U.S., EU agree to talks, truce in steel and aluminum dispute

U.S., EU agree to talks, truce in steel and aluminum dispute

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Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Secretary of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo participate in a roundtable with women-led small business owners Wednesday, May 5, 2021, in Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) ** FILE ** more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Monday, May 17, 2021

The U.S. and the European Union agreed Monday to begin talks on steel and aluminum supply in a bid to smooth over trade relations and lift tariffs imposed by former President Donald Trump on national security grounds.

The parties said they want to reach a solution by the end of the year that addresses World Trade Organization disputes over tit-for-tat levies and “global excess capacity” from China and elsewhere.

“The distortions that result from this excess capacity pose a serious threat to the market-oriented EU and U.S. steel and aluminum industries and the workers in those industries,” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo and European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said in a joint statement.

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The parties “agreed that, as the United States and E.U. Member States are allies and partners, sharing similar national security interests as democratic, market economies, they can partner to promote high standards, address shared concerns, and hold countries like China that support trade-distorting policies to account.”

Mr. Trump imposed a 25% tariff on foreign steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum in 2018 as part of his penchant for using levies to gain an upper hand in trade relations and protect domestic workers.

The moves chagrined allies abroad and free-trade supporters at home and led to disputes before the WTO.

The EU imposed more than $7 billion in retaliatory tariffs in phases but delayed the second batch until June of this year.

Now, the EU says it will hold off completely as the talks unfold.

“In our effort to reboot transatlantic relations, EU will temporarily suspend the increase of its rebalancing measures on U.S. 232 steel & aluminum tariffs,” Mr. Dombrovkis tweeted. “This gives us space to find joint solutions to this dispute & tackle global excess capacity.”

WHO presses wealthier nations to share COVID-19 vaccines

WHO presses wealthier nations to share COVID vaccines

Director-general says 'trickle-down vaccination' won't work

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A health worker arranges the empty Covishield vaccines for COVID-19 after administers at the press club in Gauhati, India, Friday, May 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath) more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Friday, May 14, 2021

The World Health Organization told wealthier nations Friday to consider donating COVID-19 vaccines to global-sharing programs instead of vaccinating younger persons at low risk of developing severe disease.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said only 0.3% of vaccine supply is going to low-income countries, even as new variants pop up across the globe, and that “trickle-down vaccination is not an effective strategy for fighting a deadly respiratory virus.”

“In a handful of rich countries, which bought up the majority of the vaccine supply, lower-risk groups are now being vaccinated. I understand why some countries want to vaccinate their children and adolescents, but right now I urge them to reconsider and to instead donate vaccines to COVAX,” Dr. Tedros said, referring to the main vaccine-sharing alliance. “Because in low- and lower-middle-income countries, vaccine supply has not been enough to even immunize health and care workers, and hospitals are being inundated with people that need lifesaving care urgently.”

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Dr. Tedros did not mention countries by name but the U.S. and other western nations have purchased enough doses to more than cover their eligible populations and are moving into younger age groups after taking care of front-line workers and seniors.

With demand slowing, the Biden administration is under pressure to share more of America’s largesse with poorer nations.

WHO cheered the White House’s support for waiving patent rights to share vaccine know-how with other countries, though the idea got a tepid reception in Europe and congressional Republicans said the administration should focus on donations to avoid stifling future innovation.

While trade negotiators figure out a plan, the U.S. hopes to donate up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which hasn’t been approved for domestic use. Regulators are still running checks on the shots before exporting them.

Dr. Tedros said besides the patent idea, he is pleased with recent countries that announced vaccine-sharing plans through COVAX.

“And third, leaders including the Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, have called for all trade barriers to be lifted as soon as possible. Muchas gracias,” he said.

‘Very difficult fight’: Afghan army, Taliban set for major clash outside Kabul as U.S. troops exit

‘Very difficult fight’: Afghan army, Taliban set for major clash outside Kabul as U.S. troops exit

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Afghan national army (ANA) Soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, April 17, 2021. The Biden administration’s surprise announcement of an unconditional troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021, appears to strip the … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Friday, May 14, 2021

The fledgling Afghan army is set for a major clash with the Taliban in the coming days, with U.S. military commanders predicting a “very difficult fight” amid fears that Afghanistan‘s capital, Kabul, may fall to insurgent forces.

Afghan troops and Taliban fighters are in the midst of a three-day cease-fire marking the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. But when that cease-fire expires this weekend, fighting will resume inside the strategically vital Wardak province outside Kabul.

