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Monthly Archives: September 2015

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Opinion: Syria, Obama and Putin

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT Op-ED)     —-    Your Honor, I rise again in defense of President Barack Obama’s policy on Syria.

Obama has been right in his ambivalence about getting deeply involved in Syria. But he’s never had the courage of his own ambivalence to spell out his reasoning to the American people. He keeps letting himself get pummeled into doing and saying things that his gut tells him won’t work, so he gets the worst of all worlds: His rhetoric exceeds the policy, and the policy doesn’t work.

Meanwhile, Obama’s Republican critics totally lack the wisdom of our own experience. They blithely advocate “fire, ready, aim” in Syria without any reason to believe their approach will work there any better than it did for us in Iraq or Libya. People who don’t know how to fix inner-city Baltimore think they know how to rescue downtown Aleppo — from the air!

Personally, I’ll take the leader who lacks the courage of his own ambivalence over the critics who lack the wisdom of their own experience. But ambivalence is not a license to do nothing. We can do things that make a difference, but only if we look at our enemies and allies in Syria with clear eyes.

For instance, today’s reigning cliché is that the wily fox, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, has once again outmaneuvered the flat-footed Americans, by deploying some troops, planes and tanks to Syria to buttress the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and to fight the Islamic State forces threatening him. If only we had a president who was so daring, so tough, so smart.

Really? Well think about this: Let’s say the U.S. did nothing right now, and just let Putin start bombing ISIS and bolstering Assad. How long before every Sunni Muslim in the Middle East, not to mention every jihadist, has Putin’s picture in a bull’s eye on his cellphone?

The Sunni Muslims are the vast majority in Syria. They are the dominant sect in the Arab world. Putin and Russia would be seen as going all-in to protect Assad, a pro-Iranian, Alawite/Shiite genocidal war criminal. Putin would alienate the entire Sunni Muslim world, including Russian Muslims.

Moreover, let’s say by some miracle the Russians defeat ISIS. The only way to keep them defeated is by replacing them with moderate Sunnis. Which moderate Sunnis are going to align with Russia while Putin is seen as the prime defender of the barrel-bombing murderer of more Sunnis than anyone on the planet, Bashar al-Assad?

Putin stupidly went into Syria looking for a cheap sugar high to show his people that Russia is still a world power. Well, now he’s up a tree. Obama and John Kerry should just leave him up there for a month — him and Assad, fighting ISIS alone — and watch him become public enemy No. 1 in the Sunni Muslim world. “Yo, Vladimir, how’s that working for you?”

The only way Putin can get down from that tree is with our help in forging a political solution in Syria. And that only happens if the Russians and the Iranians force Assad — after a transition — to step down and leave the country, in return for the opposition agreeing to protect the basic safety and interests of Assad’s Alawite community, and both sides welcoming an international force on the ground to guarantee the deal.

But to get there we need to size our rhetoric with our interests in Syria as well. Our interests right now are to eliminate or contain the two biggest metastasizing threats: ISIS — whose growth can threaten the islands of decency in the region like Lebanon, the Kurds and Jordan — and the tragedy of Syrian refugees, whose numbers are growing so large they are swamping Lebanon and Jordan and, if they continue, could destabilize the European Union, our vital partner in the world.

If we want something better — multisectarian democracy in Syria soon — we would have to go in and build it ourselves. The notion that it would only take arming more Syrian moderates is insane.

During the weekend The Times reported that “nearly 30,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Iraq and Syria from more than 100 countries since 2011.” So 30,000 people have gone to Syria to join ISIS to promote jihad and a caliphate. How many Arabs and Muslims have walked to Syria to promote multisectarian democracy? Apparently zero.

Why do we have to search for moderates like a man with a dowsing rod looking for water, and then train them, while no one has to train the jihadists, who flock there? It’s because the jihadists are in the grip of ideals, albeit warped ones. There is no critical mass of Syrian moderates in the grip of ideals; they will fight for their own homes and families, but not for an abstract ideal like democracy. We try to make up for that with military “training,” but it never works.

Are there real democrats among the Syrian opposition? You bet, but not enough, not with the organization, motivation and ruthlessness of their opponents.

Everyone wants an immaculate intervention in Syria, one where you look like you’re doing something, but without the political cost of putting troops on the ground or having to make unpleasant compromises with unsavory people. There is no such option.

I think Putin’s rash rush into Syria may in the end make him more in need of a deal, or at least a lasting cease-fire, that stops the refugee flows. If we can do that, for now, we will have done a lot.

U.S. Strikes Taliban-Held Land Near Kunduz Airport as Afghan Crisis Deepens

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT)    —-    KABUL, Afghanistan — American warplanes bombarded Taliban-held territory around the Kunduz airport overnight, and Afghan officials said American Special Forces were rushed toward the fighting. But by Wednesday morning, the crisis in northern Afghanistan had deepened, as the Taliban continued to surge outward from Kunduz, the major city that the militants captured on Monday.

The militants claimed critical stretches of highway and continued to threaten the area around the airport, where hundreds of Afghan soldiers and civilians have been holed up since the city fell.

Over the past three days, the Taliban have achieved what appears to be their largest military victory in a war that has gone on for more than a decade. Not only have insurgent forces captured a city of about 300,000 people — the first urban center the Taliban has held since 2001 — but as the reeling Afghan government struggles to respond, it has become clear that not only Kunduz but a large chunk of Afghanistan’s north is at stake.

In Baghlan Province south of Kunduz, Afghan reinforcements on their way to the city have been delayed or stopped altogether amid Taliban ambushes along the main highway. It appeared on Wednesday that before the Afghan government could launch a significant counteroffensive in Kunduz, it would first need to reclaim some of Baghlan.

Reinforcements in large numbers “will not be able to reach Kunduz without a big fight,” said Ted Callahan, a Western security adviser based in northeastern Afghanistan.

Abdul Shaker Urfani, a member of a community council in a northern part of Baghlan, said that more than 1,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers were stuck in the province. They were trying to reach Kunduz, “but they can’t break the Taliban resistance,” Mr. Urfani said.

Soon after Kunduz fell, Afghan military officials spoke of an imminent counterattack, using the airport five miles south of the city as a staging ground. But it has since become clear that the airport itself is imperiled, caught between the Taliban forces in Kunduz and the insurgents controlling the countryside in every other direction.

By Tuesday night, Taliban forces pressing south from Kunduz had pushed through the perimeter of the airport compound, threatening several hundred soldiers and at least as many civilians who had fled to the airport from the city. In fighting on Tuesday night, at least 17 members of the Afghan National Civil Order Police were wounded and one was killed defending the area around the airport.

The situation for the Afghan forces improved somewhat toward midnight: American warplanes conducted airstrikes at 11:30 p.m. and again at 1 a.m. on Taliban positions near the airport, an American military spokesman said. The Afghan Air Force also fired weapons.

Around the same time, soldiers with the American Special Forces headed out toward the city with Afghan commandos, according to Afghan government officials. Whether the Americans were there to take Taliban positions or to call in airstrikes was not known. By morning, the American forces appeared to have returned to the airport, according to people there who spoke by telephone.

An American military spokesman refused to discuss the matter.

But it appears that at least one American operation in the city of Kunduz failed. An Afghan security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that American forces had sought to resupply a group of beleaguered Afghan soldiers trapped in an ancient fortress north of the city.

For more than two days, the soldiers, at least 100 of them, had been fending off the encroaching Taliban. But American efforts to airdrop ammunition and weapons apparently failed, the Afghan official said.

“They missed the base and dropped the weapons in the river,” the official said, although it was not clear whether the weapons actually landed in the nearby Kalagaw River or simply missed the position by a long distance.

By noon on Wednesday, the fortress had fallen and about 60 soldiers had surrendered or been captured by the Taliban, although at least a few dozen managed to escape, the official said.

Questions about how thousands of army, police and militia defenders could continue to fare so poorly against a Taliban force that most local and military officials put in the hundreds hung over President Ashraf Ghani’s government and its American allies.

The number of Afghan government forces and militiamen defending Kunduz Province was said to be more than 7,000 when the city fell. Some fled to their homes, others retreated to the airport and still others are unaccounted for.

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Jawad Sukhanyar contributed reporting. Afghan soldiers arriving near Kunduz on Wednesday. Credit Najim Rahim/Najim Rahim, via Associated Press

Russian lawmakers give Putin OK for air strikes in Syria

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian lawmakers voted unanimously Wednesday to allow President Vladimir Putin to order air strikes in Syria, where Russia has deployed fighter jets and other weapons in recent weeks.

Putin had to request parliamentary approval for any use of Russian troops abroad, according to the constitution. The last time he did so was before Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014.

The vote comes after Putin’s meeting Monday with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, where the two discussed Russia’s recent military buildup in Syria. Speaking after his meeting with Obama, Putin kept the door open for air strikes but ruled out ground action.

Putin and other officials have said Russia was providing weapons and training to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s army to help it combat the Islamic State group. Russian navy transport vessels have been shuttling back and forth for weeks to ferry troops, weapons and supplies to an air base near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia. IHS Jane’s, a leading defense research group, said last week that satellite images of the base showed 28 jets, including Su-30 multirole fighters, Su-25 ground attack jets, Su-24 bombers and possibly Ka-52 helicopter gunships.

The Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, discussed Putin’s request for the authorization behind closed doors Wednesday, cutting off its live web broadcast to hold a debate notable for its quickness.

Sergei Ivanov, chief of Putin’s administration, said in televised remarks after the discussion that the parliament voted unanimously to give the green light to Putin’s request. The proposal does not need to go to the lower chamber.

Ivanov insisted that Moscow is not sending ground troops to Syria, but will only use its air force “in order to support the Syrian government forces in their fight against the Islamic State” group.

Ivanov said Moscow was responding to a request from Assad asking for help. He said the biggest difference from the air strikes being conducted by the United States and other countries is that “they do not comply with international law, but we do.”

Moscow has always been a top ally of Assad. The war in Syria against his regime, which began in 2011, has left at least 250,000 dead and forced millions to flee the country. It is also the driving force behind the record-breaking number of asylum-seekers fleeing to Europe this year.

Ivanov told reporters that Russia decided to help Assad in order to protect its own country from Islamic militants, not because of “some foreign policy goals or ambitions that our Western partners often accuse us of.”

“We are talking about Russia’s national security interests,” Ivanov said, adding that Moscow is worried about the growing number of Russian recruits going off to fight for the Islamic State group. Russia estimates that at least 2,400 of its citizens are fighting in Syria and Iraq.

Moscow should “take pre-emptive steps and do it on distant frontiers, instead of facing the issue here and later on,” said Ivanov.

Asked about the possibility of Russian aircraft joining air strikes on the IS, Putin said in New York on Monday that Moscow would do so in full conformity with international law.

“We are thinking what else we could do to support those who are fighting terrorists, including the IS,” Putin said. “There is no talk and there can’t be any talk about involvement of Russian military units in ground operations.”

Worried by the threat of Russian and U.S. jets clashing inadvertently over Syrian skies, Washington agreed to talk to Moscow on how to “deconflict” their military actions. Last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter had a 50-minute phone call with his Russian counterpart, in the first such military-to-military discussion between the two countries in more than a year.

Israel has taken similar precautions, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting Moscow last week to agree with Putin on a coordination mechanism to avoid any possible confrontation between Israeli and Russian forces in Syria.

