Bolton to Visit Moscow, Plan Possible Trump-Putin Meeting

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton plans to visit Moscow next week to prepare for a possible meeting of U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Interfax news agency reported on Thursday, citing sources.

The Kremlin said Tuesday there are no plans for a meeting between Trump and Putin before the NATO summit, Interfax reported. Trump is expected to attend the NATO summit in Brussels on July 11-12.

 

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May Wins Passage of Brexit Withdrawal Bill

The British government saw its flagship Brexit legislation pass through Parliament on Wednesday, but remains locked in a tussle with lawmakers over the direction of the country’s departure from the European Union.

The EU Withdrawal Bill was approved after Prime Minister Theresa May’s government narrowly won a key vote. The House of Commons rejected by 319-303 a proposal to require Parliament’s approval before the government agrees to a final divorce deal with the EU, or before walking away from the bloc without an agreement.

Later in the day, the withdrawal bill, intended to replace thousands of EU rules and regulations with U.K. statute on the day Britain leaves the bloc, also passed in the unelected House of Lords, its last parliamentary hurdle. It will become law once it receives royal assent, a formality.

Lawmakers favor close ties to EU

A majority of lawmakers favor retaining close ties with the bloc, so if the amendment requiring parliamentary approval had been adopted, it would have reduced the chances of a “no deal” Brexit. That’s a scenario feared by U.K. businesses but favored by some euroskeptic members of May’s Conservative minority government, who want a clean break from the EU.

May faced rebellion last week from pro-EU Conservative legislators, but avoided defeat by promising that Parliament would get a “meaningful vote” on the U.K.-EU divorce agreement before Brexit occurs in March.

Pro-EU lawmakers later accused the government of going back on its word by offering only a symbolic “take it or leave it” vote on the final deal and not the ability to take control of the negotiations.

Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer accused May of telling Parliament: “Tough luck. If you don’t like my proposed deal, you can have something much worse.”

The rebels sought to amend the flagship bill so they could send the government back to the negotiating table if they don’t like the deal, or if talks with the EU break down.

The government claimed that would undermine its negotiating hand with the EU.

“You cannot enter a negotiation without the right to walk away,” Brexit Secretary David Davis told lawmakers. “If you do, it rapidly ceases to be a negotiation.”

But Davis also told lawmakers it would be for the Commons speaker to decide whether lawmakers could amend any motion on a Brexit deal that was put to the House of Commons.

Concession enough

The concession was enough to get Conservative lawmaker Dominic Grieve, a leader of the pro-EU rebel faction, to back down and say he would support the government.

Grieve said the government had acknowledged “the sovereignty of this place (Parliament) over the executive.”

While the withdrawal bill cleared a major hurdle, the government faces more tumult in Parliament in the months to come over other pieces of Brexit legislation.

It has been two years since Britain voted by 52-48 percent to exit the 28-nation EU after four decades of membership, and there are eight months until the U.K. is due to leave the bloc on March 29, 2019.

But Britain, and its government, remains divided over Brexit, and EU leaders are frustrated with what they see as a lack of firm proposals from the U.K about future relations.

May’s government is divided between Brexit-backing ministers such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who support a clean break with the EU, and those such as Treasury chief Philip Hammond who want to keep closely aligned to the bloc, Britain’s biggest trading partner.

EU: No deal is worst scenario

The European Parliament’s leader on Brexit, Guy Verhofstadt, said Wednesday that he remains hopeful a U.K.-EU withdrawal agreement could be finalized by the fall so national parliaments have time to approve it before March.

“The worst scenario for both parties is no deal,” he told a committee of British lawmakers. “The disruption that would create to the economy, not only on the continent but certainly in Britain, would be huge and that we have to avoid.”

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Britain Ends Royal ‘Boycott’ of Israel

In 1986, Margaret Thatcher arrived in Israel for the first official visit to the Jewish state by a serving British prime minister. Asked at a news conference why Britain’s queen had never visited, she snapped back, “I am here.”

The Iron Lady’s response got a chuckle, but it did not satisfy the Israelis.

For 70 years successive Israeli governments have tried to persuade Britain to send a Royal on an official visit — something both Buckingham Palace and Downing Street have been reluctant to do. They have feared an official visit would drag Buckingham Palace into a diplomatic quagmire and end up infuriating Britain’s Gulf Arab allies.

But next week Prince William, the heir to the British throne, will bring to an end the royal shunning of Israel, arriving Sunday in the Middle East for a visit to Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories. While members of the royal family have visited Israel before on private trips or to attend funerals of Israeli leaders, they have never made what are termed formally as official visits.

