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Biden and China's Xi plan to meet virtually this year after aides' 'meaningful,' substantive' talks

Biden and China's Xi plan to meet virtually this year after aides' 'meaningful,' substantive' talks

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden and China's Xi Jinping will hold a virtual meeting before the end of this year, a senior U.S. administration official said Wednesday, amid high tension in the critical relationship between the world's two largest economies, including over trade and regional challenges like Taiwan.

That's the key outcome of six hours of meetings Wednesday between two of their top aides: national security adviser Jake Sullivan and China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi, director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs.

China has sent scores of military planes into Taiwan's air defense zone in recent days, raising concerns about potential conflict. The senior U.S. official said that the flights were part of "a very concerning trend" and that Sullivan made clear any one-sided changes in the relationship between mainland China and Taiwan would be "unacceptable."

But the discussions were seen as a positive step forward by the Biden White House, in particular as it works to stabilize U.S.-Chinese relations and avoid a misunderstanding or clash, including over Taiwan, that spirals into a larger conflict.

"Today really involved a genuine back-and-forth, which was quite welcome," the senior official said, describing it as a "more meaningful and substantive engagement than we have had to date below the leader level."

The two men and their delegations met in Switzerland, just shy of one month after Biden and Xi spoke by phone for the second time in Biden's young term. Both top aides had been "empowered directly" by their leaders to have a more honest exchange, away from the cameras and off talking points, the senior official said.

There had been hopes that Biden and Xi could meet in person on the sidelines of the COP26 climate conference or the G20 summit this fall -- but Xi will not attend either in person. So far, there are no other details confirmed about the meeting -- one of several tasks ahead of the two leaders' advisers after these engagements.

But Sullivan's meetings Wednesday seemed to be a sharp contrast from the last time he and Yang sat down, when the top Chinese diplomat lectured him and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. What was to be a brief photo op turned into a contentious and unusually public spat between the two sides, setting the tone for continued tensions in the relationship.

While Wednesday's meetings were welcomed as a step forward by the U.S., the senior administration official that briefed reporters specifically dismissed the idea that there's been some sort of "thaw."

"What we are trying to achieve is a steady state between the United States and China, where we are able to compete intensely, but to manage that competition responsibly," they said instead -- adding it is, in the White House's view, "really, really important for two large nations to understand one another's intentions and priorities and approaches."

They declined to provide details of where the two sides can "find ways to really manage the areas where our interests diverge and find ways that we can align where they do." But they specifically said that Sullivan raised U.S. concerns about the territory of Xinjiang and the treatment of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities there, Hong Kong and China's erosion of democracy there, the South China Sea and its claims to territory, and freedom of the press and human rights.

Perhaps most urgently now, Sullivan and Yang also discussed Taiwan after four days of sustained Chinese pressure against the self-governed island that Beijing considers a breakaway territory. On Monday, China flew 56 military planes into international airspace off Taiwan's southwest coast, setting a new record and bringing the total number of flights to 149.

Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said Wednesday that China "will be fully prepared" to invade Taiwan in just four years time, warning, "The national army should strengthen our preparations for war."

Since Sunday, the State Department has consistently denounced Beijing's actions as "destabilizing, it risks miscalculation, and it has the potential to undermine regional peace and stability," as Blinken reiterated Wednesday in Paris.

"We strongly urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coordinate directly with Taiwan," he added during a press conference on a visit to France.

Yang and Sullivan had a "very candid and direct" conversation about the issue, according to the senior administration official, adding it was "very professional and respectful." Sullivan made clear that U.S. policy remains governed by same norms and laws as always and that any one-sided changes to the current reality would be "unacceptable," the official said.

But Sullivan also raised areas where the Biden administration believes U.S. and Chinese interests are aligned and they can work together - like climate change - they added. While China has linked cooperation on climate change to the U.S. backing off on other issues, like Hong Kong or economic policy, the official said Sullivan talked about working together not as a "favor to the United States" or in a "transactional" way - but because of both countries' responsibilities to the planet.

"We need to be able to do many things at the same time and not be linking things with one another," they said Sullivan told Yang. While Yang didn't "necessarily" accept Sullivan's view, he didn't raise any linkage himself either, per the official, calling it an "honest discussion."

There was no specific agreement out of these meetings, however, and instead, both referred during the talks to the channel between U.S. Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua to continue working on climate issues.

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Iranian authority mandates pregnant women be reported to prevent 'criminal abortions'

Iranian authority mandates pregnant women be reported to prevent 'criminal abortions'

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(NEW YORK) -- From Texas to Tehran, women have been fighting to protect their right to have an abortion -- some by taking over the streets and others by taking over social media.

While a Texas law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy sparked protests across the United States, a letter from an official judicial body in Iran has mandated that local laboratories report on women with positive pregnancy tests to prevent "criminal abortions."

The letter, issued by the crime prevention deputy at the judiciary in Iran's Mazandaran province, was leaked on Twitter by health and medical journalist Mahdiar Saeedian.

"One of the ways to prevent abortion is ... by connecting laboratories and the clinical centres to introduce mothers with positive pregnancy test results," the letter states.

On social media, women reacted to the letter by protesting what they say is an attempt to control their bodies.

"I think we are outpacing 'The Handsmaid's Tale.' Protecting patients' privacy is meaningless," one Twitter user wrote.

In Iran, abortion is illegal unless there's proof that giving birth would endanger the life of the mother or child, or pregnancy screening tests show the child will have serious physical or mental disabilities. This law only applies to pregnant women who are legally married. Women who get pregnant from extramarital affairs have no legal options for abortion in Iran. While some 9,000 legal abortions are performed annually in Iran, a country of 82 million people, more than 300,000 illegal abortions are also performed there each year, according to the semi-official Tasnim News Agency.

Now, conservatives in Iran are trying to restrict abortions even further by requiring a medical team’s diagnosis as well as the approval of two "faqihs" -- or religious experts -- and a judge. The controversial bill has yet to be ratified.

"Just imagine a woman who has got pregnant in an extramarital affair. They would never dare refer to a lab for a pregnancy test if they know their information is being reported," an Iranian women's rights activist told ABC News, under the condition of anonymity for security reasons.

Sima, who asked ABC News to use a pseudonym to protect her privacy and security, said she was a 29-year old engineer who had just started a new job when she got pregnant from an affair she had with her boss three years prior.

"I managed to illegally get some pills to terminate pregnancy," Sima told ABC News. "I took them, and I started to bleed severely and could not abort. Despite my friends' insistence, I was afraid to go to the hospital for the fear of arrest."

Sima's friend ultimately took her to an underground abortion center for help, which was unsupervised.

"I was even afraid of telling my boss about it. He might have fired me," she said, explaining how helpless women can feel when they seek an abortion.

In response to the backlash on social media, the official Mazandaran IRIB News published an interview with the crime prevention deputy of the provincial judiciary, saying the command in the letter was just to prevent "unprofessional abortions."

The Iranian women's rights activist told ABC News that the letter shows the "perspective" of what officials plan.

"Our experience proves that denials are just to soothe the backlash," she added. "Consider the internet restriction plan -- they say it is not in practice, but we see every day that our VPNs stop working one after another. So, this official denying the letter cannot put our minds in peace. They have serious plans to have more control on pregnancies."

She said such laws show the Islamic Republic's desire to maintain control over women's bodies, while enforcing policies aimed at increasing the population of the country.

According to data from the Statistical Center of Iran, the country's population growth rate between 2011 and 2016 was 1.24%. That has since dropped to 1.15%, according to data collected by the World Population Review.

"The solution to overcome a low population rate is not policing people's relations and affairs, or their access to safe abortion or contraceptives," the activist said.

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Afghanistan updates: Top generals back for second day of grilling on US withdrawal

Afghanistan updates: Top generals back for second day of grilling on US withdrawal

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(WASHINGTON) -- It's been nearly one month since the U.S. withdrew all U.S. troops from Afghanistan on President Joe Biden's order to leave by Aug. 31, ending a chaotic evacuation operation after the Afghan government collapsed and the Taliban seized the capital Kabul.

Top Pentagon leaders are appearing before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday amid bipartisan criticism of the chaotic withdrawal and on the failure to anticipate the Taliban's swift takeover of the country.

In their appearance Tuesday -- the leaders' first before Congress since the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan -- Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, candidly admitted that they had recommended to Biden that the U.S. should keep a troop presence there, appearing to contradict his assertions to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

Here are the latest developments. All times Eastern:

Oct 03, 12:54 pm
5th Qatari evacuation flight, with Americans onboard, takes off from Kabul

The Qataris have confirmed to ABC News that there were Americans on board the fifth evacuation flight from Kabul since the U.S. troop withdrawal.

"The State of Qatar is pleased to have worked with a number of parties on the ground as well as its international partners to make this flight possible," a senior Qatari government official said in a statement to ABC News.

The government said the flight carried 235 passengers, which is the second-largest Qatari passenger evacuation flight since the Aug. 31 deadline.

The majority of passengers onboard were Afghan citizens, while there were also citizens from several other countries, the official said. The number of Americans onboard the flight is not yet known.

"Upon arriving to Qatar, the passengers will be transported to the compound facility currently hosting Afghan civilians and other evacuees," the official said. "There, they will be able to take a COVID-19 test, rest and remain in Doha until departing to their final destinations."
-ABC News' Sohel Uddin

Sep 29, 2:50 pm
House hearing adjourned

The House Armed Services Committee hearing has adjourned with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, closing out a second day of questions from congressional lawmakers on the U.S. military’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan.

Several Republicans dug into Milley and McKenzie saying they had recommended leaving approximately 2,500 troops behind as a residual force in Afghanistan, appearing to contradict Biden’s comments to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that the opinion of his military advisers was "split" and that he didn't recall being told 2,500 troops would allow for a "stable" situation.

Austin repeated his acknowledgments of "uncomfortable truths" about the two-decade-old U.S. military mission in Afghanistan, of which he is a veteran, but was careful not to contradict the president.

Sep 29, 1:30 pm
GOP lawmaker, an Air Force veteran, blasts Biden for alleged 'falsehood' on residual troops

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, nearly choked up when speaking in the House hearing on Afghanistan and offered some harsh words for Biden and the committee, which he said under both Democrat and Republican presidents cautioned against a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan.

