NATO Mediterranean Dialogue Seminar in Israel
(NSI News Source Info) November 25, 2008: The NATO Public Diplomacy Division co-organised with the Tel Aviv Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) on 24-26 November 2008 an international seminar on Regional Security Dialogue and Cooperation in the Middle East.
Participants in the seminar included academics, senior scholars, policy makers and diplomats from Israel and other Mediterranean Dialogue countries, alongside NATO officials.
During his opening remarks, NATO Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy Mr. Jean-Francois Bureau stressed how the Mediterranean Dialogue is gaining new momentum, ahead of the meeting next week of Foreign Ministers from NATO and Mediterranean Dialogue countries.
INSS Director, Ambassador Oded Eran, underlined the high quality and high volume of activities under the enhanced Mediterranean Dialogue since the Istanbul Summit, and said that he was particularly moved by the fact that civil society representatives from different Mediterranean Dialogue countries met in Tel Aviv, under a NATO Public Diplomacy seminar, discussing in a frank and open way their perception of each other.
India Unable To Find Export Customers For BrahMos Missiles
(NSI News Source Info) November 25, 2008: Earlier this year, India ordered 800 more of the new PJ-10 BrahMos missiles. Attempts to find export customers, however, have not succeeded. India believes this is because they have not previously been a major arms exporter, and have not developed the skills and techniques to sell high-tech weapons. Another reason, which the Indian arms salesmen don't like to dwell on, is that BrahMos was originally designed to go after heavily defended American aircraft carriers. Few countries see attacking the U.S. Navy as a promising military strategy. That, and the high price of the BrahMos probably accounts for most of the sales resistance.
The 3.2 ton BrahMos has a range of 300 kilometers and a 660 pound warhead. Perhaps the most striking characteristic is its high speed, literally faster (at up to 3,000 feet per second) than a rifle bullet. Guidance is GPS or inertial to reach the general area of the target (usually a ship or other small target), then radar that will identify the specific target and hit it. The warhead weighs 660 pounds, and the high speed at impact causes additional damage (because of the weight of the entire missile.) India and Russia developed the weapon together, and the high price of each missile, about $2.3 million, reflects the expense of building a very fast, and accurate, weapon. It also restricts the number of countries that can afford it.
The weapon entered service with the Indian navy in 2005. Different versions of the PJ-10 can be fired from aircraft, ships, ground launchers or submarines. The maximum speed of 3,000 kilometers an hour makes it harder to intercept, and means it takes five minutes or less to reach its target. The air launched version weighs 2.5 tons, the others, three tons or more.
The 29 foot long, 670mm diameter missile is an upgraded version of the Russian SS-NX-26 (Yakhont) missile, which was in development when the Cold War ended in 1991. Lacking money to finish development and begin production, the Russian manufacturer made a deal with India to finish the job. India put up most of the $240 million needed to finally complete two decades of development. The PJ-10 is also being built in Russia. There were initial hopes that Russia and India could export up to 2,000. China and Iran have expressed interest in the weapon, but only Malaysia, Chile, South Africa, Kuwait and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) have been approached with a sales pitch. No one has placed an order. Nevertheless, Russia and India are investing in BrahMos 2, which will use a scramjet, instead of a ramjet, in the second stage. This would double speed, and make the missile much more difficult to defend against.
The large order from India indicates it plans to make the missile a major weapon system. The BrahMos can carry a nuclear warhead, but is designed mainly to go after high value targets that require a large warhead and great accuracy. The BrahMos could take out enemy headquarters, or key weapons systems (especially those employing electronic or nuclear weapons.)
Russia hopes to sell 60 Superjet-100 airliners in 2010
(NSI News Source Info) MOSCOW - November 25, 2008: Russia's United Aircraft Corporation plans to sell 60 new Superjet-100 medium-haul airliners in 2010 and 70 more in 2012, the government said in a program published on Tuesday.
"As the serial production of the Superjet-100 is to start, we expect 60 aircraft to be supplied to customers in 2010 and 70 in 2012," the program for the development of the aircraft industry until 2012 said.
The Superjet-100 project is a family of medium-haul passenger aircraft developed by a leading Russian manufacturer, Sukhoi, in cooperation with U.S. and European aviation corporations, including Boeing, Snecma, Thales, Messier Dowty, Liebherr Aerospace and Honeywell.
Sukhoi said earlier there were at least 100 firm orders for the aircraft, which are due to complete certification flights in the second half of 2009.
Sukhoi, which is part of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), plans to manufacture at least 700 Superjet 100s, and intends to sell 35% of them to North America, 25% to Europe, 10% to Latin America, and 7% to Russia and China.
