Monday, November 21, 2011

India May Choose Fighter Next Month: Report

NEW DELHI - India could decide by next month on a $12 billion fighter jet deal which France's Dassault and the Eurofighter consortium are vying for, the country's air force chief reportedly said Nov. 18.
Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne said government officials were working on the shortlisted bids of Dassault and Eurofighter, which were opened Nov. 4.
"We are calculating very hard. There is a lot of work going on. I expect in another four weeks, we should be able to wrap it up," the Press Trust of India quoted Browne as telling reporters in the southern Indian city of Bangalore.
Officials say the name of the lowest bidder will be unveiled after experts assess the "life-cycle" maintenance costs of each plane and other contract details.
"By mid-December we should have very good sense of who has been selected," the Indian Air Force chief said without elaborating.
The contract is for the outright purchase of 18 combat aircraft by 2012, with another 108 to be built in India with options to acquire more.
India in April cut out U.S. bidders Boeing and Lockheed Martin, as well as dropping Sweden's Saab AB and the Russian makers of the MiG 35 from the race.
Such a large order attracted strong lobbying during visits to India last year by U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
India, the biggest importer of military hardware among emerging nations, issued the request for proposals in 2007 and trials of aircraft from the six companies competing for the deal began a year later

Philippines Asks S. Korea For Military Hardware

Manila - Philippine President Benigno Aquino asked his visiting counterpart from South Korea on Monday for aircraft, boats and other hardware to help boost his country's military, amid rising tensions with China.
Aquino said he and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak discussed their respective regional security concerns, which for the Philippines is the disputed South China Sea, where China has been accused of bullying.
"On defence cooperation, I expressed to President Lee the interest of the Philippines to gain some specific defence articles such as military-grade helicopters, boats and aircrafts," Aquino said in a joint forum.
"This is in consonance with the upgrading and modernisation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines."
Lee did not disclose any response to the specific request but said South Korea wanted to cooperate with the Philippines to resolve its maritime problems.
"We agreed that we will continue to work together so that we can peacefully resolve this issue according to international rule, norms and standards," said Lee, who is on a three-day visit to the Philippines.
Aquino has this year begun upgrading the Philippines' military, which is one of the weakest in the region with its navy made up of mostly World War II-era ships and its air force consisting of Vietnam War-vintage planes.
He has said the Philippines needs to be able to defend its claims to waters and islands of the South China Sea.
China and Taiwan claim the South China Sea in full, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have claims to parts of the area, which is believed to hold vast oil and gas deposits.
The Philippines has accused the Chinese military of aggressive acts in the Philippine-claimed areas of the sea this year, including firing on Filipino fishermen, laying buoys and harassing an oil exploration vessel.
Aquino and Lee also oversaw the signing of economic agreements, the most significant of which will see South Korea provide the Philippines with up to $500 million in development loans from 2011 to 2013.
South Korea will also help build a coal-fired power plant in a free-trade zone on the main Philippine island of Luzon, and a dam on a river in the central island of Panay.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the dam project was worth $300 million.

