Republicans suspend partnership with NBC News following debateMichael Walsh Reporter October 30, 2015Reince Priebus: ‘CNBC should be ashamed’ Strategy Room: RNC chairman vows to ensure future GOP debates ‘allow for a more robust exchange’ The Republican National Committee (RNC) announced Friday that it is suspending its relationship with NBC News following the third GOP presidential primary debate this week.RNC Chairman Reince Priebus wrote a letter to NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack saying that the organization’s sole role in the primary debate process is to ensure that its candidates are given a full and fair opportunity to outline their vision for the future of the United States.This was not the case, Priebus said, for the conservative politicians onstage at the University of Colorado’s Coors Events Center in Boulder on Wednesday evening.“The CNBC network is one of your media properties, and its handling of the debate was conducted in bad faith,” the letter reads. “We understand that NBC does not exercise full editorial control over CNBC’s journalistic approach. However, the network is an arm of your organization, and we need to ensure there is not a repeat performance.”According to Priebus, the business news channel did not deliver on several promises: (1) The debate did not focus on key issues that matter to voters, such as job growth, taxes, technology, retirement and the national economy; (2) candidates did not receive opening questions on the economy or finance; and (3) speaking time was not monitored carefully to ensure fairness.The conservative leader characterized the questions as “inaccurate or downright offensive.” He cited the first question directed to party frontrunner Donald Trump as to whether he was running a “comic-book version of a presidential campaign” as an example.Jeb Bush, gesturing, is flanked by, left to right, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and Ben Carson during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado in Boulder on Oct. 28. (Photo: Mark J. Terrill/AP)“While debates are meant to include tough questions and contrast candidates’ visions and policies for the future of America, CNBC’s moderators engaged in a series of ‘gotcha’ questions, petty and mean-spirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates,” the letter continues. “What took place Wednesday night was not an attempt to give the American people a greater understanding of our candidates’ policies and ideas.”Priebus said he respects the First Amendment and freedom of the press but also expects the media to host a “substantive debate on consequential issues” — something he said CNBC failed to do.The next Republican presidential debate scheduled to air on an NBC network was slated for Feb. 26, 2016. Its sponsors were NBC/Telemundo and the conservative magazine National Review.“While we are suspending our partnership with NBC News and its properties, we still fully intend to have a debate on that day and will ensure that National Review remains part of it,” he said.Priebus said he will discuss the best ways to move forward with the Republican Party’s presidential candidates.In response, NBC News released this statement:“This is a disappointing development. However, along with our debate broadcast partners at Telemundo, we will work in good faith to resolve this matter with the Republican Party.”The mounting tension was evident during the debate as the candidates and the moderators shared several heated moments.
Romanian nightclub fire leaves 27 dead, 155 injured By Radu-Sorin Marinas3 hours agoEmergency services work outside a nightclub in Bucharest, Romania October 31, 2015. REUTERS/Inquam …By Radu-Sorin Marinas BUCHAREST (Reuters) – A fire and explosion in a Bucharest nightclub killed 27 people and injured 155 during a rock concert that featured fireworks late on Friday, Romanian government officials and witnesses said.In one of the capital’s worst disasters in decades, about 400 people, mostly young adults, stampeded for the exit as the club in the basement of a Communist-era factory filled with smoke.Several witnesses said there were fireworks inside the club. Colectiv Club’s Facebook page said the show would feature pyrotechnic effects.A pillar and the club’s ceiling went up in flames and then there was an explosion and heavy smoke, the witnesses said.TV footage showed police officers and paramedics trying to resuscitate young people lying on the pavement while sirens wailed with more ambulances deployed to the scene.People walk outside a nightclub following an explosion in Bucharest, Romania October 31, 