Bolton: Trump lacks strategic vision, historical knowledge

Bolton: Trump lacks strategic vision, historical knowledge

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FILE – In this Sept. 30, 2019, file photo, former National security adviser John Bolton gestures while speakings at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Bolton said Monday, July 20, 2020 he believes President Donald Trump committed … more >

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By TERRY SPENCER

Associated Press

Monday, July 20, 2020

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – Former national security adviser John Bolton said Monday he believes President Donald Trump committed several impeachable offenses, but Democratic congressional leaders doomed their effort to remove him from office by rushing the process for partisan purposes.

Bolton told a Florida group in an online presentation that Trump’s business and re-election concerns drive not only his dealings with Ukraine, which led to his impeachment by the House, but also with China, Turkey and other countries.

He said he would have voted to remove the president for his Ukraine dealings, but did not delve into specifics. Bolton, a longtime adviser to Republican presidents, told the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches, a nonpartisan organization that meets monthly to hear from prominent newsmakers, that life inside Trump’s White House was like “living in a pinball machine.”

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“You need to have strategic vision. It certainly helps to have philosophical foundations and you have to think through pros and cons of different policies. Almost none of that happened with President Trump,” said Bolton, who was promoting his book, “The Room Where it Happened: A White House Memoir.”

Trump “does not have a basic philosophy. He is not a conservative Republican. I don’t mean to say he is a liberal Democrat. He is just not anything,” said Bolton, who served as Trump’s national security adviser from April 2018 to September 2019. The president says he fired Bolton; Bolton says he resigned.

Bolton, who was being interviewed by local TV anchorman Michael Williams, gave his most searing critiques regarding impeachment for congressional Democrats, saying they pushed their effort in a “rushed, inadequate, excessively partisan way.” The Democrats weren’t interested in learning the full truth, Bolton said, they just wanted to harm Trump’s re-election chances, making it impossible to get any significant Republican support.

Bolton said the Democrats’ claim that they plowed ahead knowing their effort was doomed in the Senate because it would curtail Trump’s future actions is wrong. He said Trump’s acquittal will make him less circumspect if he wins in November.

“The whole thing ended up completely backward of where the Democrats said they wanted,” Bolton said,

Bolton, 71, is a longtime foreign policy hardliner who supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq and has called for U.S. military action against Iran, North Korea and other countries over their attempts to build or procure nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. He was President George W. Bush’s United Nations ambassador for 16 months after serving as a State Department arms negotiator and in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Bolton said Trump does not read the national security briefing presidents receive daily and during the two or three weekly in-person briefings he receives from security and military officials, Trump spends most of his time talking rather than listening and asking questions.

Bolton compared that to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he said comes to meetings well-briefed, with a deep knowledge of history and a clear vision of his goals. He said Putin believes he can play Trump, who Bolton said knows little history.

“You put somebody like that on one side of the table and Donald Trump … on the other side of the table and it is not a fair fight,” Bolton said.

Bolton criticized Trump’s dealings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, saying their face-to-face meetings gave legitimacy to Kim’s rule without the United States getting any concessions on that country’s nuclear weapons program. Instead, it gave Kim two years to make his weapons program stronger, he said.

“This was not a cost-free exercise,” Bolton said of the meetings.

Bolton fired back at Republicans who criticize him for releasing his book just before the election.

“If you can’t talk about the character or incompetence of a president during a presidential election, when can you talk about it?” Bolton said.

When asked about the election, Bolton said no matter who wins, Trump or his presumed Democratic opponent Joe Biden, the U.S. will be less safe for different reasons. He did not elaborate.

He said he plans to cast a write-in vote for an undetermined Republican conservative.

China vows retaliatory sanctions against U.S. over Hong Kong

China vows retaliatory sanctions against U.S. over Hong Kong

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Pro-China supporters hold the effigy of U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese national flag outside the U.S. Consulate during a protest, in Hong Kong, Saturday, May 30, 2020. President Donald Trump has announced a series of measures aimed at China … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday announced it will launch a series of retaliatory sanctions against the U.S. after President Trump signed legislation sanctioning Chinese officials and entities for Beijing’s “repressive actions” against the people of Hong Kong.

Beijing’s sanctions will target American entities and individuals, but the foreign ministry stopped short of detailing the extent.

The foreign ministry said in a statement that it “firmly opposes and strongly condemns” the U.S. move to approve sanctions over the national security law.

SEE ALSO: Trump signs law authorizing China sanctions over Hong Kong crackdown

China will make necessary responses to protect its legitimate interests, and impose sanctions on relevant U.S. personnel and entities,” the statement read.

China last month imposed the new security law expanding Beijing’s role in controlling law enforcement and political expression in Hong Kong. The law allows Chinese intelligence and security forces to be based inside the district for the first time and seeks to address terrorism, secession and foreign interference in the city.

Beijing has maintained that the law will not impede on the city’s autonomy.

Critics, however, say it does not align with the 1997 Joint Declaration between Britain and China that bound Beijing’s communist rulers to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy as a special administrative region and to leave its liberal economy and government for 50 years under the formulation “one country, two systems.”

Mr. Trump on Tuesday signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which the House and Senate approved earlier this month by veto-proof majorities, to hold accountable those involved in cracking down on freedoms in Hong Kong.

The law authorizes the State and Treasury departments to impose sanctions on those involved in imposing the Hong Kong security law and targets banks involved in significant transactions with offenders.

Criticism of US pullout from WHO from allies, China alike

Criticism of US pullout from WHO from allies, China alike

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Germany’s Minister of Health Jens Spahn attends a press conference, at the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Thursday, June 25, 2020. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP) more >

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By JAMEY KEATEN and MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

GENEVA (AP) – Top U.S. allies on Wednesday denounced the planned pullout of the United States from the World Health Organization, with the Italian health minister calling it “wrong” and a political ally of Germany’s chancellor warning that the withdrawal could make more room on the world stage for China.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, ratcheted up the Trump administration’s months of criticism of the U.N. health agency. The U.S., which is facing criticism for its own handling of the coronavirus, leads the world in confirmed cases and deaths, a situation that President Donald Trump has sought to blame on China.

In his comments, Pompeo repeated the WHO’s alleged failures in responding to the virus’s emergence in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December and accused the agency of having “a long history of corruption and politicization” in dealing with other diseases.

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The new broadsides appeared aimed at refocusing attention during a presidential election year on the shortcomings of WHO and China early in the pandemic that has since reached nearly 11.9 million confirmed cases and a death toll approaching 545,800.

“There is a real focus on the failures that took place around Wuhan and the World Health Organization’s fundamental inability to perform its basic core mission of preventing a global pandemic spread,” Pompeo said.

The United Nations and the U.S. State Department announced Tuesday that Washington had submitted formal notification that the U.S. would withdraw from the WHO within a year. The notice made good on President Donald Trump’s vow in May to terminate U.S. participation in the WHO over its alleged missteps and kowtowing to China.

Trump’s presumptive opponent in November’s election, former Vice President Joe Biden, has vowed to rescind the decision on his first day in office, if he is elected.

Underscoring the unprecedented nature of the planned U.S. exit, the WHO doesn’t have language in its constitution about how a country could leave: The administration is mostly bound by U.S. legislation that requires a one-year notice and payment of any arrears in full before departure.

“We’ll get it right, but as the president has made very clear, we are not going to underwrite an organization that has historically been incompetent and not performed its fundamental function,” Pompeo said.

Questions were rife about how quickly the U.S. might start backing away from an organization it helped build over decades with both funding and expertise on global health issues as diverse as the fight against polio and smallpox to tobacco use, obesity and sugar consumption.

The Trump administration’s latest step to self-isolate – after pulling out of the Paris climate accord, the U.N’s human rights body and other international institutions – was bound to affect the WHO through the loss of both U.S. money and medical know-how, experts said.

Critics insist the pullout also will have a negative impact on the U.S. from losing both a voice and an ear in some of the world’s top conversations on healthcare.

WHO officials have declined to comment on the withdrawal, saying they have not directly received formal U.S. notification. They previously suggested that the loss of American expertise, such as from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, would hurt as much if not more than the loss of funds from the agency’s top contributor.

The U.S. provides WHO with more than $450 million per year and currently owes some $200 million in current and past dues.

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza called Trump’s pullout decision “serious and wrong.”

“The health crisis has shown that we need a reformed and stronger WHO, not a weaker one,” he said. Italy was the onetime epicenter of the pandemic in the West and relied heavily on WHO’s guidance as it struggled to contain the virus and treat COVID-19 patients.

His German counterpart, Jens Spahn, decried a “setback for international cooperation” on Twitter, writing that more global cooperation, not less, is needed to fight pandemics.

“European states will initiate #WHO reforms,” Spahn tweeted.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya said the WHO needs “more autonomy” and the world needs more cooperation to prepare for future pandemics.

“What we need today is more multilateralism and less national sovereignty as a guarantee for protecting our citizens, even if that means that we go against what others have said in other parts of the world,” González Laya told reporters. “Let’s not get carried away by siren songs.”

Juergen Hardt, a foreign policy spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right coalition, said that the U.S. withdrawal damages American and Western strategic interests just as China, a key WHO member state, has been taking a greater role in international institutions.

“As the biggest contributor so far, the U.S. leaves a big vacuum,” Hardt said. “It is foreseeable that China above all will try to fill this vacuum itself. That will further complicate necessary reforms in the organization.”

“It is all the more important that the EU uses its political weight and strengthens its involvement in the WHO as in other international organizations,” he added.

China also criticized the U.S. withdrawal. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian defended WHO on Wednesday and said the Trump administration’s move was “another demonstration of the U.S. pursuing unilateralism, withdrawing from groups and breaking contracts.”

Dr. David Heymann, an American who is a former senior director at WHO, said he was “very disappointed” at the U.S. decision. He said he expects Germany and other countries to step forward if the U.S. funding and expertise that has benefited WHO ends.

“As much as it would be terrible if the U.S. leaves WHO and leaves (with) that expertise it has provided throughout the years, the WHO would continue to function,” Heymann said.

Other global health experts warned that no other agency could do what WHO does and that the U.S. departure would severely weaken it – and public health more broadly.

