GOP senators to Joe Biden: No sanctions relief to Iran amid Israel-Palestine violence

GOP senators to Biden: No sanctions relief to Iran amid Israel-Palestine violence

Warns that negotiations could fuel Tehran's support for Hamas

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A banner depicting Hamas leadership hangs on an archway as Muslims gather following Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Eid al-Fitr, … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Senate Republicans told President Biden on Thursday to withhold any sanctions relief from Iran as administration officials plot the next steps in nuclear talks amid street violence and the heavy exchange of airstrikes between Israelis and Hamas militants in Gaza.

GOP members of the Senate Banking Committee said Iran is backing the Palestinian group so they’re afraid of an ill-timed error.

“Over the past couple days, Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, who are funded by Iran, have launched a series of rocket attacks into Israel,” the senators wrote. “This is troubling as members of your administration are currently in Vienna negotiating with Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. In light of these recent attacks by Hamas against Israel, the United States should take all steps necessary to hold Tehran accountable and under no circumstances, provide sanctions relief to Iran.”

SEE ALSO: Israeli-Palestinian clash rattles Trump’s Abraham Accords, Biden agenda

The White House said Mr. Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday to condemn the rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups into Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The president also said the U.S. seeks “a pathway toward restoring a sustainable calm,” according to a readout of the call.

Led by Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Marco Rubio of Florida, the GOP group said Iran looms in the background and is hard to ignore, as the Biden administration surveys what’s left of the nuclear deal the Obama administration and western allies struck with Tehran before former President Trump withdrew.

The senators said the U.S. should end the talks to ensure a unified message to Iran amid the unfolding violence.

“While the United States and countries around the world condemned these rocket attacks, Iran resoundingly supports this aggression,” they wrote. “Shortly after the attacks began, and as they continued, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted that Palestinians should unite to ‘use the tools of their disposal’ to attack Israel, which he recently called not a nation, but a ‘terrorist garrison.’”

“We call on you to immediately end negotiations with Iran,” they said, “and make clear that sanctions relief will not be provided.”

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

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

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

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By Daniel Kozin and Jim Heintz

Associated Press

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. to sell Canada vaunted AEGIS weapons guidance system

U.S. to sell Canada vaunted Aegis weapons guidance system

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This Dec. 10, 2018, file photo, provided by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), shows the launch of the U.S. military’s land-based Aegis missile defense testing system, that later intercepted an intermediate-range ballistic missile, from the Pacific Missile Range Facility … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The State Department has signed off on a $1.7 billion deal to sell Canada the 50-year-old command and control system the U.S. Navy uses to track and guide weapons to destroy enemy targets.

The formal clearance of the deal this week means Canada can now equip their new fleet of combatant ships with the venerable Aegis Combat System.

The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement that the sale will “support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by helping to improve the military capability of Canada, a NATO ally that is an important force for ensuring political stability and economic progress and a contributor to military, peacekeeping and humanitarian operations around the world.”

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The agency added that the sale, which was approved Monday, will increase Canada‘s ability to operate in a maritime environment with the United States and other nations that have Aegis, such as Japan, Australia and South Korea.

Biden warned against cozying-up to socialist Maduro

Biden warned against cozying-up to Venezuelan socialist Maduro

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FILE – In this Jan. 22, 2021 file photo, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a ceremony marking the start of the judicial year at the Supreme Court, in Caracas, Venezuela. Recent actions by Maduro are creating a window of … more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Monday, May 10, 2021

Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro is hoping to win concessions from Washington now that Democrats control the White House, but the Biden administration is being warned not to weaken the U.S.-led pressure campaign that former President Trump built against Caracas.

While President Biden has so far shown little sign of easing the pressure, sources say administration officials are carefully weighing how to respond to a series of surprise moves by the Russia and China-backed Maduro regime that Republicans claim is engaged in a “scheme” to stay in power.

Mr. Maduro caused a stir in foreign policy circles last month by finally allowing the World Food Program (WFP) to begin distributing much-needed food to Venezuelan schoolchildren, a development that came after critics had accused him of allowing supplies to go only to his supporters.

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Then came an announcement that the so-called “Citgo 6” were being released from a Venezuelan prison to house arrest, a clear overture to U.S. officials who have long criticized Caracas’ 2017 detention on corruption charges of the six executives from Houston-based Citgo Petroleum — a subsidiary of the Venezuelan state oil company.

The Biden administration was still analyzing the “Citgo 6” move when Mr. Maduro made headlines again by announcing that two stalwart members of Venezuela’s opposition — including a formerly jailed activist — would be allowed to fill seats on the country’s National Electoral Council.

“Maduro is trying to get Washington’s attention,” said Geoff Ramsey, who heads the Venezuela program at the Washington Office on Latin America. “The question is what can Washington give in return to induce even greater concessions from him?”

“My sense is the [Biden administration] is being very calculated in their response,” Mr. Ramsey said in an interview. “They don’t want to be seen to be legitimizing Maduro, but I think they also understand this really is an important opening.”

Some Democrats in Washington have pounced on such thinking.

Hours before Mr. Maduro’s election board move was announced last week, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Gregory Meeks, said there is a “window of opportunity” for the Biden administration to engage.

The New York Democrat told an event of business leaders organized by the Council of the Americas that Mr. Maduro “may be interested and willing to open negotiation,” according to The Associated Press, which cited the congressman as urging some U.S. sanctions on Venezuela to be rolled back, saying they’ve hurt ordinary Venezuelans.

But Secretary of State Antony Blinken took a tougher line in his own prerecorded remarks for the event, according to the AP, which cited him as vowing to keep working with allies to exert pressure on the “brutal Maduro regime” as it has “systematically repressed” the rights Venezuelans.

The State Department subsequently sidestepped questions about Mr. Meeks’ remarks.

“When it comes to comments of Chairman Meeks, we have nothing to announce or discuss at this time,” a department spokesperson said on May 5, telling reporters “the overriding goal of the Biden-Harris administration has been and always remains to support a peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela.”

Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung then suggested in a tweet on May 6 that the administration is seeking more robust concessions from Mr. Maduro before responding.

“We continue to press for the fundamental minimum changes needed for free & fair elections, including lifting bans on political parties, the unconditional release of political prisoners, invitations to credible international electoral observers, & a public electoral calendar,” Ms. Chung wrote.

Her tweet came after Republican Sens. Jim Risch, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Marco Rubio issued their own statement cautioning the Biden administration not to do anything that could be perceived as legitimizing Mr. Maduro.

“The illegitimate actions of the Maduro regime,” the two wrote, “must not be validated.”

“The Biden Administration must not fall for this scheme, which will only prolong Maduro’s authoritarian grip on the people of Venezuela,” they added, asserting that Washington should “stand firm in support” of Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaido.

The United States and dozens of other nations recognized Mr. Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president in the wake of a 2018 election that the Maduro government is widely accused of having rigged to remain in power.

The former Trump administration leveled a range of sanctions in a bid to pressure Mr. Maduro to step down so new elections could be held.

The past year, however, has seen some in the Venezuelan opposition hold private talks with the Maduro government, which appear to have been the catalyst for last week’s appointment of two opposition figures to the National Election Council.

One of those appointed is former lawmaker Enrique Marquez, who was briefly vice president of Venezuela’s National Assembly when it was controlled by the opposition in 2016-2020. The other, according to The Associated Press, is longtime strategist Roberto Picon, whom the Maduro government jailed for six months in 2017 for organizing a symbolic, parallel vote when the opposition boycotted Mr. Maduro’s referendum to name a rubber-stamp constitutional assembly.

A separate, hardline opposition coalition led by Mr. Guaido has rejected any coexistence with Mr. Maduro and condemned the electoral council appointments last week.

“Only an agreement, with due international support, in favor of getting out of this tragedy and having free and fair elections to address the humanitarian emergency and have justice, is a real solution,” Mr. Guaido tweeted following the appointments of Mr. Marquez and Mr. Picon.

Regional experts say Mr. Maduro, a hand-picked successor of deceased Venezuelan socialist revolutionary Hugo Chavez, is skillfully dividing the Venezuelan opposition to gain leverage in any interaction with the Biden administration.

“Maduro was very aware that the steps he’s been taking, particularly with the electoral council, would create divisions in the opposition,” said Michael Shifter, who heads the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.

“He’s also aware these steps will advance his agenda by driving a wedge between the already fractured opposition and Washington,” Mr. Shifter told The Washington Times. “That’s what Maduro has been very good at for many years and Chavez was very good at before that. They’re not good at governing, but they are good at creating divisions within the opposition and between the opposition and Washington, and that’s what keeps them in power.”

The question facing the White House, Mr. Shifter added, is whether the Biden administration is prepared to distance itself from Guaido at this point in favor of backing other opposition players in Caracas who are now negotiating with Mr. Maduro.

It’s a question complicated by politics in Washington, where Mr. Gaido continues to have the support not only of key Republicans, but also of some influential Democrats on Capitol Hill. Chief among them is Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who is widely seen to align more with hawkish Republicans like Mr. Rubio and Mr.  Risch on Venezuela than with such left-leaning members of his own party as Mr. Meeks.

Mr. Menendez’s office ignored requests for comment. However, a statement circulated last week by Mr. Menendez and Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat, largely echoed Mr. Guaido’s take on the latest developments, highlighted by the contention that the Venezuelan electoral council is still run by “regime loyalists.”

Mr. Shifter told The Times the Biden administration’s approach is likely to align with that of Mr. Menendez because, as Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, he is “an important player who’s going to be essential to President Biden on other foreign policy fronts, such as China or Iran or North Korea.”

“Biden’s not going to want to get Menendez upset on Venezuela,” said Mr. Shifter. “I also don’t think we’ll see Biden doing anything on Cuba.”

Mr. Ramsey, meanwhile, said Mr. Biden’s concessions could come if there is serious progress toward free and fair elections in Venezuela.

“I think the question is how is the administration going to keep Maduro at the table at this point,” Mr. Ramsey said. “If I’m Maduro and I’ve just made significant concessions to the opposition and to the United States and I don’t get anything in return, what’s keeping me at the table? Why wouldn’t i just walk away?”

“I don’t think the United States has to offer full sanctions relief right now,” he said, adding that the administration might consider offering “some kind of incentive to keep Maduro at the table.”

UN council meets on Jerusalem violence, considers statement

UN council meets on Jerusalem violence, considers statement

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A Palestinian man runs away from tear gas during clashes with Israeli security forces in front of the Dome of the Rock Mosque at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City Monday, May 10, 2021. Israeli police clashed … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Monday, May 10, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The U.N. Security Council held emergency consultations Monday on escalating violence in east Jerusalem and was considering a proposed statement calling on Israel to cease evictions and calling for “restraint” and respect for “the historic status quo at the holy sites.”

Ireland’s U.N. Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, who joined in calling for the emergency meeting, said “the Security Council should urgently speak out, and we hope that it will be able to do so today.”

Council diplomats said all 15 members expressed concern at the clashes and rising violence but the United States, Israel’s closest ally, said a statement might not be useful at this time. Nonetheless, the U.S. agreed to have council experts discuss the statement after all other members said the U.N.’s most powerful body must react, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations were private.

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The draft statement would express the Security Council’s “grave concern” at escalating tensions and violence in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and “serious concern” over the possible evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, “many of whom have lived in their homes for generations.”

There have been weeks of mounting tensions and almost nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, already a time of heightened religious sensitivities.

Most recently, the tensions have been fueled by the planned eviction of dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem where Israeli settlers have waged a lengthy legal battle to take over properties.

The proposed statement would call on Israel “to cease settlement activities, demolitions and evictions, including in east Jerusalem in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law” and refrain from unilateral steps “that exacerbate tensions and undermine the viability of the two-state solution.”

It would express deep worry about daily clashes, especially in and around Jerusalem’s holy sites which have led to many injuries and would call for restraint and “refraining from provocative actions and rhetoric.”

Calling for respect for the historic status of Jerusalem’s holy sites, the draft would also underscore “that Muslim worshippers at the holy sites must be allowed to worship in peace, free from violence, threats and provocations.”

The council would also reiterate its support for a negotiated solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict where “two states, Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous and sovereign Palestine live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders.”

China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun, the current council president who proposed the statement under consideration along with Norway and Tunisia, called the clashes between Israelis and Palestinians “disturbing.”

“Israeli authorities should take necessary measures to prevent violence, threats and provocations against Muslim worshippers,” Zhang said.

Marine Corps adviser’s anti-Taiwan piece in Chinese propaganda outlet sparks outrage

U.S. would lose war with China over Taiwan, retired USMC major writes in Chinese propaganda paper

Retired USMC Maj. Franz Gayl described the island nation as a 'renegade' regime led by a 'separatist' political party

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A soldier holds a Taiwan national flag during a military exercise in Hsinchu County, northern Taiwan, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying) **FILE** more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Saturday, May 8, 2021

A civilian Marine Corps official has published an opinion piece in the Chinese Communist Party’s most aggressively anti-American propaganda outlet arguing the United States would lose a war with China over Taiwan.

Franz Gayl, a science adviser for the Corps and a retired Marine major who served in Iraq, wrote a recent Global Times article that “hostile forces” in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea were making a conflict with China possible, either by accident or design.

“If the U.S. elects to fight China over the island of Taiwan, then it will lose,” Maj. Gayl stated in the April 27 article which carried the headline, “Why US will lose a war with China over Taiwan island,” and appeared to be derived from an earlier piece written by Maj. Gayl for the Marine Corps Gazette journal.

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In that article, like the Global Times piece, Maj. Gayl used terminology also employed in Chinese propaganda, describing the self-governing island as “renegade Taiwan” and Taiwan’s ruling pro-independence political party as “separatist.”

