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Saturday, March 21, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY'S REMARKS ON GOALS AND GAPS IN IRAN NEGOTIATIONS

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
03/21/2015 09:23 AM EDT
Remarks to the Press
Remarks
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Olympic Museum
Lausanne, Switzerland
March 21, 2015

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you so much for your patience. I know this has been a long few days, and we really are appreciative of everybody’s willingness to wait for long hours for small amounts of information. And we appreciate enormously your being here.

I want to first of all just thank Thomas Bach, the president of the IOC and himself an Olympic fencing champion from Montreal for the very special tour that I was able to have here of the Olympic Museum, which obviously means a lot to those of us from Boston because we’ve had a long history of Massachusetts athletes being involved in the Olympics and great memories, of course, of Lake Placid in 1980 and other times. So it’s very special for me to have a chance to sort of review the history of my television watching and my passion for the Olympics. And we appreciate their hospitality, of course, for hosting all of you and making this the headquarters – the international headquarters for the press during the course of these negotiations.

I also want to thank particularly the Swiss Government. I’d like to thank Didier Burkhalter for his personal generous welcome to me each time that we’ve come here, and I’m very grateful for the enormous effort of the municipalities Geneva, Montreux, Lausanne. They’ve become a very special part of this negotiating process, and we thank the citizens who have put up with any disruptions of our presence and we’re grateful for their hospitality. They’ve been enormously generous. And of course, Switzerland itself is known for its deep dedication to the resolution of complicated global issues, and they’re always contributing.

Also, I want to thank my colleagues – Energy Secretary Moniz, who has spent more time here than he thought he was going to, and I particularly thank Under Secretary Wendy Sherman and an extraordinary team of international diplomats and expert teams, all the members of the teams of the P5+1, all of the political directors who have been here in daily meetings, briefings, consultations. All of this has been going on tirelessly for many months on these negotiations. And I want to acknowledge the Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, and the rest of the Iranian team for approaching these talks with seriousness of purpose and the willingness to commit very long hours to work through what are very complicated issues.

I am returning home today to Washington, stopping in London to coordinate with our European counterparts from the P5+1 – specifically the foreign ministers of the United Kingdom, Germany, and France, and the high representative of the European Union. I spoke by telephone yesterday with Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia and with Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China.

And I want to emphasize from the beginning –and I’ve said this in every public statement I’ve ever made – this is and remains a P5+1 negotiation with Iran, and I emphasize we are united in our goal, our approach, our resolve, and our determination to ensure that Iran’s program is entirely peaceful. The European Union has continued to play a pivotal role in facilitating the talks. And I thank EU High Representative Mogherini and her Deputy Helga Schmid, who was here with us in Lausanne participating in our meetings.

Over the past few days, I’ve had lengthy negotiations with the Iranian team about the steps that Iran must take to demonstrate that its nuclear program now and ongoing in the future is exclusively for peaceful purposes. Over the past months, the P5+1 have made substantial progress towards that fundamental goal, though important gaps remain. In London, we will share ideas this evening about how to resolve the remaining sticking points, as I did yesterday on the telephone with Foreign Minister Lavrov and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. We will coordinate our strategy, as we have, as we approach the end of the March deadline, to reach an understanding on the major issues. And those of us meeting tonight will then return to our respective capitals for consultations before coming back to Lausanne next week to determine whether or not an agreement is possible.

I want to emphasize: In my conversations with Foreign Minister Zarif, and indeed over the last 16 months since the Joint Plan of Action took effect, we have made genuine progress. We have all kept the commitments that we made in the Joint Plan, and we have all lived up to our obligations. We have worked long and hard to achieve a comprehensive agreement that resolves international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. The stakes are high and the issues are complicated, highly technical, and all interrelated.

Once again, let me also be clear we don’t want just any deal. If we had, we could have announced something a long time ago. And clearly, since the Joint Plan of Action was agreed, we are not rushing. This has been a two and a half year or more process. But we recognize that fundamental decisions have to be made now, and they don’t get any easier as time goes by. It is time to make hard decisions. We want the right deal that would make the world, including the United States and our closest allies and partners, safer and more secure, and that is our test. President Obama has been clear that the best way to achieve that security, that safety, is through a comprehensive and durable agreement that all parties are committed to upholding, and whose implementation is not based on trust, but it is based on intensive verification, on the ability to know and understand what is happening.

So in the days ahead, we will stay at this. We will continue to exercise the judgment and the patience to defend our interests, to uphold our core principles, and maintain our sense of urgency. We have not yet reached the finish line. But make no mistake, we have the opportunity to try to get this right. It’s a matter of political will and tough decision making. It’s a matter of choices, and we must all choose wisely in the days ahead.

Thank you, and we’ll see you next week.

Weekly Address: It’s Time to Confirm Loretta Lynch

3/20/15: White House Press Briefing

U.S. DOD VIDEO: The 2015 State of the Coast Guard Address

DOD TO TRAIN UKRAINE NATIONAL GUARD STARTING IN LATE APRIL

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT

U.S. paratroopers from the Army's 173rd "Sky Soldiers" Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, will train six Ukraine National Guard companies with a focus on internal security and territorial defense. U.S. Army photo.  

DoD Moves Forward on Ukraine National Guard Training
By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, March 20, 2015 – The Defense Department is moving forward with plans to train members of the Ukraine National Guard beginning in late April, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said yesterday.

The department will use its authorities under the Global Security Contingency Fund as part of a joint DoD-State Department initiative to strengthen Ukraine's internal defense capabilities, Warren told reporters during a daily briefing.

“We plan on sending about 290 U.S. service members, specifically paratroopers from the [Army’s] mighty 173rd ‘Sky Soldiers’ Airborne Brigade based in Vicenza, Italy,” he said, to train six Ukraine National Guard companies with a focus on internal security and territorial defense.

The training will be conducted in western Ukraine at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center in Yavoriv, near the border with Poland, Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said.

Training for Guard, Headquarters Staff

There will also be training for headquarters personnel, she added, focusing on the continued professionalization of Ukrainian staff members.

The training is part of a long-term strategy to build Ukraine's capacity and capabilities, she added, and to help increase the professionalism of its forces.
“It is similar to previous long-standing exercises we have conducted in Ukraine since 1995,” she said. “The United States conducts joint exercises and training with our partners and allies throughout Europe and all around the world.”

The United States believes there is no military resolution to the Russia-Ukraine crisis, but that Ukraine has a right to defend itself, Lainez said.
Sustaining Ukraine’s Defense

“This assistance is part of our ongoing efforts to help sustain Ukraine's defense and internal security operations. In particular, the training will help the Ukraine government develop its National Guard to conduct internal defense operations,” Lainez noted, adding that the program is designed to strengthen Ukraine's defense capability and capacity and assist in its defense reform.

The training mission involves equipping Ukraine security forces, and this nonlethal equipment includes basic field uniforms and equipment, body armor, night-vision devices and tactical radios, she said. The train-and-equip program for the Ukraine National Guard will cost $19 million, she added.

Austere Challenge 2015

Also in the region, Warren said, U.S. European Command yesterday began executing a large-scale defense exercise called Austere Challenge 2015 that will involve 4,000 U.S. service members.

The exercise consists of command-post simulations and aims to train and prepare Eucom and component command headquarters staffs to plan for and respond to crises, Warren said. The exercise is taking place at several locations in Germany and the United Kingdom, he added.

“Training events such as Austere Challenge are vital to ensuring the men and women of Eucom are well-positioned as America's forward presence,” Warren said, “standing alongside our proven and indispensable European allies and partners to ensure regional stability.”

DOD UPDATE ON TARGET COUNTS FOR IRAQ-SYRIA

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT

Right:  A U.S. Central Command chart provides a breakdown of Operation Inherent Resolve targets since Operation Inherent Resolve airstrikes began Aug. 8, 2014. U.S. Central Command graphic.  

Central Command Updates Iraq-Syria Target Counts
By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, March 19, 2015 – U.S. Central Command officials released an update today on the number of targets hit by the United States and the
international coalition in Iraq and Syria since Operation Inherent Resolve began, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters here today.
During a daily briefing, Warren said that through yesterday, the international coalition had struck 5,314 targets since operations began Aug. 8.

The coalition has conducted 2,893 airstrikes -- 1,631 in Iraq and 1,262 in Syria. Total U.S. airstrikes numbered 2,320 -- 1,151 in Iraq and 1,169 in Syria.
Warren said 2,875 U.S. forces were in Iraq as of yesterday.

Target Types

From the Centcom report, Warren highlighted some of the target types hit in Iraq and Syria.

In the target count as of yesterday, for example, coalition forces had hit 73 tanks, 282 Humvees, 408 staging areas, 736 buildings, more than 1,000 fighting positions and -- significantly, he said -- 87 oil collection points.

As of March 12, Warren said, the total cost of operations related to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, since kinetic operations began was $1.83 billion.

The average daily cost is $8.5 million, he added.