Afghan officials have warned that if the Taliban holds on to key districts in Wardak, the insurgent group could quickly mount an offensive on the capital, which is now much more vulnerable to attack as American troops withdraw.

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President Biden has ordered all U.S. troops to exit the country by Sept. 11.

Military leaders say they’re on track to meet that deadline, but they’re also warning that Afghan security forces are in for a tough test as the highly motivated Taliban captures more territory.

“I think it will be a very difficult fight for the Afghan military. We will do everything we can to help them, but we will no longer be in the country and able to stand behind them there,” Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said in an interview with the Al-Arabiya news network this week. “Having said that, it’s a good army. It’s a large army. Some good fighters in the Afghan army. And now it’s time for them to step to the fore and fight the Taliban. We will continue to support them financially, plus a number of other ways as well.”

But Gen. McKenzie also predicted that Taliban attacks will only get worse over the coming weeks.

“I would see no reason to expect their attacks will not continue, and even increase,” he said.

Inside Afghanistan, officials warn that Kabul — which will house U.S. diplomatic personnel even after troops leave — may be in real danger. Wardak mayor Zarifa Ghafari told regional media outlets earlier this week that if Afghan security forces do not quickly retake the Wardak district of Nerkh, Taliban fighters will be in a position to move on Kabul within just a few days.

Scientists: We need a better probe into the coronavirus’ origins

Scientists: We need a better probe into the coronavirus’ origins

Cites WHO chief, who said joint study with China on Wuhan-lab theory fell short

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Residents visit the Yangtze River in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province Monday, March 29, 2021. (Chinatopix Via AP) more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Friday, May 14, 2021

The world of science has learned plenty about how the coronavirus behaves and spreads, but “more investigation is still needed to determine the origin of the pandemic,” a group of 18 scientists from top universities and medical centers said Friday.

Their letter in the journal “Science” says it is important to understand whether the pathogen first detected in Wuhan, China, escaped from a lab or slipped into humans from the animal world, given the scale of destruction and implications for future outbreaks.

“Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable. Knowing how COVID-19 emerged is critical for informing global strategies to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks,” they wrote.

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The origins of the coronavirus that wreaked havoc across the globe remain an enduring mystery as countries try to vaccinate their way out of the mess.

Scientists initially pointed to wild-animal markets in Wuhan, saying the pathogen may have leaped from bats to human through an intermediary animal. But theories that it escaped from a sophisticated lab in the central Chinese city gained traction. 

Officials from the Trump administration, in particular, pointed to the lab theory as viable after the communist government in Beijing downplayed and covered up the extent of the crisis in the early days of the outbreak.

Scientists who penned the Science letter said a joint study between China and the World Health Organization was lacking.

“Although there were no findings in clear support of either a natural spillover or a lab accident, the team assessed a zoonotic spillover from an intermediate host as ‘likely to very likely,’ and a laboratory incident as ‘extremely unlikely,’” they wrote. “Furthermore, the two theories were not given balanced consideration.”

The scientists said WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus highlighted the disparity and offered to provide new resources to evaluate the lab possibility.

“As scientists with relevant expertise, we agree with the WHO director-general, the United States and 13 other countries and the European Union that greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic is necessary and feasible to achieve,” they wrote. “We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data.”

The scientists, who come from distinguished institutions like Harvard, Yale and Stanford, stressed that at a time of unfortunate anti-Asian sentiment in some countries, “it was Chinese doctors, scientists, journalists, and citizens who shared with the world crucial information about the spread of the virus — often at great personal cost.”

“We should show the same determination in promoting a dispassionate science-based discourse on this difficult but important issue,” they wrote.

Gal Gadot, former IDF soldier, slammed for tweet saying Israel ‘deserves to live as a free’ nation

Former IDF soldier Gal Gadot slammed for tweet saying Israel ‘deserves to live as a free’ nation

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This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Gal Gadot in a scene from "Wonder Woman 1984." (Clay Enos/Warner Bros. via AP) more >

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By Jessica Chasmar

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

“Wonder Woman” star and former Israel Defense Forces soldier Gal Gadot is facing backlash on social media for saying her home country “deserves to live as a free and safe nation.”

“My heart breaks. My country is at war. I worry for my family, my friends. I worry for my people,” Ms. Gadot, 36, wrote in a tweeted statement Wednesday as Israel faced a barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza.

