Archive | International Relations & Treaties

Hu Jintao to Join Obama for Private White House Dinner

On the first night of his highly anticipated visit to the States, Chinese President Hu Jintao will join U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday evening for a private dinner at the White House, The Associated Press reported.

With Washington and Beijing divided on a number of delicate issues, some U.S. analysts feel that Hu’s trip to the U.S. will be the most important state visit in 30 years.

The U.S. and China in 2010 squabbled over trade in rare earth minerals for the clean energy industry, navigation rights, North Korean attacks on South Korea, and the Chinese currency.

The president’s agenda said he is scheduled to eat with Hu in the Old Family Dining Room about 24 hours before a black-tie White House state dinner.

In the morning, Obama received daily briefings and met with senior advisers. He was scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the afternoon.

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Jean-Claude Duvalier Returns to Haiti

Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the former Haitian president who was ousted by popular revolt 25 years ago, is back in the Caribbean island nation.

Accompanied by his partner Veronique Roy, the 59-year-old arrived in Port-au-Prince from France Sunday night, simply telling reporters, “I’ve come to help.”

Roy told reporters that Duvalier kissed the ground when he got off the plane, declaring “Haiti my country, the country of Dessalines,” Haiti Libre reported.

The ex-dictator was appointed president for life upon the 1971 death of his father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who ruled from 1957.

He was overthrown by a popular uprising and exiled to France in 1986 after he and his supporters were accused of stealing tens of millions of dollars from state funds.

The unexpected return comes as Haiti, still battered by last year’s devastating earthquake, struggles with a cholera outbreak and a controversial Nov. 28 presidential election that still hasn’t been resolved.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch condemned Duvalier’s return and urged Haiti to arrest and prosecute him.

“Duvalier’s return to Haiti should be for one purpose only: to face justice,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director of Human Rights Watch, according to Al Jazeera.

“Under the presidency of Duvalier and his Tonton Macoutes, thousands were killed and tortured, and hundreds of thousands of Haitians fled into exile. His time to be held accountable is long overdue.

“Haiti has enough troubles without Duvalier. Duvalier’s presence — unless he is immediately arrested — is a slap in the face to a people which has already suffered so much.”

President Rene Preval said in 2007 that Duvalier would be held accountable for his crimes were he to return.

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Taliban Sets Ablaze 16 NATO Vehicles in Pakistan

Taliban militants in southwestern Pakistan on Saturday attacked a NATO convoy transporting fuel supplies to troops in Afghanistan, officials said.

The attackers set 16 oil tankers on fire before dawn outside the town of Dera Murad Jamali, some 250 miles southeast of Quetta, AFP reports.

Local administration chief Abdul Fatah Khajjak told AFP that the militants rode in a car and opened fire on the vehicles. A driver’s assistant was wounded in the shooting.

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq claimed responsibility for the incident, saying the attack was “in retaliation to drone attacks in tribal areas,” according to AFP.

The U.S. doubled such attacks in the last year, killing more than 650 people with about 100 drone strikes, AFP said.

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Tunisia Announces New Government

Tunisia announced Monday a new national unity government following the ouster of longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The transitional government immediately implemented new media freedoms and lifted a ban on the Tunisian League for Human Rights, the country’s central human rights group.

The government retains six of Ben Ali’s cabinet, including Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi. It also includes three members of the opposition party.

Ben Ali, who first rose to power after a bloodless coup in 1987, fled to Saudi Arabia Friday after weeks of demonstrations against his Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party in the capital of Tunis.

Fed up with high unemployment and reports of government corruption, Tunisians began the violent demonstrations in mid-December following the public suicide of a local man, who has since been hailed as a martyr for the cause.

In the chaotic days since Ben Ali’s downfall, the international community has offered its immediate support. United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon called on newly appointed Tunisian authorities “to ensure a prompt restoration of the rule of law,” while the United States and European Union offered aid in organizing elections.

“Tunisia wants to be a stable democracy, in full respect of fundamental rights and freedoms. It wants free and fair, inclusive elections. We will support Tunisia in their endeavors to achieve this,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said, according to AFP.

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Hillary Clinton Calls for “Real Action” in U.S.-China Summit

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is urging China to join the U.S. in confronting a host of shared political and economic issues.

With Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state visit fast approaching, Clinton said in a speech Friday that U.S.-China relations are at a “critical juncture” and that both nations must work together to build a “positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship.”

“It is up to both nations to translate the high-level pledges of summits and state visits into action. Real action, on real issues,” she said.

Washington and Beijing battled last year over a number of problems including trade in rare earth minerals for the clean energy industry, navigation rights, North Korean attacks on South Korea, and the Chinese currency.

Some U.S. analysts feel that Hu’s trip to the U.S. next week will be the most important visit in 30 years, Reuters reports.

“Global recession, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, piracy on the high seas — these are threats that affect us all, including China. And China should join us in confronting them,” Clinton said.

Clinton also urged China to use its “unique ties” with North Korea and persuade it to curb its nuclear arms programs.

“It is vital that China join with us in sending North Korea an unequivocal signal that its recent provocations — including the announced uranium enrichment program — are unacceptable and in violation of Security Council resolutions,” she said.

Clinton called for the release of jailed Chinese dissidents, including the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo.

“Some in the region and some here at home see China’s growth as a threat that will lead either to Cold War-style conflict or American decline, and some in China worry that the United States is bent on containing China’s rise and constraining China’s growth,” she said.

“We reject those views,” Clinton said.

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Tunis: President Dismisses Gov’t Amid Riots

After thousands of demonstrators marched through the Tunisian capital of Tunis to demand the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali Friday, the autocratic leader has decided to dismiss his government.

