Up to five Philippine military bases will be made available for U.S. forces to rotate aircraft, ships, equipment and troops, Manila's chief negotiator of a new security pact said on Friday, as the Philippines looks to counter China's rising power in the region. A new 10-year military agreement, which also covers storage of equipment for maritime security and humanitarian assistance, was signed with the United States last week, hours before President Barack Obama arrived for a two-day visit to Manila. "Right now, the discussions would be ranging from three to five Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) bases," said Pio Lorenzo Batino, a defense undersecretary and head of the negotiating panel, told a news conference. "That's not final." He said the army's jungle training base in Fort Magsaysay, north of Manila, was "ideal location" for the United States because the two oldest allies in the region regularly hold joint exercises there.
By Phil Stewart JUBA (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew into South Sudan on Friday to push for a halt to more than four months of fighting in Africa's newest nation, a message he was expected to deliver in talks with President Salva Kiir. Kerry's trip to South Sudan, his first as Secretary of State, came a day after he renewed U.S. threats of sanctions and held out hope for the rapid deployment of more peacekeepers. "Secretary Kerry will reiterate the need for all parties to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement, to immediately cease attacks on civilians, and to fully cooperate with the United Nations and humanitarian organizations," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. More than 1 million people have fled their homes since fighting erupted in December between troops backing Kiir and soldiers loyal to his sacked deputy, Riek Machar.
The U.S. Commerce Department found no evidence to support allegations that the monthly unemployment rate was manipulated before the 2012 presidential election, according to a report issued by the agency's office of inspector general on Thursday. The department launched the probe last November after the New York Post reported that data used in the closely watched survey was faked in the final stretch of President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, when the monthly unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent from 8.1 percent. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives called the allegations "shocking" and sought documents and communications related to the collection of data for the Current Population Survey, which is used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to calculate the unemployment rate. The Census Bureau rejected the allegations at the time and said it reported the claims to the Office of the Inspector General as soon as it learned of them.
The wife of an American serving a 15-year term in a Cuban prison demanded Thursday that President Barack Obama personally intervene for his safe return. Alan Gross, who turns 65 on Friday, was arrested in December 2009 for allegedly distributing telecommunications equipment in Cuba while he was working as a contractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). "After years of inaction, I’m imploring President Obama to intervene personally on Alan’s behalf and bring him home to our family," Judy Gross said, in a note released by lawyers. In mid-April, Gross held an eight-day hunger strike after he learned that USAID had implemented a Twitter-like social network, ZunZuneo, in 2010 to enable Cubans to debate conditions on the island among themselves.
By Krista Hughes WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior Democratic senator said on Thursday he would take the time needed to put together a bill granting the White House power to fast-track trade agreements while Republicans called for swift action. Senate Finance Committee chairman Ron Wyden, a Democrat, said he was still mulling how best to modernize fast-track rules, which many see as crucial to the United States' ability to wrap up talks on a 12-nation Pacific trade pact. Wyden, who took over in February as chairman of the committee, declined to commit to a timeline for what he has dubbed "smart-track." "We are going to move as quickly as we can to do trade right," he told reporters after a committee hearing on trade, where some Democrats pushed for rules against currency manipulation to be included in trade agreements. Republicans are generally supportive of trade deals, which have been opposed by some Democratic power bases - unions, environmentalists and consumer groups who worry about lost jobs and weaker labor and pollution laws.
If it were up to former US President George W. Bush, a third member of the Republican family dynasty -- his younger brother Jeb -- would run for the White House. Jeb Bush, the former two-term governor of Florida, has acknowledged he has not ruled out the idea of a 2016 presidential candidacy. "I hope Jeb runs," his older brother told CNN on Thursday. Indeed, 61-year-old Jeb Bush has rolled up to several political, educational and civic events across the nation in recent weeks, taking the pulse of various groups as he mulls his political future.