National Sports

Overtime survivors: Bulldogs, Irish meet for women’s title

By Doug Feinberg
AP Basketball Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Vic Schaefer and his Mississippi State Bulldogs carry a constant reminder of how far they went in the women’s NCAA Tournament last year, and what must still be done.
It’s right there, engraved on the side of their runner-up rings: “ONE MORE.”
A season after losing to South Carolina 67-55 in the title game, Morgan William and the Bulldogs try again to win that elusive first crown. They play Notre Dame on Sunday night in a matchup of teams that both have spoiled perfect seasons for mighty UConn.
“We would say add another one a lot. One More,” Schaefer said. “It came from two Navy SEALs who worked with the kids in the fall — Sam and Brian. One of the things they talk about all the time is one more.”
Schaefer learned a lot from last year’s loss in the title game. He felt his players were tired after practicing the day after the monumental upset of UConn that ended the Huskies’ record 111-game winning streak.
So he’s changed his philosophy the second time around and will be taking it a bit easier on his team.
“I told my seniors and they called the doctor thinking I had lost my mind,” Schaefer said. “We’re not going to kill ourselves in practice. We’ll spend a lot of time stretching especially with those kids that played a lot of minutes last night. We are going to shoot a lot, go through their stuff and our stuff. That’s about it.”
The Bulldogs won another thriller, beating Louisville in overtime to advance to the title game a second straight year. This time though, it was the first semifinal and the players were able to get to bed about three hours earlier than the previous year.
“Yeah, we watched the UConn-Notre Dame game but then were able to get to sleep around 12:30 a.m.,” said William, who hit the buzzer-beating shot that dropped UConn last season.
This time it was Notre Dame that ended the Huskies’ undefeated season. Arike Ogunbowale hit a jumper from the wing with a second left in overtime to beat UConn.
A win on Sunday would give coach Muffet McGraw a second title at Notre Dame. The Irish won in 2001 before falling short in the championship game in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015.
“It’s all about the mindset,” she said. “Really it’s all about this is a game, two teams coming in playing for a national championship. They were here last year. They know what it’s like. So for us, I think just a matter of continuing to do what we’ve been doing and not let the pressure of the moment get to us.”
This might be one of the most improbable NCAA runs by a McGraw team despite being a No. 1 seed. The Irish lost four players over the season to ACL injuries. They never felt sorry for themselves.
“We actually didn’t really talk about it at all,” McGraw said. “We just constantly focus on what we have, what we can do, who’s going to step up, how are the roles changing? What do you need to do now? We never even talked about where we could be or what we should be thinking. We just kept focusing them on the future.”
This will be the first time these teams have played each other. Schaefer, however, is no stranger to McGraw and the Irish. He was an assistant coach on the Texas A&M team that beat Notre Dame to win the 2011 national championship.
The Irish will need to find a way to deal with Mississippi State center Teaira McCowan. She had 21 points and a Final Four-record 25 rebounds against Louisville.
“You’ve got to try to get a body on her, but she’s just so darn big that you can’t outjump her,” McGraw said. “We’ve got to try to keep her off. She does such a great job with her body of getting great position. So I don’t know. We have a couple of plans that we’ll go to, and hopefully one of them will work.”

