Obama warns N Korea & Iran, confirms Afghan pullout

International

US President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced to bring 34,000 American troops back home from war-torn Afghanistan in the next one year as he warned North Korea and Iran to meet the international obligations on their controversial nuclear programmes or face action.

In an inspiring State of the Union Address — the first of his second term — Obama also came out with specific proposals to rejuvenate the country's fragile economy by boosting the middle class, creating jobs, fixing the finances, increasing minimum wages and comprehensive immigration reform to attract the best talent of the world.

"This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead. Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan," Obama said. Obama's move will reduce by more than half the current force level of 66,000 troops in Afghanistan.

The US, NATO and Afghanistan agreed in Lisbon in 2010, and affirmed in Chicago last year, that Kabul will assume full responsibility for its security by the end of 2014, he said.

On the issue of the nuclear test by North Korea, Obama said it was a "provocative" act and vowed to take "firm action" against Pyongyang. On Tuesday, the reclusive Communist state conducted its third and most powerful nuclear explosion despite international sanctions.

Obama also told Iranian leaders it was time to end the standoff over Tehran's nuclear programme, saying the diplomatic option for Islamic republic is still open. "The leaders of Iran must recognise that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon," he said. His statements came even as Iran's nuclear chief said on Wednesday that his country has begun installing a new generation of uranium enrichment centrifuges at Natanz, its main facility making nuclear fuel.

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