Author: Worldcrew

Russia’s Long-time UN Ambassador Dies Suddenly

Russia’s long-time U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin died suddenly Monday in New York, a day before he would have turned 65 years old.

 

The Russian foreign ministry announced his death in a statement, giving no details on the circumstances.  The president of the U.N. General Assembly, Peter Thomson, told VOA that he was informed Churkin had “some sort of cardiac arrest” at the Russian Mission and was taken to the hospital, where he died.

 

Fellow U.N. diplomats immediately took to social media to express their shock and sadness at his sudden passing.

“Absolutely devastated to hear that my friend & colleague Vitaly Churkin has died,” tweeted Britain’s U.N. envoy Matthew Rycroft. “A diplomatic giant & wonderful character. RIP” he added.

 

“Shocked to learn of the passing of our dear colleague Vitaly Churkin,” Sweden’s U.N. Ambassador Olof Skoog wrote. “He will be deeply missed. Deepest condolences to his family.”

The new U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, paid tribute to a “gracious colleague.”

“We did not always see things the same way, but he unquestionably advocated his country’s positions with great skill. We send our prayers and heartfelt condolences to lift up his family and to the Russian people,” she said in a statement.

General Assembly President Thomson called for a minute of silence during an afternoon meeting at U.N. headquarters. In emotional remarks, he said “not only has Russia lost one of its truest sons here at the United Nations, we have lost one of our truest.”

“His name shall live on in the annals of this organization’s history,” Thomson said.

WATCH: UN’s Thomson: Churkin’s Name Will Live on in UN History

Kenya’s ambassador, Macharia Kamau, described Churkin as “a very calm and purposeful diplomat” and praised him for understanding the problems of smaller countries, not just big ones.

“He was a deeply experienced and able diplomat, a defender of his country, a believer in the multilateral system and the work of the United Nations, and someone who we all respected and cherished very much,” UAE Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh said.

Road to diplomacy

Vitaly Ivanovich Churkin was born in Moscow on Feb. 21, 1952. As a young boy he appeared in at least three films – two were about Vladimir Lenin.

 

He later was a graduate of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and went on to earn a Ph.D. in history from the USSR Diplomatic Academy.

 

Churkin had a distinguished career as a Russian diplomat, joining the foreign ministry in 1974. He was his government’s Special Representative to the talks on Former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and later served as ambassador to Belgium (1994-1998) and Canada (1998-2003).

 

U.N. posting

 

In 2006, he presented his credentials to then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan and took up his post as U.N. ambassador, which he held until his death. In the more than a decade Churkin was envoy to the world body, he was widely respected by colleagues, even those whose governments had adversarial relationships with Moscow.

 

In the past six years, his job grew more difficult as Moscow became more isolated due to its annexation of the Crimea and its support for the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

 

He often clashed in the Security Council chamber with former U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power. At a heated council meeting in December on the situation in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, Power called out Moscow for denying and obfuscating facts and aiding and abetting attacks on civilians. Churkin retorted that she sounded like “Mother Theresa” for scolding Moscow and urged her to “remember the track record of your country.”

Churkin was known as a tough negotiator and a top-notch diplomat. Many expected he would be appointed foreign minister if Sergei Lavrov retired.

 

Vitaly Churkin is survived by his wife, Irina, and two adult children.

Times Square Rally Protests Trump Immigration Policies

More than a thousand people of various faiths rallied in New York City in support of Muslim Americans and to protest President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

The “I Am A Muslim Too” rally was held in Times Square on Sunday and was organized by several groups, including the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

The protesters waved American flags, held signs saying “No Muslim Ban,” and chanted “We are One.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at the peaceful rally, saying “we have to dispel the stereotypes” and that America is “a country founded to protect all faiths and all beliefs.”

Hip-Hop mogul Russell Simmons headlined the rally. He said the Muslim community was being used as a scapegoat, but that “diversity will prevail.”

Senior Trump Appointee Fired After Critical Comments

A senior Trump administration official was fired following criticism in a private speech of President Donald Trump’s policies and his inner circle of advisers.

Craig Deare, whom Trump appointed a month ago to head the National Security Council’s Western Hemisphere division, was on Friday escorted out of the Executive Office Building, where he worked in Washington.

A senior White House official confirmed that Deare is no longer working at the NSC and has returned to the position he previously held at the National Defense University. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an incident not otherwise made public, and provided no further details.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Sunday that Deare “was sent back to his original position.” Asked if government employees should be concerned that they could be fired for criticizing the president, she said: “I don’t think any person that is there in order to carry out the president’s agenda should be against the president’s agenda.”

Current and former administration officials say Deare’s termination was linked to remarks he made Thursday at a private talk at the Wilson Center, a Washington think tank. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

According to one person who attended the discussion, Deare slammed the Trump administration for its policies on Latin America, specifically its rocky start to relations with Mexico. That person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private event.

Trump signed an order in the first week of his presidency to build a border wall with Mexico, jumpstarting a campaign promise. The move prompted Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto to cancel his trip to Washington in late January.

