Confederate military base name change prompts sharp Trump veto threat

Confederate military base name change prompts sharp Trump veto threat

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In this Jan. 4, 2020, file photo a sign for at Fort Bragg, N.C., is shown. A warrant officer stationed at Ft. Bragg was convicted in a civilian court of sexual abuse of a minor, but must be additionally convicted … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

President Trump on Tuesday issued a blistering threat to veto the House’s version of the massive 2021 defense policy bill if it contains language that would rename military bases that honor Confederate leaders.

The veto threat, which also attacked provisions to curb the president’s plans to reduce troops in Afghanistan and Germany, came as lawmakers in both the House and Senate moved toward approving their separate versions of the $740.5 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy and spending standards for the coming year.

On a 295-125 vote, the Democratic-controlled House on Tuesday evening approved its version of the NDAA, which includes a provision that would mandate the names of 12 military bases that are named for Confederate leaders within one year. The bill, which includes a 3% pay raise for military personnel, attracted enough support to theoretically override a presidential veto, including more than 100 House Republicans.

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The Senate’s version of the bill, which is expected to be voted on this week, includes similar language but would mandate the change over the period of three years.

The name change attracted some Republican support in both chambers.

“If [the House NDAA] were presented to the president in its current form, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto it,” said the 13-page memo addressed to the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly threatened to veto the must-pass legislation if it contains provisions to rename the military bases. His latest veto threat applies heightened pressure to congressional Republicans, many of whom have already backed amendments to implement the changes.

The White House has not yet issued a formal threat to veto the Republican-led Senate’s version of the NDAA.

“President Trump has been clear in his opposition to politically motivated attempts like this to rewrite history and to displace the enduring legacy of the American Revolution with a new left-wing cultural revolution,” the memo said.

Calls for the military to confront racism within its ranks were sparked following George Floyd’s death, a Black man who died in police custody. Defense Secretary Mark Esper last week announced an effective ban on the display of Confederate flags at military facilities, but did so without mentioning the symbol by name.

Despite the political firestorm, Mr. Trump could point to a nationwide poll released Tuesday found that half of Americans do not support renaming military bases that honor Confederate leaders.

Fifty percent of U.S. adults said they are against renaming military bases named after Confederate generals, and 42% said they support it, according to ABC News/Washington Post polling. By a 52% to 43% margin, Americans also said they are against removing statues honoring Confederate generals from public places.

Mr. Trump argues that casting Confederate figures and symbols as racist is absurd, given that the sites have served as key training grounds for soldiers who went on to fight in World War II and other conflicts.

But lawmakers of both parties have backed efforts to rename North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, Virginia’s Fort Lee and the other 10 Army installations that bear the names of Confederate figures. Republican members have introduced legislation to block the move, but the efforts have failed in both chambers.

Several prominent retired generals have also supported the move to rename bases, arguing that the Confederate figures not only supported the slave states, but that they had tried to destroy the United States.

In the veto threat, the Trump administration also cited bipartisan policy issues included in the House’s bill that seek to curtail Mr. Trump’s hopes of reducing the number of American troops in Afghanistan and Germany, as well as limiting the amount of military funds that can be used for construction of a border wall with Mexico.

“[The White House] also has serious concerns about provisions of the bill that seek to micromanage aspects of the executive branch’s authority, impose highly prescriptive limitations on the use of funds for Afghanistan, and otherwise constrain the President’s authority to protect national security interests,” the Office of Management and Budget argued in the veto message.

“Many of these provisions would pose significant challenges to continued execution of the [National Defense Strategy].”

German politicians ask Congress to keep U.S. troops in their country

German politicians ask Congress to keep U.S. troops in their country

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German governors sent a letter to Congress to convince President Trump to back down from his plan to withdraw almost 10,000 U.S. troops from their country. (ASSOCIATED PRESS) more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Monday, July 20, 2020

German politicians representing areas where large numbers of American military personnel are based want Congress to force President Trump to back down on his plans to withdraw almost 10,000 U.S. troops from Germany.

The troops represent the “backbone of the U.S. military presence in Europe and NATO’s ability to act,” the governors of Bavaria, Hesse, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate wrote in a letter sent recently to more than a dozen U.S. lawmakers.

Among those who received it were several influential Republicans, including Sen. Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma, who is both a strong ally of President Trump and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

SEE ALSO: Sen. Mitt Romney slams Germany troop withdrawal as ‘slap in the face’ to ally

While there was no immediate comment on the letter from Capitol Hill on Monday, several members of Congress have previously spoken out against Mr. Trump’s troop withdrawal plan, including some prominent Republicans.

In June, Mr. Trump ordered the American troop presence in Germany to be reduced from about 34,500 to 25,00. The president has said he wanted the numbers reduced because Germany takes advantage of the U.S. in trade policy and won’t sufficiently invest in its own defense.

Luke Coffey, a foreign policy expert with the Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Trump has a point about Germany’s lack of defense spending. But, in an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Coffey said such factors shouldn’t warrant a U.S. pullout.

“I think there are plenty of good reasons to keep U.S. forces in Europe. I would like to see them increased,” he said, asserting the U.S. military presence in Germany protects Americans interests in Europe by strengthening allies and deterring adversaries.

The letter from the German governors draws attention to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and the Grafenwoehr training area as constituting essential to the U.S. presence in Europe, according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press. Americans and Germans have worked together for decades to develop those structures, along with the headquarters for the U.S. European Command, the governors wrote.

“They provide the necessary foundation for a partnership-based contribution to peace in Europe and the world, to which we all share a common commitment,” they wrote. “We therefore ask you to support us as we strive not to sever the bond of friendship but to strengthen it and to secure the U.S. presence in Germany and Europe in the future.”

Domestic political considerations and the need to placate constituents is more likely at the center of the letter from the German chief ministers than geopolitical strategic concerns, said Mr. Coffey, who noted the loss of 10,000 well-paid American military personnel would be a major hit to the economies of the four German regions represented in the letter.

At the same time, Mr. Coffey argued such considerations also should not be a factor in weighing the strategic value of U.S. troops in Germany.

Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican and one of Mr. Trump’s most ardent political foes, was one of the recipients of the letter. He was already firmly opposed to the president’s order — having called it a “gift to Russia” — and last month introduced an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act aimed at blocking any serious withdrawal of U.S. personnel from Germany.

“In addition to undermining our NATO alliance, a withdrawal would present serious logistical challenges and prevent our military from performing routine military readiness exercises,” Mr. Romney said on introducing the measure.

Final details around Mr. Trump’s troop withdrawal plan remain murky.

Pentagon officials have not indicated which troops would be moved and what their next location would be. Some are expected to be transferred east, possibly to Poland which has been constructing facilities in hope of an influx of American military personnel. Most are expected to move back to the U.S.

There is precedent, meanwhile, for foreign politicians to try and play the U.S. legislative and executive branches off each other on sensitive national security matters. In March 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited to speak before a joint meeting of Congress in opposition to the Obama era Iranian nuclear negotiations. Some saw it as a breach of diplomatic and political protocol.

While the German politicians may be attempting a similar end run around the White House with their letter to U.S. lawmakers, Mr. Coffey said Mr. Trump may not even have been made aware of the attempt.

“I’m not even sure this will be raised to his level in terms of briefings,” Mr. Coffey said. “But if [German chancellor Angela Merkel] starts firing off letters to various senators and congressmen, that would change.”

Virus rebounds around the world, deaths top 600,000

Virus rebounds around the world, deaths top 600,000

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A street artist spray paints a protective face mask over an old mural featuring a Venezuelan Indigenous man, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, July 18, 2020, amid the new coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix) more >

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By GEIR MOULSON

Associated Press

Sunday, July 19, 2020

BERLIN (AP) – The coronavirus pandemic has found fresh legs around the world, as confirmed deaths pass 600,000 and countries from the U.S. to South Africa to India struggle to contain a surge of new infections. Hong Kong issued tougher new rules on wearing face masks, Spain closed overcrowded beaches and Germany reported another outbreak at a slaughterhouse.

Pope Francis said “the pandemic is showing no sign of stopping” and urged compassion for those whose suffering during the outbreak has been worsened by conflicts.

The World Health Organization said that 259,848 new infections were reported Saturday, its highest one-day tally yet.

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While the U.S. leads global infections, South Africa now ranks as the fifth worst-hit country in the pandemic with more than 350,000 cases, or around half of all those confirmed on the continent. Its struggles are a sign of trouble to come for nations with even fewer health care resources.

India, which has now confirmed more than 1 million infections, on Sunday reported a 24-hour record of 38,902 new cases.

In Europe, where infections are far below their peak but local outbreaks are causing concern, leaders of the 27-nation European Union haggled for a third day in Brussels over a proposed 1.85 trillion-euro ($2.1 trillion) EU budget and coronavirus recovery fund.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there is “a lot of good will, but there are also a lot of positions” in the talks, which have have laid bare divisions about how the countries hit hardest by the pandemic, such as Italy and Spain, should be helped. She said the talks, which were initially scheduled to end on Saturday, could still end without a deal.

As scientists around the world race to find a vaccine to halt the pandemic, Russia’s ambassador to Britain on Sunday rejected allegations by the United States, Britain and China that his country’s intelligence services have sought to steal information about vaccine efforts.

“I don’t believe in this story at all, there is no sense in it,” Ambassador Andrei Kelin said when asked in a BBC interview about the allegations. “I learned about their (the hackers’) existence from British media. In this world, to attribute any kind of computer hackers to any country, it is impossible.”

Confirmed global virus deaths risen to nearly 603,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins. The United States tops the list with over 140,000, followed by more than 78,000 in Brazil. Europe as a continent has seen about 200,000 deaths.

The number of confirmed infections worldwide has passed 14.2 million, with 3.7 million in the United States and more than 2 million in Brazil. Experts believe the pandemic’s true toll around the world is much higher because of testing shortages and data collection issues.