"I think most veterans feel heartbroken knowing the blood and the treasure spilled ended up in a ‘strategic failure,'" Bacon said, quoting witness Gen. Mark Milley. "I think we’re enraged by it."

"Then to have the president come out and say that this was a success, and he had no regrets -- this does not break our hearts, that makes us mad as hell," Bacon continued.

"The fact that President Biden on ABC said that no one that he can recall advised him to keep a force of about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, it's not true. We heard yesterday, and we've heard today that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the CENTCOM commander advise differently," he said. "I have no other view to see this as a lie. A falsehood from our president -- that makes us mad as hell too."

Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., pushed back on Bacon’s interpretation of Biden’s interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, by focusing on the world "stable."

"He was asked, could they stay there in a stable environment. That is the option he said wasn't on the table, not because it wasn't offered, but because it didn't exist," Smith said.

Sep 29, 12:57 pm
Defense secretary says he 'did not support staying in Afghanistan forever'

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers at a House Armed Services Committee hearing he wouldn’t absolutely rule out sending troops back into Afghanistan, and added, "If we do, the military will provide good credible options to be able to do that and to be effective."

While maintaining that he wouldn’t talk about his recommendation to President Biden on leaving a residual force, Austin said he "did not support staying in Afghanistan forever" and that keeping a presence there would have required more troops for force protection if the Taliban started attacking the U.S. military as it had promised to do.

"Let me be clear that I support the president's decision to end the war in Afghanistan. I did not support staying in Afghanistan forever. And let me also say we've talked about the process that we used to provide input to the president," Austin said.

"I will always keep my recommendations to the president confidential but I would say that in my view there is no, was no risk-free status quo option. I think that the Taliban had been clear that if we stayed there longer, they were going to recommence attacks on our forces," Austin added.

"I think while it's conceivable that you could stay there, my view is that you would have had to deploy more forces in order to protect ourselves and accomplish any missions we would have been assigned. It's also my view, Mister Chairman, the best way to end this war was through a negotiated settlement and sadly that did not happen."

Sep 29, 11:21 am
GOP links failed drone strike to 'over-the-horizon' capabilities

Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, raising the August U.S. drone strike in Kabul that killed 10 Afghan civilians, including seven children, took direct issue with the U.S. military’s ability to conduct "over the horizon" drone strike capabilities in Afghanistan.

"What we know from your prior statements is that you did not know who it was, who was in the car, whose house it was," Turner said. "This greatly concerns me as we look to the over horizon claims that the administration has of its ability for counterterrorism."

Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told House lawmakers he took "full responsibility" for the strike.

"That strike was a mistake and I take full responsibility for that strike. I was under no pressure from any quarter to conduct the strike," McKenzie said.

"While in many cases we were right with our intelligence and forestalled ISIS- K attacks, in this case we were wrong, tragically wrong," he added.

"Over-the-horizon" capabilities are a cornerstone of the U.S. military’s counterterrorism strategy in Afghanistan. The top Pentagon commanders said the U.S. will continue to investigate the intelligence that led to the August strike and will be transparent with their findings.

Sep 29, 10:47 am
Milley praises Afghanistan War veterans, defends calls to China

Echoing Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in his opening testimony that lawmakers can debate the decisions surrounding the Afghanistan withdrawal but that the courage of U.S. service members is not up for debate.

"Over the course of four presidents, 12 secretaries of defense, seven chairmen, 10 CENTCOM commanders, 20 commanders in Afghanistan, hundreds of congressional delegation visits, and 20 years of congressional oversight, there are many lessons to be learned," Milley said.

"One lesson we can never forget: every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine who served there for 20 years, protected our country against attack by terrorists, and for that we all should be forever grateful, and they should be forever proud," he said.

Milley again took the chance to push back on recent characterizations of phone calls to China's top military official in the final days of former President Donald Trump’s presidency.

"At no time was I attempting to change or influence the process, usurp authority, or insert myself into the chain of command. But I am expected to give my advice and ensure that the president was fully informed on military affairs," he said.

Sep 29, 10:18 am
Defense secretary delivers opening testimony for House lawmakers

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, facing a House panel on Wednesday, repeated his opening testimony given to Senate lawmakers at Wednesday's hearing, in which Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, appeared to contradict Biden by saying they recommended keeping a residual force of 2,500 troops behind in Afghanistan.

Austin again defended leaving Bagram Airfield, saying it would have required at least 5,000 troops and would have "contributed little" to the mission of protecting the embassy in Kabul, which ultimately fell to Taliban control.

"Staying in Baghram even for counterterrorism purposes meant staying at war in Afghanistan, something that the president made clear that he would not do," Austin said.

He again walked through some "uncomfortable truths" about the two-decade U.S. military mission in Afghanistan, of which he is a veteran.

"We helped build a state, but we could not forge a nation. The fact that the Afghan army that we and our partners trained simply melted away, in many cases without firing a shot, took us all by surprise and it would be dishonest to claim otherwise," he said.

Sep 29, 10:12 am
Heated House hearing underway with residual force in focus

House Armed Services Chair Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., opened Wednesday’s hearing on Afghanistan with a defense of Biden for ending America’s longest war -- and with a preemptive strike on the panel’s Republicans, who he said would spend the day trying to get the military leaders to contradict the commander in chief.

"The option of keeping 2,500 troops in Afghanistan in a peaceful and stable environment did not exist," Smith said, opening the hearing.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, face a second day of questions from congressional lawmakers on the U.S. military’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan.

Ranking Republican member Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said he "could not disagree more" with Smith and called Biden "delusional" before the leaders gave their opening testimonies.

Sep 29, 9:22 am
Top military leaders face more questions in House hearing

The nation's top military leaders are back on Capitol Hill at 9:30 a.m. before the House Armed Services Committee -- where Republicans are expected to seize on their comments from Tuesday that they recommended Biden keep a residual force of 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, appearing to contradict the president’s comments to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, candidly admitted in a Senate hearing on Tuesday -- their first appearance before lawmakers since the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan -- that they had recommended the U.S. keep a small troop presence there, with Milley openly advising presidents not to assign complete withdrawal dates without conditions.

In the six-hour hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Milley also characterized that the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan as "a strategic failure" and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin acknowledged that it was time to acknowledged some "uncomfortable truths" about the two-decade U.S. military mission there. House lawmakers are expected to follow up on the revelations on Wednesday.

Sep 28, 3:53 pm
1st Senate hearing with top commanders on Afghanistan adjourns

After nearly six hours of testimonies and tough questions, the Senate Armed Services Committee has adjourned its hearing with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command -- their first since the Afghanistan withdrawal.

Senators sunk into Milley and McKenzie saying they had recommended leaving 2,500 troops behind as a residual force in Afghanistan ahead of the chaotic evacuation effort. Several GOP senators called on the leaders to resign, to which Milley offered a powerful rebuttal.

"It would be an incredible act of political defiance for a commissioned officer to just resign because my advice is not taken," Milley said. "My dad didn't get a choice to resign at Iwo Jima."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, during the hearing, defended Biden's interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos in which the president said the views of his advisers were "split," saying, “There was no one who said, 'Five years from now, we could have 2,500 troops, and that would be sustainable.'”

"That was not a decision the president was going to make," Psaki added. "Ultimately, it's up to the commander in chief to make a decision. He made a decision it was time to end a 20-year war.”

It's been nearly one month since Biden withdrew all U.S. troops, ending a chaotic evacuation operation after the Afghan government collapsed and the Taliban seized the capital Kabul.

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Russia threatens to block YouTube as confrontation with Google escalates

Russia threatens to block YouTube as confrontation with Google escalates

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(MOSCOW) -- Russia's state censor has threatened to block YouTube in the country in retaliation for the Google-owned video platform deleting two German-language channels belonging to the Kremlin-funded broadcaster RT for allegedly publishing misinformation around COVID-19.

The Russian censor, Roskomnadzor, sent a letter to Google warning that if it did not swiftly restore the two RT YouTube channels, then it faced a complete or partial block, according to Russian state news agencies that published parts of the letter Wednesday.

YouTube this week deleted the two RT channels, RT DE and Der Fehlende Part, for posting what it said was misinformation on the coronavirus pandemic. YouTube in a statement said RT DE had initially received a week-long suspension, blocking it from uploading videos, because it had violated misinformation rules.

But the platform said RT DE then tried to circumvent the restriction by using the other channel, Der Fehlende Part, to upload videos, a violation of YouTube's user terms, which resulted in both channels being permanently banned.

Russia's government has responded with fury and a torrent of threats to retaliate. The Russian foreign ministry on Tuesday called the deletions an "act of unprecedented information aggression" and asked the state censor to take actions against YouTube and German media in Russia.

RT's editor in chief, Margarita Simonyan, claimed the bans amounted to a "true media war" by Germany on Russia and said she was "looking forward" to Russia banning the main German public television broadcasters, ARD, ZDF and Deutsche Welle.

Germany's government on Wednesday said it had no involvement with YouTube's decision to delete the RT channels and and criticized Russia's threats to retaliate against German media.

"I want to say in crystal-clear terms that this is a decision by YouTube, and the German government, or representatives of the German government, have nothing to do with this decision," Steffan Seibert, the German government's spokesman told reporters, according to Euronews.

Seibert said anyone calling for retaliation against German media "doesn't show a good relationship with press freedom, from our point of view."

Russian authorities have sought to pressure German state news media in Russia over the past two years amid a broader crackdown on free media. Russian officials have previously publicly threatened to withdraw the accreditation of Deutsche Welle, the foreign-focused public news agency, that has a Russian-language service.

The Kremlin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday said that in blocking the RT channels, "there are signs" YouTube had "grossly" violated Russian laws.

He told reporters that if Russian law enforcement agencies concluded the same then it couldn't be excluded that measures might be taken to "oblige this platform to fulfil our laws."

The threats to block YouTube come amid an escalating campaign by Russian authorities to pressure American tech companies, as the Kremlin seeks to take tighter control over Russia's internet.