The person who attended the Wilson Center discussion also said that Deare openly expressed frustration over being cut out of most of the policy discussions about Mexico, saying that members of Trump’s inner circle, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, have not consulted with NSC directorates as the White House formulates policy.

Deare has been on the faculty of National Defense University in Washington since 2001. He joined the university’s College of International Security Affairs in 2010 and most recently served as dean of administration.

The person who attended the Wilson Center talk also noted that Deare made several remarks about how attractive Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, appeared, remarks that person described as “awkward.”

Deare did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Officials with the Wilson Center also declined a request for information, saying the discussion was off the record.

Deare is the second senior NSC official to leave in under a week. On Monday, Trump’s national security adviser, retired Gen. Michael Flynn, resigned after revelations that he discussed sanctions with a Russian diplomat before Trump was sworn in, then misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of those conversations.

Focus on Trump’s Attacks on News Media

Home to countless journalists and defenders of a free press, Washington is abuzz over President Donald Trump’s increasingly ferocious attacks on America’s news media. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, U.S. lawmakers are weighing in, with Republican Senator John McCain telling a television network that cracking down on press freedom is ‘how dictators get started.’

VP Pence Reassures Europe US Remains Staunch Ally

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is making his first visit to Europe since taking office, to reassure allies the United States remains a staunch friend amid concerns about the new administration’s “America First” strategy and its overall approach to global affairs.

Pence is scheduled to have dinner with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel Sunday in Brussels.

On Monday, Pence will meet with EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, EU Council President Donald Tusk, and other EU officials.

The European Union will likely seek clarity on Trump’s prediction last month in two European newspapers that other countries would follow Britain and leave the alliance.

EU foreign affairs chief Mogherini said after meeting U.S. officials in Washington last week that maintaining multilateral sanctions on Russia, keeping the Iran nuclear agreement in place and addressing the refugee crisis are issues the EU would like to collaborate on with the U.S.

Visit to Dachau concentration camp

Pence, his wife, Karen, and daughter Charlotte visited the Dachau concentration camp memorial early Sunday. The camp was established by the Nazi government in 1933 near Munich.

The Pence family paid tribute to the International Memorial at the center of camp, placing a wreath beneath it. They also visited a Jewish memorial and a Catholic memorial on the grounds, toured the barracks, a crematorium, and a gas chamber.

Saturday, at a NATO Security Conference in Munich, Pence expressed support for NATO and sought to address concerns raised by President Trump, who once said that the military alliance was “obsolete.”

“The United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to our transatlantic alliance,” Pence said in his first major foreign policy address for the new administration.

Pence acknowledged his extremely busy schedule during a surprise meeting in Munich Saturday with Rock band U2 frontman Bono. After Pence thanked Bono for “the chance to get together,” Bono said, “You’re the second busiest man on earth, so we really do appreciate it,” as onlookers laughed.

Trump Hint of Attack in Sweden Baffles Swedes

Was there a terrorist attack in Sweden Friday night? No, but U.S. President Donald Trump seemed to suggest there had been, leaving Swedes baffled by just what the new American leader might have meant by an offhand remark.

At a campaign rally Saturday in Florida, Trump alluded to past terrorist attacks in Europe linked to open-borders immigration, saying, “You look at what’s happening in Germany. You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden.”

But there were no high-profile, terror-linked events in the Scandinavian country Friday night.

Trump did not elaborate on the remark until Sunday evening, when he tweeted that he was referring to a Fox News broadcast about migrants and Sweden.

In the meantime, some Swedes mocked Trump on social media accounts using the hashtag “#LastNightinSweden.”

Former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt took to Twitter, saying, “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound.” Some Swedes joked that Trump might have been referring to a large meatball theft, an avalanche warning or police chasing a drunken driver.

Another Twitter user, tweaking Trump’s plans to build a border wall on the U.S. southern border with Mexico to thwart illegal immigration, said that “after the terrible events” of Friday night, the giant Swedish retailer Ikea had sold out of instruction manuals on how to build border walls.

Gunnar Hokmark, a Swedish member of the European Parliament, retweeted a post that said, “#lastnightinSweden my son dropped his hotdog in the campfire. So sad!”

The Swedish embassy in Washington had asked the U.S. State Department for clarification on just what Trump was referring to.

Italy’s Renzi Resigns as Party Chief, Seeks Renewed Mandate

Former Italian Premier Matteo Renzi has resigned as Democratic Party leader in a bid to win a fresh, stronger mandate before the national election in which populist political forces are positioned to pose the biggest challenge.

 

As promised, Renzi told fellow Democratic leaders at a meeting Sunday that he was resigning. But Renzi insisted he won’t submit to what he called the “blackmail” of a more left-leaning faction threatening a schism if he again seeks the top party post.

 

The national election, due in early 2018, might come earlier if Premier Paolo Gentiloni loses control of a frequently squabbling center-left parliamentary majority.

