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Israeli police shoot, kill alleged stabbing attacker

Israeli police shoot, kill alleged stabbing attackerIsraeli police said officers shot and killed a man on Saturday after he allegedly tried to carry out a stabbing attack on a soldier outside Jerusalem’s Old City. Amateur footage showed a man in blue jeans and a black jacket lying still on the ground at the Lion's Gate, on the eastern side of the Old City. Israeli medics said that Israeli security forces, while firing on the suspect, had lightly wounded a 42-year-old woman in the leg.


Iran's hard-liners take early lead in Tehran after vote

Iran's hard-liners take early lead in Tehran after voteIranian state TV on Saturday announced the first partial results from the country’s parliamentary elections, indicating a strong showing by hard-liners in the capital Tehran, although authorities have not released full results or the all-important turnout figure. Among those disqualified were 90 sitting members of Iran's 290-seat parliament who had wanted to run for re-election. State TV, without providing the number of votes, announced the names of the leading candidates in Tehran's 30 parliamentary seats.


Iran reports fifth coronavirus death, most outside Far East

Iran reports fifth coronavirus death, most outside Far EastIran on Saturday reported one more death among 10 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total number of deaths in the Islamic republic to five -- the highest of any country outside the Far East. The COVID-19 outbreak in Iran first surfaced on Wednesday, when authorities said it claimed the lives of two elderly people in Qom, a Shiite holy city south of the capital. "We have 10 new confirmed cases of COVID-19," Iran's health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told state television on Saturday.


Locusts Could be the Next Plague that Hits China

Locusts Could be the Next Plague that Hits ChinaHONG KONG—Swarms of desert locusts have devastated crops in East Africa, hit the Middle East and moved into South Asia. They’re breeding fast thanks to changes in global climate patterns that have brought about major cyclones and heavy rains, and they are feeding off human food supplies across continents. So far, India has managed to prevent a swarm of biblical proportions from spilling over into Bangladesh, Burma, and then China—where the coronavirus has already paralyzed much of the country’s activity. But it’s not clear how long that line will hold. The Next Coronavirus Nightmare Is Closer Than You ThinkEastern Africa has been hit the hardest by the xanthic bugs, with fields in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia ravaged by 360 billion locusts. Swarms can be city-sized, and one of the largest—located in Kenya—covers about 37 miles by 25 miles. It is so dense that it turns daylight to darkness for anyone caught within. Alarmist headlines are proliferating, too, many of them drawing parallels with the plagues in scripture.  “Bible coming to life?” asked the Jerusalem Post. The swarms appear in the Old Testament, most notably in Exodus as one of the plagues Moses calls down on Egypt, which also is referenced in the Quran. In the New Testament locusts are associated with Revelation 9:3, where they emerge in ferocious swarms that also have the sting of scorpions. Allusions to the Apocalypse aside, the real life potential for disaster is huge.A square mile of a swarm can be formed by up to 210 million locusts, which can eat as much food as 90,000 people in a day. In East Africa, the bugs have been tearing through maize, sorghum, cowpeas, as well as vegetation that cattle graze on.Kenya hasn’t seen a swarm this size in seven decades, while Ethiopia and Somalia have managed to avoid these conditions for a quarter of a century. The governments of Kenya and Ethiopia have each dispatched several planes to dump pesticides from the air, which the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says is the only effective way to kill desert locusts. Farmers attempt to chase the bugs off, blasting the claxons on their motorbikes, or rigging contraptions that make loud, metallic noises when shaken. These methods have not made a dent in the locust population. There are simply too many of them.The FAO calls locusts the “most dangerous migratory pest.” They are highly mobile, able to travel up to 90 miles a day if wind conditions are in their favor, and wreak havoc along the way. Female locusts can lay up to 300 eggs within their life span of three to five months. As many as 1,000 egg pods, each holding up to 80 eggs, can incubate underground within a square meter (10.7 square feet). Australian Bushfires and Heat Are Killing Flying Foxes by the ThousandsIn the past, desert locusts have been a key factor that aggravated famines in Ethiopia. And in 1915, they stripped Ottoman-era Palestine of nearly all vegetation.Nowadays, desert locusts are still hard to control, chiefly because they tend to breed and thrive in large swathes of remote land, making it difficult for authorities to tackle the problem before it emerges. The countries that are most severely affected also tend to have weaker infrastructure, making them slower to move the necessary supplies and information to parties that need them.In the East African countries where locusts are swarming now, 20 million people already face food insecurity.The bugs multiplied and some swarms went north to Egypt, threatening a nation where food insecurity is a massive concern, particularly outside of the capital and major cities. (Headline in British tabloid The Express: “‘We are in the last days’ Locust swarm approaching Egypt sparks Bible apocalypse fears.”)But most swarms crossed the Red Sea and made their way to Western Asia, chewing through Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iran in early January and laying more eggs along the way.The Middle Eastern nations’ pest control operations failed to cull the locusts, so beds of eggs will hatch by mid-March, releasing new hungry bugs. In the first two weeks of this year, fields in Pakistan and India came under attack too, the swarms intensifying day after day. In India’s Rajasthan and Gujarat—two states in the country’s northwestern quadrant that share borders with Pakistan—more than 380,000 hectares of farmland have been damaged. The season’s harvest of mustard, cumin, and wheat has been consumed by the swarm.What makes the current surge of locusts stand out is not only their numbers and intensity, but also that they are active in the subcontinent during winter months. In the past, swarms typically would dissipate by October. Now it’s February, and they are still going strong.The Indian government was quick to identify the locusts as a major problem, and dispatched experts to work with their counterparts from the FAO in the affected regions. They’re tracking the swarms and destroying beds of locust eggs to limit the bugs’ propagation. And the government has diverted $4.3 million as compensation for farmers who have lost their crops.For now, the Himalayan range is acting as a natural barrier for China, insulating its southwestern border from the scourge that is in Pakistan. But the locusts could bank into Southeast Asia, flowing through Bangladesh and up into Burma, landing in China’s Yunnan province, hitting a country that is already locked down because of the coronavirus’ rapid spread.As fears rise, the state-run media outlet Global Times has been offering ludicrous consolation to the public, claiming that the desert locusts are “eaten by ducks, fried for food,” and “not a threat to China.” And the international arm of state-run CCTV even released a bizarre video of “duck troops” amassing at the border. But the species of locust that is on the country’s doorstep emits phenylacetonitrile, a foul-smelling secretion that is meant to deter predators. Birds typically do not seek them out as a food source.Spokespersons for China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs claim that there is a “very low risk” of locust plagues hitting China, but a researcher at the Beijing-headquartered Institute of Plant Protection of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences suggests more caution. The agriculture expert, Zhang Zehua, said that Yunnan province (which borders Burma), Guangxi (an autonomous region east of Yunnan), and Sichuan province (north of Yunnan) could be affected in June or July if the plagues are not brought under control in neighboring countries.Zhang may be right, at least according to India’s Ministry of Agriculture, which issued a notice saying that it expects 200,000 square kilometers (77,200 square miles) of farmland to be blanketed by locusts in June during the onset of monsoon season—when conditions are perfect for ravenous insects to breed.For now, whether the summer may bring another catastrophe to China depends chiefly on Delhi and Karachi’s efforts to exterminate a storm of insects in a race against the seasons.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. 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Iran now says 5 dead out of 28 infected with new coronavirus

Iran now says 5 dead out of 28 infected with new coronavirusIranian health authorities on Saturday reported a fifth death from the new virus that emerged in China, and said the fatality was from among 10 new confirmed cases of the virus in Iran. People are being treated for the virus in at least four different cities, including the capital, Tehran, where some pharmacies had already run out of masks and hand sanitizer. Other cities are Qom, Arak and Rasht.


