Biden signs a $95 billion war aid measure with assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan

President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands while giving joint statements at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands while giving joint statements at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 24 April 2024
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Biden signs a $95 billion war aid measure with assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan

Biden signs a $95 billion war aid measure with assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan
  • Biden said Israel must ensure the humanitarian aid for Palestinians in bill reaches Gaza “without delay”

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden signed into law on Wednesday a $95 billion war aid measure that includes aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan and that also has a provision that would force social media site TikTok to be sold or be banned in the US
The announcement marks an end to the long, painful battle with Republicans in Congress over urgently needed assistance for Ukraine.
“We rose to the moment, we came together, and we got it done,” Biden said at White House event to announce the signing. “Now we need to move fast, and we are.”
But significant damage has been done to the Biden administration’s effort to help Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion during the funding impasse that dates back to August, when the Democratic president made his first emergency spending request for Ukraine aid. Even with a burst of new weapons and ammunition, it’s unlikely Ukraine will immediately recover after months of setbacks.
Biden approved immediately sending Ukraine $1 billion in military assistance and said the shipment would begin arriving in the “next few hours” — the first tranche from about $61 billion allocated for Ukraine. The package includes air defense capabilities, artillery rounds, armored vehicles and other weapons to shore up Ukrainian forces who have seen morale sink as Russian President Vladimir Putin has racked up win after win.
But longer term, it remains uncertain if Ukraine — after months of losses in Eastern Ukraine and sustaining massive damage to its infrastructure — can make enough progress to sustain American political support before burning through the latest influx of money.
“It’s not going in the Ukrainians’ favor in the Donbas, certainly not elsewhere in the country,” said White House national security spokesman John Kirby, referring to the eastern industrial heartland where Ukraine has suffered setbacks. “Mr. Putin thinks he can play for time. So we’ve got to try to make up some of that time.”
Tucked into the measure is a provision that gives TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company, ByteDance, nine months to sell it or face a nationwide prohibition in the United States. The president can grant a one-time extension of 90 days, bringing the timeline to sell to one year, if he certifies that there’s a path to divestiture and “significant progress” toward executing it.
The administration and a bipartisan group of lawmakers have called the social media site a growing national security concern.
TikTok said it will wage a legal challenge against what it called an “unconstitutional” effort by Congress.
“We believe the facts and the law are clearly on our side, and we will ultimately prevail,” the company said in a statement.
Biden underscored that the bill also includes a surge of about $1 billion in humanitarian relief for Palestinians in Gaza suffering as the Israel-Hamas war continues.
Biden said Israel must ensure the humanitarian aid for Palestinians in bill reaches Gaza “without delay.”
House Speaker Mike Johnson delayed a vote on the supplemental aid package for months as members of his party’s far right wing, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, threatened to move to oust him if he allowed a vote to send more assistance to Ukraine. Those threats persist.
Former President Donald Trump, the presumptive 2024 presidential GOP nominee, has complained that European allies have not done enough for Ukraine. While he stopped short of endorsing the supplemental funding package, his tone has shifted in recent days, acknowledging that Ukraine’s survival is important to the United States.
Indeed, many European leaders have long been nervous that a second Trump presidency would mean decreased US support for Ukraine and for the NATO military alliance. The European anxiety was heightened in February when Trump in a campaign speech warned NATO allies that he “would encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to countries that don’t meet defense spending goals if he returns to the White House.
It was a key moment in the debate over Ukraine spending. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg quickly called out Trump for putting “American and European soldiers at increased risk.” Biden days later called Trump’s comments “dangerous” and “un-American” and accused Trump of playing into Putin’s hands.
But in reality, the White House maneuvering to win additional funding for Ukraine started months earlier.
Biden, the day after returning from a whirlwind trip to Tel Aviv following Hamas militants’ stunning Oct. 7 attack on Israel, used a rare prime time address to make his pitch for the supplemental funding.
At the time, the House was in chaos because the Republican majority had been unable to select a speaker to replace Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who had been ousted more than two weeks earlier. McCarthy’s reckoning with the GOP’s far right came after he agreed earlier in the year to allow federal spending levels that many in his right flank disagreed with and wanted undone.
Far-right Republicans have also adamantly opposed sending more money for Ukraine, with the war appearing to have no end in sight. Biden in August requested more than $20 billion to keep aid flowing into Ukraine, but the money was stripped out of a must-pass spending bill even as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky traveled to Washington to make a personal plea for continued US backing.
By late October, Republicans finally settled on Johnson, a low-profile Louisiana Republican whose thinking on Ukraine was opaque, to serve as the next speaker. Biden during his congratulatory call with Johnson urged him to quickly pass Ukraine aid and began a months-long, largely behind-the-scenes effort to bring the matter to a vote.
In private conversations with Johnson, Biden and White House officials leaned into the stakes for Europe if Ukraine were to fall to Russia. Five days after Johnson was formally elected speaker, national security adviser Jake Sullivan outlined to him the administration’s strategy on Ukraine and assured him that accountability measures were in place in Ukraine to track where the aid was going — an effort to address a common complaint from conservatives.
On explicit orders from Biden, White House officials also avoided directly attacking Johnson over the stalled aid.
Johnson came off to White House officials as direct and an honest actor throughout the negotiations, according to a senior administration official. Biden had success finding common ground with Republicans earlier in his term to win the passage of a $1 trillion infrastructure deal, legislation to boost the US semiconductor industry, and an expansion of federal health care services for veterans exposed to toxic smoke from burn pits. And he knew there was plenty of Republican support for further Ukraine funding.
Biden praised Johnson and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, saying in the end they “stepped up and did the right thing.”
“History will remember this moment,” Biden said. “For all the talk about how dysfunctional things are in Washington, when you look over the past three years, we’ve seen it time and again on the critical issues. We’ve actually come together.”
At frustrating moments during the negotiations, Biden urged his aides to “just keep talking, keep working,” according to the official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal discussions.
So they did. In a daily meeting convened by White House chief of staff Jeff Zients, the president’s top aides — seated around a big oval table in Zients’ office — would brainstorm possible ways to better make the case about Ukraine’s dire situation in the absence of aid.
Steve Ricchetti, counselor to the president, and legislative affairs director Shuwanza Goff were in regular contact with Johnson. Goff and Johnson’s senior staff also spoke frequently as a deal came into focus.
The White House also sought to accommodate Johnson and his various asks. For instance, administration officials at the speaker’s request briefed Reps. Chip Roy, R-Texas, and Ralph Norman, R-S.C., two conservatives who were persistent antagonists of Johnson.
All the while, senior Biden officials frequently updated McConnell as well as key Republican committee leaders, including Reps. Michael McCaul and Mike Turner.
In public, the administration deployed a strategy of downgrading intelligence that demonstrated Russia’s efforts to tighten its ties with US adversaries China, North Korea and Iran to fortify Moscow’s defense industrial complex and get around US and European sanctions.
For example, US officials this month laid out intelligence findings that showed China has surged sales to Russia of machine tools, microelectronics and other technology that Moscow in turn is using to produce missiles, tanks, aircraft and other weaponry. Earlier, the White House publicized intelligence that Russia has acquired ballistic missiles from North Korea and has acquired attack drones from Iran.
The $61 billion can help triage Ukrainian forces, but Kyiv will need much more for a fight that could last years, military experts say.
Realistic goals for the months ahead for Ukraine — and its allies — include avoiding the loss of major cities, slowing Russia’s momentum and getting additional weaponry to Kyiv that could help them go on the offensive in 2025, said Bradley Bowman, a defense strategy and policy analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington.
“In our microwave culture, we tend to want immediate results,” Bowman said. “And sometimes things are just hard and you can’t get immediate results. I think Ukrainian success is not guaranteed, but Russian success is if we stop supporting Ukraine.”


