Trump threatens to pull aid to Palestinians if they don’t pursue peace

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland January 25, 2018

By Steve Holland and Yara Bayoumy

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump threatened on Thursday to withhold aid to the Palestinians if they did not pursue peace with Israel, saying they had snubbed the United States by not meeting Vice President Mike Pence during a recent visit.

Trump, speaking after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the World Economic Forum, said he wanted peace. However, his remarks could further frustrate the aim of reviving long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Palestinians shunned Pence’s visit to the region this month after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and vowed to begin moving the U.S. embassy to the city, whose status is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Trump’s endorsement in December of Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its capital drew universal condemnation from Arab leaders and criticism around the world. It also broke with decades of U.S. policy that the city’s status must be decided in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

“When they disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice president to see them, and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support, tremendous numbers, numbers that nobody understands — that money is on the table and that money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace,” Trump said.

The United States said this month it would withhold $65 million of $125 million it had planned to send to the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees. The UNRWA agency is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from U.N. states and the United states is the largest contributor.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the United States had taken itself “off the table” as a peace mediator since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“Palestinian rights are not up to any bargain and Jerusalem is not for sale. The United States can’t have any role unless it retreats its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah told Reuters by phone from Jordan.

Abbas has called Trump’s Jerusalem declaration a “slap in the face” and has rejected Washington as an honest broker in any future talks with Israel. Abbas left for an overseas visit before Pence arrived.

Abbas has said he would only accept a broad, internationally backed panel to broker any peace talks with Israel. The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley also criticized Abbas.

Israel’s government regards Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the country, although that is not recognized internationally. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Speaking in Davos, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said only the United States could broker a peace deal.

“I think there’s no substitute for the United States. As the honest broker, as a facilitator, there’s no other international body that would do it,” Netanyahu said.

Trump said Palestinians had to come to the negotiating table.

“Because I can tell you that Israel does want to make peace and they’re going to have to want to make peace too or we’re going to have nothing to do with them any longer,” Trump said.

Trump said his administration had a peace proposal in the works that was a “great proposal for Palestinians” which covers “a lot of the things that were over the years discussed or agreed on”, without providing specifics.

Trump said his declaration on Jerusalem took it off the negotiating table “and Israel will pay for that”, adding “they’ll do something that will be a very good thing” without elaborating.

Earlier at the World Economic Forum, Jordanian King Abdullah said Jerusalem had to be part of a comprehensive solution.

He said Trump’s decision had created a backlash, frustrating Palestinians who felt there was no honest broker.

But he added: “I’d like to reserve judgment because we’re still waiting for the Americans to come out with their plan.”

King Abdullah’s Hashemite dynasty is the custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, making Jordan particularly sensitive to any changes of status there.

The last talks collapsed in 2014, partly due to Israel’s opposition to an attempted unity pact between Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, and because of Israeli settlement building on occupied land that Palestinians seek for a state, among other factors.

Palestinians want the West Bank for a future state, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Most countries consider as illegal the Israeli settlements built in the territory which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israel denies its settlements are illegal and says their future should be determined in peace talks.

The United States has said it would support a two-state solution if the Israelis and Palestinians agreed to it.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in RAMALLAH, Ari Rabinovitch in JERUSALEM, Michelle Nichols at the UNITED NATIONS and Noah Barkin and Dmitry Zhdannikov in DAVOS; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Mark Bendeich)

Timing of Trump peace plan depends on Palestinians: Pence

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence touches the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City January 23, 2018.

By Jeff Mason

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday the timing of a long-awaited U.S. Middle East peace initiative depended on the return of Palestinians to negotiations.

President Donald Trump’s advisers have been working on the outlines of a plan for some time. But Palestinians ruled out Washington as a peace broker after the U.S. president’s Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“The White House has been working with our partners in the region to see if we can develop a framework for peace,” Pence told Reuters in an interview in Jerusalem on the last leg of a three-day Middle East trip. “It all just depends now on when the Palestinians are going to come back to the table.”

Trump’s Jerusalem move angered the Palestinians, sparked protests in the Middle East and raised concern among Western countries that it could further destabilize the region. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as capital of a future state.

