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Entries in U.S. State Department (23)

Friday
Mar012013

Dennis Rodman Won't Be Debriefed by State After Meeting Kim Jong Un

KNS/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Basketball bad boy Dennis Rodman may be the only American to have hugged, drank and laughed with North Korea's bad boy Kim Jong Un, but the U.S. State Department said Friday it has no plans to debrief Rodman for any personal intel on the man who says he is targeting the U.S. with his nuclear arsenal.

Rodman left Pyongyang Friday after stunning the diplomatic world with his basketball diplomacy. After watching an exhibition game with a laughing Kim, dining and drinking with him, even hugging the regime strongman, Rodman had lavish praise for Kim and his father and grandfather who have turned North Korean into a family affair.

No other American as far as anyone can tell has met with Kim since he assumed command of North Korea following his father's death in 2011. Since then, Kim has defied the world by pressing ahead with a nuclear arms and missile program which Kim says is aimed at the U.S.

Despite his access to Kim, however, Rodman will not be debriefed by American diplomats.

"We haven't been in touch with this traveling party at any point along in the process. They haven't been in touch with us. And so we don't have any plans in that regard," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.

But he said as with any American who travels to North Korea and wants to talk to State, "We'll take their call."

"Here's a man who has had dinner with one of the most threatening men in the whole world, who continues to sell weapons of mass destruction to all of our enemies. And they don't even want to talk to him? That's ridiculous," said Steve Ganyard, a former deputy assistant secretary of state and a consultant to ABC News.

"There is nobody at the CIA who can tell you more personally about Kim Jong Un than Dennis Rodman and that in itself is scary," Ganyard said.

 

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
Feb252013

California Couple on Biking 'Dream Trip' Missing in Peru

Facebook(NEW YORK) -- Two young bike enthusiasts from California have disappeared while on a biking "trip of a lifetime" through South America, according to the U.S. State Department.

Jamie Neal and her boyfriend, Garrett Hand, both 25, embarked on their journey at the end of November, or early December, according to Neal's boss, Jeff Jerge. Neal works at the Pedaler, Jerge's El Sobrante, Calif., bike shop.

"I'm beyond worried," Jerge told ABCNews.com. "I'm super concerned."

Jerge said that Neal and Hand had known each other for a while and began dating and planning their South American trip last summer.

"It's kind of like it was a dream trip for them," Jerge's wife, Kim Jerge, told ABCNews.com. "It's their first big adventure."

Neal has worked at the bike shop for more than two years. Hand is a fisherman in Alaska.

"They wanted to originally ride from here to South America, and we thought going through Mexico was particularly dangerous, so we talked to them about skipping that, and they did decide to fly down to South America and start their trip there," Jeff Jerge said. "We all felt it was potentially dangerous."

As the couple cycled through the continent, they frequently posted updates and photos on Facebook, chronicling their journey. They posted photos of camping, the wildlife and the people they met along the way.

The last post was on Jan. 25 and said, "Finally found Kraft Mac 'n' cheese in South America! Stoked LOL." The couple has not been heard from since.

Jeff Jerge called Neal "very knowledgeable and an extreme cycle lover" and a talented mechanic.

"They had all the right gear," he said. "[The trip] was really well-planned and thought out in terms of the bicycling part."

The U.S. State Department said that according to their families, Hand and Neal had been traveling from Cusco to Lima, Peru, and were expected to arrive in Lima on Jan. 26.

"There's potential that they could be out of service and there's potential they could have just lost contact, but the frequency of their posts before Jan. 25 was pretty close to one another, and certainly there's never been a gap like this," Jerge said. "It really doesn't look good."

A State Department official confirmed to ABC News that the couple had not been heard from in almost a month.

"The U.S. Embassy in Lima is aware of the two U.S. citizens who apparently went missing while on a cycling trip in Peru," a State Department official said in a statement to ABC News.

"Consular officers from the U.S. Embassy in Lima are in contact with the families and Peruvian authorities, and are providing all appropriate consular assistance," the statement said. "The Peruvian authorities provided us all assurances that they will do everything possible to locate this couple. Embassy officers will continue to provide all appropriate consular assistance and to follow developments closely."

