Entries in Middle East (9)


Veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan Wars Tapped to Lead Central Command

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Gen. Lloyd Austin III is President Obama's choice to become the next head of the U.S. Central Command for the Middle East.

If confirmed by the Senate, the 59-year-old four-star general will also become the first African-American to lead the U.S. Central Command.

Currently the 33rd Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, Austin was instrumental in overseeing the final U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq that concluded at the end of last year when he was appointed Commanding General of U.S. forces in that country.

Austin also has experience as a combat leader when he was put in charge of the 3rd Infantry Division that marched into Iraq shortly after the U.S.-led invasion in late March 2003.

The general also spent time in Afghanistan as head of the 10th Mountain Division.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Anti-US Protests Spread to More Than a Dozen Countries

Jordan Pix/ Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A wave of anti-American protests broke out in more than a dozen countries Friday with some of the worst violence occurring in Tunisia, Egypt and Sudan.

Three people were killed -- two in Tunisia and one in Egypt -- as protesters battled with police who used tear gas and rubber bullets and sometimes fired into the air in an attempt to keep the demonstrators away from American embassies.

The protests, now in their fourth day, spread to other countries including Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh as well as other countries. Some of the protests drew thousands while others only a few hundred, all of them angry over the movie "The Innocence of Muslims," an amateurish video that mocks the Prophet Mohammed.

In the Tunisian capital of Tunis, thousands of protesters swarmed around the U.S. embassy and several dozen managed to scale an outer wall and set fire to cars parked there. A flag on which was written the Muslim profession of faith was raised until security forces took it down. Black smoke from the fires wafted over the city as protesters and security forces continued a tense stand-off.

In Egypt, President Mohammed Morsi went on state television to denounce the killing of four Americans in Libya and the Muslim Brotherhood retracted their call for a Million Man March. In addition clerics during Friday prayers urged the faithful to remain peaceful.

Nevertheless, thousands poured into the streets around the U.S. embassy which has been reinforced with a concrete wall since protesters got inside an outer perimeter earlier this week to take down and destroy the American flag.

In Sanaa, Yemen, police fired shots into the air and lobbed a barrage of tear gas at a crowd of protesters who were trying to march to the U.S. embassy. In face of the tough police response, the crowd of protesters dwindled to several hundred people.

A squad of about 50 marines arrived in Sanaa Friday. Pentagon press secretary George Little said the elite team was sent in response to the violence, but also as a precautionary measure.

There was little sign of government security in Sudan where crowds attacked the U.S., British and German embassies.

The demonstrators are blaming the U.S. government for the video about the prophet and want an apology from President Obama.

The State Department has been monitoring developments around its embassies around the clock and on Thursday a U.S. intelligence bulletin warned that the violent outrage could be spread to America by extremist groups eager to "exploit anger."

Libyan officials said several people have been arrested for the attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, died in the assault.

CIA Director David Petreaus told the House Intelligence Committee Friday that they believe a spontaneous protest broke out and that a militant group that possibly had ties to al Qaeda took the opportunity to launch an assault with rifles and RPGs.

The embassy protests have also inflamed U.S. presidential politics.

Mitt Romney and other Republicans said that Obama contributed to the unrest by giving "confused" messages in his foreign policy decisions.

In an interview Thursday with the Washington Post, Mitt Romney's foreign policy adviser Richard Williamson suggested that if Romney were the president, he would have averted the deadly attacks.

"There's a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you'd be in a different situation," Williamson told the Post. "For the first time since Jimmy Carter, we've had an American ambassador assassinated."

Obama, speaking a campaign event in Golden, Colo., Thursday, vowed that the perpetrators who killed Stevens and the other Americans in Libya would be punished.

"I want people around the world to hear me," he said. "To all those who would do us harm: No act of terror will go unpunished. I will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pentagon Sends Carrier to the Middle East Ahead of Schedule

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Airman Tina Lamb(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon is sending the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis to sea four months ahead of schedule to ensure that there are at least two carriers in the Middle East.

The U.S. Navy has had two carriers operating in the Middle East for quite some time.  It usually rotates one of the two carriers into the Persian Gulf for several weeks at a time while the other operates in the Arabian Sea, providing air support for the war in Afghanistan.

On Monday, Pentagon spokesman George Little confirmed that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has agreed to a recent request from U.S. Central Command to maintain a two-carrier presence in the Middle East.

In September the U.S. was going to go down to one carrier, as the USS Enterprise would not be replaced after it left the region.  To prevent that from happening the Stennis has had its deployment orders changed from the Pacific to the Middle East.

Little says the Stennis is being sent so that there is no gap in between two carrier assignments to the region.  Also being sent on the deployment will be the cruiser USS Mobile Bay.

Little said the need to send the carrier early was, “not a decision based solely on the challenges posed by Iran.”

On Sunday, the USS Eisenhower replaced the other carrier in the region, the USS Abraham Lincoln, which is headed to Norfolk for maintenance work.

