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Saturday, March 28, 2015


Solidarity March in Tunis, Tunisia
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 28, 2015

On behalf of President Obama, I would like to express the United States’ solidarity with the Tunisian people as they march tomorrow in Tunis in defiance of the shocking and grotesque terrorist attack at the National Bardo Museum on March 18. The U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia, Jake Walles, will represent the United States at tomorrow’s event.

We join all those gathered from Tunisia and around the world in rejecting every form of terrorism. We commend Tunisians’ resolve, in the wake of this tragedy, to stand up for the ideals of their hard-fought, democratic revolution and applaud their efforts to build a free, secure, and prosperous future.

Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken looks forward to visiting Tunisia in early April to reaffirm our strong support for Tunisia and to discuss ways to expand our strategic partnership.

WEEKLY ADDRESS: 03/28/2015



March 27, 2015
Statement by the Press Secretary on the Passage of the Senate Budget

Following in the footsteps of their House colleagues, Senate Republicans today voted in favor of a budget that relies on top-down economics and gimmicks.  The Senate Republican budget refuses to ask the wealthy to contribute a single dollar to deficit reduction, putting the entire burden on the middle-class, seniors, low-income children and families, and national security.  Senate Republicans voted in favor of locking in draconian sequestration cuts to investments in the middle class like education, job training and manufacturing and also failed to responsibly fund our national security, opting instead for budget gimmicks, an approach that now faces procedural hurdles put in place by their own party.

Meanwhile, the President has a plan to bring middle class economics into the 21st Century.  The President’s Budget builds on the progress we’ve made and shows what we can do if we invest in America's future, and end sequestration, by cutting inefficient spending and reforming our broken tax code to make sure everyone pays their fair share. It lays out a strategy to strengthen our middle class with investments in research, education, training, and infrastructure, while also fulfilling our most basic responsibility to keep Americans safe.

In 2013 Republicans came to the negotiating table and ultimately chose the responsible path by supporting the Murray-Ryan agreement, which reversed harmful sequestration cuts to both defense and non-defense equally, dollar for dollar.  Last night, Senators from both parties came together to call for building on that approach this year and to support paying for sequester relief with both spending and tax reforms.  The President has been clear that he will not accept a budget that locks in sequestration or one that increases funding for our national security without providing matching increases in funding for our economic security.  The Administration will continue to abide by these principles moving forward.


March 27, 2015
FACT SHEET: The Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative

The United States is undergoing a rapid energy transformation, particularly in the power sector. Booming natural gas production, declining costs for renewable energy, increases in energy efficiency, flattening electricity demand, and updated clean air standards are changing the way electricity is generated and used across the country. These trends are producing cleaner air and healthier communities, and spurring new jobs and industries. At the same time, they are impacting workers and communities who have relied on the coal industry as a source of good jobs and economic prosperity, particularly in Appalachia, where competition with other coal basins provides additional pressure.

To help these communities adapt to the changing energy landscape and build a better future, the President’s FY 2016 Budget proposed the POWER+ Plan.  The POWER+ Plan invests in workers and jobs, addresses important legacy costs in coal country, and drives development of coal technology.

This year, the Administration will make a down payment on the POWER+ Plan by beginning implementation of a key part of the Plan - the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) initiative.  POWER will be a coordinated effort, involving multiple federal agencies, with the goal of effectively aligning, leveraging, and targeting a range of federal economic and workforce development programs and resources to assist communities negatively impacted by changes in the coal industry and power sector. The POWER initiative will coordinate use of appropriated FY 2015 funds from a range of federal programs, while following the relevant statutory and regulatory requirements for each program.

The POWER initiative will award grants on two parallel tracks to partnerships anchored in impacted communities. These grants will help communities organize themselves to respond on behalf of affected workers and businesses, develop comprehensive strategic plans that chart their economic future, and execute coordinated economic and workforce development activities based on their strategic plans.  These activities will seek to: (1) diversify economies; (2) create jobs in new or existing industries; (3) attract new sources of job-creating investment; (4) and provide a range of workforce services and skills training, including work-based learning opportunities, resulting in industry-recognized credentials for high-quality, in-demand jobs.

These efforts in FY 2015 will lay the groundwork for a multi-year initiative with grants awarded in future years based on the availability of appropriations.  The President’s FY 2016 Budget includes over $55 million for economic and workforce development strategies across a number of federal programs, which would be used to continue and expand the POWER initiative after it begins this year.

POWER Funding and Administrative Structure

POWER will award grants using $28-$38 million in FY 2015 funds from the Department of Commerce (DOC), Department of Labor (DOL), Small Business Administration (SBA), and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).  The grants will be designed to assist communities regardless of their different levels of capacity, planning and preparation.  A two-track grant-making process is described below, with an understanding that some communities will require some form of pre-planning technical assistance in order to effectively apply for either planning or implementation grants.

Track #1: Planning Grants

DOC and DOL will award planning grants to communities that have been or will be impacted by coal mining and coal power plant employment loss (or layoffs in the manufacturing or transportation logistics supply chains of either) and that do not have robust and/or recent comprehensive and integrated economic development strategic plans in place.  Grant funds would be available to help organize community stakeholders, analyze and inventory community assets, evaluate needs and resources, and develop comprehensive economic development strategic plans.  Grants would also go to State Workforce Agencies for in-depth labor market analysis and workforce development and dislocated worker planning connected with the provision of training and employment services.

Funding Sources:

DOC – Economic Development Administration (EDA), Assistance to Coal Communities, Economic Adjustment Assistance, and Partnership Planning
DOL – Employment and Training Administration (ETA), Dislocated Worker National Emergency Grants [1]
Track #2: Implementation Grants

DOC, DOL, SBA, and ARC will award implementation grants to communities that have been impacted by coal mining and coal power plant employment loss (or layoffs in the manufacturing or transportation logistics supply chains of either) and that have already done robust strategic planning.  Grants would support the implementation of linked economic and workforce development strategies to develop high-potential industry clusters, assist impacted communities to accelerate job creation by leveraging local assets, train and place workers in family-supporting, high-demand jobs (including Registered Apprenticeship and other on-the-job training models), and to create linkages that drive regional economic growth.

Funding Sources:

DOC -- EDA, Assistance to Coal Communities, Economic Adjustment Assistance, and Partnership Planning (up to $15 million total for both grant making tracks)
DOL – Employment and Training Administration (ETA), Dislocated Worker National Emergency Grants (up to $10-20 million total for both grant making tracks)
SBA, Regional Innovation Clusters and Growth Accelerators (up to $3 million combined[2])
ARC, Technical Assistance and Demonstration Projects (up to $500 thousand for applicants from its region)
The implementation grants will be awarded through a single POWER Federal Funding Opportunity (FFO) announcement that combines funding opportunities and activities and services from different programs and agencies but maintains the eligibility rules, permitted activities, and reporting requirements of the originating program and funding.  Partnerships will be encouraged to apply for more than one funding source where appropriate, but that will not be required.

Additional Federal Agency Participation

A number of other federal agencies will also participate in the POWER initiative by providing technical assistance and education and outreach to POWER partnerships, coordination with existing resources, and/or preference points for agency funding for applications from the partnerships.  The additional agencies will include:

USDA-Rural Business Cooperative Service
Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response
Department of Energy
Department of Treasury, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund
DOC, SelectUSA
DOC, NIST-Manufacturing Extension Partnerships
Corporation for National and Community Service
Department of Interior, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement

EDA will be the administrative home for POWER given the economic development thrust of this initiative.  EDA will manage the joint FFO announcement and overall process of competitive solicitation, provide a single staff point of federal contact (with staffing assistance from other participating agencies when needed) for the selected partnerships, and coordinate cross-agency activities at the regional level that direct additional federal resources to impacted communities.  Grant selection, awards and execution will be managed by each authorized agency, with EDA playing a coordination role.

POWER Partnerships

Eligibility for applicants for POWER awards will be dictated by the sources of the funds.  Regardless of the primary applicant for Implementation Grants, POWER will encourage a broader partnership to participate, including (but not limited to) representatives from government, economic development organizations, workforce development boards, community and technical colleges, businesses, labor unions, and community groups.


April/May, 2015: Track #1 POWER Planning Grant announcement issued

April/May, 2015:  Track #2 POWER Implementation Grant FFO issued

July/August, 2015: POWER Planning and Implementation Grant awards ready to announce

[1] The DOL-ETA will solicit applications for planning activities with implementation activities as part of the combined Implementation Grant FFO

[2] Regional Innovation Clusters funding will be $500,000 for the first year for one partnership, with an option to extend funding by another $2 million over the next four years.



Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Jury Convicts Makers of OXYwater for Wire Fraud, Money Laundering and Tax Crimes

Today, a federal jury convicted a man from Lewis Center, Ohio, and his business partner of Powell, Ohio, of defrauding their company’s investors and diverting investors’ funds for their own personal use.  Preston Harrison and his wife, Lovena E. Harrison, 42, were also both convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States and filing a false income tax return, and Lovena Harrison was convicted of structuring financial transactions to evade currency reporting requirements.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Justice Department’s Tax Division, U.S. Attorney Carter M. Stewart of the Southern District of Ohio, Special Agent in Charge Kathy Enstrom of Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) and Special Agent in Charge Angela L. Byers of the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Division announced the verdict reached today, which was returned following a trial that began on March 16 before U.S. District Judge Gregory L. Frost.

According to court testimony, Thomas E. Jackson, 40, of Powell, and Preston J. Harrison, 43, of Lewis Center, operated Westerville, Ohio, based Imperial Integrated Health Research and Development LLC and developed a product called OXYwater, a beverage that promoters claimed was an all-natural, vitamin-enhanced sports drink that contained added oxygen for improved physical performance.