On Feb. 13, the U.S. Embassy in Peru issued a warning to Americans to beware of a kidnapping threat in the Cusco area from a criminal organization, but the State Department official could not confirm that the couple had been kidnapped, saying only that an investigation was under way. The Cusco area is near Machu Picchu, and is a popular destination for tourists.

Jerge's bike shop has so far raised $4,000 as a reward for information on the couple.

"We don't know what to do," Jeff Jerge said. "What do you do when people are that far away and you're trying to help them?"

Flyers in English amd in Spanish have been made, and Jerge has made contact with other bikers in Peru to post the flyers. He is planning on reaching out to his distributors who have offices around the world to help get the word out.

"Both of them are just great people, and Jamie is just a good-hearted, fun-loving person with a lot of energy," Kim Jerge said. "She rode her bike to work from Oakland, which is about a 25-mile commute every day. She's a hard worker. She worked for us for two-and-a-half years. She's part of the family."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May012012

Mysterious ‘Hum’ Only Canadians Can Hear Is Debated

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WINDSOR, Mich.) -- The cities of Windsor, Ontario, and Rogue River, Mich., are separated geographically by only a river, but when it comes to one highly annoying noise they are worlds apart.

That noise, described as a low-pitched rumble, has rankled citizens of Windsor since last year, prompting hundreds of complaint calls, leading one resident to create a Facebook page and spurring a senior aide to Canada’s foreign minister to visit the city to investigate.

Testing conducted by the Canadian government determined the sound, known by locals as the “Windsor hum,” came from the area of Zug Island, a 600-acre, steel industrial site on the U.S. side of the Detroit River, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

The only problem? The residents of the Detroit suburb have no idea what their Canadian friends are talking about, or hearing.

The mayor of River Rogue, under whose jurisdiction Zug Island lies, told Canadian questioners last year that his city’s budget does not allow for testing to track down the noise, according to the CBC. Further, the city’s residents say they can’t even hear the noise that Windsor residents say shakes their windows, rattles their shelves and may even be making them sick.

“The only place I am hearing noise from is Canada–from politicians complaining,” the mayor, Michael Bowdler, told the Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the American response.

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality did look into the issue last year—examining whether noise could be caused by new machinery used at Zug—but found nothing, according to the Journal.

And pleas made by the Canadians to both the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have fallen short, with each saying it is a state, not a federal issue.

Meanwhile, Canadian officials are plugging on to try to quiet the noise.

Bob Dechert, the parliamentary secretary to Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, visited Windsor and Detroit late last month and met with both American and Canadian officials to address the issue, according to the CBC.

Still, the mysterious hum continues.

“The government of Canada takes this issue seriously,” Dechert said in a statement. “It is important that we find a solution that works for the people of Windsor.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Oct122011

US Appeals to Foreign Leaders on Alleged Iranian-Backed Plot

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration has begun an effort to explain the alleged Iranian-backed plot to other countries in hopes of using the event to further isolate the Iranian regime, U.S. officials said.

“Iran must be held accountable for its actions,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday. “We will work closely with our international partners to increase Iran’s isolation and the pressure on its government, and we call upon other nations to join us in condemning this threat to international peace and security.”

Clinton has called several of her counterparts this week to discuss the plot, including the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Russia.

The State Department on Wednesday called in ambassadors and representatives from foreign embassies in Washington to explain the alleged plot and to make the case for coordinated action going forward.

Similarly, a secret cable was sent by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns to U.S. embassies and consulates abroad instructing them to explain the charges in foreign capitals with the same goal in mind.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, has began meeting with members of the U.N. Security Council to discuss ways they can increase pressure on Iran.

The State Department said Wednesday that there is no decision yet to pursue further international sanctions, but said that some countries could do more to enforce existing sanctions.

Secretary of State Clinton on Tuesday said the alleged Iranian-backed plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington was reason to rally the international community around coordinated action against Tehran.

“We will be consulting with our friends and partners around the world about for how we can send a very strong message that this kind of action, which violates international norms, must be ended,” she said.

Clinton added that “other areas where we can cooperate more closely in order to send a strong message to Iran and further isolate it from the international community will also be considered.”

