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Pompeo blasts China’s ‘shameful hypocrisy’ on Muslims

WASHINGTON, March 28: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday denounced China’s “shameful hypocrisy” over its treatment of Muslims as he met a former prisoner and relatives who recounted abuses as part of Beijing’s widespread detention of its Uighur minority.

“China must release all those arbitrarily detained and end its repression,” Pompeo tweeted.

“The world cannot afford China’s shameful hypocrisy toward Muslims. On one hand, China abuses more than a million Muslims at home, but on the other it protects violent Islamic terrorist groups from sanctions at the UN,” he said.

Pompeo was referring to China’s efforts at the United Nations to prevent the blacklisting of Islamist extremist Masood Azhar, based in Beijing ally Pakistan. Azhar’s group Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility over a deadly attack last month on Indian troops in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama.

The top US diplomat met Tuesday with Mihrigul Tursun, a Uighur who has spoken publicly in the United States about what she said was widespread torture in China’s prisons for the minority group.

She has said she was separated from her children and detained in a cramped cell with 60 other women, suffering electrocution and beatings during round-the-clock interrogations.

The State Department said that Pompeo also met with three other Uighurs whose relatives are held by China, which according to a UN report has detained a massive one million Uighurs as it seeks forcibly to integrate the minority group.

Pompeo, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, said that “certainly” at least hundreds of thousands of Uighurs had been detained.

“We’re working to convince the Chinese that this practice is abhorrent and ought to be stopped,” Pompeo said.

According to the State Department as well as international human rights groups, China has confiscated Korans from Uighurs and forced them to drink alcohol and eat pork, which are forbidden by Islam.

“It’s one of the most serious human rights problems in the world today,” State Department official Michael Kozak said of the Uighurs’ detention as he presented the latest annual human rights report.

China denies the accounts of mass detention, saying it is running educational training centers as part of a fight against Islamic extremism in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Trump says Google CEO Sundar Pichai committed to US, not Chinese military

WASHINGTON, March 28: President Donald Trump said Wednesday that Google CEO Sundar Pichai, whom he’d previously accused of indirectly boosting China’s military, has reassured him that he is “totally committed” to US security.

“Just met with @sundarpichai, President of @Google, who is obviously doing quite well,” Trump tweeted after a White House meeting. “He stated strongly that he is totally committed to the U.S. Military, not the Chinese Military.”

Earlier this month Trump complained that Google’s business activities in China were “helping China and their military.”

There was also criticism from General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told Congress “the work that Google is doing in China is indirectly benefiting” China’s armed forces.

America’s top military officer has also urged US tech giants to step up work on next generation 5G wireless technology so that US markets are not reliant on Chinese innovators, like leading telecom firm Huawei.

Dominating 5G is “in our national interest,” the general said.

The US government though has deep suspicions that Huawei’s technology would potentially open the doors to Chinese government penetration of US communications.

A Google spokesperson said Pichai had “productive conversations” with Trump about “investing in the future of the American workforce, the growth of emerging technologies and our ongoing commitment to working with the U.S. government.”

Trump didn't coordinate with Russia in 2016, Robert Mueller declares in report

WASHINGTON, March 25: Special counsel Robert Mueller did not find evidence that U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election but reached no conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice, Attorney General William Barr declared on Sunday. That brought a hearty claim of vindication from Trump but set the stage for new rounds of political and legal fighting.

Trump cheered the outcome but also laid bare his resentment after two years of investigations that have shadowed his administration. “It’s a shame that our country has had to go through this. To be honest, it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this,” he said.

Democrats pointed out that Mueller found evidence for and against obstruction and demanded to see his full report. They insisted that even the summary by the president’s attorney general hardly put him in the clear.

A copy of a letter from Attorney General William Barr advising Congress of the principal conclusions reached by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, is shown Sunday, March 24, 2019 in Washington.

Mueller’s conclusions, summarized by Barr in a four-page letter to Congress, represented a victory for Trump on a key question that has hung over his presidency from the start — Did his campaign work with Russia to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton? That was further good news for the president on top of the Justice Department’s earlier announcement that Mueller had wrapped his investigation without new indictments. The resolution also could deflate the hopes of Democrats in Congress and on the 2020 campaign trail that incriminating findings from Mueller would hobble the president’s agenda and re-election bid.

But while Mueller was categorical in ruling out criminal collusion, he was more circumspect on presidential obstruction of justice. Despite Trump’s claim of total exoneration, Mueller did not draw a conclusion one way or the other on whether he sought to stifle the Russia investigation through his actions including the firing of former FBI director James Comey.

According to Barr’s summary, Mueller set out “evidence on both sides of the question” and stated that “while this report does not conclude the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Barr, who was nominated by Trump in December, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller in May 2017 and oversaw much of his work, went further in Trump’s favour.

The attorney general said he and Rosenstein had determined that Mueller’s evidence was insufficient to prove in court that Trump had committed obstruction of justice to hamper the probe. Barr has previously voiced a broad view of presidential powers, and in an unsolicited memo last June he cast doubt on whether the president could have obstructed justice through acts like firing his FBI director that he was legally empowered to take.

