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ABC News(NEW YORK) --  Perhaps more than any other policy issue, foreign or domestic, Donald Trump's views on Russia and the sanctity of ties to Eastern European allies have shown just how far outside the bounds of conventional wisdom and establishment norms he is willing to step.

His comments on Russia have drawn ire and befuddlement from his Democratic political foes, but on this issue more than most, he seems to have fewer conservatives who share his outlook.

Republicans scatter when Trump talks Russia. Some prominent conservatives wouldn't even agree to be interviewed by ABC News for this story.

The latest example of Trump's controversial comments came Wednesday, when the Republican presidential candidate appeared to suggest that Russia ought to hack into Hillary Clinton's emails and dig up the 30,000 emails from her private account that she deleted. That midday remark sent critics into a Twitter frenzy, labeling it an enormous misstep that seemed to welcome cyber-espionage from an adversarial government in the name of personal political gain.

Trump said Thursday he was being "sarcastic."

 Maybe so, but it's not the only statement of that ilk.

In the same news conference Wednesday, Trump said he "would be looking at" the possibility of lifting sanctions against Russia tied to its illegal military annexation of Crimea, which the U.S. government refuses to accept. Rather than stand against a feared revival of Soviet expansionism, critics say Trump seems to be embracing it.

Danielle Pletka, a foreign policy and defense expert at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., said the Republican establishment has rightfully been hard on Trump.

"Does anybody who believes in democracy, does anybody who believes in the system that’s been in place since the end of World War II think that it's permissible to bite off and annex another part of a country? No. Nobody serious thinks that," Pletka told ABC News.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest described today the annexation of Crimea as an "egregious violation of international norms" that rallied Europe and the U.S. to impose sanctions against Russia.

Trump has suggested the U.S. step back from the unrest in Ukraine.

"I think maybe we should do a little following and let the neighbors take a little bit more of an active role in Ukraine," Trump said in a television interview late last year.

He has described NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as "obsolete," while also suggesting he may not honor the organization's most sacred covenant of mutual defense.

“If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes," Trump told The New York Times when asked if he would defend the Baltic states from an attack by Russia. NATO members are required to spend 2 percent of their GDP on national defense.

"What Trump fails to understand, because he thinks so transactionally," Pletka told ABC News, "is that we are in NATO not because of the 2 percent that the likes of Latvia throw in or not throw in. We are in NATO because it is the most secure, most successful alliance in modern history. And it is our interest to be in NATO. I can assure that an extra million dollars in the defense budget of Greece is not going to transform the landscape."

Last December, when Trump was asked about reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin was cracking down on internal dissent by killing journalists and political opponents, Trump's response seemed complimentary of Putin.

"He's running his country and at least he's a leader, unlike what he have in this country," Trump said. And when Putin described Trump as a "bright and talented person," Trump released a statement through his spokesman, Hope Hicks, that said in part: "It is always so great to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond."

Pletka said Trump's foreign policy statements might be playing into Putin's hands.

"I think it's absolutely clear that Putin would love to see someone like Donald Trump, who shares his antipathy towards civil society and democratic norms, elected," Pletka said.

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iStock/Thinkstock(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said five American special operators were wounded in just the last few days in counter-terrorism operations against ISIS.

Army Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of Resolute Support and United States Forces in Afghanistan, said the Americans were helping Afghan special operators “regain control” of areas recently held by ISIS in Nangarhar province, eastern Afghanistan. During the clearing operation, the Americans suffered small arms fire and shrapnel injuries.

Nicholson told reporters during a press briefing, “None of these are life-threatening injuries. Two of the service members have already been returned to duty with their units. The other three were evacuated out of theater. They're in good spirits. They've talked to their families. We expect a full recovery.”

Earlier this year, President Obama gave U.S. commanders more leeway to strike terrorist targets in support of Afghan troops.

Nicholson noted the Afghan partnered operations against ISIS are on a “positive trajectory” despite high profile attacks like the suicide bombing in Kabul on Saturday, which killed more than 80 people. The commander said those types of attacks don’t necessarily show a sign of ISIS gaining strength.

He noted the terror group only controls areas in three or four districts, down from 10 across Afghanistan, and their number of fighters have been cut in half since the beginning of the year.

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Bettmann/Getty Images(LONDON) -- U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Reckless received a posthumous award this week in London. But Sgt. Reckless was not a person; she was a horse.

Reckless was awarded the British animal charity, People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), Dickin Medal -- the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross, the highest British military decoration awarded for valor -- for her service between 1952 and 1953 during the Korean War.