Infections have been soaring in U.S. states such as Florida, Texas, Arizona, with many blaming a haphazard, partisan approach to lifting lockdowns as well as the resistance of some Americans to wearing masks. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Sunday that the situation was so dire in his California city that authorities were considering a new stay-at-home order.

Even where the situation has been largely brought under control, new outbreaks are prompting the return of restrictions.

Following a recent surge in cases, Hong Kong made the wearing of masks mandatory in all public places and told non-essential civil servants to work from home. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the situation in the Asian financial hub is “really critical” and that she sees “no sign” that it’s under control.

Police in Barcelona have limited access to some of the city’s beloved beaches because sunbathers were ignoring social distancing regulations amid a resurgence of coronavirus infections. Authorities in Amsterdam urged people not to visit the city’s famous red light district and have closed off some of the historic district’s narrow streets because they are too busy.

Slaughterhouses also have featured in outbreaks in the U.S., Germany and elsewhere. Authorities in northwestern Germany’s Vechta county said 66 workers at a chicken slaughterhouse tested positive, though most appeared to have been infected in their free time. An earlier outbreak at a slaughterhouse in western Germany infected over 1,400 and prompted a partial lockdown.

Cases in the Australian state of Victoria rose again Sunday, prompting a move to make masks mandatory in metropolitan Melbourne and the nearby district of Mitchell for people who leave their homes for exercise or to purchase essential goods.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said those who fail to wear a mask will be fined 200 Australian dollars ($140).

“There’s no vaccine to this wildly infectious virus and it’s a simple thing, but it’s about changing habits, it’s about becoming a simple part of your routine,” Andrews said.

Speaking on Sunday from his window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis renewed his appeal for an immediate worldwide cease-fire that he said “will permit the peace and security indispensable to supplying the necessary humanitarian assistance.”

___

Moulson contributed from Berlin. Associated Press writers around the world contributed to this report.

___

Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Far apart: EU holds masked budget summit in pandemic times

Far apart: EU holds masked budget summit in pandemic times

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French President Emmanuel Macron arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Friday, July 17, 2020. Leaders from 27 European Union nations meet face-to-face on Friday for the first time since February, despite the dangers of … more >

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By Raf Casert and Mike Corder

Associated Press

Friday, July 17, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders acknowledged Friday they are about as far apart from reaching a deal on an unprecedented 1.85 trillion euro ($2.1 trillion) EU budget and virus recovery fund as the seating distance imposed upon them for health reasons at their summit center.

“The differences are still very, very big and so I can’t predict whether we will achieve a result this time,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she arrived at the Europa summit site. “So I expect very, very difficult negotiations.”

The challenges facing the 27 EU leaders – some of whom arrived masked, some unmasked – are formidable. The bloc is suffering through the worst recession in its history and member states are fighting over who should pay the most to help other countries and which nations should get the most to turn around their battered economies.

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As the summit got underway all leaders were wearing masks. The usual hugs, handshakes and kisses were replaced by friendly nods and elbow bumps. The jovial atmosphere was not expected to last long at what will likely be one of the most brutal and bruising summits of recent times. What is slated as a two-day meeting could go even longer, if necessary, to bridge the differences between leaders.

French President Emmanuel Macron led the early negotiations, arriving Thursday and using the the pre-summit hours to meet with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, a stringent budget hardliner and considered one of the biggest obstacles to reaching a deal at the two-day meeting.

“I am not optimistic, but you never know. Nobody wants another meeting,” said Rutte.

Macron underscored the importance of the challenge. “The coming hours will be absolutely decisive,” he said. “It is our project Europe that is at stake.”

The urgency is such that the leaders have ended a string of coronavirus-enforced videoconference summits and are meeting in person for the first time since the pandemic began its devastating sweep around the globe.

The usual summit venue, an intimate room high up in the urn-shaped Europa center, was deemed too snug to be safe and instead the leaders have been sent down to meeting room EBS-5, whose 850 square meters (9,150 square feet) normally fits 330 people.

Delegations were cut to a minimum, leaving leaders more dependent on their own knowledge of complicated dossiers. It should put a smile on the face of Merkel, who has been in office for 15 years and seen countless leaders come and go.

Since the pandemic struck, she is seen as a safe pair of hands to lead her country through the crisis and now that Germany holds the rotating six-month EU presidency her stature will be even greater at the summit. And throw in that she is celebrating her 66th birthday on Friday.

Macron, her geopolitical equal at the table, gave her a fine bottle of Burgundy. There may be cake later but the summit will hardly be a cakewalk for Merkel.

The members were already fighting bitterly over the seven-year, 1-trillion-euro EU budget when COVID-19 was still a local story in Wuhan, China, late last year. Then the virus hit the EU head-on and estimates are now that the economy of the 19 countries that use the euro currency will contract by 8.7% this year.

It sent the EU into a panic as it was at a loss on how to coordinate policies of its member states early on. Now, the EU’s executive is proposing a 750-billion-euro recovery fund, partly based on common borrowing, to be sent as loans and grants to the most needy countries.

Merkel, who is in her last term and has her political legacy at stake, already got Germany to agree to join in a common debt program to alleviate the economic suffering in mostly southern and eastern member states.

And she has agreed to include grants and not just loans in the recovery package to avoid overburdening member states with high debt already.

Rutte doesn’t like that and Dutch officials said they would stick to their tough line going into the summit, raising the specter that a further summit might be needed.

There are also plans to link budget funds to respect for basic democratic rights that the European Parliament says are under threat in nations like Hungary and Poland. Some eastern European nations will be objecting to having that as part of the deal.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was clear upon departure that he would fight any such strings attached to the plan.

“The Hungarian position is clear: Hungarians should decide about Hungarians’ money,” he said.

___

Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands; Pablo Gorondi contributed from Budapest, Hungary; Geir Moulson from Berlin; and Angela Charlton from Paris.

US warns firms about sanctions for work on Russian pipelines

US warns firms about sanctions for work on Russian pipelines

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FILE – In this April 9, 2010 file photo, a Russian construction worker speaks on a mobile phone in Portovaya Bay some 170 kms (106 miles) north-west from St. Petersburg, Russia, during a ceremony marking the start of Nord Stream … more >

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By MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Trump administration on Wednesday hardened its efforts to prevent the completion of new German-Russian and Turkish-Russian natural gas pipelines by warning companies involved in the projects they’ll be subject to U.S. penalties unless they halt their work. The move will likely increase tensions in already fraught U.S.-European ties as well as anger Russia.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the administration is ending grandfather clauses that had spared firms previously involved in the pipelines’ construction from sanctions authorized by the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, a 2017 law aimed at punishing Russia, in particular, for interference in U.S. elections and other matters.

The move opens the door for U.S. economic and financial penalties to be imposed on any European or other foreign company over the Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream projects, including those that had been working on the pipelines before the passage of CAATSA and had been previously exempted from the penalties.

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“This action puts investments or other activities that are related to these Russian energy export pipelines at risk of U.S. sanctions,” Pompeo told reporters at a State Department news conference. “It’s a clear warning to companies. Aiding and abetting Russia’s malign influence projects will not be tolerated. Get out now or risk the consequences.”

Pompeo took aim at the pipeline projects, calling them “the Kremlin’s key tools to exploit and expand European dependence on Russian energy supplies” that “ultimately undermine transatlantic security.”

He noted that the United States, which has ramped up its own energy production under President Donald Trump, “is always ready to help our European friends meet their energy needs.” The U.S. has already begun exporting gas, and some coal, to central and eastern European nations like Belarus, Poland and Ukraine.

The Trump administration has lobbied Europe, particularly Germany, to abandon the pipelines, which it believes put Europe under greater influence from Russia, which has used its energy exports as political leverage. Wednesday’s step comes as Congress advances legislation that would mandate the imposition of sanctions that had been authorized by CAATSA.

The Senate has already unanimously included mandatory Nord Stream 2 sanctions in its version of the new National Defense Authorization Act and the House is expected to follow suit. Sen. Ted Crux, R-Texas, who co-authored the Senate measure with Sen. Jeanne Shaeen, D-N.H., said Wednesday’s announcement along with the pending legislation “should serve as a reminder that any person or company that facilitates in any way pipe-laying for Nord Stream 2 will face the full force of U.S. sanctions.”

Pompeo said he would raise the matter on a brief trip to Europe next week when he plans to visit Britain and Denmark. Denmark last year lifted environmental objections to a portion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, allowing for work to start on its completion.

The U.S. has been an outspoken opponent of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would transport natural gas about 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. Along with eastern European countries that also oppose the project, the U.S. government argues that it will make Europe dangerously dependent on Russia.

Already the threat of U.S. sanctions has led one company that had not been covered by the grandfather clause to suspend its work on the pipeline. Late last year, the Swiss firm Allseas, which operated ships laying sections of the undersea pipeline, said it was halting work in anticipation of sanctions.

Nord Stream 2 is owned by Russia’s Gazprom, with investment from several European companies. The German government has said it regrets the threat of sanctions and considers them interference in the country’s domestic affairs. However, Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear last week that Germany isn’t considering retaliation against the sanctions.

Russia has said it is, however, considering retaliatory measures. Pompeo spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday, and Trump spoke to Turkey’s president on Tuesday, but there was no indication that the pipelines had been discussed.

With TurkStream, Russian gas passes through the Black Sea to Turkey. Together, the two 578-mile (930-kilometer) TurkStream lines under the Black Sea, along with the Russian and Turkish onshore pipes, have the capacity to carry 31.5 billion cubic meters (1.1 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas annually. Wednesday’s sanctions threat applies to the second TurkStream line.

