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14 US Congressmen urge Modi to restore communication in Kashmir

WASHINGTON, Sept 28: Indian-American lawmaker Pramila Jayapal along with 13 other US Congressmen have urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address concerns over the human rights situation in Kashmir and lift the communications blackout.

A statement, addressed to Prime Minister Modi, was issued jointly by Congressmen Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr, Judy Chu, Pramila Jayapal, Carolyn Maloney, Gerald Connolly, Ilhan Omar, Barbara Lee, Al Green, Zoe Lofgren, Andy Levin, Mike Levin, James P. McGovern, Jan Schakowsky, and Katie Porter.

“On behalf of thousands of families across the country who have been unable to contact family in Jammu and Kashmir, we are urging Prime Minister Modi to lift the communications blackout and address the ongoing humanitarian concerns,” the lawmakers said in the joint statement.

Restrictions were imposed when New Delhi had on August 5 scrapped the state’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated in into Union Territories -- Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

Asserting that the abrogation of Article 370 of its Constitution to withdraw Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was its “internal matter”, India has defended imposition of restrictions in the Kashmir Valley on the grounds that they were put to prevent Pakistan from creating more mischief through proxies and terrorists.

“India is an important US partner and the world’s largest democracy. As such, we hope that the Government of India will demonstrate leadership and lift these restrictions. The people of Jammu and Kashmir deserve the same rights as any other citizen of India,” the statement said.

The joint statement, the lawmakers said, is in response to the imposition of media blackout starting August 5, leaving millions in Jammu and Kashmir without access to mobile phones or the internet while many others have been detained.

“As a result, family members in the United States and elsewhere have had no ability to contact loved ones in Jammu and Kashmir, leading to concerns about their welfare,” said the statement, the lead in which was taken by Congressman Cisneros, who is a Member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and an Executive Board Member of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

The restrictions in Kashmir have been lifted in phases from many parts of the Valley as the situation improved with passage of time.

Normal life remained affected in Kashmir as main markets and other business establishments continued to remain closed for the 54th consecutive day on Friday.

Mobile services remained suspended in Kashmir except in Handwara and Kupwara areas in the north, while Internet services -- across all platforms - continued to be snapped in the Valley.

Modi urges business leaders to invest in India

NEW YORK, Sept 25: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday pitched India as a key investment and trade destination to the global business community, highlighting the country’s economic and political strengths and pledging personal intervention to address any gaps.

Delivering the keynote address at the morning plenary of the Bloomberg Global Business Forum, Modi ascribed India’s growth story to the “rarest of rare” combination of four key factors – democracy, demography, demand and decisiveness.

Modi said his government’s “big and tough decisions” to improve the business environment had resulted in the 1.3 billion people of India giving him a larger mandate in this year’s Lok Sabha elections. Referring to his government’s respect for the business world and creation of wealth, he listed its steps to spur investments, including the recent “revolutionary” cut in corporate tax and the scrapping of 50 outdated laws that were a hurdle to progress.

Though he spoke largely in Hindi, Modi turned to English to drive home his point to the forum, being attended by more than 50 heads of state and 200 prominent business leaders.

“Your desires and our dreams match perfectly. Your technology and our talent can change the world, your scale and our skills can speed up global economic growth. Your prudent method and our pragmatic mind can write new stories in management,” he said.

“Your rational ways and our human values can show the path which the world is looking for. And if there is any gap anywhere, I will personally act as a bridge.”

Modi referred to his government’s ambition of making India a $5 trillion economy in five years and outlined plans to spend $1.3 trillion on new physical infrastructure and billions of dollars on social infrastructure, adding these represented investment opportunities for global businesses.

“From this stage, I want to say this is just the start, there is a long way to go. This journey is a golden opportunity for the global business world to partner with India,” he said.

“Today, India is in a unique position where our rapid growth enables us to cater to diverse demand. Our people are rapidly defeating poverty, moving up the economic ladder with increasing purchasing power. Thus if you want to invest in a market where there is a scale, come to India,” he added.

India, Modi said, is the best investment destination for those looking to tap a market where the middle class is aspirational and has a global outlook, where the youth make large-scale use of the app economy for needs ranging from food to hyper-local delivery, where one of the largest infrastructure ecosystems is expanding at a fast pace, where cities are being modernised, and where the defence sector has been opened “like never before” through Make in India.

The Prime Minister also said India is unique for its decisiveness despite being a diverse and federal democracy, with a focus on seamless, inclusive and transparent systems. An unwieldy network of taxes had been replaced by the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime and the intellectual property rights and trademark regime had been made stronger. An insolvency and bankruptcy code had been introduced, and tax-related laws and tax on equity investments were being reformed to bring them at par with global regimes, he added.

Modi also noted India’s progress on several indices, including a 10-rank jump in the global logistics performance index, a 13-rank jump in the global competitive index and the 65-rank jump in the World Bank’s ease of doing business index.

During a question-and-answer session with Bloomberg LP founder Michael Bloomberg, Modi described climate change as one of the world’s biggest concerns and said India’s lifestyle was an example for the world. “We see the earth as our mother and we don’t have the right of exploitation...We understand need, and there is no place for greed,” he said.

More than the actions of governments, the behaviour of citizens can help tackle the challenge of global warming, he said. Modi added India now planned to add 450 GW of renewable energy and the country could become a model for nuclear power if the “problem of fuel supply” is resolved.

While highlighting his government’s plan to launch a campaign on Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary on October 2 against single-use plastic, Modi said India, a poor country with the world’s third largest coal reserves, couldn’t ignore this resource.

“But we can change the way of mining to ensure there is no damage to the environment. We can take up coal gasification for clean energy, and I invite the world to invest in this field for the environment-friendly use of coal,” he said.

Asked how India planned to achieve the target of becoming a $5 trillion economy, Modi said the country would have to meet global benchmarks in laws and governance and ease regulations to increase the confidence of investors. He added that investors should be inspired by India’s democracy and a judicial system that uses English, where there would be no problem of interpretation.

He also referred to investment opportunities in the form of his government’s ambitious infrastructure plans to create next generation airports, faster trains, electrification, improved roads and tens of millions of homes. Besides, there are opportunities for businesses worldwide in value addition, food processing, organic farming, Ayushman Bharat, the world’s largest health assurance scheme with a requirement of 2,000 new hospitals, and Digital India, which envisages an optic fibre network for 600,000 villages.

Answering a question on the role played by social media, Modi said this is a powerful instrument for democracy and good governance that he had personally benefited from. However, he acknowledged social media could be an “organised way to spread bad things” and fake news. He particularly highlighted the need for technology to verify information forwarded on social media.

Trump told Modi to mend ties with Pakistan: White House

WASHINGTON, Sept 25: US President Donald Trump has encouraged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to improve ties with Pakistan and “fulfil his promise to better the lives of the Kashmiri people”, according to the White House.

Trump also spoke with Modi during their bilateral meeting on the margins of the UN General Assembly about the need to address barriers to free, fair, and reciprocal trade, according to a readout of the meet from the White House.

Interacting with the media before the meeting, Trump had largely ducked a flurry of questions on the Kashmir issue and terrorism emanating from Pakistan and said he believed Modi was capable of handling these issues. He had also not made any fresh offer to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir – an issue he has brought up several times in recent public comments.

During interactions with the media alongside Modi and Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday, Trump had side-stepped questions on Pakistan’s role in supporting terrorism against India and instead said Iran should be “at the top of the list” of terrorist states.

The White House readout said Trump also “reaffirmed the importance of greatly increasing trade between the United States and India, and highlighted the need for resolving barriers to free, fair, and reciprocal trade, which includes improving United States companies’ market access in India”.

There was no immediate response from Indian officials.

Modi and Trump also discussed progress on different aspects of the India-US strategic partnership. Trump noted “good progress on defence and security cooperation”, the readout said.