National Sports

Nash, Kidd, Hill in 13-member Basketball Hall of Fame class

By Greg Beacham
AP Sports Writer

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Steve Nash was an unsung Canadian kid who got one significant U.S. basketball scholarship offer. Jason Kidd was an Oakland hoops prodigy ticketed for superstardom from childhood.
After parallel careers that first crossed during college workouts a quarter-century ago, two of the best point guards of their generation are thrilled to be headed into the Basketball Hall of Fame together.
“It’s even more special when it’s with him, and with so many people you respect,” Nash said.
Nash, Kidd, Grant Hill and Ray Allen learned Saturday that they are among the 13-member Hall of Fame class that will be inducted in September.
The class also includes Maurice Cheeks, Tina Thompson, coach Lefty Driesell, Charlie Scott, longtime executive Rick Welts, NBA executive Rod Thorn, Katie Smith, the late Ora Mae Washington and Croatian star Dino Radja. Most of the inductees appeared together before the Final Four semifinals in San Antonio, beginning the five-month stretch of togetherness before the ceremony in Springfield, Massachusetts.
But Nash and Kidd have been linked since their teenage years for more than their sublime playmaking skills, and they’ve both provided assists to each other along the way.
They played nearly two seasons together with the Phoenix Suns from late 1996 to 1998, but their bond began in the Bay Area during their famed group workouts while Nash was at Santa Clara and Kidd was at California.
“He kept pushing me, and hopefully I pushed him to become a better player,” Kidd said. “Steve was always early, and he was always the last to leave, and he never gets tired. So when you have a workout partner like that, it will only make you better.”
Nash went on to become a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and an eight-time All-Star, while Kidd earned 10 All-Star selections and claimed a championship ring in Dallas in 2011.
They’re both also bonded with Hill, the seven-time NBA All-Star who won two NCAA titles at Duke. The trio’s professional careers all encompassed roughly the same two-decade stretch, and they exchanged excited text messages earlier this week when they learned of their impending Hall trip.
“I’m just following Steve and Grant around,” Kidd said with a grin. “I was (NBA) co-rookie of the year with Grant, I’ve known Steve forever, and now we’re going into this class together. I said, ‘Whatever you do next, I’m going to go with you there, too.’”
Allen, a 10-time All-Star, is the most prolific 3-point shooter in NBA history and a two-time league champion whose career also encompassed roughly the same two-decade stretch as his three fellow inductees.
The class also includes two giants of the modern women’s game. Thompson was the first draft choice in WNBA history and a four-time league champion, while Smith is the top scorer in women’s professional basketball history.
Driesell, best known for his 17 seasons at Maryland, is the only NCAA coach to win 100 games at four different schools. Scott is a five-time NBA All-Star who also excelled in the ABA.
Driesell drew laughs when the Hall of Famers got together with his still-dry wit: “I think it’s more for my players and my coaching staffs and my trainers and athletic directors that hired me than it is for me, because I’m 86 years old. I want them to enjoy it. I probably won’t be around too long to enjoy it … but it’s just a big honor and a thrill.”
Scott, the first black scholarship athlete at North Carolina before his championship-winning NBA career with the Suns and Boston Celtics, shared his enormous mutual respect for Driesell.
“If people don’t know it, if it wasn’t for Lefty, there would be no Charlie Scott,” Scott said. “He was the guy who first recruited me (to Davidson). And I guess he hated it, but he put my name in the newspaper, and that was when Coach (Dean) Smith saw it, and that’s when Coach Smith started recruiting me.”
Driesell laughed that he would have been in the Hall of Fame much earlier if Scott had come to Davidson.
Cheeks is a four-time NBA All-Star and one of the greatest defensive point guards in hoops history. The Philadelphia 76ers great played the same position as Kidd and Nash, but at a different time in the game’s evolution.
“When I was playing, (the job) was making sure I was taking care of my players,” Cheeks said. “I would have been crazy not to get the ball to Julius (Erving) and Moses (Malone).”
Welts, the first openly gay NBA executive, has worked in several aspects of the game, including the launch of the WNBA. The former president of the Phoenix Suns, he became the Warriors’ president and chief of operations in 2011.
Thorn has a lengthy career as a player, coach and executive. He served as the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations between stints in the front offices of the Bulls and Nets.
Radja was one of the greatest European players of his generation. The Croatian scorer also played four seasons for the Boston Celtics.
Washington (1898-1971) was a spectacular athlete who excelled at tennis but also played on 11 consecutive Women’s Colored Basketball World’s Championship teams.

