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Posted: 15 Mar 2012 08:56 AM PDT

Schumer urges Saudis to pump up oil production as gas prices rise

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 05:03 AM PST

As Republicans call for a domestic drilling surge to counter rising gas prices, Sen. Chuck Schumer is leading a charge on the Democratic side to tackle the country's energy woes with pumped-up production overseas.

The New York senator earlier this week wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her department to convince Saudi Arabia to increase production.

"While Iran plays games with oil production to punish the international community for holding them accountable for their rush to develop nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia has the capacity to blunt Iran's influence by increasing its production levels to capacity," Schumer said in a written statement.

Republicans, though, have been quick to assail Schumer's idea.

Both parties have stressed the importance of weaning the U.S. off foreign oil. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the latest call to seek Saudi assistance is "wrong."

"Why doesn't he start urging the president to start producing it here in America?" McCarthy said. "Not only can we produce it and lower the price -- we can create jobs, what this country desires. They are wrong."

McCarthy and other Republicans have pressed the Obama administration to make approval of the entire Canada-to-Texas Keystone pipeline a first order of business, in addition to opening up new areas of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico to drilling.

The administration, though, has staunchly defended its record on seeking energy independence. President Obama has said there is no "silver bullet" to deal with the short-term problem of rising gas prices - now at a national average $3.74 a gallon.

According to the Energy Information Administration, U.S. dependence on foreign oil has declined since its peak in 2005. The agency estimates that the U.S. now imports about 49 percent of its petroleum, with about a quarter of that coming from Canada. About 12 percent comes from Saudi Arabia.

The American Petroleum Institute, though, estimates that the percentage of petroleum imports is actually at about 57 percent as of December, slightly higher than it was a year earlier.
Regardless, Schumer's office defended the senator's call for more Saudi production.

"(Republican critics) are being obtuse," Schumer spokesman Brian Fallon said. "Nothing being proposed by the Republicans would bring relief to consumers at the pump as quickly as the Saudis stepping up exports to offset the effect created by Iran."

Schumer's letter to Clinton noted that Saudi Arabia is averaging about 10 million barrels of oil a day, short of its 12.5-million-barrel capacity.

"These lower production levels have a negative impact on global markets," he wrote.

Schumer went on to warn that Iranian threats and interventions have shaken the markets and could end up harming the American economic recovery, suggesting immediate action by the Saudis could offset that impact.

Meanwhile, other Democrats have started to call on the Obama administration to release oil from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said the country needs to "protect American consumers" from Iran's saber-rattling by releasing the oil.

The Obama administration has not said whether it would consider taking that step, though it did so last summer.

The curious case of the missing iPad 3 home button

Posted: 05 Mar 2012 02:55 AM PST

Eagle-eyed readers have been pointing out a curious omission on the imagery of Apple's iPad-themed invite that went out this morning: there's no home button in sight. The simplest explanation here is that it's a photo of (what is presumably) an iPad 2 on its side, something that's not that much of a stretch given that the iPad's been designed to work the same no matter which end is down.

Yet it's also curious given rumors of Apple ditching the home button on the iPad, an option that came to light when the company introduced multi-touch gestures to developers in iOS 4.3, and later as a feature for users in iOS 5. One of those is a full hand pinch that brings users back to the iPad's home screen, just like what would happen if you clicked on the home button.

Readers might be scratching their heads at the familiarity of this all, though. Two months before Apple took the wraps off the iPad 2, there was a story coming from Boy Genius Report saying that Apple's next iPad would be the first iOS gadget to ditch the home button for gestures, with others like the iPhone and iPod Touch to follow. That didn't happen though.

The case for phasing out a home button has become less clear though. It's a pivotal part of using Siri on the iPhone 4S, and if Siri makes its way to other iOS devices (including future iPads), it would be unusual to get rid of it. Apple has also kept the multi-touch gesture feature something that is optional, specifically to keep games and applications that make use of multi-finger gestures from being broken by the system.

On top of all this, there were also those mysterious iPad 3 home buttons that made the rounds late last year, alongside what was alleged to be the glass front of the device, which--yep--had a spot for the home button.

One thing's for sure. We'll know the full story next week, when Apple's event goes down.

Romney wins Michigan, Arizona primaries

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 11:18 PM PST

GOP presidential candidate addresses supporters after 2nd place finish in Arizona

"We didn't win by a lot, but we won by enough, and that's all that counts," an upbeat Romney said at his Michigan victory rally late Tuesday night.

The Michigan primary, along with the primary in Arizona and an upcoming contest in Washington, are the final elections before 10 states weigh in with their bountiful supply of delegates in early March on what's known as Super Tuesday.

The two-for-two performance from Romney helps him reaffirm his front-runner status among the remaining four GOP candidates, which include Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. In a reflection of the night's results, the candidate kept his victory rally remarks focused on President Obama and his own candidacy, glossing over what has become a bitterly personal contest between him and Santorum in recent weeks.

He called the election a "time for choosing" in America.

"This time we've got to get the choice right," Romney said.

Romney, in his address, touted his recently unveiled tax reform plan and like the other candidates pledged to open up more U.S. land to oil and gas drilling -- at a time when gas prices are rising and becoming a more frequent topic on the campaign trail.

"Look, when it -- when it comes to the economy, my highest priority will be worrying about your job, not worrying about how to save my own," he said in a crack at the president.

The former Massachusetts governor will take all 29 of Arizona's delegates. With 80 percent of precincts reporting in the state, Romney was leading Santorum 47-26 percent. Gingrich came in third, while Paul placed last in the state.

Unlike in Arizona, though, Romney will end up sharing Michigan's 30 delegates with Santorum in the relatively close race.

With 95 percent of precincts reporting in Michigan, Romney had 41 percent, followed by Santorum with 38 percent. Paul placed third in the state, followed by Gingrich.

The Michigan election was not originally expected to be as close as it was. For weeks, Romney seemed poised to walk away with well-timed victories in the two contests Tuesday night. Romney, while popular in Arizona, has deep roots in Michigan which were expected to play to his advantage. He was born there, his father was governor there and he won the state in the 2008 GOP presidential primary.

But Santorum's surge, and a decision by the former Pennsylvania senator to compete hard in the state, put Michigan in pure toss-up territory heading into primary day. Santorum's campaign demanded attention as he went from being sidelined at debates earlier in the year to winning the Iowa caucuses by a hair in a late call, and then picking up wins in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado all in one night.

Exit polls showed Romney and Santorum were each leading among distinct categories of voters.

Romney did well in Michigan among those who value electability and experience the most; Santorum fared best among those who most value strong moral character and true conservative values. Fortunately for Romney, those who think ability to beat Obama is the most important quality made up 33 percent of those polled -- those who wanted someone who is a true conservative made up just 15 percent.

Santorum, though, dominated among evangelical voters, picking up 50 percent of their support. Romney picked up 35 percent. In Michigan, evangelicals made up nearly four in 10 voters on Tuesday.

The closeness of the race helped fuel a tense contest between the two candidates, with each accusing the other of being a false conservative.

Romney also slammed the Santorum campaign Tuesday for putting out a robo-call in Michigan urging Democrats to vote in the GOP race for Santorum. Romney called it a "new low" for his opponent.

But Santorum defended the robo-call, and at his post-election rally put a positive spin on the night's results.

"A month ago they didn't know who we are, but they do now," Santorum said.

Santorum claimed voters are still getting to know him, but said they'll ultimately want someone like him to "take on" Obama as he blamed the current regulatory environment for hard times in America. 

"It's getting harder for people to make ends meet, because we have a government that is crushing us every single day with more taxes, more regulations, and the idea that they know better than you how to run your life," Santorum said. "That ultimately is what this race is about. It goes down to the very nature of who we are as Americans."

Gingrich and Paul barely competed in either contest being held Tuesday, and focused instead on the Super Tuesday primaries. 

At a rally in Georgia on Tuesday evening, Gingrich said voters need somebody who has "really large ideas for a really large country."

In a separate interview on Fox News, Gingrich offered a rough sketch of his comeback strategy. He said he plans to win Georgia, while doing "very well" in a handful of other Super Tuesday states, victories he projected would give him momentum to win subsequent southern contests in Mississippi and Alabama.

