Biden’s approval slumps after a slew of crises: AP-NORC poll

Biden’s approval slumps after a slew of crises: AP-NORC poll

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In this Sept. 24, 2021 photo, President Joe Biden listens during the Quad summit in the East Room of the White House. President Joe Biden’s popularity has slumped — with half of Americans now approving and half disapproving of his … more >

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By Josh Boak and Emily Swanson

Associated Press

Friday, October 1, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden‘s popularity has slumped after a slew of challenges in recent weeks at home and abroad for the leader who pledged to bring the country together and restore competence in government, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Fifty percent now say they approve of Biden, while 49% disapprove. Fifty-four percent approved in August, and 59% did in July. The results come as Americans process the harried and deadly evacuation from Afghanistan, mounted border patrol agents charging at Haitian refugees, the unshakable threat of the coronavirus with its delta variant and the legislative drama of Biden trying to negotiate his economic, infrastructure and tax policies through Congress.

Since July, Biden’s approval rating has dipped slightly among Democrats (from 92% to 85%) and among independents who don’t lean toward either party (from 62% to 38%). Just 11% of Republicans approve of the president, which is similar to July.

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Approval also dipped somewhat among both white Americans (49% to 42%) and Black Americans (86% to 64%).

In follow-up interviews, some of those who had mixed feelings about Biden‘s performance still saw him as preferable to former President Donald Trump. They said that Biden was dealing with a pandemic that began under the former president, an Afghanistan withdrawal negotiated on Trump’s behalf and an economy that tilted in favor of corporations and the wealthy because of Trump’s tax cuts.

“Trump had a lot to do with what’s going on now,” said Acarla Strickland, 41, a health care worker from Atlanta who voted for Biden yet now feels lukewarm about him.

As a mother of four, Strickland said she has benefited from the monthly child tax credit payments that are flowing as part of Biden‘s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. But she feels the government needs to do more to help Americans. Strickland said she borrowed $66,000 to get a master’s degree and fears the debt will never be repaid.

Just 34% of Americans say the country is headed in the right direction, down from about half who said that through the first months of Biden’s presidency. Trump supporters such as Larry Schuth feel as though Biden is damaging the nation by seeking to enlarge government and mismanaging the southern border. The Hilton, New York, resident added that he would like to travel to Canada but can’t because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“If he had a plan to destroy this country and divide this country, I don’t know how you could carry it out any better,” said Schuth, 81. “We’re spending way too much money. We’re planning on spending even more. We don’t have a southern border.”

The poll shows that 47% of Americans approve of how Biden is handling the economy, down from a high of 60% in March but similar to where it stood in August.

The initial burst of optimism from Biden‘s rescue package has been met with the hard realities of employers struggling to find workers and higher-than-expected inflation as supply chain issues have made it harder to find automobiles, household appliances and other goods. The rise of the delta variant and reluctance by some Americans to get vaccinated also slowed hiring in August.

Roni Klass, a tutor in her 70s living in Miami, said she was glad to vote Trump out, but she’s worried about inflation given her dependence on Social Security and wages that have yet to rise.

“When I go to the grocery store, the prices have really shot up,” she said. “My money coming in is not keeping up with the money that I have to spend going out, and I have to cut back as much as I can.”

The poll finds 57% approve of Biden’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. That number is similar to August but remains significantly below where it stood as recently as July, when 66% approved. Still, it remains Biden’s strongest issue in the poll. Close to 9 in 10 Democrats approve of Biden’s handling of the pandemic, compared with about 2 in 10 Republicans. In July, about 3 in 10 Republicans said they approved.

More also approve than disapprove of Biden’s decision to require that most U.S. workers be vaccinated or face regular testing, 51% to 34%, with 14% saying they neither approve nor disapprove. About 8 in 10 Democrats approve; roughly 6 in 10 of Republicans disapprove.

Biden struggles on several issues related to foreign policy. Forty-three percent say they approve of his handling of foreign policy overall, and only 34% approve of his handling of the situation in Afghanistan. Even among Democrats, only 54% say they approve of Biden’s handling of Afghanistan. Just 10% of Republicans say the same.

At the same time, Americans are slightly more likely to approve than disapprove of the decision to remove the last remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan at the end of August, with 45% saying they approve of that decision and 39% saying they disapprove. About two-thirds of Democrats approve of the decision to withdraw troops, compared with about a quarter of Republicans. Roughly two-thirds of Republicans disapprove.

Forty-six percent of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of national security, while 52% disapprove.

The poll was conducted just after tensions emerged with France over a submarine deal with Australia, but it finds 50% approve of how Biden is handling relationships with allies – similar to his approval rating overall.

Just 35% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of immigration, down from 43% in April, when it was already one of Biden’s worst issues. Immigration is a relative low point for Biden within his own party with 60% of Democrats saying they approve, along with 6% of Republicans.

The president has committed himself toward humane immigration policies, yet the persistent border-crossings and flow of refugees from Haiti and Afghanistan has led to challenging debates and troubling images. Immigration poses a challenge because voters are divided over whether to welcome more foreigners or focus the government more on the needs of existing citizens.

“There isn’t enough money to take care of our own, why do we have to take care of some other country?” said Anthony Beard, 48, a chef from Lansing, Michigan.

New Air Force chief dings Congress for backing aging weapons, planes

New Air Force chief dings Congress for backing aging weapons, planes

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Frank Kendall III, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be secretary of the Air Force, appears for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) **FILE** more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Monday, September 20, 2021

New Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall used his first public speech on Monday to take a jab at Congress for its keeping aging weapons systems like the 45-year-old A-10 Thunderbolt alive, reducing the amount of money that could go to next-generation aircraft.

Mr. Kendall told a friendly audience at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber conference that he recalled senators at his recent confirmation hearing agreeing that China’s aggressive military buildup posed a threat to U.S. security.

“In the same breath, [they] told me that under no circumstances could the — take your pick — C-130s, A-10s, KC-10s or MQ-9s in that senator’s state be retired,” Mr. Kendall said. “Nor could any base in his or her state ever be closed or lose manpower that would cause impact to the local economy.”

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He acknowledged that the Air Force’s most recent budget submission to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin directly challenge congressional directives regarding aircraft the service would like to retire.

“The cost of these aircraft are consuming precious resources that we do need for modernization,” Mr. Kendall said. Congress “seems to have some very strong views on the importance of retaining aircraft that we no longer need and do not intimidate China.”

He offered pointed criticism of the now-deposed Afghan government and military, saying they were unable to overcome their internal divisions and unite against a common enemy, while also taking a swipe at COVID vaccine-hesitant Americans.

“Sadly, we are still contending with a disease that should have been well under control long ago,” he said. “The tools exist to defeat that disease but unfortunately those who have opted to spread or reinforce disinformation instead of uniting our country around facts and serving the greater good.”

Mr. Kendall, a former Raytheon executive who served as a senior official in the Obama administration Defense Department, said he has been “pounding the drum” for more than a decade about the threat posed to the United States by China, which is rapidly increasing its nuclear arsenal while also heavily investing in conventional weapons.

“While America is still the dominant military power on the planet, we are being more effectively challenged militarily today than at any other time in our history,” he said.

The U.S. has enjoyed unmatched military superiority against any nation in the world since the fall of the Soviet Union and for the last two decades, it has fought against insurgent forces in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We are not accustomed to contending with a capable peer competitor,” Mr. Kendall. “We have lost much of our muscle memory of what it means to have a well-resourced, thoughtful and strategic opponent.”

North Korea rips Biden nuclear sub deal, warns of ‘arms races’

North Korea rips Biden’s nuclear sub deal, warns of ‘arms races’

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In this photo provided by U.S. Navy, the Virginia-class fast-attack submarine USS Missouri (SSN 780) departs Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for a scheduled deployment in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility, Sept. 1, 2021. Australia decided to invest in U.S. … more >

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By Kim Tong-Hyung

Associated Press

Sunday, September 19, 2021

SEOUL, South KoreaNorth Korea has criticized the U.S. decision to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia and warned of unspecified countermeasures if it finds the deal affects the North’s security.

State media on Monday published comments from an unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry official who called the arrangement between U.S., Britain and Australia an “extremely dangerous act” that would destroy the security balance in the Asia-Pacific and trigger a “chain reaction of arms races.”

The official said the North was closely examining the deal and would proceed with corresponding actions if it has “even the smallest negative affect on our country’s safety.”

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President Joe Biden revealed last week a new alliance including Australia and Britain that would deliver an Australian fleet of at least eight nuclear-powered submarines. Biden has stressed the vessels would be conventionally armed. 

The announcement triggered an angry reaction from France, which accused Australia of concealing its intentions to back out of a 90 billion Australian dollar ($66 billion) contract for French majority state-owned Naval Group to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison blamed the switch on a deteriorating strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific, a clear reference to China’s massive military buildup that has gained pace in recent years.

The North Korean official made an apparent reference to the French complaints, saying that the United States was being accused of back-stabbing even by its allies. The official said the North supports the views of China and other countries that the deal would destroy “regional peace and security and the international non-proliferation system and intensify arms races.” 

“The current situation shows once again that (our) efforts to bolster national defense capabilities based on long-term perspectives should not be eased by even a bit,” the official told the Korean Central News Agency.

The North has suspended its testing of nuclear bombs and intercontinental-range ballistic missiles that could hit the U.S. mainland since 2018 when leader Kim Jong-un initiated diplomacy with former President Donald Trump while attempting to leverage his arsenal for badly needed sanctions relief. 

Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since the collapse of a second Trump-Kim meeting in 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korean demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling an aging nuclear facility, which would have amounted to only a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

While maintaining its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests, the North has continued testing shorter range weapons threatening U.S. allies South Korea and Japan in an apparent effort to pressure the Biden administration over the stalled diplomacy.

The North this month tested a new cruise missile it intends to eventually arm with nuclear warheads and demonstrated a new system for launching ballistic missiles from trains. 

Qatar emerges as key player in Afghanistan after US pullout

Qatar emerges as key player in Afghanistan after US pullout

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Afghans prepare to to be evacuated aboard a Qatari transport plane, at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August, 18, 2021. Qatar played an out-sized role in U.S. efforts to evacuate tens of thousands of people from Afghanistan. Now … more >

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By Aya Batrawy

Associated Press

Monday, August 30, 2021

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Qatar played an outsized role in U.S. efforts to evacuate tens of thousands of people from Afghanistan. Now the tiny Gulf Arab state is being asked to help shape what is next for Afghanistan because of its ties with both Washington and the Taliban, who are in charge in Kabul.

Qatar will be among global heavyweights on Monday when U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosts a virtual meeting to discuss a coordinated approach for the days ahead, as the U.S. completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover of the country. The meeting will also include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, Turkey, the European Union and NATO.

Qatar has also reportedly been asked by the Taliban to provide civilian technical assistance at Kabul‘s international airport, once the U.S. military withdrawal is complete on Tuesday. Authorities in Qatar have not commented on the reports.

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Meanwhile, international U.N. agencies are asking Qatar for help and support in delivering aid to Afghanistan.

Qatar‘s role was somewhat unexpected. The nation, which shares a land border with Saudi Arabia and a vast underwater gas field in the Persian Gulf with Iran, was supposed to be a transit point for a just a few thousand people airlifted from Afghanistan over a timeline of several months.

After the surprisingly swift Taliban takeover of Kabul on Aug. 15, the United States looked to Qatar to help shoulder the evacuations of tens of thousands in a chaotic and hurried airlift.

