Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez indicted on corruption charges

April 1, 2015

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By ERIC TUCKER and SEAN CARLIN

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Bob Menendez was indicted on corruption charges Wednesday, accused of using his office to improperly benefit a Florida eye doctor and political donor.

 

The indictment charged the New Jersey Democrat with 14 counts, including bribery and conspiracy, over his ties to Dr. Salomon Melgen, a wealthy doctor and the politician’s longtime friend.

Melgen also was charged in the case.

The indictment from a grand jury in New Jersey was the latest development in a federal investigation that came into public view when federal authorities raided Melgen’s medical offices two years ago. The investigation focused on whether the senator had improperly advocated on Melgen’s behalf, including by intervening in a Medicare billing dispute.

Menendez has acknowledged that he flew multiple times on Melgen’s private jet to the Dominican Republic and initially failed to properly pay for the trips. Menendez in 2013 agreed to reimburse Melgen $58,500 for the full cost of two flights.

The senator’s office later disclosed another flight, from Florida to New Jersey in 2011, and said Menendez had repaid Melgen $11,250 for it.

Last year, Menendez disclosed that his campaign accounts had paid a law firm $250,000 for legal costs related to investigations by the Justice Department and the Senate Ethics Committee of his ties to Melgen.

Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has acknowledged taking actions that could benefit Melgen, among them contacting U.S. health agencies to ask about billing practices and policies.

But the lawmaker has said he did nothing wrong and that he and Melgen have been friends for decades.

“We celebrated holidays together,” he once told reporters. “We have been there for family weddings and sad times like funerals and have given each other birthday, holiday and wedding presents, just as friends do.”

Photo by: J. Scott Applewhite

Melgen came under renewed scrutiny when government data last year showed he had received more in Medicare reimbursements in 2012 than any other doctor in the country.

Menendez becomes the first sitting U.S. senator to face indictment since then-Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, in 2008. Stevens was found guilty of concealing gifts from donors on financial disclosure statements, but the Justice Department later dropped the case after admitting that prosecutors failed to turn over evidence that would have been favorable to his defense.

Menedez joined the Senate in 2006 after serving more than a decade in the House of Representatives.

A lawyer and former mayor of Union City, New Jersey, Menendez also served in the New Jersey General Assembly and state Senate.

Even while under federal investigation, he has used his leadership position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to criticize negotiations between President Barack Obama’s administration and Iran on its nuclear program and has been outspoken in opposition to normalizing relations with Cuba.

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Associated Press writer Sean Carlin reported from Newark, New Jersey.

Related:

(2013)

Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program headed for double overtime

April 1, 2015

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Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, lefts, greets Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, upon the latter’s arrival for a meeting on Iran’s nuclear program with other officials from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United States and the European Union at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland Tuesday, March 31, 2015. Diplomats scrambled Tuesday to reach consensus on the outline of an Iran nuclear deal just hours ahead of a self-imposed deadline to produce an agreement. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program headed for double overtime on Wednesday, beset by competing claims and recriminations after differences forced diplomats to abandon their March 31 deadline for the outline of a deal.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry postponed his departure from the talks in the Swiss town of Lausanne for a second time and will remain until at least Thursday morning to continue negotiations, the State Department said. On Thursday, the latest round of talks will hit the weeklong mark with diplomats from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany scrambling to reach a framework accord with Iran.

“We continue to make progress but have not reached a political understanding,” spokeswoman Marie Harf said in announcing Kerry’s decision.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said negotiators were still facing a “tough struggle,” indicating the talks were not likely to end anytime soon. “Tonight there will be new proposals, new recommendations. I can’t predict whether that will sufficient to enable an agreement to be reached,” he said.

At the same time, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif accused his country’s negotiating partners, particularly the U.S., of having “defective” political will in the talks.

“I’ve always said that an agreement and pressure do not go together, they are mutually exclusive,” he told reporters. “So our friends need to decide whether they want to be with Iran based on respect or whether they want to continue based on pressure.”

The negotiators’ intention is to produce a joint statement outlining general political commitments to resolving concerns about the Iranians’ nuclear program in exchange for relief of economic sanctions against Iran. In addition, they are trying to fashion other documents that would lay out in more detail the steps they must take by June 30 to meet those goals.

But Iran has pushed back not only on the substance of the commitments the sides must make but to the form in which they will make them, demanding that it be a general statement with few specifics. That is politically unpalatable for the Obama administration which must convince a hostile Congress that it has made progress in the talks so lawmakers do not enact new sanctions that could destroy the negotiations.