Paul, meanwhile, pumped up a crowd of enthusiastic supporters Tuesday evening in Virginia, where he and Romney are the only GOP candidates on the ballot. He stuck to his bread-and-butter message, railing against Washington on the issues of overseas military interventions, over-spending and over-regulation.

Paul, in an interview on Fox News, argued that he can attract independents and Democrats in a general election in a way the other Republican candidates cannot.

"Somebody like Santorum doesn't do that as well," Paul said.

Nationally, Romney entered and exited the night with the delegate lead.

Before Tuesday's contests, The Associated Press count showed Romney with 123 total delegates. Santorum followed with 72. Gingrich had 32 and Paul had 19.

The eventual nominee will need to win 1,144 delegates. There are 40 delegates up for grabs in Washington's caucuses on Saturday, and 419 on Super Tuesday.

Israelis reportedly don't plan to notify US if decision made to strike Iran

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 11:55 PM PST

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak delivered the message to a series of top-level U.S. visitors to the country, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House national security adviser and the director of national intelligence, and top U.S. lawmakers, all trying to close the trust gap between Israel and the U.S. over how to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Netanyahu delivered the same message to all the Americans who have traveled to Israel for talks, the U.S. official said.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive strategic negotiations.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment, and the Pentagon and Office of Director of National Intelligence declined to comment, as did the Israeli Embassy.
Iran claims its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but the International Atomic Energy Agency has raised alarms that its uranium enrichment program might be a precursor to building nuclear weapons. The US has said it does not know whether the government has decided to weaponize its nuclear material and put it on a missile or other delivery device.
The secret warning is likely to worry US officials and begin the high level meetings with Israel and the US far apart on how to handle Iran.
But the apparent decision to keep the U.S. in the dark also stems from Israel's frustration with the White House. After a visit by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon in particular, they became convinced the Americans would neither take military action, nor go along with unilateral action by Israel against Iran. The Israelis concluded they would have to conduct a strike unilaterally -- a point they are likely to hammer home in a series of meetings over the next two weeks in Washington, the official said.
Barak will meet with top administration and congressional officials during his visit. Netanyahu arrives in Washington for meetings with President Barack Obama next week.
The behind-the-scenes warning belies the publicly united front the two sides have attempted to craft with the shuttle diplomacy to each other's capitals.
"It's unprecedented outreach to Israel to make sure we are working together to develop the plan to deter Iran from developing a nuclear weapon," and to keep them from exporting terrorism, said Maryland Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee.
He traveled there with the intelligence committee chairman, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., to meet Israel's prime minister and defense minister, along with other officials.
"We talked about the fact that sanctions are working and they are going to get a lot more aggressive," Ruppersberger added.
They also discussed talked about presenting a unified front to Iran, to counter the media reports that the two countries are at odds over how and when to attack Iran.
"We have to learn from North Korea. All those (peace) talks and stalling and they developed a nuclear weapon," he said. "We are going to send a message, enough is enough, the stalling is over. ... All options are on the table."
"I got the sense that Israel is incredibly serious about a strike on their nuclear weapons program," Rogers told CNN on Monday. "It's their calculus that the administration ... is not serious about a real military consequence to Iran moving forward.
"They believe they're going to have to make a decision on their own, given the current posture of the United States," he added.
U.S. intelligence and special operations officials have tried to keep a dialogue going with Israel, despite the high-level impasse, sharing with them options such as allowing Israel to use U.S. bases in the region from which to launch such a strike, as a way to make sure the Israelis give the Americans a heads-up, according to the U.S. official, and a former U.S. official with knowledge of the communications
Cooperation has improved on sharing of intelligence in the region, according to one current and one former U.S. official. Israel is providing key information on Syria for instance, now that the U.S. has closed its embassy and pulled out both its diplomats and intelligence officials stationed there, the U.S. official said.

Iran says it would 'act without waiting' to protect national interests

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 10:02 PM PST

TEHRAN, Iran – Iran said it would it would "act without waiting" with regards to protecting its national interests that may be threatened by foreign countries, Reuters reported.

The report said Mohammad Hejazi, the deputy head of the Islamic Republic's armed forces, told the country's semi-official news agency news to the country's pre-emptive stance.


FILE 2007: An anti-aircraft gun position is seen at Iran's nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran.

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"We do not wait for enemies to take action against us," he said. "We will use all our means to protect our national interests."

Meanwhile, questions were raised about how much access visiting U.N. inspectors would have to the country's nuclear facilities.

The U.N. team has no plans to inspect the country's nuclear facilities and will only hold talks with officials in Tehran, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday.

The remarks by Ramin Mehmanparast cast doubt on how much the U.N. inspectors would be able to gauge whether Iran is moving ahead with its suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The two-day visit by the International Atomic Energy Agency team, which started Monday, is the second in less than a month amid growing concerns over alleged Iranian weapons experiments.

Iran denies charges by the West that it seeks atomic weapons, insisting its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes only, such as power generation.

Mehmanparast said the visiting IAEA team was made up of experts, not inspectors. He told reporters that the IAEA team was holding discussions Tuesday in Tehran to prepare the ground for future cooperation between Iran and the U.N. watchdog. He said this cooperation is at its "best" level.

"The titles of the members of the visiting delegation is not inspectors. This is an expert delegation.

The purpose of visit is not inspection," said Mehmanparast. "The aim is to negotiate about cooperation between Iran and the agency and to set a framework for a continuation of the talks."

Visits to individual Iranian nuclear sites were also not part of the IAEA earlier visit three weeks ago.

But on Monday, Iranian state radio said the U.N. team had asked to visit the Parchin military complex outside Tehran, a known conventional arms facility that has been suspected as a secret weapons-making location and also to meet Iranian nuclear scientists involved in the country's controversial program

"Iran's cooperation with the (IAEA) agency continues and is at its best level," added Mehmanparast.

The IAEA visit comes as Iran announced air defense war games to practice protecting nuclear and other sensitive sites, the latest in a series of military maneuvers viewed as a message to the West that Iran is prepared both to defend itself against an armed strike and to retaliate.

The U.S. and Israel have not ruled out military action against Iran's nuclear program.

The official news agency IRNA said the four-day air defense war games, dubbed "Sarallah," or "God's Revenge," were taking place in the south of the country and involve anti-aircraft batteries, radar, and warplanes. The drill will be held over 73,000 square miles near the port of Bushehr, the site of Iran's lone nuclear power plant.

Iran has held multiple air, land, and sea maneuvers in recent months as the tensions increase.

UN nuke agency reports failed Iran talks

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 09:55 PM PST

The U.N. nuclear agency on Wednesday acknowledged its renewed failure in trying to probe suspicions that Tehran has worked secretly on atomic arms, in a statement issued shortly after an Iranian general warned of a pre-emptive strike against any nation that threatens Iran.

The double signs of defiance reflected continued Iranian determination not to bow to demands that it defuse suspicions about its nuclear activities despite rapidly growing international sanctions imposed over its refusal to signal it is ready to compromise.

With the International Atomic Energy Agency already failing to dent Iranian stonewalling in talks that ended just three weeks ago, hopes had been muted that the latest effort would be any more successful even before the IAEA issued its statement.

The fact that the communique was issued early Wednesday, shortly after midnight and just after the IAEA experts left Tehran, reflected the urgency the agency attached to telling its side of the story.

As the two-day IAEA visit was winding down, Iranian officials sought to cast it in a positive light, with foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast telling reporters that "cooperation with the agency continues and is at its best level."

Beyond differing with that view, the language of the IAEA communique clearly -- if indirectly -- blamed Tehran for the lack of progress.

"We engaged in a constructive spirit, but no agreement was reached," it quoted IAEA chief Yukiya Amano as saying.

The communique said that on both visits, Iran did not grant requests by the IAEA mission to visit Parchin -- a military site thought to be used for explosives testing related to nuclear detonations, and cited Amano as calling this decision "disappointing."

It also said that no agreement was reached on how to begin "clarification of unresolved issues in connection with Iran's nuclear programme, particularly those relating to possible military dimensions."

The abortive trip was just the latest sign of Iranian resolve to continue hard-line resistance in the face of international pressure to curb its nuclear activities, despite sanctions and U.S. and Israeli warnings of possible last-resort military action should diplomacy fail.