Both leaders expressed concerns about the situation in Afghanistan and shared ideas about how to work together to promote security and prosperity in that country.

Jaishankar explains why Pakistan’s Imran Khan is angry over Article 370 move

NEW YORK, Sept 24: Foreign Minister Jaishankar, who has led India ‘s diplomatic offensive against Islamabad after Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was scrapped, has linked Pakistan’s angry response to the huge investments that it had made to support terror and attempt to destabilise its neighbour. He also underscored that India didn’t really have a problem talking to Pakistan but certainly had a problem in restarting dialogue with “Terroristan”.

Jaishankar, who is also in the United States along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said Pakistan had created an entire industry of terrorism to deal with the Kashmir issue. The bigger issue, the foreign minister told a New York audience at cultural organization Asia Society, was that Pakistan has to accept that the “model which they have built for themselves, no longer works.

“That you cannot, in this day and age, conduct policy using terrorism as a legitimate instrument of statecraft. I think that’s at the heart of the issue,” the minister said, according to news agency Press Trust of India.

Jaishankar said after Parliament effectively abrogated Article 370, Pakistan now sees its “investment” of 70 years undercut if this policy succeeds.

“So theirs is today a reaction of anger, of frustration in many ways, because you have built an entire industry over a long period of time,” Jaishankar said, explaining Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s belligerent and non-stop attacks on India after Article 370 was scrapped.

Jaishankar also delivered a sharp takedown of the argument that puts the Kashmir issue at the heart of every problem between India and Pakistan. It is not like India and Pakistan agree on everything else and the two countries have wonderful relationships and there is a Kashmir issue, he argued.

“We had an attack on Mumbai city. The last time I checked, Mumbai city was not a part of Kashmir. So if Pakistani terrorists can attack states and regions which are far removed from Kashmir, we have got to recognize that there is a bigger problem out there,” the minister said.

The problem is really the “mindset,” he said, adding that every time there is a change of government in Pakistan, “somebody says its new and nothing to do with the earlier guys” and blames the previous government.

Second, they say, “it has nothing to do with us as a country, it’s all the Americans. The Americans taught us the bad habits by doing the Afghan jihad. We were good people till you came along,” he said, taking a strong jibe at Pakistan.

“There is a fundamental issue there which they need to understand and we need to encourage them to do - that is to move away from terrorism,” he said, adding that at one level it’s a huge issue and another level it’s a very obvious issue.

“These are not activities which are subterranean. These are activities in broad daylight. They know where the camps are, anybody knows where the camps are, just google them. You’ll find them,” he said.

At meeting with Modi, Trump says trade deal with India very soon

NEW YORK, Sept 24: India and the United States may soon sign a trade deal, President Donald Trump said Tuesday at his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“We will have trade deal very soon,” Trump said at the bilateral meet with Modi on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly after their mega show in Houston.

India had been hoping for a limited trade deal after the Trump administration made little headway negotiating an end to its prolonged trade war with China that began earlier this year.

After the meeting Modi told reporters that he was happy with Petronet’s LNG deal with American energy company Tellurian Inc.

“As far as trade (India-US trade) is concerned, I’m happy that our Petronet signed an MoU of US$ 2.5 Billion investment in the energy sector,” Modi said.

A trade deal could partially reinstate India’s preferential market access to U.S. markets under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) programme which Washington had revoked in June.

Before the US scrapped GPS programme, India had been the largest beneficiary of the programme, which allowed certain imports from 120 countries to enter the United States at zero tariff.

Trump has been pushing India over import tariffs on Harley Davidson motorcycles and had said that India’s decision to slash cut the rate by 50% was still “unacceptable”.

The US has also been nudging India to remove price caps for medical devices — stents and knee implants, Information and Communicaiton Technology (ICT) which the NDA government had announced in its first term.

Asked about Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism, he replied, “You mentioned Pakistan but Iran would have to be at the top of the list because if you look at terrorist states, that’s been the number one for a long time.”

Trump further said, “It will be great if they [India and Pakistan] could work out something on Kashmir, we all want to see that.” He added that he believed Modi and Khan “will get along when they get to know each other and I think a lot of good things will come from that meeting”.

Responding to a question on tackling India-US differences on trade, Trump said both sides were “doing very well” and US trade representative Robert Lighthizer was negotiating with India’s “very capable representatives and I think very soon we’ll have a trade deal”.

Indicating that this may be a limited pact for now, he added, “We’ll have the larger deal down the road a little bit but we will have a trade deal very soon.”

People familiar with developments said the limited trade deal was expected to address immediate concerns of the two sides, including the US demand for removing price controls on medical devices and stents, greater access for American dairy products and reduction of tariffs on ICT, and the Indian demand for reinstating benefits under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), which were withdrawn in June.

Commerce minister Piyush Goyal travelled to New York for talks with Lighthizer on the trade deal while US ambassador Kenneth Juster had held extensive negotiations with commerce ministry officials in New Delhi over several days ahead of Modi’s visit to the US, the people said.

At Tuesday’s briefing, Modi also referred to deal inked during the Houston leg of his US visit and stated that it will lead to the creation of 50,000 jobs in years to come. “In Houston, in my presence, an agreement was signed by Indian company Petronet for the amount of $2.5 billion. This amount will be invested in the energy sector. In years to come, this will result in the trade of an amount of 60 billion dollars worth of trade and would lead to the creation of 50, 000 jobs which I think is a very big initiative taken by India”, he said.

The two leaders also spoke about their camaraderie, with Trump saying his personal chemistry with Modi was “as good as it can get”, he said he had “great respect” and “great admiration” for the Indian leader. “I remember India before, not intimately, but I remember India before, it was very torn, it was a lot of dissension and a lot of fighting and he brought it all together. Like a father would bring it together, and maybe he’s the father of India. We’ll call him the father of India...,” he said.

Trump said the “Howdy, Modi!” event showed how much he liked India and Modi. “There was tremendous spirit in that room too and they love this gentleman to my right...Those people went crazy, that was like Elvis...it was like...Elvis Presley came back,” he said. “Trump is definitely my friend and a very good friend of India,” Modi said at the beginning of the briefing.

Trump says meeting with Kim Jong Un ‘could happen soon’

NEW DELHI, Sept 23: U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday that a fourth summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “could happen soon” as diplomacy over the North’s nuclear program has stalled.

Trump didn’t elaborate in comments to reporters at the United Nations in New York, and it was not clear if concrete plans were in the works for another summit meant to address a growing diplomatic impasse over the North’s development of nuclear-armed missiles targeting the U.S. mainland.

There is extreme interest, especially in Japan and South Korea, in whether Trump and Kim can settle differences that have led to the stalemate despite past high-profile meetings. The sides have failed even to set up lower-level negotiations on restarting talks.

At the heart of the dispute is the impoverished North’s desire for relief from harsh sanctions imposed as it has boosted its nuclear and missile capabilities. Washington, however, is demanding that Pyongyang first take more comprehensive steps to dismantle a nuclear program that has been painstakingly built over decades.

In recent months, the North has displayed its unhappiness with the tough U.S. stance in a series of short-range weapons tests that experts see as an attempt to increase pressure on Washington and Seoul and build leverage ahead of any new talks.

Trump has repeatedly played down tests of weapons that could strike allies South Korea and Japan, which host tens of thousands of U.S. troops. He also has trumpeted the strength of his relationship with Kim.

Trump is the first sitting U.S. president to meet with a North Korean leader and the first to set foot on North Korean territory.

As he arrived at the U.N. for the start of the annual General Assembly of world leaders, Trump responded to a question about when he planned to meet with Kim, saying, “It could happen soon. It could happen soon.”

In comments during a later meeting, Trump said of North Korean diplomacy: “It’s moving along pretty well, actually.”

