New US aid for Ukraine by year-end seems increasingly out of reach as GOP ties it to border security

A deal to provide further US assistance to Ukraine by year-end appears to be increasingly out of reach for President Joe Biden. (AFP/File)
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Updated 10 December 2023
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New US aid for Ukraine by year-end seems increasingly out of reach as GOP ties it to border security

  • Biden is facing the prospect of a cornerstone of his foreign policy — repelling Russian President Vladimir Putin from overtaking Ukraine
  • The new Republican proposal dug in on policy changes that had led Democrats to step back from the negotiations

WASHINGTON: A deal to provide further US assistance to Ukraine by year-end appears to be increasingly out of reach for President Joe Biden.
The impasse is deepening in Congress despite dire warnings from the White House about the consequences of inaction as Republicans insist on pairing the aid with changes to America’s immigration and border policies.
After the Democratic president said this past week he was willing to “make significant compromises on the border,” Republicans quickly revived demands that they had earlier set aside, hardening their positions and attempting to shift the negotiations to the right, according to a person familiar with the talks who was not authorized to publicly discuss them and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The latest proposal, from the lead GOP negotiator, Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, came during a meeting with a core group of senators before they left Washington on Thursday afternoon. It could force the White House to consider ideas that many Democrats will seriously oppose, throwing new obstacles in the difficult negotiations.
Biden is facing the prospect of a cornerstone of his foreign policy — repelling Russian President Vladimir Putin from overtaking Ukraine — crumbling as US support for funding the war wanes, especially among Republicans. The White House says a failure to approve more aid by year’s end could have catastrophic consequences for Ukraine and its ability to fight.
To preserve US backing, the Biden administration has quietly engaged in Senate talks on border policy in recent weeks, providing assistance to the small group of senators trying to reach a deal and communicating what policy changes it would find acceptable.
The president is trying to satisfy GOP demands to reduce the historic number of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border while alleviating Democrats’ fears that legal immigration will be choked off with drastic measures.
As talks sputtered to a restart this past week, Democrats warned Republicans that time for a deal was running short. Congress is scheduled to depart Washington in mid-December for a holiday break.
“Republicans need to show they are serious about reaching a compromise, not just throwing on the floor basically Donald Trump’s border policies,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Thursday before Republicans made their counteroffer.
But the new Republican proposal dug in on policy changes that had led Democrats to step back from the negotiations, according to the person familiar with the talks. The GOP offer calls for ending the humanitarian parole program that’s now in place for existing classes of migrants — Ukrainians, Afghans, Cubans, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and Haitians. That idea had been all but dashed before.
Additionally, those groups of migrants would not be allowed to be paroled again if the terms of their stay expire before their cases are adjudicated in immigration proceedings.
GOP senators proposed monitoring systems such as ankle bracelets for people, including children, who are detained at the border and are awaiting parole. Republicans want to ban people from applying for asylum if they have transited through a different country where they could have sought asylum instead. GOP lawmakers also want to revive executive powers that would allow a president to shut down entries for wide-ranging reasons.
Further, after migrant encounters at the border recently hit historic numbers, the GOP proposal would set new guidelines requiring the border to be essentially shut down if illegal crossings reach a certain limit.
Lankford declined to discuss specifics after the Thursday meeting, but said he was trying to “negotiate in good faith.” He said the historic number of migrants at the border could not be ignored. The sheer number of people arriving at the border has swamped the asylum system, he said, making it impossible for authorities to adequately screen the people they allow in.
“Do you want large numbers of undocumented individuals and unscreened individuals without work permits, without access to the rest of the economy?” Lankford said.
The lead Democratic negotiator, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, did not quickly respond to the GOP proposal.
Senators had made some progress in the talks before Thursday, finding general agreement on raising the initial standard for migrants to enter the asylum system — part of what’s called the credible fear system. The administration has communicated that it is amenable to that change and that it could agree to expand expedited removal to deport immigrants before they have a hearing with an immigration judge, according to two people briefed on the private negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Immigration advocates and progressives in Congress have been alarmed by the direction of the talks, especially because they have not featured changes aimed at expanding legal immigration.
Robyn Barnard, director of refugee advocacy with Human Rights First, called the current state of negotiations an “absolute crisis moment.” She warned that broadening the fast-track deportation authority could lead to a mass rounding up of immigrants around the country and compared it to the situation during the Trump administration. “Communities across the country would be living in fear,” she said.
But Republican senators, sensing that Biden, who is campaigning for a second term, wants to address the historic number of people coming to the border, have taken an aggressive stance and tried to draw the president directly into negotiations.
“The White House is going to have to engage particularly if Senate Democrats are unwilling to do what we are suggesting be done,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., at a news conference Thursday.
The White House has so far declined to take a leading role in negotiations. “Democrats have said that they want to compromise. Have that conversation,” said White House press secretary Karine-Jean Pierre.
After every GOP senator this past week voted not to move ahead with legislation that would provide tens of billions of dollars in military and economic assistance for Ukraine, many in the chamber were left in a dour mood. Even those who held out hope for a deal acknowledged it would be difficult to push a package through the Senate at this late stage.
Even if senators reach a deal, the obstacles to passage in the House are considerable. Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, has signaled he will fight for sweeping changes to immigration policy that go beyond what is being discussed in the Senate. Also, broad support from House Democrats is far from guaranteed, as progressives and Hispanic lawmakers have raised alarm at curtailing access to asylum.
“Trading Ukrainian lives for the lives of asylum seekers is morally bankrupt and irresponsible,” Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Illinois, posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, as part of a coordinated campaign by Hispanic Democrats.
The unwieldy nature of the issue left even Lankford, who was one of the few senators optimistic that a deal could be reached this year, acknowledging the difficulty of finding an agreement in the coming days.
“There’s just a whole lot of politics that have been bound up in this,” he said as he departed the Capitol for the week. “Thirty years it hasn’t been resolved because it’s incredibly complicated.”