“It is unthinkable and highly irresponsible to withdraw funding from the WHO during one of the greatest health challenges of our lifetime,” Dr. Jeremy Farrar, director of Britain’s Wellcome Trust, said.

“Health leaders in the USA bring tremendous technical expertise, leadership and influence, and their loss from the world stage will have catastrophic implications, leaving the U.S. and global health weaker as a result,” he added.

___

Lee reported from Washington. Geir Moulson in Berlin, Aritz Parra in Madrid, Nicole Winfield in Rome and Maria Cheng in London contributed to this report.

Iran issues arrest warrant for Trump that Interpol rejects

Iran issues arrest warrant for Trump that Interpol rejects

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ADDS THAT IRNA IS STATE-RUN: FILE – In this Thursday, June 25, 2020 file photo, President Donald Trump waves as he arrives on Air Force One at Austin Straubel International Airport in Green Bay, Wis. Iran has issued an arrest … more >

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By NASSER KARIMI

Associated Press

Monday, June 29, 2020

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran has issued an arrest warrant and asked Interpol for help in detaining President Donald Trump and dozens of others it believes carried out the U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad, a local prosecutor reportedly said Monday.

Interpol later said it wouldn’t consider Iran’s request, meaning Trump faces no danger of arrest. However, the charges underscore the heightened tensions between Iran and the United States since Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

Tehran prosecutor Ali Alqasimehr said Trump and 35 others whom Iran accuses of involvement in the Jan. 3 strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad face “murder and terrorism charges,” the state-run IRNA news agency reported.

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Alqasimehr did not identify anyone else sought other than Trump, but stressed that Iran would continue to pursue his prosecution even after his presidency ends.

Alqasimehr also was quoted as saying that Iran requested a “red notice” be put out for Trump and the others, which represents the highest-level arrest request issued by Interpol. Local authorities generally make the arrests on behalf of the country that requests it. The notices cannot force countries to arrest or extradite suspects, but can put government leaders on the spot and limit suspects’ travel.

After receiving a request, Interpol meets by committee and discusses whether or not to share the information with its member states. Interpol has no requirement for making any of the notices public, though some do get published on its website.

Interpol later issued a statement saying its guidelines for notices forbids it from “any intervention or activities of a political” nature.

Interpol “would not consider requests of this nature,” it said.

Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, dismissed the arrest warrant announcement during a news conference in Saudi Arabia on Monday.

“It’s a propaganda stunt that no one takes seriously and makes the Iranians look foolish,” Hook said.

The U.S. killed Soleimani, who oversaw the Revolutionary Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force, and others in the January strike near Baghdad International Airport. It came after months of rising tensions between the two countries. Iran retaliated with a ballistic missile strike targeting American troops in Iraq.

___

Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

EU finalizing virus ‘safe list’; U.S. unlikely to make the cut

EU finalizing virus ‘safe list’; U.S. unlikely to make the cut

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In this Monday, May 25, 2020, file photo, people stroll at Trocadero square near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. European Union envoys are close to finalizing a list of countries whose citizens will be allowed back into Europe once it … more >

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By Lorne Cook

Associated Press

Monday, June 29, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union is edging toward finalizing a list of countries whose citizens will be allowed to enter Europe again in coming days, with Americans almost certain to be excluded in the short term due to the number of U.S. coronavirus cases.

Spain’s foreign minister said that the list could contain 15 countries that are not EU members and whose citizens would be allowed to visit from July 1. EU diplomats confirmed that the list would be made public on Tuesday. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because the procedure is ongoing and politically very sensitive.

EU envoys in Brussels worked over the weekend to narrow down the exact criteria for countries to be included, mostly centered on their ability to manage the spread of the disease. Importantly, the countries are also expected to drop any travel restrictions they have imposed on European citizens.

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The number of confirmed cases in the United States has surged over the past week, and President Donald Trump also suspended the entry of all people from Europe’s ID check-free travel zone in a decree in March, making it highly unlikely that U.S. citizens would qualify.

Infection rates in Brazil, Russia and India are high, too, and their nationals are also unlikely to make the cut.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya said the EU is considering whether to accept travelers from China if Beijing lifts restrictions on European citizens. Morocco is another possibility, although its government doesn’t plan to open borders until July 10.

She said she wasn’t aware of pressure from the United States for the EU to reopen travel to its nationals, adding that countries have been chosen according to their coronavirus statistics – whether similar or not to that in the EU – trends of contagion and how reliable their data is.

“This is not an exercise to be nice or unfriendly to other countries, this is an exercise of self-responsibility,” she told Spain’s Cadena SER radio on Monday.

The safe country list would be reviewed every 14 days, with new countries being added and some possibly dropping off, depending on how the spread of the disease is being managed. Non-EU nationals already in the bloc wouldn’t be affected.

More than 15 million Americans are estimated to travel to Europe annually, and any delay would be a further blow to virus-ravaged economies and tourism sectors on both sides of the Atlantic. Around 10 million Europeans are thought to cross the Atlantic for vacations and business each year.

The 27 EU nations and four other countries that are part of Europe’s “Schengen area” – a 26-nation bloc where goods and people move freely without document checks – appear on track to reopen borders between each other from Wednesday.

Once that happens and the green light is given, restrictions on nonessential travel to Europe from the outside world, which were imposed in March to halt new virus cases from entering, would gradually be lifted.

Brussels fears that opening up to countries outside in an ad hoc way could lead to the reintroduction of border controls between nations inside the Schengen area, threatening once again Europe’s cherished principle of free movement, which allows people and goods to cross borders without checks.

___

Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.

Pompeo says US, EU working to resume trans-Atlantic travel

Pompeo says US, EU working to resume trans-Atlantic travel

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference at the State Department, Wednesday, June 24, 2020 in Washington. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP) more >

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By LORNE COOK

Associated Press

Thursday, June 25, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo played down concerns Thursday that the European Union might refuse to allow Americans into the 27-nation bloc as it considers lifting restrictions on overseas travelers starting next week, due to the spread of the coronavirus in the United States.

“It’s a challenge for all of us to decide how and when to open up our economies and our societies. Everybody’s trying to figure that out,” Pompeo said during a videoconference organized by the German Marshall Fund think tank. “We’re working with our European counterparts to get that right.”

European nations appear on track to reopen their borders between each other by July 1. Their envoys to Brussels are debating what virus-related criteria should apply when lifting entry restrictions on travelers from outside the EU that were imposed in March.

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As the criteria are narrowed down, a list of countries whose citizens might be allowed in is being drawn up. The list would be updated every 14 days based on how the coronavirus is spreading around the world.

The EU’s executive commission recommends that “travel restrictions should not be lifted as regards third countries where the situation is worse” than the average in the 27 EU member countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

That is likely to rule out people living in the United States, where new coronavirus infections have surged to the highest level in two months, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Beyond epidemiological concerns, any country being considered would first be expected to lift its own travel restrictions on visitors from all 31 European nations.

This would also rule out the U.S. In a March 11 decree, President Donald Trump suspended the entry of all people from Europe’s ID check-free travel area. More than 10 million Europeans usually visit the United States each year.

But Pompeo said it’s important for everyone to help “get our global economy back going again.”

“We’ve denied travel to Europe and vice-versa. That’s the posture that we all sit in now, and I think we’re all taking seriously the need to figure out how to get this up,” he said. “We’ll work to get this right. We want to make sure that it’s health-based, science-based.”

The European Commission on Thursday insisted that it’s not trying to target any country or that the list might be politicized as tourism-reliant countries around Europe push to get their borders open again.

“The European Union has an internal process to determine from which countries it would be safe to accept travelers,” spokesman Eric Mamer said, adding that the EU’s decisions are “based on health criteria.”

___

AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Pompeo: China uses disinformation to split Europe, US

Pompeo: China uses disinformation to split Europe, US

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FILE – In this June 11, 2020, file photo, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the State Department in Washington. The Trump administration is ramping up pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad and his inner circle with a raft … more >

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By JAN M. OLSEN

Associated Press

Friday, June 19, 2020

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that China is behind a “fear in Europe” that Europeans should choose between the United States and China by “pushing disinformation and malicious cyber campaigns … to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Europe.”

“It’s the Chinese Communist Party that’s forcing the choice,” Pompeo said during an online conference on democracy held in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Pompeo who earlier this week met with a senior Chinese official in Hawaii where he held closed-door talks as relations between the two nations have plummeted over numerous disputes, said “Europe faces a China challenge” as does the rest of the world.

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Washington and Beijing are at odds over trade, China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, human rights, the status of Hong Kong and increasing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea. China has become a key issue in the 2020 presidential campaign with President Donald Trump and his supporters seeking to make the administration’s tough stance with Beijing a main foreign policy selling point.

Last month, Trump and Pompeo announced that the U.S. would be rescinding special trade and economic privileges it had extended to Hong Kong after the former British territory reverted to Chinese control in 1997. The move was in response to Beijing’s decision to impose strict new national security laws limiting the right to free speech and assembly similar to those on the mainland.

Pompeo also noted that the Chinese Communist Party “wants you to throw away the progress we in the free world have made, through NATO and other institutions – formal and informal – and adopt a new set of rules and norms that accommodate Beijing.”

However, if the party “wants to rise, they need to do so on a Western set of rules … then the world will be a better place,” hinting the solution was democracy and giving Chinese people liberties.

Also speaking at the online event was Pompeo’s predecessor, former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who lashed out at Trump, saying “every country in the world” should care about access to Chinese markets, hampered by because of trade restrictions.

“Donald Trump is right to raise that issue (with Beijing). But that is all he has done. He raised it and then he walked away from it. And now we see in John Bolton’s book, he just didn’t walk away from it. He was ready to trade help for his re-election for buying more goods,” Kerry said. “And he said if you buy more goods that is the end of the trade issue. No, it is not the end of the trade issue. So the president’s policy is not correct.”

Federal funds obtained to send absentee ballot form requests

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By FARNOUSH AMIRI

Associated Press

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Every registered voter in Ohio will receive an absentee ballot request form in the mail through the use of federal funding, in a move some officials say could help mail-in voting in the critical battleground state go more smoothly in November than it went during the primary.

