West wary of China WWII military parade

(Deutsche Welle) For the first time, China will commemorate the Allied victory in WWII with a military parade. The major Western leaders are not attending. Beijing accuses them of failing to recognize its role in winning the war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will be the only head of state from the old Allied powers to attend China’s commemoration on Thursday of their victory in World War Two.

The leaders of the United States, Great Britain and France will be conspicuously absent from the ceremony. London has dispatched Kenneth Clarke, a leading conservative politician who’s held numerous cabinet-level positions. Paris has sent Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. Washington will be represented by its ambassador, Max Baucus.

This lukewarm response to China stands in stark contrast to how the West commemorates its own contribution to the war. The leader of every major Allied nation attended the 70th-anniversary commemoration of the landings at Normandy last year.

US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, the Queen of England, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and, of course, French President Francois Hollande were all present to honor the sacrifice of Western troops.

In a press conference in June, China’s deputy propaganda minister, Wang Shiming, criticized Western nations for lacking “an objective and just recognition of China’s position and role in the world anti-fascist war,” as Beijing refers to World War Two. According to British historian Rana Mitter, Chinese criticisms are largely accurate.

“Both in terms of sacrifice and achievement, China’s role during the war does need to be more acknowledged in the West,” Mitter, author of “Forgotten Ally: China’s WWII,” told DW. “In terms of what it did, 14 million Chinese or more were killed during the war. Nearly 100 million became refugees.”

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US, Cuba announce embassy re-openings

(By Deutsche Welle) The US and Cuba have laid the Cold War to rest. While some see dialogue as a path to reform, Cuban exiles believe the White House has strengthened the Castro regime. Spencer Kimball reports.

Sebastian Arcos Bergnes suffered under two Cuban dictatorships. Bergnes was arrested by the regime of Fulgencio Batista after being discovered with a cache of weapons in 1956. He served three years in prison for participating in Fidel Castro’s revolution. But Bergnes was never a communist.

His son, Sebastian A. Arcos, describes the family as middle class Catholics with “solid democratic credentials.” “They joined the Castro revolution to get back to the constitutional cores established by the 1940 constitution and became disillusioned immediately after Castro turned to the left,” Sebastian told DW.

As Castro consolidated power, Sebastian’s family began documenting the regime’s human rights abuses, particularly in the jails. Political prisoners were often subjected to beatings, deprived of medical attention and had their sentences arbitrarily extended. The reports that Sebastian’s family compiled were smuggled out to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

The family was split up after trying to escape the island in 1981. While Sebastian served a year in prison, his mother and sister fled to Miami. A decade passed before Havana granted Sebastian permission to leave Cuba and join them in Florida. His father was allowed to leave in 1995 for medical reasons. Bergnes died from cancer two years later.

“I left for the US in 1992 as a political refugee and have never been back,” said Sebastian, now the associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

‘A political exile does not return’

There are many Cuban-Americans with stories of persecution and flight. Jose Azel joined the anti-Castro underground as a 12-year-old boy, serving as a courier and participating in acts of economic sabotage. After the regime closed Azel’s Catholic school, his father feared that his son would be indoctrinated. He put him on a cargo ship in 1961 bound for Florida where Azel joined his older brother in Miami.

More than 14,000 children left Cuba in the early 1960s. Operation Pedro Pan was the largest recorded migration of unaccompanied minors in the history of the Western Hemisphere. Like Sebastian, Azel has not returned to Cuba. He never saw his father again.

“By definition, a political exile does not return until the conditions that brought about his exile change,” Azel, now a scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, told DW. “An economic immigrant returns when his personal conditions allow him to,” he said. “I would never under any conditions return until there is a change.”

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US pledges military support for fight against Ebola in West Africa

(By Deutsche Welle) In an effort to contain the Ebola outbreak, the US plans to dispatch thousands of military personnel to assist health care workers in West Africa. Governments in the region have been overwhelmed by the epidemic.

US President Barack Obama announced plans on Tuesday to deploy 3,000 American military personnel to West Africa, part of a ramped up international campaign to contain the most severe outbreak of the Ebola virus in history.

Speaking at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, Obama said that the US personnel would provide desperately needed medical and logistical support to countries in the region. The American military detachment will have its headquarters in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.

“[Ebola is] a global threat and demands a truly global response,” the US president said at CDC headquarters.

“In West Africa, Ebola is now an epidemic, the likes that we have not seen before. It’s spiralling out of control, it’s getting worse.

“The world has a responsibility to act…[and] we have to act fast,” he added. “Men, women and children [in West Africa] are just sitting, waiting to die. And it doesn’t have to be this way.”

Faced with Ebola’s unprecedented spread, Doctors Without Borders has been requesting emergency military assistance for weeks now, softening its normally skeptical attitude toward working with the world’s armed services.

“Although we have not yet seen the official details, we welcome the ambition of the new US Ebola response plan, which appears to match the scope of the disaster unfolding in West Africa,” Brice de le Vingne, director of operations at Doctors Without Borders, said prior to Obama’s speech.

“This latest pledge, alongside those from a handful of other countries, needs to be put into action immediately,” he added.

But Doctors Without Borders – known by its French acronym MSF – has made clear that military personnel should not be used for crowd control or quarantine, warning that such measures would only trigger fear among the people.

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Iraq powder keg could ignite broader conflict

(By Deutsche Welle) Sitting at the heart of the Middle East, Iraq shares a border with virtually every major power in the region. The rapid advance of Sunni Islamist militants in Iraq could spark a broader regional conflict.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal warned a meeting of Arab and Muslim leaders in Jeddah on Wednesday that “this grave situation that is storming Iraq carries with it the signs of civil war whose implications for the region we cannot fathom.”

