A message from The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall to The Prime Minister of Australia about the flooding in Queensland

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January 05, 2011 (KATAKAMI / PRINCEOFWALES.GOV.UK) — Clive Alderton, Private Secretary for Commonwealth and Foreign Affairs to the office of The Prime Minister of Australia: “The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall have been deeply moved by news of the flooding in Queensland. The Prince of Wales has asked if you could kindly arrange for the following message to be delivered to the Prime Minister as soon as possible, please.”

The message from Their Royal Highnesses:

“My wife and I have been horrified by reports of the terrible flooding in Queensland. The scale of the disaster all but defies belief and, on behalf of us both, I just wanted you to know how much our hearts go out to the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives and property have been affected. I also wanted to say how enormously impressed we have been by what is, clearly, outstanding combined work of the military, emergency services, Federal and State authorities in ensuring that people are evacuated to places of safety.

As we all mark the start of a New Year I can only pray that the worst of the flooding is over and send you every possible good wish as you work for the recovery of the many communities involved.”  (*)

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The GOP Opportunity

 

John Boehner

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The main Republican task will be framing the issues for 2012.

 


January 05, 2011 (KATAKAMI / WSJ) — John Boehner takes the Speaker’s gavel from Nancy Pelosi today, and the transfer represents much more than a change in partisan control. It marks perhaps the sharpest ideological shift in the House in 80 years, and it could set the stage for a meaningful two-year debate over the role of government and the real sources of economic prosperity.

We say “could” because much depends on which Republican Party chooses to show up. Will it be the incumbent-protection and business interest-group machine that prevailed under the final years of Tom DeLay? Or will it remember that the real sources of it power and legitimacy are the tea party activists and independents who voted for Republicans in November? So far the signs suggest the latter, but the forces of Beltway inertia are formidable and will weigh on the drive to change the politics of K Street perks and payoffs.

***

Merely in taking the gavel, Mr. Boehner will fulfill his most important mandate, which is stopping the damage done by the two Pelosi Congresses. To adapt the Hippocratic Oath, first there will be no more economic harm. The GOP has already achieved a major victory on this score by preventing the tax increase that had been scheduled for this week.

That success alone seems to have had a cheering effect on the country’s economic mood, with businesses talking about new investment and investors bidding up stocks. Minority Leader Pelosi are three of the happiest words in the capitalist language.

The two-year tax reprieve was a compromise with President Obama, and there will be other bipartisan opportunities. One will be passing the Panama, Colombia and South Korea trade accords that Democrats ignored. A second will be war funding, and perhaps a third on promoting school choice as part of rewriting the No Child Left Behind Act. There may also be narrow spending cut deals if Mr. Obama concludes he must change his fiscal image from the man who has added $4 trillion to the deficit in two years.

 

John Boehner

Immigration reform should in theory be possible as well, given the business need for more skilled workers and the desire among immigrant groups for more legal paths to citizenship. It is also in the GOP’s political interest to take the issue off the table. But we fear Mr. Obama will want to play for the Hispanic vote in 2012 by portraying Republicans as anti-immigrant, and too many Republicans are also happy to call any compromise “amnesty” for their own political ends.

We do not expect much other common policy ground. The lesson we draw from the last two years is that Mr. Obama is a determined man of the left whose goal is to redistribute much larger levels of income across society. He may give tactical ground when he has no choice, as he did on taxes to avoid a middle-class tax increase. But he will resist to his last day any major changes to ObamaCare and the other load-bearing walls of the entitlement state. His abiding goal is to reverse Reaganism—permanently.

This means that Republicans should not expect much progress in reforming Social Security or Medicare, and they shouldn’t fall into the trap of proud but pointless votes on either one. Some of our friends on the right are already saying the GOP should march into the fixed bayonets on these programs, even if Senate Democrats are sure to kill their reforms. But one lesson of Newt Gingrich’s failure in 1995 is that such changes can’t be achieved from Capitol Hill amid Presidential opposition, and the GOP should not help Mr. Obama repeat Bill Clinton’s Mediscare campaign of 1996.

This cautious advice does not apply to ObamaCare, which Republicans should do everything in their power to undermine, defund and stigmatize. Mr. Boehner has planned a repeal vote in the House for as early as next week, and Mr. McConnell should quickly get Democrats on record in the Senate.