“The U.S. could advise Taiwan’s secessionists to peaceably accept ‘one country, two systems’ and cease its ‘independence’ ambitions,” Maj. Gayl said in the Global Times article.

But Beijing’s critics say China’s “one country, two systems” narrative was shattered last year in Hong Kong when the central government began dismantling the former British colony’s separate democratic system, one that had been permitted under the 1997 agreement ending Britain’s colonial rule.

Maj. Gayl’s analysis piece comes as two U.S. admirals warned last month that a Chinese military takeover of Taiwan is a major worry for the Indo-Pacific Command.

Incoming Indo-Pacific Command commander Adm. John Aquilino told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Chinese military action against the island is “much closer to us than most think.” Adm. Philip Davidson, the outgoing commander, said in an earlier hearing he is concerned a Chinese military move against the island could take place before 2030.

Maj. Gayl, who was hired as a science adviser to the Marine Corps after retiring in 2002 after a 28-year career in the Marines,  did not return emails seeking comment on his article.

Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Andrew Wood confirmed that Maj. Gayl is currently a science and technology officer for the Corps,. but added, “Maj. Gayl does not speak for the Marine Corps, and he did not seek review or approval from the Marine Corps regarding his recent article.”

Pentagon spokesman John Supple said Maj. Gayl “did not seek any sort of policy or public affairs clearance from either the Department of Defense or the Marine Corps” before publishing his piece.

Maj. Gayl could face disciplinary action. Federal rules prohibit government officials from writing for foreign government propaganda outlets unless given prior approval. Global Times is a subsidiary of the People’s Daily, the main mouthpiece of China’s Communist leadership. It is operated by the CCP’s Central Committee and is regarded by the U.S. government as the most outspokenly anti-American outlet among Beijing’s state-controlled organs.

For example, the outlet promoted Beijing’s allegations regarding the origin of the COVID-19 virus, falsely reporting the virus was developed in a U.S. Army military laboratory. The Army denied the virus began in a military laboratory.

Propaganda outlets

The Trump administration last June designated the Global Times, the People’s Daily and two other Chinese outlets as foreign government entities covered under the Foreign Missions Act. The action was designed to limit their activities in the United States while pressing Beijing to allow more access to U.S. and Western reporters working in China.

“The Communist Party does not just exercise operational control over these propaganda entities, but it has full editorial control over their content,” David Stilwell, then-assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs said at the time.

Press Secretary John Kirby has addressed the Biden administration’s support for Taiwan and American efforts to bolster the island’s defenses in a number of briefings. Mr. Kirby said nothing had changed regarding U.S. defense commitments to Taipei under the Taiwan Relations Act and three U.S.-China communiques outlining relations.

Asked about a U.S. defense of Taiwan, Mr. Kirby said: “The United States military remains ready in all respects to meet our security commitments in the region.”

The Global Times article described Maj. Gayl as a retired Marine infantry officer who now serves as a civilian official in the Pentagon. It included a disclaimer that the opinions were those of the author and did not reflect the views of the U.S. government.

But critics say a Pentagon official criticizing American defense policy in a foreign state-controlled outlet on a critical issue like Taiwan only serves to legitimize China’s point of view.

The article reportedly triggered feelings of outrage and disgust from several current and former Navy and Marine Corps officers.

Retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell, a former Pacific Fleet intelligence director, said Maj. Gayl’s article supported enemy propaganda.

“As someone who has personal experience regarding the impact of exercising free speech while working within the U.S. government, I am left dumbfounded at this ex-Marine Corps officer’s parroting of talking points from an enemy of the United States,” Capt. Fanell said. “Maj. Gayl’s actions have not only denigrated the United States and the Marine Corps, but he has demonstrated his ignorance about the history and relationship of the United States and Taiwan.”

Capt. Fanell said Maj. Gayl in the article appears to have ignored stepped-up threatening operations by the Chinese military against Taiwan.

“That should set off counterintelligence alarm bells within the Pentagon, regardless of his previous stature as a ‘whistleblower,’” Capt. Fanell said. “It’s one thing to speak out at a public forum sponsored and approved by the U.S. government, but it is entirely another thing to be a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party.”

Whistleblower

Former State Department official John Tkacik said Maj. Gayl has most of the history about Taiwan wrong and said one of the reasons is that he relied on Chinese Communist sources.

“Maj. Gayl’s recommendation to abandon our commitment to Taiwan’s defenses is comparable historically to the British and French telling Czechoslovakia in 1938 that they have to sacrifice their independence to Nazi Germany so that French and British boys wouldn’t have to defend them,” Mr. Tkacik said. “If Maj. Gayl were serious in his policy recommendations, he would advise the U.S. to supply the latest U.S. weaponry in massive amounts, from submarines to fighter aircraft, standoff missiles, as quickly as possible so that at least Taiwanese would have a fighting chance.”

Capt. Fanell said he hopes Maj. Gayl “will be held to account for his pro-PRC propaganda, that is fundamentally designed to destroy the very system that has benefited him.”

The private Government Accountability Project rallied to Maj. Gayl’s defense in the early 2000s when he came under criticism from the Marine Corps for allegedly exposing wrongdoing regarding the service’s response to sending armored vehicles called MRAPs to the Middle East. The project described the ex-Marine as a “troop safety” whistleblower.

The Washington Monthly, in a 2011 profile, revealed the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and FBI had investigated then-Maj. Gayl for ties to China.

“The investigation is still classified, but it seems to have been incited by communications he had with Chinese diplomats while writing [his 2005 book] ‘Realism and Realpolitik,’” the magazine wrote, noting the NCIS resolved the investigation in Maj. Gayl’s favor.

Maj. Gayl obtained whistleblower status in 2007 after he contributed to a USA Today article that claimed U.S. military leaders in wartime had failed to provide troops in Iraq with urgently-needed mine-resistant MRAP jeeps. Congressional Democrats seized on the article to criticize the George W. Bush administration.

According to a person familiar with the issue, Maj. Gayl was put in touch with the USA Today reporters for the story by Erin Logan, a staff member in the office of then-Sen. Joseph Biden.

An investigation of the MRAP issue conducted by Steve Chill, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who served in Iraq, concluded that Democratic charges were wrong. Mr. Chill contended that documents and emails he obtained show the accusations that the Marines had failed to protect their troops by delaying requests for armored vehicles between February 2005 and September 2006 were false and misleading.

Instead of buying off-the-shelf armored vehicles, Marine Corps officials instead had selected an MRAP made from blast-hardened M1114 vehicles, known as up-armored Humvees. Mr. Chill said in his report that the armored Humvee development program was the Marines’ highest priority nearly a year before Maj. Gayl went public with his charges made to Mr. Biden and the press.

As a result of the controversy, the military spent $45 billion on a program critics dubbed the MRAP boondoggle that produced 27,000 armored vehicles. A Pentagon-based study in 2012 reported that heavily armored MRAPs, costing $600,000 each, were “no more effective at reducing casualties than the medium armored vehicles” like the M1114.

Maj. Gayl in 2017 defended his role of the MRAP issue, saying Mr. Chill’s remarks were “very similar to those made by senior Marine leaders ten years ago when I spoke with the Congress and press.”

“I was loathed by those [Marine Corps] leaders, and remain so by many who are still active throughout DoD and government today—one in particular being the [then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis].”

“But, for all my faults, on balance I believe that I did more good than bad through my disclosures at that time, and given similar emergency circumstances and despite imperfect knowledge of all things, I would do the same today,” he said. “I’m a sinner like everybody else, but I did try to do the right thing back then, however wrong I may have gotten it in some details.”

But Mr. Chill insisted his research “definitively proves that the Marine Corps did not sit on MRAP requests.”

“A falsehood was fostered by the press, politicians and interest groups that the Marine Corps was negligent in supporting fellow Marines in Iraq with armored vehicles during Operation Iraqi Freedom,” he said.

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.

US says fate of nuclear pact up to Iran as talks resume

US says fate of nuclear pact up to Iran as talks resume

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In this May 3, 2021, photo, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, right, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speak at a news conference at Downing Street in London. A flurry of diplomatic activity and reports of major progress suggest … more >

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By MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

Thursday, May 6, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Biden administration is signaling that Iran shouldn’t expect major new concessions from the United States as a new round of indirect nuclear talks is set to resume.

A senior administration official told reporters Thursday that the U.S. has laid out the concessions it’s prepared to make in order to rejoin the landmark 2015 nuclear deal that former President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018. The official said success or failure now depends on Iran making the political decision to accept those concessions and to return to compliance with the accord.

The official spoke to reporters in a State Department-organized conference call on the eve of the negotiations’ resumption in Vienna. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the U.S. position going into the fourth round of closed-door talks at which the remaining participants in the nuclear deal are passing messages between the American and Iranian delegations.

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The comments came after Secretary of State Antony Blinken complained of Iranian intransigence in the talks during a visit to Ukraine.

“What we don’t know is whether Iran is actually prepared to make the decisions necessary to return to full compliance with the nuclear agreement,” Blinken said in an interview with NBC News in Kyiv. “They unfortunately have been continuing to take steps that are restarting dangerous parts of their program that the nuclear agreement stopped. And the jury is out on whether they’re prepared to do what’s necessary.”

Iran has thus far given no indication it will settle for anything less than a full lifting of all the Trump sanctions and has balked at suggestions it would have to reverse all of the steps it has taken that violate the deal. Iranian officials have in recent weeks said the U.S. has offered significant, but not sufficient sanctions relief, but they have not outlined exactly what they would do in return.

The administration official said the United States is ready to return to the explicit terms of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, as they were negotiated by the Obama administration, but only if Iran will do the same. The official said the United States will not accept doing more than required by the JCPOA to bring Iran back into compliance.

The deal gave Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for limits on its nuclear program. Much of that relief evaporated after Trump pulled out and re-imposed and expanded U.S. sanctions. Iran responded by breaking though the deal’s limits on uranium enrichment, the use of advanced centrifuges and other activities such as heavy water production.

After previous rounds of talks in Vienna, the administration had said there was flexibility in what it might offer to Iran, including going beyond the letter of the deal to ease non-nuclear sanctions from the Trump era that nonetheless affected the relief the Iranians were entitled to for agreeing to the accord.

That is still the case, although the official’s comments on Thursday suggested that the limits of that flexibility had been reached. The official would not describe the concessions the U.S. is prepared to make and declined to predict whether the fourth round would produce a breakthrough.

However, the official said it remains possible to reach an agreement quickly and before Iran‘s June presidential elections that some believe are a complicating factor in the talks. The official said the outlines of what both sides need to do is clear. “We think it’s doable,” the official said. “This isn’t rocket science;”

But, the official said success depends on Iran not demanding more than it is entitled to under the terms of the original deal and by verifiably reversing the steps it has taken that violate it.

The Biden administration has been coy about what specific sanctions it is willing to lift, although officials have acknowledged that some non-nuclear sanctions, such as those Trump imposed for terrorism, ballistic missile activity and human rights abuses, may have to be eased for Iran to get the relied it is entitled to. That’s because the some entities that were removed from sanctions under the nuclear deal are now penalized under other authorities.

Tom Carper, John Cornyn: U.S. must reengage with Asian trade partners

Sens. Tom Carper, John Cornyn: U.S. must reengage with Asian trade partners

Say withdrawal from TPP was 'misguided and short-sighted,' emboldened China

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In this April 28, 2021, file photo, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai testifies during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Sarah Silbiger/Pool via AP, File) more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Biden administration must reengage in the Asia-Pacific region by striking multilateral trade deals, a bipartisan group of lawmakers said Thursday, arguing U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in January 2017 was “misguided” and emboldened China.

Sen. Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat, and Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, made the plea in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

“Our current trade policy in the Asia-Pacific region is in need of a strategic direction that includes robust engagement with our allies in the region, similar to what was envisioned by the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership. We believe that withdrawing from this trade agreement was a missed opportunity to strengthen U.S. leadership in the global economy and reinforce our commitment to a rules-based system for international trade,” they wrote.

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The U.S. signed the TPP in 2016 under President Obama. However, President Trump withdrew from the deal upon taking office, saying it was too complex and he wanted to strike bilateral deals that give leverage to U.S. workers.

From the left, Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent and progressive champion, applauded the withdrawal, saying the deal was part of a “race to the bottom” that hurt American workers’ wages.

The remaining nations formed a new pact without the U.S., but a bipartisan group wants President Biden to reengage.

Mr. Carper, Mr. Cornyn and Reps. Stephanie Murphy, Florida Democrat, and Adam Kinzinger, Illinois Republican, said withdrawing from TPP diminished American influence at a critical time.

“We have consistently expressed the view that withdrawal from the TPP was misguided and short-sighted. Unfortunately, it has only served to weaken the United States, empower China, put American workers and businesses at a competitive disadvantage and cede leadership in arguably the most strategically vital and economically dynamic region of the world,” they told Ms. Tai.

The lawmakers said the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal signed with bipartisan support under Mr. Trump served as a model for new ways to “write the rules of international trade” with multiple allies.

“As you know, the United States and China are competing across virtually every functional and geographic domain,” they told Ms. Tai. “With that said, the Asia-Pacific region is also home to some of America’s closest allies and partners, many of which are some of the fastest-growing markets in the world. There is no doubt that any successful effort to strengthen our domestic economy, and ensure that American companies can compete on a level playing field with their Chinese counterparts, will require the United States to exercise leadership in the Asia-Pacific region and fortify our relationships in the region.”

