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Saturday, February 7, 2015

WEEKLY ADDRESS: EVERYONE WHO WORKS HARD SHOULD GET AHEAD

DOD VIDEO: HAGEL MEETS WITH NATO IN BELGIUM

video

LEADERS STRESS END TO SEQUESTRATION NEEDED FOR MILITARY TO IMPLEMENT NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 
Leaders: Resources Key for National Security Strategy
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6, 2015 – Praising President Barack Obama’s 2015 National Security Strategy for recognizing the challenges the nation faces, the Defense Department’s top civilian and military leaders today stressed the need for an end to scheduled sequestration spending cuts to allow the military to do its part in implementing the strategy.

White House officials released the strategy, known as the NSS, today.
Strategy Draws on All Sources of National Power

“President Obama's 2015 National Security Strategy provides a comprehensive blueprint for defending and advancing America's interests at home and around the world,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement. “It is clear-eyed about our nation's challenges as well as our strategic opportunities.
“The strategy wisely calls for drawing on all the sources of our national power -- including the unrivaled strength and resilience of America's economy, diplomacy, and military, as well as our values -- to strengthen and sustain America's global leadership,” he said.

Bedrock of National Security

The strategy makes clear that a strong military is the bedrock of U.S. national security, Hagel said, adding that the Defense Department stands ready to help in its execution. DoD leaders actively participated in its development, he added, noting that the NSS complements the defense strategy articulated by the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review.

“Every day, across the globe, the men and women of DoD defend our nation, our fellow citizens and our allies and partners,” the secretary said. “They assure our prosperity, represent our values, and help uphold a rules-based international order.”

The Defense Department needs the resources to continue doing so, Hagel said.
“That is why President Obama and I are urging Congress to end sequestration and approve the defense budget we have submitted for fiscal year 2016 -- so that we preserve our ability to execute our national security and defense strategies, and maintain the military superiority necessary to underwrite America's global leadership for decades to come,” the secretary said.

Complex Threats in a Turbulent World

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also issued a statement.

"The United States retains the world's pre-eminent military, but we cannot take it for granted, given the complex threats we face in today's turbulent world,” he said.

The NSS recognizes this reality with its charge to maintain the U.S. military edge and readiness, Dempsey added, by continuing to insist on reforms and necessary investment in military forces and their families.

“In particular, I welcome the NSS's call to working with Congress to end sequestration so that we can maintain the military the American people deserve and expect," the chairman said.

WHITE HOUSE FACT SHEET ON NATIONAL SECURITY IN 2015

FROM:  THE WHITE HOUSE
February 06, 2015
Fact Sheet: The 2015 National Security Strategy
Fact Sheet:  The 2015 National Security Strategy

Today, the United States is stronger and better positioned to seize the opportunities of a still new century and safeguard our interests against the risks of an insecure world.  The President’s new National Security Strategy provides a vision and strategy for advancing the nation’s interests, universal values, and a rules-based international order through strong and sustainable American leadership.  The strategy sets out the principles and priorities that describe how America will lead the world toward greater peace and a new prosperity.

We will lead with purpose, guided by our enduring national interests and values and committed to advancing a balanced portfolio of priorities worthy of a great power.

We will lead with strength, harnessing a resurgent economy, increased energy security, an unrivaled military, and the talent and diversity of the American people.

We will lead by example, upholding our values at home and our obligations abroad.

We will lead with capable partners, mobilizing collective action and building partner capacity to address global challenges.

We will lead with all instruments of U.S. power, leveraging our strategic advantages in diplomacy, development, defense, intelligence, science and technology, and more.

We will lead with a long-term perspective, influencing the trajectory of major shifts in the security landscape today in order to secure our national interests in the future.

We will advance the security of the United States, its citizens, and U.S. allies and partners by:

Maintaining a national defense that is the best trained, equipped, and led force in the world while honoring our promises to service members, veterans, and their families.

Working with Congress to end the draconian cuts imposed by sequestration that threaten the effectiveness of our military and other instruments of power.
Reinforcing our homeland security to keep the American people safe from terrorist attacks and natural hazards while strengthening our national resilience.
Transitioning to a sustainable global security posture that combines our decisive capabilities with local partners and keeps pressure on al-Qa’ida, ISIL, and their affiliates.

Striving for a world without nuclear weapons and ensuring nuclear materials do not fall into the hands of irresponsible states and violent non-state actors.
Developing a global capacity to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to biological threats like Ebola through the Global Health Security Agenda.

Confronting the urgent crisis of climate change, including through national emissions reductions, international diplomacy, and our commitment to the Green Climate Fund.

We will advance a strong, innovative, and growing U.S. economy in an open international economic system that promotes opportunity and prosperity by:

Strengthening American energy security and increasing global access to reliable and affordable energy to bolster economic growth and development worldwide.
Opening markets for U.S. goods, services, and investment and leveling the playing field for American workers and businesses to boost our economic competitiveness.

Advancing a trade agenda – including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – that creates good American jobs and shared prosperity.

Leading efforts to reduce extreme poverty, food insecurity, and preventable deaths with initiatives such as Feed the Future and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Proving new sustainable development models like the President’s Power Africa Initiative.

We will advance respect for universal values at home and around the world by:

Holding ourselves to the highest possible standard by living our values at home even as we do what is necessary to keep our people safe and our allies secure.
Promoting and defending democracy, human rights, and equality while supporting countries such as Tunisia and Burma that are transitioning from authoritarianism.

Empowering future leaders of government, business, and civil society around the world, including through the President’s young leaders initiatives.
Leading the way in confronting the corruption by promoting adherence to standards of accountable and transparent governance.

Leading the international community to prevent and respond to human rights abuses and mass atrocities as well as gender-based violence and discrimination against LGBT persons.

We will advance an international order that promotes peace, security, and oppor­tunity through stronger cooperation to meet global challenges by:

Working with partners to reinforce and update the rules of the road, norms, and institutions that are foundational to peace, prosperity, and human dignity in the 21st century.

Strengthening and growing our global alliances and partnerships, forging diverse coalitions, and leading at the United Nations and other multilateral organizations.
Rebalancing to Asia and the Pacific through increased diplomacy, stronger alliances and partnerships, expanded trade and investment, and a diverse security posture.

Strengthening our enduring commitment to a free and peaceful Europe by countering aggression and modernizing the NATO alliance to meet emerging threats.

Pursuing a stable Middle East and North Africa by countering terrorism, preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and reducing the underlying sources of conflict.

Building upon the success of the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit by investing in Africa’s economic, agricultural, health, governance, and security capacity.
Promoting a prosperous, secure, and democratic Western Hemisphere by expanding integration and leveraging a new opening to Cuba to expand our engagement.

AG HOLDER'S REMARKS AT OAKLAND LAW ENFORCEMENT COMMUNITY MEETING

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. Delivers Remarks at Oakland Law Enforcement Community Meeting
Oakland, CAUnited States ~ Thursday, February 5, 2015
Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you all for being here.  I particularly want to thank Congresswoman [Barbara] Lee, Mayor [Libby] Schaaf, and Chief of Police [Sean] Whent for welcoming me to Oakland today, as well as our outstanding U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, Melinda Haag, for her help in pulling together this important meeting.

      I also want to thank all of the assembled law enforcement, faith, student, and community leaders for joining me to talk about the work that’s underway here in Oakland – and the important steps that we must take together to reduce crime while building community trust.

      It is a privilege to join you in advancing this discussion this afternoon, and to have the opportunity to help shine a light on the remarkable work you perform each and every day.

      I’d particularly like to recognize the tireless efforts of the men and women of the Oakland Police Department, who stand on the front lines of our work to improve public safety.

      I know I speak for my Justice Department colleagues, and for everyone here, when I say that the bravery this work requires – and the dangers that are inherent in it – are never far from our minds.

      As the brother of a retired police officer, I know in a deeply personal way how courageous these public servants are.  I have seen the tremendous and often-unheralded sacrifices that they and their loved ones are routinely called upon to make.

      I have also seen the destructive consequences that too often accompany any loss of trust between our brave law enforcement officers and the communities they are entrusted to serve and protect.

      Recent events have cast a stark light on rifts that have emerged throughout the country.  And that’s why I’ve been traveling the nation in recent months to hold roundtable discussions – like this one – aimed at bringing people of all backgrounds and perspectives together to restore trust where it has been eroded, and to build trust where it never existed.

      I am especially mindful, as we gather today, of the devastating and barbaric attack that we suffered in New York City in December.  The terrible losses of Officers [Wenjian] Liu and [Rafael] Ramos – members of New York’s finest – shocked the nation.  They serve as tragic reminders of the dangers that all of our officers regularly face.  And this incident has lent new urgency to our ongoing, national conversation.

      Over the past six years, through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and other components, the Department of Justice has taken significant steps to provide our law enforcement officers with access to the tools and support they need to do their jobs as safely and effectively as possible.  Going forward, we will continue to make good on our deep commitment to building understanding and cooperation between our officers and the communities they serve.

      Before we open today’s discussion, I’d like to provide you all with a brief update on some of the constructive steps we’re taking to do just that, to help address these urgent issues in cities and towns across America, and to advance this broad, inclusive dialogue at the national level.

      We cannot squander this opportunity to have the kind of dialogue - I think - is needed to begin the kind of change we need in this nation.

      In December, the Administration took a series of actions to take this commitment to a new level – by improving the way local authorities acquire equipment from the federal government; by proposing investments in body-worn cameras, expanded training, and additional resources for facilitating community engagement; by strengthening guidance on profiling by federal law enforcement agents conducting law enforcement activities; and by convening a new Task Force on 21st Century Policing – led by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson – to examine ways to promote effective crime strategies while building public trust.

