China says U.S. can’t insist it solve NKorea alone

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The Latest on the U.N.’s ministerial meeting on North Korea (all times local):

1:30 p.m.

China’s deputy U.N. ambassador is pushing back against U.S. insistence that the Asian country holds the key to resolving North Korea’s escalating nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Wu Haitao told a ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council Friday that “the current situation on the (Korean) Peninsula is not caused by any one party alone, and it is not possible to impose on any one party the responsibility of solving the problem.”

Wu said: “The parties concerned should move towards each other instead of engaging in rhetoric blaming, and not shift responsibility to others.”

He also criticized unilateral sanctions against North Korea — which the U.S., European Union, Japan and others have imposed — saying they undermine Security Council unity “and should be abandoned.”

Wu said “the hope for peace is not totally obliterated” and urged all parties to “keep in mind the big picture of maintaining peace and stability” and end rhetoric that exacerbates tensions.


12:30 p.m.

Japan’s foreign minister is urging the international community to maximize pressure on North Korea “by all means available,” saying there is no other way to get Pyongyang to curb its escalating nuclear and missile programs.

Taro Kono announced at a ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council Friday that Japan has ordered the assets of 19 North Korean entities to be frozen, and he called on other countries to introduce or strengthen sanctions against the North.

Kono said last week’s visit to Pyongyang by U.N. political chief Jeffrey Feltman “only reconfirmed the dire reality” that North Korea “is nowhere near ready” to abandon its nuclear and missile programs, “nor is it interested in returning to a meaningful dialogue.”

He urged the Security Council not to backtrack from the demand that North Korea abandon its nuclear and missile programs “in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.”

Putin: U.S. hurts itself with invented Trump collusion case

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Russian President Vladimir Putin scoffed Thursday at allegations of collusion between U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, saying the reports have been “invented” by Trump’s foes and have hurt the U.S. political system.

He also mocked his most visible critic, Alexei Navalny, who is barred from challenging Putin in the March 18 presidential vote due to an embezzlement conviction, saying those like him want to plunge Russia into a destabilized quagmire. He vowed not to let that happen.

Speaking at his annual marathon news conference, Putin reaffirmed his firm denial of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“All of it was invented by people who oppose President Trump to undermine his legitimacy,” Putin said in remarks that had an uncanny resemblance to Trump’s arguments. “I’m puzzled by that. People who do it are inflicting damage to the (U.S.) domestic political situation, incapacitating the president and showing a lack of respect to voters who cast their ballots for him.”

Putin argued that Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, whose contacts with Trump’s entourage are part of the FBI and Congressional probes into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, was simply performing his routine duties.

Despite Putin’s comments, U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the election to help the Republican Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. Trump last month lashed out at those agencies’ former heads, calling them “political hacks” and arguing there were plenty of reasons to be suspicious of their findings.

Putin also hailed Trump’s achievements, saying that global markets have demonstrated investors’ confidence in Trump’s economic course. The Russian leader said he and Trump had spoken on a first-name basis on the sidelines of two international summits this year and voiced hope that Trump eventually would be able to fulfill his campaign promises to improve ties with Russia.

Putin emphasized that the two countries need to cooperate on tackling global challenges and that Russia is ready for “constructive” cooperation on tackling the North Korean standoff.

Putin has warned the U.S. not to use force against North Korea, adding that the consequences will be “catastrophic.” He emphasized that Russia opposes Pyongyang’s nuclear bid, but added the U.S. had “provoked” Pyongyang into developing its nuclear and missile programs by spiking a 2005 deal under which North Korea agreed to halt them.

Putin said Moscow was encouraged to hear U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement about readiness for talks with Pyongyang, hailing it as a “realistic” approach.

He pointed out, however, that the U.S. sanctions put Russia on par with Iran and North Korea, noting that it looks “weird” in light of the fact that Washington expects Russia to cooperate in tackling the North Korean crisis.

The Russian leader also voiced concern about the U.S. considering a pullout from key nuclear arms control pacts, adding that Moscow intends to stick to them.

He noted that Russia is particularly worried about what he described as U.S. violations of the INF Treaty, a Cold-War era pact banning intermediate range missiles. The U.S. has accused Russia of pact violations — charges that Russia has denied. Putin said the U.S. accusations are part of a “propaganda” campaign to pave the way for the U.S. withdrawal.

He emphasized that Russia will “ensure its security without entering an arms race.” Russia’s military spending next year will amount to 2.8 trillion rubles (about $46 billion) compared to the Pentagon’s budget of about $700 billion, he noted.

Putin also insisted that Russia’s state-funded RT TV and Sputnik news agency had a very minor presence in the U.S. media market, adding that the U.S. demand for them to register as foreign agents represented an attack on media freedom. Russia has responded in return, requesting the U.S. government-funded Voice of America and the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to register as foreign agents.

Putin, who declared his re-election bid last week, said he would run as a self-nominated candidate, keeping his distance from the main Kremlin-controlled party, United Russia, which has many members who have been dogged by corruption accusations.

He said he would welcome political competition but insisted that the opposition should offer a positive program.

Answering a question from 36-year-old celebrity TV host Ksenia Sobchak, who is challenging him in the presidential election, Putin said he doesn’t fear political competition but emphasized that the government would protect Russia from attempts by radicals to destabilize it.

Sticking to his habit of not mentioning Navalny’s name, Putin likened him to former Georgian president-turned-Ukrainian opposition leader, Mikhail Saakashvili, who has challenged the Ukrainian government with a series of anti-corruption protests.

Putin said his government wouldn’t let “people like Saakashvili” plunge Russia into instability like that which is now wracking Ukraine.

