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Japan launches 4th spy satelliteTOKYO, Japan (AP) -- Japan launched its fourth spy satellite Saturday, stepping up its ability to gather intelligence from orbit and to keep a close eye on neighboring North Korea's nuclear program.
The satellite, along with a smaller test prototype, was launched from the country's space center on a remote southern Japan island atop an H-2A rocket, the workhorse of Japan's space program.
Japanese space agency spokesman Satoki Kurokawa described the liftoff -- which had been postponed three times due to poor weather -- as a success. Television footage showed the rocket racing up through cloudy skies.
The launch of the radar satellite enhances a multibillion dollar (euro), decade-old plan for Japan to have round-the-clock surveillance of the secretive North and other areas Japan wants to peer in on.
But weaknesses in the satellites' capabilities have led to criticism that the program is a waste of money and, with better data available on the commercial market, that Japan will continue to be dependent on Washington for its core intelligence.
The launch also comes just a month after China demonstrated its ability to shoot satellites out of orbit with ground-based missiles. Japan and other countries, including the United States, have strongly protested Beijing's anti-satellite test.
China has defended the test as peaceful, and said it presents no country with a threat.
Japanese space officials say the satellites provide an important means for the country to independently collect intelligence, and say improvements in the satellites' capabilities are in the works.
The prototype launched Saturday, for example, features higher-resolution optics that can be used in the future to improve the quality of the satellites' photographs from orbit.
Japan launched its first pair of spy satellites into orbit in March 2003. The program grew out of concern following North Korea's launch of a ballistic missile over Japan's main island in 1998.
The government's original plan was to put a total of eight intelligence-gathering satellites into orbit through 2006. However, it suffered a major setback in November 2003, when a rocket carrying the second set of spy satellites malfunctioned and was destroyed in mid-flight.
Officials say they are back on course now.
"Our crisis management has improved substantially," said Yasuhiro Itakura of the Cabinet office in charge of the program.
Though Japan's intelligence-gathering satellites are not under military control, Japan's ruling party proposed late last year that the military be allowed to use the country's space program. The proposal still needs to be approved by Parliament.
Since 1969, Japan's space program has been limited by a parliamentary resolution committed to peaceful uses. The new proposal would restrict military use of the program to self-defense, officials say.
Cheney: Realistic over N. Korea dealSYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney on Friday said Washington has a realistic view of recent steps in North Korea's nuclear weapons program, and also expressed concern about China's military buildup.
"We go into this deal with our eyes open," Cheney told members of the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue during a Friday speech in Sydney about the recent agreements with Pyongyang.
"In light of North Korea's missile tests last July, its nuclear test in October and its record of proliferation and human rights abuses, the regime in Pyongyang has much to prove. Yet this agreement represents a first hopeful step toward a better future for the North Korean people."
In an agreement that followed three years of talks, North Korea agreed earlier this month that it would halt its production of plutonium and begin closing down its nuclear program in exchange for $300 million in energy and financial aid. (Full story.)
But the former U.S. point man at the United Nations, John Bolton, publicly blasted the deal, saying it would encourage other countries to seek nuclear weapons.
U.S. President George W. Bush said last week that this agreement was different from the 1994 pact that his administration claims Pyongyang violated by trying to develop a uranium enrichment program. In this case, Bush said, North Korea's neighbors -- China, Russia, Japan and South Korea -- are acting in concert with Washington.
Worries about China
Cheney arrived in Australia after talks in Tokyo with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in which China's military rise and its growing clout in the region were high on the agenda.
"Last month's anti-satellite test and China's continued, fast-paced military buildup are less constructive and not consistent with China's stated goal of a peaceful rise," Cheney said. But he said he held out hope China would emerge as "a force for stability and peace in this region."
The Bush administration took office in 2001 with a more confrontational stance toward China than its predecessor, the Clinton administration, had taken. But it relied heavily on Beijing's influence with the Stalinist government in Pyongyang during the North Korean nuclear talks.
Cheney was scheduled to hold talks Friday with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a leading supporter of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. The war has been unpopular in Australia, and anti-war demonstrators held protests in Sydney as Cheney spoke. (Full story.)
Australia has more than 1,400 troops in and around Iraq, and Cheney was scheduled to meet with members of the country's military Friday. He said the United States and Australia "are determined to prevail in Iraq, because we understand the consequences of failure."
Australia was one of the first nations to commit to the Iraq war, and despite the relatively small number of troops, Howard has been one of the most vocal supporters of the U.S.-led war.
Cheney praised Australian Prime Minister John Howard's commitment to the war, according to news services. The Australian commitment is being increasingly questioned and likely to become an election issue in the country.
"Prime Minister Howard and the nation he serves has never wavered on the war on terror," Cheney said, according to Reuters news service.
Howard -- whose ruling center-right Liberal Party will face Australian voters in October -- wandered into American electoral politics earlier this month by criticizing Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's call for a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. He told an Australian television interviewer that "If I was running al Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory, not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats."
Obama, a Democratic presidential hopeful, shot back that if Howard was still "ginned up" about the nearly 4-year-old war, "I would suggest that he calls up another 20,000 Australians and send them to Iraq."
U.S. admiral questions Iran's motivesBy Barbara Starr
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House on Tuesday emphasized diplomacy over potential military action against Iran -- just a day after a top naval commander questioned the intentions behind Iran's recent exercises in the Persian Gulf.
Meeting with reporters at his headquarters in Bahrain on Monday, Vice Adm. Patrick Walsh, commander of the Fifth Fleet, said Iran is sending a message to the region that is "provocative and intimidating."
"Specifically, the concern with Iran is the combination of rhetoric and the exercises have taken on a very bellicose and pugnacious tone."
Walsh told reporters he was not trying to add to tensions with Iran, but said, "The trend line with Iran is one that is very concerning and troubling."
U.S. military officials also say Iranian patrol boats have probed defensive measures near Iraqi offshore oil terminals. The officials called those moves part of a continuing effort by Iran to raise its naval presence in the Gulf.
Top Bush administration officials, including President Bush, have denied the United States plans military action against Iran, and their complaints about Iranian meddling in Iraq are being met with doubt and alarm by many observers.
The Bush administration on Tuesday blasted those critics who say it's preparing for military action against Iran, warning that such speculation could undercut diplomatic efforts to break the impasse over Tehran's nuclear program. (Full story.)
"It's just been an interesting tactic in terms of trying to create a sense of aggression on the part of this administration that is not only unwarranted, but unwelcome in terms of trying to do diplomatically what we think ought to be done with Iran," White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters.
Snow said "suspicion and skepticism" could hinder efforts to persuade Iran to halt its production of nuclear fuel, as the United Nations has demanded, "right after we've demonstrated the success of diplomacy in North Korea using the same means and methods that we're trying to employ with the Iranians."
"Therefore, it just strikes as curious why people persist in trying to stoke up rumors about something that simply isn't true," he said.
However, the Navy commander's remarks added new fuel to the rumors.
Walsh said the exercises and training by Iran that involve the areas around the Strait of Hormuz are his "greatest concern."
For Iran "to focus on the most constricted part of the gulf which serves as the economic artery to the community of nations is one that we can only conclude is an act done in provocation; to intimidate and to strike fear in those in the region," he said.
Walsh noted that a year ago he told reporters that the contacts the U.S. Navy had with the Iranians in the Persian Gulf were professional, but now the tone has changed.
"When they take that tone and they have very aggressive displays of a warlike bellicose sort of attitude, it's hard for me to arrive at that same characterization," he said.
Bush's January announcement that he had ordered a second aircraft carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf and would share Patriot air-defense missile systems with U.S. allies in the region raised fears that the Iraq war could spread. So have its accusations that Iran is supplying advanced explosives to Shiite Muslim militias inside Iraq.
American-led raids have led to the arrests of several Iranians, and the administration has authorized the use of deadly force against suspected Iranian agents in Iraq. But Snow said the issue is being dealt with as a force-protection measure within Iraq
Guinea lawmakers reject president's martial law requestCONAKRY, Guinea (Reuters) -- Guinea's Parliament on Friday refused a request from President Lansana Conte to extend martial law in a rare act of defiance against his autocratic rule over the West African country.
The period of martial law, imposed nationwide 11 days ago to quell violent protests accompanying a general strike, was to expire later Friday, but the president asked the National Assembly to prolong it, citing security concerns.
"The assembly deputies present unanimously refuse to renew martial law," National Assembly President Aboubacar Sompare told Parliament after a vote on Conte's request.
This meant the martial law rules, which gave the military sweeping search-and-arrest powers and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew, would cease at midnight Friday.
Union leaders say Conte, a reclusive diabetic in his 70s who has ruled since 1984, is unfit to govern, and they are demanding he appoint a new, neutral prime minister with powers to hire and fire ministers. They had criticized Conte's plan to extend martial law and said their strike would continue until he named a new premier.