Iran over the weekend announced that it will stop selling oil to Britain and France in retaliation for a planned European oil embargo this summer.

The move was mainly symbolic -- Britain and France import almost no oil from Iran -- but it raised concerns that Iran could take the same hard line with other European nations that use more Iranian crude.

The European Union buys about 18 percent of Iran's oil exports, though most of that comes from sales to just two countries: Italy and Spain.

Iran flailed out again just hours before the IAEA team left, with Gen. Mohammed Hejazi, who heads the military's logistical wing, warning that Iran will "not wait for enemies to take action against us."

"We will use all our means to protect our national interests," he told the semiofficial Fars news agency.

His comments followed Iran's announcement of war games to practice protecting nuclear and other sensitive sites, the latest military maneuver viewed as a message to the U.S. and Israel that the Islamic Republic is ready both to defend itself and to retaliate against an armed strike.

The official news agency IRNA said the four-day air defense war games, dubbed "Sarallah," or "God's Revenge," were taking place in the south of the country and involve anti-aircraft batteries, radar, and warplanes. The drill will be held over 73,000 square miles near the port of Bushehr, the site of Iran's lone nuclear power plant.

Iran has held multiple air, land, and sea maneuvers in recent months as tensions increase, while at the same time continuing to deny any interest in nuclear weapons. It asserts that the allegations of secret work on developing such arms are based on fabricated U.S. and Israeli intelligence.

But Amano, the IAEA chief, outlined his concerns in a 13-page summary late last year listing clandestine activities that he said can either be used in civilian or military nuclear programs, or "are specific to nuclear weapons."

Among these were indications that Iran has conducted high-explosives testing to set off a nuclear charge at Parchin -- the site the agency said Wednesday that the IAEA team was not allowed to visit.

Other suspicions include computer modeling of a core of a nuclear warhead and alleged preparatory work for a nuclear weapons test and development of a nuclear payload for Iran's Shahab 3 intermediate range missile -- a weapon that could reach Israel.

The IAEA team had hoped to talk to key Iranian scientists suspected of working on the alleged weapons program, break down opposition to their plans to inspect documents related to nuclear work and secure commitments from Iranian authorities to allow future visits.

Beyond denying any covert work on nuclear arms, Iran also insists concerns that it will turn its uranium enrichment program to making fissile warhead material are unfounded, saying it is enriching uranium only to make nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes such as producing energy.

But because of weapons fears, the U.N. Security Council has imposed sanctions on Tehran in a failed attempt to force it to stop enrichment.

More recently, the U.S., the European Union and other Western allies have either tightened up their own sanctions or rapidly put new penalties in place striking at the heart of Iran's oil exports lifeline and its financial system.

Tehran's expanding enrichment activities at its plant at Fordo, near the holy city of Qom, are of particular concern for Israel -- which has warned it will not let Iran develop nuclear arms -- because it is dug into a mountain and possibly resistant to attack.

In interviews late last week, diplomats told The Associated Press that Iran is poised to install thousands of new-generation centrifuges at the cavernous facility. That would mean that Iran would have the capability of enriching to weapons-grade level much more quickly and efficiently that with its present, less efficient mainstay machines.

No problem going topless: Jennifer Aniston

Posted: 19 Feb 2012 10:56 PM PST

Actress Jennifer Aniston, who appears topless in her latest project " Wanderlust", says she was unfazed about baring her chest.

The 43-year-old says she really enjoyed filming in Clarkesville, Georgia, where no one batted an eyelid about nude actors getting make-up applied to their entire body, reports

"You do get nervous when there's a day where it's oops, I'm naked. I wouldn't go topless for a cause, going to such an extreme to make a difference. But we've been among these people in this environment for almost two months. The topless scene was nothing compared to what happened in the two months prior," said Aniston.

"There was an actor naked the whole time getting his touch-ups and everybody else just having a normal conversation," she added.

Aniston says filming "Wanderlust" was as fun as shooting long-running US sitcom " Friends".

"There was a real community feeling. We were in the middle of nowhere and we were all a hop, skip and a jump from each other peppered around this lake. The farthest people were 20 minutes away. After work we had dinner together and we spent the weekends together," she said.

Santoshi at Bachchans’ door, asks for his money

Posted: 19 Feb 2012 10:53 PM PST

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And filmmaker Rajkumar Santoshi must have been in a real fix.

To recover the money that he had already given the Jr Bachchan and his wife for his film Ladies and Gentlemen, Santoshi did not rely on mere letters or even film governing bodies. Mumbai Mirror learnt that Santoshi went knocking at the Bachchan residence to get his money back.

Santoshi was spotted coming out of Jalsa last week. Inquiries revealed that Santoshi had paid Rs 25 lakh each to Abhishek and Aishwarya for his film Ladies and Gentleman. However, the film couldn't take off because of Aishwarya's pregnancy. According to a source close to the filmmaker, to recover his lost money, Santoshi went to Abhishek's bungalow and even though the Bachchans were not amused, Abhishek didn't keep him waiting and returned the signing amount.

Confirming that he has received his Rs 50 lakh signing amount for Ladies and Gentleman, Santoshi said, "But I will make a new film with them, perhaps next year."

Ladies and Gentleman was supposed to go on floors in July 2011 in which Aishwarya was supposed to play the lead. When the actress was pregnant, Santoshi had said, "The fact that Aishwarya and Abhishek are going to be parents is far more important than my film. The role will no longer suit her."

According to reports, Preity Zinta was approached to step into Aishwarya's shoes. Zinta being a good friend expressed her inclination to star opposite her Jhoom Barabar Jhoom co-star. However, due to various reasons Santoshi decided not to pursue the film altogether.

What gives Nargis Fakhri cold feet?

Posted: 19 Feb 2012 10:49 PM PST

She has been walking the ramp for years now, but even after such a vast experience model-turned-actress Nargis Fakhri gets cold feet when she sees a huge crowd sitting in front of her.

Czech Pakistani model Nargis, who was introduced to Bollywood by director Imtiaz Ali as Ranbir Kapoor's love interest in the hit movie " Rockstar", walked the ramp at the final day of Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week (WIFW) Sunday as the showstopper for designer Sakshee Pradhan. She wore shimmery trousers with a long flowy asymmetrical top.

After the show when Nargis came out for the press conference, she was heard saying: "It freaks me out to see so many people in front of me."

Walking the ramp as a showstopper is a completely different experience, Nargis told IANS, adding that "it is a very different experience."

"Words cannot describe what you feel when you get on to the runway and you transform to something else. With this outfit, I feel like a glamorous diva," she added.

Pradhan's collection was urban and chic and included outfits like gowns, shorts, shimmery trousers, tunics in nude colours.

The models symbolised urban and free-spirited women when they walked the ramp in her creation along with headphones and spectacles.

No skin tanning for Deepika Padukone

Posted: 19 Feb 2012 10:47 PM PST

The co-producer of 'Kochadaiyaan' refutes reports claiming that Deepika's skin tone will be darkened by two shades to facilitate use of motion capture technology in the movie.

Deepika Padukone has recently been in the news not just for the controversy surrounding " Race 2" but also because of the supposed preparations being taken to ensure her skin tone compatibility with Rajinikanth for "Kochadaiyaan".

Recently, reports had surfaced about how her skin tone will be darkened by two shades to facilitate the use of 'motion capture' technology (MOCAP) in Soundarya R. Ashwin's directorial debut starring R Sarathkumar, Rukmini Vijayakumar, Shobana, Nassar and Jackie Shroff, among others. While the truth is that though MOCAP is being used for the first time in India for this Tamil film, this technology needs no skin tone compatibility of the actors. The process being used doesn't need any superficial makeup trick but involves a great deal of technological precision to generate a larger-than-life image of Rajinikanth.

Says Dr Murli Manohar, the co-producer of "Kochadaiyaan", "There is no question of darkening Deepika's skin tone to assist in MOCAP. Deepika had come down to Chennai for a look ad texture test. But somehow, people got wrong ideas. We will begin shooting the film from the middle of March at the Pinewood Studios in the UK."

Sanjay's protective and caring, says Ameesha

Posted: 19 Feb 2012 10:39 PM PST

Ameesha Patel has denied rumours that her relationship with Sanjay Dutt and his wife Manyata has turned sour over her revealing outfit at Rohit Dhawan's wedding in Goa.