      Ultimately, all of these efforts will advance the cause that brings us together today – promoting safer, more effective law enforcement for the people of Oakland, and for millions of others throughout the country.

      The people of this great city deserve an outstanding, world-class police force that works alongside local residents to protect public safety.  Oakland’s brave officers deserve the cutting-edge tools, the very latest training, and the steadfast support they need to do their jobs with maximum safety, efficacy, and fairness.

        As this work unfolds, I want you to know that the Justice Department will continue to rely on your leadership, your expertise, and your unique perspectives to help ensure that we can bridge longstanding divisions between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

      This is a great community that has, I think, shown itself to be a leader of so many things on the national level.

      In partnership with you, and through the leadership of U.S. Attorney Haag – who will be our lasting presence on the ground here in Oakland, helping to drive these efforts forward – I believe we can all be confident in where this work will take us.

      I am eager to hear from all of you on how we can best achieve these goals.  I appreciate your guidance and engagement.  And I look forward to everything we’ll accomplish together in the critical days ahead.

EX-IM BANK CHAIRMAN MAKES STATEMENT ON EXPORT DATA

FROM:  U.S. EXPORT-IMPORT BANK 
Export-Import Bank Chairman Fred P. Hochberg Statement on the Release of Export Data from the Commerce Department
U.S. Sets Record for Fifth Consecutive Year

Washington, D.C. – Ex-Im Bank Chairman and President Fred P. Hochberg issued the following statement with respect to the FY 2014 export data released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) of the U.S. Commerce Department. According to BEA, the United States exported a record $2.345 trillion of goods and services in FY 2014, which represents a 2.9 percent increase and a record high for the fifth consecutive year.

In December, the United States exported $194.9 billion of goods and services. This figure represents a decrease from November’s $196.4 billion exports total, which was revised slightly upward.

“These export numbers are a testament to the quality and innovation of American goods and services, but they don’t mean we can rest on our laurels,” said Ex-Im Bank Chairman and President Fred P. Hochberg. “The thousands of U.S. businesses, small and large, that count on Ex-Im Bank being there to support them to win export sales and add good-paying jobs here in America can’t afford an unforced error that would threaten the positive momentum demonstrated by today’s news.”

NSF ARTICLE ON UP IN THE AIR WIND TURBINES

FROM:  NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Floating wind turbines bring electricity where it's needed

Altaeros Energies' research into advanced materials enables new heights for wind energy
Aiming high

Most wind turbine manufacturers are competing to build taller turbines to harness more powerful winds above 500 feet, or 150 meters. Altaeros is going much higher with their novel Buoyant Airborne Turbine--the BAT. The Altaeros BAT can reach 2,000 feet, or 600 meters.

At this altitude, wind speeds are faster and have five to eight times greater power density. As a result, the BAT can generate more than twice the energy of a similarly rated tower-mounted turbine.

The BAT's key enabling technologies include a novel aerodynamic design, custom-made composite materials, and an innovative control system. The helium-inflatable shell channels wind through a lightweight wind turbine. The shell self-stabilizes and produces aerodynamic lift, in addition to buoyancy. Multiple high-strength tethers hold the BAT in place and a single conductive tether transmits power to a mobile ground station.

The BAT's automated control system ensures safe and efficient operation, the highlight of which is the capability to adjust altitude autonomously for optimal power output. The first BAT model is approximately 15 by 15 meters, is containerized, and does not require a crane or foundation for installation.

Reaching customers

Diesel generators are the standard in power generation for rural and off-grid areas. However, diesel fuel is expensive to deliver to these locations, and diesel generators, though inexpensive to install, are expensive to operate and maintain.

As a result, remote customers typically pay more than 30 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity. The BAT has the potential to bring affordable wind energy to these communities and industries. The first model will provide enough electricity for a small community, or about a dozen American homes.

Combined with significant increases in energy output and the ability to install the unit in 24 hours, the BAT substantially reduces the cost of energy and time to reach customers' energy needs. In the future, Altaeros expects to deploy the BAT alongside first responders in emergency response situations when access to the electric grid is unavailable.

Much like other tethered balloons, the Altaeros BAT can lift communication, Internet and sensory equipment alongside the turbine to provide additional services for customers. The addition of payload equipment does not affect the BAT's performance.

Scaling up

Altaeros was founded in 2010 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The company has received NSF Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants (Phase I and Phase II) to test a novel low-cost, high-performance fabric suitable for the BAT's shell, and to develop its modular wind turbine for power performance and ease of installation.

Altaeros recently received Series A funding of $7 million dollars for the continued development and commercialization of its technology.

"The new products being developed by the team at Altaeros are exciting because they have the potential to offer a new method for energy generation which is portable, reliable, quick to deploy, and environmentally-friendly," said Ben Schrag, NSF SBIR program director. "This technology has the potential to avoid many of the key challenges facing traditional wind turbines."

-- Cecile Gonzalez, NSF cjgonzal@nsf.gov
-- Sarah Bates, (703) 292-7738 sabates@nsf.gov
Investigators
Ben Glass
Related Institutions/Organizations
Altaeros Energies, Inc.

Friday, February 6, 2015

DOJ ANNOUNCES SIX CHARGED WITH PROVIDING MATERIAL SUPPORT TO TERRORISTS

FROM:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Friday, February 6, 2015
Six Defendants Charged with Conspiracy and Providing Material Support to Terrorists

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan of the Eastern District of Missouri and Special Agent in Charge William P. Woods of the FBI’s St. Louis Division announced that a federal indictment was unsealed earlier today charging six individuals with terrorist related crimes.  Charged in the indictment are:  Ramiz Zijad Hodzic, 40, his wife Sedina Unkic Hodzic, 35, and Armin Harcevic, 37, all of St. Louis County, Missouri; Nihad Rosic, 26, of Utica, New York; Mediha Medy Salkicevic, 34 of Schiller Park, Illinois; and Jasminka Ramic, 42, of Rockford, Illinois.  All defendants are charged with conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists, and with providing material support to terrorists.  Ramiz Zijad Hodzic and Nihad Rosic are also charged with conspiring to kill and maim persons in a foreign country.

All six individuals are natives of Bosnia who immigrated to the United States.  Three have become naturalized citizens of the United States and the remaining three have either refugee or legal resident status.  Five of the defendants are in the United States and have been arrested.  A sixth defendant is overseas.

If convicted, the crimes of conspiring to provide material support and providing material support carry penalties ranging up to 15 years imprisonment for each count and/or fines up to $250,000.  The crime of conspiring to kill and maim persons in a foreign country carries a penalty of up to life in prison.  In determining the actual sentences, a judge is required to consider the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide recommended sentencing ranges.

“Today’s charges and arrests underscore our resolve to identify, thwart, and hold accountable individuals within the United States who seek to provide material support to terrorists and terrorist organizations operating in Syria and Iraq,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin.  “Preventing the provision of supplies, money, and personnel to foreign terrorist organizations like ISIL remains a top priority of the National Security Division and our partners in the law enforcement and intelligence communities.  I want to thank the many agents, analysts and prosecutors responsible for this case.”

“The indictment unsealed today epitomizes the FBI's commitment to disrupting and holding accountable those who seek to provide material support to terrorists and terrorist organizations,” said Special Agent in Charge Woods.  “This case underscores the clear need for continued vigilance in rooting out those who seek to join or aid terrorist groups that threaten our national security.”

This case was investigated by the St. Louis FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Postal Inspection Service, St. Louis Metropolitan and St. Louis County Police Departments, with assistance from multiple law enforcement agencies.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew Drake, Howard Marcus and Kenneth Tihen of the Eastern District of Missouri and Mara Kohn, a Trial Attorney in the Counterterrorism Section of the Department of Justice.

As is always the case, charges set forth in an indictment are merely accusations and do not constitute proof of guilt.  Every defendant is presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty.    

SECRETARY KERRY'S STATEMENT ON NATIONAL SECURITY BLUEPRINT

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT 
The National Security Strategy
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
February 6, 2015

This National Security Strategy is a blueprint to leverage America's leadership in a more complicated world than many people would have ever imagined.

It's ambitious and achievable. It's a pragmatic, clear-eyed assessment of both the challenges we face and the full arsenal of our power to confront them through moral, diplomatic, economic, development, and military tools. It's a strategy to promote our values in a world where no ocean, no fence, and no firewall can shield us from the reality of threats across the globe.

In the 21st Century, next door is everywhere.

Whether the opportunities and threats are old or new, from proliferation to violent extremism to global climate change, this strategy reflects the fact that America needs to lead, we will lead, and we are leading.

It's a vision of an America that energizes and galvanizes alliances and partnerships and puts our credibility and our capacity on the line to get things done.

For the State Department, it's also a clarion call for the resources that back up our mission. The investments are relatively small but couldn't pay bigger dividends for our country and our people.

Strong and sustainable leadership of a rules-based international order isn’t a favor we do for other countries – it’s a strategic imperative for America. And with this strategy, we are putting ourselves in the strongest possible position to lead and to get things done that simply couldn’t happen without our leadership and our engagement.

DOD VIDEO: 4 TRAINING SITES READY FOR ANTI-ISIL

video

FEB. 5 WAS ANNIVERSARY OF APOLLO 14 LANDING

FROM:  NASA 

On Feb. 5. 1971, the Apollo 14 crew module landed on the moon. The crew members were Captain Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr. (USN), commander; Major Stuart Allen Roosa (USAF), command module pilot; and Commander Edgar Dean Mitchell (USN), lunar module pilot. In this photo, Shepard stands by the Modular Equipment Transporter (MET). The MET was a cart for carrying around tools, cameras and sample cases on the lunar surface. Shepard can be identified by the vertical stripe on his helmet. After Apollo 13, the commander's spacesuit had red stripes on the helmet, arms, and one leg, to help identify them in photographs. Image Credit: NASA.

