In a moment of thawing relations between the United States and China, President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke by phone Thursday night, ending a months-long diplomatic hiatus between the two leaders. Earlier Thursday evening, The New York Times reported that China, dismayed by Trump’s December phone call to the president of Taiwan, had frozen diplomatic relations with Washington. As part of its One China policy, the Asian power believes Taiwan is part of mainland China. The U.S. has honored that policy for decades, and has not had diplomatic relations with Taiwan since 1979. After receiving backlash for the call, Trump wondered publicly why the U.S. had to follow the One China policy. But on Thursday evening, in the phone call with Xi, Trump “agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honor” the One China policy, according to the White House. Just a day earlier, in an attempt to reach out to Beijing, the White House sent a letter to the Chinese president belatedly “wishing the Chinese people a happy Lantern Festival and prosperous Year of the Rooster,” an unusual attempt to mend relations. The gesture seemed to have worked, though. The call between the two leaders comes just days before Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are expected to spend the weekend at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
—A federal court refused to reinstate President Trump’s travel ban for seven Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries. More here
—In a moment of thawing relations between the United States and China, President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke by phone, ending a months-long diplomatic hiatus between the two leaders. More here
—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).
Chinese President Finally Takes Trump's Call
Federal Court Upholds Suspension of Trump's Immigration Ban
A federal court on Thursday refused to reinstate President Trump’s travel ban for seven Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries. The three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco unanimously ruled against the government’s case. As my colleague Matt Ford writes:
While much of the discussion centered around the ban’s constitutionality, the judges largely sidestepped its legal and constitutional merits. Instead, the panel’s ruling focused on whether Judge Robart’s temporary restraining order, which blocked the federal government from enforcing key parts of the executive order while legal proceedings continue, was justified.
The Trump administration can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is currently split 4-4 along ideological lines.
France to Construct Bulletproof Wall Around Eiffel Tower
The temporary wire fences constructed around the Eiffel Tower in June ahead of the UEFA European Championship soccer tournament will be replaced with a permanent, bulletproof wall, Le Parisien reports. The 2.5-meter (8-foot) glass barrier is expected to shield the base of the 324-meter (1,063 ft) tower and is projected to cost 20 million euros ($21,328,000)—part of a broader multimillion-dollar project to modernize the monument, which receives approximately 7 million visitors each year. The barrier comes amidst heightened security in the French capital and indeed throughout the country, which has been under a state of emergency since November 2015. The emergency designation, which grants French law enforcement increased powers to search and seize suspects, has been extended four times and, is set to expire after the French presidential election has concluded in July 2017. The project is expected to be completed next fall.
Romanian Justice Minister Quits Amid Protests Over Corruption Bill
Romanian Justice Minister Florin Iordache has resigned amid protests over a government decree that critics said weakened anti-corruption laws. Iordache had authored the measure, which he insisted was legal. His resignation comes a day after the center-left government easily survived a no-confidence motion in the country’s parliament. At issue is a government decree that decriminalized relatively minor acts of official corruption involving amounts less than $47,500. Critics said the decree was specifically tailored to protect allies of Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu, including Liviu Dragnea, the president of the ruling Social-Democratic Party (PSD), who stands accused of defrauding the state of approximately $26,000. Following massive protests last weekend—the largest in the country since the fall of the Ceaușescu regime in 1989—Grindeanu’s government withdrew the decree, but more protests are planned this weekend against the government in an attempt to force it to resign. Demonstrators say a new version of the withdrawn measure would not be enough to address their concerns over government corruption.
Kenyan High Court Blocks Closure of World's Largest Refugee Camp
A Kenyan high court blocked the closure of Dadaab refugee camp Thursday, ruling the government’s move to shutter what is considered the world’s largest refugee camp is unconstitutional. “The government's decision specifically targeting Somali refugees is an act of group persecution, illegal, discriminatory, and therefore unconstitutional,” Justice John Mativo said. The camp, which opened in 1991 for refugees feeling the civil war in Somalia, was expected to host up to 90,000 people, but quickly expanded to absorb more than 260,000 people, some of whom have lived in the camp for more than two decades. The Kenyan government sought to shutter the camp in November on the grounds the site had been used as a recruiting spot for Islamist militants. The closure, however, was delayed for six months on humanitarian grounds. Amnesty International lauded the high court’s decision, which it said “reaffirms Kenya’s constitutional and international legal obligation to protect people who seek safety from harm and persecution.” Government spokesman Eric Kiraithe said Nairobi would appeal the ruling.
Accidental Russian Strike Kills 3 Turkish Soldiers in Syria
Russian airstrikes accidentally killed three Turkish soldiers in northern Syria, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Thursday. Eleven others were injured in the incident for which President Vladimir Putin has apologized. The two sides are on opposite sides of the civil war. Russia supports President Bashar al-Assad’s government; Turkey backs many of the rebel groups that are fighting Assad. The two countries have, however, drawn closer in recent months, working together to implement a cease-fire between the various factions involved in the nearly six-year-long conflict. Together, they are targeting ISIS, one of the many groups that’s fighting Assad, but which isn’t part of the cease-fire deal. The soldiers who were killed Thursday were helping rebels fight ISIS near the city of al-Bab, which is near Turkey's southern border. The Russian aircraft bombed a building where the soldiers had been deployed.
Schools Close, Flights Canceled Ahead of Northeast Snowstorm
Schools in the Northeast and more than 3,000 flights were canceled Thursday in preparation for what some forecasters anticipate could be the most powerful snowstorm of the season. The storm is expected to drop as much as a foot of snow in places between Philadelphia and Boston, prompting public schools in both cities, as well as in New York City, to be shuttered. Boston and Philadelphia have also declared snow emergencies. The storm is expected to subside in most places Thursday night, with the exception of Boston, which is projected to have snowfall through the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.
The Headlines From the Trump Administration
—Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, is reported to have described as “demoralizing” the president’s criticism of the judiciary. Trump said Thursday Gorsuch's remarks were misrepresented by Senator Richard Blumenthal.
—Trump wrote a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping in which he said he wanted a “constructive” relationship between the two countries. Trump has frequently attacked China’s trade and currency policies, and he infuriated Beijing by speaking to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen soon after his election. He is yet to speak to Xi, the Chinese leader. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman welcomed the letter Thursday, adding: “China attaches great importance to developing the relationship with the United States.”
—The U.S. Senate voted along party lines Wednesday to confirm Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama to the position of attorney general; one Democrat, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, crossed the aisle to vote for Sessions.