Friday, January 23, 2009

China tells United States to handle ties with care

BEIJING- China's Foreign Minister has urged U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be careful with sensitive issues that could strain ties, calling the relationship between their two nations one of the world's most important.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi made the remarks to Clinton, settling into her new job as Washington's top diplomat, in a phone call on Friday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry website ( reported on Saturday.

But Yang's published remarks did not mention the yuan currency issue, which has become the first test for ties between his government and the new Obama administration.

"The China-U.S. relationship is one of the world's most important bilateral relations," Yang told Clinton, according to the report.

Each side should "respect and show consideration for the other's core interests and appropriately handle differences and sensitive issues," he said.

The report did not specify those issues, but Beijing considers Taiwan its most sensitive topic in dealings with Washington.

Beijing says self-ruled Taiwan must accept eventual reunification with the mainland and objects to Washington's military aid to and political support for the island. China has also been angered by U.S. pressure over human rights and Tibet.

Yang, a former ambassador to Washington, said the two powers should "handle bilateral relations by adhering to a strategic high-point and a long-term perspective."


Ties between the United States, the world's biggest economy, and China, with its bulging exports and foreign exchange reserves, have also been strained by trade disputes that could worsen during the global economic slowdown.

But in the published comments, Yang did not mention the yuan currency exchange policies, which have already become a sparring point between China and the new Obama administration.

U.S. Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner said on Thursday that China was manipulating its currency to shore up unfair trade advantages.

China's Commerce Ministry, in a statement to Agence France Presse on Friday, said the Beijing government "has never used so-called currency manipulation.

China's Foreign Ministry generally avoids wading into trade issues. But the country's official media were not so reticent.

The China Daily, an English-language paper that often reflects official policy, said Geithner's position was "a clear move away from the stance of the Bush administration," which avoided calling Beijing a currency manipulator.

The official Xinhua news agency echoed that view.

"This may signal that with the Obama administration in office, China faces growing pressure from U.S. trade protectionism," it said, citing Beijing economists.

The People's Bank of China, the central bank, was preparing a response to Geithner's remarks, Xinhua said.

The yuan closed lower against the dollar on Friday and traded mostly below the Chinese central bank's mid-point, with speculation that Geithner's comments could spark a brief period of modest yuan depreciation.

UNRWA calls for independent probe into alleged Gaza crimes

Jan. 24, 2009
John Ging, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, called on Friday for the establishment of an independent international investigation into the alleged war crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead.

At a press conference held in Geneva, Ging said that a credible investigation of the death and destruction in Gaza was necessary especially in light of the growing anger of Gazans, the increasing number of extremists in the Strip and their lack of faith in the rule of law, Reuters reported.

It is urgent to establish accountability for death and the destruction of Palestinian infrastructure through a credible mechanism which would "channel this emotion to confidence in the rule of law," Ging reportedly said.

Ging told reporters that the number of extremists in the Strip had grown as a result of the three-week operation against Hamas, and stressed that it was important to prove that justice could be delivered in a lawful way.

The extremists "are very confident in their rhetoric that there should be no expectation that justice will be delivered through the rule of law. Now we must prove that wrong," he reportedly said.

According to the report, the UNRWA head noted that Israeli civilians had also suffered, and therefore, the investigation had to examine "legitimate allegations" on both sides.

Ging expressed his hopes that new US Middle East envoy George Mitchell will talk to ordinary people in Gaza as part of a "new track" in diplomacy.

"My first request to the US administration is talk to the ordinary people in Gaza. Come to Gaza and talk to the ordinary people -- the mothers, fathers, leaders of civil society, the people who are not involved in politics," said Ging.

Over 170 schools bombed, burned down in Pakistan: UN

GENEVA: More than 170 schools in Pakistan have been blown up or burned down in the past two years, the UN Children's agency said Friday, in attacks blamed on Taliban extremists.

"UNICEF condemns these attacks which rob children of their basic right to education and have a devastating impact on their lives," said Daniel Toole, UNICEF's regional director for South Asia.

"Attacks that target schools, educational institutions, children and teachers are unacceptable and must cease immediately," Toole added.

In one incident last week in the northwestern Swat valley, five schools were blown up.

The attacks particularly targeted girls' schools in the country's Federally Administered Tribal Area and the North West Frontier Province, UNICEF said.

Many other schools had been forced to close after being occupied by armed groups or security forces or because female teachers had been threatened, it added.

