Apple Is Said to Negotiate Buying Cobalt Direct From Miners

Apple Inc. is in talks to buy long-term supplies of cobalt directly from miners for the first time, according to people familiar with the matter, seeking to ensure it will have enough of the key battery ingredient amid industry fears of a shortage driven by the electric vehicle boom.

The iPhone maker is one of the world’s largest end users of cobalt for the batteries in its gadgets, but until now it has left the business of buying the metal to the companies that make its batteries.

The talks show that the tech giant is keen to ensure that cobalt supplies for its iPhone and iPad batteries are sufficient, with the rapid growth in battery demand for electric vehicles threatening to create a shortage of the raw material. About a quarter of global cobalt production is used in smartphones.

Apple is seeking contracts to secure several thousand metric tons of cobalt a year for five years or longer, according to one of the people declining to be named as the discussions are confidential. Its first discussions on cobalt deals with miners were more than a year ago, and it may end up deciding not to go ahead with any deal, another person said.

An Apple spokesman declined to comment. Glencore Plc Chief Executive Officer Ivan Glasenberg late last year named Apple among several companies the miner was talking to about cobalt, without giving further details.

Securing supplies

The move means Apple will find itself in competition with carmakers and battery producers to lock up cobalt supplies. Companies from BMW AG and Volkswagen AG to Samsung SDI Co. are racing to sign multiyear cobalt contracts to ensure they have sufficient supplies of the metal to meet ambitious targets for electric vehicle production.

Australian Mines Ltd., developing the Sconi mine in Queensland state, this week agreed to a cobalt and nickel supply deal with SK Innovation Co., South Korea’s top oil refiner, that’s worth about A$5 billion ($3.9 billion) at current prices, the Perth-based company said Wednesday in a presentation.

SK Innovation, which plans to use the raw materials at an EV battery manufacturing plant in Hungary, agreed to buy all of the project’s planned output for up to 13 years, according to the filing.

BMW is also close to securing a 10-year supply deal, the carmaker’s head of procurement told German daily FAZ in early February.

Cobalt is an essential ingredient in lithium-ion batteries for smartphones. While those devices use about eight grams of refined cobalt, the battery for an electric car requires over 1,000 times more. Apple has around 1.3 billion existing devices, while Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has been bullish about the prospects for electric vehicles.

The price of cobalt has more than tripled in the past 18 months to trade above $80,000 a metric ton. Two-thirds of supplies come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there has never been a peaceful transition of power and child labor is still used in parts of the mining industry.

In recent years, Apple has stepped up its engagement with cobalt suppliers after the origin of the metal in its supply chain came under scrutiny from human rights groups. In a report in early 2016, Amnesty International alleged that Apple and Samsung Electronics Co.’s Chinese suppliers were buying cobalt from mines that rely on child labor.

Last year, Apple published a list of the companies that supply the cobalt used in its batteries for the first time, and said it would not let cobalt from small-scale mines in Congo into its supply chain until it could verify that the “appropriate protections” were in place.

Trump tiptoes toward possible fight with NRA

President Trump is publicly tiptoeing toward support for gun control measures that could put him at odds with the National Rifle Association.

At a White House listening session with survivors from the Florida high school shooting, Trump vowed to be an agent of change and said he’d be looking at age restrictions on gun purchases – something opposed by the NRA.

Trump reiterated support for background check legislation and signaled the possibility he could go further a day after directing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to issue a memo banning bump stocks and other devices that allow guns to operate like automatic weapons.

“There are many ideas that I have, there are many ideas that other people have and we’ll pick out the strongest ideas, the most important ideas and the ideas that will work and we’ll get them done,” he said. “It won’t be talk like it has been in the past. It has gone on too along. Too many instances. And we’ll get it done.”

It’s unclear exactly how far Trump intends to go, and the NRA, for the moment, does not see any distance between itself and a president it strongly supported in the 2016 campaign.

While calling some of the policy proposals being discussed “troubling,” Chris Cox, executive director of NRA-Institute for Legislative Action, offered support for Trump, calling him the “most pro-Second Amendment president in recent history.”

