Putin Says US-Russia Summit ‘Constructive’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L), US President Joe Biden (2nd L), Russian President Vladimir Putin (2n R) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) pose for press ahead of the US-Russia summit at the Villa La Grange, in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

 

 

The first summit between US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart was “constructive”, Vladimir Putin said Wednesday after the talks in Geneva ended.

“The conversation was absolutely constructive”, Putin told reporters, adding that the sides had agreed for their ambassadors to return in a small gesture of healing in their strained relations.

The ambassadors “will return to their place of work. When exactly is a purely technical question,” Putin told reporters after the summit, which lasted about three and a half hours.

Diplomatic relations between Moscow and Washington had all but broken down since Biden took office in January.

After Biden likened Putin to a “killer”, Russia in March took the rare step of recalling its ambassador Anatoly Antonov. The US envoy, John Sullivan, likewise returned to Washington.

Despite tensions, the summit at an elegant villa on the shore of Lake Geneva got off to a good start, with the two leaders shaking hands and striking cautiously positive notes.

Biden, who was set to hold a separate press conference later, pressed Putin to replace the combustible US-Russian stand-off with a more “predictable” relationship between “two great powers” capable of agreeing to disagree.

He stressed his desire to take US-Russian relations off their increasingly unstable trajectory, in which Washington accuses the Kremlin of everything from meddling in elections to cyberwarfare.

“It’s always better to meet face to face,” he told Putin as they met in the villa’s library, with a globe placed between them.

“We are trying to determine where we have a mutual interest, where we can cooperate; and where we don’t, establish a predictable and rational way in which we disagree — two great powers,” Biden said.

Putin noted at the start of the meeting that “a lot of issues” need addressing “at the highest level” and that he hoped the meeting would be “productive”.

At his press conference after the summit, Putin signalled progress in a number of areas, including an agreement to “start consultations on cybersecurity”.

– Cold War, new problems –
Biden’s apparent offer of a more understanding — if not necessarily a friendly relationship — went a long way toward what Putin is reportedly seeking: increased respect on the world stage.

The reference to the United States and Russia as “two great powers” was sure to please the Kremlin leader, who has dominated his country for two decades, infuriating the West with invasions of Ukraine and Georgia, and often brutal crushing of political dissent.

Expectations were low for anything more than a modest thaw in relations.

Illustrating the frostiness, there was no shared meal during the talks, which were attended by the two countries’ foreign ministers and later by an expanded group of officials.

The choice of Geneva recalled the Cold War summit between US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the Swiss city in 1985.

The summit villa, encircled with barbed wire, was under intense security. Grey patrol boats cruised along the lake front and heavily-armed camouflaged troops stood guard at a nearby yacht marina.

But in contrast with 1985, tensions are less about strategic nuclear weapons and competing ideologies than what the Biden administration sees as an increasingly rogue regime.

From cyberattacks on American entities and meddling in the last two US presidential elections, to human rights violations and aggression against Ukraine and other European countries, Washington’s list of allegations against the Kremlin runs long.

Putin came to the summit arguing that Moscow is simply challenging US hegemony — part of a bid to promote a so-called “multi-polar” world that has seen Russia draw close with the US’s arguably even more powerful adversary China.

In a pre-summit interview with NBC News, he scoffed at allegations that he had anything to do with cyberattacks or the near-fatal poisoning of one of his last remaining domestic opponents, Alexei Navalny.

– ‘Worthy adversary’ –
Biden, ending an intensive first foreign trip as president, arrived in Geneva after summits with NATO and the European Union in Brussels, and a G7 summit in Britain.

While in Brussels, he said he would detail his “red lines.”

“I’m not looking for conflict,” he said, but “we will respond if Russia continues its harmful activities”.

However, Biden, who had previously characterised Putin as a “killer”, upgraded the Russian leader to “worthy adversary”.

And for all the rhetoric, the White House and Kremlin both say they are open to doing business in a limited way.

Officials point to the recent extension of the New START nuclear arms limitation treaty as an example of successful diplomacy.

Unlike in 2018, when Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump met Putin in Helsinki, there was to be no joint press conference at the end of the summit.

The US side clearly wanted to avoid the optics of having Biden sharing that kind of platform with the Russian president.

