China Threatens Retaliation if US House Speaker Meets Taiwan President

In this image made from video, Taiwan's Presidential office secretary general Lin Chia-lung, left, President Tsai Ing-wen, center, and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu wave before Tsai's departure on an overseas trip at Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, March 29, 2023. (AP)
In this image made from video, Taiwan's Presidential office secretary general Lin Chia-lung, left, President Tsai Ing-wen, center, and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu wave before Tsai's departure on an overseas trip at Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, March 29, 2023. (AP)
TT

China Threatens Retaliation if US House Speaker Meets Taiwan President

In this image made from video, Taiwan's Presidential office secretary general Lin Chia-lung, left, President Tsai Ing-wen, center, and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu wave before Tsai's departure on an overseas trip at Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, March 29, 2023. (AP)
In this image made from video, Taiwan's Presidential office secretary general Lin Chia-lung, left, President Tsai Ing-wen, center, and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu wave before Tsai's departure on an overseas trip at Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, March 29, 2023. (AP)

China threatened to retaliate on Wednesday if US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy meets Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen during her planned transit of the United States next month, saying any such move would be a "provocation".

China, which claims democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own territory, has repeatedly warned US officials not to meet Tsai, viewing it as support for the island's desire to be seen as a separate country.

China staged war games around Taiwan last August when then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei, and Taiwan's armed forces have said they are keeping watch for any Chinese moves when Tsai is abroad.

Tsai is due to depart on Wednesday for a trip to Guatemala and Belize that will see her transit through New York and Los Angeles. While not officially confirmed, she is expected to meet McCarthy while in California, at the end of her trip.

Zhu Fenglian, spokesperson of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, told reporters in Beijing that Tsai's "transits" of the United States were not just her waiting at the airport or hotel, but for her to meet US officials and lawmakers.

"If she has contact with US House Speaker McCarthy, it will be another provocation that seriously violates the one-China principle, harms China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and destroys peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait," she said.

"We firmly oppose this and will definitely take measures to resolutely fight back," Zhu added, without giving details.

The United States says such transits by Taiwanese presidents are routine and that China should not use Tsai's trip to take any aggressive moves against Taiwan.

Taiwanese presidents routinely pass through the United States while visiting diplomatic allies in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific, which, although not official visits, are often used by both sides for high-level meetings.

China says that both it and Taiwan belong to "one China" and that as a Chinese province the island has no right to any sort of state-to-state ties.

Taiwan's government strongly rejects China's sovereignty claims, and while Tsai has repeatedly offered talks with Beijing she has also said only Taiwan's people can decide their future.

Tsai is expected to make comments at the airport before her flight leaves for New York.



Report: EU Countries Order Only 60,000 Shells for Ukraine via New Scheme

A Ukrainian serviceman of the Spartan Brigade of the National Guard of Ukraine stands in a shelter near artillery shells at a front line, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine September 13, 2023. (Reuters)
A Ukrainian serviceman of the Spartan Brigade of the National Guard of Ukraine stands in a shelter near artillery shells at a front line, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine September 13, 2023. (Reuters)
TT

Report: EU Countries Order Only 60,000 Shells for Ukraine via New Scheme

A Ukrainian serviceman of the Spartan Brigade of the National Guard of Ukraine stands in a shelter near artillery shells at a front line, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine September 13, 2023. (Reuters)
A Ukrainian serviceman of the Spartan Brigade of the National Guard of Ukraine stands in a shelter near artillery shells at a front line, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine September 13, 2023. (Reuters)

European Union countries have placed orders for only 60,000 artillery shells under an EU scheme to help get 1 million rounds of ammunition to Ukraine by next spring, according to people familiar with the figures.

The scheme was a centerpiece of an EU initiative to ramp up the supply of vital 155mm artillery shells to Ukraine, allowing countries to place orders with industry through contracts negotiated by the bloc's European Defense Agency (EDA).

The broader initiative, launched in March, offered various schemes to get 1 million shells and missiles to Ukraine within a year for the war against Russia's invasion.

Together, those schemes have yielded some 480,000 munitions, according to the EU - less than half of the target, with about four months to go.

The particularly small volume of orders for the scheme at the heart of the program highlights bigger struggles that the EU is facing in trying to hit the target.

