Trump lifts Cyber Command status to boost cyber defense

Trump lifts Cyber Command status to boost cyber defense

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Friday he was elevating the status of the Pentagon’s U.S. Cyber Command to help spur development of cyber weapons to deter attacks and punish intruders.

In a statement, Trump said the unit would be ranked at the level of Unified Combatant Command focused on cyberspace operations.

Cyber Command’s elevation reflects a push to strengthen U.S. capabilities to interfere with the military programs of adversaries such as North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and Islamic State’s ability to recruit, inspire and direct attacks, three U.S. intelligence officials said this month, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Cyber Command had been subordinate to the U.S. Strategic Command, which is also responsible for military space operations, nuclear weapons and missile defense.

Once elevated, Cyber Command would have the same status as U.S. Strategic Command and eight other unified commands that control U.s. military forces and are composed of personnel from multiple branches of the armed services.

The Pentagon did not specify how long the elevation process would take.

Current and former officials said a leading candidate to head U.S. Cyber Command was Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville, currently director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.

Trump also said the defense secretary was also considering separating the U.S. Cyber Command from the National Security Agency (NSA). Cyber Command’s mission is to shut down and, when ordered, counter cyber attacks. The NSA’s role is to gather intelligence and generally favors monitoring enemies’ cyber activities.

Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both strong voices on security matters, praised the move and said it would boost the command’s abilities.

Still, McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said more steps were needed to meet the nation’s cyber security challenges.

“We must develop a clear policy and strategy for deterring and responding to cyber threats. We must also develop an integrated, whole-of-government approach to protect and defend the United States from cyberattacks,” he said in a statement.

The new combatant command will improve U.S. capabilities to punish foreign cyberattacks and discourage attempts to disrupt critical U.S. infrastructure such as financial networks, electric grids, and medical systems. It will establish a cyber version of the nuclear doctrine of “mutual assured destruction” between the United States and the former Soviet Union, the three U.S. officials said

The U.S. is more vulnerable to cyber intrusions than its most capable adversaries, including China, Russia, and North Korea, because its economy is more dependent on the internet, two of the officials said. As other nations improve their communications networks, their vulnerability will grow, they added.

(Reporting by Makini Brice and Susan Heavey. Additional reporting by Idrees Ali, John Walcott and Warren Strobel.; Editing by Franklin Paul and Andrew Hay)

Museum or dumpster? U.S. cities wrestle with Confederate statues’ fate

Museum or dumpster? U.S. cities wrestle with Confederate statues' fate

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – As communities across the United States redouble efforts to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces after a far-right rally in Virginia turned deadly, city leaders now face another conundrum: what to do with the statues.

President Donald Trump described them on Thursday as “beautiful statues and monuments,” part of the history and culture of the country that will be “greatly missed.”

But they are seen by many Americans as symbols of racism and glorifications of the Confederate defense of slavery in the Civil War, fueling the debate over race and politics in America.

Cities are speeding up their removal since Saturday’s rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a suspected white supremacist crashed a car into a crowd, killing one woman, during protests against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, who headed the Confederate army in the American Civil War.

Since Monday, officials in Baltimore and Gainesville, Florida, have taken down statues while another was torn from its plinth by protesters in Durham, North Carolina. Calls for more to be removed have grown louder.

This has created an additional headache for cities and spurred another debate: how to dispose of the statues once they are taken down.

Some have suggested museums, others putting them in Confederate cemeteries and one city councilman proposed using their metal to make likenesses of civil rights leaders.

“Melting them down and using the materials to make monuments for Frederick Douglass, Thurgood Marshall, Harriet Tubman would be powerful!” Baltimore city councilman Brandon Scott wrote on Twitter this week. The mayor’s office said that was unlikely.

UNLIKE EASTERN EUROPE

The debate contrasts sharply with how Eastern Europe handled thousands of statues following the collapse of Communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Often pulled down by angry mobs, some of the statues ended up in dumpsters and others in museums to teach people the evils of totalitarian regimes. In Budapest, a for-profit park hosts about 40 statues of communist heroes such as Karl Marx.

In the U.S. South, the debate still rages between those nostalgic for the past and those who view the monuments as painful reminders of slavery.

There are more than 700 Confederate statues in the United States according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, most of them created in the 1910s and 1920s, decades after the Civil War ended. They were intended to reassert the power of white people, said Jonathan Leib, Chair of Political Science and Geography at Old Dominion University in Virginia.

“They’re visible, tangible expressions of power,” he said on Thursday.