"The strike is maintained. ... This initiative of Conte's will only radicalize our movement," union negotiator Boubacar Biro Barry said before meeting West African mediators.
Strike leaders had relaunched their stoppage after he chose a close ally, Eugene Camara, as prime minister despite having agreed to name a consensus figure.
More than 120 people, mostly unarmed civilians, have been killed since the beginning of the year in clashes between security forces and protesters.
The imposition of martial law restored some calm to the former French colony, keeping protesters off the streets by giving the army the right to shoot looters and troublemakers.
Union leaders met with Nigeria's former military ruler, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, who is leading a delegation from the Economic Community of West African States to push for a negotiated settlement.
The unrest in Guinea has raised concerns that growing protests could shatter a fragile peace in the wider region, particularly in neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia, which are just starting to recover from civil wars.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said Conte must work with all parties to stop the political crisis from deteriorating into bloodshed and threatening neighbor states.
"If anything happens to Guinea, it could spill over. All our borders are porous," she told Reuters in an interview in Rwanda.
Disgruntled Guineans struggle for changeCONAKRY, Guinea (AP) -- Farmer Mohamed Conte tried to ignore his West African country's turbulent politics until a week ago, when soldiers riding with a passing presidential convoy shot him in the leg as anti-government protests raged across the capital.
Laying in an overflowing hospital ward full of gunshot victims with similar stories, the 62-year-old says he's joining the masses: he wants Guinea's longtime president to go.
"If someone shot you in your foot, would you continue to support him?" he asks, gesturing to the bloody bandage wrapped from toe to thigh. He says he wasn't protesting, just walking near the road.
In a country known for totalitarian rule and government corruption, the tide may be turning against longtime ruler President Lansana Conte, and people are speaking out more than ever before, urging him to step down. Facing protests, riots and nationwide strikes this month for the third time in less than 10 months, Conte, said to be 73, has hit back with a harsh crackdown, declaring martial law last week for the first time in decades. (Full Story.)
"We have never seen this kind of reaction before," Giles Yabi, a Guinea analyst for Brussels-based conflict think tank International Crisis Group, said of the popular protests. "We have a real tipping point in that they continue to take the streets."
But in their quest to remove Conte union leaders backed by a disgruntled population are walking a risky tightrope. The challenge is how to do it without sparking a military coup or more violence.
Conte, who has ruled this west African nation since 1984, justified his imposition of martial law by saying it was the only way to avoid civil war.
Unions called their first strike a year ago demanding unpaid wages for teachers and salary increases for civil servants to help offset surging prices for staples like rice. Most Guineans live in poverty even though their country boasts about half the world's bauxite -- an ingredient in aluminum -- along with deposits of iron ore, gold and diamonds.
Seeing no change by summer, they followed with a general strike in June that shut down the country for more than a week. Non-union members stayed home in solidarity and youth rioted in empty streets. About 10 people died.
Last month, union demands got more political: they called for the trial of a government official and a businessman accused of graft, then took up the cries of protesters and demanded Conte step down. Thousands marched on the capital and met government forces who shot or killed at least 59 people.
The unions struck a compromise deal with the president: he would name an independent prime minister who would take over much of the running of the government. Conte selected a Cabinet minister and longtime ally to the post instead, prompting more protests.
At least 47 people have died in the capital alone in the latest wave of clashes with security forces and rioting. Rights groups say dozens more died in clashes and looting in the interior.
Bakary Fofana, one of the heads of Guinea's council of civil society organizations, says people will continue to protest.
"People are getting used to the gunshots," says Bakary Fofana, one of the heads of Guinea's council of civil society organizations. "The noise of weapons doesn't make them afraid anymore."
The unions, meanwhile, continue their dance with the government. They've again backed off demands for Conte to step down, saying they want him to name a different prime minister. Residents say they're waiting to see if the negotiations are successful.
"The unions don't even represent 5,000 workers, but the population has taken up the unions as their voice, to make their demands known," explains Djibril Tamsir Niane, a retired history professor in the capital, Conakry.
Across the capital, Guineans say things have changed.
Boubacar Bah, a 30-year-old accountant, claims he was shot at during earlier protests and says he'll continue to take to the streets if that's what it takes to get a new government.
"If people don't take control of politics, the politicians are going to continue to control the people," Bah said from a storefront bench in a neighborhood that was ransacked by youth mobs just days earlier.
Mohamed Conte, the wounded farmer, puts his sense of abandonment even more succinctly. "The government wants to kill me," he said with an edge of shock in his voice.
Meanwhile, Conte appears to allotting more power to loyalists in his bid to stay in power.
Conte authorized military chief Gen. Kerfalla Camara, a close ally, to take any means necessary to return peace to Guinea until the "state of siege" expires Friday.
Many say younger officers are less loyal. In the first days of last week's strike, shooting was heard at an army barracks, prompting Conte to promote a host of Guinea's lower-ranking officers.
Conte has controlled Guinea since seizing power in a military coup soon after the death of the country's only other president since independence from France in 1958. The ruler -- reportedly ailing from diabetes and a heart condition that take him to Europe for regular treatments -- has held on to power through elections the opposition says were rigged.
Though the country remains poor, Conte is credited with keeping Guinea stable as regional neighbors Sierra Leone and Liberia descended into civil war in the 1990s. Those two nations have ended their own conflicts, though rebels and loyalists are still facing off in neighboring war-divided Ivory Coast.
For years, Guineans have worried that Conte's death would bring violence. Now it looks like frustrated youth may not wait that long.
Experts warn any serious violence in Guinea could throw the fragile region in into turmoil again -- with new waves of refugees or fighters spilling across borders.
Others say the danger of instability comes not from within Guinea, but the forested region surrounding it. Young men who grew up fighting in Sierra Leone and Liberia are unemployed and looking for someone new to follow, says Mike McGovern, a Guinea expert and anthropology professor Yale University.
"You've got a reservoir of young men who are good at fighting and looting and not at very much else," McGovern says. "Any time you have something like what's going on in Guinea now, it kind of reactivates these guys. ... they're going to gravitate toward Guinea."
Some mull idea of Sen. Bill ClintonPrinter Friendly. E-mail. Read more by Bill Sammon.
WASHINGTON - If Hillary Rodham Clinton wins the presidency, some top Democrats would like to see her husband, former President Bill Clinton, appointed to serve out Hillary’s unexpired Senate term.
“As a senator, he’d be a knockout,” said Harold Ickes, who was once a top White House aide to Bill Clinton and now gives behind-the-scenes advice to Hillary. “He knows issues, he loves public policy and he’s a good politician.”
Some Democrats and political analysts say Bill Clinton would thrive in the world’s greatest deliberative body, much like Lyndon Johnson did before he became president.
“President Clinton would excel in the Senate,” said Paul Begala, who helped Bill Clinton get elected and served in the White House as a top aide.
“Why not?” Begala added. “He excelled as attorney general and governor of Arkansas, he excelled as president and he’s been a model of the modern Senate spouse.”
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, agreed.
“Clinton is a natural for the Senate,” Sabato said. “He loves to talk and schmooze. He could be a great vote-organizer. Majority Leader Clinton?”
Such a scenario is not beyond the realm of possibility now that the governor’s mansion in New York is occupied by a Democrat, Eliot Spitzer, who succeeded Republican Gov. George Pataki last month. If Hillary Clinton wins the White House, Spitzer would likely appoint a fellow Democrat to take over her Senate seat.
So far, speculation about potential successors has focused on New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose father once held the same Senate seat.
But Spitzer could just as easily appoint Bill Clinton, who, under New York law, would fill his wife’s Senate seat through 2010. A special election would then be held, and the winner would serve the final two years of her term, which expires in 2012.
Although Ickes would love to see Bill Clinton in the Senate, he considers the scenario a long shot.
“I think there’d be a real call on [Spitzer] to appoint a black senator,” Ickes said. “I think there’d be a real call on him to appoint a Hispanic senator.”
Bill Clinton, who was once dubbed America’s “first black president” by author Toni Morrison, would not be the first former president to serve in Congress. John Quincy Adams had a long career in the House after his presidency, and Andrew Johnson served briefly in the Senate after a stint in the White House. Johnson and Clinton are the only two presidents in history to have been impeached by the House. Both were acquitted by the Senate.
Political analysts say a Senate seat for Bill would go a long way toward solving a potentially nettlesome problem for Hillary — what to do with her husband if they return to the White House. The former president currently maintains an office in Harlem and a home with his wife in Chappaqua, N.Y.
“Nothing will solve the Bill problem entirely,” Sabato said. “He will be restless and underfoot for Hillary, in part because he is the more talented pol.”