In order to make the Stennis/Enterprise swap possible, the Enterprise’s deployment will be extended for what officials say will be “a few days.”  It also means the crew of the Stennis will be out to sea for longer than they had expected.  Originally slated for a four-month Pacific Ocean deployment, the Stennis will now leave four months early to serve a seven month deployment that will last through April 2013.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Panetta On Mideast Peace Talks: ‘Just Get to the Damn Table’

Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is known for his colorful language, and he had some advice Friday night for restarting the stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians: “Just get to the damn table.”

Panetta was speaking at a Brookings Institution forum on the Middle East when during a question and answer session, he was asked what steps Israel should take to get talks underway again.

A frustrated Panetta replied to applause, “Just get to the damn table, just get to the table,” adding, “the problem right now is we can’t get them to the same table … to at least sit down and begin to discuss their differences.”

He said the obstacles to a potential agreement are known, but if both sides were to “sit at a table and work through those concerns, then the U.S. would assist them in a process that could eventually lead to a peace agreement.” 

But “if they aren’t at the table, this will never happen,” he said. “So, first and foremost, get to the damn table.”

The comments were reminiscent of Panetta’s colorful advice to Iraq’s leaders this past summer when he famously told them, “Dammit, make a decision.” At the time Panetta was visiting Iraq, he was frustrated with Iraqi leaders for not deciding whether they wanted the U.S. to remain in Iraq beyond this year’s troop withdrawal deadline.

In his prepared remarks at Friday night’s forum, Panetta urged Israel to address its growing isolation with its neighbors.

Panetta also reaffirmed the administration’s worries about the threat that a nuclear armed Iran would pose, and that the U.S. was doing all it could to prevent that from happening. He worried that it might lead to a regional nuclear arms race or even worse, a regional conflict.   

Panetta also warned about the unintended consequences of a strike on Iran that might lead it to regain regional support and potentially lead to attacks on U.S. ships and military bases.

Touching on the turmoil in Syria, Panetta expressed confidence that international pressure exerted on Syria was having an effect and that it was "a matter of time" before Syrian President Basher al-Assad stepped down. But for that to happen, Panetta said the international community needed to keep the pressure on Assad’s government.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


US to Maintain Military Presence in Gulf Region, Pentagon Says

US [dot] Army [dot] mil(WASHINGTON) -- A Pentagon spokesman on Monday stated that the U.S. will continue to station troops in the Gulf region and that nothing has been finalized about future troop levels with partners in the region, but added that he could not confirm that plans are already underway to boost troop levels in Kuwait.

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Monday, “Our goal at the end of the day is to promote stability in the Middle East and we expect to continue to have strong mil-to-mil relationships with countries in the region to include Iraq, to include Kuwait, to include others.”

The announcement followed a New York Times report this weekend that the U.S. has plans underway to bolster its military presence in the Gulf region after the troop pullout from Iraq.

The most likely area for the U.S. to place additional troops in the region would be Kuwait, where the U.S. already has 23,000 troops supporting military operations in Iraq. Little said he was unaware of any formal plan that had been presented to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta or the White House regarding troop levels in Kuwait.

During several town hall meetings in Asia last week, Panetta repeated the message that the U.S. was committed to the region.

“At the same time, for Iran and anybody else who has any other ideas, let me make clear that the United States maintains 40,000 troops in that region, 23,000 in Kuwait, and numbers of others in countries throughout that region” he said.

“One thing’s for sure, we’re going to maintain a presence in the Gulf region,” said Little. "We have enduring commitments in that part of the world, and those commitments remain a priority.”

Defense Department spokesman Capt. John Kirby also noted Monday that the U.S. has had a commitment to the region since World War II, though he said it was not directed at one particular threat.

“We anticipate we’re going to continue to have a force presence in the Middle East going forward, but what it looks like, where it all is, we’re still working our way through that,” he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Palestinians Speak Out Against Syria

KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) -- The Palestinians have added their voice to the growing number of Arab leaders who are criticizing Syria's deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protestors.  PLO Secretary General Yasser Abed Rabbo issued a statement strongly condemning Syrian forces for shelling and raiding a Palestinian refugee camp in Latakia.

U.N. officials who run the Al-Raml camp say an estimated 5,000 Palestinians fled under fire and some did not make it out alive. They've demanded immediate access to the area to aid the injured, but that request is likely to fall on deaf ears.

Until this attack, Palestinian leaders in the West Bank had remained silent on the violence in neighboring Syria. So had Israeli-Arab lawmakers and Hamas officials in Gaza.  Syria is seen as an important ally, a loyal and fierce supporter of the Palestinians in their quest for an independent, sovereign state.  And Syria continues to supply weapons and money to terrorist groups which carry out attacks against Israel and preach its destruction, groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.  