In a sign of concern at the low volume of orders so far, a draft declaration for an EU summit next week "stresses the urgent need to accelerate the delivery of missiles and ammunition, notably under the one million rounds of artillery ammunition initiative".

Artillery rounds are a crucial element in the war of attrition between Ukrainian troops and Russia's invasion forces, with each side firing thousands of shells every day.

The European Defense Agency said in September that seven countries had ordered ammunition through the pioneering joint procurement scheme. Lithuania, Denmark and Luxembourg said they were among the seven.

The EDA did not specify the size of the orders. But people familiar with the figures told Reuters on condition of anonymity the total was just 60,000 shells.

Another option for EU members was to deliver from existing stocks, yielding some 300,000 shells and missiles, the EU says.

Other munitions have been ordered through a scheme that allows EU countries to piggy-back onto contracts signed by one "lead nation".

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said last month the EU would miss the 1 million target, echoing a view expressed privately by some diplomats and officials.

But others including EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell have insisted the goal remains.

Borrell hailed the plan to send 1 million shells to Ukraine within a year as "historic" when it was agreed in March. The initiative allows countries to get partial refunds on their orders through an EU-run fund, the European Peace Facility.

Different explanations

Officials and industry leaders have offered different explanations for the EU's struggle to meet the goal.

Some argue that many governments have simply not backed up their rhetoric about supporting Ukraine for the long haul by placing orders with arms firms.

Others insist that it takes time for industry to ramp up and restart production of such artillery shells, which until recently were not viewed as a priority for modern warfare.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said last week he thought the problems were more technical than political.

"People with special knowledge of how things work - how spare parts work, how chains of supply work - they have to sit down and sort it out," he said.

Some officials have also blamed a decision to restrict the joint procurement drive to companies from the EU and Norway.

Asked whether it could confirm the 60,000 figure, the European Defense Agency said it did not comment on numbers.

The EU's diplomatic service said only member countries could provide details of orders. But it stressed EU countries were supplying shells via various routes, not just joint procurement.

"Member states continue to deliver artillery ammunition to Ukraine, whether through stocks, redirection of existing orders or new procurement," spokesperson Peter Stano said in an email.

"The goal to deliver one million rounds of ammunition remains a political priority. We continue to encourage all member states to consider placing orders within the EDA framework contracts, as capacities remain available."


Former UK PM Johnson Admits to Making Mistakes but Defends COVID Record at Inquiry

This image taken from the UK COVID-19 Inquiry live stream shows former British prime minister Boris Johnson giving evidence at Dorland House in London, Wednesday Dec. 6, 2023, during its second investigation (Module 2) exploring core UK decision-making and political governance. (AP)
This image taken from the UK COVID-19 Inquiry live stream shows former British prime minister Boris Johnson giving evidence at Dorland House in London, Wednesday Dec. 6, 2023, during its second investigation (Module 2) exploring core UK decision-making and political governance. (AP)
TT

Former UK PM Johnson Admits to Making Mistakes but Defends COVID Record at Inquiry

This image taken from the UK COVID-19 Inquiry live stream shows former British prime minister Boris Johnson giving evidence at Dorland House in London, Wednesday Dec. 6, 2023, during its second investigation (Module 2) exploring core UK decision-making and political governance. (AP)
This image taken from the UK COVID-19 Inquiry live stream shows former British prime minister Boris Johnson giving evidence at Dorland House in London, Wednesday Dec. 6, 2023, during its second investigation (Module 2) exploring core UK decision-making and political governance. (AP)

Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged Wednesday that his government was too slow to grasp the extent of the COVID-19 crisis, but skirted questions about whether his indecisiveness had cost thousands of lives.

Testifying under oath at Britain's COVID-19 public inquiry, Johnson acknowledged that “we underestimated the scale and the pace of the challenge” when reports of a new virus began to emerge from China in early 2020.

The “panic level was not sufficiently high,” he said.

Ex-Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the inquiry last week that he had tried to raise the alarm inside the government, saying thousands of lives could have been saved by putting the country under lockdown a few weeks earlier than the eventual date of March 23, 2020.

The United Kingdom went on to have one of Europe’s longest and strictest lockdowns, as well as one of the continent's highest COVID-19 death tolls, with the virus recorded as a cause of death for more than 232,000 people.