Events in Iraq and Syria

Also related to operations in Iraq and Syria, Warren discussed an ISIL drone destroyed near Fallujah yesterday and a remotely piloted aircraft downed in Syria on March 17.

On the ISIL drone, Warren said the department had assessed it to be a commercially available remotely piloted “model airplane,” and the sort of device that anyone could buy commercially.

“The drone was not shot down,” he said. “We observed it flying for about 20 minutes, we observed it land, we observed the enemy place the drone in the trunk of a car and we struck the car, destroying the vehicle and the model airplane,” and presumably killing the pilot.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time we have observed ISIL using this type of equipment,” Warren said, describing the drone as hand-held and small.

On the remotely piloted aircraft downed in Syria, Warren confirmed that at about 1:40 p.m. EST on March 17, U.S. military controllers lost contact with an unarmed U.S. MQ-1 Predator remotely piloted aircraft operating over northwestern Syria.

“We are looking into the incident and will provide more details when available,” he said.

WHITE HOUSE VIDEO: WEST WING WEEK: 03/20/2015

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S STATEMENT ON U.S. CITIZENS DETAINED, MISSING IN IRAN

FROM:  THE WHITE HOUSE
March 20, 2015
Statement by the President on U.S. Citizens Detained or Missing in Iran

The spirit of family is deeply woven into all of the rich cultural traditions of the Nowruz holiday.  It is a time for reuniting and rejoicing with loved ones and sharing hopes for the new year.  Today, as families across the world gather to mark this holiday, we remember those American families who are enduring painful separations from their loved ones who are imprisoned or went missing in Iran.

Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho has spent two and a half years detained in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs.  He must be returned to his wife and two young children, who needlessly continue to grow up without their father.

Amir Hekmati of Flint, Michigan has been imprisoned in Iran on false espionage charges for over three and a half years.  His family, including his father who is gravely ill, has borne the pain of Amir's absence for far too long.

Jason Rezaian of Marin County, California, an Iranian government credentialed reporter for the Washington Post, has been unjustly held in Iran for nearly eight months on vague charges.  It is especially painful that on a holiday centered on ridding one’s self of the difficulties of the past year, Jason’s mother and family will continue to carry the heavy burden of concern regarding Jason’s health and well-being into the new year.

And finally, we recently marked yet another anniversary since Robert Levinson went missing on Kish Island.   His family has now endured the hardship of his disappearance for over eight years.

At this time of renewal, compassion, and understanding, I reiterate my commitment to bringing our citizens home and call on the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to immediately release Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian and to work cooperatively with us to find Robert Levinson so that they all can be safely reunited with their families as soon as possible.

In honor of the familial spirit so strongly enshrined within this holiday and for the Abedini, Hekmati, Rezaian, and Levinson families, I hope this new spring is filled with joyous moments for us all with all of our loved ones by our sides.

DOJ SAYS FORMER FBI AGENT CHARGED WITH POSSESSING HEROIN, OBSTRUCTION, FALSIFYING RECORDS

FROM:  U.S JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Friday, March 20, 2015
Former FBI Agent Charged with Obstructing Justice, Falsifying Records and Possessing Heroin

A Maryland man was charged today in the District of Columbia with crimes arising out of his tampering with substantial quantities of drug evidence while working as a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), announced U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  The 64-count information charges Matthew Lowry with 20 counts of obstruction of justice, 18 counts of falsification of records, 13 counts of conversion of property, and 13 counts of possession of heroin.

Matthew Lowry, 33, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, was assigned to the Washington, D.C. Field Office (WFO), and was a member of the Cross-Border Task Force (CBTF).  As a member of the CBTF, the defendant participated in several large-scale investigations that resulted in numerous seizures of significant quantities of narcotics, including heroin. According to the information, in 2013 and 2014, the defendant tampered with heroin evidence seized during several of his investigations.  As those investigations occurred within the District of Columbia and the districts surrounding it, those offices have been recused by the Department of Justice, and the prosecution is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

In several instances, it is alleged that the defendant went to the WFO’s Evidence Control Center (ECC) and removed seized heroin from evidence, writing on a chain of custody record a false explanation for his taking of the evidence.  The information alleges that over a period of several weeks or months, the defendant kept the heroin in his car and periodically ingested it.  Before returning the heroin to the ECC or bringing it to a laboratory for testing, the defendant allegedly added to the heroin a measured amount of a cutting agent, either the supplement Creatine or the laxative Purelax, in order to account for the weight discrepancy resulting from his illegal usage; placed the altered heroin into a new evidence bag, on which he placed a new sticker signifying that the evidence bag had been sealed; copied the content written on the original sealing sticker to the new sealing sticker, forging the names or signatures of FBI agents who purportedly witnessed his sealing of the evidence; peeled off a barcode sticker from the original evidence bag and applied it to the new bag; and disposed of the original evidence bag and sealing sticker.

The defendant also participated in many undercover, controlled purchases of heroin from targets in his investigations.  Following several of these transactions, the defendant, rather than check the heroin into evidence as required, is alleged to have kept the heroin in his car for a period of several weeks or months, during which he periodically ingested it.  Before checking the heroin into the ECC, it is alleged that the defendant added a cutting agent to account for the weight discrepancy resulting from his ingesting the heroin; placed sealing stickers on evidence bags and filled out all requested information except for the seizure and sealing dates, which he left blank; requested that another agent, who had no knowledge of the defendant’s improper motives, sign as the witnessing official the undated sealing stickers; and wrote on the sealing stickers the accurate date on which the drugs were seized but falsely indicated that the evidence was sealed that same day.

Additionally, on one occasion, the defendant participated in an undercover, controlled purchase of heroin from a target, and in lieu of turning the heroin into evidence and documenting its seizure, the defendant allegedly ingested the heroin and never turned it into evidence.

The FBI referred this matter to the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (DOJ-OIG), which initiated the investigation.  The investigation has not identified any criminal conduct by other agents

If convicted, the defendant faces at least 87 months in prison under the advisory guideline range calculated by the government, three years of supervised release, a fine of up to $16 million, and a $6,400 special assessment.

The case was investigated by the DOJ-OIG, with assistance from the FBI as requested by the DOJ-OIG.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kevin R. Brenner and Maureen McCartney.

BNY MELLON TO PAY $84 MILLION IN PENSION SETTLEMENT

FROM:  U.S. LABOR DEPARTMENT
US Labor Department reaches $84 million settlement with BNY Mellon
Bank deceived retirement plans about foreign currency exchange rates

WASHINGTON — The Bank of New York Mellon has agreed to repay $84 million to employee benefit plan customers who were victimized through the bank's "standing instruction" foreign exchange trading program. The agreement was reached as part of a larger settlement that resolves private lawsuits against the bank as well as suits brought by the U.S. Department of Justice and the New York State Attorney General.

"This case is a reminder that financial institutions charged with safeguarding retirement plan assets, sometimes put the institution's interests ahead of those of the investors they represent," said Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. "Today's settlement offers more proof that when they do so, we at the department along with our colleagues at federal and state agencies will hold them accountable."
An investigation by the department's Employee Benefits Security Administration found that, for most standing instruction foreign currency exchange transactions with customers, including retirement plans, the bank assigned nearly the worst prices at which currencies had traded in the market during all or part of a day. At the same time, the bank was leading its clients to believe that it was pricing their transactions in a more favorable manner. The department concluded that the bank misrepresented and failed to disclose to clients how it was pricing the transactions and that the bank had engaged in a deliberate, prolonged effort to conceal its pricing methods. The department determined that the bank's failure to work prudently and solely in the interest of the plans, its dealings with plan assets to benefit itself, and its misrepresentations and failures to disclose its activities were all breaches of the bank's fiduciary duties to the plans and violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

The "standing instruction" foreign currency exchange program is a service that the bank offered to customers who needed to exchange currencies on a regular basis. For clients who used this program, the bank automatically exchanged the currencies at a rate and time that the bank, in its sole discretion, determined. The department's investigation found that the bank habitually assigned its "standing instruction" customers rates that were close to the worst rates that the currencies had traded previously during the day. In addition, the department found that the bank gave certain "standing instruction" clients better rates than were offered to virtually all of its other plan customers. Such favoritism is prohibited by ERISA.

COMPANY PAYS $5.4 MILLION RESOLVING FALSE CLAIMS ACT ALLEGATIONS RELATED TO "CUTTING CORNERS"

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Adventist Health System to Pay $5.4 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Allegations

Adventist Health System Sunbelt Healthcare Corporation (Adventist) has agreed to pay $5,412,502 to resolve claims that it violated the False Claims Act by providing radiation oncology services to Medicare and TRICARE beneficiaries that were not directly supervised by radiation oncologists or similarly qualified persons, the Department of Justice announced today.  Adventist is a non-profit healthcare organization operating a large network of hospitals in the South and the Midwest, and doing business in Florida as Florida Hospital.        