Biden hopes ceasefire, hostage deal to pause Israel-Hamas war can take effect by next Monday

Updated 7 sec ago
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Biden hopes ceasefire, hostage deal to pause Israel-Hamas war can take effect by next Monday

RAFAH, Gaza Strip: President Joe Biden said Monday that he hopes a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that would pause hostilities and allow for remaining hostages to be released can take effect by early next week.
Asked when he hoped such a deal could be finalized, Biden said: “Well I hope by the beginning of the weekend. The end of the weekend. My national security adviser tells me that they’re close. They’re close. They’re not done yet. My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire.”
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
RAFAH, Gaza Strip: Israel has failed to comply with an order by the United Nations’ top court to provide urgently needed aid to desperate people in the Gaza Strip, Human Rights Watch said Monday, a month after a landmark ruling in The Hague ordered Israel to moderate its war.
In a preliminary response to a South African petition accusing Israel of genocide, the UN’s top court ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in the tiny Palestinian enclave. It stopped short of ordering an end to the military offensive that has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe.
Israel denies the charges against it, saying it is fighting in self-defense.
Nearly five months into the war, preparations are underway for Israel to expand its ground operation into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town along the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinians have sought safety.
Early Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the army had presented to the War Cabinet its operational plan for Rafah as well as plans to evacuate civilians from the battle zones. It gave no further details.
The situation in Rafah has sparked global concern. Israel’s allies have warned that it must protect civilians in its battle against the Hamas militant group.
Also Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh submitted his government’s resignation, and President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to appoint technocrats in line with US demands for internal reform. The US has called for a revitalized Palestinian Authority to govern postwar Gaza ahead of eventual statehood — a scenario rejected by Israel.
In its Jan. 26 ruling, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to follow six provisional measures, including taking “immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance” to Gaza.
Israel also must submit a report on what it is doing to adhere to the measures within a month. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said late Monday that it has filed such a report. It declined to share it or discuss its contents.
Israel said 245 trucks of aid entered Gaza on Sunday. That’s less than half the amount that entered daily before the war.
Human Rights Watch, citing UN figures, noted a 30 percent drop in the daily average number of aid trucks entering Gaza in the weeks following the court’s ruling. It said that between Jan. 27 and Feb. 21, the daily average of trucks entering was 93, compared to 147 trucks a day in the three weeks before the ruling. The daily average dropped to 57, between Feb. 9 and 21, the figures showed.
The rights group said Israel was not adequately facilitating fuel deliveries to hard-hit northern Gaza and blamed Israel for blocking aid from reaching the north, where the World Food Program said last week it was forced to suspend aid deliveries.
“The Israeli government has simply ignored the court’s ruling, and in some ways even intensified its repression,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch.
The Association of International Development Agencies, a coalition of over 70 humanitarian organizations working in Gaza and the West Bank, said almost no aid had reached areas in Gaza north of Rafah since the court’s ruling.
Israel denies it is restricting the entry of aid and has instead blamed humanitarian organizations operating in Gaza, saying large aid shipments sit idle on the Palestinian side of the main crossing. The UN says it can’t always reach the crossing because it is at times too dangerous.
In some cases, crowds of desperate Palestinians have surrounded delivery trucks and stripped them of supplies. The UN has called on Israel to open more crossings, including in the north, and to improve the process.
Netanyahu’s office said that the War Cabinet had approved a plan to deliver humanitarian aid safely into Gaza in a way that would “prevent the cases of looting.” It did not disclose further details.
The war, launched after Hamas-led militants rampaged across southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking roughly 250 people hostage, has caused vast devastation in Gaza.
Nearly 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry which does not distinguish in its count between fighters and noncombatants. Israel says it has killed 10,000 militants, without providing evidence.
Fighting has flattened large swaths of Gaza’s urban landscape, displacing about 80 percent of the territory’s 2.3 million people, who have crammed into increasingly smaller spaces looking for elusive safety.
The crisis has pushed a quarter of the population toward starvation and raised fears of imminent famine, especially in the northern part of Gaza, the first focus of Israel’s ground invasion. Starving residents have been forced to eat animal fodder and search for food in demolished buildings.
“I wish death for the children because I cannot get them bread. I cannot feed them. I cannot feed my own children!” Naim Abouseido yelled as he waited for aid in Gaza City. “What did we do to deserve this?”
Bushra Khalidi with UK aid organization Oxfam told The Associated Press that it had verified reports that children have died of starvation in the north in recent weeks, which she said indicated aid was not being scaled up despite the court ruling.
Aid groups say deliveries also continue to be hobbled by security issues. The French aid groups Médecins du Monde and Doctors Without Borders each said that their facilities were struck by Israeli forces in the weeks following the court order.
 