Iran reports one death among 10 new coronavirus cases

Iran reports one death among 10 new coronavirus casesIran on Saturday reported one more death among 10 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total number of deaths in the Islamic republic to five and infections to 28. "We have 10 new confirmed cases of COVID-19," health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said on state television. "One of the new cases has unfortunately passed away," he added, noting that eight of them had been hospitalised in Qom and two in Tehran, without specifying where the death occurred.


Coronavirus: US facing 'tremendous public health threat' as imported infections rise; World Health Organisation set to launch Wuhan probe

Coronavirus: US facing 'tremendous public health threat' as imported infections rise; World Health Organisation set to launch Wuhan probeA top US health official on Friday said the United States " so far free of community spread of the deadly coronavirus epidemic " faces a "tremendous public health threat" as the number of imported infections continues to rise in the country.Nancy Messonnier, the Centres for Disease Control's senior official, told a media briefing that the number of infections in the US now stands at 34. The figure includes 13 infections classified as US cases and 21 "repatriated cases".Of the repatriated cases, 18 were aboard the 3,700-passenger Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan. Over 600 people on the vessel have been sickened by Covid-19 " the disease the virus causes " and two have died. The 18 cases linked to the cruise ship were among 329 US citizens flown back home on a government-chartered plane earlier this week."Let me be clear that we are not seeing community spread in the United States yet, but it is very possible, even likely, that it may eventually happen," said Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Centre for Immunisation and Respiratory Diseases."Our goal continues to be slowing the introduction of the virus into the US," Messonnier said. "This buys us more time to prepare our communities for more cases and possibly sustained spread. This new virus represents a tremendous public health threat."Messonnier said the CDC believed Washington's "aggressive travel precautions" " which include restrictions that virtually ban entry to mainland-based Chinese passport holders " were working, as the US was still not seeing evidence of the "community spread" that has hit several Asian countries.Among the countries or territories that have said they have detected cases without knowing the infection's source are Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan.Separately on Friday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said its team of public health experts " currently in China to help local authorities investigate the coronavirus epidemic " is set to visit Wuhan, the outbreak's epicentre.Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Centre for Immunisation and Respiratory Diseases, said the CDC believed Washington's "aggressive travel precautions" were helping to prevent a community spread of the virus in the US. Photo: Reuters alt=Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Centre for Immunisation and Respiratory Diseases, said the CDC believed Washington's "aggressive travel precautions" were helping to prevent a community spread of the virus in the US. Photo: ReutersWHO Secretary General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a daily media briefing in Geneva that the team is to travel to the virus-ravaged city on Saturday. It already has visited Sichuan, Beijing and Guangdong since arriving on the mainland last week.Its 12 specialists, including US citizens, have been working with their Chinese counterparts to learn more about the unknowns related to the virus, such as its exact transmission rate and the most effective way to treat Covid-19, the disease it causes.Before the team was dispatched to China, American officials had expressed concern at China's lack of a response to the US' early January offer to send experts to the mainland.Also in Friday's briefing, Tedros urged the world's governments to remain vigilant against the virus after new infections were reported in Lebanon and Iran with no immediate clue how the pathogen had reached these Middle Eastern countries."The cases that we see in the rest of the world, although the numbers are small, but not linked to Wuhan or China, it's very worrisome," Tedros said.Asked if the epidemic had reached a tipping point, the WHO chief said he believed there remained a narrow "window of opportunity" to contain it " a phrase he has repeatedly used in recent weeks to beat back assertions that a global pandemic is inevitable."This outbreak could go in any direction," Tedros said. "If we do well, we can avert any serious crisis, but if we squander the opportunity, then we will have a serious problem on our hands."Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A.; Offer valid until 31 March 2020.This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2020 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved. Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.


Iran Hardliners Win Seats in Tehran as Counting Continues

Iran Hardliners Win Seats in Tehran as Counting Continues(Bloomberg) -- Iranian hardliners won key parliamentary seats in the capital as vote counting continued in an election that’s expected to hand control of the legislature to conservatives empowered by the country’s turbulent and economically damaging standoff with the U.S.Early results for Tehran, the country’s largest and most influential constituency with 30 seats in parliament, showed hardliners and conservatives had taken every seat in the capital, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Saturday. Voting ended at midnight and the counting of ballots started almost immediately, according to state television.While the official turnout hasn’t yet been announced it’s expected to be lower than in previous years because of the hundreds of moderates and reformists who were barred from running, as well as reports this week of a rapid surge in coronavirus cases in the country.The semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency reported that by 3 p.m. local time, some 11 million people had voted nationwide, equivalent to 19% of roughly 58 million eligible voters.Earlier on Friday, state television provided round-the-clock coverage from a select number of large, busy polling stations. Several others visited by Bloomberg News in both affluent and working-class neighborhoods of the capital were largely empty.Given the vacuum among moderate candidates, conservative factions loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and generally opposed to engaging with the West are widely expected to prevail.Soleimani’s KillingRecent military exchanges, in particular the killing of General Qassem Soleimani by the U.S., and highly-charged rhetoric that’s punctuated the confrontation with Washington, have also energized Khamenei’s base.Still, for Mohammad, a 29-year-old voting in Tehran, a shift in the balance of power won’t make much difference. “They’re all cut from the same cloth,” he said of the country’s politicians, withholding his last name due to the sensitivities of talking to the foreign media in Iran. “I don’t really think there’s much to set them apart.”If arch-conservatives emerge victorious they’ll control most branches of the state for the first time since the end of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency in 2013.Incumbent Hassan Rouhani, who delivered on his promise to end Iran’s long-running nuclear standoff with global powers but was unable to build a new era of prosperity when faced with President Donald Trump’s economic offensive, will be largely sidelined.Black ListIn a timely reminder of how hardliners can influence economic policy, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force announced on Friday that Iran’s banking system will be returned to its so-called black list of countries after failing to ratify legislation required to bring the sector in line with its counter-terrorism financing and anti-money-laundering standards.Hardliners, currently a minority in Iran’s parliament, have for several years fiercely opposed and effectively stalled the pro-FATF legislation that Rouhani promoted and struggled to ratify, and which would have effectively seen Iran adopt the United Nations’ Palermo Convention against organized crime.Some 7,200 candidates vied for 290 seats on Friday. About 75 current lawmakers were barred from running again by the powerful Guardian Council, tipping the field heavily in favor of conservatives wedded to the theocratic ideals of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.Friday’s election also had significant potential consequences for the Iranian economy and the wider Middle East region -- including any hopes Iran will renegotiate its landmark 2015 nuclear settlement, hollowed out by the Trump administration’s withdrawal in 2018.Looking Ahead“The crux of this vote is whether it will indicate the outcome for the next presidential elections, which will be more significant,” said Ellie Geranmayeh, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.“If the Rouhani opposition does take over parliament, they will see this as ammunition that galvanizes them, and they won’t want him to have any foreign policy success in his last year,” she said.Some prominent conservative politicians are using the election to stage a comeback and a potential springboard to compete in the 2021 presidential poll, when Rouhani will be ineligible to stand for a third term.They include the former mayor of Tehran, Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, who’s also a former general with the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Firebrand cleric Hamid Rasaei, who campaigned against the nuclear deal as it was being negotiated, is also hoping to re-enter parliament.Threats to MinistersAmid concerns of a low turnout, the commander of Iran’s IRGC on Thursday urged citizens to vote in a show of show defiance to the U.S. “Every vote by the people is a slap in the face of an enemy,” the semi-official Tasnim news reported the commander as saying.If the new chamber does decisively swing in favor of conservatives, Rouhani may struggle to ratify any key legislation during his final year in office, including efforts to bring Iran’s banks within international anti-terrorism financing standards. Ongoing attempts to impeach some key ministers, including Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, are also likely to escalate.Rouhani’s credibility was already battered by the failure of the nuclear deal to deliver the economic relief he’d promised after a decade of international sanctions.From the get-go, foreign businesses were afraid to sign deals, fearful of running afoul of remaining U.S. sanctions. Any lingering hopes evaporated after the U.S. quit the accord and began imposing fresh sanctions, which have since clobbered the economy. The International Monetary Fund estimates Iran’s economy shrank by 9.5% last year.Conservatives want Iran to abandon Rouhani’s push to open up to Western investment and trade, and focus instead on increasing self-reliance. While oil exports, down 80%, show no sign of recovering, construction, steel production and exports for cash to immediate neighbors are doing well.A crisis budget released in December boosts handouts for the poor and defense spending, though it’s based on ambitious growth and oil export assumptions.(Updates with Tehran early results starting from first paragraph.)To contact the reporters on this story: Arsalan Shahla in Tehran at ashahla@bloomberg.net;Golnar Motevalli in London at gmotevalli@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Benjamin Harvey at bharvey11@bloomberg.net, James Amott, Helen RobertsonFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.


