U.S. to North Korea: Don’t launch your missile

April 2, 2009 by  
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WASHINGTON — The State Department on Thursday sent a blunt, public message to North Korea: Don’t launch your missile.


“We don’t want to see this launch go forward,” department spokesman Robert Wood said.

But at the same time, the United States is carefully avoiding any suggestion that it would try to disrupt the launch and is being vague about what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others have said the “consequences” of the launch would be.

Behind the U.S. tightrope act is the United States’ hope of handling the situation in a way that will not endanger the six-party talks aimed at dismantling and eventually erasing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, a senior administration official told CNN on Thursday.

The official said the North Koreans have pretty much backed themselves into a corner. While they may have begun the process of threatening to launch a missile to gain leverage with the United States, it is now an issue of saving face — and they are certain to go ahead with the launch.

They recognize there will be a strong reaction at the United Nations, but have no choice at this point, the official said.

The diplomacy involved is very delicate, the official noted. All of the other countries involved in the six-party talks agree a launch would be bad, but Russia and China are less eager to impose sanctions while South Korea and Japan want to be much tougher. So the United States has to stake out a middle position and be patient, the official said.

The United States wants to handle the situation so that after the launch — and an appropriate period of criticism of North Korea — the six-party talks will be resumed, the official said.

“We are not going to take our eye off the ball or let them distract us from the goal, which is denuclearization,” the official said. “We really believe that is the best way to take care of the issue and we think we can get it if we keep working with the North Koreans. At some point it is a war of attrition and we will continue to wear them down.”

The official noted that the launch “would be a provocative act. We don’t want to dismiss it or take it lightly and it would be dealt with seriously. But we can’t take our eyes off the prize.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said much the same a few weeks ago — launch or no launch, the United States wants to continue the six-party talks.

The wild card is the North Koreans, the official said. “At some point we need some sign from them they want to play the game,” the official said. “The level of bellicosity is really bad, even for the North Korean standards. So at some point we need to see from the North Koreans they are done with that and are ready to talk.”

The official speculated that the North Koreans have been shying away from U.S. efforts at engagement out of fear that a better relationship with the United States and more openness to the world could put the regime at risk.

In addition, this official said, the North Koreans are keeping a close eye on what is happening between the United States and Iran.

With that behind-the-scenes maneuvering as a backdrop, Wood, at his midday State Department briefing Thursday, urged North Korean leaders to rethink their course.

“We call on the North to desist from launching any type of missile. It would be counterproductive, it’s provocative, it further enflames tensions in the region,” he said . “We want to see the North get back to the six-party framework and focus on denuclearization.”

Wood would not answer questions about whether the United States is poised to go to the United Nations to seek retaliatory sanctions against North Korea if it goes through with the launch.

“Let’s see if this test happens. We certainly hope it doesn’t. Again, we call on the North [North Korea] not to do it. But certainly, if that test does go forward we will be having discussions with our allies,” Wood said.

“The situation right now in the region is very tense. Everyone is on edge and we want to try to do what we can to prevent this launch from happening,” he added. “And we are using every possible avenue that we have diplomatically to do that.”

North Korea said the the rocket will carry a satellite into orbit.

The United States and other countries fear the main purpose of the launch, regardless of the payload, is to allow North Korea to gain valuable information about improving its ballistic missile program.

Japan recently mobilized its missile defense system in response to the planned launch. Japanese officials said the move is aimed at shooting down any debris from the launch that might fall into Japanese territory.

North Korea, in response, said it will attack the Japanese military and “major targets” if Japan shoots down the rocket, North Korea’s state-run news service, KCNA, reported Thursday.

Wednesday night, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called his counterparts in Japan and South Korea to discuss the expected missile launch, Gates’ spokesman said.

In separate calls to Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada and South Korean Defense Minister Sang Hee Lee, Gates expressed the importance of close coordination with each country in regard to the possible launch, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Thursday.

