Then came Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The war between two of the world’s largest exporters of food and energy led to a big surge in prices, especially for importers like Ghana. Consumer prices have gone up 30 percent for the year through June, according to data from the research firm Moody’s Analytics. For household essentials, annual inflation has reached 60 percent or more this year, the S&P data shows.

To illustrate this, consider the price of a barrel of oil in dollars versus the Ghanaian cedi. At the beginning of October last year, the price of oil stood at $78.52 per barrel, rising to nearly $130 per barrel in March before falling back to $87.96 at the beginning of this month, a one-year increase of 12 percent in dollar terms. Over the same period, the Ghanaian cedi has weakened over 40 percent against the dollar, meaning that the same barrel of oil that cost roughly 475 cedi a year ago now costs over 900 cedi, almost twice as much.

Adding to the problem are large state-funded subsidies, some taken on or increased through the pandemic, that are now weighing on government finances.

Ghana’s president cut fuel taxes in November 2021, losing roughly $22 million in projected revenue for the government — the latest available numbers.

In Egypt, spending on what the government refers to as “supply commodities,” almost all of which is wheat for its long-running bread subsidy, is expected to come in at around 7 percent of all government spending this year, 12 percent higher — or more than half a billion dollars — than the government budgeted.

As costs ballooned throughout the pandemic, governments took on more debt. Ghana’s public debt grew to nearly $60 billion from roughly $40 billion at the end of 2019, or to nearly 80 percent of its gross domestic product from around 63 percent, according to Moody’s.

It’s one of four countries listed by S&P, alongside Pakistan, Nigeria and Sri Lanka, where interest payments alone account for more than half of the government’s revenues.

“We can’t forget that this is happening on the back end of a once-in-a-century pandemic in which governments, to try and support families as best they could, did borrow more,” said Frank Gill, an analyst at S&P. “This is a shock following up on another shock.”

In May, Sri Lanka defaulted on its government debt for the first time in its history. Over the past month, the governments of Egypt, Pakistan and Ghana have all reached out to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout as they struggle to meet their debt financing needs, no longer able to turn to international investors for more money.

“I don’t think there is a lot of appetite to lend money to some of these countries,” said Brian Weinstein, co-head of credit trading at Bank of America. “They are incredibly vulnerable at the moment.”

That vulnerability is already reflected in the bond market.

In 2016, Ghana borrowed $1 billion for 10 years, paying an interest rate of just over 8 percent. As the country’s financial position has worsened and investors have backed away, the yield — indicative of what it would now cost Ghana to borrow money until 2026 — has risen to above 35 percent.

It’s an untenable cost of debt for a country in Ghana’s situation. And Ghana is not alone. For bonds that also mature in 2026, yields for Pakistan have reached almost 40 percent.

“We have concerns where any country has yields that calls into question their ability to refinance in public markets,” said Charles Cohen, deputy division chief of monetary and capital market departments at IMF.

The risk of a sovereign debt crisis in some emerging markets is “very, very high,” said Jesse Rogers, an economist at Moody’s Analytics. Mr. Rogers likened the current situation to the debt crises that crushed Latin America in the 1980s — the last time the Fed sought to quell soaring inflation.

Already this year, more than $80 billion has been withdrawn from mutual funds and exchange-traded funds — two popular types of investment products — that buy emerging market bonds, according to EPFR Global, a data provider. As investors sell, the United States is often the beneficiary, further strengthening the dollar.

“It’s by far the worst year for outflows the market has ever seen,” said Pramol Dhawan, head of emerging markets at Pimco.

Even citizens in some of these countries are trying to exchange their money for dollars, fearful of what’s to come and of further currency depreciation — yet inadvertently also contributing to it.

“For pockets of emerging markets, this is a really challenging backdrop and one of the most challenging backdrops we have faced for many years,” Mr. Dhawan said.

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Why Is China Buying Up U.S. Farmland?

Chinese companies own about 0.2% of American agricultural land, per USDA data.

Farming has been a central part of America since its founding. In the nineteenth century homesteaders settled the American west.

Today, America boasts 900 million acres of farmland, says the USDA — that’s 40% of its land.

And our farms provide food across the world. In 2021, the government says, U.S. farmers exported $177 billion in products like soybeans, corn, beef and pork.