Conservatives ahead as Iran poll results trickle in

Conservatives ahead as Iran poll results trickle inConservatives appeared to be in the lead as the first results of Iran's parliamentary election came in Saturday, amid expectations of a low turnout after the disqualification of many candidates. Friday's election came after months of steeply escalating tensions between Iran and its decades-old arch foe the United States. There were still 167 other constituencies to tally, said a spokesman for the committee, including bigger provinces such as Tehran and Fars.


US leads training exercises in Africa amid focus on Sahel

US leads training exercises in Africa amid focus on SahelCrouching in the sparse brush, maneuvering into formations through a divide, and then shooting at a target, about 10 soldiers from Burkina Faso are among a select group of African soldiers being trained to battle West Africa's fast-growing extremist threat. A Pentagon decision on the size of the U.S. force in Africa is pending as part of a global review with the aim of better countering Russia and China.


Germany admits there's a far-right problem, but what to do?

Germany admits there's a far-right problem, but what to do?As Germany's president expressed his sympathy and shock during a candlelight vigil for nine people killed by an immigrant-hating gunman, a woman called out from the crowd, demanding action, not words. The shooting rampage Wednesday that began at a hookah bar in the Frankfurt suburb of Hanau was Germany's third deadly far-right attack in a matter of months and came at a time when the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, has become the country's first political party in decades to establish itself as a significant force on the extreme right. In the wake of the latest spasm of violence, Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced the “poison” of racism and hatred in Germany, and other politicians similarly condemned the shootings.


Democrats face an important test in Nevada caucuses

Democrats face an important test in Nevada caucusesJust past the roulette wheel and slot machines, the smoky bars and blinking lights, Nevada Democrats are preparing to weigh in on their party's presidential nomination fight. Seven casino-resorts on the Las Vegas Strip stand among 200 caucus locations statewide that will host the presidential caucuses on Saturday, the third contest in a 2020 primary season that has so far been marred by chaos and uncertainty in overwhelmingly white, rural states. The exercise of democracy inside urban temples of excess is just one element that distinguishes the first presidential contest in the West, which will, more importantly, test the candidates' strength with black and brown voters for the first time in 2020.


German Voters Get First Chance to Weigh In on Political Chaos

German Voters Get First Chance to Weigh In on Political Chaos(Bloomberg) -- Germany has been mired in political turmoil, and a regional vote on Sunday will give an early indication of the fallout.Chancellor Angela Merkel’s succession plan collapsed on Feb. 10 when her chosen heir, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, unexpectedly announced she would resign as head of the Christian Democratic Union.The Hamburg city-state election takes place a day before the party leader is due to move forward with a plan to select a replacement as party chief. The winner will likely be the candidate to run for chancellor in the next election.Germany’s political establishment was rocked earlier this month after the CDU’s chapter in Thuringia cast its lot in with the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany, or AfD, to install the eastern state’s premier. The fallout sent shockwaves across the nation and was the main catalyst for Kramp-Karrenbauer’s resignation.To add to the sense of chaos, tensions around extremist activity in Germany intensified late Wednesday, when an assailant killed 11 people, including himself, in the city of Hanau near Frankfurt. Authorities said the lone gunman, a 43-year-old German national, was motivated by xenophobia. Merkel vowed to eradicate such racist “poison.”In Thuringia, Merkel’s party sought to restore a semblance of stability on Friday by agreeing to support the re-election of the previous state premier, whose anti-capitalist Left party is anathema to the Christian Democrats at the national level. The deal would avoid relying on AfD votes in the state legislature. Biggest Port Hamburg, Germany’s second-largest city with 1.8 million inhabitants, has been led by the Social Democrats since 2011. Polls show the SPD -- the junior partner in Merkel’s national coalition -- maintaining a lead, albeit with less support than the 45.6% secured in the 2015 election.While the city-state isn’t representative of the parties’ national standings, a strong showing -- or even victory -- by the Greens, or a weak performance by the CDU, could reverberate across the country.The SPD had 34% support in Hamburg, with the Greens trailing by only two percentage points. The CDU is a distant third with 12%, according to a Feb. 20 Hamburg University poll. An Insa survey for Bild newspaper two days earlier showed the SPD well ahead of the Greens with 38%.Germany’s biggest port city is run by Social Democratic Mayor Peter Tschentscher, who succeeded Olaf Scholz in March 2018 when Scholz moved to Berlin to become Merkel’s finance minister and vice chancellor.On the campaign, Tschentscher has faced political pressure stemming from media reports that the state government didn’t claim back around 47 million euros ($51 million) in tax refunds from Privatbank M.M.Warburg tied so-called cum-ex trades.The Greens have been the SPD’s junior coalition partner in Hamburg since 2015, and the party’s local leader Katharina Fegebank, who is deputy mayor, has supported calls for a parliamentary investigation. Tschentscher has denied that there was any political influence.Earlier polls showed the Greens in a dead heat with the SPD, and a Greens victory would be another blow for the SPD, whose fading support has prompted parts of the party base to call for an end to Merkel’s national coalition.Another focus will be the fortunes of the far-right AfD, which entered the Hamburg parliament in 2015 with 6% of the vote. Recent polls show little improvement, and one putting the party at 5%, below which the anti-immigrant party would be ejected from the city legislature.Also in peril are the pro-business Free Democrats, which played a key role in the Thuringia alliance with the AfD on Feb. 5 state premier vote. The rogue maneuver brought a wave of protest against the FDP, which took a hit in polls -- at least one showing they could lose their place in the Hamburg parliament.To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at pdonahue1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Ben Sills at bsills@bloomberg.net, Iain Rogers, Chris ReiterFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.