 


Macron says he can’t rule out sending French troops to Ukraine

Updated 19 min 58 sec ago
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Macron says he can’t rule out sending French troops to Ukraine

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that France could not rule out sending troops on the ground to Ukraine and that he would maintain a strategic ambiguity on the subject.

Speaking at a conference of 20 European leaders in Paris, Macron added that European countries agreed to work on sanctioning countries that were helping Russia bypass its existing Ukraine-related sanctions.


Greek frigate departs to join EU Red Sea mission

Greek frigate Hydra. (Photo/Wikipedia)
Updated 28 min 27 sec ago
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Greek frigate departs to join EU Red Sea mission

  • Many commercial shippers have diverted vessels following attacks by the Houthis who control much of Yemen and say they are acting in solidarity with the Palestinians as Israel and Hamas wage war in Gaza

ATHENS: Greece’s frigate Hydra departed for the Red Sea on Monday to participate in a mission to protect merchant ships from attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia, a defense ministry official said.
Earlier on Monday, the Greek government approved the country’s participation in the European Union naval mission dubbed Eunavfor Aspides in the Red Sea.
Many commercial shippers have diverted vessels following attacks by the Houthis who control much of Yemen and say they are acting in solidarity with the Palestinians as Israel and Hamas wage war in Gaza.
Greece’s security council approved a proposal by Defense Minister Nikos Dendias for participation in the EU mission, government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis said in a statement.
The government said it was important to join the mission as the Houthi attacks have disrupted Greek-owned commercial vessels’ activities at the country’s biggest port Piraeus and some container ships have stopped using it.
France, Italy and Germany are also taking part in the EU mission, under the code name “Aspides,” the Greek word for shields.
Participating countries will be mandated to protect commercial ships and intercept attacks, but not take part in strikes against the Houthis on land.
Several Greek-owned merchant ships have been hit off Yemen since November, suffering damages but no casualties.

 


Human Rights Watch accuses Israel of blocking aid to Palestinians in violation of a UN court order

Updated 27 February 2024
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Human Rights Watch accuses Israel of blocking aid to Palestinians in violation of a UN court order

  • Israel killed 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry
  • Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh submitted his government’s resignation, and President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to appoint technocrats in line with US demands for internal reform

RAFAH, Gaza Strip: Israel has failed to comply with an order by the United Nations’ top court to provide urgently needed aid to desperate people in the Gaza Strip, Human Rights Watch said Monday, a month after a landmark ruling in The Hague ordered Israel to moderate its war.
In a preliminary response to a South African petition accusing Israel of genocide, the UN’s top court ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in the tiny Palestinian enclave. It stopped short of ordering an end to the military offensive that has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe.
Israel denies the charges against it, saying it is fighting in self-defense.

A donkey-pulled car passes in front of the Al-Faruq mosque, levelled by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on a foggy day on February 25, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)

Nearly five months into the war, preparations are underway for Israel to expand its ground operation into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town along the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinians have sought safety.
Early Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the army had presented to the War Cabinet its operational plan for Rafah as well as plans to evacuate civilians from the battle zones. It gave no further details.
The situation in Rafah has sparked global concern. Israel’s allies have warned that it must protect civilians in its battle against the Hamas militant group.

Palestinians visit a cemetery, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, February 26, 2024. (REUTERS)

Also Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh submitted his government’s resignation, and President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to appoint technocrats in line with US demands for internal reform. The US has called for a revitalized Palestinian Authority to govern postwar Gaza ahead of eventual statehood — a scenario rejected by Israel.
In its Jan. 26 ruling, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to follow six provisional measures, including taking “immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance” to Gaza.
Israel also must submit a report on what it is doing to adhere to the measures within a month. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said late Monday that it has filed such a report. It declined to share it or discuss its contents.

