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Posts tagged ‘Vietnam’

Malaysia Military Tracked Missing Plane to West Coast.


Malaysia’s military believes a jetliner missing for almost four days turned and flew hundreds of kilometers to the west after it last made contact with civilian air traffic control off the country’s east coast, a senior officer told Reuters on Tuesday.

In one of the most baffling mysteries in recent aviation history, a massive search operation for the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER has so far found no trace of the aircraft or the 239 passengers and crew.

Malaysian authorities have previously said flight MH370 disappeared about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur for the Chinese capital Beijing.

“It changed course after Kota Bharu and took a lower altitude. It made it into the Malacca Strait,” the senior military officer, who has been briefed on investigations, told Reuters.

That would appear to rule out sudden catastrophic mechanical failure, as it would mean the plane flew around 350 miles at least after its last contact with air traffic control, although its transponder and other tracking systems were off.

A non-military source familiar with the investigations said the report was one of several theories and was being checked.

At the time it lost contact with civilian air traffic control, the plane was roughly midway between Malaysia’s east coast town of Kota Bharu and the southern tip of Vietnam, flying at 35,000 feet.

The Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest shipping channels, runs along Malaysia’s west coast.

Malaysia’s Berita Harian newspaper quoted air force chief Rodzali Daud as saying the plane was last detected at 2.40 a.m. by military radar near the island of Pulau Perak at the northern end of the Strait of Malacca. It was flying about 1,000 metres lower than its previous altitude, he was quoted as saying.

There was no word on what happened to the plane thereafter.

The effect of turning off the transponder is to make the aircraft inert to secondary radar, so civil controllers cannot identify it. Secondary radar interrogates the transponder and gets information about the plane’s identity, speed and height.

It would however still be visible to primary radar, which is used by militaries.

Police had earlier said they were investigating whether any passengers or crew on the plane had personal or psychological problems that might explain its disappearance, along with the possibility of a hijack, sabotage or mechanical failure.

There was no distress signal or radio contact indicating a problem and, in the absence of any wreckage or flight data, police have been left trawling through passenger and crew lists for potential leads.

“Maybe somebody on the flight has bought a huge sum of insurance, who wants family to gain from it or somebody who has owed somebody so much money, you know, we are looking at all possibilities,” Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar told a news conference.

“We are looking very closely at the video footage taken at the KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport), we are studying the behavioural pattern of all the passengers.”

A huge search operation for the plane has been mostly focused on the shallow waters of the Gulf of Thailand off Malaysia’s east coast, although the Strait of Malacca has been included since Sunday.

Navy ships, military aircraft, helicopters, coastguard and civilian vessels from 10 nations have criss-crossed the seas off both coasts of Malaysia without success.

The massive search for the plane has drawn in navies, military aircraft, coastguard and civilian vessels from 10 nations.

The fact that at least two passengers on board had used stolen passports has raised suspicions of foul play. But Southeast Asia is known as a hub for false documents that are also used by smugglers, illegal migrants and asylum seekers.

Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble named the two men as Iranians aged 18 and 29, who had entered Malaysia using their real passports before using the stolen European documents to board the Beijing-bound flight.

“The more information we get, the more we are inclined to conclude it is not a terrorist incident,” Noble said.

Malaysian police chief Khalid said the younger man, who he said was 19, appeared to be an illegal immigrant. His mother was waiting for him in Frankfurt and had been in contact with authorities, he said.

“We believe he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group, and we believe he was trying to migrate to Germany,” Khalid said.

Asked if that meant he ruled out a hijack, Khalid said: “(We are giving) same weightage to all (possibilities) until we complete our investigations.”

Both men entered Malaysia on Feb 28, at least one from Phuket, in Thailand, eight days before boarding the flight to Beijing, Malaysian immigration chief Aloyah Mamat told the news conference. Both held onward reservations to Western Europe.

Police in Thailand, where the Italian and Austrian passports were stolen and the tickets used by the two men were booked, said they did not think they were linked to the disappearance of the plane.

“We haven’t ruled it out, but the weight of evidence we’re getting swings against the idea that these men are or were involved in terrorism,” Supachai Puikaewcome, chief of police in the Thai resort city of Pattaya, told Reuters.

About two-thirds of the 227 passengers and 12 crew now presumed to have died aboard the plane were Chinese. Other nationalities included 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians, six Australians, five Indians, four French and three Americans.

China has deployed 10 satellites using high-resolution earth imaging capabilities, visible light imaging and other technologies to “support and assist in the search and rescue operations”, the People’s Liberation Army Daily said.

