US Choosing Subordinate Partnerships With Asian Powerhouses Over Confrontations

Flournoy: Asia Will be Heart of U.S. Security Policy

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2011 – While the United States is confronting terrorism and hostile regimes in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Libya, leaders also are looking eastward to shape U.S. security policy for the long-term, the Pentagon’s top policy official said last night.

“When future historians look back at this era, I am convinced that the rise of Asia will be noted as the central geo-strategic fact of our time,” Michèle Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, told a packed room of policy experts at Johns Hopkins University’s “Rethinking Seminar” here.

“By most measures, the Asia-Pacific region is the most important and most dynamic region in the world today — and likely to be more so as this still-young century unfolds,” she said.

While the United States still ranks as the world’s largest economy as measured by gross domestic product, the next three largest are China, Japan, and India. As of last year, ten of the world’s 15 fastest-growing economies were in Asia, Flournoy said.

U.S. trade with China rose to an estimated $459 billion last year, compared to $2 billion in 1979, making it the United States’ biggest source of imports and second-largest trading partner, the undersecretary said. At the same time, she said, China’s economy is growing rapidly within Asia, causing the International Monetary Fund to estimate that Asia’s economy will eclipse that of the United States by 2030.

Meanwhile, “Asia sits at the crossroads of the world’s emerging threats” of cyber security, climate change and terrorism, Flournoy said.

This growing importance of Asia means the United States must continue to build and strengthen its alliances there, with a focus on building capacities where needed, and encouraging China and India to use their growth to secure and stabilize the region, Flournoy said.

Despite tensions over Chinese military secrecy and its increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea, Flournoy said, the United States and China “are not inevitably destined for conflict, as some have posited. Even as we manage our differences, we can deepen our cooperation across the full range of our shared interests.”

U.S. military forces must be structured to align with emerging threats, the undersecretary said. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said the U.S. military in the region must be operationally resilient, geographically distributed and politically sustainable.

“We must ensure that our regional allies and partners are confident in the continued strength of our deterrence against the full range of possible threats,” Flournoy said. Strengthened missile defense and long-range reconnaissance and strike are central components, she said.

U.S. officials “think our posture in Northeast Asia is about right,” Flournoy said, but there’s need to expand efforts in Southeast Asia. Rather than building more bases, she said, the U.S. military is focused on working more closely in military-to-military relationships to include combined training, joint patrols, and shared medical and civil engineering missions.

As for alliances, Flournoy said Japan remains a cornerstone of U.S. security policy in the region. U.S. officials are confident of Japan’s ability to recover fully and continue to play a vital role in the region, she said, despite the 9.0 magnitude earthquake, resulting tsunami and ongoing nuclear crisis it has endured since March 11.

The United States will continue to strengthen its ties with South Korea to ensure interoperability of their military forces to preserve stability on the Korean peninsula, she said.

The rise of Asia has made Australia an increasingly strategic location, Flournoy said, which led the United States as the end of last year to establish a working group with the Australians for combined military force posture.

The United States is strengthening alliances with the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, Flournoy said, and must do more with Indonesia and Vietnam. She noted that a small group of U.S. forces have worked quietly in the Philippines since 2001 “in a model of successful counterinsurgency” to prevent al-Qaida from gaining a foothold there.

Flournoy highlighted the work of the U.S. Agency for International Development and other U.S. civilians in the region and said they will remain critical to U.S. relations in Asia.

Despite its challenges elsewhere in the world, Flournoy said, the United States will stay engaged in Asia.
“The United States has proven repeatedly — over decades –that is it fully committed to upholding its strategic obligations throughout Asia. No one in Asia — anywhere in Asia — needs to ask if the U.S. will show up when it is needed.”

Saudi Arabia tightens hold on the media

Saudi Arabia tightens hold on the media


JEDDAH

(Reuters) – Saudi Arabia tightened its control of the media on Friday, threatening fines and closure of publications that jeopardised its stability or offended clerics, state media reported.

