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Contents contributed and discussions participated by Argos Media

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EU seeks greater links with ex-Soviet states - The Irish Times - Fri, May 08, 2009 - 0 views

  • THE EU has invited six former Soviet republics to join an eastern partnership initiative promising closer ties amid growing fears of serious economic and political upheaval in the region.
  • At a summit yesterday, the union offered the prospect of free trade, additional economic aid, a gradual relaxation in visa restrictions and integration into the European single market. But the initiative stops short of offering the prospect of future EU membership to any of the participants and commits them to respect human rights and democracy.
  • “If we don’t export stability to this region, we will import instability,” said Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt who, along with Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, co-developed the eastern partnership plan in an attempt to stabilise eastern Europe.
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  • Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and the 27 EU states signed up to a declaration promising a “more ambitious partnership”. The EU is also planning to boost the amount of aid it provides to the region to about €600 billion and provide technical assistance to the six states.
  • Moscow rejects European accusations of meddling in the region and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov criticised the proposed partnership when he met his European counterparts, telling them it should “not get in the way of the post-Soviet era”.
  • EU diplomats attempted to soothe Russian concerns to prevent tensions between Nato and Russia worsening. “This is not anti-Russian,” said Czech deputy prime minister Alexandr Vondra, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency. “They are our close eastern neighbours and we have a vital interest in their stability and prosperity. This is an offer, not an EU projection of force.”
  • However, the commitment of EU states to the eastern partnership initiative came under question, with several high-profile EU leaders staying away. British prime minister Gordon Brown, French prime minister Nicolas Sarkozy, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and Spanish prime minister José Luís Zapatero did not attend.
  • Polish hopes that the partnership may be used to give countries such as Ukraine the chance to apply for EU membership face opposition from Germany and the Netherlands. Diplomats from both states insisted on watering down the declaration, which initially referred to the states as “European countries”. Instead, they were described as “partners” and promises of fast-track visa liberalisation were deleted.
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EU Offers Aid, Loans to Six Eastern Nations - - 0 views

  • The European Union on Thursday offered six former Soviet states €600 million ($798 million) in incentives to promote stronger energy and economic ties and democratic reforms.
  • The plan, called the Eastern Partnership, has inflamed tensions between the EU and Russia, as Moscow worries that the bloc is encroaching on its traditional turf. The EU, for its part, remains wary following Russia's war in Georgia last year and a weekslong January cutoff of gas supplies to the EU during a dispute between Moscow and Ukraine.
  • "The EU knows, not just because of the Georgia crisis and the gas crisis at the beginning of this year, that safety and prosperity in Europe also depend on the stability of the Eastern partner countries," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a summit here of the six countries and the EU.
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  • In addition to the money, international institutions, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank, have been asked to increase their lending in the six -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine -- some of which have been hit hard by the downturn.
  • But the EU may be losing the competition for influence with a more-determined Russia. Only €350 million of the money is new, suggesting limited commitment. Moscow sees the Eastern Partnership, which it has described as EU "meddling," as an attempt by the West to carry on with a failed attempt to expand NATO into the region, says Alexander Rahr, director of the Russia program at the German Council on Foreign Relations.
  • In a sign of EU divisions over the Eastern Partnership plan, Ms. Merkel was the only leader of a big EU nation to attend the summit. Leaders of the six Eastern Partnership countries also gave the offer a mixed reception. Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, and Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, who have close ties to Moscow, didn't attend.
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France 24 | EU offers partnership to former Soviet states | France 24 - 0 views

