CHINA DISSIDENT: ASYLUM DEAL?
-THE PLOT THICKENS…As the case of a blind legal activist unnerves Chinese officials, thrills human rights organizations, and throws a wrench in U.S.-China relations, U.S. and Chinese officials are said to be ironing out a deal to secure American asylum for the activist, Chen Guangcheng. The hope is that the case can be settled before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner arrive for a previously planned visit to China. Today demonstrators gathered in Hong Kong to show support for Chen, who is believed to be in U.S. custody at the embassy in Beijing. Our team, as well as the Telegraph, Wall Street Journal and New York Times, highlight how this case forces President Obama to walk a diplomatic and political tightrope, especially in an election year. Appearing to cave to China and hand over Chen would stir outrage. It’s complicated by many factors: for one, Chen does not necessarily want to leave China; so whether he will accept asylum in the U.S. or not remains to be seen. And in the meantime, fears are growing for the fate of other dissidents who may have helped Chen’s bid for freedom.
-ON TAPE, CHEN CHALLENGES CHINA, EXPLAINS ABUSE…In a video statement that emerged on Friday, Chen challenges China’s Premier to investigate the injustice happening around him and provide answers to the people.
IRAN CONFLICT: BACK FROM THE BRINK?
Diplomats and analysts tell the New York Times they now believe the chances of war between Iran and Israel in the near future have dropped significantly. They cite a series of factors that, for now, argue against a conflict: The threat of tighter economic sanctions has prompted the Iranians to show more flexibility; a growing divide in Israel between political leaders and military and intelligence officials over the wisdom of attacking Iran; and the White House appears determined to prevent any confrontation that could disrupt world oil markets in an election year. This also follows a spate of attacks by top military and intelligence officials on the political leadership in Israel.
BIN LADEN – ONE YEAR LATER
-QAEDA “FAR FROM DEFEATED”…The death of Osama bin Laden a year ago was a setback to al-Qaeda, but the organization remains a potent global threat, intelligence experts tell USA Today. “It’s on the defensive, but it’s far from defeated,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer at the Brookings Institution, a think tank. The raid by SEALs removed America’s No. 1 fugitive and cracked the mythic status he held among followers for eluding the reach of a world superpower. Yet the principal strength of al-Qaeda is that it is designed to operate without a central leader, experts say. Bin Laden stitched together local and regional Muslim militant groups worldwide and encouraged them to act on their own initiative, analysts say. “He created an organization and developed it,” said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA official and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “I don’t think his death fundamentally affects the future of jihadist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan…It was a successful spawning.” In the past year, terrorist groups with ties to al-Qaeda affiliates have established safe havens in eastern Afghanistan and carried out attacks against the capital of Kabul, according to the Afghan government. Al-Qaeda jihadists are insinuating themselves into many conflicts in parts of Africa, the U.S. Africa Command said.
-BIN LADEN DOCS SHOW CLOSE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AL QAEDA & TALIBAN…The Guardian explores new details that show the close contact Osama bin Laden kept with the Taliban and other militant groups. Their sources are documents allegedly taken by a courier who stored bin Laden’s communications on memory sticks and then sent the contents from distant internet cafes.
PAKISTAN CONDEMNS U.S. DRONE STRIKE
From Muhammad LILA and Habibullah KHAN in Islamabad: Pakistan is publicly condemning the U.S. today, after CIA drones hit militant targets in Pakistan for the first time in a month – the first since the Pakistani government insisted that such attacks end. The Pakistani foreign office issued a statement, condemning the strike – and there are fears the drone strikes might set back already difficult negotiations over the reopening of vital NATO supply routes to Afghanistan that Pakistan blocked five months ago.
FULL U.N. TEAM ARRIVES IN SYRIA TODAY
Even as the full advance team of 30 U.N. monitors arrives in Syria today, the team’s leader admitted its efforts may be futile. The team’s leader Maj. Gen. Robert Mood told reporters in Damascus yesterday that no number of unarmed observes can solve Syria’s problems. So far today, assailants have attacked the country’s Central Bank with grenades and detonated two bombs in the northwestern city of Idlib.
FORMER GADHAFI LOYALIST FOUND FLOATING IN THE DANUBE
It’s a story straight out of a spy novel – the body of former Libyan oil minister Shukri Ghanem, who defected from Libya during last year’s uprising, was found floating in the Danube River in Vienna. The BBC reports there were no signs of violence to Ghanem’s body, but an autopsy has been ordered. Ghanem had been working and living in Vienna since he defected last June.
EGYPT TO APPOINT NEW CABINET
Egypt’s ruling military council has promised to appoint a new cabinet within 48 hours. Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi’s pledge to lawmakers came hours after parliament speaker Saad Al Katatni, a senior member of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, suspended sessions until the military agreed to dissolve the cabinet. The hope is that the military’s decision today demand could end the fighting between the legislature and the military council.
