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Macron tells Putin he seeks to avoid war and build trust

French President Emmanuel Macron, the top Western leader to visit Moscow since Russia began massing troops on the border with Ukraine, told Vladimir Putin at the start of talks in the Kremlin on Monday that he aimed to avoid war and build trust.
Macron told the Russian president he was seeking a “useful” response “that of course allows us to avoid war and to build bricks of trust, stability, visibility.”
Putin, for his part, said Russia and France shared “a common concern about what is happening in the security sphere in Europe.”
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“I see how much efforts the current leadership of France and the president personally, is applying in order to solve the crisis related to providing equal security in Europe for a serious historical perspective,” Putin said.
Macron, who is expected to seek re-election in April, has positioned himself as a potential mediator, with French officials voicing skepticism over predictions by Washington, London and other Western capitals that a Russian assault is imminent.
“The geopolitical objective of Russia today is clearly not Ukraine, but to clarify the rules of cohabitation with NATO and the EU,” Macron told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on the eve of his trip to Russia.
On his arrival, Macron told reporters: “I'm reasonably optimistic but I don’t believe in spontaneous miracles.”
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said ahead of the talks: “The situation is too complex to expect decisive breakthroughs in the course of one meeting.”
Russia has deployed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders. It denies planning an invasion, but says it is ready to take unspecified “military-technical measures” if demands are not met, including a promise by NATO never to admit Ukraine and to withdraw some troops from Eastern Europe.
Washington has rejected those demands as non-starters but says it is willing to talk about arms control and confidence-building steps, which Moscow says are beside the point.
“In recent days there has been nothing new on the topic of security guarantees for Russia. Our Western interlocutors prefer not to mention this topic,” Peskov said.
The United States and its allies have ruled out defending Ukraine with military force but say they would respond to any invasion with sanctions, arms shipments and reinforcement of NATO countries nearby.
Last week Biden ordered nearly 3,000 US troops to deploy in Poland and Romania to better protect NATO’s eastern flank. A US general arrived in Poland on Saturday and the bulk of the new forces due there were expected to arrive on Monday.
Germany announced on Monday it would deploy 350 troops to Lithuania to reinforce a NATO battle group there.
Defensive Alliance
In London, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Russian concerns about potential NATO aggression were “fundamentally unfounded as NATO is a defensive alliance at its heart.” He said Britain wanted to work with Moscow to provide it with reassurance on that point.
Russia, however, sees NATO’s addition of 14 new east European members since the Cold War ended three decades ago as an encroachment on its sphere of influence and a threat to its security.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock promised unequivocal support for Ukraine on Monday as she headed to Kyiv for her second trip in three weeks.
Germany said last month it would send 5,000 military helmets to Ukraine – an offer derided by Kyiv’s mayor as “a joke” as Ukraine seeks weapons to defend itself.
Germany has ruled out sending lethal weapons for historical reasons arising from its role in the world wars of the 20th Century, but Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he would raise the issue again with Baerbock.
“Germany has repeatedly and publicly explained this decision. We consider these explanations regarding Ukraine to be unfair. We believe that there is a wider space for Germany to act,” he said.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who took office last year after 16 years of leadership by Angela Merkel, was due to meet Biden at the White House on Monday and will visit Kyiv next week.
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US Senate backs repeal of decades-old Iraq war authorizations

A majority of the US Senate backed legislation on Wednesday to repeal two decades-old authorizations for past wars in Iraq, as Congress pushes to reassert its role over deciding whether to send troops into combat.

The Senate voted 66-30 in favor of legislation to repeal the 1991 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force, or AUMFs, well above the 51-vote majority needed to pass the measure that would formally end the Gulf and Iraq wars.

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To become law, the repeal of the two Authorizations for the Use of Military Force, or AUMFs, must still pass the Republican-led House of Representatives, where its prospects are less certain.

All of the votes against repeal in the Senate were from Republicans and the party's leader in the chamber Mitch McConnell issued a statement opposing it.

Biden has said he will sign the legislation, if it reaches his desk.

Twenty years after the March 2003 US invasion, the vote was a historic step away from a war that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of Americans, complicated policy in the Middle East and bitterly divided US politics.

It was also lawmakers' latest effort to reclaim Congress' authority over whether troops should be sent into combat, which backers of the repeal said had been improperly ceded to the White House as the Senate and House of Representatives passed and then failed to repeal open-ended war authorizations.

Read more: Twenty years later, US Senate may finally end authorization for war on Iraq

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Seven jailed in terrorism probe in Belgium            

Seven people were imprisoned in Belgium Wednesday in two investigations into “possible terrorist attacks,” the federal prosecutor’s office said.

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The seven, five Belgians as well as a Turk and a Bulgarian, were charged with participation in the activities of a terrorist group.

Five of them were also charged with “preparation of a terrorist offence,” the prosecutor said.

Raids were conducted late Monday on homes in the capital Brussels, the port city of Antwerp and the border town of Eupen, the federal prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday.

Eight were arrested in the raids, but one of the suspects arrested in Antwerp has since been released.

These were in relation to two inquiries — one led by federal police in Brussels and the other by an investigating magistrate in Antwerp.

The parallel investigations triggered a raid in Molenbeek, an inner-city Brussels district that has been the focus of some previous terror probes.

More details of the potential targets of these attacks have not yet been released.

The investigations in Antwerp and Brussels had initially focused on “two young adults suspected of violent radicalism,” state broadcaster RTBF reported.

The country’s biggest ever criminal trial of nine suspects accused of taking part in the March 2016 suicide bombings that killed 32 people is underway in Brussels.

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Iran’s embassy in Greece denies anti-Semitic attack plot in country

Iran’s embassy in Greece on Wednesday denied any connection to an alleged plot for anti-Semitic attacks in Athens using Pakistanis of Iranian origin.

“The embassy of the Republic of Iran strongly denies the rumors spread by Zionist sources and their baseless accusations against Iran. It is obvious that their fabricated scenarios are intended to divert the public's attention from their internal crisis,” it said on Twitter.
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Greek police on Tuesday said they had arrested two young Pakistanis of Iranian origin who were planning attacks on areas frequented by Israelis in central Athens.

The source said that the men had targeted a building which houses a Jewish restaurant and a prayer center.

Police spokeswoman Constantia Dimoglidou told AFP the “mastermind” of the cell is “a Pakistani who lives outside Europe.”

A police source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the person lived in Iran.

Israel accused Tehran of being behind the plot and said its national intelligence agency Mossad had helped avert an attack.

“After the investigation of the suspects in Greece, the Mossad helped untangle the intelligence of the network, its operational methods and ties to Iran,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said.

“As part of the investigation, it emerged that the infrastructure in Greece was part of a broad Iranian network, operated from Iran toward many countries,” a statement said.

The announcement came as Greece's under-fire prime minister announced elections would be held on May 21, as popular anger seethes over government failures blamed in last month's train tragedy that killed 57 people.

Greece’s intelligence agency EYP has also faced pressure in past months over a wiretap scandal that erupted last year.
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