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Republicans shelve move to weaken ethics office after Trump’s criticism

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Washington, Jan 4, 2017: House Republicans on Tuesday shelved their plan to weaken the independent ethics entity — known as the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) — that investigates accusations of inappropriate conduct by congressmen and other personnel just two hours after President-elect Donald Trump questioned the move.

According to EFE news, to question the original motives of the lawmakers in his party, Trump wrote on twitter: “With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority.”

“Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance,” the President-elect urged GOP lawmakers.

The magnate signed his latest tweet with the letters “DTS”, an abbreviation for his campaign slogan of “Drain the swamp”, a reference to rooting out corruption in Washington political circles.

In an urgent meeting behind closed doors, Republican House leaders — Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — managed to impose their will on their fellow lawmakers and postpone the debate on the measure scheduled for Tuesday, a move that quells the mini-rebellion launched on Monday night by House Republicans in another closed-door meeting.

In that Monday evening meeting, GOP lawmakers had voted to significantly restrict the power of the ethics office.

The vote, taken behind closed doors and with no prior announcement, came during a meeting at which Ryan and McCarthy opposed the measure.

On Tuesday, the newly-installed Congress goes back into session, with the Republicans having maintained its majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in the November 8 elections.

The measure to “gut” the OCE adopted by Republicans at the Monday meeting was proposed by lawmaker Bob Goodlatte and would have placed the independent entity under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee, EFE news added.

In that way, GOP lawmakers were apparently seeking to gain control over the OCE’s monitoring role, ostensibly because the office in the past has ignored credible accusations of improper practices by certain lawmakers.

The OCE was established as a non-partisan and independent entity within Congress in 2008 under the leadership of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, after several corruption and other scandals involving congressmen.

In a statement on Tuesday, Pelosi had denounced the vote to weaken the office’s power, saying that it indicates that “ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”

Goodlatte, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, had defended the move, saying that it is not intended to “impede” the work of the OCE.

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Kabul seeks closure of Taliban’s Qatar office

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Taliban office in Qatar (Photo- The Newyork Times)

Doha, Feb 24: Kabul has started discussions with the Qatari government to close the Taliban office in Doha as it has had “no positive consequence in terms of facilitating the peace talks with the group in Afghanistan”, a senior government official has said.

“There is no need to keep the office open”, said Mohammad Hanif Atmar, National Security Advisor to President Ashraf Ghani, in an interview with Middle East newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat earlier this week.

“The aim behind opening (Taliban’s) Qatar office was to start official peace negotiations with the terror group from the address, but so far no official negotiation from the office has been started with government. Even a single step has not been taken forward in the peace process through this office,” Qadir Shah, a spokesman for Atmar’s office said.

“It had no benefit for us even after seven years… It is better to close it,” Atmar said.

He also said that Kabul has so far witnessed no sign of “sincere” cooperation from Islamabad in counter-terrorism efforts.

The Taliban had earlier reached out to the US with an offer for talks and urged people to pressurize Washington to bring an end to the invasion of Afghanistan.

The Taliban had said that they preferred to resolve the conflict that began in 2001 through peaceful dialogue and warned that the use of force alone would complicate the problem in Afghanistan.

The group had called on the “American people and the peace-loving Congressmen” to pressurize US leadership to end the occupation of the Asian country, a precondition that Taliban has always maintained to begin any negotiation.

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Moon’s water may be widely distributed: Study

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Washington, Feb 24: A new analysis of data from India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter suggests that Moon’s water may be widely distributed across the surface, not confined to a particular region or type of terrain.

The water appears to be present day and night, though it was not necessarily easily accessible, according to the study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“We find that it doesn’t matter what time of day or which latitude we look at, the signal indicating water always seems to be present,” said Joshua Bandfield, a senior research scientist with the Space Science Institute in the US, and lead author of the new study.

“The presence of water doesn’t appear to depend on the composition of the surface, and the water sticks around,” Bandfield added.

The results contradict some earlier studies, which had suggested that more water was detected at the Moon’s polar latitudes and that the strength of the water signal waxes and wanes according to the lunar day (29.5 Earth days).

The findings could help researchers understand the origin of the Moon’s water and how easy it would be to use as a resource.

If the Moon has enough water, and if it is reasonably convenient to access, future explorers might be able to use it as drinking water or to convert it into hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel or oxygen to breathe.

The new finding of widespread water suggests that it may be present primarily as OH, a more reactive relative of H2O that is made of one oxygen atom and one hydrogen atom.

OH, also called hydroxyl, does not stay on its own for long, preferring to attack molecules or attach itself chemically to them. Hydroxyl would therefore have to be extracted from minerals in order to be used.

For the study, the researchers analysed data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper spectrometer onboard the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft.

They came up with a new way to incorporate important temperature information, creating a detailed model from measurements made by the Diviner instrument on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO.

The researchers are still discussing what the findings tell them about the source of the Moon’s water.

The results point toward OH and/or H2O being created by the solar wind hitting the lunar surface, though the team did not rule out that OH and/or H2O could come from the Moon itself, slowly released from deep inside minerals where it has been locked since the Moon was formed.

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S.Korea welcomes new US sanctions on N.Korea

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American President, Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un,

Seoul, Feb 24: South Korea on Saturday welcomed fresh unilateral sanctions described as the heaviest ever adopted by the US against North Korea, and said the measures would contribute towards the common goal of the denuclearisation of Pyongyang in a peaceful manner.

The US Treasury Department on Friday imposed the new economic sanctions on 27 companies and 28 vessels located or registered in numerous countries, trading with North Korea, reports Efe news.

“(The sanctions) were a reaffirmation of the US side’s will to move towards a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue,” a South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson told Yonhap news agency.

Seoul considers the measures to be a part of the efforts “to set the North onto a path towards denuclearization” and expressed the hope of continuing its cooperation at all levels with the US in order to resolve the North Korean issue in a peaceful manner.

US President Donald Trump said on Friday that if the new sanctions on North Korea “don’t work, we’ll have to go phase two”, which he said could be “a very rough thing”.

The latest sanctions from Washington come at a moment of thaw in inter-Korean relations owing to the Winter Olympics, currently under way in South Korea’s PyeongChang county.

The sanctions coincide with a trip to South Korea by the US president’s daughter and advisor Ivanka Trump to attend the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics on Sunday, which will also be attended by a high-level delegation from Pyongyang.

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