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Daily Archives: November 18, 2008

Obama vows to exit Iraq and rebuild US ‘moral stature’

by Jitendra Joshi*

US President-elect Barack Obama vowed to pull troops out of Iraq, crush Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and shut down the Guantanamo Bay camp as part of a dramatic foreign policy break with George W. Bush.
Repairing the stricken US economy will be priority number one, even at the cost of still-bigger budget deficits, Obama said in his first major post-election interview broadcast on CBS program "60 Minutes" late Sunday.
Following his election triumph of November 4, Obama said at least one Republican would be in his cabinet and confirmed that he had met former Democratic primary rival Hillary Clinton last week.
But the president-elect refused to comment on speculation linking the former first lady to the job of secretary of state.
The man who will be the first black US president is accelerating his transition to inauguration day, resigning his Senate seat Sunday and appointing three more top aides to serve in his White House once he succeeds Bush.
As soon as that happens on January 20, Obama said, "I will call in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my national security apparatus, and we will start executing a plan that draws down our troops" from Iraq.
"Particularly in light of the problems that we're having in Afghanistan, which has continued to worsen. We've got to shore up those efforts," Obama said in the interview, which was taped Friday.
On the campaign trail, Obama vowed to pull one or two combat brigades out of Iraq every month until after 16 months, only a residual security force of unspecified size remains. Some of those brigades would head to Afghanistan.
He told CBS that "it is a top priority for us to stamp out Al-Qaeda once and for all" and that killing or capturing the group's mastermind Osama bin Laden was "critical" to US security.
Obama pledged to tackle controversial offshoots of Bush's "war on terror" — the US military's internment camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and harsh interrogations of captured terror suspects.
"I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that," the president-elect said.
"I have said repeatedly that America doesn't torture. And I'm going to make sure that we don't torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America's moral stature in the world," Obama added.
But he did not elaborate on where the Guantanamo prisoners would be taken, whether they would be transferred to civilian custody in the United States itself, put on trial, or released.
A command to redeploy troops out of Iraq or shut down Guantanamo could be done in short order under Obama's presidential prerogatives, and he is expected to reverse a slew of other contentious "executive orders" signed by Bush.
Obama said that in Congress, his first legislative priority was getting another stimulus package passed to prop up the enfeebled economy, if Democrats in the outgoing legislature fail to overcome Republican opposition.
As already shown in excerpts released by CBS, Obama said it would be a "disaster" for the government to stand by and let the cash-strapped General Motors and the auto industry in general collapse.
In line with the outcome of a summit Saturday of the world's 20 biggest economies, the president-elect said forging new regulation of the financial markets was essential to restoring the trust of consumers.
Obama appeared unconcerned about the red ink blotting the US government's finances, arguing economists from left and right agreed that "we have to do whatever it takes to get this economy moving again."
"And that we shouldn't worry about the deficit next year or even the year after. That short term, the most important thing is that we avoid a deepening recession," he said.
Joined by his wife Michelle in the interview, Obama said their two young daughters would get their promised dog, and expressed hope that Michelle's mother Marian Robinson would move in with them at their new residence.
Obama, a gifted writer who has authored two best-selling memoirs, turned wistful as he anticipated life in the White House fishbowl.
"That's something that I don't think I'll ever get used to. I mean, the loss of anonymity," he said. "And this is not a complaint, this is part of what you sign up for."
Yesterday, Obama was to meet in Chicago with his former Republican rival, Arizona Senator John McCain.



French cops seize head of ETA military wing

French police seized the accused military chief of ETA in a pre-dawn raid yesterday, officials said, capturing the most wanted Basque militant still at large only six months after holding the separatist group's presumed leader.
Miguel De Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina, 35, alias "Txeroki", was caught in a raid in Cauterets, a spa town and ski resort in the French Pyrenees, near the border with Spain and its autonomous Basque region, which ETA wants to see win independence.
French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Txeroki stands accused of killing two Spanish undercover officers shot dead in France in December last year.
Txeroki's arrest is the most serious blow against the ETA movement since its presumed leader Javier Lopez Pena was arrested in May.
A handgun, false papers and a computer were seized in the raid, and a woman suspected of also belonging to ETA was arrested, according to a French official familiar with the investigation.
Both suspects are to be transferred to custody in the southern French town of Bayonne, he added.
The net had been closing on Txeroki, who has led ETA's military wing since 2003 and is reputed to be one of the movement's hardliners, since the killing of the Guardia Civil officers last year.
The two plain-clothed officers, Raul Centeno, 24, and Fernando Trapero, 23, had been taking part in surveillance with French police in southwestern France when they were shot outside a cafe.
Press reports at the time said the two men had been part of a unit that was in the "final phase" of an operation to catch Txeroki.
French police detained two suspected members of an ETA commando believed to have taken part in the attack several days later in the southern Lozere region while a third suspect remained at large.
According to Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, two recently arrested suspects have identified Txeroki as the gunman.
One of the two suspected ETA members had said he "heard Txeroki acknowledge that he was the assassin of the two policemen," the minister alleged.
Some Spanish media had already alleged that the third person who took part in the shooting was Txeroki.
ETA, which has killed more than 820 people in its 40-year campaign for an independent Basque homeland, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement issued two weeks later.
France, once a safe haven for Basque militants, has arrested a number of ETA suspects since the group called off a 15-month-old ceasefire in June 2007, shattering hopes of a peace settlement.
According to Spanish press reports, Txeroki was one of the ETA members most opposed to peace talks with the Madrid government.
In particular, he is said to have ordered the December 30, 2006 bombing of a Madrid airport car park that killed two people and sounded the death knell for negotiations.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the arrest of one of Europe's most hunted men "demonstrates the excellent collaboration between France and Spain in the struggle against Basque terrorism".
Alliot-Marie said: "The arrest demonstrates once again the resolute engagement of French police and gendarmes to combat all forms of terrorism."
In May this year, 49-year-old Javier Lopez Pena, ETA's alleged commander, was arrested in the southwestern French city of Bordeaux.