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Euro under pressure in Asia amid ongoing debt woes

OKYO: The euro stayed under pressure in Asia on Friday amid investor jitters over the European debt crisis.

The common currency bought $1.3309 in Tokyo afternoon trade, compared with $1.3327 in London late Thursday. Against the Japanese currency it firmed to 103.03 yen from 102.87.

The dollar edged up to 77.42 yen from 77.11 as Japan’s finance minister said his ministry has been vigilantly watching for signs of speculative yen-buying movement in the foreign exchange markets.

The euro was on a downward trend as investors took a cue from Moody’s downgrade of Hungary’s credit rating, said a senior dealer at a major bank.

“You should expect volatile euro trading ahead as there’s much speculation going around, but what’s for sure is the euro is set to fall in the longer term as the debt woes are just too far from their end,” the dealer said.

German, French and Italian leaders pledged Thursday to propose modifications to European Union treaties to further integrate economic policy, but they played down suggestions that the European Central Bank would have a greater crisis-busting role.

Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi urged European leaders to take more steps to calm markets as the impact of the debt crisis spreads globally. (AFP

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U.N., U.S. move to increase pressure on N.Korea

in.reuters.com

U.N., U.S. move to increase pressure on N.Korea

UNITED NATIONS/WASHINGTON – july 16  – The U.N. Security Council neared agreement on Wednesday on North Korean firms and individuals to be added to a blacklist for involvement in Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, diplomats said.

Japanese Ambassador Yukio Takasu told reporters “We are very close” to agreement on the expanded sanctions list. Diplomats from several countries said a council committee that has been discussing the issue for a month was on target to meet a weekend deadline for completing its task and could do so as early as Thursday.

As diplomats put the finishing touches on expanding U.N. sanctions, U.S. officials said they had succeeded in increasing international awareness of methods North Korea uses to disguise its trade in illicit weapons as legal business transactions.

“North Korea engages in a variety of deceptive financial practices that are intended to obscure the true nature of their transactions,” said a senior Obama administration official.

A U.S. team is traveling to key world capitals to warn governments and banks that North Korean practices make it “virtually impossible to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate business,” the official said in Washington.

Firms and governments in China, Hong Kong and other places North Korea does business were taking seriously the U.S. warnings about Pyongyang’s practice of using front companies and unusually large cash transactions, he added.

At the United Nations, the committee, representing all 15 nations on the council, met twice on Wednesday and Turkish envoy Fazli Corman, who chairs the group, said it would meet again on Thursday.

Final agreement “may require some delegations to receive instructions from their capitals,” Corman said, adding, “The sense of urgency is there.”

The Security Council passed a resolution on June 12 that expanded U.N. sanctions against North Korea in response to a nuclear test it carried out on May 25, and asked the committee to add more names to the sanctions list.

The committee in April placed two North Korean companies and a bank on the list in its first action in two years. That move followed a long-range rocket launch earlier in the month by Pyongyang.

This week’s blacklisting is expected to go further by specifying individuals and goods to be subject to sanctions, as well as additional companies.

The measure would prohibit companies and nations around the world from doing business with the named firms and require them to freeze assets and impose travel bans on the individuals.

The steps described by the U.S. official were in addition to the U.N. measures and targeted counterfeiting, narcotics trafficking and other North Korean activities in addition to illicit weapons proliferation, officials said.

BUREAUCRATIC DELAYS

“There’s a broad consensus, including by China, that this is the right way to go and I don’t think the Chinese would take this stuff lightly,” said a second U.S. official.

The official said there was a growing international consensus that tightening sanctions on North Korean entities is “the best chance we have to influence their calculations.”

The first official said the goal was to bring scrutiny and thwart suspicious activities, not to hit all North Korean trade. Humanitarian aid would not be affected.

Names to be put on the list were submitted to the committee last month by the United States, Britain, France and Japan. Western diplomats said China and Russia had been slow to respond, but they believed the delays were mainly bureaucratic.

“We’re confident of an outcome which will be commensurate with DPRK (North Korea) actions and will be effective and will significantly improve the (sanctions) regime,” said one Western diplomat, speaking on condition he not be identified.

The sanctions are intended to target only companies and individuals connected to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, and diplomats said the proposed goods to be sanctioned were also all weapons-related.

The June 12 sanctions resolution banned all weapons exports from North Korea and most arms imports into the reclusive communist state.

It also authorized U.N. member states to inspect North Korean sea, air and land cargo, requiring them to seize and destroy any goods transported in violation of the sanctions.

North Korea responded by saying it would take “firm military action” if the United States and its allies tried to isolate it.

The sanctions committee was created after the Security Council adopted punitive measures against North Korea for its first nuclear test in October 2006.

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SCENARIOS – North Korea tensions set to simmer

8

Philip Goldberg, the U.S. envoy who coordinates sanctions on North Korea, talks to journalists after a meeting at the Central Bank office in Kuala Lumpur July 6, 2009.

SCENARIOS – North Korea tensions set to simmer

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea raised regional tensions with a defiant ballistic missile launch at the weekend that came as the United States pressed sanctions to punish Pyongyang for its nuclear test in May.

Following are some scenarios at how current tensions may play out:

CONSTANT SIMMER OVER SUMMER

– North Korea launches further military moves seen as provocations by outside world through summer in North Asia.

– More missile launches likely, including ballistic and short-range.

– May try to test U.N. sanctions to halt arms trade imposed after nuclear test by sending cargo ships abroad.

– Good chance North Korea will test fire its long range Taepodong-2 missile, which could hit U.S. territory but has not had a successful test flight. Pyongyang backed itself into corner by saying in its state media it would fire one unless the U.N. apologised for punishing it for an April launch of similar rocket.

– North may try to spark a small-scale skirmish with the South near a disputed sea border.

NUCLEAR TEST

– The North could conduct a third nuclear test, which is needed to help it build a working bomb and thus bring it closer to miniaturising a nuclear weapon to mount as a warhead on a missile. Experts said its first nuclear test in October 2006 was only a partial success because it had a low explosive force, indicating design flaws.

– Each test decreases the North’s already meagre supply of plutonium, thought before the May 25 test to be enough for six to eight weapons.

NUCLEAR ARMS PROGRAMME

– North Korea could resume all operations at its Soviet-era Yongbyon nuclear plant. It has said it is already reprocessing plutonium at the plant that was being taken apart under a disarmament-for-aid deal.

PRESSURE TO INCREASE PUNISHMENTS

– Each move regarded as a provocation makes it more likely that China, the North’s biggest benefactor and trade partner, will be forced into greater cooperation with the sanctions regime. China is the key player for enforcement, analysts said.

– U.S. may move to punish banks thought to be helping the North in illicit activity. The U.S. Treasury brought North Korea’s international finances to a virtual halt in 2005 by cracking down on a Macau bank suspected of aiding the North’s illicit financial activities. Other banks, worried about being snared by U.S. financial authorities, steered clear of the North’s money.

– North Korea’s broken economy, with a yearly GDP estimated at about $17 billion, may buckle under the pressure. Any bad weather that effects farming could also send it into a tailspin.

RATCHETING DOWN PRESSURE

– Analysts said the North may look to return to international disarmament-for-aid talks toward the end of the year due to hit to its finances.

– North Korea firms up succession plans in Asia’s only communist dynasty, removing pressure on leader Kim Jong-il, 67 to increase internal support through military moves.

MAJOR CONFLICT

– Unlikely. Analysts say all-out war would be suicidal for Pyongyang because U.S. and South Korean forces would quickly defeat the North’s ill-equipped, 1.2-million-strong army.

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