"Schools must be safe spaces for children. UNICEF calls on all groups, and particularly the government of Pakistan, to intensify efforts to protect schools, students and teachers," Toole said.

Last week officials said tens of thousands of students in the Swat valley were facing a year without classes after a local Taliban commander in December threatened to kill any girls attending classes after January 15, and to blow up any schools where girls were enrolled.

As a result, about 400 private schools are unlikely to open their doors next month after winter holidays

Diplomat for restoring Afghan channels on cable network

PESHAWAR: The peoples of Pakistan and Afghanistan are tied in the bonds of culture, religion, language, traditions and values therefore special efforts would be made to strengthen these ties by exchanging cultural and media delegations side by side holding joint cultural exhibitions.
This was stated by Minister for Information, Transport and Inter-Provincial Coordination, Mian Iftikhar Hussain while talking to Cultural Attaché of Afghan General Consulate Muhammad Zahir Babri here on Friday.
He on this occasion besides discussing matters of mutual interest also brought into the notice of the minister that transmissions of Afghanistan were suspended on cable network for the last few days due to which hundreds of Afghans were deprived of this facility.
Babri on this occasion presented a gift of book on the life of Bacha Khan and an album of historical places of Afghanistan to the minister.
Referring to the suspension of Afghanistan's transmission on cable network, the information minister maintained, due to world becoming global village, appraisal from each other has become a necessity of the day.
He added as the cable network was running under the federal government, therefore, he would take up the issue with the authorities concerned of the federal government to know about the actual position and ensure access to the people of Afghan brethren to this basic necessity.
Mian Iftikhar continued that Pakistan and Afghanistan both were democratic states and freedom of expression was the beauty of democracy.
As transmissions were a part of freedom of expression, therefore ban on it was against the norms of democracy, he concluded

Musharraf: Pakistan 'treated unequally' in war on terror

Pakistan's former president said his country is being treated "unequally" to other countries, despite being a staunch ally of the United States in its war on terror.

"Pakistan is being treated so unequally while we are the ones who are in the lead role fighting the global war on terror," said Pervez Musharraf, interviewed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer for "The Situation Room."

"This is what hurts Pakistan. It hurts the leadership. Indeed, it hurts the government. It hurts the people of Pakistan," said Musharraf, speaking from Dallas, Texas, during a book tour in the United States.

The interview took place amid reports Friday of U.S. drones striking militant targets in Pakistan just days after the start of the Obama administration -- which has made combating al Qaeda and Taliban militants in the Pakistan tribal region near Afghanistan its most immediate national security priority.

Musharraf was asked whether he is comfortable with the continuation of the attacks, even with a new U.S. president in place.

Signature reveals Obama's intelligence, pride

WASHINGTON: The first official signature of Barack Obama reveals a man grounded in action, compassion, generosity and diplomacy, a handwriting expert said yesterday.

From his penmanship, writing analyst Caro Duncan sees a highly intelligent man who thinks fast and adapts to any situation.

"It is a bit of a relief for the whole world," Duncan, from the Australian Institute of Graphology, said. "He's very diplomatic and tactful, capable of seeing the big picture and is at his best when he's handling complex matters."

The pronounced and embellished initials B and O reveal his pride and ambition, according to Duncan. He is self-confident and relishes the recognition of his own accomplishments.

Their size and position shows a love of the limelight, a pattern usually seen among actors and performers.

There is also a love of culture in there, an open mind to other people's opinions and ideas.

"His inauguration day signature is a little more stretched than usual, which is very literal, it means that he's got a lot on his shoulders," Duncan said.

"There's always been an awareness of others in his handwriting but he reaches out that little bit more in today's signature - he is genuinely listening."

There is disappointment there, too, Duncan said.

His Christian name is slightly more coherent than his surname, hinting at disappointment with his father or family.

They are pangs the left-hander is able to face on his own. While left-handers usually slope to the right President Obama does not, showing his self-sufficient nature.

Bart Baggett from the Handwriting University says his handwriting is comparable to former US Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan with but one omission - a high and long t-bar indicating extremely high self-esteem and visionary thinking.

"Obama crosses his Ts at an average height, reflecting a good self esteem and humility," he said.

Before George W. Bush became president in 2000, graphologist Katie Darden analysed his writing and found a strong persistence and resistance to being told what to do - a desire to make his own way and stand firm on issues that mattered to him.

"These characteristics, if taken to an extreme, could result in some interesting stand offs," Darden wrote 9 years ago.