China to host Egypt’s El-Sisi, Arab leaders this week

China to host Egypt’s El-Sisi, Arab leaders this week
Updated 58 min 55 sec ago
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China to host Egypt’s El-Sisi, Arab leaders this week

China to host Egypt’s El-Sisi, Arab leaders this week
  • Speaking at a press conference in Beijing, Vice Foreign Minister Deng Li said President Xi Jinping would attend the forum and deliver a keynote address on Thursday

BEIJING: China will host Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as well as a number of other Arab leaders in Beijing this week, its foreign ministry said Monday.
The leaders will from Tuesday to Saturday “pay state visits to China and attend the opening ceremony of the 10th Ministerial Conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement.
Also among the delegation will be Bahrain’s King Hamad, Tunisian President Kais Saied and the United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Speaking at a press conference in Beijing, Vice Foreign Minister Deng Li said President Xi Jinping would attend the forum and deliver a keynote address on Thursday.
Xi would also “hold talks with the four heads of state respectively to exchange views on bilateral relations and regional and international issues of common concern,” Deng said.
The forum would aim to deepen “consensus between China and Arab countries,” Deng said, and would be co-chaired by top diplomat Wang Yi and his Mauritanian counterpart.
They would also “issue a common voice between China and Arab countries on the Palestinian issue,” he said.
China has sought to build closer ties with Arab states in recent years, and last year brokered a detente between Tehran and its long-time foe Saudi Arabia.
During a tour of the Middle East in January, top diplomat Wang met El-Sisi in Cairo, saying relations had reached their “best level” in history, according to a foreign ministry readout.
And the meeting with Arab leaders in Beijing comes as China seeks to position itself as a mediator in the conflict between the Palestinian militant group Hamas and Israel.
Wang’s trip to Egypt saw the two countries release a joint statement on the conflict, expressing support for a “comprehensive, just and lasting settlement.”
China has historically been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and supportive of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And Xi has called for an “international peace conference” to resolve the fighting.
Israel’s has has killed at least 35,984 people in Gaza since Oct. 7, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


Millions without power as cyclone Remal pounds Bangladesh and India

Millions without power as cyclone Remal pounds Bangladesh and India
Updated 27 May 2024
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Millions without power as cyclone Remal pounds Bangladesh and India

Millions without power as cyclone Remal pounds Bangladesh and India
  • One person killed in Kolkata after concrete chunks fell on him during storm’s peak, police say
  • Bangladesh moved about 800,000 people from port areas of Mongla, Chittagong since Sunday morning

DHAKA/KOLKATA: Strong winds and heavy rain pounded the coastal regions of Bangladesh and India as severe cyclone Remal made landfall late on Sunday, leaving millions without electricity after power poles fell and some trees were uprooted by gusty winds.

The storm crossed the coastal regions of Bangladesh’s Mongla port and the adjoining Sagar Islands in India’s West Bengal state with wind speed measuring up to 135 kmph (about 84 mph), the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said.

The storm will gradually weaken into a cyclone during the morning on Monday and then move northeast and gradually weaken further, the IMD said in its latest weather update.

The landfall process began around 9 p.m. local time in India on Sunday and continued for about five hours, the regional meteorological office in Kolkata said.

One person was killed in the major metropolitan city of Kolkata when concrete chunks fell on him during the peak of the storm, police said. Roofs of thatched huts were blown away while mud houses were flattened in the coastal areas of both countries as authorities waited to ascertain the full scale of losses.

The low-lying coasts of South Asian neighbors Bangladesh and India have experienced frequent severe storms in recent years as climate change forces a rise in sea surface temperatures. Remal is the year’s first cyclone in the region.

Bangladesh moved about 800,000 people from the port areas of Mongla and Chittagong and nine coastal districts to storm shelters from Sunday morning. As many as 110,000 people were also taken to shelters in India.

Dhaka set up nearly 8,000 cyclone shelters and mobilized 78,000 volunteers ahead of the storm while the Indian navy said it had kept ships, aircraft, divers and medical supplies on standby for deployment if required.

While early warnings and timely evacuations helped both countries avert major casualties from the storm, there was a heavy toll on power infrastructure.

Authorities in Bangladesh shut down electricity supply to many areas in advance to avoid accidents while many coastal towns were left in the dark as fallen trees and broken lines disrupted supply, power ministry officials said.

“We have no electricity since night, my mobile battery will run out anytime. By the grace of Allah, the cyclone was not as violent as we thought,” said Rahat Raja, a resident in the coastal district of Satkhira in Bangladesh.

Reports of at least 356 uprooted electricity poles and damage to scores of transformers were received during the first hour of the landfall process, Arup Biswas, the minister for power in West Bengal government, said.

More than 50 international and domestic flights had to be canceled in Kolkata city as operations were suspended from Sunday noon. Bangladesh also suspended operations at Mongla and Chittagong ports.

“Normal airport operations will resume from 9 am,” said C Pattavi, the director of the Kolkata airport, adding that the airport’s operational areas were clear from waterlogging.

River embankments in the Sundarbans delta, the largest mangrove forest in the world, shared by India and Bangladesh, also suffered heavy damage with high tides breaching protective embankments at many places.

Kolkata, like the state’s coastal belt, was also lashed by heavy rains with water logging in many areas, television footage showed. At least six trees were uprooted, which blocked roads, while there were also reports of wall collapses, police said.

The cyclone also brought heavy rains to Bangladesh capital Dhaka, causing flooding of roads and severely impacting commuters.


China’s premier hails ‘new beginning’ with US-allied South Korea, Japan

China’s premier hails ‘new beginning’ with US-allied South Korea, Japan
Updated 27 May 2024
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China’s premier hails ‘new beginning’ with US-allied South Korea, Japan

China’s premier hails ‘new beginning’ with US-allied South Korea, Japan
  • Li Qiang met South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in three-way talks
  • The three nations are trying to manage rising distrust amid the rivalry between Beijing and Washington and tensions over Taiwan

SEOUL, South Korea: Chinese Premier Li Qiang praised what he called a restart in relations with Japan and South Korea as he met their leaders for the first three-way talks in four years on Monday in Seoul, striving to revive trade and security dialogues hampered by global tensions.

Li, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will adopt a joint statement on six areas including the economy and trade, science and technology, people-to-people exchanges and health and the aging population, Seoul officials said.
They may also agree to resume three-party free trade agreement negotiations, which have been stalled since 2019, according to Japanese media reports.
At the summit, Li called for the comprehensive resumption of trilateral cooperation with an open attitude and transparent measures, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.
He said relations between the three nations had not changed despite profound global transformations.
“Our meeting today, first in more than four years, is both a restart and a new beginning,” Li said, according to a post on X by China’s foreign ministry.
China and US-allied South Korea and Japan are trying to manage rising distrust amid the rivalry between Beijing and Washington and tensions over democratically ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own.
Yoon and Kishida have charted a closer course with each other and to Washington, embarking on unprecedented three-way cooperation with the United States on military and other measures.
Monday’s summit comes a day after the leaders met separately for bilateral talks with each other.
In those meetings, Li and Yoon agreed to a diplomatic and security dialogue and resume free trade talks, while Kishida and the Chinese premier discussed Taiwan and agreed to hold a new round of bilateral high-level economic dialogue.
Yoon also asked China to play a constructive role with its partners in North Korea, which is expanding its nuclear weapons and missile arsenal in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
North Korea has notified Japan of its plan to launch a rocket carrying a space satellite between May 27 and June 4, the Japan Coast Guard said on Monday.
Officials from the United States, Japan, and South Korea held phone talks in response to the notice and demanded that North Korea cancel the launch because it would use ballistic missile technology in violation of the UN resolutions, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said.

Trade relations
The trade relationship between China, South Korea and Japan has evolved over the past decade to become increasingly competitive.
Those ties have been further tested by US calls for its allies to shift their supply chains for key products, such as semiconductors, away from China.
Officials and diplomats from South Korea and Japan have set a low bar for the summit, saying it is uncertain whether there will be major announcements but that just gathering will help the three countries revive and reinvigorate their strained relations.
The three leaders are also due to attend a forum with top business executives.
South Korea, Japan and China held 16 rounds of official negotiations over a three-way FTA after they first kicked off in 2012.
At their last negotiation in November 2019, the three countries agreed on liberalization at a level higher than the Regional Comprehensive Economic partnership (RCEP), of which they are all members, encompassing areas from trade of goods and services to investment, customs, competition and e-commerce.


At least 15 dead after severe weather carves path of ruin across multiple states in the US South

At least 15 dead after severe weather carves path of ruin across multiple states in the US South
Updated 27 May 2024
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At least 15 dead after severe weather carves path of ruin across multiple states in the US South

At least 15 dead after severe weather carves path of ruin across multiple states in the US South
  • Half of the deaths and nearly 100 injuries were reported in north Texas, where a powerful tornado struck communities on Saturday night
  • Video footage showed wide swaths of homes in shambles, with vehicles smashed and trees uprooted or stripped of limbs and foliage

VALLEY VIEW, Texas (AP) — Powerful storms killed at least 15 people, injured hundreds and left a wide trail of destruction Sunday across Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas after obliterating homes and destroying a truck stop where dozens sought shelter in a restroom during the latest deadly weather to strike the central U.S.

The storms inflicted their worst damage in a region spanning from north of Dallas to the northwest corner of Arkansas, and the system threatened to bring more violent weather to other parts of the Midwest later in the day. By Monday, forecasters said, the greatest risk would shift to the east, covering a broad swath of the country from Alabama to near New York City.

Seven deaths were reported in Cooke County, Texas, near the Oklahoma border, where a tornado Saturday night plowed through a rural area near a mobile home park, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a news conference Sunday. The dead included two children, ages 2 and 5. Three family members were found dead in one home, according to the county sheriff.

Storms also killed two people and destroyed houses in Oklahoma, where the injured included guests at an outdoor wedding, five people in Arkansas and one person in Kentucky. Tens of thousands of residents were without power across the region.

In Texas, about 100 people were injured and more than 200 homes and structures destroyed, said Abbott, sitting in front of a ravaged truck stop near the small agricultural community of Valley View. The area was among the hardest-hit, with winds reaching an estimated 135 mph (217 kph), officials said.

“The hopes and dreams of Texas families and small businesses have literally been crushed by storm after storm,” said Abbott, whose state has seen successive bouts of severe weather, including storms that killed eight people in Houston.

