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Leaked cables expose British ‘paranoia’over links to US
LONDON (AFP) - US officials privately mocked the attitude of senior members of then opposition leader David Cameron’s party who vowed to run a pro-US regime if they won this year’s election, in leaked cables yesterday.
Conservative party politicians also lined up to pledge that they would buy more arms from the US if they came to power, the US embassy cables released by the WikiLeaks website and published in The Guardian show.
In meetings held before Cameron came to power in May’s election, some US diplomats were amused by what they call Britain’s “paranoid” fears about the so-called special relationship between the two countries.
One said the anxious British attitude “would often be humorous if it were not so corrosive” and suggested it would be possible to take advantage of this neurosis to “make London more willing to respond favourably when pressed for assistance”.
Liam Fox, now defence minister, promised to buy US military equipment, while the current foreign minister, William Hague, offered the US ambassador to London a “pro-American” government.
Hague told an official the entire Conservative leadership were, like him, “staunchly Atlanticist” and “children of Thatcher”, in a reference to former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
Fox met ambassador Louis Susman a year ago. In a cable marked “confidential”, Susman recorded: “Liam Fox affirmed his desire to work closely with the US if the Conservative party wins power -- adding that ‘we (Conservatives) intend to follow a much more pro-American profile in procurement’” than the then Labour government of Gordon Brown.
He reportedly went on: “Increasing US-UK ‘interoperability is the key’ since the US and UK will continue to fight together in the future” and “expressed confidence regarding US leadership in Afghanistan and optimism about the way forward.”
In a meeting with another US official, Hague is said to have stated “whoever enters 10 Downing Street as prime minister soon learns of the essential nature of the relationship with America... ‘We want a pro-American regime. We need it. The world needs it.”
Other US cables released by WikiLeaks earlier this week revealed disappointment at British forces’ performance in the violence-torn Helmand province of Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday tried to reassure Britain over its role in Afghanistan, saying she wanted to express her “deep respect and admiration for the extraordinary efforts” made by British forces.
Speaking at a security conference in Bahrain, Clinton said she wanted to express “our regret if anything that was said by anyone suggests to the contrary”.
More Wikileaks stories inside

Tech pioneer converts waste into wealth

BANGKOK (AFP) - Paijit Sangchai drops a small piece of laminated paper into a jar of cloudy liquid which he hopes will transform his start-up into a multi-million dollar company and help revolutionise recycling.
“Now this is the fun part,” he says a few minutes later, holding it under the tap to wash away soggy paper pulp and reveal a clear plastic film.
His Thai firm, Flexoresearch, has developed a series of blended enzymes that can recover pulp or fibre from laminated paper such as cigarette packets, stickers or milk cartons that were previously hard or impossible to recycle.
First one enzyme attacks the water resistant chemical coating the surface, then others take over and tackle the paper and adhesive layers. The resulting pulp, he says, can be used to produce new paper products -- thus saving trees -- or turned into building materials that can be used as an alternative to asbestos, which is potentially hazardous to human health.
The technique, believed to be the first of its kind, also produces clean plastic that can be recycled and used to produce new products.
The firm was recently named one of 31 “Technology Pioneers” by the World Economic Forum, which said its products were “poised to reduce the use of asbestos in the developing world, positively impacting people’s health.”

US winning Afghan war: Obama

President visits Kabul to greet troops

BAGRAM AIR BASE (AFP) - President Barack Obama paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan and assured cheering US troops they are winning the war against the Taliban despite “difficult days ahead”.
The president landed in Kabul under cover of darkness, with aides announcing nothing of the trip beforehand due to security concerns.
Obama, who has tripled US troop numbers in Afghanistan, spent a mere four hours in the country during his second visit as president, all at this air base outside Kabul.
A face-to-face visit with President Hamid Karzai was replaced with a 15-minute phone call, as weather scuppered plans to fly Obama by helicopter to the nearby Afghan capital.
The trip came as the Obama administration faced new friction with Karzai over embarrassing assessments of the Afghan leader in leaked diplomatic cables, but war czar Douglas Lute told reporters the topic did not come up between the two leaders.
The White House is also preparing to release a review of its war strategy later this month to an American public increasingly weary of the nine-year conflict.
“You’re achieving your objectives, you will succeed in your mission,” Obama told nearly 4,000 exuberant troops who greeted him with cheers and applause.
“We said we were going to break the Taliban’s momentum. That’s what you’re doing.”
But Obama warned “there are going to be difficult days ahead” in the fight against insurgents, and appeared to choke up as he described his visit to a base hospital where he pinned Purple Heart medals on five wounded soldiers spending the holiday season on the battlefront.
A year after Obama authorised a surge of 30,000 US troops, Afghanistan is in the grips of growing violence that is deadlier than ever before. More than 1,400 US servicemen and women have been killed since the 2001 US-led invasion to oust the Taliban -- a third of them this year alone.

