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Turkey leader calls on US to reverse decision to arm Kurds

May 10, 2017

BEIRUT (AP) — Turkey slammed the Trump administration’s decision to supply Syrian Kurdish fighters with weapons against the Islamic State group and demanded Wednesday that it be reversed, heightening tensions between the NATO allies days before the Turkish leader heads to Washington for a meeting with President Donald Trump.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the fight against terrorism “should not be led with another terror organization” — a reference to the Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the YPG, which Turkey considers an extension of the decades-long Kurdish insurgency raging in its southeast. “We want to know that our allies will side with us and not with terror organizations,” he said.

The dispute could ignite more fighting between the two key U.S. allies in the battle against IS as Syrian Kurdish forces gear up for a major operation to drive the militants from their de facto capital, Raqqa.

Turkey, which has sent troops to northern Syrian in an effort to curtail Kurdish expansion along its borders, has for months tried to lobby Washington to cut off ties with the Kurds and work instead with Turkish-backed opposition fighters in the fight for Raqqa.

But the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, of SDF, which has driven IS from much of northern Syria over the past two years with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes, are among the most effective ground forces battling the extremists. In announcing the decision on Tuesday to arm the Kurds, the Pentagon’s chief spokeswoman, Dana W. White, called the militia “the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.”

On Wednesday, the SDF said it captured the country’s largest dam from the Islamic State group. The fighters, which are Kurdish-led but also include some Arab fighters, said they expelled the extremists from the Tabqa Dam and a nearby town, also called Tabqa.

It was the latest IS stronghold to fall to the Kurdish-led fighters as they advance toward Raqqa — the seat of the militants’ so-called caliphate along the Euphrates River. The fall of Tabqa leaves no other major urban settlements on the road to Raqqa, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) away.

Ilham Ahmed, a top official in the Syrian Democratic Forces’ political office, hailed the U.S. decision to provide heavier arms, saying it carries “political meaning” and would “legitimize” the Kurdish-led force.

Ankara says the Kurdish militia, which forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces, is an extension of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, which has been waging a decades-old insurgency in Turkey and is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S. and other Western countries.

Erdogan said he would take up the issue during a planned meeting with Trump on Tuesday. “I hope that they will turn away from this wrong,” he said. Earlier, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also denounced the U.S. move, saying “every weapon that reaches the (Kurds’) hands is a threat to Turkey.”

The spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against IS, Col. John Dorrian, told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday that the weapons would be delivered to the Kurds soon. The weapons will not be reclaimed by the U.S. after specific missions are completed, he added, speaking by teleconference from Baghdad, but the U.S. will “carefully monitor” where and how they are used.

“Every single one” of the weapons will be accounted for, and the U.S. will “assure they are pointed at ISIS,” Dorrian said, using an alternate acronym for IS. The Trump administration has not specified the kinds of arms to be provided, but U.S. officials have indicated that 120mm mortars, machine guns, ammunition and light armored vehicles were possibilities. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the matter, said artillery or surface-to-air missiles would not be provided.

Speaking in Lithuania, where he was touring a NATO training site on Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters that the U.S. has had very open discussions with Turkey over its concerns.

“We will work together. We’ll work out any of the concerns. I’m not concerned at all about the NATO alliance and the relations between our nations,” he said. “It’s not always tidy, but we work out the issues,” he added.

The SDF’s rapid advance against IS last year prompted Turkey to send ground forces across the border for the first time in the more than 6-year-old Syrian civil war to help allied Syrian forces battle IS and halt the Kurds’ progress.

Since then, Turkey is believed to have positioned more than 5,000 troops in northern Syria, and has escalated its airstrikes and cross-border artillery attacks against Kurdish forces. A Turkish air raid in late April killed 20 Syrian Kurdish fighters and media officials, prompting the U.S. to deploy armored vehicles along the border in a show of support for the group.

Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb in Beirut, Lolita C. Baldor in Vilnius, Lithuania, and Bob Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

Tensions rise between Turkey, US along Syrian border

April 29, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — Tensions rose Saturday along the Turkish-Syrian border as both Turkey and the U.S. moved armored vehicles to the region and Turkey’s leader once again demanded that the United States stop supporting the Syrian Kurdish militants there.

The relocation of Turkish troops to an area near the border with Syria comes a day after U.S. troops were seen patrolling the tense border in Syria. Those patrols followed a Turkish airstrike against bases of Syrian Kurdish militia, Washington’s main ally in combating Islamic State militants in Syria.