UN: 100,000 civilians casualties in Afghanistan in 10 years

UN: 100,000 civilians casualties in Afghanistan in 10 yearsA United Nations report says Afghanistan passed a grim milestone with more than 100,000 civilians killed or hurt in the last 10 years since the international body began documenting casualties in a war that has raged for 18 years. The report released Saturday by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan comes as a seven-day "reduction of violence" agreement between the U.S. and Taliban takes effect, paving the way for a Feb. 29 signing of a peace deal Washington hopes will end its longest war, bring home U.S. troops and start warring Afghans negotiating the future of their country.


China's Xi writes thank you note to Bill Gates for virus pledge

China's Xi writes thank you note to Bill Gates for virus pledgeChinese President Xi Jinping has written a letter expressing thanks to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the organisation's "generosity" and support tackling a deadly virus epidemic, state media said Saturday. The outbreak of the new COVID-19 strain has claimed 2,345 lives in mainland China and infected more than 76,000 people, with cases in more than 25 countries. Earlier this month the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committed up to $100 million for the global response to the outbreak.


Health officials worry as untraceable virus clusters emerge

Health officials worry as untraceable virus clusters emergeIn South Korea, Singapore and Iran, clusters of infections are leading to a jump in cases of the new viral illness outside China. World Health Organization officials said China's crackdown on parts of the country bought time for the rest of the world to prepare for the new virus. “A number of spot fires, occurring around the world is a sign that things are ticking along, and what we are going to have here is probably a pandemic,” said Ian Mackay, who studies viruses at Australia's University of Queensland.


Maximum Disaster: Donald Trump's Iran Policy Is a Total Disaster

Maximum Disaster: Donald Trump's Iran Policy Is a Total DisasterExpectations of wealth from trade with Iran must be subordinate to the strategic need for a united front against Iranian proliferation and Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East.


Team Bernie Fingers Richard Grenell for Leaking Russia Story

Team Bernie Fingers Richard Grenell for Leaking Russia StorySen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign has responded to recent reports about Russia attempting to aid the Vermont senator in 2020 by suggesting the claim was leaked as part of a conspiracy against him concocted by Team Trump—specifically pointing the finger at President Trump’s new acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell.In a Friday campaign email titled “Facts to Remember on Russian Interference Briefing,” Mike Casca—the campaign’s communications director—lays out an argument questioning the timing of the Moscow meddling report. The email first skeptically notes that the briefing given to Sanders’ campaign warning of Russian meddling was “classified,” before pointing to Sanders’ past warnings that “Trump would use the federal government to help his reelection.” (Sanders himself confirmed to reporters Friday that his campaign had been informed of Moscow’s attempted interference about a month ago, but he said it was not clear how exactly the country was trying to help him.)Casca then appears to suggest that it’s no coincidence reports about Russia seeking to boost Sanders came out immediately after Trump tapped Richard Grenell to serve as his new acting intel chief. Citing a 2018 speech by Sanders, the email notes that Sanders had “called out” Grenell for exposing the Trump “administration’s support for right-wing extremist parties across Europe” while warning about the rise of authoritarianism.Grenell was tapped to be the acting director of national intelligence after Trump grew outraged that Joseph Maguire, who previously held the role, had allowed one of his staffers to brief lawmakers on Moscow seeking to aid Trump in the 2020 race.Reports of intelligence indicating the same thing for Sanders’ campaign came out a day after those pertaining to Trump. Trump and lawmakers were also alerted to Russia’s reported bid to assist the Democratic frontrunner. Earlier Friday, Casca tweeted that the story was “designed to hurt bernie” and was conveniently timed. “It’s very clear trump is nervous about facing him in the general election,” Casca wrote.Trump and his allies—who themselves have long sought to dispel warnings about Russian meddling by claiming a conspiracy is afoot—immediately seized on the news. “Putin wants to make sure I get elected. So, doesn’t he want to see who the Democrat is gonna be? Wouldn’t he rather have, let’s say, Bernie? Wouldn’t he rather have Bernie, who honeymooned in Moscow?” Trump told supporters at a rally in Las Vegas on Friday. Donald Trump Jr. also gloated over the news on Twitter. “Well he is a communist... also, after Trump put the toughest sanctions in recent history in them it’s much more believable that they would want America to suffer the Bern! Russia trying to help Bernie’s campaign, according to briefing from U.S. officials,” he tweeted. The Vermont senator, meanwhile, appeared to do his best to counter the notion that he and Trump are in the same boat when it comes to the Kremlin.“Unlike Donald Trump, I do not consider Vladimir Putin a good friend,” Sanders said in a statement. “He is an autocratic thug who is attempting to destroy democracy and crush dissent in Russia. Let’s be clear, the Russians want to undermine American democracy by dividing us up and, unlike the current president, I stand firmly against their efforts, and any other foreign power that wants to interfere in our election.” Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.


The Latest: Sanders defiant about Democratic establishment

The Latest: Sanders defiant about Democratic establishmentVermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is lumping the “Democratic establishment” in with the corporate and Republican establishment and saying they can’t stop him. Sanders is the favorite in Saturday’s Nevada caucuses after winning New Hampshire and essentially tying for first in Iowa. Sanders is an independent who caucuses with Democrats.


Number of US troops wounded in Iran attack now at 110: Pentagon

Number of US troops wounded in Iran attack now at 110: PentagonThe number of US troops who sustained traumatic brain injury when Iran launched missiles at their base in Iraq last month has risen to 110, the Pentagon said Friday. All of the wounded were diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury, the Pentagon said in a statement, adding that 77 had already returned to duty. President Donald Trump had initially said that no Americans were hurt in the strike on the Ain al-Asad base in western Iraq on the night of January 7-8, although authorities later reported that nearly a dozen troops were wounded.


Russia Wants To Help Bernie Sanders And Donald Trump. Only Trump Is Helping Russia.

Russia Wants To Help Bernie Sanders And Donald Trump. Only Trump Is Helping Russia.“My message to Putin is clear: stay out of American elections," Sanders said on Friday after news surfaced of new Russian interference.


