Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Vietnam’s Trong, Obama discuss South China Sea at White House — Historic Meeting

July 7, 2015

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday he discussed with Vietnam’s General Secretary Ngyen Phu Trong the importance of resolving maritime disputes in the SouthChina Sea in accordance with international law.

Trong, during remarks at the White House with Obama, said he shared his concerns about the South China Sea issue with the president.

(Reporting by Alex Wilts and Jeff Mason; Editing by Bill Trott)

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John McCain Accuses President Obama of Failing to Stop ISIS — Tells Defense Secretary “When you are not winning in war, you are losing.”

July 7, 2015

By and

Sen. John McCain, R-Az., lashed out at the Obama administration’s anti-ISIS strategy on Tuesday, saying it was failing and risked leaving the next president with a “disaster.”

McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made the remarks to Defense Secretary Ash Carter in a hearing on ISIS, the terror group that is trying to establish an Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq and has inspired attacks elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa and the West.

“Our means and our current level of effort are not aligned with our ends,” McCain said. “That suggests we are not winning, and when you are not winning in war, you are losing.”

Image: Defense Secretary Carter

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter answered questions from committee chairman Sen. John McCain during a hearing held by the Senate Armed Services Committee. Win McNamee / Getty Images

The hearing came a day after Obama spoke publicly about his anti-ISIS strategy. He spoke of the need to expand the campaign beyond airstrikes and the training of local fighters to include a “hearts and minds” campaign to counter the group’s radicalized and violent ideology, which has enticed disillusioned young Muslims around the world and raised fears of “lone wolf” attacks in the United States.

Obama also said that despite the terror group’s growing threat, it has actually lost ground on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria.

But McCain said the president’s approach was inadequate, and he challenged Obama to find “a new direction.”

“This needs to happen sooner rather than later, or the disaster the next president will inherit — in the Middle East, but also far beyond it — will be overwhelming,” McCain said.

Carter argued that the administration’s anti-ISIS strategy “is the right one,” but “its execution can and will be strengthened, especially on the ground.”

He acknowledged that the strategy has suffered from a law of local recruits to train in Iraq and Syria.

America has trained fewer than 15,000 fighters in the Iraqi Army and the Pershmerga, the Kurdish military, Carter said. In Syria, the U.S. is training about 60 opposition fighters, he said. “This number is much smaller than we hoped for at this point,” he said.

Includes video:


President Obama speaks to the media after receiving an update from military leaders on the campaign against the Islamic State, during a rare visit to the Pentagon on Monday, July 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
John McCain: Obama’s stance on Islamic State and Iran a ‘delusion’

– The Washington Times – Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Sen. John McCain said Monday that President Obama is suffering from a “delusion” as to how the U.S. can defeat the Islamic State group.

The Arizona Republican told radio host Hugh Hewitt that Mr. Obama’s assertion that “ideologies are not defeated with guns” ignores the reality on the ground in Iraq and Syria.

“Ideologies are not defeated with guns. They’re defeated by better ideas and a more attractive and compelling vision. So the United States will continue to do our part by working with partners to counter ISIL’s hateful propaganda, especially online. We’ll constantly affirm through words and deeds that we will never be at war with Islam,” the president said Thursday.

SEE ALSO: Obama won’t play ‘whack-a-mole’ with more U.S. troops, wants Iraq to keep Islamic State fight local

Mr. McCain told Mr. Hewitt that having Islamic clerics condemn the actions of the Sunni radical terror group “would be good,” but securing victories on the battlefield is what is most important at the moment.

“First you have to defeat them on the battlefield. All the rest of that follows. There’s no doubt there’s ideological struggle here. There’s now there’s an economic problem in those places in the world where they have gigantic youth unemployment. But as Bismarck said, ‘The issue will be decided by blood and steel,’ ” Mr. McCain said, Mediaite reported Thursday.

The radio host then asked the senator if he wanted to stick by his assertion that Mr. Obama was delusional.

“Here’s the delusion. The delusion is going on right now in these negotiations with Iran. That somehow they will consummate a nuclear deal no matter how bad with Iran,” Mr. McCain said, Mediaite reported.

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South China Sea: Is Vietnam Taking Sides With The U.S. While China Tries to Dominate?

