Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

China Daily Warns U.S., Obama: China is Vietnam’s Top Trading Partner

May 24, 2016
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Former foes must not spark regional tinderbox
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(China Daily)Updated: 2016-05-24 07:59
Former foes must not spark regional tinderbox
US President Barack Obama attends a news conference with Vietnam’s President Tran Dai Quang at the Presidential Palace Compound in Hanoi, Vietnam, May 23, 2016. [Photo/Agencies]

The ongoing visit by US President Barack Obama to Vietnam, the third by a US leader since diplomatic relations were restored in 1995, may serve as a footnote to the adage that there are no eternal allies or perpetual enemies, only eternal and perpetual interests.

More than four decades after the end of the Vietnam War, which killed millions of Vietnamese and 58,000 US troops, the former bitter foes have turned into friends and are seeking to boost their commercial, military and political relations.

The three-day visit-whose duration underscores the importance Washington now attaches to Hanoi-has already born fruit, with Vietnam signing a deal to buy 100 Boeing planes worth billions of US dollars, and the US announcing that it will fully lift the arms embargo it imposed on Vietnam decades ago.

Both are clearly willing to let go of the lingering vestiges of war to complete the lengthy process of normalizing bilateral relations that started years ago.

But whatever common interests the two countries pursue, they should never compromise China’s national interests and threaten regional security.

It is worrying to note the three-day visit has been described by some as a pivotal move in the US’ strategic rebalancing to curb the rise of China. The US, they say, is using Vietnam as an offset to China’s growing strength in the region, especially after tensions increased in the South China Sea because of regional countries’ competing sovereignty claims.

This, if true, bodes ill for regional peace and stability, as it would further complicate the situation in the South China Sea, and risk turning the region into a tinderbox of conflicts.

It remains to be seen whether such a worry is justified. The growing mutual benefits shared between China and Vietnam markedly outweigh their differences. China has long remained Vietnam’s top trading partner, and leaders of the two countries have been working hard to maintain a relationship of “good neighbors, good friends, good comrades and good partners”.

Despite their maritime disputes in the South China Sea, China and Vietnam have made public their commitment to resolving their differences properly through cooperation and dialogue, a principle that already helped both to complete demarcation of the Beibu Bay smoothly.

To distance himself from a confrontational stance against China, Obama was quick to separate the decision to lift the Vietnam arms sales ban from any shared interest to contain China, saying it was based on completing the normalization of relations with Vietnam not on China.

We hope Obama means what he says.

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2016-05/24/content_25437268.htm

Related:

 (Includes links to several articles, same topic)

 

Google Paris offices raided in £1.2 billion tax probe

May 24, 2016

By The Daily Telegraph
24 May 2016 • 2:41pm

Google Paris offices raided in £1.2 billion tax probe — Members of the media stand outside the entrance of Google’s Paris headquarters as French investigators conduct a raid. Credit: REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

French police have raided Google’s Paris offices as part of an investigation into “aggravated tax fraud” and money laundering, authorities said on Tuesday.

The raid is the latest regulatory headache for the American search engine-and-email company, which like other Silicon Valley firms faces increasing questions about its complex tax arrangements. France believes Google owes €1.6 billion (£1.2 billion) in back taxes.

A police car outside the Paris offices of US Internet giant Google in Paris, as police carry out a search as part of a tax fraud investigation. 

A police car outside the Paris offices of US Internet giant Google.   Paris police carry out a search as part of a tax fraud investigation.  Credit: MATTHIEU ALEXANDRE/AFP/Getty 

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France’s financial prosecutor’s office said the raids were carried out with the assistance of the police anti-corruption unit and 25 information technology experts. French daily Le Parisien, which first reported the news, said the raid took place at dawn and involved some 100 investigators.

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The investigation is aimed at finding out whether Google Ireland Ltd. is permanently established in France and if… it has failed to meet its fiscal obligations, in particular with regard to corporation tax and value added taxFrench prosecutor’s office.
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“These searches are the result of a preliminary investigation opened on June 16, 2015 relative to aggravated tax fraud and organised money laundering following a complaint from French fiscal authorities,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

The raid is the latest regulatory headache for the American company

The raid is the latest regulatory headache for the American company Credit: REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/Illustration/File

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“The investigation is aimed at finding out whether Google Ireland Ltd. is permanently established in France and if, by not declaring some of its activity on French soil, it has failed to meet its fiscal obligations, in particular with regard to corporation tax and value added tax.”

Google and other American technology companies typically base their European subsidiaries in Ireland or other low-tax jurisdictions such as Luxembourg, allowing them to do business with customers across the continent while minimizing their fiscal obligations – a technique known as profit-shifting. European regulators have increasingly pressed the firms to pay taxes in the jurisdictions in which they do business.

Members of the press outside Google's France office on Tuesday

Members of the press outside Google’s France office on Tuesday Credit: AFP

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Google is under pressure elsewhere. Earlier this year the company agreed to pay about £130 million in back taxes to the British government, a deal which drew the attention of European investigators. Google’s rivals have faced similar pressures: in December Apple agreed to pay Italy €318 million in taxes for several past years.

Google declined to go into detail when reached for comment.

“We comply with French law and are cooperating fully with the authorities to answer their questions,” the company said in statement.

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Khamenei: US ‘can’t do a damn thing’ about our missile program

May 24, 2016

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May 24, 2016, 1:19 am
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Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei poses for a portrait prior to delivering his message for the Iranian New Year, Sunday, March 20, 2016. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/AP)
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Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei on Monday said the United States cannot “do a damn thing” about the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile program.“They have engaged in a lot of hue and cry over Iran’s missile capabilities, but they should know that this ballyhoo does not have any influence and they cannot do a damn thing,” Khamenei said, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

Iran in March tested ballistic missiles, including two with the words “Israel must be wiped off the earth” emblazoned on them, according to the US and other Western powers. Under a nuclear deal signed last year between world powers and Iran, ballistic missile tests are not forbidden outright but are “not consistent” with a United Nations Security Council resolution from July 2015, US officials say.

