Saturday, May 2, 2015

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Light at End of Tunnel: There is Hope for Russia-NATO Relations

Researcher at the Center for International Governance Innovation Simon Palamar told Sputnik Radio that there is a chance for wide NATO-Russian cooperation noting that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is ready for a constructive dialogue with Moscow.
Mr Simon Palamar, Researcher at the Global Security & Politics Program at the Center for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, spoke to Radio Sputnik on NATO-Russia relations.
“NATO and Russia will disagree on major policy matters in the future. Unfortunately right now given the war in Ukraine it has made sitting down, talking, negotiating comprises more difficult and right now it’s simply important to make sure that the current set of disagreements don’t escalate into a broader break down in NATO Russian relation.”

Depicting the relations as uneasy, Palamar noted that there is a chance for wide NATO-Russian cooperation pointing out that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is ready for a constructive dialogue with Russia.

“Stoltenberg’s appointment as secretary general of NATO was a positive step in that direction and so far the relative calm in Eastern Ukraine has been a positive development.”
“But it’s not a simple relationship. It’s not an easy relationship, but it is one in the long run that can be managed, if both sides commit to making that effort. But of course there is always the risk of a broader breakdown in the relations.”

Regarding Stoltenberg, Palamar commented on the NATO Secretary General’s background in politics and said that the newly appointed general had very constructive relations with Moscow.
“It’s important to remember that recently appointed NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the former prime minister of Norway, had in his personal and professional life very constructive relations with Moscow.”

“He has taken a fairly firm line in terms of diplomacy. He stands by NATO allies he stands up for NATO interests.”

But Stoltenberg has been optimistic that despite the fact that Moscow and NATO will inevitably disagree about some very important issues in the future, he does believe, and he has said it several times in the last few months, that there really is potential for NATO and Moscow to talk.
“I think on some issues there really is potential for cooperation, for example the continuing unfolding crisis in the Middle East. Russians are of course aware that there are Chechens fighting in the ranks of Islamic State and international religious extremist groups,” Palamar said.

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Japan's WWII - No grey area in truth and justice

On this special occasion of the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Anti-Fascist War, Japan should not choose the wrong historical narrative, and all the countries, especially the influential powers, should contribute positive energy.
When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered a speech during a joint session of Congress in the US on April 29, it drew the attention of international community as the speech was on Japanese government's attitude towards the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Anti-Fascist War.
The international community has given a sharp response to Abe's speech. The West has been disappointed at his statements, not to mention the Asian countries whose people were ravaged by Japan's military aggression during the WWII. The report "Abe stops short of apology in speech to US Congress " in the UK's Financial Timesgoes right to the heart of the matter, pointing out that Abe's speech on Wednesday gave little sense that any part of Japan's wartime history required a special reckoning.
An Associated Press story also asked: "Why it is so hard for Japanese leader Abe to apologize for World War II."
An article in The Atlanticsaid that Abe didn't make a great effort to delve into Japan's role in starting the war, nor its conduct during the fighting. The article said Abe's strategy is betting on American's fading memories.
Abe had done homework before the speech. Not only did he tout the so-called common value between Japan and the US, but offered his "eternal condolences" to the souls of all American people who lost their lives during the World War II. But why didn't the media, not even in the US, buy his story? The answer is more than obvious. The international community wants Japan to take some basic measures that show its willingness to face up to its past. Therefore, Japan's efforts to whitewash its wartime history are not going to pass.
We should remember that the reason why Japan's former prime minister Tomiichi Murayama's declaration on the 50th anniversary of the war was positively accepted in Japan and beyond was that he expressed "deep remorse" and stated "heartfelt apology" for the country's "colonial rule and aggression". His clear apology showed accepting responsibility for Japan's dark history.
It is nearly 20 years after Murayama delivered the landmark declaration in 1995, and nearly 70 years after the World War II ended in 1945. However, the right-wing Japanese groups still shun historical facts and deal with them without any sincerity. This behavior not only prejudices its outlook on history, but also challenges international rules and justice.
This attitude also blackens Japan's image on the international stage, and blocks the country's integration with the whole world.
It should be noted that a commentary in Financial Timessaid that "any manifestation of 'Shinzo Abe's forgetting history issues' is a huge mistake". A commentary in The Christian Science Monitoralso raised worry that there may be some dark purpose behind Japanese government's "hope for the future" attitude.
In the speech, Abe talked more about Japan's contributions to the world, compared to the history issues, in an effort to avert the world's attention with the "active pacifism".
For a country like Japan that once launched aggressive wars on other countries and destroyed world's peace, it is more important for the nation to realize that its contributions to the world should be based on the country's true view on the historical issues.
For a country that cannot take a correct historical outlook while continuously challenge the international rules and justices, does it have the qualifications to talk about contributions to the world? And is there anybody who believes in the contributions Japan is always talking about?
Safeguarding the fruits of victory in World War II is the cornerstone of maintaining world peace and stability of the international order. The size of Japan's international role depends on whether Japan will adopt the correct view of history and reinforce this foundation with the international community or act opposite. Without a solid foundation, the whole earth will shake. If Japan evades responsibility and refuses to reflect on its aggression, how can it reassure the international community and what happens to its international image? US-Japan alliance - the old arrangement formed during the Cold War - should not become Japan's "last straw" to win international role. In the current era, anyone who wants to damage peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific, will not be allowed by the people of Asia and even the world.
A few important events in the international arena this year could provide opportunity to Japan to show right attitude. Would it let go all of its wrong historic views with conscience and courage, or would it ridiculously hold on to Murayama's concern that "some may forget the hardship to gain peace"? It is not a difficult question. The world has seen that the current Japanese leaders have not yet given a positive answer. Instead, they have been continuously exerting uneasiness on its neighbors.
Black and white cannot be reversed, and there is no grey area when it comes to international justice. The way to open up peaceful development opportunities is to integrate the trend of peace, stability and development. Only by making the right choices in history can Japan have a bright future, and Asia and the world stability and order.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Anti-Fascist War. Japan should inject positive energy to the world, especially on certain influential powers, instead of following the wrong path of history.

