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Saturday, February 28, 2015

WHITE HOUSE VIDEO: WEEKLY ADDRESS 02/28/205

FROM: U.S. INTERIOR DEPARTMENT: THIS WEEK AT INTERIOR FEBRUARY 27, 2015

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S STATEMENT ON PASSING OF LEONARD NIMOY

FROM:  THE WHITE HOUSE
February 27, 2015
Statement by the President on the Passing of Leonard Nimoy

Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy.  Leonard was a lifelong lover of the arts and humanities, a supporter of the sciences, generous with his talent and his time.  And of course, Leonard was Spock.  Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the center of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future.

I loved Spock.

In 2007, I had the chance to meet Leonard in person.  It was only logical to greet him with the Vulcan salute, the universal sign for “Live long and prosper.”  And after 83 years on this planet – and on his visits to many others – it’s clear Leonard Nimoy did just that.  Michelle and I join his family, friends, and countless fans who miss him so dearly today.

2/27/15: White House Press Briefing

WHITE HOUSE VIDEO: WEST WING WEEK: 02/26/2015

DOD REPORTS ON COALITION AIRSTRIKES AGAINST ISIL

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
Coalition Airstrikes Hit ISIL in Syria, Iraq

From a Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve News Release
SOUTHWEST ASIA, Feb. 27, 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

Attack, fighter, bomber and remotely piloted aircraft conducted 20 airstrikes in Syria:

-- Near Hasakah, three airstrikes struck two ISIL tactical units and destroyed an ISIL armored vehicle and an ISIL vehicle-borne improvised explosive device.

-- Near Dayr az Zawr, an airstrike struck a crude oil collection point.

-- Near Kobani, 13 airstrikes struck an ISIL large tactical unit, eight ISIL tactical units, three ISIL fighting positions and destroyed 21 ISIL fighting positions, two ISIL staging areas, two ISIL tanks and three ISIL vehicles.

-- Near Tal Harris, three airstrikes struck three ISIL tactical units and destroyed an ISIL vehicle and an ISIL checkpoint.
Airstrikes in Iraq


Attack, fighter and remotely piloted aircraft conducted 11 airstrikes in Iraq:

-- Near Asad, three airstrikes struck three ISIL tactical units and destroyed an ISIL building.

-- Near Fallujah, an airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL building.

-- Near Mosul, two airstrikes struck an ISIL checkpoint and an ISIL vehicle.

-- Near Hit in Anbar province, an airstrike stuck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL vehicle.

-- Near Ramadi, three airstrikes struck two ISIL tactical units and destroyed two ISIL buildings and an ISIL armored vehicle.

-- Near Rawah, an airstrike destroyed an ISIL armored vehicle.
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.

SEC ANNOUNCES CHARGES AGAINST ALLEGED FRAUDSTERS TARGETING LATINO COMMUNITIES

 FROM:  U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Litigation Release No. 23209 / February 27, 2015
Securities and Exchange Commission v. Tropikgadget FZE, et al., Civil Action No. 1:15 cv 10543-IT (United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts)

SEC Charges Operators of International Pyramid Scheme Targeting Latino Communities

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that it filed charges against three company officers and 12 promoters behind an international pyramid scheme targeting Latino communities in the U.S. The agency also obtained a court order to freeze the assets of the company officers, promoters, and related parties.

In a complaint filed February 25, 2015 in federal court in Boston that was unsealed yesterday, the SEC alleges that the Portuguese companies - operating under the name Wings Network - claimed to run a multi-level marketing company that offered digital and mobile solutions to customers, including apps and cloud storage. However, Wings Network's revenues actually came solely from selling memberships to investors, not from the sale of any products. The company relied upon the recruitment of new members, and commissions were paid to earlier investors with money received from later investors. The scheme raised at least $23.5 million from thousands of investors, including many in Brazilian and Dominican immigrant communities in Massachusetts.

According to the SEC's complaint, the scheme was orchestrated by Wings Network officers Sergio Henrique Tanaka of São Paulo, Brazil and Davie, Fla., Carlos Luis da Silveira Barbosa of Lisbon, Portugal, and Claudio de Oliveira Pereira Campos of Lisbon, Portugal. After establishing a network of lead promoters, recruitment of new members surged through the use of social media such as Facebook and YouTube. The promoters used Facebook to publicize "business meetings" that took place at hotels and other locations in Connecticut, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas, Georgia, and Utah. The promoters also set up storefronts or "training centers" to lure investors into attending Wings Network presentations. For example, one promoter used a storefront in downtown Philadelphia to make presentations to prospective investors, and another promoter rented office space in Pompano Beach, Fla., and spread the word in the local Latino community to attract prospective investors to come in and hear presentations.

Several of the scheme's promoters charged in the SEC's complaint live in Marlborough, Mass., while others reside in Clinton, Mass., Sandy, Utah, Duluth, Ga., and Waco, Texas.

The SEC's complaint alleges that the Portuguese entities and principals Tanaka, Barbosa and Campos violated antifraud provisions Section 17(a) of the Securities Act and Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act and Rule 10-b-5 thereunder, and registration provisions Section 5(a) and 5(c) of the Securities Act, and that the promoter defendants violated Section 5(a) and 5(c) of the Securities Act.

The SEC's investigation was conducted by Scott R. Stanley, Dawn Edick, John McCann, Deena Bernstein, and Amy Gwiazda of the SEC's Boston Regional Office. The SEC's litigation will be led by Ms. Bernstein.

The SEC appreciates the assistance of the Massachusetts Securities Division of the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth's office, which previously filed its own action against Wings Network and other parties, as well as the Comissão do Mercado de Valores Mobiliários of Portugal and the Procuradoria-Geral da República of Portugal.

SAMANTHA POWER'S REMARKS ON HUMANITARIAN SITUATION IN SYRIA

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
New York, NY
February 26, 2015
AS DELIVERED

Thank you. Thank you, Assistant Secretary-General Kang, High Commissioner Guterres for your powerful presentations.

One year ago, the Security Council adopted resolution 2139, aimed at addressing the humanitarian and human rights catastrophe in Syria. As today’s briefings made clear, the humanitarian crises have only deepened – there are multiple crises.

It is estimated that 12.2 million people need humanitarian assistance in Syria. At this time last year, 9.3 million people were said to need humanitarian assistance. That’s nearly three million more people who need aid to survive, in just a year. Think about that.

That is why it is absolutely crucial that all donors make generous commitments at the Humanitarian Pledging Conference in Kuwait in March, commitments that are commensurate with the magnitude of Syria’s crisis – this is what the United States plans to do.

While the international community absolutely must meet the immediate and dire needs of the Syrian people, we must also face the fact that humanitarian assistance is a band aid, it must be accompanied by more intense political pressure to stop the violence and widespread abuses that are fueling the crisis. Although more people in Syria need humanitarian aid than ever before, the Assad regime also seems more intent on denying aid and causing civilian harm than ever before.

Security Council resolution 2139 called on the Syrian parties to immediately cease the indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas, including through aerial bombardment using barrel bombs. Yet in the year since the resolution was adopted, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the Assad regime has dropped at least 1,950 barrel bombs, which have killed at least 6,480 people, 95 percent of whom were civilians. According to Human Rights Watch, the report released earlier this week, satellite imagery identified at least 450 distinct major damage sites in ten opposition-held towns and villages in the Daraa governorate, and more than 1,000 major damage sites in the Aleppo governorate, between February 2014 and January of this year.

The Human Rights Watch report shows that many impact sites have damage signatures consistent with the detonation of large, air-dropped munitions, including improvised barrel and conventional bombs dropped by helicopters. Yet in spite of this clear evidence, Assad cheerfully denied that his forces used barrel bombs and called any such claims, “a childish story”– a particularly grotesque choice of words, given that well over 10,000 children have been killed in the conflict so far.

The recently released UN Commission of Inquiry report on Syria documents many attacks on civilians. One of them occurred on Aleppo’s al-Shaar neighbourhood on November 6th. The first barrel bomb reportedly killed civilians in its area of impact, and buried more in rubble. When others rushed to the area to dig out the people buried and assist the wounded, the government dropped a second barrel bomb. At least 15 people were killed in all, most of them women and children. Some of the wounded later died in field hospitals, according to the report, due to the lack of necessary medical supplies.

The lack of medical supplies is no accident – it is the result of the Assad regime’s routine confiscation of medical and surgical supplies transported by UN convoys. The UN and its implementing partners have tried to be maximally transparent with the Syrian regime by allowing the government to inspect cross-line shipments, going beyond the provisions in Security Council resolutions 2165 and 2191. Yet, even when these “regime approvals” for cross-line operations are granted, the regime seizes medical supplies such as surgical items, midwifery kits and rehydration kits, which could save the lives of mothers, small children, and babies. The Council was clear in its demand that all parties allow delivery of medical assistance and cease depriving civilians of food and medicine indispensable for their survival in resolution 2139.

The Physicians for Human Rights report that Assistant Secretary-General Kang mentioned documented 228 attacks on 179 separate medical facilities. Of these, PHR found, 90 percent were carried out by regime forces. To date, according to Physicians for Human Rights, 145 medical personnel have been executed or tortured to death in Syria. One hundred and thirty-nine of those 145 individuals, those deaths were carried out by Syrian government forces or by ISIL.

In Yarmouk, 18,000 civilians – most of them Palestinians refugees – are virtually cut off from assistance and surrounded by fighting. In 2014, the UN was only able to provide the equivalent of 400 calories a day for each inhabitant of Yarmouk – the equivalent of two cups of rice – due to the extremely limited access provided by the Syrian regime. If you haven’t seen the photos of the kids inside Yarmouk, you should force yourself to stare at their sunken, hollow faces and glossed eyes. This is what Assad’s regime has done to children, and he is under insufficient pressure from his backers to do something as simple as let food through. And Yarmouk is not an outlier. Of the 212,000 Syrians living in besieged areas, 185,000 of them, or 87 percent, live in areas being besieged by Syrian government forces.

