US President Joe Biden on Monday accused China of “protecting” and accommodating hackers, adding his voice to a chorus of condemnation by American allies uniting against what they deem are rising cyber threats by Beijing.
“My understanding is that the Chinese government, not unlike the Russian government, is not doing it themselves but are protecting those who are doing it, and maybe even accommodating them being able to do it,” Biden told reporters at the White House.
President Joe Biden said on Friday that social media misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccinations is “killing people” and the White House said Facebook needs to clean up its act.
“They’re killing people. The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people,” Biden told reporters at the White House, as he left for a weekend at the presidential retreat in Camp David.
The White House is turning up the pressure on social media companies to weed out what officials say is widely spread misinformation on coronavirus vaccinations.
According to US health officials, a current spike in Covid-19 deaths and illnesses around the country is almost exclusively hitting people who remain unvaccinated.
“There is a clear message that is coming through: this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky told reporters on Friday.
Many of those refusing vaccinations, despite the ease of availability throughout the United States, have said they do not trust the shots.
Skepticism is being fueled both by false posts spread by anti-vaccine activists online and by Republican politicians claiming the vaccinations are part of attempts at government control.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Facebook and others are not doing enough to push back.
“Everybody has a role to play in making sure there’s accurate information,” she said.
Psaki said the White House was taking a more active approach in calling out what it sees as misinformation but insisted that Facebook in particular should react more quickly in taking down problematic posts.
– Prolific fake news posters –
“There’s about 12 people who are producing 65 percent of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms. All of them remain active on Facebook, despite some even being banned on other platforms,” Psaki said, without identifying those dozen posters.
The White House has “proposed that they create a robust enforcement strategy that bridges their properties and provides transparency about the rules,” she said.
The turning up of the volume against fake news immediately drew accusations from right-wing media that Biden was installing a “Big Brother” type surveillance over citizens’ opinions.
Facebook, which has contracted an army of independent outside fact checkers, including from AFP, to try and clean up its content, pushed back at the White House claims.
“We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts,” a Facebook spokesperson told AFP.
“The fact is that more than two billion people have viewed authoritative information about Covid-19 and vaccines on Facebook, which is more than any other place on the internet. More than 3.3 million Americans have also used our vaccine finder tool to find out where and how to get a vaccine. The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period.”
Earlier, Facebook said it was taking “aggressive action against misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines to protect public health,” and that it had removed “more than 18 million pieces of Covid misinformation,” and disabled accounts spreading false information.
The CDC reported more than 33,000 new cases in the United States on Thursday, bringing the seven-day average up to 26,306, a 70 percent rise on the week before.
The seven-day average of hospital admissions is about 2,790 per day, an increase of 36 percent. And after weeks of declines, the seven-day average of deaths was 211, an increase of 26 percent.
The spikes are focused in communities with low vaccination rates and “unvaccinated Americans account for virtually all recent Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths,” said Jeff Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator.
The new wave is driven by the Delta variant, which now accounts for more than 80 percent of new cases, according to the covSpectrum tracker.
President Joe Biden went to church Saturday in his hometown a day after US Roman Catholic bishops issued a challenge to him over his support for abortion rights.
Biden and first lady Jill Biden spent time at St. Joseph on the Brandywine church in Wilmington. They also visited the church graveyard where the president’s first wife Neilia, son Beau and infant daughter Naomi are buried.
Biden, 78, is a devout Catholic who attends mass at least once a week, and he supports the landmark 1973 US Supreme Court decision affirming a woman’s right to an abortion.
On Friday US bishops agreed to draft a statement on the meaning of holy communion which could potentially be used to deny that sacrament to the American leader.
The eucharist, also known as holy communion, is among the most sacred rituals in the Catholic Church and there have been calls from some conservative church leaders to deny the sacrament to politicians who support abortion rights.
Biden on Friday seemed to dismiss the possibility that he could be denied communion.
“That’s a private matter and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he told reporters.
It is up to each local bishop to decide who receives communion in their diocese.
In 2019, a priest at a Catholic church in South Carolina refused holy communion to Biden because of his stance on abortion.
The Catholic News Service reported in May that the Vatican had warned US bishops to proceed cautiously with policies designed “to address the situation of Catholics in public office who support legislation allowing abortion, euthanasia or other moral evils.”
US President Joe Biden arrived in Geneva on Tuesday ahead of his first summit with Vladimir Putin, as tensions between Moscow and Washington stand at their highest in years.
Biden flew into Geneva at 4:16 pm (1416 GMT) on the last leg of his first foreign trip as president, after mending relations with Washington’s closest allies during G7 and NATO summits in Britain and Brussels.
He arrived in Geneva on the eve of the first meeting between US and Russian leaders since 2018 when Putin met Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump in Helsinki.