In 2018, Trump caused a stir by saying, as Putin stood beside him, that he believed the Kremlin leader over his own intelligence services when it came to accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election bringing Trump to power.

‘Israel Has No Better Friend Than US’: Biden Congratulates New PM Bennett


Head of Israel’s right-wing Yamina party Naftali Bennett addresses lawmakers during a special session to vote on a new government at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021. Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP

 

US President Joe Biden on Sunday congratulated incoming Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett after an alliance of parties ousted Benjamin Netanyahu and formed a new government.

“I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet,” Biden said in a statement.

“I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations. Israel has no better friend than the United States.

Biden added that he was “fully committed to working with the new Israeli government to advance security, stability, and peace for Israelis, Palestinians, and people throughout the broader region.”

READ ALSOCanada Pays Final Homage To Family Killed In Truck Attack


(L to R) Israel’s outgoing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with his successor, incoming Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, after a special session to vote on a new government at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021.  EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP

 

Bennett, a right-wing Jewish nationalist and former tech millionaire, will take over at the helm of the eight-party bloc, united only by their shared disdain for the hawkish right-wing leader known as Bibi.

In a Knesset speech before the vote, the 49-year-old Bennett promised the new government, a coalition of ideologically divergent parties, “represents all of Israel.”

AFP

‘The United States Is Back!’ Says Biden On First Day Of Europe Tour

US President Joe Biden addresses US Air Force personnel and their families stationed at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, Suffolk, England on June 9, 2021, ahead of the three-day G7 Summit.  (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

 

 

Joe Biden on Wednesday declared triumphantly that “The United States is back!”, as he kicked off his first overseas tour as president, hoping to leave behind the rancour and isolation of the Trump era.

Biden ran through a packed itinerary that takes in a G7 leaders’ meeting and a NATO summit before ending with a face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

With Putin, he told US service personnel at Royal Air Force base Mildenhall in eastern England, he will “let him know what I want him to know”.

Biden Vows To ‘Fill The Silence’ Over 1921 Massacre Of African Americans

US President Joe Biden speaks on the American Jobs Plan, following a tour of Tidewater Community College in Norfolk, Virginia on May 3, 2021.
MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

 

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday honored the forgotten victims of a 1921 massacre in the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, one of the worst episodes of racist violence in US history.

“I come here to help fill the silence because in silence wounds deepen,” Biden told an audience that included survivors of the Tulsa race massacre and their families.

Biden was in Tulsa to mark the 100th anniversary of the violence, which began after a group of Black men went to the local courthouse to defend a young African American man accused of assaulting a white woman.

The next day, at dawn, white men looted and burned the neighborhood, at the time so prosperous it was called Black Wall Street. As many as 300 African American residents lost their lives.

READ ALSO: Nearly 300 Rescued In Indonesia Ferry Accident

A century later, Biden said, Black Americans’ “sacred rights” to vote are under “assault with incredible intensity like I’ve never seen.”

Beyond financial compensation, city residents are counting on Biden’s visit to bring more attention to a tragedy that long remained taboo.

Tulsa has also begun to excavate mass graves, where many Black victims of the massacre are buried, in an effort to shed more light on the city’s dark past.

AFP

Biden Pushes $6 Trillion Budget To ‘Reimagine’ US Economy, Beat China

US President Joe Biden speaks about the progress in the fight against Covid-19, at the Sportrock Climbing Centers in Alexandria, Virginia on May 28, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP
US President Joe Biden speaks about the progress in the fight against Covid-19, at the Sportrock Climbing Centers in Alexandria, Virginia on May 28, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

President Joe Biden on Friday proposed a $6 trillion budget to “reimagine” the US economy and stave off Chinese competition, though driving the United States into record debt — and with Congress first needing to give approval.

Announcing the proposed spending, Biden said a post-pandemic United States “cannot afford to simply return to the way things were before.”

“We must seize the moment to reimagine and rebuild a new American economy,” he said.

The president’s annual budget is more a wish list or a message on his priorities than anything else. Congress ultimately decides what money goes where and the current Congress has only the narrowest Democratic majority.

Opposition Republicans are leery of any big new role for the central government. Even some of Biden’s supporters warn that an economy already set to roar back from the Covid-19 shutdown risks getting swept up into an inflationary spiral.

