Forced Out: Obama Announces Chuck Hagel’s Resignation

November 24, 2014

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and President Obama at a White House press conference announcing Mr. Hagel’s resignation. Credit Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

By Jim Miklaszewski
NBC News

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has resigned under pressure amid criticism of the president’s national security team on a series of global issues, including the threat posed by the militant group known as ISIS.

During a statement at the White House, President Barack Obama called Hagel “an exemplary Defense Secretary” and “a great friend of mine” who helped steer the military amid a time of great transition at the Pentagon.

“When it’s mattered most behind closed doors, in the Oval Office, you’ve always given it to me straight. For that, I will always be grateful,” Obama said, noting Hagel’s willingness to take the job despite hailing from the Republican Party.

Hagel called serving in the post “the greatest privilege of my life.”

In a separate written statement sent to Pentagon staff, Hagel said: “You should know I did not make this decision lightly. But after much discussion, the President and I agreed that now was the right time for new leadership here at the Pentagon.”

But behind the scenes, the departure appeared to be less rosy. Senior defense officials told NBC News Monday that Hagel was forced to resign. Those officials said the White House lost confidence in the former Nebraska senator to carry out his role at the Pentagon.

According to one senior official, “He wasn’t up to the job.”

Another senior administration official said that Hagel has been discussing a departure from the White House “for several weeks.”
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Obama ‘Grateful’ for Hagel’s Service at Secretary of Defense

 

“Over the past two years, Secretary Hagel helped manage an intense period of transition for the United States Armed Forces, including the drawdown in Afghanistan, the need to prepare our forces for future missions, and tough fiscal choices to keep our military strong and ready,” the official said. “Over nearly two years, Secretary Hagel has been a steady hand, guiding our military through this transition, and helping us respond to challenges from ISIL to Ebola. In October, Secretary Hagel began speaking with the President about departing the Administration given the natural post-midterms transition time.”

Multiple sources also said that Hagel was originally brought to the job to wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but, as the fight against the Islamic State ramped up, he was not as well matched for the post.

“Rather than winding down two wars, we’re winding up,” said one source close to Hagel and top Pentagon officials.

In a statement, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain suggested that Hagel had his own frustrations with Obama’s team. “I know that Chuck was frustrated with aspects of the Administration’s national security policy and decision-making process,” he said. “His predecessors have spoken about the excessive micro-management they faced from the White House and how that made it more difficult to do their jobs successfully. Chuck’s situation was no different.”

A successor will be named “in short order,” an official said, but Hagel will stay in the job until his replacement is confirmed.

That replacement will not be named today, administration sources said, but possible nominees include: Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, former Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy (who would be the first female Defense Secretary) and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B Carter.

Hagel, the only Republican on the president’s national security team and the first enlisted combat veteran to lead the Department of Defense, has served in the job since February 2013. His tenure began with a shaky performance at his confirmation hearing in January of that year.

The news of Hagel’s departure was first reported by the New York Times.

- NBC’s Chris Jansing, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann contributed

http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/first-read/forced-out-obama-announces-chuck-hagels-resignation-n254846

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Hagel Submits Resignation as Defense Chief Under Pressure

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel handed in his resignation on Monday, the first cabinet-level casualty of the collapse of President Obama’s Democratic majority in the Senate and the struggles of his national security team to respond to an onslaught of global crises.

In announcing Mr. Hagel’s resignation from the State Dining Room on Monday, the president, flanked by Mr. Hagel and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., called Mr. Hagel critical to ushering the military “through a significant period of transition” and lauded “a young Army sergeant from Vietnam who rose to serve as America’s 24th secretary of defense.”

Mr. Obama called Mr. Hagel “no ordinary secretary of defense,” adding that he had “been in the dirt” of combat like no other defense chief. He said that Mr. Hagel would remain in the job until his successor is confirmed by the Senate.

Administration officials said that Mr. Obama made the decision to remove Mr. Hagel, the sole Republican on his national security team, last Friday after a series of meetings between the two men over the past two weeks.

Read the rest:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/25/us/hagel-said-to-be-stepping-down-as-defense-chief-under-pressure.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=span-ab-top-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

 

Putin strengthens ties with Georgia breakaway region; Tbilisi protests

November 24, 2014

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Abkhazia's President Raul Khadzhimba during a signing ceremony at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi November 24, 2014.    REUTERS-Alexei Druzhinin-RIA Novosti-Kremlin
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Abkhazia’s President Raul Khadzhimba during a signing ceremony at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi November 24, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

(Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin signed a “strategic partnership” agreement with Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia on Monday, angering Tbilisi, which said Moscow was looking to annex the territory.

