Hillary Clinton to visit Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China on first trip as Secretary of State

WASHINGTON - Hillary Clinton has picked the Far East for her first overseas star-turn as secretary of State.The Feb. 15-22 trip will take her to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China, the State Department announced Thursday. "In all capitals, the secretary will be discussing common approaches to the challenges facing the international community, including the financial markets turmoil, humanitarian issues, security and climate change," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said.The "security" part was a reference to North Korea, where flaky dictator Kim Jong-il has begun making noises about war again and U.S. intelligence agencies have detected preparations for a possible test flight of a long-range missile. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seeks to improve US image with Muslims in trip to Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton moved Wednesday to boost U.S. ties with the world's most populous Muslim nation and its neighbors, pledging a new American willingness to work with and listen to Indonesia and the rest of Southeast Asia. Her message was received warmly by officials in Jakarta, the childhood home of President Barack Obama, although small and scattered protests were held in several cities, with some Islamic hard-liners setting tires on fire and others throwing shoes at caricatures of Clinton. She said her choice of Asia for her first overseas trip as Obama's top diplomat was "no accident" and a sign of the new administration's desire for broader and deeper relations with the continent on regional and global issues. Clinton, who arrived from a stop in Japan and will head Thursday to South Korea and China, was particularly effusive about Indonesia, which she said deserved praise for its hard-won multiethnic democracy and efforts to fight terrorism while respecting human rights. She announced plans to restart Peace Corps programs in Indonesia that were suspended in 1965 when volunteers were expelled after leftists accused them of espionage. And she said the two countries would cooperate on climate change, trade, education, regional security and a host of other issues, while indicating that more development aid was on the way. "I bring greetings from President Obama, who has himself said and written about the importance of his time here as a young boy," Clinton told reporters at a news conference with Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda. "It gave him an insight into not only this diverse and vibrant culture, but also the capacity for people with different backgrounds to live harmoniously together," she said, noting that Indonesia proves "that Islam, democracy and modernity not only can coexist but thrive together." Indonesia, a secular nation of 235 million people, has personal ties for Obama, who spent Continue Reading

Obama’s shrewd move: Picking Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is inspired

WASHINGTON - First, he dismantled the most impregnable political juggernaut in recent memory. Then Barack Obama managed the REALLY impossible: He transformed Hillary and Bill Clinton into subordinates.That's a new experience for the former First Couple, a take-no-prisoners tag team used to setting the rules and calling the shots. Now, a former rookie senator about to become a rookie President has shrewdly dealt with his party's most famous mandarins from a position of strength. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton will be working for her erstwhile rival, not as an independent power center - and her husband's globetrotting and finances are subject to strict vetting by Obama's aides. This blockbuster appointment demonstrates Obama's serene self-assurance as well as his commitment to change. None of Washington's sages saw this one coming. Unlike the vice presidency, which Hillary once coveted, this was Obama's idea, not hers or his staff's. "It shows he thinks outside of the box, he likes to do the unexpected and he doesn't hold grudges for as long as some of the people around him," said a leading Democratic official. "It's a 10-strike for him and his foreign policy." Make no mistake: Hillary is a formidable choice for State, perhaps an inspired one. She's tough, shrewd, well-connected, respected by her adversaries and utterly ruthless when it suits her - all essential traits for effective chief diplomats. Then there's the star-power factor. Hillary is the world's most recognizable woman. Wherever she travels on America's behalf, the attention she commands will be riveting. Until President Bush belatedly began cleaning out the deadwood a couple of years ago, his senior team was long on loyalty and lame on competence. By naming Hillary, Obama has demonstrated that competence comes first with this President. As for loyalty, the notion Madame Secretary Clinton will run her own foreign policy is absurd. By elevating her to diplomat in chief, Obama has assured that she Continue Reading

Sect. of State Condoleezza Rice arrives in Libya on historic visit

Secretary of State Rice Friday met with Libyan dictator MoammarKhadafy - once reviled as the "mad dog" of the Middle East by formerPresident Ronald Reagan - on a visit to open a "new chapter" inU.S.-Libyan relations. Rice was the highest-ranking U.S. officialto visit the North African country since John Foster Dulles, thesecretary of state in the Eisenhower administration, in 1953 - beforeRice was born. The diplomatic mission comes on the heels of anagreement for both countries to pay reparations for American and Libyancitizens killed and injured during brief armed conflict in the 1980s. "Thesecretary's trip to Libya signifies a new chapter in our bilateralrelations," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters. "Itchanged based on the country's decision to give up its weapons of massdestruction and its capabilities for producing them. Those areimportant and significant changes," she said. The U.S. had nodiplomatic relations with Libya from 1980 and considered the country amajor supporter of terrorism and one of its worst enemies. Incidentssuch as the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland, for whicha Libyan agent was convicted, and a U.S. air raid on Tripoli andBenghazi in 1986 stretched tensions to the breaking point. Butin recent years Khadafy has abandoned his anti-Western rhetoric andsought to bring Libya back into the international mainstream. Khadafywelcomed his guest in an incense-perfumed room in his compound, whichwas bombed by U.S. jets in 1986. Rice was expected to raise some humanrights issues and to push Khadafy on the compensation deal signed lastmonth. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Mass. House votes to let out-of-state gays marry

