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  |   July 7, 2012 at 8:04 AM
Afghanistan named major non-NATO U.S. ally

WASHINGTON, July 7 (UPI) -- The Obama administration Saturday designated Afghanistan a major non-NATO ally of the United States, the White House said.

President Barack Obama announced the designation in a memorandum to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"Consistent with the authority vested in me as president by Section 517 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended ... I hereby designate the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as a major non-NATO ally of the United States for the purposes of the act and the Arms Export Control Act," the president said in the memo to Clinton.

"You are authorized and directed to publish this determination in the Federal Register."

The Foreign Assistance Act states no assistance will be given to a government that "engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, including torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, and the security of person, unless such assistance will directly benefit the needy people in such country."

Clinton, during a visit Saturday to Afghanistan, said the designation is a "powerful symbol" of the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan after the departure of U.S. troops in 2014, Voice of America reported.

"This is the kind of relationship that we think will be especially beneficial as we do the transition and as we plan for the post-2014 presence because it will open the door to Afghanistan's military to have a greater capacity and a broader kind of relationship with the United States," Clinton said.

The secretary pledged continued support to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, with whom she met in Kabul.

"We know Afghanistan has an agenda ahead of itself to make key economic reforms, to fight corruption, to strengthen the rule of law, to attract more trade and investment," Clinton said. "And I want to commend President Karzai for his strong public pledges to stamp out corruption and build institutions that will be critical for Afghanistan's future."

The United States and its allies have been at war in Afghanistan since Oct. 7, 2001, when they invaded the country to topple the Taliban regime that had provided safe haven for al-Qaida, which was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States. Karzai, who has strong ties to the United States and other NATO members, has been president of Afghanistan since 2002, first appointed on an interim basis and then winning two elections.


Obama urges targeted federal spending

BOARDMAN, Ohio, July 7 (UPI) -- President Obama Saturday delivered his weekly address in the key election battleground state of Ohio where he urged more infrastructure and education spending.

Speaking from Boardman, Ohio, the Democratic president lauded the congressional passage of legislation that will keep thousands of Americans rebuilding the United States' "crumbling infrastructure" and head off the doubling of interest rates on federal college student loans.

"Those steps will make a real difference in the lives of millions of Americans," Obama, who is expected to face Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the November general election, said in prepared remarks released by the White House. "But make no mistake: We've got more to do.

"The construction industry was hit brutally hard when the housing bubble burst. So it's not enough to just keep construction workers on the job doing projects that were already under way.

"For months, I've been calling on Congress to take half the money we're no longer spending on war and use it to do some nation-building here at home. There's work to be done building roads and bridges and wireless networks. And there are hundreds of thousands of construction workers ready to do it.

"The same thing is true for our students. The bill I'm about to sign is vital for millions of students and their families. But it's not enough to just keep their student loan rates from doubling.

"For months, I've been calling on Congress to reform and expand the financial aid that's offered to students. I've been asking them to help us give 2 million Americans the opportunity to learn the skills that businesses in their area are looking for -- right now -- through partnerships between community colleges and employers. In America, a higher education cannot be a luxury reserved for just a privileged few. It's an economic necessity that every American family should be able to afford."


Buerkle calls for repeal of healthcare law

WASHINGTON, July 7 (UPI) -- Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-N.Y., said the healthcare law "fosters a climate of uncertainty and instability throughout our economy" and called for its repeal.

"This healthcare law just flies in the face of what America is supposed to be, and repealing it would revitalize our economy and the values upon which our country was founded," Buerkle said in the weekly Saturday Republican media address.

"Then we would finally be able to pursue a common-sense, step-by-step approach that protects Americans' access to the care they need, from the doctor they choose, at a lower cost."

Buerkle, a mother of six who has worked as a nurse and a healthcare attorney, said, "I know how important it is to ensure families and doctors make these decisions -- not Washington."

The congresswoman said the healthcare law had increased costs for small businesses and made it more difficult for them to hire workers.

She pointed out that the Supreme Court, in upholding most of the law, called the individual mandate a "tax."

"The health care law, which carries an astronomical price tag and a mess of regulations, taxes and fees, fosters a climate of uncertainty and instability throughout our economy," Buerkle said.

She noted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said 74 percent of small businesses said the healthcare law makes it more difficult for them to hire new employees.


At least 24 die in Pakistan drone strike

MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan, July 7 (UPI) -- A U.S. drone attacked suspected militants in northwestern Pakistan Friday, killing at least 24 of them, Pakistani officials said.

The officials told Voice of America the missile strike by the remote-controlled, unmanned aircraft took place at a compound near Miran Shah in the North Waziristan tribal region.

Meanwhile, suspected rebels opened fire Friday on a bus in the Turbat district of Baluchistan province in southwestern Pakistan, killing at least 18 passengers who officials said were on their way to work in Iran.


Hurricane Daniel forms out in Pacific

MIAMI, July 7 (UPI) -- Hurricane Daniel materialized out in the eastern north Pacific Ocean Friday, becoming the region's third hurricane of the season, U.S. forecasters said.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said in its 8 p.m. PDT advisory that Daniel was centered about 745 miles southwest of the southern tip of Mexico's Baja California. The Category 1 storm was producing sustained winds of 75 mph 25 miles out from its center with higher gusts as it churned to the west at 12 mph, the hurricane center said. Tropical storm-force winds were extending out up to 115 miles from its eye.

Because it was so far out to sea, no coastal watches or warnings were necessary, the center said.

Daniel was expected to keep heading in the same general direction through Sunday. Forecasters said it could strengthen Saturday before beginning to weaken Sunday as it moves over colder water.

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