In the end, nearly 40% of all evacuees were moved out via Qatar, winning its leadership heaps of praise from Washington. International media outlets also leaned on Qatar for their own staff evacuations. The United States said Saturday that 113,500 people had been evacuated from Afghanistan since Aug. 14. Qatar says a little more than 43,000 had transited through the country.

Qatar’s role in the evacuations reflects its position as host of the Middle East’s biggest U.S. military base, but also its decision years ago to host the Taliban’s political leadership in exile, giving it some sway with the militant group. Qatar also hosted U.S.-Taliban peace talks.

Assistant Qatari Foreign Minister Lolwa al-Khater acknowledged the political gains scored by Qatar in the past weeks, but rebuffed any suggestion that Qatar‘s efforts were purely strategic.

“If anyone assumes that it’s only about political gains, believe me, there are ways to do PR that are way easier than risking our people there on the ground, way easier than us having sleepless nights literally for the past two weeks, way less complicated than spending our time looking after every kid and every pregnant woman,” she told The Associated Press.

For some of the most sensitive rescue efforts in Afghanistan, Qatar conducted the operation with just a few hundred troops and its own military aircraft. Qatar evacuated a girls’ boarding school, an all-girls robotics team and journalists working for international media, among others. Qatar’s ambassador accompanied convoys of buses through a gauntlet of Taliban checkpoints in Kabul and past various Western military checkpoints at the airport, where massive crowds had gathered, desperate to flee.

In all, al-Khater said Qatar secured passage to the airport for some 3,000 people and airlifted as many as 1,500 after receiving requests from international organizations and vetting their names.

Al-Khater said Qatar was uniquely positioned because of its ability to speak to various parties on the ground and its willingness to escort people through Taliban-controlled Kabul.

“What many people don’t realize is that this trip is not a phone call to Taliban,” she said. “You have checkpoints by the U.S. side, by the British side, by the NATO side, by the Turkish side … and we have to juggle with all of these variables and factors.”

The Taliban have promised amnesty to all those who remain in Afghanistan. Still, many of those desperate to get out – including civil society activists, those who had worked for Western armies and women afraid to lose hard-won rights – say they do not trust the militants. In addition, other armed groups pose a growing threat. Last week, an attack by an Islamic State suicide bomber killed more than 180 people outside Kabul airport.

The U.S.-led evacuation process has been marred by miscalculation and chaos, and that spilled over to the al-Udeid base in Qatar.

The hangars at al-Udeid were so crammed that the United States halted flights from Kabul for several hours during the peak of evacuation efforts on Aug. 20. Nearby countries, like Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, accepted several thousand evacuees to alleviate pressure on the American base.

At al-Udeid, Afghan families evacuated by the U.S. waited for hours in poorly ventilated, humid hangars in the middle of the desert with inadequate cooling. A video posted by The Washington Post showed hundreds of evacuees in one such hangar with only one lavatory and people sleeping on the ground.

Qatar built an emergency field hospital, additional shelters and portable washrooms to help plug the gaps. In addition to what the U.S. military is distributing, the Qatari military is handing out 50,000 meals a day, and more still by local charities. Qatar Airways has also provided 10 aircraft to transport evacuees from its capital, Doha, to other countries.

Around 20,000 evacuees remain in Qatar, some expecting to leave in a matter of weeks and others in months to come as they await resettlement elsewhere. Seven Afghan women have delivered babies since their arrival in Qatar.

Qatar is absorbing only a very small number of evacuees, among them a group of female students who will be offered scholarships to continue their education in Doha. Qatar is also hosting some evacuees in furnished apartment facilities built for the FIFA World Cup, which will be played in Doha next year.

The energy-rich nation is a tiny country with a little more than 300,000 citizens, where expatriate foreign workers on temporary visas far outnumber the local population.

The White House says President Joe Biden personally expressed his appreciation to Qatar’s 41-year-old Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani by phone and noted that the U.S.-led airlift would not have been possible without Qatar‘s support facilitating the transfer of thousands of people daily.

It’s the kind of positive publicity that millions of dollars spent by Gulf Arab states on lobbying and public relations could scarcely guarantee.

Biden to address Afghanistan crisis Monday

Biden to address Afghanistan crisis Monday

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In this photo released by The White House, President Joe Biden meets virtually with his national security team and senior officials for a briefing on Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021, at Camp David, Md. (The White House via AP) more >

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By Jeff Mordock

Monday, August 16, 2021

President Biden will address the Afghanistan crisis Monday afternoon as criticism mounts for the public statements by the president as Afghanistan falls to the Taliban.

Mr. Biden will return from Camp David, where he spent the weekend vacationing, and deliver remarks on the Afghanistan situation in the late afternoon. The move comes after widespread calls for him to reassure the American people.

The White House Sunday sought to blunt criticism by trotting out several top officials on the Sunday political shows, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

SEE ALSO: At least seven dead in chaos at Kabul airport as U.S. troops scramble to maintain order

Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Miley briefed lawmakers.

Mr. Biden, meanwhile, has only communicated to the public about Afghanistan in a written statement released Saturday. He has not appeared in public or on camera to address the situation.

The White House says Mr. Biden will address the nation soon but has not given a definitive time frame. And on Sunday, the White House issued a photo of the president on a Zoom call with defense officials.

SEE ALSO: U.S. Afghan pullout weighs heavy on vets

Republicans have slammed the president’s disappearing act.

“Why is Joe Biden hiding,” Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, tweeted. “He should immediately address the nation and answer for the catastrophic situation in Afghanistan.”

“Conference calls between cabinet secretaries and senators don’t cut it,” Mr. Cotton continued.

Rep. Jim Banks, Indiana Republican and an Afghanistan war vet, also blasted the president: “Does Joe Biden even want to be president anymore?”

President Biden touched by Kosovo medal for late son Beau

President Biden touched by Kosovo medal for late son Beau

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In this Aug. 25, 2008, photo, then-Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (right) is seen with his son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. (Associated Press) **FILE** more >

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By Sylejman Killokoqi and Llazar Semini

Associated Press

Friday, July 30, 2021

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) – U.S. President Joe Biden says he is touched by Kosovo’s awarding of a medal to his late son Beau, who was in the Balkan country 20 years ago to help establish the rule of law there as it became independent from Yugoslavia.

In a pre-recorded speech published Friday on Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani’s Facebook page, Biden said: “The nation of Kosovo is in the hearts of the entire Biden family.”

Osmani will host a ceremony Sunday to award a posthumous Presidential Medal on the Rule of Law to Beau Biden.

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Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a decade after a brutal 1998-1999 war between separatist ethnic Albanian rebels and Serb forces. The war ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign drove Serb troops out and a peacekeeping force moved in.

President Biden described the medal as “incredible” and “a great honor to recognize the legacy of our son.”

Beau Biden worked in Kosovo after the 1998-1999 war with the military forces and also with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

He died in 2015 of brain cancer at age 46.

Most Western nations have recognized Kosovo, but Serbia and its allies Russia and China do not. Tensions over Kosovo remain a source of volatility in the Balkans.

US readies new Cuba sanctions as Biden meets Cuban-Americans

US readies new Cuba sanctions as Biden meets Cuban-Americans

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President Joe Biden announces from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, July 29, 2021, that millions of federal workers must show proof they’ve received a coronavirus vaccine or submit to regular testing and stringent social distancing, … more >

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By Aamer Madhani and E. Eduardo Castillo

Associated Press

Friday, July 30, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Biden administration is expected to impose new sanctions on Cuba on Friday as President Joe Biden meets with Cuban-American leaders at the White House to discuss a U.S. response to recent social protests on the island.

Officials say new moves against the communist government are likely to be announced shortly after Biden’s afternoon meeting, which will cover a range of options the administration is considering in response to the protests, including providing internet access to Cubans. The officials were not authorized to preview the actions and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The White House meeting comes almost three weeks after unusual July 11 protests in which thousands of Cubans took to the streets in Havana and other cities to protest shortages, power outages and government policies. They were the first such protests since the 1990s.

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Details of the new measures, expected to be announced jointly by the White House, Treasury and State Department, were not immediately clear.

Among the people who will meet with Biden is Yotuel Romero, one of the authors of the song “Patria y vida!” which has become a kind of anthem for the protests, said the official, who was bit authorized to discuss the plans in public and spoke on condition on anonymity.

Also present will be L. Felice Gorordo, CEO of the company eMerge Americas; Ana Sofía Peláez, founder of the Miami Freedom Project, and Miami’s former mayor, Manny Díaz, among others.

The White House did not provide more details, only saying that new sanctions will be discussed as well as ways to establish internet access for the Cuban people.

Internet access is a sensitive issue in Cuba. In the days before the recent protests, there were calls on social media for anti-government demonstrations. Cuba‘s government said anti-Castro groups in the United States have used social media, particularly Twitter, to campaign against it and blamed Twitter for doing nothing to stop it.

Internet service was cut off at one point during the July 11 protest, though Cuban authorities have not explicitly acknowledged that they did it.

Some U.S. leaders, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have said the White House should do something to maintain internet service in Cuba, including using balloons as Wi-Fi access points for the population.

José Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch’s director for the Americas, said protecting internet access in Cuba must be one of the top priorities of the Biden administration.

“The growing access to the internet on the island has been a true revolution that has allowed the population to communicate, organize protests and report abuses almost immediately – something that would have been impossible a few years ago,” he stold The Associated Press.

Regarding the sanctions, Vivanco said their value is “mostly symbolic,” because it is not realistic to think that they alone will change the situation on the island. He said one way to stop human rights violations in Cuba is a “multilateral and coordinated condemnation,” along with moving toward a policy that puts an end to the current embargo.

In addition to the internet, the Biden administration is considering proposals put forward by U.S. advocates of trade with Cuba that would restore ways for Cuban-Americans to send money to relatives on the island.

Biden and others have rejected the outright restoration of remittances because of a percentage fee of the transaction paid to the government. But under one proposal being considered, the transfer agents would waive that fee until the end of the year, according to proponents.

The proposal would have to be cleared by the Cuban government, however, and it is not at all clear it would agree.

Last week, the U.S. government announced sanctions against the minister of the Cuban armed forces, Álvaro López Miera, and the Special Brigade of the Ministry of the Interior – known as the “black berets” – for having participated in the arrest of protesters.

International organizations have harshly criticized the Cuban government, which has said that while people affected by the country’s crisis participated in the protests there were also “criminals” who took advantage of the situation to create disturbances. At times, the protests turned into vandalism with looting, robbery and confrontations with the police.

Government sympathizers also took to the streets to defend the authorities and the revolution.

So far it is unclear how many people were detained, although the judicial authorities have said there have been 19 trials involving 59 people.

U.S. calls on China to be responsible power: Report

U.S. calls on China to be responsible power: Report

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In this image taken from a July 26, 2021, video footage run by Phoenix TV via AP Video, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman looks up before talks with Chinese officials at the Tianjin Binhai No. 1 Hotel in … more >

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By Ken Moritsugu

Associated Press

Monday, July 26, 2021

BEIJING (AP) — A senior U.S. diplomat called on China to look beyond differences and work with the United States on difficult global issues such as climate and the COVID-19 pandemic as a responsible global power.

Wendy Sherman, the deputy secretary of state, was responding to Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Feng, who told her in a meeting Monday that China wants to shelve differences while seeking common ground.

The U.S. has not backed down from criticizing China on issues from human rights to its territorial ambitions since President Joe Biden took office in January. China has repeatedly said that the U.S. cannot expect cooperation while also suppressing China‘s rise, a charge that Sherman denied.

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“There are some things that rise above specific differences that are the global responsibility of great powers,” Sherman said in a phone interview shortly after she wrapped up successive meetings in the Chinese city of Tianjin with Xie and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

China came out swinging at the talks Monday, blaming the U.S. for a “stalemate” in bilateral relations and calling on America to change “its highly misguided mindset and dangerous policy.”

