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France Takes World Cup With 4-2 Win Over Croatia

France has clinched its second World Cup title with a 4-2 win over Croatia in a dramatic final in Moscow featuring a series of firsts and a pitch invasion orchestrated by Russian protest group Pussy Riot.

 

France led 2-1 at halftime courtesy of the first own-goal and the first video-reviewed penalty in a World Cup final. The own-goal off the top of Mario Mandzukic’s head was the 12th of the tournament. That’s double the previous World Cup record of six.

 

Croatia rallied to equalize on a terrific left-foot strike by Ivan Perisic, but France took the lead right back when Perisic handled the ball in the area. Argentine referee Nestor Pitana initially didn’t call the handball but awarded the spot kick after a video review. Antoine Griezmann converted the penalty to put France back in front.

 

Four pitch invaders disrupted the game in the 52nd minute for about a minute before being dragged away by security and police. Punk rock group Pussy Riot quickly claimed responsibility for the pitch invasion via social media, saying it was a protest aimed at ending illegal arrests of protesters and to allow political competition in Russia.

 

Play resumed and France quickly took a 4-1 lead with goals from Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe in the 59th and 65th minutes before Mario Mandzukic pulled one back for the Croatians in the 69th.

 

Croatia was playing in its first World Cup final. For France, it was a first World Cup crown since winning on home soil in 1998.

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Trump Labels Russia, China and Europe as ‘Foes’

U.S. President Donald Trump is branding Russia, China and the European Union as “foes” of the United States, but specifically is singling out long-time allies in Europe for taking advantage of the United States on trade deals.

“I think we have a lot of foes,” the U.S. leader told CBS News in an interview broadcast Sunday that was taped the day before at his Turnberry golf course in Scotland.

“I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade,” he said. “Now, you wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe. Russia is foe in certain respects. China is a foe economically, certainly they are a foe. But that doesn’t mean they are bad. It doesn’t mean anything. It means that they are competitive.”

“I respect the leaders of those countries,” Trump said, referring to the European Union. “But, in a trade sense, they’ve really taken advantage of us and many of those countries are in NATO and they weren’t paying their bills” to meet the NATO goal of each of the 29 member states of the Western military alliance spending two percent of the size of their national economies on defense.

Trump criticized Germany, as he had last week before a contentious NATO summit in Brussels, for its deal with Russia to build a natural gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea that will send send fuel from Russia to Germany.

“Germany made a pipeline deal with Russia,” Trump said. “Where they’re going to be paying Russia billions and billions of dollars a year for energy, and I say that’s not good, that’s not fair. You’re supposed to be fighting for someone and then that someone gives billions of dollars to the one you’re, you know, guarding against. I think it’s ridiculous, so I let that be known also this time. I’ll tell you what, there’s a lot of anger at the fact that Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars. There’s a lot of anger. I also think it’s a very bad thing for Germany. Because it’s like, what, are they waving a white flag?”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, rebuffed Trump’s criticism last week, saying that she had “experienced myself how a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union” and said she was glad her country today, with communist East Germany and democratic West Germany united since 1990, can set “independent policies” and make “independent decisions.”

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, dismissed Trump’s attack on European countries, saying, “America and the EU are best friends. Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news,” employing one of Trump’s favorite pejoratives for news stories he does not like.

 

The European Union, which last year had a $151 billion trade surplus with the United States, is engaged in a contentious dispute over import tariffs with the United States, imposing higher levies on such iconic U.S. products as bourbon, jeans and motorcycles after Trump boosted U.S. tariffs on aluminum and steel imports from Europe.

 

 

 

 

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Trump Lowers Expectations for Putin Summit; Slams EU

Just hours ahead of his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump has both lowered expectations for the talks and issued a stunning rebuke of what has traditionally been one of Washington’s closest allies.

 

“Well I think we have a lot of foes,” Trump told CBS News when asked who he thinks is the U.S.’ biggest enemy. “I think the European Union is a foe. Now you wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe.”  Trump also said Russia is a foe “in certain respects.”

 

European Council President Donald Tusk quickly responded on Twitter: “America and the EU are best friends. Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news.”

 

Trump’s comments were broadcast as he headed for Helsinki, Finland, where on Monday he will hold his first official summit with Putin. Trump says he will use the meeting to find areas of cooperation with Putin, who is also critical of Western institutions such as NATO and the EU.