According to the Department of Agriculture, American citizens own 97% of privately held farmland and forest in the United States.

And recently, the 3% of farmland owned by foreigners has attracted controversy, specifically concerning China.

China lacks farmland and has struggled to secure food for its 1.4 billion citizens.

Just recently, in august, four Chinese government departments warned a drought posed a severe threat to the autumn harvest. 

That has driven overseas investments in food, including the purchase of Virginia-based pork producer Smithfield Foods and partnership with Growmark, a grain logistics firm.

Chinese companies own about 0.2% of American agricultural land, per USDA data.

But some lawmakers say Chinese firms shouldn’t own American farmland at all.

In a July letter to the Agriculture Department 19 Republican lawmakers said China commits “intellectual property theft” and has been prosecuted for attempting to steal U.S. seed DNA information  

Various Congressional bills seek to bar Chinese ownership of farmland.

Fourteen states limit in some way the foreign ownership of farmland, according to the National Agricultural Law Center.

But in Grand Forks, North Dakota, the issue has recently brought national attention and controversy.

In fall of 2021 the city proudly announced the sale of land to a Chinese owned conglomerate: Fufeng USA. 

The North Dakota Corn Growers Association said they were “excited” about the project, but local opposition has been strong 

The corn mill will sit about 15 miles from an air force base. On cable channels including Fox News, politicians have raised concerns about espionage.  

In July, politicians requested that the Federal Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States investigate the sale. The committee is now looking into the purchase.

The company and city officials, meanwhile, say the plant is not a national security threat.

But while the federal inquiry is underway, some construction steps will stay on paper — for now. 

Source: newsy.com

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Biden: Russia ‘Shamelessly Violated’ U.N. Charter In Ukraine

President Biden also highlighted consequences of the invasion for the world’s food supply, pledging $2.9 billion in global food security aid.

President Joe Biden declared at the United Nations on Wednesday that Russia has “shamelessly violated the core tenets” of the international body with its war in Ukraine as he summoned nations around the globe to stand firm in backing the Ukrainian resistance.

Delivering a forceful condemnation of Russia’s seven-month invasion, President Biden said reports of Russian abuses against civilians in Ukraine “should make your blood run cold.” And he said President Vladimir Putin’s new nuclear threats against Europe showed “reckless disregard” for Russia’s responsibilities as a signer of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

He criticized Russia for scheduling “sham referenda” this week in territory it has forcibly seized in Ukraine.

“A permanent member of the U..N Security Council invaded its neighbor, attempted to erase a sovereign state from the map. Russia has shamelessly violated the core tenets of the U.N. charter,” he told his U.N. audience.

President Biden called on all nations, whether democracies or autocracies, to speak out against Russia’s “brutal, needless war” and to bolster Ukraine’s effort to defend itself.

“We will stand in solidarity against Russia’s aggression, period,” President Biden said.

He also highlighted consequences of the invasion for the world’s food supply, pledging $2.9 billion in global food security aid to address shortages caused by the war and the effects of climate change. President Biden praised a U.N.-brokered effort to create a corridor for Ukrainian grain to be exported by sea, and called on the agreement to be continued despite the ongoing conflict.

The president, during his time at the U.N. General Assembly, also planned to meet Wednesday with new British Prime Minister Liz Truss and press allies to meet an $18 billion target to replenish the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

But the heart of the president’s visit to the U.N. this year was his full-throated censure of Russia as its war nears the seven-month mark. One of Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassadors, Gennady Kuzmin, was sitting in Russia’s seat during President Biden’s speech.

The address came as Russian-controlled regions of eastern and southern Ukraine have announced plans to hold Kremllin-backed referendums in days ahead on becoming part of Russia and as Moscow is losing ground in the invasion. Russian President Putin on Wednesday announced a partial mobilization to call up 300,000 reservists and accused the West of engaging in “nuclear blackmail.”

The White House said the global food security funding includes $2 billion in direct humanitarian assistance through the United States Agency for International Development. The balance of the money will go to global development projects meant to boost the efficiency and resilience of the global food supply.

“This new announcement of $2.9 billion will save lives through emergency interventions and invest in medium- to long-term food security assistance in order to protect the world’s most vulnerable populations from the escalating global food security crisis,” the White House said.