Now, terrorist groups like ISIL have committed horrific abuses against Syrians, and we must be absolutely adamant and united in our condemnation of those horrors, which are on the rise. We condemn in the strongest possible terms ISIL’s attacks on February 23 on Assyrian Christian villages in the northeast Syrian province of Hasakeh, where they kidnapped hundreds of civilians, including women, children, and older persons, and we join others in demanding the immediate and unconditional release of these civilians, together with all of ISIL’s hostages.

In December, four mass graves were discovered in Deir ez-Zor, containing the bodies of some of the hundreds of people abducted by ISIL months before. ISIL has also established what they call “cub camps,” where they indoctrinate kids, teaching them how to use weapons and to carry out suicide attacks. At the same time we condemn ISIL and unite to confront them, we must remember that the rise of these violent extremist groups in Syria would not have happened without the atrocities perpetrated by the Assad regime. And the regime’s ongoing atrocities continue to be the extremists’ best recruiting tool. So any plan that would ally the international community with Assad to confront these violent extremist groups would be completely counterproductive, as it would further fuel ISIL’s rise.

There is only one way out of this horrific crisis, and that is through a comprehensive political solution. To that end, the United States again joins others in commending the efforts of UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura to halt – even for a limited time – the use of all aerial bombs and heavy artillery in Aleppo, whose civilians have suffered immensely amidst fierce fighting. While it would be a welcome step if the Assad regime were to fulfill the commitments it made to de Mistura to stop unilaterally its aerial bombardment in Aleppo and allow the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians for six weeks, the regime has an abysmal track record on honoring its commitments. Indeed, these very commitments are supposed to have been implemented under resolutions adopted by this very Council. So what matters, and what we must look to, are the regime’s actions.

In addition to being a year since the adoption of Resolution 2139, we also mark other terrible benchmarks today. On March 15th, we will enter the fifth year of the Syrian conflict. And it has been three years since plain-clothes security officers raided the office of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression – a Damascus-based group dedicated to promoting freedom of expression – detaining 14 staff members. Many of those detained were tortured, according to staff members who were later released. Among those detained was the group’s director, Mazen Darwish, who was charged with so-called crimes, such as publishing human rights reports and documenting the names of people tortured, disappeared, or killed during the conflict.

Mazen is still behind bars today, despite a UN General Assembly resolution last May that included a demand for his immediate release. Writing from jail last year, Mazen said, “There is not a single prison in Syria today without one of my friends inside it, nor is there a cemetery in Syria today that doesn’t contain the remains of one of them.”

There is a risk, in our regular meetings on Syria, to get used to the fact that the numbers of individuals detained and killed and disappeared and displaced and denied food – and so many other measures of human suffering – those numbers continue to rise. Indeed, there is a perverse dynamic whereby, as those numbers continue to rise, our sensitivity falls. Our nerve endings harden, and a sense of inevitability takes hold.

We must not let that happen. We must remember each of those rising numbers, each one of those millions, stands for just another person. We must return to the commitments this Council has made, such as those in past resolutions to take further measures in the case of non-compliance and to hold accountable those responsible for violations and abuses.

This Council’s impact will increase only if member-states’ positions change. And that will happen only if we recognize that there are children just like our own starving in Yarmouk, and mothers just like our own who die in childbirth in Aleppo, because medical supplies have been stolen off UN trucks; or mothers who feel helpless in the face of their children’s pleas for food. If this doesn’t motivate us, literally nothing will. Thank you.

FTC AND PARTNERS PROMOTE EDUCATION DURING NATIONAL CONSUMER PROTECTION WEEK

FROM:  U.S. FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
FTC, Partners to Promote Education During 17th Annual National Consumer Protection Week March 1-7
Participants to Discuss Imposter Scams During Twitter Chat

The Federal Trade Commission and 89 partners including nonprofit groups, businesses, and federal, state and local government agencies across the country will spotlight their efforts to protect consumers by educating people about fraud during the 17th annual National Consumer Protection Week March 1-7, 2015.

To highlight the week, the FTC will host a Twitter chat and answer consumers’ questions regarding common imposter scams. These types of scams vary, but often include someone pretending to be a government official, and are consistently an annual top 10 consumer complaint to the FTC. While scammers use a variety of tactics, they share the same goal -- to trick consumers out of their money. Follow @FTC and tweet #NCPW15 to join the conversation on Tues., March 3, 2015 at 2:00 pm ET.

“Organizations committed to consumer protection are energized for National Consumer Protection Week, and the FTC is proud to work with our partners to fight scams in every community,” said Jessica Rich, Director, FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We can all help stop scams by checking out the advice at NCPW.gov, sharing it, and reporting fraud.”

The NCPW website has resources for consumers on topics ranging from managing credit and debt, avoiding identity theft, staying safe online, and more. These resources, including a consumer blog, help people learn about their consumer rights and how to spot and avoid scams and identity theft. The site also has information on where to file complaints with federal, state and other partners, including the FTC.

In addition to hosting NCPW annually, the FTC’s ongoing Every Community initiative fights scams in the marketplace for many underserved groups. Just yesterday, the FTC, Department of Justice and Postal Inspection Service participated in a roundtable with consumer advocacy groups to discuss how the agencies can better work with each community to protect consumers and learn more about current scam-related issues.

As part of the broader Every Community effort, the FTC has brought cases against scams that targeted Latinos and older adults. The Commission hosted a workshop last year on fraud in different communities, and it has distributed a variety of education materials and outreach to groups including Latinos, older adults, and veterans, servicemembers, and their families.

To help coordinate and publicize events throughout the week, partners of NCPW created a toolkit full of ideas and resources for all to use and share. The toolkit includes tips on hosting events, drafting consumer education and other outreach materials, buttons, banners, social media posts, and more.

GENE EDITITING AND REGULATION TO IMPROVE IMMUNE SYSTEM

FROM:  NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Rewriting genetic information to prevent disease

Breakthrough Prize winner harnesses CRISPR to improve immune system
For the last few years, scientists have been studying an ancient but only recently understood mechanism of bacterial immunity that has the potential to provide immeasurable benefits to plant and animal health.

The phenomenon known as CRISPR (for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a natural immune system found in many bacteria with the ability to identify and destroy the genomes of invading viruses and plasmids.

Researchers are trying to harness this system for gene editing and regulation, a process that could transform "the genome of plants or animals in ways that will improve their health, or introduce genetic changes that will resist disease of climate change," says Jennifer Doudna, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor of biochemistry, biophysics and structural biology at the University of California, Berkeley. "The explosion of research using this technique has been amazing."

Doudna, collaborating with Emmanuelle Charpentier of Sweden's Helmholtz Center for Infection Research and Umeå University, identified how the system works and engineered it in new ways that broadened its scope. The two researchers, who described their work in a 2012 paper in the journal Science, developed a technique that enables the rewriting of genetic information and the correction of mutations that otherwise can cause disease, and also can knock out the cell's ability to make harmful proteins, she says.

"Many labs have shown in principle that this can be used to correct such mutations as those that occur in cystic fibrosis, or sickle cell disease," she says. "They are showing it in cell lines and lab animals. We're still some period of time away from using this in humans, but the pace in the field has been truly remarkable, and really exciting to see."

Many bacteria have this CRISPR-based immune system capable of identifying and destroying hostile invaders. Doudna and Charpentier showed that, in doing so, CRISPR produces the protein Cas9, a DNA-cutting enzyme guided by RNA, which relies on two short RNA guide sequences to find foreign DNA, then cleaves, or cuts, the target sequences, thereby muting the genes of the invaders.

Cas9 has evolved to provide protection against viruses that could infect the bacterium, and uses pieces of RNA derived from CRISPRS to direct its activity. The system is specific and efficient enough to stave off viral infections in bacteria.

Doudna and her colleagues programmed the process so that it can be directed by a single short RNA molecule; researchers who use it to edit genomes can customize the RNA so that it sends Cas9 to cleave, like "scissors," at their chosen location in the genome.

"When we figured out how it worked, we realized we could alter the design of RNA and program Cas9 to recognize any DNA sequence," she says. "One can therefore target Cas9 to any region of a genome simply by providing a short guide RNA that can pair with the region of interest. Once targeted, different versions of Cas9 can be used to activate or inhibit genes, as well as make target cuts within the genome. Depending on the experimental design, research can use these latter cuts to either disrupt genes or replace them with newly engineered versions."

Recently Douda and Charpentier and four other scientists received the Breakthrough Prize in life sciences, which honors transformative advances toward understanding living systems and extending human life. The prizes recognize pioneering work in physics, genetics, cosmology, neurology and mathematics, and carry a $3 million award for each researcher. The Breakthrough committee specifically cited Doudna and Charpentier for their advances in understanding the CRISPR mechanism.

Doudna has been the recipient of several National Science Foundation (NSF) grants to support her research in recent years totaling more than $1.5 million. In 2000, she received NSF's prestigious $500,000 Alan T. Waterman Award, which recognizes an outstanding young researcher in any field of science or engineering supported by NSF.

She also was a founder of the Innovative Genomics Initiative, established in 2014 at the Li Ka Shing Center for Genomic Engineering at UC Berkeley. Its goal is to promote and support genome editing research and technology in both academic and commercial research communities.

"We have a team of scientists working with various collaborative partners," she says. "We want to ensure that the technology gets into as many hands as possible, and explore ways to make it even better. We are trying to bring about fundamental change in biological and biomedical research by enabling scientists to read and write in genomes with equal ease. It's a bold new effort that embraces a new era in genomic engineering."

-- Marlene Cimons, National Science Foundation
Investigators
Jennifer Doudna
Related Institutions/Organizations
University of California-Berkeley

Friday, February 27, 2015

U.S. CONGRATULATES PEOPLE OF DOMINICAN REPUBLIC ON THEIR INDEPENDENCE DAY

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Dominican Republic's Independence Day
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
February 27, 2015

On behalf President Obama and the people of the United States, I congratulate the people of the Dominican Republic as you celebrate your Independence Day.

