's a mission in progress and we'll know more in a day or two."
Brown also refused to say if he would support strikes on Yemen and Bahrain, two other Middle Eastern countries where pro-democracy forces have clashed with authoritarian regimes.
"You're starting to get into hypotheticals, but in this instance, it's clear that (Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy) was using his own forces to kill innocent civilians, and that's where I draw the line," Brown said.
By Donovan Slack, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- Senator John F. Kerry, who has been pushing in recent weeks for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya, issued a statement this afternoon supporting President Obama's declaration that he will order the use of military force if Libyan leader Moammar Kahdafi does not comply with a United Nations resolution directing him to stop military operations against the Libyan people.
“President Obama’s stern ultimatum to Kahdafi is the right message," Kerry said. "There must be a full cessation of hostilities immediately."
Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reiterated earlier statements -- some of which were echoed by the president today -- that Kahdafi "has lost all legitimacy and determined international pressure will remain imperative to ensure that the will of the Libyan people prevails."
The senior senator from Massachusetts has been pushing for action in Libya since Feb. 22, after Kahdafi ordered attacks on Libyans who were protesting his regime.
The president announced today that the United States and its allies will not sit idly by as the Libyan leader uses violent force to suppress protests and re-take territory now in control of the opposition, including the major city of Benghazi, which has a population of 700,000 people.
Obama, saying the resolution passed yesterday by the UN Security Council lays out clear demands, ordered Kahdafi not to advance troops into Benghazi, to pull them back from other areas, allow humanitarian supplies to reach the Libyan people and restore gas and electric service throughout the country.
“Now once more, Moammar Kahdafi has a choice,” Obama said in brief remarks at the White House.
Obama said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet in Paris with officials from Britain, France and other allies tomorrow to discuss what actions the coalition will take. He said the goal of any action would be to secure the lives of civilians and not to topple Kahdafi's regime, which he said would be up to the people of Libya. The president added that he would not order any ground troops into the country, so military actions likely would be confined to air strikes.
“Our goal is focused, our cause is just and our coalition is strong,” Obama said.
Kerry credited the president this afternoon with "deft" diplomacy.
"The Obama administration’s deft diplomatic efforts that built a strong international coalition to enforce tough measures against Kahdafi have been essential," Kerry said. .
Donovan Slack can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @DonovanSlack.
WASHINGTON — It’s the speculation US Senator John Kerry just can’t shake: Is he seeking to be the next secretary of state?
The conjecture grows more intense as the Massachusetts Democrat and chair of the Foreign Relations Committee has taken highly-public role in shaping US policy toward the political upheaval in the Middle East.
With Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledging in a CNN interview that she would not serve another term if President Obama is reelected in 2012, could the stage be set for Kerry to take over? With his lengthy foreign policy experience, Kerry has long been considered by pundits a potential cabinet pick for Obama, whom Kerry strongly supported early in his presidential candidacy.
But does Kerry want to be secretary of state?
“No,” said the senator’s spokesperson, Whitney Smith, in a one-word answer by email.
Somehow that doesn't sound like the final word on the subject.
WASHINGTON US Senator John Kerry is urging the Obama administration to back a no-fly zone over Libya, calling for the United Nations to quickly approve a resolution to ground Libyan leader Moammar Kahdafi’s warplanes.
Kahdafi is using his air force to pound the rebels trying to overthrow him.
“The international community cannot simply watch from the sidelines as this quest for democracy is met with raw violence,” said Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, in a lengthy policy speech today.
The Massachusetts Democrat said the Arab League’s endorsement this weekend of a no-fly zone over Libya is unprecedented.
“The Security Council should act now, in my judgment, to heed the Arab League’s call” and to avert a humanitarian disaster, said Kerry, in remarks to a room packed with foreign journalists at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank.
Kerry’s call for action on a no-fly zone marks an evolution in his view on the subject. He did not start out calling for immediate imposition of a no-fly zone; rather, he urged diplomatic and logistical preparation for the zone.
His call also puts him at odds with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has said attacking Libya's planes and air defenses would be an act of war.
The speech is the latest of Kerry’s high-profile efforts to guide US policy through the chain of popular uprisings in the Middle East. He urged preparations for a no-fly zone on the CBS News program “Face the Nation” two weekends ago.
Also, at the height of the unrest in Egypt last month, the senator penned a New York Times column encouraging embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s to give up power.
President Obama has not endorsed a no-fly zone, though he has “not taken any options off the table,” the president said on Friday.
Another option under consideration is for the US to give some $32 billion in frozen Libyan government assets to the rebels, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Tuesday.
Office of the Governor
Governor Deval Patrick is in England, not Italy, yet there is an aura of Rome-burning-while-Nero-is-fiddling to his trade mission events and communications after Fidelity Investments announced Tuesday it's closing its Marlborough offices and costing Massachusetts over 1,000 jobs in the process.
The first week of Patrick's international trade mission produced no job deals, despite him touring Israel with such heavyweights as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
Since the weekend, the immediate benefits of the trip have become even more imperceptible, as the governor has visited a World War II cemetery, taken a tourist's trip to the House of Commons for "question time," and held a series of meet-and-greet meetings with members of Parliament.
The purpose for the latter, according to a gubernatorial statement, was "to discuss growing economic opportunities between the UK and Massachusetts."
All the while, Patrick withheld issuing a statement on Fidelity's decision, delegating the duty to the acting governor, Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray. Murray said the state was "disappointed" at the job cuts and would offer assistance to displaced workers.
Aides initially said the governor's busy schedule had kept them from reaching him or getting him on the telephone with Boston reporters. By late afternoon today, they put him on the phone with the Globe for what an aide said would be a two-minute conversation. It ended up lasting only slightly longer than that.
In the aftermath of the announcement, the governor did not jump on a plane to make any sort of direct appeal for the company to reverse its decision.
Instead, he remained in England on Tuesday, where he attended a ceremony to sign an agreement securing an exchange of stem cell bank best practices, participated in a roundtable discussion with biotech officials, and took the cemetery tour.
On Monday, his staff trumpeted his two meetings with the US ambassador to the United Kingdom, although Lou Sussman may be less known as diplomat than he is as the Chicagoan who raised a lot of campaign cash for Patrick's good friend, President Obama.
Patrick's staff also notes he met with the CEO of Lloyd's of London, and held an economic roundtable discussion with representatives of the financial services industry.
Today, as Marlborough reeled from a blow to its tax base, Rhode Island reporters highlighted their state's efforts to expand Fidelity's presence, and the Massachusetts Senate announced it would investigate the company's decision, Patrick went to his Twitter account and wrote, "Attended Prime Minister's Questions & later met Speaker of the House of Commons Bercow."
An earlier tweet read: "Met with Members of Parliament this morning in London."
One press release highlighted his economic partnership meetings with members of Parliament. Another one today echoed the governor's tweet.
It was headlined, "Governor Patrick Attends Prime Minister Questions; Meets with British-American Parliamentary Group."
Governor Deval Patrick took a break from his international trade mission meetings today to visit the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial in Madingley, England, and pay his respects to fallen US military members from World War II.
A statement issued by his office said Patrick laid a wreath in honor of those members from Massachusetts. He also presented the cemetery with a Massachusetts flag previously flown over the State House in honor of the state’s service members who are buried in the cemetery, or listed as missing.
In addition, Patrick placed flowers on the grave of Technical Sergeant Chester W Yurick, of Needham, Mass. He served as radio operator on a B-24 Liberator from the 44th Bomb Group based at Shipdham in Norfolk, England.
Yurkick and his crew died following a crash landing after their aircraft was damaged by German defenses.
The Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial site was donated by the University of Cambridge and occupies about 30 acres. It contains the remains of 3,812 American military dead, including 360 from Massachusetts, with another 5,127 names recorded on the Tablets of the Missing.
Many of the soldiers buried at the cemetery died during the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II, or in the strategic air bombardment of northwest Europe.
Senate Republicans are threatening to hold up White House nominations unless the Senate passes trade deals with Columbia and Panama, but GOP moderates from New England aren’t of the same mind on the matter.
Forty-four Republicans signed a letter today telling Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada that they would block the administration’s nominees for commerce secretary and other positions until the Senate takes up the trade pacts.
Scott Brown of Massachusetts was among those signing the letter, but Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, the two Senators from Maine who have increasingly voted with Brown in a moderate GOP bloc in the Senate, did not sign. The third GOP abstainer was Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Spokespeople for Snowe and Collins did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The letter accused the president of “an apparent lack of interest in seeking approval of these free trade agreements.” Approval of the pacts would be beneficial to American workers, they wrote, and further delay is “unnecessary and inexcusable.”
“So important are these deals to our economy and our relations with these key allies in Latin America that, until the President submits both agreements to Congress for approval and commits to signing implementing legislation into law, we will use all the tools at our disposal to force action, including withholding support for any nominee for Commerce Secretary and any trade-related nominees,” the letter read.
Last week, Obama nominated Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to replace Jon Huntsman as ambassador to China, leaving the commerce chief position vacant and creating the opportunity for another high-profile nomination fight in the Senate.
A group of mostly MIT-affiliated academics and others have written an an open letter to Hillary Clinton showing disappointment at the resignation of State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley following his critical remarks about the Pentagon at an MIT event. Crowley resigned yesterday after saying on Thursday at a seminar that the Pentagon’s treatment of WikiLeaks suspect Private First Class Bradley Manning -- who is being held in solitary confinement and stripped naked and made to wear a suicide-proof smock each night -- is "stupid" and "counterproductive."
The letter expresses disappointment at Crowley’s resignation and champions the open discussion that fostered the exchange of opinion. “If public officials are made to fear expressing their truthful opinions,” the group writes, “we have laid the groundwork for ineffective, dishonest, and unresponsive governance.”
JERUSALEM Business men and women traveling with Governor Deval Patrick
said they came away with serious prospects and strong relationships, but no deals to announce, as the Israeli portion of the state's trade mission ended today.
Many of the leaders are flying back to Boston, some on commercial airlines, others on private jets. A smaller portion of the delegation is continuing with Patrick to London over the weekend.
Patrick had one more meeting in Israel, with Palestinian Prime Minister Salem Fayyad, before holding meetings in the United Kingdom until Thursday.
Judging the ultimate value of the trip, which will cost $300,000 in public money, will be difficult. Even if deals are reached, it will be hard in many cases to determine whether they were sparked specifically because of the meetings initiated on the trip.
Some delegates gained valuable access to the governor, while Patrick himself cautioned that in a modern economy, success is not necessarily defined by signed contracts, but by building relationships that lead to future deals.
This morning, the Massachusetts delegates held a group discussion to assess what they had accomplished.
Most were gushing with enthusiasm about the similarities between Israel and Massachusetts' technology based economies, but they acknowledged the trip's success will depend on follow-up activity. A few had already set up meetings with Israelis in the states.
Members of Patrick’s staff were working with the delegates to set up online communications and other follow-up activities to better organize the follow-up.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who has been doing business in Israel for
decades, told fellow New Englanders on the trip that they had "planted seeds" that in some cases could take 10 to 15 years to mature.
He said the trip was essential to understanding the local culture and to building trust with potential Israeli business partners.
Doing business in Israel is rewarding, very complicated, and it requires much more work.
"Life is about execution. You always get people who are fancy talkers," Kraft told the group. But "you can't meet you're payroll with chit-chat."
John Fish, president of Suffolk Construction, had a similar message.
"We in the business community have to respond, to execute when we get done," Fish also said at the wrap-up session.
Fish said he planned to donate scholarships to students from Technion University, known to delegates as the "Israeli MIT," in hopes of building a working relationship with some of the nation's top scholars.
Patrick had announced a joint agreement Thursday with the Israeli government to invest in joint start-up projects between US and Israeli companies. Of the 17 US governors who have visited Israel since 2008, seven have signed such agreements.
At least two companies on the trip said they were closing in on potential deals.
Michael Greeley, a venture capitalist with Flybridge, said representatives from two Israeli start-ups, whom he met on the trip, were meeting with him in Boston next month and that he is “very seriously” looking at investing with them.
Praven Tiperneni, vice president for business development of Cubist, said he may have a deal to announce soon.
Cubist general counsel Tamara Joseph said the deal will only work if it makes financial sense for both parties. The sides had been speaking to each other for some time, but a three-hour meeting Thursday was very productive, she said.
Senator Scott Brown has been named the top Republican on a subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee
Working alongside Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, Brown will be his party's top representative on the Subcommittee on AirLand. He replaces John Thune, a South Dakota Republican who no longer serves on the committee.
Brown is one of three freshman Senators made ranking members of subcommittees, despite the fact that long-time senators serve on the committee. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire is ranking member of the Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee, and Rob Portman of Ohio is ranking member of the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee
Brown's panel oversees Army and Air Force programs; Navy and Marine Corps tactical aviation programs; National Guard and Reserve equipment; and Army and Air Force research and development.
“As a 31-year member of the Massachusetts Army National Guard, I’m honored to be named ranking member of the Subcommittee on AirLand,” Brown said in a statement. “During my time on the Armed Services Committee, I’ve seen firsthand the incredible service and sacrifice our men and women in uniform make for our country. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address the security challenges facing the United States as well as our friends and allies around the world.”
In addition to the Armed Services Committee, Senator Brown serves on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
JERUSALEM – Governor Deval Patrick this morning began a series of meetings with top Israeli officials, including its prime minister, after being acknowledged from the floor of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.
Patrick is being accompanied on this leg of his visit by three members of his Cabinet, as well as Suffolk Construction chief John Fish and the most popular member of his entourage, Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots.
He is being followed by a camera crew for an NFL story.
Patrick met with Danny Ayalon, the deputy foreign minister, who also read a proclamation welcoming Patrick and the delegation to Israel, including “my very good friend, Robert “Bobby” Kraft.’’
The acknowledgement in the Israeli parliament was welcomed by Fish who called it “incredible, absolutely incredible’’ and by the governor. “It’s amazing to be acknowledged from the floor of the Knesset,’’ Patrick said.
The delegation was given a brief tour of exhibits in the building, viewing a replica of the Jewish state’s declaration of independence and large-wall tapestries painted by noted Jewish artist Marc Chagall depicting the past, present, and future of the Jewish people.
During the part of the meeting with Ayalon that was open to the press, Patrick talked about this key economic themes he has been drumming through this trade mission to Israel.
“We’ve covered a lot of ground in every sense of that term,’’ Patrick told Ayalon.
He said he told the deputy foreign minister that the business relationship between Massachusetts and Israel was already strong, but he added, “the more the better.’’
Kraft swiftly added in Hebrew, “More to come.’’
Later today, Patrick was meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli opposition figures.
Most those meetings were closed to the press.
TEL AVIV - Governor Deval Patrick earned a mention in the Jerusalem Post this morning as part of the “Kraft delegation” to Israel.
The article appeared in the English-language newspaper’s sports section, under
the headline, “Krafts join Mass. Governor on Israel mission.”
The article was about the New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, a frequent visitor and large investor in the country, and his wife, Myra, a major philanthropist in Israel.
Patrick has not been a high-profile visitor to the general public so far, though he has appeared in two business publications to which he gave interviews in advance of his trips. He is likely to get at least a mention in the popular press later in the week, after he meets with top Israeli government officials.
The Post article about the Krafts focused on a planned visit by the Massachusetts trade delegation on Thursday to the Kraft Family Stadium, a venue supported by the family that has introduced American-style football to Israel.
Robert Kraft is not the only Patriots-related person with a high profile in Israel. On Monday night, a woman in a café was feverishly searching her laptop for pictures of Tom Brady’s wife, Gisele Bundchen.
The couple is in her native Brazil for Carnival, and she was pictured yesterday atop a parade float.
Robert Kraft is in Israel on two simultaneous missions, one with Patrick and another with Combined Jewish Philanthropies. He said Monday he may have to leave early if he is needed to help resolve a National Football League labor dispute threatening to disrupt the upcoming season. Kraft and his fellow owners are threatening to lock out the players unless they agree to concessions.
“We’re on the phone daily, e-mail daily, and, if necessary, I might have to leave early,” he said. “It’s a high priority. I made a commitment here, so we’re going to finish the important things we’re doing here.”
He added: “It’s unfortunate. It was supposed to be settled by now. That’s how we planned
What would prompt an early departure?
“The commissioner of the NFL telling me he’d appreciate my presence, but I for sure will be here until Thursday," said Kraft.
Kraft said the deal was important not only for fans, but also for people whose jobs depend on a thriving league.
“That’s so important to so many people in America,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to try get a deal consummated, but I personally believe it’s possible," he said.
Senator John Kerry today unveiled plans to offer financial assistance to promote democracy and reforms in the Arab world.
Although he did not put a dollar figure on the amount he is seeking, the Massachusetts Democrat called for "significant financial commitment" of new money to be earmarked for economists, election experts, and aid to people in the Arab world who are pushing for a historic transformation of their region.
“Events this powerful demand a response of equal power," Kerry said in remarks prepared for delivery in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Our commitment now to the ordinary people who are risking their lives to win human rights and democracy will be remembered for generations in the Arab world. We have to get this moment right. We are working here in the Senate with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to create a package of financial assistance to help turn the new Arab awakening into a lasting rebirth."
Kerry was speaking at a hearing about the State Department's budget at a time when Republicans have vowed to cut foreign aid funding. But he said the aid package has bipartisan support.
"We have not worked out the numbers or the details yet, but I am convinced a significant financial commitment by the US to assist in this monumental and uplifting transformation is key to its long-term outcome and our relationship to it," he said. “I understand that we face a budget crisis in our own country. But we can either pay now to help brave people build a better, democratic future for themselves or we will certainly pay later with increased threats to our own national security."
But Kerry did not say how the new fund would relate to programs that are already in the State Department budget for promoting democracy and reform in the Middle East, such as the Middle East Partnership Initiative and contributions to the National Endowment for Democracy.
It is unclear what impact US aid will have at this stage on people who have already toppled governments of Tunisia and Egypt, and appear to be on the verge of driving Libya's Muammar Qaddafi from power.
Kerry spoke before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the State Department's 2011 budget request.
Kerry also urged consideration of a no-fly zone over Libya, where Qaddafi has attacked protesters with militias backed by helicopters and warplanes.
WASHINGTON – Massachusetts Senator John Kerry unveiled plans Wednesday to offer financial assistance to promote democracy and reforms in the Arab world. Although he did not put a dollar figure on the amount he is seeking, he called for "significant financial commitment" of new money to be earmarked for economists, election experts and aid to people in the Arab world who are pushing for a historic transformation of their region.
“Events this powerful demand a response of equal power," Kerry said in his opening statement. "Our commitment now to the ordinary people who are risking their lives to win human rights and democracy will be remembered for generations in the Arab world. We have to get this moment right. We are working here in the Senate with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to create a package of financial assistance to help turn the new Arab awakening into a lasting rebirth."
Kerry, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was speaking at a hearing on the State Department budget at a time when Republicans have vowed to cut foreign aid funding. But he said the aid package has bipartisan support.
"We have not worked out the numbers or the details yet, but I am convinced a significant financial commitment by the US to assist in this monumental and uplifting transformation is key to its long-term outcome and our relationship to it," he said. “I understand that we face a budget crisis in our own country. But we can either pay now to help brave people build a better, democratic future for themselves or we will certainly pay later with increased threats to our own national security."
But Kerry did not say how the new fund would relate to programs that are already in the State Department budget for promoting democracy and reform in the Middle East, such as the Middle East Partnership Initiative and contributions to the National Endowment for Democracy. It is unclear what impact US aid will have at this stage on people who have already toppled governments of Tunisia and Egypt, and appear to be on the verge of driving Libya's Moammar Khadafy from power.
Kerry spoke before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the State Department's 2011 budget request.
Kerry also urged consideration of a no-fly zone over Libya, where Khadafy has attacked protesters with militias backed by helicopters and warplanes.
"He has lost all legitimacy," Kerry said. "The people of Libya do not ask for or need foreign troops on the ground. They are committed to doing what is necessary, but they do need the tools to prevent the slaughter of innocents on Libyan Streets and, I believe the global community cannot be on the sidelines while airplanes are allowed to bomb and strafe."
Doug Rubin, a former top staffer and political adviser to Governor Deval Patrick who is resuming his own communications and lobbying work, is considering joining his former boss on his 10-day trade mission to Israel and the United Kingdom.
Rubin said some of the corporate leaders who are making the trip with Patrick have invited him to attend, and if he goes, he would pay his own way. He also said he would not be lobbying Patrick on the leaders’ behalf, but exploring how he can help them grow their companies with effective communications and strategic plans.
As things now stand, Rubin does not have to travel overseas to meet with Patrick. The governor’s former chief of staff, who engineered both his 2006 and 2010 gubernatorial campaigns, has free rein to walk into Patrick’s State House office at any time.
“While I have not made a final decision about the trip, it is an important mission and I would be honored to help support the efforts of these local business leaders to grow jobs in Massachusetts,” Rubin said today in a statement to the Globe.
“If I decide to go, my participation would be limited solely to helping Massachusetts companies build ties in Israel and attract new investment for Massachusetts,” he said.
Earlier this week, the Globe reported that Rubin had registered as a lobbyist to help Rhode Island-based GTech Corp. retain its multimillion Massachusetts Lottery contracts as the state renews consideration of expanded legalized gambling.
Rubin recently received $60,000 for work as a campaign consultant to Steve Grossman, who was elected state treasurer in November. In his new capacity, Grossman oversees the Lottery, but Rubin said he would not be lobbying the treasurer on behalf of GTech.
And Patrick said he would not allow Rubin to lobby him about expanded gambling, including legalizing casinos in Massachusetts.
“I can tell you he and I aren’t going to be talking about casinos, no matter how close we are," the governor said of Rubin on Thursday.
Patrick also said he would not interfere as Rubin resurrects his firm, Northwind Strategies. Rubin just hired Kyle Sullivan, Patrick’s former communications director, as a principal in the firm.
“He’s got to make his own judgments in the private sector; I'm going to make my judgments in the public sector. And where there is a conflict, we will stay as far apart as possible," said the governor.
Patrick is departing March 7 for a trip that will take him first to Israel and then onto the United Kingdom. His schedule includes visits with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Among the executives joining him on the trip are Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, and Gary L. Gottlieb, president of Partners HealthCare.
As Libya plunges into violence, Senator John Kerry condemned attacks unleashed by Colonel Moammar Khadafy’s government as “beyond despicable,” and called for international condemnation of the regime.
“I hope we are witnessing its last hours in power. Libyans should have the opportunity to choose leaders who respect their basic rights,” Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said today in a statement.
Libya has become the latest flashpoint in a wave of democratic protests sweeping Middle Eastern and northern African countries. But unlike most other nations, the Libyan government has unleashed a ferocious violence assault on protesters, including firing upon crowds from helicopters and warplanes. Hundreds are believed to be dead.
The Massachusetts Democrat said world leaders must put Khadafy on notice “that his cowardly actions will have consequences.” While Khadafy himself is “irredeemable,” Kerry said, he warned that military commanders complicit in atrocities could face future international war crimes charges.
Oil companies – both American and foreign – should withdraw until violence ends, he said, and the U.S should also impose new sanctions. Kerry also said Libya should be dropped from the Human Rights Commission, a United Nations body widely seen as a fig-leaf for human rights abusers, and called for action from the Arab League and the African Union, both of which count Libya as a member. The Arab League was having an emergency meeting today to discuss Libya.
“Today, the world is watching how the region’s leaders will respond to Libya. The Arab League can demonstrate that after the popular uprisings across the region, the old rules of impunity no longer stand. And the African Union can vigorously investigate reports that African mercenaries are involved in the atrocities in Libya,” Kerry said.
Freshman Congressman William Keating, a Quincy Democrat, is jumping into the fray of foreign affairs. He is in the process of drafting a bill to prevent American technology companies from selling software that could allow authoritarian governments to monitor their citizens.
“It makes no sense at all that we would allow American companies to sell technology to governments that are using it for the very purposes that our country is constantly condemning. That is simply not what American innovation is all about,” said Keating, Massachusetts' newest member of Congress in a statement Wednesday. “I believe we are only on the cusp of seeing the negative effects when social media is misused by repressive governments. As we have seen in countries like Bahrain and Iran, these protests are growing and thus, this issue will only continue to be magnified.”
Keating's statement said that a California company recently sold Egypt "deep packet inspection" technology that could allow it to filter and monitor Internet users. His proposal of requiring "end-use agreements" for such technology comes as the United States government, including the Pentagon, is paying companies to develop technology that allows activists abroad to avoid such detection.
Keating, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, questioned Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg at a hearing last week about how the government is working with companies selling social media technology abroad.
Keating expects to file legislation on the issue in the coming weeks.
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he felt "encouraged" by the meetings he had with officials in Pakistan to repair deteriorating relations after the arrest of a US embassy worker who shot two Pakistanis. Speaking to journalists at the airport in Rawalpindi at the end of an urgently-planned trip, Kerry said that US officials are mourning the lives of the two Pakistani motorcyclists who Raymond Davis, an embassy worker, shot on January 27. Davis has said the men were trying to rob him.
"President Obama and Secretary Clinton have personally asked me to convey to the people of Pakistan our deepest sorrow for the loss of life that occurred there in that tragic incident," Kerry said in a statement. "We all feel the pain and the anguish of families who have lost loved ones. We understand what that’s like. And there is nothing that the United States wants more than to see those kinds of incidents disappear forever in the lives of Pakistanis and in our relationship."
The incident has sparked outrage in Pakistan and fanned the flames of anti-Americanism. Pakistani newspapers have questioned why Davis, classified as a "technical and administrative" employee, was carrying a gun, and speculated that he is an intelligence agent. Pakistani government officials have said he does not qualify for diplomatic immunity.
Kerry, who helped push through a five-year, $7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan, hinted that the United States would do more in the future to help the people of Pakistan.
"We talked about the future, we talked about the economic possibilities with your finance minister and we talked about the need for additional jobs, additional energy projects, additional water projects," Kerry said. "We talked about the possibilities of strengthening our relationship. And everybody that I talked to, talked about their willingness to work together, in unison, in order to put the incident of Lahore behind us, to find a way not to overlook it, to give it meaning, but to use it as a building block so that we all learn the lessons of what happened there. "
WASHINGTON -- Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, left Monday night for an emergency trip to Pakistan to try to repair deteriorating relations in the wake of the arrest of a US embassy worker who shot two Pakistani motorcyclists dead, according to committee staff.
The trip, which a senior US official said Kerry took at the request of the Obama administration, is the latest twist in the saga of Raymond Davis, who shot two men dead in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on January 27. Davis told Pakistani police he believed they were trying to carjack him, but a Pakistani court has held him on suspicion of murder near term.
The senior US official who spoke on background because of the sensitivity of the case, said that Kerry is not trying to secure the release of Davis, whom Pakistani officials have indicated will remain in custody for the term. Instead, Kerry's mission will be to "help tone down the rhetoric and reaffirm the US partnership with Pakistan."
The Pakistani government has refused to give Davis diplomatic immunity, saying that he does not qualify, fueling rumors in the Pakistani press that Davis is a spy.
Relations were already strained with Pakistan over stepped-up drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal region and disagreements over the war in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan is a key ally in the war, but US officials allege that Pakistan also support its own networks of militants.
Kerry has developed closed relations with Pakistan leaders over the years, and pushed through a $7.5 billion, five-year aid package for the country. He has traveled to Pakistan four times since he became chairman of the powerful committee in early 2009.
US Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, today called the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak “an extraordinary moment for Egypt” that give the citizens of that country “a chance at a new beginning.”
“Now the hard work intensifies to prepare for free and fair elections that will allow the people to choose a broadly representative and responsive government,” said Kerry, in a statement. “Egypt’s army and transitional leaders must heed the call to lift the emergency law and clarify a timetable to establish a proper foundation for credible elections. The United States must help Egyptians turn this democratic moment into a process that builds a government responsive to economic needs as well as demands for freedom. What happens next will have repercussions far beyond Egypt’s borders. We know from recent experience in Gaza that this requires not just elections, but hard work to build a government that is transparent, accountable, and broadly representative.”
Senator John Kerry spent a good deal of time over the weekend being diplomatic even as his staff played down his interest in being the country's top diplomat.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee delivered an Egyptian tour de force during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," amid some back-and-forth about his possible interest in serving as secretary of state in the future.
Globe columnist Joan Vennochi intensified the discussion last week with an op-ed piece headlined, "Kerry’s sharp eye on the secretary spot." Building off a column about the turmoil in Egypt that Kerry himself wrote last week for The New York Times, Vennochi said the Massachusetts Democrat "is running an unofficial campaign to become the next secretary of state. For once, he looks artful, as well as ambitious."
The column prompted ABC News to ask Kerry's staff whether, in fact, he was running a stealth campaign to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has confessed to being bone-weary amid the incessant travel that underpins the life of any secretary of state.
That query, in turn, prompted a 148-word statement from Kerry spokeswoman Jodi Seth.
"I don't know what else we can do to stop the parlor game speculation about who's coming and who's going," the statement said. “Lord knows we've knocked it down a thousand times over, and at a time of such challenge for American foreign policy, the punditry is especially unwelcome and unhelpful."
Then Seth added: "The one thing that hasn't changed one iota is that John Kerry loves his job as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and as the senior senator from Massachusetts. He worked a long time to get this job, and doing your job so well doesn't mean you're auditioning for another job.”
To further underscore the point, Seth continued: "So one last time: The only job John Kerry is contemplating, or considering, is the one job he already has, and he isn't looking elsewhere. Sometimes in politics, no really means no, and sometimes the best place to be really is the place you already are, end of story."
That said, Kerry's appearance on "Meet the Press" made clear he's certainly not some backbencher when it comes to the Obama administration's conduct of foreign policy.
The senator told host David Gregory he spoke on Saturday with Omar Suleiman, long the director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate and now the country's vice president. He mentioned he also had spoken yesterday with Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League and a likely candidate for Egyptian president in elections promised for later this year.
Speaking on Super Bowl Sunday, Kerry quipped that the Germans, French, British, Turks, and others were also "flooding the zone" with diplomatic communications.
Perhaps most interestingly, Kerry spoke with authority as he distanced the administration from the recent comments of the US special envoy to Egypt, former Ambassador Frank Wisner.
While President Barack Obama told reporters last week that it was time for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down amid mass protests against his authoritarian regime, Wisner said over the weekend that Mubarak must stay in power "in order to steer those changes through."
Wisner added: "I therefore believe that President Mubarak's continued leadership is critical. It's his opportunity to write his own legacy."
Clinton subsequently said Wisner "is not speaking for the administration,'' but Kerry drove home the point on Sunday-morning television.
"I think that Mr. Wisner's comments just don't reflect where the administration has been from Day One," Kerry said. "And that was not the message that he was asked to deliver or did deliver there."
The senator went on to say that while the timing of the public eruption in Egypt was surprising, the forces propelling it were not. In fact, he noted that a year ago in Doha, Qatar, "I gave a speech in which I laid out much of what needed to be done in the region."
He added that just three weeks ago, also in Doha, Clinton made a similarly tough statement.
"It was a very dramatic statement," Kerry added in reference to Clinton's speech, moments after he appeared to suggest he had been ahead of the curve on the issue.
Despite his spokeswoman's protestations, Kerry has made no secret of his interest in serving in the Obama administration. He waged a none-to-subtle campaign to be secretary of state, even highlighting a meeting he had on Nantucket in May 2008 with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Obama ultimately tapped Clinton, his former rival for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
Since then, Kerry has immersed himself in his Foreign Relations Committee work, even while steadily expanding his portfolio as an unofficial administration emissary. He has made missions to Pakistan amid concerns about terrorism and to the Sudan in an effort to stave off civil war.
And it was up to Kerry not Obama, Biden, or Clinton to spend hours dining and walking with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the fall of 2009 when it appeared he might not accept a new presidential election amid evidence of fraud in the first vote.
Any future nomination to serve as secretary of state may rest on Biden as much as Clinton or Obama. While Clinton would have to step aside to create a vacancy, and Obama would have to name any replacement, Biden has served as Obama's chief in-house foreign affairs adviser based, in large measure, on experience from his own tenure as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Biden may not be able to appoint Kerry to the post, but any opposition to Kerry assuming the role would be hard for the senator to overcome, given his stature in the West Wing.
Left unsaid, too, is the ripple effect for Massachusetts from any change.
Kerry isn't up for re-election until 2014 two years after the next presidential election, and what would be the halfway-point in an Obama administration were the president to win a second term. It would be a logical point for any Cabinet member to step down, including the secretary of state. Colin Powell did just that after serving as secretary of state for the first term of President George W. Bush's administration.
Were Kerry to become secretary of state then, it would be up to Governor Deval Patrick to pick his successor. And that possibility may determine who steps up to challenge Senator Scott Brown when the Republican himself seeks re-election next year.
One school of thought is that US Representative Michael Capuano, the only House member to take a shot at succeeding the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, might take another shot at joining the upper chamber of Congress in 2012.
Even if he were to fail, Patrick could reward his valiant effort on behalf of the party by appointing him to any Kerry vacancy.
The other school of thought is that potential Brown challengers such as Representative Edward J. Markey, the dean of the congressional delegation, or Vicki Kennedy, the late senator's widow, might skip a contentious campaign against the politically adept Brown for the safer route of a direct gubernatorial appointment.
Kennedy has repeatedly and recently ruled out a 2012 campaign; Markey has not.
Glen Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.
Senator John Kerry will appear on ``Meet the Press'' this Sunday.
His staff said this afternoon the Massachusetts Democrat will discuss the latest developments in Egypt.
Earlier this week, Kerry wrote an op-ed column calling for President Hosni Mubarak to step down following mass protests about his three decades of authoritarian rule. Things have only gotten worse, with violent confrontations between Mubarak's supporters and detractors.
Not only does Kerry serve as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but he has been an unofficial Obama administration envoy to Central Asia, the Middle East and the Sudan.
``Meet the Press'' airs at 10:30 a.m. Sunday on WHDH-TV, Channel 7.
Glen Johnson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.
Senator John F. Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Senator John McCain are calling on embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to immediately begin a peaceful transition to a new democratic government.
The two former presidential candidates, Kerry in 2004 and McCain in 2008, have been among the leading voices of their parties on international affairs in general and the violent unraveling of Egypt's power structure specifically. The two co-wrote a resolution, passed by the Senate on a voice vote tonight, that calls on Mubarak to hand over power to a caretaker government.
The resolution, which is nonbinding, also calls on all political parties to avoid violence, support the rule of law, and work toward free and open elections. It specifically mentions the Muslim Brotherhood, an outlawed Islamist group that has a significant power base, as a group that espouses "extremist ideology." Some Middle East watchers fear a power vacuum in Egypt would be filled by militants who would have no interest in enacting democratic reforms.
Protests against Mubarak have become increasingly violent as progovernment forces have tried to end the rallies and remove demonstrators from squares around Cairo.
“Stop the bloodletting,’’ McCain, a Republican from Arizona, said on the Senate floor. “Let's start a peaceful transition to a free and open society and a government that can regain and hold the trust of the people of Egypt.’’
In a statement after the vote, Kerry said: “Tonight, the United States Senate stands unanimously with the Egyptian people and speaks with a bipartisan voice in condemning the violence. ... The Egyptian people are demanding a new political structure and President Mubarak has a responsibility to respond with actions that will bring an end to the brutality on the streets of Cairo and elsewhere and put his country on a path to genuine political, economic and social reforms.”
Senator Scott Brown will be in Massachusetts tomorrow, making a pair of public stops.
The Republican is scheduled to address the South Shore Chamber of Commerce at 8:15 a.m. at The Lantana in Randolph.
The focus of his remarks will be job creation.
At 12:30 p.m., Brown is joining MIT President Susan Hockfield for a tour of the Cambridge school's Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies. The senator will also discuss his ``Innovate America Act,'' which he announced this week and which aims to boost small business innovation to encourage global competition.
He is teaming up on the bill with Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat.
Brown not only sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, but he's a lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts National Guard. He still drills monthly in Milford.
Glen Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WASHINGTON — In a ceremony at the White House today, President Obama signed the final ratification documents for the New START nuclear arms treaty with Russia. The United States and Russia are expected to exchange ratification documents this weekend, thereby bringing the treaty into force, according to Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Kerry was Obama’s point man in winning Senate ratification for the treaty.
“The new treaty represents an important milestone in arms control agreements between the United States and Russia,” said Kerry, in a statement issued after the signing ceremony.
“Anytime we reduce the number of nuclear weapons deployed by these two countries, we make the world a safer place for everyone. The agreement signed today by President Obama, which was ratified in a bipartisan Senate vote in December, means that American inspectors will once again be visiting Russian nuclear installations and the number of nuclear weapons deployed by both countries will be reduced. When the treaty enters into force this weekend, it will signal to other nations that the United States and Russia are working together to reduce their arsenals and stop the spread of nuclear weapons technology to other countries.”
WASHINGTON – John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, responded to Egyptian President Mubarak’s announcement today that he would not seek reelection by urging Mubarak to “work with the military and civil society to establish an interim caretaker government.”
“It remains to be seen whether this is enough to satisfy the demands of the Egyptian people for change,” said Kerry, in a statement. “We arrived at this point because millions of Egyptians spoke with one voice and exercised fundamental rights we Americans hold dear. They made it clear the future they want is one of greater democracy and greater economic opportunity. Now, that future belongs to them to shape. The Egyptian people are writing the next chapter of Egyptian history.
“Much work remains to be done to turn this auspicious moment into lasting peace and prosperity,” said Kerry. “Egyptians must now prepare for elections and achieve a peaceful transition of power. The military must continue to show the restraint it has so admirably exercised these past days. And opposition leaders must come together to develop a process that will ensure that all of Egypt’s voices are heard.
“As friends of the Egyptian people, there is much that the United States can do as well. Egypt has been a close ally of the United States for many years, and it is my fervent hope that our relationship can grow stronger as the Egyptian people take control of their destiny.”
Kerry had urged Mubarak to step aside in a New York Times column published this morning.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney split with some of his potential 2012 Republican presidential contenders today as he credited the Obama administration with taking a prudent course toward dealing with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak amid the civil unrest roiling his country.
Launching a media whirlwind, the 2008 GOP candidate told ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" that "I think what the United States has to do is make it very clear to the people of Egypt that we stand with the voices of democracy and freedom and we also have to communicate I think as the administration has."
Later, on ABC's "The View,'' he added: "I don't think the United States should go out publicly and call for the resignation of someone who has been our friend." He suggested back channels were a more appropriate means of conveying that message.
Nonetheless, Romney made clear he felt the posture was arrived at haltingly, not decisively.
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has also called for Mubarak to step aside, but he has been unbridled in his condemnation of his party's potential 2012 Democratic opponent, President Barack Obama.
Two other possible candidates, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former UN ambassador John Bolton, argue that siding with the millions of protestors who have flooded the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities could empower a potential Islamist regime, widen instability in the Middle East and threaten neighboring Israel.
Romney was careful to distinguish himself from Obama on another point: the universal health care bills each man signed into law.
While the federal law Obama signed last year contained a requirement to obtain insurance and penalties for not doing so as did the 2006 measure Romney signed as governor, he differentiated between the two.
"We addressed a problem in Massachusetts that was designed to solve problems for the people of Massachusetts,'' he said on ``The View. ``But it is wrong and unconstitutional to take what is designed for one state and say we're going to apply that in every state."
Later in the day, Romney was being interviewed by CNN's Piers Morgan, before stopping by the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York to present the nightly Top Ten list on CBS-TV's ``The Late Show with David Letterman."
WASHINGTON – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, called on the Egyptian government to use restraint in dealing with a wave of protests across the country.
“The events unfolding across Egypt are cause for grave concern," Kerry said in a statement. "Egypt is an important American ally which took brave and bold steps to make peace with Israel, and we will never forget that President Sadat paid for that act of courage with his life. It was in that time of turmoil and challenge that Hosni Mubarak became President.
The remainder of Kerry's statement:
“Now, President Mubarak faces a different kind of challenge. I call on the Egyptian government and security forces to exercise restraint in dealing with protesters and to respect the human rights of its citizens to seek greater participation in their own government. The Egyptian government also should immediately restore communications and access to social networking sites. I hope the people of Egypt will continue to remember the lessons and legacy of peaceful protesters from Gandhi to Dr. King and to exercise their right to be heard in that tradition, which will rally peaceful people everywhere in solidarity.
“We know that repression will not remedy the problems that leave people in Egypt and across the Middle East feeling hopeless and frustrated. In the final analysis, it is not with rubber bullets and water cannons that order will be restored.
“The time has come for governments in the region to urgently improve governance and transparency, open the field to true opposition and new political identities, create real avenues for listening to and considering the wants and needs of their citizens, and demonstrate to younger generations that they will have better opportunities tomorrow than they do today. In the case of Egypt, President Mubarak has the opportunity to quell the unrest by guaranteeing that a free and open democratic process will be in place when the time comes to choose the country’s next leader later this year.”
Former Governor Mitt Romney is on a weeklong trip to the Middle East for a series of high-level meetings, a trip that could help bolster his foreign policy credentials as he weighs a presidential run.
Romney left on Friday for Afghanistan, Israel, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates, according to senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom. He is planning to meet with President Karzai of Afghanistan, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, and King Abdullah II of Jordan.
Among those traveling with him is Kerry Healey, who served as lieutenant governor during Romney's four-year term in Massachusetts and has had an interest on the rights of women in Afghanistan.
"The purpose of the trip is not to conduct private diplomacy but to give Governor Romney a first-hand look at what is happening in an important region of the world," Fehrnstrom said this morning.
While in Afghanistan, Romney will also train Afghans and "share with local leaders his views on issues of leadership, public service, economic opportunity and democratic participation," according to Fehrnstrom.
Romney is widely expected this spring to announce a run for the Republican presidential nomination.
Traveling with Romney on the trip are:
Ambassador Mitchell Reiss, president of Washington College in Maryland who is former State Department official under Colin Powell and traveled with Romney to China and Korea in 2006; former Senator Jim Talent, of Missouri, who was a Romney adviser during his 2008 campaign and is now a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation; Healey, who has an interest in the rights of women and justice reform in Afghanistan and was appointed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to a committee reviewing those issues; and Dan Senor, an adviser on Romney's 2008 campaign who is currently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Fehrnstrom said the trip is being paid for through a combination of private sources, and that no government funding is involved. Romney is also paying for part of the trip himself.
The Afghanistan portion of the trip is sponsored by the International Republican Institute, a non-profit that aims to advance democracies worldwide.
The Israel portion of the trip is sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, which is part of the pro-Israel group American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.
WASHINGTON -- A team of human right experts at Harvard University will begin analyzing satellite images of Sudan later this week in the hopes of staving off a civil war after the southern section of the troubled nation votes in a January referendum on whether to secede.
The Satellite Sentinel Project, which is being funded by actor and activist George Clooney's humanitarian group, Not on Our Watch, will rely on the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative to assess the situation on the ground, where hundreds of thousands of civilians in the Darfur region have been slaughtered over the past decade in ethnic violence.
"We want to see if we actually make a difference in keeping people safe," said Nathaniel Raymond, the program director at Harvard.
The project, which will officially get underway on Dec. 30, is intended to influence the behavior of the Sudanese government, which is blamed for perpetrating the genocide. It will be funded over the next six months by $750,000 that will also cover the cost of buying time on privately owned imaging satellites.
The launch was announced earlier today by Clooney in an interview with Time.
"We are the antigenocide paparazzi," Clooney, who has been to Sudan four times since 2006, told the magazine. "We want them to enjoy the level of celebrity attention that I usually get. If you know your actions are going to be covered, you tend to behave much differently than when you operate in a vacuum."
At the Harvard Humanitarian Institute, three full-time analysts will pore over satellite images provided by the United Nations' Operational Satellite Applications Programme and gather other research from public and private sources to determine what Raymond called the "human rights context."
They will be supported by a variety of other specialists at Harvard, including experts in international law, the military, and humanitarian operations.
"What do the abuses shown in the images mean?" Raymond explained. "We want to determine the difference between an attack on a hospital, an attack on a village, or an attack on water supplies, and how that relates to international law and human rights standards."
The project, which will publish all of its findings at www.satsentinel.org, is also designed to shame the international community into taking action if the upcoming referendum prompts the Sudanese regime to perpetrate more abuses.
"This is as if this were 1943 and we had a camera inside Auschwitz and we said, ‘OK, if you guys don’t want to do anything about it, that’s one thing,’” Clooney told Time. "But you can’t say you did not know.”
Senator John F. Kerry is praising negotiators in Cancun, Mexico, for agreeing to a package of measures designed to advance the battle against global warming.
“The outcome in Cancun lays a foundation for continuing negotiations by which the global community can respond to climate change,'' the Massachusetts Democrat said in a statement yesterday. "Most importantly, it anchors the commitments to greenhouse gas reduction that the major economies made last year in Copenhagen, and makes emissions reduction efforts more transparent, builds confidence that pledges will be carried out, and creates a framework to reduce emissions from deforestation.
Some countries have called the agreement, forged this past weekend, too weak because it includes only incremental steps that are not legally binding. Many environmentalists and diplomats, however, say the pact resuscitates a worldwide process to monitor and eventually cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Among its provisions, the deal creates another fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change and strengthens the emissions reductions pledges from the last UN climate change meeting in Copenhagen. Negotiators hope the deal leads to a more comprehensive pact at next year’s climate conference in South Africa.
Kerry, who led an exhaustive but ultimately unsuccessful effort in the Senate to pass a comprehensive climate change and energy bill this year, called on the United States to once again become a leader in the effort to prevent global warming.
"The United States needs to get back in the game today instead of being held back by obstructionism and broken politics at home, which have hurt us not just in the race to address climate change, but which have set us back in the race to define the clean energy economy and all the good jobs that come with it,” he said.
He also warned that the Environmental Protection Agency must be allowed to regulate carbon emissions, a stance many Republicans and industries reject as a potentially destructive overreach of government that threatens the economy and the pocketbooks of ratepayers.
WASHINGTON — Senator John Kerry claimed today there is a “growing bipartisan momentum” toward the ratification of the New START arms treaty with Russia, which Kerry has been pushing for months as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Every single day there’s a new, respected, Republican voice urging the Senate to ratify New START, and every day that goes by without action is one more day without our inspectors on the ground in Russia,” said Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, in a statement. “We’re working across the aisle in good faith to ensure it happens before the end of the year, and we’ll keep pressing so the treaty can be fully debated on Senate floor in the coming days.”
Three Republican senators spoke out positively for the treaty today:
US Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both from Maine, issued statements supporting the treaty. And Arizona Republican John McCain said in a speech at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies that the Senate is “very close” to an agreement on START, according to a report by Politico.
An aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today that Reid intends to bring the treaty to the floor for a ratification vote before the end of the year.
The office of US Senator Scott Brown, Republican from Massachusetts, said yesterday that Brown’s position on START is unchanged, and that Brown wants the Senate to deal with tax and spending issues before taking up other matters. The senator “continues to review START and is hopeful that before the vote on START happens, several flaws are worked out, including the modernization of our own existing weapons and assurances that it will not affect our missile defense,” according to a statement from Brown’s office.
Somerville's Representative Michael E. Capuano, a co-chair of the Sudan caucus in the House, urged President Obama to send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Sudan envoy John Danforth to Sudan to ensure that a landmark peace agreement will be implemented in the run-up to a crucial independence vote in January.
The letter quotes the intelligence community's annual threat assessment, saying that over the next five years "a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur in southern Sudan" than any other country.
Ben Affleck spoke to a standing room only crowd in Washington today on the humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of a panel co-hosted by his newly-formed advocacy organization, Eastern Congo Initiative.