‘Occupied city’ controversy

The trip has prompted controversy because of Buckingham Palace referring to Jerusalem in the published program for the Prince’s trip as an “occupied city,” outraging Israeli politicians. Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967 and annexed it in a move that is not internationally recognized.

Israel’s Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, Zeev Elkin, has lambasted the description, posting on his Facebook page, “It’s regrettable that Britain chose to politicize the Royal visit. Unified Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for over 3,000 years and no twisted wording of the official press release will change the reality. I’m expecting the prince’s staff to fix this distortion.”

There has been no response by Buckingham Palace to the complaint. Under international law East Jerusalem is considered “occupied” by the Israelis. But the spat over the wording of the prince’s itinerary illustrates the risks attached to the visit, say analysts.

Visit to Palestinian territories

Prince William will begin his trip to the Middle East in Jordan on June 24 and travel to Tel Aviv the following day, according to his office. He will spend three days in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ramallah in the West Bank. His visit will also mark the first time a senior member of Britain’s royal family will visit the Palestinian territories.

Visiting Israel and the Palestinian Territories is testimony to the determination of the British government to show even-handedness. Prince William will also have courtesy meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his residence and later with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

Royal spokesman Jason Knauf emphasized Buckingham Palace’s neutrality in remarks earlier this month, saying, “the non-political nature of his royal highness’s role — in common with all royal visits overseas — allows a spotlight to be brought to bear on the people of the region.” He noted, “The complex challenges in the region are of course well known.”

Landmark trip

But Knauf added, “Now is the appropriate time and the Duke of Cambridge is the right person to make this visit.” But he did not explain why the British government, which requested the prince take the trip, thinks this is the right time for the landmark trip.

Scores of Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in recent protests at the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip as the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel is being marked. Tensions are also high with clashes taking place between Israel and Iran, with Israeli forces striking at what they see as threatening Iranian military positions in neighboring war-torn Syria.

The political temperature has remained high since U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision, announced last December, to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, breaking with the United Nations and Western allies by recognizing the city as Israel’s legitimate capital.

Some analysts in Israel and London have linked Trump’s decision to the prince’s trip, saying Britain is dispatching the heir apparent as a way to curry favor with the U.S. president and to gain goodwill in the White House. Anshel Pfeffer, a commentator for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz argues British officials are “hopeful that Netanyahu can help them in the upcoming negotiations in Washington on Britain’s crucial trade deal.”

He adds that Britain has “diminished clout on the world stage” because of Brexit and, “it must utilize whatever assets it has. And the one unique thing Britain has is a young generation of royals who are instantly recognizable across the globe.”

Other analysts see the trip as part of a broader effort by London to raise Britain’s profile as it tries to scout out new trade opportunities to replace the likely loss of trade with European countries once exits the European Union. Two-way trade between Israel and Britain last year reached $7 billion, a 25 percent increase from 2016.

 

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Refugee Crisis Reaches Record levels

An unprecedented 68.5 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homelands worldwide — the highest levels of displacement on record, according to a just-released report by UNHCR. In June 2016 the UN Refugee Agency launched the #WithRefugees petition to petition governments to work together and do their fair share for refugees. But as the world gets ready for World Refugee Day on June 20, that message is not really being heeded. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more.

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Challenger Takes Campaign to Erdogan’s Backyard in Bid to Win Religious Voters

Turkey goes to the polls this Sunday, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could be facing his toughest test in his 16 years in power. Challenger Muharrem Ince’s platform of breaking down Turkey’s deep political divides, especially between the religious and secular have seen him reaching out beyond his pro-secular CHP Party’s base. An increasingly confident Ince has even taken his campaign to incumbent Erdogan’s backyard. Dorian Jones has the story.

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Russian Fans Celebrate Once-maligned Team as Heroes

What a transformation. Russia’s World Cup soccer team, metamorphosed from national laughingstock to heroes of the motherland in less than a week.

 

And no one is more stunned than their own fans.

 

Chants of “Ro-see-ya! Ro-see-ya!” reverberated through the St. Petersburg Stadium and along the nearby wind-whipped shores of the Baltic on Tuesday after Russia beat Egypt 3-1.

“Incredible!” said science student Daniil Stefaychuk. He went into Tuesday’s match dreaming of a tie, and left with his voice sore from screaming with excitement.

Thousands celebrated through the night in central Moscow, dancing, chanting and blowing car horns while lines of police kept watch. Roads were blocked by cars full of flag-waving Russia fans. Mexican, Polish and Brazilian fans also joined in the festivities.

 

Even in a World Cup full of surprises, Russia’s team stands out. The lowest ranked team heading into the World Cup , Russia is now all but guaranteed to advance to the second round.