READ ALSO: US Senate Leader Pushes Bill To Boost Industry Against China

But the massive plan signals the White House’s determination to put hard numbers on Biden’s campaign to rethink the relationship between government and business in what he says is an existential contest with China.

Under the Biden blueprint, the federal spigot would unleash $6.011 trillion in 2022, with increases gradually rising to $8.2 trillion in 2031. Debt as a percentage of annual GDP would be expected to quickly surpass the level seen at the end of World War II.

The Democrat made clear where the lion’s share of that expected $6 trillion price tag should go.

One huge chunk would be an infrastructure bill originally proposed at $2.3 trillion but since whittled down to $1.7 trillion in negotiations with Congress.

Another $1.8 trillion would go on increased state-funded education and social services — all, Biden argues, part of building a better 21st century workforce.

The overall aim, Biden said, is to grow the US middle class, while positioning “the United States to out-compete our rivals.”

Can it pass?

The budget proposal is being unveiled just ahead of the long Memorial Day weekend and with Congress heading out on a week’s recess.

The timing may dampen the immediate furor on Capitol Hill where many Democrats want Biden to use his control of Congress to push transformational legislation but Republicans are playing hardball in trying to block most of what the president proposes.

Spending priorities are just one area of division.

For example, Republicans are pretty much unanimous in opposing Biden’s broad definition of infrastructure to include green energy and social programs

But there’s even less agreement on how to pay for it.

Biden wants to raise money by ending a corporate tax cut Republicans passed under his predecessor Donald Trump. He also wants to go aggressively after tax loopholes used by the ultra-wealthy and large corporations.

Republicans refuse to accept this and say their own, more modest, infrastructure spending plans could be paid for by reallocating unspent money already budgeted.

Despite the standoff — and the sheer scale of Biden’s mega budget — the White House still has a potential ace up its sleeve in that slim Democratic majority.

Ordinarily, Biden needs at least 10 Republicans to cross over in the evenly split Senate, a tall order at the best of times.

However, if Democrats remain unanimous — which is also not guaranteed — they may be able to pass the budget through a fast-track procedure known as reconciliation.

 

AFP

George Floyd’s Brother Meets Biden, Wants ‘Laws To Protect People Of Color’

George Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd speaks with other family members and lawyers outside the White House after meeting with US President Joe Biden in Washington, DC, on May 25, 2021. JIM WATSON / AFP
George Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd speaks with other family members and lawyers outside the White House after meeting with US President Joe Biden in Washington, DC, on May 25, 2021. JIM WATSON / AFP

 

Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s younger brother, met with President Joe Biden at the White House on Tuesday and called for “federal laws to protect people of color.”

Philonise Floyd and other members of the family met privately with the president on the first anniversary of George Floyd’s May 25, 2020 murder by a Minneapolis police officer.

“If you can make federal laws to protect the bird, the bald eagle, you can make federal laws to protect people of color,” Philonise Floyd said.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden praised the bravery of George Floyd’s family, a year to the day since the African American man was killed by a police officer during an arrest, sparking nationwide protests.

“The Floyd family has shown extraordinary courage, especially his young daughter Gianna, who I met again today,” Biden said in a statement after talking with several members of the Floyd family in the White House.

“His murder launched a summer of protest we hadn’t seen since the Civil Rights era in the ’60s — protests that peacefully unified people of every race and generation to collectively say enough of the senseless killings,” Biden said.

 

AFP

US Open To Denuclearisation Of North Korea – White House

A photo combination of US President Joe Biden and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
A photo combination of US President Joe Biden and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

 

President Joe Biden is open to diplomatic negotiations with North Korea on denuclearization, the White House said Friday after completion of a review by the new administration of US policy.

“Our goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, told reporters.

US policy will see “a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy” with North Korea, she said.

READ ALSO: 44 Die In Israel Pilgrimage Site Stampede 

Psaki gave little indication of what kind of diplomatic initiative this could entail, but suggested that Biden had learned from the experience of previous administrations, who have struggled for decades to deal with the dictatorship in North Korea or, in recent years, its growing nuclear arsenal.

She said Washington would not “focus on achieving a grand bargain,” apparently referring to the kind of dramatic over-arching deal that Donald Trump initially suggested was possible when he met with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.

Neither would the White House follow the more standoff approach called “strategic patience,” espoused by Barack Obama, Psaki said.