Russia and Georgia fought a war in 2008 over Abkhazia and a twin region of South Ossetia, provoking the worst crisis between Moscow and the West since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Moscow recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries following the war and Monday’s move comes just seven months after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea and threw its weight behind separatists battling in eastern Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) shakes hands with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu during a meeting at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi, November 24, 2014.    REUTERS-Alexei Druzhinin-RIA Novosti-Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) shakes hands with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu during a meeting at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi, November 24, 2014.  Credit: REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

Putin and Abkhazia’s leader Raul Khadzhimba signed the agreement in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, which sits just across the Russian border from the separatist region.

Georgia’s Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili denounced the move as “a step towards annexation of Abkhazia by the Russian Federation” and urged the international community to condemn it.

“The signing of this document will have a negative impact on the security situation in Georgia’s occupied territories as well as in the broader context of European security,” she said, adding that the deal infringed Georgia’s territorial integrity.

Under the terms of Monday’s accord, Putin said Russia would grant 5 billion rubles ($111.4 million) to Abkhazia, which has a population of just 240,000 from a cocktail of ethnic groups.

The agreement, posted on the Kremlin website, envisages developing a “joint defense and security space” and stipulates Russian “protection of the state border of the Republic of Abkhazia with Georgia”.

It also obliges Russia to facilitate “in every possible way” growth of Abkhazia’s international ties and promote its recognition by other countries.

Moscow said it would also ease requirements for Abkhazia residents to obtain Russian citizenship, but Moscow has not voiced any plans to annex the territory.

Georgian President Georgy Margvelashvili called the agreement “absurd and illogical”.

Some Georgian officials say Putin may now sign a similar deal with South Ossetia, which already depends on Russia’s financial and political support, although it has less strategic, geographic importance for Moscow than Abkhazia.

($1 = 44.8810 Russian rouble)

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Moscow, Denis Dyomkin in Sochi, Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi; Editing by Crispian Balmer)

Russia faces recession as oil crash and sanctions cost economy

November 24, 2014

Russia: Anton Siluanov, Russia’s finance minister, has warned that the economy could face a hit from falling oil prices, weeks after Vladimir Putin claimed that they had been manipulated by political forces

A company handout photograph shows the oil production platform at the Sakhalin-I field in Russia, partly owned by ONGC Videsh Ltd., Rosneft Oil Co., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Japan's Sakhalin Oil and Gas Development Co

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Brent crude traded at around $80 a barrel last week. Photo: Bloomberg News

The Russian economy could plunge into a fresh recession, Anton Siluanov, the country’s finance minister, has warned.

“We are losing around $40bn [£26bn] per year due to geopolitical sanctions and we are losing some $90bn [£58bn] to $100bn [£64bn] per year due to oil prices falling 30 pc,” Mr Siluanov said in a speech in Moscow, reported by RIA Novosti news agency.

Brent – an oil classification which serves as a global benchmark – has already plummeted by as much as 30pc from a peak of $115 a barrel in June.

If the price of oil fell to $60 a barrel and sanctions intensified, the economy would fall into a recession in 2015, Mr Siluanov said.

Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, has previously suggested that the decline in global prices has been engineered by political forces.

In early November he said: “The obvious reason for the decline in global oil prices is the slowdown in the rate of [global] economic growth which means consumption is being reduced in a whole range of countries”.

In addition to this, “a political component is always present in oil prices. Furthermore, at some moments of crisis it starts to feel like it is the politics that prevails in the pricing of energy resources”, he added.

China Says South China Sea Construction Project “Completely Justifiable” — “They want to change the South China Sea into a Chinese lake.”

November 24, 2014

China says its construction of an island on top of a reef in the contested Spratly Islands is ‘completely justifiable.’ It appears the expanded island could accommodate an airfield.

“In reality they want to change … the South China Sea into a Chinese lake.”

By Arthur Bright
The Christian Science Monitor

China has dismissed a US call to halt construction on a new artificial island it is building in the disputed South China Sea, calling the US “biased.” The island under construction is reportedly large enough to accommodate an airfield, and would give China a new base of operations in a region where it contests claims with several other countries.

Retired Chinese Gen. Luo Yuan told the state-owned Global Times that the 3,000-meter-long island being dredged on Fiery Cross Reef, also known as Yongshu Reef, in the Spratly Islands “is completely legitimate and justifiable.” His comments echo China’s longstanding line, reiterated last month by a Chinese defense spokesman, that “China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters.”

The Spratly Islands, whose surrounding waters are home to numerous natural resources, are contested by several countries, including Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. But unlike most of its competitors, notes defense outlet IHS Janes, China has lacked a base of operations in the region with an airfield.

Recommended: Asia’s troubled waters: What’s going on in the South China Sea? Take our quiz.

But Janes reported last Thursday that satellite imagery shows that over the past three months, China appears to have built a 3,000-meter by 400- to 500-meter island on top of Fiery Cross Reef. The Chinese military site had already been home to “a pier, air-defence guns, anti-frogmen defences, communications equipment, and a greenhouse,” but the expanded island looks large enough to host an airfield.