 

The populist, anti-euro 5-Star Movement aims to gain national power for the first time. It is Parliament’s second-biggest party, after the Democrats, who govern in a center-left coalition.

 

California Refinery Damaged By Fire Could Cause Local Gas Prices to Rise

An explosion and fire at an oil refinery in Torrance, California, on Saturday forced the partial shutdown of the plant, leading oil traders to expect a spike this week in West Coast gasoline prices.

Police and the plant owner said no one was hurt in the fire, which was extinguished by local firefighters.

Two years ago, a fire at the same plant led to its closure for several months and a sustained increase in West Coast gasoline prices for more than a year. After the fire on Saturday, a group of local residents worried about pollution and accidents protested at the refinery. The event had been planned to mark the anniversary of the Feb. 18, 2015 incident.

Catherine Leys, one of the protesters, lives 1.4 miles from the plant and said industrial ash drifted down on the playground near her home after the 2015 blast.

The plant supplies 10 percent of California’s gasoline.

Traders said they expected local gasoline prices to jump this week.

“I expect prices will be firming on Tuesday, maybe 5 cents or 15 cents a gallon,” a West Coast refined products trader said. He was talking about wholesale gasoline prices in the Los Angeles market. In California, pump prices normally follow wholesale price movements within hours.

PBF Energy owns and operates the refinery in the city of Torrance, just outside Los Angeles. PBF purchased it from Exxon Mobil Corp in 2016.

PBF shuttered the plant’s crude distillation unit after the pre-dawn blaze, energy industry intelligence service Genscape reported.

The unit refines 155,000 barrels of oil per day, turning it into gasoline and diesel among other products.

PBF told state regulators it was forced to use its safety flare system on an emergency basis after the incident. The crude distillation unit, which produces motor fuel, is the workhorse of the refinery. Within 24 hours of the Feb. 18, 2015 explosion, wholesale gasoline prices initially jumped 10 cents a gallon.

A RAND study found drivers ultimately paid an extra $2.4 billion for gasoline because of the 2015 Torrance refinery outage.

The Torrance refinery had at least two outages in 2016 after a power outage at a local utility knocked the facility offline.

In October, PBF received a violation notice from the California’s air regulator for excessive flaring following one of the outages.

California gasoline prices are frequently among the highest in the United States. Only Hawaii residents pay more.

California requires cleaner-burning fuel than most other U.S. states do. The state is geographically isolated with no pipeline connections to major refining centers on the Gulf Coast and Midwest, leaving the market tightly balanced between what West Coast refineries can produce and what can be shipped in.

US Navy: Carrier Group Begins Patrols in South China Sea

A United States aircraft carrier strike group has begun patrols in the South China Sea, the U.S. navy said on Saturday, amid renewed tension over the disputed waterway.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday warned Washington against challenging its sovereignty, responding to reports the United States was planning fresh naval patrols in the South China Sea.

The navy said the force, including Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, began routine operations in the South China Sea on Saturday. The announcement was posted on the Vinson’s Facebook page.

Executive Order That Incarcerated Japanese Americans Signed 75 Years Ago

Satsuki Ina was born behind barbed wire in a prison camp during World War Two, the daughter of U.S. citizens forced from their home without due process and locked up for years following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

Roughly 120,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans were sent to desolate camps that dotted the West because the government claimed they might plot against the U.S. Thousands were elderly, disabled, children or infants too young to know the meaning of treason. Two-thirds were citizens.

And now, as survivors commemorate the 75th anniversary of the executive order that authorized their incarceration, they’re also speaking out to make sure that what happened to them doesn’t happen to Muslims, Latinos or other groups.

Executive orders

They’re alarmed by recent executive orders from President Donald Trump that limit travel and single out immigrants.

In January, Trump banned travelers from seven majority Muslim nations from entering the U.S., saying he wanted to thwart potential attackers from slipping into the country. A federal court halted the ban. Trump said at a news conference Thursday that he would issue a replacement order next week.

“We know what it sounds like. We know what the mood of the country can be. We know a president who is going to see people in a way that could victimize us,” said Ina, a 72-year-old psychotherapist who lives in Oakland, California.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, to protect against espionage and sabotage. Notices appeared ordering people of Japanese descent to report to civil stations for transport.

Desperate families sold off belongings for cheap and packed what they could. The luckier ones had white friends who agreed to care for houses, farms and businesses in their absence.

“Others who couldn’t pay their mortgage, couldn’t pay their bills, they lost everything. So they had to pretty much start from scratch,” said Rosalyn Tonai, 56, executive director of the National Japanese American Historical Society in San Francisco.

Tonai was shocked to learn in middle school that the U.S. government had incarcerated her mother, aunts and grandparents. Her family hadn’t talked about it. Her mother, a teenager at the time, said she didn’t remember details.

‘Internment’

Her organization, the Japanese American Citizens League and others oppose the use of the word “internment.” They say the government used euphemisms such as “internment,” “evacuation,” and “non-alien” to hide the fact that U.S. citizens were incarcerated and the Constitution violated.