IRS SAYS EXCESSIVE FUEL TAX CREDIT CLAIMS ON LIST OF "DIRTY DOZEN" TAX SCAMS

FROM:  U.S. INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE
Excessive Claims for Fuel Tax Credits Make the IRS “Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams for the 2015 Filing Season

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today warned that taxpayers should watch for improper claims for fuel tax credits, one of the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams for the 2015 filing season.

“We will do everything we can to stop erroneous claims for the fuel tax credit and catch scammers promoting them,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “The IRS is also concerned about identity thieves trying to use this credit to inflation their bogus claims for refunds.”

Compiled annually, the “Dirty Dozen” lists a variety of common scams that taxpayers may encounter any time but many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their returns or people to help with their taxes.

Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is considered a frivolous tax claim and can result in a penalty of $5,000. Furthermore, illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to shutdown scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.

The fuel tax credit is generally limited to off-highway business use or use in farming.  Consequently, the credit is not available to most taxpayers. But yet, the IRS routinely finds unscrupulous preparers who have enticed sizable groups of taxpayers to erroneously claim the credit to inflate their refunds.

Fuel Tax Credit Scams

The federal government taxes gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, alternative fuels and certain other types of fuel. Certain commercial uses of these fuels are nontaxable. Individuals and businesses that purchase fuel for one of those purposes can claim a tax credit by filing Form 4136, Credit for Federal Tax Paid on Fuels.

The tax is on fuels used to power vehicles and equipment on roads and highways. Taxes paid for fuel to power vehicles and equipment used off-road may qualify for the tax credit and may include farm equipment, certain boats, trains and airplanes.

Improper claims for the fuel tax credit generally come in two forms. An individual or business may make an erroneous claim on their otherwise legitimate tax return. Or an identity thief may claim the credit in a broader fraudulent scheme.

The IRS has taken a number of steps to improve compliance processes involving fuel tax credits.

IRS compliance filters are preventing a significant number of questionable fuel tax credit claims from being processed.  For example, new identity theft screening filters have also improved the IRS’s ability to identify questionable fuel tax credit claims during return processing, including preventing the issuance of $33 million in questionable credit claims in 2013.

For the upcoming filing season, the IRS has taken additional steps to identify returns for review that claim fuel tax credits, including broadening the identification criteria to ensure a more comprehensive compliance approach in selecting questionable tax returns.

READOUTS: SECRETARY HAGEL'S MEETINGS WITH GEORGIAN MINISTER OF DEFENSE AND ITALIAN DEFENSE MINISTER

FROM:  THE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT S
Release No: NR-037-15
February 05, 2015
Readout of Secretary Hagel's meetings with the Georgian Minister of Defense Mindia Janelidze

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby provided the following readout:
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met in Brussels today with Georgian Minister of Defense Mindia Janelidze. The meeting took place on the sidelines of the NATO Defense Ministerial conference being held here.

Secretary Hagel thanked the president for his leadership and for the contributions Georgia continues to make in Afghanistan and other peacekeeping missions, as well as to coalition efforts against ISIL in Iraq.

The secretary stressed the United States' commitment to helping improve Georgia's interoperability and readiness, a process that will be greatly enhanced by continued institutional reform in the Georgian government.

The two leaders also discussed the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. They reviewed efforts by allies and partners in the region to reinforce our international commitments and to continue to apply diplomatic and economic pressure on Moscow.

Secretary Hagel reaffirmed the importance of the U.S. partnership with Georgia, and pledged to continue our strong defense cooperation.


Release No: NR-038-15
February 05, 2015
Readout of Secretary Hagel's meeting with Italian Minister of Defense Roberta Pinotti.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby provided the following readout:
Secretary Hagel met in Brussels today with Italian Minister of Defense Roberta Pinotti. The meeting took place on the sidelines of the NATO Defense Ministerial conference being held here.

Secretary Hagel thanked Minister Pinotti for her leadership and for the contributions Italy continues to make to the alliance and in Afghanistan, as well as to coalition operations in Iraq.

He praised the minister's efforts to help our two militaries maintain a strong defense relationship, as well as Italy's efforts to work closely with other NATO allies across many missions and operations.

The two leaders also discussed a host of regional security issues, including Russia's continued aggression inside Ukraine, the threat posed by ISIL in the Middle East and recent instability in North Africa and the Levant.

Minister Pinotti thanked Secretary Hagel for his leadership as he prepares to leave office, and both leaders reaffirmed the importance of renewed focus by the NATO alliance to address both continental and global security challenges.

$18 MILLION TO BE RETURNED TO CUSTOMERS OF PEREGRINE FINANCIAL GROUP, INC.

FROM:  U.S. COMMODITY FUTURES TRADING COMMISSION
Federal Court Orders U.S. Bank National Association to Pay $18 Million to Peregrine Customers

U.S. Bank held the Peregrine Financial Group, Inc. customer segregated funds account that Russell Wasendorf, Sr. used to misappropriate customer funds

Washington, DC – The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) today announced that on February 4, 2015, Chief Judge Linda R. Reade of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa entered a Consent Order imposing a permanent injunction against U.S. Bank National Association (U.S. Bank) and ordering the bank to pay $18 million dollars to be returned to Peregrine Financial Group, Inc. (Peregrine) customers.

At the time of its failure in July 2012, Peregrine was the nation’s second largest non-bank, non-clearing Futures Commission Merchant (FCM).  U.S. Bank maintains branch offices in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where Peregrine and its owner, Russell Wasendorf, Sr. (Wasendorf), were located.  U.S. Bank was a depository for Peregrine and held a customer segregated funds account that Wasendorf used to defraud more than 24,000 Peregrine clients and misappropriate over $215 million of customers’ money.  On July 10, 2012, the CFTC instituted a civil action against Wasendorf and Peregrine, CFTC v. Peregrine Financial Group, Inc. and Russell Wasendorf, Sr., 12-cv-05383 (N.D.IL July 10, 2012) (see CFTC Press Release and CFTC Complaint 6300-12).  Wasendorf was also criminally charged, pled guilty, and on January 23, 2013 was sentenced to 50 years in prison and ordered to pay more than $215 million in restitution.  U.S. v. Russell Wasendorf, Sr., 12-cr-2021(N.D.IA).

During the relevant period of the CFTC’s action, June 2008 through July 2012, Wasendorf withdrew and transferred approximately $36 million from the US Bank customer segregated funds account to persons and entities that were not Peregrine customers and U.S. Bank regularly withdrew its account fees from the customer segregated funds account for both Peregrine and non-Peregrine accounts held at the bank.

The Order enjoins U.S. Bank from committing future violations of the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) and the CFTC’s Regulations that prohibit any depository institution, like U.S. Bank, from holding, disposing of, or using funds that belong to customers of an FCM as though they belong to anyone other than the customers, and also prohibit the extension of credit based on such funds to anyone other than the customers.

The Order also requires U.S. Bank to pay $18 million to the court-appointed Trustee for Peregrine in In re Peregrine Financial Group, Inc., BK Case No. 12-27488 (N.D.IL) that will be returned to Peregrine customers that held domestic futures accounts.

CFTC Director of Enforcement Aitan Goelman stated: “Russell Wasendorf stole enormous sums of money that Peregrine’s customers entrusted to him.  He is responsible for his crimes.  However, that fact does not excuse U.S. Bank’s failure to meet its own responsibilities to safeguard Peregrine’s customer funds that it held.  As this litigation and its resolution demonstrate, the CFTC will be relentless in pursuing recovery on behalf of innocent investors.”

The court’s Order arises from a Complaint filed by the CFTC on June 5, 2013 charging U.S. Bank with improperly holding and using a Peregrine customer segregated funds account by treating the account like a regular business checking account, thereby allowing Wasendorf to withdraw customer money for non-customer purposes from June 2008 through July 2012 (see CFTC Press Release and Complaint 6601-13, June 5, 2013).

In the Order, the parties adopt the undisputed facts from the court’s November 19, 2014 Summary Judgment Order (see Order under Related Links). There the court found that on August 3, 1992, Peregrine opened an account at a predecessor to U.S. Bank and designated the account a “Peregrine Financial Group, Inc. Customer Segregated Account.”  U.S. Bank provided two letters to Peregrine acknowledging the account contained customer money, would be properly segregated, and maintained in accordance with the CEA.  However, during the relevant period alleged in the CFTC Complaint, no U.S. Bank employee that had responsibility for the customer segregated funds account understood that the account was a customer segregated funds account or understood the meaning of that account designation.  At that time, U.S. Bank had no policies, procedures or training specifically applicable to FCM customers or customer segregated funds.  During the relevant period, Wasendorf withdrew approximately $36 million to persons and entities that were not Peregrine customers and U.S. Bank regularly withdrew its account fees from the customer segregated funds account for both Peregrine and non-Peregrine accounts held at the bank.

After the CFTC initiated its investigation in July 2012, U.S. Bank implemented new policies and procedures specifically applicable to FCM customer segregated funds accounts.

CFTC Division of Enforcement staff members responsible for this action are Robert Howell, Susan Gradman, Joy McCormack, Stephanie Reinhart, Ashley Burden, Jennifer Diamond, Jon Kramer, Elizabeth Pendleton, Scott Williamson, and Rosemary Hollinger.