The Boeing 777 has one of the best safety records of any commercial aircraft in service. Its only previous fatal crash came on July 6 last year when Asiana Airlines Flight 214 struck a seawall on landing in San Francisco, killing three people.

U.S. planemaker Boeing has declined to comment beyond a brief statement saying it was monitoring the situation.

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: Newsmax.com

‘Unprecedented Mystery’ — US and 9 Other Nations Scour Seas for Missing Jet.


The disappearance of a Malaysian airliner about an hour into a flight to Beijing is an “unprecedented mystery”, the civil aviation chief said on Monday, as a massive air and sea search now in its third day failed to find any trace of the plane or 239 people on board.

Dozens of ships and aircraft from 10 countries scoured the seas around Malaysia and south of Vietnam as questions mounted over possible security lapses and whether a bomb or hijacking attempt could have brought down the Boeing 777-200ER which took off from the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

The area of the search would be widened from Tuesday, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, the head of Malaysia’s Civil Aviation Authority, told reporters.

A senior police official told Reuters that people armed with explosives and carrying false identity papers had tried to fly out of Kuala Lumpur in the past, and that current investigations were focused on two passengers who were on the missing plane with stolen passports.

“We have stopped men with false or stolen passports and carrying explosives, who have tried to get past KLIA (airport) security and get on to a plane,” he said. “There have been two or three incidents, but I will not divulge the details.”

Interpol confirmed on Sunday at least two passengers used stolen passports and said it was checking whether others aboard had used false identity documents.

Azharuddin said a hijacking attempt could not be ruled out as investigators explore all theories for the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

“Unfortunately we have not found anything that appears to be objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft,” he told a news conference. “As far as we are concerned, we have to find the aircraft. We have to find a piece of the aircraft if possible.”

Azharuddin also said the two men with stolen passports did not look like Asians, but he did not elaborate. Airport CCTV footage showed they completed all security procedures, he said.

“We are looking at the possibility of a stolen passport syndicate,” he said.

About two-thirds of the 227 passengers and 12 crew now presumed to have died aboard the plane were Chinese. The airline said other nationalities included 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians, six Australians, five Indians, four French and three Americans.

China urged Malaysia to speed up the search for the plane.

“This incident happened more than two days ago, and we hope that the Malaysians can fully understand the urgency of China, especially of the family members, and can step up the speed of the investigation and increase efforts on search and rescue,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in Beijing.

A senior source involved in preliminary investigations in Malaysia said the failure to find any debris indicated the plane may have broken up mid-flight, which could disperse wreckage over a very wide area.

“The fact that we are unable to find any debris so far appears to indicate that the aircraft is likely to have disintegrated at around 35,000 feet,” said the source.

Asked about the possibility of an explosion, the source said there was no evidence of foul play and that the aircraft could have broken up due to mechanical causes.

Still, the source said the closest parallels were the bomb explosions on board an Air India jetliner in 1985 when it was over the Atlantic Ocean and a Pan Am aircraft over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988. Both planes were cruising at around 31,000 feet at the time.

The United States extensively reviewed imagery taken by American spy satellites for evidence of a mid-air explosion, but saw none, a U.S. government source said. The source described U.S. satellite coverage of the region as thorough.

Hopes for a breakthrough rose briefly when Vietnam scrambled helicopters to investigate a floating yellow object it was thought could have been a life raft. But the country’s Civil Aviation Authority said on its website that the object turned out to be a “moss-covered cap of a cable reel”.

Flight MH370 disappeared from radar screens in the early hours of Saturday, about an hour into its flight from Kuala Lumpur, after climbing to a cruising altitude of 35,000 ft (10,670 metres).

Underlining the lack of hard information about the plane’s fate, a U.S. Navy P-3 aircraft capable of covering 1,500 sq miles every hour was sweeping the northern part of the Strait of Malacca, on the other side of the Malaysian peninsula from where the last contact with MH370 was made.

No distress signal was sent from the lost plane, which experts said suggested a sudden catastrophic failure or explosion, but Malaysia’s air force chief said radar tracking showed it may have turned back from its scheduled route before it disappeared.

The Boeing 777 has one of the best safety records of any commercial aircraft in service. Its only previous fatal crash came on July 6 last year when Asiana Airlines Flight 214 struck a seawall on landing in San Francisco, killing three people.

The passenger manifest issued by the airline included the names of two Europeans – Austrian Christian Kozel and Italian Luigi Maraldi – who were not on the plane. Their passports had been stolen in Thailand during the past two years.

