Biden at NATO: Ready to talk China, Russia and soothe allies

BRUSSELS (AP) — President Joe Biden makes his entrance at a NATO summit aiming to consult European allies on efforts to counter provocative actions by China and Russia while highlighting the U.S. commitment to the 30-country alliance that was frequently maligned by predecessor Donald Trump.

The summit Monday comes as Biden tries to rally allies for greater coordination in checking China and Russia, two adversaries whose actions on economic and national security fronts have become the chief foreign policy concerns in the early going of the Biden presidency. 

Biden will use his time at the summit to underscore the U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the alliance charter, which spells out that an attack on one member is an attack on all and is to be met with a collective response. 

"I will make it clear that the United States' commitment to our NATO alliance and Article 5 is rock solid," Biden told U.S. troops in the United Kingdom last week on the first stop of his eight-day European trip. "It's a sacred obligation."

The White House said the communique to be signed by alliance members at the end of the NATO summit is expected to include language about updating Article 5 to include major cyber attacks — a matter of growing concern amid a series of hacks targeting the U.S. government and businesses around the globe by Russia-based hackers.

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Biden, unlike predecessors, has maintained Putin skepticism

BRUSSELS (AP) — President Joe Biden frequently talks about what he sees as central in executing effective foreign policy: building personal relationships. 

But unlike his four most recent White House predecessors, who made an effort to build a measure of rapport with Vladimir Putin, Biden has made clear that the virtue of fusing a personal connection might have its limits when it comes to the Russian leader.

The president, who is set to meet with Putin face-to-face on Wednesday in Geneva, has repeated an anecdote about his last meeting with Putin, 10 years ago when he was vice president and Putin was serving as prime minister. Putin had taken a break from the presidency because the Russian constitution at the time prohibited a third consecutive term, but he was still seen as Russia's most powerful leader. 

Biden recalled to biographer Evan Osnos that during that meeting in 2011, Putin showed him his ornate office in Moscow. Biden recalling poking Putin — a former KGB officer — that "it's amazing what capitalism will do."

Biden said he then turned around and standing inches from Putin said, "Mr. Prime Minister, I'm looking into your eyes, and I don't think you have a soul." Biden said Putin smiled and responded: "We understand one another."

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Israel's new government gets to work after Netanyahu ouster

JERUSALEM (AP) — For the first time in 12 years, Israelis on Monday woke up to a new government and a new prime minister after Naftali Bennett secured the backing of parliament and ousted longtime leader Benjamin Netanyahu. 

The two were slated to hold a handover meeting later in the day, but without the formal ceremony that traditionally accompanies a change in government. 

Israel's parliament, the Knesset, narrowly approved the new Bennett-led coalition government on Sunday, ending Netanyahu's historic 12-year rule. The divisive former prime minister, the longest to hold office, will now serve as the opposition leader. 

David Bitan, a Likud lawmaker, told Kan public radio that Netanyahu was not holding the handover ceremony with Bennett because he feels "cheated" by the formation of the Bennett-Lapid government and "doesn't want to give even the slightest legitimacy to this matter." 

Under a coalition agreement, Bennett will hold office of the premier for the first two years of the term, and then Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, the architect of the coalition, will become prime minister. 

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Voices of Iranians ahead of the presidential election

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranians this week are preparing to vote in — or perhaps to boycott — a presidential election that many fear will only underscore their powerlessness to shape the country's fate.

Hopefuls are running to replace the term-limited President Hassan Rouhani, whose promises of a bright economic future withered as Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers collapsed. The backlash of disappointment in Rouhani's relatively moderate administration has given hard-liners an edge this time, analysts say, even as the U.S. and Iran now negotiate a return to the landmark accord.

Iran's clerical vetting committee has allowed just seven candidates on the ballot, nixing prominent reformists and key Rouhani allies. The presumed front-runner has become Ebrahim Raisi, the country's hard-line judiciary chief who's closely aligned with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

As Iran reels from the coronavirus pandemic, global isolation, sweeping U.S. sanctions and runaway inflation, the mood among potential voters appears to be one of apathy. Tehran, the vast and churning capital, has been eerily quiet in the days leading up to the poll, with some Raisi campaign posters scattered around the city and none of the huge rallies that drew roaring crowds to the streets during past election seasons.

With just a few days to go until the vote, The Associated Press spoke to Tehran residents about their hopes and fears. Few expect the vote to ease the nation's sense of crisis. Some say they'll vote for Raisi, known for his televised anti-corruption campaign, to protest Rouhani's failures. Others are undecided or plan to boycott the vote, saying they have no trust in the government to improve their lives.

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Johnson expected to announce delay in next England unlocking

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to confirm Monday that the next planned relaxation of coronavirus restrictions in England will be delayed as a result of the spread of the delta variant first identified in India.

While hosting the Group of Seven summit in southwest England, Johnson conceded over the weekend that he had grown more pessimistic about the government lifting remaining limits on social contact on June 21 after daily cases reported across the U.K. hit levels not seen since February. 

"Clearly, what you've got is a race between the vaccines and the virus, and the vaccines are going to win," he told the BBC. "It's just a question of pace."

With the delta variant estimated by some health experts to be at least 60% more contagious than the previous dominant strain, British scientists and doctors urged the prime minister to err on the side of caution and postpone implementing the fourth stage of his government's four-step unlocking plan for England. 