Federation Council chairwoman Valentina Matvienko said in a live news conference on Russian television that the decision reflects Russia’s growing role in global affairs.

“We as a great power cannot but take part in fighting this great evil,” Matvienko said, adding that the Soviet Union and Syria signed a security cooperation agreement in 1980 that guarantees that Moscow would help Damascus if asked. “We couldn’t refuse Bashar Assad and keep on seeing how people, women and children are dying.”

But sending Russian troops to Syria does not appear to have much public support. As few as 14 percent would support the move, according to a poll by the Levada polling agency published Monday. The nationwide poll of 2,400 people was conducted Sept. 18-21 and has a margin of error of 4 percent.

Russian opposition was rattled by the Kremlin’s request to send troops abroad and the secretive way the vote was held.

“The fact that the Federation Council considered sending our troops abroad behind closed doors looks unconstitutional,” opposition leader Alexei Navalny said on Twitter. “Or is it just their own grandsons who are going off (to fight)?”

In Baghdad, Saad al-Hadithi, a spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister, said his government was in talks with Russia “in the hope that shared intelligence will further our abilities to defeat the terrorists within our borders.”

The Islamic State group has captured large parts of both Syria and Iraq.

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Vivian Salama contributed to this report from Baghdad. Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, listen to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, before a bilateral meeting at United Nations headquarters in New York, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015. (Mikhail Klimentyev, RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

US military favors keeping troops in Afghanistan past 2016

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WASHINGTON (AP) — In a potential major shift in policy, U.S. military commanders want to keep at least a few thousand American troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016, citing a fragile security situation highlighted by the Taliban’s capture of the northern city of Kunduz this week as well as recent militant inroads in the south.

Keeping any substantial number of troops in Afghanistan beyond next year would mark a sharp departure from President Barack Obama’s existing plan, which would leave only an embassy-based security cooperation presence of about 1,000 military personnel by the end of next year. Obama has made it a centerpiece of his second-term foreign policy message that he would end the U.S. war in Afghanistan and get American troops out by the time he left office in January 2017.

About 9,800 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan. But the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John F. Campbell, has given the administration several options for gradually reducing that number over the next 15-months. The options all call for keeping a higher-than-planned troop presence based on his judgment of what it would take to sustain the Afghan army and minimize the chances of losing more ground gained over more than a decade of costly U.S. combat.

The timing of a new decision on U.S. troop levels is unclear. Campbell is scheduled to testify to Congress next week on the security situation, including the effectiveness of Afghan security forces after a tough summer of fighting.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said it conducted two more airstrikes overnight on Taliban positions around Kunduz. A U.S. Army spokesman, Col. Brian Tribus, said coalition advisers were at the scene Wednesday, “in the Kunduz area advising Afghan security forces.”

The Taliban’s takeover of Kunduz, a city of 300,000, marked the militants’ first capture of a major city since the U.S. invasion ousted their government 14 years ago in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Republican critics of Obama’s approach to transitioning from wartime occupation of Afghanistan to full Afghan security control called the fall of Kunduz a predictable consequence of Obama’s calendar-based troop reductions.

The loss of Kunduz may prove temporary, but it has underscored the fragility of Afghan security and hardened the view of those who favor keeping U.S. troops there beyond 2016.

According to U.S. officials, Campbell’s options would postpone any major cuts in troop levels this year and give him more leeway on the pace of any reductions next year. The options, officials said, include keeping as many as 8,000 troops there well into next year and maintaining several thousand troops as a counterterrorism force into 2017. The options would allow for a gradual decline in troop numbers over the coming year, depending on the security conditions in Afghanistan and the capabilities of the Afghan forces, who sustained heavy combat losses this year and last.

As far back as March, during top-level meetings at the Camp David presidential retreat, senior administration officials were leaving the door open to a small counterterrorism force in Afghanistan in 2017. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Republican-controlled Congress favor extending the U.S. military presence. Ghani has expressed worry about militants affiliated with the Islamic State group trying to gain a wider foothold in his country.

Both Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry have suggested the importance of the U.S continuing its counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan, even into 2017. During the Camp David meetings, Kerry said the administration was concerned about reports that Islamic State militants are recruiting in Afghanistan and that some Taliban were rebranding themselves as Islamic State members. Since then, other U.S. officials have cited the Islamic State as a potentially growing threat, and the Taliban have made inroads in the southern province of Helmand.

“We see (Islamic State) capabilities increasing somewhat but not to the point where they can conduct operations that you’re seeing in Iraq and Syria, although we do note the potential for them to evolve into something more serious, more dangerous,” Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner told reporters at the Pentagon last month.

In August the Taliban seized the district of Musa Qala in Helmand and were only driven back by Afghan forces days later, after 24 U.S. airstrikes.

Pentagon officials on Tuesday had few details about how Kunduz fell. Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook called it a “setback” for Afghan forces, expressed confidence in their ability to eventually retake the city, and declined to say what the clash reveals about the capabilities of the Taliban.

Acting Afghan Defense Minister Masoom Stanekzai told a news conference in Kabul that the Taliban fighters had infiltrated the city during the recent Eid holiday, the biggest of the year, when millions of Afghans move around the country to spend time with family.

The Taliban fighters were reinforced by militants who came from neighboring Pakistan after being driven out by a military offensive, as well as from China and Central Asia, Stanekzai said. The fierce, multipronged assault caught the Afghan military and intelligence agencies off guard after what had appeared to be a stalemate throughout the summer between Taliban forces besieging the city and government troops defending it.

The U.S. officially ended its combat role at the end of 2014 but has kept troops there to train and advise Afghan forces and to hit extremist targets.

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In this Sept. 29, 2015, photo, a Taliban fighter stands guard on a vehicle in Kunduz, north of Kabul, Afghanistan. In a potential major shift in policy, U.S. military leaders want to keep at least a few thousand U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016. The commanders point to a fragile security situation highlighted by the Taliban’s capture of the northern city of Kunduz this week. (AP Photo)

Explosions kill 6, injure dozens in southern China city

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BEIJING (AP) — A series of explosions targeting public buildings in a small city in southern China killed at least six people and injured dozens on Wednesday, officials and state media said.

The official Xinhua News Agency said there were 15 blasts in Liucheng county in the southern region of Guangxi and that six people were killed.

The city government of Liuzhou, which oversees Liucheng, said the explosions also injured 13 people, although later reports by state media said dozens were injured.

The blasts, which occurred between 3:15 p.m. and 5 p.m., hit a hospital, local markets, a shopping mall, a bus station and several government buildings, including a jail and a township office building, according to a police statement posted by the local newspaper Nanguo Zaobao.

Liuzhou’s police chief said the blasts were triggered by explosive devices delivered in several mail packages, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

The police chief said the case was under investigation. He did not name any suspects or offer any motive for the explosions.

Photos posted online showed smoke in local streets, strewn debris, dust clouds in the sky and the collapse of a five-story building.

House, Senate to send Obama temporary spending bill

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A temporary funding measure that would keep the government open past a midnight deadline should make its way to President Barack Obama on Wednesday with time to spare.

The measure has already helped topple the top House GOP leader and exacerbated painful divisions between more pragmatic Republicans and a tea party wing that is increasingly dominant, especially in the rough-and-tumble House.

Tea party forces are frustrated that the bill, which would prevent a repeat of the partial shutdown of the government two years ago, fails to take away federal funding that goes to Planned Parenthood.

The Senate and then the House are scheduled to vote on the stopgap spending measure on Wednesday. It would provide 10 weeks of time to negotiate a more wide-ranging budget deal for the rest of fiscal 2016, which ends on Sept. 30, 2016.

Having dodged the immediate threat of a government shutdown, congressional Republican leaders are looking ahead to talks with President Barack Obama on a long-term budget pact.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that he and House Speaker John Boehner spoke with Obama recently and that he expects talks to get underway soon.

At issue are efforts to increase the operating budgets for both the Pentagon and domestic agencies still operating under automatic spending curbs that would effectively freeze their budgets at current levels. Republicans are leading the drive to boost defense while Obama is demanding equal relief for domestic programs.

The conversation among McConnell, Boehner and Obama took place earlier this month — before Boehner announced he was stepping down. Many of the conservative GOP lawmakers who brought Boehner down want to preserve stringent “caps” on the spending bills Congress passes every year. But Senate Republicans are generally more eager to revisit the 2011 budget deal that put them in place.

Boehner’s surprise resignation announcement on Friday followed unrest by arch-conservatives in his conference who wanted to use the pending stopgap spending bill to try to force Democrats and Obama to take federal funding away from Planned Parenthood.

Instead, Boehner and McConnell opted for the pragmatic route — a bipartisan measure that steers clear of the furor over Planned Parenthood and avoids the risk of a partial government shutdown — over the opposition of the most hardline conservative Republicans.

Republicans have long targeted Planned Parenthood, and the group’s top official appeared before a House panel on Tuesday to defend it in the wake of videos released this summer that raise questions about its practices in providing fetal tissue for scientific research.

Republicans say the videos, made by abortion foes posing as private purchasers of fetal organs, show Planned Parenthood has broken federal laws including a ban on for-profit fetal tissue sales. The organization says it has acted legally and says the videos were deceitfully edited.

One of the Republicans’ presidential aspirants, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, on Tuesday endorsed a partial government shutdown as a way to gain leverage over Obama.

“Why don’t we start out with the negotiating position that we defund everything that’s objectionable, all the wasteful spending, all the duplicative spending, let’s defund it all and if there has to be negotiation, let’s start from defunding it all and see where we get,” Paul said in a Senate speech.

“But it would take courage, because you have to let spending expire,” he said. “If you’re not willing to let the spending expire and start anew, you have no leverage.”

Last week, Democrats led a filibuster of a Senate stopgap measure that would have blocked money to Planned Parenthood. Eight Republicans did not support that measure, leaving it short of a simple majority, much less the 60 votes required to overcome the filibuster. After last week’s vote failed, McConnell on Monday orchestrated a bipartisan 77-19 vote on a funding bill — stripped of the Planned Parenthood provision — to force a final vote.

“This bill hardly represents my preferred method for funding the government, but it’s now the most viable way forward after Democrats’ extreme actions forced our country into this situation,” McConnell said Tuesday of the stopgap measure.

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In this Sept. 29, 2015, photo, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio looks toward a reporter on the other side of a glass railing as he ascends the escalator on Capitol Hill in Washington. A temporary government-wide funding measure that would keep the government open past a midnight deadline should make its way to President Barack Obama on Wednesday with time to spare. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Business: World stocks higher on last day of torrid quarter

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Global stock markets bounced higher Wednesday, led by gains in Japan where investors were buoyed by expectations for more economic stimulus. But most stock benchmarks have lost ground for the quarter, weighed down by the prospect of higher U.S. interest rates and weak growth in many major economies.

KEEPING SCORE: Europe opened higher with Britain’s FTSE 100 up 2.1 percent to 6,032.88. France’s CAC 40 jumped 2.6 percent to 4,457.17 and Germany’s DAX gained 2.5 percent to 9,686.39. The worst performing of those indexes, the DAX, is down 12.5 percent for the July-September quarter, which ends Wednesday. Wall Street was set for big gains. Dow futures were up 1.1 percent at 16,129.00. The Dow Jones industrials is down 8.8 percent in the past three months. S&P 500 futures gained 1.1 percent to 1,895.90. The index is off 8.4 percent so far this quarter.

