Daily Archives: February 1, 2015
WASHINGTON: US politicians are calling for changes to a law that allows Europeans and other foreigners to enter the country without visas, citing fears that jihadists could exploit the rules to stage attacks on American soil.
The visa waiver program, which covers tourists from 38 countries, represents the “Achilles’ heel of America,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is urging a tightening of the rules.
The attacks against the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris this month have renewed concerns in Washington that extremists with Western passports will slip into the US under the cover of the visa-free travel program.
Feinstein, former head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is working on a bill to reform the rules that will be proposed soon, her aides said.
Other lawmakers also are eyeing changes to the law, including Candice Miller, a Republican from Michigan, who introduced a bill that would enable the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to suspend countries from the program if they fail to provide key information on potential suspects.
The Paris attacks, carried out by men with French passports, and the growing number of Europeans volunteering to fight with jihadists in Syria and Iraq – an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 – offers a chilling reminder for Americans of dangerous terror plots.
Zacarias Moussaoui, known as the “20th hijacker” in the September 11, 2001 attacks, travelled to the US simply by presenting his French passport.
And Richard Reid, who tried to blow up a US-bound airliner in December 2001 with an explosive hidden in his shoe, needed no visa with his British passport.
However, the US government has dramatically revised procedures for the visa-free travel program since the 9/11 attacks.
Starting in 2008, passengers planning to travel under the visa waiver rules have to fill out a special form beforehand, known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation.
The electronic forms are an important tool, allowing US authorities to see well in advance who is trying to enter the US, said Christian Beckner, deputy director at the Centre for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University.
US President Barack Obama will appear in public at an event attended by the Dalai Lama next week in Washington, the White House has said, in a move sure to anger Beijing.
“The president will deliver remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said. “This year, the organisers also invited His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”
The White House tried to play down the simultaneous appearance, stressing the two men have met three times before. Officials said there was no “specific meeting” between them to announce.
Previous meetings have been held behind closed doors and outside the Oval Office, in a move designed to limit the diplomatic fallout with China.
The 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule and has lived in exile in India ever since.
China accuses the Dalai Lama of seeking to split Tibet from the rest of China and of fomenting unrest in the region.
Previous meetings between Obama and the Nobel prize winner have been met with formal Chinese diplomatic protests that have soured relations between the world’s two largest
Obama is expected to use the Thursday prayer breakfast with clergy from several faiths – an annual Washington political tradition – to talk about the importance of upholding religious freedom.
“The President is a strong supporter of the Dalai Lama’s teachings and preserving Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic traditions,” said Meehan.
“As he has done in the past, the President will see many religious leaders at the event, but we don’t have any specific meeting with the Dalai Lama to announce.”
More than 120 Tibetans have committed suicide by setting themselves on fire in recent years to protest against what they see as oppression by China’s government and controls on their right to exercise their religion.
Obama came under domestic criticism in 2009 when he did not meet with the Dalai Lama during a visit to Washington, as the new president looked to get off on the right foot with China.
In February last year, Obama met the Dalai Lama in the Map Room of the White House – within the residence rather than the West Wing where most presidential business is conducted.