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John Kerry has visited the place in the Mekong Delta where he was ambushed during the Vietnam War.

The outgoing secretary of state and former Navy lieutenant met a 70-year-old former member of the Viet Cong, who remembers the 1969 attack.

John Kerry and his former enemy, Vo Ban Tam, warmly shook hands.

The secretary of state, who is in Vietnam as part of his last trip before leaving office, won a medal for bravery for his actions but became an anti-war campaigner after returning home.

John Kerry told Vo Ban Tam he was glad they were both alive.


Vo Ban Tam, now a shrimp farmer, said he knew a man whom John Kerry shot and killed and remembered the plan of attack when they first spotted the US patrol boat.

Image source Flickr

The Viet Cong unit had a rocket launcher and was shooting at the US fighters to try to steer them into its range.

However, John Kerry took a bold move by leaping ashore to pursue his assailants, and shot dead the rocket launcher’s operator.

John Kerry, then aged 26, was credited with saving his crew and was awarded the US military’s Silver Star for bravery.

Vo Ban Tam named the dead fighter as Ba Thanh and said he was 24 years old.

“He was a good soldier,” he told John Kerry, speaking through an interpreter.

John Kerry never knew the name or age of the man he shot.

When he unsuccessfully ran for president in 2004, John Kerry faced critics who claimed he shot a teenager.

One of John Kerry’s aides told the Washington Post that the former military man had been searching Google Maps for the site of the ambush. On January 12, he was said to have woken, jetlagged, in the middle of the night in his Hanoi hotel and called one of his old crew members to rack his brains.

John Kerry said returning to the scene was weird and a little surreal.

The secretary of state is visiting Vietnam as the first stop on his last foreign trip before stepping aside when the Trump administration takes power on January 20.

It is John Kerry’s fourth visit to Vietnam as Washington’s top diplomat.

Working under President Barack Obama, John Kerry is known for taking a specific interest in improving relations between the US and Vietnam.

He was awarded other honors for his service in Vietnam, including three Purple Hearts for being wounded in action, but he became a prominent anti-war activist after returning to the US in 1969.

According to AFP, John Kerry told reporters on January 14: “It impressed on me the notion that you really need to analyze and understand what lies underneath the slogans.”

Israel has postponed a vote to authorize construction of almost 500 new homes in Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem.

The Israeli committee’s decision apparently follows a request from PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.

The move also comes ahead of a speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by Secretary of State John Kerry.

On December 23, the US chose not to veto a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to settlement construction.

The decision to abstain infuriated Benjamin Netanyahu, whose spokesman said on December 27 he had “ironclad information” from Arab sources that the White House had helped draft the language of the resolution and “pushed hard” for its passage.

Image source Wikimedia

However, a US state department spokesman said the accusation was “just not true”, but he hoped the resolution would “serve as a wake-up call” for Israel.

More than 500,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

The UN resolution passed on December 23 stated that the establishment of settlements “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”.

Benjamin Netanyahu responded over the weekend by summoning the ambassadors of the US and the 14 countries on the Security Council who voted in favor of the resolution, recalling Israel’s ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal, cutting aid to Senegal, and canceling a visit by Ukraine’s prime minister.

The Jerusalem Planning and Housing Committee had indicated it would press ahead with a planned vote on authorizing 492 new homes in the settlements of Ramat Shlomo and Ramot.

However, on December 28, planning committee member Hanan Rubin said the vote had been postponed.

Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to lay out his vision for ending the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and address what a senior state department official described as “misleading critiques” of the Obama administration by the Israeli government.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said the resolution “paves the way” for the upcoming conference on Middle East peace in France on January 15.

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John Kerry has become the most senior US official to visit the Hiroshima memorial in Japan, which commemorates the world’s first atomic bombing.

Around 140,000 people were killed in Hiroshima when the US dropped its atomic bomb in 1945.

John Kerry was joined by foreign ministers from the G7 group of nations who are holding talks in the city.

They laid wreaths at the memorial and observed a minute of silence.

The ministers also visited the Bomb Dome, over which the A-bomb exploded, and the nearby Hiroshima museum, which tells the personal stories of people who died.John Kerry Hiroshima

John Kerry wrote in the museum guestbook that it was “a stark, harsh, compelling reminder not only of our obligation to end the threat of nuclear weapons, but to rededicate all our effort to avoid war itself”.

At 08:10 local time on August 6, 1945, the US B-29 bomber the Enola Gay dropped a uranium bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” on Hiroshima.

The bomb exploded 1,800ft above what is now the Hiroshima Peace Dome.

About 70,000 people died immediately. At least 140,000 people had died by the end of the year through injury and the effects of radiation.

The bombing, and a second bomb dropped on Nagasaki three days later, forced Japan to surrender, initiating the end of World War Two.

In 2008, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Hiroshima, but US diplomats have largely avoided official visits.

Many in the US believe the bombing was necessary to end the war, and do not want their leaders to take any action which might be seen as an apology.

John Kerry previously said his time in Hiroshima would “revisit the past and honor those who perished” but stressed that his trip was “about the present and the future”.

It also comes amid efforts to strengthen the relationship between the US and Japan, particularly with growing concern about China’s assertiveness in territorial disputes in Asia, affecting Japan and other US allies.

President Barack Obama is attending a G7 leaders’ summit elsewhere in Japan in May, and there are reports he is considering a stop in Hiroshima.

If it happens, it will be the first time a sitting US president visits Hiroshima.