JAPAN HOPE: Tokyo stocks gained amid expectations for more monetary and fiscal stimulus following weakness in recent economic data. Domestic demand is tepid in the world’s third-biggest economy and China’s slowdown has also crimped Japanese exports. The quarterly Tankan business confidence survey due Thursday will show how businesses are feeling about the future, possibly providing a trigger for action from policymakers. Reports on China’s manufacturing and services industries are also due Thursday.

ANALYST’S QUOTE: “Japan will be inclined to boost both fiscal and monetary stimulus soon” if the risks of a slowdown in China do not fade in a few months, Mizuho Bank said in a daily note. “The real question is not if more stimulus may be expected, but rather, how much stimulus will be rolled out, and when.”

US WATCH: Investors are waiting for jobs data and the top U.S. central banker’s remarks for clues about when the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates. Policymakers have said they will likely raise interest rates before the end of the year. On Thursday, U.S. payroll processor ADP reports how many jobs private employers added in September and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen gives opening remarks to a community banking conference.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s Nikkei 225 surged 2.7 percent to 17,388.15 after sliding 4.1 percent on Tuesday amid a global market sell-off. It is down 13.5 percent for the quarter. China’s Shanghai Composite Index was 0.5 percent higher at 3,052.78 but has lost 24.6 percent in three months. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index added 1.4 percent to 20,846.30 and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 2.1 percent to 5,021.60. South Korea’s stock market finished 1 percent higher at 1,962.81.

ENERGY: Benchmark crude fell 9 cents at $45.14 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 80 cents to close at $45.23 a barrel on Tuesday on expectations that the Energy Department will report a slowdown in U.S. crude production when it releases its monthly petroleum supply report. Brent Crude, a benchmark for international oils, added 7 cents to $48.72 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The euro weakened to $1.1217 from $1.1252 on Tuesday. The dollar rose to 120.27 yen from 119.86 yen.

 

Obama and Putin: Awkward moments, few breakthroughs

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NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first formal meeting in more than two years started with an awkward handshake and ended without a breakthrough on Syria, a crisis that has strained their already tense relationship.

On the biggest issue that divides them in Syria — the status of embattled leader Bashar Assad — Obama and Putin left their discussions Monday exactly where they started. The U.S. still insists Syria’s future cannot include Assad, while Putin appears to only want to bolster the standing of his longtime ally, casting him as the best defense against Islamic States militants.

Even so, both leaders appeared interested in whether their meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly could yield progress toward ending Syria’s 4½ year civil war. After the 90-minute sit-down at U.N. headquarters, Putin and U.S. officials who described the meeting on Obama’s behalf each spoke of the need for cooperation.

“Strange is it may seem, there were many common points,” Putin told reporters. “There were also disagreements which we agreed to work together. I hope this work will be constructive.”

U.S. officials said the leaders agreed to explore ways to pursue a resolution to a crisis that has left more than 250,000 dead, even as they made clear Obama wasn’t bending on his insistence that Assad not be part of the eventual solution.

The crisis has taken on fresh urgency amid Russia’s recent military buildup in Syria. Putin has cast the increased presence of equipment and troops there as part of the effort to defeat the Islamic State, and suggested Monday that Russia could launch airstrikes against the militants.

“We are thinking about it and don’t exclude anything,” he said.

It’s unlikely Putin would join the U.S.-led coalition already launching strikes against the militants. He said Russia will only take such a step in accordance with international law, and criticized the U.S. and its allies for striking the Syrian territory without U.N. permission.

Monday’s meeting marked another chapter in Obama’s and Putin’s history of colorful and tense encounters. They laid the groundwork for the meeting in dueling speeches at the U.N., and then were forced to sit together at lunch, exchanging steely glances as they clinked champagne glasses during a toast. They appeared briefly before reporters before beginning their talks, quickly shaking hands, but making no remarks.

That the leaders met at all underscored Obama’s acceptance of Russia’s increasingly prominent role in resolving the crisis in Syria. The U.S. president has resisted granting Putin the legitimacy of a formal bilateral meeting following the Russian president’s provocations in Ukraine. But White House officials calculated that it was worth bending on that front for the opportunity to assess Putin’s Syria motivations in person.

The meeting also highlighted Putin’s ability to command attention and shift it away from the Ukraine. A fragile peace plan in the former Soviet republic remains shaky at best, yet the crisis was largely a footnote at the U.N. gathering.

Instead, attention was riveted on what Putin would say about Syria and Assad as he arrived in New York for his first U.N. meeting in a decade. In the weeks leading up to his arrival, Putin ratcheted up his country’s military presence in Syria and struck an intelligence-sharing agreement with Iran, Syria and Iraq, another nation fighting the Islamic State.

Both developments caught U.S. officials off guard.

Putin also moved swiftly to try to capitalize on the failure of U.S. efforts to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels — a $500 million Pentagon program that was supposed to yield more than 5,000 fighters but instead only has only a handful of active graduates. The Russian leader jabbed Obama over the program’s failures in his remarks to the U.N. General Assembly on Monday.

The global landscape looks far different than what some in the Obama administration envisioned earlier this year.

Fresh off the success of Iranian nuclear negotiations that resulted in a rare alignment among Russia, China and the West, some U.S. officials wondered whether that partnership could serve as a model for tackling other crises, including Syria. Officials also suggested there was reason to be optimistic that Putin was growing impatient with Assad.

Obama even suggested that possibility in a July interview with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

“I was encouraged by the fact that Mr. Putin called me a couple of weeks ago and initiated the call to talk about Syria,” Obama said after a phone call with Putin. “I think they get a sense that the Assad regime is losing a grip over greater and greater swaths of territory inside of Syria and that the prospects for a takeover or rout of the Syrian regime is not imminent but becomes a greater and greater threat by the day.”

“That offers us an opportunity to have a serious conversation with them,” Obama added.

Privately, some U.S. officials say they still believe Putin is inclined to cooperate with the U.S. to ease Assad from power. They’ve raised the prospect that Putin’s increased military footprint in Syria isn’t just to prop up Assad, but perhaps also to curry favor with whoever might replace him.

But after Obama and Putin’s latest encounter, figuring out who might replace Assad — or whether there will be a power transfer at all — still seems like a major challenge.

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AP writer Vladimir Isachenkov contributed to this report. United States President Barack Obama, right, and Russia’s President President Vladimir Putin pose for members of the media before a bilateral meeting Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

War on IS a focus of UN General Assembly amid stalemate

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NEW YORK (AP) — When world leaders convene for the U.N. General Assembly this week, it will be a year since the U.S. president declared the formation of an international coalition to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State group.

Despite billions of dollars spent and thousands of airstrikes, the campaign appears to have made little impact.

The extremist group may control slightly less territory than a year ago, but it continues to launch attacks and maintains key strongholds in Syria and Iraq. The militants’ reach has expanded to other countries, including Libya, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Afghanistan.

U.S.-led airstrikes helped Syrian Kurds hold the strategic border town of Kobani in January, and seize another key border town, Tal Abyad, this summer. But a much-touted offensive to oust IS militants from the Iraqi city of Ramadi remains stalled; there have been grave losses among the few Syrian rebels trained by the U.S. to fight IS; an IS-free zone announced by Turkey and the U.S. has failed to materialize.

At the same time, growing concern about the Syrian refugee crisis and reports that IS may be planning attacks against Europe may spur some countries to get more involved in the anti-IS coalition. On Sunday, President Francois Hollande announced that French jet fighters had carried out their first airstrikes against IS targets in Syria. France had previously limited its air campaign to IS targets in Iraq.

But short of sending in ground forces — an option Western countries are not willing to entertain — the stalemate in the war against the Islamic State group is likely to persist.

“Quite simply, the countries best-placed to contribute meaningfully to the anti-ISIS effort do not share the same interests in Syria,” said Faysal Itani, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, using an alternate acronym for the Islamic State group.

The Russian military buildup of aircraft, missiles, tanks and other equipment is complicating the fight against IS militants in Syria.

Russia’s declared purpose is helping the government of President Bashar Assad battle the Islamic extremists, and Moscow has urged the West to go along. In an interview broadcast ahead of his meeting on Monday with President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin sharply criticized U.S. military support for Syrian rebels, describing it as illegal and useless.

The Obama administration is concerned that Russia’s real intention is to shore up Assad and strike at other factions seeking to topple him under the pretext of fighting international terrorism.

And in Iraq, U.S. efforts to battle the extremists without working with Damascus and its allies could be further complicated by news Sunday that Iraq’s military will begin sharing security and intelligence information with Syria, Russia and Iran to help combat the Islamic State group.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly on Sunday, said in response to a statement by Iraq’s military that “all of the efforts need to be coordinated. This is not yet coordinated.”

In New York, all eyes will be on Putin, who is expected to announce a counterterrorism initiative when he addresses the General Assembly on Monday — his first UNGA appearance in 10 years.

“The Russian escalation in Syria will create a flurry of diplomatic activity to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis and a fresh attempt to confront ISIS in Syria, but the conditions for success on both fronts are still absent,” said Paul Salem, vice president for policy and research at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.

“While Putin’s call for more efforts to defeat ISIS will fall on welcoming ears in many capitals, the new Russian deployment does not introduce or free up significant numbers of ground forces to make such a campaign plausible,” he wrote.

Some analysts say the Russian deployment is likely to make Assad even less inclined to engage in meaningful negotiations for a political settlement to the civil war, which has allowed IS to flourish over the past four years.

“Barring either regime victory over the insurgency, which is unlikely, or a U.S. policy shift toward political transition away from Assad — which would bring regional allies and insurgents on board against ISIS — I don’t see any prospect of defeating ISIS,” Itani said.

In the United States, both Republicans and Democrats have lambasted the administration’s strategy against the IS group, especially after a U.S. general acknowledged that just a few U.S.-trained Syrian rebels remain on the battlefield — others were wiped out by al-Qaida militants.

The U.S. military said this month that about 70 newly trained rebels have returned to Syria from Turkey. Still, the number is nowhere near the U.S. goal to train and equip 5,400 rebels a year at a cost of $500 million.

The Obama administration is adamant that it will commit no U.S. ground troops despite calls from some in Congress to do so.

“The whole thing is a joke. They are not serious about destroying Daesh either in Syria or Iraq,” said a one-time resident of Raqqa who fled to Turkey. “Dropping a few bombs every now and then will not change anything,” he said. He spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his family in Raqqa, the Syrian city the IS has claimed as the capital of its self-declared caliphate.

The top U.S. commander in the Middle East, Gen. Lloyd Austin, insisted this month that the operation against IS was making progress, and said the military had always said the campaign would take time.

An IS operative, meanwhile, said it was unlikely that Russia would be drawn into the war against the group. And he said bickering over the Russian presence in Syria would ultimately benefit the IS effort.

“Any group that wants to divide Syria up or battle over it for dividing the booty, this will be in our interest,” he wrote in an exchange of Skype messages. He spoke on condition of anonymity because members of the group are not allowed to speak to journalists.

If Russia joins the coalition, he said: “It makes no difference for the Islamic State to fight 60 or 80 countries. It is the same.”