According to the UN decision, “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology,” until October 2023.

“The US and other powers are extremely sad at this issue and they have no other option; that is why they made huge efforts in order to bring the country’s decision-making and decision-taking centers under their control, but they failed and God willing, they will continue to fail,” Khamanei said on Monday.

The supreme leader, who has final say on state matters, lambasted the “arrogant” Western powers, arguing that efforts to shut down its nuclear program and missile tests were a pretext to meddle in Iran’s affairs.

“The nuclear issue and missiles are excuses and of course excuses are useless and they can do no damn thing,” Khamenei said. “The point is Iran doesn’t follow arrogant powers.”

“In this war, willpowers are fighting. The stronger willpower will win,” Khamenei added.


A missile launched from the Alborz mountains in Iran on March 9, 2016, reportedly inscribed in Hebrew, ‘Israel must be wiped out.’ (Fars News)
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Also Monday, Iranian Revolutionary Guards general Qassem Soleimani maintained that without the Islamic Republic, the Islamic State would now control all of Syria. The United States has been forced to back down in the region, he said, according to Iranian reports.Last week, a senior Iranian military commander boasted that the Islamic Republic could “raze the Zionist regime in less than eight minutes.”
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Ahmad Karimpour, a senior adviser to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite unit al-Quds Force, said if Khamenei gave the order to destroy Israel, the Iranian military had the capacity to do so quickly.
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“If the Supreme Leader’s orders [are] to be executed, with the abilities and the equipment at our disposal, we will raze the Zionist regime in less than eight minutes,” Karimpour said Thursday, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

A senior Iranian general on May 9 announced that the country’s armed forces successfully tested a precision-guided, medium-range ballistic missile two weeks earlier that could reach Israel, the state-run Tasnim agency reported.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards al-Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani (YouTube: BBC Newsnight)

“We test-fired a missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers and a margin of error of eight meters,” Brigadier General Ali Abdollahi was quoted as saying at a Tehran science conference. The eight-meter margin means the “missile enjoys zero error,” he told conference participants.

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Iran is officially listed as a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. Department of State.
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US Secretary of State John Kerry is understood to have immedately contacted his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif

US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif  Photo: Craig Ruttle/AP

Iran complains that “pay off” of nuclear deal has been slow to appear

May 24, 2016

World | Tue May 24, 2016 5:30am EDT

Reuters

Hopes that Iran would quickly reintegrate with world markets after its nuclear deal, bringing investment and opportunities to a young population, are turning to frustration. An opaque business environment in Iran and political uncertainty in the United States are to blame.

Tehran’s hotels are buzzing with businessmen keen for a slice of a big new emerging market, more industrially developed than most oil and gas-rich nations but isolated since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that turned Iran into a pariah state for most of the West and many of its Middle Eastern neighbors.

Yet potential foreign investors have found that the removal of international sanctions in exchange for monitored curbs on Iran’s nuclear program is only part of the story.

Barriers to entry include resistance from hardliners within Iran who worry an opening to the world will undermine their entrenched interests, and fear among foreign investors of falling foul of residual U.S. sanctions.

Under the nuclear deal, the U.S. and Europe lifted sanctions in January. But other U.S. restrictions remain. These include a ban on Iran-linked transactions in dollars being processed through the U.S. financial system and sanctions on individuals and entities identified as supporting “state-sponsored terrorism”.

The chief target of the anti-terrorism sanctions is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the theocratic establishment’s enforcer at home and strike-force abroad. The IRGC is also behind a business empire, encompassing construction to banking, and is expert at hiding its involvement.

Investors and top-tier foreign banks fear U.S. action could shut them out of the international banking system if they deal, even by mistake, with sanctioned bodies.

Adding to the uncertainty, Iranian analysts and foreign executives say, is the rise of Donald Trump, the U.S. tycoon set to clinch the Republican nomination in this year’s presidential election, who has threatened to tear up the Iran deal.

Yet even without this uncertainty, prospective dealmakers are finding themselves blocked.

 

IRGC TIES

Foreign executives scouting for business in Iran say when they examine the tangle of ownership behind companies they approach, they often detect IRGC ties.

Claude Begle, executive chairman of SymbioSwiss, a logistics and infrastructure company, says he found that one exploratory project turned up such links.

“We did a lot of due diligence and we found that the names of institutions appearing on the OFAC (the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control) sanction list are sometimes not far away,” he said in apparent reference to the Revolutionary Guard.

“When you look at the shareholders structure at the second or third level, then you see that such names may appear. They are sitting there.”

“Very often when you look at Iran’s successful companies, you can see that. And unless those companies are willing to modify accordingly their board structures, it will be very hard to raise international financing to work with such entities.”

The central problem for potential foreign investors is that even unwitting contact with an Iranian counterparty under sanctions could result in heavy U.S. Treasury penalties, effectively cutting them off from America’s financial markets – a powerful disincentive for any globalized business.

Alexander Gorjinia, part of the second German business delegation to visit Iran since August 2015, says “the biggest problem is the banks”.

While businesses and banks may have German go-ahead to operate in Iran, OFAC “puts the responsibility of establishing whether the (Iranian) company is clean on the foreign company.”

“The foreign company has to investigate the Iranian company, whether it is linked to or is part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard,” Gorjinia told Reuters.

“It has to investigate their dealings, how they operate behind the scenes. We have to work with companies that have money in their pocket and most of them are part of the Revolutionary Guard. This is what our information tells us.”

European companies feel all these rules are part of a U.S. administration plan to block business between Europe and Iran, he complains.