July 7, 2015

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter shakes hands with Vietnam’s General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Vietnam, on June 1. Trong will meet with President Obama in the White House on Tuesday. Photo: Luong Thai Linh/EPA/Landov

The Washington Post
Forty years after the fall of Saigon, President Obama is seeking to reconfigure a historically difficult relationship with Vietnam into a strategic partnership against China.  In a meeting freighted with symbolism, Obama on Tuesday will welcome Vietnam’s Communist Party leader, Nguyen Phu Trong, to the White House two decades after the onetime enemy nations formally normalized relations.
Administration officials said Hanoi has been signaling interest in forging deeper economic and military ties with the United States, and Obama has extended a hand to Vietnam, which is among the 12 nations involved in an expansive Pacific Rim trade pact. And there has been considerable talk that the president is thinking about making a stop in Vietnam during a tour of Asia this fall.
The unusual nature of Trong’s visit is accentuated by the fact that Obama rarely receives foreign leaders who are not official heads of state in the Oval Office.
He played host to Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang at the White House in 2013, and he met with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung during a regional summit in Burma last fall.Administration officials described Trong as the most powerful person in Vietnam’s one-party leadership structure, a behind-the-scenes figure who has significant influence in political decision-making.
Trong, as party chief, has traditionally been a “more conservative element” of the leadership, an administration official said.Getting Trong’s support to move forward on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade accord and other U.S.-led initiatives is crucial, said the official, who was not authorized to talk on the record and so spoke on the condition of anonymity.“Trong is a hard-liner who does not want to give away anything on the human rights side,” said Marvin Ott, an Asia scholar at the Wilson Center. “But if he can have a good visit and he and Obama have some chemistry . . . that will be a signal that the last real resistance inside the Vietnamese leadership has gone away.”

For Obama, the meeting comes as he has engaged in new diplomatic overtures to a series of longtime U.S. adversaries, including Cuba, Iran and Burma (also known as Myanmar). In late July, the president will visit Kenya and Ethi­o­pia, two other countries that have employed harsh tactics in dealing with political dissidents.

Human rights advocates criticized Obama’s willingness to receive Trong, who does not hold an official government position. More than 100 Vietnamese are imprisoned on political charges, according to the State Department, a number that has fallen by about 25 percent in recent years but remains a sticking point for U.S. diplomats in Hanoi.

“It’s a reward that is not worth the price,”said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “You’re telling this regime and others, ‘Freedom or not, you will be rewarded.’ . . . The price of saber-rattling with China is that you throw human rights under the bus.”
Rep.ZoeLofgren (Calif.), a longtime advocate for human rights reform in Vietnam, was among a Democratic congressional delegation led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) that visited the nation in March to talk abouttheTPP and other issues. In a meetingwithTrong,Lofgren presented him with a list of political prisoners who she said should be set free.“I don’t think he was very happy with our advocacy, but we didn’t go there to make him happy,”Lofgren said in an interview Monday.
She said Obama needs to press Vietnam to commit to enforceable labor and human rights protections in the trade deal, and she questioned why the president is meeting withTrong in the Oval Office rather than a less-prestigious location of the White House.State Department officials said the president will press Trong on human rights, but they emphasized that there was no promise from Vietnam to release prisoners or amend free speech laws in exchange for the meeting with Obama.
By contrast, Cuba released an American last year, paving the way for the reestablishment of relations, and Burma released several dozen political prisoners before Obama’s historic visit there in 2012.Obama restated his philosophy last week when he formally announced plans for the reopening of U.S. and Cuban embassies this month after 54 years of Cold War isolation.“I believe that American engagement — through our embassy, our businesses and most of all, through our people — is the best way to advance our interests and support for democracy and human rights,” the president said in the Rose Garden. “Time and again, America has demonstrated that part of our leadership in the world is our capacity to change. It’s what inspires the world to reach for something better.”Obama’s overture to Vietnam is part of a larger strategy by his administration to shift U.S. diplomatic attention away from traditional hot spots in the Middle East and Europe to meet China’s rise in Asia. The strategy got a major boost when Congress approved Obama’s request for fast-track trade promotion authority last month — legislation that could smooth the path for theTPP, which would encompass nations that together make up 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.Obama has touted Vietnam and Malaysia, where last year he became the first U.S. president since Lyndon B. Johnson to visit, as among the Southeast Asian nations that have been responsive to U.S. engagement in a fast-growing region.

Over the past two years, Hanoi has become alarmed by Beijing’s maritime assertiveness in the South China Sea, a strategic shipping lane that China has sought to control. Last spring, China positioned an oil rig 120 miles off Vietnam’s coast, near islands claimed by both countries and breaching Vietnam’s exclusive 200-mile economic zone under international law.

Though Beijing withdrew the rig under international pressure last summer, Chinese authorities moved it back near Vietnam last month after plans for Trong’s visit were made public.

That move “will add a sense of urgency to Hanoi’s strategic thinking,” said Ernest Bower, a Southeast Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The United States and Vietnam share a view that China “cannot be allowed to override international law and define its sovereign interests based on history or the size of its military or its economy.”

Foreign policy experts caution that Hanoi will continue to do business with Beijing and will seek not to provoke China into a military confrontation. But administration officials point to the TPP trade accord as an example of a U.S.-led initiative that will help raise labor and environmental standards in Vietnam, Malaysia and other emerging economies.

In the United States, labor unions have denounced the TPP, saying it will lead to further outsourcing of American manufacturing jobs to Vietnam.

Beyond the strategic politics, there remains “a kind of residual American public curiosity about Vietnam,” Ott said. “We invested so much there; it cost us so much. But since then you’ve had a remarkable tableau of people-to-people contacts with tourists and Marines going there, and it brings something real to the impetus for normalization. In a peculiar way, there’s a real bonding going on.”