According to reports, the 52-year-old actor touched her inappropriately and commented on her dress.

"The relationship Sanjay, Manyata and I share is too rock solid for anyone to destroy over a costume," she said.

The actress had reportedly questioned Dutt's right to comment on her clothes.

"I'm lucky to have someone like Sanjay who is so protective and caring.

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Posted: 14 Feb 2012 04:26 AM PST

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Press Briefing on the Upcoming Visit of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping to the United States

Posted: 11 Feb 2012 11:20 AM PST

Press Briefing on the Upcoming Visit of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping to the United

Press Briefing by Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes; National Security Advisor to the Vice President Antony Blinken; Deputy National Security Advisor Michael Froman; and Senior Director for Asian Affairs Daniel Russel on the Visit of Vice President Xi Jinping of China

Via Conference Call

4:25 P.M. EST

MR. RHODES: Thanks, everybody, for joining the call. We're here to preview Vice President Xi's visit to the United States next week. We have a number of officials on the phone here -- myself; Tony Blinken, the Vice President's National Security Advisor; Mike Froman, the Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs; and Danny Russel, our Senior Director for Asian Policy here at the White House.

I'll just say a few words by way of introduction before turning it over to my colleagues to talk about the different aspects of the visit. First of all, I think it's important to put this visit in the larger context of the fact that from the beginning of this administration, the President has really made a concerted effort to focus American foreign policy and economic policy on the Asia Pacific region.

We've pursued this strategic pivot to the Asia Pacific because we're focused on increasing our presence in the fastest growing market in the world, which is absolutely critical to achieving the administration's goal of doubling U.S. exports and creating jobs back at home. We've also done so because the United States has a range of very critical security interests across the region as well. We thought that the United States was under-weighted in the Asia Pacific and needed to take steps to reestablish our presence across the region.

In doing so, we've, of course, focused on shoring up our core alliances and partnerships across the region. We've reengaged in the regional architecture of the region through organizations like the East Asia Summit, ASEAN, and APEC -- which the President recently hosted in Hawaii. The President's recent trip to the Asia Pacific I think was an opportunity for him to expand our trade relationships across the region, including to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that we're pursuing, as well as reaffirming our security commitments in the region as we ensure the United States can be a source for stability in the Asia Pacific in this century as it was in the last.

A critical part of our Asia Pacific policy is the very deep relationship and cooperation that we have with China on a range of areas. We've invested an extraordinary amount of time and energy in the U.S.-China relationship, which can be both cooperative on the range of issues where we work together and, at times, competitive on issues where we differ and where we're reaffirming the rules of the road that all nations must abide by.

And this visit is very much in the line of our Asia policy and our China policy since we took office. It's an opportunity to further get to know the likely future leader of China.

And with that, I'll turn it over to Danny Russel to say a few words about our China policy to date. And then Mike can discuss the economic components of the relationship.

MR. RUSSEL: Great. Thanks Ben. As Ben Rhodes just said, we look at this visit by Vice President Xi as part of the policy continuum, which is in part predicated on the importance of getting the U.S./China relationship right, which in turn is central to the President's Asia policy. And that involves engaging China, and especially engaging Chinese leadership in ways that increase the quality of our communication and elicit better cooperation.

The fact is, also, more broadly, that the way that we deal with China affects our own influence and leadership in Asia, because this relationship is something that the other countries in the region care a great deal about. As Ben said, there are elements of competition and elements of cooperation in the relationship. But it matters to the region and to the world how the U.S. and China deal with each other. And certainly, they value the principles of playing by the rules that the President has consistently articulated.

So in dealing with China's leaders in general, and certainly both with respect to Vice President Biden's visit in August and this visit now by the Chinese Vice President Xi, we are building up areas of cooperation, we're dealing consistently and directly with our differences, and we're managing problems. As the President has articulated frequently, we welcome the rise of China at the same time that we insist that China adhere to accepted rules and norms of regional and global economic and security behavior.

So a large part of our engagement with China and our China policy has been holding frequent high-level contacts with Chinese leaders because it allows us to speak directly and authoritatively to them about the range of bilateral and regional and global issues that are in play both in our relationship and of concern to both countries.

And so with Vice President Xi, during this visit, as the Vice President did when he traveled, we fully expect him to be discussing all the important issues in the U.S.-China relationship on the political, security, economic, human rights side.

I think the last thing I would say is that in Asia, generally, but in China certainly, relationships matter, and high-level relationships particularly matter. There are always going to be ups and downs in the relationship, but the high tempo of meetings that the President has had with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao is an important component of the Obama administration's ability to manage this extraordinarily complex relationship, and I think the reason that that engagement is important is because it allows us to set expectations to reduce misunderstandings. It helps us to build confidence and avoid surprises in either direction.

So building a relationship with the official in China who seems likely destined to be a central figure in the Chinese political system for years to come obviously is important, which is why President Obama and President Hu Jintao agreed to this pair of visits.

And for Vice President Xi to come to Washington now allows us to, in the first instance, make clear to him the strength of U.S. views on key issues, but also allows him to see the United States anew for himself and hear what Americans are concerned about and what we're thinking.

Now, in fairness, Xi Jinping isn't yet the number one official in China, so one likely wouldn't expect him to be breaking new ground. He's got a long runway ahead of him before takeoff. He's one of nine members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo. The expectation is that he may well become head of the Party in the fall, and then President of China in the spring of 2013. So it is in that respect markedly different than the head of state visit that President Hu Jintao conducted last year.

But the trip will be very important, as an opportunity, as I said, for us to learn more about him, to build on the work that we have been doing over the past three years, and the Vice President's trip and, again, to allow him to broaden his understanding of the United States. I'll stop there.

MR. FROMAN: Hi, it's Mike Froman. I'm just going to say a few words about the economic relationship, which, obviously, is one of the most important bilateral relationships we have in the world. Last year our exports of goods alone to China exceeded $100 billion, and have been growing almost twice as fast as our exports to the rest of the world. So it's a market of great potential for us, and the relationship is extremely important.

And over the last few years, we have begun to make progress on a whole range of issues between us including the exchange rate, which has been appreciating since June 2010. We helped secure China's commitment, both in the G20 and elsewhere, to reduce its current account surplus, to shift its economic growth model toward greater domestic demand. And China has agreed to remove certain discriminatory procurement policies and business innovation policies, and to strengthen their enforcement of intellectual property rights.

Having said that, there's a lot more to be done in each of these areas and in other areas, and we see the visit of Vice President Xi as an opportunity to continue that dialogue that we've had with President Hu and Premier Wen, and other Chinese senior officials, with President Obama and Vice President Biden, but also through the JCCT, the S&ED and other forums, to try and make progress on these issues -- issues like rebalancing their economy, spurring domestic demand, leveling the playing field, and enhancing their protection of IPR and U.S. technology.

As Danny and Ben has said, this is likely to be the future leader of China, and this visit gives President Obama and Vice President Biden the opportunity to share our perspective on what that relationship can be and should be based on going forward, including underscoring the importance of international rules and norms.

So it's a great -- it's a strong relationship now, it's a relationship with great potential, and we have several issues that we need to continue to work through. And this visit gives us an opportunity to continue that dialogue.

MR. BLINKEN: And this is Tony Blinken. Let me conclude by walking you through the visit, and then we can take some questions after that.

As Ben and my other colleagues mentioned, this visit is part of a continuum of high level engagements with China that date back to the start of the administration, and, in particular, President Obama's multiple meetings with President Hu and other senior leaders in China. But it is also -- it also flows from Vice President Biden's August trip to China.

As I think most of you know, when President Hu was here on his state visit, President Obama and President Hu announced that our Vice Presidents would exchange visits. And so this is now the return visit from Vice President Biden's August [trip] to China.

So, for us, this is really an opportunity to reciprocate, to build on the August visit, and to further develop our relationship with Vice President Xi. As Danny said, given the expectation that Vice President Xi will succeed President Hu, this visit is really an investment in the future of the U.S.-China relationship. Back in August, when Vice President Biden was in China, I think he set the stage for this visit in a couple of ways.

