An F/A-18F Super Hornet from the “Patriots” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 140 flies over the U. S. aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), in Arabian Sea, May 22, 2019. Picture taken May 22, 2019. Garrett LaBarge/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS
May 24, 2019
By Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Friday announced the deployment of 1,500 troops to the Middle East, describing it as an effort to bolster defenses against Iran as it accused the country’s Revolutionary Guards of direct responsibility for this month’s tanker attacks.
President Donald Trump’s administration also invoked the threat from Iran to declare a national security-related emergency that would clear the sale of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries without required congressional approval.
The actions were the latest by the Trump administration as it highlights what it sees as a threat of potential attack by Iran, and follows decisions to speed the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as send bombers and additional Patriot missiles to the Middle East.
The deployments, decried by Iran as escalatory, have come amid a freeze in direct communication between the United States and Iran that has raised concerns about the increasing risk of an inadvertent conflict.
Trump, however, described the latest deployments as defensive, in nature. The 1,500 troops include personnel manning missile defense systems, aerial surveillance to spot threats and engineers to fortify defenses. It also includes a fighter jet squadron.
“We want to have protection in the Middle East. We’re going to be sending a relatively small number of troops, mostly protective,” Trump said as he left the White House for a trip to Japan.
The decision on troops marks a reversal of sorts for Trump, who only on Thursday said he thought no more forces were needed. Trump has sought to detangle the U.S. military from open-ended conflicts in places like Syria and Afghanistan.
The deployment is relatively small compared with the about 70,000 American troops now stationed across a region that stretches from Egypt to Afghanistan. In addition, some 600 of the 1,500 “new” troops are already in the Middle East manning Patriot missiles, but will see their deployments extended.
Still, the Democratic lawmaker who heads the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, said the deployment “appears to be a blatant and heavy-handed move to further escalate tensions with Iran.”
Eager to avoid escalation with Iran amid already heightened tensions, Pentagon officials stressed the defensive nature of the deployment in a news briefing and noted that none of the troops would be heading to hot spots like Iraq or Syria.
At the same time, the U.S. State Department informed Congress that it will go ahead with 22 arms deals worth some $8 billion, congressional aides said, sweeping aside a long-standing precedent for congressional review of such sales.
Some lawmakers and congressional aides had warned earlier this week that Trump, frustrated with Congress holding up weapons sales like a major deal to sell Raytheon Co precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, was considering using the loophole to go ahead with the sale.
ATTACKS ON TANKERS
Rear Admiral Michael Gilday, the director of the Joint Staff, on Friday described U.S. intelligence portraying a new Iranian “campaign” that used old tactics, and stretched from Iraq to Yemen to the waters in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital maritime chokepoint for the global oil trade.
“We believe with a high degree of confidence that this stems back to the leadership of Iran at the highest levels and that all of the attacks that I mentioned have been attributed to Iran through their proxies or their forces,” he said.
Gilday accused Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) of being directly responsible for attacks on tankers off the United Arab Emirates earlier this month, in what could be a foreshadowing of the conclusion of ongoing investigations into the incident.
“The attack against the shipping in Fujairah, we attribute it to the IRGC,” Gilday said, explaining that the Pentagon attributed limpet mines used in the attack directly to the IRGC.
He declined to describe “the means of delivery” of the mines, however.
A Norwegian-registered oil products tanker and a UAE fuel bunker barge were among four vessels hit near Fujairah emirate, one of the world’s largest bunkering hubs located just outside the Strait of Hormuz.
Gilday also accused Iran-backed “proxy” forces of carrying out a rocket attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone last week.
The Pentagon did not provide evidence to support its claims but said it hoped to further declassify intelligence supporting them. Iran has dismissed the accusations entirely and accuses the United States of brinkmanship with its troop deployments.
Trump played down the potential for military conflict in the region, saying he believed Iran did not want a confrontation with the United States – even as Washington tightens sanctions with a goal of pushing Iran to make concessions beyond the terms of its 2015 nuclear deal.
Trump pulled out of the international deal between Iran and six major world powers last year.
“Right now, I don’t think Iran wants to fight. And I certainly don’t think they want to fight with us,” Trump said.
“But they cannot have nuclear weapons,” he continued. “They can’t have nuclear weapons. And they understand that.”
(Reporting by Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Roberta Rampton in Washington, additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Paul Simao, Susan Thomas and James Dalgleish)
Police officers are seen near the site of a suspected bomb attack in central Lyon, France May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot
May 24, 2019
LYON (Reuters) – French police were hunting a suspected suitcase bomber on Friday after an explosion in the central city of Lyon that injured 13 people, officials said.
