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Bolton Testimony Could Change Trump Impeachment Trial

The impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump resumed Monday amid reports of new evidence that could change Republican senators’ vote for witness testimony later this week. A New York Times report revealed former National Security Advisor John Bolton alleges Trump personally told him he conditioned aid to Ukraine on an investigation into his political rivals. VOA’s Congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson has more on the potential turning-point in the impeachment case.

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Trump and Israel’s Netanyahu Tout Middle East Peace ‘Deal of the Century’

U.S. President Donald Trump and visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are both touting the release Tuesday of a long-awaited Middle East peace plan as “the deal of the century.”  But Palestinians have already rejected it, saying the Trump administration is unfairly biased towards Israel, and are warning it could lead to new waves of resistance. VOA’s Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from the State Department.

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US Noncommittal on Keeping Troops in Africa

The United States is refusing to rule out shrinking the size of its military presence in Africa despite warnings that without Washington’s help, critical counterterror efforts could fall apart.French Defense Minister Florence Parly delivered the latest plea for continued U.S. involvement in the counterterror fight Monday during talks with top U.S. military officials at the Pentagon.But following the meeting, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Washington had to take into account other urgent priorities.”We are focused on great power competition, first with China, then Russia,” Esper told reporters. “My aim is to adjust our [military] footprint in many places. No decisions have been made.”French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speak during a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington, Jan. 27, 2020.France currently has about 4,500 troops in Africa, taking a lead role in countering terror groups linked to Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaida across the Sahel region.Earlier this month, in response to the death of 13 French soldiers during a combat mission in Mali late last year, France said it would send another 220 troops to the region.And France is not alone in sounding the alarm about the growth of terror groups on the Sahel.A increasing number of Western diplomats have warned that IS, in particular, is using the region to regroup following the loss of its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq.The concern has run so deep, that during an anti-IS coalition meeting hosted this past November in Washington, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that partner nations were already looking to West Africa and the Sahel as “a preferred, initial area of focus” outside of Syria and Iraq.“We agreed at the working level that West FILE – French President Emmanuel Macron visits French troops in Africa’s Sahel region in Gao, northern Mali, May 19, 2017.”There is a lot of collaboration in terms of logistics but also in terms of intelligence,” Niagale Bagayoko, a lead researcher and chair of the African Security Sector Network, told VOA. “That is one of the reasons why the French are presently eager to see the Americans to stay involved in the continent, in particular.”French officials have also emphasized that while they understand Washington’s desire to rebalance its forces across the world to better confront adversaries like China and Russia, they are not asking for a lot.”It’s a classic case of burden sharing where a limited U.S. support leverages an immesnse effort carried out by France and Europe,” Parly said Monday.Yet despite French officials expressing hope that “good sense” would prevail and that Washington would maintain its support for the French-led counterterror operations, U.S. defense officials have increasingly signaled such help may not be forthcoming.”France has reached out to other European allies. I think it’s time for other European allies to assist, as well, in the region,” Esper told reporters Monday. “That could offset whatever changes we make as we consider next steps in Africa.”VOA’s Salem Solomon contributed to this report.
 

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NTSB: Pilot of Kobe Bryant’s Helicopter Climbed to Avoid Cloud Layer

The pilot of the helicopter that crashed and killed basketball superstar Kobe Bryant apparently climbed to avoid a cloud layer just before slamming into a hillside, federal investigators say.Jennifer Homendy of the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday the copter was about 700 meters off the ground before it plunged more than 300 meters into the hills north of Los Angeles.Air traffic say the pilot’s message that he had to climb to avoid the clouds was the last thing they heard from the copter.Homendy says the debris field is “extensive.””A piece of the tail is down the hill, the fuselage is on the other side of that hill and the main rotor is about 91 meters beyond that,” she said, adding that everything is looked at during the investigation — the pilot, the aircraft, and the environment.Federal rules do not require helicopters to carry black boxes.People gather at a memorial for Kobe Bryant near Staples Center Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Los Angeles.Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine killed in Sunday’s crash that stunned the sports world and left fans and his fellow athletes speechless.The pilot also died along with Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli. The helicopter was heading to a youth basketball tournament in which Gianna Bryant was scheduled to play.Kobe Bryant was 41 years-old and will be remembered as one of the greatest professional basketball players ever to step onto the court. He played 20 years in the NBA, nearly all of it with the Los Angeles Lakers — wining five NBA championships and the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 2008. He is the fourth all-time leading scorer. LeBron James passed him for number three on the list just one day before the crash.Some of Bryant’s accomplishments include becoming the NBA’s youngest all-star in 1998, when he was only 19 years old; an 81-point game in 2006 – the second-highest of all time; and Olympic Gold medals in 2008 and 2012.

