BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Russia’s foreign minister met Tuesday for the first time in three months, and Stoltenberg said he restated the „very strong NATO position” against Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its support for rebels in eastern Ukraine.Speaking later to journalists, Stoltenberg said he called on the Russians to withdraw their forces from Ukraine and to stop backing the armed insurgency in that country’s east.Moscow flatly denies Western accusations it is aiding or supplying anti-government forces in Ukraine.Before the meeting in Brussels, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he would „listen to what they tell us,” but placed the blame on NATO for the worsening of relations with his government since the onset of the Ukraine crisis.”We never walk away from contacts,” said Lavrov.It was the first meeting between the alliance chief and Russia’s top diplomat since talks in Munich last February.Stoltenberg said he also pushed the case for „more transparency and predictability” in future Russian military activities. He said NATO is concerned about the large number of military exercises conducted by the Russians on short notice. He said it was important to make sure that incidents did not occur which could „spiral out of control.”The NATO chief said he also pointed out to Lavrov that the military-to-military channel of communications remains open between the alliance and Russia.NATO accuses Russia of backing the pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine’s east, and relations between the alliance and Russia have dropped to their lowest point since the Cold War.
Russians captured in Ukraine send messages back home By DMITRY VLASOV4 hours ago KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Lonely and hurting, two men lie in narrow beds in a Kiev hospital as controversy swirls around them.The men say they are Russian soldiers who were captured and wounded while on active duty in the rebellious east, Ukrainian authorities say they are definitive proof that Russia is at war in Ukraine, and Moscow hotly denies the claims.Representatives of Amnesty International and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has shepherded a shaky cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, visited the men Tuesday and found them apparently in reasonable condition.”I got professional medical aid, surgery. To my relatives, I want to say everything is fine with me, I’m alive and well,” said one, who identified himself as Yevgeny Yerofeyev, a captain in the Russian army.”I’m missing my family and relatives so much,” the other, Sgt. Alexander Alexandrov, told reporters who accompanied the international representatives.In video statements posted by the Ukrainian Security Service, the men say they were taking part in a reconnaissance operation in the Luhansk region Saturday when they were fired on, wounded and captured. Both say they were members of an army brigade based in the Russian city of Togliatti and had been deployed in Ukraine for more than a month; Smirnov said he was part of a battalion of 220 soldiers.Captain Yevgeny Yerofeyev of the Russian special forces lies in a military hospital bed, in Kiev, Uk …Throughout the yearlong fighting in eastern Ukraine in which at least 6,100 people have died, Russia has consistently denied assertions from Kiev and the West that Moscow is providing soldiers and equipment to back up the pro-Russia rebels. The statements by Yerofeyev and Alexandrov directly challenge that denial.”We’re dealing with real soldiers of the armed forces of the Russian Federation,” said Ukrainian Security Service spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskiy.Both the Kremlin and the Russian Defense Ministry reject the assertion that Yerofeyev and Alexandrov are Russian soldiers. A Defense Ministry spokesman said Monday that they were former soldiers; Russia has said that any Russians fighting in Ukraine are there only as volunteers.It remains unclear what measures Moscow will take for the two hospitalized men. Lubkivskiy said that as of Tuesday, „we did not get any request from the Kremlin or the Russian Federation about captured soldiers. … For the moment, there is no question about a transfer” of the men to Russia.Amnesty International’s Ukraine spokesman, Bogdan Ovcharuk, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying the two men have asked to see the Russian consul. But no consular visit has been reported.Captain Yevgeny Yerofeyev of the Russian special forces covers his face by his hand as he lies in a …In Washington, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. continues to be disappointed by „Russia’s destabilizing activity in Ukraine,” including the flow of Russian materiel and troops across the border. He said the U.S. and its European partners were resolute about the economic sanctions they have imposed on Russia. Earnest added that Russia’s actions would be discussed when U.S. and G-7 the leaders meet in Germany next month.Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian military analyst, suggested that Russia may try to work out an exchange for the two. Ukraine has repeatedly called for the release of Nadezhda Savchenko, a military officer jailed in Russia for nearly a year on charges that she aided a mortar attack that killed two Russian journalists in Ukraine.Felgenhauer also told The Associated Press that „The only person who could really make a decision to declassify any Russian involvement in Donbass (eastern Ukraine) is President Vladimir Putin.”In Samara, the capital of the Russian region that includes Togliatti, residents appear willing to believe their government’s claim that the only Russians fighting in Ukraine are volunteers.”I support those who voluntarily go to the Donetsk People’s Republic and fulfill their mission,” said resident Vladimir Stolyarov, using the name of one of Ukraine’s two self-declared separatist governments.Ukraine’s military said their positions came under artillery and mortar fire Tuesday in several locations in the east despite the cease-fire that was brokered in February. It did not state if there were casualties._Associated Press writers Jim Heintz in Moscow and Alexander Roslyakov in Samara contributed to this report.
