Nigerian Envoy Allays Fear Over U.S. Immigration Ban

Nigerian Envoy Allays Fear Over U.S. Immigration Ban
Ambassador Hakeem Balogun

For some Nigerians with plans to travel to the United States, but are worried over what awaits them in view of the clampdown on immigrants, Nigeria’s Charge d’ Affairs in the U.S., Ambassador Hakeem Balogun, has dismissed such fears.

Speaking with reporters in Washington D.C., Ambassador Balogun insisted that Nigeria is not on the list of countries with travel ban tag placed by U.S. President, Donald Trump.

He, however, asked citizens to always adhere to set rules to avoid punitive measures.

The clarification comes barely three weeks after the U.S. Embassy in Abuja said there is no reason for Nigerians with valid visas to postpone or cancel their travel to the United States.

It added that there was no prohibition against Nigerian lawful permanent residents or persons with a valid visa or other U.S. Government authorisation from entering the country.

Nigeria Not Listed On Immigration Order – U.S.

Nigeria Not Listed On Executive Order on Immigration - U.S.The U.S. Government has clarified that there is no reason for Nigerians with valid visas to postpone or cancel their travel to the United States.

The clarification was made in a statement issued on Wednesday by the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

The U.S. Embassy stated that Nigeria was not named in the Executive Order on Immigration issued on March 6 by the White House.

It added that there was no prohibition against Nigerian lawful permanent residents or persons with a valid visa or other U.S. Government authorisation from entering the United States.

The clarification followed conflicting reports from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Senior Special Assistant to Nigeria’s President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Honourable Abike Dabiri-Erewa.

While Honourable Dabiri-Erewa said she got reports that Nigerians were being denied entry into the U.S. on arrival, the Ministry insisted that the claims were false.

U.S. Supports Air Force’s Medical Care To IDPs

Internally-displaced-persons-get-treatment-from-air-forceThe United States Government is partnering with the Nigerian Air Force in its medical outreach efforts for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

The support was announced by the Deputy Head of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, Mary Brewer, in Maiduguri after a tour of the Air Force Hospital in Dalori camp, home to over 20,000 Internally Displaced Persons.

Brewer’s visit to Maiduguri is to obtain a firsthand assessment of facilities and usage of equipment to chart a course for new partnerships.

Addressing reporters on the support the U.S. will render, she said: “We are here on behalf of the U.S. government to witness the delivery of some medical equipment donated by some private U.S. citizens to the Nigerian Air Force and the Air Force has been using them to good effect to help the people of Dalori IDPs camp; a wonderful example of people to people diplomacy”.

It was in recognition of the humanitarian based Air Force medical outreach which has continued to gain recognition from organisations within and outside Nigeria.

Services rendered under the programme include eye surgery, antenatal and prenatal care and other general health issues prevalent among the Dalori Internally Displaced Persons camp.

The services have now been extended to the Bakassi camp in Maiduguri as well as Malkohi in neighbouring Adamawa State, according to Air Force officials.

Giving a breakdown of the services rendered by the Air Force, the Director Medical Services, Sale Shinkafi, said: “Over time the hospital has developed and now we have full services in all departments general outstation, consultation, dental care maternity and delivery services. So this U.S. NGO saw what the Nigerian Air Force is doing and they donated a 40-feet container containing medical consumables and instruments”.

One of the beneficiaries of the eye surgery picked out from the Bakassi IDP camp in Maiduguri was full of gratitude, as he spoke to reporters.

Last month, the Victims Support Fund made a cash donation of 20 million Naira to the Air Force Hospital.

The Nigerian Air Force, which took part in the widely adjudged successful operation “Crackdown” in the Sambisa forest, recently launched an air operation tagged “Operation Gama Aiki”, a Hausa parlance for concluding the work.

Brussels Bomber Brothers Were On U.S. Watch Lists Before Attack – Sources

Brussels, belgum attackersTwo brothers who carried out suicide bombings in Brussels this week were known to U.S. government agencies before the attacks, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The sources said that Khalid El Bakraoui and Brahim El Bakraoui were both on U.S. government’s counter-terrorism watch lists before the March 18 arrest of Salah Abdeslam, a French national whom prosecutors accuse of a key role in the November 13 Paris attacks.

