By Jill Dougherty
Demand for visas to visit the United States is growing, but getting one, for many foreigners, has sometimes meant frustratingly long waits for interviews and processing. The State Department struggled to keep up, but this year it took steps to improve.
Now, the department says, it has chalked up some victories.
Consular officers in China - at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and consulates general in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenyang - just hit the million mark, processing more than 1 million non-immigrant visa applications so far in fiscal year 2012, while reducing the wait time for a visa interview appointment to approximately one week.
On Thursday, when CNN clicked on the "Visa Wait Time" page at travel.state.gov, the wait in Beijing was three days.
A draft resolution at the United Nations gives the Assad regime in Syria ten days to silence its weapons, or face even greater penalties than it has to date. But is there any chance of getting a resolution through the Security Council without a Russian or Chinese veto? Foreign Affairs Jill Dougherty reports.
By Jill Dougherty
A delegation of Russian senators is in Washington this week in a last-ditch lobbying attempt to persuade their fellow legislators not to pass a bill that would ban Russian officials who violate human rights from visiting the United States and freeze their assets.
The legislation, dubbed the Magnitsky Bill, was named in honor of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer working for a major investment company in Moscow, Hermitage Capital Management, who was arrested and died in jail.
Even as the bill moves closer to passage, the Russian legislators, in a news conference at the Russian Embassy, called it political and warned the bill would damage relations between the two countries "for years to come."
The four senators handed out briefing-book-thick copies of the results of a preliminary parliamentary investigation into the company for which Magnitsky worked and into the circumstances of his November 2009 death. FULL POST
The United States on Thursday placed additional sanctions on what it called Iran's nuclear proliferation network.
The Treasury Department said 11 companies and four individuals were being from barred doing business with U.S. firms, and it publicly identified what it called front companies involved in Iran's oil trade. The department also identified 20 Iranian financial institutions whose assets are being blocked.
"Iran today is under intense, multilateral sanctions pressure, and we will continue to ratchet up the pressure so long as Iran refuses to address the international community's well-founded concerns about its nuclear program," treasury undersecretary David Cohen said in a news release.
Thursday's actions also were aimed at disrupting the front companies that Iran uses to sell and move its oil, he said. FULL POST
By Mike Mount
The U.S. is deciding whether to keep two aircraft carriers in the waters around Iran through the end of the year in a move that risks inflaming tensions with the regime, according to U.S. officials.
The decision entails extending the mandate to maintain an extra carrier in the region by three months, according to U.S. officials.
A 2010 directive by then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates added an additional carrier to the Persian Gulf region where the U.S. typically has kept only one carrier while not in actual full combat operations.
The directive is set to expire in September of this year, but the officials said the White House, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and top Navy officials are mulling over whether to extend the presence at a time when Iran continues its saber rattling with threats to close the main oil tanker route out of the Arabian Gulf at the Strait of Hormuz as well as its continued insistence to pursue a nuclear program.