Showing posts with label Barrack Obama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Barrack Obama. Show all posts

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

US President Barrack Obama tells French President Hollande US no longer spying on France after WikiLeaks claims US spied on three French presidents

President Obama has assured his French counterpart Francois Hollande that the US is no longer spying on France.
Mr Obama spoke to Mr Hollande following reports on the Wikileaks website that the US National Security Agency (NSA) spied on successive French presidents.
The White House said after the two leaders' phone call "we are not targeting and will not target" Mr Hollande's communications.

French intelligence officials are due to travel to Washington for more talks.
Wikileaks reported that the NSA had intercepted communications from President Francois Hollande and former leaders Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac between 2006-12.
The allegations prompted a backlash from the French government, with Mr Hollande saying he would "not tolerate" acts that threaten France's security.
He called two emergency meetings, the first with France's top security officials and another with leading legislators.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls urged the US to quickly repair "damage" to its relationship with France.
The US Ambassador Jane Hartley was also summoned to the foreign ministry in Paris to discuss the latest claims, French officials said.
Analysis: Hugh Schofield, BBC News, Paris
Politicians and other leading figures are taking turns on television to express outrage at US spying.

The US ambassador was summoned to give explanations.
Mr Hollande has telephoned Mr Obama.
An intelligence chief is being despatched to Washington.
If that is the extent of it, though, it hardly amounts to a major rupture. From previous Wikileaks scoops, the French have known for years that they are spied on by the Americans. Only last month it was revealed that the Germans - acting on behalf of the NSA - were snooping after industrial secrets.

The unwritten rule in all of this is that if you are caught, expect a very public denunciation. But behind the scenes life will go on as normal. The fact is that the French and US intelligence services enjoy a degree of cooperation and interdependence that no government in Paris would ever dream of jeopardising.
The NSA has previously been accused of spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and on Brazilian and Mexican leaders.

A statement released by the French presidency after the phone call (in French) said Mr Obama had pledged to "finish with practices that have taken place in the past".
The conversation between Mr Hollande and Mr Obama had focused on "the principles that should govern relations between allies on intelligence matters".
French aware?

Wikileaks began publishing the files on Tuesday, under the heading "Espionnage Elysee" - a reference to the French presidential palace.
It said the secret files "derive from directly targeted NSA surveillance of the communications" of the three French presidents as well as French ministers and the ambassador to the US.

The Wikileaks files have now been published by France's Liberation newspaper and the Mediapart investigative website.
One of the files, dated 2012, is about Mr Hollande discussing Greece's possible exit from the eurozone. Another one - from 2011 - alleges that Mr Sarkozy was determined to resume peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, possibly without US involvement.
A file dated 2010 suggests that French officials were aware that the US was spying on them and intended to complain about it.
According to the summary of an intercepted exchange, the French envoy to Washington and Mr Sarkozy's diplomatic adviser discussed Mr Sarkozy's plan to express his "frustration" over US unwillingness to sign a "bilateral intelligence co-operation agreement".
"The main sticking point is the US desire to continue spying on France," the intercept says.
It is unclear whether the material comes from data stolen by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the BBC's security correspondent Gordon Corera says.
French media reaction

"Bugged", left-leaning Liberation says bluntly, devoting its entire front page to the story. "The USA tapped Chirac, Sarkozy, Hollande", says the centre-right Le Figaro, while the centrist Le Monde headline is: "How the NSA tapped conversations at the highest state level."

A Liberation editorial entitled "Distrust" acknowledges that both Washington and Paris spy on allies and enemies but says the "US obsession with political commentary and 'horizon scanning' analysis … is a monumental waste of time and money."
Le Figaro also takes Washington to task for "obsessive US spying on France" adding that not just three presidents but ministers, high-ranking officials, MPs and diplomats may also have been spied on.

Le Monde notes that while the government has remained largely silent in the past, the latest revelation is "the last straw". It says Paris asked Washington to stop spying in 2013 when Wikileaks revealed that the US was spying on French companies - but did not get a concrete answer.