2015. REUT …”There was a stampede of people running out of the (Colectiv) club,” a man who escaped without shoes told Reuters.A young woman who was released from the hospital after minor injuries described the club bursting into flames.”In five seconds the whole ceiling was all on fire. In the next three, we rushed to a single door,” she told television station Antena 3.The victims were admitted to 10 hospitals in Bucharest, said Deputy Interior Minister Raed Arafat.”The situation is slowly stabilizing … we have many people with burns, intoxicated with smoke and people squashed,” he said, adding many victims have no identification.Emergency services work outside a nightclub in Bucharest, Romania October 31, 2015. REUTERS/Inquam P …Deputy Prime Minister Gabriel Oprea said an investigation into the causes of the incident was already under way, and the health minister launched a public appeal for blood donations.Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis said in a statement: „I want to assure you of all support from rescuing forces and ask you to trust they put all efforts to limit the impact of this catastrophe.”An emergency meeting of cabinet ministers was set for early on Saturday to assess the incident.Some of the deadliest nightclub disasters in the world were started by fireworks.In the southern Brazilian college town of Santa Maria in 2013, a musician lit an outdoor flare inside the Kiss nightclub and started a fire that killed at least 241 people, investigators said.Fireworks were also blamed for nightclub fires in Russia’s Perm that killed 156 people in 2009 and in Argentina’s Buenos Aires in 2004 that killed 194.(Reporting by Radu Marinas; Additional reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
U.S. to send special forces to Syria, truce sought after peace talks By Sabine Siebold, Parisa Hafezi and Arshad Mohammed5 hours agoView galleryRebel fighters aim their weapons as they demonstrate their skills during a military display as part of …By Sabine Siebold, Parisa Hafezi and Arshad Mohammed Related Stories
VIENNA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States disclosed plans on Friday to station its first ground troops in Syria for the war against Islamic State, saying dozens of U.S. soldiers would be sent as advisers to groups fighting the militants.Washington announced the small special operations force shortly before 17 countries, the European Union and the United Nations called for a nationwide truce in Syria’s civil war at talks in Vienna, attended for the first time since the conflict began in 2011 by President Bashar al-Assad’s ally Iran.The United States said it would deploy fewer than 50 troops to northern Syria beginning in the coming weeks in an open-ended mission. Officials said the forces were not meant for front-line combat.The participants in Vienna, including the United States and Russia, said „substantial differences remain” though they agreed it was „imperative to accelerate all diplomatic efforts to end the war” and the ministers will reconvene within two weeks.In a rare hint of diplomatic progress, Iran signaled it would back a six-month political transition period in Syria followed by elections to decide Assad’s fate, although his foes rejected the proposal as a trick to keep Assad in power.In addition to Assad’s fate, on which delegates said no breakthrough had been expected, sticking points have long included the question of which rebel groups should be considered terrorists and who should be involved in the political process.In Washington, U.S. officials said the small special forces contingent in Syria would work with local „moderate rebel” groups to fight against Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and that it should not be considered a combat mission.U.S. special forces soldiers talk to each other before they leave their base in Helmand, Afghanistan …”The president has been quite clear that there is no military solution to the problems that are plaguing Iraq and Syria. There is a diplomatic one,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in Washington.Earnest said the special forces’ mission would be to „train, advise and assist” local groups, adding: „I think if we were envisioning a combat operation, we probably would be contemplating more than 50 troops on the ground.”In Alaska, U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter told reporters, „Our role fundamentally and the strategy is to enable local forces, but does that put U.S. forces in harm’s way? It does, no question about it.”Carter did not rule out further special forces deployments to Syria if the