BOSTON - The Massachusetts House voted Tuesday to repeal a 1913 law that had been used to block gay marriages involving out-of-state couples, all but assuring that the state will lay out the welcome mat for such weddings. The 118-35 vote came after the state Senate voted for the repeal earlier this month, and Gov. Deval Patrick has said he will sign the bill. The measure required one more procedural vote in each chamber before being forwarded to the governor. "Sometimes what you hope and pray for actually happens, which is kind of overwhelming," Michael Thorne, 55, of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, said after telling his 6-year-old son his parents could soon get married. Thorne and his partner of 25 years, James Theberge, have an Aug. 18 wedding planned in Provincetown. Massachusetts became the first state to allow gay marriage in 2004, but then-Gov. Mitt Romney ordered city and town clerks to enforce the long-dormant 1913 law to bar out-of-state same-sex couples from marrying. The law prohibits couples from marrying if the unions would be illegal in their home states. Romney had argued that repealing the ban would turn the state into the "Las Vegas of gay marriage." Since then, however, another state — California — has begun allowing same-sex marriages. Some proponents say that repealing the law would allow Massachusetts to share in some of the economic boon California is enjoying. Patrick and other supporters of repeal also argued that the old law carried racial undertones from a time when interracial marriage was discouraged or illegal in some states. Opponents said the reasons the 1913 law was passed are unclear, and that repealing the ban amounted to meddling in the affairs of other states. Rep. John Lepper, R-Attleboro, said sanctioning a marriage that is illegal elsewhere would "create a relationship and then set it adrift to settle in a disapproving state." He spoke of a gay couple from Rhode Island that married in Massachusetts and Continue Reading

Democrats’ dream of taking control of state Senate growing cloudier by day

The Democrats' dream of taking control of the state Senate this fall is getting cloudier by the day. To start with, they risk being abandoned by a key ally, the Working Families Party. The outfit's top players are furious with the Senate Dems' refusal to back up Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on the so-called millionaires tax. In a heated conference call last Friday, officials of the labor-backed party deemed Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith a "disappointment" and asked whether continuing to help him would be a waste of time. The party has played a big role in bringing the Democrats to within spitting distance of wresting the Senate chamber from Republican hands. "There are going to be some very, very tough endorsement decisions this year. We don't want to change parties and not have a change of politics," said Working Families Party Co-Chairman Bob Master, political director of the Communications Workers of America. "There will be races where Republican incumbents have been very friendly with our local affiliates. In some ways, what seemed like an automatic no-brainer [to support Democrats] doesn't seem so automatic right now," he added. The WFP, rather than sit on the sidelines or endorse Republicans, has started trying to remake the Democratic Senate. It is backing friendly insurgent Democrats who are running against incumbents. Adding to the Senate Democrats' problems is Gov. Paterson's lack of fund-raising prowess. In the last six months of last year, Paterson's campaign committee spent more than twice as much he raised and now has just $114,854 on hand. Paterson's predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, was a prodigious fund-raiser who made helping the Democrats take over the Senate a priority - even to the detriment of his own legislative agenda. Whoever holds the governor's office has a built-in fund-raising edge, but Paterson has a lot of catching up to do. "Every minute they waste amplifies the problem," said a veteran Democratic fund-raiser. Continue Reading

The incredible shrinking Rex Tillerson: Can the secretary of State reclaim his job?

Defending his boss recently against charges that he’s heading up an incredible shrinking State Department, strategic adviser R.C. Hammond opined that the Secretary Rex Tillerson is thinking like a cowboy. Comparing words to bullets, he said “You carry a revolver with only six shots, and you don’t waste your bullets.”Fair enough. Successful secretaries of State husband their resources and invest in issues that are strategic and strike at the right time. But five months in, and based on our long tenures at the State Department under both Republican and Democratic administrations, it seems pretty clear that at least in five cases, Tillerson’s gun jammed or the rounds he fired went wide of their mark. Presumably he has yet to use the sixth bullet — a frank conversation with the president about his presumed aspirations to be a consequential secretary of State. Will he?Tillerson reportedly is at the boiling point over everything from leaks to personnel. When it comes to his core diplomatic mission, he is struggling for leverage or even a role on several key foreign policy issues confronting the nation.Arab-Israeli: In our experience, it’s virtually unprecedented that a secretary of State would not be empowered by a president to lead or play a significant role in managing Arab-Israeli negotiations. That does not mean the White House would not exercise overall responsibility or that a special envoy might not be involved. But Tillerson is an exceptional case. Instead it’s President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Trump's attorney, Jason Greenblatt, who are dominating the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the peace process. Unlike his predecessors, Tillerson is simply nowhere to be seen on an issue typically considered an important component of any secretary's portfolio. Saudi Arabia-Qatar: The White House, led by Trump and Kushner, is also dominating America’s Continue Reading