Just over a week ago, Google and Apple bowed to Kremlin demands to remove some content relating to a tactical voting campaign promoted by the jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny during Russia's parliamentary elections.

Google removed an app as well as two videos from YouTube related to the campaign, called Smart Voting.

The move was seen as the biggest concession the tech giants have made to Kremlin demands to delete content from opponents and it has alarmed liberal Russians that it is a step toward the companies accepting broader censorship in Russia.

Apple and Google have largely declined to comment on the matter, except to indicate they were following local laws.

Russia's government has pressed Google, Facebook and Twitter for years to remove more content critical of president Vladimir Putin's rule, imposing hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines on the companies. But the Kremlin had stopped short of blocking the platforms, partly because it lacked the technical capacity to do so and because it feared a backlash at home and internationally.

Some experts believe that calculus has shifted though, and that the government is now prepared to take a hard line. Since earlier this year, Roskomnadzor has slowed down Twitter, causing videos and photos to load poorly.

Google, in particular, has faced increased pressure in recent weeks. In the days before the company deleted the Navalny voting content, bailiffs visited its Moscow office to demand unpaid fines imposed by the censor. Google and Apple representatives were also summoned before a committee of the Russian senate, where the companies were accused of enabling "election interference." The New York Times reported that Google deleted the Navalny materials after Russian authorities threatened to prosecute specific employees at its Moscow office.

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Prince William, Kate release job listing for a personal assistant

Prince William, Kate release job listing for a personal assistant

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(LONDON) -- Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, are hiring.

The Cambridges are searching for a personal assistant to add to their team, according to a new job listing.

The full-time position is based at Kensington Palace, where William and Kate live with their three young children.

The personal assistant role would provide an up-close look at William and Kate's lives. The role is responsible for managing the royals' schedules, arranging meetings, drafting letters and emails and assisting with events and travel, according to the listing.

"Excellent organization and communication skills are essential, as is attention to detail and a willingness to undertake a wide variety of tasks," the listing reads. "The ability to maintain confidentiality and exercise discretion at all times is essential."

The job listing does not include a salary for the role.

The personal assistant would join what the listing describes as a "busy team" supporting William and Kate, the future king and queen.

In just the last two days alone, William and Kate have attended a global movie premiere and traveled to Ireland.

The Cambridges walked the red carpet Tuesday night alongside William's father, Prince Charles, and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, at the premiere of the latest James Bond movie, No Time to Die.

The next morning, William and Kate traveled to Northern Ireland.

In their first-ever visit to Derry-Londonderry, the royals met with nursing and medical students at a local university and visited a rugby club that is working to bridge divides among people of different religious backgrounds.

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Taliban official's comments on education, jobs fuel more fears for Afghan women's rights

Taliban official's comments on education, jobs fuel more fears for Afghan women's rights

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(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- Over one month into Taliban control of Afghanistan, fears for women's and girl's rights and education have only grown -- fueled further Tuesday by a top Taliban official's comments that "women will not be allowed to come to universities or work."

The tweets from the Taliban-appointed chancellor of Kabul University set off a fresh firestorm, prompting a clarification and a complaint about media coverage, before the outspoken chancellor deleted his Twitter account.

It's a strange episode that says as much about the Taliban's acute awareness of international perceptions as it does about what the future of Taliban rule holds for half of Afghanistan's nearly 40 million people -- its women and girls.

While the U.S. and other Western countries have called on the Taliban to respect women's and girls' rights, especially access to education, the Taliban have already taken steps to restrict them, including announcing earlier this month that certain subjects may be off limits and female students would be barred from studying with males. That could mean they'll be excluded entirely, given the limited resources at Afghanistan's schools and universities.

Already, the militant group has named an all-male cabinet and prohibited women from returning to work, saying there were security concerns that temporarily prevented it. A handful of women-led protests against Taliban rules have faced violent crackdowns in Kabul and other cities.

When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, they largely barred women and girls from public life without a male relative and excluded them from schools and universities entirely.

Kabul University chancellor Mohammad Ashraf Ghairat suggested a return to that policy Tuesday, tweeting, "As long as a real Islamic environment is not provided for all, women will not be allowed to come to universities or work. Islam first."

After media outlets reported on his comments, he issued a second tweet, criticizing the New York Times in particular for what he called a "bad misunderstanding" of his comments.

"I haven't said that we will never allow women to attend universities or go to work, I meant that until we create an Islamic environment, women will have to stay at home. We work hard to create safe Islamic environment soon," wrote the 34-year old, who was named to his role earlier this month.

Hours later, his Twitter account was deleted entirely.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban's chief spokesperson, spun Ghairat's statement, seemingly keen to ease Western concerns about women's education, even without denying it was true.

"It might be his own personal view," Mujahid told the New York Times, according to the paper, which added that he would not give assurances about when the ban on women would be lifted. He only said the militant group was working on a "safer transportation system and an environment where female students are protected."

Asked about Ghairat's comments, a State Department spokesperson told ABC News, "Any government should demonstrate respect for and inclusion of women and girls, in all their diversity, including supporting their education. Equal access to higher education on the basis of merit for all individuals is one of the principles codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

But it's unclear what steps the U.S. or other government would be willing to take to ensure that equal access. The spokesperson didn't address that issue, saying instead in their statement the U.S. "will continue to support Afghan women and girls."

The Taliban is already under heavy international sanctions, and the former Afghan government's U.S. assets, worth billions of dollars, remain frozen by the U.S., while the World Bank and International Monetary Fund suspended funding.

There's growing pressure from Taliban leaders as well as some Afghan civilians to release those funds as the country's economy teeters on collapse and millions are desperate for international aid.

During the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, there were enormous gains for women and girls, especially in education. The female literacy rate nearly doubled in a decade to 30% in 2018, according to a UNESCO report this year, and the number of girls in school went from nearly zero in 2001 to 2.5 million in 2018, making up nearly half of all primary students.

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'We've got to speed it up': Top US climate negotiator John Kerry says ahead of Glasgow summit

'We've got to speed it up': Top US climate negotiator John Kerry says ahead of Glasgow summit

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Top White House climate negotiator John Kerry said in an interview with ABC News Live that every country needs to act to reduce emissions and address climate change faster than ever before, especially after warnings the upcoming climate summit in November could be a failure if more countries don't increase their commitments to the Paris Agreement.

Kerry said Mother Nature "did a hell of a job whipping up enthusiasm to get something done" after the extreme events and record-high temperatures around the world this past year and said leaders are starting to feel the anticipation for the upcoming COP26 summit where countries will re-examine what they need to do to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees Celsius.

"Every country has to go faster. None of us can say we're really fast," Kerry, the special presidential envoy for climate, said in an interview with ABC News Live. "There are very few countries, you can get them on one or two hands, that are in keeping with the Paris numbers."

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said there's a "high risk of failure" from the COP26 climate summit in November if countries don't drastically increase commitments to reducing emissions.

The latest report from the United Nations found the world is on track to warm an average of 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, failing the goals of the Paris Agreement and triggering consequences from global warming like more extreme heat waves, droughts that would increase impacts on agriculture in some parts of the world and intensifying severe weather events. Even with every country's current efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they're expected to increase 16% by 2030, according to the U.N. report.

"The 191 countries that have all put in their plans together, whether they've changed them, improved them or kept them the same, that 191 result in a 16% increase in emissions," Kerry told ABC News Chief Meteorologist Ginger Zee.

"That is a big F -- that fails, it fails for everybody," he added.

Kerry was appointed to the role as special envoy for climate by President Joe Biden to help re-establish the country's role as a leader in international climate negotiations after former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Agreement.

Kerry, who previously served as secretary of state under President Barack Obama and for 28 years as a senator, has traveled to countries like India and China, which generates about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, to speak with leaders about increasing their commitments to reducing the use of fossil fuels.

During the U.N. General Assembly, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the country will stop financing new coal power projects abroad and will provide more financial support for developing countries to build renewable energy infrastructure. Kerry said that is a good start, but he acknowledged it sends a mixed message when the country continues to use fossil fuels and build new coal power plants inside the country.

"I think now there's a growing awareness in China," said Kerry, who recently returned from his second trip to speak with leaders there. "And I think President Xi is personally very invested in this issue. And my hope is that President Xi is going to help us all to come together around certain choices we can each make. It is possible that China could do more to peak earlier or to reduce coal."

Kerry said he understands frustration from climate activists like Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who recently tweeted that "whatever our so-called leaders are doing, they're doing it wrong."

"A lot of them have failed, but I think it's unfair. I think it's a little much of a reach to say that, 'so-called leaders,' there are a lot of real leaders around and they are trying very, very hard to move this process," he told ABC News.

Kerry said he understands Thunberg's frustration and anger, and he is also angry that some people are getting in the way of action on climate change.

"What we need to do is behave like adults and get the job done. And she's absolutely right to be pressing the urgency of our doing that. But there are leaders out there trying to get some things done, just too slowly in some cases, and we've got to speed it up," he said.

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Afghanistan updates: Milley, Austin face grilling in Senate hearing

Afghanistan updates: Milley, Austin face grilling in Senate hearing

KeithBinns/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- It's been nearly one month since the U.S. withdrew all U.S. troops from Afghanistan on President Joe Biden's order, ending a chaotic evacuation operation after the Afghan government collapsed and the Taliban seized the capital Kabul.

Since then, the U.S. has facilitated the departure of at least 85 U.S. citizens and 79 lawful permanent residents, according to a senior State Department official. In the coming days, they expect to evacuate around 100 more U.S. citizens and residents from the Kabul area.

Even as the last American troops were flown out to meet Biden's Aug. 31 deadline, other Americans who wanted to flee the country were left behind. The Biden administration is now focused on a "diplomatic mission" to help them leave but some hoping to evacuate are still stuck in the country. Meanwhile, the Taliban announced its new "caretaker" government that includes men with U.S. bounties on their heads -- and no women.

Top Pentagon leaders appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday amid bipartisan criticism of the chaotic withdrawal and on the failure to anticipate the Taliban's swift takeover of the country.