Virus spreads in South Korean city as thousands are screened

Virus spreads in South Korean city as thousands are screenedSouth Korea on Saturday reported an eight-fold jump in viral infections in four days to 433, most of them linked to a church and a hospital in and around the country's fourth-largest city, where health workers scrambled to screen thousands of worshippers. There’s concern that South Korea's death toll could grow. Virus patients with signs of pneumonia or other serious conditions at the Cheongdo hospital were transferred to other facilities, 17 of them in critical condition, Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told reporters.


EU budget summit ends with no deal

EU budget summit ends with no dealAn EU summit called to set the bloc's next seven-year budget ended in impasse late Friday, riven by competing groups among the 27 member states and pressure to fill a funding gap left by Brexit. Differences were "still too great to reach an agreement," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters at the end of the two days of talks in Brussels. "Unfortunately we have observed it was not possible to reach an agreement, we observed we need more time," said European Council President Charles Michel, who had called the extraordinary summit and stewarded the talks.


Bloomberg says 3 women can be released from NDAs

Bloomberg says 3 women can be released from NDAsMike Bloomberg said Friday he’d free three women from confidentiality agreements that bar them from speaking publicly about sexual harassment or discrimination suits filed against him over the last three decades. Warren hammered Bloomberg over the issue in the recent debate, his first time facing his rivals. Bloomberg didn't automatically revoke the agreements, but told the women to contact the company if they would like to be released.


A recurring Biden campaign story about being arrested in South Africa is full of inconsistencies

A recurring Biden campaign story about being arrested in South Africa is full of inconsistenciesFormer Vice President Joe Biden has a pretty good tale to share — but it may be a little tall.Biden, who is running for president, has been spicing up his recent campaign stump speeches with a story of how he was arrested while in South Africa trying to see Nelson Mandela, The New York Times reports. But that recollection of events has only recently come to light, and it was reportedly omitted from Biden's 2007 memoir that detailed his escapades in the country around that time.During recent campaign speeches, Biden says he "had the great honor" of meeting Mandela and "of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto." As Miami Herald reporter Alex Daugherty points out, Soweto is a ways away from Robben Island, where Mandela's maximum security prison was located.> Adding to @katieglueck's story is Biden's quote doesn't make geographical sense. "I had the great honor of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see him on Robbens Island." Soweto is almost 900 miles away from Robben Island https://t.co/WtlZMdkexq> > — Alex Daugherty (@alextdaugherty) February 21, 2020The arrest, which has seemingly only been brought up publicly by Biden in the last few weeks, was not found referenced anywhere by readily available news outlets, per the Times.The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. from 1977 to 1979 was Andrew Young. While Young reportedly acknowledged going to South Africa with Biden, he said he was never arrested in the country, and he told the Times he didn't think Biden had been arrested there either."I don't think there was ever a situation where congressmen were arrested in South Africa," Young told the Times, although he did say some people were being arrested in Washington.The story, which was seemingly nonexistent before a few weeks ago, has been told three times on the trail as Biden heads into Nevada and South Carolina, where he needs to pull in big numbers in order to counteract a lackluster showing in Iowa and New Hampshire.Word of advice: there are other ways to make yourself look tough to voters that don't include broadcasting a trip to the slammer.More stories from theweek.com How much will Medicare-for-all save Americans? A lot. The stunning Southern Baptist controversy over Donald Trump and Russell Moore, explained Friends reunion special officially announced for HBO Max


Intelligence officials reportedly told Sanders that Russia is attempting to aid his campaign

Intelligence officials reportedly told Sanders that Russia is attempting to aid his campaignU.S. officials told Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that Russia is interfering in the 2020 campaign to help him win the presidency, people familiar with the matter tell The Washington Post.President Trump and other lawmakers are also reportedly aware of the assistance, which is an apparent "effort to interfere with the Democratic contest," the Post writes. The Post didn't learn what kind of interference Russia was undertaking, but Russia did try to aid Sanders' 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton via social media.Sanders denounced Russian interference on anyone's behalf in a statement to the Post, saying "I don't care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president. My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do."Trump and the House Intelligence Committee reportedly learned earlier this week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 election to aid Trump's re-election. Read more at The Washington Post.More stories from theweek.com How much will Medicare-for-all save Americans? A lot. The stunning Southern Baptist controversy over Donald Trump and Russell Moore, explained Friends reunion special officially announced for HBO Max


Michael Bloomberg Has A Communism Problem

Michael Bloomberg Has A Communism ProblemHe defends his personal fortune by defending Xi Jinping.


AP Exclusive: DEA agent accused of conspiring with cartel

AP Exclusive: DEA agent accused of conspiring with cartelA once-standout U.S. federal narcotics agent known for spending lavishly on luxury cars and Tiffany jewelry has been arrested on charges of conspiring to launder money with the same Colombian drug cartel he was supposed to be fighting. Jose Irizarry and his wife were arrested Friday at their home near San Juan, Puerto Rico, as part of a 19-count federal indictment that accused the 46-year-old Irizarry of “secretly using his position and his special access to information” to divert millions in drug proceeds from control of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “It’s a black eye for the DEA to have one of its own engaged in such a high level of corruption," said Mike Vigil, the DEA's former Chief of International Operations.


Your Evening Briefing

Your Evening Briefing(Bloomberg) -- U.S. intelligence experts say Russia is once again trying to manipulate a presidential election in President Donald Trump’s favor. Meanwhile, former Goldman Sachs Chairman Lloyd Blankfein said that if the Democratic Party’s nominee is Senator Bernie Sanders, he may choose Trump. Sanders has a history of excoriating Blankfein and his bank for, among other things, the massive taxpayer bailout it raked in during the financial crisis. In response to previous attacks by Blankfein, Sanders has quoted President Franklin Roosevelt, asking to be judged “by the enemies I have made.” Here are today’s top storiesBlankfein explained that “at least Trump cares about the economy.” On Thursday, however, the White House admitted that Trump’s trade war on China has depressed the U.S. economy. On Friday, Trump (in all caps on Twitter) floated the possibility of another bailout for farmers hurt by tariffs, on top of the $26 billion taxpayers have already paid them. The reason? Purchases of crops agreed to by China have yet to materialize. While China still accounts for the vast majority of coronavirus cases,  infections may be spreading more rapidly in other Asian countries.The World Health Organization is worried about a jump in coronavirus cases in Iran, since they have no direct link to China. Some two-thirds of cases exported from China may still be undetected, a study showed.There’s a pistachio war being waged between the U.S. and Iran, Bloomberg Businessweek reports, and the nation of Georgia may be part of the fight.The world is headed toward the warmest winter ever recorded as a strange mix of weather patterns at the top of the world combines with accelerating climate change.Senator Amy Klobuchar, who gained momentum after her performance in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, may have hit a wall.What’s Luke Kawa thinking about? The Bloomberg cross-asset reporter contends the exceptionalism in U.S. Treasuries stands out as the most curious dynamic in financial markets right now. Since the coronavirus became a part of the picture, there has been no divergence between U.S. and German yields. In fact, the spread between the two has marginally narrowed. It’s a testament, Luke says, to the preeminence of Treasuries as a destination for global money in search of safety. This is because nothing about the data suggests that the spread between U.S. and German yields should be narrowing now. What you’ll need to know tomorrowBoeing’s deadly 737 Max is still causing trouble for the planemaker. Warren Buffett will address his missed deals and growing cash pile. For average Americans, middle class life is now out of reach. ECB economist sees a euro-area rebound from coronavirus fallout. Bloomberg Opinion: Democrats need to attack Sanders head on. Bloomberg Opinion: How to make trucking safer for everyone. Is there such a thing as a guilt-free engagement ring?What you’ll want to read in Bloomberg PursuitsIn 1981, Milton Bradley released what may be the most Generation X board game ever. The Dark Tower was a fantasy adventure with flashing lights and sound effects emanating from a titular plastic tower. Four decades later, Gen Xers are entering middle age, with children whose hands seem welded to smartphones. Perhaps out of nostalgia or a last-ditch effort to engage their offspring, parents are now looking back to a time when fun didn’t require a glowing screen. To contact the author of this story: David Rovella in New York at drovella@bloomberg.netFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.


