Leader of armed group at U.S. border boasted of assassination training: FBI

Larry Mitchell Hopkins appears in a police booking photo taken at the Dona Ana County Detention Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico, U.S., April 20, 2019. Dona Ana County Detention Center/Handout via REUTERS

By Andrew Hay and Julio-Cesar Chavez

TAOS, N.M./LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Reuters) – The leader of an armed group stopping undocumented migrants who cross into the United States from Mexico had boasted that his members had trained to assassinate former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an FBI agent said in court papers on Monday.

Larry Hopkins was arrested Saturday on a weapons charge. His camouflage-wearing armed United Constitutional Patriots members claim to have helped U.S. officials detain some 5,600 migrants in New Mexico in the last 60 days.

The UCP says its two-month presence at the border is intended to support U.S. Border Patrol, which has been overwhelmed by record numbers of Central American families seeking asylum.

Critics including the American Civil Liberties Union accused the UCP of being a “fascist militia” whose members illegally detain and kidnap migrants by impersonating law enforcement. New Mexico’s Democratic Governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, on Friday ordered an investigation of the group. She said “menacing or threatening migrant families and asylum-seekers is absolutely unacceptable and must cease.”

The FBI in court papers said that while it was investigating allegations of “militia extremist activity” in 2017, witnesses accused Hopkins of saying the UCP was planning to assassinate Obama, former Democratic presidential candidate Clinton and financier George Soros.

On Monday, Hopkins appeared in court in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to face charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The FBI said it found guns during a 2017 visit to his home.

Defense attorney Kelly O’Connell said Hopkins planned to plead not guilty and noted that the charges were unrelated to UCP’s actions at the border.

“This is not even dealing with what’s going on right here,” O’Connell said.

UCP spokesman Jim Benvie previously said the group was helping the U.S. Border Patrol and publicizing the “border crisis.” He was not immediately available for comment.

Crowdfunding sites PayPal and GoFundMe last week barred the group, citing policies not to promote hate or violence after the ACLU called the UCP a “fascist militia.”

FBI Special Agent David Gabriel said in a criminal complaint filed on Monday that in October 2017 the agency received reports a militia was being run out of Hopkins’ home in Flora Vista, New Mexico.

PISTOLS, RIFLES

When agents entered the home they collected nine firearms, ranging from pistols to rifles, Horton was illegally in possession of as he had at least one prior felony conviction, according to the complaint. The FBI said in court papers that in 2006, Hopkins was convicted of criminal impersonation of a peace officer and felony possession of a firearm and that in 1996 he was also convicted on a firearms charge.

Hopkins, the UCP’s national commander, told the agents that his common-law wife owned the weapons in question, according to court papers.

At the time, the FBI had received information that the UCP had around 20 members and was armed with AK-47 rifles and other firearms.

“Hopkins also allegedly made the statement that the United Constitutional Patriots were training to assassinate George Soros, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama” because it believed that they supported left-wing, anti-fascist protesters, the complaint said.

Former state and federal prosecutor David S. Weinstein said Border Patrol’s tacit allowance of the UCP to operate may have allowed it to go beyond what citizens are legally allowed to do.

“To the extent where the FBI has got involved, I think it’s escalated to a point where they need to send a stronger message out to them that ‘No, we told you not to do this,'” said Weinstein, a partner at the law firm of Hinshaw and Culbertson.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico, Editing by Scott Malone, Tom Brown and David Gregorio)

Senator says Federal Bureau of Investigation lost crucial texts tied to Clinton probe

Former U.S. Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during the LA Promise Fund's Girls Build Leadership summit in Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 15,

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Bureau of Investigation has lost about five months worth of text messages between two staffers who worked on probes into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails and possible collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, according to a Republican lawmaker.

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee, revealed in a Jan. 20 letter that the FBI’s technical system failed to preserve texts that were exchanged between Lisa Page, a lawyer, and Peter Strzok, an agent, between mid-December 2016 through mid-May of 2017.

A spokesman for the FBI and a spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment.

Congressional Republicans have been focusing on Strzok and Page in recent weeks after learning the two had exchanged anti-Trump text messages on their work-issued cell phones.

Republicans have said the texts, which referred to Trump as an “idiot” and a “loathsome human,” raised concerns the FBI is biased against Trump and may have given Clinton favorable treatment after deciding not to recommend criminal charges in connection with the probe into her use of a private email system while she was secretary of state.

