Biden Adviser Sullivan and China’s Yang Discuss Regional Security

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan waits on the tarmac for US President Joe Biden to deplane after arriving aboard Air Force One at Portsmouth International Airport in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, US April 19, 2022. Picture taken April 19, 2022. (Reuters)
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan waits on the tarmac for US President Joe Biden to deplane after arriving aboard Air Force One at Portsmouth International Airport in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, US April 19, 2022. Picture taken April 19, 2022. (Reuters)
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Biden Adviser Sullivan and China’s Yang Discuss Regional Security

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan waits on the tarmac for US President Joe Biden to deplane after arriving aboard Air Force One at Portsmouth International Airport in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, US April 19, 2022. Picture taken April 19, 2022. (Reuters)
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan waits on the tarmac for US President Joe Biden to deplane after arriving aboard Air Force One at Portsmouth International Airport in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, US April 19, 2022. Picture taken April 19, 2022. (Reuters)

President Joe Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke by phone on Wednesday with China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi, a call focused on regional security issues and nonproliferation, the White House said.

Biden will visit Asia from May 20 to 24, including South Korea and Japan, a trip aimed at bolstering ties with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region in the face of growing US competition with Beijing.

Sullivan and Yang "also discussed Russia's war against Ukraine and specific issues in US-China relations," the White House said in a short statement, without giving further details.

The two 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, which weeks before the Russian invasion announced a "no-limits" partnership with Moscow, has refused to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions and has criticized sweeping Western sanctions on Russia.

But after nearly three months of the war, senior US officials say they have not detected overt Chinese military and economic support for Russia, a welcome development in the tense US-China relationship.

North Korea appears to be preparing to test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) ahead Biden's trip to Asia, which could overshadow his administration's broader focus on China and trade, and underscore the lack of progress in denuclearization talks.

The United States has pushed for more United Nations sanctions on North Korea, but China and Russia have signaled opposition, arguing sanctions should be eased to jumpstart talks and provide humanitarian relief to the impoverished North.



Ukraine to Launch Joint Weapons Production with US, Says Zelenskiy 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy walks down the White House colonnade to the Oval Office with US President Joe Biden during a visit to the White House in Washington, DC, on September 21, 2023. (AFP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy walks down the White House colonnade to the Oval Office with US President Joe Biden during a visit to the White House in Washington, DC, on September 21, 2023. (AFP)
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Ukraine to Launch Joint Weapons Production with US, Says Zelenskiy 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy walks down the White House colonnade to the Oval Office with US President Joe Biden during a visit to the White House in Washington, DC, on September 21, 2023. (AFP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy walks down the White House colonnade to the Oval Office with US President Joe Biden during a visit to the White House in Washington, DC, on September 21, 2023. (AFP)

Ukraine and the United States have agreed to launch joint weapons production in a step that will enable Kyiv to start producing air defense systems, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Friday as he wrapped up a visit to the US.

In his daily address to Ukrainians, Zelenskiy said the long-term agreement would create jobs and a new industrial base in Ukraine, whose economy has been devastated by Russia's invasion and war.

"It was a very important visit to Washington, very important results," Zelenskiy said in a video posted on the presidential website on Friday morning.

"And a long-term agreement - we will work together so that Ukraine produces the necessary weapons together with the United States. Co-production in the defense (sector) with the United States is a historic thing."

Kyiv has stepped up efforts to boost domestic weapons production as much as possible because 19 months of war has created a huge demand for arms and ammunition to fend off Russian attacks along a 1,000 km (620 mile) front line. Russian air strikes across Ukraine have caused widespread damage and killed many people.

Zelenskiy said the Ministry for Strategic Industries, which oversees weapons production in Ukraine, had signed cooperation agreements with three associations, uniting over 2,000 defense US companies, on future possible work in Ukraine.

"We are preparing to create a new defense ecosystem with the United States to produce weapons to strengthen further freedom and protect life together," Zelenskiy said without disclosing more details.

Ukraine depends heavily on Western military support. To reduce its dependence, Zelenskiy and his team have been pushing for reforms in the domestic defense industry to modernize local producers and increase supplies to the front.

Zelenskiy has said previously that Kyiv will soon host an international arms production forum, inviting companies from over 20 countries.

The government is also implementing reforms at its main weapons production company - Ukroboronprom - to improve transparency, boost production capacity and enable it to cooperate more actively with Western producers.