The defendants engaged in a scheme to deceive the investors in their company about the structure, composition, finances, sales and profits of OXYwater in order to make the company appear to be a lucrative and profitable financial investment.  Jackson and Harrison produced and sent false and fraudulent documents intended to deceive investors, the ultimate purpose of such false statements being for Jackson and Preston Harrison to obtain money invested in the company.  They then misappropriated that money for their own personal use and household expenditures including the purchase of jewelry, a Cadillac Escalade, a BMW, weapons, clothing, home improvements and a swimming pool.

“This case was about the millions of dollars that the defendants stole from investors to fuel their lavish lifestyle,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Kim in court.

Jackson and Harrison misappropriated approximately $2 million of the investors’ funds between August 2010 and spring 2013.  The defendants’ scheme caused investors to suffer substantial losses when the corporation was forced to declare bankruptcy with no assets.  As a result of the defendants’ conduct, investors lost approximately $9 million.

Jackson and Preston Harrison were each convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, for which they face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, for which they face a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.  Jackson was convicted of eight counts of wire fraud, which carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and 12 counts of money laundering, which carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.  Harrison was convicted of 12 counts of money laundering, for which he faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Preston and Lovena Harrison were both convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States and with filing a false tax return.  Preston Harrison misappropriated approximately $1.1 million in 2011 from his company, which he and his wife, Lovena Harrison, placed in an account in the name of her daycare business.  They used the money for personal expenses and did not report the money as income on their 2011 income tax return.  Lovena Harrison was also convicted of one count of structuring financial transactions to evade currency reporting requirements.  Conspiracy to defraud the United States and structuring financial transactions to evade currency reporting requirements are each crimes with a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison, and filing a false tax return carries a statutory maximum sentence of three years in prison.

Preston Harrison and Jackson also face potential forfeiture of $1.1 million, including two vehicles, eight weapons, cash and the contents of a bank account.

The three defendants were indicted by a grand jury on May 20, 2014.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo and U.S. Attorney Stewart commended the cooperative investigation by the IRS-CI and FBI, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Kim and Trial Attorneys Andrew Young and Jason Scheff of the Tax Division, who prosecuted the case.


FTC Halts Online ‘Yellow Pages’ Scammers
Canada-Based Schemes Targeted Small Businesses, Nonprofits in U.S.

The Federal Trade Commission has halted two Canada-based schemes that defrauded small businesses and nonprofits in the United States by billing them for unwanted listings in online “yellow pages” business directories.

The owner of a Montreal-based operation that bilked millions of dollars from businesses, churches, nonprofits and local governments will be banned from the business-directory industry under a settlement with the FTC.

In June 2014, the FTC charged Oni Nathifa Julien and several of her companies with contacting organizations under the guise of confirming contact information in a directory in which their organization already appeared. The defendants billed organizations $479.95 or more, using invoices with the walking fingers image often associated with local yellow page directories. If the recipients disputed the invoices, the defendants used deceptive collection tactics, such as playing altered or incomplete audio recordings to give the false impression that an employee of the organization had authorized a directory listing.

Under the settlement order, Julien is prohibited from misrepresenting any good or service, including that organizations have a preexisting business relationship with her or anyone else, that they have agreed to buy something, or that they owe money. She is also barred from continuing to collect money from past customers or profiting from or keeping their personal information. The order imposes a $3,081,969 judgment that will be suspended due to Julien’s inability to pay. The full judgment will become due immediately if she is found to have misrepresented her financial condition.

The Commission vote approving the proposed stipulated order for permanent injunction and monetary judgment was 5-0. The order was entered by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle on March 10, 2015.

NOTE: Stipulated orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.

Medical Yellow Directories

At the FTC’s request, a federal court has halted a Quebec-based scheme that allegedly defrauded medical practices, churches, and retirement homes, generating more than 1,800 complaints from consumers. The FTC seeks to stop the illegal practices permanently.

According to a complaint filed by the FTC, the defendants used a variety of business names, typically including the words “American” and “Yellow,” to send consumers unsolicited invoices bearing the well-known “walking fingers” image and seeking $480.95 or a similar amount for a one-year directory listing. Consumers were directed to send checks to U.S. addresses that are really commercial mail receiving agencies that forward mail to Quebec.

The invoices named someone from the targeted organization and showed the listing as it purportedly would appear in a directory, suggesting that someone previously agreed to buy a listing. Those who ignored the invoices received more of them with statements such as “COLLECTION WARNING” and “LAST CHANCE TO PROTECT YOUR CREDIT SCORE IN GOOD STANDING!!!” and demands for larger payments, such as $2,385.95, with no explanation for the higher amount.

When consumers still refused to pay, the defendants sent dunning notices, posing as a third-party debt collector, General Credit Protection Inc.-Credit Bureau Recovery. Although they told Better Business Bureaus and state attorneys general that they would stop demanding payment and remove complaining consumers from their customer lists, the defendants kept sending invoices demanding payment.

The defendants are American Yellow Browser Inc.; American Yellow Group Inc.; Distribution H.E.P. Inc., also doing business as American Yellow Distribution and Medical Yellow Directories Inc.; Official Yellow Guide Inc.; Publication A.A.P. Inc., also d/b/a All American Pages and Official Yellow Guide; Publication A.Y.B. Inc., also d/b/a American Yellow Browser Inc., American Yellow Group Inc., and All American Pages Inc.; Publications A.Y.D. Inc.; Ivan Chernev, also d/b/a American Yellow Corporation Inc., General Credit Protection Inc., and Credit Bureau Recovery; and German Lebedev, also d/b/a American Yellow Directories Inc.

The complaint alleges that the defendants misrepresent that consumers have agreed to buy a business directory listing and owe them money, in violation of the FTC Act.

The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, was 5-0.


Order Requires Deletion of All Consumer Data, Prohibits Further Deception

The Federal Trade Commission has granted summary decision against the operators of, a website that billed itself as “the anti-social network,” for deceiving users about the source of content on the website. The Commission found that the operators – Jerk, LLC (“Jerk”) and John Fanning – misled consumers by claiming that content on the website was posted by other users. Instead, most of the content came from Facebook profiles mined by the operators.

The Commission also found that the company and Fanning misrepresented the benefits of a paid membership which, for $30, purportedly allowed consumers to update information in their profiles.  In fact, consumers who paid for the membership were unable to correct information about them on the site, and did not receive anything of value for their “membership.”

The final order and an accompanying opinion resulted from an administrative complaint the FTC staff filed in 2014 against Jerk and Fanning. The summary decision was requested by FTC staff trying the case.

The order requires the company and Fanning to delete all personal and customer information collected during the operation of the now-defunct website within 30 days, and prohibits them from selling or disclosing any of that information. The order also prohibits them from misrepresenting the source of any content on a website, including personal information, and from misrepresenting the benefits of joining any service.                      

The Commission vote to issue the opinion granting summary decision and the final order was 5-0.

The company or Fanning may file a petition for review of the Commission Opinion and Final Order with a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals within 60 days after service of the Final Order.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them.

Friday, March 27, 2015



March 27, 2015
Statement by the President on the Retirement of Senator Harry Reid

Harry Reid is a fighter. In his five terms as a U.S. Senator, Harry has fought for good jobs, a safer environment for our kids, and affordable health care for all. He's never backed down from a tough decision, or been afraid to choose what is right over what is easy. Time and time again, Harry stood up to special interests and made sure every one of his constituents had a voice in their nation's capital.

Above all else, Harry has fought for the people of his beloved state of Nevada. The son of a miner and a maid from the tiny town of Searchlight, he never forgot where he came from, and he never stopped working to give everyone who works hard the same shot at success that he had.

As the leader of the Senate Democrats during my time in office, Harry has become not only an ally, but a friend. I'm proud of all we have accomplished together, and I know the Senate will not be the same without him. I look forward to working with him to keep fighting for every American over the next two years, and Michelle and I wish him and Landra well in whatever the future holds.



Right:  Defense Secretary Ash Carter provides remarks on the national security budget and the relationship between the Defense and State departments at the Global Chiefs of Mission conference at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., March 26, 2015. DoD screen shot.  

Carter Calls for ‘Full-Court Press’ on Security Challenges
By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2015 – Defense Secretary Ash Carter called for a “full-court press” within government to tackle the pressing national security issues of the day.

Carter spoke today at the State Department’s Global Chiefs of Mission Conference. He is the first defense secretary to address the conference.
Carter called on Congress to put money into the effort. “We can’t just theorize and strategize,” he said. “We have to invest in the whole-of-government way.”

Sequestration Would Harm Defense, Partner Agencies

The secretary said he and other military leaders “have been vocal and specific about the damage that sequestration-level budgets would inflict on the need to restore readiness, on badly needed technological modernization, and on keeping faith with troops and their families.

“And I want to emphasize that current proposals to shoe-horn DoD’s base budget funds into our contingency accounts would fail to solve the problem, while also undermining basic principles of accountability and responsible long-term planning,” Carter said.

And, as the defense secretary, Carter said he cannot ignore cuts in partner agencies such as State, Homeland Security and Treasury.

“I cannot be indifferent to the vital national security responsibilities across our government, just as I cannot be indifferent to my own at DoD,” he said.

‘Whole-of-Government’ Approach

The secretary stressed that most of the national security issues facing America require resources from a number of different agencies working together.

Diplomatic, economic, information and military aspects must be fully integrated for U.S. policies to succeed, he said. Cuts in the State Department budget, for example, affect the Defense Department and vice versa, Carter added.

In recent years, many have been calling for “whole-of-government” approaches to world problems. They also talk about “smart power” -- meaning using more than just the military to effect change. These terms, Carter said, are relatively new, but the basic concept has “been around from Sung China to the Holy Roman Empire -- the idea of leveraging all resources of state is an enduring principle of strategy and statecraft.”

The United States used the whole-of-government approach in crafting and executing the Marshall Plan after World War II, Carter said. That plan, he added, laid the foundation for the Common Market and now the European Union.

Interagency Operations Vital

But harnessing the power of the government has not always been easy, Carter said. Since World War II, State and Defense have often been working at cross purposes, he said, but that has changed.

