Greek, Macedonian Leaders Reach Agreement In 27-Year-Old Name Dispute

The Greek and Macedonian prime ministers have reached a deal that could resolve the 27-year dispute between the two Balkan nations about the former Yugoslav republic’s name. Greece has objected to its neighbor’s use of the name Macedonia, saying it could lead to territorial and other claims on a Greek province by the same name. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports people of both countries will have a final say about the agreement reached by their leaders.

World Leaders Mostly Voice Approval of Trump-Kim Agreement

Major leaders across Asia and the world mostly voiced approval for Tuesday’s agreement between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to push toward ending Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, even as South Korea and others adopted a more cautious stance.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he told Trump in a phone call that the Singapore summit pact laid down a “big framework” for peace on the Korean peninsula and across the globe.

WATCH: S. Koreans React with Joy, Concern to summit 

But Seoul’s presidential office said it was still trying to understand Trump’s decision to end joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, long an irritant to North Korea.

Trump announced at a news conference he was terminating the war games and said it would “save us a tremendous amount of money.” But the Seoul-Washington drills were not mentioned in the document that Trump and Kim signed.

The next set of exercises were set for August, but Seoul’s Defense Ministry said, “At this current point, there is a need to discern the exact meaning and intent of President Trump’s comments,” adding that there had been no discussions with Washington about the war games. Trump labeled them as “inappropriate” as North Korea moves toward denuclearization.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, “The United States and North Korea have been in a state of antagonism for more than half a century. Today, that the two countries’ highest leaders can sit together and have equal talks has important and positive meaning, and is creating a new history.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomed Kim’s approval of a commitment to complete denuclearization. The Japanese leader thanked Trump for raising the issue of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals with Kim and said that “Japan will deal firmly with North Korea face-to-face” on the issue.

European reactions

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the “normalization of American-North Korean relations… is an integral part” of resolving “the problems of the Korean peninsula, including the nuclear one.” But Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament said that Trump’s claim that denuclearization of North Korea will start soon is “more of a wish than a fact.”

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said, “This summit was a crucial and necessary step to build upon the positive developments achieved in inter-Korean relations.”

She said the ultimate goal remains the same: “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.” She said the summit statement “gives a clear signal that this goal can be achieved.”

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called the Trump-Kim summit “an important step towards the stability of a region vital to global economic growth.”

Johnson said Kim’s pledge of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is a signal that he “may have finally heeded the message that only a change of course can bring a secure and prosperous future to the people of North Korea. There is much work still to be done, and we hope Kim continues to negotiate in good faith towards complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.”

The head of the United Nations watchdog agency, director general Yukiya Amano, said his agency “stands ready to undertake any verification (of denuclearization) activities” in North Korea as the Kim regime winds down its weapons program.

Iran appeared to be alone in questioning the validity of the signed Trump-Kim pact, with a Tehran spokesman claiming that Trump could nullify any agreement.

“We are facing a man who revokes his signature while abroad,” the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Mohammad Bagher as saying, referring to Trump’s renunciation of a communique at last weekend’s G-7 economic summit after he had left the gathering of world leaders in Canada.

 

Police Surround Paris Building as Man Holds 2 Hostages

Police in riot gear surrounded the entrance of a building in central Paris where a man was holding at least two people hostage in a ground-floor office Tuesday, French authorities said.

There was no indication of a terrorist motive, police said.

There initially were three hostages, but one was reportedly freed shortly after the hostage-taking began at about 4 p.m. in the office of a startup, police union official Yves Lefebvre said.

The freed hostage was reportedly doused with gasoline and hit in the face as he was freed, according to Lefebvre, head of the FO police union. The information could not be officially confirmed.

More than a dozen heavily-armed police officers, firefighters and rescue workers were stationed outside the building where the hostages were being held, located in a crowded neighborhood in the center of the French capital.