More U.S. troops were seen Saturday in armored vehicles in Syria in Kurdish areas. Kurdish officials describe U.S. troop movement as “buffer” between them and Turkey. But Turkey views Syria’s Kurdish People’s Protection Units, known as YPG, as a terrorist organization and an extension of the Kurdish militants who have been waging a three-decade-long insurgency against Turkey.

“The YPG, and you know who’s supporting them, is attacking us with mortars. But we will make those places their grave, there is no stopping,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. Footage shot Friday night showed a long line of Turkish trucks carrying military vehicles driving to the border area. The private Ihlas news agency IHA reported the convoy was heading to southeastern Sanliurfa province from Kilis in the west. The base is 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Syria’s Tal Abyad, a town controlled by the Kurdish militia.

The agency said the relocation comes after Turkish officials announced the completion of a phase of Turkey’s cross-border operation of Euphrates Shield in Syria, adding that the force may be used against Syrian Kurdish militants “if needed.”

Tensions in the border area rose this week when Turkey conducted airstrikes against bases for YPG group in Syria and Iraq on Tuesday. The Turkish military said it killed at least 90 militants and wounded scores. The Kurdish group in Syria said 20 of its fighters and media activists were killed in the strike, which was followed by cross-border clashes.

Erdogan hinted his country is also ready to repeat its attacks in Sinjar, Iraq, to prevent it from turning into a base for the Kurdish militia. Kurdish officials said the U.S. patrols are monitoring the Turkish-Syrian border to prevent an increase in tensions with Turkey, a NATO member and U.S. ally.

On Saturday, more U.S. troops in armored vehicles arrived in Kurdish areas, passing through Qamishli town, close to the border with Turkey. The town is mostly controlled by Kurdish forces, but Syrian government troops hold pockets of territory there, including the airport.

The convoy was followed by another of YPG militia. Some footage posted online showed Kurdish residents cheering American-flagged vehicles as they drove by. U.S. officials say the troop movement is part of its operations with the Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

Ankara sent its troops into Syria last August in a military operation triggered in large part by the Kurdish group’s expansion along its borders. The issue has been a source of tension between Ankara and Washington that threatens to hamper the fight against IS. Instead of working with the Syrian Kurds, Turkey is pressing the U.S. to let its army join the campaign for Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of IS.

Erdogan is due in Washington on May 16 for his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. Claiming that his country is leading the most effective campaign against IS, Erdogan said: “Let us, huge America, all these coalition powers and Turkey, let us join hands and turn Raqqa to Daesh’s grave,” using the Arabic acronym for IS.

The YPG forms the backbone of the U.S-backed Syria Democratic Forces. Redur Khalil, the spokesman for the YPG in Syria, said Turkey is reinforcing its border posts opposite Tal Abyad as well as other border posts.

“We hope that this military mobilization is not meant to provoke our forces or for another purpose linked to entering Syrian territories. We don’t want any military confrontation between us, since our priority is to fight Daesh in Raqqa and Tabqa,” Khalil told The Associated Press in text messages.

Khalil said his forces were not building up in the area.

El Deeb contributed from Beirut.

Turkey demands US stop supporting Syrian Kurdish militants

April 29, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s leader on Saturday urged the United States to stop supporting Syrian Kurdish militants as local media reported the Turkish military has moved armored vehicles and personnel carriers to a base near the Syrian border.

The relocation comes a day after U.S. troops were seen patrolling the tense border in Syria. The Syrian Kurdish militia is Washington’s main ally in combating Islamic State militants in Syria. But Turkey views Syria’s Kurdish People’s Protection Units, known as YPG, as a terrorist organization and an extension of the Kurdish militants who have been waging a three-decade-long insurgency against Turkey.

“The YPG, and you know who’s supporting them, is attacking us with mortars. But we will make those places their grave, there is no stopping,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. Footage shot Friday night showed a long line of trucks carrying military vehicles driving to the border area. The private Ihlas news agency IHA reported the convoy was heading to southeastern Sanliurfa province from Kilis in the west. The base in the area is 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Syria’s Tal Abyad, a town controlled by the Kurdish militia.

The agency said the relocation comes after Turkish officials announced the completion of a phase of Turkey’s cross-border operation of Euphrates Shield in Syria, adding that the force may be used against Syrian Kurdish militants “if needed.”