There would also be financial ramifications.
“It would certainly lower the family income because there are restrictions on how much a senator can bring in on speeches and so forth,” said presidential scholar Stephen Hess of George Washington University. “Of course he’d have housing, because she’d put him up in the Lincoln Bedroom or something.”
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Source: Washington Examiner.
Rice calls North Korean deal 'important first step'WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. officials on Tuesday defended the Bush administration's policy shift on North Korea, which coincided with an agreement by Pyongyang to begin to close down its nuclear program.
North Korea now has 60 days to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear complex and readmit nuclear inspectors. In return, it will get 50,000 tons of fuel oil or financial aid of an equal amount.
Once Pyongyang takes additional steps to disable its nuclear program, including taking inventory of its plutonium stockpile, it will qualify for another 950,000 tons of fuel oil or equivalent aid, according to the terms of the deal. The aid package is worth $300 million.
North Korean state media reported that the agreement called only for a "temporary suspension" of Pyongyang's nuclear program, according to wire reports.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice drew a distinction between the first 60-day period, when she said nuclear activities will be suspended, and the later "disablement phase."
"The disabling of these facilities is a sign that the North Koreans may, in fact, be ready to make a strategic choice," she said at a briefing in Washington. "I will not take it as a complete sign until we've seen that disablement, but obviously disablement is an important step forward."
"I am pleased with the agreements reached today at the Six Party Talks in Beijing," President Bush said in a statement. "These talks represent the best opportunity to use diplomacy to address North Korea's nuclear programs. They reflect the common commitment of the participants to a Korean Peninsula that is free of nuclear weapons."
The United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia have been holding talks with North Korean officials since 2002 in an effort to convince Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program.
Not addressed in the agreement is what will happen to any nuclear weapons North Korea may have stockpiled. Reports have suggested that Pyongyang already may have as many as a dozen nuclear bombs.
The omission marks a change from the previous statements -- including by Christopher Hill, the U.S. envoy to the six-party talks, in September 2005 -- that all elements, past and present, of North Korea's nuclear program "will be comprehensively declared and completely, verifiably and irreversibly eliminated" for benefits to accrue.
The Bush administration halted fuel shipments agreed by the Clinton White House after North Korea said it was developing a nuclear weapons program in 2002. Earlier that year President Bush labeled Pyongyang part of the "axis of evil."
Bolton: Agreement sends 'wrong signal'.
John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, blasted the new deal Monday in an interview with CNN, saying it would only encourage other countries trying to secure nuclear weapons.
"It sends exactly the wrong signal to would-be proliferators around the world: If you hold out long enough and wear down the State Department negotiators, eventually you get rewarded," said Bolton, who was also involved with North Korea earlier as the State Department's undersecretary for arms control.
"It makes the [Bush] administration look very weak at a time in Iraq and dealing with Iran it needs to look strong," he said.
Hill on Tuesday defended the deal, saying it is different from the policy developed under the Clinton administration because it is a multilateral agreement.
"This is not a bilateral deal between the U.S. and North Korea," Hill said. "This involves six parties, with China in the share. I think the deal here is that North Korea has made certain commitments not only to us, but to all of its neighbors."
Bolton said the six-party deal "contradicts fundamental premises of the president's policy he's been following for the past six years" and could have effects on U.S. relations in other hot spots.
"I'm hoping that the president has not been fully briefed on it and still has time to reject it," he said.
As U.N. ambassador, Bolton helped push through a U.N. resolution last year that led to economic sanctions against North Korea.
Responding to the criticism, Hill pointed out that Bolton is a private citizen and has the right to speak his mind. Hill said he expects further criticism and emphasized that the deal is based on "initial actions" that will "begin a process aimed at complete denuclearization."
In October 2002, North Korea admitted it was developing a nuclear weapons program in violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework reached between the United States and North Korea. The United States then halted fuel oil shipments to Pyongyang called for under the same agreement.
In September 2005, North Korea committed to abandoning its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees. Pyongyang walked away from the talks weeks later to protest a U.S. crackdown on banks suspected of helping North Korea with illegal financial activities.
This time, an administration official said: "The Koreans faced five other united members, and they realized they were standing alone."
Source: CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, John Vause and Susie Xu contributed to this report.
Oxfam: Action needed for ChadN'DJAMENA, Chad (Reuters) -- Aid agency Oxfam urged the international community to tackle rising violence in eastern Chad before it becomes "another Darfur", ahead of a Security Council meeting on Thursday to decide on a peacekeeping force.
Ethnic conflict and a simmering rebellion in Chad's east have displaced tens of thousands of people and hampered efforts to aid a flood of refugees from Sudan's western Darfur region, where a four-year conflict has killed more than 200,000 people.
The Security Council was due to meet on Thursday to discuss a proposal to deploy a mission to protect civilians and respond to humanitarian challenges in eastern Chad.
Oxfam called on U.N. member states to make financial and logistical preparations to deploy peacekeepers this month, should the Security Council give its approval on Thursday.
"The situation is spiraling out of control," Roland Van Hauwermeiren, head of Oxfam in Chad, said in a statement.
"We are facing an extraordinary situation as more than 230,000 refugees who fled attacks in Darfur in 2003 and 2004 are joined by thousands of Chadians fleeing a new wave of fighting at home," he added.
With violence blocking efforts to establish decent camps and provide clean drinking water, Oxfam said diarrhea, cholera and hepatitis could spread among thousands of displaced people.
"In some of the areas where we work, you've got 12,000 or 15,000 people and not a single latrine," said Van Hauwermeiren. In the northeastern province of Dar Tama, traditional rivalries are turning into a major conflict, as groups become better armed and more numerous.
In the southeastern region of Dar Sila, cross-border raids are being carried out by Darfur's Janjaweed ethnic militia.
A variety of rebel groups are engaged with a cat-and-mouse war with President Idriss Deby's forces all across eastern Chad.
A senior U.N. official in the region said this week the United Nations was already preparing an advance mission to the Chad-Sudan border area to lay the groundwork for a possible international force.
An initial U.N. assessment mission sent to Chad in November concluded it was too dangerous to send in peacekeepers until all sides agreed to a political truce.
However, diplomats said the Security Council ordered a reassessment after its members complained at a closed-door session that too little was being done to protect suffering civilians.
Questions remain on N. Korea disarmamentBEIJING, China (AP) -- A hard-won disarmament pact that the U.S. and four other nations struck with North Korea requires the communist nation to halt its nuclear programs in exchange for oil. But the deal leaves the ultimate abandonment of those weapons projects to a potentially trouble-filled future.
In a sign of potential problems to come, North Korea's state news agency said the country was receiving 1 million tons of oil for a "temporary suspension" of its nuclear facilities -- and failed to mention the full disarmament for which the agreement calls.
It wasn't clear if the report represented an attempt by the government to backtrack on the deal, or was simply a statement of bluster for a deeply impoverished domestic audience that Pyongyang has rallied around the nuclear program as a cause for national pride.
And by tackling so many issues in a process likely to take years, the deal could unravel, pulled apart by differing agendas of its six signers, which also include China, South Korea, Russia and Japan.
"We have a lot of work to do," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters Tuesday. "It's certainly not the end of the process, it's really just the end of the beginning of the process." (Details of the deal.)
Nevertheless, the agreement marks a turnabout for North Korea, which rattled the world only four months ago when it tested a nuclear device. If Pyongyang follows through with its promises, they would be the first moves the communist state has made to scale back its atomic development since it kicked out international inspectors and restarted its sole operating nuclear reactor in 2003.
"These talks represent the best opportunity to use diplomacy to address North Korea's nuclear programs," U.S. President George W. Bush said in a statement. "They reflect the common commitment of the participants to a Korean peninsula that is free of nuclear weapons."
Robert J. Einhorn, a former State Department official who visited North Korea with then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, said Americans should applaud the agreement, but he predicted it would come under heavy questioning from both the right and the left.
He said, "I think a number of people are going to ask the question, `Couldn't this deal have been concluded three or four years ago before North Korea conducted its nuclear test and acquired enough additional plutonium to build anywhere from six to 10 nuclear weapons?"'
On the right, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said the agreement rewards North Korea for bad behavior while encouraging Iran to ignore international demands that it roll back its nuclear program and hold out for a better deal.
No timetable set.
In the negotiations, envoys debated who would pay for North Korea's disarmament. China, the U.S., South Korea and Russia agreed to foot the bill though Moscow may contribute in the form of debt relief. Japan has refused to provide aid until Pyongyang fully accounts for the abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea.
"We understand it marks the first concrete step by North Korea toward its nuclear dismantlement," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. "But our position that Japan cannot provide support without a resolution of the abduction issue is unchanged."
Disarmament, however, is likely to remain the thorniest problem.