Ukraine has already agreed several joint projects with central European producers to repair Ukrainian tanks and other vehicles, and has been working to develop drone and missile production.


Iran Sentences Tajik Man to Death over Shiraz Attack

A photo released by Mizan from the trial of three suspects in the Shiraz attack.
A photo released by Mizan from the trial of three suspects in the Shiraz attack.
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Iran Sentences Tajik Man to Death over Shiraz Attack

A photo released by Mizan from the trial of three suspects in the Shiraz attack.
A photo released by Mizan from the trial of three suspects in the Shiraz attack.

An Iranian court sentenced to death a Tajik man for carrying out a gun attack that caused casualties on a religious site in August, the judiciary said Thursday.

The attack on the Shah Cheragh mausoleum in Shiraz, the capital of the southern Fars province, took place less than a year after a mass shooting at the same site that was later claimed by ISIS.

Nine suspects - all of them foreigners - were arrested after the August 13 attack, which killed two people and wounded seven others.

Iran’s judiciary-affiliated Mizan said the Iranian Revolutionary Court gave Rahmatollah Norouzof two death sentences. Norouzof, described as a member of ISIS, was convicted of "sedition and collusion against the security of the country."

Two other men were sentenced to five years in prison and deportation from the country for "participating in gatherings and collusion with the intention of disrupting the country's security."

Footage and pictures published following the attack showed windows shattered by bullets and blood staining the ground.

An earlier shooting at the shrine on October 26, 2022 killed 13 people and injured 30 others. ISIS later claimed responsibility for that attack.

However, activists and human rights organizations questioned the timing and motives of these attacks that coincided with the launch of a crackdown against protests over the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody in 2022.

Iran hanged two men in public on July 8 over the attack after their conviction for "corruption on Earth, armed rebellion, and acting against national security," Mizan said.

London-based rights group Amnesty International says Iran executes more people than any other country except China and hanged at least 582 people last year, the highest number since 2015.


Over 600 Iranian Women Arrested During Anniversary of Amini’s Death

An Iranian woman passes through the women’s entrance at Qarchak Prison in Tehran. (Mizan)
An Iranian woman passes through the women’s entrance at Qarchak Prison in Tehran. (Mizan)
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Over 600 Iranian Women Arrested During Anniversary of Amini’s Death

An Iranian woman passes through the women’s entrance at Qarchak Prison in Tehran. (Mizan)
An Iranian woman passes through the women’s entrance at Qarchak Prison in Tehran. (Mizan)

The Volunteer Committee to Follow-Up on the Situation of Detainees revealed that at least 600 women were arrested last week in Tehran and other cities during the first death anniversary of Mahsa Amini.

The Committee added that most of the detainees were released on bail while dozens were referred to the Iranian public prosecution.

The Persian media abroad reported that Iran transferred 130 of the detainees to temporary cells in the prison of Qarchak.

Amini was arrested for allegedly flouting Iran's strict dress code for women. She spent three days in hospital in a coma before her death on September 16.

Her death sparked week-long protests that were specifically led by women who challenged the authority by removing their veil.

Months after that, the momentum of the protests vanished in parallel with a crackdown that resulted in 551 deaths, including 68 children and 49 women, by the security forces, as revealed by the Norway-headquartered Iran Human Rights.

Over 22,000 were arrested, according to Amnesty International.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi attributed the protests to Western countries.

Neither the government nor the Iranian judiciary commented on the report regarding the arrest of hundreds of women.

Meanwhile, BBC Persian reported from well-informed sources that engineer Zeinab Kazemi was arrested by the security police.

She was earlier sentenced to 74 lashes for removing her veil during a conference for the Tehran Association of Engineers.

Last year, a video of Kazemi went viral showing her throwing her headscarf on the ground before Iranian officials in objection to the quashing of protests.

Sources reported that Kazemi was transferred to Qarchak Prison.

"I have never regretted raising my voice for justice and against oppression, and I still don't," she said in a new video on Amini’s death anniversary.

Iran escalated strict security measures to prevent the families of the victims of the protests from commemorating the anniversary.

In the city of Qazvin west of Tehran the security forces used tear gas to disperse individuals attempting to commemorate the first anniversary of one of the dead.

Fatemeh, the sister of Javad Heydari who was killed last year by live ammunition, reported that security forces fired tear gas into their house and deployed troops to quash any gatherings.

Iran’s parliament on Tuesday approved a bill to impose heavier penalties on women who refuse to wear the mandatory headscarf. The bill would take effect for a preliminary period of three years.