“We believe he is serious about finding meaningful solutions to our nation’s serious problems, so that sociopaths and the dangerously mentally ill are prevented from committing these horrific crimes,” Cox said in a statement to the press.

Trump also appeared to offer support during the listening session on Wednesday for proposals to arm teachers and other school employees.

“If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, that could very well end the attack very quickly,” Trump said. “We’re going to be looking at that very strongly.

Still, some of the ideas that Trump appears to be at least entertaining are opposed by the NRA.

On bump stocks, the gun lobby has not supported a ban, and has instead called on Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco to review whether the devices comply with federal law and to determine whether they should be subject to new regulations.

Bump stocks came into public consciousness after a gunman attached one to his rifle in an attack that left 58 dead in Las Vegas last year.

The NRA also opposes new age limits on gun purchases. In a statement Wednesday the group said federal law prohibits adults under the age of 21 from purchasing a handgun from a licensed firearm dealer.

“Legislative proposals that prevent law-abiding adults aged 18-20 years old from acquiring rifles and shotguns effectively prohibits them for purchasing any firearm, thus depriving them of their constitutional right to self-protection,” NRA Spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said.

“We need serious proposals to prevent violent criminals and the dangerously mentally ill from acquiring firearms. Passing a law that makes it illegal for a 20 year-old to purchase a shotgun for hunting or an adult single mother from purchasing the most effective self-defense rifle on the market punishes law-abiding citizens for the evil acts of criminals.”

After the parent of one survivor of last week’s shooting pleaded for Trump to enact an age limit on gun purchases, the president ended the meeting by saying “we’re going to go very strong into age of purchase.”

On background checks, Trump and the NRA have both offered support for legislation approved by the House that would incentivize state and federal agencies to submit conviction records into the national system.

The bill was proposed after a gunman killed 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The shooter should not have been able to own purchase firearms but the U.S. Air Force failed to register his violent past and court-martial guilty plea into the system.

That legislation is paired with a top NRA priority – a bill to allow concealed weapons to be carried across lines that is opposed by most Senate Democrats and does not have the 60 votes necessary to clear procedural hurdles.

The NRA says it will back the background checks measure on its own, but Trump has signaled he could support going further.

“We’ll be very strong on background checks,” Trump said Wednesday. “Very strong.”

Such musings have alarmed some activists worried he is caving to political pressure.

“It’s pretty clear to me that President Trump has officially caved to the anti-gun media when it comes to gun control,” said Dudley Brown, president of the National Association for Gun Rights.

“He’s turning his back on gun owners.”

Trump once held liberal views on guns, writing in his 2000 book “The America We Deserve” that too many Republicans “walk the NRA line and refuse even limited restrictions on gun purchases.”

In that book, Trump also tied the U.S. murder rate to the availability of guns, supported on a ban on so-called “assault weapons,” and advocated for longer waiting periods.

The president changed his tune markedly as he sought the GOP nomination for president in 2016, warning that Democrats would look to confiscate guns and calling expanded background checks a “slippery slope.”

Last year, Trump became the first president in three decades to address the NRA’s annual meeting. There, Trump declared that “the eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end.”

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which shares the same view as the NRA on bump stocks, said it’s unlikely Trump was breaking with the gun lobby in calling for a ban.

Lawrence Keane, the group’s senior vice president for government and public affairs and general counsel, said Trump basically just asked DOJ to accelerate a rulemaking process that was already in the works.

“Maybe the president was inartful in his phrasing,” he said.

Cox said the NRA supports efforts to prevent those who are a danger to themselves or others from getting access to all firearms.

“At the same time, we will continue to oppose gun control measures that only serve to punish law-abiding citizens for the acts of criminals,” he said. “These are not mutually exclusive or unachievable goals.”

Brandon Combs, president of the Firearms Policy Coalition and executive director of the California-based Calguns Foundation, said Trump’s proposals signal a shift to policies supported by the Obama administration.