National Sports

Ovechkin, a durable ‘Russian machine,’ reaches 1,000 games

WASHINGTON (AP) — Alex Ovechkin is built like a linebacker with the motor of a steam engine and the mentality of a wrecking ball.
He can score like no other player of this generation and few in history and has the physicality to match. That was evident from his first NHL shift when he powered up ice and crushed Columbus defenseman Radoslav Suchy so hard it knocked out the stanchion between the panes of plexiglass.
Ovechkin at 32 is no longer the human bulldozer he once was, but his hard-hitting style never put a dent in his prime years as he became the fourth-fastest player to 600 goals . On Sunday in Pittsburgh, the Washington Capitals’ 2004 No. 1 pick will be the first player from that draft class to play 1,000 NHL regular-season games, a testament to his durability that is also difficult to duplicate in modern hockey.
“That he has reached 1,000 games this quickly is an amazing accomplishment with the way he plays,” Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said. “These are big men, and the league has gotten faster but it’s also gotten much more fit, and that Alex has been able to span those generations and continue to play and be incredibly productive is really a historic feat.”
In 13 seasons, Ovechkin has missed more than four games only once and never missed more than 10. Take out the eight games for suspensions and the Russian winger has only sat out for injury 21 times out of a possible 1,028.
“I heard a couple years ago that he said he’s the Russian Machine,” longtime teammate Nicklas Backstrom said. “That probably has something to do with it.”
Ovechkin brushed off an injury in his second season with the now-famous line, “Russian machine never breaks.” Ovechkin has played through knee and back pain and finished one playoff series on a fractured foot, illustrating his pain tolerance while also avoiding the kinds of serious injuries that derail other players’ careers.
Goaltender Braden Holtby pointed out that it helps Ovechkin to not kill penalties and risk injuries in those situations while also marveling at how the Moscow native is built. His 6-foot-3, 235-pound frame gives him the tools to punish opponents with his body as much as his shot.
“When you’re big guy like Ovi, you’re not gonna be afraid to hit no one,” Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “And when people gonna hit you, they’re gonna feel it, for sure.”
When Barry Trotz coached in Nashville, he remembered players seeing Ovechkin down the hallway cutting his stick and whispering about how big he was. Ovechkin had that intimidating presence to him.
“Trust me, we had a lot of nervous defensemen,” Trotz said. “We had a couple of nervous cats.”
Watching Ovechkin’s sometimes reckless play could have at one point made the Capitals nervous, too, because of how valuable he is and how important it is he stay healthy. In recent years, he has toned it down with age and as hockey has gotten faster with lower priorities on hitting.
“As soon as you get a little older, you realize when you have to get a hit and when you have to take a hit,” Ovechkin said. “You can see right now in the playoffs it’s different hockey. Of course, every shift you try to do something out there, but in the regular year you don’t have to run around and hit everybody because if a game is 5-2 or 4-1 you don’t have to do it. Obviously you have to play smarter and try to do different things.”
Evolving his game as a scorer and a power forward has helped Ovechkin get to this point where he’s on the verge of leading the league in goals for the seventh time and reach 50 for the eighth time.
If Ovechkin, who still has Stanley Cup aspirations and three years left on his contract, maintains this level of durability and wants to keep playing in North America toward age 40, reaching 1,500 games isn’t out of the question.
“There are a lot of players that have played 1,000 games but not as many players have scored 600 goals,” Leonsis said. “If he takes cares of himself — which he has been, he looks great — he can play a lot of years in the league.”

National Sports

Handy man: Calderon doing whatever Cavaliers need

CLEVELAND (AP) — It’s two hours before tip-off, and Jose Calderon is working up a healthy sweat on the floor at Quicken Loans Arena.
Then he retreats to the locker room to study. Sitting at his cubicle, just feet from where LeBron James dresses, Calderon watches video of that night’s opponent on his phone or on a large TV mounted on the other side of the room.
Calderon may play tonight — or sit. He never knows exactly. Either way, abiding by the Boy Scout’s motto, he will be prepared.
“I know I got to be ready in any moment,” he said.
Now in his 13th season, Calderon is Cleveland’s Jose-on-the-spot, a dependable player capable of starting, coming off the bench or pulling for his teammates from the bench as an extended member of the coaching staff.
Invaluable. Trustworthy. At 36.
On Friday night, Calderon was needed in the third quarter after starting point guard George Hill sprained his left ankle. Calderon sparked the Cavs to a 107-102 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, preventing Cleveland from sliding out of third place in the Eastern Conference. Calderon made one of three 3-pointers in a 1:33 span as the Cavs overcame a 13-point deficit and won for the seventh time in eight games.
Calderon finished with just five points in 14 minutes, but his contributions went way beyond his statistics as he brought his usual steadiness and energy to the floor.
James has become one of his biggest fans.
“You got to have one or two guys like that on every team, someone who has kind of like zero ego, zero notion of entitlement,” said the three-time champion, who broke one of Michael Jordan’s scoring records against the Pelicans.
“Listen, his whole thing is like, ‘I’m going to stay ready. I’ll stay ready so if my number is called,’ and he goes out and produces and that’s big for our team because you never know when someone is going to go down.”
With the Cavs, someone always seems to be going down.
Cleveland has been overrun by injuries all season. And with Hill to miss Sunday’s game against Dallas and maybe more, the Cavs will need to tweak their lineup again just as they head into the playoffs.
Fortunately for them, Calderon, whose signing as a free agent last summer was met with indifference by many Cleveland fans following All-Star Kyrie Irving’s blockbuster trade, has handled any role the Cavs have given him.
The team is 21-9 in Calderon’s 30 starts and 26-11 when he plays at least 10 minutes. He has earned his teammates’ respect and his coach’s admiration.
“This guy has answered the bell,” said assistant coach Larry Drew, who is running the club while Tyronn Lue is away for health reasons. “His attitude has been phenomenal. I mean he just stays ready and he really loves this team, he loves his teammates. He loves his coaches and he just said, ‘Coach, whenever you guys need me I’m here for you. I’ll stay ready.’ You can’t do anything but take your hat off for a guy like that.”
Calderon’s minutes have varied since the season opener. He began the year behind Derrick Rose, then moved into the starting lineup briefly before Isaiah Thomas returned from injury and Calderon was back on the bench.
He didn’t play even one minute in 22 games, but Calderon never complained or did anything other than make sure he was ready for his next chance.
“I know what I can do out there,” he said following Friday’s game. “I just got to stay ready for whenever my name is called, and today it was because G-Hill went down and I just went out there and just gave effort and it worked out well.”
This has been a new experience for the affable Spaniard, who spent seven seasons with Toronto before stops in Detroit, Dallas, New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta. Until this year, he has been primarily a starter but he’s embracing his jack-of-all-trades role with Cleveland.
“I’ve never been on a team like this, either,” he said. “So I think everything goes together.”