EU says Iran has triggered nuclear deal dispute mechanism

EU says Iran has triggered nuclear deal dispute mechanism

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European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a media conference after a meeting, Supporting the future of Syria and the Region, in videoconference format at the European Council building in Brussels, Tuesday, June 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, … more >

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By LORNE COOK

Associated Press

Friday, July 3, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – The European Union’s top diplomat said Friday that he has received a letter from Iran that triggers a dispute mechanism in the international agreement limiting Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, citing concerns that Britain, France and Germany are not living up to their side of the deal.

The accord, which Iran signed with the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia in 2015, has been unraveling since President Donald Trump pulled Washington out in 2018, unleashing sanctions designed to cripple the Islamic Republic’s economy.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who is coordinator of the pact known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, said that in the letter Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif seeks redress under “the dispute resolution mechanism, as set out in paragraph 36 of the agreement.”

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No details about the nature of Iran’s “implementation issues” with Britain, France and Germany were provided. The dispute mechanism provides for a period of about one month, which can be prolonged if all parties agree, to resolve any disagreement.

In a tweet on June 19, Zarif said the three countries “must stop public face-saving and muster the courage to state publicly what they admit privately: their failure to fulfill even (their) own JCPOA duties due to total impotence in resisting U.S. bullying.”

Zarif’s letter to Borrell was sent a day after a mysterious fire broke out at the Natanz underground facility where Iran enriches uranium.

Britain, France and Germany consider the nuclear deal to be a cornerstone of regional and global security and have struggled to keep it alive since the U.S. pulled out, setting up a parallel system to try to keep funds flowing into Iran as its economy flagged.

On Jan. 15, they reluctantly triggered the accord’s dispute resolution mechanism themselves to force Iran into discussions on possible violations of the deal, as Tehran appeared to backslide and refused to be bound by its uranium enrichment limits. They later suspended the action.

Borrell said the dispute process “requires intensive efforts in good faith by all.”

He underlined his support for the agreement, saying that it “is an historic achievement for global nuclear non-proliferation contributing to regional and global security” and that he remains determined to preserve it.

Late last month, Iran’s president warned the U.N. nuclear watchdog to expect a “stern response” regarding its demands for Iran to provide access to sites thought to have stored or used undeclared nuclear material.

Tehran was irritated by a resolution adopted by the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency demanding access to the sites. The resolution was proposed by Britain, France and Germany. Russia and China voted against it. Iran has dismissed allegations of nuclear activities at the sites in question.

Putin, Macron discuss closer cooperation in video call

Putin, Macron discuss closer cooperation in video call

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Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to French President Emmanuel Macron during a via video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, June 26, 2020. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP) more >

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By ANGELA CHARLTON and VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

Associated Press

Friday, June 26, 2020

MOSCOW (AP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed international crises during a video call Friday and vowed to cooperate more closely to tackle global challenges.

Putin, noting that it was the 75th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations’ charter, spoke of the need to pool efforts to combat common threats such as the coronavirus pandemic, international terrorism and climate change.

He said the call with his French counterpart offered an opportunity to discuss the crises in Ukraine, Syria and Libya, and unresolved tensions in the Balkans, among other issues.

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“If we want to achieve positive results, we need to combine our efforts,” the Russian leader said during the conversation in which he and Macron addressed each other by their first names. “I know about your intention to organize joint work on many of those issues. We will fully support your proposals.”

Putin mentioned a Red Square parade held in Moscow on Wednesday to belatedly commemorate the 75th anniversary of World War II’s end in Europe to hail France’s contribution to defeating the Nazis.

“We in Russia will never forget the French people who fought alongside our soldiers on the Eastern Front,” Putin said.

Macron, who was due to attend the parade on May 9 before it was postponed due to the pandemic, voiced regret that the virus prevented him from visiting Moscow. The French president paid tribute to the Soviet Union’s role in World War II.

“The crisis that we have just been through, like all regional crises we’ve experienced, shows the importance of making the European space, in a broad sense, from Lisbon to Vladivostok, a real space of cooperation and peace,” Macron said.

Responding to an invitation from Putin to come to Russia, Macron said he’d be happy to visit “so we could spend a lot more time together,” but only “if health conditions allow,” possibly at the end of summer.

Macron’s office said the meeting was part of an outreach effort launched in August to try to thaw France’s relations with Russia, which were damaged by Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

The French presidency said that during the call with Putin, Macron noted the need to put an end to the “dangerous cycle of foreign interference” in Libya and the need for a quick ceasefire and the revival of political dialogue.

A French presidential official said that the two leaders spent most of the conversation discussing the situation in Libya and voiced a shared interest in the stabilization of the country and reunifying its institutions.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to make public comment, noted that Macron expressed France’s anger at foreign interference, including by Russian private military contractor Wagner.

In conflict-stricken Libya, Russia, France, Egypt and several other countries back the east-based forces led by commander Khalifa Hifter, who has been waging war against the U.N.-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, which is mainly backed by Turkey.

During the call, the French leader also stressed his concern over the humanitarian situation in Syria, which the pandemic has worsened. The French presidential official said Macron pushed for a humanitarian corridor in the country’s northwest, arguing that a long route for aid deliveries via Damascus was not an option.

Turning to Ukraine, where Russia-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian troops in the country’s east for more than six years, Macron emphasized quickly relaunching the implementation of a road map toward peace that was agreed to during a December meeting in Paris of the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine.

The Kremlin said in its readout of the call that Putin emphasized the need for Ukraine to fulfill its obligations on political settlement under a 2015 deal brokered by France and Germany. More than 14,000 people have been killed in the fighting in eastern Ukraine since 2014.

The two leaders also emphasized the importance of preserving existing arms control agreements and the need to improve trust and predictability in the military sphere, the Kremlin said.

__

Charlton reported from Paris.

Germany unveils record contribution to WHO following U.S. threats to withdraw

Germany unveils record contribution to WHO following U.S. threats to withdraw

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, June 24, 2020. (Hannibal Hanschke/Pool Photo via AP) more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Germany and France on Thursday announced heightened political and financial backing for the World Health Organization as it continues to combat the coronavirus pandemic, one month after President Trump announced a U.S. withdrawal from the agency.

The U.S. president last month threatened to withdraw from the WHO and permanently cut off all funding to the group after lodging a series of complaints that the agency mishandled the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement quickly saw pushback from European allies, who urged Mr. Trump to reconsider the withdrawal.

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Germany and France have since engaged in stabilization talks with the WHO. German Health Minister Jens Spahn said Berlin would be contributing additional funds and medical equipment that would bring its total contribution to the WHO to 500 million Euros, Reuters reported. The contribution marks the highest the agency has seen.

“We need a strong, efficient, transparent and accountable WHO today more than ever,” Mr. Spahn said during a press conference.

Germany will do its part to give the WHO the political, financial and technical backing that is needed,” he continued. “This comes with the expectation that remaining challenges are adequately addressed and needed reforms are pushed forward.”

The U.S. contributes up to $400 million per year, the highest of any other country until now. The WHO is financed through both assessed and voluntary contributions, according to the agency’s website.

The U.S. assessed contribution for 2020 is $120 million, representing 22% of WHO’s core budget for the year, according to data from USAID. In 2018, the U.S.’s voluntary budget was nearly double its assessed contribution at $220 million.

France also announced a contribution of 90 million Euros to a WHO research center in Lyon, and an additional 50 million Euro donation.

“I truly believe the world needs, more than ever, a multilateral organization,” said French Health Minister Olivier Veran during the news conference. “I believe the world cannot get rid of partners. We need a global answer [to the pandemic] and only the WHO can provide that answer.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has been criticized by Mr. Trump for his management of the coronavirus pandemic, praised the contributions and said the intra-Euro talks have been “very productive.”

“We are getting today all the support we need, politically and financially,” he said. “Both Germany and France are long-standing friends of WHO and global health.”

Donors pledge $1.8 billion for Sudan’s democratic transition

Donors pledge $1.8 billion for Sudan’s democratic transition

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FILE – In this Nov. 19, 2019 file photo, people gather as they celebrate first anniversary of mass protests that led to the ouster of former president and longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir. in Khartoum, Sudan. On Thursday, June 25, 2020, … more >

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By FRANK JORDANS and ISABEL DEBRE

Associated Press

Thursday, June 25, 2020

BERLIN (AP) – Western and Arab countries pledged a total $1.8 billion in aid to Sudan on Thursday in efforts to help the struggling African nation, one year after pro-democracy protesters forced the removal of the country’s longtime autocratic ruler, Omar al-Bashir.

The pledges from 40 countries, including an additional $400 million grant from the World Bank, came during a video conference hosted by Berlin, which marks the formal launch of the international community’s financial support for Sudan’s democratic transition after three decades of punitive sanctions and isolation under al-Bashir.

Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said that Thursday’s conference was just the beginning on the path to helping Sudan, and that donors would reconvene early next year.

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“We are extremely delighted, satisfied and happy with this response,” said Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, a former economist with the United Nations. “For 30 years, we have longed for this.”

Although the conference presented an unprecedented amount of international support, pledges fell far short of the $8 billion Hamdok had previously said Sudan will need to rescue its plunging economy.

Sudan’s interim government has been grappling with an economic crisis since it took office last year, also navigating a treacherous transition to civilian rule. On top of that, the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated Sudan’s economic despair, throwing millions of casual laborers out of work.

Drastic shortages of basic goods nationwide have generated deep frustration, forcing people to line up for hours to buy bread or get fuel. Many of Thursday’s pledges will be used to fund an ambitious $1.9 billion cash transfer program to Sudan’s neediest families, around 80% of the population, over the course of two years.

“This is about helping the government to build political capital domestically so that it can show civilians that they’re capable of responding to all the slogans of the revolution,” said Jonas Horner, senior Sudan analyst at the International Crisis Group.

Two-thirds of the country’s more than 40 million people live in poverty, and the government has inherited a debt of 60 billion dollars and a rapid inflation rate. The nation’s currency, the Sudanese pound, is trading on the black market for double its official rate of 55 pounds to the dollar.