Here are the latest developments. All times Eastern:

Sep 28, 3:53 pm
1st Senate hearing with top commanders on Afghanistan adjourns


After nearly six hours of testimonies and tough questions, the Senate Armed Services Committee has adjourned its hearing with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command -- their first since the Afghanistan withdrawal.

Senators sunk into Milley and McKenzie saying they had recommended leaving 2,500 troops behind as a residual force in Afghanistan ahead of the chaotic evacuation effort. Several GOP senators called on the leaders to resign, to which Milley offered a powerful rebuttal.

"It would be an incredible act of political defiance for a commissioned officer to just resign because my advice is not taken," Milley said. "My dad didn't get a choice to resign at Iwo Jima."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, during the hearing, defended Biden's interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos in which the president said the views of his advisers were "split," saying, “There was no one who said, 'Five years from now, we could have 2,500 troops, and that would be sustainable.'”

"That was not a decision the president was going to make," Psaki added. "Ultimately, it's up to the commander in chief to make a decision. He made a decision it was time to end a 20-year war.”

It's been nearly one month since Biden withdrew all U.S. troops, ending a chaotic evacuation operation after the Afghan government collapsed and the Taliban seized the capital Kabul.

Sep 28, 3:34 pm
White House insists there was a range of military advice on whether to keep residual force


White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the discrepancy between President Biden telling ABC News' George Stephanopoulos in August that commanders were "split" and Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and head of CENTCOM Gen. Frank McKenzie telling senators Tuesday they recommended keeping 2,500 troops.

“There was a range of viewpoints, as was evidenced by their testimony today, that were presented to the president, that were presented to the national security team, as would be expected, as he asks for," Psaki said, after quoting the ABC News transcript.

"Again, I'm not going to get into specific details of who recommended what, but I can, I would reiterate a little bit of what I conveyed before, which is that there were recommendations made by a range of his advisors, something he welcomed, something he asked them to come to him clear-eyed about, to give him candid advice," Psaki said later on.

"What is also clear, though -- and I'd also note again what Secretary Austin said today, is that was not going to be a sustainable, over the long-term, troop presence. We were always going to look at escalating the numbers, at potentially going back to war with the Taliban, at risking casualties," she reiterated.


Sep 28, 12:20 pm
Milley pushes back on calls to resign, knocks tying withdrawal to specific date


Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Mark Milley why, given that advice to leave 2,500 troops behind, wasn't taken by the president, he hasn't resigned. Milley said it would be "an incredible act of political defiance for a commissioned officer to just resign because my advice is not taken."

"As a senior military officer, resigning is a really serious thing. It's a political act if I'm resigning in protest," Milley said. "The president doesn't have to agree with that advice, he doesn't have to make those decisions just because we're generals. And it would be an incredible act of political defiance for a commissioned officer to just resign because my advice is not taken."

Appearing to break publicly with President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, Milley was later asked about the pace of withdrawal and said that he was opposed to putting a date to military withdrawals, as "two presidents in a row" have done, saying conditions should always be in place. He added, though, that risks to Americans would have increased if the U.S. remained past Sept. 1.

"Senator, as a matter of professional advice, I would advise any leader, don't put date-certains on end dates. Make things, conditions-based. Two presidents in a row put dates on it. I don't think -- that's, my advice, don't put specific dates," Milley said.


Sep 28, 11:30 am
Lawmakers press officials on recommendation to Biden to leave 2500 troops


The nation’s military leaders -- Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, have all said their recommendations on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan were given to President Biden and heard.

GOP Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., pressed Milley on whether he specifically recommended to Biden that 2,500 troops stay in Afghanistan, as McKenzie had suggested. Milley wouldn’t comment on his personal conversations but gave his assessment from last fall and added he’s "always candid" with the president.

"My assessment was back in the fall of '20 and remained consistent throughout that we should keep a steady state of 2,500, could bounce up to 3,500, something like that, to move towards the negotiated gated solution," he said.

Cotton then turned to Austin and raised the question to him, citing Biden’s interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos last month in which he said that no military leader advised him to leave a small troop presence in Afghanistan.

"Senator Cotton, I believe that -- first of all, I know the president to be an honest and forthright man. And secondly," Austin said, before Cotton interrupted him to ask again if their recommendations got to Biden.

"Their input was received by the president and considered by the president for sure," Austin said. "In terms of what they specifically recommended, senator, they just, as they just said, they're not going to provide what they recommended in confidence."


Sep 28, 10:50 am
Top general recommended Biden leave 2500 troops behind


Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, said his recommendation was to keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan beyond Biden's Aug. 31 deadline, believing a full withdrawal would lead to inevitable collapse.

"I recommended that we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. And I also recommended earlier in the fall of 2020 that we would maintain 4,500 at that time -- those are my personal views. I also had a view that the withdrawal of those forces would lead inevitably to the collapse of the Afghan military forces, and eventually the Afghan government," McKenzie said.

Biden told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview in August that "no one" that "he can recall" advised him to keep a force of 2,500 troops behind.

Earlier in the hearing, both McKenzie and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, affirmed to the committee that the Doha agreement with the Taliban hurt the morale of Afghan security forces.

"The Doha agreement did negatively affect the performance of the Afghan forces," McKenzie said.


Sep 28, 10:46 am
Milley defends US withdrawal, calls to China in Afghanistan testimony


Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defended the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan while acknowledging the U.S. did not foresee an 11-day takeover by the Taliban, placing some blame on the Afghan government and army.

“"This has been a 10-year multi-administration drawdown, not a 19-month or a 19-day withdrawal," Milley said in his opening testimony.

He also said that a week after the election he received an order to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by mid-January, but days later, that order was rescinded.

For the larger part of his opening testimony, Milley took the chance to defend contacts with his Chinese counterparts in the final days of former President Donald Trump’s presidency and offered a "walk-through of all these events" amid reporting he broke the regular chain of command.

"At no time was I attempting to change or influence the process, usurp authority, or insert myself into the chain of command, but I am expected to give my advice and ensure that the president is fully informed," he said.


Sep 28, 10:17 am
Austin acknolwledges 'uncomfortable truths' of US withdrawal


Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in his opening statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee's hearing on Afghanistan, defended the timeline and tactics of the U.S. military's withdrawal ahead of Aug. 31 but acknowledged the Taliban takeover the country happened much faster than leaders had expected.

"We helped build a state, Mr. Chairman, but we could not forge a nation," he said. "The fact that the Afghan army we and our partners trained simply melted away -- in many cases without firing a shot -- took us all by surprise. And it would be dishonest to claim otherwise."

He then listed what he called "uncomfortable truths."

"That we did not fully comprehend the depth of corruption and poor leadership in their senior ranks, that we did not grasp the damaging effect of frequent and unexplained rotations by President Ghani of his commanders, that we did not anticipate the snowball effect caused by the deals that Taliban commanders struck with local leaders in the wake of the Doha agreement, and that the Doha agreement itself had a demoralizing effect on Afghan soldiers, and finally, that we failed to fully grasp that there was only so much for which and for whom many of the Afghan forces would fight," he said.


Austin said staying past Aug. 31 would have "would have greatly imperiled our people and our mission" as the Taliban's offer to cooperate ended on Sept. 1, opening U.S. troops to Taliban attack.

He also took on the issue of why Bagram Air Base was not kept open, saying it would have taken 5,000 troops to secure it and, being 30 miles from Kabul, would have significantly helped the main mission of protecting the embassy.

Sep 28, 9:30 am
Top Pentagon officials testify before Senate on withdrawal

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will face tough questions Tuesday from the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday on the U.S. military’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan. He’s also expected to address reporting that he went outside the regular chain of command with calls to China in the final days of former President Donald Trump’s presidency.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, are also scheduled to appear before the Senate panel alongside Milley. Senators are expected to press the top Pentagon leaders on decisions surrounding the evacuation and of ongoing threats of terrorism in Afghanistan without a U.S. presence on the ground.

It's been nearly one month since President Joe Biden withdrew all U.S. troops, ending an evacuation operation after the Afghan government collapsed and the Taliban seized the capital Kabul. In those final days, a U.S. drone strike killed at least 10 Afghan civilians, including seven children, an event lawmakers are expected to press military leaders upon on Tuesday.

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North Korea fires suspected ballistic missile into Sea of Japan in latest test

North Korea fires suspected ballistic missile into Sea of Japan in latest test

omersukrugoksu/iStock

(SEOUL, South Korea) -- North Korea fired a short-range missile toward the Sea of Japan early Tuesday, according to its neighboring countries, South Korea and Japan, marking the third such weapons test this month.

Military officials in Seoul, Tokyo and Washington, D.C. were investigating whether the latest missile was ballistic and if it was launched from a submarine. A ballistic missile launch would violate United Nations Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea from engaging in any ballistic activities, though the council typically doesn't slap new sanctions on Pyongyang for testing short-range weapons.

"The missile was fired from the North's Mupyong-ri in Jagang Province eastward at around 6:40 a.m," South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters on Tuesday. "South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities are analyzing the launch for additional information."

There was "no report of damage to Japan's aircraft or sea vessels," according to Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato.

"North Korea's missile launches pose a serious threat to the safety of our nation and the stability of the region," Kato said during a press conference on Tuesday morning.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Tuesday that his "government is on high alert and monitoring the situation."

North Korea has test-launched missiles six times in 2021 so far, three of which occurred this month. North Korean state media claimed that Pyongyang had successfully tested a long-range cruise missile on Sept. 12 and fired two short-range ballistic missiles off the eastern coast three days later.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State condemned the latest weapons test, calling it a "violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions" -- a tacit acknowledgment that the United States believes the missile was in fact ballistic.

"We remain committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK and call on them to engage in dialogue," the spokesperson told ABC News in a statement early Tuesday, using the acronym for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

During a press briefing on Monday, State Department deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter told reporters that the U.S. government is "prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions, and we certainly hope that the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach."

Tuesday's missile launch happened an hour after North Korea's ambassador to the U.N., Kim Song, delivered remarks at the 76th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, during which he attempted to justify his country's development of a "war deterrent" to defend against threats from the U.S. and other rivals.