In Birmingham, Alabama, Mayor William Bell ordered workers to hide a Confederate statue behind plywood boards, while the city challenges a state law banning the removal of such monuments.

“They represent acts of sedition against the United States of America and treason against the United State of America,” he told Reuters on Wednesday.

But sympathies persist, as both lawmakers and citizens resist plans to remove them.

“I absolutely disagree with this sanitization of history,” Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, a Republican, told WVHU radio on Tuesday.

PROPER CONTEXT

For now, many of the removed statues gather dust in warehouses or, as in the case of New Orleans, sit disassembled in a city scrap yard, where two were found by local reporters.

In Baltimore, statues are now in storage, according to the mayor’s spokesman Anthony McCarthy, who said they will likely end up in a Confederate cemetery or a museum.

Many city legislators have expressed interest in relocating statues to museums, where they might be viewed as historical artifacts and not rallying points for racism.

Anna Lopez Brosche, city council president in Jacksonville, Florida, encouraged the removal of Confederate statues from public property on Monday and proposed placing them where they will be “historically contextualized.”

In Lexington, Kentucky, Mayor Jim Gray has proposed removing statues from one city park, formerly the site of a slave auction block and whipping post.

Meanwhile, a statue removed in Gainesville, Florida, on Monday is being returned to a local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which erected it in 1904.

The group, founded in 1894 by women descended from Confederate soldiers, put up many of the statues as part of their goal to display what they call “a truthful history” of the Civil War and mark places “made historic by Confederate valor.”

Some historians argue that, as in Eastern Europe, the Confederate monuments should be preserved, but in the proper context.

“A slave whipping post isn’t something we want up, just out in public without interpretation,” said W. Fitzhugh Brundage, American History professor at the University of North Carolina.

“But on the other hand, if you have it in the Smithsonian where people can see it and it can be properly interpreted, it’s a valuable teaching tool.”

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Additional reporting by Taylor Harris and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Matthew Lewis)

Backlash against Trump intensifies after his comments on Virginia violence

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the violence, injuries and deaths at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville as he talks to the media with Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao (R) at his side in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Susan Heavey and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Several leading members of Donald Trump’s Republican Party and key ally Britain sharply rebuked the U.S. president on Wednesday after he insisted that white nationalists and protesters opposed to them were both to blame for deadly violence in the Virginia city of Charlottesville.

Trump’s remarks on Tuesday, a more vehement reprisal of what had been widely seen as his inadequate initial response to Saturday’s bloodshed around a white nationalist rally, reignited a storm of criticism and strained ties with his own party.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, issued a statement that did not mention Trump by name but said “messages of hate and bigotry” from white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups should not be welcome anywhere in the United States.

“We can have no tolerance for an ideology of racial hatred. There are no good neo-Nazis, and those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms. We all have a responsibility to stand against hate and violence, wherever it raises its evil head,” McConnell said.

Trump last week lambasted McConnell for the Senate’s failure to pass healthcare legislation backed by the president, and did not dismiss the idea of McConnell stepping down.

In his comments at a heated news conference in New York on Tuesday, Trump said “there is blame on both sides” of the violence in Charlottesville, and that there were “very fine people” on both sides.

Ohio Governor John Kasich said there was no moral equivalency between the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and anybody else.

“This is terrible. The president of the United States needs to condemn these kind of hate groups,” Kasich said on NBC’s “Today” show. Failure to do so gave such organizations a sense of victory and license to hold more events elsewhere, said Kasich, one of Trump’s rivals for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election.

A 20-year-old Ohio man said to have harbored Nazi sympathies was charged with murder after the car he was driving plowed into counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Heyer was being remembered on Wednesday at a memorial service in Charlottesville.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, long a critic of the president, took direct aim, saying in a statement aimed at Trump, “Your words are dividing Americans, not healing them.”

Other Republicans to criticize Trump’s remarks included former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, also a Trump rival in the 2016 campaign.

Republican former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush said in a joint statement: “America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms.”

CRITICISM FROM MAY

In London, British Prime Minister Theresa May offered a rare rebuke of Trump by one of the United States’ closest foreign allies.

“I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them and I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far-right views wherever we hear them,” May told reporters when asked to comment on Trump’s stance.

May has been widely criticized by political opponents in Britain for her efforts to cultivate close ties with Trump since he took office in January.

Senior U.S. military officers usually stay clear of politics, but two more of the U.S. military’s top officers weighed in on Wednesday, without mentioning Trump.