The groups say this White House has what they see as the same dangerous and flippant attitude toward the Constitution. Japanese-American lawmakers expressed horror when a Donald Trump supporter cited the camps as precedent for a Muslim registry.

The Japanese American Citizens League “vehemently” objected to executive orders signed by Trump last month, to build a wall along the Mexican border, punish “sanctuary” cities that protect people living in the country illegally, and limit refugees and immigrants from entering the country.

“Although the threat of terrorism is real, we must learn from our history and not allow our fears to overwhelm our values,” the statement read in part.

Hiroshi Kashiwagi was 19 when his family was ordered from their home in Northern California’s Placer County and to a temporary detention center.

He remembers slaughtering his prized chickens — New Hampshire Reds — for his mother to cook with soy sauce and sugar. She stored the bottled birds in sturdy sacks to take on the trip. The family ate the chickens at night to supplement meals. The birds didn’t last long.

Today, Kashiwagi, 94, is a poet and writer in San Francisco who speaks to the public about life at Tule Lake, a maximum security camp near the Oregon border. Winters were cold, the summers hot. They were helpless against dust storms that seeped inside.

“I feel obligated to speak out, although it’s not a favorite subject,” he said. “Who knows what can happen? The way this president is, he does not go by the rules. I’m hoping that he would be impeached.”

Orders against Japanese-Americans were revoked after the war ended in 1945. They returned to hostility and discrimination in finding work or places to live.

‘Race prejudice’

A congressional commission formed in 1980 blamed the incarceration on “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.” In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill to compensate every survivor with a tax-free check for $20,000 and a formal apology from the U.S. government.

Ina said that only then did her mother, Shizuko, feel she got her face back, her dignity returned. By then her father, Itaru, had died.

“This is a burden we’ve been carrying, and if we can make that burden into something meaningful that could help and protect other people, then it becomes not so much an obligation but more as a responsibility,” Ina said.

After Trump’s election, Ina vowed to reach out to the Muslim community and protest and tell everyone about what happened to her family. She brought her message to a gathering of camp survivors in the Los Angeles area.

“And this old woman, she had a cane, she said, ‘OK. I’m going to tell everybody about what happened. This is very bad. It’s happening again,’ ” she said. “It’s that kind of spirit.”

26 People Detained in Car Bomb Attack in Turkey

Turkish officials say 26 people have been detained following a car bomb attack that killed two people in the southeast part of the country.

The car bomb exploded Friday near the lodgings of judges and prosecutors in the mainly Kurdish town of Viransehir in Sanliurfa province, bordering Syria. Footage from the scene showed a heavily damaged building and wrecked cars.

In a news conference at the town’s courthouse Saturday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the explosion killed the 11-year-old son of a court clerk and a 27-year-old neighborhood guard.

Eleven people remained hospitalized, including the public prosecutor’s wife, the minister said. Two were in critical condition.

The governor’s office announced Saturday that the 26 people detained included the owner of the van, which was loaded with explosives and parked near the government housing.

Governor Gungor Azim Tuna told state-run Anadolu news agency that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, was responsible.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in Germany and expressed his condolences for the attack. “The vice president reiterated the United States’ commitment to Turkey as a strategic partner and NATO ally,” a White House statement said.

Turkey has been hit by a series of violent attacks since the summer of 2015, which were blamed on the Islamic State group or Kurdish militants. More than 550 people have been killed in these attacks.

The PKK has targeted security personnel and state buildings with car bombs since a cease-fire collapsed in 2015. Turkey and its Western allies consider the group a terrorist organization.

According to the nonprofit International Crisis Group, at least 2,571 people have been killed in armed clashes since, including civilians, state security force members, Kurdish militants and youth of unknown affiliations.

Astana Talks on Syria to Continue Despite Setbacks

Russia considers the second round of Syria peace talks, held this week in Kazakhstan, a success, a senior Foreign Ministry official said Saturday.

The director of the ministry’s Middle East and North Africa department, Sergey Vershinin, told Russian state media the talks in Astana were an important step toward resolving the Syrian crisis.

Three guarantor countries — Russia and Iran, which back the Syrian government, and Turkey, which backs some rebels opposed to it — organized the talks in Kazakhstan. In addition to the host country, others attending included representatives from Damascus and armed Syrian opposition groups, the United Nations and various observers, such as the United States and Jordan.

Delegations at the talks in the Kazakh capital were smaller and lower-level than they were during the first round of the Astana Process in January. They were unable to agree on a final statement, and there was still no direct dialogue between the Syrian government and opposition. Despite those factors, Russian officials gave an optimistic assessment of the results.

“I would say that it is going to take a long period of time to realize direct negotiations between the two sides of the Syrian conflict,” Russia’s delegation head, Alexander Lavrentiev, said. “… Little mutual trust exists between them. They have been accusing each other all the time. But I believe that we have to move … forward step by step, leaving no room for more conflicts.”

