Wednesday, June 27, 2012

U.S. sees momentum on South China Sea code---------Defense News

WASHINGTON — The United States said on June 27 it saw momentum in talks between China and Southeast Asia on agreeing to a code of conduct to ease deep friction over competing claims in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is likely to be high on the agenda when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads next month to Cambodia for talks of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and regional powers including China.
Kurt Campbell, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said he understood that a draft proposal on a code of conduct was being discussed and that the United States expected to hear more details while in Cambodia.
“What we have seen of late has been an increase in diplomacy between ASEAN and China about aspects associated with a potential code of conduct,” Campbell told a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“I will say that we are frankly impressed with the level of focus that particularly ASEAN has given to this,” Campbell said.
Campbell did not give more details on the potential code of conduct and acknowledged that disputes over the South China Sea are “fraught with difficulty.”
“They spur nationalist sentiment across the region as a whole and it is extraordinarily important to deal with them with great delicacy,” he said.
ASEAN and China agreed in 2002 to negotiate a code of conduct. But there has been little visible progress, with a rising China preferring to negotiate with each country individually instead of dealing with a unified bloc.
ASEAN foreign ministers, meeting in April in Phnom Penh, said they hoped to narrow differences and sign a code of conduct with China by the end of the year.
The Philippines and Vietnam accuse China of aggressively asserting its claims in recent years, leading to minor clashes that diplomats and military commanders fear could quickly escalate into major conflicts.
The United States have recently expanded military relations with the Philippines and Vietnam, part of what President Barack Obama’s administration has cast as a growing U.S. focus on relations with Asia.
The details of the code of conduct remained murky. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, speaking to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 2, said the code should set a binding “rules-based framework” to prevent and manage disputes.
At the annual ASEAN talks in 2010 in Vietnam, Clinton said the United States had a “national interest” in open access to the South China Sea, through which half of the world’s trade flows.
Her statement generated a wide response in Asia, with Southeast Asian nations largely welcoming the remarks and stepping up cooperation with the United States but China accusing her of fanning tensions.
Campbell said Clinton was also looking to visit Laos. If confirmed, the trip would be the first by a U.S. secretary of state to Laos since the communist victory in 1975.
The United States established normal trade ties with Laos in 2004 and has been studying ways to clean up ordnance. The United States dropped millions of bombs on Laos during the Vietnam War to cut off Hanoi’s supply lines.
U.S. relations with Laos have remained uneasy largely due to concerns over treatment of the Hmong, a hill people who assisted U.S. forces during the Vietnam War and have reported persecution afterward.
One signature effort of the Obama administration has been reaching out to another long-isolated nation — Myanmar.
The country formerly known as Burma has undertaken dramatic reforms since last year including allowing elections in which opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in parliament.
U.S. senators said Wednesday that they expected soon to confirm Derek Mitchell as the first U.S. ambassador to Myanmar in more than 20 years.

Cartwright: China, S. Korea Need To Pressure North Korea---------Defense News

The United States should take a back seat to China and South Korea when it comes to applying pressure on North Korea, according to an influential, retired U.S. general.
“We could probably do a substantial amount of solving the problems of North Korea if we would let South Korea and China work the problem,” said retired Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, who retired last year as the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Cartwright’s comments came during a June 26 presentation at an event sponsored by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
“Once you start to introduce commerce, risk equations change substantially,” he said, noting both China and South Korea have built roads and rail lines up to the North Korean border.
“But as long as we’re there, it looks like a wartime footing. We’ve just got to think our way through how to do this,” he said.
The U.S. has about 28,000 troops based on the Korean Peninsula.
Cartwright, who since his retirement has been outspoken on defense issues such as nuclear deterrence and cybersecurity, said the United States should partner with China to make sure nations in the region “are taken care of, that they have access to goods, that they can move their goods.”
“We’re better off solving these problems if we do so with China,” he said.
Cartwright said there needs to be an authoritative venue that could address nations’ claims of natural resources under the South China Sea.