U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley wrote on Twitter, “The Army doesn’t tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks. It’s against our Values and everything we’ve stood for since 1775.”

Air Force Chief of Staff General Dave Goldfein‏ said on Twitter that “I stand with my fellow service chiefs in saying we’re always stronger together.”

Their comments followed similar ones from the top officers of the Navy and Marine Corps.

White nationalists called the rally in Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, commander of the pro-slavery Confederate army during the U.S. Civil War. Many protesters were seen carrying firearms, sticks, shields, and lit torches. Some wore helmets. Counter-protesters came equipped with sticks, helmets and shields.

Trump’s comments on Tuesday followed a statement on Monday in which he had bowed to political pressure over his initial response that talked of “many sides” being involved, and had explicitly denounced the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Ronna Romney McDaniel, head of the Republican National Committee, said on Wednesday that Trump had simply acknowledged there had been violent individuals on both sides of the clashes in Charlottesville. But she assigned the blame to the white nationalists who mounted the rally, saying, “We have no place in our party for KKK, anti-Semitism … racism, bigotry.”

Amid the fraying ties with his party, Trump planned a rally next Tuesday in Arizona, home state of two Republican U.S. senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, who have been particularly critical of him.

In a staff decision on Wednesday, Hope Hicks, a close aide to Trump, has been named as interim White House director of communications, temporarily taking the post left vacant after Anthony Scaramucci was fired last month, a senior White House official said.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Makini Brice and Mohammad Zargham in Washington; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Trump praises N.Korean leader’s decision not to fire missiles towards Guam

Trump praises N.Korean leader's decision not to fire missiles towards Guam

By Ben Blanchard and Tim Kelly

BEIJING/TOKYO (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday praised North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for a “wise” decision not to fire missiles towards the U.S. territory of Guam and for easing escalating tension between the two countries.

Reclusive North Korea has made no secret of its plan to develop a missile capable of firing a nuclear warhead at the United States to counter what it perceives as constant U.S. threats of invasion, and tension has been rising for months.

Trump warned North Korea last week it would face “fire and fury” if it threatened the United States, prompting North Korea to say it was considering test-firing missiles towards the Pacific island of Guam.

But North Korean media reported on Tuesday Kim had delayed the decision while he awaited to see what the United States did next.

“Kim Jong Un of North Korea made a very wise and well reasoned decision,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

“The alternative would have been both catastrophic and unacceptable!”

North Korea has long ignored warnings from the West and from its lone major ally, China, to halt its nuclear and missile tests which it conducts in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The United States has been hoping China can press the North to rein in its weapons programmes. The top U.S. general reiterated that in talks in Beijing this week.

Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford told Fang Fenghui, chief of the Joint Staff Department of the People’s Liberation Army, in Beijing that North Korea’s weapons programmes threatened the entire international community, including China.

“He emphasised that the U.S. and China have the same goal – a denuclearised Korean peninsula achieved through peaceful means … North Korean actions threaten the economic and military security of China,” a U.S. military spokesman said in a statement.

“In the interest of regional stability, he said the U.S. views with growing urgency the need for China to increase pressure on the North Korean regime,” the spokesman said.

“Should preferred diplomatic and economic peaceful options fail, General Dunford reiterated America’s resolve to use the full range of military capabilities to defend our allies in the Republic of Korea and Japan, as well as the U.S. homeland.”

‘SOLIDARITY AND RESOLVE’

China has repeatedly called for all sides to exercise restraint and remain calm, and while it has signed up for tough U.N. sanctions on North Korea, it says the key to a resolution lies in Washington and Pyongyang talking to each other, rather than expecting China to do all the work.

Japan conducted air manoeuvres with U.S. bombers southwest of the Korean peninsula on Wednesday involving two U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers flying from Andersen Air Force Base on Guam and two Japanese F-15 jet fighters, Japan’s Air Self Defence Force said in a news release.

“These training flights with Japan demonstrate the solidarity and resolve we share with our allies to preserve peace and security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific,” the U.S. Air Force said.

The U.S. aircraft have flown several sorties in East Asia over recent weeks. In addition to air drills with Japanese fighters, the bombers have also exercised with South Korean aircraft.

North Korea regards the U.S. exercises with South Korea and Japan as preparations for invasion. The exercises also upset China, which says they do nothing to ease tension.

On Wednesday, a senior Chinese military officer reiterated China’s position on the need to maintain peace and stability to Dunford, China’s Defence Ministry said.

Song Puxuan, commander of China’s Northern Theatre Command, stressed to Dunford that the North Korean nuclear issue must be resolved politically through talks, the ministry added.