US congressman: ‘Window of opportunity’ to engage Maduro

US congressman: ‘Window of opportunity’ to engage Maduro

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FILE – In this Jan. 22, 2021 file photo, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a ceremony marking the start of the judicial year at the Supreme Court, in Caracas, Venezuela. Recent actions by Maduro are creating a “window of … more >

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By REGINA GARCIA CANO and JORGE RUEDA

Associated Press

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – Recent actions by Venezuela President Nicolas Madura are creating a “window of opportunity” for the U.S. government to engage with a South American leadership that the Trump administration had been trying to isolate, the head of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee said Tuesday.

Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York said Maduro’s decision to open Venezuela to food assistance, Friday’s release of six jailed American oil executives to home detention and the expected appointment of opposition figures to the country’s electoral agency signal that Maduro “may be interested and willing to open negotiation” with the administration of President Joe Biden.

“So, I think we have openings. I think we should take advantage of it,” Meeks said at the annual Washington Conference on the Americas, which is sponsored by the U.S.-based Council of the Americas, a pro-business group focused on the region.

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He said that some U.S. sanctions – imposed in waves by the Trump administration -should be rolled back. Those restrictions have made it difficult for the country to develop, sell or transport its oil – key to the Venezuelan economy – and they also froze personal assets held abroad by key Venezuelan officials.

But in prerecorded remarks to the same group, the United States’ top diplomat took a tougher line, vowing to keep working with allies to exert pressure on Venezuela’s government so that “the country can peacefully return to democracy.”

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said U.S. efforts are also meant to “alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelan people.”

“In Venezuela, the brutal Maduro regime has systematically repressed the rights of its citizens,” he said. “Its abuse corruption and mismanagement have stoked a humanitarian crisis, leaving millions without enough to eat or access to lifesaving medical care, displacing millions more.”

Maduro allies in Venezuela‘s congress on Tuesday were expected to appoint new members of the five-person National Electoral Council, which runs national elections. Critics say the council has been stacked with government cronies and has functioned as a tool of the socialist leadership. Meeks said it is expected to include an opposition presence this time.

“Members of the opposition will be supported. I think that’s also something that’s significant and important,” Meeks said.

On the campaign trail, Biden called former President Donald Trump’s policy of pushing for regime change in Venezuela an “abject failure” that has served only to strengthen the socialist leader.

And senior officials from several federal agencies have been weighing U.S. options, including whether to ease up on crippling oil sanctions and whether to support an uncertain attempt at dialogue between Maduro and his opponents, according to two people familiar with the plans. The people insisted on anonymity to discuss classified diplomatic matters.

Meeks has known Maduro since they both were members of the so-called Boston Group, a coalition of lawmakers from the two countries that gathered to repair bilateral relations in the aftermath of the 2002 coup that briefly removed Maduro’s mentor, then-President Hugo Chávez.

Maduro on April 19 agreed to allow the United Nations World Food Program to establish a foothold in the country aimed at providing school lunches. U.S. officials had been demanding that Venezuela allow such aid, which it had long resisted.

He followed that with the partial release of six employees of Houston-based Citgo who were jailed more than three years ago on corruption charges that U.S. officials consider unfair.

The U.S. and about 60 other countries have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate ruler – putting his hand on Venezuela’s purse strings abroad. In a sign of potentially eased confrontation, Guaidó and his key backers earlier asked the U.S. Department of the Treasury to release a portion of those funds in a way that would help Maduro’s administration access COVID-19 vaccines under a U.N. program.

The current leadership of the National Electoral Council was appointed in June by Venezuela’s highest court, which has been staunchly pro-government. The court had stripped the National Assembly, with an opposition majority, of its constitutional mandate to elect the members of the council.

Maduro’s allies overwhelmingly regained control of the National Assembly, which they had lost in 2015, following elections last year boycotted by the opposition, which considered the vote unfair. The electoral process also was classified as fraudulent by the United States, the European Union and other countries in the region.

___

Garcia Cano reported from Mexico City. Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman contributed from Miami.

China: US should push North Korea diplomacy, not pressure

China: US should push North Korea diplomacy, not pressure

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South Korean army soldiers patrol along the barbed-wire fence in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, Sunday, May 2, 2021. North Korea on Sunday warned the United States will face "a very grave situation" because President Joe … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – China’s U.N. ambassador expressed hope Monday that President Joe Biden’s policy toward North Korea will give more importance to diplomacy and dialogue instead of “extreme pressure” to try to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear program and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

Zhang Jun said China also hopes the review of U.S. policy will give equal emphasis to both the nuclear issue and the peace and security issue.

“Without tackling the security and the peace issue properly, definitely we do not have the right environment for our efforts for the denuclearization,” he said.

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The White House said last Friday that Biden plans to veer from the approaches of his two most recent predecessors as he tries to stop North Korea’s nuclear program, rejecting both Donald Trump’s deeply personal effort to win over leader Kim Jong Un and Barack Obama’s more hands-off approach. Press secretary Jen Psaki announced administration officials had completed the review of U.S. policy toward North Korea but did not detail its findings.

The Biden administration appeared to signal it is trying to set the stage for incremental progress, in which denuclearization steps by the North would be met with corresponding actions, including sanctions relief, from the United States.

There was no mention of U.S. security guarantees for North Korea or a formal end to the Korean War, both of which had been demanded by the North and considered by the Trump team as part of a larger package.

China assumed the presidency of the U.N. Security Council this month and ambassador Zhang told a news conference that Beijing will look “very carefully” at the U.S. policy review in hopes it will give more emphasis to dialogue.

China and Russia circulated a draft resolution a year ago on lifting some sanctions against North Korea, and Zhang said it’s still on the table. He stressed that while China is implementing sanctions against the North, it also believes the Security Council should consider adjusting and lifting sanctions “which are really hindering the humanitarian access … and making people suffer.”

“At a certain stage, timely adjustment (of sanctions) will really produce good results with the creation of more favorable environment for the tackling of this issue,” the ambassador said.

North Korea said Sunday that Biden was mistaken in calling the country a security threat in a speech to Congress last week and warned of an unspecified response.

As for the current situation, China’s Zhang said: “We do hear harsh words and we do see some tensions at certain level, but in general it remains stable.”

Referring to North Korea and the United States, he said both sides “should really think seriously about what they should do next … and in particular avoiding taking any actions which may make the situation even worse.”

“All efforts should go along the direction of resuming dialogue, making more efforts, walking towards each other instead of walking against each other,” Zhang said. “Otherwise, I do not see any possibility of finding a lasting, sustaining solution simply by exercising pressure,” whether “it’s extreme pressure or light pressure.”

U.S. ‘far left’ susceptible to Chinese government’s COVID-19 disinformation: Report

U.S. ‘far left’ susceptible to Chinese government’s COVID disinformation: Report

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Visitors wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk by a statue featuring Winter Olympics figure skating on display at the Shougang Park in Beijing, Sunday, May 2, 2021. Chinese tourists are expected to make a … more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Monday, May 3, 2021

Americans on the far left, including “Trump administration critics” and “capitalism skeptics,” are most likely to have soaked up Chinese government disinformation about the origins of the coronavirus, according to a new report by a prominent U.S. think tank.

The report by the RAND Corporation builds on claims by U.S. intelligence and State Department officials that China and Russia seized on the COVID-19 pandemic to engage in subversive, state-run media and other operations aimed at discrediting the U.S. and promoting their respective global agendas.

“Both countries attempted to tarnish the reputation of the United States by emphasizing challenges with its pandemic response and characterizing U.S. systems as inadequate,” according to the report circulated to journalists on Monday.

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“Both countries disseminated messages through a wide variety of channels and platforms, including social media” and both “falsely accused the United States of developing and intentionally spreading the virus,” the report said, adding that Moscow and Beijing “appeared to differ in their principal goals.”

“Russia aimed to destabilize the United States,” while “China aimed to protect and enhance its international reputation,” the report said.

Circulation of the roughly 70-page RAND document comes a year after U.S. officials first highlighted Chinese and Russian disinformation efforts around COVID-19 — operations officials have described as also being backed by Iranian government efforts to project bogus claims aimed at smearing America’s image on the world stage.

In an exclusive March 2020 interview with The Washington Times, the head of a key State Department counterdisinformation office outlined how Beijing, Moscow and Tehran were using a vast web of social media accounts, fake news outlets and state-controlled global satellite media to promote lies by academics and, at times, government officials to blame Washington for the pandemic.

Lea Gabrielle, who was then serving as special envoy heading the department’s Global Engagement Center, told The Times that U.S. officials were particularly concerned about Chinese government efforts to push disinformation about the pandemic in a bid to make China appear as a superior global power to the United States.

Beijing, Ms. Gabrielle said at the time, was “engaged in an all-out aggressive campaign to try to reshape the global narrative around the coronavirus, essentially to the degree of trying to provide an alternate reality.”

Other news outlets picked up on the developments, with The New York Time reporting weeks later that Beijing was being “more overtly aggressive” than Moscow in its disinformation campaign.

The RAND report circulated Monday homed in on efforts that were made by Chinese officials early in the pandemic to amplify Russian disinformation about COVID-19s origins.

“Chinese Foreign Ministry official Zhao Lijian retweeted an article from a Kremlin-linked source, Global Research, stating that the virus originated in the United States and was brought to China by the U.S. military,” the report noted. “Chinese media also suggested that the United States was covering up the true start date of the virus spread in the United States to obfuscate the truth about the virus’s origins.”

Consensus among scientists is that the virus began in China and that the Chinese government has for more than year been blocking U.S. and other international efforts to investigate its origins. While Beijing disputes such claims, an investigation last year by The Associated Press found the Chinese government was strictly controlling all research into the virus’ origins.

The RAND report, meanwhile, analyzed nuanced differences in Russian and Chinese disinformation campaigns, as well as audience susceptibility to both.

“China-linked messaging was more uniform across different outlets; this suggests that operators did not attempt to target specific polarized audiences or to purposefully appeal to a wide variety of audiences in the United States,” the report said. “However, during the time frame that we analyzed (January 2020 to July 2020), messages critical of the U.S. response to the pandemic might have resonated with critics of the Trump administration, those on the left of the U.S. political spectrum, and those concerned with the federal pandemic response.”

“It is also possible that some of the messages about the origins of the virus could be attractive to conspiracy theory enthusiasts with different political views and affiliations,” the report added. “Overall, China-linked messaging could be of interest to U.S. audiences on the farther left of the political spectrum — Trump administration critics, conspiracy enthusiasts, and capitalism skeptics among them.”

US expresses concern over El Salvador vote to remove judges

US expresses concern over El Salvador vote to remove judges

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New members of the New Ideas party are sworn in during the Legislative Assembly in San Salvador, El Salvador, Saturday, May 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez) more >

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By MARCOS ALEMAN

Associated Press

Sunday, May 2, 2021

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) – The vote by El Salvador’s new congress to remove the magistrates of the Supreme Court’s constitutional chamber and the attorney general on the newly elected legislative body’s very first day drew concern and condemnation from multinational groups and the United States.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke to Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele on Sunday about the previous day’s vote, saying ″that an independent judiciary is essential to democratic governance,″ the State Department said.

Bukele’s New Ideas party won 56 out of the 84 seats in the Legislative Assembly in February elections that pushed aside the country’s traditional parties, already weakened by corruption scandals.

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The dominant electoral performance raised concerns that Bukele would seek to change the court, which along with the previous congress, had been the only obstacles that the very popular leader faced. The vote Saturday to remove the five magistrates was 64 lawmakers in favor, 19 opposed and one abstention.

Now with effective control of the congress and the high court, few if any checks remain on Bukele’s power.

He swept into office in 2019 as a break from the country’s corrupt and troubled traditional parties, though his political career had started in the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front.

And even before the assembly was in his sway, Bukele sought to bully and intimidate El Salvador’s other democratic institutions. In February 2020, he sent heavily armed soldiers to surround the congress when it delayed voting on a security loan he had sought.

Bukele clashed repeatedly with the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court during the pandemic. When it ruled his obligatory stay-at-home order unconstitutional last June, Bukele said, “The court has just ordered us to murder dozens of thousands of Salvadorans within five days.”

Blinken also expressed concern about the removal of Attorney General Raúl Melara, saying he was fighting corruption and has been “an effective partner of efforts to combat crime in both the United States and El Salvador,″ State Department spokesman Ned Price said. Melara had been selected by the previous congress and was an outspoken Bukele critic.

Blinken said the U.S. is committed to supporting democratic institutions in El Salvador.

In a statement, the general secretariat of the Organization of American States criticized the dismissal of the magistrates and the attorney general.

Bukele appeared to be unmoved. He said he felt very satisfied with the congress’ first session and said it was beginning of the change he had promised for the country.

“I know they can’t do it all in a day,” Bukele said via Twitter. “I know that most of the Salvadoran people eagerly await the second session.”

Juan Sánchez Toledo, an unemployed man in the capital, San Salvador, backed Bukele.

“I was already hoping for it,” he said of the vote. “They promised to get rid of all of the corrupt. We’ll see if they do it. I hope that things change for the good of the people.”

During the Trump administration, Bukele’s tendencies toward disrespecting the separation of powers was largely ignored as El Salvador’s homicide rate dropped and fewer Salvadorans tried to migrate to the United States.

But the administration of President Joe Biden has appeared more wary. When Bukele made an unannounced trip to Washington in February, administration officials declined to meet with him. Bukele said he had not sought a meeting.

Bukele appeared to respond in kind last month when he refused to meet with a visiting senior U.S. diplomat.

Governing party lawmakers defended the decision, saying the court had put private interests above the health and welfare of the people. The opposition called it a power grab by a president seeking total control.

The magistrates’ replacements and new Attorney General Rodolfo Antonio Delgado assumed their new positions under police protection Saturday.

El Salvador’s constitution states that the magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice may be removed by the Legislative Assembly for specific causes established by law. Both the election and dismissal of its magistrates must have the support of two-thirds of the lawmakers.