 

That’s a first for post-Soviet Russia, and a big boost both to fans and to President Vladimir Putin, who wants the tournament to improve his country’s image.

 

Russia’s 5-0 win against Saudi Arabia in the World Cup opener last week might have been a fluke. But Tuesday’s win against the stronger Egyptian team showed the Russian players “the experience, the skills, the energy” to go much farther, said St. Petersburg company manager Alexei Ivanov.

 

He claims fans deserve some of the credit: “When you’re among your own, you’re more confident.”

 

Yet he was among those with little hope for the team going into the World Cup.

“It seemed like they absolutely didn’t know how to play,” he said. His laugh echoed with relief.

 

With a satiric song and goofy video games, Russians openly joked about their team and its coach ahead of the tournament.

 

The teasing got so bad that a conservative lawmaker is drafting a bill to ban mockery of the team, arguing that they’re “fighting for the honor of our country.”

 

Fans seem to think that’s going too far. “Constructive criticism helps,” said sports instructor Andrei Ushakov.

 

A week ago, there was an undercurrent of self-deprecation and defensiveness in the Russian fan mood. By Tuesday night, that had vanished, replaced by an assertive swagger.

 

Crowds draped in white-blue-red Russian flags sang folk songs and whooped wildly in the marbled corridors of the St. Petersburg subway.

So what’s next for the team? “Victory, only victory,” Ushakov said.

 

Karen Arutunian, who is about to turn 8 years old, isn’t so optimistic.

 

Arutunian successfully predicted Tuesday’s result, unlike anyone else in his family. He thinks Russia’s next match, against Uruguay next week, will end in a tie.

 

“We won’t win. But it doesn’t matter. We’re making it out of the first round,” he said. “It’s the best feeling.”

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EU Tries to Ease German, Italian Concerns Over Migration

European Union leaders will try to reassure Germany and Italy over migration at a summit next week as a stand-off in Berlin threatens Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition.

The EU could take steps to stop asylum seekers moving on from the country in which they are registered and start deciding asylum requests at centers to be established beyond EU borders in the future, according to a draft summit statement.

The proposed steps come ahead of the June 28-29 summit in Brussels at which EU leaders will attempt to agree on a joint migration policy three years after more than 1 million people arrived in Europe, causing a crisis for the union.

Their joint draft statement is not public and its wording might change. But it showed the bloc is trying to accommodate a new, anti-establishment government in Italy, as well as Berlin where Merkel’s coalition partner issued an ultimatum for an EU-wide deal on migration.

If the summit fails to reach a satisfactory outcome, Berlin would issue a unilateral ban on refugees already registered in other EU states from entering the country, said the junior governing Christian Social Union that has the interior ministry.

German police data suggest any such ban would only affect several hundred people a month and hence have no big impact on the overall number of refugees in Germany.

The EU border agency Frontex said more than 90 percent of current arrivals in Italy, Greece and Spain register for asylum there. Many still often go north, including to Germany. This “secondary movement” violates EU law but has been widespread.

“Member States should take all necessary internal legislative … to counter such movements,” the text said in an indirect response to German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

Merkel opposes the proposal that comes from a party facing a tough vote in its home base in Bavaria in October against a resurgent far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has advocated harsh anti-immigration line.

The AfD on Tuesday accused the CSU of copying its ideas on how to deal with the migrant crisis.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Merkel called in a joint statement on Tuesday for a European solution on migration and said secondary movement must be tackled.

Immigration low, tensions high

The EU is bitterly divided over migration. It has struggled to reform its internal asylum rules, which broke down in 2015, and has instead tried to tighten its borders and prevent new arrivals. To that end, it has given aid and money to countries including Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Niger.

Next week, EU leaders will also agree to look into opening “disembarkation platforms” in regions such as north Africa to decide asylum requests before people get to Europe.

European capitals from Rome to Budapest advocate such centres but concerns that processing people outside EU borders could violate the law have long blocked any such initiative.

“Such platforms should provide for rapid processing to distinguish between economic migrants and those in need of international protection, and reduce the incentive to embark on perilous journeys,” the draft statement said.

Italy closed its ports to rescue ships and said it prefers Frontex to work in Africa to prevent people from coming rather than patrol the Mediterranean and rescue those in distressed boats.

Tripoli already runs migrant camps in Libya where the EU pays the U.N. migration and refugee agencies to help resettle people to Europe legally or deport them to other African countries.

But reform of EU internal asylum rules is stuck. Southern and wealthy central states demand that all EU members host some new arrivals but eastern states refuse leading to a stalemate.

