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Senate Judiciary Committee Votes to Approve Loretta Lynch as Next United States Attorney General

Loretta LynchLoretta Lynch won approval from a key Senate committee Thursday to serve as America’s next attorney general, as divided Republicans clashed over her support for President Barack Obama’s immigration policies.

The 12 to 8 vote in the Judiciary Committee sent Lynch’s nomination to the full Senate. Three Republicans joined all committee Democrats in voting “yes.”

“The case against her nomination, as far as I can tell, essentially ignores her professional career and focuses solely on about six hours that she spent before this committee,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, as he criticized fellow Republicans for using Lynch’s testimony in support of Obama’s executive actions on immigration as a reason to oppose her nomination.

“I do not believe that is a proper way to evaluate any nominee’s fitness for any position,” Hatch said.

But GOP Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Ted Cruz of Texas, among others, insisted that Lynch disqualified herself with her support for those directives and had not shown she would be sufficiently independent from Obama.

“The president’s policy is to allow people unlawfully here to take jobs in America,  a policy she has explicitly stated she intends to defend,” said Sessions. “We should not confirm someone to that position who intends to continue that unlawful policy.”

Despite the disagreement, Lynch is all but assured approval by the full Senate, under new rules that will require only a majority vote instead of the 60-vote margin required for most legislation. Timing for a floor vote is uncertain.

But unlike Obama’s defense secretary nominee, Ash Carter, who was approved by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 93-5 earlier this month, Lynch is unlikely to win approval by a resounding margin. As Thursday’s debate illustrated, GOP opposition to Obama’s immigration policies has become entwined in a variety of issues in the newly Republican-run Congress, and it has cut into Lynch’s support at the same time it is holding up funding for the Department of Homeland Security.

Committee Democrats took turns denouncing their Republican colleagues for using the immigration issue as a reason to oppose Lynch, 55, who now serves as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. She would replace Eric Holder and become the first black woman to hold the nation’s top law enforcement job.

“Let me be crystal clear: The place for this battle is in the courts,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “Political fights over immigration should not hold up Loretta Lynch, DHS funding or anything else.”

A federal court last week put the policies on hold, a ruling the Obama administration is appealing. The directives extended work permits and deportation stays to millions in the country illegally.

GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona joined Hatch in voting to support Lynch. Graham suggested other Republicans find another outlet for their opposition to Obama’s immigration plans.

“To those who really believe this is a constitutional overreach of historic proportions you have impeachment available to you,” Graham said.

Flake noted that he and others have been eager to say good-bye to Holder, a lightning rod for conservatives who butted heads repeatedly with Capitol Hill Republicans and was held in contempt of Congress.

“The longer this nomination is held up the longer the current attorney general in the Department of Justice stays in place,” Flake said.

But Cruz, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, said, “The answers Ms. Lynch gave in this hearing room, in my judgment, render her unsuitable for the position of chief law enforcement officer of the United States.”

Cruz has pressured Republican leadership to hold up Lynch and other Obama nominees as a way to pressure the president over his immigration plans, but most other Republicans have shown little interest in participating in his approach.

 

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Reformer Joko Widodo Sworn In As Indonesia’s New President

Joko WidodoIndonesia’s Joko Widodo took over as president of the world’s third-largest democracy on Monday with supporters’ hopes high but pressing economic problems and sceptical rivals set to test the former furniture businessman.

Widodo won a narrow victory over a former general in a July election with promises of clean government and tackling entrenched interests. It was the first time in the young democracy’s history that a president was elected from outside the established military and political elite.

“This is the time for us to unite our hearts and hands, this is the time for us … to reach and realize an Indonesia that has political sovereignty, economic independence and cultural character,” Widodo said in his inaugural speech to a packed parliament.

His priorities will be getting to grips with slowing growth in the resource-rich country, as well as deteriorating government finances, a heavy subsidy bill and flagging investor interest.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attended the inauguration along with various Asian leaders including the prime ministers of neighboring Malaysia and Singapore, the Sultan of Brunei and Australia’s prime minister.

The former mayor of the city of Solo and governor of the capital, Jakarta, is untested on the national and international stages but he already faces resistance from the establishment to his transparent, can-do approach to governance.

“He has climbed up to the top of the pyramid but he’s still weak within the powerful political class,” said Achmad Sukarsono, a political analyst at the Habibie Center, think-tank.