“Today’s settlement demonstrates our continued vigilance to ensure that federal health care beneficiaries receive the highest quality of patient care,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “It is critical that health care providers adequately supervise the services they provide to their patients.”

Radiation oncology services provided to patients served by Medicare and TRICARE, the Department of Defense’s health care program, must be directly supervised by a radiation oncologist or similarly qualified personnel.  The United States alleged that, from Jan. 1, 2010, through Dec. 31, 2013, Adventist violated this supervision requirement for radiation oncology services provided to federal health care program beneficiaries at several Florida locations, including in Altamonte Springs, Daytona Beach, Deland, Kissimmee, Orange City, Orlando, Palm Coast and Winter Park.  These services included radiation simulation, dosimetry, radiation treatment delivery and devices, and intensity-modulated radiation therapy.

“Medicare and TRICARE patients deserve high quality health care,” said U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III of the Middle District of Florida.  “We will not tolerate providers recklessly cutting corners, particularly when furnishing such critical medical services as radiation oncology.”

The settlement partially resolves allegations made in a qui tam lawsuit under the False Claims Act filed in Tampa, Florida, by Dr. Michael Montejo, a radiation oncologist and former employee of Florida Oncology Network P.A., a radiation oncology group.  The act permits private individuals to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to share in any recovery.  Dr. Montejo will receive $1,082,500 as his share of the recovery.

“Providing proper supervision of radiation oncology services is an important requirement in federal health care programs such as Medicare,” said Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.  “Our agency will continue to hold health care providers accountable for meeting the requirements in these taxpayer-funded programs.”

This settlement illustrates the government’s emphasis on combating healthcare fraud and marks another achievement for the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative, which was announced in May 2009 by the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services.  The partnership between the two departments has focused on efforts to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid fraud through enhanced cooperation.  One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act.  Since January 2009, the Justice Department has recovered a total of more than $23.8 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $15.2 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.

The settlement was the result of a coordinated investigation between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General.  

Friday, March 20, 2015

U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT PRESS STATEMENT ON DISAPPEARANCE OF ZIMBABWE CIVIL SOCIETY ACTIVIST ITAI DZAMARA

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Disappearance of Zimbabwe Civil Society Activist Itai Dzamara
Press Statement
Jeff Rathke
Director, Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of Press Relations
Washington, DC
March 20, 2015

We remain deeply concerned by the disappearance of Zimbabwean civil society activist Itai Dzamara. Mr. Dzamara disappeared on March 9, 2015. His whereabouts and well-being remain unknown. The United States urges the Zimbabwean authorities to mobilize their full resources to locate Mr. Dzamara and investigate the circumstances surrounding Mr. Dzamara’s disappearance as well as to ensure the protection of his human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The United States stands with Mr. Dzamara and the people of Zimbabwe in defending the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and joins calls for Mr. Dzamara’s immediate and safe return to his family and friends.

U.S. JOINS TUNISIANS IN CELEBRATING TUNISIA NATIONAL DAY

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Tunisia National Day
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 20, 2015

As we join all Tunisians in celebrating this year’s National Day, this is a moment to reflect on the extraordinary steps Tunisia has taken during the last year to move from a period of transition to the consolidation of its democracy.

In conversations with President Caid Essebsi and Prime Minister Essid yesterday, President Obama and I expressed our sincerest condolences to the families of those killed on March 18. We condemn in the strongest terms the heinous and cowardly attack perpetrated by the terrorists at the historic National Bardo Museum.

Those terrible acts cannot diminish the shining example that Tunisia and its people offer us all. Just one year ago, a transitional government was entering office after a period of considerable political upheaval. In short order, the Tunisian people participated in free and fair elections, installed a new parliament and president, and showed the world what can be accomplished through the dedication to democracy, consensus, and an inclusive political process.

We commend the Tunisian government and all Tunisians for working together to meet their aspirations for freedom, security, economic opportunity, and dignity. The peaceful demonstrations against Wednesday’s terrorist attack in Tunis show Tunisian resolve to stand up for the ideals of their hard-fought democratic revolution.

While more work lies ahead, the Tunisian people can be proud of their extraordinary achievements. The United States remains committed to strengthening and expanding our strategic partnership with the Tunisian people as they continue to lay the foundation for a bright and prosperous future for their country.

I send the people of Tunisia our warmest wishes for a patriotic holiday, a peaceful year ahead, and all continued success.

SECRETARY KERRY, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF MAKE REMARKS

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Remarks With Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
Remarks
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Lausanne, Switzerland
March 20, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Good morning, everybody. I just wanted to say on behalf of all of the American delegation, we learned this morning of the passing of President Rouhani’s mother. And Hossein Fereydoun, who is a member – a very important member of the delegations, and he is the president’s brother – he is returning to Iran immediately. And we want to express our deepest condolences. We also, in the midst of this sad news, know that this is Nowruz, New Year in Iran. So we want to wish the people of Iran, even as they hear the sad news of the president’s mother, a Nowruz Mobarak. And we hope that this is a year that can bring us progress and peace.

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: Thank you, I appreciate that. In fact, Nowruz is the beginning of Spring, and in Farsi, it means “new day.” I hope this new day will be a new day for the entire world – a new era of greater understanding and peace.

U.S. CONGRATULATES CITIZENS OF NAMBIA ON THEIR INDEPENDENCE DAY

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
03/20/2015 08:22 AM EDT
On the Occasion of the Republic of Namibia's National Day
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 20, 2015

On behalf of President Obama and the American people, I congratulate the citizens of Namibia as they celebrate 25 years of independence on March 21.

Namibia’s pursuit of democratic principles and economic prosperity stands as an example to the region. As a friend and partner, the United States is proud of the work our two countries are doing to fight HIV/AIDS, promote education, and ensure environmental conservation. We will continue to seek new ways of partnering with Namibia to create peace and prosperity.

As you celebrate the Silver Jubilee of your independence, I offer warmest wishes to all Namibians in the year ahead.

NASA VIDEO | ARCTIC SEA ICE SETS NEW RECORD WINTER LOW

ON ENERGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE, PRESIDENT OBAMA MAKES REMARKS

FROM:  THE WHITE HOUSE
March 19, 2015
Remarks by the President on Energy and Climate Change
Department of Energy
Washington, D.C.
11:28 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, It is wonderful to be here at the Department of Energy with some of our outstanding private sector partners.  Secretary Ernie Moniz is in Geneva doing some important work on behalf of our national security, but I want to thank him and his team at the Department of Energy, as well as our folks over at EPA.  And Administrator Gina McCarthy is here, as well as Christy Goldfuss at the Council on Environmental Quality.

This has been a team effort to make sure that we are doing everything we can to boost the energy efficiency of the American economy.  And since we’ve said it’s important, we thought it was important for us to lead by example here at the federal government.  As you know, I just took a tour of the solar-powered roof upstairs.  And those panels are not just for show -- they produce power that the government doesn’t then have to buy off the grid.  And more and more businesses and more and more homeowners are following suit not because it’s simply good for the environment, but because it’s good for their bottom lines.

Thanks in part to the investments that we’ve made over the past six years, the United States is rapidly becoming a leader in solar energy.  Last year was the biggest year for solar power in our history.  And, in fact, the solar industry is adding jobs 10 times faster than the economy as a whole.

So we’re proving that it is possible to grow our economy robustly while at the same time doing the right thing for our environment and tackling climate change in a serious way.

Over the past six years, we’ve done more than ever to to combat climate change.  Last year, the federal government used less energy than at any time in the past four decades.   And in a historic joint announcement that many of you saw, China committed to limiting their emissions for the first time.

So today, America once again is going to be leading by example.  This morning, I signed an executive order that will do two things.  First, we’re going to cut the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent from the 2008 levels within the next 10 years.  Second, we’re going to increase the share of electricity that the federal government uses from renewable sources to 30 percent within the next 10 years.  These are ambitious goals, but we know that they’re achievable goals.

And I want to thank the executives of some of our leading companies in the country who are here, because they’re stepping up and making similar commitments.  Folks from IBM to GE, Northrop Grumman -- some of our biggest Fortune 100 companies are setting their own ambitious goals.  And, cumulatively, what this is doing is allowing us across the economy to not only hit some key targets that are going to be required in order for us to reduce climate change, but they’re also saving money, helping their bottom line, and they’re giving a boost to the industry as a whole -- because as we get economies of scale, and demand for solar and wind and other renewable energies grows, obviously that can help drive down the overall price, make it that much for efficient, and we start getting a virtuous cycle that is good for the economy and creates jobs here in America.

So we very much want to thank our private sector partners.  You guys have done an outstanding job.  And because of the prominence of many of the companies here, and the fact that they’ve got a whole bunch of suppliers up and down the chain, what you do with respect to energy efficiency is going to have a ripple effect throughout the economy.  And we’re very pleased with that.

So thank you very much.  Thank you, guys.

Q    -- Iran?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m sorry, we’re talking about energy, and it’s a great story, so hopefully you’ll focus on it.  Thank you, guys.