The UAC also plans to sell a total of 20 Tu-204 medium-haul passenger airliners and their modified Tu-214 versions, and another 33 aircraft in 2012 under the program, which is designed to encourage civilian aircraft production.
The UAC was established in November 2006 to help overcome a crisis in Russia's aircraft industry, and incorporates commercial and military aircraft makers including Ilyushin, Tupolev, Sukhoi, Antonov and Mikoyan, as well as companies involved in distribution, including Aviaexport.
Russia plans to sell SuperJet-100 airliners to India
(NSI News Source Info) NEW DELHI - September 29, 2008: Russia's United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) said Monday it had started talks with Indian firms on the delivery of SuperJet-100 passenger airliners and other civil aircraft to the country.
The SuperJet-100 project is a family of medium-haul passenger aircraft developed by the Sukhoi Design Bureau in cooperation with major U.S. and European aviation corporations, including Boeing, Snecma, Thales, Messier Dowty, Liebherr Aerospace and Honeywell.
"We have started preliminary talks with a number of Indian companies on the delivery of SuperJet-100 airliners," Alexei Fyodorov, UAC's general director, said without specifying the potential customers.
Sukhoi, which is part of the UAC, plans to manufacture at least 700 Superjet-100s, and intends to sell 35% of them to North America, 25% to Europe, 10% to Latin America, and 7% to Russia and China.
Sukhoi earlier said it had so far secured at least 100 firm orders for the aircraft.
Fyodorov, who is attending a meeting of the Russian-Indian intergovernmental commission on military-technical cooperation in New Delhi, said that the Indian civil aircraft market is important for Russian manufacturers.
"The Indian civil aviation market is very attractive. It is very dynamic and has a large potential," he said.
The UAC is also holding talks with India on deliveries of the Be-200 amphibious plane for the country's coast guard.
Russia's UAC, which is 90% state owned, incorporates aircraft building companies and state assets engaged in the manufacture, design and sale of military, non-military, transport and unmanned aircraft in a bid to streamline the Russian aviation industry.
Fyodorov said UAC would open its office in India by the end of 2008.
"By the end of this year we will transform the existing office of the MiG company in India into a UAC office, which will deal with the promotion of both civil and military aircraft on the Indian market," the official said.
Russian warships arrive in Venezuela
(NSI News Source Info) MOSCOW/CARACAS - November 25, 2008: A group of warships from Russia's Northern Fleet arrived on Tuesday at the Venezuelan port of La Guaira, a Russian naval official said.
The task force, led by the Pyotr Veliky missile cruiser, is on a planned visit that follows a two-month tour of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, which saw Russian ships visiting Libya, Turkey and France.
"The [Udaloy class destroyer] Admiral Chabanenko has docked in port, while the Pyotr Veliky missile cruiser has dropped anchor off La Guaira," said Capt. 1st Rank Igor Dygalo, an aide to the Navy commander.
Russian and Venezuelan warships will conduct live-ammunition artillery drills on December 1 as part of joint naval exercises in the Caribbean. The exercises will involve joint sea rescue operations, maneuvering, and firing drills.
Venezuela's Navy will be represented by two or three combat vessels.
The exercises will be conducted in line with bilateral agreements and in accordance with international maritime law. They will be held in an area beyond Venezuela's territorial waters, about 150 nautical miles from the South American country's coast.
All shipping in the area will be halted for the duration of the exercises, subject to special notice due at the end of November.
After its visit to Venezuela, the Russian task force is due to take part in an exercise with ships from Russia's Pacific Fleet in the Indian Ocean.
US to watch Russian-Venezuelan maneuvers 'very closely'
(NSI News Source Info) Washington - November 25, 2008: The US State Department said Monday it will watch "very closely" upcoming Russian-Venezuelan naval maneuvers but dismissed any notion they were a challenge to US influence in the region.
In Moscow, the Russian navy said a group of Russian warships is due to arrive in Venezuela on Tuesday, ahead of joint exercises with the Venezuelan navy and a visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
"I don't think there's any question about who ... the region looks to in terms of political, economic, diplomatic and as well as military power," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters when asked for comment.
"If the Venezuelans and the Russians want to have, you know, a military exercise, that's fine, but we'll obviously be watching it very closely," he added.
"Contrast that with the recent meeting in Lima that just took place among APEC members, which they're talking about effective action to deal with global economic crisis," McCormack said. "I think that's where people's attention is really focused," he said.