First, the amount of time that the two Vice Presidents spent together -- hours of time, I think about 10 all told, which is unusual for meetings at this level -- and that time was spent in both formal and informal settings, and we'll do the same thing on this visit next week.

Second, the nature of their conversations. In China, in part because of the amount of time they spent together and the informality, the conversations were just that: real conversations. Direct, interactive, broad-ranging. They covered the waterfront in the relationship -- economic trade issues, security, military, regional and global challenges.

So we expect that this visit will be more of the same in its tenor, style, the substance and the interactions, including, very importantly, Vice President Xi's first meeting with President Obama. So now to just walk quickly through the broad outlines of the visit.

Vice President Xi arrives on Monday, the 13th. And the first full day of the visit is Tuesday, the 14th. In the morning, we'll welcome Vice President Xi to the White House for official meetings. It will start with a meeting hosted by the Vice President and a number of senior Cabinet members and other senior officials. That will be followed by a smaller meeting with the Vice President and Vice President Xi with some senior advisors. That's about two hours of conversation and exchange. And then the Vice President will walk Vice President Xi over to the Oval Office for his meeting with President Obama.

After the White House meetings, the Vice President and Secretary Clinton will host lunch for Vice President Xi and the Chinese delegation at the State Department. And both Secretary Clinton and Vice President Biden as well as Vice President Xi will make brief remarks at the top of that lunch. We'll put out the guest list next week, but it includes a broad cross-section of prominent Americans from government, business, NGOs, academia, and the arts.

After lunch, Vice President Xi will visit the Pentagon, where he will be hosted by Secretary Panetta and Chairman Dempsey. As I think many of you know, Xi is the vice chair currently of China's Central Military Commission in addition to his role as a political leader. And we think this is a very important opportunity to engage Vice President Xi with our military leaders and to discuss the importance of our military-to-military relationship.

After that meeting at the Pentagon, Vice President Biden will meet up with Vice President Xi again, and together they will take part in a roundtable discussion with American and Chinese business leaders at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This is something we did in Beijing in August, and we thought it was a very good opportunity for an in-depth discussion of economic trade issues, including areas of real challenge and friction. It's important for the Chinese leadership to hear directly from our business community both the promise but also the problems of doing business with China, and also for them to hear from us about the critical importance of the level playing field that Mike Froman alluded to. And we'll put out the list of participants early next week as well.

Finally, the last event of Tuesday, the 14th, is a dinner hosted by Vice President Biden and Dr. Biden at their official residence, the Naval Observatory -- will host the Chinese delegation and their American counterparts.

Then we get to Wednesday, the 15th. Vice President Xi is still in Washington for the first part of the day. He's going up to the Hill. He'll have meetings both on the Senate and House side. He's hosted by the Senate leadership on the Senate side, and then I think Speaker Boehner is hosting him on the House side. He then delivers a speech and that's probably around noon at his hotel with a large audience. And then he's off to Iowa.

Why Iowa? Well, when Vice President Xi was a government official back in the 1980s, he visited the United States -- this is 1985 -- for the first time as part of a group focused on agricultural issues, and he went to Iowa, where he spent a few days. And it's our understanding that he's very much looking forward to a return visit.

Secretary Vilsack will travel to Iowa for this part of the visit, as well as our ambassador to China, Ambassador Locke. They'll be part of the U.S. delegation accompanying Vice President Xi.

He's going to stop first in Muscatine to see some of the people he met with back on that trip in 1985. He's also going to be hosted for dinner by Governor Branstad, and he actually met the governor also back on that first trip in 1985 -- and that's going to take place in Des Moines.

On the 16th -- we're now on Thursday -- Vice President Xi is still in Iowa. Secretary Vilsack is going to host the American and Chinese officials, including Vice President Xi and private sector representatives for the U.S.-China Agriculture Symposium. That will be in Des Moines. This is part of our regular exchange on agricultural issues. And Iowa, of course, is a very fitting place to build on those discussions. We understand that Vice President Xi may also pay a brief visit to a farm before departing Iowa for Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles, on Friday, the 17th, Vice President Biden will meet up with Vice President Xi. When we were in China in August, we were in Beijing, but then we went out to Chengdu in China's southwest, and Vice President Xi was gracious enough to meet us there and spend a considerable amount of time with us, so we're reciprocating for that by meeting him out in Los Angeles.

We'll have more details to share on this part of the trip early next week. Let me just give you very quickly a couple of highlights. Among other things, they will visit together a school and meet with students who are studying Chinese. The school visit will highlight what we think is a very important element of U.S.-China relations, that is people-to-people ties, especially through education. It's part of our overall effort through what we call the 100,000 Strong Initiative to increase the number and diversify the composition of American students studying in China.

They'll take part in a lunch hosted by the mayor of Los Angeles, Villaraigosa, also with Governor Brown of California, and leaders of the business community, many of whom are engaged in trade with China. And we expect Vice President Biden and Vice President Xi, for that matter, will have an opportunity to speak to economic and trade issues at that event.

And there will also be a small private dinner hosted by Vice President Biden that will allow them to continue their conversation in an informal setting. As I said, there may be a few more things. We'll fill in the details early next week.

And with that, let me stop and let you start with any questions. Thank you.

MR. RHODES: We're happy to take your questions now.

Q Thank you. I have two questions, actually. One is, should we look at this visit as one that's likely to produce so-called deliverables of any significant sort? If so, what types would they be? Or is this more important as a relationship-building visit? And secondly, could you talk a little bit about some of the protocols that are particular to a visit from a Chinese leader and how you go about making sure that this visit is successful for him?

MR. RHODES: Thanks, Laura. It's Ben. I'll say a few words and then my colleagues will want to join in.

I think we see this visit as -- on your first question -- we see this visit as a part of an ongoing series of consultations that we have with the Chinese on a host of issues. And we very regularly raise with them in a candid way both issues where we cooperate effectively and, as you heard Mike say, we've made good progress in growing U.S. exports to China, delivering results that directly benefit American businesses and workers. But we've also raised very directly instances where we believe that China is not living up to the rules of the road that all nations need to with regard to business practices. And to that extent, most recently you heard the President speak in the State of the Union about a new trade enforcement unit that's going to investigate unfair trade practices and stand up for U.S. businesses and workers.

We're consistently raising the issue of currency, which has appreciated steadily, though not necessarily at the rate that we've proposed.

So I think the visit will address the broad waterfront of issues that we pursue with the Chinese. However, it's worth keeping in mind that Vice President Xi is not the decision-maker in China. He's not the head of state at this point; he's the future leader. So, again, it's mostly an investment in relationship-building, even as it's also an opportunity to continue to press the items on our agenda with the Chinese.

To your second question, I think there may be better experts than me on the line. What I'd say is that one of the things that we're very cognizant of is reciprocating the hospitality that was shown to Vice President Biden on his visit to China, so I think this visit in many ways mirrors the types of meetings that Vice President Biden had when he was in China, and the types of outreach that Vice President Biden was able to do to the Chinese people while he was in China.

But I don't know if any of my colleagues want to chime in on either question.

MR. BLINKEN: Let me just say -- this is Tony. I think Ben covered it very, very well, but this is first and foremost an opportunity to build a relationship with someone who is likely to succeed President Hu and, as we said earlier, is really an investment in the future of the U.S.-China relationship.

That was in many ways the catalyst for President Obama and President Hu recommending that this exchange of visits between the Vice Presidents take place -- a very good way for Vice President Xi to learn more about the United States and our perspective on issues, and also an opportunity for us to get to know him. And as Ben also said in terms of the protocol aspects, that's exactly right, Vice President Biden was received extremely graciously by the Chinese when we were there in August, and Vice President Xi went out of his way to spend true quality time with Vice President Biden, and we want to reciprocate that.

That said, of course, I think that we would say that we do our utmost on the protocol of these visits for any foreign leader visiting the United States and try to make sure that they are received in the appropriate manner.

MR. RUSSEL: This is Danny Russel. Let me just add to that if I can, that, as Tony said, we, of course, are culturally sensitive to all our leaders, and we're attentive in this case, of course, to the protocol and to the dignity of a senior Chinese official. And while we are reciprocating the visit, this is America and we're doing things American-style, and that means we're striking a good balance between the formal and the informal, but also a good balance between the protocol and the substance.