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Experts say Turkey weakened against terrorist risks after reshuffles in police force

A gap in security in major cities across Turkey is endangering people's lives as terrorist organizations have been left unmonitored by security forces since the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government's purge of the policeforce following the Dec. 17, 2013 graft probe implicating people affiliated with the government, security experts and analysts have said.
The ruling AK Party government's purges in the police force mainly targeted officers who participated in major corruption and bribery probes on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013 that implicated 53 people, including bureaucrats, prominent businessmen and the sons of three former ministers from the AK Party and people from the inner circle of then-Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Since then, police officers -- including police chiefs considered to be the “brains” of the National Police Department due to their experience and training -- were detained, with some later arrested on charges of spying and wiretapping without any concrete evidence. The shakeups are widely believed to be designed to cover up the claims of corruption and have created certain security weaknesses that threaten national security, experts believe.
More importantly, the newly appointed police officers, motivated by government orders, have directed their focus on the faith-based Gülen movement, popularly known as the Hizmet movement, and not against terrorist organizations because Erdoğan believes sympathizers of the Gülen movement in the state bureaucracy, especially in the judiciary and police force, masterminded the corruption probe to topple his government. The movement strongly denies the accusation.
Failed police operations such as the attempt to rescue İstanbul Public Prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz, who was taken hostage by two members of the outlawed Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) in his courthouse office on March 31 and ended with him being killed along with the terrorists during a shootout, show the inability of the police force to tackle a difficult situation. Security experts say that if experienced, specialized police officers had been on duty at the time of the assault, Kiraz could have escaped unharmed.
According to Associate Professor Mahmut Akpınar from the department of politics and international relations at Turgut Özal University, Turkey has experienced a dramatic increase in crime after the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption probe and will continue to increase in the next year, which will result in society questioning the ruling government's authority.
Akpınar, who is also a security analyst at the Ankara-based Center of Law, Ethics and Political Studies (HESA), told Sunday's Zaman the AK Party government's purge in the police force is the third of its kind in the history of this land after the purge by the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) of the Ottoman army in 1908 that brought an end to the empire and the purge of the 1960 military coup military officers who dismissed 235 generals and more than 5,000 high ranking officers.  
The security gap in the country, which is an obvious result of government interference in the police force, became more visible in the country's Southeast after the Kobani protests in October of last year. The protests, supported by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), were in reaction to the government's failure to help the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani in the wake of a threat from the terrorist group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Around 50 people lost their lives in the protests, yet the perpetrators of the killings still remain unknown.
Akpınar believes that people in the southeastern part of Turkey don't trust the state authorities or their approach to the PKK as a means of solving their problems related to security in their daily lives. A majority of residents in that part of the country have acknowledged and accepted the existence of the security forces, tax system and courts of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the urban arm of the PKK, which are acting in a way similar to state organs, Akpınar said. “The Turkish state is nonfunctional in southeastern Turkey,” Akpınar added.
The legal amendments advanced by the government following the Dec.17 corruption probe have also made the pursuit of crime organizations, which increasingly benefit from advances in technology, more difficult. Now, the police are too intimidated to wiretap the phone conversations of suspected members of crime organizations, as dozens of police officers have been detained or arrested for the legal wiretaps they made as part of the Dec. 17 investigation.
According to analysts and security experts, terrorist organizations such as the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C), the PKK, ISIL and al-Qaeda have found an empty field in which they have been able to reorganize themselves since the Dec. 17 probe. Growing confrontations among mafia groups, an increasing number of cases of human trafficking, illegal migration and drug trafficking, an alarming rise in the use of illegal drugs and an unregistered economy are other dangers for society that will lead to disorder.
Akpınar also said that there has actually been a sharp increase in the amount of organized crime activity in the country in the last six months, and police sources warn that if the necessary measures are not taken, there will also be an increase in the number of mafia murders. Akpınar noted that the government is deliberately not sharing the statistics on crime rates so as not to damage its image before the upcoming general election. “The fight against smoking is a subject that President Erdoğan is proud of, but there has been an enormous increase in smoking among young people,” Akpınar added.
Stressing that the ruling AK Party government has created a subservient bureaucracy in order to cover up its corruption, Akpınar said Turkey now has an authoritarian regime that needs bureaucrats who are obedient to its leader, rather than to the Constitution. “Ignoring the Constitution and the law during government-orchestrated operations against people who are not on the same side as the ruling government and the silence of the bureaucracy about the unlawful acts of the government show that we are heading toward a dictatorial regime,” Akpınar concluded.

