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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden is meeting with the leaders of Japan and South Korea later today at Camp David.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

That's the presidential retreat in the mountains of northwest Maryland. It's been the scene of a number of diplomatic breakthroughs. And this is the first time since 2015 that any foreign leader is being hosted there.

FADEL: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid will be at Camp David, and she joins us now. Hi, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So what's the dynamic like between these three leaders?

KHALID: Well, they get along, but historically, South Korea and Japan have had a rather strained relationship. Leila, that dates back to the early 20th century when Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula. In recent years, I will say that the relationships, the bilateral relationship between Seoul and Tokyo has been improving. And President Biden himself, you know, is somebody who has really wanted to lean into rebuilding alliances. For him, this particular relationship in the Indo-Pacific is critical. It's part of a broader strategy to counter China's influence.

FADEL: OK. And we just heard Michel say it's the first time since 2015 that a foreign leader is being hosted there. What does the fact that they're meeting at Camp David mean for these talks?

KHALID: Well, it brings, I think, a certain level of intimacy and gravitas. I spoke to the former naval commanding officer at Camp David. His name is Michael Giorgione. He's kind of been an eyewitness to history. And he says it's a really quiet, peaceful place to forge personal relationships.

MICHAEL GIORGIONE: If I were invited to Camp David, I think, if I were a world leader, I'd value that more than going to the White House. It's like bringing someone into your family room.

KHALID: And, you know, Leila, he says that because the camp is this really rustic place. You know, think cabins with cedar shingles. But it's also had a long legacy of diplomacy that dates back to FDR in World War II. Roosevelt, of course, invited the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, there. There's this famous photo of them by a stream. They would go out talking and fishing. And frankly, as one historian told me, they kind of mapped out what the end of the war - what the world would look like when the war wrapped up. Then you fast forward to the Cold War, and President Eisenhower invited the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, there, which was, of course, hugely significant. But I think, you know, the association that most people have in their mind with Camp David, the most famous diplomatic negotiations, are from 1978, when President Jimmy Carter invited the leaders of Israel and Egypt there. That ultimately led to the Camp David Accords. You know, there is no doubt that this White House is trying to tap in to that 80-year history of diplomacy at this site. And I think just by having it there, it really elevates the relationship with Japan and South Korea. Jeffrey Hornung pointed this out to me, too. He's with the RAND Corporation.

JEFFREY HORNUNG: By calling this meeting at Camp David, it really is underscoring the historic nature. That messaging, that optics is really being understood in both Seoul and Tokyo.

FADEL: So what are the specific commitments the three countries are making today?

KHALID: You know, I think they will certainly be playing into the symbolism of Camp David. I've been told that they're going to be announcing something called the Camp David Principles - of course, you know, playing into the name there. They're announcing a commitment to step up security coordination, and that includes more comprehensive military exercises, the establishment of a crisis hotline and a pledge to consult each other in key challenging moments. You know, really, they're trying to establish an understanding that a security challenge for one country poses a concern to the other within this trilateral relationship. And they're trying to deepen the coordination to make this a durable relationship that can endure domestic changes in any one of these three countries. They've committed, of course, to meeting annually going forward. So we'll see how this plays out.

FADEL: NPR's Asma Khalid. Thanks, Asma.

KHALID: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: The 20,000 residents of Yellowknife in Canada's Northwest Territories are under evacuation orders as wildfires approach the city.

MARTIN: Yesterday, cars stretched for miles along the two-lane road out of town as residents tried to flee. Those who couldn't leave by car waited hours for chartered flights out of the area. This has been the worst wildfire season ever recorded in Canada. There are now more than 1,000 fires burning across the country.

FADEL: Jayme Doll is with Canada's Global News, and she joins me now from Yellowknife. Good morning.

JAYME DOLL: Good morning.

FADEL: So firefighters have been battling this wildfire for over a month. How far away is it from Yellowknife at this point?

DOLL: The last update received - it is about 15 kilometers, 9 miles, from the city limits of Yellowknife. But with these dry, warm conditions, lack of rain and the unpredictable winds, fire officials are concerned that it could be on the doorsteps of this capital city as early as Saturday.

FADEL: This evacuation - it's a massive undertaking, a city of 20,000 people, in two days getting everybody out. How's it going?

DOLL: Yeah, I mean, it's a tall order, something that nobody here has ever gone through. We have been seeing lots of people lining up outside an evacuation center where they're to register for a flight out to the southern part of Alberta. And some people waited in line for hours yesterday, you know, with their children and their pets and sitting on their suitcases, only to be told at the end of about four hours or five hours for some that they were to go home, there was no more flights and to come back this morning. So the - we did speak with the premier of the Northwest Territories who said at least 3,000 people were airlifted out yesterday. But, of course, they're hoping that number to grow.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The evacuation is going slow and steady. I'm pleased that so far people are remaining calm on the roads out. We have lineups at the people that need flights, but we're trying to organize it so we can stay open. As long as we can fly, we'll keep people going.