Turkish officials announced the conclusion of the operation in March but have said they would continue combating terror to make its borders safe and rid of IS and Kurdish militants. Tensions in the border area rose this week when Turkey conducted airstrikes against bases for YPG group in Syria and Iraq on Tuesday. The Turkish military said it killed at least 90 militants and wounded scores.

The Kurdish group in Syria said 20 of its fighters and media activists were killed in the strike, which was followed by cross-border clashes between the two sides. The military said the YPG has targeted the Turkish border from Tal Abyad and further west in Afrin. Turkey’s military responded with howitzers.

Erdogan hinted his country is also ready to repeat it attacks in Sinjar, Iraq, to prevent it from turning into a base for the Kurdish militia. Kurdish officials said the U.S. patrols are monitoring the Turkish-Syrian border to prevent an increase in tensions with Turkey, a NATO member and U.S. ally.

Ankara sent its troops into Syria last August in a military operation triggered in large part by the Kurdish group’s expansion along its borders. The issue has been a source of tension between Ankara and Washington that threatens to hamper the fight against IS. Instead of working with the Syrian Kurds, Turkey is pressing the U.S. to let its army join the campaign for Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of IS.

Erdogan is due in Washington on May 16 for his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. Stating that his country is leading the most effective campaign against IS, Erdogan said: “Let us, huge America, all these coalition powers and Turkey, let us join hands and turn Raqqa to Daesh’s grave,” using the Arabic acronym for IS.

The YPG forms the backbone of the U.S-backed Syria Democratic Forces. Redur Khalil, the spokesman for the YPG in Syria, said his group has information that Turkey is reinforcing its border posts opposite Tal Abyad as well as other border posts. He said the purpose of the military reinforcement was not clear.

“We hope that this military mobilization is not meant to provoke our forces or for another purpose linked to entering Syrian territories. We don’t want any military confrontation between us, since our priority is to fight Daesh in Raqqa and Tabqa,” Khalil told The Associated Press in text messages.

Khalil said his forces are not building up in the area and added that the international coalition is now “monitoring” the border.

Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb contributed from Beirut.

In Istanbul’s ‘Little Syria,’ refugees want more from US

April 08, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — The fast-moving developments in Syria are never far from people’s minds in an Istanbul neighborhood that is home to thousands of refugees from the country’s civil war. In the Aksaray neighborhood — now known as “Little Syria” — the signs are in Arabic, the cuisine is seasoned with nostalgia and the weary residents are hoping for change after the first U.S. strike on President Bashar Assad’s forces.

The U.S. fired nearly 60 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base early Friday, days after a chemical attack widely blamed on government forces killed nearly 90 people in the opposition-held northern town of Khan Sheikhoun. Opponents of Assad welcomed the move, but many in Little Syria feel that more should be done to end the grinding, six-year civil war.

“We are fed up of bombings, what we already lived through is enough,” said Samer Maydani, who hails from Damascus and owns a coffee shop in Little Syria. “We need political solutions through the U.N. and the Security Council.”

“After seven years of destroying us, we don’t trust anyone,” he said. “If (U.S. President Donald) Trump and the international community want change, they should just ask Assad to leave.” Turkey is home to some three million Syrian refugees, 480,000 of whom live in Istanbul. The Turkish government welcomed the U.S. strike and has called for renewed efforts to remove Assad from power.

Across the street from Maydani’s coffee shop, Hussein Esfira, from the Syrian city of Aleppo, works 14-hour shifts as a butcher in a Syrian restaurant. He says he has little time left to follow politics, but feels the U.S. could do more.

“Why are they bombing?” he asked. “Everyone is seeking to take a piece of the cake.” “Instead of bombing, the U.S. can intervene for the sake of a peaceful solution,” he said. The owner of a nearby pastry shop agrees. Anas Jamous, who also comes from Aleppo, said that if the international community wanted to end the war, “they would have done so five years ago.”

He is still angry about Trump’s travel ban, which would have barred people from Syria and five other Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the United States until stricter vetting procedures are put in place. The ban also temporarily suspended the U.S. refugee program.

He said the ban, which has been blocked by the courts, “expresses a deep hatred against Muslims from the American government.”

Panama switches diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China

June 13, 2017

BEIJING (AP) — Panama switched diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China on Tuesday, dealing a major success to Beijing in its drive to isolate the self-governing island it claims as its own territory.

Taiwan warned that the move would further alienate the island of 23 million from the 1.37 billion Chinese living across the Taiwan Strait. In Panama, President Juan Carlos Varela announced the change, which entails breaking off formal relations with Taiwan, saying in a televised address that it represents the “correct path for our country.”