This will begin to frame the stakes for 2012, and from there the GOP can attack ObamaCare piece by piece. Postpone next year’s tax increase on branded pharmaceuticals and biotech, reform and restore funding for Medicare Advantage, repeal the long-term care insurance program that is already scheduled to be broke within a decade. Such votes will honor GOP campaign promises, continue to educate voters about the bill’s flaws, and perhaps even force Mr. Obama to use a veto or two.

The other advice we’d offer is to keep in mind that Republicans did not run in 2010 to be national accountants. While cutting spending to reduce the deficit, they should keep the political and policy focus on promoting economic growth and private job creation. This should be the larger avowed purpose of their cuts in spending, their scrutiny of new regulations, their proposals for tax reform, or their questioning of the Federal Reserve.

Thanks to the failure of the Obama-Pelosi spending stimulus, the voters are once again listening to Republicans on the economy. They should not cede that ground back by turning into mere deficit scolds.

 

***

In his personal modesty and rhetorical restraint, Mr. Boehner seems to understand that Republicans can’t govern from the House. What they can do is stake out a GOP agenda that begins to repair the damage of the Pelosi years, begins to shrink and reform the government, and tees up the debate for 2012. This is the great Republican opportunity of the 112th Congress.  (*)

 

US worried by rising anti-Christian attacks

Egyptian writers and intellectuals hold a candle-light protest in central Cairo on January 3, 2011 to condemn the New Year's Eve car bomb attack on a Coptic church in the northern Egyptian city of Alexandria in which 21 people were killed. AFP PHOTO/KHALED DESOUKI

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WASHINGTON, Jan 5 (KATAKAMI / THE STRAITS TIMES)  — THE Obama administration says it is ‘deeply concerned’ by what appears to be a rising number of attacks on Christians in the Middle East and Africa.

The State Department said on Tuesday that the US condemns religiously motivated violence and is disturbed by a recent string of attacks against Christians in Iraq, Egypt and Nigeria.

Spokesman PJ Crowley called for the governments in those countries to bring the perpetrators to justice.

A radical Muslim sect in Nigeria has claimed numerous recent attacks on Christian churches. In Alexandria, Egypt, on Saturday, a suicide bomber killed 21 Coptic Christians outside a church.

Iraq’s tiny Christian community has been hit hard by recent attacks, including a late October church siege in Baghdad that left 68 people dead. — AP

South Korea to urge North Korea to take responsible attitude before dialogue: official

Photo File : Vice Unification Minister Um Jong-sik

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SEOUL, Jan. 5 (KATAKAMI / Yonhap) — South Korea will stick to its current policy on North Korea, seeking to get the communist neighbor to understand it should respect Seoul and take a responsible attitude if it wants dialogue, a senior official said Wednesday.

“We should try to get North Korea to change in a desirable way and take a sincere and responsible attitude so that fair South-North relations can be formed,” Vice Unification Minister Um Jong-sik said in a radio interview. “The door for dialogue is always open, but (the North) should respect its dialogue counterpart.”

North Korea has made a series of dialogue overtures after sharply escalating tensions with a deadly artillery strike on a South Korean island in November. In its New Year’s message, Pyongyang stressed the importance of improved relations and dialogue with South Korea. (*)

British Prime Minister David Cameron promises start-up business help for unemployed

FILE : British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during a joint press conference with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, at 10 Downing Street in London, Tuesday Dec. 21, 2010. .(AP Photo/Carl de Souza, pool)

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January 05, 2011 (KATAKAMI / BBC) — The government will provide more money to help unemployed people who want to set up their own companies, David Cameron has announced.

The prime minister said New Enterprise Allowance projects, offering start-up loans and weekly allowances, could create 40,000 businesses by 2013.

He predicted the next few years could be “some of the most dynamic and entrepreneurial in our history”.

The government has doubled the size of the planned scheme.

Under it, those who have been claiming unemployment benefits for more than six months will be offered up to £2,000 of financial support – including a start-up loan and a weekly allowance – as well as advice from a mentor with experience in business.

‘Relentless’

Applicants will have to provide a business plan which is judged to be viable.