The suspect was captured on security video leaving a bag in front of a bakery shortly before an explosion occurred at around 5:30 pm, police sources and local mayor Denis Broliquier said.
Most of those hurt were hospitalized for treatment to leg injuries that were described as light.
President Emmanuel Macron characterized the incident as an “attack” when the news broke during a live YouTube interview ahead of Sunday’s European elections. “My thoughts are with the injured,” he said.
Paris anti-terrorism prosecutors opened an investigation as police said they were treating the blast as an attempted homicide, and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner headed to the scene.
The partially masked suspect appeared in security camera footage wheeling a bicycle to the scene, before leaving a bag outside a branch of Brioche Doree, a popular bakery chain.
Police sources described the suspected attacker as a European or North African male, seen wearing beige Bermuda shorts, an army-green scarf or head wrap and dark glasses.
Soon after he left, the blast rained metal bolts on passersby in front of the premises on rue Victor Hugo, several blocks from the city’s main station, according to police.
Police forces across France have been instructed to increase security in public places and event venues, Castaner said.
(Reporting by Catherine Lagrange in Lyon, Emmanuel Jarry and Marine Pennetier in Paris; Writing by Laurence Frost; Editing by Peter Graff)
Supporters of Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr gather during a protest calling for neutrality during the ongoing tensions between neighbouring Iran and the USA, in Baghdad, Iraq May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
May 24, 2019
By Ahmed Aboulenein
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Thousands of supporters of a populist Iraqi Shi’ite Muslim cleric urged political and factional leaders on Friday to stay out of any conflict between Baghdad’s two biggest allies, Iran and the United States.
Protesters from the movement of Moqtada al-Sadr, who once led Shi’ite militiamen against U.S. forces and is also vocally critical of Iranian influence in Iraq, chanted “no to war” and “yes to Iraq” in central Baghdad and the southern city of Basra.
Iraqis worry that their country will be caught up in any escalation of U.S.-Iranian tensions, which spiked earlier this month when President Donald Trump’s administration said it had sent additional forces to the Middle East to counter alleged threats including from Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.
Politicians and Shi’ite paramilitary leaders have called for calm and the Iraqi government has tried to position itself as a mediator between the two sides.
“We’ve just recovered from Islamic State. Iraq must not be used as a base to try to harm any country. America doesn’t want Iraq to be stable,” said protester Abu Ali Darraji.
There was speculation that Sadr would speak to demonstrators in Baghdad but he did not appear. The firebrand leader, whose political bloc came first in Iraq’s parliamentary election last year, is a friend of neither Washington nor Shi’ite Iran.
The United States once described Sadr as the most dangerous man in Iraq, and designated his militia at the time, the Mehdi Army, a bigger threat to its forces than al Qaeda during an insurgency against U.S. troops after their 2003 invasion.
Sadr campaigned last year on a platform of Iraqi nationalism, opposed to both U.S. and Iranian influence in the country.
Amid rising U.S.-Iran tension, a rocket was fired last week into Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone which houses government buildings and diplomatic missions, but caused no casualties. No group claimed responsibility; U.S. officials say they strongly suspect Iran’s local allies.
The attack came after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iraqi leaders that if they failed to keep in check powerful Iran-backed militias, Washington would respond with force.
U.S. intelligence had showed militias positioning rockets near bases housing U.S. forces, according to Iraqi security sources.
After pulling out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, Trump restored U.S. sanctions on Iran last year and tightened them this month, ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil or face sanctions themselves.
Iraq has said it will send delegations to Washington and Tehran to help calm tensions.
Both Iran and the United States say they do not want war, but security officials and analysts warn that a small incident could spark a new spiral of violence in the volatile region.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Writing by John Davison; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addresses lawmakers during a parliamentary session before a vote on tax breaks in Athens, Greece, May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
May 24, 2019
ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Friday that the European parliament election was also a vote of confidence in his policies, and a minister who is close to him said an early national election was possible depending on the result.
Tsipras, whose term ends in October, this month announced a package of tax breaks and benefits for pensioners, hit hard since 2010 when the debt crisis broke out. His Syriza party trails the conservative New Democracy party in opinion polls.
Speaking to state ERT TV, the leftist leader said he saw Sunday’s EU election as a vote of confidence on his plan to unravel austerity policies in 2019 and in 2020.
A national election is officially due in October.
Asked if he was considering a snap election in June and whether that hinged on the EU vote result, Tsipras said: “On Sunday, people may not be voting for a government but they will be voting on the policies that will govern the country in the coming years.”
“If these measures are rejected, all (prospects) are open,” Tsipras said, without providing details.
“Any percentage of defeat for the Syriza party … would open a discussion that I cannot foretell how would end. We would be entering an adventure,” he said.