UN indecision on Yemen ceasefire ‘amazing’: Russian envoy

Security Council session ends without agreement on ceasefire, humanitarian pauses in Yemen.

The UN Security Council was unable on Friday to agree on a Russian-drafted statement demanding an immediate ceasefire or at least humanitarian pauses in the fighting in Yemen.
Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin criticised the 15-member council, saying fellow envoys showed "amazing indecision" in the face of the worsening humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
"If you cannot agree to a motherhood-and-apple-pie statement, what can you agree on? I don't understand," Churkin told reporters following the behind-closed-door meeting.
"Clearly, they need to feel their responsibility since they are supporting the bombing of the coalition, the responsibility of the humanitarian consequences," Churkin said.
Churkin had called the Security Council meeting a day after the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon chief said that basic services in Yemen were "on the brink of collapse".
Russia had requested the urgent meeting after Ban warned that fuel shortages were threatening to bring all relief operations to a halt "within days".
A Saudi-led air campaign launched a month ago in Yemen has crippled deliveries of fuel, food and medicine while all airports are closed to civilian traffic and naval shipments are delayed.
Diplomats said the Russian statement appealing for action was not rejected out of hand but that the delegations needed time to consider the wording.
"There was a strong degree of council agreement on the desperate humanitarian situation in Yemen and need to return to political talks, but no agreement in the room on the exact working of the statement," said a diplomat.
Russia's diplomacy has been greeted with some suspicion given the country's close ties to Iran, which is alleged to be supporting the Houthi fighters who have seized the capital Sanaa and forced Yemen's president into exile.
A US diplomat said Washington supports humanitarian pauses and was urging Saudi Arabia to take measures to ensure aid deliveries reach civilians trapped in the fighting.
"But let's be clear - it is the ongoing, unilateral actions of Houthis and forces loyal to former president [Ali Abdullah] Saleh that are responsible for the humanitarian crisis," he added.

New envoy to hold talks

Senior UN official Jeffrey Feltman told the council that the new UN envoy for Yemen would travel to the region next week for talks on advancing prospects for a return to peace negotiations, diplomats said.
It will be Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed's first visit to capitals in the Gulf and Middle East since he was appointed as peace envoy for Yemen on 25 April.
The Mauritanian diplomat was appointed to replace Jamal Benomar, who resigned after losing the support of Gulf states.
Talks collapsed after the Shiite Houthi rebels went on the offensive, seizing Sanaa and advancing on Aden, forcing President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi to flee into exile to Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi-led coalition launched the air war on Yemen on 26 March to prevent the Houthi rebels from taking the entire territory and to restore Hadi's authority.
Churkin accused Saudi Arabia and its allies of showing little interest in a return to peace talks.
"We support negotiations but we don't see an interest on the part of those who are engaged in bombing," Churkin said.
UN efforts to resume peace negotiations for Yemen have run into hurdles over disagreements on the venue for the talks, with Gulf countries insisting they be held in Riyadh.
Churkin said the talks should take place in "neutral territory," suggesting Geneva as a venue, a proposal backed by other Security Council members.
Diplomats said Feltman told the council that Ban was considering holding an international peace conference on Yemen to re-launch talks.
Meanwhile, US officials said that Secretary of State John Kerry might visit Saudi Arabia in order to explore new ways to end the conflict in Yemen, the Associated Press reported.


20 civilians were killed and more than 50 were injured in the capital Sana’a on Friday due to air raids led by the Saudi-led coalition.  The airstrikes started just after midnight on Thursday and continued to the early hours of Friday morning, according to locals. “Operation Restoring Hope war planes targeted Al Marwan district in 40 ST in Saawan Area, 20 are dead, and a large number of the wounded  were women and children, 6 homes collapses while residents were still inside, “ said Adel Al Thamari who works in the Security Center of Saawan.
The intense shelling scared the residents of Saawan District, a large number of residents fled to neighboring areas in order to stay safe. “The families in the area are terrified, everybody is leaving their houses, we are scared they will bomb the area again, “ said Mohammed Al Boraihy one of Saawan residents.
The Saudi –led strikes targeted locations which were used as weapon storages for Houthis. “ We heard that the Houthis smuggled weapons into Saawan and that the coalition is targeting those places, but why should we pay the price, it’s not our fault we are victims. Thursday night was horrible we did not sleep from the heavy shelling, and the next day some of us lost family members while others lost their homes.”Waleed Al Omari had just come back to the area thinking it was safe, “We left when the bombings were heavy near the airport, we rented a house a bit further down in the city, we couldn’t afford paying rent anymore, so we decided to move back, and we were welcomed by few shells.”
General Ahmed Al Asiry, the spokesperson for the Saudi-led operation “ The Decisive Strom”, which needed on the 21st of April confirmed in all previous press conferences that, “the coalition does not target civilians, Houthis smuggle and hide arms in schools and residential areas this is why civilian causalities fall.”
The Saudi-led coalition began on the 26th of March targeting Houthis militants and forces loyal to the former president Ali Abdulla Saleh. Operation “Decisive Storm” ended on the 21st of April and was replaces with Operation “Restoring Hope”, which continues to target Houthi location, while trying to reach political solutions for the war in Yemen.