The work at Fiery Cross thus brings parity but is likely to cause alarm among the other claimants. China has previously shown it is willing to spend blood and treasure to assert its territorial claims in this region. Given its massive military advantage over the other claimants in terms of quantity and quality of materiel, this facility appears purpose-built to coerce other claimants into relinquishing their claims and possessions, or at least provide China with a much stronger negotiating position if talks over the dispute were ever held.

The US over the weekend called on China “to stop its land reclamation program and engage in diplomatic initiatives to encourage all sides to restrain themselves in these sorts of activities,” Reuters reports. But China had little use for the US suggestion.

“I think anyone in the outside world has no right to make irresponsible remarks on China-related activities,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Monday.

The Christian Science Monitor reported in August that this year has seen a much testier relationship between China and its fellow claimants of the South China Sea. China has made “a series of forceful steps” to bolster its position in the region – but they appear “to violate an agreement that China signed with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) 12 years ago in which both sides pledged to ‘exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.’”

“China has been very opportunistic, pushing and pushing to see what they can get … and taking as much as they can,” says David Arase, who teaches international politics at the Johns Hopkins University campus in Nanjing, China.

By taking small steps to avoid provoking Washington to act in support of its regional allies, China is trying to “dishearten” rival claimants and “resign them to the fact that they have to give up their rights,” Professor Arase says.

“They are continuing with their salami slicing, reef by reef, step by step,” said Tran Truong Thuy, an analyst at Vietnam’s Institute for East Sea Studies, at a recent CSIS conference. “In reality they want to change … the South China Sea into a Chinese lake.”

But China’s forceful push – spurred in part by President Xi Jinping’s effort to appear strong to the public back home – risks alienating its neighbors, and making its coexistence with them more challenging than it needs to be. “China’s Navy could already beat all the ASEAN navies. The question is whether it would be worth it,” Xue Li, head of the international strategy department at the China Academy of Social Sciences, told the Monitor. “We would pick up a sesame seed and throw away a watermelon.”

Related stories

Read this story at csmonitor.com

Related here on Peace and Freedom:

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Satellite images show that since reclaiming the Spratly Islands in August, workers have expanded one stretch of sand to make it long enough for aircraft to land and take off 

Satellite images show that since reclaiming the Spratly Islands in August, workers have expanded one stretch of sand to make it long enough for aircraft to land and take off

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A photograph taken in February of the Johnson South Reef in the South China Sea, a reef occupied by China but also claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam. According to the Philippine Foreign Affairs Department, this photo appears to show large-scale reclamation being carried out in stages by China. — Photo: Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs

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A Chinese Coastguard vessel patrols near the BRP Sierra Madre, a marooned transport ship which Philippine Marines live on as a military outpost, in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea March 30, 2014. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

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An example of what Vietnam calls  China’s “lawlessness” at sea: A Chinese ship rams and collides with a Vietnamese vessel in contested waters of the South China Sea. Photo: AFP photograb

In May 2014, China moved its largest ocean going oil rig to the waters near Vietnam. The oil drilling rig remained in place for more than a month despite Vietnamese diplomatic moves to protest.

China considers much of the South China Sea its territory based on its nine-dash line map. The map covers an area that extends hundreds of miles south from Hainan Island and takes in the Paracels, which are claimed by Vietnam, and the Spratly Islands, some of which are claimed by the Philippines. China is creating artificial islands in the Spratly area.

China claims to own all the South China Sea inside the “nine dash line” as seen here.

China claims ownership of about 90% of the South China Sea. Most of China’s neighbors believe otherwise.

The chart below shows the area declared by China on 1 January 2014 as “an area under China’s jurisdiction.” China says “foreign fishing vessels” can only enter and work in this area with prior approval from China. Vietnam, the Philippines and others have said they will not comply with China’s law. Experts say, this could be the geographic area that China could declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

 

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “Fired” By President Obama — “He Was Not Up To The Job”

November 24, 2014

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White House insiders have told Jennifer Griffin of Fox News that U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was “fired” by President Barack Obama.

The senior White House sources is quoted as saying, “Hagel was not up to the job.”

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will step down, a senior administration official confirmed this morning to Fox News.

Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin reported on “America’s Newsroom” that the move had been discussed between President Obama and Hagel in recent weeks.

The resignation is being described as mutual by the administration, but Griffin reported that Hagel has been under pressure to leave.

She pointed to recent reports about Hagel standing up to National Security Adviser Susan Rice about the strategy against ISIS.

Meantime, Fox News’ James Rosen identifies some possible replacements as Michèle Flournoy, Ash Carter and Jack Reed.

National security analyst K.T. McFarland weighed in after the news broke, saying she believes Flournoy or Carter would be confirmed easily.

Stay tuned to Fox News for continuing coverage of the developing story.

Read more from AP:

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down from President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, senior administration officials said Monday, following a tenure in which he has struggled to break through the White House’s insular foreign policy team.

Hagel is the first senior Obama adviser to leave the administration following the sweeping losses for Obama’s party in the midterm elections. It also comes as the president’s national security team has been battered by multiple foreign policy crises, include the rise of the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

A senior defense official said that Hagel submitted his resignation letter to Obama on Monday morning and the president accepted it. Hagel agreed to remain in office until his successor is confirmed by the Senate, the official said.

The official said both Hagel and Obama “determined that it was time for new leadership in the Pentagon,” adding that they had been discussing the matter over a period of several weeks.

Obama was to announce Hagel’s resignation Monday. The president is not expected to nominate a new Pentagon chief Monday, according to one official.

The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter by name ahead of Obama’s official announcement.

Hagel is a Republican who served as senator from Nebraska and became a critic of U.S. involvement in Iraq. Obama nominated him to succeed Leon Panetta as Defense Secretary in his second term.

Hagel served in the Vietnam War and received two Purple Hearts.

http://insider.foxnews.com/2014/11/24/griffin-defense-secy-hagel-resigning-under-pressure

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Chuck Hagel criticised for India-Afghanistan remarks

Former Republican senator is likely to remain in his post until his successor is appointed Photo: GETTY

Gates and Panetta Blast Obama for Micromanaging Military

Former Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta have joined in accusing President Obama and the White House National Security Council staff (NSC) of micromanaging the military to the point of attempting to set up direct lines of communication to combatant commanders.

“It was micromanagement that drove me crazy,” Gates said at the Reagan National Defense Forum at President Ronald Reagan’s library in California over the weekend.

Leon E. Panetta, right, and his predecessor Robert M. Gates, share a laugh during the ceremony to unveil a portrait of Gates at the Pentagon, Oct. 29, 2012. (DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

Leon E. Panetta, right, and his predecessor Robert M. Gates, share a laugh during the ceremony to unveil a portrait of Gates at the Pentagon, Oct. 29, 2012. (DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

Gates said he had to deal with members of the NSC staff who directly called four-star generals on matters of strategy and tactics. The White House also attempted to make direct contact with Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), Gates said.

“I told JSOC if they got a call from the White House you tell them to go to hell and call me,” Gates said to a round of applause from the audience.

Gates said the Obama White House too often let politics influence the policy when it came to the Defense Department.

“I think when a President wants highly centralized control at the White House, that’s not bureaucratic, that’s political,” said Gates, a Republican.

At the same forum, Panetta, a Democrat, had similar criticisms of Obama and his staff on military matters, and singled out the current campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in which Obama has ruled out the use ground combat troops.

“Never tell your enemy what the hell you’re going to do,” Panetta said.

Panetta and Gates were essentially renewing the criticism they aimed at Obama in their recent books – Panetta in “Worthy Fights” and Gates in “Duty.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who was on the panel with Gates and Panetta, charged that the White House was picking targets to be bombed in the airstrikes against ISIS.

“We’ve seen this Vietnam movie before,” McCain said in a reference to former President Lyndon B. Johnson picking targets in Vietnam.

Gates also made a brief reference to Johnson, in whose administration he had his first government job.

Of all the presidents he served, Gates said, Obama and Johnson were the most inclined to micromanage when it came to the military.

The White House pushed back hard when the Gates book was published, sending surrogates on the talk shows to dispute Gates’ criticisms on Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This rush to do books by people who leave an administration while the administration is ongoing, I think is unfortunate,” former Obama Chief of Staff Bill Daley said on the CBS’ “This Morning” program.

“It’s one thing as historians look back on an administration, but in the middle of it, when you’re pursuing a war at the same time, and one that is very controversial with the American people and been very difficult on our military, I think it’s just a disservice, to be very frank with you,” Daley said.

– Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@monster.com

http://www.military.com/daily-news/2014/11/17/gates-and-panetta-blast-obama-for-micromanaging-military.html

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s resignation was expected to be announced by President Obama on Monday. Credit Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Hagel Said to Be Stepping Down as Defense Chief Under Pressure

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down under pressure, the first cabinet-level casualty of the collapse of President Obama’s Democratic majority in the Senate and the struggles of his national security team to respond to an onslaught of global crises.

The president, who is expected to announce Mr. Hagel’s resignation in a Rose Garden appearance on Monday, made the decision to ask his defense secretary — the sole Republican on his national security team — to step down last Friday after a series of meetings over the past two weeks, senior administration officials said.

The officials described Mr. Obama’s decision to remove Mr. Hagel, 68, as a recognition that the threat from the Islamic State would require a different kind of skills than those that Mr. Hagel was brought on to employ. A Republican with military experience who was skeptical about the Iraq war, Mr. Hagel came in to manage the Afghanistan combat withdrawal and the shrinking Pentagon budget in the era of budget sequestration.

Read the rest:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/25/us/hagel-said-to-be-stepping-down-as-defense-chief-under-pressure.html?_r=0

 

Russia says ‘substantial progress’ made in Iran talks — perhaps three or four months more before agreement

November 24, 2014

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MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday substantial progress had been made in talks on Iran’s nuclear programme though they failed to produce a final deal before a self-imposed deadline.