Xie accused the Biden administration of trying to contain and suppress China’s development, according to an official summary of his remarks in the talks with Sherman.

Relations between the countries deteriorated sharply under Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, and the two sides remain at odds over a host of issues including technology, cybersecurity and human rights.

Xie said China wants to seek common ground while shelving differences, highlighting a divide in the basic approach to their relationship. The Biden administration has said it will cooperate in areas such as climate but confront China in others such as human rights, describing the relationship as collaborative, competitive and adversarial.

Biden administration officials have said the goal of the talks is not to negotiate specific issues but to keep high-level communications channels open. The U.S. wants to ensure that guardrails are in place to prevent competition between the countries from turning into conflict, they said.

Jeff Flake tapped as Turkey ambassador by Joe Biden

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In this Nov. 18, 2018, photo, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., speaks to members of the media on Capitol Hill in Washington. President Joe Biden on Tuesday nominated former senator Jeff Flake to serve as ambassador to Turkey. The Republican had … more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Updated: 5:11 p.m. on
Tuesday, July 13, 2021

President Biden on Tuesday nominated former Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona to be his ambassador to Turkey, a high-profile post for the outspoken anti-Trump lawmaker.

Mr. Flake spent more than a decade in the House and then moved onto the Senate where he openly criticized former President Trump until he decided not to run for reelection in 2018. He repeatedly blasted the former president for actions ranging from the firing of former FBI Director James Comey to Mr. Trump’s criticism of the media.

“I am honored and humbled by the trust President Biden had placed in me with this ambassadorial nomination,” Mr. Flake wrote in a post on Medium. “This is a pivotal post at an important time for both of our countries.”

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He supported Mr. Biden over Mr. Trump in the 2020 election and was widely expected to be rewarded with a post in administration. He served as a Republican surrogate for Mr. Biden during the election.

A member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Flake currently holds fellowship roles at Arizona State University and Brigham Young University. He also serves on the senior advisory committee at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.

The Ankara assignment is a delicate one, as tensions between the U.S. and Turkey have risen in recent years on issues ranging from the treatment of Syrian Kurds to turkey’s military relationship with Russia.. Mr. Biden stoked some of that ire earlier this year by formally recognizing the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire, which occurred more than 100 years ago.

G-20 finance ministers back deterring use of tax havens

Finance ministers from the Group of 20 nations back global minimum tax plan for corporations

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Italian Policemen in riot gears clash with demonstrators during a protest against the G20 Economy and Finance ministers and Central bank governors’ meeting in Venice, Italy, Saturday, July 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno) more >

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By DAVID McHUGH

Associated Press

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Top finance officials representing most of the world’s economy have backed a sweeping revision of international taxation that includes a 15% global minimum corporate levy to deter big companies from resorting to low-rate tax havens.

Finance ministers from the Group of 20 countries endorsed the plan at a meeting Saturday in Venice.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the proposal would end a “self-defeating international tax competition” in which countries have for years lowered their rates to attract companies. She said that had been “a race that nobody has won. What it has done instead is to deprive us of the resources we need to invest in our people, our workforces, our infrastructure.”

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The next steps include more work on key details at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and then a final decision at the Group of 20 meeting of presidents and prime ministers on Oct. 30-31 in Rome. Italy hosted the finance minister’s meeting in Venice because it holds the rotating chair of the G-20, which makes up more than 80% of the world economy.

Implementation, expected as early as 2023, would depend on action at the national level. Countries would enact the minimum tax requirement into their own laws. Other parts could require a formal treaty. The draft proposal was approved July 1 in talks among more than 130 countries convened by the OECD.

The U.S. already has a minimum tax on overseas earnings, but President Joe Biden has proposed roughly doubling the rate to 21%, which would more than comply with the proposed global minimum. Raising the rate is part of a broader proposal to fund Biden’s jobs and infrastructure plan by raising the domestic corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%.

Yellen said she was “very optimistic” that Biden’s infrastructure and tax legislation “will include what we need for the United States to come into compliance” with the minimum tax proposal.

Republicans in the Congress have expressed opposition to the measure. Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, has blasted the OECD deal, saying, “This is an economic surrender to China, Europe and the world that Congress will reject.”

The international tax proposal aims to deter the world’s biggest firms from using accounting and legal schemes to shift their profits to countries where little or no tax is due – and where the company may do little or no actual business. Under the minimum, companies that escape taxes abroad would pay them at home. That would eliminate incentives for using tax havens or for setting them up.

From 2000-2018, U.S. companies booked half of all foreign profits in seven low-tax jurisdictions: Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Singapore and Switzerland.

A second part of the tax plan is to permit countries to tax a portion of the profits of companies that earn profits without a physical presence, such as through online retailing or digital advertising.

That part arose after France, followed by other countries, imposed a digital service tax on U.S. tech giants such as Amazon and Google. The U.S. government regards those national taxes as unfair trade practices and is holding out the threat of retaliation against those countries’ imports into the U.S. through higher import taxes.

Under the tax deal, those countries would have to drop or refrain from national taxes in favor of a single global approach, in theory ending the trade disputes with the U.S.

U.S. tech companies would then face only the one tax regime, instead of a multitude of different national digital taxes.

U.N. envoy calls for new international talks on Syrian war

U.N. envoy calls for new international talks on Syrian war

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A man walks through a heavily damaged hospital in the city of Afrin, Syria, Sunday, June 13, 2021. Shells have hit the hosptal Saturday, killing at least 13 people, including two medical staff and two ambulance drivers. It was not … more >

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By Edith M. Lederer

Associated Press

Friday, June 25, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — With no progress toward ending the 10-year Syrian conflict, the U.N. special envoy for Syria called Friday for new international talks on concrete steps like exchanging prisoners and a nationwide cease-fire that the government and opposition could agree on as initial steps to give impetus to a political solution.

Geir Pedersen told the U.N. Security Council he believes these and other areas “of vital concern for average Syrians” have the potential to achieve common ground among Syria’s warring parties. Progress would also “promote internal and regional stability and build trust and confidence,” he said.

“This will not be easy,” Pedersen said,

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But he said he senses that all key players are interested in deepening talks on a way ahead, which is why “we need a new constructive international dialogue on Syria.”

Pedersen said he has been in regular contact with senior officials from Russia, a close Syria ally, and the United States, which supports the opposition, before and since this month’s meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden,. He said he has also been in regular contact with many countries on the 15-member Security Council and key states in the region.

Pedersen said he will go to Rome to talk with foreign ministers at a meeting on Syria convened by Italy and the United States and soon after that, he will head to Moscow. He also plans to consult Turkey and Iran — the guarantor states along with Russia in the so-called “Astana process” aimed at ending fighting in Syria — ahead of an Astana group meeting in Kazakhstan’s capital in early July.

After this round of meetings, Pedersen said, he hopes to provide more details. In response to a question afterward on when he might launch a new international dialogue, he said, “I hope we are not talking about too many weeks.”

Since the Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011, there have been many high-level gatherings designed to stop the fighting and guide the country to a political transition. Locations included Istanbul, Paris, Rome, Vienna and Geneva and included assemblies with names such as “Friends of Syria” and the “London 11.” In 2016, it was the “International Syria Support Group.” None has made a lasting impact.

Pedersen told reporters he thinks this might be the right time to try to launch international talks because “there are a few very important developments.”

He pointed most importantly to the 15 months of relative calm on the ground in Syria, but stressed that “it is a very fragile calm, and we need to discuss how we can make sure that this does not break down.”

He also cited the collapse of Syria’s economy, the lack of movement on releasing detainees and abductees and accounting for missing persons, and the millions of Syrians forced to flee their homes.

Warning that the relative calm remains fragile, Pedersen told the council there were “alarming signs of escalation” in the June 12 rocket attack and shelling of the al-Shifaa Hospital in the northern Syrian town of Afrin controlled by Turkey-backed fighters that killed at least 13 people, including medical personnel, and destroyed parts of the hospital. He also cited airstrikes and shelling in the south of rebel-held Idlib resulting in casualties and more displacement.

“Elsewhere, this month has seen more airstrikes attributed to Israel, more turbulence in the southwest” and more attacks by terrorist groups including operations claimed by the Islamic State extremist group, he said.

Pedersen said there are worrying signs the Islamic State extremist group may be getting stronger, “given the increased frequency and reach of its latest attacks.” He urged key international players to cooperate on countering IS and other terrorist groups.

“Recovering from the economic impact that most Syrians face after a decade of war and devastation is another area of potential common focus,” Pedersen said.

He said all sides — Syrian and international — say action is needed on detainees, abductees and the missing, adding that the U.N. has recently engaged the Syrian government on this issue. “I believe a step-for-steps discussion could help unlock more serious progress,” he said.

Pedersen also urged the international community to focus on the 13 million Syrians forced to flee their homes within Syria and abroad — half the country’s pre-war population.

“This is a profound humanitarian and national tragedy and also a ticking time-bomb for regional stability,” he warned.

“These are the kinds of issues — and there may be others, too — that I believe could be seriously discussed,” Pedersen said, “and where mutual and reciprocal actions could begin to make a positive difference for Syrians, and give impetus to a political process.”

Iran claims state media websites seized by U.S.

Iran claims several state media websites have been seized by U.S.

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In this June 21, 2021, photo, Iran’s new President-elect Ebrahim Raisi waves at the conclusion of his news conference in Tehran, Iran. Biden administration officials are insisting that the election of a hard-liner as Iran’s president won’t affect prospects for … more >

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By

Associated Press

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran said Tuesday that several state-linked news websites have been seized by the U.S. government under unclear circumstances. 

While there was no immediate acknowledgment of the seizures from American authorities, it comes amid the wider heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran. 

The Islamic Republic’s president-elect, judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, staked out a hard-line position Monday in his first news conference since his election victory. He said he would not meet with President Joe Biden and ruled out any further negotiations with the West over Tehran’s ballistic missile program and support for regional militias.

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Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency identified a series of websites taken offline, saying they were seized by the Department of Justice.

The Iranian state-linked websites that abruptly went offline with what appeared to be U.S. seizure notices include state television’s English-language arm Press TV, as well as the Yemeni Houthi rebels’ Al-Masirah satellite news channel and Iranian state TV’s Arabic-language channel, Al-Alam.

The notice said that the websites were seized “as part of law enforcement action” by the Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Export Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Marzieh Hashemi, a prominent American-born anchorwoman for Press TV, told The Associated Press that the channel was aware of the seizure but had no further information.

“We are just trying to figure out what this means,” she said.

Biden urged to press Putin on jailed Marine veterans at Geneva summit

Biden urged to press Putin on jailed Marine veterans at Geneva summit

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In this June 15, 2021, file photo President Joe Biden arrives for the United States-European Union Summit at the European Council in Brussels. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File) more >

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By Andrew Blake

The Washington Times

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

President Biden faced pressure to pursue the release of Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, two former U.S. Marines jailed in Russia, ahead of his planned meeting Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Whelan, 51, of Michigan, and Mr. Reed, 29, of Texas, are serving prison sentences in Russia for unrelated convictions of espionage and assaulting police, respectively. Both say they are innocent.

Bipartisan members of the Michigan and Texas congressional delegations sent a letter urging Mr. Biden to address the arrest and detention of both men when he meets with Mr. Putin in Geneva.

“These political arrests are unacceptable and fly in the face of international legal standards,” the more than 40 lawmakers wrote Mr. Biden.

