Yemeni president urges Houthis to observe six points for ceasefire as rebels escalate operations against army

U.S. pressures Iraq politicians to form new govt.

Europe imposes more tighter sanctions on Iran

Iran says ready to resume nuke talks in September

Clinton urges Asia to go harder on North Korea

The National Defense Council (NDC) affirmed on Sunday that the government would end the military operations if the Houthi rebels became committed to implement the six point-ceasefire already announced by the government.

In its meeting chaired by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the council discussed the situation in Saada province and what was announced by Houthis on Saturday about their commitment to some of the points announced by the government to halt the military operations.

The council insisted the commitment of the Houthis to the six points, including the obligation not to attack on the Saudi lands and to delivery the Yemenis and Saudis kidnapped by the Houthi rebels without delay, to stop the military operations.

“Halting the military operations would be according to specific and clear mechanisms, so as to ensure non-recurrence of fighting, bringing peace, return of displaced people to their villages and rebuilding the ruin left by the rebellion war in Saada”, the NDC added.

NDC also reviewed sabotage activities and outrages on citizens and students as well as public and private properties carried out by outlaw secessionist elements, asserting on local authorities and security apparatuses to carry out its responsibilities to control that elements and bring them to justice.

NDC listened to a report on London Conference outcomes and praised its success and positive results for supporting Yemen to face challenges, praising attitudes of brothers and friends toward Yemen’s security, stability, unity, and supporting its development march.

Shiite rebels in northern Yemen have taken over an army post and captured a number of soldiers, officials say.

Both soldiers and rebels were said to be killed in the clashes, but the number of casualties remains unclear.

The incident follows the announcement at the weekend of a truce between the rebels - known as the Houthis - and government-backed tribes after a week of clashes left up to 70 people dead.

Intermittent fighting in the past six years has killed thousands of people.

The rebels complain of political, social and religious marginalization, which the government denies.

Meanwhile, in southern Yemen, where the government is battling an insurgency believed to be supported by al-Qaeda, officials said a senior leader of the group and two al-Qaeda militants were killed in clashes.

The militants had fired machine guns and rockets at soldiers who were posted near a foreign oil company in the southern province of Shabwa, officials said.

They were believed to have been behind a night-time ambush in which five Yemeni soldiers died last week.

The dead included al-Qaeda commander Zayed al-Daghari, Yemen's defense ministry said in a statement on its website.

Yemeni forces have stepped up security following the recent attacks on soldiers in Shabwa province, where many foreign oil companies are located.

On Sunday, militants ambushed a Yemeni army patrol, killing six soldiers in the second major attack on local security forces in Shabwa province in a week.

Radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who has been linked to al-Qaeda attacks in the US, is thought to be in the area.

The government has intensified its operations since the group's Yemen branch, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), claimed the attempted bombing of a passenger plane headed for the US city of Detroit on 25 December last year.

There are growing fears that Yemen could descend into chaos and become a new base from which militants could launch attacks against the West.

Moving to Baghdad, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday urged Iraq's politicians, still unable to agree on a new government, to "get on with the business of governing" as U.S. troops prepare to end their combat mission.

Despite the deadlock in Baghdad, the U.S. military has kept its withdrawal timetable on track. It is due to reduce the size of its forces in Iraq to 50,000 troops by August 31, when they will formally move to a more advisory role supporting Iraq's security forces.

"By the end of 2011, all of America's forces will leave Iraq, and its security will be wholly in the hands of its government and its people," Biden told members of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, at a ceremony at Fort Drum in New York as he welcomed them home from Iraq.

Biden said 1 million U.S. service members, including his own son, had been deployed in support of the Iraq war effort and had enabled Iraq to hold two successful elections.

"Now their political leaders must fulfill their responsibility and get on with the business of governing," he said in one of the biggest speeches on Iraq by an Obama administration official.

But Iraq appeared no closer to a new government on Wednesday as lawmakers called off a scheduled session of parliament after political factions said they needed more time to decide on cabinet posts.

Senior members of the administration have been speaking more forcefully in recent weeks about the need for Iraq's squabbling Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions to put aside their differences and form a government, nearly five months after parliamentary elections were held in March.

Biden, Obama's point man on Iraq, has been in frequent telephone contact with Iraqi leaders and traveled to Iraq earlier this month to nudge them toward an agreement.

Sunni Islamist insurgents have sought to exploit the power vacuum. There have been almost daily bombing and shooting attacks in which hundreds of Iraqis have died, although overall violence has dropped sharply since 2006-2007, when thousands of Iraqis were killed in sectarian blood-letting.