But this Syrian assault on the Palestinian people has clearly broken the loyalty that may have kept leaders here in Ramallah quiet.  Like the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the gulf states, Jordan and Turkey, the Palestinian Authority is now speaking out against the Syrian regime's indiscriminate violence that human rights activists say has left nearly 2,000 dead.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama: US Future Is Bound to the Middle East

File photo. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)(WASHINGTON) -- Hailing the "extraordinary change" that is taking place in the Middle East and North Africa, President Obama announced Thursday a series of policy and economic initiatives aimed at promoting democracy and reforms in the region.

"We know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security, by history, and by faith," the president said in a speech at the State Department. "A new generation has emerged. And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied."

In a speech that was interrupted only twice by applause, Obama called out specific leaders, including Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who’s facing civil unrest from his own people.

He warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who’s finding himself in a similar situation, to "lead that transition or get out of the way."

Obama also denounced the "hypocrisy of the Iranian regime" and urged U.S. partner Bahrain -- in relatively softer tones -- "to engage in a dialogue" and "forge a just future for all Bahrainis."

"In the months ahead, America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region," Obama said. "Even as we acknowledge that each country is different, we will need to speak honestly about the principles that we believe in, with friend and foe alike. Our message is simple: If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States."

The president also spoke extensively about the Israeli-Palestinian issue, one of the biggest points of contention in the region. He urged both sides to take action to promote peace and reiterated calls for a two-state solution.

"The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation," he said.

"The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine," he continued. "The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states."

The president vowed to foster economic growth and social reform in the region, while aiding in the development of a civil society and technological growth. The series of initiatives announced Thursday include better economic management, economic stability, economic modernization and reform, and a framework for trade integration and investment, according to fact sheets provided by the administration.

Specific to Egypt and Tunisia, where the so-called Arab Spring began, Obama said the United States has asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at next week's G-8 summit to stabilize and modernize their economies.

The United States will provide a debt relief of $1 billion to Egypt -- one of the United States' oldest and closest partners in the Arab world -- and guarantee another $1 billion in loans to finance infrastructure and job creation.

The president also said his administration is working with members of Congress to create enterprise funds for the two countries, modeled after the system that was developed for Eastern European countries in their transition to democracy.

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation, an independent U.S. government agency that mobilizes private capital around the world to advance U.S. foreign policy, will provide $2 billion to the region.

Obama's speech comes during a time when the region is undergoing unprecedented change. The movement for democracy began with the toppling of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's regime in Tunisia, then the popular revolt in Egypt that brought down the longtime rule of President Hosni Mubarak, and then civil unrest in Libya to overthrow Gadhafi.

Similar uprisings are taking hold across the Arab world. In Bahrain, Yemen and Syria, scores of people have died in recent months as their government attempts to squelch protests.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama to Speak on U.S. Role in Arab World's Political Transition

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- On Thursday, President Obama will try to convince the Arab world that the U.S. wants to shift its engagement in the region from a military one to a political and economic engagement that will help the people of the region realize their dreams.

"Having wound down the Iraq war and continuing to do so, and having taken out Osama bin Laden, we are beginning to turn the page to a more positive and hopeful future for U.S. policy in the region," a senior administration official told reporters Wednesday.

Officials say the president will likely make clear the administration's intentions to support democracy in the Middle East and North African region while centering on nonviolence, support for human rights, support for political reform and support for economic reform.

Obama will also speak about economic development as "a way of reinforcing democratic transition," the official said Wednesday. Additionally, he'll announce a series of economic initiatives focusing on Tunisia and Egypt, both of which the official says have already "begun their transitions."  The hope for these initiatives would be that other countries in the region will see progress in Tunisia and Egypt enough to adopt these reforms as well.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Meets with Jordan's King, Talks Mideast Peace

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Calling it "more vital than ever" that Israelis and Palestinians get back to the negotiating table, President Obama on Tuesday attempted to assure King Abdullah II of Jordan that the United States is still committed to the peace process.

"We both share the view that, despite the many changes, or perhaps because of the many changes that have taken place in the region, it's more vital than ever that both Israelis and Palestinians find a way to get back to the table and begin negotiating a process whereby they can create a -- two states that are living side by side in peace and security."

The president noted that Jordan has an enormous stake in this -- as does the United States.

"We will continue to partner to try to encourage an equitable and just solution to a problem that has been nagging the region for many, many years."

King Abdullah thanked the president for his "continued interest and support on the core issue of the Middle East, which is the Israeli-Palestinian peace."

The two leaders also discussed the broader changes in Libya and the Middle East as well as Egypt and Tunisia, emphasizing that economic reform should be paired with political reform sweeping through the region.

"We both agreed that it's critical that not only does political reform proceed but economic reform accompanies those changes there, because so much of what's taking place has to do with the aspirations of young people throughout the Arab world for their ability to determine their own fate, to get an education, to get a job, to be able to support a family," the president said, "And that means some of the old structures that were inhibiting their ability to progress have to be reworked."

President Obama will deliver a speech Thursday on the uprisings in the Middle East. On Friday, the president is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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