Part of the problem is that units of the Revolutionary Guard are intervening in several of the wars across the Middle East.

In Iraq, Iran is aligned with the U.S. in the fight against the jihadis of Islamic State. But in Syria it is on the opposite side along with Russia, propping up the government of President Bashar al-Assad, while in Yemen Tehran has backed the Shi’ite Houthi insurgency that last year prompted U.S. ally Saudi Arabia to launch an air war across its southern border.

Few expect the U.S. to loosen sanctions on the IRGC and its business empire against this backdrop.

 

FEAR AMONG BANKS

While Western businessmen commonly assume that their Chinese or Russian counterparts would be less inhibited by US sanctions, one Chinese executive in Tehran, who asked not to be named, also highlights the issue that international banks, fearful of being locked out of US capital markets, are so far spurning Iran.

Representing an oil and gas machinery company, he has visited Iran several times after the nuclear accord, but has yet to sign a single deal. Most Iranian companies, he says, even when there is clear demand for his drilling equipment, “don’t have money to pay”.

“They ask the sellers to provide financing,” he says “but that is impossible because throughout the world no foreign bank dares to do business with Iranian banks because they are scared…until the big (international) banks start doing business, but European banks are still scared of U.S. banks.”

Iranian leaders are complaining they have been short-changed on the sanctions relief part of the nuclear deal.

“On paper the United States allows foreign banks to deal with Iran, but in practice they create Iranophobia so no one does business with Iran,” Ayatollah Khamenei said last month.

Begle, the Swiss executive, says President Hassan Rouhani earlier this year asked the visiting Swiss president to press leading Swiss banks to start financing foreign operations in Iran.

“But of course the Swiss government cannot tell a private company to do this,” Begle says. “It can indicate that it would see it favorably, it can even consider some guarantees, but after all, it is a decision for the bank itself.”

HOSTILITY

There are other obstacles. The IRGC and other vested interests built up by hardliners grouped around Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, are hostile to foreign entry into Iran’s economy.

Khamenei, whose power far outweighs that of Iran’s elected officials in parliament or the presidency, gave decisive support to the nuclear deal which greatly strengthened the position of Rouhani, the reform-minded centrist president.

Rouhani, in coalition with reformists and independent conservatives, wrested back control of parliament from hardliners in February’s elections. This, some of his allies believe, should make it easier for the government to introduce business-friendly laws.

Yet four years ago, parliament passed a law intended to reduce the state’s role in the economy, put in place credible regulators and investor guarantees, and eventually get entities like those controlled by the IRGC to pay taxes. It has not been implemented.

Rouhani embodies popular expectations that IRGC-linked vested interests seem determined to thwart, some Iranian analysts believe, because sanctions have enabled them to win and keep control of the economy.

Hossein Raghfar, professor of economics at Tehran’s Alzahra University, says “there are many interest groups that have become very rich because of the economic crisis. They don’t want sanctions to be lifted.”

Saeed Laylaz, an economist close to Rouhani, says Iran’s economy was brought to its knees more by mismanagement than by sanctions. Jailed after hardliners cracked down on protests at the allegedly rigged presidential vote that gave Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term in 2009, he does not underestimate the hostility of vested interests towards a more open economy.

“I strongly believe some clear part of the regime has and had the project of creating sanctions against Iran to hide their mismanagement and their organized looting of economic wealth.”

To change the general atmosphere for business in the country, the Supreme Leader, the Revolutionary Guard and the judicial system must all be on board, Laylaz says.

“These are very important elements to attract foreign investment, just having the support of parliament doesn’t work at all. Because of this I am not too optimistic about it.”

(Created by Samia Nakhoul, editing by Janet McBride)

Related:

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at a press conference in Tehran. AP photo

 

President Obama Marvels At Vietnam’s Growing Middle Class — While The American Middle Class is Headed Toward Extinction and President Obama Still Tries to Hallucinate Prosperity

May 24, 2016

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Peace and Freedom Commentary

During President Obama’s second full day in Vietnam he spoke to packed auditorium about the shared values of the U.S. and Vietnam and our responsibilities for human rights, trade, the well being of citizens and peace and stability.

He marveled at Vietnam’s burgeoning middle class.

“Nations are more successful when people can freely express themselves, assemble without harassment and have access the internet and social media,” Obama said.

That’s a worthy sentiment — one I may have written myself while I was a speechwriter for a big shot.

But Obama’s rhetoric may not be exactly the truth in the case of Vietnam, China or the United States — during the Obama years.

The Vietnamese people are quick to talk about their human rights restrictions. Yet the Vietnamese economy is one of the more vibrant in Asia and the middle class is rapidly growing.

The Chinese middle class has been expanding by leaps and bounds — but human rights restrictions in China remain notably harsh.

In the United States, the U.S. economy during the Obama years can best be described as a tragic failure — even though Americans enjoy many human rights.

President Obama has president over the nation’s worst economic recovery ever.

From 2000 through 2014 the middle class in America shrank in nine out of every 10 metro areas.

According to The Associated Press report on May 12, 2016:

A widening wealth gap is moving more households into either higher- or lower-income groups in major metro areas, with fewer remaining in the middle, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.

In short, under President Obama the American Middle Class has been constantly shrinking — and the Associated Press said it is headed for extinction.

American wages remain at 1997 levels. As areas have decided to raise the minimum wage, many have reported job losses.

America’s labor force participation rate is the worst it has been since the Great Depression.

But the good news is this: transgender people can use whatever bathroom they want!

The U.S. record on human rights is terrific. But without a middle class, who is left to enjoy our once famous freedoms?

Related:

 (Read the Associated Press report cited above)

 (Experts say this has added to the “burden” the government places upon businesses.)