END
11:33 A.M. EDT

AN END TO BED SORES? VA SAYS DEVICE BEING TESTED

FROM:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
Groundbreaking Device Being Tested By VA May Put End to Pressure Ulcers
March 19, 2015, 10:23:00 AM
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Groundbreaking Device Being Tested By VA May Put End to Pressure Ulcers
 Helps detect the earliest signs of ulcer formation

Pressure ulcers (commonly known as bed sores) are one of the most troublesome and painful complications for patients during a long hospital stay, but a joint project between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Center for Innovation and General Electric (GE) Global Research may one day make pressure ulcers a thing of the past.

A multi-disciplinary team of scientists have combined an array of sensing and analytical tools, including motion analysis, thermal profiling, image classification/segmentation, 3-D object reconstruction and vapor detection into a single medical sensing handheld probe to assess and monitor the progression of bed sores or pressure ulcers.

The device is currently in pilot testing at the Augusta, Georgia, VA Medical Center Spinal Cord Injury Unit. The probe integrates multiple sensing capabilities with analytics and user support features to more acutely measure pressure ulcer formation and/or to determine if an ulcer is healing.

“The collaboration with GE is another example of the innovative work VA is doing with our private sector colleagues to advance the science of health care for our Veterans,” said Dr. Carolyn Clancy, VA’s Interim Under Secretary for Health. “We are pleased to work with GE to pilot a technology that holds the promise of revolutionizing the protocol for preventing and treating painful bed sores. We know that if patients are not turned on a regular basis, they can develop bed sores during their hospital stay as pressure builds up on their skin. By combining physical inspection with the technology capable of allowing real-time monitoring, we may be able to prevent ulcers from forming or advancing. This innovation is about providing the best care to our Veterans and collaborations like this one with GE helps us do just that.”

Individuals with spinal cord injuries with loss of sensation and mobility are particularly at risk for developing pressure ulcers. In U.S. hospitals alone, an estimated 2.5 million patients per year develop pressure ulcers, which require treatment.

“Pressure ulcers are a very pervasive, but also very preventable condition for hospital patients,” said Ting Yu, GE’s Principal Investigator on the pressure ulcer prevention and care program. “The device can help detect the earliest signs of ulcer formation. It also provides a more objective and comprehensive assessment of the wound to understand its progression. We’re now testing this device with VA in a clinical setting to see if it provides the kind of information that will help hospitals reduce and one day eliminate pressure ulcers from developing with patients.”

PRESIDENT OBAMA TOURS MAGNET

ILLEGAL CONDITIONED AUTO WARRANTY CHARGES SETTLED BETWEEN FTC AND BMW

FROM:  U.S. FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
BMW Settles FTC Charges that Its MINI Division Illegally Conditioned Warranty Coverage on Use of Its Parts and Service

BMW of North America LLC has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that its MINI Division violated the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act by telling consumers that BMW would void their warranty unless they used MINI parts and MINI dealers to perform maintenance and repair work.

In an administrative complaint, the FTC alleged that BMW, through its MINI Division, violated a provision in the Warranty Act that prohibits companies from requiring that consumers – in order to maintain their warranties – use specific brands of parts or specified service centers (unless the part or service is provided to the consumer without charge).

“It’s against the law for a dealer to refuse to honor a warranty just because someone else did maintenance or repairs on the car,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “As a result of this order, BMW will change its practices and give MINI owners information about their rights.”

The proposed order settling the FTC’s complaint prohibits BMW from violating the Warranty Act and the FTC Act in connection with any MINI Division good or service. The settlement also:

bars BMW, in connection with the sale of any MINI Division good or service, from representing that, to ensure a vehicle’s safe operation or maintain its value, owners must have routine maintenance performed only by MINI dealers or MINI centers, unless the representation is true and BMW can substantiate it with reliable scientific evidence; and requires BMW to provide affected MINI owners with information about their right to use third-party parts and service without voiding warranty coverage, unless BMW provides such parts or services for free.
The Commission vote to accept the consent agreement package containing the proposed consent order for public comment was 5-0. The FTC will publish a description of the consent agreement package in the Federal Register shortly. The agreement will be subject to public comment for 30 days, beginning today and continuing through April 20, 2015, after which the Commission will decide whether to issue the order on a final basis. Interested parties can submit written comments electronically.

NOTE: The Commission issues an administrative complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $16,000.

AG HOLDER'S REMARKS AT FUNERAL SERVICE FOR DEPUTY U.S. MARSHAL JOSIE WELLS

FROM:  U.S. MARSHALS SERVICE
Attorney General Holder Delivers Special Remarks at Memorial Service
for Deputy U.S. Marshal Josie Wells
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Moss Point, Mississippi

Thank you. I am grateful for this opportunity to pay tribute to the inspiring life and courageous work of Josie Wells; a man—a patriot—who gave his life in the service of his country. And I am honored to stand among so many friends, colleagues and family members who are proud to call this true American hero their own.

I bring with me today condolences contained in a message addressed to Deputy Marshal Wells’ wife—which I would like to read to you now:

“Dear Channing: Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn of Josie’s tragic passing, and we extend our heartfelt condolences as you mourn his loss. As a Deputy United States Marshal, Josie devoted himself to keeping America safe and upholding the laws and ideals that make us who we are. America is forever grateful to the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way for people across our nation, and we honor your husband for his courageous and selfless service. In the difficult days ahead, may you find solace in your cherished memories and comfort in the support of loved ones. Please know you and your entire family will remain in my thoughts and prayers. Sincerely, President Barack Obama.”

I stand with the president—and with all of you—in mourning this loss. To Deputy Marshal Wells’s wife, Channing; to his father, Obie, and his mother, Sherry; to his brothers and sisters; and to the entire U.S. Marshals family—thank you for allowing me to share in this moment with you; to grieve for a young man taken from us far too suddenly and far too soon; and to celebrate an extraordinary life lived with abiding love, with compassionate purpose, and with deep and uncommon valor.

Today we remember Deputy Marshal Wells for all that he was, both to those within this church and to the many he inspired far beyond these walls. To his friends in Hurley, Mississippi, he was a kid with a million-dollar smile whose adventurous style and audacious horse-riding lived up to his name, which his father chose based on “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” To the young people who still live in his old neighborhood, he was a hometown boy made good whose visits to East Central High School called on them to follow their passions and serve their community. And to the members of the United States Marshals Service—the oldest and most storied law enforcement agency in the nation—he was a young leader of extraordinary vigor and unlimited promise, determined to serve his fellow citizens and destined to achieve great things.

Every day for more than four years—first in Missouri, and more recently in Mississippi—Deputy Marshal Wells proudly wore the badge of the U.S. Marshals Service, as he defended our system of law and pursued fugitives from justice. He knew well the risk involved in his work, but he did not hesitate to put his own life on the line in order to protect the country he loved. And the importance of his efforts, and those of his colleagues—in maintaining order; in keeping the peace; in apprehending dangerous criminals; and in safeguarding our system of justice—would be difficult to overstate.

I want to take this moment to convey my gratitude to the courageous men and women of the U.S. Marshals Service who are here with us, and to their colleagues around the country, for everything that you do. From the earliest days of this nation, your efforts have been essential to this country’s progress, and vital to its most important achievements. Through our most difficult chapters, you have stood, “first for justice,” as a force for good. The loss that we mark today is a devastating reminder that the work that you do to keep Americans safe is extremely serious, enormously important, and deeply heroic. I and the entire Department of Justice family stand with this community—not just today, but every day—as we work to prevent tragedies like the one that took our colleague and our friend.

Of course, while Deputy Marshal Wells was a remarkable officer, he was not defined solely by his profession. He was also a son, proudly following a path into law enforcement that his father had laid before him. He was a devoted husband to Channing, his college sweetheart, who spurred him on to achieve his most ambitious dreams. And he was a loving father to a child not yet born—a son who will be named Josie Wells Jr., in honor of a hero who gave his “last full measure of devotion” in the service of his country. Josie Jr. will enter a world without his namesake. And it will be up to every one of us to share with him the story of his father’s extraordinary life.

We will tell him that his father was a man who believed in the importance of justice, of integrity and of service. We will talk about his father’s commitment to the sacred mission that we all share, and the indomitable courage with which he carried it out. And we will do our part—all of us—to carry on his father’s legacy; to serve our communities and our country with honor, with distinction and with pride; and to make this world the place that Josie Wells imagined not only for his son—but also for the sons and daughters of his countrymen.

I know that there are no words that can ease the pain that we all feel, or that can fill the void that this tragedy has left behind. I know that this is a heartbreak that feels unbearable. But we will bear it together, with the knowledge that Deputy Marshal Wells will live on—in the example he set for law enforcement at all levels, in every community; in the lives he touched and the people he inspired, in his hometown and across the nation; and in the cherished memories of those who knew him best and loved him most, and who stand together for him today.