Americans everywhere looked to the inauguration day signature and hoped President Obama's pen would eventually prove mightier than President Bush's sword.

Explosion occurs in NW Pakistan, one killed  

ISLAMABAD-- An explosion took place in northwestern Pakistan's Swat valley on Friday and one security man was killed, private TV channel Geo reported.A suicide bomber rammed his car into a check post of security forces in the restive Swat valley, said the report.As a result, one security man was killed and 15 others were injured.The check post was established in a private school building in Fizzaghat area, a few kilometers from Mingora, the main town in Swat.The security forces are engaged in a military operation again stmilitants in Swat valley.  

Troops, ships, radar _ Europeans cast net wide for solutions to securing Gaza border

PARIS- French troops, Turkish monitors, British ships, German tunnel detectors, European radar equipment — officials say all these options are being weighed as they try to cement the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

The key to a solution is finding a way to choke off smuggling through tunnels under the slender border between Gaza and Egypt while opening the aboveground crossings to travel and trade. The eight-mile frontier is at the heart of secretive diplomacy across Europe and the Middle East this week.

Dozens of European monitors and experts are ready to deploy immediately, but not until Egypt — and preferably someone on Hamas' side of the border — agree.

Securing that border means it could open up again to aid and trade that have been cut off since it was closed by Egypt when Hamas took over Gaza in 2007. Opening the frontier would mean removing a key grievance that Hamas militants used to justify the frequent rocket attacks on Israel. Recent rocket attacks provoked the 23-day Israeli offensive that ended in a cease-fire last weekend.

The road to a safe border may be a long one. Potential obstacles include divisions within Europe over how robust an international border control presence should be, Western discord over how to deal with Hamas, and Egypt's resistance to a foreign military presence on its soil.

In his first presidential speech on the Mideast, President Barack Obama offered no clear policy shift, reaffirming U.S. backing of Israel's right to self-defense, while also urging continuing diplomatic efforts. He did signal more active efforts, though, by assigning former Sen. George Mitchell as a special envoy for the Mideast.

In Europe, diplomats are trying for some agreement, even temporary, that would assure Israel that Hamas will not use the cease-fire to rearm.

The diplomats will have to move fast. In the border town of Rafah, Gaza smugglers have been repairing their tunnels and bringing in food, fuel and other goods barely four days after Israel stopped its bombardment.

Smugglers estimate there were about 1,000 tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border before Israel's offensive, some used to bring in weapons and others for basic goods.

Israel wants an armed force — one that will shut down tunnels after spotting them — while the Palestinians and many in Europe do not.

Germany has offered to send experts in tunnel detection to train Egyptian authorities to shut down this activity. A four-man German team is ready to go to Egypt to determine what kind of equipment is needed, Deputy Interior Minister August Hanning said.

German officials stress that such help is not meant to undermine Egypt's control of its borders. "Germany will not take on any enforcement role," Manning said.

France, which has taken the European lead on diplomacy in Gaza, says that may not be enough and has suggested a European peacekeeping force for the region.

France is pressing other European allies and Egypt to consider an armed border force, possibly under European Union or United Nations auspices, said a French official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

Neither the U.N. nor NATO is making any commitment to monitoring or peacekeeping for now.

A key hurdle is the possible embarrassment of Egypt appearing unable to patrol its borders.

Egypt may be holding out on the nature of a foreign presence on its soil as a way to negotiate for increasing its own troops in Sinai; their numbers are limited by the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty. For now, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and senior officials say a foreign presence on Egyptian soil is a "red line" they are not willing to cross.

Europe is eager for a more active U.S. role, with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner noting Wednesday that the Americans were absent from most major diplomatic action during the Gaza campaign. He called on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to urge the immediate opening of border passages.

The U.S. promised last week to supply detection and surveillance equipment, along with logistical help and training, to monitor Gaza's land and sea borders, but it has made no commitment about border monitors or guards.

One idea is to revive and expand an EU border mission at Rafah that was suspended in 2007. About 30 unarmed EU monitors from the mission are ready to return, and the EU is mobilizing dozens more, just in case.

If all sides agree, the mission could be expanded to three other points on the Israel-Gaza border, at Erez, Kerem Shalom and Qarni, another French diplomat said, also speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

The EU monitors had no enforcement power. One thing under discussion is giving the force a stronger mandate, including possibly allowing monitors to intervene to prevent potential conflicts, the diplomat said.