Obama administration fails to defend Hillary Clinton’s use of personal email address as Secretary of State

The Obama administration failed to rise to Hillary Clinton’s defense Tuesday over her use of personal email while secretary of state — saying employees were instructed to use their official government emails for business. During a briefing at which he was bombarded with questions about Clinton’s email practices while she served in the administration, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that “very specific guidance has been given to agencies all across the government, which is specifically that employees in the Obama administration should use their official email accounts when they’re conducting official government business.” He admitted there were situations where personal accounts could be used. In those cases, “it is important for those records to be preserved, consistent with the Federal Records Act.” Earlier, Clinton aides, as well as outside groups backing her expected presidential run, pushed back hard on a report by The New York Times that Clinton may have violated federal regulations by using a personal email exclusively. “She had a BlackBerry. She used it prior to state, and like her predecessors she continued to use it when she got to state,” a Clinton aide said Tuesday. “This was not bucking the system; this was in keeping with exactly what former secretaries had done.” New regulations require officials to use email accounts that can be saved for archives. Clinton defenders pointed out that as secretary of state, Colin Powell also used a personal email account. Condoleezza Rice rarely used email as secretary of state, but when she did, she used a government account, a spokesman told Business Insider. Two months ago, complying with new federal record-keeping practices, “nine out of 10” emails Clinton sent were turned over to the State Department, her aide said. “If she Continue Reading

BATTLING MERCHANTS OF DEATH ON CITY’S STREETS. In a deadly game of cat and mouse, cops hunt illegal guns coming from out of state

IT'S A COLD, clear evening in Alphabet City, and the streets are bustling with shoppers and people coming home from work as an undercover federal agent, unshaven, in baggy clothes, slips inside a building on E. Third St. Backup agents and NYPD detectives from the Joint Firearms Task Force down the block hear each footfall he makes on the stairway. At 7:35 p. m., the agent enters an apartment and chats with the man inside, who shows him two guns brought from Florida, brand-new, in the box, serial numbers intact - a tiny chrome . 22-caliber Northern Arms minirevolver that the seller notes "can fit in a belt buckle" and a compact black . 380-caliber Keltec semiautomatic pistol. The undercover - an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - reassures the man he will sell the weapons outside the city. The backup team listens for changes in the men's voices, but the tone remains cordial. At one point, the agent says, "Stay cool," and there are tense minutes until he hands over $800 for guns that retail for $500. The deal is cemented. "I'm coming out," he says at 7:51. It took all of 16 minutes and two handguns are in his jacket pockets, two fewer illegal weapons in the city, two fewer chances someone will be victimized at the point of a gun. The agent rendezvous with the team several blocks away, and there are high-fives of relief. "That's the name of the game - you want to get those guns before they hit the street," says the 32-year-old agent, grinning. Three hours after buying the guns from an apparent freelance, quick-buck trafficker, the same team buys a hulking, black Intratec Tec-9 semiautomatic pistol from an organized gun gang for $800 in Brooklyn. It's all in a night's perilous work for the task force, and the buys illustrate the diverse - and lucrative - nature of the underground market that brings in thousands of firearms from other states. Most guns out of state Because the bulk of the guns used in crimes here Continue Reading

Secretary of State John Kerry to meet Iranian counterpart at U.N. nuclear nonproliferation conference

NEW YORK — Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart will meet this week for the first time since they laid out the framework for a nuclear deal earlier this month. The State Department said Kerry and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would meet Monday in New York where both men are participating in a conference at the United Nations on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The meeting comes as nuclear negotiators try to complete a comprehensive agreement by the end of June. The State Department said that in addition to his meeting with Zarif, Kerry will also see the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan at the U.N. In early April, Iran and world powers sealed a breakthrough agreement after months of negotiations outlining limits on Iran's nuclear program to keep it from being able to produce atomic weapons. The Islamic Republic was promised an end to years of crippling economic sanctions, but only if negotiators transform the plan into a comprehensive pact. Talks between Iran and world powers in recent days have been marked by tough talk from the Iranians about the lifting of sanctions and rejecting U.S. demands for thorough monitoring to make sure Iran meets its obligations. That has raised questions whether Iran is talking tough as a negotiating technique as deadlines approach. Another uncertain factor in the talks has been Congress, which has been debating a bill that would allow it to review and potentially reject any Iran nuclear deal. Some lawmakers are contemplating suggested changes that could undermine President Obama's grudging acceptance of that congressional measure. ON A MOBILE DEVICE? WATCH THE VIDEO HERE.  Continue Reading