“This is a vicious cycle that has been going on for far too long,” the actress continued. “Israel deserves to live as a free and safe nation, our neighbors deserve the same. I pray for the victims and their families, I pray for this unimaginable hostility to end, I pray for our leaders to find the solution so we could live side-by-side in peace. I pray for better days.”

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Fighting in the region erupted over the weekend when Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, and other Islamic militants fired more than 500 rockets into Israeli territory. Israel responded Wednesday by killing a string of senior Hamas military figures and launching airstrikes on the Gaza Strip.

Ms. Gadot, who completed two years of mandatory service in the IDF, was slammed by pro-Palestinian activists as being “tone deaf.” Her last name became a top trending U.S. topic on the platform by Wednesday afternoon. She turned off replies to her tweet and did not respond to the criticism.

Ms. Gadot faced similar blowback when she expressed support for the IDF and denounced “the horrific acts conducted by Hamas” during the 2014 Gaza War.

She served in the Israel Defense Forces when they dropped bombs on civilians during the war on Lebanon in 2006 but now her heart is broken! https://t.co/wH8ZYv0CMA

— Rayane Moussallem (@RioMoussallem) May 12, 2021

Ma’am, you are literally an ex IDF soldier who has murdered Palestinians. https://t.co/De8NzFdAS6

— Mαrωα 🥀 (@MarwaBalkar) May 12, 2021

It would be really great if supporting violent oppression and apartheid had career consequences. https://t.co/CldMQEGz8A

— Walker Bragman (@WalkerBragman) May 12, 2021

German people getting pushy in seeking COVID-19 vaccine

German people getting pushy in seeking COVID-19 vaccine

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A man sits in his car as he is vaccinated with AstraZeneca in a tent on the parking lot of a supermarket in Pforzheim, southern Germany, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. A doctor who could not get rid of her AstraZeneca … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

German vaccinators say people are getting aggressive in their bids for COVID-19 shots and trying to jump the queue early.

A Hamburg site reported 2,000 line-jumpers in one recent week alone. They tended to give their wrong age or occupation to get priority, according to Der Spiegel.

Media outlet Report Mainz found thousands of instances across the country. In another common trick, people claim to provide care for two high-priority people, giving them access.

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“The mood is becoming more aggressive. Some people are very clear that they are not authorized and still try to get vaccinated,” the Hamburg social authority, Martin Helfrich, told the outlet.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said this week she wants to make everyone eligible for the vaccines by June instead of moving by age groups, citing the need to reopen society without uneven treatment within the population.

Ms. Merkel also broke from President Biden’s plan to waive vaccine patents so that struggling countries can develop generic versions of existing vaccines.

“The limiting factor in vaccine manufacturing is production capacity and high-quality standards, not patents,” the chancellor’s spokeswoman said.

Nancy Pelosi says Israel has the right to defend itself, Hamas rocket attacks risk more lives

Pelosi says Israel has the right to defend itself, Hamas rocket attacks risk more lives

House speaker urges 'all sides' to show restraint

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., arrives for a photo opportunity on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi late Tuesday condemned “escalating and indiscriminate” rocket attacks by Palestinian militant group Hamas, saying they risk civilian lives amid a fierce exchange of airstrikes in the region.

“Israel has the right to defend herself against this assault, which is designed to sow terror and undermine prospects for peace,” the California Democrat said.

Hamas militants in Gaza fired on the metro area of Tel Aviv and while Israel airstrikes reportedly killed 35 Palestinians, including 10 children, in the worst fighting since 2014.

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“Every civilian death is a tragedy that we mourn. Hamas’s accelerating violence only risks killing more civilians, including innocent Palestinians,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “The recent inflammatory provocations including by extremist forces in Jerusalem have exacerbated the situation, and restraint must be shown by all to de-escalate the crisis,” she said. “Let us all pray that the situation will be resolved immediately and peacefully.”

Number of injured in Russia school shooting rises to 23

Number of injured in Russia school shooting rises to 23

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People pray next to the grave of Elvira Ignatieva, an English language teacher who was killed at a school shooting on Tuesday in Kazan, Russia, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. Russian officials say a gunman attacked a school in the city … more >

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By Daria Litvinova

Associated Press

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

MOSCOW (AP) — Twenty-three people remained hospitalized on Wednesday following a school shooting in the Russian city of Kazan which killed nine people, including seven youngsters.

All 23 were in stable condition Wednesday morning, the authorities said, though at least eight people — three adults and five children — were to be transferred to Moscow for treatment.