Source BBC
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Friday, 3 April 2015

Iranians celebrate, Obama hails 'historic' nuclear framework

Barrack Obama Latest
Iranians celebrated in the streets after negotiators reached a framework for a nuclear deal that could bring their country in from the cold, hailed by U.S. President BarackObama as an "historic understanding" with an old adversary.
The tentative agreement, struck on Thursday after eight days of talks in Switzerland, clears the way for negotiations on a settlement aimed at allaying Western fears that Iran was seeking to build an atomic bomb and in return lift economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
It marks the most significant step toward rapprochement between Iran and the United States since they became enemies with the 1979 Iranian revolution. But the deal still requires experts to work out difficult details over three months.

Obama and Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, who both took risks to open the dialogue, will each have to sell the deal to skeptical conservatives at home.
With many details still up in the air, France cautioned on Friday against overoptimism. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has the ear of U.S. opposition Republicans, fumed against an arrangement he said could lead to nuclear proliferation and war in the Middle East.
"We are not completely at the end of the road and the end of the road should be in June,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. "Nothing is signed until everything is signed, but things are going in the right direction," he told French radio station Europe 1.
The framework is contingent on settling the 12-year dispute by June 30. All sanctions onIran remain in place until a final settlement.
Celebrations erupted in the Iranian capital after the deal was reached. Videos and pictures posted on social media showed cars in Tehran honking horns as passengers clapped. In one video posted on Facebook, a group of women can be heard clapping and chanting "Thank you, Rouhani."
Among the six powers, France has taken a consistently tough line with Tehran. Fabius said Iran's economy stood to gain $150 billion in relief from the sanctions.
"You will have seen that there was a lot of positive reaction in the streets in Iran, and I think it’s real, not fabricated. The Iranians, the people, the youth are expecting something and that should be noted,” he said.
Obama described the agreement as a "historic understanding with Iran". He compared it to nuclear arms control deals struck by his predecessors with the Soviet Union that "made our world safer" during the Cold War. He also cautioned, however, that "success is not guaranteed."
Netanyahu was to convene his security cabinet on Friday after telling Obama in a phone call that he "vehemently opposed" the agreement. In a statement released after the conversation, Netanyahu said a deal based on the framework announced in Lausanne "would threaten the survival of Israel".
"This deal would legitimize Iran's nuclear program, bolster Iran's economy and increase Iran's aggression and terror throughout the Middle East and beyond," he said. "It would increase the risks of nuclear proliferation in the region and the risks of a horrific war."
Israel is believed to be the only Middle Eastern country that has nuclear weapons.
Many details still need to be worked out. Diplomats close to the negotiations said the deal was fragile and the understandings reached could still collapse between now and June 30. Experts believe it will be much harder to reach a final deal than it was to agree the framework accord.
The deal is also opposed by Sunni Arab states which consider Iran, the leading Shi'ite Muslim country, to be a threat.
Under the outline deal, Iran would shut more than two-thirds of its installed centrifuges capable of producing uranium that could be used to build a bomb, dismantle a reactor that could produce plutonium and accept intrusive verification.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday there was a "very good" chance of a final settlement.
IRANIAN CAUTION
The framework includes limits on Iran's enrichment of uranium for 10 years.
Iran agreed to reduce the number of installed uranium enrichment centrifuges to 6,104 from 19,000, and will operate only 5,060 for 10 years, according to a U.S. fact sheet.
One of the most sensitive issues during the negotiations, Iran's research and development work, will also be limited.
"Iran has agreed to not conduct research and development associated with uranium enrichment at Fordow for 15 years," the U.S. fact sheet said. It also noted Iran will remove the 1,000 more advanced second-generation centrifuges currently installed at Natanz and place them in International Atomic Energy Agency-monitored storage for 10 years.
High enriched uranium can be used to make a weapon, while low enriched uranium is used in power plants. Iran has insisted it wants it only for a peaceful nuclear energy program and denies it aimed to build an atomic bomb.
Iran's "breakout" timeline – the time that it would take for it acquire enough fissile material for one weapon - would be extended to at least one year, for a duration of at least 10 years, under this framework. It is currently assessed to be two to three months, the U.S. fact sheet said.
Iran would gradually receive relief from U.S. and European Union economic sanctions if it complies with the terms of a final deal. Some U.N. Security Council sanctions would be gradually lifted, though others would remain in place.
"We're still some time away from reaching where we want to be," said Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Failure to comply with terms of the deal will cause the U.S. and EU sanctions to "snap back into place", the U.S. fact sheet said. It was less specific on U.N. sanctions, one of the main sticking points in the negotiations, saying only that they could be reimposed in the event of Iranian non-compliance.