Belgian prosecutors have identified Brahim El Bakraoui, as one of two suicide bombers who attacked Brussels’ Zaventem Airport while they say Khalid El Bakraoui was the man who carried out a suicide bombing at Brussels’ Maelbeek Metro station, near European Union headquarters.

U.S. And Cuba Hold Historic Meeting

CubaThe U.S. and Cuban foreign ministers sat down for talks on Thursday night in the highest-level meeting between the two sides since the early days of the Cuban revolution more than half a century ago.

Secretary of State, John Kerry, met Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, in a Panama City hotel, the latest step toward better ties since President Barack Obama announced a historic shift in Cuba policy on Dec. 17.

The two men talked for at least two hours, sitting across from each other in a restaurant-bar in the hotel fronted by large glass windows. The U.S. government said the meeting went well.

“Secretary Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Rodriguez had a lengthy and very constructive discussion this evening. The two agreed they made progress and that we would continue to work to resolve outstanding issues,” a senior State Department official said.

During the talk, Kerry at times gesticulated to Rodriguez with his hands as security officials stood guard outside.

The encounter took place on the eve of the Summit of the Americas in Panama, where Obama and Cuban President, Raul Castro, will cross paths along with other leaders in the region. The two men are expected to at least shake hands.

Obama appears to be close to removing Cuba from the list of countries that the U.S. government says sponsor terrorism.

The State Department has now recommended that Cuba be taken off the list, a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee aide said earlier on Thursday.

Obama is expected to agree, although it is not clear whether he will announce his decision during the summit.

Cuba’s inclusion on the terror list has been a major stumbling block to restoring relations. Reversing it would help ease some financial sanctions against the island and make it easier for U.S. companies to do business there.

A U.S. official said Kerry and Rodriguez sought to smooth the way for Cuba’s removal from the list. The United States has pushed for Cuban assurances of no future support for terrorism, and Cuba has responded by making the same demand of Washington.

Obama’s decision to move toward restoring full diplomatic ties is a sea change in relations since the Cuban revolution, when U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the island on Jan. 1, 1959, as Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries seized control.

John Foster Dulles and Gonzalo Guell were the last U.S. and Cuban foreign ministers to hold a formal meeting, in Washington on Sept. 22, 1958, said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The highest-level meeting after the revolution took place in April 1959, between then-Vice President Richard Nixon and Fidel Castro, who was Cuba’s prime minister at the time.

Relations between the United States and Cuba rapidly deteriorated soon after, and the United States broke off diplomatic relations in 1961.

It also imposed a tough trade embargo that Cuba blames for many of its economic problems.

Obama has already relaxed some trade and travel restrictions but only the Republican-controlled Congress can overturn the embargo, and the U.S. president faces fierce opposition from some lawmakers.

Obama Formally Orders Budget Cuts, Blames Congress

U.S. President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama formally ordered broad cuts in government spending on Friday night after he and congressional Republicans failed to reach a deal to avert automatic reductions that could dampen economic growth and curb military readiness.

As the United States staggered into another fiscal crisis, the White House predicted that the spending cuts triggered by the inability of Obama and lawmakers to forge a broader deficit-reduction agreement would be “deeply destructive” to the nation’s economic and national security.

“Not everyone will feel the pain of these cuts right away. The pain though will be real. Beginning this week, many middle-class families will have their lives disrupted in significant ways,” Obama told journalists after his meeting with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders.

Late on Friday, Obama signed an order that put in effect the across-the-board government spending cuts known as “sequestration.” Government agencies will now begin to hack a total of $85 billion from their budgets between Saturday and October 1.

Half of the cuts will fall on the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the reductions put at risk “all of our missions.

Congress and Obama could still halt the cuts in the weeks to come, but neither side has expressed any confidence they will do so. Both Democrats and Republicans set the automatic cuts in motion during feverish deficit-reduction efforts in August 2011.

MARKETS SHRUG OFF CRISIS

Friday’s events marked the first budget showdown in Washington of many in the past decade that was not somehow resolved at the last minute – often under pressure from rattled financial markets. Markets in New York shrugged off the stalemate in Washington on Friday as they have for months.