Asked about accusations of state-supported doping that led to Russia being banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, Putin argued they were politically driven. He accused U.S. agencies of manipulating evidence from the main whistleblower on doping at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Putin said Russian doping expert Grigory Rodchenkov — who is under witness protection after fleeing to the United States last year — is controlled by “American special services.” He even suggested that U.S. agencies may be giving Rodchenkov unspecified “substances so that he says what’s required.”

Rodchenkov’s testimony played a key role in International Olympic Committee investigations that led last week to Russian athletes being required to compete under a neutral flag at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Pilot traces virtual Christmas tree in German test flight

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A pilot has traced a virtual Christmas tree over Germany on a test flight with an Airbus A380.

Airbus spokesman Heiko Stolzke told news agency dpa Thursday that the nearly 5½-hour flight the previous day was “a standard internal Airbus test flight before the delivery of a new aircraft.”

He said the idea for the Christmas tree pattern of the flight, which took off from and landed at the company’s plant in Hamburg, came from the pilot and engineers on the flight and it was carried out in cooperation with air traffic control.

The plane turned several corners and loops during its flight to produce a pattern in the shape of a tree complete with baubles.

White House says it’s still seeking Mideast deal

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The Latest on the gathering of Islamic nations seeking a united stance against the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (all times local):

8:30 p.m.

The White House says President Donald Trump “remains as committed to peace as ever” after the Palestinians said they would no longer accept a U.S. role in the peace process with Israel.

A senior White House official says such rhetoric “has prevented peace for years” and isn’t surprising. The White House will remain “hard at work putting together our plan, which will benefit the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.”

The official says the Trump administration will unveil the plan “when it is ready and the time is right.”

The White House official spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of an expected public statement.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has criticized Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, saying the U.S. is no longer fit to serve as mediator. Trump’s declaration broke with an international consensus that Jerusalem’s final status should be decided in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

— By Ken Thomas


8:15 p.m.

Israel’s prime minister is urging the Palestinians to halt what he calls extremist statements and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In a speech Wednesday, Benjamin Netanyahu said the Palestinians should “work for peace and not for extremism.” He said that not only is Jerusalem Israel’s capital, but Israel is committed to protecting the freedom of worship for all religions.

Netanyahu did not explicitly mention Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to a summit of Muslim leaders in Turkey, but appeared to be referring to it.

In his speech Wednesday, the Palestinian leader said the U.S. is unfit to mediate Mideast peace talks after President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Abbas has been making similar statements since Trump’s announcement last week.

“All of these declarations do not impress us,” Netanyahu said.


6:15 p.m.

Muslim nations have “rejected and condemned” President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and have called on the world to recognize east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.

The Istanbul Declaration on “Freedom for al-Quds” — the Arabic name of Jerusalem — follows Wednesday’s extraordinary summit of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

The final communiqué is a softened version of an earlier draft. With it the organization declares the U.S. announcement as “null and void,” while inviting Trump to reconsider and rescind the “unlawful decision that might trigger chaos in the region.”

The declaration calls on countries who have not yet recognized Palestine to do so and invites “the whole world to recognize East Al Quds as the capital.”

Trump’s declaration last week upended decades of U.S. foreign policy and went against an international consensus that Jerusalem’s final status — one of the thorniest issues in the Middle East conflict — should be decided by Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.


5:30 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the U.S-led Middle East peace process is now over following President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Erdogan spoke Wednesday at the closing of the summit of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Erdogan said it is “out of the question” for Washington to mediate between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He said: “That process is now over.”

He said it is time for Muslim leaders to discuss among themselves who is to take Washington’s role and to consider taking the matter to the U.N.

A draft communique from the summit called east Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state, countering Trump’s declaration. It said Washington has forfeited its decades-long role as a mediator.


4:45 p.m.

Muslim nations are rejecting President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and appear set to counter it with a declaration of east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

In a draft communique distributed to reporters, the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation said Wednesday the U.S. decision was “null and void legally” and is considered an attack on the rights of the Palestinians.

The draft communique said the bloc considers the U.S. declaration as an “announcement of the U.S. administration’s withdrawal from its role as sponsor of peace.”

The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and an international consensus has long held that the city’s status should be decided in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

OIC leaders meeting in Istanbul were expected to release a final statement later Wednesday.


2:10 p.m.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani says the only reason Donald Trump “dared” recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was because some in the region sought to establish ties to Israel.

Rouhani’s comments on Wednesday came during the extraordinary summit of the Organization of Islamic Organization following Trump’s decision. His comments were a stab at Iran’s archrival, Saudi Arabia, referencing reports the Gulf kingdom has sought closer cooperation with Israel to counter Iran’s influence in the region. Saudi Arabia has condemned Trump’s decision in a rare public rebuke of Washington.

Rouhani also said the U.S. has never been an honest mediator.

He said in an English tweet earlier that the U.S. decision “is only seeking to secure the maximum interests of the Zionists and has no respect for the legitimate rights of Palestinians.”


1:40 p.m.

The secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has called on countries who have not recognized Palestine as a state to do so.

Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen told the extraordinary summit of the 57-member states Wednesday that the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is “an exceptional challenge” facing Muslim nations. He says the decision will fan violence in the region, giving extremists an excuse to sow chaos.

Turkey is hosting the OIC summit.


1 p.m.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called on the United Nations to take charge of the Mideast peace process, and revamp it with a new mechanism since Washington is allegedly no longer “fit” for the task.

