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Wednesday
Mar022011

Is the State Department Ready for the US Military to Leave Iraq? 

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department is not ready to assume leadership for the U.S. role in Iraq as the military draws down its mission there, Commissioners Grant Green and Michael Thibault of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan argued before lawmakers Wednesday.

“Is the State Department ready? The short answer is ‘no,’ and the short reason for that answer is that establishing and sustaining an expanded U.S. diplomatic presence in Iraq will require State to take on thousands of additional contractor employees that it has neither funds to pay nor resources to manage,” Green testified before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The State Department faces a daunting challenge. Come this October, the military will turn over leadership of the U.S. presence in Iraq to the State Department as the military moves toward its deadline to withdraw at the end of 2011. Lawmakers on Wednesday raised concerns about the money and manpower that the State Department needs to get the job done.

Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., accused the State Department of using contractors to perform functions that are inherently governmental and should be reserved for government personnel.

However, State Department Under Secretary for Management Ambassador Patrick Kennedy was adamant that the functions that are being contracted out are non-governmental and reiterated that the State Department would have robust oversight over any contract body.

Time, Green said, is of the essence. “Ten months from today, all but a handful of U.S. military personnel will be gone from Iraq. State needs to have many new contracts in place with contractors at work by October to ensure a good transition. And that means many acquisitions must be launched quickly,” he said.

With all eyes looking for potential budget cuts, money is also a pivotal concern. The Obama administration, however, has made clear that the U.S. accomplishments in Iraq are at risk if the State Department does not get the funding it’s requested.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that is "a critically urgent concern" that the State Department get approval of the proposed $5.2 billion allocation for fiscal year 2012 to fund its work in Iraq as U.S. forces exit this year.
 
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Wednesday
Mar022011

Sec. of State Clinton: Al Jazeera Is 'Real News,' US Losing 'Information War'

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it clear Wednesday that she is worried the United States is losing what she calls the “information war” abroad.

China and Russia, she says, have started English-language networks that push their message overseas and even the Taliban controls the airwaves in Afghanistan.

And in the Arab world? Al Jazeera is king, and Clinton says she can see why.

“Al Jazeera has been the leader in that [they] are literally changing people’s minds and attitudes. And like it or hate it, it is really effective,” she said.

“In fact viewership of al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it’s real news. You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners,” she added.

Clinton’s State Department has tried to keep up, especially on social media, where this year they have started Tweeting in Arabic, Farsi, and other languages. Secretary Clinton last week held a Web chat with a popular Egyptian site that was able to gather 6,500 questions for her in just two days.

“We are really trying to play in that arena as best we can,” she said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Wednesday
Mar022011

Pakistani Minister Shot and Killed in Islamabad

Photo Courtesy - Jewel Samad/AFP/ Getty Images(ISLAMABAD, Pakistan) -- The Pakistani minister for minorities affairs was shot and killed by gunmen in Islamabad Wednesday.

According to police, Shahbaz Bhatti was traveling in his car when unknown gunmen shot at his vehicle multiple times from close range.  Bhatti was taken to the hospital in critical condition, where he was later pronounced dead.

No suspects have yet been detained.  Although the motive is not clear, Bhatti, the only Christian minister in Pakistan's court, may have been attacked because he spoke against the country's blasphemy laws, which are often used to persecute religious minorities.

Bhatti's death comes two months after Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer was assassinated, making it the second major attack on moderate Pakistani politicians.  Taseer, like Bhatti, spoke against the blasphemy laws.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar022011

Christiane Amanpour in Libya: Poor Conditions at Tripoli Airport

Photo Courtesy - ABC NewsREPORTER'S NOTEBOOK
By CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, ABC News
(LONDON) -- When I arrived at the Tripoli airport Wednesday morning, my colleagues and I were horrified at the sea of human misery that greeted us. For at least one week, thousands of foreign contract workers have been stranded here, trying desperately to get out of Libya.

The airport grounds outside the terminal have become a filthy, impromptu refugee camp. Those that are lucky have some blankets and are huddling together in the bitter night cold. There are no facilities, no bathrooms, and for more than a week now, these people have had no airline tickets and no idea how they're going to get out. Egypt and other nations seem to be sending in some flights to get them, but nowhere near enough to manage all of them.
We practically tripped over people sleeping in dark, and the piles of trash are everywhere. Shoes, clothes, and garbage are strewn everywhere. Inside, it's not much better, if a little warmer. Hundreds of people, including women and children, are huddled next to whatever they have. The smell is rancid, and airport workers are wearing surgical masks, but it seems no one is bothering to clean up. Mysteriously, every single clock in the airport is stopped at half past twelve.
The situation here is dire, but at the Libyan border with Tunisia, it has reached a crisis point. Hundreds of thousands have tried to cross, at a rate of 2,000 per hour. The UN High Commission for Refugees is there, trying to coordinate assistance, and they are publicly calling for help before this turns into a full-blown catastrophe. The people crossing are mostly Egyptians, in a state of panic, suffering from dehydration, and above all, a fear of the unknown, and a lack of information. The British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that the UK will help organize an airlift of Egyptians back to their country, having already announced that it was sending food and blankets.
The big unknown -- exactly why they are fleeing. Is it based on panic or media reports? Fear of the unknown? It's confusing, because having just left Tripoli, we know it is calm inside the city. While Tripoli remains under Colonel Gadhafi's control, there are new reports that his forces have retaken Brega in the east. According to our colleague, BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, who attended the press conference, it was another eccentric performance by the Libyan leader. He arrived at the head of a motorcade, driving himself in a golf cart. And he basked in the attention of the adulating crowd, who cheered and chanted for him.