President Biden was confronting no shortage of difficult issues as leaders gather this year.

In addition to the Russian war in Ukraine, European fears that a recession could be just around the corner are heightened. Administration concerns grow by the day that time is running short to revive the Iran nuclear deal and over China’s saber-rattling on Taiwan.

When he addressed last year’s General Assembly, President Biden focused on broad themes of global partnership, urging world leaders to act with haste against the coronavirus, climate change and human rights abuses. And he offered assurances that his presidency marked a return of American leadership to international institutions following Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy.

But one year later, global dynamics have dramatically changed.

His Wednesday address comes on the heels of Ukrainian forces retaking control of large stretches of territory near Kharkiv. But even as Ukrainian forces have racked up battlefield wins, much of Europe is feeling painful blowback from economic sanctions levied against Russia. A vast reduction in Russian oil and gas has led to a sharp jump in energy prices, skyrocketing inflation and growing risk of Europe slipping into a recession.

President Biden’s visit to the U.N. also comes as his administration’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal appears stalled.

The deal brokered by the Obama administration — and scrapped by Trump in 2018 — provided billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for Iran’s agreement to dismantle much of its nuclear program and open its facilities to extensive international inspection.

“While the United States is prepared for a mutual return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, if Iran steps up to its obligations, the United States is clear: We will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons,” President Biden said.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said no breakthrough with Iran was expected during the General Assembly and that administration officials would be consulting with fellow signers of the 2015 agreement on the sidelines of this week’s meetings.

This year’s U.N. gathering is back to being a full-scale, in-person event after two years of curtailed activity due to the pandemic. In 2020, the in-person gathering was canceled and leaders instead delivered prerecorded speeches; last year was a mix of in-person and prerecorded speeches. Biden and first lady Jill Biden were set to host a leaders’ reception on Wednesday evening.

China’s President Xi Jinping opted not to attend this year’s U.N. gathering, but his country’s conduct and intentions will loom large.

Weeks after tensions flared across the Taiwan Strait as China objected to the high-profile visit to Taiwan of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Biden called for “peace and stability” and said the U.S. would “oppose unilateral changes in the status quo by either side.” That came days after President Biden repeated that the U.S. would militarily assist Taiwan if China sought to invade.

China’s government on Monday said President Biden’s statement in a CBS “60 Minutes” interview that American forces would defend the self-ruled island was a violation of U.S. commitments on the matter, but it gave no indication of possible retaliation.

President Biden on Wednesday also declared that “fundamental freedoms are at risk in every part of our world,” citing last month’s U.N. human rights office report raising concerns about possible “crimes against humanity” in China’s western region against Uyghurs and other largely Muslim ethnic groups.

He also singled out for criticism the military junta in Myanmar, the Taliban controlling Afghanistan, and Iran, where he said the U.S. supports protests in Iran that sprang up in recent days after a 22-year-old woman died while being held by the morality police for violating the country’s Islamic dress code.

“Today we stand with the brave citizens and the brave women of Iran, who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights,” President Biden said. “The United States will always promote human rights and the values enshrined in the U.N. Charter in our own country and around the world.”

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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World Leaders Meet In New York For U.N. General Assembly

The annual meeting comes after pandemic interruptions, including an entirely virtual meeting in 2020 and a hybrid one last year.

In an alarming assessment, the head of the United Nations warned world leaders Tuesday that nations are “gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction” and aren’t ready or willing to tackle the challenges that threaten humanity’s future — and the planet’s. “Our world is in peril — and paralyzed,” he said.

Speaking at the opening of the General Assembly’s annual high-level meeting, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made sure to emphasize that hope remained. But his remarks reflected a tense and worried world. He cited the war in Ukraine and multiplying conflicts around the world, the climate emergency, the dire financial situation of developing countries and setbacks in U.N. goals for 2030 including an end to extreme poverty and quality education for all children.

He also warned of what he called “a forest of red flags” around new technologies despite promising advances to heal diseases and connect people. Guterres said social media platforms are based on a model “that monetizes outrage, anger and negativity.” Artificial intelligence, he said, “is compromising the integrity of information systems, the media, and indeed democracy itself.”

