Blog Posts by Olivier Knox, Yahoo News

  • White House: No, #BringBackOurGirls won’t sway the kidnappers

    The White House on Monday defended the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign as a valuable part of the global response to the abduction of more than 200 Nigerian girls. But spokesman Jay Carney dismissed suggestions that hashtag activism would lead Boko Haram kidnappers to free their hostages.

    “No, I wouldn’t say that,” Carney told reporters at his daily briefing when asked whether the outpouring of support would lead the extremists to set the girls free.

    “We're not anything but realistic about the challenge here. It's extremely difficult,” the spokesman said. “The area that the Nigerian government is looking for the girls in constitutes roughly the size of New England.”

    Still, I think that highlighting the situation there and the tragedy that the abduction of those girls represents helps focus attention on the matter and helps, I think, focus the attention of those who would want to assist in the finding and recovery of those girls,” Carney said.

    That appeared to be a reference to

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  • These are the 'essential skills' needed to be an Obama ambassadonor

    George Tsunis, ambassador-designate to Norway, appears before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Jan. 16. 2014.

    They might not speak a relevant foreign language or have any diplomatic experience, but big donors to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign have “essential skills” qualifying them for ambassador jobs, according to State Department documents obtained by Yahoo News.

    The assertions can be found in documents dubbed “Certificates of Competency,” which the administration is required by law to produce to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for each ambassadorial nominee. The documents have not been made public.

    Earlier this year, three of Obama’s “ambassadonor” picks raised eyebrows in their confirmation hearing testimony. Real estate investor George Tsunis, nominated to be envoy to Norway, did not seem to know what kind of government that country has and attempted to bluff his way through questions about anti-immigration sentiment there. Soap opera producer Colleen Bell, tapped to go to Hungary, could not list any of America’s strategic interests there. Consultant Noah Bryson

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  • US announces aid to Nigeria in mass kidnapping of girls

    Warning that “time is of the essence,” the United States announced Tuesday that it would assemble a special team in Nigeria to help that country’s government rescue more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls before they are sold into slavery or killed.

    Secretary of State John Kerry announced that he had telephoned Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to urge him to accept American assistance nearly one month after the girls were abducted. Boko Haram, a group the United States has branded a terrorist organization, has claimed responsibility.

    “Our embassy in Abuja is prepared to form a coordination cell that could provide expertise on intelligence, investigations and hostage negotiations and to help facilitate information-sharing and victim assistance,” Kerry told reporters at a joint press conference with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

    “President Goodluck Jonathan was very happy to receive this offer and ready to move on it immediately. And we are immediately engaging in

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  • When the White House hates your tweet

    President Barack Obama uses a laptop computer to send a tweet during a Twitter Town Hall in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
    For the Obama White House, tweets from reporters are a kind of early warning system. It’s up to Jessica Allen, 24, to sound the alarm.

    Allen, whose official title is “media monitor,” tracks journalists’ tweets and flags them in mass emails that land in the in-boxes of more than 80 Obama aides, including chief of staff Denis McDonough, White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler, press secretary Jay Carney and senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer.

    The result? Reporters who regularly cover Obama have become familiar with seemingly out-of-the-blue emails or telephone calls from officials taking issue with their tweets — often thoughtfully and constructively, sometimes with obscenity-laced yelps of outrage.

    Longtime CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller estimates that he’s sent out some 77,000 tweets over the past five years and has received just a few “rockets from Carney.”

    “'Rockets’ means a few minutes after I tweet something, I’ll get an email from him” with a complaint, Knoller said. “That’s

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  • GOP senators: Arm Ukraine, hit Russian banks

    Saying President Barack Obama hasn’t been tough enough on Russia, a high-powered group of Republican senators introduced legislation on Wednesday aimed at imposing new sanctions on Moscow over its actions in Ukraine.

    “Rather than react to events as they unfold, which has been the policy of this administration, we need to inflict more direct consequences on Russia prior to Vladimir Putin taking additional steps that will be very difficult to undo,” said Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top GOP member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who drafted the measure.

    The congressional push for a harder line on Russia comes with Obama set to welcome German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of his key partners on Ukraine, to the White House on Friday.

