Monday, March 5, 2012

Sales of Cuban cigars on the rise

Netanyahu warns time running out on Iran

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday they stand together in their efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but Netanyahu warned that time for diplomacy was running short.

The two leaders met at the White House to discuss Iran's nuclear program and other Middle East issues amid talk speculation that Israel may attack nuclear sites in Iran. Speaking to the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee afterward, Netanyahu said Iranian research "continues to march forward" despite painful economic sanctions imposed on the Islamic republic.

"My friends, Israel has waited patiently waited for the international community to resolve this issue. We've waited for diplomacy to work," Netanyahu said.

"We've waited for sanctions to work," he said. "None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation."Before the two leaders met at the White House, Obama told reporters that both he and Netanyahu would prefer a diplomatic solution to the Iranian issue. But Obama also repeated the warning that he delivered at AIPAC's annual conference in Washington on Sunday -- that military force remains an option to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power."The United States will always have Israel's back when it comes to Israel's security," Obama said, repeating a line from the Sunday speech as Netanyahu nodded in agreement.

"I reserve all options and my policy here is not going be one of containment; my policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons and, as I indicated yesterday in my speech, when I say all options are on the table, I mean it," Obama added.Netanyahu said he welcomed Obama's "strong speech" on Sunday and noted that Iran considers the United States and Israel to be similar foes."For them, you're the great Satan, we're the little Satan," Netanyahu said. "For them, we are you and you are us. And you know something, Mr. President? At least on this last point, I think they're right. We are you and you are us. We're together. ... Israel and America stand together."

Netanyahu insisted that Israel will remain "the master of its fate" in ensuring that Iran not obtain a nuclear weapon.

"Israel must reserve the right to defend itself and after all, that's the very purpose of the Jewish state, to restore to the Jewish people control over our destiny," Netanyahu said.Tehran has insisted that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes. U.S. and Israeli officials have said they suspect that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon. Both have said they will act to prevent that from occurring.

Earlier Monday, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Director General Yukiya Amano, reiterated agency statements that it cannot say whether Iran's nuclear program is peaceful.

Amano said the IAEA "continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions."

Monday's White House meeting lasted for two hours, with the leaders then taking part in a working lunch with their delegations, according to senior U.S. administration officials who spoke on condition of not being identified.

Late Monday, the White House released a statement on the meeting, echoing many of the same themes touched on earlier in the day. Obama "reiterated the United States' commitment to pursuing a strategy of principled diplomacy, backed by unprecedented pressure, including the additional sanctions that are taking hold on the Iranian regime," the statement read.

During the meeting, Netanyahu was expected to press Obama for clarity on what would constitute the "red line" on nuclear arms that would cause the United States to strike Iran.

However, the senior administration officials said Israel did not expect the Obama administration to shift from its stance that opposes Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, compared with Israel's opposition to Iran gaining even the capability of developing a nuclear weapon.

Obama, meanwhile, was considered likely to push Israel to refrain from any military action on its own in order to give diplomacy and expanded sanctions against Iran a full chance to resolve the issue. He will hold a news conference on Tuesday.

Obama is under criticism over his Iran policy from Republican opponents, including the leading GOP contenders to run against him in November's U.S. elections. Republicans call for a stronger public stance against the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon.

Accusing the White House of embracing a policy of "appeasement" toward Iran, GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum said the president has "turned his back on the state of Israel."

He said Obama is "all talk and no action" on the matter of Iran and its putative nuclear aspirations. Santorum made the comments in Westerville, a suburb of Columbus, during his final push through the state before Tuesday's Ohio primary.

Speaking Sunday to AIPAC, Obama warned that "all elements of American power" remain an option to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, though the president also made clear that he prefers diplomacy over war.

"Too much loose talk of war with Iran" only benefits the Iranian government by driving up the price of oil, Obama said to the pro-Israel lobby group.

Obama said his policy is not containment of a nuclear Iran, but preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. At the same time, he emphasized that Iran "should not doubt Israel's sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs."

While Obama's statements are consistent with his past pronouncements, his specific reference to preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon -- rather than the capability of building a nuclear weapon -- maintained what some consider to be a difference between his and Netanyahu's position.

Israeli officials say that if Iran were to become able to enrich weapons-grade uranium, it would potentially cross the "red line" of nuclear weapons capability that Israel fears.

In a statement issued Sunday after Obama's speech, Netanyahu expressed appreciation for the president's position that all options are on the table to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

"I also appreciated the fact that he made clear that, when it comes to a nuclear-armed Iran, containment is simply not an option," Netanyahu said, "and equally, in my judgment, perhaps most important of all, I appreciated the fact that he said that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat."