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World powers gathered in Munich, Germany, have agreed to seek a nationwide “cessation of hostilities” in Syria to begin in a week’s time.

The halt will not apply to the battle against jihadist groups ISIS and al-Nusra Front.

The 17-member International Syria Support Group (ISSG) also agreed to accelerate and expand aid deliveries.

The announcement comes as the Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes, advances in Aleppo province.

The move threatens to encircle tens of thousands of civilians in rebel-held parts of the major city of Aleppo.

The Syrian government has not yet responded, though a key rebel coalition welcomed the announcement.

More than 250,000 people have been killed and 13.5 million displaced in almost five years of fighting in Syria.Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry Munich talks on Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry admitted the ceasefire plan was “ambitious” and said the real test would be whether the various parties honored the commitments.

“What we have here are words on paper, what we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground,” he said.

A task force chaired by the US and Russia will work to implement the truce through consultations with Syria’s rival groups.

Aid deliveries for besieged Syrian communities are due to begin as early as February 12.

Hohn Kerry made the announcement alongside his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura.

Sergei Lavrov said there were “reasons to hope we have done a great job today”. An earlier proposal from Russia envisaged a truce starting on March 1.

At the news conference John Kerry again suggested that Russian strikes were targeting what the West sees as moderate opposition forces, rather than terrorists, as Moscow says.

The ISSG also agreed that peace talks involving the Syrian government and rebels should resume as soon as possible.

Initial talks were suspended just days after they began earlier this month in Geneva, in the wake of the Aleppo offensive.

Thousands of people displaced by the fighting have been stranded at the border with Turkey and aid agencies have warned of a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation.

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The United States and China say a new UN resolution against North Korea is needed, following Pyongyang’s claim that it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb earlier this month.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in Beijing for talks, called North Korea’s nuclear ambitions a “threat to the world” and urged new sanctions.

However, his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi suggested China would not support any sanctions.

China is North Korea’s main ally, but has condemned Pyongyang’s nuclear test.

On January 6, a 5.1 magnitude tremor was detected in North Korea – which said it had successfully conducted an underground hydrogen bomb test.

However, nuclear experts questioned North Korea’s claim, saying the size of the blast was not large enough to have been from an H-bomb.

Speaking on January 27 after talks with Wang Yi, John Kerry said that both sides agreed on the need for a “strong” resolution against North Korea, and said that limiting the trade of goods and services across China’s border with North Korea was one potential measure.

However, Wang Yi said that while China supported the need for a new resolution, it “should not provoke new tension in the situation, still less destabilize the Korean peninsula”.John Kerry in China 2016

“Sanctions are not an end in themselves,” he added.

China is Pyongyang’s biggest trading partner, and major ally – although relations have cooled since Kim Jong-un succeeded his father.

Nonetheless, experts say China is wary of destabilizing North Korea, fearing that millions of North Korean refugees could pour across China’s borders if the regime collapsed.

The two sides also discussed the disputed South China Sea, where China has multiple competing territorial claims with other countries.

China has angered several neighbors by constructing artificial islands on claimed reefs, and building runways and other facilities on them.

John Kerry called on China to stop construction and land reclamation in disputed areas.

However, Beijing said such activity was within its legal rights to protect its territorial sovereignty.

John Kerry, who will also meet China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi and President Xi Jinping, is on an Asia tour that has included Laos and Cambodia.

Secretary of State John Kerry has announced that Israel and Jordan have agreed on moves aimed at reducing tensions surrounding Jerusalem Jerusalem’s Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif holy site.

Issues relating to the complex have been at the center of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in recent weeks.

John Kerry was speaking after talks in Jordan, the formal custodian of what is known to Jews as the Temple Mount and as Haram al-Sharif to Muslims.

He said Israel had renewed a pledge to maintain existing rules there.

In the latest upsurge of violence, at least 8 Israelis have been killed and dozens wounded in knife or gun attacks by Palestinians, following rumors that Israel was planning to change the rules.Jerusalem Temple Mount Haram al-Sharif Holy Site

About 50 Palestinians, including several of the attackers, have been killed in recent weeks.

John Kerry, who is on a tour of the region, met Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan in Amman on October 24.

“All the violence and the incitement to violence must stop. Leaders must lead,” John Kerry told reporters.

The steps he announced include round-the-clock video monitoring and Israel’s agreement to reaffirm Jordan’s historic role as custodian of the religious complex.

Israel says it has not challenged the status quo on the Temple Mount and has no intention of doing so.

John Kerry met Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu on October 22, and said the talks had raised ideas that were worth exploring.

On October 24, John Kerry will travel to Saudi Arabia for talks with regional leaders.

In the latest violence, Israeli police said they shot dead a Palestinian attacker in the northern West Bank on Saturday, October 24.

Israel’s jet fighters have hit two Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military said the targets were Hamas weapon manufacturing facilities, adding that the strikes were in response to two rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel.

A pregnant woman and her young daughter in a nearby house were killed, Palestinian officials said.

In the West Bank, Israeli police say a Palestinian woman set off a car bomb at a checkpoint.

The woman was stopped by police while driving on Sunday morning near the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim.

She “shouted <<Allahu Akbar>> [God is great] and detonated an explosive device”, a police spokeswoman said, adding that the woman was in critical condition and a policeman was slightly wounded.

Initial reports had said the woman had died in the blast.Israel airstrikes Gaza Strip 2015

“The IDF holds Hamas responsible for any act of aggression from the Gaza Strip,” said Israel Defense Forces’ spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner in a statement following the airstrikes on October 11.