Wednesday is the anniversary of the day in 1977 when he "handed over power to the people and returned to his tent" after gaining power in a military coup in 1969. In Gadhafi's folklore, this is significant because he keeps insisting that he can't step down because he's not a president or monarch, but merely a symbolic figurehead. It was a similar line of argument that he espoused during our exclusive interview on Monday, when we met with him at a fish restaurant on the coast of the Mediterranean in Tripoli. Wearing his trademark long flowing robes and gold-rimmed aviator sunglasses, he laughed at the suggestion that he had fortunes stashed overseas, saying he possessed nothing but his famous Bedouin tent. "If they can find it," he said of the alleged foreign assets, "they take half and I will keep the other half." He condemned those countries that had frozen Libyan assets, saying: "The assets are the assets of the Libyan nation...I am the asset of Libya, not the American dollar."
He also insisted that he never ordered aerial assaults on Libyan protesters, but only authorized bombing of ammunitions dumps to avoid weapons falling into the hands of "terrorists," as he refers to the forces that have taken over Benghazi and other cities in the east of Libya. In fact, just Monday, two fighter jets attempted to bomb a large ammunition depot in Ajdabiya, a city in the east.

At Wednesday's press conference, he again insisted that he will not launch a scorched-earth campaign by torching his own oil installations. He told us he would never attack the oil fields, but warned that "the
terrorists might try to." He did speak of freedom of the press and freedom of speech, the first time he has acknowledged any of the protesters' demands, even obliquely. But he continues to blame the violence in his country on Al Qaeda, as he told us as well. "I'm surprised," he said Monday, "that we have an alliance with the west to fight Al Qaeda and now that we are fighting terrorists, they have abandoned us."

As I landed in London Wednesday, I found two very different versions of the Libyan experience as I spoke to my fellow travelers in line at the airport. While I spoke to one of the men standing next to
me, who was sent by the Gadhafi regime to study in London, it was as if we were still in Tripoli. "He's good," he told me of Gadhafi. "We just want peace." But another man I spoke with, who had long ago immigrated to England, said that Gadhafi had done nothing for the country -- that education was failing, there was no infrastructure or jobs for young people; nothing worthy of the billions of dollars Libya earns in oil revenues. He said he hoped Gadhafi would be gone soon but felt that Gadhafi would never "surrender."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio
Wednesday
Mar022011

Japanese-American Sports Pioneer Dies at 85

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Wally Kaname Yonamine, the first American to be inducted into Japan's Baseball Hall of Fame and a former running back for the San Francisco 49ers, died Tuesday from complications of prostate cancer. He was 85.

Known as the "Nisei Jackie Robinson," Yonamine blazed a trail for the Japanese and Americans on both sides of the Pacific.

"He was an outsider with the 49ers, and he moved to Japan and became an outsider for the opposite reason -- because he was American as opposed to being Asian," said author Robert K. Fitts, who wrote Yonamine's biography Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball, released in 2008.

A native of Maui, Yonamine was born to immigrant farm workers. He began playing football as a child, and excelled as a star running back at Honolulu's Farrington High School. In 1944, his senior year, Yonamine led his team to an undefeated season and championship.

Considered one of the greatest athletes to come out of Hawaii, the football player was set to accept a scholarship from Ohio State University when the San Francisco 49ers came calling. He signed a two-year contract and headed to the Bay Area as the first Japanese-American football player to play professionally, just a year after the end of World War II.

Yonamine started three of 12 games his first year, and his football career ended after just one season, but his impact remained well beyond that. The 49ers established the Perry/Yonamine Unity Award in 2007, a title awarded to a 49ers player, a Bay Area youth football coach, and a local company that demonstrates commitment to promoting unity with their team and community.

Yonamine played in the Pacific Coast League before heading to Japan in 1951 at the age of 26. The left-handed infielder began his Japanese baseball career with the Yomiuri Giants, becoming the first American to play professional sports in Japan following the war.

