Russia and Japan Make a Play for the Pacific

GangofTwoOn November 2, Russia and Japan held their first-ever “two plus two” meeting, which brought together their respective foreign and defense ministers in Tokyo to discuss security cooperation. The meeting grabbed few headlines, but was far from routine: such gatherings are typically reserved for close allies, and for most of their modern history, Moscow and Tokyo have been anything but.  Now, however, the two countries find themselves linked by a shared predicament in the Asia-Pacific. Both are secondary players in a region overshadowed by an increasingly assertive China, which has not hesitated to push against the boundaries of its neighbors. New ties between Russia and Japan would mark not only a breakthrough in their relations but also a significant shift in Northeast Asia’s political dynamic. Since the 1950s, U.S. alliances with Japan and South Korea have dominated regional security. Russia and China thawed their frosty relationship in the 1990s and signed a friendship treaty in 2001, but China’s rise has increased tensions in every regional relationship.

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U.S. Sends Two B-52 Bombers Into Air Zone Claimed by China

WASHINGTON — Defying China, two long-range American bombers flew through contested airspace over the East China Sea, days after the Chinese announced they were claiming the right to police the sky above a vast area that includes islands at the center of a simmering dispute with Japan.  Pentagon officials said Tuesday that the B-52s were on a routine training mission planned long in advance of the Chinese announcement on Saturday that it was establishing an “air defense identification zone” over the area. But the message was clear.  A senior Pentagon official said that the mission overnight Monday from Guam “was a demonstration of long-established international rights to freedom of navigation and transit through international airspace.” The official said the unilateral Chinese declaration of expanded control “was provocative,” and “only increases the risk of miscalculation in the region.”

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Pakistani Party Identifies Man It Says Is C.I.A. Station Chief

The political party of the former cricket star Imran Khan on Wednesday identified a man it described as the Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Pakistan, in an escalation of Mr. Khan’s campaign to end American drone strikes in the country.  In a letter to the Pakistani police, Mr. Khan’s information secretary, Shireen Mazari, accused the C.I.A. director, John O. Brennan, along with a man identified as the agency’s Islamabad station chief, of “committing murder and waging war against Pakistan.”  In Washington, a C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment on the case.  Ms. Mazari demanded that the authorities prevent the station chief, whose identity has not yet been confirmed, from leaving the country so that he can face prosecution in a Pakistani court.

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Al-Qaeda’s brutal tactics in Syria forces out moderates

“I was handcuffed, blindfolded when I was taken to their base. Like the six other detainees with me, we were whipped 70 times every day.”  “We were mostly accused of setting up ‘Sahwa’ – Awakening Councils – against the state.”  Mohammed’s horrific tale of torture from Syria might not sound that unusual if the “state” his captors’ were referring to was the government of President Bashar al-Assad.  But they were from the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), an al-Qaeda affiliate that has become an equally feared force in rebel-held areas.  Mohammed, an engineer in his early 50s who is the father of four children, joined the peaceful protest movement against Mr Assad when the uprising in Syria began in 2011.  When Raqqa province fell under rebel control, he helped set up a local council to provide basic services in the absence of the state.  On 9 July 2013 – the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan – Mohammed and six other members of the council in the border town of Tal Abyad were detained by members of ISIS, who handcuffed and blindfolded them and took them to the city of Raqqa.  Over the next 33 days, Mohammed was tortured on a daily basis by the jihadists

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Hundreds of Turks join Al-Qaeda fighters in Syria

Five hundred Turks have crossed the border into Syria to fight with Al-Qaeda linked jihadists against the government, according to a Turkish interior ministry report.  Turkey’s government, which is fiercely opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, has come under fire for allegedly turning a blind eye to militants and weapons crossing the long border into Syria.  The interior ministry report, published in several Turkish newspapers on Wednesday, said about 500 Turkish citizens had joined the ranks of the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).  “Some have received training in Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the report said, according to Today’s Zaman newspaper.

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Officals: Israelis in secret trip to inspect Saudi bases. Could be used as staging ground for strikes against Iran

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TEL AVIV — Israeli personnel in recent days were in Saudi Arabia to inspect bases that could be used as a staging ground to launch attacks against Iran, according to informed Egyptian intelligence officials.  The officials said Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and other Arab and Persian Gulf countries have been discussing the next steps toward possible strikes on Iran’s nuclear sites.  The officials said the U.S. passed strong messages to Israel and the Saudis that the Americans control radar capabilities over the skies near Iran and that no strike should be launched without permission from the Obama administration.  It was unclear whether the purported visit to Saudi Arabia by Israeli military and intelligence officials signals any real preparation for a strike or if the trip was meant to keep pressure on the West amid Israeli fears about the current deal with Tehran.