Hugo Parra, who lives in Farmers Branch, north of Dallas, said he rode out the storm with 40 to 50 people in the bathroom of the truck stop. The storm sheared the roof and walls off the building, mangling metal beams and leaving battered cars in the parking lot.

“A firefighter came to check on us and he said, ‘You’re very lucky,’” Parra said. “The best way to describe this is the wind tried to rip us out of the bathrooms.”

Multiple people were transported to hospitals by ambulance and helicopter in Denton County, also north of Dallas.

No more deaths are expected and nobody was reported missing in Texas, said Abbott, though responders were doing one more round of searches just in case.

At least five people were killed in Arkansas. One was a 26-year-old woman who was found dead outside a destroyed home in Olvey, a small community in Boone County, according to Daniel Bolen of the county’s emergency management office. One person died in Benton County, and two more bodies were found in Marion County, officials said.

In Oklahoma, two people died in Mayes County, east of Tulsa, officials said.

In Kentucky, a man was killed Sunday in Louisville when a tree fell on him, police said. Louisville Mayor Craig Greenburg confirmed it was a storm-related death on social media.

Vehicles in a body shop are seen amid debris the morning after a tornado rolled through Valley View, Texas, on May 26, 2024. (AP Photo)

The destruction continued a grim month of deadly severe weather in the nation’s midsection.

Tornadoes in Iowa last week left at least five people dead and dozens injured. The deadly twisters have spawned during a historically bad season for tornadoes, at a time when climate change contributes to the severity of storms around the world. April had the second-highest number of tornadoes on record in the country.

Meteorologists and authorities issued urgent warnings to seek cover as the storms marched across the region late Saturday and into Sunday. “If you are in the path of this storm take cover now!” the National Weather Service office in Norman, Oklahoma, posted on X.

Harold Brooks, a senior scientist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, said a persistent pattern of warm, moist air is to blame for the string of tornadoes over the past two months.

Brooks recommended that travelers passing through threatened areas over the Memorial Day weekend have a plan for a weather emergency.

Travelers who have already chosen where to get food and other essentials “probably ought to be thinking about what could I do if there’s a dangerous situation to save my life,” Brooks said.


Twelve Moldovan parties clinch pro-Europe pact, but not all back president

Twelve Moldovan parties clinch pro-Europe pact, but not all back president
Updated 27 May 2024
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Twelve Moldovan parties clinch pro-Europe pact, but not all back president

Twelve Moldovan parties clinch pro-Europe pact, but not all back president
  • Sunday’s accord was signed by Sandu’s Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS), which holds a majority in parliament in one of Europe’s poorest countries, lying between Ukraine and Romania

CHISINAU: Twelve parties in Moldova clinched a pact on Sunday committing them to act in favor of European Union membership for the ex-Soviet state as the campaign for an October referendum on European integration heats up.
But not all the parties support pro-European President Maia Sandu, who is running for re-election in a poll taking place alongside the referendum. Some of them intend to put up a joint candidate to run against her.
The Oct. 20 referendum pits Sandu and pro-European forces against a group of disparate pro-Russian parties which are already holding rallies with the slogan “No to the EU.”
Sunday’s accord was signed by Sandu’s Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS), which holds a majority in parliament in one of Europe’s poorest countries, lying between Ukraine and Romania.
But the pact’s initiators, four parties jointly dubbed “Together,” accuse Sandu of “privatizing” European integration by relying solely on her PAS party.
The group, which polls show could secure enough votes to win seats in parliament, call on Sandu to dismiss her government and bring other pro-European parties into the administration.
With pro-Russian parties running an organized “no” drive in the referendum campaign, analysts say the key is to muster support for EU integration in the plebiscite without devoting too much attention to Sandu’s chances of re-election.
“Voters must remember that on October 20, defeat in the referendum will mean defeat for Moldova, casting it into the past,” Vitalii Andrievschii, Director of the Institute for Effective Policy, told Reuters.
“The referendum on EU membership and the presidential election are different things. Maia Sandu should not be viewed in association with the referendum.”
Sandu says Russia and corruption are the biggest threats to Moldova and she places EU membership at the center of her policies.
Openly opposed to a “yes” vote is the pro-Russian “Victory” bloc headed by fugitive business magnate Ilan Shor, sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison in connection with the 2014 disappearance of $1 billion from the Moldovan banking system.
The opposition Socialists and Communists, also friendly to Moscow, say they support European integration but oppose the referendum as a means to secure the president’s re-election. But they show no inclination to cooperate with the “Victory” bloc.