“All three of them agreed to approach the issue in a calm manner as it develops,” Whitman said.

He would not discuss other details of the calls and would not say if Gates offered to assist Japan in shooting down debris from the missile if it was to endanger Japan.

North Korea is fueling rocket, U.S. military says

April 1, 2009 by  
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WASHINGTON – North Korea has begun fueling its long-range rocket, according to a senior U.S. military official.


The fueling signals that the country could be in the final stages of what North Korea has said will be the launch of a satellite into space as early as this weekend, the senior U.S. military official said Wednesday.

Other U.S. military officials said the top portion of the rocket was put on very recently, but satellite imagery shows a shroud over the stage preventing a direct view of what it looks like.

The officials said the payload appears to have a “bulbous” cover, which could indicate that there is a satellite loaded on it. Such a cover protects a satellite from damage in flight.

Although the sources did not know for sure what the payload is, they said there is no reason to doubt that it is a satellite, as indicated by North Korea.

Pyongyang has said it will launch the rocket between April 4 and April 8. A launch would violate a 2006 United Nations Security Council resolution banning the reclusive state from launching ballistic missiles.

Pentagon officials worry less about the payload and more about the launch itself, saying that any kind of launch will give the North Koreans valuable information about improving their ballistic missile program.

The United States believes that the North Koreans have the technology to hit Alaska or Hawaii with a missile and that the country is working on advancing that technology so it could hit the west coast of the United States.

$50 million in AIG bonus cash returned

March 23, 2009 by  
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New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo says that about $50 million in bonus cash has been returned so far.


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Executives at American International Group have started giving back their bonus cash in full, according to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

On a conference call with reporters Monday, Cuomo said that of the top 20 executives who received the biggest bonuses, 15 have given them back in full. The amount returned so far is about $50 million. Of the top 10 highest earners, 9 have returned their bonuses.

According to Cuomo, the investigation into the distribution of the bonus cash continues. “I am trying to get the money back because I believe that is what the American people deserve,” said Cuomo.

“I am hopeful that more AIG employees will heed the example set by their colleagues and pay the money back,” said Cuomo.

To those bonus earners who have returned the bonus cash, the attorney general said they have “done the right thing.”

Of the $165 million in bonus cash paid out to executives at the bailed out insurer, “it might be possible to recoup approximately $80 million,” said Cuomo. The rest of the bonus cash will be hard to recover because it was paid out to non-Americans, and that is out of their jurisdiction.

Cuomo said that the Attorney General was going through the executives and calling them one by one, in collaboration with AIG.

Cuomo also said that for those AIG executives who returned the bonus cash, there was no “public interest” in making his or her name public.

“If they do return the money, I don’t believe they will be on a list that is ever revealed,” said Cuomo.

News of the bonuses sparked outrage over the idea that a company bailed out with taxpayer funds would compensate its executives so richly. There have even been reports of threats against the safety of some AIG employees.

Out of the $165 million in bonus cash awarded to senior executives, 73 bonuses topped $1 million.

Cuomo said that some of the executives, who have been under tremendous public scrutiny in recent weeks, were not necessarily guilty of undermining the financial system. “Many of these employees have nothing to do with the meltdown in the financial products division,” he said.

“These are people who are trying to do the right thing,” said Cuomo. “These are people who have been subjected to outrage.”

The top bonus recipients who haven’t committed to return their bonuses have not necessarily saying that they will not return the money. Cuomo said that some executives were thinking about their decision, and that in some cases, the Attorney General’s office was simply not able to contact the executive.

AIG responded that they were happy their Financial Products (FP) personnel had opted to give back the bonus cash.

“We are deeply gratified that a vast majority of FP’s senior leadership have expressed a willingness to forsake their recent retention payments,” said Christina Pretto, Vice President of Corporate Media Relations at AIG. “We continue to review the responses of our other FP employees and we appreciate Attorney General Cuomo’s support.”