 

“Nothing bad’s gonna come out of it, and maybe some good will come out,” Trump said. “But I go in with low expectations. I’m not going with high expectations. I don’t really, I can’t tell you what’s going to happen.”

He also issued a series of tweets as he headed for Helsinki, saying no matter how well he does at the summit he would “return to criticism that it wasn’t good enough.”

Trump and Putin, according to diplomatic sources, are set to meet one-on-one, with only interpreters present, for 30 minutes to an hour, before wider talks involving aides.

 

On Sunday, Trump declined to say what his goals are for the summit. “I’ll let you know after the meeting,” Trump told CBS.

 

When asked whether he would request Putin extradite the Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking Democratic leaders during the 2016 election, Trump replied: “Well I might. I hadn’t thought of that.”

 

The summit comes three days after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers, accusing them of meddling in election to help Trump win the White House.

Russia has no extradition treaty with the U.S. so it is unlikely that the Russia would turn the intelligence officials over to the U.S. to stand trial. Putin has denied trying to influence the vote.

 

Combative approach

 

Trump’s meeting with Putin will be closely watched — not only for possible deals that may emerge, but also for the personal interactions between the leaders of two countries long seen as competitors.

 

During his Europe tour, Trump has been combative with traditional U.S. allies at every stage — beginning at a NATO summit in Brussels, where he chastised European leaders for not spending more on defense.  

 

Ahead of his meeting in Britain, Trump criticized Prime Minister Theresa May’s approach to negotiations about Britain leaving the EU and suggested it could impact a proposed trade deal between London and Washington.  

 

The Trump-Putin meeting is being held in Finland, which is part of the EU but is not a full member of the NATO defense pact.

 

“Finland is one of those countries that both the United States and Russia appreciates,” explained Finnish Defense Forces Lt. Col. Jyri Raitasalo, a professor of war studies at the Finnish National Defense University. “It’s not involved in many of these most intense struggles between Russia and the West.”

 

On Monday, Trump will hold a bilateral meeting with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, who has adopted a pragmatic approach toward Russia and the West.

 

Finland protests

 

Trump arrived in Finland about 9 p.m. local time (1800 UTC) after golfing at his course in Scotland. As in Britain, Trump is being greeted in the Finnish capital with large crowds of protesters.

 

Several thousand protesters gathered Sunday in Helsinki’s iconic Senate Square for a protest that gathered together activists focused on issues including the environment, refugee rights, and anti-war causes.

 

Some of protest signs read: “Dictators not welcome,” “Trump is Satan to the environment,” and “Stop Killing Journalists.”

Ken Bredemeier, Steve Herman contributed to this report.

 

 

 

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Trump Talks Re-Election, His Brexit Chat with Queen

U.S. President Donald Trump said he intends to run for re-election in 2020 because “everybody wants me to” and there are no Democratic candidates who could defeat him, the Mail on Sunday newspaper reported.

Asked by British journalist Piers Morgan in an interview Friday whether he was going to run in 2020, Trump was quoted by the Mail on Sunday as saying: “Well I fully intend to. It seems like everybody wants me to.”

Trump said he did not see any Democrat who could beat him: “I don’t see anybody. I know them all and I don’t see anybody.”

Conversation with the queen

Before leaving Britain for a summit in Finland with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump breached British royal protocol by publicly disclosing the details of a conversation he had with Queen Elizabeth about the complexities of Brexit.

When asked if he discussed Brexit with the monarch when they met for tea at Windsor Castle on Friday, Trump said:

“I did. She said it’s a very — and she’s right — it’s a very complex problem, I think nobody had any idea how complex that was going to be. … Everyone thought it was going to be ‘Oh it’s simple, we join or don’t join, or let’s see what happens.’”

Speaking of the 92-year-old queen, Trump was quoted as saying: “She is an incredible woman, she is so sharp, she is so beautiful, when I say beautiful — inside and out. That is a beautiful woman.”

Asked if Trump felt the queen had liked him, he said: “Well I don’t want to speak for her, but I can tell you I liked her. So usually that helps. But I liked her a lot.

“Just very elegant. And very beautiful. It was really something special,” Trump said of the meeting. “She is so sharp, so wise, so beautiful. Up close, you see she’s so beautiful. She’s a very special person.”