As the largest economy in the Caribbean, your country plays an essential role in the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative.

The United States stands with you as a partner and friend in the Inter-American System. We will continue to work together to strengthen and revitalize the Organization of American States. And I look forward to ensuring a successful Summit of the Americas in Panama this April.

We also work together to provide greater opportunities for youth through the Fulbright program, cultural and English language programs at our Binational Center, and employment and life skills training.

On behalf of the people of the United States, I wish all Dominicans across the globe a joyful Independence Day.

SECRETARY KERRY'S REMARKS REGARDING MURDER OF BORIS NEMTSOV

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
February 27, 2015

I am shocked and saddened to learn of the brutal murder of former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov in central Moscow. Boris Nemtsov committed his life to a more democratic, prosperous, open Russia, and to strong relationships between Russia and its neighbors and partners, including the United States. He served his country in many roles – in the federal government, in the parliament, as Governor of Nizhniy Novgorod, and as a political leader and activist. In every post, he sought to reform and open Russia, and to empower the Russian people to have a greater say in the life of their country. His absence will be deeply felt in Russia and around the world. The United States urges the Russian authorities to act expeditiously to investigate and bring to justice those responsible. Our thoughts are with the Russian people and with Mr. Nemtsov’s family and friends as we mourn his loss.

PRESS AVAILABILITY WITH SECRETARY KERRY AND LIBERIAN PRESIDENT ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Press Availability With President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
February 27, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Good morning, everybody. I am extremely pleased to welcome Her Excellency, Dr. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, here to America and to the Department of State. President Sirleaf is a very distinguished world leader, the deserving recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, and the first woman elected head of state in Africa. And Madam President, we’re really delighted to have you here now at a moment of great importance to your country’s history. It obviously is a bittersweet combination of great accomplishment with great tragedy. And we are particularly proud of the close relationship between our nations.

I have valued the chance to talk with you this morning about where we are with respect to the Ebola crisis and also the future development challenges of your country, which are critical to recovering from the Ebola crisis, ensuring that the epidemic, obviously, is brought to a complete close. We are not there yet. We still have a challenge, even though enormous progress has been made. And we want to review the other issues that are on our bilateral agenda and we will shortly be meeting with President Obama at the White House. So Madam President, I think you would agree with me that this past year has taught us all something; there have been some lessons we have learned from this great challenge.

Particularly, first, the need to go all-in at the earliest sign of some kind of major outbreak of any deadly or infectious disease. The most effective action is preventative action, and delay or waiting can make the challenge just that much greater. Second, the critical need to upgrade the health infrastructure ensuring that countries have the backing that they need and the support they need, because the difference between rich and poor should not spell the difference between life and death. And the third lesson I think we’ve learned is the absolute importance of teamwork in responding to this kind of a crisis.

Now the last point, the value of teamwork, has been shown dramatically in recent months. In combatting the Ebola epidemic, the United States took a very vigorous, every-hand-on-deck approach with the leadership of President Obama, in order to immediately respond as strongly as possible, combined with the leadership that President Sirleaf provided in order to maximize Liberia’s own efforts with those of our partners.

And President Obama, as I think everybody knows, made a courageous decision early on to deploy 3,000 troops – American troops – at a time where there were questions about what would specifically be needed and how much could be done – in order to build treatment centers and assist in training health workers. The State Department, the USAID, the Center for Disease Control, the Department of Health and Human Services here in America all came together to play critical roles. And our assistance, including our food aid, totaled more than $1 billion. American NGOs were incredibly helpful. And the fact that the United States made such a broad commitment actually encouraged other countries to say we, too, need to join this fight, and they stepped up.

In responding to the crisis, the global community was indispensable. This was not something any one country was able to do by itself. But let me be clear: Our efforts, all of the global community’s efforts, would never have succeeded without the strong leadership in West Africa both at the national and at the local levels. And President Sirleaf herself was at the forefront of those leadership efforts. She acted with force and determination to educate her people about this disease, to marshal the resources, and to establish the right set of priorities and to make decisions on a daily basis that empowered the people who wanted to help to actually be able to do so.

So for their part, local healthcare workers risked, and in many cases gave their lives so that they could save many other lives and ease the pain of other people. Villagers and townspeople formed committees to set up hand-washing stations, quarantine households, to shield caregivers, to supervise burials, and to screen visitors. The result, quite frankly, has been absolutely astonishing. Last September, the CDC estimated by that this time – these were the estimates we were dealing with – more than a million cases might have been diagnosed. In fact, we are roughly at 1/50th of that number, and new cases in Liberia are down by more than 95 percent.

So this is remarkable news, good news at a moment where many people wonder about the ability of governance to be able to deliver good news at all. But the truth is as long as new infections are still being recorded, at even low levels, this cannot be declared over. Careful monitoring of every Ebola case and everyone in contact with infected patients is essential, and our goal is not to contain the disease, it is to defeat the disease. And that means zero new cases.

So today we continue to mourn the loss of so many people. But we’re also inspired by the difference that these months have made. Daily existence in Liberia and elsewhere in the region is no longer being held hostage to this disease. And body collection vehicles have disappeared from the streets. Schools that were closed have resumed classes. Liberia has reopened its borders and hope has returned to its citizens. And people, when they meet each other now, have begun shaking hands again.

So earlier this week the Millennium Development Corporation in Liberia signed a $2.8 million compact to assist with the recovery. And that was part of the conversation that the President and I had this morning. This is part of America’s ongoing commitment to Liberia, and it is one of – it is sort of a recognition of the fact that Liberia is also one of our staunchest allies in Africa.

Since the end of the civil war in 2003, the United States had invested more than 2 billion to help Liberia to rebuild and go forward. And even prior to the Ebola outbreak, the United States was the largest bilateral donor to Liberia’s health sector, working to increase the health sector capacity under programs such as the President’s malaria and global health initiatives, Feed the Future and the USAID Water and Development Strategy.

So Madam President, I’m told there’s an African proverb, “Rain does not fall on one roof alone.” And the meaning of that is obviously we’re all in this together. We have to stand together, and thousands of miles may separate our two countries, but for most of the past 168 years, the United States and Liberia have stood together, and that remains the case today. We both support democratic values and the development of inclusive societies. We both seek higher living standards through sustainable growth, and we share a commitment to human dignity and to peace both within and among nations.

So it’s been a great pleasure for me to able to share thoughts with you. I have admired you greatly and watched you from the distance, and we’ve said hello a couple times before, but I thank you today for the conversation we’ve had, and I look forward to continuing it at the White House shortly. Thank you, Madam President.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON SIRLEAF: Mr. Secretary, I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to meet with you, to exchange views. I come also to express on behalf of the Liberian people our deep appreciation for the support which we have received as we continue to fight this deadly virus. We want to thank President Obama for the strong leadership which he has shown, for the call to action that he has made. We thank the Administration; we thank the Congress in a bipartisan way for the support they’ve given to the Administration’s call for their support. And we thank the many U.S. institutions – NIH, CDC, the public health service, DART – all of those; the faith-based institutions, the American public at large, that all came together in a very strong partnership with us to be able to address and to fight this disease.

Last year was a difficult year for Liberia because we had and already obtained 10 consecutive years of peace, we had solved a lot of the problems that came out of two decades of war. We had addressed our debt issue, we were rebuilding our institutions, repairing our infrastructure, putting in the laws and the strategies that would’ve enabled us to be able to meet our Vision 2030 agenda, our agenda for transformation. When Ebola struck, the chances of all of that being wiped away confronted us.

In the early days, we did not know what to do. We were fearful, people died, our nurses and doctors who tried to treat what they thought were ordinary diseases such as malaria and yellow fever were confronted with something that they had no answer for. And I’m sure many people that looked at the television screen and saw Liberia as a place of disaster, everything was going wrong. But our people were resilient, and they were determined that we were not going to die, we’re not going to lose our livelihoods, we’re not going to reverse the gains that we have made. And so we all came together. We came together with not much capacity, not much resources, but came together with a great determination to save our nation and to ensure that we seize back the future that we had so carefully built over the past years. We could not do it without the partnership.

And the partnership that came from the United States galvanized and crystallized an international partnership that joined the United States in doing this, and this is why our message – it was a bold action, as you said, for the Administration to send military people out there, to send soldiers. That’s not something – we’ve never had boots on the ground in Liberia. It was the first time. But the landing of that just sent a big message to the Liberian people that the United States was really with us, and they provided the kind of service that have enhanced the capability of our own military because they worked together in building those centers.

The United States never closed to Liberia, even though we know there were great pressure on the part of a fearful citizen here, and we understood their fears because this was an unknown enemy to all of us. But President Obama and the Administration, supported by the Congress, stood firm and said, “We will continue to work with Liberia. We’ll continue to do this.” He went to the United Nations – you were there, I believe.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON SIRLEAF: And you all took a very strong stance. That message that went to the global community also engaged them. And so today, because of this strong partnership, we can say that we haven’t reached a place where we say we’re free of this disease, because we have neighboring countries and they send you the same messages of thanks and appreciation. But we have the place where we’re now confident that going forward, we can indeed get to zero for the required period, and we can indeed rebuild our health infrastructure, start our economic recovery even now as we try to get to zero, promote the regional support that ensures that all of our countries are free as a means of removing the threat that will remain if none of our countries are free.

To you, to the American people, we say thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much for a very eloquent and very personal statement. We thank you, appreciate it. I think we’ll be ready to take a few questions.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Abigail Williams from NBC will be asking the questions today.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what are your expectations for the second round of U.S.-Cuba talks here at the State Department today? Do you expect an embassy to be open within a matter of weeks or months? And the Cubans are saying that a precondition for opening or establishing full diplomatic relations is being removed from the state sponsor of terror list. Do you expect that to create a delay in opening the embassy, and why are they still on that list?