People walk in front of the Al-Faruk mosque, levelled by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 25, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)

Israel said 245 trucks of aid entered Gaza on Sunday. That’s less than half the amount that entered daily before the war.
Human Rights Watch, citing UN figures, noted a 30 percent drop in the daily average number of aid trucks entering Gaza in the weeks following the court’s ruling. It said that between Jan. 27 and Feb. 21, the daily average of trucks entering was 93, compared to 147 trucks a day in the three weeks before the ruling. The daily average dropped to 57, between Feb. 9 and 21, the figures showed.
The rights group said Israel was not adequately facilitating fuel deliveries to hard-hit northern Gaza and blamed Israel for blocking aid from reaching the north, where the World Food Program said last week it was forced to suspend aid deliveries.
“The Israeli government has simply ignored the court’s ruling, and in some ways even intensified its repression,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch.
The Association of International Development Agencies, a coalition of over 70 humanitarian organizations working in Gaza and the West Bank, said almost no aid had reached areas in Gaza north of Rafah since the court’s ruling.
Israel denies it is restricting the entry of aid and has instead blamed humanitarian organizations operating in Gaza, saying large aid shipments sit idle on the Palestinian side of the main crossing. The UN says it can’t always reach the crossing because it is at times too dangerous.
In some cases, crowds of desperate Palestinians have surrounded delivery trucks and stripped them of supplies. The UN has called on Israel to open more crossings, including in the north, and to improve the process.
Netanyahu’s office said that the War Cabinet had approved a plan to deliver humanitarian aid safely into Gaza in a way that would “prevent the cases of looting.” It did not disclose further details.
The war, launched after Hamas-led militants rampaged across southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking roughly 250 people hostage, has caused vast devastation in Gaza.
Nearly 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry which does not distinguish in its count between fighters and noncombatants. Israel says it has killed 10,000 militants, without providing evidence.
Fighting has flattened large swaths of Gaza’s urban landscape, displacing about 80 percent of the territory’s 2.3 million people, who have crammed into increasingly smaller spaces looking for elusive safety.
The crisis has pushed a quarter of the population toward starvation and raised fears of imminent famine, especially in the northern part of Gaza, the first focus of Israel’s ground invasion. Starving residents have been forced to eat animal fodder and search for food in demolished buildings.
“I wish death for the children because I cannot get them bread. I cannot feed them. I cannot feed my own children!” Naim Abouseido yelled as he waited for aid in Gaza City. “What did we do to deserve this?”
Bushra Khalidi with UK aid organization Oxfam told The Associated Press that it had verified reports that children have died of starvation in the north in recent weeks, which she said indicated aid was not being scaled up despite the court ruling.
Aid groups say deliveries also continue to be hobbled by security issues. The French aid groups Médecins du Monde and Doctors Without Borders each said that their facilities were struck by Israeli forces in the weeks following the court order.
 

 


Singapore searches for new solutions to keep taps flowing

Updated 26 February 2024
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Singapore searches for new solutions to keep taps flowing

SINGAPORE: A crack of thunder booms as dozens of screens in a locked office flash between live video of cars splashing through wet roads, drains sapping the streets dry, and reservoirs collecting the precious rainwater across the tropical island of Singapore. A team of government employees intently monitors the water, which will be collected and purified for use by the country’s 6 million residents.

“We make use of real-time data to manage the storm water,” Harry Seah, deputy chief executive of operations at PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency, says with a smile while standing in front of the screens. “All of this water will go to the marina and reservoirs.”

The room is part of Singapore’s cutting-edge water management system that combines technology, diplomacy and community involvement to help one of the most water-stressed nations in the world secure its water future. The country’s innovations have attracted the attention of other water-scarce nations seeking solutions.

A small city-state island located in Southeast Asia, Singapore is one of the most densely populated countries on the planet. In recent decades the island has also transformed into a modern international business hub, with a rapidly developing economy. The boom has caused the country’s water consumption to increase by over twelve times since the nation’s independence from Malaysia in 1965, and the economy is only expected to keep growing.

With no natural water resources, the country has relied on importing water from neighboring Malaysia via a series of deals allowing inexpensive purchase of water drawn from the country’s Johor River. But the deal is set to expire in 2061, with uncertainty over its renewal.

For years Malaysian politicians have targeted the water deal, sparking political tensions with Singapore. The Malaysian government has claimed the price at which Singapore purchases water — set decades ago — is too low and should be renegotiated, while the Singaporean government argues its treatment and resale of of the water to Malaysia is done at a generous price.

And climate change, which brings increased intense weather, rising seas and a rise in average temperatures, is expected to exacerbate water insecurity, according to research done by the Singaporean government.