Cuba, US to open embassies on/after July 20 at end of 50-year stalemate

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The US and Cuba could open embassies in each other’s capitals as early as July 20, Cuba’s foreign ministry has said, citing a letter from US President Barack Obama. The message comes following the decision to restore diplomatic relations.

The United States severed political ties with Cuba in 1961 after imposing an embargo on the island nation just 90 miles south of Florida a year before. Tourism to Cuba for Americans has been banned since that time. Though Cuba is still under communist rule, the Cold War mentality that has defined the relationship between the two countries over the last 50 years at last seems to be thawing.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, chief of the US interests section in Cuba, met Cuba’s Interim Foreign Minister Marcelino Medina in Havana on Wednesday and delivered a letter from President Obama to Cuban President Raul Castro, which said the embassies will open on or after July 20.

Since the late 1970s, Cuba and the United States have had a type of diplomatic mission in each other’s capitals called “interests,” which do not have the same status as full embassies.

Speaking in the White House’s Rose Garden, shortly after 11 am local time, President Obama said the US policy of sanctions and isolation has not helped the cause of democracy in Cuba.

We don’t have to be imprisoned by the past. If something isn’t working, we can and will change,” Obama said. “The best way for America to support our values is through engagement.”

Washington severed relations with Cuba after revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro overthrew the US-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Noting that he was born in 1961, Obama quoted President Eisenhower’s hope that ties with Cuba would be renewed someday.

It took a while, but I believe that time has come,” Obama said.

This comes as a major step in the Obama administration’s push for a full diplomatic thaw, which began with the US and Cuba announcing on December 17, 2014 that they would move to mend previously hostile relations. Since then, the United States has loosened travel restrictions and allowed some new economic ties.

Obama met with Raul Castro during a summit meeting in Panama in April, the first time that the leaders of their respective countries had met in more than 50 years.

In June, the US removed Cuba from its “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list, which was a major obstacle in way of the renewal of cordial relations.

The Obama administration has long supported engagement with the island country, and insists that the embargo has been ineffective.


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Extremists up the barbarity as Americans focus on domestic strife

by STEVE WATSON  JUNE 23, 2015


As the US focuses on important domestic strife, ISIS has popped back up from under the rock where it dwells to divert the attention of anyone who might have stopped thinking about giving all their rights away in exchange for security.

Three new sickening execution videos were released by the group.

All three are once again of a high production quality, and are clearly designed to raise the bar on the barbarity the group has previously displayed.

One segment shows a group of men literally having their heads blown clean off with explosives.

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A group of seven men were made to kneel as explosives were wound around their necks and detonated in order to decapitate them.

In another segment, four men are seen locked in a car which is subsequently blown up by a militant using a rocket-propelled grenade.

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And a third segment shows five more men locked in a cage and lowered into a swimming pool. The militants had fitted underwater cameras in the pool to recorded the men drowning.

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The executions are said to have all taken place in Iraq’s Nineveh province. The 16 victims are spies, according to the terror group. The men were forced to ‘confess’ to their ‘crimes’ before being killed.

Charlie Winter, a researcher at counter extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation said that ISIS “knows that by producing appalling content like this it will scare people and get coverage on Western media outlets…they will have made this video fully anticipating the storm that would follow.”

ISIS has recently faced set backs in Syria as Kurdish fighters and their allies have taken back a military base and managing to advance to within 30 miles of Raqqa, where the core of the extremist group is based. A pushback has also weakened the group in Iraq and Libya, according to reports.

Meanwhile, the US continues to lead two separate international coalitions in carrying out air strikes in both Iraq and Syria. Kurds and Iranian-backed militias as well as government troops are conducting ground battles against the group.

Moscow summons Belgian envoy over seizure of state assets, threatens retaliation

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Moscow has summoned the Belgian ambassador to lodge a protest over the freeze of its state assets. It said that Moscow may consider retaliatory measures against Belgium if the assets are seized, including against Belgium diplomatic property in Russia.