The area was evacuated and the street, rue des Petites Ecuries, was cordoned off. Negotiations were in progress.

The male suspect reportedly asked to speak with the ambassador of Iran, Lefebvre said. However, his motivation for such an encounter was unknown.

The hostage-taker also claimed he had an accomplice outside the building with a bomb, according to Lefebvre. Police swept vehicles in the area with a device but found nothing, he said. Video on BFM-TV showed a demining device for bombs at the scene.

Officials at police headquarters would not immediately confirm whether the person holding the hostages was armed or describe the nature of his demands.

Negotiations with the suspect were taking place, according to an Interior Ministry official who couldn’t be identified because the operation was in progress.

Police initially said the hostage scene was unfolding in an office in the building, but soon stopped communicating details to journalists.

EU Gears Up for Trade War as Populist Challenge Grows

European Union officials are preparing for a trade war with the United States, but on another front, they’re bracing for equally hazardous challenges closer to home from central and southern European populists, who see themselves as ideological allies of President Donald Trump and appear to share his goals.

Officials fear the recent acrimonious G-7 summit in Canada will embolden populist-led governments they dub “the awkward squad” to redouble their pushback on Brussels over migration, public spending,the sovereign rights of member states, and the issue of EU sanctions on Russia.

And, along with Europe’s “establishment” politicians, EU officials say Trump “confederates,” from the outspoken U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, to former White House adviser Steve Bannon, are not making their lives any easier by fanning populist flames in Europe.

Hungary

​Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, increasingly seen as “Trump on the Danube,” has already served notice of his intention to pursue broad legal changes, including possibly enshrining “Hungarian values” and national identity in the country’s constitution, a move likely to fall afoul of EU rules.

His spokesman, Zoltan Kovacs, told reporters ahead of the G-7 that core national values should be beyond the purview of EU courts and enshrining them in Hungary’s constitution would be part of an effort to counter EU legislation “that’s in the end trying to create a federal Europe by undermining the powers of national governments.”

Austria

Austria’s new chancellor, 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz, who heads a coalition government of his populist People’s Party and the far-right Freedom Party, is planning to block immigrants, including refugees, from receiving benefits during their first five years in the country and to reduce social benefits they do get thereafter, if they cannot speak German.

The action would put his government on a collision course with Brussels and the European courts because under EU legislation, member states are required to treat all citizens equally. Kurz has been described as a “rock star” by Grenell. The U.S. envoy prompted criticism earlier this month for breaching diplomatic norms when he invited to lunch the Austrian chancellor when Kurz was on an official visit to Berlin.

Austria will take over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU next month, giving it an influential role in setting the bloc’s agenda.

Kurz has said his priority for the presidency is to stop more migrants entering the EU by “safeguarding” Europe’s borders. He will also put his weight against member states being required to accept burden-sharing migrant resettlement quotas — a key issue also for the four-nation Visegrad Group of central European countries of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which has been a critic of EU migrant policies.

And led by Orban, a liberal-turned-conservative nationalist, they are making no effort to disguise their overall aim of reshaping the EU by taking power away from the EU institutions in Brussels and returning it to national governments.

Italy

On that they can now count on the support of Italy’s new coalition government, whose populist interior minister, Matteo Salvini, on Sunday announced he was closing Italian ports to NGO ships carrying migrants from North Africa. That decision prompted Spain to accept a humanitarian rescue vessel that was stranded at sea with 629 migrants on board.

On Monday, Salvini was in a triumphalist mood. “We have opened a front in Brussels,” Salvini said in a statement promising more confrontations in the future with NGOs which he says fuel people-smuggling by providing rescue services at sea.

The new hardline Italian approach by the ruling coalition of Salvini’s far-right League and the populist Five Star Movement followed an election campaign this year in which Salvini vowed to adopt tough polices on migrants and has pledged to deport half-a-million illegal migrants.

