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Зеленський обговорив із Джонсоном вивезення українських військових з «Азовсталь»

«Роблю все, щоб найвпливовіші міжнародні сили були поінформовані та, наскільки це можливо, залучені до порятунку наших військових»

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Russian Artists Flee Country Amid Brutal Clampdown on Opposition to Ukraine War

Amid a severe clampdown on political opposition and civil society in Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, thousands of people have fled the country – including many artists, whose work is often critical of President Vladimir Putin. Some of those artists are now in Finland, as Henry Ridgwell reports from Helsinki.

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Російські війська не змогли перерізати трасу на Бахмут – Кириленко

Один із населених пунктів, із якого рухалися російські війська, звільнений, додав голова області

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Київ вимагає від німецького телеканалу виправити мапу з «російським» Кримом

Як заявили в Представництві президента АРК, мапа може трактуватися як «визнання на міжнародному рівні незаконної окупації та спроби анексії» Криму

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Oklahoma Passes US’s Most Restrictive Abortion Ban

Oklahoma’s Legislature gave final approval Thursday to another Texas-style anti-abortion bill that providers say will be the most restrictive in the nation once the governor signs it.

The bill is part of an aggressive push in Republican-governed states across the country to scale back abortion rights. It comes on the heels of a leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that suggests justices are considering weakening or overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nearly 50 years ago.

The bill by Republican Rep. Wendi Stearman would prohibit all abortions, except to save the life of a pregnant woman or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest that has been reported to law enforcement.

“Is our goal to defend the right to life or isn’t it?” Stearman asked her colleagues before the bill passed on a 73-16 vote mostly along party lines.

The bill is one of at least three anti-abortion bills sent this year to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has indicated he’ll sign it. Another Texas-style abortion bill that prohibits the procedure after cardiac activity can be detected in the embryo, which experts say is about six weeks, has taken effect and has dramatically curtailed the practice in Oklahoma. Another bill set to take effect this summer would make it a felony to perform an abortion, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. That bill contains no exceptions for rape or incest.

“At this point, we are preparing for the most restrictive environment politicians can create: a complete ban on abortion with likely no exceptions,” said Emily Wales, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which stopped providing abortions at two of its Oklahoma clinics after the six-week ban took effect earlier this month.

Like the Texas law, the Oklahoma bill would allow private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion.

There are legal challenges pending in Oklahoma to both the bill to criminalize abortion and the six-week Texas ban, but the courts have so far failed to stop either measure.

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Russia: 1,730 Ukrainian Troops Have Surrendered in Mariupol

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Thursday hundreds more Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered at the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, bringing the total this week to 1,730. 

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement it was registering fighters who left Azovstal, an operation that began Tuesday and was continuing Thursday. 

“The ICRC is not transporting POWs to the places where they are held,” the aid group said. “The registration process that the ICRC facilitated involves the individual filling out a form with personal details like name, date of birth and closest relative. This information allows the ICRC to track those who have been captured and help them keep in touch with their families.”

Ukrainian officials have not confirmed the Russian account of the number of Ukrainian fighters who have surrendered at the last holdout in Mariupol. Ukraine has expressed hopes that the soldiers can be part of a prisoner swap with Russia, while Russia’s main investigative body said it intends to interrogate them and determine if any were involved in crimes against civilians. 

The capture of Mariupol, a prewar city of 430,000 people along the north coast of the Sea of Azov, would be Moscow’s biggest success in its nearly three-month offensive against Ukraine. 

With Russian forces focusing efforts on the eastern Donbas region, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who was involved in several rounds of talks with Russia, said Thursday that agreeing to a cease-fire with Russia “is impossible without total Russian troop withdrawal.”

“Until Russia is ready to fully liberate occupied territories, our negotiating team is weapons, sanctions and money,” Podolyak said in a Twitter post.

A senior U.S. Defense Department official said Thursday there have been no major gains by either Russia or Ukraine in the last day, although Ukrainian forces “continue to claw back territory” north and northeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second biggest city.

The official did not dispute a British intelligence assessment that top Russian military commanders have been fired.