Source Reuters
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Friday, 6 February 2015

Obama seeks $14 billion to boost U.S. cybersecurity defenses

President Barack Obama's budget proposal for the 2016 fiscal year seeks $14 billion (9 billion pounds) for cybersecurity efforts across the U.S. government to better protect federal and private networks from hacking threats.

Federal cybersecurity funding has steadily increased in recent years, reflecting the intensity of threats U.S. companies and government agencies are facing from cyber intruders, both domestic and foreign.

The budget, released on Monday, calls for deployment of more intrusion detection and prevention capabilities, greater sharing of data with the private sector and other countries and more funding to beef up the government's ability to respond to attacks.

The funding would support several specific programs, such as monitoring and diagnostics of federal computer networks, the EINSTEIN intrusion detection and prevention system and government-wide testing and incident-response training.

"Cyber threats targeting the private sector, critical infrastructure and the federal government demonstrate that no sector, network or system is immune to infiltration by those seeking to steal commercial or government secrets and property or perpetrate malicious and disruptive activity," the White House summary said.

It is unclear how much funding the Republican-controlled Congress will dedicate to cybersecurity efforts during the next fiscal year.

Among various requests, the White House sought $227 million for construction of a Civilian Cyber Campus, meant to spur public-private partnerships, and $160 million for information technology and cybersecurity of the weapons programme at the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration.

The Pentagon's budget alone called for $5.5 billion in funding for cybersecurity. The agency's chief weapons tester last month told Congress that nearly every U.S. weapons programme showed "significant vulnerabilities" to cyber attacks, including misconfigured, unpatched and outdated software.

Increased funding for protection of government networks would be good news for big weapons makers like Lockheed Martin Corp, General Dynamics Corp, Northrop Grumman Corp and Raytheon, which already play a big role in cybersecurity, encryption and analysis for defences and intelligence agencies.

A range of medium-sized and smaller companies is also poised to benefit, including Science Applications International Corp, Booz Allen Hamilton, CACI International and Computer Sciences Corp.

In the private sector, where companies have grown increasingly concerned in the wake of attacks on retailers, banks and others, higher spending is likely to boost companies like Hewlett Packard, which offers cybersecurity services.

The White House's budget for most agencies referenced their cybersecurity efforts, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Personnel Management. Obama also asked for at least $28 million for the Agriculture Department's Chief Information Officer to improve the agency's cybersecurity and $15 million for the FBI's grants, training, and technical assistance programme that helps local law enforcement fight economic, high-technology and Internet crimes.

Source Reuters
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Wednesday, 11 June 2014

For Obama, post-White House future includes a drink in a coconut

U.S. President Barack Obama attends a question and answer session next to Tumblr Founder and CEO David Karp (not shown) in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, June 10, 2014.
(Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that he has big plans for working with young Americans after he leaves office in early 2017 - but first, he will take time to kick back. "I know what I'll do right after the next president's inaugurated," Obama said at the end of an interview on the microblogging platform Tumblr, aimed at an audience in their 20s. "I'll be on a beach somewhere, drinking out of a coconut," Obama said, drawing laughter from a group of Tumblr users who were in the White House state dining room for the interview. But first, the president said he is focused on "making sure that I make every day in the next two-and-a-half years count" in his time in office. After the next election, Obama said he plans to work with young Americans to promote leadership after his presidency and wants to counter cynicism he sees in the millennial generation. "You guys are fed a lot of cynicism every single day about how nothing works and big institutions stink and government's broken," he said. "Look out on the horizon, and there's a lot of opportunity out there," he said. (Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Steve Holland; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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Monday, 2 June 2014

