Monday, August 1, 2011

EU Envoy to Meet Serbian Officials Over Unrest: Media

BELGRADE - EU mediator Robert Cooper was to meet with Serbian officials Aug. 1 to discuss the recent unrest in Serb-majority nothern Kosovo, local media reported.
Cooper would meet Serbia's Minister for Kosovo Goran Bogdanovic and Belgrade's top negotiator Borko Stefanovic in Raska, a few miles from the border with Kosovo, the Beta news agency said, quoting well-informed sources.
The European Union already urged both sides last week to "show maximum restraint" to avoid further escalation after NATO troops stepped in when a border post in Kosovo was set on fire and bulldozed, apparently by ethnic Serbs.
Cooper is also set to meet Kosovo officials but it was not clear if that meeting would also be on Aug. 1.
On the ground, NATO forces reported Aug. 1 that they had removed three road blocks in northern Kosovo to allow access to one of the two border crossings that are at the center of a trade dispute.
Angry Kosovo Serbs had been blocking the roads leading to the crossing for several days.
"The operation was conducted swiftly and successfully. There was no resistance," the NATO-led KFOR mission said in a press release.
"The present situation in the North of Kosovo is calm but tense," KFOR added, but said its peacekeepers were "still deployed at the main gates".
Cars and buses are allowed to pass after rigorous security checks but heavy vehicles are still stopped at the border, it said.
"There is still the threat that radicals attack the crossing points like they did," KFOR warned.
Meanwhile in Pristina, the Kosovo security council chaired by prime minister Hashim Thaci ordered the police and other security services to be on the alert, a press release said.
"The Kosovo security council requested security agencies to keep a higher level of readiness for a possible intervention with all means available in case the state sovereignty and constitutional order are endangered," the government said in the press release.
Last week the Kosovo government ordered police to seize control of the two border crossings to enforce a ban on imports from Serbia, fearing it was not being respected by ethnic Serb members of Kosovo's border police.
The move provoked an angry response, with one Kosovar police officer killed and four others hurt in clashes with Serbs before the arson attack by masked men.
On July 28, troops from KFOR took control of both border posts to prevent large-scale violence.
Serbia banned imports from Kosovo immediately after it had declared independence from Belgrade in 2008. Pristina's decision to retaliate caught many by surprise.
More than 90 percent of Kosovo's imported food comes from Serbia, one of its main suppliers with goods totalling 260 million euros ($370 million) a year.
Belgrade and Kosovo's ethnic Serb minority have never recognized the government in Pristina.

EADS' Astrium to Buy Satcom Provider Vizada

PARIS - EADS has agreed to a $960 million deal by its space subsidiary, Astrium, to buy satellite communications provider Vizada as part of its drive to diversify into business services and expand in the U.S. market, the European aerospace and defense company said Aug. 1.
"Astrium, an EADS subsidiary, has entered into an agreement to acquire Vizada from Apax France, a French private equity fund and the majority shareholder, for $960 million," EADS said in a statement.
Vizada provides global communication services by packaging telecommunications capacity from commercial satellite operators for use by industry, government and nongovernmental organizations.
"The acquisition further balances the group's platform and services business and provides Astrium with an opportunity to develop new services," EADS said.
Vizada "has built up sizeable business with the U.S. government," according to the EADS statement.
The value of the U.S. government business was not available, an EADS spokesman said.
The U.S. activities include a contract to provide access to mobile satellite services for the U.S. government and military customers, EADS said. Other government clients include the French and German armed forces.
The maritime sector is seen as a source of growth, according to EADS.
"The growing demand for maritime services is a perfect cornerstone for Astrium to develop its commercial satellite communications (satcom) business," the company said.
Vizada expects to make $95 million in earnings before interest, depreciation and amortization, on sales of $660 million for 2011. The company employs 700 staff.
"This is clearly an accretive transaction for EADS shareholders and will generate significant synergies," said Marwan Lahoud, EADS chief strategy and marketing officer.
As part of EADS' Vision 2020 corporate strategy, the company seeks to reduce reliance on the Airbus airliner business, by boosting sales from services and defense.
The current and expected slashing of military expenditure in the home European markets of EADS has made it tougher to lift the defense side. U.S. competition has increased in world markets as American companies seek export contracts to offset planned domestic budget cuts.