An Interpol spokeswoman said a check of all documents used to board the plane had revealed more “suspect passports”, which were being investigated.

“Whilst it is too soon to speculate about any connection between these stolen passports and the missing plane, it is clearly of great concern that any passenger was able to board an international flight using a stolen passport listed in Interpol’s databases,” Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said.

A European diplomat in Kuala Lumpur cautioned that the Malaysian capital was an Asian hub for illegal migrants, many of whom used false documents and complex routes including via Beijing or West Africa to reach a final destination in Europe.

“You shouldn’t automatically think that the fact there were two people on the plane with false passports had anything to do with the disappearance of the plane,” the diplomat said.

“The more you know about the role of Kuala Lumpur in this chain, the more doubtful you are of the chances of a linkage.”

A Thai travel agent who arranged the tickets for the two passengers using the stolen passports said she had booked them on the flight via Beijing because they were the cheapest tickets, the Financial Times reported.

The travel agent in the resort of Pattaya said an Iranian business contact she knew only as “Mr Ali” had asked her to book tickets for the two men on March 1.

She had initially booked them on other airlines but those reservations expired and on March 6, Mr Ali had asked her to book them again. She told the newspaper she did not think Mr Ali, who paid her in cash and booked tickets with her regularly, was linked to terrorism.

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
Source: Newsmax.com

Luis Rosales: Time for World to Join Venezuela’s Fight for Democracy.


Everyone who believes in democracy, freedom and human rights today should be standing with Leopoldo López, the brave young opposition leader who is defying the growing radicalization of the ruling government in Venezuela.

López, a charismatic, Harvard-educated former mayor of Caracas’ Chacao district, has emerged as the face of the growing opposition to the leftist government of Nicolas Maduro, the successor to the late dictator Hugo Chavez. On Tuesday, López was arrested on what international human rights groups have called baseless charges for the deaths of three people killed in an anti-government demonstration earlier this month.

Although President Maduro has called him a fascist, Lopez is completely the opposite. He is an honest politician who really believes in democracy. He has devoted his life to helping his country stand up to the growing authoritarianism of Maduro. He has long been persecuted by a government that controls most of the country’s media and its corrupt judiciary.

From the beginning, when he was first elected mayor in 2000, Lopez challenged this repressive system. Chavez ordered judges to ban him from holding further office after saddling him with trumped up charges. The government consistently has used this method to eliminate popular opponents. As one of the three most popular political leaders in the country, Lopez stepped back and unselfishly endorsed another opposition candidate for president, Henrique Capriles, in order not to fracture the anti-Chavez opposition.

Chavez died in March, 2013. Maduro, a declared Marxist who many observers consider to be a puppet of Cuba’s Castro regime, succeeded him and was elected after a very controversial process fraught with charges of fraud. The opposition believed it was robbed. But the official apparatus, tightly controlled by the Chavistas, ignored the claims and stifled any official audit of the vote.

That was Maduro’s original sin, the first of many. His rule has been an unmitigated disaster. Venezuela, a global oil power, leads the South American continent in inflation. As the economy has collapsed, it also has taken the lead in other negative indicators like the rate of crime and domestic violence. And that is what feeds the growing opposition movement.

Over the last several weeks, millions have taken to the streets across the country to express their discontent. The government has responded by mobilizing its own armed mobs, backed by both the military and the police, to attack peaceful demonstrators. This, in turn, has divided the opposition.

Capriles leads a group that believes that change can be encouraged through dialogue and nonviolent demonstration. Lopez, however, believes that a repressive government must be challenged with strength when it attacks its own people. He believes that Maduro, like Lenin and Castro before him, is trying to create the conditions for a “proletarian dictatorship,” the first step toward totalitarian socialism.

The history of the last century is replete with nations that have succumbed to this tactic: Russia, the nations of Eastern Europe, Vietnam, Cambodia, North Korea and Cuba to name just a few.

In every case, when socialists took power, they immediately suspended individual liberties, freedom of press and private ownership to end what they considered an “outdated” capitalist and bourgeois systems. The new elites, backed by a massive, authoritarian bureaucracy, never saw any reason to reverse course. What emerged were single party states with either no elections or cruel parodies of them, without freedom, and heavily militarized at all levels of society.

This is the system that Leopoldo López fears will emerge in Venezuela if the people do not stand up and fight now. And it’s going to take democrats and human rights activists from all over the world to help him in his fight. There needs to be a push now to stop Maduro from repressing students and other demonstrators and force him to release Lopez before it’s too late.

