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Found 165 results

  1. WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House for their first face-to-face meeting, seeking to forge a chemistry that can add new fizz to a flourishing relationship between the world's two largest democracies. Despite differences over issues such as immigration and climate change, Modi is expected to assure Trump that the United States has nothing to fear from India's growing economic clout. After they began their afternoon talks in the Oval Office likely to center on issues such as trade and war in Afghanistan, the two leaders are expected to give a joint statement to reporters. Trump, who described Modi as a "true friend!" on Twitter after his weekend arrival in the US, should find much in common with the Indian leader, with both men having won power by portraying themselves as establishment outsiders. While ties with some traditional allies have been strained by Trump's complaints that Washington has been the loser in trade agreements, Modi appears alert to his host's sensitivities and emphasis on transactional diplomacy. Writing in a Wall Street Journal editorial published just ahead of their meeting, Modi said that in "an uncertain global economic landscape, our two nations stand as mutually reinforcing engines of growth and innovation." "The transformation of India presents abundant commercial and investment opportunities for American businesses," said Modi whose government is about to implement a new nationwide tax system designed to scythe through red tape. "The rollout of the Goods and Services Tax on July 1 will, in a single stroke, convert India into a unified, continent-sized market of 1.3 billion people," he wrote. Busy day of meetings Ahead of his talks with Trump, Modi met with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis as India eyes the purchase of more military equipment from the US. Although there are not expected to be any major defense announcements, the California-based contractor General Atomics said it had been given clearance by the US government to sell drones to the Indian army. The State Department also announced that it was slapping sanctions on a senior figure in the Kashmiri group Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. Syed Salahuddin (also known as Mohammed Yusuf Shah) was designated as a global terrorist. Relations between India and the US were generally cool until the 1990s but they warmed under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, as India sought greater foreign investment and trade ties. But it was not long after Trump's election that obstacles emerged on issues such as trade and visas for Indians wanting to work in the United States. Then Trump accused India of seeking to profit from the Paris climate accord as he announced the US withdrawal from the deal this month -- drawing sharp denials from New Delhi. A proposed overhaul of H-1B visas -- used by thousands of Indian software engineers to work in the United States -- has caused concern in New Delhi. But Indian officials have played down those differences, insisting that Modi was sensitive to his counterpart's concerns over American jobs and trade, and there were "no major sticking points" that could sour the talks. "If there's one thing we want (from the talks), it's chemistry... If the chemistry is good, then frankly everything else gets sorted," a senior Indian official who is traveling with the prime minister told reporters in Washington. Afghanistan on agenda Regional security is expected to be high on the agenda as Washington considers deploying up to 5,000 extra troops in Afghanistan to help local forces fighting insurgent groups and seeks to encourage what an administration official describes as India's "positive role" in the country.
  2. US President Donald Trump - File Photo Reuters The US Supreme Court on Monday handed a victory to President Donald Trump by narrowing the scope of lower court rulings that blocked his travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries and agreeing to hear his appeals in the cases. The court said it would hear arguments on the legality of one of Trump's signature policies in his first months as president in the court's next term, which starts in October. The justices granted parts of his administration's emergency request to put the March 6 executive order into effect immediately while the legal battle continues. The court said that the travel ban is in effect "with respect to foreign nationals who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States." The court also said it would allow a 120-day ban on all refugees entering the United States to go into effect on the same grounds. Three of the court's conservatives said they would have granted Trump's request in full, including Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch.
  3. FILE PHOTO: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia, June 2, 2017. Photo: Reuters. US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold their first face-to-face meeting in Washington on Monday, seeking to boost US-Indian relations despite differences over trade, the Paris climate accord and immigration. Their White House session promises less pomp than Modi's previous visits to Washington, which included former President Barack Obama taking him to the Martin Luther King Jr memorial in 2014. But Trump administration officials have pointed to both leaders' impact on social media - each has more than 30 million Twitter followers - as proof that they are cut from the same cloth, and predicted the two would get along well. Trump built a Trump Tower property in Mumbai and spoke warmly of India during his presidential campaign last year. "The White House is very interested in making this a special visit," said one senior official. "We?re really seeking to roll out the red carpet," Modi will try to strengthen ties that have appeared to loosen. Indian officials, noting both men's tendency to speak their mind, were anxious to see how they get along. They will have one-on-one talks followed by statements to the news media without taking questions. They will then have a working dinner, the first time Trump has played host to a foreign dignitary at a White House dinner. "If the chemistry is good, everything else gets sorted," said an Indian official. "The only way is up. How much up we go depends on the leaders. If they click, we go up higher." While progress is expected in defense trade and cooperation, there are frictions elsewhere. Trump, who campaigned on an "America First" platform, has been troubled by the growing US trade deficit with India. He has called for reform of the H-1B visa system that has benefited Indian tech firms. He set the United States on a path to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and accused India of negotiating unscrupulously for the accord in order to walk away with billions of dollars in aid. Meanwhile, Indian officials reject suggestions that Modi's "Make in India" platform is protectionist and complain about the US regulatory process for generic pharmaceuticals and rules on fruit exports to the United States. They stress the importance of the huge Indian market to US firms and major growth in areas such as aviation, which offer significant opportunities for US manufacturers. Rick Rossow, an India expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the frictions in US-Indian relations since Trump took office on Jan. 20 add gravity to the meeting. "The meeting will provide more clarity on whether the past six months have been Act 1 in a surprising friendship or Round 1 of a protracted slugging match," he said.
  4. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi heads to the US this weekend for his first meeting with President Donald Trump NEW DELHI: India´s leader heads to the US this weekend for his first meeting with President Donald Trump, seeking to build on growing ties between the world´s two largest democracies and move beyond disagreements over climate change. Relations between New Delhi and Washington warmed under Trump´s predecessor Barack Obama as India sought greater foreign investment and trade ties with Western nations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to work closely with the Trump administration, but obstacles soon emerged on issues such as trade and visas for Indians wanting to work in the United States. Then Trump accused India of seeking to profit from the Paris climate accord as he announced he was pulling out of the deal this month -- drawing sharp denials from New Delhi. Officials were eager to downplay expectations of the visit that begins on Sunday, describing it as "no frills" -- in contrast to Modi´s first US visit in 2014, when he basked in a rock star welcome at the Madison Square Garden arena in New York and addressed the United Nations. "If there´s one thing we want (from the visit), it´s chemistry," said one senior Indian official. "If the chemistry is good then frankly everything else gets sorted." Some commentators have argued that Modi and Trump should have a natural affinity as political outsiders who have risen to power in part by castigating the traditional ruling elite on a nationalist platform. One US official said the two leaders had a "lot in common" and noted Modi would be the first foreign dignitary to have a working dinner at the White House under the new administration. "We are really seeking to roll out the red carpet," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. ´Make in India´ Trump´s protectionist instincts, however, are at odds with India´s efforts to boost exports and encourage Western manufacturers to "Make In India" -- a flagship Modi scheme. The Indian premier castigated "rising parochial and protectionist attitudes" in a speech delivered shortly after Trump took office that was widely interpreted as a dig at the president´s "America first" mantra. A proposed overhaul of H-1B visas -- used by thousands of Indian software engineers to work in the United States -- has also caused concern in New Delhi. Analysts said Monday´s meeting at the White House would give Modi the chance to size up a US leader whose focus has so far been on ties with India´s regional rival China. "The meeting between the two leaders is very significant, obviously, because the new administration´s policies towards Asia and particularly India, are not very clear," said Sujit Datta, foreign policy specialist at New Delhi´s Jamia Millia Islamia University. "India´s relationship with the US is a very important one in terms of economic relations, trade, industry and wider strategic relevance regarding Afghanistan, Pakistan," he told AFP. Regional security is expected to be high on the agenda for the talks as Washington considers deploying up to 5,000 extra troops in Afghanistan to help local forces fighting the Taliban and other insurgent groups. The new administration has also indicated it could take a tougher stance on Pakistan, which India has long accused of harbouring militant groups. Modi was effectively barred from the United States for years after deadly communal riots in the western state of Gujarat during his time as chief minister. Most of those killed were Muslims. But after his landslide election victory, Modi built a strong rapport with Obama who became the first sitting US president to pay a second visit to India when he attended the 2015 Republic Day celebrations. Political analyst Ashley Tellis said in an interview with Asian Age that the meeting with Trump would give Modi "an opportunity to take the measure of the man, articulate India´s interests, and describe the opportunities those interests provide for the US". "I don´t think PM Modi can change Trump´s worldview. But he can help Trump to think of India as an opportunity rather than as a problem," said Tellis, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
  5. US President Donald Trump in his office in Trump Tower, New York City, US, May 17, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Saturday sent "warm greetings" to Muslims celebrating the end of Ramazan after his administration broke with the tradition of hosting a White House event to recognise the holy month. "On behalf of the American people, Melania and I send our warm greetings to Muslims as they celebrate Eid al-Fitr," Trump said in a statement. "During this holiday, we are reminded of the importance of mercy, compassion, and goodwill." "With Muslims around the world, the United States renews our commitment to honour these values." Since the Bill Clinton administration, the White House has each year hosted either an event to mark the Eid al-Fitr feast ? that ends the fasting month of Ramazan ? or a meal breaking the dawn-til-dusk fast, known as an iftar. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly rejected a request by his department's office of religion and global affairs to hold an event for the holiday. Trump has come under fire for his history of anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail that included calls for surveillance of US mosques and an outright ban on Muslims entering the country in the name of national security. A week after becoming president he issued a ban on travellers from several predominantly Muslim countries, which has been frozen by the US courts after sparking global chaos and outrage. Yet during a visit to Saudi Arabia last month, Trump softened his tone on Islam, rejecting the idea of a battle between religions in an address before dozens of leaders of Muslim countries.
