By Rupam Jain and Phil Stewart KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and the Taliban have sketched the outlines for an eventual peace accord to end 17 years of war in Afghanistan, a U.S. special envoy said on Monday, but there was no sign the insurgent group had accepted key U.S. demands. "We have a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement," U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad told the New York Times in an interview in Kabul after six days of talks with the Taliban. "The Taliban have committed, to our satisfaction, to do what is necessary that would prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a platform for international terrorist groups or individuals." However, there was no sign that the Taliban had agreed to U.S. demands such as that they commit to a ceasefire before the withdrawal of U.S. troops or that they engage in direct talks with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, analysts said. "While the progress in Doha has been the most significant to date, reaching a final agreement is far from guaranteed, as (these) two major sticking points could still derail the process," Ahmad Majidyar, a fellow at the Middle East Institute, wrote on the Washington thinktank's website. Another U.S. official in Kabul, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, described "significant progress" in the talks in Qatar but said more negotiations were needed on the issue of the timing of the ceasefire, which looms as a sticking point in the next round of talks on Feb. 25. Taliban negotiators want a full withdrawal before a ceasefire but the Americans want it the other way around, the official said. "Of course we don't seek a permanent military presence in Afghanistan," the official said. "Our goal is to help bring peace in Afghanistan and we would like a future partnership, newly defined with a post-peace government," the official said. "We would like to leave a good legacy." U.S. forces in 2001 toppled the country's hardline Islamic leaders for harboring the al Qaeda militants responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks that killed about 3,000 people. A senior Trump administration official who also spoke on condition of anonymity said the Taliban would have to agree to talk to the government in Kabul to make a lasting deal. "The President has made clear that his priority is ending the war in Afghanistan with an agreement that ensures the country never again serves as a base for terrorists to attack the U.S. or any other country," the official said. "To achieve such an agreement, the Taliban must engage with other Afghans and all sides must agree to resolve their differences through peaceful means," he added. Taliban officials have repeatedly refused to talk to the Afghan government, which they regard as a U.S. puppet, throwing into question how effective a peace deal could be. The Taliban do want, however, to join an interim government post-deal. NO PLANS YET Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters outside the Pentagon he had been briefed on the talks but had not been asked to plan for a full withdrawal of troops. "It's encouraging," Shanahan said of the talks. Asked whether he had been tasked with planning a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, he said: "I have not." Despite the presence of U.S.-led foreign forces training, advising and assisting their Afghan counterparts, the Taliban control nearly half of Afghanistan and stage near-daily attacks against the government and its security forces. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said last week that 45,000 members of the country's security forces had been killed since he took office in 2014. A U.S. official said in December that President Donald Trump was planning to withdraw more than 5,000 of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the latest sign of his thinning patience with America's longest war and overseas military interventions. Trump last month decided to pull U.S. troops out of Syria as well. Both U.S. officials and the Taliban hailed progress after the talks with Khalilzad ended on Saturday. Taliban sources told Reuters that the United States had agreed to withdraw foreign troops within 18 months of the signing of a pact but the U.S. official said a timeline was not discussed. The U.S. troops in Afghanistan are part of a NATO-led mission and a U.S. counter-terrorism mission largely directed at groups such as Islamic State and al Qaeda. Some 8,000 troops from 38 other countries are participating in the operation, known as Resolute Support. (Reporting by Rupam Jain and Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and Steve Holland in Washington; Writing by Greg Torode and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Mary Milliken, Will Dunham and Sonya Hepinstall)
- The Week
Biden did not, in fact, remove Trump's 'Diet Coke button' from the Resolute Desk, White House clarifies
The new Biden administration has yet not disclosed the secrets of Area 51 or explained what the Air Force really knows about UFOs, but it did clarify, at least, the mystery of the vanished "Diet Coke button" former President Donald Trump would use to summon refreshments in the Oval Office. The usher button, as it is formally known, is not gone, even if it is no longer used to summon Diet Cokes, a White House official tells Politico.The White House official "unfortunately wouldn't say what Biden will use the button for," Politico's Daniel Lippman writes, suggesting Biden might summon Orange Gatorade and not the obvious answer, ice cream — or, let's get real, coffee. What's more, there are evidently two usher buttons in the Oval Office, one at the Resolute Desk and the other next to the chair by the fireplace, a former White House official told Politico, adding that Trump didn't actually use the Diet Coke button all that much because "he would usually just verbally ask the valets, who were around all day, for what he needed."In any case, it is not the placement of the button that matters, of course, but how you use it. And Biden will presumably know better than to order ice cream treats during a top-secret national security briefing.More stories from theweek.com Josh Hawley knows exactly what he's doing Trump must be prosecuted Surging global ice melt suggests sea level rise predictions are far too conservative
- NBC News
The fate of top Democratic priorities like $1,400 checks and immigration overhaul could hang in the balance.