“We have seen indications where Russian commanders at various levels have been relieved of their duties,” the U.S. official said, adding that the U.S. had nothing to share about “senior, senior levels” of the Russian command.

Russian logistical and troop morale issues are continuing, the official said. 

Ukraine on Thursday welcomed the confirmation of a new U.S. ambassador. The U.S. Senate gave its approval to Bridget Brink, a veteran foreign service officer who had been the U.S. ambassador to Slovakia.

The ambassador post in Ukraine had been vacant since 2019 when then-President Donald Trump forced out Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. 

Brink’s confirmation came as the United States also resumed operations at its embassy in Kyiv, joining other nations that have returned since Russian forces withdrew from the area around the Ukrainian capital. 

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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У Сєвєродонецьку через російські обстріли 12 людей загинули, понад 40 поранені – ОВА

«Дані щодо загиблих та постраждалих ще уточнюються, адже обстежити територію під обстрілами неможливо»

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ЗСУ звільнили 23 населені пункти Харківщини з 5 травня – Генштаб

«Противник посилив вогневий вплив, намагається стримати наступ наших військ і вихід до державного кордону України»

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Buffalo Shooting Suspect to Appear in Court

The 18-year-old suspect in the Buffalo, New York, grocery store mass shooting is expected to make a second court appearance Thursday.

Payton Gendron is charged with killing 10 people and wounded three others last Saturday at a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Eleven of those shot were Black.

The FBI is investigating the attack as a hate crime. U.S. President Joe Biden visited the scene Tuesday.

Investigators are studying a racist 180-page document, purportedly written by Gendron, that said the assault was intended to terrorize all non-white, non-Christian people and get them to leave the United States.

In his first court appearance, Gendron’s court-appointed lawyer entered a plea of “not guilty” on his behalf. The Washington Post reports New York law gives a defendant held after a felony arrest the right to a hearing unless he is indicted quickly, generally within five days.

If prosecutors from the Erie County District Attorney’s Office report Thursday that a grand jury has already indicted Gendron, no hearing will be necessary. If not, the judge may hear evidence to decide whether Gendron can remain in the county lockup, where he has been held without bail since his arraignment hours after the shooting.

Some information in this report was provided by the Associated Press.

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Журналісти знайшли нового зятя Путіна: це – балетмейстер Зеленський

Він – колишній художній керівник Баварського державного балету та народний артист Росії

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US Senate to Vote on Ukraine Aid

The U.S. Senate is set to vote Thursday on a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine.

The measure includes money for military equipment, training and weapons for Ukraine, replenishing stocks of U.S. equipment sent to Ukraine and financing to help other countries that aid Ukraine.

It also includes billions of dollars in humanitarian aid, including helping money to address global food shortages caused by the conflict.

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly gave its approval to the package last week.

If the Senate approves the measure, it will go to President Joe Biden for his signature. 

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Червоний Хрест заявляє про реєстрацію військовополонених з «Азовсталі»

В організації стверджують, що це дозволяє допомагати військовим підтримувати зв’язок зі своїми сім’ями

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Через вчорашні обстріли Лиману на Донеччині загинули 7 людей – ОГП

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US Spy Agencies Urged to Fix Open Secret: A Lack of Diversity

The peril National Security Agency staff wanted to discuss with their director didn’t involve terrorists or enemy nations. It was something closer to home: the racism and cultural misunderstandings inside America’s largest intelligence service.

The NSA and other intelligence agencies held calls for their staff shortly after the death of George Floyd. As Gen. Paul Nakasone listened, one person described how they would try to speak up in meetings only to have the rest of the group keep talking over them. Another person, a Black man, spoke about how he had been counseled that his voice was too loud and intimidated coworkers. A third described how a coworker addressed them with a racist slur.

The national reckoning over racial inequality sparked by Floyd’s murder two years ago has gone on behind closed doors inside America’s intelligence agencies. Publicly available data, published studies of its diversity programs, and interviews with retired officers indicate spy agencies have not lived up to years of commitments made by their top leaders, who often say diversity is a national security imperative.

