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US-China trade spat, Iran tensions to dominate weighty G20

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The trade battle between the US and China, and fears that spiralling tensions with Iran could erupt into conflict are poised to dominate a high-stakes G20 summit from Friday.

With hotspots North Korea and Venezuela and a slowing world economy also high on the agenda, the two-day gathering of leaders from the world’s group of 20 leading nations in Osaka, Japan, could be one of the most pivotal in years, analysts say.

Trump last week sparked hopes for a detente in the long-running trade war when he said he would hold “extended” talks with Xi after a “very good telephone conversation”.

For his part, Xi told Trump that “China and the US will both gain by co-operating and lose by fighting”, according to Chinese state media.

The two sides were close to a deal when talks broke down abruptly last month and markets are hoping the leaders’ first face-to-face talks since December, when they met at the last G20 in Argentina, can break the deadlock.

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Trump has hit $200 billion of Chinese imports with levies and has threatened to impose them on an additional $300 billion, which would hurt China’s already slowing economy and spread the gloom worldwide.

Observers said a decisive breakthrough was possible at the talks, which are expected on Saturday, but was not the most likely scenario given the complexity of the issues.

– Chance of a truce –

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“President Trump likes deals, so he might agree to something,” noted Matthew Goodman, an economics expert at the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“More likely is that they will agree to a truce and to restart talks and… try to come to some sort of deal within three months,” added Goodman.

Trump could also threaten to raise tariffs to 40 percent if talks fail, he warned, adding: “It’s not going to solve the immediate problems.”

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AFP / Vincent LEFAI World map of G20 members, showing their GDP and their group’s economic weight on the global stage

Economists and markets are hoping some sort of pact can be agreed as the stuttering global economy can ill afford further trade tensions between its two biggest players.

“This is bad for everyone… it’s a no-win situation,” said Denis Hew, director of the Policy Support Unit for APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation).

Alice Ekman, head of China Research at the French Institute of International Relations, said the world should brace for a lengthy period of frosty relations as Washington and Beijing also scrap over technological domination.

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“The tensions are such that even if we get to a deal… this (the trade war) will leave its mark, and we are now engaged in a long-term rivalry,” she told AFP.

– ‘Mediator in the G20’ –

The other topic likely to dominate the meeting is North Korea’s nuclear programme and here again the meeting between Xi and Trump is likely to be key.

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Trump will travel to South Korea after the G20, with talks between Washington and Pyongyang stalled after February’s failed summit in Hanoi.

But Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have been exchanging personal letters, with Kim vowing to “seriously contemplate” the “excellent content” in the recent missive from Washington, while the US leader hailed a “beautiful letter” from Pyongyang.

The G20 comes days after Xi wrapped up a highly symbolic visit to the isolated state and a recent defector from North Korea said the Chinese leader would likely come bearing an offer to the US side.

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“They want to use President Xi as a mediator in the G20,” Thae Yong Ho told reporters in Tokyo.

Iran will also loom large after Trump called off a planned military strike but then imposed sanctions against its supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and threatened the country with “obliteration” if it seeks war.

Aware that attention is likely to focus on the US-China trade talks, the Japanese hosts are trying to focus on their priority areas, including the fight against ocean plastic and the challenges faced by ageing populations.

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“There has been over a year’s worth of preparation and very dedicated hard work gone into this… So I hope the media also pays attention to the other aspects that will be discussed at the G20,” pleaded Masatsugu Asakawa, Japan’s top finance diplomat.


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James Comey says it is ‘fair’ for Democrats to blast AG Barr at Mueller hearing

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Former FBI Director James Comey said it would be fair game for Democrats to go after Attorney General Bill Barr during Wednesday's televised hearings with former Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Barr was highly criticized for releasing a letter summarizing the Mueller findings, which was found to be inaccurate when the redacted report was released.

"I heard from a source today, familiar with Attorney General Barr's thinking, that is nervous about being attacked tomorrow. What sort of exposure does Attorney general Barr have?" MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace asked.

"I don’t think he will be attacked by the witness or witnesses," Comey replied.

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Two teen suspects sought in Canada murders of US-Australian couple

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Police in Canada on Tuesday named two suspects wanted in connection with three murders, including the killings of an American woman and Australian man whose bodies were found in rural British Columbia.

Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, had been reported missing in British Columbia but are now believed to be on the run.

They were last seen in the north of Saskatchewan province, driving a gray Toyota RAV-4, a spokeswoman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Sergeant Janelle Shoihet, told a press conference.

Both suspects are considered to be dangerous, police said in a warning to the public.

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Republican Marsha Blackburn shuts down applause as 9/11 bill vote unfolds in the Senate

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The funding for 9/11 first responders has officially passed the Senate after public outcry and significant lobbying by firefighters, police and others who worked after the Twin Tower attacks. But it was the emotional testimony from comedian Jon Stewart that drew much-needed publicity to the cause.

But as the bill was coming up for a vote, with the assurance it would pass, the gallery erupted with applause, with some senators joining in. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) shut it down quickly.

"Expression of approval is not permitted in the gallery," Blackburn shouted, while banging her gavel. She proceeded to bang her gavel at least 25 times more and repeated again that any expression of approval was not permitted.

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