Strzok and Page were involved in that investigation and also were briefly assigned to work with Special Counsel Robert Mueller on the Russia investigation.

After Mueller learned about the texts, Strzok was re-assigned to a different post. Page’s 45-day detail on Mueller’s team ended in July.

In his letter, Johnson said he learned of the software problem from the FBI on Jan. 19, after it gave 384 texts to the committee, one of several in Congress that recently launched inquiries into how the FBI handled the Clinton investigation.

“The loss of records from this period is concerning because it is apparent from other records that Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page communicated frequently about the investigation,” Johnson wrote.

He cited examples, including an exchange between Strzok and Page that took place in May 2016, after it became apparent that Trump would likely be the Republican presidential candidate.

“Now the pressure really starts to finish [midyear exam],” Strzok wrote, in what Johnson’s letter says is a reference to the Clinton investigation.

“It sure does,” Page responded.

In his letter, Johnson asked the FBI to follow up with more details about the scope of the lost records, and to tell the committee whether it has conducted searches of their non-government issued devices.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Paul Simao)

FBI officials said Clinton ‘has to win’ race to White House: NYT

FBI officials said Clinton 'has to win' race to White House: NYT

(Reuters) – Senior FBI officials who helped probe Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign told a colleague that Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had to win the race to the White House, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

Peter Strzok, a senior FBI agent, said Clinton “just has to win” in a text sent to FBI lawyer Lisa Page, the Times reported.

The messages showed concern from Strzok and Page that a Trump presidency could politicize the FBI, the report said, citing texts turned over to Congress and obtained by the newspaper. http://nyti.ms/2AOHylP

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is investigating the texts in a probe into FBI’s handling of its investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server for official correspondence when she was Secretary of State under former President Barack Obama, the report added.

Strzok was removed from working on the Russia probe after media reports earlier this month suggested he had exchanged text messages that disparaged Trump and supported Clinton.

Strzok was involved in both the Clinton email and Russia investigations.

Republicans, including Trump, have in recent weeks ramped up their attacks on the FBI and questioned its integrity.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and congressional committees are investigating possible links between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. Russia denies meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections.

The FBI, the Democratic National Committee and the White House did not respond to a request for comment outside regular business hours.

Reuters was unable to contact Peter Strzok and Lisa Page for comment.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Sunil Nair)

Trump Jr.’s Russia emails could trigger probe under election law

Donald Trump hugs his son Donald Trump Jr. at a campaign rally in St. Clairsville, Ohio June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

By Jan Wolfe

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a woman he was told was a Russian government lawyer who had incriminating information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton that could help his father’s presidential campaign could lead investigators to probe whether he violated U.S. election law, experts said.

Trump Jr. met the woman, lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, on June 9, 2016, after an email exchange with an intermediary.

The emails, tweeted by Trump Jr. on Tuesday, could provide material for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

In one of the emails dated June 3, 2016, Trump Jr. wrote: “If it’s what you say I love it.” He released the tweets after the New York Times said it planned to write about their contents and sought his comment.

Trump Jr. said in his tweets that nothing came of the meeting. Veselnitskaya told NBC News early on Tuesday she was not affiliated with the Russian government and had passed no information.

“In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently,” Trump Jr. said in an interview on Fox News. “For me, this was opposition research.”

Collusion itself is not an actual crime under the U.S. criminal code, so prosecutors would look to see if Trump Jr.’s conduct ran afoul of a specific law, legal experts said.

Moscow has denied interference in the U.S. election, and President Donald Trump has said his campaign did not collude with Russia.

Alan Futerfas, Trump Jr.’s lawyer, did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment.

FEDERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN ACT

One law that might come into play is the Federal Election Campaign Act, which makes it illegal for a foreign national to contribute to a U.S. political campaign. The campaign is also prohibited from soliciting such contributions.

A contribution does not have to be monetary in nature, according to Paul S. Ryan, an attorney with watchdog group Common Cause. He said incriminating information about Clinton could be considered a contribution under the act.

Ryan said Trump Jr.’s “enthusiastic response” to the offer for information and particularly his proposal in his email to have a follow-up call the next week constituted “solicitation.”

“That to me is an indication, a concession by Donald Trump Jr. that he wants and is requesting this information,” Ryan said.

