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Indo-US nuke deal aimed at making world more secure: Sen

WASHINGTON, Dec 27: Dismissing the notion that its agreement with the US on sharing civilian nuclear technology amounts to weakening of non-proliferation regime, India has said the deal is based on a "very close" understanding of security interests of the two countries and aimed at making the world more secure.

"India has a unique track record. It is the first country in Asia to build a nuclear reactor on its own. You are talking about a country which has about 50 years of experience of handling nuclear assets," Indian Ambassador to the US Ronen Sen said in an interview to the 'Dallas Morning News'.

He rejected the notion that the Indo-US nuclear deal amounts to weakening of the non-proliferation regime. "Absolutely not. It is based on a very close understanding of the national security interests of both our countries and to making the world a safer and more secure place," he told the paper.

Citing "with justifiable pride" India's track record on proliferation, Sen said "nothing has leaked from India. We put into place such tight controls on preventing anything from leaving our country. And we've had these in place much before they were codified in international treaties and norms. It's an impeccable track record. And this is recognised."

He said that one reason why the agreement is so important to India in spite of the country's long know-how with nuclear technology is because of the fact that India is "uniquely disadvantaged" in terms of access to energy resources.

Bush: Iraqi intelligence was faulty

WASHINGTON: On the eve of Iraq's historic election for a four-year parliament, President Bush on Wednesday praised U.S. efforts in Iraq to fight terrorism and to create a new Mideast democracy.

"We are living through a watershed moment in the story of freedom," Bush said during his fourth and final speech leading up to Thursday's vote. "Iraqis will go to the polls to choose a government that will be the only constitutional democracy in the Arab world. Yet we need to remember that these elections are also a vital part of a broader strategy in protecting the American people against the threat of terrorism."

Bush also accepted responsibility for invading Iraq based on faulty intelligence. "It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As president I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq," Bush said. "And I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities. And we're doing just that."

Bush's address at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington follows a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll that indicates fewer Americans are opposed to the U.S.-led war there.

Forty-eight percent of respondents to the new poll said they thought it was a mistake to send U.S. troops to Iraq, as opposed to 54 percent of those polled last month. Fifty percent said it was not a mistake, compared to 45 percent last month. The president's approval rating is 42 percent -- up 4 per cent from November.

A successful election in Iraq on Thursday to establish the nation's first permanent, democratically elected government would do much to bolster the theme of Bush's speeches: that his administration's war is working.

"We are in Iraq today because our goal has always been more than the removal of a brutal dictator. It is to leave a free and democratic Iraq in its place," Bush said.

In the poll, 49 percent of respondents said neither side is winning the war, 13 percent said the insurgents are winning and 36 percent said the United States is winning. On Monday, speaking in Philadelphia, the cradle of the U.S. Constitution, Bush compared Iraq's struggles with American history.

"It took a four-year civil war and a century of struggle after that before the promise of our Declaration (of Independence) was extended to all Americans," Bush said. "It is important to keep this history in mind as we look at the progress of freedom and democracy in Iraq."

The president unexpectedly took questions from the audience, including one from a woman who asked Bush how many Iraqi "civilians, military, police, insurgents, translators" had been killed in the war. "I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis," Bush said. "We've lost about 2,140 of our own troops in Iraq."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan later said Bush was basing his statement on media reports, "not an official government estimate."

About 160,000 American troops are in Iraq. The Pentagon says it hopes to reduce the number to 138,000 by the summer and 100,000 by the end of 2006.

During his speech December 7, Bush said the United States has succeeded in helping Iraq improve its economy and infrastructure -- which he called the "battle after the battle."

"Over the course of this war, we have learned that winning the battle for Iraqi cities is only the first step," Bush said. "We also have to win the battle after the battle by helping Iraqis consolidate their gains and keep the terrorists from returning."

And during his first speech of the series, on November 30, Bush told students at the U.S. Naval Academy, "As Iraqi forces gain experience and the political process advances, we will be able to decrease our troop level in Iraq without losing our capability to defeat the terrorists."

India heading for double digit growth: Adams

By Deepak Arora

NEW YORK: The US has expressed confidence that India is on way to double digit growth rate from current rate of 8 per cent and it is representing an increasing share of the global economy.

Speaking to a select group of foreign correspondents here, the US Under Secretary for International Affairs, Mr Timothy D Adams, said that India’s significant progress in implementing economic reforms and trade liberalization policies would ensure that New Delhi on only contributes on the agriculture side but also greatly benefit on service sector.

Mr Adams said India’s policies were helping it gain in the number of sectors such as exports and agriculture. He said that New Delhi was considering and hotly debating opening of financial services and retail sectors. “This will have a positive and rapid impact on India’s economy and will ensure that its growth rate goes well beyond 7 or 8 per cent.”

Mr Adams said trade liberalization was essential to enhancing global growth and poverty reduction and in this regard “we cannot allow the Doha Round to fail.
While urging EU and Japan to make significant moves forward on agriculture market access proposals, he urged the developing countries to redice their trade barriers and provide real market access in goods and services to both developed and developing countries.

In fact, Mr Adams said, a developing country could experience higher levels growth and development by opening its financial sector to foreign direct investment.

In this context, he welcomed the sentiments expressed by Brazil and India at the recent G7 Finance Minister meet in support for progress towards successful completion of the Doha Round.

Terror also must be wiped out from Pak: Bush

By Deepak Arora

WASHINGTON, Dec 8: The US President, Mr George Bush, has said that terror needs to be wiped not only from Iraq but also from several parts of the world, including tribal regions of Pakistan.

In defense of his war policy, President Bush said the war in Iraq is the central front on the war on terror. "Terrorists have made it clear that Iraq is the central front in a war against humanity, so we must recognize Iraq as the central front in the war on terror," said Bush in a speech hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C.

Bush's speech, which was focusing on economic progress in Iraq, was the second in a series of addresses to answer criticism and questions about US presence in Iraq. The administration has cited increases in Iraq's gross domestic product, work to boost oil production, the creation of new businesses and an explosion of cell phones as evidence of economic progress.

The President said "Like generations before us, we face setbacks on the path to victory, yet we will face this war without wavering. And like the generations before us, we will prevail. Like earlier struggles for freedom, this war will take many turns."

Mr Bush said "the enemy must be defeated on every battlefront, from the streets of Western cities to the mountains of Afghanistan to the tribal regions of Pakistan to the islands of Southeast Asia and the Horn of Africa."

Defending his strategy in Iraq, he said that reconstruction has been "uneven" but spreading economic progress is giving people hope for a democratic future.

In particular, the President cited Najaf, 90 miles south of Baghdad, and Mosul in northern Iraq - once the sites of some of the bloodiest battles of the war - as two cities where headway is being made, giving Iraqis more of a stake in their country's future.

"In places like Mosul and Najaf, residents are seeing tangible progress in their lives," Mr Bush said. "They're gaining a personal stake in a peaceful future and their confidence in Iraq's democracy is growing. The progress in these cities is being replicated across much of Iraq. And more of Iraq's people are seeing the real benefits that a democratic society can bring."

Mr Bush is shouldering the lowest job approval rating of his presidency, and the latest series of speeches amount to a public relations campaign to respond to political pressure that has mounted as US deaths have eclipsed 2,100. He and other administration officials are working to shore up slumping public support for the war in the run-up to the December 15 vote in Iraq to create a democratically elected government that will run the country for the next four years.

While Bush talked about reconstruction projects and the reopening of schools, markets and hospitals, the upgrading of roads and the growth of construction jobs in the two cities, he also acknowledged that both cities still face challenges.

"Iraqis are beginning to see that a free life will be a better life," Bush said.

"Reconstruction has not always gone as well as we had hoped, primarily because of the security challenges on the ground. Rebuilding a nation devastated by a dictator is a large undertaking."

10 US Marines killed in bombing near Fallujah

BAGHDAD, Dec 2: Ten US Marines conducting a foot patrol outside the Iraqi city of Fallujah were killed by a roadside bombing, the US Marines announced Friday.

The attack is one of the deadliest against U.S. troops in Iraq in recent months. In a statement released in Fallujah, the military said another 11 Marines were wounded in Thursday's blast, which was caused by an "improvised explosive device" fashioned from several large artillery shells. Seven of those wounded have been able to return to duty, the military said.

The statement said the Marines were from Regimental Combat Team 8, of the 2nd Marine Division. It added that Marines from the same unit continue to conduct counterinsurgency operations throughout Fallujah, which is about 30 miles west of Baghdad, and surrounding areas.

The names of those killed were withheld pending notification of their relatives, in line with usual military practice. Pentagon officials said they did not immediately have any information beyond was what contained in the Marine Corps statement.

Fallujah had been a stronghold of the insurgents until US forces, led by Marines, assaulted the city in November 2004. Since then the U.S. military and the Iraqi government have been working to rebuild the city and limit the return of insurgents.

Insurgents attack US bases in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Dec 1: Insurgents attacked several US bases and government offices with mortars and rockets Thursday before dispersing in the capital of western Iraq's Anbar province, residents and police said.

Iraq's interior minister, meanwhile, fired his top official for human rights in connection with a torture investigation. The attacks in Ramadi occurred as local tribal leaders and U.S. military officials were to hold their second meeting in a week at the governor's office in the city center. The insurgents apparently tried to shell the building, but reporters inside said there was no damage or injuries.

Police Lt. Mohammed Al-Obaidi said at least four mortar rounds fell near the US base on the eastern edge of the city, but that there were no reports of casualties. Residents said that scores of masked gunmen, believed to be members of Jordan-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq group, ran into the city's streets Thursday but dispersed after launching attacks with mortars and Russian-made Katyusha rockets.

Life in Ramadi quickly returned to normal after the shooting. The U.S. military said that only one rocket-propelled grenade was fired at an observation post and that there were no injuries or significant damage. The insurgents did leave behind posters and graffiti saying they were members of al-Qaida in Iraq and claiming responsibility for shooting down a U.S. drone. There were no reports of any U.S. drones being shot down, though.

Ramadi is the provincial capital of Anbar province, a Sunni stronghold, where clashes between insurgents and U.S. and Iraqi troops have left hundreds of people dead in the past two years. U.S. and Iraqi troops launched a joint operation near Ramadi on Wednesday, sweeping through an area used to rig car bombs.

About 500 Iraqi troops joined 2,000 U.S. Marines, soldiers and sailors in a move to clear insurgents from an area on the eastern side of the Euphrates river near Hit, 85 miles west of Baghdad, the U.S. command said in a statement. The offensive came as President Bush said he hopes to shift more of the military burden onto the Iraqis as part of a strategy to draw down American forces.

Bush maps out Iraq war strategy

By Deepak Arora

ANNAPOLIS (Maryland), Dec 1: Giving an unflinching defence of his war strategy, US President George Bush has refused to set a timetable for US troop withdrawals and asserted that once-shaky Iraqi troops were proving increasingly capable.

In his major address at the US Naval Academy here, Mr Bush brought together in a single package the administration's arguments for the war and assertions of progress on military, economic and political tracks.

The president said the U.S. military's role in Iraq will shift from providing security and fighting the enemy nationwide to more specialized operations targeted at the most dangerous terrorists. "We will increasingly move out of Iraqi cities, reduce the number of bases from which we operate and conduct fewer patrols and convoys," he said.