The convictions were handed down while former President Trump was in the White House, and the Geneva summit will be the first time Mr. Biden will meet face to face with Mr. Putin since entering office.

Mr. Putin said in an interview aired Monday that he would be open to discussing the prisoners with Mr. Biden when the leaders meet.

Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said after the interview aired that Mr. Biden should demand the release of the men as a precondition to the meeting.

“These two Americans deserve to come home to their families,” Mr. McCaul said in a statement.

Mr. Whelan spoke to his parents by phone last month shortly after the summit was scheduled. His family recorded audio of the call, and they shared an excerpt Monday containing his message for Mr. Biden.

“President Biden, after 30 months of being wrongfully detained by the Russian government, which is twice as long as American citizens were held hostage in Tehran, I implore you to bring this appalling case of hostage diplomacy to an end,” Mr. Whelan said in the audio recording shared with The Washington Times.

“The abduction of an American tourist cannot stand,” he said during the May 30 phone call.

Mr. Reed has not spoken to his parents by phone since May 20, CNN reported this week. He learned several days later that he tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Bartle Gorman, the deputy chief of mission for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, announced last week that he recently issued a diplomatic note to the Russian government protesting its treatment of Mr. Reed.

“We are gravely concerned about his health,” he said Friday.

More recently, Mr. Putin said in the interview that he was open to discussing possible negotiations with Mr. Biden, including a potential exchange of U.S. and Russian prisoners.

“We’re prepared to discuss these issues,” Mr. Putin told NBC News.

White House denies report Vatican nixed papal Mass with Biden

White House denies report Vatican nixed papal Mass with Biden

Catholic News Agency cites 'reliable Vatican source,' concerns about bishops' meeting

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President Joe Biden departs after attending Mass at St. Joseph on the Brandywine Catholic Church, Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Wilmington, Del. Biden is spending the weekend at his home in Delaware. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) **FILE** more >

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By Valerie Richardson

The Washington Times

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The White House denied Tuesday a report saying that the Vatican scuttled an early plan for President Biden to attend Mass and receive communion from Pope Francis as part of the president’s current European trip.

A White House official flatly contradicted a Monday report from the Catholic News Agency that said “President Joe Biden‘s attendance at early morning Mass with Pope Francis was nixed from an early plan for the first meeting of both leaders,” citing “a reliable Vatican source.”

“That is untrue,” said the administration official in an email.

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The story referred to the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops’ June 16-18 virtual meeting, where the bishops are expected to take up the issue of “Eucharistic coherence” following recent debate on whether Catholic political leaders such as Mr. Biden who advocate for abortion rights should be able to receive the Eucharist.

“The President’s entourage had originally requested for Biden to attend Mass with the pope early in the morning, but the proposal was nixed by the Vatican after considering the impact that Biden receiving Holy Communion from the pope would have on the discussions the USCCB is planning to have during their meeting starting Wednesday, June 16,” said the CNA article.

The CNA later added a note at the top of the story that corrected its previous statement that Mr. Biden and Pope Francis would meet on Tuesday.

“In a story June 14, 2021, about Joe Biden and Pope Francis, the Catholic News Agency, based on information provided by a source, erroneously reported that the U.S. President would meet with the pope on June 15. According to Vatican sources June 15, there is no meeting currently scheduled between Pope Francis and President Joe Biden,” said the Tuesday note.

Mr. Biden arrived Tuesday in Geneva for his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the final leg of the president’s European trip after the Group of Seven nations meeting in Cornwall, England, and the NATO summit in Brussels.

The National Catholic Reporter, which is more liberal than the conservative CNA, expressed skepticism over the report in its own article Tuesday headlined, “No, Pope Francis did not cancel a meeting with President Biden.”

The NCR included a quote from a public-affairs officer at the U.S. embassy to the Holy See that said, “President Biden has no plans to visit Rome or Vatican City this week.”

Joe Biden, EU leaders vow to restore relations after Trump tension

Biden, EU leaders vow to restore relations after Trump tension

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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during the EU-US summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco) more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

President Biden and European Union leaders pledged Tuesday to rebuild their relationship, which was fractured over the past four years under former President Trump.

“America is back. We are committed — we have never fully left — but we are reasserting the fact that it is overwhelmingly in the interest of the United States to have a great relationship with NATO in the EU,” Mr. Biden said ahead of the U.S.-EU summit in Brussels.

“I have a very different view than my predecessor,” he added.

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Mr. Biden’s message of unity was welcomed by European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“You are back in Brussels, and America is back on the global scene,” Mr. Michel said. “It’s great news.”

“The last four years have not been easy,” Ms. Von der Leyen said. “The world has dramatically changed, Europe has changed, we want to reassure you, your friends and allies.”

Under Mr. Trump, relations between the EU and U.S. had become strained.

Many European leaders bristled when Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate change agreement and the Iranian nuclear deal and imposed tariffs on goods from Europe.

In remarks to the European Union leaders, Mr. Biden warned against the “phony populism” that is spreading “great anxiety” in the U.S. and Europe.

He said the political instability was caused by economic and technological changes.

“It generates some folks, who are somewhat like charlatans trying to take advantage of those concerns,” Mr. Biden said. “We see that in Europe and the United States, we see that around the world — the phony populism. It seems to me the best answer to deal with these changes is to have circumstances where our economies grow and they grow together.”

Mr. Biden has repeatedly hammered the idea of “phony populism,” during his European trip. During a meeting Monday with members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Mr. Biden cited it as one of the causes of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The European summit did produce some agreements on trade, including resolving a long-running trade dispute over subsidies to Airbus and Boeing.

European and U.S. leaders agreed to suspend tariffs for a period of five years. The U.S. has the right to reapply the tariffs if Europe doesn’t uphold its side of the deal.

The 17-year-old dispute stems from European Union complaints that Boeing received $19 million in unfair subsidies from the U.S. government. At the same time, the U.S. griped that European leaders were dolling out similar subsidies to Airbus.

Both sides also agreed to create a new technology council.

After the meeting, Mr. Biden boarded Air Force One and headed to Geneva where he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday. 

Joe Biden looks to ease EU trade tensions ahead of Putin summit

Biden looks to ease EU trade tensions ahead of Putin summit

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Belgium’s King Philippe, right, gestures as he walks with U.S. President Joe Biden prior to a meeting at the Royal Palace in Brussels, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys) more >

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By Lorne Cook, Jonathan Lemire and Aamer Madhani

Associated Press

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

BRUSSELS (AP) — President Biden is seeking to tamp down trade tensions with European allies as he spends one last day consulting with Western democracies ahead of his highly anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

After a pair of summits with Group of Seven world leaders in the U.K. and then NATO allies in Brussels, Biden meets Tuesday with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The president has sought to marshal widespread European support for his efforts to counter Russia prior to his Wednesday meeting in Geneva with Putin. But the U.S.-EU relationship is not without some tensions.

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Biden will meet with the top EU officials at a moment when the continent’s leaders are becoming impatient that the American president has not yet addressed his predecessor Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to impose import taxes on foreign steel and aluminum. There’s also a longstanding dispute over how much of a government subsidy each side unfairly provides for its aircraft manufacturing giant – Boeing in the United States and Airbus in the EU.

Biden isn’t expected to take action on the tariffs before heading to Geneva later Tuesday. He bristled that he needed more time to address the matter when asked by a reporter about the tariffs at his news conference at the end of the G-7 on Sunday. “A hundred and twenty days,” Biden said, underestimating his time in office by weeks. “Give me a break. Need time.”

Still, White House officials think they can build more goodwill with Europe ahead of the Putin face-to-face meeting.

To that end, Biden, Michel and von der Leyen are expected to announce the creation of a joint trade and technology council, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement.

The official said that trans-Atlantic council would work on coordinating standards for artificial intelligence, quantum computing and bio-technologies, as well as coordinating efforts on bolstering supply chain resilience. Biden is appointing Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai to co-chair the U.S. side of the effort.

The U.S.-EU summit is also expected to include a communique at its conclusion that will address concerns about China’s provocative behavior, according to the official.

Tuesday’s statement would follow a NATO summit communique on Monday that declared China a constant security challenge and said the Chinese are working to undermine the global rules-based order. On Sunday, the G-7 called out what it said were China’s forced labor practices and other human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the western Xinjiang province.

Since taking office in January, Biden has repeatedly pressed Putin to take action to stop Russian-originated cyberattacks on companies and governments in the U.S. and around the globe and decried the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Biden also has publicly aired intelligence that suggests – albeit with low to moderate confidence – that Moscow offered bounties to the Taliban to target U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan.

Both Biden and Putin have described the U.S.-Russia relationship as being at an all-time low.

The Europeans are keen to set up a “high-level dialogue” on Russia with the United States to counter what they say is Moscow’s drift into authoritarianism and anti-Western sentiment.

At the same time, the 27-nation bloc is deeply divided in its approach to Moscow. Russia is the EU’s biggest natural gas supplier, and plays a key role in a series of international conflicts and key issues, including the Iran nuclear deal and conflicts in Syria and Libya.

The hope is that Biden’s meeting with Putin on Wednesday might pay dividends, and no one in Brussels wants to undermine the show of international unity that has been on display at the G-7 and NATO summits, according to EU officials.

In addition to scolding China, NATO leaders in their communique on Monday took a big swipe at Russia, deploring its aggressive military activities and snap wargames near the borders of NATO countries as well as the repeated violation of the 30-nations’ airspace by Russian planes.

They said Russia has ramped up “hybrid” actions against NATO countries by attempting to interfere in elections, political and economic intimidation, disinformation campaigns and “malicious cyber activities.”

“Until Russia demonstrates compliance with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities, there can be no return to ‘business as usual,’” the NATO leaders wrote. “We will continue to respond to the deteriorating security environment by enhancing our deterrence and defense posture.”

___

Associated Press writer Paul Wiseman contributed to this report.

Biden says Putin is a ‘worthy adversary’ as he prepares for showdown

Biden says Putin is a ‘worthy adversary’ as he prepares for showdown

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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a media conference at a NATO summit in Brussels, Monday, June 14, 2021. U.S. President Joe Biden is taking part in his first NATO summit, where the 30-nation alliance hopes to reaffirm its unity … more >

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By Dave Boyer

The Washington Times

Monday, June 14, 2021

President Biden on Monday wouldn’t repeat his assertion that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “killer,” calling him a “worthy adversary” as he prepares for a showdown with Mr. Putin in Geneva on Wednesday.

Speaking at a press conference at NATO headquarters in Belgium, the president said he will seek areas of cooperation with Mr. Putin, after Moscow’s interference in U.S. elections, cyberattacks originating in Russia and human-rights violations.

“What I’ll convey to President Putin is that I’m not looking for conflict with Russia, but that we will respond if Russia continues its harmful activities,” Mr. Biden told reporters. “And we will not fail to defend the trans-Atlantic alliance or stand up for democratic values.”

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Asked if he still believes Mr. Putin is a “killer,” as he stated in March, Mr. Biden paused for an awkwardly long time before giving a forced laugh. He noted that Mr. Putin also laughed at the question from a U.S. journalist.

“I’m laughing, too,” Mr. Biden said. “I don’t think it matters a whole lot in terms of this next meeting we’re about to have. I’m hoping that President Putin concludes that there is some interest … in changing the perception that the world has in him.”

Referring to a previous meeting with Mr. Putin years ago, Mr. Biden said, “He’s bright, he‘s tough. I found that he is, as they say when I used to play ball, a worthy adversary.”

The president did say that it would be a “tragedy” if Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny dies in prison.

“It would do nothing but hurt [Mr. Putin’s] relationships with the rest of the world, in my view, and with me,” Mr. Biden said.