Joshua Douglas, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, said Trump Jr.’s emails made it “more plausible” that there could be a criminal case against him.

James Gardner, an election law expert at the University of Buffalo Law School, said the election law was intended to target donations of cash or goods and services.

He said he did not believe Trump Jr. would have violated the law if he solicited damaging information about Clinton.

A federal law known as the general conspiracy statute that makes it illegal to conspire to commit a crime against or defraud the United States could also come into play if, for example, Trump Jr. tried to help Russians hack into U.S. computer networks. There was no indication that Trump Jr. did such a thing.

Andrew Wright, a professor at Savannah Law School who was

associate counsel in the White House Counsel’s Office under former Democratic President Barack Obama, said he thought Trump Jr.’s agreeing to meet with someone to discuss an illegal act would be enough to trigger a conspiracy charge.

“It’s a very powerful tool,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Lindsey Kortyka)

Trump triumphs over Clinton in White House upset

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump greets his running mate Mike Pence during his election night rally in Manhattan, New York

By Steve Holland and John Whitesides

(Reuters) – Republican Donald Trump stunned the world on Tuesday by defeating heavily favored Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House, ending eight years of Democratic rule and sending the United States on a new, uncertain path.

A wealthy real-estate developer and former reality TV host, Trump rode a wave of anger toward Washington insiders to defeat Clinton, whose gold-plated establishment resume includes stints as a first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state.

Worried a Trump victory could cause economic and global uncertainty, investors were in full flight from risky assets such as stocks. In overnight trading, S&P 500 index futures fell 5 percent to hit their so-called limit down levels, indicating they would not be permitted to trade any lower until regular U.S. stock market hours on Wednesday.

The Associated Press and Fox News projected that Trump had collected just enough of the 270 state-by-state electoral votes needed to win a four-year term that starts on Jan. 20, taking battleground states where presidential elections are traditionally decided.

CNN reported Clinton had called Trump to concede the election.

A short time earlier, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta told supporters at her election rally in New York to go home. “Several states are too close to call so we’re not going to have anything more to say tonight,” he said.

Victorious in a cliffhanger race that opinion polls had forecast was Clinton’s to win, Trump won avid support among a core base of white non-college educated workers with his promise to be the “greatest jobs president that God ever created.”

His win raises a host of questions for the United States at home and abroad. He campaigned on a pledge to take the country on a more isolationist, protectionist “America First” path. He has vowed to impose a 35 percent tariff on goods exported to the United States by U.S. companies that went abroad.

Both candidates, albeit Trump more than Clinton, had historically low popularity ratings in an election that many voters characterized as a choice between two unpleasant alternatives.

Trump, who at 70 will be the oldest first-term U.S. president, came out on top after a bitter and divisive campaign that focused largely on the character of the candidates and whether they could be trusted to serve as the country’s 45th president.

The presidency will be his first elected office, and it remains to be seen how he will work with Congress. During the campaign Trump was the target of sharp disapproval, not just from Democrats but from many in his own party.

Television networks projected Republicans would retain control of the U.S. House of Representatives, where all 435 seats were up for grabs. In the U.S. Senate, the party also put up an unexpectedly tough fight to protect its majority in the U.S. Senate.

Trump entered the race 17 months ago and survived a series of seemingly crippling blows, many of them self-inflicted, including the emergence in October of a 2005 video in which he boasted about making unwanted sexual advances on women. He apologized but within days, several women emerged to say he had groped them, allegations he denied. He was judged the loser of all three presidential debates with Clinton.

TOUTS HIS BUSINESS ACUMEN

During the campaign, Trump said he would make America great again through the force of his personality, negotiating skill and business acumen. He proposed refusing entry to the United States of people from war-torn Middle Eastern countries, a modified version of an earlier proposed ban on Muslims.

His volatile nature and unorthodox proposals led to campaign feuds with a long list of people, including Muslims, the disabled, Republican U.S. Senator John McCain, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, the family of a slain Muslim-American soldier, a Miss Universe winner and a federal judge of Mexican heritage.

Throughout his campaign – and especially in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in July – Trump described a dark America that had been knocked to its knees by China, Mexico, Russia and Islamic State. The American dream was dead, he said, smothered by malevolent business interests and corrupt politicians, and he alone could revive it.

He offered vague plans to win economic concessions from China, to build a wall on the southern U.S. border with Mexico to keep out undocumented immigrants and to pay for it with tax money sent home by migrants.