American wages remain at 1997 levels as recovery fails to lift middle class
http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/16/american-economy-wages-poverty-middle-class-census-bureau

President Barack Obama speaks in the White House briefing room in Washington, Friday, May 6, 2016, about the economy and new steps to strengthen financial transparency and combat money laundering, corruption, and tax evasion. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

 

 

  (This is from October 2014 but many still feel like they did then)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has described the “stagnant living standards for the majority.”

The ripple effect of the president’s tax hikes is swamping take-home pay

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MIT economist Jonathan Gruber testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, before the House Oversight Committee health care hearing. Congressional Democrats charged Tuesday that Republicans are seizing on a health adviser’s self-described “thoughtless” and misleading remarks to attack President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

ACA Architect: ‘The Stupidity Of The American Voter’ Led Us To Hide Obamacare’s True Costs From The Public

http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2014/11/10/aca-architect-the-stupidity-of-the-american-voter-led-us-to-hide-obamacares-tax-hikes-and-subsidies-from-the-public/#34e2f6cf779b

Obama Proclaims Vietnam and the Unites States As Partners, Appeals For More Progress on Human Rights

May 24, 2016

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By Foster Klug and Nancy Benac
The Associated Press
HANOI, Vietnam — May 24, 2016, 6:09 AM ET

President Barack Obama on Tuesday pressed Vietnam to allow greater freedoms for its citizens, arguing that better human rights would improve the communist country’s economy, stability and regional power.

On his second full day in the southeast Asian nation, Obama also met with activists as part of a push for closer ties with the fast-growing, strategically crucial country that included the lifting of one of the last vestiges of Vietnam War-era antagonism: a five-decades-old arms sale embargo.

In a speech at the National Convention Center, Obama sought to balance a desire for a stronger relationship with Vietnam with efforts to hold its leadership to account over what activists call an abysmal treatment of government critics.

Nations are more successful when people can freely express themselves, assemble without harassment and access the internet and social media, Obama said.

“Upholding these rights is not a threat to stability but actually reinforces stability and is the foundation of progress,” Obama told the audience of more than 2,000, including government officials and students from five universities across the Hanoi area. “Vietnam will do it differently than the United States does … But there are these basic principles that I think we all have to try to work on and improve.”

Freedom of expression is where new ideas happen, Obama said. “That’s how a Facebook starts. That’s how some of our greatest companies began.”

Journalists and bloggers can “shine a light on injustice or abuse” when they are allowed to operate free of government interference or intimidation, he added. And, stability is encouraged when voters get to choose their leaders in free and fair elections “because citizens know that their voices count and that peaceful change is possible. And it brings new people into the system,” Obama said.

Obama also traced the transformation of the U.S.-Vietnamese relationship, from wartime enemies to cooperation. He said the governments are working more closely together than ever before on a range of issues.

“Now we can say something that was once unimaginable: Today, Vietnam and the Unites States are partners,” he said, adding that their experience was teaching the world that “hearts can change.”

Earlier Tuesday, Obama met with six activists, including a pastor and advocates for the disabled and sexual minorities. He said several others were prevented from coming. “Vietnam has made remarkable strides in many ways,” Obama said, but “there are still areas of significant concern.”

Obama, in his speech, also referred to China’s growing aggression in the region, something that worries many in Vietnam, which has territorial disputes in the South China Sea with Beijing.

Obama got a round of applause when he declared that “big nations should not bully smaller ones,” an allusion to China’s attempt to push its rivals out of disputed territory. Obama said the United States will continue to freely navigate the region and support the right of other countries to do the same.

After Hanoi, Obama flew to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. He visited the Jade Emperor Pagoda, considered one of the most beautiful pagodas in southern Vietnam and a repository of religious documents that includes more than 300 statues and other relics. A strong smell of incense hung in the air as visitors frequently burn incense outside the main temple to announce to the heavens their arrival.

As Obama paused before one statue, a guide explained that if he wanted to have a son, he should pray to her.

“I like daughters,” Obama replied.

Shifting from the historical to the modern, Obama was also stopping by the Dreamplex business complex in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, a space for startup entrepreneurs that fits with Obama’s message about the potential benefits of closer ties to Vietnam’s growing economy and its burgeoning middle class.

Obama’s meeting with entrepreneurs will let him talk up the benefits of what he says will be enhanced trade under a 12-nation trade deal that is stalled in Congress and opposed by the leading U.S. presidential candidates. Obama said during his address that the agreement would give Vietnamese workers the right to form labor unions and would prohibit forced and child labor. He also predicted that the pact, if ratified, would lead to greater regional cooperation.

“Vietnam will be less dependent on any one trading partner and enjoy broader ties with more partners, including the United States,” Obama said.

Related:

 (Includes links to several articles, same topic)

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President Barack Obama waves after addressing his speech to the Vietnamese people at the National Convention Center in Hanoi, Vietnam Tuesday, May 24, 2016. In a speech at the National Convention Center, Obama sought to ease fears that Washington wanted to dictate terms to Vietnam on improving rights. (Kham/Pool Photo via AP)

The Associated Press
HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — May 24, 2016, 7:04 AM ET

The Latest on U.S. President Barack Obama’s first visit to Vietnam (all times local):

5:50 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. John McCain say President Barack Obama’s visit to Vietnam proves that old enemies can become new partners.

Kerry, McCain and former Sen. Bob Kerrey all served in the Vietnam War. They say in a joint op-ed that there are few easy answers about what lessons were learned from the war.

The three veterans say the U.S. must never again confuse a war with its warriors. They say U.S. leaders must be honest about the goals when deploying troops. And they say the U.S. must approach foreign cultures with humility.

Writing in the New York Times, they say they could never have imagined during the war that the countries would one day cooperate on trade and even security. They say mutual interests will drive the future partnership.

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5:30 p.m.