Johnson conceded that the government had “made mistakes,” but emphasized collective failure rather than his own errors. He said ministers, civil servants and scientific advisers had failed to sound a “loud enough klaxon of alarm” about the virus.

“I was not being informed that this was something that was going to require urgent and immediate action," he said.

Grilled by inquiry lawyer Hugo Keith, Johnson acknowledged that he didn't attend any of the government’s five crisis meetings on the new virus in February 2020, and only “once or twice” looked at meeting minutes from the government’s scientific advisory group. He said that he relied on “distilled” advice from his science and medicine advisers.

Anna-Louise Marsh-Rees, whose father died during the pandemic, said that Johnson came across as “casual, careless, chaotic, clueless.”

“It just feels like he was living under a rock,” she said outside the hearing.

Johnson started his testimony with an apology “for the pain and the loss and the suffering of the COVID victims,” though not for any of his own actions. Four people stood up in court as he spoke, holding signs saying: “The Dead can’t hear your apologies," before being escorted out by security staff.

“Inevitably, in the course of trying to handle a very, very difficult pandemic in which we had to balance appalling harms on either side of the decision, we may have made mistakes,” Johnson said. “Inevitably, we got some things wrong. I think we were doing our best at the time.”

The former prime minister had arrived at the west London inquiry venue at daybreak, several hours before he was due to take the stand, avoiding a protest by a group of bereaved relatives, some holding pictures of their loved ones. A banner declared: “Let the bodies pile high” — a statement attributed to Johnson by an aide. Another sign read: “Johnson partied while people died.”

Johnson was pushed out of office by his own Conservative Party in mid-2022 after multiple ethics scandals, including the revelation that he and staff members held parties in the prime minister’s Downing Street offices in 2020 and 2021, flouting the government’s lockdown restrictions.

Johnson agreed in late 2021 to hold a public inquiry after heavy pressure from bereaved families. The investigation, led by retired Judge Heather Hallett, is expected to take three years to complete, though interim reports will be issued starting next year.

The inquiry's goal is to learn lessons rather than assign individual blame, but its revelations could further tarnish Johnson's battered reputation. Former colleagues, aides and advisers have painted an unflattering picture of the former leader and his government during weeks of testimony.

Former Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said Johnson was “bamboozled” by science. In diaries that have been seen as evidence, Vallance also said Johnson was “obsessed with older people accepting their fate.” Former adviser Dominic Cummings, now a fierce opponent of Johnson, said the then prime minister asked scientists whether blowing a hair dryer up his nose could kill the virus.

Former senior civil servant Helen McNamara described a “toxic,” macho culture inside Johnson's government, and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, the country’s top civil servant, called Johnson and his inner circle “basically feral.”

Johnson defended his administration, saying it contained “challenging” characters “whose views about each other might not be fit to print, but who got an awful lot done.”

He said he didn't recognize the chaotic picture painted by other witnesses at the inquiry.

"Nobody came to me and said ‘people have got God complexes and there’s internecine warfare going on here,'” Johnson said.

Johnson said he was “not sure” whether his government's decisions had caused excess deaths. He said that deciding when to impose lockdowns and other restrictions had been “painful” and “incredibly difficult."

Johnson sometimes appeared strained and emotional as he remembered the “tragic year” of 2020 and having to balance public health with the economic damage caused by lockdowns. But he denied allegations — in messages exchanged between aides at the time — that he had vacillated wildly about what to do as the virus spread.

The inquiry can compel witnesses to hand over emails and other communications evidence — but it hasn't received around 5,000 of Johnson's WhatsApp messages from several key weeks between February and June 2020. They were on a phone Johnson was told to stop using when it emerged that the number had been publicly available online for years. Johnson later said he’d forgotten the password to unlock it.

Johnson was unable to explain what had happened to the messages, but said he wanted to “make it absolutely clear I haven’t removed any WhatsApps from my phone.”