The Mexican peso plunged to its lowest-ever levels. The peso had become a touchstone for sentiment on the election as Trump threatened to rip up a free trade agreement with Mexico.

His triumph was a rebuke to President Barack Obama, a Democrat who spent weeks flying around the country to campaign against him. Obama will hand over the office to Trump after serving the maximum eight years allowed by law.

Trump promises to push Congress to repeal Obama’s troubled healthcare plan and to reverse his Clean Power Plan. He plans to create jobs by relying on U.S. fossil fuels such as oil and gas.

CLINTON’S FAILED SECOND BID

Trump’s victory marked a frustrating end to the presidential aspirations of Clinton, 69, who for the second time failed in her drive to be elected the first woman U.S. president.

In a posting on Twitter, Clinton acknowledged a battle that was unexpectedly tight given her edge in opinion polls going into Election Day.

“This team has so much to be proud of. Whatever happens tonight, thank you for everything,” she tweeted.

The wife of former President Bill Clinton and herself a former U.S. senator, she held a steady lead in many opinion polls for months. Voters perceived in her a cautious and calculating candidate and an inability to personally connect with them.

Even though the FBI found no grounds for criminal charges after a probe into her use of a private email server rather than a government system while she was secretary of state, the issue allowed critics to raise doubts about her integrity. Hacked emails also showed a cozy relationship between her State Department and donors to her family’s Clinton Foundation charity.

Trump seized on the emails to charge that Clinton represented a corrupt political system in Washington that had to be swept clean.

Trump’s national security ideas, opposed by most of the elite voices across the political spectrum, have simultaneously included promises to build up the U.S. military while at the same time avoiding foreign military entanglements.

He wants to rewrite international trade deals to reduce trade deficits. He has taken positions that raise the possibility of damaging relations with America’s most trusted allies in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

He has promised to warm relations with Russia that have chilled under Obama over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in the Syrian civil war and his seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get along with Russia?” he said at many rallies.

(Writing by Steve Holland and John Whitesides; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker and Emily Stephenson in New York, Letitia Stein in St. Petersburg, Florida, Luciana Lopez in Miami, Colleen Jenkins in Winston-
Salem and Kim Palmer in Ohio Editing by Howard Goller and Frances Kerry)

Futures down sharply as greater chance of Trump victory seen

Supporters of Hillary Clinton react as a state is called in favor of Donald Trump during a watch party at the University of Sydney in Australia.

By Rodrigo Campos

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stock index futures tumbled in choppy trade on Tuesday as tight races in key states including Florida and Ohio stoked bets that Republican Donald Trump could win the U.S. presidential election, spooking investors who have been counting on a victory by Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump and Clinton were locked in close battles in several battleground states, although opinion polls gave Clinton an edge in the closing hours of the campaign.

Financial markets reacted violently to the preliminary results, with S&P futures rising as much as 0.8 percent and falling more than 3 percent at one point.

A risk-off mood pervaded financial markets, driving down stock index futures and the Mexican peso, while gold and Treasuries prices rose.

“Donald Trump has stunned the consensus thinking, thus far,” said Peter Kenny, senior market strategist at Global Markets Advisory Group in New York.

“Ahead in Florida, Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina, in addition to being ahead in the electoral count and popular vote has triggered the onset of panic in global financial markets,” said Kenny. “Too early to call, obviously, but clearly markets were tentative today and seem to being growing increasingly concerned..”

Wall Street sees former Secretary of State Clinton as a status quo candidate who would lend stability to the markets, while Trump’s stances on foreign policy, trade and immigration are more conducive to volatility.

At 9:43 p.m. EST, S&P 500 e-minis were down 65 points, or 3.04 percent, with 719,267 contracts changing hands. Nasdaq 100 e-minis were down 139.5 points, or 2.9 percent, on volume of 92,108 contracts, and Dow e-minis were down 458 points, or 2.5 percent, with 127,944 contracts changing hands.

The Mexican peso slumped versus the U.S. dollar to near historic lows hit in September. It was last down more than 7 percent, near 19.7 to the dollar, after earlier touching 18.1475, its strongest level since Aug. 6.

“The chance of a Republican sweep is now very real,” said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer at Commonwealth Financial in Waltham, Massachusetts.