Trump Signs Proclamation Recognizing Golan Heights as Israeli Territory

WASHINGTON, March 25: US President Donald Trump on Monday recognized the Golan Heights as Israeli territory in an election boost for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as his chief political rival sought to appear as a better alternative to lead Israel.

During a White House visit by Netanyahu, Trump signed a proclamation officially granting US recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, in a dramatic shift from decades of U.S. policy. Israel seized the strategic land from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

The recognition, which Trump had announced in a tweet last Thursday, appeared to be the most overt gesture by the Republican president to help Netanyahu, who had been pressing Trump for the move.

The Israeli prime minister, who faces an election on April 9, earlier on Monday cut short his US visit after a rocket fired from Gaza injured seven people near Tel Aviv. He arrived in Washington on Sunday, originally for a four-day trip.

Signing the document as Netanyahu looked over his shoulder, Trump said: "This was a long time in the making."

He handed the pen that he used for his signature to Netanyahu, and said: "Give this to the people of Israel."

Netanyahu welcomed Trump's move and said Israel has never had a better friend. He harked back to two previous Middle Eastern wars as the reason why Israel needs to hang on to the Golan.

"Just as Israel stood tall in 1967, just as it stood tall in 1973, Israel stands tall today. We hold the high ground and we should never give it up," he said.

The rocket attack near Tel Aviv in central Israel, blamed on Hamas, came as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel group, held its annual meeting in Washington with speaker after speaker expressing US support for strong ties with the country.

"We stand with Israel because her cause is our cause, her values are our values, and her fight is our fight," Vice President Mike Pence said.

Pence also talked tough against Iran, saying that under Trump, "America will never allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon."

Netanyahu's strongest election challenger, Benny Gantz, appeared before the gathering on Monday, and vowed to protect his country against threats from Iran and Syria. He called for unity in Israel.

"We must remember if that we want hope, we must have unity," he said.

With election day approaching, opinion polls put Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party neck and neck.

Trump's event came as he celebrated the end of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether Trump's 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russia. Attorney General William Barr on Sunday said Mueller found no evidence that the campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia.

A nuclear bolstering of India-US ties

By Manoj Ladwa

March 15: India and the US have agreed to set up six nuclear power reactors in the southern Indian coastal state of Andhra Pradesh. The transaction, involving the sale to India of six Westinghouse AP-1000 reactors, follows from the Indo-US Nuclear Deal signed in 2008.

This development is important from several perspectives. The most important, I believe, is the diversification of India’s energy basket. Then, there’s a strategic angle that many people tend to overlook. There are also economic, technological and ecological factors at play that any cogent analysis must take into account.

Let me explain why I believe the diversification of India’s energy basket is the most important takeaway from the deal that was announced recently. But before that, nuclear energy suffers from a huge cost disadvantage vis-à-vis other sources of power.

A megawatt of thermal, hydro, wind and solar power capacity costs anywhere between $700,000 and $1.25 million. The cost of the Russian reactors in the Kudankulam nuclear power plant is about $2.5 million per MW. The cost of the Westinghouse reactors that are now proposed under the Indo-US deal is about the same.

This is a huge difference, especially in a value-conscious market such as India. However, the saving grace is the low cost of wind and solar power and the planned capacity additions in these sectors. When the total power generated from all sources is averaged out – and this is the method followed in setting both the bulk and retail prices of electricity – the absolute increase in cost is in the region of 0.4-0.6 cents per unit.

But to come back to why I think the latest announcement is good news: Out of India’s total installed capacity of 350 GW, thermal capacity still accounts for an overwhelming 64 per cent. Next up is renewable energy, mainly wind and solar power, with a 21 per cent share, followed by hydro with 13 per cent. The share of nuclear energy, at 6.8 GW, is 1.9 per cent of India’s total energy mix.

This is extremely low by global standards. And it has to increase substantially in order to support India’s world-leading position in the solar and wind energy sectors. Many people in industry will already know this, but for the benefit of others, let me explain.

Ever since Narendra Modi dramatically announced, amid much international appreciation, a multi-fold increase in India’s renewable energy ambitions, there has been a quantum jump in capacity additions in India’s wind and solar energy sectors. These now account for more than 74 GW, or over a fifth of India’s of installed capacity.

Now, wind and solar are known as infirm sources of power, i.e. they cannot generate power 24×7. Solar plants begin generating power a little after sunrise and stop at sunset. Wind turbines generate power only when the winds are favourable. So, they cannot be used to generate power at will at any time of the day.

In India, the power demand peaks in the evening and tapers off during the day. In other words, power demand is generally the lowest when solar plants are generating the highest amount of power and rises progressively as solar plants begin to stop functioning in the evening.

The sudden “retreat” of such as massive amount of power from the National Grid at the onset of evening jolts the grid and can cause instability that can lead to outages and even grid collapses. The remedy for this is to balance this sudden pullout of solar power from the grid with an alternative source of power.

Thermal power plants cannot ramp up production fast enough to balance this pullout. There are three alternatives available for this “balancing” power: gas-based power plants, hydropower plants and nuclear power plants.

The first alternative, though theoretically attractive, is hamstrung by the unavailability of sufficient quantities of gas. There are, in fact, several thousand megawatts of gas-based capacity lying mothballed in India for want of gas supplies.

The remedy, therefore, has to come from a judicious mix of hydropower capacity and nuclear power capacity.