“We work with a generation of national-security professionals in both agencies, who are actually steeped in interagency cooperation,” the secretary said. “Most of today’s senior officials cut their teeth in the multidimensional policy challenges we faced in Haiti and the Balkans in the 1990s, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and against terror brought even closer interagency cooperation.”

Carter noted that then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates testified before Congress in 2010 in support of the State Department’s budget request, and he has done the same.

“Senior Defense Department officials have become some of the most vocal constituents for greater civilian involvement not just in conflict zones but … also in what I have called ‘preventive defense,’ or the influencing of the strategic environment to prevent and deter conflict in the first place,” he said.

Military personnel also recognize that ensuring victory requires much more than guns and steel, the secretary said.

“In conflict zones, it requires good governance, reconciliation, education and the rule of law,” he said. “And in addressing the wider catalog of strategic challenges, it requires marrying the threat of force with financial and diplomatic leverage.”

Coalition ‘Putting ISIL on the Defensive’

Operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are a case in point, Carter said. “Today, our global coalition's military campaign is putting ISIL on the defensive,” he said. “Just yesterday [in Iraq] the coalition that many of you in this room have built began conducting airstrikes around Tikrit. But we know that lasting defeat of ISIL requires an integrated campaign with equally potent political and economic maneuvers.”

A lasting defeat of ISIL, he said, requires DoD to work closely with the State Department to support the government of Iraq and the nascent Syrian opposition, and to assemble and then fully leverage the commitment and resources of a vast coalition. It also requires the U.S. Agency for International Development to work closely with regional and global partners, as refugees continue flowing into Jordan and Turkey, he added.

Defeating ISIL requires the U.S. Treasury to choke off the terror group’s resources, “while Homeland Security, the intelligence community and law enforcement together keep watch on our borders” and deter attacks on the United States and its friends and allies, Carter said.

Unified Approach Needed for Diverse Challenges

The same whole-of-government effort is needed against Iran’s nuclear program, he said, and against Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and continued operations inside Eastern Ukraine.

A full-court press also is needed in the aftermath of disasters, he said. “We’ve worked across our government, demonstrating that in an hour of need, the United States shows up for our closest allies and friends,” Carter said.

The secretary pointed to the U.S. response to the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor accident in Japan as an example. “This effort powerfully reinforced the U.S.-Japan alliance, demonstrating to Japanese citizens just how deep and broad that alliance really is,” he said.

Securing cyberspace requires the efforts of many U.S. agencies and international partners, Carter said. DoD is working with the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Homeland Security on protecting this new domain. The State Department is leading an effort to build international agreements on norms of state conduct in cyber space, he said.

“To pack the fullest strategic punch, we need to do a better job developing joint strategies and pooling our resources to execute them,” Carter said to the State Department audience. “We need to adequately fund and empower your mission as our nation's top envoys.”

Those in national security, the secretary said, need to “think big and anew, even re-imagining the future of our national security machinery to address classic strategic challenges, such as those in Asia, alongside campaigns that we’re conducting in the Middle East, while also tackling transnational challenges like global health security and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”
The full-court press needs to be applied not only to challenges, but to opportunities as well, he said.

“We need to put a whole-of-government muscle not only behind our challenges, but also behind our beckoning opportunities, from strengthening and modernizing our longstanding alliances to advancing our shared prosperity through new trade agreements with Europe and Asia, to building new partnerships with rising powers like India,” Carter said.


Shrinking habitats have adverse effects on world ecosystems--and ultimately people

Extensive study of global habitat fragmentation points to major trouble ahead
An extensive study of global habitat fragmentation--the division of habitats into smaller and more isolated patches--points to major trouble for the world's ecosystems.

The study shows that 70 percent of existing forest lands are within a half-mile of forest edges, where encroaching urban, suburban and agricultural influences can cause harmful effects such as losses of plant and animal species.

Five continents of habitat fragmentation

The research also tracks seven major experiments on five continents that examine habitat fragmentation and finds that fragmented habitats reduce the diversity of plants and animals by 13 to 75 percent.

The largest effects are found in the smallest and most isolated fragments of habitat.

Results of the study, which involved two dozen researchers across the globe, are reported in a new paper published in Science Advances.

The work is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

"The results are stark," said Doug Levey, program director in NSF's Division of Environmental Biology and a co-author of the paper. "No matter the place, habitat or species, habitat fragmentation has large effects, which grow worse over time."

The scientists assembled a map of global forest cover and found very few forest lands unencumbered by some type of human development.

World's forests shrinking

"It's no secret that the world's forests are shrinking, so we asked about the effects of this habitat loss and fragmentation on the remaining forests," said Nick Haddad, a biologist at North Carolina State University and corresponding author of the paper.

"The results were astounding," he said.

"Nearly 20 percent of the world's remaining forests are the distance of a football field--or about 100 meters--away from forest edges. Seventy percent of forest lands are within a half-mile of forest edges. That means almost no forests can really be considered wilderness."

Covering many ecosystems, from forests to savannahs to grasslands, the experiments combined to show a disturbing trend.

Fragmentation changes how ecosystems function, reduces the amounts of nutrients retained and the amount of carbon sequestered and has other deleterious effects.

Negative effects of fragmentation and help for the forest

"The initial effects were unsurprising," Haddad said. "But I was blown away by the fact that these negative effects became even more negative with time. Some results showed a 50 percent or higher decline in plant and animal species over an average of just 20 years.

"And the trajectory is still spiraling downward."

Haddad points to some possible ways of mitigating the effects of fragmentation: conserving and maintaining larger areas of habitat; using landscape corridors, or connected fragments that are effective in maintaining higher biodiversity and better ecosystem function; increasing agricultural efficiency; and focusing on urban design efficiencies.

"Ultimately, habitat fragmentation has harmful effects that will also hurt people," said Haddad.

"This study is a wake-up call to how much we're affecting ecosystems--including areas we think we're conserving."

-- Cheryl Dybas, NSF



Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Schlumberger Oilfield Holdings Ltd. Agrees to Plead Guilty and Pay Over $232.7 Million for Violating US Sanctions by Facilitating Trade with Iran and Sudan
Parent Company, Schlumberger Ltd., Also Agrees to Continue Cooperation With U.S. Authorities and To Hire an Independent Consultant to Review Its Sanctions Policies, Procedures and Internal Sanctions Audits

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. of the District of Columbia and Under Secretary Eric L. Hirschhorn of the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security announced today that Schlumberger Oilfield Holdings Ltd. (SOHL), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Schlumberger Ltd., has agreed to enter a guilty plea and to pay a $232,708,356 penalty to the United States for conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by willfully facilitating illegal transactions and engaging in trade with Iran and Sudan.

The plea agreement, which is contingent upon the court’s approval, also requires SOHL to submit to a three-year period of corporate probation and agree to continue to cooperate with the government and not commit any additional felony violations of U.S. federal law.  In addition to SOHL’s commitments, under the plea agreement, SOHL’s parent company, Schlumberger Ltd., has also agreed to the following additional terms during the three-year term of probation, inter alia: (1) maintaining its cessation of all operations in Iran and Sudan, (2) reporting on the parent company’s compliance with sanctions, (3) responding to requests to disclose information and materials related to the parent company’s compliance with U.S. sanctions laws when requested by U.S. authorities, and (4) hiring an independent consultant to review the parent company’s internal sanctions policies and procedures and the parent company’s internal audits focused on sanctions compliance.  The guilty plea concludes a joint investigation commenced in 2009 and led by the Justice Department’s National Security Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) Dallas Field Office.

“Over a period of years, Schlumberger Oilfield Holdings Ltd. conducted business with Iran and Sudan from the United States and took steps to disguise those business dealings, thereby willfully violating the U.S. economic sanctions against those regimes,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin.  “The International Emergency Economic Powers Act is an essential tool that the United States uses to address foreign threats to national security through the regulation of commerce.  Knowingly circumventing sanctions undermines their efficacy and has the potential to harm both U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives.  The guilty plea and significant financial penalty in this case underscore that skirting sanctions for financial gain is a risk corporations ought not take.”

“This is a landmark case that puts global corporations on notice that they must respect our trade laws when on American soil,” said U.S. Attorney Machen.  “Even if you don’t directly ship goods from the United States to sanctioned countries, you violate our laws when you facilitate trade with those countries from a U.S.-based office building.  For years, in a variety of ways, this foreign company facilitated trade with Iran and Sudan from Sugar Land, Texas.  Today’s announcement should send a clear message to all global companies with a U.S. presence: whether your employees are from the U.S. or abroad, when they are in the United States, they will abide by our laws or you will be held accountable.”

“Today's criminal guilty plea demonstrates the Commerce Department’s commitment to aggressively prosecute multinational corporations for violations involving embargoed destinations,” said Under Secretary Hirschhorn.  “We will continue to pursue violators wherever they are located and whatever their size.  I commend the Office of Export Enforcement and the Department of Justice for their outstanding efforts to investigate and prosecute this case.”

A criminal information was filed today in federal court in the District of Columbia charging SOHL with one count of knowingly and willfully conspiring to violate IEEPA.  SOHL waived the requirement of being charged by way of federal Indictment, agreed to the filing of the information, and has accepted responsibility for its criminal conduct and that of its employees by entering into a plea agreement with the government.  The plea agreement, which is contingent upon the court’s approval, requires that SOHL pay the U.S. government $232,708,356 and enter into a three-year period of corporate probation.  SOHL’s monetary penalty includes a $77,569,452 criminal forfeiture and an additional $155,138,904 criminal fine.  The criminal fine represents the largest criminal fine in connection with an IEEPA prosecution.      

In addition to SOHL’s agreement to continue its cooperation with U.S. authorities throughout the three-year period of probation and not to engage in any felony violation of U.S. federal law, SOHL’s parent company, Schlumberger Ltd., also has agreed to continue its cooperation with U.S. authorities during the three-year period of probation, and hire an independent consultant who will review the parent company’s internal sanctions policies, procedures and company-generated sanctions audit reports.