Bush's emphasis on the readiness of Iraqi security forces came at a time when continued violence in Iraq and the death of more than 2,000 US troops have contributed to a sharp drop in the President's popularity. Still, Bush remained steadfastly opposed to imposing a deadline for leaving Iraq. "Many advocating an artificial timetable for withdrawing our troops are sincere - but I believe they're sincerely wrong," Bush said. "Pulling our troops out before they've achieved their purpose is not a plan for victory."

There are about 160,000 US troops in Iraq. The Pentagon has not committed to any specific drawdown next year beyond the announced plan to pull back 28,000 troops who were added this fall for extra security during the election. The US strategy rests on the expectation that training a competent Iraqi security force and helping shepherd the election of a democratic government will stabilize the country and permit a gradual US military exit, possibly starting next year.

At this time last year, only a few Iraqi battalions were ready for combat, he said. Now more than 120 Iraqi army and police combat battalions are in the fight, Mr Bush said. Of those, about 80 are fighting side-by-side with US-led coalition forces and about 40 others are taking the lead.

Mr Bush said more than 30 Iraqi army battalions have assumed primary control of their own areas of responsibility. In Baghdad, Iraqi battalions have taken over major sectors of the capital, including some of the city's toughest neighbourhoods, he said. The coalition has handed over roughly 90 square miles of Baghdad province to Iraqi security forces, and Iraqi battalions have taken responsibility for areas in other parts of the country.

The President said that when the US-led coalition arrived in Iraq, it worked to create an Iraqi army that could defend the nation from external threats as well as a civil defense corps to provide protection inside its borders. But the civil force, without enough firepower or training, was no match for enemies toting machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, Mr Bush said.

In response, he said the civil force was moved into the Iraqi army and training was adjusted. Similarly, he said that when Iraqi police recruits were spending too much time in classroom lectures and getting too little training on how to use small arms, the program was changed to better prepare them for the fight they faced.

The president's address was accompanied by the release of a 35-page White House document titled "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq."
The 35-page fighting strategy maintains increasing numbers of Iraqi troops have been equipped and trained, a democratic government is being forged, Iraq's economy is being rebuilt and U.S. military and civilian presence will change as conditions improve.

The White House document said it was "not realistic" to expect a fully functioning democracy able to defeat its enemies less than three years after Saddam.

The Bush offensive comes as one of the closest U.S. war allies -- Britain -- and two early Iraq war opponents -- Germany and Canada -- face pressure at home after the kidnapping of some of their citizens in Iraq. Two Canadians, a Briton and an American, all working for a Christian humanitarian aid group, were seized in Baghdad on Saturday. A video showed them being held hostage by a group calling itself the "Swords of Truth."

The group accused the men of being "spies," but the aid agency that employed them denied that. A separate video was shown on German TV of a German archeologist and her driver who disappeared in Iraq on Friday. The group threatened to kill Susanne Osthoff and her driver unless Berlin stopped cooperating with the US-backed Iraqi government.

Ronen Sen warns on changes to Indo-US nuclear deal

WASHINGTON, Nov 23: Any moves by the US Congress to alter a landmark US-India nuclear agreement could undermine the "finely balanced" deal, according to Indian ambassador to Washington Ronen Sen.

The agreement would grant India access to nuclear technology it has been denied for more than two decades because it developed nuclear weapons and tested them. But prominent American critics complain it undermines non-proliferation and should be tightened up. The deal has also come under fire in India.

"It there's any loading on of what are seen to be additional obligations or changes, it could cause a sort of imbalance, which would undermine the very basis of the agreement (which is) finely balanced in terms of reciprocal obligations and benefits," he said in an interview late on Monday.

Sen indicated that New Delhi had not progressed very far in its centrepiece commitment under the July 18 agreement -- separation of India's military and civilian nuclear facilities to ensure that US nuclear cooperation with the civilian energy sector does not also benefit India's weapons programme.

But the envoy was adamant that his government could be counted on to fulfil its commitments.

"Since independence we have never ever violated an agreement ... We proceed with due deliberation and when we undertake a commitment we keep to that commitment," he said. Sen said India's needs over the next 25 years could total $80 billion as it seeks to expand an indigenous nuclear energy industry its leaders believe is crucial to economic growth.

US companies, including General Electric Co and Westinghouse Electric, a unit of a British state-owned company, are expected to be among the beneficiaries. Although a number of congressmen have questioned the nuclear deal, it is unclear if they will seek to amend it.

"I don't know if there will be modifications. Much will depend on the separation plan," that India proposes, a congressional aide who works on the issue but was not authorised to speak for the record said.

Congress is not expected to formally take action until 2006. US officials have said they would not ask Congress to act until after India proposes its separation plan. Under the plan, India would designate which of its nuclear facilities are military posts dedicated to nuclear weapons-related activities and which are civilian, engaged in peaceful energy production.

The civilian plants would for the first time come under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards and be open to inspection by IAEA inspectors.
Asked if India had started work on the separation plan, Sen said: "It's very complicated. It's not that easy. We have to work it out. We are going to work it out ... It's going to be in phases."

Undersecretary of State R Nicholas Burns, the US negotiator on the nuclear deal, in September presented Indian officials with a blueprint suggesting how the Americans might go about separating the Indian nuclear facilities. But the Indians gave it back, saying they could do it themselves, a US official and a source close to the administration said. "It's not supposed to be a joint determination. We know what it is and will proceed in terms of our own interest," Sen said.

US-India to hold dialogue on boosting high-tech trade

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Nov 24: Top US and Indian Government officials and high-technology industry leaders will discuss strategies aimed at increasing bilateral trade in defense technology, information technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology during a two-day meeting of the High-Tech Cooperation Group (HTCG) here beginning November 30.

The HTCG was founded in November 2002 to advance dialogue on the reduction of trade barriers for high-tech products and services while strengthening nonproliferation measures aimed at ensuring that sensitive technologies do not fall into the wrong hands.

US Under Secretary of Commerce David McCormick, who is leading the US delegation, told newsmen in Washington DC on Tuesday that the HTCG and parallel trade dialogues have had a tremendous impact on bilateral trade over the past three years. He said total U.S. exports to India nearly have doubled from $4 billion to $7.5 billion over the period.

He also said that the time required for companies to receive export licenses for dual-use technologies has dropped 40 percent to 50 percent over the period, while the approval rate on those licenses has climbed to 91 percent, which he said is comparable to the approval rates enjoyed by the United States' closest allies.

The under secretary said, however, that there still is room for improvement. "Even though there's been progress, there's enormous opportunity. How does one continue to expand high-tech trade at an accelerating rate?" he asked. "What are the barriers to that growth being even more substantial than it is today?"

McCormick praised India for passing legislation on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) aimed at strengthening the security regime around trade in potentially sensitive high-tech products. "The passage of the WMD law was a terrific symbolic and tangible action of the commitment that the Indian government has on this front," he said.

He said that the discussions in New Delhi would focus on export control policies and how regulations can be liberalized without compromising the two countries' nonproliferation objectives and on opportunities for expanding trade in key high-technology sectors. The HTCG dialogue, he said, has been "instrumental in creating a very positive foundation of trust and candor and goodwill between the United States and India."

H1-B visa hike plan in trouble

WASHINGTON, Nov 20: The plan to raise the H-1B visa cap by 30,000 has run into uncertainty with the House of Representatives not going along with provisions cleared by the Senate.

In a development, not entirely unexpected, the House on Friday passed its own version of a budget bill, without any provision to raise the existing annual H-1B limit of 65,000 visas.

The only hope now is negotiations between the two chambers to reconcile differences on a number of facets including the visa issue and come up with a common bill that could be passed and sent to the president for assent.

But this exercise, set to spill over to December, is up against heavy odds, largely because some other components of the bill dealing with spending cuts are far more controversial than the H-1B plan.

The Senate version of the bill, passed a fortnight ago, provided for 30,000 more of this coveted work visa in what was projected as a measure to "recapture" unused visas from previous years.

According to the US's IT industry, which has been lobbying for a H-1B step-up, 310,000 of sanctioned visas have remained unused over the last 15 years.

The only immigration provision in the House bill relates to another category of visas (L-1) - not about revising the numbers, but raising the fee for it by $1,500.

Rice brokers Israel-Palestinian deal on Gaza border

JERUSALEM, Nov 16: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brokered a deal on Gaza border crossings in marathon talks with Israel and the Palestinians on Tuesday, scoring a rare breakthrough in Middle East diplomacy.

Rice, who put her own reputation at stake by investing so personally in the negotiations, had postponed her departure to Asia for an APEC meeting, staying in Jerusalem an extra day until she secured an agreement on opening the Gaza-Egypt border.

Access to Gaza is key to strengthening the impoverished strip's economy and giving a boost to chances for peacemaking following Israel's withdrawal from the coastal territory in September after 38 years of occupation. Bleary-eyed after an almost sleepless night of hard-nosed bargaining, Rice praised the deal as a "good step forward". It hands the Palestinians control of a border for the first time.

"This agreement is intended to give the Palestinian people the freedom to move, to trade, to live ordinary lives," she told a news conference in Jerusalem before flying out. Rice said the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, the strip's gateway to the outside world, should open on November 25 with the presence of European Union security monitors.

Palestinians would also be able to start travelling in bus and truck convoys between Gaza and the occupied West Bank within months, and construction of a Gaza seaport would begin.

The main sticking point was Israel's insistence on monitoring passage of goods and people, saying it feared cross-border arms smuggling to militants. Palestinians said an Israeli presence at Rafah would impinge on their sovereignty.

A compromise was reached whereby Israeli and Palestinian security officers at an EU-run control room a few kilometres (miles) from Rafah will monitor remote-control cameras. If the Israelis want someone stopped or detained, they must ask their Palestinian counterparts to do so. If the Palestinians refuse, an appeal can be made to the EU team of police experts while the person in question is held for up to six hours.

US hopes India will repeat Iran vote

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Nov 14: The US hopes that India would again vote at an IAEA meeting this month on Iran's nuclear programme based on its national interests, like it did in September.

The US Ambassador, Dr David C Mulford, and the former US Secretary of Defence, Mr William S Cohen, expressed this view at two different press interactions in the Capital on Monday.

In its last vote, Ambassador Mulford said in an informal chat with newsmen that India expressed its national interest. "I would once again expect India to vote in what it considers to be its national interest."

In a conversation with this correspondent, Secretary Cohen said that it is well know now that Iran has been assisting terror groups and proliferating technology and has nuclear ambitions. "It is in India's interest that Iran doesn't become a nuclear weapon country. That would be a great danger for all of us."

Secretary Cohen hoped that India would stay steadfast on its upcoming vote against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as it did in September when it supported a resolution, which was moved by France, Germany and Britain and supported by the UF. India voted in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in favour of a West-led resolution on referring Iran's nuclear programme, which has been accused of developing nuclear weapons.

The resolution, which accuses Iran of developing nuclear weapons, paved the way for referring Iran to the UN Security Council for its alleged violations of safeguards under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). New Delhi, however, claimed its diplomatic efforts helped prevent an immediate referral to the Security Council. IAEA's board of governors is likely to take a final decision on referring Iran to the Security Council November 24.

India's vote has created a storm back home, with Left parties that prop up the government, slammed the move for its "betrayal of a friendly country".

On Sunday in Dhaka, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, told newsmen that efforts can and should be made to evolve a broad-based consensus to avoid voting on Iran's nuclear issue at the upcoming IAEA meeting. However, the Prime Minister refused to state how India would vote at the November 24 meeting saying it will depend on what are the issues that are being voted.