Trump was scheduled to meet later Monday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the driving force behind the initial diplomacy that led to the first Trump-Kim summit last year and replaced threats of war in 2017.

North Korea reportedly hasn’t sent its top diplomat to the U.N. meetings, making the Moon-Trump talks potentially the highest-level diplomatic opportunity to make progress this week on the nuclear standoff.

Speaking Monday of that first summit with Kim, in Singapore, which critics have called more surface than substance, Trump said, “People don’t give that meeting as much credit as it deserves and the relationship we established. It was a tremendous success.”

Of Kim, he said they “really got to know each other there.”

Trump is set to speak before the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, two years after he used that podium to deride Kim as “Little Rocket Man” and to threaten to destroy North Korea.

The second Kim-Trump summit, in Hanoi, Vietnam, collapsed in February, then the leaders met briefly in June at the Korean border, where Trump unexpectedly stepped into the North and became the first American president to do so. Since then, there has been little apparent progress.

In recent days, however, North Korea has praised Trump for saying Washington may pursue an unspecified “new method” in nuclear negotiations as well as for his decision to fire his hawkish former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

North Korea also has hinted that some sort of diplomacy could soon resume, but it says it will not consider abandoning its nuclear weapons unless external threats are removed. The North says annual U.S.-South Korean military drills and the huge presence of American troops in the region are proof of U.S. hostility toward Pyongyang.

At Houston event, Modi attacks Pak for terror export

HOUSTON, Sept 22: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday called for a “decisive battle” against terrorism and those supporting it even as he called on the US to make the most of opportunities offered by his government’s plans to make India a $5-trillion economy in five years.

Addressing the “Howdy, Modi!” community outreach event at the NRG Stadium here alongside US President Donald Trump, Modi launched a thinly veiled attack on Pakistan, saying the whole world knows which country harbours hatred for India and nurtures and supports terrorism against it. ‘We know where masterminds of 9/11 and 26/11 were found."

He defended his government’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and reorganise the state, saying Article 370 of the Constitution had deprived the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladkah of progress and equal rights and allowed those supporting terror and separatism to take advantage of the situation.

Trump, who spoke before Modi, vowed to fight “radical Islamic terrorism”, drawing loud applause from the 50,000-strong audience and a standing ovation from Modi and the Indian delegation sitting in front of the stage, including external affairs minister S Jaishankar.

Hard-selling the Indian economy, Modi highlighted his government’s achievements – including the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax, low inflation, low fiscal deficit, easing of FDI in single brand retail, an average growth rate of 7.5% in recent years, and availability of cheap data, which he described as the “new gold” – and plans to make Indian a $5-trillion economy in five years, and said there would be lots of opportunities for Americans in India.

During his nearly 50-minute speech, Modi also hinted at the possibility of a trade deal with the US, saying he was looking forward to “positive results” in his upcoming talks with Trump on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Speaking about the changes in Kashmir and the need to tackle terrorism, Modi said India had “bid farewell” to Article 370 to bring about far-reaching changes. Without naming Pakistan, he added, “India’s decision on Article 370 has troubled some people who can’t even handle their own country. These are the people spreading hatred for India, who don’t want peace and are supporting and nurturing terrorism.”

“Be it 9/11 in America or 26/11 in Mumbai, where can the conspirators be found? The time has come for a decisive battle to be fought against terrorism and those backing it,” he said.

Modi said Trump was standing against terrorism with “full strength” and called on the audience to give standing ovations to the US president and Indian parliamentarians for passing the changes in Jammu and Kashmir with a two-thirds majority.

Social and economic development in India was now moving at a faster pace as the common man had been empowered, Modi said. In the past five years, rural sanitation had gone from 38% to 99% with the addition of 110 million toilets, the coverage of cooking had gone from 55% to 95% with 150 million people getting new gas connections, and rural road connectivity had increased from 55% to 97%.

“We are aiming high, we are achieving higher,” Modi said.

For the most part, Modi and Trump demonstrated much bonhomie and camaraderie at the joint appearance. They hugged, clasped hands, clapped each other on the back and had only the most eloquent praise for each other, the ties between their nations and governments and spoke of the “historic” importance of their joint appearance.

On display was the growing closeness between the two leaders, the easy camaraderie they have come to develop and share over their meetings and interaction, bilaterally and at multilateral meetings.

“You have never had a better friend as president than President Donald Trump,” Trump said, referring to himself in the third person. And the “the prime minister knows that”.

It was Modi who brought up the same subject before introducing Trump to the audience. He reminded Trump of a slogan he used as a candidate for the White House in 2016 — “Abki bar Trump sarkar”, which was version of Modi’s campaign slogan “Abki bar Modi Sarkar”.

Before their on-stage hug, they exchanged tweets as Trump, who was running late, sought to keep the crowd warmed up through a series of tweets about Modi and India. “Will be in Houston to be with my friend. Will be a great day in Texas!” he wrote, triggering the exchange.

Modi tweeted back: “It surely will be a great day! Looking forward to meeting you very soon.” Trump replied: “Look forward to being with our great India loving community!”

During his speech, Trump was effusive in his praise of Indian-Americans, saying they enrich America’s culture and uphold its values. He noted that Modi’s pro-growth reforms had lifted 300 million Indians out of poverty and both countries were prospering because they were reducing bureaucracy and red tape. Indian companies were employing tens of thousands of Americans while JSW Steel was investing $500 million to revitalise a shuttered steel plant in Ohio, he said.

“India has never invested in the US like it is today. It’s reciprocal, we are doing the same thing in India,” Trump said, adding his administration was working to expand US exports to India. The first NBA basketball game will be played in Mumbai next week while the first India-US tri-services military exercise named “Tiger Triumph” will be held in November, he said.

Data is the new oil, new gold: Modi

HOUSTON, Sept 22: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday described data as the “new oil” and the “new gold” and said India had the potential to lead the world in the industrial revolution, which relied on big data analytics and digital technology to improve manufacturing.

The prime minister was speaking at ‘Howdy, Modi!’—the mega event of the Indian American community held at Houston city’s NRG stadium.

Addressing potential investors in the United States, Modi mentioned the cheap cost of mobile data in India and the increasing use of digital technology to set up start-ups, help economic transactions and interact with the government.

“Today it is said that data is the new oil. I will also add that data is the new gold. Industry 4.0 is focused on data. Now, please listen carefully, if there is one country in the world where data is cheapest, then that is India,” the Prime Minister said. “Digital India is India’s new face which the world needs to see,” Modi added.

The prime minister’s comments also come as American digital companies, like Facebook, expressed concerns over local laws that say data generated in India must be stored in the country.

India has said it wants foreign companies to store data - personal, social or financial that are collected by search engines, financial platforms or social media sites - locally. The government has also promised new e-commerce rules - a move that has alarmed US technology and financial giants operating in the country.

For a number of US firms, the new rules would prove to be an expensive business proposition as complying would mean setting up fresh infrastructure in India.

Modi is in the United States for a seven-day tour that began with a meeting with CEOs of energy companies on Saturday. “It is impossible to come to Houston and not talk energy! Had a wonderful interaction with leading energy sector CEOs. We discussed methods to harness opportunities in the energy sector,” the Prime Minister tweeted after the meet.

The discussion, held at Hotel Post Oak in Houston city, focused on working together for energy security and expanding mutual investment opportunities between India and the United States.

Sources said CEOs of 17 global energy companies participated in the Roundtable. The combined net worth of these companies is $ one trillion and they have a presence in 150 countries. All the companies have some engagement with or presence in India.

Will build a new Kashmir: Modi to Pandits’ delegation

HOUSTON, Sept 21: Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to build a “new Kashmir” during a meeting here with a delegation of Kashmiri Pandits, which lauded the Indian government’s steps to reorganise the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Modi, who arrived in Houston on Saturday at the start of a week-long visit to the US, also met members of the Sikh and Dawoodi Bohra communities.