The iron-fisted president, who has been in power for 23 years, also said he would call early legislative elections in six months, The Associated Press reports.

The people of Tunisia have enjoyed relative prosperity since Ben Ali came to power in a bloodless coup in 1987: Tunis, the North African city on the Mediterranean known for its beaches and ancient ruins, is a thriving tourist attraction. Until recently, Tunisians have tolerated the autocratic government in exchange for political stability and peace.

But simmering frustrations over high unemployment and reports of government corruption have erupted in violence in recent weeks. 23 people have been killed in the demonstrations, which began in mid-December – and that’s just the official death toll, opposition figures say. It’s likely that dozens more have been killed.

In an attempt to placate demonstrators, Ben Ali went on television Thursday, promising freedom of the press and political transparency. He also said he would resign when his term ends in 2014, and ordered price cuts on foodstuffs.

After his speech, thousands held a rally in support of the ruler on the main drag of Avenue Bourguiba, chanting, “Long live Ben Ali!”, AP reports. Some say the event was staged by the powerful ruling RCD party.

Regardless, the speech did not seem to appease the majority of demonstrators, who turned out for a massive riot Friday. Ben Ali’s regime fired rounds of tear gas at thousands of protesters in the center of the capital.

Ben Ali has declared a state of emergency as violence continues to escalate, AP said.

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Solar Panels: Pentagon Must Buy American

A new military appropriations bill signed by President Barack Obama on Friday will require the Defense Department to purchase solar panels exclusively from the United States.

The “Buy American” provision may add to the list of growing tensions with China, which is the world’s largest exporter of green energy materials.

U.S. leaders believe that China unfairly subsidizes its clean energy sector, taking business away from the American solar and wind industries. The Obama administation has ordered an investigation into the matter and brought the issue before the World Trade Organization on Dec. 22.

The solar panel provision passed the House and Senate during the tail-end of the lame-duck session of Congress before the holiday break, and was carefully written to agree with WTO rules so that China will have less of a chance of getting it overturned, the New York Times reports.

The measure also imposes a Buy American mandate on other green technologies such as “energy savings performance contracts, utility service contracts, land leases, and private housing contracts.”

Despite China’s criticism of such stipulations in the past, the nation required in the spring of 2009 that the entirety of its $600 billion economic stimulus be spent within China.

The new rule comes as Chinese President Hu Jintao prepares for a visit to the U.S. next week.

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Salmaan Taseer Assassinated by Own Guard in Islamabad

Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s largest province, was assassinated in Islamabad by one of his security force protectors Tuesday, officials said.

A report by the Associated Press of Pakistan said that the Punjab governor was shot while riding in his motorcade through a market district in the nation’s capital.

Police official Mohammad Iftikhar told AP that Taseer was shot by a member of his own guard, who later surrendered to the police. Five others were wounded in relation to the Islamabad attack.

Taseer, a senior member of the ruling party (the Pakistan Peoples Party), was against Pakistan’s blasphemy law. The attacker said he disagreed with Taseer’s opposition to the policy.

He was rushed to Polyclinic in a critical condition before he died, the News Tribe reported. He had been shot 27 times.

Meanwhile, more violence erupted in the southwestern city of Turbat when a school bus near a girl’s school was bombed, UPI reports. Five children were wounded, one of them critically. No group has claimed responsibility for the blast.

On Monday, five ostensibly politically motivated murders took place in Karachi, UPI said. A violent mob spilled into the streets and set fire to to buses, a rickshaw and a hotel after a local politician was gunned down.

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China Cuts Rare Earth Exports; U.S. Concerned

China plans to slash its exports of rare earth minerals used worldwide in high-tech products and clean energy, a decision that could cause strain with the United States.

The Commerce Ministry said Tuesday that it will scale back the export quotas 11 percent in the first half of 2011.

China churns out 97 percent of the global supply of rare earth elements, which are essential components of high-technology products like cell phones, computer drives, and hybrid cars, AP reports.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office voiced concern over the move.

“We are very concerned about China’s export restraints on rare earth materials. We have raised our concerns with China and we are continuing to work closely on the issue with stakeholders,” a USTR spokeswoman said, according to Reuters.

The announcement comes amid growing tensions between the U.S. and China. China lowered its export quota by 40 percent in 2010 and last week shot down U.S. requests to end the restraints. The USTR says the United States may bring the dispute before the World Trade Organization, Reuters reports.

China is allocating 14,446 tons of rare earths among 31 companies.

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North Korea Threatens “Sacred War”

North Korea threatened to start a “sacred” nuclear war against South Korea Thursday after Seoul staged more artillery drills near the North Korean border.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that defense chief Kim Yong Chun announced that Korea was “fully prepared to launch a sacred war” against its neighbor. Kim said that the North would make use of its nuclear resources if attacked and warned the South against encroaching upon North Korean territory.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have mounted steadily this week as South Korea staged military drills on Yeonpyeong Island. Last month the North shelled the island, killing two civilians and two marines.

South Korea staged the largest live-fire drills on Thursday, mobilizing missiles artillery, attack helicopters, rocket systems, and fighter jets. About 800 troops participated in the exercise, UPI reported.

South Korean officials said the display was meant to dissuade North Korea from provocative action.

UPI reported that the White House maintains its support of South Korea.

“I think exercises that have been announced well in advance, that are transparent, that are defensive in nature should in no way engender a response from the North Koreans,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. “Everybody, I think, in the world is aware that they’re happening. And they are exercises that are defensive in nature. The United States is obviously supportive of the Republic of Korea.”

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