State Minister Christoforos Vernadakis, one of Tsipras’ closest aides, said the government would look into its options after the EU vote result.
Asked about the prospect of an early national election in June, he told a local TV station: “I cannot rule it out.”
Greece emerged from its third international bailout in August last year. The debt-laded country has been outperforming fiscal targets agreed with its international creditors, giving Tsipras leeway for handouts.
The government’s latest package almost immediately triggered concern from euro zone finance ministers.
Tsipras said a victory on Sunday would empower him to negotiate with lenders on easing austerity.
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou and George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
FILE PHOTO: An Airbus A318-100 airplane of Avianca Brazil flies over the Guanabara Bay as it prepares to land at Santos Dumont airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes/File Photo
May 24, 2019
SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil’s civil aviation regulator ANAC said on Friday it had suspended all flights and operations of carrier Avianca Brasil in the country as a precautionary measure, following the company’s filing for bankruptcy late last year.
“All the flights are suspended until the company proves it has the capacity to maintain operations safely,” ANAC said in a statement.
Avianca Brasil has filed for bankruptcy protection and lost most of its fleet after lessors obtained favorable court decisions to take aircraft back for lack of payments. It is still trying to reach a deal to sell remaining assets.
The carrier, which is controlled by the same holding company as publicly traded Colombia-based Avianca Holdings SA, was operating around 30 flights per day using the planes it had left.
ANAC said, without elaborating, that it took the decision after receiving information regarding the operational safety of Avianca Brasil flights.
Avianca Brasil confirmed in a statement later on Friday the suspension of its flights and said it would comply with local legislation regarding refunds or finding room for its clients with other carriers.
The company said it would continue to work on its in-court reorganization as it looks to resume operations. It did not respond directly to the concerns ANAC raised.
(Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Tom Brown and Rosalba O’Brien)
FILE PHOTO – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) arrives at a House Judiciary Committee hearing titled “Oversight of the Report by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III,” at which witness former White House Counsel Donald McGahn was subpoened to testify at on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
May 24, 2019
By Peter Szekely
NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler became woozy and appeared almost to faint during a press briefing on Friday with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, but the congressman said soon after that he had been dehydrated and was now feeling better.
During the late morning briefing in Manhattan about the city’s planned implementation of speed traffic cameras, de Blasio stopped speaking, turned to Nadler who was slumping over in the chair next to him and offered him some water.
“You seem a little dehydrated,” the mayor said. “You OK?”
Nadler responded, “No,” but declined the mayor’s offer of water and put his hand to his head.
De Blasio later told reporters that the congressman’s condition improved markedly after receiving water, juice and treatment from emergency medical personnel.
“He got more energetic with every passing minute,” the mayor said “He was starting to talk to everyone, joke around, answer a whole bunch of medical questions.”
Nadler, 71, who has represented his New York City district in Congress since 1992, chairs the House Judiciary Committee which is currently dueling with the White House over Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The New York Democrat underwent stomach-reduction surgery 17 years ago when he weighed 338 pounds (153 kg) and shed more than 60 pounds from his 5-foot, 4-inch (1.6-meter) frame within months, according to media reports.
Nadler himself said he had felt dehydrated, which he blamed on the warm temperature of the school building where the briefing was held, adding that his condition improved quickly.
“Appreciate everyone’s concern,” Nadler wrote on Twitter at about 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT). “Was very warm in the room this morning, was obviously dehydrated and felt a bit ill. Glad to receive fluids and am feeling much better.”
Asked if Nadler was taken to a hospital, spokesman Daniel Schwarz replied by email that, “He is responsive and receiving a check-up.”
(Reporting by Peter Szekely; editing by Susan Thomas and G Crosse)
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives to hold a classified briefing on Iran, with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford and acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, for members of the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
May 24, 2019
BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Berlin next week at the start of a trip to Europe and will hold talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel that had been scheduled earlier this month, but were called off at the last minute as tensions rose over Iran.
Pompeo will also visit Switzerland, the Netherlands and Britain on his May 30-June 5 trip, the U.S. State Department said.
A German government spokeswoman said Pompeo would meet with Merkel on May 31, and the German leader will stress that tensions with Iran over its nuclear program and role in the Middle East must be resolved peacefully.
The State Department said the talks would also involve Pompeo’s German counterpart, Heiko Maas. “The Secretary welcomes this opportunity to meet soon after his previously postponed visit to Germany,” the State Department said in a statement.
Pompeo had called off a visit to Berlin scheduled for May 7 and flew to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, instead amid soaring tensions between the United States and Iran.
A senior German diplomat was in Tehran on Thursday for meetings with Iranian officials to try to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that the Trump administration withdrew from last year.