International Headlines

UN leader calls for investigation into deadly Gaza clashes

By JENNIFER PELTZ, Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Friday for an independent investigation into deadly clashes in Gaza between Palestinians and Israeli troops, while Security Council members urged restraint on both sides.
The council didn’t decide on any action or joint message after an emergency meeting Friday evening. Kuwait convened it hours after the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 cross-border war between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules the coastal strip.
Fifteen people were killed and more than 750 wounded by Israeli fire as thousands of Palestinian protesters marched to Gaza’s border with Israel, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. The Israeli military said that thousands of Palestinians threw stones and rolled burning tires toward troops, that Palestinian gunmen fired toward soldiers in one incident and that militants were trying to conduct attacks under the cover of protests.
Guterres wants “an independent and transparent investigation” into the violence, spokesman Farhan Haq said.
Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour said he was disappointed the Security Council didn’t coalesce to condemn what he called a “heinous massacre” of peaceful demonstrators, or to support his call to provide protection for Palestinian civilians.
“We expect the Security Council to shoulder its responsibility” and “defuse this volatile situation, which clearly constitutes a threat to international peace and security,” Mansour said.
Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon said “the international community must not be deceived” by what he termed “a well-organized and violent terror-gathering” under the banner of a peaceful march.
“The Palestinians sunk to a new deceitful low so that they could use the U.N. to spread lies about Israel” while its representatives weren’t there because of the Passover holiday, Danon said in a statement.
Some Security Council members suggested an investigation and emphasized that Israel should ensure force is only used proportionally. Some also made a point of noting Israel’s security concerns and calling on demonstrators to avoid violence.
They all expressed alarm at the flare-up of conflict in a volatile region.
“The situation is extremely worrisome,” said Swedish deputy Ambassador Carl Skau. Equatorial Guinea’s ambassador, Anatolio Ndong Mba, warned that continuing violence could “escalate out of control and could further imperil what is already a very delicate situation” in Gaza.
The U.S., which often complains about what it sees as anti-Israel bias at the U.N., urged all involved in the conflict to lower tensions.
“Bad actors who use protests as a cover to incite violence endanger innocent lives,” added Walter Miller, an adviser at Washington’s U.N. mission.
Russia and China, meanwhile, emphasized a need to step up diplomatic efforts toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole.
Israel and Hamas have fought three cross-border wars in recent years.
The protests come as Gaza is in the 10th year of a border closure. Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas seized Gaza from forces loyal to the militants’ rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in 2007.