“I don’t think attacking the fundamental rights of law abiding people is the right policy,” he said. “We’re talking about emotionally charged arguments on both sides … tragedies should not drive public policy.”

Meanwhile, gun control activists say that the proposals Trump is mulling are toothless and only small steps in the right direction.

They’re waiting to see what the ATF and DOJ propose on bump stocks, but say that legislation is the only proper way to address those components.

And they say the House bill meant to strengthen background checks doesn’t address the thousands of private transactions that take place.

“I don’t’ have a lot of hope that he’s serious about making robust changes but I hope I’m wrong,” said Avery Gardiner, co-president of the Brady Campaign.

Democrats and gun control activists are doubtful that bump stocks can be banned through regulatory channels and are calling on Congress to pass legislation to create an all-out ban.

“The only way to close this loophole permanently is legislation,” said Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) ” He should call on Congress to…ban bump stocks, rather than just draft memos.”

Florida Republicans Face Mounting Pressure to Act on Gun Control

TALLAHASSEE — Seven days after the killing of 17 students and school staff members in Florida, Republican state leaders are facing pressure unlike any they have experienced before to pass legislation addressing gun violence.

On Wednesday, swarms of student protesters carrying signs and boxes of petitions stormed the Florida Capitol, pleading with lawmakers to pass tougher gun control in the wake of the deadly shooting at a Broward County school last week.

On one floor, they crowded the doorway of the office of Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican and an ardent supporter of gun rights, shouting, “Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!” On an upper floor, they gathered outside the office of the powerful speaker of the Florida House, Richard Corcoran. “Face us down! Face us down! Face us down!”

And on the House floor, Alondra Gittelson, who survived the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, confronted Mr. Corcoran, a Republican, demanding to know why “such a destructive gun” — the AR-15 rifle — is widely accessible.

“How is an individual in society able to acquire such a gun?” Ms. Gittelson, 16, asked Mr. Corcoran.

Mr. Corcoran replied that he saw the rifle as a legitimate hunting weapon and did not believe a ban would help matters. “I’ll just be honest with you,” he said. “Me, personally — I don’t believe that’s the solution.”

With about two weeks left in the legislative session, Republicans led by Mr. Scott have concluded that it would be politically catastrophic if they failed to do something to address the growing outcry. But they appear likely to pursue legislation narrower than what students are demanding, avoiding a ban on assault weapons.

In the Florida House and Senate, lawmakers said they were involved in bipartisan efforts to craft gun-related legislative proposals that could be introduced Friday or earlier.

State Senator Bill Galvano, a Republican, said in an interview that the Senate proposal would likely involve raising the age to purchase semiautomatic rifles to 21 from 18; introducing a three-day waiting period to purchase such guns; banning “bump stocks,” an attachment that enables a semiautomatic rifle to fire faster; and expanding the power of law enforcement to restrict the actions of mentally ill people under Florida’s Baker Act.

“Nothing about this is par for the course,” Mr. Galvano said. “We’ve had one too many horrific incidents in this country and really around the world. And to have this tragedy occur here in the State of Florida has in some ways been very sobering.”

Russian opposition leader Navalny released in Moscow

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was released by police on Thursday less than an hour after he was detained in Moscow.

Navalny tweeted that he had been released and given a document on legal procedures against him for organising unsanctioned protests.

“I don’t know what it was and why seven people detained me,”

Navalny tweeted.

How Billy Graham took his crusade to North Korea

Billy Graham, a charismatic American evangelist, died Wednesday at age 99. He was often known as “America’s pastor,” but his influence extended around the world, and he was well known for traveling to poor nations and international war zones as well as taking positions on contentious foreign-policy issues.

One of Graham’s most significant foreign trips was to North Korea in 1992. He was one of the first international religious figures — in fact, one of the first significant noncommunist foreign figures — to visit the country, which was reeling from the end of the Cold War. That trip paved the way for other Americans, including former president Jimmy Carter and basketball star Dennis Rodman, to independently visit the “hermit kingdom” and pursue closer ties.