Battle erupts in eastern Ukraine, four Ukrainian soldiers killed: regional chiefReuters – 9 hours agoReuters/Reuters – Members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) work within the ruins of a residential building, which according to locals was recently damaged by shelling, in Donetsk, …more CANADA NEWS »
KIEV (Reuters) – Fighting erupted between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday and four Ukrainian servicemen have been killed, the regional administration chief said.Gennady Moskal, governor of Luhansk region on the border with Russia, said on his website that separatists opened fire on government positions with mortar and artillery near the village of Katerinovka.”According to preliminary data, four Ukrainian servicemen have been killed and two others have been wounded, one of them seriously,” Moskal said.The fatalities could not immediately be confirmed by the military in Kiev.Though a ceasefire was declared after peace talks in Minsk, Belarus, in February, skirmishes and violations have continued with a daily mounting casualty toll from fighting mostly north-west of the city of Donetsk and near the coastal town of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said last week that 83 Ukrainian servicemen had been killed since the ceasefire theoretically came into force in February.Since then, five Ukrainian servicemen were killed over the weekend alone. The separatists have not given any casualty figures.(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Dominic Evans)
NATO urges Russia to be more ‘transparent’ on military exercises 12 hours agoBrussels (AFP) – NATO head Jens Stoltenberg urged Russia on Tuesday for full transparency during snap military exercises in order to avoid potentially catastrophic misunderstandings as the Ukraine crisis stokes tensions.Related Stories
Transparency is paramount, Stoltenberg said after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of a Council of Europe meeting in Brussels.”For NATO it is important to do whatever we can to avoid that the incidents and the situation is spiralling out of control,” he said.”The snap exercises, the numbers … reduce predictability and transparency along our borders and I think we should try to change that by the Russians being more transparent when it comes to their military activities.”NATO was „fully transparent when it comes to when and where we are going to conduct exercises,” he added.Stoltenberg’s meeting with Lavrov was their first since early February and comes amid signs that tensions over Ukraine may be easing slightly although a tenuous ceasefire between Kiev forces and pro-Russian rebels continues to be breached daily.NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urges Russia to be more open about its military drills to av …Stoltenberg said they had discussed the „very serious situation in eastern Ukraine” and repeated that Moscow must do its part to ensure full implementation of the Minsk ceasefire accords, including withdrawal of heavy weapons and full access for OSCE monitors.Russia should also „withdraw all its troops and support for the separatists,” he added.Moscow rejects claims that its troops are directly involved in a conflict which has cost more than 6,100 lives since April last year but makes clear it backs the rebels in eastern Ukraine.NATO cut all practical cooperation with Russia that month after Moscow annexed Crimea, but Stoltenberg stressed that the US-led military alliance kept its lines of communication open.”It is important to have these lines of communication and they can contribute to more predictability and avoiding any misunderstandings.””We are keeping the lines of political contact open and we will continue to do so,” he added.