International Headlines

Nobel Prize winner Malala visits her Pakistan hometown

By SHERIN ZADA and MUNIR AHMED, Associated Press
MINGORA, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai on Saturday arrived in her hometown for the first time since a Taliban militant shot her there in 2012 for advocating girls’ education.
Yousafzai and her family arrived in a helicopter provided by the Pakistani military, which took her to the town of Mingora in the Swat Valley from Islamabad. She had arrived in the capital before dawn on Thursday flanked by heavy security and plans to return to Britain on Monday.
Yousafzai, 20, won international renown after she was shot by the Taliban in Mingora. She received initial treatment in Pakistan and later was taken to England for further care. She stayed on in the United Kingdom to continue her education and became the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
Yousafzai entered her childhood home Saturday accompanied by her father, mother and brother. She sobbed upon entering the home where relatives, former classmates and friends had been anxiously waiting since morning to welcome her with flowers and hugs.
Youzafzai said she waited for the moment for more than five years and said she often looked at Pakistan on the map, hoping one day to return. She said she plans to permanently return to Pakistan after completing her studies in Britain.
“It is still like a dream for me, am I among you? Is it a dream or reality,” she said.
Youzafsai later returned to Islamabad, where she met with human rights activists.
Arooj Bibi, a neighbor, said she was happy to meet with Youzafzai, but was sad because her visit was so brief. Bibi said Yousafzai “lit the candle of education. God willing, there will be thousands of girls like Malala getting an education” in Swat.
Yousafzai also attended a gathering at the army’s Cadet College in Swat.
Security had been visibly beefed up in Mingora the previous day. The Pakistani Taliban had warned after the attack on the then-14-year-old that they would target her again if they got the chance.
Yousafzai had asked authorities to allow her to go to Mingora and Shangla village in the Swat Valley, where a school has been built by her Malala Fund.
In October 2012, Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Taliban assassin who jumped inside her school van and yelled, “Who is Malala?” She was targeted for speaking out on girls’ education.
Since her attack and recovery, Yousafzai has led the Malala Fund in which she said has invested $6 million for schools and books and uniforms for schoolchildren.
Yousafzai has delighted in telling the Taliban that instead of silencing her, they have amplified her voice. She has also written a book, spoken at the United Nations and met with refugees.
On Friday, Yousafzai praised the Pakistan army in an interview on the independent Geo news channel for providing her timely medical treatment, saying her surgery was done by an army surgeon at the “right time.”
Yousafzai has won praise from across Pakistan on her return home, but some critics on social media have tried to undermine her efforts to promote girls’ education. Yousafzai told media outlets Friday that she expected criticism from militants, who had a particular mindset, but doesn’t understand why some educated Pakistanis oppose her.
“Those who do criticize have an absurd kind of criticism that doesn’t make any sense,” she said in an interview with Pakistan’s The News English-language newspaper published Saturday.
“What I want is for people to support my purpose of education and think about the daughters of Pakistan who need an education,” she told the newspaper. “Don’t think about me. I don’t want any favor or I don’t want everyone to accept me. All I care about is that they accept education as an issue.”
In the interview, she said she was sitting in her classroom when news broke about her Nobel Prize and that she was not aware of it as she was not using her mobile phone at the time.
“My teacher came into my classroom and called me outside. I was worried that I might have done something wrong and I am in trouble. But she told me that I had won the Peace Prize. I said thank you. You don’t know how to respond. For me, it was for the cause of education,” she told the paper.
Ahmed reported from Islamabad.

International Headlines

Israel says it will expand response if Gaza clashes go on

By FARES AKRAM and ARON HELLER, Associated Press
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel will target “terror organizations” in Gaza if violence along the territory’s border with Israel drags on, the chief military spokesman warned Saturday, a day after thousands of Palestinians staged protests near the border fence.
The mass marches were led by Gaza’s ruling Hamas group and touted as the launch of a six-week-long protest campaign. Palestinian health officials said 15 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire and more than 750 hit by live rounds, making it the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 cross-border war between Israel and Hamas.
In Friday’s confrontations, large crowds gathered near the border fence, with smaller groups of protesters rushing forward, throwing stones and burning tires.
Israeli troops responded with live fire and rubber-coated steel pellets, while drones dropped tear gas from above. The army released video showing soldiers with rifles perched on high earthen embankments overlooking the scene.
Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, the chief army spokesman, denied allegations of excessive use of force, saying those killed by Israeli troops were men between the ages of 18 and 30 who were involved in violence and belonged to militant factions.
He alleged Gaza health officials exaggerated the number of those wounded, and that several dozen at most were injured by live fire while the rest were merely shaken up by tear gas and other riot dispersal means.
Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital received 284 injured people Friday, the majority with bullet injuries, said spokesman Ayman Sahbani. He said 70 were under the age of 18 and 11 were women.
He said 40 surgeries were performed Friday and that 50 were planned Saturday. “These are all from live bullets that broke limbs or caused deep, open wounds with damage to nerves and veins,” he said.
Among those recovering from surgery was 16-year-old Marwan Yassin who had thrown stones with a slingshot at the fence Friday and was shot in both legs. One of his legs was wrapped in bandages and the other had a cast and metal fixtures.
His mother said at his bedside that she would ban him from future protests.
On Saturday, a few hundred people gathered at five tent encampments that have been set up several hundred meters from the border fence. The tents serve as the launch points for marches.
Protest organizers have said mass marches would continue until May 15, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s creation. Palestinians mark that date as their “nakba,” or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands were uprooted during the 1948 war over Israel’s creation. The vast majority of Gaza’s 2 million people are descendants of Palestinians who fled or were driven from homes in what is now Israel.
Manelis reiterated Saturday that Israel “will not allow a massive breach of the fence into Israeli territory.”
He said that Hamas and other Gaza militant groups are using protests as a cover for staging attacks. If violence continues, “we will not be able to continue limiting our activity to the fence area and will act against these terror organizations in other places too,” he said.
The border protests were seen as a new attempt by Hamas to break the border blockade, imposed by Israel and Egypt after the Islamic militant group seized Gaza from forces loyal to its rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in 2007. The continued closure has made it increasingly difficult for Hamas to govern.
The large turnout of marchers in the dangerous border zone also seemed to signal desperation among Gaza residents. Life in the coastal strip has deteriorated further in recent months, with rising unemployment, grinding poverty and daily blackouts that last for hours.
The protest campaign is also meant to spotlight Palestinian demands for a “right of return” to what is now Israel.
The prospect of more protests and Palestinian casualties in coming weeks could also place Israel on the defensive.
At the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an independent investigation, while Security Council members urged restraint on both sides. The council didn’t decide on any action or joint message after an emergency meeting Friday evening.
Abbas, the West Bank-based leader, renewed a call for international protection of Palestinians.
In the West Bank, shopkeepers observed a commercial strike called by political activists Saturday to protest Israel’s response to the Gaza marches.
Heller reported from Tel Aviv, Israel. Karin Laub in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed.