Till the development of sufficiently advanced and cheap battery storage technology, which can negate the infirm nature of wind and solar power, therefore, nuclear power will remain an important corollary to India’s renewable energy ambitions.

Now, let me turn to the strategic angle I mentioned earlier. The world has recognised India as a responsible nuclear power but Chinese intransigence has kept India out of the important Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG).

India needs US support to enter this important club of nuclear technology owners. The US has committed itself publicly to helping India in this respect but there is a widely held concern among important stakeholders in Washington that US companies have not benefited at all from the nuclear agreement with India.

International relations work on the principle of give and take. A key understanding in the Indo-US nuclear deal, which gave India entry into the nuclear powers club, was that India would buy reactors from the US. The US has kept its side of the bargain; now India has to keep hers.

Then, this announcement has to be seen in the context of the overall Indo-US strategic partnership. Countries with nuclear technology share it only with their closest allies.

Coming as it does, close on the heels of the unstinted support extended by the US to India’s non-military intervention against a major terrorist training camp in Pakistan, this deal indicates that Washington is serious about walking the talk on this important relationship.

Then, Westinghouse, which was earlier owned by Japan’s Toshiba Corporation, is now owned by a Canadian fund. The company, however, still sources a large number of components from Japan. Both these countries, especially Japan, are important strategic partners of India and the deal can only serve to deepen the broad geo-political convergence between them.

The economic, technical and ecological aspects of the deal for six nuclear reactors are no less important. Apart from the economic advantages of diversifying its energy basket, the mega power deal will help India generate more electricity, which is the main enabler of economic activity.

Then, contrary to popular misconception, nuclear power is also a renewable source of energy and is a completely non-polluting source of power. So, additional nuclear power capacity will take India away from polluting power sources such as thermal and diversify India’s renewable energy basket as well.

There could be another collateral advantage for India from this announcement. At a time when US President Donald Trump has withdrawn the Generalised System of Preference (GSP) benefits for Indian exports, a multi-billion-dollar nuclear export deal with India will enable India’s friends on Capitol Hill to present the White House with solid evidence that not only is New Delhi serious about balancing its trade surplus with the US but that it is also providing employment in traditional industries. This will allow India to credibly counter the argument that Indo-US trade is a one-way street favouring India.

I call this a possible collateral advantage because, considering Trump’s track record, it is not a given, but taking into account his transactional behavioural pattern, it is within the realms of possibility.

In sum, I think the pluses far outnumber and outweigh the negatives. This deal will go a long way in clearing the hurdles that have appeared in the path of what many analysts feel can become the defining partnership of the 21st century.

@ Manoj Ladwa is the Founder and CEO of India Inc. Group

US to build six nuclear power plants in India

By Deepak Arora

WASHINGTON, March 14: In a boost to bilateral civil nuclear energy cooperation, India and the US have agreed to build six American nuclear power plants in India, according to a joint statement issued at the conclusion of the 9th round of India-US Strategic Security Dialogue on Wednesday.

The Indian delegation was led by Vijay Gokhale, Foreign Secretary, while the U.S. delegation was led by Andrea Thompson, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

The two sides committed to strengthen bilateral security and civil nuclear cooperation, including the establishment of six U.S. nuclear power plants in India.

During the Prime Ministership of Dr Manmohan Singh, India and the US signed a historic agreement to cooperate in civil nuclear energy sector in October 2008. The deal gave a fresh boost to bilateral ties that have been on an upswing since.

A major aspect of the deal was the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), that gave a special waiver to India enabling it to sign cooperation agreements with a dozen countries.

Post-waiver, India signed civil nuclear cooperation agreements with the US, France, Russia, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Sri Lanka, the UK, Japan, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan and South Korea.

During the meeting, the United States reaffirmed its strong support of India's early membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. It may be mentioned that China has blocked India’s pending membership to the elite grouping that seeks to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The joint statement said that the two sides also exchanged views on a wide range of global security and nonproliferation challenges and reaffirmed their commitment to work together to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems and to deny access to such weapons by terrorists and non-state actors.

Earlier on March 12, India's Indra Mani Pandey, Additional Secretary for Disarmament and International Security Affairs, and Dr. Yleem D. S. Poblete, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, co-chaired the third round of the India-U.S. Space Dialogue.

The two sides discussed trends in space threats; respective national space priorities; and opportunities for cooperation bilaterally and in multilateral fora.

On March 13, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale called on Ambassador John Bolton, National Security Advisor to the U.S. President.

Both underlined the importance of Pakistan taking tangible and irreversible action against terrorist groups based in territories under its control and denial of safe haven for these groups to launch cross-border attacks. Other issues including Afghanistan and bilateral matters were also discussed.

Foreign Secretary also met Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and leaders of the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees.

Frank Cali, Reputed New York Crime Family Boss, Shot Dead

NEW YORK, March 14: New York: The reputed boss of New York's Gambino crime family, Francesco "Frank" Cali, was shot dead outside his New York home, police said.

Cali, thought to have headed the family since 2015, suffered "multiple gunshot wounds to the torso" in front of his home on Staten Island on Wednesday evening, police said.

The New York Daily News reported Cali, also known as "Franky Boy," was shot six times then hit by a blue truck in which the suspects fled.