"What if North Korea doesn't show them to inspectors, if they say we've stopped this and shut down that, what if they say you have to trust us?" said Liu Gongliang, a physicist at China's Institute of Applied Physics and Computational Mathematics who has followed North Korea's nuclear program for the Chinese government.
Under the deal, the North is required to seal its main nuclear reactor and related facilities at Yongbyon, north of the capital, within 60 days and allow inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Senior IAEA figures have met regularly with North Korean diplomats in past months preparing for such a mission, and a diplomat familiar with the status of preparations told The Associated Press that IAEA inspectors could be on site "within days" once given the go-ahead.
But no timetable was set for a final declaration by North Korea of all its nuclear programs and their ultimate dismantling.
North Korea has sidestepped previous agreements. It allegedly operated its uranium-based weapons program even as it froze a plutonium-based one, sparking the latest nuclear crisis in late 2002. The country is believed to have countless mountainside tunnels in which to hide projects.
The uranium program was not explicitly addressed in the agreement. But, Hill said, "I certainly have made very clear repeatedly that we need to ensure that we know precisely the status of that."
The nuclear issue has frequently been ensnarled by lingering frictions between the North and its neighbors, as well as a dispute over U.S. sanctions against the regime for alleged money laundering and counterfeiting activities. Hill said the sanctions issue would be resolved within 30 days, but didn't provide specifics.
The United States will also begin the process of removing North Korea from its designation as a terror-sponsoring state and also on ending U.S. trade sanctions, but no deadlines have been was set, according to the agreement. Washington's blacklisting of a Macau bank in September 2005 had led the North to a more-than-yearlong boycott of the six-nation talks during which it tested its first nuclear bomb.
Mauritania, Spain struggle to find home for migrantsNOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania (AP) -- The 400 migrants stranded off the West African coast for 10 days as the governments of two countries argued over their fate continued their wait on land and in the air Tuesday.
Mauritanian officials were struggling to find countries willing to accept them.
Spanish officials sent four military planes to Mauritania to repatriate the migrants, but only one of the four had taken off by Tuesday afternoon. It headed south to Guinea-Bissau, a nation on the Atlantic coast near where the boat initially departed, but was turned back in mid-air, after Guinean officials refused to let it land.
It returned to Mauritania, where officials initially refused to allow it to land, but eventually let it land for refueling, said Yahfdhou Ould Amar, the police chief of Nouadhibou.
Soon after, it took off for what the governor of Nouadhibou called an unknown destination. "It's taken off but we don't know to where," said Mohamed Yahya Ould Mohamed Vall, the governor of the fishing town where the migrants initially came ashore on Monday.
The plane was carrying about 30 African migrants, who come from countries including Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
About 370 others are thought to be from Pakistan, mostly from the troubled region of Kashmir, but many have refused to divulge their identities in an attempt to avoid repatriation, Vall said.
Also hampering their repatriation is the fact that officials have not been able to arrange for governments in Asia to accept them.
Mauritania agreed to take the migrants following pressure from Spain and international aid groups, and on the condition that they would immediately be sent to their home countries.
The ship, called Marine 1, had been heading to Spain's Canary Islands, but ran into mechanical problems and was taken under tow off the Mauritanian coast by a Spanish rescue vessel over a week ago. Mauritania agreed to let the rusty, broken down vessel dock at one of its ports and allow its occupants ashore, after it spent 10 days in legal limbo on the high seas.
NK 'shows willing' in nuke talksBEIJING, China (Reuters) -- North Korea said it was willing to consider first steps to ending its nuclear arms program at six-party talks that opened on Thursday, with China drafting a deal that could mark rare progress in the tortuous negotiations.
The U.S. envoy to the talks, Christopher Hill, said negotiators were looking to end North Korea's production of the plutonium that fed its first nuclear test explosion last year.
"We're interested in addressing problems created by plutonium production in North Korea," Hill told reporters. "We're not interested in just freezing, we are interested in moving toward taking steps toward the abandonment of these nuclear programs."
Russia's RIA news agency quoted unnamed diplomatic sources in the Chinese capital as saying the draft was distributed to national delegations late on Thursday night.
South Korea's envoy, Chun Yung-woo, said the potential deal would spell out parts of a 2005 agreement promising North Korea aid and security assurances in return for nuclear disarmament.
"We have confirmed that there is a consensus among the countries that there must be an agreement on the early steps on implementing the Sept. 19 joint statement at this round," he said after the first day of talks.
Participants have dismissed hopes of an immediate settlement of the long-burning nuclear standoff. But even limited agreement would ease tensions in volatile northeast Asia and would be a diplomatic victory for the beleaguered Bush administration.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said a deal could be in sight. "I am cautiously optimistic that we may be able to begin, again, to implement the joint statement of 2005," she told a congressional panel in Washington.
Since 2003, six-party talks have brought together the host China, the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia in a stop-start effort to curtail Pyongyang's nuclear plans, which took a dramatic step forward with the October nuclear test.
In previous sessions, hopes of progress have foundered over North Korea's distrust of Washington and, since late 2005, the North's objections to a U.S. financial squeeze.
U.S. envoy Hill did not rule out the current talks coming to nothing. But he said North Korea was finally considering specific steps towards curbing its nuclear activities.
"These would be set of actions, and not a set of pledges, but really a set of actions that would have to be taken in a finite amount of time," he told reporters.
"We think if we can get this first good step it will give us some momentum to get to the next step and the step after that."
Hill has avoided specifying what he wants the first act by North Korea to be, but many observers have homed in on the North's Yongbyon nuclear plant, which produces plutonium that can be used in weapons.
Japan's chief delegate, Kenichiro Sasae, echoed that demand.
"North Korea needs to halt and seal its operations of the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon and accept verification and monitoring by the IAEA," he told Thursday's meeting, according to a draft of his speech released by Japan's Foreign Ministry.
He was referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which inspects nuclear facilities and oversees disarmament.
"The initial-stage steps must be implemented in a relatively short period of time," Sasae added. Hill said the proposed deal would unfold over a few weeks if agreement was reached.
After the first day of talks, secretive North Korea remained silent about its demands.
In December, Pyongyang's negotiator Kim Kye-kwan stymied hopes of a deal by focusing instead on objections to a U.S. financial crackdown on what Washington said was clear evidence of North Korean counterfeiting of U.S. cash and other misdeeds.
Kim told China's official Xinhua news agency before leaving Pyongyang he did not "expect too much" from the talks and their fate lay in U.S. hands.
"We are prepared to discuss the initial steps, but the judgment (for the talks) should be based on whether the United States will come forward and abandon its hostile policy against us and co-exist peacefully," Kim said on arrival in Beijing.
Struggling African nation hopes Whoopi can helpBISSAU, Guinea-Bissau (AP) -- When the government of one of the world's poorest nations learned that Whoopi Goldberg had taken a DNA test showing her ancestors hail from there, the news necessitated a high-level meeting.
It was, the country's leaders decided, a chance to change the image of a nation plagued by coups since wresting independence from Portugal in 1973. If the world could only grasp that a Hollywood celebrity traced her roots to this forsaken corner of the globe, it could bring goodwill from afar -- even fame for Guinea-Bissau, they reasoned.
So they set out to write a letter on official stationary embossed with the country's star-shaped seal. It was hand-delivered to the U.S. Embassy, which passed it on to the State Department in Washington with instructions for onward delivery to the home of the Oscar-winning actress.
It begins, with some uncertainty on the star's name: "Your Excellency Hoppy Goldberg, it is with great euphoria that the government of Guinea-Bissau ... learned of your ancestral origins .... The news has awoken in each and every one of us a deep sense of fraternity .... We simply cannot remain indifferent to the news of your Guinean heritage."
The two pages peppered with elaborate expressions of praise and respect end with a simple request: Please come visit our country.
For a special for PBS, the American public broadcaster, that aired last year, prominent black Americans agreed to take a DNA test. Talk show host Oprah Winfrey discovered her roots in the rainforests of Liberia with the Kpelle tribe and Bishop T.D. Jakes in Nigeria's Ebo people. Goldberg found that her genetic makeup is overwhelmingly Papel and Bayote, two tribes indigenous to this country on Africa's western seaboard.
"She will come. She's Guinean. She's our daughter. She's ours," Minister of Tourism Francisco Conduto de Pina said.
A nation in need.
Few countries are poorer than Guinea-Bissau, a country of 1.3 million roughly the size of Maryland. In the capital, there are so few hospital beds that women in labor share mattresses in cramped maternity wards. Water is chronically in short supply, so much so that the fire department does not have enough pressure in its hoses to fight blazes.
Restaurants routinely run out of food. Civil servants go months without a paycheck. Entire neighborhoods in the capital have not had electricity for the past six months.