International Headlines

IOC president says Kim committed to Tokyo, Beijing Olympics

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach met with Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on Friday and said the North Korean leader is committed to having his country participate in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and the Beijing Winter Games in 2022.
Bach told an Associated Press Television crew that the two had a 30-minute formal meeting followed by 45 minutes of casual discussions while watching a football match Friday afternoon at Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium.
He called the talks productive and said Kim expressed his appreciation for the IOC’s role in helping North Korea compete at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea last month.
“We had a very fruitful meeting where it became clear that the supreme leader has a clear vision of the role that sport can play in a society with regard to education, with regard to health,” Bach said. He added that Kim told him the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang games and marching together with South Korean athletes were an “important contribution to a peaceful dialogue.”
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency published a report on the meeting on Saturday, saying that Bach expressed his “heartfelt thanks” to Kim over the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang Games that made the event “symbolic of peace.”
In response, Kim told Bach he was “very thankful” that the IOC took special measures to allow for North Korean athletes to compete in South Korea. He called for further cooperation with the IOC in developing winter sports and other sports activities in North Korea, the agency said.
Bach arrived in Pyongyang on Thursday to discuss development of sports in North Korea and the preparation of its athletes to qualify and participate in upcoming Olympics. He is the first foreign official to meet Kim since the North Korean leader returned earlier this week from a summit in Beijing with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
That was Kim’s first known trip abroad since he assumed power after the death of his father in late 2011. Kim is to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on April 27.
Bach, who also met with North Korea’s sports minister, said he received a commitment from the county’s National Olympic Committee to participate in Tokyo in 2020 and Beijing in 2022, along with competing in the respective youth Olympic Games.
“This commitment has been fully supported by the supreme leader Kim Jong Un in a meeting we had this afternoon,” he said. “He explained that sport is a pillar in his policy for the future development of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”
Both the North and South hailed the Pyeongchang Games as a significant step toward easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula that reached dangerously high levels last year as the North stepped up its missile tests and detonated its largest nuclear device to date.
Since the Olympics, the North has pushed forward with a flurry of diplomatic moves. After his summit with Moon, Kim is to meet President Donald Trump by May, though the date and location of that summit have not been announced. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he is exploring the possibility of a meeting with Kim as well.
The exact reasons behind Kim’s seeming change of tactics remain something of a mystery.
Hopes have been raised that the North Korean leader may be willing to discuss his nuclear weapons program and other measures to reduce the threat of war, possibly in exchange for security guarantees and an easing of the international sanctions that have severely pinched the already struggling North Korean economy.
Kim’s talks with Bach appear to have focused mostly on sports.
Raising the level of North Korean athletes has been high on Kim’s agenda since he became leader. Of the 22 North Korean athletes who competed in Pyeongchang, only two won places on merit and the other 20 were granted special spots by the IOC.
Bach, who is German, competed in the Olympics for West Germany before Germany’s unification and says that gives him a special feeling for the Koreas.
“It is the mission of the International Olympic Committee always to build bridges and by building these bridges through sport we can also make a contribution to the ongoing political talks,” he said, adding that he hopes the talks will lead “in the Olympic spirit to a peaceful future for the Korean Peninsula.”
Associated Press Pyongyang bureau chief Eric Talmadge contributed to this report from Tokyo.