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Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report. FILE – In this photo released on Sunday, June 28, 2015, by a website of Islamic State militants, an Islamic State militant waves his group’s flag as he and another celebrate in Fallujah, Iraq, west of Baghdad. When world leaders convene for the U.N. General Assembly debate Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, it will be a year since the U.S. president declared the formation of an international coalition to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State group. Despite billions of dollars spent and thousands of airstrikes, the campaign appears to have made little impact. (Militant website via AP, File)

Big Senate vote propels stopgap spending bill

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate is set to pass a spending bill to prevent the government from shutting down this week over the opposition of the most conservative Republicans in the chamber.

Tuesday’s expected vote comes after a 77-19 tally on Monday easily beat a token filibuster threat. The House is then expected to approve the measure — stripped of a tea party-backed measure to take taxpayer funding away from Planned Parenthood as the price for keeping the government open — before Wednesday’s midnight deadline.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is under fire from tea party conservatives who demand that he fight harder against Planned Parenthood even at the risk of a government shutdown, but McConnell is more concerned with protecting his 2016 re-election class.

Last week, Democrats led a filibuster of a Senate stopgap measure that would have “defunded” Planned Parenthood. Eight Republicans did not support that measure, leaving it short of a simple majority, much less the 60 votes required to overcome the filibuster.

The pending measure is “the only viable way forward in the short term,” McConnell said. “It doesn’t represent my first, second, third or 23rd choice when it comes to funding the government, but it will keep the government open through the fall.”

Republicans have targeted Planned Parenthood for years, but the release of secretly recorded videos that raised questions about its handling of fetal tissue provided to scientific researchers has outraged anti-abortion Republicans and put them on the offensive in their efforts against the group. The group says it is doing nothing wrong and isn’t violating a federal law against profiting from such practices.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who is using his rivalry with GOP leaders like McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as a way to define himself among conservative voters who dominate the GOP presidential primary electorate, took to the Senate floor after the vote Monday to attack them.

“You want to understand the volcanic frustration with Washington? It’s that the Republican leadership in both houses will not fight for a single priority that we promised the voters we would fight for when we were campaigning less than a year ago,” Cruz said.

The White House weighed in Monday with a statement endorsing the measure since it would allow “critical government functions to operate without interruption, providing a short-term bridge to give the Congress time to pass a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year.”

The Planned Parenthood fight helped topple Boehner, who announced his resignation last week after informing several conservatives that he would not use the must-pass spending measure to take on the group.

The measure now before the Senate would keep the government’s doors open through Dec. 11, but the battle is sure to be rejoined then — at a potentially greater risk of a shutdown.

Boehner said Sunday the House would take up the Senate bill and also look at a select committee to investigate the Planned Parenthood video. The stopgap measure would require Democratic votes to pass.

“I expect my Democrat colleagues want to keep the government open as much as I do,” Boehner said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

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FILE – In this Sept. 25, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas speak in Washington. The Senate is on track to advance legislation to prevent the government from shutting down after a midnight Wednesday deadline. But a move by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to strip the measure of language to take away federal funding from Planned Parenthood has rankled conservatives such as Cruz and tea partyers in the House. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Business: Global stocks extend sell-off, Tokyo down 4 percent

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TOKYO (AP) — Asian stocks tumbled Tuesday, extending a global market sell-off triggered by grim corporate news, expectations of a Fed rate hike and jitters about China’s economy. European shares fell moderately while futures pointed to a bounce back on Wall Street.

KEEPING SCORE: European markets added to the previous day’s losses. Germany’s DAX fell 0.2 percent to 9,468.57 and Britain’s FTSE 100 edged down 0.6 percent to 5,925.73. U.S. shares were set to drift higher after a sharp sell-off Monday. S&P 500 futures were up 0.3 percent at 1,876.90. Dow futures rose 0.1 percent to 15,931.00.

SOUR COCKTAIL: Analysts say investors have been buffeted by a slew of bad news. Commodity trading company Glencore dived 29 percent in London on Monday as investors increasingly doubt its financial strength in a time of weak commodity prices. The fallout from Volkswagen’s emissions rigging scandal is spreading to other auto brands. Pharmaceutical stocks in the U.S. are limping after a price-gouging incident raised the prospect of greater regulation. Fed officials, meanwhile, continue to signal they will raise U.S. interest rates this year, marking the beginning of the end of ultra-low interest rates that have underpinned stock markets.

THE QUOTE: “Investors are bailing out of resource stocks following further pressure on London-listed commodity house Glencore,” said Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney. “Analysts fretted over its debt pile, and its share price is now down more than 80 percent on its 2015 high. Hyperbole is in overdrive as commentators call it the resources sector Lehman Brothers moment.”

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 dropped 4.1 percent to 16,930.84 and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost 3.8 percent to 4,918.40. Markets in South Korea and Taiwan were closed for holidays. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slid 3.0 percent to 20,556.60. The Shanghai Composite in mainland China shed 2.0 percent to 3,038.14. Singapore and Thailand fell while the Philippines and Indonesia were slightly higher.

ASIAN DATA: Important economic indicators in Asia this week include the Tankan report on Japanese business confidence due Thursday, which will show how much faith companies have in the prospects for economic recovery. Investors who worry China’s economic downturn might deepen were looking ahead to purchasing managers indexes due Thursday for manufacturing and service industries.

ENERGY: Benchmark crude rose 39 cents to $44.82 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It fell $1.27 to close at $44.43 a barrel in New York on Monday. Brent Crude, a benchmark for international oils, was up 46 cents to $48.47.

CURRENCIES: The dollar recovered losses against the yen and rose to 119.97 yen from 119.92 yen on Monday. The euro was little changed at $1.1234 from $1.1233.

TOKYO (AP) — Asian stocks tumbled Tuesday, extending a global market sell-off triggered by grim corporate news, expectations of a Fed rate hike and jitters about China’s economy. European shares fell moderately while futures pointed to a bounce back on Wall Street.

KEEPING SCORE: European markets added to the previous day’s losses. Germany’s DAX fell 0.2 percent to 9,468.57 and Britain’s FTSE 100 edged down 0.6 percent to 5,925.73. U.S. shares were set to drift higher after a sharp sell-off Monday. S&P 500 futures were up 0.3 percent at 1,876.90. Dow futures rose 0.1 percent to 15,931.00.

SOUR COCKTAIL: Analysts say investors have been buffeted by a slew of bad news. Commodity trading company Glencore dived 29 percent in London on Monday as investors increasingly doubt its financial strength in a time of weak commodity prices. The fallout from Volkswagen’s emissions rigging scandal is spreading to other auto brands. Pharmaceutical stocks in the U.S. are limping after a price-gouging incident raised the prospect of greater regulation. Fed officials, meanwhile, continue to signal they will raise U.S. interest rates this year, marking the beginning of the end of ultra-low interest rates that have underpinned stock markets.

THE QUOTE: “Investors are bailing out of resource stocks following further pressure on London-listed commodity house Glencore,” said Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney. “Analysts fretted over its debt pile, and its share price is now down more than 80 percent on its 2015 high. Hyperbole is in overdrive as commentators call it the resources sector Lehman Brothers moment.”

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 dropped 4.1 percent to 16,930.84 and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost 3.8 percent to 4,918.40. Markets in South Korea and Taiwan were closed for holidays. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slid 3.0 percent to 20,556.60. The Shanghai Composite in mainland China shed 2.0 percent to 3,038.14. Singapore and Thailand fell while the Philippines and Indonesia were slightly higher.

ASIAN DATA: Important economic indicators in Asia this week include the Tankan report on Japanese business confidence due Thursday, which will show how much faith companies have in the prospects for economic recovery. Investors who worry China’s economic downturn might deepen were looking ahead to purchasing managers indexes due Thursday for manufacturing and service industries.

ENERGY: Benchmark crude rose 39 cents to $44.82 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It fell $1.27 to close at $44.43 a barrel in New York on Monday. Brent Crude, a benchmark for international oils, was up 46 cents to $48.47.

CURRENCIES: The dollar recovered losses against the yen and rose to 119.97 yen from 119.92 yen on Monday. The euro was little changed at $1.1234 from $1.1233.

 

Analysis: Obama, Putin to confront tensions on Syria, Ukraine

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NEW YORK (AP) — Face-to-face for the first time in nearly a year, President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday will confront rising tensions over Moscow’s military engagement in Syria, as well as the stubborn crisis in Ukraine.

Underscoring their deep differences, the U.S. and Russia couldn’t even agree on the purpose of the meeting, which will occur on the sidelines of an annual United Nations summit. The White House said it would focus on Ukraine and getting Moscow to live up to a fragile peace plan. The Kremlin said Ukraine would be discussed only if time allowed, with Syria and the fight against the Islamic State dominating the discussions.

Despite little sign of a breakthrough on either front, U.S. officials insisted it was still worthwhile for the leaders to meet — something that has happened rarely since Obama vowed to isolate Putin in retaliation for Russia’s provocations in Ukraine.

“The president believed it would be irresponsible to let this occasion in which the two leaders would be in the same city pass without trying to test to see whether progress could be made on these newly intractable crises,” Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Ahead of their early evening meeting, Obama and Putin will each have a chance to make their case to a broader audience of world leaders gathered in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. Obama will address the body Monday morning, with Putin following shortly after.

Obama is expected to emphasize the need for a political resolution to Syria’s civil war that includes the ouster of President Bashar Assad, a Russian ally. Putin, meanwhile, is expected to argue that Assad’s military is the most capable force for fighting the Islamic State — the extremist group with key strongholds in Syria and Iraq — and therefore needs to be strengthened.

“There is no other solution to the Syrian crisis than strengthening the effective government structures and rendering them help in fighting terrorism,” Putin said in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired on the eve of his meeting with Obama.

Ahead of his U.N. visit, Putin deployed more weapons and troops to Syria. The Kremlin has also intensified its diplomatic efforts in recent months, launching a dialogue with Saudi Arabia, which is firmly bent on unseating Assad, and the Syrian opposition, in a renewed attempt to try to negotiate a political compromise.

In another development, Iraq’s military said Sunday it will begin sharing “security and intelligence” information with Syria, Russia and Iran to help combat the Islamic State group. The move could further complicate U.S. efforts to battle the extremists without working with Damascus and its allies.

Russia has shown no indication that it would dump its support for Assad, whom it has shielded from U.N. sanctions and continued to provide with weapons throughout the nation’s more than four-year civil war.

Putin’s calls for strengthening Assad’s military come amid striking troubles for Obama’s plan to train and arm moderate rebels to fight the Islamic State in Syria. A $500 million Pentagon training program has resulted in just a handful of fighters to bolster airstrikes from a U.S.-led coalition.

The U.S. has agreed to talk with Russia about “deconflicting” their military action in Syria. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has spoken to his Russian counterpart about Syria earlier this month, the first military-to-military conversation in more than a year.

It will be hard for Moscow and Washington to reach any common ground on Syria beyond the military talks. Putin clearly has no intention of joining the U.S.-led coalition in Syria, which would mean accepting U.S. orders, and Washington has voiced concern that Russia is using its military presence in Syria to shore up Assad, whom it sees as the cause of the Syrian crisis.

Obama and Putin have long had a strained relationship and their body language in face-to-face meetings is always closely scrutinized for signs of tension. Their last formal meeting was in June 2013, though they’ve had a number of conversations on the sidelines of international summits, including in China last November.