Al-Faisal called on Iraq’s Shiite-led government to address the grievances of the country’s Sunni community. He also warned against “foreign interference” in Iraq, a veiled jibe at Saudi Arabia’s archrival, Iran.

Tehran has said that it would intervene on behalf of Iraq, if Baghdad asked for assistance in its fight against the Sunni extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The Wall Street Journal has reported that Iranian units have already been deployed to protect Shia holy sites in Karbala and Najaf and to stabilize the situation in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the former UN envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has drawn a connection between the current crisis in Iraq and the civil war in neighboring Syria. Brahimi said that the international community had “unfortunately neglected the Syrian problem and did not help resolve it,” which has fanned the flames of sectarianism in Iraq.

“The jihadists’ action in Iraq is taking place against a backdrop of a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis,” Brahimi told the AFP news agency last weekend.

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US-Russian tensions over Ukraine threaten cooperation on Syria, Iran

(By Deutsche Welle) US-Russian relations have reached one of their lowest points since the end of the Cold War. The question is, as Moscow and Washington face off over Ukraine, can they continue to cooperate on Syria and Iran?

Barack Obama was going to be the president who salvaged Washington’s deteriorating relationship with Russia. Ties between the two countries had frayed during the Bush administration over Moscow’s intervention in Georgia and US plans to deploy a missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe.

In 2009, then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a red “reset” button. The gesture symbolized the Obama White House’s desire to clear the slate and build a more cooperative relationship with the Kremlin.

Fast forward five years and Washington is now threatening Moscow with economic sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine. It’s the most serious confrontation between the two powers in the past two decades, according to Jeffrey Mankoff, an expert on Russian foreign policy with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington D.C.

“There’s not going to be a walking back from the confrontation that’s been unleashed by this crisis, at least as long as Russia is what it is, which is to say an increasingly authoritarian and revisionist power,” Mankoff told DW.

But from the Syrian civil war to Iran’s nuclear program, the US needs Russian cooperation to resolve a host of international problems. In Washington, the Republican opposition believes that President Obama’s unwillingness to adopt a more aggressive posture has only emboldened Damascus, Moscow, and Tehran.

“We are almost rudderless as far as our foreign policy is concerned,” Senator John McCain told DW at the Munich Security Conference in February.

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Little headway on Trans-Pacific free trade deal

(By Deutsche Welle) During his trip to Asia, US President Obama proved unable to resolve differences with Japan over the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Now back in Washington, the president faces growing opposition to the ambitious trade deal.

It’s one of the most ambitious free trade agreements ever undertaken, according to Peter Petri, an economist with the Peterson Institute for International Economics. The Trans Pacific-Partnership (TPP) would deepen integration among 12 economies in the Americas and Asia, covering 40 percent of the world’s economic output and 26 percent of its total trade.

The free trade negotiations currently include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States.

“The TPP is part of a big long-term strategy that Obama has inaugurated and has been a center piece of his trade policy as well as in some ways his geopolitical reorientation of American policies toward Asia,” Petri told DW.

“It’s partly a rebalancing of the military forces that the United States has around the world, but especially it’s an effort to re-orient the American economy to the fastest-growing markets of the 21st century,” he added.

Congressional opposition

But Washington’s pivot toward Asia has proven difficult to manage. Returning from his Asia tour, President Obama proved unable to resolve differences with Japan over tariff barriers in the agriculture and automotive industries. The disagreement between the TPP’s two heavyweights is one of the key factors that have delayed the negotiations. A deal was supposed to have been reached last December.

As Obama settles back into Washington, he faces stiff domestic opposition to the free trade deal from his own party. In the House of Representatives, 151 Democrats oppose renewing the so-called fast-track authority. Under fast-track rules, Congress can vote up or down on a draft deal submitted by the president, but cannot add amendments to the draft. The idea is to expedite the passage of complex trade agreements.

“Politics in the United States has really slowed down, meaning that the president did not get trade promotion authority which is a kind of negotiating tool that would have made it possible for him to conclude the deal quickly,” Petri said. “Because he doesn’t have that, the Japanese are reluctant to make the very tough political concessions that they have to make in the end for the deal to happen.”

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US plan to destabilize Cuba ‘very foolish policy’

(By Deutsche Welle) The AP news agency has reported that the US tried to undermine Cuba’s government with a social media website called ZunZuneo. Expert William LeoGrande tells DW that US credibility in the region has been damaged.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) clandestinely developed ZunZuneo, which was similar to Twitter, in order to incite flash mobs at sensitive political moments in an effort to force democratic change in Havana. At its height, ZunZuneo had 40,000 users in Cuba, who were unaware of the US government’s involvement. Realizing that the US role would eventually be discovered, those involved in the operation sought to find independent financing for ZunZuneo. Unable to secure a private sector sponsor, they shut the social media site down in 2012 when government financing dried up.

DW: US-Cuban relations have warmed since Barack Obama became US president and Fidel Castro handed over power to his brother Raul. The White House has eased the US embargo on Cuba and Havana has introduced some economic reforms. Will the revelation that Washington tried to use social media to destabilize Havana jeopardize the US-Cuban d├ętente?

LeoGrande: The improvement in relations has been an on-and-off thing. Relations between the United States and Cuba during the Bush administration were just terrible, so they couldn’t really have gotten much worse.

President Obama came into office saying he wanted a new beginning in his relationship with Cuba, but the changes he’s made have been mostly people-to-people changes rather than engaging directly with the Cuban government very much. So, for example, he lifted all the restrictions on Cuban-American travel and Cuban-American remittances to their families on the island. He liberalized people-to-people travel so people in the Untied States can more easily go and visit Cuba. At the government-to-government level, however, there’s only been relatively small advances on issues of mutual interests, like Coast Guard cooperation [and] oil spill mitigation and prevention.

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