He helped transform Japanese baseball from a passive style game to an aggressive one, when he slid hard into second to break up a double play in his first game. He achieved a .311 career batting average, won three batting titles and was named an All-Star seven times. In 1954, Yonamine became the first foreigner to win the Central League batting title with a .361 average, and he led the league in hits, doubles, and runs scored.

Years after his playing career ended, Yonamine served as a coach or manager with six teams over 26 years. His biggest accomplishment came in 1974, when he guided the Chunichi Dragons to their first Japan Series title, ending the Giants' nine-year championship reign.

In 1994, Yonamine became the first foreigner to be inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. Four years later, he was honored by the Emperor of Japan for his career as a player and ambassador.

Following his career in baseball, Yonamine and his family ran pear stores in Tokyo and the Los Angeles area.

Yonamine is survived by his wife Jane, daughters Amy Roper and Wallis Yamamoto, and son Paul.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar022011

British Report Says It's Time to Talk to the Taliban

Photo Courtesy - Majid Saeedi/Getty Images(LONDON) -- An influential British parliamentary committee says the time has come to talk seriously with the Taliban in Afghanistan.   

A new British "Foreign Affairs Committee report" says current tactics in Afghanistan are not working. "What we actually want now is to try and persuade the Taliban to come to the table, sit down and actually enter into a dialogue involving Pakistan, involving the United States, and have an Afghan-led political reconciliation process, says Committee chairman, Richard Ottaway.

The report adds the purpose of having British forces in the country -- protecting UK national security -- may have been achieved "some time ago."  Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague agrees, saying it's time to advance a political process.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar022011

Netanyahu Reacts to Libyan Crisis

Photo Courtesy - Jim Hollander - pool/Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made his first public comments on Moammar Gadhafi's bloody crackdown on protestors, praising the international community for taking action and urging the same for Iran.

Netanyahu applauded the U.N.'s decision to kick Libya off the Human Rights Council. He called it absurd that Gadafi's regime ever sat on the council, saying the regime systematically violates human rights -- and deserves no immunity.

Netanyahu also praised the west for putting pressure on Libya, but appealed for similar pressure to be put on Iran. He said, "The world should send the same warnings and consider the same assertive steps against Iran where the Ayatollahs, like Gadhafi [is], are executing their opponents." Netanyahu added "Iranian protestors must know the world has not forgotten their plight for freedom."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar022011

Royal Wedding Website Launches

Photo Courtesy - Official Royal Wedding 2011 [dot] org (LONDON) -- Those who want to stay on top of the latest news of Prince William and Kate Middleton can now turn to a new website.

An official site for the royal wedding launched Wednesday morning, promising regular updates as the couple's April 29 nuptials approach.  St. James's Palace said photos, links, and videos of William and Kate will be posted on the website, as well as some of the most coveted details, such as specifics on the bride's dress.

Visit www.officialroyalwedding2011.org to learn more.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar022011

US Seeks Ways to Prosecute Gadhafi for Lockerbie Plane Bombing

Photo Courtesy - Mahmud Turkia/AFP/ Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- If the U.S. has its way, Col. Moammar Gadhafi could lose more than just his seat of power.

The Libyan strongman also stands to lose his freedom if he's brought up on charges in the 1988 plane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland that killed 270 people, most of them Americans.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised that possibility Tuesday during testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Committee Chairwoman Illena Rose-Lehtinen asked Clinton how the U.S. "could gather evidence and put together a case against Gadhafi and all those with whom he might have conspired" in plotting the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which was heading to New York during the Christmas holidays when it was bombed.

Responding to the question from the Republican lawmaker, Clinton said she would move expeditiously to ask FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Eric Holder about the best ways to gather evidence to bring a case against Gadhafi.

Since the unrest in Libya began two weeks ago, former members of Gadhafi's regime have accused him of directly ordering the terrorist attack that, to date, has only led to the conviction of one Libyan agent.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi was eventually released by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds in August 2009 because he was said to be suffering from terminal cancer.

His return to Tripoli to a hero's welcome enraged the U.S. as well as the American families of his victims.  Al-Megrahi, who was supposedly on death's door 18 months ago, is still alive.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar022011

UN Calls for 'Mass Evacuation' of Libyan Refugees

Photo Courtesy - U.S. Department of State(NEW YORK) -- The United Nations called for the mass evacuation of people escaping Libya for Tunisia, the BBC reports. 

The UN reported that nearly 75,000 people have left for Tunisia since social and political disruption began in Libya and 40,000 more are still waiting for entry.

The UN High Committee for Refugees is calling for governments to pull together resources in a "massive humanitarian evacuation" of the thousands of individuals now stranded in the midst of the great exodus from Libya. 

Now that Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi has refused to leave, despite opposition to his decades-long rule, the UN has voted to suspend the nation from its Human Rights Council.  The organization justified its decision citing "gross and systemic violation of human rights," according to the BBC report.

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