Sarkozy to push defence, nuclear deals in India
PARIS (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy was due in India yesterday, the latest in a line of global leaders beating a trade-focussed path to the door of the world’s second fastest growing economy.
Sarkozy, who will lobby on behalf of French companies chasing multi-billion-dollar contracts for fighter jets and nuclear technology, will be accompanied on the four-day trip by his pop star wife Carla Bruni.
His visit comes a month after US President Barack Obama travelled to India and will be followed in swift succession by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Sarkozy is leading a high-powered delegation of seven ministers and around 60 chief executives, including the heads of aircraft-makers Dassault Aviation and EADS, and the state-controlled nuclear group Areva.
The size and prestige of the delegation shows France’s “recognition” of India’s position as “the world’s second growth engine” after China, an Elysee aide said. “In this very competitive environment, we have a special place in India,” he added.
Dassault is hoping to pick up a 1.2-billion dollar contract to revamp 56 Mirage-2000 aircraft that France sold India nearly two decades ago.
India’s ambitious military spending plans, spread across all three wings of its armed forces, are a source of intense competition among foreign arms manufacturers.
According to global consultancy firm KPMG, India is about to embark on “one of the largest procurement cycles in the world,” with an expected 112 billion dollars in defence acquisitions by 2016.
Dassault and EADS are both in the running, together with US and Swedish rivals, for an 11 billion dollar tender by the Indian Air Force to purchase 126 warplanes.
Sarkozy’s trip also carries a wider brief as his first visit to a G20 state since France took the presidency of the group of developed and major developing economic powers.
During talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he is expected to push his plans for overhauling the global monetary system and regulating commodities markets.
Sarkozy last visited India in 2008, just before he married Bruni, the supermodel turned pop singer who is now a goodwill ambassador for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
The couple plan to squeeze in a private visit today to the Taj Mahal, the 17th century “monument to love” built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his queen Mumtaz Mahal.
On the official level, Sarkozy will be accompanied by Defence Minister Alain Juppe, Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and Economy Minister Christine Lagarde.
Indian officials said no contracts would be signed during the visit but there are hopes of progress in talks for Areva to build two nuclear reactors in western India.
Sarkozy’s trip kicks off with a visit to Indian Space Research Organisation in the southern city of Bangalore, India’s high-tech capital.
The symbolism of starting the trip there intends to “pay homage to the India of the 21st century,” a Sarkozy aide said.
The French leader will tomorrow meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil in New Delhi.
The French first lady plans to visit a foundation for children suffering from AIDS and will also tour a hospital in the capital.
Bruni, who lost her brother Virginio to AIDS in 2006, became an ambassador for the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS in 2008.
On Tuesday, Sarkozy will travel to Mumbai, where he will pay his respects to the victims of the 2008 militant attacks on the city that claimed 166 lives.

World powers urge Gbagbo to concede presidency

ABIDJAN (AFP) - Ivory Coast’s bloody election standoff escalated yesterday with world powers urging long-term President Laurent Gbagbo to make way for his old rival Alassane Ouattara.
With both candidates claiming victory and the United Nations, United States and European Union all throwing their weight behind Ouattara, Ivorians waited anxiously for the next move by Gbagbo, clinging on after a decade in power.
State television said early Saturday that a ceremony was planned to confirm Gbagbo in office at midday and broadcast pictures of him meeting military leaders who it said pledged allegiance to him.
The Constitutional Council, the country’s highest court run by the president’s allies, had declared Gbagbo the winner, tightening the deadlock as fears mounted of more deadly unrest.
But Ouattara defied Gbagbo, declaring himself president-elect as the international community began to fall in behind him on Friday.
“I am the elected president of the Republic of Ivory Coast,” Ouattara told reporters.
“The Constitutional Council has abused its authority, the whole world knows it, and I am sorry for my country’s image.”
Both sides had traded allegations of cheating in the vote and Gbagbo’s camp tried to have results annulled in Ouattara’s northern stronghold, but the United Nations judged the polls sound overall.
Gbagbo’s camp remained defiant as Ouattara won international backing, threatening to expel the United Nations envoy to the country.

South Korea promises air strike response
SEOUL: South Korea’s defence minister-designate has promised a tougher response, including air strikes, if North Korea attacks again.
Kim Kwan-jin was responding to questions in parliament during his confirmation hearing.
North Korea shelled a Southern island near the two countries’ disputed maritime border last week, killing four people and destroying many homes.
South Korea’s spy chief has said another Northern attack was likely.
Tensions have soared in the region since the North Korean bombardment of Yeonpyeong island on November 23. Two civilians and two South Korean marines were killed.
The shelling came after South Korean forces conducted exercises in the area.

Galaxy tablet vs iPad
HONG KONG (AFP) - Last Christmas anybody asked if they wanted a “tablet” probably thought they were being offered a pill to ease indigestion caused by a little bit of festive over-indulgence.
But this year, millions of people around the world will be glued to their iPad or other tablet computer instead of watching yet another re-run of a movie on TV.
Samsung Electronics says it has sold over 700,000 of its Galaxy Tab device in the six weeks since its launch and believes at least a million will be in people’s hands by the end of the year.
But that’s still miles behind the iPad, which only went on sale in South Korea -- Samsung’s home turf -- for the first time recently.
Apple has sold more than eight million of the gadgets since it went on sale in April but could have sold more, experts say, were it not for problems making enough to meet demand.
Sony, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM), Toshiba, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, Dell, Asus, Acer -- most of the big global brand names in the technology sector have a tablet computer on the market or in the pipeline.
Technology research firm Gartner last month said sales of tablet computers are expected to soar from nearly 20 million units this year to 55 million next year and over 208 million in 2014.
The Galaxy Tab has a seven-inch (18-cm) touch screen -- significantly smaller than the iPad’s nearly 10-inch display. But Samsung says it will introduce “new tablets of different sizes in the near future”.
Apple’s first generation iPad does not have a camera, does not function as a phone and the company does not allow the Flash video standard on the gadget. These are all big advantages for Samsung, the company says.
“The Tab sets itself apart from other similar smart media devices by featuring optimal portability, Flash support, dual cameras and phone-call functions,” Samsung Electronics spokesman Nam Ki-yung said