“New winds are blowing in Kashmir and we will all build a new Kashmir together that will be for everyone,” he told the Kashmiri Pandit delegation. Modi later tweeted about his “special interaction” with the delegation.

The Global Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora (GKPD) expressed its support for the Indian government’s August 5 decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and to split the state into two union territories. It said it would support India to “raise awareness that the cessation of Article 370 will enhance human rights” and help build a “new future for the people and the land”.

Modi acknowledged the hardships endured by Kashmiri Pandits following their exodus from Kashmir during 1989-90 because of the militancy. “You have suffered a lot, but the world is changing. We have to move ahead together and build a new Kashmir,” he said.

The delegation presented a memorandum to Modi, asking him to set up a task force under the home ministry that will bring together key stakeholders in India and abroad to advise the government in developing the region and repatriating Kashmiri Pandits.

Members of Sikh community that met Modi hailed his initiative to construct the Kartarpur Corridor that will connect Dera Baba Nanak in India with Darbar Sahib gurdwara in Pakistan. The corridor is expected to open in time for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak in November.

Members of the Sikh delegation said they were happy the government had taken steps to address their grievances regarding the 1984 anti-Sikh violence and to remove more than 300 Sikhs from a “black list” of people barred from visiting India.

Modi also met a delegation of the Dawoodi Bohras, who present him a shawl. “The Dawoodi Bohra community has distinguished itself across the world. In Houston, I had the opportunity to spend time with them and speak about a wide range of issues,” he tweeted.

‘Howdy Houston!’ says Modi on arrival in the US city

By Deepak Arora

HOUSTON, Sept 21: Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Houston on Saturday for the mega ‘Howdy, Modi’ event on Sunday, which will be attended by 50,000-strong Indian American community. This is being touted as the largest gathering ever for an elected foreign leader visiting the US, other than the Pope.

On arrival, the Prime Minister was received by Director, Trade and International Affairs, Christopher Olson and other officials. India Ambassador to US Harsh Vardhan Shringla and US Ambassador to India Ken Juster were also present for his welcome.

The PM, in a tweet, let out a big shout out to the US city with “Howdy Houston”.

“It’s a bright afternoon here in Houston. Looking forward to a wide range of programmes in this dynamic and energetic city today and tomorrow,” tweeted Modi.

Modi will have a round table meeting with the CEOs of oil sector companies today (Saturday).

The three-hour “Howdy, Modi!” event, in which President Donald Trump will join the PM, is being organised at the sprawling NRG Football Stadium, one of the largest in the US, with an impressive history of shows that starred Beyonce, Metallica, U2.

The preparations for the mega event are in full swing and over 1,500 volunteers are working round the clock to make it a memorable event.

A car rally was organised on Friday at the NRG stadium, where more than 200 cars participated, fluttering flags of both India and the US to signify the friendship between the the two countries.

The organisers and volunteers sporting ‘NAMO AGAIN’ shirts, chanted “NaMo Again” and said they are ready to welcome Prime Minister Modi “wholeheartedly”.

Preparations in full swing for Howdy Modi event

By Deepak Arora

HOUSTON, Sept 21: Preparations are in full swing at the famous NRG Stadium in Houston to welcome both the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump at the largest configuration of over 50,000 Indian Diaspora on Sunday where both the world leaders will address together a public meeting for the first time in the USA.

This is like a history in the making and the whole Indian media and the world media are here to cover this event.

Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Ambassador of India, was personally present at the venue with his full team to supervise the preparations alongside a large team of event organisers and security personnel of both countries to make sure that arrangements are foolproof.

Vijay Mehta from New Delhi, who is a member of the National Team of the Foreign Affairs Department of BJP and the Convener of OfBJP (Overseas Friends of BJP) for the UK and Europe is already in Houston as a part of the Prime Minister’s entourage to participate in the event and then accompanying Modi onwards to New York.

Vijay Chauthaiwale, the International Head of the party’s Foreign Affairs Department is already camping in the US over the last one week overseeing all arrangements.

The interaction of Modi with Indian Diaspora at Houston will be his 21st event so far and also the largest ever.

There is a huge enthusiasm among the Indian Community to who are eagerly awaiting to be a part of this program and are expected to line up for entry to the stadium from 6am Sunday morning when the gates open.

A number of American Congressmen and Indian MPs are also attending the meeting.

At a press briefing on Friday, Texas India Forum (TIF) spokespersons Priti Dawra, Gitesh Desai and Rishi Bhutada briefed media about the event timeline, what to expect and why Houston was chosen for such a mega community event.

“The event is a grand celebration of culture and unity of America and India, where attendees will hear Modi speak about the deepening US-India ties strengthened by the confirmations of over 3 million Indian Americans in the US and will lay out his vision of the continuous India’s growth and development as he begins his second term following his historic re-election,” said Priti Dawra, spokesperson, Texas India Forum.

“First time the leaders of the world’s two biggest democracies are appearing together at such an event to share their resolve to build strong partnership,” she said.

Dawra said President Trump’s participation in the event shows that he is highlighting his “goodwill and friendship” towards the Indian Prime Minister, the people of India and the Indian American diaspora.

A bipartisan group of senior elected officials, leaders from the US government including, senators, governors, mayors will also attend the event.

“The ‘Howdy, Modi’ is about the unity of culture and it will bring the entire US India and Texas closer than ever. TIF is deeply grateful or this opportunity to bring together such a historic event driven in large part by the diverse community of Americans all over the united states,” Dawra said.

Texas accounts for 10 per cent of India-US trade, about USD 7 billion worth of US goods and commodities are moved between Texas and India.

Some of the largest companies are setting up their headquarters all over Texas, creating jobs and opportunities for Americans and Indian Americans.

“India is Houston’s fourth largest trading partner today just behind Brazil, China and Mexico. It attracts largest influx of Indian population and investment. Houston is uniquely positioned towards this community summit as it is the energy, space and the medical centre capital of the world,” she said.

‘Howdy, Modi’ is the community summit organised by the contributions of over 600 organisations 1,000 volunteers and attendees representing all the 50 states of the US, “Indian Americans are not just most educated and affluent community in the US, but it is also now recognised for serving across all fields including military medicine and education; highly respected doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs, empowering the US economy,” she said.

The spirit and diversity of the Indian community will be showcased by the specially curated cultural programme “WOVEN” at the start of the event, featuring 400 artists, she said.

The NRG gates will open at 6 AM to accommodate and seat 50,000 people by 9 AM, after which cultural programme will begin and continue till 10:30 am, and will be broadcast live in Hindi, English and Spanish languages followed by the address of the two leaders.

Howdy Modi will be new milestone in India-US ties: PM

NEW DELHI, Sept 20: Ahead of his departure for the United States to attend the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said his upcoming visit would further cement bilateral ties between India and the United States and hoped for a stronger partnership between the world’s oldest and largest democracies.

“I look forward to my meeting with @POTUS @realDonaldTrump. Shared values, convergent interests and complementary strengths provide strong foundations for a natural partnership between the world’s oldest and largest democracies,” Modi said in a tweet.

The prime minister is scheduled to visit the United States from September 21 to 27.

“The USA visit will give me an excellent opportunity to interact with various global leaders. India will be hosting interactions with leaders of the Pacific Island States, and leaders of the CARICOM group on the margins of UNGA,” the prime minister said.

Referring to his massive community gathering HowdyModi with the Indian diaspora in Houston on September 22, Modi expressed his pleasure that US President Donald Trump would also be part of the mega event. “This gathering would be a new milestone in India-USA ties,” he said.

In a tweet, the prime minister also thanked the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for honouring him with the Global Goalkeepers Goals Award 2019. “Over the last five years India has taken many efforts to improve cleanliness and sanitation, fulfilling Gandhi Ji’s dream of a Swachh Bharat,” he added.