People of color remain underrepresented across the intelligence community and are less likely to be promoted. Retired officers who spoke to The Associated Press described examples of explicit and implicit bias. People who had served on promotion boards noted non-native English speakers applying for new jobs would sometimes be criticized for being hard to understand — what one person called the “accent card.” Some say they believe minorities are funneled into working on countries or regions based on their ethnicity.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, the first woman to serve in her role, has appointed diversity officials who say they need to collect better data to study longstanding questions, from whether the process for obtaining a security clearance disadvantages people of color to the reasons for disparities in advancement. Agencies are also implementing reforms they say will promote diversity.

“It’s going to be incremental,” said Stephanie La Rue, who was appointed this year to lead the intelligence community’s efforts on diversity, equity and inclusion. “We’re not going to see immediate change overnight. It’s going to take us a while to get to where we need to go.”

The NSA call following Floyd’s death was described by a participant who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private discussion. The person credited Nakasone for listening to employees and making public and private commitments to diversity. But the person and other former officials said they sometimes felt that their identities as people of color were discounted or not fully appreciated by their employers.

The NSA declined to comment on the call. It said in a statement that agency officials “regularly examine the outcomes of our personnel systems to assess their fairness.”

“Beyond the mission imperative, NSA cultivates diversity and promotes inclusion because we care about our people and know it is the right way to proceed,” the statement said.

A former NSA contractor alleged this year that racist and misogynistic comments often circulate on classified chatrooms intended for intelligence work. The contractor, Dan Gilmore, wrote in a blog post that he was fired for reporting his complaints to higher-ups. A spokesperson for Haines, Nicole de Haay, declined to comment on Gilmore’s allegations but said employees who “engage in inappropriate conduct are subject to a variety of accountability mechanisms, including disciplinary action.”

The U.S. intelligence community has evolved over decades from being almost exclusively run by white men — following a stereotype that Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat, referred to in a hearing on diversity last year as “pale, male, Yale.” Intelligence agencies that once denied security clearances to people suspected of being gay now have active resource groups for people of different races and sexual orientation.

Testifying at the same hearing as Himes, CIA Director William Burns said, “Simply put, we can’t be effective and we’re not being true to our nation’s ideals if everyone looks like me, talks like me, and thinks like me.”

But annual charts published by the Office of Director of National Intelligence show a consistent trend: At rising levels of rank, minority representation goes down.

Latinos make up about 18% of the American population but just 7% of the roughly 100,000-person intelligence community and 3.5% of senior officers. Black officers comprise 12% of the community — the same as the U.S. population — but 6.5% at the most senior level. And while minorities comprise 27% of the total intelligence workforce, just 15% of senior executives are people of color.

A 2015 report commissioned by the CIA said the “underrepresentation of racial/ethnic minority officers and officers with a disability at the senior ranks is not a recent problem and speaks to unresolved cultural, organizational, and unconscious bias issues.” Among the report’s findings: Progress made between 1984 and 2004 in promoting Black officers to senior roles had been lost in the following decade and recruitment efforts at historically Black colleges and universities “have not been effective.”

“Since its founding, the Agency has been unmistakably weak in promoting diverse role models to the executive level,” the report said.

Lenora Peters Gant, a former senior human capital officer for the CIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, wrote last year that the intelligence community constantly imposes barriers on minorities, women and people with disabilities. Gant, now an adviser at Howard University, called on agencies to release some of their classified data on hiring and retention.

“The bottom line is the decision making leadership levels are void of credible minority participation,” Gant said.

ODNI is starting an investigation of the slowest 10% of security clearance applications, reviewing delays in the cases for any possible examples of bias. It also intends to review whether polygraph examiners need additional race and ethnicity training.

The intelligence community currently doesn’t report delays in getting a security clearance — required for most agency jobs — based on race, ethnicity or gender. The months or years a clearance can take can push away applicants who can’t wait that long.

The office is implementing annual grant monitoring and assigning additional staff to work with universities in the intelligence community’s Centers for Academic Excellence program, intended to recruit college students from underrepresented groups. A 2019 audit said it was impossible to judge the program due to poor planning and a lack of clear goals.