U.S. + THE HUNT FOR KONY
From Bazi KANANI in Nairobi: Six months after the U.S. sent 100 Special Forces soldiers to central Africa to assist regional armies in the hunt for warlord Joseph Kony, the U.S. military is acknowledging the limitations and challenges it faces. The head of U.S. Africa Command says it could take years to find Kony, whose army is split into small groups, roaming in a dense jungle the size of California, and no longer uses radios or cell phones. The Washington Post has a good summary of the U.S. mission and the difficulties it faces. General Carter Ham told the Post, “There’s a little bit of what I call the ‘man on the moon’ effort here, that the U.S., you’re able to put a man on the moon. What do you mean, you can’t find this guy, wandering around in central Africa? But it is very, very complex.” Still, Gen. Ham says the mission will not be considered a success until Kony is dead or captured. The Americans joined the hunt about six months ago – before the viral “Kony 2012″ video – but acknowledge that the video nudged the U.S. government to commit troops to train and advise African troops.
BRITISH MAN JAILED AFTER DISCOVERING SUSPECTED MASSACRE BY KONY’S FORCES
The Daily Telegraph reports a young British pilot has been sitting in a prison in the capital of the Central African Republic for a month after he said he discovered the site of a suspected massacre by Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. 24-year-old David Simpson spoke to the Telegraph on a cell phone smuggled into his prison cell. Simpson said he was working with a company that offers wealthy clients expensive hunting trips when he and colleagues discovered the bodies of 18 men. Simpson said he called the military which came to investigate. Then a few days later, he and his boss went voluntarily to the capital to answer questions and have been held since – on suspicion of murder.
U.S. MILITARY’S SHIFT TO ASIA ON DISPLAY TODAY
President Obama meets with Japanese Prime Minister Noda today at the White House. Their meeting – and joint Rose Garden press conference – comes amid a pivot by the U.S. military to focus more on Asia, as China continues to build its military and stake territorial claims in the region. As the Wall Street Journal writes, U.S. officials are counting on Japan, America’s biggest ally in the region, to step up its own activities to help enhance American clout in the region. Noda gave an interview to the Journal in advance of his meeting with Obama, indicating the U.S. and Japan may build joint training facilities in Guam. Meantime, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta are slated to meet with their Philippine counterparts in Washington today, the highest-level meeting after months of talks to expand the American military presence in the Philippines.
SOUTH AFRICA: MASS PRISONER RELEASE
Clark BENTSON flags this news from Pretoria: The South African government is releasing more than 14,000 prisoners to mark the anniversary of Nelson Mandela victory in the country’s first democratic elections in 1994. That number represents about 9% of the country’s prison population. Another 20,000 offenders, on probation or parole, will not return to prison. Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said violent criminals and those jailed for sexual, drug-related and weapons offenses will not be freed. Since 1994, prisoners have been amnestied on several symbolic occasions.
BOOK ALLEGES SARKOZY ENGINEERED DSK’S FALL
As Nick SCHIFRIN noted, a book out today quotes former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn as saying his fall was engineered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The author, journalist Edward Jay Epstein, obtained surveillance video of Strauss-Kahn at the New York City hotel that suggests he was being trailed by French intelligence. Neither Epstein nor DSK suggest that French intelligence manufactured the incident in the Sofitel, but Epstein writes that DSK “believes they did play a role, through intercepted phone calls, in making sure that the hotel maid went to the police and thus turned a private tryst into a public scandal.”
U.N. CHIEF IS FIRST FOREIGNER TO ADDRESS MYANMAR’S PARLIAMENT
U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon addressed Myanmar’s parliament today, becoming the first foreigner to do so since at least the onset of military rule in 1962. Ban used his speech to urge Western nations to lift their remaining sanctions against the country. Worth noting that activist Aung San Suu Kyi said today that the dispute over the wording of the oath of office that prevented her and other members of her party from taking their seats in Parliament has been resolved. She plans to attend Parliament for the first time Wednesday and will meet with Ban tomorrow.
RECORD NUMBER OF AMERICANS KILLED IN MEXICO
The Houston Chronicle reports its analysis of U.S. State Department data found a record 120 Americans were killed in Mexico last year, compared with just 35 in 2007. Most of the killings came in areas bordering the U.S. But for the first time, a significant number occurred in previously peaceful areas.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports an Australian billionaire is building a replica of the Titanic, set to make its maiden journey from the U.K. to New York in 2016. We’re told “It’s going to be designed so it won’t sink.” Hmm.
ULTIMATE CRASH TEST?
An empty Boeing 727 was deliberately crashed in Sonoran Desert in Mexico as part of a documentary on air safety. According to reports, the plane was loaded with crash test dummies and cameras to examine impact. The pilot parachuted after take-off – and then guided by remote control. The video shows the 727 crashing to the ground, being closely followed by a chase helicopter. This video was uploaded on Saturday, April 28. The crash occurred on Friday, April 27.