Nation and world news briefs

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Trump envoy Grenell tried to secretly negotiate Maduro’s exit in Venezuela

WASHINGTON — An influential Trump administration official secretly met with a representative of Nicolas Maduro’s regime in Mexico City in September to try to negotiate the Venezuelan leader’s peaceful exit from power.

Richard Grenell, the former Acting U.S. director of National Intelligence and ambassador to Germany, and Jorge Rodriguez, a Venezuelan politician who is close to Maduro, met in the Mexican capital, according to four people familiar with the matter. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and the rest of the State Department weren’t told about the trip beforehand, according to two of the people.

Grenell sought to discuss Maduro’s departure, two of the people said, but it isn’t clear if Rodriguez and Maduro were open to the possibility. In any event, the talks weren’t successful, the people said.

President Donald Trump has tried to achieve a number of foreign policy accomplishments before the Nov. 3 election, including Middle East peace agreements, troop withdrawals from several countries and the release of U.S. hostages believed to be held in Syria.

U.S. officials gave conflicting accounts on whether Grenell’s trip to meet Rodriguez was authorized, although two people familiar with the matter said Trump’s national security advisor, Robert O’Brien, signed off on it with the president’s blessing. But Pompeo and the State Department’s envoy for Venezuela, didn’t know about the trip until after it was over.

Rodriguez declined to comment, as did spokespeople for the White House National Security Council and the State Department.

—Bloomberg News


Poll: Biden draws even with Trump in Texas; Hegar closing in on Cornyn in Senate race

AUSTIN, Texas — Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has drawn even in Texas with President Donald Trump, and Democrat MJ Hegar is closing in on U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the Quinnipiac University poll of likely Texas voters released Wednesday afternoon.

“Biden and Trump find themselves in a Texas standoff, setting the stage for a bare-knuckle battle for 38 electoral votes,” said Quinnipiac University Polling analyst Tim Malloy.

In the Senate race, Malloy said, “While Cornyn maintains a lead, there are still two weeks to go, and you can’t count Hegar out.”

In its last Texas poll, released Sept. 24, Trump led Biden by 5 points, 50% to 45%, and Cornyn led Hegar by 8 points, 50% to 42%.

The Texas results and trend line were great news for the Biden campaign and Texas Democrats, and, comes even as Quinnipiac released results of its new survey in Pennsylvania, which showed a tightening race in what both sides consider a must-win state.

Likely voters in Pennsylvania support Biden 51% to 43% over Trump, with 5% saying they are undecided. In an Oct. 7 poll following the first presidential debate and the president’s positive coronavirus diagnosis, Biden held a 54% to 41% lead over Trump. In a Sept. 3 poll, Biden led Trump 52% to 44%.

The survey of 1,145 likely voters in Texas was conducted Oct. 16-19 with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

—Austin American-Statesman


Miami attorney arrested as serial bank robbery suspect

MIAMI — A Miami attorney was called a “serial bank robber” by the FBI, which believes he robbed five banks since Sept. 30 before his Tuesday night arrest.

The agency said Miami resident Aaron Honaker, 41, was headed into a bank when Coral Gables police arrested him.

While the FBI didn’t name where Honaker was arrested or if it believed that branch was about to be robbery No. 6, it did list what it alleges were Honaker’s previous five stops.

The FBI releases describing the thefts on Sept. 30, Oct. 5 and Thursday stated the robber demanded money from the tellers. No weapon was mentioned.

Honaker’s Florida Bar entry says he’s with the Coral Gables-based firm of Martinez Morales, but a Wednesday afternoon email to the Miami Herald from name partner Raul Morales said Honaker disappeared two years ago and never returned to work. Morales said he’s since tried to get his firm’s name removed from Honaker’s Bar profile.

—Miami Herald


Trade talks between EU, Britain to resume after no-deal threats

BRUSSELS — Trade talks between the European Union and Britain will resume on Thursday, London’s chief negotiator David Frost announced on Wednesday, days after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson threatened to quit negotiations on a future deal.

“We have agreed that a basis for negotiations with the EU and Michel Barnier has been re-established,” he said on Twitter after a phone call with his counterpart Barnier.

“Intensive talks will happen every day and begin tomorrow afternoon ( October 22) in London,” he said.

The announcement comes after Johnson on Friday threatened to quit talks following a statement by EU leaders that urged Britain to “make the necessary moves” to reach an agreement.

The negotiations were left in limbo: While Johnson did not explicitly say talks were over, he said they could only continue if there was a “fundamental change” in the EU’s approach.

The EU delegation had initially planned to travel to London for face-to-face negotiations on Monday, but the chief negotiators spoke over the phone instead over the past few days.

Wednesday’s breakthrough came in a phone call after previous conversations at the beginning of the week had borne little fruit.

During the call, the British government spokesperson said, the EU’s Barnier had accepted that “movement would be needed from both sides,” and that an agreement would only be made with respect for British sovereignty.

“On the basis of that conversation we are ready to welcome the EU team to London to resume negotiations later this week,” the British government spokesperson said in a statement.

After leaving the EU at the end of January, Britain entered a transition period that allows it to keep trading with EU countries on the same terms as before. The transition period runs out at the end of the year.

Both sides have insisted that a deal needs to be found in October at the latest for it to be implemented on time.

But while talks are set to resume imminently, an agreement is far from certain.

Over the past few months, multiple rounds of negotiations have shown little progress on three central issues, namely a level playing field to make competition fair, fisheries and governance.