GUARD RECRUITER AND ASSISTANT CONVICTED IN BRIBERY CASE

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Texas National Guard Recruiter and Assistant Convicted in Bribery and Fraud Scheme

An Army National Guard recruiter and recruiting assistant were convicted today for their roles in a bribery and fraud scheme, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson of the Southern District of Texas.

Jammie T. Martin, 37, and Michelle H. Davis, 34, both of Katy, Texas, were convicted today of conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.  The defendants were indicted on Aug. 7, 2013, and will be sentenced on May 7, 2015, by U.S. District Judge David Hittner of the Southern District of Texas.

From February 2009 through April 2011, Martin served as an Army National Guard recruiter. Davis served as a recruiting assistant with the Guard Recruiting Assistance Program (G-RAP), which was a recruiting program that offered monetary incentives to soldiers of the Army National Guard who referred others to join the National Guard.  Both defendants worked out of a Texas National Guard Armory known as the Westheimer Armory.

According to evidence presented at trial, Martin—who, as a recruiter, was ineligible for the G-RAP incentives—provided the personal identifying information of potential soldiers to Davis and at least three other National Guard soldiers.  Davis and the others then falsely claimed they were responsible for referring the potential soldiers to join the military and fraudulently received referral bonus payments through the G-RAP program.  Davis and the others paid approximately half of each fraudulent bonus payment to Martin as a kickback.

To date, this investigation has led to the conviction of 26 individuals, including Martin and Davis.

This case is being investigated by the San Antonio Fraud Resident Agency of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit and prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Sean F. Mulryne and Mark J. Cipolletti of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney John P. Pearson of the Southern District of Texas.

DEFENDANTS SETTLE FTC CHARGES OF REMOTELY DEBITING SENIORS' BANK ACCOUNTS

FROM:  FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION  

Two Defendants in Cross-Border Telemarketing Scheme Settle FTC Charges
Scheme Used Remotely Created Checks to Debit Money from Seniors’ Bank Accounts

Two defendants who participated in an alleged multi-million dollar telemarketing fraud that targeted U.S. seniors and withdrew money from their accounts without authorization have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges. The settlement orders bar them from using remotely created checks drawn on consumers’ bank accounts, require them to obtain consumers’ consent before debiting their accounts, and prohibit them from misrepresenting any goods or services.

The individuals Marc Ferry and Robert Barczai, also will turn over the proceeds of the scheme from their personal and corporate accounts. The FTC has filed for default judgments against the corporate defendants, and summary judgment against the leading individual defendant in the scheme, which took in nearly $11 million between 2010 and March 2014.

“Scammers thought they could cover their tracks by operating across borders, but law enforcement caught up with them,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We’ve shut down their scheme of lying to older people and stealing their money.”

According to the FTC’s March 2014 complaint, defendant Ari Tietolman and his associates established a network of U.S. and Canadian entities to carry out their scam. The defendants used a telemarketing boiler room in Canada, where Tietolman lives, to cold-call seniors claiming to sell fraud protection, legal protection, and pharmaceutical benefit services for $187 to $397.

In some instances, the telemarketers convinced consumers they were affiliated with banks or government entities, leading consumers to disclose their bank account information. The defendants then used that information to create checks drawn on the consumers’ bank accounts. They deposited these “remotely created checks” into corporate accounts set up by defendants Ferry and Barczai in the United States. The U.S.-based defendants then transferred the money to accounts in Canada, the FTC alleged.

The FTC charged the corporate and individual defendants with violating the FTC Act and the agency’s Telemarketing Sales Rule. A U.S. district court temporarily shut down the operation in late March 2014, pending the resolution of the FTC’s action.

Two defendants in the case, Ferry and Barczai, have now agreed to stipulated orders settling the FTC’s charges against them. The order against Ferry bans him from using remotely creating checks and payment orders, requires him to get consumers’ authorization before charging their financial accounts, and prohibits him from making misrepresentations regarding any goods or services. It imposes a judgment of $325,449 against him, which will be partially suspended after he pays the FTC $68,412.

The order against Barczai contains the same conduct provisions as the order against Ferry, and imposes a judgment of $9,655,638, which will be partially suspended after he pays the FTC $21,367.

The Commission vote approving the two proposed stipulated final orders was 5-0. They were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The FTC subsequently filed a memorandum seeking default judgments against the following corporate defendants on January 13: First Consumers LLC; PowerPlay Industries LLC; Standard American Marketing, Inc.; 1166519075 Quebec Inc., doing business as (d/b/a) Landshark Holdings Inc; and 1164047236 Quebec, Inc. d/b/a Madicom, Inc.

Finally, on January 13, the FTC filed a memorandum seeking summary judgment against Tietolman, who ran the operation and collected money funneled into Canada. The FTC alleges that Tietolman controlled the deceptive scheme, and therefore is seeking to permanently bar him from the conduct alleged in the complaint and hold him liable for the $10.7 million in harm he caused defrauded consumers.

The FTC received valuable help throughout this case from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

NOTE: Stipulated orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them.

HUNTING FOR LEPTOSPIRA BACTERIA

FROM:  THE NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Field fever, harvest fever, rat catcher's yellows: Leptospirosis by any name is a serious disease

Infection is more prevalent in lower-income tropical areas
Rat catcher's yellows, field fever, harvest fever, black jaundice.

All are names for the same disease, leptospirosis, an infection caused by corkscrew-shaped bacteria called Leptospira.

Symptoms range from mild--headaches, muscle aches, fever--to more severe conditions, such as meningitis and bleeding from the lungs.

Looking for leptospirosis

"Leptospira bacteria are maintained through a complex transmission cycle," write scientist Claudia Munoz-Zanzi of the University of Minnesota and colleagues in a 2014 paper in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine.

"Humans and other mammals, domestic and wild, become infected after contact with urine from an infected host, or Leptospira-contaminated water or damp soil."

Some 7 to 10 million people contract leptospirosis each year. The disease is most prevalent in tropical areas, but may be found almost anywhere that's warm and wet.

In the developed world, leptospirosis occurs in people involved in outdoor activities, such as canoeing and kayaking in warm places. In developing countries, the disease largely happens to farmers and poorer people who live in cities.

Infection with Leptospira is linked with agricultural practices, fouling of household or recreational water, poor housing and waste disposal, and changes in the density or proximity of infected animals such as rodents, domestic animals like dogs and wildlife.

Rodents most common carriers

Rodents are the most common reservoirs of Leptospira, says Munoz-Zanzi.

With a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF)-National Institutes of Health-U.S. Department of Agriculture Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID) program, Munoz-Zanzi is studying the eco-epidemiology of leptospirosis.

Awards through the EEID program fund scientists to study how large-scale environmental events--such as habitat destruction and climate variability--alter the risks of viral, parasitic and bacterial diseases.

Munoz-Zanzi's goal is to improve knowledge of the social, epidemiological and ecological factors influencing leptospirosis in South America. She and colleagues are working to identify intervention strategies to reduce the disease's effect on the health of humans and other animals.

South-central Chile: a perfect home for Leptospira?

The study is taking place in the Los Rios region of south-central Chile. The area's climate is moderate, with an economy that's based on farming, agriculture, forestry and tourism.

Most of the region's human population is concentrated in a few urban centers, with the rest scattered in small towns or villages and farm areas.

Munoz-Zanzi's research involves contrasting leptospirosis in three community types: urban slums, rural villages, and farms.

Initial findings from the research showed that 20 percent of leptospirosis starts with rodents, including rats and mice, inside households and in other environments in populated areas.

Leptospira-carrying rodents turned out to be more abundant in rural villages than slums and farms.

"Social factors can be important causes of diseases," says Sam Scheiner, NSF EEID program director. "This study shows that the type of community can determine the presence of rats and mice that are disease-carriers. The results have implications for the control of many infectious diseases."

Danger in a puddle

"Because Leptospira live in water and soil," Munoz-Zanzi says, "the environment plays a key role in transmission in household pets, farm animals and people."

When the scientists collected water from puddles, containers, animal troughs, rivers, canals and drinking water, all showed contamination with Leptospira.

In households where puddles were found along with signs of rodent infestations, leptospirosis was common.

"However," says Munoz-Zanzi, "that was true only in lower income houses."

Some 19 percent of samples from these households--most from locations with warmer temperatures, and many with dogs as pets--tested positive.

Community setting important

The scientists are now examining leptospirosis in dogs and livestock, as well as in humans. They're integrating molecular, epidemiological and other data to gain insights into patterns of infection in various community types.

"The more we understand about this disease," says Munoz-Zanzi, "the more we realize the importance of the local community setting."

Ongoing efforts, she says, include the use of mathematical models to develop recommendations for disease control that's locally relevant. The scientists hope to provide people living in the most affected areas with tools to decrease the effects of leptospirosis.

In the meantime, how can people avoid contracting the disease?

"Wear protective equipment to prevent contact with potentially infected animals and environments," says Munoz-Zanzi, "wash after any such contact, and reduce rodents in places where people live and work."

Crowded tropical conditions where rats and mice freely run from house to house may herald another unwanted guest: Leptospira.

-- Cheryl Dybas, NSF

Thursday, February 5, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY'S REMARKS WITH UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT POROSHENKO

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
02/05/2015 12:56 PM EST
Remarks With Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko After Their Meeting
Remarks
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Bankova
Kyiv, Ukraine
February 5, 2015

PRESIDENT POROSHENKO: Mr. Secretary, we are very pleased to welcome you, as the United States Secretary of State.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.