As well as the two reported deaths, medical staff in the Zeitun sector, south of Gaza City, say three people are trapped in the rubble of the destroyed house.

There have been weeks of tension over access to a site in East Jerusalem sacred to both Jews and Muslims.

Palestinians fear Israel plans to change arrangements at the al-Aqsa mosque/Temple Mount compound, where Jews are allowed to visit but not allowed to pray – something Israel insists it will continue.

Earlier, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed “deep concern” over the situation.

John Kerry made separate phone calls to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

In his phone calls earlier John Kerry “stressed the importance of upholding the status quo in word and deed” at the site, the state department said.

He offered his support in efforts to restore calm, but both men blamed the other side for the rising violence.

Benjamin Netanyahu “made it clear that he expects the PA [Palestinian Authority] to stop its wild and mendacious incitement, which is causing the current wave of terrorism”, his Twitter account said.

Mahmoud Abbas told John Kerry that Israel should stop settler “provocations”, which he said were carried out under Israeli army protection, his office said.

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The US flag has been raised over the reopened embassy in Cuba after more than 54 years since it was closed.

The reopening of the US embassy in Havana is a symbolic step signaling the warming of ties between both countries.

John Kerry, who presided over the ceremony in Havana, is the first US Secretary of State to visit Cuba in 70 years.

The US flag was presented by the same US marines who brought it down in 1961.

Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington in July.

However, issues remain, with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro blasting the US for not lifting its trade embargo.

In an open letter on August 13, Fidel Castro said the US owed Cuba millions of dollars because of its 53-year-long embargo. The letter makes no mention of today’s reopening of the US embassy.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

John Kerry described the hoisting of the flag as a “historic moment” speaking during the ceremony on August 14.

He also warned that the US would not stop pressing for political change in Cuba.

“The people of Cuba would be best served by a genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders,” John Kerry told a crowd of hundreds gathered outside the embassy building.

In the past, John Kerry conceded, US policies have not led to democracy.

“Cuba’s future is for Cubans to shape,” he added.

Three retired marines who lowered the American flag for the last time on January 4, 1961, handed it over to marines to raise it once again in Havana as the American national anthem played.

Cuban leader Raul Castro and President Barack Obama agreed to restore ties in December 2014.

While trade and travel restrictions have been relaxed, the Republican-led US Congress has not lifted the trade embargo the US imposed on the communist-run island in 1960.

Cuba says the embargo – which it calls a blockade – is hugely damaging to its economy.

It says relations will be fully restored only once it is lifted.

Fidel Castro’s open letter was published in state newspaper Granma to mark his 89th birthday.

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Fidel Castro has published an open letter to Cubans in which he makes no mention of the historic reopening of the US embassy in Havana.

The former Cuban leader instead criticizes American foreign and economic policies since World War Two and accuses the US of owing Cuba millions of dollars.

The letter was published to mark Fidel Castro’s 89th birthday.

The US embassy will be reopened in Havana on August 14, with Secretary of State John Kerry attending.

Fidel Castro said the US owed Cuba money because of the trade embargo the US imposed on the communist-run island in 1960.

Cuba says the embargo – which it calls a blockade – is hugely damaging to its economy.

The letter says relations will only be fully restored once it is lifted.Fidel Castro criticizes US before embassy reopening

Three marines who lowered the American flag for the last time on January 4, 1961, will raise it again during Friday’s ceremony in Havana.

They are now retired and in their late 70s.

“I’m gonna love seeing that flag go back up,” said former marine Jim Tracy, 78, on a State Department video.

Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington last month.

In his birthday letter published in state newspaper Granma, Fidel Castro says Cuba is committed to “good will and peace in our hemisphere” but adds: “We will never stop fighting for the peace and welfare of all human beings, regardless of the color of their skin and which country they come from.”

Fidel Castro led his country from the Cuban Revolution, in 1959, until 2006, when he stood down because of undisclosed health problems.

He passed on power to his younger brother, Raul Castro, who embarked on a number of economic reforms.

After Raul Castro and President Barack Obama announced in December that Cuba and the US had agreed to restore diplomatic relations, it took Fidel Castro more than a month to express lukewarm approval for the historic reconciliation.

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Secretary of State John Kerry flies to Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin during his first visit to the country since the beginning of Ukraine in early 2014.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the visit a “positive step” and said the Russian president was prepared for “extensive” discussions at the meeting in Sochi.

Jonh Kerry will also meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

The West accuses Russia of arming rebels in eastern Ukraine and sending troops there – charges Moscow denies.John Kerry to meet Vladimir Putin in Sochi

More than 6,000 people have been killed since fighting began in April 2014 between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed rebels in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The conflict followed Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said John Kerry’s trip was “part of our ongoing effort to maintain direct lines of communication with senior Russian officials and to ensure US views are clearly conveyed”.

Dmitry Peskov praised John Kerry’s decision to travel to Russia, adding: “We are always open to showing a political will for a broader dialogue.

“Through dialogue, it is possible to look for paths to a certain normalization, to a closer co-ordination in decisions.”

Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said Russia was prepared to discuss international “hot spots” as well as bilateral relations, and that the issue of Western sanctions against Russia would not be raised by the Russian side.

Earlier, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement blaming the US for provoking the Ukraine crisis and attempting to “isolate Russia” while demanding its allies follow suit.

John Kerry’s visit comes two days after German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended a wreath-laying ceremony in Moscow to commemorate the Russians killed during World War Two.

At a joint news conference with Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel said the annexation of Crimea had caused “a serious setback in our relations”.

