North Korea Renews Overture to South Korea

Photo Courtesy - Yonhap News Agency(SEOUL, South Korea) -- The North Korean government of Kim Jong-il  on Saturday renewed its New Year's Day offer of peace talks with its neighbor to the South.  Pyongyang says the offer is unconditional and aimed at peace and reconciliation.  North Korea would like the talks to begin as early as late January or the beginning of February.

This comes six weeks after North Korea shelled a South Korean Island, killing four people in an attack it said was in retaliation for South Korean military drills in waters the North claims as its own.

South Korea, which rejected the earlier call, says it will review this request.  South Korean Unification Ministry Spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said, "It is still hard to say North Korea has made an official proposal for talks...but as today's statement contains more details, we will review it."

South Korea has said it will hold talks with North Korea only if it exhibits sincerity.

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Secretary Clinton Meets Saudi King and Lebanese Prime Minister in NYC

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in New York City Friday afternoon to meet with Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, who was recently discharged from the hospital and is recovering from surgery.
“We are delighted that the king, a valued friend and ally, is ready to receive visitors, and the secretary will wish him a rapid recovery,” her spokesman said Friday.
The meeting comes ahead of Clinton’s visit to the Arabian peninsula. She departs Saturday for the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar.
Clinton also met in New York Friday with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

The State Department Friday said Clinton met with Hariri to “reiterate our support for a sovereign, stable and politically independent Lebanon.”

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Obama Administration Slaps Sanctions on Ivory Coast Leaders

U.N. peacekeepers patrol a street of Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, on Jan. 5. Photo Courtesy - ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) slapped sanctions on Ivory Coast leaders Thursday to protest President Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to step down after he lost the Nov. 2010 run-off election between himself and Alassane Ouattara.

The sanctions prohibit U.S. citizens from doing business with Gbagbo, his wife Simone Gbagbo, as well as their allies foreign minister Alcide Ilahiri Djedje, spokesman and political leader Pascal Affi N'Guessan and chief of staff Desire Tagro. In addition, any U.S. assets they have are now frozen.

“Laurent Gbagbo continues to demonstrate wanton disregard for the will and well-being of the people of Côte d’Ivoire,” OFAC Director Adam Szubin said in a statement. “Today’s designations will isolate him and his inner circle from the world’s financial system and underscore the desire of the international community that he step down,” Szubin said Thursday.

Gbagbo has refused to accept the results of the election. Ouattara was declared the winner by the Independent Election Commission (CEI) and was certified by the Special Representative of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General. The election results have been endorsed by the UN Security Council, the African Union, the European Union, and the Economic Community of West African States.

Before Gbagbo swore himself in on Dec. 5, President Obama sent him a written message via the U.S. Ambassador, suggesting that if he didn't relinquish power he would face isolation and targeted sanctions. Alternately, President Obama said that if he stepped down there would be a role for him in the international community.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Increased Police Presence in London, Threat Level Remains ‘Severe’

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(LONDON) – Reports in Britain say increased security is planned Friday throughout London's transportation system. Authorities there have declined to comment but stress that the overall threat level there remains “severe,” where it has been since January 2010.

The BBC has reported that an increased police presence at airport terminals and major rail stations is a "precautionary" measure based on "credible" intelligence, but not on intelligence of an "imminent" plot.

A threat level of “severe” reflects that an attack is highly likely but not imminent. 

Scotland Yard has told ABC News that they "will police accordingly and use a range of covert and overt tactics which remain under constant review.” Scotland Yard said they have encouraged the public to remain vigilant and report suspicious behavior to the authorities.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


1,400 Marines to Afghanistan Ahead of Spring Surge

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) – An additional 1,400 Marine combat forces will head to Afghanistan as part of a campaign to increase security in the country ahead of mandated troop reductions in July.

The Marines, which could arrive in Kandahar as soon as mid-January, will be part of as many as 3,000 additional troops in the temporary boost by Defense Secretary Robert Gates who was given the authority to deploy the additional troops as needed.

Centcom has announced that the Marines are part of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and currently serve aboard the USS Kearsarge. The unit will be used to increase security and make a final push to finish essential infrastructure.