He was referring to the weekend summit in Peru of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which focused on the global financial and economic crisis.
The summit was attended by Medvedev who is due to visit Venezuela and another US foe, Cuba, saying the time is right to revive "privileged relations" with Latin American countries that Moscow was close to in Soviet times.
Asked if the planned naval exercises -- combined with the Medvedev visit -- is provocative, McCormack replied: "I don't know if the intention was provocative. Certainly, we don't ... view it that way."
"We'll watch it closely. But I don't think a few Russian ships in ... the Caribbean with the Venezuelans is really going to raise anybody's eyebrows," McCormack said.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Russia was "free to exercise peacefully with anyone that they want to exercise with, but also people note through these exercises the company that nations keep.
Analysts see Medvedev as taking a defiant message to Washington's doorstep, as he meets Cuba's communist leadership and oversees Russian naval exercises off Venezuela's coast.
Cuba's communist regime received massive support from Moscow in Soviet times, becoming the focus of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, a legendary nuclear stand-off between Moscow and Washington.
NATO Signs LoI for First Two C-17 Transports
(NSI News Source Info) ST. LOUIS - November 25, 2008: Boeing today announced that the NATO Airlift Management Agency (NAMA) general manager, on behalf of the Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC) nations, has signed a Letter of Offer and Acceptance with the U.S. government for the acquisition of two Boeing C-17 Globemaster III long-range cargo jets.
Boeing C-17 Globemaster III long-range cargo jets
The agreement follows NATO's Oct. 1 announcement that the 12 SAC nations had formally agreed to move forward with the acquisition of C-17s, which will address national requirements for strategic airlift.
"We're pleased that SAC nations are moving quickly to meet their critical needs with the C-17 Globemaster III," said Tommy Dunehew, International C-17 program manager for Boeing. "The C-17 is well-suited to meet the requirements of NATO and each of the sovereign nations, and it continues to be regarded as the backbone of international airlift missions, supporting numerous contingency, humanitarian relief, and peacekeeping efforts around the world."
Under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense and NAMA, two of the advanced airlifters would be purchased from Boeing, while a third would be provided by the U.S. Air Force. The aircraft would be assigned to SAC's Heavy Airlift Wing and jointly operated by the nations from Pápa Air Base, Hungary.
Each participating nation would pay for a portion of a C-17 rather than an entire aircraft, allowing them to share a pooled fleet. The 12 nations participating in the SAC Program are Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden and the United States.
"The agreement with Boeing is a significant step forward in the ability of NATO and partner nations to respond to a critical shortfall in Alliance and national capabilities," said Gunnar Borch, NAMA general manager. "It has been made possible by nations working together, pooling resources and sharing costs to develop a collective capability beyond the reach of, or not practical for, many nations individually."
The C-17 fleet will allow each nation to meet its airlift requirements to support sovereign and multinational mission requirements. NATO does not currently own a heavy airlift capability and frequently contracts with nations such as the United States and Russia for assistance with its heavy airlift requirements.
"We're looking forward to delivering the first SAC C-17 as early as spring 2009," said Jean Chamberlin, vice president and general manager, Boeing Global Mobility Systems. "We'll follow that with delivery of the other two aircraft in the summer."
The SAC agreement calls for Boeing to establish a facility at PÃ¡pa Air Base to provide C-17 logistics support under the current C-17 Globemaster III Sustainment Partnership (GSP), a performance based logistics contract. Boeing is currently contracted to provide logistics support to the 194 operational C-17s worldwide -- 180 with the U.S. Air Force; six with the Royal Air Force (UK); four with the Royal Australian Air Force, and four with the Canadian Forces. Boeing received a contract in July to provide the C-17 to Qatar, with deliveries starting in late summer 2009. GSP has provided the Air Force with the best mission-capable rate in military airlift history.
A high-wing, four-engine, T-tailed aircraft with a rear-loading ramp, the C-17 can carry large combat equipment and troops or humanitarian aid across international distances directly to small austere airfields anywhere in the world. With a payload of up to 170,000 pounds, the C-17 can take off from a 7,600-foot airfield, fly 2,400 nautical miles and land in 3,000 feet or less.
(NSI News Source Info) November 25, 2008: During a ceremony held at AgustaWestland's Yeovil facility today, the first two Apache AH Mk.1s equipped with a new sighting and targeting system were handed over to the UK Ministry of Defence, following the achievement of Release to Service on 14th November 2008.