Ukraine Downs 41 Russian Drones in Major Overnight Attack

FILE PHOTO: A local resident walks in front of damaged residential buildings, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in the town of Avdiivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine October 17, 2023. REUTERS/Yevhen Titov/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A local resident walks in front of damaged residential buildings, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in the town of Avdiivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine October 17, 2023. REUTERS/Yevhen Titov/File Photo
TT

Ukraine Downs 41 Russian Drones in Major Overnight Attack

FILE PHOTO: A local resident walks in front of damaged residential buildings, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in the town of Avdiivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine October 17, 2023. REUTERS/Yevhen Titov/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A local resident walks in front of damaged residential buildings, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in the town of Avdiivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine October 17, 2023. REUTERS/Yevhen Titov/File Photo

Russia launched a major drone attack on southern, central and eastern Ukrainian regions overnight, damaging privately-owned and commercial buildings as well as infrastructure, Kyiv officials said on Wednesday.
Air defenses shot down 41 of 48 Russian drones launched from Russia's western Kursk region and the occupied peninsula of Crimea seized by Moscow in 2014, the air force said. Only Iranian-made "Shahed" drones were used for the attack, Reuters quoted it as saying.
Drone attacks have happened almost nightly for weeks and the latest strike was the largest one so far this month.
The Ukrainian President's office said people's homes and commercial buildings were damaged by drone debris in various regions.
Unspecified infrastructure facilities in several regions and a natural gas pipe in the northeast Kharkiv region were damaged, it said in a statement.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
DTEK, Ukraine's largest private energy producer, said one of its thermal power stations located in a frontline region in the east was shelled for the sixth time this month.
It said on Telegram messenger that heating to residents was disrupted but did not give a specific number of people affected. Temperatures in Ukraine are well below zero Celsius.
As a second winter of war sets in, Ukrainians fear that Russia plans to target its energy system.


Iran Rejects Accusations of Involvement in Attacks on US Forces, Commercial Ships in Red Sea

Boats carrying people sail near the Galaxy Leader commercial ship, seized by Yemen's Houthis last month, off the coast of al-Salif, Yemen, December 5, 2023. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
Boats carrying people sail near the Galaxy Leader commercial ship, seized by Yemen's Houthis last month, off the coast of al-Salif, Yemen, December 5, 2023. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
TT

Iran Rejects Accusations of Involvement in Attacks on US Forces, Commercial Ships in Red Sea

Boats carrying people sail near the Galaxy Leader commercial ship, seized by Yemen's Houthis last month, off the coast of al-Salif, Yemen, December 5, 2023. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
Boats carrying people sail near the Galaxy Leader commercial ship, seized by Yemen's Houthis last month, off the coast of al-Salif, Yemen, December 5, 2023. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Iran has rejected Washington’s accusations that it has been behind a series of attacks on US forces and several commercial ships in the Red Sea.

Iran was reacting to sentiments echoed by the US and its ally, Britain, which held Tehran responsible for the actions of its proxies and partners.

On Monday, the British government released a statement, in which it “condemned the attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea by Houthis” and said “Iran has long provided military and political support to Houthis and bears responsibility for the actions of its proxies and partners.”

It noted that “the UK is committed to ensuring the safety of shipping in the region,” adding that the waters were vital for trade and the incidents showed the importance of the Royal Navy's presence there.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani on Tuesday dismissed as “baseless and unconstructive” remarks by the British government that said Iran was not responsible for any attacks by the militant groups it supports.

He stressed that resistance groups in the region are not taking orders from Tehran to confront the war crimes and genocide committed by Israel.

The Iranian spokesperson urged British officials to “condemn Israel's crimes against Palestinian civilians, including women and children, and facilitating aid delivery to them, instead of hurling unfounded accusations against others.”

This came while Iran's UN envoy Amir Saeid Iravani said his country has not been involved in any actions or attacks against US military forces.

In a letter addressed to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the Iranian envoy made clear that Iran has not been part of any acts or attacks against US military forces in the region.

“Iran regards these unfounded allegations as a deliberate attempt by the United States, the occupying State, to justify and decriminalize its persistent criminal acts of aggression and serious violations of international law and the United Nations Charter within the Syrian Arab Republic and the region,” he said.

The United States has blamed Yemen's Iran-allied Houthi group for a series of attacks in Middle Eastern waters since war broke out between Israel and Hamas in Gaza on Oct. 7.

In a briefing with reporters on Monday, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington has “every reason to believe that these attacks, while they were launched by the Houthis in Yemen, are fully enabled by Iran.”