Abbas spoke at a gathering of Islamic countries hosted by Turkey on Wednesday. The summit is meant to hammer out a united stance in the wake of President Donald Trump’s recognition earlier this month of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Abbas says the Palestinians are committed to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and will continue to fight violence. But he added that following Trump’s move on Jerusalem, Washington is not accepted as a fair negotiator.

Abbas also said it’s time for countries who accept the two-state solution to recognize Palestine as a state. He urged those who recognize Israel to reconsider, saying the Jewish state has not committed to any international resolution.

He said the U.S. decision on Jerusalem should galvanize Arab, Muslim and Christian support for the city and that it seeks to change the identity of the divided city, which is home to some of the most sacred Muslim sanctuaries.


12:20 p.m.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says the Palestinians won’t accept any role for the United States in a peace process with Israel “from now on” after the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state.

Abbas says President Donald Trump’s decision was a “crime” that threatens world peace. He says there will be no peace in the region if the world doesn’t recognize east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The Palestinian leader spoke on Wednesday at a summit of Islamic nations hosted by Turkey.

He says the international community has nearly unanimously opposed Trump’s decision, calling it a “provocation” to Muslim and Christian sentiments and saying measures are needed to protect the identity of the divided city.


12:10 p.m.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sharply criticized Israel at the opening of a summit of Islamic nations in Istanbul, calling it a “terror state.”

Turkey is hosting the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Wednesday in the wake of the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as its capital — a move widely criticized across the world but hailed by Israel. The summit is expected to forge a unified position of Arab and Muslim countries.

Erdogan said in his speech to the gathering that Jerusalem is a “red line” for Muslims who will not accept any aggression on its Islamic sanctuaries. He said East Jerusalem is the capital of a future Palestinian state and called on states that have not recognized a Palestinian state to do so.

Erdogan says the “process to include Palestine in international agreements and institutions should be sped up.”


10:20 a.m.

Leaders and top officials of the world’s Islamic nations are coming together in Turkey to try and forge a united stance against President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The summit of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation is expected to be the strongest unified response yet to Washington’s move by the Muslim world.

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, addressed a pre-summit meeting of OIC foreign ministers in Istanbul on Wednesday. He says the U.S. decision aims to “legitimize Israel’s attempt to occupy Jerusalem.”

Cavusoglu says the OIC nations “are here to say ‘stop’ to tyranny.”

Jerusalem’s status is at the core of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement was widely perceived as siding with Israel. It also raised fears of more bloodshed.

Can Kim Jong Un control the weather?

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In rare free moments, when Kim Jong Un isn’t calling President Donald Trump a dotard, launching ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan or engaging in general dictatoring, he apparently goes on leisurely mountain hikes and flexes his never-before-reported superpower: controlling the weather.

The case for the North Korean leader’s cameo role in a new X-Men movie came during a brisk two-mile stroll up snowy Mount Paektu a week or so ago, as reported by the state-controlled Korean Central News Agency.

The 9,000-foot mountain is normally a wintry mess in December, according to the news agency, but during Kim’s visit, it was a “marvelous scene with glee at the reappearance of its great master.“ When Kim ascended to the top, the mountain showed “fine weather unprecedented.“

It was obviously an homage to Kim, KCNA reported, the man “who controls the nature.“

The fine weather was fortuitous, as pictures showed Kim made the arduous trek up the mountain in dress slacks and shiny leather shoes.

Of course, it should be said that KCNA and other state-sponsored media are known for making a wide variety of claims about North Korea’s leaders. Among them:

- Kim Jong Un and Korean scientists formulated a miracle drug, according to Newsweek - a combination of ginseng and “rare earth elements” that, with one injection, can cure or treat AIDS, Ebola, many cancers, heart disease, impotence, the common cold, “harm from use of computers,“ epilepsy, all forms of hepatitis, venereal disease and aging. It also, for some reason, renders its users “anti-radioactive.“

- Kim Jong Un could drive at age 3 and was a competitive sailor at age 9.

- Kim Jong Un and North Korean archaeologists also found a unicorn’s lair, or at least “recently reconfirmed” the location of unicorns ridden by the ancient Korean King Tongmyong, according to the Guardian. If people are distrustful of the discovery, it has a rectangular rock in front that reads: “Unicorn Lair.“

- Korean news agencies reported that Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, learned to walk at 3 weeks old and once shot a round of golf that included 11 holes-in-one.

- People surprised by his greatness should only remember the day he was born, when a double rainbow suddenly appeared in the sky.

- Also, Kim Jong Il could control the weather, too.

Those claims could not be independently corroborated on Monday.

It is not uncommon for nations to want to show their leaders in a positive light. Ugly official portrayals of U.S. presidents are rare, although there are always exceptions.

And as The Washington Post reported in August, Hasbro could practically make a series of action figures based on the various glowing iterations of Russian President Vladimir Putin: Hang-Gliding Putin, Judo Master Putin, Classic Horseback Putin, Fighter Pilot Putin and, of course, Putin’s tiger cub Mashenka.

But North Korea appears to be taking a lesson from the ancient Egyptians, essentially deifying the leader of their country.

“His eyes reflected the strong beams of the gifted great person seeing in the majestic spirit of Mount Paektu the appearance of a powerful socialist nation which dynamically advances full of vigor without vacillation at any raving dirty wind on the planet,“ the article about Kim Jong Un’s ascent up Mount Paektu read.

And while standing atop the sacred mountain, the supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, in full control of the wind and the snow and the clouds, chose to make a few declarations, according to the article.

Perhaps, he said, they should consider sprucing up the visitors’ center.

China poses new stealth threat

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Washington is waking up to the huge scope and scale of Chinese Communist Party influence operations inside the United States, which permeate American institutions of all kinds.