President Barack Obama is talking with Vietnamese entrepreneurs about their business ideas and roadblocks to their eventual success.

The conversation is taking place at the Dreamplex, a shared office space in Ho Chi Minh City that rents workstations and rooms to startup entrepreneurs.

Obama is telling his audience that their success will send a message about Vietnam’s potential for innovation to the world.

He says the Dreamplex is where ideas are “becoming reality” and that the young people who use the space are “making things happen.”

Obama is also using the appearance to pitch a 12-nation, trans-Pacific trade agreement that’s stalled in the U.S. Congress and opposed by the leading U.S. presidential candidates. He says the pact will accelerate economic reforms in Vietnam, boost its economic competitiveness and open up new markets.

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5 p.m.

President Barack Obama had a quick comeback for a Buddhist monk who urged him to pray to a certain statue if he’d like to have a son.

“I like daughters,” quipped Obama, who is the father of teenagers Malia and Sasha.

Obama was touring the Jade Emperor Pagoda, one of the most notable and most visited cultural destinations in Ho Chi Minh City.

The pink-colored building with a turquoise tiled roof was built in the early 1900s by the immigrant Chinese community and today serves multiple faiths.

Obama headed straight for the pagoda after landing in Ho Chi Minh City from Hanoi, where he spent the opening days of his first visit to Vietnam.

Vietnam’s Ngoc Hoang (Jade Emperor or King of Heaven)

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4:15 p.m.

President Barack Obama has arrived in Ho Chi Minh City.

It’s the second stop on Obama’s three-day visit to America’s former wartime enemy.

Ho Chi Minh City is formerly known and still referred to as Saigon, and is famous for its role in the Vietnam War as the capital of U.S.-backed South Vietnam.

Obama plans to do some sightseeing by taking in the Jade Emperor Pagoda. It’s considered to be one of the most beautiful pagodas in southern Vietnam. It’s also a repository for religious documents and includes more than 300 statues and other relics.

Obama also scheduled a tour of the Dreamplex, a shared office space that rents workstations and rooms to startup entrepreneurs.

Obama spent the opening days of his trip in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. He arrived late Sunday.

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2 p.m.

President Barack Obama taped the second part of an interview with CNN personality Anthony Bourdain before leaving the Vietnamese capital for his next stop: Ho Chi Minh City.

Bourdain’s “Part Unknown” food travelogue is one of the network’s most popular nonfiction series.

Obama and Bourdain met in a small complex in Hanoi’s Me Tri neighborhood in a heavy downpour.

The two met over a restaurant dinner on Monday to discuss Obama’s trip to Asia and his interest in the people, food and culture of Vietnam, CNN said.

CNN has aired Bourdain’s show since 2013. He travels to a different part of the world for each episode to explore that area’s culture, primarily by sharing in the area’s distinct native cuisine.

The interview with Obama will be featured in the eighth season of “Parts Unknown,” which begins in September.

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1:10 p.m.

President Barack Obama is pressing Vietnam to respect rights to freedom of speech, a free press, and to associate and demonstrate that are written into the country’s constitution.

Obama says Vietnam has nothing to fear from upholding these rights. He says doing so reinforces stability and doesn’t threaten it. Obama also says nations are more successful when these rights are respected.

Vietnam is routinely criticized for its human rights record.

The communist nation holds about 100 political prisoners. There have also been more detentions this year, including some in the past week.

The government in Hanoi says that only lawbreakers are punished.

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12:40 p.m.

President Barack Obama is pushing for ratification of a 12-nation, free-trade agreement as he speaks to the Vietnamese people, saying it will lessen reliance on one trading partner and broaden ties with more partners, including the United States.

Obama says the Trans-Pacific Partnership will lead to regional cooperation among participating nations and bring about higher wages for Vietnam’s workers. He says that would help them buy more goods from the United States.

He notes that the agreement gives workers the right to form unions and prohibits forced labor and child labor.

Obama is pitching a trade agreement that is stalled in Congress and opposed by the leading U.S. presidential candidates.

He says the U.S. is ready to help Vietnam as it works to fully implement its commitments under the agreement.

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12:30 p.m.

President Barack Obama says improved relations with Vietnam, America’s former wartime foe, is teaching the world a few lessons.

Obama is in the midst of a historic visit to the southeast Asian nation and is delivering an address to the Vietnamese people.

Obama says what was once unimaginable has come true – that Vietnam and the United States are partners in a thriving relationship.

And it’s a partnership that he says is teaching the world that hearts can change.

Obama says it’s also showing the world that peace is better than war.

Obama is speaking at the National Convention Center in Hanoi.

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10:40 a.m.

President Barack Obama is taking his push for closer ties with Vietnam directly to the people.

A day after knocking down one of the last vestiges of Cold War antagonism with a former war enemy, he faces calls Tuesday to more strongly address what’s seen as Vietnam’s abysmal human rights record.

Obama plans meetings with civil society members and entrepreneurs and then a speech aimed at the people of Vietnam.

On Monday he announced the lifting of a five-decade-old arms sales embargo that’s meant to help forge a new economic and security relationship.

Obama must balance this push for better ties with efforts to hold Vietnam’s communist leadership to account for charges of widespread abuse of dissidents.

From Hanoi, Obama will fly to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

The Limits of Human Rights in Vietnam: Obama says only “modest” human rights improvements have been made — China Daily says Obama’s visit “bodes ill for regional peace and stability”

May 24, 2016

China says the U.S. is showing a willingness to relax standards on human rights for the sake of containing China.

Politics | Tue May 24, 2016 4:23am EDT

Reuters

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a speech at the National Convention Center in Hanoi, Vietnam May 24, 2016.
REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA

U.S. President Barack Obama said several Vietnamese civil society members were prevented from meeting him on Tuesday and that, despite great strides made by the country, Washington had concerns about the limits it puts on political freedom.