Acting USAID administrator John Barsa said that the U.S. would give $356.2 million toward development aid and democratic transition programs. The funds included a nearly tenfold increase in development assistance compared to 2019, he said.

The European Union pledged 312 million euros ($350 million), while Germany said it would give 150 million euros ($168 million). France pledged a total of 100 million euros, or about $112 – a mixture of previously announced aid and newly bolstered assistance. The United Kingdom also gave 166 million euros, more than $186 million.

The United Arab Emirates, which last year pledged a $3 billion joint aid package with Saudi Arabia, announced $50 million in new aid for an investment initiative Thursday. The reduction suggested that the wealthy Gulf Arab monarchies, known for bankrolling military rulers in the region, including ousted al-Bashir, may be more reluctant to prop up the country’s civilian leaders.

Sudan’s government faces steep challenges to transforming its economic system and meeting the demands of protesters who ousted al-Bashir last year, spurred by the soaring prices of staple goods and rising youth unemployment. The government is on the hook for billions of dollars in interest and principal repayments, which has crippled its economic activity and hindered its access to funds from international financial institutions.

David Malpass, President of The World Bank Group, said the global body has worked to find innovative ways to circumvent these financial restrictions, and will establish a multi-donor trust fund to channel Thursday’s pledges as it works with the government to clear its massive debt.

On Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund announced it had reached a preliminary deal to reform the country’s economy, and while the government grapples with the economic fallout of the coronavirus.

IMF assistance is presumably contingent on significant economic reforms, including painful measures that will slash subsidies for basic goods to create room for more spending on social programs.

Sudanese Finance Minister Ibrahim Elbadawi told the conference that the government would enact various security sector reforms, stabilize prices through the central bank act and accelerate the work of an anti-corruption commission, which has so far confiscated property from al-Bashir’s relatives.

Also Thursday, Kristalina Georgieva, IMF managing director, stressed the need for the government to remove fuel subsidies, which she said consumed 10.5% of Sudanese gross domestic product. She also appealed for $1.5-2 billion in aid to plug Sudan’s financial gap, saying that without donors’ help, “inflation cannot be put under control and these reforms cannot have legs.”

Another major economic stumbling block for Sudan is the fact that it remains listed as a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. State Department because of the country’s former support for radical Islamic extremist groups. Osama bin Laden lived in Sudan as a guest of al-Bashir’s government in the 1990s, and in 1998, his al-Qaida network blew up U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people.

Barsa said that the U.S. could not give a timeline for dropping Sudan from the blacklist, but that a key step is settling punitive damages to victims’ families. Sudan’s foreign ministry said Thursday it had come very close to reaching “a satisfactory settlement.”

The collapse of Sudan’s economy poses an existential threat for its political transition. The uprising that toppled al-Bashir in April 2019 led to a power-sharing deal between civilian appointees and the military. Pro-democracy activists have said that the military leaders have stalled in handing over power to civilian leaders.

While the conference represents a vote of confidence in Sudan’s government, optimism has been tempered by the country’s ongoing power struggle.

“There’s a recognition that there’s a wholesale change at the top of Sudan,” said Horner, the Sudan expert. “But the military is still ascendant in power, so that limits the sort of reforms the government can take … and their ability to gain the trust of people in the street.”

___

DeBre reported from Los Angeles.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer: U.S. troop reductions in Europe should be coordinated with NATO

German defense minister: Any U.S. troop reductions in Europe should be coordinated with NATO

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In this Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017, photo US soldiers take part in NATO-led Noble Partner 2017 multinational military exercises at the military base of Vaziani, outside Tbilisi, Georgia. After more than a year of thinly veiled threats that the United … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Any decision to slash the number of U.S. troops in Germany is a matter that affects the entire North Atlantic alliance rather than merely those two nations, Germany’s defense minister said Wednesday.

NATO is not a trade organization. Security is not a commodity,” Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said in a video conference hosted by the Atlantic Council.

The U.S. is expected to remove about 10,000 troops from Germany, with some to return stateside while others will shift to the Pacific region or other countries in eastern Europe.

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President Trump has regularly complained that Germany and other NATO members fail to meet the 2 percent of GDP benchmark expected for defense spending.

NATO countries are actually very faithful partners,” the defense minister said. “It is important that NATO partners stand visibly united.”

With the rise of Russian aggressions, any plans to adjust the number of U.S. military personnel in Europe should be coordinated with other NATO members, she said.

“Russia has no respect for the right of self-determination of other countries,” Mrs. Kramp-Karrenbauer said.

Republicans urge Donald Trump to reconsider Germany troop reduction plan

Republicans urge Trump to reconsider Germany troop reduction plan

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Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is joined at left by Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) ** FILE … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Six Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are urging President Trump to reconsider his plan to cut the number of troops stationed in Germany, arguing that the move would weaken NATO’s long-standing deterrence against China and Russia.

Mr. Trump earlier this month ordered the Pentagon to cut thousands of troops by September, a move that experts have warned could deeply impact the historic U.S.-German relationship.

The president later doubled down on the move, when he told reporters that he’s prepared to recall about half of the U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany if that nation doesn’t pay more to NATO and treat Washington more fairly on trade issues.

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In a new letter obtained by The Washington Times Tuesday, the lawmakers, led by Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and the committee’s top Republican Michael McCaul of Texas, expressed “concern” over the plan and said that the U.S. presence in Germany has benefited American interests beyond just Europe, and into the Middle East and Africa where Russia and China have been repositioning their posture.

“The U.S. forward presence in Germany serves as a cornerstone of NATO’s deterrent against Russian aggression,” the lawmakers wrote. “This is not the time to take any action that might cause the Putin regime to question the credibility of the NATO deterrent or might lead our NATO allies and partners to doubt the U.S. commitment to our collective security.”

At his campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday, Mr. Trump said Germany has been “delinquent” in its NATO payments and reiterated his plan to reduce the U.S. force presence within the borders of the historic American ally.

“They haven’t been paying what they’re supposed to be paying,” he said.

The president’s plan would reduce by about 28% the number of U.S. military personnel in the country, pulling back 9,500 from the 34,500 who are now there. There has also been speculation some of the forces in Germany could be redeployed in Poland and elsewhere in Europe closer to Russia.

“Our adversaries understand that the American alliance network is at the heart of the U.S. comparative advantage and will seek to exploit any cracks in transatlantic ties,” the lawmakers wrote, adding that they are “troubled” that members of the alliance had not been consulted prior to Mr. Trump’s announcement.

They praised Mr. Trump’s attempts to encourage other nations to contribute more to NATO costs, but they said that a troop withdrawal would reverse the efforts to convince allies to spend more and instead put U.S. interests at risk.

“The United States should continue to lead by example and remain fully committed to the NATO alliance, which has successfully deterred the outbreak of another costly world war on the continent since its formation,” the lawmakers wrote.

Retired pope returning to Vatican after visiting ill brother

Retired pope returning to Vatican after visiting ill brother

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Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI is pushed in to a bus in a wheelchair, in Regensburg, Germany, Thursday, June 18, 2020. The Vatican says Emeritus Pope Benedict is in Germany to be with his brother, who is in poor health. Benedict … more >

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By

Associated Press

Monday, June 22, 2020

BERLIN (AP) — Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI left Germany on Monday to return to the Vatican after a four-day visit to his ailing elder brother.

Benedict, a Bavarian native, boarded an Italian air force plane bound for Rome at Munich airport. He was seen off by Bavaria’s governor, Markus Soeder, who said it was a moment “of happiness and melancholy,” news agency dpa reported.

The 93-year-old retired pontiff arrived in Germany on Thursday to be with his 96-year-old brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger. On Saturday, he greeted old neighbors and prayed at his parents’ grave. He stayed at a seminary during his trip, visiting his brother twice a day.

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Benedict has lived at a monastery on the Vatican grounds since shortly after his 2013 retirement, a decision that stunned the world. Elected to the papacy in 2005 to succeed St. John Paul II, the former Joseph Ratzinger was the first pontiff in 600 years to resign the post.

He was succeeded by current Pope Francis.

Britain, France, Germany urge Iran to allow atomic site access, reject U.S. sanctions push

Britain, France, Germany urge Iran to allow atomic site access, reject U.S. sanctions push

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In this photo released by the official website of the Office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani attends a Cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Presidency via AP) ** FILE ** more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Friday, June 19, 2020

Britain, France, Germany urge Iran to allow atomic site access, reject U.S. efforts to trigger sanctions

Britain, France, and Germany on Friday said they would not support U.S. efforts to trigger the reimposition of United Nations sanctions on Iran while the group demands Tehran provide access to its atomic energy sites.

As part of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Iran accepted restrictions on its nuclear development in exchange for some sanctions on the country. A weapons embargo on Iran — set to expire this October — was also included in the agreement.

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The U.S., which pulled out of the deal in 2018, has called for an extension of the embargo and has threatened to launch a resurgence of all U.N. sanctions in a move to gain backing from the U.N. Security Council to extend the arms embargo.

“We firmly believe that any unilateral attempt to trigger U.N. sanctions snapback would have serious adverse consequences in the U.N. Security Council,” the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, otherwise known as the E3, said in a statement Friday.

“We would not support such a decision, which would be incompatible with our current efforts to preserve the [Iran nuclear deal],” they continued.

The U.S. said last month it is “hopeful” the 15-member U.N. Security Council will extend the embargo before it expires despite opposition from Russia and China, which both hold veto powers on the council.

On Friday, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook reiterated that the U.S. continues to seek an arms embargo extension.

Iran has not upheld its end of the bargain,” he told reporters. “Our focus is extending the arms embargo. That is our preferred diplomatic path, and we will be — we have drafted a resolution that we hope will win the support of the U.N. Security Council.”

Mr. Hook also said that he believes Russia would also be interested in extending the embargo.