Zarif said the result of this round of talks “will not be more than a statement.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry waits for the start of a meeting on Iran’s nuclear program with officials from Britain, France, Germany, China, the European Union and Iran at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland Tuesday, March 31, 2015. Diplomats scrambled Tuesday to reach consensus on the outline of an Iran nuclear deal just hours ahead of a self-imposed deadline to produce an agreement. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)

A senior Western official pushed back on that, saying that nothing about a statement had been decided and that Iran’s negotiating partners would not accept a document that contained no details. The official was not authorized to speak to the negotiations by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi named differences on sanctions relief as one dispute — but also suggested some softening of Tehran’s long-term insistence that all sanctions on his country be lifted immediately once a final deal takes effect.

He told Iranian TV that economic, financial, oil and bank sanctions imposed by the U.S., the European Union and others should be done away with as “the first step of the deal.” Alluding to separate U.N. sanctions he said a separate “framework” was needed for them.

Araghchi has spoken of a similar arrangement before. But both Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have since demanded full and total sanctions lifting, and the floating of the approach now suggested an Iranian shift.

Araghchi also rejected U.S. demands of strict controls on Iran’s uranium enrichment-related research and development, saying such activities “should continue.”

The U.S. and its negotiating partners want to crimp Iranian efforts to improve the performance of centrifuges that enrich uranium because advancing the technology could let Iran produce material that could be used to arm a nuclear weapon much more quickly than at present.

The additional documents the U.S. wants would allow the sides to make the case that the next round of talks will not simply be a continuation of negotiations that have already been twice extended since an interim agreement between Iran, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany was concluded in 2013. President Barack Obama and other leaders, including Iran’s, have said they are not interested in a third extension.

But if the parties agree only to a broad framework that leaves key details unresolved, Obama can expect stiff opposition at home from members of Congress who want to move forward with new, stiffer Iran sanctions. Lawmakers had agreed to hold off on such a measure through March while the parties negotiated. The White House says new sanctions would scuttle further diplomatic efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear work and possibly lead Israel to act on threats to use military force to accomplish that goal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has campaigned tirelessly for months against the emerging agreement, said it would “ensure a bad deal that would endanger Israel, the Middle East and the peace of the world.”

“A better deal would significantly roll back Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. A better deal would link the eventual lifting of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program to a change in Iran’s behavior,” he said.

Hong Kong’s Oldest TV Station, ATV, to Shut Down

April 1, 2015

Free-to-air broadcaster Asia Television has been losing viewers for years

By Anjie Zheng and Isabella Steger
The Wall Street Journal

After months of teetering on the brink of collapse, Hong Kong’s oldest television broadcaster will go dark next year.

Hong Kong’s Executive Council said Wednesday that it won’t renew the free-to-air license of Asia Television, known as ATV, when it expires Nov. 30. The station will be allowed to broadcast until April 1, 2016.

The decision effectively puts an end to the saga over the fate of the station. In recent years, ATV has been losing much of its cultural cache and viewership steadily as it toes a pro-Beijing line and, through its programs and commercials, targets audiences in mainland China. The furor over ATV reflects deep divisions in Hong Kong over Beijing’s perceived reach into the city’s media.

“There is not sufficient reason to extend ATV’s license,” said Gregory So, secretary for Commerce and Economic Development.

The government had given ATV, remembered for misreporting the death of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin in 2001, until the end of March to offer a restructuring plan.

The cash-strapped broadcaster sold farmland and other assets to pay its employees after delaying payment for months. It was fined US$49,000 for failing to deliver paychecks.

ATV was once a premium Chinese-language broadcaster in Asia and, according to its website, has ambitions to be “Asia’s CNN.” Now, decades-old soap operas and reruns of beauty pageants fill its airwaves.

Mr. So said the government will set up a task force to “minimize any adverse impact that may occur” on Hong Kong viewers, as the decision effectively leaves Hong Kong with just one free-to-air broadcaster, Television Broadcasts Ltd., or TVB.

The Executive Council had delayed making a decision on ATV’s license renewal for months while the station was in talks with potential buyers. Confusion ensued Tuesday when the broadcaster said on its evening news that Hong Kong Television Network Ltd., which distributes content over the Internet, agreed to buy a majority stake in the station. HKTV denied the report Wednesday morning in a statement to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

On Wednesday, ATV’s court-appointed manager, Deloitte, said at a news conference that it had entered into an agreement with an unnamed Hong Kong buyer but declined to disclose details as the deal hinges on regulatory approval.

“We are shocked and angered by the decision of the Executive Council not to renew ATV’s license given that we have found a buyer. We will continue to fight on and will not rule out taking legal action,” said ATV in a statement Wednesday evening.

The government also said Wednesday that it will grant a 12-year free-to-air license to HK Television Entertainment Co., a subsidiary of PCCW Ltd. The company is owned by Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li and already operates a cable network in the city, Now TV.

Write to Anjie Zheng at anjie.zheng@wsj.com and Isabella Steger at isabella.steger@wsj.com

Obama, Kerry Decision To Engage Iran Sparked Saudi Action on Yemen

April 1, 2015

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DUBAI (AFP) –  Wary of a rapprochement between Washington and arch-rival Iran, Saudi Arabia has taken matters into its own hands by leading an air war against Shiite rebels in Yemen, experts say.

The Huthi rebels, who Tehran denies arming, were close to seizing most of Yemen when Saudi Arabia sent warplanes into its southern neighbour, with which it shares a 1,800 kilometre (1,100 mile) border.

“America’s indifference to Saudi concerns and — the other side of that coin, America’s increasing interest in co-opting Iran,” are among the motives behind Riyadh’s action, said Professor Anoush Ehteshami, Iran and Gulf expert at Britain’s Durham University.

The air campaign began last week as marathon talks between Iran and world powers aimed at ensuring Tehran never develops a nuclear bomb entered a crucial phase.

“As the nuclear negotiations proceed, the Saudis become much more nervous about America taking its eye off the Arab world by focusing on Iran,” said Ehteshami.

The campaign followed urgent calls for help by Yemen’s embattled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, as the Huthis and allied troops loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh closed in on his refuge in the main southern city of Aden.

Hadi, who has since fled to Saudi Arabia, denounced the rebels as Iran’s “puppets”, while Riyadh accused Tehran of meddling in the internal affairs of the Gulf and Yemen.

On Tuesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said that Yemen’s security was “part and parcel” of the security of his kingdom and the rest of the Arab world.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal

– Saudi Arabia ‘frustrated’ with US –

The Huthis are not a new force in Yemen. They have fought the central government for a decade in their northern stronghold of Saada.

They also locked horns with Saudi Arabia in a previous conflict in 2009-2010.

The Huthis defeated powerful tribes in months of fighting before overrunning the capital in September, triggering condemnation — but initially no action — from Riyadh.

The prospect of the Huthis controlling the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, including stationing their forces at the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait, appears to have finally prodded Saudi Arabia into its unusual intervention.

“The Saudis have come to the hard conclusion that no one will come to their rescue if Iran manages to have a foothold in Yemen, (and) establish a kind of Yemeni Hezbollah… to practise coercive diplomacy with Riyadh,” said Hassan Barari, professor of international relations at Qatar University.

Saudi Arabia is also “frustrated” by a perceived “American disengagement from the region,” he said.

Barari cited the four-year conflict in Syria where Gulf monarchies feel let down by Washington’s failure to help oust President Bashar al-Assad.

Jane Kinninmont, deputy head of Middle East and North Africa programme at London’s Chatham House think tank, said Saudi Arabia “views the Huthis as little more than an Iranian proxy and wants to send Iran a clear message that it faces pushback from regional powers.”

The unexpected military intervention also showed that Saudi Arabia’s new leader, King Salman, is ready to take drastic action to protect his country’s interests.

“Saudi Arabia is no longer in a preventive mode,” said Ehteshami.

“The traditional perception of Saudi Arabia being a cautious, behind-the-scenes actor is increasingly outdated. Saudi Arabia now is more of a proactive actor in the region,” he said.

– Setting aside differences –

Riyadh has formed the largest-ever coalition of Sunni Arab countries to fight the Huthis, bringing together most of the Gulf monarchies, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan and Egypt.

The alliance is also the first that openly operates away from the auspices of Washington or NATO, though a Gulf diplomatic official said that participants would like to have international cover.

“We are working to get a UN resolution like in Mali, post-action,” the official said.

It is a “coalition of the minimum” common ground, according to Barari, under which “these countries can maintain their differences but when it comes to Iran they should cast aside these difference.”

Ehteshami said the Arab monarchies and Egypt could form a long-lasting bloc that would “engage Turkey and Pakistan as the new Sunni periphery of the Arab axis.”

He argued that Ankara and Riyadh have put aside their “divergent” positions over Egypt’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which Turkey opposed, and are “working very closely” to push Assad out and to combat Iran’s influence in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Iran is left with few options beyond condemnation.

“Iran probably doesn’t want to scupper the nuclear talks for the sake of Yemen, which is not a country that is central to Iranian interests,” said Kinninmont.

Ehteshami believes Tehran will pursue a traditional strategy of using proxies to wield influence.

“The Huthis are the perfect proxy for them.”

by Ali Khalil
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Yemeni Houthi fighters in tanks reach central Aden

April 1, 2015

Followers of the Houthi demonstrate against the Saudi-led air strikes on Yemen, in Sanaa April 1, 2015. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

(Reuters) – Houthi fighters and their army allies advanced in a column of tanks on Wednesday into a central district of the southern city of Aden, the main foothold of loyalists of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, witnesses said.

The Houthis’ military push into the Khor Maksar district happened despite a week of Saudi-led air strikes as well as bombardment from naval vessels off the coast of Aden aimed at reversing relentless Houthi gains on the battlefield.

The Shi’ite Muslim fighters and their ally, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, emerged as the dominant force in Yemen after they took over the capital six months ago.

Aden residents saw large groups of fighters carrying rocket propelled grenades accompanied by tanks and trucks mounted with machine guns in Khor Maksar, which lies on narrow neck of land linking central Aden with the mainland.

Many people fled the area and some were trying to get on a ship leaving the port.

Earlier on Wednesday, dozens of fighters were killed in clashes between Houthi fighters and their army allies on one side, and militiamen and tribesmen opposing them around Aden and elsewhere in south Yemen, witnesses and militia sources said.

One witness saw the bodies of eight Houthi fighters and three pro-Hadi militiamen lying on the streets of Khor Maksar amid sporadic gunfire, as well as snipers mounting positions atop homes.

Hadi left the city on Thursday for Saudi Arabia, whose stated aim is to restore him to power.

In Dhalea, 100 km (60 miles) north of Aden, air strikes supported militiamen fighting street battles against the Houthis, who are allied with Saudi Arabia’s regional foe Iran, and backed by army units loyal to longtime ruler Saleh, who was pushed out three years ago after “Arab Spring” demonstrations.

Ten of the militia fighters were killed, residents said, but Houthi forces and allied army units were being pushed back.

The Houthis suffered heavier losses in battles with tribesmen at a major army base in the southeastern province of Shabwa, where 35 Houthi and army fighters were killed along with 20 tribesmen.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Cairo; Writing by Noah Browning and Dominic Evans; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Wesley Clark: Putin Plans Spring Offensive in Ukraine

April 1, 2015

By
Newsweek

Ukraine

A Ukrainian serviceman with a dog takes part in a search operation to deactivate and destruct ammunition in the settlement of Luhanske, Donetsk region, March 27, 2015. Oleksandr Klymenko/Reuters
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Russian-backed separatists are planning a fresh offensive in eastern Ukraine that could come within a matter of months, warns retired General Wesley Clark, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander.

“What is happening now is preparations for a renewed offensive from the east,” and this could take place following Orthodox Easter, on April 12, and “most probably” before VE Day on May 8, Clark said on March 30, citing multiple local sources he spoke with on a recent fact-finding mission to Ukraine.

“That’s what all the talking is about right now, preparing the cover for the next attack,” he said.

Given that an attack is “imminent,” Clark said the Obama administration should take two specific actions to bolster Ukrainian security forces:

  • It should share intelligence with Ukraine so the Ukrainians can have “firm warning of a renewed Russian offensive”;

  • And it could prepare an aid package, including lethal assistance that has already been authorized by Congress; deploy it at a staging base; have strategic lift available; and warn Russian President Vladimir Putin that “when we first get the indications that you are coming again we will send assistance, including lethal assistance, to Ukraine.”

These two actions would fall within the parameters of the administration’s current policy not to provide lethal assistance to Ukraine.

“In the event you can’t change [U.S. policy], at least you can have a package and promise it, promote it, explain it and use it in deterrence … The fact that the United States is coming to the rescue would go like a shot of adrenalin from top to bottom of the Ukrainian armed forces,” said Clark.

“They are fighting for Western civilization. They are fighting for us.”

“At every level, people are very conscious of the fact that they are fighting what they consider the battle for Western civilization,” he added. “They are fighting for us.”

Clark briefed an audience at the Atlantic Council on the findings of his mid-March visit to Ukraine. He traveled with retired Lt. Gen. Patrick M. Hughes, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and retired Lt. Gen. John S. Caldwell, former Army research, development and acquisition chief. The Atlantic Council and Open Society Foundations sponsored the trip.

