ASEAN seeks to heal territorial rift

Updated 18 November 2012
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ASEAN seeks to heal territorial rift

PHNOM PENH: Southeast Asian foreign ministers sought yesterday to heal a rift over territorial rows involving China, aiming to build unity ahead of a leaders’ summit in which rights and trade will also dominate.
The hot-button South China Sea issue was one of the top items for the ministers as they held a day of talks in the Cambodian capital, following months of acrimony over how to tackle China’s claims to nearly all the waters.
“We wish that we would be able to solve this problem together,” Surin Pitsuwan, secretary general of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, told reporters at the start of the meeting.
“We hope that if there is anything we can do to help to build this new culture of norms... of new habits of working together we would like to help.” The foreign ministers’ meeting is to pave the way for the annual ASEAN leaders’ summit in Phnom Penh on Sunday, which the bloc is hoping will push forward policies on human rights and free trade.
US President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and leaders from six other nations are scheduled to then join their ASEAN counterparts for the two-day East Asia Summit starting on Monday.
Some of the countries involved in the talks have seen diplomatic relations plummet this year because of a raft of maritime territorial rows, and analysts said those disputes would likely overshadow proceedings in Phnom Penh.
ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, have claims to parts of the South China Sea, home of some of the world’s most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in fossil fuels.
China insists it has sovereign rights to virtually all of the sea, and the Philippines and Vietnam have expressed concerns that their giant Asian neighbor has become increasingly aggressive this year in staking its claim.
An ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Phnom Penh ended in July without issuing a joint communiqué for the first time in the bloc’s 45-year history because of divisions over how to handle the South China Sea issue.
The Philippines and Vietnam had wanted the communiqué to make specific reference to their disputes with China.
But Cambodia, the hosts of the talks and a close China ally, blocked the moves.
Surin said yesterday that such a public spat would not be seen this weekend.
“I don’t think it’s going to be confrontational, I don’t think it’s going to be overly contentious,” he said.
But adding to the tensions, analysts said Obama was expected to raise the issue while in Phnom Penh.
Obama is likely to reiterate that the United States has a fundamental interest in freedom of navigation in the sea, while urging ASEAN and China to agree on a code of conduct for the area, according to analysts.
China has long bristled at what it perceives as US interference in the South China Sea, and was upset at last year’s East Asia Summit in Indonesia when Obama succeeded in having the issue discussed there.
Chinese vice foreign minister Fu Ying warned yesterday that China did not want a repeat and that the South China Sea should not be on the agenda at the East Asia Summit.
“Discussion of the South China Sea issue should return to the framework of China and ASEAN. Discussing the issue in other forums will interfere with the direction of cooperation,” Fu said.
Meanwhile, ASEAN leaders are aiming to endorse on Sunday a declaration they say will promote human rights within their 10 countries but which has drawn widespread criticism.
More than 60 rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, issued a statement on Thursday urging ASEAN to revise a draft of the declaration.
ASEAN members are also aiming to kick start negotiations in Phnom Penh over a giant free trade zone with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The 16 nations account for roughly half the global population and around a third of the world’s annual gross domestic product.


First female CIA director Gina Haspel is sworn in

Updated 14 min 2 sec ago
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First female CIA director Gina Haspel is sworn in

  • Gina Haspel was confirmed by the Senate last week in a 54-45 vote, despite the deep reservations of some lawmakers about her past involvement in the torture of terror suspects in the post-9/11 era.
  • Trump paid tribute to Haspel as “a very special person” who was uniquely qualified to lead “the most elite intelligence professionals on the planet Earth.”

WASHINGTON: Veteran CIA officer Gina Haspel was sworn in as the agency’s first female director Monday, hailing the “heroines” who had gone before her and expressing hope she and her team would be “role models.”
The 61-year-old Haspel, a Russia specialist who spent her career in the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine service, takes over from Mike Pompeo, whom Trump recently made his secretary of state.
Haspel was confirmed by the Senate last week in a 54-45 vote, despite the deep reservations of some lawmakers about her past involvement in the torture of terror suspects in the post-9/11 era.
“I stand on the shoulders of heroines who never sought public acclaim, but served as inspirations to the generations that came after them,” Haspel said after being sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence and introduced by President Donald Trump.
“I would not be standing before you today if not for the remarkable courage and dedication displayed by generations” of women officers, she said at CIA headquarters in Virginia.
“In roles both large and small,” Haspel said they “challenged stereotypes, broke down barriers and opened doors for the rest of us.”
“I am deeply indebted to them and I am extremely proud to follow in their footsteps and to carry on their extraordinary legacy.”
Haspel added: “I want the current CIA leadership team to be role models and mentors for our next generation of officers.”
She joked about her bruising confirmation hearing, which dug into her work overseeing a secret “black site” prison in Thailand.
It was there that Al-Qaeda suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri were water-boarded, an interrogation technique subsequently condemned as torture.
“It has been nearly 50 years since an operations officer rose up through the ranks to become the director and after the experience of the last two months, I think I know why that is,” she told officers and invited guests.
In his introductory remarks, Trump paid tribute to Haspel as “a very special person” who was uniquely qualified to lead “the most elite intelligence professionals on the planet Earth.”
“Our enemies will take note: Gina is tough. She is strong. And when it comes to defending America, Gina will never, ever back down,” Trump said.
The president largely avoided the controversies swirling around his presidency, including his allegations, just hours earlier, that former CIA director John Brennan was behind the investigation into his campaign’s dealings.
Trump however angered some former CIA officers with his decision to thank “courageous” Congressman Devin Nunes.
A Trump supporter, Nunes has demanded documents about the investigation into Team Trump, but which the intelligence community says risks exposing sources.
Former intelligence officer David Priess said Trump’s comment about Nunes was “disgusting.”
“I can’t imagine this comment goes over well-but, unlike the president, IC officials are respectful enough not to make a scene,” Priess said.