China’s overriding goal is, at the least, to defend its authoritarian system from attack and, at most, to export it to the world at America’s expense.

The foreign influence campaign is part and parcel of China’s larger campaign for global power, which includes military expansion, foreign direct investment, resource hoarding, and influencing international rules and norms. But this part of China’s game plan is the most opaque and least understood. Beijing’s strategy is first to cut off critical discussion of China’s government, then to co-opt American influencers in order to promote China’s narrative.

Countries such as Australia, New Zealand and even Canada have been rocked by recent revelations of Chinese-sponsored efforts to corrupt their politicians, universities, think tanks and businesses. U.S. political and thought leaders are just beginning to understand the problem and come together to devise responses.

“We have a lot of discussion of Russian interference in our elections, but the Chinese efforts to influence our public policy and our basic freedoms are much more widespread than most people realize,“ said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., co-chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. “This is an all-out effort to not simply promote themselves in a better light but to target Americans within the United States.“

The commission will conduct a hearing Wednesday on the “Long Arm of China” to expose Chinese efforts to gain political influence, control discussion of sensitive topics, interfere in multilateral institutions, threaten and intimidate human rights defenders, impose censorship on foreign publishers and influence academic institutions.

Rubio pointed to Chinese government-sponsored Confucius Institutes on U.S. university campuses that operate under opaque contracts and often stand accused of interfering in China-related education activities. China’s sponsorship of think tank research, academic chairs and intellectual partnerships also demand scrutiny, he said.

A recent report by Foreign Policy detailed how former Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa has spent money through his China-United States Exchange Foundation, funding research at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, the Brookings Institution and elsewhere.

The foundation denies pushing Chinese government ideology, but its connections are clear. Tung is vice chairman of a body called the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which is connected to the United Front Work Department, the Communist Party agency designed to advance party objectives with outside actors.

Recipients of these funds routinely insist their academic independence is intact. But as China exploits these institutions’ need for cash, examples of self-censorship mount. Researchers understand that their access to China depends on not ruffling feathers. Publishers agree to erase critical articles from journals to gain access to the Chinese market.

By influencing the influencers, China gets Americans to carry its message to other Americans. That’s much more effective than having Chinese officials deliver those messages, said Glenn Tiffert, visiting fellow at the Hudson Institution.

“There needs to be a recognition in Washington to the extent U.S. institutions are turning to the Chinese for money,“ he said. “People are starting to ask, to what extent does the person who pays the piper get to call the tune?“

There are other budding efforts to increase awareness of Chinese foreign influence activities. The National Endowment for Democracy issued a report last week called “Sharp Power,“ which tracked authoritarian influence from China and Russia in several developing countries.

The general push is for U.S. institutions to join together to set standards and best practices for dealing with Chinese government-linked entities and when taking Chinese money. By pooling information and resources, universities may be able to resist Chinese pressures and advocate for academic integrity.

Still, a huge gap remains between China’s efforts and America’s response. Beijing is emboldened by perceived weaknesses in the democratic world and the Trump administration’s retreat from promotion of U.S. values.

While the Chinese Communist Party historically dedicated itself to defending its domestic repression and strict social controls, Beijing under Xi Jinping is increasingly promoting that system as a model for development abroad while working to define global governance to cement Chinese practices.

“We need to recognize there really is a struggle over both ideology and values going on,“ said Andrew Nathan of Columbia University. “We won the Cold War, but history didn’t end.“

All countries seek influence abroad, pursue soft power and spread propaganda. But the Chinese combination of technology, coercion, pressure, exclusion and economic incentives is beyond anything this country has faced before. The sooner the United States acknowledges that reality, the better chance we have of responding.

Josh Rogin is a columnist for the Global Opinions section of The Washington Post.

Anonymous Bidder Buys German Village for Under $165K

An anonymous buyer just purchased an entire German village over the phone for less than $165,000, AFP reports. The mystery person was the only bidder in an auction for the village of Alwine on Saturday. Alwine—an embodiment of the failure of what was once East Germany to match the prosperity of the West—boasts a dozen or so decaying buildings and a population of 20. According to Fortune, all but one family in the village are retired.

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Prior to reunification, the village 75 miles south of Berlin was owned by a coal briquette plant, which closed in 1991, leading many residents to seek out jobs elsewhere. Alwine was bought by two brothers in 2000, but they had little luck changing its fortunes. The mayor of the district containing Alwine says he wants the village’s new owner “to see how we can try to develop something here, in collaboration with the people, and not against them.“

Hezbollah rally attracts thousands as Trump’s Jerusalem fallout continues

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Thousands of Hezbollah supporters joined a fiery rally in Beirut on Monday as the movement’s leader urged Palestinians to rise up after President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

Demonstrators packed the streets of Beirut’s southern suburbs in a carefully managed march. Crowds chanted “Death to America, death to Israel!“ and waved Palestinian and Hezbollah flags.

Israel’s military, meanwhile, reported that two rockets were fired at its territory from the Gaza Strip on Monday, the third volley since Trump said last week that he would break with decades of U.S. foreign policy to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. That announcement has sparked protests across the Arab world.

Hundreds of protesters clashed with Lebanese security forces near the U.S. Embassy in Beirut on Sunday, hurling rocks and bottles toward the compound as the army beat back the crowd using tear gas and water cannons.

But so far, more-serious violence has not materialized, and Palestinian concerns about Jerusalem have failed to energize most Arab governments. Many leaders here seem more focused on conflicts in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere that are roiling the region.