More than 600,000 people have reached Italy by boat from Africa in the past half a decade. Salvini’s closure of the ports to NGO ships was criticized by the Vatican and some mayors in the south of Italy, including by Palermo’s, which threatened to resist the order.

But pollsters say this proving popular among ordinary Italians, who have been fuming about the migrant influx and complain Italy is being turned into a vast refugee camp, straining the country’s resources and impacting their way of life and culture.

Slovakia, Czech, Poland

Hungary, Austria and Italy won’t be alone in throwing down gauntlets to the EU in the coming weeks. Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland are all on a collision course with Brussels and not only over migration but also on “reforms” aimed at curtailing the independence of national courts, curbing media freedom and civil rights and strengthening the power of central governments.

The Russian problem

Confrontations are also looming over relations with Russia, which will see the populists clash with Brussels, Berlin and Paris. Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, has announced he will press for the lifting of EU sanctions on Russia for the Kremlin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. At the G-7 summit, Conte supported President Trump’s call for Russia to be readmitted to the rich nations’ club.

Other European populist leaders have expressed sympathy with the idea of lifting sanctions, although their Polish counterparts are against it.

 

The unfolding populist challenge to politics as usual was welcomed publicly earlier this month by the U.S. envoy to Germany, who prompted an outcry from mainstream politicians in Germany, when he told the conservative site Breitbart, once run by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, that he saw his mission as empowering populists in Europe and political factions in tune with Trump’s Washington.

Ambassadors traditionally don’t comment on the domestic politics of countries to which they are posted and Grenell’s comments earned demands for an explanation from the German Foreign Ministry and a rebuke from Martin Schulz, former leader of the Social Democratic Party and onetime EU official. “What this man is doing is unheard of in international diplomacy,” said Schulz.

Later, Grenell said his comments had been misunderstood and that he was not favoring one political faction over another. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert also defended the ambassador, telling reporters subsequently the envoy was “merely highlighting that there are some parties and candidates in Europe who are doing well right now.”

The populist resurgence has also been welcomed by Bannon, who has become a key traveling populist ideologue.

Bannon: Populist cheerleader

Trump’s chief election strategist, who remains influential in Washington after departing the White House and clashing with the U.S. president, has overtly set himself the task of whipping up the rebellious fervor of what he sees as a global populist movement, which he believes is on the right side of history.

By his own admission, Bannon’s role has gone beyond cheerleading the continent’s populist factions to a leadership function involving tours of Europe and offering his political savvy to rising far-right and populist forces.

He is credited with having persuaded Italy’s Salvini to conclude a pact with Luigi Di Maio’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

Last week in Britain’s Spectator magazine, he noted he held meetings in Rome with populist-nationalist leaders from across Europe, including Germany, France and Hungary. Bannon also said he was in close touch with Salvini and other like-minded Italian leaders as they struggled to form a coalition government, the first populist one in western Europe, in the face of resistance from Italy’s centrist President, Sergio Mattarella. “All the brothers came to Rome,” he said.

In a speech in Rome, he announced if the populist government works in Italy, “it’s going to show that we’ve broken the back of the globalists.”

The populist resurgence this year after election setbacks for insurgent nationalist political movements in France and the Netherlands in 2017, has taken Europe’s centrist politicians and EU officials by surprise. They thought the populist high water mark had been reached and that the anti-globalist, nationalist wave would start receding.

“There was big wave of optimism after the French election,” according to Federico Santi, a political analyst. “But the problem hadn’t gone away.”

Euro-skeptics say that was always a misplaced forecast, saying polls point to rising nationalist sentiment, negative attitudes toward greater EU political integration and continued frustration with traditional democratic politics, sluggish economies and migration. And they say Europe’s mainstream politicians have only themselves to blame for failing to address real political frustrations and the rising resistance to one-size-fits-all European governance.