All 7.8 million registered Ohioans now have the option to mail in their ballot for the November election, Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose said.

“Sending the request – not the ballot – helps voters participate in the election and means each registered voter in Ohio can continue to choose one of three options available to them – early voting, absentee voting by mail, or voting in person on Election Day,” the elections chief said in a release.

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Absentee ballot requests have been sent out in every general election in Ohio since 2012. The only difference this year is the use of federal coronavirus aid funds to send the ballots, which was authorized Monday by the state’s Controlling Board.

The estimated cost of mailing the request forms is around $1.5 million, which will be covered entirely through federal funds, not state dollars, LaRose said.

Hours before voting in Ohio’s March 17 primary was set to start, officials postponed it amid concerns attendance at polling places would contribute to the coronavirus pandemic.

Shortly after the primary was rescheduled, the Republican-controlled state Legislature prevented LaRose, a supporter of online absentee applications, from mailing similar forms for the April 28 vote. Their emergency legislation instead required his office to mail voters a postcard explaining all the options for casting a ballot.

The primary was moved to mostly absentee voting despite President Donald Trump and fellow Republicans at the state level’s claims about the largely debunked notion that universal vote by mail will lead to fraud.

Around 1.9 million voters requested an absentee ballot for the primary, leading to delays in arrivals and frustration that forced some to vote in person despite the potential health risks.

The request forms will be mailed out around Labor Day and can be returned by those who wish to vote by mail even as the state continues to reopen after being in lockdown since mid-March.

LaRose said additional funds will be used to ensure a safe and clean environment for those who choose to vote in person.

The deadline to register to vote in the November election is Oct. 5 and voters have until three days before the election to request an absentee ballot.

___

Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Pompeo to meet top Chinese official in Hawaii amid tensions

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks as Attorney General William Barr listens, during a joint briefing, Thursday, June 11, 2020 at the State Department in Washington, on an executive order signed by President Donald Trump aimed at the International Criminal … more >

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By MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is making a brief trip to Hawaii for closed-door talks with a senior Chinese official, as relations between the two nations have plummeted over numerous disputes.

The State Department said Pompeo and his deputy Stephen Biegun left Tuesday for Hawaii but offered no additional detail about his plans. People familiar with the trip said Pompeo and Biegun will meet on Wednesday with a Chinese delegation led by Yang Jiechi, the Chinese Communist Party’s top foreign affairs official.

The private discussions are set to take place at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu and will cover the wide range of issues that have set the world’s two largest economies on a collision path, according to the people familiar with the trip, who were not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

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Washington and Beijing are at odds over trade, China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, human rights, the status of Hong Kong and increasing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea. China has become key element in the 2020 presidential campaign with President Donald Trump and his supporters seeking to make the administration’s tough stance with Beijing a main foreign policy selling point.

Last month, Trump and Pompeo announced that the U.S. would be rescinding special trade and economic privileges it had extended to Hong Kong after the former British territory reverted to Chinese control in 1997. The move was in response to Beijing’s decision to impose strict new national security laws limiting the right to free speech and assembly similar to those on the mainland.

And, since last year, both sides have ramped up hostile rhetoric against the other and taken reciprocal steps to expel journalists and restrict diplomats’ ability to travel.

The presence of Biegun, who is also the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, on the trip suggested that the stalemate in the Trump administration’s diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang would also be on the agenda.

Earlier Tuesday, North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office building just north of the heavily armed border with South Korea, in a carefully choreographed, largely symbolic display of anger that puts pressure on Washington and Seoul as nuclear diplomacy remains deadlocked. The last face-to-face meeting between the two sides was in October outside Stockholm, Sweden.

In a brief statement acknowledging the destruction of the office, the State Department said “the United States fully supports the ROK’s efforts on inter-Korean relations and urges the DPRK to refrain from further counterproductive actions.” ROK refers to South Korea’s official name, the Republic of Korea, and DPRK is shorthand for the country’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The destruction came after the North marked the two-year anniversary of Trump’s first meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last week with defiant statements vowing never again to give the president anything he could present as a foreign policy success without significant concessions.

On sad anniversary, few to mourn the D-Day dead in Normandy

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In this Thursday, June 6, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and Brigitte Macron watch a flyover during a ceremony to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day at the American Normandy cemetery, … more >

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By Raf Casert

Associated Press

Friday, June 5, 2020

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France (AP) — At least the dead will always be there.

All too many have been, for 76 years since that fateful June 6 on France’s Normandy beaches, when allied troops in 1944 turned the course of World War II and went on to defeat fascism in Europe in one of the most remarkable feats in military history.

Forgotten they will never be. Revered, yes. But Saturday’s anniversary will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping almost everyone away — from government leaders to frail veterans who might not get another chance for a final farewell to their unlucky comrades.

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Rain and wind are also forecast, after weeks of warm, sunny weather.

“The sadness is almost too much, because there is no one,” said local guide Adeline James. “Plus you have their stories. The history is sad and it’s even more overwhelming now between the weather, the (virus) situation and, and, and.”

The locals in this northwestern part of France have come out year after year to show their gratitude for the soldiers from the United States, Britain, Canada and other countries who liberated them from Adolf Hitler’s Nazi forces.

Despite the lack of international crowds, David Pottier still went out to raise American flags in the Calvados village of Mosles, population 356, which was liberated by allied troops the day after the landing on five Normandy beachheads.

In a forlorn scene, a gardener tended to the parched grass around the small monument for the war dead, while Pottier, the local mayor, was getting the French tricolor to flutter next to the Stars and Stripes.

“We have to recognize that they came to die in a foreign land,” Pottier said. “We miss the GIs,” he said of the U.S. soldiers.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc across the world, infecting 6.6 million people, killing over 391,000 and devastating economies. It poses a particular threat to the elderly – like the surviving D-Day veterans who are in their late nineties or older.

It has also affected the younger generations who turn out every year to mark the occasion. Most have been barred from traveling to the windswept coasts of Normandy.

Some 160,000 soldiers made the perilous crossing from England that day in atrocious conditions, storming dunes which they knew were heavily defended by German troops determined to hold their positions.

Somehow, they succeeded. Yet they left a trail of thousands of casualties who have been mourned for generations since.

Last year stood out, with U.S. President Donald Trump joining his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron at the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach. A smattering of veterans were honored with the highest accolades. All across the beaches of Normandy tens of thousands came from across the globe to pay their respects to the dead and laud the surviving soldiers.

The acrid smell of wartime-era jeep exhaust fumes and the rumble of old tanks filled the air as parades of vintages vehicles went from village to village. The tiny roads between the dunes, hedges and apple orchards were clogged for hours, if not days.

Heading into the D-Day remembrance weekend this year, only the salty brine coming off the ocean on Omaha Beach hits the nostrils, the shrieks of seagulls pierce the ears and a sense of desolation hangs across the region’s country roads.

“Last year this place was full with jeeps, trucks, people dressed up as soldiers,” said Eric Angely, who sat on a seawall, dressed in a World War II uniform after taking his restored U.S. Army jeep out for a ride.

“This year, there is nothing. It’s just me now, my dog and my jeep,” the local Frenchman said.

Three quarters of a century and the horrific wartime slaughter of D-Day help put things in perspective. Someday the COVID-19 pandemic, too, will pass, and people will turn out to remember both events that shook the world.

“We don’t have a short memory around here,” Pottier said with a wistful smile.

___

Virginia Mayo contributed.

Netanyahu and settlers clash over West Bank annexation plans

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Palestinians burn pictures of U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a protest against Trump’s mideast initiative, in the West Bank city of Nablus, Saturday, May 30, 2020.(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed) more >

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Associated Press

Thursday, June 4, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has harshly criticized Jewish West Bank settler leaders for disparaging President Donald Trump over what they perceive to be his less than adequate plan allowing Israel to annex parts of the West Bank.

Despite what is widely viewed as a pro-Israel peace plan, settler leaders have voiced concern that the maps they have seen leave many settlements as isolated enclaves. They also reject any recognition of a Palestinian state, as outlined in the American plan, and have pressed Netanyahu to make changes.

On Wednesday, David Elhayani, chairman of the umbrella Yesha Council representing the settlers, told the Haaretz daily that the plan proved Trump was “not a friend of Israel.”

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Netanyahu, having just met settler leaders to hear their grievances, lashed back.

“President Trump is a great friend of Israel‘s. He has led historic moves for Israel’s benefit,” Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday. “It is regrettable that instead of showing gratitude, there are those who are denying his friendship.”

Speaker of Parliament Yariv Levin, who has been involved in implementing the plan, went even further, calling Elhayani’s remarks “rude and irresponsible.” He said they exhibited an ungratefulness that was particularly damaging at a time when there was “an important effort to advance the historic process of applying sovereignty” to parts of the West Bank.

Netanyahu has announced that he will annex parts of the West Bank, including the strategic Jordan Valley and dozens of Jewish settlements, in line with Trump’s Mideast plan. He has signaled he will begin moving forward with annexation next month.

The U.S. plan envisions leaving about one third of the West Bank, which Israel captured in 1967, under permanent Israeli control, while granting the Palestinians expanded autonomy in the remainder of the territory. The Palestinians, who seek all of the West Bank as part of an independent state, have rejected the plan, saying it unfairly favors Israel.

They have already cut off key security ties with Israel and say they are no longer bound to agreements signed. On Thursday, the Palestinians announced they would refuse to accept the tax money Israel routinely collects for them. The moves have raised concerns of a return to violence if the plan is actually carried out.

The annexation plan has also come under harsh criticism from some of Israel’s closest allies, who say that unilaterally redrawing the Mideast map would destroy any lingering hopes for establishing a Palestinian state and reaching a two-state peace agreement.

The Latest: Los Angeles County shortens curfew

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In this Monday, June 1, 2020 photo, protesters prepare to observe nine minutes of silence on the Burnside Bridge in Portland, Ore. Portland will not impose a curfew on Tuesday night for the first time in four days after several … more >

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By The Associated Press

Associated Press

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Latest on the May 25 death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who pleaded for air as a white police officer pressed a knee on his neck:

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– Minneapolis police officer to face charge of second-degree murder, other officers to be charged for first time.