The program also got a new logo after ODNI officials heard that the previous “IC CAE” insignia appeared to spell out “ICE,” an unintended reference to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Additional quiet changes are taking place across the agencies. Officials say the changes were in process before Floyd’s death, though conversations held with employees brought new urgency to diversity issues.

The NSA stopped requiring applicants for internal promotions to disclose the date they were last promoted to the boards considering their application. Officials familiar with the change say it was intended to benefit applicants who take longer to move up the agency ladder, often including working parents or people from underrepresented communities.

The CIA two years ago formally tied yearly bonuses for its senior executives to their performance on diversity goals, measured next to factors such as leadership and intelligence tradecraft. Last year’s class of new senior executives was the most diverse in the agency’s history.

Said CIA spokesperson Tammy Thorp: “We are proud of the Agency’s progress in ensuring our hiring, assignment, and promotion processes do not create barriers to advancement.”

La Rue, the chief diversity officer for the intelligence community, has hired several data analysts and plans for her office to issue annual report cards on diversity for each intelligence agency. She acknowledges advocates have to break through enduring skepticism inside and outside government that diversity goals undermine the intelligence mission or require lower standards.

“The narrative that we have to sacrifice excellence for diversity, or that we are somehow compromising national security to achieve our diversity goals, is ridiculous,” she said.

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День вишиванки в Україні: вітання від Зеленського, Kalush Orchestra і Патрон у вишиванці

У Міністерстві оборони наголосили, що «Українська держава зшита міцною ниткою любові й поваги»

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North Korea Looms as Biden Makes First Asia Trip

Although U.S. foreign policy during the first part of Joe Biden’s presidency has focused more on issues such as a rising China and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden this week will be confronted by another nagging foreign policy issue, a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Biden, who departs Friday for his first trip to Asia as president, may be welcomed by a major North Korean weapons test, according to U.S. and South Korean officials.

U.S. intelligence reflects the “genuine possibility” that North Korea will conduct either a long-range missile launch or a nuclear test, or possibly both, in the days surrounding or during Biden’s Asia trip, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Wednesday.

“We are preparing for all contingencies, including the possibility that such a provocation would occur while we are in Korea or in Japan,” Sullivan said in a briefing.

Much of Biden’s five-day trip is expected to focus on China, where he will work to reassure allies who have questioned long-term U.S. commitment to the region.

During the trip, Biden is expected to launch the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a long-awaited economic initiative meant to increase U.S. involvement in Asia.

In Tokyo, Biden will hold a meeting of the Quad, a four-country grouping made up of the United States, Japan, India, and Australia – democracies that have a strong interest in containing China’s rise.

In Seoul, Biden will meet South Korea’s newly inaugurated president, Yoon Suk Yeol, who has vowed to take a tougher stance on China and who wants to expand cooperation with Washington on other global issues.

However, South Korean officials have warned for days that a major North Korean test may upend Biden’s agenda. South Korean and U.S. officials have come up with a “Plan B,” which may include altering Biden’s existing schedule in the event of a North Korean provocation, according to Kim Tae-hyo, South Korea’s first deputy national security adviser.

North Korea has often conducted major launches on or around visits to the region by U.S. presidents. Some analysts say such moves may be meant to attract U.S. diplomatic attention or increase North Korean leverage in potential nuclear negotiations.

North Korea has conducted a dizzying number of missile launches this year. In March, the North launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile in almost five years.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service believes North Korea has also completed preparations for what would be its seventh nuclear test and is currently determining the best time to conduct such an explosion, according to South Korean lawmakers quoted by the country’s Yonhap news agency.

Biden’s visit comes a week after North Korea first acknowledged it is struggling to contain the coronavirus and began reporting an explosion of “fever” cases, which are presumed to be COVID-19-related.

On Thursday, North Korean state media reported 262,270 new fever cases, and one additional death. Over the past week, North Korean officials say nearly 2 million people have been hit by the fever outbreak, including 63 people who have died.

However, analysts are skeptical about North Korean pandemic data, saying Pyongyang may be hiding the true extent of the outbreak for political reasons or may not have the supplies to sufficiently track the virus’ spread.