  6. New York Jets owner Woody Johnson - File photo:Reuters US President Donald Trump will nominate National Football League team owner Woody Johnson as US ambassador to Britain, the White House said on Thursday. Johnson, a billionaire investor and owner of the New York Jets, will require Senate confirmation to take up the diplomatic post. Johnson's nomination does not come as a surprise. In January, Trump referred to Johnson as "ambassador" during remarks at a luncheon and said the NFL team owner was "going to St. James."
  7. US President Donald Trump offered support for emerging technologies including unmanned aerial vehicles and next-generation wireless networks in a meeting on Thursday with the chiefs of AT&T Inc and General Electric Co and other business leaders. The White House brought together venture capitalists and executives from the telecommunications and drone, or unmanned aerial system, industries to discuss how the government can speed technologies to market. The meeting, which lasted more than three hours including breakout sessions, is part of Trump's effort to tap industry experts on how to boost US. competitiveness in various fields and create jobs. On Monday, Trump met with the heads of 18 U.S. technology companies including Apple Inc, Amazon.com Inc, and Microsoft Corp, seeking their help to make the government's computing systems more efficient. He will meet with energy industry leaders next week. "We want them to create new companies and lots of jobs," Trump told the executives on Thursday. "We're going to give you the competitive advantage that you need." In attendance were Chief executives of several drone companies including Kespry Inc, AirMap, Airspace Inc, Measure UAS Inc, Trumbull Unmanned, and PrecisionHawk Inc. Drone makers argued that the administration should move faster to approve the broader commercial use of drones and noted that the Transportation Department does not require automakers to win pre-approval of self-driving vehicle technologies. Senior executives at Xcel Energy Inc, Verizon Communications Inc and CenturyLink Inc also took part. Venture capital firms included Revolution LLC, headed by AOL co-founder Steve Case, 500 Startups, Cayuga Ventures, Epic Ventures and Lightspeed Ventures. Obama administration rules opened the skies to low-level small drones for education, research and routine commercial use. The Trump administration is considering whether to expand drone use for deliveries beyond the view of an operator. Security issues would need to be addressed. The Federal Aviation Administration in March estimated that by 2021 the fleet of small hobbyist drones will more than triple and commercial drones will grow tenfold to about 442,000. Last year, regulators cleared the way for next-generation 5G wireless networks, with expected speeds at least 10 times and maybe 100 times faster than today's 4G networks. Testing is under way and deployment is expected around 2020 but infrastructure hurdles remain. Wireless signals need to be much faster and more responsive to allow advanced technologies such as virtual surgery or remote control of machinery. 5G networks could help to wirelessly connect devices such as thermostats or washing machines.
  8. Donald Trump at a rally in Las Vegas, US, February 23, 2016. AFP Photo/John Gurzinski WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump admitted on Thursday he does not have recordings of his private meetings with fired FBI Director James Comey, after fueling speculation for weeks of secret Oval Office tapes. But Trump's belated admissions did little to quell allegations that he has sought to stifle investigations into possible collusion between his presidential campaign and Russian interference in last year's election. "With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are 'tapes' or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings," Trump said on Twitter. The admission threw a new twist into allegations, fed by Comey's own claims, that Trump wanted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to pull back on its probe into the Russia scandal. Those accusations are believed to now be part of an independent Justice Department probe into possible illegal obstruction of the investigation by the president. Trump's tweet came after weeks of challenges to the White House to prove the assertion that he might have recordings of his conversations with the former FBI chief, whom he fired on May 9. Facing a slew of criticism for sacking the man investigating the Russia scandal, Trump warned Comey there could be retribution if he revealed anything of their private conversations. "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes'our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!" Trump tweeted on May 12. That claim quickly raised concerns that Trump, like some US presidents in the past, was secretly recording all of his conversations in the White House. And it took on more weight when Comey leaked out his own private memorandums of several discussions with Trump, in which he described the president as improperly pressuring him over the Russia probe. Trump was 'extremely clear' In a June 8 hearing in Congress, Comey described several meetings with Trump and said he, in fact, hoped the tapes do exist, as they would support his account of their discussions. "I've seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes," he told the Senate Intelligence Committee. Democrats had demanded Trump come up with the tapes as they sought support for allegations of illegal obstruction. Democrats sitting on the House Intelligence Committee that is investigating Russian interference in the election and possible Trump campaign collusion had threatened to issue a subpoena if the White House failed to turn over the supposed tapes of Comey discussions by June 23. Trump for weeks fed speculation about the tapes, repeatedly fending off questions about them with quips that he will answer the question "sometime in the near future," as he said on June 9. White House deputy spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders parried reporters' questions as to whether other officials had made secret recordings in the White House. "The president's statement today via Twitter is extremely clear," she said. Asked if Trump regrets the original tweet, she replied, "I don't think so." But pressed on the reasoning behind that first message, Sanders replied, "I think it was more about raising the question of doubt in general." Accusations of intimidation But with Trump's new admission, Democrats were raising questions about why he wrote the original tweet directed at Comey, suggesting it was part of a pattern of obstruction. "If the President had no tapes, why did he suggest otherwise?" asked Adam Schiff, senior Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee. "Did he seek to mislead the public? Was he trying to intimidate or silence James Comey? And if so, did he take other steps to discourage potential witnesses from speaking out?"