PRESIDENT POROSHENKO: It’s almost one year passed since your last visit in Kyiv and I still remember the very crucial and positive discussions we had at that time, and the whole world (inaudible) our country faced a critical changes in peace and security caused by the extremely cynical aggression against Ukraine, aggression against fundamental principles of international law, peaceful coexistence, respecting sovereignty and territorial (inaudible) and noninterference (inaudible). Present time become the test – Ukraine-U.S. strategic partnership.

In Ukraine, we highly appreciate the United States invaluable support to our nation and our people through all the time of Ukraine independence. The support has become most evident viewed in the Russian aggression on Crimea and on Donbas. It is important to underline strong and unanimous support of our country both from United States President, United States Administration, United States Congress, and United States Government. And it’s very important by American people. It’s very valuable – this support, Mr. Secretary.

The United States leading role in consideration of the transatlantic solidarity in support of Ukraine is critical for pushing of the peaceful solution, and we are grateful for the consistent engagement of the State Department and you personally, Mr. Secretary, into this effort. And I still remember that the historic Minsk protocol and Minsk memorandum – it was done on the 5th of September, where we met on the – in United Kingdom on the major summit and this is a key element and the main documents of our de-escalation of the situation and development of the peace process.

Today, we are facing another growing escalation of violence by terrorists directly supporting by Moscow, their refusal to fulfill obligation of the Minsk agreement, their barbarian attack on the civilian population, which led to multiple casualties every day. (Inaudible) Volnovakha, tragedy in Mariupol, tragedy in the Debaltseve, where they’re killing civilian people, is absolutely unacceptable in the 21st century in the center of Europe.

Nadiya Savchenko – illegal imprisonment, captain of the Ukrainian army, defending their own land, their own motherland, was captured, imprisoned, and today is the – her 55th day of the exhausted hunger strike and refusal (inaudible) her relatives is terrible violation of the human rights committed by Russia. This issue were a point of our discussion with the Secretary Kerry. We are working to find out ways for peaceful settlement and deprive Ukrainian people from ongoing horror on the aggression. This is a priority for all community of the civilized nation, for every civilized society.

At the same time, we are strengthening our security cooperation, a number of means could be used to enhance such cooperation. However, to find out the most effective way, the most effective medicine for the (inaudible) to help him to recover the principal task. A comprehensive support of reform in Ukraine also was discussed today, and we thank United States for the assistance, for the advisors, and for their cooperation. We are already demonstrating the most important and most urgent sphere of the Ukraine who need (inaudible). This is the fight against corruption, this is the rule of law, this is the build-up independent court and judge system, this is the building of the effective investment climate, and development of the democracy and freedom.

And in this particular sphere, this is crucially important our cooperation with the United States and we thank you for the – for this cooperation. Because the comprehensive support of Ukraine, also the crucial direction in Ukrainian-American partnership, which is equal important, it means political, economic, financial consulting support, and we are receiving maximum possible assistance from our American partners.

Today as you know, we have a mission of the International Monetary Fund most probably in the next hours, even not days, they finish their mission and they prepared a memorandum. And the effective cooperation with the IMF, with our reliable partner, such as United States, European Union, Japan, Canada, Australia, South Korea – all the countries of the world who are demonstrating their readiness to support Ukraine in this difficult time is vitally important for us.

And I thank Secretary Kerry for – and United States Administration for the decision to provide Ukraine with a significant economic assistance, both previous and (inaudible). I think this is very important for us, and the fact that Secretary Kerry come not with empty hands and this is just – today was the additional increasing of the financial support is very important and is right timeframe in need (inaudible).

And as the President of Ukraine, I can once more reaffirm my strong support of speedy implementation for the systematic reform, fighting corruption, rearranging all state governance to ensure priority of democratic society. These changes are the key prerequisite for a successful and democratic Ukraine, as well as prosperous and safe life for our citizens.

And today, voting of the – in the Ukrainian parliament and support my constitutional proposal, more than constitutional majority, for the removing the immunity of the members of parliament and immunity of the judges and helping us to fight against corruption. This is another step and another evidence of the – our decisive efforts to build up the new country with the European values, with the – based on the principle of freedom and democracy. And this is the same way how we can demonstrate our cooperation with the United States (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much Mr. President. First of all, thank you for welcoming me here today and thank you very, very much for the great leadership that you personally, your government, my friend, your foreign minister, who I’ve worked with closely in many meetings in the last year. And you are right, it is just about a year since I was here. And I want you to know that today I am here specifically to bring you the support and friendship and goodwill of the President of the United States, of the Administration, but most importantly the American people. The people of the United States share unwavering support for the Ukrainian people as they continue to display a very courageous journey towards democracy, towards freedom, independence, and most importantly towards the protection of the appropriate respect due for the sovereignty of your country. Your people have bravely and relentlessly pursued a sovereign democratic future; we admire that and we respect it.

I would emphasize to President Putin and to those Russians who obviously express concerns about the road that you’re on that we don’t view this as a zero-sum game. We have never viewed it that way. This is not meant to be nor should it be a divide between East and West. This is about rule of law. It’s about the norms by which nation-states behave. And it’s about the fundamental respect for the integrity of the sovereignty of Ukraine.

This morning, President Poroshenko and I had an opportunity to be able to discuss the necessary and promising reform steps that the President has been leading. This is a program that the Ukrainian Government is undertaking now. Even in the difficult circumstances of the conflict that is taking place, you just heard President Poroshenko restate his personal commitment and the steps that he is taking in order to implement these reforms in Ukraine. We spent some time talking about his political path ahead, the unity of his government, the commitment of his government to protect the interests of the people of Ukraine, but also we talked about the largest threat that Ukraine faces today, and that is Russia’s continued aggression in the east. There’s no other way to call it.

We’re not seeking a conflict with Russia; no one is – not President Poroshenko, not the United States, not the European community. That’s not what this is about. We are very hopeful that Russia will take advantage of our broad-based, uniform acceptance of the notion that there is a diplomatic solution that is staring everybody in the face. That’s what we want. We want a diplomatic resolution. But we cannot close our eyes to tanks that are crossing the border from Russia and coming into Ukraine. We can’t close our eyes to Russian fighters in unmarked uniforms crossing the border and leading individual companies of so-called separatists in battle. We can’t close our eyes to modern rockets and modern radar capacity and other capacity that has crossed the border in order to prosecute this conflict across sovereign lines, across international borders, against all the promises that were made in the Minsk ceasefire agreement.

So we want a peaceful resolution. And President Obama has asked me to come here and he has asked Vice President Biden and me to join together over this weekend in Munich in direct conversations where we will meet again with President Poroshenko, where we will meet with our European allies and friends in an effort to underscore our choice is diplomacy, our choice is a peaceful resolution. But Russia needs to make its choices, and those choices are not just declared by words; they have to be declared by actions. And that means engaging in a series of steps that will uphold the Minsk Agreement which was entered into last year and which they signed up to.

Regrettably, the violence in Donbas has accelerated since then, not diminished. Innocent people are dying every single day – innocent people, people caught in a barrage of artillery that comes into Mariupol, which has no business whatsoever being dragged into this conflict; families cowering in their basements with their children to avoid the shelling. So it is imperative that everybody make the right choices here. Russia needs to demonstrate its commitment to ending the bloodshed once and for all. And we would ask that it does so by honoring the agreement that it signed, the Minsk agreement. Everybody knows what the actions are that were expected from that agreement. It’s not complicated. And Russia needs to now cease this military support for the separatists and bring people to the table in an effort to achieve a lasting political solution.

So in order for this conflict to be resolved, certain things need to happen. The Russians need to undertake certain steps, and the separatists who act with their input have to also support those steps. First of all, there must be an immediate commitment now to a real ceasefire which is not just a piece of paper and words, but which is followed up by specific actions.

Namely, pull back the heavy weapons from the ceasefire line, from the border, beyond the range of artillery, beyond the range of certain munitions to be able to do harm to civilians. That would be the first confidence-building measure that would begin to allow for peaceful resolution. Second, remove foreign troops and heavy equipment from Ukraine. Which leads you to the third step: Respect the international border; close that border to the movement of these materials and tanks, which are the fundamental means by which this continued war is prosecuted, and by doing so, restore Ukrainian sovereignty, respect Ukrainian sovereignty. It is fully possible to be able to work through the interests that Russia has expressed about the people in Donetsk and Luhansk and to have those issues worked through, but the way to do it is not by fostering greater violence.

Both sides need to release the hostages who are currently detained, and in addition, it is important to note that President Poroshenko this morning, in my conversations with him, pointed out that he remains committed to supporting the special status law which is currently on the books, which provides greater economic and municipal and political rights to those particular to the Donbas area. And that’s important to remember – that he has also committed to pursuing real constitutional reform, and he is committed to holding new free and fair elections in Donbas, and if these steps are respected, it is fully appropriate to also expect that the full measure of the Minsk agreement can then also be respected and implemented. That is the outline of peace. And the United States of America, President Obama, is deeply committed to helping to assist all the parties to come together in an effort to try to achieve this. The fact that Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande are visiting Kyiv today underscores that together, the United States, France, Germany, and the rest of our international partners stand united with Ukraine in calling on Russia to take the steps that I just outlined, and to take those steps without delay. And that is exactly how this conflict can come to an end.

That is our choice. The Ukrainian people, President Poroshenko, the United States, European allies and friends, we are convinced that if diplomacy is given meaning beyond the piece of paper and the words that are on it, through the actions that follow to implement what those words lay out, there could be peace. So this is a critical moment for this region, for this country, and for the prospects of peace. It is really possible that this conflict could come to an end, but only starting with a ceasefire, moving the heavy equipment back, and beginning to deal with the real issues that we all know are on the table.