- Associated Press
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel will be closing its international airport to nearly all flights, while Israeli police clashed with ultra-Orthodox protesters in several major cities and the government raced to bring a raging coronavirus outbreak under control. The entry of highly contagious variants of the virus, coupled with poor enforcement of safety rules in ultra-Orthodox communities, has contributed to one of the world's highest rates of infections. It also has threatened to undercut Israel's highly successful campaign to vaccinate its population against the virus.
- The Telegraph
Nicola Sturgeon's husband should be investigated for possible perjury over sworn evidence he gave to the Alex Salmond inquiry, the interim Scottish Labour leader has said. Peter Murrell, who is also the SNP’s chief executive, is facing questions over the existence of messages to other party officials related to the criminal probe that Mr Salmond faced. When he gave evidence to the Holyrood inquiry under oath last month, Mr Murrell said there were no other messages between himself and party officials about Mr Salmond, other than an exchange in which he spoke about pressure being applied to police to investigate the former party leader.
Donald Trump opened an office in Florida on Monday that will handle his duties as a former U.S. president and seek to further his administration's agenda. "The Office will be responsible for managing President Trump's correspondence, public statements, appearances, and official activities to advance the interests of the United States and to carry on the agenda of the Trump Administration through advocacy, organizing, and public activism," a statement said. The announcement came on the same day the House of Representatives delivered to the Senate an impeachment article charging Trump with inciting insurrection in a speech to supporters before the deadly attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.
- The Week
In an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Monday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said his caucus won't allow Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to dictate the agenda in the Democratic-led 50-50 Senate or demand an end to the legislative filibuster as a precondition for a power-sharing pact. "We've told McConnell no on the organizing resolution, and that's that. So there's no negotiations on that," Schumer said, suggesting he had a secret plan. "There are ways to deal with him."Maddow included an update when she broadcast the interview Monday night. "While we were airing that right now, and you were watching it, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell just put out a statement that he is folding on this" and willl "agree to go forward with what Sen. Schumer told him he must," she said. "Sen. Mitch McConnell has caved and Sen. Schumer has won that fight. That was quick. Let's see what else we can do."> No sooner has the portion of Rachel Maddow's interview with Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer aired than Mitch McConnell has put out a statement that he is folding, ending the stand-off. pic.twitter.com/9qR1jpKXkf> > -- Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) January 26, 2021McConnell said he would allow the Senate to move forward because two Democrats had reiterated their opposition to ending the filibuster, effectively taking that option off the table. Maddow asked Schumer about that, too, and he didn't answer directly."The caucus is united with the belief that I have: We must get big, strong, bold things done," Schumer said. The Democratic caucus is also "totally united" that "we will not let Mitch McConnell dictate to us what we will do and not do," and "we have tools that we can use," notably the budget reconciliation process," he added. "We will come together as a caucus and figure it out."> "We will not let Mitch McConnell dictate to us what we will do and not do." Here's Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer earlier in his interview with Rachel Maddow, talking about the filibuster specifically, and getting things done. pic.twitter.com/xOAKWfe2Fu> > -- Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) January 26, 2021Schumer also suggested he is not interested in playing cat-and-mouse with McConnell's Republicans again. Watch below. > "We will not repeat that mistake." Senate Majority Leader Schumer cites Obama era lessons in prioritizing legislation over bad faith Republican 'bipartisanship.' pic.twitter.com/gpc1kBP45w> > -- Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) January 26, 2021More stories from theweek.com Josh Hawley knows exactly what he's doing Biden did not, in fact, remove Trump's 'Diet Coke button' from the Resolute Desk, White House clarifies Trump must be prosecuted
- Associated Press
Allies of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who faces years in prison, called for new protests next weekend to demand his release, following a wave of demonstrations that turned out tens of thousands across the country in a defiant challenge to President Vladimir Putin. Mass rallies took place Saturday in over 100 cities in what observers said was the largest outpouring of anger in years, and Navalny's supporters urged protesters to keep up the pressure. During Saturday's protests, over 3,700 people were detained, according to OVD-Info, a human rights group that monitors political arrests.
- The Telegraph
Israel will ban passenger flights in and out of the country from Monday for a week as it seeks to stop the spread of new coronavirus variants. "Other than rare exceptions, we are closing the sky hermetically to prevent the entry of the virus variants and also to ensure that we progress quickly with our vaccination campaign," said Benjamin Netanuahu, the Israeli prime minister. It came as a study in Israel reported a 60 per cent drop in over-60s being hospitalised with coronavirus three weeks after being vaccinated, in the latest sign that the jabs are effective. According to Maccabi, an Israeli healthcare provider, there was a significant decrease in hospitalisations from day 23 onwards, which was two days after patients received their second jab. Also on Sunday, Israel expanded its rapid vaccination drive to include 16-18 year-olds in an effort to get them back in schools to take their winter examinations. The winter matriculation certificate is a significant part of university and military admissions. At least one dose has been administered to around a quarter of Israel’s 9 million-strong population. The vaccine is generally available to over 40s or, with parental permission, those aged between 16 and 18. Israel struck a deal with Pfizer at the beginning of January that allowed them to expedite delivery of the vaccine, in return for sharing extensive data on their vaccination campaign with the rest of the world. Yuli Edelstein, the Israeli health minister, told The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the data from their vaccination programme suggests a first dose offered around 30 per cent protection from coronavirus.
- Associated Press
President Joe Biden has brought back Dr. Kevin O'Connor as his physician, replacing President Donald Trump's doctor with the one who oversaw his care when he was vice president. The White House confirmed that Dr. Sean Conley, the Navy commander who served as the head of the White House Medical Unit under Trump and oversaw his treatment when he was hospitalized with COVID-19, will assume a teaching role at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. O'Connor, a retired Army colonel, was Biden's doctor during his entire tenure as vice president, having remained in the role at Biden's request.
The Philippines has confirmed domestic transmission of the new, highly contagious British variant of the coronavirus, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to abandon a plan to allow some minors to go outside their homes. "Right now, we have local transmission where this individual or these cases with the variant have already infected their community, their family," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told news channel ANC on Tuesday. The world is scrambling to contain the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant, despite travel bans, new lockdowns and a tightening quarantine measures in dozens of countries, amid concerns it could not only be more transmissible, but deadlier.
- NBC News
The eight other current and former police officers were indicted in what authorities described as a long-term scheme to steal overtime money.
- The Independent
Accused of aiming to take her job, Florida congressman tweets that he is ‘not seeking a position in House Leadership’
- Associated Press
House Democrats delivered the impeachment case against Donald Trump to the Senate for the start of his historic trial, but Republican senators were easing off their criticism of the former president and shunning calls to convict him over the deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol. The nine House prosecutors carried the sole impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection" across the Capitol on Monday night, making a solemn and ceremonial march to the Senate along the same halls the rioters ransacked just weeks ago. Instead Republicans are presenting a tangle of legal arguments against the legitimacy of the trial and questioning whether Trump's repeated demands to overturn Joe Biden's election really amounted to incitement.