And Madam President, what more are you asking of the United States to help prepare for the next outbreak of a similar deadly disease?

SECRETARY KERRY: Do you want to go first? Go ahead, please.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON SIRLEAF: We’re asking for a continuation of the partnership, first to help us get to zero, and that means supporting our regional initiative. We’re asking that we work together in a dialogue to look at our economic recovery that will strengthen our health infrastructure, that will get us to continue with our prioritization of agriculture to feed ourselves. Infrastructure – making sure that we have the roads and the power systems and the clean water systems now that our schools are open. That through dialogue, through understanding, this partnership can prepare Liberia not only to prevent any possible reoccurrence, but enable us to deliver better health services and a better life to our people.

SECRETARY KERRY: Let me just say that we are very committed to working with our friends from Liberia in order to be able to maximize the possibility of economic recovery, which is critical, and it requires bringing the private sector back, it requires addressing the energy sector, building health infrastructure. There are a lot of moving parts, but we certainly feel – and I know President Obama shares this – that having put so much effort into stopping the disease, and now we really want to try to help provide the future that provides hope and a sense of possibility, and we will continue to work on that.

With respect to Cuba and the state sponsorship of terrorism, even as we are standing here now, negotiations are going on upstairs to deal with the issue of renewal of diplomatic relations. That’s one set of fairly normal negotiations with respect to movement of diplomats, access, travel, different things, the very sort of technical process. The state sponsorship of terrorism designation is a separate process. It is not a negotiation. It is an evaluation that is made under a very strict set of requirements congressionally mandated, and that has to be pursued separately, and it is being pursued separately. And we will wait for that normal process to be completed. It requires a finding that, over the course of the last six-month period, the country in question has not been engaged in supporting, aiding, abetting – different language – international terrorist acts. And that evaluation will be made appropriately, and nothing will be done with respect to the list until the evaluation is completed.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all. Thank you, Madam President.

2/26/15: White House Press Briefing

NASA VIDEO | SATELLITE TRACKS SAHARAN DUST

DOD OFFICIALS EXPLAIN TO CONGRESS THE EFFECTS OF SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
Sanctions Having a Mixed Effect on Russia, Officials Say
By Nick Simeone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2015 – U.S. and European sanctions imposed on Russia for its support of Ukrainian separatists and the annexation of Crimea are having a significant impact on Russia’s economy but have not curtailed Moscow’s continued intervention in the region, two senior Defense Department officials told Congress today.

“We are hearing, for example, more dissatisfaction of the oligarchs, who to date have been very supportive of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” Christine E. Wormuth, undersecretary of defense for policy, told the House Armed Services Committee during a hearing on security threats to Europe that focused largely on Russia’s threat to Ukraine and Eastern Europe.

Regarding the sanctions, the Russian oligarchs “are concerned about the impact it is having on their businesses, on their own financial holdings, but it has not changed so far what Russia has been doing on the ground, and that is the great concern,” Wormuth said during her testimony.

She added, “That is where there is the need again to look at the overall package of cost-imposing strategies toward Russia and also support to Ukraine to see if we can change the calculus.”

Assistance for Ukraine

In addition to ongoing military exercises and a stepped-up NATO presence in Eastern Europe, the Obama administration has committed $118 million in nonlethal aid and training to the Ukrainian government in Kiev and a similar amount for fiscal year 2015.

Ukraine’s government, which has lost control of significant portions of the eastern part of the country to Russian-backed rebels since fighting began a year ago, has asked allies -- including the United States -- for lethal aid.
“There is various discussion of providing defensive lethal assistance in an effort to again raise costs on Russia, not from the perspective at all of being able to fundamentally alter the military balance … but to try to give Ukraine more ability to defend itself against the separatist aggression,” Wormuth said in answer to legislators’ questions. In fact, Wormuth and Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, Supreme Allied Commander Europe and commander of U.S. European Command, both told lawmakers they did not know how Putin would respond if the West began supplying lethal aid to the government in Kiev. However, “what we’re doing now is not changing the results on the ground,” Breedlove said.

More Economic Pressure

Wormuth said pressure should continue on all fronts and that stepped-up economic and financial isolation of Russia could prove more effective than providing lethal aid to the Ukrainian government, a move that she said could lead Russia to “double down” on its support for Ukrainian separatists and thereby escalate the conflict.

Ultimately, Breedlove said, he does not think the Ukrainian military is capable of stopping further Russian advances and that the best resolution to the year-old conflict remains a diplomatic one. Even so, neither he nor Wormuth expressed confidence that a cease-fire agreement reached earlier this month in Belarus -- the second such agreement in five months -- would hold.

“Mr. Putin has not accomplished his objectives yet in Ukraine, so next is probably more action,” Breedlove said. He suggested Moscow knows what lines are not worth crossing, testifying that while “pressure is being brought [by Russia] on nations to keep them from leaning West,” Breedlove felt the Russian president is well aware of NATO’s obligation to come to the defense of any member threatened with attack.

“I do believe that Mr. Putin understands Article 5, but I do not believe that that would preclude Mr. Putin from taking some actions in reaching out to the disparate Russian-speaking populations that are in some [of] our easternmost nations in NATO,” Breedlove said, referring primarily to the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Turning to another security concern, both defense officials described instability in the Middle East, in particular the control that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has over territory just to the south of Europe.

“The flow of returning foreign terrorist fighters to Europe and the United States in both the near- and mid-term poses a significant risk, including to our forward-based forces in Europe,” Breedlove said, and “is likely to grow more complex for the next decade or longer.”

SECRETARY KERRY'S REMARKS WITH NORWEGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER BRENDE

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
02/26/2015 12:21 PM EST
Remarks With Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende
Remarks
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
February 26, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Are we still morning? We are for a few more minutes. (Laughter.) Good morning, everybody. This is a great pleasure for me because Borge Brende and I have become really good friends in the course of our work together. And Norway is such an extraordinary partner. There is nowhere or anything that is an issue where Norway is not playing a role. And really, it is a pleasure for us to have a partner who is always so willing to step up on all of the major crises that we’re currently challenging.

Borge was here for our summit on Countering Violent Extremism. Norway is making major contributions to the Syria conflict, helping to provide humanitarian assistance. Norway is a critical partner with respect to the protection of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. We work with Norway on Middle East peace. They are constantly engaged in helping to both support the rights of Israelis to be free from violence, but also the rights of Palestinians to have a better life, to be able to receive the humanitarian aid that they need.

So it is safe to say that on every major conflict in the world today, Norway – not the biggest country in the world, but the biggest in heart and in commitment – is always by our side and is a superb ally. We have a lot to talk about today in the context of the efforts against Daesh, the efforts to deal with Libya, the Maghreb, the Sahel, the Arabian Peninsula. There’s no dearth of challenges right now. And Minister Brende is constantly traveling to try to help leverage the values of Norway and the interests of Norway to help bring about stability and peace.

So I’m very grateful. Thank you for being here, and we’ll have the opportunity to talk in a few minutes. Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER BRENDE: Thank you. Thank you, Secretary Kerry. Thank you, John. Thank you for the very kind words and thank you for your friendship. We have developed a genuine, close collaboration, U.S. being our most closest ally. This is important for us in a time where we see a new security landscape in Europe. We feel that what has taken place in Ukraine and the breach of international law is something very serious. And what we have agreed also in the NATO context when it comes to also making sure that all the allies are really reassured that we have a full NATO solidarity – I’m thinking about our Baltic friends – is very important.

And we will, in the coming weeks, also be very clear with the Russians on the “Minsk plus” if there is any more violence of what has – violation of what has been agreed, it needs to have implications for Russia.

Thank you, John, for your leadership on the summit last week on Countering Violent Extremism. The U.S. leadership now and your personal engagement in getting this coalition against ISIL in place is extremely important. And I think we’ve done this in a good and strategic way, getting all the Arab countries on board, a new government in Baghdad – more inclusive, and now starting the real fight against ISIL and making also advances in Iraq.

Also, the U.S. leadership and your personal commitment to a two-state solution and peace between Israel and Palestine is very important. And after the Israeli elections, I hope we can re-engage and see again new initiatives from the U.S. side. We will support as much as possible to set up the donor group for Palestine. And we will, of course, also follow up on Libya, on Maghreb, and all the present issues that you are seeing.

And we are also looking forward to your chairmanship now in the Arctic Council. We know you care so much about the environment, oceans, and the fight against climate change. And this U.S. chairmanship will be very important.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, my friend, and I’m looking forward to traveling to Norway and being up in the north.

FOREIGN MINISTER BRENDE: Thank you, and we are so much looking forward to welcoming you to Svalbard --

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER BRENDE: -- and also this frozen vessel into the ice that’s on the front page of National Geographic now. It’s to (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: I look forward to it.

FOREIGN MINISTER BRENDE: Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Thank you all.

FTC SAYS IT'S WORKING WITH NEW YORK ATTORNEY TO STOP ABUSIVE DEBT COLLECTION

FROM:  U.S. FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
FTC, New York Attorney General Crack Down on Abusive Debt Collectors
Charges Cite Harassing Conduct, False and Deceptive Claims Made to Consumers

The Federal Trade Commission, jointly with the New York State Office of the Attorney General, has filed complaints aimed at shutting down two particularly egregious and abusive debt collection operations centered in Buffalo, New York that target consumers nationwide. According to the complaints, the separate enterprises used threats and abusive language, including false threats that consumers would be arrested, to collect more than $45 million in supposed debts.

“The Federal Trade Commission is pleased to work with the New York State Attorney General to stop abusive debt collectors,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The cases announced today will help protect consumers from debt collectors that disregard the law in an attempt to make a buck.”