U.S. Embassy attaché Lt. Col. Michael Skaggs accepted the award on behalf of the U.S. Marine Corps, since Reckless passed away in 1968 in Camp Pendleton, California.

"The conditions that Reckless found herself in were truly perilous and her bravery and tenacity to push forward was remarkable,” Lt. Cl. Skaggs said in a statement.

American author Robin Hutton spent six years researching the Mongolian chestnut mare’s career with the U.S. Marines, wrote a book about her life and nominated her for this British award.

"Her story was erased from the pages of history," Hutton told ABC News, "and when I heard about the medal, I just knew she had to get it."

Reckless was purchased from a young Korean man in October of 1952 to be trained as an ammunitions carrier for the Anti-Tank Division of the 5th Marines. They taught her battlefield survival skills such as how not to become entangled in barbed wire and to lie down when under fire, according to the PDSA.

During a five-day battle in 1953, Reckless made 51 trips from the Ammunition Supply Point to the firing sites: "She carried 386 rounds of ammunition, weighing over 9,000 pounds...up steep mountains with enemy fire coming in at a rate of 500 rounds per minute," the PDSA's statement said.

"She would carry wounded soldiers down the mountain to safety, unload them, and get reloaded with ammunition to go back up to the guns. Although wounded twice she didn’t let it stop her or slow her down," the PDSA added. "There’s no way to account for the number of lives she saved."

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FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images(CZESTOCHOWA, Poland) — Pope Francis took a fall as he arrived for Holy Mass at Poland's holiest shrine of Jasna Gora on Thursday.

Francis, 79, was walking toward an altar when he missed a step and fell to the ground. A group of other priests raced to assist the pontiff, who got back up on his feet quickly.

The mass proceeded as planned and the pope delivered a sermon before thousands in the southern city of Czestochowa.


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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Two teenagers who killed a Catholic priest in France purportedly in the name of ISIS are seen in a new video pledging allegiance to the terror group’s leader, according to an ISIS-linked propaganda outlet.

In the video, which circulated online Wednesday, the two young men sit on stairs while one speaks softly, pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who he calls the “emir of the believers." The man promises to “listen and obey,” according to a translation by the extremist monitoring firm SITE.

The two men pose with an Islamist flag often associated with Islamic extremist groups including ISIS, but the flag’s colors apparently have been inverted, turning the usually black flag white.

Just days ago, anti-terror authorities in France issued an alert warning of a potential imminent attack by an unnamed man. The notice included a photo of the suspect who closely resembles the silent man from the video.

Two attackers were killed by police after storming a church in the city of Rouen, France, about 80 miles north of Paris, and stabbing to death an 86-year-old priest.

One of the attackers has been identified by authorities as 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, who investigators said had twice attempted to travel to Syria, the nation from which ISIS is based. He had been placed on house arrest.

While authorities did not immediately comment on the video’s release, French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday said the killers had “claimed allegiance to ISIS.”

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. military announced Wednesday that it would undertake a formal investigation into an airstrike in northern Syria that may have resulted in civilian casualties.

“That credibility assessment is complete,” Col. Christopher Garver, the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said during a news conference with Pentagon reporters. “The result was that the information available was credible enough to warrant formal investigation, which we have initiated.”

Garver indicated that evidence used in such investigations comes from both public sources as well as the military’s own internal data, such as reviewing where the rounds struck.

“We know where we are shooting,” Garver said.

The death toll estimates from the alleged airstrike near the town of Manbij have varied widely, with Garver saying he had seen numbers in the media ranging from 10 to more than 70. According to local observers and activists, the number could be above 200. ABC News has not been able to independently verify the numbers killed.

Garver also revealed that a second initial investigation is now underway to determine the credibility of allegations surrounding civilian deaths during an alleged strike on July 23 to the east of Manbij.

More than 520 airstrikes have been conducted by the U.S.-led coalition in support of the battle to rid Manbij of ISIS, according to U.S. officials.

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Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Image(LONDON) -- Prince William and Princess Kate have jetted to France for a private holiday with Prince George and Princess Charlotte.

The Cambridges touched down Tuesday at the Pau Pyrénées Airport in southwestern France. The airport is located 60 miles from the resort area of Biarritz and close to the border with Spain.

It is unclear if the family's Spanish nanny, Maria Teresa Borrallo, accompanied them on the vacation. The couple's royal protection team was spotted at the airport by local press.