  9. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photo: Reuters WASHINGTON: Saudi Arabia's new crown prince and likely next king shares US President Donald Trump's hawkish view of Iran, but a more confrontational approach toward Tehran carries a risk of escalation in an unstable region, current and former US officials said. Iran will almost certainly respond to a more aggressive posture by the United States and its chief Sunni Arab ally in battlefields where Riyadh and Tehran are engaged in a regional tussle for influence. Saudi King Salman made his son Mohammed bin Salman next in line to the throne on Wednesday, handing the 31-year-old sweeping powers, in a succession shake-up. Prince Mohammed, widely referred to as "MbS," has ruled out any dialogue with arch rival Iran and pledged to protect his conservative kingdom from what he called Tehran's efforts to dominate the Muslim world. In the first meeting between Trump and MbS at the White House in March, the two leaders noted the importance of "confronting Iran's destabilising regional activities." But that could have unintended consequences, said some current and former US administration officials. The greatest danger for the Trump administration, a longtime US government expert on Middle East affairs said, was for the United States to be dragged deeper into the sectarian conflict playing out across the Middle East, a danger that could be compounded by Trump?s delegation of responsibility for military decisions to the Pentagon. If the administration gives US commanders greater authority to respond to Iranian air and naval provocations in the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz, things could easily spiral out of control, the official said. US-backed forces fighting in Syria are also in close proximity with Iranian-backed forces supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. US military jets twice this month shot down Iranian-made drones threatening US and coalition forces in southeastern Syria. The United States also supports the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen through refueling, logistics and limited intelligence assistance. "If we were to witness an incident at sea between an Iranian and a US vessel in the Gulf, at a time of immense distrust and zero communication, how likely is it that the confrontation would be defused rather than exacerbated?" said Rob Malley, vice president for policy at the International Crisis Group. "If there's a more bellicose attitude towards Iran, Iran is likely to respond," said Malley, a former senior adviser on Middle East affairs under President Barack Obama. Eric Pelofsky, who dealt with Middle East issues at the White House under Obama, said the administration had "laboured pretty hard to avoid a direct clash between Saudi Arabia and Iran on the high seas," in part because it would expand the Yemen conflict and there were questions "about what the outcome of such an encounter might be." But Luke Coffey, director of the Foreign Policy Center at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, doubted Iran would retaliate in a major way. "Iran has very limited ability or options to retaliate against US forces in the region without suffering an overwhelming US response," Coffey said. "I think Tehran knows this so they will stick to low-level tactics like harassing US ships in the Gulf. This will be just enough to be annoying but not enough to be considered 'retaliating,'" he said. Close relationship MbS was the driving force behind the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen against Iran-allied Houthi rebels, launched in March 2015. He also appears to have orchestrated this month's breach with neighbour Qatar, which was accused by Riyadh and three other Arab states of cozying up to Iran, funding terrorism or fomenting regional instability. Qatar denies the allegations. "There?s a danger that his foreign policy instincts, that do tend to be aggressive, especially toward Iran, but also toward Sunni extremism, might end up distracting from what he wants to get done economically," said a former Obama administration official, referring to "Vision 2030," MbS's signature economic and social reform agenda. Malley, who has met MbS, said his attitude toward Iran "stems from his strongly felt conviction that for too long the kingdom has been a punching bag, a passive witness to Iranian action, true or assumed, in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia's own eastern province." "His view is that Saudi Arabia absorbed those blows and now there's no reason to absorb them anymore," Malley said. That dovetails neatly with Trump who has said Iran promotes evil and is a key source of funding and support for militant groups. MbS has also developed a close relationship with Trump's influential son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who at 36 is close in age to him. MbS's "desire to confront or even defeat Iran has appeal in the White House, where the crown prince has done an admirable job forging a relationship with the Kushners, who are of his generation," said the US official. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, had dinner with MbS when the US president visited Riyadh last month, the first stop on Trump's maiden international visit. Another senior administration official told Reuters that while Washington did not have advance warning of MbS's promotion, it could see it coming. "This is why the president has tried to foster good relations with him," the official said.
  10. US President Donald Trump delivers remarks on agriculture at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, US, June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst President Donald Trump on Wednesday said the United States had a "great relationship with China" as he stood beside former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, the new US ambassador to Beijing. "We have a great relationship with China and I really like President Xi," Trump said in a speech at an Iowa community college. The comment came a day after Trump said Chinese efforts to persuade North Korea to rein in its weapons programs had failed.
  11. Since 2003, almost 22,000 civilians and nearly 7,000 Pakistani security forces have been killed as a result of militancy, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal. Photo: Reuters President Donald Trump's administration appears ready to harden its approach toward Pakistan to crack down on Pakistan-based militants launching attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan, US officials tell Reuters. Potential Trump administration responses being discussed include expanding US drone strikes, redirecting or withholding some aid to Pakistan and perhaps eventually downgrading Pakistan's status as a major non-NATO ally, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Some US officials, however, are skeptical of the prospects for success, arguing that years of previous US efforts to curb Pakistan's support for militant groups have failed, and that already strengthening US ties to India, Pakistan's arch-enemy, undermine chances of a breakthrough with Islamabad. US officials say they seek greater cooperation with Pakistan, not a rupture in ties, once the administration finishes a regional review of the strategy guiding the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan. Precise actions have yet to be decided. The White House and Pentagon declined to comment on the review before its completion. Pakistan's embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. "The United States and Pakistan continue to partner on a range of national security issues," Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said. But the discussions alone suggest a shift toward a more assertive approach to address safe havens in Pakistan that have been blamed for in part helping turn Afghanistan's war into an intractable conflict. Experts on America's longest war argue that militant safe havens in Pakistan have allowed Taliban-linked insurgents a place to plot deadly strikes in Afghanistan and regroup after ground offensives. Although long mindful of Pakistan, the Trump administration in recent weeks has put more emphasis on the relationship with Islamabad in discussions as it hammers out a the regional strategy to be presented to Trump by mid-July, nearly six months after he took office, one official said. "We've never really fully articulated what our strategy towards Pakistan is. The strategy will more clearly say what we want from Pakistan specifically," the US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Other US officials warn of divisions within the government about the right approach and question whether any mix of carrots and sticks can get Islamabad to change its behaviour. At the end of the day, Washington needs a partner, even if an imperfect one, in nuclear-armed Pakistan, they say. NATO soldiers after a suicide car attack at a NATO vehicle in Kabul in 2015. Photo: Reuters The United States is again poised to deploy thousands more troops in Afghanistan, an acknowledgment that US-backed forces are not winning and Taliban militants are resurgent. Without more pressure on militants within Pakistan who target Afghanistan, experts say additional US troop deployments will fail to meet their ultimate objective: to pressure the Taliban to eventually negotiate peace. "I believe there will be a much harder US line on Pakistan going forward than there has been in the past," Hamdullah Mohib, the Afghan ambassador to the United States, told Reuters, without citing specific measures under review. Kabul has long been critical of Pakistan's role in Afghanistan. Pakistan fiercely denies allowing any militants safe haven on its territory. It bristles at US claims that its spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, has ties to Haqqani network militants blamed for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan. "What Pakistan says is that we are already doing a lot and that our plate is already full," a senior Pakistani government source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. The source doubted the Trump administration would press too hard, saying: "They don?t want to push Pakistan to abandon their war against terrorism." A policeman stands at the site of a suicide attack on Lahore's Mall Road in 2017. Photo: AFP Pakistani officials point towards the toll militancy has taken on the country. Since 2003, almost 22,000 civilians and nearly 7,000 Pakistani security forces have been killed as a result of militancy, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which tracks violence. Experts say Pakistan's policy towards Afghanistan is also driven in