As we take him to his rest today I would ask that you remember this true American hero not for how he lost his life but for how he lived it—with faith, with compassion and with the joy that only those who truly give, truly give, can ever really experience. This was a good and decent man—an example to us all.

May he rest in peace.

REMARKS ON GIRLS' EDUCATION BY FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA

FROM:  THE WHITE HOUSE
Remarks by the First Lady Before Discussion with Mrs. Abe and Students on the Importance of Girls' Education
Iikura Guest House
Tokyo, Japan

11:18 A.M. JST

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, I am incredibly excited about the partnership between our two countries around girls’ education, because I think our countries are in a very strong position to be able to reach out and help developing countries.

As Mrs. Abe said -- eloquently said in her remarks, there is nothing more important than getting an education.  And to think that today, there are 60 million girls around the world who don’t have that opportunity, it’s an injustice.  And when we look at the advantages that we have had, as Mrs. Abe said, I think it’s our duty and it’s our responsibility to do what we can to reach out and to aid others.

One of the things that I also say about this initiative, what -- the impact that I’m hoping that it has is to inspire young people in my country who take their education for granted.  Right now, one of the things that I’m saying very often -- I’ve got an initiative called Reach Higher, where I’m trying to encourage more young people in the U.S. to embrace the role of education, and to finish high school and to go on to college.  Because we need your generation to be highly educated, highly skilled, highly trained.

And that’s so important to the success of our countries and to the world, quite frankly.  We just can’t afford to waste the brainpower and energy of half of our citizens on this planet, and that’s what we do when we don’t invest in young girls.  So my hope is that through partnerships like ours, the United States and Japan, that we will encourage other developed nations to step up and increase their investments.

But there’s also a role that you all can play.  You don’t have to be a powerful nation to have an impact on this issue.  I’m urging girls in the United States to look right in their own backyards; to look at home at how they can be mentors to the young girls in their communities and to their families.  Tutor a young girl.  Bring them along.  Encourage them.  If you know young women in communities that don’t have the advantages that you have, reach out as much as you can.  Because it’s that one-on-one interaction that can really make a difference.  If they see what is possible through you, they believe that they can achieve that for themselves.

That’s one of the reasons why I share my story so much, because I want young girls around the world not to see me as the First Lady of the United States, but I want them to know that I was a young girl in Chicago that had doubts and fears and worries, and people who told me that I couldn’t.  But with hard work and that investment in education, look where we all are.  I’m sitting here with my good friend in Japan with all of you, and we have the opportunity to change the world.  You can do that too, and so can the 62 million girls out there who aren’t getting their education.

So that’s what I hope that we’ll begin to achieve with Let Girls Learn.  But this is going to be a lifetime commitment for me, I know for Mrs. Abe, and so many.  We won’t solve this in a generation.  We have to keep plugging away.  And you all are going to be the next leaders who are going to be out there pushing it to the next level.

So I’m very proud of you all.

END
11:22 A.M. JST

Thursday, March 19, 2015

U.S. PRESS STATEMENT ON RELEASE OF CIVIL SOCIETY ACTIVISTS IN AZERBAIJAN

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Welcoming the Release of Civil Society Activists in Azerbaijan
Press Statement
Jen Psaki
Department Spokesperson
Washington, DC
March 19, 2015

The United States welcomes the March 18 pardon and release of Bashir Suleymanli, the Executive Director of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center in Azerbaijan, as well as three others considered by Azerbaijani NGOs to have been incarcerated for their civic activism. We call on Azerbaijan to take additional positive steps in the months ahead, including the release of others considered to have been incarcerated for their civic activity. Doing so would demonstrate the government’s adherence to OSCE and other international commitments to uphold the fundamental freedoms of all its citizens.

3/19/15: White House Press Briefing

President Obama’s Nowruz Message to the Iranian People (English)

REPORTED CHEMICAL WEAPONS USED IN SYRIA, SAYS SECRETARY KERRY

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Allegations of Chemical Weapons Use in Sarmin, Syria
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 19, 2015

The United States is deeply disturbed by reports that the Assad regime used chlorine as a weapon again, this time on March 16 in an attack on the town of Sarmin. We are looking very closely into this matter and considering next steps. While we cannot yet confirm details, if true, this would be only the latest tragic example of the Assad regime's atrocities against the Syrian people, which the entire international community must condemn.

What is clear is that the Assad regime continues to flout international standards and norms, including, if these latest allegations are verified, the Chemical Weapons Convention. The international community cannot turn a blind eye to such barbarism. As has been well documented, the Assad regime continues to terrorize the people of Syria through indiscriminate airstrikes, barrel bombings, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence, murder, and starvation. The Assad regime must be held accountable for such atrocious behavior.

A chemical weapons attack through the use of chlorine would not only be the latest example of the regime’s brutality towards the Syrian people, but also a direct violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2209, which specifically condemned the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon in Syria and made clear such a violation would have consequences. Any and all credible allegations of chemical weapons use, including the use of toxic industrial chemicals, must be investigated, and we continue to support the OPCW Fact Finding Mission in its continuing critical mission.

The Assad regime’s horrifying pattern of using chlorine as a chemical weapon against the Syrian people underscores the importance of investigating this allegation as quickly as possible, holding those who perpetrated such abhorrent acts in violation of international law accountable, and continuing to support the complete elimination chemical weapons in this volatile region.

DOJ, HHS, ANNOUNCE OVER $27.8 BILLION RECOVERED COMBATING HEALTH CARE FRAUD

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services Announce Over $27.8 Billion in Returns from Joint Efforts to Combat Health Care Fraud
Administration Recovers $7.70 for Every Dollar Spent on Health Care-Related Fraud and Abuse

More than $27.8 billion has been returned to the Medicare Trust Fund over the life of the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control (HCFAC) Program, Attorney General Eric Holder and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell announced today.  The government’s health care fraud prevention and enforcement efforts recovered $3.3 billion in taxpayer dollars in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 from individuals and companies who attempted to defraud federal health programs, including programs serving seniors, persons with disabilities or those with low incomes.  For every dollar spent on health care-related fraud and abuse investigations in the last three years, the administration recovered $7.70.  This is about $2 higher than the average return on investment in the HCFAC program since it was created in 1997.  It is also the third highest return on investment in the life of the program.

“As the innovative and collaborative work of the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program proceeds, more taxpayer money is being recovered, more criminals are facing justice, and more fraud is being punished, prevented and deterred,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.  “The extraordinary return on investment we've obtained speaks to the skill, the tenacity, and the inspiring success of the hardworking men and women fighting on behalf of the American people.  And with these outstanding results, we are sending the unmistakable message that we will not waver in our mission to pursue fraud, to protect vulnerable communities, and to preserve the public trust.”

“Eliminating fraud, waste and abuse is a top priority for the Department of Health and Human Services,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell.  “These impressive recoveries for the American taxpayer demonstrate our continued commitment to this goal and highlight our efforts to prosecute the most egregious instances of health care fraud and prevent future fraud and abuse.  New enrollment screening techniques and computer analytics are preventing fraud before money ever goes out the door.  And together with the continued support of Congress and our partners at the Department of Justice, we’ve cracked down on tens of thousands health care providers suspected of Medicare fraud – all of which are helping to extend the life of the Medicare Trust Fund.”

The recoveries announced today reflect a two-pronged strategy to combat fraud and abuse.  Under new authorities granted by the Affordable Care Act, the administration continues to implement programs that move away from “pay and chase” to preventing health care fraud and abuse in the first place.  In addition, the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), run jointly by the HHS Office of the Inspector General and the Justice Department, is changing how the federal government fights certain types of health care fraud.  These cases are being investigated through "real-time" data analysis in lieu of a prolonged subpoena and account analyses, resulting in significantly shorter periods of time between fraud identification, arrest and prosecution.

Increased funding from the administration and Congress has allowed HHS and the Justice Department to build on early successes of the Medicare Strike Force by expanding into nine geographic territories – Miami, Los Angeles, Detroit, Houston, Brooklyn, New York, Southern Louisiana, Tampa, Florida, Chicago and Dallas.  Since its inception, Strike Force prosecutors filed more than 963 cases charging more than 2,097 defendants who collectively billed the Medicare program more than $6.5 billion; 1,443 defendants pleaded guilty and 191 others were convicted in jury trials; and 1,197 defendants were sentenced to imprisonment for an average term of approximately 47 months.  Through the Strike Force and other efforts, in FY 2014 alone, the Justice Department opened 924 new criminal health care fraud investigations.  Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges in 496 cases involving 805 defendants.  A total of 734 defendants were convicted of health care fraud‑related crimes during the year.