In the latest attack, a bomb killed five Iraqis standing in a line to collect their pensions outside a state-owned bank in Baghdad's Sadr City slum on Wednesday.

Biden's speech is part of an effort by the Obama administration to remind Americans that while Iraq may no longer be on the front pages of U.S. newspapers there are still tens of thousands of troops deployed there.

Biden said Iraq's stability was vital to American interests as it was a "valuable ally" in the Middle East.

The Iraq war, a major issue during the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, now gets scant mention in the U.S. media, and the Obama administration is focused on turning around its troubled war effort in Afghanistan.

With Americans still preoccupied with high unemployment and a stuttering economic recovery, the Iraq war has not figured much in the campaign for congressional elections in November.

While the Obama administration is struggling to win domestic support for its unpopular war in Afghanistan, Biden has held up Iraq as possibly one of its greatest achievements.

The U.S. military has increasingly taken a backseat role in Iraq since pulling out of urban centers in June last year.

But Pentagon officials have made clear that U.S. troops who remain in Iraq come September 1 will still be capable of conducting military operations.

Some 4,400 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq since U.S. forces invaded in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein, according to icasualties.org, a website that tracks U.S. military casualties there.

Meanwhile, the European Union intensified the economic isolation of Iran over its nuclear program by ordering its toughest economic sanctions yet against the Iranian government on Monday. European energy companies and insurers affected by the new controls promised to comply.

Although European companies will still be allowed to import oil and gas from Iran, the sanctions go beyond those in the fourth round imposed by the United Nations last month. The European move follows the imposition of additional sanctions by the United States.

Meant as punishment for Iran’s refusal to halt its enrichment of uranium, the measures appeared to prompt a flurry of diplomatic activity, with Iran saying it was ready to return to talks on a nuclear fuel swap. But it was unclear whether the offer was anything more than another in a series of maneuvers by Tehran to buy more time. Western nations suspect Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon; the country insists that its nuclear program is peaceful and that sanctions will not persuade it to change course.

While American investment in Iran has dwindled over recent years, the European Union, with 27 member nations, is Iran’s largest trading partner, taking in a third of its exports and selling it billions of dollars in goods and services.

That means that the measures could have a significant impact, though it was too early to determine the financial effect on European companies and the Iranian economy. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said figures on the amount of trade that would be involved in the sanctions were still being assessed.

The 27 European foreign ministers, in a statement, said they had agreed on “a comprehensive and robust package of measures in the areas of trade, financial services, energy, transport as well as additional designations for visa ban and asset freeze,” saying that it would focus on Iranian banks, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.

Details of the companies and individuals covered by European measures will not be released until Tuesday at the earliest. But a draft text, discussed by foreign ministers at their meeting here in Brussels, identified dozens of individuals and companies, particularly those with ties to the Revolutionary Guards and the shipping company, officials said.

“We’ve sent quite a powerful message to Iran,” Ms. Ashton said. “That message is that their nuclear program is a cause of serious and growing concern to us.”

The European Union has been keeping the door open to talks with Iran, hoping to use economic isolation as a lever to force Tehran to talk.

On Monday, Iran said it was prepared to return to negotiations on an international deal to swap some of its lower-enriched uranium for more enriched uranium “without conditions,” according to the official IRNA news agency.

Western nations had proposed such a deal to remove some of Iran’s uranium stockpile while meeting its stated need for power-plant fuel and medical isotopes. Iran has agreed in the past, only to alter the conditions in ways unacceptable to the West.

Meanwhile, analysts said that many European companies had already reduced their dealings with Iran, but that the measures could take a toll. “Over the long term Iran’s output of oil and gas will continue to decline without European technology,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the nonproliferation and disarmament program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

He added that Iran would find it difficult to get insurance since European and North American companies dominate the sector.

David Williams, a spokesman for Shell, said that the company would apply the sanctions and had already been reducing its investment in Iran.

“We have not been supplying gasoline to Iran since October last year and we are not renewing a small number of contracts to refuel Iranair,” he said.

Mr. Williams would not comment on whether the company would be able to proceed with its involvement in Persian LNG Company, a proposed natural gas project in Iran, adding that no decision had been taken on whether to invest before Monday’s sanctions were agreed.

Total refused to comment in the impact of the sanctions. It said recently that it had financed a number of Iranian fields — Sirri, South Pars 2 & 3, Balal and Dorood — under contracts for which it is still owed repayments. It also has a technical services agreement for the Dorood field.