“Today’s action should make it clear that nobody is above the law, and when shady debt collectors engage in illegal and abusive business practices, they will be held accountable,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “The use of threats, including the threat of arrest, to collect debts is unconscionable, and I am pleased to partner with the FTC to stand up for consumers against these bad actors.”

The federal court has temporarily halted defendants’ practices in both cases at the FTC’s and New York Attorney General’s request.

4 Star Resolution LLC

On February 9, 2015, the FTC and New York Attorney General’s Office filed a complaint against 4 Star Resolution LLC, six other corporate entities, and three individuals (collectively, 4 Star), alleging that 4 Star used abusive and deceptive tactics to pressure consumers into making payments on supposed debts.

According to the complaint, 4 Star regularly called consumers using fictitious addresses, bogus company names, and spoofed phone numbers. After misrepresenting their names and locations, 4 Star’s collectors falsely identified themselves to consumers, claiming that they were attorneys, process servers, government agents, or criminal law enforcement officials.

In addition, 4 Star’s collectors allegedly falsely claimed that the consumers had committed an illegal or criminal act such as bank or check fraud. 4 Star’s collectors then falsely threatened consumers with dire consequences, including arrest, imprisonment, and civil lawsuits, unless the consumers made an immediate payment on the supposed debts.

The complaint cites several examples that illustrate the defendants’ alleged abusive and deceptive conduct. During one call to collect on a supposed debt, a 4 Star collector used the pseudonym “Detective Jeff Ramsay,” and left a message where he falsely asserted that he was seeking to serve a bench warrant on the consumer for check fraud.

In another instance, 4 Star’s collectors falsely told a consumer that her husband had committed check and money fraud and that legal action would be taken against the husband if the debt was not paid in two days. One of 4 Star’s collectors falsely identified himself to the consumer as “Investigator Kearns” and claimed that he worked for a government agency located in Washington, DC.

The complaint also alleges that when consumers asked for proof of the supposed debt, 4 Star’s representatives refused to provide it, and instead often told consumers they would only receive proof in court or after the debt was paid. The defendants often allegedly failed to provide written notice of the debt as required by law and failed to make required disclosures to consumers.

Finally, the complaint alleges that 4 Star unlawfully disclosed information about supposed debtors to third parties, including friends, family members, and employers, and illegally used abusive and profane language, including routinely calling consumers such names as “idiot,” “dummy,” “piece of scum,” “thief,” or “loser.”

Vantage Point Services, LLC

According to the second complaint, filed against Vantage Point Services, LLC, and related corporate and individual defendants, the organization, used deceptive, unfair, and abusive tactics to pressure consumers into making payments on supposed debts.

The complaint alleges that in collection calls to consumers the defendants often falsely claimed to be a law firm, process server, unrelated debt collection company, or entity affiliated with the government. In some instances, the defendants even posed as government agents, including FBI agents and district attorneys. In others instances, the defendants falsely told consumers they were working as an intermediary with the state, or that the state had placed the consumers’ account with them to give them a chance to pay the debt before criminal charges were filed.

With this deceptive backdrop, the defendants falsely claimed that consumers had committed a crime and that an arrest warrant would be issued unless they made a payment. Often, the defendants told consumers that they would spend 90 or 120 days in jail, or that that would need to pay thousands of dollars in bail if they didn’t pay.

The defendants’ conduct was not limited to people that supposedly owed the debt, however. Vantage Point made similar representations to third parties, including supposed debtors’ friends, family members, and co-workers. In some cases, the defendants falsely told third parties that the supposed debtors had committed a crime and that a warrant had been issued for their arrest.

Finally, the complaint states that the defendants failed to provide consumers with basic information about their identity during calls, did not provided consumers with information about the supposed debt within five days of the call, as required by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), and illegally charged them a “processing fee.”

Both complaints charge the respective defendants with violating the FTC Act and the FDCPA, as well as several New York State laws prohibiting deceptive acts and practices. In filing the complaints, the FTC and the New York Attorney General’s Office are seeking to permanently stop the defendants’ illegal conduct and to obtain money to provide refunds to consumers.

The 4 Star defendants are: 1) 4 Star Resolution LLC; 2) Profile Management, Inc.; 3) International Recovery Service LLC; 4) Check Solutions Services Inc.; 5) Check Fraud Service LLC; 6) Merchant Recovery Service, Inc.; 7) Fourstar Revenue Management LLC; 8) Travell Thomas, individually and as a principal, manager, and/or officer of several of the corporate defendants; 9) Maurice Sessum, individually and as a principal, manager, and/or officer of several of the corporate defendants; and 10) Charles Blakely III, individually and as principal, manager, and/or officer of Merchant Recovery Service, Inc. The complaint also alleges that the corporate defendants conducted business through approximately two dozen fictitious names.

The Vantage defendants are: 1) Vantage Point Services, LLC; 2) Payment Management Solutions, Inc.; and 3) Gregory MacKinnon; 4) Megan Vandeviver; and 5) Angela Burdorf, each individually and as an officer of one or more of the corporate defendants.

The Commission vote authorizing the filing of each complaint was 5-0. The complaints against 4 Star and Vantage Point Services were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York.

IRS HAS PROCESSED NEARLY 40 MILLION TAX REFUNDS WORTH ALMOST $125 MILLION

FROM:  U.S. INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE
Tax Refunds Reach Almost $125 Billion Mark; IRS.gov Available for Tax Help

WASHINGTON — Almost 40 million tax refunds worth nearly $125 billion have been issued as of Feb. 20, according to Internal Revenue Service statistics released today. The average refund is $3,120.

The IRS has processed nearly 50 million returns, about one-third of the total individual federal income tax returns the agency expects to receive this year, with almost 83 percent of those returns resulting in refunds. More than 92 percent of refunds have been directly deposited into taxpayer accounts. The IRS recommends direct deposit as a safe, quick way for taxpayers to get their refunds.

The IRS also recommends taxpayers who have yet to file explore the numerous online tools and resources available on IRS.gov, which taxpayers visited almost 160 million times so far this year.

Longer wait times on IRS phone lines and at IRS offices mean it’s more important than ever for taxpayers to use IRS online tools and resources on IRS.gov.

FRANK ROSE'S REMARKS ON U.S.-JAPAN ALLIANCE

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
02/25/2015 05:14 PM EST
A Modern U.S.-Japan Alliance
Remarks
Frank A. Rose
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
American Center
Tokyo, Japan
February 23, 2015

Introduction

Thank you very much for allowing me to join you today.

My name is Frank Rose, and I am the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance.

I have had the privilege of being welcomed to Japan many times to discuss our nations’ shared interest in and commitment to international peace and security.

Those discussions have focused on several important topics, including nuclear policy and disarmament, extended deterrence, missile defense, and outer space security.

I’m especially pleased to be here this week, as our governments are nearing the end of their work to finalize a review of the guidelines for U.S.-Japanese Defense Cooperation. This review process aims to make the links underlying the U.S.-Japan Alliance stronger than ever and thus contribute more effectively to regional and global peace and security.

So today, I’d like to offer a few comments on our joint efforts to strengthen our alliance, particularly in the areas of new strategic capabilities like cyber and outer space security.

I will also cover two other critical areas of the modern-day U.S.-Japan Alliance: missile defense and space. After that, I look forward to your questions.

A Modern U.S.-Japan Alliance

The United States-Japan Alliance long has been the cornerstone of peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region.

As you know, at the 2013 “2+2” meeting in Tokyo, Secretary of State Kerry, then-Secretary of Defense Hagel, and their Japanese counterparts announced their decision to review the U.S.-Japan Guidelines for Defense Cooperation.

The bilateral defense guidelines, which serve as the policy framework that outlines each country’s roles, missions, and capabilities within the Alliance, were last updated in 1997.

The world is much changed since 1997. While longstanding threats to Japan such as North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs remain a concern, emerging threats in areas such as cyber security, space security, and freedom of navigation present new challenges.

U.S. policy affirms that as long as nuclear weapons exist, the U.S. nuclear arsenal will play a role in our extended deterrence commitments to Japan and our other allies. That said, it is important that we recognize the full range of strategic capabilities beyond the nuclear that contribute to effective deterrence—to include space, cyber, and missile defense.

The updated guidelines will provide a framework for Japan to expand its contributions to international peace and security in concert with the United States and like-minded partners during the coming decades. This is important as Japan is an increasingly important participant in international security operations, from counter-piracy to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Ultimately, strengthening the U.S.-Japan Alliance will allow our countries to more effectively contribute to peace and stability both here in the Asia-Pacific region and around the world.

Missile Defense in the Asia Pacific

In 1998, the DPRK irresponsibly test launched a long range ballistic missile that overflew Japan and dropped a rocket stage very near Japanese territory. The launch was not successful, but it did succeed in being highly provocative and, as a result, the United States and Japan initiated a more concerted effort to monitor, deter, and counter North Korean ballistic missiles.

Since 1998, North Korea has continued to make quantitative and qualitative advances in its ballistic missile force. For example, in 2012 North Korea unveiled what appeared to be a mobile ICBM that potentially could reach the United States.

In response to this growing threat the United States and Japan continue to deepen their cooperation on BMD.

Just this past December, the United States and Japan announced the deployment of the second AN/TPY-2 radar to Kyogamisaki, and we greatly appreciate Japan’s hard work in making the deployment possible despite a challenging timeline.

As many of you are aware, this asset will serve as a critical addition to our regional deterrence and defense architecture, enhancing the protection of both Japan and the U.S. homeland against the threat of ballistic missile attack.

This deployment builds on a deep and broad cooperative relationship that includes a AN/TPY-2 deployed to Shariki, Japan in 2006, cooperation on an advanced interceptor known as the SM-3 Block IIA, and continuing work on enhancing interoperability between U.S. and Japanese forces.

We also welcomed the inclusion of missile defense in the interim report on the revision of the defense guidelines, and we hope the final revision will reflect the valuable contribution of BMD to our collective self-defense as well as to regional stability.