Trump mocks intel finding Russia helping his reelection as Democratic 'disinformation'

Trump mocks intel finding Russia helping his reelection as Democratic 'disinformation'"I was told a week ago -- they said, 'you know they're trying to start a rumor,'" Trump said at one of his "Keep America Great" rallies in Las Vegas. "It's disinformation -- that's the only thing they're good at, they're not good at anything else, the get-nothing, the do-nothing Democrats -- that Putin wants to make sure I get elected," he said. Trump went on to recycle an argument he's made in the past -- that Russian President Vladimir Putin would rather see a Democrat in the White House, specifically Sen. Bernie Sanders, who calls himself a socialist democrat.


Conservatives seen tightening grip as Iran votes for parliament

Conservatives seen tightening grip as Iran votes for parliamentIranians took to the polls Friday in an election expected to see conservatives tighten their grip on parliament, amid voter apathy after the disqualification of thousands of candidates. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had urged all Iranians to take part as he cast the first ballot in the election, saying that doing so would "guarantee the country's national interests". The 11th parliamentary election since the 1979 Islamic Revolution comes after a surge in tensions between Tehran and Washington, and Iran's accidental downing of a Ukrainian airliner that sparked anti-government protests.


Watchdog sanctions Iran over lax terror financing laws

Watchdog sanctions Iran over lax terror financing lawsA multinational financial crimes watchdog on Friday faulted Iran for not doing enough to counter a "terrorist financing risk" and announced the reinstatement of punitive measures against the country. In a statement issued after a meeting in Paris, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) said it was rescinding a suspension of the measures, granted in 2016, to give Tehran time to work on reforms. The FATF "fully lifts the suspension of counter-measures" it said, citing Iran's failure to enact the UN's 2001 Palermo Convention against organised crime and the Terrorist Financing Convention.


Democrats big money pledges give way to reality of 2020 race

Democrats big money pledges give way to reality of 2020 raceMany Democratic presidential candidates launched their campaigns last year with bold pledges to reject help from super PACs and dark money groups. Elizabeth Warren, one of the fiercest critics of money in politics, was the latest White House hopeful this week to accept help from a big money organization that can raise and spend unlimited amounts on behalf of political candidates. Former Vice President Joe Biden, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders have done much the same.


Trump Mad That Democrats Got Spy Agency to Say Russia Favors Him

Trump Mad That Democrats Got Spy Agency to Say Russia Favors Him(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump felt blindsided when he learned belatedly that intelligence officials briefed House lawmakers that Russia is continuing to interfere in U.S. elections -- and that Democrats elicited their view that the Russians favor Trump’s re-election, according to people familiar with the situation.Trump blamed Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, for the episode and the failure to inform him. On Wednesday, the president announced that he was replacing Maguire, a veteran intelligence official, with Ric Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany and a staunch Trump supporter.The chain of events underscores the continued tensions between Trump and intelligence officials that he and his supporters often depict as part of a “deep state” undermining his presidency.The classified briefing on Feb. 13 was delivered by Shelby Pierson, the intelligence official charged with monitoring issues related to election security. Among those attending were Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who led the House Democrats who impeached Trump, and the panel’s top Republican, Representative Devin Nunes of California.In response to questions from Democrats, lawmakers were told that Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, prefer Trump over his Democratic challengers and is still actively interfering in this year’s election, according to the people. But little information has emerged on any specific or ongoing interference by Russia detailed in the briefing last week.‘It’s Disinformation’Trump said at a campaign rally in Las Vegas on Friday that he was told last week that Democrats were promulgating “a rumor” that Russia sought his re-election.“I was told it was happening, I was told a week ago,” he said. “They said, ‘You know they’re trying to start a rumor.’ It’s disinformation -- that Putin wants to make sure I get re-elected.”He added: “Doesn’t he want to see who the Democrat’s going to be? Doesn’t he want to see Bernie, who honeymooned in Moscow? These people are crazy.” Sanders has said he has visited Moscow but didn’t honeymoon there.Trump has sought to cultivate a relationship with Putin, regarded by most U.S. lawmakers as an adversary. Trump acknowledged at his rally: “We want to get along with Russia. We want to get along with China.”The information provided to the House committee was described by one official as more of a general assessment. Democrats asked leading questions to obtain the analysis that Russia favors Trump’s re-election, according to a U.S. official and another person familiar with the matter.The White House suspects Democrats hoped the intelligence analysis would be leaked, an official said.Schiff’s RoleAnother official said Pierson was challenged by Republicans during the briefing about the raw intelligence behind the claim, and weren’t given specifics. The same officials said Trump’s anger at Maguire focused on the role that Schiff -- who Trump considers a prime nemesis -- allegedly played.The president expressed his frustration to Maguire in an Oval Office meeting the day after the House briefing, according to officials. Trump was told that Pierson, who delivered the briefing, felt her comments were being misrepresented and that she could only say that the Russians were continuing to interfere in U.S. politics -- not that they were putting a finger on the scale to help Trump.Trump’s ire over the intelligence briefing was reported earlier by the New York Times.Schiff tweeted that “we count on the intelligence community to inform Congress of any threat of foreign interference in our elections.” At the same time, Schiff seemed to hedge on what information, exactly, had been provided to him and other House members.“If reports are true and the President is interfering with that, he is again jeopardizing our efforts to stop foreign meddling,” Schiff said.Democrats have blasted Trump for replacing Maguire with Grenell, who has little experience in intelligence-gathering or analysis, and several key Republicans have remained silent on the decision.‘Inviting’ Interference“By firing Acting DNI Maguire because his staff provided the candid conclusions of the Intelligence Community to Congress regarding Russian meddling in the 2020 Presidential election, the President is not only refusing to defend against foreign interference, he’s inviting it,” House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi complained in a statement.On Friday, Maguire’s deputy Andrew Hallman said he was stepping down as the DNI’s principal executive, offering praise for his former boss, who he called a “lifelong patriot and public servant.”“As I prepare to depart, I have complete confidence in the IC workforce and the enduring qualities of the community — stability, integrity, and relentless dedication to serving the nation,” Hallman said in a statement, referring to the intelligence community. “These qualities will guide the IC through this next chapter and the uncertainties that come with change.”Grenell is expected to fill the senior DNI role on a short-term basis. Trump tweeted on Friday that he has four candidates under consideration to be nominated for the job. But one potential candidate who Trump floated as a potential nominee late on Thursday -- Georgia Representative Doug Collins -- said he wasn’t interested.Collins called Trump’s comments “humbling” and “amazing,” but said he wants to stick with plans to challenge Senator Kelly Loeffler for the Georgia seat this fall, even though Loeffler is backed by the much of the Republican establishment including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.Earlier, Trump was close to nominating Representative Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican, as director of national intelligence, according to two people familiar with the deliberations. But that idea was scrapped when Trump learned of a 2016 video clip in which Stewart said “Donald Trump does not represent Republican ideals, he is our Mussolini.”(Updates with Trump comments beginning in sixth paragraph)\--With assistance from Josh Wingrove.To contact the reporters on this story: Jennifer Jacobs in Washington at jjacobs68@bloomberg.net;Billy House in Washington at bhouse5@bloomberg.net;Chris Strohm in Washington at cstrohm1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at kwhitelaw@bloomberg.net, Larry Liebert, Alex WayneFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.


