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Here’s What You Need to Know About the Canceled U.S.-Taliban Peace Talks

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  • President Trump tweeted Saturday that he canceled secretly scheduled peace negotiations with the Taliban.
  • The proposed peace deal involved the U.S. taking troops out of Afghanistan and the Taliban promising to no longer engage in violence in areas where the U.S. military is present.
  • Many opposed the plan and the meeting, including officials in the Trump administration who worried the Taliban could not be trusted.
  • Afghan officials were also skeptical of the plan, arguing that it did not include input from the Afghan government and did not require the Taliban to stop attacks on Afghan civilians or the Afghan military.

Trump’s Announcement

President Donald Trump announced in a series of tweets on Saturday that he had canceled a secret meeting between U.S. officials and the Taliban.

“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday” the president wrote on Twitter. 

“Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people,” he continued. “I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations.”

“If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway,” he concluded.

Here’s what you need to know about the agreement, the talks, and what comes next.

The Agreement

Under the agreement, which officials have been negotiating for almost a year, the U.S. would remove 5,400 of the remaining 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan within 135 days.

The broader goal of the deal would be to gradually withdraw the entire U.S. military presence, which has been in the country for nearly 18 years since the 9/11 attacks. In exchange for the U.S. withdrawing the troops, the Taliban would stop enacting and supporting violence in the regions of Afghanistan where the U.S. military is based.

Last Monday, the U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad told local media in the country that both sides had agreed to the deal “in principle.” 

However, many people in the Afghan government, including President Ashraf Ghani, were skeptical of both the peace deal and the meeting at Camp David.

Afghan critics of the agreement argued that it did not include input from the Afghan government and did not really give them a seat at the table for negotiations.

The Trump administration addressed this concern by arguing that its talks with the Taliban would pave the way for the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.

But others worried that plan was problematic because the Taliban does not recognize the Afghan government, and has refused to negotiate with them in the past.

Those critical of the plan also argued that the deal only protected American troops because it did not require the Taliban to stop attacks on Afghan civilians or the Afghan military.

That is especially important because the Taliban now controls more territory in the country than it has at any time since the war started, and also because the Taliban has carried out and supported numerous deadly attacks over the last few months.

Now, Afghan officials are worried that if the U.S. pulled out, it would create a sort of security vacuum, leaving the Afghan military to fend for itself. They fear that, as a result, the Taliban would not only launch more violent attacks but also try to take over the government.

Opposition In Trump Administration

Afghan officials were not the only people who opposed the negotiations.

According to reports, multiple high-ranking officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton, also did not support the meeting. 

Bolton, among others, allegedly did not believe that the Taliban could be trusted and so the deal would just collapse anyway. 

Other administration officials who did not want the meeting reportedly worried about the optics of having an unprecedented meeting with a militant group on U.S. soil just days before the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

One senior administration official also told NBC that Pence had argued the meeting could also send a bad message to members of the U.S. military and their families, especially those who had fought and been killed by the Taliban.

Taliban & Afghan Government Responds

After Trump’s tweets, a leader from the Taliban told NBC they were caught off guard by the news.

“It not only shocked us it made us realize the people we were talking with were not sincere in peace talks,” the leader said.

On Sunday, the Taliban also released an official statement on the matter.

Such a reaction towards a single attack just before the signing of an agreement displays lack of composure and experience,” the statement read.

“We called for dialogue twenty years earlier and maintain the same stance today and believe America shall return to this position also,” it continued. “Our previous eighteen-year resistance should have proven to America that we will accept nothing less than the complete end of occupation and allowing Afghans to decide their own fate.”

President Ghani has not responded specifically to Trump’s tweets, but his office released a formal statement on Sunday.

“The people and the government of Afghanistan pursue a dignified and sustainable peace and are committed to putting any effort into ensuring peace in the country,” it said. “We have consistently stressed that genuine peace is possible when the Taliban stop the killing of Afghans, embrace an inclusive ceasefire, and enter into direct negotiations with the Afghan government.”

“The government of Afghanistan praises the earnest efforts of its allies and is committed to working together with the United States and other partners to ensure honorable and enduring peace in the country,” the statement continued.

Conflicts on Cancelation Reasons

While speaking to news outlets Sunday night, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed Trump’s comments by insisting that the reason the negotiations were canceled was because of the most recent Taliban attack.

However, a report from The New York Times suggested there could have been other factors. Citing Pompeo’s negotiator, the Times said the Taliban wanted to go to Washington, but not until after their deal had been announced. 

Trump, however, did not want their visit to be a celebration of the deal, instead, he “wanted to be the dealmaker who would put the final parts together himself, or at least be perceived to be.”

What Next?

The breakdown of peace talks with the Taliban has left many wondering what comes next.