The sighting and targeting system, known as M-TADS/PNVS (Modernised Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor) along with TEDAC (TADS Electronic Display and Control) will provide Apache AH Mk.1 crews with greater situational awareness and combat effectiveness. Additionally the new system will also deliver significant whole life cost savings over the service life of the aircraft.
The M-TADS Contract has been an excellent example of industry (AgustaWestland, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and QinetiQ) and the Ministry of Defence teams working as partners to benefit the performance and flexibility of a project.
Nick Whitney, Senior Vice President - UK Government Business, AgustaWestland said at the handover ceremony, "I am delighted to be handing over the first two M-TADS equipped Apaches ahead of schedule, as we know the Apache crews and the troops on the ground on overseas operations will welcome the capability improvements the M-TADS system delivers.” He went on to say "This programme is one where industry and the Ministry of Defence have worked together as true partners to deliver a programme on budget while achieving such important milestones ahead of schedule - I would like to congratulate all those involved.”
Air Commodore Doug Whittaker, Attack Helicopter IPT Leader, said, “I am very pleased to be taking delivery of the first two M-TADS upgraded Apache aircraft today from the Industry team, and to be handing them onto the Apache Force Commander for service use. In addition to substantial whole life cost savings and improvements in reliability, M-TADS will provide substantial benefits to Apache aircrew. It further enhances the outstanding capabilities of the aircraft.”
Accepting the introduction of the M-TADS Release to Service earlier this month, Apache Force Commander Col David Turner said “The introduction of M-TADS will realise many benefits across the AH Force. It will not only improve our military capability but will also remove the logistic and support penalties associated with the current system. We very much welcome its early introduction into service and aim to deploy M-TADS on operations at the first available opportunity. The AH Force see M-TADS as a major step forward.”
M-TADS/PNVS extends the optical targeting ranges and is expected to increase by a factor of three the overall system’s reliability, significantly reducing maintenance. The new system also features quick-access “remove-and-replace” modules that reduce maintenance and contribute to the whole life cost savings.
The newly designed FLIR sensors and avionics use the very latest image processing techniques to give the aircrew the best possible resolution images to help avoid obstacles, such as wires and trees, during nap of the earth flight.
AgustaWestland was awarded a £194 million contract in May 2005 to undertake the integration and testing of the new system on the Apache AH Mk.1 and to retrofit the entire fleet of 67 aircraft. The retrofit programme is set to commence on schedule on 27th November at Wattisham, the Main Operating Base for Apache, and all aircraft will be upgraded by the end of 2010.
IMF approves loan to aid Pakistan
(NSI News Source Info) November 25, 2008: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved a loan for Pakistan, amounting to $7.6bn (£5.1bn) to shore up the economy.
The loan will "support the country's economic stabilisation programme," the IMF said in a brief statement.
Pakistan will immediately access $3.1bn of the loan under a 23-month facility, with the rest phased in, subject to quarterly review, the fund said.
Stock trading at the Karachi exchange has virtually dried up.
Pakistan needs the money in order to avoid defaulting on international debt.
It had been exploring other sources of funds to try to avoid stringent IMF conditions but failed to find a deal.
Pakistan's Junior Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar said the IMF had not imposed any conditions for giving the loan.
"IMF has given the stamp of approval to a Pakistan-made programme for the package," Ms Khar was quoted telling a private TV channel by Pakistani news agency APP.
IMF Deputy Managing Director Takatoshi Kato said in a statement that the Pakistani economy "was buffeted by large shocks .. including adverse security developments, higher oil and food import prices, and the global financial turmoil".
The IMF has said it has $200bn set aside to help out countries facing turmoil because of the current global financial crisis. It has also said it expects to provide help for some 24 countries.
Reports last week said the State Bank of Pakistan's reserves could only cover nine weeks of imports.
The Pakistani economy has grown by 7% to 8% over the past few years, but most of this growth has taken place in sectors such as consumer financing.
By 2006, trade imbalances because of high imports caused the economy to slow down; a subsequent rise in international prices of food and oil worsened the situation.
This led to a fall in the value of the Pakistani rupee and a flight of capital from the country.
On Monday the rupee closed at 78.90/79.00 to the US dollar compared with Saturday's close of 79.06/79.16.
Analysts say the loan deal should stabilise the rupee in the short term. The rupee has plunged 22% against the dollar this year.
(NSI News Source Info) November 25, 2008: China's fledgling aerospace industry took a major leap forward Tuesday at the nation's only international air show as it announced its first sale of commercial aircraft to a US company.
The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (CACC) confirmed the sale of five homemade jets to the aircraft leasing arm of General Electric with an option for the firm to buy 20 more, the two companies said in a statement.