The Ukraine crisis drove U.S.-Russian relations to post-Cold War lows. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and a pro-Russian armed insurgency continues in eastern Ukraine, with Kiev and NATO accusing Moscow of backing and supplying it.

A shaky peace deal for Ukraine was brokered in February by France and Germany, and Russia doesn’t want the United States to become engaged in those talks. Another four-way meeting of leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany is set to take place in Paris this weekend.

U.S. officials say Obama will stress to Putin the importance of local elections in Ukraine scheduled for late October going forward without interference.

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FILE – In this Sept. 27, 2015, file photo, President Barack Obama speaks at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, at the United Nations headquarters. Face-to-face for the first time in nearly a year, Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, Sept. 28, will confront rising tensions over Moscow’s military engagement in Syria, as well as the stubborn crisis in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

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Russia Surprises U.S. With Accord on Battling ISIS

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT)     —-    UNITED NATIONS — For the second time this month, Russia moved to expand its political and military influence in the Syria conflict and left the United States scrambling, this time by reaching an understanding, announced on Sunday, with Iraq, Syria and Iran to share intelligence about the Islamic State.

Like Russia’s earlier move to bolster the government of President Bashar al-Assad by deploying warplanes and tanks to a base near Latakia, Syria, the intelligence-sharing arrangement was sealed without notice to the United States. American officials knew that a group of Russian military officers were in Baghdad, but they were clearly surprised when the Iraqi military’s Joint Operations Command announced the intelligence sharing accord on Sunday.

It was another sign that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was moving ahead with a sharply different tack from that of the Obama administration in battling the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, by assembling a rival coalition that includes Iran and the Syrian government.

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Secretary of State John Kerry and Sergey V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, met Sunday amid tensions between the countries. Credit Dominick Reuter/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The effort, which Mr. Putin is expected to underscore in his speech at the United Nations on Monday, not only puts Moscow in a position to give military support to Mr. Assad, its longtime ally in the Middle East, but could also enable the Kremlin to influence the choice of a successor if Mr. Assad were to eventually leave power.

Russia’s moves are raising difficult questions for the Obama administration, which remains deeply conflicted about American military involvement in the Syria conflict. Ensuring that the Russian military and the United States-led coalition, which is carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State, “deconflict” and avoid running into each other is only part of the problem: The Obama administration and the Kremlin do not appear to agree even on the main reason for the conflict.

American officials, who have long cast Mr. Assad as the primary source of instability in Syria, assert that the Syrian leader’s brutal crackdown provided an opening for jihadist groups and that the crisis cannot be resolved until a political transition is negotiated that requires him to leave power. But Russian officials see the Syrian government as a bulwark against further gains by groups like Islamic State and Nusra Front and sometimes suggest that the defeat of the Islamic State should come before a negotiated solution for the Syrian conflict.

Even as the United States has banked on a diplomatic strategy of trying to enlist Russia’s cooperation in Syria, the Kremlin has continued to jolt the White House with its unilateral military and political moves.

“This is not yet coordinated,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday at the start of a meeting in New York with Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. “Our presidents will be meeting tomorrow. This is the beginning of a genuine effort to see if there is a way to deconflict, but also to find a way forward that will be effective in keeping a united, secular Syria that can be at peace and stable again without foreign troops present, and that’s our hope.”

Robert S. Ford, the former American ambassador to Syria, said that Russian officials have long said they are not wedded to Mr. Assad but have insisted his government is legitimate and rebuffed efforts to impose a successor.

Adding to the United States’ concern, Russian surveillance drones have conducted about half a dozen reconnaissance missions from a recently bolstered base near Latakia. The drones have flown over Latakia, western Idlib, and western Hama, according to a senior United States official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments.

American analysts have not detected any Islamic State fighters in those areas, the official said. That raises the prospect that, despite its stated focus of fighting the Islamic State, Russia may take the opportunity to attack Syrian opposition fighters who are focused on battling Mr. Assad’s government and who are also backed by the United States.

Mr. Putin has been dismissive of the Pentagon program to train and equip the moderate Syria opposition — an effort that has yielded only a small handful of fighters. At the same time, new volunteers have been arriving to replenish the ranks of the Islamic State even more quickly than they are killed.

Through it all, the United States and some of its allies have focused on expanding an airstrike campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But the latest Russian moves in Syria have raised important questions about the American relationship with another crucial ally against the Islamic State: Iraq.

With about 3,500 American advisers, trainers and other military personnel in his country, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq has cast himself as a vital member of the United States-led coalition to combat the Islamic State.

However, the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government, which has long been anxious that ousting Mr. Assad might strengthen the Islamic State, has also quietly enabled the Russian military buildup in Syria. While Bulgaria closed its airspace to Russian transport planes headed to Syria at the request of the United States, Iraq has allowed the Russian flights in its airspace.

“We did not violate any of our commitments toward the international community,” Ibrahim al-Jafari, Iraq’s foreign minister, said when he was asked about the Russian flights on Friday at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Iraqi military statement said that Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq would “participate in collecting information about ISIS terrorism,” an arrangement it said was important because of concerns that thousands of volunteers who have joined the Islamic State have come from Russia.

American officials sought to play down the significance of the agreement but objected to the Syrian government’s participation in the intelligence sharing.

“We do not support the presence of Syrian government officials who are part of a regime that has brutalized its own citizens,” Col. Steven H. Warren, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the American-led coalition, said.

But some experts say that Iraq’s response to the Russians reflects the fractured nature of decision-making in Baghdad, its attempt to navigate a middle ground between the United States and Iran and that the Iraqi government has a divergent reading of how to deal with Syria.

“Power and authority in Iraq have become increasingly diffused, with various players now exercising unilateral power over the use of force,” said Ramzy Mardini, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council.

“Neutrality is the best Washington can hope for in Baghdad,” Mr. Mardini said. “Iraq is still a fragile state whose leaders are exposed to politics. In the discourse of Iraqi politics, forcing Abadi to side with the U.S. against Assad is like realigning him with the Sunni axis against the Shia one.”

Boehner slams some GOP hard liners as ‘false prophets’

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Speaker John Boehner is embarking on his final month in Congress by moving to complete unfinished business and vowing not to leave his successor with a politically gridlocked House.

The Ohio Republican says a spending bill to keep the government running will pass and there will be no shutdown when money runs out at midnight Wednesday. Beyond that, he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday he expects “I might have a little more cooperation from some around town to try to get as much finished as possible.”

“I don’t want to leave my successor a dirty barn,” he said. Among issues still to be settled: a transportation bill, tax breaks and whether to raise the government’s debt limit.

The interview was Boehner’s first after announcing Friday that he would resign from Congress at the end of October. The timing, he said, was clarified after spending the day with Pope Francis and designed to help avert a government shutdown. But even as he looked forward, Boehner harked back to the faction of his party that he ultimately could not control.

Boehner unloaded against conservatives long outraged that even with control of both houses of Congress, Republicans have not succeeded on key agenda items, such as repealing President Barack Obama’s health care law and striking taxpayer funding from Planned Parenthood. He refused to back down from calling one of the tea party-styled leaders, presidential candidate and Sen. Ted Cruz, a “jackass.”

“Absolutely they’re unrealistic,” Boehner said. “The Bible says, ‘Beware of false prophets.’ And there are people out there spreading noise about how much can get done.”

Boehner’s resignation announcement Friday stunned Washington but was long in the making after years of turmoil with the same House conservatives who propelled the GOP into the House majority on a tea party-style, cut-it-or-shut it platform. Without Boehner, the job of leading divided congressional Republicans falls more heavily on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — who declared nearly a year ago that the GOP’s prospects of reclaiming the White House depends substantially on showing the party can govern.

The announcement of Boehner’s resignation rippled through the slate of 2016 presidential candidates competing for support among the GOP’s core Republicans. As Boehner let out the word to House Republicans Friday morning, GOP presidential hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio relayed the news to a conference of conservatives — who erupted in triumphant hoots. Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina were among the GOP candidates who said Boehner’s departure showed it was time for the party to move on.

Fiorina suggested that McConnell’s leadership, too, has been unsatisfactory.

“I hope now that we will move on and have leadership in both the House and the Senate that will produce results,” Fiorina said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

But former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called Boehner, “a great public servant.”

“I think people are going to miss him in the long run, because he’s a person that is focused on solving problems,” Bush said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Boehner’s resignation announcement came as congressional Republicans faced a familiar standoff in their own ranks over whether to insist on their demands in exchange for passage of a federal budget — the same dynamic that led to the partial government shutdown of 2013. For nearly a year, McConnell, now the Senate’s Republican majority leader, has insisted there would be no repeat, even as conservatives dug in.

“We told people to give us the Senate and things would be different. We told them back in 2010, give us the House and things will be different,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-N.C., on “Fox News Sunday.” ”Things are not that different.”

Retorted Boehner on CBS:

“We have got groups here in town, members of the House and Senate here in town, who whip people into a frenzy believing they can accomplish things that they know — they know — are never going to happen.”

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Follow Laurie Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. In a stunning move, Boehner informed fellow Republicans on Friday that he would resign from Congress at the end of October, stepping aside in the face of hardline conservative opposition that threatened an institutional crisis. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

CIA, special ops cooperate to kill extremists in Syria, Iraq

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WASHINGTON (AP) — With no regular American presence in the war theater, the U.S. has struggled to answer basic intelligence questions about the situation in Syria and Iraq, including the Islamic State group’s fighting strength. And the overall U.S.-led bombing campaign has failed to dislodge the group from its self-declared caliphate across both countries.

But one element is seen as a growing intelligence and military success: The combined effort by the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command to find and kill “high value” targets from both al-Qaida and IS.

The drone strikes — separate from the large air campaign run by U.S. Central Command — have significantly diminished the threat from the Khorasan Group, an al-Qaida cell in Syria that had planned attacks on American aviation, officials say. The group’s leader, Muhsin al-Fadhli, and its top bomb-maker, David Drugeon, were killed this summer. Other targeted strikes have taken out senior Islamic State group figures, including its second in command, known as Hajji Mutazz.

In an effort that ramped up over the last year, intelligence analysts and special operators have harnessed an array of satellites, sensors, drones and other technology to find and kill elusive militants across a vast, rugged area of Syria and Iraq, despite the lack of a ground presence and steps taken by U.S. targets to disguise their use of electronic devices.

The strikes won’t defeat the Islamic State, but they are keeping its leadership off balance, a senior defense official involved in planning them said. “They are constantly having to adjust, which means they don’t have a lot of time to sit there and plan large and effective attacks,” the official said.

Like others interviewed for this story, the official was not authorized to discuss intelligence matters publicly and would not be quoted by name.

As in Pakistan and Yemen, missiles fired from unmanned drones have been the weapons of choice to kill high-value targets in Syria and Iraq. But unlike in Pakistan and Yemen, JSOC, not the CIA, has been pulling the trigger in Syria and Iraq, officials say. JSOC’s armed drones operate separately from, but in concert with, a conventional bombing campaign run by U.S. Central Command, which has overall responsibility for the war.

The CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center brought its collection and analytical expertise to the hunt for senior militants in close cooperation with JSOC, officials say, with a new focus on achieving a hybrid model that has long been the Obama administration’s goal. Although the CIA has carried out the vast majority of drone strikes during the Obama administration, the president has said he wants the military to become the chief instrument of targeted lethal force.