Police added he was taken to Staten Island University North hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

"There are no arrests and the investigation is ongoing," police said.

Cali had served 16 months in prison following a 2008 extortion conviction.

US media reported the 53-year-old's death marked the first murder of a New York mob boss in 34 years, since the death of Paul Castellano - another Gambino family boss - by order of John Gotti.

Following Castellano's murder, Gotti headed the Gambino family until his incarceration for conspiracy and murder in 1992. Gotti died in prison in 2002.

The Gambino family is one of the New York's five historic Italian mafia families - along with the Genovese, Lucchese, Colombo and Bonanno families. According to local media in New York, Cali took the helm of the family in 2015, replacing Domenico Cefalu.

Not listing Masood Azhar as terrorist against regional stability, peace: US

WASHINGTON, March 12: Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar meets the criteria to be designated as a global terrorist and not doing so is against regional stability and peace, the US said Tuesday on the eve of the UN Security Council making a crucial decision in this regard.

The JeM, headed by the 50-year-old Azhar, carried out many terror strikes in India and was involved in the attack on Parliament, the Pathankot air force base, army camps in Jammu and Uri, and the latest suicide attack on CRPF in Pulwama which claimed the lives of 40 personnel.

In the aftermath of the February 14 attack in Pulwama, three permanent members of the UNSC – the United States, Britain and France – have moved a resolution to designate Azhar as a global terrorist.

Several previous attempts by these three countries inside the UN Security Council were blocked by China, the all-weather ally of Pakistan.

China, which is one of the five veto-powered members of the Security Council, so far has been asserting that there is not enough evidence against Azhar to designate him as a global terrorist.

Amidst a mounting global outrage in the wake of the Pulwama attack that led to a flare-up in tensions between India and Pakistan, US, Britain and France hope that Beijing would act wisely and would not oppose their move this time to designate Azhar as a global terrorist.

On the eve of the crucial decision by the UN Security Council, the Trump Administration on Tuesday made it clear that there is enough evidence against Azhar to designate him as a global terrorist.

“Azhar is the founder and the leader of the JeM, and he meets the criteria for designation by the United Nations,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino told reporters at his daily news conference.

The JeM, he said, has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks and is a threat to regional stability and peace.

The US and India work closely together on counterterrorism efforts, and that includes at the United Nations, he added, noting that their views on the Jaish-e-Mohammed and its founder are well known.

However, he refrained from making a direct comment on the deliberations inside the UN on this issue.

“The United Nations Sanctions Committee, their deliberations, are confidential, and as such we don’t comment on specific matters, but we’ll continue to work with the Sanctions Committee to ensure that the designation list is updated and accurate,” Palladino said.

“The United States and China share a mutual interest in achieving regional stability and peace, and that a failure to designate Azhar would run counter to this goal,” Palladino said in response to a question on previous successful attempts by China to block the UN designation of Azhar.

US, India ask Pakistan to take ‘concerted action’ to dismantle terror network

By Deepak Arora

WASHINGTON, March 11: India and the United States on Monday agreed that Pakistan needs to take concerted action to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure and to deny safe haven to all terrorist groups in its territory.

The two nations also agreed that those who support or abet terrorism in any form should be held accountable, according to a statement on a meeting between visiting Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale and US secretary of state Michael R Pompeo.

Secretary Pompeo expressed his understanding of India's concerns regarding cross -border terrorism.

Foreign Secretary conveyed appreciation to the US Government and to Secretary Pompeo personally for the firm support that India received from the US in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Pulwama, in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. He apprised Secretary Pompeo about recent developments in this regard.

The statement said "they expressed satisfaction over the significant progress and the quality of the India-US Strategic Partnership since Secretary Pompeo's visit to India in September 2018 for the first ever Ministerial 2+2 Dialogue."

The two officials also discussed other issues of mutual interest including Afghanistan and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, and agreed to closely work together in this regard.

In response to Secretary Pompeo's reference to bilateral trade matters, Foreign Secretary underscored the significant reduction in trade deficit in the last three years and conveyed India's willingness to remain engaged with the U.S. for a meaningful and mutually acceptable package on trade issues.

Bilateral trade issue hit headlines last week with the Trump administration announcing its intention to end a zero-tariff preferential system for over $5 billion worth of imports from India over market access for US goods.

This was the first high-level in-person contact between India and the United States, following intense engagements over phone, after the Pulwama terrorist attack that killed 40 CRPF personnel on February. And, significantly, it took place just two days ahead of a crucial UN Security Council decision on Wednesday to designate, or not, Masood Azhar, founder of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad, which has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The United States is one of the three joint movers of the designation proposal, with the United Kingdom and France. This is the fourth attempt to sanction Azhar. China, which blocked the three previous moves, holds the key, and has appeared non-committal. It could not be immediately ascertained if Gokhale and Pompeo discussed the upcoming UNSC decision.

The United States was the only major power to back India’s right to self-defence and the airstrike on a Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist camp in Balakot calling it “counter-terrorism actions”. It joined the UK and France, then, to press the UN Security Council to pass a “path-breaking” statement condemning the Pulwama attack, despite stiff resistance from China, on behalf of Pakistan.