Uniting Trumpers, Never Trumpers and Democrats With a New Deputy at the State Dept.

Uniting Trumpers, Never Trumpers and Democrats With a New Deputy at the State Dept.WASHINGTON -- When Stephen E. Biegun was sworn in as deputy secretary of state, it was in front of an unusual crowd at the State Department -- one that included loyalists to President Donald Trump, but also a mix of Never Trumpers and Democrats.Denis R. McDonough, President Barack Obama's White House chief of staff and deputy national security adviser, was there that day in December. So was John D. Negroponte, a former director of national intelligence under President George W. Bush who in 2016 refused to vote for Trump. There were career diplomats, congressional officials and national security experts from both parties who had worked with Biegun in his various roles in the Senate, the National Security Council and Ford Motor.Which gave rise to some crucial questions: How had Biegun navigated Trump world to land such a senior position, No. 2 at the State Department? Could he calm a simmering revolt among career State Department employees who have accused Biegun's immediate boss, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, of abandoning veteran diplomats and letting the president's personal political agenda infect foreign policy?More to the point, would he even survive?The job is a risk -- Washington is full of people who have catapulted from the Trump administration with reputations diminished -- but friends say they are betting on Biegun."If anyone can figure out how to navigate it, I think it can be Steve," said Stephen J. Hadley, Bush's second national security adviser.It helps, friends say, that Biegun has the even temperament of a man who thrives in the background. Never one to upstage the boss, be it the president or secretary of state, Biegun is mild-mannered and deferential, the anti-Pompeo.While Pompeo is prone to profanity-laced rants, Biegun is a Republican of another era who projects calm. "He listens," said McDonough, who was Biegun's Democratic counterpart when the two men served as the chief foreign policy advisers to their parties' Senate leaders in the mid-2000s.While Pompeo has sought to bring back "swagger" to diplomacy, Biegun is described as a careful negotiator. And while Pompeo allowed a shadow foreign policy campaign to undermine the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, Biegun has insisted that, in diplomacy, "politics best stop at the water's edge."John R. Beyrle, who was one of Obama's ambassadors to Moscow, said that Pompeo most likely viewed Biegun as "somebody who could help ameliorate that almost toxic situation" at the State Department."So if there is that vacuum or deficit of trust, which I think there is, Steve is well placed to fill it," said Beyrle, who worked with Biegun on the board of the U.S.-Russia Foundation, which promotes entrepreneurship and education with Moscow.Notably, Biegun has described Marie L. Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador in Kyiv who was ordered back to Washington and accused of being disloyal to Trump, as "a very capable foreign-service officer."Since first meeting Yovanovitch years ago, when they were both working on Russia policy, "my esteem has done nothing but grown for her," Biegun told senators at his confirmation hearing in November.Colleagues say the secret to Biegun's success, so far, is that he gained the trust of Trump by enabling the president's bromance with Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader. Officials said the president twice considered appointing Biegun as national security adviser, but made him the chief envoy to North Korea instead. In that job Biegun has tried to move talks between Trump and Kim forward when other administration officials wanted to shut them down.Biegun also declined to join the so-called Never Trumper movement in 2016, putting him among a relatively small number of Republicans with high-level foreign policy experience who were not blacklisted by the White House after Trump won the presidential election."He's friends with Republicans and Democrats, he treats people well, he knows how to operate in Washington, he knows the think tanks, he knows the press, he knows the diplomatic community," said John B. Bellinger III, the State Department's former top lawyer who worked with Biegun on Bush's National Security Council.Born in Detroit to a large family -- more than 30 relatives attended his December swearing-in ceremony -- Biegun was in high school in Pontiac, Michigan, when a history teacher wrote the word "czar" on the chalkboard in the Cyrillic alphabet. He was immediately fascinated and went on to study Russian at the University of Michigan.Biegun lived in Moscow in the early 1990s, when he worked for the International Republican Institute, which promotes democracy with some funding from the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development. But he mostly developed his national security credentials on Capitol Hill -- first as a top Republican staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later to Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, then the majority leader -- and at the White House as a top aide to Condoleezza Rice, who was the first national security adviser in the Bush administration.He traveled to Russia as a vice president at Ford, negotiating new business ventures, but also took time off to briefly advise Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008. That position, according to colleagues, revealed his ability to maintain patience under pressure and to avoid a condescending tone -- even when having to explain the most basic foreign policy axioms to his boss.In his new job, Biegun will also remain the lead negotiator with North Korea -- a dual role, he has said, that elevates "the priority on North Korea to the deputy secretary position, and I think that's very important."But the diplomacy has fizzled since Trump and Kim abruptly left a summit meeting in Vietnam a year ago, unable to agree on a path for denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. Critics say the Trump administration was too willing to keep the talks going -- and the president too eager to meet with Kim -- even as North Korea was busily building up its arsenal.Biegun was not only trying to negotiate with the North Koreans, but he was also engaged in a behind-the-scenes fight with Trump's national security adviser at the time, John R. Bolton, who believed Biegun was pursuing a useless mission."This idea that they can be coaxed into giving up" their nuclear program "was flawed from the start," Bolton said on Monday in remarks at Duke University.Still, Joseph Y. Yun, a career diplomat who negotiated with North Korean officials until he retired in March 2018, said Biegun's new status could convince Pyongyang that the United States was serious enough about restarting the discussions that it had promoted one of its most senior officials to devote to the details."It's a very good signal to North Korea,'' said Yun, who retired in part out of frustration with the State Department's diminished role in the talks. "This will elevate the negotiations."Biegun's greatest challenge, however, is the diplomatic morass of Russia and Ukraine.No one senior official has run the policy since Bolton left the White House as national security adviser in September, and few have been eager to embrace the portfolio.But Biegun has told colleagues he is eager to try to resolve Russia's undeclared war in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region. The conflict has killed more than 13,000 Ukrainian troops and civilians and threatened Kyiv's sovereignty since it began in 2014, the same year that Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.Ukrainian officials have anxiously looked to Washington for more help as Kyiv broadens talks with President Vladimir Putin of Russia to ratchet back tensions. Pompeo visited Kyiv last month to signal continued U.S. commitment to Ukraine. But the country's leaders have not yet been invited to meet with Trump at the White House, even though the president has been acquitted of impeachment charges that he demanded that Ukraine announce an investigation into his political rivals before releasing security aid for Donbas.Eric Rubin, a former ambassador to Bulgaria who is now president of the union that represents career diplomats, noted that during his Senate confirmation hearing, Biegun committed to work "to bridge whatever divides may exist" at the State Department."This is not an easy time for our country or our profession," Rubin said. "We wish him well."Biegun faces another source of tension with the 2011 New START arms control treaty with Russia, which drove U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals to their lowest levels in nearly 60 years. The treaty is set to expire in February 2021, and people who have spoken to Biegun believe he wants to extend it. But Trump and his aides have signaled repeatedly that they intend to let the treaty expire unless it can be broadened to include other nations with strategic weapons, chiefly China -- and the Chinese are not interested.In his confirmation hearing, Biegun summed up his approach in a single line that somehow conveyed both optimism for diplomacy and clear-eyed realism about the Trump administration's view of the world, given its "Make America Great Again" mantra."I've long thought America was great," Biegun said.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company