Tensions simmer

The talks began a day later than scheduled. The head of the Syrian government delegation, Bashar Jaafari, said the lack of agreement on a final statement was caused by the late arrivals of the Syrian opposition and Turkish delegations. Jaafari said those involved were irresponsible, and he accused them of aiming to disrupt discussions.

Syrian rebels said there was no final statement, considered a bare minimum for most such negotiations, because cease-fire conditions were not being met. Armed opposition groups fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad say the Damascus government and its supporters regularly violate the truce.

The head of Assad’s delegation repeated accusations that Turkey was supporting terrorism and called on Ankara to withdraw its troops from Syrian territory and close its border. Jaafari said Turkish forces were violating Syria’s sovereignty.

Turkish troops have been fighting two foes in Syria: extremists from the Islamic State group, which Turkey is attempting to push back from its border with Syria, and Kurdish militias that Ankara contends are controlled by alleged terrorists from the militant group YPG. Turkish commanders said Friday that they were close to expelling all IS fighters from Syria’s al-Bab town.

Jaafari complained that Turkey had downgraded its representatives in Astana to lower-level officials, but the Syrian rebels’ delegation also was diminished, with representatives of only nine armed groups present, down from 14 when the talks began in January.

And while U.N. officials took part in the meetings, the head of their group, U.N. special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, traveled instead to Moscow to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Astana supported

In the Russian capital, de Mistura said there was strong support for the Astana talks, “because we feel that focusing on the cessation of hostilities is the beginning of everything related to any negotiations on Syria. And … that helps — and is helping — the holding of the Geneva talks.”

Talks on Syria are expected to take place in Geneva on Thursday, after bilateral discussions beginning on Monday.

However, the head of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, Vasily Kuznetsov, said he was much less optimistic about what could be achieved when the talks shift to Switzerland.

“While you discuss the problem on the ground, the military problems, you can have some progress,” Kuznetsov said. “But … when you discuss the political process … [in Geneva], the constitution, the government and the election, yes, in this situation of total mistrust between every actor, I don’t understand how they can have any progress in these discussions.”

A third round of talks is expected to convene in Astana within a month.

A political scientist from the Russian Higher School of Economics, Leonid Isayev, said, “It’s much more comfortable for the Syrian regime to find solutions in this [Astana] format,” because the number of participants will much lower than in Geneva.

Trilateral cease-fire mechanism

Despite the bumps in the Astana talks, Russia, Turkey and Iran hashed out some details of a trilateral mechanism for Syria designed to help solidify a cease-fire agreed to in late December.

The cease-fire, which excludes designated terrorist groups such as Islamic State, has been violated sporadically, but the truce has largely held.

If the political talks in Geneva break down, however, Isayev said the cease-fire could unravel quickly, “especially in the central and southern parts of Syria.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry posted a statement late Friday noting that while the joint group for a Syrian cease-fire was formed to investigate and prevent violations, it would also facilitate humanitarian access and free movement by civilians, and try to organize exchanges of prisoners and wounded fighters, with the help of U.N. experts.

The six-year Syrian conflict has killed over 300,000 people and displaced millions, many of them fleeing to Jordan and Turkey and on to Western Europe. Damascus was losing ground to the rebels until Russia entered the conflict a year ago and turned the tide in the government’s favor.

Pence Vows ‘Unwavering’ US Commitment to Transatlantic Alliance

In his first major foreign policy speech, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has said at the Munich Security Conference that America will be ‘unwavering’ in its support for the NATO alliance – but warned allies that they must step up defense spending. Amid controversy over the Trump administration’s ties to Moscow, Mr. Pence said the US would continue to hold Russia accountable. Henry Ridgwell reports from Munich.

News Analysis: Trump Enjoys Tongue-lashing the Media

U.S. President Donald Trump seems to relish an occasional fight, and that was evident during his first solo news conference as president, which he dedicated almost entirely to chastising the news media.

For nearly 80 minutes, Trump scolded individual reporters for being “unfair,” dismissed specific media outlets as purveyors of “fake news” and generally attacked the American press as being “out of control.”

Addressing reporters arrayed in front of him at the White House, Trump told them: “You’re dishonest people.” The crowded news conference was arranged on short notice, but it was broadcast live by every major U.S. television network.

The president anticipated he might be criticized in headlines around the country. “But I’m not ranting and raving,” he said with a smile. “I love this. I’m having a good time doing it.”

Trump vs media: love/hate

Thursday’s angry outburst may have been unusual compared with the public behavior of past U.S. presidents, but for Trump, it was a continuation of his lifelong love/hate relationship with the news media.

The billionaire real estate developer and former reality television star has for decades benefited from, and even bragged about, his ability to cultivate media attention. But more recently, since he entered politics and won the presidency, Trump’s relationship with the media has turned sour.

Since announcing his candidacy in 2015, Trump has been the target of a barrage of negative news stories. Since entering the White House, the bull’s-eye on his back has only gotten larger.

