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On Pannun Case, India Looking At Institutional Reforms: Top US Official

WASHINGTON, June 26: Murder-for-hire allegations against Indian national Nikhil Gupta - whom the United States claims conspired with another Indian to kill Khalistani terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun - has led New Delhi to consider "institutional reforms... necessary to deal with" such allegations, Kurt M Campbell, the Deputy Secretary of State in the US government, told press Wednesday.

Gupta, 53, was arrested by Czechia officials in June last year and extradited to the US this month.

That was after a request by the United States, which has accused him of plotting with an Indian government official to hire a 'hitman' who was later revealed as an undercover American federal agent. The US has claimed they have material that shows the staffer asked Gupta to plan the killing.

In return, the staffer said a criminal case against Nikhil Gupta in Gujarat would be dropped.

Gupta was produced before a New York federal court and entered a 'not guilty' plea.

Ahead of the arraignment his lawyer said "this is a complex matter for both our countries" and referred to emergent "details... that may cast government allegations in a new light".

Gupta has not, so far, requested consular access that is the right of any Indian in his position. "We are looking into the matter... to see what can be done (and) are in touch with his family," India said.

Under current US laws, Gupta faces a maximum jail term of 20 years.

Earlier Gupta had, via his legal representatives, complained of being "unfairly charged".

Also in December, Gupta moved the Indian Supreme Court (a petition was filed by a family member listed only as 'X') claiming multiple human rights violations during his time in a Czechia prison.

Specifically, Gupta claimed a breach of fundamental rights, including "forced consumption of beef and pork" that he found offensive as a "devout Hindu and vegetarian". The petition, however, was dismissed with the court stating it had to respect the sovereignty of courts in other nations.

India has designated Pannun a terrorist but dissociated itself from the plot.

In November last year the External Affairs Ministry acknowledged the charges are a "matter of concern", and stressed the government had launched a high-level probe into the matter. "We have said this (the act of ordering Pannun's murder) is contrary to government policy," the ministry said.

The ministry also said the Indian government "takes such inputs seriously, since they impinge on our national security interests as well, and relevant departments are already examining the issue."

In December a top White House official said India "remains a strategic partner (but) we take these allegations, and this investigation, very seriously".

Today, on the Indian side's cooperation on this topic, Campbell said, ''India has been responsive..." but stressed the US will continue to seek accountability from the Indian government".

At Least 15 Shot During Oakland Juneteenth Celebration

SAN FRANCISCO, June 21: A shooting during a Juneteenth celebration at Lake Merritt in Oakland, US state of California, left 15 people injured, the police said.

The crowds were peaceful until around 8:15 p.m. local time on Wednesday when an illegal sideshow involving vehicles and motorbikes occurred near Grand Avenue and Bellevue Avenue, Oakland Police Department said on Thursday in a press statement.

During the sideshow, someone walked onto the hood of a car, which led to the occupants getting out and assaulting that person. Then came the gunfire, Oakland Police Department Chief Floyd Mitchell said at a press conference on Thursday noon.

The Oakland Fire Department said it transported at least four gunshot victims to a local hospital.

Police also took some victims to nearby hospitals. Other victims were self-transported.

Nancy Pelosi's stern message to Xi: 'Dalai Lama will live forever but President of China, you'll be gone'

DHARAMSHALA, June 19: Former United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, along with other members of the Congressional delegation, met Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama on Wednesday.

The team was led by Michael McCaul, a Republican representative from Texas, who also chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. McCaul said President Joe Biden would soon sign a bill that aims to press China to resolve the Tibet dispute.

The Resolve Tibet Act urges Beijing to resume talks with Tibetan leaders, which have been halted since 2010, to resolve their governance disagreement with China peacefully.