New protest in Turkey demanding a halt to terrorism-supporting policies of Erdogan

 Hundreds of Turks protested in Adana city on Saturday, denouncing their government’s support to the terrorists who are committing massacres against the people of Syria.
They condemned in particular the recent massacres which terrorists, who crossed the Turkish border into the Syrian Idleb province, perpetrated against hundreds of civilians in the cities of Jisr al-Shughour and Idleb and Eshtabraq town.
The terrorist attacks in those areas were carried out under logistic support and intense fire cover from the Turkish army, in a way similar to the other attacks that earlier took place in Aleppo city and the Armenian-dominated town of Kassab in Lattakia.
The protesters issued a statement in which they held the Turkish government responsible for the terrorist massacres being committed in Syria, calling on the Turkish people to face up to the policies of the ruling Justice and Development Party that stand on the terrorists’ side.
Similar protests were held over the past two days in various Turkish cities.
Some of the latest such protests were held by unions, civil society organizations, and political parties in Taksim area in Istanbul on Friday to express solidarity with the Syrian people and to denounce the support provided to terrorists by Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Other protests were held in Antioch, Iskenderun, Samandag, Ankara, Izmir, Mersin and Tunceli.
Another protest was organized in Istanbul by supports of Beshiktash FC to denounce the massacre committed by terrorists in the town of Eshtabraq and condemn the role played by the Justice and Development Party government in this massacre.

Turkey to start training Syria militants on May 9

Turkey says it will start a program on May 9 to train and equip what it calls moderate militants fighting against the Syrian government .
A group of 300 militants will go through the first phase of the training program next Saturday, Turkish daily Yeni Şafak quoted the country’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu as saying on Saturday.
Çavuşoğlu added that a total of 2,000 militants will be trained by the end of the current year, claiming that the trained militants will fight both the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the ISIL Takfiri terrorists, who control parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq.
Ankara and Washington signed a deal to train and arm the foreign-backed militants following months-long talks on February 19. The program is aimed at training over 15,000 militants in three years. Over 120 US soldiers are reportedly in Turkey to train the militants.
Çavuşoğlu also noted that a secure zone inside Syria should be established for the militants.
Turkey will provide the militants with assistance such as “consultations,” the Turkish minister said, adding that no decision has been made on sending Turkish and American troops to Syria.
Turkey was one of the three countries that publicly expressed readiness to open its territory for the training of the militants.
“Saudi Arabia and Qatar have also announced that they will be hosting a train-and-equip program,” Çavuşoğlu said on February 20.
Turkey has time and again been accused of supporting the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the ISIL terrorists in Syria.
Ankara has also come under fire for not doing enough to halt the advance of the ISIL as well as for its perceived reluctance to crack down on militants using its territory to travel into Syria, gripped by deadly unrest since March 2011.
The US and its regional allies -- especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey -- are supporting the militants operating inside the Arab country.