Under his government's road map, nightclubs were set to reopen for the first time since the pandemic struck in March 2020 and all other legal limits on social contact were due to be scrapped by June 21 at the earliest, if coronavirus trends supported the moves. 

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Some US allies near Russia are wary of Biden-Putin summit

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Central and Eastern European nations are anxious about the coming summit meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, wary of what they see as hostile intentions from the Kremlin.

Some in the countries that once were part of the Soviet Union or the Moscow-led Warsaw Pact during the Cold War worry that Washington could scale down support for its allies in the region in a bid to secure a more stable and predictable relationship with Russia.

"I think there have been doubts as to the resoluteness of the present administration to face Russian aggressive actions in a decisive manner," said Witold Rodkiewicz, chief specialist on Russian politics at Warsaw's Center of Eastern Studies, a state-funded think tank that advises the Polish government.

Both Russia and the U.S. have sought to moderate expectations about Wednesday's summit in Geneva, ruling out any breakthroughs amid the worst tensions between the two powers since Soviet times, especially after Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, accusations of Russian interference with U.S. elections and hacking attacks, as well as other strains.

Rodkiewicz, however, noted the White House's decision to waive sanctions against the German company overseeing the prospective Russian-built Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline running under the Baltic Sea to Germany. That project could potentially allow Moscow to bypass Ukraine, Poland and other countries in Eastern and Central Europe that collect transit fees on the energy.

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Cabinet secretaries sell Biden's ambitious agenda across US

WASHINGTON (AP) — Marty Walsh remembers what it was like when a Cabinet secretary would come to town.

"It really is a big deal. They give you the dates, and you just clear your schedule," said Walsh, a former mayor of Boston. 

He recalls 300 people packing into a room to hear Julián Castro, then Housing and Urban Development secretary. "He was speaking on behalf of President Obama and Vice President Biden, and people hung on every word."

Now Walsh, as secretary of labor, is on the other side of the equation, crisscrossing the country on behalf of President Joe Biden's American Jobs Plan. As the massive infrastructure package goes through torturous negotiations in Congress, Walsh and a handful of other Cabinet secretaries have launched an ambitious travel schedule to promote the plan and the larger Biden agenda. 

"It's clear the administration has decided to take their message on the road," said Ravi Perry, head of the political science department at Howard University. "The amount of trips, how much they've traveled ... there really has been a shift." 

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Ousted Myanmar leader on trial; critics say charges bogus

BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar's ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi was set to go on trial Monday on charges that many observers have criticized as attempt by the military junta that deposed her to delegitimize her democratic election and cripple her political future. 

Suu Kyi's prosecution poses the greatest challenge for the 75-year-old and her National League for Democracy party since February's military coup, which prevented them from taking office for a second five-year term following last year's landslide election victory.

Human Rights Watch charged that the allegations being heard in a special court in the capital, Naypyitaw, are "bogus and politically motivated" with the intention of nullifying the victory and preventing Suu Kyi from running for office again. 

"This trial is clearly the opening salvo in an overall strategy to neuter Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy party as a force that can challenge military rule in the future," said Phil Robertson, the organization's deputy Asia director.

The army seized power on Feb. 1 before the new lawmakers could be seated, and arrested Suu Kyi, who held the post of special counsellor, and President Win Myint, along with other members of her government and ruling party. The coup reversed years of slow progress toward more democracy for Myanmar.

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Americans stand trial in Japan, accused in Ghosn's escape

TOKYO (AP) — Two Americans who are charged with helping former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn flee Japan while he was facing accusations of financial misconduct agreed Monday they took part in a scheme for him to escape the country. 

Statements by Michael Taylor and his son, Peter, on the opening day of their trial in Tokyo suggest the pair don't plan to fight charges of assisting a criminal. That carries a possible penalty of up to three years in prison.

Prosecutors read out a statement accusing Michael Taylor, a former Green Beret, and Peter Taylor of arranging to hide Ghosn in box for musical equipment. It was loaded onto a jet in the western city of Osaka that flew him to Lebanon via Turkey in December 2019. "You helped him escape," the statement said.

After a brief discussion with Chief Judge Hideo Nirei and defense lawyers, the Taylors agreed there were no mistakes in the statement. 

The Taylors were arrested in Massachusetts last year and extradited to Japan in March. Unlike the United States, Lebanon has no extradition treaty with Japan. Ghosn has French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship. 

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US documents solve mystery of war criminal Tojo's remains

TOKYO (AP) — Until recently, the location of executed wartime Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo's remains was one of World War II's biggest mysteries in the nation he once led. 

Now, a Japanese university professor has revealed declassified U.S. military documents that appear to hold the answer. 

The documents show the cremated ashes of Tojo, one of the masterminds of the Pearl Harbor attack, were scattered from a U.S. Army aircraft over the Pacific Ocean about 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of Yokohama, Japan's second-largest city, south of Tokyo.

It was a tension-filled, highly secretive mission, with American officials apparently taking extreme steps meant to keep Tojo's remains, and those of six others executed with him, away from ultra-nationalists looking to glorify them as martyrs. The seven were hanged for war crimes just before Christmas in 1948, three years after Japan's defeat. 

The discovery brings partial closure to a painful chapter of Japanese history that still plays out today, as conservative Japanese politicians attempt to whitewash history, leading to friction with wartime victims, especially China and South Korea.

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