"...His Holiness Dalai Lama, with his message of knowledge, tradition, compassion, purity of soul and love, will live a long time and his legacy will live forever. But you, the President of China, you'll be gone and nobody will give you credit for anything. Dalai Lama would not approve of my saying that when I criticize the Chinese government, he says, let's pray for Nancy to rid her of her negative attitudes. I hope he will indulge me today to say that change is on the way. As our colleagues have said hope brings some faith and the faith of the Tibetan people in the goodness of others is what is going to make all the difference..." said Pelosi.

According to Pelosi, the bill is "a message to the Chinese Government that we have clarity in our thinking and our understanding of this issue of the freedom of Tibet".

Meanwhile, China urged US President Joe Biden not to sign the Tibet policy bill, warning of "resolute measures", as it expressed “strong concern” over the visit of delegation to Dharamshala to meet the Dalai Lama.

"Resolve Tibet Bill is a message to China that we have clarity in our thinking on issue of freedom of Tibet," said Pelosi as quoted by News18.

Beijing, which calls the Dalai Lama a dangerous "splittist" or separatist, said it was seriously concerned about the visit and the bill.

It urged the lawmakers not to make contact with what it calls the "Dalai clique" and Biden not to sign the bill.

The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet. Chinese officials chafe at any interaction he has with officials of other countries.

The Dalai Lama has met U.S. officials, including presidents, during previous visits to the United States, but Biden has not met him since taking office in 2021.

He is due to fly to the U.S. this week for medical treatment, but it is unclear if he will have any engagements then.

Biden Issues Big Immigration Relief Seeking Balance After Border Crackdown

WASHINGTON, June 18: President Joe Biden announced Tuesday a new potential citizenship path for immigrants married to US nationals, balancing a recent crackdown on illegal border crossers in an attempt to thread a tricky pre-election political needle.

The Biden administration has been struggling to address immigration, a divisive issue for many Americans ahead of November's presidential election.

The Democrat is seeking to be tougher on illegal migrants while contrasting himself with Donald Trump, whose attempt to win back the White House is heavily centered on portraying the country as being under assault by what he calls a migrant "invasion."

Biden's action was immediately condemned by Republicans, but hailed by immigration reform activists.

The new rules will streamline the process for those who already qualify for permanent residence, by removing a requirement they leave the country as part of the application process.

The new rules would apply to those present in the country for at least 10 years and married to a US citizen before June 17, 2024 -- which the administration estimates to include half a million people.

In addition, some 50,000 stepchildren of US citizens would be eligible.

Those approved would be granted work authorization and the right to stay in the United States for up to three years while they apply for the coveted green card. That would then allow them to apply later for full citizenship.

"What we are announcing are potentially streamlined processes... (to) minimize the bureaucracy, minimize the hardship that having to leave the country creates," a senior administration official told reporters ahead of the announcement.

However, "only Congress can deliver... comprehensive reform of our immigration and asylum laws," another official added.

After Russian Warships, Now U.S.’ Nuclear-Powered Submarine Reaches Cuba

HAVANA, June 14: A day after Russian warships arrived in Cuba, the U.S. has also sent a fast-attack submarine. The USS Helena sailed into Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the U.S. Southern Command said. The nuke-powered Los Angeles-class submarine arrived at the U.S. naval base in Cuba on June 13.

The U.S. Southern Command said the USS Helena reached Cuba as part of a scheduled port visit. On June 12, a four-ship Russian task force sailed into Havana on a long-range expedition.

North Korea, China, Russia Expanding Nuclear Weapons At Breakneck Pace: US

WASHINGTON, June 8: North Korea, China and Russia are expanding and diversifying their nuclear weapons stockpiles at a "breakneck" speed, a White House official has said, warning that absent a change in the trajectory of their arsenals, the US may have to increase its own.

Pranay Vaddi, senior director for arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation at the National Security Council, made the remarks at a forum on Friday, noting that the three countries are driving the US and its allies into bracing for a "world where nuclear competition occurs without numerical constraints", Yonhap news agency reported.