The actor, director, and Boston native promoted a report published by the ECI, making a case for strengthening US involvement in a region that gets little attention from the international community even while 5 million have died as a result of conflict over the past decade.
“I’m here today because I believe in the Congolese people, and I believe in the power of the American people to affect change when we put our minds to it,” Affleck said in his opening remarks.
Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, gave the keynote address and engaged with his “fellow member of Red Sox Nation” from the podium. “Ben, you couldn’t have found a cause more in need of attention and public discussion,” Kerry said.
Kerry pointed to last summer’s Dodd-Frank bill as one of “a few small things” Congress has done so far to aid the region. The DRC’s rich mineral resources – widely put to use in cell phones and computers – are exploited by illegal militias who use the profit to fund their activity. The bill requires that the State Department create a strategy to address the illicit minerals trade and its link to armed groups.
Kerry noted that consumers, once informed, can use their position to demand the production of conflict-free technology. He suggested that young people especially would be interested in the source of the raw materials for their phones. “Ben, I think we ought to take this across campuses,” said Kerry.
Affleck responded to the idea while speaking to the Globe following the panel. “We should be able to know if what we’re buying is fueling conflict and destruction somewhere,” he said.
“I'd love to work with Senator Kerry. His enthusiasm for these issues is really impressive. There’s no constituency base for this,” said Affleck, holding up the ECI policy paper. “This didn’t get him any extra votes, in Hingham, or wherever, because he’s doing this stuff.”
On Wednesday night, Senator John Kerry (D, MA) completed a six-day, six-nation trip that show-cased his growing role in helping the Obama administration negotiate potentially explosive situations.
Kerry, who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, traveled to Khartoum and Addis Ababa to deliver a White House offer for better relations in exchange for concrete steps towards peace in Sudan, Africa's largest country. Then he spent time in Lebanon and Syria, where he tried to smooth mounting tensions over a UN tribunal. He ended his trip in Israel and the West Bank.
In a telephone call with reporters from Israel before he boarded the plane home, Kerry said he held extensive discussions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in an attempt to get them back to direct peace talks. The peace process re-launched by Obama in September has been steadily unraveling since Palestinian leaders refused to return to talks in response to Israel's decision not to extend a moratorium on settlement building. Israel's recent announcement of plans for 1,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem has further dimmed hope for progress.
But yesterday, Kerry said he has been exploring "creative" solutions with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad that might bring them back to the talks. He said he believed that Israel might still be convinced to extend the moratorium, but that there were other ways around the impasse.
" I also don't think that we are without other creative avenues to deal with 'How do you get back to direct talks?' " he said.
He declined to spell out those ideas in detail, saying he had to discuss them with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton first.
Kerry said the United States should not get "bogged down" in an extended debate over settlements now.
"I think that we need to keep our eye on the prize here," he said. "I think the more important debate frankly is on the borders and security needs for Israel."
On Lebanon, Kerry said that he supported the continued work of a UN Tribunal into the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, even though the Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah has threatened to destabilize the country if its leaders are implicated.
"Clearly there is a risk," Kerry said. "It is a tense moment and an important moment."
He said the world should not allow violent actors "to intimidate a lawful UN institution."
On Sudan, Kerry said he was asked to deliver a delicate White House message because of his role because Congress is the body that can remove sanctions from Sudan, and also because of his relationship with key players there. Kerry, who is widely believed to want the job of Secretary of State, made a case for himself: "I think the president felt that because I had those relationships, because I bring that different angle, perhaps because I was known to those guys, both as a presidential candidate and the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, it would help to add something that was not there previously."
Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, continues to focus on Sudan in light of next week’s meeting called by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the possible independence of the southern region of the country.
Last week Kerry, who traveled to Darfur in April 2009, told the Globe that he will write legislation to further the peace process in Sudan, as January’s referendum on self-determination in the south approaches.
“I am glad that President Obama will be attending the high-level meeting on Sudan at the United Nations, and I applaud the steps he has taken to bolster our diplomatic presence in Sudan, as many of us have urged,” said Kerry in a statement.
Read Kerry's full statement below.
“In less than four months, Southern Sudan is scheduled to vote in a referendum on independence under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005. It is urgent that North and South reach crucial agreements on how they will manage this referendum and settle critical issues such as oil revenues. We must work with the parties to convince them to settle their differences. I am glad that President Obama will be attending the high-level meeting on Sudan at the United Nations, and I applaud the steps he has taken to bolster our diplomatic presence in Sudan, as many of us have urged. At the same time, while the urgency of the timetable of the CPA demands our engagement, we must not lose sight of Darfur and must continue to work for peace throughout Sudan and the surrounding region. I am developing legislation to strengthen these efforts and to lay out the policy, humanitarian, and legal groundwork to address potential events in 2011 and beyond.”
Senator John Kerry confirmed today that he intends to tackle another intractable conflict: Sudan, the scene of Africa's longest running conflict and ethnic cleansing that has been terms a genocide. Kerry said in a statement to the Boston Globe that he intends to fashion legislation to bolster the peace process in Sudan, which is facing a critical milestone - a referendum on the succession of the south - that could lead to the resumption of war. Kerry did not give details about the planned legislation, but issued the following statement:
"I travelled to Sudan in April of 2009 and saw first-hand the devastation caused by years of conflict. At Al Salam refugee camp, I could feel the anger, frustration and sense of urgency that has developed over time. Sudan is at a critical moment and focused attention over the next few months is particularly crucial. I am now developing legislation that will affirm the United States’ commitment to support the fulfillment of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, offer policy guidance on Darfur and strengthen efforts to create a lasting peace in that region and, without prejudging the outcome of the January Referendum, lay out policy, humanitarian, and legal groundwork to address potential events in 2011."Kerry's comment comes one day after Hillary Clinton signalled in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations would be a top priority for the administration over the next three months. In January, the mostly-Christian tribes of southern Sudan are expected to vote for independence from the mostly Muslim north, after suffering decades of war in Africa's longest-running conflict. The United States helped broker the peace agreement that provides for the referendum, but Clinton said more work needs to be done so that the north will accept its results instead of returning to war. She called Sudan a "ticking time bomb."
The Middle East peace talks continue in Washington, as President Obama convenes direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders tomorrow. Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, encouraged leaders to seize the opportunity -- the first direct negotiations in almost two years -- to make the region more secure. “The window for a two-state solution won’t stay open forever,” Kerry said in a statement.
Read the full statement below.
“This is a moment of both promise and peril for the Middle East. I applaud the resumption of direct peace talks between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. President Obama is right to dedicate himself and his government to the cause of peace in the Middle East, one of the world’s most intractable issues. If we can muster the courage and will to seize this moment, I am convinced that lasting peace is within our reach.
“Hamas’ cowardly terrorist violence near Hebron yesterday is a reminder that enemies of peace remain determined to force confrontation over compromise. To prevent this, all the leaders involved must strive to refrain from provocative actions that undermine negotiations.
“The window for a two-state solution won’t stay open forever. We cannot squander this chance to help the parties forge a peace that will make both their future and our future more secure. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I will do whatever I can to support this process.”
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry has quietly returned to Kabul to continue talks with Afghan president Hamid Karzai, according to his spokesman, Frederick Jones. Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, left Kabul on Wednesday to tour flood-affected areas of Pakistan, but made a second, unexpected trip back to Afghanistan, apparently to resume meetings with the Afghan president about anticorruption efforts, and about Karzai's decree that American contractors should leave the country within four months.
“As part of his ongoing efforts to assess conditions on the ground, Senator Kerry has returned to Afghanistan to complete his meetings with Karzai and US officials, and will visit with soldiers," Jones said.
Kerry was due to leave the region tonight, but opted to postpone for reasons his aides did not disclose.
Last year, Kerry made a second, unexpected trip to Kabul to convince Karzai to accept the findings of an international elections commission. After that trip, Kerry was widely credited for helping to resolve a dangerous impasse between Karzai and the international community.
Former Governor Mitt Romney struck first yesterday, in a Washington Post op-ed column, denouncing the arms reduction treaty that President Obama signed with Russia in April and advising senators not to ratify “Obama’s worst foreign-policy mistake.”
“By all indications, the Obama administration has been badly out-negotiated. Perhaps the president's eagerness for global disarmament led his team to accede to Russia's demands, or perhaps it led to a document that was less than carefully drafted,” said Romney, who made his name touting his business acumen and has rarely commented on the administration’s foreign policy.
Today, Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, struck back in a Washington Post op-ed article of his own, accusing the former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination of political posturing. Kerry called nuclear weapons the greatest threat to national security, saying “there is no room in this debate for domestic politics” and addressed Romney’s objections to the treaty one by one.
“Like others unfamiliar with previous arms control agreements, Romney warns that Russia could use language in the treaty's preamble as a pretext for withdrawal if the United States builds up its missile defense,” said Kerry. “In a word, baloney.”
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, New START, creates lower limits on US and Russian nuclear arms, and the treaty stipulates that either country may withdraw, which is standard in arms control agreements.
Kerry ended his piece as he began it, by alluding to rumors that Romney may be positioning himself for a presidential run in 2012.
“I have nothing against Massachusetts politicians running for president. But the world's most important elected office carries responsibilities, including the duty to check your facts even if you're in a footrace to the right against Sarah Palin,” concluded Kerry.
WASHINGTON - The system set up by the US military to supply its troops in Afghanistan fuels corruption, warlordism and the Taliban, according to a new report released today by an oversight committee headed by Congressman John Tierney of Salem, chairman of the House subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs.
The 79-page report, entitled "Warlord Inc," faults the US military for making trucking companies who deliver goods to US military bases in Afghanistan responsible for their own security. It details how eight trucking companies that share a $2.1 billion contract are forced to pay warlords and Afghan officials to pass unhindered with their convoys. In some cases, the companies pay as much as $150,000 a month for protection, or as much as $1,500 per truck, according to internal memos and other documents reproduced in the report. The report accuses the military of turning a blind eye to the problem.
"Originally, we were surprised, but as our investigation went, you go beyond the surprise to the outrage that something has to be done about this," Tierney said in a telephone interview.
The report comes after a six-month investigation the Host Nation Trucking contract which Tierney and his aides interviewed dozens of contractors, military officers, Afghan leaders and warlords, including two brothers and two cousins of Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Tierney has called military officials to appear at a hearing on the issue today.
Army criminal investigators are also examining allegations that Afghan security firms have been extorting as much as $4 million a week from US military trucking contractors, according to a document released by Tierney's office and an AP report.
Three weeks after John Kerry fired off a letter to Richard Holbrooke, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan warning that $1.45 billion in aid to the country was in danger of being squandered or stolen, Holbrooke responded like the battle-tested diplomat that he is.
"Dear John," Holbrooke wrote back in a letter dated June 14, "We agree completely. . . "
Holbrooke then sketched out his plans in crucial areas where Kerry had expressed concerns.
In his letter, he said he would use US aid to encourage (or push) the Pakistani government to spend more of its national budget on health, education and energy, while making reforms that would help those sectors operate better. He said he would join with other donors to encourage Pakistan to take the politically difficult step of instituting a Value Added Tax to broaden its revenue base.
Holbrooke said USAID is taking several measures to improve accountability, including requiring separate bank accounts for US assistance and placing US-hired accountants inside ministries.
He also pledged more transparency as the money starts to flow.
"We are beginning to communicate our plans to the [Government of Pakistan] and the Pakistani people," he said. "Your suggestion of providing more information about our efforts on the Internet is a good one, and we plan on putting more information on the USAID and embassy websites as our plans become more concrete."
The letter confirmed that half of the $1.45 billion in aid to Pakistan in 2010 will be channeled through Pakistani federal and provincial agencies, 13 percent of which will go to direct budget support. Most of that support will be spent on the Benazir Income Support Program and the Higher Education Commission, two institutions that he said had strong safeguards. He said the US was likely to spend money boosting judicial systems in FATA and Malakand, although he noted that the Asian Development Bank had spent $300 million on the justice sector from 2002 to 2008 "with little to show for its investment."
Holbrooke, who has leaned towards giving more money to Pakistani institutions, reminded Kerry that American contractors are also capable of fraud.
"The program we have developed strikes a balance between working with Pakistani implementers and American or international entities," he wrote.
Perhaps he also sought to strike a balance between his own office and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that is overseeing the massive aid program: "We appreciate your recommendations and continual effort to help us address the challenges posed by providing such large sums to Pakistan over a short but crucial period of time."
By Matt Viser, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON – Senator Scott Brown tonight launched into a strong defense of Israel, saying critics of the recent flotilla incident were downplaying the security threats against the country.
Brown, addressing a pro-Israel group in Boston, tied Israel and the United States together in fighting against terrorism. He also called for further sanctions on Iran, saying “there is no greater strategic threat facing the world than a nuclear-armed Iran.”
“I don’t need polling or political strategists to help define a nuanced stance on Israel,” Brown said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks. “We are engaged in a worldwide struggle against radical, violent jihad. It is the defining issue of our time. Our best friends and the strongest allies in this fight are in the State of Israel.”
“Let’s remember – Israel is our ally. Israel is a democracy,” Brown added. “Hamas is a terrorist group with clear and genuine intentions of destroying Israel’s way of life.”
Brown made the remarks at a leadership dinner sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The event was closed to the press, but Brown’s staff released a copy of his prepared remarks.
Israel has received widespread criticism for raiding one of six ships that were bound for Gaza, filled with supplies, and attempting to break an Israeli blockade. Nine were killed after Israel commandos stormed aboard.
Tonight marked Brown's first comments on the incident, which occurred last week.
Brown, saying that “the story of Israel made a distinct impression on me at a young age,” also said he would travel to Israel to further examine issues facing the country and attempt to strengthen ties between the two countries.
“Their ability to maintain their identity and culture against enormous obstacles mirrors America’s own struggle for independence,” he said.
“Now I know I am still the new guy on the block, with a little more than 100 days in the Senate under my belt, but I have placed U.S. – Israeli security as one of the most significant and highest priorities on my agenda,” he added.
Brown also said that one of his first acts in the senate was to tell Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that “the senate could not take its eye off the ball in regards to the threat of Iran.”
“A safe, secure Israel, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States and its allies is essential to the continued liberty of our nations,” Brown said. “Our fates have never been more intertwined. May God continue to bless Israel and the United States of America.”
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is a complete copy of the text:
Thank you, Howard. And on behalf of everyone in this room, thank you for your exceptional work in promoting and maintaining a strong U.S – Israel partnership.
Thank you for the warm welcome. I couldn’t be more honored to have this opportunity to address the AIPAC leadership dinner. I see a lot of familiar faces in the crowd, and I gotta tell you, it’s nice to be amongst friends again.
2010 promises to be a very busy political year. There are many candidates here tonight – Republicans, Democrats, independents – and while there may be stark differences in our political philosophies, we have shared beliefs in the fundamentals of freedom and a free society.
These are difficult times for our friends in Israel. Its enemies are emboldened by recent events, and the usual critics have been quick to condemn Israel’s right to defend itself.
I want you to know where I stand – I stand with the mothers, fathers, grandparents, brothers, sisters and the children of Israel.
I don’t need polling or political strategists to help define a nuanced stance on Israel. We are engaged in a worldwide struggle against radical, violent jihad. It is the defining issue of our time. Our best friends and the strongest allies in this fight are in the State of Israel.
The story of Israel made a distinct impression on me at a young age due to the unyielding faith and perseverance of the Jewish people. Their ability to maintain their identity and culture against enormous obstacles mirrors America’s own struggle for independence. It is something that we -- as citizens of this great nation – can all relate to. Regardless of political party or affiliation, Americans should always stand together in our unwavering commitment to Israel’s security because of who we are, what our two nations stand for, and what we stand against.
I was disappointed that, after the unfortunate loss of life on the sea outside Gaza, many rushed to condemn Israel before the facts of this situation became clear. Many conveniently ignored the fact that Israel is at war. Each and every day thousands of its innocent men, women and children face the threat of lethal rocket attacks out of Gaza. Some of the usual critics of Israel have used recent events to question the strong relationship between our countries. They clearly do not understand what makes these two countries special and unique sources of hope to the world.
I cannot emphasize this point enough: Israel is not a liability to the United States. Israel is unquestionably a strategic asset to America. Indeed, there is no greater U.S. ally in the critical area of the Middle East and perhaps no better strategic partnership in the world.
Let’s remember – Israel is our ally. Israel is a democracy. Hamas is a terrorist group with clear and genuine intentions of destroying Israel’s way of life.
Make no mistake – a strong and secure Israel is important to our own national security. Israel’s role as a friend of the United States goes far beyond geopolitical and military matters. Both of our nations benefit greatly from economic interdependence – a shared entrepreneurial spirit. When the United States sought a partner for its first bilateral free trade agreement it looked to its friend, Israel. Today, the United States and Israel enjoy vibrant free trade, with Israeli exports to the United States having grown 200% since the agreement went into force
However, with these shared values also come shared enemies. The violent, radical extremists who perpetrated the September 11 attacks, bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and who continue to kill and injure US soldiers in the mountains of Afghanistan are examples of the radical ideologies that Israel has struggled against for decades. Hezbollah terrorists were the first to use suicide attacks in 1983, when they destroyed US Marine barracks in Beirut and killed 241 American soldiers. It took these unfortunate attacks for many US policymakers to comprehend these threats that were long ago contemplated by Israel. Americans are currently getting a better understanding of the challenges that Israel has faced for many years, namely terrorism that threatens our way of life.
While we must continue to hunt down and punish the terrorists at every turn. The real struggle is not only between America and al Qaeda it is also a struggle between radical Islamists on one side and moderate Muslims on the other side -- each battling for the future of Islam in a conflict where free societies, such as the United States and Israel, and our innocent citizens may be targeted for destruction. Indeed Israel, who has long been at the center of this scourge of terrorism and Islamic extremism, continues to be our greatest ally in this fight.
I have said this many times, but it bears repeating: There is no greater strategic threat facing the world than a nuclear-armed Iran. Elements of the Iranian government threaten both their own citizens and people in the region and throughout the world. With nuclear weapons, the power of those dangerous elements within the Iranian regime would grow immensely. The potential of Iran exporting terrorism throughout the region and the world is unacceptable. As a result, the remaining moderate countries and leaders in the Middle East would be severely weakened while the extremists are strengthened. As we have seen throughout history, other countries in the region would have no choice but to join the race for nuclear weapons, which is clearly a destabilizing factor for all.
Today, Iran's uranium enrichment and ballistic missile programs continue to develop. Also, Iran continues to sponsor global terrorism, undermine U.S. and coalition efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and continues to transfer advanced weapons to its proxies in Syria and Lebanon.
However, I believe there is still hope to stop Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons.
If Iran's nuclear ambitions are thwarted, peaceful and moderate states in the Middle East will be emboldened. If Iran obtains nuclear weapons, we would instead see extremist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas emboldened to wreak havoc on Israel AND THE REGION ALL WHILE knowing the Iranian regime would have the power it had long sought—to threaten the existence of Israel, which Iran’s President Ahmadinejad openly suggested should be "wiped off the map."
Let me be clear, a unified and collective effort to counter this threat is the most important issue of our time. The fate of Iran's nuclear program will dramatically alter the fate of peace in the Middle East. Make no mistake about it.
Now I know I am still the new guy on the block, with a little more than 100 days in the Senate under my belt, but I have placed U.S. – Israeli security as one of the most significant and highest priorities on my agenda.
One my first acts in the Senate was to personally reach out to the Senate Majority Leader to express my unwavering commitment to ensuring that the Senate could not take its eye off the ball in regards to the threat of Iran, even as we tackled other pressing national concerns. Crippling and draconian sanctions represent the best alternative to military action. We must follow the money and insist that other countries and their companies that are doing business in Iran – think twice about it. If we do not get the support of France, Russia and other UN and EU partners then we will one day wake up and it will be too late. As we all know, the ambitions of the mullahs and Iranian leadership stand in stark contrast to the goals of the United States and the rest of the world.
Further, a nuclear armed Iran will create an arms race in one of the most unstable regions of the world. We must renew our political will to implement severe sanctions because the cost of inaction is that this state sponsor of terror would be armed with weapons that, for the first time, could make its president’s statement about “wiping Israel off the map” a realistic threat. Because of the deadly serious threat that Iran poses to Israel and all who seek peace in the region, I joined some of my Senate colleagues in signing a letter to the President—circulated by Senator Schumer and Graham-- that explains my view that time is not on our side, and that we must take bold action now by imposing crippling sanctions on Iran.
And when it comes to Iran sanctions, there is no doubt the Senate should get a powerful sanctions package to the President without further delay. And I am currently working across the aisle to add more powerful and targeted tools to this urgent effort to stop a terrorist state from gaining nuclear weapons. A key effort I have been exploring would deny visas to the worst of the worst offenders facilitating Iran’s nuclear and missile programs or enriching the regime through investments that violate existing sanctions. There is no way we should be welcoming the individuals who are enabling Iran’s nuclear and terrorist ambitions to be spread throughout the region and the world.
Simply put, the United States has long possessed the ability to apply tough sanctions against Iran, but we have not had the political will to use them. We must—as a nation—build a new seriousness of purpose that has as its mission nothing short of stopping one of the most dangerous regime on the planet from having the most dangerous weapons on the planet.
We cannot bring about real change with only force and sanctions. We must also encourage peace through economic means. The spread of trade ties, such as through U.S. Free Trade Agreements with Oman and Bahrain have been powerful tools, resulting in these nations dismantling all aspects of the Arab League Boycott of Israel in their countries.
Trade programs have brought together Israeli entrepreneurism with workers in cooperating nations such as Jordan and Egypt to create jobs in an initiative known as the Qualified Industrial Zone program. It is time for us to look to expand these efforts to promote peace through trade and I am exploring an initiative that would help companies in Israel—the most entrepreneurial country in the world—launch joint ventures with Arab partners to get free trade access to the United States and the world’s leading economies in the G8. While we take actions against our shared enemies we must also help plant seeds of peace with those across the region who are willing to reject radical propaganda and work with Israel to build a better future.
Finally, I want to show my personal commitment to these issues by travelling to Israel to explore with our Israeli allies these and other ways to deepen our strategic partnership and highlight the strategic asset Israel is to America.
It is up to us in this room, and the Obama administration, to ensure that our support for Israel is steadfast and unwavering – and never tepid.
Israel is the shining democracy in the Middle East and we must work together, across the political aisle, and without a political agenda, to ensure the security of Israel. A safe, secure Israel, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States and its allies is essential to the continued liberty of our nations. Our fates have never been more intertwined.
May God continue to bless Israel and the United States of America.
By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON _ The commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan said today that the widening investigation into the attempted car bombing in New York's Times Square suggests a growing ability of terrorists and other radical groups in Pakistan to orchestrate attacks far from their base of operations.
The prime suspect in the bombing, Pakistani-born Faisal Shahzad, is believed to have links to the Taliban based in Pakistan, where he recently traveled to the large swath of territory on its western frontier with Afghanistan that has become a refuge for the group as well as Al Qaeda and other Muslim radicals.
"I think what this does point out...is the rise of extremist groups, whether it is [the Pakistani Taliban], or Al Qaeda or others," McChrystal told reporters at the Pentagon. "They all represent, to some degree or another, the ability to generate threats that can go outside the local area where they are."
Commenting on the latest developments in the Times Square investigation, including a series of arrests earlier today in Massachusetts, Maine and on New York's Long Island, McChrystal said that if the alleged connections with Pakistan's lawless tribal areas pan out there will be greater pressure on the government of Pakistan to act.
"This highlight how important it is for them" to take on the Taliban insurgents, McChrystal said of the Pakistani government.
The United States has stepped up covert operations against Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan recent months, including a flurry of drone attacks orchestrated by the Central Intelligence Agency.
But the bulk of US military and intelligence resources, including over 100,000 combat troops, are trained on the Taliban in Afghanistan, an allied yet distinct group from the movement in Pakistan.
Tsongas, who went on the
congressional trip with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said the group focused on
both American women serving in the military, and on the quality of life for
“The contrast was stark,” Tsongas, a Lowell Democrat, said in an interview. “You saw increasing commitment of women in our military...and a willingness to put their lives on the line. Afghan women, by contrast, have very limited opportunities in the government.”
“For us to achieve our goals
there and for the
Tsongas said the group received commitments
Tsongas was on the trip with Pelosi, as well as
representatives Susan Davis of
Tsongas and the other members also spent Mother’s Day visiting with “military moms,” female soldiers who were separated from their children.
Tsongas also said she had a brief interaction with someone
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.
Senator John F. Kerry opened hearings on the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty today with a call to put aside partisan politics and judge the treaty on its merits and on one essential consideration: Will it make the United States safer?
The Massachusetts Democrat, as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is considered the principal figure in President Obama's efforts to win ratification of the treaty he signed earlier this month with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The pact seeks to limit each side to 1,550 warheads, about 30 percent below previous limits.
Although arms control treaties have historically attracted bipartisan support in the Senate, that's no sure bet in the highly charged atmosphere of Capitol Hill these days. Several Republican senators have already raised questions on the motivations of the treaty negotiators and on language in the preamble that they say could limit US efforts to install missile defense systems.
Kerry countered that while he welcomed the explorations of these and other potentially contentious issues, the treaty is sound and deserves support.
"This treaty improves our security because it increases certainty, stability and transparency between two countries that together hold 95% of the world's nuclear weapons -- and it does so while retaining for America the flexibility to protect ourselves and our allies in Europe and around the world," he said in his opening statement.
Since the previous START treaty expired in December, US inspectors have been losing the ability to verify compliance by the Russians.
"This new treaty will restore that capacity, and in some ways enhance it -- and the sooner we get that done, the better," he said.
Kerry told the Globe Wednesday he was confident that he would be able to overcome questions on particular aspects of the treaty and potential partisan posturing to win the two-thirds vote needed for ratification. The key, he said, is extensively examining the provisions of the treaty and providing a voice for all viewpoints.
"The way to ratify it is to fully explain it, vet it, and thoroughly address any kinds of concerns that people may have," he told the Globe.
Today's hearings included testimony from two titans of the intersection of defense and diplomacy: James Schlesinger, who served as CIA director for President Nixon, secretary of defense for Nixon and President Ford, and energy secretary for President Carter; and William Perry, who served as secretary of defense for President Clinton.
Hearings are expected through much of the summer, and the Obama administration hopes to have a vote on ratification by year's end.
Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, told reporters Wednesday that Turks and Armenians “in Paris and Boston” should sit together and attempt to reconcile their memories of the tragic events that took place in 1915, which Armenians consider a systematic extermination campaign but which Turks insist were merely terrible deaths resulting from the collapse of an empire.
“We made some outreach to the American diaspora,” he said in remarks that appeared to reference the Boston area as home to a large Armenian community. “We told them ‘Our archives are open. We are ready to discuss everything.’”
Deep bitterness over the events in 1915 which led to the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians remains an obstacle to normal relations between Turkey and Armenia today. It has also created diplomatic strains with the United States. US presidents usually issue a statement on April 24, marking Armenian Remembrance Day, but some in Congress are attempting to pass a bill acknowledging the deaths as genocide, which Turkey warns will have a negative impact on relations.
Davutoglu said that members of the Turkish parliament have discussed passing a resolution condemning the US genocide against Native Americans in retaliation for the bill in Congress, but that he has not encouraged such a measure.
“You can create a success story out of history,” he said. “You can create hatreds as well.”
He said that Turkey had reached out to neighboring Armenia with signs of friendship and he remains hopeful that the Turkish parliament will eventually pass a law that will help normalize relations, although he said he is not sure if there are enough votes yet.
“As Turkey, we are ready to share the pain of our Armenian neighbors,” he said.
But his comments fell far short of the acknowledgment of suffering that millions of Armenians want to hear.
“1915 is the year of so-called genocide for them,” he said. “For us, we say ‘pain.’ We are ready to discuss. The same year, we had Gallipoli.”
Gallipoli was a joint British and French campaign to capture the capital of what is now Turkey to secure a sea route to Russia in which more than 200,000 Turks are believed to have died. Turks won that battle, but lost the war. World War I sparked the break-up of the Ottoman Empire.
He said one of his grandfathers died in Gallipoli, underscoring the emotion that many Turks feel about that campaign. But many Armenians consider it insulting to equate a military campaign that killed just over 200,000 with what they believe to be systematic expulsions and killings resulting in the deaths of up to 1.5 million.
Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, claimed today that Iranian officials are displaying a new spirit of flexibility, renewing hope of a nuclear swap deal that could stave off a bitter confrontation over Iran’s uranium enrichment program.
“There is a positive development and a change in approach but I can’t share that with you,” he told reporters after a nuclear summit in Washington.
In the fall, hopes for a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran were raised when Iranian officials appeared to agree to a UN-backed deal in which Iran would hand over 2,420 pounds (1,100 kilograms) of low-enriched uranium which would then be enriched to a higher level, and be returned for use in a research reactor for medical treatments.
The deal would have been a breakthrough in the impasse over Iran’s nuclear program, because it would remove most of the low-enriched uranium in Iran that Western powers fear will be turned into fuel for a nuclear weapon, build trust, and provide a face-saving way for Iran to stop enriching uranium. (The UN Security Council has demanded that Iran stop enrichment because Western powers no longer trust that it will be used for peaceful purposes. Uranium enriched to a low level, around 3.5 percent, can be used to fuel a reactor, but if enrichment continues to 95 percent, it can be used in building a nuclear bomb. Under the proposed deal, Western powers would return uranium enriched at 20 percent, for use in cancer treatments.)
But the deal fell through because of the details, said Davutoglu, who has traveled to Iran five times since August and spoken for more than 14 hours with senior Iranian officials and politicians, including the Supreme Leader, in an effort to broker a compromise. He said the main problem was timing. Iran wanted a simultaneous swap, but that Western powers wanted to take the low-enriched uranium and enrich it themselves, a process that would take about 10 months. He said this was because Western powers did not have enough medium-uranium to give Iran.
“If we had 116 kgs today, I assure you that tomorrow I will get you 1,200 [low-enriched uranium] from Iran,” he said. “Both sides agree on that.”
He said Iranians had lowered their demands.
“At the time they were insisting on simultaneous exchange in Iran, in installments,” he said. “But now they are more flexible.”
On Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told Press TV in Iran that Iran had already reached an understanding with the West on a compromise over the deal. US officials could not be immediately reached for a comment.
But European diplomats -- fresh from a two-day nuclear summit in Washington that largely focused on Iran’s nuclear ambitions -- were skeptical that the moves by Iran were anything more than an effort to delay a new round of sanctions in the UN Security Council.
“We are very pessimistic,” said one European diplomat who asked that his name not be used due to the sensitivity of the matter. “Iran has been making conflicting announcements, which shows they are not ready to accept.”
He said that if Turkey wants to keep trying to broker a deal, then Turkey is welcome to do so, provided that those efforts don’t slow down the move towards sanctions.
He said that Iranian officials themselves came up with the idea of the swap deal last June, and approached the UN nuclear watch dog about it. But once Western powers agreed to the deal, Iranian officials continuously changed their demands, giving the impression that the regime was merely using the deal as a delaying tactic.
WASHINGTON – Representative James P. McGovern tomorrow is planning to file legislation that would require President Obama to provide a timetable for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
McGovern, a Worcester Democrat, has been a leading voice of opposition to the troop surge in the region. He is joining two others – Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, and Representative Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican – in filing the legislation. The trio also sent a letter to Obama four months ago warning that the build-up in troops could harm US efforts against Al Qaeda.
“Rather than engaging in a nation-building effort in Afghanistan, the United States should begin reducing troop levels in Afghanistan and transition to a sustainable counterterrorism policy,” reads the resolution that will be filed tomorrow.
If the bill passes, Obama would have three months to submit a plan “for the safe, orderly, and expeditious redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Afghanistan, including military and security-related contractors.”
“After 8 long years, the loss of our brave soldiers, and $350 billion in deficit spending, it's long past time to reexamine this strategy and demand accountability,” McGovern said today in a statement. “Rather than nation-building in Afghanistan, we should do some more nation-building here at home. We absolutely need to focus on Al Qaeda and its allies wherever they are, but continuing to occupy Afghanistan in support of a corrupt, incompetent government is not in the national security interests of the United States.”
The resolution is the latest in an attempt by liberal lawmakers to withdraw troops. A House resolution, written by Representative Dennis Kucinich called for the US to remove all troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, at the latest. The resolution failed last month by a vote of 65-to-356.
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Members of Congress have only given a green light for about half of the Obama administration’s $1.5 billion-a-year assistance package to Pakistan, although the rest is expected to be released in the coming weeks after additional information from US and Pakistani officials.
John Kerry, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican, pushed the aid bill through Congress but complained in a letter to the State Department in recent weeks that they had only been given 15 days - and very few details - to approve the administration’s plan for spending the massive amount of funds.
Both Kerry and Lugar put holds on the funds, as did some members of the House.
Kerry’s spokesman Frederick Jones said that Kerry has approved much of the plan.
“SFRC staff has been briefed by the Administration on how most of the funds for Pakistan will be spent for FY2010 (excluding any FY2010 supplemental request for Pakistan),” Jones said in a statement today. “Where we have been briefed, the majority side for Senator Kerry has released our hold on the funds though we plan to still follow up with the Administration on any areas of concern we may have. We hope to finish the remaining briefings in the coming weeks.”
Lugar’s spokesman, Andy Fisher, said he still has a hold “on about half because there are still a number of briefings to go and we are still awaiting more information in that briefing.” House members have similar holds.
“This is not unusual,” Fisher said. “The only thing that is unusual is that this is a big request. It is just more complex to go through all the different aspects of it. It was made clear through the whole process the last couple of years that there would be a real desire on the part of the Congress to have a real understanding of the programmatic and funding issues with Af/Pak assistance generally. Everybody is just being careful to make sure they have a good understanding of what has been occurring.”
Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has expressed urgency about releasing the funds to cash-strapped Pakistan.
An additional complication for the funds lies in Pakistani politics. Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, whose allies have criticized the assistance package, could become the ruling party before the funds are spent. The US government plans to give $1.5 billion to Pakistan every year for the next five years, with the possibility of an extension.
On Monday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, told reporters that Sharif was on board with the aid package and that his input is being sought on the use of the funds, much of which will be spent on large-scale energy and water projects.
“It has to be multiparty,” Qureshi said. “ It has to be a consensus and there is one today.”
At a lunch with reporters on Monday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani went out of his way to highlight the fact that Pakistan’s parliament is returning most of the powers of the presidency to the prime minister - his own office - reducing the powers now held by unpopular president Asif Ali Zardari. Gilani said that former military leader Pervez Musharraf, who took power in a coup, inappropriately concentrated powers in the office of the presidency.
WASHINGTON -- Hamid Karzai upped the ante today in his war of wills with Western governments over allegations of massive election fraud in last summer’s presidential election, turning the tables on those who have accused his supporters of engineering the fraud.
Yesterday Karzai acknowledged that rigging had been widespread but claimed it was perpetrated by the United Nations, including former deputy head of mission Peter Galbraith, who was recalled after he complained publicly about the fraud. Karzai also singled out Philippe Morillon, head of the EU election observation mission to Afghanistan, as well as unnamed foreign embassies, according to BBC.
“Afghans did not do this fraud. The foreigners did this fraud,” Karzai told his staff, BBC reported.
In a telephone interview from his home in Vermont, Galbraith said that the remarks were proof that Karzai is “disconnected from reality,” and that a sign that the US mission in Afghanistan is headed for failure.
“It is quite well known that the UN fired me for trying to prevent the fraud, so for Karzai to accuse me of organizing it is preposterous,” Galbraith said. “First, Karzai admitted that his reelection was the result of massive fraud. I think that is an important admission which he had not made before. But in terms of his state of mind, his antipathy towards the United States, it’s a bit unhinged.”
Karzai’s remarks come days after President Obama met with him for 25 minutes in Kabul during his first visit there since taking office.
It also comes in the midst of a dispute with Afghanistan’s parliament which has tried to block Karzai’s attempt to ban non-Afghans from serving on a UN-backed elections commission that helped expose fraud in last year’s election. Karzai’s attempts to take control of the commission, which had allowed the UN to pick three of its five members, have been seen as a disturbing power play in Washington.
But yesterday, State Department spokesman PJ Crowley did not address the unlikely charges by Karzai directly, but called on Karzai to take credible measures to curb corruption and show good governance.
“Karzai has to step forward, lead his government, you know, in terms of convincing the international community and the Afghan people that they are taking measurable steps to reduce corruption,” he said. “We’re cognizant of the fact that the -- the Afghan parliament has stepped up and questioned a decision by President Karzai in terms of who will appoint how many individuals to the independent electoral commission. This is very important, you know, to Afghanistan’s future.”
Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s former foreign minister, who challenged Karzai in the last election, is set to have a press conference on Friday in Kabul.
Galbraith, who lost his job after pushing for more forceful action by the UN against the fraud, said Karzai’s remarks vindicate his position at the time.
“We are allied with an ineffective, corrupt, Afghan government whose president is in office by fraud and whose response to the message that he got from the United States to clean up his act is to put out the most preposterous allegations about fraud from which he benefited and which was carried out by his appointees,” he said. “This is our ally. The US project in Afghanistan rests on Karzai. That’s why I was so concerned.”
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry -- who is juggling climate change, aid to Pakistan and Congressional oversight of the war in Afghanistan -- plunges this week into yet another major international conundrum: Middle East peace.
Kerry departs today to the region "to investigate the political situation in Syria and Lebanon and the prospects for progress in the Arab-Israeli Peace Process," according to a schedule provided by his office.
He arrives in Beirut on Wednesday to meet Prime Minister Saad Hariri, President Michel Suleiman and Nabih Berri, Speaker of Parliament. Then he will move on to Syria -- a country the Bush administration treated like a rogue regime, but which the Obama administration has sought to engage.
On Thursday, Kerry will meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem.
Syria is a key to the Middle East conflict because Damascus hosts the leaders of Hamas and supports Hezbollah, an anti-Israeli Shi'ite group. Also, Syria and Israel have been embroiled in a dispute over Shebaa Farms, a tiny, well-watered slice of land that Syria and Lebanon say is Lebanese territory which is occupied by Israel.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad raised hopes of a peace deal with Israel last month, when he told the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet that a deal could be signed "within six months." But as he courts Israel and the United States - welcoming Senator Kerry - he is also making plans to strengthen ties with Turkey and Iran to form an Islamic bloc that can counter Israeli and US influence.
WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought to dispel rising tension with Israel today in a speech that underscored the deep US commitment to Israel's security while at the same time warning that the on-going occupation of Palestinian territory is “unsustainable on all sides” and costly to the US image abroad.
“We cannot be blind to the political implications of continued conflict,” she told an audience of some 7,500 delegates to the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobby.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also underscored the unbreakable friendship between the two nations, but remained unwilling to budget on the key issue -- Jewish construction in East Jerusalem -- that had caused the worst diplomat spat between them in more than 10 years.
Netanyahu, who will speak to the AIPAC dinner tonight, is slated to meet Obama tomorrow.
The crowed greeted Clinton warmly, giving her several standing ovations, as she addressed the audience as an old friend, calling AIPAC's incoming president Lee Rosenberg by a nickname “Rosy” and making a light-hearted reference to her daughter's upcoming marriage to a Jewish-American.
But she also spelled out clearly why the Obama administration is pushing Israel - as well as the Palestinians and the Arab states -- to make concessions for peace. She twice mentioned that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict undermines US interests in the region by strengthening Islamic extremists and weakening moderates. She said world leaders, even from countries far from the Middle East, constantly bring up the issue.
Clinton did not reiterate - but also did not apologize for - the tough rhetoric that she launched at Israel in recent weeks after Israeli officials announced that they would build 1,600 new housing units in an ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem, an area that Palestinians hope will become the capital of their future state, but which Israelis insist is now a part of Israel. The international community rejects Israel's claim to that territory, which Israel annexed after the 1967 war.
The announcement of the new units came during Vice President Joseph Biden's visit to Israel and just after Palestinians agreed to return to indirect peace talks, also known as proximity talks. Clinton called the announcement “insulting” in a diplomatic back-and-forth that marked most public dispute with Israel in more than a decade.
Today, her tone was far softer, explaining why the Obama administration believes that restarting peace talks is more important than pressing ahead with new buildings that threaten to derail the talks.
“New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines that mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides say want and need,” she said. “Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don’t agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally.”
In an interview last week, the Palestinian Liberation Organization's ambassador to Washington, Maen Rashid Areikat, said Palestinian leaders are reluctant to return to peace talks when Israel builds on land that is a key focus of negotiations.
“Some people are saying 'What is the big deal about expanding infrastructure?'“ he said. “The big deal is that they are swallowing our land.”
But Netanyahu was expected to dispute this notion in his speech at the AIPAC dinner tonight. Netanyahu has apologized for the timing of the announcement, but not for the continued development of East Jerusalem.
It was clear that much of the audience yesterday sided with Netanyahu's view of construction in East Jerusalem. Moments before Clinton spoke, the audience jumped to its feet clapping when AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr declared: “Jerusalem is not a settlement.”
Kohr's speech about Israel's future made only a cursory mention of millions of Palestinians who live in Israeli-occupied territories, focusing instead focused on how the US government must help Israel achieve international recognition that have so far eluded the Jewish state.
Kohr said Washington must help Israel secure membership to the Organization for Economical Co-operation and Development, a club of democratic economies, and a seat on the a seat on the UN Security Council.
But in her speech, Clinton said it was the creation of a Palestinian state that would give Israelis “the recognition they deserve.”
Farah Stockman can be reached at email@example.com.
WASHINGTON -- UN officials in Kabul held “haphazard” and “irregular” meetings with people who claimed to represent the Taliban, but did not make any serious progress, Peter Galbraith, a former deputy UN envoy to Afghanistan, told the Globe yesterday.
Galbraith spoke out hours after BBC aired an interview with his former boss, Kai Eide, the UN’s former Special Representative to Afghanistan, stating that serious negotiation with the Taliban had been gaining momentum until Pakistan arrested a string of Taliban leaders last month.
Pakistan’s recent arrest of senior Taliban figures pleasantly surprised many in Washington, who have long pressed Pakistan to do more to reign in the militants inside their borders.
But some analysts, including prominent Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid, have speculated that Pakistan only arrested the Taliban officials who were open to peace talks with Afghanistan, in order to send a message that Pakistan must not be excluded from such negotiations.
The Associated Press reported earlier this week that Karzai had been reaching out with some success to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar - a top military strategist and reputed No 2 - before he was arrested and that the move angered Karzai.
Eide’s BBC interview yesterday supported the view that Pakistan was deliberately foiling peace efforts, which Eide called “long overdue.” He said he had been meeting with people who had the authority to speak for Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, who is believed to be hiding in the Pakistani city of Quetta.
“We met people who are senior in the Taliban leadership and who also had the authority of the Quetta Shura to engage in such discussions,” Eide said. He said the talks were initiated a year ago, and that they subsided over the summer, but were renewed in the fall, after the Afghan elections.
He said the meetings, which were later held in Dubai, picked up steam, until Baradar was arrested in February with US help in an operation that US officials have described as a lucky accident. In the days that followed, Pakistan captured more than a dozen other Taliban leaders, prompting praise from Washington. But Eide said the arrested halted UN peace efforts.
“I don’t believe that these people were arrested by coincidence,” he said. “The effect of that in total certainly was negative in our possibility to continue the political process that we saw as so necessary. . . Pakistan has not played the role that they should.”
But Galbraith strongly disputed Eide’s assertions, saying that the people Eide was speaking to claimed to be intermediaries but that it was never clear whether they were authorized to speak for the Taliban.
“He has frankly greatly exaggerated the importance of these meetings, which were haphazard, periodic and nothing special,” said Galbraith in a telephone interview from his home in Townshend, Vermont. “To claim that this was something promising that therefore should have impeded anti-terrorist activities against people we have been trying to get for many years, that is just false.”
He described the recent arrests by Pakistan as the “fruit of the new relationship” the Obama administration is forging with Pakistan.
“We have gone from a situation, during the Bush years, when the Pakistanis would lie to us and we would accept their lies to a partnership,” he said.
Galbraith has had a strained relationship with his former boss, Eide. Last fall, the United Nations recalled him after he wrote a scathing letter accusing Eide of concealing election fraud that benefited Karzai.
Yesterday Richard Holbrooke, special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, declined to comment on whether Baradar’s arrest undermined peace efforts, but said: “We are extremely gratified that the Pakistani government has apprehended the number two person in the Taliban, and he is where he belongs.”
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani offered praise of a sort to President Obama today, saying that by forcefully declaring that "we are at war," the president had "turned the corner" on tackling terrorism.
But in the interview broadcast this morning on ABC's "Good Morning America," the 2008 GOP presidential candidate said Obama still must do better.
He said the administration should treat terrorism suspects as enemy combatants and not try them in the civilian criminal courts, as it is doing for the alleged attempted bomber on the Detroit-bound Christmas flight. Giuliani also questioned how government prosecutors have handled the investigation of that case.
"Why in God's name would you stop questioning a terrorist?" he asked. "Why would you put an artificial time limit on how much time you would spend questioning a terrorist."
But it's another comment he made that is raising some eyebrows: "We had no domestic attacks under Bush. We've had one under Obama."
Bush was president and Giuliani was mayor when terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001, as well as for shoe-bomber Richard Reid in late 2001.
UPDATE: Asked about the omission this afternoon, Giuliani called the controversy "silly," but acknowledged that he misspoke.
"I usually say we had no domestic attacks, no major domestic attack under President Bush since September 11th. And the reason I say it is on September 11th and the days after September 11th, I received many briefings, many warnings, as the mayor of New York, that we were going to be attacked again, that we were going to be attacked frequently," he said on CNN's "Situation Room."
"I did omit the words 'since September 11th.' I apologize for that. I should have put it in. I do remember September 11th. In fact, Wolf, I remember it every single day and usually frequently during the day."
President Obama declared this afternoon that "the bottom line" is that the government had enough information to stop the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a US airliner, but failed to connect the dots.
"We have to do better and we will do better," he said at the White House, after meeting with 20 top national security officials he summoned to the situation room for a detailed briefing on the investigation and the status of the reviews he ordered on terrorist watch lists and on passenger screening.
Obama said he wants recommendations this week on how to improve both and wants them implemented immediately. "We face a challenge of the utmost urgency," he added.
Since he took office, Obama said, US forces have "taken the fight to Al Qaeda," disrupting plots and protecting Americans.
But, he conceded, when a suspected terrorist is able to board a US bound plane and nearly ignite an explosive, the "system has failed in a potentially disastrous way."
He also announced that the administration will stop repatriating detainees to Yemen from the prison at the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, saying that the situation in Yemen was too unsettled.
An Al Qaeda affiliate based Yemen has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in retaliation for US-supported airstrikes on its hideouts. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian who claims ties to Al Qaeda, has also reportedly said he received instruction from operatives in Yemen.
The Guantanamo decision drew immediate fire from civil rights groups pushing Obama to close Guantanamo, as he pledged to do by this month -- a deadline he almost certainly will not meet. About half the remaining 198 detainees at Guantanamo are from Yemen, after six were sent there just before the plane incident.
"Dozens of men from Yemen who have been cleared for release after extensive scrutiny by the government?s Guantànamo Review Task Force are about to be left in limbo once more due to politics, not facts. Many are about to begin their ninth year in indefinite detention," the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement. "Halting the repatriation of Yemeni men cleared by the Task Force after months of careful review is unconscionable. It will also effectively prevent any meaningful progress towards closing Guantánamo, which President Obama has repeatedly argued will make our nation safer."