A joint statement released on Monday evening in Panama said Panama and China were recognizing each other and establishing ambassadorial-level relations the same day. “The Government of the Republic of Panama recognizes that there is but one China in the world, that the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory,” the statement read.

In Taiwan, officials including President Tsai Ing-wen denounced the move as a betrayal and vowed to maintain the island’s sovereignty and international presence. “Oppression and threats are not going to help in cross-strait relations. It will on the contrary increase the discrepancy between the people” of Taiwan and China, Tsai said at a news conference.

“We will not compromise and yield under threat,” the president said. Panama had been among the largest economies to have maintained diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The island now has just 20 formal diplomatic partners, 11 of which are in Latin America and the Caribbean. The island is also excluded from the United Nations and many other multinational bodies at China’s insistence.

At the Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Panamanian Vice President and Foreign Minister Isabel de Saint Malo signed a joint communique establishing diplomatic relations, followed by a champagne toast.

Wang said he was sure relations between the two countries would have a “bright future.” Saint Malo said she hoped the new relationship would lead to trade, investment and tourism opportunities, in particular “exporting more goods from Panama to China.”

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949 and Beijing has vowed to take control of the island by force if necessary. While the sides had maintained an undeclared diplomatic truce for much of the past decade, relations have deteriorated under Tsai, who took over Taiwan’s presidency more than a year ago but has declined to endorse China’s view that Taiwan and the mainland are part of a single Chinese nation.

The past year has seen China ratcheting up the diplomatic pressure on Taiwan, barring its representatives from attending the World Health Organization’s annual conference and other international gatherings.

Beijing cut off contacts with Taiwanese government bodies a year ago, and in recent months has also sailed an aircraft carrier strike force aground the island in a display of its growing military power.

Panama may be the first of several Taiwanese diplomatic allies to switch to China as Beijing steps up pressure on Tsai to recognize its “one China” principle, said Tang Yonghong, director of the Taiwan Economic Research Center at Xiamen University in southeastern China.

“Many Latin American countries want to have stronger ties with China for their national interests,” Tang said. Although China refused to form such ties during the previous administration of China-friendly Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, it no longer has any such qualms, Tang said.

“Now this trend could continue for a while,” Tang said. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that in breaking ties, President Varela had ignored the friendship between their countries and the efforts that Taiwan had made to help Panama’s overall development. Panama had “submitted to the Beijing authorities for economic benefits” and “lied” to the government of Taiwan, the statement said.

Taiwan will immediately cut ties, cease all bilateral cooperation projects and pull its diplomatic staff and technical advisers out of the country, the ministry said, adding that it will not “engage in competition for money diplomacy with the Beijing authorities.”

“We express our strong protest and condemnation over the Beijing authorities luring Panama into breaking ties with us, oppressing our diplomatic space to maneuver and harming the feelings of the Taiwanese people,” the statement said.

Beijing and Taipei have long competed with each other to win diplomatic recognition, at times enticing small or poor countries to switch with the promise of millions of dollars for public works projects.

Varela had suggested the possibility of switching diplomatic recognition during his presidential campaign in 2014, for historic, economic and strategic reasons. “Both nations are betting on a more interconnected world,” Varela said in a possible allusion to Chinese economic involvement in the Panama Canal. He mentioned that it was a massive Chinese vessel that was the first to pass through the canal’s expanded locks when they opened in June 2016.

China is the second-biggest client of the Panama Canal and the leading provider of merchandise to a free-commerce zone in the Panamanian city of Colon, on the country’s Caribbean coast. The loss of Panama is intended to show Tsai that continued defiance of Beijing will harm Taiwan’s overall interests, said Zhang Baohui, director of Center for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.

“Panama was one of the more significant countries that still maintained diplomatic relations with Taiwan,” Zhang said. “By taking away Panama, it once again teaches Tsai’s government the lesson that if she doesn’t accept the ‘one China’ principle … there will be consequences.

Zamorano reported from Panama City. Associated Press journalists Johnson Lai in Taipei, Taiwan, and Gerry Shih in Beijing contributed to this report.

Pope names cardinals for Laos, Mali, Sweden, Spain, Salvador

May 21, 2017

VATICAN CITY (AP) — In a surprise announcement Sunday, Pope Francis named new cardinals for Spain, El Salvador and three countries where Catholics are a tiny minority: Mali, Laos and Sweden. “Their origin, from different parts of the world, manifests the universality of the Church spread out all over the Earth,” Francis said, speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace to thousands of faithful in St. Peter’s Square.