The Danger and Allure of Italy’s ‘White Gold’

There is no end to demand for what many consider to be Italy’s white gold, the marble from the Tuscan town of Carrara, a name synonymous with the very best money can buy in the world today. It is no secret, and it is not new. The quarrying in these mountains has been going on for more than 2,000 years.

The Romans were the first to be lured by the stone’s beauty and millions of tourists to this day still flock to admire some of the most magnificent ancient monuments made with this special stone, the likes of the Pantheon and Trajan’s Column in the Eternal City. And then there are famous statues like the David and the Pietà by Renaissance master Michelangelo.

So what is happening in Carrara today?

Artists, sculptors and architects have never ceased making regular pilgrimages here. M.J. Anderson, an American, first came to Carrara as a fledgling sculptor 36 years ago, drawn by the beautiful marble. Considering herself somewhat of a deconstructionist, she likes to take things apart.

“The great thing about carving marble is that once that stone is gone, it’s gone. You can’t lament about it and this keeps you moving forward in the creative process,” she said.

Sculptors like Anderson realize they are dealing with something quite extraordinary here.

“Carrara marble is consistently good. It does not fracture. It’s mined in a very cohesive manner. There’s no surprises when you are carving it. The molecules are put together very well and there’s so many different kinds of marble here. That is what is so special: there is gray, white and cream, in different densities as well and so a sculptor can find anything they want here that will suit their needs,” Anderson said.

That is what is bringing orders – and big money – from all over the world, from Arab nations and emerging markets like China, India and Thailand. Clients want their kitchens, bathrooms and staircases in their homes made from this precious material. Others come with specific ideas for a marble statue, which they commission from the very best marble sculptors in existence. To name just one example: a request came, in recent years, for a huge block to build a massive statue of Buddha.

A boom in the construction of mosques, especially in the Arab world and north Africa, has meant even more demand and big business for the marble quarrying companies. The Saudi Binladin Group, one of the world’s largest construction companies, acquired 50 percent of Marmi Carrara in recent years. Marmi Carrara owns a third of the quarries that are operational in the area today.

“Just the name Carrara basically says it’s the world’s best marble. It is the most beautiful. It has a centuries’ long history of being the best marble in the world and people come here looking for and wanting the very best,” Anderson said.

What is new is that the demand is moving away from the traditional markets.

“America has been extracting resources for a long time. Now, the money has shifted to the Middle East and they are the ones extracting the resources. That has always been the case. The Romans started the big quarries here in Carrara when they were building cities all over the Mediterranean basin and they were shipping marble out of here. It indicates where the world is shifting, where the resources are going and where the building is taking place,” said Anderson.

The great sculptors have historically been Italian, but now they come from all over world, and some have settled here. Students like 19-year old Xintong Gao come here to learn and take their knowledge home. He said his love of art, painting, and sculpture brought him here from China and he set his sights on enrolling at the Academy of Fine Arts in Carrara.

Working the marble may be a labor of love, but Gao said it is no easy work.

Not only is learning to sculpt the marble difficult, but extracting it has been a challenge for hundreds of years. Modern technology has made it easier and today the use of large quantities of diamond-tipped wires, saws and heavy earth-moving equipment is essential. The marble industry employs thousands of people but for those quarrying inside the mountains it is sometimes also dangerous work.

The demand is also taking its toll on the land.

Environmentalists have been expressing huge concerns for years that quarrying is dangerously eroding the mountains and significantly affecting the magnificent landscape of the Apuan Alps here. From afar, it looks like snow but in reality it is the bright marble that makes these mountains white all year round.

“It’s beautiful to see the quarries. They’re dramatic. They’re fabulous, the way the light hits these walls of marble,” said Anderson.

Admittedly, she notes, the environmentalists’ concerns are not without a basis. “Of course marble does not re-grow. It’s not sustainable. It was made billions of years ago. It is terrible that extraction is occurring at such a rapid pace because of the industrialization. Marble is being taken out of here so fast that entire mountain tops are disappearing. They are extracting marble from the center of these mountains as well and so it is a huge concern. Worldwide the extraction of resources is a concern and what we are looking at here is also a really terrible mining practice,” she said.