The command is based in China’s northeastern city of Shenyang and has responsibility for a swath of northern China, including the border with North Korea.

North Korea’s threat to fire towards Guam had prompted U.S. Trump to say the U.S. military was “locked and loaded” if North Korea acted unwisely.

‘RECKLESS ACTIONS’

In his first public appearance in about two weeks, Kim on Monday inspected the command of North Korea’s army, examining the plan to fire four missiles aimed at landing near Guam, the official KCNA news agency reported.

“He said that if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity, testing the self-restraint of the DPRK, the latter will make an important decision as it already declared,” KCNA said.

DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name.

Wednesday’s air exercise took place close to Japanese-controlled islets in the East China Sea which are also claimed by China. The uninhabited territory is known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

While the United States has declined to take sides in the dispute over the tiny islands, it nonetheless has said it would defend them from attack under its security alliance with Japan.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in a telephone conversation with Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s minister for foreign affairs, said tension on the Korean peninsula was showing some signs of easing but had not passed.

The parties involved should “make a correct judgment and wise choice by taking a responsible attitude toward history and people”, Wang said, according to a statement on his ministry’s website.

(Additional reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo, and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie, Robert Birsel)

North Korea delays Guam missile firing, U.S. says dialogue up to Kim

North Korea delays Guam missile firing, U.S. says dialogue up to Kim

By Christine Kim and Yeganeh Torbati

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has delayed a decision on firing missiles towards Guam while he waits to see what the United States does, the North’s state media reported on Tuesday as the United States said any dialogue was up to Kim.

The United States and South Korea have prepared for more joint military drills, which has infuriated the North, and experts warned it could still go ahead with a provocative plan.

In his first public appearance in about two weeks, Kim inspected the command of the North’s army on Monday, examining a plan to fire four missiles aimed at landing near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, the official KCNA news agency reported.

“He said that if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity, testing the self-restraint of the DPRK, the latter will make an important decision as it already declared,” KCNA said.

The DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Pyongyang’s plans to fire missiles near Guam prompted a surge in tensions in the region last week, with U.S. President Donald Trump saying the U.S. military was “locked and loaded” if North Korea acted unwisely.

But U.S. officials have taken a gentler tone in recent days.

Asked by reporters on Tuesday about the North Korean delay, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said it was up to Kim to decide if he wants to talk to the United States.

“We continue to be interested in finding a way to get to dialogue but that’s up to him,” Tillerson told reporters.

In photos released with the KCNA report, Kim was seen holding a baton and pointing at a map showing a flight path for the missiles appearing to start from North Korea’s east coast, flying over Japan toward Guam. North Korea has often threatened to attack the United States and its bases and released similar photos in the past but never followed through.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday his government would prevent war by all means.

“Military action on the Korean peninsula can only be decided by South Korea and no one else can decide to take military action without the consent of South Korea,” Moon said in a speech to commemorate the anniversary of the nation’s liberation from Japanese military rule in 1945.

“The government, putting everything on the line, will block war by all means,” Moon said.

Asian shares rose for a second day on Tuesday and the dollar firmed after Kim’s comments. U.S. stocks were flat at midday on Tuesday.

Speaking to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said it was urgent the United States and North Korea “put the brakes” on mutually irritating words and actions, China’s Foreign Ministry said.

‘NO STEPPING BACK’

Japan will seek further reassurance from Washington in meetings between Japan’s defense chief and foreign minister and their U.S. counterparts on Thursday.

“The strategic environment is becoming harsher and we need to discuss how we will respond to that,” a Japanese foreign ministry official said in a briefing in Tokyo.

“We will look for the U.S. to reaffirm it defense commitment, including the nuclear deterrent.”

The Liberation Day holiday, celebrated by both North and South, will be followed next week by joint U.S.-South Korean military drills.

North Korea has persisted with its nuclear and missile programs to ward off perceived U.S. hostility, in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions and sanctions.

China, North Korea’s main ally and trading partner, has repeatedly urged Pyongyang to halt its weapons program and at the same time urged South Korea and the United States to stop military drills to lower tensions.

Kim Dong-yub, a professor and military expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, urged caution in assuming North Korea was bluffing with its missile threats.

“There is no stepping back for North Korea. Those who don’t know the North very well fall into this trap every time (thinking they are easing threats) but we’ve seen this before.”