Addressing the crowd Monday via video link, Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah described Trump’s policy change as a “foolish decision” that would mark the “beginning of the end” of the Jewish state.

“The most important response will be to announce a third Palestinian intifada on all occupied Palestinian territories,“ he said, using an Arabic term that evokes earlier uprisings.

Lebanon harbors more than 500,000 Palestinian refugees, many of whom fled their homes in what is now Israel and the West Bank during the wars of 1948 and 1967. The Lebanese state has never formally recognized their status as refugees, and Palestinians are barred from dozens of professions.

Sitting on the sidewalk during Nasrallah’s speech Thursday was Alia Shahata, born in 1948 to parents who she said left Palestinian territories after being expelled from their home.

“Trump is humiliating all Arabs with his decision,“ she said. “My family has no rights here in Lebanon. Our boys all work on coffee stalls inside the refugee camp. Know that we would all go back to Palestinian territories tomorrow if we could.“

As she spoke, a group of boys no older than 10 posed for photographs in the street, dressed in military fatigues and raising their hands in Hezbollah salutes. Founded in response to Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Hezbollah, a Shiite militia backed by Iran, has also played a key role in turning the tide of Syria’s civil war in favor of President Bashar Assad.

Trump’s decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has drawn widespread condemnation from allies around the world, many of whom had seen the city’s eventual status as a matter to be settled in a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Monday that the 28-member bloc delivered a “clear and united” message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a visit to Brussels, and that the only “realistic” solution is for two states, with Jerusalem as their shared capital.

She rejected Netanyahu’s public statement that he expects European nations to follow the U.S. lead and move their embassies as well. “He can keep his expectations for others,“ she said.

In his speech, Netanyahu said Trump had put “facts on the table” with the recognition of Jerusalem, which he said makes peace possible by recognizing reality.

But at home in Israel, the fallout continued with the rocket attacks from Gaza.

The Israeli military said it was not sure whether the first rocket reached its territory but responded by bombing two Hamas military posts. No casualties were reported in the exchange.

Hours later a second rocket was fired, the roar of the launch audible from Gaza City, indicating that it may have had a larger payload. The rocket was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system in the region of Ashkelon. Shortly afterward, bombing could be heard in Gaza. The Israeli military said it had targeted Hamas military posts in northern Gaza.

The rocket fire came just hours after Iranian media reported that Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, had reaffirmed support for the Gaza militant groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas during phone calls with their military leaders.

He “urged all resistance movements in the region to boost their readiness to defend the al-Aqsa Mosque,“ Press TV reported, referring to the Jerusalem mosque.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also spoke with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Monday, it said.

No one immediately asserted responsibility for the rocket fire, but Israeli officials say they hold Hamas responsible for all such firings from Gaza.

Hamas has called for an uprising against Israel in the wake of the Jerusalem announcement. Two of its militants were killed after Israel responded to rocket fire last week, while two protesters who Israel said were rolling burning tires and throwing rocks were also fatally shot near the border.

In Putin’s heartland, apathy and disappointment rule

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Three months ahead of Russia’s presidential election, apathy and disappointment pervade incumbent Vladimir Putin’s heartland.

Alexandra Chekh, a retired kindergarten director, voted for Putin the last time around in 2012. Now she wonders if he has anything to offer.

“Change? If he could do it, he would have done it by now,” she said. “If nothing gets done, then maybe we will need a new person.”

A new person is unlikely — the 65-year-old Putin is the overwhelming favorite in Russia’s March 18 presidential vote. But the dim view taken by former supporters such as Chekh is notable in a city like Novokuznetsk, part of the Kemerovo region in southwestern Siberia where Putin tallied 77 percent of the vote in 2012.

The city itself lies 4,500 miles (7,240 kilometers) east of Moscow.

Since that last election, anti-corruption campaigner and adamant Putin foe Alexei Navalny has been able to spread his message far beyond the prosperous and educated urban circles of Moscow and St. Petersburg where his support started. But Navalny is saddled by a fraud and embezzlement conviction — which his supporters view as politically motivated — that will prevent him from running in the presidential race unless he’s pardoned or some other dispensation is made.

Navalny is pressing on, nonetheless. On Saturday, several hundred people showed up at his rally in Novokuznetsk, a city of nearly 550,000 people that is home to coal mines, metals plants and soot-smelling air. Some at the rally came without hats or gloves despite the minus -15 Celsius (minus -5 Fahrenheit) temperatures.

Navalny focused on the grievances he has been highlighting throughout the campaign: low pay for state employees, the concentration of wealth in Moscow and the Kremlin’s excessive funding for foreign policy forays.

Official statistics show the region’s average monthly pay as 31,600 rubles ($532), a little under the Russian average. But Novokuznetsk residents think those figures are inflated by officials. When Navalny asked the crowd how much a nurse makes in Novokuznetsk, they shouted “10,000” or “15,000.”

If Putin’s 18 years in power have induced apathy and a sense of helplessness among Russian voters, that’s the big issue in Navalny’s view.

Putin has made voters in industrial cities like Novokuznetsk his base, touting stability as the key achievement of his rule. But these days, finding a fervent Putin supporter on Novokuznetsk’s snow-covered streets can be hard.

Of seven residents approached by an AP reporter, only four said they supported Putin. None of them expressed enthusiasm.

A survey by the independent polling agency Levada Center suggests that enthusiasm for Putin is in decline countrywide. It found that 51 percent of those questioned said they were tired of waiting for Putin to bring “positive change,” 10 percentage points higher than a year ago.