So we are making available to Vice President Xi time to talk with, of course, the Vice President, as Tony described, with the President of the United States, with various Cabinet Secretaries -- with the Secretary of State, with the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon -- with business leaders, with governors and so on. So I think we are -- beyond protocol, we are doing Vice President Xi and China the courtesy of taking them seriously on substance.

Q Thanks for doing the call. I had a few, but I'll be concise. Danny, can you talk about if you're going to do any real asks from China through Xi on Iran, Syria or North Korea? Ben, how do you handle the optics of the domestic politics? Mike, any minor or quasi-trade announcements in Iowa and LA? And, Tony, what is Xi like from Biden's meetings with him, his personality, his charisma?

MR. RHODES: Well, I'll go first on the second question. I think the President spoke pretty clearly in his trip to the Asia Pacific about the fact that the U.S.-China relationship depends on broad support in the United States for the relationship, and that for many years under both parties, there's been a belief that effective cooperation with China was necessary to advance U.S. economic growth, as well as to deal with global security issues.

However, there have also, of course, been differences. And what you heard the President say on his trip to the Asia Pacific is that China needs to recognize that it needs to continue to take steps to live up to the rules of the road that all nations abide by, particularly economically, in order to maintain support for the relationship in the United States -- that you've had people raise concerns on both sides of the political spectrum and among both businesses and workers in the United States about, for instance, unfair trade practices on issues related to intellectual property, on issues related to state-owned enterprises and indigenous innovation and, of course, on currency.

And I think that's the core point here is that there is a broad belief in the United States that China needs to live up to the rules of the road; that we don't apply a different standard to China, we just apply one standard to all nations. And that's why the President, in addition to effectively promoting U.S. businesses and workers and exporters -- which have gone up -- to China, has also made clear that he'll pursue U.S. economic interests in a very direct way, whether it's setting up a new trade enforcement unit, as he announced in the State of the Union, or whether it's, again, continuing to engage directly with China on the issue of appreciating its currency.

So that's I think the approach we take, which is that China hears directly from us at the highest levels what the agenda is that we want to advance between our two countries, what the interests are for U.S. workers and businesses, and we very much want to make progress on that agenda.

Related to that is the security ones. And Danny will want to weigh in on this, but I think we've had an ongoing dialogue with the Chinese on Iran, for instance. The Chinese joined us in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929 that applied unprecedented multilateral sanctions on the Iranian regime. Since then we've built up from those sanctions to apply really unprecedented pressure on the Iranian government. We believe the Chinese share our view that Iran should not be permitted to develop a nuclear weapon, and that Iran needs to live up to its international obligations.

We've consistently addressed with the Chinese the importance of not backfilling the sanctions that are in place, and the Chinese have not done that. And that's allowed us to maintain significant international pressure. Similarly, we've also pressed the Chinese on continuing to vigorously enforce sanctions. So that's the type of dialogue we've had with China, and I think it's enabled, frankly, the very robust, international pressure that's on the Iranian government.

Whereas with Syria, we, of course, believe that the Chinese and the Russians made the wrong decision in vetoing the recent U.N. Security Council resolution, frankly, because Bashar Assad is brutalizing his own people, and it's time for there to be peaceful transition in Syria in which he steps aside and allows the Syrian people to determine their own future.

We'll continue to pursue that course of action. We'll continue to work with all nations [that] will join us in that effort -- European allies, Turkey, the Arab League, many other nations from different parts of the world who have joined us in calling for Assad to go. And we'll continue to press that with the Chinese because, frankly, it's not, we believe, the right bet to believe that Assad is going to brutalize his people into submission. We believe Assad's days are numbered and that there needs to be a transition in Syria.

But I don't know if any -- there were a number of questions there, so anyone want to weigh in on any of those questions? Danny, you got the first one. Is there anything you want to add, Danny?

MR. RUSSEL: I would add that the visit of Vice President Xi gives us a chance to exchange views on the strategic issues and our respective strategic interests. And so, for a number of reasons, including, as we pointed out earlier, the fact that he is not the head of state but that he is intimately, closely involved in Chinese policy-making, I think it gives us a chance to get past the syndrome of doing talking points that diplomats frequently engage in, and work over the course of the visit to get a better understanding of each other; to identify the significant areas of convergence that both the U.S. and China have regarding most of these issues; and certainly, in the case of Iran and North Korea, to discuss the implications in terms of our concerns -- our shared concerns about nonproliferation and about stability.

MR. BLINKEN: Margaret, you asked what is Xi like, and the answer is, you'll have a tremendous opportunity to find out directly. Because when he's here, he'll be making a number of public appearances. He'll be engaging with a very broad cross-section of Americans here, in Iowa and out in California. And so I'm sure that there will be a lot of feedback from those interactions.

I would only say that, as you know, we spent a lot of time with Vice President Xi in China in August. And he certainly comes across as someone who is extremely well prepared and thoughtful and very engaged. And as I said earlier, we had a real -- the two Vice Presidents had a real conversation; it wasn't -- it got beyond the exchange of talking points and into a real exchange, and we expect more of the same.

I think the other interesting thing about -- well, there are many interesting things about Vice President Xi, but one of the other interesting things is that he spent a good part of his career working at the local and provincial levels. He has, from that, obviously, a deep knowledge of many domestic issues and concerns in China, as well as international ones. So he seems extremely well rounded in the many issues he will have to deal with as President.

MR. FROMAN: Well -- and I can't believe you're going to get four answers to four separate questions, so I'll keep mine short, which is simply that this trip will give a good opportunity for Vice President Xi to meet with and get feedback from a broad range of American businesses in the cultural sector, industrial sector and the service sector, including about the issues of concern that they have about their relationship and leveling the playing field.

And it's been said it's an issue that President Obama and Vice President Biden have been pursuing with their counterparts for some time, and it's an area where we're taking action, including the setting up of this trade enforcement center, and encouraging Ex-Im to match Chinese export credit practices that create an unlevel playing field, to try and address those issues.

So it will be an opportunity for them to have that kind of interaction here and across those visits in Iowa and Los Angeles.

Q Thanks a lot for doing this call. Can you talk about what the transition to his leadership might represent in terms of any kind of opportunity or a chance to improve or reset this relationship? And the other part of this is, is there going to be any kind of explanation if he inquires about the pivot language of the U.S. military and, if not China, what that has to -- what the implications of that are for Asia and the reasoning behind that?

MR. RUSSEL: I'll start, Ben, unless you wanted to.

MR. RHODES: No, go ahead, Dan.

MR. RUSSEL: Just two points. One is, I think it's premature to start speculating on the implications of a transition in China that is -- has not actually begun yet, is only in its preliminary stages. And it is very much the case -- although I'm not going to read out meetings that haven't occurred yet -- but it's very much our expectation that the discussions will cover the Asia Pacific region, our respective interests and our respective strategies, because this is an issue that we regularly discuss. It's something that President Obama took up with President Hu Jintao at APEC in their meetings in Honolulu in November, as well as with Premier Wen Jiabao during the meeting that they had on the margins of the East Asia Summit.

The U.S. and China have in fact numerous dialogues on various aspects of the Asia Pacific at the diplomatic level as well as in other parts of the government. And certainly the visit by Vice President Xi Jinping to the Pentagon, which is very significant, provides further opportunity to talk through U.S. strategy with respect to posture as well as to answer any questions that Xi may have.

Q Yes, thanks for doing this call. I just wanted to ask, on the issue of human rights, that's something that's obviously, as you know, been a thorn in relations before. In light of the developments in China since last year, and specifically the developments in the Tibetan areas now, how significant do you think that's going to factor in the discussions? Obviously, you've said that you want to have a good atmosphere with Vice President Xi. Would that mean that perhaps this wouldn't be emphasized as much as it would be a head of state, or will these issues still be raised quite clearly?

MR. RHODES: Danny or Tony, if you guys want to take that.

MR. RUSSEL: Well, let me start. We don't sacrifice the important issues for the sake of having a comfortable visit, nor do we shy away from candid private conversations with the Chinese on human rights.

We routinely, regularly, invariably raise our concerns about the human rights situation in China, and about China's adherence to global human rights norms. This is a central part of our agenda. And as we indicated earlier, part of our goal with respect to this visit is for Vice President Xi to understand the issues that are important to us, and that includes issues like the situation in Tibet, like freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and so on.