Angela Merkel and other Western leaders boycotted a military parade in Red Square on May 9.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and Secretary of State John Kerry held closed-door discussions in Panama, in the highest level meeting between the two countries in more than half a century.

Meanwhile, the US state department has reportedly recommended that Cuba be removed from its list of states said to sponsor terrorism.

Such a move could pave the way for the two countries re-opening embassies.

President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro are also due to hold their first formal meeting at the Summit of the Americas in Panama over the coming days.

Few details have emerged from the meeting between John Kerry and Bruno Rodriguez. The last comparable high-level meeting was in 1959, when Fidel Castro met then Vice-President Richard Nixon.Barack Obama Panama summit

Diplomatic ties froze two years later, but last year Barack Obama announced that a “new chapter” in relations would commence.

Meanwhile Senator Ben Cardin, a leading member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, said the US State Department had recommended removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The move was “the result of a months-long technical review” and would be “an important step forward in our efforts to forge a more fruitful relationship with Cuba”, he said.

Cuba is one of four countries still on the US list of countries accused of repeatedly supporting global terrorism; Iran, Sudan and Syria are others.

The communist country was first put on the list in 1982 for offering sanctuary to militant ETA Basque separatists and Colombian Farc rebels.

Removing Cuba from the list could lead to the easing of financial restrictions on Cuba’s access to loans and aid.

If Barack Obama opts to accept the state department’s recommendations, Congress would have 45 days to decide whether to override him.

The president faces fierce critics of his Cuban policy at home, such as from Cuban-American Ted Cruz, who is a Republican presidential candidate.

Correspondents say removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism will throw a stark light on the US’s relations with Venezuela.

The Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro hopes to bring a petition signed by 10 million of his citizens urging Barack Obama to remove an order imposing sanctions against seven Venezuelan officials accused of human rights abuses in an opposition crackdown.

Venezuela has many friends at the summit and other Latin American nations have criticized the order, which calls Caracas a US national security threat.

Barack Obama has tried to reduce tensions with Venezuela ahead of the summit, saying the US did not perceive the country as a threat.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for the first time since he accused Russia of lying about its role in Ukraine’s war.

The talks in Geneva coincide with a UN report on human rights violations and the humanitarian crisis in east Ukraine.

The UN says the conflict has claimed at least 6,000 lives, with hundreds killed in the past few weeks alone.

A fragile ceasefire is holding despite some fighting in recent days.

At his meeting in Geneva, John Kerry is also expected to raise the brutal murder of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov in Moscow on February 27.

Boris Nemtsov, who was shot on a bridge near the Kremlin, had been planning an anti-war rally and was said to be working on a report to expose the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine.

His allies accused the Kremlin of involvement but Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the murder as “vile” and vowed to find the killers.John Kerry to meet Sergei Lavrov in Geneva

John Kerry will press for an investigation that he said should examine not only who pulled the trigger, but who ordered, funded and co-ordinated Boris Nemtsov’s murder.

Separately, John Kerry is also expected to renew negotiations with Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on Tehran’s nuclear program.

There is an end of March deadline to reach agreement on limiting the program, in return for an easing of economic sanctions on Iran.

The talks on Ukraine are expected to be tense after John Kerry last week accused Russian officials of lying to him about Moscow’s support for rebels in eastern Ukraine.

During a visit to London on February 21, John Kerry accused the Kremlin of “craven behavior” in its support for the rebels in east Ukraine, undermining a ceasefire.

Fighting began in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions last April, a month after Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula.

The UN estimates that at least 1.25 million have fled their homes, and believes that the real number of fatalities could be considerably higher than the 6,000 it has given.

In its latest report, released on March 2, it refers to credible accounts of heavy weapons and foreign fighters continuing to flow into eastern Ukraine from Russia.

The Ukrainian government, Western leaders and NATO say there is clear evidence that Russia is helping the rebels with heavy weapons and soldiers.

Independent experts echo that accusation but Moscow denies it, insisting that any Russians serving with the rebels are “volunteers”.

Both sides in the conflict have been pulling back some heavy weaponry from the front line – one of the conditions of the ceasefire agreement signed in the Belarusian capital Minsk last month.

Monitors from the OSCE security group have reported weapons movements on both sides but say it is too early to confirm a full withdrawal. Meanwhile violence continued over the weekend.

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Secretary of State John Kerry has accused of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu of not being correct on Iran’s nuclear program talks.

Benjamin Netanyahu has criticized the US and others for “giving up” on trying to stop Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.

The Israeli PM “may not be correct”, John Kerry said after attending the latest Iran nuclear talks in Geneva.

Benjamin Netanyahu will address Congress next week, after an invitation by Republican leaders criticized by the White House.

John Kerry was reacting to a speech in which Benjamin Netanyahu had said the US and others were “accepting that Iran will gradually, within a few years, develop capabilities to produce material for many nuclear weapons”.

“I respect the White House and the president of the United States but on such a fateful matter, that can determine whether or not we survive, I must do everything to prevent such a great danger for Israel,” he said in a speech in Israel.

Having just concluded the latest round of nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva, John Kerry told senators President Barack Obama had made it clear the policy was not to let Iran get nuclear weapons and Benjamin Netanyahu’s might therefore not be correct.

The invitation for Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before Congress has angered Democrats.

Photo AFP/Getty Images

Photo AFP/Getty Images

A spokesman for the White House warned against reducing US-Israeli relations to a party-political issue.

Earlier, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice had gone further and said Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit was “destructive to the fabric of the relationship”.

