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British Foreign Secretary William Hague planning secret Iran talks during Israel trip

British Foreign Secretary William Hague

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November 02, 2010 (KATAKAMI  / HAARETZ) — William Hague arrives in Israel on Tuesday for his first visit since being appointed foreign secretary in Britain’s recently elected Conservative government.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Tuesday evening, will hold a secret roundtable discussion on the Iranian nuclear program on Wednesday morning with a long list of senior Israeli officials involved in this issue.

This is Hague’s first visit to Israel since being appointed foreign secretary in the recently elected Tory government, and the roundtable discussion is being held at his request. His goal is both to gain an in-depth understanding of the Israeli government’s positions on this issue and to hear assessments of Iran’s nuclear program firsthand from senior Israeli defense and intelligence officials.

The closed meeting is scheduled to take place at the British ambassador’s residence in Ramat Gan, and those invited include Mossad chief Meir Dagan and the director general of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, Shaul Chorev. Other Israelis on the guest list include Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon, Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon.

But it seems that at least some of the ministers will skip the roundtable, because it apparently will conflict with a cabinet meeting.

The British embassy said Britain shares Israel’s concern about the threat posed by nuclear weapons in Iran’s hands and holds regular discussions with Israel about this issue, but cannot at this stage discuss the details of the secretary’s schedule for the visit.

Britain and France have spearheaded the battle against Iran’s nuclear program in the European Union. After the UN Security Council approved a fourth round of sanctions against Tehran in June, London and Paris worked hard to get the EU to approve additional sanctions of its own against Iran, which it did in late July.

Israel and Britain cooperate very closely on Iran in both the intelligence and the diplomatic spheres. This cooperation is particularly noteworthy given the two countries’ deep differences on the Palestinian issue.

And Britain’s new ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, is an expert on the Iranian nuclear issue. He dealt with it both when he served as deputy head of mission in Britain’s embassy in Tehran a few years back and in his most recent post before coming to Israel, as principal private secretary to then-foreign secretary David Miliband.

One thing Hague will be looking for at Wednesday’s roundtable is Israel’s assessment of how effective the new sanctions against Iran have been.

Two weeks ago, Ayalon and a group of senior Israeli intelligence and defense officials were in Washington for a strategic dialogue that dealt solely with the Iranian issue. At that meeting, the Americans opined that the sanctions had succeeded beyond their expectations, thanks to widespread cooperation by many countries worldwide.

The Israelis agreed that the sanctions had been more effective than anticipated and were causing economic hardship in Iran that had increased political pressure on its government.

Nevertheless, the Israelis stressed, there is no evidence so far that the sanctions are causing Tehran to rethink its nuclear program, and they certainly have not caused it to stop enriching uranium. That is undoubtedly the assessment they will repeat to Hague tomorrow.

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UK Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell responds to the natural disasters in Indonesia

UK Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell

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October 29, 2010 (KATAKAMI / UK EMBASSY IN INDONESIA) — UK Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell said:

“Our sympathies go out to those affected by these disasters.  We are in close contact with the Government of Indonesia and stand ready to help if necessary.”

(MS)

10 countries back PM David Cameron on EU budget

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron leaves a two-day Summit of the European Union Heads of States and Governments, in Brussels October 29, 2010. Cameron won support from France, Germany and others at a European Union summit on Thursday for his opposition to a planned 5.9 percent increase in the EU's budget for 2011. (Getty Images/REUTERS/Sebastien Pirlet )

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October 29, 2010 (KATAKAMI / PortaDownTimes.Co.UK) — A British move to limit next year’s EU budget rise to 2.9% has been backed by 10 other countries at a summit in Brussels.

Prime Minister David Cameron rallied Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Austria, Finland, Slovenia and Estonia behind a declaration vowing to stop eurocrats and MEPs getting the full 5.9% rise they want.

The 11 have enough voting clout to form a “blocking minority” if the rest of the member states try to settle on a higher figure in arbitration between ministers, the European Parliament and European Commission which could last until the end of the year.

A 5.9% rise would boost the annual EU budget from nearly £108 billion this year to more than £114 billion in 2011, and even a 2.9% increase would add £435 million a year to Britain’s EU budget payments.

