“go back to school.” Mr. Trump’s last director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, chose not to release a threat assessment or testify before Congress last year.

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U.S. Is Expected to Approve Some Arms Sales to U.A.E. and Saudis

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration plans to suspend the sale of many offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia approved under the Trump administration, but it will allow the sale of other matériel that can be construed to have a defensive purpose, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

The plan, which was briefed to Congress last week, is part of an administration review of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that the White House announced soon after President Biden’s inauguration.

The original sales were met with strong opposition last year from Democrats in Congress, who are angry over the countries’ involvement in the war in Yemen and wary of the transfer of advanced military technology to authoritarian Middle Eastern states with ties to China.

The Biden administration will approve $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, according to a State Department spokesman, including F-35 fighter jets and armed Reaper drones. Biden administration officials signaled at the time of the review that those arms, sold to the Emirates soon after it had signed a diplomatic agreement with Israel brokered by the Trump administration, were likely to be approved.

killings of civilians, including many children, because of the use of such bombs by the Saudi-led coalition.

Raytheon Company, the biggest supplier of the bombs, lobbied the Trump administration to continue the sales, despite a growing outcry from humanitarian groups, members of Congress and some in the State Department.

The suspension does not cover sales of any other kinds of weapons to Saudi Arabia, U.S. officials said. Weapons used by helicopters would still be permitted, as well as ground-to-ground munitions and small arms. Electronics equipment, including jamming technology, would also be permitted. The Saudi military receives almost all its weapons from the United States.

formally notified lawyers about the decision, which officials say was made this year as part of a lawsuit opposing the agreement brought by the nonprofit New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs.

The Emirates played a big role in the Yemen war but stepped back recently. As part of negotiations last year to try to persuade the Emirates to normalize relations with Israel, the Trump administration told Emirati officials that it would accelerate approval of sales of F-35 fighter jets and drones.

U.S. officials said on Wednesday that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken received the report this week from other offices in the State Department, and that he was expected to approve it. The report would then go to the National Security Council for final approval.

“I and many other House members remain concerned about the proposed sale of $23 billion in arms to the U.A.E.,” said Representative Gregory W. Meeks, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He said he had “many questions about any decision by the Biden administration to go forward with the Trump administration’s proposed transfers” of the fighter jets, drones and munitions to the Emirates.

Israeli officials and some members of Congress have expressed concerns that the sales of F-35s would weaken what they called Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over other countries in the region, and that Congress requires presidential administrations to maintain it as a matter of law. Israel is currently the only country in the region with F-35s.

Other U.S. officials have been concerned about selling the F-35, one of the military’s most advanced pieces of hardware, to the United Arab Emirates when it is developing a closer relationship with China, which is notorious for technological espionage. American officials are worried about the radar and stealth abilities of F-35s and some drone technology, among other things.

Ms. Fontenrose added that some officials had additional concerns that the Emirates might employ American-made weapons, including Reaper drones, in the Libyan civil war, where it has intervened. She said the Emirates had provided the Trump administration with “assurances” on that front.

The State Department official, who requested anonymity to discuss policies that had not been officially announced, noted that it would take years to complete the Emirati arms deal and that during that period the administration would ensure that the country was living up to obligations, such as to protect American technology and to ensure that U.S. arms were not used in contexts that violate human rights and the laws of conflict.

Mr. Meeks echoed that point. “Fortunately, none of these transfers would occur anytime soon,” he said, “so there will be ample time for Congress to review whether these transfers should go forward and what restrictions and conditions would be imposed.”

Mr. Trump’s deal with the Emirates was approved soon after it had agreed to join the Abraham Accords, which normalized its diplomatic relations with Israel for the first time.

Some Democrats complained that the arms sales appeared to have been an inappropriate inducement for the Emirates to agree to the accords, which largely formalized a relationship that had grown steadily friendlier for many years.

“I still don’t believe it’s in our interest to fuel a spiraling arms race in the Middle East,” said Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut and a leading critic in Congress of the arms sales and of U.S. ties to Gulf Arab states. “I have requested a briefing from the administration regarding the status of the review of both the U.A.E. and Saudi sales.”

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Iran’s Top Leader Signals Nuclear Talks to Resume Despite Natanz Sabotage

Iran’s top leader said Wednesday that his country would keep negotiating with world powers over how to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal, quashing speculation that Iran’s delegation would boycott or quit participating in protest of the apparent Israeli sabotage of a major uranium enrichment site this past weekend.

The declaration by the top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on security matters in the country of 80 million, came three days after an explosive blast at the Natanz enrichment site plunged the heavily guarded facility into a blackout and disabled or destroyed hundreds of underground centrifuges used to process uranium into fuel.