Benjamin Netanyahu was invited by House Speaker John Boehner in what is seen as a rebuke to President Barack Obama’s Iran policy.

Israel’s prime minister is expected to discuss Iran, as well as Islamist militant groups, in his address.

The current tensions took root over a decade ago when Iran’s nuclear program first came to light.

In 2005, Iran was referred to the UN Security Council, leading to a series of sanctions and UN resolutions requiring Tehran to stop enriching uranium.

The US and other powers – the so-called P5+1 – are negotiating with Iran on its nuclear program. They want to agree a deal by March this year, but Benjamin Netanyahu is opposed to any agreement which might allow Tehran to retain the future capacity to build a nuclear weapon.

Benjamin Netanyahu has turned down an invitation to meet Senate Democrats privately, saying this “could compound the misperception of partisanship” surrounding his trip.

Several Democratic members of Congress including Vice-President Joe Biden have said they will not attend the speech.

Republican leaders did not consult the Obama administration before inviting Benjamin Netanyahu, which the White House has called a breach of protocol.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on February 25: “The president has said the relationship between the US and Israel can’t just be reduced to a relationship between the Republican party and the Likud party.”

Barack Obama does not plan to meet Benjamin Netanyahu next week. The White House cited the “long-standing practice” of not meeting government leaders close to elections, which Israel will hold in mid-March.

Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting a tough election against the Labor Party’s Yitzhak Herzog, who has focused on the prime minister’s cooler relations with Barack Obama.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have arrived in Ukraine’s capital Kiev to present a new peace initiative.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who is also in Kiev, said the US wanted a diplomatic solution, but would not close its eyes to Russian aggression.

Fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels has killed more than 5,000 people since last April.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of arming rebels in eastern Ukraine and sending regular troops across the border.

Russia denies direct involvement but says some Russian volunteers are fighting alongside the rebels.

Speaking at a joint news conference with John Kerry, Ukrainian PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk said: “We need to get peace. But we will never consider anything that undermines territorial integrity… of Ukraine.”

John Kerry accused Russia of violating Ukraine’s sovereignty, saying that Russia had been acting with “impunity”, crossing the Ukrainian border “at will with weapons [and] personnel”.

“We are choosing a peaceful solution through diplomacy – but you cannot have a one-sided peace,” he said.

John Kerry added that President Barack Obama was still “reviewing all options”, including the possibility of providing “defensive weapons” to Ukraine, due to the dangerous escalation in violence.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

The US is currently only providing “non-lethal” assistance.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said any decision by the US to supply weapons to Ukraine would “inflict colossal damage to Russian-American relations”.

Several senior Western officials have also expressed concern at the prospect of US arms being sent to Ukraine.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier likened the option to “throwing more weapons on the bonfire”, while NATO commander Philip Breedlove said governments must take into account that the move “could trigger a more strident reaction from Russia”.

Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel arrived in Kiev on February 5, in what appeared to be a speedily arranged visit.

They met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who thanked them for their visit at “a very urgent time”.

Francois Hollande had said that he and Angela Merkel would present a new peace proposal based on the “territorial integrity” of Ukraine, which could be “acceptable to all”.

However, he warned that diplomacy “cannot go on indefinitely”.

Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on February 6.

A spokesman for the Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin would discuss “the fastest possible end to the civil war in south-eastern Ukraine”.

Correspondents say it is not clear how the latest attempt will differ from previous, aborted peace efforts – but there is speculation that Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel hope to discourage the US from supplying Ukraine with weapons.

The talks in Kiev come as NATO unveils details of a plan to bolster its military presence in Eastern Europe in response to the Ukraine crisis.

A new rapid reaction “spearhead” force of up to 5,000 troops is expected to be announced, with its lead units able to deploy at two days’ notice.

NATO is also establishing a network of small command centers in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria.

Meanwhile, officials said on February 5 that the European Union is adding 19 people, including five Russians, to its sanctions list over the Ukraine crisis.

Nine “entities” will also be targeted by the sanctions, which were reportedly agreed at an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers last week.

Fighting has intensified in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks amid a rebel offensive.

The fiercest fighting has been near the town of Debaltseve, where rebels are trying to surround Ukrainian troops. The town is a crucial rail hub linking the rebel-held cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Some 1.2 million Ukrainians have fled their homes since last April, when the rebels seized a big swathe of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

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Twelve people have been arrested in the Paris region over last week’s attacks that killed 17, reports say.

They are being questioned about “possible logistical support”, such as weapons or vehicles, that they could have given the gunmen, a judicial source told AFP.

Police conducted raids in five towns in the Paris region, iTele reported.

Last week’s violence began with an attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine.

Twelve people were killed at the Charlie Hebdo offices by two gunmen, and four by another gunman at a kosher supermarket. The following day a policewoman was shot dead while responding to a traffic accident.

All three gunmen were later shot dead by police.

In the latest development, police carried out raids in the towns of Montrouge, Grigny, Chatenay-Malabry, Epinay-sur-Seine and Fleury-Merogis overnight, iTele reported.

On January 16, the Gare de l’Est train station in Paris was evacuated for an hour over a bomb threat. Services resumed at 09:00 AM local time, SNCF said, without giving further details.

Photo Getty Images

Photo Getty Images

Spain has also launched an inquiry after it was revealed that one of the Paris gunmen, Amedy Coulibaly, had visited Madrid days before the attacks.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is in Paris to pay tribute to those killed in the attacks.