Another powerful tool in the effort to combat health care fraud is the federal False Claims Act.  In 2014, the Justice Department’s Civil Division and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices obtained $2.3 billion in settlements and judgments from civil cases involving fraud and false claims against federal health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.  Since January 2009, the Justice Department has recovered more than $15.2 billion in cases involving health care fraud.  These amounts reflect federal losses only.  In many of these cases, the department was instrumental in recovering additional billions of dollars for state health care programs.  In FY 2014, the department continued its enforcement of the civil False Claims Act and the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and opened 782 new civil health care fraud investigations.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is also adopting a number of preventive measures to combat fraud and abuse.  Provider enrollment is the gateway to billing the Medicare program, and CMS has put critical safeguards in place to make sure that only legitimate providers are enrolling in the program.  The Affordable Care Act required a CMS revalidation of all existing 1.5 million Medicare suppliers and providers under new screening requirements.  CMS will have requested revalidations by March 2015.  As a result of this and other proactive initiatives, CMS has deactivated 450,000 enrollments and revoked nearly 27,000 enrollments to prevent certain providers from re-enrolling and billing the Medicare program.  Both of these actions immediately stop billing.  A provider with deactivated billing privileges can reactivate at any time, and a revoked provider is barred from re-entry into Medicare for a period ranging from one to three years.  CMS has also issued a regulation requiring prescribers of Part D drugs to enroll in Medicare and undergo screening.

CMS also continued the fiscal 2014 temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new home health or ambulance service providers in six fraud hot spots: Miami, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Detroit and Philadelphia (which includes some counties in New Jersey).  This extension will allow CMS to continue its actions to suspend payments or remove providers from the program before allowing new providers into potentially over-supplied markets.

Similar to the technology used by credit card companies, CMS is using its Fraud Prevention System to apply advanced analytics to all Medicare fee-for-service claims on a streaming, national basis.  The Fraud Prevention System identifies aberrant and suspicious billing patterns which in turn trigger actions that can be implemented swiftly to prevent payment of fraudulent claims.  In the second year, the system saved $210.7 million, almost double the amount identified during the first year of the program.

CASSINI LOOKS AT SATURN'S RING STRUCTURE

FROM:  NASA 


From afar, Saturn's rings look like a solid, homogenous disk of material. But upon closer examination from Cassini, we see that there are varied structures in the rings at almost every scale imaginable. Structures in the rings can be caused by many things, but often times Saturn's many moons are the culprits. The dark gaps near the left edge of the A ring (the broad, outermost ring here) are caused by the moons (Pan and Daphnis) embedded in the gaps, while the wider Cassini division (dark area between the B ring and A ring here) is created by a resonance with the medium-sized moon Mimas (which orbits well outside the rings). Prometheus is seen orbiting just outside the A ring in the lower left quadrant of this image; the F ring can be faintly seen to the left of Prometheus. This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 15 degrees above the ringplane. The image was taken in red light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Jan. 8, 2015. The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 566,000 miles (911,000 kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 37 degrees. Image scale is 34 miles (54 kilometers) per pixel. The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

U.S. DEFENSE TO MOVE AGGRESSIVELY TO MODERNIZE WEAPONS AND CAPABILITIES

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT

Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work speaks at the McAleese/Credit Suisse Defense Programs Conference held at the Newseum in Washington, March 17, 2015. Photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz.  

DoD to Boost Modernization of Weapons, Capabilities
By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, March 17, 2015 – This year, the Defense Department will move aggressively to reverse the trend of chronic underinvestment in weapons and capabilities, the deputy defense secretary said here today.

Bob Work spoke this morning about defense modernization and the department’s proposed fiscal year 2016 budget before an audience attending the McAleese/Credit Suisse Defense Programs Conference.

The bottom line, he said in prepared remarks, is that “because of budget uncertainty and restrictions imposed by Congress, and because of our unrelenting focus on the readiness of forward deployed forces, we're chronically underinvesting in new weapons and capabilities.”

Work added, “That should give all of us pause because our technological dominance is no longer assured.”

Modernization = Technological Superiority

The U.S. military’s technological superiority is directly related to its modernization accounts, the deputy secretary said, so this year the department is moving to redress the long-deferred modernization to stay ahead of competitors and potential aggressor nations.

Work said the White House has helped by approving about $21 billion in added requirements over the Future Years Defense Program.

“This came with added funding, which has allowed us to make targeted investments in space control and launch capabilities, missile defense, cyber, and advanced sensors, communications, and munitions -– all of which are critical for power projection in contested environments,” he said.

The White House also added funding to help the department modernize its aging nuclear deterrent force, Work said.

Supporting Ongoing Operations

The department’s fiscal 2016 base budget request is $534 billion, or $36 billion above the FY16 sequestration caps, he said, adding that it’s “only the first year of a five-year Future Years Defense Program. When considering fiscal years 2016 through 2020, our planned program is approximately $154 billion over the sequestration caps.”

The department also is asking for $51 billion in overseas contingency operations funding, Work said, “to support our campaign against the extremist [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant], ongoing operations in Afghanistan, and other operations in the Central Command area of responsibility.”

The global demand for U.S. forces remains high, particularly for deployable headquarters units, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, missile defense, and naval and aerospace forces. The global operating tempo also remains high, he added.

Together, the deputy secretary said, these requests provide funding needed to recover readiness over the next several years, invest in long-deferred recapitalization and modernization, and meet global demands placed on the military by the National Security Strategy.

The Ragged Edge

“The leaders of this department believe firmly that any significant reduction in funding below what is in the president's budget, or a broad denial of the reform initiatives that we have proposed to Congress, would mean the risks to our defense strategy would become unmanageable,” the deputy secretary said.

“Quite frankly,” he added, “we’re at the ragged edge of what is manageable.”
Adding to the pressure on defense systems, potential competitors are developing capabilities that challenge the U.S. military in all domains that put space assets and the command and control system at risk, Work said.

“We see several nations developing capabilities that threaten to erode our long-assured technological overmatch and our ability to project power,” he added.

These include new and advanced anti-ship and anti-air missiles, and new counter-space, cyber, electronic warfare, undersea and air attack capabilities, Work said.

Erosion of Technical Superiority

In some areas, he added, “we see levels of new weapons development that we haven’t seen since the mid-1980s, near the peak of the Soviet Union’s surge in Cold War defense spending.”

The department, Work said, is addressing the erosion of U.S. technological superiority through the Defense Innovation Initiative, a broad effort to improve business operations and find innovative ways to sustain and advance America’s military dominance for the 21st century.

“The DII’s leading focus is to identify, develop and field breakthrough technologies and systems,” he said, “and to develop innovative operational concepts to help us use our current capabilities in new and creative ways.”
The ultimate aim is to help craft a third offset strategy, he added.
Third Offset Strategy

After World War II the United States used nuclear weapons development to offset Soviet numerical and geographic advantage in the central front, and again changed the game in the 1970s and 1980s with networked precision strike, stealth and surveillance for conventional forces, Work explained.

Now, he said, “we will seek to identify new technologies and concepts that will keep the operational advantage firmly in the hands of America’s conventional forces, today and in the future.”

Central to the effort is a new Long-Range Research & Development Planning Program, the deputy secretary said.

The LRRDP was created to identify weapons and systems in the force that can be used in more innovative ways, promising technologies that can be pulled forward and long-range science and technology investments that can be made now for a future payoff.

Invitation to the Table

Technologies that might be associated with a new offset strategy are being driven by the commercial sector, he said.

These include robotics; autonomous operating, guidance and control systems; visualization; biotechnology; miniaturization; advanced computing and big data; and additive manufacturing like 3-D printing.

“The third offset strategy is an open invitation for everyone to come to the table … to creatively disrupt our defense ecosystem. Because we'll either creatively disrupt ourselves or be disrupted by someone else,” Work said.
Game-changing New Technologies

Funding dedicated to the effort includes the department’s annual $12 billion in science and technology accounts, and the FY 2016 budget request creates a reserve account to resource projects expected to emerge from the DII, he said.

“The FY 2016 budget submission also invests in some fantastic, potentially game-changing new technologies that we can more quickly get into the force,” Work added, “as well as longer-range research efforts.”

Over the Future Years Defense Program, for example, the department is investing $149 million in unmanned undersea vehicles, $77 million in advanced sea mines, $473 million in high-speed strike weapons, $706 million in rail gun technology, and $239 million in high-energy lasers.

And, he said, a new Aerospace Innovation Initiative will bring people together to develop a wide range of advanced aeronautical capabilities to maintain U.S. military air dominance.

Solving Operational Challenges

Work said the department’s innovation must be “broad-based and rooted in realistic war gaming –- a big priority of mine -– more experimentation, and new concept and leadership development to enable our people to adapt to situations we can’t yet imagine.”

The third offset strategy is looking to solve specific operational challenges, the deputy secretary said, using the electromagnetic spectrum as an example.

“Electronic Warfare is often regarded as a combat enabler, but more and more it is at the actual forefront of any conflict,” he said. “To ensure we remain ahead in this increasingly important space, today I’m signing out a memo that establishes an Electronic Warfare, or EW, Programs Council.”