Trump-Putin summit

During an uproarious trip to Europe, Trump has harangued members of the NATO military alliance, scolded Germany for its dependence on Russian energy, and shocked Britain by publicly criticizing Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy.

Trump later apologized to May for the furor over his withering public critique, blaming “fake news” and promising instead a bilateral trade agreement with Britain after it leaves the European Union in March 2019.

Of his upcoming meeting with Putin on Monday, Trump was more guarded.

“I think we could probably get along very well. Somebody said are you friends or enemies? I said well it’s too early to say,” Trump was quoted as saying by the Mail on Sunday.

“Right now I say we’re competitors but for the United States, and frankly the UK and other places, to get along with Russia and China and all of these other places… that’s a good thing, that’s not a bad thing. That’s a really good thing.”

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Lobbying Firm Sought Envoys’ Help to Save Russian Firm

A U.S. lobbying firm sought to recruit the ambassadors of France, Germany and several other countries to demonstrate international support for severing Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s control of Rusal, the aluminum manufacturing giant sanctioned by Washington.

Documents made public by the Justice Department show that Mercury LLC drafted messages for at least six envoys to send to senior U.S. government officials that expressed support for a plan to eliminate Deripaska’s majority stake in the EN+ Group, the holding company that owns nearly 50 percent of Rusal.

The records are the latest installment in a drama full of international intrigue. 

Deripaska’s close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin are under a microscope while unintended targets of the U.S. penalties struggle with the punishment’s impact. Leading the way, in an odd twist, is a conservative member of Britain’s House of Lords, Gregory Barker, who hired Mercury to salvage Rusal and EN+ by casting Deripaska as the heavy.

It’s unclear how many of the ambassadors sent the messages. But Jamaica’s envoy did, underscoring concerns about the future of a Rusal-owned factory on the Caribbean island.

Collateral impact

When the Treasury imposed sanctions on Deripaska a few months ago, EN+ and Rusal were blacklisted, too, because of the cascading nature of the penalties. It fell to Barker, who was installed less than a year ago as chairman of EN+’s board, to persuade the Trump administration to lift the sanctions against both companies. To do that, he will have to assure the U.S. that Deripaska is no longer calling the shots at EN+ or Rusal.

Barker, a former British energy minister, signed a contract with Mercury in early May, a month after the Treasury Department announced the sanctions. Mercury is to be paid $108,500 every four weeks, according to the contract, to support Barker’s efforts to negotiate Deripaska’s exit from the EN+ board and “the reduction of his ownership interest in the company.”

Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and an expert on Russia’s economic policy, said there can be only two possible owners of Rusal: the Russian government or Deripaska. That’s because the aluminum company’s main assets are giant smelters in east Siberia, a reality he said Treasury officials failed to grasp.

“It appears to me that both parties play the game now: Deripaska reduces his public exposure and the Treasury [Department] pretends that it is satisfied, gradually easing the sanctions,” Aslund said.

The letters prepared for the envoys said Deripaska, not the companies, was the “true target” of the U.S. sanctions. He’s already resigned from the EN+ board. The Treasury Department has set a late October deadline for his 70 percent stake in EN+ to be cut back to less than 50 percent. The “path for the United States to provide sanctions relief,” the department said, is through Deripaska’s divestment and relinquishment of control.

Economic damage

The draft messages, along with background material prepared by Mercury, warned that each country would be damaged economically if the sanctions weren’t eased. France and Germany rely on Rusal’s aluminum in their automotive, telecommunications and aerospace industries. And Rusal is a full or part owner of factories that employ hundreds of people in Ireland, Sweden, Australia and Jamaica.

The ambassadors of France and Sweden did not send the messages, according to representatives from each embassy. The embassies of Germany, Ireland and Australia wouldn’t say.

The Treasury Department announced sanctions against Deripaska in early April as part of an array of measures that targeted tycoons close to the Kremlin, cutting Rusal off from international financial institutions. In spelling out the penalties, the department said Deripaska had been accused of illegal wiretaps, extortion, racketeering, money laundering and even death threats against business rivals.

Deripaska also has figured into special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into links between Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia because of Deripaska’s connection to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who once worked as a consultant to the billionaire businessman. Prosecutors recently disclosed that Deripaska provided a Manafort company with $10 million around 2010, a transaction described as a loan on U.S. income tax forms.