Obama was due to lay out more of his plan for stronger ties with Vietnam on the second day of his visit, after scrapping an arms ban, the last big hurdle between two countries drawn together by concern over China’s military buildup.

The removal of the arms embargo, a vestige of the Vietnam War, suggests U.S. worries about Beijing’s building of man-made island in the South China Sea and deployment of advanced radars and missile batteries in the disputed region trumped concern about Vietnam’s human rights record.

 

Washington had for years said a lifting of the ban would require concrete steps by Vietnam in allowing freedom of speech, worship and assembly and releasing political prisoners.

Obama met about six activists and said there were “significant areas of concern” about political freedom. He praised those Vietnamese who were “willing to make their voices heard”.

Two activists who spoke to Reuters said an intellectual, Nguyen Quang A, had been taken away by unknown men before he had hoped to met Obama, citing his relatives.

Reuters could not verify the information and Vietnam’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Monday, in a joint news conference with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, Obama said “modest” human rights improvements had been made and the decision to end the arms embargo was about the changing dynamic in ties and “not based on China”.

But China’s Global Times tabloid, run by the Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said that was a lie and made a point of what it said was a U.S. willingness to relax standards on human rights for the sake of containing China.

The White House “is taking advantage of Vietnam to stir up more troubles in the South China Sea”, it said.

Mai Khoi, a Vietnamese singer, was one of the people who met Obama and she posted a photo on her Facebook page showing several people attended the meeting.

Obama was flanked by activists on either side at a table. They listened intently as he spoke at the end of the meeting.

Some activists have expressed disappointment that Obama may have given away leverage with the communist leadership.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was evidence engagement had worked in nudging Vietnam to make concessions, like its “unprecedented” commitment to set up independent labor unions under a U.S.-inspired Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

In a statement late on Monday, Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong spoke of the importance of building relations of mutual respect while “not interfering in each other’s internal affairs”.

TRADE PUSH

Obama gave a speech in Hanoi about the development of relations since normalization in 1995 and will champion his signature TPP, which would remove tariffs within a 12-nation bloc worth a combined $28 trillion of gross domestic product.

Vietnam’s manufacturing and export-led economy is seen as the biggest TPP beneficiary. Annual U.S-Vietnam trade has swelled from $450 million when ties were normalized to $45 billion last year, and Washington is a big buyer of Vietnam’s televisions, smartphones, clothing and seafood.

The TPP is not a done deal, with opposition expected in Washington amid concern about competition and a loss of U.S. jobs. Obama said he was confident the trade pact would be approved by legislators and he had not seen a credible argument that the deal would dent American business.

Obama will on Tuesday fly to Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s commercial hub, which was called Saigon until North Vietnamese tanks rolled into the city in April 1975 to bring U.S.-backed South Vietnam under communist rule.

He will meet young entrepreneurs at one of the co-working spaces that host Vietnam’s budget tech startups, which have been receiving attention from angel investors and Silicon Valley funds.

Obama spoke of a U.S. intention to work more closely in defense areas with Vietnam, which is keen to build a deterrent against China. Vietnam and the United States last year held coastguard and humanitarian training exercises.

Washington has longstanding defense alliances in the region with the Philippines, which is also at odds with China, and Thailand, and organizes annual war games with both.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attended a ceremony on Tuesday in which a deal was agreed with Vietnam to allow the U.S. Peace Corps to work there.

Tuesday’s English-language China Daily said Obama’s visit “bodes ill for regional peace and stability”, and would further complicate the situation in the South China Sea, and risk turning the region into a “tinderbox of conflicts”.

(Additional reporting by My Pham, Ho Binh Minh and Mai Nguyen in HANOI and John Ruwitch in SHANGHAI; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Related:

 (Includes links to several articles, same topic)

 (May 19, 2016)

Vietnam: President Obama enjoys a night out with Anthony Bourdain (And thousands of their Vietnamese friends)

May 24, 2016

Six things about the $6 Bourdain-Obama meal

BBC News

This photo, shared on Instagram by US celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, drew more than 120,000 likes and thousands of comments. INSTAGRAM: ANTHONY BOURDAIN

Deep in the heart of Hanoi, US President Barack Obama sat down for a $6 meal with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain on Tuesday. The chef, known for his love of adventurous street food, described the date in a series of tweetsand an Instagram post.

Here are six observations about the noodle summit at a hole-in-the-wall eatery.

1. Nobody appears to know they are there

The other diners appear to be totally oblivious to the presence of the US president, a celebrity chef, and presumably a substantial security detail, photographers and film crew.

“Love how the diners were so good at pretending they had no idea who is sittingat the table next to them,” tweeted Brazilian journalist Sofia Perpetua.

The crowd outside the restaurant was slightly less restrained.

President Obama shakes hands with locals as he leaves the restaurant

The scene outside the restaurant that greeted the US president. EPA photo

The discussion on Reddit, which attracted 3,000 users, spilled over into where any secret service agents might be hiding.

2. The symmetrical food

On the menu was bun cha, a Vietnamese dish of grilled pork and rice noodles, some greens, all washed down with Hanoi beer. On social media, there were questions about the positioning of the food.

Obama and Bourdain

They’d like to teach the world to eat in perfect symmetry. INSTAGRAM: ANTHONY BOURDAIN (You can get this same meal in Paris but it could cost you five or ten times the price here)

“The perfect alignment of the food disturbs me,” said an Instagram user. “Look at how symmetrical the bowls, chopsticks and plates are.”

A bit more joie de vivre from another user: “Eating in perfect symmetry, awesome and smart.”

3. Presidential chopstick skills – but a wrapper on the floor

Anthony Bourdain was quick to praise the president’s chopsticks skills, describing them as “on point”. And everyone seemed to agree.

