- Lawmaker, university spar over 'control' of Chinese dissident in U.S
- China jails 19 Uighurs for religious extremism
- Obama challenges Russia to agree to deeper nuclear weapon cuts
Posted: 19 Jun 2013 09:12 PM PDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. congressman who has been blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng's main champion in Washington said people working for New York University have tried to keep him from meeting Chen, barging into a meeting on Capitol Hill and pulling Chen out on one occasion.
U.S. Representative Chris Smith, an outspoken supporter of Chinese dissidents since the 1980s, described repeated instances of various people he says were from NYU interfering in his attempts to meet with Chen.
NYU spokesman John Beckman in an email vigorously disputed the assertion that its representatives may have been involved in improper interference or control of Chen during his meetings with lawmakers and others, stressing that anyone present was there to help Chen at his request.
The encounters took place both in Washington and at NYU. Chen has been a research fellow at NYU Law School since he flew to the United States in May 2012 after he escaped from house arrest in his village in Shandong province and took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
Chen has accused NYU of asking him to leave because of "unrelenting pressure" from China. NYU denies this, saying that he is leaving because his fellowship for one year is ending. Some of Chen's supporters suggest NYU fears his strident public criticism of China will complicate the university's plans to build a campus in Shanghai - an assertion NYU has also dismissed.
"Every time I've met with him, except once, only because I insisted, there was always somebody from the university - I don't know who they are or who they are reporting to - taking notes on everything," Smith, a New Jersey Republican, said in an interview.
The one meeting Smith had without Chen being escorted was shortly after Chen received a human rights award on Capitol Hill on January 29. It took place in Smith's office in the Rayburn Office Building but it was interrupted and halted before Smith was ready, he said.
A lady who appeared to be Chinese "insisted on translating, and I said â€˜with all due respect, I want a little private time with the great Chen Guangcheng,' and I closed the door. She starts calling his phone over and over and over again, like four or five times," said Smith.
"And finally after a half hour, because I had asked for a half-hour meeting, my door flies open and she says â€˜the meeting's over and she grabs him by the arm and lifts him up," he said.
NYU's Beckman told Reuters any NYU staff accompanying Chen "were people who provided help to an individual who is blind, is unable to speak English, and was new to the U.S.; it seems very ungracious for their efforts on Mr. Chen's behalf to be tarnished in this way."
"The reality is that he's held many press conferences and interviews, attended congressional hearings, and is writing a book about his life, and all NYU has ever done has provided staff and support to facilitate his activities, wishes, schedule, and family," he said in the email.
Matt Dorf, a communications strategist who was hired by NYU to advise Chen in his first couple of months in the United States, said Chen himself made the decisions on who he would meet.
"If the congressman or others felt they did not have proper access to Chen Guangcheng it was because Chen Guangcheng had made a decision not to speak with them because he was controlling all of the meetings in his whole schedule," he said in reference to the period from May through July last year.
He also said that the only people he ever saw taking notes in meetings were Chen's wife and a translator.
A spokeswoman for Chen said he was not currently giving interviews. His eldest brother, Chen Guangfu, told Reuters that Chen told him that "at this stage, he can't comment on certain matters and that's why he's not answering the requests from many media organizations. He didn't say why."
The 60-year-old Smith, who has represented his central New Jersey district for 32 years, said he started working on human rights issues in 1982, focusing on Soviet Jewish refuseniks.
"Everything is about control," Smith said of dealing with NYU representatives when trying to arrange meetings with Chen. "It was that way throughout the whole process."
During another recent chat with Chen, Smith said, "I had two people there and they had note pads. I asked 'who are you reporting to?' and they wouldn't tell me."
"I don't find that friendly. I find that dangerous, in terms of Chen."
Smith, chairman of the House of Representatives subcommittee that monitors global human rights, said he has been able to talk to Chen by telephone, through a translator, with relative ease.
But Smith said he has had trouble meeting Chen in person as many as a dozen times, beginning with Chen's arrival at Newark Airport in May 2012 and "every trip I made up there" to NYU.
Dorf denied that Smith had difficulty gaining access to Chen when the Chinese dissident arrived at NYU after flying into the United States, saying it was the first meeting that Chen had, it lasted about half an hour, and the lawmaker's staff took photographs of them together.
Smith sees the situation differently: "There was this control the likes of which made me say 'Oh my God. What is going on here?'"
(With reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Martin Howell)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 19 Jun 2013 08:49 PM PDT
BEIJING (Reuters) - Courts in China's far western region of Xinjiang have sentenced 19 ethnic Uighurs to up to six years in jail for promoting racial hatred and religious extremism online, in the latest crackdown on what China sees as violent separatists.
All but one of those jailed were from the heavily Uighur southern part of Xinjiang, including eight from the old Silk Road city of Kashgar, the official Legal Daily reported on its website.
Many Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people who call energy-rich Xinjiang home, chafe at Chinese government restrictions on their culture, language and religion. China says it grants them wide-ranging freedoms.
In one of the cases, the suspect went on illegal websites to download material which "whipped up religious fervour and preached 'holy war'" and "whipped up ethnic enmity", the Legal Daily said in its report late on Wednesday.
"This created a despicable effect on society," the newspaper said, citing the court ruling.
Another suspect was jailed for spreading materials from overseas via the Internet which "advocate religious extremism and terrorism", the newspaper added.