We the people have to put international pressure on Maduro’s regime and push our democratic governments and elected representatives to do the same. And we need to do this now, not only for the sake of Lopez, but also for the future of Venezuela and Latin America.

Luis Rosales is a political strategist based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is the author of the new book, “Francis: A Pope for Our Times.”

© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

 

Kerry: China Willing to Pressure NKorea on Nukes.


Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday China is willing to exert more pressure to get North Korea to give up its nuclear program.

He told reporters in Beijing he was pleased that China “could not have more forcefully reiterated its commitment” to the goal of denuclearizing North Korea.

The reclusive Asian state has defied international warnings not to build atomic bombs and long-range missiles. It is believed to have enough fissile material to build up to 10 nuclear bombs, but most intelligence analysts say it has yet to master the technology to deploy such weapons.

“I encouraged the Chinese to use every tool at their disposal, all of the means of persuasion that they have, building on the depths of their long and historic and cultural and common history (with North Korea),” he said.

“They made it very clear that if the North doesn’t comply and come to the table and be serious about talks and stop its program … they are prepared to take additional steps in order to make sure their policy is implemented,” Kerry said, adding the United States and China were now discussing “the specifics of how you do that”.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Kerry China would work with all parties concerned, including the United States, to play a constructive role for the region’s peace and stability.

“China will never allow chaos or war on the Korean Peninsula,” Wang said, according to China’s Foreign Ministry.

North Korea was raised during Kerry’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Foreign Ministry said, with Xi “setting forth China’s stance”. It gave no other details.

The East and South China Seas featured prominently on Kerry’s agenda too, with him calling for a “more rule of law based, less confrontational regime”.

The United States is uneasy about what it sees as China’s effort to gain creeping control over waters in the Asia-Pacific region, including its Nov. 23 declaration of an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) in an area of the East China Sea that includes islands at the centre of a dispute with Japan.

China claims about 90 percent of the 3.5 million square km (1.35 million square mile) South China Sea, depicting what it sees as its area on maps with a so-called nine-dash line, looping far out over the sea from south China.

China and the Association of South East Asian Nations have been discussing a code of conduct for the South China Sea, and Kerry said he believed China was ready to achieve that goal.

“That would help reduce tensions that stem from the territorial and maritime disputes and, in the meantime, it’s very important that everybody build crisis management tools and refrain from coercive or unilateral measures to assert whatever claims any country in the region may have,” he said.

Wang said China was committed to a peaceful resolution for both the East and South China Seas disputes, but urged the United States not take sides and said China had an “unshakable resolve” to protect its sovereignty.

The United States should “respect historical facts and China’s sovereign interests, adhere to an objective and impartial stance and take tangible actions to promote mutual trust in the region so as to safeguard regional peace and stability”, Wang said.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims over the South China Sea, or parts of it.

Kerry said he told China it would be a bad idea to establish an air defence identification zone in the South China Sea, similar to the one it set up over the East China Sea late last year, which prompted protests from Washington, Tokyo and Seoul.

“We have made it very clear that a unilateral, unannounced, unprocessed initiative like that can be very challenging to certain people in the region, and therefore to regional stability,” he said.

Wang said China was confident it could maintain peace in the South China Sea by working with ASEAN, and denounced efforts by “certain people internationally” to hype up tensions and “spread untruths”. “China is resolutely opposed to this,” Wang said, without elaborating.

Climate change was also on the agenda of Kerry’s talks.

“We need to see if working together we could identify any further steps that we may be able to take, specifically with respect to arrival at meaningful targets with respect to the 2015 climate change conference that will take place in Paris in December of next year,” Kerry said.

 

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
Source: Newsmax.com

Kennedy 50 Years Later: Little Evidence JFK Would Have Left Vietnam in Second Term.


Image: Kennedy 50 Years Later: Little Evidence JFK Would Have Left Vietnam in Second Term

President John F. Kennedy meets in the White House cabinet room with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, left, Sen. Mike Mansfield (D-Montana), second left, and Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.), on Sept. 9, 1963.

Americans today commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

One is sure to hear many “if only” conjectures about the 35th president. One of these is likely “If only Kennedy had survived the assassination in Dallas and won re-election, he would have reversed the U.S. military buildup in Vietnam.”

It would be in direct contrast to the action taken by his successor, fellow Democrat Lyndon Johnson, and would have avoided America’s longest war.