A subsidiary holds a 50 percent stake in Beh Total, which produces and markets small quantities of lubricants. In 2009, revenue generated from Beh Total’s activities was 27.4 million euros and cash flow was 5.6 million euros. In 2009 it bought around 58 million barrels of hydrocarbons from state-controlled entities for approximately 2.6 billion euros, and paid to a state-owned entity approximately 24 million euros for shipping contracts.

However Richard Rogers, spokesman for EGL, a Swiss-based energy company, said that the sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union “have no impact” on the existing natural gas procurement between EGL and NIGEC (National Iranian Gas Export Company) under which the Iranian company delivers natural gas to the Iranian-Turkish border.

Meanwhile Bart Nash, external communications manager at Lloyd’s of London, said that it would always comply with applicable sanctions, but that “the Lloyd’s market has been cutting back its exposures to Iran over the last two years, so any residual business is very small indeed.”

The draft text on which the European Union sanctions are based calls for a bar on the “sale, supply or transfer of key equipment and technology” for refinement, liquefied natural gas, exploration or production. European companies would not be able to provide technical or financial help “to enterprises in Iran that are engaged in the key sectors of Iranian oil and gas industry.”

The draft requires European Union governments to monitor Iranian banks in their jurisdiction closely. Financial transfers above about $50,000 would require prior authorization.

Iranian banks are expected to be prohibited from opening new branches or subsidiaries in the European Union. There would be a ban on providing insurance and reinsurance “to the government of Iran, or to entities incorporated in Iran or subject to Iran’s jurisdiction.”

The draft also specifies that countries in the bloc would be expected to stop “all cargo flights operated by Iranian carriers or originating from Iran with the exception of mixed passenger and cargo flights.”

Furthermore, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Asia on Friday to vigorously apply sanctions against North Korea, saying Pyongyang's belligerent actions marked a clear regional threat.

Clinton, speaking in Hanoi at the Asia-Pacific's biggest security dialogue, also called on Myanmar's neighbors to pressure the country's military rulers for democratic reforms, and said Asia must join the global community in sending a "clear signal" to Iran to rein in its nuclear ambitions.

"One measure of the strength of a community of nations is how it responds to threats to its members, neighbors and region," Clinton told the 27-member ASEAN Regional Forum, which includes regional powers China, Japan and Russia along with the United States, European Union and Canada.

Clinton on Wednesday unveiled new U.S. sanctions against North Korea, which both Washington and Seoul blame for the March sinking of a South Korean warship which killed 46 sailors and sharpened tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear program.

The new U.S. sanctions, which target North Korea's ruling elite, build on earlier United Nations sanctions which imposed broad curbs on dealings with North Korea in hopes of persuading it to abandon its atomic ambitions.

Clinton said it was essential Asian nations enforce these sanctions to encourage North Korea "to take the steps it must" to stop nuclear development and seek real peace with South Korea.

Clinton also urged Asia-Pacific ministers to put more pressure on Myanmar -- a member of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) which anchors the forum -- to enact real democratic reforms and allow elections later this year which will be both free and credible.

The Obama administration has expressed frustration that, despite U.S. offers of greater engagement, Myanmar's military rulers have refused to budge on key demands including freeing an estimated 2,000 political prisoners such as Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

It has also said it is concerned by reports that Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is seeking North Korean help to develop its own nuclear program, which if true could open an alarming new front in the battle against global atomic proliferation.

"What's happening in Burma is not only dangerous for the people who endure life under the regime, though they are first and foremost on our minds," Clinton said, adding there was a direct link between open and free societies and political and economic stability.

Clinton's visit to Hanoi is part of the Obama administration’s broader effort to boost U.S. engagement with Asia, in part to counter the rising influence of China.

Clinton said she would return to Vietnam in November for another regional summit, and that President Barack Obama would invite ASEAN leaders to a Washington summit in coming months.

Clinton urged regional leaders to resolve standing territorial disputes over the South China Sea, which have pit China against Vietnam and other regional countries in squabbles over the vast, potentially-oil rich maritime region.

Clinton said Washington took no side in the various disputes, but did have a strong interest in maintaining open and peaceful sea transit and shipping routes and hoped that all parties would approach the issue in accordance with international law.

"Legitimate claims to maritime space in the South China Sea should be derived solely from legitimate claims to land features," Clinton said, adding Washington stands ready to facilitate confidence-building measures to help defuse tensions.