“I think it’s in Russia’s interest to extend the arms embargo,” he said. “One of the preambular paragraphs in the Iran nuclear deal states that the deal will contribute to regional peace and stability. Iran has not upheld its end of the bargain.”

European diplomats have been racing to strike a compromise, Reuters reported, but it remains unclear if they can present an option that will please the U.S., as well as China and Russia.

The foreign ministers said they believe that the lifting of the arms embargo “would have major implications for regional security and stability.”

Their comments come as the U.N.-backed International Atomic Energy Agency approved a resolution that calls on Iran to provide agency inspectors access to sites where it is believed the country is storing nuclear material.

Iran in recent months has consistently denied inspectors access to two locations believed to house nuclear material. IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi earlier this week said inspectors have sought to “clarify our questions related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities.”

The country has, however, provided access to sites that are mentioned under the Iran nuclear deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Friday that Iran’s moves to block IAEA access to the sites is “unacceptable and underscore the continued threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program to international peace and security.”

“As the IAEA Board made clear today, Iran must immediately comply with its IAEA safeguards obligations and provide the IAEA nothing short of full cooperation,” Mr. Pompeo said. “If Iran fails to cooperate, the international community must be prepared to take further action.”

Russia, meanwhile, rejected the approval of the resolution — which was introduced by Britain, France and Germany — and called the move “unproductive.”

The Russian ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, tweeted that his country and China had voted against the resolution.

“We believe that the resolution can be counterproductive,” Mr. Ulyanov said, while also “stressing the need for Tehran and IAEA to settle this problem without delay.”

• This story is based in part on wire reports.

Germany, France, UK press Iran to provide atomic site access

Germany, France, UK press Iran to provide atomic site access

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By DAVID RISING

Associated Press

Friday, June 19, 2020

BERLIN (AP) – The board of the United Nations‘ atomic watchdog agency on Friday adopted a resolution calling for Iran to provide inspectors access to sites where the country is thought to have stored or used undeclared nuclear material, the Russian representative said.

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, tweeted that his country and China had voted against the resolution that Germany, France and Britain proposed at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency board.

“We believe that the resolution can be counterproductive,” Ulyanov said, while also “stressing the need for Tehran and IAEA to settle this problem without delay.”

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Earlier this week, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi reiterated concerns that for more than four months Iran had denied his inspectors access to two locations ” to clarify our questions related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities.”

Activities at the sites are thought to have been from the early 2000s, before Iran signed the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Iran maintains the International Atomic Energy Agency has no legal basis to inspect them.

The agency has said that Iran continues to provide access to sites covered by the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

Iran’s representative to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said his country rejected the resolution.

“We do not consider this resolution acceptable at all,” he said. “This resolution cannot create any legal obligation for the Islamic Republic of Iran in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency to grant the two accesses.”

Since the United States withdrew unilaterally from the deal in 2018, the other signatories – Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China – have been struggling to save it.

Meanwhile, Iran has been violating its restrictions, including the amount of uranium it can enrich and the purity of enrichment, to try to pressure those countries to provide additional economic relief to offset American sanctions.

It is not clear what effect the new resolution will have on the JCPOA, but Iran threatened unspecified consequences.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran will take appropriate action and respond to this resolution,” Gharibabadi said.

Iran’s foreign ministry described the resolution as an “unconstructive, irresponsible and unacceptable action,” the state-run IRNA news agency reported. Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi accused Britain, France and Germany of creating tension between Iran and the IAEA and trying to avoid “their responsibilities based on the nuclear deal.”

In a tweet, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urged the three nations to “muster the courage to state publicly what they admit privately: their failure to fulfill even own JCPOA duties due to total impotence in resisting US bullying.”

China’s ambassador to international organizations, Wang Qun, told board members he was “deeply concerned” about both Grossi’s decision to openly express concerns about being denied access and the resolution that was passed.

He said, according to a copy of his statement provided to The Associated Press, that it could “set forth a process, under the current circumstances, that may bring the Iranian nuclear issue back to a crossroad full of uncertainties again.”

The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain discussed Iran at a meeting in Berlin later Friday and issued a statement noting that the resolution passed with a “very strong majority.”

The American representative, Jackie Wolcott, said the U.S. had supported the resolution and that the ball was now in Iran’s court.

“The fact of the matter is this is entirely Iran’s decision,” she said in a conference call with reporters. “They could fix this overnight if they would just decide to comply with their obligations with the IAEA.”

Germany, France and Britain in January invoked a dispute resolution mechanism designed to resolve issues with the 2015 deal or refer them to the U.N. Security Council. On Friday, their foreign ministers said that “we will seek a ministerial meeting to urge Iran to cooperate and to take stock of where we stand” in that process.

If no resolution is found, the process could result in the resumption of U.N. and European Union sanctions on Iran. But the ministers warned against trying to force the reimposition of sanctions.

“We firmly believe that any unilateral attempt to trigger U.N. sanctions snapback would have serious adverse consequences” in the U.N. Security Council, they said. “We would not support such a decision which would be incompatible with our current efforts to preserve the JCPOA.”

___

Associated Press writers Geir Moulson in Berlin, and Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

Bob Menendez, Eliot Engel seek to restrict funds for U.S. troop withdrawal from Germany

Menendez, Engel seek to restrict funds for U.S. troop withdrawal from Germany

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In this Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, file photo, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel D-N.Y., speaks during the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on Venezuela at Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File) more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Foreign Relations committees on Thursday unveiled legislation to restrict funding to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany and other European allied countries.

President Trump confirmed on Monday that he’s prepared to recall about half of the U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany if that nation doesn’t pay more to NATO and treat Washington more fairly on trade issues.

The plan has received swift backlash from Democratic lawmakers and European leaders who say a U.S. troop withdrawal would hinder the historic U.S.-European alliance and could pave the way for Russian interference in the region.

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Sen. Bob Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced the legislation that prohibits the use of funds to reduce the presence of U.S. armed forces in Europe unless requested by the host country, the president gives 180 days notice of the withdrawal, or the Secretaries of State and Defense publicly testify on Capitol Hill within 14 days of the announcement.

“The current U.S. troop presence in Germany is in the U.S. national security interest. Full stop,” Mr. Menendez said in a statement. “The Administration has made no effort to explain how our country is stronger because of this drawdown decision. Because we’re not,” he continued. “This drawdown weakens America and Europe. And [Russian President] Vladimir Putin understands and appreciates that better than anyone.”

“Rather than heeding the overwhelming bipartisan rebuke from Congress about this scheme and its catastrophic consequences, President Trump has once again made foreign policy decisions based solely on his absurd affection for Vladimir Putin, a murderous dictator who has attacked America and our allies,” Mr. Engel said. “President Trump’s disastrous decision to withdraw thousands of troops from and reduce the total force cap in Germany endangers our national security. Our legislation will stop the Administration from carrying out this calamitous policy.”

Although around 50,000 American troops are authorized to be stationed in Germany, currently there are about 34,000 U.S. troops deployed in Germany. There has also been speculation that some of the forces in Germany could be redeployed in Poland and elsewhere in Europe closer to Russia.

Mr. Trump suggested Monday that he could change his mind about the withdrawal of troops if Germany also gives the U.S. more favorable terms on trade in its dealings with the European Union.

“We’re negotiating with them on that,” Mr. Trump said, “but right now I’m not satisfied with the deal they want to make.”

German prosecutors charge Russian over brazen Berlin killing

German prosecutors charge Russian over brazen Berlin killing

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By GEIR MOULSON

Associated Press

Thursday, June 18, 2020

BERLIN (AP) – German prosecutors on Thursday filed murder charges against a Russian man accused in the brazen daylight slaying in Berlin last year of a Georgian man, and said that the Russian state ordered the killing – adding to tensions between the two countries.

The case prompted Germany in December to expel two Russian diplomats, citing a lack of cooperation with the investigation of the Aug. 23 killing. Russia’s ambassador was called in to the foreign ministry in Berlin again on Thursday.

The victim, Tornike K., who also has widely been identified in reports on the killing as Zelimkhan “Tornike” Khangoshvili, was a Georgian citizen of Chechen ethnicity who fought against Russian troops in Chechnya. He had previously survived multiple assassination attempts and continued to receive threats after fleeing to Germany in 2016.

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On Thursday, federal prosecutors filed charges of murder and a violation of weapons laws in a Berlin district court against a Russian citizen they identified as Vadim K., alias Vadim S. His last name was withheld in line with German privacy laws but has been widely reported as Vadim Krasikov, using the alias Vadim Sokolov.

They said that, at some point before mid-July last year, “state agencies of the central government of the Russian Federation” tasked him with “liquidating” the victim.

The suspect “accepted the state killing assignment,” prosecutors said in a statement. “He either hoped for a financial reward or he shared the motives of those who tasked him to kill a political opponent and take revenge for his participation in earlier conflicts with Russia.”

Proseutors say that the killer approached Tornike K. from behind on a bike in the small Kleiner Tiergarten park and shot him in the torso with a Glock handgun equipped with a silencer. The victim fell, and the assailant then fatally shot him twice in the head. The suspect was arrested near the scene shortly afterward and has been in custody ever since.

Prosecutors say that the suspect flew from Moscow to Paris on Aug. 17 – using a passport that had been issued by a government office in Bryansk, Russia, in the name of his alias on July 18 – then continued to Warsaw on Aug. 20. The day before the killing, he traveled to Berlin.

The murder case and alleged Russian involvement in the 2015 hacking of the German parliament have weighed on relations between the two countries in recent months. Last month, Germany said it was seeking European Union sanctions against a Russian man over his alleged role in the hacking.

Speaking to reporters in Vienna on Thursday, after the prosecutors’ announcement, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “We once again invited the Russian ambassador for a meeting at the Foreign Ministry today to make our position unmistakably clear again to the Russian side, and the German government expressly reserves the right to take further measures in this case.”

