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State Department Recap: October 13-20

Here’s a look at what U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top diplomats have been doing this week:

US-South America

Promoting democracy and managing migration are the focus of Blinken’s first trip to Ecuador and Colombia from October 19 to 21 as top U.S. diplomat. During a speech Wednesday in Quito, Blinken outlined challenges facing democracies in the Western Hemisphere but said he was optimistic they could be overcome.

Venezuela also looms large as the U.S. calls for political talks to resume between the Venezuelan government and the country’s opposition. U.S. officials this week discussed ways to tackle irregular migration, as Colombia hosts nearly 2 million Venezuelan migrants, and Ecuador also hosts a large number of migrants from Venezuela.

China also came up during Blinken’s South American trip. Ecuadorian officials described Beijing as “a commercial partner,” with Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso saying he wanted to secure a trade deal with China. Blinken told his Ecuadorian counterpart the U.S. was not asking countries to choose between Washington and Beijing, but he warned of risks of doing business with Chinese companies, saying “there really is no division between purportedly private enterprises and the state.”

US ‘One China’ Policy

Nicholas Burns, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to China, took a tough line on dealings with China during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday. Burns said the U.S. was right to continue its “one-China policy” but that Washington was also right to oppose China’s unilateral actions that undermine the status quo and undermine the stability of the region. Noticeably, Burns used the wordings of Washington’s so-called one-China “policy,” which is different from Beijing’s one-China “principle.” The U.S. has “acknowledged” but has never endorsed the Chinese Communist Party’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan.

Colin Powell’s legacy

Colin Powell, the first Black U.S. secretary of state and a top military officer, died Monday at age 84 from complications due to COVID-19 while battling multiple myeloma.

He is being remembered by America’s foreign service work force, who say Powell was devoted to ensuring the State Department was properly resourced, consulted and respected.

Powell, who shaped lasting U.S. policies toward Africa, also is being remembered on the continent for peacemaking, supporting the fight against AIDS and sounding the alarm against war abuses.

US-Haiti

Haitian protesters took to the streets this week to demand the release of 17 missionaries — 16 Americans and 1 Canadian — kidnapped on October 16 by the 400 Mawozo gang. An interagency team dispatched by the U.S. government is working closely with Haitian authorities to try to recover the missionaries. The State Department has raised its travel advisory for Haiti to Level 4: Do Not Travel.

Top US envoy to afghanistan steps down

The U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, stepped down from his post this week, less than two months after the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Blinken announced Khalilzad’s departure in a statement Monday, saying the envoy would be replaced by his deputy, Thomas West. Talk of Khalilzad’s resignation had emerged since August after the Afghan Security Forces collapsed and the Taliban rapidly took control over the war-torn country.

Tigray violence

The U.S. remains gravely concerned by escalating violence in Tigray. 

Forces in Ethiopia’s Tigray region said Monday that the Ethiopian government had launched airstrikes on the regional capital, Mekelle. The United States also was looking into the reported attack, with State Department spokesperson Ned Price saying the U.S. remained “gravely concerned by what has been escalating violence in Tigray for some time.”

China missile test

Top U.S. officials said Washington was paying close attention to China’s efforts to build up its military arsenal, amid reports Beijing took a major step forward two months ago by testing a hypersonic missile. Monday, the State Department said the U.S. was “deeply concerned” about the rapid expansion of China’s nuclear capabilities, which is deviating from Beijing’s decades-long nuclear strategy based on minimum deterrence.

Iran nuclear deal

Efforts to get Tehran to return to the terms of the Iran nuclear deal are in danger of falling short, forcing the United States and its allies to consider nondiplomatic options to contain the threat, according to top U.S. officials.

Jerusalem consulate

The United States will move ahead with its plan to reopen the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem as Washington restores ties with the Palestinians and commits to a two-state solution. “As I said in May, we’ll be moving forward with the process of opening a consulate as part of deepening those ties with the Palestinians,” Blinken said during a Wednesday press conference. But he stopped short of providing a timeline.