He hugged French President Francois Hollande, saying: “We share the pain and the horror of everything that you went through.”

Francois Hollande said: “You’ve been victims yourself of an exceptional terrorist attack on September 11 [2001]. You know what it means for a country.”

“We must find together appropriate responses,” Francois Hollande added.

John Kerry laid wreaths outside HyperCacher supermarket and the Charlie Hebdo offices.

Later on Friday, John Kerry will meet Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo for a remembrance ceremony.

US media had criticized the American government for not sending a high-profile representative to last Sunday’s unity march in Paris, which was attended by more than 40 world leaders. The US ambassador to France did attend the rally.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that John Kerry had “apologized” for missing the unity march, AFP reported.

John Kerry said that he had been unable to attend because he was visiting Bulgaria and India at the time.

Meanwhile, German police say they have arrested two men following raids early on Friday.

One of the men was suspected of leading an extremist group of Turkish and Russian nationals, police added.

The group was suspected of “preparing a serious act of violence against the state in Syria”, police said, but there was “no indication that the group was preparing attacks inside Germany”.

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Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Saudi Arabia to meet key Arab leaders, as he tries to build a coalition against Islamic State (ISIS) militants.

A US official was quoted as saying John Kerry would discuss co-operation in Jeddah to facilitate US air strikes.

Earlier, President Barack Obama said he would not hesitate to take action against ISIS in Syria as well as Iraq.

Barack Obama also announced that 475 US military personnel would be sent to Iraq but said they would not have a combat role.

ISIS group controls large parts of Syria and Iraq after a rapid military advance.

Its fighters have become notorious for their brutality, beheading enemy soldiers and Western journalists on video.

Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Saudi Arabia to meet key Arab leaders, as he tries to build a coalition against ISIS militants

Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Saudi Arabia to meet key Arab leaders, as he tries to build a coalition against ISIS militants (photo Reuters)

The US has launched over 150 air strikes against the group in Iraq and has provided arms to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting against IS.

John Kerry, who arrived in the Red Sea port of Jeddah on September 11, will hold talks with representatives of Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Gulf states as well as Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and NATO member Turkey.

“Many of the countries are already taking action against ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – the previous name for ISIS] ,” a State Department official was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

“But the trip by the secretary [John Kerry] is going to broaden the coalition and bring it into more focus and intensify the lines of effort.”

Among the issues to be discussed would be training for Syrian rebels on Saudi soil and a wider over flight permission from regional states to increase the capacity of US aircraft, reports say.

In a 15-minute speech shown at peak time in the US on September 10, President Barack Obama vowed that America would lead “a broad coalition to roll back” ISIS.

Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Iraq at the start of a Middle East tour to build support for action against Islamic State (ISIS).

John Kerry is due to meet new Iraqi PM Haidar al-Abadi less than 48 hours after a unity government was agreed.

An inclusive government was a condition for greater US and NATO support in the fight against ISIS militants who have taken over large parts of the country.

President Barack Obama is due to outline his plans to combat ISIS later.

John Kerry has started a Middle East tour to build support for action against ISIS

John Kerry has started a Middle East tour to build support for action against ISIS

Barack Obama said on September 9 that he had authority to widen military action against ISIS without the approval of Congress, but said he would still ask lawmakers to endorse the arming of Syrian opposition forces.

ISIS militants have taken over large parts of Syria and Iraq in recent months and have declared a “caliphate”.

In the past month, ISIS militants have beheaded two US journalists in protest against American airstrikes on its forces in Iraq.

John Kerry’s tour is due to continue in Saudi Arabia and other regional capitals, where he is hoping to boost military, political and financial support for the fight against ISIS.

John Kerry is expected to ask Iraq’s Sunni neighbors to show solidarity with Baghdad.

Germany recorded calls of US Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor Hillary Clinton, German media reports say.

According to Der Spiegel magazine, the calls were collected accidentally and the recordings were destroyed immediately.

John Kerry has reportedly spoken to his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, about the claims.

Correspondents say the reports will embarrass Germany after a row about the US spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Germany recorded calls of Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor Hillary Clinton

Germany recorded calls of Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor Hillary Clinton

Der Spiegel said the German intelligence agency had tapped a satellite phone call John Kerry made in 2013.

Reports in German daily newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and public broadcasters NDR and WDR said documents passed to the CIA show German spies had also eavesdropped on Hillary Clinton when she was US Secretary of State.

German government sources told the newspaper and two broadcasters, that they intercepted the call by chance, and she had not been deliberately targeted. They also said it happened just once.

However, media reports said it had not been an isolated case.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Berlin declined to comment on the reports.

If confirmed the revelations could prove difficult for Germany. Relations with the United States have deteriorated amid allegations of American spying on Germany.

The head of the CIA in Germany was expelled last month, after it emerged the agency had tapped Chancellor Merkel’s mobile phone.

Israel and Hamas militant movement have accepted a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

The truce is due to begin at 08:00 local time. Efforts to negotiate a seven-day ceasefire are still ongoing.

Earlier US Secretary of State John Kerry said he was still confident of a longer ceasefire, despite media reports that Israel had rejected one proposal.

More than 800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 38 Israelis have died since the conflict started on July 8.

A spokesman for Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri said there was “national consensus on a humanitarian truce… for 12 hours on Saturday”.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) later confirmed the truce on Twitter, but said it would “continue to locate and neutralize terror tunnels”.

“We will respond if terrorists choose to exploit this time to attack IDF personnel or fire at Israeli civilians,” it said in a statement.

The news came shortly after Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon warned that ground operations in Gaza could soon be broadened “significantly”.