Thousands gathered on the streets of the capital, Jakarta, waving flags and banners to celebrate the unprecedented ascent of the small-town businessman to leader of the country with the world’s biggest Muslim population.

“This is the first time we’ve been this happy after voting,” minibus driver Susanto said while waiting for Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla to pass by on a horse-drawn carriage.

“The government is truly close to the people.”

Widodo, 53, is an avid heavy metal fan and is expected to join the celebrations later on Monday and jam with a rock band.

The new president has been struggling to build support in parliament without indulging in the old game of trading support for jobs, but his refusal to swap cabinet posts for backing has driven unaligned parties to the opposition, leaving him with a minority that is set to face resistance to his reforms.

Even Widodo’s staunchest supporters have worried that his principles might stymie his reforms. But the lean, affable president with a common touch has been resolutely optimistic about working with the legislature.

After weeks of gridlock, Widodo last week sought to improve ties when he met with opposition leader Prabowo Subianto and prominent opposition member Aburizal Bakrie, who congratulated him and pledged to support his government, though reserving the right to criticize.

Widodo focused much of his inaugural speech on his plan to make Indomesia, a sprawling archipelago of about 13,500 islands, a maritime power.

“We have for too long turned our backs on the ocean, the straits and the bays. This is the time for us to restore it so we will prosper like our ancestors,” he said, referring to the archipelago’s maritime heritage.

He has promised to expand the country’s ports to help revive economic growth, but will need to find the funds for such an ambitious project.

His first big test looks set to be cutting fuel subsidies in the next two weeks to avoid breaching a legal limit on the budget deficit, which is under pressure from a shortfall in tax revenues and the slowest economic growth in five years.

Higher fuel prices have sparked protests in Indonesia before and contributed to the downfall of long-serving autocrat and then president Suharto in 1998.

Within weeks of taking office, Widodo will be in international limelight with an Asia-Pacific summit in Beijing and a G20 summit in Australia.

Kerry, who will meet Widodo later on Monday, will urge him to maintain the active role in regional foreign policy pursued by the previous administration, amid concern the new president may be more inward-looking given a preoccupation with domestic agendas.

“What we see in the region is a pretty steady calling for Indonesia to remain active in foreign affairs,” said a U.S. official traveling with Kerry said.

Kerry will also meet the prime ministers of Malaysia and Singapore, the Sultan of Brunei, Australia’s prime minister and the foreign minister of the Philippines and will seek more help in the U.S.-led effort against Islamic State in the Middle East.

His discussions will cover ways to block recruitment of fighters, preventing the return of hardened fighters to the region and blocking financing, a U.S. official said.

 

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US Joint Chiefs of Staff States Force of 12,000 to 15,000 Needed to Push Back ISIS

Martin DempseyA Syrian rebel force of 12,000 to 15,000 will be needed to push back Islamic State militants in the country’s east, three times the number of fighters due to be trained by the United States, the top US military officer said Friday.

In offering the estimate, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said building up a viable rebel force on the ground would be vital to rolling back the gains of the IS group in Syria, but warned it would take time and patience.

“We’ve had estimates anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 is what we believe they would need to recapture lost territory in eastern Syria,” Dempsey told a news conference at the Pentagon.

The current plan for 5,000 recruits to be trained and armed by American instructors over the next year was never intended to represent the total number of troops forming the “moderate” rebel forces.

“Five thousand has never been the end state…,” he said.

It was the first time Washington had put a number on how big a rebel force might be required to prevail against the IS extremists in Syria.

The general said defeating the IS group would take more than air power and that “a ground component” was an important aspect of the US-led campaign.

“We believe the path to develop that is the Syrian moderate opposition,” he said.

The general said he was “confident” the training effort would be successful but pleaded for patience.

“We have to do it right. Not fast,” he said.

“We need to have military leaders that bind them together. They have to have a political structure into which they can hook, and therefore be responsive to. And that’s going to take some time.”

The US Congress last week approved President Barack Obama’s plan to train and equip up to 5,000 “moderate” rebel troops, and Saudi Arabia has offered to host the training.

Asked who was the head of the opposition that was receiving US assistance, Pentagon Chief Chuck Hagel said there was no leader at the moment as Washington was vetting the recruits.