It is an area of grave concern for us to witness the increase of tensions in Tibet and -- we are watching this, tracking this very closely with real concern. The U.S. has spoken out about it, and we use every opportunity to encourage the Chinese officials and leaders to exercise real restraint, and to safeguard the human rights and the fundamental freedoms of all of China's citizens, including in Tibet. This is an important part of our agenda, and there's no reason that the conversations with Vice President Xi would depart from our longstanding practices.

MR. BLINKEN: This is Tony. I would only add to what Danny said, that, indeed, in their first lengthy conversations in Beijing during the August trip, Vice President Biden engaged Vice President Xi in a very substantive and detailed discussion of human rights issues. And then, speaking at Sichuan University in Chengdu, he devoted nearly a third of his speech to human rights issues.

So it was both in private, in the meetings with the Vice President and other senior officials, and in public. And he made the case that we've made repeatedly, starting with President Obama and then every other senior official, that there is, of course, from our perspective, a universal moral imperative to this question. It's not about American rights or Western rights; these are human rights and universal values.

But we've also made the case, including in conversations with the Chinese, that deepening China's political reforms is profoundly in their own interest, especially given the close connection between openness, human rights and China's own goal of creating a truly innovative society. It's very hard to do that, it's very hard to move from making things to actually creating things, absent the kind of openness and freedom to question, to criticize, to think, that are the foundations of our own system.

And so there's a profound self-interest as well as a moral interest at play here. And I expect that those conversations will continue.

MR. RHODES: Okay, we'll take a couple more questions, given that I think we got credit for all four of the ones earlier.

Q Hi, Dan and all. Thanks for doing this. I wanted to ask, apparently we understand that in Vice President Biden's discussions with the human rights representatives the other day -- at least we're told by one of them that he gave a pledge to kind of give human rights a more essential -- its essential public place in conversations. Is that the case? I understand there won't be any specific cases raised here; he's obviously not yet the President of China. So at what point will this kind of conversation take place do you think?

MR. BLINKEN: This is Tony, again. I think it would be hard to give it a more central place because, as Ben said, and as I alluded to a moment ago, it already has that very central place in our engagement. And I think I described a little of what took place when Vice President Biden was in China, both in his conversations with Vice President Xi and in his public remarks. So I don't think there's going to be any deviation from the norm, because it already is the norm. And I obviously can't comment on private conversations between the Vice President and some of our guests.

MR. RHODES: The only thing I'd add -- this is Ben -- is, in addition to raising these issues, I think one of the most powerful message associated with universal rights I think is the way in which the United States reflects them. And this is obviously an important opportunity for Vice President Xi to get to know not just Washington, but to travel to Iowa and to the West Coast. And in each place I think he'll see very vibrant communities; places that benefit from diversity, and places that demonstrate that America lives the values that we stand up for around the world, whether that's, again, the universal values that all people have, all people deserve in terms of their rights, or whether it's a unique situation such as the Tibetan people's desire to have their cultural and linguistic and religious freedom.

We believe that these are something -- these are things that we raise in discussions, and they're also things that America demonstrates every day in communities around the country, like the ones that Vice President Xi will be visiting. So I think that's another element of how we stand up for our values. It's how we live by them as well.

Q Hi, thanks for doing the call. It's been about 10 years since Hu Jintao came to the U.S. before he took the leadership, and apart from the obvious that the relationship has gotten more complex and more important globally, as you mentioned, I wonder if you could talk about what you see as major differences between then and now in terms of the context and the relations of the two countries, as well as how each of the countries stand.

And, Mike, if I could ask you a question about American businesses in China. Some people have said their unhappiness with the way things are going, particularly with -- innovation, that their unhappiness is worse than two or three decades, and I wonder if you agree with that, and how you would address that? Thanks.

MR. FROMAN: I'm happy to take that one first and leave the other one to one of my colleagues.

I think historically the U.S. business community has been among the strongest proponents of a cooperative relationship between the U.S. and China, but I think your question is accurate that over the last few years there's been increasing frustration by the business community about practices that China engages in that they view as being mercantilist and creating an unlevel playing field. And that includes subsidies for their own national champions, as well as policies designed to compel the transfer of technology and their violation of intellectual property rights.

So we certainly hear a much louder chorus of complaints from American companies about business with China, and that's been one of the inputs into our dialogue with China about leveling the playing field, dealing with indigenous innovation, strengthening intellectual property rights protection and living by international rules and norms, as President Obama discussed with President Hu and Premier Wen last year in Asia.

So I think there is a recent development there, and I think it's one reason by the American people -- businesspeople, workers, farmers, ranchers -- are so concerned that we ensure that this relationship works to our mutual benefit, and that we're able to encourage China to abide by international rules and norms.

MR. RUSSEL: And, Mike, this is Danny Russel. If I could get at Don's question, which is maybe a little more political science than I'm used to, about the differences with respect to the U.S.-China relationship over the last 10 years.

The first thing I would say is President Obama came to office convinced, as Ben said earlier, that the U.S. was insufficiently invested in Asia. And as a Pacific nation, it was very much in our interest to better harness ourselves to this areas of dynamic growth, tremendous importance to the future of the United States. And over the past three years, as we've laid out and as you're familiar, we've invested heavily in achieving a better balance both with respect to our global strategic interest and within the Asia Pacific region as well.

On the China side, there have been very significant changes. China is very much a global actor, and as a result, the relationship between the United States and China is increasingly engaged in addressing global challenges. And that points directly to I think the central aspect of our efforts, which is to find ways to cooperate on issues of mutual concern, bilateral, regional and international, because our cooperation has a direct impact not only on the United States and on China, but on the rest of the world.

In addition to the fact that China's economy itself has grown, and that U.S.-China trade has grown, and China, of course, has joined the World Trade Organization and so forth in the interim, China itself has engaged more actively in diplomatic, political, economic and trade relationships with its neighbors and with other parts of the world. So there is increased overlap in terms of areas of interest whether it is within the Asia Pacific region, or whether it's in other continents, Africa, in the Middle East, in Latin America.

But by the same token, there's also an increased impetus towards and value of cooperation, and that cooperation requires good communication, a breadth of interaction and high-level engagement. And as a direct result of that, President Obama has met with President Hu Jintao now more than 10 times, met with Premier Wen Jiabao more than four times. As Tony described, the Vice President has had very extensive engagement with Vice President Xi. And the upcoming meeting we think is an opportunity to continue to chart out and build a relationship that will benefit both countries and the world over the next 10 years.

MR. RHODES: Okay, well, thanks, everybody for joining the call. Like we said, we'll keep you abreast of any scheduling updates, and we will look forward to a busy week of events as Vice President Xi gets here Monday.

Film Director Raj Kanwar passes away

Posted: 03 Feb 2012 04:23 AM PST

Ace filmmaker Raj Kanwar, known for hit films like Jeet, Deewana passed away in Singapore

Filmmaker Raj Kanwar who reigned in the 90's for making hit films, love triangles in particular passed away in Singapore.

It has been reported that the filmmaker expired after he went through a kidney transplant.

Kanwar's known for making films like Jeet, Laadla, Deewana, Judaai. 'Sadiyaan' was the last film he made. It released in 2010.

Bollywood is mourning the death of the prolific filmmaker.

Shah Rukh Khan who worked in his 'Deewana' offered condolences by saying, "My friend raj kanwarji passed away. The impermanence of life, makes one feel so helpless. May his soul rest in peace. Aisi Deewangi..Miss you sir

Two US tourists 'kidnapped in Egypt's Sinai peninsula'

Posted: 03 Feb 2012 04:15 AM PST

Gunmen in Egypt's Sinai peninsula have kidnapped two American women tourists, Egyptian security sources say.

They were travelling in a small bus with three other tourists from Saint Catherine's monastery on Mount Sinai to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh when it was stopped by gunmen.

One official told the Reuters news agency that the men wanted a ransom.

Bedouins kidnapped 25 Chinese workers in northern Sinai earlier this week, but released them unharmed after a day.