Aldo Cader Camilot, one of the ousted magistrates, published a resignation letter hours after the vote on social media. In it, he rejected any suggestion that he was tied to a political party or doing the bidding of economic interests.

Diego García-Sayán, the United Nations’ special investigator on the independence of legal systems, was blunt: “I condemn the steps the political power is taking to dismantle and weaken the judicial independence of the magistrates by removing the members of the constitutional chamber.”

The Jesuit-led Central American University José Simeón Cañas said in a statement that “in this dark hour for our already weak democracy, the UCA calls for the defense of what was built after the war at the cost of so much effort and so many lives: a society where saying ‘no’ to power is not a fantasy.”

Civil society groups under the umbrella of “Salvadorans against authoritarianism” called for public demonstrations to condemn the congressional action.

U.S. approves $2.4 billion sale of maritime patrol jets to India

U.S. approves $2.4 billion sale of maritime patrol jets to India

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A U.S. Navy’s P-8 Poseidon is parked on the tarmac at Ngurah Rai International Airport as seen from the window of Indonesian Navy’s maritime patrol aircraft of 800 Air Squadron of the 2nd Air Wing of Naval Aviation Center (PUSPENERBAL), … more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Friday, April 30, 2021

The Biden administration announced it will sell six P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and related gear to India worth $2.42 billion. The jet sale was announced by the State Department and the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation agency notified Congress of the sale Friday.

The arms transfer is part of American efforts to coax the traditionally non-aligned Indian government into greater regional efforts to counter China’s growing military expansionism. India has joined the “Quad” of regional powers that includes the United States, Japan and Australia that is emerging as a quasi-anti-Beijing alliance.

The P-8 is a militarized Boeing 737 considered an advanced anti-submarine and anti-surface ship weapon. Its armament includes torpedoes and Harpoon anti-ship missiles. The jets also can operate as maritime surveillance aircraft and provide targeting and tracking information.

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The sale is the third purchase of P-8s by Delhi. The Indians paid $2.1 billion in 2009 for eight P-8s and purchased four additional jets in 2016.

In 2013, India purchased AGM-84L Harpoon missiles and Mk 54 torpedoes for its P-8s.

The patrol aircraft sale also included tactical radio systems, missile warning sensors, GPS inertial navigation and engine spares, and aircraft counter-missile systems.

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to strengthen the U.S.-Indian strategic relationship and to improve the security of a major defensive partner, which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia region,” the State Department said in announcing the sale.

India has grown increasingly wary of Chinese military expansionism in the Indian Ocean, including Chinese submarine patrols and naval port visits to Pakistan.

Tensions between India and China soared in June 2020 when Indian and Chinese troops battled each other along the disputed border in the Galwan Valley. A total of 20 Indian soldiers were killed. China reported 43 casualties.

EU finalizing plans to allow U.S. tourists back this summer

EU finalizing plans to allow U.S. tourists back this summer

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In this Wednesday, July 1, 2020, file photo, Marcel Schmetz raises the U.S. flag next to a WWII American Sherman tank at his Remember Museum 39-45 in Thimister-Clermont, Belgium. Tourists from the United States who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 … more >

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By Samuel Petrequin

Associated Press

Monday, April 26, 2021

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union is finalizing plans to allow tourists from the United States to travel to the 27-nation bloc this summer, officials said Monday.

More than a year after the EU restricted travel to the region to a bare minimum in a bid to contain the pandemic, the European Commission said it would make a recommendation to member states to allow American travelers back.

The commission didn’t say when exactly tourists will be allowed back inside the bloc, and if a reciprocal approach will apply to European tourists willing to travel to the U.S.

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European Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz told reporters that the EU’s executive body is hoping to restore nonessential “trans-Atlantic travel as soon as it is safe to do so.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if only full vaccination would be accepted for entry, or whether a negative PCR test or proof of recent recovery from COVID-19 could be presented as well.

“These are among the questions we’ll still need to figure out,” Jahnz said. “The proposal is not yet made. For now, we have nothing more to go by than what the (European Commission) president said.”

On Sunday, The New York Times published an interview with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, reporting that fully vaccinated Americans would be able to visit EU countries this summer since all coronavirus vaccines currently used in the U.S. have also been approved by the EU’s drug regulator. But the report didn’t mention whether she was asked about whether Americans could also provide a negative PCR test or evidence of recovering from COVID-19.

“The Americans, as far as I can see, use European Medicines Agency-approved vaccines,” von der Leyen said in the interview. “This will enable free movement and the travel to the European Union. Because one thing is clear: All 27 member states will accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines that are approved by EMA.”

Jahnz insisted that the return of American tourists to EU nations will be conditioned on the epidemiological situation in both the U.S. and within the bloc.

The European Union is putting the finishing touches to a system of certificates that would allow EU residents to travel freely across the region by the summer as long as they have been vaccinated, tested negative for COVID-19 or recovered from the disease. Under the plan discussed with their U.S. counterparts, American tourists could be included in the program.

With more than 15 million Americans estimated to travel to Europe annually before the crisis, the recommendation from the commission is manna from heaven for the heavily hit European tourism sector. But EU member states will have the final say on whether to implement the guidelines.

The commission said other third countries have made similar requests, but didn’t name them. Asked whether negotiations with the United Kingdom were ongoing, European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand said “no contact to this end” has been made.

Travel to the EU is currently extremely limited except for a handful of countries with low infection rates including Australia and New Zealand. But Greece, which is heavily reliant on tourism, has already lifted quarantine restrictions for the U.S., Britain, the United Arab Emirates, Serbia, Israel, and non-EU members Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland that are part of a European travel pact. Travelers from those countries will no longer be subject to a seven-day quarantine requirement if they hold a vaccination certificate or negative PCR test.

“Uniliteral approaches, from our perspective should be avoided,” Jahnz said. “The objective is to continue to have a coordinated approach on the European level.”

U.S. sending aid to India amid COVID-19 crisis

U.S. sending aid to India amid COVID-19 crisis

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A COVID-19 patient receives oxygen inside a car provided by a Gurdwara, a Sikh house of worship, in New Delhi, India, Saturday, April 24, 2021. Indias medical oxygen shortage has become so dire that this gurdwara began offering free breathing … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The U.S. is sending protective gear, therapeutic drugs and raw materials for vaccines to India as it battles a catastrophic wave of COVID-19 cases that is taxing its health system, depleting oxygen supplies and forcing cremation centers to operate around the clock.

“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said.

President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, made the commitment Sunday in a phone call with his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval.

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The U.S. will send ingredients that will accelerate the production of Covishield, a version of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University shot that is being produced by India’s vaccine-producing Serum Institute.

It also is sending supplies of therapeutics, rapid-test kits, ventilators and personal protective equipment to India, which is consistently recording more than 300,000 cases per day, exceeding the height of the U.S. spike over the winter holiday period.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will send a team of experts to work with the U.S. Embassy and Indian health ministries.

India has a relatively young population and seemed to be spared the worst of COVID-19’s horrors when it first swept the globe, but now it is battling aggressive variants and considered the global epicenter of the pandemic.

A shortage of oxygen is exacerbating the crisis, with more than 20 COVID-19 patients suffocating to death after an oxygen leak at a hospital in Maharashtra state.

Ms. Horne said the White House is “pursuing options to provide oxygen generation and related supplies on an urgent basis.”

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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Associated Press

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.

Summit shows Biden’s big vision on fighting climate change

Summit shows Biden’s big vision on fighting climate change

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World leaders are shown on a screen as President Joe Biden speaks to the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, from the East Room of the White House, Friday, April 23, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By MATTHEW DALY and CHRISTINA LARSON

Associated Press

Saturday, April 24, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – What did the world learn at Joe Biden‘s global summit about his vision of the battle to save the world’s climate?

For two days, Biden and his team of climate experts pressed his case that tackling global warming not only can avert an existential threat, but also benefit the U.S. economy – and the world’s as well.

The virtual summit, based at the White House and featuring more than 40 world leaders whose views were beamed to a global online audience, offered fresh details on how the U.S. might hope to supercharge its efforts on climate while leveraging international action to spur new technologies to help save the planet.

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Biden opened the conference by announcing a goal to cut up to 52% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 – double the target set by President Barack Obama in the 2015 Paris climate accord. The 2030 goal vaults the U.S. into the top tier of countries on climate ambition.

“This goal is eyebrow-raising, but it has to be,” said Marshall Shepherd, a climate expert at the University of Georgia. “To move the needle on the climate crisis, we need bold actions like this rather than individual or incremental actions only.”

While new targets from the U.S. and others got mostly positive reviews, they still fall a bit short of what some scientists say is necessary to avoid a potentially disastrous 1.5 degree Celsius rise in global temperatures.

Bill Hare, director of Climate Analytics, a climate science think tank in Berlin, said his team’s calculations showed the U.S. needs to reduce emissions 57% by 2030 to stay on a 1.5 degree Celsius pathway. He calls the new target “really a major improvement,” but also “not quite enough.”

Still, the U.S. goal is ambitious, and reflects lessons learned, not only by Biden – Obama’s vice president – but by his team of battle-tested aides, including climate envoy John Kerry and White House adviser Gina McCarthy. Both served in the Obama administration.

Biden and his team “absorbed the lessons of the Obama years,” including watching the “stumbles” in climate foreign policy at a disappointing 2009 Copenhagen summit, said Hare. “What shocked me is just how fast this moved,″ less than 100 days after Biden took office.

The 78-year-old Biden, known as a cautious, mainstream politician during four decades in public life, as president has shown a willingness to take aggressive action on issues from virus relief to immigration.

“In so many areas, he is much bolder than Obama, right out of the gate, and that’s certainly true on climate,″ said Nathaniel Keohane, a former Obama White House adviser who now is a senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

The message from the White House is clear, Keohane added: “The United States is ready to go all-in to beat the climate crisis.″

As the conference wrapped up Friday, Biden said he has come to see the economic opportunities of the climate fight as the silver lining in a cloud that threatens the world’s very future.

“My mother would always say when something very bad would happen in our family, ‘Out of everything bad, Joe, something good will come,’” said Biden, whose life has repeatedly been touched by tragedy.

On climate, the good that Biden hopes will emerge is the chance to remake the global economy and produce millions of jobs in clean energy and technology that will be needed to slow global warming.

“Is there anything else you can think of that could create as many good jobs going into the middle of the 21st century?” he asked.

The climate crisis also has provided an opportunity for the U.S. to work with longtime rivals such as Russia and China. While Biden has often disagreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader now is “talking about how you capture carbon from space,” Biden said.

Despite their differences, “two big nations can cooperate to get something done … that benefits everybody,” Biden said.

Biden‘s re-entry into the Paris agreement and his decision to host the summit were welcomed by world leaders.

“I’m delighted to see that the United States is back … in climate politics. Because there can be no doubt about the world needing your contribution if we really want to fulfill our ambitious goals,” Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel told Biden.

“We are all so delighted to have the United States back” in the climate game, added South Africa’s President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa.

Even after four years of inaction on climate change under President Donald Trump, “the United States still has cachet,” said Alice Hill, a senior fellow for energy and environment at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. She pointed to the attendance of world leaders on both friendly and otherwise chilly terms with the U.S., including China, Russia, Germany and Brazil.

Kerry, who has worked on climate issues in a long career as a senator and former secretary of state, said the next 10 years are crucial to slow global warming and “avoid the worst consequences” of the climate crisis.

“This has to be the decade of decision,” Kerry said.

But even as Biden opts to go big on climate, his plan faces obstacles, including continued resistance from congressional Republicans and the reality that businesses are struggling to create needed technology on an affordable scale.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has dismissed Biden‘s plans, including a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package, as costly and ineffective.

The infrastructure bill includes up to $1 trillion in spending on clean energy and climate change, including 500,000 charging stations for electric vehicles, expansion of solar and wind power and technology to capture and store carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. About $174 billion would go to help put school children, commuters and truckers into electric vehicles and buses, $50 billion to make infrastructure more resilient against volatile weather linked to climate change, and $100 billion to update the power grid.

The administration has pitched the bill as the “American Jobs Plan,” and Moody’s Analytics estimates gains of about 2.7 million jobs.

Failure to adopt the package could doom Biden‘s commitments to cut carbon emissions in half, although officials say substantial progress can be made through administrative regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency, Transportation Department and other agencies.

The White House says officials will continue to reach out to Republicans and will remind them that the proposal’s ideas are widely popular with a wide swath of Americans.

___

Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed to this story.

Summit catapults world ahead in crucial year to curb warming

Summit catapults world ahead in crucial year to curb warming

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President Joe Biden speaks to the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, from the East Room of the White House, Friday, April 23, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By SETH BORENSTEIN

Associated Press

Saturday, April 24, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – The world moved closer to curbing the worst of global warming after this week’s climate summit. But there’s still a long way to go, and the road to a safer future gets even rockier from here.

With the world trying to prevent more than another half-degree of warming (0.3 degrees Celsius) or so to achieve the most stringent of goals set by the 2015 Paris climate accord, scientists and politicians alike say this decade is crucial for any chance of getting that done. And that means 2021 is a “make-or-break year for people and the planet,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

Everything culminates in November with heavyweight climate negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland. While these climate meetings happen annually, every five or so years there is a weightier session of the type that in the past has led to major deals or disappointments. It’s that time again.

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By November, the U.N. climate negotiating process calls for 200 nations to ratchet up commitments to cut emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases by 2030. The rich countries need to come up with more money to help the poor countries develop greener power and adapt to climate change’s harsh realities. And nations need to agree on a price on carbon pollution after several years of gridlock. They must figure out essentially how to make it all work.