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EU Tells UK It Will ‘Never, Never, Never’ Compromise on Single Market

The European Union will “never, never, never” compromise on the integrity of its single market, its chief Brexit negotiator warned Britain on Monday, saying London must now face reality after underestimating the costs of leaving.Some British politicians have suggested Brussels might be flexible on its rules in order to protect trade flows in talks due to begin in the coming weeks after Britain’s formal exit from the bloc on Friday.But Michel Barnier, speaking in the British region of Northern Ireland widely seen as most at risk from Brexit, warned negative consequences were unavoidable.”There will be no compromise on the single market. Never, never, never,” Barnier told an audience at Queen’s University Belfast, describing the single market as the foundation of EU’s international influence.Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, speaks to the media at Government Buildings in Dublin, Ireland, Jan. 27, 2020.”Leaving the single market, leaving the customs union will have consequences. And what I saw … in the last year, is that many of these consequences have been underestimated in the UK,” he said. “Now we have to face the reality.”Hard choicesBarnier said that while Brussels was willing to be flexible and pragmatic in trade talks, Britain’s choices have made frictionless trade with the EU impossible.If no trade agreement is reached, Britain still faces the risk of a cliff-edge Brexit in 2021 when an 11-month status quote transition ends, he added.”If we have no agreement, it will not be business as usual and the status quo, we have to face the risk of a cliff edge, in particular for trade,” Barnier said.The EU has repeatedly said the level of access UK products can continue to enjoy will be proportionate to the commitments London makes on EU rules, particularly in relation to state aid.”It is not clear to me whether, when the UK leaves the EU and the Single Market, it will also choose to leave Europe’s societal and regulatory model. That is the key question, and we are waiting for an answer,” Barnier said.Northern IrelandIrish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar earlier Tuesday said there would have to be some checks on goods going from Britain into Northern Ireland, despite British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s repeated insistence that these will not be needed.Johnson’s willingness to allow some EU regulations to apply in Northern Ireland to prevent the need for a border on the island was the crucial concession he offered last year to obtain a withdrawal deal with the bloc.Barnier was asked repeatedly by journalists in Belfast whether trade talks could avoid the need to have checks, but he would only say the text of the withdrawal agreement that governs it was binding and could not be revisited.”The Withdrawal Agreement must be applied with rigor and discipline by all sides. It cannot be re-opened under the guise of implementation,” Barnier said. Implementation will be crucial in building trust for the trade talks, he added.Varadkar earlier on Monday told Britain’s BBC that the European Union would have the upper hand in trade talks, having the “stronger team” due to its larger population and market. Johnson’s aim of getting a deal by the end of 2020 “will be difficult,” Varadkar added.
 

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Britain’s Decision on Huawei Tests Special Relationship with US