During Pompeo’s major news circuit Sunday, he provided some insight into that question. When asked by a Fox News anchor if Afghan talks were dead, Pompeo responded, “For the time being they are.”

However, he also told CNN that the U.S. is still interested in striking a deal, as long as the Taliban honors its commitments.

Right now for the U.S., it looks like it has three main options. It could try to come to the table with another deal, it could withdraw the troops without concessions from the Taliban, or the U.S. could just keep the troops in Afghanistan.

As for Afghanistan, it is set to have elections later this month, on September 28.

The Taliban does not want those elections to take place, and now, officials in both the U.S. and Afghanistan are concerned that the Taliban will have more incentive to ramp up their violent attacks as the election approaches.

See what others are saying: (Vox) (VICE) (NBC News)

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Wuhan Lifts Lockdown Measures as Other Countries Consider Loosening Their Own

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  • Wuhan has ended its 76-day lockdown amid concerns that lifting restrictions could cause a second wave of outbreaks.
  • At least 65,000 people have already left Wuhan, even though the government has urged people not to leave the city or even their neighborhoods.
  • Meanwhile, China has reported new coronavirus cases, most of which are from travelers. Notably, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan all experienced second waves of the virus after an influx of travelers.
  • The U.S. and numerous countries are also considering easing restrictions despite continued reports of new cases and deaths increasing.

Wuhan Lifts Restrictions

Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus first started, has officially ended its lockdown after 76 days. 

With the reopening, travel restrictions have also been lifted. Residents will now be allowed to leave the city as long as they show authorities a government-sanctioned phone app that indicates whether or not they are a health risk based on their home address, travels, medical history, and other data collected by the government.

According to local reports, within just hours of the ban being lifted, around 65,000 people had left the city by train and plane alone. Thousands more were allowed to leave by car or bus once the roads were open.

However, Chinese health officials said Tuesday that Wuhan residents are still being pushed not to leave their neighborhoods, the city, or the province unless necessary, furthering apprehension about the decision to reopen.

Concerns Over Spread & Travel 

While the situation seems to have calmed down, some experts say there is still a risk in ending the lockdown and letting people leave Wuhan.

Although only three new cases of the coronavirus have been reported in Wuhan in the last three weeks, there are still concerning numbers in other parts of the country.

On Tuesday, China reported that new confirmed cases had doubled, rising to 62 from 32 the day before, the highest since March 25. Notably, new imported infections made up 59 of those cases.

Chinese health officials also said Wednesday that asymptomatic cases quadrupled, going up to 137 from just 30 a day earlier. Again, travelers accounted for a high number of those, making up 102 of the cases.

The fact that so many of the new cases are coming from travelers is quite significant because it is something that has happened before. 

Last month, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan had all flattened their curves. Then travelers from the US and Europe began bringing the virus back, forcing all four to implement much stricter social distancing and immigration controls. 

Other Countries Loosening Measures

Despite these concerns, numerous countries all over the world have said that they will begin easing containment measures.

On Monday, Denmark and Austria both announced that they will slowly start opening up parts of the countries starting next week. The Czech Republic also lifted some restrictions Tuesday and said it will start allowing some travel next week.

Spain’s government announced Wednesday that the country will start returning to “normal life” starting April 26. While officials did not give specifics about how restrictions would be eased, the move would be especially concerning for a country like Spain.

Spain has been one of the hardest-hit countries, with the second-highest number of confirmed cases after the U.S. The country’s reported fatalities slowed last week, but the number of deaths rose again recently, with 757 reported Wednesday and 743 Tuesday.

But Spain is not the only country with alarming numbers that has been looking to open things up again. 

Germany and France have also said they are preparing options to ease restrictions in spite of the fact that forecasts show the outbreak is growing rapidly in both countries, which rank fourth and fifth respectively for the highest number of confirmed cases.

Similar ideas have also been floated in the U.S., which on Wednesday reported the largest single-day coronavirus death toll of any country with more than 1,800 confirmed deaths.

But on Wednesday morning, Vice President Mike Pence said that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is considering changing guidelines to make it easier for essential workers who have been exposed to someone infected to return to work.

“Under the proposed guidance, people who are exposed to someone infected would be allowed back on the job if they are asymptomatic, test their temperature twice a day and wear a face mask, said a person familiar with the proposal under consideration,” NBC News reported.

To Plan or Not to Plan

Many experts say that it is far too early to be opening things up.

While speaking during a news conference this morning, Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) director for Europe, warned that despite seeing “positive signs,” it is too soon to change the regulations put in place.

“Now is not the time to relax measures,” he said. “It is the time to once again double and triple our collective efforts to drive toward suppression with the whole support of society.”

