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Morning news brief


It's a busy week for America's top diplomat.


Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with China's top leader, Xi Jinping, yesterday in China. You heard him on NPR talking about his trip to Beijing. It was the first such visit in more than five years. Now Blinken is turning to Ukraine. He's in London today for a conference focusing on Ukraine's postwar recovery. Those talks start tomorrow.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Lauren Frayer joins us now from our London bureau. Lauren, Secretary of State Blinken told NPR yesterday that he applauds any role China can play in a peace deal for Ukraine. So how do the U.K. and other countries who will be at this conference see it?

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Some of them are wary, actually. I mean, China, as you know, has not condemned Russia. Xi Jinping has maintained ties with Vladimir Putin. On the other hand, this war is grinding on, and China, because of its ties to Russia, could be sort of uniquely placed to shake loose some kind of compromise from Putin if Putin has any interest in ending this war at all through diplomacy, which doesn't look likely at this point. I called up a China expert whose name is Rana Mitter, a historian at Oxford, and he says, you know, China has actually been playing that role in other conflicts around the world.

RANA MITTER: China has gone particularly to countries which are no longer very friendly towards the United States - Iran would be a good example - and used its economic links and its long history of diplomatic connection with them to try and essentially broker agreements that lead to regional peace. Iran, Saudi Arabia is the best example of that in recent years.

FRAYER: And he says, of course, if there is a peace in Ukraine, there could be something in that for China, too.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. So what might that look like?

FRAYER: A hand basically in rebuilding and the reconstruction of Ukraine. China is a construction machine. It has built infrastructure projects around the world. It relies on those projects to create jobs for Chinese workers and keep the Chinese economy afloat. Chinese workers have already built parts of the Kyiv Metro, and they want to do more projects like that. I talked to another analyst. His name is Mujtaba Rahman of the Eurasia Group. It's a risk analysis firm. And he says that a Chinese role in Ukraine actually makes the European Union pretty nervous.

MUJTABA RAHMAN: The Chinese can build political support, allegiance, connections through undertaking a massive large-scale capital reconstruction program, and I think - so there is a lot of concern in Europe about competition with the Chinese for hearts and minds in Ukraine once the war has stopped.

FRAYER: He says basically the European Union sees Ukraine as its turf, and it doesn't want China to have a foothold there.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So then this conference in London this week is about planning for what happens if and when the war ends.

FRAYER: Yeah, basically having a plan for that moment. And to that end, the European Commission is announcing today a big package for Ukraine's medium-term recovery through 2027. The U.K., which is second only to the U.S. in terms of military aid to Ukraine, is - has announced a tightening of sanctions on Russia. It wants to keep Russian assets frozen even if and when the war ends, until Moscow agrees to pay compensation to Ukraine. So Blinken and other diplomats are looking at the rebuilding of Ukraine and legal repercussions for Russia.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Lauren Frayer in London. Thanks for the info, Lauren.

FRAYER: You're welcome.


MARTÍNEZ: New developments in the Israeli-occupied West Bank are worrying the international community.

MARTIN: Thousands of new homes for Israeli settlers are set to be advanced next week. That's after Israel has changed the process for approving settlement construction, making it easier for Israeli settlers to claim more land that Palestinians want for a country of their own. The U.S., the EU and U.N. are calling this an obstacle to peace, and it comes during a violent time in the West Bank.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Daniel Estrin is with us from Tel Aviv. Daniel, tell us what happened yesterday in the West Bank.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: We saw some new worrying trends yesterday and just in the last couple of weeks, in general, heavier weaponry and greater casualties. What we've been seeing for more than a year now is that almost every night Israeli troops raid a Palestinian city, arrest suspects. They're trying to prevent Palestinian shootings on Israelis. But these military raids lead to gun battles, and troops end up regularly killing young Palestinians, high casualties. What we saw in the raid yesterday was that Palestinian militants are becoming more emboldened, more sophisticated in their weaponry. We saw a rare roadside bomb go off, targeting an armored personnel carrier.

The army says it's quite an advanced bomb that went off. It wounded several soldiers. And for the first time in two decades, Israel deployed an attack helicopter to help extract soldiers. So we're seeing heavier weaponry being used by both sides. And yesterday was a fierce battle where Palestinian officials said Israeli troops killed six Palestinians, including a 15-year-old. So now there are these calls in Israel for a wider offensive to prevent the spread of roadside bombs so they do not target Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

MARTÍNEZ: And we mentioned earlier, Daniel, that Israel is working to expand the presence of settlers in the West Bank. How is that happening?