The contract, signed on the sidelines of Airshow China in the southern city of Zhuhai, makes GE Commercial Aviation Services the first overseas leasing firm to buy a Chinese-made commercial plane, they said.
Delivery of the ARJ21s -- which stands for Advanced Regional Jet for the 21st Century -- will start in 2013, according to the statement.
The official Xinhua news agency said the contract for all 25 planes was worth 735 million dollars.
"The ARJ21 will help fulfill the growing need within China for fast, efficient regional air travel," said Norman Liu, executive vice president of GE Commercial Aviation Services, in the statement.
GE, which supplies the engines for the ARJ21, was planning to lease the planes to the China market, it said.
The ARJ21 has yet to make its maiden voyage, nor has it been approved by Chinese or American aviation regulators, reports have said.
The plane, which carries between 70 and 90 passengers, and other jets to be produced by CACC, are widely seen as part of a Chinese plan to eventually rival the dominance of aviation giants Airbus and Boeing.
"To fly Chinese large aircraft in the blue sky is not just the will of the government, but the whole nation," CACC's chief Jin Zhuanglong told an aviation conference in Zhuhai on Monday.
Moreover, the Aviation Industry Corporation of China, a key backer of CACC, plans to acquire a foreign aircraft manufacturer, the state-run China Daily said Tuesday, citing Tan Weidong, president of one of the firm's subsidiaries.
Despite the lofty ambitions, China's government and CACC have been keen to stress that producing bigger planes to rival the global giants is a long-term goal that will take until at least 2020.
US-based Boeing and Airbus of Europe headed around 600 civil and military manufacturers, suppliers and designers who gathered in Zhuhai for the biennial Airshow China, which lasts until Sunday.
Airbus said Tuesday it had secured an order for 20 of its A320 aircraft from the aviation leasing arm of the Bank of China, one of the country's largest lenders.
"Bank of China Aviation has used the occasion of the Zhuhai air show to place an order with us for 20 A320 aircraft," Airbus chief operating officer John Leahy told reporters.
Delivery dates and costs were not given, but the deal could exceed one billion dollars based on the list price for the A320.
Bank of China Aviation was known as Singapore Aircraft Leasing Enterprise until 2007 when it was acquired by Bank of China.
In addition to its commercial aviation ambitions, China's developing strength in military and space hardware was on display at the airshow, including a model of the Shenzhou-7 space module.
The original was part of China's September space mission, which saw astronauts make the country's first ever spacewalk.
Major manufacturers remain bullish about the long-term demand for new aircraft in China despite the global financial meltdown.
Leahy told reporters that the downturn in the aviation industry "might not be as bad as people are forecasting."
"We are not seeing a lot of order cancellations... And even if the traffic is down, aircraft sales may still be up," he said, adding that airlines will still need to replace old planes to save cash from rocketing fuel prices.
However, there are early signs China has not escaped the drop-off that has hit the global industry, with both analysts and airlines warning of a "cold winter" of slowing passenger demand following several years of double-digit growth.
China Testing Its Big Power Options In South America
(NSI News Source Info) November 25, 2008: Most of China's dealings with Latin American countries are motivated by its pursuit of oil and other resources.
This is only partly true in the case of Cuba, however. The country has unique political, strategic and intelligence value for China. Interestingly, China's military contacts with Cuba bear the secretive characteristics of Soviet-Cuban engagement in the 1960s.
In 2006 the commander of China's People's Liberation Army Second Artillery Corps visited Cuba. His message to the United States was a softer version of the one that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev intended to send when he attempted to put nuclear missiles therein 1962 -- Cuba is not the backyard of the United States.
Since China's current strategy is to reduce friction with the United States, it is unlikely to export missile technologies to Cuba. But should the situation in the Taiwan Strait deteriorate to where China is ready to take military action, it is possible that Beijing may attempt to deter U.S. intervention by playing the Cuban missile card.
On a visit to Cuba in 2000, this author was surprised to find the country's economy already dominated by Chinese goods. From trains and bicycles to household goods, almost everything was made in China. China is Cuba's second-largest trading partner, and total trade between the two countries in 2006 was $1.8 billion.
In 2001 the People's Liberation Army's Chief of General Staff Gen. Fu Quanyou visited Cuba and signed a memorandum of understanding on military cooperation with Cuba. In recent years, exchanges between the top leadership of the Chinese and Cuban militaries have been very frequent.