That Graham went to North Korea at all was somewhat surprising. He was a staunch anti-communist and a famous religious leader. North Korea was not only officially communist but also atheist, discouraging religion and persecuting Christians.

But Graham had already made a name traveling to other communist nations in visits he dubbed “crusades,” and evangelicals had long considered Korea a vital place for the growth of Christianity in Asia. Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, had once been dubbed the “Jerusalem of the East,” and Graham’s wife spent three years there at a missionary school in the 1930s. Just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, big things may have seemed possible.

The visit appeared to go well. Graham lectured at Kim Il Sung University and had a personal meeting with Kim Il Sung, the North Korean leader at the time. Although he wasn’t an official U.S. envoy, Graham was closely watched in diplomatic circles. He spoke with President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker before his visit, and conveyed an oral message from Bush to the North Korean founder. The Korean Central News Agency later reported that the meeting took place in “a cordial and friendly atmosphere.”

Afterward, Graham was optimistic about North Korea’s future. “I think there’s going to be some changes,” Graham told a reporter from Newsday after he left. “They’ve lost the support of the Soviet Union. I got the impression they’re reaching out toward other nations for some friend.”

Soon, however, North Korea and the United States were at loggerheads over Pyongyang’s nuclear program. By 1994, the Clinton administration was seriously considering war. Graham returned to Pyongyang that year, this time with a new urgency. His traveling companion, academic Stephen Linton, told the New Yorker that Graham spoke to Kim in detail about the political pressures on President Bill Clinton.

“He provided an explanation for the U.S. position in a way that made sense to an old village elder,” Linton said. Kim would soon agree to allow international inspectors access to North Korean nuclear sites. A few months later, former president Jimmy Carter visited Pyongyang and helped to negotiate a nuclear deal. Kim died the next month and was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Il.

“In person, I found President Kim to be a forceful and charismatic leader, and I could understand why he was held in such high esteem by his fellow citizens,” Graham said after Kim’s death in 1994. “Although he met few Americans, he always expressed the hope for better relations with the United States.”

Graham never visited North Korea again and appears to have met neither the younger Kim nor Kim Jong Un, the country’s current ruler. However, his wife, Ruth Graham, visited without Graham in 1997; their son Franklin visited a number of times after that.

Graham’s trips paved the way for other Americans to visit North Korea. They also opened the door for Christian groups to work in North Korea despite official restrictions on missionary work in the country. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine noted that four of the five nongovernmental organizations that had worked with the U.S. government to bring food aid into the country before 2009 were evangelical Christian organizations; the country’s first privately funded university, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, was mostly bankrolled by evangelical movements.

Franklin Graham told Fox News in 2008 that his family’s close relationship with the Kim dynasty was what allowed them to get aid into the country for those in need.

Like subsequent high-profile American guests, however, Graham would have found that many of the positive signs he saw during his visits to Pyongyang didn’t translate into action. North Korea is still pursuing nuclear weapons and remains in a standoff with the United States a quarter-century later. Human rights abuses are widespread, while religious freedom is still limited and Christian missionaries are arrested.

Graham’s visits have been the subject of recent controversy, too. In 2016, North Korea’s official newspaper reported that Graham had called Kim Il Sung “the God who rules today’s human world.” Jeremy Blume, a spokesman for Graham, later suggested that the quotation was fake, telling WorldViews that the words “do not even remotely resemble Mr. Graham’s theology or his language.”

In the 2005 book “Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty,” journalist Bradley Martin spoke to a North Korean named Ahn Hyuk who had escaped the country in 1992 and had scathing words for Graham on religion under the Kim regime. “I want to write a letter to Billy Graham,” the defector said. “‘If you want to know religion in North Korea, go to a prison camp.’ ”

Explosion at U.S. Embassy in Montenegro

A man died by suicide after attempting to throw a grenade over the walls of the U.S. Embassy early Thursday in Montenegro’s capital of Podgorica, Montenegrin police said.