A gunman on Tuesday morning attacked a school in Kazan, a city 430 miles (700 kilometers) east of Moscow, sending students hiding under their desks or running out of the building. Nine people – seven students and two school employees – were killed.

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The attacker, identified only as a 19-year-old, was arrested. The authorities gave no immediate details on a motive but said he legally owned a firearm.

Wednesday was declared a day of mourning in Tatarstan, the Russian region of which Kazan is the capital, with funerals of the victims expected to take place.

Russian media said the gunman was a former student at the school who called himself “a god” on his account on the messaging app Telegram and promised to “kill a large amount of biomass” on the morning of the shooting.

Attacks on schools are rare in Russia, and President Vladimir Putin reacted by ordering the head of the country’s National Guard to revise regulations on the types of weapons allowed for civilian use.

The deadliest school attack in Russia took place in 2004 in the city of Beslan, when Islamic militants took more than 1,000 people hostage for several days. The siege ended in gunfire and explosions, leaving 334 dead, more than half of them children.

In 2018, a teenager killed 20 people at his vocational school before killing himself in Kerch, a city in the Russian-annexed peninsula of Crimea. In the wake of that attack, Putin also ordered authorities to tighten control over gun ownership. But most of the proposed measures were turned down by the parliament or the government.

Russian lawmaker Alexander Khinshtein said on Telegram that the suspect in the Kazan attack received a permit for a shotgun less than two weeks ago and that the school had no security aside from a panic button. Authorities did not specify what kind of gun the attacker used.

Officials in Kazan said the school had a doorperson for security during day time, and she was the one who hit the panic button, alerting law enforcement about the attack.

Russian officials promised to pay families of those killed 1 million rubles (roughly $13,500) each and said that the payments will be wired by the end of day Wednesday.

Kremlin-imposed cuts at U.S. Embassy leave thousands adrift

Kremlin-imposed cuts at U.S. Embassy leave thousands adrift

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The U.S. Embassy and the National flag are seen in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Under Kremlin orders, the U.S. Embassy has stopped employing Russians, leaving Russian businessmen, lovers and exchange students adrift because they can’t get visas and … more >

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By Daniel Kozin and Jim Heintz

Associated Press

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

MOSCOW (AP) — Under Kremlin orders, the U.S. Embassy has stopped employing Russians, forcing the embassy to cut its consular staff by 75% and limit many of its services.

The order went into effect on Wednesday, bringing the sharply deteriorating U.S.-Russia relationship to an intensely personal level.

Because of the cuts, the embassy can offer only very limited services, such as considering “life-and-death” visa applications. That leaves Russian businessmen, exchange students and romantic partners adrift because they won’t be able to obtain visas. Even Americans will be unable to register their newborns or renew their passports.

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For Anastasia Kuznetsova, a 20-year-old engaged to marry a Californian, it’s a crushing blow. She had already spent about two years seeking a fiancee’s visa. The notoriously laborious process for Russians to get U.S. visas had already been slowed by COVID-19.

“I felt destroyed, much more depressed than I was before,” said Kuznetsova, who last saw her fiance in January on a trip to Mexico. “We have no idea when it’s going to continue working and if we will be able to see each other even during these years.”

Thomas H. V. Anthony, an American living in Russia, was already frustrated because of a delay in registering the birth of his daughter, a record of the child’s claim to U.S. citizenship.

“My expectation was as things get better with the situation with the pandemic, gradually the consulate would open more and more and more,” he said. “It was a big shock to suddenly get an email from them, about two weeks ago, saying effective on the 11th we will no longer be offering any consular services.”

For Anthony, this means his daughter, who was born before the pandemic, will not be able to travel to visit her grandparents in the United States in the foreseeable future.

The embassy has made no statements on whether it is taking measures to beef up the consular staff with new employees from the United States.

Embassy spokespeople could not be reached for clarification on how the mission will handle other jobs also filled by locals, such as security.

An order signed last month by President Vladimir Putin called for creating a list of “unfriendly” countries whose missions could be banned from hiring Russians or third-country nationals. The list includes the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Poland and several other European countries, but the United States is the first for which the ban is being enforced.

The move followed U.S. sanctions imposed over Russian interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election and involvement in the SolarWind hack of federal agencies. Each country expelled 10 of the other’s diplomats.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the ban on local employees is in line with convention.

“We rarely employ any local personnel in the country where our diplomatic mission is. And thus we have the full right to transfer this practice onto the regulations which manage the work of the U.S. Embassy and their general consulate in the Russian Federation,” he said last month.

