Syrian Opposition Unites, Rohingya Groups Speak Out, and More Top News This Week

REUTERS/Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham/Handout


US-approved Syrian opposition group forms governing body

After US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a "more trustworthy" Syrian opposition last week, New TV reported that a leader in the Free Syrian Army announced that the Free Army is reorganizing its ranks to gain the trust of the international community, adding that his leadership has started to settle inside Syria. The Syrian opposition also announced during its ongoing meetings in Doha that it accepted a proposal to establish a transitional government headed by opposition member Riyad Saif. The initiative, headed by Saif, stipulates creating a unified leadership dubbed the Syrian National Initiative, from which a government in exile will be formed.

World groups organize global day of action in support of Myanmar's Rohingyas; Suu Kyi under fire for ignoring violence

Myanmar's Rohingyas are fleeing Rakhine State after a new wave of attacks from the Buddhist majority. Press TV reported that Rohingya groups around the world held a global day of action for the Rohingyas on November 8. International rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch, have also criticized Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi for her silence on the issue. The president of Arakan Rohingya National Organization, Noor al-Islam, added in an interview during a rally in London that if the persecuted had been Rakhine's Buddhists, Suu Kyi would have spoken out. Additionally, the aid group Doctors Without Borders says its workers have been threatened and stopped from reaching violence-hit areas in Myanmar. The group says thousands are left without medical care in the western Rakhine State as a result, adding that many of the victims are extremely vulnerable.

Tens of Thousands Demand Nobel Peace Prize for Malala Yousafzai

 

BBC Arabic reported that over 60 thousand people signed a petition calling for Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The 15-year-old girl is recovering in The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, Britain, after suffering an armed attack by the Taliban movement in Pakistan. Malala and her campaign for education gained notoriety around the world after she wrote her memoirs in the Urdu section of the BBC about life under the teachings of the extremist Taliban movement that rejects girls' right to an education.

Oil Giant Shell Undercuts Iran Sanctions with $1.4B Grain Barter

 

Dubai TV reported that the Royal Dutch Shell Company aims to circumvent international sanctions imposed on Iran by concluding a swap through which it would pay its USD 1.4 billion debt to the Iranian national oil company with a grain barter deal through the American agribusiness Cargill. Through the deal, Shell would deliver grain to Iran worth USD 1.4 billion, or what amounts to nearly 80 percent of Iran's yearly grain imports. Sources also revealed that the Royal Dutch Shell company, Tehran's second largest customer, imports 100,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day, and continued to purchase oil until the sanctions went into effect on July 1st.

 

Image: Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai talks to her father, Ziauddin Yousufzai, as she recuperates at the The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, in this undated handout photograph released to Reuters on November 8, 2012. REUTERS/Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham/Handout

 
 

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US Pressures India to Cease Iran Oil Imports
(LinkAsia: May 11, 2012)
Sydnie Kohara:
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is continuing her Asian tour with a stop in India, but she's not getting much cooperation there. The United States is asking India not to buy oil from Iran. The oil embargo is to force Iran to halt its nuclear program, but Iran is the biggest supplier of oil to India. And as NHK reports, they're not likely to stop doing business together any time soon.

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NHK World NEWSLINE
Airdate: May 8, 2012

Reporter:
Hillary Clinton's visit to India comes less than two months before additional sanctions against Iran go into force. The United States has outlined new sanctions against Iran in response to Iran's nuclear program. But so far, India, which imports about 10 percent of its oil from Iran, has shown no intention of following Washington's lead. One factor at play is the importance of energy security seen by the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a crucial element of India's economic growth. Clinton emphasized that the US is ready to provide expert advice on how India can diversify its sources of oil. In line with its sanctions against Iran, Washington is hoping that India will agree to reduce imports from Iran.

Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State:
We commend India for the steps its refineries are taking to reduce imports from Iran. There is no doubt that India and the United States are after the same goal.

Reporter:
While India is not prepared to join western sanctions, curbing oil imports from Iran would motivate the country to diversify its sources of oil leading to greater energy security.

S.M. Krishna, Indian Foreign Minister:
Given our growing demand, it is natural for us to try and diversify our sources of imports of oil and gas to meet the objective of energy security.

Reporter:
India is keen to avoid further economic slowdown caused by the European debt crisis. On the other hand, the United States wants to make sanctions against Iran as effective as possible. Clinton and Krishna are said to meet again in Washington in June. The search for a compromise over Iranian oil imports is likely to continue until just before the sanctions begin.

Sydnie Kohara:
Hillary Clinton held up Japan as the example for India to follow. Japan has successfully reduced its oil imports from Iran by about 20 percent.
 