Mr Cameron arrived at the summit on Thursday urging a budget freeze for Europe to reflect the austerity measures being endured in national spending cuts. When he realised that was a non-starter, he launched his petition, singing up 10 other EU leaders to pledge not to go above 2.9%.

British Prime Minister David Cameron arrives for a European Union summit on October 28, 2010 at the European Council headquarters in Brussels. The European Union heads into a showdown summit Thursday determined to draw up new rules to avoid economic crises but divided on a risky Franco-German drive to write them into a new treaty. (Photo by GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images)

A statement initiated by Mr Cameron and issued at the summit on Thursday night in the name of the 11, described the 5.9% proposal as “especially unacceptable at a time when we are having to take difficult decisions at national level to control public expenditure”.

It pointed out that EU finance ministers had already proposed an increase of just 2.9% and added: “We are clear that we cannot accept any more than this.”

But one European Commission official poured cold water on the initiative, pointing out that a larger majority of EU governments backed a 2.9% rise back in July, when EU finance ministers adopted a position on the 5.9% proposal.

The summit will end with a commitment to look at ways of changing the Lisbon Treaty to answer concerns of German chancellor Angela Merkel that “bail-out” plans to head off another Greek-style economic crisis in the eurozone need strengthening. She always wanted to strip the EU voting rights from member states consistently breaching single currency rules on debt and deficit limits.

The issue does not directly affect the UK, but Mr Cameron will resist any treaty reopening which can be interpreted as ceding more powers to Brussels.

In First, British Spy Chief Goes Public

Sir John Sawers giving a live televised address in London on Thursday.

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October 28, 2010. LONDON (KATAKAMI / NYTimes) — At an appropriately hush-hush venue, before a not-so-hush-hush audience of newspaper editors and television cameras, the chief of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, on Thursday made the first public appearance by a serving chief of the agency, known as MI6, in its 101-year history.

Sir John Sawers took over the agency after the retirement of his predecessor late last year. Previously he had been a high-profile diplomat, serving as Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations and in other posts.

Sir John “will step out of the shadows today to make an unprecedented public intervention,” the Press Association news agency said, noting that his host, the Society of Editors, had requested that the venue for his speech not be made public. His appearance extended a trend among Britain’s spy bosses to shed the traditional cloak of their trade.

“Wherever possible the public should be told what is being done in their name. The default switch should be set to release information unless there is an extremely good reason for withholding it,” said Bob Satchwell, the head of the Society of Editors.

“We are glad to provide a platform that will encourage greater openness which will help to build confidence and respect for our intelligence services in their vital work in protecting national security.”

“Why now, might you ask?” Sir John said. The answer, he said, was that despite its prominence in the news, the debate about MI6 was not well-informed and “in today’s open society, no government institution is given the benefit of the doubt all the time.”

The organization traces its history to a decision by defense planners in 1909 to create a Secret Service Bureau. The body evolved through two world wars and the Cold War, feeding the plot lines and character lists of spy thrillers from James Bond to George Smiley. But for decades, the identity of its chief — known only as C, according to the Press Association — was the biggest secret of all.

Despite the nature of Sir John’s job, said Frank Gardner, the BBC’s security correspondent, “this is someone who loves the limelight.”

MI6 focuses on overseas operation while its domestic counterpart, MI5, is responsible for domestic security.

Even before his appointment, Sir John seemed to offer something a break with tradition, shown in Facebook photographs having fun in a park, wearing a red fleece and a Santa Claus hat and playing Frisbee on a beach.

The photographs were posted by Sir John’s wife, Shelley, who had chronicled the activities of her family and friends on the Facebook page, whose existence was disclosed by the tabloid Mail on Sunday.

Sir John’s appearance followed a first public speech by Iain Lobban, the director of Britain’s electronic eavesdropping agency, and several appearances by Jonathan Evans, the director general of MI5.

While he has not spoken publicly until Thursday about the work of MI6, he made two public appearances to give evidence at an official inquiry into the Iraq war about earlier assignments as a foreign policy adviser to former Prime Minister Tony Blair and as the British representative in Baghdad.

British Chancellor George Osborne visits Korea

October 22, 2010 (KATAKAMI / FCO.GOV.UK) — Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne will visit Korea to attend the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting in Gyeongju.