Biden was greeted on the Geneva Airport tarmac by Swiss President Guy Parmelin, flanked by the heads of the Geneva cantonal and city authorities and US diplomats based in the city.
After handshakes and a few brief exchanges, he climbed into his armoured limousine known as “The Beast” and was whisked off to the five-star Intercontinental Hotel, just a mile (1.6 kilometres) away.
Switzerland has launched a massive security operation to ensure the safety of Biden, Putin and their large entourages, deploying around 4,000 police, troops and security personnel to guard the summit from all angles.
The summit venue, the La Grange villa, and its surrounding park has been ringed with two kilometres of barbed wire-topped security fencing.
Several blocks around Biden’s hotel, near the United Nations’ European headquarters, were also blocked off with barbed-wire fencing.
The international city, which on Tuesday was flying the US and Russian flags on its main bridge crossing the end of the picturesque Lake Geneva, is well accustomed to hosting heads of state and other dignitaries.
But such showpiece summits are rare — the last time leaders from Washington and Moscow met in the neutral country was back in 1985, when US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met each other for the first time.
Wednesday’s summit comes as Washington and Moscow find themselves at loggerheads over a long list of disputes — from cyber-attacks and election meddling to the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and designation of his organisations as “extremist” groups.
Expectations for the talks are low, with officials on both sides repeatedly saying the two leaders are unlikely to find much common ground.
President Vladimir Putin has renewed an offer to swap prisoners ahead of his first summit Wednesday with Joe Biden, who has come under growing pressure to free Americans in Russian jails.
Biden, who has vowed a clear-eyed, tougher approach with Putin than his predecessors at the start of their terms, has already made clear that he will raise the fate of jailed Americans when he meets the Russian leader in Geneva.
The most prominent US citizens in Russian custody are Paul Whelan, a former security official at an auto parts company who was arrested in December 2018 on charges of espionage, and Trevor Reed, who was arrested in 2019 for a drunken brawl in which he punched two Russian police officers.
Asked in an interview with NBC News broadcast Monday if he was willing to negotiate with Biden on a prisoner swap, Putin said, “Yes, of course” and called for a broader extradition agreement.
Putin said that some cases were “matters of a humanitarian nature.”
“Why not discuss them as long as they pertain to the health and life of specific individuals and of their families? Of course. Sure thing,” he said.
Putin hinted that Reed’s case could be resolved quickly, calling him a “drunk and a troublemaker.”
“These things happen in life. There is nothing horrible about it. It happens to our men as well,” Putin said.
“What would have happened if he’d fought a cop, if he’d hit a cop in your country? He would have been shot dead on that spot, and that’s the end of it. Isn’t that the case?”
– Russians captured by US – Putin specifically raised the prospect of a swap for contract pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, saying he was also accused of “common crime” and that he has “major health issues” ignored by prison authorities.
Yaroshenko was convicted in 2011 of smuggling drugs into the United States. He was extradited from Liberia in what the Kremlin denounced as a kidnapping.
Other high-profile Russians in US custody include Viktor Bout, the prolific arms dealer arrested in Thailand in 2010 who inspired the Nicolas Cage film “Lord of War.”
He is serving a 25-year sentence on charges of smuggling weapons to Colombia’s FARC rebels.
Biden has vowed to raise pressure on Russia for harboring cybercriminals who have been blamed in major attacks on a US oil pipeline and a meat supplier.
Asked at the G7 summit in England about a prisoner exchange involving hackers, Biden said, “I’m committed to holding him accountable.”
Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, later clarified that the United States was not considering a swap including any hackers.
“He’s not saying he’s going to be exchanging cyber criminals with Russia,” Sullivan told reporters.
– Hopes rise in US – US lawmakers across party lines have pushed Biden to put the release of Americans high on the agenda with Putin.
“The Kremlin’s Kafkaesque treatment of American citizens must stop and President Biden should make their return a priority of the visit,” Senator Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said last week.
Reed’s parents, in a separate interview with NBC News, said their son denies the charges against him and that the judge ignored video evidence — but she voiced hope for a swap.
“We’re very happy to hear that President Putin is open to a prisoner exchange and we hope that that’s something that happens very soon because Trevor and Paul Whelan both have been there long enough considering that they’re innocent,” she said.
Whelan, in a telephone interview earlier this month with CNN, also insisted on his innocence and voiced hope that “either an exchange or some sort of resolution” would come about soon.
“So I would ask President Biden to aggressively discuss and resolve this issue with his Russian counterparts,” Whelan said from a Russian prison.
President Joe Biden pledged Sunday to tell Russian leader Vladimir Putin at their June summit that Washington will not let Moscow “abuse” human rights.
The face-to-face meeting with the Kremlin leader comes amid levels of tension not seen for years, with Washington now dialing back its ambitions to little more than establishing a relationship in which both sides understand each other and can work together in specific areas.