“We don’t have a head of it, in that we are vetting and will continue to vet through our regional partners, State Department, intelligence departments . . .,” he said. “We’re not going to instruct them as to who their leaders are.”

He said a total of 43 US-led air strikes in Syria this week and about 200 in Iraq since August 8 had damaged the IS group but there was a long fight ahead.

“I also want to emphasize that no one is under any illusions, under any illusions, that airstrikes alone will destroy ISIL,” said Hagel, using an alternative acronym for the group.

“They are one element of our broader comprehensive campaign against ISIL, a campaign that has diplomatic, economic, intelligence and other military components, working with coalition partners and a new government in Iraq.”

Hagel also said the cost of the air war for the United States was at about at $7 million to $10 million a day and acknowledged that the Obama administration would have to ask Congress for more funds to cover the operation in coming months.

The US government was still not certain if air attacks in Syria this week had killed senior leaders of the IS outfit or of the Khorsasan group, a collection of Al-Qaeda militants. Dempsey said.

“What we do is, we monitor various kinds of intelligence. We scan social media, which is normally the first place you find out, frankly. But it’s too soon to tell,” the general said.

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Obama Ducking Border Crisis but Attending Political Fundraiser in Texas

Border crisisFor President Barack Obama, the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border is increasingly becoming a political liability, giving Republicans a fresh opportunity to question his administration’s competence and complicating the debate over the nation’s fractured immigration laws.

Still, Obama is resisting calls to visit the border during his two-day fundraising trip to Texas, where he arrives late Wednesday afternoon. Instead, Obama will hold a meeting hundreds of miles away in Dallas to discuss the crisis with faith leaders and Texas officials, including Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

Obama’s trip comes one day after he asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency spending to get more resources to the border.

The roundtable discussion in Dallas is seen by the White House as a way to address the immigration issue while avoiding awkward optics at the border. Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children have arrived there in recent months, many fleeing violence in Central America, but also drawn by rumors that they can stay in the U.S. White House officials say most are unlikely to qualify for humanitarian relief and will be sent back to their home countries.

Obama’s decision to skip a border visit is likely to provide more fodder for the Republicans and the handful of Democrats who say the president hasn’t responded quickly and forcefully enough to the mounting crisis.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, raised the prospect that Obama’s failure to take a firsthand look at the border crisis could be akin to former President George W. Bush viewing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina from the air instead of on the ground.

“I’m sure that President Bush thought the same thing, that he could just look at everything from up in the sky, and then he owned it after a long time,” Cuellar said on Fox News. “So I hope this doesn’t become the Katrina moment for President Obama, saying that he doesn’t need to come to the border. He should come down.”

Perry, a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2016, has been scathing in his criticism of Obama, saying the White House has failed to respond to his repeated warnings about a flood of minors at the border.

“I have to believe that when you do not respond in any way, that you are either inept, or you have some ulterior motive of which you are functioning from,” Perry said Sunday.

The president was traveling to Texas from Denver, where he also raised money for Democratic candidates.

Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House wasn’t worried about the optics of the president traveling to Texas without visiting the border. Officials also pointed to Obama’s request to Congress on Tuesday for additional resources at the border as a sign of the president’s engagement in the crisis.

If approved by Congress, the funding would go to increase detention, care and transportation of unaccompanied children, help speed the removal of adults with children by increasing the capacity of immigration courts, and increase prosecution of smuggling networks. The money also would help increase surveillance at the border and help Central American countries repatriate border-crossers sent back from the United States.

Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill seemed open to the emergency spending request. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate would act on it this month.

But Republicans criticized Obama for pulling back on plans to pursue legal changes that would allow the administration to send the minors back to Central America more quickly. The proposals had infuriated immigrant advocates, who say the changes could result in harsh treatment of kids and eliminate their legal protections.

“He just decided not to do that because of the pushback he got from some in his own political base,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “We need to solve the problem, but you don’t need to just ignore the cause of the current crisis. And that requires more than just appropriating $3.7 billion for additional judges and the like.”

The border crisis has added a new wrinkle to the stalled immigration debate in Washington. With no sign that House Republicans planned to move forward on a comprehensive overhaul bill passed by the Senate last year, Obama announced that he would seek to address the matter through executive actions.

Republicans say it’s that same approach that has led to the current crisis. The GOP argues that Obama’s 2012 decision to allow some young people brought to the U.S. illegally to stay in the country has fueled the rumors in Central America that all of the minors crossing the border can stay.