"Russia, the PRC and North Korea are all expanding and diversifying their nuclear arsenals at a breakneck pace, showing little or no interest in arms control," he said at the event hosted by the Arms Control Association, a US-based nonpartisan organization. PRC stands for China's official name, the People's Republic of China.

"Those three, together with Iran, are increasingly cooperating and coordinating with each other in ways that run counter to peace and stability, threaten the United States, our allies and our partners, and exacerbate regional tensions," he added.

The official pointed out that to deal with the realities of a "new" nuclear era, President Joe Biden recently issued an updated nuclear weapons employment guidance.

"It emphasizes the need to account for the growth and diversity of the PRC's nuclear arsenal and the need to deter Russia, the PRC and North Korea simultaneously," he said.

"It also reaffirms our commitment to use arms control and other tools to minimize the number of nuclear weapons needed to achieve US objectives."

Vaddi warned that the US will need to adjust its posture and capabilities to ensure its ability to deter growing threats from the three countries should there be no change in their current nuclear weapons policy trajectory.

"Let me be clear (that) absent a change in the trajectory of adversary arsenals, we may reach a point in the coming years where an increase from current deployed numbers is required," he said.

Vaddi stressed that Washington has already taken "prudent" deterrence steps, including pursuing a modern variant of the B61 nuclear gravity bomb, and seeking to extend the life of certain Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines during the transition from legacy to modern capabilities.

He also pointed out that the US has "fully" invested to ensure that its "extended deterrence" commitment to using the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear, to defend allies, continues to contribute to nonproliferation efforts.

He mentioned the Washington Declaration between the US and South Korea as an example of efforts to "jointly approach nuclear scenarios" with allies as "equal partners". South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Biden adopted the declaration last April as part of efforts to enhance the credibility of extended deterrence.

The official criticized Russia and China for their "outright refusal" to even discuss arms control, and North Korea for answering the US' attempts to engage on risk reduction and nuclear issues with "more missile tests and greater hostility".

"Practically speaking, they are forcing the US, our close allies and partners to prepare for a world where nuclear competition occurs without numerical constraints," he said. "The reality is that further enhancing our capabilities and posture is incredibly important to rejuvenating strategic arms control."

US Tests Hypersonic Missile Capable Of Striking Moscow Within 30 Minutes

SANTA BARBARA, June 5: The United States Air Force successfully launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) early Tuesday morning from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. This test marks the first of two scheduled for this week.

Air Force Global Strike Command, responsible for maintaining the nation's nuclear deterrent, conducted the launch in collaboration with Space Force guardians. The unarmed missile, equipped with a single test reentry vehicle, blasted off at 12:56 AM Pacific Time, leaving a fiery trail across the sky north of Santa Barbara.

According to the Air Force, this test launch programme is crucial for "validating and verifying the safety, security, effectiveness, and readiness of the weapon system."

According to airandspaceforces.com, the Minuteman III travelled approximately 4,200 miles at speeds exceeding 15,000 mph before reaching its designated target zone near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

"Vandenberg Guardians and Airmen are committed to supporting our mission partners and these vitally important test launches from the Western Range," said Colonel Mark Shoemaker, Space Launch Delta 30 commander. "Test launches like these are critical to safeguarding the defence of our nation."

Consistent with previous test launches, this routine, unarmed ICBM test launch will validate and verify the effectiveness, readiness, and accuracy of the weapon system.

"A previous test launch slated for February 2024 had to be postponed due to some needed repairs at Reagan Test Site," Colonel Chris Cruise, 377th Test and Evaluation Group commander, said in a release. "This summer's test launch was already scheduled, so it made sense to do them both while all the necessary personnel were in place."

Biden Doesn’t Rule Out Using Military Force If Xi Invades Taiwan

WASHINGTON, June 5: US President Joe Biden has not ruled out the possibility of using American military force to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, according to his interview with Time Magazine conducted on May 28.

