- EXCLUSIVE: Lockheed lobbies anew for new Taiwan F-16s
- Cuba gives green light to buying, selling cars
- More U.S. military action in Pakistan possible - Graham
Posted: 28 Sep 2011 09:06 PM PDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin Corp is helping arm U.S. lawmakers for a renewed push to sell its new F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, not just the Obama administration's planned $5.3 billion upgrade of old ones.
A Lockheed Martin official last week emailed an unsigned memo to lawmakers on Capitol Hill titled "Taiwan -- The Benefit of New F-16 C/Ds," two congressional staff members said.
Lockheed's memo to lawmakers was dated Sept. 22, a day after the administration told Congress that it was offering Taiwan a $5.3 billion retrofit of 145 F-16 A/B models sold in the 1990s. Administration officials said a decision had not yet been made on Taiwan's 5-year-old request for 66 new F-16 C/D models valued at $8.3 billion.
Beijing calls U.S. arms sales to Taiwan the chief obstacle to better relations between the United States and China, now the world's biggest economies.
China's foreign minister urged the United States on Monday to reconsider its decision to upgrade the jets, saying it could harm ties between Washington and Beijing.
Beijing suspended military-to-military contacts with the United States for most of 2010 after the previous, $6.4 billion U.S. arms package for Taiwan. China regards U.S. arms sales to Taiwan as interference in its domestic affairs.
The Lockheed memo included "rebuttal points" to what Lockheed called the expected conclusion of a Pentagon report that the administration could use to try to defuse criticism of its decision not to release new F-16s to Taiwan.
Lockheed Martin neither confirmed nor denied having circulated the memo, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters. It said a sale of F-16s would benefit not only the company but generate more than 16,000 jobs in the United States over five to six years, citing a study it had commissioned.
"Any questions regarding the sale of new F-16s to Taiwan should be referred to the governments of Taiwan and the US," Laura Siebert, a Lockheed spokeswoman, added in an email.
The company, the Pentagon's largest supplier by sales, typically depicts itself as a bystander in the foreign arms-sale process, patiently awaiting government decisions.
The one-page memo highlighted what some experts consider flaws in Obama administration decision-making on the F-16s. The memo raised questions that could put administration policymakers on the spot at a scheduled U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Taiwan on Oct. 4.
The issue is politically sensitive for President Obama. The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act requires Washington to provide for Taiwan's defense without regard to Beijing's sensitivities on the matter.
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney accused Obama last week of having "caved" to China by denying Taiwan F-16 C/D models, calling this "yet another example of his weak leadership in foreign policy."
In the U.S. Congress, 47 of the 100 U.S. senators and 181 of the 435 members of the House of Representatives have written to Obama since May to urge him to sell to Taiwan at least 66 late-model F-16 C/D planes.
Advocates of new F-16 sales say they should be in addition to the upgrade of the old models.
The document distributed on Capitol Hill by Lockheed was based on the "expected conclusion" of the Defense Department report on the state of Taiwan's air power, and sought to refute it.
The classified Pentagon report itself was sent to Congress on Sept. 22, the same day as the Lockheed memo, 20 months after a congressional mandate for its delivery, a third congressional official told Reuters.
"Taiwan cannot protect their F-16 aircraft or the runways from which they operate from the ballistic missile threat," the memo summarized the Pentagon report as finding, referring to how China might attack in any cross-strait conflict.
"So, new F-16 C/Ds would not contribute to their deterrent capability and are not relevant," the memo further summarized the report as having found.
But Taiwan has some of the best-protected, hardened aircraft shelters in the region, the memo argued. In addition, the self-ruled island is advancing the "state-of-the-art in rapid runway repair technology" and routinely practices using open roadway stretches for fighters' launch and recovery to curb dependence on airfields, it said.
The Lockheed memo also took aim at what it called an expected "red herring" conclusion of the Pentagon report. It described this as the idea that Taiwan needed an aircraft capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings, or STOVL, because of Chinese missiles' threat to Taiwan's runways.