The five churchmen chosen are Monsignor Jean Zerbo, archbishop of Bamako, Mali, where he has been involved in peace efforts amid Islamist extremism; Monsignor Juan Jose Omella, archbishop of Barcelona, Spain; Monsignor Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, who became a Catholic at the age of 20; Monsignor Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse, Laos; and Monsignor Gregorio Rosa Chavez, an auxiliary bishop who works as a parish pastor in San Salvador, El Salvador.

Francis will formally elevate the five to cardinal’s rank in a ceremony at the Vatican on June 28. Then the new “princes of the church,” as the red-hatted, elite corps of churchmen who elect popes are known, will co-celebrate Mass with Francis the next day, the Feast Day of Saints Peter and Paul, an important Vatican holiday.

Since being elected pontiff in 2013, Francis has made a point of visiting his flock in places where Catholics are in the minority, as well as of working to improve relations between churches and among believers of different faiths.

His brief pilgrimage last year to Sweden, where Lutherans are the Christian majority, was hailed by some as instrumental in helping to improve relations between the two churches. While there, he joined Lutheran leaders in a common commemoration of the Protestant Reformation that divided Europe five centuries ago.

Arborelius, who is 67, converted to Catholicism when he was 20. In 1998, when he was consecrated as a bishop in Stockholm’s Catholic cathedral, Arborelius became Sweden’s first Catholic bishop, of Swedish origin, since the times of the Reformation,

In Mali, a country bloodied by Islamist extremism, Muslims constitute the predominant religious majority. Zerbo’s clerical resume reveals him to be a churchman working for reconciliation in society, a virtue repeatedly stressed by Francis. The Vatican noted that Zerbo, 73, who was named an auxiliary bishop of Bamako in 1998 and 10 years later was made that city’s archbishop, has played a role in peace negotiations.

Extremists attacked a hotel in Bamako in 2015, killing 19 people. Last month, the U.N. peacekeeping chief for Mali called the security situation there alarming, warning that extremist groups operating under the al-Qaida banner were carrying out more sophisticated attacks and Islamic State militants were slowly making inroads.

There has been slow progress in implementing a peace deal reached in June 2015 between Mali’s government, Tuareg separatists and armed groups in the north. In Laos, the tiny Catholic community has often struggled to persevere, including under communist-led rule. Mangkhanekhoun, 73, was ordained a priest in 1972 and has served as a bishop since 2001. The Vatican paid tribute to his work in visiting faithful in mountain villages. Since early this year, he has served as apostolic administrator in Vientiane.

Catholicism has been the majority religion in Spain and in El Salvador, although in parts of Central and South America, evangelical Protestant sects have been gaining converts from the Catholic church.

The resume of Chavez, 74, also includes credentials valued by the pope, who has made serving the poor a key focus of the Catholic church’s mission. Chavez heads the Latin American division of Caritas, the Catholic charity. He was appointed an auxiliary bishop in 1982 for San Salvador, where he now will be based as a cardinal after serving as a parish pastor in the city.

Chavez worked closely with the late Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who during El Salvador’s civil war was shot to death by a right-wing death squad while saying Mass in 1980. Pope Francis has denounced Catholic clerics who “defamed” Romero after the slaying, a campaign that delayed Romero’s eventual beatification.

Francis’ pick for the Spain cardinal’s post, Omella, 71, worked as a missionary in Zaire earlier in his career and serves on the Vatican’s powerful Congregation of Bishops office. Since December 2015, he has been archbishop of Barcelona.

In announcing his selections, Francis expressed hope that the new cardinals with their work and “their advice will sustain me more intensely in my service as bishop of Rome, universal pastor of the church.” In other remarks to the faithful in the square, Francis referred to the situation of another Catholic minority — Chinese whose loyalty to the pope has put them at odds with authorities of the state-sanctioned Catholic church in China, and sometimes brought persecution.

He prayed that Catholics in China would be able to bring their “personal contribution for the communion among believers and harmony in the entire society.” Francis is eager to see improved Vatican-China relations. Both sides have for decades been at odds over Chinese authorities’ insistence that they have the right to appoint bishops, a prerogative the Vatican says only belongs to the pope.

He urged Catholics in China to “stay open to meeting and dialogue, always.”