Summary of the Criminal Conduct

According to court documents, starting on or about early 2004 and continuing through June 2010, Drilling & Measurements (D&M), a United States-based Schlumberger business segment, provided oilfield services to Schlumberger customers in Iran and Sudan through non-U.S. subsidiaries of SOHL.  Although SOHL, as a subsidiary of Schlumberger Ltd., had policies and procedures designed to ensure that D&M did not violate U.S. sanctions, SOHL failed to train its employees adequately to ensure that all U.S. persons, including non-U.S. citizens who resided in the United States while employed at D&M, complied with Schlumberger Ltd.’s sanctions policies and compliance procedures.  As a result of D&M’s lack of adherence to U.S. sanctions combined with SOHL’s failure to train properly U.S. persons and to enforce fully its policies and procedures, D&M, through the acts of employees residing in the United States, violated U.S. sanctions against Iran and Sudan by: (1) approving and disguising the company’s capital expenditure requests from Iran and Sudan for the manufacture of new oilfield drilling tools and for the spending of money for certain company purchases; (2) making and implementing business decisions specifically concerning Iran and Sudan; and (3) providing certain technical services and expertise in order to troubleshoot mechanical failures and to sustain expensive drilling tools and related equipment in Iran and Sudan.

The Illegal Schemes

Illegal U.S. Person Approval of Capital Expenditures.  According to court documents, one of the important functions of D&M management personnel was the supervision of D&M’s capital expenditure (CAPEX) process.  The CAPEX process was a forecasting mechanism enabling oilfield locations to predict what tools and equipment they would need to meet anticipated demand for oilfield services.  Oilfield personnel worldwide made requests through an automated system for the manufacture of new tools and for permission to spend money for certain purchases in order to support oilfield operations.  Once approved by the D&M Global Asset Manager in the United States, a request for new equipment was transmitted to one of three manufacturing centers for the production of new tools and other assets.  The spending of funds for large-scale purchases was authorized once the request was approved by the D&M Global Asset Manager.  Under the CAPEX process in place during the relevant time period, approval by the D&M Global Asset Manager, a U.S. person, was required for every CAPEX request, including requests submitted by or for the benefit of D&M oilfields in Iran and Sudan.

Consequently, D&M’s CAPEX process violated sanctions with Iran and Sudan in a number of ways.  Although CAPEX approvals were ordinarily sought through an automated computer system, D&M personnel outside the United States frequently sent emails to the D&M Global Asset Manager in the United States justifying particular requests, many of which related to requests submitted by or on behalf of Iran and Sudan.  Furthermore, in these email communications, D&M personnel outside the United States referred to Iran as “Northern Gulf” and Sudan as “Southern Egypt” or “South Egypt” in email communications with D&M personnel in the United States.

In addition, D&M personnel outside the United States implemented a process designed to disguise the identities of the embargoed locations in the automated computer system in order to obtain approval from the D&M Global Asset Manager in the United States.  Orders entered into the automated computer system were identified by a series of numbers and letters.  Typically, the alpha-numeric identifier included a two or three-letter code indicating the country that placed the order.  Instead of entering the country code for Iran or Sudan, D&M personnel entered non-embargoed country codes for embargoed location orders.  Specifically, the code “BGM,” which identified a bonded-goods warehouse in Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates, was used in place of the Iran and Sudan country codes in order to disguise the true locations.  These efforts were deliberately taken and demonstrate the company’s involvement in contriving ways intended to evade restrictions imposed by U.S. sanctions.

D&M Headquarters Involvement in Iran and Sudan.  According to court documents, separate and apart from the illegal CAPEX approval process that violated U.S. sanctions, D&M headquarters personnel made and implemented business decisions involving D&M operations in Iran and Sudan—again, all in violation of U.S. sanctions’ restrictions on the facilitation of trade with Iran and Sudan.  D&M’s illegal involvement in the day-to-day operations in Iran and Sudan, through U.S. persons working at D&M headquarters, occurred with D&M’s knowledge and understanding of the applicability of U.S. sanctions laws to the company.

Technical Services.  According to court documents, when technical problems arose in oilfield locations related to the operation of drilling tools, D&M personnel would enter relevant information about the technical issue into an automated computer system.  D&M’s automated computer system would generally route the query to a technical expert who could assist the oilfield location in addressing the technical issue.  If the technical issue was sufficiently complex, the query would ordinarily be routed to the technical experts located at the product center that manufactured the tool.  At times, queries entered by, or on behalf of, D&M personnel in Iran and Sudan were addressed by D&M personnel located in the United States.  The technical services provided to Iranian and Sudanese operations, by U.S. persons, violated the prohibitions of trade with Iran and Sudan required by U.S. sanctions.

SOHL and Schlumberger’s Remediation Efforts

In 2009, in consultation with the U.S. Department of State, Schlumberger agreed to no longer pursue new oilfield contracts in Iran.  In 2011, Schlumberger voluntarily decided to cease providing oilfield services in Iran and the Republic of the Sudan (North Sudan).  As of June 30, 2013, Schlumberger ceased providing oilfield services in Iran, and presently, Schlumberger has ceased providing oilfield services in North Sudan as well.

In announcing the plea, Assistant Attorney General Carlin and U.S. Attorney Machen commended the work of Special Agent Troy Shaffer from BIS’s Dallas Field Office.  They also acknowledged the work of those who handled the case from the National Security Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including former Trial Attorney Ryan Fayhee and former Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Borchert and Ann H. Petalas.

The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Casey Arrowood of the National Security Division, Assistant U.S. Attorney Maia L. Miller of the National Security Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Zia Faruqui of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section.


In Tokyo, Dempsey Reinforces U.S.-Japan Alliance
By Lisa Ferdinando
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

TOKYO, March 25, 2015 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today underscored the importance of the U.S.-Japanese alliance as he met here with Japan's senior military and political leaders.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey thanked Japan for its strong partnership with the United States, as well as its contributions to global security and commitment in the fight against terrorism.

Dempsey met at the Ministry of Defense with his counterpart, Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, and Defense Minister Gen Nakatani. He paid a visit later in the day to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Dempsey complimented the prime minister for all he has done to improve the posture of Japan in a complex security environment.

"The kizuna between us has never been stronger," the chairman said, using the Japanese word for bonds or connections between people.

He said he looks forward to working with Japan under the new defense guidelines that Japan and the United States are developing to define their bilateral defense relationship.

The prime minister, who is to meet with President Barack Obama in Washington next month, said the alliance between the United States and Japan has contributed to the peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region.
More Complicated World

Extremism is a common challenge faced by the United States and Japan, Dempsey said at the Ministry of Defense. Terrorists in Syria killed two Japanese hostages earlier this year, he said, and three Japanese tourists were killed when gunmen opened fire in a Tunisia museum last week.

The global security environment has "clearly become more complicated" in the last few years, the chairman said. In that time, the relationship between the United States and Japan has strengthened, he added.

"We're fortunate to have Japan as an ally and honored to have you as a friend," Dempsey told his counterpart.

Dempsey, the highest-ranking U.S. military officer, thanked Japan for its efforts for missile defense interoperability, noting that a strong deterrent is needed in the face of North Korean provocations.

Dempsey Honors Fallen Troops

In a ceremony before the talks at the Ministry of Defense, Dempsey took part in a wreath-laying ceremony to honor fallen Japanese and U.S. troops. He said he was honored to have been invited to pay tribute to the men and women of both nations' armed forces.

Then, before entering the Ministry of Defense, Dempsey attended an honor cordon, where he reviewed the Japanese troops who were assembled in perfect order outside the building.

Additionally, in an evening event, Nakatani presented Dempsey with a medal on behalf of Japan's emperor to honor the chairman's service, the United States military and the strong U.S.-Japanese alliance.

Dempsey accepted the award, as he told the prime minister earlier in the day, on behalf of the men and women of the United States armed forces who have "benefited so much and enjoyed the relationship" with Japan.

Pacific Rebalance

The chairman said the purpose of his visit to Japan and his next stop in South Korea is to further strengthen ties and reinforce the U.S. commitment to the region as the U.S. military continues its Pacific rebalance.

Other topics in South Korea are expected to include transferring control of allied forces on the Korean Peninsula to South Korea during wartime, as well as integrated air and missile defense, training exercises and options for responding to North Korean provocations.


Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden Delivers Remarks at the Kasane Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade
KasaneBotswana ~ Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Remarks as prepared for delivery

I am honored to represent the United States here today, along with my colleagues from the United States Department of State and the Department of the Interior.  It is a privilege to join you here to discuss the work we are all doing to combat the increasing global crisis posed by international wildlife trafficking.

Last year’s London Conference, the predecessor to this meeting, coincided with the release of the U.S. National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking.  The U.S. National Strategy set forth a robust, whole-of-government approach that focused on three strategic priorities: strengthening domestic and global enforcement; reducing demand for illegally traded wildlife; and building international cooperation and commitment to combat wildlife trafficking.

Since the London Conference, the United States has been working to implement our Strategy, turning written commitments into concrete steps and real action.  In February of this year, the United States released an Implementation Plan for the National Strategy.

The Implementation Plan builds upon the Strategy and reaffirms our commitment to work in partnership with other governments, local communities, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to end the pernicious illegal trade in wildlife.

The United States recognizes that we, like all nations engaged in this fight, must have strong and effective criminal enforcement to stop those who kill and traffic in protected species.  Prosecutors in the United States work closely with investigators around the country and around the world to bring strong cases.  We are looking to take the profit out of wildlife trafficking.

In 2014, the United States prosecuted and secured convictions in numerous cases involving international trafficking in protected species, including rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory, and narwhal tusks.  Defendants in these cases have received significant jail terms and have forfeited many millions of dollars in cash, gold bars, rhino horn, ivory, and luxury vehicles and jewelry.