The United States and South Korea remain technically at war with North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

North Korea is currently holding three U.S. citizens it accuses of espionage or hostile acts, but now is not the right time to discuss them, KCNA reported, cited a foreign ministry spokesman.

Pyongyang has used detainees to extract concessions, including high-profile visitors from the United States, which has no formal diplomatic relations with North Korea.

On Guam, home to a U.S. air base, a Navy installation, a Coast Guard group and roughly 6,000 U.S. military personnel, residents expressed relief at the lessening of tensions.

“I’m reading between the lines that I don’t see an imminent threat,” Guam Lieutenant Governor Ray Tenorio told a media briefing in the island’s capital of Hagatna.

For an interactive on North Korea’s missile capabilities, click: http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/NORTHKOREA-MISSILES/010041L63FE/index.html

For a graphic on North Korea’s missile trajectories, ranges, click: http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/NORTHKOREA-MISSILES/010050CG0RT/NORTHKOREA-MISSILES.png

For a graphic on Americans detained by North Korea, click: http://apac1.proxy.cp.extranet.thomsonreuters.biz/fingfx/gfx/rngs/USA-NORTHKOREA/0100412Z2B4/northkorea-detainee.jpg

(Additional reporting by Soyoung Kim and Jane Chung in Seoul, Tim Kelly in Tokyo, Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Joseph Campbell in Guam; Writing by Lincoln Feast and Alistair Bell; Editing by Michael Perry, Nick Macfie and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Venezuela’s Maduro calls for military exercises after Trump threat

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro stands next to a sign that reads "Trump go away from Latin America" gives a speech at a rally against U.S President Donald Trump in Caracas, Venezuela August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

By Brian Ellsworth and Hugh Bronstein

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Monday called for military exercises after U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat of a possible armed intervention in the country, but Maduro insisted he still wanted to hold talks with the U.S. leader.

As Maduro told supporters in Caracas to prepare for an “imperialist” invasion, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence sought to calm concerns in the region about Trump’s talk, promising a peaceful solution to Venezuela’s “collapse into dictatorship.”

The unpopular Maduro, struggling with a disintegrating economy at home and increasing diplomatic isolation abroad, has used Trump’s comments on Friday to reaffirm long-standing accusations that Washington is preparing a military attack.

“Everyone has to join the defense plan, millions of men and women, let’s see how the American imperialists like it,” Maduro told supporters, urging them to join the two-day operation on Aug 26 and 27 involving both soldiers and civilians.

Thousands of government supporters rallied in Caracas where they denounced Trump’s suggestion of a “military option” to resolve Venezuela’s crisis.

Over 120 people have been killed since anti-government protests began in April, driven by outrage over shortages of food and medicine and Maduro’s creation of a legislative superbody that governments around the world say is dictatorial.

Maduro said Trump’s advisors had confused him about the true situation in Venezuela.

“I want to talk by phone with Mr. Trump, to tell him ‘They’re fooling you, Trump, everything they tell you about Venezuela is a lie. They’re throwing you off a cliff.'”

The White House last week rebuffed Maduro’s request to speak to Trump, saying the president would talk with Venezuela’s leader when the country returned to democracy.

‘FAILED STATE’

Earlier in the day, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino appeared in a televised broadcast with dozens of battle-ready troops behind him at an army base, including soldiers with shoulder-fired missile launchers pointed skyward.

In a speech, he warned that the United States wanted to steal the OPEC nation’s oil reserves.

Late socialist leader Hugo Chavez frequently staged military exercises during his 14-year rule, many of which involved defending the country against mock foreign armies.

Critics generally dismissed them as bravado meant to distract from problems at home.

Venezuela’s opposition coalition on Sunday rejected foreign threats to the country. It did not specifically identify Trump or the United States, but criticized Maduro’s close relationship with Communist-run Cuba.

Vice President Pence said the United States would bring economic and diplomatic power to restore democracy in Venezuela.

“A failed state in Venezuela threatens the security and prosperity of our entire hemisphere and the people of the United States of America,” said Pence, speaking to reporters in the Colombian coastal city of Cartagena.

“The regime is experiencing change right now and what we’re witnessing is Venezuela is collapsing into dictatorship.”

Countries across Latin America, where the United States flexed its military muscles throughout the 20th century, rejected Trump’s comments and said U.S. intervention was unwelcome.

On Sunday night, in an apparent effort to ease alarm, Pence said the United States was confident that a peaceful solution could be found to the country’s political and economic crises.

The country last month, at Maduro’s behest, elected a “constituent assembly” with sweeping powers including the capacity to rewrite the constitution. Maduro says the assembly will bring peace to the country.