"Efforts can be and should be made to evolve a broad-based consensus so that there is no need for vote. But if it comes for vote, I cannot predict what we will do. It depends on what are the issue, which are the subject matter of voting or no voting," he said.

Mr Cohen, who met this correspondent at the opening of new corporate office of Lockheed Martin in India, expressed satisfaction on the positive direction of US-India relationship. He said "the growing relationship between India and the US is a natural result of two democracies that see the future from a common reference point, including the need for greater cooperation against global terrorism and prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. To that end and with a common vision for the future, no one should question the enduring nature of this new relationship."

The Managing Director of Lockheed Martin, Mr Royce L Calpinger, said "the office is a milestone in the evolving presence of Lockheed Martin in India. The growing Indo-US strategic partnership provides great opportunity for enhanced business ties between the two major democracies of the world."

Lockheed is competing to sell its F-16s to India, which has expressed desire to buy 125 multi-role fighter aircraft. Mr Cohen said F-16s were the best multi-role combat aircraft.

Indo-US summit from Nov 16

NEW DELHI: The second Indo-US Economic Summit beginning on Wednesday here will focus on bilateral cooperation in retail, financial services including banking besides civil aviation and energy.

The summit christened 'Bridging the Gap', is organised by Indo-American Chamber of Commerce. The summit will focus on expansion of Indo-US trade and opportunities in organised retail trade in India; financial sector including banking, capital markets and insurance; partnership with the US in civil aviation; and Indo-US partnership in the Energy sector.

"Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent visit to the US has generated substantial goodwill and interest about India. Majority of the Indian and American companies are enthused to enter into strategic partnerships in diverse areas," said Jagdip Ahluwalia, executive director of the Indo American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston.

"It is in these exciting and challenging times and when the Indo-US relations are at an all-time high that the Second Indo-US Economic Summit is being held," he said.

The summit's objective is to share ideas and explore opportunities for expanding Indo-US trade relations; enhancing Indo-US business collaborations and joint ventures; exploring investment opportunities in India and investment opportunities in the US and establishing one to one business contacts.

The summit will focus on issues, problems and opportunities in expansion of Indo-US trade and opportunities in organised retail trade in India, financial sector including banking, capital markets and insurance as also partnership with the US in civil aviation and energy sectors.

The summit will be attended by senior representatives from Indian and US governments, multilateral and bilateral bodies, CEOs of Indian and American corporates, public sector undertakings, banks & financial institutions, consultants and decision makers. Kamal Nath, Minister for Commerce & Industry is scheduled to inaugurate the summit, IACCGH said.

India, US to double trade to $ 40 billion

NEW DELHI, Nov 13: In a bid to boost bilateral economic engagement, India and the United States have decided to double two-way trade to 40 billion dollars by 2008 while identifying the small and medium enterprises sector as a focus area for achieving the ambitious target.

"Our current level of trade at $ 21 billion is way below potential. We should aim to achieve a trade target of $ 40 billion in the next three years," Commerce Minister Kamal Nath said at a FICCI meeting with visiting US Trade Representative Rob Portman.

Agreeing with Nath, Portman said doubling the trade in three years was an ambitious but achievable target and assured the support of US Administration in this regard.

India's total merchandise trade with US stands at about $ 21 billion, of which Indian exports are $ 14 billion and Indian imports about $ 7 billion. Nath said it was equally important to diversify the trade basket, and added that the US must also remove the non-tariff barriers on Indian products.

He said while large US corporates already had a presence in India, none of the American SMEs were looking at the country as a possible trade and investment destination.

"They (SMEs) are looking at Central and South America and Europe but not towards India. These enterprises are the key to scale up economic cooperation," he said.

Portman, who is visiting India for the first time, is here to take part in the first meeting of the newly set-up India-US Trade Policy Forum. The Forum, co-chaired by the two ministers, would cover mutual consultations on both bilateral and multilateral issues.

Snow pitches for financial sector reforms

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Nov 10: The US Treasury Secretary, Mr John Snow, on Thursday said that India needed to keep the momentum for economic reforms going, and boost growth, if it were to come to grips with the huge problems of poverty and joblessness.

Addressing the captains of the Indian industry, Mr Snow urged India to permit increased foreign ownership in its financial sector and warned against becoming complacent about the need for reforms.

He said that faster economic growth would help India deal with its problems of massive poverty and, at the same time, add stability by strengthening its capital markets. He said the gradual approach to liberalisation would only hinder growth.

"We sense some reluctance to go faster. We hear often the need to proceed gradually, carefully and slowly. I argue that there is a cost to proceeding slowly as that there is a cost to gradually. There is a cost to proceed slowly and the cost is all the benefit you give up by seeing the economy perform better on a faster track," he said at an interactive session with FICCI, American Chamber of Commerce and USIBC.

He said "India has some huge issues like 25 per cent unemployment and 350 million people living on a dollar a day. This means that millions of people are underemployed as the talent of the people is not being fully utilized."

Mr Snow said that moving forward on opening of financial sector reforms was not being done for the interest of the realtors. It was not being done for the interest of banks, insurance companies and those run pension plans and stock exchanges. "The real benefits will go to the people of your country. It will help lift them up. It will help lift up this rural sector that has such potential going forward and which is so much on the minds of the political leaders of your country."

The US Treasury Secretary made a case for further opening up of the financial sector, particularly banking and insurance, saying financial sector energises the rest of the economy. Stating that insurance and banking are the prime candidates for further opening and lifting of the caps, he said such a measure would ensure better products in these two sectors.

Mr Snow said his interaction with business leaders in India revealed that they want to take advantage of deepening of bond markets and other areas of financial market, which would make available better products, including future and hedging ones. It is through financial sector that savings get appropriate returns and deployed to best use, he said. "Financial sector facilitates the real sector and if financial sector is a handicap, the real sector will be a handicap," he said.

We maintain excellent relations with India: US

WASHINGTON, Nov 11: The US has said it has no comment on the issue relating to Natwar Singh, who has been divested of his External Affairs Ministry portfolio in the wake of the Volcker Committee report, and asserted that its "excellent and outstanding" relations with India would continue notwithstanding changes in personnel.

"...Frankly, I don't have any comment on the specific case of the gentleman (Natwar Singh) in question. This is an issue for the institutions of India to address," US State Department acting spokesman Adam Ereli said.

"As far as dealing with the Government of India goes, as I said before, we have close and excellent and outstanding relations with our partners in the Government of India and we expect that changes in personnel, notwithstanding, those relations are going to continue," he said. When asked if US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had talked to anybody in India or was contacted, Ereli said: "No".

"America has made it clear that in dealing with the oil-for-food scandal, what we seek and what we believe in are a full presentation of the facts and understanding of the facts and accountability for those who were involved in wrongdoing. That process of investigation and accountability are in the hands of others," the acting spokesman said.

John Snow in India to strengthen trade, investment ties

NEW DELHI, Nov 6: U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow, arrived in in India on Sunday for a five-day tour to secure stronger trade ties and cooperation on a wide range of economic matters, the U.S. Embassy said.

Snow, who landed in India's financial capital Mumbai, was to visit the National Stock Exchange and other financial facilities there before heading to New Delhi on Wednesday for talks with Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, and other top economic officials, said embassy spokesman David Kennedy.

``His focus would be on expanding and deepening our bilateral relations,'' building on the meeting between President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in Washington in July, Kennedy said.

During that visit, India and the United States reached a landmark agreement to build a strategic partnership that spans cooperation in military affairs, sharing civilian nuclear know-how, and joint research in space, agriculture and new technologies.

In his first visit to the country as treasury secretary, Snow will press India to allow foreign companies greater freedom to invest in the country's booming financial sector, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement issued last week. ``He will discuss the strong potential of the Indian economy, focusing on efforts to further liberalize the financial sector and improve financing infrastructure,'' the statement said.

US Senate votes for increasing H-1B visas by 30,000

WASHINGTON, Nov 4: In a major boost to information technology professionals from India hoping to emigrate to the US, the Senate has voted in favour of increasing the cap on H-1B visas by 30,000 to 95,000 from next year.

The Senate has also voted to increase the number of legal immigrants besides increasing the cap on H-1B visas favoured by Indian IT specialists, as part of a broad budget deficit cutting bill that was passed yesterday by a margin of 52 to 47 votes.

With a view to meeting its deficit reduction target, the Senate Judiciary Committee had last month called for adding some 90,000 employment-based green cards per year and raising the fee by US$ 500, which would earn some US$ 250 millions for the government.

The Judiciary Committee increased the cap on the H-1B visas by 30,000 and raised the fee, adding another US$ 75 millions to the exchequer. The budget deficit reduction bill that was cleared by the Senate also removes family members from the ceiling on employment-based immigration visas that would now increase legal immigration by 240,000 people every year. The total increase to immigration would now come to 330,000 a year, up nearly 33 per cent.

The passage of the Senate bill did not come by without opposition. Senior Democrat from West Virginia, Robert Byrd tried to take away the visa provisions from the bill but was overwhelmingly defeated by a 85 to 14 vote with only ten Democrats, three Republicans and one Independent supporting him.

Senate committee votes for raising H1B visa cap by 30,000

WASHINGTON, Oct 27: A proposal to raise the annual quota of H1B visas, which will give more Indian professionals a chance to work in the US, received a major boost in the US Congress with the Senate Judiciary Committee voting overwhelmingly in favour of raising the its cap from 65,000 to 95,000.

During an Executive Business Meeting for the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 20th, Senator Arlen Spectre proposed adding 60,000 to the cap, but the Committee instead chose to support Senator Diane Feinstein's (D-CA) amendment adding 30,000 H1B visas to the cap.

The number of green cards, officially known as Employment Based Immigrant Visas, would be increased through a change in language regarding who is applicable for it, according to the US-India Business Alliance (USIBA), a group of Indian and American businessmen which is backing the proposal for raising the H1B visa cap.

Under current law, spouses and children of green card holders count towards the cap, but the Committee proposed that to change this so that spouses and children do not count towards the cap. This proposed change will result in a significant increase in the number of available green cards.

However, there is still a significant amount of work to be done before the proposal takes the shape of legislation. This language has been added to the Senate Budget Reconciliation Bill. The Budget Reconciliation Bill is due to be voted upon later this year, and then a conference will be held between the Senate and House of Representatives.

Strategic ties with India deepening: US

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 23: US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns's two-day visit to India has led to deepening of relationship aimed at furthering the strategic partnership between the two countries.

Talking to newsmen in Washington, US State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said that the purpose of the meetings was furthering the US-Indian strategic partnership and a specific issue of discussion would be implementing the US-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement.

Responding to a question whether there was a snag in the Indo-US civil nuclear talks and why the US has to continue talks with India in the regard, Ereli denied that there existed a "snag" in the talks.

He said that Nicholas Burns's visit to India was a sign that the two countries have a "broadening and deepening" relationship. Burns' visit was meant to "work out details of a complex and interrelated series of steps designed to move forward on civil nuclear cooperation, on scientific cooperation, on agricultural cooperation, on promoting entrepreneurship," he said.

He added that the two countries were moving forward on that "well and amicably." Ereli said that senior US officials were working closely with their Indian counterparts on an ever-broadening array of areas of cooperation.

India, US inch closer to implementing nuclear deal

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 22: India and the US inched closer to implementing the July 18 nuclear agreement with Washington reaffirming its commitment to its implementation and New Delhi asking for ''tying up loose ends'' before President George Bush's visit.

