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Nicholas Burns approved as China envoy by US Senate******
In this file photo taken on October 20, Nicholas Burns testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be Ambassador to China on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.。
The US Senate on Thursday confirmed veteran diplomat Nicholas Burns as ambassador to Beijing, filling a position vacant for more than a year.。
The Senate reached the key 50-vote threshold to approve Burns in an ongoing confirmation that took place after Senator Marco Rubio lifted objections. The final vote was 75-18.。
President Joe Biden nominated Burns in August, more than half a year into his term.。
"If you're looking for a bipartisan person to put in a position, this is your guy," said Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.。
"He's done an outstanding job, has an outstanding reputation amongst the cadre of ambassadors."
The 65-year-old served as the State Department's No. 3 official under former President George W. Bush and as the spokesperson of the department under Bill Clinton.。
Burns retired from the Foreign Service in 2008 and became a professor at Harvard University.。
Trump's ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, resigned in October 2020 to help the Republican president's campaign against Biden.。
Biden warns Putin Ukraine attack would bring 'severe costs'******
Efforts to defuse the crisis in Ukraine via a frenzy of telephone diplomacy failed to ease tensions Saturday, with US President Joe Biden warning that Russia faces "swift and severe costs" if its troops carry out an invasion.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin slammed Western claims that Moscow was planning such a move as "provocative speculation" that could lead to conflict in the ex-Soviet country, according to a Russian readout of a call with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Speaking after new phone talks between Putin and Biden, the Kremlin's top foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov told a conference call: "Hysteria has reached its peak."
Weeks of tensions that have seen Russia nearly surround its western neighbour with more than 100,000 troops intensified after Washington warned that an all-out invasion could begin "any day" and Russia launched its biggest naval drills in years across the Black Sea.
"If Russia undertakes a further invasion of Ukraine, the United States together with our allies and partners will respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs on Russia," Biden told Putin, according to the White House.
While the United States was prepared to engage in diplomacy, "we are equally prepared for other scenarios", Biden said, as the two nations stare down one of the gravest crises in East-West relations since the Cold War.
While the Biden-Putin talks were "professional and substantive", lasting just over an hour, they produced "no fundamental change" in dynamics, a senior US official told reporters.
Russia's defence ministry added to the febrile atmosphere by announcing that it had chased off a US submarine it said had crossed into its territorial waters near the Kuril Islands in the northern Pacific.
The ministry said it had summoned the US defence attache in Moscow over the incident.
But the US Indo-Pacific Command denied the account. "There is no truth to the Russian claims of our operations in their territorial waters," spokesman Captain Kyle Raines said in a statement.
Putin began his afternoon holding talks with Macron that the French presidency said lasted one hour and 40 minutes.
Macron's office said "both expressed a desire to continue dialogue" but, like Washington, reported no clear progress.
Russia added to the ominous tone by pulling some of its diplomatic staff out of Ukraine Saturday.
The foreign ministry in Moscow said its decision was prompted by fears of "possible provocations from the Kyiv regime".
But Washington and a host of European countries along with Israel cited the growing threat of a Russian invasion as they called on their citizens to leave Ukraine as soon possible.
Britain and the United States also pulled out most of their remaining military advisers while the US embassy ordered "most" of its Kyiv staff to leave.
Australia said it had directed all remaining embassy staff in Kyiv to evacuate, and Canada said it was closing its embassy temporarily and moving operations to the western city of Lviv.
Dutch carrier KLM announced that it was suspending commercial flights to Ukraine until further notice.
The prospect of fleeing Westerners prompted Kyiv to issue an appeal to its citizens to "remain calm".
"Right now, the people's biggest enemy is panic," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on a visit to troops stationed near the Russian-annexed peninsula of Crimea.
Several thousand Ukrainians braved the winter cold to march through Kyiv in a show of unity amid the growing fears of war.
"Panic is useless," said student Maria Shcherbenko as the crowd waved Ukraine's blue-and-yellow flags and sang the national anthem. "We must unite and fight for independence."
'Any day now'
Washington on Friday issued its most dire warning yet that Russia had assembled enough forces to launch a serious assault.
"Our view that military action could occur any day now, and could occur before the end of the Olympics, is only growing in terms of its robustness," US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan warned.
Sullivan stopped short on Friday of saying that the United States has concluded that Putin has made the decision to attack.
But some US and German media cited intelligence sources and officials as saying that a war could begin at some point after Putin concludes talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Moscow on Tuesday.
The German leader is due to travel to Kyiv on Monday and then visit Putin as Europe strives to keep lines of communication open with Moscow.
Ukrainian leaders have been trying to talk down the prospects of an all-out war because of the damaging effect such fears are having on the country's teetering economy and public morale.
But the mood across the country remained tense.
The mayor's office in Kyiv said it had prepared an emergency evacuation plan for the capital's three million residents as a precaution.
Russia is seeking binding security guarantees from the West that include a pledge to roll NATO forces out of eastern Europe and to never expand into Ukraine.