Israel and Hamas have agreed on a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza

Israel and Hamas have agreed on a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza

Moshe Yaalon told soldiers: “You need to be ready for the possibility that very soon we will instruct the military to significantly broaden the ground operation in Gaza.”

Hamas has previously said it would not agree to any long-term truce that did not lead to an end to Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

According to the UN, Israeli air strikes killed a further 68 people in Gaza on Friday, bringing the total number of Palestinian dead to about 870.

There were also clashes during protests in the West Bank which left at least five Palestinians dead.

Palestinians in the West Bank had been taking part in a “Day of Rage” against Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile Israel’s military said its Iron Dome defense system had intercepted several rockets fired across the border by Hamas.

Later it said that two of its soldiers had been killed in Gaza during the night.

Israel launched its military offensive on July 8 with the declared objective of stopping Hamas firing rockets into Israel.

It has since extended its operation to destroy tunnels dug by militants to infiltrate Israel.

Several foreign ministers, including John Kerry, are due to hold a meeting in France on Saturday to seek a diplomatic solution.

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Israel has rejected a Gaza ceasefire proposal put forward by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said ground operations in Gaza could soon be broadened “significantly”.

John Kerry said he still hoped for an initial seven-day truce for next week’s Eid festival but there was “still some terminology… to work through”.

He said he was confident Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was committed to finding a solution.

Israel and the Islamist group Hamas have been fighting for 18 days.

Israel’s Channel 1 TV reported that the cabinet had unanimously rejected the truce proposal “as it stands”.

Israel has rejected a Gaza ceasefire proposal put forward by US Secretary of State John Kerr

Israel has rejected a Gaza ceasefire proposal put forward by US Secretary of State John Kerry (photo AP)

More than 800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 36 Israelis have died since the start of the conflict.

Hamas is yet to respond to the proposed ceasefire but its leader has already said the group will not agree to a deal without an end to Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israeli airstrikes on Gaza continued on Friday. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it had killed a senior member of the militant group Islamic Jihad.

The IDF also said its Iron Dome defense system had intercepted several rockets fired across the border by Hamas.

Israel launched its military offensive on July 8 with the declared objective of stopping Hamas firing rockets into Israel.

It has since extended its operation to destroy tunnels dug by militants to infiltrate Israel.

Rioting has erupted for the second night running at the Qalandia checkpoint in the West Bank, where 10,000 protesters massed on Thursday, clashing with Israeli border police.

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Calls for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas movement are intensifying as more than 800 people have been killed in Gaza in the 18-day conflict.

Secretary of State John Kerry has been in Cairo meeting Egypt’s foreign minister and the UN secretary general.

Five Palestinians were killed in the West Bank, while one Israeli soldier was killed in northern Gaza.

Activists called for a “day of rage” over the deaths of 800 Palestinians in Gaza. Israel has lost 36 people.

Calls for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas movement are intensifying as more than 800 people have been killed in Gaza

Calls for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas movement are intensifying as more than 800 people have been killed in Gaza

Most of the Palestinian deaths have been civilians, while 34 of Israel’s dead have been soldiers. One Thai worker was also killed by rocket fire in Israel.

Israel launched new air strikes on targets in Gaza on Friday, and said it had killed a senior member of militant group Islamic Jihad.

The Israeli military reported new rocket launches by militants inside the Gaza Strip, with several intercepted.

Israel launched its military offensive on 8 July with the declared objective of stopping Hamas firing rockets into Israel, extending its operation since then to destroy tunnels dug by militants to infiltrate its territory.

Hopes rose for at least a limited deal on Friday as it emerged that John Kerry, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and UN chief Ban Ki-moon were planning a news conference for later in the day.

John Kerry is expected to leave the region on Friday, whether or not a deal is agreed.

The plan is thought to include provision for a temporary pause in hostilities that could begin as soon as this weekend.

Israel wants to keep its military in Gaza and continue disabling Hamas tunnels.

Any plan must be approved both by Israel’s security cabinet and senior Hamas leaders, including Qatar-based Khaled Meshaal.

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John Kerry appeared to criticize Israel in candid remarks caught on an open microphone between television interviews Sunday.

The secretary of state was heard talking about Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza to a State Department official identified as Jonathan Finer just before appearing on the Fox News Sunday political talk show.

“I hope they don’t think that’s an invitation to go do more,” John Kerry says.

“That better be the warning to them.”

A frustrated John Kerry then says: “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation, it’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” in apparent frustration over the civilian toll in the Israeli operation.

John Kerry appeared to criticize Israel in candid remarks caught on an open microphone between television interviews

John Kerry appeared to criticize Israel in candid remarks caught on an open microphone between television interviews

The Palestinian death toll topped 500 on Sunday as Israel pressed a ground offensive into the densely packed Gaza Strip after two weeks of aerial attacks.

“We’ve got to get over there,” John Kerry is heard saying on the Sunday recording.

“I think, Jon, we ought to go tonight. I think it’s crazy to be sitting around. Let’s go.”

When confronted over the remarks by Fox host Chris Wallace, John Kerry reiterated Israel’s right to self-defense.

“I think it’s very, very difficult in these situations, obviously very difficult,” he said.

“You have people who’ve come out of tunnels. You have a right to go in and take out those tunnels. We completely support that. And we support Israel’s right to defend itself against rockets that are continuing to come in. Hamas has started this process of rocketing, after Israel was trying to find the people who killed three young – you know, one American kid, three young Israeli citizens. It’s disgraceful,” John Kerry said.