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns called on External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh and reiterated Washington's commitment to the July 18 nuclear agreement signed by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Washington.

The two leaders are understood to have reviewed bilateral ties, witnessing progress particularly after the meeting between Manmohan Singh and George Bush in Washington in July.

Natwar Singh told him that both countries should ''tie up loose ends'' before President Bush visits India early next year. Singh told Burns that a very warm welcome awaited Bush, he said. The US President is expected to visit here in March next year. The US Under Secretary conveyed to Singh greetings of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Later Burns held a second day of discussions with Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran. ''The discussions covered regional issues including South Asia, Asia Pacific, West Asia and Central Asia,'' according to Navtej Sarna, spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs.

The two-day discussions which concluded on Saturday, marked reassurance of a firm commitment by the US to the implementation of the July 18 nuclear agreement without any additional conditionalities.

Burns had said after the first day's talks on Friday that something workable would be found before President Bush's visit to India early next year. He had also said no other issue, including the Iran nuclear or the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, was linked with the India-US nuclear agreement.

Nicholas attends Iftaar; launds role of Indian Muslims

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 22: The U.S. Ambassador, Mr David C. Mulford, hosted an Iftaar dinner at Roosevelt House here on Saturday. The US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Mr Nicholas Burns, who was on a two-day official visit to India attended the Iftaar. Several prominent people, including the Imam, also attended the Iftaar.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr Burns lauded the role of millions of Muslims who have made a profound contribution to India and its culture. He said President Bush has great confidence in India, and understands that Islam will have a profound role to play in this country's future. He also had the honour of hosting his own Iftaar at the White House on October 17. India's Ambassador Ronan Sen was one of the President's honoured guests.

Ramzan is the holiest time of the Muslim year. According to Islamic teaching, this month commemorates the revelation of God's word to the Prophet Muhammad in the form of the Koran. For more than a billion Muslims, Ramzan is a time of heartfelt prayer and togetherness. This holy month is a time of fasting and personal sacrifice and an opportunity to give thanks for God's blessings through works of charity.

It is a tenet of Islam that Muslims assists their neighbors when they are in need. India sees the spirit and compassion of Islam; through the countless acts of kindness individual Muslims perform every day.

Mr Burns said Americans of all faiths have great respect for the commitment of Indian Muslims to faith, family, and education. "We seek to learn more about the rich tradition of Indian Islam, which has done so much to promote greater understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims."

He said Islam was the fastest growing religion in the United States. "The State Department is proud to be recruiting more Muslim Americans than ever into the Foreign Service, and all of us who represent the United States share a conviction that our country must remain welcoming and tolerant. We reject every form of ethnic and religious discrimination."

Mr Burns said "we share with you a common hope for the future -- that our children and grandchildren will grow up in a safer and more peaceful world. We must stand together confidently to deliver that promise to future generations and firmly oppose those who commit evil in God's name."

He said President Bush and the American people mourned the lives of the many Indians who lost their lives in the recent tragic earthquake in Jammu and Kashmir.

"The United States is working with the government of India to relieve the suffering of the Kashmiri people caused by the recent devastating earthquake. The Embassy contributed $50,000 to the Prime minister's Relief Fund and $50,000 to Save the Children, which is working in the devastated areas."

Mr Burns said that the United States also has made available an additional $500,000 that will be distributed to Non Governmental organizations working in Jammu and Kashmir to relive the suffering of the earthquake victims. We wish the Indian relief and recovery efforts well.

US firm on nuke deal with India

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 21: The US has expressed the confidence that it would be able to pass legislation by early next year on implementation of the path-breaking civilian nuclear energy deal with India.

The visiting US Under Secretary of State, Mr Nicholas Burns, expressed confidence that the US Congress and House of Representatives would pass the legislation before the visit of the President, Mr George Bush to India, early next year.

"We look forward to the US Congress passing the legislation to enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation between the two countries early next year," Mr Burns told newsmen at a joint press interaction after daylong talks with the Foreign Secretary, Mr Shyam Saran, here.

The US also plans to ask the Nuclear Suppliers Group to enable peaceful nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India. Responding to a question whether any conditions were attached with the deal, Mr Burns said "we are not adding any conditions. We Americans will meet the obligations we have undertaken" and hoped "India will abide by its obligations."

Both Mr Burns and Mr Saran said that the two countries were committed to implementation of the July 18 understanding reached in Washington between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and president Bush on civilian nuclear cooperation but acknowledged that it was a "very complex" and "complicated" issue.

On India's vote again Iran's controversial nuclear programme, he said "that was a significant vote at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting. India voted with a host of Asian and other countries, only Venezuela voted against. So they voted with us with the United States to press the point that Tehran has to do more and cannot continue with its nuclear program and Iran knows that is has to get back to negotiations and we are confident that will happen," he said.

He maintained that the issue could be referred to the UN Security Council if Tehran failed to come to the negotiating table with the European countries by next month-end.

Mr Burns stated that if Tehran does not get back to negotiations with European countries, the November 24 meeting of the IAEA would vote against it leading to the issue being referred to the UN Security Council, a move India is trying to avert.

Mr Saran said during his discussions with Mr Burns, both sides discussed modalities for implementing the nuclear deal "within the commitments" made by the two countries.

On apprehensions that the US Congress will not give its approval for resuming nuclear supplies to Indian reactors, he said, "There is significant support" for it on Capitol Hill and did not see opposition by a few becoming an "impediment".

Mr Saran, who will have another round of discussions tomorrow with Mr Burns covering regional and international issues, said both sides were committed to implementing the "extremely important understanding" reached between the Prime Minister and President Bush. He said India had certain responsibilities to carry out and emphasised that "we have delivered on some of them".

The Foreign Secretary listed these areas as unilateral declaration of non-proliferation, bringing about of legislation on Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), harmonisation of export control with NSG and commitment to work with US on new global standards on reprocessing and enrichment technology being exported to third countries.

"We will work out modalities within the parameters outlined in the July 18 joint statement," said the Foreign Secretary. "We are already conforming to and becoming partner in global non proliferation regime," the Foreign Secretary asserted and added that by the time Bush visits here, "We hope we will have an implementable agreement".

Mr Saran said there will soon be another meeting of the Joint Working Group he co-chairs with Mr Burns to carry forward discussions on the modalities.

Asked whether the postponement of the meeting of the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) would have fallout on the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, Mr Burns said Washington was under obligation to see that NSG countries also undertake requisite steps for similar cooperation with India.

Mr Saran said during his talks with Mr Burns, both sides had sought "certain clarifications" from each other and further discussions on these will be held in the next JWG meeting to take the process forward.

Describing India as a "great power in the world", Mr Burns said the US was seeking a partnership with it whereby the two countries could work together for peace and stability of the world and "face challenges" that are likely to emerge over the next 40 to 50 years.

US gives $500,000 more aid for J-K quake victims

TTO News Service

NEW DELHI, Oct 21: The US has announced an additional assistance of $500,000 for the victims of the massive earthquake that killed over 1,400 people in Jammu and Kashmir.

Expressing his country's sympathy for the victims of the quake, the visiting US Under Secretary of State, Mr Nicholas Burns, made the announcement at a joint press interaction here with the Foreign Secretary, Mr Shyam Saran.

Expressing his gratitude for the US assistance, Mr Saran said "We are deeply appreciative of sympathy and concern for the victims of the quake," he said.
The money given by the US would go to international and Indian NGOs involved in relief work in India, said Mr Burns. The US had earlier given an emergency relief of $100,000 for India's quake victims. Half of this amount went to the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund and the remaining was provided in direct relief assistance to the victims in the affected areas.

Immediately after the October 8 quake, a White House statement from US President George Bush, terming the disaster a "horrible tragedy", said the 'people of the US offer our deepest sympathies for the loss of life and destruction."

Last week, Mr Bush called the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and praised him for taking the initiative to help out Pakistan where the killer quake has killed thousands of people and left an estimated two million homeless.

Hillary named to Hall of Fame

WASHINGTON, Oct 10: Senator Hillary Clinton, widely perceived as the Democratic frontrunner in the 2008 presidential elections, has been inducted into the US National Women's Hall of Fame.

Every award and acclamation is regarded as important for Hillary, the 57-year-old former first lady, whose immediate priority is re-election to the Senate from New York next year. A recent poll suggested that Hillary may be the most popular Democrat for 2008 with 42 per cent saying they would vote for her.

"I am extremely proud to help highlight the contributions of women to our great nation throughout our history - not just the heroines who blazed the trail before us, but also the women whose stories have yet to be told, who are holding families together, lifting up communities and performing heroic acts everyday across America," Hillary said.

Selected by a national panel of judges, Hillary took her place along with nine other women from different walks of life, six of whom were honoured posthumously.

US NRIs raise $1 mn in one night for noble cause

SILICON VALLEY, Oct 10: Indians in the Silicon Valley have raised a whopping $1 million at a lavish annual bash for promoting elementary education, women's empowerment and eradication of AIDS in their home country.

Titled 'Bow Ties and Bangles', the second annual fall benefit gala hosted by international development organisation American Indian Foundation (AIF), saw business magnets and leading Bollywood stars joining hands to raise some money for the cause. Several Fortune 500 CEOs, corporate giants, celebrities from the entertainment industry, including Bollywood actress and AIDS activist Shilpa Shetty, were among the 800 guests who attended the evening on Saturday.

"We are thrilled by the response we have received," AIF President Lata Krishnan said as she announced that the event had met its target of generating $1 million. The evening honoured Biocon Limited Chairman and Managing Director Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and AMD Chairman and CEO Hector Ruiz with 'AIF-India Corporate Leadership Awards' for their leadership skills and deep commitment to corporate social responsibility.

AIF is a leading international development organisation working for universalising elementary education, advancing women's empowerment and eradicating AIDS in India. Former US President Bill Clinton serves as Honorary Chair of AIF, which has raised more than $26 million since its inception.

US prepares new tactics, strategy to fight al Qaeda, Jihadis

WASHINGTON, Sept 29: The US armed forces are preparing new tactics and strategy to fight al Qaeda, Jihadis and Islamic insurgencies. Organised for implementing the strategy would be the Army, Marine Corps, Special Operations forces, CIA paramilitary officers and FBI agents while State Department diplomats, with the Marines forming the backbone.

Michael Vickers, a defence analyst at Washington-based Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and a former Army Special Forces officer, told Defence News weekly that the Corps should focus on three main missions.

First, the Corps should be the primary force to combat terrorism and Islamic radicalism. Second, the Corps should combine the forcible-entry expertise with its chemical and biological warfare response forces to be the primary tool used against 'rogue' states. Third, the Corps should be the primary player in urban warfare.

"We have got problems of al Qaeda cells in 54 countries, a war of ideas that is global, and an Islamist insurgency in 18 countries," he said. "You can't concentrate your effort in two of them. You have got to be in lots of places."

Robert Work, an analyst with the CSBA and a former Marine artillery officer, has mapped out a plan for how the future Corps to deal with global terrorism, urban warfare and states possessing weapons of mass destruction. Work has proposed a Corps largely based at sea, equipped with its own heavy-lift and strike aviation assets, backed by armour- resistant weapons of mass destruction and able to boost and support Special Operations Forces for anti-terror missions.