The grenade appeared to have gone off as it was thrown into the air, and the man was found dead 100 feet from the embassy’s wall, according to Steve Goldstein, U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. There is no information on the man’s motive at this stage, Goldstein said.

In a statement, Montenegrin police confirmed they had found the “lifeless body of an unidentified male.”

“According to the investigation so far, this male person was killed due to the activation of an explosive device after having previously thrown an explosive device — a bomb — into the U.S. Embassy courtyard,” the statement said.

Police said the embassy incurred no damage “other than the crater remaining at the site where the bomb exploded,” adding “evidence from the site has been collected and it will be subject to expert evaluation.”

The government of the Balkan country said the person had attempted to throw an explosive device into the compound. It said the device was most probably a hand grenade but didn’t say whether it was the same device that killed the person. The embassy issued a statement Thursday morning saying there was “an active security situation” near the building in Podgorica.

In a post later on Twitter, the embassy said, “Following our internal review, Embassy at Podgorica confirms all Mission personnel are safe and accounted for following the incident early this morning. Thank you all for sending us your support and kind thoughts. #Podgorica #Montenegro.

In a follow-up tweet, it added, “We are grateful for the close cooperation with our partner and ally, the Government of Montenegro, and we thank the #Montenegrin #police for their ongoing professional support with the investigation of today’s incident.”

Goldstein said there were no other injuries or damage to the embassy, and security officers were continuing a full sweep of the area.

At fierce town hall, Florida survivors take NRA and politicians to task

Faced with a furious crowd of Florida students demanding a renewed ban on assault weapons, Republican senator Marco Rubio offered one concession after another.

He said he supported legislation to raise the legal age to purchase a rifle to 21 from 18. He said he supported a law to create gun violence restraining orders, which would give family members and law enforcement a way to petition a court to take away a dangerous person’s guns. He said he opposed Donald Trump’s proposal to prevent school shootings by arming teachers or putting more armed security in classrooms.

Finally, Rubio said he was “reconsidering” supporting a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines, what experts call the most substantive part of the assault weapon ban. Rubio said that yet-to-be-announced details from the investigation on the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school would show that limits on ammunition magazines might have saved several lives in the shooting.

None of this was enough for the passionate crowd of more than 7,000 people at CNN’s town hall discussion in Florida on Wednesday night. They applauded, cheered and gave standing ovations in support of a full ban on the kind of military-style rifle and ammunition used in the Parkland shooting. A loophole-ridden federal assault weapon ban had passed in 1994, in the wake of a school shooting in California, and expired a decade later, in 2004.

Rubio, the only national Republican politician who agreed to answer questions from the Florida shooting survivors, seemed to watch the political ground of the gun debate shift under his feet. At one point, he argued that it did not make sense to ban only a subset of semiautomatic rifles based on certain cosmetic military features.

“You would literally have to ban every semi-automatic rifle that’s sold in America …” he began, before being cut off by huge whoops and cheers from the crowd.

“Fair enough, fair enough,” Rubio said. “That is a valid position to hold.”

Cameron Kasky, one of the Stoneman Douglas organizers of the planned student march on Washington, asked Rubio the most pointed question.

“Can you tell me right now you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?” Kasky said.

Rubio, who was backed by The National Rifle Association in his last race to the tune of more than $1m, refused to make that promise, arguing that his belief in the second amendment was shaped by long principle, and that “people buy into my agenda, I don’t buy into theirs”.

In their questions to Rubio and other lawmakers, the students and parents of Marjory Stoneman Douglas were disciplined and unrelenting, and the crowd around them was deeply involved. It was the rare televised political event where it seemed that the ordinary citizen questioners were the ones in charge.

Teenagers who have become nationally recognized political activists in the past week stood toe-to-toe with politicians and an NRA spokeswoman who had honed their talking points for years.

The NRA’s Dana Loesch tried to praise Emma González, the Stoneman Douglas student whose passionate speech decrying the political influence of the NRA, had gone viral, saying that no one should attack her for her activism.

