Top News Stories for Today – April 4, 2017
Erik Prince met Russian on Trump’s behalf
The crown prince of Abu Dhabi helped arrange a clandestine meeting in the Seychelles islands between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin nine days before President Trump’s inauguration, in an apparent attempt to establish a backchannel between Putin and Trump, several US, European, and Arab officials told The Washington Post. Prince, who did not have a formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, approached Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan about setting up the meeting, saying he was an unofficial Trump envoy, The Post reports.
The crown prince suggested holding it in the Seychelles for privacy. The UAE and Russia were reportedly pleased with the meeting but opted not to arrange any other summits between Putin’s unidentified friend and Prince because of the political risk, officials said. Prince is the brother of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, and regularly appeared on a radio program hosted by Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist. He gave $250,000 to Trump’s campaign. The Washington Post, The Week
St. Petersburg metro bombing
On Tuesday, Russia and Kyrgyzstan’s security services identified a Kyrgyz-born Russian citizen as a suspect in Monday’s bombing of a train car in the St. Petersburg metro. The death toll from the attack rose to 14 on Tuesday, as three people died in the hospital; more than 40 people were wounded. Kyrgyzstan’s security service identified Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, 21 or 22, as a suspect, saying Russian authorities had given them the name.
St. Petersburg officials called for three days of mourning, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, a St. Petersburg native, laid flowers at a makeshift memorial on Monday night. World leaders also extended their condolences, with US President Trump calling to offer his “full support,” the White House said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the attack a “barbaric act.” Russian authorities have not yet said if they believe the attack was a suicide bombing or if the suspect is at large, or if there is more than one suspect. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. BBC News, The Associated Press, The Week
Chemical attack kills 58 in Syria
At least 58 people have been killed and dozens wounded in a suspected chemical attack on a rebel-held town in north-western Syria, a monitoring group says. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that strikes on Khan Sheikhoun by Syrian government or Russian jets had caused many people to choke. Later, aircraft fired rockets at local clinics treating some of the survivors, medics and opposition activists said.
The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons. If confirmed, it would be one of the deadliest chemical attacks in Syria since the civil war began six years ago. BBC
Jordan King to present Arab’s view at WH
Jordan’s King Abdullah II will be able to deliver an Arab consensus on Mideast peace when he meets with President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday, after a recent summit hosted by the monarch renewed an Arab offer of recognition of Israel in exchange for Palestinian statehood.
At their annual summit last week, Arab leaders renewed an offer they first made to Israel in 2002 – recognition by dozens of Arab and Muslim nations in exchange for allowing the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Israel has balked, among other things, at the envisioned scope of withdrawal from the lands it captured in 1967 and unsuccessfully sought to renegotiate the initial proposal.
With the summit declaration to back his case, Jordan’s king will be able to tell Trump that Arab leaders are serious about achieving what Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, described as the “historic reconciliation between Israel and the whole Arab world.” VOA
WH offers change to health care bill
White House officials made a new offer to conservative House Republicans late Monday on the GOP’s failed health care bill, hoping to resuscitate a measure that crashed spectacularly less than two weeks ago. Vice President Mike Pence and two top White House officials made the offer in a closed-door meeting with members of the House Freedom Caucus, according to a participant. Opposition from the hard-line group, which has around three dozen conservative Republicans, contributed to circumstances that forced House Speaker Paul Ryan to withdraw the bill from a March 24 vote that would have produced a certain defeat.
Under the White House offer, states would be allowed to apply for waivers from several coverage requirements that President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law imposed on insurers. These include an Affordable Care Act provision prohibiting insurance companies from declining to write policies for people with serious diseases. Conservatives have argued that such requirements have the effect of inflating insurance costs. VOA
Russia seeks to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses
On March 15, Russia’s Justice Ministry filed a claim with the country’s Supreme Court, calling on it to designate the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia an “extremist” organization and liquidate the group’s national headquarters and 395 local chapters in Russia.
Jehovah’s Witnesses is a millenarian Christian group founded in the United States in the 1870s. It is known, among other things, for door-to-door preaching and refusing to perform military service, salute national flags or accept blood transfusions. Its adherents have frequently been persecuted by authoritarian governments, including that of the former Soviet Union. VOA
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