Entries in Visit (12)


Hillary Clinton Arrives in Myanmar

Win McNamee/Getty Images(NAYPYITAW, Myanmar) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has arrived in Myanmar, also known as Burma, for a historic visit -- the first by America’s top diplomat in half a century.

Her trip comes as the country’s military leadership has made unprecedented reforms in recent months to allow the long-suppressed opposition to participate in the political process.

Over the next two days, Clinton will meet with Myanmar’s leaders, including President Thein Sein, Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, and members of both houses of parliament.  She will also meet with the main opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who until last year had been under house arrest for two decades.

Secretary Clinton is expected to bring with her specific proposals for reforms that the country’s leaders could implement.  To entice them, Clinton will also put on the table certain incentives for action.  Officials declined to say what those steps were before this week’s meetings.

A senior State Department official traveling with Clinton said the trip came together after months of planning and consultation with the country’s opposition leaders, in particular Aung San Suu Kyi.  Two weeks ago, President Obama phoned her en route to the East Asia Summit in Bali, Indonesia to seek her final approval before announcing he would send Secretary Clinton to the reclusive southeast Asian country.

Critics of Clinton’s trip say it’s too big a reward too soon, since Myanmar’s leaders have yet to make deeper changes to allow for free and fair elections.  The senior U.S. official, speaking on State Department-imposed terms of anonymity, brushed aside any criticism, saying that the Obama administration had consulted closely with Aung San Suu Kyi before sending Clinton.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Afghan Leader Extends Invitation to Former US, NATO Commander

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, hasn't been back to that country since he was forced to resign in July 2010 after disparaging comments about the nation's civilian leaders appeared in a Rolling Stone magazine article.

But while President Obama may no longer have use for McChrystal's services, that doesn't mean that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is similarly inclined.

Karzai and McChrystal developed a strong bond during the former general's tenure in Afghanistan and have remained in contact over the past year.  That's why the Afghan leader has invited McChrystal and his spouse to visit him, an invitation that has been accepted.

The trip also seems to have the blessings of the White House, despite past differences, since McChrystal might be able to act as a back channel, given Karzai's often contentious relationship with the U.S.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Michelle Obama and Family Meet with Nelson Mandela

Debbie Yazbek/ Nelson Mandela Foundation(JOHANNESBURG) -- First Lady Michelle Obama visited Nelson Mandela on the first day of her trip to South Africa Tuesday and told one greeter that her husband was "pouty" that he couldn't come along.

The first lady's weeklong trip to South Africa and Botswana began with a meeting with one of the three wives of South African President Jacob Zuma.  During her stop at the president's official residence in Pretoria, she was greeted by Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma.

Nic Dawes, the editor of South Africa's Mail & Guardian newspaper, tweeted that he shook the first lady's hand and wrote: "Michelle Obama certainly convinced the dignitaries she is excited to be here, and said her husband is 'pouty' that he isn't."

The president is in Washington where his schedule includes meetings with Treasury Secretary Geithner, Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates as he prepares for Wednesday's announcement on the size of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.

Michelle Obama was accompanied by her daughters Malia and Sasha, her mother Marian Robinson, and the first lady's niece and nephew during a visit to the Mandela's home in Houghton.

Mandela, 92, met in 2006 with President Obama in 2006 when Obama was an Illinois Senator.  Now that he is the country's first black president, a cellphone photo of the meeting is framed in Mandela's office, aides to the first lady said.

Mrs. Obama and her family met with Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel, and then toured the apartheid museum.

During a visit earlier in the day to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Johannesburg, Michelle Obama was given an advance copy of the soon to be released book Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Quotations Book.

Verne Harris, the the head of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, showed the first lady a display of archival items, including prison desk calendars, notebooks, and draft letters.

The first lady and her family will be in Botswana on Friday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Invites Controversial African Ruler to White House

ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The family that has ruled the African nation of Gabon for decades has been accused of taking bribes, stealing hundreds of millions of dollars and presiding over a system rife with corruption, but that hasn't stopped President Obama from inviting President Ali Bongo of Gabon to the White House Thursday.

White House press secretary Jay Carney conceded to ABC News on Wednesday that President Bongo has a "less than sterling" record, but said that it was "very important" for President Obama to grant Bongo the coveted Oval Office meeting anyway.

"First of all, the president of Gabon is making reform efforts, which we support," said Carney.  "Secondly...Gabon has been an important partner in some of the issues that are very important to American national security."

Jack Blum, a United Nations consultant and expert on offshore banking, said that the invitation sends a disturbing message.  Blum estimates that in years past the Bongo family and its cronies have "siphon[ed] off 25 percent of the gross domestic product of the country.  And it's made them incredibly rich."