Clark specifically laid out seven key areas of immediate military assistance for Ukraine. These are:

  • Strategic imagery and other electronic/communications intelligence that is detailed and timely enough to be able to provide warning of an impending attack;

  • Long-range, mobile anti-armor systems, as well as the shorter-range Javelin system, both equipped with thermal imagery;

  • Secure tactical communications down to vehicle level;

  • Long-range, modern counter-battery radars able to detect firing positions for long-range rockets;

  • Sniper rifles with thermal or night vision sights for counter-sniper teams;

  • Modern intelligence collection and electronic warfare systems effective against Russian digital communications; and

  • Any counter-unmanned aerial vehicle systems that can be made available on a near-term basis. The urgency here is driven by the pending Russian spring offensive. At the minimum, a palletized, emergency assistance package consisting of as many lethal components as possible should be assembled and pre-deployed for strategic airlift upon commencement of the Russian offensive.

A report produced in February by the Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institution, and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs urged the United States to give Ukraine defensive weapons and $3 billion in military aid over three years in a bid to deter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.

Clark supported the call to provide defensive weapons, adding that Ukraine’s military has fought frontline Russian forces, separatists and high-technology weapons and drones that even U.S. forces have not had to face.

Jan Lodal, one of the authors of that report and a Distinguished Fellow and former president of the Atlantic Council, moderated the March 30 discussion with Clark. He said Washington’s “slowness” to provide this military assistance to the Ukrainians “is a major risk to us.”

Military equipment being shipped over Russian border

Russia and Ukraine agreed to the so-called Minsk II ceasefire in February. The previous Minsk agreement collapsed within days of its September 5, 2014, signing in Belarus’ capital.

At the time of his visit, Clark said, “Minsk II was roughly in place. Some artillery had been pulled back by the separatists, but some had been, according to sources, concealed in forward positions.”

Additional military supplies and equipment were being brought into Ukraine from across an open border with Russia, he added.

Under Minsk II, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is to verify the withdrawal of heavy weapons. However, the OSCE is handicapped by the fact that it has only a couple of observation points, and that Russian military personnel make up more than half of its monitoring missions, said Clark. On these missions, Russian military personnel are free to check out Ukrainian positions and are bound by an “honor code” not to relay this information to Russian forces.

“OSCE is essentially non-functioning,” said Clark, who led Operation Allied Force in the Kosovo War during his term as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe from 1997 to 2000.

Putin’s bigger goal

Moscow’s goal in Ukraine is to bring its eastern neighbor back into Russia’s orbit, said Clark. As part of that effort, Russia’s war plan has four phases: terrorism, irregular forces, Russian peacekeeping forces and a de-escalatory phase.

He said Russian special forces known as Spetsnaz had occupied buildings during operations in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.

He described Putin as the “military commander” of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, but cautioned against simply focusing on the Russian leader’s objectives as purely being military or geographical.

“[Putin’s] objective in this would be much broader than Ukraine. It would be to shatter the sense of well-being and confidence among the nations of Eastern Europe in NATO protection and, ideally, to drive a permanent wedge between the United States and its European allies, and the Western allies and Eastern Europe,” he added.

The United States and the 28-member European Union imposed economic sanctions against Russian officials and companies after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its aggression against eastern Ukraine, but as Clark said, “there are limitations to what we should expect of sanctions.”

“You need a balanced approach,” he explained, “You need the sanctions, you need the ability of the Ukrainians to resist, to strengthen their ability to resist, to drive this back into the diplomatic channel and to keep it there.”

Ashish Kumar Sen is a staff writer at the Atlantic Council. This article first appeared on the Atlantic Council website. Read the full text of the Clark briefing here.

http://www.newsweek.com/wesley-clark-putin-plans-spring-offensive-ukraine-318393

More than 30 jihadist groups ‘support IS’

April 1, 2015

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Militants with the Islamic State group control a huge swathe of territory in Iraq and Syria. Photo credit Al-Furqan Media/AFP/File |

PARIS (AFP) – More than 20 jihadist groups have pledged their allegiance to the Islamic State movement and 10 others have voiced their support for the extremist organisation, according to US monitoring body IntelCenter.

A list published by the centre which monitors extremist groups shows these 31 organisations are dotted across the world in an arc going from Algeria in the west to Indonesia in the east.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of IS which controls swathes of Syria and Iraq, proclaimed the establishment of an “Islamic caliphate” at the end of June last year after his fighters captured the Iraqi city of Mosul, asking all Muslims around the world to swear allegiance to him.