Putin praises Trump, presses Biden for ‘stability’ ahead of summit

Putin praises Trump, presses Biden for ‘stability’ ahead of summit

Russian leader speaks to NBC News on a range of issues

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In this image provided by NBC News, Keir Simmons, left, speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview aired on Monday, June 14, 2021, two days before the Russian leader is to meet U.S. President Joe Biden in Geneva. … more >

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By David R. Sands

The Washington Times

Monday, June 14, 2021

Former President Donald Trump is an “extraordinary, talented individual,” President Biden is a “career man” in government, and Russia would appreciate a little more “stability and predictability” in U.S. foreign policy, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in his first interview with an American broadcast outlet in three years.

Just days before Mr. Putin meets Mr. Biden for a much-anticipated one-day summit in Geneva, the Russian leader expounded on a variety of topics in a 90-minute interview with NBC News.

Mr. Biden is expected to present Wednesday a lengthy list of complaints about the Kremlin’s behavior on cyberhacking, Ukraine and the state of civil liberties in Russia, but Mr. Putin made it clear he has his own problems with the U.S.

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“The most important value in international affairs is predictability and stability,” Mr. Putin said, “and I believe that on the part of our U.S. partners, this is something that we haven’t seen in recent years.”

He cited what he said were U.S. policy U-turns over the past decade on Libya, Syria and Ukraine, and expressed hope that Mr. Biden’s deep experience in government could be a plus, even if bilateral relations remain frosty.

“It is my great hope that, yes, there are some advantages, some disadvantages, but there will not be any impulse-based movements on behalf of the sitting U.S. president,” Mr. Putin said.

The onetime KGB officer who has ruled Russia for two decades brushed off Mr. Biden’s recent endorsement of the view that he was a “killer,” a remark that led the Kremlin to recall its ambassador to Washington for consultations.

“Over my tenure, I’ve gotten used to attacks from all kinds of angles and from all kinds of areas under all kinds of pretext and reasons … and none of it surprises me,” Mr. Putin said.

He also had warm words for Mr. Trump, who faced repeated criticism during his term for not taking a tougher stance against the Russian leader.

Mr. Trump is a “colorful individual,” Mr. Putin said. “You may like him or not, but he didn’t come from the U.S. establishment.”

In the interview, Mr. Putin denied that Russia was the source of a string of recent “ransomware” attacks in the U.S., said that jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny “will not be treated any worse than anybody else” and observed that there were “some grounds” for the Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. while not condoning “extreme” behavior.

“We have always treated with understanding the fight of African Americans for their rights,” the Russian leader contended.

Putin calls accusation of cyberattacks against U.S. ‘farcical’

Putin calls accusation of cyberattacks against U.S. ‘farcical’

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In this Sept. 23, 2020, file photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. In an interview on Russian state television, Putin, ahead of his June 16, 2021, meeting with President Joe Biden, issued a strong, … more >

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By

Associated Press

Monday, June 14, 2021

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has sharply dismissed allegations that his country is carrying out cyberattacks against the United States as baseless.

Putin’s comments in an interview aired on NBC on Monday come two days before he is to meet U.S. President Joe Biden in Geneva and underline the tensions between the two countries. 

“Where is the evidence? Where is proof? It’s becoming farcical,” Putin said. “We have been accused of all kinds of things — election interference, cyberattacks and so on and so forth — and not once, not once, not one time, did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof, just unfounded accusations.” 

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Biden welcomes South Korean President Moon Jae-in for Friday talks at White House

Biden welcomes South Korea’s Moon for Friday talks at White House

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrives for a ceremony to present the Medal of Honor to U.S. Army Col. Ralph Puckett, with President Joe Biden, in the East Room of the White House, Friday, May 21, 2021, in Washington. (AP … more >

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By David Sherfinski

The Washington Times

Friday, May 21, 2021

President Biden on Friday welcomed South Korean President Moon Jae-in to the White House ahead of a busy afternoon involving bilateral talks, a medal ceremony and questions from the press.

Mr. Biden said he was honored to have Mr. Moon on hand to participate in a Medal of Honor ceremony for retired Army Col. Ralph Puckett, Jr. honoring Col. Puckett’s heroic actions during the Korean War.

“The strength and the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea was born out of the courage, determination, [and] sacrifice of the Korean troops fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops,” Mr. Biden said. “Having you here today is an important recognition of all that our nation has achieved together — both of them — in the decades since.”

SEE ALSO: Harris tells Moon of U.S. vision for Pacific ‘unconstrained by coercion’

Mr. Moon is hoping his meetings in Washington this week can jump-start denuclearization talks on the Korean peninsula, a topic of discussion that undoubtedly will come up on Friday.

His trip to Washington is Mr. Moon‘s first official overseas trip since traveling to China in December 2019.

Meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris earlier Friday, Mr. Moon said he supports the Biden administration’s ambitious efforts to tackle climate change and that his country plans to coordinate closely with the U.S. to denuclearize and establish “permanent peace” on the Korean peninsula.

“You have devoted your life to promoting democracy and enhancing human rights of minority groups, women, people of color, and the underprivileged,” he told the vice president.

Mr. Moon worked some of Mr. Biden’s campaign language into his remarks with Ms. Harris, praising the administration for restoring the “soul” of the country and “building back better.”

The vice president said it’s more important than ever for the two countries to work together.

“President Joe Biden and I are confident that together we can promote a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region — a region that is unconstrained by coercion and anchored in international rules and order,” Ms. Harris said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that North Korea would be a central part of the discussions between Mr. Biden and Mr. Moon.

“I would say that South Korea is an incredibly important partner to the United States,” Ms. Psaki said. “Hence, the president is having one of his first bilats in person with the president of South Korea, and I think that sends a clear message.”

It’s the second time Mr. Biden has hosted a foreign leader for official in-person talks at the White House since taking office in January. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga visited last month.

Ms. Psaki said climate change and China also would be topics of discussion Friday.

She said, though, that securing an in-person meeting with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un is probably not high on Mr. Biden’s priority list.

The Biden administration has signaled it is trying for a middle ground on North Korea — somewhere in between the Trump administration’s aggressive, direct outreach and the Obama administration’s more hands-off approach.

On Thursday, Mr. Moon met with congressional leaders and traveled to Arlington National Cemetery for a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“I hope that a series of dialogues between our two countries … will deepen our bilateral cooperation in not only establishing peace on the Korean peninsula, but also prevailing over COVID-19, reviving the economy and responding to climate change,” Mr. Moon said at the Capitol with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

• Dave Boyer and Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.

Antony Blinken brings Joe Biden’s anti-Trump climate policy to Iceland

Blinken brings Biden’s anti-Trump climate policy to Iceland

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Icelandic Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson, centre right, greets US Secretary of State Antony Blinken centre left, as he arrives for meetings at the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Blinken is touting the Biden administration’s … more >

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By Matthew Lee

Associated Press

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) — On a trip overshadowed by the crisis in the Middle East, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday touted the Biden administration’s abrupt shift in its predecessor’s climate policies as he visited Iceland for talks with senior officials from the world’s Arctic nations. 

In Reykjavik for a meeting of foreign ministers of the eight members of the Arctic Council, Blinken heralded President Joe Biden‘s return to the Paris climate accord and determination to combat climate change. 

Yet the worsening violence between Israel and the Palestinians hung over the discussions. A small group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators holding banners and flags protested outside the conference center where Blinken met Icelandic Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson.

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“We are very focused on reinvigorating our closest alliances and partnerships, and also our engagement in multilateral institutions, and being here really represents both aspects of that effort,” Blinken told the foreign minister. He lauded Iceland for its strong support for human rights, climate change mitigation and the role it plays in NATO.

The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the world and has been particularly hard hit by rising sea levels from melting sea ice and glaciers. Former U.S. President Donald Trump had alienated Arctic countries and others with his dismissal of the phenomenon and his withdrawal from the 2015 Paris agreement.

Trump’s former Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, also stunned many in the environmental community at an Arctic Council meeting two years ago in Finland with a call for countries to embrace and harness climate change, particularly the opening of new sea lanes due to melting ice, for commercial gain.

Blinken will tour several Icelandic geo-thermal energy sites later Tuesday before holding a series of bilateral meetings with other Arctic Council foreign ministers on Wednesday. Among them will be Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in what will be the highest-level face-to-face talks between the two countries since Biden took office.

Blinken will see Lavrov amid a sharp deterioration in ties between Washington and Moscow sparked by Russia’s build-up of troops along the border with Ukraine, cyberattacks and allegations that Russia interfered in U.S. presidential elections in 2016 and 2020. The two nations are also at odds over influence in the Arctic, with Russia insisting its large Arctic landmass makes it the pre-eminent power in the region.

Moscow and Washington are also embroiled in a bitter dispute over the status of their respective embassies and consulates after tit-for-tat expulsions this year. Russia has given the U.S. until Aug. 1 to get rid of all non-American staff at its diplomatic missions, something the U.S. says will make it nearly impossible for its facilities to function.

Blinken and Lavrov’s talks will also serve as a preview for an expected summit between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin next month. 

Senior officials say Biden is interested in testing the proposition that the U.S. and Russia can work collaboratively on certain issues, like climate change, the Mideast, Iran and North Korea, despite bitter disagreements on others.

EU says US stand on patent virus waiver is no ‘magic bullet’

EU says US stand on patent virus waiver is no ‘magic bullet’

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French President Emmanuel Macron speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU summit at the Crystal Palace in Porto, Portugal, Saturday, May 8, 2021. On Saturday, EU leaders hold an online summit with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, … more >

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By RAF CASERT and BARRY HATTON

Associated Press

Saturday, May 8, 2021

PORTO, Portugal (AP) – European Union leaders cranked up their criticism of the U.S. call to waive COVID-19 vaccine patents Saturday, arguing the move would yield no short-term or intermediate improvement in vaccine supplies and could even have a negative impact.

On the second day of an EU summit in Portugal, the European leaders instead urged Washington to lift export restrictions if it wants to have a global impact on the pandemic.

“We don’t think, in the short term, that it’s the magic bullet,” European Council President Charles Michel said. French President Emmanuel Macron insisted that giving any priority now to a discussion of intellectual property rights “is a false debate.”

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Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, home to many Big Pharma companies, went the farthest of all, cautioning that relaxing patent rules could harm efforts to adapt vaccines as the coronavirus mutates.

“I see more risks than opportunities,” Merkel said. “I don’t believe that releasing patents is the solution to provide vaccines for more people.”

Instead, the leaders joined previous EU calls for U.S. President Joe Biden to start boosting U.S. vaccine exports as a way to contain the global COVID-19 crisis, insisting that move was the most urgent need.

“I’m very clearly urging the U.S. to put an end to the ban on exports of vaccines and on components of vaccines that are preventing them being produced,” Macron said.

He mentioned the German company CureVac, saying it could not produce a vaccine in Europe because the necessary components were blocked in the United States. Hundreds of components can go into a vaccine.

Merkel said she hoped that “now that large parts of the American population have been vaccinated, there will be a free exchange of (vaccine) ingredients.”

“Europe has always exported a large part of its European (vaccine) production to the world, and that should become the rule,” the longtime German leader said.

While the U.S. has kept a tight lid on exports of American-made vaccines so it can inoculate its own population first, the EU has become the world’s leading provider, allowing about as many doses to go outside the 27-nation bloc as are kept for its 446 million inhabitants.

The EU has distributed about 200 million doses within the bloc while about the same amount has been exported abroad to almost 90 countries. Former EU member Britain has acted similarly to the U.S.,

“First of all, you must open up,” Macron said in addressing the United States. “First of all, the Anglo-Saxons must stop their bans on exports.”