The world lacks even the beginning of “a global architecture” to deal with the ripples caused by these new technologies because of “geopolitical tensions,” Guterres said.

His opening remarks came as leaders from around the planet reconvened at U.N. headquarters in New York pandemic interruptions including an entirely virtual meeting in 2020 and a hybrid one last year. This week, the halls of the United Nations are filled once more with delegates reflecting the world’s cultures. Many faces were visible, though all delegates are required to wear masks except when speaking to ward off the coronavirus.

Guterres made sure to start out by sounding a note of hope. He showed a video of the first U.N.-chartered ship carrying grain from Ukraine — part of the deal between Ukraine and Russia that the United Nations and Turkey helped broker — to the Horn of Africa, where millions of people are on the edge of famine It is, he said, an example of promise and hope “in a world teeming with turmoil.”

He stressed that cooperation and dialogue are the only path forward — two fundamental U.N. principles since its founding after World War II. And he warned that “no power or group alone can call the shots.”

“Let’s work as one, as a coalition of the world, as united nations,” he urged leaders gathered in the vast General Assembly hall.

It’s rarely that easy. Geopolitical divisions are undermining the work of the U.N. Security Council, international law, people’s trust in democratic institutions and most forms of international cooperation, Guterres said.

“The divergence between developed and developing countries, between North and South, between the privileged and the rest, is becoming more dangerous by the day,” the secretary-general said. “It is at the root of the geopolitical tensions and lack of trust that poison every area of global cooperation, from vaccines to sanctions to trade.

Before the global meeting was gaveled open, leaders and ministers wearing masks to avoid a COVID-19 super-spreader event wandered the assembly hall, chatting individually and in groups. It was a sign that despite the fragmented state of the planet, the United Nations remains the key gathering place for presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and ministers.

Nearly 150 heads of state and government are on the latest speakers’ list, a high number reflecting that the United Nations remains the only place not just to deliver their views but to meet privately to discuss the challenges on the global agenda — and hopefully make some progress.

The 77th General Assembly meeting of world leaders convenes under the shadow of Europe’s first major war since World War II — the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which has unleashed a global food crisis and opened fissures among major powers in a way not seen since the Cold War.

At the top of that agenda for many: Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, which not only threatens the sovereignty of its smaller neighbor but has raised fears of a nuclear catastrophe at Europe’s largest nuclear plant in the country’s now Russia-occupied southeast.

Leaders in many countries are trying to prevent a wider war and restore peace in Europe. Diplomats, though, aren’t expecting any breakthroughs this week.

The loss of important grain and fertilizer exports from Ukraine and Russia has triggered a food crisis, especially in developing countries, and inflation and a rising cost of living in many others. Those issues are high on the agenda.

At a meeting Monday to promote U.N. goals for 2030 — including ending extreme poverty, ensuring quality education for all children and achieving gender equality — Guterres said the world’s many pressing perils make it “tempting to put our long-term development priorities to one side.”

But the U.N. chief said some things can’t wait — among them education, dignified jobs, full equality for women and girls, comprehensive health care and action to tackle the climate crisis. He called for public and private finance and investment, and above all for peace.

The death of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and her funeral in London on Monday, which many world leaders attended, have created last-minute headaches for the high-level meeting. Diplomats and U.N. staff have scrambled to deal with changes in travel plans, the timing of events and the logistically intricate speaking schedule for world leaders.

The global gathering, known as the General Debate, was entirely virtual in 2020 because of the pandemic, and hybrid in 2021. This year, the 193-member General Assembly returns to only in-person speeches, with a single exception — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Over objections from Russia and a few allies, the assembly voted last Friday to allow the Ukrainian leader to prerecord his speech because of reasons beyond his control — the “ongoing foreign invasion” and military hostilities that require him to carry out his “national defense and security duties.”

The U.S. president, representing the host country for the United Nations, is traditionally the second speaker. But President Joe Biden is attending the queen’s funeral, and his speech has been pushed to Wednesday morning.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Railroads’ Strategy Thrilled Wall Street, but Not Customers and Workers

America’s first commercial railroads were built almost two centuries ago. Freight rail has been a symbol of the nation’s economic might and ingenuity ever since.