China’s impact looms large as US debates its own trade deals By JIM KUHNHENN6 hours agoFILE – In this May 11, 2015 file photo, President Barack Obama speaks in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. President Obama contends that if the U.S. doesn’t write the rules of international trade, China will. In fact, China is already writing rules of commerce and expanding its footprint, and its role is influencing the debate over trade. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)WASHINGTON (AP) — If the U.S. doesn’t write the rules of international trade, President Barack Obama warns, China will. In fact, China is already helping write those rules, and in some ways has jumped ahead of the game.There’s intense competition between the U.S. and China for economic influence in the world. As Obama seeks to persuade lawmakers to back his trade agenda, he has cast that competition as an economic threat „They’ll write those rules in a way that gives Chinese workers and Chinese businesses the upper hand, and locks American-made goods out,” the president said in Oregon this month.As a result, China’s impact, both current and potential, is partly shaping the U.S. debate over whether Congress should grant Obama greater trade-negotiation authority. Under such authority, lawmakers could still set parameters for trade deals, but once an agreement was negotiated they could only approve or reject it, not change it.Obama is seeking the „fast-track” authority to complete a Trans-Pacific trade deal with 11 other countries along the Pacific rim, many of whom are also negotiating separate trade pacts with China.Some U.S. concerns:_CHINA’S AMPLE REACH The U.S. is the largest economy seeking to conclude the Trans-Pacific trade deal. China is the largest economy negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, 16 countries that include the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as well as Australia, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.There is significant overlap. Countries involved in both negotiations include Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.China, under President Xi Jinping, is also starting an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and has enlisted 57 countries to sign up. Such a venture is designed to broaden China’s practice of using its state-owned companies and its workers on foreign capital projects.The U.S. and Japan, leading shareholders of the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, have expressed concern over the new bank’s governance standards and the types of projects it might finance. „They may be very good for the leaders of some countries and contractors but may not be good for the actual people who live there,” Obama said last month.Still, Britain, France and Germany have broken with Washington and are seeking membership.As a result, the Trans-Pacific trade deal Obama seeks would do less to thwart China than to help the U.S. „rebalance” toward Asia and gain a foothold in a major world market._HOW TOUGH ON LABOR RIGHTS?When Obama says the U.S. needs to „write the rules for trade” he is addressing a difference between the trade deals that China is negotiating and those that the U.S. is hoping to complete. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is much like a traditional free trade agreement that simply seeks to lower tariffs and increase access to markets.The Trans-Pacific Agreement, however, also aims to set labor and environmental standards for its participants. Presumably, that would enhance U.S. competitiveness in its exports.The debate in the United States centers on how enforceable those standards would be. The North American Free Trade Agreement negotiated by President Bill Clinton had side agreements on labor and the environment that were not enforceable. More recent deals, many with Latin American countries, have built enforcement into the agreements.Results have been mixed.A Government Accountability Office report last year found that while some countries have taken steps to strengthen labor rights, enforcement has been limited and U.S. agencies have been inconsistent in monitoring. It found that of five labor complaints submitted to the Department of Labor since 2008, only one had been closed._PLAYING WITH CURRENCY U.S. administrations have long complained that China subsidizes its exports by keeping its currency values artificially low. And while China is not a participant in the Trans-Pacific agreement, critics and even some supporters of the deal believe it should include measures that would crack down on nations that manipulate currency.”Past administrations have had a number of tools at their disposal, but they’ve sat in a drawer gathering dust,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democrat who succeeded in placing currency valuation restrictions in related trade legislation, said last week.But administration officials say any provision that would punish countries deemed to be purposefully undervaluing their currency to gain a trade advantage would prompt retaliation and lead to a trade war. The administration on Tuesday said that if the currency manipulation restrictions are placed directly in the „fast track” legislation, Obama will veto it.”There was a time when China was pretty egregious about this,” Obama said during a trade pitch at Nike headquarters in Oregon last month. „And we pushed back hard, and China moved. … That’s not an argument against this trade agreement.”
