Obama makes surprise Iraq visit

BAGHDAD: US President Barack Obama arrived in Iraq on Tuesday on his first visit since taking office in three months ago, as the war-torn country wrestles with a new upturn in deadly attacks.

Obama flew into Baghdad from Turkey on Air Force One on the latest leg of a week-long tour through Europe and the Middle East and was immediately rushed off to meet General Ray Odierno, the top US army commander in Iraq.

He was expected to present medals to American soldiers during the unexpected visit as well as hold telephone talks with his Iraqi counterpart Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Obama, who opposed the 2003 invasion ordered by his predecessor George W. Bush, has used his debut overseas tour to reach out to the Islamic world and attempt to restore America’s battered image abroad.


Official: Obama plans to slash deficit in half

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has committed hundreds of billions of dollars to help revive the economy and is working on a plan to cut the federal deficit in half by the end of his first term.

Obama will touch on his efforts to restore fiscal discipline at a White House fiscal policy summit on Monday and in an address to Congress on Tuesday. On Thursday he plans to send at least a summary of his first budget request to Capitol Hill. The bottom line, said an administration official Saturday, is to halve the federal deficit to $533 billion by the time his first term ends in 2013. He inherited a deficit of about $1.3 trillion from former President George W. Bush.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the president has not yet released his budget for the fiscal year 2010, which begins Oct. 1, said the deficit will be shrunk by scaling back Iraq war spending, ending the temporary tax breaks enacted by the Bush administration for those making $250,000 or more a year, and streamlining government.

“We can’t generate sustained growth without getting our deficits under control,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address that seemed to preview his intentions. He said his budget will be “sober in its assessments, honest in its accounting, and lays out in detail my strategy for investing in what we need, cutting what we don’t, and restoring fiscal discipline.”

Republicans were not convinced. They said Obama’s plan would hurt small businesses, including many filing taxes as individuals and possibly facing higher taxes under his plan.

“I don’t think raising taxes is a great idea,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “And when our good friends on the other side of the aisle say raising the taxes on the wealthy, what they’re really talking about is small business.”

Obama’s budget also is expected to take steps toward his campaign promises of establishing universal health care and lessening the country’s reliance on foreign oil.

Obama has pledged to make deficit reduction a priority both as a candidate and a president. But he also has said economic recovery must come first.

Last week, he signed into law the $787 billion stimulus measure that is meant to create jobs but certainly will add to the nation’s skyrocketing national debt. He also is implementing the $700 billion financial sector rescue passed on Bush’s watch; about $75 billion of which is being used toward Obama’s plan to help homeowners facing foreclosure.

source : news.yahoo.com

The Bushes move into their new Dallas home

DALLAS: A month after leaving the White House, former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, have moved into their new Dallas home.

Bush’s motorcade drove past a security barricade last evening, bringing the former first couple to their new residence: a 1959 ranch-style brick home that sits at the top of a quiet dead end street in a wealthy Dallas neighbourhood. Bush waved to a jogger as he rode by, and the jogger waved back.

The couple’s new home has about 8,500 square feet, four bedrooms, four-and-a-half bathrooms and a wet bar. Local property records indicate the home on Daria Place is worth about $2.1 million.

The house has a wide front yard and dark shutters, with a gate at the top of the driveway that affords some privacy. The Dallas City Council last month approved installation of a security gate that will eventually block access to the street.

Dallas police and Secret Service agents have set up a barricade in recent days limiting access to the neighborhood.

source : jang.com.pk

Clinton lands in Indonesia with message for Muslims

JAKARTA: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived Wednesday in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, on her first mission to start mending US ties with the Islamic world.

She was to meet Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda and leaders of the Jakarta-based Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) later in the day on the second leg of her four-nation trip through Asia.

Wearing a red coat over a black blouse and trousers, Clinton touched down under heavy skies and was greeted by senior officials and a choir of female students from US President Barack Obama’s old primary school in Jakarta.

Obama, who spent part of his childhood here in the late 1960s, has promised to improve relations with the Islamic world after the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan under his predecessor George W. Bush.

“We have a responsibility to speak out and to work with the Muslim world on behalf of positive change and to enlist the help of Muslims around the world against the extremists,” Clinton told students in Japan on Tuesday.

In her first trip to a Muslim country in her new role, Clinton would also meet President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Thursday before leaving for South Korea and China.

Obama’s personal connection with Indonesia has made him hugely popular in the country of 234 million people, and expectations are high he will visit early in his presidency to reach out to the Muslim world.

source : jang.com.pk

Iraqi shoe-thrower goes on trial Thursday

BAGHDAD: The Iraqi journalist who won global attention when he hurled his shoes at former US president George W. Bush goes on trial on Thursday charged with assaulting a foreign leader.

Muntazer al-Zaidi faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted, but his legal team will ask for the charge to be thrown out and for the reporter to be freed.

“He should be released because he was only expressing himself and protesting against the occupation,” Zaidi’s lawyer Dhiya al-Saadi told foreign news agency on Tuesday.

source : jang.com.pk

Obama freezes salaries of some White House aides

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama‘s first public act in office Wednesday was to institute new limits on lobbyists in his White House and to freeze the salaries of high-paid aides, in a nod to the country’s economic turmoil.

