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Member since: 2003 before July 6th
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Beneath The Radar, A Russia-Pakistan Entente Takes Shape

One of the early calls that Vladimir Putin took following his expected victory in the Russian presidential election last weekend was from Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. He congratulated Putin on his success and invited him to visit Islamabad in September which the Russian leader accepted, according to newspaper reports citing an official statement.

It would be the first visit by a Russian head of state to Pakistan which stood on the other side of the Cold War, peaking in its emergence as the staging ground for the U.S. campaign to defeat the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan. It’s now again the frontline state in America’s war against Islamist militants in Afghanistan, but it is a far more conflicted partner than those days of war against the godless communists. So fraught and uncertain is the nature of the relationship with the United States that Pakistan has sought to deepen ties with long-time ally China, but also Russia, the other great power in a dangerously unstable neighbourhood.

Last year Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari made the first official visit to Russia by a Pakistani head of state in 37 years after Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s trip to Moscow. The visit capped a series of exchanges including on the sidelines of a four-way summit that Russia has promoted involving Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, besides Moscow, to discuss regional security. Zardari and outgoing President Dmitri Medvedev have met six times in the past three years, according to a count by an Indian security affairs expert, and last month Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was in Moscow negotiating an agreement to guide futue ties including Russian investment in the Pakistani economy.

There is always a risk of reading too much into bilateral exchanges that you would expect between two major countries, both nuclear powers with shared interests in the region. Visits alone don’t transform ties, and especially ones with a troubled history behind them. And then there is India to be factored in, both for Russia and Pakistan. Moscow has long stood in India’s corner from the days of the Cold War to its role as a top weapons supplier to the Indian military, still ahead of the Israelis fast clawing their way into one of the world’s most lucrative arms markets.A nuclear-powered submarine has just sailed from Russia to be inducted into the Indian navy - a force-multiplier in the military with the sub’s ability to stay beneath waters long and deep and far from home.



UN Women's Rights Panel Due To Culminate Annual Session By Condemning Israel

By Shlomo Shamir

The United Nations ' Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), scheduled to wrap up its annual session on Friday, is expected to pass a resolution condemning Israel's part in the degrading of living conditions for Palestinian women, while failing to mention the mistreatment of women in the ongoing crisis in Syria.

Friday's session will include such professional resolution as concerning "woman and natural disasters," "women hostages," women and girls and AIDS," and "mortality among women.

However, the panel is expected to also an eight-clause resolution, determining that the "Israeli occupation" in territories, including East Jerusalem, is the main obstacle for the advancement of the Palestinian woman.

The panel, which includes representatives from 45 countries, including Israel, is considered to be one of the UN's most active and respected bodies.



Russia Says 15,000 Foreign "Terrorists" In Syria

By Tom Miles

GENEVA | Thu Mar 8, 2012 1:52pm EST

(Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is battling al Qaeda-backed "terrorists" including at least 15,000 foreign fighters who will seize towns across Syria if government troops withdraw, a Russian diplomat said on Thursday.

Russia is a staunch defender of Syria despite international condemnation of the crackdown by Assad's forces and evidence of human rights abuses against unarmed civilians.

Addressing a one-day humanitarian forum on Syria at the United Nations in Geneva, Russia's deputy ambassador Mikhail Lebedev said rebels had recently committed large-scale attacks against Syrian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals.

"Rebel groups attack, kill, torture and intimidate the civilian population. The flow of all kind of terrorists from some neighboring countries is always increasing," Lebedev told the forum.



Consumer Confidence in U.S. Rises to Highest Level in Four Years

Source: Bloomberg

Household confidence improved last week to a four-year high as more Americans said the economy was improving and decided it was a good time to shop.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index (COMFCOMF) was minus 36.7 in the period ended March 4, the highest since April 2008, up from minus 38.8 in the prior period. The gauge on the state of the economy reached a one-year high, while the buying-climate measure climbed to a level last exceeded in December 2009.

For a fifth straight week, half of those surveyed also rated their personal finances as positive, bolstered by a resilient stock market, faster job growth and rising wages. Stronger household balance sheets may be helping ease the sting of the steepest gasoline prices in almost a year.

“Consumers are much more comfortable about their own personal financial situations, which is largely negating the recent rise in gasoline prices,” said Joe Brusuelas, a senior economist at Bloomberg LP in New York. “That said, consumer confidence remains at the low end of the historical range.”

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-08/u-s-consumer-confidence-reaches-a-four-year-high-bloomberg-index-shows.html

Palestinians To Submit 20 Sites For UNESCO World Heritage Listing

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, March 8, 2012 6:33 EST

The Palestinians are poised to submit the names of 20 sites in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza for addition to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites, an official said on Thursday.

“Within the next few days, we will submit a tentative list of 20 sites to be added to the list,” Omar Awadallah, head of the UN department at the Palestinian foreign ministry, told AFP.

Palestine was accepted as a full member state of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation last year, over objections from Israel and the United States, and despite not having full United Nations membership.