In recent years, some of the biggest names on Wall Street have made significant investments in railroads, reaping big stock gains as railroads reported higher profits. But the underlying strategies that strengthened railroads’ bottom lines have caused friction with customers, regulators and particularly workers — giving rise to a contract dispute that threatened a nationwide shutdown of the railway system.

After losing ground to trucking in the mid-20th century, the rail industry managed to recover through decades of consolidation and a push for efficiency. Critics say those same dynamics created a system with thin staffing and minimal competition, making it particularly vulnerable to shocks like the coronavirus pandemic.

Those complaints were at the center of the contract impasse that left tens of thousands of workers prepared to walk off the job last week. A strike could have been economically devastating, paralyzing shipments of grain, chemicals and other cargo.

It was averted with less than a day to go when the Biden administration helped to broker a tentative agreement that addresses some of those issues and will be put to a vote of the rail unions’ members in the coming weeks.

The freight rail industry says it has worked hard to adapt to rapid changes — including the pandemic and, before that, a decline in demand for coal, a critical source of business.

“The industry has had to continually evolve to grow its other services,” said Ian Jefferies, the president of the Association of American Railroads, an industry group. To make up for the decline in coal, freight shippers have tried to transport more grain, truck trailers, shipping containers and other goods, he said.

according to the Surface Transportation Board, which monitors and regulates rates.

Prices started to increase in the early 2000s, driven by rising costs for labor, fuel, materials and supplies as well as a growing focus on profitability. From 2002 to 2019, long-distance trucking rates increased by 40 percent, according to a Transportation Department report published this year, while rail rates grew by 96 percent, though they are still well below historical levels, adjusted for inflation.

won a proxy battle for Canadian Pacific in 2012 and installed Mr. Harrison to lead the company.

Mr. Harrison brought his approach to Canadian Pacific, then to CSX in 2017, before his death that year. Other freight carriers and Wall Street increasingly took notice, and the practice has spread throughout the industry.

Many freight rail experts say P.S.R. brought necessary reforms to the industry, but they also say some practices, which can differ greatly among carriers, went too far or were poorly executed. Unions say the system has created miserable working conditions.

letter to shareholders.

“I’ll venture a rare prediction,” he wrote in February. “BNSF will be a key asset for Berkshire and our country a century from now.”

Peter S. Goodman and Clifford Krauss contributed reporting.

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Thousands Wait In Shivering Temps To Pay Respect To The Queen

Overnight, volunteers distributed blankets and warm cups of tea to people waiting in line as temperatures fell to 43 degrees Fahrenheit.

Thousands of people spent London’s coldest night in months huddled in line to view the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, and authorities warned Saturday that arriving mourners face a 16-hour wait.

A tide of people wanting to say goodbye streamed into Parliament’s Westminster Hall, where the queen’s coffin is lying in state, draped in her Royal Standard and capped with a diamond-studded crown. The numbers have grown steadily since the public was first admitted on Wednesday, with a queue that snakes around Southwark Park and stretches out at least 5 miles.

Honoring their patience, King Charles III and his eldest son Prince William made an unannounced visit Saturday to greet people waiting to file past Elizabeth’s coffin. The two senior royals shook hands and thanked the mourners in the queue near Lambeth Bridge.

Charles has made several impromptu walkabouts since he became king on Sept. 8, in an attempt to meet as many of his subjects as possible. People in the crowds offered their condolences.

Overnight, volunteers distributed blankets and cups of tea to people in line as temperatures fell to 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite the weather, mourners described the warmth of a shared experience.

“It was cold overnight, but we had wonderful companions, met new friends. The camaraderie was wonderful,” Chris Harman of London said. “It was worth it. I would do it again and again and again. I would walk to the end of the earth for my queen.”

People had many reasons for coming, from affection for the queen to a desire to be part of a historic moment. Simon Hopkins, who traveled from his home in central England, likened it to “a pilgrimage.”

“(It) is a bit strange, because that kind of goes against my grain,” he said. “I’ve been kind of drawn into it.”

The public kept silently streaming into Westminster Hall even as the queen’s four children — Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward — stood vigil Friday night around the flag-draped coffin for 15 minutes. A baby’s cry was the only sound.