The surge is being made ahead of an expected spring increase in Taliban activity.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japanese Politician Sparks Maternity Debate After Giving Birth at 50

Photo Courtesy - Koichi Kamoshida /Getty Images(TOKYO) -- A 50 year-old Japanese lawmaker gave birth Thursday to a baby boy conceived through in vitro fertilization, igniting a fierce debate in a country with conservative views on maternity issues.

A veteran member of parliament for the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, Seiko Noda sought an American egg donor after years of unsuccessful fertility treatments and several miscarriages.  In vitro fertilization is virtually banned in Japan and it is not covered by any Japanese laws.

"I thought about adopting a child, but I hit a wall," Noda said in a recent interview with Vogue Japan.  "I was told that considering the future of the child, it wasn't possible to do that for a woman who is almost 50, like me.  An egg donor was the last resort."

The lawmaker once hailed as Japan's most likely first female prime minister has been very public about her struggles.  In 2004, she detailed her unsuccessful treatments in a book titled Watashi Wa Umitai or I Want To Give Birth.

Noda's plight has shed light on the lack of options available for Japanese women seeking egg donors and surrogate mothers.

The Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology, an official doctors organization forbids the use of surrogate mothers.  Japanese law requires the mother carry the baby during pregnancy.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Napolitano: International Cargo ‘Vulnerable’ to Terrorist Attack

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(BRUSSELS, Belgium) – During a speech Thursday in Brussels, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned that the international cargo system remained vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

Napolitano called for system-wide improvements to address flaws that could leave the global supply chain in disarray. 

“Regardless of where a potential event might occur, the ripple effect of a significant disruption to this critical global system could potentially impact not just the United States, but the international community at large,” Napolitano said.

Among other policy changes, Napolitano called for better tracking of precursor chemicals used to make explosives. She also focused on reinforcing the most critical components of the supply chain in the event that an attack occurred.

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Gitmo Detainee Transferred to Algeria

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON ) – The Department of Defense Thursday announced the transfer of a Guantanamo Bay detainee to Algeria.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the release of Saiid Farhi to the government of Algeria in November 2009. His case was reviewed by the Guantanamo Review Task Force based on an executive order by President Obama in January of that year. Based on the review, Farhi’s transfer was approved unanimously by all six agencies on the task force.

In a statement, the DOD said they are grateful for the help of the Algerian government in assisting the U.S. to close the detention facility.

Currently, 173 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Iran Arrests American Woman on Espionage Charges, Reports Say

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(TEHRAN, Iran) -- An American woman was arrested in Iran on suspicion of espionage, Iran’s state media reported Thursday.

The woman, who has been identified as Haley Talayan, 55, was found with spy equipment, including a camera hidden in her teeth.  She was stopped by customs officials in the northwest border town of Nordouz, apparently without a valid visa to enter Iran.

The town of Nordouz lies between Iran's border with Armenia and is patrolled by Russian soldiers on the Armenian side.

A State Department official told ABC News that the U.S. has asked the Swiss, who represent U.S. interests in Tehran since there are no American diplomats there, to check into these reports.  The official said the U.S. has not yet been able to confirm that Talayan is an American.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


US Provides $190 Million to Compensate Pakistan Flood Victims

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ISLAMABAD, Pakistan) -- Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) Frank Ruggiero, Richard Holbrooke’s interim replacement, announced that the U.S. would supply a $190-million compensation package for flood victims in Pakistan during a visit to the country Thursday after meeting with Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani. The money will go toward Pakistan's Citizens Damage Compensation Fund. 

The funds will be taken from $500 million the U.S. initially rushed to help flood victims -- a reprogrammed part of the $7.5 billion Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid for Pakistan. 

“Acting SRAP Ruggiero also urged the Pakistani government to quickly implement the necessary accountability mechanisms, particularly those already agreed to with the World Bank, in order to enable expeditious release of the U.S. and other donor funds to the Citizens Damage Compensation Fund. And we'll continue to work with the government of Pakistan to identify priorities for the remainder of the U.S. commitment to provide up to $500 million of accelerated U.S. assistance from Kerry-Lugar-Berman,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Thursday.

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