This comes after Belgian bailiffs notified Belgian, Russian and other international companies of the seizure of assets belonging to Russia at the behest of the Isle of Man-based Yukos Universal Limited, a subsidiary of the Russian energy giant, which was dismantled in 2007. They have given the target companies a fortnight to comply.

READ MORE: Russian companies’ accounts in VTB French subsidiary frozen – CEO Kostin

Russia will appeal the court’s arrest of Russian property, Russian presidential aide Andrey Belousov said. According to the official, “the situation with the arrest of the property is politicized, [and] Moscow hopes to avoid a new escalation in relations.”

Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it could consider retaliatory measures against Belgium if the assets are seized.

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A letter accompanying the notice, reportedly drafted by the law firm Marc Sacré, Stefan Sacré & Piet De Smet, accused Moscow of a “systematic failure to voluntarily follow” international legal judgments.

The addressees included not just local offices of Russian companies, but international banks, a local branch of the Russian Orthodox Church, and even Eurocontrol, the European air traffic agency headquartered in Brussels. Only diplomatic assets, such as embassies, were exempt.

The situation was not unexpected, and Russia is considering a number of measures to deal with possible asset seizures both in Belgium and in other countries, said Andrey Belousov, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The situation is very politicized,” Belousov said. “Let’s hope that common sense prevails and we don’t sink deep in this story, that there won’t be a new round of retaliatory escalation.”

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Russia has not accepted the ruling, saying it disregards widespread tax fraud committed by Yukos, and constitutes a form of indirect retribution for Russia’s standoff with the West over Ukraine. Earlier this month, the Russian ministry of justice said it would take “preventative measures” to avoid property confiscation, and challenge each decision in national courts.

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A separate ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) last summer awarded Yukos shareholders €1.9 billion in compensation. Russia’s Dozhd channel quoted ECHR representatives as saying that the reported seizures are not related to its legal decision as several media reports have previously suggested.

Neither Belgium, nor Russia have yet released official statements about potential asset seizures.

Russia spent much of the 1990s embroiled in legal squabbles with several foreign creditors, who attempted to seize its property abroad, but each time the dispute was settled without asset confiscation.

US transfers 6 Yemeni Guantanamo detainees to Oman

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For the first time in six months, prisoners held without trial at the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention center have been flown out of Cuba. The Pentagon has announced that six Yemeni men have been transferred to Oman.

“The Department of Defense announced today the transfer of Al Khadr Abdallah Muhammad Al Yafi, Fadel Hussein Saleh Hentif, Abd Al-Rahman Abdullah Au Shabati, and Mohammed Ahmed Salam from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to Oman,” the US Department of Defense said in a statement on Saturday.

They had been cleared to leave for years after first being taken into custody in 2002. The departures now leave 116 detainees imprisoned in Guantanamo.

No further large transfers are imminent, a senior US official told Reuters, adding that efforts continue to repatriate prisoners or settle them elsewhere.

President Obama’s pledge to shut down the facility has continually been thwarted by the Republican-dominated Congress, which outlawed bringing any detainees onto domestic soil. That means if prisoners are to be released, they must be sent to their home nation, or more usually, a third country.

Uruguay is one such recipient. The South American nation earlier took in six detainees from Guantanamo, but a dispute between the men and the Uruguayan authorities over the terms of the move led to protests outside the US embassy in Montevideo.

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A former Guantanamo prisoner also died in Kazakhstan last month. He had been resettled there after 11 years in Guantanamo. Pentagon did not provide the cause of his death, but the British newspaper the Guardian reported that it was from kidney failure, citing another former prisoner.

Guantanamo Bay was opened in the wake of the 9/11 attacks by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. But it has been mired in scandal throughout its history with allegations of torture and sexual abuse.

This year, the current administration reiterated its intent to empty the jail by 2017 – the end of Obama’s presidency.