“Proud of the president, that he placed his chopsticks neatly on top of his bowl and not stabbed them into the noodles – that would have been so rude and a big sign of disrespect,” said another user.

Obama and Bourdain

While many praised the US leader’s chopsticks etiquette, one user pointed out the appearance of a wrapper under the table. TWITTER: ANTHONY BOURDAIN

A photo from a different angle irritated another Twitter user. “Is it just me or does anyone not realise how a red chopstick wrapper has been dropped on the floor? Taking points away from him.”

4. Plastic stools and Hanoi beer

The unpicking of the details in the picture became about the Vietnamese things in life.

“Ah, our rickety blue plastic stools – that’s Vietnam for you,” said Instagram user Chi Mai.

“No fancy interior, just simple furniture to let the food and conversation do the talking,” said another.

Others wanted to know the US leader’s choice of brew.

Question: “What kind of beer did they drink,” asked Mic Vo on Twitter.

Answer: “Don’t disappoint me, hope they had Bia Ha Noi,” said another user.

5. The talk over noodles

Another question that boggled the minds of social media users: What could the world’s most famous TV chef and one of the world’s most powerful leaders be talking about?

Speculation ranged from Donald Trump to food to curing cancer, achieving world peace and finding unicorns.

President Obama greets people at the door as he walks out from the restaurant

Many social media users were questioning the setting up of the photo on Mr Bourdain’s account. AP photo

We don’t know how long the meal even lasted. Some accomplished foodies could polish off a meal like that in less than 10 minutes.

Perhaps they spoke about the fact that the president had just lifted the US arms embargo on Vietnam.

6. So what was the photo really for?

Mr Obama found time to sit down for dinner just hours after his announcement about the embargo. Others on social media, saw it as publicity for Bourdain’s food show.

How much did they plan it,” asked Instagram user FlyMy90. “Were they filming for an episode of Bourdain’s show?”

“Dinner will air in September,” the White House was quoted as saying by one journalist.

Despite the speculation about the staging, the picture still delighted many around the world.

“Think you’re cool? You’ll never be eating noodles, drinking beer and sitting on low plastic chairs while talking to Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama in Vietnam-cool,” tweeted New York resident Jon Hopper.

Reporting by the BBC’s Heather Chen.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-36365988

Includes video:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/tv/ct-obama-anthony-bourdain-parts-unknown-20160523-story.html

Related:

 (Includes links to several articles, same topic)

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Obama, With Grace and Humor, Talks About Better Human Rights in Vietnam

May 24, 2016

AFP

© AFP / by Jérôme Cartillier, Jerome Taylor | US President Barack Obama met civil society leaders, including some of the country’s long-harassed critics on his trip to Vietnam

HANOI (AFP) – US President Barack Obama told communist Vietnam on Tuesday that basic human rights would not jeopardise its stability, in an impassioned appeal for the one-party state to abandon authoritarianism.

In a sweeping speech, which harked back to the bloody war that defined both nations and also looked to the future, Obama said that “upholding rights is not a threat to stability.”

 
President Obama greets well wishers in Vietnam

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Vietnam ruthlessly cracks down on protests, jails dissidents, bans trade unions and controls local media.

But the US leader said bolstering rights “actually reinforces stability and is the foundation of progress”, in a speech to a packed auditorium including Communist Party officials in Hanoi.

The visit is Obama’s first to the country — and the third by a sitting president since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Direct US involvement in the conflict ended in 1973.

Obama’s trip has formally reset the relationship between the two former wartime foes with a lifting of a US arms embargo and deepened trade ties. But he has been cautious to avoid hectoring his hosts on rights.

“Vietnam will do it differently to the United States,” Obama said.

“But these are basic principles that we all have to try to work on and improve,” he added, referring in particular to the importance of a free media.

His speech, punctuated with humourous asides and references to Vietnamese culture and history, was greeted with warm applause in the cavernous National Convention centre.

Earlier Obama met civil society leaders, including some of the country’s long-harassed critics.

But in a country where state control remains the reflex response, authorities stopped some activists from meeting him.

– Trade and security –

The Obama administration has trailed the visit as a chance to cement ties with Vietnam, a fast-growing country with a young population seen as a vital plank in America’s much vaunted pivot to the Asia-Pacific.

Crowds have enthusiastically welcomed the US leader wherever he has gone, including late Monday at a streetside restaurant where he supped beer and a local noodle soup speciality.

The US President alluded to the lingering shadow of the war, recognising the enduring “ache” for the families of the millions of Vietnamese and almost 60,000 Americans who died.

But looking forward, he said the new relationship built on economic, educational and security bonds showed how nations can reshape their histories and “advance together”.

Trade has dominated the trip, with multi-billion-dollar deals unveiled, as well as further endorsement by both sides of the planned Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Vietnam has embraced the deal, echoing Obama’s insistence that the pact can reshape global trade by slashing tariffs despite visceral opposition among many in Washington.

On Monday Obama also announced he was scrapping a Cold War-era ban on weapons sales to Vietnam, with the two countries sharing fears over Chinese expansionism in the disputed South China Sea.

Chinese state media on Tuesday slammed the move, saying it was aimed at Beijing and calling Obama’s assurances to the contrary “a very poor lie”.

Obama vowed American support to keep sea routes open for all.

“Big nations should not bully smaller ones, disputes should be resolved peacefully,” he said to warm applause from delegates in a country where anti-China sentiment is growing.

China claims almost all the South China Sea and has rattled neighbours with a series of reclamation and construction projects — including airstrips — on reefs and islets.

Vietnam and four other countries also have claims to parts of the sea.

The United States takes no position on the competing territorial claims but asserts freedom of navigation and flights in the sea and has sent warships near Chinese-held islets.

