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Sunday
Jan092011

Secretary of State Clinton to Persian Gulf

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The Secretary of State left late Saturday for a seven day trip to the Middle East and is expected to press Arab states to openly support tougher sanctions for Iran because of its nuclear efforts.

Secretary Hillary Clinton is expected to visit the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar ahead of the next round of nuclear talks with Iran next week in Istanbul.  Clinton will likely lay out expectations and offer Arab nations information on following the United Nations sanctions on Iran.

State Department officials also say the secretary will encourage more Arab countries to open embassies in Iraq.

A senior U.S official told the Wall Street Journal the main focus of the trip is actually pushing Arab nations toward a more "civil society."  The Obama administration has felt some heat from activists who feel it is not working hard enough for political reform in parts of the Middle East.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Jan092011

Mexican Drug Violence Reaches Unimaginable Proportion

Photo Courtesy - STR/AFP/Getty Images(MEXICO CITY) -- The bodies of some two dozen people were found, most of them decapitated and many bearing notes, in the Mexican resort city of Acapulco on Saturday.  Some of the notes identified the dead as extortionists and claimed responsibilities for the killings on behalf of the Sinaloa drug cartel.

The Los Angeles Times reports most of the bodies were found away from the city's central market area, which rival gangs are fighting to control.

The Sinaloa cartel may be trying to move in on the territory of its rival, the Beltran Leyva gang, which appears weakened by the recent deaths and captures of some of its leaders.  The Times says the Leyva operation has been the top drug operation in Acapulco but may now be struggling, making the area ripe for takeover.  Nationwide, the Times says the Sinaloa cartel is the strongest in Mexico.

Officials say all of the victims were men under the age of 30.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Jan092011

American Woman Feared Held in Iran Found Safe

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department says an American woman who was the focus of unconfirmed media reports that she had been arrested in Iran for espionage while entering from Armenia is safe and not in Iranian custody.

"We have located the U.S. citizen who appears to have been the subject of the reports and confirmed that the individual is safe," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said late Saturday. "She is not in Iran."

He could not provide further details.

A U.S. official told ABC News that the woman is in Istanbul, Turkey, and that American consular officials are in touch with her.

On Thursday, reports in some state-run Iranian media outlets said an American woman had been arrested by customs officials for hiding "spying technology or a microphone" in her teeth while trying to enter northwestern Iran from neighboring Armenia.

On Friday, State Spokesman P.J. Crowley cast doubt on the reports of the woman's arrest as he said that neither Armenia nor Iran had a record of an American woman entering Iran through a checkpoint along their borders.

"We have no information to corroborate this alleged incident," Crowley said.

He said that "in addition to checking our own records, we have contacted Armenian authorities and through our Swiss protecting power the Iranian government concerning these reports. Neither Iran nor Armenia reports having any record of a U.S. citizen crossing or attempting to cross the Iran-Armenia border as indicated in media accounts."

Attempts by American officials to confirm the woman's citizenship and identity proved difficult as contradictory information began to appear in other Iranian media outlets that denied the initial reports and said no American had been detained. The contradictions continued on Saturday as new media reports rom a senior Iranian police official provided even more contradictory details on the woman's alleged arrest and identity.

Gen. Ahmad Geravand told the ISNA news agency that the woman was 34-year-old Hal Fayalan and that she had been arrested at a border crossing with Azerbaijan. He said she "was on a mission for the Americans to film the country's borders."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Saturday
Jan082011

More US Aid to Pakistan, Despite Misgivings

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- When Vice President Biden visits Pakistan next week he will reportedly carry a substantial aid package to the country, considered a top ally in the war on terror.  Pakistan is a troubling ally, however, with much of its population distrustful of the United States' presence and largely because of that distrust, it's a government less cooperative than Washington would like.

The Washington Post, quoting a senior Obama administration official who requested anonymity, reports the aid will include military, intelligence and economic elements for a country already targeted to receive $3 billion from the U.S. in 2011.  Pakistan complains U.S. aid, particularly helicopter gunships, is slow to arrive.

The decision to increase aid came in the White House review of its Afghanistan war policy.  It goes against the advice of some officials grown tired of the Pakistani military delay in operations in Waziristan, where the U.S. would like to see terrorist training camps targeted.  Many U.S. officials feel Pakistan is not aggressive enough against terrorist operations along its border and inside its tribal belt.

This move could be seen as calling the bluff of Pakistani officials who complain that the U.S. does not understand their security needs, or as a redoubled effort to overcome Pakistani doubts about U.S. goals in their country.

The timing of the aid increase may be a key factor.  The administration official told the Post that Pakistanis may realize they have more "cachet" or influence right now, with Afghanistan and Pakistan the administration's top foreign policy challenge, but they may also realize their time is over for "maximum leverage" in terms of getting something from the U.S. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Jan082011

North Korea Renews Overture to South Korea

Photo Courtesy - Yonhap News Agency(SEOUL, South Korea) -- The North Korean government of Kim Jong-il  on Saturday renewed its New Year's Day offer of peace talks with its neighbor to the South.  Pyongyang says the offer is unconditional and aimed at peace and reconciliation.  North Korea would like the talks to begin as early as late January or the beginning of February.