Gonzalez told Loesch that even if she was not willing to take action to protect her own children, the Stoneman Douglas students were.

The crowd repeatedly booed and hissed Loesch, who focused on states’ failures and tried to blame law enforcement errors for the Parkland shooting, a striking choice for a five-million member conservative organization that includes large numbers of law enforcement officials.

And they returned again and again to the need to ban assault weapons.

Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was killed in the shooting, described Stoneman Douglas kids being “hunted” in their own school.

“Look at me and tell me guns were the factor,” he told Rubio. “Look at me and tell me you accept it, and you will work with us to do something about guns.”

Rubio said that he did not support an assault weapon ban, telling Guttenberg: “If I believe that that law would have prevented this from happening I would support it. But I want to explain to you why it would not.”

Over boos from the crowd, Rubio made the typical Republican argument about a renewed assault weapon ban: that it targets a small set of 220 semi-automatic rifles with certain cosmetic military-style features, but left thousands of other guns that function in the exact same way un-banned.

“Are you saying you will start with the 200 and work your way up?” Guttenberg persisted.

“Senator Rubio, my daughter running down the hallway at Marjory Stoneman Douglas was shot in the back. With an assault weapon, the weapon of choice. It is too easy to get. It is too easy to get. It is a weapon of war. The fact that you can’t stand with everybody in this building and say that – I’m sorry.”

From the beginning, Rubio recognized that what politicians in the room were facing was something new: not just grieving survivors, but a whole generation shaped by the experience of active shooter drills and coverage of previous shootings on the news.

“I did not grow up in a school or an era in which children were shot in classrooms,” he said.

Some of the questions asked highlighted the starkness of the violence students felt they now faced.

Several students asked how politicians could ensure that it was actually safe for them to return to school.

“Why don’t we have kevlar vests in classrooms for our students. Why don’t we build our walls with kevlar?” Michelle Lapidot, a Stoneman Douglas student, asked. “Why do we protect America’s children with nothing but drywall?”

Cyril Ramaphosa sworn in as South Africa’s new president

JOHANNESBURG — Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday was sworn in as South Africa’s new president after the resignation of Jacob Zuma, whose scandals brought the storied African National Congress to its weakest point since taking power at the end of apartheid.

“I will try very hard not to disappoint the people of South Africa,” Ramaphosa said in ending his speech to parliament shortly after ruling party lawmakers elected him. He said the issue of corruption is on “our radar screen.”

Ramaphosa was the only candidate nominated for election after two opposition parties said they would not participate. The two parties instead unsuccessfully called for the dissolution of the National Assembly and early elections. Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng presided over the parliamentary election and congratulated Ramaphosa, who had been Zuma’s deputy and in December was narrowly elected leader of the ruling party over Zuma’s ex-wife.

Zuma resigned after years of scandals that damaged the reputation of the ruling ANC, which had instructed him this week to step down or face a parliamentary motion of no confidence that he would almost certainly lose. Zuma denies any wrongdoing.

Ramaphosa is South Africa’s fifth president since the end of the apartheid system of white minority rule in 1994. On Friday evening, he is expected to deliver the state of the nation address that had been postponed during the ruling party’s days of closed-door negotiations to persuade Zuma to resign. As some South Africans cheered the end to Zuma’s era, the rand currency strengthened against the dollar in early trading Thursday.

The country’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, will cooperate with Ramaphosa if he acts in the interests of the South African people, said party leader Mmusi Maimane.

“We will hold you accountable and I will see you in 2019 on the ballot box,” Maimane said.

Members of a smaller opposition party walked out of parliament before the election, saying the ANC plan to choose a new president was “illegitimate.” Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters party, said ANC lawmakers had failed to hold Zuma to account for alleged corruption and had therefore violated the constitution.

Ramaphosa now is challenged with reviving the reputation of the ANC, Africa’s most prominent liberation movement, which fought apartheid and has been in power since the first all-race elections in 1994. The party’s popularity fell as anger over corruption allegations grew and it suffered its worst showing at the polls in municipal elections in 2016.

