WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will begin a trip this week to China, South Korea, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates, the State Department said on Sunday, at a time of high tensions in Asia over China’s increasingly assertive territorial claims.The trip, which runs from Thursday to February 18, will be Kerry’s fifth visit to Asia since he became secretary of state just over a year ago, and comes before a planned visit by President Barack Obama in April to promote a strategic U.S. „pivot” to the region announced in 2011.Kerry will visit Seoul, Beijing, Jakarta and Abu Dhabi „to meet with senior government officials and address a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.In Beijing and Seoul, Kerry’s talks are expected to focus on an air defense zone China declared last year covering territory also claimed by South Korea and Japan, including uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. He is also expected to discuss concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program.Psaki said Kerry would relay to Chinese officials „that the United States is committed to pursuing a positive, cooperative, comprehensive relationship and welcomes the rise of a peaceful and prosperous China that plays a positive role in world affairs.”He will also discuss North Korea and highlight the importance of U.S.-China collaboration on climate change and clean energy, Psaki’s statement said.During his stop in Seoul, Kerry will discuss North Korea and ways to expand U.S.-South Korean cooperation on regional and global issues, the statement added.In Jakarta, Kerry will co-chair the Joint Commission Meeting under the U.S.-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership and meet the secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.While in Abu Dhabi, he will discuss issues of interest to the U.S.-UAE relationship, the State Department said.Kerry has faced criticism for the amount of time he has devoted to peace efforts in the Middle East rather than the rebalancing of military and economic focus toward Asia in reaction to the growing clout of China.Concerns about U.S. commitments to the region were highlighted in October when Obama called off plans to attend two summits in Asia because of a budget crisis at home.Kerry stood in for Obama at those meetings and held talks in Japan involving U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera in which they agreed to modernize the U.S.-Japan defense alliance for the first time in 16 years.Vice President Joe Biden followed up with a visit to Japan, Beijing and Seoul in December, but Kerry will have to work hard to counter a perception among many in Asia that Obama’s pivot is more rhetoric than substance.SECURITY COLLABORATION–On Friday, Kerry met Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Washington and stressed the U.S. commitment to the defense of Japan and stability in the Asia-Pacific region against the backdrop of Chinese territorial claims.He said the United States and Japan were committed to closer security collaboration and reiterated that Washington „neither recognizes nor accepts” an air defense zone China has declared in East China Sea and would not change how it conducts operations there.The United States flew B-52s through the Chinese air defense zone after it was declared last year. U.S. officials have warned that any declaration by Beijing of another such zone in the South China Sea could result in changes to U.S. military deployments in the region.Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei attacked Kerry’s remarks on Saturday, saying China’s air defense zone was fully in line with international law and norms.”We urge the U.S. side to stop making irresponsible remarks so as not to harm regional stability and the China-U.S. relationship,” Hong said.(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Peter Cooney)Israel PM slams Iran move to send ships towards US
The move to send warships to the Atlantic was announced by the commander of Iran’s northern naval fleet on Saturday, who described it as a „message.”The ships „have already started their voyage towards the Atlantic Ocean via the waters near South Africa,” said Admiral Afshin Rezayee Haddad, in remarks quoted by Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency.Iranian media reported that two ships — a destroyer and a helicopter transport vessel — had been dispatched on January 21.It was not clear how close the ships would travel towards the US maritime border or when they would arrive.But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the dispatch of the warships was clear evidence of Iran’s „aggression” and proof it had not moderated its policies following a landmark deal with world powers to roll back its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.View galleryIsrael’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on Fe …”The easing of sanctions against Iran by the international community has not caused Iran to moderate its international aggression – the complete opposite has occurred,” Netanyahu told the weekly cabinet meeting in remarks relayed by his office.Israel, the region’s sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state, has long viewed Iran’s controversial atomic programme as a threat to its existence and has not ruled out military action to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon.Iran has always insisted its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful, and President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate elected last year, has vowed to allay Western concerns about it.In September 2012, Iran said it was planning to send naval forces to the Atlantic to deploy along US marine borders to counter a beefed up US naval presence in the Persian Gulf, Fars reported, with the navy chief saying the buildup would begin within several years.In December, the Pentagon said it was not planning to scale back its vast military presence in the Gulf despite the six-month interim nuclear deal.