Medical experts have long warned a coronavirus outbreak could devastate impoverished North Korea, whose dilapidated health care system focuses mainly on the well-being of the elite in richer parts of the country.

Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department expressed support for providing COVID-19 vaccines and other pandemic help to North Korea.

Despite its dire pandemic situation, North Korea may not be any more likely than before to accept outside help, analysts warn.

“Just because North Korea has confirmed infections doesn’t mean it will come hat in hand to the international community,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Seoul’s Ewha University. Instead, North Korea may continue major weapons tests to “avoid showing weakness,” Easley said.

“Such gratuitous launches also reinforce how difficult it will be to reach the North Korean people,” he added.

North Korea has rejected or ignored multiple offers of COVID-19 assistance, including shipments of vaccines from COVAX, the United Nations-backed vaccine sharing mechanism.

North Korea and Eritrea are the world’s only two countries yet to begin mass coronavirus vaccinations, according to the World Health Organization.

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Monkeypox Spreads in Europe; US Reports Its First Case

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Wednesday said it had confirmed a single case of monkeypox virus infection in a man who had recently traveled to Canada.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said its labs confirmed the infection to be monkeypox on Wednesday afternoon.

The state agency said it was working with CDC and relevant local boards of health to carry out contact tracing, adding that “the case poses no risk to the public, and the individual is hospitalized and in good condition.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada late on Wednesday issued a statement saying it is aware of the monkeypox cases in Europe and is closely monitoring the current situation, adding no cases have been reported at this time.

Monkeypox, which mostly occurs in west and central Africa, is a rare viral infection similar to human smallpox, though milder. It was first recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1970s. The number of cases in West Africa has increased in the last decade.

Symptoms include fever, headaches and skin rashes starting on the face and spreading to the rest of the body.

The Massachusetts agency said the virus does not spread easily between people, but transmission can occur through contact with body fluids, monkeypox sores, items such as bedding or clothing that have been contaminated with fluids or sores, or through respiratory droplets following prolonged face-to-face contact.

It said no monkeypox cases had previously been identified in the United States this year. Texas and Maryland each reported a case in 2021 in people with recent travel to Nigeria.

The CDC also said it is tracking multiple clusters of monkeypox reported in several countries including Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom, within the past two weeks.

A handful of cases of monkeypox have recently been reported or are suspected in the United Kingdom, Portugal and Spain.

Earlier on Wednesday, Portuguese authorities said they had identified five cases of the infection and Spain’s health services said they were testing 23 potential cases after Britain put Europe on alert for the virus.

European health authorities are monitoring any outbreak of the disease since Britain reported its first case on May 7 and has found six more in the country since then.

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US Warns North Korea Could Greet Biden With Nuclear, Missile Tests

U.S. intelligence shows there could be a North Korean nuclear test, or a long-range missile test, or both, before, during or after President Joe Biden’s trip to South Korea and Japan starting this week, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Wednesday.

The White House said Biden would not visit the Demilitarized Zone that divides North and South Korea during his visit to South Korea, which begins Friday, having said last week he was considering such a trip.

“Our intelligence does reflect a genuine possibility that there will be either a further missile test, including long-range missile test, or a nuclear test, or frankly both, in the days leading into, on or after the president’s trip to the region,” Sullivan told a White House briefing.

“We are preparing for all contingencies,” he said.

Sullivan said that the United States was coordinating closely with South Korea and Japan and that he had also discussed North Korea with a senior Chinese diplomat in a phone call Wednesday.

Biden’s trip, which is to run through Tuesday, will be his first to Asia as president. It will include his first summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who took office May 10 and has vowed to take a harder line against North Korean “provocations.”

Sullivan said the United States was prepared to make both short- and longer-term adjustments to its military posture as necessary “to ensure that we are providing both defense and deterrence to our allies in the region and that we’re responding to any North Korean provocation.”

Earlier, U.S. and South Korean officials said North Korea appeared to be preparing to test an intercontinental ballistic missile ahead of Biden’s trip to South Korea, even as it battled a big COVID-19 outbreak.