In response, Trump has called reporters members of an “opposition party,” in contrast to the image most White House journalists have of themselves — nonpartisan observers who chronicle the activities of the nation’s chief executive — and he often seems to view the press as his political rivals.

Just as he referred to his political opponents last year, Trump has adopted a nickname for the reporters who cover his every move — the “dishonest media” — and he regularly dismisses news coverage he does not like as “fake news.”

Obsessed by news, even if ‘fake’

But as much as Trump quarrels with the media, he can’t stop obsessing over it. The president is said to spend most of his mornings and evenings watching cable news, often responding to what he sees and hears in real time, on  Twitter. The interaction has left longtime political observers stunned.

“I’ve covered politics off and on in Washington since 1964, and I have never seen a public figure this obsessed with media coverage,” said veteran journalist Steven Roberts, a longtime correspondent for The New York Times and other news outlets who now teaches media and public affairs at George Washington University.

Trump says he’s just “counterpunching” — going after the media only when it attacks him first. But it would be a mistake to view the exchange in that way, says Gwenda Blair, a Trump family biographer who has been following Trump for decades.

“It’s easy to forget that he loves combat. He loves confrontation. He loves this aggressive, charged, conflict-filled environment,” Blair said in an interview with VOA. “That’s normal. That’s his comfort zone.”

Sensational = a good story

Trump has explicitly suggested that he sometimes engages in provocative behavior simply to attract media attention.

In his 1987 book The Art of the Deal, Trump said: “One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better. … The point is that if you are a little different, a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.”

Blair chalks up that kind of behavior to Trump’s natural ability as an entertainer.

“The number-one rule as a performer is to do something unexpected, so people won’t look away,” she said. “And he’s aces at that. He’s constantly doing something unexpected, contradicting himself, lashing out at somebody.”

It’s exactly the kind of behavior that plays perfectly into the media’s need to have fresh news all the time, Blair pointed out.

Approval ratings suffer

So far, that strategy has worked well for Trump. He is, after all, the most powerful leader in the world. But it’s not clear the plan will work as well for him in the White House as it has in the real estate business or the world of entertainment.

Since taking office, Trump’s approval rating has suffered. Generally trusted public-opinion surveys show his popularity ratings are much lower than those his predecessors enjoyed at this early stage of their presidencies.

However, there also is reason to think Trump’s efforts to undermine the news media may be working. A recent poll by Emerson College found Americans trust the Trump administration more than they do the news media.

Trump’s team has repeatedly pointed to the poll as evidence he is winning his battle with the media, suggesting he won’t change tactics anytime soon.

Michael D’Antonio, another Trump biographer, agrees, saying anyone who expects Trump to change at this point will be disappointed.

“He’s 70 years old. He believes that his impulses and perspective are the source of his success,” D’Antonio said. “So there’s not a real sense in his mind that he should change.”

US Readout of Top Diplomats’ First Meeting Signals Priorities Set by President

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday raised the need to “create a level playing field for trade and investment” in his first meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, according to the State Department.

In the readout by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, both had agreed to “strengthen cooperation in the fields of economy, finance and security,” seen by some as much diluted wording.

Both met for about an hour on the sidelines of a meeting of foreign ministers of the G-20 top economies in Bonn, Germany.

“So nice to see you,” Tillerson said as he shook Wang’s hand, while apologizing for keeping Wang waiting. The top diplomat for the U.S. was late because of another sideline meeting about Syria.

China criticized as a ‘cheater’

While in many ways this seems typical of prior meetings of foreign ministers between Washington and Beijing, it is “unusual” for a secretary of state to advocate the need for a fair playing field in commerce, according to Bonnie Glaser, the director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“That signals the priority this set of issues is accorded by President Trump,” Glaser told VOA on Friday.  

President Donald Trump has bluntly criticized China as a “cheater” and a currency manipulator, accusing it of unfair practices that have blocked many U.S. exports, and producing a trade imbalance that has killed American jobs.  

Trump also has threatened to impose a comprehensive tax on Chinese imports.

‘One-China policy’

In the Chinese readout, Beijing said, “The U.S. side made it clear that it would continue to adhere to the one-China policy,” which is absent in the State Department’s readout.  

“There is the classic testing of intentions on big issues, to get a quick read where the other stands,” said Center for the National Interest Director of Defense Studies Harry Kazianis.

“They set the foundation for the future and are critically important,” Kazianis added.

China pressed over North Korea

Notably, North Korea’s threats are both highlighted by Tillerson and his Chinese counterpart. Washington pressed Beijing to help assert more control over North Korea after a series of nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

Acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Friday in Bonn that Tillerson “urged China to use all available tools to moderate North Korea’s destabilizing behavior.”

North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan on February 12, followed by strong international condemnation, including that of the U.N. Security Council.  

Wang told Tillerson the U.S. and China have joint responsibilities to maintain global stability, adding common interests between the two countries far outweigh their differences.

One of the channels to manage U.S.-China relations is the bilateral Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED), an annual high-level gathering for two countries to discuss a wide range of regional and global issues.