“I’ll be meeting with President Putin in a couple of weeks in Geneva, making it clear that we will not — we will not stand by and let him abuse those rights,” Biden said in a speech on the summit, which is set for June 16.
Since taking office, Biden has imposed new sanctions against Moscow over what US authorities say was the Russian role in the massive SolarWinds cyber attack and repeated meddling in the 2020 presidential election.
In addition, Washington has harshly criticized Moscow for the near-death poisoning and subsequent imprisonment of one of the last open opponents to Putin, Alexei Navalny.
Tensions are also high over Ukraine, where Russia already controls swaths of territory and recently massed troops on the border in a new show of force.
Yet another focus is on Russian-dominated Belarus, which caused an uproar this week after authorities forced an airliner passing overhead to land, then arrested an opponent to President Alexander Lukashenko who had been aboard.
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin is to visit Washington within weeks, his office said Wednesday, in the first such trip by a high-ranking Israeli official to meet US President Joe Biden.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken extended the invitation to Rivlin as they met on the second day of a Middle East tour aimed at shoring up a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas that rules Gaza.
“Secretary Blinken conveyed President Biden’s invitation to visit the United States before the end of his term of office” on July 5, the president’s office said in a statement.
Rivlin, whose post is largely ceremonial and cannot be renewed, “accepted the invitation and asked Blinken to convey to the president that he will gladly visit before his presidency ends”.
Blinken met Rivlin before travelling on to Egypt and Jordan.
During his visit, the top US diplomat reiterated support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks by Hamas, which he said must not benefit from the aid effort to rebuild the coastal enclave of Gaza.
Eleven days of Israeli air strikes and artillery fire on Gaza since May 10 killed 254 Palestinians, including 66 children as well as fighters, authorities in Gaza say.
Rocket and other fire from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, an Israeli soldier, one Indian national and two Thai workers, medics say.
US Republicans on Thursday stepped up calls on President Joe Biden to end talks to return to a nuclear agreement with Iran as the clerical state’s ally Hamas fires rockets into Israel.
The United States has been holding indirect talks with Iran in Vienna in a bid to return to the 2015 accord that constrained its nuclear program, which UN inspectors said Tehran was complying with until Republican president Donald Trump trashed it in 2018 and imposed sweeping sanctions.
In a letter to Biden, Republican senators said that any sanctions relief would let Iran step up funding for Hamas, which has been firing rockets into Israel in response to the Jewish state’s steps in Jerusalem, triggering a massive Israeli air offensive on the Gaza Strip.
“We call on you to immediately end negotiations with Iran, and make clear that sanctions relief will not be provided,” said the letter led by Senator Marco Rubio and signed by all but six Senate Republicans
“Doing so would demonstrate a firm commitment to our closest ally in the region and to our own security interests.”
The Biden administration argues that the 2015 accord negotiated under former president Barack Obama was working in its goal of limiting Iran’s nuclear program while the Trump approach failed, with Tehran moving ahead on sensitive work and backing militant allies in the region.
Talks in Vienna, led by the European Union, have been held up by Iran’s demands that Biden lift all sanctions imposed by Trump.
The Biden administration says it is only looking at nuclear sanctions and believes that Trump deliberately duplicated measures using anti-terrorism laws in a bid to increase the political price of returning to the deal.
State Department spokesman Ned Price, asked this week about Iranian backing of Hamas, said the Vienna talks focused only on removing sanctions inconsistent with the 2015 deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
“If we were to remove sanctions that were inconsistent with the JCPOA, we would still vigorously hold to account Iran for its behavior in other areas — its terrorism, its support for proxies, its human rights abuses,” Price said.
President Joe Biden announced Monday, after coming under fierce criticism, that he was raising the maximum number of refugees allowed into the United States this year to 62,500 — up from the 15,000 cap imposed by his predecessor Donald Trump.
The change follows backlash from allies over Biden’s earlier decision to keep the Trump-era limits — a politically costly moment of confusion that stood out in a White House notable for its iron discipline in its first three months.
“This erases the historically low number set by the previous administration of 15,000, which did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees,” Biden said in a statement.
“The new admissions cap will also reinforce efforts that are already underway to expand the United States’ capacity to admit refugees so that we can reach the goal of 125,000 refugee admissions that I intend to set for the coming fiscal year.”
The course correction was quickly welcomed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is controlled by Biden’s Democratic party.
“I welcome the Biden administration’s announcement that it will increase the number of refugees allowed to be resettled in the United States. This is an important step in continuing our proud, bipartisan tradition of providing refugees protection through resettlement,” the committee chairman, Senator Bob Menendez, tweeted.
The American Civil Liberties Union, a powerful advocacy group, also voiced approval, saying that the country’s “reputation” was at stake.