It's not hard to see how Goldberg's fame and her unexpected blood ties to Guinea could seem like an unparalleled opportunity.
But in an e-mail to The Associated Press, the actress' publicist, Brad Cafarelli, writes that Goldberg never received the letter. "Regardless," he says, "due to the fact that she hosts a live daily radio show from New York and does not fly, it would not be possible for her to travel to West Africa in the foreseeable future."
That message has not yet made it to Guinea-Bissau, however, where the politicians that conceived the letter simply think she's taking her time to reply.
"We're waiting for her with much anticipation," said Prime Minister Aristides Gomes, sitting in his leather-clad office, an oasis of comfort in the crumbling capital.
Little access to Goldberg.
Gomes says he's a fan of "The Color Purple," the critically acclaimed film which secured Goldberg's spot in Hollywood. But he admits few of his countrymen have seen the movie -- or any others for that matter featuring the 51-year-old actress.
There are only two TV channels in Guinea-Bissau and both broadcast in Portuguese. After the government learned of Goldberg's ancestry, national TV began showing her movies with Portuguese subtitles. "Sister Act" and "Sister Act II" were instant hits in the capital, but in much of the country's brush-covered interior, access to TV is rare.
Her movies never reached the grass-covered huts of Ome, a village 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Bissau located at the epicenter of the country's Papel region, whose people share her DNA.
"I have no idea who that is," said Tiro Ca, 50, carrying a baby on her back, who stopped to pore over a headshot of the actress brought to the village by the AP.
But as mothers carrying babies and young men in jeans gathered to muse over the photograph, a consensus emerged: "This woman must be Papel," said Iye Faustino, 28, his hands pointing to the actress' distinctive cheekbones, not unlike that of the women crowding around the grainy image. The shape of her mouth and her nose, he added, is similar to theirs.
In the PBS special, the actress expressed a degree of reticence upon learning of her exact origins: "Who would I see when I went back, if I was able to go back to the village? Would I recognize anybody? Would they look like my mom?"
Likely she would find people that look not too unlike her.
"She's pretty," said Faustino, before handing the picture back. "If she comes here, we will be very happy to see her."
Report: 120 North Korean political prisoners escapeSEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Some 120 inmates escaped from a political concentration camp in northeastern North Korea several months ago in an unprecedented prison break, news reports said Tuesday.
The prisoners escaped from Hwasong camp in North Hamgyong, a province close to the Chinese and Russian borders, in December, the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported Wednesday.
Daily NK, a Seoul-based Internet news site focusing on North Korea, also carried a similar report on Tuesday.
Both reports cited multiple unnamed sources in North Korea.
An official at South Korea's Unification Ministry, which deals with North Korean affairs, said he was unable to confirm the reports but questioned their reliability. The official spoke on customary condition of anonymity.
News leaked from the reclusive North, which shuns outside access, is usually hard to confirm.
The Daily NK report said the area was put in a "state of emergency" after the prison break, calling it unprecedented.
North Korean authorities have since tightened inspections at Hwasong and adjacent cities to catch the fugitives, of whom 21 have so far been caught, the report said. So far, 21 prisoners have been caught, most of whom were found in China and sent back to the communist North after failed attempts to defect to South Korea, the report said.
The Hwasong prison camp -- located deep inside a mountain and encircled by high wire fences -- holds about 10,000 prisoners, Daily NK said. The escape seemed to have been carefully planned with outside help since the escapees drove off in a vehicle waiting outside the prison, according to the report.
Between 150,000 and 200,000 people are believed to be held in prison camps in the communist North for political reasons, according to U.S. government data.
Separately, Daily NK reported Sunday that 20 North Korean guards along the border with China had fled the country to avoid arrest for allegedly helping North Korean defectors cross the border.
The guards had fled to China, where the North sent intelligence officials to capture them, the report said, citing a North Korean resident.
Hundreds of North Koreans leave the country every year to escape poverty and political repression, usually through China. Defectors in South Korea say they usually bribe border guards to cross the border.
Pyongyang's nuke envoy dubbed 'the smiling assassin'SEOUL, South Korea (Reuters) -- For those who have sat across the table from him, North Korean chief nuclear envoy Kim Kye-gwan is known simply as "the smiling assassin."
A youthful 64, Kim is the face of Pyongyang's nuclear crisis and the communist state's best-known diplomat.
Disarming and shrewd, he has been at the North Korean nuclear game longer than almost any other diplomat and will almost certainly be leading his country's delegation when six-way nuclear discussions formally resume on Thursday.
"He's always cordial, but he is pretty effective," an official involved in the talks said. "Sometimes you may not realize what's happening, but it's just him getting the job done."
Charles Pritchard, a former U.S. negotiator with North Korea, calls him "the dean" of all the negotiators.
"He can be quick on his feet." said Pritchard, who used to be able to share jokes with Kim as the two grew to know each other.
Recent contact between North Korea and the United States has raised hope for the prospects of the nuclear talks, which also include South Korea, Japan, Russia and China.
According to South Korean government data, Kim's diplomatic career began with a posting to Algeria in 1969, followed by two decades of service that was heavy on developing-world diplomacy.
Then in the early 1990s, he surfaced to the forefront of the North's nuclear diplomacy as part of the Pyongyang delegation which negotiated a now defunct deal with Washington aimed at freezing its nuclear programs in return for energy aid.
Then he appeared a grey cadre spouting communist ideology. Now he is a nattily dressed diplomat who often appears to be a voice of authority from the North.
Jettisoning a communist penchant for harangues, Kim can be startlingly to the point. "Everything can change," he said last month in Beijing when asked if Pyongyang would be more flexible on its longstanding demand for U.S. concessions.
He may be the only North Korean diplomat who will regularly sit down for news conferences with Western media, even answering questions on the fly from reporters not shoved aside by his security detail.
"He's learned the art of negotiation and dropped a lot of the ideologically driven comments when he sits down at the table," said a diplomat who has followed Kim since he first emerged on the international stage.
Kim, dubbed "the smiling assassin" by former South Korean nuclear officials, has been infinitely courteous with reporters, yet unbending in tough negotiating sessions.
"He knows these issues backwards and forwards and up and down, so he's a formidable guy to sit down with," said Thomas Hubbard, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea.
But officials and experts say his impact on the direction of the negotiations could be limited because he has no family ties with paramount leader Kim Jong-il.
"Like most of the North Korean team, Kim is polished and smooth, but he is not so much a negotiator as a buffer," said a former U.S. official who attended most rounds of the six-way talks but has since left government.
Cross-posted at Causes of Interest.
Mass defection decimates South Korea's ruling party.SEOUL, South Korea (Reuters) -- A group of lawmakers deserted South Korea's ruling Uri Party on Tuesday, dumping the liberal group into the second-ranked slot in parliament and leaving it in disarray ahead of this year's presidential election.
The defection is likely to scupper attempts at economic and constitutional reform by the country's deeply unpopular president Roh Moo-hyun, and will strengthen the hand of the Grand National Party, which backs a tougher line with North Korea.
Roh wants to change the constitution so that his successors can serve two terms instead of one, which would give the president more sway in forming long-term policies.
The group of 23 defecting lawmakers said Uri -- which has a popular support rate of about 10 percent -- had failed.
"We are giving up on the Uri Party," lawmaker Lee Jong-kul told reporters, saying the party had let voters down.
Roh, increasingly labeled a lame duck in his final year in office by the local media, had appealed for unity. But some Uri members said they had to distance themselves from him to have a chance in December's presidential vote.
With the defection, the conservative Grand National Party has now surpassed Uri to become the largest group in parliament.
The Grand National Party has 127 members in the 299-seat unicameral parliament. Prior to the defection, Uri had 133.
Surveys have indicated some of the biggest concerns of South Korean voters are runaway real estate prices and uncertainty about the job market.
Uri will likely split into two groups, political analysts said.
One group would follow Roh, whose support rate is only slightly higher than Uri's, and his calls for economic reform aimed at narrowing income disparity.
The other group would try to distance itself from Roh's policies and advocate market-based economic reforms, they said.
A trickle of lawmakers had already left Uri -- whose name means "our" in Korean -- in the past few weeks.
Opinion polls show the Grand National Party as the clear frontrunner to provide South Korea's next president.
Previous South Korean presidents, facing falling support rates, have also seen their parties crumble into disarray ahead of a presidential vote.
Cross-posted at: Causes of Interest.
NK at impasse, threatens 2nd testBEIJING, China (Reuters) -- North Korea will feel compelled to announce plans for another nuclear test if a financial dispute with Washington is not resolved, a source said on Wednesday, a sign of Pyongyang's impatience with a lack of progress in talks.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary Daniel Glaser resumed talks with North Korean officials in Beijing on Tuesday over the dispute over currency counterfeiting. He said the talks were inching forward and had "established a framework" for more negotiations.