The EU is trying to regain the diplomatic initiative on vaccines after Biden put it on the back foot with his surprising endorsement of lifting patent protections on COVID-19 vaccines, seeking to solve the problem of getting shots into the arms of people in poorer countries.

Macron and other EU leaders have insisted that production capacity first must be ramped up by reconverting factories so they can quickly start producing vaccines through a transfer of technology.

“Today, there is not a factory in the world that cannot produce doses for poor countries because of a patent issue,” Macron said.

Developed nations should also increase vaccine donations to poorer countries, the EU leaders say in arguing that talking about patent waivers alone won’t cut it.

“We are willing to go into that discussion, but then we need a real 360-degree view on it,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

___

Casert reported from Brussels. Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.

Editorial Roundup: US

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By The Associated Press

Associated Press

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

May 3

The Los Angeles Times on pushing Congress to enact sensible gun reform measures:

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For more years than it is comfortable to count, the National Rifle Association and its abettors in Washington have forestalled even the most sensible efforts to confront our national scourge of gun violence.

But at the moment, the NRA is on the ropes as an institution. Its problems include a move by the New York state attorney general to dissolve the association over fraud allegations; an internal rebellion by longtime major donors; accusations of self-dealing; a failed coup by dissident members; a rancorous lawsuit with its former public relations agency (amid more allegations of fraud); and a dubious bankruptcy filing in Texas aimed at undercutting the existential threat from the New York attorney general.

All of which has diminished the NRA’s power in Congress. And with the pro-reform Democratic Party narrowly controlling the House and the Senate, and with longtime gun-control supporter Joe Biden in the White House, now would seem to be the time to push through some changes.

The NRA remains a force, so any legislation to rein in guns faces significant headwinds. On a couple of familiar issues, though, gun control advocates might finally be able to gain enough traction to overcome the gun lobby.

One is the closing the loopholes that allow some gun sales and transfers to be made without a background check, an idea supported by the vast majority of Americans, including pro-gun Republicans.

Sales through federally licensed gun shops and dealers already require the seller to run the name of the buyer through federal databases of people prohibited from owning a gun for any number of reasons (including having been convicted of a felony or certain domestic violence offenses, being subject to a protective order, or suffering from mental illness). Yet individual sales at gun shows, intra-family transfers, and some online purchases can be made without a background check, a bazooka-sized hole in efforts to keep guns out of the hands of people who legally can’t have them.

And even a required background check can be skirted. If the government does not complete the check within three days, the licensed dealer can complete the sale anyway. While the vast majority of checks proceed quickly, some encounter incomplete records or other wrinkles that slow the process. It is foolishness for the law to say, well, okay, here’s your gun anyway. That very loophole enabled Dylann Roof, who murdered nine Black people in a Charleston, S.C., church, to buy a gun he was barred from owning.

Gun-rights advocates frame mandatory background checks as placing an undue burden on someone’s ability to exercise a constitutional right, and universal background checks would interfere with a private sale of a legal item between two individuals.

But that’s not the case. Laws bar certain individuals from owning a firearm, and checking the names of buyers against that list to determine eligibility is a reasonable balance of interests (much like a store clerk checking an ID to make certain a customer can legally buy a six-pack of beer), whether the seller is a gun shop or your neighbor.

And the federal government is not building a gun registry, as the gun rights people argue; the records of who wants to buy a weapon are kept by gun dealers, and by law the government can’t computerize the handwritten records if they receive them after a gun dealer goes out of business.

Further, they argue, background checks do not keep criminals from buying firearms. While the checks may not be 100% effective (by definition, criminals break laws), more than 3 million purchases have been blocked out of more than 278 million checks performed since they were first required under the 1994 Brady Act. Closing the loopholes will make a difference.

The House has passed two bills to tighten up background checks: the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, which would extend background checks to gun shows and many other exchanges between private parties, and the Enhanced Background Checks Act, which would give the government 10 days to complete a background check instead of three. Sen. Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has pledged to bring them up in the Senate, and President Biden urged passage of both bills during his address to Congress on Wednesday night.

Unfortunately, the measures still need support from at least 10 Republicans to overcome the inevitable filibuster by gun-rights zealots in the Senate. The nation can only hope that enough of them will find the courage to put public safety first and support these measures.

But to state the obvious, passing sensible gun control measures comes down to politics. People telling pollsters they support such laws is one thing; telling your representatives and Congress to put public safety ahead of the financial interests of the gun lobby is another, more crucial step. Reach out, make your voice heard.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2021-05-03/congress-guns-nra-background-checks

___

April 29

The Orange County Register on the lack of “common sense” in proposed gun laws:

Gun-control supporters often propose what they describe as “common sense” gun laws.

It’s their latest mantra, but a host of new California firearms proposals makes clear that many of these proposals are more nonsensical than common sense. Reducing gun crime is a noble aim, but it’s hard to see how the latest proposals will move in that direction.

Senate Bill 264 by Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine, would ban gun shows on state property – a symbolic measure that will not reduce gun violence. Gun buyers and sellers at, say, public fairgrounds must follow strict state regulations. There’s no connection between gun shows and violence. The shows will move to private venues.

Assembly Bill 1223 from Assembly member Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, would impose an excise tax of as much as 11 percent on the sale of guns and ammunition to fund California Violence Intervention and Prevention (CalVIP) grants. Some community-based programs might help, but others seem unproven at best. If such programs work, nonprofits should fund them.

Assembly Bill 1057 from Assembly member Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Laguna Beach, sounds good on the surface. It expands California’s “red flag” law, which lets law enforcement confiscate weapons from people who they deem dangerous, to apply to “ghost guns.” Those are untraceable home-built firearms that have become popular thanks to the Internet and 3D printing.

Governments aren’t good at predicting criminal behavior and end up violating innocent gun owners’ due-process rights instead. Ghost guns are proliferating mainly as a workaround to the state’s onerous gun-control laws. The government isn’t particularly effective at cracking down on any underground marketplace, from guns to narcotics.

California’s existing Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS), which is designed to let state agents confiscate weapons from people who shouldn’t own them, is a widely maligned bureaucratic mess plagued by an inaccurate database.

It’s hard to fathom how any of the two dozen gun-related measures introduced this session could be described as sensible means of reducing gun violence.

ONLINE: https://www.ocregister.com/2021/04/29/sacramentos-litany-of-mostly-ineffective-nonsensical-gun-bills/

___

April 30

The Miami Herald on a Florida law that protects free speech for vigilantes, not protesters:

Of all the bills rammed through by the Florida Legislature this session – sometimes revived late at night and then quickly passed by GOP lawmakers – the most egregious remains House Bill 1.

It’s Gov. Ron DeSantis’ baby, and he has already signed it into law.

The session is about to end, but HB 1 set the stage for this year’s legislative theme: Strip power from local governments, and trample Floridians’ constitutional rights underfoot.

Civil-rights attorneys from a nonprofit called the Lawyers Matter Task Force, and additional plaintiffs, have already filed a lawsuit challenging the governor’s new law, concocted to have a chilling effect on those who take to the streets to protest for rights denied – long an American tradition that Florida’s governor suddenly wants to curtail.

This lawsuit is one of the best things to come out of a mean-spirited legislative session that has resulted in few things to cheer.

HB 1 is an insidious law, anti-democratic and un-American, an edict some autocrat might have cooked up.

AN ATTEMPT TO SILENCE

Aimed at clamping down on social-justice demonstrations, the bill increases penalties for crimes committed during protests, but also allows even peaceful protesters and uninvolved bystanders to be swept up and hauled in by police during protests where violence occurs.

Black Floridians, especially, say it’s an attempt to silence their demands for social justice – most recently invigorated after the death of George Floyd last year.

Before signing the bill into law, DeSantis said, “We wanted to make sure that we were able to protect the people of our great state, people’s businesses and property against any type of mob activity or violent assemblies.”

“Mob activities” and “violent assemblies” are unacceptable. But so is letting police decide what exactly is a “riot” and cast the broadest net possible over people in the vicinity of a protest. HB 1 ignores the fact that strong laws against such violence and property destruction already exist.

Worse, HB 1 creates a new category of violent criminal behavior – then, callously, protects it.

The law gives cover to vigilantes and counter protesters who injure or kill “rioters,” letting them escape liability in a civil lawsuit.

WHAT’S A RIOT?

“House Bill 1 is a horrendous injustice to Florida citizens and infringes on multiple constitutional rights,” said Shannon Ligon, who founded the group that’s challenging the new law in federal court in Orlando. It names as defendants DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Orange County Sheriff John Mina.

Under the new law, peaceful protests could be “characterized as a “riot” due solely to the misconduct of one or two individuals, the plaintiffs wrote.

The law, among other things, creates a new felony crime of “aggravated rioting” that carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison and a new crime of “mob intimidation,” which makes it unlawful “for a person, assembled with two or more other persons and acting with a common intent, to use force or threaten to use imminent force, to compel or induce, or attempt to compel or induce, another person to do or refrain from doing any act or to assume, abandon, or maintain a particular viewpoint against his or her will.”

But there is still something called freedom of speech, and Floridians should fervently hope the court reminds the governor of that.

ONLINE: https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/editorials/article250859594.html

___

May 4

The Hindu Times on the economic crisis in North Korea opening a lane for diplomacy, denuclearization:

President Joe Biden’s call for “stern deterrence” in response to North Korea’s nuclear programme and Pyongyang’s angry reaction, accusing the Biden administration of being “hostile”, suggest that both countries are headed towards a diplomatic showdown. In his first congressional address last week, Mr. Biden said the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea posed a “serious threat to America’s security and world security” and promised to respond through “diplomacy and stern deterrence”. His administration has also completed a review of the U.S.’s North Korea policy. Mr. Biden is likely to steer between Barack Obama’s “strategic patience” and Donald Trump’s top-level summitry in dealing with the North Korean nuclear challenge. North Korea has remained an unresolved foreign policy puzzle for all post-War American Presidents. In recent times, U.S. Presidents have shown a willingness to diplomatically engage with Pyongyang. The Clinton administration had signed a framework agreement with Pyongyang to halt its nuclear programme. Mr. Obama had initiated talks with North Korea in 2012, which collapsed after Pyongyang launched a satellite. He then adopted a wait-and-watch approach, which came to be called “strategic patience”. Mr. Trump altered his predecessor’s North Korea policy by reaching out to the regime and meeting its leader, Kim Jong-un, thrice, but without a breakthrough.

In theory, the Trump administration and North Korea had agreed to a complete de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, but failed to agree on its formula. In the 2019 Trump-Kim summit at Hanoi, the U.S. proposed removal of sanctions for de-nuclearisation, but North Korea rejected it. Pyongyang had taken a phased approach and sought sanctions removal in return. Ever since, there has been no improvement in ties. After Mr. Biden assumed office, North Korea had conducted short-range missile tests, which the U.S. saw as a provocation. Mr. Biden does not have many good options in dealing with North Korea. The U.S.’s key goal in northeastern Asia is the de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. And the only practical way to achieve this is through diplomacy as a military strike on North Korea, a nuclear power, is out of the question. Though the Trump-Kim summits did not lead to any breakthrough, they have still created a diplomatic momentum for engagement. Despite its threats to expand its nuclear programme, North Korea sticks to the self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range ballistic missile tests. The North, as acknowledged by Mr. Kim recently, is going through a tough economic crisis and is open to talks. Mr. Biden should seize this opportunity and try to reach common ground with Mr. Kim that addresses both North Korea’s economic worries and the U.S.’s nuclear concerns. That should be the focus of the Biden administration’s new North Korean strategy.