The programme will be launched later this month in Merseyside and rolled out nationwide by the autumn.

Mr Cameron said: “Throughout this year and beyond we will be focused relentlessly on supporting growth and driving job creation across our economy.

“Backing new enterprises to start up and small businesses to grow will be what transforms our economy and will deliver the many thousands of new jobs we will see created this year.

“It is vital that we ensure businesses, and those people who find themselves out of work but have the drive and desire to set up their own business, have all the advice, support and mentoring they need. Together we can make the years ahead some of the most dynamic and entrepreneurial in our history.”

Mr Cameron also announced that an overhaul of the government’s online resources for business will be completed by April.

More than 170 publicly funded websites are being streamlined into a single site for business at http://www.businesslink.gov. (*)

U.S. envoy holds talks with S. Korean negotiator over N. Korea

Stephen Bosworth (L), the U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy, holds talks with South Korea's chief nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac in Seoul on Jan. 5. (Yonhap)

 

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SEOUL, Jan. 5 (KATAKAMI / Yonhap) — The U.S. special envoy on North Korea met with South Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator Wednesday for discussions expected to focus on how best to use the option of dialogue to get Pyongyang to cease provocations and give up nuclear programs.

Talk of restarting the long-stalled nuclear disarmament negotiations with the North has gained traction as the U.S. prepares for a summit with China, which has strongly called for dialogue to reduce tensions, and as Pyongyang has shown a growing willingness to talk.

Stephen Bosworth, Washington’s special representative for North Korea policy, called for “serious negotiations” as a central strategy to deal with the communist nation, as he arrived in South Korea on Tuesday for talks with Seoul’s main nuclear envoy, Wi Sung-lac.

“We believe that serious negotiations must be at the heart of any strategy for dealing with North Korea, and we look forward to being able to launch those at a reasonably early time,” Bosworth told reporters at Incheon International Airport.

On Wednesday, Bosworth held talks with Wi. Though details were not immediately available, their discussions were expected to include the conditions that the North must meet before resuming the nuclear talks, such as halting its nuclear development and allowing international nuclear monitors back into the country.

Bosworth later met with Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, saying at the start of the meeting that he hopes South Koreans are “impressed and reassured by the very close coordination of policy that we’ve been undertaking over the last several months.”

Bosworth is scheduled to meet with Unification Minister Hyun In-taek later in the day.

His trip to the region, which will also take him to China and Japan, comes ahead of a summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao set for Jan. 19 in Washington where North Korea is expected to be a key topic.

China has called for restarting the six-party nuclear talks to curb tensions that were heightened after North Korea’s deadly shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island in November and the revelations that it has a uranium enrichment facility for a suspected new atomic weapons program.

North Korea has also been signaling a growing willingness to resume negotiations.

In its New Year’s message issued Saturday, Pyongyang stressed the importance of improved relations and dialogue with South Korea and said that it wants to achieve peace in the region and make the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.

South Korea and the U.S. have urged Pyongyang to first demonstrate through action its commitment to give up nuclear programs and improve relations with Seoul if it wants to reopen the nuclear talks, a stance that reflects deep skepticism about a regime that has abused negotiations to only get concessions.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley reiterated the demand.

“We do want to see specific things from North Korea, including a reduction of tension between North and South, an end to provocations and a seriousness of purpose with respect to” a 2005 disarmament-for-aid deal, he said. “We have to be assured that dialogue would be constructive. We don’t just want to have talks for talks’ sake.”

The six-party talks have been deadlocked since the last session in December 2008 due to a North Korean boycott. The talks bring together the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S.  (*)

Death in Islamabad: Pakistani Governor Killed by Own Bodyguard

FILE : In this picture dated on August 19, 2010 Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (L) walks with Pakistani Punjab governor Salman Taseer in Jampur. On January 4, 2011 Pakistan's governor of Punjab was shot dead near his Islamabad home in a political assassination that threatens to sink the nuclear-armed country ever deeper into chaos. (Photo by FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)

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January 05, 2011 (KATAKAMI / ABC NEWS) ) — When he got to work this morning, police officer Mumtaz Qadri asked to be assigned to theGovernor of Punjab‘s security detail. Qadri was a member of Punjab’s elite police force, he had guarded the Governor before, and he got the assignment he was looking for.