Kerry: There is a lot of hysteria over Iran deal

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says that there is "a lot of hysteria" in the criticism of the framework deal reached with Iran over its nuclear program. Kerry added that he believes that the agreement that will be signed on June 30 will protect Israel.
The interview was conducted on Thursday, and parts of it were broadcast on Saturday night. The full interview will be broadcast on Sunday evening. Mostly it dealt with the negotiations between Iran and six world powers, but also with the criticism in relations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama. Kerry also discussed the situation in Syria and Lebanon and future U.S. policy on the Palestinian issue.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu made statements to the contrary on Saturday, saying that the framework agreements formulated in Lausanne will not remove Iran's capability to obtain nuclear weapons, and is thus making the world a more dangerous place.
"It is not too late," Netanyahu said in a televised speech marking the 30th anniversary of the the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "The countries around the world must have the courage and the resolve to hold out for a better deal, one that will actually do the job of blocking Iran's path to the bomb." Netanyahu added that "there are those who say the Lausanne framework [agreement] will make Israel safer. As the prime minister of Israel, I can tell you categorically this deal will endanger Israel – big time."
Inspectors on a daily basis
Kerry said in the interview that he understands the feelings in Israel toward the nuclear deal, and the questions and doubts it raises. Still, he rejected the claim that the U.S. has let Israel down, asserting that talk of "disappointment" was inappropriate. "We will never disappoint Israel," he said.
Kerry added that, under the deal, there would be inspectors in Iran "every day."
"That is not a 10-year deal, that's forever," he said. "There have to be inspections. There's a lot of hysteria about this deal. People really need to look at the facts, look at the science of what is behind those facts… We ask people to measure carefully what the agreement is, and wait until we have an agreement to make all these judgements."
Kerry added that the U.S. will not sign a deal that won't stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and that won't provide the security of knowing what Iran is doing.
"When we started this negotiation, the breakout time ... to get enough fissile material for one bomb was about two months to three months. We have pushed that out now," Kerry told Channel 10. "And with this deal, for the first 10 years, we will know that it is one year for that period. Now, I ask you a simple question, is Israel safer with two months, or one year?"
Kerry went on to defend the framework deal with Iran, and said that part of the understandings between the two sides will reduce the stock of enriched uranium in Iran's hands by 98 percent - from 12 tons to 300 kilos for a period of 10 years. According to Kerry, the inspections of Iran's nuclear program will continue forever.
"We are going to put Iran to an extraordinarily rigorous test as to whether or not they are changing their visibility, their accountability, so that we know what they are doing, so that when they become an NPT country, full-fledged, we will still know that their program is peaceful," Kerry said.
"I say to every Israeli, today we have the ability to stop them if they decided to move quickly to a bomb, and I absolutely guarantee that in the future we will have the ability to know what they're doing so that we could still stop them if they decided to move to a bomb.
"We don't give one option up that we have today," he added. "We have various options; sanctions, we have a military option. We don't lose any of those."
The secretary of state sharply criticized Iran's policy throughout the Middle East, and particularly its support of terror groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon. The U.S., he said, has "no illusions" regarding why Hezbollah is there and who supports it. He added that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards must be removed from Syria and Iran's support for "these terrorist activities" needs to be stopped. Together with the Gulf states, said Kerry, the U.S. will bolster the security arrangements.
Kerry responded to Netanyahu's demand that any future nuclear agreement with Iran – and the removal of international sanctions – must be hinged on putting a stop to Tehran's support of terrorism. He stressed that while the U.S. has decided that its top priority is to tackle Iran's capability to manufacture nuclear weapons, this will not diminish the U.S.'s commitment to addressing the other areas of Iranian activities.
"I'd rather do it without them having a nuclear weapon than with them having one," he said. "And that's why we're intent on guaranteeing they don't get a nuclear weapon. It's a good starting point, folks."
'Netanyahu said he is committed to peace process'
Kerry also talked about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and expressed his hope that Netanyahu will remain committed to the two-state solution. The secretary of state remarks were made in reference to comments by Netanyahu ahead of Israel's election on March 17, in which he said that there would be no Palestinian state while he is prime minister.
"He says he is" committed to the two-state solution, "and the key now is to put that to the test in terms of what he's prepared to do, what we're prepared to do together, and what the Palestinians hopefully are prepared to do," Kerry said. "I hope that he will embrace a process that will quickly show the world that indeed what he has said is the policy is being put to day-to-day practice."
Kerry stressed in the interview that the U.S protects Israel in various international forums, including the United Nations. Many Israelis don't see this, he added, but the U.S. is constantly "voting, working, pushing … against unfair, biased, bigoted, degrading, inappropriate assaults on Israel's sovereignty and integrity." Kerry added that, because of this stance, the U.S. has been expelled from certain UN bodies, including UNESCO.
The difficulty, he said, is that if the peace process isn't renewed, "there are things that are bubbling up in various parts of the world, which are focused on Israel because of the settlements, because of other things, that we're not able to prevent from happening. They're happening.
"And so because we care about Israel, because we want Israel to be free to be fully engaged in commerce and trade and all the things that come with normal relationships, we want to work with Israel to try to do everything possible to change the current dynamic."

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Christie’s White House Hopes Seem to Be Fading