part by fears that India will gain influence in Afghanistan. Is Pakistan an ally? Nuclear-armed Pakistan won the status as a major non-NATO ally in 2004 from the George Bush administration, in what was at the time seen in part as recognition of its importance in the US battle against al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents. The status is mainly symbolic, allowing limited benefits such as giving Pakistan faster access to surplus US military hardware. Some US officials and experts on the region scoff at the title. "Pakistan is not an ally. It?s not North Korea or Iran. But it?s not an ally," said Bruce Riedel, a Pakistan expert at the Brookings Institution. But yanking the title would be seen by Pakistan as a major blow. "The Pakistanis would take that very seriously because it would be a slap at their honour," said a former US official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Lisa Curtis, senior director for South and Central Asia at the National Security Council, co-authored a report with Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's former ambassador to Washington, in which they recommended the Trump administration warn Pakistan the status could be revoked in six months. "Thinking of Pakistan as an ally will continue to create problems for the next administration as it did for the last one," said the February report. It was unclear how seriously the Trump administration was considering the proposal. The growing danger to Afghanistan from suspected Pakistan-based militants was underscored by a devastating May 31 truck bomb that killed more than 80 people and wounded 460 in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul. Afghanistan's main intelligence agency said the attack - one of the deadliest in memory in Kabul - had been carried out by the Haqqani network with assistance from Pakistan, a charge Islamabad denies. Washington believes the strikes appeared to be the work of the Haqqani network, US officials told Reuters. US frustration over the Haqqani's presence in Pakistan has been building for years. The United States designated the Haqqani network as a terrorist organisation in 2012. US Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, then the top US military officer, told Congress in 2011 that the Haqqani network was a "veritable arm" of the ISI. The potential US pivot to a more assertive approach would be sharply different than the approach taken at the start of the Obama administration, when US officials sought to court Pakistani leaders, including then army chief General Ashfaq Kayani. Admiral Mullen and General Kayani at a NATO conference in 2011. Photo: Reuters David Sedney, who served as Obama's deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia from 2009 to 2013, said the attempt to turn Islamabad into a strategic partner was a "disaster." "It didn't affect Pakistan's behaviour one bit. In fact, I would argue it made Pakistan's behaviour worse," Sedney said. More drones, cash cut-off Pakistan has received more than $33 billion in US assistance since 2002, including more than $14 billion in so-called Coalition Support Funds (CSF), a US Defense Department programme to reimburse allies that have incurred costs in supporting counter-insurgency operations. It is an important form of foreign currency for the nuclear-armed country and one that is getting particularly close scrutiny during the Trump administration review. Last year, the Pentagon decided not to pay Pakistan $300 million in CSF funding after then-US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter declined to sign authorisation that Pakistan was taking adequate action against the Haqqani network. US officials said the Trump administration was discussing withholding at least some assistance to Pakistan. Curtis' report also singled out the aid as a target. But US aid cuts could cede even more influence to China, which already has committed nearly $60 billion in investments in Pakistan. A US Air Force MQ-1 Predator drone. Photo: Reuters Another option under review is broadening a drone campaign to penetrate deeper into Pakistan to target Haqqani fighters and other militants blamed for attacks in Afghanistan, US officials and a Pakistan expert said. "Now the Americans (will be) saying, you aren't taking out our enemies, so therefore we are taking them out ourselves," the Pakistan expert, who declined to be identified, said. Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Bajwa last week criticised "unilateral actions" such as drone strikes as "counterproductive and against (the) spirit of ongoing cooperation and intelligence sharing being diligently undertaken by Pakistan".
  12. US President Donald Trump participates in an American Technology Council roundtable, accompanied by Tim Cook, CEO of Apple (L) and Satya Nadella CEO of Microsoft Corporation at the White House in Washington, US, June 19, 2017. Photo: Reuters President Donald Trump met on Monday with the heads of 18 US technology companies including Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), seeking their help to make the government's computing systems more efficient. The White House wants to update government information technology systems, cut costs, eliminate waste and improve service. Trump on Monday cited estimates that the government could save up to $1 trillion over 10 years through such measures. "Our goal is to lead a sweeping transformation of the federal government?s technology that will deliver dramatically better services for citizens," Trump said. "Government needs to catch up with the technology revolution." The executives are part of the so-called American Technology Council that Trump formed in May to support efforts to modernise the US government. ?The US should have the most modern government in the world. Today it doesn?t,? Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos said he wanted the Trump administration to make use of commercially available technologies, worker retraining, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Before meeting with Trump, the CEOs met in 10 small group sessions with Vice President Mike Pence, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, along with the presidents of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Ohio State University. Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and adviser, said the administration wanted to "unleash the creativity of the private sector to provide citizen services in a way that has never happened before." He said the administration was scrapping unneeded regulations for government computing systems, such as a rule on preventing Y2K issues. Most of the government's 6,100 data centres can be consolidated and moved to a cloud-based storage system. The White House is seeking to shrink government, reduce the federal workforce and eliminate regulations. Trump in March signed an order to overhaul the federal government and tapped Kushner to lead a White House Office of American Innovation to leverage business ideas and potentially privatise some government functions. Many of the tech executives are eager to get White House help in dealing with regulatory and other policy issues such as visas for highly skilled workers. Others attending include Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Chairman John Doerr and the CEOs of Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) International Business Machines Corp (IBM.N), Intel Corp (INTC.O), Qualcomm Inc (QCOM.O), Oracle Corp (ORCL.N) and Adobe Systems Inc (ADBE.O). Facebook (FB.O) CEO Mark Zuckerberg was invited but could not attend because of a conflict, the company said. A 2016 US Government Accountability Office report estimated the US government spent more than $80 billion in IT annually, excluding classified operations. In 2015, the US government made at least 7,000 separate IT investments and some agencies were using systems that had components at least 50 years old. "This structure is unsustainable," Kushner said. The CEOs and White House also planned to discuss Trump's review announced in April of the US visa program for bringing high-skilled foreign workers into the country. Cook plans to raise immigration, a person briefed on the matter said Sunday. The council also seeks to boost the security of US government IT systems and wants to learn from private-sector practices. In 2015, hackers exposed the personal information of 22 million people from US government databases. The White House thinks it can learn from credit card companies about significantly reducing fraud. A 2016 government audit found that in Medicaid alone there was $29 billion in fraud in a single year. Following Trump's June 1 decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords, Tesla (TSLA.O) CEO Elon Musk and Walt Disney (DIS.N) CEO Robert Iger stepped down from White House advisory panels. White House officials said the dispute had little impact and that they had to turn away tech leaders from Monday's event because of lack of space.
  13. Emergency crews attend to the scene after a vehicle collided with pedestrians near a mosque in the Finsbury Park neighbourhood of North London, Britain, June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall WASHINGTON: The US government and Ivanka Trump on Monday expressed sympathy with worshippers attacked while leaving a London mosque ? while the president himself remained silent. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert issued an official condemnation of the deadly assault but Donald Trump ? often quick to comment on Twitter after extremist violence ? kept his counsel. "The United States strongly condemns last night's attack that appears to have targeted Muslim worshippers in London," Nauert said. "We extend our sympathies to the families and community of the victims and our hopes for the quick recovery of those wounded." Trump's daughter and adviser Ivanka also reacted to the attack. "Sending love and prayers to the victims in #FinsburyPark London. We must stand united against hatred and extremism in all it's ugly forms," she tweeted. President Trump has taken to Twitter during previous terror attacks to make the case for tighter restrictions on travel from predominantly Muslim countries. He has also yet to offer public comment on the deaths of seven US sailors, killed during a collision between their navy destroyer and a Philippine-flagged cargo ship. In London, a van ploughed into a crowd near a mosque early on Monday, leaving one person dead and injuring 10 others in the second terror attack this month in the city. Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the "sickening" incident, reaffirming Britain's determination to fight "terrorism, extremism and hatred."