Turkish Army Opens Key Meet After Mass Resignations

ISTANBUL - Turkey's Supreme Military Council began a crucial annual meeting Aug. 1 days after the shock mass resignation of the top brass in a clash with the government over promotions.
The meeting, which reviews the promotion prospects of senior officers, opened under the direction of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan but, for the first time ever, without the country's four top generals in attendance.
Armed forces chief Isik Kosaner and the separate heads of the army, navy and air force all dramatically resigned July 29 in a row with Ankara over the promotion of dozens of officers held in a probe of alleged plots to oust the government.
After the mass resignations, Erdogan named as acting forces chief Gen. Necdet Ozel, who was the head of the military police. Ozel, who was also tapped to head the army on an emergency basis, is co-chairing the promotions meeting.
Tensions between Turkey's fiercely secularist military and the government led by the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been building for years.
About one-tenth of the army's generals are in custody over an alleged 2003 coup plot that AKP officials say was hatched shortly after the party took power in 2002.
The suspects face 15 years to 20 years in jail, though the case has been marred by serious doubts over the authenticity of some implicating documents.
The government on July 29 nevertheless announced six new charges against the implicated generals, relating to additional coup plots and the creation of websites filled with anti-government propaganda.
Kosaner had several recent meetings with Erdogan to lobby on behalf of the officers, insisting that they still benefit from promotions despite the pending charges, local media has reported.
Analysts say the feud over promotions is part of a ruling party strategy to ensure its fiercest opponents within the military do not rise to key posts.
Huseyin Celik, the AKP vice president, insisted the executive branch will no longer adhere to the tradition of rubber stamping candidates fronted by the army chief.
"In your capacity (as army chief), you can propose names, but you can't impose," Celik was quoted as saying in the Milliyet newspaper on July 31.
Appointing Ozel as permanent army chief is unlikely to cause further confrontation, media analysts said.
But the government could provoke another round of mass resignations if it by-passes senior military officers seen as hostile to the ruling party when it picks the new heads of the air, land and sea forces.
President Abdullah Gul, a close Erdogan ally whose 2007 election was met with fierce opposition from the military, is set to disclose the council's decisions on July 28.
Since 1960, the military, which views itself as the defender of secularism in the country, has ousted four Turkish governments, including that of Ergodan's mentor Necmettin Erbakan in 1997.

U.S. Army Cancels MULE Unmanned Ground Vehicle

The U.S. Army has decided to cancel the Multi-Mission Unmanned Ground Vehicle, one of the few systems still remaining from the Future Combat Systems (FCS) program.
The 3.5-ton vehicle, which has been in development for years, is more commonly known by its FCS name, the Multi-Function Utility/Logistics and Equipment Vehicle (MULE).
Although a July 29 Acquisition Decision Memorandum formalized the decision, the Army determined it no longer needed the vehicle during a 2011 unmanned ground vehicle portfolio review.
"The Warfighter's requirements in the area of dismounted Soldier equipment transport have shifted to a vehicle with an expanded air assault capability," a July 29 letter to Congress says.
The original FCS MULE program had three different vehicle variants: transport, countermine and the Armed Robotic Vehicle.
In January 2010, the Army canceled the transport and countermine variants but said work would continue on the Armed Robotic Vehicle-Assault Light, being developed by Lockheed Martin.
At the time, the company said the Armed Robotic Vehicle consumed the bulk of MULE funding. Lockheed Martin first won the contract to develop the MULE program in 2003.
Now, the Army has concluded, "the system's Counter-Improvised Explosive Device focus and weight limited the platform's mobility.
The Army's decision formally halts development of the Autonomous Navigation System (ANS) and Common Mobility Platform (CMP), the vehicle's two major components.
The Army said it conducted a comparative assessment of existing autonomous navigation system technologies and determined that "ANS development progress did not warrant continued investment," according to the congressional letter.
All work on the program must stop by Sept. 30.
The MULE was one of the few FCS programs still kicking.
Since April 2009, a series of decisions from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Army have led to the cancellation of the bulk of the program.
First, Gates made the most dramatic cut by canceling the manned ground vehicle portion of the program, which effectively brought an end to the FCS program as a whole.
However, several technologies were allowed to continue, including a handful of unmanned vehicles.
In January 2010, the Army canceled the Class IV UAV and the transport and countermine variants of the MULE. Later, it canceled the Non-Line of Sight Launch System.
Earlier this year, the Army canceled the Class I UAV and halted work on the unmanned ground sensors.
A recent internal Army study revealed exactly how much the Army has been spending on canceled programs over the past decade.
"The FCS termination casts an enormous shadow over any debate about challenges in the Army acquisition system," the report released in June said. But the Army's problems predate FCS.
Every year since 1996, before FCS was off and running, the Army spent more than $1 billion annually on programs that were ultimately canceled.
Since 2004, including FCS, the Army spent $3.3 billion to $3.8 billion on programs that were eventually canceled. This equates to 35 to 42 percent per year of Army Development Test and Evaluation funding being lost on canceled programs.

Germany, France Mull Ship-Building Alliance

BERLIN - Germany and France are considering a military ship-building alliance, an "EADS of the Seas", similar to what is already done for military aircraft, the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper said Aug. 1.
The European defense group EADS, owner of airplane maker Airbus, manufactures military helicopters and the A400 military transport plane.
Berlin and Paris are considering opening talks later this year on a similar alliance in the field of naval construction which would involve the German ThyssenKrupp group and the French DCNS military dockyards, the business newspaper said, citing sources close to the negotiations.
However in a statement, ThyssenKrupp said it was not currently involved in talks with DCNS on a possible alliance and that no such talks were planned for the future.
Germany had long rejected such a deal, fearing disputes with France over political control of the group and over which dockyards would remain open.
But a recent failure by ThyssenKrupp to sell its Blohm and Voss dockyards to Abu Dhabi MAR has given new impetus to the project which is backed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the paper said.
A joint venture might see France take charge of the construction of frigates, while Germany would be responsible for submarines, the paper suggested.
A recent deal between the French DCNS and the German electronic specialist Atlas Elektronik, a joint venture involving ThyssenKrupp and EADS, for manufacturing torpedoes could serve as an initial test for such a joint venture, the paper added.

