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Archive for December 16th, 2010

India and the East: time for a reality check

Posted by Admin on December 16, 2010

P. S. Suryanarayana

December 16, 2010

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabo at the 4th East Asia Summit in Thailand in this October 25, 2009 file photo. — Photo: PTI

Resonant in the East Asian diplomatic circles is the now-famous perception that India is “half in, half out of Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations].” Such a “stupid” Indian policy or posture figured in a leaked United States’ diplomatic cable that was released by WikiLeaks and published in Australia on December 12.

Tommy Koh, one of Singapore’s brightest and best-known diplomats, was quoted in that cable as having said this about India’s Asean policy during his conversation with some U.S. officials in September 2009. As a key founding member of Asean, Singapore is often viewed as a thought-leader in the 10-member organisation. Also, the city-state often punches above its weight on the international stage. And, the Singapore-India Strategic Dialogue is co-chaired by Mr. Koh and veteran diplomat S.K. Lambah.

Now, Singapore has declined to confirm or discredit the accuracy of any of the observations which figured in a set of leaked American cables and were variously attributed to several officials, including Mr. Koh, from the city-state. On December 13, Singapore did, however, say that the Australian press reports in focus “are based on American interpretations of confidential conversations that did not provide the full context.” Singapore even disputed the veracity of those cables as supposedly released by WikiLeaks. The context, though, was Singapore-Malaysia relationship and not the comment on India.

On balance, it is obvious that the conscious or careless omission of these relevant U.S. cables from the official WikiLeaks website, as of mid-December, does not erase the friendly spirit behind the comment ascribed to Mr. Koh on India-Asean ties. In fact, the alleged comment may have caused no more than a storm in a teacup that will blow over. However, India does face the challenge of playing a significant role in Asean’s newly-expanded flagship organisation, the East Asia Summit (EAS), in 2011 and beyond. Indeed, the formal expansion of the EAS in 2011 is the time for a reality check about India’s relevance to and role in what may well turn out to be the next big theatre in global affairs.

Asean consists of just 10 Southeast Asian countries, most of them with no big-power aspirations. In significant contrast, the 16-member EAS, whose strength goes up to 18 in 2011, is being envisioned as “a leaders-led forum” for strategic thinking on all major issues of growing concern to East Asia.

The United States and Russia will, in 2011, join China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and the 10-member Asean to form the expanded EAS. Within Asean, which acts as the prime-moving outfit for peace and economic progress across the wider geopolitical East Asia, there is a strong school of thought that the numerical strength of the EAS can be optimised at 18 for 2011 and beyond.

What should the reality check about India’s present and potential roles in East Asia focus on? The question acquires importance in the WikiLeaks context of another comment, also attributed to Mr. Koh, that China has displayed “intelligent diplomacy in the [East Asian] region.” On such a note of comparison, China and India can contribute to the stability of East Asia only by staying the course of their compatible diplomatic mantras. India and China have said that the international stage is wide enough for them to rise fully to their respective potential without having to compete with each other in a winner-takes-all gamesmanship.

There is nothing in the WikiLeaks disclosures, as available so far, focussing on a key point known behind the scenes in the East Asian diplomatic circles. Beijing is understood to have told Washington that Pakistan is to China what Israel is to the U.S. Going forward, it is arguable that New Delhi’s overall equation with Beijing will be determined considerably by China’s dynamic ties with Pakistan.

However, this aspect need not cloud India’s participation in the EAS activities. Pakistan is not a member of this organisation.

Of much interest to China is India’s changing political relationship with the U.S., especially as it enters the EAS in 2011. Relevant to this context are two of U.S. President Barack Obama‘s recent observations. He said that “India and America are indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time [across the world].” In addition, he exhorted India to not only look “East” but also engage “East” — a call for coordinated action by the U.S. and India in the new-look EAS in 2011 and beyond. In broad political terms, the changing equations among Japan, China, India, South Korea, and Australia will, in part, determine New Delhi’s place in the newly-expanded EAS.

The current perception in East Asia about India’s confused attitude towards the region, in contrast to China’s enlightened approach, flows from the style and substance of their respective engagement with Asean. As a far bigger and a faster-growing economy than India, China is of greater help to individual Asean countries and the collective organisation. Within this analytical framework about issues of “substance,” Asean countries tend to find India’s “style” less appealing than China’s.

The real issue is the basic difference between India and China in East Asia. India is seen to be far more protectionist than China in engaging the Asean countries and the collective forum on issues like trade pacts. This does not mean that China barters away its national interest in dealing with Asean.

Asean’s general perception is that India is less than wholehearted in fashioning future-oriented ties with East Asia for 2011 and beyond. India’s attitude may have something to do with China’s looming presence and also, until recently, New Delhi’s sluggish interactions with Japan and South Korea. However, there is a feeling in East Asia that India, as a country specially invited to the highest forum of this region, should evince genuine interest befitting such a guest.