The desert kingdom and major U.S. ally has managed to stave off the unrest which has rocked the Arab world, toppling leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.

“All those responsible for publication are banned from publishing … anything contradicting Islamic Sharia Law; anything inciting disruption of state security or public order or anything serving foreign interests that contradict national interests,” the state news agency SPA said.

Saudi Arabia follows an austere version of Sunni Islam and does not tolerate any form of dissent. It has no elected parliament and no political parties.

The tighter media controls were set out in amendments to the media law issued as a royal order late on Friday. They also banned stirring up sectarianism and “anything that causes harm to the general interest of the country.”

Almost no Saudis in major cities answered a Facebook call for protests on March 11, in the face of a massive security presence around the country.

Minority Shi’ites have staged a number of street marches in the Eastern Province, where most of Saudi Arabia’s oil fields are located.

Shi’ites are said to represent between 10 and 15 percent of the country’s 18 million people and have long complained of discrimination, a charge the government denies.

Saudi authorities arrested two Shi’ite bloggers from Eastern Province this week, adding to a total of 160 Saudis detained since February, according to a Human Rights Watch report in April.

Clerics played a major role in banning protests by issuing a religious edict which said that demonstrations are against Islamic law.

In turn, the royal order banned the “infringement of the reputation or dignity, the slander or the personal offence of the Grand Mufti or any of the country’s senior clerics or statesmen.”

King Abdullah has strengthened the security and religious police forces, which played a major role in banning protests in the kingdom.

The amendment published on Friday detailed punishments for breaking the media laws, including a fine of half a million riyals ($133,000) and the shutting down of the publication that published the violation, as well as banning the writer from contributing to any media.

(Reporting by Asma Alsharif; editing by Andrew Heavens)

Saudis protest against Bahrain crackdown

Saudis protest against Bahrain crackdown
By staff and agencies

MANAMA – Crowds of people in Saudi Arabia have taken to the streets to protest against the violent Saudi-backed crackdown on Bahraini anti-government protesters. 

Demonstrators in the eastern city of Qatif denounced Riyadh for backing Bahraini forces in the destruction of mosques and holy sites, Press TV reported on Friday.

On Thursday night, Saudi women also held a candle light vigil in Awamiyah in solidarity with the Bahraini people, chanting slogans against Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

The demonstrations came after Riyadh arrested about 30 activists over the past two days for allegedly taking part in rallies held in Qatif.

More than 100 protesters have been in jail for several weeks since they were arrested in March during demonstrations in Qatif and nearby towns held in support of the people of Bahrain.

Last week, about a dozen human rights organizations and 190 intellectuals from the six countries of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council issued a joint statement calling for the release of political prisoners in Saudi Arabia.

On March 13, Saudi Arabia deployed military forces in Bahrain upon Manama’s request to quell the nationwide protests.

———Four men sentenced to death

In another development, on Thursday a Bahraini military court imposed death sentences for four men convicted of killing two policemen during the recent protests, state media said.

Political analysts say the move will most likely increase sectarian strife in the country.

It was only the third time in more than three decades that a death sentence had been imposed on citizens of Bahrain, a U.S. ally which hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, Reuters reported.

Critics accuse the United States of not responding forcefully enough to Bahrain’s political crackdown due to the tiny nation’s key strategic significance.

The United States issued a measured statement on the death sentences.

Human rights groups and relatives of the condemned men, all Shias, dismissed the proceedings as a farce.

“They were activists in their villages and we think they were targeted because of their activities,” said Nabeel Rajab, the director of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. “This will deepen the gap between the ruling elite and the population.”

In Lebanon, Hezbollah condemned the sentences, saying they were part of the “continuous crime committed by the regime in Bahrain against the people of Bahrain… (who) are exposed to severe oppression because of their request for their legitimate rights.”