His adversaries boycotted the election, calling it a power grab meant to keep the ruling Socialist Party in power and insisting it will do nothing to tame soaring inflation or resolve food and medicine shortages.

(Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann in Washington and Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota, Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Andrew Hay)

Iran could quit nuclear deal in ‘hours’ if new U.S. sanctions imposed: Rouhani

Iran could quit nuclear deal in 'hours' if new U.S. sanctions imposed: Rouhani

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran could abandon its nuclear agreement with world powers “within hours” if the United States imposes any more new sanctions, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday.

“If America wants to go back to the experience (of imposing sanctions), Iran would certainly return in a short time — not a week or a month but within hours — to conditions more advanced than before the start of negotiations,” Rouhani told a session of parliament broadcast live on state television.

Iran says new sanctions that the United States has imposed on it breach the agreement it reached in 2015 with the United States, Russia, China and three European powers in which it agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for the lifting of most sanctions.

The U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on six Iranian firms in late July for their role in the development of a ballistic missile program after Tehran launched a rocket capable of putting a satellite into orbit.

In early August, U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law new sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea passed by the U.S. Congress. The sanctions in that bill also target Iran’s missile programs as well as human rights abuses.

The United States imposed unilateral sanctions after saying Iran’s ballistic missile tests violated a U.N. resolution, which endorsed the nuclear deal and called upon Tehran not to undertake activities related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such technology.

It stopped short of explicitly barring such activity.

Iran denies its missile development breaches the resolution, saying its missiles are not designed to carry nuclear weapons.

“The world has clearly seen that under Trump, America has ignored international agreements and, in addition to undermining the (nuclear deal), has broken its word on the Paris agreement and the Cuba accord…and that the United States is not a good partner or a reliable negotiator,” Rouhani said.

Trump said last week he did not believe that Iran was living up to the spirit of the nuclear deal.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Angus MacSwan)

Latin America slams Trump’s Venezuela ‘military options’ threat

Venezuela's Presidente Nicolas Maduro gestures as he speaks during a session of the National Constituent Assembly at Palacio Federal Legislativo in Caracas, Venezuela August 10, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

By Brian Ellsworth and Mitra Taj

CARACAS/LIMA (Reuters) – After months of attacking Venezuela’s unpopular President Nicolas Maduro, Latin America came out strongly against U.S. threats of military action against the struggling OPECnation.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprise comments on Friday may give beleaguered leftist leader Maduro a regional boost, just as Venezuela was on verge of becoming a pariah.

Following Trump’s comment on Friday that military intervention in Venezuela was an option, Maduro’s critics are caught between backing the idea of a foreign invasion of Venezuela or supporting a president they call a dictator.

The surprise escalation of Washington’s response to Venezuela’s crisis came as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was set to begin a regional trip on Sunday that will bring him to Colombia, Argentina, Chile, and Panama.

Venezuela’s powerful Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino on Friday disparaged U.S. threats as “craziness” and Foreign minister Jorge Arreaza said on Saturday Venezuela rejected “hostile” threats, calling on Latin America to unite against Washington.

“We want to express gratitude for all the expressions of solidarity and rejection of the use of force from governments around the world, including Latin America,” said Arreaza, in a short speech on Saturday.

“Some of these countries have recently taken positions absolutely contrary to our sovereignty and independence but still have rejected the declarations of the U.S. president.”

It was one of Maduro’s fiercest critics, Peru, that led the charge slamming Trump, saying his threat was against U.N. principles. Mexico and Colombia joined in with statements of their own.

Regional alliance Mercosur added that it rejected the use of force against Venezuela, despite having indefinitely suspended the country last week.

Peru is negotiating a written response with other nations in the region, Foreign Minister Ricardo Luna said in a statement sent exclusively to Reuters on Saturday. The statement came the day after Peru expelled Venezuela’s ambassador in Lima.

“All foreign or domestic threats to resort to force undermine the goal of reinstating democratic governance in Venezuela, as well as the principles enshrined in the UN charter,” said Luna.

Peru under President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has taken the toughest stance yet toward Venezuela’s socialist government, and has openly called Maduro a “dictator”.

Venezuela is undergoing a major economic and social crisis, with millions suffering food and medicine shortages, soaring inflation and months-long anti-government unrest that has killed more than 120 people.

Maduro has faced withering criticism from around the world for leading the formation of an all-powerful legislature that critics call the creation of a dictatorship. He says it will bring peace to the OPEC member nation.