Russia May Fly Military Cargo to Syria: Report------------Defense News

MOSCOW — Russia may decide to fly a controversial military cargo of helicopters and air defense systems to Syria after it abandoned an attempt to ship the material by sea, according to a June 27 report.
The West wants Russia to halt military cooperation with Syria because of the escalating conflict between the Damascus regime and rebels, but Moscow has insisted it cannot break contracts.
A freighter, the Alaed, docked in the Russian Arctic port of Murmansk over the weekend after turning back off the British coast. The ship halted its voyage to Syria to deliver the military cargo when its British insurer dropped coverage.
“The three Mi-25 helicopters and air defense systems could easily be delivered to Syria by air,” a military source, who was not identified, told the Interfax news agency.
“Russia has to fulfill its obligations. But everything will depend on if we can resist pressure from the West, who want us to break military cooperation with Syria,” the source said, adding a decision would be made soon.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has confirmed the Alaed was carrying three attack helicopters Moscow had repaired for Damascus under a previous agreement.
He said last week the cargo also included air defense systems but gave no further details on the type or quantity on board.
Russia delivers a range of limited air defense systems to Syria but reportedly has refused to provide the more advanced S-300 technology that it had previously also failed to give to Iran under Western pressure.
The Vedomosti business daily reported June 26 that Russia this year chose to withhold the S-300 from Syria, despite a $105 million delivery contract being signed by the system’s producer and Damascus in 2011.
Military experts have speculated that the Alaed was carrying the more basic Russian Buk-M2e air defense systems for Syria, whose forces last week shot down a Turkish warplane off the Syrian coast.
In Murmansk, the Alaed’s flag has been changed to a Russian flag from that of the Caribbean island of Curacao.
But Russia has yet to confirm if the ship will now make a repeat attempt to reach the Syrian port of Tartus or travel on to Russia’s Far East port city of Vladivostok as originally planned.

U.S. Pays High Price for Pakistan Route Cut-Off: Admiral

WASHINGTON — Moving supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan via Central Asia costs three times as much as routes through Pakistan, which Islamabad shut seven months ago in anger, a senior U.S. officer said June 27.
“On the ground, it’s almost three times more expensive to come from the north as it does from Pakistan. More expensive and slower,” said Vice Adm. Mark Harnitchek, director of the Defense Logistics Agency.
NATO now uses an alternative network of northern routes that pass through Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Transporting a container from the United States to Afghanistan costs about $20,000, he told a group of defense reporters.
But the cost of ferrying cargo to the Pakistani port of Karachi and then over roads to the Afghan border amounts to only a third of that price, he said.
Pakistan imposed a blockade on NATO supply convoys after 24 of its soldiers were killed by mistake in a U.S. air strike in November along the Afghan border.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said earlier this month that the Pakistan border closure costs the United States an additional $100 million a month.
Before the route cut-off, about 30 percent to 40 percent of the fuel used by coalition forces came through Pakistan.
Fuel is now transported over land via the northern routes, while food is flown in on cargo aircraft, he said.
“It was challenging initially and we took a bit of a dip there in terms of days of supply. But now our stocks of food and fuel have never been higher,” Harnitchek said.
The supply routes will be on the agenda when the commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, meets his counterparts in Pakistan on June 27, officials said.
U.S. officials raised expectations in May that a deal was imminent with Pakistan on the reopening of the routes, but no announcement came and Washington withdrew its team of negotiators.
The United States has refused to issue a formal apology over the air strikes, despite appeals from Pakistan.
Amid continued deadlock, the Pentagon on June 27 expressed hope that a deal eventually could be reached on the supply routes.
“I think there is reason for optimism. I think we’re reaching a point in our relationship with Pakistan that suggests that things are settling down a bit,” spokesman George Little told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.
“I think the basis for some kind of agreement on the GLOCs (ground lines of communication) is there and is real and we hope that we reach a resolution,” he said.