"What we mean by the war deterrent is literally the righteous right to self-defense that can deter aggressive war and defend ourselves," Kim said. "The possible outbreak of a new war on the Korean Peninsula is contained not because of the U.S.'s mercy on the DPRK, it is because our state is growing a reliable deterrent that can control the hostile forces in an attempted military invasion."

Moon Sung-muk, an analyst and arms control expert at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, an independent, not-for-profit think tank in Seoul, said Kim's speech was asking the international community to acknowledge North Korea's weapons development as inside legal boundaries.

"North Korea is deliberately offering a condition that the U.S. and South Korea cannot accept so that when negotiations fall apart, they can blame their counterparts," Moon told ABC News on Tuesday. "As preconditions to resume inter-Korean talks, North Korea told South Korea in a statement last Saturday to consider their missile development as a reasonable act of self deterrence."

North Korea has been sending mixed messages this year. While test-firing a variety of missiles, Kim Yo Jong, the politically powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has hinted that Pyongyang is ready to engage in talks with South Korea and formally declare an end to the Korean War.

"South Korea must not try to upset the balance of military force on the Korean Peninsula with such illogical and childish absurd assertion just as the U.S. does," she was quoted as saying on Saturday by North Korean state media. "I only hope that the South Korean authorities' moves to remove the tinderbox holding double standards bereft of impartiality, the hostile policy toward the DPRK."

But Cha Du-hyeogn, an analyst at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, an independent, non-profit think tank in Seoul, doubted Pyongyang's will to come back to the negotiation table.

"North Korea never said they are willing to resume talks without conditions," Cha told ABC News on Tuesday. "The consecutive statements followed by missile provocations can be seen as a double-sided strategy."

Cha added that Kim Yo Jong is pushing South Korea to convince the U.S. to lift sanctions if the South is so eager to resume dialogue.

"It's an attempt to incapacitate the U.S.-South Korea cooperation by making use of national, or inter-Korean, cooperation," he said.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Pyongyang "is not only testing its missile but also the South Korean government."

"Pyongyang will wait to see what South Korea has to say about the missile experiment," Yang told ABC News on Tuesday, "after Kim Yo Jong insisted that South Korea get rid of the double standards on North's weapons tests if they want inter-Korean dialogue."

ABC News' Conor Finnegan, Shihoo Lee, Chae Young Oh and Anthony Trotter contributed to this report.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to refer to the Sea of Japan.

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North Korea fires suspected ballistic missile into East Sea in latest test

North Korea fires suspected ballistic missile into East Sea in latest test

omersukrugoksu/iStock

(SEOUL, South Korea) -- North Korea fired a short-range missile toward the East Sea early Tuesday, according to its neighboring countries, South Korea and Japan, marking the third such weapons test this month.

Military officials in Seoul, Tokyo and Washington, D.C. were investigating whether the latest missile was ballistic and if it was launched from a submarine. A ballistic missile launch would violate United Nations Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea from engaging in any ballistic activities, though the council typically doesn't slap new sanctions on Pyongyang for testing short-range weapons.

"The missile was fired from the North's Mupyong-ri in Jagang Province eastward at around 6:40 a.m," South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters on Tuesday. "South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities are analyzing the launch for additional information."

There was "no report of damage to Japan's aircraft or sea vessels," according to Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato.

"North Korea's missile launches pose a serious threat to the safety of our nation and the stability of the region," Kato said during a press conference on Tuesday morning.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Tuesday that his "government is on high alert and monitoring the situation."

North Korea has test-launched missiles six times in 2021 so far, three of which occurred this month. North Korean state media claimed that Pyongyang had successfully tested a long-range cruise missile on Sept. 12 and fired two short-range ballistic missiles off the eastern coast three days later.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State condemned the latest weapons test, calling it a "violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions" -- a tacit acknowledgment that the United States believes the missile was in fact ballistic.

"We remain committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK and call on them to engage in dialogue,” the spokesperson told ABC News in a statement early Tuesday, using the acronym for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

During a press briefing on Monday, State Department deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter told reporters that the U.S. government is "prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions, and we certainly hope that the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach."

Tuesday's missile launch happened an hour after North Korea's ambassador to the U.N., Kim Song, delivered remarks at the 76th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, during which he attempted to justify his country's development of a "war deterrent" to defend against threats from the U.S. and other rivals.

“What we mean by the war deterrent is literally the righteous right to self-defense that can deter aggressive war and defend ourselves," Kim said. “The possible outbreak of a new war on the Korean Peninsula is contained not because of the U.S.’s mercy on the DPRK, it is because our state is growing a reliable deterrent that can control the hostile forces in an attempted military invasion."

Moon Sung-muk, an analyst and arms control expert at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, an independent, not-for-profit think tank in Seoul, said Kim's speech was asking the international community to acknowledge North Korea's weapons development as inside legal boundaries.

"North Korea is deliberately offering a condition that the U.S. and South Korea cannot accept so that when negotiations fall apart, they can blame their counterparts," Moon told ABC News on Tuesday. "As preconditions to resume inter-Korean talks, North Korea told South Korea in a statement last Saturday to consider their missile development as a reasonable act of self deterrence."

North Korea has been sending mixed messages this year. While test-firing a variety of missiles, Kim Yo Jong, the politically powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has hinted that Pyongyang is ready to engage in talks with South Korea and formally declare an end to the Korean War.

"South Korea must not try to upset the balance of military force on the Korean Peninsula with such illogical and childish absurd assertion just as the U.S. does," she was quoted as saying on Saturday by North Korean state media. "I only hope that the South Korean authorities' moves to remove the tinderbox holding double standards bereft of impartiality, the hostile policy toward the DPRK."

But Cha Du-hyeogn, an analyst at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, an independent, non-profit think tank in Seoul, doubted Pyongyang's will to come back to the negotiation table.

"North Korea never said they are willing to resume talks without conditions," Cha told ABC News on Tuesday. "The consecutive statements followed by missile provocations can be seen as a double-sided strategy."

Cha added that Kim Yo Jong is pushing South Korea to convince the U.S. to lift sanctions if the South is so eager to resume dialogue.

"It's an attempt to incapacitate the U.S.-South Korea cooperation by making use of national, or inter-Korean, cooperation," he said.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Pyongyang "is not only testing its missile but also the South Korean government."

"Pyongyang will wait to see what South Korea has to say about the missile experiment," Yang told ABC News on Tuesday, "after Kim Yo Jong insisted that South Korea get rid of the double standards on North’s weapons tests if they want inter-Korean dialogue."

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As the curtain falls on the Merkel era, Germany’s largest parties are set to vie for power

As the curtain falls on the Merkel era, Germany’s largest parties are set to vie for power

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(NEW YORK) -- After almost 16 years as leader of Europe's most powerful economy, Angela Merkel will be leaving the chancellorship behind as Germany votes on a new parliament. Merkel's successor -- either her Christian Democratic Union appointee, Armin Laschet, or Olaf Scholz of the center-left Social Democrats -- will be determined only once a new government is formed.

Sunday's general election saw Scholz's SPD win 25.7% of the vote, closely followed by the conservative CDU at 24.1%, according to official preliminary results released Monday morning. However, they alone don't have the majority needed to rule and will have to form strategic coalitions that will determine who will govern the country.

It's historically rare in German politics that the make-up of a leading coalition and identity of the next chancellor is so unclear. Despite Merkel's popularity, her CDU struggled to galvanize the conservative party's traditional base under Laschet, the governor of Germany's North Rhine-Westphalia state.

Laschet was gaffe-laden during the campaign, including being caught on camera laughing during a tribute to those who died in the devastating floods in West Germany in July. Even on voting day, Laschet made a blunder by folding his ballot the wrong way -- making his voting choice visible, which could make his vote invalid.

Climate change has played a central role during the election race. The environmentalist Greens gained more support than anticipated early on.

It could take weeks -- if not months -- of negotiations between the parties before a coalition government is fully formed. Dr. Ursula Münch from Germany's Academy of Political Education predicts the transition period to be drawn out.

"Many in Germany are speculating that Merkel might still have to hold the New Years' speech," Münch told ABC News.

One thing is certain: Merkel's exit will mark the end of an era. In her last few weeks, Germans are reflecting on the legacy that she leaves behind.

"Angela Merkel became chancellor when I was 14 years old," 30-year-old German citizen Svenja Beck told ABC News. "I can hardly remember anyone other than a woman ever ruling our country. It feels crazy that this era is coming to an end. In any case, I hope she can enjoy her well-deserved retirement, especially after these exhausting 1.5 years."

Indeed, there's a sense of nostalgia in some young Germans who have only known a country led by the leader known as "mutti," or mother.

After three terms as chancellor, Merkel is still a popular figure. Last week a survey by Gallup research recorded her approval rating at 71%.

Many Germans have admired her demeanor -- an assuring confidence, a pragmatism -- others have been assured by her steady economic policies that have enabled the country to weather several crises. She's also been valued for her ability to reach consensus across governments and political persuasions.

"Merkel's personal style has left certain marks," Münch said. "Her rather restrained, unpretentious and matter-of-fact nature does seem to be popular among a large part of the population."

Beyond that, Münch considers Merkel's legacy to be defined by her crisis management and ability to deal with adverse situations "step by step."

Münch noted that while Merkel may approach potential conflicts with hesitation at first, she'll quickly and thoroughly deal with them once she's in the thick of it.

"We saw this with the banking crisis, with the Euro rescue, during the refugee crisis and now in particular with the coronavirus," she added.

But throughout the years, Merkel has received criticism for being too complacent on certain fronts, with environmentalists being particularly vocal in accusing her of not doing enough to tackle climate change.

German citizen Steffen Mechlinski, who voted for the Greens on Sunday, said he's looking forward to some issues getting more attention under the new leadership:

"After 16 solid years, I am now hoping for an ambitious policy approach, particularly when it comes to climate change, social justice, education and digitalization," Mechlinski told ABC News.

Internationally, Merkel has enjoyed widespread popularity.

"She's considered to be a very dependable person in many parts of the world," Münch said, "although I'm sure that some eastern European and southeastern European states may not agree."

However, it's Merkel's willingness to involve everyone, including smaller states, in policy debates and decisions that gives her a reputation for fairness and dependability.

