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Trump to discuss Taliban talks, withdrawing troops from Afghanistan

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U.S. Marines board a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Cpl. Alejandro Pena | U.S. Marine Corps photo

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday was to meet U.S. top advisers about negotiations with the Taliban and the potential for a political settlement that could prompt a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, a senior administration official said.

On a working vacation at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump was to receive an afternoon briefing from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other advisers to get updated on the talks, which have been handled by Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad.

The U.S. military presence in Afghanistan dates to 2001 when then-President George W. Bush launched an offensive against Al Qaeda, which the Taliban government had given haven to, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Trump has been adamant that he would like to withdraw U.S. forces, possibly ahead of the November 2020 election, although a pullout would raise concerns among some in the national security community that the United States could be sacrificing gains it has made there.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Trump ally, said any deal should allow for the United States to maintain a presence in Afghanistan.

“Any peace agreement which denies the U.S. a robust counter-terrorism capability in Afghanistan is not a peace deal,” he said in a statement. “Instead, it is paving the way for another attack on the American homeland and attacks against American interests around the world.”

The senior administration official said a decision was not necessarily expected from the Bedminster meeting, but Trump “has been pretty clear that he wants to bring the troops home.”

The negotiations with the Taliban have been centered around a potential agreement for a U.S. troop withdrawal and talks on a political settlement between the insurgents and a delegation comprising government officials, opposition leaders and civil society members.

Khalilzad also has pressed in nine rounds of negotiations in Qatar for the Taliban to renounce al Qaida, agree to prevent Afghanistan from being use as a base for extremist attacks and embrace a nationwide ceasefire while the intra-Afghan talks continue.

Both sides raised expectations that an agreement was close. Khalilzad repeatedly has said nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

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US warnings about China are lies, Foreign Minister Wang says

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi makes a speech during the 56th Munich Security Conference at Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich, Germany on February 15, 2020.

Abdulhamid Hosbas | Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

MUNICH — China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Saturday that U.S. criticisms of Beijing were “lies” and blamed Washington for the tumultuous relationship between the world’s two largest economies.

“The root cause of all these problems and issues is that the U.S. does not want to see rapid development and rejuvenation of China, still less would they want to accept the success of a socialist country, but that is not fair, China has the right to develop,” Wang said during a discussion at the Munich Security Conference.

“China’s drive towards modernization is an inevitable trend of history and will not be held back or stopped by any force in the world because it represents the direction of human progress,” he added.

Wang’s comments at the Munich Security Conference followed those of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, both delivering back-to-back speeches accusing China of malign activities.

“China encroaches on the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia. And on that point, China has had a border or maritime dispute with nearly every nation bordering it,” Pompeo told an audience at the security forum. “And let’s talk for a second about the other realm, cybersecurity. Huawei and other Chinese state-backed tech companies are Trojan horses for Chinese intelligence,” he added.

Esper said Beijing was caring out a “nefarious strategy” through telecommunications firm Huawei. “It is essential that we as an international community wake up to the challenges presented by Chinese manipulation of the long-standing international rules-based order,” he warned.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speaks at Munich Security Conference on February 15, 2020.

Munich Security Conference | Kuhlmann

When asked about the speeches made by Pompeo and Esper, Wang dismissed U.S. criticisms and said that Beijing would continue to seek a better relationship with Washington.

“This has become a common scenario, they say basically the same thing everywhere they go about China, and I don’t want to waste our time responding to each and every thing they’ve said. The thing I want to say is that all these accusations against China are lies and not based on facts,” Wang said of Pompeo and Esper’s comments.

“The most important task for China and the U.S. is to sit down together, have a serious dialogue and find a way for two major countries with different social systems to live in harmony and interact in peace. China is ready and we hope the U.S. will work with us in the same direction,” he added.

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Coronavirus live updates: Taiwan confirms first death

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Excited passengers disembark from the MS Westerdam, which is now docked in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The cruise ship arrived in Cambodia on February 14, 2020 after being stranded for two weeks

Paula Bronstein | Getty Images

This is a live blog. Please check back for updates.

All times below are in U.S. Eastern Standard Time.

China’s National Health Commission reported that there were 2,009 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 142 additional deaths as of Feb. 15. The total number of cases in mainland China has reached 68,500, and the total deaths has reached 1,665, according the latest statistics from the commission on Sunday.

6:21 am: Taiwan confirms death of man with no known history of travel to China

Taiwan said a man in his 60s with a history of hepatitis B and diabetes has died of the virus. It’s the first death on the island. The man died Saturday after nearly two weeks in a hospital, but does not have a known history of traveling to China.

Health officials are investigating how he became infected. Taiwan has 20 confirmed cases of the virus.

3:40 am: American from cruise ship tests positive for second time in Malaysia

An 83-year-old American woman who was previously aboard the MS Westerdam cruise ship in Cambodia last week has tested positive for the virus a second time since flying back to Malaysia, officials there said on Sunday. She was one of 2,257 passengers and crew onboard at sea for nearly 14 days, and the first to test positive for the virus.

Officials said that more than 140 of the passengers on the ship traveled through Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur airport, and all but eight traveled on to destinations in the U.S., Europe and Australia.

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Libya arms embargo a ‘joke,’ says UN official

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A fighter loyal to Libya’s U.N.-backed government (GNA) gestures during a clash with forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar at the outskirts of Tripoli, Libya May 21, 2019.

REUTERS | Goran Tomasevic

Violations of an arms embargo in Libya have become a joke and it is imperative that those who breach it are held to account, a senior U.N. official said on Sunday.

“The arms embargo has become a become a joke, we all really need to step up here,” U.N. Deputy Special Representative to Libya Stephanie Williams told a news conference in Munich.

“It’s complicated because there are violations by land, sea and air, but it needs to be monitored and there needs to be accountability.”

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