ESTRIN: Right. In a couple of ways - next week, Israel is planning to advance about 4,800 new settler homes throughout the West Bank. That total number of settler homes this year being advanced is nearly triple the number last year. Also this week, Israel changed the rules on how it plans new settlement homes. It has expedited the process. It's given sweeping decision powers to a far-right, pro-settler cabinet minister who openly says that he wants to expand the settler population and prevent a Palestinian state.

This new approval process for settler homes could make it harder for countries like the U.S. to do what it has done for years, which is step in in the early stages of these settler plans and stop some of the more controversial ones. This is now a quicker pipeline, that settlement homes are going to be approved much more quickly. So that's why the U.S., the EU, the U.N. have all spoken out. These moves deepen Israel's occupation of the West Bank. They also make it even harder to see a future where Israel can uproot from these areas and let Palestinians have their own country.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, but there are no peace talks at all right now. So how does the recent violence and these new decisions on settlements affect where things are headed there?

ESTRIN: We are seeing a leadership vacuum in the Palestinian Authority - the Palestinian president is deeply unpopular and deeply ineffective in advancing the Palestinian cause and freedom from Israeli occupation - and a young generation of Palestinians taking up arms, filling up that vacuum, and also on the Israeli side, a settler leadership taking up key positions of power in the government.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR international correspondent Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Daniel, thanks.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.


MARTÍNEZ: In Virginia, today is the final day of voting in what has been a very expensive primary season.

MARTIN: Republicans took control of the House of Delegates and the governor's mansion two years ago. The competition is expected to be intense in the general election this fall. But first, both parties are dealing with brand-new legislative maps.

MARTÍNEZ: Following all of this is Margaret Barthel of member station WAMU. Margaret, tell us all about this primary.

MARGARET BARTHEL, BYLINE: Yeah, A, the big story here is that Virginia's latest redistricting process really shook things up politically. It drew quite a few older incumbents into the same districts, which prompted retirements. And we're talking people with a lot of power who've been shaping this body for a while. Both Senate majority and minority leaders, for instance, are retiring after this year. Redistricting also created some entirely new districts, and it emboldened quite a few primary challengers to go up against some of the remaining incumbents.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, so depending on how races go today, it sounds like it could be a very different-looking legislature after November.

BARTHEL: Yeah, exactly. If incumbents struggle to hold on to their seats, that could mean still more turnover. People in the Democratic Party in Northern Virginia are especially concerned about loss of experience and influence among the regional delegation. And some voters are too, like Marsha Marinich.

MARSHA MARINICH: If we lived in a safer country right now where, you know, people were not leaning towards ideologies and so forth, I might vote for a less experienced person, but right now I'm looking at experience.

BARTHEL: But the challengers still have a shot. Their campaigns have a lot of money. Some of them have spent nearly $1 million already, and they're making the case for a younger, more diverse, more progressive vision of the Democratic Party.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin's victory in 2021 I think surprised some because it seemed like the state was trending blue. What GOP priorities has he been able to get done while taking office?

BARTHEL: Yeah, he's definitely had some key wins. Probably one of the biggest is a big tax cut that he got through in the budget deal last year. But because Democrats have control of the state Senate, they've been able to block a lot of the stuff on Youngkin's agenda. Think things like a 15-week abortion ban and school choice legislation. And so for someone who's kind of flirting with presidential ambitions, like Youngkin is, not getting those cultural conservative wins is a bit of a problem.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. How about the races today on the Republican side?

BARTHEL: Yeah, there are a few more competitive contests that pit these kind of establishment Republicans versus further-right challengers. Youngkin has tended to support more establishment candidates when he has endorsed. And more broadly, he's got a lot riding on who ultimately wins control of the General Assembly in November, of course. And his political action committee is really gearing up for that. Earlier this spring, they announced they had nearly $3 million in the bank, which is record setting.

MARTÍNEZ: Margaret Barthel is of WAMU. Margaret, thanks for checking in.

BARTHEL: My pleasure, A.


MARTÍNEZ: Rescuers in the North Atlantic Ocean are racing against the clock in the search for a submersible that went missing Sunday. Five people are on board, a commander and four tourists. They were on their way to view the wreck of the Titanic, which lies on the ocean floor about 900 miles from Cape Cod, Mass. Rear Admiral John Mauger says the U.S. Coast Guard is coordinating the search along with Canadian Armed Forces.


JOHN MAUGER: We understand from the operator of the vessel that the vessel was designed with a 96-hour sustainment capability if there was an emergency on board.

MARTÍNEZ: It's not known why the submersible lost contact with its support ship on the surface. The Titanic was the largest passenger ship of its time and sank on its first voyage back in 1912. For more on this story, tune in to MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.