And the three countries, and Afghanistan, joined India to oppose an appeal by Hafiz Saeed, founder and head of Lashkar-e-Toiba that carried out the Mumbai attacks in 2008, to be removed from the UNSC list of designated terrorists. An ombudsman for the world body rejected Saeed’s petition on Wednesday.

The foreign secretary will meet his US counterparts Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale and Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson later during his visit. Gokhale is also likely to meet with senior leaders in the US administration and US Congress.

US sees rising Chinese military activity in south China sea

WASHINGTON, March 7: The US has observed a rise in Chinese military activity in the South China Sea area over the last year, according to the top American military officer in the region.

Admiral Philip Davidson, the commander of US Indo-Pacific Command, declined to quantify the increased activity -- nor would he say whether the number of US freedom of navigation patrols would increase or remain stable. He did, however, underscore the American resolve to remain engaged, describing the US as an “enduring Pacific power.”

“It’s building, it’s not reducing in any sense of the word,” Davidson told reporters on Thursday in Singapore when asked about China’s military activities in the South China Sea. “There has been more activity with ships, fighters and bombers over the last year than in previous years, absolutely.”

“It’s a hazard to trade flows, the commercial activity, the financial information that flows on cables under the South China Sea, writ large,” Davidson added.

Davidson’s comments are the latest from a senior US official seeking to reassure allies in Southeast Asia of the American commitment to what Washington refers to as the Indo-Pacific region. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo last week in Manila assured the Philippines that a defense treaty would apply if its vessels or planes are attacked in the South China Sea.

That reassurance hasn’t stemmed all concerns, however.

Top Philippine officials have clashed over whether the mutual defense pact with the US needs to be changed. While Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin has said the 1951 accord should stay the same, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana wants it reviewed, even after Pompeo’s assurances.

The US hasn’t stopped Chinese “aggressive actions” so far, Lorenzana noted in a statement earlier this week, while warning that vagueness in the document could cause “chaos during a crisis” and that the Philippines didn’t want to be dragged into a shooting war it didn’t start.

China has targeted a 7.5 percent increase in defense spending in 2019, a slowdown from last year’s projected 8.1 percent increase though still seen as consistent with President Xi Jinping’s plans to grow and advance the military.

Davidson said he sees no sign of a slowdown in China’s defense capabilities, despite the reduced growth trajectory. More spending, he said, was still an increase.

US Senator, an Air Force veteran, says she was raped by a superior officer

WASHINGTON, March 7: US Senator Martha McSally, the first female combat pilot in the U.S. Air Force, said on Wednesday she had been raped by a superior officer but did not report it because she blamed herself and did not trust the system.

“The perpetrators abuse their position of power in profound ways, and in one case I was preyed upon and then raped by a superior officer,” McSally, an Arizona Republican, said during a Senate hearing on sexual assault in the military.

“But unlike so many brave survivors, I didn’t report being sexually assaulted,” she added. “Like so many women and men, I didn’t trust the system. I blamed myself. I was ashamed and confused. I thought I was strong but felt powerless.”

McSally did not identify her attacker.

Another member of the subcommittee, Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth who is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and lost both legs in combat in the Iraq war, said the military “has utterly failed at handling sexual assault.”

Sexual assault and harassment in the U.S. military is largely under-reported and came under renewed scrutiny two years ago after a scandal involving Marines sharing nude photos of women online came to light.

In fiscal 2017, the most recent period for which statistics are available, the U.S. Department of Defense received 6,769 reports of sexual assault involving service members as victims or subjects of criminal investigation. That represented a nearly 10 percent increase in reported cases from the previous year, according to a Pentagon report last year.

McSally, speaking at the Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing, said: “I stayed silent for many years, but later in my career as the military grappled with scandals and their wholly inadequate responses, I felt the need to let some people know: I too was a survivor.

“I was horrified at how my attempt to share generally my experiences were handled,” she said, adding that she came close to leaving the Air Force after 18 years.

“Like many victims, I felt the system was raping me all over again.”

Air Force spokeswoman Captain Carrie Volpe said in a statement: “We are appalled and deeply sorry for what Senator McSally experienced and we stand behind her and all victims of sexual assault. We are steadfast in our commitment to eliminate this reprehensible behavior and breach of trust in our ranks.”

In a separate incident, authorities in Georgia said on Wednesday they had arrested three members of the U.S. Navy on charges of rape and aggravated sodomy.

The men were taken into custody following a report of a sexual assault on Sunday at a party in a private residence, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

McSally’s disclosure came less than two months after Senator Joni Ernst, an Army veteran, said publicly that she had been raped in college by someone she knew and that her ex-husband had physically abused her. An attorney for her former husband declined to comment at the time.

Ernst, a Republican, has in the past worked with Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to combat sexual assault in the military.

McSally, 52, who served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, was appointed in December by Arizona’s governor to take over the Senate seat once held by the late John McCain. A special election will be held in 2020 to fill the remaining two years of McCain’s six-year term.

In November’s congressional elections, McSally lost to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in the contest for Arizona’s other US Senate seat, formerly held by Republican Jeff Flake.

Trump to end trade preference deal with India

WASHINGTON, March 5: The Trump administration on Monday notified US congress of its intent to remove India from a list of beneficiary countries of a zero-import duty programme, called the Generalized System of Preference (GSP), for not granting American producers “reasonable access” to its markets.