Looking at enhancing the Indo-US energy partnership, the prime minister will interact with CEOs of leading energy companies in the US. At the United Nations, India will host a special programme to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The event is likely to be attended by global leaders and will showcase the non-violent ideology of the Father of the Nation.

Some of the other events, Modi would be attending at the United Nations are the Climate Action Summit, an event on Universal Health Coverage, and the opening plenary of the Bloomberg Global Business Forum. The prime minister’s address at the United Nations General Assembly is scheduled for the 27th of September.

Tulsi Gabbard sorry for not attending Houston event

NEW YORK, Sept 20: US congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard released a video message Thursday welcoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the United States but said she won’t be able to make it to the Howdy, Modi! outreach because of her presidential campaign obligations.

“Namaste! I would like to extend a warm welcome to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his latest visit to the US,” Gabbard said, adding, “and I am sorry that I will not be able to join there in person due to previously scheduled presidential campaign events.”

Gabbard is the first Hindu elected to US congress and has been close to Prime Minister Modi, who had sent her gifts on her wedding in 2015 and she attended both his previous diaspora outreach events in New York and San Jose.

“I’m very happy to see that Howdy Modi is bringing together Indian Americans and Hindu Americans from across our country, including many of my colleagues in the U.S. Congress.” said Gabbard.

“India is the world’s oldest and largest democracy, and one of the United States most important allies. The Unites States and India must work closely together if we are to address the pressing issues that impact our nations, our countries, and the entire world—such as combating climate change, preventing nuclear war and nuclear proliferation, and improving the economic well-being of our people.”

As a candidate for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination she has faced scrutiny of those ties and campaign contributions from Hindu-Americans. And she has sought to distance herself from him. In May she told Th Intercept, “There are things that are happening within the Indian government that I disagree with. I don’t pretend to support or approve or endorse all the practices of the ruling party in India.”

Gabbard said in the video message she will be campaigning in Iowa at the time of the Houston outreach, trying to stay in the race. She failed to qualify for the last presidential debate and if she is unable to make it to the next one, her candidature will be in serious jeopardy.

Trump Announces 'Highest Sanctions' But Says Won't Strike Iran

WASHINGTON, Sept 20: President Donald Trump on Friday announced new sanctions on Iran that he said were the toughest-ever against another country but indicated he did not plan a military strike, calling restraint a sign of strength.

The Treasury Department unveiled action against Iran's central bank after US officials said that Tehran carried out weekend attacks on rival Saudi Arabia's oil infrastructure which triggered a spike in global crude prices.

"We have just sanctioned the Iranian national bank," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. "These are the highest sanctions ever imposed on a country."

But Trump indicated he did not plan a military response, attacking both critics who thought the mogul turned president would trigger war and hawks seeking a military response.

"The easiest thing I could do (is) knock out 15 different major things in Iran," Trump said.

"I could do it right here in front of you. And that would be it. And then you would have a nice, big story to report," he said.

"But I think the strong-person approach and the thing that does show strength would be showing a little bit of restraint," he said.

"Much easier to do it the other way. It's much easier. And Iran knows if they misbehave, they're on borrowed time," he said.

The United States already maintains sweeping sanctions on Iran including on its central bank, with anyone who deals with it subject to prosecution, due to Tehran's alleged nuclear program.

But the Treasury Department said that it was imposing sanctions for the additional reason of "terrorism," saying the central bank had provided "billions of dollars" to two forces blacklisted by the United States.

Such a designation may be more difficult to lift, even if Trump loses next year's election to a Democrat who wants to ease sanctions as part of a future deal.

"Iran's brazen attack against Saudi Arabia is unacceptable," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

"Treasury's action targets a crucial funding mechanism that the Iranian regime uses to support its terrorist network, including the Qods Force, Hezbollah and other militants that spread terror and destabilize the region," he said.

The Qods Force conducts international operations for Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, who are in charge of protecting the clerical regime.

Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group and political party in Lebanon, is among Iran's closest regional partners.

Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which supports tough action on Iran, said that the latest measures are a way "to push Tehran to shun funding terrorism."

"It proves to Tehran that there will be no stopping US sanctions unless Iran changes its behavior," he said.

The United States also imposed sanctions on Iran's sovereign wealth fund, whose board of trustees includes President Hassan Rouhani, as well as Etemad Tejarate Pars, a company that the Treasury Department said had sent money internationally on behalf of Iran's defense ministry.

Trump in June authorized a military strike after Iran shot down a US drone, only to call it off at the last moment.

He recently said that he hopes for talks with Rouhani, which responded that Trump must first ease sanctions.

Trump last year pulled out of a nuclear accord with Iran negotiated under former president Barack Obama, sending tensions soaring as he tried to stop all countries from buying Iran's oil.

Pompeo Says Iran Behind Attacks on Saudi Oil Installations

JEDDAH, Sept 18: The United States wants to build a coalition of European and Arab partners to deter Iran after an attack on Saudi Arabia that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described on Wednesday as "an act of war" against the world's top oil exporter.

"This is an attack of a scale we’ve just not seen before," Pompeo told reporters traveling with him before landing in the Saudi city of Jeddah for talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “The Saudis were the nation that were attacked. It was on their soil. It was an act of war against them directly."

The top US diplomat, who will also visit the United Arab Emirates, said drone and cruise missile strikes on two Saudi oil installations on Saturday had not come from Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group, which has claimed responsibility.

Riyadh has said Iranian weapons were used and it is investigating the launch point. Iran has denied any involvement in the assault that initially halved Saudi Arabia's oil production.

Pompeo said flight patterns suggested the attack did not come from the south, which is the direction of Yemen, and that the US intelligence community has "high confidence" the weapons used were not in the Houthis' arsenal.

"Were that true -- it's not, but were that true -- it doesn't change the fingerprints of the Ayatollah as having put at risk the global energy supply," he said, referring to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"We also know that these are systems that the Iranians have not deployed anyplace else, that they have not deployed outside of the country, to the best of our knowledge," he added. "We’ve seen no evidence that it's come from Iraq. It could well have traveled over Kuwait, we’ve not seen that either.”

Trump to attend ‘Howdy, Modi!’ in Houston: White House

WASHINGTON, Sept 15: In a significant boost to India-US ties and nod to their growing personal equation, President Donald Trump will be attending Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s diaspora outreach event in Houston next Sunday, called “Howdy, Modi!”, the White House announced Sunday.

Trump will not only attend but also address the gathering, people familiar with the hosting of the event said. The two leaders are not expected to hold discussions, either one-on-one or with their delegations, but are likely to meet in New York City on the sidelines of the UN general assembly debates.

This personal outreach by the American president comes at a critical stage in ties between the two countries after Pakistan sought to leverage Trump’s request for its help in Afghanistan peace talks, to seek his mediation to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Trump had agreed, and repeated his offer three times, before backing off in the face of a determined and unambiguous push back from India.

Trump will leave Houston the same day for another event with a visiting world leader, the Australian prime minister Scott Morrison but in Wapakoneta, Ohio, the White House said wrapping up joint appearances to “underscore the important partnerships between the United States and India, and Australia”.

The three countries are members of a growing Indo-Pacific partnership, along with Japan, called the Quad, which has had official-level meetings with growing frequency in the past one year. There was no word if a summit-level meeting of the Quad, or its foreign minister, was on the anvil.

Announcing President Trump’s participation in the Houston event, the White House said, it will be a “great opportunity to emphasize the strong ties” between the peoples of the two countries and to “reaffirm the strategic partnership between the world’s oldest and largest democracies, and to discuss ways to deepen their energy and trade relationship”.

This is probably the first time as president that Trump will address a diaspora outreach event alongside a visiting foreign leader; he has attended factory openings and ribbon-cutting ceremonies with them, such as his tour of an Australian-owned manufacturing with Morrison in Ohio.