But Democrats argue that the GOP is simply trying to shift attention away from the party’s inability to act on a politically potent issue for Hispanics, a key voting bloc Republicans have failed to attract in the past two presidential elections.

“The Republicans don’t have any credibility on this issue,” said Jim Manley, a former top adviser to Reid, the Senate majority leader. “This is coming from the same crowd that refused to vote on the bipartisan bill. This is the same group that failed to act.”

 

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IRS Commissioner Sets New Low For IRS Before House Ways and Means Committee

IRSunderinvestigation.jpgA congressional hearing Friday into how the Internal Revenue Service lost thousands of emails from an ex-official accused of targeting conservative groups turned into an angry shouting match, with Republicans accusing the IRS commissioner of lying to Americans.

“This is unbelievable,” Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., angrily told IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. That’s your problem. Nobody believes you.”

Koskinen responded, “I have a long career. That’s the first time anyone’s said I don’t believe you.”

“I don’t believe you,” Ryan shot back again.

Koskinen set a defiant tone during his testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee, telling lawmakers he felt no need for the agency to apologize amid accusations of a cover-up in the targeting scandal of conservative groups.

Republican lawmakers had demanded the emails between ex-IRS official Lois Lerner and other government officials – including some at the White House – be turned over to determine whether there was a coordinated effort to stymie conservative groups prior to the 2012 elections.

“I don’t think an apology is owed,” Koskinen said. “We haven’t lost an email since the start of this investigation.”

That didn’t sit well with Chairman David Camp, R-Mich., who pressed the commissioner on the timeline of events and accused the agency of “keeping secrets.”

During the roughly four-hour hearing, Koskinen said his office was still attempting to recover data and that it was too soon to know exactly how many emails were missing.

GOP lawmakers are furious after learning a week ago that many Lerner emails from a two-year period supposedly have disappeared. Committee Republicans now say that the IRS may have known about this for months, and that the agency may also have lost emails from another six employees.

“The IRS is in charge of hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ information. And you’re now saying your technology system was so poor that years’ worth of emails are forever unrecoverable?” Camp asked. “How does that put anyone at ease? How far would the excuse ‘I lost it’ get with the IRS for an average American trying to file their yearly taxes who may have lost a few receipts?”

Following the hearing, Camp told reporters he thinks Koskinen still “owes a huge apology but that shows the arrogance we’re dealing with.”

The tone and exchanges between lawmakers and the commissioner frequently became heated.

Rep. Sander Levin, D- Mich., backed the IRS Friday and likened the investigation and calls of a cover-up to a political witch hunt brought on by Republicans who, he claimed, will try “to tie the problem to the White House” and will “keep up this drumbeat until the November election.”

During the testy exchange between Ryan and Koskinen, Levin tried to intervene.

“Will you let him answer the question?” Levin asked Ryan.

Ryan responded angrily, “I didn’t ask him a question!”

Levin chided his colleagues that, “witnesses deserve some respect.”

Earlier this week, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he’s been told that Lerner’s hard drive was simply destroyed.

“They just got rid of it,” he said. “It really looks bad and I’ve got to say it looks like a cover-up to me.”

Hatch and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., are leading a bipartisan investigation in the Senate Finance Committee into the targeting scandal, separate from the House Ways and Means probe.

House and Senate Republicans, though, have common questions for the commissioner and the rest of the agency.

Hatch fired off a letter to Koskinen on Thursday voicing concern that although he met with him on Monday, the commissioner and his staff did not mention that emails from six other employees might be missing.

Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of the investigation, invoked her Fifth Amendment right at least nine times to avoid answering lawmakers’ questions. According to an audit by the Treasury Department inspector general for tax administration, Lerner did not learn that IRS staffers were improperly reviewing applications of Tea Party and other conservative groups for tax-exempt status until weeks after her computer crashed.

Lerner’s computer crashed sometime around June 13, 2011, according to emails provided to Congress. She first learned about the Tea Party reviews on June 29, according to the inspector general.

Koskinen told Congress that Lerner’s hard drive was unavailable to them because it had been recycled.

The IRS said last week it became aware of the missing emails in February of this year. The IRS did not know whether the other computer crashes have resulted in lost emails as well. It will also not say how often its computers fail and lose data.