These regional missile defenses help to reassure Japan and deter North Korea from seeking to coerce or attack its neighbors. Missile defenses contribute to regional stability because the protection that defenses offer can reduce pressures for a preemptive strike, or a large retaliation to a provocation that can escalate a crisis. We continue to encourage our allies to contribute to their own defense but also to provide capabilities in a multilateral context that can enhance their own security and contribute to stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

There has been a lot of discussion in the press recently about the possible deployment of a Terminal High Attitude Area Defense or THAAD system in the region. Let me be clear, this system is a purely defensive system to defend against short- and medium-range regional ballistic missiles from North Korea. It does not and cannot impact broader strategic stability with Russia and China. Such a system would provide additional defensive capabilities to support our forces on the peninsula. That said, there are no negotiations ongoing between the U.S. and the Republic of Korea to deploy THAAD to the Republic of Korea.

U.S.-Japan Cooperation on Outer Space Security

Finally, as some of you may know, I am in Tokyo this week to lead the U.S.-Japan Space Security Dialogue and attend the Japan Space Forum. So let me conclude my remarks with a few thoughts on U.S.-Japan cooperation on outer space security.

Space cooperation between the United States and Japan has a long history, built on the extensive civil and scientific cooperation among NASA, NOAA, and other U.S. agencies and their Japanese counterparts. Our discussions on these issues have grown into one of the most important relationships we have with our Allies and partners on outer space security issues.

The United States’ rebalance in the Asia-Pacific reflects a recognition that we must broaden and deepen our engagement in the region at all levels including the long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of the space environment.

Cooperation on space security is now part of the Common Strategic Objectives of the Alliance, and bilateral cooperation on civil and security space was recognized in the outcomes of summits between President Obama and former Prime Minister Noda in 2012 and again with Prime Minister Abe in 2014.

Recognizing the numerous opportunities for cooperation on space issues, the United States and Japan have held several space security dialogues in the last five years, in addition to ongoing civil space dialogues.

In fact, due to the success and robustness of our space security and civil space dialogues, our governments have also established a Comprehensive Dialogue on Space in order to address the bilateral relationship at a strategic level and to ensure a whole-of-government approach to space matters. We have held two Comprehensive Dialogues to date, with a third meeting to be held later this year in Japan.

Through these dialogues, we not only discuss possible avenues of cooperation and exchange space policies; we also have made tremendous progress in furthering our tangible space security cooperation.

In regards to improving our space situational awareness – specifically, improving our shared ability to rapidly detect, warn of, characterize, and attribute natural and man-made disturbances to space systems – in 2013 the United States signed a Space Situational Awareness (SSA) information sharing agreement with Japan.

Building on the foundation of that agreement, we are also exploring the possibility of establishing “two-way” SSA sharing with Japan. We hope that as our space surveillance capabilities improve, we will be able to notify satellite operators earlier and with greater accuracy of a need to maneuver a satellite in order to prevent collisions in space.

We are also looking at how we can expand cooperation on utilizing space systems for maritime domain awareness. To that end, the United States and Japan held the first “Use of Space for Maritime Domain Awareness” table top exercise last year.

Multilateral Cooperation

We also work closely together to cooperate and to coordinate positions on multilateral space issues. We hold an annual trilateral space security dialogue with Australia and Japan to coordinate our positions on these space security issues.

Our joint efforts to advance the work of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) Working Group on Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities (LTS) continue to make progress.

Perhaps one of the most beneficial transparency and confidence-building measures, or TCBMs, for ensuring sustainability and security in space could be the adoption of an International Code of Conduct to prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust in space. A code would establish guidelines, or rules of the road, to reduce the risks of debris-generating events, including collisions.

The United States is working with the European Union and other spacefaring nations, like Japan, to advance such a Code in the Asia-Pacific region. Both Japan and Australia have also endorsed its development.

Conclusion

In his State of the Union Address, President Obama spoke of the need to modernize our alliances in the Asia Pacific to meet common international challenges.

With the Government of Japan as a strong partner both on the guidelines as well as on a host of strategic issues, we are working together to do just that. Thanks very much, and I look forward to the discussion.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY MAKES REMARKS WITH SERBIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DACIC

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Remarks With Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic
Remarks
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Ben Franklin Room
Washington, DC
February 26, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: I think it’s still morning. Yes, good morning. I’m very happy to welcome the deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Serbia and to welcome Ivica Dacic here to Washington at a time when Serbia is taking on an increasingly important role in many respects. First of all, they are assuming the chairmanship of the OSCE. And this comes at a really important time given the Minsk agreement, the efforts that we are all making to try to see that agreement implemented. And under the chairmanship of Foreign Minister Dacic, we will all be looking for accountability in the process of trying to stabilize Ukraine, the eastern part of Ukraine, and see if we can’t get on a different road. The OSCE observation/observer status is absolutely critical to our ability to know which side, both sides are adhering to the agreements, and so we welcome the assumption of this responsibility.

We also welcome the fact that Serbia has taken the step of moving towards EU accession. This is very important. It will require a process of reforms and engagement. We certainly look forward to working with Serbia in that endeavor.

And finally, while there are many other issues, most importantly, Serbia has exhibited great leadership in helping to engage seriously in the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue and in helping to reach an agreement that really could begin to move us on a road towards the longer-term stability that we have all sought in that relationship. We know it’s difficult and we know there are complications, but we applaud the fact that most recently there was a meeting with the EU High Representative Mogherini. There was a successful outcome of that dialogue with important next steps taken.

So my pleasure to welcome Foreign Minister Dacic here. Very, very appreciative of the fact that he’s taken the time to come here, and I look forward to our dialogue. Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER DACIC: (Via interpreter) Thank you. It is my great honor for me personally, but also for the Republic of Serbia, to have this opportunity to talk today with the Secretary of State, Mr. Kerry. Serbia dedicates great attention to bilateral relations with the United States, especially in a time when Serbia is chairing a very important organization – international organization, the OSCE.

We – as the chairmanship-in-office, we will be fully committed to the principles and commitments, having in mind that Yugoslavia was one of the founders of the OSCE, and we will invest maximal efforts to contribute to have on this OSCE region and the whole (inaudible) from Vladivostok to Vancouver to bring about peace and to coordinate all our actions.

In line with this, we will have consultations in various places within the OSCE structures. In order for us to draw and make adequate steps today, we will discuss not only the OSCE topics, but we will also touch upon some bilateral issues. And it is my great pleasure to have our bilateral relations advancing and going upwards, and I think that it is very important to renew the strategic partnership, which dates way back. Because 400 years now, our diplomatic relations – our diplomatic relations have been established 130 years ago. And in line with this, it is going to be my distinct pleasure for – to invite Mr. Secretary of State, Mr. Kerry, to come and attend a Ministerial Council meeting in Belgrade in December this year.

I will not miss this opportunity to say that we are extremely joyful and happy due to the fact that we will see more frequent visits and the dynamic of our relations extend and expand. And I have to say that we cannot even remember who was the last president of the United States who visited Serbia. I think that this was Mr. Ford. And due to this, I think that it would be very good and beneficial for our relations to advance, because we want Serbia to be a factor of stability and peace within the region, to resolve all the outstanding issues with its neighbor in a diplomatic way and through dialogue. And we will invest our maximum efforts and our full capacities and to demonstrate responsibility as the chairs in the OSCE, because the OSCE and the world is facing this great crisis, and the whole world is watching what the OSCE, with its capacities, can do in this regard.

So these kinds of consultations with you are of great importance, and I’m very thankful to you for accepting to meet me. Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much.

DOD LOOKS TO 'LONG-RANGE RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT PLAN'

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT

Right:  An Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft from the 909th Air Refueling Squadron refuels an Air Force E-8C Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft Jan. 29, 2013. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tyler Prince.  

DoD Seeks Novel Ideas to Shape its Technological Future
By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2015 – The Defense Department is seeking novel ideas to shape its future, and officials are looking to industry, small business, academia, start-ups, the public –- anyone, really –- to boost its ability to prevail against adversaries whose access to technology grows daily.

The program, called the Long-Range Research and Development Plan, or LRRDP, began with an Oct. 29 memo by DoD acquisition chief Frank Kendall.
The memo said the LRRDP will identify high-payoff enabling technology investments that could help shape future U.S. materiel investments and the trajectory of future competition for technical superiority. The plan will focus on technology that can be moved into development programs within the next five years.

Full and Immediate Support

“This effort is of the highest priority and requires full and immediate support from across the department,” Kendall wrote.

On Jan. 28, the department published a request for information, seeking to identify current and emerging technologies or projections of technology-enabled concepts that “could provide significant military advantage to the United States and its partners and allies in the 2030 timeframe.”

During a recent media roundtable here, LRRDP program lead Stephen P. Welby, deputy assistant secretary of defense for systems engineering, said the RFI deadline has twice been extended, and that more than 300 responses have come in.

“We have gotten some very talented folks replying to the RFI,” Welby said. Ideas are coming from small businesses, from traditional defense sources, and “some from surprising places we hadn't thought might respond,” Kendall said. “And that's exactly what we're hoping to get from this,” he added.

Defense Innovation Initiative

The LRRDP is part of the larger Defense Innovation Initiative, an effort to harness the brightest minds and cutting-edge technology to accelerate the way the department innovates and operates.

Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work is managing and integrating the initiative’s five technology areas, one of which is the LRRDP. In a summer meeting, Welby said, Work “introduced and drew out a historical analogy to where we are today.”

In 1973, the nation was moving out of the Vietnam War, where the military had been focused on counterinsurgency. Budgets were declining. And the Soviets, among other things, gradually had begun to build up their strategic nuclear forces, Work said during a January speech.

In the summer of 1973, with the dangers of nuclear escalation growing, what would later become the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, launched the first LRRDP program to give the president and the joint force better tools for responding to a Warsaw Pact attack, the deputy secretary said.