It started under the George W. Bush administration as the Strategic Economic Dialogue and was later upgraded by former President Barack Obama after he took office.

A different approach

Some regional scholars expect the Trump administration to veer from the long-standing U.S. approach, though, and downsize such a mechanism, or even end it.

“I would be somewhat surprised if the S&ED has any future,” Atlantic Council resident senior fellow Robert Manning told VOA.

“It has become a somewhat hollow bureaucratic ritual, a checklist for the vast sweep of U.S.-China bilateral issues,” said Manning, adding the “structure and content” of relations between Washington and Beijing is “at a tipping point.”

Manning said the key is to identify a few core issues that can define the character of the relationship. “Finding a formula for reciprocity is key to a sustainable economic relationship,” he said.  

A change in S&ED

Proponents of continuing the S&ED said it mobilizes bureaucracies on both sides, promotes interagency coordination, and helps to increase cooperation in areas where the U.S. and China have shared interests.  

“My guess is that it will continue in some form, but will be much smaller and policy-focused,” said Glaser.  

“This administration wants to see progress on a much more fair trade relationship,” said Kazianis, adding “if Beijing is willing to work toward a more equitable and fair trade relationship, I would assume this would continue. If not, it could very well be downsized or disregarded all together.”

The first year will be rocky and it may be until June before there is a functioning policy process, given the chaos in the White House and State Department, according to Manning.  

Tillerson’s deputy and many senior positions at the State Department have yet to be filled.

In Immigrant Haven in Florida, There’s No Sanctuary for Those Living Illegally

The mayor of Miami-Dade County, Florida, is an immigrant, and more than half its residents are foreign born.

But unlike many other areas with large numbers of immigrants, there’s no sanctuary for people living illegally in this county. A recent decision by Mayor Carlos Gimenez requires local authorities to cooperate with federal officials to enforce immigration law.

The decree by Cuban-born Gimenez has roiled the area, drawing criticism from the mayors of the cities of Miami and Miami Beach. The county’s commissioners called for a special meeting Friday to confront the mayor on the issue.

They’re not the only ones who are unhappy with the mayor. Immigration advocates and others opposed to the shift have filled the streets in protest, and a long-standing divide between Cuban-Americans and other Latinos has reappeared. Meanwhile, farmworkers who have lived in the area for years to plant and harvest vegetables on vast commercial farms fear they’ll be deported

‘I would be lost in Mexico’

“I have four children. To get picked up like that would break me,” said Itzel, 23, who arrived as a baby from Mexico, works in nurseries near the city of Homestead and whose children were born in this country. She spoke on condition that her surname not be used because she feared deportation.

“I would be lost in Mexico. I’ve never been there. I’ve never traveled out of here,” she said.

Gimenez said his order to end Miami-Dade’s status as a sanctuary city, where policy forbids local police from enforcing federal immigration laws, was a financial decision. President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order that would cut federal funds to local governments that did not fully cooperate on immigration enforcement. But immigration advocates said Gimenez’s decision sent the wrong message at a delicate time.

“To be fair, in a community where 50 percent were not born here, it sends an erroneous and a somewhat negative image of our community,” said County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, who was born in Cuba.

The divide, however, is also rooted in immigration policy that gave preferential treatment to Cubans fleeing the island’s communist government. For more than 50 years, Cubans arrived to open arms in the U.S. and were able to become citizens much more easily than people from other countries.

“Cuban families, in a general way, haven’t been as aware of what it means to be undocumented in this country,” said Michael Bustamante, a Florida International University expert on contemporary Cuban history. “They have had a different process to achieve legal status. Not to say that they haven’t faced other difficulties.”

Majority born abroad

Miami-Dade is the only U.S. county where a majority of residents — 51.7 percent — were born abroad. But the share of immigrants living there illegally is lower than it is in places like Houston or Atlanta, precisely because Cuban immigrants could quickly get employment authorization cards and a Social Security number and become legal residents.

But that’s changed. Former President Barack Obama in January announced that Cubans without residency or visas would be treated as any other immigrant with similar status.

Many of Miami’s Cubans have openly embraced Trump’s ideas on immigration. Hillary Clinton may have won 63 percent of the vote in Miami-Dade County, but Trump drew more votes than Clinton in the three heaviest Cuban-American neighborhoods.

Ibrahim Reyes, a retired furniture salesman who was having coffee and reading a newspaper in Miami’s Little Havana recently, said he supported the president’s efforts to deport criminals and his actions toward Mexico, noting the country supported Fidel Castro after Cuba’s revolution.

“It’s bad, what is happening in Mexico,” Reyes said. “But they didn’t show solidarity toward us when we were refugees.”

In 2013, Miami-Dade commissioners passed a resolution saying local law enforcement officers would comply with federal immigration officials only in cases of serious charges or convictions and only when the federal government agreed to reimburse the county for holding an offender in jail for more than two days. Longer detention while awaiting deportation was costing local taxpayers, Miami-Dade officials said.