Through his canny, energetic use of social media and YouTube, Navalny has done an end-run around Russia’s state-controlled news media, which is the main source of information for people outside of the country’s main cities. Demonstrations called by Navalny this year rattled the Kremlin, not only because of their large turnouts but due to the fact they were taking place in provincial cities throughout the country.

Many of those who showed up at the Novokuznetsk rally say Putin does have support there, but nowhere near as overwhelmingly as the last election figures indicated. The real picture, they say, is distorted by widespread voting fraud.

Navalny told The Associated Press after the rally that he is encouraged by the warm reception he is seeing in Russia’s regions. He says that proves support for Putin in the places that habitually give him 80 percent of the vote at the polls is “fiction and falsification.”

Navalny’s activists all over Russia have been canvassing all year on the streets and going door-to-door to talk to voters, despite threats and intimidation from authorities.

“If we can hold such a big rally here, with all the pressure and intimidation, it means that we enjoy at least significant support here,” Navalny said after an hour of posing for photos with rally attendees in Novokuznetsk.

Navalny initially laughed off a question about what is going to happen if authorities — when the presidential campaign officially starts later this month — formally bar him from running.

“(The Kremlin) cannot bar me from running if such a big number of people is supporting me,” he declared.

But he later offered a glimpse into his plans.

“If they don’t register me, people together with me will not recognize this election and we will boycott this election,” he said.

A low presidential turnout is something the Kremlin is very wary about.

Fighting apathy is one of the most common theories behind the surprise presidential bid of socialite-turned-journalist Ksenia Sobchak. The 36-year-old candidate has been mildly critical of Putin but faces none of the obstacles that Navalny’s supporters do. Many Russians think her efforts are designed to boost interest in an otherwise bland presidential campaign — a claim that Sobchak absolutely denies.

But Navalny probably does not even need to call for a boycott to bring the turnout even lower, because many residents of the Kemerovo region have already given up on the presidential vote.

Sergei Maslyukov, 40, watched his daughter slide off a mammoth mound of snow on Novokuznetsk’s main square. He did not go to Navalny’s rally Saturday and has not heard much about the popular activist. He is also disappointed in Putin but sees no viable alternative to the Russian leader.

“The promises he made . he did not make good on them,” Maslyukov said. “What promises? Do you think average pay in Russia correlates to the prices? I’m not going to vote for anyone.”

Japan Buying Missiles That Can Strike North Korea Bases

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While North Korea keeps up its taunting missile tests, Japan is making plans of its own, with North Korea seemingly in its sights. The Wall Street Journal reports Japan is set to purchase extended-range missiles that could hit the North’s military bases. The country’s Defense Ministry says it will ask for $19 million in next year’s budget to scoop up a Norwegian-built Joint Strike Missile that can travel up to 300 miles, as well as extra funds to revamp its F-35 jet fighters to carry Lockheed Martin missiles, including the company’s Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile. The latter can reach just over 600 miles—far enough to hit land targets in the North from jets near Japan. Japan’s defense minister minimizes the news, saying Japan would keep its reliance on the US for any such strikes.

This would mark Japan’s first-ever purchase of long-range missiles, notes CNN, and the move is upsetting some who want to stick to the official pacifist stance the country has maintained since World War II. One person likely to be pleased is President Trump, who said during a November visit that Japan should buy “massive” amounts of military equipment from the US. Meanwhile, North Korea has reportedly expressed a willingness to have a sit-down with the US over the nuclear detente. The Guardian reports that Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, informed Rex Tillerson of that news Thursday when the two met in Vienna. No response from Tillerson yet, but the US State Department’s stance has been that the North needs to show it’s serious about giving up its nukes before a true conversation can be had.

N. Korea Says War Is Now Unavoidable

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War on the Korean Peninsula is now inevitable thanks to America’s “confrontational warmongering remarks,“ North Korea warned late Wednesday. A statement from the country’s foreign ministry said the outbreak of war is an “established” fact and the only remaining question is when it will happen, Reuters reports. “We do not wish for a war but shall not hide from it, and should the US miscalculate our patience and light the fuse for a nuclear war, we will surely make the US dearly pay the consequences with our mighty nuclear force which we have consistently strengthened,“ the statement said.

The statement also slammed US officials including CIA Director Mike Pompeo for “impudently criticizing our supreme leadership, which is the heart of our people.“ The statement came as the “Vigilant Ace” military drills involving hundreds of American and South Korean aircraft continued, with a US B-1B supersonic bomber flying over the peninsula Wednesday, the AP reports. The South Korean military said the drill, in which the US bomber simulated land strikes, “displayed the allies’ strong intent and ability to punish North Korea when threatened by nuclear weapons and missiles.“

Pope: Deliver Us From Bad Translation of Lord’s Prayer

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The concept of temptation, and avoiding it, is something all Roman Catholics are made to confront throughout their liturgical lives. But Pope Francis is now saying if you feel that irresistible pull toward that which you shouldn’t do, don’t blame God for it. Specifically, per Reuters, the pontiff is taking issue with one line in the Lord’s Prayer, aka the “Our Father”—the part in which worshipers implore God to “lead us not into temptation.“ “It is not a good translation, because it speaks of a God who induces temptation,“ the 80-year-old Francis told Italian broadcaster TV2000 on Wednesday, per the Guardian. “I am the one who falls. It’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen. A father doesn’t do that, a father helps you to get up immediately,“ he continued, blaming Satan instead for any transgressions.