A jihadist group in Algeria, another in Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula, and one in Lebanon immediately pledged their allegiance to the new chief, followed over the next weeks and months by 18 other movements including Boko Haram in Nigeria — taking the total so far to 21.

Ten other groups have voiced their support for IS, without pledging formal allegiance, IntelCenter said.

These 31 groups are very different in size and importance — some meticulously structured with hundreds and even thousands of fighters, others barely existing or break-aways from known jihadist movements, experts say.

More Talk From America on China in the South China Sea: But What’s The Plan?

April 1, 2015

By John Garnaut
Fairfax Media

Analysis

After United States Admiral Harry Harris took rhetorical aim at the “Great Wall of Sand” that he said China was erecting across disputed waters in the South China Sea, in his remarkably blunt speech against Chinese “provocations” on Tuesday night, he began the much harder task of working out what to do about it.

After a morning with Australian diplomats in Canberra, where he had the chance to discuss the prospects of united regional dissuasion, the US Pacific Fleet commander flew to Adelaide to inspect the next generation of Hobart-class Air Warfare Destroyers which, he hinted, might form part of a more muscular solution.

Publicly available surveillance photos show China has been moving at remarkable speed to build airstrips, harbours, roads, container depots and even cement plants on what were submerged coral atolls only one year ago.

The new artificial islands are spread across the vast Spratly Islands archipelago which is home to multiple overlapping territorial claims.

The dredging, bulldozing and building has proceeded at such pace over the past 12 months that some informed Western military sources worry in private that China is “winning hands down” in its bid to create defacto control over contested waters and may be on its way to creating “South Chinese Lake”.

While such talk may be premature, and there are many rounds of regional diplomacy to go, Admiral Harris’ senior colleagues are already calling for members of ASEAN to form joint maritime patrols.

“If ASEAN members were to take the lead in organising something along those lines, trust me, the US 7th Fleet would be ready to support,” said the commander of the 7th Fleet of the Pacific Fleet Vice-Admiral Robert Thomas.

And it’s no longer far-fetched to think that Australian participation in such hypothetical patrols might be on the discussion agenda.

Admiral Harris said the Hobart-class AEGIS-equipped Air Warfare Destroyers that he inspected in Adelaide – ” these beauties” – will greatly increase interoperability and collaboration between the two navies.

And his colleague, Rear Admiral Christopher Paul, the deputy commander of the US Pacific surface fleet, went much further.

He told the same Australian Strategic Policy Institute conference that Australia should consider deploying the new warships in US-led “hunter-killer” patrol groups.

Those warships, together with Australian missile destroyers, amphibious ships and frigates, could fit a new doctrine that he calls “distributed lethality”.

Although military conflict seems far from anyone’s radar, leading military strategists in Australia, South-East Asia and the United States are clearly worried about what could go wrong.

“As we like to say in navy circles, hope is not a strategy,” as Admiral Harris told the dinner gathering in Canberra on Tuesday night.

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/american-admiral-flexing-muscles-20150401-1md21z.html

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Above: Then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi exchange views on the South China Sea at a news conference on September 5, 2012 in Beijing.  Source: Feng Li/Getty Images AsiaPac

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A Japanese Soryu Class submarine

Russian built Kilo class submarine

 (Contains links to related previous articles)

 (Contains links to related previous articles)

articles)

 

China says it owns all the South China Sea north of the “nine dash line” shown above

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).

 

Lufthansa, Insurers, Pledge Quick Settlement After Germanwings Plane Crash

April 1, 2015

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Aviation insurers caution assessment of final amounts to be settled may take some time  

Relatives of the victims of last week’s plane crash in the French Alps.  
Relatives of the victims of last week’s plane crash in the French Alps. Photo: European Pressphoto Agency
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By Ulrike Dauer
The Wall Street Journal
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FRANKFURT—Relatives of victims of the Germanwings Flight 9525 that crashed in the French Alps last week can expect a complete, fair and swift settlement of insured costs, although final assessments will take some time, the insurers of the flight and Germanwings parent Deutsche Lufthansa AG pledged on Wednesday.

“Lufthansa Group and its aviation insurers, led by Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, can confirm that all claims arising from the loss of Germanwings flight 4U9525 will be addressed fully, fairly and as quickly as possible, in close consultation with the next of kin of the passengers and their representatives,” the 10-member insurance consortium led by Allianz SE said. It cautioned, however, that an accurate assessment of the final amounts to be settled “will not be possible for some time.”