France, Britain and Germany last week offered to provide technical devices to control arms smuggling through the tunnels, which could mean drones or ground-penetrating radar.

Beyond the EU, a special Turkish peacekeeping unit outside Ankara is ready to deploy to the border if needed, Turkish officials have said. But Turkey is officially insisting it is only talking for now about sending monitors, not armed peacekeepers.

Turkey enjoys, to some extent, the trust of both Israel and Hamas. It has also offered to mediate between Hamas and the moderate Palestinian movement Fatah led by Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas.

A Turkish official said there is an "implicit agreement" that the corridors must be reopened for trade and travel for the cease-fire to hold. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of Turkey's discussions.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also offered Britain's Royal Navy to help interdict arms shipments bound for Hamas.

Diplomats are hoping for progress Sunday when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels with their counterparts from Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority.

But the crucial question is whether Hamas would go along.

The Islamic fundamentalist group is under pressure to improve the quality of life in Gaza. It insists that because it won Palestinian elections in 2006, it should have a role monitoring the crossings.

However, the EU and the U.S. consider Hamas a terrorist organization, and it is certainly distrusted by both Israel and Egypt.

Reviving the EU mission could put EU monitors in direct contact with Hamas officials, an option no diplomat is eager to discuss. That would also mean indirect recognition of the Hamas-run authority in Gaza, until now unthinkable for the international community.

Russia says ready to work with U.S. on Afghanistan

TASHKENT– Russia welcomes President Barack Obama's decision to review policy in Afghanistan and is ready to cooperate, including on supply routes for NATO forces, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday.
"Let us hope the new U.S. administration will be more successful in the Afghan settlement than its predecessor," Medvedev told a news conference after talks with Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
"We are ready for fully fledged and equal cooperation on security in Afghanistan, including with the United States," he added. "We are ready to work on the most complicated issues ... including the transit of non-military goods."
Cooperation on Afghanistan has been the most successful project uniting NATO and Russia, whose relations froze after Moscow's brief war in Georgia last August.
Before the war, Russia agreed to allow non-military NATO supplies to be delivered to Afghanistan across its territory bypassing Pakistan, where supply convoys face security risks.
NATO and Russia are expected to hold on Monday the first session of their council since the South Ossetia war. Russian officials have made clear the fate of the Afghan transit depends on how relations between Moscow and the alliance develop.
Medvedev's overtures to Obama are part of an effort by the Kremlin to use change in the White House to mend bilateral relations.
Russia, alarmed by a threat from Afghanistan's Taliban rulers to its Central Asian allies, had backed a U.S. drive to topple them in 2001.
But it later became more critical of the U.S.-led operation in Afghanistan saying it had stopped short of stabilizing the country and failed to lessen the threat of Islamic radicalism and drug trafficking.
"The number of radicals is not declining in Afghanistan," Medvedev said. "Poverty continues to produce terrorism."
Security risks are high for many regional leaders, including Karimov who violently stamped out a rebellion by opponents in the town of Andizhan in 2005.
Karimov told a news conference that apart from violence in Afghanistan he was concerned about rising tensions in Pakistan. "Radicals (in Uzbekistan) may be reinvigorated by the recent events in Pakistan," he said.
He said countries in the region should have a stronger say in efforts to restore peace in Afghanistan. "We offer to solve the problem through the involvement of regional states."
Earlier on Friday Karimov and Medvedev suggested the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation -- grouping Russia, China and four ex-Soviet Central Asian states -- could initiate an international conference on Afghanistan.