White House turns blind eye on Democrats who oppose climate rules

U.S. President Barack Obama arrives for the commencement ceremony at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, May 28, 2014.
(Reuters) - Democrats in Republican-leaning states have a simple strategy for dealing with President Barack Obama's upcoming power plant restrictions before the mid-term elections: Fight them, with the White House's blessing. The new rules, popular with the Democratic Party's base, are one of Obama's highest domestic priorities for his second term. But they are complicating the lives of Democrats in coal and oil-rich states such as West Virginia, Louisiana and Alaska, where candidates are piling on the president and the Environmental Protection Agency for proposing restrictions that could cost jobs locally. With control of the U.S. Senate up for grabs in the November congressional elections, Democrats' hopes of maintaining their majority could rest on the very races where the new energy rules are deeply unpopular. So, the White House is turning a blind eye to attacks from within the party, despite the importance of the regulations to Obama's agenda and post-presidential legacy. "We understand that there are going to be Democrats in these states that oppose it and are perfectly prepared that that's going to happen," one White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We don't agree, but we don't have a problem with it." Despite their casual acceptance of Democrats who criticize the climate rules, the administration was not willing to put off releasing the regulations, which are due out on Monday. And strategists inside and outside the White House were preparing to fight hard against the onslaught of criticism from industry, Republicans, and even fellow Democrats. "I can understand how they are positioning themselves in their races. I still think that you end up on the wrong side of history," said Chris Lehane, a strategist for billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer, referring to defecting Democrats. But like White House officials, Steyer, who is spending millions of dollars to advance candidates who support green causes, will not attack those Democrats who oppose the new rules. "We're certainly not going to be helpful to them and their campaigns, but we're also not going to target them," Lehane said. SALES PITCH AND FRUSTRATION The EPA rules will establish mandatory limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which are among the biggest culprits in producing climate warming emissions. To fight attacks against them, White House officials have viewed ads that are critical of the moves and are trying to shore up support in Congress to thwart Republicans who have pledged to do what they can to rein in the EPA. A sales pitch is also in the works. In a high-profile foreign policy speech on Wednesday, Obama made a point of referencing the fight against global warming, delighting Europeans ahead of the G7 summit next week in Brussels, where Obama will tout the new U.S. rules, according to White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. At home, the White House is selling them by emphasizing the health benefits of cleaning carbon out of the atmosphere. Obama, who will not be present when EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy unveils the regulations on Monday, visited children suffering from asthma at a medical center on Friday and taped his weekly radio address - on climate change - while there. That new public push follows a long campaign by the White House and the EPA to win public and state backing for the controversial proposals. [ID:nL1N0NZ0L6] None of that is helpful to Democrats such as Natalie Tennant, the West Virginia secretary of state and U.S. Senate hopeful, who is campaigning as a "pro-coal" candidate. She said McCarthy had turned down requests to visit her state as part of an outreach tour. "She goes and touts a listening tour and doesn't come to West Virginia, doesn't come to the place and see the people who are impacted," Tennant said in an interview. An EPA spokeswoman said McCarthy had met with leaders from the state despite not having traveled there. That is not enough for Tennant, who, like embattled incumbent Senators Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and Mark Begich in Alaska, is actively distancing herself from Obama. "I am not afraid to stand up to anyone. I'll stand up to the president," she said. But Republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, who is running against Tennant to replace retiring long-time Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller, argues that the best way to block the EPA rules is to help Republicans gain control of the Senate. "Miners are losing their jobs, families are struggling to make ends meet and there is no relief in sight from the heavy hand of Obama’s EPA," Capito said in a statement. (Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Caren Bohan and Gunna Dickson)
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Friday, 30 May 2014