Biden also said that he had communicated to Chinese President Xi Jinping that the United States would not seek independence for Taiwan, which was in line with Washington's long-standing agreement with Beijing.

However, he affirmed that the US would continue to support Taiwan's defence capabilities.

Kamala Harris To Attend Ukraine Peace Summit in Switzerland: White House

WASHINGTON, June 3: US Vice President Kamala Harris will attend a Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland, the White House said Monday, after President Joe Biden was reportedly set to skip it for an election fundraiser hosted by George Clooney.

Harris, who will be joined by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan for the June 15 meeting in Lucerne, will "underscore the Biden-Harris administration's commitment to supporting Ukraine's effort to secure a just and lasting peace."

"The vice president will reaffirm support for the people of Ukraine as they defend themselves against ongoing Russian aggression," Harris spokesperson Kirsten Allen said in a statement.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had been pushing for Biden to attend the summit, saying that if the US leader did not turn up it would be like "personally applauding" Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kyiv hopes to win broad international backing at the meeting for its vision of the terms needed to end Russia's war.

But the Swiss summit clashes with a fundraiser in California hosted by Hollywood stars Clooney and Julia Roberts, along with former president Barack Obama, for Biden's reelection bid against Donald Trump.

Biden's apparent no-show in Switzerland comes despite the fact that he will be a short plane-hop away in neighboring Italy for a G7 meeting the day before the Lucerne meeting.

Top US and Chinese defense officials seek to restore communications as tensions rise in Indo-Pacific

SINGAPORE, June 1: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with his Chinese counterpart for more than an hour Friday, as the two countries seek to repair lines of communications between their militaries that could be critical as tensions continue to rise between the two in the Indo-Pacific region.

The meeting behind closed doors between Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Dong Jun was the first in person between the top defense officials since contacts between the American and Chinese militaries broke down in 2022 after then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, infuriating Beijing.

It came on the sidelines of the Shangri-La defense forum, Asia's premier security conference, which features defense officials, government leaders and diplomats from around the world.

The weekend talks are being held as wars rage in Gaza and Ukraine, and at a time of increasing tensions and competition for influence between the United States and China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Beijing in recent years has been rapidly expanding its navy and is becoming growingly assertive in pressing its claim to virtually the entire South China Sea, which has led to an increasing number of direct conflicts with other countries in the region, most notably the Philippines and Vietnam.

The U.S., meantime, has been ramping up military exercises in the region with its allies to underscore its “free and open Indo-Pacific” concept, meant to emphasize freedom of navigation through the contested waters, including the Taiwan Strait. China also claims the democratic self-governing island of Taiwan and has said it would not rule out using force to take it.

Austin, who is due to address the conference on Saturday, reiterated the American position to Dong during their talks, according to Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder.

“The secretary made clear that the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate safely and responsibly wherever international law allows,” Ryder said. “He underscored the importance of respect for high seas freedom of navigation guaranteed under international law, especially in the South China Sea.”

Since territorial hostilities with China surged last year in the South China Sea, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration has taken steps to forge new security alliances with a number of Asian and Western countries and allowed a U.S. military presence in more Philippine bases under a 2014 defense pact.

Marcos opens this year's conference, hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, with a keynote address Friday.

This week, Marcos already expressed concerns over a new law issued by China giving its coast guard license to seize foreign ships “that illegally enter China’s territorial waters” and to detain foreign crews for up to 60 days. The same law also made new reference to 2021 legislation that says China’s coast guard can fire upon foreign ships if necessary.

With Philippines ships now regularly confronted by the Chinese, there are concerns that a low-level confrontation could lead to an escalation, said Eugene Tan, a professor of international law at the Singapore Management University.

“I don't think these countries are really looking to go to war with each other, but the concern with these skirmishes is that sometimes when you have a miscalculation, then things could rapidly deteriorate into the use of force,” he said.