On the other side, Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, said Obama should completely abandon his plans to close the Guantanamo facility.
"Unless the administration abandons its ill-conceived and politically motivated plans to close Gitmo, most Americans won't find much solace in transferring detainees that would have gone to Yemen and housing them on American soil," Issa said in a statement. "Hopefully, recent events will have awakened the President to the reality that our national and homeland security must supersede the politics of the moment."
But Obama rejected that advice. "Make no mistake," he said, "we will close Guantanamo prison," which he repeated has become a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.
In his brief remarks, the president confirmed that hundreds of names have been added to terrorist watch and no-fly lists.
Obama also confirmed the Monday directive from the Transportation Security Administration to airlines to give full-body, pat-down searches to US-bound travelers from Yemen, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and 11 other countries with suspected terrorist ties.
Republicans, meanwhile, are all over Obama for his administration's reported plans to try the bombing suspect in civilian court, saying he is an "enemy combatant" who should go before a military tribunal.
"The administration?s treatment could afford a murderous terrorist the opportunity to negotiate a plea bargain and a lesser punishment -- and that is not acceptable," the second-ranking House Republican, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, said in a statement.
"Terrorists who come to our country to kill men, women, and children should not be given options when they fail. These murderers are war-time combatants, and are not equivalent to drug dealers, or thieves whom the government can choose to negotiate with for additional information on other criminals," Cantor added. "Instead, we should develop a no-nonsense policy that the United States will not presume that foreign nationals caught attempting to execute or carry out terrorist acts on U.S. soil are automatically entitled to a trial in civilian courts. For 10 months, the administration and many on Capitol Hill have been unwilling to call a terrorist a terrorist. Instead of blame games, we need to strengthen what works in our system, fix what does not, and do what makes sense to ensure that we are always steps ahead of terrorists trying to kill Americans."
President Obama has little to say publicly today about the preliminary reviews he ordered of what went wrong to allow the near bombing of a US airliner on Christmas Day.
He said this week that a "systemic failure" occurred, as well as human error, and told his administration to look at how terrorist watch lists are compiled and shared and at screening of pasengers.
Obama offered little in the way of conclusions or recommendations, but said he'll meet with key agency heads on Tuesday when he's back in Washington.
His full statement:
"This morning, I spoke with John Brennan about preliminary assessments from the ongoing consultations I have ordered into the human and systemic failures that occurred leading up to the attempted act of terrorism on Christmas Day and about our government-wide efforts at continued vigilance on homeland security and counterterrorism efforts. In a separate call, I spoke with Sec. Napolitano to receive an update on both the Department of Homeland Security review of detection capabilities and the enhanced security measures in place since the Christmas Day incident.
"I anticipate receiving assessments from several agencies this evening and will review those tonight and over the course of the weekend. On Tuesday, in Washington, I will meet personally with relevant agency heads to discuss our ongoing reviews as well as security enhancements and intelligence-sharing improvements in our homeland security and counterterrorism operations."
President Obama today sent his own message to CIA staffers after the spy agency's director confirmed that seven employees were killed and six others wounded in a suicide bombing at a base in Afghanistan..
It's unusual for official confirmation to come so quickly, but it was one of the bloodiest incidents in CIA history.
In his message, Obama called the fallen part of a "long line of patriots" and said that the CIA had been tested like never before since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "Because of your service, plots have been disrupted, American lives have been saved, and our allies and partners have been more secure," he said.
His full message:
To the men and women of the CIA:
I write to mark a sad occasion in the history of the CIA and our country. Yesterday, seven Americans in Afghanistan gave their lives in service to their country. Michelle and I have their families, friends and colleagues in our thoughts and prayers.
These brave Americans were part of a long line of patriots who have made great sacrifices for their fellow citizens, and for our way of life. The United States would not be able to maintain the freedom and security that we cherish without decades of service from the dedicated men and women of the CIA. You have helped us understand the world as it is, and taken great risks to protect our country. You have served in the shadows, and your sacrifices have sometimes been unknown to your fellow citizens, your friends, and even your families.
In recent years, the CIA has been tested as never before. Since our country was attacked on September 11, 2001, you have served on the frontlines in directly confronting the dangers of the 21st century. Because of your service, plots have been disrupted, American lives have been saved, and our Allies and partners have been more secure. Your triumphs and even your names may be unknown to your fellow Americans, but your service is deeply appreciated. Indeed, I know firsthand the excellent quality of your work because I rely on it every day.
The men and women who gave their lives in Afghanistan did their duty with courage, honor and excellence, and we must draw strength from the example of their sacrifice. They will take their place on the Memorial Wall at Langley alongside so many other heroes who gave their lives on behalf of their country. And they will live on in the hearts of those who loved them, and in the freedom that they gave their lives to defend.
May God bless the memory of those we lost, and may God bless the United States of America.
President Barack Obama
Former Vice President Dick Cheney is blasting President Obama again -- this time on his response to the nearly catastrophic attempted bombing of a US airliner on Christmas Eve.
Obama did not make his first public comments until Monday and they were rather muted. On Tuesday, the president acknowledged there had been a "systemic failure" of the security system that nearly allowed a Nigerian man with apparent ties with Al Qaeda to board a commercial jetliner and to try to detonate an explosive device just before it landed in Detroit.
Cheney accused Obama of pretending the US is not at war and that "makes us less safe."
"As I’ve watched the events of the last few days it is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think if he has a low-key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if we bring the mastermind of Sept. 11 to New York, give him a lawyer and trial in civilian court, we won’t be at war," the former vice president said in a statement to Politico that was posted early this morning.
"He seems to think if he closes Guantanamo and releases the hard-core Al Qaeda-trained terrorists still there, we won’t be at war," Cheney continued. "He seems to think if he gets rid of the words, ‘war on terror,’ we won’t be at war. But we are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren’t, it makes us less safe. Why doesn’t he want to admit we’re at war? It doesn’t fit with the view of the world he brought with him to the Oval Office. It doesn’t fit with what seems to be the goal of his presidency — social transformation — the restructuring of American society. President Obama’s first object and his highest responsibility must be to defend us against an enemy that knows we are at war."
Cheney has been one of Obama's harshest critics during the president's first year. He and the president faced off on how the US should combat terrorism in a remarkable set of back-to-back speeches in May. Cheney then accused Obama of "dithering" and putting US troops in danger by taking several months to carefully review his options before announcing that he would send more troops to Afghanistan.
UPDATE: This afternoon, the White House responded directly to Cheney, via a posting on its website from communications director Dan Pfeiffer.
He accused Cheney of making "untrue" allegations against Obama and asserted that the Bush-Cheney administration allowed Al Qaeda to thrive while it diverted attention to Iraq. An Al Qaeda offshoot based in Yemen has claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing, saying it was retaliating for US-assisted strikes against its hideouts.
"Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from Al Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country,” Pfeiffer wrote. “And it seems strangely off-key now, at a time when our country is under attack, for the architect of those policies to be attacking the president.”
While Obama has avoided using the phrase “war on terror,” Pfeiffer also argued that the president has repeatedly said the nation is at war with Al Qaeda, even if he “doesn’t need to beat his chest to prove it.”
House Republican leader John Boehner jumped into the fray this afternoon, faulting Obama for supposedly treating the incident as a "law enforcement matter." Boehner, like Cheney, sought to tie the president's response to his approach to terrorism in general.
“The terrorist plot to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 exposed a near-catastrophic failure at every level of our government. News reports suggest our government had intelligence in hand that this attack was coming, yet did not piece together all the information and take the necessary actions to prevent it. The system clearly did not work, and I’m glad the President finally acknowledged that yesterday," Boehner said in a statement.
“Just as troubling is the Administration’s treatment of this matter as a mere law enforcement issue. We’re fighting a war on terror, and this was a terrorist act. Our first priority should be gaining intelligence to help prevent the next attack. The threat we face is real, and we don't need to downplay it. We need to do a better job of connecting the dots and putting in place a homeland security and intelligence plan that helps prevent future attacks before they ever get off the ground. We know al Qaeda is plotting more attacks, and our security depends on gaining critical intelligence and connecting those dots," the Ohio Republican added.
“The Administration’s response following this attempted attack is consistent with its dangerous decision to close the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay and bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 terrorists to trial in the United States through civilian courts, rather than the military commissions already in place. We know the decision to close this prison has not stopped al Qaeda from plotting attacks on Americans, turning these terrorists over to other countries is not working, and we shouldn’t import them into the United States. It’s time for the President to halt terrorist transfers to other countries, including Yemen, and to reevaluate his decision to close the prison at Guantanamo.
“All year long, Republicans have asked the question: what is this Administration’s overarching strategy to confront the terrorist threat and keep America safe? The American people deserve answers to this question, and Republicans will push for the type of aggressive oversight to give them confidence that their government is doing everything it can to detect and stop future attacks, rather than just responding to them after they happen.”
After three days of virtual silence on the Christmas Day terrorist scare, President Obama emerged in public today, seeking to reassure Americans that his administration is doing all it can to prevent an attack and to learn lessons from the attempted downing of the airliner.
"We will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable," said Obama, who is on holiday in Hawaii with his family.
While the incident was a "serious reminder" of terrorism's dangers and could have led to the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians, the American people should rest assured that the federal government is "doing all in our power" to keep the travelers safe during the busy holiday season, he said. He was dressed in a serious suit and spoke from behind an official lectern in front of a presidential blue curtain, instead of less formal setting.
The Obama administration has ordered far stricter and more intrusive screening of airline passengers, especially those on international flights headed to the US. It has also ordered investigations into how travelers are placed on watch lists and how passengers are screened.
Obama said he has talked to top administration officials, who are monitoring the situation and informing members of Congress and the American public.
The president said he has instructed his national security team to keep up the pressure on terrorist groups targeting the US and vowed to "use every element of our national power" to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat terrorist networks -- whether they are based in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, or elsewhere. (His full statement is below.)
He spoke just after Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a collection of militants based in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing. In a statement posted on the Internet, the group said it was retaliating against recent US-coordinated strikes against it in Yemen.
The 23-year-old Nigerian suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, coordinated with Al Qadea members and used explosives they manufactured, the group said.
As the Globe reported earlier this month, as the US steps up the hunt for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, some of the terrorist network’s veteran operatives are flocking to Yemen, where an escalating civil war is turning the nearly lawless Arab nation into an attractive alternative base. Last week, Yemeni forces, backed by the US, launched attacks on suspected Al Qaeda hideouts, including a meeting of top leaders that might have included a Yemeni-American cleric linked to the suspect in the Fort Hood massacre.
The White House lodged its objection today to Israel's announcement that it plans to build nearly 700 new apartments in east Jerusalem.
"The United States opposes new Israeli construction in East Jerusalem. The status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved by the parties through negotiations and supported by the international community," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement.
"Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations. Rather, both parties should return to negotiations without preconditions as soon as possible. The United States recognizes that Jerusalem is a deeply important issue for Israelis and Palestinians, and for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. We believe that through good faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem, and safeguards its status for people around the world."
Palestinians, who claim east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, strongly denounced the move. Israel, however, considers east Jerusalem as its traditional capital. It is home to Jewish, Muslim, and Christian holy sites.
The issue of expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank has also been a point of contention between the US and Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a slowdown in West Bank settlement construction several weeks ago, but the order did not cover east Jerusalem,
But Frederick Jones, Kerry's spokesman, said this afternoon, "John Kerry has no plan to travel to Iran."
Kerry, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has been a high-profile representative of President Obama, who is talking tough to Iran on what the US believes is a nuclear weapons program, while still offering dialogue.
For instance, Kerry personally persuaded Afghan President Hamid Karzai to accept a runoff election after fraud marred the first vote, though the runoff was later called off when the challenger withdrew.
The Journal reports that the White House would not oppose a Kerry trip. "This sounds like the kind of travel a chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee would -- and should -- undertake," it quotes a White House official saying.
But the Journal also said that the Obama administration hasn't decided whether to make Kerry its official representative to Iran, and it's not clear whether the Iranian regime would welcome him. It said Iranian officials have been dismissive of the possible trip since it was first raised on a Foreign Policy magazine blog.
Ethnic Tamils in Boston protested today in front of Senator John F. Kerry's office against a report that Kerry's Senate Foreign Relations Committee released earlier this month that calls for friendlier relations between the United States and Sri Lanka.
Six months after the Sri Lankan army defeated a Tamil rebel army that had controlled the northern part of the island for decades, many Boston-area Tamils complain that the Sri Lankan government is still keeping more than 100,000 Tamils in camps for internally displaced people and not allowing them to leave. (The Sri Lankan government has pledged to close the camps next month.)
The Boston Tamil group has been encouraging Kerry and other US officials to open a war crimes investigation, charging that the Sri Lankan army shelled hospitals and killed civilians in their effort to defeat the rebels.
But two Senate Foreign Relations staffers who traveled to Sri Lanka in November say that the United States must improve its relations with the tiny island nation which is crucial to protecting shipping lanes in the region.
The report recommends resuming military training for Sri Lankan officials, reinstating the Peace Corps, and giving humanitarian assistance to all areas of the country, not just to Tamil areas in the north.
"The United States cannot afford to 'lose' Sri Lanka," the staffers wrote in their report, which noted that Sri Lanka is beginning to cultivate closer ties with non-democratic countries, including China, Iran, and Libya. (Read the report here.)
Today, members of the Boston Tamil group gathered outside Kerry's office in Bowdoin Square and handed over about 45 letters of complaint to one of Kerry's aides. The protesters claimed that the report was biased towards the Sinhalese ethnic majority that rules Sri Lanka, and against the Tamil minority that has been fighting for a separate homeland for decades.
"The report falls short on presenting the Tamil's grievances," said Siva Sivalogan, the association's secretary, who noted that one of the staffers who co-authored the report is of Sinhalese descent.
But Frederick Jones, Kerry's spokesman, said: "To question the objectivity and expertise of a Foreign Relations Committee staffer based on her ethnicity is deeply troubling."
The bipartisan report "does not take sides between the different ethnic groups," Jones said, noting that it also calls for the Sri Lankan government to begin efforts at political reconciliation with Tamils and to respect the basic rights of all citizens.
"The bipartisan Senate Foreign Relations report presents a balanced and pragmatic view of the steps all sides need to take to help the country transition to a real peace," he said.
While nearly two-thirds of Americans agree with President Obama that the nation's security is at stake in Afghanistan, a clear majority also believe that stalemate -- not victory -- is the most likely outcome, according to a new poll.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey found that 64 percent of respondents believe that the "safety and security" of the United States are at stake in Afghanistan, where Obama announced last week he plans to dispatch 30,000 more troops.
But asked about the most likely outcome, only 29 percent picked victory, compared to 57 percent for a stalemate and 12 percent outright defeat.
While Obama was criticized by Republicans in particular for taking too long to make his decision, 57 percent said that amount of time was necessary for the president to make a thorough review. Also, 44 percent said they most trusted Obama to make the right decisions on Afghanistan, while 31 percent picked congressional Democrats (including many who oppose the increased troop presence), and 20 percent do not have confidence in either.
The poll, conducted Dec. 2-3, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- In the first Supreme Court brief of its kind naming President Obama as a defendant, a team of lawyers from Bingham McCutchen, one of Boston's most prestigious law firms, today asked for the release of Uighur clients now in their eighth year of detention at the US military facility at Guantanamo Bay.
The case, originally filed in federal district court in 2005, was originally called Kiyemba v. Bush. But this year, it changed to Kiyemba v. Obama. Obama initially ordered that the prison at Guantanamo Bay be closed by January, but now officials acknowledge they will not make the deadline.
A year ago, Bingham won a release order from a lower court for its clients it is representing pro bono, who are Chinese Muslims not classified by the US military as enemy combatants and who say they would be in jeopardy if sent back to China. But in February, the US Court of Appeals reversed that decision, stalling their release into the US. Through diplomatic negotiations, the firm helped place four men in Bermuda in June and another client in Palau in early November.
But seven remain in the Guantanamo prison, and so the firm asked the Supreme Court to take up the matter. In October, the court agreed to hear details of the case.
"The courts and the Defense Department agree that they are neither enemies nor criminals," Bingham partner Sabin Willett said. "They fled from communism, and were taken in error....To the founders of this republic, freedom was a national conviction. Today neither the president nor the Congress has the courage of that conviction. So we have urged the court to remind us all of our ancient trust, and at last set these men free."
To read a copy of the brief filed today, click here. Oral arguments in the case is expected in the spring.
President Obama's job approval rating has dropped below the symbolic 50 percent in another poll.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released this afternoon put his approval among Americans at 48 percent, with 50 percent disapproving. That's a huge shift just from mid-November, when his approval rating was at 55 percent in the same poll.
His high came in February just after his inauguration, at 76 percent.
Of those respondents now disapproving of Obama's handling of the presidency, 40 percent said he was too liberal while 8 percent he was not liberal enough.
But on his plan to send 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan, 62 percent approve, and 66 percent support his plan to start pulling out US forces by July 2011.
But Americans remain divided on the broader question of the war, and only one-third believe that conditions in Afghanistan will be good enough by the summer of 2011 to actually withdraw. Nearly two-thirds of respondents still blame former President George W. Bush for the US predicament in Afghanistan, while only 17 percent blame Obama.
The new poll, conducted Wednesday and Thursday -- after Obama's primetime speech on Tuesday -- has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
President Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev issued a joint statement today vowing to continue observing the spirit of a treaty, which expires Saturday, to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles, as the countries continue to negotiate a replacement.
"Recognizing our mutual determination to support strategic stability between the United States of America and the Russian Federation, we express our commitment, as a matter of principle, to continue to work together in the spirit of the START Treaty following its expiration, as well as our firm intention to ensure that a new treaty on strategic arms enter into force at the earliest possible date," the leaders said.
As the Globe reported in October, the START treaty is expected to be the first of a series that Obama will ask the US Senate to ratify. "President Obama’s vision of global cooperation - symbolized by his surprise Nobel Peace Prize - is in for a crucial test in the months ahead when he begins sending a series of treaties to the US Senate, where skepticism among Republicans and some Democrats will make approval exceedingly difficult, according to government officials and specialists," the Globe reported.
The new nuclear weapons deal with Russia, designed to replace START II ratified in 1991, could reduce the number of warheads on each side to 1,500 and the number of missiles to carry them to 500, including those launched from underground silos, ships, or aircraft.
Americans support President Obama's new Afghanistan strategy -- but just barely, according to the first poll since Obama outlined his plan in a nationally televised speech.
The USA Today/Gallup survey released late today found that 51 percent favor the plan, while 40 percent opposed it.
But on the details, there is deep division. While 38 percent said 30,000 more US troops was "about the right number," 36 percent said that is too many and 18 percent said it's too few.
And only one in five agree with Obama's plan to begin withdrawing US troops by July 2011, while 46 percent agree with Republicans who say it's too early to set a timetable, and another one in four say troops should start coming home sooner.
An overwhelming 73 percent, however, say they are worried that the cost of the war -- the troop surge is estimated at $30 billion next year -- will make it more difficult to deal with domestic issues.
The survey was conducted on Wednesday, the day after the president's primetime speech from West Point, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
A national poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics found that two-thirds of young adults oppose President Obama's plan to send more troops to Afghanistan.
The online survey also found that although 58 percent of young adults approve of Obama's job performance in general, a majority disapprove of his handling of the economy and health care. The poll of 2,087 people aged 18 to 29 shows fissures in a key demographic that helped Obama capture the White House.
"We've been tracking this generation since they came of age nearly ten years ago and have seen young people become a political force," said John Della Volpe, director of polling for the institute. "Our government and our political parties need to continually challenge and inspire young adults, whose support should not and cannot be taken for granted."
The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, was conducted from Nov. 4 to Nov. 16.
It found that the economy is unquestionably young people's leading concern, with 48 percent of respondents saying it was their top national priority. That was more than twice the second rated issue of health care, which garnered 21 percent. Only 10 percent identified the war as their top national priority.
The survey found that 52 percent of young people disapprove of the president's handling of both the economy and health care, while 55 disapprove of how he has handled the war in Afghanistan.
When Obama was elected in November 2008, he won two-thirds of young people's vote, beating Republican Senator John McCain by 34 percentage points. That margin was five times greater than Obama's next best age group, which a 6-point victory among 30 to 44 year olds.
The survey released today by the Institute of Politics found that young people are now in line with what polls have found in the general population, that people approve of Obama in general but disapprove of his handling of some major issues.
Senator John F. Kerry, a key ally for President Obama on his Afghanistan plan, offered guarded praise for the president's speech as he opened a hearing this morning on the troop surge plan.
"I believe the President appropriately narrowed the mission in Afghanistan. What he presented to the American people is not an open-ended nation-building exercise or a nationwide counterinsurgency campaign. Nor should it be," Kerry said as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, which is hearing today from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen.
"The President was right to frame our commitment to Afghanistan in the context of all our national priorities, from the drawdown in Iraq to our urgent challenges at home. And he was correct to consider our mission there in terms of our enduring interest in Pakistan," he added.
But Kerry questioned the argument that US forces should continue fighting in Afghanistan because that's where the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack was plotted.
"Eight years later, that’s simply not good enough. We have largely expelled Al Qaeda from Afghanistan. Today it is the presence of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, its direct ties to and support from the Taliban in Afghanistan and the perils of an unstable, nuclear-armed Pakistan that drive our mission," Kerry said. What happens in Pakistan, particularly near the Afghan border, will do more to determine the outcome in Afghanistan than any increase in troops or shift in strategy."
In fact, Kerry asserted, the planned withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan starting in July 2011 would help the US focus on Pakistan.
"I believe it is important for the Pakistanis to understand that our commitment to them and the region is long term even as troops are reduced in Afghanistan. In fact, the conditions that permit a reduction in American troops in Afghanistan are a benefit to Pakistan," he said.
To the arguments from Republicans -- notably Senator John McCain, the 2008 presidential candidate -- that the timing of any drawdown should only be based on conditions on the ground, Kerry posited this rebuttal about adding 30,000 troops: "I would hope that just as the exit strategy is based on conditions on the ground, so too should our strategy for escalation be based on conditions on the ground."
"I continue to believe that, absent an urgent security need, we should not send American troops in to clear places unless we are confident that we have the Afghan partners and resources in place to build on our victories and transfer both security and government functions to legitimate Afghan leaders," Kerry said. "Frankly, I am concerned that additional troops will tempt us beyond a narrow and focused mission. And, with 30,000 troops rushing into Afghanistan, I believe we will be challenged to have the civilian and governance capacity in place quickly enough to translate their sacrifice into lasting gains."
His full opening statement is below:
Representative James McGovern is ramping up his leadership of members of Congress opposed to President Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan.
The Massachusetts Democrat joined Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, and Representative Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, in writing Obama today to warn that the build-up could harm US efforts against Al Qaeda.
Sending more troops to Afghanistan is unlikely to help, and could hurt, our efforts to address Al Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan. Moreover, al Qaeda and its affiliates are located in Yemen, Somalia, North Africa and other places around the world. Rather than investing so many of our resources in Afghanistan, we should pursue a comprehensive, global counterterrorism strategy," the three lawmakers wrote.
"There is a serious danger that the ongoing, large-scale U.S. military presence will continue to provoke greater militancy in the region and further destabilize both Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan. The pursuit of unrealistic nation-building goals is making it harder to isolate members of al Qaeda from those who do not have an international terrorist agenda."
And they argue that the cost -- in casualties and taxpayers money -- is not worth it when the Afghan regime is not credible and not able to do its part so that US troops can start withdrawing by July 2011, as Obama envisions.
"While we support ongoing civilian engagement in Afghanistan and counterterrorism efforts in the region, we do not believe more American lives should be risked to support an illegitimate, corrupt government fighting what is largely a civil war," they say, adding, "At a time when our country faces record deficits, and many Americans are struggling to make ends meet, it simply does not make sense to spend tens of billions of dollars to escalate our military involvement in Afghanistan."
The full letter is below:
Senator John F. Kerry, a key ally for President Obama on his new Afghanistan strategy, offered a qualified endorsement Tuesday night for the troop surge.
Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in statement that he will support the 30,000 additional troops -- as long as responsibility for security is rapidly transferred to Afghan forces "because anything short of that will end in failure, no matter how many troops we send to Afghanistan."
He also praised Obama for laying out a narrower mission "not an open-ended nation-building exercise," and for focusing on Pakistan as the key battle against terrorists.
"I believe that the President defined a narrower mission tonight, not an open-ended nation-building exercise," Kerry said in his statement. "A key component of that mission is providing that the troops will only clear and hold in places where there is capacity to build and transfer beneath them and that there will be significant partnering with Afghans in all of these efforts. That includes finding reliable Afghan partners in governance. If these criteria are met, then there is a chance for success.
"The President is correct to say the essential focus must be on Pakistan. What happens in Pakistan, particularly in the west, will be more critical to the outcome in Afghanistan than the increase in troops or shift in strategy there. I will support additional troops, providing their deployment stays within the strict understanding of the need to transfer and build as well as partner with Afghans. The only way to be successful is to rapidly transfer responsibility to the Afghans and anything short of that will end in failure, no matter how many troops we send to Afghanistan. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will continue to examine our Afghan policy in public hearings in the coming days and beyond."
UPDATE: This afternoon, Kerry's office formally announced that the Foreign Relations Committee will hold its hearing Thursday morning on the Afghan plan.
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Rear Admiral Michael G. Mullen are scheduled to testify. They spoke today to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The junior senator from Massachusetts, Paul G. Kirk Jr., is more wary of President Obama's troop build-up in Afghanistan than his colleague John F. Kerry.
While Kerry has offered his qualified support and is a key ally for the president in building congressional support, Kirk today asked how adding 30,000 more troops.
"We have been at war in Afghanistan for eight years. 849 men and women in our Armed Forces have paid the ultimate price and over 4,500 more have been wounded. October was the deadliest month yet, with 59 troops killed, including 4 from Massachusetts. Today, 68,000 brave U.S. men and women are fighting there, the highest number so far in the eight-year conflict, and as of last night, we will be sending 30,000 more in the coming months," Kirk said in his opening statement at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is hearing today from Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Rear Admiral Michael G. Mullen.
"All of us listened carefully to the President last evening, but I’m eager to hear more from each of you on what precisely the mission of these troops will be, how you see our path to success, the obstacles we will face along the way, and when and how that path will lead our troops home," Kirk added.
"As one general said, we have been fighting the war there 'for one year, eight times in a row' and some have said the war is a 'quagmire.' I’m interested to hear how 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan will accomplish our goal."
In a statement Tuesday night immediately after Obama's speech, Kirk said, “I’m encouraged by the President’s plans to ultimately disengage us from Afghanistan in a responsible and timely fashion. I remain skeptical, however, about a significant troop build-up when the legitimacy of our Afghan partner is in serious question."
President Obama's latest war plan for Afghanistan is billed as a new and improved approach designed to finish the job and bring US troops home.
But, perhaps unavoidably, his speech Tuesday night announcing 30,000 more US troops -- and a hoped-for drawdown starting in July 2011 -- echoed the address he delivered in March on what he called "a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan" after he had dispatched 21,000 more troops. (Obama, himself, briefly referenced his March speech.)
In both speeches, he reminded Americans why US forces went into Afghanistan in the first place in 2001.
In March: "Al Qaeda and its allies -- the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks -- are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that Al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the US homeland from its safe-haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban -- or allows Al Qaeda to go unchallenged -- that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can."
Tuesday night: "I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by Al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. And this danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and Al Qaeda can operate with impunity."
Without naming his predecessor, he criticized President George W. Bush for focusing on Iraq at the expense of Afghanistan.
March: "For six years, Afghanistan has been denied the resources that it demands because of the war in Iraq. Now, we must make a commitment that can accomplish our goals."
Tuesday night: "The Iraq war drew the dominant share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy, and our national attention -- and that the decision to go into Iraq caused substantial rifts between America and much of the world."
Obama warned the American public that the war is not going well enough and that more tough fighting lies ahead.
March: "The situation is increasingly perilous. It has been more than seven years since the Taliban was removed from power, yet war rages on, and insurgents control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Attacks against our troops, our NATO allies, and the Afghan government have risen steadily. Most painfully, 2008 was the deadliest year of the war for American forces."
Tuesday night: "Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards. There's no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe havens along the border. And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan security forces and better secure the population."
The president described the goal of the war as simply as possible.
March: "We have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That is the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just."
Tuesday night: "Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future."
While telling the Afghan people that the US only wants to help give them peace and security, he cautioned the Afghan government that it must root out corruption.
March: "As we provide these resources, the days of unaccountable spending, no-bid contracts, and wasteful reconstruction must end....And I want to be clear: we cannot turn a blind eye to the corruption that causes Afghans to lose faith in their own leaders. Instead, we will seek a new compact with the Afghan government that cracks down on corrupt behavior, and sets clear benchmarks for international assistance so that it is used to provide for the needs of the Afghan people."
Tuesday night: "The days of providing a blank check are over....We'll support Afghan ministries, governors, and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable."
Obama stressed the need to train up the Afghan military and security forces so they can take over.
March: "We will shift the emphasis of our mission to training and increasing the size of Afghan Security Forces, so that they can eventually take the lead in securing their country. That is how we will prepare Afghans to take responsibility for their security, and how we will ultimately be able to bring our troops home.
Tuesday night: The additional troops "will increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans."
And the president emphasized the need for US allies to step up because their security is at stake, as well as the credibility of NATO.
March: "We have a shared responsibility to act -- not because we seek to project power for its own sake, but because our own peace and security depends upon it. And what’s at stake now is not just our own security – it is the very idea that free nations can come together on behalf of our common security. That was the founding cause of NATO six decades ago. That must be our common purpose today.
Tuesday night: "Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. And now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For what's at stake is not simply a test of NATO's credibility -- what's at stake is the security of our allies, and the common security of the world."
President Obama tried to reassure Americans tonight that by getting thousands more US troops into Afghanistan sooner, he'll be able to wind down the war sooner as well.
In a nationally televised speech before cadets of the US Military Academy at West Point, Obama announced that he is deploying 30,000 more troops, who will be in place by next summer and bring the US force to nearly 100,000 in a war that has already dragged on for more than eight years.
But Obama also said that if all goes as planned, he hopes to start withdrawing troops by July 2011 -- 18 months before his term as president ends.
"Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards. There is no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe havens along the border. And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan security forces and better secure the population," the president said.
"As commander-in-chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home," Obama added. "I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by Al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak."
In his speech, Obama addressed US allies, who he said had "bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan." "Now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For what’s at stake is not simply a test of NATO’s credibility -- what’s at stake is the security of our Allies, and the common security of the world," he said.
He also addressed the Afghan people: "America seeks an end to this era of war and suffering. We have no interest in occupying your country. We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens. And we will seek a partnership with Afghanistan grounded in mutual respect – to isolate those who destroy; to strengthen those who build; to hasten the day when our troops will leave; and to forge a lasting friendship in which America is your partner, and never your patron."
And he spent a significant part of his speech addressing critics of his approach.
"[T]here are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we are better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. I believe this argument depends upon a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action. Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency. And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border," he said.
"[T]here are those who acknowledge that we can't leave Afghanistan in its current state, but suggest that we go forward with the troops that we already have. But this would simply maintain a status quo in which we muddle through, and permit a slow deterioration of conditions there."
"Finally," Obama said, "there are those who oppose identifying a timeframe for our transition to Afghan responsibility. Indeed, some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort -- one that would commit us to a nation-building project of up to a decade. I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests. Furthermore, the absence of a timeframe for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan."
Former Vice President Dick Cheney isn't waiting for President Obama to lay out his new Afghanistan strategy tonight to get in the first shot.
Cheney, who accused Obama of "dithering" by taking so long to make a decision, told Politico that the president is projecting "weakness" to America's adversaries.
Obama is expected to announce at West Point tonight that he is sending 30,000 to 35,000 more US troops, but also to explain how and when they will leave because, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said today, "we can't be there forever."
Gibbs told MSNBC that Obama also will lay out a faster deployment than proposed by General Stanley McChrystal, though the top US commander in Afghanistan asked for more troops, about 44,000. Gibbs said the troop build up "will be accelerated. We're going to get in there quickly" and transfer responsibility for security to the Afghans quickly.
But Cheney warned that Afghans will ally with the Taliban if they believe the US is trying to leave.
"I begin to get nervous when I see the commander in chief making decisions apparently for what I would describe as small ‘p’ political reasons, where he’s trying to balance off different competing groups in society,” Cheney said in the interview with Politico, posted online this morning. “Every time he delays, defers, debates, changes his position, it begins to raise questions: Is the commander in chief really behind what they’ve been asked to do?"
Of Bush administration officials, Cheney by far has been the most combative toward Obama, particularly in questioning his policies on terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama administration officials have hit back at Cheney by asserting that Bush focused too much on Iraq, leaving the Taliban and Al Qaeda to regain strength in Afghanistan and that Obama is now having to clean up the mess.
But Cheney disputed that in the Politico interview. Asked if he thinks the Bush administration bears any responsibility for the disintegration of Afghanistan, he replied, “I basically don’t,” without elaborating.
UPDATE: Representative Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, hit back hard at Cheney this afternoon.
"We are clearly not making the same mistake the Bush administration made," Hoyer told reporters on Capitol Hill. "They started something and didn't finish it, and they left it to this administration to clean up."
"When Mr. Cheney talks about President Obama's giving the thoughtful consideration [about war policy] that he is somehow dissembling, frankly they turned tail. That is pretty tough language, but I get angry when I hear Vice President Cheney talk about a job that they started but didn't finish and was worse in 2008 in December than it was six years previous."
In the interview, Politico says Cheney launched a broader critique of Obama’s foreign and national security policy, saying that the president is looking “far more radical than I expected.”
"Here’s a guy without much experience, who campaigned against much of what we put in place ... and who now travels around the world apologizing,” Cheney said. “I think our adversaries -- especially when that’s preceded by a deep bow -- see that as a sign of weakness."
The former vice president also squashed speculation about a "draft Cheney" movement for the 2012 presidential race. Why would I want to do that?” he replied. “It’s been a hell of a tour. I’ve loved it. I have no aspirations for further office.”
Senator John F. Kerry today urged the State Department to consider increasing the US financial commitment to support international climate change priorities as officials prepare for the Copenhagen summit starting next week.
President Obama's 2009-10 budget includes about $1.2 billion, but Kerry wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that $3 billion in 2010-11 is needed.
A Senate bill, like the bill passed by the House in June, sets aside about 7 percent of proceeds from selling pollution credits "to international efforts to promote clean energy technologies, reduce emissions from deforestation, and address adaptation needs," Kerry wrote in a letter released by his office.
"The global community has agreed that $10 billion is required annually in fast-start financing to support immediate international climate change priorities. The United States must be prepared to contribute its fair share of this obligation," he added.
The Massachusetts Democrat is a lead author of the climate change bill he is trying to shepherd through the Senate and as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee has emphasized global warming as a national security issue.
His full letter is below:FULL ENTRY
On the eve of his big speech on Afghanistan, President Obama will huddle with the leader of a coalition partner in that war-torn country.
The White House announced today that Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will be at the White House on Monday, the day before Obama addresses the nation from West Point.
"Australia is an important ally of and partner with the United States in addressing the many common regional and global challenges we face. During their meeting the two leaders will confer on a range of issues including Afghanistan and climate change in the run-up to Copenhagen," the White House said.
Australia increased its troop presence in Afghanistan by about one-third to 1,550 this year (compared to about 68,000 US troops).
Obama is seeking more troops from the international coalition, but in September, Rudd said his country's contingent was "about right." His foreign minister said then that Australia would be willing to send more civilian assistance.
Rudd is less hawkish than his predecessor, John Howard, the conservative he ousted two years ago, who was one of President George W. Bush's most steadfast allies on Iraq.
The White House said today that a censure of Iran for its intransigence on its nuclear program shows that the international community is steadfast in stopping it from obtaining nuclear weapons.
More than two dozen nations on the United Nations nuclear watchdog's board approved a resolution demanding that Tehran immediately freeze construction of its newly revealed nuclear facility and comply with Security Council resolutions to stop uranium enrichment. But Iran's chief representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency declaring that his country would resist "pressure, resolutions, sanction(s) and threat of military attack," according to the Associated Press.
President Obama has offered to talk to Iranian leaders, but has made clear that they must first take steps to foreswear nuclear weapons.
"Today's overwhelming vote at the IAEA's Board of Governors demonstrates the resolve and unity of the international community with regard to Iran's nuclear program. It underscores broad consensus in calling upon Iran to live up to its international obligations and offer transparency in its nuclear program. It also underscores a commitment to strengthen the rules of the international system, and to support the ability of the IAEA and UN Security Council to enforce the rules of the road, and to hold Iran accountable to those rules. Indeed, the fact that 25 countries from all parts of the world cast their votes in favor shows the urgent need for Iran to address the growing international deficit of confidence in its intentions," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.
"The United States has strongly supported the Director General’s positive proposal to provide Iran fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor - a proposal intended to help meet the medical and humanitarian needs of the Iranian people while building confidence in Iran’s intentions. The United States has recognized Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy and remains willing to engage Iran to work toward a diplomatic solution to the concerns about its nuclear program, if - and only if - Iran chooses such a course. To date, Iran has refused a follow-on meeting to the October 1 meeting with the P5+1 countries if its nuclear program is included on the agenda. Our patience and that of the international community is limited, and time is running out. If Iran refuses to meet its obligations, then it will be responsible for its own growing isolation and the consequences."
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- George Mitchell, the former US senator from Maine who helped hammer out a peace agreement in Northern Ireland, did not look daunted when he took the podium today to announce that Israel had agreed to a partial settlement freeze that fell far short of what the Americans had been asking for.
Rumors have swirled around the State Department for months that Mitchell might quit his job as special envoy for the Middle East out of frustration at the lack of progress at getting Israelis to halt settlements on the West Bank, getting the Arabs to make conciliatory gestures towards Israel, and even getting the Palestinians back to the talks.
"So we all thought you were going to come down here and say you were frustrated and you were going to resign, but I guess that’s not the case," Matt Lee, an Associated Press reporter, called out to him. "You’re going to keep at it?"
Mitchell talked awhile about how the proposed 10-month freeze on settlements might transform into long-awaited peace negotiations, and then he vowed not to quit, reminding his listeners how many naysayers there were when he was trying to get backing for the 1998 "Good Friday" agreement in Northern Ireland.
"Although there are many differences between the Middle East and Northern Ireland, in this respect, my experience there is relevant," he said. "Over a period of five years, I chaired three separate sets of discussions. The main negotiation lasted for nearly two years. For most of that time, there was little or no progress and our effort was branded a failure. The question you asked me today I was asked hundreds of times there. But then after two years of saying no, both sides said yes. In a real sense, we had 700 days of failure and one day of success.
"I know that if anything, the Middle East is more difficult and more complex," Mitchell added. "But no matter where the conflict is or what it’s about, if you’re serious about peace, you can’t take as final the first no, the second no, or even the hundredth no. You can’t get discouraged by setbacks and you can’t be deterred by criticism. You have to be patient, persevering, and determined. Neither the president, the secretary of state, nor I have ever promised anything other than a total commitment to comprehensive peace in the Middle East. That remains our commitment and our goal."
US leaders are urging Americans to join in the international call to stop violence against women on the 10th anniversary of a day set aside to raise awareness.
"Violence against women is found in every culture around the world. It is one of our most pervasive global problems, yet it is preventable. When gang rape is a weapon of war, when women are beaten behind closed doors, or when young girls are trafficked in brothels and fields - we all suffer. This violence robs women and girls of their full potential, causes untold human suffering, and has great social and economic costs," Vice President Joe Biden, who championed the issue while in the US Senate, said in a statement.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John F. Kerry -- joined by Senators Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Barbara Boxer of California, and Ben Cardin of Maryland -- also marked the day. Kerry said that before year's end, he will introduce a bill to officially put the US on record backing the global effort.
“The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is an important reminder of just how many women and girls continue to be subjected to violence and discrimination around the world. I applaud the UN Secretary-General’s efforts to involve boys and men in this effort; women’s safety cannot be guaranteed without their involvement,” Kerry said in a statement. “Societies where women are safe and can pursue their aspirations will realize their full social and economic potential.”
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- As the nation waits for President Obama to announce a new strategy in Afghanistan, International Crisis Group released a report today calling for sweeping reforms in the country, including the resignation of the top UN official in Afghanistan in the wake of widespread allegations of fraud in the Aug. 20 presidential election.
"Impending decisions about military strategies, troop levels, and state-building concepts may mean little if we do not cauterize the damage these fraudulent elections inflicted on Afghanistan," said Samina Ahmed, the well-known international conflict resolution organization's South Asia project director. "Only thorough reform can do that."
The report (read it here) said that UN Special Representative Kai Eide inability to handle the corruption issue effectively had led to a decline in morale, and distrust on the part of Afghans.
"The UN’s mission to bring stability to the country has been severely jeopardized," the report states. "His effectiveness as head of mission will always remain in doubt. If UNAMA’s credibility is to be restored, Eide must step down."
A UN spat over how tough it should be on election fraud, mainly by President Hamid Karzai's forces, burst into the open after the election when Peter Galbraith, a former American diplomat from Vermont who served as Eide's deputy, accused him of turning a blind eye to the fraud. Galbraith was then asked to resign.
The report also called for the formation of an impartial commission to conduct a thorough review of the election; vigorous pursuit by the attorney general and courts of criminal prosecutions of those involved in fraud; and restrictions on the size of the Afghan cabinet, as well as measures barring nominees with demonstrated links to armed groups or criminal activities from joining government.
"Karzai's retaining power under these circumstances has bolstered the impression that the international community is disinterested in or incapable of checking corruption," said Candace Rondeaux, a crisis group senior analyst. "It handed the Taliban a huge public relations victory".
There's now a time and place for President Obama's long-awaited announcement on Afghanistan.
He will address the nation at 8 p.m. Tuesday from the US Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., the training ground for many officers who have served -- and died -- in the eight-year war.
Obama said on Tuesday that he is confident the public will support him, once he explains his rationale for sending what is expected to be 25,000 to 30,000 more US troops into the conflict, and for when American forces can come home.
Obama held his ninth and final war council on Monday night, after having rejected all the options laid before him at the previous gathering. While he didn't disclose his decision to his senior advisers, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Tuesday that the president had all the information he needed to make a decision.
"I think that the review that we've gone through has been comprehensive and extremely useful, and has brought together my key military advisors, but also civilian advisors," Obama said Tuesday in his most recent remarks on the issue. "It is in our strategic interest, in our national security interest to make sure that al Qaeda and its extremist allies cannot operate effectively in those areas. We are going to dismantle and degrade their capabilities and ultimately dismantle and destroy their networks. And Afghanistan's stability is important to that process.
"I've also indicated that after eight years -- some of those years in which we did not have, I think, either the resources or the strategy to get the job done -- it is my intention to finish the job. And I feel very confident that when the American people hear a clear rationale for what we're doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals that they will be supportive."
Obama has been criticized for taking too long to make a decision, most notably by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who called it "dithering." Public support for the war has plummeted as US casualties have risen over the past few months.
Several media organizations are reporting this morning that President Obama plans to announce his long-awaited decision on Afghanistan next Tuesday, probably in a prime-time speech.
Obama huddled with his war council Monday night for what was expected to be the ninth and final time before deciding how many additional US troops to put into the eight-year war. His top commander on the ground has requested 40,000 more as part of a beefed-up counterinsurgency campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda.
But some expect Obama to settle on an option that would deploy 32,000 to 35,000 more US troops.
UPDATE: Asked at a joint press conference with India's prime minister about his Afghanistan decision, Obama said this afternoon he will make an "announcement to the American people" soon after Thanksgiving, but declined to divulge any specifics.
He said that the "comprehensive" review of Afghanistan strategy has been useful. When he offers a "clear rationale" to the public about what the US has at stake in the country, its goals, and how to get there, the public will be supportive.
The previous administration left the mission unaccomplished, he said, adding, "It is my intention to finish the job." (His full remarks are below.)
In a new poll released this morning, Americans were evenly divided -- 50 percent for and 49 percent against -- when asked about sending 34,000 more troops.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey found 56 percent opposed to sending a smaller number of additional troops.
Public support for the war has plummeted as casualties rose to record levels this fall. In the poll, 66 percent said they believed the war was going badly.FULL ENTRY
President Obama welcomed India's prime minister to the White House this morning, kicking off the first official state visit of his presidency.
Obama called India a leader in Asia and around the world and an "indispensable partner" for the United States.
He declared that as the world's two largest democracies, the two nations have a responsibility to push for progress on global economic growth, nuclear weapons, climate change, poverty, and other issues. The president also said that as victims of terrorism -- the Sept. 11 attacks in the US, the Mumbai attacks and others in India -- the two countries must also tackle extremism.
The visit includes a series of meetings, a joint press conference, and a formal state dinner tonight. The visit also comes during a time some dissension in the relationship as the US focuses on Afghanistan and Pakistan -- to the exclusion, some say, of India.
But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also accentuated the positive, saying the two countries are "bound together by democracy" and are significant strategic partners.
"This is a moment of great opportunity for our relationship," Singh said, concluding his remarks with, "God bless America, God bless India."
Their full remarks are below, followed by White House summaries of the agreements that were signed, and a joint statement:FULL ENTRY
President Obama isn't expected to announce his decision on Afghanistan until after Thanksgiving. But that doesn't mean the choice won't be weighing on him heavily during this holiday week.
The White House announced this morning that he will hold his ninth war council tonight to discuss the best way forward. At the previous meeting, Obama rejected all the options on the table, reported to include a range of 10,000 to 40,000 additional US troops.
UPDATE: As Obama weighs his troop decision, some key Democrats are more loudly sounding the alarm on the war's cost -- and floating the idea of a "war tax" to pay for any expansion.
"There ain't going to be no money for nothing if we pour it all into Afghanistan," House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey told ABC News today. "If they ask for an increased troop commitment in Afghanistan, I am going to ask them to pay for it."
"That's what happened with the Vietnam War, which wiped out the Great Society," Obey added. "That's what happened with the Korean War, which wiped out Harry Truman's Square Deal. That's what happened with the end of the progressive movement before the twenties when we went into World War I. In each case, the cost of those wars shut off our ability to pay for anything else."
Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also said last week that higher-income Americans should be taxed to pay for a troop surge.
White House budget officials have estimated each additional soldier in Afghanistan could cost $1 million.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said today that while the idea of a so-called war tax hasn't come up, the president has told his military brain trust that "we have to take into account how much all of this is going to cost over a five-year, 10-year period."
Gibbs said the president will not announce his decision until next week at the earliest.
The meeting is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. EST and is expected to last at least an hour.
The attendees, either in person or via videconference: Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, United Nations ambassador Susan Rice, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, Joint Chiefs chairman Michael Mullen, Joint Chiefs vice chairman General James E. Cartwright, US Central Command chief David Petraeus, top US commander in Afghanistan Stanley McChrystal, US ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, US ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson, National Security Adviser General James Jones, Deputy National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, and special assistant to the president Douglas Lute.
President Obama met with one foreign leader after another, ate at banquets in his honor, and even walked on the Great Wall of China.
But according to the president, his eight-day tour of Asia was, in large measure, all about jobs back home.
"As we emerge from the worst recession in generations, there is nothing more important than to do everything we can to get our economy moving again and put Americans back to work, and I will go anywhere to pursue that goal," Obama says in his weekly radio/Internet address, recorded in the South Korean capital of Seoul, his last stop.
"That’s one of the main reasons I took this trip. Asia is a region where we now buy more goods and do more trade with than any other place in the world -- commerce that supports millions of jobs back home."