Airbus shows off A350 at big Asian airshow
If he had trouble believing what had just happened as he stood before the crowd it was with good reason. The Austrian struck a big upset Sunday in one of the Olympics’ marquee events, capturing the men’s downhill and upending the elite of his sport.”It’s amazing to be an Olympic champion,” he said.Mayer has never finished better than fifth in a World Cup downhill. That proved no obstacle in dismissing the preordained favorites — Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway finished fourth and Bode Miller of the U.S. eighth.Among the eight gold medalists on Day 3 were: snowboarder Jamie Anderson, the American slopestyle queen who triumphed in her sport’s Olympic debut; Irene Wust, who showed why speedskating is Dutch territory; and Russia in team figure skating, likewise an Olympic newcomer, for its first gold in Sochi.___View galleryAustria’s gold medalist Matthias Mayer jumps during the men’s downhill at the Sochi 2014 Win …View galleryAustria’s Matthias Mayer celebrates winning the gold medal in the men’s downhill at the Soch …SKIING: In a country where skiing is revered, Mayer gave Austria a jolt. A few weeks ago he was not even considered the nation’s best shot for gold. But he covered the Rosa Khutor course in 2 minutes, 6.23 seconds and beat Italy’s Christof Innerhofer by 0.06 seconds. Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud won the bronze. Miller, who dominated the training runs, was so unnerved by the change of visibility he thought he’d have „to do something magical to win.” That was left to Mayer, who enjoys good skiing bloodlines — his father, Helmut, won a super-G silver medal at the 1988 Calgary Games.___FIGURE SKATING:With Evgeni Plushenko and a captivating Julia Lipnitskaia winning the free skates, Russia took the team event without needing to worry about the concluding ice dance. President Vladimir Putin was among those in a crowd relishing this victory as the Russians drew away from the U.S. and Canada. Plushenko’s body has been battered by 12 operations and he had to convince his federation he merited a spot in Sochi. „All the fans are cheering so hard that you literally cannot do badly because they do everything with you,” Plushenko said. „You get goose bumps.”___SNOWBOARDING: The U.S. now has a double gold hit in slopestyle, with Anderson doing her part a day after Sage Kotsenburg. „Even though it’s just another competition, the stage and the outreach that this event connects to is out of control,” Anderson said. Finland’s Enni Rukajarvi won the silver. The bronze went to Jenny Jones, a 33-year-old former maid at a ski resort who gave Britain its first medal in any snow sport.___SPEEDSKATING: Another royal visit, more Dutch gold. Wust gave the Netherlands its second victory by winning the 3,000. Skating before her king and queen, Wust won in 4 minutes, 0.34 seconds. Defending champ Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic took the silver while Olga Graf won bronze for Russia’s first medal of the games. Claudia Pechstein, 41 and a six-time Olympian, was fourth. Wust, her nails red, white and blue like the Dutch flag, held up three fingers, signifying her third Olympic gold medal.___CROSS-COUNTRY: Switzerland’s Dario Cologna had ankle surgery in November, but that now seems ancient. He won the 30-kilometer skiathlon, pulling away at the top of the last uphill section. The three-time overall World Cup winner claimed his second Olympic gold medal. He was timed in 1 hour, 8 minutes, 15.4 seconds. Defending champion Marcus Hellner of Sweden took silver, with the bronze to Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby.View galleryJamie Anderson of the United States celebrates after winning the women’s snowboard slopestyle fi …___BIATHLON: Slovakia’s Anastasiya Kuzmina matched her gold from Vancouver in the women’s 7.5-kilometer sprint. Kuzmina shot flawlessly and finished in 21 minutes, 6.8 seconds. The silver medal went to Russia’s Olga Vilukhina and the bronze to Ukraine’s Vita Semerenko. Kuzmina’s brother is Russian biathlete Anton Shipulin, who was fourth Saturday.___LUGE: Felix Loch, still only 24, did it again. The German luger won his second straight Olympic gold medal, leaving the rest of the field in his icy wake. Loch completed four runs down the Sanki Sliding Center track in 3 minutes, 27.562 seconds — 0.476 seconds ahead of Russia’s Albert Demchenko, who won the silver in his seventh Olympics. Italy’s Armin Zoeggeler won the bronze, giving him a record six medals in six games.___SKI JUMPING: In control from the start, Kamil Stoch of Poland won the Olympic gold in the men’s normal hill individual ski jump. Stoch had the best jump in each round, putting first ahead of the silver medalist Peter Prevc of Slovenia and bronze medalist Anders Bardal of Norway. Thomas Morgenstern of Austria, returning from serious injuries from a fall during training a month ago, was 14th. Simon Amman of Switzerland, the defending champion from Vancouver who was seeking a record fifth Olympic gold medal, finished 17th.