International Headlines

Trump’s talk of a Syria pullout nothing new

By MATTHEW LEE and JOSH LEDERMAN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s unscripted remark this week about pulling out of Syria “very soon,” while at odds with his own policy, was not a one-off: For weeks, top advisers have been fretting about an overly hasty withdrawal as the president has increasingly told them privately he wants out, U.S. officials said.
Only two months ago, Trump’s aides thought they’d persuaded him that the U.S. needed to keep its presence in Syria open-ended — not only because the Islamic State group has yet to be entirely defeated, but also because the resulting power vacuum could be filled by other extremist groups or by Iran. Trump signed off on major speech in January in which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the new strategy and declared “it is vital for the United States to remain engaged in Syria.”
But by mid-February, Trump was telling his top aides in meetings that as soon as victory can be declared against IS, he wanted American troops out of Syria, said the officials. Alarm bells went off at the State Department and the Pentagon, where officials have been planning for a gradual, methodical shift from a military-led operation to a diplomatic mission to start rebuilding basic infrastructure like roads and sewers in the war-wracked country.
In one sign that Trump is serious about reversing course and withdrawing from Syria, the White House this week put on hold some $200 million in US funding for stabilization projects in Syria, officials said. The money, to have been spent by the State Department for infrastructure projects like power, water and roads, had been announced by outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at an aid conference last month in Kuwait.
The officials said the hold, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, is not necessarily permanent and will be discussed at senior-level inter-agency meetings next week.
The officials weren’t authorized to comment publicly and demanded anonymity.
The State Department said it continually reviews appropriate assistance levels and how best they might be utilized. And the agency said it continues to work with the international community, members of the Coalition, and our partners on the ground to provide much needed stabilization support to vulnerable areas in Syria.
“The United States is working everyday on the ground and with the international community to help stabilize those areas liberated from ISIS and identify ways to move forward with reconstruction once there has been a peaceful political transition away from (Syrian President Bashar) Assad,” according to a statement from the State Department.
Trump’s first public suggestion he was itching to pull out came in a news conference with visiting Australian Prime Minister Alastair Campbell on Feb. 23, when Trump said the U.S. was in Syria to “get rid of ISIS and go home.” On Thursday, in a domestic policy speech in Ohio, Trump went further.
“We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon — very soon, we’re coming out,” Trump said.
The public declaration caught U.S. national security agencies off-guard and unsure whether Trump was formally announcing a new, unexpected change in policy. Inundated by inquiries from journalists and foreign officials, the Pentagon and State Department reached out to the White House’s National Security Council for clarification.
The White House’s ambiguous response, officials said: Trump’s words speak for themselves.
“The mission of the Department of Defense to defeat ISIS has not changed,” said Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman.
Still, without a clear directive from the president, planning has not started for a withdrawal from Syria, officials said, and Trump has not advocated a specific timetable.
For Trump, who campaigned on an “America First” mantra, Syria is just the latest foreign arena where his impulse has been to limit the U.S. role. Like with NATO and the United Nations, Trump has called for other governments to step up and share more of the burden so that Washington doesn’t foot the bill. His administration has been crisscrossing the globe seeking financial commitments from other countries to fund reconstruction in both Syria and Iraq, but with only limited success.
Yet it’s unclear how Trump’s impulse to pull out could be affected by recent staff shake-ups on his national security team. Tillerson and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, both advocates for keeping a U.S. presence in Syria, were recently fired, creating questions about the longevity of the plan Tillerson announced in his Stanford University speech in January. But Trump also replaced McMaster with John Bolton, a vocal advocate for U.S. intervention and aggressive use of the military overseas.
The abrupt change in the president’s thinking has drawn concern both inside and outside the United States.
Other nations that make up the U.S.-led coalition fighting IS fear that Trump’s impulse to pull out hastily would allow the notoriously resourceful IS militants to regroup, several European diplomats said. That concern has been heightened by the fact that U.S.-backed ground operations against remaining IS militants in Syria were put on hold earlier this month.
The ground operations had to be paused because Kurdish fighters who had been spearheading the campaign against IS shifted to a separate fight with Turkish forces, who began combat operations in the town of Afrin against Kurds who are considered by Ankara to be terrorists that threaten Turkey’s security.
“This is a serious and growing concern,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said this month.
Beyond just defeating IS, there are other strategic U.S. objectives that could be jeopardized by a hasty withdrawal, officials said, chiefly those related to Russia and Iran.
Israel, America’s closest Mideast ally, and other regional nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are deeply concerned about the influence of Iran and its allies, including the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, inside Syria. The U.S. military presence in Syria has been seen as a buffer against unchecked Iranian activity, and especially against Tehran’s desire to establish a contiguous land route from Iran to the Mediterranean coast in Lebanon.
An American withdrawal would also likely cede Syria to Russia, which along with Iran has been propping up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and would surely fill the void left behind by the U.S. That prospect has alarmed countries like France, which has historic ties to the Levant.
In calling for a withdrawal “very soon,” Trump may be overly optimistic in his assessment of how quickly the anti-IS campaign can be wrapped up, the officials said. Although the group has been driven from basically all of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and 95 percent of its former territory in Syria, the remaining five percent is becoming increasingly difficult to clear and could take many months, the officials said.
Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.