initial one is successful.Islamic State has seized swathes of eastern Syria and northern Iraq and proclaimed a caliphate to rule all Muslims.The United States has conducted a bombing campaign against Islamic State targets in Syria since September 2014. But the deployment of even a small number of ground troops marks a significant change in Syria policy for President Barack Obama, who has been averse to committing troops to Middle East wars.For example, Obama said in a nationally televised address in September 2013: „I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria.”A man reacts as he mourns the death of his relative after missiles were fired by Syrian government f …The United States has acknowledged conducting special forces raids into Syria in the past including one by Delta Force commandos in May that killed a senior Islamic State leader, but it has not stationed troops there.The decision is part of a package of other steps to beef up the fight against Islamic State, including sending more warplanes to the region and discussing with Iraq the establishment of a special forces task force there.For Syria, it is part of what U.S. officials call a two-pronged strategy of increasing aid to groups they describe as „moderate rebels” fighting against Islamic State, while also working on diplomacy to remove Assad from power.KERRY TOUTS PEACE MOVESIn Vienna, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the timing of the announcement, as talks were held in the Austrian capital, was a coincidence and that peace moves must continue.Russia’s decision a month ago to join the conflict in Syria by bombing Assad’s enemies has upended the strategy of the United States and its allies, who say Assad must go, as his presence makes it harder to fight Islamic State.Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Vienna that the decision to deploy special forces would make cooperation between U.S. and Russian armed forces even more important.Russia contends its bombing targets only Islamic State. But the overwhelming majority of its strikes have been against other groups fighting against Assad, including some that are supported by U.S. allies.For four years, Assad’s closest ally Iran had been excluded from international peace conferences because it rejected a U.N.-backed proposal for a transition of power in Damascus. However, Tehran may be adjusting its stance in ways that could create more ground for compromise with Western countries.”Iran does not insist on keeping Assad in power forever,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian, a member of Tehran’s delegation at the Syria talks, was quoted by Iranian media as saying.He later told Iranian state television that calls for a timetable for Assad’s removal had been rejected at the talks and added: „The importance of the Syrian people deciding their country’s fate was underlined.”Previous efforts toward a diplomatic solution to a civil war that has killed more than 250,000 people and driven more than 10 million people from their homes have collapsed over the insistence of the United States, European powers, Arab states and Turkey that Assad agree to leave power.(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau, Francois Murphy, Matt Spetalnick, Sabine Siebold and Vladimir Soldatkin in Vienna, Tom Perry in Beirut, Yeganeh Torbati in Fairbanks, Alaska, Michelle Nichols in New York and Arshad Mohammed, Phil Stewart Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Peter Graff and Will Dunham; Editing by Peter Millership, Tom Heneghan and Tom Brown)
Germany’s ability to act on migrants threatened, Merkel deputy says By Michelle Martin8 hours agoMigrants stay in a queue after crossing the Austrian-German border from Achleiten, Austria, in Passau, …By Michelle Martin Related Stories
BERLIN (Reuters) – German’s Social Democrat vice chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, warned on Friday that a dispute among the conservatives over how to handle record inflows of migrants into the country was jeopardising the government’s ability to act.Merkel and Horst Seehofer, the leader of her Bavarian sister party, have frequently clashed over how Germany should deal with the estimated 800,000 to 1 million it expects this year, many of them from war zones in the Middle East.Merkel, the leader of the Christian Democrats (CDU), has favoured an open-door policy and says Germany can cope.Seehofer, head of the Christian Social Union (CSU) in Bavaria, the entry point in Germany for many of the migrants, has said the existence of the conservative bloc was at stake if she did not „correct” her asylum