US suspect possibly targeted for drone attack
GENEVA (Reuters) – Mediator Lakhdar Brahimi will meet representatives of the warring sides in Syria separately for the first few days of a second round of talks that began on Monday, after the breaking of a local ceasefire set back peace efforts.In a letter reviewed by Reuters on Monday, Brahimi increased pressure on the two sides to show willingness in a peace process sponsored by Moscow and Washington that made no progress in the first round.He said he would talk to the two Syrian sides on their own for the next few days in hope of improving the negotiating atmosphere.In the eight-page document, dated Feb 7, which was given by Brahimi to both delegations at the weekend, he asked them to make a commitment at the start to deal with the two main issues: stopping the fighting and working out discussions of a transitional governing body.”The two issues are among the most complex and sensitive and both subjects need treatment over several sessions and long discussions,” the document said.View galleryU.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi addresses a news conference at the United Nations E …”But the future of this political process and the possibility of its success require a clear declaration from the outset that the two parties have the full and strong political will to deal with these two issues, with all that they require – courage, persistence and tenacity and openness to reach successful solutions to all the issues, no matter how complicated and thorny.”With no agreement on which issue should be discussed first, and a case to be made that both depended on the other, Brahimi said he would take them together and discuss them in parallel.During the second week of talks he plans to expand the scope of the discussion to two other issues: how to manage the continuity of Syria’s state institutions and how to handle the process of national dialogue and reconciliation that would arise from any eventual agreement in Geneva.The first round had aimed to build confidence by focusing narrowly on trying to agree a humanitarian ceasefire in the devastated city of Homs but the truce was not finalized until afterwards and was broken soon after it began.On its third day on Sunday, aid officials said they were working to extend it, even though aid convoys had come under fire as they evacuated people and were briefly trapped in the city.(Corrects day in final paragraph)(Editing by Tom Miles and Philippa Fletcher)
Congo militia leader ordered rapes, massacres: prosecutor
THE HAGUE (Reuters) – A Congolese militia leader widely known as „the Terminator” ordered troops, including child soldiers, to massacre and rape civilians to spread terror and grab territory, prosecutors told the International Criminal Court on Monday.The allegations against Bosco Ntaganda were made at the opening of hearings seen as a test for the global legal institution after a string of troubled cases. Ntaganda has yet to enter a plea.”He played a key role in planning assaults against the civilian population in order to gain territory,” said Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, setting out her arguments to judges who will decide if there is enough evidence for Ntaganda to stand trial.Ntaganda was a senior military commander who should also be punished because he „failed to prevent or punish crimes by troops under his effective command or control,” she said.Ntaganda, an ethnic Hema, is accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes including murder and rape, all allegedly committed during a 2002-03 conflict in the mineral-rich east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.View galleryPresiding Judge Ekatarina Trendafilova looks on during the case against Congolese militia leader Bos …The crimes were committed against the Lendu population and other ethnic groups in a bid to drive them out of the Ituri region over 12 months from September 2002, said the prosecutor.Ntaganda, a tall, slight man with a pencil-line moustache, rose briefly at the start of the hearing, speaking in his native Kinyarwanda tongue to confirm his identity.Ntaganda handed himself in to the U.S. embassy in the Rwandan capital Kigali last March after a 15-year career as a commander in a series of rebellions in Congo’s Ituri province.Shortly after his arrival in The Hague, prosecutors asked judges for more time to rebuild a case which had been dormant for five years while Ntaganda was on the run.The session will be a test of prosecutor Bensouda’s promise last year that cases will be „trial ready” by the time they come to court – an implicit response to criticisms by academics and member states of earlier cases which collapsed when judges ruled evidence was not strong enough.View galleryChief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda looks on during the case against Congolese militia leader Bosco Ntag …The court, 11 years old this year, has handed down just one conviction – jailing another Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga, for 14 years in 2012 for using child soldiers.”The court is struggling, and the prosecutor, with her new strategy, has been trying to turn something around,” said Bill Schabas, professor of international law at England’s Middlesex University.”The new strategy was a good sign, showing there was a sense of dissatisfaction with how things were going,” he added.Judges are due to decide over the next few weeks whether to suspend their most high profile current case – against Kenya’s president on charges of orchestrating violence following 2007 elections – after prosecutors said several witnesses had withdrawn. Uhuru Kenyatta denies the charges.Two other prominent figures facing charges – Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of the ousted Libyan leader – remain beyond the court’s reach because their countries refuse to surrender them.Wars in Congo have killed about five million people in the past decade and a half, and many eastern areas are still afflicted by violence from a number of rebel groups despite a decade-old U.N. peacekeeping mission.