“Glasgow is the world’s last best hope,” said U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry.

There will be important stops in Germany in May for a minister’s level meeting, in a British seaside town in June for a meeting of leaders of big economies and a final push at U.N. headquarters in September, but everything is about what President Joe Biden called “a road that will take us to Glasgow.”

Biden’s summit, organized in less than 100 days, was designed to send the world off on a fast start toward Glasgow, and experts said it did so. They figure it pushed the globe anywhere from one-eighth to more than halfway along the journey, with mixed opinions on whether the United States did enough.

“If it were 100 miles to Glasgow, we have just done the first 12 miles on the lowlands, and we have a 88 hard miles to go, with a lot of difficult terrain to cross before we get there,” said Bill Hare, director of the German think tank Climate Analytics. Hare said while countries showed a significant increase in ambition to fight climate change, he was “hoping for slightly more.”

Climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, who directs climate issues at the Breakthrough Institute, was more optimistic: “I’d say this gets us about half the way (say, 50 miles) to where we need to get by Glasgow.”

Nate Hultman, director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Global Sustainability, was even more optimistic: “This has ended up being a critical international moment that provided a strong boost. … We’re now, I’d say, about 70 miles toward Glasgow.”

For his part, Kerry concluded the climate summit by saying that countries representing more than half of the world’s economic output have committed to a path that would achieve the Paris goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. Beyond that level, environmental problems get substantially worse, with possible dangerous tipping points, scientists say. The world has already warmed 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit).

Hare’s calculations show the world didn’t quite make as much progress as Kerry claims. For example, to be on the path to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, the United States needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions 57% below 2005 levels by 2030, he said. The Biden target announced this week was 50% to 52%. The European Union’s goals also came close but didn’t quite get there. The only major economy now on track with 1.5 degrees is the United Kingdom, Hare said.

But there’s disagreement on that because of the different ways calculations can be made. The Rhodium Group, a research institute, said Biden’s target puts America in line with the 1.5 degrees goal.

Climate Action Tracker, a group of scientists including Hare who monitors nations’ pledges of carbon pollution cuts, calculated that targets announced since last September cut about 12% to 14% from the emissions gap. That emissions gap is that big area between what nations promise to do and the pollution reductions needed by 2030 to limit future warming to the 1.5 degrees goal. The announcements cut somewhere between 2.9 billion and 4.1 billion tons (between 2.6 billion and 3.7 billion metric tons) of carbon from the gap, the tracker calculated.

With the new targets from the United States, the United Kingdom, European Union, Japan and Canada, the new emissions gap is 22 billion to 26 billion tons (20 billion to 24 billion metric tons) of carbon pollution. Hare chastised Australia’s efforts as “really disgraceful” and said Brazil made a weaker pledge than in 2015, while Russia didn’t offer anything substantive.

“The Earth Day summit substantially improved the odds of a successful global climate summit in November,” said Nigel Purvis, a climate negotiator in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. “With new action by rich nations and new assistance for poor nations, the world should be able to make additional progress in 2021.”

Poorer nations that haven’t made big pollution cut promises yet, especially India, are waiting to see if promises about financial help become more concrete before they commit to bigger pollution cuts, Hare said. But there’s hope there because of Biden’s promise to double public climate finance available to developing countries by 2024 and Germany’s announcing 4 billion euros a year extra, Hare said.

Also important was South Korea’s promise to stop financing coal power plants in other countries, Hare said. Activists hope China and Japan will follow suit, but they haven’t yet.

Alice Hill, a senior fellow for energy and environment at the Council on Foreign Relations, said this week’s summit “did not alone lead to the kind of enormous leap toward that what we need in fighting climate change.”

While the U.N.’s Guterres noted strengthened commitments, he said, “There is still a long way to go.”

Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Guterres’ special envoy for climate ambitions and solutions, told The Associated Press that “There’s no question we moved forward. … But now comes the hard work – actually delivering results.”

___

Associated Press writers Christina Larson in Washington and Ellen Knickmeyer in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

Summit shows Biden big vision on fighting climate change

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By MATTHEW DALY and CHRISTINA LARSON

Associated Press

Friday, April 23, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – What did the world learn at Joe Biden‘s global summit about his vision of the battle to save the world’s climate?

For two days, Biden and his team of climate experts pressed his case that tackling global warming not only can avert an existential threat, but also benefit the U.S. economy – and the world’s as well.

The virtual summit, based at the White House and featuring more than 40 world leaders whose views were beamed to a global online audience, offered fresh details on how the U.S. might hope to supercharge its efforts on climate while leveraging international action to spur new technologies to help save the planet.

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Biden opened the conference by announcing a goal to cut up to 52% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 – double the target set by President Barack Obama in the 2015 Paris climate accord. The 2030 goal vaults the U.S. into the top tier of countries on climate ambition.

“This goal is eyebrow-raising, but it has to be,” said Marshall Shepherd, a climate expert at the University of Georgia. “To move the needle on the climate crisis, we need bold actions like this rather than individual or incremental actions only.”

While new targets from the U.S. and others got mostly positive reviews, they still fall a bit short of what some scientists say is necessary to avoid a potentially disastrous 1.5 degree Celsius rise in global temperatures.

Bill Hare, director of Climate Analytics, a climate science think tank in Berlin, said his team’s calculations showed the U.S. needs to reduce emissions 57% by 2030 to stay on a 1.5 degree Celsius pathway. He calls the new target “really a major improvement,” but also “not quite enough.”

Still, the U.S. goal is ambitious, and reflects lessons learned, not only by Biden – Obama’s vice president – but by his team of battle-tested aides, including climate envoy John Kerry and White House adviser Gina McCarthy. Both served in the Obama administration.

Biden and his team “absorbed the lessons of the Obama years,” including watching the “stumbles” in climate foreign policy at a disappointing 2009 Copenhagen summit, said Hare. “What shocked me is just how fast this moved,″ less than 100 days after Biden took office.

The 78-year-old Biden, known as a cautious, mainstream politician during four decades in public life, as president has shown a willingness to take aggressive action on issues from virus relief to immigration.

“In so many areas, he is much bolder than Obama, right out of the gate, and that’s certainly true on climate,″ said Nathaniel Keohane, a former Obama White House adviser who now is a senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

The message from the White House is clear, Keohane added: “The United States is ready to go all-in to beat the climate crisis.″

As the conference wrapped up Friday, Biden said he has come to see the economic opportunities of the climate fight as the silver lining in a cloud that threatens the world’s very future.

“My mother would always say when something very bad would happen in our family, ‘Out of everything bad, Joe, something good will come,’” said Biden, whose life has repeatedly been touched by tragedy.

On climate, the good that Biden hopes will emerge is the chance to remake the global economy and produce millions of jobs in clean energy and technology that will be needed to slow global warming.

“Is there anything else you can think of that could create as many good jobs going into the middle of the 21st century?” he asked.

The climate crisis also has provided an opportunity for the U.S. to work with longtime rivals such as Russia and China. While Biden has often disagreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader now is “talking about how you capture carbon from space,” Biden said.

Despite their differences, “two big nations can cooperate to get something done … that benefits everybody,” Biden said.

Biden‘s re-entry into the Paris agreement and his decision to host the summit were welcomed by world leaders.

“I’m delighted to see that the United States is back … in climate politics. Because there can be no doubt about the world needing your contribution if we really want to fulfill our ambitious goals,” Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel told Biden.

“We are all so delighted to have the United States back” in the climate game, added South Africa’s President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa.

Even after four years of inaction on climate change under President Donald Trump, “the United States still has cachet,” said Alice Hill, a senior fellow for energy and environment at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. She pointed to the attendance of world leaders on both friendly and otherwise chilly terms with the U.S., including China, Russia, Germany and Brazil.

Kerry, who has worked on climate issues in a long career as a senator and former secretary of state, said the next 10 years are crucial to slow global warming and “avoid the worst consequences” of the climate crisis.

“This has to be the decade of decision,” Kerry said.

But even as Biden opts to go big on climate, his plan faces obstacles, including continued resistance from congressional Republicans and the reality that businesses are struggling to create needed technology on an affordable scale.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has dismissed Biden‘s plans, including a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package, as costly and ineffective.

The infrastructure bill includes up to $1 trillion in spending on clean energy and climate change, including 500,000 charging stations for electric vehicles, expansion of solar and wind power and technology to capture and store carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. About $174 billion would go to help put school children, commuters and truckers into electric vehicles and buses, $50 billion to make infrastructure more resilient against volatile weather linked to climate change, and $100 billion to update the power grid.

The administration has pitched the bill as the “American Jobs Plan,” and Moody’s Analytics estimates gains of about 2.7 million jobs.

Failure to adopt the package could doom Biden‘s commitments to cut carbon emissions in half, although officials say substantial progress can be made through administrative regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency, Transportation Department and other agencies.

The White House says officials will continue to reach out to Republicans and will remind them that the proposal’s ideas are widely popular with a wide swath of Americans.

___

Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed to this story.

America’s gas-fueled vehicles imperil Biden’s climate goals

America’s gas-fueled vehicles imperil Biden’s climate goals

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President Joe Biden speaks to the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, from the East Room of the White House, Friday, April 23, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By TOM KRISHER

Associated Press

Friday, April 23, 2021

DETROIT (AP) – For President Joe Biden to reach his ambitious goal of slashing America’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, huge reductions would have to come from someplace other than one of the worst culprits: Auto tailpipes.

That’s because there are just too many gas-powered passenger vehicles in the United States – roughly 279 million – to replace them in less than a decade, experts say. In a normal year, automakers sell about 17 million vehicles nationwide. Even if every one of the new ones were electric, it would take more than 16 years to replace the whole fleet.

What’s more, vehicles now remain on America’s roads for an average of nearly 12 years before they’re scrapped, which means that gas-fueled vehicles will predominate for many years to come.

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“We’re not going to be able to meet the target with new-car sales only,” said Aakash Arora, a managing director with Boston Consulting Group and an author of a study on electric vehicle adoption. “The fleet is too big.”

So unless government incentives could somehow persuade a majority of Americans to scrap their cars and trucks and buy electric vehicles, reducing tailpipe emissions by anything close to 50% would take far longer than the Biden timetable. Last year, fewer than 2% of new vehicles sold in the United States were fully electric.

“If every new vehicle sold today was an electric vehicle and it was entirely powered by renewable energy overnight, it would take 10 years or more for us to achieve a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” said Chris Atkinson, a professor of mechanical engineering and director of smart mobility at Ohio State University.

Which means that other sectors of the economy would have to slash greenhouse gas emissions deeply enough to make up the shortfall in the auto industry.

Transportation as a whole, which includes not only cars and trucks but also ships and airplanes, is the single largest source of such pollution. Of the nearly 6.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide that were emitted in the United States in 2019, transportation accounted for 29%. Next was electricity generation at 25%. Then came factories at 23%, commercial and residential buildings at 13% and agriculture at 10%.

Electricity generation is the most likely source of faster reductions. That sector has already made significant strides. Last year, carbon emissions from electricity generation were 52% lower than the government had projected they would be in 2005, according to government’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The reasons: More use of natural gas, solar and wind power, as well as reduced demand as the economy has evolved to achieve gains in energy efficiency.

Biden, who unveiled his goals at a climate summit with world leaders Thursday, has yet to detail the greenhouse gas reductions that his administration envisions for each sector of the economy. Overall, the reductions are intended to limit global warming as part of the president’s vision of a nation that produces cutting-edge batteries and electric cars, a more efficient electrical grid and caps abandoned oil rigs and coal mines.

Gina McCarthy, Biden’s top climate adviser, appeared to signal Thursday that deeper cuts in emissions would have to come from sectors other than the auto industry to reach the goals. She defended the administration’s decision not to set a specific deadline for ending sales of new gas-powered cars or for achieving net-zero emissions from the transportation sector.

“We have a whole lot of ways,” McCarthy said, to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in half without a transportation goal.

For the transportation sector, the government says it will improve vehicle efficiency, invest in low-carbon renewable fuels and achieve transit, rail and bicycling improvements. The administration also wants to convert the 650,000-vehicle federal vehicle fleet to battery power.

To increase sales of electric vehicles, the administration plans to spend $15 billion to build a half-million charging stations by 2030, as well as offering unspecified tax credits and rebates to cut the cost.

Swapping the entire fleet of gas burners for electric vehicles could take even longer than 20 years. Todd Campau, associate director of automotive for IHS Markit, estimates that the number of mostly gas-powered vehicles on U.S. roads, will keep growing – to 284 million by 2025.

“The situation is only getting worse as far as the volume that needs to be exchanged,” Campau said.

Campau and others say it would take highly attractive government incentives to lure additional people out of their gas-burners – something like a reprise of the 2009 cash-for-clunkers program proposed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, but on a vastly larger scale. The Schumer plan proposes rebates of at least $3,000 for people to scrap combustion vehicles for electrics.

Bill Hare, director of Climate Analytics, a Berlin-based climate think tank, predicted that pollution reductions in the transportation sector will come after 2030 as the electric vehicle fleet grows.

“What you would then end up seeing is more or less complete decarbonization of the transport sector – but by 2050,” he said.

Even if tailpipe emissions can’t be cut quickly, Biden’s goals might, at least in theory, be reached with significant cuts in electric powerplant emissions as well as reductions in methane pollution from oil wells and cuts in hydrofluorocarbons used in refrigeration and air conditioning, said Kate Larsen, director at Rhodium Group, a research firm. Studies show that electric power emissions can be cut 80% by 2030 with a mix of investment and regulations, Larsen said.

“That will get us the bulk of the way,” she said. “We won’t see 50% reductions across the board.”