But its tenure as a full UNESCO member came into force on Thursday, and diplomats now plan to move quickly to register Palestinian sites.



AP Exclusive: Iran May Be Cleaning up Nuke Work

Satellite images of an Iranian military facility appear to show trucks and earth-moving vehicles at the site, indicating an attempted cleanup of radioactive traces possibly left by tests of a nuclear-weapon trigger, diplomats told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The assertions from the diplomats, all nuclear experts accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency, could add to the growing international pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes.

While the U.S. and the EU are backing a sanctions-heavy approach, Israel has warned that it may resort to a pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities to prevent it from obtaining atomic weapons.

Two of the diplomats said the crews at the Parchin military site may be trying to erase evidence of tests of a small experimental neutron device used to set off a nuclear explosion. A third diplomat could not confirm that but said any attempt to trigger a so-called neutron initiator could only be in the context of trying to develop nuclear arms.



Rush Limbaugh Sculpture Is Planned For Missouri Statehouse

When Thomas Hart Benton's murals depicting Missouri state history for the Capitol building in Jefferson City were unveiled in 1937, deep in the dark days of the Great Depression, a clamor arose over the artist's inclusion of corrupt Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast. Within a few years, Pendergast would be locked away in Leavenworth -- something about failure to pay taxes on bribes received -- but Benton was adamant in defending his mural's depiction.

Facts were facts, truth was beauty. Everything in the mural had happened in Missouri history, Benton insisted, and if he had been hired to paint a mural for Illinois he would have included Al Capone.

Pretty much the same defense is now coming from Missouri Republican Steve Tilley, speaker of the House, who recently chose conservative radio shock-jock Rush Limbaugh to be immortalized in a bronze sculpture inside the state Capitol. Limbaugh is currently bleeding advertisers in the wake of a three-day diatribe demeaning a law student as a "slut" and a "prostitute" for her position on women's healthcare. The broadcaster lives in Palm Beach, Fla., but was born in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

“It’s not the 'Hall of Universally Loved Missourians,’” Tilley told the Kansas City Star in defense of his decision, now the subject of a petition drive to halt the move. “It’s the Hall of Famous Missourians.”



General: Syrian Air Defense Complicates US Options


(03-06) 09:11 PST WASHINGTON, (AP) --

The top U.S. commander in the Middle East told senators Tuesday that the advanced air defense weapons Russia has provided to Syria's regime would make it difficult to establish a no-fly zone there as part of an effort to help the rebellion.

Marine Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, declined to detail any military options the Pentagon has developed for action against the regime. But he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it would take a significant military commitment to create even safe havens in Syria where aid could be delivered, as Sen. John McCain suggested Monday.

Senators repeatedly pressed for options to stem the brutal offensive against the Syrian people by President Bashar Assad's regime. And they questioned Iran's involvement there, as well as Tehran's ongoing efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

McCain said he is growing angry over the argument that the U.S. and others want to figure out who the Syrian opposition is before providing greater aid to them. A lot of people will die before that happens, he said.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2012/03/05/national/w230807S53.DTL

Obama’s Flashing Red Light To Netanyahu On Iran

By Anne Penketh - 03/06/12 11:45 AM ET

Judging from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC last night, you would think that he received a green light from President Obama to attack Iran unilaterally.

My reading of their meeting at the White House yesterday was that although Obama recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself “by itself,” as he said in his own speech to AIPAC on Sunday, he is asking Netanyahu to hold fire. So in the terms of the driver’s manual, Obama has issued a flashing red signal. Not a green light. Not a flashing yellow light meaning proceed with caution. But a flashing red light that means: Come to a complete stop and proceed when the way is clear.

After much careful messaging since Sunday, in which Obama had urged more time for a diplomatic solution with Iran, while stating that a “military effort” is part of the contingency planning, Netanyahu was back off message last night, repeating that diplomacy hadn’t worked, sanctions wouldn’t work and time is running out to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He contradicted Obama, who earlier in the day had said that “both the prime minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically. We understand the costs of any military action.”

Netanyahu doesn’t have the strategic patience. “None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation,” he said, invoking memories of the Holocaust.



Netanyahu Takes Iran Nuclear Campaign to U.S. Congress After Obama Meeting

By Jonathan Ferziger and Margaret Talev - Tue Mar 06 16:19:14 GMT 2012

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his campaign for stopping Iran’s nuclear program to Congress today after telling President Barack Obama his country must be free to decide whether to take military action.

Netanyahu, who met with Obama at the White House yesterday morning, ended the day with a speech to American Jewish leaders in which he said he won’t let Israel live in the “shadow of annihilation.”

While Netanyahu praised Obama for leading a campaign to toughen economic sanctions on Iran, he said such actions haven’t led Iran to curtail its nuclear program and Israel must be able to defend itself. Iran has said its nuclear development is for peaceful purposes, and the prospect of confrontation in a region with more than half the world’s oil reserves has helped send crude prices soaring.

“None of us can afford to wait much longer,” Netanyahu said before about 14,000 members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee at the Washington Convention Center.


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