In April, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is due to visit the White House on May 21, urged Biden to engage directly with Kim on denuclearization.

Moon told the newspaper he favored “top-down diplomacy.”

Biden Recognises 1915 Armenian Genocide, Defying NATO Ally Turkey

U.S. President Joe Biden listens during a virtual Leaders Summit on Climate with 40 world leaders in the East Room of the White House April 22, 2021 in Washington, DC.  Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images/AFP

 

US President Joe Biden on Saturday recognized the 1915 killings of Armenians by Ottoman forces as genocide, a watershed moment for descendants of the hundreds of thousands of dead as he defied decades of pressure by Turkey. 

Biden became the first US president to use the word genocide in a customary statement on the anniversary, a day after informing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he would go ahead with this step and seeking to limit the expected furor from the NATO ally.

“We remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring,” Biden said.

“And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms,” he said.

READ ALSO: France Won’t Give Into Islamist Terrorism, Says Macron

The statement is a massive victory for Armenia and its extensive diaspora. Starting with Uruguay in 1965, nations including France, Germany, Canada and Russia have recognized the genocide but a US statement has been a paramount goal that proved elusive under other presidents until Biden.

Biden said his statement was “not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.”

Biden made the decision “in a very principled way focused on the merits of human rights, and not for any reason beyond that, including placing blame,” a senior US official said.

Biden took office vowing to put a new focus on human rights and democracy in the wake of his volatile predecessor Donald Trump, who befriended authoritarians and, despite breaking plenty of foreign policy precedents, declined to recognize the Armenian genocide.

Explaining Biden’s thinking, the administration official also alluded to the Democratic president’s outspokenness on systemic racism in the United States.

Across the world, “people are beginning to acknowledge and address and grapple with the painful historical facts in their own countries. It’s certainly something that we are doing here in the United States,” she said.

A century of waiting

As many as 1.5 million Armenians are estimated to have been killed from 1915 to 1917 during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, which suspected the Christian minority of conspiring with adversary Russia in World War I.

Armenian populations were rounded up and deported into the desert of Syria on death marches where many were shot, poisoned or fell victim to disease, according to accounts at the time by foreign diplomats.

Turkey, which emerged as a secular republic from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, acknowledges that 300,000 Armenians may have died but strongly rejects that it was genocide, saying they perished in strife and famine in which many Turks also died.

Erdogan on Thursday told advisors to “defend the truth against those who back the so-called ‘Armenian genocide’ lie,” with his foreign minister warning that the United States would set back relations.

File photo: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a press conference following a meeting with Italian Prime Minister at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on January 13, 2020. Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

Recognition has been a top priority for the Armenia and Armenian-Americans, with calls for compensation and property restoration over what they call Meds Yeghern — the Great Crime.

Biden’s statement was also expected to heighten appeals from Armenia for greater US support against Turkish-backed neighbor Azerbaijan, which last year humiliated Armenia by taking back swathes of territory seized in the 1990s.

But Biden, whose call to Erdogan to inform him of the genocide recognition was their first conversation since the US leader took office three months ago, has signaled he hopes for limited diplomatic impact.

Biden and Erdogan agreed in their call to meet in June on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels, officials said.

Biden has kept Erdogan at arm’s length — a contrast with Trump, whom the Turkish leader reportedly found so amenable that he would call Trump directly on his phone on the golf course.

Turbulent alliance

The US Congress in 2019 voted overwhelmingly to recognize the Armenian genocide but the Trump administration made clear that the official US line had not changed.

Former president Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president, danced around the issue by referencing pre-election statements he made recognizing the genocide and resisted pressure for a statement on the centennial in 2015.

Alan Makovsky, an expert on Turkey at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, said that the 2019 congressional resolution had “no discernible impact” on US-Turkey relations — and paved the way for Biden to go ahead.

“We’ve seen through experience that concern about Turkey’s reaction was always overblown,” he said.

“Turkey will raise a rhetorical fuss for a few days and perhaps delay acting on some routine requests from the US military.”

Tensions have risen with Turkey in recent years over its purchase of a major air defense system from Russia — the chief adversary of NATO — which under US law could trigger sanctions.

Turkey has also infuriated much of the US political establishment with its incursions against US-allied Kurdish fighters in Syria who helped fight the Islamic State group but are linked to militants inside Turkey.