A White House official told reporters he hoped the plan would be announced in 2018.

“It’ll come out both when it’s ready and when both sides are actually willing to engage on it,” said the White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official acknowledged that the United States and the Palestinian leadership had not had any direct diplomatic contact since Trump’s Jerusalem declaration.

Pence said in the interview that he and the president believed the decision, under which the United States also plans to move its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, would improve peacemaking prospects.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official at the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said the Trump administration had dealt a death blow to any prospect for peace.

“The extremist positions of this U.S. administration and the biblical messianic message of Pence not only disqualified the U.S. as a peace broker but created conditions of volatility and instability in the region and beyond,” Ashrawi said in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Pence discussed the Jerusalem issue during talks with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday and Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday. He said the two leaders had agreed to convey to the Palestinians that the United States was eager to resume peace talks.

“We want them (the Palestinians) to know the door is open. We understand they’re unhappy with that decision but the president wanted me to convey our willingness and desire to be a part of the peace process going forward,” Pence said.

Asked if the Egyptians and Jordanians had agreed to pressure the Palestinians to return to talks, Pence said: “I wouldn’t characterize it as that.”

SUPPORTER OF NETANYAHU

The Palestinians want to establish an independent state in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. It says the entire city is its eternal and indivisible capital.

Pence said the U.S. State Department would spell out details in the coming weeks about a plan to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem by the end of 2019.

Israeli media have speculated that a 2019 embassy move could help Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu win reelection in a vote scheduled for November of that year.

Pence said he admired Netanyahu’s leadership and appreciated his friendship. Asked if he hoped for the prime minister’s reelection, Pence said: “I’m a strong supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu, but I don’t get a vote here.”

Pence toured Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial with Netanyahu on Tuesday before visiting the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites. He stood solemnly with his hand on the wall and left a note, as people who pray there traditionally do.

The vice president also pressed European leaders to heed Trump’s call to forge a follow-up agreement to the Iran nuclear deal established under President Barack Obama’s administration.

“At the end of the day, this is going to be a moment where the European community has to decide whether they want to go forward with the United States or whether they want to stay in this deeply flawed deal with Iran,” he said.

Asked if he thought the United States would succeed in getting that kind of agreement with its European allies, Pence said: “We’ll see.”

Trump said earlier this month the United States would withdraw from the agreement unless its flaws were fixed.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Maayan Lubell and Ralph Boulton)

Pence pays tribute to fallen and heroes from Texas massacre

Pence pays tribute to fallen and heroes from Texas massacre

By Jon Herskovitz

FLORESVILLE, Texas (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence traveled on Wednesday to rural southeastern Texas, where he paid tribute to the victims and heroes from a church massacre that stands as the deadliest gun violence ever committed in a U.S. place of worship.

Pence and his wife, Karen, were welcomed with cheers and applause from as many as 2,000 people who filled half of a high school football stadium in Floresville, Texas, for the prayer vigil, about 13 miles from the scene of Sunday’s carnage in the town of Sutherland Springs.

“We gather tonight to offer our deepest condolences, and I offer the condolences of the American people to all those affected by the horrific attack that took place just three days ago,” Pence told the crowd.

The vice president was joined by a group of dignitaries that included Governor Greg Abbott, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

Pence was called upon to fill the role of America’s “consoler-in-chief” in the absence of President Donald Trump, who has been out of the country on a state visit to Asia since before the shooting rampage.

“President Trump wanted to come to Texas tonight to tell all of you, ‘We are with you, the American people are with you,’ and as the president said Sunday from halfway around the world, ‘we will never leave your side,'” Pence said to rousing applause.

Earlier, he met with wounded survivors and family members of the victims. Authorities have put the death toll at 26, including the unborn child of a pregnant woman who was among those killed. The number of children slain at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs otherwise stood at eight.

“Whatever animated the evil that descended on that church last Sunday, if the attacker’s desire was to silence their testimony of faith, he failed,” Pence said to cheers.