It’s entirely possible something was lost in translation somewhere along the prayer’s evolutionary timeline, as Reuters points out the original Aramaic was translated to ancient Greek, then to Latin, and finally to English. And the Telegraph notes translation errors and plain old typos have occurred over the years in related religious documents, such as the Bible (one famous one: leaving the word “not” out of the Seventh Commandment, leading it to read “Thou shalt commit adultery”). Francis pointed out that the Catholic Church in France has been using an alternative phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, and it’s one he’s pushing for: “Do not let us fall into temptation.“

Angry worshippers lash out against Trump across Muslim world

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Large crowds of worshippers across the Muslim world staged anti-U.S. marches, some stomping on posters of Donald Trump or burning American flags in the largest outpouring of anger yet at the U.S. president’s recognition of bitterly contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In the holy city itself, prayers at Islam’s third-holiest site dispersed largely without incident, but Palestinians clashed with Israeli troops in several dozen West Bank hotspots and on the border with the Gaza Strip.

A 30-year-old Gaza man was killed by Israeli gunfire, the first death of a protester since Trump’s dramatic midweek announcement. Two Palestinians were seriously wounded, health officials said.

Dozens of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were hit by live rounds or rubber-coated steel or inhaled tear gas, the officials said.

Later Friday, the Israeli military said its Iron Dome missile-defense system intercepted a rocket fired from Gaza into southern Israel, but no injuries were reported.

Trump’s pivot on Jerusalem triggered warnings from America’s friends and foes alike that he is needlessly stirring more conflict in an already volatile region.

The religious and political dispute over Jerusalem forms the emotional core of the Israeli-Arab conflict. The ancient city is home to major Muslim, Jewish and Christian shrines and looms large in the competing national narratives of Israelis and Palestinians.

Trump’s decision on Jerusalem is widely seen in the region as a blatant expression of pro-Israel bias, but it was unclear if protests and confrontations would maintain momentum after Friday. More extensive violence has erupted in the Palestinian areas in the past, including deadly bloodshed triggered by disputes over Jerusalem.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement and other groups had called for three “days of rage” this week. However, Abbas remains an opponent of violence, saying it’s counterproductive and that he might at some point order his security forces to contain protests.

Separately, Fatah’s rival, the Gaza-based Islamic militant Hamas, called this week for a third uprising against Israel, but such appeals have fizzled as Palestinians become more disillusioned with their leaders.

On Friday, demonstrators in the West Bank torched heaps of tires, sending columns of thick black smoke rising over the cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem. Palestinian stone-throwers traded volleys in the streets with soldiers firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Along the Gaza-Israel border fence, Israeli troops fired at stone-throwers.

Across the region — from Asia’s Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan to North Africa’s Algeria and Lebanon in the Levant — thousands of worshippers poured into the streets after midday prayers to voice their anger. Some protesters burned U.S. and Israeli flags or stomped Trump posters that showed the president alongside a Nazi swastika.

In Jordan’s capital of Amman, thousands marched through the center of town, chanting “America is the head of the snake.”

Pro-Western Jordan is a crucial U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic extremists, but King Abdullah II cannot afford to be seen as soft on Jerusalem. His Hashemite dynasty derives its legitimacy from its role as guardian of the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third-holiest site.

Trump’s decision has also strained U.S. foreign relations.

U.N. Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov told an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council on Friday that Trump’s announcement created a “serious risk” of a chain of unilateral actions that would push the goal of peace further away.

The U.S. ambassador, Nikki Haley, told the council that the Trump administration is more committed to peace “than we’ve ever been before — and we believe we might be closer to that goal than ever before.” Haley did not explain.

In Europe, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday played down the impact of Trump’s policy shift, which also included a pledge to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Tillerson said it will likely take years for the U.S. to open an embassy in Jerusalem.

In a news conference with the French foreign minister, Tillerson said Trump’s recognition of the city as Israel’s capital “did not indicate any final status for Jerusalem.”

The United States is making clear that Jerusalem’s borders will be left to Israelis and Palestinians to “negotiate and decide,” he said.

Most countries around the world have not recognized Israel’s 1967 annexation of east Jerusalem and maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv. Under a longstanding international consensus, the fate of the city is to be determined in negotiations.

Trump’s announcement delivered a blow to Abbas, a supporter of the idea of reaching Palestinian statehood through U.S.-led negotiations with Israel. In siding with Israel on Jerusalem, he has said, the Trump administration effectively disqualified itself as a mediator.

However, Abbas has not decided how to move forward, including whether he will rule out future U.S.-brokered negotiations. Trump has said he still intends to propose a Mideast peace deal.

More than two decades of intermittent Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have failed to bring the Palestinians closer to statehood. Some in Abbas’ inner circle say the old paradigm, with the U.S. serving as mediator, is no longer relevant.

On Thursday, a senior Fatah official said the Palestinians would not receive Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the West Bank later this month, but it was not immediately clear if the official spoke for Abbas.

The Arab League, an umbrella group of close to two dozen states, is to meet Saturday to try to forge a joint position, followed next week by a gathering in Turkey of the 57-state Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Turkish officials said Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to Turkey next week for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Jerusalem’s status and other issues.

Palestinians protest Trump move on Jerusalem

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Hundreds of Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli troops across the West Bank while demonstrators in Gaza burned posters of President Donald Trump over his widely denounced decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The leader of the Hamas militant group, which runs Gaza, called for a new armed uprising in a widespread show of anger, as the demonstrators torched American and Israeli flags.

In the West Bank, crowds of protesters set tires on fire and hurled stones at Israeli troops. In Bethlehem, troops fired water cannons and tear gas to disperse a crowd, in clashes that could cloud the upcoming Christmas celebrations in the town of Jesus’ birth. In Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government, protesters set tires on fire, sending a thick plume of black smoke over the city.