AstraZeneca is not doing enough to try to resolve a dispute over delayed COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to the European Union, the bloc's top health official said on Monday, as news emerged the drugmaker is also facing supply problems elsewhere. In a sign of the EU's frustration - after Pfizer also announced a temporary slowdown in vaccine supplies earlier in January - EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides proposed forcing drugmakers to register in advance their COVID-19 vaccine exports, so the bloc can keep track of what they are doing. AstraZeneca, which developed its shot with Oxford University, told the EU on Friday it could not meet agreed supply targets up to the end of March.
- The Week
The world's ice is melting so fast that sea level rise predictions can't keep up.In the 1990s, the Earth's ice was melting at a rate of about 760 billion tons per year. That has surged 60 percent to an average of 1.2 trillion tons per year in the 2010s, a study published Monday in the journal The Cryosphere estimates. And as another study published earlier this month in Science Advances makes clear, the problem is feeding into itself.Climate change is largely responsible for the huge ice melt surge, the Cryosphere study reports. In fact, about three percent of all the energy trapped within the Earth's systems because of climate change has gone toward that ice melt, the study estimates. "That’s like more than 10,000 'Back to the Future' lightning strikes per second of energy melting ice around-the-clock since 1994," William Colgan, an ice-sheet expert at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, told The Washington Post. "That is just a bonkers amount of energy."Climate change not only melts ice sheets on land, but also warms ocean waters to melt glaciers from the bottom up as well. Past sea level rise projections have failed to account for this glacial undercutting by "at least a factor of 2" the Science Advances study found."Together, the two studies present a worrying picture," the Post writes. The first study found "the ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change," study author Thomas Slater said in a statement. But the second reveals that the panel's sea level projections, which were already criticized as too conservative, may have underestimated the role of glacial undercutting in accelerating ice melt even more. Read more at The Washington Post.More stories from theweek.com Josh Hawley knows exactly what he's doing Biden did not, in fact, remove Trump's 'Diet Coke button' from the Resolute Desk, White House clarifies Trump must be prosecuted
- The Telegraph
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced the establishment of its embassy in Tel Aviv as the US national security advisor announced that America hopes to build “on the success of Israel’s normalisation agreements” under the Biden administration. The UAE cabinet decision to approve establishing the embassy comes after they signed the Abraham Accords in September, becoming the first Gulf state to establish a full diplomatic relationship with Israel. No further details about the embassy were given in UAE media. While Israel’s government recognises Jerusalem as its capital, the international community does not, with Palestinians claiming East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Most countries base their embassies in Tel Aviv. Before the deal, Israel only had peace deals with only two Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan - where it has fortified embassies. Most Arab countries had previously refrained from recognising Israel, believing that recognition should only be granted if serious concessions are made in the Palestinian peace process. Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco later agreed to follow in the UAE’s footsteps and normalise ties with Israel under US-brokered deals.
- The Independent
Biden news: Experts find major ‘gaps’ in Trump pardons as White House scrambles to rollout vaccine plan
Latest developments from Washington DC and beyond
- Yahoo News Video
Israeli authorities on Monday extradited a former teacher accused of sexually abusing her former students in Australia, capping a six-year legal battle that had strained relations between the two governments and antagonized Australia's Jewish community.
- Associated Press
Indianapolis police arrested a 17-year-old boy Monday in the killings of five people, including a pregnant woman, who were shot to death inside a home in what the city's mayor called a “devastating act of violence.” The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement that the name of the suspect in Sunday's killings was “not being released at this time since the suspect is a juvenile." As officers were investigating, police received information about 4:40 a.m. that led them to a nearby home, where they found multiple adults dead inside from apparent gunshot wounds, Sgt. Shane Foley said Sunday.
Venezuela's Juan Guaido is a "privileged interlocutor" but no longer considered interim president, European Union states said in a statement on Monday, sticking by their decision to downgrade his status. The EU's 27 states had said on Jan. 6 they could no longer legally recognise Guaido as after he lost his position as head of parliament following legislative elections in Venezuela in December, despite the EU not recognising that vote. Following the disputed re-election of President Nicolas Maduro in 2018, Guaido, as head of parliament, became interim president.