Zelenskyy Visits Canada for First Time since War Started Seeking to Shore Up Support for Ukraine

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, greets Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, as his wife Olena Zelenska looks on as they arrive at Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport in Ottawa, Ontario, on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, greets Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, as his wife Olena Zelenska looks on as they arrive at Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport in Ottawa, Ontario, on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Zelenskyy Visits Canada for First Time since War Started Seeking to Shore Up Support for Ukraine

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, greets Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, as his wife Olena Zelenska looks on as they arrive at Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport in Ottawa, Ontario, on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, greets Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, as his wife Olena Zelenska looks on as they arrive at Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport in Ottawa, Ontario, on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will address the Canadian Parliament on Friday as he continues his efforts to shore up support from Western allies for Ukraine’s war against the Russian invasion.
Zelenskyy arrived at Ottawa’s airport late Thursday after meeting with US President Joe Biden and lawmakers in Washington, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office said.
Trudeau greeted Zelenskyy and will also speak in Parliament in Ottawa on Friday, The Associated Press said.
It is Zelenskyy’s first visit to Canada since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. He previously addressed the Canadian Parliament virtually after the war started.
Zelenskyy and Trudeau are scheduled to go from Ottawa to Toronto to meet with the local Ukrainian community. Canada is home to about 1.4 million people of Ukrainian descent, close to 4% of the population.
The Ukrainian president is making the trip after stops at the United Nations and the White House.
Canada's UN ambassador, Bob Rae, said it is important for Zelenskyy to see the extent to which Canada supports Ukraine in the war.
“We have done a lot to help him and we need to do more,” Rae said. “We’re going to continue to do everything we can to support the Ukrainian people."
Canada has provided more than $8.9 billion Canadian (US$6.6 billion) in support to Ukraine in what Trudeau's government calls the highest per-capita direct financial support to Ukraine in the Group of 7 industrial nations.
More than 175,000 Ukrainians have come to Canada since the war started and an additional 700,000 have received approval to come as part of an initiative that supports temporary relocation of those fleeing the war. The initiative allows for an open work permit for three years with pathways to permanent residency and citizenship.
Zelenskyy is facing questions in Washington about the flow of American dollars that for 19 months has helped keep his troops in the fight against Russian forces.
Ukrainian troops are struggling to take back territory that Russia gained over the past year. Their progress in the next month or so before the rains come and the ground turns to mud could be critical in rousing additional global support over the winter.
Zelenskyy made his first official visit to Canada in 2019.


Russia: Prisoner Exchange Will Not Change Relations Between US, Iran

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani meets his Russian counterpart Sergey Ryabkov in Tehran last month. (Iranian Foreign Ministry)
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani meets his Russian counterpart Sergey Ryabkov in Tehran last month. (Iranian Foreign Ministry)
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Russia: Prisoner Exchange Will Not Change Relations Between US, Iran

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani meets his Russian counterpart Sergey Ryabkov in Tehran last month. (Iranian Foreign Ministry)
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani meets his Russian counterpart Sergey Ryabkov in Tehran last month. (Iranian Foreign Ministry)

Russia believes that the prisoner exchange between the US and Iran will not radically change the relations between the two nations, according to the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov.

Speaking to the Sputnik news agency, Ryabkov stressed there is no direct correlation between the recent prisoner swap between the US and Iran and the resumption of dialogue over the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

However, he emphasized that mutual understanding remains possible.

The diplomat noted that Russia is ready to resume work on the JCPOA in Vienna if Western colleagues demonstrate common sense.

Last July, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was skeptical that the nuclear deal would be revived, stating that expectations of any additional agreements to revive the pact were unrealistic under current circumstances with little more than a year to go until the 2024 US presidential election.

The release of the five prisoners last week was part of a rare exchange deal between Washington and Tehran, which included the release of assets worth $6 billion frozen by South Korea, a US ally.

Earlier this week, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had visited Tehran, where he held discussions with the country's top security official and met with the Chief of Staff and his Iranian counterpart.

Shoigu toured the Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) aerospace exhibition in Tehran.

After Western sanctions were imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Tehran and Moscow have strengthened their bilateral ties, especially in the military domain.

Last month, Ryabkov stated that Russia's military cooperation with Iran would not be subject to geopolitical pressures following a report that Washington had asked Tehran to stop selling drones to Moscow.