On Sunday, US Central Command (CENTCOM) said Iran is responsible for attacks launched on commercial vessels in international waters in the southern Red Sea on the same day.

“These attacks represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security. They have jeopardized the lives of international crews representing multiple countries around the world. We also have every reason to believe that these attacks, while launched by the Houthis in Yemen, are fully enabled by Iran,” it said.

Yemen's Houthis have claimed attacks on two ships they described as being linked to Israel in the region.

On Sunday, three commercial vessels came under attack in international waters in the southern Red Sea, the US military said. The Carney, an American destroyer, responded to distress calls and provided assistance following missile and drone launches from Houthi-controlled territory, according to US Central Command.

There are at least 74 attacks on US and coalition forces since October 17.


US Air Force Says 8 Soldiers Aboard US Osprey that Crashed Off Japan Assumed Dead

Japanese coast guard helicopter and patrol vessel conduct search and rescue operation in the waters where a US military Osprey aircraft crashed into off the coast of Yakushima Island, Kagoshima prefecture, southern Japan Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. (AP)
Japanese coast guard helicopter and patrol vessel conduct search and rescue operation in the waters where a US military Osprey aircraft crashed into off the coast of Yakushima Island, Kagoshima prefecture, southern Japan Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. (AP)
TT

US Air Force Says 8 Soldiers Aboard US Osprey that Crashed Off Japan Assumed Dead

Japanese coast guard helicopter and patrol vessel conduct search and rescue operation in the waters where a US military Osprey aircraft crashed into off the coast of Yakushima Island, Kagoshima prefecture, southern Japan Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. (AP)
Japanese coast guard helicopter and patrol vessel conduct search and rescue operation in the waters where a US military Osprey aircraft crashed into off the coast of Yakushima Island, Kagoshima prefecture, southern Japan Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. (AP)

All eight airmen who were aboard an Osprey military aircraft that crashed off Japan on November 29, are considered deceased, the US Air Force said Tuesday.

A statement by Air Force Special Operations Command said six of the eight crew members’ remains had been located.

It added, “the US military transitioned search and rescue operations to search and recovery operations,” meaning “survivors are unlikely."

Of the eight airmen, the remains of three airmen have been recovered, the remains of another three airmen have been located and are in the process of being recovered, and the remains of two airmen are still being located, according to AFP.

Offering his condolences, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the military would “continue to gather information” on the incident and conduct “a rigorous and thorough investigation.”

US President Joe Biden said in a statement that “our entire nation mourns this tragic loss.

On Nov. 29, the US Air Force Osprey aircraft crashed into the ocean near the Japanese island of Yakushima with eight people on board during a training mission. The US military has around 54,000 personnel in Japan.

The Osprey, which can operate like a helicopter or a fixed-wing plane, has suffered a string of fatal crashes over the years, and therefore, rekindled safety concerns.

The accidents include a crash in northern Australia that killed three US Marines in August, and another in Norway during NATO training exercises last year that left four dead.

In the wake of the deadly crash, Japan had halted using its own Ospreys pending safety checks and has asked the US to suspend its Osprey flights.


Ukraine's Zelensky to Join G7 Leaders Video Summit Wednesday

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky (AP)
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky (AP)
TT

Ukraine's Zelensky to Join G7 Leaders Video Summit Wednesday

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky (AP)
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky (AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will join a video summit later Wednesday with the leaders of the G7, chair Japan said.

"Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will host the G7 TV summit. In the meeting, in addition to the G7 leaders, Ukraine’s President Zelensky will join the first part,” government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters.

Zelensky unexpectedly cancelled on Tuesday a planned videolink appearance that he was scheduled to deliver during a US Senate hearing, where tough negotiations are underway over a new aid package for Ukraine that Kiev is relying heavily on to counter the Russian invasion.

Matsuno said that Kishida and the other leaders from the grouping of advanced economies will “discuss important issues for the international community such as the Ukraine situation, the Middle East situation and AI.”