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.

 (It seems China has also created its own version of reality with media control and propaganda….)

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

Vietnam’s Top Party Official To Meet President Obama This Week

July 6, 2015

Nguyen Phu Trong — the head of Vietnam’s communist party and one of most powerful figures in the Southeast Asian nation — will meet with President Obama on Tuesday for a historic meeting aimed at strengthening ties between the two nations.

The 71-year-old party secretary said Friday that he hopes to build trust between Washington and Hanoi 20 years after President Bill Clinton normalized diplomatic ties and four decades after the end of the Vietnam War.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter shakes hands with Vietnam’s General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Vietnam, on June 1. Trong will meet with President Obama in the White House on Tuesday. Photo: Luong Thai Linh/EPA/Landov

Vietnam’s Thanh Nien News writes: “Other issues, including the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, human rights, and bilateral defense cooperation, are also on top of the agenda.”

Trong, in a written reply to a small gathering of western journalists on Friday, said: “Like in any relations between two countries in the world, Vietnam and the U.S. have differences on a number of issues such as perception on democracy, human rights and trade,” adding: “To resolve differences, I believe the most effective way would be open and constructive dialogues to better understand each other so that differences won’t become hurdles to the overall bilateral relations.

The Guardian writes that “Trong is one of the four most powerful figures in Vietnam, along with the president, Truong Tan Sang, the prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, and the national assembly chairman, Nguyen Sinh Hung. In theory, he is first among equals in the one-party communist state, but the country is ruled by the party’s collective leadership, and most important decisions must be decided by a 16-member politburo.”

The meeting comes amid renewed concern over China’s muscle-flexing in the South China Sea that has put Beijing at odds with its maritime neighbors, particularly Vietnam. The two countries fought a brief but bloody border war in 1979 and have generally maintained frosty relations. Earlier this year, China embarked on an island-building program in a tiny archipelago that is also claimed by Vietnam.

Trong said he hoped “that the US will continue to have appropriate voice and actions to contribute to peaceful settlement of disputes in the (South China Sea) in accordance with international law in order to ensure peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific and the world.”

As NPR’s Jackie Northam notes: “Normally President Obama would meet with a head of state or government, but given Trong’s importance in Vietnam and the U.S. strategy to reengage in Asia, it was decided that the two men will meet.”

Obama also met with Vietnam’s President Truong Tan Sang at the White House in 2013 and with the country’s prime minister last year at a summit in Asia. And last month, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter met with Trong at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi.

The Washington Post writes:

“Human rights advocates have expressed alarm at Trong’s visit, saying that nation has not made significant progress in releasing political prisoners and improving labor rights for workers.

“There has been speculation among some foreign affairs experts in Washington that Obama could make his first visit to Vietnam this fall during his trip to Asia, but the White House has not confirmed such a visit.”


 (It seems China has also created its own version of reality with media control and propaganda….)

Vietnam’s top Communist Party official to meet with President Obama

July 6, 2015


Nguyen Phu Trong, Vietnam’s top Communist Party official, in Hanoi in February. He is traveling to Washington this week to meet with President Barack Obama. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

A visit to Washington by Vietnam’s general secretary this week underscores a major shift.

By Alexander L. Vuving
The Diplomat

From July 6 to July 10, the United States will host the first-ever visit by a Communist Party chief from Vietnam. When President Barack Obama meets with General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in the White House on July 7, the two leaders will take a major step forward in the quiet yet profound shift that is changing the game both in the U.S.-China-Vietnam triangle and in Vietnam’s domestic politics.

According to Vietnamese sources, the visit is expected to result in a “joint vision statement” that will upgrade Washington and Hanoi’s two-year old “comprehensive partnership” to an “extensive comprehensive partnership.” While this new label falls short of the “strategic partnership” that both sides have been seeking for years, the spirit Trong’s trip conveys and the level of mutual trust it reflects will elevate U.S.-Vietnam ties to a new plateau, one where an informal strategic alliance is not just theoretically imaginable but politically possible.

The significance of Trong’s visit lies more in what it means than in what it says. For the United States, it means that the strategic gains from a close and strong relationship with Vietnam have outweighed the strategic costs of provoking China and the political costs of befriending a communist regime.

For Vietnam, the trip will boost the communist regime’s legitimacy, but at the same time, the friendship with America will have political and strategic ramifications. It will affect the balance of power among the country’s elites in favor of the reformers at the expense of the conservatives, and it will irritate China. Trong’s trip means that the reformers are on the rise and the conservatives in decline. It also means that Hanoi has reached the limits of its engagement with Beijing and is now trying to reach out to Washington to broaden its options.

But these changes in strategic outlook and domestic politics tell only one, albeit large, part of the story. To make Trong’s trip happen, the mutual trust between Hanoi and Washington had to be high enough to allay the fears of risks associated with any new venture – Trong is known to be fairly risk-averse.