Only two STOVL aircraft models have been developed -- the BAe AV-8 Harrier, which has been out of production since 1997, and Lockheed's own F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, which will not be available for export sales until the later part of this decade, the memo said.
Even if available today, the U.S. administration would most likely refuse the F-35B to Taiwan because of its advanced radar-evading capabilities, it said.
The F-35, the memo added, could be construed as introducing a new level of capability, something that would conflict with a joint communique signed by the United States and China in August 1982.
"If new F-16s are so irrelevant, why is China so vigorously opposed to their sale to Taiwan?" Lockheed's memo added in its rebuttal points.
(Editing by Carol Bishopric)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 28 Sep 2011 08:05 PM PDT
HAVANA (Reuters) - For the first time since the 1959 revolution, Cubans will have the right to buy and sell cars in a much-anticipated reform under President Raul Castro, another step toward greater economic freedom on the communist-led island.
An official government decree published on Wednesday said Cubans and foreign residents would now be able to do with their cars what they wanted "without any prior authorization from any entity."
The regulations, which take effect on Saturday, are not without limits, but they were welcomed by Cubans, most of whom have not been able to own cars for more than five decades.
"It's great because it was something forbidden and prices were really high -- and if you had a car you weren't able to do anything with it," said office worker Silvia Santos.
"It's a way of freeing something," she said.
The liberalizing of car sales was one of more than 300 reforms put forth by Castro and approved in April at a congress of the Communist Party, Cuba's only legal political party.
The proposed changes put a greater emphasis on private initiative, which had been largely stifled under Cuba's Soviet-style system, and less government control.
Previously, only automobiles that were in Cuba before the 1959 revolution could be freely bought and sold, which is why there are so many 1950s or older cars, most of them American-made, rumbling through Cuban streets.
There are also many Soviet-made cars, dating from the era when the Soviet Union was the island's biggest ally and benefactor. They have been available for those with government permission, including assorted officials, athletes, artists and doctors returning from service overseas.
A black market in which people illegally purchased cars licensed to somebody else has also been active.
SLOW BUT WIDE-RANGING REFORMS
The new regulations will only allow Cubans with government permission and foreign residents to import cars, while all others will be limited to autos already on the island.
They also allow Cubans migrating from the island to sell their cars or to give them to family members, neither of which they could do in the past.
Foreign residents temporarily living on the island will be limited to buying two cars, imported or not, during their stay.
Castro's reforms, which he says are needed to ensure the survival of Cuban communism, are wide-ranging, but have been slow in developing.
"It's a law that should have been approved a long time ago," said taxi driver Fabio Brito, 54. "This exists in all countries in the world. Why should we be different?"
Reaction to the change was swift on Revolico.cu, a website where Cubans buy and sell goods and services.
Listings to buy or sell all kinds of cars were posted on Thursday afternoon, at prices ranging from the equivalent of $25,000 for a 1951 Chevrolet to $4,800 for a 1948 Dodge.
The seller of the Dodge, Yosvany, who chose not to give his full name, said he did not know about the new law when he posted his car, he just needed money.
He said the old pre-revolution cars might drop in price as people finally had access to newer models. "Imagine someone who has a Toyota or a Hyundai that they can sell now with the new rules. Prices for those might take off."
One difficulty facing many Cubans, who make an average monthly salary equivalent to about $20, will be rounding up the money to buy a car. "It's a good law, but I can't even buy a bicycle," said a peanut vendor who did not give his name.
"Maybe if I can save money one day in my life I will be able to buy a car," said Santos. "It's going to be hard, but at least now it's a possibility."
(Editing by Todd Eastham)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 28 Sep 2011 08:05 PM PDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Support is growing in the U.S. Congress for expanding American military action in Pakistan beyond drone strikes already used to target militants in Pakistani territory, a senior Republican U.S. senator says.