“And I think the last thing that countries in the region would want, particularly as they focus on the post-pandemic recovery, would be to have a regional conflict at the doorstep.”

This year's conference comes just a week after China held massive military drills around Taiwan, staging a simulated blockade of the island after it inaugurated a new government that refuses to accept Beijing's insistence that the island is part of China.

Israel Offers New Gaza Proposal With Full Ceasefire, Withdrawal: Biden

WASHINGTON, May 31: US President Joe Biden said Friday that Israel had offered a new roadmap towards a permanent peace in Gaza, urging Hamas to accept the surprise deal as it was "time for this war to end."

In his first major address outlining a solution to the eight-month conflict, Biden said the proposal started with a six-week phase that would see Israeli forces withdraw from all populated areas of Gaza.

"It's time for this war to end, for the day after to begin," Biden said in a televised address from the White House, adding that "we can't lose this moment" to seize the chance for peace.

"Israel has offered a comprehensive new proposal. It's a roadmap to an enduring ceasefire and the release of all hostages," he said.

The 81-year-old Democrat put particular pressure on the Palestinian group Hamas, whose attack on key US ally Israel on October 7 last year trigged the grinding conflict in Gaza.

"Hamas needs to take the deal," said Biden, who has supported Israel with military aid since the conflict began.

Biden said the first six-week phase would include a "full and complete ceasefire, withdrawal of Israeli forces from all populated areas of Gaza, release of a number of hostages, including women, the elderly, the wounded, in exchange for release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners."

Israel and the Palestinians would then negotiate during those six weeks for a lasting ceasefire -- but the truce would continue if the talks remained underway, Biden said.

"As long as Hamas lives up to its commitments, a temporary ceasefire would become, in the words of the Israeli proposal, the cessation of hostilities permanently," added Biden.

Biden's announcement of the proposal comes after repeated attempts to end the war have stalled.

Hamas insists that any ceasefire should be permanent.

The group said earlier Friday it had informed mediators it would only agree a "comprehensive" truce agreement including a hostage-prisoner swap if Israel halts its "aggression."

Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas's Qatar-based political office, reiterated that the group's core demands -- including a permanent ceasefire and full Israeli withdrawal -- "are non-negotiable."

But Israel says it will only agree to a temporary truce of around six weeks and that it maintains its aim of destroying the Palestinian Islamist group.

Biden did not significantly address Israel's assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, into whose central area the Israeli army said Friday its troops had pushed into despite international objections.

He acknowledged however that Palestinians were enduring "sheer hell."

The US president has been under growing pressure over his support for Israel since a deadly strike on Rafah set ablaze a crowded camp on Sunday. Gaza officials said 45 people were killed and about 250 wounded.

The White House however said this week that while the Israeli strike was "devastating," it did not breach Biden's red lines for withholding weapons deliveries to the key US ally.

Trump found guilty on all 34 charges in hush money trial

NEW YORK, May 31: Trump became the first former U.S. President convicted of felony crimes; he called his guilty verdict a ‘disgrace’; judge sets his sentencing for July 11, just days before Republicans are set to select him as 2024 nominee.

A New York jury convicted Donald Trump on all 34 charges in his hush money case on Thursday in a seismic development barely five months ahead of the election where he seeks to recapture the White House.

The verdict makes Trump the first criminally convicted former U.S. President but does not prevent him from campaigning for another term.

The verdict is a stunning legal reckoning for Trump and exposes him to potential prison time in the city where his manipulations of the tabloid press helped catapult him from a real estate tycoon to reality television star and ultimately president.

As he seeks a return to the White House in this year’s election, the judgment presents voters with another test of their willingness to accept Trump’s boundary-breaking behaviour.

 

 

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Israel Offers New Gaza Proposal With Full Ceasefire, Withdrawal: Biden
Trump found guilty on all 34 charges in hush money trial
Biden Secretly Allowed Ukraine To Hit Russia With US Weapons: Officials
 
     
  

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