Electronic Warfare Programs Council

The senior-level oversight council will have the lead in establishing and coordinating DoD’s EW policy and will be co-chaired by Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., he said.

Compared to the platforms that carry EW suites, the deputy secretary added, it is a relatively small investment but has the potential for a very high payoff.

“Our potential competitors seek to contest the EW space, an area where we retain a decided lead,” Work said. “But that lead is tenuous, and we believe that there has been insufficient focus on EW across the department.”

JOHN ALLEN'S REMARKS ON STABILIZING IRAQI TERRITORIES

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Stabilizing Iraqi Territories
Remarks
John Allen
Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition To Counter ISIL
Prime Minister's Guest House
Baghdad, Iraq
March 16, 2015

It is good to be back in Baghdad and to see so many familiar faces. I want to thank the Prime Minister and COMSEC for hosting us today. I also want to thank the Iraqi deputy ministers, Dr. Hamid, Dr. Turki, German Charge Milan Simandl and leaders who have come together to discuss a series of efforts that are vital to the peaceful and prosperous future of Iraq.

We also have a team today from the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, the UN, and the EU to learn from you today. We will bring your message back to the other Coalition partners who will meet in Berlin on Wednesday.

When I was here last, Prime Minister Abadi and I spoke about the importance of planning for Stabilization Operations. I have come to Baghdad today with a team of experts because we agreed that Stabilization planning must begin in earnest. Today and tomorrow our team will learn and understand how the Coalition can best support the Iraqi plan for stabilizing territories your country will take back from Daesh.

As Daesh is defeated in population centers and the military forces must move on to other objectives, there will be an immediate need for policing and public security efforts to set the conditions for essential service delivery. Populations that have fled the fighting will need shelter, assistance, and security, until they can return home. In many cases facilities will have been destroyed or made insecure by IEDs. Providers will need to rapidly assess and respond with basic medical care, water, electricity and other municipal services. All first responders, whether civil or military, should be sensitized to the special needs of those who’ve suffered under Daesh, especially women and girls.

A successful stabilization effort begins with fair treatment during military operations. We applaud Iraqi leaders, including His Eminence Ayatollah Sistani, who publicly called for the protection of civilians and warned against acts of revenge, recrimination, or abuse against civilians or prisoners. It also means protecting the schools, hospitals, water treatment facilities and securing antiquities and, libraries. These measures begin the process of reunifying Iraq and building trust between liberated communities and the Government of Iraq.

It is also critical for military and civilian ministries to work together from the beginning. Military forces need to understand how civilian stabilization operations will follow military operations. As part of our team today, we have experts on the provision of health services, restoring water and electricity, on policing and civilian-military planning, and on addressing the specific needs of women, children and vulnerable populations. Over the next two days they will work with you to identify how to synchronize civilian and military plans, and identify how the Coalition can work with you.

As I see it, there are four components to the counter-offensive that must be synchronized.

First, is the clearing element when the Iraqi Army and the Popular Mobilization Forces remove Daesh from a town or city.

Second is the security and policing element that deals with crime and provides general security so life can return to normal. This will likely come from a combination of PMF units, local tribes, and police.

Third is restoring local governance which will be difficult because many officials are in exile, were killed, or cooperated with Daesh.

Fourth, is providing for essential services including short-term restoration of services such as health, water, electricity, and rebuilding critical infrastructure.

These four components will be applied differently to the circumstances found in each liberated area. It is important that you plan uniquely for each city and town, and prepare the necessary resources.

Several Coalition partners have expressed a specific interest in offering technical and planning support to assist Iraq by filling any gaps in implementing Iraqi-led stabilization efforts. We will look to the leadership of Dr. Hamid and Dr. Turki to identify where assistance is needed and to communicate the Iraqi stabilization plan to the Coalition partners.

After this visit to Baghdad I will go to Berlin, where Germany and the United Arab Emirates will launch the Coalition Stabilization Working Group. This Working Group will work with the Government of Iraq to organize Coalition support to stabilization operations and identify resources.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of these critical activities. The stabilization effort will be the most important signal of the intentions of this government towards any and all Iraqi’s who have been victims of Daesh and those who have been driven from their homes. Iraq’s future as a unified nation depends upon how the liberating force treats those living under Daesh rule.

Stabilization operations can be expensive and require dedicated resources. We applaud the inclusion in the budget of $2 billion for recovery funding and support of displaced Iraqis. It will be essential to move resources quickly to the liberated areas most in need. As you continue to clarify stabilization and recovery needs, we will work with the United Nations to further develop the concept of a trust fund and find appropriate support. The Coalition does not have the resources to resource all of Iraq’s needs. We will work together to assist and support Iraq as we are able.

The recovery of Iraqis from under Daesh’s control is now beginning in earnest. We are already seeing the results of your early work in Diyala, and hopefully soon in Tikrit. Today, we want to hear from you about what you have seen to date, what lessons we can learn from the last few months, and what you anticipate the requirements are to stabilize liberated areas.

I look forward to learning more about Iraq’s efforts to bring stability to liberated areas from today’s conversation and to identify future actions necessary to ensure success in the days and months to come.

And now I would like to hand it over to my German partner, Charge Milan Simandl, whose nation is energetically engaged in this important effort.

LIFE BENEATH THE SEAFLOOR

FROM:  NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
No limit to life in deep sediment of ocean's "deadest" region

Marine scientists find microbes from seafloor to igneous basement below
"Who in his wildest dreams could have imagined that, beneath the crust of our Earth, there could exist a real ocean...a sea that has given shelter to species unknown?"

So wrote Jules Verne almost 150 years ago in A Journey to the Center of the Earth.

He was correct: Ocean deeps are anything but dead.

Now, scientists have found oxygen and oxygen-breathing microbes all the way through the sediment from the seafloor to the igneous basement at seven sites in the South Pacific gyre, considered the "deadest" location in the ocean.

Findings contrast with previous studies

Their findings contrast with previous discoveries that oxygen was absent from all but the top few millimeters to decimeters of sediment in biologically productive regions of the ocean.

The results are published today in a paper in the journal Nature Geoscience.

"Our objective was to understand the microbial community and microbial habitability of sediment in the deadest part of the ocean," said scientist Steven D'Hondt of the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, lead author of the paper.

"Our results overturn a 60-year-old conclusion that the depth limit to life is in the sediment just meters below the seafloor in such regions.

"We found that there is no limit to life in this sediment. Oxygen and aerobic microbes hang in there all the way to the igneous basement, to at least 75 meters below the seafloor."

Under the seafloor, life all the way down

Based on the researchers' predictive model and core samples they collected in 2010 from the research drillship JOIDES Resolution, they believe that oxygen and aerobic microbes occur throughout the sediment in up to 37 percent of the world's oceans and 44 percent of the Pacific Ocean.

They found that the best indicators of oxygen penetration to the igneous basement are a low sedimentation accumulation rate and a relatively thin sediment layer.

Sediment accumulates at just a few decimeters to meters per million years in the regions where the core samples were collected.

In the remaining 63 percent of the ocean, most of the sediment beneath the seafloor is expected to lack dissolved oxygen and to contain anaerobic communities.

While the researchers found evidence of life throughout the sediment, they did not detect a great deal of it.

Life in the slow lane

The team found extremely slow rates of respiration and approximately 1,000 cells per cubic centimeter of subseafloor sediment in the South Pacific gyre--rates and quantities that had been nearly undetectable.

"It's really hard to find life when it's not very active and is in extremely low concentrations," said D'Hondt.

According to D'Hondt and co-author Fumio Inagaki of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, the discovery of oxygen throughout the sediment may have significant implications for Earth's chemical evolution.

The oxidized sediment is likely carried into the mantle at subduction zones, regions of the seafloor where tectonic plates collide, forcing one plate beneath the other.

"Subduction of these big regions where oxygen penetrates through the sediment and into the igneous basement introduces oxidized minerals to the mantle, which may affect the chemistry of the upper mantle and the long-term evolution of Earth's surface oxidation," D'Hondt said.

Holistic approach to study of subseafloor biosphere

The principal research funders were the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

"We take a holistic approach to the subseafloor biosphere," said Rick Murray, co-author of the paper. Murray is on leave from Boston University, currently serving as director of the NSF Division of Ocean Sciences.

"Our team includes microbiologists, geochemists, sedimentologists, physical properties specialists and others--a hallmark of interdisciplinary research."

The research involved 35 scientists from 12 countries.

The project is part of the NSF-funded Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations (C-DEBI), which explores life beneath the seafloor.

The research is also part of the Deep Carbon Observatory, a decade-long international science initiative to investigate the 90 percent of Earth's carbon located deep inside the planet.

The Nature Geoscience paper is available online.