The Chancellor will visit Korea from Friday 22nd – Saturday 23rd October to attend the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting in Gyeongju.

He also attended the June G20 meeting in Busan.

During the two day visit, the Chancellor will represent the UK at the G20 meeting, which will run from Friday until Saturday evening. Charles Bean, Deputy Governor of Bank of England, will accompany the Chancellor to attend the Meeting in Gyeongju.

Commenting ahead of the Chancellor’s visit, Martin Uden, British Ambassador to Seoul, said:

“We see the key goal for the G20 as being to continue the recovery of the world economy and secure sustainable growth.  We need to maximise growth through the right combination of three things: deficit reduction; tackling imbalances, particularly through actions by emerging economies; and structural reform in advanced economies.

I know that the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Osborne, is also looking forward to his visit to Korea for the Summit in November.”

Further information

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is responsible for overseeing the work of Her Majesty’s Treasury, the government department responsible for economic and budgetary issues. A biography of the Chancellor is on the HM Treasury website.

Follow British Ambassador to the Republic of Korea on Twitter: @martin_uden

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera arrives in UK

Chile's President Sebastian Pinera poses with the 33 rescued miners inside Copiapo Hospital, where the miners are undergoing full medical examinations October 14, 2010. Chile's 33 newly rescued miners recovered from their ordeal on Thursday while also pondering the celebrity status they have gained following a more than two-month entrapment deep under a remote desert. From L-R: (seated) Raul Bustos, Omar Reygadas, Esteban Rojas, Samuel Avalos, Daniel Herrera, Juan Carlos Aguilar, President Pinera, Pedro Cortez, Carlos Barrios, Carlos Bugueno, Carlos Mamani, Alex Vega, Claudia Llanez, Jose Henriquez and Osman Araya; (standing) Victor Zamora, Pablo Rojas, Luis Urzua, Victor Segovia, Mario Gomez, Johnny Barrios, Mario Sepulveda, Jorge Galleguillos, Juan Illanes, Claudio Acuna, Jimmy Sanchez, Ariel Ticona, Dario Segovia, Jose Ojeda, Richard Villarroel, Franklin Lobos (hidden), Renan Avalos, Florencio Avalos and Edison Pena. (Getty Images / REUTERS/Jose Manuel de la Maza/Chilean Presidency/Handout

October 16, 2010 (KATAKAMI / BBC) — Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera has arrived in the UK ahead of a European tour, as his country basks in the rescue of 33 trapped miners.

Mr Pinera brought fragments of rock from the San Jose mine as presents for Prime Minister David Cameron and the Queen.

The billionaire president is due to visit Churchill’s War Rooms in London and hold talks with Mr Cameron.

The rescue of the miners after 69 days has made headlines worldwide.

Thirty-one of the miners have now been released from hospital, with the remaining two being transferred to other hospitals.

One is suffering from a dental infection and the second is suffering from vertigo symptoms.

Mr Pinera, 60, said Churchill’s “blood, toil, tears and sweat” speech had provided inspiration to him during the battle to save the miners.

He also said he ignored political advice to steer clear of the rescue effort.

“Many people thought the rescue was impossible and advised me not to get involved, to keep my distance,” he said.

“I decided to take full responsibility without any political consideration… We made a commitment to look for the miners as if they were our sons.”

Like Mr Cameron, Mr Pinera was only elected this year, and his visit to London is thought to have been planned many months ago.

He is thought to be hoping to persuade more British companies, including mining corporations, to invest in Chile.

Mr Pinera, who greeted the miners with a hug after their rescue, told The Times: “Chile will now be remembered and recognised not for Pinochet but as an example of unity, leadership, courage, faith and success.”

He also told the newspaper he had a “very strong admiration” for Mr Cameron.

Mr Pinera flew in to London’s Heathrow Airport and, after sightseeing in London on Sunday, will meet Mr Cameron and have an audience with the Queen, who has extended an invitation at the last minute following the mine rescue.

He is visiting France and Germany later this week.

Mr Pinera revealed that his father-in-law died only hours before the miners were rescued and he had told the president: “Don’t give up. Keep working to rescue the miners.”

