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By Oleg Shchedrov

 

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – Seven years after he said he had peered into the Russian leader’s soul, U.S. President George W. Bush made clear he still had a strong bond with Vladimir Putin as they met for the last time as heads of state. The personal chemistry between Bush and Putin has weathered severe rows between their two countries and was on display again as the U.S. leader held a farewell summit on the Black Sea a month before Putin steps down.

Speaking to reporters at Putin’s vacation retreat, Bush said they worked to “find ways to be agreeable when we disagree”. 

“You’re not afraid to tell me what’s on your mind. And when it’s all said and done, we can shake hands,” Bush told Putin on Saturday. 

Putin spoke warmly of “George”. 

“I always appreciated his superior human qualities: honesty, openness and ability to hear a partner,” said Putin, standing beside the U.S. leader at a news conference after their meeting on Sunday. “This is worth a lot.” 

Bush has been lambasted by critics at home as naive in his generous assessment of Putin, against a backdrop of clashes between Moscow and Washington over Iran’s nuclear program, Kosovo’s independence and NATO’s expansion plans. 

Washington has enraged Moscow by quitting a Cold War treaty limiting missile defenses and preparing to deploy elements of its new missile shield in Europe. Moscow has irked Washington by pulling out of a pact limiting conventional forces in Europe. 

More than once, Putin and Bush have intervened to restore calm at points when other politicians and diplomats had started saying relations had passed the point of no-return. 

DANCING 

On Sunday, Bush stood by his initial view of the Russian leader: “A lot of times in politics you have people look you in the eye and tell you what’s not on their mind,” Bush said. “He (Putin) looks you in the eye and tells you what’s on his mind.” 

The two men “have a lot in common”, one Kremlin official said. “They both respect commitment to values and simple, straightforward style.” 

The two let down their hair during the informal part of the summit in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Saturday night. 

“Bush looked great, he not only danced on stage but also did not leave it until he shook hands with nearly every member of a big folk dancing team which performed for them,” a Kremlin official who attended the dinner said. 

“I’m only happy that our press corps didn’t see me try to dance the dance I was asked to do,” Bush told Putin when the two met the next day. 

“We had a chance to see that you are a brilliant dancer,” Putin replied. 

When Putin moves out of the Kremlin, Bush will have to deal with his protege Dmitry Medvedev for several months until he himself leaves the White House. 

“My first impressions are very positive, a smart fellow,” he told the news conference after meeting Medvedev. “You can write down, I was impressed and looking forward to working with him.” 

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Sochi and Conor Sweeney in Moscow; editing by Andrew Roche) 

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MPs have rejected proposals to hold a UK-wide referendum on whether to ratify the EU’s Lisbon Treaty. The House of Commons turned down the Conservative proposal by 311 votes to 248 – a margin of 63.

The result means Parliament itself will decide whether to ratify the treaty, signed by EU leaders last December.

Thirteen Lib Dem MPs rebelled against the party’s orders to abstain on the referendum vote, with three frontbench spokesmen resigning their posts.

MPs rejected the Conservative amendment to the EU (Amendment) Bill, but 29 Labour MPs supported it. Three Tories defied their party leadership.

Manifestos

All EU parliaments must ratify the treaty before it can come into force. The only country which has committed to a referendum is Ireland.

We hope that in this case the Lords will hold the government to their manifesto commitment
William Hague, Conservatives

The three main UK political parties promised a public vote on the EU Constitution in their 2005 general election manifestos.

But the constitution was rejected by the French and Dutch electorates later that year. The Lisbon Treaty was drawn up to replace it.

The government and the Lib Dems say the treaty does not have constitutional implications, so a referendum on it is not needed.

The government says most changes are minor and procedural and it has secured “opt-outs” where necessary.

Month-long debate

But the Conservatives, some Labour and Lib Dem MPs and the UK Independence Party among others, say that it is effectively the constitution under a different name – so there should be a referendum.

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague said: “This treaty will now go to the House of Lords.

“It is convention that the House of Lords does not stand in the way of manifesto commitments. We hope that in this case the Lords will hold the government to their manifesto commitment.

“The Liberal Democrats’ position will once again be pivotal. We will see if they follow their three-line whip in the Commons to abstain.”

The Lib Dem leadership, which instead wants a referendum on whether the UK should stay within the EU, ordered its MPs to abstain in the Tory-led debate.

But 13 refused to do so, instead voting for a referendum on the treaty.

Scottish affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael, countryside spokesman Tim Farron and justice spokesman David Heath resigned from the Lib Dem frontbench team.

MPs have been debating the different elements of the treaty over the past month.
BBC

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From EMMERSON MUCHANGWE in New York

front01.jpgTHE European Union (EU) will not discriminate against any African leader when inviting them to attend the Africa-Europe summit in Portugal in December this year.

This came to light in New York yesterday when President Mwanawasa, the chairman of Southern African Development Community (SADC), held closed-door talks with Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, the chairperson of the EU, on the sidelines of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly to discuss the EU-Africa summit.