Iran had admitted to sending drones to Russia, which denies using them in Ukraine. Tehran asserted that such shipments were made before Moscow invaded Ukraine in February 2022.


Azerbaijan Claims Full Control of Breakaway Region and Holds Initial Talks with Ethnic Armenians

Russian peacekeepers evacuate civilians following Azerbaijani armed forces' offensive operation in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region inhabited by ethnic Armenians, in an unknown location, in this still image from video published September 21, 2023. Russian Defense Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
Russian peacekeepers evacuate civilians following Azerbaijani armed forces' offensive operation in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region inhabited by ethnic Armenians, in an unknown location, in this still image from video published September 21, 2023. Russian Defense Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
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Azerbaijan Claims Full Control of Breakaway Region and Holds Initial Talks with Ethnic Armenians

Russian peacekeepers evacuate civilians following Azerbaijani armed forces' offensive operation in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region inhabited by ethnic Armenians, in an unknown location, in this still image from video published September 21, 2023. Russian Defense Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
Russian peacekeepers evacuate civilians following Azerbaijani armed forces' offensive operation in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region inhabited by ethnic Armenians, in an unknown location, in this still image from video published September 21, 2023. Russian Defense Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

Azerbaijan regained control of its breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in a deadly two-day military offensive and held initial talks with representatives of its ethnic Armenian population on reintegrating the area into the mainly Muslim country, Azerbaijan’s top diplomat told the UN Security Council on Thursday.
Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov reaffirmed Azerbaijan’s determination to guarantee Nagorno-Karabakh residents “all rights and freedoms” in line with the country’s constitution and international human rights obligations, including safeguards for ethnic minorities.
He said the talks with Nagorno-Karabakh in the Azerbaijani city of Yevlakh will continue, reported The Associated Press.
Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, declared victory in a televised address. Bayramov said there is now “a historic opportunity" to seek better relations with Armenia after 30 years of conflict.
Nagorno-Karabakh came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by the Armenian military in separatist fighting that ended in 1994. Armenian forces also took control of substantial territory around the Azerbaijani region.
Azerbaijan regained control of the surrounding territory in a six-week war with Armenia in 2020. A Russia-brokered armistice ended the war, and a contingent of 2,000 Russian peacekeepers was sent to the region to monitor it.
The agreement left the region’s capital, Stepanakert, connected to Armenia only by the Lachin Corridor, along which Russian peacekeepers were supposed to ensure free movement. But a blockade by Azerbaijan deprived Nagorno-Karabakh of basic supplies for the last 10 months, until Monday, when the International Committee of the Red Cross was able to make a delivery through another route.
Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan, who called for the emergency meeting of the Security Council along with France, accused Azerbaijan of an “unprovoked and well-planned military attack,” launched to coincide with this week’s annual meeting of world leaders at the UN General Assembly.
“Literally the whole territory of Nagorno-Karabakh,” including Stepanakert and other cities and settlements, came under attack from intense and indiscriminate shelling, missiles, heavy artillery, banned cluster munitions, combat drones and other aircraft, he said.
Mirzoyan said the offensive targeted critical infrastructure such as electricity stations, telephone cables and internet equipment, killed more than 200 people and wounded 400 others, including women and children. More than 10,000 people fled their homes to escape the offensive, he said.
Electricity and phone service were knocked out, leaving people unable to contact each other, and “Azerbaijani troops control main roads in Nagorno-Karabakh, which makes it impossible to visit and get information on the ground,” he said.
“The Azerbaijani social media is full of calls to find the missing children and women, to rape them, dismember them and feed them to dogs,” Mirzoyan told the council.
He said the “barbarity” of Azerbaijan’s aggression and deliberate targeting of the civilian population “was the final act of this tragedy aimed at the forced exodus of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.”
What Armenia has seen, Mirzoyan said, “is not an intent anymore but clear and irrefutable evidence of a policy of ethnic cleansing and mass atrocities.”