That point was also echoed by Bruce Aylward, another top WHO official, who emphasized the need to ensure that the public does not take the situation lightly.

“We have got to ensure that the public understands we’re moving to a new phase,” he said “It’s not lifting lockdowns and going back to normal. It’s a new normal.”

While some experts believe that serious discussion about plans to lift restrictions could undermine the importance of containment measures in the public eye, others believe it is important to plan for the future.

Speaking to Fox News on Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, said that the administration has been working on plans to eventually reopen the country.

“If, in fact, we are successful, it makes sense to at least plan what a reentry into normality would look like,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to do it right now. But it means we need to be prepared to ease into that. And there’s a lot of activity going on.”

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)

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India Lifts Ban on Hydroxychloroquine to the U.S. as Confusion Mounts Around Trump’s Investment in a Major HCQ Company

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  • India will now partially lift a hydroxychloroquine ban after it said Saturday that it would enact that ban to keep domestic stores from depleting.
  • The ban reportedly cut off nearly half of the United States’ supply of hydroxychloroquine, and Monday night, President Donald Trump threatened to retaliate.
  • Also regarding hydroxychloroquine, #Sanofi trended on Twitter Tuesday after the New York Times reported that Trump had a “small” investment in the company, which makes the drug.
  • Despite many online believing this to be a major cash grab by the president, those holdings are likely less than $1,000.

India Agrees to Export Limited HCQ

Hours after President Donald Trump threatened retaliation, India lifted its recent ban on all hydroxychloroquine exports as demand for the drug surges.

Late last month, India implemented a partial ban on hydroxychloroquine exports; however, it said it would still honor existing contracts and certain shipments on humanitarian grounds on a case-by-case basis. On Saturday, India took that measure one step further by implementing a total ban on hydroxychloroquine exports. 

The move was reportedly an attempt to protect domestic stocks, especially as hydroxychloroquine gains attention all over the world. 

“Like any responsible government, our first obligation is to ensure that there are adequate stocks of medicines for the requirement of our own people,” a spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs said.

India is one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical producers and is a major manufacturer of hydroxychloroquine.

As of Tuesday, it has recorded just over 5,100 cases of COVID-19, according to John Hopkins University. That’s compared to India’s massive population of 1.3 billion. While the number of infected people is likely already much higher than what’s being reported, India is also bracing for a potential surge.

The Trump Administration has heavily promoted hydroxychloroquine despite reservations from doctors wanting to make sure it’s safe and effective first. Still, the U.S. has been preparing by stockpiling the drug. Part of that has included buying it from India; however, that ban reportedly cut off half of the U.S. supply of hydroxychloroquine.

On Saturday, the same day as that total ban, Trump said he had spoken with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and had appealed for the release of shipments the US has already ordered. Trump also noted that India was giving the request “serious consideration.”

By Monday night, Trump ramped up that pressure, saying, “I spoke to him Sunday morning, called him, and I said we’d appreciate your allowing our supply to come out. If he doesn’t allow it to come out, that would be OK, but of course, there may be retaliation. Why wouldn’t there be?” 

Hours later, India announced that it had enough hydroxychloroquine pills for a domestic supply and that it would partially lift the drug’s export ban.

“Given the enormity of the COVID19 pandemic, India has always maintained that the international community must display strong solidarity and cooperation,” the spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs said.

“In view of the humanitarian aspects of the pandemic, it has been decided that India would licence paracetamol and HCQ in appropriate quantities to all our neighbouring countries who are dependent on our capabilities.”

“We will also be supplying these essential drugs to some nations who have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic,” he added, though he didn’t refer to Trump or the U.S. specifically. “We would therefore discourage any speculation in this regard or any attempts to politicise the matter.”

Trump’s “Small” Stake in Sanofi 

Hydroxychloroquine also made headlines Tuesday after a report from The New York Times led to confusion about Trump’s investment in a company that makes the drug.

“If hydroxychloroquine becomes an accepted treatment, several pharmaceutical companies stand to profit, including shareholders and senior executives with connections to the president,” the article about Trump’s aggressive advocacyfor the drug mentioned several paragraphs down.

“Mr. Trump himself has a small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine.” 

“As of last year, Mr. Trump reported that his three family trusts each had investments in a Dodge & Cox mutual fund, whose largest holding was in Sanofi,” the article read several more paragraphs lower. 

#Sanofi then began trending on Twitter, with many people believing that Trump stood to gain serious cash from his investments in Sanofi. 

“1. Trump is relentlessly pushing hydroxychloroquine for #COVID19,” one person tweeted. “2. Sanofi manufactures the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine. 3. Just guess what comes next…”

Others were angry at the New York Times because these investments weren’t the focus of the article. Because of that, they accused the New York Times of burying the lede.

