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April, 2019

Obama warns NATO allies about terror

As anti-summit demonstrators clashed with riot police protecting the fortified NATO summit venues in the French city of Strasbourg and Germany\’s nearby Baden-Baden, Obama beat the drum for his new Afghan strategy.

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“It is probably more likely that Al-Qaeda would be able to launch a serious terrorist attack in Europe than in the United States, because of proximity,” said Obama after arriving from London for the NATO summit. “We would like to see Europe have much more robust defence capabilities. That is not something we discourage, we are not looking to be the patron of Europe, we are looking to be partners with Europe,” he said. Europe “should not simply expect the United States to shoulder that burden alone,” he added later. Britain, Germany and Spain will offer reinforcements to boost security during August\’s presidential election in Afghanistan, and France will send some police, but it was not clear that long-term help would be available. Afghan strategy Obama was therefore to use the NATO summit, the second leg of his maiden trip to Europe as president after a G20 economic summit in London on Thursday, to drum up support for his new Afghan strategy. There are 70,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, mostly under NATO command, battling Taliban insurgents, whose tenacious rebellion is spreading from the rugged and lawless tribal regions around the border with Pakistan. Obama has decided to send 21,000 extra US troops and is considering deploying 10,000 more, while asking Europe to contribute by providing more soldiers as well as civilian support staff to train the police. “NATO is the most successful alliance in modern history. The basic premise of NATO was that Europe\’s security was the United States\’ security, and vice-versa,” Obama said, standing alongside French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Obama\’s predecessor George W. Bush struggled to convince reluctant European allies to increase their commitment, but the new US national security adviser General James Jones has predicted that NATO is now ready to up the ante. The only new soldiers announced since the start of the talks are from Britain, which is said to be readying several hundred troops to join the 8,000 it already has in Afghanistan over the election period. “The prime minister is prepared to consider an increase in troop numbers on a temporary basis to provide additional security for the upcoming president elections in Afghanistan,” a Downing Street official told AFP. 60th anniversary summit NATO\’s 60th anniversary summit, starting Friday evening with a dinner for all 28 heads of state and government, was to be held in the French city of Strasbourg and on the German side of the River Rhine in Kehl and Baden-Baden. Landing in Strasbourg in the afternoon, Obama held his first bilateral talks with Sarkozy before hopping over the border in a helicopter to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany ahead of the summit proper. Merkel agreed at her news conference with Obama that Afghanistan could not be allowed to become a “failed state” and to emerge once again as a “base for Al-Qeada.” As if to underline the urgency of the Afghan review, a soldier in the 42-nation NATO-led force in Afghanistan was killed Friday and another wounded in a “hostile incident”, the military said in Kabul. There was meanwhile trouble in France where hundreds of protesters clashed with the 10,000-strong force manning the security cordon around the Strasbourg venue for the second day running. The leaders on Friday also discussed who will replace NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer when he steps down in July, with frontrunner Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen under fire from Turkey.

Fannie, Freddie regulator stands behind bonuses

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Ongoing bonuses paid to employees at Fannie Mae <fnm.

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n> and Freddie Mac are offensive since taxpayers are helping keep the mortgage-finance companies afloat, a leading Senate Republican said on Friday.

“It\’s an insult that the bonuses were made with an infusion of cash from taxpayers,” Charles Grassley of the Senate Finance Committee said in a statement. “The elite in Washington and New York need to realize that bonuses for poor performance and at taxpayer expense do a lot of damage to public confidence.”

The Iowa lawmaker has been a strong critic of executive bonuses paid out by finance companies that have lately had to rely on government aid.

During a public uproar last month about bonuses paid out at failed insurance giant American International Group Inc. , Grassley said executives should “follow the Japanese example” and “resign or go commit suicide.”

AIG was under fire for paying out $165 million of bonuses despite a series of taxpayer bailouts for the company totaling $180 billion. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have also had to rely on a huge helping of government aid since it was nationalized in September.

Still, while several AIG executives received multi-million-dollar bonuses the extra pay at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is being spread much more evenly across the companies.

James Lockhart, the companies\’ regulator, wrote that the pay plan includes “many hard-working lower level employees which are important to the mission of providing stability, liquidity and affordability to the housing market.”