The family reportedly traveled in style, borrowing the jet of the duke of Westminster, a billionaire who has previously loaned his jet to the royals.

William and Kate, both 34, have had a busy few months of activities, including the queen's 90th birthday events and Wimbledon. Their public engagements were capped off with a private celebration for George's third birthday on July 22.

The royal family will have time on their vacation to unwind before a busy fall when they will visit Canada. Kensington Palace announced Wednesday that the Cambridges will visit British Columbia and the Yukon at the invitation of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"The Duke and Duchess are delighted to be returning to Canada. They hold very happy memories from their visit in 2011 - their first overseas tour as a married couple. They are really looking forward to seeing other parts of this beautiful country and having the opportunity to meet many more Canadians along the way," Kensington Palace said in a statement.

It's quite possible that George, 3, and Charlotte, 1, could join them on the trip although an announcement on whether or not the children will come along will likely be made closer to their departure.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. military says it has recovered and used "massive amounts" of intelligence materials from retreating ISIS militants in the city of Manbij, Syria, a town the Pentagon describes as one of the terror groups last connecting points to it's stronghold of Raqqa.

"We think this is a big deal," Col. Christopher Garver, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, told Pentagon reporters in a video briefing from Baghdad Wednesday.

Garver said coalition forces battling ISIS have gathered over 10,000 different items holding valuable information, such as thumb drives, laptops, textbooks and notebooks from the battlefield.

Over four terabytes of data was gleaned from the digital devices, Garver said. "We're learning about how they ran Manbij as a strategic hub," Garver said, calling it an orientation center for foreign fighters just joining ISIS. "As foreign fighter would enter, they would screen them, figure out what languages they speak, assign them a job -- and then send them down into wherever they were going to go, be it into Syria or Iraq, somewhere,” Garver said.

So far they have not uncovered any evidence, in this data, of fighters being launched to Europe or further west, Garver added.

He said they also found textbooks that were rewritten to reflect the teachings of ISIS.

The town of Manbij is, for now, still a heavily contested area. Over the course of the past few weeks the U.S.-led coalition has conducted more than 520 airstrikes in the area and anti-ISIS forces have the town surrounded on the ground.

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JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images(KRAKOW, Poland) -- Pope Francis was greeted by shouts of welcome and waving crowds Wednesday as he arrived in the Polish city of Krakow to celebrate the Catholic Church’s “World Youth Day.”

But on his flight there from Rome, a worried pope emerged.

"The world is at war," he said in reference to recent terror attacks in Europe and elsewhere.

But this war is not one of religion, he clarified, instead one of interests, money, natural resources and to control people.

During the official welcoming ceremony with Poland's leaders at the historic Wawel Castle, the pope urged them to welcome migrants fleeing wars and hunger.

Poland is one of the most Catholic countries in Europe. Ninety-eight percent of Poles have been baptized, and Poland has one of the highest church attendance rates in the Catholic world, with some 40 percent of people going to weekly mass.

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ABC News(DORAL, Fla.) -- Donald Trump said he has "never spoken" to Vladimir Putin amid allegations that his campaign colluded with the Russian president to hack Democratic National Committee emails. But the Republican presidential nominee encouraged Putin to find Hillary Clinton's missing emails.

"I've never spoken to him. I don't know anything about him other than he will respect me," Trump said during a press conference Wednesday morning in Doral, Florida. "I have nothing to do with Russia."

"By the way, if they hacked, they probably have her 33,000 emails. I hope they do," Trump continued. "They probably have her 33,000 emails that she lost and deleted."

A handful of cybersecurity firms have concluded that Russian hackers were the likely culprits of the DNC email release that was published by Wikileaks last week. An executive at Fidelis told ABC News on Monday that Russians were to blame “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The Kremlin said on Tuesday that accusations that Moscow was responsible for the hack are “absurd.”

"If it is Russia," Trump said at the press conference Wednesday, "It shows how little respect they have for our country."

He added: "It's probably not Russia."

The real estate mogul said that, as president of the United States, he would be "so much better for U.S.-Russian relations." But when asked if he would call on Putin to not meddle with the U.S. election, Trump said: "I'm not going to tell Putin what to do. Why should I tell Putin what to do?”

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- In an effort to stem the flow of undocumented children and families across the southwest border of the U.S. and provide a solution to humanitarian challenges like smuggling and trafficking, the Department of Homeland Security announced on Tuesday new measures to expand the United States’ Central American refugee processing program.