Obama said the US would help Hanoi with military equipment to help boost the capacity of its coastguard and “enhance maritime capabilities”

by Jérôme Cartillier, Jerome Taylor

U.S. Military Wants More Leeway to Strike Taliban — “We need to get beyond President Obama’s go slow approach.”

May 24, 2016

Killing of the group’s leader by a drone is stoking discussions over using U.S. air power in Afghanistan

A U.S. drone strike killed the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan over the weekend.
A U.S. drone strike killed the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan over the weekend. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
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May 23, 2016 7:43 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—The death of the Taliban’s leader in a U.S. drone strike has scrambled discussions between the U.S. military and the White House over whether to let U.S. forces once again conduct offensive operations against the insurgent group in Afghanistan.

The American military wants presidential permission to use airpower to blunt the group’s threatened advances this summer, according to several U.S. officials. The White House first wants to see what effect the death of Mullah Akhtar Mansour in Pakistan over the weekend will have on the Taliban, senior administration officials said.

President Barack Obama confirmed Mr. Mansour’s death on Monday. The death came amid indications of an impending Taliban offensive.

U.S. intelligence agencies have been warning the White House that the Taliban could seize more Afghan territory, including population centers, during this summer’s fighting season, in part because the Afghan government and its military forces are so weak.

Fearing a Taliban surge, military officials want to use American aircraft to counter the group this summer, the U.S. officials said.
Doing so, however, would require a significant revision in the so-called rules of engagement, which were changed in January 2015 under Mr. Obama’s plan to scale back U.S. military involvement and to encourage reconciliation efforts with the Taliban.

Mr. Obama has told aides he is not inclined to restart regular U.S. operations against the Taliban, the senior administration officials said. But the strike in Pakistan on Saturday that killed Mr. Mansour has boosted the idea that the U.S. can continue pursuing so-called high-value targets and mid-level Taliban extremists, officials said.

Mr. Obama “has remained open to recommendations from his military commanders,” one senior administration official said in a statement.

Mr. Obama, speaking Monday during a visit to Hanoi, said the drone strike against Mr. Mansour did not constitute a “shift” in the U.S. mission. “We are not re-entering the day-to-day combat operations that are currently being conducted by Afghan forces,” he said.

He stressed Saturday’s airstrike was an opportunity for the Taliban to shift direction in favor of reconciliation talks, because Mr. Mansour for months has been against those talks.

Whether Mr. Mansour’s death changes things remains to be seen, according to those who track the group. Some believe his death could lead to a power struggle, accelerating the Taliban’s breakup. A main breakaway group already is being funded by the Afghan government as part of an effort to splinter the movement, The Wall Street Journal reported.

It was disclosed last year that the former Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had died two years earlier.

However, the infighting is unlikely to encourage the group to negotiate with the Afghan government, according to those familiar with its operations. Mr. Mansour’s death actually may make it difficult for moderates among the Taliban to negotiate.

Under existing military authorization, U.S. operations against the Taliban can only be conducted under three broad circumstances: when U.S. or coalition forces are under threat; when U.S. officials deem that the Taliban is providing direct support to al Qaeda; or when the Taliban pose a “strategic threat” to Afghan forces.

U.S. officials say Saturday’s strike was considered defensive in nature because Mr. Mansour was plotting against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. In addition, the strike was authorized by Mr. Obama, because it took place on Pakistani soil.

But there is little room for commanders in Afghanistan to maneuver in attempting to target Taliban foot soldiers, under current rules of engagement.

The former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Campbell, argued before he left that post in March that the Taliban must be forced into a decision between fighting and talking. “They have to have more pressure put on them and one way to do that is to potentially strike them,” Gen. Campbell told reporters at the time.

The Obama administration declined to act on Gen. Campbell’s request because officials wanted to hear first from Gen. Campbell’s successor, Army Gen. John Nicholson.

Gen. Nicholson is completing an assessment of the security situation in Afghanistan and is expected to provide it to his chain of command in coming days. Neither he nor his aides would comment on any such request, saying the assessment is not yet complete.

But Gen. Nicholson, like his predecessor, is eager to have the authority to use airstrikes against the Taliban to aid Afghan forces in their fight against the group, according to multiple U.S. officials.

Gen. Nicholson is expected to request greater authority and couple it with a plea to keep as many of the roughly 10,000 American forces in Afghanistan at least through the end of the year as possible, according to U.S. officials. Under the current plan, the U.S. is expected to shrink the size of its footprint to about 5,500 military personnel by December.

Approval for new offensive operations would mark a reversal in Mr. Obama’s Afghanistan policy, effectively escalating the war he once hoped to end before leaving office. But in the absence of peace talks with the Taliban, significant Taliban gains this year would also fuel criticism of Mr. Obama’s exit strategy, and risk degrading Afghan forces and undermining the government in Kabul.

There are other options under consideration. U.S. officials say the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency are discussing ways in which to give the military more leeway to conduct strikes against Taliban militants without formally authorizing the resumption of offensive operations.

U.S. officials said the White House wants to avoid the perception of a Taliban surge in the middle of the U.S. presidential election campaign. There are also limits to what additional air power can achieve, but experts and individuals inside the military believe that shouldn’t mean military power should be ruled out. Afghan officials have told their American counterparts that the Taliban are unlikely to return to the negotiating table unless the group’s leaders become convinced that the government in Kabul is strong enough militarily to hold them back.

Mr. Obama faces time pressure as well. Leaders of North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations will gather in Warsaw in July to discuss the way forward in Afghanistan. If the U.S. is to begin targeting the Taliban once again, there are implications for the number of U.S. troops on the ground that would require decisions soon, U.S. officials said.

Write to Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com

http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-military-wants-more-leeway-to-strike-taliban-1464046997

Peace and Freedom note: A senior U.S. Department of Defense official told Peace and Freedom “We need to get beyond President Obama’s go slow approach.”

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