“We are pleased to see President Biden has abandoned the Trump administration’s abysmal refugee goal and recommitted to prioritizing helping people who are fleeing persecution around the globe,” ACLU representative Manar Waheed said.
“We recognize that the goal may not be easy and it requires rebuilding a system that was decimated by the Trump administration, but candidate Biden promised,” Waheed said. “He must fulfill that promise, lives are at stake.”
Biden needs party unity
Trump clamped down on refugees as part of the hardline border policies at the heart of his nationalist political platform.
Biden campaigned on promises to restore more traditional US attitudes. But he then backtracked after his government ran into difficulties in handling a surge of migrants entering the country illegally, or claiming asylum, at the Mexican border.
Last month, the White House said it needed more time to “rebuild” the post-Trump refugee program and would therefore keep the cap at 15,000 for the year.
After a top Democrat and refugee aid groups slammed Biden’s target as “appallingly low” and “deeply disappointing,” the White House issued a statement hours later saying the low number was only provisional.
In another shift from Trump’s policies, Biden announced in April that quotas were being expanded for refugees from Central America, the Middle East and Africa, while also opening the doors to three mostly Muslim countries — Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
With Monday’s announcement, the White House will hope to have calmed the political waters among Democrats just when it needs party unity to push forward on huge proposed social and infrastructure spending plans in an almost evenly divided Congress.
“We are amid the largest global refugee crisis in history, and after four years of slashing admittances to the lowest point on record, we need to return to our leadership position,” another Democratic senator, Tim Kaine, said.
“I am heartened by today’s announcement that moved toward upholding our values of accepting refugees.”
President Joe Biden used the 10th anniversary of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden — “a moment I will never forget” — to reaffirm his decision to remove all US troops from Afghanistan.
“We followed bin Laden to the gates of hell — and we got him,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House.
“We kept the promise to all those who lost loved ones on 9/11: that we would never forget those we had lost, and that the United States will never waver in our commitment to prevent another attack on our homeland.”
Biden, who announced last month that he would end Washington’s longest war by September 11, praised then-president Barack Obama for his 2011 decision to approve the secret operation targeting the al-Qaeda leader, and praised the special forces who carried it out in Pakistan.
Watching the operation remotely from a crowded White House Situation Room, Biden said, was “a moment I will never forget — the intelligence professionals who had painstakingly tracked him down; the clarity and conviction of President Obama in making the call; the courage and skill of our team on the ground.”
Now, as the US begins pulling the last of its troops from Afghanistan, Biden said: “Al Qaeda is greatly degraded there. But the United States will remain vigilant about the threat from terrorist groups that have metastasized around the world.
“We will continue to monitor and disrupt any threat to us that emerges from Afghanistan. And we will work to counter terrorist threats to our homeland and our interests in cooperation with allies and partners around the world.”
US President Joe Biden called systemic racism a “stain on our nation’s soul” in a televised address to the nation Tuesday after a white former police officer was convicted of murdering a Black man during an arrest.
Biden spoke out after a jury in the Midwestern city of Minneapolis found Derek Chauvin guilty of intentionally suffocating handcuffed George Floyd as he lay defenseless, with the officer’s knee pressing on his neck for more than nine minutes.
The president called for “confronting head-on systemic racism and the racial disparities that exist in policing and our criminal justice system” — but pleaded for protesters to steer clear of violence.
“There are those who will seek to exploit the raw emotions in the moment — agitators and extremists who have no interest in social justice,” he warned. “We can’t let them succeed.”
A jury deliberated less than 11 hours before finding the 45-year-old Chauvin guilty of all three charges against him — second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.
The unanimous verdict came after a racially charged three-week trial that was seen as a pivotal test of police accountability in the United States.
Appearing alongside Biden, Kamala Harris, America’s first Black vice president, spoke first to articulate the “relief” the nation was feeling over justice being served but acknowledged that the result couldn’t “take away the pain” of Floyd’s murder.
“A measure of justice is not the same as equal justice. This verdict brings us a step closer. We still have work to do. We still have to reform the system,” she said.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto has offered Finland as a host country for a possible meeting between US president Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Niinisto’s office said on Friday.
“When it comes to this possible meeting, the readiness of Finland to organise it has been presented to both Washington and Moscow,” a spokesman for the Finnish President’s Office told AFP by email.
Finland previously hosted Putin and President Trump in Helsinki for the 2018 summit between the two leaders.
Yet the decision to host the meeting came under criticism at the time from some in Finland who said it gave the impression that the Nordic country was neutral, rather than a Western power belonging to the EU.
The Finnish president has been a strong advocate of upholding a dialogue with the Kremlin and most recently had a phone call with president Putin on Tuesday, expressing “serious concern” over Russia’s troop movements along the border with Ukraine.
Biden proposed a meeting with his Russian counterpart during a call on Tuesday, in order to discuss rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine.