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Dropping Winds Help Crews Battle Canary Islands Wildfire

Firefighters battling Spain’s largest wildfire of the year got a break Tuesday as wind gusts abated. More than 12,000 hectares have burned on Gran Canaria island in Spain’s Canary Islands chain, located in the Atlantic Ocean northwest of Africa. Some 9,000 people have been forced to flee their homes on the island, which is one of Spain’s main tourist destinations.A hydroplane operates on a wildfire in Canary Islands, Spain, Aug. 20, 2019.Firefighters had struggled Monday to contain the fire amid gusting winds and summer temperatures around 36 degrees Celsius (97 degrees Fahrenheit). The cause of the blaze, which started Saturday, is still being investigated. “I think we may be moving into the final phase of this wildfire,” Gran Canaria emergency chief Federico Grillo told local broadcaster Television Canaria.Gran Canaria is the third-largest island in the Canary Islands archipelago with a population of 850,000.Officials said the diminishing winds had  prevented the fire from entering the Inagua national reserve.”There was a miracle last night,” Victor Torres, president of the Canary Islands archipelago, told local reporters. 

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US Marines Chief Acknowledges Worries on Japan-Korean Ties

Gen. David Berger, the new U.S. Marines commandant, acknowledged Wednesday that he is concerned about deteriorating relations between Japan and South Korea, both key regional allies, but expressed hopes politicians would work out a resolution.Berger stressed that Japan and Korea have common interests despite their differences, such as the threat posed by China and pursuing stability in Asia.  “I’m optimistic it will get worked out,” said Berger, during his first trip to Japan after being appointed to his post.Besides meetings with Japanese government and military officials, his visit also includes going to the southern islands of Okinawa, where most of the U.S. forces here are based. He heads to South Korea later this week.  Bilateral relations worsened after Tokyo removed South Korea’s preferential trade status in early July. South Korea has decided to do the same to Japan, with the new rules taking effect in September.  Seoul sees Japan’s move as retaliation for South Korean court rulings that Japanese companies compensate South Koreans forced into labor during World War II. Japan says it is a security issue.Berger declined to comment on what might happen if South Korea makes good on the threat to end an agreement with Japan to share military intelligence, called the General Security of Military Information Agreement, or GSOMIA, which went into effect in 2016. He said such sharing was important from a military standpoint, and discussions were ongoing outside the military.”I never said I was not concerned. We are. What I did say is we have a common focus on an assessment of what the near and long-term threats are. But absolutely we should all be concerned when any part of any alliance has some challenges,” said Berger.”I am confident that the right leaders are talking. I am confident that we all share a common view of the threat to stability in this region.” While in Okinawa, Berger will go to Henoko, where a U.S. Marine air base is being built on a coastal landfill. The Henoko base, decades in the making and backed by the Japanese government, would replace a base that’s considered noisy and dangerous and is in a crowded residential area of Okinawa.Many residents want the base moved completely off Okinawa, and its new governor, Denny Tamaki, was elected last year while pushing that demand.Berger played down worries about delays and said construction was going smoothly, while stopping short of giving a detailed timeline.He said he earlier checked out the construction of a Marines facility in U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, where some of the Marines from Japan will be transferred.    “I think the progress is solid,” he said, adding that the overall plan to begin the moves in the early 2020s is “on track.”Japan sees the U.S. as its most important ally. Berger said the military of the two nations work closely together.
“This is the most consequential region for us. Our alliance with Japan is an essential part of that,” he said.

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US Aims to Double Financing in Latin America to $12 Billion

The United States has created a new agency to promote development around the globe, with a particular emphasis on Latin America.David Bohigian, acting president and chief executive officer of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, said an agency known as the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation will start operating on Oct. 1st.In addition to loans, loan guarantees and political risk insurance, DFC will have the authority to make limited equity investments with a $60 billion cap.Specifically, the U.S. expects to double its financing in the Western Hemisphere to $12 billion.A statement on OPIC’s website said: “DFC will help countries sidestep opaque and unsustainable debt traps being laid by Beijing throughout the developing world and help more American businesses invest in emerging markets, including many places that are of key strategic importance to the United States.”Chinese state banks have financed development projects in Latin America for $14 billion since President Donald Trump took office, according to a database jointly run by the Inter-American Dialogue and the Global China Initiative at Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center.But Bohigian told reporters it is a mistake to look only at government-to-government money because the United States is the main source of the $237 billion Latin America received in direct foreign investment as recently as 2017.”Private sector investments from the United States far outstrips” the funds provided by the Chinese government, he said.

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Trump Delays Denmark PM Talks Over Lack of Interest in Greenland Sale

President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he is postponing a planned meeting with Denmark’s prime minister due to her lack of interest in selling Greenland to the United States.”Based on Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s comments, that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland, I will be postponing our meeting scheduled in two weeks for another time,” Trump tweeted.”The Prime Minister was able to save a great deal of expense and effort for both the United States and Denmark by being so direct. I thank her for that and look forward to rescheduling sometime in the future!” the U.S. president wrote.The Wall Street Journal first reported that Trump had expressed interest in the self-governing part of Denmark — which is mostly covered in ice — asking advisers if it would be possible for the U.S. to acquire the territory.Trump confirmed Sunday that he was indeed interested in buying Greenland, but said it was not a priority for his administration.”It’s something we talked about,” he told reporters.”The concept came up and I said certainly, strategically it’s interesting and we’d be interested, but we’ll talk to (Denmark) a little bit,” he said, stressing that it was “not number one on the burner” for the government.When asked if he would consider trading a U.S. territory for Greenland, Trump replied that “a lot of things could be done.””Essentially, it’s a large real estate deal,” he said.GreenlandDenmark colonized the 2 million-square-kilometer (772,000-square-mile) island in the 18th century. It is home to only about 57,000 people, most of whom belong to the indigenous Inuit community.Greenland’s ministry of foreign affairs insisted Friday the island was ready to talk business, but was not for sale.”#Greenland is rich in valuable resources such as minerals, the purest water and ice, fish stocks, seafood, renewable energy and is a new frontier for adventure tourism,” it tweeted.”We’re open for business, not for sale,” it added.

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Italy Seizes Migrant Ship Stranded at Sea

More than 80 migrants on board a Spanish charity rescue ship exploded with joy at the news that Italy is seizing the boat, allowing them to get off on the island of Lampedusa.The Open Arms rescue ship has been at sea for 19 days, spending much of that time anchored in the Mediterranean within sight of the Italian island.Italy’s hard-line interior minister Matteo Salvini had refused to let the ship dock.Some of the migrants — desperate and said to be suicidal amid the crowded and deteriorating conditions  — began jumping into the sea to try to get to shore. Migrants swim after jumping off the Spanish rescue ship Open Arms, close to the Italian shore in Lampedusa, Italy, Aug. 20, 2019.The Open Arms charity that sponsors the rescue ship said people were sleeping side by side on deck and forced to share just two toilets.An Italian prosecutor Tuesday ordered the government to take over the ship as part of what the Italian news agency ANSA said were possible kidnapping charges against Salvini because of his refusal to let the ship dock.”Finally, the nightmare ends, and 83 people on board will receive immediate assistance on land,” Open Arms said. The charity added that the Italian seizure of its ship is a price the charity has to pay to get the migrants the help they need.Spain is reportedly sending a navy ship to Lampedusa to help care for the migrants and escort them and the Open Arms vessel to the Spanish island of Mallorca.Several European nations, including France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal and Romania, have offered to accept the migrants.Spanish rescue ship Open Arms with migrants on board arrives in Lampedusa, Italy, Aug. 20, 2019.Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said he welcomes Spain’s help and that he hopes Spain will take steps in the future to prevent another crisis involving Open Arms.Under international law, a distressed ship is supposed to head to the first safe port, which was Lampedusa. But Salvini has said Italy has done enough in accepting African migrants and demanded that other EU nations do more to help. He also called private charity migrant ships “taxis” for human traffickers.A second ship, the Ocean Viking — operated by French charities Doctors Without Borders and SOS Mediterranean — is also at sea with 356 mainly Sudanese migrants looking for a safe port.Lampedusa is the closest EU port from Libyan shores, where thousands of migrants looking to escape war and poverty try crossing the Mediterranean in search of safety, often aboard rickety vessels and flimsy rafts.Those not rescued by charity ships are left to drown. Migrants picked up by the Libyan coast guard are returned to Libya and housed in migrant detention centers near Tripoli.Some of those centers are caught in the fighting between rival Libyan governments. Two missiles slammed into one detention center last month, killing 53.