That is also the only way that Russia’s international isolation is going to be ended and eased, and it’s the only way that the Ukrainian people in all parts of this country will finally achieve the peace that they so deserve.

Let me just say that when I came here a year ago, I was deeply moved by my visit, deeply moved by the people that I met near the Maidan, as I visited the site where so many people were killed by snipers at that pivotal turning point in the struggle for freedom. It is really enormously impressive what the people of Ukraine have accomplished, broadly speaking, over the course of this year. They held an election under the most difficult circumstances, a peaceful transfer of power, the finding of a new government, a government that has worked hard in unity to try to end this conflict. And we hope that in the next days it may be possible, finally, to try to find a road ahead, and Mr. President, we’re grateful to you for your steadfast leadership and for the effort to reform things even in the middle of this conflict, which you have remained so committed to.

So we thank you for that, and I look forward to seeing you in Munich in a day or so. Thank you, sir.

Letters to the President: Impact of the Affordable Care Act

REPORT: THREATS TO EUROPE SETTING STAGE FOR NATO MEETING

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
NATO Report Sets Stage for Defense Ministers Meeting
By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2015 – Last year was not a good year for European security, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said last week.

Stoltenberg called 2014 “a black year” for Europe as he presented NATO’s Annual Report, which sets the stage for the meeting of the alliance’s defense ministers in Brussels this week.

The secretary general discussed the threats to Europe and the North Atlantic Alliance and what NATO needs to do to counter these threats.

“Violent extremism is at our borders,” Stoltenberg said, “spreading turmoil across North Africa and the Middle East and fueling terrorism in our own streets.”

Russia is following a disturbing pattern, Stoltenberg noted, annexing Crimea, threatening the sovereignty of Ukraine, and continuing its efforts to intimidate its neighbors in disregard of international law.

“So our security environment has fundamentally changed,” he added.
Raising Readiness of NATO Forces

NATO already is moving to defend alliance nations, the secretary general said. “Last year, we held over 200 NATO and national exercises,” he added. “One exercise started every two days -- on the ground, at sea, and in the air. And they will continue. So we are raising the readiness of our forces.”

The exercises also serve to reassure allies, Stoltenberg said. “We are maintaining a continuous presence of our forces, by rotation, in the eastern part of our alliance,” he noted. In addition to reassuring allies, he said, that exercise also deters Russia, showing the entire alliance’s determination to defend member nations.

Stoltenberg stated that defense ministers will decide on the size and the composition of the alliance’s new Spearhead Force. They also will determine how to set up NATO command and control units in six of the Eastern NATO nations, turning the readiness action plan decided upon at the NATO summit in Wales into reality, the secretary general said. “This will be the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War,” he added.

Allied aircraft intercepted more than 400 Russian planes in 2014. More than 150 were intercepted by NATO aircraft participating in the alliance’s Baltic Air Policing Mission.

Prepared to Stand With Afghanistan’s Government

NATO has ended combat operations in Afghanistan, but is prepared to stand with the fledgling Afghan unity government as it faces the threats of the Taliban and other terror groups, Stoltenberg said.

The “352,000 Afghan soldiers and police that we have trained took full charge of their country’s security,” he said. “And we launched a new mission to train, advise and assist them.”

The secretary general also discussed money. Collectively, alliance nations spent $852 billion on defense in 2014. By this measurement alone, the alliance is the strongest in the world, he said.

But there has been a steady decline in European defense spending since 1990, Stoltenberg said, “and the decline continued last year.”

Alliance Must Spend More, Spend Better

Last year, the European allies spent about $250 billion on defense -- a reduction of $7 billion, or about 3 percent. But multiplying threats changed views in European capitals, and the NATO leaders pledged to spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense in the future.

“We need to spend more, and we need to spend better, to keep our forces ready to deal with any threat,” Stoltenberg said. “We have seen some steps in the right direction, but there is a long way to go.”

In 2014, the Euro-Atlantic order came under threat, the secretary general said. “But … NATO is adapting and looking forward,” he added. “We stand determined to protect our values and keep our nations safe.”

WHITE HOUSE VIDEO: PRESIDENT OBAMA MEETS WITH AFFORDABLE CARE ACT LETTER WRITERS

FTC WARNS BIODEGRADABLE DOG WASTE BAG CLAIMS MAY BE DECEPTIVE

FROM:  U.S. FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION 
FTC Staff Warns Marketers and Sellers of Dog Waste Bags That Their Biodegradable and Compostable Claims May Be Deceptive

Staff of the Federal Trade Commission has sent letters warning 20 manufacturers and marketers of dog waste bags that their “biodegradable,” “compostable,” and other environmental claims may be deceptive.

The letters, which the staff sent after examining the companies’ environmental, or “green,” claims on their websites and in other media, provide examples of potentially deceptive statements regarding the bags’ biodegradability or compostability. The letters also provide information on how to comply with truth-in-advertising principles when making environmental claims.

“Consumers looking to buy environmentally friendly products should not have to guess whether the claims made are accurate,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “It is therefore critical for the FTC to ensure that these claims are not misleading, to protect both consumers and honest competitors.”

The staff notified 20 marketers that they may be deceiving consumers with the use of their unqualified “biodegradable” claim.  Based on the FTC’s  Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (the Green Guides), such a claim without any qualification generally means to consumers that the product will completely break down into its natural components within one year after customary disposal.  Most waste bags, however, end up in landfills where no plastic biodegrades in anywhere close to one year, if it biodegrades at all.

According to the Green Guides, consumers generally think that unqualified “compostable claims” mean that a product will safely break down at the same rate as natural products, like leaves and grass clippings, in their home compost pile. If marketers disclose that a product will only compost in commercial or municipal facilities, consumers think that those facilities are generally available in their area. However, dog waste is generally not safe to compost at home, and very few facilities accept this waste. Therefore, compostable claims for these products are generally untrue.

The FTC advised the companies that they should review their marketing materials and contact agency staff to tell them how they intend to revise or remove the claims, or explain why they won’t.

The staff notes that marketers who did not receive a letter should not assume that their claims are fine. Staff is not disclosing the recipients of the letters at this time.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them.

SEC IDENTIFIES WAYS TO PROTECT ONLINE INVESTMENT ACCOUNTS

FROM:  U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today released publications that address cybersecurity at brokerage and advisory firms and provide suggestions to investors on ways to protect their online investment accounts.

“Cybersecurity threats know no boundaries.  That’s why assessing the readiness of market participants and providing investors with information on how to better protect their online investment accounts from cyber threats has been and will continue to be an important focus of the SEC,” said SEC Chair Mary Jo White.  “Through our engagement with other government agencies as well as with the industry and educating the investing public, we can all work together to reduce the risk of cyber attacks.”

One publication, a Risk Alert from the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE), contains observations based on examinations of more than 100 broker-dealers and investment advisers.  The examinations focused on how these firms:

Identify cybersecurity risks
Establish cybersecurity policies, procedures, and oversight processes
Protect their networks and information
Identify and address risks associated with remote access to client information, funds transfer requests, and third-party vendors
Detect unauthorized activity

“Our examinations assessed a cross-section of the industry as a way to inform the Commission on the current state of cybersecurity preparedness,” said OCIE Director Andrew Bowden.  “We hope that investors and industry participants will also benefit from what we have learned.”

The second publication, an Investor Bulletin issued by the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy (OIEA), provides core tips to help investors safeguard their online investment accounts, including:

Pick a “strong” password
Use two-step verification
Exercise caution when using public networks and wireless connections
“As investors increasingly use web-based investment accounts, it is critical that they take steps to safeguard those accounts,” said OIEA Director Lori J. Schock.  “This bulletin provides everyday investors with a set of useful tips to help protect themselves from cyber-criminals and online fraud.”


U.S. AND COALITION CONTINUED AIRSTRIKES AGAINST ISIL

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 
Operation Inherent Resolve Airstrikes Continue in Syria, Iraq

From a Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve News Release
SOUTHWEST ASIA, Feb. 4, 2015 – U.S. and coalition military forces have continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria and Iraq, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials reported today.

Officials reported details of the latest strikes, which took place between 8 a.m. yesterday and 8 a.m. today, local time, noting that assessments of results are based on initial reports.

Airstrikes in Syria

Bomber, fighter and remotely piloted aircraft conducted 11 airstrikes near Kobani in Syria, striking nine ISIL tactical units and an ISIL large tactical unit and destroying three ISIL staging positions and an ISIL fighting position.

Airstrikes in Iraq

Attack and fighter aircraft conducted six airstrikes in Iraq:
-- Near Beiji, an airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL checkpoint.

-- Near Tal Afar, an airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit.
-- Near Asad, an airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit.
-- Near Rawah, an airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL guard facility.

-- Near Huwayjah, an airstrike destroyed an ISIL checkpoint, an ISIL guard tower, an ISIL bunker, an ISIL vehicle and two ISIL shipping containers.
-- Near Mosul, an airstrike struck an ISIL improvised explosive device factory.
Part of Operation Inherent Resolve

The strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the ISIL terrorist group and the threat they pose to Iraq, Syria, the region, and the wider international community. The destruction of ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq further limits the terrorist group's ability to project terror and conduct operations, officials said.

Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Iraq include the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Syria include the United States, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

FUNERAL HOME SETTLES FUNERAL RULE CHARGES

FROM:  U.S. FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION 
Funeral Home Settles FTC Charges It Violated the Funeral Rule

An Ohio funeral home operator has agreed to pay a civil penalty to settle Federal Trade Commission charges for violating the agency’s Funeral Rule, which requires funeral providers to provide information consumers need to compare prices and buy only the funeral services and goods they want.