Münch doesn't foresee any dramatic changes to Germany's foreign policy.

"The CDU and the SPD are really not that different from each other," she said. "Both are transatlantically oriented parties. Both -- including the SPD under Olaf Scholz -- keep Russia at a distance and approach China with reservations."

Even the Greens, who will form part of the new government, won't dramatically impact the direction of Germany's foreign policy, particularly when it comes to the United States.

"All three parties are transatlantics," Münch added. "These are all people and parties who care a lot about German-American relations."

In her years as chancellor, Merkel has resisted taking a tougher stance on China, with trade between the two countries booming.

Münch doesn't expect doesn't anticipate dramatic changes toward China, saying that even the Greens must conduct a business-friendly policy.

"Perhaps, when it comes to China, the priority won't just be foreign trade," she said, "but that the approach will be more cautious, especially with regards to human rights policies."

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Putin critic Navalny slams Google and Apple for accepting Kremlin censorship

Putin critic Navalny slams Google and Apple for accepting Kremlin censorship

zmeel/iStock

(MOSCOW) — Russia's best-known opposition figure, Alexey Navalny, has criticized Google and Apple for bending to Kremlin demands for censorship during recent parliamentary elections, accusing the tech giants of "cowardice" and of becoming "accomplices" to president Vladimir Putin's efforts to suppress political opposition.

Both companies bowed to Russian government pressure to delete content relating to a tactical voting campaign promoted by Navalny during elections last weekend that saw Russia's ruling pro-Putin party retain its majority amid accusations of widespread ballot-rigging and a crackdown on anti-Kremlin opposition.

"If something surprised me in the latest elections, it was not how Putin forged the results, but how obediently the almighty Big Tech turned into his accomplices," Navalny said on Twitter on Thursday -- a message written from prison and published by colleagues.

Navalny's campaign, named Smart Voting, had called for people to vote for any candidate with the best chance of defeating the ruling party, United Russia. The online content had contained lists of registered candidates recommended by Navalny's team.

Google and Apple removed Smart Voting apps from their stores in Russia, and Google blocked two related videos on YouTube.

The removals are the biggest concession the tech firms have made to Kremlin demands to restrict content and it has set off fears among liberal Russians that it is a significant step towards the companies accepting broader censorship in the country.

Russian authorities outlawed Navalny's movement earlier this year, after jailing the anti-corruption activist and pro-democracy campaigner who survived a nerve-agent poisoning in 2020. The government in June designated Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation and its regional political offices as "extremist organizations," equating them to violent terrorist groups and requiring social media platforms to ban their content.

The designation has been widely condemned internationally, including by the United States, as politically motivated.

Neither Google nor Apple have made a public statement on the app removals, and each declined to comment to ABC News. In an email explaining the decision to the Anti-Corruption Foundation, published online by Navalny's team, Apple said it was obliged to follow local laws and cited Russian prosecutors' allegations that the app enabled "election interference."

Navalny accused the companies of allowing themselves to be used as instruments of the Kremlin to block legitimate efforts at peaceful opposition, saying they were worried about losing market access to Russia and calling them "hypocrites" for presenting themselves as firms driven by values such as improving the world. Google famously used "Don't be evil" as a company motto.

"In our case, the very intention to organize voters in order to put competitive pressure on the ruling party was declared criminal, and Big Tech agreed with this," Navalny wrote.

He also called on employees inside the companies to raise the issue, writing: "I know that most of those who work at Google, Apple, etc. are honest and good people. I urge them not to put up with the cowardice of their bosses."

Google and Apple in the past largely have resisted Russian government demands that they remove content that criticizes authorities, racking up fines imposed by Russia's state censor. But recently the Kremlin has escalated pressure on U.S. tech companies amid a broader crackdown on dissent.

The day before Apple and Google each removed the voting app, the companies were made to appear before a committee of Russia's senate. Andrey Klimov, a prominent senator who heads a commission -- Protection of State Sovereignty and Prevention of Interference in the country's Internal Affairs -- accused them of illegal election interference and threatened to penalize them with new legislation.

Days before that, court bailiffs visited Google's offices in Moscow, demanding the company pay unpaid fines imposed by the state censor. The New York Times reported Google made the decision to remove Navalny's app after authorities threatened to arrest local employees at Google's Moscow office.

Security experts have said they're concerned the Kremlin is now increasingly bent on taming foreign tech giants as it tightens its grip on the Russian internet. The government has blocked a growing number of sites and is developing infrastructure to allow it to cut off Russia's acces to the global web, if deemed necessary. This year it began slowing down Twitter after the company refused to remove content.

Andrey Soldatov, author of "Red Web," which examines the Russian government's efforts to control the internet, said last week's concession was unlikely to discourage the Kremlin from leaning on Google and Apple further. He said the government was increasingly confident in its technical capabilities to block major international platforms.

"To be honest," he told ABC News by phone, "things look really, really dark right now."

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China declares cryptocurrency transactions illegal as crackdown continues

China declares cryptocurrency transactions illegal as crackdown continues

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(BEIJING) -- Bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies dipped in value on Friday after China declared all transactions involving these digital currencies "illegal."

China's central bank, the People's Bank of China, issued a statement on Friday saying that use of these virtual currencies is disrupting economic order and linked to money laundering, fraud and other illicit activities. While Chinese financial institutions already were banned from doing business with cryptocurrencies, the new statement made clear that cryptocurrencies do not have the same status as legal tender and cannot be used as currency in the marketplace.

Bitcoin dropped some 8% on the news, but recouped some initial losses and was down by some 5% late Friday morning. Ethereum initially shed more than 10%, but was down by some 7% as of 11:30 am ET, according to Coin Desk data.

The notoriously volatile digital currencies are down about 30% from all-time highs in the spring, but Bitcoin still is up some 40% since the start of the year and Ethereum has gained a whopping 290% in 2021.

Friday's notice from Beijing also made clear that it's illegal for overseas virtual currency exchanges to provide services to Chinese residents through the internet.

The announcement comes as China experiments on a small scale with its own digital currency issued by its central bank, the first to be created by a major economy. The digital yuan is expected to be rolled out at larger scale imminently, and while it has many similarities to current cryptos the major difference is that it can be more easily traced and controlled by the government.

U.S. financial markets held steady on the news, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 both opening relatively flat on Friday. Analysts and investors around the globe have been keeping a close eye on news out of China, however, amid silence on the Evergrande saga. Debt issues plaguing Evergrande, one of China's largest real estate developers, sent global markets tumbling earlier in the week as many predicted a default with possible spillover effects to the larger economy.

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Border Patrol suspends using agents on horseback amid outrage

Border Patrol suspends using agents on horseback amid outrage

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(WASHINGTON) -- Amid outrage over images the White House said President Joe Biden found "horrible," the U.S. Border Patrol has temporarily stopped using agents on horseback against Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas, Homeland Security officials said Thursday.

Shortly afterward, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed the decision to end the horse patrols in what critics said was offensively harsh treatment of the migrants.

"We have taken very specific actions as it relates to the horrific photos that we -- we’re not going to stand for in this administration," she told reporters at her daily press briefing.

The agents have been put on administrative leave pending an investigation.

Images of Border Patrol agents using their horses for crowd control on the banks of the Rio Grande have incensed Democratic lawmakers, some of whom drew a connection to white supremacy and slavery.

“Haitian lives are Black lives, and if we truly believe that Black lives matter, then we must reverse course,” Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., said at a news conference Wednesday.

Pressley also called on the Biden administration to “immediately and indefinitely” stop the removal of Haitian nationals back to Haiti. Democrats and immigrant advocates remain concerned that the administration’s rapid removal of migrants from the border has limited their access to humanitarian protections outlined under the law.

Homeland Security official said Thursday the removals would continue.

Law enforcement agencies across the country use mounted patrols on a regular basis to traverse rough terrain, including in remote areas of the border that don't have paved roads.

While many were disturbed by what appeared to be aggressive behavior by the agents on horseback, Border Patrol agents who spoke to ABC News said their colleagues in the controversial photographs were following procedures. They said it's common practice for agents on horseback to use "long reins" to control the horse, apparently leading a photojournalist at the scene in Del Rio to describe them as "whips" being used by the agents.

Any use of whips, even on horses, would be out of line with agency policy, Border Patrol Agent and Union Vice President Jon Anfinsen told ABC News.

"These agents are highly trained along with their horses and they were doing exactly what they were trained to do," Anfinsen said.

About 4,000 migrants remain at the camp and the officials estimated that about two-thirds of the entire group that gathered in Del Rio were families.

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EU proposes legislation requiring all mobile devices, including iPhones, use a universal charger

EU proposes legislation requiring all mobile devices, including iPhones, use a universal charger

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(EUROPE) -- Lawmakers in Europe on Thursday unveiled a proposal to force smartphone makers to adopt a universal, brand-agnostic charging cable in an effort to reduce electronic waste.

The plans call for a USB-C cable to become the universal standard for all smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. While years of collaborating with the industry on a voluntary approach have brought the number of mobile charger types from 30 to 3 within the last decade, according to a statement from the European Commission, the new legislation would establish a single common charging solution.

Apple, with its proprietary Lightning cables, remains one of the major holdouts to have a unique charger for its devices -- though some of its more recent devices do include USB-C charging. The company has previously argued that the proposal would impede innovation.

"Chargers power all our most essential electronic devices," Thierry Breton, the EU's internal market commissioner, said in a statement. "With more and more devices, more and more chargers are sold that are not interchangeable or not necessary. We are putting an end to that."

"With our proposal, European consumers will be able to use a single charger for all their portable electronics -- an important step to increase convenience and reduce waste," Breton added.

Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission’s executive vice president for the digital age, added that consumers have been "frustrated long enough about incompatible chargers piling up in their drawers."

"We gave industry plenty of time to come up with their own solutions, now time is ripe for legislative action for a common charger," Vestager said in a statement Thursday. "This is an important win for our consumers and environment and in line with our green and digital ambitions."

Some 420 million mobile phones and other portable electronic devices were sold in the European Union in 2020, the lawmakers said, and consumers on average own about three mobile chargers but only use two on a regular basis. The group estimates disposed of and unused chargers pile up to some 11,000 metric tons of waste each year.