Biden before taking office called Erdogan an autocrat and voiced support for Turkey’s opposition. His administration has also criticized homophobic statements from those close to the Islamist-oriented Erdogan.

Global News In Photos (10-16 April)

A protester (L) confronts with an anti-riot police officer during a demonstration of restaurant owners and workers, entrepreneurs and small businesses owners on April 13, 2021 at Circo Massimo in Rome, demanding the easing of lockdown restrictions and financial assistance from the government, during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

 

 

This is a selection of news photographs taken around the world this week which includes a 6.0-magnitude quake in Indonesia, Britain’s Prince Philip mourned all over the world, historic factory fires, Police officers clash with protesters after an officer shot and killed a black man in the US, and much more.

 

 

 

(COMBO) This combination of pictures taken on April 10, 2021 shows Saudi folklore dancers performing the art of “Taashir”, a traditional dance of the people of Taif, 750 kilometres west of Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh. – Taashir is a war dance performed by carrying a weapon stuffed with gunpowder, which turns into a flame under the feet of the performer when he embraces the sky. The people of Taif still preserve this traditional dance and try to keep it alive among different generations. (Photos by Fayez Nureldine / AFP)

 

 

Muslim worshippers perform the evening Tarawih prayer during the fasting month of Ramadan around the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque complex in the holy city of Mecca, on April 13, 2021. – Saudi authorities said on April 5 only people immunised against COVID-19 will be allowed to perform the year-round Umrah pilgrimage from the start of Ramadan, the holy fasting month for Muslims. (Photo by – / AFP)

 

 

This picture shows the 100 days countdown till the start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games displayed on the illuminated Tokyo Skytree in Tokyo on April 14, 2021. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

 

 

This picture taken in Islamabad on April 15, 2021, shows a lightning flashing over the city during a thunderstorm. (Photo by Aamir QURESHI / AFP)

 

 

A loggerhead sea turtle equipped with a GPS tracker is released back into the Mediterranean Sea at Nitzanim beach near the Israeli city of Ashkelon on April 12, 2021. – The 30-kilogramme female loggerhead turtle was released into the Mediterranean after receiving treatment at the Israeli Sea Turtle Rescue Center. (Photo by GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

 

 

US President Joe Biden walks through Arlington National cemetary to honor fallen veterans of the Afghan conflict in Arlington, Virginia on April 14, 2021. – President Joe Biden announced it’s “time to end” America’s longest war with the unconditional withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, where they have spent two decades in a bloody, largely fruitless battle against the Taliban. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

 

 

View of a Christ statue being built in Encantado, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, on April 09, 2021. – The Christ the Protector statue under construction in Encantado will be larger than Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer and the third-largest in the world. (Photo by SILVIO AVILA / AFP)

 

 

This photograph taken on April 10, 2021, shows a helicopter flying as lava is erupting from Piton de la Fournaise volcano, on the southern side of the volcano, on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion. (Photo by Richard BOUHET / AFP)

 

 

A model presents a creation from Spanish designer Ulises Merida’s Autumn – Winter 2021 / 2022 collection during the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Madrid on April 10, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

 

 

Protesters stand on top of a police car as they clash after an officer shot and killed a black man in Brooklyn Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota on April 11,2021. – Protests broke out April 11, 2021 night after US police fatally shot a young Black man in a suburb of Minneapolis — where a former police officer is currently on trial for the murder of George Floyd. Hundreds of people gathered outside the police station in Brooklyn Center, northwest of Minneapolis. Police fired teargas and flash bangs at the demonstrators, according to an AFP videojournalist at the scene. (Photo by Kerem Yucel / AFP)

 

 

Police officers take cover as they clash with protesters after an officer shot and killed a black man in Brooklyn Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota on April 11,2021. – Protests broke out April 11, 2021 night after US police fatally shot a young Black man in a suburb of Minneapolis — where a former police officer is currently on trial for the murder of George Floyd. Hundreds of people gathered outside the police station in Brooklyn Center, northwest of Minneapolis. Police fired teargas and flash bangs at the demonstrators, according to an AFP videojournalist at the scene. (Photo by Kerem Yucel / AFP)

 

 

A protester (L) confronts with an anti-riot police officer during a demonstration of restaurant owners and workers, entrepreneurs and small businesses owners on April 13, 2021 at Circo Massimo in Rome, demanding the easing of lockdown restrictions and financial assistance from the government, during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

