Saturday, May 21, 2011

Russia Softens Stance on U.S. Missile Shield

MOSCOW - Russia on May 21 said it may be ready to drop its objections to the U.S.-backed missile defense shield for Europe if it receives a formal security pledge from the United States.
The comments by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggest an easing of Moscow's position and precede a meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart on the sidelines of G8 summit in France next week.
Lavrov said during talks with the German and Polish foreign ministers that missile defense negotiations with the United States and NATO were "progressing but slowly."
"We are proposing, and asking for it to be put in writing, that the missile defense system for Europe is not directed against any of the participating states - not NATO, Russia or other European states," Lavrov said.
"We are told there is no need to get this down in writing because this is inherently the case," he told a televised news conference.
"But if it is inherently not aimed against Russia, why not write [that] down?" he asked.
Lavrov's nuanced language appears aimed at easing tensions between Washington and Moscow on the eve of the Group of Eight summit talks May 26 and 27.
Russia previously sought veto power in the system's operation - a subject not broached by Lavrov.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev used a closely watch pre-election television appearance this week to warn the United States of a return to the Cold War should the shield be constructed despite Russia's objections.
And the chief of the military's general staff warned May 20 that the shield's deployment could lead to a "mad arms race."
Russia's tough talk and decision to test two heavy nuclear missiles in the past month underscore a fear in Moscow that the Obama administration is paying lip service to the "reset" in relations announced by Washington in 2009.
The United States argues that the shield is meant only to protect Europe from nations such as Iran but has said nothing about Russian security safeguards.
Analysts note that Moscow is primarily worried the system will leave a permanent stamp on the security map of Europe and formalize the reduced role Russia plays in the post-Cold War world.
The shield could theoretically be expanded to sizes that one day neutralize Russia's shrinking nuclear arsenal, or transformed into an offensive weapon that target its soil.
"This issue is so serious that we cannot ignore a single detail," Lavrov said.
But he stressed that Moscow saw itself joining the systems under the right conditions.
Russia envisioned "a joint concept and architecture of a future European missile defense system," Lavrov said.
"We hope that we will be able to resolve these issues - at least at the expert level."

Joint Strike Fighter Makes First Public Appearance

The U.S. Defense Department's embattled F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) made its first public air-show appearance May 21 at Joint Base Andrews, Md., just outside of Washington.
An F-35C variant aircraft flew alongside an F/A-18 Hornet chase plane during a single pass before disappearing into the distance. Both the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps will operate the C-model aircraft from the Navy's large deck carriers.
The jet was flying with Lt. Cmdr. Eric "Magic" Buus at the controls as part of a commemoration marking 100 years of naval aviation.
After the flyover pass, the F-35C and its Hornet chase plane continued with their planned test sortie, said Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the JSF program office who was in attendance alongside program manager Vice Adm. David Venlet.
Both planes were flown out of Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., which serves as the Navy's main flight test center.

India Worried By Growing China-Pakistan Ties

NEW DELHI - India views with "serious concern" growing defense ties between China and Pakistan, and says it will have to bolster its own military capabilities to meet the challenge.
"It is a matter of serious concern for us. The main thing is we have to increase our capability - that is the only answer," Defence Minister A.K. Antony told reporters in New Delhi on May 20.
The comments followed reports China plans to accelerate supply of 50 new JF-17 Thunder multi-role combat jets to Pakistan under a co-production pact.
Antony added safe havens for militants in Pakistan is another "main concern" for New Delhi and told Islamabad to "disband and destroy" all guerrilla outfits if it "sincerely" wants to improve relations with India.
The killing by U.S. commandos of Osama bin Laden, who was hiding out near the Pakistani capital Islamabad, has "internationally stamped the nation's position as the core of terrorist activities in the South Asian region," he said.
India has long accused Pakistan of providing shelter and support to militant groups planning attacks on Indian soil and has pushed the global community - the United States in particular - to censure Pakistan.
Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have fought three wars since attaining independence in 1947, two of them over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Antony declined to comment on remarks by senior Indian military leaders that India has the capability to launch a strike like the one the U.S. carried out in Pakistan to kill bin Laden.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said India would not undertake such a strike.
But a leaked diplomatic cable published earlier in the week quoted India's home minister as saying in 2009 that India would have to respond to another attack on its soil by Pakistan-based militants.
Discussing the prospect of another raid after the Mumbai 2008 assault which killed 166 people, home minister P. Chidambaram said, "The people of India will expect us to respond," according to the WikiLeaks website.
Antony added that India may sign a contract to buy 126 fighter jets for its air force by the end of March 2012.
"This fiscal [year] ends on March 31, 2012. The deal can happen before that," Antony said.
Last month, India short-listed France's Dassault Aviation SA and European consortium Eurofighter GmbH for the contract. The deal, estimated at $10 billion, is considered the biggest of its kind globally in the past 15 years.
India has allocated 1.64 trillion rupees ($3.6 trillion) for the defense sector in the fiscal year through March, up from 1.47 trillion last year.
The budget is nearly double the 890 billion rupees in the 2006-07 year.