  • European Union nations gathered for landmark talks Thursday with six former Soviet states, aiming to foster stability without angering Moscow or offering anyone the hope of eventual EU membership.
    The main goal of the new Eastern Partnership is to "accelerate political association and further economic integration" between the 27 EU nations and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, according to a draft summit statement.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday warned against the creation of "new dividing lines" in Europe.
    However EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana assured in Prague that the Eastern partnership "is not against Russia with whom we also have a partnership".
  • Brussels says the new scheme is designed to foster stability in the region and is not handing out the carrot of eventual EU partnership.
    "This is not about building spheres of influence, this is not about building competition, this is a language that belongs to the past," EU commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tardio said.
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  • The project was the initiative of the Czech Republic, which holds the rotating EU presidency till the end of next month.
  • Prague was unable to convince key EU leaders to attend -- with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi among the no-shows.
  • Overall the meeting was turned into something of a semi-summit, with just over half of the 27 EU nations represented by their heads of state or government.
    A senior European Commission official said the absences increase the danger of "policy for the East made by countries from the East (of the EU), and a policy for the Mediterranean made by Mediterranean countries".
  • The draft shows some of the tensions over the eastward rapprochement, with subtle but key text changes in the final version reflecting the wishes of western Europe -- France, Germany and the Benelux countries in particular -- not to go too far with the project.
    The six partner nations are clearly referred to as "Eastern European Partners" whereas the Czechs wanted to drop the "Eastern" tag.
  • The reference "long-term goal" was also added to a paragraph on visa liberalisation.
  • No mention of EU membership goals for the six is made, with several EU nations feeling they have enough on their hands with the European aspirations of the Balkan nations.
  • The Eastern Partnership was promoted by Czech, Polish and Swedish concerns that the EU's political focus had moved to areas where it had little real influence rather than stay on more "European" states.
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Polish Reactions to SPIEGEL Cover Story: A Wave of Outrage - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - In... - 0 views

  • Polish media and politicians have sharply criticized this week's SPIEGEL cover story about Hitler's European helpers outside of Germany. They believe the article is part of an attempt by Germans to foist guilt for its own Nazi crimes off on others.
  • "DER SPIEGEL is accusing Poland and other nations of having assisted in the Holocaust," claims the daily Polska. In the future, the polemic continues, SPIEGEL could come to the conclusion that the Jews, too, assisted -- after all, there were Jewish police in the ghettos who were forced by the Nazis to round up men, women and children for the transports to the concentration camps.
  • t is particularly hurtful to Poles that SPIEGEL also reported about the so-called "Szmalcownicy," Poles who revealed their Jewish neighbors to the Nazis or extorted money from Jewish families in hiding in exchange for silence. Sometimes they even did both.
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  • This week, though, Kaczynski has found his old form again -- with the unexpected help of SPIEGEL. "The Germans are attempting to shake off the guilt for a giant crime," he said, commenting on the latest SPIEGEL cover story, " The Dark Continent: Hitler's European Holocaust Helpers."
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China looks to British experience for African expansion | World news | - 0 views

  • China has embarked on a series of joint projects with Britain in Africa, with the aim of avoiding the abuses and mistakes committed by former colonial powers as it rapidly increases its economic role on the continent.

    China invested $4.5bn in infrastructure in Africa in 2007, more than the G8 countries combined, and much of the investment has been private. The number of Chinese companies operating in Africa has more than doubled in just two years to 2,000, with about 400 operating in Nigeria alone, according to new research.

  • In contrast to the "one-dimensional" stereotype of state-owned enterprises extracting natural resources, most of the investment is from privately-owned firms and many are involved in manufacturing.

    However, many of the business practices followed by those companies, such as a preference for using Chinese workers, coupled with Beijing's belief that human rights are the preserve of host country governments, have led to claims that the rapid rise in Chinese influence in Africa has not helped its human rights.

  • "The Chinese firms that are moving are building infrastructure, they are building roads, they are providing jobs for people, but at the same time: what they are not doing, neither the Chinese government nor the companies, is raising any issues about how the population are being treated," Irene Khan, Amnesty International's secretary general, said today.

    "Therefore we find that the Chinese presence is not helping the human rights situation. It might be aggravating it when revenues and resources are being paid into coffers of hugely corrupt and oppressive governments."

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  • In an apparent reflection of Chinese anxiety over its reputation in Africa, both embassies and companies have been urged by Beijing to forge closer links to local communities.

    China has also entered into a partnership with Britain's department for international development, (Dfid)intended to monitor and control the social and environmental impact of Chinese investment.

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Obama stands firm on closing Guantánamo | World news | - 0 views

  • Barack Obama today laid out a broad case for closing the Guantánamo Bay prison and banning the "enhanced interrogation techniques" that have been condemned as torture – while accusing his opponents of wanting to scare Americans to win political battles.