“Substantial progress was made,” Lavrov said in Vienna, in comments broadcast by Rossiya 24 television.

He said he expected that in three or four months the parties would agree on the “basic principles” of a final document.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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  5. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov: West trying to ‘secure regime change’ The Week (RSS)

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New Iran Nuclear talks deadlines: March 1, July 1, 2015

By Jim Sciutto, Nic Robertson and Holly Yan, CNN
updated 9:00 AM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
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Vienna, Austria (CNN) — A new deadline for a political framework agreement for Iran’s Nuclear talks has been set for March 1, 2015, a Western diplomat tells CNN on Monday, with a deadline for final agreement including annexes on July 1.

Negotiators had been scrambling to reach a deal on Iran’s nuclear program before a Monday night deadline. The negotiators included representatives from Iran and the P5+1 countries — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain), plus Germany.

The parties involved will release a statement Monday citing “good progress” from their talks in Vienna, a Western diplomat told CNN. The negotiations will reconvene at a lower level — below the level of foreign ministers — in the coming weeks.

A deal could have brought an end to significant sanctions against Tehran and a warming of relations with the West. The absence of a deal could ramp up tensions and could lead to more punitive measures — and even confrontation — over Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

Iran insists that like other countries, it has a right to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes. But Western powers have accused Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons as well.

And the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who was not part of the Vienna talks, said last week that Iranian authorities continue denying his agency access to a sensitive military complex suspected of being a site of nuclear activities.

Major disagreement

One of the primary sticking points in this round of talks has been how to lift sanctions against Iran.

Hardliners in Iran have insisted that significant sanctions be lifted right away as a sign of good faith from the P5+1 countries. Such penalties, including banking and energy sanctions, would affect tens of billions of dollars.

Earlier this month, 200 Iranian members of parliament signed a statement demanding that Iranian negotiators “vigorously defend” the country’s nuclear rights and ensure a “total lifting of sanctions.”

International nuclear watchdog: Iran needs to cooperate

But P5+1 members have said they’d prefer to lift the sanctions incrementally so they can have leverage on Iran and to make sure Tehran makes good on its commitments to whatever deal is reached.

Media in Tehran were skeptical about a resolution before the Monday night deadline.

Reaching a deal by the deadline “would be impossible” based on the differences that remain between negotiators, the Iranian Students’ News Agency reported Sunday, citing an unidentified Iranian official involved in the talks.

Before Monday’s extension of talks, a U.S. State Department official said negotiators had been “chipping away” at the issues.

“The focus of discussions remains on an agreement, but we are discussing both internally and with our partners a range of options for the best path forward,” the official said.

This isn’t the first time negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program have been extended. The previous deadline had been pushed back four months, to this round of talks.

Pressure on both sides

Both Iranian and American officials will face a difficult political environment at home as they return without a deal.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have faced domestic political pressure to strike a deal. An extension could sharpen opposition both in the United States and in Iran.

In the United States, Republicans will control the Senate in January, and lawmakers have threatened fresh sanctions on Iran if a deal is not reached. Although Obama has the power to veto, just the prospect of additional sanctions could drive Iran away from the table.

Will Congress kill an Iran nuclear deal?

Obama has said that if an agreement is reached, he thinks he can get the approval of Congress and Americans at large.

“I’m confident that if we reach a deal that is verifiable and assures that Iran does not have breakout capacity, that not only can I persuade Congress, but I can persuade the American people that it’s the right thing to do,” he said in an interview aired Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

But the senior U.S. State Department official told CNN on Sunday that the Iranians “still have big decisions that need to be made.”

Jim Sciutto and Nic Robertson reported from Vienna; Holly Yan and Ralph Ellis wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Reza Sayah in Tehran contributed to this report.

Israel Again Destroying Homes of Palestinian Attackers

November 24, 2014

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By Karin Laub

JERUSALEM (AP) — In razing family homes of Palestinian attackers, Israel is reviving a draconian punishment it largely halted a decade ago as ineffective and counterproductive.

Israel says it is resuming the demolitions — condemned by human rights groups as a violation of international law — because it needs more tools to stop a recent wave of Palestinian attacks on Jews.

Such arguments elicit anger and defiance in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, home of six recent assailants, including two cousins who killed five people in a synagogue last week. Some residents said oppressive Israeli policies are to blame for growing tensions in the city.

Violence “will only stop when they end the occupation,” said Enas Shalodi, 43, whose fourth-floor apartment near Jerusalem’s Old City was wrecked by troops with hammers and explosives last week.

Her son Abdel Rahman, 21, drove his car into a Jerusalem train station Oct. 22, killing a 3-month-old girl and a tourist before being shot dead at the scene. His mother insists it was an accident, despite video showing the car slowing down, turning off the road and appearing to accelerate into the crowd.

Human rights groups say razing homes as a deterrent amounts to collective punishment and violates the rules that govern occupied territories, such as east Jerusalem — captured by Israel in 1967, along with the West Bank and Gaza.

In this Nov. 19, 2014 file photo Palestinians hang national flag inside the demolished apartment of Abdel Rahman al-Shaludi in east Jerusalem on. Israeli authorities demolished the apartment as a punitive measure after al-Shaludi’s deadly attack with his car on a Jerusalem train station last month which left two people dead. Israel says it is resuming demolitions because it needs more tools to stop a recent wave of Palestinian attacks on Jews. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean, File)

“This is a deliberate policy of punishing the innocent,” said Sarit Michaeli of B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group. “This is completely unacceptable in a country that aims to be a democracy.”

Government spokesman Mark Regev said homeowners can fight demolition orders in court.

“We need more tools in our tool box,” said Regev. “How does one deter an individual who doesn’t care about his own life or the lives of people he is about to murder? The security services firmly believe that this can be an effective deterrent.”

Israel has demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes as punishment since 1967, along with thousands more that were razed for other reasons, such as lack of building permits, which Palestinians say are difficult to obtain from Israel.

Between 1987 and 2005, a period encompassing two Palestinian uprisings, Israel destroyed 1,115 Palestinian homes as punishment, partially demolished 64 and sealed or partially sealed 417, according to B’Tselem.

In February 2005, Israel’s then-defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, ordered demolitions suspended. An army committee concluded at the time that the practice had not deterred attackers but had instead inflamed hatred. The suspension came after four years in which Palestinian bombers and gunmen killed more than 1,000 Israelis.

Now tensions are rising again, particularly in Jerusalem, against the backdrop of growing Palestinian discontent. Palestinians in the city complain of official discrimination and fear Israel is marginalizing them further with settlements and a separation barrier slicing through Arab neighborhoods.

Religious passions among Muslims — the vast majority of the city’s Palestinians — have been stoked by demands from some members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition to allow Jewish worship at a major Jerusalem shrine that is run by Muslims but is sacred to both faiths.

In this climate, lone Palestinian assailants have struck repeatedly in Jerusalem.

In August, the driver of a construction vehicle ran over and killed an inspector at a building site.

In October, a week after the attack by Shalodi, a waiter shot and severely wounded a rabbi who has been pushing for Jewish prayer rights at the contested holy site. In early November, a motorist slammed a minivan into a crowd waiting at a train station, killing two people.

Last week, cousins Ghassan and Oday Abu Jamal, wielding meat cleavers, knives and a handgun killed four Jewish worshippers and a policeman in the synagogue attack.

All six assailants were shot dead by security forces on the spot and Netanyahu ordered their family homes demolished.

Cabinet minister Yaakov Peri, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, said lone assailants can’t be stopped with conventional means.

“The only solution is very strong deterrence of a pinpoint nature,” said Peri, adding that house demolitions would have to be carried out quickly to be effective.

Shalodi’s home was the first to be destroyed because his family did not appeal. The other five families have submitted appeals and will go to the Supreme Court if needed, their lawyers said.

Israel’s high court has overwhelmingly ruled against Palestinian homeowners in the past, according to B’Tselem.

Enas Shalodi, her husband and six children lived in an apartment in a five-story building that houses six other families, all in-laws. The Shalodis have moved next door into a brother-in-law’s apartment that is vacant until April or May, but she said she has no money to pay rent once her relatives reclaim their home. Her old apartment is gutted, with debris strewn on the floor and holes blown into outer walls.

The family of Oday Abu Jamal, 22, has already removed most belongings from their three-bedroom home in the Jabal Mukaber neighborhood.

The demolition will displace eight people, said Oday’s mother Fatima, 53.

This includes herself, her husband, four unmarried children, a sister-in-law and a bedridden mother-in-law. The elderly woman, bundled in blankets, lay on a bed in a dark room in the house.

Fatima said she had been unaware of her son’s plan to attack the synagogue, describing him as a quiet young man who worked as a laborer. She blocked questions about the gruesome nature of his act.

In her grief, she appeared almost indifferent to the likely loss of her home.

“My son is gone,” she said. “I want my son, not the house. They come to demolish the house? Let them.”

Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

UK faces biggest threat to its security since 9/11: Interior Minister

November 24, 2014

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Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May delivers a speech at RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) in central London, November 24, 2014. REUTERS-Toby Melville
Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May delivers a speech at RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) in central London, November 24, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville

(Reuters) – Britain faces a bigger threat to its security from terrorism than at any time before or since the Sept. 11 2001 attacks on the United States, Home Secretary Theresa May said on Monday.

The government will introduce new counter-terrorism legislation on Wednesday to tackle a range of threats, May said, particularly from Britons who have returned from fighting in Syria and Iraq alongside Islamist militants.

“When the security and intelligence agencies tell us that the threat we face is now more dangerous than at any time before or since 9/11 we should take notice,” she told an audience in London.

