Face to face: Biden, Putin ready for long-anticipated summit

GENEVA (AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia's Vladimir Putin sit down Wednesday for their highly anticipated summit i n the Swiss city of Geneva, a moment of high-stakes diplomacy at a time when both leaders agree that relations between their countries are at an all-time low. 

For four months, the two leaders have traded sharp rhetoric. Biden repeatedly called out Putin for malicious cyberattacks by Russian-based hackers on U.S. interests, a disregard for democracy with the jailing of Russia's foremost opposition leader and interference in American elections. 

Putin, for his part, has reacted with whatabout-isms and obfuscations — pointing to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to argue that the U.S. has no business lecturing on democratic norms and insisting that the Russian government hasn't been involved in any election interference or cyberattacks despite U.S. intelligence showing otherwise.

Now, the pair will meet for their first face-to-face as leaders — a conversation that is expected to last four to five hours. In advance, both sides set out to lower expectations.

Even so, Biden has said it would be an important step if the United States and Russia were able to ultimately find "stability and predictability" in their relationship, a seemingly modest goal from the president for dealing with the person he sees as one of America's fiercest adversaries.

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The Latest: Masks requirements vary in city hosting summit

GENEVA (AP) — The acting chief of protocol for the Geneva region says staff members at the villa where U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are meeting will keep face masks on during the summit even if the two leaders don't.

Geneva authorities require the wearing of masks in public, though there are exceptions. The requirement holds particularly in places with a lot of pedestrian traffic, such as shopping areas. 

Marion Bordier Bueschi, who is managing the grand lakeside mansion that will serve as the summit site, told The Associated Press that staffers inside Villa La Grange were already wearing masks.

She said Putin and Biden would likely not wear masks during their talks on Wednesday. She noted that both leaders have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

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What They Want: Divergent goals for Biden, Putin at summit

GENEVA (AP) — An American president won't side with Moscow over his own intelligence agencies. There will be no talk of a "reset" in Russian relations. And it is highly doubtful that anyone will gaze into Vladimir Putin's eyes and discuss his soul.

But beyond that, it's not clear what will happen Wednesday in Geneva when President Joe Biden meets Putin for the first time since taking office. Both sides acknowledge that the relationship between the two nations is dismal and neither holds out much hope for meaningful areas of agreement. Still, each man brings his own goals to the summit table.

A look at what each president is hoping to achieve in Switzerland:

WHAT BIDEN WANTS

Biden and his aides have made clear that he will not follow in the footsteps of his recent predecessors by aiming to radically alter the United States' ties to Russia. Instead, the White House is looking for a more modest though still vitally important goal: to move toward a more predictable relationship and attempt to rein in Russia's disruptive behavior.

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Israeli airstrikes target Gaza sites, first since cease-fire

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli aircraft carried out a series of airstrikes at militant sites in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday, the first such raids since a shaky cease-fire ended the war with Hamas last month. 

The airstrikes targeted facilities used by Hamas militants for meetings to plan attacks, the Israeli military said, blaming the group for any act of violence emanating from Gaza. There were no immediate reports of casualties. 

On Tuesday, hundreds of Israeli ultranationalists, some chanting "Death to Arabs," paraded in east Jerusalem in a show of force that threatened to spark renewed violence. Palestinians in Gaza responded by launching incendiary balloons that caused at least 10 fires in southern Israel. 

The march posed a test for Israel's fragile new government as well as the tenuous truce that ended last month's 11-day war between Israel and Hamas. 

Palestinians consider the march, meant to celebrate Israel's capture of east Jerusalem in 1967, to be a provocation. Hamas called on Palestinians to "resist" the parade, a version of which helped ignite last month's 11-day Gaza war.

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For years US Army hid, downplayed extent of firearms loss

The U.S. Army has hidden or downplayed the extent to which its firearms disappear, significantly understating losses and thefts even as some weapons are used in street crimes.

The Army's pattern of secrecy and suppression dates back nearly a decade, when The Associated Press began investigating weapons accountability within the military. Officials fought the release of information for years, then offered misleading answers that contradict internal records.

Military guns aren't just disappearing. Stolen guns have been used in shootings, brandished to rob and threaten people and recovered in the hands of felons. Thieves sold assault rifles to a street gang.

Army officials cited information that suggests only a couple of hundred firearms vanished during the 2010s. Internal Army memos that AP obtained show losses many times higher.

Efforts to suppress information date to 2012, when AP filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking records from a registry where all four armed services are supposed to report firearms loss or theft.

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After enrollment dips, public schools hope for fall rebound

Ashley Pearce's daughter was set to start kindergarten last year in Maryland's Montgomery County school system. But when it became clear that the year would begin online, Pearce found a nearby Catholic school offering in-person instruction and made the switch.

Now Pearce is grappling with a big question: Should her child return to the local public school? She's hesitant to uproot her daughter after she's made friends, and Pearce worries that the district might go fully virtual again if there's an uptick in coronavirus cases.