The Commission also seeks to unbundle the sale of chargers from the sale of electronic devices in order to reduce the environmental footprint associated with the production and disposal of chargers. It also is asking producers to provide clearer information about charging performance, including how much power is required by a device for charging.

The lawmakers estimate that all together the new measures will help consumers in Europe limit the number of new chargers purchased and save nearly $294 million (€250 million) per year on unnecessary charger purchases.

Apple told ABC News that it is continuing to work with the European Commission to understand the full details of the proposal, but argued that the legislation could disrupt a thriving ecosystem, inconvenience users and actually create electronic waste.

"Apple stands for innovation and deeply cares about the customer experience. Some of the most innovative thinking at Apple goes toward building products with recycled and renewable materials," an Apple spokesperson said in a statement. "We share the European Commission’s commitment to protecting the environment and are already carbon neutral for all of our corporate emissions worldwide, and by 2030 every single Apple device and its usage will be carbon neutral."

"We remain concerned that strict regulation mandating just one type of connector stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, which in turn will harm consumers in Europe and around the world," the statement added. "We look forward to continued engagement with stakeholders to help find a solution that protects consumer interest, as well as the industry’s ability to innovate and bring exciting new technology to users."

The U.S.-headquartered company also noted that the European Commission previously sought to mandate that all smartphones only use USB Micro-B connectors, which would have restricted the advancement to Lightning and USB Type-C chargers.

The proposal will next need to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council, and the lawmakers have proposed a transition period of two years -- which Apple has called concerningly short -- from the date of adoption to give the industry time to adapt.

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How threats at the United Nations General Assembly are handled: ANALYSIS

How threats at the United Nations General Assembly are handled: ANALYSIS

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(NEW YORK) -- As the 76th General Assembly of the United Nations went underway in New York City beginning Sept. 14, authorities arrested Enrique Figueroa on Sunday for allegedly posting threats on social media against Luis Abinader, the president of the Dominican Republic, according to a court document.

The charges state that Figueroa "intentionally transmitted in interstate and foreign commerce a communication containing a threat to kidnap and injure" Abinader, according to the criminal complaint filed in federal court.

When questioned, Figueroa denied intent to harm Abinader, according to the complaint.

His arrest resulted from a joint effort by the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI and the New York Police Department, according to the document. That collaboration between the agencies is part of the protocol for maintaining security at the United Nations General Assembly where this year, up to 190 world leaders gathered in Manhattan for the 13-day event.

Threats at the UNGA can be politically-motivated, personnel-related, terroristic or cyber.

Since the UNGA is a designated National Special Security Event, or, an NSSE, and one of the largest annual security events in the world, the U.S. Secret Service is in charge of overall security management. The agency collaborates with other federal, state and local agencies to identify, mitigate or eliminate any threats at the UN's event.

As the lead agency, the Secret Service has to plan, coordinate and ultimately implement security operations for NSSEs.

For the UNGA, the Secret Service forms an executive steering committee that consists of senior representatives from other federal, state and local entities including the NYPD and the local office of homeland security and emergency management.

The executive steering committee gives final approval over a list of security and operational plans. Although the UNGA happens annually, that planning process is re-examined, revamped and updated every year.

The highest levels of government, including the directors of the Secret Service, FBI and secretary of homeland security are briefed on every facet involved in the UNGA's security planning. Some security measures include increasing police presence; having SWAT teams on standby; as well as deploying dogs and other bomb-related resources. Even the water is covered --- there is marine security staged near the UN.

Once world leaders and UN members are in New York City, there is close coordination among all security agencies. Part of that coordination is setting up operations and coordination centers throughout the city. These operations and coordination centers tackle everything from hotel lodging and logistics, to intelligence deconfliction, communication, medical response and air traffic. There are also redundant coordination centers and plans in place in the unlikely event of a major or catastrophic incident.

Each agency, in turn, conducts its own threat analysis of existing threats and how to manage them.

The Department of Homeland Security also provides a threat assessment of the event and the potential impact on the surrounding area. This assessment, conducted by the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), is provided to the other agencies to help them develop a full-threat assessment picture of the event.

The FBI typically co-leads security, intelligence and threat management. Through the FBI's New York Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and Joint Intelligence Operations Center (JIOC), threats are vetted and responses are coordinated. The JTTF is made up of over 50 federal, state and local partners. Those partners include: the Secret Service, which protects the president and visiting foreign heads of state; the Diplomatic Security Service which protects visiting minister-level officials including the U.S. secretary of state; the U.S. Marshals; domestic and foreign intelligence agencies; and the NYPD.

Any threat can potentially impact the security of the United Nations building such as the 2016 bombings in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood during that year's UNGA. That incident was an example of an existing threat that put all agencies involved with the UNGA on high alert.

Planning for an NSSE like the UNGA often takes over a year. During that time the nation’s front-line defenders work diligently to ensure that all risks are minimized and plans coordinated. This framework allows the planners to ensure that if something does happen, the response will be swift and strong.

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Researchers launch Gulf Stream expedition in effort to slow down climate change

Researchers launch Gulf Stream expedition in effort to slow down climate change

Courtesy Sailstone

(NEW YORK) -- This summer, the United States has seen the effects of climate change firsthand, as record-breaking wildfires, droughts and hurricanes have devastated parts of the country.

During his United Nations General Assembly speech on Tuesday, President Joe Biden called on countries to bring their best ideas to end climate change to COP26 in Glasgow in November.

"To keep within our reach the vital goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, every nation needs to bring their highest possible ambitions to the table," the president said.

To keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius -- which is what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says needs to happen to avoid the worst effects of climate change -- countries will have to lower emissions. One way to do that is to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

There is already a natural solution available: Take care of and learn more about the oceans. Oceans cover 70% of the world, leading to a vast reservoir capable of pulling in and storing carbon dioxide.

Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, scientists estimate oceans have pulled in around 30% of all the carbon dioxide humans have released into the atmosphere.

How much the ocean takes in each year varies, according to Dr. Jaime Palter, an associate professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, who spoke with ABC Audio's "Perspective" podcast.

"We really would like to have a quantification of the ocean carbon dioxide uptake narrowed so that we can make really skillful predictions of where [the] climate is going and how quickly temperatures will stop rising once we go to net-zero human-caused emissions," she said.

Palter is part of a team trying to learn how much carbon the Gulf Stream absorbs and how it transports heat

"It's the perfect place for the ocean to take up carbon dioxide, both because of the weather of the region -- it's just so stormy -- and also because of the oceanography of the region," said Palter. "Second, once it's taken off, it can sequester it for hundreds of years if it manages to sink in the deep ocean."

Palter, along with Saildrone -- a company that produces unmanned ocean drones for research -- and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting will launch six 72-foot autonomous drones off the East Coast this fall.

"Those are very difficult seas, particularly in the winter months, and it's one reason why we know so little about that area," Anne Hale Miglarese, the program executive officer for impact science at Saildrone, said on the "Perspective" podcast.

The drones are wind- and solar-powered and are equipped with sensors and cameras to check CO2 levels, wind speed and several other variables. They navigate via predetermined way-points while a pilot supervises on land.

Once launched, the drones will spend the next 12 months crisscrossing the Gulf Stream.

The data will be fed back instantly to researchers on land via satellites.

The mission has two focuses: first, to better understand how the Gulf Stream absorbs carbon, and second, to learn how it transports heat, which is the ECMWF's focus.

"The European Commission for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting ... was very interested in understanding the track of the Gulf Stream and the temperatures, the air temperatures and the water temperatures, and the like," Hale Miglarese said.

The commission will use the data to improve forecasts.

Palter and the University of Rhode Island will lead the carbon measurement research to learn how much carbon the ocean absorbs.

"[We want to] improve the accuracy on the number, how much carbon goes into the ocean, also where it gets absorbed by the ocean, [and] what are the processes that the ocean takes it up," said Palter. "We can understand whether this is going to be a set of processes that remains stable into the future or ones that could be vulnerable as the ocean warms and the circulation changes."

Palter said the Gulf Stream is intriguing because of what could happen to the climate if the natural absorption process were to change.

"If that process were to slow down, the capacity of the ocean to store manmade carbon could also slow down," Palter said. "These are important things we want to learn so that we can have accurate predictions of future climate."

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Why thousands of migrants, many from Haiti, are stuck at Texas-Mexico border

Why thousands of migrants, many from Haiti, are stuck at Texas-Mexico border

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(TEXAS) -- A mounting crisis is unfolding at the U.S.-Mexico border where thousands of migrants, many from Haiti, have trekked across dozens of countries, facing blistering heat and other dangers to seek refuge in the United States.

But entering the land of the free has proved difficult after migrants waded across the border. They were met by Border Patrol agents and deportation efforts.

All eyes are on the small town of Del Rio, Texas, where at one point more than 14,000 migrants, the majority from Haiti, were sheltering under a bridge.

One of the migrants, Jean Baptiste Wilvens, told ABC News he crossed 11 countries to get to the U.S. after he and his family had been living in Chile for the last four years.

"I'm scared to go back there because right now I cannot live in my country," he said.

His pregnant wife and 10-year-old daughter are now back on the Mexican side of the border. He said they had made it to the U.S. camp but called it "hell."

On the U.S. side, Wilvens said they were only given a burrito and a bottle of water per day, but in Mexico, several people came to the camp to give away food, which some migrants got into a fight over.

The mayor of Del Rio, Bruno Lozano, called the scenes unfolding,"heartbreaking."

"The fact that they're putting their lives at risk is telling of the situation that they come from," he said.

Like so many migrants who arrive at the U.S.' southern border, the current wave has come from Central or South America. Many of them are Haitian refugees who left their country after the 2010 earthquake.

"For a variety of reasons, perhaps mostly economic, the economy suffered with COVID, we have seen them migrate up over the last few months to our southern border," said Elizabeth Neuman, a former Department of Homeland Security assistant secretary and ABC News contributor.

Now, the world watches to see how the Biden administration handles the influx.

For years after the 2010 earthquake, Haitians living inside the U.S. had been granted temporary protected status. The Trump administration let that designation expire.