While the report did not specify the ethnicity of those jailed, their names and the location of the courts where they were sentenced indicated they were all Uighurs.
China accuses armed Uighur groups of having links to Central Asian and Pakistani Islamist militants, and of carrying out attacks to establish an independent state called East Turkistan.
Many rights groups say China overplays the threat posed to justify its tough controls in Xinjiang.
The region, which lies strategically on the borders of Central Asia, India and Pakistan, sees frequent outbreaks of ethnic violence.
In April, 21 people were killed in clashes near Kashgar, the deadliest unrest since July 2009, when nearly 200 people were killed in riots in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 19 Jun 2013 05:58 PM PDT
BERLIN (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama used a speech in Berlin on Wednesday to call on Russia to revive the push for a world without nuclear weapons, offering to cut deployed nuclear arsenals by a third, but Moscow immediately poured scorn on his proposal.
Speaking in Berlin where U.S. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan gave rousing Cold-War speeches, Obama urged Russia to help build on the "New START" treaty that requires Moscow and Washington to cut stockpiles of deployed nuclear weapons to 1,550 each by 2018.
The speech, a day after Obama met Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit where they disagreed publicly about Syria, was given a frosty reception by Moscow which said it could "not take such proposals seriously" while Washington was beefing up its anti-missile defences.
"After a comprehensive review, I have determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one third," Obama said.
"I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures," he said at the Brandenburg Gate, which once overlooked the Berlin Wall that divided the communist east and the capitalist west.
Russia says U.S. plans for anti-missile defences harm the goal of arms reduction by requiring Moscow to hold more missiles or lose its deterrent capability.
"How can we take the idea of strategic nuclear weapons reductions seriously when the United States is building up its ability to intercept these strategic nuclear weapons?" Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said.
"These things clearly do not go together. It's obvious that Russia's highest political leadership cannot take such proposals seriously," Rogozin told reporters.
Obama's vision of a "world without nuclear weapons" set out in a speech in Prague in 2009, three months into his presidency, earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. But his mixed results so far have fuelled criticism that the prize may have been premature.
Experts said reducing the nuclear arsenal makes strategic and economic sense. But Mark Fitzpatrick at the International Institute for Strategic Studies said Obama faces major obstacles "including a recalcitrant Russia and a reluctant Senate."
Following Obama's speech, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel outlined the change in nuclear strategy in a 10-page report to the U.S. Congress that called for the Pentagon to reduce its reliance on atomic weapons in military planning and boost the role of non-nuclear strike capability.
Hagel said in a speech later in Nebraska that the move followed a two-year review of the size and mission of U.S. nuclear force.
Putin, speaking in St. Petersburg minutes before Obama's speech, made no direct comment but voiced concern about U.S. missile defences and high-precision weapons. Body language between Obama and Putin was chilly when the two men met at the Group of Eight summit on Tuesday in Northern Ireland.
Moscow sees nuclear deterrents as the safeguard of national security. It is worried about the West's superior conventional weapons and NATO plans for a missile defence system in Europe.
"High-precision conventional weapons systems are being actively developed ... States possessing such weapons strongly increase their offensive potential," said Putin.
The chief of the Russian military's general staff appears reluctant to negotiate a new nuclear deal and Russian foreign policy expert Fyodor Lukyanov described Obama's desire to "go to zero globally" as totally unacceptable in Russia.
Obama will also target reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and host a summit in 2016 on securing nuclear materials and preventing nuclear terrorism. He hosted such a meeting in 2010, a second was held in Seoul in 2012 and Obama will attend a third in The Hague next year.
When they met at the G8 summit, Putin and Obama signed a new agreement on securing nuclear material left over from the Cold War, replacing the 1992 Nunn-Lugar agreement that expired on Monday.
That was "the kind of constructive, cooperative relationship that moves us out of a Cold War mindset", Obama said afterwards.
Early initiatives of Obama's presidency led to the New START treaty plus measures to bolster the Non-Proliferation Treaty and a new effort to secure nuclear materials worldwide, but that push has flagged in the face of political realities.
But Obama said the United States and Russia were on track to cut deployed nuclear warheads "to their lowest levels since the 1950s" and said a framework was being forged to counter what he called Iran and North Korea's "nuclear weaponisation".
Iran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons. North Korea has tested nuclear devices.
Obama also wants to see negotiations on a treaty to end the production of fissile materials for weapons.
Experts and advocacy groups described Obama's initiative as "long overdue" and the reduction targets as modest.
"The one-third cuts outlined by the President are but 200-300 warheads fewer than the United States was prepared to agree to during the New START negotiations four years ago," said Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association in Washington.
"The U.S. could have gone much lower and maintained deterrence," said Jon Wolfsthal, a former special advisor to the vice president on nuclear security and non proliferation. He saw little chance of success in the face of political opposition.
"Our experience has been that nuclear arsenals - other than ours - are on the rise," said Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate's Armed Services Committee, pointing to Iran and North Korea.
"A country whose conventional military strength has been weakened due to budget cuts ought not to consider further nuclear force reductions while turmoil in the world is growing."
(The story fixes typo in second paragraph)
(Additional reporting by Denis Dyomkin, Jeff Mason, Alexei Anishchuk, Fredrik Dahl and Timothy Heritage; Writing by Stephen Brown and Peter Graff; Editing by Giles Elgood and David Brunnstrom)
Russia signals nuclear arms cuts will not come easy
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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