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Susan Smith-Harmon

Susan Smith-Harmon

Obama hit by Snowden setbacks with China, Russia

Tuesday, 25 June 2013 03:19 Published in National News

   WASHINGTON (AP) — For President Barack Obama, National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden's globe-trotting evasion of U.S. authorities has dealt a startling setback to efforts to strengthen ties with China and raised the prospect of worsening tensions with Russia.

   Relations with both China and Russia have been at the forefront of Obama's foreign policy agenda this month, underscoring the intertwined interests among these uneasy partners. Obama met just last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland and held an unusual two-day summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in California earlier this month.

   Obama has made no known phone calls to Xi since Snowden surfaced in Hong Kong earlier this month, nor has he talked to Putin since Snowden arrived in Russia.

   Former Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said it wasn't clear that Obama's "charm offensive" with Xi and Putin would matter much on this issue. The U.S. has "very little leverage," she said, given the broad array of issues on which the Obama administration needs Chinese and Russian cooperation.

   "This isn't happening in a vacuum, and obviously China and Russia know that," said Harman, who now runs the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

   Both the U.S. and China had hailed the Obama-Xi summit as a fresh start to a complex relationship, with the leaders building personal bonds during an hour-long walk through the grounds of the Sunnylands estate. But any easing of tensions appeared to vanish Monday following China's apparent flouting of U.S. demands that Snowden be returned from semi-autonomous Hong Kong to face espionage charges.

   White House spokesman Jay Carney, in unusually harsh language, said China had "unquestionably" damaged its relationship with Washington.

   "The Chinese have emphasized the importance of building mutual trust," Carney said. "We think that they have dealt that effort a serious setback. If we cannot count on them to honor their legal extradition obligations, then there is a problem."

   A similar problem may be looming with Russia, where Snowden arrived Sunday. He had been expected to leave Moscow for a third country, but the White House said Monday it believed the former government contractor was still in Russia.

   While the U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, the White House publicly prodded the Kremlin to send Snowden back to the U.S., while officials privately negotiated with their Russian counterparts.

   "We are expecting the Russians to examine the options available to them to expel Mr. Snowden for his return to the United States," Carney said.

   The U.S. has deep economic ties with China and needs the Asian power's help in persuading North Korea to end its nuclear provocations. The Obama administration also needs Russia's cooperation in ending the bloodshed in Syria and reducing nuclear stockpiles held by the former Cold War foes.

   Members of Congress so far have focused their anger on China and Russia, not on Obama's inability to get either country to abide by U.S. demands. However, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said in an interview with CNN on Monday that he was starting to wonder why the president hasn't been "more forceful in dealing with foreign leaders."

   Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton echoed the White House's frustration with China. "That kind of action is not only detrimental to the U.S.-China relationship but it sets a bad precedent that could unravel the intricate international agreements about how countries respect the laws — and particularly the extradition treaties," the possible 2016 presidential contender told an audience in Los Angeles.

   Snowden fled to Hong Kong after seizing highly classified documents disclosing U.S. surveillance programs that collect vast amounts of U.S. phone and Internet records. He shared the information with The Guardian and Washington Post newspapers. He also told the South China Morning Post that "the NSA does all kinds of things like hack Chinese cellphone companies to steal all of your SMS data." SMS, or short messaging service, generally means text messaging.

   Snowden still has perhaps more than 200 sensitive documents, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said over the weekend.

   Hong Kong, a former British colony with a degree of autonomy from mainland China, has an extradition treaty with the U.S. Officials in Hong Kong said a formal U.S. extradition request did not fully comply with its laws, a claim the Justice Department disputes.

   The White House made clear it believes the final decision to let Snowden leave for Russia was made by Chinese officials in Beijing.

   Russia's ultimate response to U.S. pressure remains unclear. Putin could still agree to return Snowden to the U.S. But he may also let him stay in Russia or head elsewhere, perhaps to Ecuador or Venezuela — both options certain to earn the ire of the White House.

   Fiona Hill, a Russia expert at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, said she expected Putin to take advantage of a "golden opportunity" to publicly defy the White House.

   "This is one of those opportunities to score points against the United States that I would be surprised if Russia passed up," Hill said.

   BELMONT, N.H. (AP) — A lightning strike at a New Hampshire Boy Scouts camp has injured nearly two dozen scouts.

   Scouts spokesman Greg Osborn says no one was directly hit by the lightning Monday at the Griswold Scout Reservation. He says some of the 23 scouts and three adults who were injured complained of tingling and burning sensations and all were treated by camp nurses before being hospitalized as a precaution. He says those who were treated are doing well and are in good spirits.

   The lightning struck during a big evening storm just outside Belmont at Camp Bell, one of two camps at the reservation. The camp offers activities including rock climbing and sailing.

   Firefighters say the lightning struck near where the Boy Scouts had gathered. Osborn says the Scouts were under shelter at the time.

   Charges could be filed as soon as Tuesday morning against a Wellston City Councilwoman who allegedly attacked a resident during Monday night's council meeting.  

   Police say it began as a verbal altercation between council member Helen Jackson and an older woman who was addressing the council.  But it escalated into a physical altercation after Jackson left her seat behind the podium and approached the woman, allegedly grabbing her arm.  Police intervened, restraining Jackson.  

   The victim was taken to the hospital.  Her condition isn't known.  

   The meeting broke up before the council could vote on the Mayor's appointment of former Pine Lawn Police Chief Rickey Collins with the Wellston police department.

   Collins was hired after being fired by Pine Lawn for undisclosed reasons last month.  

   Wellston Police Chief G.T. Walker says he doesn't want Collins on his force, in part because of questions surrounding his record on the job.  "We're in the process of rebuilding the name of the city of Wellston, the police department and all of the other departments," Walker said.  "I feel that we need to hire the best that we can, with the cleanest records that we can so that we can move forward."

   Walker also noted that Collins had fired many of the former Pine Lawn police officers who currently work in Wellston's department.

   Collins says he believes Walker and the other officers who oppose him are looking for revenge.

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