Suspicion for the destruction immediately fell on Israel, which has sabotaged the Natanz site before. Israel neither confirmed nor denied the accusation but intelligence officials said it was a clandestine Israeli operation.

Outraged and embarrassed over such a security lapse, Iran vowed on Tuesday to triple its uranium enrichment purity — the most brazen departure yet from its commitments under the nuclear deal.

also said they would resume, at 12:30 p.m. local time on Thursday.

The discussions, which began early this month and recessed last Friday, are intended to map out a plan for the return of both Iran and the United States to compliance with the deal, which has teetered on collapse since President Donald J. Trump abruptly withdrew the United States from it three years ago.

Twitter that process could begin soon.

Iran has said that all of its departures from compliance with the nuclear agreement could be easily and quickly reversed when the United States rescinds its sanctions.

carried out a series of raids and attacks targeting Iran’s nuclear scientists and its uranium enrichment facilities.

Although American and Israeli governments have collaborated before to counter what they see as Iran’s militaristic nuclear ambitions, Washington denied any role in Sunday’s blackout. The Biden administration has said it remains committed to reviving the nuclear agreement.

Iran and the United States have not been negotiating directly in the talks in Vienna, which are led by the European Union. Instead the other participants in the 2015 accord — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — are acting as intermediaries.

Before the blackout at Natanz, European officials maintained that both Iran and the United States were invested in the success of the talks.

The foreign ministries of Germany, France and Britain issued a joint a statement on Wednesday condemning Iran’s uranium enrichment intentions and said that they “reject all escalatory measures by any actor.”

“This is a serious development since the production of highly enriched uranium constitutes an important step in the production of a nuclear weapon,” the statement read. “Iran has no credible civilian need for enrichment at this level.”

The talks adjourned on a positive note last week. They were scheduled to continue this week after all parties agreed to move forward.

according to senior diplomats who were involved. Two working groups were formed to discuss sanctions and uranium enrichment, both tasked with mapping out a plan to bring the United States and Iran back into compliance with the 2015 deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Steven Erlanger and Rick Gladstone contributed reporting.

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Changing Strategy, the E.U. Bets Big on Pfizer to Battle Covid

BRUSSELS — Bruised by major disruptions in supplies of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, the European Union Wednesday announced it was putting trust and money into the Pfizer-BioNTech shot to salvage its vaccination rollout and secure doses for the future.

The pivot away from AstraZeneca, once a pillar of the E.U. inoculation program, comes after months of discord over delayed shipments and as the company battles worries over rare potential side effects of its shots.

In announcing the change in strategy, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said Pfizer had agreed to an early shipment of doses that she said should likely allow the bloc to reach its goal of inoculating 70 percent of adults by the end of the summer.

That goal was in jeopardy after AstraZeneca failed to deliver on expected doses in the first quarter of the year, then suffered fresh setbacks over potential side effects related to blood clots. The European vaccine campaign was dealt a further blow Tuesday when Johnson & Johnson said it would delay its own rollout in Europe because of similar concerns and after regulators paused its use in the United States.

supply disruptions from AstraZeneca in late January, and then with the emergence of the potential rare blood disorder that has battered the public’s confidence in vaccines and led to appointment cancellations.

“As we can see with the announcement by Johnson & Johnson yesterday, there are still many factors that can disrupt the planned delivery schedules of vaccines,” Ms. von der Leyen said Wednesday.

Ms. von der Leyen said the Pfizer doses under negotiation for the next two years would include potential booster shots to extend the immunity of people who have already been inoculated, as well as possible new shots or boosters targeting emerging variants that might prove resilient against existing vaccines.

The AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines performed well in clinical trials and the possible dangerous side effects have been rare. But trials of the Pfizer and Moderna shots shows that they were even more effective in preventing infection, and similar side effects have not emerged. Another mRNA vaccine, from CureVac, is in clinical trials.

On Wednesday, the European Medicines Agency, the bloc’s top drug regulator, said it was expediting its investigation of “very rare cases of unusual blood clots” in recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and expected to issue a recommendation next week. While the evaluation is ongoing, the agency reiterated its view that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks.

In a setback for AstraZeneca, Denmark on Wednesday became the first country to permanently stop the administration of the company’s vaccine, saying the potential side effects were significant enough to do so given that it had the pandemic under control and could rely on the Pfizer and Moderna inoculations.

With the fresh commitment by Pfizer to bring forward the delivery of 50 million doses originally slated for the end of the year, the company expects to deliver 250 million doses in total to the bloc by the end of June.