Neither Deripaska nor Manafort has been formally accused of taking part in Russian election-meddling; both have denied any involvement.

The push to curb Deripaska’s influence is playing out as Trump readies for a summit with Putin on Monday in Helsinki. Putin may try to call for Washington to relax the sanctions, which were triggered by Russia’s annexation of Crimea, interference in eastern Ukraine’s separatist fighting and meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

No word on replacement

The draft messages say that Barker’s approach is supported by other board members and EN+’s minority shareholders. The Trump administration is urged to extend any “relevant deadlines” to allow the plan to be fully implemented, according to the messages. There’s no indication, however, of who or what EN+’s new majority shareholder would be.

The Treasury Department and the State Department declined to comment on Mercury’s lobbying effort.

The letter dated June 14 that Jamaica’s ambassador, Audrey Marks, sent to Treasury Department officials is nearly identical to the one Mercury prepared. Rusal owns the West Indies Alumina Company and “continued sanctions will impact our economy and jobs, with the attendant impact on workers and their dependents,” Marks wrote.

Lillian Farrell, a spokeswoman for the Irish Embassy, said Ireland is “gravely concerned” about the impact the sanctions will have on the Rusal-owned factory in Limerick. The embassy “is in ongoing contact with the U.S. authorities” about the plant’s future, she said. The embassy has had discussions “with interested third parties,” but the content of those conversations is confidential, Farrell said.

The letter Mercury prepared for Sweden’s ambassador, Karin Olofsdotter, described the Rusal-owned Kubikenborg Aluminum as the country’s largest industrial facility.

Officials from the Swedish Embassy met with Mercury representatives, according to Gunnar Vrang, a spokesman for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Stockholm, but no one in Sweden’s government sent a message. He said Sweden and the U.S. have a shared interest in avoiding “unintended negative consequences of the sanctions in question.”

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Expectations Are Low for Trump-Putin Summit 

A summit between the leaders of the United States and Russia, scheduled Monday for this Baltic port city, appears to have no firm goals. But it is expected that U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will discuss a wide range of issues, from nuclear arms reduction to the war in Syria, in which Washington and Moscow back opposing forces.

“That would be a tremendous achievement if we could do something on nuclear proliferation,” Trump told reporters alongside British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday.

Ahead of the encounter with Putin, the U.S. president is spending two days at his private club in Turnberry, Scotland:

Looming over the summit is Friday’s indictment of 12 Russians charged with hacking into Democrats’ computers ahead of the 2016 presidential election won by Trump.

The indictment alleges that members of the Russian military agency GRU stole data from the computer networks of Democratic Party organizations and the Hillary Clinton campaign.

“The goal of the conspirators was to have an impact on the election,” U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told reporters on Friday.

Before the indictment was announced, Trump vowed to raise the issue of Russian meddling in U.S. elections with Putin. 

“I will absolutely firmly ask the question,” the president said on Friday in England.

A day after the indictment was returned, Trump, on Twitter, blamed the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, for not taking action:

Trump linked the federal government investigation of Russian interference to the “deep state,” a reference to an unproven conspiracy of a clandestine network among government bureaucrats and intelligence agencies.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has now indicted or secured guilty pleas from 32 people, including four former Trump advisers, and three Russian companies. Trump terms the investigation a “rigged witch hunt.”

A number of top Democrats implored the president to call off the summit with Putin because of the latest indictments. White House officials with the president in Scotland said there was no chance of a cancellation.

While host Finland is a partner in the West’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization, it is not a full-fledged member of the defense pact. 

Independent from neighboring Russia for the past century, Finland, despite being a member of the European Union, maintains a pragmatic relationship with its larger neighbor while expanding its ties with the West, making it a fitting venue for a summit between Trump and Putin.

“Finland is one of those countries that both the United States and Russia appreciates,” explained Finnish Defense Forces Lieutenant Colonel Jyri Raitasalo, a professor of war studies at the Finnish National Defense University. “It’s not involved in many of these most intense struggles between Russia and the West.”

Finland shares a 1,300-kilometer border with Russia. It, along with NATO’s new member states on the eastern flank, is increasingly worried about Trump’s critical comments about the alliance and will be nervously watching the summit between Trump and Putin, according to Raitasalo.

The two leaders, according to diplomatic sources, are set to meet one on one, each with his interpreter present, for 30 minutes to an hour. Wider talks involving aides will then follow.