Newcomer Macron makes France’s mark, with Trump and globally

May 28, 2017

TAORMINA, Italy (AP) — Within days of taking the French presidency, Emmanuel Macron faced a string of diplomatic tests — pushing the Paris climate deal on a skeptical Donald Trump, rallying European allies to do more to fight Syria’s extremists, and now hosting Vladimir Putin.

Europe has a lot riding on Macron’s diplomatic performance. So far, it appears, so good. Macron struck up an unusually chummy rapport in his first meetings with Trump, winning a handshake contest and the U.S. leader’s cellphone number, despite their stark political differences.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, too, is warming to the energetic Macron — they’ve already met three times in the two weeks since Macron took office — and is pinning hopes on him to boost Europe’s economy and unity.

Macron is eager to dispel doubts about his presidential stature that have dogged him since he launched a wild-card presidential bid just six months ago. During his very first days in office, he visited Berlin and a French military base in Mali, where the country’s troops are fighting Islamic extremism. Then over this past week, he cemented his status as a new global player at a NATO summit in Brussels and a Group of Seven summit in Italy.

While he has never held elected office before, Macron was helped by his comfortable English and backstage knowledge of international summits gained as top economic adviser to predecessor Francois Hollande from 2012 to 2014, then as his economy minister.

Beyond the important issues Macron’s tackling, his body language drew the most public attention on his summit outings. The most symbolic image was his handshake with Trump at their first meeting, in Brussels. After some friendly chatter, the two gripped each other’s hands so tightly before the cameras that their jaws seemed to clench. It looked like Trump was ready to pull away first, but Macron wasn’t quite ready to disengage.

The next day at the G-7 summit in Sicily, Macron attracted attention for his friendly interactions with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. At their bilateral meeting, Macron, 39, and Trudeau, 45, went on a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, were they posed for photographers, surrounded by flowers.

Macron showed proximity with other leaders, joking and making a gentle tap on the arm a habit. He often paid special attention to Merkel —as if making efforts to embody the French-German friendship. Germany is hoping Macron jumpstarts France’s economy, a pillar of European unity and the shared euro currency.

British Prime Minister Theresa May was visibly touched when Macron addressed his condolences in English following the Manchester attack that killed 22 people. “We were very shocked, because … we know how this can hurt the people of your country, but more generally for Europe. Because they attack our young, and very young people,” Macron told her.

Both leaders pushed to get a separate, unanimous statement on the fight against terrorism by the G-7. The text is appealing to internet providers and social media companies to more actively fight extremism, an issue widely promoted by Macron during his presidential campaign.

Macron has promised to discuss the Syria crisis on Monday with Russia’s president when he visits the royal palace in Versailles. That may be Macron’s toughest test so far, amid tensions over Moscow’s role in fighting in Syria and Ukraine, and after Putin openly supported rival French candidate Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front party.

“Russia invaded Ukraine,” Macron told a news conference Saturday. On Syria, where extremists plotted attacks against France and where Europe’s migrant crisis began, he said, “I said at the G-7 table that I don’t regard it as a collective victory that on Syria … not one of us was capable of being around the table. You have Russia, Iran and Turkey. That is a defeat.”

“So we must talk to Russia to change the framework for getting out of the military crisis in Syria and to build a much more collective and integrated inclusive political solution,” he added. The G-7 called on Russia to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and said they “stand ready to take further restrictive measures in order to increase costs on Russia should its actions so require.”

Macron promised he will have a “demanding dialogue with Russia, but it means having a dialogue.” At the end of the G-7, Macron appeared to soften his stance on the climate talks, the most problematic issue between the U.S. and the six other nations. Macron showed unfailing optimism.

While Merkel called the G-7 climate talks “very difficult, if not to say, very unsatisfactory,” Macron said “I think Mr. Trump is someone who is pragmatic and so I have good hopes that having considered the arguments put forward by various people and his country’s own interest he will confirm his commitment (to the accord) — in his own time.”

“I saw someone who listens and who is willing to work,” he added. “For Mr. Trump and myself, it was a first experience. I think he saw the purpose of these multilateral discussions.” Optimism, and an almost constant smile on the face, are part of Macron’s strategy French voters are now getting used to.

The French leader was especially careful to avoid diplomatic or political faux-pas only two weeks before crucial legislative elections. Macron needs to get a majority at France’s lower house of parliament to fully implement his pro-European, pro-free market agenda.

Meanwhile, his wife Brigitte Macron experienced the role of first lady, symbolizing easygoing French chic, and at ease with other spouses, especially with Melania Trump with whom she was seen chatting.

Angela Charlton reported from Brussels.

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