Republicans attack Obama over veterans scandal

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) takes a question as he addresses reporters after a Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington May 7, 2014.
Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
(Reuters) - Republicans stepped up their attacks on the Obama administration over a deepening Veterans Affairs healthcare delay scandal on Thursday, but House Speaker John Boehner again declined to join a growing list of lawmakers calling for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. Boehner told reporters he was still not convinced that Shinseki's ouster would solve the VA's problems. Instead, he sought to keep the pressure on President Barack Obama for VA scheduling abuses that covered up monthslong delays for veterans' medical care appointments. "I'm going to continue to reserve judgment on General Shinseki," Boehner said, adding: "The real issue here is the president is the one who should be held accountable." On Wednesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs' inspector general confirmed in an interim report that Phoenix VA officials manipulated data to vastly understate appointment waiting times for veterans, and said the problem was "systemic" throughout the VA. It added that the data was used to calculate bonus awards. The report prompted dozens of lawmakers from both parties to turn against Shinseki and demand his resignation. Several more prominent Democratic senators joined these calls on Thursday, including Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who face tight re-election races. Also asking Shinseki to step aside were both of Virginia’s Democratic senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE Shinseki is expected to address the VA probes on Friday in a speech to a conference on homeless veterans, an agency official said. Shinseki met with leaders of veterans groups to outline his action plan, but the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said this did not restore their confidence in him. "We still have serious questions about whether the secretary has the tools, resources, and the confidence of VA staff and veterans to create real reform,” said Derek Bennett, the group's chief of staff. The scandal exploded earlier this month after VA doctors in Phoenix went public with allegations that some 40 veterans had died while waiting months for primary-care appointments. White House spokesman Jay Carney repeatedly declined to say whether Obama still has confidence in Shinseki but added that the president wanted accountability based on the outcome of investigations and results of an internal VA audit due shortly. Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is pursuing its own investigation into the care delay scandal and new legislation to address it. These include a measures from Representative Jeff Miller of Florida, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, to freeze VA bonus awards for five years and to order that veterans be allowed to seek private care at the agency's expense if they are forced to wait more than 30 days for an appointment. Miller, frustrated with what he calls an "inadequate" VA response to his committee's subpoenas for emails and other correspondence related to the Phoenix secret waiting lists, said he is planning to file a federal court petition to try to compel the agency to turn over more documents. (Additional reporting by David Alexander and Richard Cowan, writing by David Lawder; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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Thursday, 29 May 2014

Obama fights foreign policy critics, pledges aid to Syria groups


WEST POINT, N.Y., Reuters) - President Barack Obama fought back against critics of his foreign policy on Wednesday by insisting U.S. reliance on diplomacy over military intervention was working to resolve global crises like Ukraine and Iran, and he pledged to ramp up support for Syria's opposition. In the commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, Obama laid out his approach to foreign affairs for the rest of his presidency built on a commitment to act in concert with other nations, and he shifted the fight against terrorism from Afghanistan to more diffuse threats globally. Obama, stung by unrelenting criticism that he has been passive and indecisive as a world leader, spent a large section of his address countering Republicans in Congress and foreign policy experts in Washington who argue for a more aggressive approach to crises from Ukraine to Syria. He cast himself as striking a middle ground between war mongers and isolationists. "Tough talk often draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans," he said. America must lead on the world stage but “U.S. military action cannot be the only – or even primary – component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail,” he said. The vision he set out reflected a president determined to avoid a repeat of what he considers a mistaken war in Iraq and to end the conflict in Afghanistan, where the United States sent troops following the Sept. 11, 2001 hijacked-plane attacks

. But he likely did little to silence critics who feel he is setting aside a global role traditionally filled by robust American policies. Republican Senator John McCain, whom Obama defeated in the 2008 election, accused the president of "posturing as the voice of reason between extremes," and suggesting that to oppose his policies is to support the unilateral use of military force everywhere. "Literally no one is proposing that, and it is intellectually dishonest to suggest so," he said. Obama announced a $5 billion proposal to serve as a “partnership fund” to help countries fight terrorism on their soil. The White House said Obama would work with Congress to find the money for the program in the tight federal budget.