This comes six weeks after North Korea shelled a South Korean Island, killing four people in an attack it said was in retaliation for South Korean military drills in waters the North claims as its own.

South Korea, which rejected the earlier call, says it will review this request.  South Korean Unification Ministry Spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said, "It is still hard to say North Korea has made an official proposal for talks...but as today's statement contains more details, we will review it."

South Korea has said it will hold talks with North Korea only if it exhibits sincerity.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jan072011

Secretary Clinton Meets Saudi King and Lebanese Prime Minister in NYC

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in New York City Friday afternoon to meet with Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, who was recently discharged from the hospital and is recovering from surgery.
 
“We are delighted that the king, a valued friend and ally, is ready to receive visitors, and the secretary will wish him a rapid recovery,” her spokesman said Friday.
 
The meeting comes ahead of Clinton’s visit to the Arabian peninsula. She departs Saturday for the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar.
 
Clinton also met in New York Friday with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

The State Department Friday said Clinton met with Hariri to “reiterate our support for a sovereign, stable and politically independent Lebanon.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jan072011

Obama Administration Slaps Sanctions on Ivory Coast Leaders

U.N. peacekeepers patrol a street of Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, on Jan. 5. Photo Courtesy - ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) slapped sanctions on Ivory Coast leaders Thursday to protest President Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to step down after he lost the Nov. 2010 run-off election between himself and Alassane Ouattara.

The sanctions prohibit U.S. citizens from doing business with Gbagbo, his wife Simone Gbagbo, as well as their allies foreign minister Alcide Ilahiri Djedje, spokesman and political leader Pascal Affi N'Guessan and chief of staff Desire Tagro. In addition, any U.S. assets they have are now frozen.

“Laurent Gbagbo continues to demonstrate wanton disregard for the will and well-being of the people of Côte d’Ivoire,” OFAC Director Adam Szubin said in a statement. “Today’s designations will isolate him and his inner circle from the world’s financial system and underscore the desire of the international community that he step down,” Szubin said Thursday.

Gbagbo has refused to accept the results of the election. Ouattara was declared the winner by the Independent Election Commission (CEI) and was certified by the Special Representative of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General. The election results have been endorsed by the UN Security Council, the African Union, the European Union, and the Economic Community of West African States.

Before Gbagbo swore himself in on Dec. 5, President Obama sent him a written message via the U.S. Ambassador, suggesting that if he didn't relinquish power he would face isolation and targeted sanctions. Alternately, President Obama said that if he stepped down there would be a role for him in the international community.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jan072011

Increased Police Presence in London, Threat Level Remains ‘Severe’

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(LONDON) – Reports in Britain say increased security is planned Friday throughout London's transportation system. Authorities there have declined to comment but stress that the overall threat level there remains “severe,” where it has been since January 2010.

The BBC has reported that an increased police presence at airport terminals and major rail stations is a "precautionary" measure based on "credible" intelligence, but not on intelligence of an "imminent" plot.

A threat level of “severe” reflects that an attack is highly likely but not imminent. 

Scotland Yard has told ABC News that they "will police accordingly and use a range of covert and overt tactics which remain under constant review.” Scotland Yard said they have encouraged the public to remain vigilant and report suspicious behavior to the authorities.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jan072011

1,400 Marines to Afghanistan Ahead of Spring Surge

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) – An additional 1,400 Marine combat forces will head to Afghanistan as part of a campaign to increase security in the country ahead of mandated troop reductions in July.

The Marines, which could arrive in Kandahar as soon as mid-January, will be part of as many as 3,000 additional troops in the temporary boost by Defense Secretary Robert Gates who was given the authority to deploy the additional troops as needed.

Centcom has announced that the Marines are part of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and currently serve aboard the USS Kearsarge. The unit will be used to increase security and make a final push to finish essential infrastructure.

The surge is being made ahead of an expected spring increase in Taliban activity.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jan072011

Japanese Politician Sparks Maternity Debate After Giving Birth at 50

Photo Courtesy - Koichi Kamoshida /Getty Images(TOKYO) -- A 50 year-old Japanese lawmaker gave birth Thursday to a baby boy conceived through in vitro fertilization, igniting a fierce debate in a country with conservative views on maternity issues.

A veteran member of parliament for the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, Seiko Noda sought an American egg donor after years of unsuccessful fertility treatments and several miscarriages.  In vitro fertilization is virtually banned in Japan and it is not covered by any Japanese laws.

"I thought about adopting a child, but I hit a wall," Noda said in a recent interview with Vogue Japan.  "I was told that considering the future of the child, it wasn't possible to do that for a woman who is almost 50, like me.  An egg donor was the last resort."

The lawmaker once hailed as Japan's most likely first female prime minister has been very public about her struggles.  In 2004, she detailed her unsuccessful treatments in a book titled Watashi Wa Umitai or I Want To Give Birth.

Noda's plight has shed light on the lack of options available for Japanese women seeking egg donors and surrogate mothers.

The Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology, an official doctors organization forbids the use of surrogate mothers.  Japanese law requires the mother carry the baby during pregnancy.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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