Biden 'Not Sure' He'd Be Running if Trump Was Not in 2024 Race

US President Joe Biden speaks to the press after returning from a trip to Boston, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 05 December 2023.  EPA/BONNIE CASH / POOL
US President Joe Biden speaks to the press after returning from a trip to Boston, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 05 December 2023. EPA/BONNIE CASH / POOL
TT

Biden 'Not Sure' He'd Be Running if Trump Was Not in 2024 Race

US President Joe Biden speaks to the press after returning from a trip to Boston, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 05 December 2023.  EPA/BONNIE CASH / POOL
US President Joe Biden speaks to the press after returning from a trip to Boston, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 05 December 2023. EPA/BONNIE CASH / POOL

President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he may have skipped mounting a 2024 re-election bid if he were not facing Donald Trump because the Republican poses a unique threat to the United States.
"If Trump wasn't running, I'm not sure I'd be running," Biden said at a fundraising event for his 2024 campaign outside of Boston. "We cannot let him win,” Reuters quoted him as saying.
Biden's striking self-assessment comes as even staunch Democratic voters express concerns about the president's age. The Democrat turned 81 years old last month and is already the eldest Oval Office occupant in history.
"Somebody gave him a talking point they thought would sound good," Trump, who was president from 2017 to 2021, said at a Fox News town hall on Tuesday.
Biden, seeking a second four-year term in next year's election, later told reporters at the White House that he would not drop out of the race.
"No, not now," Biden said when asked if he would consider stepping aside if Trump, 77, stopped seeking his own second term. "Look, he is running, and I have to run."
Asked if he would have run were Trump not in the race, Biden said, "I expect so."
During his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden often mentioned that his decision to run was due in part to then-President Trump's handling of issues, including a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Now, Biden faces limited competition for his party's nomination and is again positioning Trump as a danger to democracy itself.
Trump, who faces criminal charges over his efforts to reverse his 2020 election loss, has painted Biden as a dangerous autocrat.
After considering the decision for weeks with family and close confidants, Biden announced his re-election bid in April, coming to the private belief that neither Vice President Kamala Harris nor any other Democratic hopeful could beat Trump in next year's general election, according to a former White House official who requested anonymity to discuss the president's thinking.
The president's aides increasingly regard Trump's frontrunner status for the Republican presidential nomination as insurmountable, according to two of those Democrats who also declined to be named.
Biden has repeatedly made comments about Trump during a fundraising blitz that started on Tuesday in Boston and is set to include at least nine events before the end of the month.
"I don’t think anyone doubts our democracy is at risk again," Biden said earlier on Tuesday.
Recent polling has shown the Republican frontrunner leading Biden in hypothetical matchups in key swing states and on the national level.


Ukraine Sees ‘Big Risk’ of Losing War If US Congress Postpones Vital Aid

Ukrainian servicemen take part in anti-sabotage drills, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Chernihiv region, Ukraine December 5, 2023. (Reuters)
Ukrainian servicemen take part in anti-sabotage drills, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Chernihiv region, Ukraine December 5, 2023. (Reuters)
TT

Ukraine Sees ‘Big Risk’ of Losing War If US Congress Postpones Vital Aid

Ukrainian servicemen take part in anti-sabotage drills, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Chernihiv region, Ukraine December 5, 2023. (Reuters)
Ukrainian servicemen take part in anti-sabotage drills, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Chernihiv region, Ukraine December 5, 2023. (Reuters)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's chief of staff said on Tuesday that the postponement of US assistance for Kyiv being debated in Congress would create a "big risk" of Ukraine losing the war with Russia.

The remarks by Andriy Yermak were some of the frankest yet from a senior Kyiv official as uncertainty swirls over the future of vital US and European Union assistance packages as Ukraine's war with Russia rages on with no end in sight.

"If the help which (is) now debating in Congress will be just postponed...it gives the big risk that we can be in the same position to which we're located now," he said, addressing the audience in English.

"And of course, it makes this very high possibility impossible to continually liberate and give the big risk to lose this war."

White House officials said on Monday that the United States was running out of time and money to help Ukraine fight its war against Russia.

US President Joe Biden's administration asked Congress in October for nearly $106 billion to fund ambitious plans for Ukraine, Israel and US border security but Republicans who control the House with a slim majority rejected the package.

US officials hope they can still get a significant package approved.

Yermak singled out the threat of no more direct budgetary support as problem.