South Korean deputy national security adviser Kim Tae-hyo said such a test appeared imminent and a U.S. official said it could happen as soon as Thursday or Friday.

Kim Tae-hyo said a “Plan B” had been prepared in the event of a small or large North Korean “provocation,” which could involve altering the summit schedule.

A weapons test could overshadow Biden’s broader trip focus on China, trade and other regional issues, and underscore the lack of progress in denuclearization talks with North Korea, despite his administration’s vow to break the stalemate with practical approaches.

North Korea has conducted repeated missile tests since Biden took office last year and this year resumed launches of ICBMs for the first time since 2017. After each launch, Washington has urged North Korea to return to dialog, but to no response.

Meanwhile, U.S. efforts to encourage tougher international sanctions have met Russian and Chinese resistance.

Analysts say that while China’s view on sanctions might alter with another nuclear test, Russian support appeared unlikely after the campaign of U.S.-led sanctions over Moscow’s Ukraine intervention.

Yoon is expected to seek greater assurances from Biden that Washington will strengthen “extended deterrence” against North Korea — a reference to the U.S. nuclear weapons umbrella protecting its allies.

Yoon’s administration has asked Washington to station more nuclear-capable “strategic assets,” such as long-range bombers, submarines and aircraft carriers in the region.

Kim said the chances that North Korea would conduct a nuclear test this weekend appeared low, but if it staged any major provocation, such assets were ready to be mobilized.

A nuclear test could complicate international efforts to offer Pyongyang help to deal with its COVID crisis.

Yoon has offered to help North Korea with this issue, and analysts expect Biden to endorse this effort, even though his administration has said it has no plans to send vaccines directly to North Korea and Pyongyang has persistently refused help though the global vaccine initiative.

The World Health Organization is worried that the rising caseload and a lack of modern care for COVID-19 in North Korea could give rise to deadlier new variants. 

North Korea sent aircraft to China to pick up medical supplies days after it confirmed the outbreak, media reported Tuesday.

A new report by Washington’s Center for International and Strategic Studies said commercial satellite imagery showed work continuing at North Korea’s main nuclear site, where underground testing tunnels were shuttered in 2018 after leader Kim Jong Un declared a moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests.

He has since said he is no longer bound by that moratorium because of a lack of progress in talks with the United States. While North Korea has resumed ICBM testing, it has not tested a nuclear bomb since 2017.

North Korea has also resumed construction at a long-dormant nuclear reactor that would increase its production of plutonium for nuclear weapons by a factor of 10, researchers at the U.S.-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies reported last week, citing satellite imagery.

 

China talks

Earlier Wednesday, Sullivan discussed the possibility of North Korean nuclear or missile tests with China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, during a call focused on regional security issues and nonproliferation.

Sullivan did not provide further details about the call, but the White House said in a statement that he and Yang had discussed Russia’s war against Ukraine and “specific issues in U.S.-China relations.”

Sullivan and Yang last met in Rome in March, ahead of Biden’s call that month with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, during which the U.S. president warned Xi of consequences should Beijing offer material support for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

China has refused to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions and has criticized sweeping Western sanctions on Russia, but senior U.S. officials say they have not detected overt Chinese military and economic support for Russia.

The United States, India, Australia and Japan agreed in March that what is happening to Ukraine should not be allowed to happen in the Indo-Pacific, an oblique reference to the democratic island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory.

“If the U.S. side persists in playing the ‘Taiwan card’ and goes further down the wrong path, it will surely put the situation in serious jeopardy,” Xinhua cited Yang as telling Sullivan.

Yang added that China would take “firm actions” to safeguard its sovereignty and security interests, Xinhua said.

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Biden Invokes Defense Production Act for Infant Formula Shortage

President Joe Biden on Wednesday invoked the Defense Production Act to speed production of infant formula and authorized flights to import supply from overseas, as he faces mounting political pressure over a domestic shortage caused by the safety-related closure of the country’s largest formula manufacturing plant.