Ms. von der Leyen said more than 100 million people in the European Union had already received at least one vaccine dose, and 27 million had received both. The additional Pfizer vaccines, together with 35 million doses expected from Moderna over the next three months, and a more limited use of AstraZeneca doses already in the pipeline, should likely be enough to get the bloc to the coveted milestone of reaching 255 million people by September, E.U. officials said.

In stark contrast to the criticism of AstraZeneca’s handling of its E.U. dealings, Ms. von der Leyen praised Pfizer effusively, highlighting how important the company’s ability to respond quickly to help the European Union has been.

“I want to thank BioNTech/Pfizer; it has proven to be a reliable partner,” Ms. von der Leyen said. “It has delivered on its commitments, and it is responsive to our needs.”

Addressing another sore point, Ms. von der Leyen said that the future Pfizer doses would be produced in the European Union.

Ample exports from the factories within the bloc to the rest of the world have enabled countries like Mexico and Canada to launch their vaccination campaigns, but those exports have also been identified as one reason there weren’t enough vaccines to go around in Europe.

The United States and Britain, by contrast, held tight to the vaccines made in their countries, helping speed along their inoculation efforts.

Monika Pronczukcontributed reporting.

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What the Coronavirus Variants Mean for Testing

In January 2020, just weeks after the first Covid-19 cases emerged in China, the full genome of the new coronavirus was published online. Using this genomic sequence, scientists scrambled to design a large assortment of diagnostic tests for the virus.

But the virus has mutated since then. And as the coronavirus has evolved, so has the landscape of testing. The emergence of new variants has sparked a flurry of interest in developing tests for specific viral mutations and prompted concerns about the accuracy of some existing tests.

“With these Covid diagnostics, we were on a time crunch, we had to get something out there,” said Lorraine Lillis, the scientific program officer at PATH, a global health nonprofit that has been tracking coronavirus tests. “Normally, diagnostics take a long, long time, and we’d normally challenge them with multiple variants.” She added: “And we’re doing that, but we’re doing it in real time.”

The Food and Drug Administration has warned that new mutations in the coronavirus could render some tests less effective. And last week, PATH launched two online dashboards to monitor how certain variants might affect the performance of existing diagnostic tests.

has listed four different molecular tests “whose performance could be impacted” by the variants, but notes that the tests should still work. Three of the tests have multiple targets; a fourth may be slightly less sensitive when the virus has one particular mutation and is present at very low levels. (The four tests are the TaqPath Covid-19 Combo Kit, the Linea Covid-19 Assay Kit, the Xpert Xpress and Xpert Omni SARS-CoV-2, and the Accula SARS-CoV-2 Test.)

“We don’t think that those four assays are significantly impacted,” said Dr. Tim Stenzel, who directs the F.D.A.’s office of in vitro diagnostics and radiological health. “It was more out of an abundance of caution and transparency that we made that information public.”

Antigen tests are less sensitive than molecular tests, but they are typically cheaper and faster, and they are being deployed widely in coronavirus screening programs. These tests detect specific proteins on the outside of the virus. Some genetic mutations could change the structure of these proteins, allowing them to escape detection.

in a recent paper, Dr. Izpisua Belmonte and his colleague, Mo Li, a stem cell biologist at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, described a new testing method that can identify mutations in up to five different regions of the coronavirus genome.

And Dr. Grubaugh and his colleagues have developed a P.C.R. test that can detect specific combinations of mutations that characterize three variants of concern: B.1.1.7; B.1.351, which was first detected in South Africa; and P.1, first found in Brazil. (The work has not yet been published in a scientific journal.)

Dr. Grubaugh said that researchers in Brazil, South Africa and elsewhere are already using the tests to sift through a mountain of coronavirus samples, identifying those that should be prioritized for full genomic sequencing. “Our group’s primary interest is enhancing genomic surveillance through sequencing, especially in resource-limited areas,” Dr. Grubaugh said. “If you want to know if there’s variants that are circulating, you need a way to triage.”

A number of companies are also beginning to release coronavirus tests that they say can differentiate between certain variants, although these are intended for research purposes only. Creating a test that can definitively diagnose someone with a particular variant is “infinitely harder,” Dr. Grubaugh said.

Similar mutations are springing up in different variants, which makes distinguishing among them more difficult. The mutations of interest will change as the virus does, and sequencing remains the best way to get a complete picture of the virus.

But tests that can screen for certain mutations could be an important public health tool, Ms. Agarwal said: “These newer diagnostics that are looking across the variants, I think will be really key in understanding the epidemiology of the virus and planning our next generation of efforts against it.”