Bayramov strongly denied the allegations of ethnic cleansing. He said representatives from Nagorno-Karabakh asked during Thursday's talks for humanitarian aid, including food and fuel for schools, hospitals and other facilities that government agencies will provide soon.
Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, told the council: “We need to develop a gradual roadmap to integrate the population of Nagorno-Karabakh into the constitutional order of Azerbaijan, with clear guarantees over their rights and security,”
Russia's peacekeepers will support these efforts, he said, adding that “the security and rights of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians are of key importance.”
The quick capitulation by Nagorno-Karabakh separatists reflected their weakness from the blockade.
“The local forces, they were never strong. The Azerbaijani army is much better prepared, much better equipped. ... So it was quite obvious, you know, that any military action that was to take place in that area, it would lead to the defeat of the local Armenian side,” Olesya Vartanyan, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, told The Associated Press.
Bayramov said Armenia kept more than 10,000 “armed formations” and heavy military equipment in Nagorno-Karabakh after the 2020 agreement. During the operation that started Tuesday, more than 90 of their outposts were taken, along with substantial military equipment, he said.
He held up photos of equipment he claimed was seized.
Mirzoyan urged the Security Council to demand protection for civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh; to immediately deploy a UN mission to monitor the human rights, humanitarian and security situation; to seek return of prisoners of war; and to consider deploying a UN peacekeeping force to the region.
Azerbaijan’s move to reclaim control over Nagorno-Karabakh raised concerns that a full-scale war in the region could resume. The 2020 war killed over 6,700 people.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the US was “deeply concerned” about Azerbaijan’s military actions and was closely watching the humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In a phone call Thursday with Aliyev, Russian President Vladimir Putin also urged that the rights and security of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh should be guaranteed, according to the Tass news agency.
Aliyev apologized to Putin during the call for the deaths of Russian peacekeepers in the region Wednesday, the Kremlin said. Azerbaijan's prosecutor-general's office later said five Russian peacekeepers were shot and killed Wednesday by Azerbaijani troops who mistook them amid fog and rain for Armenian forces. One other Russian was killed by Armenian fighters.
Meanwhile, protesters rallied in the Armenian capital of Yerevan for a third day Thursday, demanding that authorities defend Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and calling for the resignation of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. At least 46 people were arrested in a large protest outside the main government building in the city center, police said.
The conflict has long drawn powerful regional players, including Russia and Turkey. While Russia took on a mediating role, Turkey threw its weight behind longtime ally Azerbaijan.
Russia has been Armenia’s main economic partner and ally since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and has a military base in the country.
Pashinyan, however, has been increasingly critical of Moscow’s role, emphasizing its failure to protect Nagorno-Karabakh and arguing that Armenia needs to turn to the West to ensure its security. Moscow, in turn, has expressed dismay about Pashinyan’s pro-Western tilt.
While many in Armenia blamed Russia for the defeat of the separatists, Moscow pointed to Pashinyan’s own recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.
“Undoubtedly, Karabakh is Azerbaijan’s internal business,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “Azerbaijan is acting on its own territory, which was recognized by the leadership of Armenia."
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna condemned Azerbaijan’s offensive and said it is essential that the ceasefire announced Wednesday is respected.
What is at stake, Colonna said, is whether the ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh can continue living there with their rights and culture respected by Azerbaijan. “Today they have the responsibility for the fate of the population,” she said.
If Azerbaijan wants a peaceful and negotiated solution, Colonna said, “it must here and now provide tangible guarantees” and commit to discussions and to not using or threatening the use of force.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also condemned Azerbaijan’s military assault, which she said was launched despite the government’s assurances to refrain from the use of force.
She called for a complete cessation of violence and lasting peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan that “can only be achieved at the negotiating table.”
Baerbock urged both countries to return to European Union-mediated talks.