The path leading to this tipping point has been far from direct. It reflects a cautious approach in Hanoi’s relations with Washington and a turning point in Hanoi’s relations with Beijing. The story began in July 2012, when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with General Secretary Trong in Hanoi and invited him to visit the United States. The United States hoped at that time that the trip would be made the next year.

But the Vietnamese had their own way of doing things. An exploratory trip by the head of the Communist Party’s External Relations Department was delayed until December 2012. The next year, as history has it, President Truong Tan Sang came to Washington to launch the U.S.-Vietnam comprehensive partnership with U.S. President Barack Obama.

In the summer of 2014, China’s unilateral deployment of a giant drilling rig into waters Vietnam regards as its EEZ proved to be a litmus test and a game changer. It helped the Vietnamese to see China as a security threat and the United States as a best friend. In fact, during that incident Washington was the most robust in speaking out against China and the strongest in support of Vietnam. After the incident, some members of the Vietnamese National Assembly called China an invader and an enemy, breaking a taboo that had been in place for more than two decades since the renormalization of Sino-Vietnamese relations in 1991.

The oil rig incident both accelerated preparations for Trong’s trip and gave it a new mission. When the rig was in the contested waters, Vietnam decided to dispatch Hanoi City’s Communist Party chief Pham Quang Nghi, a member of the powerful Politburo and a confidant of the general secretary, to the United States. In 2013, Nghi was reportedly nominated by Trong to succeed him at the next Party Congress. Like Trong, Nghi was a party boss without any formal government position. But Vietnam insisted that Nghi would go before Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, who was invited by Secretary of State John Kerry during the oil rig crisis but who was not a Politburo member. Nghi actually traveled on the heels of China’s removal of the oil rig.

Between Nghi’s July 2014 and Trong’s July 2015 journeys, there were two other trips that paved the way for the latter in two different ways. The first was a preparatory trip to the United States by Public Security Minister Tran Dai Quang in March 2015. The second was Trong’s own visit to China in April. While Trong’s trip to China was reportedly done on Beijing’s initiative, Hanoi played the Chinese game very well. Trong’s entourage had four members of the Politburo, a record number. In his previous visit to China, also his first as Party chief, there were three Politburo members to escort the general secretary. (Ironically, but illustratively for the Sino-Vietnamese relationship, this 2011 trip was also a fence-mending one after China’s patrol boats cut the cables of a Vietnamese oil exploration ship and Hanoi allowed 11 anti-China protests to happen afterwards.)

Although both China and Vietnam have tried to repair their damaged relationship, Sino-Vietnamese relations have passed the point of no return. According to reports by the Vietnamese media, Trong and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed during the April visit that the two countries’ behavior in the South China Sea had substantially undermined their strategic trust and that both countries need to match their words with deeds.

In the wake of this agreement to disagree, Vietnam’s perceptions of friends and foes have changed decisively. Vietnam and the United States now trust each other far more than either trusts China. According to Vietnam’s chief defense diplomat, Gen. Nguyen Chi Vinh, the United States and Vietnam no longer see the other side as an enemy and are committed to respect each other’s strategic interests. He also believes that the United States will not bring war to Vietnam. This represents an enormous shift in the Vietnamese military’s perceptions of threats and of the United States. Less than three years ago, in December 2012, Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh and the military’s chief political commissar Ngo Xuan Lich still warned about American intentions, claiming that “when the opportunity arises, they will be ready to launch an invasion war using high-tech weapons.”

As I have argued in The Diplomat previously, recent years have seen a gradual but immense transformation in the nature of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship. Trong’s visit to the United States will underscore just how far this transformation has come. According to Vietnamese sources, Trong will travel with two other Politburo members, Ho Chi Minh City Communist Party boss Le Thanh Hai and National Assembly Vice Chairwoman Tong Thi Phong. This number speaks volumes about the new U.S.-Vietnam partnership. Trong’s past trips to Vietnam’s closest friends Laos, Cuba, and Russia had only one Politburo member in the general secretary’s entourage.

While the HD-981 oil rig crisis was a game changer in Sino-Vietnamese relations, the shift that it caused had been fed constantly since the late 2000s by China’s increasingly assertive actions in the South China Sea. Should the oil rig not have been moved to Vietnam’s EEZ, another event would have caused the turning point in Vietnamese foreign policy. China’s artificial island building, which started in the same year, is one candidate.

The new tendency is not only pushing Vietnam away from the Chinese orbit; it is also moving Hanoi to a position of equidistance between Beijing and Washington. And it is opening up the possibility that Vietnam will continue to veer closer to the United States. This has been unthinkable until now.