India has been the top beneficiary of this programme that extends zero-tariff regime for some goods, not all, to 120 countries. It exported an estimated $5.6 billion worth of goods to the US under this scheme in 2017, more than 11% of the total value of it exports to the United States, $48.6 billion. That’s why it matters.

“I am providing notice of my intent to terminate the designation of India as a beneficiary developing country under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program,” President Donald Trump wrote in a letter to the heads of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The president added that he had “determined that India has not assured the United States that it will provide equitable and reasonable access to the markets of India”.

In New Delhi, India’s commerce secretary Anup Wadhawan said the US decision to withdraw India’s name from the GSP list won’t have any “significant impact” on the 5.6 billion dollar exports to the US. “India exports goods worth USD 5.6 billion under the GSP, and the duty benefit is only USD 190 million annually,” news agency PTI quoted Wadhawan as saying.

Trump’s letter kicked off a 60-day notice period, which is essentially the time India has to try and reverse the decision. And the only way it can, according to people close to these matters, was for it to “capitulate” on all of US demands that had been under discussion for the last some months.

If India refuses to yield, hundreds of types of goods it exports to the United States under the GSP will now be subjected to rates that amount to “around” $190 million in import duty, according to people dealing with bilateral trade between the countries and the contentious and protracted negotiations underway for months.

The decision was along expected lines but New Delhi was both disappointed and irritated. “We had conceded most of their demands and had indicated our readiness to discuss the few remaining ones as well,” an official close to the negotiations said, adding, “but they seemed to be in the mood to go for all”.

The Trump administration had initiated a review of India’s continued eligibility for the programme in April 2018, essentially to use it extract concessions on a range of trade issues, from market access for American dairy products to tariff barriers to IT to pricing of medical devices.

Trump administration’s notification to congress had seemed imminent to observers but Indians had harbored hopes it would look at numbers before calling it in. US export to India have “risen by 30% in the last six months and could touch 40% next year”, said a person close to the negotiations.

India has been ramping up imports from the United States since Trump took office, to reduce its trade surplus with the United States, because Trump made it out to be as issue.

Huawei presents security threat, has deep connections to Chinese intelligence service: Pompeo

WASHINGTON, March 5: Huawei is owned by the Chinese government, has deep connections to their intelligence services and presents a national security threat, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has cautioned, urging the countries to think twice before signing up with one the world’s biggest tech firms.

Shenzhen-based Huawei has faced increasing headwinds in its push to make inroads in the US market, as the White House and Republican lawmakers target Chinese tech companies, citing national security concerns.

The company has repeatedly denied allegations from US lawmakers that its technology could be used by the Chinese government to gather intelligence.

In his address at the “Future Farmers of America” event in Iowa on Monday, Pompeo said the company has at least two things that threaten the US.

“One is that they – there’s a risk that they’ll steal American technology, and frankly, use those systems to invade your privacy. That is, they do telecommunications equipment that provide backbone services for networks, handsets all throughout the IT infrastructure and soon will be moving across the entire world with their new 5G rollout of their equipment,” Pompeo said.

“Second, Huawei also presents a more traditional national security threat. It’s very different from in America. If you’re working with AT&T or a US telecom provider, a Microsoft or an IBM who’s providing IT services or products, it’s a private company doing its own thing, trying to make money, trying to grow its business,” he said.

More and more Western nations are reviewing doing business with the firm over spying concerns. Huawei has always maintained it acts independently.

Western countries have begun reviewing their relationship with Huawei, specifically with regards to its technology being used in new “fifth generation 5G” mobile internet networks.

“Huawei is owned by the state of China and has deep connections to their intelligence service. That should send off flares for everybody who understands what the Chinese military and Chinese intelligence services do. We have to take that threat seriously,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo said he had been raising this issue with other countries as well.

“I’ve travelled the world now. I brought it up in Manila. I brought it up in Warsaw. Every place that I go, countries that are considering putting Huawei technology into their government infrastructure, acknowledging that those countries have every right to make their own decision about how to proceed but making sure they understand the risks of putting that technology inside of their government’s IT structure,” he said.

“There’s a real risk, though, that the Chinese will use this for purposes that aren’t commercial, that aren’t for private gain, but rather for the state’s benefit. And it’s a risk I think these countries ought to very, very carefully consider before they move forward,” Pompeo said.

China has stolen US intellectual property, amounting to hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars that had been invested in technology and innovation, he alleged.

“We’d obtained patents or had proprietary product, and the Chinese just flat-out stole it. So did other countries. That’s just not right. It’s not fair,” he said.

“It’s one of the things President Trump has taken on very, very seriously, trying to find a mechanism to convince the Chinese and other countries as well to enforce these basic property rights.

“It’s certainly part of what the State Department does. We talk to countries all the time about this. We impose costs on them in terms of – we make decisions about foreign aid based on how well they enforce US rights,” Pompeo said.

The US and China are engaged in a trade war that has seen both impose duties of billions of dollars on one another’s goods, though they are currently in talks in an attempt to resolve the dispute.

White House security chief calls Trump-Kim summit success

WASHINGTON, March 4: US national security advisor John Bolton denied Sunday that last week’s nuclear summit with North Korea was a failure, despite President Donald Trump coming home empty-handed.

