The Envoy
  • The Obama administration announced plans to ease restrictions on aid going to famine-plagued areas in Somalia under the control of the militant Islamist group al-Shebaab. With some 12 million Somalis at risk of starvation, U.S. policymakers said that the humanitarian crisis trumps concerns that aid could get into the hands of al-Shebaab.

    "Our number one goal is to save lives," a senior administration official told journalists on a call arranged by the State Department Tuesday. She also stressed that the United States has given full assurance to international humanitarian relief groups that they would not be prosecuted for delivering assistance to areas of Somalia under Shebaab control. The officials on the call all asked to speak anonymously. "What we are mainly concerned about is creating the flexibility in all possible ways so that assistance can be provided," the same source added.

    In a separate statement circulated today, State Department spokesman Mark Toner explained that under the new policy, the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) "are authorized to provide grants and contracts to fund non-governmental organizations providing humanitarian assistance in Somalia, including in areas under the de facto control of al-Shabaab."  NGOs would be "covered under the license from the Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control in the event their operations may accidentally benefit al-Shabaab," Toner said.

    However, foreign-aid specialists said the new U.S. assurances have used vague and legally murky language 

    Read More »from U.S. moves to ease restrictions on aid for Somalia famine victims
  • Undersecretary of Defense Ash Carter. (Department of Defense)The White House has announced that it is nominating Ash Carter, the Pentagon's head of procurement, to be the next deputy secretary of defense.

    Carter, a trained physicist, has overseen Pentagon procurement as undersecretary of defense for acquisitions, technology and logistics in the Obama administration. He has previously served as a professor of international security affairs at Harvard, and as assistant secretary of defense for international security policy during the Clinton administration. When he served in the latter post, he worked on reducing post-Soviet nuclear weapons arsenals, and countering the threats from catastrophic terrorism and North Korea's nuclear program.

    If confirmed, Carter will succeed Deputy Secretary Bill Lynn, who told reporters last month he plans to step down by the fall. Leon Panetta succeeded Bob Gates as defense secretary early last month.

    Read More »from Ash Carter to be tapped for Deputy Defense Secretary
  • Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen. (Maija Tammi/Helsingin Sanomat)As Norway continues to grapple with the attacks by a home-grown extremist that killed 77 people last month, one couple, who moved to help young people fleeing from gunman Anders Breivik, is getting a bit of belated recognition.

    Hege Dalen and her wife, Toril Hansen, were eating dinner on July 22nd on the other shore from Utoya island when they heard screaming, the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sannomat reported.  After bombing government buildings in Oslo, Breivik had come to the island dressed as a policeman and went on to shoot more than 100 young people attending a Labour party camp there.

    "We were eating," Dalen told the newspaper. "Then shooting and then the awful screaming. We saw how the young people ran in panic into the lake."

    Read More »from Global press largely overlooks heroism of couple in Norway massacre


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  • Serena and Sharapova's 'black heart' rivalry
    Serena and Sharapova's 'black heart' rivalry

    The bitter rivalry between Australian Open finalists Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova took root on the hallowed Wimbledon turf in 2004 and is still thriving more than a decade later -- both on and off the court. The problem was, the fairytale victory that catapulted her to global celebrity came at the expense of Serena Williams -- top seed at the time and hot favourite for a third straight Wimbledon title -- a result that the American has never forgotten. It has spurred her on to an overall record of 16-2 against Sharapova, with the Russian's last victory over the world number one coming more than a decade ago. Since 2005, the American's winning streak is 15-0, including straight sets wins over Sharapova in the Australian and French Open finals (2007 and 2013), as well as the gold medal match at the 2012 London Olympics.

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