German Party Sues Government on Saudi Tank Deal

BERLIN - Germany's opposition Green party is taking the government to court over a reported secret deal to sell hundreds of tanks to Saudi Arabia, a party spokeswoman said Aug. 1.
"A suit brought by the members of parliament Christian Stroebele, Claudia Roth and Katja Keul was filed on Friday" with the Constitutional Court, the spokeswoman added.
The Greens, who oppose the reported deal, have asked the court to rule on whether the government is entitled to grant an export license for the tanks without informing parliament.
Press reports recently suggested that Saudi Arabia would be buying 200 Leopard-2s, Germany's main battle tank, which is also produced under license in Spain, for a multibillion-euro sum.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government have refused to comment on the reports, saying such matters are confidential and decided by the federal security council, a panel that rules on arms exports and is chaired by the chancellor.
"Deliberation and decisions by the federal security council are secret for good reason," Merkel has told the press.
For decades, Germany has declined to sell such heavy weapons to Saudi Arabia because of concerns over human rights and fears for Israel's security.
Opposition politicians and even some members of Merkel's ruling center-right coalition have slammed the reported tank sale, particularly in light of pro-democracy uprisings throughout the Middle East.

Mullen Warns of Afghan Transition Corruption

KABUL, Afghanistan - The United States' top military officer warned July 31 that some Afghan institutions central to the transition of power from foreign to local forces are corrupt.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was speaking after a two-day trip to Afghanistan, much of which was spent visiting troops, shortly before he is due to step down in October.
During a press conference in Kabul, he highlighted a lack of good governance in many parts of Afghanistan.
He also spoke specifically about Afghan institutions involved in the transition of power from international to Afghan troops and officials. All foreign combat forces are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Some countries, including the U.S., have already started troop withdrawals as part of the transition process.
"I think it's fair to say that in the main, Afghan government officials must work on becoming more responsive to the needs and the aspirations of their people," Mullen said.
"We know that some agencies and institutions vital to transition are infiltrated and subverted by criminal patronage networks."
He added: "We must end impunity for criminals who are subverting the state and victimizing the Afghan people."
As well as the security handover to the Afghan police and army, the transition process also includes a wide range of local and national government bodies taking on new responsibilities from foreign officials.
Mullen acknowledged that U.S. "inattention" had contributed to the problem.
The U.S. government has spent $51.8 billion on aid to Afghanistan since 2002, though much of those funds go through contractors.
Experts say corruption is an endemic problem among many officials in Afghanistan and that the government and foreign powers must do more to combat it.

North Korea Wants Early 6-Party Nuclear Talks

SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea said Aug. 1 it wanted an early resumption of six-party nuclear negotiations following "constructive" talks with the United States last week.
The North "remains unchanged in its stand to resume the six-party talks without preconditions at an early date" and comprehensively implement a September 2005 denuclearization deal, a foreign ministry spokesman said.
Pyongyang walked out of the negotiations in April 2009, a month before its second atomic weapons test. But it has indicated willingness to return to the dialogue also grouping South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the United States.
Last month the chief nuclear negotiators from the two Koreas met in Bali in the first direct and high-level talks between the rivals on the issue since the collapse of the six-party negotiations.
The surprise Bali meeting was followed by discussions July 28-29 between the United States and North Korea at the United Nations in New York.
The United States gave a cautiously positive assessment of the New York meeting, saying the "path is open" to better relations if the North shows a firm commitment to disarmament efforts.
The North's first vice foreign minister, Kim Kye-Gwan, called the talks "very constructive and businesslike" but neither side said whether a follow-up meeting was planned.
The North's spokesman said Monday the "in-depth discussion" covered improving bilateral relations, ensuring stability on the Korean peninsula and resuming the six-party talks, in a "sincere and constructive" atmosphere.
"Both sides recognized that the improvement of the bilateral relations and the peaceful negotiated settlement of the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula conform with the interests of the two sides and agreed to further dialogue," the spokesman told the official news agency.
North Korea agreed in principle in 2005 to scrap its atomic weapons program in return for economic aid and major security and diplomatic benefits.
But the agreement eventually broke down, amid accusations of bad faith by both sides.
The North's deadly artillery attack last November on a South Korean island further complicated efforts to restart nuclear dialogue.
About the same time, the North also revealed an apparently operational uranium enrichment plant at its Yongbyon atomic complex to visiting US experts.
Pyongyang says its new operation is intended to fuel a nuclear power plant, but senior U.S. and other officials fear it could easily be reconfigured to produce weapons-grade uranium to augment the country's plutonium stockpile.
The North, using plutonium extracted from its Yongbyon reactor, conducted its first nuclear test in 2006. It is believed to have enough plutonium for six to eight atomic bombs.
Last week's talks were the first high-level contacts between Pyongyang and Washington since Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. special representative on North Korea, went to Pyongyang in December 2009.