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Monday
Nov222010

EU and Ukraine to Implement Visa-Free Travel Between the Two Regions

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(KIEV, Ukraine) -- While the 14th European Union-Ukraine summit took place Monday, EU President Herman Van Rompuy and Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych announced the Action Plan that will allow for short-term visa-free travel between European Union countries and Ukraine.

"I believe it is our joint achievement.  Finally, we are getting very close to waiving the visa barriers," Yanukovych said.

The Ukrainian president hopes to see the Action Plan implemented by the first half of 2011, but a draft of economic reforms in Ukraine for 2010-2014 recommends a goal introducing visa-free travel by the end of 2012.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Monday
Nov222010

US Calls North Korea's Nuclear Revelation a 'Publicity Stunt'

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The United States Monday called North Korea's decision to unveil a new uranium enrichment program to a group of visiting American scientists a "publicity stunt" and said it will take some time to consult with allies about how to proceed.

"The fact that North Korea invited these scientists to come to Pyongyang and did a show-and-tell, that by itself is valuable information. We'll compare that with other things that we know, and we'll make a formal assessment as to what we think, you know, this capability represents and what the implications are," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters.

Questions remain, however, about the capability and intentions of North Korea's uranium program, as well as its origins. On Sunday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested the facility had been unknown to the United States.

"I hadn't known about this specific facility before, but the fact that they were going -- that they wanted their own enrichment capability is not a surprise," Gates said.

On Monday, the State Department spokesman suggested it would not provide further incentives for North Korea to return to the negotiating table.

"We will not be drawn into rewarding North Korea for bad behavior," Crowley said. "They frequently anticipate doing something outrageous or provocative, and forcing us to jump through hoops as a result. We're not going to buy into this cycle."

Last week, a team of American scientists, led by Siegfried Hecker of Stanford University, returned from a trip to North Korea during which they were invited to visit a previously undisclosed nuclear facility that North Korea says is capable of enriching uranium.

The North Koreans claim the facility is meant to produce fuel for an electric power plant, but the United States fears it could be used to further Pyongyang's nuclear weapons ambitions.

Gates yesterday expressed doubts about North Korea's intentions.

"I don't credit that at all," he told reporters traveling with him in Bolivia.

In an interview with The New York Times, which first reported the scientists' findings on Saturday, Hecker said he was "stunned" by the sophistication of the facility.

According to the report, North Korea almost certainly received outside help in producing the facility, likely from Pakistan and perhaps also from Iran, which has been pursuing its own uranium enrichment program.

The Obama administration Monday called on North Korea to halt its nuclear program and return to negotiations, but declined to say if it would pursue another round of sanctions in the United Nations Security Council.

"We do not at all rule out the possibility of further engagement with North Korea, but we want that to take place under a proper set of conditions and in close coordination with our partners," Bosworth said after meetings in South Korea Monday.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Monday
Nov222010

Putin Wants to Save the Last 3,200 Tigers from Extinction

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- What has been hailed as the most significant meeting ever to discuss the fate of a single non-human species is under way in the Russian city of St. Petersburg. Conservationists and government officials from the 13 countries where tigers roam have gathered for a four-day "tiger summit" to commit to a plan for fighting the big cats' extinction, led by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Conservationists say because of poaching and deforestation, only 3,200 tigers remain in the wild, less than the number in captivity in Texas. The tiger population is at an all-time low, down from around 100,000 a century ago. Of the remaining tigers, only 1,000 are breeding females, the key to the species' survival.

Tiger experts say that unless drastic measures are taken, tigers could soon be extinct. At the end of the summit, participants are expected to commit to doubling the tiger population by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger after 2010 in the Chinese zodiac.

To do that, the countries and conservation groups will commit an estimated $330 million, the bulk of which will come from the World Bank -- which has spearheaded the global tiger initiative -- and the 13 "tiger range" countries, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Despite not having wild tigers of its own, the United States has contributed millions to the preservation cause. There had been hopes that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would attend the forum (the undersecretary of state is representing the United States at the summit).

Russia and its tiger-loving prime minister have been applauded for their efforts to raise awareness and reverse the tigers' decline. Putin was given a tiger cub for his birthday in 2008, a month after he famously shot a Siberian tiger with a tranquillizer dart as part of a collaring program.

"The complexity in saving the tiger is not great, but the scale of the challenge is," said Wildlife Conservation's Society's Walston. "If we do the basics right, if we support the men and women on the ground to prevent poaching of tigers, then we're going to allow tigers to do what they do naturally, which is to breed and recover."

Putin and the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will address the conference Tuesday.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 

Monday
Nov222010

Hundreds Killed in Cambodia Stampede

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(PHNOM PENH, Cambodia) -- At least 339 people are reported dead following a stampede at a festival in Cambodia.

The deadly stampede happened during the final day of a water festival celebration in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital.

Reports say huge crowds had gathered on a small island for the festival when a bridge became overcrowded and panic ensued, causing the stampede. Witnesses say too many people were crammed onto the bridge and that people at both ends were pushing, causing those in the middle of the crowd to fall and be crushed.

Hundreds of others were injured in what has been described as the “biggest tragedy” in Cambodia since the mass killings by the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.

Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered that flags on all government ministries be flown at half-mast, and has called for an investigation into the incident. He also declared a national day of mourning for later this week.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Monday
Nov222010

Israel to Build Barrier Along Egyptian Border

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- Israel will begin building a barrier along its border with Egypt in an effort to keep unwanted individuals from entering the country.