policy.Gabriel, leader of the Social Democrats, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, said in an interview with Spiegel Online that the conservative parties were acting „irresponsibly” and creating even more uncertainty among the population as concerns mount that Germany cannot deal with the new arrivals.”Given the big challenge our country is facing due to strong immigration of refugees, the dispute between the CDU and CSU is now threatening the ability of the government to act,” he said. He cited no examples of government work being held up.”The longer the dispute in the conservative bloc lasts, the more people will turn away from politics and the more ground the right-wing radicals will gain,” Gabriel, who is also Germany’s economy minister, said.In a development that could help control the flow of refugees into Germany, Thomas Kreuzer, head of the CSU in Bavaria’s regional parliament, said Germany and Austria had agreed on a procedure to deal with those new arrivals coming into the southern state.Under the agreement, 50 refugees per hour could cross into Bavaria at five agreed border crossing points, he said.German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere earlier this week called Austria’s recent handling of refugees „out of order” as „refugees, without warning and after dark, were being driven to the German border”, he said.MEETING SATURDAY The conservatives have declined in opinion polls in recent weeks, with a Forsa poll showing them dipping two points to 36 percent support, their lowest level in three years. Recent surveys have shown the right-wing anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) gaining support.Earlier this week, Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Soeder said the relationship between the CDU and CSU was going through its trickiest patch since 1976, when there was a major fight between former party leaders Helmut Kohl and Franz-Josef Strauss.Seehofer is due to meet Merkel on Saturday to discuss refugee policy and they will then hold talks with Gabriel.Thousands of migrants continue to arrive in Bavaria every day, and the CSU called for immediate measures to reduce inflows to Germany, regional newspaper Passauer Neue Presse said, citing an internal list of CSU demands ahead of Saturday’s meeting.n it, the CSU called for illegal immigrants to be turned back at the border and urged the creation of „transit zones” at Germany’s borders to filter out migrants who have no chance of gaining asylum, and the securing of the European Union’s external borders, the newspaper said.Kreuzer said limiting immigration was the priority and added that integration would „fail spectacularly if immigration continues at this rate”.Two senior SPD members accused Seehofer on Friday of endangering the ruling coalition and said their party would not agree to „transit zones”.One of them, Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel, criticised the CSU for its „right-wing populist cheap propaganda”.(Reporting by Michelle Martin in Berlin and Joern Poltz in Munich; Editing by Tom Heneghan)
The B-52 bomber turns 60 (photos)
The first one flew in 1952. And the youngest one in the Air Force — and there are about 90 total — is still flying after a half-century. Read LessB-52 in the airIt was at the vanguard of aviation technology in the 1950s, and it’s still going strong today: meet the B-52 Stratofortress. Like the multipurpose C-130 and the high-flying, super-spying U-2, also products of the ’50s, the B-52 heavy bomber continues to show that old doesn’t have to mean outdated, even in an era of rapid technological change. Just the opposite: through good maintenance and occasional updates, vintage tech can hold its own against flashier but more expensive, and more finicky, next-generation (and next-next-next-generation, even) designs.The very first flight of a Boeing B-52 took place 60 years ago this weekend. According to the company history on Boeing’s Web site, pilots A.M. „Tex” Johnston and Guy Townsend on April 15, 1952, flew a B-52 prototype from Boeing Field in Seattle to Larson Air Force Base in Moses Lake, Wash. (The aircraft in the photo is a more modern B-52 cruising over the Pacific Ocean in July 2010.)