As Governor Salman Taseer made a morning visit to the popular and upscale Khosar Market in the capital, Islamabad, Qadri was the lead security guard. The governor had a meal at one of the market’s restaurants, and was getting into his car when Mumtaz Qadri turned and opened fire, at close range, on the man he was supposed to have been protecting.

Salman Taseer died almost instantly. Hospital officials say they found nine bullets in the Governor’s corpse.

The attack would have been a tragic and compelling story anywhere — but the dateline and motive for the killing could mean grave trouble for Pakistan, for moderation, and for the United States.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton today called his death “a great loss.” In a statement she said, “I had the opportunity to meet Governor Taseer in Pakistan and I admired his work to promote tolerance and the education of Pakistan’s future generations.”

The United States remains committed to helping the government and people of Pakistan as they persevere in their campaign to bring peace and stability to their country.

Salman Taseer was Governor of Pakistan’s most important province, a bold and controversial politician, and a voice for moderation in an increasingly militant and anti-American nation. Taseer was a senior leader of the late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, and it appears he met the same fate as Ms. Bhutto for some of the same reasons.

Today’s killing, as ABC’s Nick Schifrin put it, “isn’t just a terrorist act or a political assassination. It is a violent proclamation by Pakistani radicals that they will kill anyone who argues Pakistan should become a more secular, progressive state.”

Gov. Taseer and his family lived a Western lifestyle, and he recently advocated changing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which call for a mandatory death sentence for anyone convicted of insulting Islam.

Today Qadri, Taseer’s killer, told police he had decided on the assassination three days ago, and was proud to have killed “a blasphemer,” according to investigators.

Some reports suggest that his fellow bodyguards congratulated the killer; others say none of the others raised a finger while the bullets flew. The other guards have all been taken into custody for questioning.

The focus of that questioning, no doubt, will be the possibility that radicals have infiltrated Pakistan’s security services. The killer was a trained commando — an elite officer. If he was able to get himself inside the commandos, there’s a fear that radicals can infect all levels of the police and, to a lesser extent, the Pakistani army.

The supposedly liberal and secularPakistan People’s Party — which President Zardari leads and Taseerbelonged to — had already cowed to religious parties’ requests and promised not to touch the blasphemy laws. Taseer’s death can therefore be seen as an even more brazen and appalling statement by the radicals that they will go to any extremes against a more secular, liberal, society.

The site of the assassination underscores the point: Khosar Market is associated strongly with Westerners and elite Pakistanis who enjoy Starbucks-style coffee shops. It’s as Western as it gets in Islamabad.

Finally, and perhaps most worrisome of all for the U.S., Governor Taseer’s killing comes as the government is fighting for its survival after two parties withdrew from the coalition.

Just today the main opposition party gave the government three days to present policy fixes for the nation — or face a no-confidence move in the parliament. Ironically, the assassination has provided the government a little breathing room; that three-day ultimatum has been postponed, until the 40-day mourning period for Governor Taseer is over.

For now, one of the United States’ most crucial allies — already plagued by corruption, grave economic problems and a powerful insurgency — must face the prospect of serious and long-term instability. And the possibility that moderation in Pakistan — in short supply already — may have been among the assassin’s victims.  (*)

Egypt : 'Church bomber sought more carnage'

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January 05, 2011 (KATAKAMI / PRESSTV.IR) — The bomber who attacked a Coptic church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria probably intended to detonate his bomb inside the building to kill as many people as possible, the police say.

Egyptian investigators issued a report on Monday saying police guards had prevented the attacker, who set off his explosives outside the church on New Year’s Eve, from entering the house of worship, AFP reported.

The most helpful clue the police have found at the scene is an amputated head, which is believed to belong to the attacker. They hope to identify the bomber if surgeons succeed in reconstructing the head’s features.

The attack spawned three days of protests by Christians involving clashes with security forces. The protesters have blamed the government for not doing enough to provide security for the minority, which accounts for 10 percent of the country’s 80 million people.

Reports say more threats have been issued against Coptic churches in Egypt and Europe on several websites.

Police in France, Germany, Australia, and Britain say they are boosting security measures to address any possible threat.

No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing, which killed 21 people and injured over 80 others.