Washington has flatly rejected the demands, but offered talks on a new European disarmament agreement with Moscow.
Sullivan said NATO was now "more cohesive, more purposeful, more dynamic than any time in recent memory".
Germany's Scholz has added his voice to European pledges to punish Russia with severe economic sanctions targeting its financial and energy sector if it attacks.
Long recovery after "unusual" tornado outbreak strikes US states******
Debris are piled after a tornado tore through rural Kentucky.
Rescue and recovery efforts are underway after dozens of tornadoes swept through parts of the US Midwest and South late Friday and early Saturday, causing severe casualties and damage.
"There is no lens big enough to show you the extent of the damage" in Kentucky, Governor Andy Beshear told reporters on Sunday, as several other states have also reported storm-related damage and deaths.
The tornado outbreak of that magnitude was unusual during this time of the year and the road to recover could be long in some affected regions, experts and officials have said.
Houses, structures, and Vehicles are seen with damage after a tornado tore through rural Kentucky.
Eighteen counties in Kentucky have reported damage from an extremely devastating tornado, which carved out a long path of about 227 miles (roughly 365 kilometers) of terrain – almost all of that in the "Bluegrass State," said Beshear.
The National Weather Service on Sunday classified the tornado as an EF-3 and estimated its maximum width to be about three-quarters of a mile (roughly 1.2 kilometers) wide.
Beshear, after previously estimating that the state's death toll could exceed 100, said on Sunday afternoon that it might be as low as 50. "We are praying that maybe original estimates of those we have lost were wrong," he reportedly said. "If so, it's going to be pretty wonderful."
The comments came after a spokesperson for a candle factory in the western Kentucky town of Mayfield, which had been flattened by the violent twister, said that eight of the 110 workers on the overnight shift Friday had been confirmed dead and another eight are still missing, while 94 others have been accounted for.
The tornado also uprooted trees, downed power lines, and damaged or destroyed houses and vehicles in Mayfield, where thousands of people have been left homeless.
Bulldozers began removing debris in some neighborhoods on Sunday. Residents of Wickliffe, a county neighboring Mayfield which narrowly escaped storm's impact, told Xinhua that they had been encouraged to help shelter the displaced.
Rescue efforts are being conducted by local response teams, Kentucky emergency officials said. The state has also deployed the National Guard to conduct searches and take generators to help power shelters and hospitals.
"We want to focus today and the next day on life-saving. We really want to make sure that we find anybody who still might be trapped in the rubble," Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said on Sunday.
Tornadoes also ripped through Illinois, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri and Mississippi, and brought about deadly and tragic destruction in several of the states.
At least six people died in Illinois, where a distribution center owned by e-commerce giant Amazon in Edwardsville was struck and collapsed.
"The news from Edwardsville is tragic," Amazon founder Jeff Bezos tweeted on Saturday. "We're heartbroken over the loss of our teammates there, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones."
Besides, four deaths were confirmed in Tennessee; two people were killed in Arkansas; and one death was reported in Missouri.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee on Saturday surveyed storm damage in the western part of the state, including Dresden, where multiple downtown buildings were torn apart. "This is about the saddest thing I've ever seen," Lee told reporters. "The whole town, the whole town."
US President Joe Biden said on Saturday that he's "monitoring the situation very closely since early this morning" and called the disaster likely "one of the largest tornado outbreaks in our history."
The White House said on Sunday that Biden had declared that a major disaster exists in Kentucky and ordered federal aid to supplement the state and local recovery efforts "in the areas affected by severe storms, straight-line winds, flooding, and tornadoes."
"It's going to be a long recovery," said Criswell, adding that the FEMA is working with communities in making efforts to "help reduce the impacts that we're seeing from these severe weather events."
Tornadoes can form at any time of year, but most occur in the spring and summer months, according to meteorologists.
Defined as vertical funnels of rapidly spinning air, these violent twisters are born in thunderstorms and are often accompanied by hail. Their winds may top 250 miles (roughly 402 km) an hour and can clear a pathway a mile wide and 50 miles (roughly 80 km) long.
Tornadoes occur around the world, but the United States is a major hotspot with about a thousand tornadoes every year.
Victor Gensini, an extreme weather researcher at Northern Illinois University, pointed out, however, that the powerful tornadoes churning through the US states were unusual coming in December, when colder weather normally limits the storms.
Criswell said something similar on Sunday.
"We do see tornadoes in December, that part is not unusual, but at this magnitude I don't think we've ever seen one this late in the year," the FEMA chief said. "But it's also historic. Even this, the severity and the amount of time this tornado, or these tornadoes, spent on the ground is unprecedented."
She also warned such extreme weather events could be a "new normal," pointing to the effects of climate change.
Biden said "the intensity of the weather across the board has some impact as a consequence of the warming of the planet and the climate change."
"The specific impact on these specific storms, I can't say at this point," the president added. "But the fact is that we all know everything is more intense when the climate is warming – everything. And, obviously, it has some impact here, but I can't give you a quantitative read on that."