“With a Republican House and Senate, Trump now has a great deal more policy freedom – and it remains to be seen what he might do with it. Markets have reacted in the past with a decline as Trump’s probability of victory rose, and that is very likely to happen (Wednesday) if he wins.”

(Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak, Saqib Ahmed, Caroline Valetkevitch, Sinead Carew and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Leslie Adler)

More first-time voters, late-deciders in U.S. presidential race

First-time voter Kaeli Askea poses for a selfie with her mother Erin Collins-Askea after voting at the James Weldon Johnson school in East Harlem, New York City.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some 15 percent of Americans who cast a ballot on Tuesday said it was their first time voting in a presidential election, according to an early reading from the Reuters/Ipsos national Election Day poll, up from 9 percent of voters who said so in 2012.

The poll of nearly 35,000 people also showed that 13 percent of voters had waited until the final week of the presidential race to make up their mind between the candidates, who include Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, up from 9 percent who said so in 2012.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced in late October that it was looking at more emails connected to its investigation of Clinton’s use of a personal email server while secretary of state. FBI Director James Comey later said that the new trove of emails did not affect his earlier decision to not bring a criminal case against Clinton.

(Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Wall St stumbles as FBI to review more Clinton emails

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) shortly after the opening bell in New York

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stocks erased early gains and turned negative on Friday after the head of the FBI said it will review more emails related to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s private email use.

Each of the three major indexes on Wall Street fell to session lows after FBI Director James Comey said in a letter to several congressional Republicans that the agency had learned of the existence of emails that appeared to be pertinent to its investigation. The election is scheduled to take place in 11 days, on Nov. 8.

“The market turned south the minute the headline hit the tape that the FBI is all of a sudden looking at (Hillary Clinton’s) emails again,” said Ken Polcari, Director of the NYSE floor division at O’Neil Securities in New York.

“The fact they are looking again just raises the prospect that once again they might find something, so the market turned south because it is expecting a Clinton win.”

Wall Street had been higher for most of the session after economic data showed the U.S. economy grew 2.9 percent in the third quarter, its fastest pace in two years, and upbeat earnings from Google parent company Alphabet Inc.

Alphabet shares were up 0.6 percent at $821.85.

While the report supports the case for an interest rate hike, the Federal Reserve is unlikely to make a move at its meeting next week, as it falls just days ahead of the U.S. presidential election.

The market is largely expecting the central bank to hike rates in December, with the odds of a rate increase that month  at 73.6 percent, according to the CME Group’s FedWatch tool.

Investors also digested the latest wave of earnings reports with the hope the latest quarter snaps a year-long earnings recession.

Nearly 73 percent of the S&P 500 companies that reported have topped Wall Street expectations, with growth for the quarter now expected to be 3 percent, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. The quarter had been expected to show a decline of 0.5 percent at the start of October.

On the negative side, Amazon.com was set for its worst day in nearly nine months, falling 4.8 percent to $778.74 after the online retailer warned that heavy investments in the crucial holiday quarter would hurt profits. The stock was the top drag on the S&P and the Nasdaq.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> fell 37.49 points, or 0.21 percent, to 18,132.19, the S&P 500 lost 9.81 points, or 0.46 percent, to 2,123.23 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 29.05 points, or 0.56 percent, to 5,186.93.

Each of the major indexes were poised to post a decline for the week.

Amgen plunged 10.1 percent to $144.30 after the world’s largest biotechnology company’s sales for its flagship drug disappointed investors and analysts.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.65-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.37-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 10 new 52-week highs and 9 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 42 new highs and 112 new lows.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Another North Korea missile fails after launch, say U.S. and South

A ballistic rocket launch drill of the Strategic Force of the Korean People's Army (KPA) is seen at an unknown location, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on March 11, 2016. REUTERS / KCN

By Ju-min Park and Eric Walsh

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea test-fired a missile that failed immediately after launch early on Thursday, the U.S. and South Korean militaries said, hours after the two countries agreed to step up efforts to counter the North’s nuclear and missile threats.

The missile was believed to be an intermediate-range Musudan and was launched from the western city of Kusong, where the isolated state attempted but failed to launch the same type of missile on Saturday, the U.S. Strategic Command and South Korea’s Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

The launch came shortly after the United States and South Korea agreed in Washington to bolster military and diplomatic efforts to counter the North’s nuclear and missile programs, which it is pursuing in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

“We strongly condemn the North’s continued illegal acts of provocation,” the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

Japan condemned the launch and said it would make a formal protest to the North through its embassy in Beijing.