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– Washington mayor preparing for legal challenge to President Trump over security operations in District of Columbia.

– Los Angeles County curfew cut four hours.

National Guard probes low-flying helicopter during DC protests.

___

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County has ordered another overnight curfew, but it will be four hours shorter.

The curfew will begin at 9 p.m. Wednesday and end at 5 a.m. Thursday. Previous curfews ran from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

A county statement says officials are assessing public safety needs on a daily basis.

A few municipalities in the sprawling county continue to have stricter curfews. Huge demonstrations in Los Angeles on Tuesday were peaceful, and subsequent arrests were only for curfew violations.

___

DETROIT – Another 127 people were arrested Tuesday night during protests in Detroit, Police Chief James Craig said Wednesday.

Most of the arrests were for violating the city’s curfew. At least one person was charged with misdemeanor resisting police or disturbing the peace. Of those arrested, Craig said 80 live outside the city and six show addresses in Maryland, California, Washington D.C., and New York.

Dozens of people have been arrested over five days of demonstrations, with police reporting that the majority of those charged were from outside the city.

Craig says many protesters have “another agenda, and it’s not to celebrate the life of Mr. Floyd.”

___

LAS VEGAS — A union president says a Las Vegas police officer gravely wounded when shot during a protest against George Floyd’s death successfully underwent surgery to remove a bullet from his neck.

The 29-year-old officer was shot Monday night as police tried to disperse protesters outside a hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

Protesters dispersed Tuesday night without major reported problems after a demonstration that lasted nearly five hours.

___

MINNEAPOLIS – Prosecutors have charged a Minneapolis police officer accused of pressing his knee against George Floyd’s neck with second-degree murder, and for the first time leveled charges against three other officers who were at the scene.

The officer, Derek Chauvin, was fired May 26 and initially charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Attorney General Keith Ellison on Wednesday charged the other officers with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter. The officers were also fired but weren’t charged.

Floyd’s family and protesters had demanded that all four policemen be charged.

___

DETROIT – Leaders of Detroit’s automakers and other business executives are pledging to stand with the black community and support peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd and police treatment of African Americans.

The group includes the heads of General Motors, Ford, Fiat-Chrysler North America, Quicken Loans and Ilitch Holdings. The statement Wednesday from the group follows demonstrations and unrest around the U.S. since Floyd’s May 25 death.

The group also said it “condemns the acts of injustice” in the Feb. 23 fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery by a white father and son in Glynn County, Georgia, and the March 13 shooting death of Breonna Taylor by police in her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment.

___

STOCKHOLM – Thousands of people in the Nordic countries have gathered in support of protesters in the U.S. over the death of George Floyd.

With signs reading “I can’t breathe” or “Make racism bad again” more than a thousand Swedes met despite bans on gatherings of over 50 people due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Stockholm protest was mostly peaceful, but police have confirmed the use of pepper spray and one arrest, and that reports of isolated confrontations continue.

In Finland’s capital Helsinki, around 3,000 people attended a protest that dispersed an hour later as the number of participants exceeded the 500 maximum currently allowed under Finland’s coronavirus gathering restrictions.

___

WASHINGTON – Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser says her administration is preparing for a potential legal challenge to President Donald Trump’s authority over security operations in the District of Columbia.

Trump directed what he characterized as a full-scale federal response on Monday night to quell protests over the death of George Floyd. That included forces from a variety of federal agencies and the entire 1,700-strong contingent of the DC National Guard. Military helicopters repeatedly buzzed low over protesters, kicking up clouds of debris, and guardsmen armed with long guns were stationed throughout the city.

Bowser said Wednesday that she had had consulted with Washington Attorney General Karl Racine on the issue, adding that her administration had only requested about 100 unarmed guardsmen.

___

LIBERTY, Mo. – St. Louis County Executive Sam Page on Wednesday accused President Donald Trump of “fanning the flames” of violence amid days of unrest across the nation after the death of George Floyd.

Although protests Tuesday night in St. Louis County were calm, Page’s comments came after four St. Louis police officers were shot and a retired city police captain was killed during violence Monday night and early Tuesday,

Page said at a news conference “the president has fanned the flames, treating this unrest as if it were a reality show.” He said criminals have “hijacked” peaceful protests that rightly denounce decades of law enforcement mistreatment of minorities.

St. Louis police said more than 70 businesses in the city were ransacked or broken into, including a pawn shop where former police Capt. David Dorn was fatally shot during a break-in.

On Wednesday, Trump posted a message on Twitter praising Dorn, who served 38 years on the force.

___

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Members of the Minnesota People of Color and Indigenous Caucus along with Democratic leaders of the Minnesota House are calling for policing reform during the upcoming special legislative session.

The proposals by state lawmakers include bolstering the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s independence in police killing investigations, citizen oversight of law enforcement, and removing a state ban on local residency requirements by officers.

Caucus members are calling for immediate access to legislative funding to help rebuild Minneapolis and St. Paul communities damaged by riots following the death of George Floyd. The caucus also called for the arrests of all officers involved in Floyd’s death.

The Minnesota Legislature is expected to convene for a special session by June 12 to extend the emergency declared by Gov. Tim Walz in mid-March in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

___

PORTLAND, Ore. – The police chief in Portland, Oregon issued a plea Wednesday to the city’s residents to help its leaders stop the violence that has engulfed the city for five consecutive nights in demonstrations over the death of George Floyd.

Chief Jami Resch said at a news conference that a peaceful march and rally Tuesday that attracted more than 10,000 people was marred when several hundred people broke off late and confronted police officers guarding a building that holds police headquarters and a sheriff’s detention center.

The repeated nights of mayhem have rattled even liberal Portland, which has such a storied history of protest that the late president George H. W. Bush dubbed it “Little Beirut.”

___

ATHENS – Greek police have fired tear gas to disperse youths who attacked them outside the U.S. Embassy in Athens during a protest over the killing of George Floyd.

Police said the violence Wednesday came towards the end of an otherwise peaceful demonstration by about 4,000 people that was organized by left-wing groups and anarchists. Protesters at the tail-end of the march threw petrol bombs and stones at police.

No injuries or arrests were reported.

A similar protest is scheduled in Athens on Thursday.

___

ROTTERDAM – A protest demonstration in the Netherlands had to be cut short because crowds became too big and would have made social distancing measures impossible.

Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb had already moved the protest over the death of George Floyd to a more open space instead of the city center. But as thousands sought to converge and the crowds swelled at the site near the Maas River, authorities first called on people to stay away and then moved in early to end the peaceful protest.

___

POZNAN, Poland – Dozens of young people walked in an anti-racist march on Wednesday in Poland’s western city of Poznan in response to the death of George Floyd.

Mostly clad in black, the protesters carried signs with “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” written on them. They walked to the U.S. Consulate and then to a downtown square where they lay face down on the ground, just like the handcuffed Floyd lay pleading for air as a police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for several minutes.

Also Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher, apologized on Twitter to Warsaw residents whose flowers and candles placed before the embassy in Floyd’s memory had been removed. Mosbacher called it a “misunderstanding.”

___

BERLIN – The U.N.‘s top human rights official called for grievances to be heard on “endemic and structural racism” at the heart of the protests in the United States.

Michelle Bachelet, the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, says addressing those grievances is necessary for the U.S. to “move on from its tragic history of racism and violence.”

While calling for protesters to express their views peacefully, she also urged U.S. leaders to unequivocally condemn racism and “reflect on what has driven people to boiling point.”

Bachelet’s office also cited “at least 200 reported incidents of journalists covering the protests being physically attacked, intimidated or arbitrarily arrested, despite their press credentials being clearly visible.”

___

SEATTLE – Large crowds marched through Seattle and demonstrations were mostly peaceful until late in the night, when Seattle police used tear gas and flash-bang grenades to disperse a crowd near a police precinct.

Seattle police say some people in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood began throwing objects at officers. There were no immediate reports of arrests.

On Tuesday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan addressed hundreds of demonstrators and encouraged them to keep marching and keep it peaceful.

“Your voices holding me accountable are important and you should continue to raise them,” Durkan told those assembled outside the city’s Emergency Operations Center downtown. Durkan and protest leaders planned to meet Wednesday.

___

ATLANTA – Large, peaceful protests in Atlanta were marked by pockets of confrontation between protesters and police ahead of the curfew on Tuesday night.

Hundreds lingered on the streets of downtown ahead of the 9 p.m. curfew imposed by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Authorities used armored vehicles to form a cordon at the state capitol.

Near Centennial Olympic Park, where much of the protests and unrest have centered, National Guard troops fired tear gas and moved in on a group shortly after curfew fell. The crowd quickly dispersed, and television footage showed police leading some people away in zip ties.

Police say 52 arrests were made Tuesday, bringing the total arrests in Atlanta to 439 over five days of protests since Friday.

___

PHOENIX – Thousands of people participated in peaceful protests on Tuesday night with no arrests, according to police.

One crowd marched in the heart of downtown and another gathered at the state capitol about a mile to the west.

The protests ended early in the evening, with most participants leaving by the 8 p.m. start of a statewide curfew ordered Sunday by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

It was the sixth consecutive night of protests, with no reported arrests in Phoenix for the second straight night.

___

MADRID – Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez has called the response of the U.S. government to the outcry over police brutality and injustice against African Americans “authoritarian.”

Sánchez referred to the wave of demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s killing on May 25 in Minneapolis when he spoke during debate on the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak at the Spanish parliament’s Lower House.

Sánchez, who leads a left-wing coalition, says “I share and stand in solidarity with the demonstrations that are taking place in the United States.”

___

WASHINGTON – The Washington D.C. National Guard says it will investigate the use of one of its helicopters to make an aggressive “show of force” against protesters near the White House on Monday.

The commanding general of the D.C. Guard, Maj. Gen. William Walker, says in a brief written statement Wednesday that he directed the investigation. The helicopter, normally designated for use in medical evacuations, hovered low enough to create a deafening noise and spray protesters with rotor wash from the aircraft.

Williams says the Guard is dedicated to the safety of its fellow citizens and their right to peacefully protest.