On Saturday, President Hosni Mubarak blamed “foreign hands” for the deadly attack and promised to stand up to terrorists. He also urged Muslims and Christians to maintain solidarity.

Egyptian police say they have detained 17 people in connection with the attack.

Earlier, Pope Benedict XVI called on the leaders of nations to protect Christians.

However, the Pope’s remarks were severely criticized by Egypt’s top Muslim cleric, Ahmed al-Tayeb, as “unacceptable interference in Egypt’s internal affairs.” (*)

Amid massive security, Egypt's Christians protest peacefully

Hundreds of security officers in riot gear herd supporters of Coptic Christians through Shubra, a Cairo suburb, on Tuesday

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January 05, 2011. Cairo, Egypt (KATAKAMI / CNN) — Hundreds of supporters of Egyptian Christians protesting a New Year’s bombing that killed nearly two dozen of their members marched Tuesday night on a church in a Cairo suburb, where they were met by an equal number of security officers in riot gear.

For the first night since the car bomb, which detonated in front of a Coptic church in Alexandria, there were no reports of violence during the protests.

The car bombing death toll rose to 23, Egypt’s state news agency MENA reported Tuesday.

Christians and Muslim supporters in the Shubra neighborhood of Cairo shouted their outrage over the Alexandria attack on Coptic Christians.

“With my blood and my soul I will defend the cross,” chanted crowds of protesters, as they wended their way down Shubra Street toward a church. Some carried crosses — up to 4 feet (1.22 meters) long — emblazoned with messages of protest written in red ink to represent blood. Some protesters lay down on the street, prostrating themselves in the shape of a cross.

Protests had broken out in Christian areas of Egypt every night since the car bombing outside the Church of the Two Saints. But security forces beefed up their presence Tuesday in Shubra and Alexandria. Hundreds of officers — outfitted in helmets with visors, body armor and carrying shields and night sticks — lined the street, leaving a path for the Shubra demonstrators to pass.

Millions of people live in the Shubra neighborhood, home to a strong Christian population and many churches.

About 9 percent of Egypt’s 80 million residents are Coptic Christians, according to the CIA’s World Fact Book.

The Coptic Church bases its theology on the teachings of the Apostle Mark, who introduced Christianity to Egypt, according to St. Takla Church in Alexandria, the capital of Coptic Christianity. The religion is known for its rift with other Christians in the fifth century over the definition of the divinity of Jesus Christ.  (*)

 

British Foreign Secretary William Hague "shocked" at the death of Governor of Punjab

FILE : William Hague

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January 05, 2011 (KATAKAMI / UK Embassy in Indonesia) — Foreign Secretary William Hague has spoken following the assassination of Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab on 4 January.

“I am shocked to hear of the assassination of Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, in Islamabad on 4 January. His death will be a loss to the leadership of Pakistan. On behalf of the British Government I send my condolences to Mr Taseer’s family, friends and colleagues.”   (*)

Photostream : Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visits the Roza Khutor ski resort in Sochi

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, and Interros Investment Company President Vladimir Potanin, left, ride in a mountain lift to visit the Roza Khutor ski resort that is under construction for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, near the Black Sea resort of Sochi, southern Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. The preparation for the Olympics in Sochi, has “actually entered its final phase,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday at the first working meeting on the heritage of the 2014 Olympic Games, ITAR-TASS reported. The president drew attention of the participants in the meeting held at the Roza Khutor ski resort to the fact that slightly more than three years remain before the opening of the Olympics. “This project is super large-scale for our country. Not because any Olympics is a very big project, not because we have not the easiest conditions here. The project is ambitious - in terms of the construction volumes and financing, as well as the organisational complexity,” Medvedev explained. (AP Photo / RIA Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, left, visits a ski resort Roza Khutor that is under construction for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, near the Black Sea resort of Sochi, southern Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev looks on as he visits the ski resort of Roza Khutor that is under construction for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, near the Black Sea resort of Sochi, southern Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service, pool)

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, second left, and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, left, ride in a mountain lift to visit Roza Khutor ski resort that is under construction for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, near the Black Sea resort of Sochi, southern Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, center, flanked by Interros Investment Company President Vladimir Potanin, left, and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, right, visits the Roza Khutor ski resort that is under construction for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, near the Black Sea resort of Sochi, southern Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk : Presidential plane crash caused by 'decision to land'

 

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk

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WARSAW, January 5 (KATAKAMI / RIA Novosti) – Last year’s crash of a Polish presidential plane in western Russia was caused by the crew’s decision to land, but Russian air traffic controllers are also to blame, the Polish prime minister told the TVN24 channel.