The ruling Socialist Party has for years accused the United States of plotting an invasion as a way of controlling its oil reserves, the world’s largest, through a military intervention similar to the Iraq war.

Previous U.S. administrations had brushed this off as politicized rhetoric meant to distract from Venezuela’s domestic problems.

Under former President Barack Obama, the State Department in 2015 made quiet diplomatic overtures that led to several high-level meetings. The effort ultimately foundered as Maduro hardened his stance against opposition critics.

Venezuela’s Information Minister Vladimir Villegas on Saturday tweeted a picture of the Statue of Liberty holding a machine gun instead of a torch, and a link to an article describing, “A Chronology of U.S. ‘Military Options’ in Latam and the Caribbean.”

(Additional reporting by Caroline Stauffer in Buenos Aires, Julia Love in Mexico City and Helen Murphy in Bogota; Writing by Girish Gupta; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Chizu Nomiyama)

Trump administration defends travel ban in Supreme Court brief

FILE PHOTO - International passengers arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport after the U.S. Supreme Court granted parts of the Trump administration's emergency request to put its travel ban into effect later in the week pending further judicial review, in Dulles, Virginia, U.S., June 26, 2017. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

By Mica Rosenberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s administration reiterated arguments defending its temporary travel ban in a filing with the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, repeatedly citing the executive’s broad powers to exclude foreigners from the United States.

The travel ban barring refugees and people from six Muslim-majority nations was signed as an executive order in March, after an earlier version had to be scrapped in the face of legal challenges.

Two federal appeals courts blocked the revised order from taking effect until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June it could move forward on a limited basis.

The nation’s highest court has agreed to hear oral arguments about the lawfulness of the ban on Oct. 10, and the brief laid out the legal position the government plans to make.

The state of Hawaii and refugee organizations challenging the executive order claim it is discriminatory against Muslims, citing statements Trump made on the campaign trail calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

However, the government, hammering against a broad ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that blocked the ban, said campaign statements made by the president when he was a private citizen should not be taken into account.

The brief said it was a mistake to probe the president’s motives in decisions about national security, which would amount to inappropriate “judicial psychoanalysis” of the president. Trump said the order was necessary to review vetting procedures to help protect the country from terrorist attacks.

The Department of Justice argued the case would “invite impermissible intrusion on privileged internal Executive Branch deliberations” and that the plaintiffs in the case were calling for “up to 30 depositions of White House staff and Cabinet-level officials.”

The government repeated its stance that Congress has granted the president wide authority to limit refugee admissions and bar the entry of any foreigner or group of foreigners if it would be “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

The Supreme Court ruled parts of the revised March executive order could go into effect on June 29, finding that anyone from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen with a “bona fide relationship” to a U.S. citizen or entity could not be barred.

However, the government excluded grandparents and other family members from the definition of who would be allowed in, leading to another round of legal sparring.

Eventually the Supreme Court said that, while litigation continues over enforcement of the ban in lower courts, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, and siblings-in-law of people from the six countries would be let in but that refugees with relationships with U.S. resettlement agencies would not.

Attorney Neal Katyal, who is representing Hawaii in its challenge to the ban, said in an email on Thursday: “We look forward to the Supreme Court hearing our case in October.”

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Additional reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Paul Tait)

In call with Trump, China’s Xi urges restraint over North Korea

FILE PHOTO: Navy vessels are moored in port at the U.S. Naval Base Guam at Apra Harbor, Guam March 5, 2016. Major Jeff Landis,USMC (Ret.)/Naval Base Guam/Handout/File Photo via REUTERS

By James Oliphant and Ben Blanchard

BEDMINSTER, N.J./BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s President Xi Jinping said there needs to be a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue, and in a telephone call with U.S. President Donald Trump he urged all sides to avoid words or action that raise tensions.

Xi’s comments came hours after Trump warned North Korea that the U.S. military was “locked and loaded” as Pyongyang accused the U.S. leader of driving the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war.

The Pentagon said the United States and South Korea would proceed as planned with a joint military exercise in 10 days, an action sure to further antagonize North Korea.

In a statement, China’s foreign ministry said Xi told Trump that a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue was essential, and urged calm.

“Concerned parties must exercise restraint and avoid remarks and actions that escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula,” it cited Xi as saying.

In their phone call, Trump and Xi “agreed North Korea must stop its provocative and escalatory behavior,” the White House said in a statement, and reiterated their mutual commitment to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. It added the relationship between Trump and Xi was “extremely close” and “will hopefully lead to a peaceful resolution of the North Korea problem.”