The group recommended going after conventional weapons with near-zero miss capability -- “a very simple idea that had profound implications throughout the entire defense program,” he added.

In 1977, the DoD leadership directed DARPA to integrate all of the promising military technologies into a system of systems for deep attack. The program, Assault Breaker, called for aircraft with light-area-sensor cueing and surface-to-surface ballistic missiles that could dispense a blanket of anti-armor submunitions.
Picking a Competitive Advantag
e

Assault Breaker demonstrated its capabilities in 1982 at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, and Work said the Soviets were watching.

“The implications of that single demonstration … really caused them to pause,” he added.

Ultimately, Assault Breaker led to development of the Air Force’s 17 E-8 Joint Surveillance Target and Attack Radar System, or JSTARS, aircraft, its air-to-ground BLU-108 sensor-fuzed weapon with terminally guided submunitions, and the long-range, surface-to-surface Army Tactical Missile System called ATACMS.

“We had picked a competitive advantage that we knew our adversary, the Soviets, could not duplicate and therefore injected uncertainty in their minds, changing their war-fighting calculus,” Work explained.

The joint force took over Assault Breaker, the deputy secretary said, “and we continued to build [the advanced capability] even in an era of declining budgets, starting in 1985.”

Demonstrating the Capability

U.S. forces demonstrated the capability, including that of the E-8C JSTARS side-looking airborne radar system with moving target indication, to the rest of the world in 1990 and 1991. This was during Operation Desert Storm, Work said, “when the Iraqi heavy formations built on the Soviet model were virtually reduced to an array of targets.”

Forty-two years after the plan’s inception, the second iteration of LRRDP is still accepting idea submissions, Welby said, noting that the LRRDP program page at the department’s Innovation Marketplace website features a conspicuously placed green box that says, “Share your ideas.”

Submissions should focus on technology-enabled capabilities that could to enter formal development in the next five to 10 years, the RFI says, offering military advantage during the 2025 to 2030 timeframe.

The LRRDP is looking for relatively mature technologies that can be applied in novel ways for a new kind of system capability, emerging technologies that can quickly be turned to new military capabilities, or technologies for nondefense applications that can offer new military capabilities.

Technology Priorities

Five technology priority areas include space, undersea technology, air dominance and strike, air and missile defense, and other technology-driven concepts.

When program officials find an idea interesting, one of five teams will be sent to speak with the submitting person or company, Welby said, adding that in mid-summer, the best ideas will be shared with Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
“The customer for this is the leadership of the department,” he said, “to help them think through the future and think differently about what the world's going to look like.”

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE TO UN POWER'S REMARKS ON 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF VOTING RIGHTS ACT

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
New York, NY
February 25, 2015
AS DELIVERED

Good afternoon and welcome. I am thrilled to see several of my colleagues from Croatia, Afghanistan, and France. This is an American issue that we are here to discuss, but with broad international ramifications, which is why, I’m delighted as the U.S. Ambassador to the UN to be able to share with you a few reflections and then introduce the panel, which is spectacular.

I also want to give a shout-out to a group of school-kids from Brooklyn, whom I had a chance to meet with, it is called the School for Global Citizenship, and their interests in voting rights issues, but their commitment also to extend human rights assistance internationally and so they are the next generation that can take this forward [inaudible].

The Mission – and this room within the Mission – was designed with a vision to host events like this one, with friends from around the diplomatic community and civil society. Coming together today to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act seems like a perfect use of this space and this ideal. After all, it was a people’s movement that finally moved American legislators to guarantee African-Americans the right to vote.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a seminal piece of legislation. It undid a more-than-90 year-old legal apparatus which stopped many African-Americans from voting – and it paved the way for greater participation and inclusion of African-Americans in this country’s process, to the great benefit of everyone. The story of the act – and its enactment – provides lessons to those of us working at the United Nations. We may be diplomats, but we should seize the spirit of this people’s movement to reinvigorate our work to defend human rights and dignity around the world.

And the spirit shines brightly in two of the civil rights leaders I’m honored to introduce here today. Wade Henderson is the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund. He is known to many of you and is known all around the world, and is a tremendous leader on all human rights issues. Sherrilyn Ifill is an author and voting rights litigator and I think her contribution, particularly in light of some worrying contemporary events is going to be extremely valuable, along with Wade’s. To lead our discussion, we are fortunate to have the deputy editor on the Op-Ed/Sunday Review desk at The New York Times, Sewell Chan. Sewell is the guy everybody is extra nice to when they want to get their op-eds placed in The New York Times so they can influence public discourse, so everybody be nice to Sewell, especially you young people who I look forward to futures of opinion assertion.

In 2015 it may seem very strange that a federal Voting Rights Act was necessary in 1965. In the aftermath of the American Civil War in 1865, the U.S. Constitution was amended to abolish slavery and to extend the vote to all American citizens, regardless of race. 1865. And yet, the promise of political inclusion was denied through the creation of an entire system of state and local laws, primarily in the American South, where I went to high school, that effectively kept Blacks from voting and participating in one of the core activities of democratic citizenship.

Today, it is breathtaking to see the blatantly arbitrary ways African-Americans were excluded. Take the literacy test, which didn’t just assess whether a potential voter could read but rather set a standard that was always shifting according to the whims of the local registrar. Obscure civics and legal questions, math and logic puzzles – these were unexpected and rapid-fire tests given to African-Americans, creating an almost insurmountable challenge.

One test from Louisiana asked potential voters to “write the word ‘noise’ backwards and place a dot over what would be its second letter should it have been written forward.” Take poll taxes, which imposed an exorbitant fee on voters. Working class and poor voters simply couldn’t pay. Couldn’t pay to vote. Add to this the hostile registrars, the limited hours that excluded the working class, the police harassment of voters waiting in line, and the widespread public intimidation of African-Americans who dared register to vote. It is no wonder, then, that in Dallas County, Alabama, where Selma was located, more than half of the county’s residents were Black, but only 1% were registered before the law’s enactment.

Of course, while these injustices mainly affected African-Americans, America as a whole suffered. The entire democratic system is diminished when citizens cannot exercise their right to vote. As Reverend C.T. Vivian from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference said to law enforcement officials in Selma, Alabama, “This is not a local problem; you can’t keep anyone in the United States from voting without hurting the rights of all other citizens.”

Many Americans in the 1960s realized this. They lamented the unfilled promise of equality under the U.S. Constitution and, when change finally came, it was because of the people who demanded it. Change was forged by a network of brave activists, local leaders from groups like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Dallas County Voters League. Their non-violent demonstrations, which culminated in the Selma-to-Montgomery March, shrewdly harnessed the power of media to tell the story of citizens redeeming their dignity and God-given rights in the face of a vicious system that beat men, women, and children and used dogs and tear gas to brutalize them. The power of their narrative jolted a nation, and it mobilized an even greater coalition, which in August 1965 finally got the House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and ultimately, the President of the United States, to enact the legislation.

The impact of the law was swift and almost immediately changed the parameters of political participation in the South. By 1969, the percentage of Blacks registered to vote had risen from 6 percent to around 60 percent, and 12,000 African-Americans were elected to public office. In this way, the Voting Rights Act moved the story of equality in the United States forward.

Now as we today mark National African-American History Month, American society is more equal and in many ways more inclusive than it was in 1965. But our work is clearly not finished, and there are Americans for whom the equality the law is supposed to provide is out of reach in practice. We continue to fight for them. And on the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we have to come together and defend this right, especially in the wake of the July 2013 mistaken Supreme Court decision to strike down Section 4 of this landmark civil rights law.

Now this is the very part of the law, and the panelists will discuss this, I am sure, the very part of the law that requires those parts of the country that have a history of voter suppression to run their practices through the federal government, for there to be a federal check on local practices to make sure that people really have the right to vote and that there is equality in this regard. This law, the Voting Rights Act that we are celebrating today is, as President Obama has said, a cornerstone of our democracy. Since the decision in July 2013, I want to underscore that Congress has done nothing to re-designate those counties and states that might require the kind of scrutiny that we know has been needed up until this point and what we are seeing is that states that used to need the pre-clearance of the federal government are taking advantage of the Supreme Court decision and they have passed new laws that are likely to make it harder for minorities or for people who are poor or disabled, to vote, through for example, requiring government-issued photo IDs to vote.

In this day and age, in the age of Apple computers and iPads, how is it that you could be making it harder and not easier to vote? It makes no sense, unless something else is going on. And so we need to join together, take advantage of this anniversary, take advantage of our learning of the history and our remembering of just how far we’ve come to come together, to rally, to press the Congress as President Obama did in his State of the Union address, to step in now and to make it very clear that we are not out of the woods that making equality real in 2015 is going to require that all of us be a part of the solution and looking to see what is actually happening in places that have a history of voter suppression and to ensure that there is mitigation that there is a federal check is a critical component of this.

So, we have real experts, not diplomats pretending to be experts, on the Voting Rights Act, who are here, we are honored that you are with us and thrilled that we have a crowd worthy of this discussion. And with that, Sewell and our wonderful panelists together. Thank you.

$17.9 MILLION IN EQUIPMENT AID EXPEDITED TO IRAQ

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
Pentagon Expedites $17.9 Million in Equipment to Aid Iraqis
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2015 – The Defense Department has expedited $17.9 million in equipment and supplies –- some which have already been delivered –- to the Iraqi government, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters today.

Warren provided a general update on equipment and supplies authorized for delivery to the Iraqis.

“This was a $17.9 million [Foreign Military Sales Program] case,” he said. “It was an expedited delivery, which took 22 days from the time of signature -- a letter of authorization -- until delivery. This is less than a quarter of the time it normally takes to execute these types of deliveries.”
Equipment and Supplies

Warren provided dates and quantities of supplies and equipment authorized, noting some have been delivered while the rest is slated for delivery.
On Feb. 15, he said, 232 Hellfire missiles were delivered, adding to the 1,572 Hellfires delivered in 2014, and 250 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles were delivered to the Iraqi government Jan. 4.