The killer, Devin Kelley, 26, dressed in black and wearing a human-skull mask, stormed into the church sanctuary and opened fire on worshipers with a semi-automatic assault rifle.

Kelley himself was shot twice by another man, Stephen Willeford, who lived nearby and confronted the assailant with his own rifle when the gunman emerged from the church.

Kelley managed to flee the scene in a getaway vehicle but shot himself to death and crashed in a ditch as Willeford and a passing motorist who was flagged down outside the church, Johnnie Langendorff, gave chase in Langendorff’s pickup truck.

Pence saluted the police, emergency personnel and doctors who had tended to the wounded, as well as the bravery of “those Texas heroes” – Willeford and Langendorff – who “pursued the attacker in a high-speed chase and saved the lives of Americans as a result.” Pence said he had met Willeford and Langendorff before Wednesday’s memorial service.

Preceding Pence to the microphone, Governor Abbott also praised Willeford, drawing a standing ovation when he declared, “Thank God there was a neighbor who helped save lives on that day.”

The comments from both politicians were enthusiastically received by the crowd.

“It was beyond good. People were hungry for what they were saying,” Beverly Perez, a retiree from nearby Adkins, Texas. “The community is rallying around those who are hurting. We hurt with them.”

No mention by name was made of Kelley, a former Air Force Airman who was convicted by court-martial and served a year in military detention for assaulting his first wife and infant step-son in 2012. Police records show he also escaped briefly from a mental hospital in New Mexico while facing those charges.

Authorities have said Kelley was more recently embroiled in a domestic dispute involving the parents of his second wife and threatening messages he had sent to his mother-in-law.

One of the women killed at the church, Lula Woicinski White, 71, was reported to be the gunman’s grandmother-in-law.

Reflecting lingering tensions in the aftermath of Sunday’s rampage, police were called to a park in Floresville about 2 1/2 hours before the prayer vigil by an unconfirmed report of a man with a gun. But a search of the park and adjacent cemetery by about 15 officers turned found no sign of an actual threat.

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Sam Holmes)

VP Pence says Russia’s stance must change before ties improve

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence delivers a speech during a meeting with U.S. troops taking part in NATO led joint military exercises Noble Partner 2017 at the Vaziani military base near Tbilisi, Georgia August 1, 2017. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

By Margarita Antidze

TBILISI (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday that relations with Russia would not improve until Moscow changed its stance on Ukraine and withdrew support for “regimes like Iran and Syria and North Korea”.

The U.S. Congress voted last week for new sanctions on Russia and, at a news conference in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi, Pence said the “lifting of sanctions will require Russia to reverse the actions that caused sanctions to be imposed in the first place”.

“Russia’s destabilizing activities in Ukraine, their support for rogue regimes like Iran and Syria and North Korea … their posture has to change,” he said at a joint news conference with Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili.

Pence said U.S. President Donald Trump would sign the new sanctions on Russia into law this week and said that Trump and Congress were “speaking with a unified voice”.

Keeping to previous U.S. administrations’ line, Pence also condemned Russia’s presence in Georgia.

Moscow, whose annexation of Crimea in 2014 prompted U.S. and EU sanctions, still has troops stationed in Georgia after a 2008 war over the breakaway region of South Ossetia, backing Georgia’s Abkhazia, a region also controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

Pence also said the U.S. was still behind Georgia’s application to become a member of NATO.

“We’ll continue to work closely with this prime minister and the government of Georgia broadly to advance the policies that will facilitate becoming a NATO member,” he said.

NATO promised Georgia membership in 2008, and three ex-Soviet Baltic nations – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – are already members. Pence has reassured them during this tour that Washington firmly backs NATO’s doctrine of collective defense.

In the Estonian capital of Tallinn on Monday, he assured them of U.S. support if they faced aggression from Russia.

Asked about Pence’s visit, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said nations had the right to choose their partners.

“The only problem for us, is when this involves the expanding of various alliances and their infrastructure toward our borders. This is a cause of concern for us,” Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

During his visit, Pence attended Georgian-American military exercises, which began in Georgia on Sunday. About 2,800 soldiers from the United States, Britain, Germany, Turkey, Ukraine, Slovenia, Armenia and Georgia are taking part in the maneuvers, which will last for two weeks.