Glaser also said U.S. Secret Service officials had presented North Korean officials with their findings.
The source with close ties to the North Korean government said the United States lacked evidence of wrongdoing, and that North Korea would likely express its frustration when it comes to six-party talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear programs scheduled for February 8 in Beijing.
"If the United States does not resolve it, North Korea will have no choice but to announce at the six-party talks that it plans to conduct another test," the source told Reuters after being briefed by a North Korean official.
The last session of talks grouping the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and host China was held in December -- two months after Pyongyang dramatically raised the stakes by holding its first nuclear test -- and yielded no breakthrough.
The December session bogged down over Pyongyang's complaints about a U.S. financial crackdown that led to Macau freezing $24 million in North Korean accounts.
The U.S. Treasury has accused Macau's Banco Delta Asia of helping North Korea launder earnings from counterfeit U.S. dollars and drug trafficking.
U.S. officials have held out little hope of a quick resolution to the financial negotiations and South Korea cautioned against hopes for a breakthrough in the six-party talks.
"We hope to adopt a joint document," South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon told reporters in Seoul.
"But the substance of the document is such that it's a ridge we have not set foot on. So, despite the strong will of the countries to get there, whether we actually can will depend on a lot of consultations and time."
Song said U.S.-North Korean talks about the financial curbs were key to the success of the six-party negotiations. The Beijing-based source described the curbs as a "huge insult" to a sovereign country.
"If the United States does not resolve it, North Korea would be a 'sinner' taking part in the six-party talks ... North Korea would have no face and could not be on equal footing with the other parties at the six-party talks.
"The United States has no evidence, just like it had no evidence Iraq had weapons of mass destruction," the source said.
The North Korean Embassy in Beijing declined to comment. The Chinese Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment.
A Japanese newspaper said on Wednesday North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's eldest son was in Macau, quoting diplomatic sources in Hong Kong.
The Yomiuri Shimbun said Kim Jong-nam may visit a bank in Hong Kong to give an explanation of his account held there.
The Hong Kong account is not subject to the U.S. crackdown but may have some link to the discussions, the paper said
Liberians in U.S. finding way homeMONROVIA, Liberia (AP) -- Ciata Victor gave up a high-paying tech job, a spacious condo and a first-world life in Maryland to return home to an African capital that barely has electricity or running water.
After 26 years of watching from afar as her native Liberia was ravaged by coups and war, Victor says she's home to stay. And she's started a business -- running a seven-computer Internet cafe using a generator and a borrowed satellite hookup.
"There's some now who say they will not come to Liberia until Liberia gets running water and electricity. I just wanted peace," Victor said.
As this West African country works to rebuild, moneyed Liberians who spent decades abroad are starting to come home. It's a trickle that the year-old government hopes will swell, supplying investment and a much-needed educated class in a nation where few went to school during 14 years of fighting and instability.
Now 45, Victor was 19 when she moved to the United States to attend college in 1980, the year Liberia's government was overthrown in a coup. Nine years later, Charles Taylor launched a rebellion that threw the region into a conflict from which it only emerged with his ouster in 2003. Taylor has been charged with war crimes by neighboring Sierra Leone and is awaiting trial.
In 2005, a Harvard-educated former U.N. and World Bank official became the first female elected president in Africa. Many Liberians said the installation of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf heralded a new era for the country's 3 million citizens -- including those who hadn't been back in years.
Victor said Sirleaf's speech to the U.S. Congress in March prompted a trial visit.
"I visited in May, and I felt pretty safe. So I went back (to the U.S.), gave my job 30 days' notice, sold my condo, packed a container -- and on July 31, I came home," she said.
Most Liberians with means fled during the war. Liberia's historically close ties to the United States -- it was created in 1847 to resettle freed slaves -- meant many ended up in U.S. cities.
Sirleaf started calling on Liberian expatriates to come home during her election campaign, and many returned to take posts in the government. But Liberia's biggest sign of hope may be entrepreneurs like Victor who start businesses with their own money.
Trying to attract foreign investment.
There is already foreign investment in Liberia -- Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. operates a rubber plantation, Mittal Steel is redeveloping iron ore mines and foreign governments have promised aid. And the U.N. has brought in 15,000 peacekeepers and other expatriate workers.
Henrique Caine, who is trying to start a construction equipment rental company in Monrovia, said the foreign presence was part of what spurred him to return.
"I look on the news and I see a lot of white folks from Europe and America in Liberia and I say, 'Well, it can't be that bad. So it's time for us to start going home,'" he said.
Caine keeps a house in the Baltimore area where his wife and children live, but travels to Liberia every few months. On this trip, he was trying to get a container of jackhammers, concrete mixers and other supplies past customs.
He says it's gotten easier to do business, but he still has had to pay some bribes at Monrovia's port. And he's had difficulty getting U.S. investors for a company in a country so recently known for child soldiers and no-go zones.
Victor says her Internet cafe has yet to turn a profit after six months. Running the generator eats up most of what she makes from e-mail surfers and people who use their laptops in her wireless lounge. She's funding the enterprise with savings and ad sales from a Web site she runs for the Liberian diaspora. Her relatives in the U.S. call her crazy for moving back so soon.
"I flew back into the same airport I left out of. And it looked better back then," said Caine, who was 13 when he left in 1985.
Once, there was a large main terminal with a balcony where family members would wave goodbye. That building was closed after being damaged by fighting, and now people wait on wooden benches outside a smaller building.
Victor describes the Monrovia she once knew as a place where children were more familiar with books than guns. She said it was hard to come back and find buildings gone and people missing. Most former classmates are still overseas.
But the pioneers share a heady optimism that may be just what a devastated Liberia needs.
Barkue Tubman, who did marketing for singers like Missy Elliott and Norah Jones in New York before she moved back, says her ultimate goal is to bring a performing arts center to Monrovia and to get the cultural life going again.
Caine says he's risking everything on his venture -- he even cashed out his 401(k) retirement plan.
Not everyone so enthusiastic.
Many of those who stayed, or couldn't leave, are more cautious. Just outside Monrovia, aid workers in the village of Quenyodee say they've had to cajole residents to rebuild houses. Men whose houses were torn down by rebels again and again have been reluctant to trust the peace.
T-Max Jlateh, a Monrovia radio talk show host, said some of those who stayed resent the ease with which those who left can return, but added that mostly, Liberia is thankful for whatever help it can get.
"Some of them have quite a lot of expertise that this country really needs now coming back from war," Jlateh said.
A typical newcomer, he said, is easily distinguishable by his American accent, hip hop clothing -- and his walk.
"He walks as if he was walking on ice," said Jlateh, "Floating up and down. ... But it's just an act. After five or six months it wears off and you're just a Liberian just like anybody else."
Sudan loses African leadership post over DarfurADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (Reuters) -- Sudan lost the leadership of the African Union for a second time after the pan-African group on Monday awarded the rotating chairmanship to Ghana because of widespread outrage over continuing bloodshed in Darfur.
Alpha Oumar Konare, the AU's top diplomat, told reporters Ghanaian President John Kufuor would become chairman. "By consensus it is President Kufuor."
He said Sudan had supported the decision, which avoided a damaging dispute eclipsing issues on the summit agenda including raising peacekeeping troops for Somalia.
Before the summit some analysts had predicted the dispute over Sudan would dominate the summit and only be resolved at the last moment.
Delegates at the summit said a deal was worked out through the mediation of South African President Thabo Mbeki and a group of seven respected presidents or "wise men."
The 2007 chairmanship was promised to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir a year ago when he was passed over for the post because of the violence in Darfur, which experts estimate has killed 200,000 people and driven 2.5 million from their homes.
Critics say that far from abating, the violence has worsened in the last year and government-backed Arab militias have killed thousands. Bashir has repeatedly blocked deployment of U.N. peacekeepers to bolster an overstretched African Union military mission of 7,000 soldiers and monitors.
Sudanese Foreign Minister Lama Kol told Reuters: "This was our suggestion. We voluntarily suggested this so that the foreign elements who were trying to divide the continent over this issue would not succeed. ... What was important was to take the decision for the unity of the continent."
Sudan had seemed adamant on the eve of the summit that it should get the chairmanship despite a chorus of demands from rights organizations and Western governments that it be snubbed because of abuses in Darfur.
But as the summit began in the Ethiopian capital, pressure rose to prevent Sudan from running the organization whose peacekeepers are charged with stemming the violence in its vast west.
In his opening speech, Konare accused Khartoum of attacking civilians in Darfur, where the United States says genocide has occurred.
"We appeal to the government of Sudan to stop attacking and bombarding Darfur and instead restore peace," he said.