Motorcycle gang shootout started with parking dispute By EMILY SCHMALL1 hour agoMust Watch Biker Gangs: PhDs in intimidation WACO, Texas (AP) — A deadly weekend shootout involving rival motorcycle gangs apparently began with a parking dispute and someone running over a gang member’s foot, police said Tuesday.Related Stories
Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said an uninvited group appeared for Sunday’s meeting of a loose confederation of biker gangs at a restaurant.One man was injured when a vehicle rolled over his foot. That caused a dispute that continued inside the restaurant, where fighting and then shooting began, before the melee spilled back outside, Swanton said.Authorities offered few details. It was not clear which gang was responsible for running over the biker’s foot or which gang the aggrieved biker belonged to.When the shootout was over, nine people were dead and 18 wounded.Police have said five biker gangs from across Texas had gathered in part to settle differences over turf.Jimmy Graves, who described himself as an ambassador for the gang known as the Bandidos, disputed that claim, saying the groups had planned to discuss laws protecting motorcycle riders and other topics such as trademarks for club logos.But he acknowledged that differences with other groups, such as the Cossacks, have been „simmering and brewing.”Waco Police Sgt. Patrick Swanton addresses the media as law enforcement continues to investigate the …Another biker named Johnny Snyder said he was at the restaurant for a quarterly meeting to talk about legislative issues.Snyder, a long-haul trucker, declined to describe what he saw inside the restaurant, saying he was only concerned with „not getting shot.”He is vice president of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club in Waco, a group that Snyder says does charity events and family gatherings and is not a criminal gang.About 50 weapons were confiscated, mostly knives and firearms, and Swanton said more than 100 weapons may be found once authorities are done analyzing the crime scene at the Twin Peaks restaurant, which is part of a national chain that features waitresses in revealing uniforms.Preliminary autopsy results showed all nine of the dead were killed by gunshots. Many were hit in the head, neck, chest or torso. Most of the men were in their 40s, but they ranged in age from 27 to 65, according to reports released by a McLennan County justice of the peace.Police have acknowledged firing on armed bikers, but it was unclear how many of the dead were shot by gang members and how many were shot by officers.Of the injured, seven remain hospitalized. Swanton, who has been virtually the sole source of law enforcement information on the fight, described their conditions as stable.He said the investigation is being hampered by witnesses who „are not being honest with us.”Police are concerned that the brawl will invite retaliation and more violence, Swanton said.”We would encourage them to try to be a little peaceful and let the bloodshed stop,” he said.About 170 bikers have been charged with engaging in organized crime. Swanton said more arrests are likely.Katie Rhoten, whose husband, Theron Rhoten, was taken into custody, said he told her by phone from jail that he and two other members of a motorcycle club called Vice Grip had just pulled up to the restaurant.”They got off their bikes, and bullets were ricocheting all around them, so they ducked and ran for cover,” she said in an interview.When her husband, a mechanic from Austin, and the others went back to retrieve their motorcycles, they were detained by police.„They were told they were being held for questioning and released, and they sat in the parking lot for three, four, five hours.”Then, she said, police „changed their mind and arrested everybody on the scene.”Officers took into custody all sorts of „nonviolent, noncriminal people. I mean they got the Bikers for Christ guys in there.”In a memo dated May 1, the Texas Department of Public Safety cautioned about increasing violence between the Bandidos and the Cossacks, Dallas TV station WFAA reported Monday.The department’s Joint Information Center bulletin said the tension could stem from Cossacks refusing to pay Bandidos dues for operating in Texas and for wearing a patch on their vest that claimed Texas as their turf without the Bandidos’ approval.”Traditionally, the Bandidos have been the dominant motorcycle club in Texas, and no other club is allowed to wear the Texas bar without their consent,” the bulletin said, according to WFAA.The bulletin said the FBI had received information that the Bandidos had discussed „going to war with Cossacks.” It also outlined several recent incidents between the two groups, including one instance in March when about 10 Cossacks forced a Bandido to pull over along Interstate 35 near Waco and attacked him with „chains, batons and metal pipes before stealing his motorcycle,” WFAA reported.That same day, a group of Bandidos confronted a Cossack member fueling up at a truck stop in Palo Pinto County, west of Fort Worth, the bulletin said. When the Cossack member refused to remove the Texas patch from his vest, the Bandidos hit him in the head with a hammer and stole it.The Department of Public Safety declined to release the bulletin to The Associated Press.There are other documented instances of violence between the groups.Last March, two members of the Bandidos were indicted in connection with the stabbing of two Cossacks at an Abilene steakhouse.And in December, three Bandidos were arrested for a shooting at a Fort Worth motorcycle bar that left one dead and two others wounded. Fort Worth police said the victims were known members of a criminal motorcycle gang.The Bandidos „constitute a growing criminal threat,” the Justice Department said in a report on outlaw motorcycle gangs. The report said the Bandidos are involved in transporting and distributing cocaine and marijuana and in the production and distribution of methamphetamine._Associated Press writers David Warren in Dallas and Don Babwin in Chicago contributed to this report.