Hurricane warning for NYC

NEW YORK, Sept 21: Manhattan could be flooded and New York could suffer as much damage as New Orleans if it were hit by a catastrophic hurricane like one that passed just north of the city in 1938, experts warned on Monday.

"Major hurricanes are not limited to the Gulf Coast and Florida," said James Lee Witt, who was director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency from 1993 to 2000 in the Clinton administration.

He was speaking at the launch of a campaign to improve preparation for disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, which killed at least 883 people when it slammed into Louisiana and neighbouring states last month with 224 kph winds and a 30-foot storm surge.

The ProtectingNewYork.org coalition, which includes insurance companies, will work to create a catastrophe fund like those already in place in Florida and California that would kick in if damage from a natural disaster, accident or attack reached a certain threshold, Witt said.

The former FEMA chief, whose consulting firm lobbies for Allstate Insurance Co, was asked by Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco to advise on relief efforts after Katrina. Witt said that the 1938 'Long Island Express' hurricane missed Manhattan by only 55 miles, yet caused damage worth over $300 million and killed 700 people

"A similar storm today could cause damages in the tens of billions of dollars," according to a factsheet handed out by the organisation. Katrina was a Category 4 hurricane. The 1938 hurricane slammed Long Island and New England with winds of 194 kph and peak gusts of 293 kph
Witt said the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center cost some $30 billion and experts estimated that another spectacular attack could cause damages exceeding $250 billion, perhaps more if it involved a nuclear facility or nuclear device.

"You like to think in modern times that these events can't happen," said Cherie Burns, author of The Great Hurricane: 1938, published in July by Atlantic Monthly Press.

She said the 1938 hurricane was especially devastating because there was no warning, whereas modern technology meant that forecasting was much easier so people could be evacuated. Still, Burns said, the impact of a major storm could be enormous.

New US visa procedure to come into effect from October

NEW DELHI, Sept 21: Overhauling the process of visa applications for travel to the US, the American Embassy on Tuesday announced a new system under which fees will have to be paid in advance and will be non-refundable and non-transferable.

The system, which will take effect from October 3, is expected to reduce the time visa applicants have to wait for an interview, a senior US Embassy official said. US visa services throughout India will be provided by the Visa Facilitation Service (VFS).

Under the new arrangement, the non-immigrant visa application fees of $100 (Rs 4,400) will have to be paid before booking an appointment for an interview. The fees, along with Rs 276 towards visa-related services, can be paid in 32 branches of HDFC Bank in 12 cities across the country, the Counselor for Consular Affairs Willian Bartlett told reporters in the capital.

At present, the visa application fees can be paid at the time of interview. This creates a long waiting period as "25 to 35 per cent of applicants do not show up," Bartlett said. While the visa application fees will remain the same, the expenditure for related services will decrease from the current Rs 441. The fees will be non-refundable and cannot be transferred to any other applicant, except with special permission from the embassy, Bartlett said.

VFS will provide over-the-counter assistance to applicants at its existing offices in Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Pune. Four more offices will be opened soon in Jalandhar, Chandigarh, Vijayawada and Kochi.

PM, Bush hold crucial talks

By Deepak Arora

NEW YORK, Sept 14: Within hours of his arrival in New York, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will meet President Bush, at the latter's request. The meeting is scheduled to take place at 6.45 pm (4.15 am IST Wednesday), four hours after the Prime Minister's arrival in New York.

This will be their second meeting in less than two months, after they signed a historic deal in Washington during Dr Singh's visit, under which the US offered to resume nuclear fuel supplies to Indian reactors.

The two leaders are likely to review progress on the agreement between the two countries under which both sides are expected to take follow up steps in implementing the deal.

The meeting comes against the backdrop of demands of a quid pro quo over the nuke deal. Democrats Tom Lantos and Brad Sherman insist on India backing the US's Iran policy if it wanted to benefit from nuclear cooperation.

Diplomatic sources expect the Iran issue to come up during Bush's talks with Singh, particularly in the context of the September 19 meeting of the IAEA.

The meeting is likely to take place in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where Bush will be staying. It will precede the traditional reception that the US President hosts for the visiting leaders of the 181-member world body.

The Prime Minister arrives in New York after a "very successful" two-day visit to France. During his four-day stay in the Apple City, Dr Singh would be addressing the 60th session of the UN General Assembly on Wednesday.

Besides holding talks with President Bush on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, the Prime Minister would hold bilateral meetings with Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Hu Jintao of China, and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. The Prime Minister will also host a dinner for Musharraf.

The UN plenary this year will focus on the implementation of the Millenium Development Goals as also implementation of the outcomes of other relevant major UN conferences and summits.

It is expected to come out with an Outcome Document addressing UN reforms and combating the current and emerging global challenges and threats. The continuing fight against terrorism across the world, the issue of UN reform and the developments in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East would also be the focus of the UNGA session.

The prime minister's address to the UNGA is expected to pitch a strong case for India's permanent membership of the UN Security Council and its role in the international fight against terrorism.

New Delhi regards reforms of the UN as a continuous process encompassing elements such as revitalisation of the General Assembly, strengthening of the Economic and Social Council, reform of the secretariat machinery and the expansion of the Security Council and reform of its working methods.

India also places high priority on the conclusion of a draft comprehensive convention on international terrorism and looks forward to working together with other countries in resolving the outstanding issues in the negotiations on the draft.

Earlier, Dr Singh was given a ceremonial farewell at Orly Airport before he boarded the special Air India flight for New York, along with his delegation that included External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh, National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran.

Prior to his departure, he met India Studies scholars at his hotel. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin hosted a dinner in his honour on Monday night. Officials described Dr Singh's visit as 'highly successful' and said it marked a giant step in strengthening and deepening the bilateral relationship.

Like the US and Britain, France also acknowledged the need for full international civilian nuclear cooperation with India and promised to work towards this objective with the 44-member Nuclear Suppliers Group and other countries. They termed as significant, the decision of both countries to firm up a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement and another framework agreement on defence cooperation at an early date.

The officials said during talks with President Jacques Chirac, Dr Singh had appreciated France's reaffirmation of support for India's candidature for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. The Indian side has expressed interest in France's proposals in the area of development financing and for the reform of international governance of the environment.

On the sidelines of the UNGA, the Prime Minister is also participating in a function in which President Bush will launch the establishment of UN Democracy Fund for which India has announced a substantial financial contribution with the objective of assisting in globally strengthening the values of freedom, pluralism and rule of law.

US unveils criteria for UNSC seat

WASHINGTON, Sept 13: Raising hopes for India, the United States on Monday unveiled a set of criteria, including economic size, population, track record on non-proliferation and counter-terrorism, for countries aspiring a seat in expanded UN Security Council.

The State Department came out with its vision of UNSC reforms saying "potential members must be supremely well qualified, based on factors such as commitment to democracy and human rights, economic size, population, military capacity, financial contributions to the UN, and record on counter-terrorism and non-proliferation".

While the overall "geographic balance" of the Council is a consideration, effectiveness remains the benchmark for any reform, the State Department said. "The United States is prepared to help lead the effort to strengthen and reform the UN. What follows are key issues the US has identified as priorities, as we work with the UN and other member states towards the goal of a strong, effective, and accountable organization," it said.

Management, Budget, and Administrative Reform Management reform is necessary to ensure that Member States receive the greatest benefit from resources and that UN personnel are held to the highest standard of ethical conduct and accountability.

All UN member states should unequivocally outlaw acts of international terrorism, and it is time to reach agreement on the Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT). Adopting the CCIT would be an important achievement in the UN's global effort to counter terrorism, the State Department said.

"Our proposals relate to three themes: accountability and integrity, improved effectiveness, and boosting the UN's relevance in the modern world," it said. The Secretary General's authority and duty to waive immunity must be affirmed so that UN officials suspected of committing criminal activities can be fully investigated, and guilty individuals held accountable, it added.

It also stressed the urgent need for establishing a 'Peace Building Commission'. "The US strongly supports the Secretary General's concept of a Peace Building Commission that would allow the UN to more effectively galvanise international efforts to help countries recover after conflict."

The US also supports the development goals in the Millennium Declaration. "President (George W) Bush has made it clear that expanding the circle of freedom and prosperity are fundamental interests of the United States," it said.

"The High-Level Event in September is an opportunity to renew our collective commitment to eradicate poverty and promote sustained economic development."

New tape threatens attacks on LA, Melbourne

WASHINGTON, Sept 12: A videotape televised on Sunday purportedly from a U.S.-member of al Qaeda threatened Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia, on the fourth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

ABC News said it had received the video in Pakistan. It reported the masked speaker appears to be Adam Gadahn, from southern California, who threatens attacks on the two cities, "Allah willing," and warns that the attackers will show no compassion. "Yesterday, London and Madrid. Tomorrow, Los Angeles and Melbourne," he said. "We love peace, but peace on our terms," the speaker said.

Gadahn was believed to have been the young American who appeared in another threatening tape about year ago. ABC said the young man apparently converted to Islam at an Orange County, California, mosque as a teen-ager. Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton told ABC News his city has "very robust counter terrorism" steps in place and was already on a heightened state of alert because of next month's Jewish holidays.

Kin, US mourn victims of 9/11 attacks

NEW YORK: America mourned the victims of September 11 on Sunday as the siblings of the deceased read their loved ones' names to a weeping crowd at the site where the World Trade Center once stood.

One by one, the names of the dead echoed across the site where the twin towers collapsed four years ago in a nightmarish cloud of dust and debris. The ceremony drew to a close after four hours, the time it took to read the 2,749 names. Relatives in the crowd bowed their heads and sobbed as speakers uttered brief, personal messages to the brothers and sisters they lost, many voices breaking in sorrow.

"Mom and Dad ache for you every minute," Linda Giammona-Julian said to her brother, Vincent Giammona, one of 343 firefighters killed. "We love you and we miss you; til we meet again." "My big sister, my better half, life will never be the same without you," Rolando Moreno said to Yvette Moreno, who worked for a brokerage in the north tower.

As the names were read, weeping mourners filed down a ramp to a reflecting memorial pool at the floor of the site, which remains virtually empty four years after the attack killed 2,749 people and tore a hole in the New York skyline. Families filled the water with red, orange and yellow roses, some shaking as they inscribed dedications on the wooden edge of the pool.

The ceremony came as Hurricane Katrina left Americans once again struggling with a catastrophe that caught the nation unprepared and left citizens dead and grieving.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg opened with words of condolence for those devastated by Katrina and the terrorist bombings in the London Underground.

"To Americans suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, our deepest sympathies go out to you this day," Bloomberg said.

In New Orleans, New York firefighters helping with the relief effort gathered around a makeshift memorial for their fallen comrades, accepting the gift of a bell from a nearby church whose steeple was destroyed in the storm.

The ground zero ceremony paused for moments of silence at 8:46 a.m., the time at which a hijacked jetliner crashed into the north tower, at 9:03 a.m., the moment a second plane struck the south tower, at 9:59 a.m., when the south tower fell and at 10:29 a.m., when the second tower collapsed.

Many relatives looked to the clear, bright morning sky as they spoke to the brothers and sisters they lost. Several held up photos of their loved ones.

"You're taking care of us from heaven but someday we'll be together," Iliani Flores said, choking up and raising her face to the sky in memory of her younger brother, a fire department paramedic.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice read a poem by Christina Rossetti after the second moment of silence. Gov. George E. Pataki, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and New Jersey Acting Gov. Richard Codey also addressed the crowd. "We all stand together to help each other and to help those who need our help in the future," Giuliani said. "We remember forever all the brothers and sisters that we lost on that day."