Trump, vacationing at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort, earlier took to Twitter to warn North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that U.S. “military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely”.

Again referring to Kim, Trump added, “If he utters one threat … or if he does anything with respect to Guam or any place else that’s an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it, and he will regret it fast.”

In remarks to reporters after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Trump said the situation with North Korea was “very dangerous and it will not continue”.

He added, “We will see what happens. We think that lots of good things could happen, and we could also have a bad solution.”

Despite the tough rhetoric, Trump insisted that “nobody loves a peaceful solution better than President Trump.”

South Korea’s presidential Blue House said in a statement on Saturday the United States and China were working to resolve the North Korea crisis, and it hoped the two leaders’ phone call “will be able to resolve the peak of tension and act as a catalyst for the situation to move on to a new dimension.”

(To view an interactive package on North Korea’s missile capabilities, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2t0oSv7)

TRUMP TO GUAM: “YOU’RE SAFE”

Guam, the Pacific island that is a U.S. territory and home to a U.S. air base, a Navy installation, a Coast Guard group and around 6,000 U.S. military personnel, posted emergency guidelines on Friday to help residents prepare for any potential nuclear attack.

North Korean state news agency KCNA said on Thursday the North Korean army would complete plans in mid-August to fire four intermediate-range missiles over Japan to land in the sea 18 to 25 miles (30 to 40 km) from Guam.

Japan’s government decided to deploy its Patriot missile defense system to four locations in the west of the country, media reported. No one at Japan’s defense ministry was available to comment on Saturday.

The governor of Guam, Eddie Baza Calvo, posted a video on Facebook of himself speaking with Trump. “We are with you a thousand percent. You are safe,” Trump told Calvo.

Washington wants to stop Pyongyang from developing nuclear missiles that could hit the United States. North Korea sees its nuclear arsenal as protection against the United States and its partners in Asia.

Trump said he was considering additional sanctions on North Korea, adding these would be “very strong.” He gave no details and did not make clear whether he meant unilateral or multilateral sanctions.

U.S. officials have said new U.S. steps that would target Chinese banks and firms doing business with Pyongyang are in the works, but these have appeared to be put on hold to give Beijing time to show it is serious about enforcing new U.N. sanctions.

BACK CHANNELS

Trump said he did not want to talk about diplomatic “back channels” with North Korea after U.S. media reports that Joseph Yun, the U.S. envoy for North Korea policy, had engaged in diplomacy for several months with Pak Song Il, a senior diplomat at Pyongyang’s U.N. mission, on the deteriorating ties and the issue of Americans imprisoned in North Korea.

But Daniel Russel, until April the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, said this so-called New York channel had been a relatively commonplace means of communication with North Korea over the years, and was not a forum for negotiation.

“It’s never been a vehicle for negotiations and this doesn’t constitute substantive U.S.-DPRK dialogue,” he said, using the acronym for North Korea’s formal name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Both Moscow and Berlin expressed alarm over the rise in rhetoric over North Korea, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Pyongyang and Washington to sign up to a joint Russian-Chinese plan by which North Korea would freeze missile tests and the United States and South Korea would impose a moratorium on large-scale military exercises. Neither the United States nor North Korea has embraced the plan.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there is no military solution, adding that “an escalation of the rhetoric is the wrong answer.”

The French presidency said North Korea was engaged in a “dangerous escalation” of tensions.

President Emmanuel Macron “calls for all parties to act responsibly and prevent any further escalation in tensions,” the Elysee palace said in a statement.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said blame for problems lay with North Korea, and that the international community was “shoulder to shoulder” in efforts to stop North Korean aggression.

“We are working with the US and our partners in the region to bring this crisis to a diplomatic end,” he tweeted.

As the rhetoric has ratcheted up, South Koreans are buying more ready-to-eat meals for emergency use, and the government aims to expand nationwide civil defense drills planned for Aug. 23. Hundreds of thousands of troops and huge arsenals are arrayed on both sides of the tense demilitarized zone between the two Koreas.

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, David Brunnstrom and Idrees Ali in WASHINGTON, Dahee Kim, Haejin Choi and Christine Kim in SEOUL, Dustin Volz in SAN FRANCISCO, Tim Kelly in TOKYO, Martin Petty in GUAM, Michelle Nichols at the UNITED NATIONS, Dmitry Solovyov in MOSCOW, Joseph Nasr and Paul Carrel in BERLIN; Writing by Will Dunham, Eric Beech and Ian Geoghegan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)