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Afghanistan considers public stoning for adulterers

KABUL, Nov 25 — Afghanistan is considering bringing back stoning for adultery, Human Rights Watch and the justice ministry said today, possibly restoring a punishment in force during the Taliban’s brutal regime.  The penalty for married adulterers, along with flogging for unmarried offenders, appears in a draft revision of the country’s penal code being considered by the ministry of justice.  Ashraf Azimi, the head of ministry’s criminal law department, confirmed to AFP that stoning to death is included in the draft.  The draft provisions state that the “implementation of stoning shall take place in public in a predetermined location”.  If the “adulterer or adulteress is unmarried”, the sentence shall be “whipping 100 lashes”.  “It is absolutely shocking that 12 years after the fall of the Taliban government, the Karzai administration might bring back stoning as a punishment,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

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Can Karzai Save Us?

After a year of talks over the post-2014 US military presence in Afghanistan, the US administration announced last week that a new agreement had finally been reached. Under the deal worked out with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the US would keep thousands of troops on nine military bases for at least the next ten years.  It is clear that the Obama Administration badly wants this deal. Karzai, sensing this, even demanded that the US president send a personal letter promising that the US would respect the dignity of the Afghan people if it were allowed to remain in the country. It was strange to see the US president go to such lengths for a deal that would mean billions more US dollars to Karzai and his cronies, and a US military that would continue to prop up the regime in Kabul.

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Obama, Countering Critics, Defends Iran Nuclear Deal

SAN FRANCISCO — President Obama said on Monday that “cleareyed, principled diplomacy” had produced the agreement with Iran to stall its nuclear development, pushing back against rising criticism in Congress and from allies like Israel that the pact reached in Geneva was a capitulation. Speaking at a rally in San Francisco, Mr. Obama emphasized what he described as a major achievement in the long-estranged relations with Iran. He spoke as American officials confirmed that Secretary of State John Kerry, who helped finalize the deal on Sunday, had engaged in secret communications with Iran months ago in an effort to improve relations and encourage talks.

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Bloodbath at Yemeni wedding after guests are shot dead while dancing to Gangnam Style when reveller ‘tries to fire AK-47 into the air to celebrate’

A wedding in Yemen became a scene of carnage when a reveller dancing to Gangnam Style shot dead at least three people after apparently losing control of his AK-47.  Horrific footage of the incident has emerged showing a group of guests performing the moves to the hit song by South Korean pop star Psy.  Among them is one man waving his assault rifle as he gyrates on the dancefloor while others look on.

Pope says ‘no Middle East without Christians’

AFP – Pope Francis on Thursday said the Catholic Church will not accept a Middle East without Christians, who often find themselves forced to flee areas of conflict and unrest in the region.  “We will not resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians,” he said after meeting with patriarchs from Syria, Iran and Iraq, before calling for “the universal right to lead a dignified life and freely practise one’s own faith to be respected.”  The political upheaval that has swept the Arab world over the past three years has led to a rise of radical Islam, leaving minority Christians feeling threatened and sometimes forcing them to emigrate.  Francis said he had spoken to the patriarchs about “those who live in the Middle East, often in small flocks, in environments marked by hostility and conflicts” and “the size of the diaspora, which is notably growing.”  He said he was concerned by “the situation of Christians, who suffer in a particularly severe way the consequences of tensions and conflicts in many parts of the Middle East.”  “Syria, Iraq, Egypt and other areas of the Holy Land sometimes overflow with tears,” he said.

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Christian Israeli-Arab wants to build Rio-style Jesus statue near Nazareth

Bishara Shlayan, a Christian Arab from Nazareth, is hoping to build a huge statue of Jesus on Mount Precipice, near his home city.  Shlayan told The Jerusalem Post in an interview that he has already begun fund-raising for the project and that he is getting positive feedback from the Israeli Arab Christian community as well as some Jews.  He sees the statue as being similar to but larger than the huge Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  Shlayan is also looking to found a Christian Arab political party, which he says is still being sorted out, but has settled on the name “Bnei Habrit [Allies of the Covenant], the Christian party of Israel.”  The party would support Israel as a Jewish state and national or army service for Arabs.  “I created the Bnei Habrit party and now I have created the Diglei Habrit [Flags of the Covenant] organization,” in order to carry out the statue project, he said.  Mount Precipice, also known as Mount Kedumim, is believed by some to be the place where the people of Nazareth attempted to push Jesus off the mountain after rejecting him as the messiah. In the end he was able to jump off and disappeared, according to Christian tradition.

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Russia claims $5 billion in helicopter orders at Dubai Air Show

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Nov. 23 (UPI) — Russia’s state-owned arms exporter said Saturday it has new orders worth $5 billion from Arabian Gulf nations for helicopters.  A Rosoboronexport representative made the announcement at the Dubai Air Show in the United Arab Emirates.  The representative said outstanding orders as of Nov. 1 exceeded $38 billion for Russia’s state arms exporter for military-related equipment.  During the five-day biannual air show, the Russian delegation held talks with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, India, Jordan and Algeria, RIA Novosti reported.