In Washington, President Bush marked the anniversary with his wife on the South Lawn, and throngs of people marched in remembrance of the attacks and in tribute to troops fighting overseas.

Bush approves $51.8 b for hurricane relief

WASHINGTON, Sept 9: President Bush vowed to stand by evacuees displaced by Hurricane Katrina "for the long haul" and warned lawmakers, who have already poured more than $62 billion into the devastated Gulf Coast, that they'll need to spend even more.

Congress rapidly and overwhelmingly voted Thursday to fulfill an urgent plea for $51.8 billion, adding to $10.5 billion that was approved last week for hurricane victims. After signing the bill, Bush said, "We will continue to help people rebuild their lives and rebuild the region."

Thursday's action made $2,000 available to each family displaced by the storm. Bush vowed to cut through red tape hampering victims from claiming federal medical, food and housing benefits, as government officials worked to issue the $2,000 debit cards to some evacuees and clear up confusion about claiming the money.

"We have much more work to do, but the people who have been hurt by this storm need to know that the government is going to be with you for the long haul," Bush said. He also designated next Friday as a national day of prayer and remembrance for Katrina's victims.

Promises for sustained federal help came amid heightening strain and signs that the road to recovery will be long. Police prepared to evacuate residents reluctant to leave their homes. Much of New Orleans remained flooded and those who stayed behind lack power, water and food. Fires burned across the city.

Vice President Dick Cheney toured the region and described "significant" progress while acknowledging a lot more work needs to be done. It's too soon to estimate the total cost of reconstruction from Katrina, he said. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson said the difficult decision to pump heavily contaminated floodwaters into Lake Pontchartrain could pose new environmental problems in future years. Describing the watery soup that has engulfed New Orleans, Johnson said: "This water is very unsafe. It's a health hazard."

Bush used national emergency authority to waive sections of a federal law that requires payment of prevailing wages on government contracts, wages based on surveys that take into account union and nonunion pay. The waiver applies to disaster areas in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Democrats immediately urged Bush to rescind the order. "Hurricane Katrina took away their jobs, now President Bush will take away their wages when they find new jobs," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Democrats also questioned the wisdom of funneling $50 billion in recovery funds through the Federal Emergency Management Agency with questions swirling about whether it acted too slowly to help hurricane victims.

New Orleans residents to go, political storm grows

NEW ORLEANS, Sept 7: New Orleans police say they will step up efforts on Wednesday to make Hurricane Katrina's survivors leave the dangerously unsanitary city, as a political storm grows over disorganized relief efforts for a disaster with a death toll believed to be in the thousands.

After days of trying to change the minds of survivors who have refused to evacuate the flooded metropolis since Katrina battered the U.S. Gulf Coast last week, authorities began to get tough on Tuesday. City Mayor Ray Nagin said floodwaters filthy with garbage, oil and putrefying bodies will spread disease and that people must go. Police Superintendent P. Edwin Compass said his men would evacuate residents even if it is against their will.

"We'll do everything it takes to make this city safe. These people don't understand they're putting themselves in harm's way," police superintendent P. Edwin Compass said. But die-hard inhabitants of a city mainly known for jazz and Mardi Gras before becoming internationally famous as a disaster area of Third-World proportions say they fear evacuation to parts of the country where they have no family or means of support. About 10,000 people are believed to be holding out in the city.

The tough new policy was beginning to be felt on Tuesday. Martha Smith-Aguillard, 72, complained about how she had been brought against her will to an evacuation point alongside the city's wrecked convention center. "They came got me out of my house and manhandled me into a truck and brought me here," she said.

Aguillard's foot had swollen up after she trod on a rusty nail and she said she needed a tetanus shot. Nonetheless she refused to board a government helicopter. "They manhandled me and paid no mind to what I said. I ain't never been in no helicopter in my life, or no airplane, and I'm 72, I ain't starting now," she said.

"I'm not going to get that tetanus shot, so I guess I'll just have to die," she said, adding, "We're all going to die and if I'm going to die, it's gonna be right here in New Orleans.

Meanwhile, a storm grew over responsibility for delays and disorganization in the relief response after the long-predicted storm punctured barriers protecting New Orleans, built below sea level, from an adjacent lake.

U.S. President George W. Bush said he would lead an investigation into the emergency operation, but he resisted demands for an immediate probe.

"There will be ample time for people to figure out what went right, and what went wrong. What I'm interested (in) is helping save lives," he said.

Members of Bush's Republican Party criticized relief efforts in the disaster, with a death toll Nagin has said could reach 10,000.

"If our system did such a poor job when there was no enemy, how would the federal, state and local governments have coped with a terrorist attack that provided no advance warning and that was intent on causing as much death and destruction as possible?" said Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who will lead an investigation by the Senate Homeland Security Committee. She called the government's response to Hurricane Katrina "woefully inadequate."

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada backed calls for a commission, like the one that examined the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to study how the hurricane response went wrong. Sen. Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican who lost his coastal home in the storm, said Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown's job is in jeopardy.

After the days of delays, aid efforts have finally picked up. Water was being pumped out of flooded streets after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used rocks and sandbags to plug breached levees.

Flood levels in some areas were said to have dropped a foot (30 cm). Nagin said 60 percent of New Orleans was now under water, down from 80 percent last week. But it will still take weeks to dry the city out, and rescue teams expect to find thousands of bodies inside homes swallowed in the flood. Huge fires at buildings around the city hampered rescue efforts on Tuesday.

Rescue teams sent dozens of boats and helicopters back into flooded neighborhoods to rescue remaining survivors. Other helicopters dropped water onto building fires. Few bodies have been recovered so far. Louisiana authorities are looking for a burial ground with individual graves for those that cannot be identified.

New Orleans' French Quarter, the renowned street-party venue, was a militarized zone. There were roadblocks and patrols by 82nd Airborne Division troops as well as by horse-mounted Texas sheriffs in cowboy hats. It was a show of force to deter criminal gangs that ran wild, looting and shooting in the days after Katrina.

The challenges ahead are huge. State officials said 140,000 to 160,000 homes were flooded and will not be recovered, and it would take years to restore water service to all of the city.

More than a million people may have been driven from their homes -- many perhaps permanently -- with hundreds of thousands taking refuge in shelters, hotels and homes across the United States.

JFK tape reveals nuclear defense for India

BOSTON, Aug 26: Top advisers to President John F. Kennedy warned him in 1963 that if he pledged to defend India against any attack by China, the United States would likely have to use nuclear weapons to enforce the commitment, according to a newly declassified tape recording.

George Ball, under secretary of state in the Democratic administration, also warned in what today would be considered insensitive language that a nuclear response could subject the United States to charges of racism following the two atomic bombings of Japan that ended World War II.

"If there is a general appearance of a shift in strategy to the dependence on a nuclear defense against the Chinese in the Far East, we are going to inject into this whole world opinion the old bugaboo of being willing to use nuclear weapons against Asians when we are talking about a different kind of strategy in Europe," Ball told the president during a May 9, 1963, national security meeting in the White House. "This is going to create great problems with the Japanese - with all the yellow people."

A six-page summary of the top secret meeting was released in 1996, but a tape of the conversation was made available only after it was subjected to a national security review based on updated federal guidelines.

The recording is the latest to be released by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, the official repository for Kennedy administration documents. At the time of the 1963 tape, India was a fledgling democracy emerging from British colonial rule. China, bordering in part on northern India, was a firmly entrenched Communist country under the rule of Mao Zedong.

In one exchange on the tape, Army Gen. Maxwell Taylor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is heard telling Kennedy: "Mr. President, I had hoped before we get too deeply in the India question, we take a broader look at where we are coming, the attitude we're going to maintain versus Red China... This is just one spectacular aspect of the overall problem of how to cope with Red China politically and militarily in the next decade... I would hate to think that we would fight this on the ground in a non-nuclear way."

Later, when Kennedy begins discussing the idea of guaranteeing India's security, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara steers the conversation back to China.

"Mr. President," McNamara is heard saying, "I think General Taylor is implying that before any substantial commitment to defend India against China is given, we should recognize that in order to carry out that commitment against any substantial Chinese attack, we would have to use nuclear weapons... Any large Chinese Communist attack on any part of that area would require the use of nuclear weapons by the U.S., and this is to be preferred over the introduction of large numbers of U.S. soldiers."

The British government, then headed by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, was reluctant to offer a similar security guarantee for India, which it granted independence in 1947. That vexed Kennedy, according to the tape, who asked Secretary of State Dean Rusk why it was important that the United States seek validation from its ally.

Rusk said: "I think we would be hard pressed to tell our own people why we are doing this with India when even the British won't do it or the Australians won't do it and the Canadians won't do it. We need to have those other flags flying on these joint enterprises." Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, before he could issue such a guarantee.

Thousands blacked out across Northeast in US

BOSTON, Aug 15: Thousands of people across the Northeast in the US had no electricity for alarm clocks and air conditioners Monday following waves of violent thunderstorms.

Wind gusting to 80 mph knocked trees onto power lines, lightning started fires and torrential rain flooded streets in parts of eastern Pennsylvania, northern New Jersey, southeastern New York, Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts on Sunday. "It's really testing our crews. It's pretty extensive," Connecticut Light & Power spokesman Mitch Gross said of the damage late Sunday.

Boston's South Shore was hit particularly hard, with severe flooding in Quincy, Braintree, Weymouth and Brockton. "Half of the city is under water," Brockton police dispatcher Darrelyn Jordan said Sunday night. "We have reports of water going into basements all over the city. We've had people stuck in cars all over the city. We even had to tow a police cruiser out of there with water flowing over the hood."

The mayor of Stamford, Conn., said the damage was the worst since an ice storm in 1973. "We've never seen anything like it," said Dannel Malloy.
More than 50,000 homes and businesses in Massachusetts and more than 80,000 in New Jersey lost power, though most had service restored by Monday morning. Thousands more were blacked out in the New York City suburbs.

However, the storms brought at least a little relief from a stifling heat wave that had driven temperatures above 100 degrees with high humidity. Before the storms, Consolidated Edison in New York had record demand for power during the weekend, said spokesman Chris Olert.

Discovery lands safely in California

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE (California), Aug 9: Discovery and its crew of seven glided safely back to Earth on Tuesday, ending a riveting, at times agonizing, 14-day test of space shuttle safety that was shadowed by the ghosts of Columbia.

Discovery swooped through the darkness of the Mojave Desert and landed on the Edwards Air Force Base runway at 5:11 a.m. PDT, well before sunrise. It marked the conclusion of the first shuttle re-entry since Columbia's tragic return. The detour to California came after thunderstorms in Cape Canaveral, Florida, prevented the shuttle from returning to its home base.

"Congratulations on a truly spectacular test flight," Mission Control said once Discovery came to a stop. "Welcome home, friends." "We're happy to be back and we congratulate the whole team for a job well done," Commander Eileen Collins replied.

The inherently dangerous ride down through the atmosphere - more anxiety-ridden than normal because of what happened to Columbia 2 1/2 years ago - appeared to go smoothly. No problems were immediately reported by Mission Control. White House spokesman Trent Duffy called it "a proud day for America."

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said he did not know when a space shuttle will fly again, but that that won't happen until the problem is solved with the piece of foam insulation that broke off during launch. "We're going to try as hard as we can to get back in space this year," Griffin said. "But we're not going to go until we're ready to go."