In the latest strike on Sept. 10, the U.S. killed Abu Bakr al-Turkmani, an Islamic State administrative officer, near Tal Afar, Iraq, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said. Abu Rahin Aziz, a British national, was killed in a drone strike in July.

The successful strikes against militant leadership targets in Iraq and Syria show how the U.S. has upped its man-hunting capabilities in areas without an American embassy or troop presence, said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. “In Syria it’s taken a long time to build up our intelligence capabilities, but they are improving every day,” he said.

The effort is the product of years of honing techniques and technology. Since 9/11, so-called targeting analysts have become increasingly important within both intelligence agencies and the military. Their job is to sift through every fragment of intelligence using “unique datasets, specialized tools and network analysis,” as a CIA job description puts it, to assemble a targeting package.

The CIA began stepping up efforts to craft targeting packages for militants in Syria in early 2013, even before the Islamic State had seized significant territory. But over the last year, its tracking capacity has improved as the Pentagon has deployed 24-hour overhead coverage allowing the National Security Agency (NSA) to soak up electronic signals while the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) conducts visual surveillance, officials say. The CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency have stepped up efforts to recruit human sources.

When the goal is to kill the target, the analysts try to establish his “pattern of life,” so they will know where and when he will be away from innocents. In recent years, a former CIA counterterrorism targeter said, the agency has developed “a better understanding of what a modern extremist group looks like and how it behaves.”

Detailed “human terrain” mapping of Syrian and Iraqi tribal leadership and village structure also helps, said a military targeting analyst with long experience hunting militants in the Middle East.

Man-hunting in Syria and Iraq relies on both human and electronic intelligence collection. Although the CIA doesn’t routinely insert American officers on the ground, it sends in foreign agents recruited in border countries and cooperates closely with Jordanian, Saudi and Kurdish spy services. There is no shortage of informants who are angry about militants’ brutal tactics, officials say.

But the most important factor in locating senior militants has been electronic eavesdropping by the NSA, coupled with overhead imagery, social media analysis and other work by the NGA, officials say. Both agencies are adept at finding people based on electronic signals emitted by communication devices.

The technology deployed to collect intelligence on Syria and Iraq is part of what Kimberly Arsenault, a Defense Intelligence Agency official, calls “the largest armada of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets in the history of the intelligence community.”

Even in a post-Edward Snowden era in which U.S. electronic spying is widely understood, al-Qaida and Islamic State operatives in Syria can’t avoid using electronics to communicate, officials say.

“They have to be more visible and more accessible because they have a battlefield role,” Schiff said. “They have to interact and communicate in some fashion — they can’t just go hide in a cave somewhere.”

Even if senior figures take steps to avoid detection, all it takes is for a known associate of the target to slip up, officials say.

Some Islamic State targets have been active on social media, making it far easier to find them.

Such was the case with Junaid Hussain, a British hacker and Islamic State militant killed in a U.S. drone strike in August, officials say. Hussein posted pictures of himself on Twitter with an automatic weapon and tweeted praise for the gunmen who attacked a Garland, Texas, “Draw Muhammad”contest.

U.S. man-hunters killed him in a drone strike near the Islamic State’s self-declared capital of Raqqa.

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This April 24, 2015, photo shows the CIA’s Liberty Crossing Intelligence Campus in McLean, Va. With no regular American presence in the war theater, the U.S. has struggled to answer basic intelligence questions about the situation in Syria and Iraq, including the Islamic State group’s fighting strength. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Pope Francis wraps up joyful US visit with big open-air Mass

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Pope Francis urged hundreds of thousands of the faithful gathered Sunday for the biggest event of his U.S. visit to be open to “miracles of love,” closing out his joyful six-day trip with a message of hope for families, consolation for victims of child sexual abuse and a warning to America’s bishops.

The wide Benjamin Franklin Parkway overflowed with the jubilant, who stood in line for hours and endured airport-style security checks to see history’s first pope from the Americas celebrate an open-air Mass in the birthplace of the United States.

The Mass — the last major event on Francis’ itinerary before the 78-year-old pontiff took off on the flight home to Rome — was a brilliant tableau of gold, green, white and purple in the evening sunlight of a mild early-autumn day.

Riding through the streets in his open-sided popemobile, the pontiff waved to cheering, screaming, singing, flag-waving crowds and kissed babies as he made his way to the altar at the steps of the columned Philadelphia Museum of Art.

With a towering golden crucifix behind him, Francis told his listeners that their presence itself was “a kind of miracle in today’s world,” an affirmation of the family and the power of love.

“Would that all of us could be open to miracles of love for the sake of all the families of the world,” he said to the hushed crowd spread out along the tree-lined boulevard.

Crowds a mile away fell silent during the Communion part of the Mass. Some people knelt on the paving stones at City Hall, a few blocks from the altar.

June Bounds, 56, of Rochester, New York, watched with fellow parishioners on a large screen at City Hall, closing her eyes and blinking back tears.

“It’s very overwhelming,” she said. “You feel like you’re one body with everyone here, whether you’re here, whether you’re back home, whether you’re anywhere in the world.”

Of the pope, she said: “He’s brought so much joy and holy spirit into the United States. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Catholic; he’s just trying to unite everybody for a better world.”

Organizers had predicted 1 million people would attend the Mass. There was no immediate estimate of the crowd. But some people got tired of waiting in line and gave up, while others may have been scared away altogether by the heavy security and weeks of dire warnings from the city about the potential disruptions.

Train ridership was lower than expected, downtown hotel rooms went unfilled over the weekend, normally bustling city streets were deserted, some businesses closed early, and many Philadelphians complained that the precautions were oppressive.

Earlier in the day, Francis had a more solemn message for families scarred by the sins of the church itself.

The pope met with five victims of child sexual abuse and told them he was “deeply sorry” for the times they came forward to tell their stories and weren’t believed. He assured them that he believes them and that bishops who covered up for abusers will be made to answer for what they did.

“I pledge to you that we will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead,” Francis said in Spanish. “Clergy and bishops will be held accountable when they abuse or fail to protect children.”

Minutes later, he went into a meeting of bishops from the U.S. and around the world who were in town for a Catholic festival on the family and told them the same thing.

“God weeps” over what was done to the youngsters, he lamented.

The pope has agreed to create a new Vatican tribunal to prosecute bishops who failed to protect their flock, and he has accepted the resignations of three U.S. bishops accused of mishandling abuse cases.

During his first meeting with victims, held at the Vatican in July 2014, Francis similarly vowed to hold bishops accountable, but Sunday marked the first time that he warned the bishops themselves, face-to-face, and in public.

In an apparent effort to reshape the discussion, though, the Vatican said not all the victims at the meeting had been abused by clergy; some were violated by relatives or educators. That underscored the Vatican’s argument that child molestation is not unique to the church.

Victim support groups were unimpressed by the meeting, which took place at a seminary on the edge of Philadelphia and lasted more than a half-hour.

The main victims’ support group, SNAP, dismissed it as an exercise in public relations.

“Is a child anywhere on Earth safer now that a pope, for maybe the seventh or eighth time or ninth time, has briefly chatted with abuse victims? No,” said SNAP’s David Clohessy.

The Rev. Tom Doyle, a former church lawyer who is now an advocate for victims, said that including those who were violated by non-clergy “seriously minimizes” the problem in the church.

As the Mass drew to a close, church officials said the next World Meeting of Families — the Vatican-sponsored festival that brought the pope to Philadelphia — will be held in Dublin in 2018. Ireland is ground zero for the church’s sexual abuse crisis outside of the U.S. The overwhelmingly Catholic country also recently legalized gay marriage.

Francis’ journey took him first to Cuba, then to Washington and New York. Along the way, he drew large and adoring crowds, met with President Barack Obama, visited ground zero and a school in East Harlem, and addressed Congress and the United Nations, calling for urgent action on climate change and poverty.

He also pointed to a new direction of the U.S. church, twice praising the service of America’s nuns, who had been subject to a recently ended Vatican crackdown, and urging America’s bishops to focus more on helping their flock through life’s ups and downs rather than spending all their energy on culture wars.

Also Sunday, Francis visited a Philadelphia jail to give hope of redemption to about 100 inmates, included suspected killers, rapists and mobsters. He greeted the men one by one, telling them to use their time behind bars to get their lives back on track.

The blue-uniformed inmates, some of them heavily tattooed, appeared moved. They clasped Francis’ hands, and two gave him a hug.

During the meeting with the bishops, Francis referred to gay marriage for the first time in his U.S. trip, lamenting the new reality in which Christians must live. But he warned that a church that does nothing but explain its doctrine is “dangerously unbalanced.”

The U.S. bishops have spent considerable time and resources battling gay marriage, calling its legalization by the U.S. Supreme Court three months ago “a tragic error” and “profoundly immoral and unjust.”

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Associated Press writers Michael R. Sisak, Maryclaire Dale and Kathy Matheson contributed to this report. Pope Francis delivers his homily while celebrating Mass Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Iraq defends intelligence sharing with Russia, Syria, Iran

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BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s prime minister says Baghdad needs to share intelligence with other countries, including Russia, Syria and Iran, in order to defeat the Islamic State group.

In a televised speech aired Monday before his departure to attend the U.N. General Assembly, Haider al-Abadi says Iraq welcomed Russia’s “recent interest” in battling the IS group, and responded by establishing an intelligence cell that also includes Iran and Syria.

Iraq’s decision to strengthen ties with Syrian President Bashar Assad and his two main allies complicates U.S. efforts to combat the IS group without strengthening regional foes who are also battling the extremists.

Al-Abadi says he will continue to work closely with the U.S.-led coalition that has been bombing the IS group in Syria and Iraq, saying Iraq needs “all the world’s intelligence efforts.”

Business: Global stocks lower ahead of China, US data

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BEIJING (AP) — Global stocks were mostly lower Monday following Wall Street’s loss last week as investors looked ahead to Chinese and U.S. economic data.

KEEPING SCORE: In early trading, France’s CAC-40 slipped 0.6 percent to 4,454.01 and Germany’s DAX dropped 0.6 percent to 9,633.26. Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 0.4 percent to 6,086.14. On Friday, the CAC 40 rose 3.7 percent and the DAX gained 3 percent, while Britain’s FTSE 100 added 2.5 percent. Wall Street looked set for gains, with futures for the Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor’s 500 up 0.3 percent.

CHINA, US OUTLOOK: Investors who worry China’s economic downturn might deepen were looking ahead to purchasing managers indexes Thursday for manufacturing and service industries. A private measure of U.S. payrolls is due out Wednesday, followed by government employment data Friday. Analysts see no signs the U.S. labor market is weakening after the Commerce Department raised its estimate of economic growth in the April-June quarter. That could help to support sentiment in the U.S. Federal Reserve in favor of an interest rate rise by the end of this year.

THE QUOTE: “Investor attention will turn to the macro this week,” said Michael McCarthy of CMC Markets in a report. “The big news will flow from China and the USA. Concerns about economic growth in China make this Thursday’s official and private PMIs crucial. The manufacturing and non-manufacturing data will drop side by side, offering a snapshot of where China stands right now. On Friday, U.S. non-farm payrolls will speak directly to the potential for an October rate rise.”