Census Shows 3.5 Million Middle Eastern Residents in US

FILE - Traffic passes through the toll plaza at the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey, on Friday, June 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey, file)
FILE - Traffic passes through the toll plaza at the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey, on Friday, June 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey, file)
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Census Shows 3.5 Million Middle Eastern Residents in US

FILE - Traffic passes through the toll plaza at the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey, on Friday, June 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey, file)
FILE - Traffic passes through the toll plaza at the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey, on Friday, June 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey, file)

The United States had 3.5 million residents who identify as Middle Eastern or North African, according to the US Census Bureau.

The most detailed race and ethnicity data to date from the 2020 census was released Thursday more than three years after the once-a-decade head count, which determines political power, the distribution of $2.8 trillion in annual federal funding and holds up a mirror to how the US has changed in a decade. The delay was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the implementation of a new method to protect the confidentiality of participants.

The Census Bureau says the 2020 census provided more details on the nation's racial and ethnic groups than ever before, offering counts for about 1,550 racial, ethnic and tribal groups, although some tables aren't available at smaller geographies for some groups because of the new confidentiality methods.

The 2020 census was the first to allow respondents to identify themselves as coming from a Middle Eastern or North African country, otherwise known as MENA. While there was no separate MENA category in the 2020 census, respondents were encouraged to write-in their backgrounds, and if they wrote Jordanian or Moroccan, for instance, they could be classified as MENA.

The data showed that more than 3.5 million people did so or in combination with another group.

The results come as the Biden administration contemplates updating the nation’s racial and ethnic categories for the first time since 1997.

Right now, MENA residents are classified as white, but they would have their own category under the proposed changes. The process also would combine the race and ethnic origin questions into a single query, because some advocates say the current method of asking about race and separately about ethnic origin often confuses Hispanic respondents.

The bureau's American Community Survey previously has asked a question about ancestry, from which MENA figures could be inferred, but the survey collects data only from 3.5 million households while census forms go to every US household.

“This is a monumental change,” said Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute, a Washington-based advocacy group. “For us, it’s a wonderful indication of what is to come when we secure a MENA category.”

However, Berry believes the MENA population may have been undercounted because of the extra steps needed to write down respondents' detailed backgrounds on the 2020 census form, instead of being able to just check a category box.

According to the 2020 census, the two largest groups of people who identified as MENA, either alone or in combination with another group, were Lebanese, with more than 685,000 people, and Iranian with more than 568,000 people. The states with the largest MENA populations were California, Michigan and New York.


Fire at Iran Defense Ministry Car Battery Factory Extinguished, Report Says

FILE - Iranian women walk in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023.  (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
FILE - Iranian women walk in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
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Fire at Iran Defense Ministry Car Battery Factory Extinguished, Report Says

FILE - Iranian women walk in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023.  (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
FILE - Iranian women walk in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

A fire in a storage area of an Iranian defense ministry's car battery factory north of the capital has been extinguished, state TV reported Friday.

The fire happened around midnight in a 2-square-kilometer storage area of plastic items in the factory north of Tehran. The TV footage showed a black column of smoke rising in the nighttime sky.
Firefighters were able to put out the fire with no casualties and the cause is under investigation, the report said.
It did not mention any potential damage from the fire. Iran’s defense ministry has long owned the biggest and oldest car battery factories in Iran.
Incidents at the country’s defense industry sites have increased in recent years, and Iran has blamed Israel for attacks or sabotage.
In August, Iran accused Israel of trying to sabotage its ballistic missile program through faulty foreign parts that could explode, damaging or destroying the weapons before they could be used.


Ukraine's Zelenskiy Appeals to US Lawmakers Amid Questions Over Military Aid

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House, Dec. 21, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
FILE - President Joe Biden speaks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House, Dec. 21, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
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Ukraine's Zelenskiy Appeals to US Lawmakers Amid Questions Over Military Aid