While many independent analysts have questioned what substantive accomplishments he brought back, Obama also says he made progress on nuclear security, terrorism, and climate change.
"But above all, I spoke with leaders in every nation I visited about what we can do to sustain this economic recovery and bring back jobs and prosperity for our people -- a task I will continue to focus on relentlessly in the weeks and months ahead," says Obama, who is under criticism even from Democratic allies for the slow pace of the economic recovery and the continued rise in unemployment.
"If we can increase our exports to Asia Pacific nations by just 5 percent, we can increase the number of American jobs supported by these exports by hundreds of thousands," he argues.
And he cites a Massachusetts firm to make the point: "American Superconductor Corporation, an energy technology startup ... that’s been providing wind power and smart grid systems to countries like China, Korea, and India. By doing so, it’s added more than 100 jobs over the last few years."
"Increasing our exports is one way to create new jobs and new prosperity. But as we emerge from a recession that has left millions without work, we have an obligation to consider every additional, responsible step we can take to encourage and accelerate job creation in this country," Obama adds, touting a Dec. 3 White House jobs forum designed to breed new ideas for turning around unemployment.
"Still, there is no forum or policy that can bring all the jobs we’ve lost overnight," he concludes. "I wish there were, because so many Americans – friends, neighbors, family members – are desperately looking for work. But even though it will take time, I can promise you this: we are moving in the right direction; that the steps we are taking are helping; and I will not let up until businesses start hiring again, unemployed Americans start working again, and we rebuild this economy stronger and more prosperous than it was before."
Obama's full address is below and can be viewed here.FULL ENTRY
House Republicans are trying to ratchet up the pressure on President Obama to decide the new strategy -- including the number of troops -- for Afghanistan.
The commander he sent to turn around the eight-year war is asking for as many as 40,000 more US troops. Obama has held eight war councils -- at the most recent, he rejected all the plans on the table -- but is not expected to announce his decision until after Thanksgiving.
In a letter dated Thursday and released this afternoon, the Republicans back General Stanley McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy that requires the additional forces.
They don't use the word "dithering" -- as did former Vice President Dick Cheney -- but they come awfully close, while at the same time tacitly acknowledging the criticism of Obama and Democrats that the Bush administration neglected Afghanistan.
"For over two months you have been engaged in a strategy review that has left the country, our military, and allies uncertain about your commitment to the war in Afghanistan and unsure about your will to do what it is necessary to win this conflict. Worse, we fear this process has emboldened our enemies," they write.
"We believe that it is long overdue for our military to be in the execution stage of the strategy instead of the evaluation phase. While no one disputes that a Commander-in-Chief should deliberate before making decisions, particularly in matters involving life and death, we believe this review is having a detrimental impact on our efforts in Afghanistan. While 68,000 U.S. forces are fighting on the battlefield, your strategy review in Washington has returned the country to the policy drift that undermined our efforts in Afghanistan for much of the war."
The full letter is below:
As Attorney General Eric Holder defended his decision to prosecute Sept. 11 plotters in civilian court in New York, President Obama backed him up in a series of TV interviews today.
Holder testifed this morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his call to put confessed mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-conspirators on trial in a federal courthouse in the shadow of Ground Zero. The decision has been slammed by Republicans, who have raised concerns about security and who have argued that terrorists should not be treated like criminals.
But Obama said that critics won't find the decision "offensive at all when he's convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him."
"I think this notion that we have to be fearful that these terrorists possess some special powers that prevent us from presenting evidence against them, locking them up and exacting swift justice, I think that has been a fundamental mistake," Obama said on CNN.
Asked whether he would take responsibility if the decision goes wrong, the president replied, "I always have to take responsibility. That's my job."
UPDATE: Republicans aren't giving up their fight on the issue. This afternoon, House GOP leader John Boehner announced he had signed a discharge petition filed by Pete Hoekstra, the senior Republican on the Intelligence Committee, to force a vote on a bill that would stop the transfer or release of terrorists held at the Guantanamo Bay prison into the United States.
“Despite Americans’ strong opposition to importing terrorists held at the Guantanamo Bay prison into the United States, the Obama Administration continues to move forward with their dangerous plans to do so anyway. The ‘Keep Terrorists Out of America Act’ does exactly what the American people want, and they deserve a vote on this common-sense bill," Boehner said in a statement.
“Despite repeated requests from Republicans in Congress, this Administration has refused to present the American people with its plan for what to do with the terrorists held at Guantanamo and for confronting and defeating the global terrorist threat. Right now, there is no evidence that this Administration has such a plan. The American people deserve better. I urge my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, to listen to the American people and sign the discharge petition.”
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
As President Obama nears a decision on a strategy in Afghanistan, a survey released today by Oxfam America, a Boston-based aid advocacy group, sheds some light on how Afghans view the conflict.
The survey, which compiled interviews with more than 700 men and women across Afghanistan, shows that -- despite suicide attacks and unrelenting bloodshed -- most Afghans believe that previous periods of their country's history are far worse than what they are going through now. (Read the survey here.)
Thirty-eight percent of respondents said that the communist period, which lasted from 1979 to 1992, was the most harmful to the country, while 33 percent called the period under Taliban rule, from 1996 to 2001, the most harmful. Another 22 percent named the time of civil war, from 1992 to 1996, as the worst time, while just 3 percent named the current conflict as the worst time since Afghanistan descended into chaos in 1979.
The study presents a stark picture of the human tragedy that has unfolded in the country over the last 30 years, suggesting that a significant number of Afghans may have suffered from post traumatic stress at one point in time or another. One out of every five respondents reported that they had been tortured at some point by either the Taliban, the mujahadeen, or the communists, while a third said that someone in their family had been imprisoned.
But the report does offer some measure of hope, suggesting that effective aid could bring about lasting change in the country.
Seventy percent of all respondents said they believe that poverty and unemployment is a major factor in the continuing war in Afghanistan, while 48 percent saw corruption as a major factor. Also, 36 percent named the Taliban's actions as a chief cause for the continuing conflict, while only 18% listed the presence of international forces as a major reason that fighting continues.
Two-thirds of Americans disagree with the Obama administration's decision to put the reputed mastermind of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on trial in a civilian court, a new poll says.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released late this afternoon found that 64 percent want Khalid Sheikh Mohammed tried in a military court, while only 34 percent favored a civilian court.
But 64 percent of respondents also said that he can receive a fair trial in civilian court. If he is found guilty, most believe he should receive the death penalty: 59 percent said they generally support capital punishment and want Mohammed executed, another 19 percent said they generally oppose the death penalty but favor it in this case, and 19 percent are generally against capital punishment and also oppose it in this case.
The poll was conducted Friday through Sunday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- As Pakistan is rocked with daily attacks, Representative Congressman John F. Tierney, who heads a House subcommittee on national security and foreign affairs, traveled to there this week to meet with military and political leaders, as well as private citizens who have fled the violence.
Tierney, a Salem Democrat who has pushed for more accountability on military aid to the troubled south Asian country, said he will continue to press for strict oversight of funds, even though Pakistan's military is under daily attack by insurgents who threaten both Pakistan and the United States.
In the past, "whenever the request was made, the bill was paid," he said of the funds that the Bush administration gave to Pakistan's military to cover costs of deploying its soldiers in the lawless tribal areas. "Now you are going to find out there has to be substantial verification before the funds are paid."
Tierney vowed similar oversight on $1.5 billion in non-military aid funding for Pakistan approved by Congress this year.
It is not clear how welcome his message of strict oversight was received in Pakistan, where many complained bitterly on conditions that he had placed on military assistance in the $1.5 billion aid package.
Today Tierney presided over the US donation of $430,000 worth of medical supplies to the North West Frontier Province, a region that has been hard hit by suicide bombings. He told reporters in a conference call that Pakistan's fragile political situation is "tenuous" but that the elected government appears to be stable for now.
Tierney also met with Pakistani military leaders, and leaders of opposition parties -- both groups whom are believed to be displeased with the government of current Pakistani president Ali Asif Zardari. But Tierney said both the military and the opposition said they were not trying to push Zardari out, either with a military takeover or a parliamentary action.
"The military is quite clearly indicating that there is no intention of a coup," he told reporters in a conference call from Islamabad. "In conversations with the opposition, their statements were that they have no intention of trying to push Zardari out . . . I don't know how long that lasts."
The White House this morning announced its most significant staff change to date -- counsel Greg Craig is leaving and Bob Bauer, President Obama's personal lawyer, is replacing him.
Obama issued a statement praising Craig: “Greg Craig is a close friend and trusted advisor who tackled many tough challenges as White House Counsel. Because of Greg’s leadership, we have confirmed the first Latina justice on the Supreme Court, set the toughest ethics standards for any administration in history, and ensured that we are keeping the nation secure in a manner that is consistent with our laws and our values. I’m indebted to Greg not only for leading the Counsel’s office but for his many decades of service to this country as well. He has been a huge asset in the White House, and he will be missed. I will continue to call on him for advice in the years ahead.”
But there have been widespread reports of disenchantment with Craig's handling of issues, most notably Obama's pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center by early next year.
Craig's departure, which follows the announcement earlier this week that White House communications director Anita Dunn is stepping down, appears timed with the declaration this morning by Attorney General Eric Holder that self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantanamo detainees will face trial in a civilian federal court in New York, and five other suspects will be tried by military commissions.
That is a key step in plans to close the prison, but Obama is not expected to meet his self-imposed deadline of Jan. 22.
Bauer, a prominent Democratic attorney, will begin serving as White House counsel by the end of this year. He, it turns out, is married to Dunn.
“Bob has served as a trusted counselor for many years to many elected officials and is known as a tough and widely respected advocate,” Obama said in a statement. “Bob is well-positioned to lead the Counsel’s office as it addresses a wide variety of responsibilities, including managing the large amount of litigation the administration inherited, identifying judicial nominees for the federal courts, and assuring that White House officials continue to be held to the highest legal and ethical standards.”
Before embarking on a week-long tour of Asia, President Obama tried this morning to reassure Americans at home that the economy is recovering -- and that more jobs will soon come with it.
He said that his administration has taken "bold steps to break the back of this recession" and that the economy is "now growing again for the first time in a year," but that there is "not yet the job growth that we desperately need."
"This is one of the great challenges that remains in our economy," he said in a brief statement at the White House.
While there are limits to what government can do or should do, he said, his team will look at "every responsible step."
In the only new wrinkle, Obama announced a December "forum on jobs" to gather those ideas.
(His full remarks are below.)
While unemployment is at 10.2 percent nationally, a quarter-century high, there was a glimmer of hope today. The Labor Department reported that first-time jobless claims dropped to 502,000 last week, the fewest since the first week of 2009.
While foreign policy challenges such as North Korea will be on his agenda, Obama will also be talking about the global economic recovery on his stops in Japan, Singapore, China, and South Korea.
He said he will be pushing for a balanced world economy that is not as dependent on US consumption and borrowing.
The Republican National Committee put it in another light: "Mr. President, meet your creditors," it said in a missive, noting that Asian countries, especially China, are buying US government bonds that enable the federal government to borrow. Obama, the RNC said, is traveling to nations "he plans to borrow billions from in order to finance his reckless big-government experiments, historic deficits."
In this morning's appearance, Obama did not address the other major item on his agenda -- sending more troops to Afghanistan.
He held another war council on Wednesday, but presented with four options, he rejected all of them until he gets more assurances of when US troops would be able to leave Afghanistan. Obama's stance came as word leaked of cables from the US ambassador in Kabul who argued that a US troop surge would only prop up a weak, corrupt central government.
Americans are divided over whether President Obama is taking too long -- "dithering" in the dismissive description of former Vice President Dick Cheney -- to decide whether to send more US troops to Afghanistan, a new poll suggests.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released this morning found that 49 percent believe the president has taken too much time, while 50 percent do not say so.
A slim majority -- 52 percent -- also say that Obama should listen to his top generals, rather than take other matters into account.
If he does follow the recommendation of General Stanley McChrystal, Obama would send another 40,000 troops, on top of the 21,000 he dispatched this year.
But the poll also found that 56 percent of respondents oppose sending more troops, and 58 percent oppose the war in Afghanistan. The survey, conducted Oct. 30-Nov. 1, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
UPDATE: Another poll out today, this one from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, found that a majority, 57 percent, now says the US military effort in Afghanistan is going not too well or not at all well, up from 45 percent in January. And while most continue to support the initial decision to use force in Afghanistan, that percentage has slipped to 56 percent now from 64 percent at the beginning of the year.
The poll also found the public divided over what to do now -- 40 percent say the number of US troops in Afghanistan should be decreased, 32 percent support increasing the number, and 19 percent favor keeping troop levels as they are now.
This afternoon, hours after observing Veterans Day by laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery, Obama convened his eighth -- and possibly last -- war council before making his decision.'
His remarks at Arlington are below:
President Obama leaves Thursday on an extensive diplomatic tour of Asia with a busy schedule of meetings during nine days in Japan, Singapore, China, and South Korea.
But not on his itinerary is a stop in either Hiroshima or Nagasaki, where the US dropped atomic bombs at the end of World War II.
The mayors of the two Japanese cities had invited him, noting that Obama has pledged to pursue a world free of nuclear weapons and was awarded the Nobel Peace Price. But such a visit -- the first by an American president in office -- would be highly controversial and would inflame Obama's critics who accuse him of apologizing too much for the sins of US foreign policy.
Obama, however, did tell Japanese TV network NHK on Tuesday that he would like to eventually go to Hiroshima and Nagasaki sometime during his presidency -- he just couldn't fit it into his schedule this time.
"The memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are etched in the minds of the world and I would be honored to have the opportunity to visit those cities at some point during my presidency," Obama said in the interview.
In a long-awaited decision, President Obama today announced he is nominating the chief scientist at the US Department of Agriculture and a former top official at the Gates Foundation as the nation's top foreign aid official.
If confirmed, Rajiv Shah will be administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.
Paul Farmer, the renowned public health pioneer at Harvard, had also been believed to be under consideration.
“The mission of USAID is to advance America’s interests by strengthening our relationships abroad. Rajiv brings fresh ideas and the dedication and impressive background necessary to help guide USAID as it works to achieve this important goal," Obama said in a statement. "I am grateful for all that USAID has accomplished under the leadership of Acting Administrator Alonzo Fulgham, and the thousands of career men and women who fulfill USAID’s mission day in and day out – particularly their hard work in jumpstarting a landmark initiative to bring more than $20 billion for agriculture development to the world's most food-insecure countries. I look forward to working with Rajiv in the months and years ahead.”
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John F. Kerry and the committee's senior Republican, Richard Lugar, welcomed the nomination.
“I have been very concerned about the lack of political leadership at USAID, especially in the face of critical foreign policy, humanitarian and development priorities in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Sudan," Kerry said in a statement. "I also believe having an Administrator will bring significant momentum to foreign aid reform. I look forward to a thorough nomination process.”
“For development to play its full role in our national security structure, USAID must be a strong agency with the resources to accomplish the missions we give it,” Lugar added. “The issues that we face today – from chronic poverty and hunger to violent acts of terrorism – require that we work seamlessly toward identifiable goals. I look forward to discussing ways to improve and support the development mission that benefits our long-term security as we proceed with the confirmation process.”
Senator John F. Kerry, who came to national prominence when he testified before Congress as a Vietnam war hero turned anti-war activist, is now warning against those pushing for a troop surge in Afghanistan by asserting that the same could have turned the tide in Vietnam.
"Let me be clear: more than 58,000 American troops died because they were sent into battle based on false assumptions, flawed goals, and faulty strategies. Yes, we adopted smarter tactics near the end, but by then the die was cast. History has definitively branded Vietnam for the mistake it was—no one should believe that the deaths of nearly 60,000 Americans and at least 1.5 million Vietnamese were somehow not quite enough," Kerry, who is now chairman of the same committee he addressed in 1971, writes in the Nov. 16 issue of Newsweek magazine.
The Massachusetts Democrat, who is among those cautioning President Obama against sending the full allotment of 40,000 additional US troops sought by the top commander in Afghanistan, says there are some similarities with Vietnam.
"We are once again fighting an insurgency in a rural country with a weak central government," he writes. "Once again, our enemy blends in with the local population and finds sanctuary in a neighboring country. Once again, the danger of being perceived as an occupying force by a war-weary population remains perilous."
But he says it is dangerous to draw too many parallels with Afghanistan -- a "very different country -- vastly different history, culture, and geography—in a different era."
"The main lesson that Obama must absorb from Vietnam is the necessity to explain our goals in Afghanistan, and to choose clear and realistic strategies to meet them," Kerry adds.
"I pledged to myself long ago to be informed by Vietnam, not imprisoned by it," he concludes. "The easiest way to make a mistake is to tolerate a debate that sells our country short. In the case of Afghanistan, politics has reduced a difficult mission in a complex country to a simple, headline-ready 'yes or no' on troop numbers. What we need is a realistic assessment of our strategy, military and civilian combined. One of the architects of the Vietnam War, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, confessed decades later that he knew victory was no longer possible well before the American death toll had reached half its eventual total. He offers a horrific lesson that the time to voice concerns is now."
The full piece is available here.
Senator John F. Kerry is cosponsoring a bill he announced today he will introduce to give more aid to small businesses that have military reservists on their payrolls.
Authored with Representative Ron Klein of Florida, the legislation would provide tax incentives for small businesses that make up the difference in salary between military and civilian pay while reservists are serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Many large businesses offer the supplements, but many small business owners, who employ 20 percent of reservists, can't afford to do the same.
“Our legislation supports the small businesses that stand by our men and women in uniform when reservists are deployed. It keeps our service members employed and small businesses open for business. In the face of a tough economy, we can do more to support the employers and reservists who make such profound contributions to our economy and national defense,” Kerry said in a statement.
President Obama announced this afternoon that he is dispatching Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to represent the US at the 20th anniversary Monday of the fall of the Berlin Wall -- the symbolic end of Soviet dominance over Eastern Europe and the Cold War.
But his absence is not sitting well with some conservatives.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote today that while some consider Obama's decision "an outrage, I consider it a tragedy.
"To commemorate, after all, is to remember," the Georgia Republican said in an op-ed published in the Washington Examiner. "And Americans need to remember, not just that the Wall fell, but why it fell. We need to remember that the Berlin Wall was the symbol of more than just the Cold War, more than just the division of Europe. It was the symbol of an evil ideology that denied human dignity, denied truth, and respected only power. When the Wall fell, truth and human dignity, in a rare moment in the 20th century, triumphed over power.
"The message of human dignity that led to the toppling of the Berlin Wall twenty years ago is a true message of hope rooted in the spiritual nature of man and the freedom to know God," Gingrich concluded. "And so it is a true shame that the President of the United States - this man who cloaks himself in the rhetoric of hope - won't be pausing to remember."
Obama's schedule next week, however, is getting complicated. He is supposed to leave Wednesday on a 10-day tour of Asia, but he has also committed to attend the memorial service for the victims of the massacre at Fort Hood in Texas, which could also be next week.
The others in the official US delegation are Philip D. Murphy, the US ambassador to Germany; Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush; and Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter.
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- Newspapers in Pakistan love conspiracy theories, and the most recent one concerns an unpaid intern who worked for Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry: Zain H. Qureshi, the son of Pakistan's foreign minister.
Word of the young Qureshi's internship in Kerry's office during the negotiations over a $7.5 billion aid package to Pakistan spawned a flurry of speculation that the 19-year-old college student might actually have helped author the controversial legislation. The aid bill has also led to criticism of Pakistan's ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, who is on leave from Boston University.
One columnist for The News, a Pakistani newspaper, blasted the internship as a special privilege for the elite. She criticized Kerry as a "Boston Brahmin" and compared his aristocratic roots to Qureshi's powerful tribe.
"These guys claim to fame is blue-blooded ancestry, wealth, influence and the right to rule," she wrote.
The News columnist speculated that Qureshi had "gone into hiding" since she couldn't reach him on the phone number on a business card. The Pakistani embassy told the Globe that he simply returned to university in London. (Attempts to reach the young Qureshi via Facebook were unsuccessful.)
Another publication, Pakistan Daily, asked whether the internship made Pakistan's foreign minister beholden to Kerry and weakened his ability to defend Pakistan's interests.
"If you are a father, you develop a soft corner for the powerful man who has given your son an entry job in a powerful place," Pakistan Daily wrote.
A spokesman at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that Qureshi "had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do" with the aid package "or any other piece of legislation" and that he played no part in any topic related to Pakistan, India, or Afghanistan.
He said the young Qureshi worked in Kerry's Senate office, not the office of the Foreign Relations Committee that Kerry leads. The only thing he had to do with South Asia was drafting a memo at his own initiative about Sri Lanka for one of Kerry's staffers.
President Obama, trying to use diplomacy to defuse the standoff with Iran over its nuclear program, today marked the 30th anniversary of the event that ruined relations with the US -- the hostage crisis at the US embassy in Tehran.
"This event helped set the United States and Iran on a path of sustained suspicion, mistrust, and confrontation," Obama said.
In his statement, Obama said he is reaching out to the Iranian regime, but it must now respond in kind for relations to improve.
"I have made it clear that the United States of America wants to move beyond this past, and seeks a relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect," he said. "We do not interfere in Iran’s internal affairs. We have condemned terrorist attacks against Iran. We have recognized Iran’s international right to peaceful nuclear power. We have demonstrated our willingness to take confidence-building steps along with others in the international community. We have accepted a proposal by the International Atomic Energy Agency to meet Iran’s request for assistance in meeting the medical needs of its people. We have made clear that if Iran lives up to the obligations that every nation has, it will have a path to a more prosperous and productive relationship with the international community."
"Iran must choose," the president continued. "It is time for the Iranian government to decide whether it wants to focus on the past, or whether it will make the choices that will open the door to greater opportunity, prosperity, and justice for its people."
His full statement is below:
The White House is trying to nip in the bud a budding controversy over terrorism detainees at Guantanamo Bay getting swine flu vaccine sooner than many Americans.
"There is no vaccine in Guantanamo, and there's no vaccine on the way to Guantanamo," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters today.
He directly contradicted a spokesman at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, who had said that guards and then detainees were set to receive the vaccinations later this month.
Pressed on that apparent conflict in stories, Gibbs replied, "I don't know what the Pentagon said," and reiterated that there would be no vaccine for the detainees.
The prospect set off Obama administration critics, who noted that with suppliers behind on delivering the vaccine, Americans have been lining up for the inoculations.
"I don't think it's a good idea," the top House Republican, Representative John Boehner of Ohio, said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.
"The administration probably didn't think it would be very popular either; that's why they announced it on Friday night," Boehner added.
Gibbs defended the administration's efforts to defend the nation against the H1N1 virus.
"Obviously, the president is frustrated that there's anybody that is in one of these groups, at a high-risk group, that is having trouble getting the vaccine now, and we're making progress on getting more and more of that vaccine each day," Gibbs said at his regular daily press briefing.
Senator John F. Kerry, who played a key role in persuading Afghan President Hamid Karzai to accept a run-off election, is trying to put the best face on the Nov. 7 revote being called off after challenger Abdullah Abdullah withdrew over the weekend.
Abdullah's decision -- he complained that there would be as much fraud by Karzai's forces as what marred the first round -- made Karzai the winner by default. But it does nothing to help build Karzai's legitimacy as President Obama makes a fateful decision on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan.
"This is one of many critical moments for Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai deserves credit for his willingness to engage in the runoff election, and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah deserves credit for showing restraint throughout this difficult period. I applaud Dr. Abdullah for urging his supporters to avoid violence, and for refraining from actions which could tear the country apart rather than help bring it together. With the election concluded, it is an opportunity for the government of President Karzai to demonstrate genuine progress in combating corruption, establishing rule of law, and bringing measurable improvement to peoples' lives,” Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.
"It is my hope that all Afghans -- those who supported President Hamid Karzai, those who supported Dr Abdullah, and those who supported other candidates during the election -- will now join together to build a better future for their nation. This is a moment when fundamental change is not only possible, but absolutely essential."
UPDATE: President Obama called Karzai today to congratulate him -- but also to press for reform.
"Although the process was messy, I'm pleased to say that the final outcome was determined in accordance with Afghan law, which I think is very important, not only for the international community that has so much invested in Afghan success, but most importantly, is important for the Afghan people that the results were in accordance with and followed the rules laid down by the Afghan constitution," Obama told reporters.
"I did emphasize to President Karzai that the American people and the international community as a whole want to continue to partner with him and his government in achieving prosperity and security in Afghanistan. But I emphasized that this has to be a point in time in which we begin to write a new chapter based on improved governance, a much more serious effort to eradicate corruption, joint efforts to accelerate the training of Afghan security forces so that the Afghan people can provide for their own security. That kind of coordination and a sense on the part of President Karzai that after some difficult years in which there has been some drift, that in fact he's going to move boldly and forcefully forward and take advantage of the international community's interest in his country to initiate reforms internally, that has to be one of our highest priorities," the president said, recounting the conversation.
"He assured me that he understood the importance of this moment, but as I indicated to him, the proof is not going to be in words, it's going to be in deeds. And we are looking forward to consulting closely with his government in the weeks and months to come to assure that the Afghan people are actually seeing progress on the ground."
President Obama announced today that his administration is lifting travel restrictions into the country for those with HIV/AIDS.
"Twenty-two years ago, in a decision rooted in fear rather than fact, the United States instituted a travel ban on entry into the country for people living with HIV/AIDS. Now, we talk about reducing the stigma of this disease -- yet we've treated a visitor living with it as a threat. We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the AIDS pandemic -- yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people from HIV from entering our own country," Obama declared, before signing a bill extending the HIV/AIDS treatment act named for Ryan White, who was diagnosed with AIDS at 13 in 1984 and died in 1990. The bill provides medical care, medication, and support services to about 500,000, mostly poor, people.
"If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it. And that's why, on Monday my administration will publish a final rule that eliminates the travel ban effective just after the New Year. Congress and President Bush began this process last year, and they ought to be commended for it. We are finishing the job. It's a step that will encourage people to get tested and get treatment, it's a step that will keep families together, and it's a step that will save lives."
(His full remarks are below.)
The travel ban, imposed 22 years ago, will be lifted in January, according to a final regulation that will be published Monday, Obama said.
Similar restrictions are in place in about a dozen countries to protect public health. But Obama said the travel ban unnecessarily reinforces the stigma of AIDS.
Senator John F. Kerry, who co-authored legislation that the Senate passed last year to lift the ban, praised Obama's decision, asserting that the 1987 provision baring HIV-positive individuals from travelling or immigrating to the US covered doctors and experts, as well as refugees seeking asylum despite the lack of scientific evidence supporing the ban as an effective tool for disease control.
“Today a discriminatory travel and immigration ban has gone the way of the dinosaur and we’re glad it’s finally extinct. It sure took too long to get here,” Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. “We’ve now removed one more hurdle in our fight against AIDS, and it’s long overdue for people living with HIV who battle against stigma and bigotry day in and day out.”
“At long last, our nation’s unjust policy of excluding HIV-positive visitors and immigrants has ended,” added Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement issued by Kerry's office. “We applaud the leadership of our allies in Congress, especially Senator Kerry, and of President Obama and Secretary Sebelius in bringing this discriminatory chapter of our history to a close.”
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John F. Kerry is welcoming the apparent deal in Honduras that could return President Manuel Zelaya to office.
The agreement, announced late Thursday by the Organization of American States, could help end the dispute over the June 28 coup in the Central American nation that ousted Zelaya from power and put Roberto Micheletti into office. The agreement would create a power-sharing government and pledge both to recognize the results of the Nov. 29 presidential elections.
There has been a rollicking debate in Washington and foreign policy circles about how aggressively the US should be pushing for Zelaya's reinstatement .
“I welcome the agreement ending the crisis in Honduras," Kerry said in a statement. "The restoration of democracy is an historic accomplishment for the Honduran people . The accord provides a roadmap for elections on November 29, but success will depend on rigorous international monitoring of the accord’s implementation.
“I also want to congratulate Costa Rican President Arias, OAS Secretary General Insulza, and Assistant Secretary Tom Shannon and his team. With this crisis resolved, I look forward to the speedy Senate confirmation of Mr. Shannon as our Ambassador to Brazil and Dr. Arturo Valenzuela as Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs,” the Massachusetts Democrat added.
Wrestling with whether to send more US troops to Afghanistan, President Obama saw the war's cost first-hand early this morning on a bleak, blustery tarmac in Delaware.
Obama saluted and honored 18 Americans killed this week -- one of the bloodiest of the deadliest month for US forces in the eight-year war -- as they returned home at Dover Air Force Base.
The 18 flag-draped transfer cases contained the bodies of seven soldiers and three Drug Enforcement Agency agents killed in a helicopter crash Monday and eight soldiers killed when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb Tuesday.
UPDATE: "Obviously it was a sobering reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that our young men and women in uniform are engaging in every single day -- not only our troops, but their families as well. And so Michelle and I are constantly mindful of those sacrifices," Obama told reporters this afternoon.
"And obviously the burden that both our troops and our families bear in any wartime situation is going to bear on how I see these conflicts. And it is something that I think about each and every day."
According to the press pool report, Obama, wearing a dark suit and topcoat against the night chill, arrived at Dover with a delegation of senior officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder.
From Marine One, the president first took a motorcade to a base chapel, where he met privately with families of the killed. Then, Obama and his party boarded the mammoth C-17 cargo plane, where a prayer was led by an Air Force chaplain. They walked down the plane's rear ramp, and stood in a line at the base.
Reporters were allowed to witness Obama participating in the solemn transfer ritual for Army Sergeant Dale R. Griffin of Terre Haute, Ind., whose family consented to media coverage. Obama stood at attention at the base of the plane’s loading ramp as Griffin’s family arrived. Obama saluted as six Army soldiers wearing white gloves carried the flag- draped transfer case from the plane to a waiting vehicle. As it drove away, Obama saluted again.
The unannounced trip -- Obama left the White House about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday and didn't return until nearly 5 a.m. today -- was the first time a commander in chief has met returning casualties since Bill Clinton in 1996 met the body of his Secretary of Commerce Ronald Brown, who was killed in Europe.
Earlier this year, Obama reversed an 18-year-old policy barring media coverage of returning war dead.
The 18 honored by the president did not include Captain Kyle R. VanDeGiesen, 29, of North Attleborough, a Marine helicopter pilot who was one of four Marines killed in a second helicopter crash in Afghanistan on Monday.
Senator John F. Kerry, a key player in the Afghanistan debate, responded this afternoon to a New York Times report that Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Afghan president's brother, is suspected of involvement in the opium trade and is on the CIA payroll.
Kerry said he fears that he and other members of Congress have been misled about Ahmed Karzai's role in drug trafficking, which helps fund the operations of the Taliban insurgents who are taking an increasingly bloody toll on US troops.
“Senior American officials have told me repeatedly that there is no hard evidence linking Ahmed Wali Karzai to drug trafficking. However, after reading press accounts which allege that Mr. Karzai has been on the payroll of the CIA, one of the agencies gathering intelligence about narcotics trafficking in Afghanistan, I have serious questions about the information that Congress is receiving. On questions this serious, it is imperative that we receive reliable, current and accurate information," Kerry said in a statement.
“Reducing corruption and stopping the bribes from drug traffickers are absolutely essential to developing an effective Afghan government. Just this week, three DEA agents gave their lives in the fight against drug trafficking, a chilling reminder of the sacrifices American civilians and troops make in Afghanistan," added Kerry, who helped persuade Afghan President Hamid Karzai to accept a Nov. 7 run-off election.
“We should not condemn Ahmed Wali Karzai or damage our critical relations with his brother, President Karzai, on the basis of newspaper articles or rumors. But the appropriate congressional committees must be immediately provided with the most comprehensive and untainted information about his alleged entanglements.”
Senator John McCain, President Obama's Republican foe last year, has largely supported his rival since the election.
But now, the Vietnam War hero and Iraq troop surge supporter is putting increasing pressure on Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan -- and do it soon.
The president has held six war councils and counting to decide the strategy going forward, and some expect him to wait on deciding on his top commander's request for as many as 40,000 additional troops until after the Nov. 7 Afghan presidential run-off election.
But McCain said on "The Early Show" on CBS this morning that the war policy in Afghanistan "has been reviewed time and again" and it's time to act because the long delay "is not helpful to our effort" and is frustrating military commanders and making allies nervous.
And in an op-ed posted online on CNN today, McCain calls on Obama to move as quickly as possible to grant General Stanley McChrystal's request for additional troops.
McCain notes that he supported the Afghanistan strategy that Obama laid out in March, when he announced his decision to dispatch 21,000 more US troops. And the senator also stresses that he backed Obama's appointment of McChrystal as the top US commander on the ground -- so the president should listen to the general now.
"I agree with our commander's assessment of the security situation as 'deteriorating' and that our civilian and military leaders urgently need more resources, including more combat troops, to turn the tide toward success," McCain writes. "I sympathize with our president, because sending men and women into harm's way is the most difficult decision that a commander-in-chief must make. However, Americans are already serving in harm's way in Afghanistan, and the sooner we can provide the reinforcements and resources they need, the safer and more successful they will be."
(Read the full opinion piece here.)
President Obama and his point man in Congress for foreign policy are both focusing on Afghanistan today.
Obama met this morning with his national security team to discuss US policy in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan as pressure builds on the president to decide on his top commander's request for as many as 40,000 more troops.
The White House said expected attendees included Vice President Joe Biden (via videoconference), Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, National Security Adviser General James Jones, Deputy National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
They met as word comes from Afghanistan that 14 American military members and civilians were killed in two helicopter crashes.
This afternoon, Obama traveled to Jacksonville, Fla., where he will speak to and meet with sailors and Marines.
UPDATE: In his speech at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Obama did not give any significant hints on his Afghanistan decision. But he did mention that debate as he pledged anew not to send US forces into combat unless absolutely necessary.
"While I will never hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests, I also promise you this -- and this is very important as we consider our next steps in Afghanistan: I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm’s way," he said. "I won’t risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary. And if it is necessary, we will back you up. Because you deserve the strategy, the clear mission, the defined goals and the equipment and support you need to get the job done. That’s the promise I make to you."
Instead, the president spent most of his address thanking the sailors and Marines for their service, mentioning the loss of 14 Americans in separate helicopter crashes in Afghanistan.
"You are the best-trained, best-prepared, best-led force in history. You -- our people -- are our most precious resource," he said.
"We were reminded of this again, with today’s helicopter crashes in Afghanistan. Fourteen Americans gave their lives. And our prayers are with these service members, their civilian colleagues and the families who loved them. And while no words can ease the ache in their hearts today, may they find some comfort in knowing this: like all those who give their lives in service to America, they were doing their duty and they were doing this nation proud."
Obama also promised to make sure members of the military are taken care of when they return home.
"We’re improving care for our wounded warriors, especially those with Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injuries. We’re funding the Post-9/11 GI Bill to give you and your families the chance to pursue your dreams. And we’re making the biggest commitment to our veterans -- the largest percentage increase in the VA budget -- in more than 30 years," he said.
"These are the commitments I make to you; the obligations that your country is honor-bound to uphold. Because you’ve have always taken care of America, and America must always take care of you. Always."
(His full remarks are below.)
About an hour after Obama's strategy session began this morning, Senator John F. Kerry delivered a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations entitled “Afghanistan: Defining the Possibilities” to examine the way forward for US strategy in Afghanistan.
Kerry was on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan during a seven-day trip that ended last Wednesday and that culminated in the Senate Foreign Relations chairman playing a key role in persuading Afghan President Hamid Karzai to accept a Nov. 7 runoff election that US officials hope provides legitimacy to the Afghan government.
In his speech, Kerry said that the Afghanistan debate has been oversimplified and that Obama is right to take his time to decide what to do next.
"With certainty, we all know why we invaded Afghanistan. It was not a mistake to go in. We now have to choose a smart way forward so that no one is ever compelled to ask whether we've made a mistake in staying," he said.
"The easiest way to make a mistake, frankly, is to tolerate a debate that sells our country short. In recent weeks, politics has reduced an extraordinarily complex country and mission to a simple, headline-ready “yes or no” on troop numbers. That debate is completely at odds with reality. What we need, above all, what our troops deserve-- and what we haven’t had-- is a comprehensive strategy, military and civilian combined.”
Kerry said that he believes the troop request by General Stanley McChrystal is too expansive. “I am convinced from my conversations with General Stanley McChrystal that he understands the necessity of conducting a smart counterinsurgency in a limited geographic area. But I believe his current plan reaches too far, too fast. We do not yet have the critical guarantees of governance and development capacity. I also have serious concerns about the ability to produce effective Afghan forces to partner with, so we can ensure that when our troops make heroic sacrifices, the benefits to the Afghans are clear and sustainable.”
The senator also hit back at former Vice President Dick Cheney, who said last week that the White House was "dithering" and endangering US troops by taking so long to decide.
"After eight years of neglecting Afghanistan as vice president, Dick Cheney has now come out of retirement to criticize President Obama for taking time to examine assumptions before sending troops into war, this from the man who in 2002 told America, quote, 'The Taliban regime is out of business permanently.' I think this is one time I wish Dick Cheney had been right, but tragically, he wasn't, and he isn't today, and that's why we have to make the tough choices about Afghanistan now," Kerry said.
"Make no mistake: Because of the gross mishandling of this war by past civilian leadership, there are no great options for its handling today. One American officer captured well our lack of a strategy when he said, We haven't been fighting in Afghanistan for eight years. We've been fighting in Afghanistan for one year eight times in a row. That is our inheritance."
His full speech is below:FULL ENTRY
The war of words over foreign policy is back on between former Vice President Dick Cheney and the Obama administration.
In a speech Wednesday night, Cheney suggested that the president was afraid to decide whether to send more US troops to Afghanistan and that's why it is taking so long.
"The White House must stop dithering while America's armed forces are in danger," Cheney told the conservative Center for Security Policy. "It's time for President Obama to do what it takes to win a war he has repeatedly and rightly called a war of necessity."
"Make no mistake. Signals of indecision out of Washington hurt our allies and embolden our adversaries," Cheney added, according to the Associated Press.
He also disputed remarks by White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel on talk shows over the weekend that the Obama administration had to start from scratch to come up with an Afghanistan strategy because the Bush administration let the situation slide.
Cheney said the Bush team reviewed the eight-year-old war before leaving office and presented its findings to Obama's transition team. "They asked us not to announce our findings publicly, and we agreed, giving them the benefit of our work and the benefit of the doubt," he said.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs took on Cheney today, saying that Obama is making sure he gets the strategy right.
"What Vice President Cheney calls dithering, President Obama calls his solemn responsibility to the men and women in uniform and to the American public. I think we've all seen what happens when somebody doesn't take that responsibility seriously," Gibbs said during his daily briefing.
The spokesman also hit back at the Bush-Cheney team, saying it allowed the situation to worsen in Afghanistan and asserting the 21,000-troop increase that Obama approved in March had been sitting on the desk of the Bush White House for months.
Calling Cheney's comment "curious," Gibbs said, "I think it's pretty safe to say that the vice president was for seven years not focused on Afghanistan, even more curious given the fact that an increase in troops sat on desks in this White House, including the vice president's, for more than eight months, a resource request filled by President Obama in March."
"I find it interesting that he's blaming us for something that he didn't see fit to do over, best I can tell, seven years of a war in Afghanistan," Gibbs added.
UPDATE: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also came to the president's defense.
"The president has a very difficult decision to make," she told reporters this afternoon on Capitol Hill. "He's got to have the facts to make that. We all pray for the difficult decision he has to make. I don't think it's very constructive for the vice president to say that - he's forgotten whose administration made matters worse in Afghanistan by their neglect."
Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who sits on the Armed Services Committee and has visited Afghanistan, also said Obama is right to take the time for a full policy review.
"They say that elephants don't forget, but it looks like many members of the Republican Party have a mass case of amnesia. The same politicians who were demanding that the current president stop dithering and do whatever his generals suggest forget that the previous administration ignored and under resourced our commanders and soldiers in Afghanistan for nearly eight years," Reed said at a news conference.
Saying he found Cheney's comments "very puzzling," Reid asked, "Why didn't the former vice president ask George Bush to just do what it takes to win in Afghanistan for the seven years when he was in office, instead of blindly rushing into Iraq and allowing Afghanistan to drift into chaos?"
"I voted against the Iraq war in part because I knew it would shift the focus and hundreds of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of our troops away from Afghanistan, the area where our greatest threat emanates from," Reed added. "And had the Bush administration conducted a thorough review and looked at all the facts prior to the invasion of Iraq, they might have avoided a major foreign policy disaster that also has ended up crippling our economy back home."
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee also sided with Obama.
"I think President Obama is entitled to take sufficient time to decide what our long-term role ought to be in Afghanistan," Alexander said on MSNBC. "Then I think he should come to Congress and say to the American people what that plan is and see if he can persuade us and all of the American people of the rightness of it because he needs to have support all the way through to the end of that mission, so I want him to take the time to get it right."
Cheney's reappearance on the public stage also brought a sharp rebuke from a liberal-leaning security think tank.
"The record is clear: Dick Cheney and the Bush administration were incompetent war fighters," National Security Network senior adviser, retired General Paul Eaton, said in a statement. "They ignored Afghanistan for 7 years with a crude approach to counter-insurgency warfare best illustrated by: 1. Deny it. 2. Ignore it. 3. Bomb it. While our intelligence agencies called the region the greatest threat to America, the Bush White House under-resourced our military efforts, shifted attention to Iraq, and failed to bring to justice the masterminds of September 11.
"The only time Cheney and his cabal of foreign policy 'experts' have anything to say is when they feel compelled to protect this failed legacy. While President Obama is tasked with cleaning up the considerable mess they left behind, they continue to defend torture or rewrite a legacy of indifference on Afghanistan. Simply put, Mr. Cheney sees history throughout extremely myopic and partisan eyes," continued Eaton, who served more than 30 years in the United States Army and from 2003-2004 oversaw the training of the Iraqi military.
"As one deeply invested in the Armed Forces of this country, I am grateful for the senior military commanders assigned to leading this fight and the men and women fighting on the ground. But I dismiss men like Cheney who inject partisan politics into the profound deliberations our Commander-in-Chief and commanders on the ground are having to develop a cohesive and comprehensive strategy, bringing to bear the economic and diplomatic as well as the military power, for Afghanistan -- something Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld never did. No human endeavor can be as profound as sending a nation's youth to war. I am very happy to see serious men and women working hard to get it right."
The former vice president had lain rather low since the remarkable, high-profile face-off in May with Obama on the war on terror.
In back-to-back speeches before different audiences, Obama and Cheney each forcefully laid out their sharply different views on how to keep America safe from terrorism, the effectiveness of harsh interrogations, and whether the Guantanamo Bay detainees pose an imminent danger if brought to US soil.
Senator John F. Kerry, just back from a diplomatic mission in Afghanistan, said today that seeing NATO forces fighting alongside Americans convinces him even more of the importance of the alliance born of World War II.
"Let me tell you, whatever our differences, our allies have made enormous sacrifices in Afghanistan. They, too, are serving heroically," Kerry said in his opening statement at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing today on the future of NATO.
"While questions remain on both sides of the Atlantic about the future of our Afghan mission, our confidence in the idea and the cohesion of NATO remains strong. Our commitment to defend our NATO allies is unwavering," he added.
"NATO turned sixty this year. As we all know, there have been times when NATO’s critics called it an alliance in search of a mission. Today, as new challenges multiply and old ones resurface, it has become clear that as long as NATO continues to adapt, it will remain essential going forward."
His full prepared statement is below:FULL ENTRY
By Susan Milligan, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- Senator John F. Kerry, fresh from a diplomatic coup in Afghanistan, said this afternoon that President Obama should wait until after the Afghanistan presidential run-off before deciding whether to send more US troops.
After briefing Obama in a private 45-minute one-on-one meeting, Kerry said it wouldn't be "common sense" to determine the best US strategy without knowing how the election goes and who will be in charge of the country.
"You need to know what kind of government is coming out of it," Kerry told reporters at the White House. "I would absolutely counsel [Obama] to wait until after the run-off."
While Kerry said he did not discuss the issue with Obama, "I'd be surprised if he wasn't on the same wavelength..."
The president, however, told NBC News today that it's possible that he will announce before the Nov. 7 run-off his decision on a request by the top US commander for as many as 40,000 additional troops.
"I think it is entirely possibly that we have a strategy formulated before a runoff is determined. We may not announce it," Obama said in the NBC interview.
"I think we're still in-- finding out how this whole process in Afghanistan is gonna unfold. I thought that the steps that President Karzai took yesterday, agreeing to the certification of a second round was positive. What we've said is that it is important to make sure that we understand the landscape and the partner that we're gonna be dealing with," the president added.
"Because our strategy in Afghanistan is not just dependent on military forces. It's also dependent on how well we're doing with our civilian development efforts, how well we're doing in stemming corruption. So this is part of a comprehensive strategy; it always has been. And our basic attitude is that we are going to take the time to get this right. We're not gonna drag it out, because there is a sense that the sooner we get a sound approach in place and personnel in place, the better off we're gonna be. But we also want to make sure that we don't put resources ahead of strategy."
Kerry said since it would take months to actually get additional forces in place, if that is what Obama decides, a two-week delay would not interfere. "Two weeks is a very short span of time, folks, to determine whether you have a government to work with during a war."
Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who supports a troop increase, said there's no need to wait until after the run-off.
“We’re there not to advocate or protect any particular leadership of Afghanistan; we’re there really to secure the people of Afghanistan and to help them determine their own future," Lieberman said on Fox News Channel. “If the president makes this decision to increase troops before Election Day it’s going to give more Afghans the confidence to come out and vote.”
Kerry, who is being lauded for his role in persuading Afghan President Hamid Karzai to accept a run-off election in hopes of removing the taint of balloting fraud in the first go-round, also dismissed suggestions that he had eclipsed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was given the job Kerry wanted.
"That's an unfair characterization," Kerry said, noting that he was in frequent touch with Clinton during the talks with Karzai.
Earlier today, the top Senate Democrat heaped praise on Kerry. Though it remains unclear whether the run-off can happen on schedule or without more shenanigans, Karzai's decision, announced Tuesday with Kerry at his side, averted an immediate crisis.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor this morning that Kerry's diplomatic success is the latest example of his "service to our country" -- as a decorated Vietnam War veteran, 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, and now as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
"What he's doing in Afghanistan is something that is vitally important to not only our country, but to the world," Reid gushed.
President Obama praised Afghan President Hamid Karzai this morning for agreeing to a runoff election -- balloting that the US hopes gives legitimacy to the regime in Kabul and is expected to free Obama to decide whether to send more US troops.
"I welcome President Karzai’s statement today accepting the Independent Electoral Commission’s certification of the August 20 election results, and agreeing to participate in a second round of the election. This is an important step forward in ensuring a credible process for the Afghan people which results in a government that reflects their will," Obama said in a statement issued through the White House.
"While this election could have remained unresolved to the detriment of the country, President Karzai’s constructive actions established an important precedent for Afghanistan’s new democracy. The Afghan Constitution and laws are strengthened by President Karzai’s decision, which is in the best interests of the Afghan people," Obama added. (His full statement is below.)
Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, helped persuade Karzai to accept an independent commission's findings that there was enough voter fraud in the first round of balloting to push him below a majority and force a runoff, expected on Nov. 7.
Kerry stood next to Karzai today when he announced he would accept the runoff, and said that Karzai's move had transformed a crisis into a "moment of great opportunity."
(Kerry's full prepared remarks are also below.)FULL ENTRY
President Obama, acknowledging that not enough has been done to stop the genocide in Darfur, nonetheless charted a new course today, offering to engage the Sudanese government and offer incentives.