Egypt's 'worst' soccer disaster

Posted: 02 Feb 2012 08:02 AM PST

At least 73 people were killed and 1,000 injured in a riot at a soccer match in the Egyptian city of Port Said, the worst disaster in the country's soccer history. The game was between Al Ahli, one of Egypt's most successful clubs, and al-Masry, a team based in Port Said.

Wasted my life on ex-boyfriend: Gomez

Posted: 02 Feb 2012 07:56 AM PST

Singer-actress Selena Gomez says she "completely wasted" a year of her life on an ex-boyfriend.

The 19-year-old, who has previously dated Taylor Lautner and Nick Jonas, didn't enjoy being in a former relationship which meant she had to "hide everything" and do the "craziest things".

"I was in a relationship previously where I had to hide everything and it wasn't my choice," quoted Gomez as saying.

"I had to go through different exits and take separate cars and do the craziest things, and it just really wasn't worth it. It was like a year of my life completely wasted," she added.

Ranbir Kapoor's loss, Prateik Babbar's gain

Posted: 02 Feb 2012 07:52 AM PST

Everyone is talking about the sizzling chemistry between Liverpool lass Amy Jackson and Mumbai ka chokra Prateik Babbar.

Unlike other fake 'encounter specialists' which emerge everytime a new pair is introduced in a love story, the Amy-Prateik chemistry in 'Ek Deewana Tha' is for real.

The entire unit vouches for the twosome being absolutely smitten with one another. Do we see Smita Patil smiling down from heaven?

Says director Gautham Menon, "Our film is getting a positive vibe. People are saying the lead pair is looking good together."

And to think it could have been Ranbir Kapoor romancing Amy in 'Ek Deewana Tha'. Gautham Menon is one of Tamil cinema's leading lights of filmmaking. But in Mumbai Ranbir Kapoor doesn't know him, nor wish to work with him.

Apparently when Menon wished to approach Ranbir for his new Hindi film, the star refused to meet him.

Embarrassed to talk about his failure to connect with the Kapoor star the hurt and angry Menon, who has worked with the likes of Kamal Haasan, Madhavan and Suriya in the South, finally admits, "Ranbir was my first choice for 'Ek Deewana Tha'. I tried to get in touch in with. Forget about meeting Ranbir. I couldn't even meet his secretary. Yes, even the secretary refused to meet me."

This is when Gautham turned away, his pride and dignity seriously challenged, to sign Prateik for the film.

Says Menon, "One reason why I've taken 11 years to make my second Hindi film is because I am comfortable working with the stars in the South, as they are with me. In Mumbai, I feel like a stranger. In fact I've had a number of offers to direct Hindi films. Vipul Shah wanted me to do the Hindi adaptation of my film 'Kaakha Kaakha'. I declined the offer. Nishikant Kamat directed the remake 'Force'."

Now after his bitter experience with Ranbir Menon has become even more wary of Mumbai and its stars.

Menon can take solace in company. Increasingly a wide spectrum of director are complaining about how inaccessible Ranbir has become.

Sudhir Mishra wanted to cast Ranbir in 'Driver' . He's been waiting for months for a meeting. Raj Kumar Santoshi wanted to do a sequel to 'Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani' with Ranbir. Katrina Kaif was willing. Ranbir was not.

Incidentally, Ranbir loves romancing half-foreigners on screen: Katrina Kaif in 'Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani', Sarah Thompson in 'Raajneet' and Nargis Fakhri in 'Rockstar'.

February engagement for Kareena?

Posted: 02 Feb 2012 07:45 AM PST

Speculation over Kareena's impending marriage with Saif continues...

Wedding of Bollywood actors is news of public interest and thus an overdose of speculation is guaranteed.

News of Rani Mukherjee getting married every six months, John Abraham getting secretly married every now and then is common.

Kareena-Saif marriage is another 'popular news'.

Its now said, the two are planning to get engaged on Feb 10. The day will also see the release of Kareena's film 'Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu'.

When we met up Kareena a few days back, she told, "Yes we are definitely thinking of marriage but it all depends on our film commitments. I am busy promoting Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, then Agent Vinod and also shooting for Heroine. So all depends on when's the right time."

The actress also denied of Ritu Kumar designing her wedding outfit. "That's not true" she said.

The wedding news has put both Saif and Kareena in spotlight. "I am only asked about the marriage. No one seems interested in our films anymore" laughed Kareena.

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Posted: 01 Feb 2012 05:54 AM PST

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Pakistan dismisses Nato report on Afghan Taliban links

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 04:34 AM PST

Pakistan's foreign minister says her country has no hidden agenda in Afghanistan, in response to a leaked secret Nato report on Islamabad's links to the Afghan Taliban.

Speaking to reporters in Kabul with her Afghan counterpart, Hina Rabbani Khar said allegations in the report were "old wine in an even older bottle".

The report says the Taliban are helped by Pakistani security services.

It claims the insurgents remain defiant and have wide support among Afghans.

The BBC's Quentin Sommerville in Kabul says the report is painful reading for international forces and the Afghan government.

It follows a denial by the Taliban that they planned to hold preliminary talks with the Afghan government in Saudi Arabia.

"There is no truth in these published reports saying that the delegation of the Islamic Emirate [Taliban] would meet representatives of the Karzai government in Saudi Arabia in the near future," said spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement.
'Blame game'
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image of Aleem Maqbool Aleem Maqbool BBC News, Islamabad

Pakistan is finding it harder to convince outsiders it is not helping the Afghan Taliban and giving safe haven to its leaders.

In effect, the accusation is that Pakistan is betting on the insurgents being the strongest power in Afghanistan and most likely ally once Nato leaves - something Islamabad of course strenuously denies.

The leak of this report comes at a particularly sensitive time. Pakistan is already blocking the supply route to coalition forces in Afghanistan, following a Nato attack in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed.

With increasing pressure being heaped on Pakistan, public support here for formally ending co-operation with the West simply grows.

Ms Khar said the leaked Nato report could be dismissed.

"We can disregard this as a potentially strategic leak," she said, adding that Pakistan and Afghanistan should stop blaming each other for cross-border problems.

"These claims have been made many, many times. Pakistan stands behind any initiative that the Afghan government takes for peace," she said.

"We consider any threat to Afghanistan's independence and sovereignty as a threat to Pakistan's existence."

Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasoul said there could be no peace without regional co-operation.

"Pakistan plays a key role in Afghan peace process. I hope Ms Rabbani's visit is the beginning of a good relationship between our two countries," he said.

However, our correspondent says the report - on the state of the Taliban - fully exposes for the first time the relationship between Pakistan's ISI intelligence service and the Taliban.

The report is based on material from 27,000 interrogations with more than 4,000 captured Taliban, al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters and civilians.

It notes: "Pakistan's manipulation of the Taliban senior leadership continues unabatedly."

It says Pakistan is aware of the locations of senior Taliban leaders.

"Senior Taliban representatives, such as Nasiruddin Haqqani, maintain residences in the immediate vicinity of ISI headquarters in Islamabad," it said.

And the Taliban's second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was captured in a raid on a madrassa near Karachi nearly two years ago.

"We have long been concerned about ties between elements of the ISI and some extremist networks," said Pentagon spokesman Capt John Kirby, adding that the US defence department had not yet seen the report.
Front page of the report The report comes at a sensitive time in Pakistan-Nato relations

Adm Mike Mullen, former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has explained Pakistan's closeness to the Afghan Taliban by pointing to infiltration of its army by the religious right. But he also says it is part of a grand strategy to increase leverage in the region via "proxies".

Despite Nato's strategy to secure the country with Afghan forces, the document details widespread collaboration between the insurgents and Afghan police and military.

Lt Col Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan, said the document was "a classified internal document that is not meant to be released to the public".

"It is a matter of policy that documents that are classified are not discussed under any circumstances," he said.

The report also depicts the depth of continuing support among the Afghan population for the Taliban, our correspondent says.

It paints a picture of al-Qaeda's influence diminishing but the Taliban's influence increasing, he adds.

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In a damning conclusion, the document says that in the last year there has been unprecedented interest, even from members of the Afghan government, in joining the Taliban cause.

It adds: "Afghan civilians frequently prefer Taliban governance over the Afghan government, usually as a result of government corruption."

The report has evidence that the Taliban are deliberately hastening Nato's withdrawal by reducing their attacks in some areas and then initiating a comprehensive hearts-and-minds campaign.