    In a grand hall at the US national archives, standing directly in front of original copies of the US constitution and declaration of independence, Obama said the current legal and political battles in Washington over the fate of the 240 prisoners there stemmed not from his decision to close the facility, but from George Bush's move seven years ago to open it.

  • Obama stressed at several points that his administration would never free dangerous terrorists into the US, an effort to counter the Republican party's central argument against the closure. He said US prisons were tough and safe enough to handle the most vicious al-Qaida terrorist suspects now held at Guantánamo.

    "I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people," Obama said. "Al-Qaida terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture – like other prisoners of war – must be prevented from attacking us again."

  • Shortly after Obama spoke, Dick Cheney gave a rebuttal at a conservative Washington think tank, the American Enterprise Institute. The former vice-president defended many of the Bush administration policies Obama is now unraveling, and mentioned either "September 11" or "9/11" 25 times.

    Cheney said Saddam Hussein had "known ties" to terrorists, an apparent rehashing of the widely discredited Bush administration effort to link the Iraqi dictator to the September 11 2001 hijackers.

    "After the most lethal and devastating terrorist attack ever, seven and a half years without a repeat is not a record to be rebuked and scorned, much less criminalised," Cheney said.

    "In my long experience in Washington, few matters have inspired so much contrived indignation and phony moralising as the interrogation methods applied to a few captured terrorists."

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  • Obama today said that indefinite detention at Guantánamo Bay and the prison's harsh interrogation methods had undermined the rule of law, alienated America from the rest of the world, served as a rallying cry and recruiting symbol for terrorists, risked the lives of American troops by making it less likely enemy combatants would surrender, and increased the likelihood American prisoners of war would be mistreated. The camp's existence discouraged US allies from cooperating in the fight against international terrorism, he said.

    "There is also no question that Guantánamo set back the moral authority that is America's strongest currency in the world," he said. "Instead of building a durable framework for the struggle against al-Qaida that drew upon our deeply held values and traditions, our government was defending positions that undermined the rule of law."

  • Meanwhile only three people had been tried by the Bush military commissions in seven years, but Bush had released 525 detainees from the prison.
  • He noted that an estimated 14% of suspects freed from Guantánamo returned to the battlefield, but blamed that on the Bush administration's slipshod process of selecting which to let loose.
  • Obama said his administration would try in US courts those who had violated US criminal laws; try in military commissions those who violated the laws of war; free those ordered released by US courts; and transfer at least 50 people to foreign countries for detention and rehabilitation.
  • He acknowledged that a number of Guantánamo prisoners could not be prosecuted yet posed a clear threat to the US: those who had trained at al-Qaida camps, commanded Taliban troops, pledged loyalty to Osama bin Laden and sworn to kill Americans.

    "These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States," he said.

  • Obama defended his decision to release justice department memos detailing the Bush administration's legal rationale for waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other harsh interrogation techniques. He said those techniques had already been publicised and he had already banned them.

    "In short, I released these memos because there was no overriding reason to protect them," he said. "And the ensuing debate has helped the American people better understand how these interrogation methods came to be authorised and used."

    He defended his decision not to release photographs of US-held prisoners similar to those taken at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He said he feared they would inflame world opinion against the US and endanger US troops.

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In Sri Lanka the war is over but Tamil Tiger remnants suffer brutal revenge | World new... - 0 views

  • Reports are emerging from inside Sri Lanka's internment camps of brutal revenge being taken against Tamil Tiger fighters and the abduction of young children by paramilitary groups.

    Detainees in one of the camps told the Guardian that a number of female Tamil Tigers have been murdered after giving themselves up to the authorities.

    The bodies of 11 young women were allegedly found with their throats slashed outside the Menic Farm camp near the town of Vavuniya, according to people being held behind the razor wire perimeter

  • aid workers say there is also a growing resentment among inmates in the camps against the LTTE over its treatment of the civilian population in the final months of the fighting and that many of the female cadres now shut inside are living in fear of reprisals.
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Iran arrests 'Agatha Christie serial killer' | World news | - 0 views

  • Police in Iran believe they have caught the country's first female serial killer and are claiming she has disclosed a literary inspiration behind her attempts to evade detection: the crime novels of Agatha Christie.