In 2014, the United States took several administrative actions to strengthen domestic controls over import, export, and sale of African elephant ivory, rhino horn and other protected species.  This included a ban on all commercial imports of elephant ivory.  This is just one of many steps that we will take to reduce demand for illegally traded wildlife, demand that continues to escalate and is driving many species to the brink of extinction.

Within the framework of the National Strategy, we are working across the U.S. government to focus our international investments to combat wildlife trafficking in the most strategic and effective way possible.

In 2014 alone, the United States invested approximately $60 million to support international programs aimed at stopping wildlife trafficking.  This investment supports a number of important efforts, including: increased use of the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) – a system of improved technology for wildlife law enforcement and monitoring – that is now widely used in many nations here in Africa; ecoguards in the northern Republic of Congo, who contributed to more effective cross-border patrols and coordination with Cameroon and the Central African Republic in a key landscape for elephants and great apes; in Kenya, Northern Rangelands Trust community conservancies, which recorded a 22% decrease in illegally killed elephants in FY 2014 as compared to FY 2013; and expansion of programming in wildlife investigative training at the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) Programs in Bangkok and Gaborone, providing training to more than 500 law enforcement officials in 2014.  We will continue to invest in such training and capacity-building efforts in 2015.

Over the past year the United States has also maintained our commitment to raise this issue at the highest levels of our diplomatic engagement, in bilateral and multilateral fora.  For example, the White House selected wildlife trafficking as one of only six Signature Events featured at the U.S-Africa Leaders’ Summit, held in Washington last August.  This event brought together the U.S. Secretary of the Interior with African Heads of State and Foreign and Environment Ministers for a frank dialogue on combating wildlife trafficking.

And, building on our July 2014 Strategic and Economic Dialogue, during the President’s November 2014 trip to China, China and the United States agreed to work together to stop the trade in illegal wildlife products.

At the London Conference, we spoke to the urgent need for a global response to the global wildlife trafficking crisis.  We are encouraged that this issue has received increasing and sustained high-level attention, both in the United States and around the world.

Ending the illegal trade in wildlife will require a significant and sustained effort from all nations, whether we are sources, transit points, or destinations for illegally traded wildlife and wildlife products.


Litigation Release No. 23220 / March 25, 2015
Securities and Exchange Commission v. BioChemics, Inc., et al., Civil Action No. 12-12324-MLW (United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Complaint filed Decmber 14, 2012)

Federal Court Orders Massachusetts Company to Pay Over $17 Million in SEC Fraud Case

The Securities and Exchange Commission ("Commission") announced today that on March 25, 2015, the Honorable Mark L. Wolf, United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, entered a judgment against BioChemics, Inc. ("BioChemics"), a biopharmaceutical company based in Danvers, Massachusetts, in a Commission enforcement action filed in December 2012. Among other things, the judgment orders BioChemics to pay a total of over $17 million. This judgment supplements a prior judgment entered against BioChemics on March 18, 2015, that enjoined the company from violating the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws.

The Commission originally filed its enforcement action on December 14, 2012, against BioChemics and three individuals affiliated with the company: (i) John J. Masiz ("Masiz"), the company's founder and, until January 2014, its President, CEO, and Chairman of its Board of Directors; (ii) Gregory S. Kroning ("Kroning"), a promoter (someone paid by BioChemics to solicit investors); and a (iii) Craig Medoff, another promoter and, at one point, BioChemics' interim director of Finance ("Medoff," and, collectively, the "Individual Defendants").

The Commission's Complaint alleged that from 2009 until mid-2012, BioChemics and the Individual Defendants raised at least $9,000,000 from approximately 70 investors by misrepresenting, among other things: (a) that BioChemics had ongoing research and development collaborations with certain pharmaceutical companies when in fact the collaborations with those companies had either never begun or had ended; (b) that BioChemics had two drugs currently under FDA review, when in fact it had no products under any type of FDA review; (c) the status and results of clinical trials for BioChemics' drugs; and (d) that certain purported valuations of BioChemics at between $500 million and $2 billion were independent and reliable when they were not. The Complaint also alleged that BioChemics and the Individual Defendants misrepresented Masiz's background and use of investor proceeds--for example, they failed to disclose to investors that Masiz was the subject of a prior Commission securities fraud action that resulted in a final judgment against him in 2004, and that BioChemics' investor funds were used to pay for Kroning and Masiz's personal expenses.

In February 2014, BioChemics agreed to a partial settlement with the Commission, consenting to the entry of a judgment permanently enjoining it, without admitting or denying the substantive allegations in the Complaint, from violating Section 17(a) of the Securities Act ("Securities Act") of 1933 and Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 ("Exchange Act") and Rule 10b-5 thereunder (the antifraud provisions), and leaving disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and civil penalties to be decided by the Court. On March 18, 2015, the Court entered this consented-to judgment permanently enjoining BioChemics from violating the antifraud provisions of the securities laws.

The judgment entered on March 25, 2015, supplements the March 18, 2015 judgment, and requires BioChemics to disgorge $15,105,325 in ill-gotten gains plus prejudgment interest of $2,042,559, and pay a civil penalty of $750,000. The civil penalty is a "third tier" penalty. Under the Securities Act and the Exchange Act, a third tier penalty is one where the violation involved fraud, deceit, manipulation, or deliberate or reckless disregard of a regulatory requirement, and such violation directly or indirectly resulted in substantial losses or created a significant risk of substantial losses to other persons.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


March 26, 2015
Readout of the President’s Call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey

The President spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan today to discuss ongoing cooperation in the fight against ISIL and common efforts to bring security and stability to Iraq and Syria.  The two leaders reviewed the train and equip program for vetted members of the moderate Syrian opposition.  They discussed efforts to deepen cooperation to stem the flow of foreign fighters, and the President appreciated positive efforts in Turkey on this issue.  The President expressed appreciation for Turkey’s continuing support to nearly two million refugees from Iraq and Syria.  The leaders also discussed the latest developments in Yemen and Ukraine and in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, and pledged to continue to work closely on these and other regional issues.



Coalition Operations Against ISIL since March 2, 2015.  
Coalition Forces Begin Operations in Tikrit
By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, March 25, 2015 – U.S. and coalition military forces have begun operations in support of Iraqi security forces in Tikrit after a request from the Iraqi government, officials from Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve announced this afternoon.

According to a task force news release, the coalition is now providing direct support to Iraqi security forces conducting operations to expel the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant from the city. The joint, combined task force is providing air strikes, airborne intelligence capabilities, and advise and assist support to Iraqi security force headquarters elements to enhance their ability to defeat ISIL, officials said.

Destroying ISIL Strongholds

"These strikes are intended to destroy ISIL strongholds with precision, thereby saving innocent Iraqi lives while minimizing collateral damage to infrastructure,” said Army Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, task force commanding general. “This will further enable Iraqi forces under Iraqi command to maneuver and defeat ISIL in the vicinity of Tikrit."

At the Pentagon this morning, Defense Department spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren confirmed that the United States is providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support over Tikrit, and from these operations providing intelligence to Iraqi security forces.

"At the request of the government of Iraq, coalition forces are providing support to Iraqi security forces as they combat ISIL in and around Tikrit," said Col. Patrick Ryder, a U.S. Central Command spokesman. "To be clear, the coalition is only coordinating with the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces; we do not coordinate our operations in any way with Iran or Iranian-backed militias."

Although there's been significant media attention on the stalled Tikrit operation which began March 2, coalition forces have continued to actively make progress against ISIL throughout the area of operations in Iraq and Syria, according to Centcom officials, adding that coalition forces are completing these operations simultaneously and in close coordination with the Iraqis.

Destroying ISIL’s Combat Capability

"Since the beginning of March, coalition forces have conducted more than 300 airstrikes against ISIL targets in support of five separate Iraqi-led operations as well as counter-ISIL operations in Syria,” Ryder said. “We have destroyed a significant portion of ISIL’s combat capability during this period, to include the elimination of more than 800 ISIL fighters, two tanks, 15 armored personnel carriers, 11 indirect fire systems and 10 anti-aircraft systems from the battlefield."

Centcom officials assess that the number of ISIL forces and amount of equipment destroyed over the last three weeks is much larger than what ISIL currently maintains in Tikrit. Through these operations, coalition forces have continued to degrade ISIL's command and control capability, its ability to project combat power, and its ability to resource itself, officials said.

"Coalition airstrikes will provide a unique and decisive enabler for the Iraqi Security Forces as they have elsewhere in Iraq," Ryder said. "We know that ISIL’s position in Tikrit is not going to improve."

Critical Training for Iraqi Forces

In addition to airstrikes, coalition forces also continue to provide critical training to Iraqi security forces, according to Centcom officials. There are currently 4,800 Iraqi troops in training at four building partner capacity sites in Iraq, with 3,000 of those troops entering training three weeks ago.

"We are building their capacity while enabling and supporting their operations throughout the country," Ryder said. "So we are doing a lot, especially in the past three weeks. And we are doing all of this simultaneously and in close coordination with our Iraqi partners."


March 25, 2015
Statement by NSC Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan on the Situation in Yemen

The United States strongly condemns ongoing military actions taken by the Houthis against the elected government of Yemen.  These actions have caused widespread instability and chaos that threaten the safety and well-being of all Yemeni citizens.

The United States has been in close contact with President Hadi and our regional partners.  In response to the deteriorating security situation, Saudi Arabia, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, and others will undertake military action to defend Saudi Arabia’s border and to protect Yemen’s legitimate government.  As announced by GCC members earlier tonight, they are taking this action at the request of Yemeni President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The United States coordinates closely with Saudi Arabia and our GCC partners on issues related to their security and our shared interests.  In support of GCC actions to defend against Houthi violence, President Obama has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to GCC-led military operations.  While U.S. forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support.

At the same time, the United States continues to closely monitor terrorist threats posed by al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and will continue to take action as necessary to disrupt continuing, imminent threats to the United States and our citizens.