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Expert Panel to C.D.C. to Vote on Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Pause

An advisory committee for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is discussing the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine pause during a meeting on Wednesday afternoon while a possible link to a small number of rare blood clots is investigated.

The emergency meeting follows the Food and Drug Administration’s announcement on Tuesday that it was studying six cases of rare and severe blood clots in women aged 18 to 48, one of whom died. All of the women had received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine before developing the clots, though it is unclear whether the vaccine is responsible. As of Tuesday, more than seven million people in the United States have received the shot, and another 10 million doses have been shipped out to the states, according to C.D.C. data.

Following the call from federal health agencies, all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico on Tuesday quickly paused or recommended that providers pause the administration of the vaccine. The U.S. military, federally run vaccination sites, and a host of private companies, including CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart and Publix also paused the injections.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, is a panel of independent experts who advise the C.D.C. on its vaccine policies. At the meeting, the experts are reviewing and debating data from the rare cases, and will later hear comments from the public, before a possible vote on how to proceed. They could vote to recommend that the pause continues, for example, or to specify that it should apply only to a certain age or sex.

reiterated on Wednesday that the pause in Johnson & Johnson vaccinations gives public health officials a chance to investigate the cases and discuss them with health care professionals. He added that pauses are common when new vaccines and drugs are rolled out.

“We’re just doing the due diligence we need to do to make sure everything is safe so we can continue with our vaccination efforts,” Dr. Murthy said on “CBS This Morning.”

was not worth the trade-off of slowing the vaccination campaign and potentially eroding the public’s trust of vaccines in general.

At the news conference, Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House’s pandemic coordinator, said that the pause would not generally interrupt the momentum of the country’s vaccination campaign.

“In the very short term, we do expect some impact on daily averages as sites and appointments transition from Johnson & Johnson to Moderna and Pfizer vaccines,” he said. “We have more than enough Pfizer and Moderna vaccine supply to continue or even accelerate the current pace of vaccinations.”

Noah Weiland and Madeleine Ngo contributed reporting.

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Once again, South Africa finds itself halting use, at least temporarily, of a Covid-19 vaccine it had bet on.

South Africa has faced blow after blow to its pandemic-control efforts: A worrisome variant swept across the country, driving a devastating second wave of coronavirus cases. Then officials had to scramble for an alternative when the vaccine it had bet on, from AstraZeneca, proved ineffective against the variant, which can partially dodge the body’s immune system response.

Now the alternative — Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, the only one now in use in South Africa — has run into trouble as well, over concerns of rare blood clots that emerged in a handful of people in the United States who had received the shot. It is unclear whether the vaccine is responsible.

South Africa’s health minister, Dr. Zwelini Mkhize, announced on Tuesday that the country would temporarily halt its vaccine program for medical workers, which has inoculated around 290,000 people so far. Dr. Mkhize said he expected the program — a clinical trial — to resume in a few days, after the authorities have had a chance to look into the blood clot cases in the United States.

“Science must be respected at all times, although this may mean a disruption in our plans,” Dr. Mkhize said on Tuesday.

halted use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after evidence emerged that it did not protect clinical-trial participants from becoming mildly or moderately ill from the variant, known as B.1.351, that is now dominant in the country. South African authorities then pivoted to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is manufactured in the country under license and has a 64 percent efficacy rate in South Africa, according to an analysis by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Health experts say that the decision on Tuesday to pause vaccinating health care workers is the kind of thing that happens often in clinical trials, and that it probably won’t have any major implications for vaccinating the general public.

“At the moment, there is nothing to indicate that this will delay the national rollout program,” said Dr. Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases specialist at the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform.

Even so, if evidence emerges to implicate the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in blood clotting problem, and health officials begin to question its safety, it could be a devastating blow for South Africa, the African country hardest hit by the coronavirus, as it races to inoculate its population before an even more dangerous variant appears.

“The U.S. has access to other vaccines to fill a gap, in terms of not using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” said Shabir Madhi, a virologist at University of the Witwatersrand who ran the AstraZeneca vaccine trial in South Africa. “That sort of luxury doesn’t exist in other countries, including South Africa.”

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Televisa will sell its content and media business to Univision.

More than a decade ago, Grupo Televisa of Mexico and Univision of the United States, giants in the world of Spanish-language media, set aside years of hostility to strike an alliance. Now, the two companies are deepening their bonds to better compete in the streaming era.

Televisa agreed on Tuesday to sell its media, content and production assets to Univision for $4.8 billion. The deal includes SoftBank and Google as financial backers.