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Pence: US Space Command Will Launch Next Week

The United States will get a step closer to establishing a space force next week. Vice President Mike Pence and Pentagon officials told the National Space Council on Tuesday the U.S. Space Command will officially be up and running Aug. 29. Creation of the new command is seen as a likely step toward the creation of a space force as a separate military entity.”The United States Space Force will ensure that our nation is prepared to defend our people, defend our interests, and to defend our values in the vast expanse of space and here on Earth with the technologies that will support our common defense for the vast reaches of outer space,” Pence said. Pence said setting up the command still needs congressional funding and authority, but he said he expects that to happen soon. The launch of the Space Command will accelerate what has been a decades-long effort to reorganize and improve the military’s technological advances in space, which at times have gotten less attention as the Air Force has focused on warplanes and other combat priorities.The military’s role in space has been under scrutiny because the United States is increasingly reliant on orbiting satellites that are difficult to protect. Satellites provide communications, navigation, intelligence and other services vital to the military and the national economy.Over the past year, the issue gained urgency amid growing competition and threats from adversary nations.

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Russia to Nuclear Test Ban Monitor: Test Accident Not Your Business

Russia told an agency that verifies a ban on nuclear tests that a military test accident in the country’s north this month was none of its business and that handing it any radiation data was voluntary, Interfax news agency reported Tuesday.The Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) said on Monday that two Russian monitoring sites closest to the mysterious explosion went offline days after the blast, soon followed by two more, fueling suspicions that Russia tampered with them.The CTBTO said on Tuesday the radioactive-particle sensors of at least one of the four Russian monitoring stations in question were transmitting again.Russia’s state nuclear agency, Rosatom, has acknowledged that five of its nuclear workers were killed in the Aug. 8 explosion during a rocket engine test near the White Sea in far northern Russia. Two Russian military personnel were also reported to have been killed.FILE – Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov arrives at the State Department in Washington, July 17, 2017.There has been contradictory information about the accident’s consequences. The Defense Ministry initially said background radiation remained normal after the incident, but Russia’s state weather agency said radiation levels in the nearby city of Severodvinsk had risen by up to 16 times.Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Tuesday that the accident was not a matter for the CTBTO, which first reported that the radiation monitoring stations went silent, according to Interfax.”It’s essential to keep in mind that handing over data from our national stations which are part of the international monitoring system is entirely voluntary for any country,” Interfax cited Ryabkov as saying.The CTBTO’s mandate only covered the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty or national testing moratoriums, Ryabkov added. The treaty was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1996, but has not yet entered into force due to some countries either not signing or ratifying it.The Aug. 8 accident “should have no connection” to CTBTO activities, Ryabkov said, adding that the agency’s mandate did not extend to weapons development.”Exhaustive explanations about what happened and what the consequences were have been given by the relevant structures,” said Ryabkov, and the mysterious accident had posed no risks to the environment or people.Separately, the Kremlin said there was nothing to worry about and that it was confident that government agencies in charge of the relevant radiation monitoring stations had been doing their job correctly.President Vladimir Putin said on Monday there was no risk of increased radiation levels, but that all necessary safety measures were being taken.The Defense Ministry, which oversees the work of the monitoring stations, has not responded to a Reuters request for comment.

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Trump: Deal with Taliban on US Troop Withdrawal Might Not Be Acceptable

Nike Ching and Ayaz Gul contributed to this report.WHITE HOUSE — “Good discussions” are under way about Afghanistan, including between the United States and the Taliban, President Donald Trump said Tuesday. But he cautioned a U.S. troop withdrawal agreement might not be realized. “I don’t know whether or not the plan is going to be acceptable to me, and maybe it’s not going to be acceptable to them,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office alongside Romanian President Klaus Iohannis. Trump made his remarks shortly after the State Department announced that its special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalizad, is traveling to Doha on Tuesday to resume talks with the Taliban on a peace agreement aimed at ending the 18-year conflict in the country.FILE – A U.S. flag hangs off of a housing unit inside of Bagram Air Field in the Parwan province of Afghanistan, Jan. 2, 2015.The two sides are said to be working out the details.”The Taliban would like to stop fighting us,” said Trump on Tuesday. “They’ve lost a lot.” The U.S. president said Moscow’s failure to win a war in the Asian country led to “the Soviet Union becoming Russia because of Afghanistan.” U.S. monitoringAsked by a reporter if the Taliban can be trusted, Trump replied, “Nobody can be trusted,” describing Afghanistan as “the Harvard University of terrorism.” Trump said the United States will always have intelligence assets and personnel on the ground to prevent Afghanistan from returning to its pre-9/11 status when the country was run by the Taliban. Trump again reasserted he could quickly vanquish terrorist elements in the country with a campaign of intensive but non-nuclear bombing. But “I’m not looking to kill 10 million Afghans,” he said.