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But is there any hard evidence to support this claim? None at all. In fact, had President Kennedy been re-elected and taken this course, it would have contradicted just about every public action and statement he made about Vietnam during his presidency.

In his book “Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye,” onetime top Kennedy White House aide Ken O’Donnell wrote that he recalled a conversation between the president and Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D.-Mont.) in May 1963 in which Kennedy said he “now agreed with the senator’s thinking on the need for a complete withdrawal from Vietnam. ‘But I can’t do it until 1965 — after I’m re-elected.'”

According to O’Donnell, Kennedy told him: “If I tried to pull out completely now from Vietnam, we would have another Joe McCarthy scare on our hands, but I can do it after I’m re-elected. So we had better make damned sure that I am re-elected.”

Echoed without any supporting evidence by other allies of JFK, this claim of President Kennedy in his second term reversing the buildup of 16,000 troops in Vietnam, that occurred for the most part during his first term, has developed a life of its own.

In his much-praised biography of Kennedy, “An Unfinished Life,” historian Robert Dallek concedes that “[n]o one can prove, of course, what Kennedy would have done about Vietnam between 1964 and 1968.” But, Dallek concludes, “His actions and statements, however, are suggestive of a carefully managed stand-down from the sort of involvement that occurred under LBJ.”

Do they? In an interview at his Hyannisport, Mass., home with CBS-TV‘s Walter Cronkite on Sept. 2, 1963, Kennedy said of Vietnam: ” . . . I don’t agree with those who say we should withdraw. That would be a great mistake. I know people don’t like Americans to be engaged in this kind of effort.

“Forty-seven Americans have been killed in combat with the enemy. But this is a very important struggle even though it is far away. We took all this — made this effort to defend Europe. Now Europe is quite secure. We also have to participate — we may not like it — in the defense of Asia.”

At a news conference 10 days later, responding to a question about the current U.S. policy toward South Vietnam, the president underscored the U.S. commitment to winning .

“I think I have stated what my view is, and we are for those things and those policies which help win the war there,” he said, “That is why some 25,000 Americans have traveled 10,000 miles to participate in that struggle. What helps to win the war, we support; what interferes with the war effort, we oppose.

“I have already made it clear that any action by either government which may handicap the winning of the war is inconsistent with our policy or our objectives.

” . . . [W]e want the war to be won, the Communists to be contained, and the Americans to go home. That is our policy. I am sure it is the policy of the people of Vietnam. But we are not there to see a war lost, and we will follow the policy which I have indicated today of advancing those causes and issues which help win the war.”

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Two months later, the president’s own words recalled his pledge in 1960 to “build a national defense which is not ‘first but,’ not ‘first if,’ not ‘first when’ but first — period. The pledge has been fulfilled.”

In the same remarks, Kennedy hailed U.S. support of other countries fighting communism, declaring: “Our assistance to these nations can be painful, risky, and costly, as is true in Southeast Asia today, But we dare not weary of the task . . . .”

” . . . [T]he righteousness of our cause must underlie our strength,” he concluded, “For as was written long ago: ‘Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’”

These are from texts of speeches never given, scheduled for the president to deliver in Dallas on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Vietnam Mourns Independence Hero General Giap.


HANOI — Tens of thousands of people gathered in Hanoi Saturday to pay their respects to Vietnam’s independence hero General Vo Nguyen Giap, lying in state in the capital after he died last week at the age of 102.

Top leaders bade farewell to Giap early Saturday, kicking off two days of elaborate official commemorations that come as the one-party state seeks to co-opt the popular general’s legacy as a symbol of its own legitimacy.

As soldiers in white uniforms stood to attention, officials wrote messages of condolence hailing Giap as a communist hero — brushing over his post-war relegation to the political sidelines and his later outspoken criticism of the government.

“He had an outstanding talent in military leadership,” wrote Communist Party leader Nguyen Phu Trong in a book of condolences, according to state media.

“He made a huge contribution and rendered special, great services to the Vietnamese revolution,” Trong wrote in a book also signed by Premier Nguyen Tan Dung and President Truong Tan Sang.

Lauded as a military genius for the guerrilla tactics that defeated both the French and American armies, the general is being honored with two days of national mourning.

A photograph of Giap and a gilt frame containing military medals was placed above his coffin, which was draped in the national flag.

His family, wearing black, stood close by while thick clouds of incense filled the room where his body lay in state.

Outside the funeral home, tens of thousands of people gathered — including war veterans with medals pinned to their chests, and teenagers with pictures of Giap emblazoned on their clothes — hoping to catch a final glimpse of the general.