Since January of this year, about 26,000 unaccompanied alien children and almost 30,000 family units have tried to cross the southwest border, according to Customs and Border Protection. The majority of them were from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz called the humanitarian crisis in Central America “heartbreaking,” noting that refugee families in those countries often face violence as they seek to escape the region, which is why “it was important for us to take action.”

As part of this new initiative, the Central American Minors program will expand to include additional relationships to a child who qualifies for the refugee program, including siblings over the age of 21, the in-country biological parent if one parent is lawfully present in the U.S., and “caregivers” of the child. The United States has received over 9,200 applicants for this program so far and approved about 2,300.

“Through the Central American Minors program, the U.S. government offers an alternative, safe, and legal path to the United States for children seeking protection from harm or persecution in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson in official statement.

The announcement, which comes in the midst of the Democratic National Convention, is expected to generate sharp criticism from the Republican nominee who has advocated for closed borders.

DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on a call with reporters that one of the goals of the expanded Central American Minors programs is family unity.

In an effort to provide immediate protection for those in danger, Costa Rica has agreed to a protection transfer arrangement (PTA), in coordination with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), allowing families facing threats to leave their home country while their application is processed.

Costa Rica plans to be capable of hosting around 200 individuals for a period of six months at a time.

For those who do not qualify for immediate transfer to Costa Rica, a new in-country referral program will allow applications for refugee protection, and claims will be evaluated through a vetting process by DHS officers in those home countries.

DHS also indicated that Mexico will play a greater role by increasing its capacity to screen asylum seekers from Central America. This agreement was a product of the meeting between President Obama and Mexican President Enrique Nieto last week.

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iStock/Thinkstock(PRINCE ALBERT, Saskatchewan) — An oil spill in the North Saskatchewan River is threatening the drinking water supply for tens of thousands of Canadians.

Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, City Manager Jim Toye says his city has already turned off the taps, telling residents to fill bathtubs and sinks and use the water sparingly.

Workers closed the intake pipes in the North Saskatchewan River, after about 53,000 gallons of heavy crude contaminated the water and soil.

Efforts to contain the spill have so far failed. It could be months before things are back to normal.

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Saint Etienne Parish(ROUEN, France) — The attackers who stabbed and killed an elderly priest at a church in France Tuesday morning after claiming allegiance to ISIS were both teenagers, the Paris prosecutor said.

One attacker was identified as 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, who had tried to go to Syria twice, the Paris prosecutor said. Kermiche was under house arrest -- for the second time -- with a tracking bracelet when he carried out the deadly attack in Normandy with an unidentified minor who was born in 1999 in Algeria, the Paris prosecutor said.

There is an international arrest warrant out for the minor's older brother, who is believed to have gone to Iraq or Syria using Kermiche’s French ID, the Paris prosecutor said.

The attackers were "terrorists who claimed allegiance to ISIS," French President Francois Hollande said earlier Tuesday.

ISIS’s “news agency” Amaq said the attack was carried about by "soldiers of the Islamic State" and that the attack was "in response to calls for attacks on the Crusader alliance.”

The attack began when two men armed with knives entered a church in the city of Rouen -- about 80 miles outside of Paris -- during morning mass and took six people hostage -- a priest, nuns and parishioners.

The priest, who was 86 years old, was killed from stabs to the neck and torso, the Paris prosecutor said.

An 86-year-old worshiper was also stabbed, the Paris prosecutor said. The worshiper's condition was not immediately released.

Both attackers were killed outside the church, said a spokesperson for the French interior minister.

The priest was identified by the archbishop as Jacques Hamel.

People took to Twitter to mourn the slain priest. One woman said she was baptized by him, while another Twitter user said the priest recently christened her young cousin.

The mayor’s office in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray said the church had not received specific threats.

One person was detained for questioning in connection with the attack, a spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor's office said. An investigation into the incident has been opened.

Hollande said he spoke to the family of the priest who was killed. He also praised the police for their quick response, which he said saved lives.

The mayor’s office in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray said in a statement: “A barbaric act was committed in our town this morning. Our priest was assassinated, and a hostage was severely injured. We are devastated. This emotion goes beyond our town. It plunges our entire country in a deep pain, only days after the attack in Nice.

"The mayor and the entire municipality calls upon you all that are attached to the values of our republic to come and express your emotion, pain and indignation," the mayor's office added.

A registry of condolences has been set up and residents can leave flowers or candles on the steps of City Hall, the mayor's office said. Town officials are also expected to meet tonight to discuss a public ceremony for the victims, the mayor's office said.

Flags will be flown at half-mast throughout the municipality, the mayor’s office added.