 

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Backstory: Dissident Lawyer Chen Guangcheng's Jailbreak

 
 

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The Man in the Middle: Who is Chen Guangcheng?
(LinkAsia: May 4, 2012)
Yul Kwon:
Here's Japanese broadcaster NHK with a report explaining who Chen Guangcheng is and how the Chinese government is responding to his escape.

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NHK World NEWSLINE
Airdate: May 2, 2012

Susumu Kojima, NHK World:
Civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng lost his sight as a child. He taught himself law and started campaigning for the disabled. He also spoke out against forced abortions under the government's one-child policy.

Chen was detained by police in 2006 and spent the next four years in prison. His ordeal continued after his release in 2010. The dissident was put under house arrest with his family in Shandong province.

Sources close to Chen say the dramatic escape happened on April 22nd. He is said to have broken out, climbing over the wall around his house. The sources say he managed to slip past the guards and arrived in Beijing four days later.

After the escape, Chen posted a video message on the internet. It is a direct appeal to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. He demands an investigation into his case. He says his house arrest is illegal and claims he and his family members have been beaten up.

Chen Guangcheng:
More than 10 men pushed my wife down to the floor and covered her with bedding, then repeatedly beat her for several hours.

Susumu Kojima:
On Wednesday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson accused the US embassy of being deeply involved in Chen's case. Observers say that while the Chinese government wants to draw a line under the issue, public reaction could force it to make a stand against the US.
 
 

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Food for Nukes Deal Reached with North Korea

The US and North Korea have agreed to a deal that would send over 240,000 tons food aid to North Korea in exchange for a moratorium on their nuclear program and missile testing. Yul Kwon speaks with Stanford University's David Straub about the agreement.


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Yul Kwon:
To help us understand what this agreement means, we're joined on Skype today by David Straub. Mr. Straub is associate director of the Korean Studies Program at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University. Among other diplomatic jobs, he was head of the political section at the US embassy in Seoul and ran the State Department's Korea Desk in Washington, DC. Thanks for joining us today, David. Now first of all, the Al Jazeera report says that this deal was in the works even before Kim Jong-Il died and his son was thrust into power. What can you tell us about that?

Food Deal Reach with North KoreaDavid Straub, Stanford University:
Well, that's basically correct. The US and North Korea were negotiating last year, and I think they were close to finalizing this agreement during the month of November, just before Kim Jong-il died. So I think the fact that they've now finalized the agreement suggests that there's a great deal of continuity in North Korea under the new leadership. That's the good news. It would have been bad if they had not been able to finalize this agreement. It would have suggested that there are serious problems with the new leadership.

Yul Kwon:
So Kim Jong-un isn't exactly making a U-turn in terms of policy. But have circumstances in North Korea changed or worsened in the past year such that the regime is more anxious to make a deal now rather than later?

David Straub:
I don't think the situation has seriously deteriorated in North Korea, but it's probable that the new leadership there would like to show other people and the elite, as well as the people as a whole, that they're able to manage external threats and challenges. And also, North Korea is chronically short of food, and so under this deal, they're going to receive 240,000 tons of US food aid over the next year, and that will help alleviate the food shortage.

Yul Kwon:
Secretary of State Clinton sounded very cautious when she announced the deal, characterizing it as a "modest first step," and saying that the US will "watch closely and judge" North Korea by its actions. From your experience in dealing with North Korea, do you feel that this level of caution is warranted?

David Straub:
Yes, indeed. The North Koreans have, in their own mind, good reasons to keep nuclear weapons. And over the years, they've negotiated with US and others about eventually giving up those weapons, but so far, all they've been willing to do is negotiating suspension of various programs, various kinds of talks on the margins that have never led to them completely giving up their nuclear weapons. And in the meantime, they get various concessions and aid. So yes, we need to be realistic and cautious when dealing with the North Koreans.

Yul Kwon:
In contrast to the US, which gave a more tepid and cautious tone, North Korea by contrast, seemed a lot more positive when it released its statement about the moratorium. Was there anything about the statement that surprised you?

David Straub:
In the North Korean statement, they do say that when six-party talks are resumed, that the priority will be put on lifting sanctions on North Korea and providing North Korea with light-water nuclear reactors to provide energy. Now that's not in the American statement. And in fact, if you look at the North Korean statement, it doesn't say that there was agreement with the United States about this point. This is the North Koreans putting their negotiating position on the record.

Kim Jong-unYul Kwon:
A moratorium on the nuclear program and missile testing implies that the stoppage is just temporary and that it could resume at some future point in time. What do you think the US could do to try to facilitate a more permanent solution?