N. Korea threatens ‘war’ if satellite is shot down

March 8, 2009 by  
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SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea ordered its armed forces on standby and warned Monday it will retaliate against anyone seeking to block its planned satellite launch, which many fear will disguise a missile test.

The threat was the North’s latest attempt to escalate tensions on the divided peninsula and a strong sign that the communist nation intends to push ahead with the launch despite mounting international pressure to drop the plan. Analysts say Pyongyang is trying to grab President Barack Obama‘s attention as his administration formulates its North Korea policy.

Monday’s warning came hours before United States and South Korea kicked off annual war games involving tens of thousands of troops, which the communist nation has condemned as preparations for an invasion.

The joint drills across South Korea began as concerns mounted that Pyongyang could be gearing up to test-fire a long-range missile capable of reaching U.S. territory. North Korea says it plans to launch a communications satellite, but neighboring governments believe it is a cover for a missile test.

Analysts have said a launch could come late this month or in early April when the North’s new legislature, chosen in Sunday’s election, is expected to convene its first meeting to confirm Kim Jong Il as leader.

U.S. and Japanese officials have suggested they could shoot down a North Korean missile if necessary.

“If the enemies recklessly opt for intercepting our satellite, our revolutionary armed forces will launch without hesitation a just retaliatory strike operation not only against all the interceptor means involved but against the strongholds” of the U.S., Japan and South Korea, the general staff of the North’s military said in a statement.

“Shooting our satellite for peaceful purposes will precisely mean a war,” said the statement, carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The North’s military ordered all personnel to “be fully combat ready” so that they could “deal merciless retaliatory blows” at the enemy, KCNA said in a separate dispatch.

North Korea also cut off a military hot line with the South during the 12-day exercises, leaving the sides without any means of communication, triggering fears that even an accidental skirmish could develop into a battle as the sides have no way of contacting each other.

The two sides have used the hot line to exchange information about the crossing of goods and people through the industrial North Korean border city of Kaesong. Its suspension halted traffic and strand about 570 South Koreans staying in the zone.

About 700 South Korean who had planned to enter Kaesong on Monday could not, the unification ministry said.

South Korea urged Pyongyang to restore the line immediately and stop raising tensions.

“As the government has made it clear many times, the joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises are annual defensive drills,” said Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon. “The government again urges North Korea to stop acts that raise tensions.”

Also in Seoul, the new U.S. special envoy on Pyongyang met with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan and Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee on Monday to discuss the tensions. Stephen W. Bosworth is scheduled to hold a series of meetings with President Lee Myung-bak and other senior officials later in the day.

“I have no illusions about what I’ve agreed to try to deal with. It’s a very difficult mandate,” Bosworth told Yu.

The U.S. envoy has urged Pyongyang to refrain from firing a missile, stop threatening neighbors, and defuse tensions through dialogue. The envoy arrived in Seoul on Saturday as part of an Asian tour that has already taken him to China and Japan.

The United States and South Korea have conducted annual military exercises a few times a year for decades, and Pyongyang has routinely condemned them as rehearsals for invasion.

The North had stepped up its war rhetoric in the run-up to the drills that began Monday. It has threatened South Korean passenger planes flying near its airspace, claiming the maneuvers pose grave threats to its security.

Seoul and Washington have repeatedly said the drills, which involve its 26,000 military personnel in South Korea, an unspecified number of southern soldiers and a U.S. aircraft carrier, are purely defensive, and the allies do not have any intention of attacking the North.

Ties between the two Koreas have badly frayed since Lee took office last year, taking a tougher stance than his liberal predecessors on Pyongyang, and halting unconditional aid to the impoverished neighbor.

An angered North Korea suspended the reconciliation process and key joint cooperation projects with Seoul, while making a stream of belligerent threats against the South.

The two Koreas technically remain in a state of conflict as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty. Hundreds of thousands of troops are amassed on each side of the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas, making the Korean border one of the world’s most heavily armed.