Amnesty International said Bahrain should not use the death penalty.

Meanwhile thousands of Bahraini people gathered before a revered cleric on Friday denounced death sentences given to protesters involved in pro-democracy protests, Reuters reported.

Germany also urged Bahrain to rescind the death sentences. “This draconian punishment impedes the process of rapprochement and reconciliation in Bahrain,” German Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke told reporters at a press conference on Friday.

The island kingdom announced earlier this week that 312 people detained under martial law had been released and about 400 others referred for prosecution.

According to local sources, at least 29 people have been killed and hundreds arrested so far during the Saudi-backed clampdown in Bahrain.

Is the Empire Preparing to Give Assad the “Qadaffi Treatment”?

US sanctions target Syrian intelligence service, officials

Dozens more reported killed; protests spread to Damascus

By Joby Warrick and Liz SlyWashington Post

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration slapped sanctions on three Syrian officials and Syria’s intelligence service yesterday in what was described as a warning shot against President Bashar al-Assad’s government after weeks of steadily worsening violence against protesters.

The measures targeting key members of Assad’s security apparatus came amid reports of dozens more deaths across the country as Syrians rallied in several cities — including, for the first time, in large numbers in Damascus, the capital — for a national “Day of Rage’’ denouncing government brutality.

Tens of thousands of Syrians poured out of mosques and into the streets after Friday prayers for what appeared to be the biggest demonstrations yet in the country. The large turnout, after days of deadly clashes, suggests that the will of the protesters remains unbroken despite the government’s stepped-up efforts to crush the uprising.

Human rights groups said that at least 48 people were killed nationwide when troops opened fire on demonstrators yesterday. Fifteen of them were killed outside the southern town of Daraa, the epicenter of the protests and a rallying point for the rebellion after civilians there were besieged by army tanks on Monday.

The Obama administration, facing pressure at home and abroad to act against the Assad regime, announced that it was freezing the assets of Syria’s intelligence service and its director, Ali Mamluk, as well as those of Maher al-Assad, a brother of the president’s and a brigade commander of Syria’s 4th Armored Division. White House officials said the army unit and the intelligence agency played leading roles in the violent attacks that have killed hundreds of people since March 16.

The administration also announced sanctions on Atif Najib, a cousin of the president’s and a political operative in Daraa province, and on Iran’s Quds Force, a paramilitary division of that country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. A Treasury Department statement announcing the sanctions accused the Iranian group of providing material support to the Syrian intelligence service in the crackdown.

US officials made clear that the sanctions were intended to pressure Assad to halt the violence. The presidential order authorizing the economic penalties also permits the administration to add the names of any Syrian government officials who participated in the attacks on protesters or were “complicit’’ in them.

“This sharpens the choice for Syrian leaders who are involved in the decisions,’’ Jake Sullivan, the State Department’s director of policy planning, told reporters.

Another administration official familiar with internal discussions about Syria policy added: “If this continues, Assad could be next.’’

The White House has been frustrated by a lack of diplomatic options in dealing with Syria, a country that is barred from most trade with the United States and is labeled a terrorist-sponsoring nation by the State Department. Washington continues to maintain formal diplomatic ties with Damascus, and the administration has not called on Assad to step down, as it did in the case of Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy and now-deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Several key congressional leaders this week pressed the administration to break publicly with Assad, saying the Syrian leader has lost legitimacy. On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council added to the pressure with a resolution condemning the killing of protesters and appointing a delegation to travel to Damascus to investigate the crackdown.

© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.

A great day for Palestine

A great day for Palestine      

Khalid Amayreh - amayreh@p-ol.com

The Palestine Information Center
http://www.palestine-info.co.uk

Much to the chagrin of the hateful Zionist entity, Hamas and Fatah seem to have reached a final agreement, putting an end to four years of a crippling national rift which exhausted the Palestinian people as never before and gave Israel a valuable opportunity to try liquidate the Palestinian cause.