He says, “This is our home, and we are dedicated to the safety and security of our fellow citizens of the District and their right to safely and peacefully protest.”

Trudeau says Russia won’t be included in the G7

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Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill for a meeting of the Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic in Ottawa, Ontario on Wednesday, May 27, 2020. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press … more >

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By ROB GILLIES

Associated Press

Monday, June 1, 2020

TORONTO (AP) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that Russia will not be included in the Group of 7 nations, disagreeing with U.S. President Donald Trump, who said he plans to invite Russia.

Trudeau noted Russia was excluded from the group after it annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

“Its continued disrespect and flaunting of international rules and norms is why it remains outside of the G7 and why it will continue to remain out,” Trudeau said.

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Trump, meanwhile, called Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday to tell him about his proposal to convene an international summit that would involve Russia, the Kremlin said.

Trump said Saturday he will postpone until the fall a meeting of the G7 leading industrialized nations that he had planned to hold next month, and plans to invite Russia, Australia, South Korea and India. Trump told reporters that he feels the current makeup of the group is “very outdated” and doesn’t properly represent “what’s going on in the world.”’

The G7 members are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. The group’s presidency rotates annually among member countries. Trump has repeatedly advocated for expanding the group to again include Russia.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution in December 2019 that supported Russia’s previous expulsion from the annual gathering. Russia had been included in the gathering of the world’s most advanced economies since 1997, but was suspended in 2014 following its invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.

Trudeau said countries in the larger Group of 20 don’t always agree but that the G7 is for like minded countries and he hopes that continues.

Democrats to interview ousted State Department watchdog

Democrats to interview ousted State Department watchdog

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FILE – In this Dec. 10, 2014, file photo Steve Linick, State Department Inspector General, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. A senior department official said President Donald Trump removed Linick from his job as State Department’s inspector general on … more >

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By MARY CLARE JALONICK and MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

Saturday, May 30, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) – Members of three House and Senate committees will interview former State Department Inspector General Steve Linick on Wednesday as part of an investigation by House Democrats into his abrupt firing by President Donald Trump.

Linick will speak to members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, according to two congressional aides working on the investigation who requested anonymity to discuss the closed-door meeting.

Democrats announced Friday that they are expanding their probe into Linick’s firing earlier this month with a series of interviews. The investigation is part of a larger effort by Democrats and some Republicans to find out more about Trump’s recent moves to sideline several independent government watchdogs.

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The Democrats plan to interview multiple officials in the administration who may have more information about Linick’s dismissal on May 15, including whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recommended the firing for retaliatory reasons. Pompeo has denied Linick’s firing was retaliatory but has not given specific reasons for his dismissal.

The investigation is being led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Republicans on those panels will also be invited to question Linick and other witnesses.

“If Secretary Pompeo pushed for Mr. Linick’s dismissal to cover up his own misconduct, that would constitute an egregious abuse of power and a clear attempt to avoid accountability,” the Democrats said in a joint statement Friday.

The committees said they will release transcripts shortly after each interview.

It’s unclear whether Linick will come to Capitol Hill in person or appear virtually for the transcribed interviews. The House will be out of session over the coming week as lawmakers work from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

The committee has asked several other State Department officials to sit for interviews in the probe, including Undersecretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao, Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper, Pompeo’s executive secretary Lisa Kenna and acting State Department legal adviser Marik String, according to the congressional aides.

Democrats and some Republicans have pushed the administration for more answers about the firings, but the White House has provided few, simply stating the dismissals were well within Trump’s authority.

Pompeo said after the firing that he had been concerned about the inspector general’s work for some time and that he regretted not calling for his dismissal earlier. He said he recommended to Trump that Linick be terminated.

Pompeo told reporters that he was unaware of any investigation into allegations that he may have mistreated staffers by instructing them to run personal errands for him and his wife such as walking his dog and picking up dry cleaning and takeout food. Thus, Pompeo said, the move could not have been retaliatory.

Pompeo did acknowledge that he was aware of an investigation into his decision last year to bypass congressional objections to approve a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia because he had answered written questions about it posed by Linick’s office. He maintained he did not know the scope or scale of the investigation.

Engel and Menendez have been demanding answers and documents from the State Department and Pompeo personally for months on a variety of topics that goes far beyond Linick’s dismissal.

After complaining for more than a year that Pompeo and his staff have either refused to respond or provided only perfunctory answers to questions posed on personnel and policy matters, the two Democrats and their Democratic committee colleagues have teamed up to try to force a complete explanation from Pompeo and the White House as to why Trump fired Linick.

Engel and Menendez earlier demanded that administration officials preserve and turn over all records related to Linick’s dismissal. They said they have received no information so far.

Linick is one of several inspectors general whom Trump has removed from office, sparking outrage among Democrats who say the administration is undermining government accountability. Linick was an Obama administration appointee whose office was critical of what it saw as political bias in the State Department’s current management but had also taken issue with Democratic appointees.

He played a small role in Trump’s impeachment last year. In October, Linick turned over documents to House investigators that he had received from a close Pompeo associate that contained information from debunked conspiracy theories about Ukraine’s role in the 2016 U.S. election. Democrats were probing Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democrats.

Linick is the second inspector general to be fired who was involved with the impeachment process. Michael Atkinson, the former inspector general for the intelligence community, triggered the impeachment probe when he alerted Congress about a whistleblower complaint that described a call between Trump and Ukraine’s president last summer. Trump fired Atkinson in April, saying he had lost confidence in him.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has said the White House is legally required to provide more answers to Congress about the firings and gave Trump a deadline to give them. But in a letter to Grassley this week, the administration offered no new details about why they were let go.

The response from White House counsel Pat Cipollone said that Trump has the authority to remove inspectors general, that he appropriately alerted Congress and that he selected qualified officials as replacements.

The president also moved to replace the chief watchdog at the Department of Health and Human Services, Christi Grimm, who testified that her office was moving ahead with new reports and audits on the department’s response to the coronavirus pandemic despite Trump’s public criticism of her.

In addition, Trump demoted acting Defense Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, effectively removing him as head of a special board to oversee auditing of the coronavirus economic relief package. Fine later resigned.

Democrats expand probe into firing of State Dept. watchdog

Democrats expand probe into firing of State Dept. watchdog

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FILE – In this Oct. 2, 2019, file photo State Department Inspector General Steve Linick leaves a meeting in a secure area at the Capitol in Washington. A senior department official said President Donald Trump removed Linick from his job … more >

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By MARY CLARE JALONICK

Associated Press

Friday, May 29, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) – Democrats announced Friday that they are expanding their investigation into the firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, part of an effort to find out more about President Donald Trump’s moves to sideline several independent government watchdogs.

The Democrats plan to interview officials in the administration who may have more information about Linick’s abrupt dismissal on May 15, including about whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recommended the firing for retaliatory reasons. Pompeo has denied Linick’s firing was retaliatory but has not given specific reasons for his dismissal.

“If Secretary Pompeo pushed for Mr. Linick’s dismissal to cover up his own misconduct, that would constitute an egregious abuse of power and a clear attempt to avoid accountability,” the Democrats said in a joint statement.

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The investigation is being led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They said they will release transcripts shortly after each interview.

Democrats and some Republicans have pushed the administration for more answers about the firings, but the White House has provided few, simply stating the dismissals were well within Trump’s authority.

Pompeo said after the firing that he had been concerned about the inspector general’s work for some time and that he regretted not calling for his dismissal earlier. He said he recommended to Trump that Linick be terminated.

Linick is one of several inspectors general whom Trump has removed from office, sparking outrage among Democrats who say the administration is undermining government accountability. Linick was an Obama administration appointee whose office was critical of what it saw as political bias in the State Department’s current management but had also taken issue with Democratic appointees.

He also played a small role in Trump’s impeachment last year. In October, Linick turned over documents to House investigators that he had received from a close Pompeo associate that contained information from debunked conspiracy theories about Ukraine’s role in the 2016 U.S. election. Democrats were probing Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democrats.

Linick is the second inspector general to be fired who was involved with the impeachment process. Michael Atkinson, the former inspector general for the intelligence community, triggered the impeachment probe when he alerted Congress about a whistleblower complaint that described a call between Trump and Ukraine’s president last summer. Trump fired Atkinson in April, saying he had lost confidence in him.

Engel and Menendez earlier demanded that administration officials preserve and turn over all records related to Linick’s dismissal. They said they have received no information so far.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has said the White House is legally required to provide more answers to Congress about the firings and gave Trump a deadline to give them. But in a letter to Grassley this week, the administration offered no new details about why they were let go.

The response from White House counsel Pat Cipollone said that Trump has the authority to remove inspectors general, that he appropriately alerted Congress and that he selected qualified officials as replacements.

“When the President loses confidence in an inspector general, he will exercise his constitutional right and duty to remove that officer – as did President Reagan when he removed inspectors general upon taking office and as did President Obama when he was in office,” Cipollone wrote.

The president also moved to replace the chief watchdog at the Department of Health and Human Services, Christi Grimm, who testified that her office was moving ahead with new reports and audits on the department’s response to the coronavirus pandemic despite Trump’s public criticism of her.

In addition, Trump demoted acting Defense Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, effectively removing him as head of a special board to oversee auditing of the coronavirus economic relief package. Fine later resigned.

Donald Trump faces deadline to punish China aggression toward Hong Kong

Trump faces deadline to punish Chinese aggression toward Hong Kong

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In this June 29, 2019, photo, U.S. President Donald Trump poses for a photo with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, western Japan. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) **FILE** more >

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By Stephen Dinan

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 21, 2020

If President Trump is looking for an early opportunity to strike back at China amid the coronavirus crisis, one is about to land on his doorstep.

Under a deadline set by Congress last year, the administration is supposed to certify by Monday whether China is respecting the autonomy of Hong Kong, and whether China is abusing special trade privileges the U.S. still allotts to the territory, but not to China itself.

If the administration can’t certify China’s compliance, it’s supposed to trigger a series of sanctions — including possible punitive tariffs and loss of visa travel privileges.

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Mr. Trump’s decision took on added heft Thursday after reports that China’s legislature was preparing to impose new national security rules on Hong Kong in the wake of protests that embarrassed the Beijing-backed government.