Along with that, Warren said, thousands of Kevlar helmets and body armor were delivered Jan. 22.

In addition, he said, 200 Harris vehicle-mounted radios will be shipped next month to equip those 250 MRAPs, noting the MRAPs were excess U.S. vehicles.
Additional deliveries are expected to happen this week, Warren said. “We expect 10,000 M-16 rifles, along with 10,000 M-68 close-combat optical red-dot sights [and] 23,000 magazines to be delivered,” he added.

ISIL on the Defensive

The department’s latest announcement comes on the heels of U.S. Central Command indicating the coalition military campaign is succeeding in putting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on the defensive.

While there have been setbacks, a Centcom official said Feb. 19, the coalition military campaign has succeeded in putting ISIL on the defensive, with the terrorist group losing territory in Iraq as well as the ability to govern and adequately regenerate forces.

“There is no organization in the world that can suffer those kinds of casualties and not have a tremendous impact on their ability to achieve their long-term aims,” the official said.

The Centcom official also said Iraqi forces have retaken at least 700 square kilometers of territory, but cautioned that the military campaign against ISIL will take time to defeat the terrorists.


SECRETARY KERRY'S REMARKS ON FY 2016 BUDGET TO HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
02/25/2015 12:42 PM EST
Advancing U.S. Interests in a Troubled World: The FY 2016 Foreign Affairs Budget
Testimony
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Testimony Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Washington, DC
February 25, 2015

Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, Congressman Engel, Ranking Member, all the members of this committee. To respect your time, I will try to summarize my comments. Mr. Chairman, I hope I can do it in five minutes. There’s a lot to talk about. And your questions will, needless to say, elicit an enormous amount of dialogue, which I really welcome. I can’t think of a moment where more is happening, more challenges exist, there’s more transformation taking place, some of it with great turmoil, a lot of it with enormous opportunity that doesn’t get daily discussion, but all of it with big choices for you, for us – you representing the American people, all of us in positions of major responsibility at this important time.

We rose to the occasion, obviously, and we’d like to extol it. We all talk about it. I did, certainly, as a senator. I do as Secretary of State. And that is the extraordinary contribution of the Greatest Generation and what they did to help us, and our leaders did, Republican and Democrat alike, who put us on a course to win the battle against tyranny and dictatorship and to win the battle for democracy and human rights and freedom for a lot of people. And no country on the face of this planet has expended as much blood, put as many people on the line, lost as much of our human treasure to offer other people an opportunity to embrace their future, not tell them what it has to be. It’s really a remarkable story.

And now we find ourselves at a moment where we have to make some similar kinds of choices, frankly. I don’t want to overblow it; I’m not trying to. But this is a big moment of transformation where there are literally hundreds of millions of people emerging on this planet, young people. Count the numbers of countries where the population is 65 percent under the age of 30, 60 percent 30 and under, 50 percent under the age of 21. I mean, it’s all over the place. And if they live in a place where there’s bad governance or corruption or tyranny, in this world where everybody knows how to be in touch with everybody else all the time, you have a clash of aspirations, a clash of possibilities and opportunities.

And to some degree, that’s what we’re seeing today. That certainly was the beginning of the Arab Spring, which is now being infused with a sectarianism and confusions of religious overtones and other things that make it much more complicated than anything that has preceded this. By the way, the Cold War was simple compared to this: bipolar, pretty straightforward conversations. Yeah, we had to make big commitments, but it wasn’t half as complicated in a context of dealing country to country and with tribes, with culture, with a lot of old history, and it’s a very different set of choices. In addition, that’s complicated by the fact that many other countries today are growing in their economic power, growing in their own sense of independence, and not as willing to just take at face value what a larger G7 or G20 country tells them or what some particular alliance dictates. So that’s what we’re facing.

And I heard the Chairman say we shouldn’t compromise the day-to-day operations of the Department, but let me say to you the day-to-day operations of the Department are not confined to making an embassy secure. We need to do that, but if that’s all we do, folks, we’re in trouble. We’re not going to be able to protect ourselves adequately against these challenges that we’re faced-- that we’ll talk about today.

In the United States, we get 1 percent of the entire budget of the United States of America. Everything we do abroad within the State Department and USAID is within that 1 percent – everything. All the businesses we try to help to marry to economic opportunities in a country, all the visas, the consulate work, the diplomacy, the coordination of DHS, FBI, ATF. I mean, all the efforts that we have to engage in to work with other countries’ intelligence organizations, so forth, to help do the diplomacy around that is less than 1 percent.

I guarantee you more than 50 percent of the history of this era is going to be written out of that 1 percent and the issues we confront in that 1 percent. And I ask you to think about that as you contemplate the budgets. Because we’ve been robbing Peter to pay Paul and we’ve been stripping away our ability to help a country deal with those kids who may be ripe for becoming part of ISIL. We’ve been diminishing our capacity to be able to have the kind of impact we ought to be having in this more complicated world.

Now, I’m not going to go into all of the detail because I promised I’d summarize. But I believe the United States is leading extraordinarily on the basis of that 1 percent. We have led on ISIL, putting together a coalition for the first time in history that has five Arab nations engaged in military activity in another Arab country in the region against – Sunni against Sunni. I don’t want to turn this into that sectarian, but it’s an important part of what is happening. We are – we helped to lead in the effort to transition in Iraq a government that we could work with. Part of the problem in Iraq was the sectarianism that the former prime minister had embraced, which was dividing his nation and creating a military that was incompetent, and we saw that in the context of Mosul. So we wanted to make sure that we had a government that really represented people and was going to reform and move in a different direction. And we worked at it and we got it. We have it today. Is it perfect? No. But is it moving in the right direction? You bet it is.

In Afghanistan, we rescued a flawed election, brought together the parties, were able to negotiate to get a unified unity government, which has both of the presidential candidates working together to hold Afghanistan and define its future and create a – and negotiate a BSA that defines our future going forward, and give Afghanistan a chance to make good on the sacrifices of 14 years of our troops and our contributions and so forth.

On Ebola – we led that fight. President Obama made a brave decision to send 4,000 young American troops there in order to set up the structure so we had a capacity to be able to try to deal with it. One million deaths were predicted by last Christmas at the time that we did that. And not all the answers were there for questions that were real. But the President sent those people in, we have made the difference, and now there’s a huge reduction in the cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and we’re getting – not finished, but we’re getting to a place where you’re not seeing it on the nightly news every day and people aren’t living in fear here that they’re about to be infected.

On AIDS, we’re facing the first AIDS-free generation in history because of the work that we have done.

On the Ukraine, we’ve held together Europe and the United States in unity to put in place sanctions. The ruble is down 50 percent. There’s been $151 billion of capital flight from Russia. There’s been a very significant impact on day-to-day life, on food product availability. The economy is predicted in Russia to go into recession this year. And we are poised yet to do another round, potentially, depending on what happens with Minsk in these next few days.

On Iran, we’ve taken the risk of sitting down, of trying to figure out is there a diplomatic path to solve this problem. I can’t sit here today and tell you I know the answer to that, but I can tell you it’s worth trying before you go to more extreme measures that may result in asking young Americans yet again to put themselves in harm’s way.

We are pursuing the two most significant trade agreements of recent memory, the TPP in Asia Pacific and the TTIP in Europe, both of which represent about 40 percent of GDP of the world in order to have a race to the top, not a race to the bottom. And if we can achieve that, we will be achieving a major new structure with respect to trade rules on a global basis.

In Africa, we held the African Leaders Summit, an historic summit with more than 40 African leaders coming to Washington, out of which has come a series of events that will help, we hope, to meet our obligation to help transform Africa.

And finally, on climate – there are other things incidentally, I’m just skimming the surface of some of the most important – I know not everybody here is a believer in taking steps to deal with climate. I regret that. But the science keeps coming in stronger and stronger and stronger. On the front page of today’s newspapers are stories about an Alaskan village that’ll have to be given up because of what is happening with climate change. It is – there’s evidence of it everywhere in the world. And we cut a deal with China, improbable as that was a year ago – the biggest opponent of our efforts has now stood up and joined us because they see the problem and they need to respond to it. And so they’ve agreed to a target for lowering their reliance on fossil fuel and a target for alternative and renewable energy by a certain period of time, and we’ve set targets. And that’s encouraged other countries to start to come forward and try to take part in this effort.

So I will adamantly put forward the way in which this Administration is leading. I know not everybody agrees with every choice. Are there places where we need to do more? Yes, and we’ll talk about those, I’m sure, today. But we need to work together.

And I’ll end by saying that historically, that 1 percent has produced more than its monetary value precisely because your predecessors were willing to let foreign policy debate and fight become bipartisan, let politics stop at the water’s edge, and find what is in the common interest of our country. That’s what brings me here today. That’s why I’m so privileged to serve as Secretary of State at this difficult time, because I believe America is helping to define our way through some very difficult choices. And frankly – and last thing, this is counterintuitive but it’s true: Our citizens, our world today is actually, despite ISIL, despite the visible killings that you see and how horrific they are, we are actually living in a period of less daily threat to Americans and to people in the world than normally— less deaths, less violent deaths today than through the last century. And so even the concept of state war has changed in many people’s minds, and we’re seeing now more asymmetrical kinds of struggles.

So I would say to you that I see encouragement when I travel the world. I see people wanting to grow their economies. I see vast new numbers of middle-class people who are traveling. I see unbelievable embrace of new technologies. I see more democracy in places where it was non-existent or troubled – big changes in Sri Lanka and other countries. We can run the list. But I hope you will sense that it is not all doom and gloom that we are looking at. Tough issues? Yes. But enormous opportunities for transformation if we will do our job and continue to be steady and put on the table the resources necessary to take advantage of this moment of transformation.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.