Norwegian cruise ship runs aground in Bermuda By DANICA COTO1 hour agoFILE – In this Sept. 1, 2004, file photo, the cruise ship Norwegian Dawn heads out into the Atlantic Ocean from the southern tip of Miami Beach, Fla. An official with Bermuda’s Rescue Coordination Center says the ship Norwegian Dawn hit the reef near Bermuda’s North Channel, Tuesday, May 19, 2015. The official said the ship is in a stable position. Norwegian Cruise Line said in a brief statement that the ship temporarily lost power and its propulsion was affected but that everyone aboard is safe and that the ship has full power. (AP Photo/Bill Cooke, File)SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Thousands of passengers bound for Boston will spend Tuesday night stuck aboard a Norwegian cruise ship after it ran aground as it tried to depart Bermuda, officials and passengers said.Related Stories
Small boats, divers and tug boats circled the Norwegian Dawn ship as officials tried to figure out how to solve the situation, according to officials.An official with Bermuda’s Rescue Coordination Center, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press the ship hit the reef near Bermuda’s North Channel. The official, who was not authorized to talk to the media, said there are 2,675 passengers and 1,062 crew members aboard the ship, adding that it is in a stable position.Cruise ship passenger Rachel Hansen, from Londonderry, New Hampshire, spoke to the AP by phone and said the captain told everyone that the ship would not move until Wednesday morning. She said the ship was about three miles from Bermuda when it ran aground.”We definitely felt it,” she said. „We were in the middle of eating dinner … There was a shudder for maybe 30 seconds to a minute and then there was a sudden stop.”Hansen said she and her family gathered essential belongings and joined other people who went to the top of the ship to see what had happened.”We had crew members running around in a panic, and we felt like we had to panic,” she said, adding that overall, the majority of crew members reacted calmly and quickly.As the hours went by, she said passengers settled into their evening routine and the ship still held entertainment shows as planned.Norwegian Cruise Line said in a brief statement that the ship temporarily lost power and its propulsion was affected. Officials said everyone aboard is safe and that the ship has full power. The company did not return a request for additional comment.The U.S. Coast Guard declined comment and referred calls to authorities in Bermuda.The Norwegian Dawn offers a seven-day, round-trip cruise to Bermuda, where it spends three days in port._Danica Coto on Twitter: www.twitter.com/danicacoto
UN, US condemn Russian embassy attack in Damascus 1 hour agoMoscow, a key ally of Syria, said mortar fire aimed at its embassy complex in Damascus appeared to have come from the Jobar neighborhood of the Syrian capital, pictured from a Syrian army post in March (AFP Photo/Joseph Eid)United Nations (United States) (AFP) – The United Nations and the United States condemned a mortar attack on the Russian embassy in Damascus that did not, however, cause any known injuries.Lithuanian Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaite, whose country holds the rotating UN Security council presidency this month, said the „terrorist” attack caused „serious damage.”The 15-member council stressed that host countries have an obligation to „take all appropriate steps to protect diplomatic and consular premises.”The council also stressed the need to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice.Joining the condemnation was the United States, which also renewed calls for a political solution to end the bloody Syrian conflict.”We call for those responsible for all such acts to be held accountable and continue to stress the need for a political solution to the turmoil in Syria,” said Jeff Rathke, a State Department spokesman.He noted that the embassy is protected by international law.Earlier in the day, Moscow, a key ally of Damascus, said the embassy complex had come under mortar fire at 3:25 pm (1225 GMT).It said the shots appeared to have been fired from the Jobar neighborhood, which is under the control of „armed illegal groups.””A shell exploded 50 feet (15 meters) from the main gate of our diplomatic mission. Another hit the external wall and fell in an embassy office. Luckily, no embassy staff was hit,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.”We consider this event as a terrorist act against the Russian embassy. We firmly condemn its perpetrators, organizers and instigators,” the ministry added, calling for international action.Russia is one of the last allies of the Syrian regime, as the country struggles with a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people in four years.