At the White House, the president said he’s waiting to see what China actually does.

“If it happens, we’ll address that issue very strongly,” he told reporters.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and author of the 2019 law, said it gives Mr. Trump a clear response to China’s latest moves.

Congress provided the U.S. government with powerful tools when it passed my bipartisan Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, and the administration should use this law to hold Beijing accountable,” he said. “It is in the interest of the United States to respond swiftly to Beijing’s repeated attacks on Hong Kongers, their autonomy, and their basic rights.”

The HRDA, as the 2019 law is known, passed in the wake of the Hong Kong protests, with a near-unanimous Congress trying to prod China. Now amid coronavirus, it’s taken on added significance as a potential flash point amid already escalating tensions.

“With all eyes firmly fixed on COVID-19, Chinese President Xi Jinping is exploiting the pandemic his own government enabled to escalate the persecution and oppression of the great people of Hong Kong,” said Rep. Chris Smith, who wrote the House version of the HRDA.

Britain, the longtime colonial master in Hong Kong, turned the territory over to China in 1997 under a treaty that bound Beijing’s Communist rulers to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy as a special administrative region and to leave its liberal economy and government for 50 years under the formulation “one country, two systems.”

“In plain sight, China is breaking its word to uphold human rights, rule of law and high degree of autonomy embedded in the Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” the New Jersey Republican told The Washington Times. “I am confident the Commerce Department will faithfully report the facts to Congress along with such penalties and actions commensurate with Xi Jinping’s anti-democracy crackdown.”

Gordon G. Chang, who studies China and the Far East, said that if the administration follows the law, there’s no question it should deem China to have violated the terms of Hong Kong’s autonomy.

“I think the facts are clear that it is not possible to certify that Hong Kong should be entitled to the exemptions, because Beijing has made it clear it intends to take away all the vestiges of Hong Kong quickly,” he said.

The U.S. has sanctions on some dealings with China, such as licensing technology. But under the theory that Hong Kong has autonomy, it has granted exemptions to the territory.

The point of the HRDA was to make clear that if China is violating that autonomy, the reasons for the exemptions disappear.

That was supposed to be a carrot enticing China to respect its promises toward Hong Kong, but if the U.S. follows through on the sanctions, it could end up hurting Hong Kong by reducing its importance as a global financial and trade mecca.

Mr. Chang says Beijing is forcing America’s hand.

“What we’re talking about is, is Hong Kong run autonomously,” he said. “We have seen, especially since the latter part of last year and especially this year, Beijing has taken full control of the government. So I don’t see what the justification for the exemptions is.”

Mr. Trump is facing intense pressure from both parties on Capitol Hill to be more assertive toward China.

Sen. Ben Cardin, Maryland Democrat, joined Mr. Rubio Thursday in calling on the president to flex the HRDA to support Hong Kong.

The bipartisan pressure goes well beyond the immediate threats to Hong Kong.

A number of lawmakers have announced proposals to allow Americans to sue the Chinese government in U.S. courts to recover costs from fighting the coronavirus.

One senator is planning legislation to crack down on China’s attempts to steal American research, while another proposed a ban on Chinese-made drones being allowed into the U.S., calling it a security risk.

Earlier this week the Senate passed legislation that would delist Chinese companies from U.S. stock markets if they are deemed to be controlled by Beijing, or otherwise lacking in transparency. The bill passed without objection.

The HRDA, which cleared Congress in November, was also overwhelmingly popular. Only a single lawmaker in either chamber, Rep. Thomas Massie, Kentucky Republican, voted against it.

Mr. Trump at the time said he was pondering a veto, saying the legislation could sour his attempts to strike a trade deal with China. But such a veto would likely have been futile, given the near-unanimous level of support on Capitol Hill, virtually guaranteeing Congress could have overridden him.

Instead, the president signed the law — with a caveat.

He issued a signing statement complaining that “certain provisions” would interfere with his conduct of foreign policy, and he would treat those provisions “consistently with the President’s constitutional authorities with respect to foreign relations.”

Mr. Rubio told The Times he expects Mr. Trump to abide by the terms of the legislation — including the deadlines.

Congress was clear when it passed, in a nearly unanimous fashion, my Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, and I fully expect the State Department to comply with the law,” the senator said.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment about the deadline, but made its displeasure with the law readily known last year.

Xinhua, the state news agency, refers to the law as a “so-called act” and gleefully quotes top Communist Party officials indignantly denouncing the law as a “plot” to undermine China’s sovereignty, saying that what happens in Hong Kong is an internal affair.

“Hong Kong is part of China and Hong Kong affairs are China’s internal affairs and no foreign government or force shall interfere,” Xinhua quoted the government as saying in November.

Xinhua refers to the 1997 handover as Hong Kong’s “return to the motherland” and says China is committed to “one country, two systems.”

Donald Trump to pull U.S. out of Open Skies Treaty

Trump to pull U.S. out of Open Skies Treaty

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In this June 28, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin walk to participate in a group photo at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. The Trump administration is notifying international partners that it is pulling … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Trump administration Thursday said it was preparing to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, a nearly 20-year-old international agreement that allows dozens of nations to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over each other’s territory but one that President Trump and other critics say isn’t being enforced and is no longer in the U.S. national interest.

Russia and many European capitals swiftly condemned the move, as did senior Democrats in Congress, but the move showed Mr. Trump’s determination to reject or re-write multilateral accords — some dating back to the Cold War — if the U.S. is not being treated fairly.

U.S. officials have complained about restrictions Moscow has put on overflights of certain areas, including Chechnya and Russia’s strategic Kaliningrad enclave in Europe. The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies also have warned Moscow is using Open Skies flights over the U.S. and Europe to map out targets and infrastructure that could be hit by a conventional or cyberattack.

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President Trump said he will notify the primary signatories of the agreement on Friday, but left the door open for further negotiations.

“I think we have a very good relationship with Russia, but Russia didn’t adhere to the treaty, and so until they adhere to the treaty, we will pull out,” Mr. Trump said Thursday afternoon. “There’s a very good chance we’ll make a new agreement or do something to put that agreement back together.”

The American pullout would take effect six months from now, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administration reserves the right to “reconsider our withdrawal should Russia return to full compliance” with the accord. But Mr. Pompeo also was harshly critical of Moscow’s record in honoring its treaty obligations to date.

“Rather than using the Open Skies Treaty as a mechanism for improving trust and confidence through military transparency,” Mr. Pompeo said, Russia has “weaponized the treaty by making it into a tool of intimidation and threat.”

The move came on the same day a top U.S. officials suggested the administration would make a concerted push to demand China be included in any extension of the U.S.-Russia New START arms control deal, negotiated by the Obama administration and set to expire in February.

Russia has pressed for an extension of the last major arms pact between the two capitals and State Department arms control envoy Marshall Billingslea said Thursday he has had preliminary talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on a possible deal, amid reports a short-term extension may be under consideration.

Russian officials said Thursday the proposed Open Skies withdrawal was regrettable but not surprising, given Mr. Trump’s hostility to other international pacts the U.S. once championed.

“It is easier to break than to build,” Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, told the Russian media outlet Sputnik News.

“The treaty worked for two decades and ensured transparency, a higher level of trust on military issues in the transatlantic region. But the decision to leave, apparently, explains the U.S. idea of a ‘new era’ of arms control. The ‘new era’ seems to mean no control. This is sad,” Mr. Ulyanov was quoted as saying.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas acknowledged flaws in the agreement but said he “deeply regretted” the U.S. threat to leave. NATO ambassadors were reportedly meeting Friday to discuss the impact of the move.

Divisions on the Hill

Sen. Tom Cotton, the Arkansas Republican who has led the push on Capitol Hill against the Open Skies agreement, welcomed Mr. Trump’s decision, saying the pact was as “outdated and irrelevant as the VHS recorder or cassette deck.”

“The Open Skies Treaty started life as a good-faith agreement between major powers and died an asset of Russian intelligence,” the Arkansas Republican said in a statement. The Kremlin, he charged, viewed the treaty as “just another scheme to snatch a military and surveillance advantage over the U.S. and NATO.”

Texas Rep. Mike McCaul, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, added, “The Open Skies Treaty was designed to be a tool of peace – yet [Russian President Vladimir Putin] has used it as a tool of war. Russia has been in clear violation of the treaty for years, denying the United States and our allies overflights of Kaliningrad and the Georgia-Russia border.”

But top Democrats — and many in the traditional arms control community — were quick to condemn Mr. Trump.

“This decision weakens our national security interests, isolates the United States since the treaty will continue without us, and abandons a useful tool to hold Russia accountable,” House Armed Service Committee Chairman Adam Smith, Washington state Democrat, and Rep. Jim Cooper, Tennessee Democrat, said in a statement.

Benjamin H. Friedman, policy director at the liberal Defense Priorities advocacy group, said the bigger issue with Mr. Trump’s move was the signal it sent.

“Along with the U.S. exit from other major arms control treaties, this move reveals a disconcerting pattern of pointless hostility to treaties which will make future accords more difficult to negotiate,” he said in a statement.

And writing on Twitter, Gen. Michael Hayden, the former CIA director under Presidents Bush and Obama, simply called Mr. Trump’s move “insane.”

Terminating treaties

Withdrawing from the agreement would be the third major arms deal jettisoned under Mr. Trump. The Trump administration withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty last August, also citing Russian violations. In 2018, Mr. Trump pulled out of the multilateral Iran nuclear accord and reimposed harsh sanctions on Tehran.

President Eisenhower first proposed the concept behind the Open Skies Treaty for the U.S. and the Soviet Union in July 1955. At first, the Kremlin rejected the idea, but the idea was revived under President George H.W. Bush in 1989, and the treaty entered into force in January 2002.

Mr. Trump last November privately signed off on the decision to pull the U.S. out of the 34-country Open Skies pact. It was originally conceived as a way to lower international tensions by allowing treaty members to conduct unarmed reconnaissance flights over each others’ territory to collect data on military forces and activities.

U.S. unhappiness with the nearly three-decades-old treaty grew last year after Russia restricted U.S. surveillance flights over Kaliningrad, the strategic Russian military enclave that sits between Lithuania and Poland. The U.S. responded by prohibiting Russian flights over Hawaii and several Air Force bases.

