It doesn’t usually bode well for peace talks when the attendance of one of the principals is still up in the air on the eve of the gathering.


An eighth round of United Nations-backed talks aimed at finding a political solution to Syria’s grinding civil war was to convene Tuesday in Geneva, but by late Monday, the world body was still expressing hopes that the Syrian government would send representatives, while acknowledging it had not obtained a commitment from Damascus to take part.


“This is a moment of truth for the Syria talks,” said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric. “We obviously think the participation of the Syrian government is important.”


The nearly 7-year-old war, which has left hundreds of thousands dead and seen millions driven from their homes, is at an impasse: Syrian rebel groups have been unable to dislodge President Bashar Assad, and even their international allies are acknowledging there is no prospect of an opposition military victory.


Despite having little leverage, negotiators from the rebel factions are demanding that Assad step down. A Syrian newspaper has suggested that the government delegation would not come to Geneva until that demand is dropped.


— Tribune Washington Bureau


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St. Louis priest gets apology from anti-abuse group; suit against police is dismissed


ST. LOUIS — An advocacy group has apologized for “any false or inaccurate statements” they made against a St. Louis priest, the St. Louis Archdiocese revealed Monday, after a federal judge dismissed the priest’s lawsuit claiming that he was falsely accused of sexual abuse and arrested after a botched police investigation.


The Rev. Xiu Hui “Joseph” Jiang had settled a lawsuit against the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and the parents of an accuser in St. Louis, court filings in U.S. District Court in St. Louis last month showed.


On Monday, the St. Louis Archdiocese released an apology from SNAP and SNAP officials that said, in part, “The SNAP defendants have no personal knowledge as to the complaints against Fr. Joseph Jiang and acknowledge that all matters and claims against Fr. Jiang have either been dismissed or adjudicated in favor of Fr. Jiang.”


Jiang’s lawyers had wanted to add police and the City of St. Louis back into the case, saying that a recent deposition revealed that police violated “accepted practice and procedures” during the investigation. But U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw agreed with lawyers for the city counselor’s office, saying too much time had passed.


On Nov. 21 Shaw ruled that Jiang had waited until 2 { years after the suit was filed and almost two years after a deadline for adding new parties. The suit was dismissed without prejudice, meaning Jiang could re-file it, and Jiang lawyer Neil Bruntrager told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Monday that he would.


— St. Louis Post-Dispatch


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White House is said to weigh personal mobile phone ban for staff


WASHINGTON — The White House may ban its employees from using personal mobile phones while at work, raising concerns among staff that they’ll be cut off from family and friends, according to five administration officials.


President Donald Trump has repeatedly complained about press leaks since taking office, but one official said the potential change isn’t connected to concerns about unauthorized disclosures to news organizations.


The proposed ban is instead driven by cybersecurity concerns, the officials said. One official said that there are too many devices connected to the campus wireless network and that personal phones aren’t as secure as those issued by the federal government.


The officials requested anonymity to discuss the proposal because it’s not final.


The White House already takes precautions with personal wireless devices, including by requiring officials to leave phones in cubbies outside of meeting rooms where sensitive or classified information is discussed. Top officials haven’t yet decided whether or when to impose the ban, and if it would apply to all staff in the executive office of the president.


— Bloomberg News


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Assault rifle, open-carry appeals rejected by Supreme Court


WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court steered clear of the intensifying gun debate after the mass shootings in Nevada and Texas, turning away two appeals from firearms advocates, including one that sought a constitutional right to own a semi-automatic assault rifle.


The justices, without comment Monday, left intact a ruling that upheld Maryland’s ban on assault weapons. In a separate case, the high court refused to require Florida to let handguns be carried openly in public.


The Supreme Court has repeatedly rebuffed gun advocates since it ruled in 2010 that people across the country have the right to keep a firearm in the home for self-defense. That case represents the last time the high court heard arguments on the reach of the Second Amendment.


Opponents say easy access to guns is to blame for continued mass shootings in the U.S., including the Oct. 1 massacre of 58 people at a concert in Las Vegas and the slaughter just a month later of 26 people in a Texas church.


In the Maryland case, a federal appeals court said assault weapons, including the popular AR-15, aren’t protected by the Second Amendment. The appeals court pointed to the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision, which included a line suggesting that states and cities could ban the M-16 rifle, a military version of the AR-15.


— Bloomberg News


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