    The 32-year-old suspect, named only as Mahin, stands accused of killing at least six people, including five women, according to officials in the city of Qazvin, about 100 miles north-west of Tehran.

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Russia and EU begin summit amid mutual exasperation | World news | - 0 views

  • The summit comes at a time of growing frustration between Brussels and Moscow over a host of issues ranging from energy policy to the war in Georgia. The EU was irritated by Russia's gas war in January with Ukraine and Medvedev's failure to pull Russian troops out of the breakaway Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
  • For its part, the Kremlin is annoyed by the EU's attempt earlier this month to improve ties with half a dozen post-Soviet countries. A summit of 33 countries in Prague brought the EU's 27 governments together for the first time with the leaders of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus.
  • Russia believes the EU's "eastern partnership" initiative is a challenge to its own strategic and security interests in a region it regards as its backyard. Medvedev insists that Moscow enjoys what he calls "privileged interests" in states occupying the volatile buffer zone between the EU and the Russian Federation.
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  • Today Medvedev joked with a group of students that the remote summit venue, 3,800 miles from Moscow or 5,300 miles via the epic Trans-Siberian Express, had been chosen to remind the Europeans of Russia's vast size. Several EU delegates moaned when Russia held last year's summit with the EU in western Siberia, Medvedev said.

    "They complained: 'Oh, it's a long way.' We said: 'If you don't like it you can fly somewhere else.' They thought for a bit and said: 'OK, we're ready,'" Medvedev said. He added: "They [the Europeans] should understand how big Russia is and should feel its greatness. On the other hand, we also want a partnership with the EU. It's important for us to get together."

  • "Russia and EU relations are in stalemate. There is a serious lack of mutual understanding, a lack of willingness to understand each other, and a lack of strategic common values," Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs, told the Guardian.

    He went on: "Relations with Obama and the US are now better. At the same time relations with the EU are getting worse. Since the 1990s Russian-EU relations have been governed by the assumption that Russia would go the European way without applying for membership. This model is now exhausted. They need a new model."

  • According to Lukyanov, the Kremlin was furious after the EU pressured Belarus this month not to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia. "The message was: choose Russia or not Russia. It was absolutely unnecessary from the European side. Alexander Lukashenko [Belarus's president] wasn't going to recognise them anyway for his own reasons," Lukyanov said.
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BBC NEWS | Europe | Russia alarmed over new EU pact - 0 views

  • "We would not want the Eastern Partnership to turn into partnership against Russia. There are various examples," Mr Mevedev told a news conference at the end of the summit.
  • Moscow has accused the 27-member bloc of creating new dividing lines in Europe by offering closer ties to six former Soviet republics.

    The Eastern Partnership Initiative aims to forge close political and economic ties in exchange for democratic reforms.

    Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have signed up to the initiative, which seeks to bolster stability in the region.

    However it does not offer the prospect of eventual EU membership.

  • Russia supplies more than a quarter of EU gas needs. Its decision to cut all gas to Ukraine - a vital transit country - meant that many EU member states also lost their supplies of gas for two weeks in January.

    Speaking in Khabarovsk, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso warned there should be no more disruptions to gas supplies from Russia.

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  • On the divisive issue of energy supplies, President Medvedev raised questions about whether Ukraine can afford billions of dollars to top up its gas stocks.

    "We have doubts about Ukraine's ability to pay," he said.

    He also proposed that Moscow and the EU should help Ukraine get a loan for gas payments.

