Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bulgaria, Israel to Sign Cooperation Deals

SOFIA, Bulgaria - Bulgaria's defense minister will sign two accords with Israel while on a two-day visit to Israel that starts Jan. 16, his office said.
Anu Angelov will ink a deal on increasing cooperation on military training and another on closer ties between the two countries' armaments industries, the Bulgarian defense ministry said.
The defence industry is an important employer in Bulgaria, exporting $380 million (300 million euros) worth of arms in 2011, according to a newspaper report, although the sector is a 10th of the size of during Soviet times.
Bulgaria and Israel enjoy close ties, helped by Bulgaria having been the only ally of Nazi Germany to have saved Jews from the death camps during World War II. Angelov will also visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and meet with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on his trip.

'Dangerous Cargo' Ship Arrives in Syria: Source

MOSCOW - A Russian ship suspected of carrying munitions for Damascus arrived in the Syrian port of Tartus on "Jan. 11 or 12," shipping expert Mikhail Voitenko said.
The ship Chariot arrived at Tartus on January 11 or 12," Voitenko said Jan. 14, basing his conclusions on an examination of data from the vessel's automatic identification system transponder.
"After leaving Limassol, the ship set sail for Tartus. After travelling two-thirds of the way, the team unplugged the AIS transponder," he added.
He believed that the vessel has docked at the Syrian port, he said. It was Voitenko who in 2009 revealed the mysterious disappearance of an Arctic Sea ship, an incident that sparked international concern.
A source from the ship's operator Westberg said Jan. 13 that the ship transporting "dangerous" cargo was bound for Syria.
According to Russian media, the vessel may be transporting up to 60 tons of ammunition supplied by Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport through freight company Balchart.
Chariot stopped over in Cyprus for refueling and was allowed to set sail from the port of Limassol after its Russian owners agreed to change the destination to Turkey rather than Syria.
But the crew decided to revert to its original itinerary after leaving the Cypriot port, according to a Westberg source.
Westberg Ltd., which is headquartered in St Petersburg, could not be reached by AFP.
The United States on Jan. 13 raised concerns with Russia and Cyprus over the ship.
For 10 months now Syria has been in the grips of an uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. According to U.N. estimates made last month, the government crackdown has cost more than 5,000 lives.
Western leaders have called for the embattled strongman to step down but Moscow has steadfastly stuck by its ally.

Pakistani President, Army Chief Meet Amid Tenions

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari met the chief of the powerful Pakistani Army on Jan. 14 for rare face-to-face talks, a spokesman said, amid a civilian-military standoff that is shaking the government.
The unscheduled talks come against the background of shaky ties between Zardari's weak civilian administration and the military over a probe into a mysterious memo that sought US help in curbing the army's power.
"Chief of the army staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani called on President Zardari in his office today," the president's spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.
Babar gave few details about the meeting beyond that, saying the "current security situation came under discussion."
Kayani, widely regarded as the most powerful figure in Pakistan, is also attended a meeting of a defense committee, which comprises senior ministers and military chiefs, later in the day.
"The committee is likely to discuss matters related to defense and national security," a government official said.
He declined to comment when asked whether the meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, would help defuse tension between the civilian and military leadership.
Pakistan has been under military dictatorships for about half its history since independence in 1947, its civilian leaders thrown out in three coups.
But despite current tensions, analysts say another coup is unlikely and they instead predict early elections, possibly in the first half of this year.
The "Memogate" scandal centers on an unsigned note allegedly sent by an aide of Zardari to the U.S. military last May, apparently to avert a possible coup after the killing of Osama bin Laden by the U.S. in Pakistan.
The memo has pitted the Pakistani Army against Zardari's government, and the Supreme Court is now tasked with deciding whether the government endorsed the note and, if so, if it can remain in power.
In an unusually bold interview with Chinese media, Gilani earlier this week accused the Army and intelligence chiefs of failing to make their submissions to the commission investigating the memo through government channels,.
The Army vociferously denied Gilani's accusation and said it had passed its response through the defense ministry to the court in accordance with the law, ratcheting up tensions between the two sides.
The Jan. 14 defense committee meeting is, among other items, expected to finalize recommendations to frame new rules of engagement with NATO following the November 26 air strikes on a border post that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

U.S. Draws Up Contingencies in Case Israel Attacks Iran: Report

WASHINGTON - The U.S. government is concerned that Israel is preparing to take military action against Iran over U.S. objections, and has stepped up contingency planning to safeguard U.S. facilities in the region, The Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 13.
The newspaper said U.S. President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top officials have delivered a series of private messages to Israeli leaders, warning about the dire consequences of a strike.
Obama spoke by telephone Jan. 12 with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, will meet with Israeli military officials in Tel Aviv next week, the report said.
The report said that the U.S. military was preparing for a number of possible responses to an Israeli strike, including assaults by pro-Iranian Shiite militias in Iraq against the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Up to 15,000 U.S. diplomats, federal employees and contractors still remain in Iraq.
To help deter Iran, the United States is maintaining 15,000 troops in Kuwait, and has moved a second aircraft carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf area, the report said.