ONLINE: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/the-nuclear-challenge-on-north-koreas-economic-worries/article34474669.ece

___

April 26

The Philadelphia Inquirer on Pennsylvania’s opportunity to help workers through the decline of fracking:

The natural gas industry in Pennsylvania is worried about its future – and rightfully so.

During last week’s virtual global climate summit, President Joe Biden announced a goal of cutting greenhouse gas pollution in half by 2030, from a 2005 baseline. Biden has already rejoined the Paris Agreement and set a goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

The U.S. will not reach the 2030 goal without Pennsylvania, which produced nearly 10% of all energy in the nation in 2018 – only second to Texas. Now the state has an opportunity to manage the decline of its polluting energy industry while investing in sustainable, high-paying green union jobs as a replacement.

While burning natural gas emits less CO2 than burning coal or oil, natural gas is abundant in methane – a powerful greenhouse gas that traps more heat than does carbon, though it lingers for less time. The United Nations will soon release a report declaring it urgent to cut methane to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

Natural gas production nationwide was responsible for 47% of methane emissions by industry in 2018. And that doesn’t account for storage and distribution. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has identified 8,500 unplugged abandoned oil and gas wells and estimates approximately 200,000 older undocumented wells, many of which may be leaking methane. Multiple studies suggest that methane leaks are undercutting natural gas’s ability to dramatically contribute to emissions reduction as a “transition fuel.”

Yet, despite all this evidence, and commitments from Gov. Tom Wolf to reduce emissions, Pennsylvania continues to build infrastructure for the natural gas industry – whether via the leaking Mariner East pipeline, new fracking permits, and subsidized petrochemical plants.

In Western Pennsylvania counties, where fracking is abundant, there is understandable collective trauma from past decline of industry. Since 1990, Pennsylvania has lost 42,000 jobs in metal manufacturing and 12,000 in coal mining – a 60% job loss in these two industries. Fracking natural gas was supposed to be a godsend. Instead, fracking created dramatically fewer jobs than industry promised, and those jobs created are now at risk.

Fear of that loss should not be taken lightly. But one reason the decline in coal and steel was so painful is that it wasn’t managed. The rug was pulled out from under workers’ feet. Pennsylvania can do things differently this time.

The opportunity is undeniable. The two occupations that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects see growing fastest in coming years are solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians. The White House is proposing investment that will create millions of jobs in the sector. If Pennsylvania transitions fossil fuel subsidies – totaling $3.8 billion in fiscal year 2019 – into green jobs, the transition will be even faster. It is critical these investments go to the communities that lose fossil fuel jobs and those, predominantly Black communities, that have suffered the most harm from pollution.

As the climate crisis worsens, more abrupt and painful measures to decrease emissions fast will become necessary, yet increasingly inadequate. Pennsylvania has a choice: wait for the decline, or manage it, benefiting workers and the environment.

ONLINE: https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/editorials/fracking-biden-climate-greenhouse-gas-methane-pennsylvania-20210426.html

___

May 3

Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier on the South Carolina Legislature’s open-carry gun bill starts bad, gets worse:

There’s probably nothing we can say at this point to convince S.C. senators who don’t already realize that it’s a bad idea to let concealed-weapon carriers start carrying their guns on their hips.

After all, they’ve heard all the arguments against it, and still they voted more than 2-to-1 last week to bypass committee and put a House-passed open-carry bill at the top of their agenda for debate as early as Tuesday.

They’ve heard from people who say they would feel threatened if they encountered someone wearing a gun, even if that person does nothing (other than wearing the gun) to threaten them. And from those who argued that having those guns visible puts everybody on edge, increasing the risk that disagreements will escalate into deadly violence.

They’ve heard from police who warn that it’ll be even tougher to distinguish the bad guys from the good guns in active-shooter situations. And more commonly, they’ll be placed in a legally precarious situation when citizens call to complain about someone walking around their neighborhood with a holstered gun – because that’s not a crime, and legally speaking, they have no more justification for questioning someone walking down the street with a gun than someone walking down the street without a gun. (Retired SLED Chief Robert Stewart warned that the bill could get a lot of permit holders killed, because carrying a handgun openly would make them target No. 1 if they were present when a crime was being committed.)

We believe the entire bill should be defeated, because there is no reason to believe that the current law violates anyone’s constitutional rights, no one has presented a good reason it’s needed, and actual conservatives don’t change things without a legitimate reason.

But even if they aren’t willing to do that, we would urge senators at least to pay attention to some other provisions of H.3094 that have gotten little attention.

The bill does allow local governments to prohibit the open carry of weapons at protests, festivals and other organized events that require a permit. But it says they can’t extend the ban for any period before or after the event, which seems dangerous given that violence associated with protests often occurs after the event officially ends.

The bill also says local governments “may not exercise the provisions of this subsection” if “a permit is not applied for and issued prior to an event” – which seems to invite people who want a fully armed protest to hold it without applying for a permit.

H.3094 also strips a provision from state law that makes it clear that state law “does not affect the authority of any county, municipality, or political subdivision to regulate the careless or negligent discharge or public brandishment of firearms, nor does it prevent the regulation of public brandishment of firearms during the times of or a demonstrated potential for insurrection, invasions, riots, or natural disasters.”

State law doesn’t even define brandish, but several local governments, including Charleston, prohibit it. So it’s not clear that police could charge someone who started waving his or her gun around in a menacing way.

Of course, the worst part of the bill is the part that isn’t in it yet: Some senators want to transform a bill that allows open carry for licensed concealed-weapons permit holders into a bill that allows everybody who isn’t legally barred from owning guns to carry those guns openly.

At least people with concealed-carry permits have passed criminal background checks and received some rudimentary training in what state law allows and doesn’t allow them to do with their guns and where they are and are not allowed to carry those guns. And the people who apply for the permits tend to be law-abiding citizens – although SLED reports that it had to deny 2,660 permits in 2020 and that it revoked 1,199 more, which means not every one with a permit is law-abiding or otherwise fit to carry a gun.

Supporters call the idea of letting everybody carry their guns openly “constitutional carry.” That’s the ultimate in trying to rewrite reality through language, because as Chief Stewart testified last week, if the U.S. Constitution gave people the right to carry their guns in public, we wouldn’t be having this debate.

Except for a small portion of the population on the extremes, no one has ever believed the Constitution allows that; the U.S. Supreme Court has never even hinted that it does. Just the opposite, in fact. (The case the high court agreed to hear last month challenges a New York law that is far more restrictive than South Carolina’s much more conservative law that was in place prior to our current concealed-carry law.)

The only reason to even consider such a radical law would be if we were backed into a corner and forced by the court to pass it, which hasn’t happened. For that matter, no one has presented another reason that would justify allowing even permit holders to carry their guns openly.

ONLINE: https://www.postandcourier.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-sc-open-carry-gun-bill-starts-bad-gets-worse-some-want-to-make-it/article_2444340e-ac2a-11eb-909a-237b315f3bf1.html

Top US diplomat to join China UN event on global cooperation

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FILE – In this Jan. 30, 2020, file photo, China’s United Nations Ambassador Zhang Jun speaks during a press conference at U.N. headquarters. Zhang expressed hope Monday, May 3, 2021 that President Joe Biden’s policy toward North Korea will give … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will participate in a U.N. Security Council meeting Friday chaired by China’s foreign minister on strengthening global cooperation and the key role of the United Nations in harnessing international action to tackle the world’s conflicts and crises, China’s U.N. ambassador said Monday.

It will be the first encounter, though virtually, for Blinken and China’s top diplomat Wang Yi.

China’s U.N. envoy Zhang Jun told a news conference that Friday’s meeting is “the first priority” of China’s Security Council presidency this month, and will be attended not only by Blinken but “quite a number” of other foreign ministers from the 15 nations on the U.N.’s most powerful body.

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Last week, President Joe Biden stressed to Congress the critical importance of the United States keeping up with China, which his administration sees as a strategic challenger, and proving that American democracy can still work and maintain primacy in the world.

Friday’s council session also comes in the wake of a contentious meeting in Alaska on March 18 between Blinken and Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi, who took aim at each other’s country’s sharply differed policies. It was the first face-to-face U.S.-China meeting of the Biden administration.

Blinken said the administration is united with its allies in pushing back against China’s increasing authoritarianism and assertiveness at home and abroad including its actions in Hong Kong and against Taiwan, the Uighur minority in Xinjiang and in the South China Sea. Yang responded angrily, demanding that the U.S. stop pushing its own version of democracy at a time when America has been roiled by domestic discontent and accusing Washington of hypocrisy for criticizing Beijing on human rights and other issues.

China’s Zhang said Monday: “It’s becoming more and more evident that in tackling the current global crises, multilateralism represents the right way out.”

He recalled the declaration adopted last September by world leaders commemorating the 75th anniversary of the United Nations which says that following the COVID-19 pandemic: “Multilateralism is not an option but a necessity as we build back better for a more equal, more resilient, and more sustainable world. The United Nations must be at the center of our efforts.”

At Friday’s meeting, he said, “We do hope … members will have the opportunity to reaffirm their support to multilateralism, to practice real multilateralism, and then to give stronger support to the role of the United Nations and to defend the international system with the United Nations sitting at the center, and also to support international order based on international law.”

Obama makes virtual visit for Independent Bookstore Day

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FILE – In this Nov. 2, 2020 file photo, former President Barack Obama speaks at a rally as he campaigns for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden in Atlanta. A long-time patron of independent bookstores Obama celebrated Independent … more >

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By ANNA GUIZERIX and The Oxford Eagle

Associated Press

Saturday, May 1, 2021

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) – A former President of the United States visited Square Books – virtually – last week.

Independent Bookstore Day, celebrated on April 24, is a one-day national celebration of independent bookstores and the invaluable services they provide to local communities.

Now in its seventh year, the annual event encourages readers to make a visit to their local shop as a gesture of support for them and all that they do to serve as cultural anchors within neighborhoods.

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A long-time patron of independent bookstores, President Barack Obama celebrated Independent Bookstore Day by virtually “stopping in” to visit with six independent bookstores from around the country: Square Books of Oxford; Eso Won Books of Los Angeles, Calif.; Politics & Prose Bookstore of Washington, D.C.; Parnassus Books of Nashville, Tenn.; The Lit.Bar of Bronx, N.Y.; and Literati of Ann Arbor, Mich. Booksellers from each store spoke with the President about their mutual love of reading, the craft of writing, and all things books.

In his conversation with Square Books owner Richard Howorth, Obama spoke about his love for reading – even when the demands of the Presidency hindered his ability to do so.

“Each night, I’d have a stack of briefing papers and speeches to review and notes about economic issues or foreign policy issues. It would take me two or three hours every night to plow through that stuff,” Obama said. “By the time I was done, it was pretty late. … But I’m a night owl, and what I found was, that having 45 minutes to an hour to read something for me… helped to reset me and also helped to extend my perspective beyond the narrow set of headaches that were staring me in the face.”

Obama also said he advises current President Joe Biden to “read whatever nourishes his soul.”

When elaborating on the literature he enjoys reading, Obama said fiction works were the most enriching during the Presidency.

“It’s very hard when you’re dealing with major domestic or foreign policy issues, not to deal in abstractions,” Obama said. “You’re dealing with millions of unemployed, or there’s a risk assessment around this nation going into conflict with another nation. So, you’re looking at the macro. It was very important for me, to be able to remind myself that, behind the numbers, were individual lives and hopes and dreams and passions.”

Sometimes, however, Obama said he just needed to escape into a good detective novel.

