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NKOREA ARMS SEIZURE COULD HURT US-CUBA DETENTE

Thursday, 18 July 2013 07:57 Published in National News
HAVANA (AP) — Cuba's admission that it was secretly sending aging weapons systems to North Korea has turned the global spotlight on a little-known link in a secretive network of rusting freighters and charter jets that moves weapons to and from North Korea despite U.N. sanctions.

The revelation that Cuba was shipping the arms, purportedly to be repaired and returned, is certain to jeopardize slowly warming ties between the U.S. and Havana, although the extent of the damage remains uncertain. Experts said Cuba's participation in the clandestine arms network was a puzzling move that promised little military payoff for the risk of incurring U.N. penalties and imperiling detente with Washington.

The aging armaments, including radar system parts, missiles, and even two jet fighters, were discovered Monday buried beneath thousands of tons of raw Cuban brown sugar piled onto a North Korean freighter that was seized by Panama as it headed for home through the Panama Canal.

North Korea is barred by the U.N. from buying or selling arms, missiles or components, but for years U.N. and independent arms monitors have discovered North Korean weaponry headed to Iran, Syria and a host of nations in Africa and Asia. The U.N. says North Korea also has repeatedly tried to import banned arms. What's more, analysts say, it maintains a thriving sideline in repairing aging Warsaw Pact gear, often in exchange for badly needed commodities, such as Burmese rice.

"They don't know how to grow rice, but they know how to repair radars," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a private group dedicated to promoting arms control.

"The North Koreans are taking desperate measures to pursue that work. Despite the best efforts of the international community to cut off arms transfers to and from North Korea, it will continue in some form."

The surprise for many observers was that the latest shipment of arms headed to North Korea comes from Cuba, which acknowledged late Tuesday that it was shipping two anti-aircraft missile systems, nine missiles, two Mig-21 fighter jets and 15 jet engine, saying they were headed to North Korea to be repaired there.

The discovery aboard the freighter Chong Chon Gang was expected to trigger an investigation by the U.N. Security Council committee that monitors the sanctions against North Korea, and Panamanian officials said U.N. investigators were expected in Panama on Thursday. Britain's U.N. Ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, said that "any weapons transfers, for whatever reason, to North Korea would be a violation of the sanctions regime."

If Cuba wanted to send the weapons for repairs and have them returned, it would have needed to get a waiver from the Security Council committee monitoring the North Korea sanctions. A spokesman for Luxembourg's U.N. Mission, which chairs the North Korea sanctions committee, told The Associated Press that there had been no such request from Cuba.

Democrat Robert Menendez, the Cuban-American chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the incident "almost certainly violated" U.N. sanctions and urged the Obama administration to bring it to the Security Council for review.

"Weapons transfers from one communist regime to another hidden under sacks of sugar are not accidental occurrences," Menendez said Wednesday, adding that it "reinforces the necessity that Cuba remain on the State Department's list of countries that sponsor state terrorism."

Panama's seizure of the freighter, which saw its North Korean captain try to commit suicide and 35 crewmen arrested after resisting police efforts to intercept the ship in Panamanian waters, was badly timed for officials working on baby steps toward a limited detente between the U.S. and Cuba.

High-ranking Cubans were in Washington on Wednesday for migration talks that are supposed to be held every six months but have been on ice since January 2011, as the nations remain at odds on issues like Cuba's imprisonment of U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross.

"I don't think you can sugarcoat this," said Ted Piccone, senior fellow and deputy director for foreign policy at the Washington-based Brookings Institution. "You have a suspicious cargo of weapons going to a heavily sanctioned state, and this is bad for U.S.-Cuba relations. The timing, the same week as the restart of long postponed migration talks, couldn't be worse."

In the past those discussions have provided a rare opportunity to discuss other issues informally in one of the few open channels of dialogue between the countries.