“This is certainly an exceptionally serious matter, and so from the German government’s point of view it is imperative that this matter be cleared up comprehensively by judicial authorities and the courts,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, last year called the allegations of Russian involvement in the killing “absolutely groundless.”

The victim had lived in Germany as an asylum-seeker since late 2016. According to German prosecutors, he led an anti-Russian militia in the second Chechen war of 2000-2004, then in 2008 was tasked by the Georgian government with putting together a volunteer unit to defend that country’s South Ossetia region. The unit was never deployed because of peace negotiations between Georgia and Russia.

Russian authorities had classified him as a terrorist and accused him of being a member of the “Caucasus Emirate” extremist organization, prosecutors said.

NATO chief plays down concern over U.S. troop plans in Germany

NATO chief plays down concern over U.S. troop plans in Germany

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In this Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, file photo, U.S President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend ceremonies at the Arc de Triumphe in Paris. After more than a year of thinly veiled threats that the United States could … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Details of President Trump’s announcement to withdraw U.S. forces from Germany have not yet been decided on among allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday.

Mr. Trump earlier this month ordered the Pentagon to cut thousands of troops by September, a move that experts have warned could deeply impact the historic U.S.-German relationship.

The president doubled down on the move Monday, when he told reporters that he’s prepared to recall about half of the U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany if that nation doesn’t pay more to NATO and treat Washington more fairly on trade issues.

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“The U.S. has made it clear that no final decision has been made on how and when,” Mr. Stoltenberg told reporters during a virtual news conference. “It’s not yet decided how and when this decision will be implemented.”

“It’s a bilateral arrangement between the U.S. and Germany, but of course it matters for the whole alliance,” the secretary-general said. “What matters for me is that we maintain credible deterrence and defense and that we maintain the strong link between North America and Europe.”

The move would reduce by about 28% the number of U.S. military personnel in the country, pulling back 9,500 from the 34,500 who are now there. There has also been speculation some of the forces in Germany could be redeployed in Poland and elsewhere in Europe closer to Russia.

The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, said she wasn’t aware of preparations for any possible troop withdrawal.

“Any kind of actual planning, I think, has not happened yet,” Hutchison told reporters at a video news conference Tuesday. “I don’t think that we have any kind of timeline that we have heard of.”

She described Germany as “a good partner” of the United States at NATO and said that “it should not be thought that there is any walking away from Europe, and Germany.”

The NATO allies are expected to convene in a virtual conference on Wednesday, when the issue is set to be discussed.

• This article was based in part on wire service reports.

Europe’s borders reopen but long road for tourism to recover

Europe’s borders reopen but long road for tourism to recover

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People enjoy the warm weather on the beach in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, June 13, 2020. Spanish government has announced that the northwestern region of Galicia will move next week to what the government calls “the new normal,” when some rules, … more >

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By Geir Moulson

Associated Press

Monday, June 15, 2020

BERLIN (AP) — Borders opened up across Europe on Monday after three months of coronavirus closures that began chaotically in March. But many restrictions persist, it’s unclear how keen Europeans will be to travel this summer and the continent is still closed to Americans, Asians and other international tourists.

Border checks for most Europeans were dropped overnight in Germany, France and elsewhere, nearly two weeks after Italy opened its frontiers. The European Union’s 27 nations, as well as those in the Schengen passport-free travel area, which also includes a few non-EU nations such as Switzerland, aren’t expected to start opening to visitors from outside the continent until at least the beginning of next month, and possibly later.

Announcing Monday’s reopening of borders and Paris restaurants, French President Emmanuel Macron said it’s time “to turn the page of the first act of the crisis” and “rediscover our taste for freedom.”

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But he warned: “This doesn’t mean the virus has disappeared and we can totally let down our guard. … The summer of 2020 will be a summer unlike any other.”

That caution is widespread after more than 182,000 virus-linked deaths in Europe. The region has had more than 2 million of the world’s 7.9 million confirmed infections, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

“We have got the pandemic under control, (but) the reopening of our frontiers is a critical moment,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Sunday as he announced that his hard-hit country is moving forward its opening to European travelers by 10 days to June 21. “The threat is still real. The virus is still out there.”

Still, the need to get Europe’s tourism industry up and running again is also urgent for countries such as Spain and Greece as the economic fallout of the crisis multiplies. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis acknowledged that “a lot will depend on whether people feel comfortable to travel and whether we can project Greece as a safe destination.”

On Monday, Greece was welcoming the first international flights whose passengers didn’t face compulsory COVID-19 tests to Athens and Thessaloniki. Direct international flights to regional Greek airports, including those on its islands, will begin on July 1. Visitors will be subject to random virus testing.

In a trial run, Spain allowed thousands of Germans to fly to its Balearic Islands starting Monday – waiving its 14-day quarantine for the group. The idea is to test out best practices in the coronavirus era.

“This pilot program will help us learn a lot for what lies ahead in the coming months,” Sánchez said. “We want our country, which is already known as a world-class tourist destination, to be recognized as also a secure destination.”

Martin Hofman from Oberhausen, Germany, was delighted as he boarded the first flight from Duesseldorf to the Spanish island of Mallorca.

His holiday couldn’t be postponed “and to stay in Germany was not an option for us,” he said. “And, well, yes, we are totally happy that we can get out.”

Europe’s reopening isn’t a repeat of the chaotic free-for-all in March, when panicked, uncoordinated border closures caused traffic jams that stretched for miles.

Still, it’s a complicated, shifting patchwork of different rules, and not everyone is equally free to travel everywhere. Several countries are not opening up yet to everyone. Norway and Denmark, for example, are keeping their borders closed with Sweden, whose virus strategy avoided a lockdown but produced a relatively high per capita death rate. Some other nations also have travel restrictions for Swedes.

Cars queued up Monday morning at some crossings on the German border with Denmark, which is now letting in visitors from Germany but only if they have booked accommodations for at least six nights.

Britain, which left the EU in January but remains closely aligned with the bloc until the end of this year, only last week imposed a 14-day quarantine requirement for most arrivals, horrifying its tourism and aviation industries. As a result, France is asking people coming from Britain to self-quarantine for two weeks and several other nations are not letting British tourists in during the first wave of reopenings.

With flights only gradually picking up, nervousness about new outbreaks abroad, uncertainty about social distancing at tourist venues and millions facing record unemployment or pay cuts, many Europeans may choose simply to stay home or explore their own countries.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz are both planning to vacation in their homelands this year.

The Dutch government said its citizens can now visit 16 European nations, but urged caution.

“You can go abroad for your holiday again,” Foreign Minister Stef Blok said. “But it won’t be as carefree as before the corona crisis. The virus is still among us and the situation remains uncertain.”

UN links items in arms shipments and missile attacks to Iran

UN links items in arms shipments and missile attacks to Iran

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Friday, June 12, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The United Nations says it has determined that Iran was the source for several items in two arms shipments seized by the United States and for debris left by attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil installations and an international airport, according to a new report.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said some of the items seized by the U.S. in November 2019 and February 2020 “were identical or similar” to those found after the cruise missiles and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia in 2019.

He said in a report to the U.N. Security Council obtained Friday by The Associated Press that some items seized by the U.S. in international waters off Yemen are not only Iranian but may have been transferred “in a manner inconsistent” with the council resolution that endorsed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

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The secretary-general was reporting on implementation of the 2015 resolution enshrining the nuclear agreement aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It includes restrictions that took effect on Jan. 16, 2016, on transfers to or from Iran of nuclear and ballistic missile material as well as arms.

The Security Council is scheduled to discuss the resolution’s implementation on June 30, and the U.S. is expected to press for the U.N. arms embargo against Iran, which is part of it, to be extended indefinitely before it expires in October.

Iran’s U.N. Mission responded to the report Friday saying: “Iran categorically rejects the observations contained in the report concerning the Iranian connection to the export of weapons or their components that are used in attacks on Saudi Arabia and the Iranian origin of alleged U.S. seizures of armaments.”

Its statement said the U.N. “lacks the capacity, expertise, and knowledge to conduct such a sophisticated and sensitive investigation,” adding that the report reproduces exact claims by the United States. “In essence, the U.S. is sitting in the driver’s seat to shape the so-called ‘assessment’ regarding the Iranian connection to the attacks,” Iran said.

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear agreement in May 2018 and re-imposed U.S. sanctions that had been eased or lifted. American officials contend Iran is working to obtain nuclear-capable missiles, which the Iranians deny.

The nuclear agreement is still supported by the five other parties – France, Britain, Russia and China, which are all veto-wielding Security Council members, and Germany, which is currently serving a two-year term on the council.

According to Guterres report, the arms shipments seized by the U.S. were assessed by the U.N. Secretariat to include parts of anti-tank guided missiles from Iran with 2016, 2017 and 2018 production dates as well as thermal weapon optical sights with design characteristics similar to those produced by an Iranian company, and a computer keyboard with Farsi markings associated with an anti-ship missile.

Guterres said U.N. experts also assessed that sections and components of cruise missiles recovered by the U.S. from the sites of attacks on Saudi Arabia’s Abha International Airport in June and August 2019 and on Saudi Aramco oil facilities at Abqaiq and Khurays in September 2019 “are of Iranian origin.”

As for the delta-wing drones used in attacks on Saudi oil facilities in May and September 2019, Guterres said, “the Secretariat assesses that the un-crewed aerial vehicles and/or parts thereof used in the two attacks are of Iranian origin.”

The report also links Iranian material from the U.S. seizures and the Saudi attacks.

Guterres said the U.N. is also reviewing information in an Israeli letter last month on imagery of four Iranian anti-tank guided missiles “being employed in Libya” and information provided last month by Australia on its June 2019 seizure of arms from a dhow in international waters off the Gulf of Oman.

The U.N.’s atomic watchdog agency said earlier this month that Iran has continued to increase its stockpiles of enriched uranium above limits in the agreement and remains in violation of its deal with world powers.