However, after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenal Moise in July and another devastating earthquake earlier in August, the Biden administration restored that special status to Haitians.

"While that TPS is only applicable for people that are already here in the United States, that might have given the Haitian community hope that if they somehow got into the United States, maybe they could take advantage of that TPS as well," Neumann said.

Some of the migrants have claimed asylum and are awaiting the immigration process inside the U.S., but many have already been loaded onto planes and deported back to Haiti.

The Biden administration says one to three flights are leaving a day removing migrants who do not have a valid claim to stay in the U.S. based on Title 42, a Trump-era law prohibiting migrants from seeking asylum in the U.S., citing COVID concerns.

"If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned. Your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family's lives," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a Monday press conference.

"Title 42 is actually not immigration law as much as it is public health law that allows an emergency to be declared and basically the borders to be closed," Neumann said. "A year ago, you could definitely see the case. We did not have vaccines. We did not have a robust testing capability. We have those things now."

However, unaccompanied minors, and many families are exempt from Title 42. Still, migrant advocates like Guerline Jozef with the Haitian Bridge Alliance say that's not enough.

"Title 42 should not be used as a way to trap migrants, as a way to trap asylum seekers," she said. "Why can't we make sure they are tested, they are vaccinated and provide them the access? Jozef said.

On Capitol Hill, some lawmakers have called for the end of the use of Title 42.

"I urge President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas to immediately put a stop to these expulsions and to end this Title 42 policy at our southern border," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday on the Senate floor.

Now, many migrants are living in fear of being sent back to Haiti after their exhaustive and perilous journeys.

One migrant named Josef, a social studies school teacher and father of three who didn't want to share his last name, told Nightline he crossed 10 countries to get to the U.S. to give his children the chance at a better life.

"When I saw that my child would not get the education that I wanted, I had to think that maybe the U.S., as a superpower, could give me some wisdom, and that my child could get social protection, a protection for education," Josef said.

Wilvens compared how the U.S. has welcomed Afghan refugees, but is turning away Haitians.

"The U.S. gives nearly 30,000 Afghans the ability to be refugees in the U.S. but Haitians are deported. Why is that?" Wilvens said.

Neumann said that "we have a debt that we owe the Afghan people," with the withdrawal of American troops in wake of the swift Taliban takeover and end of 10-year war in Afghanistan.

"There is a slightly different sentiment for those trying to reach us from the Southern Hemisphere. And I think that it's a good question for us to ask ourselves why," she said.

Harrowing images from the border have emerged over the past week showing border patrol agents on horseback aggressively attempting to push back migrants as they cross the Rio Grande into the U.S.

One image showed an agent on horseback grabbing a man by the back of his shirt.

"As I saw this, this image brought me back to slavery," Jozef with the Haitian Bridge Alliance said, overcome with emotion.

"As a Black woman, as a descendant of slaves, as a woman from Haiti whose forefathers and ancestors fought to end slavery, fought for freedom of all Black people, it is painful because we keep on being reminded that our lives do not matter, our pain [does] not matter," she said.

U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz initially defended the agents, saying, "We do not know who are the smugglers or who are the migrants. So it's important that the Border Patrol agents maintain a level of security," during a press conference Monday.

Homeland Security later slammed the video as "extremely troubling," saying a "full investigation, which will be conducted swiftly, will define the appropriate disciplinary actions."

President Joe Biden said he found the videos of tactics used by Border Patrol agents on horseback against Haitian migrants at the Texas border "horrific and horrible," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

But, Biden doubled down on the handling of the chaos at the border.

"We will get it under control," he said when asked about the crisis by reporters at the United Nations headquarters Tuesday.

Vice President Kamala Harris condemned the treatment of migrants at the border on Tuesday saying, "Human beings should never be treated that way. I was deeply troubled by it."

Meanwhile, the Del Rio mayor said of the images, "We don't know the situation that came out that caused that, that contrast to happen, but I can tell you what I've seen is, it's been a humanitarian effort of proportions that I've never seen in my life."

The union representing Border Patrol agents defended the images, arguing that's part of their training.

DHS says it now has agency monitors on the ground at the border to make sure policies are being followed.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott visited Del Rio Tuesday and asked the Biden administration for an emergency declaration.

"These border patrol officers are overwhelmed with the amount of work they are ordered to do and they're suffering the consequences of an administration that is not providing either the personnel or the resources they need," he said.

Neumann said she hopes the crisis will lead to "public pressure on Congress to once and for all address things that we are now on four presidents that have been trying to address this."

"We've got to fix it because the problem is just going to get worse," she said. "These are human beings that deserve to be treated better than we're capable of treating them today."

Jozef with the Haitian Bridge Alliance said people are coming to the border as a last resort.

"Because they are in need of protection, because they are dying, because they need support," she said.

Their desire for a better life often makes them vulnerable to smugglers and coyotes who have been known to charge migrants anywhere up to $15,000 per person to take them over the border, she said.

"If those people haven't had an avenue to properly present themselves to want to seek asylum, there would be no need for them to be engaged with those coyotes, to be engaged with those human traffickers, frankly, to be engaged with people who do not have their best interests at heart," Jozef added.

For families like those of Haitian school teacher Josef, making this treacherous journey for a chance at a better life is one of the last options they have left.

"I went through all these dangers with my family, my wife and my children, because the United States, I think, it's the last journey for us to make our dreams come true," Josef said.

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Biden agrees with France's Macron that sub snub could have been handled better

Biden agrees with France's Macron that sub snub could have been handled better

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden for the first time admitted the diplomatic fallout with France over a recent defense deal could have been better handled, the White House said Wednesday in a joint statement with French President Emmanuel Macron's office.

Biden and Macron spoke on the phone Wednesday, in a bid to smooth over the diplomatic fallout from a defense partnership the U.S. struck with Australia and the United Kingdom.

"The two leaders agreed that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners," the statement from the White House and Élysée Palace said. "President Biden conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard."

The reconciliatory note could signal that France may tone down its criticism of Biden after he agreed to share nuclear submarine technology with Australia.

France's leaders have compared Biden to his predecessor, President Donald Trump, saying the U.S. surprised France, a key ally, with the agreement -- which resulted in Australia scuttling a major deal that had been underway with France.

Biden and Macron plan to meet in Europe in October, according to the statement. Biden is set to head to Glasgow, Scotland, that month for a summit on the climate crisis, although the two sides did not say where the leaders planned to meet.

Meanwhile, Macron will return the French ambassador to Washington next week -- France had recalled him in response to the defense news -- and the ambassador will who will "then start intensive work with senior U.S, officials," the statement reads.

The two leaders "have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence and proposing concrete measures toward common objectives," the White House and Élysée Palace said. "They will meet in Europe at the end of October to reach shared understandings and maintain momentum in this process."

The statement also said Biden "reaffirms the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region."

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Biden admin missed red flags before Haitian migrant surge

Biden admin missed red flags before Haitian migrant surge

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(WASHINGTON) -- Months before the Haitian migrant surge at the southern border, Border Patrol agents on the front lines in Texas sounded alarms that Del Rio was vulnerable and resources could become overwhelmed, according to email messages reviewed by ABC News.

Despite the warnings, officials say preparations for the migrant surge only began when large waves started showing up this week. Now the Biden administration is scrambling to track, process and remove those gathered under an international bridge in the South Texas town of Del Rio that at one point ballooned to more than 14,000.

In one email to Del Rio sector management dated June 1, 2021, members of the National Border Patrol Council expressed the need for additional  measures to process migrants in the field in the event that facilities became overwhelmed. Agents offered specific suggestions including the use of digital tablets to allow for early initiation of the migrant intake process immediately after encounters with Customs and Border Protection.

In a second email days later, the Del Rio agents went so far as to ensure the tablets had wireless data capabilities with the right network provider so they could be used along the international boundary line.

The emails were sent to Del Rio Sector Border Patrol management, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security. Management responded weeks later to the June emails with a single line in red typeface:

"This is being explored, several other platforms are being considered which are more efficient."

"The agency did indeed consider the tablets, but it never materialized into anything of substance," said Jon Anfinsen, National Border Patrol Council vice president. "As the months went on, the groups continued to increase in size and frequency, but the temporary facilities are only now starting to come online over the past few days, after things had already spun out of control."

Anfinsen said the groundwork for the migrant surge only began last week as the border became overwhelmed.

Asked by Republican Rep. Michael McCaul on Wednesday about the emails, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said his Department does track migration in Central and South America but that the rate at which this group came together at the border was unprecedented.

"We watch the flow of individuals who are seeking to migrate irregularly through Mexico from the Northern Triangle countries, and further south we do indeed track it," Mayorkas said. "And nevertheless, a congressman, as I previously articulated the speed with which this materialized is unprecedented."

"Did you see this threat coming? And if so -- what if anything did you do?" McCaul pressed.

"We have not seen before such a rapid migration -- irregular migration -- of individuals as we have observed and experienced with respect to the Haitians who have crossed the border in Del Rio Texas," Mayorkas said. "That has been an unprecedented speed."

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request to comment on the email exchange. U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment.

There were other early warning signs, including reports of large migrants groups moving into Panama in the early weeks of summer. Panama's foreign minister was concerned about the mounting pressure after the country's migration division reported a 477% increase in border crossings between January and April, according to a June report from Bloomberg News.

Haitian migrants have been leaving the island nation in large numbers since the massive earthquake of January 2010. Many moved to reside in Brazil and Chile but have faced a lack of economic stability and security in South America.

Arrests at the border have neared record levels over the summer. CBP has made more than 1.5 million arrests or detentions so far this budget year. Immigration officials point out a significant portion, sometimes as much as a third, of those arrests involve repeat offenders and the administration has taken steps to send migrants further into the interior of Mexico to prevent recidivism.

Haiti has been devastated by natural disasters and political unrest with two major earthquakes in roughly the past decade. The first in 2010 sent thousands seeking refuge in South America. A less expansive, but still deadly, earthquake last month killed more than 2,200. But this most recent quake occurred after the July 29 deadline set by the Biden administration for any Haitians to receive refuge in the U.S.

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