But Trump’s address to the Houston gathering will not be his first to Indian Americans, who will be packing the “Howdy, Modi!” venue, coming in from all around the country. His first was in October 2016, when he spoke to them in Edison, New Jersey as the Republican nominee for the White House.

Welcoming the White House announcement, the Texas India Forum, which is organizing the Houston event, said in a statement they are also expecting several governors, lawmakers, mayors and other leaders and officials to attend.

Houston will be Prime Minister Modi’s third diaspora outreach in the United States, which he has uniquely elevated and transformed from small community gatherings favored by previously visiting prime ministers cutting across party lines, to gigantic events filling massive sporting and concert venues, starting with the iconic Madison Square Garden in September 2014, on his first visit after assuming office.

Next year, it was the SAP Center in San Jose, California.

With a capacity to seat more than 70,000 people, the NRG Stadium, venue for the upcoming event, is the largest yet. The organizers have said they are expecting more than 50,000 people.

That should impress President Trump, who never fails to mention the crowd-size of his political rallies, often comparing them to those recorded by one of his favorite musicians Elton John, as the New York Times reported Sunday, citing among things, this tweet from him last month: “Great news! Tonight, we broke the all-time attendance record previously held by Elton John at #SNHUArena in Manchester, New Hampshire!”

The White House is eyeballing numbers in anticipation of the outreach already. “The event,” it said in its statement on the president’s attendance, “… is expected to draw tens of thousands of people.” The president might follow up with his own take after the event possibly.

Prime Minister Imran Khan will be watching closely. Following in Modi’s footsteps, he became in July the first Pakistani leader to address a similar outreach for Pakistanis, at a sporting venue in Washington DC, the night before his meeting with President Trump at the White House.

Khan packed the 20,000-seat venue to his credit, but the absence of US lawmakers and officials stood out in stark contrast to Modi’s that have reflected bipartisan footfall support from US political leaders such as governors, lawmakers, mayors — nearly 40 US senators and House Representatives had attended the MSG event.

Texas India Forum excited to welcome President Trump to address 'Howdy, Modi!'

By Deepak Arora

HOUSTON, Sept 15: The Texas India Forum is excited to welcome President Donald J. Trump to address over 50,000 Americans as we host Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India in Houston on September 22 at NRG Stadium.

The “Howdy, Modi! Shared Dreams, Bright Futures” Community Summit attendees represent 48 states, coming together to emphasize the shared values and aspirations of two great nations whose partnership is important to global peace, prosperity, and human progress.

This unique event brings together the President of the world’s most influential democracy, the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy, and a bipartisan delegation of Governors, Members of Congress, Mayors, and other public officials.

Special gesture, tweets Modi

NEW DELHI, Sept 16: US President Donald Trump’s confirmation to join the Indian-origin community at the Houston event is a special gesture that signifies the special friendship between India and USA, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday.

In two tweets, Modi said he was delighted that Donald Trump would join him at the community programme in Houston, Texas on September 22.

“The special gesture of President @realDonaldTrump to join us in Houston highlights the strength of the relationship and recognition of the contribution of the Indian community to American society and economy, #HowdyModi,” Modi said, responding to the White House confirming that Trump will attend PM Modi’s Indian diaspora event.

This is believed to be the first time as a US President will address a diaspora outreach event alongside a visiting foreign leader.

The special gesture of President @realDonaldTrump to join us in Houston highlights the strength of the relationship and recognition of the contribution of the Indian community to American society and economy. #HowdyModi

India’s envoy to the US Harsh Vardhan Shringla has described the joint presence of the two leaders addressing the ‘Howdy Modi’ event as “historic and unprecedented”. Singla said that Donald Trump’s presence reflects not only the closeness and levels in the relationship between the two countries “but also the personal chemistry” between PM Modi and President Trump.

Trump says US is ‘locked and loaded’ to respond to Saudi oil attack

WASHINGTON, Sept 15: President Donald Trump said Sunday the US is “locked and loaded” to respond to an attack on Saudi oil infrastructure that Washington has blamed on Iran, as Riyadh raced to restart operations at plants hit by drone attacks.

It is the first time the president has hinted at a potential American military response to the attack, which slashed Saudi oil production by half and led both the kingdom and the United States to announce they may tap their strategic reserves.

“Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!” Trump tweeted.

The Tehran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is bogged down in a five-year war, claimed Saturday’s strikes on two plants owned by state energy giant Aramco.

But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed the finger squarely at Tehran, saying there was no evidence the “unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply” was launched from Yemen.

“The United States will work with our partners and allies to ensure that energy markets remain well supplied and Iran is held accountable for its aggression,” the top US diplomat said.

That drew an angry response from Tehran, where foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said: “Such fruitless and blind accusations and remarks are incomprehensible and meaningless.” The remarks were designed to damage Iran’s reputation and provide a pretext for “future actions” against the Islamic republic, he added.

Baghdad, caught between its two main allies -- Tehran and Washington -- also denied any link to the attacks amid media speculation that the drones were launched from Iraq.

Saudi de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said the kingdom is “willing and able” to respond to this “terrorist aggression.” But a tit-for-tat strike on Iranian oil fields is “highly unlikely,” said Middle East expert James Dorsey.

“The Saudis do not want an open conflict with Iran. The Saudis would like others to fight that war, and the others are reluctant,” said Dorsey, from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

Instead, the kingdom focused on restoring production at the plants, as the Saudi bourse slumped three percent when the week’s trading began on Sunday morning.

Saturday’s explosions set off fires that engulfed the Abqaiq plant, the world’s largest oil processing facility, and nearby Khurais, which hosts a massive oil field.

Saudi’s energy infrastructure has been hit by the Huthis many times before, but this strike was of a different order, abruptly halting 5.7 million barrels per day (bpd) or about six percent of the world’s oil supply.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” said Bill Farren-Price, director of the London-based RS Energy Group.

“It is now clear that Saudi and other Gulf oil facilities are vulnerable to this kind of attack, which means that the geopolitical risk premium for oil needs to rise.” No casualties were reported but the full extent of the damage was not clear, nor the type of weapons used, and reporters were kept away from the plants amid beefed-up security.

Aramco also said it will dip into its reserves to offset the disruption.

On Saturday, CEO Amin Nasser said that “work is underway” to restore production, but the incident could affect investor confidence ahead of Aramco’s stock market debut.

A significant volume of oil production can be restored within days but the company would need weeks to reach full output again, Bloomberg News reported Sunday, citing unnamed sources.

Trump tweeted that he had “authorised the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, if needed, in a to-be-determined amount.” The president also “informed all appropriate agencies to expedite approvals of the oil pipelines currently in the permitting process in Texas and various other States,” without naming specific projects.

Following a phone call between Trump and Prince Mohammed, the White House condemned the attacks on “infrastructure vital to the global economy.” Tehran and Washington have been at loggerheads since May last year, when Trump pulled the US out of a landmark 2015 deal with world powers that promised Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

Despite the US accusation, the White House said on Sunday Trump may still meet his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming United Nations assembly.

Saudi Arabia has spent billions on military hardware but recent events have underscored the vulnerability of its infrastructure to attack.

The Huthis have staged repeated cross-border missile and drone attacks targeting Saudi air bases and other facilities in what they say is retaliation for the Riyadh-led bombing campaign on rebel-held areas in Yemen.

Trump confirms death of Hamza bin Laden

WASHINGTON, Sept 14: US President Donald Trump on Saturday confirmed that Hamza bin Laden, the son and designated heir of Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, was killed in a counter-terrorism operation along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

“The loss of Hamza bin Laden not only deprives Al-Qaeda of important leadership skills and the symbolic connection to his father, but undermines important operational activities of the group,” Trump said in a statement issued by the White House.