A high-stakes second meeting to strike a disarmament deal with the North’s Kim Jong Un broke up in disarray Thursday in Hanoi, without even a joint statement.

Bolton told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Trump’s failure to obtain commitments from Pyongyang on destroying its nuclear capability should be seen as “a success, defined as the president protecting and advancing American national interests.”

He said the issue was whether North Korea would accept what the president called “the big deal” -- denuclearizing completely -- or something less, “which was unacceptable to us.”

“So the president held firm to his view. He deepened his relationship with Kim Jong Un. I don’t view it as a failure at all when American national interests are protected,” Bolton added.

The summit’s collapse followed the leaders’ historic meeting in Singapore that produced only a vague commitment from Kim to work “toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

According to senior US officials, in the week leading up to the Hanoi summit, the North Koreans had demanded the lifting of effectively all UN Security Council economic sanctions imposed on Pyongyang since March 2016.

In return, Pyongyang was offering only to close part of the Yongbyon complex, a sprawling site covering multiple facilities -- and the North is believed to have other uranium enrichment plants.

North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong Ho however disputed the US account, saying Pyongyang offered to dismantle all “nuclear production facilities in the Yongbyon area” in exchange for partial sanctions relief.

“Sometimes you have to walk and this was just one of those times,” an unusually downbeat Trump said on Thursday, adding that he would “rather do it right than do it fast.”

The president added Friday that his relations with Kim were “very good,” and a senior US official said the process was continuing, with “still ample opportunity to talk.”

Bolton’s evocation of progress was dismissed by leading Democrats, however, including House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, who described the Hanoi meeting as a “spectacular failure.”

“The president did give up a great deal, by going to that summit, by enhancing Kim Jong Un’s prestige on the world stage, by giving up those military exercises in the last summit and getting nothing for it,” Schiff told CBS.

“This is, I think, the result of a president who is not prepared for these kinds of negotiations, a staff that is not well-prepared and is essentially flying by the seat of its pants.”

Much of the criticism of the summit was sparked by Trump’s remarks on the case of an American student tortured and left in a coma in North Korea.

The president said he believed Kim’s claim that he didn’t know what happened to Otto Warmbier, who died at age 22 days after being sent back to the United States in 2017.

Bolton said Trump had been clear that Warmbier’s death was “barbaric and unacceptable,” although Schiff countered that the president’s “obsequious comments” had compounded the summit’s failure.

Bolton was touring the Sunday political shows the morning after the US and South Korea announced an end to key annual large-scale military exercises.

The maneuvers have been a perennial target of North Korean fury -- condemned by Pyongyang as provocative rehearsals for war.

Trump has repeatedly complained about the cost of the exercises and, since 2017’s Singapore summit, the US and Seoul have scaled back or scrapped several joint exercises.

“The reason I do not want military drills with South Korea is to save hundreds of millions of dollars for the U.S. for which we are not reimbursed,” Trump tweeted Sunday.

“That was my position long before I became President. Also, reducing tensions with North Korea at this time is a good thing!”

Opponents of scrapping the drills warn that it could affect the combat readiness of the combined US and South Korean forces and hand the North a strategic advantage on the divided peninsula.

Bolton sought to play down Saturday’s announcement, however, saying the policy remained unchanged since Singapore.

America Must Move Past Its “Sputnik” Moment on North Korea — Or Else

By Harry J. Kazianis

WASHINGTON, March 4: Washington should face reality and accept it. We should make it our policy to manage and reduce the North Korean threat.

Let’s get this out of the way right now: North Korea has enough nuclear weapons to kill millions of people in minutes. And short of finding a way to convince Pyongyang to give those weapons up, that reality may not change for decades to come—if ever.

Yes, that is terrifying, but it is a reality.

And that’s not all. North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un also holds a vast arsenal of chemical and biological weapons that could also kill hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, at a moment’s notice, as well as thousands of artillery tubes that could start a 9/11-style crisis hundreds of times over in minutes. And just like Kim’s nuclear weapons arsenal, if we can’t come up with an incentive structure that Washington can accept politically and militarily—as well as a deal that Pyongyang finds appealing—none of this will change.

Yes, that is also terrifying, but it is also a reality.

Now is the time to face these realities head-on if—and most likely when—denuclearization proves to be impossible. We must accept these terrifying truths for what they are, and craft policies to mitigate the threat coming from North Korea, as opposed to continuing to play an increasingly dangerous game of foreign policy fantasyland.

None of this should be controversial, as nuclear weapons technology is decades old as well as the missiles that would carry such destruction across the globe. Just like we did when Russia, China, Pakistan, Israel and even allies like Britain, France and other nations built nuclear weapons, we adjusted our policies to consider such unpleasantries.
Our failure to at least see the situation as it is—as horrible as it is—clearly is the single greatest challenge in our quest to reduce the threat posed by North Korea and protect critical allies.

Then there are domestic politics, which make facing reality a nearly thankless task. No U.S. politician wants to go down in history as the one who admitted America has failed to stop North Korea from building nuclear weapons, as the damage to one’s own reputation, political capital, and ammunition you would hand to your political enemies is obvious.
Even though no one single administration, policy or person deserves such blame, the fallout—pardon the term—would be immense. And yet, every day that passes, we stick our head in the atomic sand, hoping for some sort of miracle, of some magic way we can convince Kim that our intentions are good, that we pose no harm to him, that he does not need any weapons of mass destruction to secure his regime from a future potential U.S. regime change operation. Yet, considering recent history—think Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya—that might be a hard sell indeed.