Experts have cautioned that a formal U.S. withdrawal is likely to push Moscow out of the treaty, as well as other European allies, leaving all parties with less clarity on what the others are doing.

Supporters of the treaty have argued that such European partners could be aggravated by another U.S. repudiation of a major multilateral security pact. All but two of the European Union’s 29 member countries have joined the agreement and when the U.S. conducts intelligence flights, European allies are often brought along.

Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman on Thursday suggested the U.S. would support an agreement like Open Skies — but only if it were being effectively enforced.

“The United States does remain fully committed to agreements that advance U.S. allied and partner security, are verifiable and enforceable, and include partners that comply responsibly with their obligations,” he told reporters.

Russia flagrantly and continuously violates its obligations under Open Skies,” he continued, “and implements the treaty in ways that contribute to military threats against the United States and our allies and partners.”

Mr. Hoffman offered several examples of Russia violating the deal, including instances in which Russia has prohibited foreign unarmed surveillance flights within six miles of the tense Russia-Georgia border.

On New START, Mr. Trump also hinted Thursday he would be open to a future deal that included China, but it remains unclear whether the administration will seek a brief extension of the treaty for several months. The current language only allows for a 5-year extension by mutual agreement.

“We’re probably going to make a deal with Russia on arms treaties, and China will be maybe included in that,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “We’ll see what happens.”

Saying its nuclear arsenal is dwarfed by those of the U.S. and Russia, Beijing has repeatedly said it has no interest in joining three-way talks.

• Bill Gertz and Ben Wolfgang contributed to this story, which is based in part on wire service reports.

World War II veterans to join Donald Trump at V-E Day ceremony

World War II veterans to join Trump at V-E Day ceremony

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This May 6, 2020, photo shows the World War II Memorial in Washington. May 8, 2020, will mark the 75th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s surrender, ending World War II in Europe. Eight World War II veterans will join President Donald … more >

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By Kevin Freking

Associated Press

Friday, May 8, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) — Eight World War II veterans — the youngest of them age 96 – will join President Donald Trump at a wreath-laying ceremony Friday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe. Their hopes to mark the day in Moscow were dashed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

White House officials described the veterans as “choosing nation over self” by joining Trump at the World War II Memorial ceremony.

“These heroes are living testaments to the American spirit of perseverance and victory, especially in the midst of dark days,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said.

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The veterans joining Trump include Gregory Melikian, 97, of Phoenix, who sent the coded message to the world that the Germans had unconditionally surrendered.

Participants in the D-Day invasion that turned the tide in the war include Steven Melnikoff, 100, of Cockeysville, Maryland; Guy Whidden, 97, of Braddock Heights, Maryland; Harold Angle, 97, of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania; and Frank Devita, 96, of Bridgewater, New Jersey.

Other veterans joining Trump are Donald Halverson, 97, of Minnesota, who fought in some of the war’s fiercest fighting in Italy, John Coates, 96, of Maryland, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and Jack Myers, 97, of Hagerstown, Maryland, was part of a unit that liberated the Dachau concentration camp.

Timothy Davis, director of the Greatest Generations Foundation, which helps veterans return to the countries where they fought, said the U.S. soldiers were originally slated to travel to Moscow for a commemoration event. He said that with international travel out of the question during the pandemic, the veterans talked to him about trying to commemorate the day in Washington.

“Of course, we presented to them the risk we are facing,” Davis said. “They said, ‘It doesn’t matter, Tim,’” and asked him to press ahead, saying they viewed the commemoration as “a blessing to all who fought, died and served in World War II.”

The Latest: Macron confident US will join vaccine pledge

The Latest: Macron confident US will join vaccine pledge

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Indians line up to buy liquor outside one the liquor shops which was reopened Monday after six weeks lockdown in New Delhi, India, Monday, May 4, 2020. India’s six-week coronavirus lockdown, which was supposed to end on Monday, has been … more >

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By The Associated Press

Associated Press

Monday, May 4, 2020

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

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France’s Macron confident that the U.S. will join a global pledge for research to find a vaccine.

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– World Health Organization says it has no evidence that the coronavirus originated at a Wuhan laboratory.

– Number of people currently positive for coronavirus has dropped under 100,000 in Italy.

___

PARIS – French president Emmanuel Macron said he is confident that the United States will join a global pledge for research to find a vaccine against the new coronavirus.

World leaders, organizations and banks on Monday pledged to give 7.4 billion euros ($8 billion) during a videoconference summit hosted by the European Union. The U.S., along with Russia, were notably absent from the event.

Macron, who donated 500 million euros on behalf of France, noted that the U.S. “are on the sidelines” but added that it doesn’t compromise or slow down the initiative.

Speaking from the Elysee palace, he said he discussed the issue with President Donald Trump and is convinced that the U.S. will at some point join the initiative, consisting in finding a vaccine as quickly as possible and making it available to all countries.

Macron added that his government is in a permanent dialogue with the Trump administration and with American companies.

___

GENEVA – The World Health Organization says it has received no evidence or data from the U.S. government to back up claims by President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that they have seen evidence that the coronavirus have originated at a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

“From our perspective, this remains speculative,” WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan said. “But like any evidence-based organization, we would be very willing to receive any information that purports to the origin of the virus.”

Ryan reiterated that the evidence and advice that the U.N. health agency has received suggest that the novel coronavirus is of natural origin. Pompeo and Trump say they have seen evidence suggesting that it could be from the Wuhan Institute of Virology lab.

“If that data and evidence is available, then it will be for the United States government to decide whether and when it can be shared,” Ryan told reporters in Geneva. “But it’s difficult for WHO to operate in an information vacuum in that specific regard.”

On Sunday, Pompeo told ABC’s “This Week” program that there was “a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan.”

___

MILAN – The number of people currently positive for coronavirus has dropped under 100,000 in Italy – Europe’s hardest-hit country.

As the country began a gradually reopening from a two-month-long lockdown on Monday, the number of deaths rose by 195 to 29,079.

Italy also registered the lowest number of new positives since the day the lockdown took effect, at 1,221, bringing the total of coronavirus cases to 211,938 since the first case of domestic transmission of the virus was detected on Feb. 21.

Pressure on Italian hospitals continued to ease, with 419 fewer people hospitalized and 22 fewer in intensive care units. Three regions – Umbria, Basilicata and Molise – registered no new cases, while most were well under 100.

Lombardy, the densely populated northern region that has borne the brunt of the virus, was responsible for nearly half of all new cases in the past 24 hours.

___

AMARILLO, Texas – A Texas mayor says federal help is on the way following a surge in coronavirus cases that’s hitting a key region of the nation’s beef supply.

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson says she expects a “strike force” to arrive Monday in the Texas Panhandle. That’s where infections are climbing and state officials have linked more than 240 cases of COVID-19 to a local meat plant operated by JBS USA.

Outbreaks have hit meat plants across the country. President Donald Trump has ordered them to remain open, while on Monday, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden called the plants among “the most dangerous places there are right now.”

Nelson says her community provides 25% of the nation’s fed beef supply. She says her hope is that the incoming help can box-in the hot spots and figure out “why it is our city is having the numbers that we’re having.”

___

UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations Security Council is backing Lebanon’s efforts to end the country’s economic crisis and tackle other challenges including the impact of COVID-19 and is calling on the international community to help.

The U.N.’s most powerful body took note in a statement after a closed meeting Monday of the “urgent need for the Lebanese authorities to respond to the aspirations of the Lebanese people by implementing meaningful economic reforms” and addressing security, humanitarian and COVID-19 challenges.

Lebanon, one of the most indebted nations in the world, defaulted for the first time in March on its sovereign debt. Anti-government protests that erupted in October subsided during a nationwide lockdown since mid-March to blunt the spread of the coronavirus. Those restrictions are starting to ease.

Last Thursday, the prime minister said he will seek a rescue program from the International Monetary Fund, but protesters rallied again Friday, criticizing the government’s handling of the unprecedented crisis that saw the local currency crash, their savings devastated, and prices and inflation soar.

___

Officials in Miami Beach have closed one of the city’s parks until further notice because people weren’t following rules that require face coverings and social distancing

While the rest of Florida began Phase I of reopening on Monday, the three populous counties in South Florida (Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties) remain on a complete lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last Wednesday, however, Miami Beach and other area cities reopened some parks and marinas for outdoor activity with certain restrictions, including the use of face coverings and social distancing.

Miami Beach officials say the majority of warnings and instances of non-compliance occurred within South Pointe Park over the weekend, according to police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez.

Between Friday and Sunday, park rangers issued 7,329 verbal warnings to people who did not properly cover their faces, according to statistics Rodriguez sent via email.

The park rangers issued 478 warnings for failing to follow social distancing guidelines. In addition, 1,335 people were asked to leave parks after closing time.

Last Thursday, the day after the parks reopened, Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales tweeted that the first day back in the parks was “very challenging” because many failed to follow rules. He warned then that the city would close the parks again if people didn’t comply with the rules.

___

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is extending an executive order mandating that some nonessential businesses close for another week, until May 15.

Northam announced at a news conference Monday that the state is seeing positive trends in data related to spread and treatment of the coronavirus pandemic, but he said more time is needed before restrictions can be eased.

His executive order, which forces closed some businesses and severely restricts how others operate, was set to expire May 8. His order also bans gatherings of 10 or more in public or private.

The governor, a Democrat, has come under increasing pressure from Republican lawmakers and others to reopen the state as some other Southern states have done.

___

LONDON – One of the British government’s main advisers during the coronavirus epidemic says the number of positive cases in the country remains too high, a signal that lockdown measures will be extended this week.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer, said at the government’s daily briefing that “new cases need to come down further.”

That reinforces expectations that the lockdown will be extended when it is reviewed Thursday.

However, Van-Tam said there has been a “slow and consistent decline” in the numbers of deaths after government figures showed another 288 new deaths in all settings. That’s the lowest daily increase in the U.K. since late March and takes the total to 28,734, just shy of Italy’s 29,079.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock cautioned that Monday figures have tended to be artificially low because of weekend lags.