"It's going to be fine if we stay where we are, and that stability for my family is probably the way we're going to go."

As many parents across the U.S. weigh the same concerns, school districts that lost enrollment during the pandemic are looking anxiously to the fall to see how many families stick with the education choices they made over the last year. In hopes of attracting students, many districts have launched new efforts to connect with families with young children, including blanketing communities with yard signs and enlisting bus drivers to call parents.

There are early signs that enrollment may not fully rebound, and the stakes are high. If enrollment does not recover, public schools that lose students eventually could see funding cuts, though pandemic relief money is boosting budgets for now.

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N Korea's Kim looks much thinner, causing health speculation

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has long been a source of morbid fascination in rival South Korea, which sits in the shadow of Kim's 1.2-million-strong army and his growing arsenal of nuclear-armed missiles. 

Has he gained even more weight? Is he struggling for breath after relatively short walks? What about that cane? Why did he miss that important state anniversary? 

Now, the 37-year-old faces fresh speculation in the South about his health again. But this time, it's because he's noticeably slimmer.

Kim's health matters in Seoul, Washington, Tokyo and other world capitals because he hasn't publicly anointed a successor who would control an advancing nuclear program targeting the United States and its allies — if he is incapacitated. North Korea, never open about the internal workings of its leadership, has over the last year shut itself up even tighter to protect against the coronavirus pandemic.

In recent state media images, including those published on Wednesday, Kim appeared to have lost a large amount of weight. The strap on his fancy watch is tighter, and his face thinner. Some observers say Kim — who is about 170 centimeters (5 feet, 8 inches) tall and has previously weighed 140 kilograms (308 pounds) — may have lost about 10-20 kilograms (22-44 pounds).

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China offers glimpse of Tibetan life without the Dalai Lama

LHASA, China (AP) — A brisk wind ruffles yellow prayer flags as dozens of Tibetans, some on crutches, circle a shrine in a time-honored Buddhist ritual. Across the street, a red banner spells out a new belief system, one being enforced with increasing fervor, of China's ruling Communist Party.

"Xi Jinping's new socialist ideology with Chinese characteristics is the guide for the whole party and all nationalities to fight for the great rejuvenation of China," the sign proclaims in Tibetan and Chinese script, referring to China's leader, who has sought to put his imprint on virtually every aspect of life across the vast county. 

Lately, that has increasingly encompassed religion, both in central China and on its fringes, such as Tibet. The party is pressing a program to Sinicize Tibetan life through programs to separate Tibetans from their language, culture, and especially, their devotion to the Dalai Lama, Tibet's traditional spiritual leader who has lived in exile since 1959. 

In the sun-drenched courtyard of the Jokhang Temple, one of the holiest sites in Tibetan Buddhism, the head monk Lhakpa said the Dalai Lama is not its spiritual leader. Asked who is, he said: "Xi Jinping."

The Associated Press joined a rare and strictly controlled media tour to Tibet highlighting what the government describes as the social stability and economic development of the region after 70 years of Communist Party rule. Stops included monasteries, temples, schools, poverty alleviation projects, and tourist sites. 

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Lebanon's crisis threatens one of its few unifiers, the army

BEIRUT (AP) — Since the civil war, through wars with Israel, militant bombings and domestic turmoil, Lebanese have considered their military as an anchor for stability, one of the only institutions standing above the country's divisions. 

But the military is now threatened by Lebanon's devastating financial collapse, which the World Bank has said is likely to rank as one of the worst the world has seen in the past 150 years. 

The economic meltdown is putting unprecedented pressure on the U.S.-backed army's operational abilities, wiping out soldiers' salaries and wrecking morale. The deterioration puts at risk one of the few forces unifying Lebanon at a time when sectarian tensions and crime are on the rise amid the population's deepening poverty.

"Such a decline could be harbinger of the kinds of instability not seen since the last time Lebanon's political elites gutted or set adrift the Lebanese armed forces, namely in the five years leading up to the 1975-1990 civil war," said Aram Nerguizian, senior advisor of the Program on Civil-Military Affairs in Arab States at the Carnegie Middle East Center. 

The military itself has raised the alarm, unusual for a force that is perhaps unique in the Middle East in that it largely remains outside politics. 

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Greenpeace apologizes, local police slam Euro 2020 protestor

MUNICH (AP) — Greenpeace has apologized and Munich police are investigating after a protestor parachuted into the stadium and injured two people before Germany's game against France at the European Championship.

The protestor used a powered paraglider with a motor attached to his back but lost control and hit overhead camera wires attached to the stadium roof, careening over spectators' heads before he landed on the field ahead of Tuesday's game. Debris fell on the field and main grandstand, narrowly missing France coach Didier Deschamps.

Greenpeace spokesperson Benjamin Stephan apologized for the botched protest and the injuries caused.

"That was never our intention," Stephan said. "The paraglider was to fly over the stadium and drop a latex ball with a message of protest onto the field."

Munich police said Wednesday they were investigating various potential violations of the criminal code and aviation act.

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