“It’s tough to have this kind of operation. I reacted obviously in a way that … anybody does with respect to young children and civilians.

“But war is tough, and I’ve said that publicly and I’ve said it again. We defend Israel’s right to do what it is doing in order to get at those tunnels,” John Kerry said.

He then urged Hamas to “step up and be reasonable and understand that you accept the cease-fire, you save lives.”

John Kerry traveled to Cairo early Monday for crisis talks on Gaza, following President Barack Obama’s call for an “immediate ceasefire” between Israelis and Palestinians in the conflict.

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US Secretary of State John Kerry played a musician’s guitar following a lunch at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China.

John Kerry played a musician's guitar following a lunch at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing

John Kerry played a musician’s guitar following a lunch at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing (photo tumblr)

John Kerry and Chinese Vice-PM Liu Yandong co-chaired the fifth annual US-China High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange (CPE).

The CPE aims to enhance and strengthen ties between the citizens of the United States and China and has done so over the past four years in the areas of culture, education, science and technology, sports, and women’s issues. This year, the two sides agreed to add a sixth area of people-to-people exchange: health.

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Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani has called for an “extensive audit” of votes.

Ashraf Ghani made the appeal before meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived in Kabul to try to resolve a growing political crisis.

John Kerry is also meeting Ashraf Ghani’s rival Abdullah Abdullah.

Ashraf Ghani came out ahead in preliminary results from the second round, but both candidates allege fraud.

The audit would help ensure the “integrity and the legitimacy that the people of Afghanistan and the world will believe in,” Ashraf Ghani said.

The announcement was welcomed by John Kerry, who arrived in Afghanistan on Friday in a hastily arranged visit.

Ashraf Ghani came out ahead in preliminary results from the second round of Afghanistan’s presidential election

Ashraf Ghani came out ahead in preliminary results from the second round of Afghanistan’s presidential election (photo CNN)

“No one is declaring victory at this time. The results have yet to be finalized and so those questions have to be resolved and I’m very appreciative that Dr. Ghani respects that” he said.

Current President Hamid Karzai, who took power after the US-led overthrow of the Taliban, is stepping down after more than 10 years.

The US has been concerned at reports that Abdullah Abdullah, who preliminary results suggest lost the election, is planning a “parallel government”.

Results announced by Afghanistan’s election officials give Ashraf Ghani 56.44% of votes in the June 14 run-off, with Abdullah Abdullah gaining 43.45%.

The results were markedly different from those achieved in the first round of voting, held in April.

In that round, Abdullah Abdullah fell just short of an outright majority, with 44.9%, with Ashraf Ghani second at 31.5%.

Votes are already being re-checked at more than 7,000 polling stations – nearly a third of the total number.

Correspondents say recounts could significantly alter the final result, due on July 22.

The UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan has warned it will be “premature” for either side to claim victory.

There are also concerns about a further deterioration in the security situation.

Taliban militants have been testing the limits of the Afghan army in recent weeks, with a major offensive in the southern province of Helmand.

The withdrawal of foreign troops by the end of this year will be the litmus test of whether more than a decade of training and investment in building up Afghanistan’s own security forces has paid off, correspondents say.

President Barack Obama has said the US remained committed to Afghanistan provided the incoming president signed a security agreement.

Both Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have said they are committed to signing the deal with the US that would allow a small force to stay on.

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Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Beijing for the annual China-US dialogue.

China’s President Xi Jinping has called for mutual respect between the two nations, saying that a confrontation with the US would be a “disaster”.

Diplomats are expected to discuss China’s currency, North Korea and tensions in the South China Sea.

The US delegation is led by John Kerry, who in his opening remarks said that the US was not seeking to “contain” China.

Xi Jinping said the two countries’ interests were now “more than ever interconnected”, with much to gain from co-operation.

US diplomats at the Beijing talks are expected to discuss China's currency, North Korea and tensions in the South China Sea

US diplomats at the Beijing talks are expected to discuss China’s currency, North Korea and tensions in the South China Sea

“China-US confrontation, to the two countries and the world, would definitely be a disaster,” he said.

“We should mutually respect and treat each other equally, and respect the other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and respect each other’s choice on the path of development.”

John Kerry, meanwhile, said the US did “not seek to contain China” and urged Beijing not to “interpret it as an overall strategy” when the US differed from China on certain issues.

President Barack Obama also said in a statement that the US “welcomes the emergence of a stable, peaceful, and prosperous China”.

“We remain determined to ensure that co-operation defines the overall relationship,” he said.

US leaders have also called on China to do its part in maintaining stability in Asia.

John Kerry said the US welcomed a China that “contributes to the stability and development of the region and chooses to play a responsible role in world affairs”.

The talks come with China locked in bitter disputes with several neighbors in the region, notably Vietnam and the Philippines, over claims in the South China Sea.

In turn, the US has stepped up joint military exercises with the Philippines and its military presence there, a move over which China has raised concerns. One of the latest exercises was conducted in the South China Sea near disputed waters two weeks ago.

Increased anti-Japan rhetoric has also come from China in recent weeks, following a decision by the Japanese cabinet to reinterpret the constitution, giving the Japanese military greater latitude to fight overseas.

Both countries claim a string of islands in the East China Sea and ties are severely strained over this issue.

The US and China have also had disagreements in recent months, particularly over cyber-attacks.

In May, US authorities charged five Chinese military officers with hacking into American businesses. Beijing has vigorously denied the charges, accusing the US of launching cyber-attacks against China.

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