  14. WASHINGTON: Six top health advisors have resigned from Donald Trump´s advisory council on HIV/AIDS, complaining that the US president doesn´t really care about combatting the illness. In a letter published Friday in Newsweek, Scott Schoettes said the Trump administration has "no strategy" on AIDS and that he and his five colleagues will be more effective advocating for change from the outside. Schoettes, counsel and HIV project director at Lambda Legal, resigned Tuesday from the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, along with Lucy Bradley-Springer, Gina Brown, Ulysses Burley III, Michelle Ogle and Grissel Granados. The council can have up to 25 members. "The Trump administration has no strategy to address the on-going HIV/AIDS epidemic, seeks zero input from experts to formulate HIV policy, and -- most concerning -- pushes legislation that will harm people living with HIV and halt or reverse important gains made in the fight against this disease," Schoettes wrote. "If we do not ensure that US leadership at the executive and legislative levels are informed by experience and expertise, real people will be hurt and some will even die," he said. "Because we do not believe the Trump administration is listening to -- or cares -- about the communities we serve as members of PACHA, we have decided it is time to step down." PACHA, which was created in 1995, includes public health officials, researchers, health care providers, faith leavers, HIV advocates and people living with HIV. Its helps inform the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which was last revised in 2015. Schoettes noted that Trump failed to appoint a head of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, a senior advisory position, and took down the Office of National AIDS Policy website the very day he took office -- on January 20 -- and has yet to replace it. He also stressed that changes Trump and his fellow Republicans in Congress are seeking to the sweeping health care reform initiated by former president Barack Obama would be "extremely harmful" to people living with HIV or AIDS. Schoettes cited data showing that only 40 percent of people living with HIV in the United States can access life-saving medications.
  15. Jared Kushner en route to Iraq for a visit in April 2017. Photo: Reuters US President Donald Trump is sending two top aides to Jerusalem and Ramallah this week to discuss potential next steps in his bid to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, a White House official said on Sunday. Going on the trip will be White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who is Trump's son-in-law and husband of his daughter Ivanka Trump, and Jason Greenblatt, a top national security aide. Greenblatt will arrive in the region on Monday and Kushner on Wednesday. The talks follow Trump's discussions last month with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Behind-the-scenes conversations have been taking place since the Trump trip, the White House official said. "Excited to be traveling back to Israel and the Pal. Territories to continue the discussion about the possibility of peace", Greenblatt tweeted on Sunday night. Kushner and Greenblatt will have meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah to hear directly from the Israeli and Palestinian leadership "about their priorities and potential next steps," the official said. "President Trump has made it clear that working towards achieving a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians is a top priority for him. He strongly believes that peace is possible," the official said. Kushner and Greenblatt are working with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and White House national security adviser HR McMaster on the Middle East issue. "It is important to remember that forging a historic peace agreement will take time and to the extent that there is progress, there are likely to be many visits by both Kushner and Greenblatt, sometimes together and sometimes separately, to the region and possibly many trips by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to Washington DC or other locations as they pursue substantive talks," the official said.
  16. US President Donald Trump delivers a speech on US-Cuba relations at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami, Florida, US, June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump had personal liabilities of at least $315.6 million to German, US, and other lenders, as of mid-2017, according to a federal financial disclosure form released by the US Office of Government Ethics late on Friday. Trump had roughly $20 million in income from his new marquee Washington hotel, which opened just down the street from the White House last September. Revenues also increased at Mar-a-Lago, the Florida resort known as the "Winter White House." The American president reported income of at least $594 million for 2016 and early 2017, with assets worth at least $1.4 billion. The 98-page disclosure document posted on the ethics office's website showed liabilities for Trump of at least $130 million to Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas, a unit of German-based Deutsche Bank AG. For example, Trump disclosed a liability to Deutsche exceeding $50 million for the Old Post Office, a historic Washington property where he has opened a hotel. Trump reported liabilities of at least $110 million to Ladder Capital Corp, a commercial real estate lender with offices in New York, Los Angeles and Boca Raton, Florida. The largest component of Trump's income was $115.9 million listed as golf-resort related revenues from Trump National Doral in Miami, down from $132 million he reported a year ago. Income from many of his other hotels and resorts largely held steady. Revenue from Trump Corporation, his real-estate management company, nearly tripled, to $18 million, and revenue from Mar-a-Lago grew by 25 percent, to $37.25 million. The private club doubled its initiation fee to $200,000 after Trump's election. The businessman-turned-politician earned $11 million from the Miss Universe pageant, after selling the beauty contest back in 2015. Revenue from television shows like The Apprentice fell to $1.1 million, down from $6 million a year earlier. In addition, Trump's assets probably exceeded $1.4 billion because the disclosure form provided ranges of values. The document showed Trump held officer positions in 565 corporations or other entities before becoming US president. His tenure in most of those posts ended on January 19, the day before his inauguration, and in others in 2015 and 2016. Most of the entities involved were based in the United States, with a handful in Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Brazil, Bermuda, and elsewhere. Trump has refused to release his tax returns, which would give a much clearer indication of his wealth and business interests. But he has submitted federal forms disclosing his and his family's income, assets, and liabilities. "President Trump welcomed the opportunity to voluntarily file his personal financial disclosure form," the White House said in a statement, adding that the form was "certified by the Office of Government Ethics pursuant to its normal procedures". An Office of Government Ethics spokesman declined to comment on the contents of the report, other than to say that it was certified by the office, which is an ethics watchdog for federal government employees. Trump released a disclosure form in May 2016 that his campaign at the time said showed his net worth was $10 billion. Some critics disputed that figure as overblown. Before taking office in January, Trump was a New York real estate developer and television celebrity.
  17. US President Donald Trump speaks about the shootings in Alexandria, Virginia, from the White House in Washington, US, June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump acknowledged on Friday he is under investigation in a probe of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential race and possible collusion by his campaign ? and seemed to assail the Justice Department official overseeing the inquiry. Robert Mueller, the special counsel named by the department to investigate the Russia matter, is now examining whether Trump or others sought to obstruct the probe, a person familiar with the inquiry said on Thursday. "I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt," Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to his May 9 dismissal of James Comey. Trump did not identify "the man" but appeared to be questioning the integrity of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department's No. 2 official who appointed Mueller on May 17, supervises the probe, and wrote a memo to Trump critical of Comey that preceded Comey's firing. Hours later, a source close to Trump's outside legal team said Trump did not intend his tweet to be confirmation of the investigation but rather was reacting to a Washington Post story on Wednesday about the probe. The source spoke on condition of anonymity. Rosenstein has said privately he may need to recuse himself from matters relating to the Russia probe because he could become a witness in the investigation, ABC News reported on Friday. ABC said Rosenstein told Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand she would have authority over the probe if he were to step aside. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) called on Rosenstein to recuse himself from the Russia matter, but said authority over the investigation should be given to Mueller and not another Trump appointee. While the Republican Trump administration initially said Rosenstein's letter was the reason the president fired Comey on May 9, Trump later said he did so because of the "Russia thing". Comey told a Senate panel last week he believed Trump fired him to undermine the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Russia probe. Comey testified that Trump directed him in February to drop an FBI investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn relating to the Russia matter. Comey testified it would be up to Mueller to decide whether Trump's action amounted to obstruction of justice, an act that could be cited in any effort in the Republican-led Congress to impeach him and remove him from office. Trump's lawyer hires a lawyer The Russia issue has cast a shadow over Trump's five months in office. In another indication of the seriousness of the probe, Michael Cohen, a personal attorney to Trump, said he has retained attorney Stephen Ryan, a former assistant US attorney, to represent him in the ongoing probes. Cohen has received a subpoena from one of the congressional committees looking into the Russia issue. Rosenstein has authority over the inquiry because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself on March 2 after revelations of previously undisclosed meetings with Russia's ambassador to Washington while he was a Trump campaign adviser. Brand was confirmed as the No. 3 Justice Department official on a 52-46 vote in the Senate on May 18, with Democrats lining up against her. From 2011 until her confirmation, she was a lawyer for the US Chamber of Commerce business lobbying group's legal arm, which played a major role in marshaling legal opposition to environmental and labor regulations championed by Democratic former President Barack Obama. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Senate Intelligence Committee member, said she was "increasingly concerned" Trump would try to fire not only Mueller, but also Rosenstein. "The message the president is sending through his tweets is that he believes the rule of law doesn't apply to him and that anyone who thinks otherwise will be fired," Feinstein said. A Trump confidant said this week the president had considered firing Mueller. Rosenstein, who would be responsible for actually dismissing Mueller, told US lawmakers he would fire him only with good cause. US intelligence agencies concluded in January that Russia interfered in the presidential race to try to help Trump win, in part by hacking and releasing emails damaging to his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Moscow has denied any interference. The White House denies any collusion. Trump kept up his criticism of the investigations, writing on Twitter, "After 7 months of investigations & committee hearings about my 'collusion with the Russians,' nobody has been able to show any proof. Sad!"