Dozens of Israeli engineers will start working at various points along the 150-mile-long border Monday.  The planned barrier is intended to keep out illegal immigrants, terrorist operatives, and drug smugglers.

With the latest figures showing 700 immigrants cross over the Egyptian border each week, the legal status of these immigrants and their children has become a hotly debated issue in Israel.  Some have to be deported, while others are given full rights.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Nov212010

North Korea Shows Off New Nuclear Capability

Stanford University professor Siegfried S. Hecker. Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- North Korea reportedly has built a new plant to enrich uranium and showed it off to a visiting American scientist.

The New York Times reported Sunday that Stanford University professor Siegfried S. Hecker was recently shown the facility and quotes him saying he was "stunned" by the sophistication of the plant, where he saw "hundreds and hundreds" of centrifuges to be used for uranium enrichment.

The plant was not in existence back in April 2009, the last time international inspectors were allowed to view North Korea's nuclear operations.  The country remains under international sanction for earlier nuclear violations and the Obama administration is likely to use this new information to show that North Korea continues to violate those sanctions.

This comes at a time when North Korea is preparing for a transition in leadership from Kim Jong-il to his son, Kim Jong-un.  It may be part of a campaign to demonstrate that the younger man will be a strong leader.  Experts also tell the Times it is characteristic of North Korea to see whether there might be some kind of "payoff" for the country, in exchange for backing down on its nuclear efforts.

Administration officials were quoted Sunday saying they have no intention of reopening talks with North Korea unless it "demonstrated a seriousness of purpose and constructive action" on the issue.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Nov212010

Iran Sets New Trial Date for American Hikers

Images courtesy - ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images(TEHRAN) -- The lawyer for two American hikers held by Iran for more than a year said on Sunday a new trial date has been set for Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal.  They were supposed to be tried in early November but authorities said at the time that the case was delayed because one of the hikers who had been freed on bail had not returned to the country to face trial.  The new trial date is Feb. 6.

A third hiker, Sarah Shourd, was released for humanitarian reasons in September on  $500,000 bond.  Experts on the region say it is possible Iran will seize that money.  Shourd has given no indication whether she would return to Iran. She and Bauer are engaged and had been living together in Syria.  Fattal was visiting them when they took the hiking trip in July 2009.

The three are charged with spying but have said repeatedly that they were hiking in a remote area of Iraq and accidentally wandered over an unmarked border into Iran.  Iranian prosecutors claim the three were trained and equipped as spies.

Their lawyer says he has not been allowed to meet with the two defendants.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Nov212010

Palestinians: No Deal Without Full Construction Freeze

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CAIRO) -- Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, in Cairo to meet with Egypt's President on Sunday, said there will be no resumption of the stalled middle east peace talks without a full freeze on settlement construction on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

The two were discussing a U.S. proposal for a 90-day freeze on construction to give breathing room to the process and persuade the Palestinians back to the bargaining table with Israel.  Abbas said he has not received an official proposal from the U.S. but regardless, a partial freeze is not good enough.

The direct peace talks that resumed in September fizzled after a partial settlement construction freeze was allowed to expire.  Abbas said that while the Palestinians hope to resolve the issue, there would be no resumption of talks so long as Israeli reconstruction continues on lands the Palestinians hope will be part of their own state. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking written support for the plan to renew limits on West Bank settlement construction.  But the U.S. is unlikely to put in a clause that does not include East Jerusalem when its official position includes opposition to any Israeli building in that part of the city.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Nov212010

Biden Op-Ed: What US Must Now Do for Iraq

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Vice President Joe Biden's op-ed in The New York Times Sunday says it is time for the U.S. to change its role in Iraq from a militaristic lead to a civilian lead.  Just over a week ago, following months of wrangling since the March elections, lawmakers agreed on a framework for a new government in the country.  Now, Mr. Biden said it's time for that government to take over critical decision making.

The vice president said the 50,000 U.S. troops who will remain in Iraq until the end of 2011 have a new mission.  That mission, he wrote, is to advise and assist their Iraqi counterparts, to protect U.S. personnel and property and to participate in counterterrorist operations.

Mr. Biden said the lion's share of security work in the country must now be done by Iraqis.  "In a country where extremists remain bent on sowing chaos, and where innocent civilians still suffer unspeakable hardship, the transition to a safer society depends on the continued development of Iraq's security forces, now more than 650,000 strong."

Still, the vice president wrote the Iraqis are not yet ready to do it all on their own.  He said the U.S. must continue to support them and help Iraq's leaders with a range of challenges that lie ahead.  Those challenges include conducting a national census, integrating Kurds into the security forces and helping the Iraqis who worked against insurgents, resolving internal boundary disputes and determining the future of the city of Kirkuk.

Biden said that while Iraq is not yet ready to sustain itself financially, the time will come when it "will emerge from generations of trauma to become a stable and self-reliant nation."  The vice president ended the article by pushing for Congress to approve the White House's budget request for continued security and diplomatic efforts, pointing out the cost of those operations is far less than the cost of maintaining a full military presence.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Nov212010

Trapped New Zealand Miners: Rescuers Still Unable to Enter Mine

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(GREYMOUTH, New Zealand) -- It's still too dangerous for rescuers to try to reach 29 missing miners in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Herald reports that gas levels inside the mine are trending down, but continue to fluctuate. Testing will indicate whether it's safe for rescue teams to enter the mine. Experts fear high levels of gas could trigger another explosion.

The miners -- who have yet to be heard from -- have been trapped since Friday.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







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