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News Brief: G-7 Summit, Israeli Government, Wildfire Season

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

President Biden says the United States is back, and that is getting a big test today.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Yeah. The president is in Cornwall, England, for the G-7 summit. Last year's meeting, you might remember, was canceled because of COVID. Pandemic recovery is on this year's agenda, among other things.

MCCAMMON: Lots of other things - and NPR's Frank Langfitt joins us from Cornwall to talk about it. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: So what are the topics you're expecting to dominate this meeting?

LANGFITT: Yeah. It's a huge list 'cause, as you were pointing out, this has been a couple of years. And really, the world is a very, very different place. They could be looking, the leaders here, at rebuilding a fair economy after the pandemic, continuing to work to lower emissions on climate change and, frankly, dealing with the challenges of China and Russia in terms of their attempts to undermine Western democracy. They probably won't mention China much because it's a very sensitive topic, but that is something they're absolutely going to be talking about behind the scenes.

MCCAMMON: And what is President Biden's main goal here?

LANGFITT: Reestablish U.S. global leadership and repair these old friendships in the wake of the Trump years. In particular, I think he needs to convince European allies that they can rely on the U.S. again. You remember when Donald Trump was in the White House, he was often criticizing some of America's closest allies and at the same time praising some of the authoritarian, you know, rivals of, like, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

MCCAMMON: Right. And so far at least, Frank, how is all of this going down with America's democratic allies?

LANGFITT: I think rhetorically it's going down very well. I think leaders here across Europe are really relieved with a different kind of tone that the - Biden has set. But they want to see concrete agreements, and they want to see certain steps from the U.S.

One thing that's been interesting, Sarah, is if you look across Europe now, public opinion about the U.S. has really rebounded pretty well. But you also see polls that will show, say, in Germany and France that a lot of people think that the American political system is either partly or completely broken. Leaders here know they can work with Biden. But they also wonder - what's the future look like in 2024? Does Donald Trump win again? Does a Trumpist candidate take the White House? And do relations decline again after that? And the bottom line is I think that many in Europe still aren't certain who is going to win out in the United States.

MCCAMMON: The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, is hosting the G-7. He and Biden met privately yesterday. What do we know about what happened at that meeting?

LANGFITT: They didn't say much afterwards. There was no press conference. The biggest thing was symbolic. They reaffirmed this relationship, what has often been known as the special relationship between these two countries because of the deep historic ties. And they talked about a new Atlantic Charter based on this agreement by Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt back during World War II, when they were fighting Nazi Germany. And this is how the president put it.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We affirmed the special relationship - and it's not said lightly - the special relationship between our people and renewed our commitment to defending the enduring democratic values that both our nations share.

MCCAMMON: And how did Prime Minister Johnson seem?

LANGFITT: You know, he was pretty upbeat, and he called the country's shared global agenda a breath of fresh air. And I got to say, that sounded like criticism of former President Trump with whom, if you remember, Johnson was very chummy publicly. But they actually disagreed on a lot of issues. This is what the prime minister said to BBC yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF BBC BROADCAST)

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: It's an incredibly important strategic relationship. And the talks were very good, and there's no question that under President Biden, there is a massive amount that the new U.S. administration wants to do together with the U.K.

MCCAMMON: These men do have some political differences. I think of Brexit. Did that come up?

LANGFITT: We are told that he didn't press Johnson on that issue, but the president is very concerned about peace in Northern Ireland. Brexit has actually triggered riots last April, and so certainly that's a concern of Washington's.

MCCAMMON: NPR's Frank Langfitt in Cornwall, England. Thanks.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, Sarah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCCAMMON: A new government in Israel could be just a couple of days away, one without Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

KING: Right. This coming Sunday, Israel's Parliament is expected to install a new coalition government with a new prime minister, Naftali Bennett - although nothing is certain yet. Netanyahu has been in office for 12 years, and he is not going easy. And this opposition coalition is a mix of groups with often competing interests, and it barely has a majority in Parliament.

MCCAMMON: NPR's Deborah Amos is in Jerusalem to tell us more about it. She joins us now. Hi, Deb.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MCCAMMON: So Israel has been in a holding pattern awaiting this vote for several days since this coalition formed. Tell us - where do things stand right now?

AMOS: It looks like this vote's going to happen with a one-vote majority. No one from the coalition has dropped out despite death threats, violent rhetoric and angry Netanyahu supporters on their doorsteps. So this is an unusual coalition, to say the least. It includes the religious right wing, some left-wing parties, an Arab party for the first time. They're all mainly united by opposing Netanyahu, who's been divisive and faces corruption charges. He's hung onto office through four deadlocked elections. Here's Merav Michaeli - she's head of the liberal Labor Party - about joining with right-wing parties, unthinkable until now.

MERAV MICHAELI: I don't get my dream government, and they're not getting their dream government. But we agree that Israel needs to start rehabilitating after the Netanyahu era, which is so harmful, and work towards stability and quiet.