15. Sukhoi Su-27Top Speed: 1,550 MPHPrice: $27,000,000.00 Hours To Get Around The World: 16.03 hoursThe Sukhol Su-27 is a twin-engine fighter plane built by the former U.S.S.R., in an attempt to outdo similarly advanced American aircraft. The plane made its first flight in May 1977, and officially entered service with the Soviet Air Force in 1985. The aircraft can reach a maximum supersonic speed of Mach 2.35 (1,550 mph, or 2,500 km/h), which is 2.35 times the speed of sound.The Su-27 earned a reputation of being one of the most capable fighters of its time, and some remain in military use in Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine.14. F-4 Phantom This was the superior fighter jet during the Vietnam WarTop Speed: 1,607 MPHPrice: $17,883,000.00Hours To Get Around The World: 15.6 Hours
Airbus va produire plus d?A320 pour répondre à la „hausse ininterrompue” de la demandePar Djallal MALTI | AFP – il y a 18 heuresAFP/ARCHIVES/AFP/Archives – Aéronautique: Airbus annonce l’augmentation de la cadence de production de l’A320, face à la „hausse ininterrompue de la demande”s des compagnies aériennes en annonçant l’augmentation de la cadence de production de l’A320, face à la „hausse ininterrompue de la demande” pour son best-seller, un défi industriel destiné à préserver ses parts du marché des avions moyen-courrier.”La bonne santé du marché de l’aviation commerciale, la robustesse de notre carnet de commandes et les capacités de notre chaîne d’approvisionnement nous permettent d’augmenter la cadence de production des avions monocouloirs à 60 exemplaires par mois mi-2019″, a annoncé Tom Enders, le président exécutif du groupe, à l?occasion de la publication des résultats du groupe.Selon Airbus, il s?agit de répondre à une „hausse ininterrompue de la demande pour sa famille de monocouloirs leaders dans le monde”, dont plus de 12.000 appareils ont été commandés dans le monde à ce jour.L’enjeu pour l’avionneur européen est de gérer son carnet de commandes, qui représente 7 à 8 années de production, et de préserver ses parts sur un marché des moyen-courrier qu’il domine devant son concurrent américain Boeing.L’A320, qui est en concurrence avec le 737 de Boeing, est produit à une cadence de 42 exemplaires par mois actuellement. Airbus avait déjà indiqué au début de l’année qu’il visait une production mensuelle de 50 A320 à compter du premier trimestre 2017, et même évoqué le chiffre de 63 avant le salon du Bourget.Une telle montée en cadence représente un défi industriel, d’autant qu’elle s’effectue en parallèle de la transition vers l’A320neo, la version remotorisée de son monocouloir, dont les premières livraisons sont prévues d’ici à la fin de l’année. Avec plus de 4.300 commandes d’A320neo, l’appareil détient d’ores et déjà 58% du marché.Il ne s’agit rien moins que de parvenir à „la cadence de production la plus élevée jamais atteinte dans l’histoire de l’aviation civile”, a ainsi souligné Didier Evrard, directeur des programmes d’Airbus.Pour l’avionneur européen, l’enjeu est de s’assurer de la solidité de sa chaîne d’approvisionnement et de sa capacité à suivre cette montée en cadence.- Industrie sous tension -„La priorité est de livrer un avion mature et sécuriser son industrialisation” tout en restant „extrêmement attentif” à la montée en cadence des différents programmes, dont celui de l’A320neo, a-t-il résumé.Le tout dans un contexte de tension dans l’ensemble de l’industrie, alors que les montées en cadence se retrouvent sur plusieurs progammes, y compris long-courrier, aussi bien chez Airbus que son concurrent Boeing.L’avionneur de Seattle prévoit en effet lui aussi de passer la production de son 737 de 42 appareils produits par mois aujourd’hui à 47 en 2017 et 52 en 2018.”Pour permettre cette augmentation de cadence, Airbus étendra la capacité de la chaîne d’assemblage de Hambourg en créant une ligne de production supplémentaire”, indique l’européen, dont le monocouloir est désormais produit sur quatre sites dans le monde: Toulouse, Hambourg, Tianjin (Chine) et depuis peu aux Etats-Unis, à Mobile (Alabama).Dans le même temps, il intègrera les activités d’aménagement de cabine des A320 produits à Toulouse sur la chaîne d’assemblage final, afin d’harmoniser à l’échelle mondiale le processus de production.L’avionneur n’a en revanche pas donné d’indication quant aux motoristes qui l’accompagneront dans cette montée en cadence, que ce soit Safran et General Electric au sein de leur coentreprise CFM International ou son concurrent Pratt & Withney.Le patron de Safran, Philippe Petitcolin, qui avait refusé jusque-là d’aller au-delà des engagements déjà pris par son groupe, a semblé lâcher du lest la semaine dernière. „Nous continuons de travailler avec Boeing et avec Airbus”, a-t-il déclaré. „Nous essayons de trouver une issue favorable qui leur permette à eux de pouvoir répondre favorablement à la demande de leur marché”, a-t-il ajouté alors que son groupe doit lui-même réussir la montée en cadence du moteur Leap, destiné aux A320neo et aux 737MAX.