Before the vigil, Edward said the royal family was “overwhelmed by the tide of emotion that has engulfed us and the sheer number of people who have gone out of their way to express their own love, admiration and respect (for) our dear mama.”

Later Saturday, all eight of Queen Elizabeth II’s grandchildren will stand vigil beside her coffin. Charles’ sons, William and Prince Harry, will attend along with Princess Anne’s children, Zara Tindall and Peter Philips; Prince Andrew’s daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie; and the two children of Prince Edward – Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn.

William, now the heir to the throne, will stand at the head of the coffin and Harry at the foot. Both princes, who are military veterans, will be in uniform.

Harry, who served in Afghanistan as a British army officer, wore civilian clothes during the procession of the queen’s coffin from Buckingham Palace because he is no longer a working member of the royal family. He and his wife Meghan quit royal duties and moved to the United States in 2020.

The king, however, has requested that both William and Harry wear their military uniforms at the Westminster Hall vigil.

People queuing to see the queen have been of all ages and come from all walks of life. Many bowed before the coffin or made a sign of the cross. Several veterans, their medals shining in the spotlights, offered sharp salutes. Some people wept. Others blew kisses. Many hugged one another as they stepped away, proud to have spent hours in line to offer a tribute, even if it lasted only a few moments.

Authorities on Saturday closed a separate line for people with disabilities or conditions that mean they can’t queue for hours on end, saying all spaces available have been allocated.

The lying-in-state continues until early Monday morning, when the queen’s coffin will be borne to nearby Westminster Abbey for a state funeral, the finale of 10 days of national mourning for Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. Elizabeth, 96, died at her Balmoral Estate in Scotland on Sept. 8 after 70 years on the throne.

U.S. President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden flew to the U.K. on Sunday, one of hundreds of heads of state, royals and political leaders from around the world coming to London to attend the funeral. Charles was holding audiences Saturday with incoming prime ministers, governor generals of the realms and military leaders.

After the service Monday at the abbey, the late queen’s coffin will be transported through the historic heart of London on a horse-drawn gun carriage. It will then be taken in a hearse to Windsor, where the queen will be interred alongside her late husband, Prince Philip, who died last year.

Hundreds of troops from the British army, air force and navy held an early-morning rehearsal Saturday for the final procession. As troops lined the picturesque path leading to Windsor Castle, the thumping of drums echoed as marching bands walked ahead of a hearse.

London police say the funeral will be the largest single policing event the force has ever handled, surpassing even the 2012 Summer Olympics and the Platinum Jubilee in June celebrating the queen’s 70-year reign.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Biden To Meet With South African Leader About Ukraine, Trade, Climate

By Associated Press
September 16, 2022

South African leaders have accused the U.S. of focusing on the Ukraine conflict to the detriment of other global crises.

U.S. President Joe Biden and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa are set to meet Friday at the White House for talks on Russia’s war in Ukraine, climate issues, trade and more.

Ramaphosa is among African leaders who have maintained a neutral stance in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with South Africa abstaining from a United Nations vote condemning Russia’s actions and calling for a mediated settlement.

South Africa’s international relations minister, Naledi Pandor, said Ramaphosa would emphasize the need for dialogue to find an end to the conflict during his meeting with President Biden and in separate talks with Vice President Kamala Harris.

Pandor added that the issue will be South Africa’s focus when it participates in the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly next week.

“We would want a process of diplomacy to be initiated between the two parties and we believe the U.N. must lead, the U.N secretary-general in particular,” Pandor said.

The White House meeting comes on the heels of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to South Africa last month, in which he said the Biden administration sees Africa’s 54 nations as “equal partners” in tackling global problems.

But the administration has been disappointed that South Africa and much of the continent have declined to follow the U.S. in condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

During the Blinken visit, Pandor accused the U.S. and other Western powers of focusing on the Ukraine conflict to the detriment of crises around the globe.

“We should be equally concerned at what is happening to the people of Palestine, as we are with what is happening to the people of Ukraine,” she said.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, has sought to underscore that Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports has led to scarcities in grain, cooking oil and fertilizer — resulting in disproportionate impact on Africans.