Hollande said the terrorists want to “divide us” and said the attack targeted not just Catholics but all of France. Hollande said the terrorists will stop at nothing, adding, "We must rage war against Daesh (ISIS)."

Hollande called Pope Francis Tuesday and expressed the French people’s pain, telling him that when a priest is attacked, the entire nation is hurt. Hollande said everything will be done to protect churches and places of faith. Hollande also spoke of France’s role in the defense of Christians in the Middle East, and said in such painful and grueling circumstances, he hopes harmony triumphs over hate.

The Vatican called the situation an act of "absurd violence" and said that Pope Francis strongly condemned "every form of hate" and "prayed" for the victims affected.

NSC spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. offers condolences "to the family and friends of the murdered priest, Father Jacques Hamel."

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the other victims of the attack as well as the parishioners and community members," Price said.

"France and the United States share a commitment to protecting religious liberty for those of all faiths, and Tuesday's violence will not shake that commitment. We commend French law enforcement for their quick and decisive response and stand ready to assist the French authorities in their investigation going forward," Price said.


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iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- The Kremlin said Tuesday that accusations from U.S. officials and cyber security firms that the Russians were responsible for a massive hack into Democratic National Committee emails are “absurd.”

“Overall, we still see attempts to use – manically use – the Russian issue during the U.S. electoral campaign,” Russian government spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, according to Russia’s state-run news outlet Sputnik. “The absurd claims were immediately refuted directly by a presidential candidate’s family.”

Peskov may have been referring to Donald Trump, Jr., who told CNN Sunday that claims from Democrats that the Russians hacked the DNC to help his father in his presidential bid were “disgusting” and “phony.”

Russian hacking groups tied to two separate Russian intelligence agencies were fingered for the DNC hack by the cyber security firm Crowdstrike in June. Crowdstrike said it appeared one of the groups had been rummaging around the infected systems for a year.

Since, other major cyber firms who studied the code also concluded Russian hackers are the likely culprits. An executive at one of those firms, Fidelis, told ABC News Monday that Russians were to blame “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Late Monday, national security officials told ABC News that federal officials also believe operatives affiliated with the Russian government were responsible for the hack and for providing the material to WikiLeaks, which published 20,000 of the leaked emails Friday. The officials said they suspect it was a blatant attempt to influence the U.S. presidential election, or at the very least, make mischief.

On Tuesday, White House homeland security and counterterrorism advisor Lisa Monaco said she did not want to get ahead of the FBI’s investigation into the hack, but said that in general terms, the U.S. uses “all tools” for responding to cyberattacks.

“Nobody’s immune from cyberattacks, [and] nobody’s immune from the responses,” she said.

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ABCNews.com(PHILADELPHIA) -- Vice President Joe Biden said Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence "don't know what they're talking about" when it comes to addressing the threats posed by ISIS and other terrorists groups.

Responding to Republican criticism that Democrats are avoiding talking about ISIS at their national convention this week, Biden said Trump and Pence may talk a lot about the issue, but they have offered no clear plan for what they would do if elected.

Worse, Biden said, Trump has proposed breaking up international alliances, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which he said can help address the problem.

"We have the single most significant homeland security of any country in the world. We have the finest Special Forces in the world. And what are they doing, Pence and and uh, and Trump? What they're doing is they're breaking up our alliances," Biden said in an interview with George Stephanopoulos. "These guys don't know what they're talking about."

Pence chastised Democrats Tuesday, arguing that of the 61 people who spoke at the opening day of the convention Monday, not one mentioned ISIS.

Biden brushed aside Pence’s comment, noting there are several more days of the convention to come.

"Well that could be, but I mean there's a lot more speakers to come," said Biden, who is set to speak at the convention on Wednesday.

ISIS has increasingly become a threat both at home and overseas through attacks carried out by members of the terrorist group or by those who say they are inspired by its message.

Trump has used recent attacks to warn the plan isn’t working and threats to the U.S. homeland will only grow. On the campaign trail he charges that Hillary Clinton will provide more of the same if elected this fall. He has previously elaborated on what he would do to defeat ISIS, including remarks on the campaign trail that he he would go after ISIS-controlled oil fields and "bomb the s--- out of 'em." He has said his strategy would include marking targets in Syria and Iraq.

The Obama administration argues it is taking an aggressive approach to ISIS overseas, including supporting operations against the group in Syria and Iraq.

Clinton and her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), are expected to discuss the issue of terrorism when they speak at the convention later this week.

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