FADEL: Now, the government's providing facilities for people who decide to shelter in place. Have you spoken to anyone who is staying, either voluntarily or because they can't leave for one reason or another?

DOLL: Yeah. We have spoken with a lot of, you know, frontline workers, people that have to stay here, some hospital workers as well as, of course, the firefighters, but also government officials. But then there are people that have just decided on their own to stay. Now, the Great Slave Lake is right here. And some people are just hoping that if, you know, things get really dire, that they're just going to jump in their boats and maybe go camp on an island somewhere until things settle down. The mayor and the premier - everybody dissuading against that, primarily because there's not going to be any services available. And in case anyone gets into trouble, that's just going to be putting more stress on the first responders that are still here.

FADEL: I mean, how common is this now? This evacuation is happening. How much is climate change exacerbating the threat of wildfires? Is this becoming a new normal?

DOLL: Yeah, you know, like, I've - this is the fourth fire that I've covered this season that people have been evacuated from. I myself was evacuated while on summer vacation just a few weeks ago with my family. So unfortunately, I think this is the new reality. There are a lot of old-growth forests in Western Canada with a lot of deadfall fuel. And as temperatures warm, this is what we're going to be seeing.

FADEL: That's reporter Jayme Doll of Canada's Global News. Thank you, Jayme.

DOLL: You're welcome.

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FADEL: Voters in Ecuador head to the polls Sunday. The crucial presidential and legislative elections are taking place less than two weeks after a presidential candidate was assassinated.

MARTIN: Fernando Villavicencio had vowed to fight the criminal gangs that have undermined safety in Ecuador. The country once had a reputation for relative stability. But in this election, the biggest issue is crime.

FADEL: We're joined now by NPR's Carrie Kahn from her base in Brazil. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

FADEL: So, Carrie, tell us a little more about Fernando Villavicencio, the journalist who was running for president in Ecuador until he was killed.

KAHN: Yeah, he was 59 years old when he was gunned down. That was - he just walked out of a campaign rally in Quito. That was on August 9, less than two weeks ago. As he said, he was very well known in Ecuador. He was a dogged journalist who for years investigated political corruption, especially back in the administration of leftist President Rafael Correa. He had accused Correa of multiple corrupt acts. Villavicencio went into exile for a while for safety. Then he came back. And he won a seat in Congress, and he continued that anti-corruption crusade from there. He was polling in the middle of the crowded field of eight candidates, and he said recently that he was getting threats from a local crime boss tied to Mexico's Sinaloa cartel. Replacing him is his longtime friend and fellow journalist, Christian Zurita, who has pledged to continue that same anti-corruption platform that his murdered colleague promoted.

FADEL: So you mentioned this local crime boss. I think a lot of people think of Ecuador as a pretty safe democracy, a tourist destination. So how bad is this type of criminal gang violence?

KAHN: It's quite remarkable, the turn, how bad the gang situation is now in Ecuador. The murder rate there, once among the lowest in the America, now rivals Mexico and Venezuela. First off, it's important to look at the geography and note that Ecuador sits right between South America's two big cocaine powerhouses, Colombia and Peru. Its borders are porous. Government spending was recently slashed, and the economy is suffering. Another thing is that Ecuador has few visa requirements, so people from all over can easily come in. And it's a dollar economy, which aids money laundering. So over recent years, big international cartels, mostly from Mexico and even from Albania, have paired with local gangs, and they've corrupted state actors, port officials and police who facilitate the shipment of all this cocaine to Europe and, of course, the United States. The local gangs have proliferated and now extort and terrorize the local population.

FADEL: So this crime that you're describing - clearly a big issue in the election. Do candidates - I mean, what are they saying to voters about how they would solve this? What are the choices voters are making?

KAHN: Voters are clearly not happy with their choices. There's a lot of apathy and indecision we've seen in the polls. There was recently a presidential debate with lots of criticism that candidates were long on promises to crack down on crime but short on details. The front-runner is the only woman in the race, and she's closely aligned with leftist Rafael Correa, who was convicted of corruption in exile. He could come back if she wins. There's a conservative candidate who's pushing a hard-line security plan. He's gaining traction since the assassination. And there's the slain candidate's replacement, Zurita, whose name won't be on the ballot since they've already printed them. But electoral authorities said any votes cast for the murdered candidate will go to Zurita.

FADEL: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn in Rio de Janeiro. Thank you, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is co-host of Morning Edition, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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