Announcing the moves while attending a ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to swear in his staff, Obama said the steps “represent a clean break from business as usual.”

The pay freeze, first reported by The Associated Press, would hold salaries at their current levels for the roughly 100 White House employees who make over $100,000 a year. “Families are tightening their belts, and so should Washington,” said the new president, taking office amid startlingly bad economic times that many fear will grow worse.

Those affected by the freeze include the high-profile jobs of White House chief of staff, national security adviser and press secretary. Other aides who work in relative anonymity also would fit into that cap if Obama follows a structure similar to the one George W. Bush set up.

Obama’s new lobbying rules will not only ban aides from trying to influence the administration when they leave his staff. Those already hired will be banned from working on matters they have previously lobbied on, or to approach agencies that they once targeted.

The rules also ban lobbyists from giving gifts of any size to any member of his administration. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the ban would include the traditional “previous relationships” clause, allowing gifts from friends or associates with which an employee comes in with strong ties.

The new rules also require that anyone who leaves his administration is not allowed to try to influence former friends and colleagues for at least two years. Obama is requiring all staff to attend to an ethics briefing like one he said he attended last week.

Obama called the rules tighter “than under any other administration in history.” They followed pledges during his campaign to be strict about the influence of lobbyist in his White House.

“The new rules on lobbying alone, no matter how tough, are not enough to fix a broken system in Washington,” he said. “That’s why I’m also setting rules that govern not just lobbyists but all those who have been selected to serve in my administration.”

In an attempt to deliver on pledges of a transparent government, Obama said he would change the way the federal government interprets the Freedom of Information Act. He said he was directing agencies that vet requests for information to err on the side of making information public — not to look for reasons to legally withhold it — an alteration to the traditional standard of evaluation.

Just because a government agency has the legal power to keep information private does not mean that it should, Obama said. Reporters and public-interest groups often make use of the law to explore how and why government decisions were made; they are often stymied as agencies claim legal exemptions to the law.

“For a long time now, there’s been too much secrecy in this city,” Obama said.

He said the orders he was issuing Wednesday will not “make government as honest and transparent as it needs to be” nor go as far as he would like.

“But these historic measures do mark the beginning of a new era of openness in our country,” Obama said. “And I will, I hope, do something to make government trustworthy in the eyes of the American people, in the days and weeks, months and years to come.”

source : news.yahoo.com

Bush defends legacy in final news conference

WASHINGTON: President George W. Bush mounted a defiant and emotional defense of his “good, strong record” on Monday, rejecting criticism of his “war on terror” tactics and policy in Iraq and on the economy.

In his last formal news conference before ceding power to Barack Obama on January 20, Bush highlighted the “troop surge” in Iraq and his efforts to rescue the US economy as it slumped into the worst recession since the 1930s. He warned that Iran and North Korea, which he famously included in an “axis of evil”, were still dangerous and said Obama still faced the grave threat of an attack on the US homeland.

“There are plenty of critics in this business,” Bush said at a valedictory encounter with reporters in the White House briefing room at the end of a turbulent two-term presidency saying he had a “good, strong record.”

Bush, who presided over two wars which tested US ties with close allies, said he had never spent much time worrying about the “loud voices” of critics, adding that president-elect Obama would also face “harsh” criticism.

“He is going to have to do what he thinks is right, if you don’t I don’t see how you can live with yourself.” He did not dwell on the decision to invade Iraq, but said the surge was an example of how he had responded to events while in office.

“When the history of Iraq is written, historians will analyse the decision on the surge,” he said remembering the rising tide of violence at the time in Iraq.

“I decided to do something about it, and to send 30,000 troops in as opposed to withdrawing. The part of history is certain in the situation did change.”

Bush used the news conference to warn Hamas that it must halt rocket fire on Israel if there is to be a durable ceasefire in Gaza.

“I am for a sustainable ceasefire. And a definition of a sustainable cease-fire is that Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel,” the US leader told.

“I happen to believe the choice is Hamas’s to make.”

He also warned that Obama would have to face up to the fact that America’s terrorist foes would like to attack again, more than seven years after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

“The most urgent threat he will have to deal with, and other presidents after him have got to deal with, is an attack on our homeland,” Bush told.

“I wish I could report that is not the case, but there’s still an enemy out there that would like to inflict damage on Americans. That will be the major threat.”

Bush also noted that historians would examine the fact that the US economy slumped into recession as he leaves office to head back home to Texas. He said he would be willing to ask Congress for a second 350 billion dollar tranche of a financial institutions bailout package if Obama asked for it.

“I told him that if he felt he needed the 350 billion, I would be willing to ask for it. If he feels like it needed to happen on my watch,” Bush said.

Bush dismissed the notion that his presidency had damaged America’s standing in the world.