U.S. and Cuban representatives last month also sat down for talks on resuming direct mail service. Earlier this year, a U.S. judge allowed a convicted Cuban intelligence agent to return to the island rather than complete his parole in the United States. And there have been whispers that Washington could remove Cuba from its annual list of state sponsors of terrorism.

On Tuesday, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, urged a suspension of the migration talks.

"At a minimum this development will decrease the chances of any change in U.S. policy," Piccone said. "Or at least postpone changes that have been discussed quietly and publicly for some time in Washington."

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday that Washington had told Cuban officials that it would discuss the seized ship with them soon, but that it would not be a focus of the one-day migration talks.

Panamanian officials said Wednesday that the ship's crew was the subject of a criminal investigation that could lead to charges, adding that two North Korean diplomats based in Havana had been issued visas to travel to Panama to talk with authorities about the case. Panamanian authorities said it might take a week to search the ship, since so far they have only examined two of its five container sections.

North Korea's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Panama should release the crew because no drugs or illegal cargo were aboard, reiterating Cuba's explanation that, "this cargo is nothing but aging weapons which are to be sent back to Cuba after overhauling them according to a legitimate contract."

Experts said the equipment found aboard the North Korean vessel does not pose a military threat to the United States or its allies.

Like other aspects of Cuba's economy and infrastructure since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the island's armed forces rely greatly on aging technology that requires frequent maintenance and parts that are difficult to obtain.

North Korea has a robust capability to repair and upgrade such Soviet-era military equipment, and a track record of doing that in exchange for commodities such as sugar. Soviet-built air-defense missiles, radar systems and MiG-21 fighter jets are complex enough to periodically require a factory repair in addition to regular maintenance.

North Korea is also known to be seeking to evade sanctions and get spare parts for its own weapons systems, particularly Mig jet fighters. That raises the possibility that in lieu of cash, Cuba was paying for the repairs with a mix of sugar and jet equipment, experts said.

"We think it is credible that they could be sending some of these systems for repair and upgrade work," said Neil Ashdown, an analyst for IHS Jane's Intelligence. "But equally there is stuff in that shipment that could be used in North Korea and not be going back."

"Upgrading, servicing and repairing, that's what the North Koreans do," added Hugh Griffiths, arms trafficking expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. "It is military equipment prohibited under U.N. sanctions, so whether payment is made in the form of barter trade or foreign currency, it still constitutes a violation."

The private defense analysis group IHS said satellite tracking data showed that another North Korean vessel had made a similar trip last year, crossing the Panama Canal on its way to Cuba, then crossing back, although there was no evidence yet that it had been carrying arms.

Griffiths also said his institute earlier this year reported to the U.N. a discovery it made of a flight from Cuba to North Korea that traveled via central Africa, a flight it said should now be receiving new scrutiny.

Under current sanctions, all U.N. member states are prohibited from directly or indirectly supplying, selling or transferring arms, missiles or missile systems and the equipment and technology to make them to North Korea, with the exception of small arms and light weapons.

The most recent resolution, approved in March after Pyongyang's latest nuclear test, authorizes all countries to inspect cargo inside or transiting through their territory that originated in North Korea. It also lets countries inspect cargo destined for North Korea if a state has credible information the cargo could violate Security Council resolutions.

____ Weissenstein reported from Mexico City. Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Malin Rising in Stockholm, Foster Klug in Seoul, South Korea, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Juan Zamorano in Panama contributed to this report

____ Follow Michael Weissenstein on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mweissenstein Follow Peter Orsi on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Peter_Orsi

NEW SURGICAL KNIFE CAN INSTANTLY DETECT CANCER

Thursday, 18 July 2013 07:49 Published in Health & Fitness
LONDON (AP) -- Surgeons may have a new way to smoke out cancer.

An experimental surgical knife can help surgeons make sure they've removed all the cancerous tissue, doctors reported Wednesday. Surgeons typically use knives that heat tissue as they cut, producing a sharp-smelling smoke. The new knife analyzes the smoke and can instantly signal whether the tissue is cancerous or healthy.