Analysis: China faces mounting pressure over maritime claimsBy MATTHEW PENNINGTON1 hour agoIn this April 8, 2008, file photo, guided missile destroyer USS Lassen arrives at the Shanghai International Passenger Quay in Shanghai, China, for a scheduled port visit. Just two days after the USS Lassen sailed past one of China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea in a challenge to Chinese sovereignty claims, Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Yang Yujun said Thursday that China will take „all necessary” measures in response to any future U.S. Navy incursions into what it considers its territorial waters around the islands. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)WASHINGTON (AP) — Pressure on China over its claims to most of the strategic South China Sea went up a couple of notches this week. First, the U.S. sent a warship in its most direct challenge yet to Beijing’s artificial island building. Then over Chinese objections, an international tribunal ruled it had jurisdiction in a case brought by the Philippines on maritime claims.Related Stories
Neither action appeared likely to stop China in its tracks, as it seeks to assert its control over resource-rich waters that it considers vital to its security. Beijing is expected to put a higher priority on what it sees as its strategic interests than its international reputation.But it could damage China’s efforts to win more respect on the global stage as it emerges as an economic and military power.The United States, which has had little success to date in its five-year effort to put diplomatic pressure on China over its uncompromising pursuit of claims to more than 80 percent of the South China Sea, is hoping that makes a difference. It welcomed the tribunal decision and said it expected Beijing to abide by the final ruling next year.Although the tribunal was set up on the basis of a provision of the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea that both the Philippines and China have ratified, China has boycotted the proceedings. On Friday its Foreign Ministry declared that the ruling on jurisdiction was „null and void” and would have no binding effect on China.The Philippine case, which was filed before the tribunal in The Hague in January 2013, contends that China’s massive territorial claims are invalid under the convention. The tribunal on Thursday decided it has jurisdiction in the case.The tribunal will also examine whether a number of Chinese-occupied reefs and shoals — including an artificial island that was skirted by a U.S. warship this week in a freedom of navigation maneuver that riled Beijing — do generate, or create a claim to, territorial waters and an economic zone. U.S. ally, the Philippines, contends that they do not.”The fact that the tribunal did not reject jurisdiction on anything in the case brought by the Philippines, and could end up ruling against it on all these counts, introduces uncertainty and anxiety for China,” said Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.Malcolm Cook, senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said that outside of China, many maritime law experts feel the Philippines has a strong case and are skeptical of the legal basis for China’s expansive claims, which it says are rooted in history. China roughly demarcates this vast area on maps with a nine-dash line.Despite China’s latest legal setback, both Glaser and Cook didn’t expect it change course.”The Chinese navy has a very strong interest in gaining greater sea control over the South China Sea and this interest and its pursuit will likely not be affected by tribunal rulings,” Cook said.In all, six Asian governments have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, straddling some of the world’s busiest sea lanes and in areas with rich fishing grounds and potential undersea oil and gas fields. China’s massive construction to transform at least seven shoals and reefs into islands in the disputed Spratly Islands have ratcheted up tensions.Glaser said China views these waters off its east coast as vital to its security which it needs to control to avert any potential crisis intervention by the United States, which since World War II has been the predominant military force in the Asia-Pacific. The ruling Communist Party also needs to be seen as defending national sovereignty.Since announcing in 2010 that the U.S. has a national security interest in resolving disputes and maintaining peace and security in the South China Sea, Washington has failed to get Beijing to moderate its behavior. In fact, the opposite has happened. When the U.S. called for China and other claimants to halt land reclamation last year, Beijing appeared to double down, building airstrips and other facilities that could have military uses.Tuesday’s sail-by of Subi Reef by the USS Lassen — following long demands from Congress for action and months of debate within the Obama administration — was the toughest U.S. step to date to challenge China’s island-building.The guided missile destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles (22-kilometer) of the reef to underscore Washington’s position that the geographic alteration would not allow the previously submerged reef to generate territorial waters. Subi Reef is one of the land features under scrutiny by the tribunal.Lynn Kuok, a fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank, said that the combination of legal pressure and freedom of navigation operations could yet prod Beijing into conforming more to the U.N. convention, even if it does not change its official stance on its South China Sea claims.”As China grows in strength as a maritime power, Beijing might realize that the country’s interests are best protected by upholding rather than undermining the convention,” she said.___EDITOR’S NOTE: Matthew Pennington covers U.S.-Asian affairs for The Associated Press in Washington. Writer Jim Gomez inManila, the Philippines, contributed to this report.