US media reported in early August, citing intelligence officials, that the younger Bin Laden had been killed sometime in the last two years in an operation that involved the United States.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper confirmed the death later last month, saying it was “his understanding” that Bin Laden was dead, but Trump and other senior officials had not publicly confirmed the news.

The 15th of Osama bin Laden’s 20 children and a son of his third wife, Hamza, thought to be about 30 years old, was “emerging as a leader in the Al-Qaeda franchise,” the State Department said in announcing a $1 million bounty on his head in February 2019 -- perhaps after his actual demise.

Frontrunner Joe Biden comes out fighting in Democratic White House debate

HOUSTON, Sept 13: Frontrunner Joe Biden came out swinging in the third Democratic debate for the White House nomination, clashing with his top two rivals over the future of health care in America and dismissing their plans as unrealistic pipe dreams..

Biden, under pressure to appear in command as the candidate to beat in 2020, pushed back hard against senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren during the debate in Houston, Texas a showdown seen as a tough test of the 76-year-old’s stamina.

In a high-octane clash with his fellow septuagenarians, the former vice president warned Sanders’s plan to finance universal healthcare “gets him halfway there,” while Warren has yet to indicate how hers will be paid for.

“I lay out how I can pay for it, how I can get it done, and why it’s better,” Biden said of his plan, which maintains and builds on the Affordable Care Act known as Obama care.

Warren, a rising star in the race, and Sanders each put up a spirited defence of their proposals.

“Those at the very top, the richest individuals and the biggest corporations, are going to pay more. And middle-class families are going to pay less,” Warren said.

Sanders, whose plans advocates for a shift away from private health insurance, assured voters “we will finally make sure that every American has health care as a human right, not a privilege.” The three-way battle over health care kicked off a marathon debate, as 10 hopefuls scrambled for breakout moments as they vie for the right to challenge President Donald Trump.

But the candidates stood united on one key factor: ousting Trump from the White House.

“We must and will defeat Trump, the most dangerous president in the history of this country,” Sanders said. “But we must do more. We must do more.” At a dinner with Republican legislators on Thursday evening, Trump quickly dropped his message of “respect” toward his opponents, which he’d expressed just three hours earlier.

He called Sanders “Crazy Bernie, he’s a crazy guy.” He lamented that he’d “hit Pocantonas” Warren “way too early,” in reference to his mockery of the senator’s controversial claim to have had Native American blood.

And he reserved his longest joke for Biden, or “Sleepy Joe.” “He’s fallen asleep, he’s no idea what he’s doing or saying,” Trump said to laughter from his party, before acting out a scene in which he imitated Chinese President Xi Jinping negotiating with Biden, with the Democrat mumbling “where am I?” and Xi telling him “sign here.” All eyes were on Biden who is battling accusations that he is a gaffe-prone candidate past his prime who could struggle during a gruelling campaign.

Biden maintains a grip on pole position with 26.8 per cent support, despite a noticeable dip in recent weeks, according to a poll average compiled by Real Clear Politics.

Sanders, at 78 the oldest candidate in the field, is narrowly ahead of Warren at 17.3 per cent support, and has largely avoided clashing with his friend and fellow progressive.

A summer of verbal miscues -- and an apparent lack of preparedness for spirited attacks by rivals in the first debate -- raised doubts about Biden’s age and mental clarity, concerns he and his team have roundly dismissed.

He enjoys strong support in particular from African-American communities and from working-class whites who appreciate his blue-collar appeal and believe he is best able to beat Trump, a top priority for Democratic voters.

Warren, 70, has electrified town halls and impressed voters with her extensive collection of policy platforms.

Early on Thursday she released her latest plan, one that would increase Social Security benefits for all Americans by USD 200 per month.

While Warren’s stock has risen, the campaigns of others such as Senator Kamala Harris and 37-year-old South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg have stalled.

For the second tier, including ex-congressman Beto O’Rourke, senators Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, and Obama- era housing secretary Julian Castro -- all polling under three per cent -- a breakout moment is critical to stay relevant.

Navigating between the leaders and the strugglers is tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who has made establishing a universal basic income to offset job losses a key part of his campaign, and who grabbed the spotlight on Thursday by promising to give a “freedom dividend” of USD 1,000 per month to 10 American families for a year.

Indo-Pak tensions less heated now than 2 weeks ago: Trump

WASHINGTON, Sept 10: The relationship between India and Pakistan is “less heated” now than what was two weeks ago, United States President Donald Trump has said, reiterating his offer to help the two South-Asian neighbours only if both of them want.

The comments by Trump were his first and comes two weeks since his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G7 summit in France on August 26.

“India and Pakistan are having a conflict over Kashmir as you know. I think (it) is a little bit less heated right now than (what) was two weeks ago,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday.

Tensions between the two neighbours escalated after New Delhi revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status by scrapping provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution.

“I get along with both countries very well,” Trump said while responding to a question on his assessment of the situation between India and Pakistan. “I am willing to help them if they want. They know that. That (offer) is out there.” During a meeting with visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in July, Trump had offered to mediate between the two countries on the issue of Kashmir.

India was quick to reject the offer, saying the Kashmir issue was bilateral. It has also dismissed Trump’s astonishing claim that Modi had asked him to mediate.

During his meeting with Modi in France last month, Trump had said Kashmir is an issue that needs to be resolved between India and Pakistan.

Trump calls off secret meeting with Taliban, Afghan leaders after Kabul bombing

WASHINGTON, Sept 8: US President Donald Trump said on Saturday he had cancelled a secret meeting with the Taliban leaders and the Afghanistan president at a presidential retreat outside the American capital city and called off peace negotiations because of continued bombings by the insurgent group.

He wrote in a series of tweets Saturday that “unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday” but he cancelled the meeting because the Taliban sought to build “false leverage” through violence.

Trump referred specifically to a suicide bombing in Kabul on Monday which killed a US soldier and 11 others. “I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations,” he wrote further. “What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?”

It was not immediately clear if the peace negotiations that were said to have been in the final stages now stand cancelled because the American president has been known to reverse himself.

Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, who was leading the US negotiation, had said recently that an agreement had been reached “in principle”, and there were expectations, according to US and Afghan officials. of a deal being as earlier the coming week, something that President Trump indicated also.

But the prospect of hosting the Taliban at a presidential retreat just two days before the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that had been planned and carried out by al Qaeda from Afghanistan during their rule drew immediate troubled many Americans. “Never should leaders of a terrorist organization that hasn’t renounced 9/11 and continues in evil be allowed in our great country,” wrote Republican lawmaker Adam Kinzinger wrote on twitter. “NEVER. Full stop.”

US President Trump probably saw an opportunity to make history there, like the Camp David Accords of 1978, hosted by President Jimmy Carter, that led to the signing of a peace treaty by Israel’s Menachem Begin and Egypt’s Anwar Sadat in 1979, who also went on to win the Nobel. But another Camp David summit in 2000 involving Israel and Palestine this time and hosted by President Bill Clinton ended so badly, the blame game continues to this day.

According to the deal reached in principle between the United States and the Taliban after nine rounds of talks in Doha, Qatar, the Americas would have to cut its troops in Afghanistan by 5,600 (from the current strength of 14,000) over 135 days after the signing of the agreement and shut down five of its bases there. The Taliban would given an undertaking in return to cut ties with terrorists and never allow Afghanistan to shelter terrorists and commit to inter-Afghan talks, to take place in Oslo, Norway.

Critics of that deal, and there are plenty in both the US and in Afghanistan, have contended that far too many concessions were being given to the Taliban. It gets to keep the word “Emirate” in the official name of Afghanistan, as it was called during their rule; the commitment to disavowing links to terrorism was tenuous and without any enforcing mechanism; it does not commit itself to accepting democracy or honor the upcoming election; and the Afghanistan government has been kept out of it.