MCCAMMON: And he is expected to be replaced with another right-wing figure, a former Netanyahu ally, Naftali Bennett. He's from a small party, but he was the person the coalition could agree on. So Deb, do Israelis have a sense of what he'd actually do?

AMOS: Well, let me tell you his bio. That tells you something. He's a right-wing tech millionaire. He's said a Palestinian state would be suicide for Israel. He's a new generation of leader - 22 years younger than Netanyahu, a man he worked for. He's a son of American immigrants. He's also religious. He's modern Orthodox, so he is the first prime minister that will wear a kippa, a prayer cap. But how much does this profile say about new government policies? Not much, says analyst Dan Rothem at the Kelman Institute.

DAN ROTHEM: He's not a very powerful figure. This is not somebody who conquered the prime ministership by virtue of his political appeal or political power. And that will affect a lot, I think, of his behavior as prime minister.

MCCAMMON: How much would he be able to actually get done considering he'd be voted in by such a slim majority?

AMOS: That's the 64,000 shekel question. Here's Yonatan (ph) Plesner, who heads the Israeli Democracy Institute.

YOHANAN PLESNER: The No. 1 feature of this new government that will come in is a democratic cease-fire.

AMOS: Now, he's referring to these agreements that if you leave the coalition, you can't serve in another government. It's mutually assured Israeli destruction, says Plesner.

PLESNER: This government would be extremely effective in militarily vetoing each other. Whether it will actually be effective in doing anything that is beyond leaving Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox out of power, we're yet to find out.

AMOS: So on Sunday, Israel will swear in a new government. It will end the Netanyahu era. We'll have the first Arab party in a ruling coalition, more women than ever before and a religious tech millionaire as a prime minister.

MCCAMMON: NPR's Deborah Amos. Thank you, Deb.

AMOS: Thank you.

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MCCAMMON: This year's wildfire season will be another bad one, experts are warning.

KING: Already, fires are burning in 11 states, including California, Arizona and Colorado. A bad drought across the West isn't helping things, and climate change, of course, is exacerbating the risk.

MCCAMMON: NPR's Nathan Rott has been reporting on the drought and fire risk and joins us now. Good morning, Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: So it sounds like the conditions are really stacking up for this to be a rough summer in some places. What are we looking at?

ROTT: Yeah, that's right. So there's higher-than-normal fire risk across much of the West right now, in some places much higher. Our friends at Colorado Public Radio reporting yesterday, actually, that federal forecasters issued a rare extremely critical fire weather warning for part of that state, which is something they hadn't done in more than a decade. And of course, Colorado was one of a handful of Western states that saw historic wildfires last summer, including where I am here in California.

MCCAMMON: So how's this year comparing so far? Are we seeing more fire activity than last year, say?

ROTT: So far, yeah. I mean, more than 100,000 acres have burned in Arizona already this year. This is typically their busiest time of year. And in one of his last press conferences on fire preparedness, California Governor Gavin Newsom said that there's been more than a thousand fires this year than there was at the same time last.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

GAVIN NEWSOM: And last year was a record-breaking year. Already feeling the temperature shifts - you already saw those red flag warnings which are earlier than we've seen in many, many years.

ROTT: Now, I think it's important to say here, Sarah, you know, as often as we can as somebody who's reported on fires for a long time, that we all need to remember that fire is normal for much of the West. Right? Heck, you know, even some of the forests back east have evolved with wildfire. So it's part of the natural process. Fire itself is not necessarily bad. What's bad is when it burns in communities as we've been seeing, unfortunately, more and more over the last few years.

MCCAMMON: Yeah, lots of people living on that land where wildfire's natural, Nate. What is California doing - and other states, what are they doing to prevent this?

ROTT: So California's hired more than 1,400 additional firefighters just for this summer. And it's positioning them in places that now seem to burn every year - you know, Napa Valley. They've also tried to ramp up prescribed fires, which, you know, can put fire on the landscape in a more directed way. Other states in the southwest in particular are on high alert and warning people as they go out this summer to be careful when they're in the woods.

MCCAMMON: And all of this is happening at the same time that much of the West is already in significant drought. So how does that factor in?

ROTT: Yeah. So scientists are saying that we are living in a megadrought - severe drought in wide regions for decades at a time. Lake Mead, the nation's largest reservoir, just east of Las Vegas, actually hit its lowest level on record yesterday. And there are serious water cutbacks coming from farmers, ranchers, states that depend on water, particularly in the Colorado River basin. And you know, droughts happen. California has had a terrible years-long drought recently. But there are concerns from climate scientists that a warming world may mean more frequent droughts, not just in the West, but in all parts of the country. And that would mean serious challenges when it comes to wildfires, but, you know, just the infrastructure that we all depend on.

MCCAMMON: That's NPR's Nathan Rott. Thanks so much.

ROTT: Yeah. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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