This week Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heads to London as British officials weigh whether or not to allow Chinese telecom giant Huawei to take part in the country’s buildout of its 5G network.The British government is expected to make the decision Tuesday.  FILE – Signage is seen at the Huawei offices in Reading, Britain, May 2, 2019.A senior U.S. official said the two nations are having “very close” and “very vigorous conversations.” Another official said Britain has not told the U.S. about the final decision.  The U.S. says Huawei could provide China a “back door” for spying, a claim that Huawei rejects.  In a Friday phone call with Johnson, U.S. President Donald Trump told the British Prime Minister that giving Huawei the go-ahead would cause a major rift in transatlantic relations and jeopardize intelligence-sharing between Washington and London.U.S. officials have also voiced frustration with decisions by some European nations to grant Huawei some access in the roll-out of their 5G network.“They announced a toolkit that many of us consider to be inadequate,” a senior U.S. official said, referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “no-spy” pact from Huawei as she decided to allow the Chinese telecom company to take part in Germany’s 5G roll-out.Under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the U.S. Defense Secretary should brief Congressional defense committees by March 15 on the implementation of a plan for fifth generation information and communications technologies, including steps to work with U.S. allies and partners to protect critical networks and supply chains. 

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Europe Tour Boosts Venezuela’s Guaido in Struggle Against Maduro

Efforts by Venezuelan parliamentary leader Juan Guaido to garner European support to unseat president Nicolas Maduro revealed divisions among EU governments as the United States ramped up pressures on Venezuela last week.It was Guaido’s first European visit since he proclaimed himself Venezuela’s acting president a year ago with support from the United States and most Latin American countries, which have backed repeated uprisings that failed to gain support from Venezuela’s military.Nicolas Maduro’s leftist government has managed to remain in power with security assistance from Cuba, Russia and Iran, according to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who met with Guaido at an Anti-Terrorist Summit in Colombia from where he flew to Europe.While most EU member states have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president and denounced Maduro’s human rights violations, they have refrained from implementing the type of wider sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump who has left open the use of military force.A U.S. airborne unit has conducted joint exercises with Colombian forces along a border region with Venezuela over recent days, according to the Pentagon. Venezuela’s government claims to have intercepted a U.S. warship near its coast.Since leaving Venezuela, Guaido’s offices in Caracas have been raided and several of his top aides arrested by Venezuelan police officials, who accuse him of violating restrictions they imposed on his travel.The leader of Venezuela’s political opposition Juan Guaido addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 23, 2020.Guaido urged tougher measures against Maduro in personal meetings with European leaders and in an address to the annual world community conference in Davos, Switzerland.German Chancellor Angela Merkel and prime ministers from the Netherlands, Austria and Greece talked briefly with Guaido on the sidelines of the Davos conference, where his staff set up a workshop to promote Venezuela’s reconstruction.”We are confronted with an international criminal conglomerate and we can’t fight it alone,” he told the conference. “We need tools from the international community to bring pressure on the regime from various centers,” he said.Guaido specifically asked officials and bankers gathered in Davos to block Venezuela’s international trade in gold extracted from mines which, he said, Maduro has turned over to key army generals to secure their loyalty.Guaido’s tour got off to a promising start with a surprise welcome from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who received him under the glow of cameras at 10 Downing Street. French President Emmanuel Macron met him more privately at the Elysee Palace.But momentum was lost in Spain, where Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez failed to meet Guaido citing scheduling problems. He instead sent a newly appointed foreign minister to see him away from government premises.The awkwardness was exacerbated by revelations that a chief Spanish minister had secretly met Maduro’s vice president, Delcy Rodriguez, when she stopped at Madrid’s airport on her way to Turkey some days earlier.Conservative opposition leaders accused the government of violating existing EU sanctions that include entry restrictions of Maduro’s top officials. The U.S. State Department also issued a strong protest.Spain is especially important to Venezuela because of its deep economic, political and cultural ties to its former colony. Venezuela’s political leverage has grown recently with the inclusion of members of the far-left party Podemos in Sanchez’s cabinet.Sanchez has advocated a “dialogue” to resolve Venezuela’s crisis and his ex-foreign minister Josep Borrell, who is now EU chief of external affairs, has worked to promote negotiations with Maduro.An  EU communique following a meeting between Guaido and Borrell in Brussels said the two “have signaled the urgent necessity to find a common focus as much between the Venezuelan actors as with the international community which could lead to a significant political process.”  Guaido said in Madrid that EU-backed mediation efforts had been “degraded by the dictatorship” in Bogota, which was using them to “gain time.” 

