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There are moments when dull is good. This was one of them.

It was clearly a big and important meeting – the first face-to-face encounter between Joe Biden as US president and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

And with relations back nearing Cold War levels (they had both conceded as much) a tête-à-tête was needed.

Given the state of things and the context of the unpredictable diplomacy of Donald Trump, the possibility of a diplomatic incident was there.

President Biden and President Putin shake hands in Geneva. Pic: AP
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The US and Russian leaders shake hands in Geneva. Pic: AP

Indeed when news filtered out that there had just been two sessions, not the three that were planned, and that the meetings had ended ahead of schedule, we wondered: Was this a sign that talks had broken down?

We were hastily called into the first of the two news conferences – the Russian one.

Mr Putin’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in the room, a sign that his boss would soon follow. Did he look downbeat, angry? I couldn’t tell.

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But then President Putin took to the podium.

Within moments he had announced the nations’ respective ambassadors would be reinstalled in their host capitals.

This represents the beginning at least of the resumption of the mechanics of diplomacy. An achievement.

Then came further positive language.

President Putin addresses members of the media after his meeting with President Biden
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President Putin addresses members of the media after his meeting with President Biden

Mr Putin’s “overall assessment” was that there was “no hostility”.

“On the contrary, our meeting took place in a constructive spirit. Both sides expressed intention to understand each other,” Mr Putin said.

On cyber security, he said: “We agreed on consultations in this respect.”

They may just be words but they are valuable in a relationship so strained.

The Russian president revealed the two leaders talked about their families. “It shows his qualities and moral values,” the translator quoted Mr Putin as saying.

There were clearly more tense exchanges in their meetings. Mr Biden had, the Russian president revealed, brought up human rights and the case of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Here, Mr Putin deflected, with a spot of ‘whataboutism’, drawing comparisons with the jailed protesters from the January storming of the US Capitol in Washington DC and the enduring existence of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.

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No hostility with Biden meeting – Putin

President Biden watched all this on screens from another corner of the park on the shores of Lake Geneva before taking to his own podium.

And again, the language was positive.

It wasn’t, Mr Biden said, a “kumbaya moment”. No hugging or anything but “when was the last time two heads of state talked for two hours?”

There is, he said “no substitute for face-to-face dialogue. We share a responsibility between two strong and powerful countries. I told him I am not against Russia or anyone else. I’m for the American people”.

He said he had delivered three key points. First, practical measures to advance mutual interests, second, the importance of communication, and third, the ability to lay out US values.

The “tone was good”. The talks were “positive”. There “wasn’t any strident action taken… Where we disagreed we stated it”. Nothing was done in a “hyperbolic way”.

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‘I don’t think he’s looking for a Cold War’

But neither leader was remotely effusive. After all, their world views are profoundly different and there was never any expectation that would change with this meeting.

It was about creating a more stable, predictable relationship where they can at least understand and control their disagreements as well as the fallout.

“This is not about trust. This is about self interest and verification of self interest,” Mr Biden said.

They had always played down this meeting as just the first stage of rebuilding dialogue.

And it was precisely that. There was no Trump-style drama, no diplomatic moments.

A little dull then, but that’s no bad thing for a relationship which can be so perilous.

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Big win for Joe Biden as Democrats land outright majority in the US Senate, NBC News projects

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Big win for Joe Biden as Democrats land outright majority in the US Senate, NBC News projects

Democrat Raphael Warnock has been re-elected to the US Senate in a crucial win for President Joe Biden, NBC News has projected.

His expected victory gives Democrats an outright majority in the Senate after two years under a 50-50 divide, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting tie-breaking votes.

Mr Warnock defeated Republican rival Herschel Walker during the Georgia race – a former NFL star.

A run-off election was triggered because neither candidate had won an outright majority during the midterm elections last month.

Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock speaks during an election night watch party, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, in Atlanta. Sen. Warnock has defeated Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a runoff election in Georgia. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
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Reverend Raphael Warnock celebrates with supporters

In his victory speech, Mr Warnock told supporters: “After a hard-fought campaign – or should I say campaigns – it is my honour to utter the four most powerful words ever spoken in a democracy: The people have spoken.”

Mr Biden called him to offer his congratulations.

He tweeted: “Tonight Georgia voters stood up for our democracy, rejected Ultra MAGAism, and most importantly: sent a good man back to the Senate. Here’s to six more years.”

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Mr Walker, an American football legend in the 1980s, was unable to overcome a bevy of damaging allegations, including claims he paid for two former girlfriends’ abortions.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker, who is facing Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock in a run-off election, speaks during a campaign stop in Ellijay, Georgia, U.S. December 5, 2022. REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer
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Former NFL star Herschel Walker

A multimillionaire businessman, he inflated his philanthropic activities and business achievements, including claiming his company employed hundreds of people and grossed tens of millions of dollars in sales annually, even though records indicate he had eight employees and averaged about $1.5m (£1.2m) a year.

He has suggested he has worked as a law enforcement officer and was a college (university) graduate, though he has done neither.

His Senate run was endorsed by former president Donald Trump.

Yet another signal America is moving away from Donald Trump as a political force

Having followed Herschel Walker on the campaign trail in Georgia, it is difficult to believe this race ever went to a runoff.