Hungary’s Orban angers EU over death penalty, migrants 6 hours agoHungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban attends a debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on May 19, 2015 (AFP Photo/Frederick Florin)Strasbourg (France) (AFP) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban angered EU lawmakers and officials Tuesday by insisting that Budapest had the right to debate closing the door to migrants and reintroducing the death penalty.Related Stories
„Hungarians talk straight about tough things. We don’t like to beat about the bush. We are a frank people,” Orban said on a visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.He told hundreds of lawmakers and members of the European Commission, the executive of the 28-nation EU, that its new migration plan — proposing binding quotas on member states to admit refugees — was „absurd, bordering on insanity”.Orban said a „distinction” should be made between movement of labour within EU borders and the entry of people from outside the bloc.”There are economic immigrants who are just in search of a better life… Unfortunately in Hungary we can’t give jobs to all of these immigrants,” he said.”Member states have to protect their own borders. I think it’s insane to propose letting in all immigrants to Europe,” he said, explaining this was why they were having a public consultation in Hungary on the issue.He said the treaty under which Hungary became a member of the European Union does not specify which issues Budapest can or cannot debate.”As far as capital punishment is concerned, I don’t want to put my head in the sand,” he said.”This is not about the death penalty… This is about freedom of expression and freedom of thought,” the premier said.Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal Democrat alliance in Europe, angrily scolded Orban for his stand on capital punishment.”It is a European issue. It’s not an issue of member states, it’s an issue of the whole European Union,” Verhofstadt said.Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans also berated Orban for muddying the debate over plans for EU quotas for asylum seekers, adding that the EU was not pushing an „open-door” policy for immigrants.”Don’t make a caricature of the plans of the commission, because we’re on the same page,” Timmermans said.In an earlier statement to the parliament, Timmermans warned the Hungarian leadership of the risk of sanctions if it pushed to reintroduce the death penalty.Orban has faced a series of spats with Brussels over his hardline stance on human rights and civil society norms — key values for the European Union.
BRUSSELS (AP) — European governments agreed Tuesday to synchronize their laws to bar citizens from going abroad to fight for the Islamic State group and other extremists.A document signed by foreign ministers from the 47-nation Council of Europe requires countries to outlaw specific actions, including intentionally taking part in terrorist groups, receiving terrorist training or traveling abroad for the purpose of engaging in terrorism.Analysts say European laws vary, with some countries like France charging people with crimes if they plan to leave to join a violent extremist group, and others, such as in Scandinavia, lacking a legal way to prevent their citizens from becoming foreign fighters.The measure is a protocol to the Council of Europe’s convention on the prevention of terrorism, which has been signed by 44 of the organization’s 47 member countries, including all 28 European Union nations except the Czech Republic.Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, said the new accord would help national governments take more effective action against a new and growing problem by providing „common legal ground.””When, for instance, a foreign fighter or a suspicious person comes to a border, then it will be easier for the police at the border to contact police authorities from countries from which this person is coming,” Jagland said.Moreover, he said, the agreement will set a uniform standard that makes the intention of taking part in a terrorist act a crime in itself.
U.S. willing to change pro-democracy programs in Cuba By Lesley Wroughton4 hours agoCuba’s president Raul Castro talks to the media next to Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez …By Lesley Wroughton WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday indicated its willingness to change pro-democracy programs which it organizes in Cuba and which are condemned by Havana, removing one of the biggest impediments to restoring diplomatic ties.A senior State Department official, speaking to reporters before talks with Cuban representatives on Thursday, said the sides had narrowed differences over reopening embassies since an agreement was reached in December to renew diplomatic relations.The official said another obstacle had been removed after Cuba found a U.S. bank that would handle the accounts of a restored Cuban embassy in Washington. The official declined to name the bank.M&T Bank Corp canceled its services with Cuba’s Interests Section in Washington in 2013 and Havana blamed the move on U.S. sanctions.The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the democracy programs „have changed over time, and they will continue to change over time to reflect a reality, whether that reality is on the ground in Cuba or in the United States.”The programs include courses in journalism and information technology at the U.S. mission in Havana. The United States sees them as normal diplomatic functions, but Cuban President Raul Castro said last week that they were „illegal” training for government opponents.The official said the programs have already been adapted but the United States would not halt them because they were the most direct way of supporting ordinary Cubans.The talks in Washington on Thursday are the fourth round since U.S. President Barack Obama and Castro agreed on Dec. 17 to restore diplomatic