Lockhart, the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, wrote Grassley last week that bonuses were a key component of pay for over 7,500 employees at the two companies.

When other lawmakers have questioned the payments, Lockhart has defended them as an important defense against employee attrition.

Herb Allison, the government-appointed overseer for Fannie Mae, has also vowed to try and preserve the employees\’ compensation.

“I understand your deep feeling that repudiation of the terms of the retention plan… would be a breach of faith,” Allison wrote in a memo to staff last month.

(Reporting by Patrick Rucker)

Obama passes NATO test, but questions remain

The new US president however also enhanced his own aura, drawing praise from his peers as a fresh and decisive voice, after unpicking a row threatening the unity of a major summit for the second time in three days.

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This time he gave Turkey cover to drop its opposition to the next NATO boss, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, two days after intervening between China and France to forge a compromise on tax havens at the G20 London summit. White House aides brandished a new NATO commitment of 5,000 troops and stiffened financial pledges as proof the alliance listened to Obama\’s challenge to commit anew to the six-year war. But with the conflict unpopular in Europe, the new forces, most to secure Afghan elections later this year and to train the Afghan National Army, are dwarfed by the 21,000-strong US troop hikes that Obama recently announced. “I am pleased that our NATO allies pledged their strong and unanimous support for our new strategy,” Obama said after the summit. “It was only just a week ago that we announced this new approach, but already … we have started to match real resources to achieve our goals.” Keeping expectations low Obama traveled to the summit, part of a week-long swing through Europe and Turkey, knowing there would be no large European combat force forthcoming, so had kept expectations low. But facing accusations he was leading America into a quagmire or his own personal “Vietnam”, he needed to convince allies Afghanistan was their war too. “I think the president can make a pretty strong case that he has made a good start,” said Karen Donfried, of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, who watched from Strasbourg as the summit unfolded. Senior US officials said privately they saw allied commitments at the NATO summit as merely a “downpayment” on a more robust NATO civilian and military effort in the war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. US observers have been particularly stressing Europe\’s capacity to help with the civilian and development side of the mission. They also gently argued that the fact Obama went out of his way to consult US allies on the strategy placed increased responsibility on US allies. “We\’ve put together a very consultative process with our allies to make sure that their views are taken into consideration as we put together the strategy,” a senior US official said on condition of anonymity. “As a result, we also then will expect that, their views having been heard, that they\’re in a position to match resources against the strategy.” In his debut on the world stage, Obama did not demand an immediate response from US allies for more boots on the ground or money for the war chest, but may not always be so patient. “Barack Obama was not expecting an answer this week. But he will be looking for an answer over the coming months,” said Donfried. Convincing allies to commit more Political reality suggests the US commander-in-chief may have limited time to convince US allies to put more muscle into the fight. Even Obama, who sometimes seems immune to political gravity, has a limited half life — as does his leverage on the continent\’s leaders. Europe\’s politicians, including Britain\’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Germany\’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and France\’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, are all constrained by domestic political clocks. Even if they want a more robust Afghan troop presence, they may find it tough to pull off — a fact Obama implicitly recognized when noting a leader\’s toughest moments come when sending troops into battle. US and Turkish officials said the president was instrumental in convincing Turkey to drop its objections to Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen. “I think that our President really was instrumental in bringing about this common ground and finding this common ground,” said Obama\’s national security advisor James Jones on Air Force One. “I think it\’s a very good day for the Alliance,” said Jones, whose account of the event was backed up by the Turks. Turkey had objected to Rasmussen\’s defence of a Danish newspaper\’s right in 2005 to printing satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. It also complained Rasmussen had failed to act on Turkish requests to a Denmark-based channel accused of links to the Kurdistan Workers\’ Party.

Nkorea says it will launch satellite soon

North Korea says it has finished its preparations for a satellite launch which will go ahead “soon” – keeping the world guessing on the timing of what critics see as a disguised missile test.

