What We're Following This Afternoon

Updated on September 18 at 1:23 p.m. ET

A recall ordered: The Environmental Protection Agency says Volkswagen added software to its cars that bypassed the agency’s emission standards for certain air pollutions like smog. The agency ordered the automaker to recall nearly half-million diesel vehicles sold in the U.S. since 2009. Update: My colleague Rob has more here.

A not-guilty plea: Joey Meek, a friend of Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof, pleaded not guilty today to lying to federal officials and to concealing knowledge of the crime, which left nine people dead at a historic black church in June. FBI agents arrested Meek on Thursday.

A loosening of sanctions: The Treasury Department has announced an easing of sanctions on Cuba. As my colleague Adam reports, the loosening of sanctions will allow U.S. companies the ability to do business in Cuba and open offices there, allow more American travelers to visit and open bank accounts there, and cruise ships to directly travel between the two countries.

An opening on Syria: The U.S. and Russia look set to discuss cooperation—as well as their differences—over the Syrian conflict. Secretary of State John Kerry said he hopes “a military-to-military conversation … will take place very shortly.” Separately, the Pentagon said Defense Secretary Ash Carter had a “constructive conversation” with Sergei Shoygu, the Russian defense minister, on the situation in Syria. My colleague Marina has reported on the developments here.