Held up a day by bad weather in Florida, the shuttle soared across the Pacific and over Southern California, passing just north of Los Angeles on its way to Edwards. NASA adjusted the flight path in order to skirt Los Angeles because of new public safety considerations in the wake of the Columbia disaster, which rained debris onto Texas and Louisiana.

Unlike previous landings at Edwards where thousands of people were on hand, the public was not allowed to observe Discovery's landing because of tightened security on the base after the September 11 attacks. It will be a week before Discovery leaves California for the piggyback ride atop a modified jet back to Cape Canaveral, NASA said. Discovery's journey, which began with a liftoff on July 26, spanned 219 orbits of Earth and 5.8 million miles.

NASA delays Discovery landing until Tues

SPACE CENTER, Houston, Aug 8: After orbiting the Earth for 13 days, astronauts aboard space shuttle Discovery were told to circle the planet for another day as bad weather in Florida forced NASA to delay Monday's scheduled landing.

The astronauts had powered up their spacecraft and were awaiting word from Mission Control to fire their braking rockets and head for home when controllers announced early Monday that low clouds over Cape Canaveral would postpone the landing.

"We've been working this pretty hard as I'm sure you can imagine from our silence down here," Mission Control radioed Discovery commander Eileen Collins. "We just can't get comfortable with the stability of the situation for this particular opportunity so we are going to officially wave you off for 24 hours."

When the cloud cover still threatened after the second of two landing opportunities, NASA officials rescheduled the landing for Tuesday, when they would consider two alternative landing sites in addition to Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

Discovery ready for return to Earth

SPACE CENTER, Houston, Aug 8: After circling the Earth for 13 days, astronauts aboard space shuttle Discovery powered up their spacecraft early Monday and awaited word from Mission Control to fire their braking rockets and head for home.

Discovery, the first shuttle to return to orbit since Columbia disintegrated while re-entering the Earth's atmosphere 2 1/2 years ago, was set to land at Florida's Kennedy Space Center before dawn. The accident was on many minds, but Flight Director LeRoy Cain said his focus would be on bringing Discovery back safely.

"There's a lot of things to think about," said Cain, who was also director for Columbia's fatal flight on Feb. 1, 2003. "There's a lot of things to worry about, and that's what I get paid to do is to worry - and I do it a lot." Shortly after 1 a.m. EDT, the astronauts closed Discovery's payload bay doors, a key step in preparing the shuttle to land. Discovery's 13-day flight to the international space station may be the last one for a long while.

NASA grounded the shuttle fleet after a slab of insulating foam broke off Discovery's external fuel tank during liftoff - the very thing that doomed Columbia and was supposed to have been corrected. Good weather was forecast for what was to be a relatively uncommon landing in darkness, but Mission Control was watching showers near the Florida space center. Of the previous 111 shuttle touchdowns, only 19 occurred at nighttime.
Onboard computers would guide the shuttle's dangerous, fiery descent until about five minutes before touchdown, when commander Eileen Collins and pilot Jim Kelly will begin manually controlling the 100-ton glider.

After Discovery's July 26 launch, the shuttle spent nine days hitched to the space station, where astronauts resupplied the orbiting lab and removed broken equipment and trash - one of the main goals of the mission. Discovery was the first shuttle to visit the station since 2002.
During the trip, a pair of spacewalking astronauts replaced a failed 660-pound gyroscope, which controls the orientation of the station, and restored power to another. Sunday was the first time in three years that all four of the station's gyroscopes ran simultaneously.

In a third unprecedented spacewalk, astronaut Stephen Robinson went beneath Discovery's belly to gently tug out two protruding thermal tile fillers. Engineers on the ground worried the material could cause dangerous overheating during re-entry and could lead to another Columbia-type catastrophe.

Those on the ground learned about the material jutting out from Discovery's fragile thermal tile belly through intense inspections of the ship using cameras and lasers.

As a result of Columbia, Discovery's crew inspected their ship for damage on five different days during the mission and also tested repair techniques developed since the tragedy.

Columbia was doomed by a 1.67-pound piece of foam that broke free from an external fuel tank at launch. The foam pierced a hole in the ship's left wing and as the spacecraft re-entered the Earth's atmosphere, searing gases melted the wing from the inside, causing the ship to break apart. All seven astronauts aboard were killed.

NASA officials' excitement over Discovery's return to space was dampened by video that showed a nearly 1-pound chunk of foam - reminiscent of the one that doomed Columbia - breaking free from Discovery's external tank shortly after liftoff. The foam did not strike Discovery.

The agency quickly grounded future flights, saying that more work must be done, despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars to redesign the tank.

Despite the setback, NASA says Discovery's flight has taught important lessons and overall been an "incredible" success.

"We've shown that we've been able to return the vehicle back to safe operational flight," astronaut Andrew Thomas said Sunday aboard Discovery. "There's a lot of success that goes with this mission that I think is going to be important for the long-term future and well-being of this flight program."

Discovery undocks and heads for Earth

SPACE CENTER, Houston, Aug 7: With the most anxiety-ridden part of their flight still to come, shuttle Discovery and its crew of seven set off for home Saturday after leaving the international space station.

Monday's planned predawn re-entry will be the first by a space shuttle since Columbia's catastrophic descent 2 1/2 years ago. The two space station residents wished the Discovery crew a safe landing.

"It has really been a pleasure and, no, we are not glad to see you go. We would love to have you stay a little longer," said station astronaut John Phillips. "Have a good flight."

Shuttle commander Eileen Collins stressed it was not "a final farewell," because she planned on seeing the two station men back on Earth once their expedition ends in two more months.

Once undocked, Discovery looped around the space station for the first full photographic survey of the orbiting outpost since the last shuttle visit in late 2002, and then sped away into the blackness. Discovery's astronauts awoke Saturday evening for a day of storing away equipment for their upcoming return. They also planned to take down an antenna, which they have used to transmit video images of the mission.

The departing astronauts reported they may have seen a piece of debris fly off the space station Friday, but Mission Control assured them it was just a camera reflection. Flight controllers, at least those who briefly ducked outdoors, got a triple treat. The Hubble Space Telescope soared over Houston before sunrise, followed by Discovery and then the space station, all three appearing as bright stars.

Discovery spent nine days at the station, one more than planned because of the uncertainty over the timing of the next shuttle visit, so the astronauts could leave behind surplus food, laptop computers and other supplies. NASA has suspended all future shuttle flights until engineers figure out why a 1-pound chunk of foam insulation ripped off Discovery's external fuel tank shortly after liftoff on July 26 - and fix the problem. The foam, which could have caused Columbia-type damage, missed the shuttle.

Discovery shuttle safe to return to Earth: NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Aug 5: NASA has cleared space shuttle Discovery to return to Earth next week, deciding against sending astronauts for another spacewalk to repair a torn thermal blanket near a cockpit window.

Mission Control informed the astronauts that shuttle managers had reached the decision on Thursday during a meeting that a fourth space walk to deal with a puffed out thermal blanket is unnecessary. "There is no issue," said Mission Control's Julie Payette, speaking to the crew. The conclusion was reached after several wind tunnel tests and other engineering experiments determined the blanket did not pose a hazard during re-entry.

Wind tunnel tests overnight at NASA's Ames Research Centre in California showed little chance of any significant debris coming from the blanket at supersonic speeds. Further engineering analysis showed any debris released from the blanket was unlikely to hit structures on Discovery.

The Mission Management Team decision put to rest the work that was being done to assess the health of the thermal protection system. The tiles and reinforced carbon-carbon on Discovery's wings and nose were cleared earlier for entry.

Discovery and International Space Station crew members on Thursday delivered a moving tribute to the Columbia crew, including India-born Kalpana Chawla, and others, astronauts who lost their lives in the human exploration of space.

Bolton Presents Credentials at UN

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 3: John Bolton presented his credentials Tuesday as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a job which will challenge him to work with diplomats from 190 nations in a place he has called irrelevant.

"Glad to be here," the controversial diplomat told Secretary-General Kofi Annan before handing over his letter of appointment five months after he was nominated by President Bush. The two exchanged greetings and then held a brief private meeting. Bolton entered and left U.N. headquarters smiling and waving, but staying uncharacteristically mum.

The 56-year-old arms control expert with a reputation for brilliance, obstinacy and speaking his mind arrived just weeks before a summit in which world leaders will seek to adopt sweeping changes to enable the U.N. to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Bolton will be thrust into intense negotiations on contentious issues ranging from Security Council reform and poverty alleviation to stepping up the global fight against terrorism and improving U.N. management.

"He will be one of the key players because the United States is the largest contributor and a great power in the Security Council," Germany's U.N. Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said. "There are conflicting views on nearly every issue that is on our plate for the reform, and the largest player in the U.N., of course, plays a key role."

Many U.N. diplomats say Bolton will be judged on his performance here, not on his past, which features sharp criticism of the world body and resistance to his appointment as U.S. ambassador. "No one should make prejudgments on reputation," said Chile's U.N. Ambassador Heraldo Munoz. "One must do it on the merit of the facts, when we see what happens here."

The fact that Bolton failed twice to win Senate confirmation, forcing Bush to appoint him Monday after Congress adjourned for the summer, was also unlikely to have an impact, diplomats said. "He's a colleague like any other and will be received as such," said Denmark's U.N. Ambassador Ellen Margrethe Loj, who noted that in many countries no confirmation of ambassadors is required.

Annan said Monday he looks forward to working with Bolton, in the same way that he works with ambassadors from the other U.N. member states. The Bush administration says a tough-talking Bolton is ideally suited to lead an effort to overhaul the U.N. bureaucracy and make it more accountable. But Annan cautioned that negotiation and compromise are keys to success at the United Nations.

"I think it is all right for one ambassador to come and push, but an ambassador always has to remember that there are 190 others who will have to be convinced, or a vast majority of them, for action to take place," Annan said. Bolton will certainly face antagonism from some countries, including North Korea and Iran. In 2003, he said North Korea was led by a "tyrannical dictator," while he contends Iran is secretly planning to build nuclear weapons.

Bolton's past comments about the United Nations and his intimation that the United States can pull the strings have also not been forgotten, and will likely make some U.N. members wary.

In 1994, Bolton said it wouldn't make a "bit of difference" if the top 10 floors of the United Nations - which include the secretary-general's office - vanished from the 39-story headquarters building. In the same speech, he said there is "no such thing as the United Nations," just "an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that is the United States."

Bolton is no stranger to the U.N.'s inner workings. He dealt with U.N. affairs in the State Department from 1989-93, and in his latest post as the department's arms control chief, he has had frequent contacts with the Chinese and Russians, and will find several familiar faces in their delegations and elsewhere.

"Honestly, I'm looking forward to working with him," said Algeria's U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Baali, whose two-year term on the Security Council ends in December. "I worked with him several years ago, and I enjoyed working with him." "He's a very smart guy who can be very constructive, who can be very creative. So I think it will be very interesting to spend a few months with him in the Security Council," Baali said.

Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador Konstantin Dolgov said Bolton was well known in Moscow and "as far as I know he is a negotiator with quite some background." Diplomats said Bolton's first test will come very quickly in whether he plays a positive role in helping make the September summit a success.

With just over six weeks left to produce a document that all 191 U.N. member states support, negotiations are heating up on many issues: expanding the Security Council, creating a new Peacebuilding Commission, revamping the U.N.'s human rights machinery, defining terrorism, protecting civilians facing war crimes and genocide, and overhauling the Secretariat. "I think this is a time when it is make or break as far as the future relevance of the United Nations is concerned," Pleuger said.