 

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Regional Powers Back Aid for Afghanistan, Press Taliban on Inclusivity

An international Russia-hosted meeting Wednesday pressed the Taliban to form a “truly inclusive” government in Afghanistan and called for the United Nations to convene a donor conference as soon as possible to help avert a humanitarian catastrophe facing the war-torn country.

The huddle, known as the Moscow format consultations on Afghanistan, was held with the participation of leaders of the interim Taliban government and senior officials from Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, India, as well as five formerly Soviet Central Asian states.

“Participating countries call on the current Afghan leadership to take further steps to improve governance and to form a truly inclusive government that adequately reflects the interests of all major ethno-political forces in the country,” said a post-meeting joint statement.

The delegates expressed “deep concern” over the deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, stressing the need for the international community to mobilize efforts to provide assistance to the Afghan people.

Participants proposed to convene the U.N.-led donor conference “certainly with the understanding that the core burden of post-conflict economic and financial reconstruction and development of Afghanistan must be shouldered by troop-based actors which were in the country for the past 20 years.”

The statement pointedly referred to the United States and Western allied troops, whose abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years paved the way for the Taliban to regain control of the country in August. 

Washington also was invited to the Moscow talks, but U.S. officials cited technical reasons for not attending, though they promised to join future rounds.

While the West and world in general have refused to give official recognition to the Taliban government, Wednesday’s joint statement recognized the “new reality” of the fundamentalist group’s return to power in Kabul.

Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov while opening the meeting lauded the Taliban government’s efforts to improve the security and political situation. 

“[However], we see the formula for its successful solution mainly in the formation of a truly inclusive government, which should fully reflect the interests of all, not only ethnic, but also political forces of the country,” Lavrov said.

The head of the Taliban delegation, Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi, while addressing the meeting, renewed a call for the global community to recognize the new government in Kabul and again demanded the United States unfreeze about $10 billon in Afghan central bank in foreign reserves.

Hanafi defended his interim government as “already inclusive” and said they would not accept any deal under pressure and cautioned against “isolating” Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s return to power has raised concerns whether they will protect human rights of Afghans and whether they will prevent the country from becoming a terror sanctuary. The worries stem from the Islamist movement’s rule in the 1990s, when it hosted leaders of the al-Qaida network and barred women from public life and girls from receiving an education. 

The Taliban have dismissed those fears, saying they have opened government offices for both male and female staff to return to work and girls are gradually being allowed to resume education activities. 

But the hardline group is already under fire for reneging on some of its pledges to protect human rights and is being accused of persecuting members of the ousted Afghan government.

“I would like to remind you all that the people of Afghanistan have no intention of harming any country or nation in the world,” Hanafi assured Wednesday’s meeting. He said the Taliban government “stands ready to address all the concerns of the international community with complete clarity, transparency and openness.”

Hanafi’s speech to the meeting in the Russian capital came a day after Deputy U.S. Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said he sees no situation where the Taliban would be allowed access to its funds in the U.S. reserves.

“We believe that it’s essential that we maintain our sanctions against the Taliban but at the same time find ways for legitimate humanitarian assistance to get to the Afghan people. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” Adeyemo told the Senate Banking Committee.

The U.S. and other Western countries are working out how to engage with the Taliban without giving them the legitimacy they seek, while facilitating the flow of humanitarian aid to Afghans.

Adeyemo said the Treasury was taking every step it could within its sanctions program to make clear to humanitarian groups that Washington wants to facilitate the flow of aid into Afghanistan.

Russia says its diplomatic offensive to garner support for Kabul stems from concerns that continued instability would encourage terrorist groups to threaten the security of Afghanistan’s neighbors and the wider region. 

Lavrov highlighted those fears while opening Wednesday’s meeting and urged the Taliban to deliver on their pledge to prevent terrorist groups from threatening Russia’s “friends and allies.”