Square Books is open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and 9 to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

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In this April 23, 2019, file photo, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy aircraft carrier Liaoning participates in a naval parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of China’s PLA Navy in the sea near Qingdao in … more >

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Thursday, April 29, 2021

BEIJING (AP) — Activity by U.S. military ships and surveillance planes directed at China has increased significantly under President Joe Biden’s administration, a spokesperson for the Chinese Defense Ministry said Thursday.

As an example, Wu Qian said the Navy destroyer USS Mustin recently conducted close-in observation of the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning and its battle group.

That had “seriously interfered with the Chinese side’s training activities and seriously threatened the safety of navigation and personnel on the both sides,” Wu said. The ship was warned to leave and a formal protest was filed with the U.S., he said.

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Activity by U.S. military ships was up 20% and by planes 40% in Chinese-claimed areas since Biden took office in January over the same period last year, Wu said.

“The U.S. frequently dispatches ships and planes to operate in seas and airspace near China, promoting regional militarization and threatening regional peace and stability,” Wu said at a monthly briefing held virtually.

China routinely objects to the U.S. military presence in the South China Sea, which it claims almost in its entirety, as well as the passage of Navy ships through the Taiwan Strait.

The country recently marked the 20th anniversary of the collision between a U.S. surveillance plane and a Chinese navy fighter near the Chinese island province of Hainan that resulted in the Chinese pilot’s death. He was called a hero who sacrificed himself for the defense of the motherland. The U.S. says its plane was in international airspace and the accident was the result of reckless flying by the Chinese side.

Wu also blasted moves to beef up monitoring of Chinese aircraft movements by Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy claimed by China as its own territory, to be annexed by force if necessary.

Efforts by Taiwan’s government to stave off what China refers to as inevitable unification are like “a mantis trying to stop a chariot,” Wu said.

The U.S. maintains only unofficial relations with Taiwan in deference to Beijing, but provides the island with defensive weapons and is legally bound to treat threats to it as matters of “grave concern.” Increased activity by the Chinese military around Taiwan has been raising concern about the possibility of a conflict.

In an interview with Britain’s Sky News, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu reiterated recent warnings that the military threat from China is growing through “misinformation campaigns, hybrid warfare, and … grey zone activities.”

“And all these seem to be preparing for their final military assault against Taiwan,” Wu told Sky.

“This is our country, this is our people and this is our way of life. We will defend ourselves to the very end,” Wu said.

Biden did not address such military threats in his address to Congress on Wednesday night, instead emphasizing that China and others were “closing in fast” in economic and technological terms.

“We’re in a competition with China and other countries to win the 21st century,” Biden said.

That drew a harsh response from China‘s Foreign Ministry, reflecting how hopes for an improvement in the tone, if not the substance, of relations under Biden have born little fruit.

“The U.S. always demands that others follow the rules while violating the rules themselves,” spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing.

“It is in nature out of Cold War thinking and ideological bias, and is a sign of lack of self-confidence,” Wang said. “We hope the U.S. can discard the mentality of sour grapes towards China.”

Russian minister: US-Russia ties worse than during Cold War

Russian minister: US-Russia ties worse than during Cold War

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By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

Associated Press

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

MOSCOW (AP) – Russia‘s top diplomat said Wednesday that relations with the United States are now even worse than during Cold War times because of a lack of mutual respect.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow stands ready to normalize ties with Washington but that the U.S. should stop posturing like a “sovereign” while rallying its allies against Russia and China.

Lavrov said if the U.S. shuns a mutually respectful dialogue on the basis of a balance of interests, “we would live in conditions of a Cold War or worse.”

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“During the Cold War, the tensions were flying high, and risky crisis situations often emerged, but there was also a mutual respect,” Lavrov said in a Russian state television interview. “It seems to me there is a deficit of it now.”

Earlier this month, the Biden administration slapped Russia with sanctions for interfering in the 2020 U.S. presidential election and for involvement in the SolarWind hack of federal agencies – activities Moscow has denied.

The U.S. ordered 10 Russian diplomats expelled, targeted dozens of companies and people and imposed new curbs on Russia’s ability to borrow money. While ordering the sanctions, U.S. President Joe Biden also called for de-escalating tensions and held the door open for cooperation with Russia in certain areas.

Russia quickly retaliated by ordering 10 U.S. diplomats to leave, blacklisting eight current and former U.S. officials and tightening requirements for U.S. Embassy operations.

As part of the restrictions, Russia moved to ban the U.S. Embassy and its consulates from hiring Russian citizens and third country nationals. Similar bans would also be applied to other nations designated as “unfriendly.”

Lavrov said Wednesday that a list of those countries will be published soon to formalize the decision.

Speaking in the interview with a Russian state TV host, Lavrov noted that Moscow has had a “positive” attitude to Biden’s proposal to hold a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but added that Russia still needs to analyze all aspects of the initiative.

Lavrov said he would attend a meeting of top diplomats of the Arctic nations in Iceland set for next month and would be ready to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken if he also joins the meeting.

Turks demonstrate against Biden’s Armenian genocide decision

Turks demonstrate against Biden’s Armenian genocide decision

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Supporters of the Turkey Youth Union chant slogans during a protest against U.S. President Joe Biden’s statement, outside the U.S. consulate, in Istanbul, Monday, April 26, 2021. On Saturday Biden followed through on a campaign promise to recognize the events … more >

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Monday, April 26, 2021

ISTANBUL (AP) – A small group of Turkish protestors gathered outside the American consulate in Istanbul Monday to protest U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to call the Ottoman Empire’s mass deportations and killings of Armenians a century ago a “genocide.”

A few dozen protestors held banners and chanted slogans. “Genocide is a lie, it’s an American plan,” they said. Demonstrators also demanded an end to the American military’s use of Incirlik airbase In southern Turkey, shouting: “American soldiers, get out of Turkey!”

On Saturday, Biden followed through on a campaign promise to recognize the events that began in 1915 and killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

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Turkish officials strongly condemned the proclamation, claiming there are no legal or historical grounds for the use of the word. They say both Armenians and Turks were killed as World War I ravaged the Ottoman Empire.

The U.S. consulates and the embassy were closed for routine visits until Wednesday after they issued a demonstration alert in the aftermath of Biden‘s announcement.

Biden working group targets jobs for fossil fuel communities

Biden working group targets jobs for fossil fuel communities

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FILE – In this Feb. 1, 2021 file photo, emissions from a coal-fired power plant are silhouetted against the setting sun in Independence, Mo. President Joe Biden is convening a coalition of the willing, the unwilling, the desperate-for-help and the … more >

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By CUNEYT DIL

Associated Press

Friday, April 23, 2021

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – Six large regions nationwide that have economies reliant on fossil fuels have been targeted for federal investment and aid to create renewable energy jobs, as detailed in a new report from President Joe Biden‘s administration.

The report released Friday is part of Biden’s plan to reduce America’s use of coal and other fossil fuels in order to fight climate change. The White House held a global summit this week and Biden announced he intends to cut U.S. coal and petroleum emissions in half by 2030.

The report, from a working group comprising several federal agencies, identifies $37.9 billion in currently available funding across a wide variety of departments that can help support job creation, rural infrastructure and reclaiming abandoned mine lands.

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“President Biden is committed to providing federal leadership in partnership with coal, oil and gas, and power plant communities to create good-paying union jobs, spur economic revitalization, remediate environmental degradation, and support energy workers,” the report says.

One of the hardest-hit areas is coal country. The report seeks an immediate focus on the 25 most coal-dependent areas, with Appalachia top of the list, in addition to Alaska and states in the west such as Wyoming and Utah. The Department of Energy will begin taking applications for a $75 million fund for carbon capture and storage technology, the report says.

Another $19.5 million in awards will be available for extracting critical minerals that can be used to develop batteries, magnets and components for electric vehicles.

The report also identifies available funding and grants to expand rural broadband, upgrade water treatment facilities affected by coal and promote infrastructure projects that can create jobs.

It is the group’s first report on coal and power plant communities since Biden’s executive order in late January that aims at “tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad.”

Experts say greenhouse gas emissions are heating the Earth’s climate dangerously and worsening floods, droughts and other natural disasters.

The group plans to hold a series of town hall meetings between Biden officials and the top coal communities, which also include areas in Illinois, New Mexico, Arizona, Indiana and Texas.

Coal employment has declined from 175,000 jobs in 1985 to 40,000 jobs in 2020, according to the report.

In West Virginia, Republican leaders have opposed the Democratic president’s climate change agenda. Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Friday he could go to court to fight against Biden’s pledged “transformational changes” to reduce pollutants.

“We should not be rushing to this plan for 2030,” Morrisey said.

Republican West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a businessman with investments in coal companies, said he opposed Biden’s plan to speed up the reduction of coal use but said, “at the same time, with our diversification and where we’re going in West Virginia, we’ll be okay.”

Others are more supportive of Biden‘s efforts. The nation’s largest coal miners’ union said Monday it would accept the president’s plan to move away from coal and other fossil fuels in exchange for a “true energy transition” that includes thousands of jobs in renewable energy and spending on technology to make coal cleaner.

Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, said ensuring jobs for displaced miners – including 7,000 coal workers who lost their jobs last year – is crucial to any infrastructure bill taken up by Congress.

Brian Anderson, a West Virginian who is director of the National Energy Technology Laboratory, is leading Biden’s energy communities working group.

“More West Virginians need a seat at the table, and I’m confident that Brian will act in the best interest of the people of our state,” Republican U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said in a tweet.

Mexican leader to talk with Kamala Harris on migration

Mexican leader to talk with Kamala Harris on migration

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FILE – In this Feb. 9, 2021 file photo, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador applauds during a ceremony at Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City. Mexico announced Saturday, April 24, 2021, that Lopez Obrador will hold talks with U.S. Vice … more >

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Saturday, April 24, 2021

MEXICO CITY (AP) – Mexico announced Saturday that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will hold talks with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris on May 7 to discuss migration amid an increase in underage migrants at the U.S. southern border.

Mexico’s top diplomat said the video meeting will focus on Mexico’s questioned tree-planting program. López Obrador is trying to get the United States to help fund a massive expansion of the program into Central America as a way to stem migration.

Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard wrote on Twitter that Mexico also wants to talk about cooperation on the pandemic. Mexico wants the United States to send more coronavirus vaccines.

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Harris’ office said in a statement that the meeting will focus on “the common goals of prosperity, good governance and addressing the root causes of migration.” It did not mention the tree-planting initiative.

López Obrador pitched his “Planting Life” program, which aims to pay farmers to plant 1 billion fruit and timber trees in Mexico, to U.S. President Joe Biden at Thursday’s climate change summit. The program has been extended to El Salvador, and Mexico wants U.S. funding to further extend it to Honduras and Guatemala.

López Obrador claims the program can help prevent farmers from leaving their land and migrating to the United States. He has also proposed that the U.S. grant six-month work visas, and eventually citizenship, to some of those who participate in the program.

But environmentalists question whether planting big swaths of commercial species – sometimes on land that held native forests – is a good idea. Opinions are mixed in Mexico on whether the program is really working and whether it can offset Mexico’s other policy of encouraging the use of fossil fuels.

The program has already planted 700,000 trees in Mexico, where it pays 450,000 Mexican farmers a stipend of about $225 per month to tend the saplings.

Some critics have suggested that farmers with marginal or unprofitable natural woodlands have simply cut them down in order to plant new trees and qualify for the monthly stipend.

López Obrador says the carbon-capture from trees in the reforestation program will make a major contribution to fighting climate change. But at the same time, López Obrador’s administration has focused on building oil refineries and burning more coal and fuel oil at power plants, while placing limits on private renewable and gas-fired electricity generation.