"Of course, without this direct budget support, it will be difficult to keep ... in same positions and to be for the people to really survive...during the situation when the war will continue," he said.

"That is why it is extremely critically important that this support will be voted and will be voted as soon as possible."

Yermak made the remarks on his second visit to Washington in a matter of weeks. He said he planned to press lawmakers and administration officials on the critical importance that Congress approve the new aid package.


At COP28 Summit, Activists and Officials Voice Concern over Gaza’s Environment, Devastated by War

Palestinians search for bodies and survivors among the rubble of a destroyed house following Israeli airstrikes on Deir Al Balah in the southern Gaza Strip, 05 December 2023. (EPA)
Palestinians search for bodies and survivors among the rubble of a destroyed house following Israeli airstrikes on Deir Al Balah in the southern Gaza Strip, 05 December 2023. (EPA)
TT

At COP28 Summit, Activists and Officials Voice Concern over Gaza’s Environment, Devastated by War

Palestinians search for bodies and survivors among the rubble of a destroyed house following Israeli airstrikes on Deir Al Balah in the southern Gaza Strip, 05 December 2023. (EPA)
Palestinians search for bodies and survivors among the rubble of a destroyed house following Israeli airstrikes on Deir Al Balah in the southern Gaza Strip, 05 December 2023. (EPA)

As leaders, officials and activists descend on Dubai for United Nations climate talks to discuss saving Earth, another environmental crisis is nearby, and it's raising concerns among summit participants.

Devastated by a nearly two-month-long assault by Israeli airstrikes and ground fighting, large swaths of Gaza have been flattened, agricultural lands have been destroyed, olive trees that have stood for generations are scorched and dwindling water resources are contaminated. Experts warn that white phosphorus — a chemical illegal under international law that a human rights group says is in used in Israeli operations — could also be detrimental to the environment, including the air and soil. Palestinians are worried that the land could take years to recover, and activists at the summit are tying the plight of Gazans to climate justice globally.

The Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Jagan Chapagain warned during the summit that Gaza could "become an environmental catastrophe."

But with the destruction of much of Gaza's infrastructure and an exceptionally heavy human cost — over 15,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed there since October — it's impossible for the country to give climate and environment the attention it needs, said Hadeel Ikhmais, a climate change expert with the Palestinian Authority, at the summit's first-ever State of Palestine Pavilion.

"We have policies, we have indices, we have ... a lot of strategies and plans, well developed. But now we have to rethink all of what we’ve been working for the last ten years because what happened in Gaza destroyed everything," she said. "We have to build the city all over again."

She asked: "What kind of climate justice are we talking about while all the people in Palestine are endangered and their lives are lost?"

Gaza's water has long been scarce — but the war has made it even more acute. Israel cut off water pipelines and electricity, meaning desalination plants couldn't run, leading to a host of health and sanitation concerns for residents. Agriculture in Gaza, mainly olive trees and citrus fruits as well as other plants, has been decimated because of water shortages and the devastation of the land.

White phosphorus, that human rights groups say was used in densely populated areas, is illegal under international law when used on civilians. It can set buildings on fire and burn human flesh. It poses health risks for survivors and can get deep into soil and water.

War also raises climate concerns: Militaries worldwide are responsible for 5.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Conflict and Environment Observatory and Scientists for Global Responsibility, and militaries are under no obligation to report or reduce their carbon footprint.

Climate activists, who largely support calls for a ceasefire and justice for Palestinians, have centered the issue in protests at the UN talks. They say that climate justice — the idea that saving Earth from hotter temperatures is linked to more just world for everyone, especially the most vulnerable — is inextricably linked with security and freedom for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation because both crises are fueled by colonization and capitalism.

"The Palestinian struggle is a struggle for self-determination and climate justice is a struggle for self-determination," said Katherine Robinson, a climate campaigner from South Africa. "There is no climate justice in occupied territories. There’s no climate justice during war and there’s no climate justice during apartheid."

Rania Harara, from the MENA feminist task force, agreed that climate justice goes hand in hand with Palestinian solidarity.

"We cannot sit here and talk about climate justice without talking about human rights," she said, to applause from the audience at an event on Saturday.

The war on Gaza is also affecting how much funding can be diverted to climate initiatives, said Mohamed Adow, the director of Power Shift Africa, a Nairobi-based climate and energy think-tank.