NATO members “are really worried, understandably so,” Raitasalo told VOA, adding that the Helsinki talks “could open up new negotiations on a lower level that could actually achieve something. But I think it could take time. In most cases, a couple of hours between heads of states that haven’t seen each other for a time and discussed things properly, you can’t achieve much in several hours. But it could be a good start.”

According to former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, “Putin wants a lovefest.”

In a tweet, McFaul said, “To achieve victory, all Putin needs is for Trump to say nice things about him and signal that he wants to move on and forget about Russia’s past belligerent actions over the last three years.”

VOA correspondent Bill Gallo contributed to this report.

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Machine Transforms Household Trash into Fuel

British inventor Nik Spencer believes household garbage is a valuable and underrated resource. That’s because trash happens to be the perfect fuel for his latest invention: the Home Energy Resources Unit, or HERU. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more.

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12 Russians Accused of Hacking Democrats in 2016 Campaign

The investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election took another serious turn Friday when the Justice Department announced the indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers for conspiring to interfere in the elections. The charges come just days before President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and on the same day that Trump once again dismissed the Russia probe as a “witch hunt.” VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.

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UK Says Bottle Source of Pair’s Novichok Poisoning

British detectives investigating the poisoning of two people with a military grade nerve agent said Friday that a small bottle found in the home of one of the victims tested positive for Novichok, a lethal substance produced in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Dawn Sturgess, 44, and Charlie Rowley, 45, were sickened on June 30 in a southwestern England town not far from Salisbury, where British authorities say a Russian ex-spy and his daughter were poisoned with Novichok in March. 

Sturgess died in a hospital on Sunday. Rowley was in critical condition for more than a week, but has regained consciousness.

The Metropolitan Police said the bottle was found during searches of Rowley’s house Wednesday and scientists confirmed the substance in the bottle was Novichok. Police have interviewed Rowley since he became conscious. 

Police are still looking into where the bottle came from and how it got into Rowley’s house. They said further tests would be done to try to establish if the nerve agent was from the same batch that was used to poison Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. 

More than 100 police officers had been searching for the source of Rowley and Sturgess’ exposure in the town of Amesbury, where they lived, and Salisbury, where the Skripals were poisoned.

The Skripals survived and were released from the Salisbury hospital before Rowley and Sturgess were poisoned and taken there. British authorities took the father and daughter to a secret protected location.

British police said earlier they suspected the new victims had handled a container contaminated with Novichok and had no reason to think Rowley and Sturgess were targeted deliberately. 

Assistant Police Commissioner Neil Basu, Britain’s top counterterrorism officer, told local residents this week that Novichok could remain active for 50 years if it kept in a sealed container. He said he could not guarantee there were no more traces of the lethal poison in the area.

Basu said Friday that cordons would remain in place in some locations to protect the public despite the apparent breakthrough in the case. He would not provide more information about the bottle found in Rowley’s home. 

“This is clearly a significant and positive development. However, we cannot guarantee that there isn’t any more of the substance left,” Basu said. The continued blocking off of areas would “allow thorough searches to continue as a precautionary measure for public safety and to assist the investigation team.”

Britain’s Foreign Office said Friday that the U.K. has asked the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to collect samples for analysis at its labs. The organization has the power to assign blame for chemical weapons use.

The Novichok saga began in March when the Skripals mysteriously fell ill on a park bench in Salisbury. They were found to have been poisoned with Novichok. 

Prime Minister Theresa May blamed the Russian government for the attack, which the Kremlin has vehemently denied. The case led the United States and other countries to expel a large number of Russian diplomats.

Public health officials said the risk of exposure to the public is low, but advised people not to pick up any strange items.

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Top Official Says Tehran Has no Intention of Leaving Syria

A senior envoy to Iran’s leader says Tehran has no intention of leaving Syria despite U.S. and Israeli pressure.

 

The statement from Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, follows his meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

 

It comes days before Monday’s summit in Helsinki between Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump, where the issue of the Iranian presence in Syria is set to top the agenda.

 

Both the U.S. and Israel want Iran to pull out of Syria. But Russia has warned it would be unrealistic to expect Iran to fully withdraw from the country.

 

A possible deal could see Syrian troops replacing Iranian forces and its proxy Hezbollah militia in the areas near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.