Regional intelligence analysts believe that these moves are evidence of close intelligence cooperation between the two countries. Cuba has acquired communications and telephone production technologies from China; almost all of Cuba's telephones are made in China. The possibility cannot be excluded that the Third Department of the People's Liberation Army Headquarters of General Staff has established a secret communications monitoring base in Cuba. In addition, the political commissar of China's National Defense University, Zhao Keming, headed a Chinese military delegation to Cuba in 2006, indicating that China has been helping Cuba to train military commanders. In 2007, China's then-Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan once again appeared in Havana.
All these activities suggest active military exchanges between China and Cuba. Yet so far there is no indication that China has shipped to Cuba intact ground forces, navy or air force systems.
China also has a keen interest in Cuba's natural resources, especially nickel. The Chinese military industry has a huge demand for stainless steel but does not have sufficient nickel for the production process. China's eyes have turned to Cuba, which has the world's second-largest nickel reserves.
Further south, Chile is a key transfer station for Chinese military weapons in South America. Chinese ammunition enterprises regularly attend the Santiago Air Show every two years. In recent years China has been using this air show to promote to South American countries a series of weapons systems, including A-100 rocket guns, a variety of satellites and launch vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles, P-12 SSMs and other weapons systems.
A source from the Chilean air force confirmed to United Press International that in the course of purchasing A-50 AWAC aircraft, China sent high-level military officers to visit Chile and study its Israeli-made early warning radar systems.
Beijing courts Argentina
China has been stepping up its military contacts with Chile, Bolivia and Argentina, in addition to its existing ties with Cuba and Venezuela.
The engagements between the militaries of China and Chile are already quite frequent.
In 2004, Chen Bingde, who was commander-in-chief of China's Jinan military region at the time, visited Chile and inspected the Chilean Ground Force Warfare Academy and Campaign Tactics Training Center. In May this year, Chilean air force Chief Ricardo Ortega visited Beijing. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet Jeria had visited China one month earlier.
China has been placing emphasis on its relations with Chile because of its economic and political strength relative to other Central and South American countries. By demonstrating the benefits of the China-Chile relationship, Beijing hopes to influence those South American countries that maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan to switch allegiance.
China signed a free trade agreement with Chile in 2006 and surpassed the United States as Chile's top export market last year. In 2007 Chile's exports to China exceeded $10 billion, with copper the main China-bound export item.
China also has an eye on Bolivia's rich natural resources, and relations with that country have been warming. In early 2006, while still the president-elect, Bolivia's current President Evo Morales visited Beijing and invited China to jointly develop Bolivia's natural gas reserves. Bolivia is the second-largest producer of natural gas in South America and has confirmed reserves of 1.38 trillion cubic meters.
Around the same time the international intelligence community began to speculate that China planned to sell Bolivia portable HY5A surface-to-air missiles. In 2007 China transferred 42 vehicles to the Bolivian military free of charge, including 34 trucks, five passenger buses and three crossovers.
In recent years, political and military cooperation between Bolivia and Venezuela has been very close. On May 22, 2008, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on military cooperation. Both consider themselves ideological allies of China.
China has been trying to win over Argentina since 2004. Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the country that year, and China announced it would invest $5 billion to develop crude oil in Argentina. Soon after that China began military overtures to the country as well.
In May 2007 Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan visited Argentina and signed a memorandum of understanding on military cooperation. China began to supply military trucks to Argentina free of charge at that time. It seems that China's military penetration of South America invariably started with the provision of free military trucks.
Argentina also expressed an interest in acquiring China's Z-9 serial helicopters and in reinforcing cooperation with China on the exploration of Antarctica. China has also been assisting Argentina in training military commanders.
To sum up, China is now actively striving to acquire oil and natural gas resources in Central and South America. It is accomplishing this through the sale of weapons, with the added advantage of strengthening its political and military influence in the region, particularly among left-leaning regimes.
Iran arrests 'Israel-linked spy network'
(NSI News Source Info) Tehran - November 25, 2008: Iran announced on Monday it had broken up a spy network linked to arch-enemy Israel's intelligence service Mossad, accusing it of gathering information on Iranian nuclear and military programmes.
News of the arrests came amid heightened tensions between the two enemy states over Tehran's atomic drive and just two days after Iran said it hanged an Iranian telecoms salesman convicted of spying for the Jewish state.
"The intelligence bureau of the Revolutionary Guards Corps has recently discovered a spy network linked with the Israeli Mossad," the head of the elite force, Mohammad Ali Jafari, said on state radio.
"This network sought to gather important information from the Guards' military section, the country's nuclear centres and some security officials," he said, without specifying how many people were detained or where and when the group was arrested.