Adow says wars and conflict are using up much needed climate cash that could have otherwise been very useful to help protect vulnerable communities from climate disaster. He used the example of Ukraine, where he says trillions of dollars were sent at a time that the international community was struggling to mobilize a hundred billion for climate finance.

"Demilitarization across the world must be a key component of climate justice," Adow said.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry’s top diplomat for the Mideast, Oded Joseph, said Israel’s priority at the moment is fighting and protecting their civilians, with climate and environmental crises being dealt with "once we meet that objective".

The war began on Oct. 7 when an attack on Israel killed 1,200 people and was retaliated with a punishing weekslong air and later ground assault on the Gaza Strip with no end in sight. A nearly week-long temporary truce ended Friday.

But beyond the war, the wider occupation is still detrimental to efforts toward climate and environmental justice, activists say.

"Climate justice is inseparable from justice for Palestinians," said Dylan Hamilton, policy coordinator for the Alliance of Non-Governmental Radical Youth. "There can be no climate justice on occupied land."


Iran Hints at Responding to Attacks on its Forces in the Region

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani
TT

Iran Hints at Responding to Attacks on its Forces in the Region

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani

The Iranian Foreign Ministry on Monday hinted that it will respond to any attacks on its interests and “advisory forces” in the region.
The announcement came two days after the Iranian Revolutionary Guards said two of its military advisers in Syria have been killed in an Israeli attack, in the first reported Iranian casualties during the ongoing war in Gaza.
A Revolutionary Guards statement did not give details of the attack.
On Monday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani warned that attacks on Iranian interests and its “advisory forces” in Syria “will not go unanswered.”
In his weekly press conference, he reiterated Iran’s accusations against the United States, echoed by Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian during a press conference with his Omani counterpart Sayyid Badr al-Busaidi in Tehran on Saturday.
“The new round of Israeli military attacks and aggressions began when the US Secretary of State attended the Israeli war cabinet,” Kanaani said, accusing Washington of sending tons of bombs to Israel.
“America is a party to the war,” the spokesperson affirmed.
Iran Rejects US Accusations
Without mentioning the attacks launched by the pro-Iranian Houthi group on ships in the Red Sea, Kanaani described the US Central Command (CENTCOM) operating in the Middle East as “terrorists” and said that their presence “undermines regional security.”

Kanaani reiterated earlier statements that armed groups facing charges of ideological loyalty to his country, also known as the “axis of resistance,” do not take orders from Iran. “We offer them instructions. But, they represent their own people and make decisions based on their interests,” he affirmed.
The spokesperson then rejected reports accusing Iran of sending drones to the Houthis.
“These are propaganda claims that provide cover for the crimes of the Zionist entity,” he said, adding that Washington must stop its support for Israel.
On the nuclear deal, Kanaani said the Omani foreign minister had not delivered a US message to Iran. However, he welcomed Muscat's efforts to return to the commitments made in the 2015 nuclear deal in exchange for the lifting of US sanctions imposed on Iran.
Also, the spokesperson commented on the $6 billion recently transferred by the US to Qatar in a prisoner swap deal with Iran. “The US must fulfill its commitments,” he said, adding that Iran has received enough guarantees, because dealing with America is not based on trust.
“We can access these funds and use them according to our needs,” he added.
Kanaani also spoke about the recent statements of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi, as well as the phone call between Amirabdollahian and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell on Saturday evening.
“We expect Grossi to raise issues related to Iran's program from a technical standpoint away from political suspicions,” he said.
In the same context, Kanaani added: “It is remarkable that the European Union is taking unconstructive positions on issues related to the nuclear program and the IAEA. It is unfortunate that the Union is making unilateral accusations against Iran without paying attention to the US for evading its commitments and to Europe's inaction.”
On Saturday, Borrell expressed hope that constructive cooperation between Iran and the IAEA will continue, according to a statement by the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
The EU’s foreign policy chief later wrote on X that he spoke over the phone with Amirabdollahian, but did not address the nuclear talks, which have been stalled for over a year.
Borrell emphasized on a two-state solution to the longstanding Israel-Palestine conflict.
He added that he urged Iran to “use its influence and to actively work towards avoiding any further escalation in the region.”