On Tuesday, Lufthansa said its aviation insurers set aside around $300 million in connection with the crash that killed all 150 people on board, including six crew members.

Related News

Still, that amount is based on initial, preliminary assessments and will be adjusted as full information becomes available, the insurers said Wednesday. The sum set aside includes compensation payments to passengers’ relatives, the hull value of the aircraft, accident support and investigation service on the crash site, legal support and assistance.

Payment for the destroyed aircraft will be handled by a separate consortium of “hull war” insurers. This will mainly be the Lloyd’s market, the dominant player in the hull-war insurance market, insurance rating agency A.M. Best says, adding the aircraft was valued at $6.5 million. A spokeswoman for Lloyd’s declined to comment.

French prosecutors have said they suspected that the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, deliberately flew the aircraft into an alpine ridge at 400 miles an hour after locking the captain out of the cockpit.

The insurers and the airline said they would fully honor every claim on an individual basis. Considering the difficult circumstances, full analysis and assessment of each individual case will take some time, they said. Lufthansa last Friday offered €50,000 ($54,000) per passenger to the relatives of the victims to address immediate financial needs. The payments wouldn’t affect potential further claims made by the families, the airline said.

After a major loss, insurers usually quickly set aside initial reserves for payments due to policyholders that are based on a prudent assessment of the limited information at hand. Those reserves are then adjusted when more information becomes available.

Compensation claims for the victims will be met in line with the applicable national law, the insurance consortium said. Of the 150 passengers and crew on the flight from Barcelona to Düsseldorf, 75 were German nationals and three were U.S. citizens, according to the latest figures available from Germany’s Federal Foreign Office. But a number of other jurisdictions are involved, according to media reports.

In similar cases in Europe, next of kin have received some $1 million per victim as compensation. In the U.S., often a substantially larger settlement is secured.

—Isabel Gomez contributed to this article.

Write to Ulrike Dauer at ulrike.dauer@wsj.com

Pakistan Expected To Sign Deal To Buy 8 Submarines From China — Most expensive Chinese arms export deal in history

April 1, 2015

Farhan Bokhari in Quetta and Charles Clover in Beijing

Financial Times

The most expensive Chinese arms export deal in history appeared set to go ahead on Wednesday after Pakistan’s government approved a deal to buy eight submarines from Beijing.

Although officials from Pakistan’s navy neither gave a price tag nor revealed the types of submarines being pursued, they confirmed a decision “in principle” during a hearing of the defence committee in the lower house of parliament in Islamabad.

China’s Song class submarine

A former senior Pakistan navy officer with knowledge of the negotiations told the Financial Times the contract could be worth $4bn-$5bn. “China has agreed once again to step in to fill a major strategic gap,” he said. “It was about time we placed an order.”

However, Chinese analysts valued the deal at less than half that amount.

The estimate of $4bn-$5bn is on par with the estimated cost of six French submarines bought by India in 2005, which cost $4bn-$4.5bn when they were delivered in 2010, according to Siemon Wezeman, an expert on the international arms market at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Mr Wezeman said the Pakistan deal was likely to be China’s biggest arms sale, eclipsing a deal for 50 JF-17 fighter jets bought by Pakistan in 2010 for more than $1bn.

Islamabad has long been Beijing’s top arms customer, driving China’s emergence as a major exporter of military hardware. Pakistan bought more than 40 per cent of China’s arms exports over the past five years, according to research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

China’s arms exports surged 143 per cent over the same period, making it the world’s third-largest arms exporter, behind only the US and Russia.

Defence analysts in Islamabad say Beijing may have agreed to the submarines deal to help counter the perceived threat from India, amid fears the country is building its navy to claim a presence in the Pacific.

“China has its own strategic reasons to help Pakistan in this area,” said Ali Sarwar Naqvi, a former senior Pakistani diplomat. “As India prepares to head in to the Pacific Ocean, the Chinese are looking to head in to the Indian Ocean.”

Ian Storey, a security expert at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, agreed that there was clear strategic rationale for the deal.

“India has been modernising and expanding its navy for over a decade now,” he said. “While Pakistan can never close the gap between its own and India’s conventional armed forces, submarines would provide the Pakistan Navy with a credible deterrent.”

Other senior navy officers say Pakistan’s current fleet of five French Agosta submarines, including two ageing vessels built in the 1970s, will by the next decade be insufficient to meet the challenge posed by the planned naval expansion of India, Pakistan’s neighbour and main foe.

Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani military expert, cautioned that it was too early to say the deal marked a deepening of Beijing’s already strong defence and security ties with Islamabad. “At this stage, we don’t know the exact financial terms and unless we know the financial terms we can’t be certain about the significance of this order,” he said. “Still, it’s an important contract for Pakistan.”

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a2c22012-d845-11e4-ba53-00144feab7de.html#axzz3W4NsfdR7

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Song Class background (See photo)

The Song class or Type 039 is the latest and most advanced diesel-electric attack submarine type to have been designed and built by indigenous Chinese effort. Conceived as the successor to the Chinese navy’s ageing force of obsolescent Ming class (Type 035) and wholly obsolete Romeo class (Type 033) submarines, which have constituted the core of the service’s conventionally powered submarine arm for more than four decades, the Song class is based in design terms on certain Western concepts. These include a low-drag hydrodynamically profiled hull and sail, new cylindrical bow-mounted sonars, a powerplant centered on the use of four German MTU diesel engines (16V396 units rather than the 12V493 units originally considered), and a new anti-submarine torpedo of Russian origin.

Another major enhancement contributing to the type’s capability for offensive as well as defensive operations is the provision for an anti-ship missile capability. This is in the form of a tube-fired YJ-82 (submarine-launched version of the ship-launched C-801) missile, which can deliver its 165-kg warhead to a range of 40 km with the aid of an inertial platform and active radar terminal seeker.

In overall terms, the Song class reveals a technological standard generally similar to that of Western submarines built during the 1980s.

The first boat, No. 320, was laid down in 1991 and was launched on 25 May 1994 at the WuHan Shipyard, but was not commission until June 1999 after the implementation of an exhaustive trials programme to assess the capabilities and, as it turned out, limitations of the design.

It was at this trials stage that the Chinese navy postponed further construction to allow the rectification of serious performance and design problems, and thus create the inertial full-production variant known as the Type 039G. This boat is characterized most obviously by a sail without the stepped-down forward section that in No. 320 accommodates the bridge with the forward hydroplanes under it.

Production was resumed at the Wuhan Shipyard in 1995, and the first Type 039G boat was launched in November 1999 for commissioning during April 2001 as No. 321. By 2003 another three units had been completed. Currently at least 12 boats of the Song class are in service with Chinese Navy.

Slightly shorter but beamier than the Ming class submarine it is designed to succeed, the Song class boat has a length/beam ratio at 8.91/1, which is slightly less than the 10/1 ratio of the Ming class submarines but of decidedly superior hydrodynamic shape. The Song class submarine is propelled through the water by one large seven-bladed propeller, and the primary machinery is located on shock-absorbent mountings for reduced vibration and therefore minimized underwater noise radiation. The stealthiness of the design is further enhanced by the use of anechoic tiling similar to that of the Russian Kilo class submarine.

The Song class submarine has a multi-role combat and command system which provides all the data needed for control of the boat and for the firing of torpedoes and missiles. The system is possibly an updated derivative of the combat and command system used in the Ming class submarines, and is probably of a standard equivalent to that installed in Western submarines in the 1970s.

As far as weapons are concerned, the Song class is armed primarily with anti-ship cruise missiles and torpedoes. As noted above, the YJ-82 missile is the submarine-launched variant of the C-801 launched underwater from the 533-mm torpedo tubes. Boosted by a solid-propellant rocket until it has emerged from the water, whereupon the solid propellant sustainer takes over, the missile approaches its target as a sea-skimmer and impacts under the guidance of its active radar seeker, the shaped-charge warhead being initiated by a delay-action impact fuse. The six 533-mm tubes, all located in the bows, have a maximum of 16 to 20 Yu-4 (SAET-60) passive homing and Yu-1 (Type 53-51) torpedoes. The total being reduced when the YJ-82 missile is shipped. As an alternative, the submarine can carry tube launched mines.

The Song class is fitted with an integrated sonar system comprising an active/passive medium-frequency spherical bow-mounted equipment and passive low-frequency reach arrays. The countermeasures suite comprises just the Type 921-A radar warning receiver and directional finder.

The diesel-electric propulsion arrangement provided to power the Song class submarine comprises four MTU 16V396 SE diesel engines, four alternators and one electric motor, the last powering a single shaft.

More units of the Song class, probably to a standard improved to reflect the lessons operational experience with the current boats, may emerge in time.

http://www.military-today.com/navy/song_class.htm


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