  • "I would simply not want this partnership to consolidate certain individual states, which are of an anti-Russian bent, with other European states," he said.
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Iran Test-Fires Missile With 1,200-Mile Range - - 0 views

  • Iran test-fired a sophisticated missile on Wednesday that was capable of striking Israel and parts of Western Europe
  • he solid-fuel Sejil-2 missile used a technology that Iran appeared to have tested at least once before, but the Obama administration nonetheless described the event as “significant,” largely because missiles of its kind can be relatively easily moved or hidden.
  • The Pentagon confirmed that the test of the missile had been a success
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  • The Iranian president had been campaigning in the province where the launching took place, and he promised that “in the near future we will launch bigger rockets with bigger reach.” He told a crowd that with its nuclear program, Iran was sending the West a message that “the Islamic Republic of Iran is running the show,”
  • Its range — believed to be more than 1,200 miles — is comparable to the liquid-fueled Shahab III, which Iran first obtained from North Korea. But a solid-fuel rocket, experts said, can be stored in mountains, moved around and reassembled, and fired on shorter notice, and thus could be harder for Israel or other nations to target.
  • Mr. Vick added that Tehran test-fired an even longer-range missile that used solid fuel, the Ashura, in late 2007 and several times afterward.

    “They’re designing a whole family of solids to replace their liquids,” he said in an interview.

  • Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told a Senate panel that she was concerned about a series of developments in Iran that could set off an arms race in the Middle East. She warned that if Iran obtained a nuclear capacity in the next several years, it would constitute an “extraordinary threat,” saying, “Our goal is to persuade the Iranian regime that they will actually be less secure” if it moves ahead with its nuclear program.
  • Mrs. Clinton was giving voice to a growing concern among administration officials, who have now had time to review the intelligence, that Iran seems to have made significant progress in at least two of the three technologies necessary to field an effective nuclear weapon.

    The first is enriching uranium to weapons grade, now under way at the large nuclear complex at Natanz. The second is developing a missile capable of reaching Israel and parts of Western Europe, and now the country has several likely candidates. The third is designing a warhead that will fit on the missile.

  • The greatest mystery surrounds the warhead program, which intelligence agencies said in late 2007 had been halted at the end of 2003. Asked Wednesday whether he had seen additional evidence to indicate that the weaponization program had been restarted, Mr. Samore declined to comment.
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Alistair Darling on the recession: it'll be over by Christmas | Business | - 0 views

  • Alistair Darling insists the recession will be over by Christmas, despite growing doubts over his economic forecasts.

    In an interview with the Times, the chancellor stuck by his predictions, even though other forecasters, including the International Monetary Fund, have published a much gloomier assessment of the economy.

    "I am not going to change my forecasts," Darling said. "I remain confident that we will see a return to growth at the turn of the year."

    In last month's budget, Darling predicted the economy would shrink by 3.5% this year and surprised the City when he forecast a rapid economic recovery, with growth of 1.25% in 2010 and the year after.

  • Since then, government figures have shown a shock 1.9% plunge in Britain's gross domestic product in the first three months of this year - the sharpest decline in almost three decades.

    The IMF does not share the chancellor's optimism and believes the economy will continue to shrink next year. It has forecast falls of 4.1% in output this year and 0.4% in 2010.

  • The chancellor shrugged off fears that Britain could slide into a deflationary spiral after figures yesterday showed retail prices plummeting at the fastest rate since 1948.

    The government's benchmark consumer price index, which excludes housing costs, still stands at 2.3%, above the Bank of England's 2% target. Darling said the fall in inflation "is in line with expectations. Deflation is something quite different".

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U.S., Russian Scientists Say Missile Shield Wouldn't Protect Europe From Iran - washing... - 0 views