Rights group Amnesty International said in a statement on the eve of the two-day summit that the AU would undermine its credibility if it gave the chairmanship to Bashir.
Chad, whose relations with Sudan are severely strained after the Darfur conflict spilled over their border, had vowed to withdraw from the AU if Bashir got the chair.
Diplomats said Western governments lobbied vigorously in Addis Ababa against Sudan and had earlier suggested Tanzania might be a compromise candidate.
But U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer rejected Sudan's accusations of Western pressure.
"I think that's a mistake. The membership of the AU takes the decision about who will lead them. I think that they want leadership that reflects criteria they have within their own process, which includes democracies not at war," she said.
Delegates said there had been trenchant opposition to Sudan from some of the governments and a compromise over Ghana, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its independence in 2007, offered a way out of the dilemma supported by consensus--the traditional African way of resolving disputes.
"How can you ask someone who is dealing with their own internal conflict to deal with all the other issues going on the continent?," one African delegate said.
The Addis Ababa meeting is also due to discuss raising a peacekeeping force for Somalia to replace Ethiopian troops, unrest in Guinea and climate change, as well as the AU military mission in Darfur.
Reposted from CNN.
Somali leader makes reconciliation bid for peacekeepersADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) -- Somalia's president agreed Tuesday to a national reconciliation conference to try to end 16 years of anarchy in the war-ravaged country, paving the way for the deployment of African peacekeepers.
After intense pressure from the United States, European Union and United Nations for all-inclusive political talks, President Abdullahi Yusuf said his government was willing to negotiate despite stiff opposition from within his own administration. The conference would include religious and Somali clan leaders, officials said.
Speaking to journalists at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said the talks must include moderate leaders from the routed Islamic movement that had threatened to take control of Somalia and had confined the interim government to one farming town.
Yusuf's agreement to national reconciliation was a key component to securing financial and logistical support from the U.S. and EU to help in the deployment of an 8,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force. At stake is $20 million from the E.U. for a peacekeeping force and $40 million from the U.S.
African governments also want reconciliation talks before they begin deploying troops. Yusuf's government needs the peacekeepers to help maintain order as Ethiopia, which helps prop up his government, begins withdrawing troops after defeating the rival Islamic movement.
"We would like to negotiate with all Somalis who would like peace, but we cannot negotiate with those who are intent on violence and terrorism," Yusuf said Tuesday on the sidelines of the summit attended by 35 African leaders.
"The peacekeeping force from the African Union will come soon," he added.
Fears are mounting that Somalia could again be plunged into civil war without a peacekeeping force or reconciliation talks. Since the Islamic movement were ousted, factional violence has once again become a feature of life in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. But many senior officials in Yusuf's administration oppose the talks because they fear their jobs could go to Islamic leaders as a way of winning widespread support for the government. Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi voiced his opposition to such a move late Monday, saying the government was already inclusive and broad-based.
Deputy Defense Minister Salad Ali Jelle said Tuesday the government would crack down on rising unrest in the capital by increasing patrols on the streets and launching attacks against areas believed to be hiding militants from the Islamic movement.
"They will be dealt with severely," he told journalists.
On the final day of the two-day AU summit, African leaders met to try to make up a 4,000 troop shortfall in peacekeepers. So far only three nations -- Uganda, Nigeria and Malawi -- have pledged troops. The peacekeeping agreement calls for an initial deployment of about 2,400 troops.
The U.S. has pledged to offer airlift support to the African force to prevent the routed Islamic movement from taking advantage of the power vacuum created by the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, told reporters at the summit.
"We do have continued concerns that these terrorists are not able to reconstitute themselves, and concern that they pose a threat to the Somali people and to the transitional federal government," she said late Monday.
On Monday Alpha Oumar Konare, the AU's chief executive, said it was vital more troops were pledged and that they were deployed quickly.
"Let's be clear, we need to get the deployment off," Konare told delegates at the two day summit.
"We need 8,000 troops but we only have 4,000 so far." Konare added: "The more we delay in deploying troops, the more chance of the situation worsening."
The two-day summit has focused on two of the continent's thorniest issues, the worsening violence in Sudan's Darfur region and attempts to restore peace to Somalia.
On Monday, with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir looking on, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that "the toll of the [Darfur] crisis remains unacceptable," with more than 200,000 people killed and 2.5 million displaced in four years of fighting. Hours later, in a rebuff to al-Bashir, the African Union chose Ghana to head the 53-member bloc, turning aside Sudan's bid for the post for the second year in a row.
Reposted from CNN.
Missle defense shield test aced as dummy target hit.KEKAHA, Hawaii (CNN) -- The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency shot down a dummy target missile over the southern Pacific Ocean during a test of the U.S. missile defense shield early Saturday, according to an agency spokeswoman.
First, a dummy ballistic missile was fired from a U.S. mobile launch platform in the Pacific Ocean in a simulated attack.
Moments later, an interceptor missile was fired from the agency's missile range facility on Hawaii's Kauai Island and struck the dummy warhead over the Pacific Ocean, military footage showed.
The mobile, ground-based system is designed to protect the United States from short to intermediate-range high altitude ballistic missile attacks in the North American region, agency spokeswoman Pam Rogers said.
The system "intercepts missiles that are shorter range and at the end of their flight trajectory. It is part of the ballistic missile defense system, a layered system that is designed to intercept all types of missiles in all phases of flights," Rogers said.
This particular short to intermediate-range interceptor system has been tested four times a year since 2005.
"This was our first test since we moved equipment in October from the White Sands missile range in New Mexico ... everything went exceedingly well," Rogers said.
In September, the agency successfully tested its long-range ballistic missile interceptor system, which it said was the most realistic test since the tests started in 2001.
That interceptor system was designed to knock out missiles that could, for instance, be launched in a surprise strike from nations as far away as North Korea.
Valentine's Day for the TroopsKat is already ready to make another push to support our men and women overseas. I say, "Let's do all we can!"
Valentine's Day Card Drive for Troops
Mrs. Kat Orr
P.O. Box 1660
Loganville, GA 30052
You may also send a e-mail of support to the following email address: LoveFromHome@gmail.com. Any e-mail received to this e-mail account will be printed and mailed, together with the Valentine's cards.
The cards can be handmade or store-bought...for that matter, they don't even have to be cards; a hand-written letter is just as wonderful! Let's all band together and overwhelm our heroes with support and chase away those "after Christmas blues!"
ALL CARDS MUST BE RECEIVED NO LATER THAN FRIDAY, JANUARY 26, 2007Thank you so much for having a heart for our heroes !
If you have any questions about this campaign, please e-mail me at LoveFromHome@gmail.com. Also, you might wish join my Yahoo Group, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LoveFromHome in order to receive updates about the progress of this and other card drives.
**IMPORTANT NOTE: This is not a "dating service" of any type. Please do not send suggestive or otherwise inappropriate cards or pictures. I will be reading and screening every Card received to ensure that the above guidelines are adhered to (please don't seal the envelopes, by the way ~ that will make it much easier on me)! Any card deemed inappropriate will not be sent! Remember: This is strictly to let the troops know that we love them, we are proud of them and that WE HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN THEM!
Thank you everyone who participates. You will never know how much you mean to our troops and me. I thank God for each and everyone of you.
UN to deny aid to NK until audit.UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. Development Program agreed Thursday not to approve new projects in North Korea until an external audit addresses U.S. allegations that the agency has funneled millions of dollars to the communist regime in violation of United Nations rules.
UNDP assistant administrator Ad Melkert said the agency also agreed to end cash payments to the North Korean government and local suppliers and to stop hiring staff recruited by Pyongyang. The United States had complained about both practices.
The UNDP also agreed it will be responsible for implementing all North Korean projects, addressing U.S. complaints that authorities in the North were overseeing several initiatives.
The UNDP's decision came a week after U.S. deputy ambassador Mark Wallace alleged the agency's North Korea operation had been run "in blatant violation of U.N. rules" for years. He demanded an outside audit focusing on concerns that development funds had been used by Pyongyang for "its own illicit purposes."
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the audit on Monday, a swift response that indicated he was determined to avoid a repetition of the scandal over the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq. Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan did not agree to an independent investigation into that scandal until months after it erupted.
The U.S. welcomed the new steps.
"We're pleased with the approach that the UNDP administrator has laid out," acting U.S. Permanent Representative Alejandro Wolff told reporters.
The decisions were made by consensus during a regular meeting of the UNDP executive board to approve country programs. North Korea, which sits on the board, said it would accept the steps, though it condemned them as an attempt to "politicize the system" of the UNDP -- a stance echoed by the representatives of Russia and Cuba.
U.S. officials said they first received indications there might be irregularities in UNDP's North Korea program last year. They raised concerns the cash might be misused, possibly for Pyongyang's nuclear program.
The U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on North Korea on October 14 for conducting a nuclear test.