The failed missile launch was the eighth attempt in seven months by the North to launch a weapon with a design range of 3,000 km (1,800 miles) that can be fired from road mobile launchers, the two militaries said.

North Korea has been pursuing its nuclear and missile programs at an unprecedented pace this year.

In June, North Korea launched a Musudan missile that flew about 400 km (250 miles), more than half the distance to Japan, a flight that was considered a success by officials and experts in South Korea and the United States.

North Korea said on Thursday that it would continue to launch satellites despite its rival South’s objections, in a statement by its space agency carried by official media.

TRUMP VS CLINTON

Pyongyang says it has a sovereign right to pursue a space program by launching rockets carrying satellites, most recently in February, although Washington and Seoul worry that such launches are long-range missile tests in disguise.

Impoverished North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The North regularly threatens to destroy the South and its main ally, the United States.

News of the North’s latest ballistic missile launch broke during the third and last U.S. presidential debate in which Republican candidate Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, exchanged sharply contrasting views on U.S. alliances.

Trump said U.S. defense treaties around the world, including with South Korea, had to be renegotiated because “we’re being ripped off by everybody in the world”.

Clinton said Trump wanted to tear up alliances that keep nuclear proliferation in check while she believed alliances make the world and the United States safer.

“I will work with our allies in Asia, in Europe, in the Middle East and elsewhere,” Clinton said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking before the failed missile launch, said the United States would do “whatever is necessary” to defend itself, South Korea and other allies against North Korea.

Kerry and U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter reaffirmed that any attack by North Korea would be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons “met with an effective and overwhelming response,” a joint statement said.

As part of the military effort, Kerry said the United States would deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system to South Korea “as soon as possible”.

China strongly opposes deployment of the U.S. system, saying it would impinge on its own strategic deterrence.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, also speaking in Washington before the failed launch, said North Korea was nearing the “final stage of nuclear weaponisation” and the allies would mobilize “all tools in the toolkit” to defend themselves.

A U.S. aerospace expert, John Schilling, said this week in a report on the 38 North project that despite the failures, the pace of testing could enable the North to put the Musudan missile into operational service sometime next year.

(Editing by Jack Kim and Nick Macfie)

Russia’s Putin suspends plutonium cleanup accord with U.S. because of ‘unfriendly’ acts

Putin at award ceremony

By Dmitry Solovyov

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday suspended an agreement with the United States for disposal of weapons-grade plutonium because of “unfriendly” acts by Washington, the Kremlin said.

A Kremlin spokesman said Putin had signed a decree suspending the 2010 agreement under which each side committed to destroy tonnes of weapons-grade material because Washington had not been implementing it and because of current tensions in relations.

The two former Cold War adversaries are at loggerheads over a raft of issues including Ukraine, where Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and supports pro-Moscow separatists, and the conflict in Syria.

The deal, signed in 2000 but which did not come into force until 2010, was being suspended due to “the emergence of a threat to strategic stability and as a result of unfriendly actions by the United States of America towards the Russian Federation”, the preamble to the decree said.

It also said that Washington had failed “to ensure the implementation of its obligations to utilize surplus weapons-grade plutonium”.

The 2010 agreement, signed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, called on each side to dispose of 34 tonnes of plutonium by burning in nuclear reactors.

Clinton said at the time that that was enough material to make almost 17,000 nuclear weapons. Both sides then viewed the deal as a sign of increased cooperation between the two former adversaries toward a joint goal of nuclear non-proliferation.

“For quite a long time, Russia had been implementing it (the agreement) unilaterally,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with journalists on Monday.

“Now, taking into account this tension (in relations) in general … the Russian side considers it impossible for the current state of things to last any longer.”

Ties between Moscow and Washington plunged to freezing point over Crimea and Russian support for separatists in eastern Ukraine after protests in Kiev toppled pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich.

Washington led a campaign to impose Western economic sanctions on Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis.

Relations soured further last year when Russia deployed its warplanes to an air base in Syria to provide support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops fighting rebels.

The rift has widened in recent weeks, with Moscow accusing Washington of not delivering on its promise to separate units of moderate Syrian opposition from “terrorists”.

Huge cost overruns have also long been another threat to the project originally estimated at a total of $5.7 billion.

(Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Richard Balmforth)