  • A planned U.S. missile shield to protect Europe from a possible Iranian attack would be ineffective against the kinds of missiles Iran is likely to deploy, according to a joint analysis by top U.S. and Russian scientists.
  • The U.S.-Russian team also judged that it would be more than five years before Iran is capable of building both a nuclear warhead and a missile capable of carrying it over long distances. And if Iran attempted such an attack, the experts say, it would ensure its own destruction.
  • "The missile threat from Iran to Europe is thus not imminent," the 12-member technical panel concludes in a report produced by the EastWest Institute, an independent think tank based in Moscow, New York and Belgium.
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  • The year-long study brought together six senior technical experts from both the United States and Russia to assess the military threat to Europe from Iran's nuclear and missile programs. The report's conclusions were reviewed by former defense secretary William J. Perry, among others, before being presented to national security adviser James L. Jones and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
  • The report acknowledges dramatic technological gains by Iran, and it predicts that the country could probably build a simple nuclear device in one to three years, if it kicked out U.N. inspectors and retooled its uranium-processing plants to make weapons-grade enriched uranium. Another five years would be needed to build a warhead that would fit on one of Iran's missiles, the panel says. U.S. intelligence agencies have made similar predictions; Israel maintains that Iran could build a bomb in as little as eight months.
  • The U.S.-Russian experts say Iran faces limits in developing ballistic missiles that could someday carry nuclear warheads. Its current arsenal is derived from relatively unsophisticated North Korean missiles, which in turn are modified versions of a Russian submarine-launched missile that dates from the 1950s. "We believe that these components were likely transferred to North Korea illegally in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Russia was experiencing major political and economic chaos," one of the U.S. team members said in a separate commentary.
  • the country lacks "the infrastructure of research institutions, industrial plants, or the scientists and engineers that are needed to make substantial improvements."
  • They conclude that it would take Iran at least another six to eight years to produce a missile with enough range to reach Southern Europe and that only illicit foreign assistance or a concerted and highly visible, decade-long effort might produce the breakthroughs needed for a nuclear-tipped missile to threaten the United States.
  • Moreover, if Iran were to build a nuclear-capable missile that could strike Europe, the defense shield proposed by the United States "could not engage that missile," the report says. The missile interceptors could also be easily fooled by decoys and other simple countermeasures, the report concludes.
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BBC NEWS | Americas | Obama moves to curb car emissions - 0 views

  • US President Barack Obama has announced tough targets for new fuel-efficient vehicles in order to cut pollution and lower dependence on oil imports.

    Describing the move as "historic", Mr Obama said the country's first-ever national standards would reduce vehicle emissions by about a third by 2016.

  • Under the proposed standards, manufacturers would be required to begin improving fuel efficiency by 5% a year from 2012.

    By 2016, they would have to reach an average of 39 miles per US gallon for passenger cars, and 30 miles per gallon for light lorries.

  • The new targets would increase the average fuel efficiency of all US cars and light lorries to 35.5 miles per gallon, about 10 miles per gallon more than the current standard.
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  • The new standards are expected to raise the price of new vehicles by about $1,300 (£839) per vehicle by 2016.

    But the president said this would be offset by lower fuel cost within three years.

  • The proposed nationwide standard for exhaust emissions is expected to cut the amount of carbon dioxide produced by new passenger vehicles by 34%.
  • Carmakers are also hailing a single nationwide standard, after years of court battles to stop California and other states setting their own tough pollution controls.

    "GM and the auto industry benefit by having more consistency and certainty to guide our product plans," GM Chief Executive Fritz Henderson said in a statement.

  • The president said: "As a result of this agreement we will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles sold in the next five years."

    He said this amounted to removing 177 million cars from the roads by 2016.

    In that period, the savings in oil will amount to last year's combined US imports from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Libya and Nigeria, Mr Obama added.

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BBC NEWS | Middle East | Israel: 'No need to finish' W Bank barrier - 0 views

  • The head of Israel's security service has said there is no security reason for continuing construction of Israel's barrier through the West Bank.

    Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin told a parliamentary committee that Israel had enough capabilities to prevent attacks from the Palestinian territory.

  • The UN has criticised Israel, citing an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice that parts of the barrier built inside Palestinian territory in the West Bank - 90% of the route - are contrary to international law.

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Military burns unsolicited Bibles sent to Afghanistan - - 0 views

  • Military personnel threw away, and ultimately burned, confiscated Bibles that were printed in the two most common Afghan languages amid concern they would be used to try to convert Afghans, a Defense Department spokesman said Tuesday.
  • The unsolicited Bibles sent by a church in the United States were confiscated about a year ago at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan because military rules forbid troops of any religion from proselytizing while deployed there, Lt. Col. Mark Wright said.
  • "The decision was made that it was a 'force protection' measure to throw them away, because, if they did get out, it could be perceived by Afghans that the U.S. government or the U.S. military was trying to convert Muslims," Wright told CNN on Tuesday.
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  • This decision came to light recently, after the Al Jazeera English network aired video of a group prayer service and chapel sermon that a reporter said suggested U.S. troops were being encouraged to spread Christianity.
  • "This was irresponsible and dangerous journalism sensationalizing year-old footage of a religious service for U.S. soldiers on a U.S. base and inferring that troops are evangelizing to Afghans," Col. Gregory Julian said.
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Middle East Peace: Obama's Mission Impossible - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International - 0 views