Could Trump’s Camp David play have worked? “It would’ve been a Trumpian move to the core: It would have legitimized bad guys, offered photo ops galore & generated tons of press attention,” wrote Wilson Center’s South Asia expert Michael Kugelman on twitter. “And very tacky. And…little would’ve come of it”.

Five U.S. Governors to visit India over next two months

WASHINGTON, Sept 4: The governors of five US states — New Jersey, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware and Indiana — are scheduled to visit India over the next few months to enhance economic ties with the country.

They will be leading high-powered trade delegations comprising top businesses from their respective states.

The unprecedented move of five American governors visiting India in quick succession is a part of the efforts by the Trump administration and the Modi government to enhance state-to-state relationship.

The effort has been propelled by the current India’s Ambassador to the U.S., Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who has travelled to 11 U.S. states so far.

Noting that states play an important role in both the countries, Shringla said this was a very important initiative.

“Increasingly, states have an important say in economic activities, investment, trade and people-to-people contact,” he said.

“I’m happy to say that in the next two months, we will have five governors of U.S. States visiting India,” he said, days before New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy leaves on his maiden trip to India with a high-powered trade delegation.

In fact, he is the first governor of New Jersey — a state which has a sizeable population of Indian Americans — to visit India. Early this Summer, Murphy had hosted Shringla over a dinner.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson is scheduled to visit India from September 29 to October 6. This will also be the first ever India visit by a Arkansas Governor. Hutchinson had a working lunch with Shringla early this summer.

Later this month, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb would make his second trip to India, as part of his four-nation Asia sojourn including China, Japan and South Korea.

In India in early October, Holcomb will watch Indians Pacers in Mumbai for the NBA’s first games in India.

Similarly, Colorado Governor Jared Polis announced his decision to travel to India with a trade delegation in the presence of Shringla at a business round table in Denver this summer. He is slated to visit Mumbai, Bengaluru and New Delhi.

He will also participate in Global RE-Invest Expo, organized by India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, to be held between October 31 and November 2 in Greater Noida.

Delaware Governor John Carney is also scheduled to visit India this fall. In addition, Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis of California is also scheduled to travel to India soon.

Pakistan ‘most dangerous country’ in the world: Mattis

WASHINGTON, Sept 3: Former US defense secretary James Mattis has said he considers Pakistan as the “most dangerous country” he dealt with it in a long career spanning decades in the military and as a member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet, because of the level of radicalization of its society and its nuclear weapons.

Mattis, who left the Trump administration in January, also slammed Pakistan’s obsession with India, saying it “views all geopolitics through the prism of its hostility toward India” and that has also shaped their policy on Afghanistan as the “the Pakistan military wanted a friendly government in Kabul that was resistant to Indian influence”.

He has long years of experience dealing with Pakistan and South Asia, first as a top US Marine Corps commandeer in Afghanistan, head of US central command and then as secretary of defense.

“Of all the countries I’ve dealt with, I consider Pakistan to be the most dangerous, because of the radicalization of its society and the availability of nuclear weapons,” Mattis has written in “Call Sign Chaos”, an autobiography that hit the stands Tuesday. “We can’t have the fastest-growing nuclear arsenal in the world falling into the hands of the terrorists breeding in their midst. The result would be disastrous.”

Pakistan has the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal, with a substantial quantities of tactical weapons that its leaders have publicly boasted about, including a member or Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet recently. And Mattis writes, echoing a longstanding US concern, “We can’t have the fastest-growing nuclear arsenal in the world falling into the hands of the terrorists breeding in their midst”

He went on to castigate Pakistani leaders, in an indirect comment on the current Imran Khan government, saying “they don’t have leaders who care about their future”.

Mattis also framed US-Pakistan relations as a continuing narrative afflicted by differences and distrust. “We could manage our problems with Pakistan, but our divisions were too deep, and trust too shallow, to resolve them,” he writes.

That was the reason why, Mattis contends, President Barack Obama did not inform Pakistan of the US Navy SEALs raid that found and killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011. Mattis, a Marine Corps general, was then head of the US central command that has oversight over American military operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“And that is the state of our relationship to this day,” Mattis writes in obvious implications for the current attempts by the Khan government to reset ties with the United States by persuading the Taliban, using Pakistan’s clout with them, to participate in peace talks as President Trump pushes to end the Afghanistan war, the longest in US history.

Five killed, 21 injured in Texas mass shooting

ODESSA (TEXAS), Sept 1: Authorities said Saturday that a gunman killed five people during a mass shooting in the West Texas cities of Odessa and Midland that left many more injured. At least three law enforcement officers were among those shot.

Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke said that there were at least 21 injured by gunfire. He described the suspected shooter as a white male in his 30s. The suspect was shot and killed at the Cinergy movie theater in Odessa, Gerke said.

The shooting set off a chaotic afternoon in which police reported that a suspect hijacked a US Postal Service vehicle and began firing at random in the area of Odessa and Midland, hitting multiple people. Police initially reported that there could be more than one shooter, but Gerke says authorities now believe it was one shooter.

The condition of the victims was not immediately clear

“Once this individual was taken out of the picture, there have been no more victims,” Gerke said.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has urged residents to avoid major highways in the area during the shooting, including Interstate 20.

The shooting comes just weeks after a gunman in the Texas border city of El Paso killed 22 people after opening fire at a Walmart. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this week held two meetings with lawmakers about how to prevent mass more shootings in Texas.

Odessa is about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southwest of Midland. Both are more than 300 miles (483 kilometers) west of Dallas.

Trump’s 15% tariffs on $112 billion in Chinese goods take effect

WASHINGTON, Sept 1: The Trump administration’s latest round of tariffs on Chinese imports have taken effect, potentially raising prices Americans pay for some clothes, shoes, sporting goods and other consumer goods in advance of the holiday shopping season.

The 15% taxes apply to about $112 billion of Chinese imports. All told, more than two-thirds of the consumer goods the United States imports from China now face higher taxes. The administration had largely avoided hitting consumer items in its earlier rounds of tariff hikes.

But with prices of many consumer goods now likely to rise, the administration’s move threatens the U.S. economy’s main driver: Consumer spending. As businesses pull back on investment spending and exports slow in the face of weak global growth, American shoppers have been a key bright spot for the economy.

Trump nominates Indian-American Shireen Mathews to federal judgeship

WASHINGTON, Sept 1: US President Donald Trump has nominated Shireen Mathews, an Indian-American lawyer, to be a federal judge.

She is a partner with the elite law firm Jones Day, where she specialises in white-collar crimes.

Before that, she was an assistant federal prosecutor in California serving as the coordinator for criminal healthcare fraud cases.

Her nomination to Southern California Southern District federal court in San Diego was announced on Wednesday by the White House and her appointment has to be approved by the Senate.

Mathews is the sixth Indian-American nominated to the federal judiciary at various levels by Trump.

South Asia Bar Association (SABA) President Aneesh called it “a historic nomination” and urged “the Senate to quickly confirm her, adding another deserving South Asian voice to the judiciary.”

Mathews has served on SABA North America board of directors.

According to Jones Day, while she was a prosecutor, Mathews uncovered a multi-million dollar fraud in stolen medical equipment and also won one of the highest restitution awards for the Social Security (general public pension) trust fund.

Neomi Rao is the most prominent judicial nominee of Trump, who named her to the federal appeals court in Washington to succeed Brett Kavanaugh, who was elevated to the Supreme Court.

Based in the nation’s capital, that appeals court is considered the most important one after the Supreme Court and a nominee of former President Barack Obama Sri Srinivasan also serves on it.

Amul Thapar was nominated by Trump to an appeals court in Ohio that has jurisdiction over four states.

Rao and Thapar, along with federal court nominee J. Nicholas Ranjan received Senate confirmation.

Two other nominees for federal judgeships, Diane Gujarati and Anuraag Singhal are awaiting Senate action.

 

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