World News at a Glance
Posted May 17, 2018 10:04 p.m. EDT
Assad Meets Putin in a Surprise Visit to Russia
President Bashar Assad of Syria paid a surprise visit to Russia on Thursday and was told by President Vladimir Putin that Russia expected “foreign armed forces” to pull out of Syria as a peace process began. It was not immediately clear which foreign troops Putin referred to, as Russia, Iran, the United States and other nations have forces in the country. Iran and Russian forces are fighting on Assad’s side in Syria. If Putin was pointing to Iran’s military presence — which this month flared into an exchange of hostilities with Israel — his comment could suggest a Russian role in preventing Iran from becoming entrenched there.
Chance of NAFTA Deal in 2018 Diminishes as Talks Drag Past Congressional Deadline
The prospect of rewriting the North American Free Trade Agreement this year appeared to diminish significantly Thursday, as a deadline set by congressional Republicans passed and the lead U.S. trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, said the countries involved were “nowhere near close to a deal.” To get an agreement approved by the Republican-controlled Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan set a May 17 cutoff for the White House to notify Congress of an impending deal. As that deadline came and went Thursday, Canada, Mexico and the United States remained at odds over significant portions of the sprawling 24-year-old agreement.
Anti-American Cleric’s Power Grows, Upending Pentagon’s Plans for Iraq
During the past four years, U.S. military planning in Iraq has counted on working with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, a moderate Shiite Muslim who has managed to rebuild the country’s army, restore sovereignty, and partner with both the United States and Iran to defeat the Islamic State. But in the weekend’s national elections in Iraq, huge gains in parliament were made by a party led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Now, President Donald Trump and the Pentagon must decide whether the United States can move ahead with plans to leave a residual force of about 4,500 U.S. troops in Iraq.
U.S. Pushes Plan to Make Mexico Handle Asylum-Seekers
Under a proposal for a bilateral agreement that the Trump administration has broached with Mexican officials, U.S. border officials would have been able to legally turn back asylum-seekers, forcing them to seek protection in Mexico. The agreement, or at least the concept of one, was part of a wide-ranging discussion about bilateral and regional immigration matters between Mexican and U.S. officials in Washington on Thursday, officials said. The talks are scheduled to continue Friday. Such an asylum arrangement, known as a “safe third country” agreement, would allow U.S. border officials to turn away most asylum-seekers who cross Mexico to reach the United States, forcing them to petition in Mexico instead.
Grenfell Fire Inquiry Urges an Overhaul of British Building Rules
Britain’s building safety systems are a lax and confused mess in need of a major overhaul and much tougher enforcement, an investigator commissioned after the Grenfell Tower disaster reported Thursday, but she did not recommend banning all flammable facades, a critical factor in that fire. The report drew swift rebukes from survivors of the fire, which killed 71 people, and from Labour members of Parliament, who have demanded a ban on flammable cladding of the sort used on Grenfell Tower, a move the Royal Institute of British Architects has also endorsed. That cladding has long been prohibited in the United States for buildings above a certain height, and in some places it is banned entirely.
Burundi’s Leader Aims to Extend His Term. His African Peers Take Notes.
Pierre Nkurunziza is Burundi’s longest-serving president, after muscling his way past constitutional limits to claim a third term in 2015. His political party recently appointed him the Supreme Eternal Guide. If he wins his latest campaign — a referendum Thursday to change the country’s constitution — he may, indeed, be remembered as Burundi’s “eternal” president. As many as 5 million Burundians were expected to cast ballots in the referendum that asks, among other things, whether the length of presidential terms should be extended. If enough people approve the proposed changes, Nkurunziza could remain in power until 2034 — and possibly beyond.
Fears of Larger Contagion as Ebola Spreads to Major Congo City
An outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in rural Congo has spread for the first time to a major city there, the World Health Organization reported Thursday. The organization said it would convene its emergency committee Friday to assess the new threat from the disease, which devastated West Africa a few years ago. Twenty-three people have died in the current outbreak, which started in Congo’s northwestern Équateur province in early April. The WHO said health authorities in the country had confirmed that one person was infected with the disease in Mbandaka, the provincial capital, which has a population of more than 1 million.