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House, Dec. 21, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
FILE - President Joe Biden speaks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House, Dec. 21, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed to lawmakers on Thursday for continued support in the war with Russia amid Republican skepticism over whether Congress should approve a new round of aid for his country.
After seeking to shore up international support at the United Nations, Zelenskiy came to Washington on a crosstown blitz that includes a meeting with military leaders at the Pentagon, President Joe Biden and an address in the evening at the National Archives museum.
While Biden and most congressional leaders still support aid to Ukraine, and Biden's Democrats control the Senate, Zelenskiy faces a tougher crowd than when he visited Washington nine months ago, Reuters reported.
Dressed in military green to reflect his status as a wartime leader, Zelenskiy briefed the full US Senate in the Capitol's historic Old Senate Chamber, receiving several standing ovations, according to a post on the platform X by Senator Chris Murphy.
"We had great dialogue," Zelenskiy told reporters at the Capitol after the meeting.
Zelenskiy told Senators that military aid was crucial to Ukraine's war effort, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in the Senate chamber after the briefing, which took place behind closed doors.
"If we don't get the aid, we will lose the war," Schumer quoted Zelenskiy as saying.
At the Pentagon, Zelenskiy was greeted by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and was set to visit to a memorial to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
As Ukraine's military counteroffensive grinds on and Congress stages a bitter debate over spending ahead of a possible government shutdown, a growing chorus of Republicans have questioned the billions of dollars Washington has sent Kyiv for military, economic and humanitarian needs.
"What is the point of cutting off support now when we're at a turning point in the war?" said Schumer, a Democrat, taking aim at Republican critics of the aid. "Now is not the time to take the foot off the gas when it comes to helping Ukraine."
The US has sent some $113 billion in security and humanitarian aid to help Zelenskiy's government since Russia invaded in February 2022.
Russia carried out its biggest missile attack in weeks across Ukraine on Thursday, pounding energy facilities in what officials said appeared to be the first salvo in a new air campaign against the Ukrainian power grid.
Zelenskiy on Wednesday pressed his case for financial help with some of America's best known billionaires who made their fortunes in industries ranging from finance to tech and sports.
Biden administration officials held a classified briefing for Congress on Wednesday evening, to push for an additional $24 billion, saying if Russian President Vladimir Putin was allowed to take control of Ukraine and pushed through to the border of NATO, the cost to the United States would be much higher.
But some Republicans were not convinced.
Republican Senator J.D. Vance said the United States "is being asked to fund an indefinite conflict with unlimited resources."
"Enough is enough," he said in a post on X, which included a letter dated Thursday to the director of the Office of Management and Budget questioning the aid and signed by Republicans from both houses of Congress.
Biden will announce a new $325 million military aid package for Ukraine, which is expected to include the second tranche of cluster munitions fired by a 155 millimeter Howitzer cannon.
"If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?" Biden asked world leaders at the United Nations on Tuesday.
Congress approved Ukraine assistance easily when both the Senate and House were controlled by Democrats. Zelenskiy, who has become a powerful advocate for his country, was greeted as a hero when he addressed a joint meeting of Congress in December.
Support in the Senate, both from Biden's fellow Democrats and Republicans, has remained strong.
"Our nation has a fundamental interest in Ukrainian victory and European security," Senate Republican Leader McConnell said on Wednesday in a speech criticizing Biden for acting too slowly to help Ukraine.
Solid majorities of Americans support providing weaponry to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia, Reuters/Ipsos polling shows.
But some of the Republicans who took narrow control of the House in January are questioning the wisdom of continuing to send funds to Kyiv. About a third of the House Republican caucus voted in July for a failed proposal to cut funding for Ukraine.


Talks Held on the Future of Nagorno-Karabakh as Azerbaijan Claims Full Control of the Region

In this video grab taken from a handout footage and released by the Russian Defense Ministry on September 21, 2023, Armenian civilians arrive at Russian military base near Stepanakert in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. (Photo by Handout / Russian Defense Ministry / AFP)
In this video grab taken from a handout footage and released by the Russian Defense Ministry on September 21, 2023, Armenian civilians arrive at Russian military base near Stepanakert in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. (Photo by Handout / Russian Defense Ministry / AFP)
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Talks Held on the Future of Nagorno-Karabakh as Azerbaijan Claims Full Control of the Region

In this video grab taken from a handout footage and released by the Russian Defense Ministry on September 21, 2023, Armenian civilians arrive at Russian military base near Stepanakert in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. (Photo by Handout / Russian Defense Ministry / AFP)
In this video grab taken from a handout footage and released by the Russian Defense Ministry on September 21, 2023, Armenian civilians arrive at Russian military base near Stepanakert in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. (Photo by Handout / Russian Defense Ministry / AFP)