-NSF-


NET WORTH NO LONGER ELIGIBILITY FACTOR FOR VET HEALTH CARE SAYS VA

FROM:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
VA Eliminates Net Worth as Health Care Eligibility Factor
March 17, 2015, 02:01:00 PM
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VA Eliminates Net Worth as Health Care Eligibility Factor

Elimination of Net Worth Makes More Veterans Eligible for Health Care
Washington – The Department of Veterans Affairs is updating the way it determines eligibility for VA health care, a change that will result in more Veterans having access to the health care benefits they’ve earned and deserve.
Effective 2015, VA eliminated the use of net worth as a determining factor for both health care programs and copayment responsibilities. This change makes VA health care benefits more accessible to lower-income Veterans and brings VA policies in line with Secretary Robert A. McDonald’s MyVA initiative which reorients VA around Veterans’ needs.

“Everything that we do and every decision we make has to be focused on the Veterans we serve,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “We are working every day to earn their trust. Changing the way we determine eligibility to make the process easier for Veterans is part of our promise to our Veterans.”

Instead of combining the sum of Veterans’ income with their assets to determine eligibility for medical care and copayment obligations, VA will now only consider a Veteran’s gross household income and deductible expenses from the previous year. Elimination of the consideration of net worth for VA health care enrollment means that certain lower-income, non-service-connected Veterans will have less out-of- pocket costs. Over a 5-year period, it is estimated that 190,000 Veterans will become eligible for reduced costs of their health care services.

In March 2014, VA eliminated the annual requirement for updated financial information. VA now uses information from the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration to automatically match individual Veterans’ income information which reduces the burden on Veterans to keep their healthcare eligibility up to date. That change better aligned VA’s health care financial assessment program with other federal health care organizations.

VICE CHAIRMAN JOINT CHIEFS SAYS NATION AT GREATER RISK IF BUDGET CUT

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
Winnefeld Gives Blunt Assessment of Budget Options
By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, March 17, 2015 – The U.S. defense budget is strategy driven and the nation will be at greater risk if the budget is cut or if sequestration is triggered this year, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.
Speaking at the McAleese/Credit Suisse Defense Programs Conference held at the Newseum, Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr. said the president’s fiscal year 2016 budget proposal allows the DoD to defend America’s national interests.
The budget request is $35 billion more than envisioned under sequestration, a law requiring major spending cuts that will take effect in October unless Congress changes it. Even at that number, the department will be at the edge of acceptable risk, the admiral said.

Winnefeld delineated the strategic necessities of the United States and their priority. “Such a list enables a more meaningful discussion about strategy because it’s a powerful way to support the recommendations we are expected to make referenc[ing] allocations of scarce resources, assessing risk and the use of force,” he said. “It’s especially valuable because it is prioritized, which some people in this town don’t like, because that unlocks the door to very difficult decisions.”

The difference between threats and the ability to mitigate them is called risk, Winnefeld said. “Clearly we want to keep risk lowest in the most highly ranked security interests,” he said. “It’s a simple concept, but it’s very difficult to apply in the daily press of daily crises.”

Balancing Priorities

The first national security interest is the survival of the United States. This means the DoD must maintain a safe, reliable and effective strategic deterrent.
The second priority is the prevention of catastrophic attacks on the U.S. “This implies protection from a major terrorist attack or a rogue state’s nuclear weapon or a cyberattack on our infrastructure,” the vice chairman explained.

Winnefeld said the third priority is protection of the global economic system. This means providing security for the physical flow of goods and services and the virtual flow of information. “We rank it highly because it is the driver of American prosperity and a key foundation of American power,” he said.

Fourth is maintaining secure, confident and reliable partners and allies. The United States has the most extensive system of allies and partners in history, the admiral said, and they count on American leadership and support.

“Our power and prosperity are deeply linked with theirs,” he added. “In protecting our allies against potential mischief, we’ve always counted on the overmatch on capability and capacity to offset the challenges we have in initiative and distance. We aren’t going to start a fight and we have a long way to go to get to one.

Winnefeld noted that the overmatch is now narrowing, as potential adversaries invest in new capabilities and additional capacities.

The next interest is looking after the security of American citizens abroad, he said.

Finally, “we believe we have a role in protecting international boundaries,” he said. “In a rules-based international order, these are fundamental to who we are as a nation. A great deal of our moral power is derived from our continued support and adherence to these values, even if some of our competitors don’t seem to do the same.”

Aligning Resources With Important Interests

These priorities maintain the overall goal of maintaining American leadership and freedom of action across the globe, he said.

The problem comes with the budget. “We can’t buy all the capability, capacity and readiness we need to perfectly protect all of these interests all at once,” the admiral said.

The Defense Department is facing a trillion dollar budget cut over 10 years, and leaders can turn to this list to make choices to ensure resource decisions are aligned with the most important security interests, Winnefeld said.

“Under the president’s budget submission we can do all of this under manageable risk –- but we’re on the edge,” he said. “Anything less than that –- and I’m not talking about sequester, I’m talking about anything less than our budget submission – and we will have to make tough choices.”

Defense leaders will not compromise on protecting the homeland or conducting counterterror operations, he said.

“But our forward presence is either going to have to be at the same level in fewer regions, or at a lower level in the same regions,” the admiral said.

“If you look at a chart depicting almost any force element we own alongside our daily demand and our surge demand, you will see gaps are beginning to open between supply and demand,” he said. “The military ends of our strategy … are going to have to change if we go below the president’s budget submission and even more if we go to sequestration.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Remarks by the President to the City Club of Cleveland

SECRETARY KERRY'S REMARKS ON ATTACK IN TUNIS, TUNISIA

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Attack on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis, Tunisia
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 18, 2015

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s deadly terrorist attack at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis, where gunmen killed 19 people and wounded more than 20 others. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to the victims’ families and loved ones. We commend Tunisian authorities’ rapid response to today’s wanton violence and their efforts to resolve the hostage situation and restore calm. The United States stands with the Tunisian people at this difficult time and continues to support the Tunisian government’s efforts to advance a secure, prosperous, and democratic Tunisia.

LISA KUBISKE MAKES REMARKS ON U.S. INVESTMENT TREATIES

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
U.S. Investment Treaties: Working For Investors and Government
Remarks
Lisa J. Kubiske
Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Finance and Development, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
OECD Conference Center
Paris, France
March 16, 2015
As prepared

I thank the OECD for hosting this workshop on international investment agreements and treaties, and am pleased to share the U.S. experience with you. I’ll make three points.

The first is that we use our international investment agreements both to promote fair treatment for investors, and to leverage investment to support economic growth.

Taking the latter (growth) first, we know that investment is vital to the global economy. OECD research shows that multinational enterprises employ nearly 80 million people worldwide and their global sales are roughly double world exports. A third of global trade is intra-firm trade. Approximately 18 percent of U.S. merchandise exports are sent by U.S. parent companies to their foreign affiliates.

Investment also supports sustainable development. I am involved in the US Government’s preparation for the UN Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa in July. A key focus will be mobilizing international resources for development, including foreign direct investment and other private investment flows. This is critical, because official development assistance alone cannot meet all the challenges facing the developing world.

Strong investment agreements help create a healthy investment environment. They contain core investor protections that help countries compete for foreign direct investment by supporting transparency, predictability, and openness to investment. Businessmen tell us they consider these factors when deciding where and how much to invest. This healthy environment creates opportunity and broadly shared prosperity. Remember the 80 million jobs?

Also, in our experience, investment agreements often complement countries’ efforts toward economic reform.

A key aspect of ensuring the fair treatment of investors is having strong investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions, which allows for the fair and efficient resolution of disputes. In the days before BITs, disputes frequently became tense bilateral diplomatic issues. ISDS has served to depoliticize investment disputes.

The United States now has 50 investment agreements in place, and we are actively negotiating new ones, including a BIT with China, and investment chapters in TPP and TTIP.

My second point is that it is possible to strike a balance in investment agreements between investor interests and governments’ regulatory ones.

Stakeholders have raised some valid concerns with certain provisions of some BITs.

We have held extensive public consultations to develop our current – 2012 – model BIT. These consultations were further informed by the experiences of our U.S. investors abroad, our efforts to attract investment into the United States, and what we have learned to date as a State defending ourselves against arbitration claims.

Our current model includes several important innovations that help improve the ISDS process and avoid inappropriate claims. For example:

We provide greater clarification of key obligations, such as “fair & equitable treatment” and “expropriation;”
We build in mechanisms to dismiss frivolous claims early in the process;
There also are mechanisms for the Parties to help ensure that tribunals interpret the treaty correctly;
We provide for full transparency of ISDS proceedings, requiring public documents and open hearings, and affording the opportunity for outside parties to submit amicus curiae submissions.

These advancements are intended to create a process that investors can rely on, and also one that is transparent and not subject to abuse.

Third and final point: there are various ways to manage the existing network of investment treaties/agreements to ensure that both investor and government interests are preserved. We can, for example:

Improve countries’ capacity to meet their international obligations,
Monitor developments in investor-State arbitration, and
Foster dialogue and mutual understanding on key issues.

We value open, inclusive, and multilateral dialogue on investment rules – such as we are having today.

Thank you.