“I couldn’t sleep unless I came to see him for one last time,” 68-year-old Nguyen Thi Bay told AFP.

“He was a great man, talented but pure of spirit. I cried for the death of (Vietnam’s founding) president Ho Chi Minh, now I cry for General Giap.”

The general, a former history teacher turned military commander, led his troops to victory over France in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu, the battle that ended French involvement in Indochina.

He later played a key role in Vietnam’s defeat of the United States in 1975.

Despite being politically marginalized after the country’s reunification in 1975, Giap remained a national icon — even among those born after the war.

“Now, some of our top leaders are just bureaucrats, or they’re corrupt, or they say one thing and do another,” said Bui Minh Duc, 51, a former soldier.

“People want to show they honor and respect Giap’s life, his spirit. The people know who is good and who is not,” he added.

More than 100,000 people queued for hours to visit Giap’s house this week to pay their respects after news of his death broke.

Outside the capital, authorities have set up altars where people can go to pay tribute to the general.

Concerts have been canceled, national parks closed, and normal state television broadcasts suspended in favor of patriotic music and documentaries for the mourning period.

The general’s body will be interred in his native Quang Binh province, at the request of his family.

The move is highly unusual in Vietnam, where all top leaders from the north of the country are buried in Hanoi’s Mai Dich cemetery — the equivalent of France’s Pantheon.

Flags are flying at half-mast until Sunday, to mark the official period of mourning.

General Giap is survived by Dang Bich Ha, his wife since 1949, and four children.

© AFP 2013

Source: NEWSmax.com

US, Vietnam Sign Nuclear Trade Agreement.


Image: US, Vietnam Sign Nuclear Trade Agreement

Thursday, 10 Oct 2013 07:14 AM

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BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei — The United States and Vietnam on Thursday signed a pact that would allow the transfer of nuclear technology to the Southeast Asian nation and open the way for U.S. investment in the burgeoning industry, in another sign that Washington is seeking stronger economic and strategic ties in the region.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S.-Vietnam Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement would allow U.S. firms to tap Vietnam’s future nuclear power market, although the State Department said the deal will not allow Vietnam to enrich or reprocess U.S.-origin nuclear materials.

“This agreement will create numerous opportunities for our businesses,” Kerry told Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh on the sidelines of an Asian summit in Brunei. “Obviously our nuclear cooperation is quite significant.”

Vietnam is working with Russia to build its first nuclear plant in 2014 for completion in 2020 in the south-central province of Ninh Thuan, as demand for energy grows rapidly in response to economic growth of around 5 percent a year.

It has also signed an agreement with a Japanese consortium to develop a second nuclear power plant in the same province, with two reactors to become operational in 2024-2025.

Vietnam has the second-largest market after China for nuclear power in East Asia, which was expected to grow to $50 billion by 2030, according to Kerry.

The United States has moved to improve economic and security ties with Vietnam, part of its strategic rebalancing towards Asia that some see as a policy to counter China’s rising clout. China’s assertive claims over the South China Sea have raised tensions with Vietnam, as well as other Southeast Asian nations.

Vietnam’s poor human rights record is a major obstacle to closer ties and U.S. labor and human rights groups have urged Obama to suspend free-trade negotiations with Vietnam because of its treatment of workers and government critics.

Analysts say a sharp increase in the past few years in arrests and convictions of government detractors, in particular, bloggers, could complicate the nuclear deal as Congress needs to be convinced Vietnam is changing its tack.

The deal will be submitted to President Barack Obama for his review before it is sent to Congress for its approval by the end of the year, a U.S. official said.

“Getting to this stage moves us closer to an expanded civil nuclear cooperation with Vietnam,” the official, who briefed reporters in Washington, said.

“Vietnam is actively taking steps now toward development of a robust domestic infrastructure to support a nuclear energy program,” the official added.

With Vietnam at an early stage of nuclear development, the official said the agreement provides the basis for U.S. firms to enter the market early as it builds nuclear power plants and for the U.S. government to ensure the proper safeguards.

The U.S. official said the agreement “will also strengthen the Obama administration’s long-standing policy of limiting the spread or enrichment and reprocessing capabilities around the world.”

The deal stems from Obama’s Prague initiative, a drive for global nuclear security which he launched in his first term.

Asked whether the provisions of the deal would ward off any concern that Vietnam might someday seek nuclear weapons capability, the official said: “That certainly would close off one path toward that.”

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: NEWSmax.com

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