“I strongly disagree with the assessment of our moral standing has been damaged. People still understand America stands for freedom.” And he said personally, keeping Americans safe had been more important to him that personal popularity.

source : jang.com.pk

Bush to establish 3 marine monuments in Pacific

WASHINGTON: President George W. Bush plans to designate three remote Pacific island chains as national monuments in what will be one of the largest marine conservation efforts in U.S. history.

The three areas are expected to include the Mariana Trench along the Northern Mariana Islands, Rose Atoll in American Samoa and seven islands in the central Pacific Ocean.

The White House confirmed plans for an announcement by the president on Tuesday but declined to provide other details.

Two years ago, the president made a huge swath of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a national monument, barring fishing, oil and gas extraction and tourism from its waters and coral reefs.

source : jang.com.pk

Bush says he wants lasting Mideast cease-fire

WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush says any cease-fire in the Mideast must be fully respected, Hamas rocket attacks on Israel stopped and the flow of smuggled weapons into Gaza cut off.

Bush called the Hamas attacks an “act of terror” and said no peace deal would be acceptable unless the flow of smuggled weapons to terrorist groups is monitored and stopped. He made the comments in his weekly radio address taped for broadcast Saturday but released a day early.

It was the first time Bush has spoken about one of the bloodiest Mideast clashes in decades, though a White House spokesman has offered extensive comments in recent days.

The conflict began a week ago. Israeli warplanes have rained bombs on Gaza, targeting the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has traumatized southern Israel with intensifying rocket attacks.

“The United States is leading diplomatic efforts to achieve a meaningful cease-fire that is fully respected,” Bush said. “Another one-way cease-fire that leads to rocket attacks on Israel is not acceptable. And promises from Hamas will not suffice — there must be monitoring mechanisms in place to help ensure that smuggling of weapons to terrorist groups in Gaza comes to an end.”

With time running out on the Bush presidency, the crisis in Gaza is likely to carry over to President-elect Barack Obama. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice briefed Bush on developments in Gaza, and she continued telephone diplomacy to arrange a truce. Yet, she said she had no plans to make an emergency visit to the region.

More than 400 Palestinians and at least four Israelis have been killed in the latest offensive. The U.N. estimated Friday that a quarter of the Palestinians killed were civilians. In their waning days in power, Bush and Rice have been working the phones with world allies.

Bush offered no criticism of Israel, depicting the country’s air assaults as a response to the attacks on its people. The White House will not comment on whether it views the Israeli response as proportionate to the scope of rockets attacks on Israel.

“This recent outburst of violence was instigated by Hamas — a Palestinian terrorist group supported by Iran and Syria that calls for Israel’s destruction,” Bush said.

The president said Hamas ultimately ended the latest cease-fire on Dec. 19 and “soon unleashed a barrage of rockets and mortars that deliberately targeted innocent Israelis — an act of terror that is opposed by the legitimate leader of the Palestinian people, President (Mahmoud) Abbas.”

Hamas-run Gaza has been largely isolated from the rest of the world since the Islamic militants won parliamentary elections in 2006. Then Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, expelling forces loyal to the moderate Abbas.

Bush expressed deep concern about the humanitarian suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza. U.N. officials say Gaza’s 1.5 million residents face an alarming situation under constant Israeli bombardment, with hospitals overcrowded and both fuel and food supplies growing scarce.

“By spending its resources on rocket launchers instead of roads and schools, Hamas has demonstrated that it has no intention of serving the Palestinian people,” Bush said. “America has helped by providing tens of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid, and this week we contributed an additional $85 million through the United Nations. We have consistently called on all in the region to ensure that assistance reaches those in need.”

The White House has cautioned Israel to be aware of the toll its military strikes will have on civilians. Bush blamed Hamas for hiding within the civilian population. “Regrettably, Palestinian civilians have been killed in recent days,” he said.

International calls for a cease-fire have been growing. Bush promised to stay engaged with U.S. partners in the Middle East and Europe and keep Obama updated. Obama is receiving the same intelligence reports on Gaza that Bush is.

Rice has spoken to both Obama and his choice for secretary of state, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, about the situation at least once in the last week. Obama and Clinton have remained mum out of deference to Bush, who will be in office until Obama’s Jan. 20 inauguration.


Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

source : news.yahoo.com

Obama, Hillary Clinton most admired of 2008, with Bush, Palin second

President-elect Barack Obama is 2008’s most admired man, according to a Gallup Poll released Friday, the first president-elect since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 to top the annual list.

A distant second is President George W. Bush, at 5 percent, a dramatic fall since he was named most admired by 39 percent shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Most admired woman, for the seventh year in a row, is Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton. But Clinton has some competition — Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican’s 2008 vice presidential nominee, was second, beating out television host Oprah Winfrey.

Poll analyst Lydia Saad called Obama’s showing “extraordinarily high,” She said there have been only a few times since the poll began in 1948 when an incumbent president has not topped the list — Lyndon Johnson in 1967 and 1968 (Eisenhower was on top) and Jimmy Carter in 1980 (Pope John Paul II beat him). Also, from 1973 to 1975, Presidents Nixon and then Ford were topped by National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

source : news.yahoo.com