Now surgeons have to send the tissue to a lab and wait for the results.

Dr. Zoltan Takats of Imperial College London suspected the smoke produced during cancer surgery might contain some important cancer clues. So he designed a "smart" knife hooked up to a refrigerator-sized mass spectrometry device on wheels that analyzes the smoke from cauterizing tissue.

The smoke picked up by the smart knife is compared to a library of smoke "signatures" from cancerous and non-cancerous tissues. Information appears on a monitor: green means the tissue is healthy, red means cancerous and yellow means unidentifiable.

To make sure they've removed the tumor, surgeons now send samples to a laboratory while the patient remains on the operating table. It can take about 30 minutes to get an answer in the best hospitals, but even then doctors cannot be entirely sure, so they often remove a bit more tissue than they think is strictly necessary.

If some cancerous cells remain, patients may need to have another surgery or undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

"(The new knife) looks fabulous," said Dr. Emma King, a head and neck cancer surgeon at Cancer Research U.K., who was not connected to the project. The smoke contains broken-up bits of tumor tissue and "it makes sense to look at it more carefully," she said.

The new knife and its accompanying machines were made for about >250,000 ($380,000) but scientists said the price tag would likely drop if the technology is commercialized.

The most common treatment for cancers involving solid tumors is removing them in surgery. In the U.K., one in five breast cancer patients who have surgery will need further operations to get rid of the tumor entirely.

Scientists tested the new knife at three hospitals between 2010 and 2012. Tissue samples were taken from 302 patients to create a database of which kinds of smoke contained cancers, including those of the brain, breast, colon, liver, lung and stomach.

That was then used to analyze tumors from 91 patients; the smart knife correctly spotted cancer in every case. The study was published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The research was paid for by groups including Imperial College London and the Hungarian government.

At a demonstration in London on Wednesday, doctors used the new knife - which resembles a fat white pen - to slice into slabs of pig's liver. Within minutes, the room was filled with an acrid-smelling smoke comparable to the fumes that would be produced during surgery on a human patient.

Takats said the knife would eventually be submitted for regulatory approval but that more studies were planned. He added the knife could also be used for other things like identifying tissues with bad blood supply and identifying the types of bacteria present.

Some experts said the technology could help eliminate the guesswork for doctors operating on cancer patients. "Brain cancers are notorious for infiltrating into healthy brain tissue beyond what's visible to the surgeon," said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. "If this can definitively tell doctors whether they've removed all the cancerous tissue, it would be very valuable," he said.

Still, Lichtenfeld said more trials were needed to prove the new knife would actually make a significant difference to patients. Early enthusiasm for new technologies hasn't always panned out, he said, citing the recent popularity of robotic surgery as an example.

"It expanded very rapidly but is now hitting some bumps along the road," he said.

Lichtenfeld said it's unclear whether more widespread use of the smart knife will actually help patients live longer and said studies should also look into whether the tool cuts down on patient's surgery times, their blood loss and rate of wound infections.

"This is a fascinating science and we need to adopt any technology that works to save patients," Lichtenfeld said. "But first we have to be sure that it works."

---- Online:

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DEMS PIN IMMIGRATION HOPES ON GOP'S RYAN

Wednesday, 17 July 2013 08:44 Published in National News
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats doggedly pursuing a far-reaching immigration bill are counting on help from Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's running mate last year and an unlikely candidate for delivering the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's second-term agenda.

Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman who is frequently mentioned in the GOP lineup of possible 2016 presidential candidates, stands apart from many fellow House Republicans in favoring a way out of the shadows for the 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. in violation of the law.

He casts sweeping overhaul as a necessity to ensure both economic and national security — a fitting argument for an acolyte of Jack Kemp, the late Republican congressman and 1996 vice presidential candidate who backed an ill-fated effort in 2006 to overhaul the immigration system.