The announcement came ahead of a White House meeting later on Monday between President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expected to focus on Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
"We have no comment to make on such non-proven reports from this country," was all Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor would say of Jafari's disclosure.
Israel and the United States suspect Tehran is seeking to develop an atomic bomb under the cover of its civilian nuclear programme, a charge Iran strongly denies.
Jafari said further details on the equipment and intelligence discovered during the arrest of the spy network would be revealed in the "near future."
He said the detainees had confessed to "being trained in bombing and assassination in Israel and had bought vehicles and lots of equipment with Mossad support," the state broadcaster's website said.
On Saturday, Iran said it had executed telecoms salesman Ali Ashtari on November 17 for spying for Mossad for three years and warned that its intelligence wars with Israel "have become more serious."
Tehran does not recognise Israel and tensions have been exacerbated since the 2005 election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly said the Jewish state is doomed to vanish and branded the Holocaust a "myth".
OPEC-member Iran insists its nuclear programme is only aimed at producing electricity and angrily points to Israel's widely believed status as the sole, if undeclared, nuclear armed state in the Middle East.
Iran has always warned of a harsh response in the event of attack, threatening to hit US forces in the Gulf and close the vital oil supply route.
On Sunday, an Israeli newspaper reported that defence chiefs have called for contingency plans to be drawn up for military action against the Islamic republic, saying "Iran's threat to Israel's survival" was the top challenge faced by the nation, along with the "strategic threat" of long-range missiles and rockets from various countries in the region.
The defence chiefs are calling for Israel to establish a military option against Iran and advising the cabinet to "work discreetly on contingency plans to deal with a nuclear Iran," the Haaretz newspaper reported.
The Revolutionary Guards, Iran's powerful ideological army, controls the country's sensitive missile programme, including the long-range Shahab-3 missile, which Tehran says can reach Israel and US bases in the Gulf.
For its part, Washington is installing an advanced radar system in Israel to boost defences against any ballistic missile threat from Iran which will go operational in mid-December, Israeli army radio reported at the weekend.
Earlier related reportIran lashes out at British FM over nuclear warning
Iran on Monday lashed out at British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, accusing him of having Zionist ties after he said the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is "the most immediate threat" to Middle East stability.
"We have recently seen comments by Miliband about Iran being a threat in the region. There is no doubt about his strong ties with Zionists," foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi told reporters.
"All countries consider the Zionist regime as a threat and not Iran, which has not threatened any countries in the past centuries," he added.
According to a pre-released copy of his speech, Miliband was to urge Arab leaders to make clear they do not support Iran's nuclear ambitions, as he visits the United Arab Emirates Monday.
He will say the prospect of Iran having nuclear weapons poses "the most immediate threat" to Middle East stability, and appeal to Tehran's neighbours to put pressure on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In October the British foreign secretary warned of a possible nuclear arms race in the Middle East if Iran was allowed to press ahead unchecked with a uranium enrichment programme.
World powers, fearing Iran might make atom bombs under the guise of a civilian nuclear programme, have offered Tehran incentives and talks in return for a halt to uranium enrichment.
Iran has ignored five UN resolutions demanding a suspension of uranium enrichment, which can supply nuclear fuel as well as the fissile core of an atom bomb in high purifications.
Iran insists it only wants to make nuclear fuel to generate electricity and vehemently denies seeking atomic weapons. However, the country's first Russian-built nuclear power plant is yet to come on line.
Russia says US, European mercenaries fought for Georgia
(NSI News Source Info) Moscow - November 25, 2008: A Russian investigator said Monday that mercenaries from the US and European nations fought for Georgia during its war with Russia in August, but Tbilisi dismissed the claim as "nonsense."
Investigators with Russia's Prosecutor General's Office established that American, Czech, Ukrainian and Turkish mercenaries fought with Georgian forces, as did fighters from Chechnya, Russian news agencies quoted the head of the investigation, Alexander Bastrykin, as saying.
"For the most part they were instructors, but we determined some cases of snipers," he said.
Responding to the claim, Georgian National Security Council Secretary Alexander Lomaia told AFP: "It's difficult to comment on this seriously. It is against the law for non-Georgian citizens to serve in the Georgian military."
"They are saying that half the world fought with Georgia against the Russian Federation. It's nonsense."
He said the claim was an attempt to justify the "heavy losses" Russia's military suffered during the war.
Russian forces moved into Georgia on August 8 to repel a Georgian military attempt to retake the rebel region of South Ossetia, which has received extensive backing from Moscow.