Yulia Kukula, a university student who was accepted for a PhD program in sustainable energy at Arizona State University, may have found a laborious and costly way around the problem of getting her visa to attend university.

After searching online for advice from others in her situation, Kukula was able to sign up for an interview for a visa at the U.S. consulate in neighboring Kazakhstan. But that’s a 2,300-kilometer (1,400-mile) trip from Moscow, and the interview isn’t until October.

The United States once had three other consulates in Russia – in Yekaterinburg, Vladivostok and St. Petersburg – which somewhat eased the travel burden for people seeking visas. But those consulates have closed or stopped providing visas amid diplomatic spats in recent years, in what Alexis Rodzianko, head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, called “a visa war.”

That had already placed a burden on the companies in his chamber whose executives needed to travel. “Now it looks like it’s impossible for the indefinite future,” he said.

The travel restrictions of the pandemic have shown that videoconferencing can’t entirely replace the in-person contact of business travel, he said.

“They’re especially good for people who already know each other and they’re much less effective for people getting to know each other,” he said.

He also sees a larger problem if the visa halt lasts for long.

He worries that because the U.S. and Russian governments are adversaries, a lack of contacts between people on both sides could lead to “dehumanization,” adding, “which is very dangerous because that’s what you need to fight a war.”

Kuznetsova, who had hoped to celebrate her wedding in the United States this year and had even quit her university in Russia in preparation for the move, feels trapped as a small piece in a large geopolitical dispute.

“I understand that there can be problems between countries, it’s normal, it’s happened throughout all of history, but it’s not normal to divide people and separate them, especially when it’s families and the lives of people,” she said.

Iran police probe death of Swiss Embassy staffer in Tehran

Iran police probe death of Swiss Embassy staffer in Tehran

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By

Associated Press

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iranian police on Tuesday started investigating the death of a Swiss diplomat who died after reportedly falling from a high rise in the capital of Tehran.

The Swiss woman, in her 50s, fell from the upper floors of a 20-story building in which she lived in northern Tehran, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. A worker discovered her missing on Tuesday morning and called authorities.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry in Bern acknowledged in a statement that an employee “died in a fatal incident on Tuesday.” The ministry declined to identify the woman, but said diplomats had been in touch with local police.

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Biden pledges to aid India amid COVID-19 surge, share 60 million vaccine doses worldwide

Biden pledges to aid India amid COVID surge, share 60 million vaccine doses worldwide

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In this March 11, 2021, file photo President Joe Biden holds up a card with his daily schedule and the daily deaths from COVID-19 as he speaks about the COVID-19 pandemic during a prime-time address from the East Room of … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Updated: 4:36 p.m. on
Monday, April 26, 2021

President Biden on Monday pledged to share up to 60 million unused doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine globally and called Prime Minister Narendra Modi to offer “steadfast support” as India battles a coronavirus surge that is spiraling into a major catastrophe.

Mr. Biden used the Modi call to detail material support the U.S. is sending, including much-needed oxygen supplies, therapeutic drugs and raw materials that will support vaccine production at the Serum Institute of India.

“Prime Minister Modi expressed appreciation for the strong cooperation between both countries. The two leaders resolved that the United States and India will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the effort to protect our citizens and the health of our communities,” the White House said in a description of the call.

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Senior administration officials characterized the aid package as a way to repay India after it offered assistance during America’s struggles with the virus last year.

India has a relatively young population and avoided the worst of the COVID-19 crisis earlier in the pandemic. Now, rampant transmission is setting global records for cases — 350,000 per day — and forcing cremation centers to run around the clock. Shortfalls in oxygen supplies and accidental leaks caused some patients to suffocate, adding to families’ desperation.

Experts say the picture on the ground is worse than what’s been reported.

“Many more cases and deaths aren’t being tracked or reported. The health system has collapsed in many parts of India, without access to oxygen, critical medicines, or hospital beds,” said Krishna Udayakumar, the founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center.

“After the first wave, instead of using time for preparation, there was complacency or a sense of victory, with policy decisions like allowing large events including election rallies that became super-spreader events,” he said. “The central government has failed in its mandate to protect public safety and health. The rise of variants may also be playing a role in the rapid rise of cases, though we don’t know for sure, as well as the potential of waning natural immunity from prior infections.”

The India package amounts to the Biden administration’s biggest foray to date into COVID-19 diplomacy as health experts and advocates pressure the U.S. to use its relative wealth and influence to lift other nations.