Bush bypasses Senate, appoints Bolton as envoy to UN

WASHINGTON, Aug 2: Bypassing the Senate, President George Bush on Monday installed the controversial John Bolton as the next US Ambassador to the United Nations in the face of an all-out bid by the Democrats to block his appointment over the past five months.

With Congress going into summer recess, Bush took advantage of his constitutional powers to fill vacancies without Senate approval during the interregnum. The Bush move, which had been widely expected, will enable Bolton to serve until January 2007, when the next Congress is sworn in.

Defending his action, Bush said: "This post is too important to leave vacant any longer, especially during a war and a vital debate about UN reform... I'm sending Ambassador Bolton to New York with my complete confidence."

"Because of partisan delaying tactics by a handful of senators, John was unfairly denied the up-or-down vote that he deserves," Bush said. The Democrats were quick to attack the Bush move. Terming it an abuse of power, Senator Edward Kennedy said: "It's a devious manoeuvre that evades the constitutional requirement of Senate consent and only further darkens the cloud over Bolton's credibility at the UN."

An outspoken conservative, Bolton had become a red rag for the Democrats who held up a vote on his nomination. Citing his past utterances on UN, they held him unsuitable for the post. They also accused him of manipulating intelligence in support of his "hawkish views" during his last key assignment in the State Department.

Most Senate Republicans hailed the Bush action, saying it effectively ends "the (Democrats') obstruction". Reflecting their sentiments, Senator John Cornyn issued a statement, arguing that Bolton was "exceptionally well qualified to fill this role at this time". But at least one Republican, Senator George Voinovich, said he was disappointed with the appointment.

Bolton himself said in a brief acceptance speech: "It will be a distinct privilege to be an advocate for America's values and interests at the UN and, in the world of the UN charter, to help maintain international peace and security."

NASA grounds shuttle fleet amid concern over Discovery launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, July 28: NASA has said it was grounding the US space shuttle fleet after a large piece of foam insulation broke off from the fuel tank of the Discovery shuttle on liftoff. While the US space agency said the foam did not damage the shuttle on Tuesday's launch, a spokesman said that future flights are on hold until the problem is corrected.

"Until we're ready we won't fly again," space shuttle programme manager Bill Parsons said on Wednesday. NASA is concerned about the incident as it revives memories of the Columbia shuttle tragedy in February 2003.

Seven astronauts died when Columbia disintegrated upon reentering the Earth's atmosphere due to damage caused when insulation foam broke off of the spacecraft's external tank, causing a gash in Columbia's wing that allowed superheated gases to penetrate the shuttle.

The shuttle programme was frozen for 19 months until Tuesday's launch while NASA undertook programme changes to overcome the problems which led to the Columbia tragedy. "The fact is it didn't cause any damage to the orbiter that we're aware of at this time. It didn't impact the orbiter at all," Parsons said.

Nevertheless, he said, future flights will remain on hold until the problem is solved. "This is a test flight. Obviously we have some more work to do," said Parsons.

Shuttle Discovery blasts into orbit

CAPE CANAVERAL, July 26: Discovery and seven astronauts blasted into orbit Tuesday on America's first manned space shot since the 2003 Columbia disaster, ending a painful, 2 1/2-year shutdown devoted to making the shuttle less risky and NASA more safety-conscious.

At stake were not only the lives of the astronauts, but also America's pride in its technological prowess, the fate of the U.S. space program and the future of space exploration itself. "Our long wait may be over. So on behalf of the many millions of people who believe so deeply in what we do, good luck, Godspeed - and have a little fun up there," launch director Mike Leinbach told the astronauts right before liftoff.

Space program employees and relatives of both the Discovery and Columbia crews watched nervously as the shuttle rose from its pad at 10:39 a.m., climbed into a hazy midsummer sky, pierced two decks of clouds, and headed out over the ocean in the most scrutinized launch in NASA history. Two chase planes and more than 100 cameras documented the ascent from every possible angle to capture any sign of flying debris of the sort that doomed the last flight.

The multitude of images will not be fully analyzed - and NASA will not give a final verdict on whether Discovery is safe to return to Earth - until halfway through the 12-day flight.

The fuel-gauge problem that thwarted a launch attempt two weeks ago did not resurface before liftoff, to NASA's great relief, and the countdown was remarkably smooth. The space agency had been prepared to bend its safety rules to get the shuttle flying.

There was no immediate word from NASA on how the sensors performed during the climb to orbit, but everything appeared to go well.
A camera mounted on Discovery's giant orange external fuel tank provided an unprecedented view of the shuttle's climb to orbit and the tank being jettisoned back toward Earth as designed.

Pakistan is still the key terror hub: US report

WASHINGTON, July 22: Despite US efforts and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's crackdown on militant Islamic organizations, Pakistan remains a key hub of terrorism, The Wall Street Journal said Friday.

Among the reasons is the army's reluctance to go after militias that have helped Pakistan defend its claim on Kashmir, which it disputes with India, South Asia analysts and Western intelligence officials told the daily. Musharraf's government also relies on support from political parties that are often sympathetic to the aspirations of Islamic militants, the sources added.

In Pakistan's tribal areas of Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier Province, the Taliban still train and recruit without government interference, they said.

And Afghan military commanders complain that Pakistan is providing sanctuary and aid to the militias they're fighting, they added. "Since 9/11, there are only really two prominent places in the world where you can train for jihad: Iraq and Pakistan," Christine Fair, a South Asia expert at the United States Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan federal think tank in Washington, told the daily.

"If you're a young Muslim male looking for training, Pakistan is where you're likely to find the opportunity, particularly if you have family and ethnic ties there," she added.

Osama has strong base in Pakistan: PM

WASHINGON, July 21: Osama bin Laden, high on the global wanted list, and the al Qaeda have a strong base in Pakistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has indicated.

"I think there is no doubt about that," Singh said in an interview to CNN on being asked whether in his opinion Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda still have a significant base in Pakistan.

Asked where, he said the al Qaeda elements were "quite active" in the tribal belt of the Northwest Frontier province. And also, the whole infrastructure of the madrassas in Pakistan, the belief that these can shift away from the teaching of fundamentalism to more modern discipline, has not materialised, he said.

The Prime Minister said jihadi elements have taken advantage of these religious seminaries and schools in Pakistan and "they can take greater advantage of that phenomenon in the years to come".

Singh dismissed as "grossly overstated" the possibility of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan. "Both our countries are nuclear powers. And, as far as we are concerned, we have an impeccable record of not in any way contributing to proliferation of these nuclear technologies," he said.

To another question, Singh said he took pride in the fact that although India has 150 million Muslims in the country, "not one has been found to have joined the ranks of al Qaeda or participated in the activities of the Taliban".

Asked whether he trusts President Pervez Musharraf, Singh said "I do trust. But I think there is an old saying of President (Ronald) Reagan. Trust and verify."

Singh said he had held two important meetings with Musharraf. "He and I have both have committed our two countries to make the peace process between Indian and Pakistan irreversible".

The Prime Minister sought to remind Musharraf to honour promises made by him on stopping terrorism. "I sincerely hope that the commitments that Pakistan has made, that the territory of Pakistan will not be allowed to be used for planning terrorist acts against India, that commitment is honoured in letter and in spirit".

New Delhi has maintained that Pakistan has not done much in dismantling terrorist infrastructure in that country. "And, we have some worries on that score that the infrastructure of terror is largely intact in Pakistan," he said.

Singh also made it clear that India was not against the US having good relations with Pakistan. "A strong, stable and prosperous Pakistan is in our interests. If--Pakistan admits the jihadi elements are under control, it is in our interests," he said. He hoped the US influence could be exercised to ensure that the commitments that Pakistan has made are kept. On the issue of outsourcing, he said "it is not one-way street. Indian enterprises benefit, but so do the US enterprises".

India, U.S. must make common cause against terrorism: Manmohan Singh

WASHINGTON DC, July 20: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his address to the joint session of the United States Congress, said India and the U.S. must make common cause against terrorism whose rise was threatening open societies more than ever before.

The very openness of the societies made them vulnerable, yet they had to deal effectively with the threat without losing the openness that both valued and cherished. "India and the United States have both suffered grievously from terrorism and we must make common cause against it," he said.

Those who resorted to terrorism often clothed it in the garb of real or imaginary grievances. He declared, "We must categorically affirm that no grievance can justify resort to terror." Democracies provided legitimate means for expressing dissent and the right to engage in political activity. "However, for this very reason, they cannot afford to be soft on terror," he noted.

Stressing that the United States and India must work together in all possible forums, he declared: "We cannot be selective in this area. We must fight terrorism wherever it exists, because terrorism anywhere threatens democracy everywhere."

India's commitment to democracy and its successful working as an open and pluralistic society was the running theme in his address that touched upon economic growth and poverty, non-proliferation policy, growing need for energy including nuclear energy and India-U.S. partnership in a wide range of areas.

Noting that democratic societies with established institutions must help others nations to strengthen their democratic values and institutions, Dr. Singh referred to the U.S.-India Global Democracy Initiative agreed upon on Monday to help build democratic capacities in all societies that sought such assistance. The capacities related to electoral, parliamentary, judicial and human rights processes in emerging democracies. Respect for cultural diversity, minority rights and gender equality would be an important goal of the initiative.

Explaining India's approach to economic development, he noted that "there is no other country of a billion people, with our tremendous cultural, linguistic and religious diversity that has tried to modernise its society and transform its economy within the framework of a functioning democracy."

The economic policy changes initiated by Rajiv Gandhi and continued by successive governments had liberated Indian enterprise from government control and opened the economy to global flows of trade, capital and technology. "We are often criticised for being too slow in making changes in policy, but democracy means having to build a consensus in favour of change," he said.

During the process of reform, doubts and fears often arose when people faced the impact of change. Elected representatives had to assuage the doubts and calm the fears. Many of the fears were exaggerated, but they still needed to be addressed. "India's economic reforms must be seen in this light: they may appear slow, but I assure you they are durable and irreversible," Dr. Singh said.

Referring to the growing economic ties between India and the U.S., the Prime Minister pointed out that the information technology revolution in India was built primarily on U.S. computer-related technology and hardware. U.S. firms were leading the foreign investment drive, and 400 out of the Fortune 500 companies were already in India. Noting the American contribution at the start of the green revolution in India, he said a second generation India-U.S. collaboration in agriculture would be launched now.

The field of civilian nuclear energy was a vital area of cooperation between the two countries. "As a consequence of our collective efforts, our relationship in this sector is being transformed. President Bush and I arrived at an understanding in finding ways and means to enable such cooperation," he told the American lawmakers.

Dr. Singh pointed out that India had adhered to every rule and canon in the area of non-proliferation and its record was impeccable. India's neighbourhood had witnessed "unchecked nuclear proliferation" which had directly affected the country's interests. India as a responsible nuclear power was fully conscious of the immense responsibilities that come with the possession of advanced technologies, both civilian and strategic. "We have never been, and will never be, a source of proliferation of sensitive technologies," he said.

Referring to India and the U.S. as "natural partners in many respects," Dr. Singh emphasised that it was a partnership based on principle as well as on pragmatism. The objective of his visit was to lay the basis for transformed ties between the two countries. He sought the support and understanding of the U.S. Congress so that the full benefits of the India-U.S. partnership could be realised.



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