"Paul Ryan says we cannot have a permanent underclass of Americans, that there needs to be a pathway to citizenship," says Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who has been working relentlessly on immigration legislation. "He is my guiding light. I know I get him in trouble every time I say it."

Senior White House aides often mention the Wisconsin Republican as crucial to the prospects for legislation this year, hoping the Republican with impeccable conservative credentials will sway recalcitrant House members. Ryan also is a reminder of two other powerful forces backing an overhaul of immigration laws — the Catholic Church and business.

Ryan is a practicing Catholic who made a point of attending Mass every Sunday during the jam-packed 2012 campaign; the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops strongly favors the first major changes to immigration in 27 years.

Ryan also represents a southeast Wisconsin district in a state that relies on the manufacturers of Waukesha engines, Kohler generators and numerous supply chains. The companies are counting on immigrants to fill future factory jobs.

"The American economy needs immigration reform, certainly the Wisconsin economy does," said Kurt Bauer, the president and CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state's chamber of commerce.

Ryan made his appeal at last week's closed-door GOP meeting, urging Republicans to seize the moment and opportunity.

He "made some very good points about how immigration is part of our history, it's made us great as a country. The diversity of America is one of its greatest strengths," recalled Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y. "I will heartily agree with that. I think all of us in the conference accept that and believe that, and that's where we recognize that this is a problem that has to be dealt with."

The difficulty for Ryan — and proponents of immigration legislation — is the fracture within the Republican Party. National Republicans are pressing for immigration legislation and consider it vital to helping the party improve its standing with the nation's fastest-growing minority, Hispanics. The Romney-Ryan ticket got just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012, a downward trend that GOP leaders fear will undermine the party in future presidential elections.

Ryan says any immigration legislation has to address the question of the 11 million living in the U.S. unlawfully. Improving border security alone is not enough.

"You can't fix the system, in my opinion, this is my personal opinion, without coming up with a viable solution for the undocumented and it's got to be a solution that respects the rule of law, that doesn't grant amnesty, that respects the person who came legally from the beginning by making sure that those who are undocumented go to the back of the line, and I think we can come up with that," he said.

But House Republicans in gerrymandered districts with few Hispanic voters have shown little inclination for addressing a path to citizenship, let alone an urgency to deal with immigration at all. Forces of personalities — Republicans Marco Rubio and John McCain and Democrat Chuck Schumer — helped steer a comprehensive bill to passage in the Senate on a strong, bipartisan vote of 68-32. The House, which has adopted a piecemeal approach, is unlikely to consider any legislation before the August break, a timetable that raises doubts of any immigration legislation passing Congress this year.

Ryan is undeterred. He is working away from the spotlight, staying in contact with the bipartisan "Gang of Seven" House lawmakers trying to craft a bill. He doesn't see himself in a high-profile role like Rubio, arguing it's an approach that doesn't work in the House.

"There are lots of different pockets of parties here in the House. And I've always believed from passing budgets and other big pieces of legislation that listening to members, talking with members, negotiating is the most effective way of getting things over the finish line," he said in a recent interview. "It's kind of more of a workhorse role than a show horse role only because I just find that's the most effective way of getting things through the House."

Ryan is hardly a newcomer to the issue. In 1994, when he worked with Kemp, he wrote a 4,000-word rebuttal to proponents of Proposition 187, the California ballot initiative that denied benefits to immigrants in the country illegally. He backed the immigration overhaul bill crafted by McCain and the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., that nearly became law in 2007.

In April, he joined Gutierrez at the City Club of Chicago to speak out for changes to the immigration system.

The Budget Committee chairman, whose next job may be head of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, makes his case based on numbers.

"Baby boomers are retiring to the tune of 10,000 people a day for the next 10 years," Ryan said. "We're going to have labor shortages in this country in the next decade. We need to have our immigration system prepared for that. It's going to take time to do that and that's why I think we need to do it now."

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