Obama sets executive pay limits

February 4, 2009 by  
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WASHINGTON (CNN) — Pledging to take “the air out of golden parachutes,” President Obama announced Wednesday that executives of companies receiving federal bailout money will have their pay capped at $500,000 under a revised financial compensation plan.

Last year’s “shameful” handout of $18 billion in Wall Street bonuses “is exactly the kind of disregard for the costs and consequences of their actions that brought about this crisis: a culture of narrow self-interest and short-term gain at the expense of everything else,” Obama said to reporters at the White House.

“For top executives to award themselves these kinds of compensation packages in the midst of this economic crisis isn’t just bad taste — it’s a bad strategy — and I will not tolerate it. We’re going to be demanding some restraint in exchange for federal aid — so that when firms seek new federal dollars, we won’t find them up to the same old tricks,” the president added.

Under Obama’s plan, companies that want to pay their executives more than $500,000 will have to do so through stocks that cannot be sold until the companies pay back the money they borrow from the government.

The restrictions will most affect large companies that receive “exceptional assistance,” such as Citigroup.

The struggling banking giant has taken about $45 billion from the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The new rules also will mandate that shareholders of banks have a greater say about the salaries paid to company heads. The measures will put in place greater transparency for costs such as holiday parties and office renovations.

Source: cnn.com

Holder confirmed as attorney general

February 2, 2009 by  
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WASHINGTON (CNN) — The U.S. Senate confirmed Eric Holder as attorney general Monday, voting 75-21 to place him in charge of the Department of Justice.

Holder, 58, is a former federal prosecutor and served as deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration. His confirmation makes him the first African-American confirmed to the post, though he held the job on an acting basis in early 2001.

Monday’s vote leaves him set to take over a Justice Department battered by a series of controversies during the Bush administration, from questions about how it laid legal groundwork for harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists to the sackings of top federal prosecutors in several cities.

“There’s a big job to do, and it’s going to be Mr. Holder’s duty to turn this department around and restore its credibility,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California.

During confirmation hearings, Republicans questioned his role in former President Bill Clinton’s widely criticized last-minute pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich and questioned whether he would be independent of the White House. Holder had a testy exchange with the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, Arlen Specter, who questioned Holder’s “fitness” for the office.

Holder shot back that Specter was “getting close to the line in questioning my integrity,” and Specter ultimately supported the nomination. But Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Kentucky, cited the pardons and what he called Holder’s insufficient support for gun rights in opposing the nomination.

“Mr. Holder is supportive of old ideas for gun control that have never made people safer at the expense of taking away their rights,” Bunning said.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy pointed out that the chamber’s Republican membership backed Bush administration Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who was forced out in late 2007. The GOP also did not condemn the former president’s commutation of the prison term facing ex-White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was convicted of obstructing justice and lying to federal agents probing the 2003 disclosure of a CIA agent’s identity.

“I don’t recall any Republicans objecting to that,” said Leahy, D-Vermont. “Instead, they’re objecting to something President Clinton did. I don’t want to suggest in any way that the objections are partisan, but they certainly aren’t consistent.”

All 21 of the “no” votes were Republicans, but more than a dozen GOP senators joined Democrats in confirming Holder. Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, R-Missouri, said Holder convinced him he would be “looking forward to keeping the nation safe.”

Bond, the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, raised concerns that the administration would seek to prosecute U.S. officials involved in using what the Bush administration called “alternative” interrogation techniques, measures critics said involved the torture of prisoners in U.S. custody.

Holder unambiguously called the use of waterboarding against suspected terrorists a form of torture that violated the Geneva Conventions, but he has said that prosecuting intelligence officials who followed Justice Department guidance would be “difficult.”

Bond said that while Holder’s answer focused on U.S. officials who were following the administration’s legal advice, “I told him, and I believe he understood, that trying to prosecute these lawyers or political leaders would generate a political firestorm.”

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