relations, which were severed in 1961 during the Cold War.They will focus on upgrading the „interests sections” in Washington and Havana to embassies. Washington also wants an end to restrictions on the movement of its diplomats in Havana and the removal of Cuban security police around its premises.Cuba signaled on Monday that it was ready to move ahead, saying it did not see any obstacles.In the U.S. Congress lawmakers who oppose and support close ties with Havana introduced Cuba-related legislation.Two Republican senators who oppose normalizing ties, Marco Rubio of Florida and Louisiana’s David Vitter, introduced a bill that would make ending restrictions on travel and trade conditional on Cuba resolving billions of dollars in claims over property seized during the island’s communist revolution.Another group of senators introduced a bill that would open the way for U.S. telecommunications and Internet companies to provide services and devices in Cuba.(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle.; Editing by David Storey, Andre Grenon and Andrew Hay)
Kerry plays Russian roulette gambling on easing ties By Jo Biddle and Nicolas ReviseMay 18, 2015 10:15 PMWashington (AFP) – US Secretary of State John Kerry took a gamble when he flew to Russia last week for the first time in two years to meet President Vladimir Putin.But his bet may be beginning to pay off, as two top American diplomats were welcomed in Moscow on Monday for top-level talks for the first time in months on two crises bedeviling global affairs — Ukraine and Syria.Kerry’s trip ran counter to international efforts to isolate the Russian president for his actions in Ukraine.Critics were swift to line up to lambast the top US diplomat, accusing him of merely bolstering Putin’s image for little in return.Writing for CNN, Leon Aron, director of Russian Studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, bitingly dismissed Kerry’s Sochi press conference alongside his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov as „a gooey stream of unctuous cliches, non sequiturs, tautologies and euphemisms that underscored Putin’s diplomatic victory.”But even though there was no concrete breakthrough after eight hours of talks at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, there are signs of a different tone in a relationship long marred by animosity, but vital in dealing with a host of issues from the Middle East to nuclear non-proliferation.Assistant Secretary for Europe Victoria Nuland met with senior Russian officials to discuss ways of „deepening our engagement” in implementing a shaky Ukraine ceasefire, a senior State Department official said.Meanwhile, special US envoy for Syria Daniel Rubinstein was also in the Russian capital to discuss with the foreign ministry „how to create the conditions for a genuine, sustainable political transition in Syria,” the State Department said.- Digging in – A fluent Russian speaker, Nuland has not traveled to Moscow since late 2013 just before Putin incurred global wrath by moving to annex the southern Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and backing separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.US Secretary of State John Kerry took a risky gamble facing derision and much skepticism when he fle …She told reporters in Moscow that „we particularly dug in on how the United States might be able to support the process” of implementing the Ukraine ceasefire, including discussing „concrete steps.”Washington, along with its European allies, has slapped sanctions on Moscow, punishing it for its role in Europe’s worst post-Cold War crisis in hopes of reversing Putin’s policies.But in the intervening months as fighting in Ukraine has dragged on, US-Russian ties have plunged and US efforts to engage Moscow have stalemated — except on the issue of the Iran nuclear talks where Russian officials are a key player.Kerry has for some time been eager to talk to Putin, amid US fears that the Russian leader is increasingly relying on only a tiny circle of loyal advisors.The aim of the Sochi trip was to keep the lines of communication open, stressed Kerry, saying there was „no substitute” for direct talks.”This was an important visit at an important time, and we didn’t come here with an expectation that we were going to define a specific path forward with respect to one crisis or another, or have a major breakthrough,” he said.Lavrov said the trip „had allowed us to better understand each other.”Some analysts highlighted that in the current climate, US President Barack Obama cannot travel to Russia and risk humiliation by the belligerent Putin.”Having a face-to-face meeting with Putin is very important, but it would be very risky for President Obama to do that,” Brookings Institution expert Fiona Hill told AFP.But she cautioned: „It’s too soon to talk about the reset of the reset.”US officials said privately they had been surprised by the new tenor of the conversation with Putin in Sochi, who appeared ready for in-depth discussions, eschewing his usual lengthy anti-West diatribes.At the end of their talks hosted by the Russian leader in his summer residence, the two men even shared some small talk, cracking a bottle of local wine.- Approach with caution -Hill cautioned that the United States would have to „be very, very careful” going forward, warning „Russian intentions are extremely difficult to figure out.”Both countries needed the other, she stressed.”Russia does not want to be left out in this strategic interplay in the Middle East,” Hill explained.Joerg Forbrig, expert on Eastern Europe with the German Marshall Fund, said Kerry’s visit was „very symbolic, with very little substance.””Nothing really happened and it was a gesture by the Americans for the Russians,” he told AFP.”The Americans acknowledge that there are issues that need to be resolved with Russia, but I don’t believe that Russia is sincere because their main objective is to confront the West.”