The Obama administration also held classified briefings for lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday to brief them in detail on the plot.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Oct012011

US Reads 'Riot Act' to Syrian Envoy over Attack on Ambassador Ford

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- On Thursday night the State Department called in Syria’s Ambassador in Washington Imad Moustapha and “read the riot act about this incident” and reminded of Syria’s treaty obligations to protect foreign diplomats.
 
“He was reminded that Ambassador Ford is the personal representative of the president and that an attack on Ford is an attack on the United States,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters Friday.
 
In the meeting with Ambassador Moustapha, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman also demanded that the Syrian government pay for the extensive damage to embassy vehicles. A previous U.S. demand to pay for damage to the U.S. embassy after it was stormed by another mob last summer has so far fell on deaf ears, the State Department said.
 
Part of the U.S. complaint this time is how long it took Syrian security forces to respond to Ford’s calls for help.
 
“As compared to the almost instantaneous response that Syrian security seems to be able to mount when there's an opposition demonstration, it took them almost two hours to come and disperse the mob and extract him from the site, and then he and his Syrian escorts went right back to the embassy without incident,” Nuland said.
 
Nuland described the group of protestors that assaulted Ford as a “Syrian rent-a-mob” and denied reports in Syrian media that Ford’s convoy hit a small child.
 
“His convoy did not hit anyone; that's Syrian disinformation. He went straight back to the embassy with no incident,” she said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep132011

Could the Taliban Open an Office in Qatar with US Permission? 

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Taliban plan to open a diplomatic office in Qatar by the end of the year, and the United States may have given the Qataris the OK to do so, according to the Times of London.
 
But Tuesday, when pressed repeatedly about the report, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland wouldn’t even comment.
 
“We have nothing for you on that” is all Nuland would say Tuesday. “I'm not prepared to comment one way or the other on that one.”
 
Of course, with the large attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Tuesday wasn’t the best day for the U.S. to confirm overtures with the Taliban.
 
There were talks of a similar office opening up in Turkey about a year ago.  It was said to be part of an effort to reconcile with the Taliban.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Sep072011

US to Open Alternate Embassy Site in Tripoli Due to Compound Damage?

FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Given the significant damage to the U.S. embassy compound in Tripoli, which witnesses say was carried out by Gadhafi loyalists in May, the U.S. plans to arrange for an alternative site while repairs can be made, the State Department said Wednesday.
 
“The damage to the chancery, the embassy building, appears to be significant, and it's going to need some repair. But our team continues to look at that situation, also look at the housing for our personnel, some of which is in OK shape and some of which has been damaged and to look for an alternative site that we can use in the interim while those repairs are being made,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday.
 
She would not say when the U.S. plans to send diplomats back to the Libyan capital, but said the damaged buildings likely won’t delay their return.
 
The State Department dispatched a team of technical experts to Tripoli over the weekend to determine the condition of the embassy and to assess the security situation in the city.
 
Based on their findings, U.S. diplomats could soon return for the first time since the embassy was shuttered in February just hours before the Treasury Department levied sanctions on Gadhafi and his inner circle.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Sep072011

US Now Says It Is in 'Negotiations' with Iraq over Troops Post-2011

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department Wednesday said it is now engaged in “negotiations” with Iraqi leaders about whether the United States will maintain a troop presence there beyond 2011, something that, until now, the U.S. characterized as informal discussions. The wording is only significant because the Iraqi legislature has yet to formally authorize negotiations -- yet this shows the U.S. is prepared to move ahead anyway as the clock ticks down to the end of the year.
 
“We are currently in negotiations with the Iraqi government about what that post-2011 relationship might look like. Those discussions are ongoing, and you can understand that I won't comment on the detail,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters Wednesday.
 
Her comment attracted little attention during the briefing, but a senior State Department official later confirmed that this is a new U.S. policy.
 
In fact, Nuland was asked about this very subject just Tuesday and took a very different line.
 
“I think our public position and our private position hasn't changed, that our plan is to withdraw by the end of the year. Were the Iraqi government to come -- to come forward and make a request for some continued security assistance, we would be prepared to look at it,” she told reporters at the time.
 