Representatives from Nagorno-Karabakh and the Azerbaijan government met for talks Thursday to discuss the future of the breakaway region that Azerbaijan claims to fully control following a military offensive this week.
Azerbaijan’s state news agency said the talks had ended but provided no details on whether an agreement was reached. Nagorno-Karabakh authorities and the news agency earlier said the talks between regional leaders and Azerbaijan's government would focus on Nagorno-Karabakh’s “reintegration” into Azerbaijan.
The talks in the Azerbaijani city of Yevlakh came after local Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh agreed to lay down their weapons following an outbreak of fighting this week in the decades-long separatist conflict. Authorities in the ethnic Armenian region that has run its affairs without international recognition since fighting broke out in the early 1990s declared Wednesday that local self-defense forces will disarm and disband under a Russia-mediated cease-fire.
Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev trumpeted victory in a televised address to the nation, saying his country’s military had restored its sovereignty in Nagorno-Karabakh.
On Tuesday, the Azerbaijan army unleashed an artillery barrage and drone attacks against outnumbered and undersupplied pro-Armenian forces, which have been weakened by a blockade of the region in the southern Caucasus Mountains that is recognized internationally as being part of Azerbaijan.
Nagorno-Karabakh human rights ombudsman Gegham Stepanyan said at least 200 people, including 10 civilians, were killed and more than 400 others were wounded in the fighting. The figures could not immediately be independently verified.
Azerbaijan’s move to reclaim control over Nagorno-Karabakh raised concerns that a full-scale war in the region could resume between it and Armenia, which have been locked in a struggle over Nagorno-Karabakh since a separatist war there ended in 1994.
The hostilities worsened an already grim humanitarian situation for residents who have endured shortages of food and medicine for months as Azerbaijan enforced a blockade of the road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.
The UN Security Council scheduled an urgent meeting Thursday on the Azerbaijani offensive at the request of France.
On Thursday, authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh accused Azerbaijan of violating the cease-fire agreement by firing on Stepanakert in the disputed region, according to Russian news agency Interfax. Azerbaijan's defense ministry said allegations of an attack were "completely false," the Azerbaijan news agency reported.
In a phone call Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Aliyev that the rights and security of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh should be guaranteed, according to Russian state news agency Tass. Aliyev apologized to Putin during the phone call for the death of Russian peacekeepers in the region on Wednesday, Tass said, citing the Kremlin press service. Russia’s defense ministry said some of its peacekeepers were killed, though it didn’t say how many or whether it happened before or after the start of the cease-fire.
On Thursday, Russia's defense ministry reported that about 5,000 civilians in the region had been evacuated to a camp operated by Russian peacekeepers to avoid the fighting. Many others gathered Wednesday at the airport in Stepanakert hoping to flee the region.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a speech that fighting had decreased following the truce, emphasizing that Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh are fully responsible for residents' security.
Pashinyan, who has previously recognized Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh, said Armenia wouldn’t be drawn into the fighting. He said his government didn’t take part in negotiating the deal, but “has taken note” of the decision made by the region’s separatist authorities.
He again denied any Armenian troops were in the region, even though separatist authorities said they were in Nagorno-Karabakh and would pull out as part of the truce.
Protesters rallied in the Armenian capital of Yerevan for a second day Wednesday, blocking streets and demanding that authorities defend Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the US was “deeply concerned” about Azerbaijan’s military actions. “We have repeatedly emphasized the use of force is absolutely unacceptable,” he said, adding that the US was closely watching the worsening humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.
During another war that lasted six weeks in 2020, Azerbaijan reclaimed broad swaths of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent territories that were held for decades by Armenian forces. More than 6,700 people died in the fighting, which ended with a Russian-brokered peace agreement. Moscow deployed about 2,000 peacekeeping troops to the region.
The conflict has long drawn in powerful regional players, including Russia and Turkey. While Russia took on a mediating role, Turkey threw its weight behind longtime ally Azerbaijan.
Russia has been Armenia’s main economic partner and ally since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and has a military base in the country.
Pashinyan, however, has been increasingly critical of Moscow’s role, emphasizing its failure to protect Nagorno-Karabakh and arguing that Armenia needs to turn to the West to ensure its security. Moscow, in turn, has expressed dismay about Pashinyan’s pro-Western tilt.
The Kremlin said Putin spoke by phone with Pashinyan on Wednesday, welcoming the deal to end the hostilities and start talks.
The separatists’ quick capitulation reflected their weakness following the Armenian forces’ defeat in the 2020 war and the loss of the only road linking the region to Armenia.
While many in Armenia blamed Russia for the defeat of the separatists, Moscow pointed to Pashinyan’s own recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.
“Undoubtedly, Karabakh is Azerbaijan’s internal business,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “Azerbaijan is acting on its own territory, which was recognized by the leadership of Armenia.”
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Aliyev and “condemned Azerbaijan’s decision to use force ... at the risk of worsening the humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh and compromising ongoing efforts to achieve a fair and lasting peace,” the French presidential office said.
Macron “stressed the need to respect” the cease-fire and “to provide guarantees on the rights and security of the people of Karabakh, in line with international law.”
Azerbaijan presidential aide Hikmet Hajiyev said the government was “ready to listen to the Armenian population of Karabakh regarding their humanitarian needs.”
In announcing its military operation Tuesday, Azerbaijan aired a long list of grievances, accusing pro-Armenian forces of attacking its positions, planting land mines and engaging in sabotage.
Aliyev insisted that the Azerbaijani army struck only military facilities during the fighting, but separatist officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said Stepanakert and other areas came under “intense shelling.”
Significant damage was visible in the city, with shop windows blown out and vehicles apparently hit by shrapnel.
The Azerbaijani Prosecutor General’s Office said Armenian forces fired at Shusha, a city in Nagorno-Karabakh under Azerbaijan’s control, killing one civilian.