ASIA’S DAY: Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index fell 1.3 percent to 17,645.11 and Singapore, Bangkok, Manila and Jakarta also retreated. Sydney’s S&P/ASX 200 rose 1.4 percent to 5,113.50 and the Shanghai Composite Index gained 0.3 percent to 3,100.76. New Zealand also advanced. Markets in Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea were closed for holidays.

CHINA PROFITS: Profits at China’s major industrial companies declined by 8.8 percent in August, government data showed, in a new sign of weakness in the world’s second-largest economy. The National Bureau of Statistics blamed declining prices, shrinking investment income and depreciation in the country’s yuan. Economist Yating Xu at IHS Global Insight said consumer goods manufacturing is resilient but could suffer if economic growth falls further and drags on domestic consumption.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude was down 30 cents to $45.40 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 81 cents on Friday to $45.70. Brent crude, used to price international oils, shed 38 cents to $48.89 in London after rising 41 cents the previous session to $49.27.

CURRENCIES: The dollar declined to 120.34 yen from Friday’s 120.66 yen. The euro dropped to $1.1187 from $1.1195.

 

Reports: John Boehner to resign as House speaker

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(PhatzNewsRoom / AP)    —   WASHINGTON — House Speaker John Boehner will resign from Congress at the end of October, ending a tumultuous five-year tenure at the helm of the House and a 25-year career in Congress.

Boehner made the surprise announcement to stunned GOP colleagues at a closed-door meeting Friday morning — less than 24 hours after he reveled in the first-ever papal speech to a joint session of Congress, something he has dreamed of for 20 years, and as the government is on the verge of another shutdown if Boehner’s fractious caucus in the House can’t reach agreement with the Senate to fund the government beyond Sept. 30.

“Speaker Boehner believes that the first job of any speaker is to protect this institution and, as we saw yesterday with the Holy Father, it is the one thing that unites and inspires us all,” said an aide to the Ohio Republican.

Boehner had planned to retire at the end of last year. But when his top deputy, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., was unseated in a 2014 election, Boehner decided to hold on to the speaker’s gavel for a little longer.

But he never had a firm grip on power. And his announcement Friday came amid a fresh threat to his leadership, with conservatives vowing to oust him if he did not take a hard line in their push to defund Planned Parenthood.

“The speaker believes putting members through prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution,” a spokeswoman for Boehner said Friday. “He is proud of what this majority has accomplished, and his speakership, but for the good of the Republican conference and the institution, he will resign the speakership and his seat in Congress, effective October 30.”

Boehner has served as speaker since the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives following the 2010 midterm elections.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California is considered to be one possible successor to Boehner. Other potential candidates include Reps. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, who are current members of the GOP leadership team, and Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, and Tea Party conservative Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho.

Response to Boehner’s surprise announcement Friday was swift. Some conservatives, who have long had a fractious relationship with the speaker, were celebratory.

Minutes after news broke of Boehner’s plans, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a GOP presidential candidate, announced Boehner’s resignation to the conservative Values Voter Summit in Washington. The group of conservatives burst into cheers.

“I’m not here today to bash anyone, but the time has come to turn the page,” Rubio said. “The time has come to turn the page and allow a new generation of leaders” to lead this country.

Ken Cuccinelli of the Senate Conservatives Fund said Boehner “was hostile towards conservatives and our principles. Rather than fighting President Obama and his liberal policies, Speaker Boehner embraced them and betrayed his party’s own voters. The next Speaker of the House must be willing to defend the Constitution and stand up for the principles of freedom that make our nation great.”

The Madison Project political action committee called Boehner’s departure a “huge win” for the conservative movement and said it was “critical that conservatives hold strong and not let Boehner push through his establishment agenda in his remaining time in office.”

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, one of Boehner’s fiercest critics in the House, declined to say if he would seek the speaker’s job. He called Boehner “a good man who loves his country.”

GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush was among those praising Boehner, saying he “dedicated his life to public service. Bringing the Holy Father to Congress was a fitting cap to a great career.”

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga, called Boehner’s decision the “most selfless act I’ve ever seen in politics” and one that spared the GOP conference a tough vote on his speakership.GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush was among those praising Boehner, saying he “dedicated his life to public service. Bringing the Holy Father to Congress was a fitting cap to a great career.”

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California called the news “seismic for the house” and a “stark indication of the disarray” of House Republicans.

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, positioned to succeed Sen. Harry Reid as Senate Democratic Leader in 2017 after Reid retires, said he hoped that “the Republican majority, which Speaker Boehner played a large role in creating, learns the right lesson from his resignation: to work with Democrats in a constructive way, rather than let a handful of extreme right-wingers dictate his party’s policy” Schumer said.

 

Contributing: Paul Singer, Chrissie Thompson, David Jackson

Opinion: A Francis Effect for a Broken System

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT)    —-     The petty, the partisan, the hateful fell away — most of it. The bickering, the backbiting, the treachery was tamed — for now. No one shouted “You lie!” The powerful were made to look powerless. Words were used to uplift instead of to wound.

When the People’s House beheld the people’s pope on Thursday, it was historic for the deed itself, church meeting state in a secular democracy. But you can hope that it becomes historic for what may follow. You can hope. For a moment, a morning, a day and maybe more, a broken political system felt the soft diplomatic breeze of the Francis Effect.

A pope who took the name of a pauper said money should serve the common good, and he said this in a place where money mostly serves the well-connected.

A son of immigrants reminded a nation of immigrants not to hate those who seek a better life in a new country.

A lover of the land implored the land of the free to protect and restore its great natural bounty, a common home imperiled by human excess.

And John Boehner wept. Yes, the speaker of the House can be brought to tears by a beer ad, but in the spirit of the occasion, let’s take his emotion as evidence that the words of an old man speaking halting English will live for some time.

To see your political views validated, or opposed, by the vicar of Christ is to miss the point of what he said before Congress. The challenge is not to view his remarks as left or right, a yard gained or lost in a ceaseless struggle. For what is political, or even controversial, about asking people to be more openhearted, to see dignity in the forgotten and the passed over?

At its core, the pope’s message was how to live a life and share a planet. Simple. He didn’t scold, and he didn’t lecture. The professional calling for those people in the room, he said, did not have to be ruled by base elements, their principles owned by the highest bidders: “Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good.”

It’s been a looooooooooong time since this Congress did anything for the common good. Republicans, who run the place, may well bring the government to a halt, in just a few days. Their ranks are stuffed with politicians who think, just after the warmest summer on record, that climate change is a hoax, and that immigrants should be harassed and herded away.

But consider what the Francis Effect has done so far. Cuba and the United States, after a half-century freeze, have opened doors to each other, at the nudging of the pope. While the great cathedrals of Europe are still largely empty of worshipers, Francis has prompted many a lapsed Catholic to take a second look. A church that was identified with concealing sexual abuse, a very stratified version of organized crime, and scorning of those living nontraditional lives, is presenting a far different face in the forgiving smile of Pope Francis. Instead of being known for what it’s against, the church is showing what it’s for.

What’s more, Francis has gone well beyond church concerns to reach for something universal. In his framing before Congress, the golden rule sounded fresh, and much needed in that chamber. The words of the most famous of Americans, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., never sounded more powerful than when uttered by a pope speaking a language that is not his own.

He wasn’t talking about financial gain when he said, “I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of dreams.”

So what is political about the task of maintaining a livable planet for future generations? “I am convinced that we can make a difference,” said Francis, on climate change. “Now is the time for courageous action and strategies aimed at implementing a culture of care.”

And what is partisan about appealing to the common story of every American but the Native Americans? “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners.”

It was stirring, also, to hear the head of a church that once killed infidels warning against murder in the name of God, the scourge now of the Middle East. “A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of religion, an ideology or an economic system,” he said. “But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil.”

After he was done, and the weight of his words hung in that chamber of frequent discontent, Francis went to see the homeless in the capital of the most powerful nation on earth. He was following the words of his namesake, Francis of Assisi, to “preach the gospel, and when necessary, use words.”

Pope Francis set to bring his message to world leaders at UN

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NEW YORK (AP) — From the world stage of the United Nations to an inner-city school, Pope Francis is emphasizing themes that have shaped his popular papacy as he packs in encounters with the powerful and the poor in New York City.

His agenda for Friday reflects both his global stature and his of-the-people approach, while taking him from the solemnity of ground zero to the struggles of East Harlem. It includes events as large as a processional drive through Central Park, as personal as meeting schoolchildren and immigrants, and as inspiring for the faithful as Mass for thousands in the Madison Square Garden arena.

Francis, who on Thursday became the first pope to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress, is now set to speak to world leaders gathered for a U.N. General Assembly summit to adopt new global goals to fight poverty and preserve the environment.

The Vatican has said Francis is expected to discuss the need for peace, the plight of refugees and the role of poverty and bad government in driving conflict and migration. But inequality, poverty, the environment and religious persecution may also be among the issues he highlights for the international audience.

Francis has exhorted wealthy countries to “open doors” to migrants seeking better lives, a message that resounded in Thursday’s speech to a rapt Congress. He also touched on the conflicts that have sparked the greatest refugee crisis since World War II and, in some places, have spurred killings of Christians and other religious minorities by Islamic extremists. The pontiff has expressed deep concern about those killings, but he cautioned in his speech to Congress that the world must be thoughtful about how it responds to extremism.

Francis is also scheduled to confer with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday and meet with U.N. officials and staffers.

While his visit marks the fifth time a pope has been to the United Nations, the Vatican’s gold-and-white flag will be raised for the first time just before his arrival. The General Assembly recently agreed to allow the U.N.’s two observer states, the Holy See and Palestine, to fly their flags alongside those of the 193 member states.

The pope will head next to the 9/11 memorial, where two waterfall pools mark the outlines of the World Trade Center’s twin towers before they were felled by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He’s expected to meet relatives of some of the nearly 3,000 victims before heading belowground to the National Sept. 11 Museum for an interfaith service.

Francis’ plans for Friday afternoon reflect the penchant of the “people’s pope” for engaging with the public, on scales large and small.

First comes a visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School, set amid public housing in the heavily Hispanic neighborhood of East Harlem.

Known for ministering to the downtrodden in his native Buenos Aires, Francis will meet schoolchildren and offer a special blessing to refugees and immigrants, including people living in the country illegally.

Then he’ll greet as many as 80,000 onlookers as he drives through Central Park, en route to Mass for 18,000 at Madison Square Garden.

On Thursday evening, thousands cheered as Francis waved from his popemobile along Fifth Avenue en route to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for evening prayers.

His reflections included his strongest expression yet of gratitude and respect for American nuns, whom he thanked for their strength, spirit and courage. Pews full of U.S. priests and sisters erupted in applause on hearing Francis’ words, which came after he halted an overhaul the Vatican had ordered under his predecessor to the largest umbrella group of U.S. sisters. The Vatican office that guards orthodoxy had accused the nuns of straying from church teaching, which they denied.

In Washington earlier Thursday, the pope waded into bitter disputes while speaking to Congress, entreating the nation to share its immense wealth with those less fortunate. Before a House chamber packed with Supreme Court justices, Cabinet officials, lawmakers and Vice President Joe Biden, he urged Congress and the nation to abolish the death penalty, fight global warming and embrace immigrants.

Lawmakers gave rousing ovations despite obvious disagreements over some of his pleas. Though he offered an agenda more to Democrats’ liking, Republicans heard something to applaud in his references to the sanctity of life and family relations, reminders that even the more open Roman Catholic Church over which Francis presides still condemns abortion and gay marriage.