"There's absolutely no shame," said Blum.  "I would say that the people who are running the country are guilty of grand theft nation."

The Bongo family, as detailed in an ABC News investigation that aired on World News with Diane Sawyer and Nightline Wednesday night, has ruled the oil-rich but underdeveloped nation since 1967.  After the death of his father Omar Bongo two years ago, Ali Bongo was himself elected president, and now presides over not only Gabon, but a family empire, allegedly the product of corruption, estimated by U.S. investigators to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

"Omar Bongo and now his son Ali Bongo have for more than 40 years run a regime in Gabon which diverts their country's wealth for their family's personal use," Sen. Carl Levin, D.-Michigan, told ABC News.  Sen. Levin said that a 2010 Congressional report on foreign corruption from an investigative committee that he chairs "shows how the Bongos misused U.S. financial institutions to carry out suspicious transactions involving millions of dollars."

The Bongos have literally dozens of luxury homes worth millions of dollars everywhere from Beverly Hills, where they own three homes, to the French Riviera.  After a criminal complaint filed by a human rights group, authorities in France found that the family had more than 30 luxury properties in that nation alone, including a $120 million, 14-bedroom townhouse in Paris that Ali Bongo bought just last year.

During a 2006 shopping spree in Malibu captured by VH1, Ali Bongo's then-wife Inge turned up her nose at a $25 million mansion.  "I need something really big, really, really, really big," she said.  "I would think for that amount of money, I would expect a bit more grandeur."

"I've tried to downsize, but it's just not in my character," concluded Inge.

The Bongos' lifestyle is a stark contrast to how most people live in Gabon, a French-speaking West African country the size of Colorado that is home to 1.5 million people.  Oil revenues make Gabon one of Africa's most prosperous countries, but it is also a place where some families are still forced to pick through garbage to eat.  One third of the population lives on $2 per day.

The U.S. says there have been improvements under the new President Bongo, but according to the State Department's most recent report, Gabon is still a place of "widespread government corruption" marked by the "use of excessive force by police," where even taking picture of the Bongos' many palaces is against the law.

President Bongo refused repeated requests by ABC News for an interview to discuss allegations of corruption.  One of his top aides said no reputable news agency would ask such questions, and he accused ABC News of conducting a smear campaign against the president.

In Gabon, people can go to prison for criticizing the ruling family.  That's what happened to Marc Ona, a polio victim who is one of the few people in Gabon to criticize the Bongo family's continued rule publicly.  He was briefly sent to prison for it by Bongo's father.

Asked if he thought that by talking to ABC News he was exposing himself to the possibility of fresh trouble with the government, Ona said, "Yes, but I don't care."

Ona said he had to evade secret police to meet with ABC News late at night in a hotel in the capital of Libreville, but that he wanted Americans to know that corruption and impunity are still rampant under President Bongo.

President Bongo has used his money to travel the world in style and make lots of important friends.  In New York last year during a United Nations meeting, he rented an entire museum to throw a party in his honor, where he was praised by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for his work in protecting the African environment.

His entourage all stayed at one of New York's most expensive hotels, with such celebrities as comedian Chris Tucker dropping by to visit.

When ABC News dropped by for a visit and a few questions, the reaction was very different.  "You're coming here with a biased approach," said a Bongo aide, who put his hand on an ABC News camera and ordered, "Get out of here, get out of here."

A spokesman for President Bongo insisted to ABC News that he is a reformer who is working to fight corruption in the country.  The spokesman offered no explanation to ABC News, however, as to how Bongo's family has been able to amass such a great fortune. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Bomb Squad Diffuses Device in Dublin Ahead of Queen's Visit

John Stillwell - Pool/Getty Images(DUBLIN) -- Dublin is on high alert Tuesday after a possible bomb was found ahead of Queen Elizabeth II's visit to Ireland.

According to a Dublin Police Department spokesman, a "viable" improvised explosive device was found on a bus traveling toward Dublin.  The bus was stopped and evacuated in Maynooth in County Kildare, where bomb disposal experts were able to diffuse it.  The situation was declared safe around 2 a.m local time.

Hours later, another possible explosive was reported in west Dublin, but police found that threat to be a hoax.  The incident was deemed safe around 8 a.m.

Despite the bomb threats, the 85-year-old Queen landed in Ireland Tuesday for a four-day visit.  Her trip marks the first time a British monarch has visited Ireland.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Pakistan's Top Military Officer Cancels Trip to US

Gen. Khalid Shameem Wynne pictured on left. AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images(ISLAMABAD) -- Pakistan’s top military officer has canceled a scheduled trip to the United States that was supposed to begin late next week “because of the prevailing environment,” according to a military spokesman.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Khalid Shameem Wynne, was scheduled to visit the U.S. from May 22 to May 27, according to the spokesman.