(Reporting By Thomas Escritt; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
Syrian chemical weapons stalling tests limits of U.S.-Russian deal
THE HAGUE (Reuters) – At a closed door meeting, Western governments led by the United States took Syria to task for failing to surrender its chemical weapons under ambitious deadlines agreed with Russia after a poison gas attack in August.Speaker after speaker stood up to berate Damascus at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), until it came to Russia’s turn and Moscow took a much more lenient view – the international split over Syria writ large.Russia defended President Bashar al-Assad and said his government needed more time to ship the chemicals safely through territory where it is fighting rebels.Syria missed a first deadline to give up the most dangerous toxins on December 31 and another cut-off date passed on Wednesday, when it was due to hand over all the remaining critical chemical materials.The success of the destruction program, now also at risk of missing the final June 30 deadline, is in the interests of both powers, but the confrontation in The Hague on January 30 exposed a deep division between Moscow and Washington over how to respond to Syria’s lack of progress.The U.S.-Russian clash also bodes poorly for a broader Moscow-Washington partnership that is seen as critical to resolving other major foreign policy challenges, from Iran’s nuclear program to the Geneva peace talks for Syria, which are set to resume on Monday. Further bad feeling was aroused by a leaked phone conversation about Ukraine between U.S. officials.Even with the latest setback, the agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical stockpile that averted a U.S.-led military strike and led to a Nobel Peace Prize for the OPCW, can still be pulled off, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said.MAJOR DEADLINE-The next major deadline is March 31, by when the most toxic substances are supposed to be destroyed outside Syria on a special U.S. cargo vessel, the Cape Ray, which is on the way from Virginia.”The odds of Syrian compliance increase if Washington and Moscow speak with one voice, but that isn’t happening at present,” Amy Smithson, a chemical weapons expert at the U.S. Monterey Institute, a leading think tank, told Reuters.”These two countries are both key to the potential success of chemical disarmament in Syria, not to mention a settlement to the overall conflict, so hopefully they will rapidly find a way to resolve this impasse,” she said.With Russia opposed to automatic U.N. Security Council action against Syria if it is deemed non-compliant – a stage diplomats say has not been reached – Washington finds itself in a similar situation to last September, when it had threatened military action, diplomats said.Western powers fear the program is being stalled intentionally to give Moscow more time to provide military hardware to Damascus and to enable Syria to retain its weapons of mass destruction as a negotiation tool in the Geneva peace talks.It is a process that has faced difficulties from the beginning, with OPCW inspectors held up in Cyprus for weeks before they could get into Syria to check its chemical arsenal. The August 21 gas attack happened within days of their arrival and inspectors were earlier shot at by snipers while trying to check allegations of chemical weapons use.RUSSIAN PUSH-Even as Moscow supports Assad in public, it is being urged to put pressure on him to meet the targets. On Tuesday Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said Syria was planning a large shipment of chemical substances this month and was ready to complete the process by March 1.Still Western diplomats complained that the Russians were not doing enough to encourage Assad to play ball, while other powers may be reluctant to threaten action for fear of undermining the Geneva talks.”There are signs that the Russians are putting pressure on them (Syria) to do it,” a Western diplomat said. If the Syrians complete the shipments of toxic chemicals by March 1, as the Russians said then „that would be good.”Washington and other Western governments have rejected Syria’s claim that it needs more equipment to transport chemicals securely after it received a long list of hardware to carry out the job.The delay is already having a knock-on effect on the complex logistical task, involving nearly a dozen countries, commercial chemical destruction contracts and multi-million dollar funding by the international community.The