The lost emails have even raised questions from the government’s records officer. In a June 17 letter to the IRS, Paul Wester Jr. asked the agency to investigate the loss of records and whether any disposal of data was authorized. Wester, the chief records officer at the National Archives and Records Administration, was responding to the IRS’ June 13 disclosure of Lerner’s lost emails.

Wester’s letter did not address the lost records of six other employees that the IRS disclosed that day. Wester said the IRS is required to report its finding within 30 days. Federal agencies are supposed to report destruction of records, whether accidental or intentional — to the National Archives “promptly” after an incident.

The IRS said that after Lerner’s computer crashed in June 2011, technicians were not able to retrieve data from her hard drive.

In May, more than two months after the IRS discovered the emails were missing, the IRS assured Camp that it would provide all applications from groups seeking tax-exempt status in 2010 and 2011, including all files, correspondence and internal IRS records related to them. Camp had asked for the records in May 2012.

It was unclear why the IRS did not attempt to recover the emails from backup servers in June 2011, especially since Lerner told an IRS computer technician in a July 2011 email, “There were some documents in the files that are irreplaceable.”

Shawn Henry, the FBI’s former cyber director, said technicians should have been able to retrieve data from the servers around the times the computers crashed.

“If they knew there was a problem in 2011,” said Henry, now president of CrowdStrike, a security technology company, “they could have or should have been able to recover it.”

The IRS told Congress last week that recovering emails has been a challenge because doing so is “a more complex process for the IRS than it is for many private or public organizations.”

The IRS was able to find copies of 24,000 Lerner emails from between 2009 and 2011 because Lerner had sent copies to other IRS employees. Overall, the IRS said it was producing 67,000 emails to and from Lerner, covering 2009 to 2013. The agency said it searched for emails of 83 people and spent nearly $10 million to produce hundreds of thousands of documents.

At the time that Lerner’s computer crashed, IRS policy had been to make copies of all IRS employees’ email inboxes every day and hold them for six months. The agency changed the policy in May 2013 to keep these snapshots for a longer, unspecified amount of time. Had this been the policy in 2011, when at least two of the computer crashes occurred, there likely could have been backups of the lost emails today.

The chief executive for an email-archiving company, Pierre Villeneuve of Jatheon Technologies, said most public and private sector organizations keep emails for several years, not six months, because of financial regulations and inexpensive computer storage.

The IRS has said technicians sent Lerner’s hard drive to a forensic lab run by the agency’s criminal investigations unit. But the information was not recoverable, a technician told her in an Aug. 5, 2011, email.

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Cantor Beaten in Primary in Blow to Republican Establishment

Eric Cantor, Diana CantorU.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia lost to a Tea Party challenger on Tuesday in a stunning Republican primary upset that sent shockwaves through Congress and gave the conservative movement a landmark victory.

Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, was easily beaten by college economics professor David Brat, who accused Cantor of betraying conservative principles on spending, debt and immigration.

The result could halt efforts to craft a House immigration reform bill, as nervous Republicans hustle to protect themselves against future challenges from the right ahead of the Nov. 4 midterm elections. It could also make Republicans even more hesitant to cooperate with President Barack Obama and Democrats for fear of being labeled a compromiser.

Cantor had been seen by many as an eventual successor to House Speaker John Boehner, and his defeat will mean a shake-up in the Republican leadership at the end of the year among House members nervous about the depth of public anger toward Congress.

A seven-term congressman with ties to the financial industry, Cantor had spent more than $5 million to head off the challenge from Brat, a political newcomer who teaches at Randolph-Macon College.

Brat spent only about $122,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and was not seen in the media or national Republican circles as a danger to Cantor.

The victory also emboldened conservative leaders, and could encourage a challenge to Boehner when the new leadership team is chosen. “Eric Cantor’s loss tonight is an apocalyptic moment for the GOP establishment. The grassroots is in revolt and marching,” said Brent Bozell, a veteran conservative activist and founder of the Media Research Center and ForAmerica.

With nearly all precincts reporting, Brat had about 56 percent of the vote to Cantor’s 44 percent.

“I know there are a lot of long faces here tonight,” Cantor told supporters. “It’s disappointing, sure.”

Brat, speaking to an ecstatic crowd, said: “This is the happiest moment, obviously, of my life.”