Post-Brexit Budget Impasse Exposes Europe’s Divisions at Summit

Post-Brexit Budget Impasse Exposes Europe’s Divisions at Summit(Bloomberg) -- The European Union’s first post-Brexit summit descended into acrimony as squabbling over the bloc’s trillion-euro budget exposed the fault lines holding back its geopolitical ambition.After a 28-hour gathering in Brussels, EU leaders conceded it was impossible to agree on a seven-year fiscal plan amid differences over spending. They’ll have to reconvene sometime before the end-2020 deadline.“Unfortunately today we’ve observed that it wasn’t possible to reach an agreement,” European Council President Charles Michel said Friday. “We’ve worked very hard but we need more time.”The budget is a cornerstone of EU policy that lets farmers compete against imports from the developing world, helps poorer states catch up with the rich ones and underpins projects that bind the union together.But it’s also a lightning rod for tensions. After three years of uncharacteristic unity during the Brexit negotiations, passions among the 27 member states are once again running high.Leaders spent the much of the summit in different groups as they sought to strike alliances over the budget’s size and fine print. Meanwhile, technical officials from each country were on standby, armed with laptops and notepads to sift through new proposals.But for all their ambition to project an image of the EU as a united global superpower, its leaders spent the better part of two days bickering over fractions of a percentage point of the bloc’s output.“I’ve heard enough of red lines today,” Angela Merkel said after the meeting, voicing her frustration over the manner in which negotiations were conducted.When it’s eventually sealed, the final accord will signal whether Europe is prepared to spend more collectively to further its goals, whether it wants to prioritize innovation over handouts to traditional industries and whether it will wield its financial muscle to force member-states like Hungary and Poland to respect the rule-of-law.The scrap for cash to fund agriculture and regional development -- as well as newer issues like climate change and migration -- was further complicated by the U.K.’s departure, which leaves a hole of as much as 75 billion euros ($80 billion).Two CampsThe EU split into two camps: net beneficiaries in the south and east seeking higher spending, and net payers in the north wary of a backlash at home for agreeing to chip in more.The Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Sweden, known as the “Frugal Four,” were joined by Germany in arguing to keep the spending ceiling at 1% of the bloc’s gross national income. They also pushed for a permanent system of rebates granted for the largest net contributors.On the other side, a group of around 16 southern and eastern nations see regional funding as key to helping them catch up with wealthier neighbors and want rebates phased out or abolished. They sought an expenditure ceiling nearer the 1.1% put forward by the European Commission. Some even clung to the European Parliament’s 1.3% proposal.“It was disappointing,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said, echoing sentiments voiced by many leaders. “We need a balance between national interests and those of the union. We can’t present a vision that’s not backed by budgetary commitments and you can’t do that on 1%.”A deal needs to be struck before year-end to avoid a freeze in some spending for 2021 -- including funding for poorer regions.“We now have to let the dust settle,” EU Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahntold reporters. “Then we have to look into the figures and see what has to be done.”\--With assistance from Katharina Rosskopf, Irina Vilcu, Nikos Chrysoloras, John Follain, Jonathan Stearns, Ania Nussbaum, Lyubov Pronina, Ian Wishart and Maria Tadeo.To contact the reporters on this story: Viktoria Dendrinou in Brussels at vdendrinou@bloomberg.net;Arne Delfs in Berlin at adelfs@bloomberg.net;Jasmina Kuzmanovic in Zagreb at jkuzmanovic@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Ben Sills at bsills@bloomberg.net, Andrew Langley, Richard BravoFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.


2016 again? Russia back to stirring chaos in U.S. election

2016 again? Russia back to stirring chaos in U.S. electionJust weeks into this year's election cycle, Russia already is actively interfering in the U.S. presidential campaign in hopes of reelecting President Donald Trump, and is also trying to help the candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side, intelligence officials have concluded. The Russian efforts are aimed at undermining public confidence in the integrity of U.S. elections and stirring general chaos in American politics, intelligence experts say. Lawmakers were told in a classified briefing last week that Russia is taking steps that would help Trump, according to officials familiar with the briefing.


Syrian war pulls in major foreign actors, increasing tension

Syrian war pulls in major foreign actors, increasing tensionIn northern Syria, heavy exchanges between Syrian and Turkish troops are erupting with more frequency, threatening to escalate into full-blown conflict. U.S. troops even have had a deadly clash with Syrian gunmen at a checkpoint. Syria’s civil war long has provided a free-for-all battlefield for proxy fighters.


Judge seeks more info before ruling against Libyan commander

Judge seeks more info before ruling against Libyan commanderA federal magistrate in Virginia wants more information before issuing a judgment against a Libyan-American who once lived in northern Virginia and now commands an army in his home country. Khalifa Hifter, who leads the self-styled Libyan National Army, was sued last year by families who say their loved ones were killed in his military campaigns. If the lawsuit succeeds, the families may be able to claim property Hifter owned from his decades living in Virginia.


Despite strong start, Buttigieg seeks $13 million for Mar. 3

Despite strong start, Buttigieg seeks $13 million for Mar. 3Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg says he needs to raise $13 million to stay competitive through the 14-state Super Tuesday contests on March 3, despite strong finishes in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. The tricky financial picture for one of the surprise candidates of 2020 comes as the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, reported Thursday that he spent more than twice as much as he brought in during January, even as he was simultaneously ramping up for the Iowa and New Hampshire contests. Buttigieg ended with a near-tie in Iowa with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has fielded a strong organization and fundraising this cycle after competing strongly against Hillary Clinton for the 2016 presidential nomination.


Venezuela's Maduro taps DC firm to fight US sanctions

Venezuela's Maduro taps DC firm to fight US sanctionsA top official for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's government has hired a Washington law firm that also represents Turkey, taking over from another legal team that backed out last month following an outcry from critics who accused it of collaborating with a repressive regime. Lawyer Bob Amsterdam declined to comment on the nature of work for Maduro’s Inspector General Reinaldo Muñoz, other than saying it would focus on sanctions and human rights issues.