February 13, 2018
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The U.S.-Israeli relationship hit a rare rocky patch under President Trump on Monday when the U.S. flatly denied Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's assertion that he had been discussing annexing part of the West Bank with the Trump administration "for some time now." The White House apparently privately demanded and publicly received a walking-back of that claim, which Netanyahu aides said the prime minister made in a meeting with a faction of his Likud party. "The United States and Israel have never discussed such a proposal, and the president's focus remains squarely on his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative," White House spokesman Josh Raffel said.

Trump's Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, spearheaded by son-in-law Jared Kushner and envoy Jason Greenblatt, is stalled after Trump announced U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, prompting the Palestinian Authority to disengage. Now, Trump appears to have added a new Mideast peace envoy: Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In Moscow on Monday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated to Putin that "from now on we refuse to cooperate in any form with the U.S. in its status of a mediator, as we stand against its actions." Putin told Abbas that he had "just spoken over the phone" with Trump, and "naturally, we spoke about the Palestinian-Israeli settlement," according to Russia's official TASS news agency. "I would like to convey to you his best wishes," Putin told Abbas. Abbas said the Palestinians would be willing to participate in an international peace conference in which the U.S. was just one player, along with Russia, the European Union, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Arab states. Peter Weber

August 14, 2017
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North Korea has been testing weapons technology in pursuit of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the U.S. mainland for years. Many of the tests were less than successful; in March and April, for example, missile tests ended in utter failure with explosions mere seconds after launch.

But now, suddenly, Pyongyang has the tech it has wanted for so long. This "mystery of how North Korea began succeeding so suddenly after a string of fiery missile failures" may be explained in a New York Times report, which cites "an expert analysis being published Monday and classified assessments by American intelligence agencies" to reveal that North Korea's abrupt success was "made possible by black-market purchases of powerful rocket engines probably from a Ukrainian factory with historical ties to Russia's missile program."

The analysis is based on photos of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspecting new missiles. The images appear to depict rocket engines whose design is based on a motor used in the former Soviet Union's weapons. Some of the Soviet engines were produced in Ukraine at a factory that remains active and desperately low on licit customers to this day. "It's likely that these engines came from Ukraine," the author of the analysis, Michael Elleman, told the Times. "The big question is how many they have and whether the Ukrainians are helping them now."

The Ukrainian government categorically denied involvement, labeling Pyongyang "totalitarian, dangerous, and unpredictable." It remains unclear how the motors could have been secretly transported to North Korea, though Elleman did not rule out involvement from a Russian missile producer, Energomash, with links to the factory in Ukraine. Bonnie Kristian