However, it seems The New York Times might have put that mention so low for a reason. According to Business Insider headline on the situation, “Trump has a distant financial link to a pharma giant that makes the drug he’s been pushing to fight COVID-19 — but it’s probably worth less than $1,000.”

Business Insider then goes on to explain that each of Trump’s three family funds are valued between $1,000 and $15,000. Those funds are managed by JP Morgan, with Trump not providing any input.

According to data from December, those funds have Sanofi holdings at 2.9%. Using that information, Business Insider then calculates that at most, Trump has an investment of $1,305, and at minimum, his investment is $87. 

Even though The New York Times calls it a “small” investment, such a number is probably a lot less than most people would imagine. Without seeing any extra context, however, those lines from The New York Times likely led many to believe that Trump has been touting hydroxychloroquine as a business move. 

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The Guardian) (Business Insider)

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Countries Consider Loosening Coronavirus Lockdowns as Japan Moves to Declare State of Emergency

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  • Austria is set to be the first country in Europe to loosen lockdown restrictions, with smaller businesses allowed to open their doors on April 14.
  • They are not the only European country with hopeful news regarding the virus. Both Spain and Italy have seen cases grow at a slower rate.
  • In China some restrictions have already been lifted, leading to massive crowds in national parks and tourist spots. Some fear this will cause a second outbreak.
  • Meanwhile, Japan, which is just now seeing cases surge, is set to announce a state of emergency starting on Tuesday.

Austria to Lift Lockdown

As countries like Austria are poised to loosen lockdown measures, others are just starting to ramp up their efforts to combat coronavirus outbreaks.

Austria is set to be the first country in Europe to ease its lockdown measures. On Monday Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that smaller businesses will be allowed to open up on April 14, and that others can resume on May 1. This, however, is contingent on the fact that citizens continue to practice social distancing efforts. Kurz told Austrians to cancel their Easter plans and stay inside, or else the country could “gamble away what we have achieved in the past few weeks.”

Cases Slow in Spain and Italy

Austria is not the only country feeling an ounce of hope during this ongoing pandemic. In the past 24 hours, Spain has reported a slower increase in both deaths and fatalities. In one day, there were 674 new deaths in the country, which is the lowest increase in fatalities in nine days, according to Fox News. Over the course of the day, confirmed cases went up just five percent, the lowest increase since the outbreak began. 

Italy, which is home to one of the worst outbreaks in the world, has also seen cases slow down a bit. While the country might still be miles away from a return to normalcy, options as to how to get people back out are now being discussed. According to the New York Times, politicians are looking at the potential for people who have recovered from the virus to head back to work first. 

“Having the right antibodies to the virus in one’s blood — a potential marker of immunity — may soon determine who gets to work and who does not, who is locked down and who is free,” the Times explained. Many researchers are hesitant about this idea, but politicians seem eager to explore it as a potential strategy for when the time comes to resume normal life. 

China Sees Crowds After Lockdown Lift

Some places have already begun their lifts on lockdowns, including several areas of China. As cases have slowed in the pandemic’s first home, some places have opened back up and seen massive crowds. National parks and tourist attractions have been packed with people eager to get out after being trapped inside. 

According to CNN, on Saturday, one park was so populated that authorities announced that it reached its 20,000 person capacity before 8 a.m.

Major cities also saw crowded streets, despite health experts still warning to avoid crowds. In fact, many experts fear that these crowds could lead to a second wave of the virus in China. One county has already reinstated its lockdown after cases popped up again. 

U.S. Cases

Not everyone is ready to return to normalcy, even if there are signs of positive change. On Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced its first daily dip in deaths. The state went from 630 new deaths on Saturday to 594 on Sunday. Still, Cuomo does not believe this is a guaranteed sign of progress. 

“We’re not really a hundred percent sure what the significance is, as we’re feeling our way through this,” Cuomo said before calling the dip a potential “blip.”

In fact, the whole of the United States has probably not seen the worst of the outbreak yet. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams spoke to Fox News on Sunday and said that this week is “going to be the hardest and saddest week of most Americans’ lives.”

“This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized, it’s going to be happening all over the country,” he added. Currently, the United States has over 357,000 cases and 10,000 deaths. 

Japan’s State of Emergency

While many countries are well into their mass responses to the coronavirus, the Prime Minister of Japan has just announced his intention to declare a state of emergency. Compared to many countries, Japan has had a smaller outbreak, with roughly 4,000 cases and 80 deaths. Cases are on the rise though, with capital city Tokyo reporting that infections doubled in just one week.

The state of emergency is set to go into effect on Tuesday and with be in effect at least until May 6. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked for citizens to cooperate “to prevent an explosive surge.”

See what others are saying: (Fox News) (Al Jazeera) (CBS News)

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