Pakistan Awaits 50 Jets Made With China: Minister

BEIJING - Pakistan hopes to take delivery within the next six months of 50 JF-17 fighter jets manufactured jointly with China, Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar said May 20 during a visit to Beijing.
Mukhtar made the comments on the sidelines of a meeting between Chinese President Hu Jintao and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was wrapping up a four-day visit to China - his country's long-time ally.
"We think there is a good deal," said Mukhtar, who put the price of each JF-17, or Thunder, aircraft at $20 million to $25 million "as compared to $80 million for the F-16", a U.S.-built jet also used by Pakistan's air force.
Mukhtar did not explicitly say whether the deal had been finalized, but it appeared that the agreement was nearing completion.
Further details of the deal were not made public but the agreement was apparently discussed during the visit by Gilani, who met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao earlier in the week.
China is Pakistan's main arms supplier and a close ally of Islamabad.
Pakistan's air force has a fleet of Chinese aircraft, including F-7PGs and A-5s, but also F-16s and French Mirages.
The neighbors began developing the JF-17 together in 1999 and has said it wants 250 of the jets. In November, Islamabad said it would buy Chinese missiles and flight systems for the jets, Chinese state media reported.

China 'To Target 1,800 Missiles at Taiwan In 2012'

TAIPEI - The number of Chinese missiles targeted at Taiwan is likely to reach 1,800 next year, despite improving ties between the former arch-rivals, Taiwanese media said May 20.
The Liberty Times newspaper cited a military intelligence report as providing the forecast.
Taiwanese experts have estimated that China currently has more than 1,600 missiles aimed at the island, mostly deployed in Fujian and Jiangxi provinces in the mainland's southeast.
The report followed comments made by Taiwan's top intelligence chief Tsai Teh-sheng in March, saying that China was targeting Taiwan with a "new type of powerful missile" known as Dongfeng 16.
"Its range is longer, and it increases the threat to Taiwan," Tsai said then, without giving further details of the weapon or the number that have been deployed so far.
Tensions across the Taiwan Strait have eased since Ma Ying-jeou became Taiwan's president in 2008 on a China-friendly platform.
However, Beijing still refuses to renounce the possible use of force against the island, which has ruled itself since the end of a civil war in 1949, should it declare formal independence.
The Pentagon said in an annual report to Congress last year that China's military build-up against Taiwan had "continued unabated" despite improving political relations.
Taiwan's defense ministry was not immediately available for comment.

NATO Says Its Planes Hit Eight Gadhafi Warships

BRUSSELS - NATO aircraft hit eight warships of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces overnight May 20 in the ports of Tripoli, Al Khums and Sirte, the Atlantic alliance said in a statement.
Flames engulf a ship in the port of the Libyan capital Tripoli following NATO air strikes on May 19. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP via Getty Images)
"NATO and coalition air assets continued their precision airstrikes against pro-Gadhafi regime forces overnight with a coordinated strike against pro-Gadhafi forces in the ports of Tripoli, Al Khums and Sirte," the statement said.
"Overnight, NATO aircraft hit pro-Gadhafi warships, striking eight vessels," it added.
"All NATO's targets are military in nature and are directly linked to the Gadhafi regime's systematic attacks on the Libyan people," said Rear Adm. Russell Harding, Deputy Commander Operation Unified Protector.
"Given the escalating use of naval assets, NATO had no choice but to take decisive action to protect the civilian population of Libya and NATO forces at sea," he further added.
Fresh explosions were heard in the Libyan capital Tripoli early Friday hours after NATO air strikes targeted the city's port, with a ship still ablaze after the raid.
An AFP journalist, part of a group sent by the authorities to a bridge facing the port about a kilometer (less than a mile) away, was unable to determine whether the blazing ship was a military or civilian vessel.
The NATO statement said: "Over the past couple of weeks we have witnessed indiscriminate mining and the escalating use of force by pro-Gadhafi maritime forces.
"This has directly disrupted the safe flow of desperately needed humanitarian assistance and put NATO forces at risk. This development of pro-Gadhafi tactics has also demonstrated a clear intent to attack NATO forces.
"Last night, NATO took deliberate action in carefully planned and coordinated responses to demonstrate our resolve to protect the civilian population of Libya, using appropriate and proportionate force."
Rear Adm. Harding said: "All the vessels targeted last night were naval warships with no civilian utility."
Earlier, regime spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told a press conference in the Libyan capital: "I have just learned that the port of Tripoli is now being targeted by NATO air raids. I am told that a boat has been hit."
He did not give further details on the vessel, but told the journalists: "Whatever the ship that has been hit, it is clearly a message sent by NATO to the international maritime companies not to send any more vessels to Libya."
Witnesses told AFP that they heard at least four explosions in the port and saw columns of smoke rising from the area.
"Military and civilian sites are currently the targets of raids by the colonialist Crusader aggressor," Libyan state television said.
The NATO statement said that on April 29, "pro-Gadhafi forces used pro-Gadhafi maritime assets to mine the entrance to the port of Misrata. On a further three occasions, pro-Gadhafi maritime assets have been intercepted by NATO ships. This included an incident where NATO interdicted a booby-trapped vessel leading to the discovery and subsequent destruction of one tonne of explosives at sea.
"Since the start of NATO's mission, we have been vocal and pro-active in instructing pro-Gadhafi forces to lay down their arms. We have communicated our desire for them to move away from military equipment, military installations and maritime assets," the statement said.
"NATO has constantly adapted to the rapidly changing and dynamic situation in Libya and at sea. This is a complex campaign, which is being conducted within the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973. This mandate legally authorized the use of all necessary measures to protect the civilian population of Libya."
Tripoli is targeted nearly daily with air raids by the international coalition, which launched strikes on March 19 to prevent strongman Gadhafi's forces from attacking civilians.