Zero emissions electric generation sets the stage for converting cars and many other pollution sources to electricity, she said.

Even countries that are ahead of the U.S. in electric vehicle adoption, mainly in Europe and China, sales still won’t have enough electric vehicles in use to reach 2030 carbon dioxide reduction goals, according to a Boston Consulting report. In Europe, which has strong incentives and strict pollution limits, the market share of battery-only and plug-in hybrids jumped from 3% to 10.5% last year. That’s far from enough.

“If half of new cars sold around the world in 2035 are zero-emission vehicles, 70% of the vehicles on roads will still be burning gasoline or diesel,” the report said.

Faster adoption could be limited, too, by a lack of factory capacity to make batteries. The U.S., for instance, has only four plants either built or in the works now. It would need 50 to electrify the entire fleet, said OSU’s Atkinson.

Even so, a switch from internal combustion to electric vehicles is well under way, and Boston Consulting says it will accelerate. The company foresees new plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicle sales rising from 12% of the global market in 2020 to 47% in 2025. It notes that battery costs are falling and automakers plan to introduce 300 new EV models by 2023, giving consumers a huge array of choices.

“There’s a path for this to move quite quickly,” said Nathan Niese, an author of the Boston Consulting report. “Business is moving in that direction. The government can just be the accelerator on top of that.”

____

AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein contributed to this report from Washington.

The Latest: World leaders pledge climate action at summit

The Latest: World leaders pledge climate action at summit

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U.S. President Joe Biden is seen on a screen as European Council President Charles Michel attends a virtual Global Climate Summit via video link from the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Johanna Geron, Pool via AP) more >

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By

Associated Press

Friday, April 23, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Latest on President Joe Biden‘s global climate summit (all times local):

10:40 a.m.

World leaders are pledging action on climate change on the virtual climate summit’s second day.

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Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Friday renewed her country’s pledge to end oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, switching to massive wind farms. Danish companies are planning several wind farms off the U.S. East Coast as part of the Biden administration’s plan to boost offshore wind.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his country is a global leader in cutting coal use and says renewable energy will be producing a third of Israel’s energy by the end of the decade. Netanyahu also pledges improvements on battery storage, saying hundreds Israeli start-ups are working on the issue.

Vietnam President Nguyen Xuan Phuc says climate disasters have taken hundreds of lives in his country, which he says is “suffering immensely from rising sea levels.”

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari says his government has implemented programs to transition from use of wood stoves to kerosene and other energy sources.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta calls on wealthy nations to contribute at least $100 billion to address climate change.

___

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE GLOBAL CLIMATE SUMMIT:

The White House brings out the billionaires, the CEOs and the union executives to help sell President Joe Biden’s climate-friendly transformation of the U.S. economy at his virtual summit of world leaders.

Read more:

– EXPLAINER: How come nations’ climate targets don’t compare?

___

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON:

10:10 a.m.

Opening the final session of the two-day virtual global climate summit, President Joe Biden says he wants to shift the conversation from climate threat to economic opportunities.

Biden said Friday, “This is a moment for all of us to build better economies for our children, our grandchildren.”

Biden says America “is once again stepping into a leadership role” and pledges to cooperate with other nations in researching and deploying new strategies to decarbonize key industries.

Biden says future jobs will involve installing electric-vehicle charging stations, manufacturing solar panels, researching sustainable farming practices and working in other new industries. But he says economic transitions shouldn’t leave other workers behind. He says, “We must ensure that workers who thrived in yesterday’s and today’s industries” also have a bright future.

Biden says the hard work of implementing the ambitious climate change targets lies ahead and the two-day summit “is a start.”

___

9:20 a.m.

An independent research organization says the American goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to 52% from 2005 levels puts the United States among the four most ambitious nations in curbing climate change.

The Rhodium Group said early Friday that using the U.S.-preferred 2005 baseline, America is behind the United Kingdom but right with the European Union. It’s ahead of countries that include Canada, Japan, Iceland and Norway.

President Joe Biden announced the U.S. goal at the virtual climate summit on Thursday.

Different nations use different base years for their emission cuts so comparisons are difficult and can look different based on baseline years.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the world needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions 45% below 2010 levels to limit warming to the strictest of the Paris agreement goals. Rhodium calculates the U.S. target translates to 49% below 2010 levels.

___

9:10 a.m.

An analysis shows President Joe Biden’s climate summit and the run-up to it cut the so-called emissions gap, a crucial measurement used to see if the world can limit global warming, by about one-eighth.

Climate Action Tracker is a group of scientists who monitor nations’ pledges of carbon pollution cuts. It calculated that targets announced since last September cut about 12% to 14% from the emissions gap.

That emissions gap is that big area between what nations promise to do and the pollution reductions needed by 2030 to limit future warming to another half a degree, which is the stricter of two goals adopted by the 2015 Paris climate deal.

The tracker calculated the announcements cut between 2.9 and 4.1 billion tons of carbon from the gap.

With the new targets from the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan and Canada, the new emissions gap is 22 to 26 billion tons of carbon pollution. The tracker says before those pledges it was 25 to 30 billion tons.

Climate scientist Niklas Hohne says “we are now starting to see the kind of near-term climate action the world needs to win the race to zero by 2050.” Hohne says, “While the gap is still huge, the summit created new momentum.”

___

8:55 a.m.

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates have helped pitch President Joe Biden’s climate-friendly transformation of the U.S. economy on Day 2 of the world leaders’ virtual summit.

Bloomberg says combatting climate change will depend on improving financial transparency about the risks of global warming.

Bloomberg said Friday that companies need to provide financial disclosures on climate risks, so that investors can direct funding to businesses that are mitigating the threats of climate change. He says it will take historic investments to beat the challenge of global warning.

Bloomberg says mayors and CEOs tell him they want to do more to tackle climate change but need more help. The multibillionaire founder of a financial data and news company is a special U.N. envoy on climate change issues.

Gates thanked Biden and U.S. climate envoy John Kerry for reestablishing the U.S. leading role on tackling climate change. Gates says, “This is a promising moment.”

Gates says activists and young people are rightly demanding action. He says, “Governments around the globe are meeting those demands with ambitious commitments.”

Gates says climate change is “an incredibly complex issue and using just today’s technologies won’t allow us to meet out ambitious goals.”

___

8:45 a.m.

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry has kicked off the second day of the global climate summit with a commitment to meet the challenge with historic amount of new investment.

The former secretary of state said Friday he heard from representatives of 63 countries on the first day of the summit, from all regions of the world. Many nations have bold plans but lack the resources to implement those plans.

Kerry says, “There is polite but obvious frustration that was manifested by many who have contributed so little to the crisis but who have to deal with so much of the consequences.″

At the same time, Kerry said participants enthusiastically reported one after the other about “significant and exciting measures that they’re taking.″

The agenda for the second day will focus on the economic opportunities of combating climate change and the need for technological innovations.

‘We’re gonna do this’: Biden closes global summit on climate

‘We’re gonna do this’: Biden closes global summit on climate

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President Joe Biden speaks to the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, from the East Room of the White House, Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By ELLEN KNICKMEYER and CHRISTINA LARSON and MATTHEW DALY

Associated Press

Friday, April 23, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – World leaders joined President Joe Biden Friday to close his virtual climate summit with stories of their own national drives to break free of climate-wrecking fossil fuels – Kenyans leapfrogging from kerosene stoves to geothermal power and Israeli start-ups scrambling to improve battery storage.

“We’re gonna do this together,” Biden exhorted, speaking live to a Zoom-style screen of leaders of national governments, unions and business executives around the world.

Biden‘s closing message echoed the sentiments of Kenyan President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, who told the summit: “We cannot win this fight against climate change unless we go globally to fight it together.”

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The second and final day of Biden‘s summit of 40 world leaders made the case for massive investment now – in the U.S. and around the world – for prosperous as well as cleaner economies in the long run.

Compared with the United States and other wealthy but carbon-dependent nations, Kenya stands out as a poorer nation closing the technology gap despite limited financial resources. It has moved in decades from dirty-burning coal, kerosene and wood fires to become a leading user and producer of geothermal energy, wind and solar power, all aided by mobile-phone banking.

The summit’s opening on Thursday saw a half-dozen nations, including the United States, pledge specific, significant new efforts to cut emissions. Other summit speakers, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose country is the world’s top climate polluter, held out the possibility of deepening their commitments, in China’s case by easing back on building of coal-fired plants.

Biden‘s own pledge, nearly doubling the U.S. target for cutting emissions from coal and petroleum this decade, depends on his keeping political support from voters and securing more than $2 trillion for a nationwide infrastructure overhaul.

“The commitments we’ve made must become real,” Biden said Friday, speaking to the home audience as much as the international one. “Commitment without doing anything is a lot of hot air, no pun intended.”

He wondered aloud if there was “anything else you can think of that could create as many good jobs going into the 21st century.”

The coronavirus pandemic forced the summit into its virtual format, with a TV talk show-style set created in the White House East Room. Cabinet secretaries stepped in as emcees to keep the livestreamed action moving.

It was all in service of an argument officials say will make or break Biden’s climate vision: Pouring trillions of dollars into clean-energy technology, research and infrastructure will speed a competitive U.S. economy into the future and create jobs while saving the planet.

While technological development and wider use has helped make wind and solar power strongly competitive against coal and natural gas in the U.S., Biden said investment also would bring forward thriving, clean-energy fields “in things we haven’t even thought of so far.”

Republicans are sticking to the arguments that then-President Donald Trump made in pulling the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris climate accord. They point to China as the world’s worst climate polluter – the U.S. is No. 2 – and say any transition to clean energy hurts American oil, natural gas and coal workers.

It means “putting good-paying American jobs into the shredder,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Thursday in a speech in which he dismissed the administration’s plans as costly and ineffective.

Much of the proposed spending to address climate change is included in Biden’s infrastructure bill, which would pay for new roads, safe bridges and reliable public transit, while boosting electric vehicles, clean drinking water and investments in clean energy such as solar and wind power.

Biden’s plan faces a steep road in the closely divided Senate, where Republicans led by McConnell have objected strongly to the idea of paying for much of it with tax increases on corporations.

The White House says administration officials will continue to reach out to Republicans and will remind them that the proposal’s ideas are widely popular with Americans of all political persuasions.

Friday also featured billionaires Bill Gates and Mike Bloomberg, steelworker and electrical union leaders and executives for solar and other renewable energy.

“We can’t beat climate change without a historic amount of new investment,” said Bloomberg, who has spent heavily to promote replacing dirty-burning coal-fired power plants with increasingly cheaper renewable energy.

Biden envoy John Kerry stressed the political selling point that the president’s call for retrofitting creaky U.S. infrastructure to run more cleanly would put the U.S. on a better economic footing long-term. “No one is being asked for a sacrifice,” Kerry said. “This is an opportunity.”

Global leaders described their own investments and commitments to break away from reliance on climate-damaging petroleum and coal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described scientists at hundreds of Israeli start-ups working to improve crucial battery storage for solar, wind and other renewable energy. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark renewed her country’s pledge to end oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, switching from offshore oil and gas rigs to wind farms.

On the summit’s opening day Thursday, Biden pledged the U.S. will cut fossil fuel emissions as much as 52% by 2030. South Korea, Japan, Canada and South Africa also joined in specific new emissions efforts timed to the summit.

Biden‘s new goal puts the United States among the most ambitious nations in curbing climate change, the Rhodium Group, an independent research organization, announced overnight.

Different nations use different base years for their emission cuts so comparisons are difficult and can look different based on baseline years. The Rhodium Group said using the U.S.-preferred 2005 baseline, America is behind the United Kingdom but right with the European Union. It’s ahead of a second tier of countries including Canada, Japan, Iceland and Norway.

___

Seth Borenstein contributed from Washington. Knickmeyer reported from Oklahoma City.

EXPLAINER: How come nations’ climate targets don’t compare?

EXPLAINER: How come nations’ climate targets don’t compare?

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President Joe Biden and Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry listen during the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, from the East Room of the White House, Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By SETH BORENSTEIN

Associated Press

Thursday, April 22, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – This week’s climate change summit features lots of talk from different nations about their goals for reducing carbon emissions. But in the weird world of national climate pledges, numbers often aren’t quite what they seem.

Sometimes a 55% reduction is about equal to 50% to 52%. Sometimes it’s even less. Sometimes it’s way more.

As part of the Paris climate agreement process, each nation picks its own national goals for how much greenhouse gas should be cut by 2030 and – crucially – what baseline year it starts counting from for those cuts. That makes it difficult to compare countries’ emissions-cutting pledges to see who is promising more.

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US AND EU GOALS

Both the United States and the European Union are offering similar-sounding pledges of cutting around half their emissions by 2030. But depending on what year you start from, each can sound significantly deeper than the other.

The European Union goal, newly approved by the union’s parliament, is 55% below 1990 levels. The new U.S. goal announced Thursday by President Joe Biden is 50% to 52% below 2005 levels.

If you convert the European goal to the American-preferred 2005 baseline, the two are the same. The European Union goal translates to 51% below 2005 levels, which is on par with the U.S. goal, said former Obama White House environmental aide Kate Larsen, a director at the private research Rhodium Group.

But if you compare them using Europe’s preferred 1990 as the baseline, the 50% minimum U.S. cut is only 41%, far shy of the 55% EU goal, according to Larsen’s calculations.

If you compare the numbers to 2019, the last pre-pandemic year, the U.S. goal looks more ambitious than Europe’s. The minimum the United States would be cutting is about 40% from today’s level and the EU only 35%, said Niklas Hohne, a climate scientist who helps run the Climate Action Tracker, which monitors world emission pledges.

WHY DIFFERENT BASELINES?

The idea behind different baselines goes back to a logjam that bogged down climate talks in 2009.