In his report, Guterres reiterated strong support for the Iranian nuclear agreement and expressed regret for the U.S. withdrawal and Iran’s actions since July 2019 to stop performing its nuclear commitments. He urged all countries “to avoid provocative rhetoric and actions that may have a negative impact on regional stability.”

The secretary-general said the Trump administration’s imposition of sanctions on Iran since 2018 remains “contrary to the goals” in the nuclear deal and the U.N. resolution endorsing it, and may also impede Tehran’s ability to implement some provisions of the agreement and the resolution.

He urged Iran to return to the agreement’s requirements and to “urgently address” concerns raised by the United Kingdom, Germany and France in relation to the 2015 resolution.

The three countries urged Guterres in a letter in December to inform the Security Council that Iran’s ballistic missile activity is “inconsistent” with a provision in the resolution calling on Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

The provision does not require Tehran to halt such activity, and the Iranian government insists all its missile activities are legal and not nuclear-related.

On Jan. 14, France, Germany and the UK announced that they had referred Iran’s actions violating limits in the nuclear agreement to the deal’s dispute resolution mechanism.

Guterres urged all parties to the agreement “to resolve all differences” within that mechanism.

Russia welcomes prospect of U.S. troop pullback from Germany

Russia welcomes prospect of U.S. troop pullback from Germany

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In this Friday, Jan. 17, 2020 file photo, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova gestures as she attends Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s annual roundup news conference summing up his ministry’s work in 2019, in Moscow, Russia. On June 11, … more >

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By

Associated Press

Thursday, June 11, 2020

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday welcomed President Donald Trump’s reported plan to withdraw more than a quarter of U.S. troops from Germany, saying it would help bolster security in Europe.

Trump has reportedly signed off on a plan to cut the number of troops stationed in Germany from 34,500 to no more than 25,000.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that “we would welcome any steps by Washington to scale down its military presence in Europe.”

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“Such steps would undoubtedly help reduce confrontational potential and ease military and political tensions in the Euro-Atlantic region,” Zakharova said at a briefing, adding that the large U.S. military presence in Germany is a “vestige of the Cold War.”

Zakharova challenged the U.S. to also take its tactical nuclear weapons home from Germany.

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told reporters earlier this week that Berlin hadn’t yet been informed of any U.S. troops pullout. She warned that if the U.S. goes ahead the move would do more harm to NATO as a whole than to Germany’s own defense.

Relations between Russia and the West are at post-Cold War lows following the 2014 Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and other issues.

Moscow has described the deployment of NATO forces near Russian borders as a top security threat.

Zakharova strongly warned Washington against redeploying some of the troops from Germany to Poland, saying it would further exacerbate tensions and undermine prospects of dialogue between Russia and NATO.

Germany seeks ‘stable’ ties with China, EU investment deal

Germany seeks ‘stable’ ties with China, EU investment deal

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks prior to the start of the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, June 10, 2020. (Fabrizio Bensch/Pool Photo via AP) more >

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Associated Press

Thursday, June 11, 2020

BERLIN (AP) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel says her country wants stable relations with China and greater access to the Chinese market for foreign companies.

In a statement, her office said Merkel stressed Germany’s interest in “rules-based and free multilateral trade” during a video call Thursday with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

It said she also noted Germany’s desire to “strengthen the World Trade Organization and in stable bilateral relations” with China.

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European Union officials have emphasized the need to maintain good ties to China, a growing economic, political and military power, as relations with the EU’s old ally, the United States, have been strained during the Trump presidency.

German had planned to host a summit in September with all EU leaders and China, but that was recently postponed due to the pandemic.

According to Merkel’s office, the German chancellor raised the virus outbreak, the situation in Hong Kong and the human rights situation in general during her call with Li.

On trade, Merkel “noted the need for further steps on market access, reciprocity and equal treatment for foreign companies” in China, it said.

“The conclusion of an ambitious investment agreement between the EU and China would be an important element there,” Merkel’s office said.

NATO cooperation has strengthened despite reports of looming U.S. troop withdrawal from Germany

NATO cooperation has strengthened despite reports of looming U.S. troop withdrawal from Germany

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks on the second day of the Munich Security Conference in Munich on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer) **FILE** more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Monday, June 8, 2020

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday said that despite President Trump’s reported plan to pull a host of American troops out of Germany, the U.S. and European allies are more productive in Europe than they have been in “many, many years.”

Mr. Trump has ordered the Pentagon to cut thousands of U.S. troops from Germany by September, according to a Friday report by the Wall Street Journal. The move would reduce the U.S. force presence in Germany by about 28%, pulling back 9,500 from the 34,500 who are now there.

The report quickly rattled Germany, which has since said it has not been formally notified by the Trump administration about the plans to withdraw troops from the long-time ally.

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“European allies and the United States, we’re doing more together now in Europe than have done for many, many years,” Mr. Stoltenberg said during a virtual event hosted by the Atlantic Council.

When pressed on his views of the reported U.S. plan to pull U.S. troops from Germany, Mr. Stoltenberg declined to address the issue, but said he is “constantly consulting with the United States, with NATO allies on military posture and presence in Europe.”

He said the U.S. military presence has increased across Europe with American forces conducting exercises in Northern Europe, more rotational presence in Poland and Romania, and a heightened naval presence in Spain.

“The challenges that we face over the next decade are greater than what any of us can tackle alone,” Mr. Stoltenberg added. “Neither Europe alone, nor America alone, so we must resist the temptation of national solutions.”

Thomas Kelly descendant fights to recover Medal of Honor sold in auction

Family of Medal of Honor hero fights to recover decoration sold in German auction

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Auction house Hermann Historica’s plans to sell a Spanish-American War vintage Congressional Medal of Honor has raised the objection of Sen. Ted Cruz, who is calling on the U.S. State Department to intercede to convince the German company to cancel … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Sunday, June 7, 2020

The descendants of Pvt. Thomas Kelly always knew the Irish immigrant received the Medal of Honor as a young soldier in the Spanish-American War.

His rescue of wounded comrades in July 1899 while under heavy enemy fire in Santiago, Cuba, is part of family lore.

But the tangible proof of Kelly’s valor, the medal itself, has been missing for decades. All that’s left is a 1973 certificate from the Department of Defense acknowledging the award.

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Then, his great-granddaughter saw a recent article in The Washington Times about a German auction house that was offering a Medal of Honor.

“We just jumped out of our skins,” Kasey LeClercq said in an interview.

She had never seen the medal, not even a photograph, yet there it was on the website of the Munich-based auction house Hermann Historica. But the location of Kelly’s medal is once again a mystery: An unidentified private collector bought it for $15,000.

“Our family believes deeply that Thomas‘ medal belongs on U.S. soil and with the American people he fought for,” said Mrs. LeClercq, who lives in the Seattle area. “He was a proud Irish American and served most of his life protecting our country.”

The medal disappeared after his death in 1920, and the family has no idea how it ended up with Hermann Historica. Auction house officials wouldn’t reveal how they received it and who bought it at the auction.

Hermann Historica didn’t respond to messages from The Times about the sale.

It is against U.S. law to sell or purchase a Medal of Honor.

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, and the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation condemned the auction. The U.S. Consulate in Munich asked Hermann Historica not to go forward with the sale.

The auction house, which identified the medal as Kelly‘s, refused the appeal to halt the sale because it is legal in Germany to sell military decorations. However, it turned down the family’s request to bid on the medal out of deference to U.S. regulations, Mrs. LeClercq said.

“We really wanted to buy it for our family. We would have done anything. It is priceless to our family,” she said.

Mr. Cruz’s office said in a statement that the sale harms the dignity and honor of all recipients of America’s highest award for combat valor.

“Medals of Honor represent the best of America and they belong with the families of the heroes who earned them or in a museum for Americans to honor — not with rich collectors in Germany,” Mr. Cruz said.

The senator said he will introduce legislation in the Senate to prevent foreign sales of Medals of Honor with the aim of recovering those that have already been sold.

Thomas Kelly was alone when he left Ireland and entered the United States through Canada. His sister and sole family member later followed him to America. He joined the Army as a teenager and spent much of his life in uniform, family members said.

“His whole life was military,” Mrs. LeClercq said. “His story is really quite profound.”

His family asked the auction house to forward their information to the collector who paid the $15,000 for Kelly’s Medal of Honor, but they have received nothing to indicate that happened.

Mrs. LeClercq said that if the medal can’t be returned to Kelly’s family, then it should at least be on display in a museum open to the public rather than locked away in the cabinet of a private collector.

She wants to share the story of her heroic forebear with her children.

“I want to know more, and I want my kids to know more,” Mrs. LeClerq said. “This is in our blood.”

Trump orders Pentagon to slash number of U.S. troops stationed in Germany

Trump orders Pentagon to slash number of U.S. troops stationed in Germany

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In this July 30, 2014 file photo the flags of the United States and Germany fly behind a sign at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. On June 5, 2020, the Pentagon announced President Trump has ordered a 28% reduction of U.S. … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Friday, June 5, 2020

President Trump wants a major reduction in the number of U.S. military personnel based in Germany and has ordered the Pentagon to cut thousands of troops by September, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The move would reduce by about 28% the number of U.S. military personnel in the country, pulling back 9,500 from the 34,500 who are now there, according to the newspaper.

The president’s decision to cut the number of troops comes amid strains in relations with Germany, the Wall Street Journal said, and the country’s level of military spending.

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The identity of any Army or Air Force units that would be affected by the order or the location where the personnel would be sent to wasn’t immediately known.

Justin Trudeau, Canadian PM, says Russia should not rejoin G-7

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau says Russia should not rejoin G-7

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during his daily press conference on the COVID-19 pandemic outside of his residence at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Ontario, on Friday, April 10, 2020. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP) ** FILE ** more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Monday, June 1, 2020

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that Russia should not rejoin the Group of Seven nations summit after President Trump suggested its return, along with India, South Korea and Australia.