National News

In Iowa’s GOP ag epicenter, tariffs spark Trump skepticism

By THOMAS BEAUMONT, Associated Press
HOSPERS, Iowa (AP) — In Sioux County, where swine barns interrupt the vast landscape of corn-stubbled fields, exports of meat, grain and machinery fuel the local economy. And there’s a palpable sense of unease that new Chinese tariffs pushed by President Donald Trump — who received more than 80 percent of the vote here in 2016 — could threaten residents’ livelihood.
The grumbling hardly signals a looming leftward lurch in this dominantly Republican region in northwest Iowa. But after standing with Trump through the many trials of his first year, some Sioux County Trump voters say they would be willing to walk away from the president if the fallout from the tariffs causes a lasting downturn in the farm economy.
“I wouldn’t sit here today and say I will definitely support him again,” said 60-year-old hog farmer Marv Van Den Top. “This here could be a real negative for him.”
Last week, Trump announced plans to impose tariffs on a range of Chinese goods, a move aimed at punishing Beijing for stealing American technology. The Chinese government responded with a threat to tag U.S. products, including pork and aluminum, with an equal 25 percent charge.
That sent a chill through places like Sioux County, which ranks first among Iowa’s 99 counties in agricultural exports. In 2016, the county sold $350 million in meat, grain, machinery and chemicals overseas. Far closer to the sparsely populated crossroads of South Dakota and Minnesota than Iowa’s bustling Des Moines metro area, Sioux County is home to just 34,000 people, but more than 1 million hogs, 6 million chickens and nearly as impressive numbers of cattle and sheep.
Brad Te Grootenhuis sells about 25,000 hogs a year and could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars if the tariffs spark a backlash from China. He said it’s possible he would abandon Trump if pork’s price decline continues and lasts.
“Any time you’re losing money, nobody’s happy,” the 42-year-old farmer said. “I’ve got payments to make, plain and simple.”
Nationally, opinions on Trump’s tariffs, which were a central part of his campaign pledges to get tough on China, are mixed.
Although GOP congressional leaders have argued tariffs would prompt a trade war and have urged Trump to reverse course, 61 percent of Americans who identify as Republicans nationwide favor a tariff, according to a national poll taken this month by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Still, 39 percent of Republicans say it will lead to a decrease in jobs, according to the poll, compared to 32 percent who think it will lead to an increase. That’s similar to the views of all voters, the survey shows.
Countermeasures by China, which is second only to Canada in importing Iowa products, could cause pain across the American agricultural sector, according to economists. For instance, a pork tariff imposed by China, which spent $42 million on Iowa pork products in 2017, would back up the Iowa market and force prices sharply downward.
“Retaliatory tariffs from China would have a devastating impact on U.S. agricultural exports, especially if they focus on products like soybeans and hogs,” said Adam Kamins, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics. “This puts northwest Iowa and the Great Plains more broadly on the front line in a trade war.”
For hog farmer Tim Schmidt, the fallout of a geopolitical spat with China would force him to hold off on any new construction or maintenance on the decades-old buildings on his family-run farm along the Missouri River.
“There is an uncertainty to exactly what the next two to three years are going to look like,” Schmidt said. A Trump voter in 2016, Schmidt said that if “things are bad and someone better comes along, we’re willing to take a look.”
Sioux County seed dealer Dave Heying echoed a common refrain that any downturn in the farm economy would curb spending throughout the local economy, with direct impact on farm machinery dealers, mechanics and agricultural construction, among other businesses.
“Protecting our U.S. industries is important, but my concern is, at what expense to the farmer?” Heying said of Trump’s trade moves. “It is too early to say whether or not I would support him. These types of decisions give you hesitation.”
As a presidential candidate, Trump was a somewhat awkward fit for Sioux County, where a third of its residents are members of the Dutch Reformed Church of America, which holds strictly conservative social positions. In striking contrast, the bombastic New Yorker has been married three times and shadowed by allegations of sexual harassment and infidelity.
Trump finished fourth in Sioux County in Iowa’s Republican presidential caucus, but carried 81.3 percent of the vote in the general election, his second-highest county share in the state. And a large core of voters in Sioux County, where Franklin Roosevelt was the last Democratic presidential candidate to win, remains with Trump, even if the farm economy suffers as a result of his trade policies.
“You have to have faith in our innovation and entrepreneurialship in this country,” said Ed Westra, a grain cooperative manager and Trump devotee. “You’ve got to think of the big game.”
AP polling director Emily Swanson contributed to this report from Washington.
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