Developed countries that already spewed lots of carbon pollution wanted poorer nations that were counting on fossil fuels for economic development to forgo the dirtier fuels, said John Podesta, who was then-President Barack Obama’s climate czar. So a solution was struck for the 2015 Paris agreement that allowed nations to voluntarily choose their own goals tailored to each country.

Those nationally designed goals also included countries choosing their own baseline years. So countries tend to choose years in which they peaked or near peaked on carbon emissions.

For example, Europe, which took early action after the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, chose to keep that treaty’s 1990 baseline because it factored in early cuts. This way, Europe gets credit for acting early.

DOES IT MATTER?

Many developed nations’ goals pretty much even out, said Nigel Purvis, who was a U.S. State Department climate negotiator for the George W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations.

“At 50%, they’re all doing a lot,” Purvis said. “The baselines are becoming less important.”

HIGHER GOALS

Some nations are shooting higher.

University of Maryland global sustainability professor Nate Hultman pointed to Denmark, which he said did the math to see how much emissions cutting was feasible for the future and found it to be 65% below 1990 levels. Denmark then purposely set a tougher goal, 70%, counting on unforeseen changes in technology that often happen.

Climate Action Tracker’s Hohne said that despite the White House’s claims, the U.S. target is not enough to keep warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, the tougher Paris agreement target.

The entire world must cut its emissions in half compared to 2019, Hohne said. But Biden’s new U.S. target only translates to about 40% from 2019 levels.

“If you take that comparison, then it doesn’t work,’’ Hohne told The Associated Press on Thursday.

NOT JUST CARBON DIOXIDE

Like other nations, the U.S. goal includes methane and hydrofluorocarbon gases that trap more heat but don’t last as long as carbon dioxide. Including those in the goals allows the United States to pick low-hanging fruit to better reach its goal, Larsen said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized how slashing methane pollution quickly can get the world nearly halfway to its 1.5 degree Celsius goal.

Reducing methane and HFCs gets results more quickly than cutting carbon dioxide, so cutting them “can buy us a lot of time,” Larsen said.

HOW TO REACH US GOAL

Most of the U.S. emissions reductions – about 70% – will likely come from the power sector, Hultman said. Switching to greener electricity would more quickly reduce overall emissions because people keep their cars for almost a dozen years.

World leaders pledge climate cooperation despite other rifts

World leaders pledge climate cooperation despite other rifts

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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 ELLEN KNICKMEYER and MATTHEW DALY and CHRISTINA LARSON

Associated Press

Thursday, April 22, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – The leaders of Russia and China put aside their raw-worded disputes with U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday long enough to pledge international cooperation on cutting climate-wrecking coal and petroleum emissions in a livestreamed summit showcasing America’s return to the fight against global warming.

Neither Vladimir Putin nor Xi Jinping immediately followed the United States and some of its developed allies in making specific new pledges to reduce damaging fossil fuel pollution during the first day of the two-day U.S.-hosted summit. But climate advocates hoped the high-profile – if glitch-ridden – virtual gathering would kickstart new action by major polluters, paving the way for a November U.N. meeting in Glasgow critical to drastically slowing climate change over the coming decade.

The entire world faces “a moment of peril” but also “a moment of opportunity,” Biden declared, speaking from a TV-style chrome-blue set for the virtual summit of 40 world leaders. Participants appeared one after the other onscreen for what appeared to be a mix of live and recorded addresses.

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“The signs are unmistakable,” Biden said. “The science is undeniable. The cost of inaction keeps mounting.”

Biden‘s new U.S. commitment, timed to the summit, would cut America’s fossil fuel emissions as much as 52% by 2030. It comes after four years of international withdrawal from the issue under President Donald Trump, who mocked the science of climate change and pulled the U.S. out of the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord.

Biden’s administration this week is sketching out a vision of a prosperous, clean-energy United States where factories churn out cutting-edge batteries and electric cars for export, line workers re-lay an efficient national electrical grid and crews cap abandoned oil and gas rigs and coal mines.

But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the administration’s plans as costly and ineffective.

“This is quite the one-two punch,” McConnell said in a Senate speech Thursday. “Toothless requests of our foreign adversaries … and maximum pain for American citizens.”

At the summit, Japan announced its own new 46% emissions reduction target and South Korea said it would stop public financing of new coal-fired power plants, potentially an important step toward persuading China and other coal-reliant nations to curb building and funding of new ones as well.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, one of the leaders shown watching summit proceedings in the coronavirus pandemic’s familiar Brady Bunch-style multibox conference screen, said his nation would up its fossil fuel pollution cuts from 30% to at least 40%.

Travel precautions under the pandemic compelled the summit to play out on livestream, limiting opportunities for spontaneous interaction and negotiation. Its opening hours were sometimes marked by electronic echoes, random beeps and off-screen voices.

But the summit also marshaled an impressive display of the world’s most powerful leaders speaking on the single cause of climate change.

China’s Xi, whose country is the world’s biggest emissions culprit, followed by the United States, spoke first among the other global figures. He made no reference to disputes over territorial claims, trade and other matters that had made it uncertain until Wednesday that he would even take part in the U.S. summit. And he said China would work with America in cutting emissions.

“To protect the environment is to protect productivity, and to boost the environment is to boost productivity. It’s as simple as that,” Xi said.

Putin and his government have been irate over Biden‘s characterization of him as a “killer” for Russia’s aggressive moves against its opponents, and he is under pressure this week over the declining health of jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny. But he made no mention of those disputes in his own climate remarks.

“Russia is genuinely interested in galvanizing international cooperation so as to look further for effective solutions to climate change as well as to all other vital challenges,” Putin said. Russia by some measures is the world’s fourth-biggest emitter of climate-damaging fossil fuel fumes.

Climate efforts in recent years have proved a forum where even rival world leaders want to be seen as putting aside disputes to serve as international statesmen and women, even though the cumulative output of fossil fuel emissions is still hurtling the Earth toward disastrous temperature rises.

The pandemic made gathering world leaders for the climate summit too risky. So Biden‘s staff built a small set in the East Room that looked like it was taken from a daytime talk show.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris joined Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House climate envoy John Kerry at a horseshoe-shaped table set up around a giant potted plant to watch fellow leaders’ speeches.

The format meant a cavalcade of short speeches by world leaders, some scripted, some not. “This is not bunny-hugging,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of the climate efforts. “This is about growth and jobs.”

The Biden administration’s pledge would require by far the most ambitious U.S. climate effort ever, nearly doubling the reductions that the Obama administration had committed to in the Paris climate accord.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was one of many allies welcoming the U.S. return after Trump..

“I’m delighted to see that the United States is back, is back to work together with us in climate politics,” Merkel declared in her virtual appearance. “Because there can be no doubt about the world needing your contribution if we really want to fulfill our ambitious goals.”

Pope Francis contributed a video from the Vatican, saying, “I wish you success in this beautiful decision to meet, walk together going forward and I am with you all the way.”

The new urgency comes as scientists say that climate change caused by coal plants, car engines and other fossil fuel use is worsening droughts, floods, hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters and that humans are running out of time to stave off catastrophic extremes of global warming.

Leaders of smaller states and island nations buffeted by rising seas and worsening hurricanes appealed for aid and fast emissions cuts from world powers.

“We are the least contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, but the most affected by climate change,” said Gaston Alfonso Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda. He called for debt relief and more international assistance to recover from storms and the pandemic to prevent a flow of climate refugees. His people he said, are “teetering on the edge of despair.”

Longtime climate policy experts, no strangers to climate summits with solemn pledges, watched some speeches with skepticism. After Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro promised an end to clearcutting in the Amazon, Dan Wilkinson of Human Rights Watch’s environmental programs noted, “It is going to be hard for anyone to take it seriously until they actually start taking steps.”

___

Knickmeyer reported from Oklahoma City. Associated Press writers Ashok Sharma in New Delhi, Joe McDonald in Beijing, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, David Biller in Rio de Janeiro, Nicole Winfield in Vatican City, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Aamer Madhani, Seth Borenstein, Lisa Mascaro and Alexandra Jaffe in Washington contributed to this report.

New Pentagon No. 2 warns of China threat

Deputy Defense Secretary Hicks warns of China threat

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In this Oct. 1, 2019, file photo spectators wave Chinese flags as military vehicles carrying DF-41 ballistic missiles roll during a parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of Communist China in Beijing. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein) **FILE** more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Saturday, March 20, 2021

A day after Chinese diplomats traded angry barbs with their U.S. counterparts in face-to-face meetings in Alaska, new Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks on Friday lashed out at Beijing during a virtual speech at the National War College in Washington, D.C.

Mrs. Hicks, the No. 2 official at the Pentagon, said China’s policies and recent actions constitute a threat to regional stability and to the rules-based international order. She stressed the common refrain in the Biden administration that China is the “pacing challenge” of the United States going forward.

China “has adopted a more coercive and aggressive approach to the Indo-Pacific region. In 2020 alone, Beijing escalated tensions with its neighbors — Australia, Japan and the Philippines,” she said. “Beijing has demonstrated increased military confidence and a willingness to take risks.”

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China was involved in an armed confrontation last year with India along their disputed border that resulted in a loss of life on both sides. It also has clamped down on any dissent in Hong Kong with oppressive national security laws, Mrs. Hicks said.

Beijing is the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system,” she said. 

Bipartisan support for a policy that recognizes China as the primary international competitor for the United States is crucial, Mrs. Hicks said.

“The U.S. military along with its allies and partners must have the capability to outmatch the,” People’s Liberation Army, she said. “The Department of Defense should be confident it will continue to receive the support required to sustain our edge.”

Mexico: 2.7M U.S. vaccine doses to arrive next week

Mexico: 2.7M U.S. vaccine doses to arrive next week

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By MARÍA VERZA

Associated Press

Friday, March 19, 2021

MEXICO CITY (AP) – Mexico’s top diplomat said Friday the U.S. will send 2.7 million doses of unused AstraZeneca vaccine next week, and acknowledged continuing questions about whether Mexico agreed to close its southern border in exchange.

Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said, “There are people who ask me ‘what did they get in exchange?’”.

Ebrard suggested that, rather than a quid-pro-quo, Mexico’s desire to get more vaccines happened to mesh with U.S. concerns, including an upsurge in migrants reaching the U.S. southern border through Mexico.

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“More than thinking that with each move we are going to have negotiate something for something else, what we are doing is building a framework for very good medium-term cooperation,” Ebrard said in a video message.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said earlier that “I give special thanks to President (Joe) Biden for this,” noting that Mexico has already received vaccines from Russia and China.

Ebrard said at least some of the new U.S. doses will be used as second shots for elderly people who have already received AstraZeneca vaccines. While the AstraZeneca shot has not yet been approved for use in the United States, which has a stockpile of, Mexico has already approved and begun using it.

Officials had said Thursday the U.S. shipment would include 2.5 million doses.

Mexico has had difficulties getting enough vaccines, and has so far administered only 5 million doses, roughly equivalent to one dose for 4% of its population.

Mexico announced restrictions Thursday on nonessential travel across its southern border with Guatemala and Belize “to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” Ebrard’s department did not explain why the measure was announced now, more than a year after the start of the pandemic.

Mexico’s assistant health secretary, Hugo López-Gatell, said Thursday that the country’s decision was triggered by the increasing number of migrants entering from Central America.

“There was a verifiable increase in local inflows, particularly from Central America,” López-Gatell said when asked about the timing of the restrictions.

Mexico and the United States long ago imposed similar restrictions on Mexico’s northern border. But Mexico had previously been unwilling to impose them on the southern border or most flights entering Mexico.

The restrictions coincide with a huge uptick in the number of Central American migrants reaching the U.S border through Mexico. The number of migrants attempting to cross the U.S. border has been growing since April, with the 100,441 reported last month the highest level since March 2019.

Explosive Harry, Meghan interview reverberates across globe

Explosive Harry, Meghan interview reverberates across globe

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Australian newspapers report in Sydney, Tuesday, March 9, 2021, on an interview of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex by Oprah Winfrey. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft) more >

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By Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless

Associated Press

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

LONDON (AP) — Prince Harry and Meghan‘s explosive TV interview divided people around the world on Monday, rocking an institution that is struggling to modernize with claims of racism and callousness toward a woman struggling with suicidal thoughts.

During the two-hour appearance with Oprah Winfrey, Harry also revealed the problems had ruptured relations with his father, Prince Charles, and brother, Prince William, illuminating the depth of the family divisions that led the couple to step away from royal duties and move to California last year.

The palace has not yet responded to the interview, in which Meghan described feeling so isolated and miserable inside the royal family that she had suicidal thoughts and said a member of the family had “concerns” about the color of her unborn child’s skin.

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The family member was not Queen Elizabeth II or Prince Philip, according to Harry, sparking a flurry of speculation about who it could be.

Leaders around the world were asked about the interview, and citizens of many countries had an opinion. 

In Accra, Ghana, Devinia Cudjoe said that hearing that a member of the royal family was worried about the color of the skin of an unborn child was insulting to people of the Commonwealth, the grouping of Britain and its former colonies that is headed by the queen.

“That is pure racism,” Cudjoe said. “(The) Commonwealth is supposed to foster unity, oneness amongst black people, amongst white people. But if we are hearing things like this … I think that is below the belt.”

In Nairobi, Kenya, Rebecca Wangare called Meghan “a 21st-century icon of a strong woman. She has faced racism head-on.”

Asma Sultan, a journalist in Karachi, Pakistan, said the interview “is going to tarnish the image of the royal family.”

“There is so much controversy ever since Diana’s death, so it is new Pandora box which is opened up,” she said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to comment on the interview, praising the queen but saying that “when it comes to matters to do with the royal family the right thing for a prime minister to say is nothing.”