Around 7:30 a.m., as an audience of technology executives started streaming through the ballroom doors of a Ritz Carlton Hotel in suburban Virginia on Friday, Chris Christie’s iPhone buzzed with the grim news he has awaited for 16 months.
Federal charges were coming in the bizarre case of traffic and revenge with which he had become synonymous.
Mr. Christie, the governor of New Jersey, consulted with advisers, adjusted his jet-black suit and gamely walked onto a stage before 300 guests eating yogurt parfait and almond croissants. He recited statistics about Social Security and Medicare costs and projected the air of a man thoroughly unbothered by the swirling legal drama back in New Jersey, which he left unmentioned.
But behind the scenes, his aides, his allies and even his wife were mobilizing, working the phones and blasting out memos to supporters, trying to hold on to whatever chance Mr. Christie had to make a run at the presidency, according to interviews.
Over the next few hours, Mary Pat Christie called donors, trying to offer reassurance that everything was still on track and encouraging them to read her husband’s speech on overhauling the federal entitlement system.
Mr. Christie himself, joined by top aides, reached out to longtime financial supporters, like the billionaires Kenneth Langone and Stanley Druckenmiller, to talk through what he saw as the limited scope of the indictments.
And Mr. Christie’s political action committee emailed talking points for loyal backers to deliver to the news media, framing the guilty plea of David Wildstein, a former Christie ally, and the indictment of the governor’s former chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, and his appointee, Bill Baroni, as a moment of vindication.
“Key messages,” the talking points read. “Today’s announcement reinforces what the governor has said since Day 1. Mr. Christie, it said, “had no knowledge or involvement in the planning, motivation, authorization or execution of the decision to realign lanes on the George Washington Bridge.”
In call after call, they squeezed whatever optimism they could from an ugly day, calling the legal charges the “best possible outcome in a bad situation.”
But amid the bustle, there was an absorption of a new reality for the governor of New Jersey and those closest to him: that his bid for the White House, never a sure bet, seems increasingly and agonizingly far-fetched. A political team long characterized by its self-assuredness now sounds strikingly subdued, sobered and, at times, openly insecure.
In two dozen interviews over the past 24 hours, many of the closest allies and advisers to Mr. Christie acknowledged that winning the Republican nomination required a domino-like series of stumbles from his rivals and an unlikely breakthrough for him.
They used gentle descriptions like “in a different place” to describe how Mr. Christie had fallen from his high of his re-election in 2013: unpopular at home, barely registering in national Republican polls, lacking in money and momentum of his competitors.
These people spoke on the condition of anonymity, to treat a delicate situation with a level of candor frowned upon in politics. Instead of crowing about fund-raising records (as Jeb Bush is) or traveling the country as an announced candidate (as Sen. Marco Rubio is), Mr. Christie’s team is a sense starting over now, hoping that the developments in the legal case represent a new chance at a campaign unburdened by the threat of direct legal action against the governor.
Ray Washburne, who oversees fund-raising for Mr. Christie’s political action committee, said there was sense of relief from potential donors after Friday indictments “that there wasn’t anything else out there” that would directly implicate the governor.
But even those who expressed fewer doubts describe a Christie campaign unlike what they had once envisioned — without the resources of his biggest rivals, focused largely on winning a single state, New Hampshire, and taking its inspiration from the resurrection of Senator John McCain in 2008.
There are crucial differences, however, between Mr. McCain’s experience in New Hampshire and Mr. Christie’s situation today. Mr. McCain had already cultivated a base of support from his landslide win there in the 2000 presidential primary. Mr. McCain benefited from a timely issue that he had championed — the surge of American forces into Iraq — that was thrust into the debate as he was mounting his comeback. And, finally, in 2008, there were no flush “super PACs” to keep campaigns alive in New Hampshire, as there will be in 2016.
What’s more, the indictments against Mr. Christie’s one-time aides mean months of split-screen television images, with one half showing Mr. Christie out campaigning, the other the latest report on the trials of his aides.
Mr. Christie has tried to remain outwardly upbeat. But signs of frustration have been spilling out. Over a month ago, according to two people familiar with the exchange, Mr. Christie spotted Tim McDonough, an aide to Woody Johnson, the Jets owner, during a trip to the MetLife Stadium. Mr. Christie told Mr. McDonough that Mr. Johnson, who had supported him in the past but was planning to back Jeb Bush in the presidential race, had shown his “true colors.” Asked about the exchange, an aide to Mr. Christie said his boss had moved on.
His aides say they anticipate he will announce his presidential candidacy in late May or June, but some in the Republican establishment wonder if he will even run.
Even before Friday’s news, Mr. Christie seemed to be facing cemented opposition within his own party. A March Wall Street Journal/NBC poll revealed that 57 percent of Republican primary voters said they could not see themselves supporting him, the highest number among potential candidates except Donald Trump. Mr. Christie’s campaign aides have declined to say how much money he has raised so far this year; unlike many of his rivals, he appears to lack a prominent deep-pocketed donor.
Influential party figures have started to publicly write him off. After Friday’s indictments, Alex Castellanos, who advised Mitt Romney in 2008, summed up the views of Mr. Christie’s detractors: “Now we’ve learned that his political style is contagious. He infected his own government with it. I’m not sure how he could prove that it would be otherwise if he were elected president.”
But for Mr. Christie, who reluctantly passed up the chance to run for president in 2012, a campaign for the White House may be an irresistible proposition.
Next week, he will head to New Hampshire for a two-day visit, where he is likely to face skeptical questions about the indictments.
Joseph McQuaid, publisher of the Union Leader newspaper and a longtime conservative kingmaker in New Hampshire, said the state “offers a gregarious guy like him a chance to overcome the current perception, but it’s a tough climb.”
The cases against Christie associates who, after all, plotted the lane closures, “just reinforces the public perception of a Christie credibility gap,” he said.
Mr. McQuaid recalled meeting Mr. Christie and asking him what he learned from the lane closures. He was taken aback by the reply — that Mr. Christie had learned to be less trusting.
“The guy was U.S. attorney and he trusts people?” he said.

Obama Turns Up Heat on Trade Legislation

The Obama administration is pressing hard to win approval of controversial trade legislation in Congress, as a series of news reports say the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill is in trouble. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said there is still “important work to be done” on this issue.
The effort includes a gathering of dozens of moderate Democrats at the White House, a briefing by a top economic official for the press, and a campaign-style trip by Obama to a major exporter on the West Coast.
House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, says his party strongly supports trade and urged Obama to “step up his game” in terms of persuading skeptical Democrats to vote for trade legislation.
The first issue is Trade Promotion Authority which is sometimes called “Fast Track.” TPA is strongly opposed by many of Obama’s usual allies in the labor and environmental movements and a number of his fellow Democrats in Congress.
The TPA would set rules for congressional consideration of other trade agreements with Pacific nations and the European Union. TPA would allow members of Congress to approve or reject proposed trade deals, but not permit them to make changes.
TPA supporters say U.S. trading partners are not going to make their best offer in negotiations if they expect the U.S. Congress to pick apart the measure.
TPA opponents say Congress should not surrender authority to another branch of government. They also criticize the proposed agreements that would be facilitated by the TPA, the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Critics argue that the TPP, T-TIP and previous trade deals like NAFTA (The North American Free Trade Agreement) do too little to protect U.S. workers and the environment, and in some cases, give too much legal clout to foreign companies.
But White House Spokesman Earnest says the new agreements are an improvement over NAFTA because they include “enforceable” provisions to protect labor and the environment. And since NAFTA member-nations Canada and Mexico would be part of the new deal, it is a chance to redress problems with the prior deal.
Earnest says Obama believes that raising labor and environmental standards in nations that trade with the United States will "level the playing field” for U.S. firms. That is because when U.S. competitors have to go to the trouble and expense of meeting these standards, American firms that have to meet similar standards will no longer be at a competitive disadvantage.
The leading Democrat in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said trade deals might get more votes if there were some “accommodations” to meet the concerns of critics.
She said the current proposal offers far too little money for a program that retrains workers displaced by trade deals for new jobs in the future.  
Pelosi told journalists that, so far, she does not see any “big movement” toward support among her fellow Democrats.