 

 

People drink in the street in the Soho area of London, on April 12, 2021 as coronavirus restrictions are eased across the country in step two of the government’s roadmap out of England’s third national lockdown. – Britons on Monday toasted a significant easing of coronavirus restrictions, with early morning pints — and much-needed haircuts — as the country took a tentative step towards the resumption of normal life. Businesses including non-essential retail, gyms, salons and outdoor hospitality were all able to open for the first time in months in the second step of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)

 

 

Demonstrators use umbrellas to shield themselves against tear gas and pepper balls outside the Brooklyn Center police station as they protest the death of Daunte Wright who was shot and killed by a police officer in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota on April 13, 2021. – Tensions have soared over the death on April 11 of African American Daunte Wright near the Midwestern US city, a community already on edge over the ongoing trial of a policeman accused of killing another Black man, George Floyd. (Photo by Kerem YUCEL / AFP)

 

 

A Ukrainian serviceman stands guard at a position on the frontline with Russia backed separatists near small city of Marinka, Donetsk region on April 12, 2021. – Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in clashes with pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine’s war-torn east, its military said on April 12, 2021, as Kiev again accused Moscow of massing tens of thousands of soldiers on its border. (Photo by STR / AFP)

 

 

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire in a historic factory in Saint Petersburg on April 12, 2021. – Russia on April 13, 2021 detained two people after a huge fire gutted a historic factory in Saint Petersburg, as firefighters continued putting out the blaze. A fire broke out over several floors of the red-brick Nevskaya Manufaktura building in Russia’s second city. The inferno killed one firefighter and left two more hospitalised with serious burns. (Photo by Olga MALTSEVA / AFP)

 

 

Kitesurfers are seen on Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on April 12, 2021. (Photo by Carl DE SOUZA / AFP)

 

 

This picture taken on April 12, 2021 shows tribesmen holding portraits of Britain’s Prince Philip in the town of Yaohnanen, near the town of Yakel, a remote Pacific village on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu that worships Britain’s Prince Philip, following the Duke of Edinburgh’s death on April 9. (Photo by Dan McGarry / AFP)

 

 

Indonesian soldiers and residents check damaged houses in Malang, East Java on April 11, 2021, a day after a 6.0-magnitude quake struck off the coast of Indonesia’s main Java island. (Photo by Juni Kriswanto / AFP)

 

 

A person sleeps next to empty oxygen cylinders while waiting to refill it in Villa El Salvador, on the southern outskirts of Lima, on April 11, 2021, amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. – Relatives of COVID-19 patients are desperate for oxygen to keep their loved ones alive during a fierce second wave of the pandemic in Peru, on the day of the first round of presidential and parliamentary elections. (Photo by ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP)

 

 

The Death Gun Salute is fired by the Honourable Artillery Company to mark the passing of Britain’s Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at the The Tower of London, in London on April 10, 2021, the day after his death at the age of 99. – Military guns will be fired across Britain and sporting events will fall silent on Saturday as part of worldwide tributes to mark the death of Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Philip. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

 

 

Children prepare to take part in a training demonstration of the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities (CRAC-PF) vigilante force, in the village of Ayahualtempa, Guerrero State, Mexico, on April 10, 2021. – The CRAC-PF vigilante group trains children as young as five so they can protect themselves from drug-related criminal groups operating in the area, according to their leaders. (Photo by PEDRO PARDO / AFP)

Refugee Intake: Biden To Keep Low Limit Set By Trump Administration

US President Joe Biden makes a statement of a police shooting in Minnesota in the Oval Office of the White House after a meeting with members of Congress about the American Jobs Plan April 12, 2021, in Washington, DC.  Brendan Smialowski / AFP

 

President Joe Biden is scrapping his pledge for a rapid expansion in the number of refugees allowed into the United States and will instead maintain the historically low ceiling of 15,000 people a year, a senior administration official said Friday.

The Biden administration had recently stated it wanted to allow in some 60,000 refugees annually, ramping up to double the following year. That aim had been part of the Democrat’s broader promise to end harsh anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment whipped up by his predecessor Trump.

Instead, the White House will keep the strict 15,000 limit set by Trump so that it can “rebuild” a broken program and deal with pandemic-related complications, said the official, who asked not to be identified.