An armed police officer guards outside of the Houses of Parliament in central London, November 24, 2014. REUTERS-Toby Melville

An armed police officer guards outside of the Houses of Parliament in central London, November 24, 2014.  Credit: REUTERS/Toby Melville

May said that since 52 people were killed when four young Britons carried out suicide bombings in London in 2005, around 40 terrorist plots had been disrupted.

These included attempts to conduct Mumbai-style gun attacks on British streets, a plot to blow up the London Stock Exchange, plans to bring down airliners and conspiracies to murder a British ambassador and military servicemen.

“Almost all of these attacks have been prevented,” said May. “But as the IRA once boasted, the terrorists only have to be lucky once.”

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Stephen Addison)

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Home Secretary Theresa May in conversation with the Telegraph

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Home Secretary Theresa May in conversation with the Telegraph Photo: David Rose/The Telegraph

Schools, prisons and councils will be required to fight radicalisation, Theresa May says

The Home Secretary Theresa May announces a statutory duty will be placed on named organisations to help deter radicalization

By Agency

Schools, prisons and councils are to be required by law to put in place measures to stop would-be extremists from being drawn into terrorism, the Home Secretary has announced.

A statutory duty will be placed on named organisations – such as colleges, universities, the police and probation providers – to help deter radicalisation and, where organisations fail, ministers will be able to issue court-enforced directions to them, Theresa May told a counter-terrorism event in London.

The move is part of a package of changes in the new Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill designed to tighten up protections in the UK, which will be introduced to Parliament on Wednesday.

The Home Secretary said: “We are engaged in a struggle that is fought on many fronts and in many forms. It is a struggle that will go on for many years.

“And the threat we face right now is perhaps greater than it ever has been – we must have the powers we need to defend ourselves.”

Mrs May said examples of measures organisations could be required to put in place were extremist speaker policies in universities.

She said: “The organisations subject to the duty will have to take into account guidance issued by the Home Secretary.

“Where organisations consistently fail, ministers will be able to issue directions to them – which will be enforceable by court order.”

The new legislation will include measures to ban insurance companies from footing the bill for terrorist ransoms, Mrs May said, as well as previously announced plans to prevent suspected foreign fighters from returning to the UK for a period of time.

Terrorism Prevention and Investigations Measures (TPims) will also be strengthened to re-introduce powers in Labour’s control orders to relocate terror suspects around the country.

In her speech, the Home Secretary revealed 40 terror plots had been foiled since the London July 7 attacks.

She underlined the scale of counter-terror work in the last four to seven years.

Since April 2010, 753 people have been arrested for terrorism-related offences, 212 have been charged and 148 have been successfully prosecuted, she said.

A total of 138 people are behind bars serving sentences for terrorism-related offences, Mrs May added, while 13 people, including hook-handed radical cleric Abu Hamza, have been extradited.

The Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit has removed 65,000 items from the internet that “encouraged or glorified acts of terrorism”, the Home Secretary said.

And at present, content relating to Islamic State (IS), Syria and Iraq represents around 70 per cent of the Unit’s caseload.

Mrs May revealed she has now excluded 61 people from the UK on national security grounds and 72 people because their presence here “would not have been conducive to the public good”.

In total, she has excluded 84 “hate preachers”.

Since May 2010, Mrs May has revoked the British citizenship of 27 people, the overwhelming majority because of terrorist activities, and since April 2013, she has refused or cancelled 29 passports to disrupt the travel of people planning to engage in terrorist-related activity overseas.

China’s Global Times: Yongshu Reef Project in the South China Sea Not a Concern of US — Philippines and Vietnam Need To “Get Used To It”

November 24, 2014

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Vietnam and the Philippines are expected to make a mountain out of a molehill

From The Global Times

The US military has urged China to halt its vast land reclamation project on the Yongshu Reef in the Nansha Islands on Friday. It claimed the project is one of several pursued by China and that it could accommodate an airstrip. The US hopes that China and other countries around the South China Sea cease such efforts.

According to Western reports, in the past three months, China built an island at least 3,000 meters long and between 200 and 300 meters wide. They believe China is building an airfield, which may change “the strategic landscape in the South China Sea.”

In August, the US urged all sides to halt disputed actions, including construction. It seemed impartial, but its real intention was to contain China. In previous years, Vietnam and the Philippines have done whatever they could, such as constructing facilities and allowing people to dwell on the reefs in the Nansha Islands. But when China recently gained the ability to do the same, the US stood up and urged all sides to stop these projects. This shows particular bias.

The US is not a claimant of the South China Sea. China does not support any intervention by external countries in disputes in the South China Sea. The US is even more unwelcome when it acts selfishly. China’s construction on the Yongshu Reef will not be affected by US words.

The Yongshu Reef is China’s territory and is under actual control of China. Due to the existing competition in the South China Sea, Vietnam and the Philippines are expected to make a mountain out of a molehill, yet they should still restrain their stances.