international community has invested heavily in the operation, providing ships, vehicles, personnel and tens of millions of dollars in donations to OPCW and U.N. funds.Washington sent shipping containers, GPS trackers, armored vehicles for inspectors, decontamination equipment and a cargo ship outfitted with $10m in chemical weapons treatment systems.China chipped in ambulances and surveillance cameras, Belarus gave 13 field kitchens, Russia sent 75 transport vehicles, 25 of them armored. Denmark and Norway donated cargo ships and military patrol boats. Italy offered use of a port. Germany and Britain will make available toxic waste destruction facilities.”While remaining aware of the challenging security situation inside the Syrian Arab Republic, it is the assessment of the Joint Mission that (Syria) has sufficient material and equipment to carry out multiple ground movements to ensure the expeditious removal of chemical weapons material,” Ban said last week.A senior Western diplomat said the Syrian government is „teasing us” by dragging its heels while doing enough to avoid being declared in non-compliance with its obligation to destroy its chemical weapons program.”Our impression is that they (Assad’s government) are managing this issue in parallel with the Geneva discussion,” he said. „Everything is blocked so they are blocking on the chemical weapons to remind us” of their power on this issue.That sentiment was echoed by the U.S. Ambassador to the OPCW, Robert Mikulak, who called on Damascus at the closed OPCW meeting to „take immediate action” to resolve the impasse.”Syria has said that its delay in transporting these chemicals has been caused by ‘security concerns’ and insisted on additional equipment – armored jackets for shipping containers, electronic countermeasures, and detectors for improvised explosive devices. These demands are without merit, and display a ‘bargaining mentality’ rather than a security mentality,” he said.IN VAIN-On February 6, a day after the deadline to hand over all critical chemicals expired, OPCW/U.N. mission head Sigrid Kaag addressed the U.N. Security Council on the matter.Although she did not believe the Syrians were deliberately stalling, she said cooperation must be speeded up if the June 30 deadline is to be met.A second senior Western diplomat said it was possible that Western powers were overestimating Russia’s leverage with Assad’s government.Still, Western nations are encouraging Moscow to use all its influence on Damascus to resume complying with the timetable agreed in September and October.It is in Moscow’s interests to ensure that the chemical weapons deal doesn’t fall apart. Russia doesn’t want its reputation as a diplomatic power tarnished, or Assad’s government to face renewed threats of U.S. air strikes at a time when the Syrian army appears to have an edge over the opposition militarily.”Of course it is in Russia’s interest to see it go ahead. President (Vladimir) Putin threw a safety belt to President Obama at a very delicate moment,” said Georgy Mirsky, a Middle East expert at the Institute of the World Economy and International Relations in Moscow.The U.S. and Russia have invested political capital in the operation to eliminate Syria’s 1,300 metric ton stockpile, of which just 4.1 percent had been handed over for destruction.”If it appears now that it was all in vain – that chemical weapons will remain in Syria and that Bashar al-Assad is pulling a fast one – it will be President Putin who will be in a very bad situation indeed,” Mirsky said.(Additional reporting by Lou Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols in New York, Alistair Bell, Jim Loney, Matt Spetalnick and Lesley Wroughton in Washington, Gabriela Baczynska and Steve Gutterman in Moscow and Nicholas Vinocur in Paris; Editing by Giles Elgood)
Nepal picks Koirala as new PM, but challenges remain
Francois Hollande, a bespectacled 59-year-old former Socialist party boss, will be highlighting France’s shared interests with Washington on issues like Syria’s civil war, Iran’s nuclear program and terrorism in Africa.First, he may need to get past the snickers: Hollande drew headlines and ridicule worldwide last month after a gossip magazine reported that he had zipped through Paris in a face-covering helmet on a motor scooter for a tryst with French actress Julie Gayet — unbeknownst to his first lady.He has since split with Valerie Trierweiler, his partner of several years, who won’t be at the state dinner. She’s now reportedly vacationing on a balmy Indian Ocean island. The French have largely shrugged off the reported affair as a private matter, even if they too have devoured the story on the airwaves and in print.But Hollande’s political headaches are worse. Polls suggest his popularity is at historic lows. One last week found that fewer than one in five French trust his leadership. His 20-month mantra about job-creation and economic growth has produced few results.The embattled Socialist leader will be able to bask in some symbolic glow: Obama is still widely liked in France, and Hollande will get the grand reception reserved for America’s closest allies.He and Obama will hold a news conference on Tuesday, and visit Arlington National Cemetery — in this 70th-anniversary year of the Allied landings in Normandy during World