Portugal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Joao Gomes Cravinuo said it was unfortunate that the issue of Zimbabwe’s invitation was being given more prominence at the expense of other issues.

Mr Gravinuo said Portugal would not discriminate when inviting delegates to the summit.

“The issue of Zimbabwe’s participation at the EU-Africa summit will not
hinder the holding of a successful summit,” Mr Gravinuo said.

He said the EU and Portugal, in particular, were interested in seeing more cooperation between Europe and Africa.

He said the Portuguese Government felt that it should consult President Mwanawasa on the preparations of the summit because he chairs SADC, “which is a very strong regional grouping.”

Briefing journalists after the meeting, Minister of Foreign Affairs Kabinga Pande said the Portuguese Prime Minister updated Mr Mwanawasa on the preparations for the Lisbon summit.

Mr Pande who was among the senior officials that attended the closed-door talks, said President Mwanawasa was happy that preparations for the summit had reached an advanced stage.

The Lisbon EU-Africa summit will be the second such high-level meeting between Europe and Africa.

The first was held in Cairo, Egypt in 2003.

Earlier, when he met President Mugabe, President Mwanawasa maintained that the official position of SADC was that none of the member countries would attend the Lisbon summit if Mr Mugabe was barred.

Mr Mwanawasa summed up the position of SADC as “No Mugabe, No Summit.”

Meanwhile, the EU Head of Delegation in Zambia, Dr Derek Fee, says the Zambia Daily Mail distorted his statement in which he said whilst he understood President Mwanawasa’s position as part of African solidarity, it had to be understood also that Mr Mugabe and his top officials still faced a travel ban to Europe.

A statement issued in Lusaka yesterday said: “Dr Fee wishes to clarify the remarks in the Zambia Daily Mail edition of Tuesday, September 25th, 2007, under the headline ‘EU blocks Mugabe’.”

“Although the EU travel ban against President Mugabe and his officials is still in force, this may not preclude President Mugabe from attending the summit,” he said.

The controversy was triggered last week after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he would boycott the summit if President Mugabe was allowed to attend.

Earlier in the day, President Mwanawasa held a private meeting with Mr.
Jack Greyuberg of Greyuberg Petroleum Company.

The meeting was one of the many lined up for the President to woo investors to Zambia on the sidelines of the ongoing UN 62nd General Assembly which opened on Monday. -ZANIS/Daily Mail

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President HE Levy P Mwanawasa SC. was quoted to have said “… each country had its own sovereignty to decide on any matter and Zambia would not allow the establishment of a military base in the country … as Zambia, we will not be giving sanctuary and I think I can speak on behalf of the SADC region that none of us is interested …” 

This was in response to a question as to whether Zambia would welcome the offer from the United States of America to move AFRICOM’s headquarters from Stuttgart, Germany to Zambia under the command of General Ward. The president is believed to have said this before boarding his Challenger Jet for the official opening of the Trade Fair in Swaziland.General William E. “Kip” Ward Deputy Commander, U.S. European Command

General William E. (Kip) Ward is currently Deputy Commander, Headquarters US European Command, Stuttgart, Germany. 

USEUCOM is responsible for the day to day operational activities for US forces operating across 92 countries in Europe, Africa, Russia, parts of Asia and the Middle East, the Mediterranean and most of the Atlantic Ocean.

He (General Ward) was commissioned into the Infantry in June 1971.  His military education includes the Infantry Officer Basic and Advanced courses, US Army Command and General Staff College, and US Army War College. 

He holds a Masters of Arts Degree in Political Science from Pennsylvania State University and a Bachelors of Art Degree in Political Science from Morgan State University. His military service has included overseas tours in Korea, Egypt, Somalia, Bosnia, Israel, two tours in Germany, and a wide variety of assignments in the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii.

According to the official press release from the Pentagon last month, U.S. Africa Command’s (AFRICOM) foremost mission is to help Africans achieve their own security, not to extend the scope of the war on terrorism or secure African resources, a top Pentagon official said.

“The United States spends approximately $9 billion a year in Africa, funding programs in such areas as health, development, trade promotion, and good governance,” Theresa Whelan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, told members of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa and global health recently.

“In contrast, security-related programs receive only about $250 million a year.”AFRICOM will play a supportive role as Africans continue to build democratic institutions and establish good governance across the continent, she said. “Our security cooperation with Africa is one aspect of our collaboration with Africa, but it is a small part of our overall relationship,” she added.

The Defense Department currently divides responsibility for Africa among three combatant commands: European Command, Pacific Command and Central Command.

AFRICOM, slated to stand up in October, is a three-pronged defense, diplomatic and economic effort designed to enable U.S. government elements to work in concert with African partners without the “bureaucratic divisions” created by a shared command structure, Whelan said.

But why the hostility towards AFRICOM?

Whelan addressed the “many misconceptions” about AFRICOM’s structure and purpose.

“Some people believe that we are establishing AFRICOM solely to fight terrorism or to secure oil resources or to discourage China. This is not true,” she said. Though violent extremism is “a cause for concern and needs to be addressed,” countering this threat is not AFRICOM’s singular mission, she said.