  18. SYDNEY: Australia´s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has taken a comical swipe at Donald Trump, mimicking the US president´s mannerisms and even making reference to the Russia scandal. In a leaked audio recording that comes just months after a tetchy phone call between the two leaders rattled ties soon after Trump took power, Turnbull is heard making fun of the US president´s idiosyncratic speaking style. "The Donald and I, we are winning and winning in the polls," Turnbull said in a closed event for journalists in Canberra on Wednesday. "We are winning so much. We are winning like we have never won before. "We are. We are. Not the fake polls. Not the fake polls. They´re the ones we are not winning in," he said to laughs from the audience at the Mid-Winter Ball, where politicians and Canberra journalists let their hair down. "We are winning in the real polls. You know, the online polls. They are so easy to win." Typically, the event is off-the-record, meaning journalists would not report on what was said, but a recording was leaked to the political editor at commercial broadcaster Channel Nine, who did not attend the soiree and decided to report it. Last month, Turnbull met the US president in New York to mend bridges, after the bad-tempered call early in Trump´s his White House tenure. Trump reportedly exploded and cut short the call when he was told about a Barack Obama-era deal to move refugees from Australia to America. The Australian leader appeared to make light of that icy conversation in the leaked recording. "It was beautiful. It was the most beautiful putting-me-at-ease ever," he said. In another leaked clip, Turnbull poked fun at the ongoing controversy surrounding the Trump administration´s ties to Russia. "I have this Russian guy. Believe me, it is true. It is true," Turnbull said.
  19. US President Donald Trump - AFP File Photo WASHINGTON: The special counsel overseeing the probe into Russia's alleged meddling in the US election is looking at whether President Donald Trump tried to obstruct justice, The Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing unnamed officials. In a pivotal shift in the investigation that has riveted Americans like no other in decades, senior intelligence officials have agreed to be interviewed by investigators working for the special counsel, Robert Mueller, the Post said. It quoted five people briefed on the requests and said those who have agreed to be interviewed are Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, Admiral Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, and his recently departed deputy, Richard Ledgett. The interviews could come as early as this week, the Post said. The newspaper's story was met with a furious reaction from Trump´s personal lawyer and the Republican National Committee. The shift toward investigating the US president began days after Trump fired James Comey as FBI director on May 9, the Post said. The stated focus has been Russia´s alleged efforts to tilt last November´s presidential election Trump´s way, and whether the winner´s campaign was involved in any way. Trump vehemently denies any collusion between himself or any of his associates and Russia. Mueller, himself a widely respected former head of the FBI, has now taken up the angle of possible efforts by Trump to obstruct justice in the investigation, the Post said. Quoting officials, the newspaper said one event of interest to Mueller is an exchange on March 22, when Coats told associates that Trump had asked him to intervene with Comey to get him to back off the focus on Trump´s former national security advisor Mike Flynn as part of the FBI probe of the Russia affair. A few days after the March 22 meeting, Trump spoke separately with Coats and Rogers and asked them to issue public statements to the effect that there was no evidence of coordination between his campaign and Russia. The Post said both men refused the president´s request. Trump´s personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz issued a statement saying the FBI was behind the Post story and called the leak "outrageous, inexcusable and illegal." The lawyer did not deny the story, however. Mueller briefed Senators Wednesday on his work. "I'm going to acknowledge we had a meeting with the special counsel Mueller, but I´m not going to get into the contents," Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters later. Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel called the accusation in the Post unfounded and said it "changes nothing." "There´s still no evidence of obstruction, and current and former leaders in the intelligence community have repeatedly said there´s been no effort to impede the investigation in any way. The continued illegal leaks are the only crime here," McDaniel said in a statement.
  20. Police investigate a shooting scene after a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice near Washington in Alexandria, Virginia, US, June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts ALEXANDRIA, VA.: A man who had posted angry messages against President Donald Trump and other Republicans on social media opened fire on Republican lawmakers practising for a charity baseball game on Wednesday, wounding a senior US House member and three other people. The gunman, a 66-year-old Illinois man, fired repeatedly at the men playing on a baseball field in suburban Alexandria, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. He was wounded in a gunfight with Capitol Hill police who were at the scene, and police said he later died. Steve Scalise, the No. 3 Republican in the House of Representatives, was shot in the hip. He was tended to by fellow lawmakers, including Brad Wenstrup, a congressman who is a physician, before being transported to a hospital, where he was listed in critical condition. Also wounded were one current congressional aide and one former aide who now works as a lobbyist, officials said. One Capitol Hill police officer suffered a gunshot wound and another officer twisted an ankle, an official said. While police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it was too early to determine whether it was a deliberate political attack, the shooting intensified concerns about the sharp divide and bitter rhetoric in US politics. It also quickly revived the debate about gun rights in America. Virginia's Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, urged gun control measures. "This is not what today is about, but there are too many guns on the street," McAuliffe said at a news conference near the scene of the shooting. Scalise has been a strong opponent of gun control measures. The gunman was identified by a senior US official as James Hodgkinson from the St. Louis suburb of Belleville, Illinois. He had worked as a home inspector. Hodgkinson had raged against Trump on social media and was a member of anti-Republican groups on Facebook including, "The Road to Hell Is Paved With Republicans," "Terminate The Republican Party," and "Donald Trump is not my President," a search of his Facebook profile showed. As businessman Trump rose to become the Republican Party nominee in the 2016 presidential election, his brash style and outspoken views on immigration and other policies led to mass protests, including on the weekend of his inauguration in January. Representative Tim Ryan, who early on Wednesday was practising for the ballgame with fellow Democrats, told reporters that Washington politicians needed to cool their rhetoric. "We've got to get back to...where things aren't so personal and we're so judgmental of each other. It's got to stop. A member of the US Congress got shot because they didn't like (his) political views," Ryan said. Calls for unity Trump announced the gunman's death and called Scalise, a 51-year-old Louisiana congressman, a good friend. "He's a patriot and he's a fighter. He will recover from this assault," Trump said. Trump also called for unity. "We are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good," he said. In a show of bipartisanship, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said on the floor of the House, "An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us." The House's top Democrat Nancy Pelosi echoed Ryan's message. The shooting happened shortly after 7 AM, while lawmakers were practising their hitting and fielding a day before the annual charity congressional baseball game pitting Republicans against Democrats. There were 20 House members and two senators present, and the shooting lasted about 10 minutes, said Representative Joe Barton, the Republican team's manager. The charity game will go ahead as scheduled at Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball team. Two lawmakers who were at the scene, Representatives Ron DeSantis and Jeff Duncan, indicated there might have been a political motive in the attack. Duncan said that as he left the field, the man who would later open fire approached him in the parking lot. "He asked me who was practising this morning, Republicans or Democrats, and I said, 'That's the Republicans practising'," Duncan told reporters. DeSantis gave a similar account. Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who sought the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, said he had been told that Hodgkinson had served as a volunteer with his campaign. "Let me be as clear as I can be: violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms," Sanders said. Ryan, the House speaker, is reviewing rules on how rank-and-file lawmakers can increase their personal security, including questions about paying for additional protection through member accounts and campaign funds, according to several lawmakers. "Members get threats on a regular basis and have trouble determining which are real," House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters. Representative James Clyburn, a Democrat, rejected the idea that the shooting was motivated by partisan politics. "I'm not a Republican and I've had all kinds of threats against me and my family. It's got nothing to do with partisan politics." 'Heroism' of police The shooting took place at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in the Del Ray neighbourhood of Alexandria, across the Potomac River from Washington. Representative Mo Brooks told CNN that during batting practice, he heard a "bam" and then a quick succession of shots and saw the gunman shooting through the holes in a chain link fence. When Scalise was shot, he went down on the infield between the first and second base, then dragged himself into the grassy outfield as the incident unfolded, leaving a trail of blood, Brooks said. Two Capitol police officers who were there to provide security for the lawmakers engaged the gunman with pistols, Brooks said. "But for the Capitol police and the heroism they showed, it could very well have been a large-scale massacre. All we would have had would have been baseball bats versus a rifle. Those aren't good odds," Brooks said. Brooks estimated 50 to 100 shots were fired. Wednesday's attack was the first shooting of a member of Congress since January 2011, when Democratic Representative Gabby Giffords was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt at a gathering of constituents in Tucson, Arizona. She survived, but six people were killed. Giffords resigned from Congress and became an activist for gun restrictions.