China has already responded to this shift. In its new approach, cooperative elements are highlighted while the coercive elements are more refined. In April, Beijing gave Trong a lavish welcome that went beyond the reception the Vietnamese can expect to receive in the United States. Tapping Vietnamese deference to Chinaand hunger for finance, Beijing offered a large package of projects that would tighten Vietnam’s economic dependence on China. In May, China initiated an unprecedented meeting of the two ministers of defense right at the land border. At the same time, Beijing continued to raise the stakes in the South China Sea by speeding up its building program in the Spratly Islands. About a week before Trong’s trip to the United States, China also moved the same drilling rig that triggered the 2014 crisis to a sensitive area near the Vietnamese coast, probably to remind the Vietnamese of its power and proximity.

The new coziness between Hanoi and Washington will also change the political atmosphere in Vietnam. It will broaden the freedom of action available to modernizers both within and outside the ruling elites. Anti-Westerners, who dominated Vietnamese politics until 2006, will now be in decline. The effects of the new developments on the third camp of elites in Vietnamese politics, the rent-seekers, are mixed. On the one hand, the turn to the West and the United States will put pressure on Hanoi to further liberalize the economy and society. This will make life for rent-seekers harder than before. On the other hand, the increased assistance and capital flows from Japan, South Korea, and the United States are loosening the safety valve on the crisis-prone Vietnamese economy, making life easier for rent-seekers, who are the largest group in the ruling elites.

Otto von Bismarck has once remarked, “Politics is the art of the possible.” But ambition can also bring the impossible into play. Beijing’s ambition to turn the South China Sea into a Chinese lake has taken some things that once seemed impossible and made them appear possible. Once archenemies, Vietnam and the United States are now poised to become informal strategic allies. This in turn is creating an entirely new dynamic in the triangular U.S.-China-Vietnam relationship, and will have a lasting impact on the future of Vietnam.

Alexander L. Vuving is an Associate Professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect those of the Asia-Pacific Center, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


 (It seems China has also created its own version of reality with media control and propaganda….)

U.S. influence shrinks in Myanmar, Thailand

July 5, 2015


By Matthew Pennington / The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A legislative victory on trade last week has given a vital boost to President Barack Obama’s effort to deepen U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific region. His administration also navigated worrying tensions with China by stressing at high-level talks in Washington how the two powers can cooperate on issues of global concern, like climate change.

But there was sobering news from Asia with implications for U.S. policymakers.

In Myanmar, where the United States has been a champion of democratic reforms, parliament rejected constitutional changes to dilute the military’s role in politics. The legislature also blocked the prospect of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi contesting for the presidency in crucial November elections.

China’s territorial ambitions have become a source of growing acrimony with its neighbors and the United States. On Friday, Philippine officials said China was pressing ahead with construction of artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, a massive land reclamation project Beijing had said would soon end.

And in Thailand, America’s oldest ally in Asia, there were further signs that the military junta is tightening its grip after a year in power. The timetable for free elections remains uncertain, meaning the U.S. relationship with Thailand will continue to be strained, even as the United States prepares to fill its ambassadorial vacancy there.

The tapestry of concerns shows that Obama’s strategic mission in Asia is a complex one. Since his first term, his administration has sought to increase U.S. diplomatic, security and commercial ties there.

That mission, and the president’s legacy, got an important boost with the congressional approval last week of “fast-track” authority enhancing Obama’s ability to negotiate trade deals.

That paves the way for the United States and 11 other nations to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the main economic element of his so-called “pivot” strategy to Asia. Fast track enables the president to present a negotiated deal that lawmakers can approve or reject but not amend, a necessity if the market-opening deal is to gain eventual ratification.

It was a remarkable turnaround. Just two weeks ago, Obama’s own Democratic Party had dealt him an embarrassing defeat on fast track. Now trade experts believe Obama’s negotiators could finish the deal with the other nations by early autumn and that Congress could vote on it by year’s end. That would quell perceptions that the United States is allowing China, the main trading partner for most of Asia, to set the region’s international economic agenda.

But far from Washington, a marquee achievement in the administration’s push to expand American influence in Southeast Asia suffered a setback.

Myanmar’s parliament, where the military retains a heavy influence and is guaranteed one-quarter of the seats, voted Thursday against ending the military’s veto power on constitutional amendments and changing the rule that stands in the way of Suu Kyi completing a Mandela-like transition from political prisoner to national leader.

Obama was the first sitting U.S. president to visit Myanmar. The country’s shift from repressive military rule and opening to the West reflects his administration’s willingness to reach out former foes, and has been held up as an example that other repressive governments could follow.

But the failure to reform the junta-era Constitution before the election is likely to intensify criticism of U.S. haste in lifting sanctions against Myanmar, where international concern has also grown over persecution of minority Muslims that has spawned a regional refugee crisis.

Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley and Republican Rep. Steve Chabot said in a joint statement that the military’s scotching of constitutional reform “solidifies concerns that the country’s upcoming elections cannot be free, fair or credible.”

In Thailand, meanwhile, the junta canceled an event at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Bangkok, where a human rights group had wanted to launch a report about Vietnam.

Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin told a Senate hearing his “patience is running thin” on Thailand holding elections as lawmakers considered the nominee to fill the position of ambassador, vacant since November. The nominee, Glyn Davies, said “job one” would be to urge a return to democracy and breaking the cycle of periodic military coups.



President Obama kisses Myanmar democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi during his visit there. One wonders if there is any gain for being a friend to America there days. Or is this the “kiss of death”?

President Obama with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Thailand in November 2012.

U.S. Ready To Welcome Vietnam’s Party Chief Nguyen Phu Trong To “Historic Visit”

July 5, 2015


Nguyen Phu Trong, Vietnam’s top Communist Party official, in Hanoi in February. He is traveling to Washington this week to meet with President Barack Obama. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

By Grant Peck

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong doesn’t hold an official government post, but it’s not surprising that he’ll meet with President Barack Obama on his visit to the United States this week. He is the de-facto top leader of his country.

More telling is one of Trong’s other engagements — a dinner reception hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, bastion of American free enterprise. Economic imperatives drove the U.S. and Vietnam to normalize postwar relations 20 years ago, and they remain a major incentive to boost ties.

President Bill Clinton announced the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Vietnam on July 11, 1995, following up on the lifting of punitive economic sanctions imposed after the Vietnam War ended in 1975 with a communist victory.

The bitterness on both sides gave way to pragmatism. Vietnam’s socialist planners were running the economy of the newly unified nation into the ground, and needed a helping hand. American businesses saw opportunities that might otherwise be seized by Asian and European competitors.

Trong called his trip on Tuesday “a historic visit.” He said he expects Obama to make his first visit to Vietnam later this year.

Photo: Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong on July 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Tran Van Minh)

U.S. officials are eager to take relations with Vietnam — currently friendly but hardly intimate — to a new level. Vietnam could be a linchpin in Obama’s “pivot” toward Asia, playing a strong geopolitical and economic role. As a front-line country nervous about Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, Vietnam also would not mind the U.S. directing at least a little hard talk at Beijing.

“We believe that as one of the world’s leading major powers and a member of the (U.N. Security Council), the U.S. has a great interest and responsibility in maintaining peace and stability in the world, particularly in the Asia-Pacific,” Trong said Friday in a written response to questions submitted by The Associated Press.

In careful diplomatic language, he said he hoped “that the U.S. will continue to have appropriate voice and actions to contribute to peaceful settlement of disputes in the (South China Sea) in accordance with international law in order to ensure peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific and the world.”

U.S. ambitions to remain a Pacific power hinge in large part on projecting its power by drawing a line with China.

Popular sentiment in Vietnam is generally hostile toward China’s assertive maritime territorial claims, but the country’s leaders are loath to antagonize their much bigger neighbor. The practical perils of proximity are one matter, but more doctrinaire communists such as Trong are uneasy about casting their lot with the democratic West instead of their old communist kin in Beijing.

In Washington’s view, however, wooing a hard-line skeptic such as the 71-year-old Trong is key to achieving the two countries’ goals.

While Trong’s trip is a sign of how far the U.S.-Vietnam relationship has come in the 40 years since the end of the war, that doesn’t mean an alliance is in the works, said Walter Lohman, director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

“They want to have eggs in the American basket to balance off what they’ve got in the Chinese basket, all in the service of Vietnam’s interest and strategic vision,” he said.

Trong emphasized the importance of Vietnam’s relationship with the U.S.

“Vietnam would like to be a friend and reliable partner of all countries in the world,” he wrote in his response. “In this effort, we attach great importance to the relations with the U.S. as one of the most important partners in our foreign policy.”

What Washington has to offer Hanoi are economic benefits, particularly under the yet-to-be finalized multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership. It can point to a solid track record: Since 1995, annual U.S.-Vietnam trade has increased from less than $500 million to $35 billion last year. Vietnam has now surpassed Malaysia and Thailand as Southeast Asia’s top exporter of merchandise to the U.S. .

Trong’s visit “is part of the discussion in Hanoi about the nation’s future … how to balance the economic and political links with China against the lure of U.S. markets and security assurances,” said Frank Jannuzi, a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer who now works at the Washington-based Mansfield Foundation, which aims to promote U.S.-Asia relations.

Jannuzi pondered whether the trade pact’s economic benefits and U.S. guarantees on South China Sea security would carry the day, or if Vietnam’s communist government would stick to the model of their Chinese comrades “and follow the path of resilient authoritarianism, with state control of key sectors of economy and strict controls on power-sharing.”

Human rights remains a sticky issue, with Vietnam’s repression of dissidents undercutting political support in the U.S. Congress for sweetening any deals with Vietnam, such as acceding to Hanoi’s desire to be allowed to purchase lethal weaponry.

The Obama administration “deserves credit for continuing to pressure Vietnam on political prisoners, labor rights and religious liberty. The problem is, it’s not working,” said John Sifton, Human Rights Watch’s Asia advocacy director in Washington.