News of the agreement has already generated instantaneous reactions of excitement and joy, even euphoria in the occupied territories.

Motorists honked their car horns, youngsters took to the streets
shouting “Fatah and Hamas: one people not two.” Some women ululated with joy as Fatah and Hamas leaders appeared on TV screens in Cairo,
announcing the conclusion of the long-awaited agreement.  Some
restaurants and eateries offered free coffee, tea and juices as
celebrations went on until around midnight.

On the Israeli side, Israeli leaders were visibly angry and
disappointed, with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyah threatening the
Palestinian leadership with what looked like a virtual ultimatum:

“The PA would have to choose between peace with Hamas and peace with Israel. It can’t choose both.”

One Fatah official retorted: “We also say Israel would have to
choose between peace with the Palestinian people and peace with racist settlers, it can’t choose both.”

Well, Netanyahu’s threats should be rejected outright and treated with the utter contempt they deserve.

After all, this is an internal Palestinian matter and Israel has absolutely no right to intervene in our internal affairs.

Netanyahu may argue that Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel. Well,
Netanyahu should be reminded that he presides over a government the bulk of which doesn’t recognize Palestine.

In the final analysis, why should Hamas, or for that matter Fatah,
recognize Israel when Israel refuses to recognize the very existence of the Palestinian people.

So, if the next Palestinian government of national unity shouldn’t
include groups that don’t recognize Israel, by the same token,
Palestinians have the right to demand that any Israeli government must exclude groups and parties that don’t recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.

Needless to say, the current Israeli government includes explicitly fascist parties that don’t even recognize the very existence
of the Palestinian people.

The conclusion of the reconciliation agreement in Cairo has really
dealt a sharp blow to nefarious Zionist designs. Israel first lost a
great strategic asset in the dramatic downfall of the Mubarak dynasty
and now we have these good tidings from Cairo.  More good news is coming up, inshallah (God willing).

Netanyahu and other Zionist supremacists may rant and rave for as
long as they may. This shouldn’t shake even one hair on our bodies.

None the less, we must not be too preoccupied with self- congratulating ourselves on this auspicious occasion.  Yes there is
no doubt that the present that both Hamas and Fatah have handed over to the Palestinian people is great.

However, we must work overtime to rectify and correct all that
went wrong during these gloomy four years. Prisoners or detainees must be set free, media incitement must end immediately, closed institutions must be reopened; and human rights and civil liberties must be reinstituted. Also grievances must be settled and hard feelings soothed
and reconciled.

In short, we must get the slate clean as soon as possible and
allow for the total obliteration of all the scars of division.

In this agreement, there seems to be only winners. Everyone is
winning as a result of this breakthrough except Israel and the enemies of our people.

Hamas has won by having all its conditions and objections met. We
must not forget that Hamas was supposed to be destroyed according to the American-Zionist designs; so the fact that Hamas has remained a hard, independent variable is indeed a great achievement. This proves that not everything Palestinian must be subject to the Zionist will.

Fatah has also won by showing Israel that Fatah won’t be co-opted
and manipulated against Palestinian national interest. Fatah won by
demonstrating that it will remain a national and patriotic movement
despite American and Israeli designs.

And the Palestinian people has won by overcoming one of the most
formidable internal crises ever to  mar the Palestinian struggle for
freedom  from the claws of diabolic Zionism.

We must also thank our big sister, Egypt, without which the
conclusion of this agreement wouldn’t have been possible.  The
revolutionary leadership in Cairo must be applauded for its tireless
efforts and dedication to bring about this paramount national
reconciliation among the brothers in Palestine. This should be a good
omen for the future.

Finally, we Palestinians should instill in ourselves a feeling of
optimism. The restoration of Palestinian national unity, along with the strategic changes in the Arab region, is huge assets and opportunities that should be utilized for the ultimate liberation of Palestine.