  • Unwilling and unable to make a constructive contribution towards a solution and at the same time frustrated that the Americans have taken the initiative, Europeans do what they do best: warn and complain, like the viewers of a soccer game, who -- from the stands -- know they would convert every strike into a goal.

  • After over 40 years' occupation, there can be no return to a status quo ante, because the status quo ante itself is a subject of dispute. For most Israelis, it is Israel within its 1967 borders, while for Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, it's Palestine prior to the founding of Israel. When they talk about the end of the occupation, they don't mean Hebron, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Nablus, they mean Haifa, Beersheba, Jaffa and Tiberias.
  • One side insists on the expansion of settlements, the other demands their right of return -- like travellers who've taken the wrong train and getting ever farther away from their destination, but not wanting to get off because they've been travelling so long. So the Israelis play victors in a dead end and the Palestinians, heroes without any prospect of success.
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  • The Palestinian ambassador to Beirut, Abbas Zaki, said in a television interview in early May that the two state solution would result in Israel's collapse, the use of weapons wouldn't solve anything, but political negotiation without the use of arms wouldn't work either. "In light of the weakness of the Arab nation and the lack of values, and in light of the American control over the world, the PLO proceeds through phases, without changing its strategy." With Allah's help, Zaki said, "we'll drive them out of all of Palestine." That doesn't sound much like a solution for the Israelis.
  • Obama risks nothing by offering to negotiate with Iran. As he said on Monday, he wants to see results by the end of the year. If Iran doesn't budge, Obama will have to change his strategy. If Bush was a cowboy with a soft heart, Obama is an iron fist in a velvet glove. He shouldn't be underestimated, just because he's charming, polite and obliging. Such traits alone have yet to make an American president.
  • Obama knows that Iran won't attack Israel, because as much as the ayatollahs and mullahs want a "world without Zionism" and wish that Israel would disappear from the map or better yet, from the history books, they still prefer to live in the lap of luxury and -- when needs be -- they send others to paradise. But an nuclear preventative or counter strike by the Israelis would end their comfortable lives for good.
  • For their part, the Iranians know that their threat of force, if credible enough, is just as effective as the actual employment of the threatened means. They don't need to attack Israel; it's enough to float the threat. Israel is not going to collapse overnight, but it could erode with time -- through emigration, demoralization and economic decline. Who wants to live or invest in a country that may one day go up in an atomic mushroom cloud?

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BBC NEWS | Europe | Turkish president 'facing trial' - 0 views

  • A Turkish court has ruled President Abdullah Gul should stand trial for alleged embezzlement in the late 1990s.
  • The Welfare Party, a precursor of the governing AK Party, was accused of misappropriating funds from the state treasury after being banned in 1998.
  • The case will now be considered by an appeal court. But it is unclear whether Mr Gul will end up going on trial, as he could have immunity as president.

    Correspondents say Turkey's secular establishment has often used the courts to oppose the activities of the Islamist-rooted AKP.

    Last July, the Constitutional Court came close to banning the party for allegedly trying to undermine the country's secular system.

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  • The Welfare Party briefly held power as part of a coalition government between 1996 and 1997, during which time it implemented some pro-Islamist reforms, such as allowing women to wear headscarves in government offices.
  • Its leader, Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, was eased from office following pressure from the military in a so-called "soft coup". In 1998, the party was banned for violating constitutional obligations to respect secularism.
  • In 2002, Mr Erbakan was sentenced to two years and four months in jail for embezzlement in connection with the alleged fraud, and fined.

    Mr Gul, who was deputy chairman of the Welfare Party and a state minister under Mr Erbakan, pardoned him last year.

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