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera heads for UK

President Pinera (left) is on the crest of a wave after the miners were rescued

October 16, 2010 (KATAKAMI / BBC) — Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera is due to arrive in the UK ahead of European tour, riding on the crest of a wave after the rescue of the 33 miners.

Mr Pinera will be bringing fragments of rock from the San Jose mine as presents for Prime Minister David Cameron and the Queen.

The billionaire president is due to visit Churchill’s War Rooms in London and have talks with Mr Cameron.

The rescue of the miners after 69 days has made headlines worldwide.

Thirty-one of the miners have now been released from hospital, with the remaining two being transferred to other hospitals.

One is suffering from a dental infection and the second is suffering from the symptoms of vertigo.

Mr Pinera, 60, said Churchill’s “blood, toil, tears and sweat” speech had provided inspiration to him during the battle to save the miners.

He also said he ignored political advice to steer clear of the rescue effort: “Many people thought the rescue was impossible and advised me not to get involved, to keep my distance.

“I decided to take full responsibility without any political consideration… We made a commitment to look for the miners as if they were our sons.”

Like Mr Cameron, Mr Pinera was only elected this year, and his visit to London is thought to have been planned many months ago.

He is thought to be hoping to persuade more British companies, including mining corporations, to invest in Chile.

Mr Pinera, who greeted the miners with a hug after their rescue, told The Times: “Chile will now be remembered and recognised not for Pinochet but as an example of unity, leadership, courage, faith and success.”

He also told the newspaper he had a “very strong admiration” for Mr Cameron.

Mr Pinera will arrive at London’s Heathrow Airport later and, after sightseeing in London on Sunday, he will meet Mr Cameron and have an audience with the Queen, who has extended an invitation at the last minute following the mine rescue.

He is visiting France and Germany later this week.

Mr Pinera revealed that his father-in-law died only hours before the miners were rescued and he had told the president: “Don’t give up. Keep working to rescue the miners.”

Chile’s President Gives The Queen Mine Rock

 

Chile's President Pinera met with the miners in hospital

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October 16, 2010(KATAKAMI/ SKY NEWS) — Fresh from greeting the 33 rescued miners, Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera flies to the UK today for talks with David Cameron.

Mr Pinera told The Times newspaper he is bringing gifts of rock from the mine where the men were trapped for the Prime Minister and the Queen.

The 33 workers were all safely rescued from the San Jose mine this week and all but two have since been discharged from hospital.

The president, who was elected earlier this year, captured the world’s attention as he stood in a pit helmet ready to greet each man with a hug as they emerged.

The 60-year-old leader told The Times he was inspired by Winston Churchill’s phrase of “Blood, toil, tears and sweat” during the desperate wait for the miners’ rescue.

“Many people thought the rescue was impossible and advised me not to get involved, to keep my distance,” he said.

“I decided to take full responsibility without any political consideration… We made a commitment to look for the miners as if they were our sons.”

However, Mr Pinera’s visit to the UK comes amid news of a worker’s death at a gold mine in Petorca.

Benitez Roberto Fernandez, 26, was killed when he was hit by falling rocks.

It is the second fatal case in the region in 10 days.

Mr Pinera has vowed to improve working conditions across the nation in the wake of the rescue of the San Jose miners.

The president arrives at London’s Heathrow Airport on Saturday afternoon and will visit the British Museum and Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms on Sunday.

On Monday he will meet Mr Cameron at Downing Street before having an audience with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

The Harvard-educated businessman-turned-politician told The Times he hoped Chile’s international standing had been boosted by the recent rescue effort.

He aslo hoped British entrepreneurs would now invest more in his country.

“Chile will now be remembered and recognised not for Pinochet but as an example of unity, leadership, courage, faith and success,” he said.

Mr Pinera added he believed God’s help was “absolutely essential” in the successful rescue.

He described Chile and the UK as having a “real community of values” and said he hoped to forge a relationship with Mr Cameron, for whom he expressed “a very strong admiration”.

Speaking of the visit, he told The Times: “For us it’s a great honour. I am bringing with me a gift of pieces of rock taken from the depth of the mine and will give one to the Prime Minister and one to the Queen.”

Mr Pinera will also give a lecture at the London School of Economics before visiting France and Germany.