In evidence of that division, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Tuesday the CSU demand for internal border checks is unacceptable.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said it would be “very difficult to reach a solution” on hosting asylum seekers next week. There is, however, agreement on strengthening external borders and bringing together the border protection databases.

“So much progress has been made, we can’t let all slip away now. So we need to give key countries something to keep them on board,” one EU official said of the proposed text.

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Russia to Slam Retaliatory Tariffs on US Imports

Russia has announced retaliatory measures in response to the U.S. move to impose tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum.

Economic Development Minister Maxim Oreshkin said a statement on Tuesday Moscow has decided to apply retaliatory measures in line with the World Trade Organization’s rules to compensate for damage incurred by the U.S. tariffs.

Oreshkin said that additional tariffs will be applied to a range of U.S. imports, but he declined to immediately name them. He added that the tariffs will be applied to the U.S. goods that have domestic equivalents to avoid hurting the national economy.

The European Union, India, China and Russia all have applied to the WTO to challenge the tariffs that took effect March 23. Washington argued they were for national security reasons.

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Italian Interior Minister Plans to Expel Non-Citizen Ethnic Roma

Italy’s far-right anti-immigrant interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has announced plans to count the ethnic Roma community living in the country and deport those without Italian nationality.

Salvini, who also serves as deputy prime minister and leads the Northern League party, said he has ordered a new census aimed at expelling non-Italian Roma. But reaction to his idea came from all sides.

Salvini has been very clear about not wanting anyone who is illegal on Italian soil. He set off a storm of controversy in Europe last week when he refused to let a charity ship carrying more than 600 mainly African migrants dock in Italy.

He said his ministry is looking at what he called “the Roma question” and wanted to see “who, and how many” there were. He was particularly clear that he did not want what he described as “these criminals” to be kept in Italian prisons and was looking at ways to deport them.

He said an agreement is needed with the countries that must take them back, like Romania, Albania and Tunisia. He claimed that they are the countries of origin from which criminals in Italian prisons are most numerous and added that Italy would “unfortunately” have to keep Roma found to have Italian nationality.

The policy was met with resistance by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who was quoted in Italian press reports as saying Salvini had gone “too far.” The leader of the anti-establishment M5S, Luigi Di Maio, called Salvini’s order “unconstitutional.”

Anna Maria Bernini, of the center-right Forza Italia party, said the government should guarantee the respect of the law without discrimination.

The leader of the right-wing Brothers of Italy party, Giorgia Meloni, said a census of the Roma was “OK” — obviously a first step. But the problem is much wider, she added, and requires strong decisions.

The center-left Democratic Party (PD) was highly critical of Salvini, saying his call revived memories of “ethnic cleansing.”

Acting party secretary Maurizio Martina said nationalist and sovereignty positions like these are the worst and provide no real solutions to an enormous historical issue.

Salvini subsequently explained that the government had no intention of setting up a separate archive for Roma. He said he wanted to protect Roma children whose parents bar them from going to local schools and instead  instigate them to criminality.

Tens of thousands of Roma live across Italy, many in squalid shantytowns on the outskirts of major cities. According to an Italian national statistics report in 2017, there were believed to be up to 180,000 Roma in the country, with 40 percent under age 14. About half were believed to be Italian citizens.

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Right-Wing Italian Interior Minister Wants to Look into ‘Roma Question’

Italy’s new right-wing interior minister Matteo Salvini said his department has to look into “the Roma question” in Italy — a comment the opposition said reminds them of Italian fascism.

Salvini said Monday he wants to take a census of Italy’s Roma population.

“Unfortunately, we will have to keep the Italian Roma because we can’t expel them,” Salvini told Telelombardia television.

Center-left politicians immediately jumped on Salvini’s comments, likening it to ethnic cleansing.

“You can work for security and respect for rules without becoming fascistic,” lawmaker Ettore Rosato tweeted. “The announced census of Roma is vulgar and demagogical.”

But Salvini said he wants to help the Roma, an itinerant ethnic group. He said he wants to know who they are and where they live, and protect Roma children, whose parents he said did not want them to integrate into society.

“We are aiming primarily to care for the children who aren’t allowed to go to school regularly because they prefer to introduce them to a life of crime,” he said.

The interior minister said he has no desire to take fingerprints of the Roma or keep index cards of individuals. He also said he wants to see how European Union funds earmarked to help the Roma are spent.

Many Roma live in camps on the outskirts of Italian cities. They complain of lifelong discrimination, being denied job and educational opportunities.

But officials say many Roma are responsible for petty crimes, such as pickpocketing and theft.

Salvini’s comments about the Roma came a week after Italy refused to let a shipload of migrants dock at an Italian port. Spain gave permission for the ship to dock in its country Sunday.

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