South Africa’s neutral position is largely because of the support the Soviet Union gave during the Cold War era to Ramaphosa’s African National Congress in its fight to end apartheid, South Africa’s regime of repression against the Black majority that ended in 1994. South Africa is seen as a leader of the several African countries that will not side against Russia.

Despite the differences on the war in Ukraine, the Biden administration recognizes the importance of strengthening relations in Africa as China has spent decades entrenching itself in the continent’s natural resources markets. Improving relations with South Africa — one of the continent’s biggest economies — is central to the U.S. effort.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the two leaders would also discuss climate change and opportunities to increase trade and investment. Harris and Ramaphosa will discuss global health security, space cooperation and other matters, when they meet over breakfast at the vice president’s residence, Jean-Pierre said.

South Africa’s ambitious efforts to transition from coal to cleaner energy are expected to be discussed during the leaders’ talks. The U.S., Britain, France and Germany announced a plan last year to provide $8.5 billion in loans and grants over five years to help South Africa phase out coal.

Ramaphosa could also raise with President Biden the failure of the United States and other wealthier nations to make good on a more than decades-old pledge — first made in 2009 and reaffirmed at the 2015 Paris climate talks — to spend $100 billion to help developing nations deal with climate change.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Exclusive: With a Russian nudge, Turkey and Syria step up contacts

  • Any normalisation would reshape decade-long Syria war
  • Intelligence chiefs held meetings over last few weeks
  • Focused on Ukraine, Moscow urges political solution in Syria

ANKARA/BEIRUT, Sept 15 (Reuters) – Turkey’s intelligence chief has held multiple meetings with his Syrian counterpart in Damascus over the last few weeks, a sign of Russian efforts to encourage a thaw between states on opposite sides of Syria’s war, four sources said.

A regional source aligned with Damascus told Reuters that Hakan Fidan, head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT), and Syrian intelligence chief Ali Mamlouk met as recently as this week in the Syrian capital.

The contacts reflect a Russian policy shift as Moscow steels itself for a protracted conflict in Ukraine and seeks to secure its position in Syria, where its forces have supported President Bashar al-Assad since 2015, according to two Turkish officials and the regional source.

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Any normalisation between Ankara and Damascus would reshape the decade-long Syrian war.

Turkish backing has been vital to sustaining Syrian rebels in their last major territorial foothold in the northwest, after Assad defeated the insurgency across the rest of the country, aided by Russia and Iran.

But rapprochement faces big complications, including the fate of rebel fighters and millions of civilians, many of whom fled to the northwest to escape Assad’s rule.

Turkey, a NATO member country, has troops on the ground across the area, deemed occupying forces by Assad.

During the meetings, Fidan – one of President Tayyip Erdogan’s closest confidants – and Mamlouk evaluated how the two countries’ foreign ministers could eventually meet, according to a senior Turkish official and a Turkish security source.

“Russia wants Syria and Turkey to overcome their problems and achieve certain agreements…which are in the interest of everyone, both Turkey and Syria,” said the Turkish official.

One big challenge is Turkey’s desire to include Syrian rebels in any talks with Damascus, the official added.

RUSSIAN SHIFT

The Turkish security official said Russia has gradually withdrawn some military resources from Syria in order to focus on Ukraine, and had asked Turkey to normalise relations with Assad to “accelerate a political solution” in Syria.

The Damascus-allied source said Russia had nudged Syria to enter talks as Moscow seeks to nail down its position and that of Assad in the event it must redeploy forces to Ukraine. Russia has sustained stunning losses on the ground in Ukraine over the past week.

The most recent meetings – including a two-day visit by Fidan to Damascus at the end of August – had sought to lay the ground for sessions at a higher level, the source said.

The senior Turkish official said Ankara does not want to see Iranian or Iran-backed forces – already widely deployed in government-controlled parts of Syria – plugging gaps left by Russian withdrawals.

The Turkish security official said neither did Russia want to see Iranian influence expand as it reduces its presence.

A diplomat based in the region said Russia had pulled a limited number of troops out of Syria’s south earlier this summer, particularly in areas along the border with Israel that were later filled by Iran-aligned forces.

While Fidan and Mamlouk have spoken intermittently over the last two years, the pace and timing of recent meetings suggests a new urgency to the contacts.