Democrats predicted the cuts could soon cause air-traffic delays, meat shortages as food safety inspections slow down, losses to thousands of federal contractors and damage to local economies across the country, particularly in the hardest-hit regions around military installations.

At the heart of Washington’s persistent fiscal crises is disagreement over how to slash the budget deficit and the $16 trillion national debt, bloated over the years by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and government stimulus for the ailing economy.

Obama wants to close the fiscal gap with spending cuts and tax hikes. Republicans do not want to concede again on taxes after doing so in negotiations over the “fiscal cliff” at the New Year.

Public outrage, if it materializes, would be the most likely prod for a resolution as the impact of the spending cuts starts to be felt in the coming weeks and months.

As a percentage of total government spending every year, $3.7 trillion, the actual spending reductions are small. But because safety-net programs such as Social Security and Medicare will be untouched, the brunt falls mostly on federal government employees rather than direct recipients of aid.

The U.S. government is the nation’s largest employer, with a workforce of roughly 2.7 million civilians spread across the country. If the cuts stay in place, more than 800,000 of those workers could see reduced work days and smaller paychecks between now and September.

Furlough notices warning employees and their unions started to go out earlier this week and the pace picked up on Friday after it became clear that talks at the White House between Obama and congressional leaders would be fruitless.

While the International Monetary Fund warned that the belt-tightening could slow U.S. economic growth by at least 0.5 of a percentage point this year, that is not a huge drag on an economy that is picking up steam.

‘THE SPENDING PROBLEM’

Many Republicans accuse the Obama administration of overstating the effects of the cuts in order to pressure them into agreeing to a solution to the White House’s liking.

A deal proved elusive as Obama met at the White House with House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, as well as the top two Democrats in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

“The discussion about revenue, in my view, is over. It’s about taking on the spending problem,” Boehner said after the meeting.

Asked why he did not just refuse to let congressional leaders leave the room until they had a deal, Obama told reporters: “I am not a dictator. I’m the president. So, ultimately, if Mitch McConnell or John Boehner say, ‘We need to go to catch a plane,’ I can’t have Secret Service block the doorway, right?”

The across-the-board cutbacks were mandated by a deficit reduction law, structured to be so disruptive that Congress would ultimately replace them with more targeted savings. But partisan gridlock has prevented agreement on where to save.

The White House budget office sent a report to Congress detailing the spending cuts. Some 115,000 employees of the Department of Justice – including prosecutors and the FBI – were among the first to get the official word of furloughs.

The government also sent letters to several state governors advising them of cuts to services like the Head Start education program in California and military facilities in Virginia.

Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty expressed rare public frustration with the United States for lurching from crisis to crisis.

One reason for the inaction in Washington is that both parties still hope the other will either be blamed by voters for the cuts or cave in before the worst effects predicted by Democrats come into effect.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday showed 28 percent of Americans blamed congressional Republicans for the sequestration mess, 18 percent thought Obama was responsible and 4 percent blamed congressional Democrats. Thirty-seven percent blamed them all, according the online poll.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicts 750,000 jobs could be lost in 2013, and federal employees throughout the country are looking to trim their own costs.

“The kids won’t go to the dentist, the kids might not go to the doctor, we won’t be spending money in local restaurants, local movie theaters,” said Paul O’Connor, president of the Metal Trades Council, which represents 2,500 workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine.

After weeks of White House warnings about the cuts causing disruption, Obama acknowledged it might be a while before effects fully kicked in. “We will get through this. This is not going to be an apocalypse,” Obama said.

In the absence of any deal at all, the Pentagon will be forced to slice 13 percent of its budget between now and September 30.

In his first Pentagon news conference since he was sworn in on Wednesday, Hagel struck a more moderate tone than many other defense officials who have said the spending reductions would be devastating or could turn the U.S. military into a second-rate power.

“America … has the best fighting force, the most capable fighting force, the most powerful fighting force in the world,” he said. “The management of this institution, starting with the Joint Chiefs, are not going to allow this capacity to erode.”

Most non-defense programs, from NASA space exploration to federally backed education and law enforcement, face a 9 percent reduction.

Moving to head off a new budget crisis later this month, Boehner said the Republican-led House would move a “continuing resolution” to fund government through the rest of the fiscal year, thus hopefully averting a government shutdown.