An analyst close to the Pakistani military believes that Wynne cancelled his trip because senior military officials there have not yet decided what message they want to send to the U.S., especially during such a long, high-profile visit following Osama bin Laden’s death.

Wynne is Pakistan’s most senior officer, although the chief of the Army Staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, holds more power.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Adm. Mike Mullen Lands in Pakistan; To Meet with Top Leaders

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(ISLAMABAD, Pakistan) -- Adm. Mike Mullen arrived in Pakistan Wednesday for his 22nd visit to the country, according to a U.S. embassy official.

During his visit, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be meeting with top leaders of the country.

Mullen's visit comes at a time when tensions between the intelligence agencies of both Pakistan and the U.S. have increased after the incident surrounding Raymond Davis, the American CIA contractor who was imprisoned in Pakistan for shooting two men in January.

Earlier this month, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha and CIA director Leon Panetta held a meeting to ease tensions and agree on a framework for future cooperation.  The result of that meeting is still awaited, according to Pakistani military officials.

Wednesday's meeting also comes at a time when the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S. have stepped up efforts to find a solution to resolve the war in Afghanistan through negotiations with Taliban leadership, in addition to the military operations.  Pakistan's role in the process is a crucial one.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


House Speaker John Boehner Travels to Iraq

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(BAGHDAD) -- Speaker of the House John Boehner led a six-member congressional delegation on a visit to Iraq over the weekend and met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who informed the U.S. representatives that Iraqi security forces are ready to take over protecting the country.

The Ohio Republican and his delegation also met with U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey and a number of senior military leaders.  Joining Boehner on the visit were Republican Representatives Mac Thornberry of Texas, Mike Conaway of Texas, Tom Rooney of Florida, Joe Heck of Nevada and Oklahoma Democrat Dan Boren.

Boehner issued a statement on the visit, praising the military success against the insurgency and calling for continued support for the remaining 46,000 U.S. forces and their civilian counterparts to ensure they have the resources and support they need to complete their mission.

The House Speaker said his delegation’s visit to discuss the successful progress in Iraq would not have been possible “were it not for the courage and sacrifices made by our troops and diplomats, as well as their families.  We give thanks for all that they have done, and continue to do, to advance freedom abroad and strengthen our security at home.”

U.S. forces are scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of the year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Secretary Robert Gates Visits Iraq for Final Time as Defense Chief

Charles Dharapak - Pool/Getty Images(BAGHDAD) -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Iraq for what is possibly his last trip to the country as civilian leader of the Pentagon.

With the U.S. mission there winding down, Gates is meeting with various U.S. military commanders and Iraqi leaders about the pace of training national forces to take over security responsibilities from American troops.

There are currently 50,000 U.S. forces in Iraq and nearly all will be withdrawn by the end of the year.  In the meantime, Gates is scheduled to leave his post with the Defense Department, though he hasn't yet given a firm departure date.

Upon his arrival Wednesday, Gates spoke with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other officials about the need to complete various Iraqi ministries, especially those dealing with the defense of their country.

He also emphasized America's long-term partnership with Iraq, covering three areas: the state of the Iraqi security forces, stability challenges Iraq will face, and the U.S. ability to engage with Iraq across a wide range of activities.

Gates, who took over for Donald Rumsfeld in late 2006, travels to northern Iraq Thursday to discuss other matters with Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish regional government.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Defense Secretary Gates Lands in Afghanistan in Surprise Visit

ABC News(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan Monday, landing in Kabul for a first-hand assessment of how the war is going in the country.

During his stay, Gates is expected to meet with troops, top military commanders, and Afghan leadership, as the U.S. begins to decide how many troops to withdraw and which districts and provinces to transfer over to Afghan control by July 1.

But near the top of the secretary's agenda is the frustrating and sometimes faltering relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has rejected a recent U.S. apology for killing civilians as not enough -- a sign that the relationship between the Afghan leader and Gen. David Petraeus continues to be rocky.

Gates will stay in Afghanistan for several days before heading to Stuttgart, Germany to attend the U.S. Africa Command Change of Command ceremony.  He will then follow his trip to Germany by going to Brussels, Belgium, where he will attend the NATO Defense Ministers Conference.

Monday's visit to Afghanistan is Gates' 13th visit to the country since taking his position.  He was last in Afghanistan in December of last year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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