European Central Bank to Weigh End to Stimulus Program

The European Central Bank will on Thursday weigh when and how to end its bond-buying stimulus program — an exit that will have far-reaching consequences across the economy, from long-suffering savers to Europe’s indebted governments.

 

The bank, which sets monetary policy for the 19 countries that use the euro, has been buying 30 billion euros ($35.5 billion) a month in government and corporate bonds from banks. The purchases are slated to run at least through September, and longer if necessary.

 

Analysts say that decisions on the exit path, which could include several intermediate steps, might come Thursday or at the July 26 meeting. Scenarios include reducing the purchases past September, and then stopping them at the end of the year.

 

An end to the stimulus would be part of a major shift in the global economy. The ECB would be joining the U.S. Federal Reserve in withdrawing the massive monetary stimulus deployed to combat the Great Recession and its aftermath. The Fed is expected to raise rates at its meeting Wednesday.

 

The ECB’s bond purchases, which started in March 2015, pump newly printed money into the economy, which in theory should help raise inflation toward the bank’s goal of just under 2 percent. Inflation was an annual 1.9 percent in May, but the bank needs to be able to say that inflation will stay in line with its target even after the stimulus is withdrawn.

 

Market participants pricked up their ears last week when top ECB official Peter Praet said Thursday’s meeting would be an occasion to consider when to wind down the program. Praet supervises economics at the ECB as a member of its six-member executive board and in that capacity proposes monetary policy moves for debate and decision by the 25-member governing council. That gives his words extra weight.

 

The impact of the ECB’s bond-buying stimulus has been felt across the economy.

 

It has pushed up the prices of assets like stocks, bonds and real estate but also lowered returns for savers. It has helped keep borrowing costs low for European governments as the ECB purchases have driven bond prices up and yields down. Yields and prices move in opposite directions.

 

For example, the Italian government, which is burdened with the second-highest debt load in the eurozone after Greece at 132 percent of gross domestic product, pays only 2.79 percent annually to borrow for 10 years. That’s less than the 2.96 percent yield on 10-year U.S. Treasurys.

 

The ECB meeting will be held in Riga, Latvia, as one of the ECB’s occasional road meetings away from its Frankfurt headquarters to underline its role as a pan-European institution. A bribery investigation is expected to keep the head of the host central bank, Ilmars Rimsevics, from attending the meeting and news conference with ECB President Mario Draghi.

The ECB is continuing its slow progress toward withdrawing the stimulus despite turbulence in Italy, where the new populist government has questioned the spending and debt restrictions required of euro members. Concerns over Italian politics caused big swings in the country’s financial markets for several days last month, before easing.

 

Analysts Joerg Kraemer and Michael Schubert at Commerzbank said that the ECB may soon have to end its stimulus program anyway as it risks running out of bonds that are eligible for purchase. The ECB has limited itself to no more than one-third of any member country’s outstanding bonds to avoid becoming the dominant creditor of member states.

 

With the purchases widely expected to be stopped at the end of this year, they said, attention would now turn to how long the bank would wait after the bond-purchase exit before starting to raise its interest rate benchmarks.

 

“The ECB probably wants to ensure that the end of bond purchases does not unleash speculation about interest rate hikes,” they wrote in a research note. “The ECB Council… might declare that rates will not be increased for ‘at least’ six months after the end of purchases.”

 

Currently the short-term interest rate benchmark is zero, and the rate on deposits left by commercial banks at the ECB is negative 0.4 percent. The negative rate is a penalty aimed at pushing banks to lend that money instead of hoard it.

 

 

US Teacher Honored for Shining Light on Polish Holocaust Hero

An American teacher responsible for bringing to light the story of a Polish woman credited with saving 2,500 Jewish children during World War II has been presented with the award that bears her name.