Trump’s dramatic break on Wednesday with decades of U.S. policy on Jerusalem counters long-standing international assurances to the Palestinians that the fate of the city will be determined in negotiations. The Palestinians seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, as a future capital.

Palestinians shuttered their schools and shops on Thursday to begin three “days of rage” over Trump’s decision. Rallies were underway in other West Bank cities, and a demonstration was being held outside the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City.

“We are here. We believe in our rights,” said Rania Hatem, a protester outside the Old City.

Palestinian officials said dozens of protesters were lightly wounded, most from tear gas inhalation. Friday, the Muslim holy day when Palestinians gather for weekly mass prayers, could prove more violent.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas’ leader Ismail Haniyeh called on Palestinians to launch a new intifada, or uprising, against Israel on Friday.

“The American decision is an aggression on our people and a war on our sanctuaries,” Haniyeh said in a speech, urging supporters “to be ready for any orders.”

“We want the uprising to last and continue to let Trump and the occupation regret this decision,” he said.

The Israeli military said two rockets were fired from Gaza but fell short, landing in Palestinian territory. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Hamas, a group that seeks Israel’s destruction, killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks in the early 2000s. But the group’s capabilities are more limited now. Gaza, Hamas’ stronghold, is closed by an Israeli blockade, while in the West Bank, many of its members have been arrested. Nonetheless, it possesses a large arsenal of rockets in Gaza capable of striking much of Israel.

The Israeli military said it would deploy several battalions to the West Bank ahead of Friday, while other troops have been put on alert to address “possible developments.”

The conflicting claims to Jerusalem, and especially its Old City, where sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites are located, lie at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Trump’s decision had no impact on the city’s daily life, it carried deep symbolic meaning, and was seen as an attempt to impose a solution on the Palestinians.

Israel, which claims all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, has welcomed Trump’s decision. Netanyahu said Trump “bound himself forever” to the history of Jerusalem with the move and claimed other states are considering following suit.

“We are already in contact with other states that will make a similar recognition,” he said Thursday.

Anger at the U.S. has rippled across the Arab world.

Saudi Arabia’s royal court condemned the Trump administration’s decision in a rare public rebuke by the U.S. ally. The regional powerhouse, which could help the White House push through a Middle East settlement, said Thursday it had already warned against this step and “continues to express its deep regret at the U.S. administration’s decision,” describing it “unjustified and irresponsible.”

Trump’s move puts the Sunni nation in a bind. The kingdom, particularly its powerful crown prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, enjoys close relations with Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who leads Trump’s efforts to restart Mideast peace talks.

U.S. embassies across much of the Middle East and parts of Africa warned American citizens of possible protests following Trump’s move.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has suggested that with Trump’s move, the United States disqualified itself as mediator, a role it has played exclusively in more than two decades of stop-and-go negotiations aimed at setting up a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The stalled talks have failed to bring the Palestinians closer to the state they seek in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel has meanwhile steadily expanded Jewish settlements on war-won lands, even as it said it wants to negotiate.

Trump’s claim Wednesday that he still wants to pursue what he has called the “ultimate” deal was met by mounting skepticism.

“With its decision, the U.S. has isolated itself and Israel, and has pushed the area into a dangerous situation and stopped the peace process,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a senior Abbas aide.

At a meeting Thursday with his closest Arab ally, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Abbas said he is rallying international opposition to Trump’s decision, which he called “an unacceptable crime.”

Jordan, alongside other U.S. allies in the region, has slammed Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. The king is seen as one of Washington’s most dependable partners in the battle against Islamic extremism in the region.

At the same time, the legitimacy of his Hashemite dynasty is closely linked to its special role as religious guardian of a major Muslim shrine in east Jerusalem. Jordan, which has a large population with Palestinian roots, cannot afford to be seen as soft on Muslim claims to the holy city.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Trump’s announcement “has the potential to send us backwards to even darker times than the one we are already living in.”

The Arab League, a group representing most states in the Middle East and North Africa, will meet Saturday. Next week, Turkey will host a gathering of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which has 57 member states.

The region has been bracing for fallout from Trump’s seismic policy shift.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday accused Trump of throwing the Mideast into a “ring of fire” and said his motives were difficult to fathom. “It’s not possible to understand what you are trying to get out of it,” Erdogan said, referring to Trump in a speech to a group of workers at Ankara’s airport.

Emperor’s Memoir, Written at MacArthur’s Request, to Be Sold

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A memoir by Japanese Emperor Hirohito that offers his recollections of World War II is predicted to fetch between $100,000 and $150,000 at an auction in New York. The 173-page document was dictated to his aides soon after the end of the war. It was created at the request of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, whose administration controlled Japan at the time. The memoir, also known as the imperial monologue, covers events from the Japanese assassination of Manchurian warlord Zhang Zuolin in 1928 to the emperor’s surrender broadcast recorded on Aug. 14, 1945. The document’s contents caused a sensation when they were first published in Japan in 1990, just after the emperor’s death, reports the AP.

The two volumes being auctioned are each bound with strings, the contents written vertically in pencil. It was transcribed by Hidenari Terasaki, an imperial aide and former diplomat who served as a translator when Hirohito met with MacArthur. The monologue is believed among historians to be a carefully crafted text intended to defend Hirohito’s responsibility in case he was prosecuted after the war. A 1997 documentary on Japan’s NHK television found an English translation of the memoir that supports that view. The transcript was kept by Terasaki’s American wife, Gwen Terasaki, after his death in 1951 and then handed over to their daughter Mariko Terasaki Miller and her family. It’s scheduled to be auctioned at Bonhams on Wednesday.

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