China declares air defense zone over disputed islands

BEIJING, Nov. 23 (UPI) — China said Saturday it has marked out an “air defense identification zone” over part of the East China Sea that includes islands claimed by Japan and Taiwan.  Aircraft entering the area over the islands China calls Diaoyu would have to obey China’s rules, China’s Defense Ministry said, or face “emergency defensive measures,” the BBC reported.  Japan, which refers to the islands as Senkaku, called the Chinese action an “escalation” and lodged a strong protest. In a statement, the Japanese foreign ministry charged the unilateral move “has the danger of leading to an unexpected situation.”  Taiwan promised military action to protect its national security.  The zone claimed by China includes areas close to South Korea and Japan.

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Going to Mars: Billionaire Dennis Tito plans manned mission with possible 2017 launch

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Billionaire Dennis Tito, tired of being told that we can’t send humans to Mars just yet, on Wednesday revealed his scheme for launching two astronauts to the red planet as early as December 2017.  Dubbed “Inspiration Mars,” the flyby mission would exploit a rare alignment of Earth and Mars that minimizes the time and the fuel it would take to get to Mars and back home again. The astronauts would come within 100 miles of the Martian surface before being slung back to Earth.  “It would be a voyage of around 800 million miles around the sun in 501 days,” Tito testified Wednesday at a hearing of the House subcommittee on space. “No longer is a Mars flyby mission just one more theoretical idea. It can be done. Not in a matter of decades, but in a few years.”

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How Somebody Forced the World’s Internet Traffic Through Belarus and Iceland

This is a deeply technical but potentially very troubling story. Imagine one day you’re using the Internet the same way you do every day. Reading the news, shopping, sending email, checking your bank and credit card balances. Maybe even doing some work for your employer.  Typically, but not always, the bits being sent from your computer, tablet or phone will flow from where you are to where they need to be via the most direct route available.  But what if they didn’t? What if someone slipped in between you and the various servers you’re connecting with and diverted your traffic elsewhere, funneling it through a choke point of their choosing, so they could capture, copy and analyze it? Your data takes some extra — and imperceptible — milliseconds to get where it’s going and ultimately everything you’re doing online works just fine. But your traffic has been hijacked by parties unknown and you’re none the wiser that it has happened.

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Feds Stop North Korean Meth ‘Floodgate’ Into New York

Is Walter White working out of North Korea?  According to federal authorities, five men were arrested in New York this week for attempting to bring over 200 pounds of methamphetamine from the dictatorial regime into the Empire State. (Mirroring the quality of “Blue Magic” meth produced in Breaking Bad, the illegal drugs seized “had a purity of over 99%,” according to the indictment.)  The five men–whose nationalities include the United Kingdom, China and the Philippines–were arrested in Thailand in September and were extradited to the United States yesterday evening, where they were arrested by U.S. authorities.  “Methamphetamine is a dangerous, potentially deadly drug, whatever its origin. If it ends up in our neighborhoods, the threat it poses to public health is grave whether it is produced in New York, elsewhere in the U.S., or in North Korea,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara declared in a statement today announcing the arrests.

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Most still believe in JFK assassination conspiracy

Some things will never die — and John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories appear to be among them.  Fifty years later, no less than 61% of Americans believe others besides Lee Harvey Oswald were involved in Kennedy’s murder, reports the Gallup Poll.  This is the lowest percentage in nearly 50 years, Gallup notes, but remains a solid majority.  The suspects are many: The Mob, the government (including the CIA), Cuba, and various political interests.  Numerous investigations have failed to yield any determinative evidence that anyone besides Oswald killed Kennedy. But that message apparently has not penetrated with most Americans.

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China to Foreign Media: Get in Line or Get Out

It’s no secret that China bans foreign news portals that offend its oh-so delicate sensibilities, swiftly and without mercy or explanation. This week has seen The Wall Street Journal and Reuters‘ Chinese websites blocked. There is, so far, no explanation for China’s blocking of these sites — could be anything from the Tiananmen attack reporting to Paul Mooney’s rejected visa — but signs point to a bleak future for foreign media in the Middle Kingdom.  This news comes as Bloomberg is under scrutiny for allegedly censoring sensitive stories to be able to report in China; their site has been blocked since July 2012 for running a story on Xi Jinping’s family wealth. This is not totally dissimilar to the censor’s axe that is still chopping on The New York Times‘ neck (Chinese and English language websites) for a story about Wen Jiabao’s family wealth. The message from China’s censorship czars is clear: get in line, or get out.

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