The prospect of facing a possible coalition government for the first time helped push some ANC leaders to decide that Zuma had to go. On Thursday the foundation of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, welcomed Zuma’s departure but said the state must act against “networks of criminality” that have hurt the country’s democracy.

As the country marks the centenary of Mandela’s 1918 birth, “there is a need to reckon with the failures of the democratic era,” the foundation said. “We believe that we are at a critical moment in our history, one which offers us the unique opportunity to reflect, to rebuild, and to transform.”

Tense times in US-Turkey relations as officials huddle

ANKARA, Turkey — The specter of a U.S.-Turkish clash in Syria loomed over Thursday’s meeting between the top American diplomat and Turkey’s leader as the two NATO allies scrambled to ease some of their worst tensions in years.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is fuming over U.S. assistance to Kurdish fighters near his country’s border. The talks with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were to focus on Washington’s plan to continue providing the Kurdish militants assistance and Turkey’s military operations in Kurdish areas of northern Syria.

The discussions were expected to cover several proposals for improving cooperation along the border area. It’s been a flashpoint over the years for Turkish-Kurdish tensions, al-Qaida and Islamic State fighters traveling back and forth, and incidents involving major powers including Russia.

Reflecting the sensitivity of the talks between Tillerson and Erdogan, only Turkish Foreign Minister Melvut Cavusoglu, serving as translator, also was included in the meeting, which lasted more than three hours. Neither side would discuss the session afterward.

When Tillerson returned to his hotel, he was asked by reporters whether he could provide some detail. “Not tonight, we’re still working,” he said. Tillerson and Cavusoglu planned a news conference Friday after their meeting.

Tillerson, finishing a five-nation Middle East trip, said earlier in the day in Lebanon that U.S. and Turkey share common goals in Syria.

“There’s no gap between them,” he told reporters in Beirut. “We have some differences about tactically how to achieve that endpoint objective, but our objectives are to defeat ISIS, to defeat terrorism, to reduce the violence, protect people and support a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria.”

In Brussels, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the United States and Turkey are in open dialogue about their differences. Turkey’s defense minister was among those he met at NATO.

“I believe we are finding common ground and there are areas of uncommon ground where sometimes war just gives you bad alternatives to choose from,” Mattis said.

Turkey is livid over America’s military support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. The U.S. considers them the most effective fighting force in the battle to defeat IS in Syria, and this week offered a budget plan that would send them the bulk of $550 million in new assistance.

Turkey considers the fighters a terrorist group and an extension of a Kurdish insurgency in Turkey and views the U.S. military support for the Kurds in Syria as a top security threat. Turkey’s military campaign against Kurds in northern Syria has alarmed the U.S. leaders who have watched as the fighting has sapped energy from the fight against remaining IS strongholds.

Turkey’s defense minister, Nurettin Canikli, said in Brussels he has asked that the U.S. end its assistance to Kurdish fighters and remove them from the SDF.

Canikli said he told Mattis that U.S. support for such militants has enabled Kurdish rebels in Turkey “to grow and strengthen,” posing an increasingly “existential” danger to Turkey. Canikli said he presented documents to Mattis proving “organic” links between the Kurdish fighters in Syria and Kurdish rebels in Turkey.

It was an “absolutely open and honest dialogue,” Mattis said, describing the two countries as “coming together on what we can do together.”

According to Canikli, Mattis said the U.S. believes it is possible to ensure that the Kurdish forces in Syria turn against Kurdish rebels fighting in Turkey. Canikli said he rejected this assumption, insisting it was “impossible and unrealistic” for the two entities to go against each other.

The Turkish minister also reported Mattis as saying the U.S. was developing plans to take back weapons supplied to the Syrian Kurds.

Turkey has been attacking the Kurds in northern Syria for the past three weeks, despite American calls for restraint. The standoff has fueled increasingly angry rhetoric, including Erdogan’s warning that Turkey’s foes may feel “the Ottoman slap,” a reference to the Ottoman Empire’s onetime might.