The result was a blow to the Republican establishment, which had scored a string of victories over the Tea Party in primaries to select candidates for the November elections. Republicans are hoping to pick up six seats to gain a Senate majority, but are considered heavy favorites to retain a House majority.

“We all saw how far outside the mainstream this Republican Congress was with Eric Cantor at the helm, now we will see them run further to the far right with the Tea Party striking fear into the heart of every Republican on the ballot,” said Representative Steve Israel of New York, who heads the House Democratic campaign committee.

During the primary campaign, Brat repeatedly accused Cantor of supporting some immigration reform principles, including “amnesty” for undocumented workers. In response, Cantor had sent voters a mailer boasting of his role in trying to kill a House immigration bill that included that provision.

Brat also accused Cantor of losing touch with his central Virginia district while serving the party’s leadership.

Republican strategists suggested Cantor had been too slow to realize how real the threat from Brat was.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that Cantor had helped make Brat better known by attacking him by name in the late stages of the campaign.

The result unleashed immediate speculation about a possible replacement for Cantor when the House meets to pick new leaders at the end of the year, including Jim Jordan of Ohio, Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina also faced a Tea Party challenge on Tuesday, but he beat a crowded field of six challengers who also had accused him of not being conservative enough.

 

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Putin-Poroshenko Meet and Call for an End to Ukraine crisis

Poroshenko talks to Putin after a group photo  in BenouvilleRussia signalled the first signs of a detente in its conflict with Ukraine on Friday, as President Vladimir Putin met Ukraine’s new leader-elect and called for an end to fighting on both sides.

While attending commemorations of the D-Day landings in France, Mr Putin held what aides described as a brief but significant meeting with Petro Poroshenko, the victor of last month’s Ukrainian presidential elections.

The encounter, which took place on the sidelines of ceremonies to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Normandy D-Day landings, was the first time the two men had met since Moscow annexed Crimea, where Mr Poroshenko was chased by an angry pro-Russian mob in February.

“In a brief conversation, both Putin and Poroshenko called for a speedy end to the bloodshed in southeastern Ukraine as well as to fighting on both sides – by the Ukrainian armed forces as well as by supporters of the federalisation of Ukraine,” said Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, in comments cited by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency.

“They also confirmed that there was no alternative to resolving the situation with peaceful political methods.”

It followed a warning on Thursday from Barack Obama, the US president, that if Russia failed to recognise Mr Poroshenko as Ukraine’s new leader, it could face further sanctions on top of those already placed on the Kremlin for annexing Crimea.

“If he does not, if he continues a strategy of undermining the sovereignty of Ukraine, then we have no choice but to respond” Mr Obama said.

Friday’s exchange came during a lunch hosted by French President Francois Hollande in Benouville, attended by leaders from around the world.

Mr Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, added: “Putin and Obama spoke for the need to end violence and fighting as quickly as possible.” There was no discussion of rolling back Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea, which the West says was illegal.

In remarks that seemed calculated to add to the mood of reconciliation, both David Cameron and Mr Hollande used the D-Day occasion to stress the role played by Russia in liberating Europe from Nazi tyranny.

Mr Cameron said: “Yes, of course we have our disagreements today with Russia, but we should never forget that Russia – the Soviet Union – was an ally of Britain and America, the Free French, Canadian and Australian forces, that liberated this continent from the tyranny of Nazism.”

Mr Hollande, meanwhile, paid tribute to the “courage of the Red Army” and the “decisive contribution” of the former Soviet Union in winning World War II.

Mr Cameron became the first Western leader to hold face-to-face talks with Mr Putin since the Ukraine crisis began when they met in Paris on Thursday night.

Outside the building where world leaders met for lunch, reporters saw an animated conversation lasting about one minute which also included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who at a much more public commemoration at Sword Beach appeared to be shuttling back and forth between Mr Putin and Mr Poroshenko.

The meeting came, however, as violence continued unabated in eastern Ukraine, where more than 180 people have died in clashes between pro-Russian separatists and Kiev loyalists in the last two months. Unconfirmed reports from Russian media on Friday spoke of Ukrainian government tanks being deployed in eastern city of Slavyansk, the centre of much of the recent trouble.

Pro-Russian separatists operating from the grounds of a church in Slavyansk also killed a member of the Ukrainian interior ministry’s special forces and seriously wounded two others in a mortar attack on Friday, Ukrainian officials said.

 

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