The official did not give a date for when the doors will opened wider to refugees, but indicated it would not be any time soon.

The admissions system left by the Trump administration was “even more decimated than we’d thought, requiring a major overhaul in order to build back toward the numbers to which we’ve committed,” the official said.

“That build back is and has been happening and will enable us to support much increased admissions numbers in future years.”

The official said that the 15,000 slots would be opened to more regions than allowed under Trump and said “we are prepared to consult with Congress should we need to increase the number of admissions.”

About 7,000 slots are reserved for refugees from Africa, 1,000 from East Asia, 1,500 from Europe and Central Asia, 3,000 from Latin America and the Caribbean, 1,500 from the Near East and South Asia. There is a reserve of 1,000 slots.

‘Moral leadership’

The policy marks a strong reversal from the Biden administration’s vow to let in 62,500 refugees, with 125,000 next year.

“We offered safe havens for those fleeing violence or persecution” in previous years, when America’s “moral leadership on refugee issues” encouraged other nations to open their doors as well, Biden said, promising to make good on his campaign promise of restoring US leadership.

Senate Foreign Relations Chair Menendez sharply criticized the White House, saying it “has not only stymied the number of refugees permitted entrance, it has prevented the State Dept from admitting vetted refugees currently waiting in the system.”

In a letter to Biden, Menendez called 15,000 “appallingly low.”

“As we face the largest global refugee crisis in history, with 29.6 million refugees worldwide, resettlement serves as a critical tool in providing protection to those fleeing persecution,” he wrote.

LIRS, one of the chief organizations helping refugees in the United States, said that as of this month, only 2,000 refugees have been resettled in the current fiscal year.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said “it is deeply disappointing that the administration has elected to leave in place the shameful, record low admissions cap of its predecessor.”

“There is far more work ahead to reclaim global leadership. The challenge of ramping up admissions to President Biden’s pledge of 125,000 is daunting, but it is an occasion we can rise to.”

 

AFP

Biden To Unveil $2 Trillion ‘Once-In-A-Century’ Infrastructure Plan

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks about Monday’s mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, in the State Dining Room at the White House on March 23, 2021 in Washington, DC.

 

President Joe Biden will on Wednesday propose a $2 trillion infrastructure plan aimed at modernizing the United States’ crumbling transport network, creating millions of jobs and enabling the country to “out-compete” China.

The first phase of Biden’s “Build Back Better” program, which he will unveil in a speech in Pittsburgh, will detail massive investment spread over eight years.

It plans to inject $620 billion into transport, including upgrading 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometers) of roads and highways, repairing thousands of bridges and doubling federal funding for public transit.

The president, whom Donald Trump tried to caricature as “Sleepy Joe” and a man without strong ideas or motivation, intends to make the bold infrastructure plan one of his flagship policies.

“He views his role as laying out… a broad vision, a bold vision for how we can invest in America, American workers, our communities,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The investment would be partly paid for by raising corporate tax from 21 percent to 28 percent.

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“The President is proposing to fundamentally reform the corporate tax code so that it incentivizes job creation and investment… and ensures that large corporations are paying their fair share,” a senior administration official said ahead of the speech.

The new legislative offensive comes soon after Congress passed a nearly $2 trillion Covid-19 economic stimulus plan.

And Biden’s speech is set to open a bitter battle in Congress, where the Democrats hold only a narrow majority and will face strong opposition from the Republicans.

The coming months will test the negotiating skills of the Democratic president, a veteran of Washington politics and deal-making, to the limit, and the chances of his infrastructure plan passing into law remain uncertain.

– ‘Urgency of the moment’ –

“It’s an important initiative to start the process with the president being very clear that he’s got a plan, and that he’s open to hearing what others think,” the administration official said.

“But what he is uncompromising about is the urgency of the moment and the need to really deliver for the American people and make good on building back better in this moment.”

The plan also vows to “spark the electric vehicle revolution” by building a network of 500,000 EV chargers, replacing 50,000 diesel transit vehicles and electrifying 20 percent of the famous yellow school buses.

And it aims to make infrastructure more resilient to climate change.

With much of the country’s creaking infrastructure dating back to the 1950s, the dream of new roads, bridges, railways and airports is shared by many Americans.

But building a political consensus to transform Biden’s plan into reality is no easy task.