War II.The state dinner not be Obama’s first with a dose of drama. One in 2009 was marred by a pair of party crashers. Another was canceled last year when Brazilian PresidentDilma Rousseff scrapped her trip to Washington to protest the National Security Agency spying.View galleryFrench President Francois Hollande delivers his speech at the Constituent Assembly in Tunis, Friday, …France may be America’s oldest ally, but the relationship has grown complex (remember „Freedom Fries”?). France, a nuclear-armed power with a U.N. Security Council veto, has recently had stronger U.S. ties on defense and diplomacy than on economic and national-security issues.Hollande showed early pique about spying revelations from Edward Snowden, though he has not dwelled on the controversy. His government wants uniform taxation on Internet companies — many U.S.-based — that skirt high European taxes in places like France, and insists a U.S.-European trade deal in the works must help protect French cultural offerings from Hollywood’s behemoth.Overall, ties are good.-„A decade ago, few would have imagined our two countries working so closely together in so many ways. But in recent years our alliance has transformed,” Obama and Hollande wrote in a joint column published Monday in the Washington Post and Le Monde, apparently alluding to trans-Atlantic tensions over the Iraq war.The two leaders noted that now, after France’s return to NATO’s military command in 2009, „we have been able to take our alliance to a new level because our interests and values are so closely aligned.”With the United States focusing on pulling combat forces from Afghanistan, a message from France will be: We got your back, such as in Africa — where French troops took the lead in fighting jihadists in Mali and are trying with African partners to end Muslim-Christian violence in Central African Republic. The U.S. has provided airlift, intelligence and other support.Despite minor disagreements, France is mostly shoulder-to-shoulder with the U.S. in diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and ending Syria’s three-year civil war.View galleryMonticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, is bathed in morning light in Charlottesville, Va., Friday …Analyst Laurence Nardon said France felt „quite hurt” when it backed the prospect of U.S.-led air strikes in Syria in September, only to see Obama shelve the idea.”Now the line from Hollande is going to be: France is doubtlessly the most active ally of the United States these days to try to maintain stability in the world,” said Nardon, head of the U.S. program at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris. „I think he’s going to talk a lot about that — with the implication of: ‘Isn’t it about time that you recognize that France is your No. 1 ally right now?'”Since taking office, Hollande’s priority has been to right France’s listing economy. He’ll look to hold up free-market America as an example of economic recovery, to counter a grumbling leftist political base irked with his business-friendly overtures. Certainly the two countries’ unemployment rates are starkly different, with the U.S. reporting 6.6 percent and France staying above 10 percent for two years.He will travel to San Francisco and meet with chiefs of Silicon Valley giants including Facebook, Twitter, and Google, whose home page in France was required over the weekend to prominently display a notice about the fine it received for violating national privacy laws.In the meantime, symbolism: a visit to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate in Virginia. The former president, a one-time envoy to France who is honored with a statue on Paris’ Seine River, modeled his design for the Virginia Capitol in Richmond after an ancient Roman temple in southeastern Nimes, which he once gazed at „like a lover at his mistress.”Hollande surely isn’t looking forward to any allusions to mistresses, but will be prepared.”President Hollande is super clever in getting out of embarrassing situations with a little joke,” said Nardon, who had Hollande as a lecturer at Paris’ respected Sciences-Po university years ago. „He has surely got a script ready, when somebody asks him ‘Mr. President, I see you’re alone …'”Won’t the affair distract from Hollande’s real business?”Bof!” Nardon said, using an interjection that often accompanies a Gallic shrug. „I’m perhaps too French, but I don’t think it’s too important.”___Steve Szkotak in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Julie Pace and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.___Follow Jamey Keaten on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/jameykeaten
North Korea rescinds invitation to US envoy