Iran Spurns 'Useless' UN Mideast Atomic Forum

VIENNA, Nov 21 - Iran angrily stayed away Monday from a UN atomic agency forum on creating a Middle East free of nuclear weapons, amid growing tensions over Tehran's suspected efforts to develop the bomb.
Iran's ambassador to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said Tehran's decision was its "first reaction" to the body's "inappropriate" recent report on its nuclear program.
That assessment saw the IAEA come the closest yet to accusing Iran outright of seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iran, hit by four rounds of UN sanctions, says its activities are exclusively for peaceful purposes.
On Friday, the IAEA's board of governors passed a resolution of "deep and increasing concern" submitted by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany and 12 others in light of the report.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak meanwhile provided an ominous response Sunday when asked about growing speculation of a military strike.
The IAEA report "has a sobering impact on many in the world, leaders as well as the publics, and people understand that the time has come," he told CNN.
"Our greatest wish is that they commit such a mistake," Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Amir-Ali Hajizadeh was quoted as saying by the Fars news agency on Monday.
Soltanieh said another reason for not attending the two-day IAEA forum, aimed at learning from the experiences of other so-called nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZ), was Israel's unofficial atomic arsenal.
"As long as the Zionist regime does not belong to the NPT (nuclear non-proliferation treaty) ... this kind of conference is useless and cannot succeed," Soltanieh told Iranian television channel Al-Alam.
Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons but has never confirmed it. Unlike Iran, it is not a signatory to the NPT and therefore not subject to IAEA inspections.
Syria, reported by the IAEA to the Security Council over a suspected covert reactor allegedly bombed by Israel in 2007, was, however, present at the forum, along with Israel, 17 other Middle East states and Palestinian representatives.
Some of the roughly 275 participants from 97 countries in the closed-door discussion said representatives of several Arab states, particularly Syria and Lebanon, had used their speeches to attack Israel.
"Israeli nuclear capabilities pose a grave and continuous threat to others in the region. Israel must join the NPT," Syria ambassador Bassam Sabbagh said, according to a participant.
Israel's ambassador was yet to speak. Participants said the atmosphere was, however, less "confrontational" than previous IAEA events that have degenerated into Arab-Israeli slanging matches.
NWFZ treaties prohibit the production, acquisition and stationing of nuclear weapons, as well as nuclear testing.
Zones of this kind already exist in Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa and Central Asia, encompassing 113 countries.
IAEA member states requested in 2000 that such a Mideast forum take place, but agreement on holding such a meeting remained elusive until now.
The forum comes ahead of a conference in 2012 to be hosted by Finland on ridding the powder keg region, rocked this year by Arab Spring uprisings in several countries, of nuclear weapons.
IAEA head Yukiya Amano, opening the forum, conceded there were "longstanding differences of view" on creating such a zone.
"It has taken 11 years to get to this point," Amano said. "I hope it will nurture fresh thinking - creative thinking."
"It's up to Iran to consider if it can make a contribution. Clearly, they felt not," South Africa's IAEA ambassador Abdul Samad Minty told reporters. "But [the forum] is a first step. It's not the end of the process."

Iraq Set for 'Turbulence' as US Departs: General

BAGHDAD, Nov 21 - Iraq's security situation is likely to be "turbulent" as U.S. forces depart, with al-Qaida among the groups that will seek to take advantage, the top U.S. general in the country said Monday.
"I think as we leave, you can expect to see some turbulence in security initially, and that's because you'll see various elements try to increase their freedom of movement and freedom of action," Gen. Lloyd Austin told reporters at a roundtable in Baghdad.
"Al-Qaida will be one of those elements," said Austin, the commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq. "We expect that al-Qaida will continue to do what it has done in the past," he said, referring specifically to the situation in northern Iraq. "We expect that it's possible that they could even increase in their capability."
"Of course, that will depend on how effectively the Iraqi security forces and the government of Iraq are able to focus on that network."
Austin also pointed to Iranian-backed militias as a threat to stability. "When you look at the environment in the south, we've seen activity over the last several months that are from the Iranian-backed militants," he said. "We expect that that type of activity could possibly continue into the future."
"The Iraqi government has to treat [Shiite militias] based upon what they really are, and again, these are elements that are really focused on creating a Lebanese Hezbollah kind of organization in this country," he said.
That means "a government within a government, and those elements would have their own militia - that sort of thing. I think as we leave, if these elements are left unchecked, they will then eventually turn on the government."
"We really intend to remain engaged with Iraq," Austin said. "There's likely to be some setbacks, some tough days ahead, but I am very hopeful that we'll stay on course."
U.S. President Barack Obama announced Oct. 21 that U.S. troops would depart Iraq by year's end.
Austin said on Monday that there are less than 20,000 U.S. soldiers left in Iraq, while eight military bases remain to be handed over