Britain, France and Germany, which signed the deal along with the United States, China and Russia, are determined to show they can compensate for Washington’s withdrawal, protect trade and still dissuade Tehran from quitting the accord designed to prevent it developing a nuclear bomb.
Washington has tightened sanctions on Iran with the aim of pushing it to make concessions beyond the terms of the 2015 deal.
It also deployed a carrier strike group, bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East this month in response to what it called indications of possible preparations for an attack by Iran. On Friday, President Donald Trump said he would send about 1,500 U.S. troops to the Middle East, mostly as a protective measure.
The State Department said that in Switzerland Pompeo will hold talks with Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis and also meet with Swiss business leaders and the director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
In the Netherlands, Pompeo will attend the opening of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit with Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and he will then join Trump’s state visit to Britain, which starts on June 3.
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Joseph Nasr and Leslie Adler)
FILE PHOTO: Butchers cut up chickens in a butcher shop in downtown Mexico City, Mexico, July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
May 24, 2019
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The Mexican government increased its tariff-free chicken import quota by 55,000 tons on Friday due to crimped domestic production amid avian flu outbreaks.
The announcement was made in the Mexican government’s official gazette, which cited confirmed cases of avian flu in about two-thirds of the country’s states.
While boosting overall imports, Mexico also banned chicken product imports from several U.S. counties, citing a reported outbreak of Newcastle disease.
“In order to avoid a shortage … it is advisable to keep external supply options open and expand the quota amount for imports of fresh, refrigerated and frozen chicken meat,” the economy ministry said in the official gazette.
The United States has traditionally been Mexico’s biggest foreign chicken supplier.
Under the new quota, buyers can import fresh, refrigerated or frozen chicken meat, including legs and thighs, which are especially in high demand by Mexican consumers.
(Reporting by Adriana Barrera; Editing by Tom Brown)
Missouri Governor Mike Parson signs Bill 126 into law banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy, alongside state House and Senate members and pro-life coalition leaders at his office in Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S., May 24, 2019. Office of Governor Michael L. Parson/Handout via REUTERS
May 24, 2019
By Gabriella Borter
(Reuters) – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit on Friday challenging a law enacted by Alabama last week that bans nearly all abortions and makes performing the procedure a felony punishable by up to 99 years in prison.
The lawsuit is one of several the groups have filed or are preparing to file against states that recently passed strict anti-abortion measures in an effort to prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that guarantees a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.
“This dangerous, immoral, and unconstitutional ban threatens people’s lives and well-being and we are suing to protect our patients’ rights,” Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.
The ACLU’s Alabama chapter and Planned Parenthood of America filed their complaint in federal court in Alabama on behalf of the Southern state’s three abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood Southeast.
Anti-abortion advocates expected legal challenges to Alabama’s new law, which will be the most restrictive in the nation when it takes effect in November, and say they welcome the chance to have a court test their conviction that a fetus’ right to life is paramount.
Also on Friday, Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed a bill into law that bans abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy.
Earlier this year, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio outlawed abortion after a doctor can detect an embryonic heartbeat, which can occur at six weeks, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.
The wave of anti-abortion legislation reflects a boost of confidence among anti-abortion advocates after Republican President Donald Trump nominated two conservative judges, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, to the U.S. Supreme Court, tilting the court’s political balance to the right.
Alabama state Senator Clyde Chambliss, a Republican, supports his state’s new law and said the whole point of the ban was “so that we can go directly to the Supreme Court to challenge Roe versus Wade.”
The ACLU and Planned Parenthood obtained an injunction from a judge in Kentucky in March, blocking that state’s abortion ban. The organizations have filed lawsuits in Ohio and are preparing to do so in Georgia, they said in a statement on Friday.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Jonathan Oatis)
FILE PHOTO – U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the news media before boarding Marine One to depart for travel to Japan from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
May 24, 2019
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he is considering pardons for “two or three” U.S. soldiers charged with war crimes, a move he said would be controversial but justified because he said they had been treated “unfairly.”
Trump told reporters at the White House that he has not decided yet on the cases, and said he may wait until after the men accused of the war crimes go through trials before determining whether to pardon them.
“Some of these soldiers are people that have fought hard, long. You know, we teach them how to be great fighters, and then when they fight sometime, they get really treated very unfairly,” Trump said. He did not identify the cases he was reviewing.
The New York Times reported on May 18 that Trump had asked for paperwork on the possible pardons to be prepared ahead of the U.S. Memorial Day holiday, which falls on Monday.
One of the cases was believed to be Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, a decorated Navy SEAL charged with war crimes in Iraq. His trial was delayed this week.
Gallagher has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer told Reuters he had not asked for a pardon and Gallagher declined to comment on the prospect of a pardon when asked by reporters in court.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)