The White House loaned 4 million unused doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada and Mexico but plans to share up to 60 million more with other countries, as doses become available.

The U.S. enjoys a surfeit of other vaccines compared to other countries, and the AstraZeneca vaccine is not yet approved for use in the U.S.

“We do not need to use AstraZeneca in our fight against COVID over the next few months,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

She said the Food and Drug Administration will have to review doses for safety before they are exported. Senior administration officials estimated that 10 million doses could be available in the coming weeks and 50 million additional doses would come through the pipeline by the end of June.

The drugmaker said it cannot comment on the specifics of the arrangement “but as a reminder, the doses are part of AstraZeneca’s supply commitments to the U.S. government. Decisions to send U.S. supply to other countries are made by the U.S. government.”

Dr. Udayakumar called the AstraZeneca announcement “a welcome development.”

“The U.S. has been late in its global engagement, and still without a well-articulated comprehensive strategy, but I’m pleased that we are starting to see more action and commitment,” he said.

Foreign press accounts pointedly accused the Biden administration of being slow on the draw as India’s crisis worsened, only to be “jolted” into action over the weekend.

“At the time of writing, Washington was still getting its act together in terms of supplies and logistics,” the Times of India said in a Monday piece.

Communist China also had a field day, with the Global Times saying images of the Indian crisis alarmed Chinese citizens but “more shocking news to them is the U.S.’s indifference and selfishness when asked to help Indian people who are suffering.”

The aid package comes as Mr. Biden tries to foster relations with an Indo-Pacific “Quad,” which also includes Japan and Australia, to check China’s ambitions in the region.

Mr. Biden hosted Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the White House this month and offered support for his efforts to host the Summer Games in Tokyo. Australia, meanwhile, has been praised for handling COVID-19 on its own through strict travel measures and quick isolation of known infections.

Senior administration officials specifically mentioned Quad partners during a press call on the global effort to help India.

The European Union is also offering oxygen supplies and Singapore, Saudi Arabia and Russia pledged assistance.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin joined the chorus of U.S. officials expressing alarm at the situation over the weekend.

“I directed the [Defense Department]to use every resource at our disposal, within our authority, to support U.S. interagency efforts to provide India’s frontline healthcare workers with the materials they need,” he tweeted late Sunday.

The private sector is also offering help.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said he was “devastated to see the worsening Covid crisis in India” in a tweet that pledged $18 million in aid from the company.

Central African Republic marks 2 years since peace deal

Central African Republic marks 2 years since peace deal

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By JEAN FERNAND KOENA

Associated Press

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Saturday marked two years since Central African Republic’s government signed a peace deal with rebel groups in an attempt to end years of fighting, but the country faces growing violence that threatens to null the agreement.

“Instead of celebrating the dividends of peace, we are celebrating the second anniversary in a context of war,” President Faustin-Archange Touadera said. Despite the violence, he said the agreement was not void and urged parties to stay faithful to it, while assuring civilians that the army is doing what it can to reclaim rebel-held areas.

The renewed violence occurred after the constitutional court rejected former president Francois Bozize’s candidacy for December’s presidential election. A coalition of the six strongest militias backing Bozize seeks to overturn the election results. Touadera won a second term with 53% of the vote.

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Last month rebels attacked the outskirts of the capital, Bangui, killing at least two United Nations peacekeepers. It was the most serious threat to the capital since 2013, when the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power.

While the country had a few years of relative calm, intermittent fighting has continued since the peace deal with 14 rebel groups was signed. Eight still adhere to the agreement.

The U.N. has called on authorities to hold meaningful and inclusive talks with the political opposition and armed groups that have renounced the violence.

The mineral-rich nation faces an increasingly dire humanitarian crisis, with some 200,000 people fleeing their homes in less than two months, according to the U.N.

Rebels have cut off access between the capital and the Cameroonian border, where more than 1,600 trucks have been blocked since mid-December, causing food prices to spike.

“If the government fails to open the corridor in the coming weeks, the economic and humanitarian situations in the capital and the rest of the country will be more precarious, probably forcing the government to engage talks with the rebels, something it has ruled out for now,” Hans de Marie Heungoup, an expert with the International Crisis Group, told The Associated Press.

But civilians’ patience is running thin. Some say if the rebels don’t abide by the peace agreement, they should face consequences.

“If the government respects this agreement and armed groups don’t, sanctions need to be applied,” said Herve Lidamon, president of the Association for Victims of Crisis in Central African Republic. “We want to live in peace.”