Norman Conrad shepherded three high school students in rural Uniontown, Kansas, as they researched the life of Irena Sendler for a National History Day project. The research evolved into a play, Life in a Jar, in 1999.

Poland’s Culture Ministry and the San Francisco-based Taube Philanthropies on Monday presented Conrad with the 2018 Irena Sendler Memorial Award in Warsaw’s Royal Castle. Poland has designated 2018 the Year of Irena Sendler to mark the 10th anniversary of her death at the age of 98.

A social worker, Sendler and her coworkers established an underground network that smuggled Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and placed them in the homes of gentile families, convents, orphanages and monasteries.

Though most families perished in the Holocaust, Sendler’s children were able to learn their true identities because she had painstakingly documented their origins on small strips of paper contained in jars buried under an apple tree.

Sendler was largely forgotten until Conrad and his students got involved.

Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, said Sendler credited Conrad and his students with the recognition she obtained late in life. She often referred to the American students as her children.

“She would want all of her network to be recognized. And she also said that the real heroes were the Jewish parents and grandparents who were making decisions that no one should have to make,” Conard told The Associated Press before the ceremony.

“Some of the parents refused to give their children up, and when she went back to talk them again, the children and parents had been taken away on the trains,” he said.

Life in a Jar has been performed hundreds of times across the United States, Canada and Europe. Sendler’s story is also available as a book and DVD.

IMF’s Lagarde: Global Economic Outlook Darkening by the Day

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde led an attack by global economic organizations on U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” trade policy Monday, warning that clouds over the global economy “are getting darker by the day.”

Trump backed out of a joint communique agreed by Group of Seven leaders in Canada over the weekend that mentioned the need for “free, fair and mutually beneficial trade” and the importance of fighting protectionism.

The U.S. president, who has imposed import tariffs on metals, is furious about the United States’ large trade deficit with key allies. “Fair trade is now to be called fool trade if it is not reciprocal,” he tweeted Monday.

In response, Lagarde unleashed a thinly veiled attack on Trump’s trade policy, saying challenges to the way trade is conducted were damaging business confidence, which had soured even since the weekend G-7 summit.

The Washington-based IMF is sticking to its forecast for global growth of 3.9 percent both this year and next, she said, before adding: “But the clouds on the horizon that we have signaled about six months ago are getting darker by the day, and I was going to say by the weekend.”

“The biggest and darkest cloud that we see is the deterioration in confidence that is prompted by (an) attempt to challenge the way in which trade has been conducted, in which relationships have been handled and in which multilateral organizations have been operating,” Lagarde said.

The IMF managing director spoke after a meeting in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the chiefs of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Labor Organization and the African Development Bank.

Merkel said on Sunday the EU would implement countermeasures against U.S. tariffs and described Trump’s rejection of the G-7 communique as “sobering and a bit depressing.”

Investors are fearful of a tit-for-tat trade war, though markets were relatively calm on Monday after an early wobble.

‘Stop this escalation’

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo told the Berlin news conference: “We must … stop this escalation of tensions. A tit-for-tat process is not going to be helpful.”

He also criticized the United States’ conduct at the WTO.

“The U.S. has been focusing much more on bilateral — unilateral even sometimes — measures, which is not something that is support of the rules-based trading system.

“They have been complaining about the system, they say that they want to improve the system, but we would expect a more constructive approach on their part,” Azevedo said.

Earlier, Germany’s economy minister said Berlin saw no immediate solution to the trade row between the United States and other major economies but remained open to talks “among friends,” seeking to head off a full-blown global trade war.

As Europe’s biggest exporter to the United States, and with more than one million German jobs at stake, Germany is desperate to avoid an EU trade war with the United States.

“I believe a win-win situation is still possible,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, one of Merkel’s closest lieutenants, told broadcaster Deutschlandfunk. “At the moment, however, it seems that no solution is in sight, at least not in the short term.”