The Defense Production Act order requires suppliers of formula manufacturers to fulfill orders from those companies before other customers, in an effort to eliminate production bottlenecks. Biden is also authorizing the Defense Department to use commercial aircraft to fly formula supplies that meet federal standards from overseas to the U.S., in what the White House is calling “Operation Fly Formula.”

Supplies of baby formula across the country have been severely curtailed in recent weeks after a February recall by Abbott Nutrition exacerbated ongoing supply chain disruptions among formula makers, leaving fewer options on store shelves and increasingly anxious parents struggling to find nutrition for their children.

“I know parents across the country are worried about finding enough formula to feed their babies,” Biden said in a video statement released by the White House. “As a parent and as a grandparent, I know just how stressful that is.”

The announcement comes two days after the Food and Drug Administration said it was streamlining its review process to make it easier for foreign manufacturers to begin shipping more formula into the U.S.

In a letter Wednesday to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, Biden directed the agencies to work with the Pentagon to identify overseas supplies of formula that meet U.S. standards over the next week, so that chartered Defense Department flights can swiftly fly it to the U.S.

“Imports of baby formula will serve as a bridge to this ramped-up production,” Biden wrote.

Regulators said Monday that they’d reached a deal to allow Abbott Nutrition to restart its Sturgis, Michigan, plant, the nation’s largest formula plant, which has been closed since February because of contamination issues. The company must overhaul its safety protocols and procedures before resuming production.

After getting the FDA’s approval, Abbott said it will take eight to 10 weeks before new products begin arriving in stores. The company didn’t set a timeline to restart manufacturing.

“I’ve directed my team to do everything possible to ensure there’s enough safe baby formula and that it is quickly reaching families that need it the most,” Biden said in the statement, calling it “one of my top priorities.”

The White House actions come as the Democratic-led House is expected to approve two bills addressing the baby formula shortage as lawmakers look to show progress on what has become a frightening development for many families.

One bill expected to have wide bipartisan support would give the secretary of the Department of Agriculture the ability to issue a narrow set of waivers in the event of a supply disruption. The goal is to give participants in an assistance program commonly known as WIC the ability to use vouchers to purchase formula from any producer rather than be limited to one brand that may be unavailable. The WIC program accounts for about half of infant formula sales in the U.S.

The other measure, a $28 million emergency spending bill to boost resources at the Food and Drug Administration, is expected to have less bipartisan support and it’s unclear whether the Senate will take it up.

“This is throwing more FDA staff at a problem that needs more production, not more FDA staff,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Michigan.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the Democratic chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said the money would increase FDA staffing to boost inspections of domestic and international suppliers, prevent fraudulent products from getting onto store shelves and acquire better data on the marketplace.

Abbott’s voluntary recall was triggered by four illnesses reported in babies who had consumed powdered formula from its plant. All four infants were hospitalized with a rare type of bacterial infection and two died.

After a six-week inspection, FDA investigators published a list of problems in March, including lax safety and sanitary standards and a history of bacterial contamination in several parts of the plant. Under Monday’s agreement, Abbott must regularly consult with an outside safety expert to restart and maintain production.

Chicago-based Abbott has emphasized that its products have not been directly linked to the bacterial infections in children. Samples of the bacteria found at its plant did not match the strains collected from two babies by federal investigators.

But FDA officials pushed back on that reasoning Monday on a call with reporters — their first time publicly addressing the company’s argument. FDA staffers noted they were unable to collect bacterial strains from two of the four patients, limiting their chances of finding a match.

“Right from the get-go we were limited in our ability to determine with a causal link whether the product was linked to these four cases because we only had sequences on two,” FDA’s food director Susan Mayne said.

Posted by Worldkrap on

Latest Developments in Ukraine: May 19

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT:

 

12:30 a.m.: The U.S. Senate is set to vote Thursday on a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. 

The measure includes money for military equipment, training and weapons for Ukraine, replenishing stocks of U.S. equipment sent to Ukraine and financing to help other countries that aid Ukraine. 

It also includes billions of dollars in humanitarian aid, including helping to address global food shortages caused by the conflict.  The House of Representatives overwhelmingly gave its approval to the package last week. 

If the Senate approves the measure, it would go to President Joe Biden for his signature.