AP-GfK Poll: Favorable views of Clinton top her GOP rivals

Americans are more likely to have a favorable view of Hillary Rodham Clinton than any of her potential Republican rivals in 2016's race for the presidency, even though few see the former secretary of state as honest, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.
Five things to know about public opinion on Clinton:
According to the new Associated Press-GfK poll, just 37 percent of Americans say the word "honest" describes Clinton very or even somewhat well, while 61 percent say it describes her only slightly or not at all well. Even among Democrats, 4 in 10 think the word "honest" describes Clinton slightly or not at all well, while 6 in 10 independents and 9 in 10 Republicans say the same.
On the other hand, 61 percent of Americans describe Clinton as "strong" and 56 percent say she is "decisive."
Women are significantly more likely than men to say each of these words, along with "inspiring" and "likable," describe Clinton at least somewhat well.
The poll comes after Clinton has weathered criticism over her use of a private email account run from a server kept at her New York home while serving as secretary of state, and amid questions about foreign donations to the family's charitable foundation and whether that money influenced her work at the State Department.
Despite apparent distrust for Clinton, her overall ratings remain the strongest in the emerging presidential field and are essentially unchanged since two AP-GfK polls conducted last year. Forty-six percent of Americans express a favorable view of Clinton, slightly more than the 41 percent who express a negative opinion. Eight in 10 Democrats have a favorable view of Clinton, while 8 in 10 Republicans have an unfavorable opinion. Among independents, 27 percent expressed a favorable view and 39 percent have an unfavorable view, while 29 percent don't know enough to say.
Most polls showed Clinton with a much higher favorable rating while she was secretary of state. Opinions of her have become more polarized as she has re-entered partisan politics, as they were when she vied for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008.
Clinton said last month that she used a personal account out of convenience. She deleted about 30,000 emails that she has described as personal in nature and has declined requests from congressional Republicans to turn over her server for an independent review.
The survey suggests that many Americans aren't buying Clinton's explanation: A majority said they believe she used a private address to shield her emails from transparency laws and that they think she should turn her server over to a third party for further investigation.
At the same time, the public is split over whether her email usage is a significant issue for her presidential aspirations: Just a third — 32 percent — said it was a major problem, 36 percent rated it a minor problem, and 31 percent said it's not a problem at all. Only 20 percent said they're paying very close attention to the email story.
Opinions on the email story are highly polarized, with 7 in 10 Democrats saying Clinton has done enough to comply with government transparency laws already and 8 in10 Republicans saying she should turn her server over for further investigation.
Clinton's ratings top those of every other Republican candidate in the poll, all of whom are less known than the former secretary of state and nearly all of whom have at least slightly more negative than positive ratings. The only exception is Dr. Ben Carson, given a favorable rating by 15 percent of Americans and an unfavorable one by 12 percent, while 7 in 10 said they didn't know enough to say.
Jeb Bush, the most well-known of Clinton's potential Republican rivals, is viewed favorably by 29 percent of Americans and unfavorably by 36 percent.
Many other top Republicans remain unknown by a significant proportion of Americans, including Marco Rubio (unknown to 48 percent), Ted Cruz (unknown by 49 percent), Rand Paul (unknown to 43 percent) and Scott Walker (unknown to 64 percent).
Despite Clinton's dominance in the early primary field and mostly positive ratings among Democrats, the survey suggests that some in her party would be open to a challenger.
Among Democrats, only 34 percent said they were excited by her candidacy while 36 percent described themselves as merely satisfied. Another 19 percent said they were neutral, and 9 percent were disappointed or angry about the idea.
"I wish there was somebody else," said Kenneth Berger of New York City. "She always has a problem."
The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online April 23-27, using a sample drawn from GfK's probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