  21. US President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. File Photo: Reuters US President Donald Trump has given Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan, a US official told Reuters on Tuesday, opening the door for future troop increases requested by the US commander. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said no immediate decision had been made about the troop levels, which are now set at about 8,400. The Pentagon declined to comment. The decision is similar to one announced in April that applied to US troop levels in Iraq and Syria, and came as Mattis warned Congress the US-backed Afghan forces were not beating the Taliban despite more than 15 years of war. "We are not winning in Afghanistan right now," Mattis said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier on Tuesday. "And we will correct this as soon as possible." Mattis said the Taliban were "surging" at the moment, something he said he intended to address. US Defense Secretary James Mattis testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., US, June 13, 2017. Photo: Reuters A former US official said such a decision might allow the White House to argue that it was not micromanaging as much as the administration of former President Barack Obama was sometimes accused of doing. Critics say delegating too much authority to the military does not shield Trump from political responsibility during battlefield setbacks and could reduce the chances for diplomats to warn of potential blowback from military decisions. It has been four months since Army General John Nicholson, who leads US and international forces in Afghanistan, said he needed "a few thousand" additional forces, some potentially drawn from US allies. Current and former US officials say discussions revolve around adding 3,000 to 5,000 troops. Those forces are expected to be largely comprised of trainers to support Afghan forces, as well as air crews. Deliberations include giving more authority to forces on the ground and taking more aggressive action against Taliban fighters. Some US officials have questioned the benefit of sending more troops to Afghanistan because any politically palatable number would not be enough to turn the tide, much less create stability and security. To date, more than 2,300 Americans have been killed and more than 17,000 wounded since the war began in 2001. Any increase of several thousand troops would leave American forces in Afghanistan well below their 2011 peak of more than 100,000 troops. The Afghan government was assessed by the US military to control or influence just 59.7 percent of Afghanistan's 407 districts as of Feb. 20, a nearly 11 percentage-point decrease from the same time in 2016, according to data released by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. A truck bomb explosion in Kabul last month killed more than 150 people, making it the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a NATO-led coalition after ruling the country for five years. On Saturday, three US soldiers were killed when an Afghan soldier opened fire on them in eastern Afghanistan. The broader regional US strategy for Afghanistan remains unclear. Mattis promised on Tuesday to brief lawmakers on a new war strategy by mid-July that is widely expected to call for thousands more US troops. Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Armed Forces Committee, pressed Mattis on the deteriorating situation during the Tuesday hearing, saying the United States had an urgent need for "a change in strategy, and an increase in resources if we are to turn the situation around." "We recognise the need for urgency," Mattis said.
  22. US Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 13, 2017. Photo: Reuters Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday denounced as a "detestable lie" the idea he colluded with Russians meddling in the 2016 election, and he clashed with Democratic lawmakers over his refusal to detail his conversations with President Donald Trump. Sessions, a senior member of Trump's Cabinet and an advisor to his election campaign last year, had a series of tense exchanges with Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee during about 2-1/2 hours of testimony as they pressed him to recount discussions with the Republican president. "You raised your right hand here today and said you would solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth," Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich said. "Now you're not answering questions. You're impeding this investigation." Sessions refused to say whether he and Trump discussed FBI Director James Comey's handling of an investigation into possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia during the election campaign before the president fired Comey on May 9. He also declined to say if Trump opposed Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe in March, and whether Justice Department officials discussed possible presidential pardons of individuals being looked at in the probe. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden told Sessions: "I believe the American people have had it with stonewalling. Americans don't want to hear that answers to relevant questions are privileged." "I am not stonewalling," Sessions replied, saying he was simply following Justice Department policy not to discuss confidential communications with the president. Sessions' testimony did not provide any damaging new information on Trump campaign ties with Russia or on Comey's dismissal, but his refusal to discuss conversations with Trump raised fresh questions about whether the White House has something to hide. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee, which is conducting a parallel Russia probe, said on Twitter that Congress "must compel responses using whatever process necessary." Last week, Comey told the Senate committee that Trump had fired him to undermine the FBI's investigation of the Russia matter. Trump's decision to fire Comey, a move recommended by Sessions despite having already recused himself from the Russia probe, prompted critics to charge that the president was trying to interfere with a criminal investigation. Senator Angus King, an independent, questioned Sessions' legal basis for refusing to answer questions after Sessions said Trump had not invoked executive privilege regarding the conversations. Executive privilege can be claimed by a president or senior government officials to withhold information from Congress or the courts to protect the executive branch decision-making process. Sessions said it would be "inappropriate" for him to reveal private conversations with Trump when the president "has not had a full opportunity to review the questions and to make a decision on whether or not to approve such an answer." Legal experts said there was some merit to Sessions' argument. Andrew Wright, a professor at Savannah Law School and associate counsel under former President Barack Obama, said it was not unusual for government employees to refuse to discuss conversations with the president in order to preserve the right to invoke executive privilege later. Appalling Sessions' clash with the Democratic senators was the latest chapter in a saga that has dogged Trump in his first five months as president and distracted from his domestic policy agenda including major healthcare and tax cut initiatives. "The suggestion that I participated in any collusion or that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honour for over 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie," Sessions said. "I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected with the Trump campaign." US intelligence agencies concluded in a report released in January that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an effort to interfere in the election to help Trump in part by hacking and releasing damaging emails about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Russia has denied any such interference, and Trump has denied any collusion by his campaign with Moscow. Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation in March after revelations that he had failed to disclose two meetings last year with Russia's ambassador to Washington, Sergei Kislyak. In his testimony on Tuesday, Sessions addressed media reports that he may have had a third previously undisclosed meeting with Kislyak at Washington's Mayflower Hotel last year. Sessions said he did not have any private meetings and could not recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the hotel but did not rule out that a "brief interaction" with Kislyak may have occurred there. A former Republican senator, Sessions was an early supporter of Trump's presidential campaign, but sources say there has been tension between the two men in recent weeks because Trump was annoyed that Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe. Sessions said on Tuesday he did not recuse himself because he felt he was a subject of the investigation himself but rather because he felt he was required to by Justice Department rules.