We strongly urge the Houthis to halt immediately their destabilizing military actions and return to negotiations as part of the political dialogue.  The international community has spoken clearly through the UN Security Council and in other fora that the violent takeover of Yemen by an armed faction is unacceptable and that a legitimate political transition – long sought by the Yemeni people – can be accomplished only through political negotiations and a consensus agreement among all of the parties.





Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Justice Department Settles Lawsuit Alleging Discrimination Against Families with Children at Apartment Complexes in Kansas and Missouri

The Justice Department announced today that Brisben Chimney Hills Limited Partnership and JRK Residential America LLC, the owners and the former manager of the Reserve apartment complex in Lenexa, Kansas, together with their named partner and agents, have agreed to pay $170,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA).  The lawsuit alleged that defendants instituted policies at the Reserve and at other properties in Kansas and Missouri that discriminated against families with children.  The lawsuit also alleged that a family was forced to leave the Reserve after they complained to management about the overly-restrictive policies.

Under the proposed consent decree, which must still be approved by the U.S. District Court of Kansas, the defendants will pay $60,000 to the family that initiated the original complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), $100,000 into a victim fund to compensate other aggrieved families and $10,000 to the United States as a civil penalty.  In addition, the proposed consent decree prohibits the defendants from discriminating in the future against families with children and requires the defendants to receive training on the requirements of the FHA.

“For over twenty-five years, the Fair Housing Act has prohibited housing providers from discriminating against families with children,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division.  “Many parents are already struggling to find affordable housing for their families, and they should not also have to face discrimination because they have children.”

“Kansas families with children deserve the right to live where they choose and to be free from housing discrimination,” said U.S. Attorney Barry R. Grissom of the District of Kansas.

The lawsuit, also filed today, arose from a complaint filed with HUD by a family that was living at the Reserve apartments.  The owners and operators of the Reserve instituted a policy that discriminated against families with children because it unreasonably restricted the activities of children, including a policy that required that anyone under the age of 16 be physically accompanied by an adult at all times.  After the family complained about the policy, their lease was not renewed and they were forced to leave the Reserve.  After HUD investigated the complaint, it issued a charge of discrimination and the matter was referred to the Justice Department.  The United States’ complaint alleges that the defendants violated the family’s rights, that the restrictive policies discriminated against other families with children and that the defendants engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination or denied rights protected by the FHA to a group of persons.

“Overly restrictive housing policies for families with children are illegal, and prevent them from fully enjoying the place they call home,” said HUD Assistant Secretary Gustavo Velasquez of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.  “HUD will continue to work with the Department of Justice to take action against property owners and landlords whose policies violate the Fair Housing Act.”

Fighting illegal housing discrimination is a top priority of the Justice Department.  The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.


Igniting change in Vehicle City
Kettering University leads effort to improve city services in Flint, Michigan through high-speed networking

Flint, Mich., the former home of General Motors, is on the rebound these days. Leaders there believe they have hit on a winning formula--connecting the city's institutions to high-speed networks that support new, game-changing capabilities.

Through grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ), Flint is beginning to lay the groundwork for an information technology-driven transformation.

In June 2012, Flint was one of 16 initial cities that were part of US Ignite, a public-private partnership designed to capitalize on the possibilities of ultra-fast broadband networks and "ignite" the development of next-generation Internet applications and services with societal benefits.

Kettering University--formerly General Motors Institute--was designated the lead research institution for the city.

High-speed networking wasn't really on the radar of John Geske, a professor of computer science at Kettering University, before Flint joined US Ignite.

"I was busy running a computer science department and the last thing on my mind was networking applications," Geske said.

But because of the US Ignite award, he started attending application summits and other meetings and realized the possibilities that were available at his doorstep.

"The community that you start to create and the contacts you make are just invaluable," he said.

Connected schools

Phase One of making the city a gigabit hotbed involved taking a step back and uncovering what was already available in the community.

Geske learned that the entire city school system, as well as the schools in 21 schools districts in neighboring Genesee County, had formed the GenNET consortium in 1995 and were already connected by a high-speed, fiber-optic network. Moreover, the schools were connected to the city's four higher education institutions via the Flint Area Network for Educational Telecommunications.

With these capabilities in place, students in the school district experienced unique learning opportunities. For instance, students were able to remotely control an exploratory submarine in real time near the Barrier Reef and communicate with astronauts on the space shuttle. Genesee County students were even able to dissect a sheep's brain via a telemedicine class remotely led by a doctor at Northern Michigan University.

"The GenNET fiber-optic network allows us to reduce the cost of technology services while providing a powerful platform for delivering virtual learning," said Luke Wittum, executive director of Technology and Media Services in the Genesee Intermediate School District.

US Ignite extended this already capable base and provided dedicated 10 gigabit-per-second network connections to the universities and libraries in Flint and to other gigabit cities around the nation, on unique, programmable hardware.

With ultra-high-speed, high-capability Information Technology in place, technology leaders hope to leverage the existing fiber-optic networks to provide immersive virtual reality learning to all students in Flint and Genesee County.

"What if a student could step inside of a human cell, stand at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, or visit a historical place?" Wittum asked. "This opportunity could make learning more engaging and also provide some students who may have never been outside of the county or state to visit another part of the world."

Safer, smarter neighborhoods

Flint areas schools aren't the only target for transformation through high-speed networks. Early meetings with city officials and university representatives determined that public safety could be a focus of the US Ignite networking projects, too.

Together with stakeholders in the Mayor's office and the university, they envisioned a university corridor where improved surveillance, responsive lighting and targeted policing could lower crime and encourage development.

"US Ignite provides the city of Flint with opportunities to make the community safer by automating utilities--turning on all lights in an area where a crime has been reported, for example, or by giving law enforcement access to high-speed, real-time, high-definition video on demand," said Kettering University President Robert K. McMahan.

"We may not be able to have a full smart city yet, but a smart neighborhood is entirely possible," noted Geske.

These forms of "smart policing" rely on networks of sensors, cameras and analytical tools that require fast networking and access to powerful computing. The Kettering project has these in the form of GENI hardware.

GENI is an NSF-funded experimental, ultra-high-speed, programmable networking testbed that allows researchers to test new networking ideas at-scale.

There are more than 180 GENI sites around the world--and Flint is one of a few cities that is already leveraging its GENI connections to advance application concepts and prototypes for public benefit and in support of the US Ignite initiative.

In part because of the strength of the existing resources and the community of stakeholders they had developed, Kettering University was awarded a $1 million grant in 2014 from the U.S. Department of Justice as part of DoJ's Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program. The grant helps Flint develop and implement sustainable crime prevention strategies in the University Avenue Corridor in order to convert the neighborhood into a vibrant region. One strategy is data-driven policing.

"There are lots of pockets of information and it's hard for a researcher to gather it all together to find out if there are certain patterns," said Geske. "Once you pinpoint that, you can look at the area, figure out what's going on and decide what to do."

In an early collaboration with Flint police, Kettering researchers identified a particular pattern of criminal activity along the corridor. In this case, using data analytics, the university identified a property as a magnet for robberies--and purchased and revamped it to reduce crime in the area.

Geske hopes to enable this kind of smart policing citywide by building a cloud computing platform that enables the city to amass crime statistics and provides public access to the data.

In the future, officials imagine the avenue wired with lighting, air quality sensors, smart lighting and even autonomous vehicles or drones connected to the high-speed network. The GENI equipment will be used as a testbed to explore some of these possibilities.

Networked care

A third focus area for Flint is medicine, where Kettering is spearheading a partnership with the University of Michigan-Flint and Mott Community College, as well as with three major medical centers near the city.

Through this partnership, students, faculty, clinicians and researchers in the Flint area will be able to collaborate with instructors from around the country and have direct access to new tools to provide exceptional patient care. Officials even hope to use high-speed networking technologies to bring specialists together in a virtual office to make diagnoses.

With such technology in place, President McMahan says "individual patients seeking medical care at our partners in Flint will always have access to the latest advancements in healthcare no matter where in our country they originate or reside."

With the city as a testbed for creative technological solutions to civic problems, it will be interesting to see how advanced IT can impact education, policing and health care in the city.

Said Erwin Gianchandani, deputy division director for computer and network systems at NSF, "Pilot projects like those in Flint and other cities across the country are demonstrating the value of ultra-high-speed, programmable networks in our communities and helping the nation envision the possibilities of a faster, safer, smarter future Internet."

-- Aaron Dubrow, NSF (
-- John Geske, Kettering University (
John Geske
Yunsheng Wang
Related Institutions/Organizations
Kettering University
Raytheon BBN Technologies Corp.


Remarks at Dinner in Honor of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Ben Franklin Room
Washington, DC
March 24, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Please, everybody, please have a seat. Madam Ambassador. Please, everybody, sit down and take your seats.

Welcome, all. We are really delighted to welcome everybody here to the Ben Franklin Room, which you all know well – most of you know very, very well – named after the gentleman in the portrait down there at the end, Ben Franklin, who was allegedly our first diplomat. And everybody here knows, knowing his life, that he could never be confirmed by the Senate today. (Laughter.) He had a lot of wise sayings, and one of them was everybody should go to bed early. But knowing how much he ignored that advice himself, we don’t expect anybody to do that tonight. We want to have a good time.

It’s our privilege to join together to welcome the distinguished president of Afghanistan and the CEO of Afghanistan. And in welcoming them, we also welcome a really distinguished group of guests tonight: many, many ambassadors from the diplomatic corps writ large, as well as our own ambassadors, many of whom are in town for our meeting of all our ambassadors from around the world tomorrow. We have a dozen or so distinguished members of Congress. I’m delighted to have my colleagues – my old colleagues here; my young colleagues too. And I particularly notice the good ranking member of the intelligence committee, Dianne Feinstein, and I know our chairman of the House appropriations committee, Hal Rogers, is here. There he is sitting there. Thank you, Hal, for being here, and for all you do to help us in a lot of ways here.