The Afghan branch of Islamist State, known as IS-Khorasan, has in recent weeks carried out dozens of bomb attacks, killing and injuring hundreds of people across Afghanistan, most of them civilians.

The violence is of major concern to neighboring countries and is raising questions about the Taliban’s ability to counter the growing terror threat.

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Кандидат у нардепи супроводжував Зеленського на Черкащині – «Опора» вбачає застосування адмінресурсу

За словами самого президента, поїздка до Черкаської області планувалася давно, але відкладалася через карантинні обмеження

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Росія: силовики прийшли до активістки, яка виступила на захист кримських татар

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Глава ОБСЄ закликала розблокувати роботу місії на Донбасі

У повідомленні згадується про блокування роботи місії у контрольованому бойовиками Донецьку

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‘Rivers of Lava’ Still Flowing From La Palma Volcano

Spanish government geologists on Wednesday said the Cumbre Vieja on the Spanish island of La Palma is continuing to violently erupt with no signs of stopping or even slowing down. 

The geologist took video of huge pyroclastic blocks floating along a river of lava flowing from the volcano’s northern zone. Meanwhile, video filmed by the Volcanology Institute of the Canaries (INVOLCAN) showed the lava flows moving into the town of La Laguna approaching a gas station.

Officials say the station had been emptied of fuel and water in recent days in advance of the approaching flow.

Streams of red-hot lava have engulfed almost 800 hectares of land, destroying about 2,000 buildings and many banana plantations.

The volcano on one of the Canary Islands off northwest Africa has so far destroyed more than 1,800 buildings, mostly homes. Some 7,000 people have had to leave their homes.

The prompt evacuations have helped avoid casualties on the island of some 85,000 people. Scientists have seen no indication that the eruption is slowing, as rivers of lava continue flowing toward the sea.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press and Reuters.

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Biden Travels to Birthplace to Promote Spending Agenda

President Joe Biden is traveling to Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday, using his birthplace as a backdrop to push for his infrastructure and social spending bills currently stalled in Congress due to disagreement among lawmakers in his own Democratic Party.

Biden was scheduled to deliver remarks at Scranton’s Electric City Trolley Museum. The city earned its “Electric City” nickname as the home to one of the country’s first electric trolley lines in the late 1880s. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday the president will talk about growing up there until age 10 and how his plan will benefit the working class in cities like Scranton.

While both are domestic legislative priorities, Biden often touts the infrastructure and the social spending bills — which include provisions for climate change mitigation — in the context of maintaining America’s global competitive edge. The White House said he will focus on how provisions in the legislation would allow the country to better compete with China, which already has at least 35,405 kilometers of high-speed rail and is planning to double that by 2035.

During a visit to Hartford, Connecticut, last week, Biden pushed for his social spending bill, which includes more government investment in child care. 

“How can we compete in the world if millions of American parents, especially moms, can’t be part of the workforce because they can’t afford the cost of child care or elder care?” he asked at a child development center.

Lower price tag

On Tuesday, in hope of reaching a compromise, Biden hosted two wings of his political party at the White House. To secure the support of moderate Democrats, the bill’s top line is likely to end up between $1.9 trillion and $2.2 trillion, down from Biden’s original $3.5 trillion plan strongly supported by progressives.

Biden needs the votes of all 50 Democrats to pass the bill in the Senate in a budget procedure known as reconciliation, but moderate Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema say the price tag is too high.

This is the first time Biden has returned to Scranton since taking office. As a presidential candidate he chose his home town of 550,000 to advance the idea of “Scranton vs. Wall Street,” pledging that his administration would shift the economic advantage from wealthy investors back to average Americans.

Some information for this report comes from Reuters. 

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У Білорусі відсторонили від роботи адвоката Віктора Бабарика та Максима Знака

Пильченко був четвертим адвокатом колишнього кандидата в президенти Білорусі і ексглави «Белгазпромбанка» Віктора Бабарика