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In a sign of frayed nerves, Japan\’s government at one point on Saturday said the rocket launch was thought to have gone ahead, only later to retract its statement as incorrect. The nuclear-armed communist North says it is planning a peaceful satellite launch, and has defied demands from the United States and its regional allies to cancel the exercise. Its state Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said preparations for launching the communications satellite Kwangmyongsong-2 “have been completed” at a site in the northeast. “The satellite will be launched soon,” it said, citing information from the Korean Committee of Space Technology. KCNA said the satellite would be carried by an Unha-2 (Galaxy-2) rocket — known in the West as the Taepodong-2 which could theoretically reach Alaska or Hawaii at maximum range. Washington, Seoul and Tokyo have vowed to refer a launch to the UN Security Council as a breach of a resolution passed after the North\’s 2006 missile and nuclear tests. The North says that even a Council debate about its launch would lead to a breakdown of long-running six-nation nuclear disarmament talks. It has announcd the launch for April 4-8, and between the hours of 11am and 4pm Korean time. Monitoring cameras set up Seoul\’s Yonhap news agency said cameras had been set up at three different places around the launch site at Musudan-ri. “Given that the fuelling work has been completed and then the monitoring cameras have been set up, it is very likely for the launch to be in several hours,” it quoted a Seoul government source as saying. But YTN television, quoting Seoul military sources, said the North has not yet switched on radar systems at Musudan-ri. It said such radar signals had been detected several hours before previous launches. Seoul security officials declined comment. The North says the first stage of the rocket will fall in the Sea of Japan, and the second stage will plunge into the Pacific. ‘Launch provocative’: Obama US President Barack Obama urged Kim Jong-Il\’s regime to desist. “We have made very clear to the North Koreans that their missile launch is provocative,” he said on Friday in Strasbourg. “Should North Korea decide to take this action, we will work with all interested parties in the international community to take appropriate steps to let North Korea know that it can\’t threaten the safety and security of other countries with impunity.” Obama\’s special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, gave an apparently softer message, saying that his goal is to resume stalled six-nation nuclear disarmament talks no matter what happens. Analysts say a successful launch would give the regime a major propaganda boost amid lingering uncertainty following widespread reports that leader Kim suffered a stroke last August. The launch aims to persuade the new US administration to open direct talks with Pyongyang, and will strengthen the regime\’s hand in future negotiations over its nuclear program, analysts say. First test in 2006 The North tested a Taepodong-2 for the first time in July 2006 but it failed after 40 seconds. In Seoul, South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak called an emergency meeting of security-related ministers Saturday, a presidential spokesman told AFP. China, the North\’s sole major ally, is thought likely to block any bid for new UN sanctions. The Security Council could toughen the observance of existing sanctions — banning trade in missile components, other weapons and luxury goods — or issue a chairman\’s statement criticising Pyongyang. If North Korea goes ahead, Bosworth told a Washington news conference, the United States would “consult vigorously” on what action to take. “We believe that a defiance of a UN Security Council resolution is an action that requires that there be some consequences,” Bosworth said. But he added that the aim is to get back to the denuclearisation process as soon as possible after the “dust settles.”

Govt\’s mortgage plan old news: Hockey

Australia\’s largest mortgage lender said more than two weeks ago that it would provide six to 12-month repayment moratoriums for customers who had recently lost their jobs as a result of the global financial crisis.

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The country\’s other major banks – ANZ, Westpac and National Australia Bank – said they offered mortgage repayment deferrals on a case-by-case basis. However, under a plan announced by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Sunday, all four big banks will formally offer repayment reprieves to the recently unemployed for up to one year. Opposition finance spokesman Joe Hockey said the deal was old news. “It was announced by the banks two weeks ago,” Mr Hockey told Network Ten. “Kevin Rudd comes back to Australia, puts his arms around the major banks and claims it as his own.” While he welcomed the initiative, Mr Hockey said it provided little comfort for the many people who have loans with smaller providers. “There are literally hundreds of thousands of Australians that do not have mortgages with the major financial institutions and therefore they may well not be covered,” he said. Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner conceded smaller lenders, including Aussie, were not part of the deal announced on Sunday but hoped they followed suit. “There are obviously a proportion of people who won\’t have the same possibilities offered to them by other lenders but I suspect you will find that there may be individual arrangements that may apply in some of those circumstances,” he told the Nine Network. “The bulk of mortgages across Australia are held by the four major banks. I would hope that some other lenders will follow suit but of course it will depend on the individual circumstances of those lenders.”