The regional source allied to Damascus and a second senior pro-Assad source in the Middle East said the Turkish-Syrian contacts had made a lot of progress, without giving details.

A third regional source aligned with Damascus said Turkish-Syrian relations had begun to thaw and were advancing to a stage of “creating a climate for understanding”.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the contacts, which have not been publicly disclosed.

The Russian foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Turkey’s MIT declined to comment and the foreign ministry did not immediately comment. The Syrian information ministry did not immediately reply to emailed questions from Reuters.

UNTHINKABLE BECOMES THINKABLE

Turkish-Syrian rapprochement seemed unthinkable earlier in the Syrian conflict, which spiralled out of an uprising against Assad in 2011, killing hundreds of thousands of people, drawing in numerous foreign powers, and splintering the country.

Erdogan has called Assad a terrorist and said there could be no peace in Syria with him in office, while Assad has called Erdogan a thief for “stealing” Syrian land.

But in an apparent change of tone last month, Erdogan said he could never rule out dialogue and diplomacy with Syria. read more

Erdogan faces tight elections next year in which a key issue will be repatriating some of the 3.7 million Syrian refugees now in Turkey. read more

The Turkish-Syrian contacts come against the backdrop of a flurry of meetings between Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, including one planned on Friday in Uzbekistan.

In July, Turkey helped seal a U.N.-backed deal that lifted a blockade on grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports which had prevailed since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of its neighbour.

After a recent visit to Moscow, Erdogan said Putin had suggested Turkey cooperate with Damascus along their joint border, where Ankara has waged several offensives into areas where Syrian Kurdish groups have carved out autonomy since 2011.

Turkey has been threatening to launch another offensive against the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, which Ankara deems a national security threat. Russia has signalled opposition to such an incursion.

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Reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara and Laila Bassam and Maya Gebeily in Beirut; writing by Tom Perry; editing by Jonathan Spicer and Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Ukraine and Russia: What you need to know right now

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Sept 10 (Reuters) – Moscow has abandoned its main bastion in northeastern Ukraine, a sudden apparent collapse of one of the war’s principal front lines after Ukrainian forces moved to encircle the area in a shock advance. read more

FIGHTING

* The state-run TASS news agency quoted Russia’s defence ministry as saying it had ordered troops to leave the area around the city of Izium in Kharkiv province, saying they would be sent to reinforce operations elsewhere in neighbouring Donetsk.

* The announcement came hours after rapidly advancing Ukrainian troops captured the city of Kupiansk, the sole railway hub supplying Russia’s entire frontline across northeastern Ukraine, cutting thousands of Russian troops off from supplies.

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* A Reuters journalist inside a vast area recaptured in recent days by the advancing Ukrainian forces saw Ukrainian police patrolling towns and boxes of ammunition lying in heaps at positions abandoned by fleeing Russian soldiers.

* Russia’s defence ministry said its air forces destroyed a Ukrainian radar tracking station the southern Mykolaiv region and six weapon and missile depots in eastern and southeastern areas, TASS reported.

* Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.

QUOTES

* Mark Hertling, a retired four-star general and former commander of U.S. ground forces in Europe: “Make no mistake, (Ukraine) is executing a brilliant maneuver focused on terrain objectives to ‘bag’ Russians. But the Russians are helping them – by doing very little to counter.”

* Russia’s defence ministry on TASS: “To achieve the stated goals of the Special Military Operation for the liberation of Donbas, it was decided to regroup the Russian troops located in the districts of Balakliia and Izium for the purpose of increasing efforts in the Donetsk direction.”

NUCLEAR

* Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he had spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron about the situation at the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, calling for it to be “demilitarized”.

* Shelling has destroyed power infrastructure in the city of Enerhodar where staff operating Zaporizhzhia live, posing a growing threat to the plant, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Friday. read more

ENERGY

* European Union energy ministers on Friday gave the European Commission the task of pressing ahead with a cap on the revenues of non-gas power producers benefiting from soaring energy prices, while backing away from capping Russian gas prices. read more

GRAIN

* Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday a deal to unblock Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea is being fulfilled “badly” and its extension, due in late November, will depend on how it is implemented, RIA reported. read more

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Compiled by Grant McCool, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Andrew Heavens

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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