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Why it matters: The U.S. has responded to standoffs with North Korea, Russia, Iran and Venezuela in unorthodox and unpredictable ways. Alliances are rupturing, authoritarians are rising, and China is steadily becoming the most powerful rival America has ever faced.

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3 hours ago - World

State Dept. fears Chinese threats to labor auditors

A space for media is designated by Chinese authorities near a mosque in the Xinjiang region of China. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

The State Department is concerned organizations performing supply-chain audits in China are coming under pressure from Chinese authorities.

Why it matters: U.S. law prohibits importing products made through forced labor, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to verify whether products from China are tainted.

7 hours ago - World

EU head: Hungary's anti-LGBTQ bill is "a shame"

Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: Samantha Zucchi/Insidefoto/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen issued a statement Wednesday criticizing a planned Hungarian law that would ban the depiction or promotion of homosexuality to people under 18 years old, dubbing the bill "a shame."

The state of play: Hungary's parliament approved the bill on June 15.

10 hours ago - World

Scoop: U.S. and Israel huddle on drone threat from Iran

iranian Army drones on display in January. Photo: Iranian Army via Getty

The Biden administration and the Israeli government held talks recently on countering the proliferation of Iranian drones and cruise missiles among its proxies in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon, Israeli and U.S. officials tell me.

Why it matters: After several drone attacks from pro-Iranian militias in recent weeks, some of which were thwarted, the U.S. and Israel are highly concerned that the technology will spread to additional groups who could target their forces in the region.

10 hours ago - World

Scoop: Sudan's civilian leaders ask U.S. for help talking to Israel

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. Photo: Sarah Meysonnier/AFP via Getty

The Biden administration is urging the Israeli government to start engaging with Sudan's civilian leaders, rather than just the military, as part of the normalization process between the countries, Israeli officials tell me.

The backstory: Sudan is governed by a transitional civilian-military council, but the Israeli government has communicated almost exclusively with the military, starting with a summit 18 months ago between then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Burhan, the chairman of Sudan's governing council.

Conservative consolidation in Iran won't necessarily bring stability

President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran arrives for his opening press conference. Photo: Sobhan Farajvan/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

After eight years of near-constant attacks on President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, Iran's hardliners will control all levers of power after the election of Ebrahim Raisi as Rouhani's successor.

Why it matters: Some observers posit that the alignment between Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the new hardline president will pave the way for more stability in Iran and eventually a greater willingness to engage in diplomacy.

13 hours ago - World

Gaza ceasefire under strain as Israel and Hamas feud over rebuilding

Egyptian excavators clear rubble on Wednesday in Gaza City. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

The indirect talks between Israel and Hamas to stabilize the ceasefire in Gaza and begin the reconstruction process have made little progress, raising concerns of renewed violence.

State of play: Five weeks on from the ceasefire, Israel is threatening to hold up the reconstruction process, and Hamas this week rejected a UN plan to fund it, Israeli officials and Western diplomats tell me.

Arctic heat roasts Finland and Russia, melts sea ice

Sea ice disappears from the Laptev Sea north of Russia in June 2021. NASA via Axios Visuals

An intense and expansive heat wave has gripped parts of Siberia, northwestern Russia and Scandinavia, inducing a record plunge in sea ice cover in the Laptev Sea, which is part of the Arctic Ocean.

Why it matters: Due largely to human activities such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation, the Arctic is warming at a rate more than twice as fast as the rest of the globe.

Updated 16 hours ago - World

U.K. denies Russia fired warning shots at destroyer in Black Sea

The HMS Defender in the port of Odessa on Ukraine's Black Sea coast on June 18. Photo: Konstantin Sazonchik\TASS via Getty Images

Russia's defense ministry claimed Wednesday that a Russian warship and fighter jet fired "warning" shots at the British Royal Navy’s HMS Defender destroyer for encroaching on waters near Crimea in the Black Sea.

The latest: The U.K.'s ministry of defense disputed that any warning shots were fired, saying in a statement, "We believe the Russians were undertaking a gunnery exercise in the Black Sea and provided the maritime community with prior-warning of their activity."

Updated 20 hours ago - World

Hong Kong pro-democracy paper to close amid Beijing crackdown

A customer grabs a copy of Apple Daily newspaper at a newsstand in Hong Kong on Tuesday. Photo: Miguel Candela/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Apple Daily, Hong Kong's biggest pro-democracy newspaper, announced Wednesday that it will close at the weekend following the freezing of its assets under China's national security law.

Why it matters: It's the latest blow to the Asian financial hub's democracy movement and to free speech. Authorities have used the law that gives the government broad power to limit people's political freedom to arrest several journalists at the news outlet, founded by imprisoned tycoon Jimmy Lai.

21 hours ago - World

New Zealand raises COVID alert level in capital after infected Aussie visits

A security guard turns away visitors to Te Papa National Museum in Wellington, New Zealand, which closed due to being identified as a COVID-19 exposure site following the Australian's visit. Photo: Lynn Grieveson/Getty Images

New Zealand's capital Wellington had its COVID-19 alert level raised on Wednesday after an Australian contracted a highly infectious strain in Sydney before traveling to NZ and testing positive upon his return.

Why it matters: This is the first positive case related to the Australia-New Zealand quarantine-free "travel bubble" since it opened in April. NZ last confirmed a COVID infection in the community on Feb. 28.

DOJ seizes 36 U.S. website domains for Iranian government disinformation

Iran's President-Elect Ebrahim Raisi holds a press conference at Shahid Beheshti conference hall in Tehran on Monday. Photo: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

American officials seized 36 news website domains linked to Iran's government for spreading disinformation as part of a propaganda campaign, the Department of Justice said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The action comes at a time of heightened tension between the two countries, with Iran's hardline President-elect Ebrahim Raisi on Monday ruling out negotiating over missiles or meeting with President Biden as the two nations hold talks on returning Tehran to the 2015 nuclear deal.

NYT: Khashoggi's killers had paramilitary training in U.S.

A vigil for journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, following his killing in 2018 in Turkey. Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Several Saudis who took part in the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi had paramilitary training in the U.S. under a State Department contract a year before his 2018 death, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

Why it matters: While there's no evidence the department knew that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sanctioned Saudi officials to detain, kidnap and torture dissidents in 2017, the approval of such training underscores how "intensely intertwined" the U.S. has become with a nation known for human rights abuses, per the NYT.

Parties pounce on China as midterm issue

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Democrats and Republicans in purple states are already leaning into U.S. competition with China as a key issue in the fight to control the Senate in 2022.

Why it matters: American voters hold increasingly negative feelings toward the Chinese government, particularly around bilateral economic relations and following the nation’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.

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