Both his predecessors Barack Obama and Trump had great ambitions and made heady promises over infrastructure investment, but struggled to make any progress.

The issue keeps coming back to the same question: how to pay for it?

Biden’s new transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg, who ran against him in the Democratic primaries, will be on the front lines of the battle, trying to ensure that this time, the stars are all aligned.

“I think that there’s a tremendous opportunity now to have bipartisan support for a big, bold vision on infrastructure,” the youthful politician said.

“Americans don’t need a lot of selling to know that we’ve got to do big things when it comes to our infrastructure.”

AFP

North Korea Accuses Biden Of ‘Provocation’ After Missile Test

This picture taken on March 25, 2021 and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 26, 2021 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un explaining the plan to form the area of riverside terraced houses around the Pothong Gate in Pyongyang. STR / AFP / KCNA VIA KNS

 

North Korea threatened a further military build-up on Saturday in response to Joe Biden’s condemnation of this week’s missile launches, a weapons test that marked Pyongyang’s first substantive provocation since the US president took office.

The nuclear-armed North has a long history of using weapons tests to ramp up tensions, in a carefully calibrated process to try to forward its objectives.

Pyongyang had been biding its time since the new administration took office in Washington, not even officially acknowledging its existence until last week.

But on Thursday it launched two weapons from its east coast into the Sea of Japan, known as the East Sea in Korea.

Following the launch, Biden labelled the test a violation of UN resolutions and advised the isolated state against ramping up military testing, warning that “there will be responses if they choose to escalate.”

Ri Pyong Chol, a leading official in North Korea’s missile programme who supervised the test, said the president’s comments had revealed his “deep-seated hostility” to the regime.

“Such remarks from the US president are an undisguised encroachment on our state’s right to self-defence and provocation to it,” Ri said in a statement published by state media outlet KCNA.

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Ri said Pyongyang was expressing its “deep apprehension over the US chief executive faulting the regular testfire, (an) exercise of our state’s right to self-defence, as the violation of UN ‘resolutions.'”

“If the US continues with its thoughtless remarks without thinking of the consequences, it may be faced with something that is not good,” he added, warning that North Korea was prepared to “continue to increase our most thoroughgoing and overwhelming military power.”

The comments came at a time when Washington is in the final stages of a policy review on North Korea, with signals of a firm line on denuclearisation, sanctions, and human rights.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said Ri’s remarks were “essentially a threat that North Korea will respond to the US policy review with more tests”.

“Pyongyang is implementing a premeditated strategy of advancing military capabilities and raising tensions,” he added.

– ‘Tactical guided projectile’ –

Pyongyang has made rapid progress in its capabilities under leader Kim Jong Un, testing missiles capable of reaching the entire continental United States as tensions mounted in 2017.

North Korea has reported that the Thursday launch, its first substantive affront since Biden came to office, was a test of a new “tactical guided projectile” with a solid-fuel engine.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called the two weapons launched from North Korea’s east coast ballistic missiles, which it is banned from developing under UN Security Council resolutions.

A UN sanctions committee focused on nuclear-armed North Korea has asked its experts to investigate the test and European members of the Security Council have requested an urgent meeting to discuss North Korea.

The North is already under multiple sets of international sanctions for its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

A summit between Kim and then-US President Donald Trump in Hanoi in February 2019 broke down over sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.

Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, told AFP that the Biden administration may seek to impose “additional sanctions against Pyongyang” if the North continues with its military provocations.

“From now, one can expect more weapons tests from the North, and very stern responses from the US,” he said.

– International resolve –

Thursday’s launch, and an earlier test of short-range, non-ballistic missiles at the weekend, came after joint exercises by the US and South Korean militaries and a visit to the region by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

During their trip to Seoul and Tokyo, Blinken repeatedly stressed the importance of denuclearising North Korea and urged Beijing — the North’s key ally — to convince Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.

Biden’s approach so far demonstrates a change of tone from his predecessor Donald Trump, who engaged in an extraordinary diplomatic bromance with Kim and last year repeatedly played down similar short-range launches.

Officials of the administration say they have sought to reach out to Pyongyang through several channels but have received no response so far.

“Kim Jong Un intends to use provocations to demand concessions but may end up increasing international resolve for North Korea’s denuclearisation,” Easley told AFP.