In a subtle difference, China, Japan, and South Korea are native-states in East Asia, while the U.S. has long been a “resident power” in the region.

India’s East Asian partners will, therefore, watch closely for signs of its potential role in the region in such diverse fields as maritime security, climate change, energy security, nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, food security, outer-space exploration, besides the anti-terror agenda and cyberspace security.

Asean’s general perception is that India is less than wholehearted in fashioning ties with East Asia for 2011 and beyond.

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Feds sue BP, other companies for oil spill damages

Posted by Admin on December 16, 2010

Seal of the United States Department of Justice

Image via Wikipedia

NEW ORLEANS – A powerful plaintiff has joined the hundreds of people and businesses suing BP and other companies involved in the Gulf oil spill: the Justice Department.

The government, in an opening salvo in its effort to get billions of dollars for untold economic and environmental damage, accuses the companies of disregarding federal safety regulations in drilling the well that blew out April 20 and triggered a deadly explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig. Wednesday’s lawsuit is separate from a Justice Department criminal probe that has not resulted in any charges.

“The department’s focus on investigating this disaster and preventing future (spills) is not over,” Attorney General Eric Holder said during a news conference in Washington. “Both our civil and criminal investigations are ongoing.”

The federal lawsuit filed in New Orleans names BP, rig owner Transocean and some other companies involved in the ill-fated drilling project, but not Halliburton — the project’s cement contractor — or the maker of a key cutoff valve that failed. Both could be added later.

BP said it would respond to the claims later but noted that it stands “alone among the parties” in having already stepped up to pay for the cleanup. It said in a statement that it will continue to fulfill its commitments to the Gulf and to cooperate with investigations.

“The filing is solely a statement of the government’s allegations and does not in any manner constitute any finding of liability or any judicial finding that the allegations have merit,” BP said.

The lawsuit makes it possible for the federal government to seek billions of dollars in penalties for polluting the Gulf of Mexico, beaches and wetlands, and reimbursement for its cleanup costs. More than 300 lawsuits filed previously by individuals and businesses, and now consolidated in the New Orleans federal court, include claims for financial losses and compensation for the families of 11 workers killed in the blast.

The judge overseeing those lawsuits had set Wednesday as the deadline to file certain types of complaints, though it was unclear whether the government was bound by that time frame.

“The Justice Department has left its options open to argue that there was gross negligence and therefore should be higher penalties,” said David Uhlmann, a law professor at the University of Michigan who headed up the Justice Department’s environmental crimes section for seven years. “The government has not limited itself in any way with the filing of its civil lawsuit.”

The suit asks that the companies be held liable without limitation under the Oil Pollution Act for all removal costs and damages caused by the spill, including damages to natural resources. The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties under the Clean Water Act.

The government did not set a dollar figure in the lawsuit, saying the amount of damages and the extent of injuries sustained by the United States are not yet fully known.

Under the Clean Water Act alone, BP faces fines of up to $1,100 for each barrel of oil spilled. If BP were found to have committed gross negligence or willful misconduct, the fine could be up to $4,300 per barrel.

That means that based on the government’s estimate of 206 million gallons released by the well, BP could face civil fines of between $5.4 billion and $21.1 billion. BP disputes the government’s spill estimate.

The government did not specify in its lawsuit whether it believes there was gross negligence, but it left open the possibility for such a finding later.

Besides BP Exploration & Production Inc., the other defendants in the case are Anadarko Exploration & Production LP; Anadarko Petroleum Corp.; MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC; Triton Asset Leasing GMBH; Transocean Holdings LLC; Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc.; Transocean Deepwater Inc.; and Transocean’s insurer, QBE Underwriting Ltd./Lloyd’s Syndicate 1036. Anadarko and MOEX are minority owners of the well that blew out.

Transocean disputed the allegations and insisted it should not be held liable.

“No drilling contractor has ever been held liable for discharges from a well under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990,” Transocean said in a statement. “The responsibility for hydrocarbons discharged from a well lies solely with its owner and operator.”

Anadarko said ultimate responsibility may rest solely with the operator of the well — BP.

“As a non-operating minority interest holder in the well, we were not involved in the operations or decisions that occurred on the drilling rig,” Anadarko said in a statement. “We recognize that we may have obligations under federal law, and we will continue to look to the operator to pay all legitimate claims as it has committed to do.”

The staff of a presidentially appointed commission looking into the spill has said the disaster resulted from questionable decisions and management failures by BP, Transocean and Halliburton Energy Services Inc. The panel found 11 decisions made by these companies increased risk. Most saved time, and all but one had a safer alternative.

Halliburton and Cameron International, which made the rig’s failed blowout preventer, weren’t named as defendants in the suit. Halliburton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Eric Schaeffer, who led the Environmental Protection Agency’s civil enforcement office from 1997 to 2002, cited three possible explanations for omitting Halliburton. The company could be close to a settlement, Justice needs more time to develop its case against Halliburton, or the government thinks it doesn’t have a strong enough case against Halliburton.