It is the latest evolution in the ties between Televisa and Univision, whose relationship has been strained at times: They battled in court over Televisa’s attempt to end a 25-year contract with Univision to make telenovelas, crucial programming for the Spanish-language market, settling just before Televisa’s chairman was set to testify.

The two have grown closer in recent years, beginning with a licensing deal in 2010. Televisa, which produces much of the programming that airs on Univision, owns just over a third of the company.

Together, the two companies dominate the Spanish-language broadcast markets in the United States and Mexico. Their traditional business has held up, with Univision’s ratings rising last year, but executives said they believed that creating a dominant streaming service was the future.

There is room for growth: Executives of both companies estimate that just 10 percent of the 600 million viewers in the Spanish-language media market use an online video service, compared with 70 percent of the English-speaking population.

But competing with services like Netflix required much bigger scale, prompting the two companies to consolidate further. The new business, to be called Televisa-Univision, will have an enormous content library — Televisa produced 86,000 hours of programming last year — broadcast and pay-TV channels and stations and a movie studio. The new business will also control the two companies’ online video services, PrendeTV and Blim.

“We had to gain scale and unify the media rights to compete against the giants,” Bernardo Gómez Martínez, one of Televisa’s co-chief executives, said in an interview.

The executives said that beyond the sheer amount of resources Televisa-Univision will have, the new company also has an advantage that others like Netflix do not: a foundation in the Spanish-language market.

“Those companies are first and foremost English-language companies,” said Wade Davis, Univision’s chief executive. “At the core of it, their core offering is not Spanish language first.”

As part of the deal, Univision and Televisa are bringing in $1 billion in new investment to their venture. Among the investors are SoftBank’s Latin America Fund, Google and the investment firm Raine Group.

The transaction is expected to close by the end of the year, pending approval by regulators in the United States and Mexico and by Televisa’s shareholders.

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US Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan: What to Know

The reality of an imminent American withdrawal from Afghanistan differs from its long-anticipated likelihood. Already the anxiety engendered by this new certainty in the capital, Kabul, and other urban centers is making itself felt.

Afghans’ fear is multifaceted, evoked by the Taliban’s grim record, bitter and vivid memories of civil war and the widely acknowledged weakness of the current government. These conditions in turn push Afghan thinking in one direction: The country’s government and armed forces won’t survive without American support. Many American policymakers, security officials and diplomats concur with this gloomy view. Just this week, the U.S. intelligence assessment, presented to Congress, suggested as much: “The Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support.”

During their five years in power, 1996-2001, the Taliban operated one of the world’s most oppressive and theocratic regimes, and there is little in their public posture and behavior during the group’s years of insurgency to suggest much has changed, at least ideologically.

In Afghanistan’s cities, the new middle-class society that emerged under the American security umbrella over the last 20 years dread a return to that era of rule.

some analysts say, there is some imperative to find political solutions to achieving their desired return to power.

And, most important, there are too many potential centers of armed resistance that will not go down quietly. And that in turn would lead to an intensification of the civil war that is already consuming much of the country.

With the Biden’s administration’s announcement on Wednesday of a complete withdrawal of American forces by Sept. 11, there are still several questions that will need to be answered between now and then.

believe they have already militarily won the war with Afghan forces, and they may be right.

Afghan soldiers and police have abandoned dozens of checkpoints, while others have been taken by force, while the attrition rate among security forces is considered unsustainable by Western and Afghan security officials.

Still, as long as Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani. can continue to maintain his elite special force of 20,000-30,000 men and pay them, thanks to the Americans, he may be able to maintain his hold on power, for a time. The Americans fund the Afghan military to the tune of $4 billion a year; if those funds are cut by a Congress unwilling to pay for somebody else’s war, Mr. Ghani is in trouble.

Also likely to be emboldened by the American withdrawal, and constituting a further threat to the Ghani government, are the forces controlled by the country’s numerous and potent regional leaders. These power brokers may now be tempted to cut deals with the side that clearly has the upper hand, the Taliban, or buckle down and try to secure their small portions of the country and again take up the mantle of warlords.

believe Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups pose an immediate threat to the United States from Afghanistan — although the congressionally mandated Afghan Study Group said earlier this year that withdrawal “could lead to a reconstitution of the terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland within 18 months to three years.”

Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan was militarily defeated their eastern stronghold in late 2019. But smaller and more amorphous elements continue to operate with low intensity in the region, including in Kabul, waiting to take advantage of whatever might happen in the coming months.

U.S. military and intelligence officials have suggested a limited timeline — a handful years at best.

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