The former NFL star has consistently struggled to convey a coherent message, with badly delivered speeches in contrast with his opponent, Reverend Raphael Warnock, a preacher by trade who commands an audience.

Walker was handpicked as a nominee by the former president, Donald Trump, but his reputation was smashed to smithereens during the course of the campaign.

He ran on an anti-abortion pledge, yet two women emerged to allege he paid for them to have an abortion after they became pregnant by him (claims he denies). He also condemned absentee fathers, particularly in black households, but later acknowledged he has a son he never sees.

But his defeat is not only important for Democrats because of the rejection of his personal integrity – or lack thereof – and the “Make America Great Again” values he espoused.

It also means that – for the first time in Joe Biden’s presidency – his party has an outright majority in the senate.

The new 51-49 split means Democrats can speed up judicial nominees and control committees in the Senate. But it also avoids a situation where one senator – in the past two years it has been Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema – can wield their swing vote as a weapon.

Perhaps most significantly, though, it is yet another signal that America is moving away from Mr Trump as a political force.

Athena Soules walks with a sign in the hall during an election night watch party for Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, in Atlanta. Georgia voters are deciding the final Senate contest in the country, choosing between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican candidate Herschel Walker. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

On the campaign, Mr Warnock, the state’s first black senator, promoted his Senate accomplishments, touting a provision he sponsored to cap insulin costs for low income patients, and deals on infrastructure and maternal healthcare.

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said Mr Warnock’s victory was one “against MAGA Republican extremist policies”.

The closing weeks of the election period grew increasingly bitter. Mr Walker labelled Mr Warnock – senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia’s capital – as a “hypocrite” and servile to President Joe Biden.

Although a Democrat, Mr Warnock had been attempting to distance himself from Mr Biden, whose approval ratings have lagged as inflation in the US remains high.

Supporters react during an election night watch party for Republican challenger Herschel Walker, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, in Atlanta. Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock has defeated Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a runoff election in Georgia.(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
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Supporter of Walker’s at the Republican watch party. Pic: Associated Press

The Democrats’ new outright majority in the Senate does not mean an end to divided government, as the Republicans narrowly flipped House control in recent midterms, but it does mean they will now hold control of powerful committees.

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Donald Trump firm guilty of defrauding tax authorities for more than 15 years

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Donald Trump firm guilty of defrauding tax authorities for more than 15 years

Donald Trump’s real estate company has been found guilty of running a criminal scheme to defraud tax authorities for 15 years.

The scheme operated by The Trump Organization included avoiding paying personal income taxes on perks such as rent-free apartments and luxury cars.

“The smorgasbord of benefits is designed to keep its top executives happy and loyal,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass told
jurors during his closing argument on Friday.

The firm, which operates hotels, golf courses and other real estate around the world had pleaded not guilty.

The former US president was not personally charged in the case.

The Trump Organization had argued that chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, 75, ran the scheme to benefit himself.

He is on paid leave and testified that he received more than $1m in salary and bonus payments this year.

The firm will be sentenced on 13 January. Trump Organization lawyer Alan Futerfas told reporters the company would appeal.

While the firm now faces paying a fine, it is considered unlikely that it would cause serious damage to a company of its size. The group comprises about 500 business entities.

However, the conviction could make lenders and partners think twice.

The Trump Organization also faces a fraud lawsuit brought by New York state Attorney General Letitia James.

And Donald Trump himself is being investigated by the US Department of Justice over his handling of sensitive government documents after he left office in January 2021 – and attempts to overturn the November 2020 election, which he lost to Joe Biden.

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Republican leader snubbed as police who defended US Capitol honoured

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Republican leader snubbed as police who defended US Capitol honoured

The Republicans’ leader in the Senate has been snubbed by the family of a police officer who died following the US Capitol riots on 6 January 2021.

It happened during a ceremony held for officers who defended the Washington DC landmark against Donald Trump supporters.

The officers have been honoured with Congressional gold medals for “courageously answering the call to defend our democracy in one of the nation’s darkest hours”, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell commented: “Thank you for having our backs. Thank you for saving our country. Thank you for not only being our friends, but our heroes.”

But when the family of Brian Sicknick, who died after suffering two strokes on 7 January, passed Mr McConnell in a line-up, they refused to shake his outstretched hand.

In contrast, the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, received a kiss from Gladys Sicknick, the late officer’s mother.

Gladys Sicknick, left, mother of killed US Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, is greeted by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Pic: AP
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Gladys Sicknick, left, the mother of late US Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, is greeted by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Pic: Ap
Charles and Gladys Sicknick at the ceremony
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Charles and Gladys Sicknick at the ceremony. Pic: AP

Read more:
Officer attacked by mob describes ‘medieval battle scene’
Donald Trump issued with subpoena to testify at US Capitol riots probe

Recognising the hundreds of officers who were at the Capitol on 6 January, the medals will be placed in four locations: US Capitol Police headquarters, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Capitol and the Smithsonian Institution.

President Joe Biden said one was being placed at the Smithsonian museum “so all visitors can understand what happened that day”.

“Many of us still carry the mental, physical and emotional scars,” Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee said.

He told the officers: “It was your blood, your sweat and your tears that marked these grounds.”

US Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger called it a “day unlike any other in our nation’s history – and for us”.

He added: “It was a day defined by chaos, courage and tragic loss.”

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