The U.S. says prosecution of dissidents has decreased and the number of political prisoners has dropped from more than 160 two years ago to around 110 — progress it attributes to Hanoi’s desire to join a U.S.-backed trade pact of Pacific Rim nations. But Sifton said the reduction was due to people serving out their terms, not early releases. Human Rights Watch estimates there are still about 150 political prisoners being held.

Trong acknowledged differences with the U.S. on issues of democracy, human rights and trade. But he added: “We should maintain dialogues in an open, candid and constructive manner to increase mutual understanding, narrow differences and make best use of our cooperation potentials. We should work to make sure such differences do not hinder bilateral relations.”

Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.


Clinton and Obama are on the wrong side of history

July 5, 2015

By Dana Milbank
The Washington Post

Scenes from an insurrection:

In Madison, Wis., on Wednesday, 10,000 people show up to rally for long-shot presidential candidate Bernie Sanders — giving the self-declared “democratic socialist” the largest crowd any candidate has had in this election cycle. Sanders, running on a shoestring and a prayer, has closed to within single digits of Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire and is surging in Iowa.

In New York on Tuesday, populist Mayor Bill de Blasiolashes out in vitriolic terms at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a a fellow Democrat, accusing him of “games” and politically motivated “revenge.” De Blasio and other Democrats blast Cuomo’s handling of housing, immigration, the minimum wage and education.

In Washington last month, an overwhelming majority of Democrats — 158 of 186 in the House and 31 of 44 in the Senate — oppose President Obama on free-trade legislation. Obama prevails in the vote after failing in a similar vote earlier in the month, but the episode leaves the president attempting to repair a deep rift with his fellow Democrats by championing overtime rules favored by unions.

These are not isolated events. Together, they show anew how the populist movement is ascendant within the Democratic Party, and they confirm that the balance of power has shifted. Clinton, who reports raising $45 million since launching her campaign in April, will almost certainly beat the upstart 73-year-old with the crazy white hair. Obama won on trade. But Clinton and Obama are, to borrow a favorite phrase of the president, on the wrong side of history. As I’ve noted, the country is trending in a more liberal direction, and a growing proportion of Democrats are hard-core liberals.

There are various causes, but the change is likely in part a reaction to the tea party and to the Republican Party’s swing to the right. Democrats so far have shown less inclination to eat their own, but there is a real possibility that intraparty fratricide will break out if Clinton and the rest of the Democratic establishment don’t co-opt the rising populist movement. In New York, for example, there is already talk of a liberal primary challenge to Cuomo if he chooses to run again in 2018.

That the Sanders campaign has caught fire is a surprise to just about everybody, not least the candidate himself, who had his doubts. The Brooklyn-born Vermonter with a didactic style lacks the fire and charisma of Elizabeth Warren, who chose not to run. But his call for huge infrastructure spending and taxing the rich has caught the moment just right, even if Sanders himself is an imperfect vessel.

In May, Clinton had a 31-point lead in New Hampshire over her nearest potential Democratic competitor in the WMUR/CNN poll; now she leads Sanders by only eight points, which because of the poll’s methodology is a statistical tie. In Iowa, likewise, Clinton had a 45-point lead over Sanders in May, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. Now her lead has shrunk to 19 points.

The populist pushback that propels Sanders’s unexpected success also can be seen in the incendiary remarks of New York’s top populist, de Blasio, who took the extraordinary step of calling journalists to City Hall to denounce the governor. He called Cuomo’s actions “not anything like acceptable government practice,” according to the New York Times.

At the heart of the criticism is a sense that Cuomo, though the son of the late liberal lion Mario Cuomo, was insufficiently pure in his ideology and too willing to strike deals with Republicans. Several New York liberals have begun rumbles of a primary challenge to Cuomo — an effort that would be like the conservative efforts to purge the Republican Party of RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) in recent elections.

Obama, too, has been upended by the populist wave. Though he eventually prevailed in the “fast-track” trade vote, he had nothing like the support Bill Clinton got when he pushed through the North American Free Trade Agreement with half of Senate Democrats and 40 percent of House Democrats. Liberals called that a victory. “This isn’t 1993, and this is not Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), who led Democratic opposition in the House, wrote in the Huffington Post on Thursday.

Bill Clinton reshaped the party with moderate “New Democrats,” but the new New Democrats look more like the old. Hillary Clinton, notably, sided with liberals on the trade legislation, which is smart: If she doesn’t want to get trampled by populists on the march, she’ll need to grab a baton and pretend to be the drum major.

Netanyahu Expresses Alarm: What’s happening in Iran talks is a breakdown, not a breakthrough

July 5, 2015

Jerusalem Post
July 5, 2015

At weekly cabinet meeting, prime minister says that deal emerging with Iran is worse than deal that led to North Korea obtaining an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu on Sunday expressed alarm at the emerging nuclear deal between western powers and Iran currently taking place in Vienna.

Speaking at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that “what’s coming out of the nuclear talks in Vienna is not a breakthrough, it’s a breakdown.”