President Obama's Weekly Address: Ensuring Every Child Gets a Great Education


Maimed Defending Afghanistan, Then Neglected

Saheb had a problem: His left leg had been blown off by a Taliban bomb and he could not afford a prosthesis. He also had a solution: His 11-year-old daughter, Noor Bibi, whom he sold last year for $3,000 to pay for a new leg. Saheb is among the tens of thousands of soldiers and policemen who have been wounded fighting for the government in the country’s long-running civil war. Faced with inadequate or nonexistent official support, many are resorting to desperate measures to survive.
Others who are getting support find themselves on the margins of a society that treats people with disabilities as outcasts.
In a war with a fatality rate that rises each year, the number of those who survive attacks but are disabled permanently is soaring as well, overwhelming the resources available from the Afghan government and charitable organizations. Even by the most conservative estimate, Afghanistan has 130,000 disabled people who had served in the police or other security forces, 40,000 of whom had amputations, according to government figures for those receiving pensions. The total is almost certainly much higher because the government releases no figures on disabled former members of the regular military.
Many, like Fardeen, 24, a former police sergeant who lost his right leg below the knee to a Taliban bomb in 2013, which also destroyed his left ankle and foot, do not get even the meager pensions to which they are entitled.
Fardeen, who like many Afghans uses one name, instead waits until dark and then rolls his wheelchair into the heavy evening traffic in the Macrorayan neighborhood of Kabul to beg — while praying that none of his former colleagues see him.
“Sometimes I hear the girls in the cars saying, ‘Look at that handsome young man. Why is he begging in the street?’ ” he said, sitting with a blanket over his legs. “They don’t see what’s down there.”
The scope of the problem is daunting. In just one fighting season here in the southern province of Helmand last year, a single Afghan police battalion, the 2nd Police Battalion in Sangin, had 154 men disabled by their wounds — out of 344 in all, according to Dr. Abdul Hamidi, head of the Helmand Police Clinic. “This year is worse than all previous years; it’s really bad,” Dr. Hamidi said in December.
Most of the seriously wounded men come to the Emergency Hospital here, run by an international aid group based in Italy. Many of the wounded expressed anger with what they said was a lack of help from the central authorities.
“The government is only a government in name — they will not give me anything,” said Mohammad Qassim, 28, who lost his right leg in a bombing in Marja, where he was an officer with the Afghan Local Police, a militia nominally under the command of the central government. Both his brothers are also militia members who have received nothing from the government after being wounded. “With the Taliban, if one Talib dies they give 15,000 afghanis to the family a month for two years. Our government is weaker than the Taliban.” That pension would be about $275 a month.
Members of the Afghan National Police or army who are disabled are supposed to get a pension equal to their last salary for life. Survivors of those who are killed should get the same pension. But a combination of corruption, mismanagement and daunting bureaucracy keeps many from getting paid.
Officers with the Afghan Local Police, who are paid by the government for fighting, get nothing when they are wounded, even though they have a disproportionately high share of casualties in places like Helmand, where fighting is intense. That is why Saheb, who also has one name, found himself so desperate. An Afghan Local Police commander in Paktika Province, Saheb was wounded when his vehicle hit a land mine while in pursuit of Taliban fighters. Months after his injury, he had stopped receiving his salary and he was not entitled to a pension.
In Kabul and at six other locations around the country, the International Committee of the Red Cross runs rehabilitation centers that fit prostheses for free, teach patients how to walk again and provide job training. But Saheb could not afford transportation to go to the nearest center, in Kabul, and to stay there for the months of therapy he would need once he got a prosthesis.
“It was a very sad moment for me,” he said. “And it was a very sad moment for her as well,” he added, referring to his daughter, Noor Bibi. The girl was unhappy about being sold for marriage, he said, but “in Pashtun society, when the father wants something, the daughter has to give it, even if she is not happy.”
Saheb was not happy either. “Selling my daughter was worse than losing my leg,” he said. After getting his new leg in Kabul, Saheb returned to his village in Paktika Province, where he remains jobless.
Alberto Cairo, who runs the orthopedic rehabilitation program for the Red Cross, said there were plenty of facilities to help Afghanistan’s wounded with rehabilitation. But what is more difficult, he said, is helping people survive in communities where wheelchair ramps and other accommodations are unknown or impractical, and where they often find themselves shunned.
Fardeen, the former police officer, says that is what befell him. His wife took their two children and left, and his father threw him out of his house. He burst into tears telling his story. “I live in a hell of difficulties,” he said.
Officials at the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyred and Disabled said they had no record he had ever applied for his pension. Fardeen said that he had, but had never received the money.
It is a common complaint, and the Afghan government’s chronic financial problems over the past year have meant that payments are often late and the processing of applications is slow. Disabled officers from the national police and soldiers with the regular army should receive a 100 percent pension, and qualify for preferential treatment for scholarships and other benefits. But even those who qualify often complain of random and missing payments.
Regular Afghan National Army soldiers tend to fare better than the police, and unpaid pensions are less of a problem for them. The treatment they get at the country’s main military hospital in Kabul is far better than policemen can hope to find in ordinary hospitals. An entire ward is set aside for those who have had recent amputations. Soldiers there praised their medical treatment, but many said they felt neglected by the society they served.
“There’s no sense of appreciation in Afghanistan for what we have done and the sacrifices we have made,” said Sgt. Hashmatullah Barakzai, 26, a special forces soldier who was attacked while on leave by an insurgent who threw a grenade into his home, costing him his right leg. He was engaged when that happened; his fiancée broke it off at her family’s insistence, he said.
The police and soldiers, as bad as their problems are, represent only a small portion of Afghanistan’s disabled population. Nearly four decades of war have left an estimated 3 million people disabled, said Abdul Khaliq Zazai, executive director of Accessibility Organization for Afghan Disabled. The figures include mental and physical disabilities, and encompass both civilians and security forces. Civilian victims are entitled to government pensions of just $100 a month. Those who receive them are only a fraction of the total; nearly 300,000 such pensions are being disbursed.
Many Afghans have disabilities that are not immediately visible, Mr. Zazai said, citing severe mental problems from trauma. One woman had severe burns, he said, and was ashamed to show anyone her wounds. “There are many such cases.”