Schaeffer said he doubts the government will let Halliburton completely off the hook.

“I would be inclined more toward the first explanation,” Schaeffer said. “If they think Halliburton is maybe less culpable, they may be able to reach a settlement quicker. That could help them build their case against the rest of the companies.”

Bruce Parris, manager of The Dock restaurant and bar just a few feet off the sand in Pensacola Beach, Fla., said “it’s about time” President Obama started to hold BP accountable. He was standing on the restaurant’s deck, watching large tractors sift through the sand as part of BP’s beach cleanup operations.

“I’m all for anything. I don’t care how they get money out of BP. Just get it,” Parris said.

Separately, an administrator is doling out money to spill victims from a $20 billion fund of BP money.

The government’s lawsuit alleges that safety and operating regulations were violated in the period leading up to the explosion.

It says the defendants failed to keep the well under control and failed to use the best available and safest drilling technology to monitor the well’s conditions. They also failed to maintain continuous surveillance, and to maintain the equipment and material necessary to protect workers, natural resources and the environment, the suit charges.

The Justice Department isn’t the first government entity to sue BP. Alabama Attorney General Troy King filed federal lawsuits in August on behalf of the state against BP, Transocean, Halliburton and other companies that worked on the project.

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Suicide bombers kill at least 39 in southeast Iran

Posted by Admin on December 16, 2010

Site of suicide bombing

Suicide bombing Aftermath

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI | Posted: Wednesday, December 15, 2010 10:14 am

Two suicide bombers blew themselves up near a mosque in southeastern Iran on Wednesday, killing at least 39 people, including a newborn baby, at a Shiite mourning ceremony, state media reported.

The attack, which also wounded 90 people, took place outside the Imam Hussein Mosque in the port city of Chahbahar, near the border with Pakistan, the official IRNA news agency said.

The bombers targeted a group of worshippers at a mourning ceremony a day before Ashoura, which commemorates the seventh century death of the Prophet Muhammad‘s grandson Hussein, one of Shiite Islam‘s most beloved saints.

An armed Sunni militant group called Jundallah, or Soldiers of God, claimed responsibility in a statement posted on its website. The group has carried out sporadic attacks in Iran’s southeast to fight alleged discrimination against the area’s Sunni minority in overwhelmingly Shiite Iran.

The group said Wednesday’s attack was a second act of revenge for the execution of its leader, Abdulmalik Rigi, in June.

“This operation is a warning to the Iranian regime that it must end its interference in the religious affairs of the Sunnis, stop executions and release the prisoners,” said the Internet statement. “Otherwise, martyrdom operations will continue with a stronger forcer.”

One of the attackers detonated a bomb outside the mosque and the other struck from among a crowd of worshippers, state TV reported.

Security forces shot one of them, but the bomber was still able to detonate the explosives, the report added, quoting deputy Interior Minister Ali Abdollahi. A third attacker was arrested, state TV said.

Forensic official Fariborz Ayati put the number of dead at 39 and said they included three women and one newborn baby, IRNA reported.

Mahmoud Mozaffar, a senior Iranian Red Crescent Society official, said emergency services had been put on alert over the past few days because of anonymous threats, according to another news agency, ISNA.

The deputy interior minister blamed Sunni militants, an apparent reference to Jundallah.

“Evidence and the kind of equipment used suggest that the terrorists were affiliated with extremist … groups backed by the U.S. and intelligence services of some regional states,” Abdollahi told state TV.

Iranian officials claim Jundallah, which has operated from bases in Pakistan, receives support from Western powers, including the United States. Washington denies any links to the group, and in November the State Department added Jundallah to a U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.

President Barack Obama condemned the attack and said the United States stands with the loved ones of those killed and with the Iranian people.

“This and other similar acts of terrorism recognize no religious, political or national boundaries. The United States condemns all acts of terrorism wherever they occur,” Obama said in a statement released by the White House.

Parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani said the bombing sought to create sectarian splits in the country.

“The aim of the terrorists … is to sow discord among Shiites and Sunnis,” he said. “Such actions can be done only by the Zionist regime and the U.S.”

In July, two suicide bombers blew themselves up at a mosque in the same province, Sistan-Baluchestan, killing at least 28 people. Jundallah had said that attack, too, was revenge for the execution of its leader a month earlier.

The strike in July also targeted Shiite worshippers during a holiday, in that case Hussein’s birthday.

The group has also attacked members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the country’s most powerful military force.

In its deadliest strike, a suicide bomber hit a meeting between Guard commanders and Shiite and Sunni tribal leaders in the border town of Pishin in October 2009, killing 42 people, including 15 Guard members.

Drug traffickers and smugglers also are active along the barren frontier area of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan and have launched attacks on security forces.

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