ANP demands Senate Deputy Chairman slot

Dunya Tv

Awami National Party has demanded Deputy Chairman slot in the upper house.
The Awami National Party (ANP) being key ally in the coalition government has demanded the Senate Deputy Chairman slot.
The party spokesman Senator Zahid Khan while talking to Dunya News said that ANP is the second largest party in the Senate and it deserves the seat.
It should be mentioned here that the ANP in the recent Senate elections secured seven seats.
It was for the first time in the history of the country that ANP has 12 members in the upper house.
The ANP leadership keeping in view strength of its members in Senate and part of the ruling collation has demanded deputy chairmanship, chief whip and chairmanship of six senate standing committees.
The sources said if the deputy chairman slot goes to Balochistan, ANP member has been selected from the province, therefore, it should be given to it.
The ANP was also desirous to appoint Shahi Sayed, the party provincial president, as chairman of one of the standing committees.

Drill Baby Drill, Redux


It’s campaign season and the pandering about gas prices is in full swing. Hardly a day goes by that a Republican politician does not throw facts to the wind and claim that rising costs at the pump are the result of President Obama’s decisions to block the Keystone XL pipeline and impose sensible environmental regulations and modest restrictions on offshore drilling.

Next, of course, comes the familiar incantation of “drill, baby, drill.” Mr. Obama has rightly derided this as a “bumper sticker,” not a strategy. Last week, he agreed that high gas prices were a real burden, but said the only sensible response was a balanced mix of production, conservation and innovation in alternative fuels.

There are lots of reasons for the rise in gas prices, but the lack of American production is not one of them. Domestic crude oil production is actually up from 5.4 million barrels a day in 2004 to 5.59 million now; imports have dropped by more than 10 percent in the same period. Despite a temporary slowdown in exploration in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil disaster, the number of rigs in American oil fields has quadrupled over three years. There have been new discoveries and the administration has promised to open up more offshore reserves. To say that Mr. Obama has denied industry access is nonsense.

Equally nonsensical is the Republican claim that Mr. Obama’s proposed repeal of $4 billion in annual tax breaks for the oil and gas industry — whose five biggest players posted $137 billion in profits last year — would drive prices upward. As is Newt Gingrich’s claim that a proposal now taking shape in the Environmental Protection Agency, and fiercely opposed by refiners, to lower the sulfur content in gasoline would add 25 cents to the cost of a gallon. Agency experts say it would add about a penny.

The truth is that oil prices are set on world markets by forces largely beyond America’s control. Chief among these is soaring demand in countries like China. Unrest in oil-producing countries is another factor. The Times noted fears in some quarters that gas could jump to $5 a gallon if the standoff with Iran disrupted world supplies.

Therein lies the biggest weakness in the Republican litany. A country that consumes more than 20 percent of the world’s oil supply but owns 2 percent of its reserves cannot drill its way out of high prices or dependence on exports from unstable countries. The only plausible strategy is to keep production up while cutting consumption and embarking on a serious program of alternative fuels.

American innovation is a big part of the answer. Two byproducts of the automobile bailout were the carmakers’ acceptance of sharply improved fuel economy and a new commitment to building cars that can meet those standards. The new rules are expected to cut consumption by 2.2 million barrels a day — more than America now produces in the gulf. These and other measures are not nearly as catchy as “drill, baby, drill.” But they have a far better shot, long term, of lessening this country’s dependence on oil imports and keeping gas prices under control.

Afghan officials: Talks for deal with US faltering

Efforts to forge a deal that will govern the American military presence in Afghanistan beyond a planned U.S troop withdrawal in 2014 are faltering, current and former Afghan officials said on Monday.

They said obstacles include disputes over the transfer of American-run detention centers, night raids and quarrels within the Afghan president's inner circle that led one of his top advisers to threaten to resign.

The failure to make headway on a strategic partnership document reflects growing animosity between President Hamid Karzai and the United States, which reached its lowest level after the burning of Qurans and other Islamic texts at a U.S. military base on Feb. 20. That incident sparked six days of angry riots across Afghanistan that left 30 people dead, including six U.S. troops who were killed by Afghan security forces.

Karzai has been stubborn about his demands — apparently so much so that he is losing the backing of some of his own top aides. Although the president cannot be seen to be a pushover to the U.S. on sovereignty issues, many top Afghan officials believe that Afghanistan's government is too shaky to stand on its own. They sense that Washington is now pushing back against Karzai in the talks, and fear that the Americans may simply wash their hands of Karzai or perhaps the entire Afghan war.

The president can't afford not to make a deal with the United States, which provides Afghanistan with billions of dollars in development aid and funds most of the training for the country's army and police, which are to take control of the country's security at the end of 2014.

The U.S. spent $22 billion in the past two years for training and is expected to contribute the bulk of the $4 billion or so a year the force of about 260,000 will need to operate in 2015 and beyond.

An Afghan government official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive negotiations, said that more than two months ago National Security Adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta submitted his resignation after disagreements erupted between him and Karzai over the strategic partnership document.

Spanta, who is spearheading the talks, wants Karzai to compromise on the two most contentious issues being negotiated — night raids and the U.S. transfer of detention facilities to Afghan government control.