Russia-U.S. rivalry spreads to ex-Soviet central Asia By Dmitry Solovyov and Matt Spetalnick13 hours agoU.S. Secretary of State John Kerry waves at the top of the stairs as he boards his plane to head back …By Dmitry Solovyov and Matt Spetalnick ALMATY/VIENNA (Reuters) – After Ukraine and Syria, the ex-Soviet republics of central Asia could become the latest venue for geo-political rivalry between Moscow and Washington, driven by Kremlin worries about Islamists and U.S. suspicion about Russia’s true intentions.U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to tour all five states in central Asia, in a signal the United States wants to maintain its influence, even though it is drawing down its troop presence in nearby Afghanistan.His visit coincides with a chorus of warnings from Russian officials about the danger of Islamic State militants infiltrating the region from Afghanistan, accompanied by hints Moscow will respond by beefing up its military presence.Though Russian officials say they are driven only by concern about militants, not geo-political rivalry, their heightened attention risks fuelling U.S. suspicions that Moscow is trying to rebuild its old empire.”It’s about, if you will, a sort of neo-imperial vision for how the world works, and it’s connected to Russia’s larger geopolitical ambitions,” said Jeffrey Mankoff, Deputy Director and Senior Fellow at Washington think tank CSIS.ANXIETY OVERSTATED A senior U.S. official briefing reporters before Kerry’s trip said the visit was not about making the region’s governments choose between world powers, or trying to displace Russian influence.The trip was intended to reassure partners in central Asia that the withdrawal from Afghanistan did not mean waning U.S. interest in their security and economic needs, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.But the official said that Russia has been exaggerating the sense of insecurity in the region about Islamist militants.”The anxiety levels in the region are probably higher than the actual level of activity would warrant,” the official said.Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Moscow and Washington have been observing an uneasy truce over central Asia.Moscow maintained its influence there, with troops helping Tajikistan guard its borders for several years and military bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.At the same time it acquiesced when the United States established its own air bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and used the region to re-supply its operations in Afghanistan.That relationship was thrown out of equilibrium by a resurgence in activity by Islamist militants in Afghanistan and the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.The Taliban takeover of the city of Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan near the border with ex-Soviet Tajikistan, alarmed officials in Moscow. They fear Islamist militants could use central Asia as a bridgehead into Russia.”We have Afghanistan … and all that is linked and the Tajiks are barely managing, and if the Tajiks cannot manage then it will come to Russia next,” said a Russian government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.In the past few months, Moscow has sent extra aircraft to its air base in Tajikistan, and the Moscow-dominated ex-Soviet grouping, the Commonwealth of Independent States, announced the creation of a joint border force that could go to the Tajik-Afghan border.ISOLATING MOSCOW Kerry’s visit is the first time that a U.S. Secretary of State have visited all five ex-Soviet republics in succession on a single trip.Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are firmly within Moscow’s orbit, but Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, both run by rulers who brook no dissent, are more independent-minded and could be courted by the United States.”Kerry will attempt to isolate Moscow,” said Temir Sariyev, an analyst based in Kyrgyzstan, where Kerry will start his tour. „Not all Central Asian nations back Russia.”Visiting the Turkmen capital Ashgabat, Kerry is likely to bless a U.S.-backed project aiming to bring Turkmen natural gas to Pakistan and India via Afghanistan. The route will reduce Turkmenistan’s reliance on Russia to buy its output.In the blue-domed Uzbek city of Samarkand, once a central point on the Silk Road and the 14th century capital of conqueror Tamerlane’s empire, Kerry will hold a meeting with foreign ministers of the five central Asian states.Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are listed by human rights bodies among the world’s most repressive and isolated regimes. Kerry will raise U.S. concerns about human rights at his meetings, the U.S. official said.But Kerry will also focus on the need to build stronger relations with states in the region.”It looks like Washington is trying to reincarnate its old project of creating some kind of regional unity of the five nations within ‘Greater Central Asia’, beyond their ties with Russia and China,” said Alexander Knyazev, a Kazakhstan-based Central Asia expert.(Writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Susan Thomas)