Of course, politics is only a small part of the problem. Our own national psychology that reinforces over and over our own need for primacy in all parts of the world and our “exceptional” nature surely means we should not have to accept a nuclear North Korea.
That psychology declares that we can make Pyongyang bend to our will and that the Kim regime simply has no way to resist our demands. And yet, every intelligence report that breaks puts cracks in our own collective sense of invulnerability. Those reports that a nation as economically backward such as North Korea can kill millions of American’s rocks us to our core and challenges how Americans think of themselves. That might explain why so many of us here in Washington—including yours truly—reacted with such shock and anger over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile tests back in 2017.

It was, and still is, our twenty-first-century “Sputnik” moment , a series of events that shattered our sense of security, our perceptions of how powerful our nation is mixed with the dreadful realization that a country with the human rights record such as North Korea has and will continue to build even more dangerous weapons of mass destruction. We want to believe that this is unacceptable, and yet the facts tell us otherwise.

All these seemingly separate but interconnected threads combine to create a witch’s brew of policy paralysis that will only damage our national interests. South Korea, for example, has faced the reality of the North’s nuclear weapons for over a decade, but it understands that it must engage economically with Pyongyang as well as diplomatically for a very simple reason: Seoul fears losing an opening of North Korea to China—ending any chance of potential unification for decades. For instance, Kim in his New Year’s Day speech proclaimed a “new way” that obviously means deeper cooperation with Beijing. Should this happen, it this would be a disaster for Seoul as well as Washington.

In the days in weeks ahead, it seems clear Team Trump—and indeed the entire world—will discover if there is anyway Washington and Pyongyang can find a mutually-agreeable formula to rid the world of the North’s nuclear weapons. If that is not possible, we should face that reality, accept it, and make it our policy to manage and reduce that threat. Pretending we can do otherwise would only serve to increase the threat from North Korea—and that would be a disaster.

Harry J. Kazianis is Director of Korea Studies at The Center for the National Interest

Tornado kills at least 23 people in US state of Alabama: Sheriff

WASHINGTON, March 4: At least 23 people, some of them children, died after a tornado swept through Lee County, Alabama on Sunday, and the death toll was expected to rise as rescuers searched through the rubble of destroyed homes, authorities said.

Emergency workers faced a grim night of pulling the dead and injured from the wreckage of homes and businesses in the county that includes Alabama’s largest city of Auburn.

“The challenge is the sheer volume of the debris where all the homes were located,” Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said in an interview with CNN. “It’s the most I’ve seen that I can recall.”

Storms, including at least one apparent tornado, uprooted trees and destroyed homes in neighboring Georgia, initially knocking out power to 21,000 customers, said Georgia Power spokeswoman Meredith Stone.

On Twitter, U.S. President Donald Trump urged residents of Alabama and other areas affected by the storms to be “careful and safe.”

“Tornadoes and storms were truly violent and more could be coming,” Trump wrote. “To the families and friends of the victims, and to the injured, God bless you all!”

In Alabama, Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said the death toll could rise.

“We’ve still got people being pulled out of rubble,” he told the Birmingham News newspaper early on Sunday evening. “We’re going to be here all night.”

The East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika said in a statement that it was treating more than 40 patients as a result of the tornado and expected to receive more. Some patients had been sent to other hospitals, it added.

Severe weather unleashed one of many possible tornadoes that threatened the Southern United States on Sunday afternoon. Tornado warnings and watches were in effect for parts of Georgia and Alabama through Sunday evening.

Video footage from the small community of Beauregard in Lee County showed homes reduced to piles of wreckage, felled trees, and debris from blasted buildings scattered across roads.

Photos posted on social media from a highway near Smiths Station, about 20 miles (32 km) east of Beauregard, showed a large bar called the Buck Wild Saloon with its roof torn off and missing most of a wall after the storm swept through.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey warned residents on Twitter that more severe weather might be on the way.

A state of emergency for Alabama, issued on Feb. 23 to deal with flooding, would be extended, she said.

“Our hearts go out to those who lost their lives in the storms that hit Lee County today,” Ivey wrote. “Praying for their families & everyone whose homes or businesses were affected.”

Lee County Schools announced on Twitter that campuses in the county would be closed on Monday.

The National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Alabama, said it was sending three survey teams out on Monday to assess damage in Autauga, Macon, Lee and Barbour counties.

“Please stay out of damaged areas so first responders can do their job,” the NWS office said on Twitter.

The storm initially left 17,000 customers without power in Alabama, but crews were able to reduce that number to 6,000 by about 9 p.m. EST on Sunday, said Michael Sznajderman, spokesman for the utility Alabama Power.

As thousands faced a night without power, temperatures looked set to fall to near freezing following the storm.

“Colder air will sweep into the Southeast behind the severe weather with temperatures dropping into the 30s (1 C) southward to central Georgia and across most of Alabama by Monday morning,” AccuWeather meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski said.

“Those without power who rely on electric heat need to find ways to stay warm,” she added.





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