China, Brazil, unveil multibillion trade, investment deals By Damian Wroclavsky6 hours ago Chinese Premier Li Keqiang lifted the wraps Tuesday on a multibillion-dollar series of trade and investment deals with Brazil, as Beijing looks to invest $53 billion in South America’s largest economy.The news unveiled at the start of Li’s first official visit to Latin America is a huge boon for Brazil as it endures a fifth straight year of low growth after a period of rapid expansion fueled by Asian demand for commodities that has since slowed.Li’s host, President Dilma Rousseff, hopes Brazil can direct Chinese cash to overhaul decaying infrastructure as the country’s tourist magnet Rio de Janeiro prepares to host South America’s first ever Olympics next year.Headlining 35 deals on Li’s first official visit to Latin America were a pair of finance and cooperation agreements worth $7 billion for Brazil’s state-owned oil firm Petrobras.Rousseff, who will make a state visit next year to China, spoke of a „new intensity in our relations.””China and Brazil are playing a leading role in the construction of a new global order,” she added.China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang (L) and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff smile during the si …Rousseff, re-elected in October, has been battling a welter of negative economic data as well as fallout from a huge graft scandal at Petrobras.Li pointed to China’s „rich experience” in building infrastructure, saying Beijing „would like to cooperate with Brazil in reducing its costs.”Despite a multibillion-dollar kickbacks scandal battering its reputation as Brazil’s flagship company, Petrobras had earlier this year received another Beijing boost in signing a $3.5 billion financing deal with the China Investment Bank.Despite becoming Brazil’s number one trading partner in 2009, amid an exponential rise in two-way trade, China currently ranks only 12th in terms of actual investment in Brazil, prompting Brasilia to seek deeper economic ties.The Chinese are notably supplying new metro trains and catamarans to Rio and Li will visit the Olympic host city Wednesday to inspect those investments before leaving Thursday for Colombia ahead of trips to Peru and Chile.China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang (L) and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff exchange documents …Li’s tour, aimed at underpinning growing Chinese influence in Latin America, comes just days after Beijing signed accords worth $25 billion and $22 billion respectively with fellow BRICS developing nations Russia. But the Brazil package is worth more than those combined.- Air deals, railroad dreams -Aside from the Petrobras agreements, Rousseff and Li also signed a range of deals designed to further bilateral cooperation on trade, investment, agriculture, energy and transport.Brasilia and Beijing also finalized a $1.3 billion accord to sell 22 Brazilian Embraer commercial jets to China’s Tianjin Airlines, Embraer said.Brazil’s Vale, the world’s biggest iron producer, announced a range of deals including extended cooperation with China on maritime transport of iron ore.China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang speaks during a joint press conference with Brazilian Presiden …Among the deals, Vale said it would expand an existing accord by selling four ore carriers to China Merchants Energy Shipping Co. Ltd and also also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China for up to $4 billion in loans and other financial arrangements.China also vowed to lift an import ban on Brazilian beef and signed onto an ambitious project to build a railway from the key southeastern Brazilian port of Santos more than 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) to the Peruvian Pacific port of Ilo.- Exponential growth -Bilateral trade between the BRICS developing states has mushroomed over the past decade, with the Asian giant becoming Brazil’s main trading partner in 2009.Trade between China and Latin America as a whole exploded from barely $10 billion in 2000 to $255.5 billion in 2012.Sino-Brazilian trade mushroomed from $6.5 billion in 2003 to $83.3 billion in 2012.Ahead of Li’s arrival late Monday, Jose Graca Lima, head of Asian affairs in the Brazilian foreign ministry, explained that a „second generation” of Chinese investment is underway, switching from trade in raw materials to heavy industry and infrastructure.Facilitating the movement of imports from Brazil — and similarly that of its own exports to Latin America — is a key Chinese aim, pushing their interest in funding the mooted $10 billion railway project through to Peru.Building the rail link would mean that „a new path to Asia will open up for Brazil, reducing distances and costs,” Rousseff told reporters.