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Italian Town Where Bryant Played As A Kid Mourns

For a city already familiar with losing a basketball hero, Kobe Bryant’s death made a particularly strong impact in the Italian town of Rieti.Nicknamed “the center of Italy” for its geographic location amid the Appenine Mountains, Rieti was the first stop on Bryant’s seven-year childhood tour of the country.It’s where Joe Bryant, Kobe’s father, made his Italian basketball debut in 1984 when Kobe was 6.”He was just a little kid,” Giuseppe Cattani, the president of the Rieti team and a former teammate of the older Bryant, told The Associated Press in an interview Monday.”He had a unique vivaciousness. He followed his father around and would go out onto the court to shoot around at halftime and after his games,” Cattani added.”There were other kids, too, but you could already tell that he was going to be a great player.”As Joe Bryant jumped around from team to team in Italy – he also played in Reggio Calabria, Pistoia and Reggio Emilia – Kobe picked up the local language and spoke fluent Italian into adulthood.But the Bryants might not have ever made it to Italy if not for Willie Sojourner, another American player who spent six successful seasons with Rieti beginning in 1976.”Joe took over the legacy that was begun by Willie Sojourner, who really helped establish the team,” Cattani said of Sojourner, who had been Julius Erving’s teammate and good friend with the New York Nets – and came up with Erving’s nickname, “Dr. J.””Willie Sojourner was Rieti’s basketball godfather. Nobody wanted to mess with “Zio Willie” (Uncle Willie), as we called him,” Cattani said. “Back then when Americans came to play in Italy they were really viewed as legends. They taught us how basketball was played on the other side of the ocean. All the kids back then, like me – I was on the youth team – would look up to these players in awe.”Sojourner returned to Rieti in 2005 to coach the club’s youth team but then died in a car accident a month later on a rainy night by crashing into a tree on a twisty road. He was 57.Kobe Bryant, an 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died Sunday with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash  near Calabasas, California. He was 41.”It’s tragic when you lose these champions,” Cattani said. “It felt like we lost a family member last night. The entire city.”Tragedy, unfortunately, is common in the Rieti region, which is still recovering from the 2016 earthquake that destroyed nearby Amatrice.Rieti was once home to a prestigious international athletics meeting, where Asafa Powell set a world record in the 100 meters in 2007. But since the quake and all of the region’s resources poured into the recovery, the meet has not been held.The headlines of the local newspapers in Rieti on Monday read: “The city is in mourning. Kobe Bryant, who grew up in Rieti, is dead.””It’s like we’ve lost our superhero,” Cattani said. “He was an icon to us, like Spider-Man or Superman. One of these superheroes who can’t die. On the basketball court, they’re immortal.”The Italian basketball federation said Monday it has ordered a minute’s silence to be observed for all games “in every category for the entire week.””It’s a small but heartfelt and deserved gesture to honor the life and memory of Kobe Bryant, an absolute champion who always had Italy in his heart,” the federation said. “Kobe was and will always be linked to our country.”IOC President Thomas Bach called Bryant “an outstanding and true Olympic champion” for helping the United States win two Olympic golds, adding that he also helped Los Angeles land the 2028 Games.In Italy, Cattani recalled Joe Bryant’s exploits.”There were several games when Joe scored more than 60 points. He was the type of player that coaches today wouldn’t like,” Cattani said. “He didn’t play according to any specific tactics – just like his son. If he wanted to, he would play virtually by himself.”The lessons that Kobe learned in Italy, though, made him a more complete player than his father.”Kobe always said that he learned the fundamentals and tactics in Italy,” Cattani said. “Whereas in the U.S. maybe you learn more about dribbling through your legs and behind your back and those other spectacular moves, we focus more on the fundamentals and tactics – sometimes excessively.”At its next home game on Feb. 5, Rieti is planning a tribute to Kobe and will symbolically retire his jersey. The ceremony will take place in the PalaSojourner, the team’s arena that was named after Sojourner a month after his funeral was held there with Dr. J among those in attendance.A grieving Joe Bryant will be among those invited to attend this time.