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What We're Watching: A big German debate, rare Israeli-Palestinian meeting, North Korea restarts a reactor

hairwoman of Buendnis 90/Die Gruenen Annalena Baerbock is greeted by Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Armin Laschet as German Finance Minister and Social Democratic Party candidate Olaf Scholz looks on before the start of a televised debate of the candidates to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor in Berlin, Germany, August 29, 2021

German elections heat up: Less than a month from Germany's general elections, the three contenders vying to replace longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel went head-to-head in the first major prime-time TV debate. The three chancellor wannabes — the Green Party's Annalena Baerbock, Olaf Scholz, Germany's finance minister from the left-leaning Social Democratic Party, and Merkel's handpicked successor Armin Laschet of the CDU/CSU coalition — debated climate change policy, taxes and COVID recovery, as well as Germany's place in the world. A post-debate survey showed that 36 percent of viewers said Scholz had the best performance, but polls suggest that the election remains anyone's to win. After soaring in the polls in the spring, Baerbock has fallen behind thanks to claims that she embellished her credentials. Laschet, premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, is extremely unpopular, particularly after a series of gaffes as the country dealt with devastating floods in July. Whatever the outcome, next month's winner will probably have to form an ideologically broad coalition government.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority hold rare talks: Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas Sunday in Ramallah, the first time that senior officials from the two sides have met for high-level talks in more than a decade. This interaction comes as the PA faces both a fiscal crunch and a crisis of legitimacy amid dwindling popular approval. In a rare move aimed at propping up Abbas' ailing government, Gantz used a loophole to offer the PA a 500 million shekel loan ($155 million) to prevent a PA collapse that would boost Hamas, which currently rules in the Gaza Strip and is deemed a terrorist group by the US and EU. Last month, Israel increased the number of work permits available for Palestinians living in the West Bank to ease economic pressure on the PA, but analysts warn that more drastic measures are needed. The budget of the PA, which has long been accused of graft and cronyism, has taken a serious hit because of a drop off in international aid over the past few years.

Not now, North Korea: Life is coming fast at Joe Biden. The Afghanistan withdrawal has been a fiasco. The worst hurricane in at least a decade is currently pummeling the state of Louisiana. And now, according to a report by the UN's Atomic Energy Agency, North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-un is restarting the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, crown jewel of his controversial nuclear program. The UN says North Korea, which is under strict UN and US sanctions for its nuclear program, has been operating the plant again for the past several months after shutting it down in 2018 as part of negotiations with the Trump administration. The basic challenge remains: the US wants North Korea to verifiably relinquish its nuclear program and weapons, while Pyongyang wants US forces off the Korean Peninsula. Who goes first? Ball's in your court now, Joe.


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