At the board meeting, North Korean delegate Jang Chunsik called the U.S. allegations "nonsense," insisting the UNDP's activities in his country had been "conducted in a transparent way."
The Russian delegate, Dimitry Maksimychev, said that while his country "did not stand in the way of the consensus ... it is an undesirable example of politicization of the work of the executive board."
Japan, however, applauded the agreement and went a step further. It said U.N. should stop providing aid to North Korea except for humanitarian assistance "directly delivered to the people" because Pyongyang had defied Security Council demands that it end its nuclear program.
Asked about that proposal, Wolff said "the Japanese argument is quite compelling. We're going to consider it."
U.S. officials said the United States already withholds its contributions to the UNDP and other U.N. agencies that provide funds to North Korea.
The audit, to be completed in three months, will initially focus on UNDP spending in North Korea and then be expanded to other U.N. agencies. It will be conducted by the U.N.'s Board of Auditors, which is comprised of accountants from eight U.N. members.
Wallace has made several allegations in letters to senior UNDP officials, which were first reported by The Wall Street Journal. He has said UNDP's local staff is dominated by North Korean government employees who managed the agency's programs and finances in violation of UNDP rules.
The UNDP has spent about $3 million annually in the last 10 years on programs in impoverished North Korea, in addition to about $600,000 in office costs, which include local salaries and supplies. The programs focus on food production, rural and environmental sector management, economic management and social sector management.
The UNDP executive board agreed to delay approval of its 2007-2009 North Korea program until the audit is completed. It also agreed to review the proposed program to ensure it addresses the concerns raised by the United States, Melkert said.
Current projects will continue but must stop cash payments and the hiring of North Korean government recruits by March 1, Melkert said. He also said all projects will be directly implemented by the UNDP.
The agreement came despite the UNDP's ardent denials this week that its North Korea program violated U.N. financial rules.
The agency noted that it already directly manages the vast majority of its projects, with about $337,000 worth of program costs overseen by North Korean authorities. UNDP officials also stressed that it has conducted three internal audit of its North Korean operations in the last eight years, the last in 2004.
I found this little tidbit over at RealClearPolitics.
- Gov. Rick Perry said Monday he will send a dozen armed security platoons from the Texas Army National Guard to help law enforcement officers secure the border.
The 604 newly activated troops are to be part of Operation Wrangler -- an interagency law enforcement effort aimed at reducing crime and increasing security across the state.
The troops will stay active for an undisclosed period of time in areas across Texas. A spokeswoman for the governor said she could not elaborate "on the timing or places, but the surge operation will be on a statewide level."
'Everyone in the dock' in Kabul trialAfter dragging on almost two months - with just six actual court sessions - the strange trial of the three Americans accused of torture and running a private jail has come to an abrupt and dramatic end. At least for now.
Former US soldier "Jack" Idema and Brent Bennett were each given 10-year jail sentences in a Kabul court on Wednesday.
Their co-defendant Edward Caraballo - who says he is a journalist with them to document their activities in Afghanistan - received eight years. Four Afghans arrested with them in a Kabul house in July were also jailed.
But lawyers for the Americans say they will appeal.
The colourful Idema - sunglasses on in court as always - insisted again he was on an anti-terrorist mission approved by the Pentagon and the Afghan government.
And that his efforts had prevented several planned attacks by Islamic militants - including against US and Nato bases and Afghan politicians.
But there will be many in both governments who will be breathing a sigh of relief that for the moment, the case is over - and out of the public eye. It has proved embarrassing for them, because of a drip feed of revelations.
First, there was the admission by US forces that they had received a detainee from Idema at their main Bagram airbase - an admission which they only made after he had revealed this in court.
The man was released, the US military said, but two months later.
Then, long after the trial was underway, the Pentagon said one of its senior officials had had contact with Idema - as he had claimed back in July. But a defence department official insisted this was to turn down Idema's offer to work for them.
But while far from conclusive for Idema's case, they left the impression among some that the American authorities are hiding something.
What has fed this is that US officials have never completely denied the possibility that Idema and his group were working for some part of its sprawling government and military system.
Last month, when asked by reporters for such a denial, a senior US official responded: "We can find no evidence that Jack Idema works for the US government."
Privately, some US officials say Idema "just does not fit" and is not the kind of person the intelligence agencies or special forces would take on. He is too much of a maverick, they argue.
But that little gap in the American public position leaves enough room for Afghanistan's many conspiracy theorists to speculate.
And in a country where ex-military personnel working on security contracts for the US government are everywhere, Idema did not seem out of place.
The case has also embarrassed the Afghan government and senior political figures.
There was the revelation on video that the chief of the Kabul police force, General Baba Jan, had greeted Idema when he arrived in the country in April.
One of the charges the three Americans were facing was illegal entry to the country.
But despite appearing several times in the court during proceedings, the police chief never mentioned that he was there when Idema arrived.
Footage also emerged of Yunus Qanuni, a presidential candidate and former education minister, receiving Idema and apparently offering support for his plans.
But again, none of these revelations supported the core of Idema's case.
The former soldier and his lawyer John Tiffany protested they never had a chance to present the evidence that would have done so - because it was taken and held by the FBI.
Mr Tiffany and the lawyer for Edward Caraballo, Robert Fogelnest, also heavily criticised the whole process, saying the trial should be stopped because the Afghan justice system did "not meet international standards".
There is no doubt that some hearings descended into almost comical chaos, with witnesses having stand-up rows with Idema and the other Americans. And the prosecution seemed to base most of its case on accusation rather than evidence.
Translation was another problem - some of those chosen were not up to what was a difficult job.
But in one case, the translator also started offering the judge advice in Dari that was clearly biased against the Americans, whose words he was translating very selectively in any case.
This was picked up very quickly by other Afghan translators in the court room at the time.
Perhaps everyone ended up being on trial here - not just the three Americans, but also the Afghan authorities and the US government and its policy of using so many private military contractors to carry out its policies in Afghanistan.
Reposted from BBC News.
Bush Considers Pardoning Border AgentsWASHINGTON — President George W. Bush left open the possibility of a pardon for two U.S. Border Patrol agents serving federal prison sentences for shooting a Mexican drug dealer as he fled and covering up the crime.
Bush said "there's a process for pardons" and the case has to work its way through the system. In an interview with KFOX-TV in El Paso, Texas, Bush said the White House will review the case, and he urged people to "take a sober look at the case."
"People need to take a tough look at the facts, the evidence a jury looked at, as well as the judge. And I will do the same thing," he said.
Several lawmakers have urged the president to pardon former Border Patrol agents Jose Alonso Compean and Ignacio Ramos for the shooting of Osvaldo Aldrete Davila, who retreated to Mexico after he was shot and later admitted he was transporting marijuana while in the U.S. illegally.
The agents began serving their sentences Wednesday — 11 years and one day for Ramos and 12 years for Compean. Both were fired after their convictions on several charges, including assault with a deadly weapon, obstruction of justice, and a civil rights violation.
Rancor over the convictions and sentencing of the agents has been simmering for months, and the two have become a cause celebre among conservatives and on talk shows. Their supporters have said they were defending themselves and have called them heroes. The agents' prosecution occurred as the issue of illegal immigration was being debated in Congress and amid campaigns for last November's midterm elections.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, introduced a bill Thursday calling for a congressional pardon of the agents. Congress has never issued pardons to anyone convicted of a crime, said Joe Kasper, Hunter's spokesman. But Kasper said Hunter believes there is enough ambiguity in the law on pardons to give it a try.
"Agents Compean and Ramos fulfilled their responsibilities as Border Patrol agents and rightfully pursued a suspected and fleeing drug smuggler. It is irresponsible to punish them with jail time," he said in a news release.
U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton took the unusual step of issuing a five-page document of the "myth vs. reality" of the case as the agents began serving their sentences.
The document covered everything from the claims that the former agents were just doing their jobs to reports that the shooting was at night when it actually happened about 1 p.m. on Feb. 17, 2005.
White House spokesman Tony Snow also seemed to support the agents' conviction, listing details of the case in a briefing with reporters Thursday. He said an officer hit Aldrete in the chest with a gun after he got out of his car and that "a lot of the allegations about a scuffle and discovering drugs at the scene and all that, they're simply not supported by the fact record of the case."
Texas Sen. John Cornyn said the Justice Department should have the chance to explain why the agents were prosecuted. Cornyn sent a letter to Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, asking for a hearing.
"I understand that the Justice Department believes all the facts have not come out on this prosecution and would welcome the opportunity to explain its decisions. I believe such a public explanation and opportunity for questioning is necessary," Cornyn wrote.
Cornyn said he and Sen. Arlen Specter, who chaired the committee last year, investigated the case and that his office personally interviewed Sutton.