Hancock also unveiled details of a pilot “test, track and trace program” on the Isle of Wight from Tuesday and urged residents on the island, which is just a few miles off the coast of southern England, to download the associated app.

___

PRAGUE – The Czech government has decided to lift its ban on international train and bus travel amid easing its restrictive measures imposed to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Trade and Industry Minister Karel Havlicek says trains and busses will be allowed to cross the country’s borders again as of May 11.

The Czechs returning home will have to present a negative test on the coronavirus that is not older than four days, or to be quarantined for two weeks.

Additionally, workers from not European countries will be allowed to entry the Czech Republic to be employed at temporary jobs in the agriculture or health sectors on condition they have a negative test on the virus.

Also, the Czech government will send 500,000 face masks from its reserves as help to Italy, one of the hardest-hit countries by the pandemic of the new coronavirus.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech announced the plan.

It’s the second time the Czechs have donated some protective equipment to its EU partners. In March, the Czech Republic transported 10,000 protective suits to Italy and the same amount to another badly hit country, Spain.

___

SEATTLE – Hundreds of health care workers and dozens of first responders in Washington state have become sick with the coronavirus while on the job, according to workers’ compensation claims.

The new data provides some insight into how the coronavirus has impacted the health care community but underestimates how many doctors and nurses have tested positive.

That number is not known because state and federal health officials have failed to collect the information, and they’ve made no improvements since The Associated Press first reported the problem in April.

“Our data on occupations are not complete, so we do not report the information since it would not be reliable,” said Annie Johnson, a spokesperson for the Washington health department’s Joint Information Center.

Washington is not alone. States that reported coronavirus cases to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control only included occupational information for 16% of all reported cases, the agency said in a new report.

Experts say knowing how COVID-19 is impacting front-line workers in the health care system is vital in handling the crisis.

___

ANKARA, Turkey – With the coronavirus deaths and infections falling in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a “normalization plan” to gradually ease restrictions but warned of tougher measures to come should the numbers rebound.

In a televised address following a cabinet meeting, Erdogan said people aged above 65 – who have been under a curfew for the past six weeks – will be allowed to leave homes at a walking distance for four hours on May 15. Children would be allowed to take walks for four hours on May 13 and teenagers on May 15, Erdogan said.

Shopping malls will be allowed to open on May 11 as will barber shops, hairdressers and beauty parlors – as long as they work on a system of appointment and accept customers at half-capacity.

Erdogan said that the government is also lifting entry and exit restrictions for seven cities where the coronavirus outbreak has been brought under control. The measure will remain for 24 other cities, including Istanbul and Ankara.

___

TRENTON, N.J. – New Jersey schools will remain closed for the remainder of the academic year because of the coronavirus outbreak, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday.

Teachers have been required to conduct remote instruction since schools shuttered in mid-March.

New Jersey is among the hardest-hit states in the country with 7,871 COVID-19 fatalities and more than 120,000 positive cases.

New Jersey has some 600 school districts and about 1.4 million students enrolled, according to the state Education Department.

___

PARIS – French prime minister Edouard Philippe urged public transport companies to open May 11 as the country will start lifting confinement measures.

Heads of France’s biggest public transports companies, including national railway SNCF and Paris metro RATP, have voiced concerns over lack of human and material resources to ensure travelers’ safety.

In a speech to French senators, Philippe said they need to “find the right answers to complex questions” because it is necessary to provide public transports “in a controlled way” next week to help the economy recover after two months of strict lockdown in the country.

Philippe reaffirmed that people will be allowed to travel no further than 100 kilometers (62 miles) with exceptions only for compelling familial or professional reasons.

He said reservations will be mandatory to halve the number of passengers in long-distance trains.

Heads of public transports companies called for police to help them regulate passengers flows in an open letter and warned of potential disruptions during rush hour.

Starting May 11 all French businesses will be allowed to resume activity and schools will start gradually reopening.

___

NEW DELHI, India – India will facilitate the return of its stranded citizens abroad in a phased manner beginning May 7.

The Ministry of Home Affairs on Monday said Indian Embassies and High Commissions are preparing a list of distressed Indian citizens who will be brought back on naval ships separate from the non-scheduled commercial aircraft.

The stranded citizens would have to pay for the transport. Only those who are asymptomatic will be allowed onboard.

It was not immediately clear how many Indians the government plans to bring back to the country.

India brought back hundreds of Indians from China and Iran in March. However, after it suspended domestic and international flight operations over the growing number of coronavirus cases in the country, the operation was halted.

On Monday, India relaxed some coronavirus lockdown restrictions even as the pace of infection picked up and reopenings drew crowds. The near-total 5-week lockdown achieved a slowdown in the spread of the virus but has caused immense hardship for India’s legions of poor people.

Some degree of lockdown will continue at least until May 18.

India reported 42,835 virus cases, 11,761 recoveries and 1,389 deaths. The country says it had tested more than a million samples by Monday.

___

Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

Trump: ‘Glad to see’ Kim Jong Un is ‘back, and well’

Trump: ‘Glad to see’ Kim Jong Un is ‘back, and well’

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In this June 30, 2019 file photo, President Donald Trump, left, meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the North Korean side of the border at the village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone. On May 2, 2020, Mr. … more >

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By David Sherfinski

The Washington Times

Saturday, May 2, 2020

President Trump on Saturday said he’s “glad” to see North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un is “back, and well,” a day after North Korean state media reported that Mr. Kim made his first public appearance in weeks.

“I, for one, am glad to see he is back, and well!” the president said on Twitter, sharing photos of Mr. Kim at the apparent opening of a fertilizer factory on Friday.

Mr. Kim had last been seen in public on April 11 and missed the April 15 celebration of his late grandfather’s birthday, the reclusive country’s most important holiday.

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As he departed for Camp David on Friday, Mr. Trump said he didn’t want to talk about the 36-year-old leader.

“We’ll have something to say about it at the appropriate time,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Trump had recently demurred when asked about Mr. Kim’s health amid speculation during the extended public absence that the leader might have been gravely ill, or even dead.

“I do have a very good idea, but I can’t talk about it now,” the president said earlier this week. “I hope he’s fine. I do know how he’s doing, relatively speaking. We will see. You’ll probably be hearing in the not-too-distant future.”

US intel says virus not manmade, still considers Chinese lab

US intel says virus not manmade, still considers Chinese lab

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President Donald Trump speaks about reopening the country, during a roundtable with industry executives, in the State Dinning Room of the White House, Wednesday, April 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) more >

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By ZEKE MILLER

Associated Press

Thursday, April 30, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. intelligence agencies are debunking a conspiracy theory, saying they have concluded that the new coronavirus was “not manmade or genetically modified” but say they are still examining a notion put forward by the president and aides that the pandemic may have resulted from an accident at a Chinese lab.

The statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the clearinghouse for the web of U.S. spy agencies, comes as President Donald Trump and his allies have touted the as-yet-unproven theory that an infectious disease lab in Wuhan, the epicenter of the Chinese outbreak, was the source of the global pandemic, which has killed more than 220,000 people worldwide.

In recent days the Trump administration has sharpened its rhetoric on China, accusing the geopolitical foe and vital trading partner of failing to act swiftly enough to sound the alarm to the world about the outbreak or to stop the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. U.S. officials have said the Chinese government should “pay a price” for its handling of the pandemic.

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The new statement says, “The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified.”

“The IC will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”

Trump on Thursday again blamed China for not doing enough to contain the coronavirus.

“We just got hit by a vicious virus that should never have been allowed to escape China,” he said during an Oval Office meeting with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

Earlier this month, Trump addressed the lab theory saying, “More and more, we’re hearing the story.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added at the time, “The mere fact that we don’t know the answers – that China hasn’t shared the answers – I think is very, very telling.”

Pompeo also pressed China to let outside experts into the lab “so that we can determine precisely where this virus began.”

While Trump and Pompeo have made public statements speculating about the lab, a U.S. intelligence official disputed the notion that there was any pressure on agencies to bolster a particular theory. The intelligence official was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Scientists say the virus arose naturally in bats. Even so, Pompeo and others have pointed fingers at an institute that is run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It has done groundbreaking research tracing the likely origins of the SARS virus, finding new bat viruses and discovering how they could jump to people.

“We know that there is the Wuhan Institute of Virology just a handful of miles away from where the wet market was,” Pompeo said two weeks ago. The institute has an address 8 miles, or 13 kilometers, from the market that is considered a possible source.

U.S. officials say the American Embassy in Beijing flagged concerns about potential safety issues at the lab in Wuhan in 2018, but they have yet to find any evidence the virus originated there nearly two years later.

The Chinese government said Thursday that any claims that the coronavirus was released from a laboratory are “unfounded and purely fabricated out of nothing.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang cited the institute’s director, Yuan Zhiming, as saying the lab strictly implements bio-security procedures that would prevent the release of any pathogen.

“I would like to point out again that the origin of the virus is a complex scientific issue, and it should be studied by scientists and professionals,” Geng said.

The U.S. was providing funding to the Wuhan lab for its research on coronaviruses, Michael Morell, former acting director and deputy director of the CIA, said Thursday.

He said State Department cables indicate that there have been concerns in past years among U.S. officials about the safety protocols at that lab. If the virus did escape from a Chinese lab, it not only reflects negatively on China but also on the United States for providing research funding to a lab that has safety concerns, Morell said during an online forum hosted by the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy and International Security at George Mason University.

“So if it did escape, we’re all in this together,” Morell said. “This is not a gotcha for China. This is a gotcha for both of us.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng also criticized U.S. politicians who have suggested China should be held accountable for the global pandemic, saying they should spend their time on “better controlling the epidemic situation at home.”

But another government spokesman, Zhao Lijian, demonstrated that China was not above sowing confusion in the face of the pandemic. He tweeted in March the falsehood that the virus might have come from the U.S. Army.

Trump, whose early response to the outbreak has been questioned, also pushed back on news reports that he was repeatedly warned about the virus by intelligence agencies. Trump said he was given the first intelligence briefing in “later January.” Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar also briefed Trump on the threat by phone on Jan. 18.

___

AP writer Deb Riechmann contributed.