"Today, my Administration is releasing a comprehensive strategy to confront the serious and urgent situation in Sudan," Obama said in a statement.
"For years, the people of Sudan have faced enormous and unacceptable hardship. The genocide in Darfur has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and left millions more displaced. Conflict in the region has wrought more suffering, posing dangers beyond Sudan’s borders and blocking the potential of this important part of Africa. Sudan is now poised to fall further into chaos if swift action is not taken.
Many activists have been wary of the Obama administration's new policy and have criticized special envoy Scott Gration for being too close to the regime.
But the administration says that the new approach is designed to end “gross human rights abuses” in Darfur and follow through on a peace deal that ended war between northern and southern Sudan.
The United Nations estimates that 300,000 people have died in the civil war in Darfur and 2.7 million people have been driven from their homes.
"Our conscience and our interests in peace and security call upon the United States and the international community to act with a sense of urgency and purpose. First, we must seek a definitive end to conflict, gross human rights abuses and genocide in Darfur. Second, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the North and South in Sudan must be implemented to create the possibility of long-term peace. These two goals must both be pursued simultaneously with urgency. Achieving them requires the commitment of the United States, as well as the active participation of international partners. Concurrently, we will work aggressively to ensure that Sudan does not provide a safe-haven for international terrorists," Obama's statement continued.
"The United States Special Envoy has worked actively and effectively to engage all of the parties involved, and he will continue to pursue engagement that saves lives and achieves results. Later this week, I will renew the declaration of a National Emergency with respect to Sudan, which will continue tough sanctions on the Sudanese Government. If the Government of Sudan acts to improve the situation on the ground and to advance peace, there will be incentives; if it does not, then there will be increased pressure imposed by the United States and the international community. As the United States and our international partners meet our responsibility to act, the Government of Sudan must meet its responsibilities to take concrete steps in a new direction.
"Over the last several years, governments, non-governmental organizations, and individuals, and from around the world have taken action to address the situation in Sudan, and to end the genocide in Darfur. Going forward, all of our efforts must be measured by the lives that are led by the people of Sudan. After so much suffering, they deserve a future that allows them to live with greater dignity, security, and opportunity. It will not be easy, and there are no simple answers to the extraordinary challenges that confront this part of the world. But now is the time for all of us to come together, and to make a strong and sustained effort on behalf of a better future for the people of Sudan."
Senator John F. Kerry, who as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee visited Sudan in April to meet with government officials, humanitarian workers, and Darfuri refugees, endorsed the new policy.
“I support the comprehensive Sudan policy announced today by the President and Secretary of State. This strategy, which will be spearheaded by the United States Special Envoy, General Scott Gration, both emphasizes the urgency of working for peace in Darfur and seeks to ensure that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between North and South Sudan does not collapse, which would lead to further devastation for the people of the region," Kerry said in a statement this afternoon.
"Importantly, this strategy builds on lessons learned from past efforts and addresses the situation as it exists today, promoting both engagement and accountability.”
Seeking to buff up his foreign policy credentials and reaching out to Israel's supporters, Mitt Romney is telling a major pro-Israel group today that he is "very concerned" by the Obama administration's Mideast policy.
"In pursuit of a peace process, the United States today has exerted substantial pressure on Israel while putting almost no pressure on the Palestinians and the Arab world," the former Massachusetts governor, 2008 Republican presidential hopeful, and possible 2012 contender said to the AIPAC national summit in San Diego.
Obama has been pushing for a renewal of negotiations toward a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority -- and has been pressuring Israel to stop expanding settlements on the West Bank.
But saying that America and Israel are "bound together by common commitments and shared values," Romney says US policy should recognize that.
"Inexplicably, the United States now places the burden on Israel to make still more unilateral concessions," he said. "At the United Nations, we decried the building of new Israeli settlements but ignored the launching of Palestinian rockets. How is this possible? Have we not yet learned from the concessions in Gaza, as well as from all recorded history, that giving in to the demands of oppressors always and only leads to more demands, not to peace?
"We can encourage both parties in the conflict, but we must never forget which one is our ally. Nor must we forget that Hamas, like other violent Jihadists, does not have a two-state solution as its objective—it has the conquest and annihilation of Israel as its objective. The notion that Hamas and violent Jihadists are motivated by 'shared interests' and 'common goals' is naïve in the extreme and dangerous to the entire free world."
Romney also inveighs against the United Nations, which is about to consider a report accusing Israel of war crimes during its assault in Gaza, saying it "has become a forum for invective against the Jewish state."
And Romney urged a hard line against Iran's nuclear ambitions and warned against Obama's desire for talks.
"At this late stage I would simply say that it is long past time for America to recognize the nature of the regime we are dealing with," he said. "The Iranian regime is unalloyed evil, run by people who are at once ruthless and fanatical. Stop thinking that a charm offensive will talk the Iranians out of their pursuit of nuclear weapons. It will not. And agreements, unenforceable and unverifiable, will have no greater impact here than they did in North Korea. Once an outstretched hand is met with a clenched fist, it becomes a symbol of weakness and impotence."
His full prepared remarks are below:
Hillary Rodham Clinton -- former first lady, presidential contender, and now secretary of state -- knows painfully first-hand how difficult a lift health care is.
So she counsels patience as Congress and the White House tries to come up with a bill that can pass -- and that can work.
"I'm very encouraged by the action that's going on in the Senate. But I think I, probably better than anyone, know how difficult this is," she said in an interview aired on CNN today.
"But we've made a lot of progress in the last nine months. And I'm very optimistic we're going to get a health care plan that will really improve the lives of the American people," added Clinton, who led a White House health care task force in 1993-94 that submitted a detailed bill to Congress that was derided as "Hillarycare" and went nowhere.
In the interview, Clinton also preached patience on Obama's decision whether to dispatch more US troops to Afghanistan, saying that "it's to the president's credit that he has had the patience and the persistence to really force the process without responding prematurely."
The president, she said, needs to closely scrutinize the broad view of what the US mission in Afghanistan should be and how best to accomplish it, citing a recent strategic review.
"It was quite remarkable that the report came in with two big ideas that had not, in my view, been fully either explored or certainly implemented in the prior eight years," she said. "One was you've got to look at Afghanistan and Pakistan together. Now, that may sound self-evident. But that wasn't what was being done previously. And you have to have a much greater integration of the civilian and the military efforts."
The full transcript of Clinton's interview with CNN's Jill Dougherty, as provided by the network, is below:
President Obama today signed a bill, championed by Senator John F. Kerry, that increases US aid to crucial, but volatile ally Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year.
"This law is the tangible manifestation of broad support for Pakistan in the U.S., as evidenced by its bipartisan, bicameral, unanimous passage in Congress," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.
"As President Obama said on March 27, the United States wants to engage Pakistan on the basis of a strategic partnership, 'grounded in support for Pakistan's democratic institutions and the Pakistani people.' This Act formalizes that partnership, based on a shared commitment to improving the living conditions of the people of Pakistan through sustainable economic development, strengthening democracy and the rule of law, and combating the extremism that threatens Pakistan and the United States."
On Wednesday, Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, held a joint news conference with Pakistan's foreign minister to clarify that the conditions attached to the aid aren't meant to delve into the country's internal affairs.
Senator John F. Kerry did a little diplomatic two-step today to reassure Pakistan that a foreign aid bill he championed does not impinge on the precarious nation's independence.
As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry held a joint press conference with House Foreign Relations Chairman Howard L. Berman and Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi to release a "joint explanatory statement."
"It affirms that the primary intention of the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act is to demonstrate the American people’s long-term commitment to the people of Pakistan. It will be placed in the Congressional Record today along with the final version of the legislation that the President will be signing," Kerry said.
“It affirms that the United States values its friendship with the Pakistani people and honors the great sacrifices made by Pakistani security forces in the fight against extremism. And it also makes absolutely clear – and I want to emphasize this point – that the legislation does not seek in any way to compromise Pakistan’s sovereignty, impinge on Pakistan’s national security interests, or micromanage any aspect of Pakistani military or civilian operations.
Both the Senate and House have passed the bill, which would provide Pakistan with $1.5 billion a year over the next five years to spend on democratic, economic and social development programs. The bill awaits President Obama's signature.
Pakistan's military has objected to provisions in the bill that links money for counterterrorism assistance to a crackdown on militants and other conditions.
The full explanatory statement is below:
Just before leaving Copenhagen on his whirlwind Olympics trip, President Obama managed this morning to squeeze in his first face-to-face meeting with his top commander in Afghanistan.
General Stanley McChrystal, who is believed to be seeking reinforcements totaling as many as 40,000 troops, talked with the president for about 25 minutes aboard Air Force One.
"The president wanted to take the opportunity to get together with Gen. McChrystal," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.
McChrystal was summoned from London, where on Thursday he gave a speech warning that the militants are gaining strength and more troops are needed to "buy time" for the Afghan military and police forces to prepare to take control of the country in 2013. He said there is a “huge risk’’ al Qaeda terrorists will again find safe haven in Afghanistan unless new tactics are put in place in the near future.
Obama and McChrystal had talked only twice previously, including by videoconference on Wednesday when the president huddled with his top military and diplomatic advisers as he mulls a new strategy in Afghanistan, including the request for more troops on top of the 21,000 he has already dispatched.
President Obama, who called out Iran last week for secretly building a new uranium enrichment plant, this afternoon sounded a note of cautious optimistic after Iran agreed to continue talks and open the plant to United Nations inspectors.
He said the moves were "a constructive beginning," but must be followed with "constructive action" by Iran to show that its nuclear program is for only civilian, not military, purposes.
"We're not interested in talking for the sake of talking," he said. "Pledges of cooperation must be fulfilled."
Obama said Iran is responding to a united front, and said the progress shows that his overtures to Iran -- which were roundly criticized in some quarters -- are paying off.
In Geneva earlier today, officials from Iran, the US, and five other world powers ended their meeting with an agreement to meet again later this month for more discussions. There was also a rare direct huddle between the senior US and Iranian delegates. And diplomats said Iran will open its newly disclosed nuclear plant to inspectors, probably within a few weeks.
Obama called on Iran to allow unfettered inspections within the next two weeks and to let a third country enrich its uranium.
"Taking the step of transferring its low enriched uranium to a third country would be a step towards building confidence that Iran’s program is in fact peaceful," he said.
His full remarks are below:FULL ENTRY
WASHINGTON -- Senator John F. Kerry made clear today that, while he is weighing the wisdom of adding additional troops to Afghanistan, he does not believe that withdrawal is an option.
"I don't see that as on the table," he said. "I don't think that there is anyone up here who is talking about that."
Kerry spoke at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing -- the third in a series he has called on Afghanistan -- that probed what the impact of additional troops would be on stability in Pakistan, a fragile, nuclear-armed neighbor.
Maleeha Lodhi, former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, said an increase in US combat troops in Afghanistan could lead to an increase in suicide attacks, militant groups, and support for extremism in Pakistan.
"A further military escalation in Afghanistan is unlikely to succeed," she said.
Lodhi, Milt Bearden, who served as the CIA station chief in Pakistan during the 1980s, and Steve Coll of the New America Foundation, said the Obama administration should put the emphasis on brokering a political solution to the fighting.
"I think we are going to have to start understanding who they are and deal with them," Bearden said. "There will always be enough Pashtuns to meet our troops in the field."
Kerry's opening statement is below.
As the Globe reported Wednesday, Kerry is trying to carve out a significant role on US policy in Afghanistan as Obama comes up with a new strategy and decides whether to approve a military request for more reinforcements.
Kerry has also weighed in on Pakistan. Thursday, the House gave final approval to a bill that he championed in the Senate that would give Pakistan $1.5 billion in aid a year over the next five years focused on democratic, economic, and social development programs. Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.
Kerry issued a statement congratulating the House on its vote. “The final version of the bill is the product of several months of intense consultation and compromise between the Chambers, and I am delighted that we were able to forge this landmark piece of legislation on a bipartisan, bicameral basis," he said. "This bill reaffirms the depth of America’s long-term commitment to the people and Government of Pakistan. By tripling past years’ level of non-military aid to $1.5 billion a year for fiscal years 2010 to 2014, we demonstrate our steadfast support for Pakistani efforts to combat violent extremism, defeat al-Qaeda and solidify democratic government."FULL ENTRY
The military's manpower needs as it fights two wars is reaching into the highest reaches of the White House.
The White House announced today that Mark Lippert, deputy National Security Director and National Security Council chief of staff, will be returning to active duty in the US Navy.
Though there are reports that Lippert rubbed some the wrong way, he did serve in Iraq during the presidential campaign. Denis McDonough, deputy National Security adviser, and two others will take over Lippert's duties.
“I will miss Mark and his counsel, his excellent work at the NSC, and his good cheer. At the same time, I was not surprised when he came and told me he had stepped forward for another mobilization, as Mark is passionate about the Navy. I support his decision. He is a close friend, and I admire and respect his devotion to our country and answering the call to active duty service. He will always have a senior foreign policy position in this White House, when he chooses to return to civilian life," President Obama said in a statement.
As the US and its allies begin high-stakes talks today with Iran to demand an end to its nuclear weapons program, Senator John F. Kerry put in his two cents on what he calls "the most important American diplomatic engagement with Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution."
In Geneva, officials from the US and five other world powers are meeting with representatives of Iran, a week after President Obama called out Iran at the G-20 economic summit, disclosing intelligence that it had been secretly building a new uranium enrichment plant.
In an op-ed piece published in today's Financial Times, Kerry says that the Western powers enter the talks from a position of strength. "Consider the view from Tehran," he writes. "It is on the defensive – caught red-handed in another nuclear deception. In contrast to the rancorous run-up to the war in Iraq, America and Europe are increasingly reading from the same script and Russia is signalling an openness to further sanctions."
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says that for the diplomatic overtures to work, " two things are vital. First, if Iran is not willing to negotiate in good faith, it must understand the consequences. Pressure is not an alternative to engagement; the two strategies complement each other."
"Second," Kerry adds, "we must be willing to take yes for an answer. An important lesson of Iraq is that intrusive inspections can work. Our ability to detect and monitor the Qom enrichment facility for years before publicly revealing it is encouraging."
The Massachusetts Democrat acknowledges that diplomacy could very well fail.
"And yet, it remains vital to seek a diplomatic solution to the stand-off," he concludes. "The international community is finally in a position to force Iran to choose either pariah status or a more constructive relationship with America and the world. Certainly the real possibility of either military conflict or a nuclear-armed Iran compels us to give diplomacy a chance."
Representative Eric Cantor, the second-ranking Republican in the House, is less optimistic that the negotiations will be fruitful.
"The unfortunate reality for President Obama is that there is absolutely no evidence that Iran is willing to reach any agreement acceptable on U.S. terms – much less use negotiations for any purpose other than to buy more time for its illicit nuclear enrichment activities," Cantor writes in an op-ed published today in Politico.
The congressman says that Obama should not delay in winning international support for "crippling sanctions" to force Iran to comply.
"The key point is that we have been down this road before – and it has reached a dead end. This time around we simply don’t have the luxury of time," Cantor says, adding that Obama "must treat Iran’s government as the oppressive and unyielding engine of terror that it is, not as the trustworthy and compromising rational actor we all wish it could be. Should he expeditiously follow through on the heavy sanctions Iran deserves, the president will have the support of a clear majority of Congress."
Mr. President, meet General McChrystal. General, meet your commander-in-chief.
President Obama huddled privately with his entire national security team for three hours this afternoon -- and spoke directly for only the second time with the top US commander in Afghanistan. And even this time, Stanley McChrystal wasn't be there in person, but via a secure videoconference link.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs tonight issued this report of the private session:
"In today’s meeting, the President engaged his national security team in a candid assessment of the progress that has been made and the challenges we still face in Afghanistan and Pakistan since the President's strategy was announced in March. As a part of this review, the President will consult with his national security team, including his military commanders, civilian leadership, and Ambassadors in the region. He will also consult closely with our Allies and with the United States Congress.
"As the U.S. aggressively confronts al Qaeda and its leadership around the world, the President has set a clear goal in Afghanistan: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and their extremist allies. When it come to decisions as important as keeping this country safe and putting our troops into harm’s way, the President has made it clear that he will rigorously assess our progress. That is why he held this meeting today and will take the next several weeks to review our strategy.
"This was the second of five scheduled intensive sessions with National Security Council as well as field commanders and regional ambassadors. The President has also directed his inter-agency team to provide regular consultation sessions with Congress, during this period, starting with Gen. Jones’ briefing of all US senators this evening."
Gibbs said Obama will meet again with his national security team to discuss Afghanistan and Pakistan on Oct. 7.
The Associated Press reports that Obama made no decisions during the meeting.
The AP quotes a senior administration official saying that the president pushed for specifics and details, focusing on what the goals of the US strategy should be. The official, who was involved in the session, said no decisions about increased troop levels were discussed.
The other top officials who were supposed to be in attendance, either in person or via video hookup: Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, special envoy Richard Holbrooke, Joint Chiefs chairman Michael Mullen, Central Command General David Petraeus, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, CIA Director Leon Panetta, National Security Adviser James Jones,
US ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, and US ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson.
It was an unusual gathering in the White House situation room -- the top-secret retreat seen only in movies and TV, where the president is responding to one world crisis or another.
Obama is trying to find the right US strategy after eight years of war in Afghanistan -- even as he is buffeted from the left and the right over a pending request from McChrystal for thousands more US troops, on top of the 21,000 the president has already dispatched.
Senator John F. Kerry, a fellow Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is trying to prevail on Obama to take as long as it takes for the review of the Afghanistan mission.
"I am arguing that the president has the time and we have the time," Kerry told the Globe Tuesday.
But Senator John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, urged Obama today to quickly approve the request for additional troops.
"Time is not on our side so we need a decision pretty quickly," McCain, who is likening the request to the troop surge that turned around the situation in Iraq, said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "I think history is pretty clear that when the Taliban took over, it became a base for attacks on the United States and our allies."
President Obama huddled today with the leader of NATO and the main topic for discussion was the war in Afghanistan.
NATO casualties have risen, along with American ones, as the coalition forces more aggressively take on the Taliban and al Qaeda.
After the meeting, Obama said he and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen agree it's "absolutely critical" to be successful in destroying the al Qaeda network and to work with the Afghan government on improving security.
"This is not an American battle, this is a NATO mission," Obama said.
Rasmussen echoed that view, saying it is a "team effort."
The president did not offer any hints on where he will come down on a recommendation from the top US commander on the ground for more troops. He has already dispatched 21,000 more troops, bringing the total to about 68,000 by year's end.
Rasmussen said NATO officials are also reviewing the recommendation and said that Obama is right to determine the strategy first, then decide what resources are needed.
Obama also said the two men discussed the missile defense system, which the president is revamping from the Bush model, focusing more on the threat of short- and medium-range missiles from Iran and no longer deploying interceptors and radar in the Czech Republic and Poland.
Their full remarks are below:FULL ENTRY
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton huddled today with Armenian Foreign Minister H.E. Edward Nalbandian as the United States and Europe press Armenia and Turkey to seek better relations.
"I want to reiterate our very strong support for the normalization process that is going on between Armenia and Turkey, which we have long said should take place without preconditions and within a reasonable timeframe," Clinton said after the meeting.
"We will continue to work closely with the foreign minister and, of course, with his president and the Government of Armenia. And we also are very committed to the democratic development of Armenia," she added. "We want to be a partner and a friend in increasing prosperity and economic development as well. So this is a comprehensive relationship. We are very focused on this challenge of normalization which Armenia has demonstrated great commitment to, yet our relationship is much broader and much deeper in addition to that."
A month ago, Armenia and Turkey announced that they would start final talks expected to take six weeks and aimed at establishing diplomatic ties after a century of enmity. They said in the joint statement that they would not discuss their deepest disagreement: the World War I-era massacres of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians under Ottoman rule.
In April, Obama also did his best to avoid that controversy in a closely-watched presidential message. The president refrained from calling the massacres a "genocide," instead referring to them as "one of the great atrocities of the 20th century." But that characterization still angered Turkey's president, who said Obama failed to honor Turks slain by Armenians.
The Boston area is home to one of the largest Amernian-American communities. Watertown has the third most Armenian immigrants.
Senator John F. Kerry, an influential adviser to President Obama on Afghanistan, is bending his ear about the lessons of Vietnam.
The Massachusetts Democrat is asking whether a more limited counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan would be a better strategy than than sending thousands more US troops for a full-blown counterinsurgency operation.
Obama is taking another look at the US strategy as General Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander on the ground, has asked for more forces.
Kerry, who came to politics as a Vietnam War veteran turned antiwar protestor, has called several hearings of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to explore those arguments. And he makes them again in an op-ed published in today's Wall Street Journal.
"We in Congress have our own assignment: to test all of the underlying assumptions in Afghanistan and make sure they are the right ones before embarking on a new strategy," Kerry writes. "For example, one assumption of the proposed counterinsurgency plan is that our troops and civilians will be working in partnership with a legitimate and reliable government in Afghanistan. After the deeply flawed presidential election last month, we must ask whether we can succeed if our partner is weak and viewed with deep suspicion by his own people.
"We also need to know whether a full-blown counterinsurgency, with its increased footprint and inevitably higher casualties, is a fundamental part of our plans to go after al Qaeda and avoid destabilizing Pakistan. Could a far smaller, well-honed counterterrorism strategy work as well or better?" Kerry asks.
He goes on to assert that "one of the lessons from Vietnam—applied in the first Gulf War and sadly forgotten for too long in Iraq—is that we should not commit troops to the battlefield without a clear understanding of what we expect them to accomplish, how long it will take, and how we maintain the consent of the American people. Otherwise, we risk bringing our troops home from a mission unachieved or poorly conceived."
Wrapping up a week of meetings on the world stage, President Obama uses his weekly address to claim progress on economic stability and international security -- even as he still faces unemployment woes and a recalcitrant Congress on health care at home.
"Over the past nine months my administration has renewed American leadership, and pursued a new era of engagement in which we call upon all nations to live up to their responsibilities. This week, our engagement produced tangible results in several areas," Obama says.
At the United Nations, he became the first president to preside over the Security Council, which unanimously passed a nuclear nonproliferation resolution and brought together Israeli and Palestinian leaders for the time in almost a year, though little progress was reported.
At the G-20 summit that concluded Friday in Pittsburgh, leaders agreed to steps to prevent another financial meltdown. He also joined leaders from Europe and Russia in firmly declaring that Iran must not acquire nuclear weapons after disclosing a second, secret uranium enrichment site.
"This is a serious challenge to the global nonproliferation regime, and continues a disturbing pattern of Iranian evasion. That is why international negotiations with Iran scheduled for October 1st now take on added urgency." he says.
"My offer of a serious, meaningful dialogue to resolve this issue remains open. But Iran must now cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and take action to demonstrate its peaceful intentions. On this, the international community is more united than ever before."
Obama issued another stern warning to Iran's leaders, saying they "must now choose – they can live up to their responsibilities and achieve integration with the community of nations. Or they will face increased pressure and isolation, and deny opportunity to their own people."
"These are the urgent threats of our time," he concludes. "And the United States is committed to a new chapter of international cooperation to meet them. This new chapter will not be written in one week or even one year. But we have begun. And for the American people and the people of the world, it will mean greater security and prosperity for years to come."
His full address is below and can be viewed here.
President Obama, backed by the leaders of Britain and France, issued a stern warning to Iran today after announcing that it has been building a secret, second nuclear site.
At the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, Obama said the three western powers submitted evidence of the uranium enrichment facility to the International Atomic Energy Agency and now demand that Iran open the site to IAEA inspectors.
The disclosure came a day after Obama presided over the United Nations Security Council as it adopted a US-backed resolution that supports Obama's goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.
"Iran has a right to peaceful nuclear power that meets the energy needs of its people. But the size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program," Obama said at a news conference.
"Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow, endangering the global nonproliferation regime, denying its own people access to the opportunity they deserve, and threatening the stability and security of the region and the world."
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown added, "We will not let this matter rest. And we are prepared to implement further and more stringent sanctions.
"Let the message that goes out to the world be absolutely clear: that Iran must abandon any military ambitions for its nuclear program."
(Their full remarks, along with those of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, are below.)
UPDATE: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, asked about a possible military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, said today that diplomacy can work and is the better option.
"The reality is, there is no military option that does anything more than buy time," Gates said during an interview airing on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. "The estimates are one to three years or so. And the only way you end up not having a nuclear-capable Iran is for the Iranian government to decide that their security is diminished by having those weapons, as opposed to strengthened."
"While you don't take options off the table, I think there's still room left for diplomacy," he added, in excerpts released by CNN this afternoon. "The Iranians are in a very bad spot now because of this deception, in terms of all of the great powers. And there obviously is the opportunity for severe additional sanctions. And I think we have the time to make that work."
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad abruptly cancelled a press conference he planned to hold at the United Nations today after Obama's news conference.
Ahmadinejad learned of Obama's announcement this morning during an interview at Time Magazine. He called the accusation "a mistake" and claimed that the Iranian government would have informed the IAEA of its new nuclear facility being built near the holy city of Qom in due time.
"This does not mean that anything was done secretly," he said. "We are the ones who always inform the IAEA of our activities."
An Iranian dissident group revealed the existence of the first clandestine uranium enrichment facility at Natanz in 2002. Under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, such a facility must be open to international inspectors. But Iranian officials argued that they did not have to inform the international body of its construction until they brought nuclear material there.
Senator John F. Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, echoed the leaders' warnings.
“In light of Iran’s continuing deception, the international community must step up its demands that Iran halt its enrichment and reprocessing work, answer the International Atomic Energy Agency's questions, and provide IAEA inspectors with the full complement of access and transparency they require," he said in a statement.
“President Obama has offered Iran every opportunity to open a constructive diplomatic dialogue on its nuclear program. To this point, there is no evidence that Iran intends to reciprocate. I continue to support engagement with Iran, but now is the time to supplement engagement with more robust international sanctions. That’s the only way to dramatically increase the economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran from the outside and help leverage pressure on the regime from its own population which wants a different relationship with the world. Tehran must make a fundamental decision on whether it wants to continue its pariah status or enter a more constructive relationship with the world.”
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio also weighed in with a rebuke of Iran, and warned that the United States should not directly negotiate with the country, as Obama has suggested he would be open to doing.
“Today’s announcement about Iran’s secret nuclear facility is further confirmation of its pattern of deception and denial. For years, the regime in Tehran has done everything in its power to hide the truth that it is committed to building a nuclear bomb to threaten the United States and our allies. The IAEA must be allowed into the country to conduct immediate, unimpeded, and comprehensive inspections, and there must be full transparency regarding the results of those inspections," Boehner said in a statement.
“This revelation should put the international community on notice that its collective willingness to give the Iranian regime ‘one more chance’ is not working. How will we respond to a regime that refuses civil liberties, denies its citizens free and fair elections, and aims to dominate a critical region through violence, terrorism, and nuclear weapons? How will we respond if Iran does not let inspectors in? Why should we feel confident they are being honest about anything else?
“The United States should not participate in direct negotiations with Iran – negotiations that will further legitimize this brutal regime – until we have answers to these important questions. Unfortunately, the Administration has not, to date, given Iran reason to believe we are serious about preventing them from acquiring or developing a nuclear capability, especially in light of the Administration’s recent policy decision regarding missile defense in Central Europe and its public remarks about Israel and the Middle East peace process. The United States and our European allies must demonstrate a willingness to quickly impose meaningful sanctions against the regime in Iran. We can do so even if other nations like Russia and China refuse to join this effort, and we should. Finally, Congress needs to get serious about moving a sanctions bill, and it needs to do so now.”
Senators John F. Kerry and Richard Lugar praised their colleagues today for passing a bill that triples foreign aid to Pakistan, an ally with a nuclear arsenal that is beset by internal divisions and Islamic militants.
The bill they championed includes $1.5 billion a year over the next five years for democratic, economic, and social development assistance. It could win House passage as early as Friday, sending it to President Obama for his signature, the Associated Press reports.
Kerry broke the news of the Senate vote to Pakistan's foreign minister in a telephone call during a meeting in New York of senior diplomats pledging support for Pakistan. The room broke out into applause, reports the Globe's Farah Stockman.
President Obama also attended that meeting, where he said he wanted to "reaffirm my country’s deep commitment to the people of Pakistan."
(His full remarks are below.)
"This Act represents a collaboration between both Democrats and Republicans, in both Senate and the House, to forge a new long-term relationship between the people of America and Pakistan. The fact that President Obama was able to announce this at the United Nations sends an important message to Pakistan and the world of our strengthened commitment to this relationship," Kerry said in a statement.
“I am delighted by the action of my colleagues today—and by the unanimity displayed in the Senate vote. This landmark piece of legislation is the product of careful consultation between both Chambers, and both sides of the aisle: I salute my friends Dick Lugar and Howard Berman for their leadership. It is my hope and expectation that the House will pass this bill speedily, so that the President can sign it into law without delay.”
Lugar added, “The United States has an intense strategic interest in Pakistan and the surrounding region. The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate last year painted a bleak picture of the converging crises in Pakistan. A growing al-Qaeda sanctuary, an expanding Taliban insurgency, political brinksmanship, and a failing economy are intensifying turmoil and violence in that country. These circumstances are a threat to Pakistan, the region, and the United States.
“We should make clear to the people of Pakistan that our interests are focused on democracy, pluralism, stability, and the fight against terrorism. These are values supported by a large majority of the Pakistani people. If Pakistan is to break its debilitating cycle of instability, it will need to achieve progress on fighting corruption, delivering government services, and promoting broad based economic growth. The international community and the United States should support reforms that contribute to the strengthening of Pakistani civilian institutions.”
President Obama this morning became the first US commander in chief to preside at a United Nations Security Council session -- and he used the forum to renew his vision for a world free of nuclear weapons.
Calling the use and spread of nuclear weapons a "fundamental threat" to humankind, Obama said a single bomb detonated in a major city like New York would kill hundreds of thousands of people and destabilize the globe.
Aftter the 15-member council unanimously approved a draft resolution on nonproliferation, he announced that the United States will hold a summit next spring to work on enforcement.
“We harbor no illusions about the difficulty of bringing about a world without nuclear weapons," Obama told the council. "We know there are plenty of cynics, and that there will be setbacks to prove their point. But there will also be days like today that push us forward – days that tell a different story. It is the story of a world that understands that no difference or division is worth destroying all that we have built and all that we love. It is a recognition that can bring people of different nationalities and ethnicities and ideologies together. In my own country, it has brought Democrats and Republican leaders together.”
(His full remarks are below, followed by the White House release.)
He announced the goal in a speech in Prague in April, and said that the United States had a "moral responsibility" to lead because no other country has used one. The US has agreed to reduce its stockpile of nuclear weapons, has committed to negotiate a new strategic weapons reduction treaty with Russia, and is leading efforts to control nuclear material in the former Soviet Union.
As the Globe reported in June, another tool Obama is proposing is an internationally managed nuclear fuel bank, which could remove the "peaceful use" justification for Iran and other nations that might be trying to use a civilian nuclear program as cover to make nuclear weapons.
Many arms-control specialists consider the idea of a "fuel bank" controlled by the International Atomic Energy Agency a key way to test the sincerity of Iranian leaders, who maintain that their enrichment program is only for civilian use and necessary because they cannot be assured of energy supplies from other countries.
Senator John F. Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement applauding the resolution's passage.
“I commend the President for reasserting American leadership on the vital issue of nuclear nonproliferation and for securing unanimous Security Council approval of an important resolution. The world has long looked to our nation to lead in combating nuclear proliferation, and today’s action by the Security Council demonstrates the concrete benefits to our own nation’s security that can be achieved when the United States takes up that mantle of leadership.
“With this resolution the Security Council has called upon all states to follow the United States’ lead and take on the goal of securing all of the world’s vulnerable nuclear material in four years. It has also put governments of the world on notice that the international community will not tolerate cynical efforts to take advantage of the rights to peaceful nuclear energy that are enshrined in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in the pursuit of nuclear weapons.
“I am especially pleased that the Security Council has called upon states to adopt stricter export controls over sensitive nuclear equipment and technology, will address any move by a state to withdraw from the NPT, and has affirmed that a state that withdraws from the NPT remains responsible for any violations of the Treaty that it committed before withdrawal.”
The White House also released a joint statement from former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and former Senator Sam Nunn, who in 2007 penned a widely circulated opinion piece also calling for a nuclear weapons-free world.
"The Summit in the UN Security Council brings much-needed global focus to the risks posed by the spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear know-how and nuclear material. By convening heads of state, the meeting can help build the necessary political will around the urgent steps required to reduce nuclear dangers," they said.
"The four of us have come together in a nonpartisan effort, deeply committed to building support for a global effort to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, to prevent their spread into potentially dangerous hands, and ultimately to end them as a threat to the world. We remain committed to working toward this vision and advancing the steps essential to achieve this goal. We welcome the leadership of the U.S. administration in this effort."
House Republican leaders added their voices today to those who say the focus on health care on Capitol Hill is crowding out other crucial issues, namely what to do in Afghanistan.
“With Afghanistan now becoming such a very troublesome issue, we should be making progress on health care so it doesn’t get in the way of a very, very important national security issue,” Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 House Republican, told reporters after a private GOP meeting. “Central Asia is the Persian Gulf of the 21st century. We are foolish to be ignoring that threat right now."
"Health care in this building has made it so that it seems we can't get anything else done. We have burning issues out there is this country," Cantor added.
Obama, who is weighing a revamped strategy for Afghanistan and whether to send even more reinforcements than the 21,000 he has already dispatched, is likely to need Republican support for whatever he decides because the vast majority of Democrats are opposed to any escalation of the US mission.
"With all the attention there is on health care, the attention that needs to be paid to what is happening in Afghanistan isn’t happening,” added Representative John Boehner, the House Republican leader.
He and other key lawmakers have demanded that General Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, appear before House and Senate committees to explain his report to the White House that calls for additional troops.
"What strategy does he believe is going to be necessary in order to secure Afghanistan so that we deny the Taliban and al Qaeda a safe haven from which to train, operate and organize to come after Americans again? And so, we need General McChrystal up here as soon as possible to help members understand. I think the President ought to take his request as soon as possible,” Boehner added.
“I do believe that there is a lot of danger in the delay. First, with insufficient troops in the field, we put the troops that we do have there at greater risk. Secondly, if the President doesn’t come to a decision soon—what will happen is— we will miss the window of getting more troops into the theater as the spring thaw occurs, when the additional troops are going to be necessary. And so, I would hope that the timetable that’s been discussed by the Administration gets sped up, and gets sped up rapidly.”
As the Globe reported on Monday, some lawmakers and advocates are chafing that the sluggish pace on a health care overhaul has backed up priorities including climate change, transportation, and financial regulation.
On Fox Business Network this afternoon, Boehner said House Democrats should realize that their plan, with a government-run public option, is not going to get through.
"They're still moving in the direction of those big government plan, high taxes and big deficits. At some point it's going to become clear that this can't pass. I don't know whether that's three weeks from now, four weeks from now, six weeks from now, but at some point it's going to become clear," Boehner said.
"And then they're going to have to make a decision - do they accept the defeat or do they hit the reset button and scrap all these big government ideas and work with Republicans to make our current system work better."
President Obama tapped Representative William Delahunt of Massachusetts and Partners Health Care board member Elaine Schuster today as US delegates to the United Nations General Assembly session this week.
They are joined by Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey, and as alternate representatives former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and New York lawyer Laura Gore Ross.
The White House mini-biographies on them are below:FULL ENTRY
Before hosting a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, President Obama made clear today that he wants the stalled Mideast peace talks to pick up momentum again.
"Simply put it is past time to talk about starting negotiations -- it is time to move forward. It is time to show the flexibility and common sense and sense of compromise that’s necessary to achieve our goals. Permanent status negotiations must begin and begin soon. And more importantly, we must give those negotiations the opportunity to succeed," he said after meeting separately with the two leaders.
"And so my message to these two leaders is clear," Obama added. "Despite all the obstacles, despite all the history, despite all the mistrust, we have to find a way forward. We have to summon the will to break the deadlock that has trapped generations of Israelis and Palestinians in an endless cycle of conflict and suffering. We cannot continue the same pattern of taking tentative steps forward and then stepping back. Success depends on all sides acting with a sense of urgency."
But expectations for any kind of breakthrough are extremely low. Obama's Mideast envoy, former Senator George Mitchell of Maine, came home without any progress, particularly on the thorny issue of Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John F. Kerry sounded a note of hope.
“President Obama has shown a commendable commitment to making Middle East peace a priority," Kerry said in a statement. "I hope that today’s meeting between President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas is the first step back to the negotiating table—and eventually toward a comprehensive peace. Progress towards peace requires bold steps from all sides. Ultimately, it’s up to Israeli, Palestinian and Arab leaders to seize this opportunity and match the President’s leadership.”
Obama's full remarks are below:
Kicking off four days of meetings with world leaders, President Obama declared this morning that the international response to global warming will determine how history views their success.
"Our generation’s response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it – boldly, swiftly, and together – we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe," he said at a climate change summit in New York hosted by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
"It is true that for too many years, mankind has been slow to respond to or even recognize the magnitude of the climate threat. It is true of my own country as well. We recognize that. But this is a new day. It is a new era. And I am proud to say that the United States has done more to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution in the last eight months than at any other time in our history," he bragged.
The president cited new fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, clean energy investments in the economic stimulus package, and energy efficiency initiatives. He also noted that in June, the US House passed a landmark climate change bill that calls for a cap-and-trade system that includes a limit on carbon emissions and a market for pollution credits.
"We understand the gravity of the climate threat," Obama said. "We are determined to act. And we will meet our responsibility to future generations." (His full remarks are below.)
But with health care backing up legislation in the Senate -- and vehement opposition from Republicans and others to cap-and-trade, it is uncertain at best that Obama will be able to deliver a signed, sealed, and delivered climate change law in time for a major global warming summit in December in Copenhagen, where advocates hope a groundbreaking agreement is approved.
Indeed, Obama is being upstaged at today's UN meeting by news that China will unveil plans to aggressively increase its energy saving programs to combat climate change.
Obama has a busy schedule on the world stage the rest of the week.
Today, he huddles separately with the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, then brings together Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a trilateral meeting. Later, he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Wednesday, Obama delivers his first speech to the UN General Assembly and meets with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. Thursday, the president presides over a UN Security Council session on nuclear proliferation. And on Friday, Obama hosts the main session of the G-20 economic summit in Pittsburgh.FULL ENTRY
President Obama, who vows to "reset" the tense relationship with Russia, announced this morning he is removing a major point of dispute, scrapping plans for an elaborate missile defense system in Europe.
But the decision is being met with disappointment among some NATO allies -- and is sure to lead to more accusations from the president's conservative critics that he is soft on national defense.
In a hastily-called White House announcement, Obama said his new approach will provide "stronger, smarter, and swifter defenses" of US forces and the US mainland.
He said is committed to deploying strong missile defenses -- but those that respond to 21st century threats that are adaptable, utilize proven technology, and are cost effective.
(Obama's remarks are below, followed by the White House "fact sheet" on the new approach.)
Obama's move overturns another Bush administration policy -- it announced in 2007 planned to put 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic. While the US insisted that the system was not aimed at Russia but instead at Iran and other potential rogue nuclear states, Russia adamantly opposed the missile shield and issued bellicose threats against the countries that would have hosted it.
The US also needs Russia's help in diplomatic moves to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions.
Obama said that a seven-month review concludes Iranian short- and medium-range missiles are a greater threat than long-range missiles, and those missiles could be defended with other systems.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates followed up Obama's announcement by telling reporters that better sensors and interceptors allow the US to more quickly deploy a missile defense system in southern Europe (reports suggest Turkey) and on Aegis ships.
Gates said the new approach is better than the one he recommended to President George W. Bush nearly three years ago and that it means deployment six or seven years earlier, filling in the gap until 2015 when an upgraded missile shield can be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, backed Obama on the change.
“President Obama’s decision to restructure missile defense in Europe is correct and timely," Kerry said in a statement. "Proven technologies and responsible diplomacy must be at the core of missile defense in Europe, and now is the time to press forward with the more flexible missile defense architecture that the President and Secretary Gates have chosen. NATO is the bedrock of our security, whether a country is at the geographic heart of the alliance or on its frontiers. The President’s new proposal will provide a stronger and more effective defense for American forces and our NATO allies."
Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri, the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, also generally endorsed Obama's move.
“While I look forward to reviewing the details of the President’s plan, it appears the new missile defense strategy for Europe is a comprehensive approach that will counter the most immediate missile threats from Iran and protect our allies and our troops in the region," he said in a statement.
“As a practical matter, deployment of the European third site was still a long way away. This new approach, which has the support of both the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, focuses our resources where they will do the most good. The plan is also consistent with NATO’s policy that the deployment of ballistic missile defenses be prioritized according to the imminence of the threat and the level of acceptable risk.”
But Senator Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, called the decision "dangerous and short-sighted."
"Not only does this decision leave America vulnerable to the growing Iranian long-range missile threat, it also turns back the clock to the days of the Cold War, when Eastern Europe was considered the domain of Russia. This will be a bitter disappointment, indeed, even a warning to the people of Eastern Europe," Kyl said in a statement.
"The message the administration sends today is clear: the United States will not stand behind its friends and views 're-setting' relations with Russia more important. This is wrong!"
Representative John Boehner, the top House Republican, also blasted Obama's decision.
“Scrapping the US missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic does little more than empower Russia and Iran at the expense of our allies in Europe," Boehner said in a statement. "It shows a willful determination to continue ignoring the threat posed by some of the most dangerous regimes in the world, while taking one of the most important defenses against Iran off the table. Since taking control of Congress, House Democrats have cut our missile defense budget by $1.2 billion, undermining our commitment to our allies and weakening our national security. I urge the President to reconsider this ill-advised decision, stand with our allies, and do what’s right for the safety and security of the American people.”
Another Republican, Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, went as far as to accuse Obama of appeasement.
“Seventy years ago today, the Soviet Union invaded Poland. And, today, at the Russians’ request, the Obama Administration has agreed to abandon the missile defense shield developed to protect our close allies in Eastern Europe," Blunt said in a statement.
“The administration’s decision to scrap the missile defense plan is incredibly shortsighted and comes at the expense of our allies in the War on Terror....Appeasement of dangerous nations does not inspire peace. We must stand firm and send the signal that we will not back down when the safety of Americans and our allies is at stake.”
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- Even as President Obama said today that he won't make a quick decision on an expected Pentagon request to send more US troops to Afghanistan, senior White House officials gave a long-awaited confidential briefing to members of Congress on the benchmarks that the administration intends to use to measure the success of the military mission there.
The metrics, which Obama promised in a high profile speech in March, were meant to send the message that the White House has narrowly tailored its objectives in Afghanistan to focus on terrorism. At the time, Obama announced that he was sending 21,000 more US troops, bringing the force to about 68,000 by year's end, and said he would demand measurable progress.
But some of the 40 or so lawmakers who attended today's briefing complained that the administration's benchmarks describe a far more open-ended commitment in Afghanistan.
"The stated goal is rhetorically narrowing the missions but it is anything but that," said Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "There is no question in my mind based on the metrics that have been laid out that this is nation-building."
Senator Robert Casey Jr., a Pennsylvania Democrat who serves on the same committee, offered a more generous assessment, but said he, too is "not yet satisfied."
He also said the White House should make the metrics public as soon as possible. "They need to be out there," he said. "The American people need frequent reporting."
The list of 46 metrics, obtained by the Globe and first posted online by Foreign Policy, includes some obvious measures of success, such as the percentage of the population living under insurgent control and the capabilities and size of the Afghan national army. But the list also contained some nontraditional measures, such as support for human rights, the ability of the Afghan government to collect taxes, and the ability to hold credible elections.
Click here to see the metrics.
President Obama signaled today that he won't make a quick decision on an expected Pentagon request to send more US troops to Afghanistan.
"My determination is to get this right," Obama said after meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose country is part of the coalition fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Obama has already sent 21,000 more US troops, bringing the force to about 65,000 by year's end. But the top US commander in Afghanistan is expected to formally seek more reinforcements, and the nation's top military officer told a Senate committee yesterday he will support that request.
But several key Democrats in Congress have said in recent days that they are very wary of sending more troops.
"When I came in, I had to make a series of immediate decisions about sending additional troops to ensure that the election could take place during the fighting season. But I was crystal clear at the time that post-election we were going to need to do an additional assessment," Obama told reporters.
"General McChrystal has carried out his own assessment on the military's strategy, but it's important that we also do an assessment on the civilian side, the diplomatic side, the development side, that we analyze the results of the election, and then make further decisions moving forward."
And if there were any doubt, Obama went on, "I just want to be absolutely clear, because there's a lot -- been a lot of discussion in the press about this, that there is no immediate decision pending on resources.
"Because one of the things that I'm absolutely clear about is you have to get the strategy right and then make the determinations about resources. You don't make determinations about resources, and certainly you don't make determinations about sending young men and women into battle, without having absolute clarity about what the strategy's going to be."
The president also said he was "extremely grateful" to the Canadian armed forces for fighting with staying power and suffering losses.
While welcoming the additional US presence, Harper said he was concerned by the strength of the insurgency.
(Their full remarks are below.)
UPDATE: Senator John F. Kerry, presiding over a hearing today on Afghanistan, voiced the concerns of many Democrats.
"Frankly, I am concerned by where we are today in Afghanistan -- about the rising number of casualties among our troops and those of our allies, about the deeply flawed presidential voting that took place, about the impunity with which drug traffickers operate, and about the rampant corruption undermining the faith of Afghans in their government and ours," he said at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
"And most of all, I am concerned because at the very moment when our troops and our allies’ troops are sacrificing more and more, our plan, our path and our progress seem to be growing less and less clear."
(His full prepared remarks are below.)FULL ENTRY
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- The One Laptop Per Child Foundation, the Cambridge-based computer company, is now billing itself as a tool in the counter-insurgency campaign against Islamic extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Today on Capitol Hill, its founder, Nicholas Negroponte, is appearing with the ambassadors of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to the United States and with Senator John McCain to make a pitch for spreading the low-cost, child-friendly computers across the Pashtun belt. (Click here
to see the flier.)
In the past, the foundation was best known for its efforts in Africa as it works with governments of developing countries to bring laptops to poor schoolchildren. Negroponte originally aimed for $100 computers, but last year had to raise its price to more than $200 because of rising costs.
By Stephanie Vallejo, Globe correspondent
WASHINGTON -- President Obama's nominees for ambassador to Spain and Norway -- Massachusetts residents Alan Solomont and Barry B. White -- touted their commitment to public service and leadership before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today as they moved a step closer to confirmation.
Democratic fund-raiser Alan Solomont of Weston, nominated as the chief US envoy to Spain, highlighted his roots in community organizing and his experience as the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees national service programs.
“I am grateful to have served at a time when support for national and community service has never been greater,” Solomont testified at the confirmation hearing presided over by Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. “I hope to showcase this important American tradition at embassy Madrid.”
White, the nominee for envoy to Norway and an executive board member of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and director of the Massachusetts Alliance for International Business, noted his work as chair of Lex Mundi, an association of independent law firms, in developing its pro bono foundation serving social entrepreneurs worldwide.
White also spoke of Norway’s role in promoting human rights and democracy internationally, its healthy trade relationship with the United States, and its potential as a partner in energy and environmental matters.
The nation's top military officer, seeking another term in the job, will face some tough questions on Afghanistan before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is preaching patience, telling the Globe recently that it will take 12 months to 18 months to turn around the mission after it received short shrift during the war in Iraq.