 The funds would train and equip other countries to fight "violent extremism and terrorist ideology." Obama’s refusal to use military action against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for use of chemical weapons last year, after he had threatened to do, hurt his image among allies such as Saudi Arabia. Obama, however, says his threats paid off with an international deal to secure and eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles. He said he will work with Congress to "ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators," but he offered no specifics. Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq will also get additional resources to help house Syrian refugees. That money will come from the new fund, a senior administration official said. "As frustrating as it is, there are no easy answers, no military solution that can eliminate the terrible suffering anytime soon," Obama said about Syria. The Syrian Opposition Coalition welcomed Obama's promise. "The Syrian people and the opposition forces stand committed to work with their friends and to expand strategic cooperation in countering the terrorism enabled by the Assad regime in Syria," it said in a statement. LEADERSHIP AND CAVEATS Obama pointed to progress toward persuading Iran to give up nuclear weapons as a solid dividend of his multilateral diplomacy. And he said the firm stance by the United States and its European allies has been pivotal in persuading Russia to halt its advances on Ukraine after Moscow’s seizure of Crimea. “This is American leadership. This is American strength. In each case, we built coalitions to respond to a specific challenge,” he said. But here too there are caveats. On Iran, Obama acknowledged odds for success are still long and it is yet to be seen how Russian President Vladimir Putin will react to Ukraine’s latest crackdown on pro-Russian separatists in the east. "We don’t know how the situation will play out and there will remain grave challenges ahead, but standing with our allies on behalf of international order working with international institutions, has given a chance for the Ukrainian people to choose their future," he said. The president also pledged that the United States would be a leader in forming an international agreement next year on measures to combat global warming and condemned Republicans who question whether climate change is real. Obama critics were unmoved. "Across the spectrum, there is concern that under Barack Obama, America is in withdrawal mode," said Representative Mac Thornberry, a senior Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. “Even a president with rhetorical gifts cannot finesse his way out of military weakness or the loss of credibility in the world,” Thornberry said in a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. Some in Obama's audience at West Point were also non-plussed. "He was too wishy-washy," said John Dodson, a 1968 West Point graduate. "When you’re not perceived to be strong and vigorous all your enemies are more willing to take chances." (Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Susan Heavey and Jeff Mason in Washington and; Edward Krudy in West Point; Editing by David Storey and Grant McCool)
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Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Obama plans to end U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan by 2016

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers an announcement on the number of U.S. troops that will remain in Afghanistan after the formal troop drawdown at the end of this year, in the White House Rose Garden in Washington, May 27, 2014.

(Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday outlined a plan to withdraw all but 9,800 American troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and pull out the rest by the end of 2016, ending more than a decade of military engagement triggered by the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
The decision means that Obama will leave office in early 2017 having extricated the country from the longest war in U.S. history. He ended Washington's combat presence in Iraq in 2011.
Obama's White House Rose Garden announcement prompted criticism from Republicans that the hard-fought gains made against the Taliban could be lost in much the same way that sectarian violence returned to Iraq after the U.S. withdrawal.
Obama, who made a whirlwind visit to U.S. troops in Afghanistan over the weekend before American combat operations conclude at the end of 2014, appeared to anticipate concerns that he is abandoning Afghanistan. He said it is time for Afghans to secure their country.
"We have to recognize that Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it is not America's responsibility to make it one," Obama said.
Under his plan, 9,800 U.S. troops would remain behind into next year. By the end of 2015, that number would be reduced by roughly half.
By the end of 2016, the U.S. presence would be cut to a normal embassy presence with a security assistance office in Kabul, as was done in Iraq.
The 9,800 troops would take an advisory role backing up Afghan forces. They would train Afghan troops and help guide missions to rout out remaining al Qaeda targets.
Any U.S. military presence beyond 2014 is contingent on Afghanistan's government signing a bilateral security agreement with the United States.
Outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign it. But U.S. officials were encouraged that the two leading candidates in Afghanistan's presidential race, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, have both pledged to sign quickly should they be elected in the second round of voting set for June 14.
Obama said the lengthy U.S. presence in Afghanistan is proof that "it's harder to end wars than it is to begin them."
"But this is how wars end in the 21st century: not through signing ceremonies but through decisive blows against our adversaries, transitions to elected governments, security forces who are trained to take the lead and ultimately full responsibility," he said.
While Americans have long since grown weary of a conflict in which nearly 2,200 U.S. troops have been killed, some Republicans greeted the news with skepticism.
They continued a drumbeat of criticism of the president's handling of foreign policy and national security ahead of a speech on the subject Obama is to give on Wednesday at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.
"The president's decision to set an arbitrary date for the full withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is a monumental mistake and a triumph of politics over strategy," Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said in a statement.
A senior Obama administration official bristled at the notion that the United States would be leaving Afghan forces to do battle against the Taliban alone.
"We never signed up to be the permanent security force in Afghanistan to fight against the Taliban," the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters.
The United States now has about 32,000 troops in Afghanistan. U.S. military leaders had pushed for a force of at least around 10,000, saying it was the minimum required.
Remaining U.S. and NATO forces will advise Afghan forces, focusing on functions such as budgeting, logistics, and support for security institutions.
NATO countries have helped build Afghanistan’s military and other forces from scratch since 2001. While Afghan forces have grown more independent, they lack key skills such as intelligence collection and air power.
As part of the post-2014 force, a small number of U.S. soldiers is expected to conduct counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda and other hardline militants, located mainly in remote areas along Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan.
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart, Missy Ryan, David Alexander, Patricia Zengerle, Jeff Mason and Roberta Rampton; Editing by David Storey and Jonathan Oatis)
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Thursday, 8 May 2014

President Barack Obama's three new Indian-American advisers sworn-in



Three Indian-Americans along with 11 others have been sworn in as members of a presidential commission charged with working to improve the quality of life of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs).
President's Advisory Commission on AAPIs will advise President Barack on innovative ways to engage AAPIs across the country and to improve their health, education, environment, and well-being.
Democratic Party activist and fundraiser Shekar Narasimhan, Lt Col Ravi Chaudhary and actor Maulik Pancholy and 11 other new commissioners were sworn in by Sri Srinivasan, Chandigarh born US circuit court judge for Washington, Monday.
Narasimhan is co-founder of the Emergent Institute (formerly known as the Indian Institute for Sustainable Enterprise) in Bangalore, a non-profit institution training entrepreneurs to build social ventures.
Pancholy, a film, television, and stage actor, is the voice of Sanjay, the title character in the Nickelodeon animated series Sanjay & Craig, as well as the voice of Baljeet in the Disney animated series Phineas and Ferb.
Chaudhary is an Air Force officer, currently serving as executive officer to the commander, Air Force District of Washington, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.
The commissioners, who according to the White House will serve as the eyes and ears of the AAPI community for the Obama Administration, were sworn in at an event attended by US Vice President Joe Biden here to mark the AAPI Heritage Month.
Recollecting his trip to India last year, Biden acknowledged the contribution of the AAPI community in all spheres of US life.
"The combination of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have done nothing, nothing but succeed, generation after generation," he said.
"Think of all of the businesses that have been built, from the corner stores to Silicon Valley giants like Yahoo. You have served our nation overseas," Biden said.
The commission's Indian American executive director Kiran Ahuja said: "AAPIs are fast on the rise."
"It's important to both recognise the community's great diversity and the importance of government and community working together to address the unique challenges we face," she added.
This year, the theme for AAPI Heritage Month is "I Am Beyond".
The phrase captures the aspirations of the American spirit and how Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have always sought to excel beyond the challenges that have limited equal opportunity in America.
The event will continue throughout May, highlighting the community's many contributions to arts, sciences, government, military, commerce, and education.
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