Asked whether U.S. President Joe Biden and his wife Jill had any reaction to the interview, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Meghan‘s decision to speak about her struggles with mental health “takes courage” and “that’s certainly something the president believes in.” 

But she said she wouldn’t offer additional comment on the situation “given these are private citizens, sharing their own story and their own struggles.”

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the interview bolstered his argument for Australia severing its constitutional ties to the British monarchy. Turnbull met the couple in April 2018, four months before he was replaced by current Prime Minister Scott Morrison in an internal power struggle within the conservative government.

“It’s clearly an unhappy family, or at least Meghan and Harry are unhappy. It seems very sad,” Turnbull told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “After the end of the queen’s reign, that is the time for us to say: OK, we’ve passed that watershed. Do we really want to have whoever happens to be the head of state, the king or queen of the U.K., automatically our head of state?”

Britain’s monarch is Australia’s head of state. Turnbull was a leading advocate for Australia selecting an Australian citizen as its head of state when he was chairman of the Australian Republican Movement from 1993 to 2000.

News of the interview was reported in Chinese state media, including the overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, People’s Daily, and was widely discussed on the popular Weibo social media platform.

The allegations are especially damaging because many observers hoped Harry and Meghan, who is biracial, would help the tradition-bound monarchy relate to an increasingly multicultural nation. In the early days of their marriage, Harry and Meghan joined William and his wife, Catherine, in projecting a glamorous, energetic image for the young royals.

That partnership was severed when Harry and Meghan left the country, saying they wanted to earn their own living and escape what they called intrusive, racist coverage by the British media.

But the interview brought that criticism into the palace itself, with the couple directing allegations of racism at an unidentified member of the royal family.

Meghan said that when she was pregnant with her son, Archie, Harry told her that the royal family had had “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.” 

Harry confirmed the conversation, saying: “I was a bit shocked.” He said he wouldn’t reveal who made the comment. Winfrey later said Harry told her the comment didn’t come from Queen Elizabeth II or Prince Philip, his grandparents.

Meghan, 39, acknowledged she was naive at the start of her relationship with Harry and unprepared for the strictures of royal life. A successful actress before her marriage, she said she bridled at the controlling nature of being royal, squirming at the idea that she had to live on terms set by palace staff. This was compounded by the fact that the staff refused to help her when she faced racist attacks from the media and internet trolls, she said.

The situation became so difficult that at one point, “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore,” Meghan told Winfrey.

But when she sought help through the palace’s human resources department, she was told there was nothing it could do because she wasn’t an employee, Meghan said.

The implications for the interview — which was broadcast Sunday evening in the United States and will air in Britain on Monday night — are only beginning to be understood. Emily Nash, royal editor at Hello! Magazine, said the revelations had left her and many other viewers “shell-shocked.”

“I don’t see how the palace can ignore these allegations, they’re incredibly serious,” she said. “You have the racism allegations. Then you also have the claim that Meghan was not supported, and she sought help even from the HR team within the household and was told that she couldn’t seek help.” 

The younger royals have made campaigning for support and awareness around mental health one of their priorities. But Harry said the royal family was completely unable to offer that support to its own members.

“For the family, they very much have this mentality of ‘This is just how it is, this is how it’s meant to be, you can’t change it, we’ve all been through it,’” Harry said.

The couple had faced severe criticism in the United Kingdom before the interview. Prince Philip, 99, is in a London hospital recovering from a heart procedure, and critics saw the decision to go forward as being a burden on the queen — even though CBS, rather than Harry and Meghan, dictated the timing of the broadcast.

In the United States, sympathy for the couple poured in. Tennis star Serena Williams, a friend who attended Harry and Meghan‘s wedding, said on Twitter that the duchess’s words “illustrate the pain and cruelty she’s experienced.”

“The mental health consequences of systemic oppression and victimization are devastating, isolating and all too often lethal,” Williams added.

Britain could be less forgiving once the full interview is broadcast, since some see the pair as putting personal happiness ahead of public duty.

Meghan — then known as Meghan Markle, who had starred on the American TV legal drama “Suits” — married Harry at Windsor Castle in May 2018. 

But even that was not what it seemed: The couple revealed in the interview that they exchanged vows in front of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby three days before their spectacular wedding ceremony at the castle.

Archie was born the following year and in a rare positive moment in the interview, the couple revealed their second child, due in the summer, would be a girl. 

Harry said he had lived in fear of a repeat of the fate of his mother, Princess Diana, who was covered constantly by the press and died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 while being pursued by paparazzi.

“What I was seeing was history repeating itself, but definitely far more dangerous — because then you add race in, and you add social media in,” Harry said.

Both Meghan and Harry praised the support they had received from the monarch.

“The queen has always been wonderful to me,” Meghan said.

But Harry revealed he currently has a poor relationship with William and said things got so bad with his father that at one point Prince Charles stopped taking his calls.

“There is a lot to work through there,” Harry said of his father. “I feel really let down. He’s been through something similar. He knows what pain feels like. And Archie is his grandson. I will always love him, but there is a lot of hurt that has happened.”

___

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can seek help from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the United States on 1-800-273-8255. The Samaritans in the United Kingdom can be reached on 116 123.

On International Women’s Day, laments of retreat on rights

On International Women’s Day, laments of retreat on rights

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A woman waves a feminist flag as demonstrators attempt to storm the National Palace during a march to commemorate International Women’s Day and protesting against gender violence, in Mexico City, Monday, March 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned on International Women’s Day that the COVID-19 pandemic has seen “a rollback in hard-won advances in women’s rights” even as calls for women’s empowerment echoed around the globe, from Myanmar and Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia and the United States.

The U.N. chief paid tribute to women leaders whose countries have suffered fewer deaths during the pandemic, to the 70% of frontline health and care workers who are women – “many from racially and ethnically marginalized groups” – and to women’s organizations that have provided local services and information on COVID-19.

The pandemic, however, has shown that “this is still a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture,” Guterres said in a video message on Monday. “But it has also forced a reckoning with global inequalities, fragilities and entrenched gender discrimination.’’

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All those issues, as well as the increase in violence against women are certain to be on the agenda at two major upcoming events that are part of the delayed 25th anniversary of the 1995 Beijing women’s conference that adopted a 150-page road map to achieve gender equality.

The events, centered on civil society and meant “to catapult” gender equality, will kick off with a virtual global gathering in Mexico City March 29 to 31.

That will be followed by a meeting in Paris from June 30-July 2, announced on Monday, called the Generation Equality Forum.

“We stand at a crossroads as we ponder the recovery from a pandemic that has had a disproportionate impact on women and girls, ” said UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the U.N. observance of International Women’s Day.

She said the world faces the challenge of the underrepresentation of women in institutions, some that are critical for the recovery from COVID-19, noting that just 12% of parliaments are gender balanced, 119 countries have never had a female leader and just 13 Cabinets in the world have gender equality.

Mlambo-Ngcuka called the exclusion of women from decisions affecting their lives “bad corporate governance” and said the Generation Equality Forum will help take steps toward recovery.

Around the world, there were expressions of concern at the state of women’s rights.

In Afghanistan, Sima Samar, who has been fighting for women’s rights for 40 years, said much has been gained in the two decades since the Taliban were ousted, with schools for girls open and women now in the workforce, politics and working as judges. They are even at the negotiating table where the Taliban and the Afghan government are struggling to find a way to end war, she said.

But Samar said in an Associated Press interview that the gains are fragile, violence is on the rise, warlords have gained prominence and the U.S. is mulling a departure from Afghanistan in May.

According to Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, 65 women were killed and 95 wounded in targeted attacks in 2020.

Afghanistan is second only to Yemen as the worst place in the world to be a woman, according to a 2019 Index compiled by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security in Washington and the Peace Research Institute in Oslo. The illiteracy rate among Afghan women is 82% and most of the women in Afghan prisons are jailed for so-called “moral” crimes like seeking a divorce.

In Myanmar, five umbrella women’s rights organizations said in a joint letter that the number of women in mass protests against the Feb. 1 military coup is estimated at 60%, at least six women and girls have been killed, and many others have been detained and are “at high risks of violence, harassment, and sexual assault with limited to no legal protections.”

They urged “globally prominent women leaders” to issue a joint statement urging the U.N. Security Council and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to “take immediate action against the military coup and in support of the protection of civilians by all possible means.” They also called for a global arms embargo, a cutoff of revenue to the military, and an immediate stop to “the assaults, harassment and abusive tactics against women protesters and release (of) all those arbitrarily detained.”

The Georgetown Institute said it was asked to disseminate their letter to global women leaders.

In Europe, 158 parliamentarians from the European Union and the United Kingdom signed a joint statement urging authorities in Saudi Arabia to end discrimination against women and “fully dismantle the male guardianship system,” which was loosened in 2019 to allow women to travel freely without a man’s consent. Still in place, however, are rules that require male consent for a woman to leave prison, exit a domestic abuse shelter or marry.

The parliamentarians also urged Saudi authorities to “immediately and unconditionally release all women human rights defenders detained for their peaceful human rights advocacy, and drop the charges against them.”

In Kosovo, hundreds of women marked International Women’s Day with a demonstration to protest domestic violence and demand more respect for their rights.

At U.N. headquarters, Ireland’s U.N. Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason co-chaired an informal Security Council meeting on the participation of women in U.N.-led peace processes and said their representation in peace negotiations “remains unacceptably low.”

“Women are not asking permission to be at the table,” she said. “We are demanding to be at the table. Participation is our right. Tokenism will not satisfy that right: We need direct, substantive inclusion of diverse women so that they can influence the course and outcome of negotiations.”

In the United States, President Joe Biden signed executive orders establishing a White House Gender Policy Council to advance gender equity and equal rights and opportunity for women and girls, and ordering the Department of Education to review regulations and policies to ensure they “guarantee education free from sexual violence.”

U.S, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council meeting that the United States is joining the U.N. Group of Friends for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls and announced that Vice President Kamala Harris will deliver the U.S. statement at the annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women on March 16.

“The United States and the Biden-Harris administration care deeply about gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls around the world,” she said. “We all believe and understand that women do better, countries do better, communities do better, and families do better. Not just women, but everyone.”

___

Kathy Gannon contributed to this report from Islamabad, Pakistan

Biden administration extends Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelan migrants

Biden administration extends Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelan migrants

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By Guy Taylor and Stephen Dinan

The Washington Times

Monday, March 8, 2021

The Biden administration said Monday that hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants who have fled the economic and humanitarian crisis in their homeland can stay in the U.S. for now, moving to cement a policy President Trump had put in place in his last days in office.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he is extending Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans already in the U.S. but with less than permanent status — including immigrants without documentation. TPS gives them permission to live and work here without fear of being ousted.

The move has both immigration and foreign policy implications, serving as a jab at socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as well as a grant of protection for ordinary Venezuelans who have managed to make it out of the country and reach the U.S.

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“The living conditions in Venezuela reveal a country in turmoil, unable to protect its own citizens,” Mr. Mayorkas said. “It is in times of extraordinary and temporary circumstances like these that the United States steps forward to support eligible Venezuelan nationals already present here, while their home country seeks to right itself out of the current crises.”

A 2019 report by the Congressional Budget Office said there were about 300,000 Venezuelans who lacked permanent legal status. Of those, about 200,000 were expected to apply for and be granted TPS, CBO said.

The increasingly authoritarian Mr. Maduro, a protege of the late anti-U.S. populist President Hugo Chavez, has overseen a steep descent in living standards and a stunning rise in poverty since assuming office in 2013. The U.S. and many of Venezuela’s neighbors do not recognize him as president, and instead consider opposition leader Juan Guaido the interim president.

Administration officials have said Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke via telephone on March 2 with Mr. Guaido.

State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday wouldn’t say whether the President Biden’s team wants regime change in Venezuela, but said Washington “supports the democratic aspirations of the people of Venezuela.”

“We know at the root of much of the misery and the suffering of the people of Venezuela stands one individual, and we’ve been very clear that Nicholas Maduro is a dictator,” Mr. Price said.

Mr. Trump, the day before he left office, had extended a different protection known as Deferred Enforced Departure. It is effectively the same as TPS, protecting migrants from deportation and allowing them to get work permits.

But Democrats still praised Mr. Biden for his decision, saying TPS offers a more firm footing in law.

“In standing with the Venezuelan people, we are striking a blow to the Maduro regime,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat.

Venezuela becomes the first new country granted TPS in years.

The Trump administration had tried to reel in the program for migrants from other countries, declining to issue new grants and trying to cancel some previous TPS designations dating back decades. The cancellations were blocked by courts, who said the Trump team cut too many corners.

While the program is supposed to be temporary, only lasting as long as poor conditions persist, in practice it often becomes a perpetual status.

El Salvador was granted TPS on March 9, 2001, after an earthquake ravaged the country.

Two decades later, though, nearly 250,000 people are living in the U.S. under those 2001 protections, according to the Congressional Research Service.

For Honduras, the designation dates back to the last century, after a 1998 hurricane. Nearly 80,000 people are still in the U.S. under those protections.

All told, more than 400,000 people have TPS. The Venezuelan designation could boost those numbers by 50%.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are also pushing to grant TPS holders full citizenship rights, arguing they’ve been in the country so long it makes no sense to ask them to leave.

CASA, a Maryland-based advocacy group working with migrants in the mid-Atlantic region, praised the administration and pressed Mr. Biden to do more.

“We hope this opens the door for more comprehensive immigration reforms, and we continue to wait for other critical announcements of TPS for Cameroon, Guatemala, Haiti and more countries,” said Gustavo Torres, CASA executive director, in a statement.