But patience appears to be running out in Congress and in the public as the US death toll rises eight years into the war.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Armed Services chairman Carl Levin both made highly public statements last week to express deep skepticism about an expected request to send more US troops, beyond the 21,000 that President Obama has already dispatched.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released this morning found public support for the war at its lowest point. In the survey, conducted Friday through Sunday, 39 percent of respondents said they favor the war and 58 percent said they oppose it.
As recently as May, a majority supported the war in the CNN poll. But July and August were each the bloodiest of the war for US forces.
UPDATE: Mullen told the committee that winning in Afghanistan "probably means more forces," though he said he does not know how many troops the top military commander in the country will seek.
"It's very clear to me that we will need more resources," to carry out the new counterinsurgency strategy, Mullen said, according to the Associated Press.
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- After a string of high-profile skepticism from Democrats in Congress about the war in Afghanistan, Senator John F. Kerry will also express concern in an interview airing Tuesday on PBS and in hearings he will preside over on Wednesday ("Countering the Threat of Failure") and Thursday ("Exploring Three Strategies for Afghanistan") as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Key Democrats have done their best to preempt any potential request for more troops from Obama. At a press conference on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she did not believe there was much support for sending more troops. In a floor speech on Friday, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin said he wants to see an increase in Afghanistan's armed forces before committing more US troops.
Tuesday on "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," Kerry will express his own "long-standing concerns" about whether the current military footprint in Afghanistan is the best way to achieve US goals, according to Kerry communications director Frederick Jones.
But Jones said that Kerry, who first made his name opposing the Vietnam war, will "reserve final judgment on troop levels and our policy writ large until he hears from the administration and military leaders."
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- President Obama has planned a whirlwind 2 1/2 day schedule at the United Nations later this month, going well beyond the traditional routine for US presidents.
In addition to the annual speech at the opening of the UN General Assembly on Sept. 23, the same day Obama will host a luncheon for African heads of state and hold a separate gathering for the largest contributors to peacekeeping. The next day, he will preside over an unusual summit meeting of the Security Council on arms control. In addition, Obama will speak at the Secretary General's Climate Change Summit.
"We are taking a new approach to the United Nations," UN ambassador Susan Rice told reporters today, adding: "We're rolling up our sleeves" to push for changes from within rather than "criticizing from the outside."
But the ambitious schedule is also likely to lead to some moments of discomfort. The Security Council summit will feature heads of state -- rare for the 15-nation body -- and that gives Muammar Gaddafi, the unpredictable leader of Libya, a high-profile platform.
But efforts have been taken to prevent awkward encounters. Obama will not bump into Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the American reception that he is hosting on Sept. 23 because Iran is not invited.
Rice said US officials will meet with their counterparts from Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany to discuss the appropriate response to a five-page letter from Iran pledging to "embark on comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive negotiations."
The letter did not name the nuclear program as an issue for the talks, and US officials said Thursday that it did not go far enough to address international concerns.
But Rice took a softer tone.
"We are going to take the time very carefully over the next days an weeks to evaluate the Iranian response," she said. "I don't want to prejudge the outcome of our assessment."
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration seems poised to commit significantly more blood and treasure to Afghanistan for the next three years to try to turn the tide of the insurgency there.
A copy of the yet-to-be-officially-released plan submitted to the president by the top US commander in Afghanistan, Army General Stanley McChrystal, and the US ambassador in Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, spells out how the dream team in Kabul hopes to execute their mission over the next three years, with special emphasis on showing measurable success within the "crucial window" of 12 to 18 months.
The report, obtained by Politico (click here to view it), sets out an ambitious agenda of improving local governance in Afghanistan, improving access to jobs, credit and justice, and protecting the population among other things. They plan to fight drug traffickers and corruption as well.
Although no budget numbers or troop levels are attached to the document, the 41-page report dated Aug. 10 mentions that the effort in Afghanistan "requires a commitment to provide military commanders and civilians on the ground with the resources they need to execute the president's strategy. This is based on a strong recognition that the effort in Afghanistan to date has lack unity of effort and the resources for success."
The nation’s top military officer told the Globe on Aug. 25 that due to years of neglect and focus on Iraq, the United States is "starting over" in Afghanistan despite President Obama sending 21,000 additional troops.
Acknowledging that public support for the war is waning, Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the US operation needs “12 to 18 months to turn this thing around.’’ "It is doable, but it is going to take some time,’’ he said, urging Americans to be patient.
The White House expressed its dismay today to Israeli plans to expand settlements on the West Bank -- one of the thorniest issues that is a major irritant in US-Israeli relations.
Aides to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today he would approve hundreds of new housing units in the settlements before considering a temporary freeze in construction, the Associated Press reports. The aides said any freeze would not encompass building the new units and finishing some 2,500 others currently under construction.
"We regret the reports of Israel's plans to approve additional settlement construction. Continued settlement activity is inconsistent with Israel's commitment under the Roadmap," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in the statement.
"As the President has said before, the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement expansion and we urge that it stop. We are working to create a climate in which negotiations can take place, and such actions make it harder to create such a climate.
"We do appreciate Israel's stated intent to place limits on settlement activity and will continue to discuss this with the Israelis as these limitations are defined. The US commitment to Israel’s security is and will remain unshakeable. We believe it can best be achieved through comprehensive peace in the region, including a two-state solution with a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel. That is the ultimate goal to which the President is deeply and personally committed.
"Our objective remains to resume meaningful negotiations as soon as possible in pursuit of this goal. We are working with all parties – Israelis, Palestinians, and Arab states -- on the steps they must take to achieve that objective."
By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff
The nation's top military officer, in a deeply pessimistic assessment of the war in Afghanistan, said today that due to years of neglect the United States is basically "starting over" in its battle against the radical Taliban movement and its Al Qaeda allies.
Acknowledging that public support for the war is waning, Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the US operation needs "12 to 18 months to turn this thing around."
"It is doable, but it is going to take some time," he said, urging Americans to be patient.
With the intense focus until recently on fighting the war in Iraq -- where the United States plans to keep nearly twice as many troops as in Afghanistan until at least early next year -- he said that the Taliban is far more potent than it was during the US invasion in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Its alliance with Osama bin Laden and other leaders of the Al Qaeda terrorist network, who he said are hiding in neighboring Pakistan's lawless border region, is also stronger than ever, he said.
"This is the eighth year, but there is a newness here," Mullen told Globe reporters and editors today. "There is a starting again, or starting over. Iraq has been the focus, it hasn't been Afghanistan."
Mullen's wide-ranging interview came on a particularly bloody day in Afghanistan. Five car bombs simultaneously hit Kandahar, the country's largest southern city, killing at least 41 people. And four more US troops were killed by another bomb in southern Afghanistan, bringing the August total to 41 and making this year the deadliest yet of the war for American forces.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll this month found that 51 percent of Americans now say that the war is not worth fighting and that only 24 percent support sending more troops. President Obama, in a speech last week to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, conceded that the fighting has become more fierce, but called Afghanistan "a war of necessity."
Military commanders on the ground told Richard Holbrooke, the president's special envoy, over the weekend that the force was not big enough to defeat the Taliban, particularly in southern and eastern Afghanistan. The United States currently has about 68,000 troops dedicated to the war in Afghanistan, including 21,000 additional forces ordered by Obama earlier this year who are still flowing into the country.
Mullen, however, said he is awaiting a new assessment by the top commander in Afghanistan, Army General Stanley McChrystal, before making any recommendations on whether more US troops are needed to take on an increasingly emboldened Taliban.
But Mullen indicated that he believes that, at a minimum, more specialists will be needed to train the Afghan security forces. "We all believe there is going to be a need to accelerate the training of the Afghanistan security forces, army and police, and that is going to take additional trainers," he said.
Mullen, who became the nation's top military officer in October 2007, visited patients at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Jamaica Plain earlier today and plans to speak Wednesday at a Harvard Medical School conference about traumatic brain injuries, which have become much more common among combat troops.
The Bush State Department declared the horrific violence in Darfur a genocide. President Obama, as a candidate, pledged to do more.
But US policy toward Sudan seems to be in wait-and-see mode, so activists are going public today with their disappointment, trying to light a fire under the president/
A coalition of anti-genocide advocacy organizations launched a campaign called "Sudan Now: Keep the Promise" to challenge the Obama administration to live up to promises by taking strong and immediate action to help end the crisis in Sudan, where as many as 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been displaced.
The coalition -- which includes Humanity United, the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress, Stop Genocide Now, and Investors Against Genocide -- bought full-page ads in several newspapers to press home that message.
The ads feature past statements made by President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The ads are to run in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and two papers on Martha's Vineyard, where Obama is vacationing this week.
(Click here to see an ad.)
The coalition says the situation in Sudan is urgent with nearly 3 million Darfuris living in squalid camps and the possibility of a full-scale civil war before a 2011 vote on splitting the country.
Some of the activists have been critical of Scott Gration, Obama's special envoy to the Sudan, for what they see as too much emphasis on carrots for the Sudanese government to cooperate rather than sticks, or the threat of punitive action.
“On numerous occasions, President Obama has spoken eloquently -- and firmly -- about the urgency of the situation in Sudan and America’s responsibility to help bring lasting peace and stability to the people of that country,” Randy Newcomb, president and CEO of Humanity United, said in a statement. “Such conviction demands strong action.”
In his first extended comments on the Afghanistan presidential election, President Obama called it "an important step forward" for Afghans taking control of their future in the face of violent extremists.
"This election was won by the Afghan people," he said on the South Lawn of the White House before leaving for Camp David, then a week on Martha's Vineyard starting Sunday.
The balloting Thursday was marred by some violence, but officials asserted that enough voters braved threats from the Taliban to make the election a success.
"We knew the Taliban would try to derail this election," Obama said, arguing that they failed because of the numbers of voters and the record number of women running for office.
Obama has dispatched 21,000 more US troops to Afghanistan to battle the Taliban, root out Al Qaeda elements along the Pakistan border, and to support the Afghan government.
Obama reiterated that his administration did not support one candidate or another, but wanted a free and fair election. (His full remarks are below.)
While the election commission doesn't plan to release partial preliminary results until Tuesday and final preliminary results until Sept. 3, many observers expect President Hamid Karzai and chief challenger Abdullah Abdullah to move on to a second round of voting.
Some worry about that runoff will exacerbate ethnic tensions between Pashtun supporters of Karzai and Tajiks who back Abdullah. Reuters reports that Obama's special envoy to the country, Richard Holbrooke, urged both camps today to control post-election tensions and wait for the official results.
Two New England officials in the Obama administration will be part of the official delegation to the funeral of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, the White House announced this afternoon.
Harold Koh, the former Yale Law School dean who is now chief legal adviser to the State Department, will attend the services on Sunday. So will Stephen Bosworth, dean of Tufts' Fletcher School of Diplomacy who is now Obama's special envoy to North Korea.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright will lead the delegation, the White House said.
The full delegation is below:
The US is closely watching the presidential election Thursday in Afghanistan, where more than 60,000 American troops are taking on the Taliban, trying to root out al Qaeda, and seeking to further a stable society.
Senator John F. Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued his own statement today about what's at stake.
“The Afghan people are demonstrating tremendous courage in defying threats of violence and pursuing democracy in their elections. The fact that dozens of candidates, including two women, are competing for President and thousands of candidates, including about 300 women, are running for provincial council seats is a testament to Afghans’ commitment to having a democracy that works," the Massachusetts Democrat said.
“Ultimately, the success of the elections will be judged by the Afghan people. Americans share Afghans’ hopes for a credible, legitimate, and inclusive process where all those that want to vote, including women, have the opportunity to do so safely. The United States does not support any one candidate in tomorrow’s contest; we will continue to work with the elected representatives of the Afghan people to help bring peace and stability to their country.”
President Obama met today with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who made some news by hinting that he will seek another term in office though he's 81 years old.
After their huddle, Obama told reporters that the two discussed the Middle East peace process, Iran's apparent nuclear program, and Iraq, among other pressing issues.
"We obviously have a lot of great challenges that have to be dealt with, and we are continuing to work together to find those areas where we can find common ground and to work in concert to bring peace and security to the region," Obama said.
"I want to thank the government of Egypt for being an Arab country that has moved forward to try to strengthen Iraq as it emerges from a wartime footing and a transition to a more stable democracy," the president added.
Obama said he was encouraged by what he called "movement in the right direction" on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a thorny issue that is a major source of friction between the US and Israel.
"I'm encouraged by some of the things that I'm seeing on the ground. We've been seeing reports in the West Bank, in particular, that check points have been removed in some situations. The security forces of the Palestinian Authority have greatly improved, and have been able to deal with the security situation on the West Bank in a way that has inspired, not just confidence among the Israeli people, but also among the Palestinian people," he said.
"There's been some increased economic activity on the West Bank. All of this is creating a climate in which it is possible for us to see some positive steps and, hopefully, negotiate towards a final resolution of these long-standing issues."
Obama chose Cairo, Egypt's capital, as the setting for his major speech to the Muslim world in May.
"The importance of the Cairo visit was very appreciated by the Muslim and Islamic world because the Islamic world had thoughts that the U.S. was against Islam, but his great, fantastic address there has removed all those doubts," Mubarak said.
Their full remarks are below:FULL ENTRY
President Obama offered his condolences today after the death of Kim Dae-jung, the democracy activist imprisoned by South Korea's military dictators who later became the country's president and Nobel laureate.
He died in Seoul today of pneumonia at age 85.
"I was saddened at the passing of former President Kim Dae-jung of the Republic of Korea, a courageous champion of democracy and human rights. President Kim risked his life to build and lead a political movement that played a crucial role in establishing a dynamic democratic system in the Republic of Korea," Obama said in a statement. "His service to his country, his tireless efforts to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula, and his personal sacrifices on behalf of freedom are inspirational and should never be forgotten. On behalf of the American people, I extend my condolences to his family and to the Korean people."
Staying on foreign policy, President Obama issued statements this afternoon praising the release of an American who got caught up in the internal politics of Burma and expressing concern about an apparent bombing in a restive Russian republic.
On the bombing, he said, "I am deeply troubled about reports of a suicide bombing today in Nazran, Ingushetiya that has resulted in the tragic loss of at least 20 lives and 138 injured. There can be no justification for such an act of terrorism. This latest attack highlights the concerning increase in violence in the region affecting officials and civilians alike. Our condolences go out to the Government of Russia and the families of victims."
And on the release of John Yettaw, whose swim to visit democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi gave Burma's military junta the pretext to extend her house arrest for 18 months, White House spokesman said on Obama's behalf, "The President is pleased that Senator Webb has facilitated the release of American citizen John Yettaw from detention in Burma. He appreciates this decision by the Burmese government. The President also notes that in addition to meeting with head of state Than Shwe, Senator Webb was able to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, the first meeting by a U.S. official with her for many years. We urge the Burmese leadership in this spirit to release all the political prisoners it is holding in detention or in house arrest, including Aung San Suu Kyi."
President Obama, all about health care all the time recently, returned his attention today again to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
For the first time, an African-American commander-in-chief addressed the nation's largest group of combat veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Phoenix.
While Obama has been stumping for his health care plan, renewed violence is threatening the handover of security to the government in Iraq, where 130,000 US troops remain. Obama has pledged to withdraw all combat troops by next August.
"The transition to full Iraqi responsibility for their own security is now underway. This progress is a testament to all those who have served in Iraq, both uniformed and civilian. And our nation owes these Americans -- and all who have given their lives -- a profound debt of gratitude," Obama told 13,000 VFW members.
"As Iraqis take control of their destiny, they will be tested and targeted. Those who seek to sow sectarian division will attempt more senseless bombings, more killing of innocents. This we know," he added. "But as we move forward, the Iraqi people must know that the United States will keep its commitments."
In Afghanistan, US and coalition forces dealt with the bloodiest month yet in July and casualties are piling up this month as well in advance of a key national election. About 62,000 US troops are fighting there, including most of the 21,000 additional forces that Obama dispatched to lead a new strategy to root out al Qaeda and its Taliban allies in the remote border region with Pakistan.
"They've gone into new areas -- taking the fight to the Taliban in villages and towns where residents have been terrorized for years. They're adapting new tactics, knowing that it's not enough to kill extremists and terrorists; we also need to protect the Afghan people and improve their daily lives. And today, our troops are helping to secure polling places for this week's election so Afghans can choose the future that they want," Obama said.
"These new efforts have not been without a price. The fighting has been fierce. More Americans have given their lives. And as always, the thoughts and prayers of every American are with those who make the ultimate sacrifice in our defense. As I said when I announced this strategy, there will be more difficult days ahead. The insurgency in Afghanistan didn’t just happen overnight. And we won’t defeat it overnight. This will not be quick nor easy," the president added.
"But we must never forget. This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. This is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people."
In his speech, the president also reprised "a vision American leadership" that amounts to the "Obama doctrine" on the use of military force: "I have made it a priority to enlist all elements of our national power in defense of our national security -- our diplomacy and development, our economic might, and our moral example. Because one of the best ways to lead our troops wisely is prevent the conflicts that cost American blood and treasure tomorrow."
"I will only send you into harm's way when it is absolutely necessary," he added. "When I do, it will be based on good intelligence and guided by a sound strategy. I will give you a clear mission, defined goals, and the equipment and support you need to get the job done."
The Obama doctrine also includes a top-to-bottom review of Pentagon spending and weapons procurement to root out waste and fraud. "We cannot build the 21st century military we need -- and maintain the fiscal responsibility that Americans demand -- unless we fundamentally reform the way our defense establishment does business," he said. "It's a simple fact. Every dollar wasted in our defense budget is a dollar we can't spend to care for our troops, or protect America, or prepare for the future."
He threw in a joke about an expensive new presidential helicopter he doesn't want: "Maybe you heard about this. Among its other capabilities, it would let me cook a meal while under nuclear attack. I’ll tell you something. If the United States of America is under nuclear attack, the last thing on my mind will be whipping up a snack."
Obama also stressed his efforts to help returning veterans, including the new GI Bill that includes enhanced educational benefits.
"We will fulfill our responsibility to our forces and our families," he said. "That is why we're increasing military pay, that's building better family housing and funding more childcare and counseling to help families cope with the stresses of war. And we've changed the rules so military spouses can better compete for federal jobs and pursue their careers.
"We will fulfill our responsibility to our wounded warriors. For those still in uniform, we're investing billions of dollars for more treatment centers, more case managers, and better medical care so our troops can recover and return to where they want to be -- with their units."
Many veterans are also wary about what a health care overhaul would mean to them, especially after the Obama administration initially floated the idea of charging vets' private insurance for treatment related to service injuries.
The proposal was designed to generate more than $540 million a year for the Department of Veterans Affairs, but after veterans' groups leaders complained in March, the White House said that the president, after hearing concerns that the proposal "might, under certain circumstances, affect veterans and their families' ability to access health care," has "instructed that its consideration be dropped."
To ease those concerns, Obama made a blanket promise today: "One thing that reform won't change is veterans health care. No one is going to take away your benefits. That is the plain and simple truth."
Obama's full remarks are below:FULL ENTRY
Samantha Power -- the Harvard professor, human rights activist, and award-winning author -- has a new gig inside the Obama administration: Coordinator of US government efforts to help refugees and other displaced people from the Iraq war.
An intriguing side note: In her new role, Power will work even more closely with the State Department, which is led by Hillary Rodham Clinton.
During the campaign, Power stepped down as an unpaid adviser to Obama after she caused a huge uproar by calling Clinton a "monster" who was "stooping to anything" to win the Democratic nomination.
But after the election, Power reached out to Clinton, she was included in the transition team for the State Department, and she and Clinton have crossed paths.
Here's the statement this afternoon from White House spokesman Robert Gibbs:
"President Obama has long made clear that the United States is committed to working closely with the Iraqi government to aid Iraqis who have been displaced or are otherwise vulnerable as a result of the violence in Iraq. Since April, the United States has made available approximately $196 million in additional support for these populations for a total of $346 million to date in FY 2009.
"Further to discussions that took place during Prime Minister Maliki’s recent meetings in Washington, President Obama is pleased to announce that Samantha Power, Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the National Security Council in the White House, will coordinate the efforts of the many parts of the U.S. government on Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), including the Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Defense.
"We are also pleased to announce that Mark Storella, a Senior Foreign Service officer who recently served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Geneva, has arrived in Baghdad to take up the post of Senior Coordinator for Iraqi Refugees and Displaced Persons. Storella will coordinate our government’s work in Iraq on refugees and IDPs, and will represent the United States in its dealings with the Iraqi Government, the international community, and non-governmental organizations on these issues."
President Obama today protested the conviction and sentencing of Burmese human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi.
"The conviction and sentencing of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi today on charges related to an uninvited intrusion into her home violate universal principles of human rights, run counter to Burma’s commitments under the ASEAN charter, and demonstrate continued disregard for UN Security Council statements. I join the international community in calling for Aung San Suu Kyi’s immediate unconditional release," Obama said in a statement issued through the White House.
"Today’s unjust decision reminds us of the thousands of other political prisoners in Burma who, like Aung San Suu Kyi, have been denied their liberty because of their pursuit of a government that respects the will, rights, and aspirations of all Burmese citizens. They, too, should be freed. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. I call on the Burmese regime to heed the views of its own people and the international community and to work towards genuine national reconciliation.
"I am also concerned by the sentencing of American citizen John Yettaw to seven years in prison, a punishment out of proportion with his actions."
Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, added his concern.
“The Burmese dictatorship is making a serious mistake by sentencing Aung San Suu Kyi to additional imprisonment. She never should have been arrested, much less convicted on meritless charges. Aung San Suu Kyi, American John Yettaw, and the other political prisoners held by the junta must be freed immediately. The junta’s actions cast serious doubt on the potential for legitimate elections next year and only reinforce longstanding international concerns about the military junta’s treatment of its own people," Kerry said in a statement.
“The Burmese dictatorship should understand that only a good-faith effort to start a dialogue with the political opposition and improvement of its deplorable human rights record can lead to better relations with the United States and the rest of the world. The junta’s latest unjust and short-sighted actions only serves to move the government further down the path of continued international isolation.”
The White House this afternoon put out the joint communique from President Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
The statement says that the response to the swine flu was a good example of teamwork, promises greater cooperation on trade and crime, and vows to address climate change.
Obama said at a joint news conference that in the 21st century, North American is not as much about borders between the three countries, as the bonds among them.
The transcript of the news conference is below, followed by their full joint statement and their declarations on climate change and the swine flu:
It's usually White House spokesman Robert Gibbs who has to clarify remarks by administration officials when they veer off message -- like when two top economic advisers suggested over the weekend that President Obama might raise taxes on the middle class to pay for healthcare or cut the deficit.
But today, Gibbs had to clarify some of his own words.
In his daily briefing on Tuesday, he called Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the "elected leader" of that country that is one of the diciest foreign policy challenges for Obama. That description raised eyebrows because opposition leaders in Iran have questioned the fairness of the election, and so have US and other Western observers.
Today, Gibbs told reporters on Air Force One that want to "correct a little bit of what I said yesterday. I denoted that Mr. Ahmadinejad was the elected leader of Iran. I would say it's not for me to pass judgment on. He's been inaugurated, that's a fact. Whether any election was fair, obviously the Iranian people still have questions about that and we'll let them decide that. But I would simply say he's been inaugurated and we know that is simply a fact.
Asked whether he recognized him as Iran's leader, elected fairly or not, Gibbs replied, "It's not for -- it's not for me or for us to denote his legitimacy, except to acknowledge the fact."
Does the White House believe the election was fair, Gibbs was asked.
"That's not for us to pass judgment on," Gibbs replied. "I think that's for the Iranian people to decide, and obviously there are many that still have a lot of questions."
Some of those closest to former President Bill Clinton have not forgiven Bill Richardson for turning his back on his wife and endorsing Barack Obama instead last year.
But he tried -- and succeeded -- in mimicking his erstwhile buddy on a high-stakes diplomatic mission to North Korea.
Clinton arrived Monday in Pyongyang to try to bring back two American journalists who were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for illegally entering the country while on a reporting trip in March.
Late today, the North Korean official news agency announced that the two journalists had received a "special pardon" and would be released.
As president, Clinton appointed Richardson as UN ambassador and energy secretary and dispatched him on several high-level diplomatic missions while he was in Congress, including direct talks with then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Richardson also went on similar private missions to North Korea, negotiating the release of two Americans.
Despite personal arm-twisting, including watching the Super Bowl together, Richardson backed Obama instead of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is now Obama's secretary of state. Former Clinton adviser James Carville, in accusing Richardson of betraying the Clintons, compared the New Mexico governor to the Biblical Judas.
After news of the expected release, Richardson said Clinton achieved the immediate objective, but the mission also "improves the atmospherics between the two countries."
"The relationship is really in bad shape right now," Richardson said on CNN. "There's enormous tension. There's literally no dialogue. So, maybe what the bonus would be is President Clinton's visit could get both sides just to start talking. But I bet you there are no negotiations on nuclear issues going on."
Asked what the North Koreans won from the trip, Richardson replied, "One, they get international press over the visit of a former president. North Koreans have always wanted President Clinton to come, other American presidents....Also, Kim Jong-il shores up his domestic base. He shows his people that he can deliver a former president to come to North Korea. He helps them also with a succession issue. It's obvious he is not well. He's thinking about leaving power to one of his three sons. So, domestically it gives him that strength."
"Now, what else does North Korea get? They get the fact that the United States sent a very high-level emissary to talk to them. The North Koreans have always wanted to talk to us directly. They don't like the six-party talks of South Korea, Japan, China, Russia. They want to go directly."
The full interview is below:FULL ENTRY
President Obama's special envoy to Sudan told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today that US sanctions on the country as a state sponsor of terror is hurting efforts to bring peace and ease suffering in the war-torn nation.
Scott Gration called the sanctions a "political decision" and said that the United States was going to have to "unwind" them.
Advocacy groups for the people of Darfur, where hundreds of thousands have been made refugees or killed, were cautious in their reaction.
"We were encouraged to hear unequivocally from Gen. Gration that he and the Obama administration are pursuing a balanced approach which includes both carrots and sticks as levers to change Khartoum's behavior," Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition, said in a statement. "We are, however, seriously doubtful of Khartoum's true intention and ability to make good on their promises, and urge Senators to follow up swiftly with Gen. Gration on the classified details of this plan to ensure that it's sufficiently robust to get the job done."
Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the committee's chairman, also called for a comprehensive approach.
"Many discussions of US-Sudan policy here in Washington continue to center on the question of whether we should use carrots versus sticks -- i.e. rewards or punishments -- to influence Sudan’s leaders in Khartoum.
When I visited Sudan in April of this year, I came away convinced that we need to build a strategic framework that moves beyond simple oppositions like carrots versus sticks or the South versus Darfur. Instead, we need a nuanced, comprehensive strategy for Sudan as a whole," Kerry said in remarks opening the hearing.
His full prepared remarks are below:FULL ENTRY
President Obama -- having quelled the controversy over his remarks on the arrest of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. and still pushing a healthcare overhaul in Congress -- moved on this morning to another major priority, namely US-China relations.
He addressed the first "Strategic and Economic Dialogue" between the two economic and military behemoths, which he called an "essential step" in creating a positive and comprehensive relationship.
"It's important to get our relationship off to a good start," Obama said, citing no less an authority than Yao Ming, the NBA star who is a huge presence in his home country that new or old team members need to time to adjust.
From "Boston to Beijing," the 20th century brought great progress to both countries, but at a "great price," Obama said, sharing the stage with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and Jon Huntsman, the former Republican governor of Utah who Obama nominated as ambassador to China.
In the 21st century, the relationship between the US and China will be the most important bilateral one and largely determine the world's future -- a burden both nations bear, he said.
He urged the two countries -- who have become rivals economically and militarily though China is helping finance US government borrowing -- to find common ground on the economic recovery, climate change, nuclear nonproliferation, and other issues. (His full remarks are below.)
Senator John F. Kerry, who has made global warming a priority issue as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, weighed in as well on the importance of the US-China partnership on that front.
"Today, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter and history’s biggest emitter, China and America, must change the world again – and nothing less than a transformation of the energy economy will suffice," he wrote in an op-ed today in the Financial Times. (Read the full op-ed here.)
"The question is, can we forge a partnership bold enough to prevent a climate catastrophe? With December’s make-or-break climate talks in Copenhagen looming, the US-China negotiations are an important test. Because other countries will take their cues from us, a successful global climate deal will depend on America and China signalling our seriousness now."
UPDATE: The Foreign Relations Committee also released a report today urging the Obama administration to pursue a significant climate change agreement with China this week. The report (read it here) outlines the latest science, the latest actions in China, the current areas of US-China energy collaboration, and ways to push the relationship forward.FULL ENTRY
President Obama's poll ratings may be slipping at home, but his popularity abroad is already repairing the image of the United States, which took a beating during the Bush administration.
The nonpartisan Pew Research Center reported today that favorability ratings for the US among people around the globe have improved markedly, recovering in many countries to the point before George W. Bush took office and began the highly unpopular war in Iraq.
"Improvements in the U.S. image have been most pronounced in Western Europe, where favorable ratings for both the nation and the American people have soared. But opinions of America have also become more positive in key countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, as well," says the Pew Global Attitudes Project, which surveyed nearly 27,000 people in 25 nations this spring.
The Pew report found that in 21 of the countries surveyed, an average of 71 percent of respondents had at least some confidence in Obama's handling of world affairs. In 2008, when Bush was in the White House, the figure in those same countries was only 17 percent.
Obama has drawn adoring crowds on most of his stops on foreign trips since becoming president.
"Signs of improvement in views of America are seen even in some predominantly Muslim countries that held overwhelmingly negative views of the United States in the Bush years. The most notable increase occurred in Indonesia, where people are well aware of Obama's family ties to the country and where favorable ratings of the U.S. nearly doubled this year."
But Muslims in the Middle East still hold negative views about the United States.
And there was one notable exception: Israel, where Bush's policies were popular, and where there is concern over Obama's push to stop settlements on the West Bank.
Iraq's prime minister comes calling on President Obama today at another turning point for the war-torn country and the US mission there.
Nuri al-Maliki and Obama met for more than an hour this afternoon at the White House, then held a joint news conference in the Rose Garden.
UPDATE: Obama said he and al-Maliki had a "very productive discussion" and praised substantial progress in recent months. "Iraqis are taking responsibility for their future," the president said.
The Iraq-US relationship is in the midst of "full transition" to a partnership that includes broader ties on trade, cultural exchange, and other ties, and the US will keep its commitment to restore full sovereignty to Iraq, Obama said.
He also announced that al-Maliki will visit Arlington National Cemetery to pay his respects to US troops killed in Iraq.
The prime minister said he also wants to deepen Iraq's relationship with the United States into a "strategic friendship."
He paid tribute to the "sons and daughters" of both countries who were casualties of the sectarian violence.
(Their full remarks are below.)
Their huddle comes a day after the worst violence in Baghdad since American combat troops pulled out of the capital and other Iraqi cities on June 30. A series of bombings killed at least 15 civilians and injured more than 100, and there were also attacks on US convoys that killed at least three people.
The withdrawal from the cities is the first major step toward a general US pullout, more than six years after the start of the war. And it is the first major test of the Iraqi government's ability to defend the population against assorted insurgents and to keep a lid on the fractious ethnic rivalries.
In February, Obama announced that combat operations will end by Aug. 31, 2010, though most of the 142,000 US troops on the ground at the beginning of this year will stay through the end of this year to safeguard Iraq's national elections in December.
By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- Massive crop devastation, melting glaciers, water shortages, millions of displaced people -- all of these will drag the US military into conflict if global climate change goes unchecked, a Senate panel was warned today.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, convened by Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, focused on what so far has received only modest attention in the climate change debate: the effect it is bound to have on national defense.
"Addressing the consequences of changes in the Earth's climate is not simply about saving polar bears or preserving the beauty of mountain glaciers," retired Navy Vice Adm. Lee F. Gunn, president of the American Security Project, told the panel. "Climate change is a threat to our national security."
Gunn and other military specialists said that climate change could have broad effects on how the US military operates. It will likely expand the number of humanitarian missions the Pentagon will have to undertake, they said, and even change how it deploys its fighting forces.
For example, they warned that rising sea levels could swamp critical US military bases in the Indian Ocean and even the headquarters of the Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk, Va., which could be under water after just a one-meter rise in the ocean level.
From Africa to the Middle East and South Asia, dramatic changes in the weather will stress already unstable nations, creating what Gunn called "climate conflicts."
"International conflicts over resources, due to migrants, and/or as a means of distraction are not only likely," he added, "but likely to exacerbate the underlying climate change problem."
Kerry, since he took the helm of the committee earlier this year, has made addressing climate change a top priority. Several specialists said today that elevating the security aspect will help garner the kind of support necessary to make the difficult changes in energy and other global policies to stabilize the climate.
Sharon E. Burke, vice president for natural security at the Center for a New American Security, testified that the hearing was "an important demonstration of the fact that global climate change is now taken seriously as a strategic challenge."
Kerry, for his part, pledged to keep the shining the light on the issue.
"If we fail to connect the dots -- if we fail to take action -- the simple, indisputable reality is that we will find ourselves living not only in a ravaged environment, but also in a much more dangerous world," he said.
Correction: This item has been revised because of a reporting error that misstated the title for Sharon E. Burke, vice president for natural security at the Center for a New American Security.
Kerry's full opening statement is below:
President Obama this morning condemned the hotel bombings in Jakarta that have killed at least six and wounded more than 50, with at least eight Americans among the casualties.
The State Department says none of the Americans suffered life-threatening injuries, according to news reports that also say that suicide bombers who checked in as guests smuggled explosives into the Western luxury hotels to set off the explosions. Two of the suicide bombers were killed, the reports say.
"I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred this morning in Jakarta, and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones," Obama said in a statement.
"The American people stand by the Indonesian people in this difficult time, and the U.S. government stands ready to help the Indonesian government respond to and recover from these outrageous attacks as a friend and partner.
"Indonesia has been steadfast in combating violent extremism, and has successfully curbed terrorist activity within its borders. However, these attacks make it clear that extremists remain committed to murdering innocent men, women and children of any faith in all countries. We will continue to partner with Indonesia to eliminate the threat from these violent extremists, and we will be unwavering in supporting a future of security and opportunity for the Indonesian people."
The first African-American president will arrive later today for his first visit to Africa. So understandably, there is quite a bit of buzz.
In Ghana, his public schedule on Saturday includes meeting Ghana's president at Christianborg Castle in Accra, then attending an event on maternal health at La General Hospital, and speaking to the Ghanaian parliament. Obama and Michelle Obama will travel to Cape Coast, where they will meet with Head Chief Osabarima Kwesi Atta II at his residence.
Obama's father was Kenyan, though he was raised by his Kansas-born mother. At the G-8 summit in Italy, Obama related his own family history as he pushed for more aid so that African countries can combat hunger and become self-sufficient in food.
"My father traveled to the United States a mere 50 years ago and yet now I have family members who live in villages -- they themselves are not going hungry, but live in villages where hunger is real," he said at the closing news conference today. "And so this is something that I understand in very personal terms, and if you talk to people on the ground in Africa, certainly in Kenya, they will say that part of the issue here is the institutions aren't working for ordinary people. And so governance is a vital concern that has to be addressed.
"Now keep in mind -- I want to be very careful -- Africa is a continent, not a country, and so you can't extrapolate from the experience of one country. And there are a lot of good things happening," he added. "Part of the reason that we're traveling to Ghana is because you've got there a functioning democracy, a President who's serious about reducing corruption, and you've seen significant economic growth.
"So I don't want to overly generalize it, but I do want to make the broader point that a government that is stable, that is not engaging in tribal conflicts, that can give people confidence and security that their work will be rewarded, that is investing in its people and their skills and talents, those countries can succeed, regardless of their history."
The White House put out a list of events being held in conjunction with Obama's speech by US embassies across Africa, below:
By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- It has been a mystery for more than two decades how former Liberian president Charles G. Taylor broke out of the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in 1985, beginning a journey that ultimately made him one of Africa's most notorious strongmen.
The world may finally get its answer as early as next week when Taylor takes the stand for the first time in his war crimes trial in The Hague, where he is accused of ordering atrocities during neighboring Sierra Leone's civil war.
Stephen J. Rapp, the prosecutor in the trial, told the Globe today that Taylor -- who has been indicted on 17 counts of crimes against humanity -- is expected to give testimony for as many as six weeks, during which he is predicted to detail extensively various periods of his life, including his time in the Boston area.
Rapp said that Taylor has provided the prosecution with just a five-page summary of what he is going to talk about. "I think he has a lot more to say," he said.
One incident that many observers are particularly curious to hear about is his Plymouth prison break, which has long been fodder for conspiracy theorists who believe Taylor may have been aided by elements within the US government who later used him as an informant.
Taylor was a student at Bentley College (now University) in Waltham after he fled Liberia in 1983 in the face of charges that he embezzled money from the Liberian government, then headed by Samuel Doe, whom Taylor supported in a bloody 1980 coup.
Taylor was arrested in 1984 in Somerville pending extradition. While fighting the extradition charges -- his lawyer was former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark -- Taylor escaped from the Plymouth prison on Sept. 15, 1985, along with four other inmates.
Taylor's wife and sister-in-law reportedly met him at nearby Jordan Hospital and drove him in a getaway car to Staten Island in New York, where he disappeared. All the other escaped inmates were eventually caught.
Taylor reportedly showed up in Muammar Qaddafi's Libya, where he underwent guerilla training before leading a bloody revolution in his native country at the head of an army known as the Revolutionary United Front.
After a 15-year reign of terror as Liberia's president -- including claims by the United Nations that he aided members of the Al Qaeda network raising money from the trade of gemstones -- Taylor was indicted by the special court for Sierra Leone in 2003.
Under pressure from the Bush administration he was handed over to the court in 2005 by the government of by Nigeria, where he was in hiding.
Since his trial began last year more than 90 witnesses have testified to his role in Sierra Leone's bloody civil war, in which hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed.
President Obama found himself today revising and extending remarks made by his number two on a hair-trigger topic -- Iran's apparent pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Vice President Joe Biden said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that the administration wants to negotiate with Iran, but also seemed to suggest that the United States would not stop an Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.
"Look, Israel can determine for itself -- it's a sovereign nation -- what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else," Biden said. "Whether we agree or not," added the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who has developed quite the reputation for misspeaking and straying off message.
Obama was asked on CNN this morning, "Are you giving Israel a green light?"
"Absolutely not," the president replied. "And I think it’s very important that I’m as clear as I can be, and our administration is as consistent as we can be on this issue."
"I think Vice President Biden stated a categorical fact which is we can't dictate to other countries what their security interests are," Obama added. "What is also true is that it is the policy of the United States to try to resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear capabilities in a peaceful way through diplomatic channels. That is our policy, I have been talking about this for the last two years, we are going to continue to pursue this, and you know we have said directly to the Israelis that it is important to try and solve this in an international setting in a way that does not create major conflict in the Middle East.
"Now this is a tough job and nobody is under any illusions that it will be easy, and I've always said that we, the United States, preserve the right, and I as the commander in chief preserve the right to take whatever actions are necessary to protect the United States. But we are committed to a peaceful resolution to this conflict and I think it is still possible, but ultimately if we present an opportunity to the Iranians at some point, they've got to seize that opportunity."
Senator John F. Kerry this afternoon praised the signing by President Obama and Russia's leader of a follow-up nuclear arms reduction treaty to START.
“I applaud President Obama and Russian President Medvedev for agreeing to negotiate an arms control treaty that will reduce the size of our two countries’ arsenals of deployed strategic nuclear warheads and strategic delivery vehicles to the lowest levels in decades. This is a very important early step toward the nonproliferation and long-term disarmament goals that President Obama set out in his April speech in Prague," Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.
"With the START Treaty due to expire in December, it is vital that negotiations on the new treaty proceed urgently. The Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate will closely examine the new treaty once it is finalized, but I am confident that the treaty envisioned by this Joint Understanding will ultimately win Senate approval and enter into force.
“I also welcome and endorse President Medvedev’s comments on the state of our bilateral relationship. Russia is a essential partner in meeting the global challenges of the twenty-first century. Nuclear nonproliferation, climate change, international terrorism, and pandemic public health threats can only be addressed with our comprehensive cooperation.”
Deep into the first US-Russia summit in seven years, President Obama and Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev today are issuing a series of joint statements to "reset" the soured relationship between the two superpowers.
They have agreed to pursue a new nuclear arms reduction treaty, to cooperate in Afghanistan, and to work together on public health, among other areas.
Their joint press conference is below, along with their joint statements on Afghanistan and nuclear nonproliferation, and the White House release on the joint agreements:
President Obama this afternoon nominated another batch of ambassadors.
And par for the course so far, career diplomats are getting, shall we say, the less high-profile posts -- while campaign donors are getting the plum spots.
As envoy to the Netherlands, Obama nominated Fay Hartog-Levin, a Chicago public relations executive who gave $2,100 directly to Obama's presidential campaign and another $28,500 to the Democratic Obama Victory Fund, according to campaignmoney.com .
The president picked longtime Foreign Service officers for the ambassadorships in Mongolia, Burkina Faso, and Swaziland, and a longtime academic for the one in Malta.
"I am confident that these fine individuals will represent our nation abroad with distinction, and strengthen our diplomatic efforts to meet 21st century challenges. I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead,” Obama said in a statement.
The president has also tapped major fund-raisers or politicians for sought-after postings in European capitals including London, Paris, and Rome, as well as the high-profile embassies in Beijing and Tokyo. As part of his pledge to change Washington, he had suggested he would reduce the number of political appointees as ambassadors, and increase the ranks of career diplomats.
The full list is below:FULL ENTRY
President Obama this afternoon marked the milestone in the US war in Iraq: US troops left Iraqi cities and handed over control to the Iraqi military police.
Iraqis, he said, "are rightly treating this day as a day for celebration."
Obama plans to withdraw all US combat troops by August 2010, but the president said the US stands ready to help.
"Make no mistake, there will be difficult days ahead," noting the bombing today in Kirkuk.
But he said he's confident that the insurgents will fail and that the forces trying to pull Iraq into the "abyss" of violence are on the wrong side of history.
He also took time to praise US troops, who he said have completed every mission given to them. His full remarks are below:FULL ENTRY
Supporters of defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi run in the streets during protests Tuesday in Tehran. (Getty Images)
(A Tehran resident and journalist has been providing on-the-ground updates to the Globe's Washington Bureau since Iran's disputed presidential election last week. He filed this report after covering a mass protest on one of the Iranian capital's main thoroughfares. His name has been ommitted for his sagety.)
TEHRAN _ The noise of the crowd was the first thing to hit me. I had been among demonstrators before, but I had never actually heard an angry crowd before.
The noise was powerful and full of fury. As I approached the street, I distinguished what they were chanting: "mikosham, mikosham, aanke baradaram kosht: I shall kill, I shall kill, he who killed my brother."
My wife, who was among the crowd, had told me that several people had been killed by riot police. I quickened my pace and approached the street. As if in sync, hands bearing stones and bricks were pumping into the air. "I shall kill, I shall kill..." I burst into tears.
The next thing I noticed surprised me: the crowd did not consist of young men, but housewives, seniors, businessmen wearing suits, even children. There was blood on many of them. They were walking downhill towards the Interior Ministry, determined and in force. The wave that had taken over Iran and partied in the streets into the morning for the last few weeks was now an army on the move. As I stood in place trying to figure out what I was seeing, I noticed shopkeepers shutting down and joining the flock. People were also chanting on the sidelines, "down with the dictator," referring to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, while the crowd chanted "join us proud Iranians, join us, join us." The crowd was growing by the moment.
I had walked with them for a few minutes when I saw the riot police in the distance. The crowd had managed to catch one of them and stones were raining down on him, and his head was beaten out of shape. His motorcycle was in flames in the middle of the road. As I passed the burning motorcycle, I noticed two more stacked on one another approximately 100 meters away, also burning. Bloodstains on the asphalt were abundant. I turned around and ran to my car to catch up at the Interior Ministry.
All of the routes to the ministry had been blockaded. Riot police were pouring in, armed with batons, rubber bullets, and tear gas canisters. I couldn’t drive any closer than half a mile from the Interior Ministry. Black smoke was rising from the approximate location of the Ministry. I had picked up my wife and a few friends we had by then, and we parked in an alley and set off towards the Ministry. Walking among the flocks of people, I noticed how quiet they were, and the fear that had covered everyone like a blanket. We walked past a police blockade; apparently pedestrians were free to move but cars were being kept out of the square.
We had been walking for approximately twenty minutes when we saw a flock of people running towards us. The noise of the revving motors of the riot police filled the street, and a group of maybe twenty of them could be seen in the distance approaching quickly. Batons raised and dropped, raised and dropped. We turned around and ran with the crowd. My wife turned into an alley, to distance herself from the incoming motorcycles. I screamed don’t go that way, as I assumed that we’d be safer if we didn’t break off from the flock. She kept running, and I ran after her.
A group of motorcycles turned into the street, beating the people left and right. I picked up my pace and ducked under a banner remaining from the elections. I turned and saw that my wife had fallen behind. A riot police motorcycle reached me and aimed for my legs with his baton. I jumped out of his path and sprinted down the street. Running with all my might, I reached the end of the alley and turned into the sidewalk on the main street; and found myself in the middle of a group of both riot police and so-called "Basijis" who were lashing out at whomever they could reach.
The Basij are the remnants of the voluntary forces that assisted the army during the Iran – Iraq war. Following the war, they maintained their organization and are known by all Iranians by their attire of white untucked shirt, long beard, and gray pants. Their unofficial role allows them to skirt the limits of the law, and they are usually responsible for the dirty work that officials prefer to avoid.
By means of luck or agility, I was able to avoid most of their blows, but was hit in the face by a chain-wielding Basiji. I realized that if I continued running in the same direction, I’ll be beaten by every single weapon being swung on the sidewalk, so I changed course and sprinted towards the street.
Once in the street, I was one of the many others fleeing the officers, and relatively safe. A truck passed filled with young men waving a green flag. I turned back into the alley, now relatively calm, looking for my wife. A boy in the street said that she got away without being harmed, as the men had shielded the women and the weaker ones with their bodies. I found her amongst a crowd shortly later and we managed to get back to our car without other incidents.
The city had been laid to ruin. Motorcycles and garbage dumpsters were burning at every corner. In Kuye Daneshgah Avenue, where the main dormitory of Tehran University is located, a bank had been set on fire. Most of the windows of the cars that passed us had been shattered.
At Parkway, which is a main intersection in Tehran, people had blocked the main routes to the intersection and were tearing down everything they could, from guardrails to billboards. The people lit fires on both sides of a pedestrian bridge over the highway and were flinging stones at a group of riot police that were stuck on the bridge. Tear gas was everywhere, and battles were going on between police and civilians at every corner.
In the early hours of the next morning we were on our way home when we saw that the road was blocked by a group of demonstrators -- women and men and children you’d see everyday walking down the street -- chanting “down with the dictator."
We stepped out of the car and joined them. A dumpster burst into flames next to me. The revolution had begun.
President Obama met today with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of Zimbabwe, who is touring Western countries to seek badly needed aid for his country and convince leaders that his country is undergoing democratic reform.
Tsvangirai, himself, was arrested and abused by the regime of President Robert Mugabe, but in February joined him in a power-sharing coalition. Western leaders have isolated Zimbabwe and assailed Mugabe and are demanding widespread reforms.
After their meeting, Obama praised Tsvangirai, saying he admired his "courage and the tenacity that the Prime Minister has shown in navigating through some very difficult political times in Zimbabwe."
And the president seemed to offer hope for US aid.