The comments by Senator Lindsey Graham, an influential Republican voice on foreign policy and military affairs, follow remarks by the top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, accusing Pakistan last week of supporting the militant Haqqani network's Sept. 13 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
With growing calls for a tougher stance on militants accused of such high-profile attacks, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday that Washington was closer to deciding whether to label the Haqqanis a terrorist group.
The United States has long pressed Pakistan to pursue the Haqqani network, one of the most lethal Taliban-allied Afghan groups fighting Western forces in Afghanistan.
The Pakistan-based Haqqani network has been in the spotlight since U.S. officials accused it of mounting this month's attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul with the support of Pakistan's powerful military spy agency.
Graham said in an interview on Tuesday that U.S. lawmakers might support military options beyond drone strikes that have been going on for years inside Pakistani territory.
Those options may include using U.S. bomber planes within Pakistan. The South Carolina Republican said he did not advocate sending U.S. ground troops into Pakistan.
"I would say when it comes to defending American troops, you don't want to limit yourself," Graham said. "This is not a boots-on-the-ground engagement -- I'm not talking about that, but we have a lot of assets beyond drones.
"A perfect world ... would be Afghan, Pakistan and (U.S. and NATO) coalition forces working jointly on both sides of border to deny safe havens, inside of Afghanistan and on the other side," in Pakistan's western tribal regions from which the Haqqani network and other militants are believed to operate, Graham said.
Graham said U.S. lawmakers will think about stepping up the military pressure. "If people believe it's gotten to the point that that is the only way really to protect our interests, I think there would be a lot of support," he said.
PAKISTANI SAFE HAVEN
The Haqqani network is allied with Afghanistan's Taliban and is believed to have close links to al Qaeda. It fights U.S. and NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan, operating out of bases in Pakistan's North Waziristan.
"We are in the final, formal review that has to be undertaken to make a government-wide decision to designate the network as a foreign terrorist organization," Clinton said in an appearance with Egypt's visiting foreign minister.
Clinton said Washington already had placed a number of leaders of the Haqqani network on its terrorism blacklist.
"We're going to continue to struggle against terrorism and in particular against those who have taken up safe havens inside Pakistan, and we're going to continue to work with our Pakistani counterparts to try and root them out," she said.
A move to name the Haqqanis as a terrorist group would bar U.S. citizens from providing support to the group and freeze any assets it might have in the United States -- a symbolic step that might relieve some of the mounting U.S. political pressure to take a harder line with Pakistan.
Pakistan denies it supports the Haqqanis and says its army is too busy battling its own Taliban insurgency to go after the network, which is estimated to have 10,000 to 15,000 fighters.
Some analysts have speculated that the State Department has not yet taken that formal step in hopes the Haqqanis could be reconciled as part of Afghan peace talks between the government and insurgents. Any such talks now seem unlikely at best.
U.S. drone aircraft in recent years have targeted mostly al Qaeda figures rather than Haqqani militants.
Increased U.S. military action on Pakistani soil, including the idea of U.S. soldiers crossing the porous border from Afghanistan, would be deeply unpopular in Pakistan. Pakistan viewed the U.S. military raid in May that killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden as a grievous breach of its sovereignty.
The tense ties between Pakistan and the United States worsened last week after Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the Haqqani network as a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's ISI spy agency.
Graham, known as a hawk, said on Sunday that the United States must consider all options "including defending our troops" in confronting Pakistani support for militant networks active in Afghanistan.
Such remarks from the U.S. Congress, where patience has worn thin with Pakistan, have intensified speculation that the United States might resort to another cross-border raid such as the one that killed bin Laden, intensify drone attacks in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions or send in bomber planes to attack militant hide-outs.
Lawmakers are proposing to restrict U.S. aid with stricter conditions under which Pakistan, which possesses nuclear arms but is desperately poor, can access U.S. military and economic assistance.
The unusually public criticism from Washington has provoked anger among Pakistani leaders who warn that the United States may lose a key ally in an unstable region.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn; editing by Will Dunham and Anthony Boadle)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
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