Automobile tariffs

Particularly concerning for Germany, a major car exporter to the United States, is Trump’s weekend tweet that Washington is looking at tariffs on automobiles.

The European Commission, which coordinates trade policy for the 28-member EU, aims to target 2.8 billion euros worth of U.S. imports, including bourbon and jeans, with additional 25 percent duties from early July.

It already has broad backing from EU member states, but needs to consult with them in the next couple of weeks.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, while questioning whether the United States was truly an ally, said the bloc did not want to stop talking with Washington.

“We do not want to cut off discussions and further talks will of course need to address the automobile sector,” he said.

Ukraine, Russia Fail to Agree on UN Peacekeeping Mission

The foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France met in Berlin on Monday to discuss the implementation of a fragile ceasefire for Ukraine and the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission in the country’s conflict zone.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said after the four-way talks that Russia and Ukraine agreed in principle on a U.N peacekeeping mission, but their ideas about how to implement it were still “very much apart.”

“Regarding the parameters of a possible U.N. mission for Eastern Ukraine, we agreed to instruct our political directors to continue negotiations not about if but how such a mission could happen and discuss this in the coming weeks,” Maas said.

It was the first meeting of the foreign ministers since February 2017, though lower level officials have met regularly in the past four years in the so-called Normandy format to try to resolve the separatist conflict in Eastern Ukraine, in which more than 10,000 people have been killed.

Relations between Moscow and Kyiv have been tense since a popular uprising drove a pro-Russian president from power in 2014. Russia went on to annex Crimea from Ukraine and backed a pro-Russian separatist insurgency in the country’s east.

A ceasefire agreement that was signed in February 2015 in Minsk has failed to end the violence, with fighters from both sides violating the peace plan on a nearly daily basis.

“We know that there was a lack of will to implement these commitments in the past,” Maas said in a joint news conference with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Maas said all sides agreed that they should stick to the Minsk peace plan from now on, including the removal of heavy weaponry from combat zones and a further exchange of prisoners.

France and German also offered Ukraine and Russia logistical help for the securing of minefields in the combat zones, he added.

“I am firmly convinced that the political negotiations today are also exerting pressure on the ground,” Maas said, despite the apparent lack of progress in the negotiations.

US Sanctions 5 Russian Entities, 3 Individuals

The U.S. sanctioned five Russian entities and three individuals Monday, accusing them of malicious cyber activities to provide material and technological support to Moscow’s intelligence service.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the sanctioned entities and individuals “have directly contributed to improving Russia’s cyber and underwater capabilities through their work with “the Russian Federal Security Service “and therefore jeopardize the safety and security of the United States and our allies.”

He said the U.S. “is committed to aggressively targeting any entity or individual working at the direction” of the Russian intelligence service “whose work threatens the United States and will continue to utilize our sanctions authorities … to counter the constantly evolving threats emanating from Russia.”

The sanctions continue what appear to be conflicted messages from Washington about Moscow.

The U.S. has imposed a series of penalties against specific Russian activities. Yet just last week, President Donald Trump suggested that Russia be allowed to rejoin the G-7 group of advanced economies after being pushed out in 2014 for its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Trump has also been discussing the possibility of a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The sanctions announced Monday block access for those blacklisted to any U.S. financial accounts they hold and prohibit Americans from any transactions with them.

The Treasury statement said the five entities and three individuals have engaged in “malign and destabilizing cyber activities,” including intrusions “against the U.S. energy grid to potentially enable future offensive operations” and “global compromises of network infrastructure devices.”

It said the sanctions also target Russia’s underwater capabilities, which it said include tracking undersea communications cables that carry the bulk of the world’s telecommunications data.

The U.S. said one of the entities, Divetechno services, bought underwater equipment and diving services for the intelligence service, including a $1.5 million submersible craft. The three sanctioned individuals all worked for the company.