"There was a time when Zimbabwe was the bread basket of Africa and continues to have enormous potential. It has gone through a very dark and difficult period politically. The President -- President Mugabe -- I think I've made my views clear, has not acted oftentimes in the best interest of the Zimbabwean people and has been resistant to the kinds of democratic changes that need to take place," Obama said.
"We now have a power-sharing agreement that shows promise, and we want to do everything we can to encourage the kinds of improvement not only on human rights and rule of law, freedom of the press and democracy that is so necessary, but also on the economic front."
(Their full remarks are below.)
Thursday, Tsvangirai met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator John F. Kerry and the Foreign Relations Committee.
“It was my pleasure to welcome Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today. Prime Minister Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have made real progress in stabilizing runaway inflation and trying to begin to create the conditions for democracy in Zimbabwe," Kerry said in a statement afterwards.
“The challenge before us now is how to help Zimbabwe’s agents of change in their efforts to promote democracy while still maintaining proper accountability. I believe that we should explore our options to increase assistance for reform. Failure to act now may squander this opportunity for change, and the greatest beneficiaries will be Robert Mugabe and the other architects of Zimbabwe’s destruction.”
So many Iranians wanted to vote today that officials kept the polls open two hours longer.
After a rambunctious campaign, there's a prospect that hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an antagonist to Washington for years, could actually be ousted by reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister who favors more engagement with the United States.
That, and the victory earlier in the week of moderates in Lebanon, is raising talk of an Obama effect for change -- something the president is not dissuading people from contemplating.
"We are excited to see what appears to be a robust debate taking place in Iran," Obama told reporters today. "And obviously, after the speech that I made in Cairo, we tried to send a clear message that we think there is the possibility of change.
"And ultimately, the election is for the Iranians to decide, but just as has been true in Lebanon, what can be true in Iran as well is that you're seeing people looking at new possibilities. And whoever ends up winning the election in Iran, the fact that there's been a robust debate hopefully will help advance our ability to engage them in new ways," he added.
Only 234 more to go.
The number of detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp fell by four, US officials announced today, when four Chinese Muslims were released and resettled in, of all places, Bermuda, the British-administered island in the middle of the Atlantic.
They are among 17 Uighurs who were captured in Pakistan in 2001. The other 13 are to go to the South Pacific island of Palau, which will receive as much as $200 million in US aid. Officials determined the Uighurs were not anti-US terrorists, and would not return them to China, which says the Uighurs are an Islamic separatist movement.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been pushing for their release, congratulated the four men, who will be in the guest worker program: Huzaifa Parhat, Abdusemet, Abdulnasser, and Jalal Jalaldin.
"We also offer our thanks to the government and people of Bermuda for extending humanitarian protection to four of Guantanamo's refugees. These men want nothing more than their freedom and a chance to restart their lives. We welcome Bermuda’s willingness to look beyond the stigma of Guantanamo and see this reality," the center said in a statement.
"We hope that Bermuda’s humanitarian gesture will encourage Australia, Portugal, Ireland, Canada, Germany and other countries in Europe to open their doors to resettlement of the remaining men who need a place to restart their lives. Many of these countries have already said that they would be willing to take in victims of Guantanamo. It is time for other countries to step forward and help close Guantanamo. After more than seven years of imprisonment, action is needed more than words. This holds true for our congressional representatives at home as well. Congress should immediately support the President's pledge to close Guantánamo on schedule.
"Guantanamo is America's gulag. The long nightmare for four of these innocent men is finally coming to a close. They cannot recover the years that they lost, but we hope that they will be able to start their lives again in freedom. The reality, however, is that at least 60 prisoners will remain at Guantanamo until other countries agree to resettle them. The issue now is not what the law requires, or what the United States itself should do, it is a moral issue."
But for President Obama to keep his promise to close Guantanamo by January, the administration will have to persuade several other countries to take detainees.
On Tuesday, the first Guantanamo detainee arrived on US soil to stand trial in federal civilian court. Ahmed Ghailani, a Tanzanian who was captured in Pakistan in 2004, is facing charges in connection with 1998 Al Qaeda bombings at the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.
Besides sending detainees elsewhere and putting detainees on trial then housing them in high-security US prisons if they're convicted, Obama also plans to use a revised form of military tribunals for those charged with violating the rules of war, and has proposed indefinite detention for those who the government does not have enough usable evidence against, but who the administration believes are too dangerous to release.
UPDATE: There's talk of a compromise in Congress that would allow Guantanamo detainees to face trial in the United States, but would not allow them to stay if they're convicted.
White House spokesman Bill Burton didn't directly confirm the possible deal, but told reporters today on Air Force One, "Well, we've obviously been talking to folks in the Democratic and Republican parties in both the House and the Senate to find the best possible solution to ensure the safety and security of Americans, and to make sure that justice is done here on the detainees who are going to be going to be prosecuted in criminal courts. And so I'm not going to get into the back and forth on what's happening in the negotiations other than to say that the President has obviously been talking to folks on both sides."
Asked where detainees would serve their sentences, Burton replied, "Well, I don't want to prejudge the conclusion of a result that hasn't come to pass just yet."
President Obama this morning issued a positive statement about the election in Lebanon, where a US-supported alliance appeared to keep control of the parliament against the militant group Hezbollah.
Sunday's balloting was seen as a key test between Iran and the US for influence in Lebanon, and came just three days after Obama's much-publicized address to the Muslim world.
"I congratulate the people of Lebanon for holding a peaceful election yesterday," the president said in a statement. "The high turnout and the candidates – too many of whom know personally the violence that has marred Lebanon – are the strongest indications yet of the Lebanese desire for security and prosperity. Once more, the people of Lebanon have demonstrated to the world their courage and the strength of their commitment to democracy.
"The United States will continue to support a sovereign and independent Lebanon, committed to peace, including the full implementation of all United Nations Security Council Resolutions. It is our sincere hope that the next government will continue along the path towards building a sovereign, independent and stable Lebanon," Obama continued.
"Government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Commitment to these principles of peace and moderation are the best means to secure a sovereign and prosperous Lebanon."
President Obama this afternoon announced another batch of nominees for ambassadorships, including a Raytheon executive as envoy to Saudi Arabia.
Retired Air Force General Brigadier General James B. Smith is an international business development executive at Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems.
Another former executive at the Waltham-based defense contractor, William Lynn III, won confirmation to the No. 2 job at the Pentagon, overcoming questions about his ties to Raytheon.
The other picks are: Carlos Pascual for Mexico, David Jacobson for Canada, Donald Gips to South Africa, Patricia N. Moller to Guinea, Nicole A. Avant to the Bahamas, Kenneth H. Merten to Haiti, and Anne E. Derse to Lithuania.
“I am grateful that these individuals will help represent our nation abroad during this important time for our country and the world. They bring a depth of experience and I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come,” Obama said in a statement.
Avant is a California music executive, who along with her family, has been a major donors to the Democratic Party, the Associated Press reports. Avant raised at least $500,000 for Obama and donated the maximum $4,600 to his campaign.
Gips, a Colorado communications executive and former aide to former Vice President Al Gore, raised at least $500,000 for Obama, the AP says, citing the Center for Responsive Politics.
And Jacobson, an Illinois lawyer, raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for Obama, the AP said.
Obama pledged during the campaign to reduce the number of political appointees and boost the number of career diplomats serving as American envoys abroad, but his early selections have included more than a few politicians and major donors, raising concerns about inexperience and patronage.
Last week, the president announced his nominees for coveted posts in London, Paris, and Tokyo, and they were all major Obama fund-raisers.
John Roos, the nominee for Japan, is a California technology lawyer and campaign fund-raiser who collected at least $500,000 for Obama's campaign. Louis Susman, who would serve in Britain, is a former Citigroup vice president from Chicago who raised at least $100,000 as an Obama bundler. He also contributed $50,000 for Obama's inauguration. Charles Rivkin, the nominee for France, is a former financial analyst at Salomon Brothers who runs a California entertainment company and who raised more than $500,000 for Obama.
The White House-provided mini-biographies of today's picks are below:
Domestic reaction to President Obama's Cairo speech is filtering in, and given its sweep and ambition, the reviews are decidedly mixed.
Senator John F. Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, called Obama's speech "blunt" but necessary to put the United States and Muslim countries on a new path.
"President Obama's blunt, honest address in Cairo was absolutely critical in signaling a new era of understanding with Muslim communities worldwide," Kerry said in a statement. "He shattered stereotypes on both sides, reminded the west and the Muslim world of our responsibilities, and reaffirmed one of America's highest ideals and traditional roles -- that those who seek freedom and democracy, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, have no greater friend than the United States of America.
"We know that one impressive speech will not erase years of mistrust and missed opportunities just as Dr. King's 'I Have A Dream' speech did not complete the civil rights movement. Deeds will have to follow words. President Obama did not paper over difficult challenges from combating violent extremism and resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to dealing with Iran’s nuclear weapons program and threats to religious freedom and women’s equality. These will all require tough-minded diplomacy and global cooperation. But in addressing these challenges directly, President Obama has created an historic opportunity to find a new beginning. "
But the Republican Jewish Coalition faulted Obama for treating Israelis and Palestinians too equally.
"President Barack Obama, in his major speech in Cairo this morning, struck a balanced tone with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that's what was wrong with this speech," the coalition's executive director, Matthew Brooks, said in a statement.
"American policy should not be balanced - it should side with those who fight terror, not those who either engage in it or are too weak to prevent it. This conflict will not reach a peaceful conclusion until the Palestinians put an end to terrorism, violence, and incitement against Israel. American policy has long been to support Israel - a fellow democracy and committed ally of this country - in its efforts to achieve lasting security for its citizens. Israel's good faith efforts have been met by unremitting Palestinian violence and what is in effect an internal Palestinian civil war. Peace and security go hand in hand - Israel has repeatedly reached out her hand in peace only to have it slapped back. The President's remarks to the world's Muslims today appear to mark the beginning of a worrisome shift in U.S. policy.
"We urge President Obama to return to the policy of holding the security of Israel as a key American priority and requiring significant, concrete, and verifiable moves toward peace from the Palestinian side."
But Ira N. Forman, CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, was more positive.
"President Barack Obama's speech this morning in Cairo did not just reiterate what the audience wanted to hear," Forman said in a statement. "Instead, Obama was forthright about the necessity for acceptance of the Jewish homeland in Israel and called for Palestinian abandonment of violence. We praise Obama for reaching out to the Muslim world and for his commitment to Middle East peace. Similarly, we recognize his wisdom in speaking directly to the Muslim world about the need to abandon fantasies of destroying Israel and in reiterating America's unbreakable bond with the Jewish State."
Activists on the humanitarian crisis and conflict in Darfur -- which the US State Department has labeled a genocide -- said that Obama's "failure to call for a joint push for peace in Sudan is a glaring omission."
"The President rightly called the situation in Darfur 'a stain on our collective conscience,'” said Enough Project executive director John Norris said in a statement, "but that is not enough. The president needs to articulate a clear vision of how a lasting peace is going to be achieved for all of Sudan, and demonstrate through his actions rather than just his words that this is a political priority. The situation in Darfur deserves more than a single sentence of the president's attention."
Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition, added, "President Obama missed an important opportunity in his Cairo speech to the Muslim world by not reiterating his commitment to lead for peace in Sudan, where 2.7 million Muslim civilians have been driven from their homes and hundreds of thousands have perished because of violence orchestrated by the government. President Obama could have asked all governments in the region to join him in offering a choice to Khartoum between concrete progress toward peace, which will result in improved relations, or continued obstructionism and use of violence, which will lead to increased isolation."
David Harris, national executive director of the American Jewish Committee, gave mixed marks to Obama.
“In the heart of a region where denial is routine – denial of Israel’s right to exist, denial of the historic link of Jews to their homeland, denial of the Holocaust – President Obama spoke the truth with a clear, unwavering voice,” Harris said in a statement.
But he added, Obama should have been more explicit about the danger Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons poses to the entire Middle East and to global security.
"Iran's theocratic regime is a world leader in supporting terrorism, threatening moderate Arab regimes, and orchestrating the chorus of extremists who deny Israel's right to exist,” said Harris. “The U.S. has an obligation to more vigorously lead the international community in stopping the Iranian nuclear program."
President Obama met for the first time today with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a key figure if there is to be a peace deal in the Middle East.
The White House released their introductory remarks heading into their private session.
"I'd like to welcome President Obama to Egypt," Mubarak said, according to the White House translation. "This is his first -- our first meeting together. We discussed so many issues -- the Middle East issues -- interests in the region. We also discussed all problems here in the region, the situation and everything related to Iran and to the region.
"I repeat welcoming Mr. Obama. We discussed everything candidly and frankly, without any reservation. But there are other meetings that will take place later either in the United States of America or anywhere else. Thank you very much.
Obama replied, "Well, I just want to thank President Mubarak, as well as the people of Egypt, for their wonderful hospitality. I'm very much looking forward to speaking at the university this afternoon. I wanted to first sit down with President Mubarak, who obviously has decades of experience on a whole range of issues.
"As the President has indicated, we discussed the situation with Israel and the Palestinians. We discussed how we can move forward in a constructive way that brings about peace and prosperity for all people in the region. And I emphasized to him that America is committed to working in partnership with the countries in the region so that all people can meet their aspirations.
"And I'm very much looking forward in the months and years to come to continuing to consult with the President. And I've communicated to him and I want to communicate to the Egyptian people our greetings from America. Thank you."
Here is the full text of President Obama's speech to the Muslim world:
Thank you very much. Good afternoon. I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning; and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. And together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I'm grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. And I'm also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: Assalaamu alaykum. (Applause.)
We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world -- tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.
Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. All this has bred more fear and more mistrust.
So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. And this cycle of suspicion and discord must end.
I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles -- principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.
I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. I know there's been a lot of publicity about this speech, but no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have this afternoon all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth." (Applause.) That is what I will try to do today -- to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.
(Speech continues below.)
Here's the latest sneak peek into President Obama's much-anticipated, much-hyped speech to the Muslim world, courtesy of Obama's foreign policy speechwriter Ben Rhodes.
Thursday in Cairo, Obama plans to talk about mutual respect, the role of Muslim Americans, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, democracy and human rights, and possible partnerships in the future, Rhodes told reporters today in Saudi Arabia.
"He feels it's important to speak very openly and candidly about the very full range of issues that have caused some tensions between the United States and the Muslim world, and then also present a great deal of opportunity for partnership in the future," Rhodes said.
His full preview is below:FULL ENTRY
John McCain and Barack Obama -- presidential rivals last year -- agreed today on the need for progress to a world free of nuclear weapons.
McCain, the veteran Republican senator from Arizona, spoke on the Senate floor to mark the unveiling of a statue in the Capitol Rotunda of the late President Ronald Reagan, who also dreamed of a nuke-free world.
"This is a distant and difficult goal," McCain said. "And we must proceed toward it prudently and pragmatically, and with a focused concern for our security and the security of allies who depend on us. But the Cold War ended almost twenty years ago, and the time has come to take further measures to reduce dramatically the number of nuclear weapons in the world's arsenals. In so doing, the United States can – and indeed, must – show the kind of leadership the world expects from us, in the tradition of American presidents who worked to reduce the nuclear threat to mankind."
McCain called for a reduction in the US nuclear arsenal, while continuing "to deploy a safe and reliable nuclear deterrent, robust missile defenses, and superior conventional forces capable of defending the United States and our allies."
He also called for a more robust stance against Iran and North Korea, saying "the US must lead the world not only in reducing the size of existing nuclear arsenals, but also in reversing the course of nuclear proliferation. This requires a tough, and tough-minded, approach to both Iran and North Korea, both of whom have gotten away with too much for far too long."
Obama, who called for eventually ridding the world of nuclear weapons in a major speech in Prague in April, issued a statement welcoming McCain's speech.
"In my speech in Prague, I outlined my agenda for keeping the American people safe from the dangers posed by nuclear weapons, and I am grateful to John McCain for his leadership on these critical issues," he said in a statement. "I have outlined an ambitious strategy for promoting arms control and preventing nuclear terrorism and proliferation, which is already bearing fruit. I look forward to working with Senator McCain and the entire Congress to ensure that we accomplish these goals together for the American people and the security of the entire planet."
On the first leg of his second foreign trip in office, President Obama today received a warm welcome -- and another not-so-nice greeting.
King Abdullah hosted Obama at his private farm. "I also want to express my best wishes to the friendly American people who are represented by a distinguished man who deserves to be in this position," the king said before their meeting.
Obama said, "This is my first visit to Saudi Arabia, but I've had several conversations with His Majesty. And I've been struck by his wisdom and his graciousness. Obviously the United States and Saudi Arabia have a long history of friendship, we have a strategic relationship. And as I take this trip and we'll be visiting Cairo tomorrow, I thought it was very important to come to the place where Islam began and to seek His Majesty's counsel and to discuss with him many of the issues that we confront here in the Middle East."
UPDATE: After their private meeting, the White House issued a one-paragraph synopsis:
"President Obama and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia met today and discussed a wide range of issues including Middle East peace, the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, energy, Iran and other matters affecting the region. The President and the King also discussed the President's upcoming speech to the Muslim world. The President and King pledged to remain in close contact in order to continue to make progress on these and other issues central to the US-Saudi relationship."
But as Obama landed in the Middle East, Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden issued a new audiotape threatening Americans and accusing Obama of inflaming hatred toward the United States by urging Pakistan to launch a campaign of "killing, fighting, bombing and destruction" against Taliban militants in the Swat Valley, where the Islamabad government had agreed to a truce and had allowed the Taliban to impose religious law.
President Obama is asking Congress for $200 million to help the estimated 2.5 million Pakistanis displaced by the fighting in Swat Valley, where the Pakistan government is trying to root out Taliban militants at the urging of the United States.
"These funds will provide displaced people in Pakistan with urgent relief and resettlement assistance," he said in the request to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released Tuesday night by the White House.
Senator John F. Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is also urging more humanitarian aid for Pakistan.
“The humanitarian crisis in Swat gets worse every day, which is why it’s so critical that the government of Pakistan and the Obama Administration undertake immediate joint relief operations modeled on our successful efforts following the 2005 Kashmir earthquake," the Massachusetts Democrat said in a statement today. "The United States must commit military assets, such as Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, combat engineers and uniformed medical personnel, that the Pakistani government needs to facilitate these efforts without further delay. When terrorist groups such as Jamaat-ud Dawa are reportedly already operating relief camps in Swat, there is no basis for turning back the far more capable assistance of the United States military.
“The statistics underscore the emergency: between two and three million civilians have been displaced and have little or no access to adequate shelter, food or medical care. In a few weeks, the summer monsoons will turn ramshackle camps into fetid swamps, incubators for a host of preventable epidemics. History has already taught us that poorly-resourced refugee communities are prime breeding grounds for extremist movements; the Taliban itself had its genesis in the Afghan refugee community driven into Pakistan during the 1980s and 1990s. We don’t need to repeat that disaster when instead we can show America’s true commitment to the Pakistani people.”
Obama's supplemental budget request also includes $2 billion "out of an abundance of caution" to fight the swine flu outbreak. To read it, click here.
In a series of pre-trip interviews, President Obama is doing his darndest to lower the bar for his highly-anticipated speech Thursday in Cairo to the Muslim world.
In somewhat different words, he told National Public Radio, the British Broadcasting Co., and Canal Plus of France on Monday and NBC News in an interview broadcast this evening, that the speech is only a first step to improving relations between the United States and Muslim countries.
To Canal Plus, according to the transcript the White House released this afternoon: "Now, I think it's very important to understand that one speech is not going to solve all the problems in the Middle East. And so I think expectations should be somewhat modest.
"What I want to do is to create a better dialogue so that the Muslim world understands more effectively how the United States but also how the West thinks about many of these difficult issues like terrorism, like democracy, to discuss the framework for what's happened in Iraq and Afghanistan and our outreach to Iran, and also how we view the prospects for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
"Now, the flip side is I think that the United States and the West generally, we have to educate ourselves more effectively on Islam. And one of the points I want to make is, is that if you actually took the number of Muslims Americans, we'd be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. And so there's got to be a better dialogue and a better understanding between the two peoples."
On NBC: "I also don't want to, you know, load up too many expectations on this speech. After all, one speech is not gonna transform very real policy differences and some very difficult issues surrounding the Middle East and the relationship between Islam and the west.
"But I am confident that we're in a moment where in Islamic countries, I think there's a recognition that the path of extremism is not actually gonna deliver a better life for people. I think there's a recognition that simply being anti-American is not gonna solve their problems. The steps we're taking now to leave Iraq takes that issue and diffuses it a little bit.
"And the question then is, how do we now go forward with an honest, serious-- relationship based on mutual respect and-- and mutual interest? And so what I hope will happen, as a consequence of this speech, is people will have a better sense of how America views its relationship to the broader world and to Islam....I do hope that we can start opening a dialogue that'll be more constructive moving forward."
On the BBC: "I think what we want to do is open a dialogue. And, you know, there are misapprehensions about the West on the part of the Muslim world and obviously there are some big misapprehensions about the Muslim world when it comes to those of us in the West. And it is my firm belief that no one speech is going to solve every problem, there are no silver bullets. There are very real policy issues that have to be worked through that are difficult, and ultimately it's going to be action and not words that determine the path of progress from here on out.
"But it did seem to me that this was an opportunity for us to get both sides to listen to each other a little bit more and hopefully learn something about different cultures."
On NPR, he was also asked about the challenge of being at war in Muslim countries, where civilian casualties are all too commonplace.
"Well, there's no doubt that anytime you have civilian casualties that always complicates things, whether it was a Muslim or a non-Muslim country," he replied. "I think part of what I'll be addressing in my speech is a reminder that the reason that we're in Afghanistan is very simple, and that is 3,000 Americans were killed and you had a devastating attack on the American homeland; the organization that planned those attacks intends to carry out further attacks and we cannot stand by and allow that to happen.
"But I am somebody who is very anxious to have the Afghan government and the Pakistani government have the capacity to ensure that those safe havens don't exist. And so it's -- I think will be an important reminder that we have no territorial ambitions in Afghanistan. We don't have an interest in exploiting the resources of Afghanistan. What we want is simply that people aren’t hanging out in Afghanistan who are plotting to bomb the United States. And I think that's a fairly modest goal that other Muslim countries should be able to understand."
On overall popularity, President Obama rates light years ahead of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
But on the issue of whether to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center for terrorist suspects, Cheney appears to winning the public opinion battle, a new poll suggests.
In a USA Today/Gallup survey released today, Americans oppose closing Guantanamo by more than a two-to-one margin and oppose bringing any of the detainees to US soil by more than three-to-one. And by 40 percent to 18 percent, respondents said Guantanamo had made America safer.
The survey, conducted on Friday through Sunday, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The debate over Guantanamo exploded in back-to-back speeches May 21 in Washington, with Obama trying to explain his decision and Cheney blasting it.
Obama has also had trouble getting Democratic allies in Congress to go along. Last month, they stripped $80 million to close Guantanamo out of bills to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
President Obama leaves tonight for a four-day trip to the Middle East and Europe on which the highest profile event will be a speech in Cairo reaching out to the Muslim world.
But a newly released poll suggests that when it comes to US-Muslim relations, he has a lot of work to do back home.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey found that only about 20 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Muslim countries, while 46 percent have an unfavorable view. That unfavorable number is up five percentage points from 2002 -- soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The respondents said that they believe people in Muslim countries have even more negative views of the United States, with nearly 80 percent saying that Muslims hold an unfavorable view.
Also, while 62 percent said they don't believe the US is at war with the Muslim world, 36 percent believe the US is at war with some Muslim countries.
The poll was conducted May 14-17 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Representative William Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat, will be part of the official US delegation today at the inauguration of Mauricio Funes, president-elect of El Salvador.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will lead the delegation, the White House announced.
The other delegation members are: Robert Blau of the US embassy in El Salvador; Representatives Eliot L. Engel and Gregory W. Meeks of New York; Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs; Dan Restrepo, special assistant to the president and senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs on the National Security Council; and Alonzo Cantu, president and owner of Cantu Construction and Development Co. and a major Democratic campaign donor.
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- President Obama received Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House today with a valuable welcoming gift: a toughly-worded, categorical US demand for Israel to stop settlements in Palestinian territories.
But hours before the two men met, the Israeli government flatly rejected the demand. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said that "normal life in those communities must be allowed to continue," meaning that some construction will continue in existing settlements.
Obama and Abbas appeared to see eye to eye, speaking of the need for increased support from Arab governments to support the peace process by showing good faith in their promise to recognize the existence of the Jewish state if Israel strikes a peace deal with Palestinians.
But nowhere was the confluence of views so striking as in the Obama administration's position on settlements, which the president outlined directly to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week at the White House.
After meeting with Abbas, Obama told reporters he stands firmly behind "core principles" toward peace, including a two-state solution, Israel "stopping settlements," and Palestinians preventing attacks on Israel.
"I am confident we can move this process forward," if all sides live up to prior obligations and negotiate in good faith, the president said.
Abbas said the Palestinian Authority will live up to all its obligations under the so-called roadmap, a 2003 document callding for a two-state solution and presented to Israel and by negotiators for the "quartet" -- the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia.
"I believe time is of the essence," he said through an interpreter.
Their full remarks are below:FULL ENTRY
Senator John F. Kerry is in China during the congressional recess, and today he applauded that nation's moves on alternative energy.
As the new chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry has made climate change a priority, and his office said today that China’s leaders have indicated they will begin immediate bilateral negotiations on clean energy technologies and possibly more substantive discussions on global warming before the December summit in Copenhagen.
Congress is working on its own climate change bill that would create a new cap-and-trade system to limit emissions of pollution blamed for global warming through the granting and sale of pollution credits.
“There are immediate opportunities for the United States and China to collaborate on climate change and clean energy issues,” Kerry said at a Beijing news conference, according to his office. “In my meetings this week, Chinese leaders assured me that China will play a positive and constructive role in the Copenhagen negotiations. China recognizes the need to address climate change as a critical component of the nation’s economic development and national security strategy. If the United States and China – which together produce almost half of global emissions – can demonstrate concrete progress in the weeks ahead, we will lay the foundation for success at Copenhagen and beyond.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and key House legislators on the energy bill are also touring China and have met with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao. In a speech in Beijing on Tuesday, Pelosi called the climate change issue "a game-changer" in the US-China relationship, the New York Times reported.
The Times also reported today that Chinese officials have drafted vehicle fuel efficiency requirements that are even more ambitious than those outlined by President Obama last week.
Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who along with Henry Waxman pushed a bill through committee last week, also sounded a note of optimism.
"We leave here encouraged that progress can be made heading towards Copenhagen," Markey told a news conference in Beijing, Reuters reported.
But James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican on the trip, said he was "less than optimistic" about a deal in Copenhagen, according to Reuters. "The message that I received was that China was going to do it their way regardless of what the rest of the world negotiates in Copenhagen."
President Obama, who took some grief for cancelling a visit to a military hospital in Germany during his triumphant European tour last summer, will get there a year later.
The White House announced this morning that Obama "will visit wounded warriors and their families at Landstuhl Regional Medical Facility" next Friday, the same day he plans to visit the Buchenwald concentration camp.
"Landstuhl supports our service men and women stationed in Europe, and serves a leading and vital role in the care and recovery of personnel medically evacuated from Afghanistan, Iraq, and other forward-deployed posts within the U.S. European Command, Central Command and Africa Command areas of responsibility," the White House announcement said.
There was confusion and conflicting accounts of why Obama nixed his visit last July. His campaign said he didn't want to make a political visit during the height of the presidential campaign.
Republican rival John McCain bashed him on the issue, putting out a TV ad that said, "He made time to go to the gym, but cancelled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras. John McCain is always there for our troops."
President Obama this evening announced a slew of nominations for high-profile ambassador posts, including those to Britain, France, India, and Japan.
Michael A. Battle, Sr., ambassador to the African Union. Battle is president of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.
Vilma S. Martinez, ambassador to Argentina. Martinez is a lawyer and president of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Thomas A. Shannon, ambassador to Brazil. Shannon is assistant secretary of state for Western hemisphere affairs.
Laurie S. Fulton, ambassador to Denmark. Fulton is a Washington lawyer.
Charles H. Rivkin, ambassador to France. Rivkin is a former president and CEO of the Jim Henson Co.
Louis B. Susman, ambassador to the United Kingdom. Susman is a retired vice chairman of Citigroup, a Chicago fund-raiser for Obama, and was national finance chairman for Senator John F. Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign.
Robert S. Connan, ambassador to Iceland. Connan is a minister for commercial affairs to the US mission to the European Union.
Timothy J. Roemer, ambassador to India. Roemer is a former congressman from Indiana who also served on the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
John V. Roos, ambassador to Japan. Roos is a Silicon Valley lawyer.
Christopher William Dell, ambassador to Kosovo. Dell is a career Foreign Service officer who is now deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Afghanistan.
Patricia A. Butenis, ambassador to Sri Lanka. Butenis is deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Baghdad.
Miguel H. Díaz, ambassador to the Vatican. Diaz is a Cuban-American theologian at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minn. who advised Obama's presidential campaign.
If confirmed, Diaz would be the first Latino in the posting. He would replace Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard University professor who turned down the University of Notre Dame's top honor, the Laetare Medal, after the Catholic school invited Obama to give the commencement address earlier this month and awarded him an honorary degree.
“Catholics United is thrilled to learn that Dr. Miguel Diaz has been nominated as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. Dr. Diaz is a devout Catholic, a respected theologian, a leader in the Catholic Latino community, and a dedicated husband and father of four children. We have full confidence that he will serve our nation well and we invite all Catholics to join us in celebrating this historic nomination,” Chris Korzen, the group's executive director, said in a statement.
“The Administration and the Holy See share many common concerns, such as protecting the environment, fostering peace in the Middle East, disarming nuclear arsenals and cultivating international development, especially for the poorest nations of the world. Dr. Diaz’s ability to work constructively for common ground makes him a superb choice for this position."
“I am grateful that these distinguished Americans have agreed to help represent the United States and strengthen our partnerships abroad at this critical time for our nation and the world. I am confident they will advance American diplomacy as we work to meet the challenges of the 21st century. I look forward to working with them in the years and months ahead,” Obama said in a statement.
The White House provided mini-biographies, which are below:
Even as the White House warns North Korea about its nuclear ambitions, it praised South Korea this evening for joining a nonproliferation agreement.
"The President welcomes the Republic of Korea’s decision today to join the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI)," the White House statement said. "By endorsing the PSI Statement of Interdiction Principles, the ROK has joined 94 other countries in a global effort to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their delivery systems, and related materials to and from states and non-state actors of proliferation concern. We look forward to working with the South Korean Government to stop the proliferation of WMD-related materials worldwide and to strengthening the Initiative for the future."
The statement is in stark contrast to the Obama administration's call for a tough international response, including possibly more sanctions, to North Korea's underground nuclear test on Monday.
"Today, North Korea said that it has conducted a nuclear test in violation of international law," the president's statement said. "It appears to also have attempted a short range missile launch. These actions, while not a surprise given its statements and actions to date, are a matter of grave concern to all nations. North Korea's attempts to develop nuclear weapons, as well as its ballistic missile program, constitute a threat to international peace and security.
"By acting in blatant defiance of the United Nations Security Council, North Korea is directly and recklessly challenging the international community. North Korea's behavior increases tensions and undermines stability in Northeast Asia. Such provocations will only serve to deepen North Korea's isolation. It will not find international acceptance unless it abandons its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery," Obama added. "The danger posed by North Korea's threatening activities warrants action by the international community. We have been and will continue working with our allies and partners in the Six-Party Talks as well as other members of the UN Security Council in the days ahead."
Vice President Joe Biden's office announced this afternoon that he's adding a stop at the end of his tour of the Balkans, traveling Friday to another troubled region riven by religious conflict.
He will go to Beirut, Lebanon's capital "to reinforce the United States’ support for an independent and sovereign Lebanon," Biden's office said.
The vice president will meet with President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri, and will also join Lebanon’s Defense Minister Elias Murr to announce US military aid.
President Obama offered lots of reassurances, but not as many details in a major national security speech this morning -- reassurances that he'll do everything possible to keep America safe while still upholding the Constitution, but not the detail that some want on how he'll do it.
Obama emphasized the need to uphold the nation's founding principles, saying that is as important as military might in protecting America.
"We uphold our most cherished values not only because doing so is right, but because it strengthens our country and keeps us safe. Time and again, our values have been our best national security asset -- in war and peace; in times of ease and in eras of upheaval. Fidelity to our values is the reason why the United States of America grew from a small string of colonies under the writ of an empire to the strongest nation in the world.
"It's the reason why enemy soldiers have surrendered to us in battle, knowing they’d receive better treatment from America’s armed forces than from their own government," he added. "It is the reason why America has benefited from strong alliances that amplified our power, and drawn a sharp and moral contrast with our adversaries. It is the reason why we’ve been able to overpower the iron fist of fascism, outlast the iron curtain of communism, and enlist free nations and free peoples everywhere in common cause and common effort of liberty."
His responsibility as commander in chief, Obama said, "is only magnified in an era when an extremist ideology threatens our people, and technology gives a handful of terrorists the potential to do us great harm. We are less than eight years removed from the deadliest attack on American soil in our history. We know that Al Qaeda is actively planning to attack us again. We know that this threat will be with us for a long time, and that we must use all elements of our power to defeat it.
"Already, we've taken several steps to achieve that goal. For the first time since 2002, we are providing the necessary resources and strategic direction to take the fight to the extremists who attacked us on 9/11 in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We are investing in the 21st century military and intelligence capabilities that will allow us to stay one step ahead of a nimble enemy. We have re-energized a global non-proliferation regime to deny the world’s most dangerous people access to the world’s deadliest weapons, and we've launched an effort to secure all loose nuclear materials within four years. We are better protecting our border, and increasing our preparedness for any future attack or natural disaster. We are building new partnerships around the world to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates. And we have renewed American diplomacy so that we once again have the strength and standing to truly lead the world," Obama added.
"These steps are all critical to keeping America secure. But I believe with every fiber of my being that in the long run we also cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values. The documents that we hold in this very hall -- the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights -- these are not simply words written into aging parchment. They are the foundation of liberty and justice in this country, and a light that shines for all who seek freedom, fairness, equality, and dignity around the world," he declared, speaking in the august National Archives, where an original of the Constitution is kept.
The Bush administration and the country, he asserted, lost its way after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"Unfortunately, faced with an uncertain threat, our government made a series of hasty decisions. I believe that those decisions were motivated by a sincere desire to protect the American people. But I also believe that all too often our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight, and all too often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions. Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, we too often set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And in this season of fear, too many of us -- Democrats and Republicans; politicians, journalists, and citizens -- fell silent," he said.
"In other words, we went off course. This is not my assessment alone. It was an assessment that was shared by the American people, who nominated candidates for president from both major parties who, despite our many differences, called for a new approach – one that rejected torture, and recognized the imperative of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Like his major economic policy speech in April, Obama sought to get the public to look past the recent bobbles and take a broader view of the issues at stake -- a view more favorable to him.
Obama is facing high stakes on his anti-terror policies after taking hits from both sides of the political aisle in the past two weeks.
He dismayed and angered liberals with two reversals -- fighting the release of a new batch of photos showing US troops abusing detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq and restarting military tribunals for some of the 240 detainees still being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison.
The president is being savaged by Republicans -- and was abandoned by his Democratic allies in Congress -- over his plans to close Guantanamo by January -- a decision he announced with much fanfare on his second full day in office -- without having put out specifics on where the detainees will go.
Wednesday, the Senate joined the House in passing an amendment barring the detainees from entering the United States, and his FBI director expressed concerns about having terrorists on US soil, even if they are in maximum-security prisons.
His GOP presidential rival, John McCain, agrees with shutting down Guantanamo, but says that Obama botched the process. "All of the hard part was not addressed," McCain said on Fox News Channel this morning. "The easy part, the announcement of the closing of Guantanamo is done and now the chickens have come home to roost."
One of his harshest critics, former Vice President Dick Cheney, is giving a speech on national security in the same hour and less than two miles away.
Obama took on his critics, saying that "we will be ill-served by some of the fear-mongering that emerges whenever we discuss this issue."
"Listening to the recent debate, I’ve heard words that frankly are calculated to scare people rather than educate them; words that have more to do with politics than protecting our country," he added.
Obama strongly defended his decision to end harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding that he and other critics call torture.
"As commander in chief, I see the intelligence, I bear responsibility for keeping this country safe, and I reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation. What’s more, they undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America. They risk the lives of our troops by making it less likely that others will surrender to them in battle, and more likely that Americans will be mistreated if they are captured. In short, they did not advance our war and counter-terrorism efforts -- they undermined them, and that is why I ended them once and for all," he said to applause.
The president also defended his decision not to release the abuse photos, asserting that they add little to the understanding of what happened in places such as Abu Grahib and that there is a "clear and compelling reason" not to release them -- the safety of troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.
"Nothing would be gained by the release of these photos that matters more than the lives of our young men and women serving in harm’s way," he said.
And he defended his decision to close Guantanamo, noting that military commissions led to only three convictions and that hundreds of detainees were released during the Bush administration.
"So the record is clear: rather than keep us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies. It sets back the willingness of our allies to work with us in fighting an enemy that operates in scores of countries. By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it. That is why I argued that it should be closed throughout my campaign. And that is why I ordered it closed within one year," Obama said.
In his speech, Obama outlined a five-pronged approach to Guantanamo: sending detainees to other countries when that is possible and does not pose a security risk (50 have been approved so far); putting those who have violated criminal laws on trial in federal civilian court; using the military tribunals for those charged with violating the rules of war; and releasing those who have been ordered released by the courts.
Calling it the "toughest single issue we will face," he also proposed indefinite preventitive detention for those who can't be prosecuted for past crimes but nonetheless represent a danger to the United States.
"These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States," Obama said.
"However, we must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded," he added. "That's why my administration has begun to reshape these standards that apply to make sure they are in line with the rule of law. We must have clear, defensible, and lawful standards for those who fall into this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don’t make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified."
"Let me be blunt: There are no neat or easy answers here. I wish there were," he said. "But I can tell you that the wrong answer is to pretend like this problem will go away if we maintain an unsustainable status quo. As president, I refuse to allow this problem to fester. I refuse to pass it on to someone else. It's my responsibility to solve the problem. Our security interests won’t permit it. Our courts won’t allow it. And neither should our conscience."
His full remarks are below:
Vice President Joe Biden continued his diplomatic tour of the troubled Balkans today, meeting with the leaders of Serbia as he tries to cement the hard-won peace in the region of tinderbox tensions.
"I came to Serbia on behalf of the Obama-Biden administration with a clear, distinct message, Mr. President: The United States wants to, would like to, deepen our cooperation with Serbia to help solve the problems of the region, to help Serbia become a strong, successful democratic member of the Euro-Atlantic community. That's our objective," Biden said, according to remarks released by the White House.
"Ever since the end of World War II, generations of Europeans and Americans have worked very hard to build a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace. Southeast Europe remains the missing piece, and Serbia is central to Southeast Europe's future. Simply put, the region cannot fully succeed without Serbia playing the constructive and leading role."
(His full remarks are below, followed by a joint statement with the European Union envoy.)
On Tuesday, Biden spoke in Sarajevo to the parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina, warning lawmakers to resist the nationalism of ethnic strife that led to the bloody civil war during the 1990s that didn't end until intervention by NATO led by the United States.
Biden wraps up his visit Thursday in Kosovo, where he will meet that nation's leaders, address the assembly, and go to Camp Bondsteel to speak to US and NATO peacekeepersFULL ENTRY
The Obama administration has been urging the Pakistani government to go after the Taliban in the Swat Valley, after a cease-fire seemed to embolden the Islamic militants, who came within 60 miles of the capital last month.
Now that the military response has displaced tens of thousands of residents, the Obama team is offering humanitarian aid to deal with the fallout.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the aid -- $110 million -- at the White House this morning.
In the announcement, Clinton said the money will help ease the plight of about 2 million Pakistanis who have fled fighting.
The White House said $100 million would come the State Department and $10 million from the Defense Department. The largest single item is $26 million for the immediate purchase of wheat and other food.
It was Clinton, herself, who testifying to Congress for the first time in her new post, warned that Pakistan under the control of extremists "poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of Americans and the world." She also asserted that the Pakistani government is "basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists" with the cease-fire, which was approved by Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari.
The Obama administration's new strategy in the region includes giving $1.5 billion a year in additional aid to Pakistan's government to help it take on the militants and sending at least 17,000 more US combat troops to southern Afghanistan and 4,000 troops to train the Afghan military and hundreds of civilian advisers to help the Afghan government.
UPDATE: Senator John F. Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, applauded the aid. He is pushing for $1.5 billion a year in additional aid to Pakistan to help the government take on the Taliban.
“I applaud the Administration’s pledge of more than $100 million in humanitarian aid for Pakistanis displaced by the violence in Swat Valley. Last week, in a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Pakistan, I strongly urged Special Representative Richard Holbrooke to take this important action, and to do so as quickly as possible. The scale of the tragedy demands immediate assistance: Some 2 million civilians have been driven from their homes due to fighting initiated by the Taliban," Kerry said in a statement.
“The present emergency carries echoes of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake: following that disaster, the United States provided nearly $1 billion in relief aid—and proved that our nation could be a powerful and faithful friend to the Pakistani people. The legislation that Sen. Lugar and I introduced earlier this month aims to solidify this approach: for the sake of the national security of both of our nations, we seek to demonstrate to the people of Pakistan that we are friends in fair and foul weather alike.”
Clinton's full remarks are below, followed by the White House outline of the funding.
Americans of both major political parties agree with President Obama's decision to fight the release of more detainee abuse photos, a new poll suggests.
In the CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey result released this afternoon, 73 percent opposed releasing the images, while 26 percent supported doing so.
Among self-identified Republicans, the opposition to divulging the photos was stronger -- 87 percent, while it was 62 percent among Democrats.
Obama announced his change of mind last week, saying that military commanders had convinced him that the photos' release could endanger US troops in the field in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a joint statement today to mark the apparent end of the decades-long civil war in Sri Lanka with the government's victory over the rebel Tamil Tigers.
The statement is from Committee chairman John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, ranking Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana, and Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Sam Brownback of Kansas, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
“We welcome the news that Sri Lanka’s long-running civil war has been brought to a close. For the past twenty-six years, the people of Sri Lanka have suffered enormously from a conflict that appeared intractable. Some 70,000 were killed, many more injured, and countless others were uprooted and forced to flee the violence. In recent months, civilians in the north-eastern part of the island have faced terrible hardship, and exceptionally difficult conditions still persist for hundreds of thousands that have been internally displaced. The scale of the suffering has been obscured by denial of access to humanitarian workers, journalists, and most other outside observers.
“Today can be a turning point for the people of Sri Lanka. The government has a chance to forge a long-term political solution, one that acknowledges the legitimate aspirations of all Sri Lankans, including Sinhalese, Tamils, and other groups. This means taking steps toward reconciliation and justice, including devolution of power to local bodies as provided for by the constitution of Sri Lanka. It will not be easy, but we are looking to the leaders of the Government of Sri Lanka to move the country forward in peace after more than a quarter-century of conflict.
“In the short term, we urge the Government of Sri Lanka to take immediate steps to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the north for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons by facilitating humanitarian access to the government camps and by fulfilling its promise to return the majority home by the end of the year. We call on the Government to protect all of its citizens, including those still trapped in the conflict zone such as Doctors Varatharajah, Shanmugarajah, and Sathiyamurthy and other religious and secular leaders who have provided vital humanitarian services.”
President Obama today began a series of meetings to bring new momentum to the Middle East peace process.
First up, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was at the White House for an one-on-one meeting with Obama, a bigger meeting, and a working lunch.
After the sessions, Obama said they were "extraordinarily productive."
He told reporters that the United States has a "special relationship" with Israel, whom he described as a "stalwart ally" with historical and emotional ties and the only true democracy in the Middle East.
Obama said that Israel's security is paramount, and said he wants a positive response from Iran on its nuclear program by the end of the year and is "not precluding" a range of steps, including stronger international sanctions.
The president also said the two men talked about restarting the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian authority toward a two-state solution, and said he told Netanyahu that he has a "historic opportunity" to secure Israel's security and achieve a historic peace.
But that requires fulfilling the 2003 "road map" to a peace deal, including for Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank.
An Israel-Palestinian peace "strengthens our hand" in dealing with Iran, Obama said.
Netanyahu called Obama a "great friend" of Israel and said that he agrees that the greatest danger Israel faces is an nuclear-armed Iran.
The prime minister also said that he is ready to negotiate with the Palestinians, but also "broaden the circle of peace" to include Arab countries.
He said the Israel is ready to make compromises, but that Palestinian leaders must do their part, including recognizing the Jewish state's right to exist.
(Their full remarks to reporters are below.)
Both the president and Netanyahu are being closely watched both for actions and words. Because of some past associations with Palestinian supporters and the false rumors that he was a Muslim, Obama spent quite a bit of time during the campaign to reassure Jewish voters and others that he was steadfast in his support for Israel.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, has yet to formally and publicly support a Palestinian state -- in opposition to official US policy, which calls for a two-state solution. And before his Feb. 10 election, he dismissed the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which stalled late last year, as a waste of time.
The Israeli leader will be followed to the White House by President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt on May 26, and by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian authority on May 28.
The leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a statement this morning calling for the release of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
“The Obama Administration and Congress are reviewing America’s policy toward Burma. At this critical time, some in the junta are trying to leverage the recent alleged unauthorized entry into Aung San Suu Kyi’s compound to extend her detention. This action sends precisely the wrong message to the citizens of Burma, the people of Southeast Asia, and all those in the global community who seek for the Burmese people the opportunity to live in a country where universal human rights are respected, not trampled," said committee Chairman John F. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, and the ranking Republican, Richard Lugar of Indiana.
“Now is the time for reform-minded leaders within the military junta to step forward and be heard. Releasing Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners would signal the start of a constructive dialogue with the United States.”
UPDATE: President Obama this afternoon told Congress he is continuing the US sanctions against Burma. To see his declaration, click here.
President Obama thrilled his liberal backers -- who reviled the Bush administration's war on terror -- when in his first days in office he announced he would shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and banned torture.
But they're none too happy after what appear to be two about-faces this week on terror detainees.
Obama first reversed himself and announced he would fight the release of photos showing US troops abusing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying he listened to his military commanders who argued their dissemination could inflame local populations and thus threaten US forces.
Today, he announced he will restart the military tribunals for some Guantanamo detainees -- the same process he called during his campaign as "a flawed military commission system that has failed to convict anyone of a terrorist act since the 9/11 attacks and that has been embroiled in legal challenges."
UPDATE: Obama confirmed his move not with a public appearance, but a brief statement from the White House:
"Military commissions have a long tradition in the United States. They are appropriate for trying enemies who violate the laws of war, provided that they are properly structured and administered. In the past, I have supported the use of military commissions as one avenue to try detainees, in addition to prosecution in Article III courts. In 2006, I voted in favor of the use of military commissions. But I objected strongly to the Military Commissions Act that was drafted by the Bush Administration and passed by Congress because it failed to establish a legitimate legal framework and undermined our capability to ensure swift and certain justice against those detainees that we were holding at the time. Indeed, the system of Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay had only succeeded in prosecuting three suspected terrorists in more than seven years.