Netanyahu said that the world powers were conceding more and more with each passing day.

The emerging deal “will pave Iran’s way to produce the cores of many atomic bombs and it will also flood Iran with hunderds of millions of dollars that will serve it in its aggression and its mission of terror in the region and the world,” the prime minister warned.

Netanyahu claimed that the emerging deal with Iran was worse than the nuclear deal that had been signed with North Korea which led to Pyongyang obtaining an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

“However, here we are talking about a very big conventional and non-conventional threat against Israel, against the countries of the region and against the world,” he stated.

Iran and world powers made progress on future sanctions relief for Iran in marathon nuclear talks on Saturday, but remained divided on issues such as lifting United Nations sanctions and the development of advanced centrifuges.

Diplomats close to the negotiations said they had tentative agreement on a mechanism for suspending US and European Union sanctions on Iran.

But the six powers had yet to agree on a United Nations Security Council resolution that would lift UN sanctions and establish a means of re-imposing them in case of Iranian non-compliance with a future agreement.

“We still haven’t sorted a Security Council resolution,” a diplomat close to the talks told Reuters. “We don’t have Iran on board yet.”

Senior Iranian and Western diplomats echoed the remarks. Some of the toughest disputes, including the question of easing UN sanctions, were likely to be left for foreign ministers when they arrived in the Austrian capital on Sunday, officials said.

“Even if and when issues get resolved at an experts level, there will remain some open issues that can only be decided by ministers,” a senior US official told reporters.

Iran is in talks with the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia on an agreement to curtail its nuclear program for at least a decade in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

The negotiators missed a June 30 deadline for a final agreement, but have given themselves until July 7. Foreign ministers not in Vienna are expected to rejoin their counterparts in a final push for a deal beginning on Sunday.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Iran deploys new home-built long-range radar

July 5, 2015


Iran’s new long range ohased array radar is called Ghadir


Iran says it has deployed a new domestically built long-range radar system, signaling a strengthening of its air defenses as it holds what may be the final days of talks on a nuclear deal with world powers.

Brigadier General Farzad Esmaili, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) air defense force, unveiled the Ghadir phased-array radar in Ahwaz city in southwestern Khuzestan province near the Iraq border, state television said late on Saturday.

Iran says the Ghadir unit is designed and manufactured entirely inside the country and can detect a plane at 600 km (373 miles) and a ballistic missile at 1,100 km.

In comments suggesting the radar can also identify miniature unmanned drone aircraft, Esmaili was quoted by the Fars news agency as saying: “Discovering and tracking micro aerial vehicles (MAV) … is one of the special qualities of the Ghadir radar system.”

Iran has taken steps to develop its air defenses after U.S. and Israeli officials warned of possible military action to curtail its nuclear program, and is in discussions to buy the advanced S-300 ground-to-air missile system from Russia.

Iran’s Brigadier General Farzad Esmaili

Top U.S. commander General Martin Dempsey in April said the ‘military option’ against Iran remains intact. The United States and Israel fear Iran is trying to obtain a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Iran and world powers made progress in nuclear talks on Saturday, but remained divided on issues such as lifting United Nations sanctions and the development of advanced centrifuges. Negotiators have given themselves until July 7 to reach a deal.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Sam Wilkin, William Maclean and Janet Lawrence)

A Russian officer demonstrates the S-300 air-defence missiles at a military base outside Moscow, Friday, April 10, 1998

The S-300 system will enhance Iran’s ability to defend against air attacks


Iran deploys cutting-edge Ghadir radar system

News ID: 2851873 – Sun 5 July 2015 – 13:24
AHVAZ, Jul. 05 (MNA) – Iran’s IRGC on Saturday has officially put into service a domestically developed long-range radar system capable of detecting stealth aircraft.

The country’s second advanced long-range radar system, named Ghadir, was unveiled in a ceremony on Saturday in Ahvaz, attended by Commander of Khatam al-Anbiya Air Defense Base Brigadier General Farzad Esmaeili and a number of other military top brass.

The domestically developed radar system uses three-dimensional (3D) technology to detect all aerial targets, including cruise and ballistic missiles, stealth drones, as well as low-altitude satellites.

Ghadir long-range radar can monitor all types of aircrafts within a radius of 600 kilomeres and detect ballistic missiles within a radius of 1,100 kilometers at a maximum 100-km altitude.

The first Ghadir radar system was unveiled in June 2014 and put into service in Garmsar radar site in Semnan province. The second radar after having undergone several tests for six months has been deployed into the country’s air defense on Saturday. The third radar has also finished construction and will be put into service in the near future.

According to Brig. General Esmaeili, Ghadir radar system costs one fifth of its foreign version and will considerably increase the security of Iran’s airspace.

In recent years, Iran has made major breakthroughs in its defense sector and attained self-sufficiency in producing important military equipment and systems.

Despite its great defense achievements, the Islamic Republic has repeatedly said its military might poses no threat to other countries, insisting that its defense doctrine is merely based on deterrence.



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