At the FTC’s request, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio filed allegations against Larry S. Glickler, doing business as Bradford-Connelly & Glickler Funeral Home, for failing to provide consumers, in a timely manner, with an itemized general price list at the beginning of an in-person discussion about funeral arrangements; a casket price list at the beginning of any discussion about caskets; and an outer burial container price list at the beginning of any discussion about outer burial containers, as required by the Funeral Rule.

The FTC conducts undercover inspections every year to ensure that funeral homes are complying with the Funeral Rule, which gives consumers important rights when making funeral arrangements. The Rule, issued in 1984, requires funeral homes to provide consumers with itemized price lists at the start of any in-person discussions of funeral arrangements, caskets, and/or outer burial containers. It also requires funeral homes to provide price information by telephone on request, and it prohibits funeral homes from requiring consumers to buy any item, such as a casket, as a condition of obtaining any other funeral good or service.

The consent decree requires Glickler to pay a $6,500 civil penalty, and permanently prohibits him from violating the Funeral Rule.

For more information about the Funeral Rule, read Shopping for Funeral Services and Complying with the Funeral Rule.

The Commission vote to authorize the filing of the civil penalty complaint and approve the proposed consent decree was 5-0. The United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio filed the complaint and proposed consent decree on behalf of the Commission in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. Consent decrees have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them.

NASA ADMINISTRATOR BOLDEN DELIVERS ADDRESS

FROM:  NASA NASA 

In the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden delivers a “state of the agency” address on Feb. 2, 2015 at NASA's televised fiscal year 2016 budget rollout event with Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana looking on, at right. Representatives from the Kennedy workforce, news media and social media were in attendance. NASA's Orion, SpaceX Dragon and Boeing CST-100 spacecraft, all destined to play a role in NASA’s overall exploration objectives, were on display. Photo credit: NASA/Amber Watson.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

2/4/15: White House Press Briefing

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S MESSAGE REGARDING NATIONAL EMERGENCY WITH RESPECT TO COTE D'LVOIRE

FROM:  THE WHITE HOUSE 
February 04, 2015
Message -- Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to the Situation in or in Relation to Côte d’Ivoire

TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES:

Section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act

(50 U.S.C. 1622(d)) provides for the automatic termination of a national emergency, unless, within 90 days prior to the anniversary date of its declaration, the President publishes in the Federal Register and transmits to the Congress a notice stating that the emergency is to continue in effect beyond the anniversary date.  In accordance with this provision, I have sent to the Federal Register for publication the enclosed notice stating that the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13396 of February 7, 2006, with respect to the situation in or in relation to Côte d'Ivoire is to continue in effect beyond February 7, 2015.

The Government of Côte d'Ivoire and its people continue to make significant progress in promotion of democratic, social, and economic development.  The United States also supports the advancement of impartial justice in Côte d'Ivoire as well as the Government of Côte d'Ivoire's efforts to prepare for a peaceful, fair, and transparent presidential election in 2015, which will be an important milestone in Côte d'Ivoire's progress.  We urge all sides to work for the benefit of the country as a whole by rejecting violence and participating in the electoral process.

While the Government of Côte d'Ivoire and its people continue to make progress toward peace and prosperity, the situation in or in relation to Côte d'Ivoire continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.  For these reasons, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency and related measures blocking the property of certain persons contributing to the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire.

BARACK OBAMA

U.S. CONGRATULATES PEOPLE OF NEW ZEALAND ON THEIR WAITANGI DAY

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT 
Waitangi Day
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
February 4, 2015

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I would like to congratulate the people of New Zealand as you celebrate the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document.

The United States and New Zealand have strong bonds of friendship, based on our shared democratic and liberal values. We collaborate on a range of interests, from promoting open and transparent trade to protecting our shared oceans and global environment. My meetings with Prime Minister Key and Foreign Minister McCully have been cordial and productive.

Both our countries seek to fortify democracy and further the rule of law around the world. The United States continues to value our warm relationship with New Zealand and hope to further strengthen our ties in the years ahead.

We wish all Kiwis around the globe a happy Waitangi Day.

2/3/15: White House Press Briefing

CLOUD FORMATIONS OVER THE BERING SEA

FROM:  NASA 
Cloud Streets in the Bering Sea

Ice, wind, cold temperatures and ocean waters combined to created dramatic cloud formations over the Bering Sea in late January, 2015. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA's Aqua satellite passed over the region and captured this true-color image on Jan. 23.

The frozen tundra of Russia lies in the northwest of the image, and snow-covered Alaska lies in the northeast. Sea ice extends from the land well into the Bering Sea. Over the dark water bright white clouds line in up close, parallel rows. These formations are known as “cloud streets”.

Air blowing over the cold, snowy land and then over ice becomes both cold and dry. When the air then moves over relatively warmer and much moister water and lead to the development of parallel cylinders of spinning air. On the upper edge of these cylinders of air, where the air is rising, small clouds form. Where air is descending, the skies are clear. This clear/cloudy pattern, formed in parallel rows, gives the impression of streets.

The clouds begin over the sea ice, but they primarily hang over open ocean. The streets are neat and in tight rows closest to land, while further over the Bering Sea the pattern widens and begins to become more random. The rows of clouds are also not perfectly straight, but tend to curve. The strength and direction of the wind helps create these features: where the wind is strongest, nearest to shore, the clouds line up most neatly. The clouds align with the wind direction, so the direction of the streets gives strong clues to prevailing wind direction.  Image Credit: NASA/Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC.

PRESIDENT OBAMA SPEAKS ON FUNDING THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY

REAR ADM. KIRBY SAYS ISIL HURTING FROM AIRSTRIKES

FROM:  THE U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 
International Community United Against ISIL, Strikes Making Difference, Kirby Says
By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2015 – The battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is not a U.S. war, it is a large international effort to defeat a crazed and barbaric ideology, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said here today.

ISIL burned a captured Jordanian pilot alive in January. Kirby condemned the murder, and said it in no way will stop the effort against the terrorists. “We know that they have the ability to continue to generate young men that are attracted to this group and this ideology, and that's going to be a long-term problem,” he said during a Pentagon news conference.

“It’s going to take a while to get at the ideology, which is the real center of gravity here,” the admiral said. “You’re not going to do that through bombs and airstrikes. That doesn't mean the bombs and airstrikes aren’t going to keep happening. They are.”

A Coalition of 60

Kirby disputed allegations that the war against ISIL is a U.S. war. “I think a coalition of 60 nations proves that it’s not,” he said. “We’re not the only ones involved in this in trying to get rid of this group.”

U.S. air strikes on the group continue to be effective, he said. As indigenous forces become more capable, the attrition will continue. Still, ISIL is capable of bringing more people to the fight. “We are going to stay committed to this for the long-term, and it is going to be a long-term fight,” the admiral said.

Judging the coalition effectiveness against the group is difficult. “A better judgment of the strength of this group is their behavior,” he said. “So, we’ve seen them change the way they operate on the ground. They are hiding more. We've seen them not travel around in convoys. …They are not as agile as they once were. We know that they’ve lost literally hundreds and hundreds of vehicles that they can’t replace.”

Coalition strikes have also worked to hit the group’s main source of income – oil. “We assess that it’s no longer the main source of revenue,” Kirby said.

ISIL is largely in a defense posture now. The group launched a small offensive against Kirkuk over the weekend and it lasted a day, Kirby said. They took no new ground. “And they're not on Kobani anymore,” the admiral said. “They are losing ground.”

The group is worried about lines of communications and supply now. “This is a different group than it was seven months ago,” he said. “I’m not saying they are not still dangerous. I'm not saying they are not still barbaric, but they are different. Their character, their conduct, their behavior is different. And that is a sign of progress.”

CDC SAYS MILLIONS IN U.S. EXPOSED TO SECONDHAND SMOKE

FROM:  U.S. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION 
58 million nonsmokers in US are still exposed to secondhand smoke

Two of every five children -- including seven in 10 black children -- are exposed
Although secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure in the United States dropped by half between 1999 to 2000 and 2011 to 2012, one in four nonsmokers -- 58 million people -- are still exposed to SHS, according to a new Vital Signs report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) show that declines in exposure to SHS have been slower and exposure remains higher among children, blacks, those who live in poverty, and those who live in rental housing. The report finds two in every five children aged three to 11 years are still exposed to SHS. The study assessed exposure using cotinine, a marker of SHS found in the blood.

“Secondhand smoke can kill. Too many Americans, and especially too many American children, are still exposed to it,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “That 40 percent of children -- including seven in 10 black children -- are still exposed shows how much more we have to do to protect everyone from this preventable health hazard.”

Additional key findings in the Vital Signs report include that:

Nearly half of black nonsmokers are exposed to SHS.
More than two in five nonsmokers who live below the poverty level are exposed to SHS.
More than one in three nonsmokers who live in rental housing are exposed to SHS.
The study used rental status as a way of identifying people who live in multiunit housing, which is an environment where the issue of SHS exposure is of particular concern.

“About 80 million Americans live in multiunit housing, where secondhand smoke can seep into smoke-free units and shared areas from units where smoking occurs,” said Brian King, Ph.D., acting deputy director for research translation in CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. “The potential of exposure in subsidized housing is especially concerning because many of the residents -- including children, the elderly, and people with disabilities -- are particularly sensitive to the effects of secondhand smoke.”

The report credits the overall decline in SHS exposure to several factors. To date, 26 states, the District of Columbia, and almost 700 cities have passed comprehensive smoke-free laws prohibiting smoking in worksites, restaurants, and bars. These state and local laws currently cover almost half the US population. In addition, a growing number of households have adopted voluntary smoke-free home rules, increasing from 43 percent in 1992-1993 to 83 percent in 2010-2011. Also, cigarette smoking has declined significantly in the last two decades and smoking around nonsmokers has become much less socially acceptable.