The cancellation comes only days after detained American missionary Kenneth Bae told a pro-Pyongyang newspaper that he expected to meet this month with the envoy. It signals an apparent protest of upcoming annual military drills between Washington and Seoul and an alleged mobilization of U.S. nuclear-capable B-52 bombers during training near the Korean Peninsula. North Korea calls the planned drills a rehearsal for invasion, a claim the allies deny.The State Department also said in a statement that civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson has offered to travel to North Korea at the request of Bae’s family. The State Department did not elaborate and referred questions to Jackson, whose spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.Analysts say North Korea has previously used detained Americans as leverage in its standoff with the U.S. over its nuclear and missile programs; North Korea denies this.Bae has been held in North Korea for 15 months. The North accused him of smuggling in inflammatory literature and trying to establish a base for anti-government activities at a border city hotel.Bae was quoted last week in an interview with the Japan-based Choson Sinbo newspaper as saying that a Swedish diplomat told him the U.S. envoy on North Korean human rights issues, Bob King, would visit him as early as Monday and no later than the end of the month.View galleryPacific Century Institute Chairman Donald Gregg, second left, and his party arrive at Pyongyang Airp …Bae said he also heard from the diplomat that the U.S. government had told North Korea that it intends to send the Rev. Jackson, but the North instead allowed King to come to the country, the report said, without elaborating.The U.S. and North Korea, which fought the 1950-53 Korean War, have no diplomatic relations. The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang handles consular matters there for the U.S.”We are deeply disappointed by the DPRK decision — for a second time — to rescind its invitation for Ambassador King to travel to Pyongyang to discuss Kenneth Bae’s release,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.She said the upcoming military drills with South Korea are „in no way linked to Mr. Bae’s case,” and that Washington remains prepared to send King to North Korea in support of Bae’s release.In August, North Korea also rescinded an invitation for King to visit, saying Washington perpetrated a grave provocation by flying B-52 bombers during previous military drills with South Korea. Last week, North Korea threatened to scrap reunions of war-divided families in the two Koreas later this month because of the upcoming drills and the alleged B-52 flights.View galleryPacific Century Institute Chairman Donald Gregg, center, and his party arrive at Pyongyang Airport i …The U.S. Pacific Command wouldn’t confirm the North’s bomber flight claim but said it has maintained a strategic bomber presence in the region for more than a decade. South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Monday that two sets of South Korea-U.S. military drills will begin on Feb. 24 and the second, longer one will run until April 18.U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is to visit Seoul on Thursday and Friday for talks on North Korea as part of an Asian tour, according to the State Department and Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.”North Korea appears to be more scared about the B-52s than (about ordinary U.S. military drills) … because the bombers can conduct precision strikes against the headquarters of the country’s leadership,” said analyst Cheong Seong-jang at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea.North Korea has recently toned down its typical harsh rhetoric against South Korea and made a series of conciliatory gestures, and outside observers link this softening to its need for improved ties with the outside world in order to attract foreign investment and aid.Cheong said talks on Bae’s release will likely come only after the U.S.-South Korea drills end in April.Bae’s sister, Terri Chung of Edmonds, Washington, said Friday that her family learned from the U.S. State Department that Bae, 45, had been taken back to a labor camp from a hospital where he had been treated after losing 50 pounds (22.6 kilograms).Bae, who led tour groups in North Korea, has been serving 15 years of hard labor. His family says he suffers from diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems and back pain. In the Choson Sinbo interview, Bae said he does eight hours of labor per day and suffers pain in his legs and back.Meanwhile, Donald Gregg, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, arrived in Pyongyang on Monday with representatives of the Pacific Century Institute, a private U.S. group. Gregg, who is chairman of the institute, wouldn’t say what he hoped to discuss there. Another group member and former U.S. diplomat, Lynn Turk, said they were invited by the North Korean Foreign Ministry and their aim is to discuss how to „build bridges” between the countries.
How Russia hits back at slights over WWII victory
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Sweden landed an early psychological blow in the women’s curling tournament by beating big rival Britain 6-4 in a tense, strategic opening game between two favorites for the title.But for statements of intent, look no further than Canada.Jennifer Jones’ team crushed China 9-2 in a shortened game that was conceded after just seven ends because of the large differential.Switzerland beat the United States 7-4 and Russia delighted its raucous fans by defeating Denmark 6-4 in the other games.Under new skip Margaretha Sigfridsson, Sweden is bidding for a third straight gold medal and capitalized on a fast start against Eve Muirhead’s world champion Britishteam, going up 3-0 after three ends.For many, it was a rehearsal for the Feb. 20 final.