Mr. Trump on Saturday described his new proposal as the “G-10 or G-11” and said he’s “roughly” broached the idea with the leaders of the four countries he’d like to add.

The president has suggested that Russia return to the group in the past after being removed from what was known as the G-8 in 2014 amid Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula.

SEE ALSO: Putin supports ‘dialogue’ of return to G-7 but lacks information following Trump proposal

The G-7 has since been comprised of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the U.S.

Russia was excluded from the G-7 after it invaded Crimea a number of years ago,” Mr. Trudeau said during a news conference, “and its continued disrespect and flaunting of international rules and norms is why it remains outside of the G-7, and it will continue to remain out.”

Earlier Monday, a spokesperson for the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin “is a supporter of dialogue in all directions, but in this case, in order to respond to such initiatives, we need to receive more information, which we, unfortunately, do not have.”

Europeans criticize US move to revoke Iran sanction waivers

Europeans criticize US move to revoke Iran sanction waivers

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Saturday, May 30, 2020

BERLIN (AP) – The western European parties to the landmark nuclear deal with Iran on Saturday criticized a U.S. decision to end nearly all of the last vestiges of sanctions relief provided under the 2015 pact.

The U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the deal with Iran in 2018, leaving the others involved – France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia – struggling to keep it alive.

The deal promises Iran economic incentives in return for curbs on its nuclear program. The deal was meant to prevent Iran from developing a bomb, even though Iran said it did not want to do that.

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With the re-imposition of American sanctions, however, Iran’s economy has been struggling, and it has been violating the restrictions of the pact in order to try to pressure the other nations to do more to help it economically.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the stakes on Wednesday, saying he would revoke all but one of the sanctions waivers covering civil nuclear cooperation. The waivers had allowed Russian, European and Chinese companies to continue to work on Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities without drawing American penalties.

In a joint statement, the foreign ministries of Germany, France and Britain said they “deeply regret the U.S. decision.”

“These projects, endorsed by U.N. Security Council resolution 2231, serve the nonproliferation interests of all and provide the international community with assurances of the exclusively peaceful and safe nature of Iranian nuclear activities,” they said.

“We are consulting with our partners to assess the consequences of this decision by the United States.”

Germany confronts Russian ambassador over cyberattack

Germany confronts Russian ambassador over cyberattack

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Federal Minister of the Interior for Building and Homeland Affairs, Horst Seehofer, waits to be questioned as a witness in the Bundestag’s Toll Inquiry Committee. The committee of inquiry is looking into the circumstances surrounding the failure of the car … more >

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By DAVID RISING

Associated Press

Thursday, May 28, 2020

BERLIN (AP) – Germany said Thursday it is seeking EU sanctions against a Russian man over his alleged role in the hacking of the German parliament at a time when evidence shows he was working for Russian intelligence.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry said it called in Russian ambassador Sergei Nechayev to inform him in person of the move.

Senior German diplomat Miguel Berger “strongly condemned the attack on Germany’s parliament in the name of the German government” while meeting with Nechayev, the ministry said.

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Berger told Nechayev that Germany would be pursuing EU sanctions against Russian citizen Dmitriy Badin, and possibly others, under a new regime established last year to respond to cyberattacks, the ministry said.

He referred to a warrant issued May 5 by federal German prosecutors for Badin, an alleged officer with Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency. Badin was already being sought by U.S. authorities and is believed to be part of the hacker group known as APT28, or Fancy Bear.

German prosecutors allege that Badin, “acting jointly with other persons not yet identified,” had “undertaken an intelligence operation against Germany for the intelligence service of a foreign power,” the ministry said.

“The accused is suspected of being responsible for the hacker attack on the German parliament in April/May 2015 as a member of the APT28 group,” the ministry said. “There is reliable evidence that he was a member of the GRU military intelligence agency at the time of the attack.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier this month there was “hard evidence” that correspondence from her parliamentary office was among the documents targeted in the attack.

The Russian Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Leonid Slutsky, head of the foreign affairs committee in the Russian parliament’s lower house, called the German accusations “baseless.”

He warned that any further sanctions Berlin might impose would be “destructive,” creating an “artificial irritant” in bilateral relations.

Russian officials have repeatedly denied any involvement by Moscow in the hacking attack. They have similarly dismissed charges of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and alleged cyberattacks on other Western nations and institutions.

Diplomatic ties between Germany and Russia are already tense, following the brazen killing of a Georgian man on the streets of Berlin last year. Prosecutors have suggested the hit was ordered either by Moscow or authorities in the Russian republic of Chechnya.

Russian national Vadim Sokolov was arrested near the scene and is accused of carrying out the killing with official help. The case has already led to tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats from Berlin and Moscow.

Noting the ongoing investigation of the slaying, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday it “reserves the right to take further measures” beyond the sanctions against Badin.

____

This story has been corrected to show the suspect’s surname is Badin, not Baden.

_____

Frank Jordans in Berlin and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this story

Germany calls in Russian ambassador over allegations involving a 2015 cyberattack on the federal par

Germany calls in Russian ambassador over allegations involving a 2015 cyberattack on the federal par

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Thursday, May 28, 2020

BERLIN (AP) – Germany calls in Russian ambassador over allegations involving a 2015 cyberattack on the federal parliament in Berlin.

Angela Merkel, German chancellor: ‘Hard evidence’ implicates Russia in hack of German parliament

Merkel says ‘hard evidence’ implicates Russia in hack of German parliament

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel takes questions as part of a meeting of the German federal parliament, Bundestag, at the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, May 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn) more >

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By Andrew Blake

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that “hard evidence” exists indicating Russians hackers waged an attack in 2015 against the lower house of her nation’s parliament.

Mrs. Merkel implicated Moscow while speaking about a recent German news report that said Russian military hackers had breached the Bundestag and stolen emails including her own.

“I can honestly say that it pains me,” Mrs. Merkel said in the Bundestag, British outlet The Telegraph reported. “Every day I try to build a better relationship with Russia, and on the other hand there is hard evidence that Russian forces are doing this.”

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Mrs. Merkel also called the attack “unpleasant” and “outrageous” and said that it damages “any sort of collaboration” between Germany and Russia, The Guardian newspaper reported.

Der Spiegel reported last week that Russian state-sponsored hackers had stolen numerous emails belonging to Mrs. Merkel and other German parliament members by compromising the Bundestag’s computer systems roughly five years earlier.

The magazine also reported that German authorities had relatedly issued an arrest warrant for Dmitry Badin, a 29-year-old Russian who is similarly wanted in the U.S. for allegedly participating in cyberattacks the Department of Justice has accused the Russian government of waging to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential race.

Mrs. Merkel confirmed Wednesday that German investigators have identified a suspect accused of being behind the Bundestag accused, multiple news outlets reported.

“I am very glad that the investigations have now led to the Federal Public Prosecutor putting a specific person on the wanted list,” she said, Politico reported. “I take these things very seriously, because I believe that a very proper investigation has been carried out.”

Mrs. Merkel was unclear about what action if any Germany may ultimately take against Russia, however, the outlet noted.

“At this point we have to try to find the person in question by means of a manhunt. But of course we always reserve the right to take measures,” Mrs. Merkel added, according to Politico. “Nevertheless, I will continue to strive for a good relationship with Russia, because I believe that there is every reason to always continue these diplomatic efforts.”

The U.S. Department of Justice has previously identified Mr. Badin as a member of the Russian military intelligence agency better known as the GRU. In addition to charging him in connection with interfering in the 2016 presidential race, the Justice Department has also accused Mr. Badin of participating in a conspiracy to retaliate against anti-doping organizations and officials who revealed the use of performance-enhancing drugs by Russian professional athletes.

Russian government officials have previously denied Moscow was responsible for cyberattacks waged against German and U.S. targets.

Dynamo Dresden’s return halted with 2 more cases of COVID-19

Dynamo Dresden’s return halted with 2 more cases of COVID-19

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Saturday, May 9, 2020

DRESDEN, Germany (AP) – Two players at German second division side Dynamo Dresden tested positive for the new coronavirus on Saturday, putting on hold the club’s planned return to soccer next weekend.

Dresden was to play Hannover away on May 17 when the league resumes after a two-month suspension, but the entire squad, coaching and supervisory staff must now go into 14 days of quarantine at home.

“We are in contact with the responsible health authorities and the league to coordinate all further steps. The fact is that we can neither train nor participate in any games over the next 14 days,” Dresden sporting director Ralf Minge said.

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The players were not identified. Their positive results for COVID-19 were found in a third wave of tests conducted at the club on Friday as part of the league’s hygiene protocol to get soccer back underway in Germany.

One player tested positive for COVID-19 in the first wave of tests and has been in quarantine since May 3. There were no positive cases in the second wave on May 4. The team returned to full training on Thursday, when the German soccer league announced the Bundesliga and second division would restart on May 16.

Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the day before that the top two divisions could resume without spectators. Teams were to spend one week training in isolation before the games could resume. It was initially supposed to be two weeks.

“With regular tests, it’s a different situation to when somebody is just tested at the beginning and end of the quarantine,” Merkel said of the change.

Dresden said the two players who tested positive on Friday did not and were still not showing any symptoms of the virus.

Earlier Saturday, Peter Dabrock, the former chairperson of the German Ethics Council, criticized the decision to resume soccer.

“It will have a fatal effect on the overall compliance with the restrictions,” Dabrock told news agency dpa. “If the mantra is no contact, (keep) distance, hygiene, protection, but then of all things you allow a sport in which none of this can be adhered to from the beginning, then of course it will have the effect that people ask themselves, ‘Why do I have to stick to such restrictions?’”

As of Saturday, Germany registered just over 7,500 known deaths attributed to COVID-19, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Merkel’s announcement of a loosening of strict containment measures came after a fall in the rate of daily infections in the country.

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