Karzai did not accept Spanta's resignation, but kept the letter. Two times later, Spanta threatened to resign, mostly recently in the past several days, the official said.

The official and Davood Moradian, who was an adviser to Spanta when he was foreign minister, said the strategic partnership deal might not be ready for a NATO summit in May.

Such a delay could torpedo the deal, as the United States has already been showing decreasing enthusiasm about it.

Spanta was on a trip to China and not available to comment, but Moradian said the resignation threat was part of an effort to pressure Karzai into a compromise.

"Threatened, yes. But there is a possibility that if that tactic didn't work he would resign," said Moradian, assistant professor of political science at American University in Kabul. Moradian was the chief policy adviser to Spanta when he was foreign minister.

The strategic partnership document is critical to define the U.S. commitment to aid and development in Afghanistan after 2014, when most international combat forces are to leave. It is also considered a precursor to a status of forces agreement that will govern the presence and role of U.S. forces in the country after 2014. The U.S. is expected to keep about 20,000 troops in Afghanistan past 2014 in counterterrorism and training roles.

A U.S. embassy spokesman, Gavin Sundwall, told The Associated Press that the Americans valued an agreement, but not so much that they preferred a bad deal to no deal at all.

"We still are committed to a strategic partnership with the Afghan people, which we believe is in both our countries' interest to achieve our joint mission and ensure that Afghanistan cannot become a safe haven for terrorists again," Sundwall said.

"We have always said it is more important to get the right agreement than to get an agreement."

The comment was the first indication that the United States might be pushing back at what many consider to be Karzai's intransigence on the issue of detainees and night raids. Karzai has increasingly been hardening his position and pushing his agenda with incidents such as the Quran burnings.

Karzai and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker were to meet late Monday to discuss a variety of issues, one of the Afghan officials said. The two regularly meet twice a week to discuss current issues in the U.S.-Afghan relationship, but there were indications that the partnership deal would monopolize the Monday meeting.

Karzai has demanded that the Parwan Detention Facility be handed over on March 9. Afghan officials say privately that a U.S. proposal to hand over the facility in six months would be acceptable to some in the Karzai government, but that the president had not yet embraced the idea.

"The United States has repeatedly made clear that it is committed to working with the Afghan government to complete a transition of detention operations in Afghanistan in a manner that is safe and orderly and in accordance with our international legal obligations," Sundwall said. "We will continue to work with the Afghan government to meet this objective, as part of our broader transition efforts."

Tolerance wanes as perceptions of Afghan refugees change

Counting out a wad of crumpled notes, 50-year-old Muhammad Zahoor, owner of a small iron-welding business in Peshawar, is full of complaints. "It is so difficult to get the rent from my tenants each month. Also they are noisy, and have brought four other relatives to live here. I just wish they would leave," he said according to a report by IRIN, the UN information unit. To supplement his income, Zahoor rents the three rooms that form the lower portion of his flat to an Afghan refugee family who, he says, "refuse to leave". "It is no longer easy to find people willing to rent rooms to us. We are sometimes late with rent only because it is hard for my sons to find work," his tenant Abdullah Khan, 80, who came to Pakistan with the first wave of refugees in 1980, told IRIN. "Perhaps we have outstayed our welcome,"

Shahbaz Sharif acts like a dictator

The Express Tribune

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader Javed Hashmi took a potshot at Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, calling him a dictator, who never answered questions directed towards him in the Assembly.

Talking to the media in Multan on Tuesday, the former Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) senior leader said that parties blaming dictators for the country’s woes, should also view Shahbaz’s behaviour in the same light, whose vision and ideology is akin to that of a dictator, who felt that he was not answerable in the assembly.

“His vision and ideology is completely based on dictatorship and he acts like a dictator as he never answers anyone in the assembly. You can verify this by asking anyone if Shahbaz has ever replied to questions in the assembly.”

Talking about the Punjab Institute of Cardiology contaminated medicines tragedy in Punjab, Hashmi said that Shahbaz should be held responsible and then the Punjab government, adding that if the Punjab Chief Minister denied responsibility then he was as responsible as the Health Minister.

Shahbaz had retained the Health Ministry, despite relinquishing eight out of the 15 ministries, recently.

“Neither has he resigned as chief minister nor as health minister,” Hashmi said.

‘MQM clout and importance cannot be ignored’

Amidst rumours regarding reconciliatory talks between the PTI and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Hashmi spoke about the importance of the MQM as a political force and how their clout, importance could not be ignored.

“The political importance and power of MQM cannot be ignored,” the veteran politician said, adding that negotiations and reconciliation was the beauty of politics.

Hashmi promised that the country would see major breakthroughs in the political scenario of Pakistan, brought about by the PTI.

“Before any political ideology or political party, PTI is first the voice of the people of Pakistan,” the senior leader reiterated.

‘Resolve Kashmir and water issue first’

On relations with India, the veteran politician said that trade and relations with the neighbouring country could only continue if the latter seriously resolved issues, including that of Kashmir and the water dispute.