“The disaster would have been avoided, if not for the decision to land. But putting the blame solely on pilots would be too simple,” Donald Tusk said, adding that numerous causes were behind the tragedy, including a permission to land from Russian air traffic controllers.

“This is one of the reasons why a report from IAC [Interstate Aviation Committee] does not seem 100% fair to me,” he added.

RIP. The death toll included the country's President and wife, its central bank head and the country's military chief along with other senior government and military figures.

In mid-December Tusk announced that Poland had a number of problems with Russia’s report on the causes of the plane crash and could not accept the document in its present form.

The worn-out Tu-154 crashed in thick fog near the Russian city of Smolensk April 10 while carrying then president Lech Kaczynski and other senior Polish officials. All 96 people onboard – 88 passengers and eight crew members – died instantly.  (*)

Medvedev to ski with Schwarzenegger

Dmitry Medvedev at the Krasnaya Polyana mountain ski resort

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January 04, 2011 (KATAKAMI / RIA NOVOSTI) — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has accepted Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to go skiing.

“@Schwarzenegger: Thanks. We agreed – I remember. We’ll definitely find the time,” Medvedev wrote on Twitter.

Action movie star Schwarzenegger, who on Monday stepped down as California governor, earlier used his Twitter account to invite the Russian leader to ski with him.

Medvedev, one of whose hobbies is mountain skiing, wished good luck and success in new undertakings to the “Governator” on Monday.

Schwarzenegger, 63, was California’s Republican governor for seven years. He was first elected to the post in October 2003 and was re-elected in November 2006. Arnold left office with low approval ratings as the state is mired in debt and high unemployment.

As Schwarzenegger left, many are asking what the actor-turned-politician will do next. The possibilities include continuing work on environmental and reform issues, writing an autobiography and making a big Hollywood comeback.

Medvedev met with Schwarzenegger last summer, when the then governor showed him the Silicon Valley. Schwarzenegger came to Russia last fall at the head of a delegation of high-tech executives and venture businessmen and visited the high-tech research hub of Skolkovo.  (*)

MOSCOW, January 4

Iran Confirms Invitations to Tour Nuclear Sites

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility (file photo)

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January 04, 2011 (KATAKAMI / VOA) — Iran has invited foreign diplomats to tour its nuclear facilities, but diplomats say Tehran has left out several key world powers.

Iranian officials have suggested that the all-expenses-paid visit take place on January 15 and 16, ahead of Iran’s talks on its nuclear program in Istanbul later this month with world powers. Representatives of the P5+1, a group comprised of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, are scheduled to be meet with Iranian officials later this month.

Diplomats familiar with the invitations said Monday that Iran sent them to Russia and China – two of the P5+1 members – along with Egypt, Cuba and Hungary, which currently holds the EU presidency.

But the diplomats said Iran did not invite the other four P5+1 members – the United States, Britain, France and Germany.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tuesday that invitations were extended to representatives of some European Union countries, some members of a group of non-aligned nations and some of the P5 +1 members.

The U.S. has been one of the harshest critics of Iran’s nuclear program, which it suspects is being used to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful means. 

China has confirmed it has received an invitation, but did not specify if it will send a representative.  A foreign ministry spokesman said China is in communication with Iran.  

Iranian state-run media quote Mehmanparast as saying his country’s invitations are in line with previous measures regarding its “transparent and peaceful nuclear activities.”

Iranian officials say the tour would include a visit to the country’s uranium enrichment site at Natanz as well as its heavy water facility at Arak.

Western powers want Iran to halt its enrichment program, which they suspect is a cover for an effort to build a nuclear arsenal.  Iran says it has the right to enrich uranium for civilian use and asserts that it does not want atomic weapons.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed four sets of sanctions on Iran for its refusal to suspend enrichment.  The U.S., the EU and other nations also have imposed economic sanctions on Tehran.  (*)

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