The Yongshu Reef is becoming a big island, which shows China’s prominent construction capabilities. More importantly, it is worth noting that China’s projects have avoided direct conflicts with Vietnam and the Philippines. It shows that China cherishes peace in the South China Sea. China will not take the initiative to compete with Vietnam and the Philippines to get the land by force, although China occupies an advantageous military position in the South China Sea.

Vietnam and the Philippines should get used to China’s island-construction in the South China Sea. We hope that the US can also get used to China’s more frequent presence in the seas. China has never openly urged US aircraft carriers to stop cruising in the South China Sea. US surveillance flights have often flown close to Chinese territory, which is even more unacceptable. Now the Pentagon points the finger at China over its island construction to display its smugness, and we should just ignore it.

China’s policies on the South China Sea will remain pragmatic. It is hoped that the US will stay calm and strike a balance when dealing with China over the South China Sea disputes. The world should be able to see that China has tried its best to avoid the sharpest disputes in the Nansha Islands when it acts on the Yongshu Reef.

If one looks at how a powerful party usually behaves over territorial disputes, one will realize that China’s reputation for being “tough” is utterly groundless.

Posted in: Editorial
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Satellite images show that since reclaiming the Spratly Islands in August, workers have expanded one stretch of sand to make it long enough for aircraft to land and take off 

Satellite images show that since reclaiming the Spratly Islands in August, workers have expanded one stretch of sand to make it long enough for aircraft to land and take off

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A photograph taken in February of the Johnson South Reef in the South China Sea, a reef occupied by China but also claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam. According to the Philippine Foreign Affairs Department, this photo appears to show large-scale reclamation being carried out in stages by China. — Photo: Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs

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A Chinese Coastguard vessel patrols near the BRP Sierra Madre, a marooned transport ship which Philippine Marines live on as a military outpost, in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea March 30, 2014. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

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An example of what Vietnam calls  China’s “lawlessness” at sea: A Chinese ship rams and collides with a Vietnamese vessel in contested waters of the South China Sea. Photo: AFP photograb

In May 2014, China moved its largest ocean going oil rig to the waters near Vietnam. The oil drilling rig remained in place for more than a month despite Vietnamese diplomatic moves to protest.

China considers much of the South China Sea its territory based on its nine-dash line map. The map covers an area that extends hundreds of miles south from Hainan Island and takes in the Paracels, which are claimed by Vietnam, and the Spratly Islands, some of which are claimed by the Philippines. China is creating artificial islands in the Spratly area.

China claims to own all the South China Sea inside the “nine dash line” as seen here.

China claims ownership of about 90% of the South China Sea. Most of China’s neighbors believe otherwise.

The chart below shows the area declared by China on 1 January 2014 as “an area under China’s jurisdiction.” China says “foreign fishing vessels” can only enter and work in this area with prior approval from China. Vietnam, the Philippines and others have said they will not comply with China’s law. Experts say, this could be the geographic area that China could declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

In Hong Kong’s Democracy Movement, Confrontational “Civic Passion” Grows Impatient With the Milder Protesters

November 24, 2014

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Wong Yeung-tat and his organization, Civic Passion, argue that only stronger action will win concessions from Hong Kong. Credit Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images

Activist Wong Yeung-tat attended a protest at the Mongkok occupy site on November 21, 2014 in Hong Kong. In a random poll of 513 people conducted by the University of Hong Kong, support for the movement was shown to have decreased with 83% of those surveyed saying the eight week occupation should end.

Earlier in the week, baliffs oversaw the removal of some barricades blocking access to Citic Tower after an injunction was requested by the owners. Hong Kong’s high court has authorized police to arrest protesters who obstruct bailiffs on the three interim restraining orders.

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A Struggle for the Soul of Hong Kong’s Protest Movement

The New York Times

HONG KONG — Most mornings for weeks, a shaven-headed, goateed, former screenwriter has held court in one of the pro-democracy protest camps here. In earthy, sometimes profane, lectures before dozens of supporters, Wong Yeung-tat has berated, mocked and goaded the government and, increasingly, the student protest leaders and democratic politicians he deems too timid.

“The Occupy campaign needs to be taken to a new level,” he said in an interview. “There needs to be escalation, occupation of more areas or maybe government buildings. The campaign at this stage has become too stable.”

Mr. Wong’s confrontational diatribes lie at the heart of a deepening struggle for the soul of Hong Kong’s protest movement. Having taken to the streets nearly two months ago to oppose election restrictions by Beijing, the protesters have become fractured by exhaustion, distrust and polarization over strategy.

Mr. Wong’s organization, Civic Passion, and a tangle of like-minded groups, Internet collectives and free-floating agitators have grown impatient with the milder path supported by most protesters. They argue that only stronger action, such as new occupations, can force concessions from the Hong Kong government and the Chinese Communist Party.

Read the rest:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/25/world/asia/a-struggle-for-the-soul-of-hong-kongs-protest-movement.html?ref=world&_r=0

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