Afghan men sell Taliban flags outside the former US embassy in Kabul.

REUTERS

Struggling with a drought, economic collapse, famine, and an enemy more extreme than themselves, the Taliban now face Afghanistan’s worst natural calamity in years.

More than a thousand people were killed in last week’s earthquake, and while humanitarian organizations are eager to help, there is a gap in the international relief effort. Questions about recognizing the Taliban during this time of crisis, or working with the Islamists for the long-term development of the country, come sharply into focus.

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Abortion-rights activists protest outside the US Supreme Court after it overturned Roe v Wade.

REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

US states fight over post-Roe abortion rights

In case you've been living under a rock, on Friday the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that protected abortion rights in America for almost 50 years. The decision, as expected, caused an outcry among abortion-rights activists and sparked jubilation for those in the anti-abortion camp. Now, the center of attention shifts to individual US states since 13 Republican-led ones had so-called "trigger laws" to prohibit or severely restrict abortion in case Roe was overturned. Although the verdict is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states, when and how those laws will go into effect — and potential legal challenges to them — make the timeline hard to predict. Conversely, several states governed by Democrats are taking steps to codify Roe into law, ushering in an uncertain period of legal fights between states to determine whether those who perform and assist abortions can be prosecuted out-of-state, and over access to anti-abortion pills. Politically, the ruling is a double-edged sword for the GOP, which hopes it'll fire up social conservatives, but also fears the Dems could use the verdict to energize their own base and make inroads with suburban women in swing states ahead of the November midterms. Moreover, the ruling has already become a major battleground of the larger culture wars for corporate America.

Check out more of our coverage on the historic SCOTUS reversal:

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China President Xi Jinping and U.S President Joe Biden hold a virtual meeting.

Reuters

China-US: Bad politics, good economics

President Joe Biden is a very different president than his predecessor, Donald Trump. But on some foreign policy issues – notably managing relations with China – the two are kindred spirits. US-China relations crashed under Trump, and Biden has kept the relationship on a mostly combative footing, leaving Trump-era tariffs on some Chinese goods in place. Still, while the White House talks tough about isolating China geopolitically, speculation of a US-China “decoupling” is misplaced. Beijing and Washington need each other because their economies are closely intertwined. The US is China’s biggest trading partner, with Americans importing a whopping $541.5 billion worth of Chinese imports in 2021. Even in 2020 – a slower trading year amid the pandemic – China and the US traded $559.2 billion worth of goods. What’s more, two-way foreign direct investment, which is more resistant to economic shocks, has ballooned in recent years (Chinese FDI in the US increased 61% between 2015 and 2020). The resilience of the bilateral economic relationship is also reflected in the fact that China is the third-largest export market for American goods (behind Mexico and Canada). Support for a tough-on-China stance gets rare bipartisan support in Washington these days, so political ties between Beijing and Washington will likely remain rocky. Still, with their economic fortunes so closely linked, China and the US are in this marriage for the long haul.

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Ukrainian kids celebrate International Children's Day In Krakow, Poland.

Beata Zawrzel via Reuters Connect

It’s at war for its survival, yet Ukraine’s candidacy for European Union membership has just been endorsed. While success would be a game-changer for Kyiv, getting there won’t be easy, given the required internal reforms, international bureaucracy, and shifting geopolitics.

The European Commission is clear that Ukraine must carry out serious reforms to join the bloc, but some tough questions need to be answered. Does Ukraine deserve to be an EU member? What about the stringent process and requirements? Is there a natural tie-in to NATO membership? And what are the politics at play, given that Moldova, another former Soviet republic Russia considers to be in its sphere of influence, has been approved, while Georgia has not.

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People participate in the March for Our Lives on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

US Senate reaches compromise on guns

On Sunday, a group of 20 US senators announced a bipartisan framework on new gun control legislation in response to the recent wave of mass shootings. The proposal includes more background checks, funding for states to implement "red-flag" laws so they can confiscate guns from dangerous people, and provisions to prevent gun sales to domestic violence offenders. While the deal is much less ambitious than the sweeping ban on assault weapons and universal background checks President Joe Biden called for after the massacre in Uvalde, Texas, it's a rare bipartisan effort in a deeply divided Washington that seeks to make at least some progress on gun safety, an issue on which Congress has been deadlocked for decades. Biden said these are "steps in the right direction" and endorsed the Senate deal but admitted he wants a lot more. The announcement came a day after thousands of Americans held rallies on the National Mall in the capital and across the country to demand tougher gun laws. Will the senators be able to turn the framework into actual legislation before the momentum passes?

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North Korea's Kim Jong Un walks away from what state media report is a "new type" of ICBM.

KCNA via REUTERS

North Korea has engaged in an aggressive spate of missile testing this year. In response, the US and South Korea are changing tack and pushing back against Pyongyang with a more muscular show of force. Washington and Seoul’s robust replies are designed to push Kim Jong Un back to the negotiating table, furthering their quest to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

But it’s a risky gamble. The fresh approach could convince an isolated and broke North Korea to talk shop, or Kim could double down and conduct his first nuclear test since 2017.

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Osama bin Laden sits with al-Qaeda's second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri in 2001.

Reuters.

Al-Qaida is resurging in Afghanistan. The militant group is recruiting, raising funds, positioning itself to conduct long-distance attacks, even upping its propaganda, and remains close to the Taliban.

That’s according to a new UN Security Council report, compiled with intelligence from member states. The report, released by the UN office monitoring international sanctions on the Taliban, has further claimed that al-Qaida’s core – under Dr. Ayman al-Zawahri’s leadership and estimated to be several dozen-people strong – is located in eastern Afghanistan’s Zabul and Kunar provinces, along the border with Pakistan, where the terrorists have enjoyed a “historical presence.” It also noted that some members were reportedly living in Kabul’s former diplomatic quarters, where they have access to the Taliban-run Ministry for Foreign Affairs, though this wasn’t confirmed by the investigators.

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Albanese addresses supporters in Sydney after winning Australia's election.

REUTERS/Jaimi Joy

Albo takes over in Oz

After his Labor Party won Saturday's parliamentary election, Anthony Albanese, known popularly as Albo, is set to become Australia’s new prime minister. But it remains unclear whether Labor has a parliamentary majority: if his party falls just short in the end, it'll be a minority government, so Albanese will need some support from the Greens and climate-focused independents to get laws passed. In a gesture toward both, Albanese announced Sunday that he wants to make Australia a renewable energy superpower — a sharp departure from Scott Morrison, aka ScoMo, his coal-loving conservative predecessor. While mail-in ballots are still being counted, Albanese was sworn in Monday as acting PM in order to attend the Quad Summit in Tokyo on Tuesday. Albanese will need to hit the ground running because Australia is also in the AUKUS security partnership, which China doesn’t like one bit. Just weeks after Beijing inked a deal with the neighboring Solomon Islands that'll allow the Chinese to gain a military foothold in the Pacific, expect the China question to continue dominating Australian foreign policy under the new government.

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