    Republican Sen. Dan Coats, a former ambassador to Germany and current Senate Intelligence Committee member, will have dinner with Merkel on Thursday and is expected to press her to get Europe to agree on a tougher response to the crisis.

    “The lack

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  • Obama breaks promise (again) to commemorate Armenian ‘genocide’

    During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama could not have been clearer about what he thought of the mass killings of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks in 1915.

    "My firmly held conviction (is) that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence," he said in a statement. "The facts are undeniable," Obama wrote. "As President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide."

    Once in office, though? Not so much. Not at all, in fact.

    President Obama on Thursday called the slaughter “one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.” But for the sixth straight year, he did not use the word “genocide” — a move that Armenians would have cheered but would also have risked profoundly angering Turkey, a crucial NATO ally.

    “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed,” Obama said in his 2014 statement. “A full, frank, and just

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  • Kerry: Cold War diplomacy was ‘easier’ than today

    Secretary of State John Kerry waxed a little bit nostalgic for the Cold War on Tuesday, saying the era of civil defense drills and mutual assured destruction was an “easier” or “simpler” time in which to lead American diplomacy.

    “It may not have seemed so at the time, obviously, to great leaders, but it was easier than it is today – simpler is maybe a way to put it,” Kerry said at the State Department during remarks launching a regular review of U.S. foreign policy.

    “We could make really bad decisions and still win because we were pretty much the sole dominant economic and military power around,” the former senator declared. “That’s not true anymore.”

    Kerry’s remarks reflect a mostly academic debate about whether pursuing America’s national interest was a less high-wire affair during the Cold War between Washington and Moscow than it became after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which shifted the ground to problems like climate change, extremist groups, and so-called rogue

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  • U.S. sends 600 troops to Poland, Baltics in message to Russia over Ukraine

    In a move to reassure Russia’s neighbors, the United States will send some 600 paratroopers to Poland and the Baltics starting tomorrow as part of an open-ended military commitment prompted by Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

    “I can announce today that a company-size contingent of paratroopers from the U.S. Army Europe's 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team airborne, which is based in Vicenza, Italy, will arrive in Poland tomorrow to begin exercises with Polish troops,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters at his daily briefing.

    Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will get 150 American troops each. The full deployment will be complete “by the end of this weekend, maybe Monday,” Kirby said.

    Even when those U.S. forces rotate back, new ones will take their place for new exercises throughout the rest of 2014, “but beyond that, it could go beyond the end of this year," Kirby said. "We just don't know. We're just going to have to see how it goes.”

    And the exercises

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  • U.S. will block Iranian diplomat from United Nations

    The White House announced Friday that it will not grant a visa to Iran’s pick to be its United Nations ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi, amid a controversy over his role in the 1979 hostage-taking at the American embassy in Tehran.

    “We have informed the United Nations and Iran that we will not issue a visa to Mr. Aboutalebi,” press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at his daily briefing.

    It was not clear whether Iran would challenge the decision at the United Nations or whether the unusual rejection would poison President Barack Obama’s diplomatic outreach to Tehran.

    The announcement came after Congress overwhelmingly passed a bill designed to keep Aboutalebi out of the United States because of the part he played in the crisis, in which 52 Americans where held hostage 444 days. The diplomat has said that he took part in the standoff only after the seizure of the embassy and that his role was as a translator.

    Carney would not say whether Obama would sign the legislation, citing concerns

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  • Kerry ‘betrayed and surprised’ by McCain onslaught

    Secretary of State John Kerry felt “betrayed and surprised” by Republican Sen. John McCain’s withering and highly personal criticisms at a congressional hearing, a senior administration official told Yahoo News on Wednesday.

    Kerry “felt betrayed and surprised to see McCain so angrily rooting for failure against one of the most internationalist members of the administration,” said the official, who is close to the secretary and requested anonymity to speak candidly about the top diplomat’s reaction.

    The key word there might be “internationalist.” Republicans long openly contemptuous of President Barack Obama’s cautious handling of world affairs — “leading from behind,” as one anonymous administration aide once described it — had hoped that Kerry would nudge the administration to take a more aggressive approach to problems such as the civil war in Syria.

    “I'm sure we will have our disagreements, which I know neither of us will hesitate to bring to the other's attention,” McCain declared

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