What changed? One official said this was calling a spade a spade, since “informal” discussions on the matter had been held with Iraqi leaders since early August. A senior official says the U.S. believes there is now enough consensus among Iraqi leaders that they may want some extended U.S. troop presence after a Status of Forces Agreement, which authorizes U.S. troops to operate in Iraq, expires at the end of the year.
 
The negotiations are being led by Jim Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. U.S. officials have held informal discussions with Iraqi leaders on the matter since Aug. 2, but only Wednesday did the U.S. decide to characterize those talks as “negotiations,” despite the fact that the Iraqi legislature has yet to formally authorize such action.
 
The official denied that the U.S. has decided to push the issue ahead because the Iraqi political paralysis has shortened the timeline for talks so that a decision can be made by the end of the year. The official didn’t rule out U.S. troops leaving the country and returning again later next year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Aug252011

US: Gadhafi Chemical, Nuclear Materials Secure

David Wasserman / Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- American officials said Thursday that Moammar Gadhafi's stock of chemical and nuclear materials are secure, amid fears they could fall into the wrong hands as the longtime leader's regime falls.

"Our judgment is that they remain secure," U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters. "We have no reason to believe that there is anything else of that nature anywhere else."

Despite Gadhafi's previous promise to destroy Libya's mustard gas stockpiles and an agreement with the U.S. to dismantle its nuclear program, fears remained that the North African strongman could use chemical or nuclear weapons against the popular uprising that began in February.

U.S. officials, including Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said they are concerned the weapons could end up in the hands of terrorists in the unstable nation now that Gadhafi is on the run.

"Gadhafi did have some mustard agent," Nuland confirmed Thursday. She said the deadly chemicals had been moved to an ammunition reservation where it is kept "inside massive steel containers, within heavy bunkers" that were sealed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

U.S. officials used "national technical means" to determine that, though some gas remained, it was accounted for and further found that any "sensitive elements of Libya's nuclear program" had been removed successfully from the country years before. The last of Gadhafi's highly enriched uranium, which could have been used to produce a nuclear bomb, were taken out of the country in 2009.

While Gadhafi did have some yellowcake nuclear material, that material is "safeguarded" in a Libyan nuclear research facility. In any event, Nuland said, "Libya doesn't have the means right now to turn yellowcake into anything dangerous."

With chemical and nuclear dangers out of the way, Nuland said the greatest concern to the U.S. was the proliferation of the Libyan military's powerful, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons known as MANPADS.

Chris Stevens, the U.S. envoy to the Transitional National Council in Benghazi, has met with the rebel leadership several times in recent weeks to ensure they are prepared to take over control of depots containing those weapons.

The State Department has already spent $3 million on contracts to help destroy weapons and mines inside parts of Libya that have been taken over by rebel forces.

Gadhafi had promised in 2003 to dismantle its nuclear program as part of an agreement that eventually led the U.S. to take Libya off the list of states that sponsor terrorism in 2006.

After the agreement, the U.S. sent millions in aid to the Gadhafi regime "focused on bolstering Libya's commitments to renouncing weapons of mass destruction," according to State Department records.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Aug232011

US Working to Release Up To $1.5 Billion to Libyan Rebels

Salah Malkawi/ Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. is now working to release $1 billion to $1.5 billion of Gadhafi’s frozen assets to the rebel Transitional National Council, the State Department said Tuesday. That’s part of over $30 billion that was frozen earlier this year, much of which was not liquid. The figure is lower than the $3 billion some officials had suggested might be released.
 
U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said Tuesday they hope to make that money available within days. The U.S. has been pushing the U.N. sanctions committee in New York to alter resolutions on Libya so that the funds can be legally transferred to the rebels.
 
They’ve met some legal hurdles and concerns from other countries, but U.S. officials seem confident this will happen soon.
 
“There's quite a bit of diplomacy, both in New York, here in Washington, out in capitals, and the secretary's been involved in this herself, of course, to get this work done in coming days,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Tuesday.
 
The U.S. has sought and received assurances from the TNC that the funds will be used only for humanitarian purposes. Though their top diplomat in D.C. told reporters last week that they needed weapons.
 
“We would not have taken this step if we didn't have confidence that the money will be used -- will get to the people who need it and will be used appropriately,” Nuland said Tuesday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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