The move put the county on a list of sanctuaries in a 2016 Justice Department report. Gimenez contested the designation, and then on January 26, a day after Trump announced he would strip federal funding from sanctuary cities, Gimenez sent a memo instructing the corrections director to honor all immigration detainer requests.

No active pursuit

Gimenez defended his decision on local TV and said the county’s police were not actively chasing suspects in the U.S. illegally or asking for their immigration status — they were only agreeing to hold people flagged by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“I’m an immigrant. I believe in comprehensive immigration reform. I believe that the vast majority of undocumented immigrants in our county are law-abiding citizens — never had a run-in with Miami-Dade police,” Gimenez said.

He acknowledged that immigration authorities had already requested 27 people be held during the first week of the order, and, reading from his smartphone, said they were wanted on charges including murder, domestic violence, petty theft and drug trafficking. County officials later said an additional seven immigrants had been arrested as of February 9, bringing the total to 34.

Marina, a 34-year-old Mexican woman who arrived in Homestead in 1999, said she wished the mayor would recognize the contribution migrants make to the region’s agriculture and construction industries and protect families like hers.

“All of us,” she said, “We are Latinos.”

Pope: Migration Isn’t a Danger, It’s a Challenge for Growth

Pope Francis, who was reunited Friday with one of the Syrian refugees he brought home with him from Lesbos, Greece, said migrants don’t pose a danger to Europe’s culture but rather a challenge for societies to grow.

Francis made the comments during a visit to the Roma Tre University, one of the main public universities in the Italian capital. There, he met with Nour Essa, who along with her husband and child flew back to Rome with the pope after his April 16, 2016, trip to Lesbos.

Since then, Essa has won a government scholarship to finish her biology studies at Roma Tre and has become something of an activist for refugee rights in her new country.

During a question-and-answer session in a courtyard at the university, Essa asked Francis about fears expressed by many Europeans that Syrians and Iraqi migrants threaten Europe’s Christian culture.

Francis responded by noting that his native Argentina is a country of immigrants, and that ending wars and poverty would trim migration flows.

“Migration isn’t a danger, it’s a challenge to grow,” he said, adding that European countries must not only welcome migrants but integrate them into society.

“They bring to us a culture, a culture that is rich for us. And also they have to receive our culture and there has to be an exchange of cultures,” he said. “Respect. And this removes fear.”

Essa and her family fled to Lesbos from Syria and lived in a refugee camp for a month until Francis visited. After meeting with refugees, Francis flew back to Rome with three Syrian families, all of them Muslim, in a tangible sign of solidarity.

“Our lives changed in a day thanks to you,” Essa told Francis on Friday.

The Sant’Egidio community, a Catholic charity, took responsibility for settling the dozen refugees, getting the children enrolled in school and finding housing, jobs and language classes for the parents.

Essa recently was on hand at Rome’s airport to welcome a group of 41 Syrian refugees brought to Italy by a joint program of Sant’Egidio and a Protestant church that organizes “humanitarian corridors” for migrants to legally migrate to Europe. There, Essa told reporters that refugees aren’t terrorists. “We are refugees fleeing from war,” she said.

During Friday’s event, Essa and Francis chatted warmly with one another. She smiled when Francis recalled that in Lesbos the refugee families — already aboard his plane for the trip to Rome — didn’t want to come back down the stairs to the tarmac to bid a formal farewell to Greek authorities who had accompanied Francis to his aircraft.

“They didn’t want to get off,” Francis said. “They were afraid they’d have to stay.”

Spain’s Princess Cristina Not Guilty in Tax Fraud Case

Spain’s Princess Cristina was found not guilty in a tax fraud case Friday, while her husband was convicted and sentenced to more than six years in prison.

A panel of judges ruled that Cristina, the sister of King Felipe VI, will be required to pay nearly 265,000 euros (more than $280,000) in fines because the court considers that she indirectly benefited from the fraud.

Her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, was found guilty of evading taxes, fraud and various other charges. He was sentenced to six years and three months in prison in a decision that can be appealed to the Supreme Court.

The trial centered on accusations that Urdangarin used his former title, Duke of Palma, to embezzle about 6 million euros ($6.6 million) in public funds for the nonprofit Noos Institute.

The institute organized conferences and sports-related events and was run with a partner, Diego Torres, who was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in jail in Friday’s ruling by a provincial court in Palma de Mallorca, in the Balearic Islands.

Among the companies they used was Aizoon, a real estate consulting company jointly owned by Cristina and Urdangarin.

A lawyer with Cristina’s defense team, Miquel Roca, said that the princess was “satisfied for the acknowledgement of her innocence” but that she was still convinced that her husband wasn’t guilty.

“If we believed in the judicial system when the princess was made to sit in the dock, I think citizens can trust in it when she’s absolved,” Roca told reporters in Barcelona.

A spokesman for the Royal House told Spanish media that the royal family respected the court’s decision.

There was no immediate comment from Felipe and Queen Letizia, who received news of the ruling during a visit to a museum in Madrid with the Hungarian president.

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