  23. WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the Trump administration more time to file papers responding to an appeals court ruling that upheld a block on a proposed travel ban on people entering the United States from six Muslim-majority countries. The move likely delays any high court action on the administration's two emergency applications asking for the ban issued on March 6 to immediately go into effect. The March ban was Trump's second effort to impose travel restrictions through an executive order. An entry on the Supreme Court docket said that the administration can file its new brief on Thursday. Hawaii, which challenged the ban and won in the appeals court, is permitted to file its own brief on June 20, meaning the court is unlikely to act on the emergency application until next week at the earliest. The court was responding to a request made by Acting Solicitor General Jeff Wall, who said in a letter that the ruling on Monday by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco means the government needs to file a new brief. In an added dramatic twist, Trump himself plans to go to the Supreme Court on Thursday for the investiture of Justice Neil Gorsuch, an administration official said. Trump nominated Gorsuch in January. Gorsuch's confirmation by the US Senate in April restored the court's 5-4 conservative majority. Trump's visit to the court would be his first since he became president on Jan. 20 and would put him face-to-face with the nine justices as they consider the fate of his travel ban unless the court acts before then. It is common practice for presidents to attend such events, which are purely ceremonial. The Supreme Court could discuss how to act on the emergency application at its private conference on June 22, a week after the Gorsuch ceremony. Wall wrote that more time was needed because the 9th Circuit ruling in favour of the state of Hawaii is "the first addressing the executive order at issue to rest relief on statutory rather than constitutional grounds." Hawaii's lawyer, Neal Katyal, filed his own letter objecting to the government's timeline, although he agreed that both sides needed to file briefs responding to Monday's ruling. Federal judges in Maryland and Hawaii blocked Trump's 90-day ban on travellers from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The Hawaii judge also blocked a 120-day ban on refugees entering the United States. The 9th Circuit largely upheld the Hawaii injunction on Monday. In the second case, the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals, on May 25 upheld the Maryland judge's ruling. The lawsuits by Hawaii and the Maryland challengers argued that the executive order violated federal immigration law and a section of the Constitution's First Amendment, which prohibits the government from favouring or disfavouring any particular religion. The Supreme Court is weighing emergency applications in both cases, but is likely to act on them together. Trump's first order on Jan. 27 led to chaos and protests at airports and in various cities before being blocked by the courts. The second order was intended to overcome the legal issues posed by the original ban, but was blocked by judges before it could go into effect on March 16.
  24. WASHINGTON: US Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday denounced as a "detestable lie" the idea that he colluded with Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, and he clashed with Democratic lawmakers over his refusal to detail his conversations with President Donald Trump. Sessions, a senior member of the Republican Trump's Cabinet and an adviser to his presidential campaign, had a series of tense exchanges with Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee during about 2-1/2 hours of high-stakes testimony as they pressed him to recount conversations with the president. "You raised your right hand here today and said you would solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth," Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich said. "Now you're not answering questions. You're impeding this investigation." Sessions refused to say whether he had discussed FBI director James Comey's handling of the FBI's Russia probe with Trump before the president fired Comey on May 9. Similarly, he did not answer whether Trump had expressed concern to Sessions about the attorney general's March decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Sessions previously offered to resign because of tensions with Trump over his recusal decision. Sessions also refused to answer whether any Justice Department officials had discussed possible presidential pardons of individuals being looked at in the Russian investigations. Russia has denied repeatedly that it interfered in the US election, and Trump has denied any collusion by his campaign with Moscow. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden told Sessions, "I believe the American people have had it with stonewalling. Americans don't want to hear that answers to relevant questions are privileged." "I am not stonewalling," Sessions replied. Sessions said he was following Justice Department policy and would not discuss confidential communications with the president. Senator Angus King, an independent, questioned Sessions' legal basis for refusing to answer. Sessions said Trump had not invoked executive privilege regarding the conversations. Executive privilege is a power that can be claimed by a president or senior executive branch officials to withhold information from Congress or the courts to protect the executive branch decision-making process. "It is my judgment that it would be inappropriate for me to answer and reveal private conversations with the president when he has not had a full opportunity to review the questions and to make a decision on whether or not to approve such an answer," Sessions said. The committee's Republican chairman, Richard Burr, asked Sessions to ask the White House if there were areas officials there would be comfortable with him answering and provide written answers if so. US intelligence agencies concluded in a report released in January that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an effort to interfere in the election to help Trump in part by hacking and releasing damaging emails about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. The testimony by Sessions marked the latest chapter in a saga that has dogged Trump's first five months as president and distracted from his domestic policy agenda including major healthcare and tax cut initiatives. "I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected with the Trump campaign," Sessions said. "The suggestion that I participated in any collusion or that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honour for over 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie," he said. Sessions is the most senior member of Trump's administration caught up in the Russia controversy. In his opening remarks, Sessions said he knew of no conversations between Trump campaign individuals and Russian officials about interfering in the US election. But under questioning, Sessions acknowledged that Trump's campaign foreign policy advisers "never functioned as a coherent team" and there were members of that group he never met. SPECIAL COUNSEL Even before Sessions testified, attention in Washington swivelled to whether Trump might seek to fire Robert Mueller, named last month by the Justice Department to head a federal probe into the Russia issue. Sessions told the senators he has confidence in Mueller but said he had "no idea" if Trump did because he had not spoken to the president about the matter. Asked whether he would ever take any action to remove Mueller, Sessions said, "I would not think that would be appropriate for me to do." Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the person who would be responsible for carrying out any such dismissal, told a different congressional panel he would not fire Mueller without good cause and he had seen no such cause. Sessions, a former Republican US senator and an early supporter of Trump's presidential campaign, testified just five days after Comey told the panel Trump ousted him to undermine the agency's investigation of the Russia matter. Sessions had written a letter to Trump recommending Comey's firing. In March he acknowledged he met twice last year with Russia's ambassador to Washington, Sergei Kislyak. Sessions said he did not mislead Congress because the encounters were part of his job as a US senator, not as a Trump campaign representative. Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation in March after the revelations of the two Kislyak meetings. The abrupt dismissal of Comey prompted Trump's critics to charge that the president was trying to interfere with a criminal investigation. Asked about media reports that he had met with Kislyak on a third occasion at a Washington hotel last year, Sessions testified that did not remember meeting or having a conversation with the ambassador at the event. Sessions said he "racked my brain" and had no meeting with any Russian in his capacity as a Trump campaign adviser. Sessions said he did not recuse himself because he felt he was a subject of the investigation himself but rather because he felt he was required to by Justice Department rules.
  25. US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Monday he would present options on Afghanistan to President Donald Trump "very soon," adding the strategy would take a regional approach rather than looking at the war-torn country in isolation. The situation in Afghanistan, which US military officials acknowledge is in a stalemate almost 16 years since the war started, has deteriorated in recent months. A truck-bomb explosion in Kabul last month killed more than 150 people, making it the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001. In some cases, Afghan security forces have been forced to abandon more scattered and rural bases, and the government can claim to control or influence only 57 percent of the country, according to US military estimates earlier this year. "We are taking a regional approach to this," Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee. "We will take that forward to the president for a decision very soon." Mattis said a request by General John Nicholson, the head of US and international forces in Afghanistan, for additional troops would mostly be made up of troops who would train, advise and assist Afghan forces, potentially putting them with Afghan forces at the brigade level. "It's a fundamental change to how we bring our, what I would call our real superiority, in terms of air support," Mattis said. At the same hearing, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford said he had gone to Mattis and Trump with "some options that might be considered" in order to help improve the security situation in Afghanistan. Reuters reported in late April that Trump's administration was carrying out a review of Afghanistan and conversations were revolving around sending between 3,000 and 5,000 US and coalition troops there. Deliberations include giving more authorities to forces on the ground and taking more aggressive action against Taliban fighters. Some US officials questioned the benefit of sending more troops to Afghanistan because any politically palatable number would not be enough to turn the tide, much less create stability and security. To date, more than 2,300 Americans have been killed and over 17,000 wounded. On Saturday, three US soldiers were killed when an Afghan soldier opened fire on them in eastern Afghanistan.