We have the incomparable former secretary of state, Madeline Albright. Thank you for being with us. A former deputy is here, Tom Nides, and if I start running around, John Podesta – I’m in trouble already. Our director of national intelligence, James Clapper, is here, and I know he’s going to be keeping a close eye on all of us tonight. Thank you, Jim, for being here. And pretty much the rest of the U.S. Government is here too, which goes to show what you can do when you offer a free meal. (Laughter.)

Anyway, to our guests of honor, this has been really an extraordinary two days. I want to share that with all of you. Not so many months ago, I was ensconced in long discussions in Kabul with both of these gentlemen. And as everybody knows, things sort of were hanging in the balance. We didn’t quite know whether or not we’d be able to find a path forward. I want you to know that over the past two days at Camp David, we had the greatest affirmation of the capacity of leaders to put their ego aside and put the interests of their people and their nation at the forefront. Afghan President Ghani and CEO Abdullah have met in the last two days with virtually every top U.S. Executive Branch official, from the Commander-in-Chief on down. And we have something unique here, where since 2001 the United States of America and more than 50 other countries joined together to put themselves on the line to fight terrorism, but also, in the process, to understand that the fight for the long term was the ability to be able to have a sustainable government and to provide the people of Afghanistan with a future that they so desperately wanted.

There were moments in the discussions when the past almost captured people, prevented the ability to move forward. And I will tell you truthfully that it was because of the character of these two men that that didn’t happen and that we have this future that we are able to look at tonight and in these last few days and as we go forward. This morning, respect was repaid with respect when both leaders – President Ghani and CEO Abdullah – went to Arlington Cemetery to honor the memory and the sacrifice of those who helped to put us here. We appreciate it, and they deserve it, and none of us will forget your taking the time to pay that tribute today.

Tomorrow, Mr. President, you will travel to Capitol Hill, and there you will address a joint session of Congress. And I think you will find that not only is Afghan unity important to the United States, but our policy towards Afghanistan has been a source of unity within the United States. Everything we have done in the areas of security, technical advice, and human development has been accomplished with the strong bipartisan backing of the House and Senate and the generous support of the American people, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard any leader come here and thank the American taxpayer the way you did today, Mr. President. Thank you. (Applause.)

Since the president and CEO arrived, we – on Sunday, we’ve had a chance to explore a full range of the issues. We began with an intimate dinner at Teresa’s and my house in Georgetown, and we began talking about reconciliation and the possibilities of the future. And then we have discussed every facet of this relationship: economic reform; security, obviously; political matters; ways to build on the impressive progress the Afghans have already made, particularly in education, health, and women’s rights. And we all agreed that these gains – the blossoming of civil society more generally – are non-negotiable, and they must be made irreversible, as much as any military force, freedom, opportunity, human rights are absolutely essential to maintaining the security of a nation. And they can provide the foundation for a new and an even more ambitious chapter in the friendship between our countries.

Tonight, not the evening for a policy speech, and I’m not going to make one. I just want to highlight a few areas where our bilateral cooperation is yielding some extraordinary dividends. As you can imagine, music and culture were not high on the Taliban’s agenda. And so when the extremists were in charge, there was just enormous damage done. At our reception earlier, you all had a chance to hear a Kennedy Center performance from two years ago by the Afghan National Institute of Music. And on my very first day as Secretary of State, purely by serendipity, I had the privilege of speaking to members of that orchestra who, with the help from the United States and other donors, are preserving their country’s rich musical heritage. As a one-time aspiring guitarist in a high school rock band, frankly, I am in awe of those who actually know how to make good sounds come out of their instruments. But I’m also really pleased that the State Department next year is going to join with the Smithsonian and co-sponsor a very important nine-month celebration of Afghan art and culture here in Washington.

And obviously, society is shaped by music and art, but it’s also shaped by young people. And we are joined tonight by a group of Afghan men and women who are here in America on Fulbright scholarships. I talked with President Ghani and CEO Abdullah with them a moment ago in the back room here, and I can tell you they all plan to go back and be president of Afghanistan. (Laughter.) The women too. They’re smart, they’re articulate, they’re deeply committed to helping their country move forward. And I asked them, “Are you all going to go back when you finish school?” And to a person, they said, “You bet. We are going to go back.” So I want them, if they would – by the way, with me standing there was a Fulbright alumni himself, and that is Dr. Ashraf Ghani, who, when he was a professor at Johns Hopkins, actually went the other way and on a Fulbright went to study, of all places, Pakistan. So this is a president who understands his neighbor pretty well. It is my privilege to welcome all of the Fulbrights here, and I’d like all of them to stand and everybody to recognize them. Would all our Fulbrights – thank you. (Applause.)

So let me just share with you that we are not only going to continue the Fulbright program in Afghanistan, we’re going to expand it by 50 percent, making Afghanistan’s program one of the largest in the world. (Applause.) And we’re going to make this commitment a five-year commitment, and I know I can count on you, Hal Rogers, to help us make sure that happens.

Finally, I just want to acknowledge the members of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, and I really want to thank them for their hard and their courageous work. I have visited Afghanistan many times. I see General Petraeus here; he and I went back and forth when we were negotiating some time ago on the BSA and other things. The thing that really struck me as much as anything were the remarkable women that I met. I remember on one visit, Anne Smedinghoff, who lost her life a week later when she went to a school to take books – many of you remember that – she was my control officer, and she arranged this meeting with 10 brilliant Afghan women, all of whom were leaders in business and politics and the professions.

And among those with us tonight is Dr. Sima Samar, who is a former deputy president and minister of women’s affairs, now serving as head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. And we all have our loyalties – let me tell you something: Dr. Samar is loyal to the truth and has spoken truth repeatedly in the face of fierce opposition and personal threats, and we welcome her here tonight. Fantastic. (Applause.)

Camilla Sadiki (ph) is now the deputy – the president’s deputy chief of staff. She’s also here. I met her on my first trip to Kabul when I was Secretary of State, and she is a very brave entrepreneur who started her own business in her home at a time when the Taliban kept all women off the street. And I would like to honor her also if everybody would – where is she? (Applause.)

So when Dr. Samar and Ms. Sadiki (ph) return home and the rest of the Afghan delegation return home, I hope that they will carry with them one message loud and clear: that the United States stands with the women of Afghanistan today. We will stand with you tomorrow and we will stand with you for years to come, not simply because you merit our support, but because without women’s participation and talent, Afghanistan simply will not be able to build the future that its citizens urgently desire and deserve. (Applause.)

I ask you now to join me. I’ve been so struck by Dr. Ghani’s eloquence and his reasonable approach to almost every issue that we have talked through. He was not required by any law, by any rule, by any precedent to share power and create a unity government. But he did so because he believed it was in the best interests of Afghanistan and it was the best way to move forward. So welcome with me, if you will, please, the president of Afghanistan, Dr. Ashraf Ghani. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT GHANI: Mr. Secretary, distinguished guests, thank you for those generous words. I want to begin with thank-yous to so many familiar faces in this room. General Petraeus is here, Ambassador Cunningham is here, Ambassador Neumann, Mr. Sedney – I don’t want to name everybody, because it would take all the evening. But what I would like to say on behalf of a very grateful nation is: Thank you for your service. You’re remarkable friends, you’re remarkable leaders, and you have made a difference. Secretary Nides is here. Again, I’d like to thank him for many hours where I caused him lack of sleep. (Applause.) Mr. Podesta is here.

Second, I’d like to pay tribute to my mentor, Secretary Albright. You’ve been always remarkable, Madeleine, and it’s always a pleasure to say that I’m your student and I’ve learned a lot. I’d also like to pay tribute to the unique courage of Senator Feinstein. It took immense courage to reveal what was wrong, and I hope that our human rights commission, our government can follow your example. Where there are abuses, we must acknowledge and put an end to it, because without that capacity for self-examination, a free society can never thrive. Members of Congress, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, you’ve been examples in terms of values that we must hold together in order to bring stability. Particularly when we are challenged by the menace of terror, we must not engage in practices against our citizens that will alienate those very citizens from the fabric.

Secretary Kerry has been a remarkable friend of Afghanistan. Dr. Abdullah and I are in total agreement that he has been a friend in need and a friend indeed, so I would like everybody to thank Secretary Kerry for his immense effort. (Applause.) My clan is known for mediation, but until I saw you at work – so you’ve given us some example of what real mediation is like. (Laughter.) And we thank you for that.

I’ll be brief. First, the government of national unity is an enduring phenomenon. For 200 years, the Afghan political elite has not had the wisdom to think beyond its immediate needs. I hope that we have established a precedent where national interest would always be considered above the immediate needs of the moment, and that a precedent would have been established that people think of the medium and long term and not just immediate satisfaction. Leadership is about sacrifice. Leadership is not about privilege. And sacrifice means putting country first and putting our affairs in order. Leadership is about commitment to reform. It’s about the honesty of knowing that we are among the most corrupt countries on Earth, and this is a national shame and we will not tolerate it. We will overcome this national shame the way we have overcome other forms of adversity. (Applause.)

I also want to say that we are very openly proud of our foundational partnership with the United States. Your sacrifice, the sacrifice of your troops – they would follow you to hell and back, General Petraeus. Are you getting any more sleep than you got in Kabul? (Laughter.)

GEN. PETRAEUS: Vastly more.

PRESIDENT GHANI: No, because General Petraeus slept in a very small room and hardly slept. And it was an example that is shared by General Campbell and all the distinguished generals.

PARTICIPANT: General Allen.

PRESIDENT GHANI: General Allen is here. Oh, yes, of course. I want to acknowledge General McNeill, General McChrystal, General Petraeus, General Allen, General Dunford, and General Campbell.

PARTICIPANT: Eikenberry.

