News & Current Affairs

September 5, 2008

US ‘spying’ on Iraqi leadership

US ‘spying’ on Iraqi leadership

US President Bush with Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad in 2006

Mr Bush says he has worked hard on his relationship with Mr Maliki

The US has been extensively spying on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a new book by renowned US reporter Bob Woodward claims.

A source in the book is quoted as saying “we know everything he says”, according to the Washington Post.

The book also says “ground-breaking” covert techniques have helped reduce the violence in Iraq.

This is the fourth book on the Bush administration by Mr Woodward, the Washington Post’s associate editor.

The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008, examines the handling of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and President Bush’s leadership and governing style, according to the Post.

Several sources in the book support the claim that Mr Maliki and other Iraqi leaders were being spied on by the US administration.

But Mr Woodward says the tactic was not universally popular in the White House – some senior US officials questioned whether it was worth the risk, given Mr Bush’s efforts to develop a close working relationship with Mr Maliki.

Growing rifts

The book also claims that the US “surge” in 2007, in which nearly 30,000 extra troops were sent to Iraq, was not the primary reason for the steep drop in violence seen over the last year.

Mr Woodward says new covert techniques have been used successfully by US military and intelligence officials to find, target and kill insurgents.

He does not go into detail about them, saying the White House asked him to withhold specifics in the interests of national security.

The book quotes from interviews given by Mr Bush himself, and looks at the how the decision-making of the war evolved and the internal clashes it caused.

It reveals a breakdown in the confidence between the president and his military commanders in the region, as well as discord between the state and defence departments.

US officials have not commented on the book, which is due to be published on Monday.

Mr Woodward is well-known for his investigative reporting, and first came to prominence for his role in exposing the Watergate scandal which led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

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August 8, 2008

Bush dedicates new massive US embassy in Beijing

Bush dedicates new massive US embassy in Beijing

BEIJING – President Bush took another swipe at China’s human rights record Friday, the latest tit-for-tat salvo with Beijing before he put politics on hold and switched to fan mode for the Olympics’ gala opening ceremonies.

The past week has seen blunt language from both sides — with China clearly unhappy that its record of repression was being repeatedly aired even as it was seeking to revel in its long-anticipated debut on the world’s biggest sporting stage. But U.S. officials dismissed any suggestion of a widening rift.

“We’ve had these back-and-forths with China for years,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

As Bush opened a massive U.S. Embassy in Beijing on Friday, he prodded China to lessen repression and “let people say what they think.” The communist nation, which tolerates only government-approved religions, has rounded up dissidents ahead of the Olympics and imposed Internet restrictions on journalists that some say amount to censorship, all contrary to Beijing’s commitments when it won hosting rights for the games.

“We strongly believe societies which allow the free expression of ideas tend to be the most prosperous and the most peaceful,” Bush said at the vast American diplomatic complex, built at a cost of $434 million.

His comments came on the heels of a speech Thursday in Bangkok in which he urged greater Bangkok for the Chinese people. Beijing responded by defending its human rights record and saying Bush shouldn’t be meddling in its internal affairs.

But Bush also took care during the embassy ribbon-cutting to praise China’s contributions to society and embrace its relationship with the United States as strong, enduring and candid.

“Candor is most effective where nations have built a relationship of respect and trust,” Bush said. “I’ve worked hard to build that respect and trust. I appreciate the Chinese leadership that have worked hard to build that respect and trust.”

The new U.S. embassy is its second-largest in the world, only after the heavily fortified compound in Baghdad, and Bush said this is symbolic of China’s importance to the United States.

“It reflects the solid foundation underpinning our relations,” Bush said. “It is a commitment to strengthen that foundation for years to come.”

The ceremony took place with a heavy haze engulfing the Chinese capital despite concerted government efforts to slash pollution before the games. It was full of emotional resonance, with those attending including Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, and Henry Kissinger, who was secretary of state during the Nixon presidency when the U.S. began a relationship with China.

It was the senior Bush, as chief of the U.S. liaison office during a critical period when the United States was renewing ties with China, who first brought his son to China in 1975. The current president fondly recalls biking around Beijing when that was the predominant form of transport.

Much has changed since. While there still are lots of bicycles, cars dominant the streets today. Skyscrapers have sprouted like mushrooms. And the proliferation of construction cranes shows the building boom is far from over — evidence of the country’s economic growth — though most of the work has ground to a halt to help the anti-pollution battle.

The American embassy, on 10 acres in a new diplomatic zone, is wrapped in freestanding transparent and opaque glass.

The dedication followed China’s unveiling of its own imposing new embassy in Washington last week. That 250,000-square-foot glass-and-limestone compound is the largest foreign embassy in the U.S. capital.

The number eight is considered auspicious in China — Friday is 8/8/08 on the calendar — so the embassy ceremony began at 8:08 a.m. local time. The opening ceremonies begin exactly 12 hours later at 8:08 p.m.

Bush, the first American president event to attend an Olympics on foreign soil, was to meet with U.S. athletes right before the ceremonies.

“I’m looking forward to cheering our athletes on,” Bush said. “I’m not making any predictions about medal counts, but I can tell you the U.S. athletes are ready to come and compete, in the spirit of friendship.”

Also Friday, Bush attended a lunch for world leaders hosted by Chinese President Hu Jintao in the Great Hall of the People.

His known schedule over the next three days is thin, with large gaps left open for Bush to cherry-pick sporting events to watch with the numerous family members who have accompanied him to Beijing.

On Saturday, he meets with Olympic sponsors and watch women’s basketball. On Sunday, he will attend a government-approved Protestant church and then speak to reporters about religious freedom, mirroring his practice during a 2005 trip to China. He then plans to take in some men’s and women’s Olympic swimming.

Business takes over briefly Sunday afternoon, with talks with Hu as well as China’s vice president and premier. But then it’s back to sports: the much-anticipated U.S.-China basketball game Sunday night and a practice baseball game between the U.S. and China on Monday. He returns to Washington Monday night.

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