"Today, the Department of Defense will be seeking additional continuances in several pending military commission proceedings. We will seek more time to allow us time to reform the military commission process. The Secretary of Defense will notify the Congress of several changes to the rules governing the commissions. The rule changes will ensure that: First, statements that have been obtained from detainees using cruel, inhuman and degrading interrogation methods will no longer be admitted as evidence at trial. Second, the use of hearsay will be limited, so that the burden will no longer be on the party who objects to hearsay to disprove its reliability. Third, the accused will have greater latitude in selecting their counsel. Fourth, basic protections will be provided for those who refuse to testify. And fifth, military commission judges may establish the jurisdiction of their own courts.
"These reforms will begin to restore the Commissions as a legitimate forum for prosecution, while bringing them in line with the rule of law. In addition, we will work with the Congress on additional reforms that will permit commissions to prosecute terrorists effectively and be an avenue, along with federal prosecutions in Article III courts, for administering justice. This is the best way to protect our country, while upholding our deeply held values."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama will give a speech about Guantanamo detainees next Thursday.
Obama is asking for another 120-day delay in legal proceedings and is working through details of changes in the tribunals he will seek from Congress, Gibbs said.
Asked about alienating some of Obama's supporters, Gibbs said that "first and foremost" Obama will do what's best for the security of the United States.
The Bush tribunal set-up was not working in providing "swift and certain justice," but the changes will make the system workable, Gibbs said.
Pressed about the liberal criticism, Gibbs said it is not true that the tribunals under Obama will be the same as under Bush.
He also said that Obama is being critiqued both that he is too similar to Bush and too different. Gibbs said he'll let the media decide where on the spectrum Obama is.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which sued for the release of the photos, blasted Obama's change of position on that front. And it also criticized the president on the tribunals.
Elisa Massimino, executive director of Human Rights First, added in a statement: “Tinkering with the machinery of military commissions will not remove the taint of Guantanamo from future prosecutions. The president should listen to the many dedicated military lawyers who both defended and prosecuted cases in the commissions at Guantanamo who have said that the commissions are irredeemable. We cannot achieve justice by reverse engineering a process to enhance the likelihood of convictions. That’s not how we do things in this country. The federal criminal justice system has credibility and a proven track record of prosecuting terrorism cases without compromising national security or our Constitution’s values. President Obama should use it.”
The American Liberal Newsvine today is portrayed the decision this way: "Breaking a key promise from his campaign, President Barack Obama is expected to announce Friday the return of military commission trials for a small number of terrorism suspects. Obama had previously promised to abolish them. The tribunals, often criticized as overly protective of state secrets and willing to accept evidence obtained while defendants were allegedly tortured, were suspended mere hours after Obama took office."
The TalkLeft blog said: "There's no fixing those military tribunals. If your team can't come up with a solution other than one that reverts to one of the worst policies of Bush Administration, it's time to get a new team in place. Suggestion: Start with the lawyers representing the Guantanamo detainees. They know exactly what's necessary for a fair trial. Suggestion two: Try them in federal court like you said you would. Show some backbone and stick to your campaign promises. As a last resort, consider trials under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. But leave those military commission trials dead and buried where they belong."
By James F. Smith, Globe Staff
Dr. Paul Farmer, the global health crusader who has crafted life-saving projects from Haiti to Rwanda, has told colleagues privately that he is mulling a possible appointment by the Obama administration to coordinate growing US overseas health initiatives.
Farmer told faculty members at Harvard Medical School on Monday that he is in discussions with the State Department, which this month proposed a surge in funding over the next six years for global programs to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and tropical disease, and to improve children's health.
It could not be confirmed today exactly what job Farmer is being considered for, but one person who was present at the medical school meeting said Farmer described it as a position overseeing all foreign health aid. Farmer told the gathering that he hadn't decided whether to accept the appointment if it is formally offered but that he was considering it seriously.
Farmer did not respond to email and phone messages seeking comment. Partners in Health also declined to respond, as did Harvard Medical School's Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, where Farmer is vice-chairman.
A State Department spokesman refused any comment on personnel discussions in progress or on potential new positions. It could not be confirmed today whether Farmer is being considered for a full-time policy position or an advisory role, or whether an appointment would be to a new job or an existing one.
The top positions at the US Agency for International Development are vacant, including the administrator and deputy administrator as well as assistant administrator in charge of global health. The top positions are presidential appointments and require Senate confirmation. There could also be health policy roles within the State Department, which this month announced a plan to spend $63 billion over the next six years to fight global diseases including HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other preventable diseases. That would build on an ambitious effort launched by the Bush administration.
Farmer has gained international acclaim for more than two decades of work treating the poorest villagers in the poorest countries, while also carrying out groundbreaking medical research and reshaping health policies in the Third World. When he was still a Harvard medical student he co-founded Partners in Health, the Boston-based nonprofit that supports an array of global health efforts and pushes governments to provide better care.
In 2003, Tracy Kidder published a best-selling book, "Mountains Beyond Mountains," about Farmer.
He remains very active in Partners in Health and its initiatives, including the remaking of Rwanda's health system amid the twin ravages of AIDS and the aftermath of genocide, as well as building programs in other countries -- Russia and Peru among them -- to counter multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis.
One person who was at the Harvard gathering said some colleagues suggested to Farmer that he was being given an opportunity to make a real impact on US policy, and they urged him to take up the challenge.
The New England delegation divided on the issue today as the House approved funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as the US winds down its involvement in the former and increases its push in the latter.
The $97 billion measure includes President Obama's war funding request as he promises to withdraw most combat troops from Iraq by August 2010 and sends 21,000 more troops and military trainers to Afghanistan and It adds nearly $12 billion, including money for new weapons and military equipment and more foreign aid. The bill also includes a pledge that any Guantanamo Bay detainees will not be released on US soil.
Among Massachusetts representatives, Michael Capuano, Barney Frank, Edward Markey, James McGovern, Richard Neal, John Tierney, and Niki Tsongas voted no. Stephen Lynch and John Olver supported the funding and William Delahunt did not vote.
Both Maine representatives, Michael Michaud and Chellie Pingree, voted no, while both of Rhode Island's, Patrick Kennedy and Jim Langevin, voted yes.
New Hampshire's delegation split, with Paul Hodes voting yes and Carol Shea-Porter opposing the funding.
Vermont's Peter Welch also voted no.
The overall tally was 368-60, with 200 Democrats and 168 Republicans voting yes and 51 Democrats and 9 Republicans voting no.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is testifying this afternoon on the Middle East peace process, on the eve of President Obama's one-on-one meetings starting next week with the leaders of Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian authority.
Blair, a close ally of former President Bush whose support for the Iraq war cost him politically at home, has been leading the effort by the Middle East Quartet (the European Union, the US, the United Nations, and the Russian Federation) for a two-state solution.
“Since ending his decade of service as Britain’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair has continued to lead on global challenges from development in Africa to interfaith tolerance to climate change. Tony Blair left office and volunteered for another tough assignment: Middle East Quartet Representative. I look forward to hearing his thoughts on the prospects for peace in the Middle East,” Senator John F. Kerry said in a statement announcing Blair's appearance before the Foreign Relations Committee.
Kerry's prepared opening statement is below:
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- Representative James McGovern of Massachusetts, who has launched the only effort in the US House to oppose President Obama's plans for the Afghan war, received an unexpected boost of support today from a group of Afghan and Iraqi war veterans, who raced around Capitol Hill lobbying for his bill.
Congress is expected on Thursday to swiftly approve the $94.2 billion war funding bill, which would support the 21,000 additional combat troops and military trainers that Obama plans to deploy. But McGovern's bill, which he plans to file Thursday, would require the Pentagon to come up with an exit strategy by the end of the year.
The veterans, who are part of a small but growing group of Americans who oppose the Afghan war, traveled to Washington this week, shadowed by the Brave New Foundation, a California-based nonprofit film company that produces social justice documentaries and has launched a campaign called Rethink Afghanistan.
Realizing that it could not stop the supplemental, the group focused instead on getting more support for McGovern's bill.
"Without an exit strategy, then the mission is doomed to fail," said Jake Diliberto, who fought in Afghanistan in 2001 as a Marine. Diliberto, who said he is now getting his master's degree in ethics from Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., said that he strongly believed in the mission, but that the US presence has grown extremely unpopular among Afghans, as civilian casualties have increased.
Former Marine Corporal Rick Reyes, who also served in Afghanistan shortly after the US invasion, said he never thought he would lobby Congress. But by midafternoon, he had met with representatives from 20 offices. The group planned to fan out and meet with 100 more.
"So far the response has been positive, but you never know how they will vote," said Reyes, who believes that the United States was made less safe by the operations in Afghanistan. He said his team was ordered to break down doors and beat people who later turned out to be innocent.
Still, many members of Congress are reluctant to question a war that is directly linked to an attack on the United States, not to mention a popular president.
Representative Raul M. Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who chairs the Progressive Congressional Caucus and shares skepticism about the troop increase, told the veterans that their message is still a hard sell.
"I think there is a sense that there is no other option," he said, adding that people routinely ask him "'What do we do if we don't do this?' "
Grijalva told the vets that an atmosphere of fear of opposing the president has permeated Capitol Hill over the past eight years. But he said he has not faced much backlash for his anti-war stance, despite the fact that 15 percent of his constituents are veterans.
"I support Barack very much but I think sometimes we tell our friends and colleagues that we have to part ways," he said.
But so far, the only member of Congress to introduce legislation to restrain Obama's actions on Afghanistan is McGovern, a Worcester Democrat and an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war. (Click here to read the bill.)
So far, 60 members of Congress have already signed onto the bill, which McGovern opted to file as stand-alone piece of legislation, not linked to the supplemental.
"After 8 years, he is getting a sinking feeling that we are getting in deeper and deeper into Afghan without any idea how we are going to get out," said Michael Mershon, a spokesman for McGovern. "He feels very strongly that no matter who the president is, or whether he has a 'D' or an 'R' next to his name, if you believe our military efforts need to have a clearly defined strategy, then that's what you have to fight for."
President Obama has insisted he would listen to his commanders on the ground before making decisions as commander in chief.
And it appears he did just that, reversing himself on releasing dozens, if not hundreds, of new photos that purportedly show abuses of detainees.
According to press reports, the top US commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan told Obama that their troops could be in greater danger if the new photos are released this spring.
UPDATE: In a brief appearance to mostly call for peace in Sri Lanka, Obama confirmed his decision.
"This is not a situation in which the Pentagon has concealed or sought to justify inappropriate action," he said. "Rather, it has gone through the appropriate and regular processes. And the individuals who were involved have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken.
"It's therefore my belief that the publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals. In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger."
"Any abuse of detainees is unacceptable," he added. "It's against our values." (His full remarks are below.)
An Obama administration official told the Associated Press that the president told his legal advisers last week that he agreed that releasing the photos would endanger US troops. Obama wants the issue to go back to the courts, although federal appeals judges have ruled the photos could be released.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama has been debating the issue for several weeks.
The photos "have the potential to cause harm to our troops," Gibbs told reporters.
They could also get in the way of investigations of detainee abuse, he said, and don't help the probes but only add a "sensationalistic" element.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told the AP that military commanders "are concerned about the impact the release of these photos would have for the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq," and that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates shares their concerns.
The images will reportedly show mistreatment at locations other than Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where photos emerged in 2004 of soldiers posing with detainees, some naked, being held on leashes or in painful positions.
The Pentagon had planned to release the latest photos by May 28 in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
And the civil liberties group quickly criticized Obama's reversal.
"The decision to suppress the photos is profoundly inconsistent with the promise of transparency that President Obama has made time after time," ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer told the AP.
But military groups praised Obama's change of heart.
"This is the very best news we could hear," American Legion Commander David Rehbein said in a statement, "and we applaud the president for his response to those, like The American Legion, who are putting the welfare of our troops and our country ahead of political considerations."
Rehbein made similar arguments as the military commanders in an opinion piece first published in the Wall Street Journal.
Senator John F. Kerry responded with outrage this afternoon to reports that school girls in Afghanistan are being targeted by poison gas to scare them away from going to class.
The Associated Press reported that Afghan officials accused extremist militants of launching a poison gas attack today in the northeastern part of the country that caused dozens of schoolgirls to collapse with headaches and nausea. The Taliban and other Islamic fundamentalists have regularly attacked girls schools in Afghanistan and the second apparent poisoning in two days has raised concerns that they have now found a new weapon to scare girls, the AP said.
“I am deeply troubled by reports of poison attacks on school girls in Afghanistan, endangering hundreds of students and teachers," Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.
"Today’s attack on girls in a school in Kapisa province follows two recent attacks on school girls in the nearby town of Charikar in Parvan province. This should be a wake-up call that girls and women in Afghanistan are still under physical threat and their security must be a top priority. Girls in Afghanistan should not have to risk their lives just to attend school. This is non-negotiable. My thoughts are with these brave young girls, their families, their teachers and principals, and I commend their courage for continuing to go to school. I urge the Afghan authorities to do all they can to stop these horrific attacks on innocent children.”
Ask most Americans about former President Jimmy Carter and energy, and they'll probably recall the long gas lines during the 1970s Arab oil embargo and the 1979 "malaise" speech in which he outlined his plan for energy efficiency and reducing oil imports.
Today, he is being called upon to offer a "historical review"of US efforts to address energy security before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Carter testified that there has been "a long period of energy complacency" and that the US is now lagging behind "many other nations in the production and use of windmills, solar power, nuclear energy, and the efficiency of energy
"Our inseparable energy and environmental decisions will determine how well we can maintain a vibrant society, protect our strategic interests, regain worldwide political and economic leadership, meet relatively new competitive challenges, and deal with less fortunate nations. Collectively, nothing could be more important," he said, according to prepared remarks.
“President Carter has an unparalleled understanding of the depth and scope of the energy security challenges facing our nation, and we are honored to welcome him to the committee,” committee Chairman John F. Kerry said in a statement announcing Carter's appearance.
“This hearing will launch a series of targeted investigations into the manifestations and implications of our dependence on foreign oil, as well as the geopolitical challenges associated with current patterns of global energy flows.”
Kerry's opening statement at the hearing is below:FULL ENTRY
Richard Holbrooke, the special US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is testifying today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as it consider President Obama's new strategy for the intertwined nations.
Obama is sending 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, agreed to the replacement of the top US general in Afghanistan, announced Monday, and supports a bill being pushed by Senator John F. Kerry to increase aid to Pakistan's government to $1.5 billion a year.
Holbrooke testified that "a stable, secure, democratic Pakistan is vital to US national security interests."
"We must support and strengthen the democratic government of Pakistan in order to eliminate once and for all the extremist threat from al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups," he continued in prepared remarks.
Relations between the US and Pakistan have been "inconsistent," he added. "In Pakistan, many believe that we are not a reliable long-term partner and that we will abandon them after achieving our counterterrorism objectives. Many in the U.S. question the dedication of some elements of the Pakistani government to ending safe haven for terrorists on Pakistani soil. But our engagement has to be aimed at putting our relationship on a better long-term footing."
(His full prepared remarks are below.)
In his opening statement at the hearing, Kerry, the committee's chairman, declared that "with its nuclear arsenal, terrorist safe havens, Taliban sanctuaries and growing insurgency, Pakistan has emerged as one of the most difficult foreign policy challenges we face."
The Massachusetts Democrat said that Obama's meetings last week with Pakistani President Asif Zardari and Afghan President Karzai were "a significant step forward," but much work remains to succeed with a "bold new strategy."
"Since President Obama called on Congress to pass a Pakistan aid bill, the dangers of inaction have risen almost by the day. The government has struck an ill-advised deal that effectively surrendered the Swat Valley to the Taliban. Predictably, this emboldened the Taliban to extend their reach ever closer to the country’s heartland. In recent days we have seen encouraging signs that Pakistan’s Army is finally taking the fight to the enemy, but much remains to be done," Kerry said, according to prepared remarks released by the committee.
"Even as we help Pakistan’s government to respond to an acute crisis, we also need to mend a broken relationship with the Pakistani people. For decades, America sought Pakistani cooperation through military aid, while paying scant attention to the wishes of the population itself. This arrangement is rapidly disintegrating. Today an alarming number of Pakistanis actually view America as a greater threat than Al Qaeda. Until this changes, there’s little chance of ending tolerance for terrorist groups— or persuading any Pakistani government to devote the political capital necessary to deny such groups sanctuary and covert material support."
The additional aid is an important first step, Kerry said. " Our aid to Pakistan aims to achieve more than just good deeds: It will empower the civilian government to show that it can deliver its citizens a better life.
His full opening statement is below:FULL ENTRY
The White House this morning announced a series of meetings later this month between President Obama and key partners for a Middle East peace effort.
New Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be the first to come to Washington, on May 18. He will be followed by President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt on May 26, and by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian authority on May 28.
"With each of them, the president will discuss ways the United States can strengthen and deepen our partnerships, as well as the steps all parties should take to help achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians and between Israel and the Arab states," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced this afternoon that he is replacing the top US commander in Afghanistan, asserting that despite the lack of resources in the past, the military must do better.
Gates, just back from an on-the-ground visit, noted that President Obama has put in a new strategy for Afghanistan, and there is a new ambassador,
"I believe new military leadership is also needed," he said at a Pentagon news conference.
Gates did not specifically criticize General David McKiernan, who has been on the job for about 11 months. McKiernan has asked repeatedly for additional forces, and he's about to get them. Obama has ordered 21,000 additional forces to Afghanistan this year, 17,000 combat troops and 4,000 military trainers.
"If there were to be a change, this is the right time to make the change," Gates added, saying "fresh thinking" and "fresh eyes" were needed.
Gates said he is asking the Senate to swiftly confirm McKiernan's replacement, Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, who has experience in counterinsurgency.
UPDATE: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs issued a statement on the change:
“The president agreed with the recommendation of the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the implementation of a new strategy in Afghanistan called for new military leadership. The President was grateful for and impressed by the leadership that General McKiernan demonstrated in calling for additional resources for the fight in Afghanistan. This change of direction in Afghanistan in no way diminishes the President’s deep respect for Gen. McKiernan and his decades of public service.”
While he already addressed Muslims around the world during his trip to Turkey, President Obama will give his official speech to Muslims that he promised on June 4 in Egypt, the White House announced this afternoon.
Spokesman Robert Gibbs said that the following day, the president plans to visit Germany, stopping in Dresden, which was fire-bombed by the Allies during World War II, and the Buchenwald concentration camp where thousands of Jews and others were killed by the Nazis.
The day after that, Obama will be in France to join in the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy.
Asked why Egypt was picked, Gibbs said, "It is a country that in many ways represents the heart of the Arab world. And I think it will be a terrific opportunity for the president to address and discuss our relationship with the Muslim world."
The trip will be Obama's second major foreign tour, following his trip last month to London for G-20 summit, then to Europe for meetings with NATO allies, then Turkey.
After meetings with the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan, President Obama declared this afternoon that progress is being made in how the three nations are cooperating to fight militants and prevent them from carving out a stronghold where more terrorist attacks can be plotted.
Obama met separately with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai and Pakistani leader Asif Ali Zardari, then huddled together with the two men, who also pledged to ramp up the battle.
Obama also pledged "every effort" to prevent civilian casualties in the war in Afghanistan, amid reports that dozens might have been killed in a US strike this week.
"We just wanted to say that we've had an extraordinarily productive day," Obama told reporters. "And what is represented around the table is not just three Presidents but rather it's ministers, agency heads at every level, and that reflects the kind of concrete cooperation and detail that is going to ultimately make a difference in improving opportunity and democracy and stability in Pakistan and in Afghanistan."
Obama's full remarks are below:
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- Vice President Joe Biden today said a viable Palestinian state, existing peacefully with Israel, "must be achieved" -- sending a strong signal that the Obama administration will push Israel's new right-wing government to move towards peace with Palestinians.
In a speech before 5,000 delegates to the annual conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of Washington's most powerful lobbying groups, Biden said: "Israel has to work toward a two state solution and -- you are not going to like my saying this -- but [do] not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts, and allow the Palestinians freedom of movement . . . This is a show-me deal. Not based on faith. Show me."
Biden's tough love on Israel took up one line in a speech that was otherwise devoted to reiterating Obama's commitment to Israel's security, and Biden's own decades-long personal connection to Israel, starting from the day he met the chain-smoking Golda Meir, Israel's fourth prime minister, when he was a young senator.
But Biden's words could signal rough times ahead for Israel's new right-wing prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who has backed away from endorsing the creation of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu is slated to meet Obama at the White House for the first time on May 18. Today, Obama met with Israeli President Shimon Peres.
At AIPAC, Senator John F. Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, also called on Israel to stop building settlements on Palestinian territory occupied after the 1967 war.
"Nothing will do more to show Israel's commitment to making peace than freezing new settlements activity," the Massachusetts Democrat told the audience, to slight applause. "Settlements make it more difficult for Israel to protect its own citizens. New settlements...don't just fragment a future Palestinian state. They also fragment what the Israeli defense forces must defend, they undercut [moderate Palestinian president Mahmoud] Abbas, and strengthen Hamas by convincing the Palestinians that there is no reward for moderation."
Kerry warned that the " window of opportunity for a two-state solution is fast closing."
Both Kerry and Biden sweetened their message with pledges of unflinching support for Israel's security.
Kerry received his most sustained applause when he suggested that Israel should not be expected to pull out of the West Bank any time soon.
"Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, only to face Hezbollah; Israel withdrew from Gaza, only to face Hamas rockets. Israel is not about to let the same thing happen in the West Bank, nor should they," Kerry said.
Kerry, who recently traveled to Gaza and Syria, also said he pressed during his trip for the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and a halt to rocket fire on Israel.
In his speech, Biden also warned that if diplomacy fails to curb the "grave danger of a nuclear-armed Iran," then the United States will have greater international support to "consider other options."
Biden also urged Israel's Arab neighbors to show they are serious about an Arab proposal to normalize relations with the Jewish state if Israel gives up occupied land.
"Now is the time for Arab states to make meaningful gestures to show the Israeli leadership and the people to show that the promise...is real and genuine," Biden said.
Their full remarks are below:FULL ENTRY
The White House announced today that it is seeking $63 billion for a six-year drive to fight illness and disease around the world.
President Obama cited the swine flu outbreak as one reason for the initiative.
"In the 21st century, disease flows freely across borders and oceans, and, in recent days, the 2009 H1N1 virus has reminded us of the urgent need for action," he said in a statement. "We cannot wall ourselves off from the world and hope for the best, nor ignore the public health challenges beyond our borders. An outbreak in Indonesia can reach Indiana within days, and public health crises abroad can cause widespread suffering, conflict, and economic contraction. That is why I am asking Congress to approve my Fiscal Year 2010 Budget request of $8.6 billion -- and $63 billion over six years -- to shape a new, comprehensive global health strategy. We cannot simply confront individual preventable illnesses in isolation. The world is interconnected, and that demands an integrated approach to global health."
The Associated Press reports that Jack Lew, an assistant secretary of state, called the effort "an extraordinary step to save the lives of men, women and children," while praising former President George W. Bush's fight against HIV-AIDS, particularly in Africa.
Obama's full statement and a White House fact sheet are below:
Senator John F. Kerry issued a statement today in support of the government of the republic of Georgia after what appears to be an isolated mutiny.
“It is our understanding that the mutineers have been apprehended and the situation is now calm. Georgia is an independent, democratic republic and any attempt to change the government of that country through non-democratic means is unacceptable. The Georgian people are committed to live in a sovereign, democratic nation and their will must be respected,” Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.
According to the Associated Press, Georgia said it had ended a brief mutiny at a military base near the capital and thwarted a plan to disrupt NATO exercises.
The Interior Ministry first declared that the mutiny was part of a Russia-supported plot to overthrow the government, but later backed off and said the plotters were intent mainly on disrupting NATO military exercises set to begin Wednesday, the AP said.
Russia, which fought a brief war with Georgia last year, has criticized the NATO exercises.
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John F. Kerry and ranking Republican Dick Lugar today introduced a bill that would triple nonmilitary assistance to Pakistan to $1.5 billion annually for the next five years in a bid to help stabilize the democratically-elected government of president Asif Ali Zardari, who is besieged with a festering insurgency and a domestic financial crisis.
The aid plan, which Kerry attempted to get passed last summer, would fund roads, schools, and clinics at a time when many average Pakistanis have grown disillusioned with their government and the US-prompted war against Taliban militants who have taken control of large parts of the country.
When asked at a news conference whether the funding would come too late to help Zardari, Kerry acknowledged that "we have lost a lot of time."
But the Massachusetts Democrat said the money would be an important signal of America's long-term commitment to Pakistan, where many see the United States as a fair-weather friend who will withdraw its aid as soon as its goals are accomplished.
"This legislation is the first time we have made a longer-term commitment," Kerry said. "While governments may change, I don't believe the country itself is about to fall apart."
"The dangers of inaction are rising almost by the day," Kerry added in a speech on the Senate floor. Kerry said that the bill "will empower the moderates, who will have something concrete to put forward as evidence that friendship with America bring rewards as well as perils."
Zardari is due to meet President Obama for the first time Wednesday as part of a trilateral summit with Afghan president Hamid Karzai aimed at countering growing violence in the region. On Thursday, Kerry and Lugar, of Indiana, will host a 70-person lunch at the Capitol for Zardari, Karzai, and the US special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, to discuss the plan.
Aides said that the bill was aimed at giving the Obama administration and USAID wide discretion, given the rapidly-changing situation on the ground.
Kerry urged the administration to use "the vast majority of these funds" on nonmilitary economic assistance, but left the door open for some of the money to be used for military purposes, if necessary.
Congress will not dictate which institutions, or even which parts of Pakistan, would receive the funds, leading some analysts to doubt that the money will reach the federally-administered tribal areas, the home of Pakistani Taliban, which has long been starved of development funding.
A similar aid bill introduced in the House that included nearly two-dozen pages of detailed conditions drew scathing criticism from Pakistani officials who said they could not accept aid with such strings attached. But the Kerry-Lugar bill, which has been endorsed by the Obama administration, contains only a few modest conditions -- such as the requirement that Obama certify that the Pakistanis are fighting terrorists -- although Obama can also waive the conditions.
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, could not be immediately reached for comment.
But Mark A. Siegel, a partner at Locke Lord Strategies, a lobbying firm retained by the Pakistani government, praised Kerry for introducing the bill.
"The world has a lot at stake in the success of the government of Pakistan in defeating terrorism," he said. "If Pakistan wins, the world wins."
The full bill summary is below, followed by Kerry's prepared speech on the Senate floor:FULL ENTRY
The ship captain from Vermont who survived a harrowing hostage ordeal testified this afternoon before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is examining the threat of piracy off the Horn of Africa, and possible solutions.
Captain Richard Phillips, 53, who was freed earlier this month after US Navy snipers killed three Somali pirates, testified on a panel with John Clancey, Chairman of Maersk, Inc., the ship's owner. Stephen D. Mull, acting assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, also testified.
Phillips testified that the "most desirable" solution to piracy is putting military escorts aboard US vessels.
But given the logistical issues, ships' defenses could also be strengthened, he said.
Arming crews should be only one component and only a limited number of crew members should have access to weapons, and should be well trained, Phillips said. Read Phillips' full remarks below.
In his opening remarks, committee Chairman John F. Kerry noted that piracy is claiming innocent lives and costing significant amounts of money.
"To make matters worse, we know that pirates use much of their ransom money to buy better weapons and bigger engines to make it even easier to overtake larger vessels. They also use ransom money to arm and equip private militias. This is a dangerous and vicious cycle," he said in prepared remarks.
"Piracy goes to the heart of our national security and economic interests. America has always been a seafaring nation, and securing the world's sea lanes has been a source and a symbol of our strength. In the face of instability and crises around the globe, our ability to project naval power and to help ensure the free passage of goods and humanitarian aid is as important as ever." Read Kerry's full opening statement is below.
Modern-day piracy, the experts were to testify, is the product of lawlessness in places like Somalia and is motivated by money more than ideology. It's a dangerous business nonetheless, with pirates carrying small arms and rocket launchers.
The International Maritime Bureau recorded 111 attacks in the waters off the Horn of Africa in 2008, almost double the number of the year before. The bureau has recorded at least 84 attacks in the first quarter of 2009.
About 300 non-U.S. crew members remain in Somali captivity aboard 18 hijacked vessels, according to the Senate panel.
The problem requires a complex regional response between the United States and other powers such as China, India and Russia, Ambassador Mull told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He said U.S. officials are working with other countries to deny pirates whatever they might gain from taking ships and crews.
I am Captain Richard Phillips. I am a graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, I have been a member of the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots Union since 1979, and I am a licensed American merchant mariner. I was the captain of the MAERSK ALABAMA when it was attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia on April 8th. Thankfully, that episode ended with the successful return of the ship, its cargo of US food aid for Africa and, most importantly, my crew. All of us have returned home safely and for that my entire crew and I are deeply appreciative of the actions taken by the Administration, the Department of Defense and, most specifically, the US Navy, the Navy SEALS and the crew aboard the USS Bainbridge. All of the US military and government personnel who were involved in this situation are clearly highly trained and motivated professionals and I want to use this opportunity to again say "thank you” to everyone involved in our safe return.
I want to thank the management of Maersk and Waterman Steamship Corp. who handled the situation, the crew and our families with great care and concern.
And equally important, I want to publicly commend all the officers and crew aboard the MAERSK ALABAMA who responded with their typical professionalism in response to this incident. The Licensed Deck Officers who are members of the Masters, Mates & Pilots Union, the Licensed Deck Officer and Licensed Engineers who are members of the Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, and the unlicensed crew who belong to the Seafarers International Union are dedicated merchant mariners, typical of America's merchant seamen who are well-trained and who are ready and able to respond when necessary to protect the interests of our country.
I am honored to come before this Committee today to discuss my views on making commercial shipping safer, and worldwide sea lanes more secure from the threat of piracy.
I need to make clear at the outset that I am unable to discuss the incident itself because of the ongoing investigation and pending legal action against one of the pirates. But I've had a lot of time to think about the difficult and complex issues of protecting vessel, cargo and crew in crime-ridden waters. So instead of a recount of the MAERSK ALABAMA incident, the focus of my comments will be my beliefs, based on my years of experience at sea, as to what can or should be done to respond to piracy and to protect American vessels and crews.
I should also say at the outset that I realize that my opinions may differ in some ways from other recommendations you have heard before and may hear today from others on the panel. Nevertheless, I do believe that all of us in the maritime industry understand that it is imperative that we work together to address this complex problem, and I believe we are in general agreement on the main principles of keeping crew, cargo and vessel safe.
First, I believe it is the responsibility of our government to protect the United States, including U.S.-flag vessels that are by definition an extension of the United States, their U.S. citizen crews, and our nation's worldwide commercial assets. So, it follows then that the most desirable and appropriate solution to piracy is for the United States government to provide protection, through military escorts and/or military detachments aboard U.S. vessels. That said, I am well aware that some will argue that there is a limit to any government's resources - even America's. In fact, due to the vastness of the area to be covered – and the areas of threat are continually growing larger - our Navy and the coalition of other navies currently positioned in the Gulf of Aden region may simply not have the resources to provide all the protection necessary to prevent and stop the attacks.
So what other things can be done?
In my opinion, the targets – the vessels – can be "hardened” even beyond what's being done today and made even more structurally resistant to pirates. In addition, more can be done in terms of developing specific anti-piracy procedures, tools and training for American crews. I do however want to emphasize that contrary to some reports that I've heard recently, American mariners are highly trained and do receive up-to-date training and upgrading at the private educational training facilities jointly run by the maritime unions and their contracted shipping companies. I believe that discussions are underway now between the industry and government on the details of specific proposals to harden the vessels (the specifics of which should remain secret) and I am confident that we will soon have additional methods for protecting vessel and crew. And while they will be an improvement, there is no way they can be foolproof.
I've also heard the suggestion that all we have to do to counter piracy is "just arm the crews”. In my opinion, arming the crew cannot and should not be viewed as the best or ultimate solution to the problem. At most, arming the crew should be only one component of a comprehensive plan and approach to combat piracy. To the extent we go forward in this direction, it would be my personal preference that only the four most senior ranking officers aboard the vessel have access to effective weaponry and that these individuals receive special training on a regular basis. I realize that even this limited approach to arming the crew opens up a very thorny set of issues. I'll let others sort out the legal and liability issues but we all must understand that having weapons on board merchant ships fundamentally changes the model of commercial shipping and we must be very cautious about how it is done.
Nevertheless, I do believe that arming the crew, as part of an overall strategy, could provide an effective deterrent under certain circumstances and I believe that a measured capability in this respect should be part of the overall debate about how to defend ourselves against criminals on the sea.
As for armed security details put aboard vessels, I believe, as I indicated earlier, that this idea could certainly be developed into an effective deterrent. My preference would be government protection forces. However, as long as they are adequately trained I would not be opposed to private security on board. Of course, I realize that very clear protocols would have to be established and followed. For example, as a captain, I am responsible for the vessel, cargo and crew at all times. And I am not comfortable giving up command authority to others… including the commander of a protection force. In the heat of an attack, there can be only one final decision maker. So command is only one of many issues that would have to be worked out in for security forces to operate effectively.
While there are many new ideas and much discussion going on about how to deal with piracy, I would respectfully ask the Committee to be mindful that the seafarers I've met and worked with over my career are resourceful, hardworking, adventurous, courageous, patriotic and independent. They want whatever help you can offer to make the sea lanes more secure and their work environment safer. But we realize that while preparation is absolutely critical, not every situation can be anticipated. And we accept that as a part of the seafarer's life. So, I will just close with a request for you to please proceed carefully and to please continue to include us in your discussions and debates.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak and I look forward to answering your questions.FULL ENTRY
A Senate panel today begins the hard slog toward an overhaul of immigration policy -- the goal that Congress punted during the Bush administration and the issue that animated the rank-and-file during last year's Republican presidential primaries.
The Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship will hold a hearing titled, "Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2009: Can We Do It and How?"
Advocates hope it is the first step to a change that includes a path to citizenship for some of those already in the country illegally.
"For far too long, our state and local governments have been plagued by an out-of-date and broken federal immigration system. Now more than ever, Congress must take the necessary steps to reform our immigration system in a way that honors our laws, rewards honesty and hard work, and fosters economic prosperity," Benjamin Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Law Foundation, said in a statement.
"The upcoming hearing marks a new day in the conversation on immigration. Rather than dwell on the problems of our broken system, we will hear a discussion that focuses on solutions....This is a discussion that must take place throughout the country because resolution of our immigration crisis will require all sectors of American society to work together to create an immigration system that works for our nation."
The National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, also praised the hearing. “For far too long, we have allowed a bullying minority to block the road to solutions and seed intolerance, yet recent elections have demonstrated that Americans want leaders who will solve tough problems, including immigration,” Janet Murguía, NCLR president and CEO, said in a statement.
The group wants the overhaul to include: Getting the 12 million undocumented people in our country to come forward, obtain legal status, learn English, and assume the rights and responsibilities of citizenship; creating smart enforcement policies that uphold national security; cracking down on unscrupulous employers and take away their incentives for hiring undocumented workers; widening legal channels that reunite families and allow future needed workers to come to the U.S. with the rights and protections that safeguard our workforce and prevent the dramatic increase in deaths along the border; and enacting proactive measures to advance the successful integration of new immigrants into our communities.
Pressed on the issue during his news conference Wednesday night, President Obama confirmed his support for comprehensive reform, but said that his administration must lay the groundwork first -- most notably improving border security so Americans are confident that illegal immigrants won't flood the country.
"We can't continue with a broken immigration system. It's not good for anybody," Obama said. "It's not good for American workers. It's dangerous for Mexican would-be workers who are trying to cross a dangerous border. It is putting a strain on border communities who oftentimes have to deal with a host of undocumented workers, and it keeps those undocumented workers in the shadows, which means they can be exploited at the same time as they're depressing US wages."
He said he expects to convene a working group "to start looking at a framework of how this legislation might be shaped. In the meantime, what we're trying to do is take some core -- some key administrative steps to move the process along to lay the groundwork for legislation, because the American people need some confidence that if we actually put a package together we can execute."
"If the American people don't feel like you can secure the borders, then it's hard to strike a deal that would get people out of the shadows and on a pathway to citizenship who are already here, because the attitude of the average American is going to be, 'Well, you're just going to have hundreds of thousands of more coming in each year.' On the other hand, showing that there's a more thoughtful approach than just raids of a handful of workers -- as opposed to, for example, taking seriously the violations of companies that sometimes are actively recruiting these workers to come in -- that's again, something that we can start doing administratively," Obama continued.
"So what we want to do is to show that we are competent in getting results around immigration, even on the structures that we already have in place, the laws that we already have in place, so that we're building confidence among the American people that we can actually follow through on whatever legislative approach emerges. I see the process moving this first year, and I'm going to be moving it as quickly as I can."
UPDATE: As part of the administrative changes, the Department of Homeland Security issued policies today that put more emphasis on going after employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, though it will still continue to arrest illegal workers.
The Bush administration was criticized by advocacy groups after a series of large raids that resulted in the arrests of about 6,000 workers last year.
"This is a good first step in realigning enforcement priorities," the Immigration Policy Center said. "However, DHS's ability to truly focus on abusive employers is limited by the fact that our current immigration system doesn't provide immigrants or legitimate employers the protections and tools they need to comply with the law. Rather than trimming around the edges, real reform must involve an overhaul of the entire system to ensure that enforcement of our immigration laws is effective, fair, and humane."
Some advocates of tighter immigration rules are jumping on the swine flu public health emergency to call for the closing of the border with Mexico, including a ban on all air and ground traffic and importation of products.
"The Obama administration's failure to secure our borders against a possible pandemic is putting American lives at risk at a time when days and hours matter," said William Gheen, head of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, accusing the Obama administration of "treating Mexico like a 51st state, instead of separate nation."
The group also pointed out that Obama does not have a secretary of Health and Human Services -- though that is due to Republican opposition to his nominee, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius -- and has not appointed a surgeon general or head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Obama was playing golf Sunday. Instead, he should have been addressing the nation, securing the borders, and filling the gaps in our government leadership from an emergency command center!" Gheen said. "He refuses to send troops to the border to stop the violence from spilling over or the Mexican flu from crossing into America. Instead we get second tier bureaucrats telling Americans to wash our hands and cover our mouths when we cough like a bunch of 1st grade students."
UPDATE: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said during his regular briefing that the government response is "in no way" hampered by the absence of a permanent health secretary or CDC chief.
The CDC did say this morning that closer border monitoring has started, with officials asking those crossing the border about their health. There have been more 1,600 swine flu infections and dozens of deaths reported in Mexico.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, plans to start hearings Tuesday on comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for some of those who entered the country illegally.
UPDATE: The National Council of La Raza, the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, today condemned the assertions by groups linking the swine flu outbreak to the immigration issue.
“As an organization that works to improve health outcomes for all Americans, we believe that Americans are right to be concerned about reports of swine flu outbreaks in Mexico, California, New York, and Texas. The administration's declaration of a public health emergency this weekend was a prudent, routine step,” Janet Murguía, NCLR president and CEO, said in a statement.
“Public health experts are unanimous about key measures required in situations like this,” Murguía's statement continued. “If affected individuals are driven underground and deterred from seeking treatment or reporting their illness, it will hamper the authorities' ability to accurately track the disease's progress or develop the most effective vaccines.
“It's unfortunate that certain individuals with an obvious axe to grind are shamelessly exploiting a public health emergency for their own purposes. It's not surprising that some are implying that all immigrants are a threat to our health—that's standard fare on the hate group circuit. Ironically, the very act of attempting to demonize and stigmatize entire groups, and even entire countries, is likely to impede these and other critical steps that the authorities are taking to protect all Americans from the spread of the flu.”
Senator John F. Kerry is holding a hearing today on clarifying how the nation should declare war.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is hearing testimony from former secretaries of state Jim Baker and Warren Christopher and former Representative Lee Hamilton, who all favor repealing the 1973 War Powers Act, passed after uncertainty over the role of Congress in authorizing the Korea and Vietnam conflicts.
"There fundamental tension in the way America decides to go to war: the President is commander in chief of the armed forces while Congress has the power to declare war. How these constitutional powers interact is the subject of much debate," Kerry said in his opening statement, without endorsing a particular solution.
His full prepared opening remarks are below:
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced this afternoon that the hearing for Yale Law dean Harold Koh's nomination as the State Department's top legal adviser will be Tuesday afternoon.
Koh, who is also believed to be on the short list for the Supreme Court, is facing growing opposition from conservatives, who say that he puts too much stock in foreign legal opinions.
Koh has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's decisions on torture and other issues.
Just today, Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan administration official, said on the website of his Center for Security Policy that the Foreign Relations Committee "will have an opportunity to demonstrate why the framers gave the Senate the constitutional power to confirm presidential appointees. If they fail to exercise that power vigorously with respect to the nomination of Harold Koh to be the top State Department lawyer, they will not only have been derelict. They will be accomplices to an assault on our Constitution that will ultimately result in an unprecedented, and likely permanent, derogation of the Senate's vital role and responsibilities."
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON -- Representative James McGovern was locked up on misdemeanor charges today after demonstrating against the "crimes against humanity'' that Darfur activists blame on the Sudanese government.
After a brief series of speeches in front of the Sudanese embassy, the Massachusetts Democrat and four other members of Congress stood quietly and refused to move to the other side of yellow police tape -- a deliberate act they knew would get them arrested. After giving the small group of demonstrators three chances to move, police approached the lawmakers and activists and bound their wrists loosely behind their backs with plastic restraints.
The protestors were taken to a police station in northwest Washington, where they were expected to be fined $100 and released within a few hours.
UPDATE: McGovern was released this afternoon on a charge of crossing a police line.
McGovern -- forgoing a tie and belt, which would have been confiscated before his lock-up -- noted that he had been arrested three years ago for demonstrating for action in Darfur, where millions have died from sectarian violence and where the State Department has declared a genocide is underway.
"I don't want to be here in 2012, calling on the Sudanese government to stop the killing,'' McGovern said. "We need to care. We need to act. Every life is of equal value.''
The lawmakers -- who also included Democratic Representatives John Lewis of Georgia, Donna Edwards of Maryland, Lynn Woolsey of California, and Keith Ellison of Minnesota -- want the Sudanese government to allow international aid organizations back into Darfur to ease the escalating humanitarian crisis there. Further, the group wants President Obama to pressure the international community -- including China, which has influence in Sudan -- to force the Sudanese government into action.
Sudanese President Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir "has a choice," McGovern said. "He can choose to let the humanitarian groups return; he can choose to end the violence and the killing; and he can choose serious negotiations for a just and lasting peace. Or he can continue to commit crimes against humanity -- crimes with which he is already charged -- and charges that will one day catch up with him and bring him down."
Jerry Fowler, head of the Save Darfur Coalition, added in a statement: "We know President Obama and members of his administration care passionately about ending the Darfur crisis and promoting peace in Sudan. As President Obama nears his 100th day in office this week, he can demonstrate that Sudan is a strategic priority for the United States by committing to build a multilateral coalition for peace and investing in the diplomacy necessary to achieve an equitable and lasting solution for Darfuris and all Sudanese."
Will he or won't he -- declare the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians a genocide, that is?
It turned out, neither.
President Obama tried to thread the needle on the issue, not actually using the word "genocide" -- but acknowledging he has used the word before -- in the annual presidential statement he issued today marking the 94th Armenian remembrance day.
Most scholars consider the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks during World War I the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey, however, steadfastly denies that a genocide occurred, arguing the death toll has been vastly inflated and blaming civil war and unrest.
Obama called the killings "one of the great atrocities of the 20th century."
"History, unresolved, can be a heavy weight. Just as the terrible events of 1915 remind us of the dark prospect of man’s inhumanity to man, reckoning with the past holds out the powerful promise of reconciliation," he said in the statement.
"I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. "My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts."
Instead, Obama looked forward, noting that Turkey and Armenia, which have no diplomatic ties, jointly announced on Wednesday that they were getting close to a reconciliation.
"The best way to advance that goal right now is for the Armenian and Turkish people to address the facts of the past as a part of their efforts to move forward," Obama's statement said. "I strongly support efforts by the Turkish and Armenian people to work through this painful history in a way that is honest, open, and constructive. To that end, there has been courageous and important dialogue among Armenians and Turks, and within Turkey itself. I also strongly support the efforts by Turkey and Armenia to normalize their bilateral relations.
(His full statement is below.)
During his campaign, Obama described the deaths as a genocide. But during his high-profile visit earlier this month to Turkey -- now a crucial US ally -- he also shied away from using that description.
"History is often tragic, but unresolved, it can be a heavy weight. Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future," he told the Turkish parliament. "I know there's strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915. And while there's been a good deal of commentary about my views, it's really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past. And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive."
However, when pressed by a reporter about using the word "genocide," Obama replied, "Well, my views are on the record and I have not changed those views."
The issue is life-or-death for Armenian- and Turkish-Americans, and both sides have an army of lobbyists in Washington pressing their case. The Hill newspaper reports today that a bill for the United States to formally recognize the deaths as a genocide has passed the 100-cosponsor mark.
Turkey and Armenia have no diplomatic ties, but they jointly announced on Wednesday that they were getting close to a reconciliation.
"We've already seen historic and courageous steps taken by Turkish and Armenian leaders," Obama told the Turkish parliament. "These contacts hold out the promise of a new day. An open border would return the Turkish and Armenian people to a peaceful and prosperous coexistence that would serve both of your nations. So I want you to know that the United States strongly supports the full normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia. It is a cause worth working towards."
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- One held the hand of a dying fellow soldier and told himself that the sacrifice would not be in vain. Another watched an Afghan tribal leader risk his life to seek American protection for his village -- only to be told that it was not possible. A third interviewed insurgents who expect American troops to get tired and go home. A fourth beat suspected terrorists, only to find out later that they were innocent.
The veterans of the Afghan war testified today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about a seven-year conflict that has attracted little debate, even as President Obama sends reinforcements to take on the Taliban.
The hearing took place as instability in Afghanistan spreads through neighboring Pakistan, and a day after the 38th anniversary of committee chairman John F. Kerry's testimony -- as a Vietnam veteran -- against that war in 1971.
Today, the young veterans gave a sobering picture of the failures of US policy, but none advocated a complete withdrawal.
However, one veteran -- Rick Reyes, a former corporal in the US Marines -- called Obama's decision to send 17,000 additional combat troops to Afghanistan "a mistake."
"At a minimum, this occupation needs to be rethought," he said.
Reyes, who was among the first US forces sent to Afghanistan after the 2001 terrorist attacks, said he arrested suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda in their homes based on tips by paid informants.
"Almost 100 percent of the time, we would find that the suspected terrorists were just innocent civilians," he said. "We began to feel we were chasing ghosts. How can you tell the difference between members of the Taliban from an Afghan civilians? The answer is: You can't."
In his written testimony, Reyes said he and his fellow Marines sometimes broke "hands, arms, legs" and wrecked homes during their midnight raids. But he did not describe these incidents to the committee today, saying later that he did not want to distract from his message of opposition to a troop increase.
However, three other Afghan vets argued passionately for a stepped-up US commitment, saying the mission could be saved by more troops and smarter tactics.
Westley Moore, a former Army captain who led a program that persuaded moderate Taliban to pledge allegiance to the new Afghan government, called the 17,000 additional troops "a paltry number" compared with what is required to protect the population in the rural areas.
"We are underfunded and undermanned in Afghanistan," he told the senators. "We asked two brigades to have coverage over a 1,600-mile area that is. . the most dangerous terrain in the world."
Moore said it would send the wrong message to the world if the United States were to simply leave.
"[The Taliban's] entire strategy depends on our political and national will faltering," he said. "Many of them are fond of saying, 'The Americans have the wristwatches, but we have the time.' "