PRESIDENT GHANI: And Eikenberry, of course. I usually count him – I don’t want to count him twice, because he was also ambassador. (Laughter.) These have been remarkable friends of Afghanistan. They have been patriots, and they’re – I’m proud that they are personal friends of mine. In the course of difficult years, we got to find a common path, and you have left us a legacy. And that legacy of yours has met its first test: 120,000 international troops, 100,000 of them American, have withdrawn, and none of the predictions of those who counted on chaos in Afghanistan has come true. The Afghan National Army is an enduring tribute to your investment and sacrifice, so I want to thank you and the 2,215 American service men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice and the over 20,000 Americans wounded in action. (Applause.)

We have also – I just saw Ambassador Olson. You see, I need to wear glasses to see everybody. We’ve also had remarkable ambassadors. The diplomatic community has worked shoulder to shoulder with the military community and it’s done immense work, so I would like to congratulate you on presiding now over an institution that, in terms of Afghanistan, has endured every sacrifice and served in the remotest corner of our country. On behalf of the Afghan diplomatic community and the Afghan people, I want to thank you, Mr. Secretary, for the collective service of the State Department, USAID, and other civilians that came. (Applause.)

I see my distinguished friend, Mr. Hadley. Nobody will have your calm, Steve, under pressure. And for wisdom we always turn to you. And thank you again for your current support and for your current guidance; you have been the bridge of continuity and I want to say how grateful we have been for your continued attention to Afghanistan inside or outside office.

We have a saying in Afghanistan: A gift must be reciprocated. You have given us generously. It is time that we reciprocated the gift. The way we can reciprocate that gift is by building institutions that would be a legacy of this partnership. I want to say how pleased we are with the decision that the President of the United States has made today to provide us with the flexibility and stability for 2015 and to affirm commitments in the longer term to the support of – (applause) – of Afghanistan.

Fred Starr is here, and I really would like, if there’s one book that you want to read please do read The Lost Enlightenment. I didn’t think that I would learn so much from a book about my past, but I did, so thank you, Fred. (Applause.) And the story that Fred tells is not the story of the past. Its good news is that it’s the story of the future. Once we were the place where all roads led to us and from us, and that exactly is the vision that we want to create. So the past, I think, will be recreated and that enlightenment that was lost would be restored.

We must have the courage to speak truth to terror. Speaking truth to terror means speaking from within the world of Islam openly, clearly, and with a clear conscience in crystal clear voice about empowerment of the women, children, and citizens. So I would like to honor Sima Samar and assure you that this government will stand very firmly behind the human rights commission. (Applause.)

We are going to have a tough year. We probably will have several tough years. But one thing must be certain: We will never yield; we will seek peace, because peace is an imperative. We’ll sacrifice for the sake of peace, but not at the expense of our gains. We will stabilize Afghanistan and we will create the regional framework of cooperation that is necessary to bring stability, not just to us but to the region, to the Arab Islamic world, and stand firm against the threats.

In all of these, your inputs, your support, your engagement – and of course, your criticism – are necessary. So I want to thank the journalistic community for focusing on us. Even if you criticizes us, Matt, we will not expel you. (Laughter and applause.) So New York Times can advocate withdrawing from Afghanistan; we will still honor you and try to convince you. (Laughter.)

I hope that the American taxpayer would not listen to you and listen to the President of the United States and the Secretary of State. (Laughter.) But free debate is what makes a free society, and the contribution of the journalists, particularly those who, again, have sacrificed their life, is essential to keeping this relationship. So seriously, we very much appreciate the presence of the American press and the international press in Afghanistan and would always engage with you.

Last word about the children and the women’s activities. We have just managed to name four women to the cabinet of Afghanistan, so that brings the percentage to 20 percent. (Applause.) Dr. Abdullah and I are committed to increase the number of women ambassadors, women deputy ministers, or others. But what we are asking for you is not to count the numbers but to engage with us in a partnership of quality to really train our women to give them an equal chance – not two-day training courses but support, for the women’s university that is in the stage of design at Kabul, for women’s leadership networks, so that the parity can be established. And that, again, is not just the job of governments, but you leaders to mobilize the necessary support for full engagement.

Again, on behalf of the people of Afghanistan, I want to thank everyone for their immense inputs, foundations they’ve done all this year. All of you have so many – made so many contributions and the results are an Afghanistan that can today not just deal with the past but envision a future, one of hope, one of prosperity, and one of stability. Thank you. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: I want you to know that in the course of the discussions that we were having, there was a lot of humor here and here, particularly between President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah. And it was really fun to see and I think indicative of the relationship that is building between the two of them. But at one point in the discussion up at Camp David, Dr. Abdullah was talking about some aspect of policy and he said to the effect that, “As former President Ghani said,” and everybody sort of was startled for a moment. And he quickly recovered and said, “Oh, as former President Ghani in five years from now would have said,” and the place broke up and everybody was relaxed. (Laughter.) And I think it’s indicative of really the remarkable nature.

You heard President Ghani just say that this unity government is here for this period of time through this term and it’s a reality. And the other half of that reality is a man who ran for president twice – once came very, very close, second time came very, very close – was urged by many of the people around him to walk away, not to take part in the process. And through his own commitment to the country, but also through the remarkable awareness and sensitivity of President Ghani, they managed to come together. And so we have this remarkable phenomenon that is not only the first unity government but is the first democratic-elected transfer of power to one – from one elected president to another in the history of Afghanistan. And the other person who helped make that happen is now the CEO, and I want you all to welcome Dr. Abdullah. (Applause.)

CEO ABDULLAH: Good evening. (In Dari.)

President Ghani, Secretary Kerry, distinguished, honorable guests, ladies and gentlemen: I am delighted to be amongst friends that have made so much personal sacrifices. There are friends among you that have made personal sacrifices, and there are friends of Afghanistan who have invested their political capital in order to support our country. And as a result of your support, Afghanistan is a different place.

I join President Ghani in thanking those distinguished guests which were named and those of you who are present, but at the same time thank the American Administration, American people, American Congress, American service men and women, who have served in Afghanistan, and honor the sacrifices of your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, alongside the sacrifices of our own people, and also thank your taxpayers for your generous contributions.

And I am here to thank one special friend especially – that is Secretary Kerry – which turned the idea of national unity government from an idea – when I first heard the idea from Secretary Kerry at your embassy in Kabul, you remember what was my response? No way. (Laughter.) And now, the unity government is formed under the leadership of President Ghani, and we are committed to serve the interests of Afghanistan, the interests of the people of Afghanistan, and being amongst our partners, our common interest in facilitating for a stable Afghanistan, a democratic Afghanistan, Afghanistan which lives in peace within and without, and respect the universal values that makes our humanity proud of the achievements of our heroes, men and women which have made it possible for us in that remote corner of the world, in that distant corner of the world called Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is a different place because of your contributions and sacrifices. You will be delighted to know that, first, I am not good at long speeches; and second, I have sore throat. So with your permission, this is my name so I take my – okay – glass of water. And then first day of our arrival, we were – excuse me – invited in John Kerry’s dining room, and tonight we are in Benjamin Franklin’s room. Thank you for facilitating very fruitful discussions, engagement, and trip, which I am sure could be another step forward in strengthening our bonds of relations and friendship beyond where we started with 13 years ago because of a common threat which had hit us long before it hit you but continued to hit and continued to hurt humanity.

Now it’s a foundation which is unshakeable, and you have in your partners in Afghanistan, and not only in the leaders but also in our nation, a grateful nation for your sacrifices, for your contributions. So thank you all for what you have done for us. And as President Ghani mentioned earlier, it’s our duty and our responsibility to make it work for the best interests of our people and also for the best interests of our partnership.

Talking about Afghan-American Women’s Council, I am proud to mention this, that we established it together with Secretary Powell quite a few years ago – and they say that I was much younger that time – (laughter) – and continued as co-chairs with Secretary Paula Dobriansky for many years until I was the foreign minister, and I see that Afghan-American Women’s Council has made achievements and also has made its marks in relations between both countries.

Talking about Fulbright, young students around here and their aspirations to become the president of Afghanistan – we welcome it very much, but try this only after 10 years from now. (Laughter and applause). If you are around, we will vote for the brightest of you regardless of gender; that’s a promise. (Applause.)

And names were mentioned here, including Mrs. Kamila Sidiqi I make a revelation, Mr. President: Her son, a year and a half year old or two years old, Nalbian (ph), called Nalbian (ph), is my supporter and was my supporter during the elections. (Laughter.) Okay?

PRESIDENT GHANI: Excellent. (Laughter.) But the mother was mine.

CEO ABDULLAH: No. (Laughter.) No, that’s fine. But no, but why did I take your permission? Why did I take permission? (Laughter.) So that will not reflect on her mother’s career. (Laughter.) So yes, Nalbian (ph) is a very sweet, sweet boy, and he is quite ahead of his parents. (Laughter and applause.)

Last words: Thank you from the bottom of our heart, and assure you that bloods of your sons and daughters sacrificed their self, your service men and women, has not been in vain. And we are here to honor those sacrifices, but more than that, to make a commitment with ourselves to make it work in respect of what is a major historical engagement. If some years down the road people look at it and historians write about it, it is a phenomenal event in the history of mankind. Towards the end of the second – 20th century, you stood by us, you helped us in the – that led to the end of Cold War. You were with us. And at the beginning of the 21st century, once again you are with us, and that is in dealing with a menace which mankind has to deal with it, but you have been our great partner and friend in this.

And as far as leaving egos, I leave my ego here. It’s up for grabs. (Laughter.) We will only consider the interests of the country and our common interest and make it work for all of us. Thank you very much. Thanks. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: We’re going to eat now. We’ve starved you all. But before we do, a point of personal privilege. I think at some point we’re going to have wonderful rolling strings come through and entertain us all. It will not be an evening of speeches. But one thing I want to ask: I would like all of the active duty and retired military who served in Afghanistan and those diplomats who served in Afghanistan, if you would all stand and we can say thank you to you.

General Campbell. Please, General. (Applause.)

Thank you, and please enjoy your meal. Thank you.