Suspected U.S. Missile Strikes Kill at Least 20 in Pakistan

Attacks in Northwest Border Province Are First Since Obama's Inauguration.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Jan. 23 -- At least 20 people were killed in northwest Pakistan near the border of Afghanistan on Friday in two suspected U.S. missile strikes, marking the first such attack in Pakistan's tribal areas since President Obama's inauguration.A U.S. Predator drone fired three missiles at a compound about two miles from the town of Mirali in the tribal area of North Waziristan about 5:15 p.m., according to a Pakistani security official and local residents. The precision strike leveled a compound, which was owned by local tribal elder Khalil Malik, killing at least 10 suspected militants, including five foreign nationals, according to the Pakistani security official. The site of the attack is about 30 miles east of the Afghan border.The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said Malik was killed along with his brother and nephew. Authorities in North Waziristan, however, said they have been so far unable to identify any of those killed because militants immediately cordoned off the area. "I suspect a high-value target may be among the dead," the Pakistani security official said.Jan Mohammad, a local tribesman, said Malik and his relatives probably died in the strike, which sparked panic among Malik's neighbors. Mohammad said that Malik was an influential tribal elder but that he was not known to have links with the Pakistani Taliban or other insurgent groups in the area.There were conflicting accounts about the number of casualties in the first attack. Local residents said there were at least 11 bodies, but Pakistani television channels said 10 were killed.
The second strike occurred about three hours later near the tribal capital of Wana in South Waziristan, according to a Pakistani political official in the area. A U.S. drone fired two missiles at a compound in the small village of Gangikhel, a little less than 20 miles from the border with Afghanistan. Few details of that attack were available, but local residents said at least 10 were killed and two injured.Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, a spokesman for the Pakistani army, declined to comment on the strike, referring calls to the Pakistani Foreign Ministry. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry also declined to comment.The United States generally does not comment on or confirm whether it is behind missile attacks. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs refused to take questions about the incident at his regular briefing for reporters in Washington on Friday.The two targeted areas are separated by about 60 miles and long stretches of rugged, ungoverned mountainous terrain. Yet they are bound together by a common allegiance among many ethnic Pashtun tribesmen to two separate insurgent networks in North and South Waziristan. In North Waziristan, hundreds of tribesman have joined a group led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a rebel Afghan fighter, and his son, Sirajuddin Haqqani. The Haqqani Network has been linked to dozens of suicide and roadside bomb attacks on U.S., coalition and Afghan government forces in Afghanistan, including an assassination attempt last April on Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Although Jalaluddin Haqqani, who received backing from the CIA during the Soviet incursion in Afghanistan in the 1980s, is considered the spiritual head of the group, Sirajuddin is frequently credited with being head of operations.The Haqqani Network has been battered by missile strikes in Pakistan and aggressive U.S.-led ground raids into territory controlled by the group in the eastern Afghan provinces of Khost and Paktika. Reports of arrests of suspected operatives and strikes on bomb-making compounds have increased within in the past three months with dozens killed and scores detained by coalition forces operating near the border.In South Waziristan, a number of missile attacks have targeted compounds linked to Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Nazir. Nazir was appointed the top Taliban commander of the Ahmedzai Wazir tribe in 2006, two years after a U.S. missile strike killed another top Taliban leader known to foster foreign fighters, Nek Mohammed.At least 132 people have been killed in 38 suspected U.S. missile strikes inside Pakistan since August as the administration of President George W. Bush stepped up pressure on Pakistan to pursue more aggressively Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents in the country's tribal areas.
Regional and intelligence experts say the strikes have improved in precision and have hit several top insurgent commanders in recent months. The notable change in tempo and reported accuracy could be partly attributed to a growing sense of urgency inside the Bush White House as the progress in the seven-year long war in Afghanistan stalled during the waning days of the administration.Samina Ahmed, director of the International Crisis Group in Pakistan, attributes some of the change to increased cooperation between the United States and Pakistan."Given the fact that the past few strikes have actually gotten their targets with minimal or no civilian casualties, there is obviously better cooperation between the U.S. military and Pakistan," Ahmed said. "Now is that coming because of better cooperation from the U.S. military and Pakistani military? That's what the U.S. military seems to be saying. But you have to also consider whether it's not just the military but better cooperation with the civilian government and better human intelligence."Ahmed and other experts have also noted a shift among U.S. intelligence officials from the use of technology to the use of human surveillance on the ground to pinpoint militant safe havens for such strikes. Suspicions among Taliban militants that coalition forces have deployed local spies in otherwise inaccessible tribal areas has sparked a wave of public executions that have killed dozens in recent months."As much as there has been an increase in strikes, there has been an increase in people executed as American spies. The militants don't need to give a reason to kill someone. So that it seems they're taking the threat of possible spies in their midst seriously," Ahmed said. "That type of human intelligence was missing before and perhaps is better now."Although the Obama administration has signaled its intention to make a sharp break with some Bush policies, including using the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as a detention facility for suspected terrorists, the White House indicated that it will proceed cautiously in Pakistan and Afghanistan where the CIA has dominated U.S. strategy since 2001. Pakistani officials have said they are hopeful that the change in the White House will foster greater cooperation on security issues, particularly in the tribal areas where more than 2,000 people died last year in militant-related violence.Zardari and other Pakistani officials were critical of the United States in the wake of several missile strikes last year. But there was notable silence in Islamabad about Friday's missile strikes with few public officials commenting on the attacks.