David Straub:
Well the moratorium is indeed just a temporary measure. In fact, in the North Korean statement, it says that the moratorium on nuclear tests and missile launches will continue only as long as the talks are continuing. That means, obviously, continuing to North Korea's satisfaction. But what this does do is move us a step closer to being able to hold another round of six-party talks in Beijing on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. And when we get there, if and when we get there, then it will be up to the six parties to have some very tough negotiations to try to reach a comprehensive agreement that will finally end North Korea's weapons programs. 

Yul Kwon:
How do South Korea's upcoming elections play into this week's announcement?

David Straub:
South Korea this year has national assembly elections and a presidential election. And South Koreans have long been very divided by how to deal with North Korea. On the right, the position is typically similar to the United States. That is, North Korea must first move to give up its nuclear weapons, and as it does so, we'll be willing to remove sanctions and provide some assistance. The left in South Korea believes that North Korea will not respond positively to that and that the best way to get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons is to provide it with assurances, aid, and eventually to make North Korea believe that it no longer needs nuclear weapons to be secure. There's a possibility that the left will win the elections in South Korea, and if they do, they're going to pursue that kind of a policy, which usually is called a Sunshine Policy, that's significantly different than the policy of the Obama administration or of previous US administrations for the most part. So by having these talks with the North Koreans and possibly resuming six-party talks, the United States will be in a better position to try to cooperate with its South Korean ally if the progressives do win the elections this year.

Yul Kwon:
Thanks, David. David Straub is a former diplomat and Korea expert. In 2009, he helped Bill Clinton gain the release of two American reporters who'd been captured on the border with China.

 
 

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World Leaders Speak on the Libyan Crisis

(Al Jazeera English: 0726 PST, March 29, 2011) World leaders have met at a summit in London to discuss the ongoing conflict in Libya, and possible outlooks both for the military intervention, and humanitarian and development aid going forward.

 

Here are excerpts from comments made by David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, and Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General.

 

 

Obama Defends Libya Action

(ITN News: 0037 PST, March 29, 2011) President Obama appears on US television to defend the military action being taken in Libya.

 

 

 
 

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U.S. Wavers on Middle East

(Al Jazeera English Headlines: 1700 PST, February 17, 2011) The U.S. and President Barack Obama continue to waver in their position regarding the unrest sweeping through the Middle East. The country says it will not dictate events in the region. But Obama has criticized the Iranian government's violent response to protests there, while at the same time maintaining a more neutral tone with Bahrain.

 

Many find the US's response disappointing, and some feel the White House will only react strongly to those governments it does not have a stake in. Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane reports.

 

 

 
 

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Protesters Clash with Police in Iran

(ITN News: 1600 PST, February 14, 2011) U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expresses support for opposition protesters rallying in Iran.

 

 

 
 

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Clinton Decries Reporter Attacks in Egypt

(Associated Press 1700 PST, February 3, 2011) Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned "in the strongest terms" the pro-government mobs that beat, threatened and intimidated reporters in Cairo.

 

 

Click here for important background information on the unrest in Egypt.

 
 

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Bill Clinton Pleases North Korea's Kim Jong Il

For this week's Global Pulse episode, Mr. Clinton Goes to Pyongyang, host Erin Coker asks the question: Did Kim Jong Il win this one? Share your thoughts and read our blog post, "Bill Clinton's Unique Position as U.S. Humanitarian and Diplomat", below!

 

 

 

Bill Clinton's Unique Position as U.S. Humanitarian and Diplomat


Did Kim Jong Il win this one? After being held in North Korea for several months, two American journalists finally returned home, thanks to Bill Clinton's deft negotiations with Kim Jong Il. Ultimately, the release of the two young women served the interests of both of these poweful men on the international political stage. 
One question that remains is whether it should have been the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, negotiating the return of U.S. citizens. An article on CNN's website commented that, "Former presidents are used as envoys and undertake humanitarian missions all the time," and, "Hillary herself has said she considered her husband a trusted adviser and could even consider using him where appropriate." In the world of international diplomacy and humanitarianism, acheiving the goal is more important than who achieves it.

 

Bill Clinton might be the perfect candidate to create an opening on the crucial nuclear issue. As a former president and husband of the current Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, he is in a unique position to be a humanitarian ambassador. He also has charm and recognition that allow him to gain access to the most difficult of places.

The video below, from Al Jazeera English, outlines the U.S. media debate sparked by the visit. Not surprisingly, the Obama administration is calling it a humanitarian mission, while former Bush administration officials say Pyonyang is using the reporters as "pawns" to "enhance [the] regime's legitimacy." You decide:  

 

 

 
 

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