His historic speech appeared determined to remind the United States of its foundations as a country made up of foreigners, addressing the chamber and the American people in personal terms as a son of immigrants to “this great continent.”

“Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated,” he said. “Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves.”

Later, he underscored his message by traveling to a downtown Washington church, where he mingled with needy and homeless people, blessed their noontime meal and walked among them while they ate.

Francis wraps up his U.S. visit this weekend in Philadelphia, where he speaks in front of Independence Hall and celebrates Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to close out a big Catholic families rally.

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Associated Press writers Erica Werner, Donna Cassata, Matthew Daly, Alan Fram, Stephen Ohlemacher, Andrew Taylor, Mary Clare Jalonick, Ben Nuckols and Jessica Gresko in Washington, and Deepti Hajela, William Mathis, Jackie Snow and Rachel Zoll in New York contributed to this report. Pope Francis kisses Maria Teresa Heyer, a 1st grade student from the Brooklyn borough of New York, as the pope is greeted by Heyer and other students who gave him gifts as he arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, Pool)

Obama, Xi to test limits of personal ties on cyber disputes

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping will test the limits of their personal ties Friday as they wade into issues that have exacerbated tensions: China’s cyberspying in the U.S. and Beijing’s territorial disputes in the Asian Pacific.

Discussions on both matters will play out against the backdrop of White House pageantry as Obama hosts Xi for a grand state visit, including a glitzy black-tie dinner. In keeping with the spirit of a state visit — an honor bestowed on close partners — the U.S. was emphasizing areas of agreement with Beijing, including on climate change.

U.S. officials said Obama and Xi would release a joint statement on climate change fleshing out how they plan to achieve targets for cutting carbon emissions set at a bilateral summit in Beijing last year. Xi also planned to announce a blueprint for a nationwide cap-and-trade system beginning in 2017, one that would cover highly-polluting sectors ranging from power generation to papermaking.

China will also offer a “very substantial financial commitment” to help poor nations transition to low-pollution technologies, the U.S. officials said, without releasing the exact figure.

Climate change is one of the few areas where bilateral cooperation has proceeded smoothly in recent months, largely because Beijing has struggled to contain heavy air, water and soil pollution that has destroyed farmland, sent cancer rates soaring and left its cities cloaked in dense smog.

The progress on China has been offset by disputes over cyberespionage and territorial claims that have spooked U.S. partners in the region.

“The assumptions that many people had, that cooperation on transnational threats like climate change would ameliorate problems in geopolitical arenas, were wrong,” said Michael Green, White House Asian Affairs director under President George W. Bush and current senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

U.S. officials have hoped for broader cooperation between Obama and Xi since the pair’s unusually informal 2013 summit at the Sunnylands estate in southern California. Last year, Obama traveled to Beijing, and the two leaders strolled in the sprawling gardens next to the Forbidden City and met over a lengthy private dinner where details of the climate change agreement were finalized.

“I think what’s been distinct about their relationship, starting at Sunnylands, is far and away the most constructive engagements they’ve had have been in their private dinners,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

In recent weeks, however, U.S. officials have been taking a tougher line publicly against China’s hacking, saying it is reaching epidemic levels. Officials have warned of retaliatory sanctions on businesses and individuals.

“This is not just a matter of us being mildly upset, but is something that will put significant strains on a bilateral relationship if not resolved, and that we are prepared to take some countervailing actions,” Obama said this month.

Obama administration officials say China is getting the message. After National Security Adviser Susan Rice sharply warned Beijing about its actions during a visit to lay the groundwork for Xi’s trip, China dispatched its top domestic security official to Washington to try to stave off sanctions ahead of the president’s arrival.

China has denied being behind cyberspying in the U.S. and says that it, too, is a victim of such espionage.

Lu Kong, a spokesman for the Chinese delegation, said progress on high-level cyber dialogue were contingent on “mutual benefit, mutual respect and equality.”

“Without that, I don’t think there will be any cooperation,” Lu said.

Obama and Xi are also expected to discuss China’s disputed territorial claims, which have unnerved some U.S. partners in Asia. The U.S. is particularly concerned about China’s building of artificial islands with military facilities in the South China Sea.

Foreshadowing Obama’s message to Xi on the matter, Rice said this week that, “The United States of America will sail, fly, and operate anywhere that international law permits.”

Obama and Xi were expected to have discussed security issues during a private dinner Thursday night at the Blair House, a guest residence just a short walk from the White House.

The state visit will formally begin Friday morning with an elaborate welcome ceremony on the White House South Lawn, two days after the event there for Pope Francis, though with a much smaller crowd. The leaders will then hold private talks in the Oval Office before taking questions in a joint Rose Garden news conference.

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Associated Press writers Darlene Superville and Christopher Bodeen contributed to this report. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, walk on the North Lawn of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, for a private dinner at the Blair House, across the street from the White House. Xi arrived in Washington late Thursday for a State Visit. Obama has invested more time building personal ties with the Chinese president than with most other world leaders. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

UN summit to approve 15-year blueprint to eradicate poverty

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — World leaders open a summit Friday to formally approve an ambitious and costly 15-year blueprint to eradicate extreme poverty, combat climate change and address more than a dozen other major global issues.

Implementing the new development goals — expected to cost between $3.5 trillion and $5 trillion every year until 2030 — is expected to be the focus of the three-day summit that will include speeches by U.S. President Barack Obama, China’s President Xi Jinping and the leaders of Egypt, India, Iran, Germany, Britain and France.

Kenya’s U.N. Ambassador Macharia Kamau, one of the facilitators of negotiations, insisted in early August when the goals were agreed on by the U.N.’s 193 member states that the trillions needed are “not unattainable” because most money will come from domestic resources raised in countries, complemented by international development assistance.

But Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates said Thursday that “there’s certainly no chance that that amount of money will be available next year,” adding that “we’d be doing very well to have anywhere near that amount of money available by 2030.”

Gates said, however, that if there is new innovation, for instance in nutrition by getting better seeds or a vaccine against tuberculosis, as well as economic growth, “we still think we can meet the goals, even though that specific number will be very, very hard to reach.”

The document — called “Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” — which sets out the 17 broad goals and 169 specific targets, will be adopted after opening speeches at the summit.

Its overarching aims of reducing poverty and inequality and preserving the environment are expected to dovetail with an address to the General Assembly by Pope Francis immediately before the summit opens.

The 17 non-binding goals will succeed the eight Millennium Development Goals adopted by world leaders 15 years ago. Despite significant progress, however, the only one achieved before this year was halving the number of people living in extreme poverty, due primarily to economic growth in China.

Among the other new goals are ensuring “healthy lives,” quality education for all, clean water, sanitation and reliable modern energy — and achieving gender equality, making cities safe, reducing inequality within and among countries, and promoting economic growth.

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Participants hold up signs during a rally at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza at the United Nations in support of the UN Global Poverty Goals, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015 in New York. (AP Photo/Bryan R. Smith)

Hungary close to completing fence on Croatian border

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary announced Friday that it has nearly completed a fence being built on the border with Croatia, as the central European nation takes another step to slam the door on the flow of migrants seeking refuge in other parts of Europe.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said on state radio that Hungary doesn’t want to close the border, but wants “to protect the border of the European Union.” He said the possibility of legal entry would be left open.

The prospect of another fence blocking the flow of migrants seeking refuge in northern Europe will insert more confusion into an already chaotic situation in the Balkans. Some 59,000 asylum-seekers have entered Croatia since Hungary shut its border with Serbia Sept. 15.

“There is no wall, no wire that can stop the people,” Croatia’s Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said while visiting the Opatovac transit center in Croatia.

But closing the Hungarian border with Croatia will raise another obstacle, and at a minimum slow the traffic, and potentially strand more of the people transiting the Balkans while seeking sanctuary from conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

There is some urgency in keeping people moving as the weather begins to turn colder. Rain soaked the border areas Friday, adding misery to a long journey.

Hungary has also installed spools of razor wire near a border crossing with Slovenia, which like Hungary is part of the EU’s Schengen zone of passport-free travel.

Kovacs said they are meant to “block direct detours” by migrants who may attempt to circumvent the fences on the Serbian and Croatian borders to reach Germany and other countries in Western Europe.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban was in Vienna on Friday meeting with Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann and other officials to discuss the migration crisis.

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Razor wire is photographed during the installation of a temporary fence at the border between Hungary and Croatia near Magyarboly, 218 kms south of Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (Janos Marjai/MTI via AP)

China plans to launch national cap-and-trade system

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WASHINGTON (AP) — China is preparing to announce plans to launch a national system to limit greenhouse gases and force industries to purchase pollution credits, Obama administration officials said Thursday.

Beijing plans to put the system known as cap-and-trade into place in 2017 as part of measures aimed to address climate change in cooperation with the U.S. and others.

A joint statement to be released following Friday’s summit between President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping aims to flesh out how their two countries plan to achieve targets for cutting emissions set at a bilateral summit in Beijing last year.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity so they wouldn’t pre-empt China’s official announcement, said it’s hoped the announcement will give impetus to a broader global treaty on climate change at a Paris conference in December.

The announcement will also cover components of the cap-and-trade strategy, including the individual sectors covered under the plan, which range from power production to papermaking, the officials said. Those sectors produce “a substantial percentage of China’s climate pollution,” one official said.

Cap-and-trade sets an annual limit on the amount of pollution that can be produced, then requires firms to obtain permission to pollute by purchasing credits from less polluting industries.

Other parts of China’s announcement will include prioritizing low-carbon and efficient electricity production.

Under last year’s groundbreaking agreement, Obama set a goal to cut U.S. emissions between 26 percent and 28 percent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels.

China, the world’s biggest polluter, relies heavily on coal for power generation. It will set a target for its emissions to peak by about 2030 or earlier, after which they would then start falling. That marks an unprecedented step for Beijing, which has been reluctant to be boxed in on climate by the global community.

The European Union has also said it would cut its emissions 40 percent by 2030, compared with 1990 levels. Taken together, the U.S, China and the EU account for more than half of global emissions.

Friday’s announcement will also commit Beijing and Washington to aligning their views on key negotiating positions at Paris, along with providing greater funding for research and development on low-carbon technologies and financial assistance to help poor countries build low-pollution infrastructure.

China, one of the world’s biggest builders of infrastructure, will also offer a “very substantial financial commitment” to help poor nations transition to low-pollution technologies, the U.S. officials said, without releasing the exact figure.

Three decades of breakneck economic growth have left China’s cities clogged in dense smog and sent cancer rates soaring. That’s prompted it to drop its insistence that developed nations bear most of the responsibility for reducing carbon emissions, producing a rare area of cooperation with Washington.

Lu Kong, the spokesman for Xi’s delegation, declined to discuss the joint statement, but said climate change was “an area where China and the U.S. could work together and we did make some good progress in our joint efforts.

“Maybe this time we could make further progress in demonstrating to the outside world at large that China and the U.S. are committed to further efforts in dealing with climate change in a comprehensive way,” Lu said.

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President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, walk from the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, for a private dinner at the Blair House, across the street from the White House. Xi arrived in Washington late Thursday for a State Visit. Obama has invested more time building personal ties with the Chinese president than with most other world leaders. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

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