Under a European Union-brokered ceasefire, Russian forces later withdrew to within South Ossetia and another rebel Georgian region, Abkhazia, which Moscow recognised as independent states.
Russian naval task force starts Venezuela visit
(NSI News Source Info) MOSCOW - November 25, 2008: A task force from Russia's Northern Fleet led by the Pyotr Veliky missile cruiser arrived in Venezuela as part of a planned visit which will see the ships take part in joint naval drills, a naval spokesman said.
"On December 1 following the visit, the Russian warships will take part in joint naval exercises with the Venezuelan Navy," Capt. 1st Rank Igor Dygalo said.
Dygalo said the exercises will take place in the Caribbean Sea and will involve joint maneuvers, inspections, rescue and resupply operations. The drills are due to be discussed by both sides during the Russian Navy's visit to the Venezuelan port of La Guaira.
"Venezuela's Navy will be represented by two or three ships. Two warships will act for the Russian side - the Pyotr Veliky and the [large anti-submarine vessel] Admiral Chabanenko - as well as support ships," Dygalo said.
The task force left its Northern Fleet base on September 22 and has visited ports in Libya, Turkey and France.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the country's air force, primarily a squadron of Russian-made Su-30MK2 fighters, could participate in the drills.
He said the exercises were not targeted against other countries. "This is cooperation between two sovereign countries that are rapidly converging strategically."
"Cooperation with Russia in different fields is in line with the new realities of a multi-polar world," he added.
The arrival of the Russian ships coincides with a visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Venezuela on November 26 through 27.
Following the Latin American visit the task force is due to take part in drills with ships from Russia's Pacific Fleet in the Indian Ocean.
Chinese to invest $30 bln tapping energy reserves in South China Sea
(NSI News Source Info) BEIJING - November 25, 2008: China's biggest offshore oil producer could invest about $30 billion until 2020 to develop oil and gas deposits in the South China Sea to meet future energy demands, a prominent Chinese newspaper said on Tuesday.
The China Daily said the China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) will invest heavily in building deepwater drilling equipment and plans to drill twice the depth of its existing wells off the coast of China.
"Huge potential lies untapped for the company in the South China Sea, which is largely unexplored," the newspaper quoted Wang Aochao, a Shanghai-based analyst with UOB-Kay Hian Ltd, as saying.
China, the world's second-biggest oil user after the U.S., is pushing forward energy projects including the construction of nuclear power plants, gas pipelines and oil refineries to help stimulate the domestic economy and meet future energy demand.
According to foreign experts, the country could become the world's biggest oil and gas consumer by 2013.
The South China Sea, covering 3.5 million square kilometers, stretches from Singapore to the Straits of Taiwan.
Geological fuel reserves in the deepwater fields of the South China Sea may reach 22 billion barrels of oil equivalent by 2020 and overall annual output may rise to 350 million barrels, according to rough estimates, the China Daily said.
North Korea releases photos of Kim inspecting factories
(NSI News Source Info) November 25, 2008: North Korea's state media released photos on Tuesday of leader Kim Jong-il visiting two factories, in the latest attempt to stave off international speculation over Kim's health.
The North has released a series of photos of the leader in recent weeks, usually without specifying a date or location. Kim, 66, is widely believed to be incapacitated after suffering a stroke in August.
North Korea's official Central News Agency said the leader visited a machine-building plant and a cosmetics factory.
"General Secretary Kim Jong Il provided field guidance to the Rakwon Machine Complex and the Soap Shop of the Sinuiju Cosmetics Factory," the report said.
He is shown in the two photos in his trademark sunglasses, looking healthy.
The leader reportedly congratulated Rakwon factory workers on "successfully carrying out the complex's assignments for this year as of the end of October," implying that the photo was taken earlier this month.
The state of Kim's health has caused widespread alarm, as he has not named a successor to lead the communist state, which has the world's fourth-largest army and carried out a nuclear-bomb test in 2006.
The news of the North Korean leader comes a day after the country announced that cross-border movement with the South would be restricted as of December 1, the rail link to the Kaesong industrial park just inside the North closed, and some South Koreans working at the complex expelled.
The North Korean military said in a statement carried by state media that the measures were in retaliation to the hostile stance of the South Korean leadership, and Seoul's failure to honor summit agreements reached in 2000 and 2007.
Pyongyang has stopped short of closing down the Kaesong complex, which brings the impoverished communist state tens of millions of dollars in income per year.
North-South relations have deteriorated since President Lee Myung-bak came to power in South Korea in February. The new president has demanded more progress in the North's denuclearization in return for the economic support provided by the South.