The Surgeon General has concluded that there is no safe level of exposure to SHS, which contains over 7,000 chemicals including about 70 that can cause cancer. It is a known cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, respiratory infections, ear infections, and asthma attacks in infants and children, as well as heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer in adult nonsmokers. Each year exposure to SHS causes more than 41,000 deaths from lung cancer and heart disease among non-smoking adults and 400 deaths from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, as well as about $5.6 billion annually in lost productivity.

Vital Signs is a report that appears on the first Tuesday of the month as part of the CDC journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The report provides the latest data and information on key health indicators. These include cancer prevention, obesity, tobacco use, motor vehicle passenger safety, prescription drug overdose, HIV/AIDS, alcohol use, health care-associated infections, cardiovascular health, teen pregnancy, and food safety.

REMARKS AT SIGNING OF MEMORANDUM REGARDING U.S. BILATERAL ASSISTANCE TO JORDAN

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT 
Signing of a Memorandum of Understanding for U.S. Bilateral Assistance to Jordan
Remarks
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh
Four Seasons Hotel
Washington, DC
February 3, 2015

MODERATOR: Good morning, Mr. Secretary, Your Excellency, ambassadors and honored guests. Today, our distinguished guests will sign a U.S.-Jordanian bilateral assistance Memorandum of Understanding. This MOU underlines the strength of our bilateral relationship and our valuable strategic partnership with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and reinforces our shared commitment to the promotion of regional issues.

The MOU is the second of its kind between the United States and Jordan and a reaffirmation of the statement of support provided in the first such document. Secretary Kerry, Foreign Minister Judeh, and each – will each provide some brief remarks prior to the signing. Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much, Pete. It’s my privilege to be here this morning and to welcome my good friend, the Foreign Minister of Jordan Nasser Judeh, and also to welcome to Washington His Majesty King Abdullah, who I just had an opportunity to meet with and have a good and through discussion.

Recently, when I was with Nasser Judeh, I learned that he is the longest-serving foreign minister in the history of the Hashemite Kingdom.

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: Not from me. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: And so obviously, he’s got the formula down pretty well, and it’s a pleasure for me. I really do admire his skill and his counsel and also appreciate his friendship enormously. We’ve worked on a lot of issues closely together, and we continue to as we face the challenge of many, many refugees pouring into Jordan from Syria and also the challenge of Daesh, as well as the Middle East peace process, in which he is just a critical partner.

I’m delighted that we are here today, signing this Memorandum of Understanding, which reflects, in a very powerful way, the depth of the strategic relationship and the partnership between the United States and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. This partnership is founded on mutual respect, as well as mutual interest, and both of our countries prize their independence, and our discussions are always very far-reaching, very candid, as they were this morning.

Frankly, this openness makes even more remarkable the warmth and the closeness of the relationship that we have developed with Jordan. The United States views Jordan, under His Majesty’s wise leadership, as a staunch and stable ally in one of the globe’s most challenged areas. And where there are others who fuel the conflicts, Jordan can always be counted on to try to seek a nonviolent solution, and this is true whether it’s in Syria or the broader Middle East or in the global struggle against terrorism.

Sadly, this approach doesn’t always find itself met with open arms of welcome. And so today, Jordan is facing multiple dangers and challenges in the form of extremist threats and the burden particularly of hosting more than 800,000 refugees in a country whose population is less than 7 million. Increased need means a requirement for increased help, and that is why the Memorandum of Understanding that we are signing today goes well beyond business as usual.

In the past five years, the level of assistance in this memorandum was $600 million annually. Starting now and continuing through 2017, that level will go up sharply to 1 billion a year, which covers a wide range of programs in the areas of economic support, technical help, and security. In addition, we’re extending loan guarantees that will strengthen Jordan’s access to affordable international financing and assist in meeting economic development and reform goals, which Jordan is engaged in implementing.

So we will also be adding to the 467 million that we have already contributed in order to help feed, clothe, educate, and otherwise care for the refugees who have poured into Jordan, primarily from Syria, but also from Iraq. The memorandum that we sign today is necessary and important, but I want to stress that our assistance is a small part of what makes the U.S.-Jordanian relationship so valuable, and I think we can say safely it is valuable to both countries.

We work together in many areas, from military training and international peacekeeping, to health projects and education. And I’ve asked my Special Envoy on Energy Amos Hochstein to explore opportunities with the Kingdom on energy security.

We consult regularly on all aspects of the Middle East peace process, including ways to reduce tensions when, as sometimes happens, emotions flare up and violence threatens. Recently, His Majesty hosted a very important dinner between His Majesty, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and myself, at which we importantly reaffirmed the implementation of the status quo with respect to the mosque in Jerusalem.

And finally, we are both members of the coalition to disrupt and defeat the terrorist group known as Daesh, or by some people as ISIL. In that connection, the people of Jordan need to know that all Americans will join with them in praying for the early and safe return of Lieutenant Moaz al-Kasasbeh. And we call upon his captors to release this brave man so that he could return to his family and his homeland, to at least provide proof of life, which Jordan has asked for. And we express our appreciation once more for the constructive role that King Abdullah and his late father have filled for so many years in the Middle East itself.

As I think about the events in the world today, I am reminded of the continued relevance of King Hussein’s words from 20 years ago, when he said, “Let us not keep silent. Let our voices rise high enough to speak of our commitment to peace for all times to come. And let us tell those who live in darkness, who are enemies of life and true faith, this is where we stand. This is our camp.”

Today’s memorandum reflects that, still today, this very same affirmative and courageous spirit is what binds our countries together. The provisions of this memorandum will strengthen the forces of civility and moderation everywhere, because it will bolster a country and a leadership team that has been steadfast in its support for both.

So Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you for being here. Thank you for the many contributions that you and your country are making to international stability and to regional progress. I’m pleased to call you my friend and appreciate enormously the relationship between our country and what we are signaling today when we sign this memorandum.

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary, dear friend, dear John. I, too, am honored to call you my friend, and I, too, am very, very proud of this relationship that we both have. And I know on behalf of His Majesty how much he personally enjoys the constant consultation with you personally and with President Obama. So I, too, benefit from your experience and from your wise counsel. And it is essential for peace and security in our part of the world for this consultation – this intensive consultation to continue.

Thank you very much for your warm words. Thank you very much for everything that you say and do to promote this friendship. We are proud to say that the relationship between Jordan and the United States goes beyond a friendship. It is a true partnership, especially in the face of the multitude of challenges that we face not just in our part of the world, but globally. And I’m so happy that today marks yet another milestone in this strategic relationship, this strategic partnership, which continues to grow and prosper.

In line with our commitment to this unique friendship and partnership, His Majesty, the King, is here in Washington, D.C. for the second time in a couple of months, meeting with our friends in the Administration, our friends in Congress, our friends in think tanks and NGOs. This, I think, reflects the kind of relationship that we have across the board with the United States, and this is something that we greatly benefit from, and we are committed to preserving and strengthen.

And I hope, Mr. Secretary, that you know – and I know that you know – but we pride ourselves on being your trusted friend and ally also, just like you have shown over the many years of this partnership that you are a trusted friend and an ally that Jordan can always rely on.

And I think in the events that we have seen in our part of the world, in the last four years in particular, not to mention beyond that, Jordan has come out as a shining example of a country with a visionary leadership, but with an implementable program of political, economic, and social reforms, and benchmarks and milestones that we are happy to be meeting as we go along. And our commitment in that regard is unwavering.

The United States has, indeed, always been a true friend, and its commitment to provide Jordan with consistent levels of assistance because of the blind spot that we have in Jordan, which is our economic situation, has proved instrumental – has proved to be instrumental to the success of our development and reform program. The previous MOU signed in 2008 helped the Kingdom through difficult times and made a serious difference to the lives of ordinary Jordanians, who have benefited from the so many programs that were included in that assistance that was provided.

At this time of peril and turbulence – what’s new in our part of the world? – Jordan, again, is committed to the promotion of stability and peace and security in a region where peace and stability and security have eluded us for many, many years. But I want to assure you, Mr. Secretary, as you were reassured by His Majesty, the King, when we met a short while ago, that Jordan’s commitment in meeting all these challenges is unwavering and as steadfast as ever.

But in this time of peril, the renewal of the MOU for another three years at a billion dollars a year is testament to the strength of our bilateral relationship, our shared values, as well as our joint, unwavering commitment to peace and security. It will also help us cope with the burdens not only resulting from regional instability, but in particular, as you mentioned in your remarks, the humanitarian spillover of the Syrian crisis.

You are quite right in mentioning 800,000 refugees that we are hosting, Mr. Secretary; these are the registered refugees. On top of that we have another 700,000 economic migrants. So today, the Syrian population in Jordan stands at 21 percent of the overall population, something that no country, regardless of political or economic might, can cope with.

I would like to thank all our friends here across the board – State Department and elsewhere, all the different agencies – for all the hard work in producing this Memorandum of Understanding. I assure you that this milestone is yet another milestone on the road to a growing, healthy, and strong friendship and strategic partnership. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: The Minister and Secretary will now sign the MOU.

(The memorandum was signed.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: I would now like to welcome --

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you to --

MODERATOR: If I can, Ambassador Buran and Ambassador Wells, please.

SECRETARY KERRY: Our two ambassadors – (laughter) – who we are delighted to welcome. Thank you very much.

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: So thank you. Thank you for everything, and thanks to President Obama, the Administration, yourself, and all the agencies. Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all very, very much. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, everybody.