“Natural resources represent Africa’s current and future wealth, but in an open-market environment, many benefit,” she continued. “Ironically, the U.S., China, and other countries share a common interest — that of a secure environment in Africa, and that’s AFRICOM’s objective.“AFRICOM is about helping Africans build greater capacity to assure their own security,” she added.

The United States does not seek to compete with or discourage African leadership and initiative, Whelan said. Rather, AFRICOM will benefit it its partners on the continent prevent security issues from escalating without U.S. intervention.

“U.S. security is enhanced when African nations themselves endeavor successfully to address and resolve emerging security issues before they become so serious that they require considerable international resources and intervention to resolve,” she said.

U.S. Africa Command also will support other U.S. agencies in implementing other programs that promote regional stability, Whelan noted, calling AFRICOM an “innovative command.”

Unlike other commands, AFRICOM will be staffed by a large number of State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development members, including a senior Foreign Service officer to serve as the military commander’s civilian deputy. This deputy will plan and oversee the majority of AFRICOM’s security-assistance work, she said.

Are the reasons for rebuffing the offer valid?

We are sure that the president and his advisors have looked at this issue with different eyes and are probably right in their assertions but the issue of speaking for SADC and or on behalf of others in the Sub-Saharan region is what led Zambia into poverty once.

President Kenneth Kaunda despite so many accolades made serious mistakes by believing that all other heads of state in the Non-Aligned Movement were on the same page. For instance, while Kaunda declared sanctions against South Africa, Botswana and Namibia were trading freely with the Boers but always wore a different face when in his company. Their economies thrilled and ours suffered.

It is common knowledge that most African leaders tend to discourage each other in public about such offers while in the dark of the night make arterial overtures at respective US embassies when no one is watching. We would not even be surprised if other nations were in the forefront discouraging Zambia, all the while eagerly waiting for such an offer themselves.

But why Zambia? Because it already has initial capacity …

It is currently common knowledge that the newly elected Liberian president has been heavily lobbying the US State Department so the US can establish the AFRICOM in her country.

However, the US government thinks that Liberia may not be the best fit since its population is unskilled and the transition may take longer due to human resource reasons while Zambia is very favorable in every aspect feasible. When it comes to the issue sovereignty, we are hoping that the president simply misspoke.

The largest military base in Europe is in Germany and that country has the third largest economy in the world. Former Chancellor Schroeder was a serious opponent of the Iraq invasions even.

Japan houses the largest US base in Asia Pacific – Guam, it is the world’s second largest economy and is usually very vocal against the United States as can be proven with the Kyoto Agreement. South Korea has US military base and still a sovereign nation. Eight of the world’s most prosperous nations house US military bases and are very sovereign.

Is the Xenophobia China centric?

Could be … China is investing heavily on the continent and its investments are taking other developed nations by storm. It is believed that by 2009, the Chinese economy could surpass Germany’s making it the third largest in the world.

With China’s huge demand for natural resources, it is investing now so that it can have a greater steak when it comes time to control means of production and could be in the forefront of propagandizing for its national interest.The United States on the other hand is very interested in Africa as well. It is believed that almost 25% of oil and gas to that country will be coming from Africa soon. This is a very important economic apparatus for the world’s largest economy. Overall, if you are going to spend $9 billion a year of your own money for humanitarian purposes, you would want to keep an eye on it … Our suggestion to the president is that he looks at this proposal with an open mind, other African leaders could be saying all they can because of nothing but jealous. They could be doing things that are derogatory because they were not asked first and China could be worried that with AFRICOM housed in Zambia, it might not be able to exploit the Zambian workers the way it like to …

As for our sovereignty, we are a sovereign nation; no one can take that away from us, and we really aren’t offering sanctuary to the Americans, they can do a lot of things without our permission if they wanted to.

They already own 9 out of 10 deep space technology stations around the world; they are the world’s indispensable super power and it is no wonder European leaders first visit the US immediately after they are elected.

When Angela Merkel became the German Chancellor, guess where she went first after her victory, when Nicolas Sarkozy won the French presidency this summer he went to the United States before taking his victory tour holiday. Tony Blair’s successor Gordon Brown went to Camp David even before he issued his desire to work with HE Levy P Mwanawasa, SC.

Whether we like it or not, AFRICOM will be established in Africa somewhere, that somewhere better be Zambia and if not, why not? US Commands are already in place on three continents in different sovereign nations.

AFRICOM comes with added value to our enterprise and the economic benefits as well as prestige derived therefrom surpasses all else; that’s the memo from the Zambian Chronicle … thanks a trillion

Brainwave R Mumba, Sr.

CEO & President – Zambian Chronicle

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(below in the comment line is an except from Dr Wafula Okumu Head, African Security Analysis Program, Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria, South Africa, testimony given to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, “Africa Command: Opportunity for Enhanced Engagement or the Militarization of U.S.-Africa Relations?” August 2, 2007)