On Wednesday, Pence visits Montenegro, which joined NATO in June. The tiny Balkan nation won praise from Washington for joining despite pressure against the move from Russia.

(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov in Moscow; Editing by Maayan Lubell)

Peaceful outcome for Korean peninsula still possible: Pence

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a media conference with Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at Admiralty House in Sydney, Australia, April 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed

By Roberta Rampton and Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula can still be achieved peacefully because of Washington’s new engagement with China, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday, despite growing fears North Korea could soon conduct a new nuclear test.

South Korea is on heightened alert ahead of another important anniversary in the reclusive North that could be the trigger for a new nuclear test or launch of ballistic missiles, with a large concentration of military hardware massed on both sides of the border.

Tensions have risen sharply in recent months after Pyongyang conducted two nuclear weapons tests last year and carried out a steady stream of ballistic missile tests in defiance of United Nations resolutions and sanctions.

U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile but his deputy said in Sydney on Saturday a peaceful outcome was still achievable because of warming ties between Beijing and Washington.

“We truly believe that, as our allies in the region and China bring that pressure to bear, there is a chance that we can achieve a historic objective of a nuclear-free Korea peninsula by peaceful means,” Pence said.

“We are encouraged by the steps that China has taken so far,” he said at a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Earlier this week, Trump praised Chinese efforts to rein in “the menace of North Korea” after North Korean state media warned the United States of a “super-mighty preemptive strike”.

Trump hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at his resort in Florida earlier this month and, while taking a hard line with North Korea, has focused his efforts on trying to convince China to put more pressure on its ally and neighbor.

However, Trump has also ordered what he has described as an “armada” to waters off the Korean peninsula as a warning to North Korea. There was some confusion about the whereabouts of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group earlier this week.

PILOT EJECTS

While it was thought the carrier group had been steaming toward the Korean peninsula, it had in fact been completing a training exercise with the Australian navy.

Pence said the carrier group was now expected to be in waters off the Korean peninsula before the end of the month, “within days”.

On Friday, the U.S. Navy said a pilot from the USS Carl Vinson had ejected safely while conducting a routine flight south of the Philippines.

It said the incident occurred as the F/A-18E was on a final approach to the carrier. The pilot was recovered by helicopter without injury. The statement did not say when the incident occurred.

In the face of the U.S. moves, North Korea said on Friday the state of affairs on the Korean peninsula was “extremely perilous”.

The North will celebrate the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People’s Army on Tuesday and has marked important events in the past by launching missiles or conducting nuclear tests.

Tuesday’s anniversary also comes as the North finishes winter military drills and as South Korea and the United States wrap up annual joint military exercises.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Duk-haeng said on Friday all those military exercises meant there was a lot of military equipment gathered in North Korea, as well as the South.

Satellite imagery analyzed by 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea monitoring project, found some activity under way at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site, but the group said it was unclear whether the site was in a “tactical pause” before another test or was carrying out normal operations.

U.S. officials have also said there was an increased level of activity by Chinese bombers, signaling a possible heightened state of readiness. Russian media has denied reports Moscow was building up its forces near the Korean border.

China’s Defence Ministry, however, said its forces were maintaining normal combat preparedness.

North Korea remained defiant.

“Now that we possess mighty nuclear power to protect ourselves from U.S. nuclear threat, we will respond without the slightest hesitation to full-out war with full-out war and to nuclear war with our style of nuclear strike, and we will emerge victor in the final battle with the United States,” the North’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park in SEOUL, Ben Blanchard on BEIJING, Phil Stewart in WASHINGTON, and Polina Devitt in MOSCOW; Writing by Paul Tait; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

Pence says United States will honor refugee deal with Australia

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) shakes hands with Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after a media conference at Admiralty House in Sydney, Australia, April 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed

By Colin Packham and Roberta Rampton

SYDNEY (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday the United States would honor a controversial refugee deal with Australia, under which the United States would resettle up to 1,250 asylum seekers, a deal President Donald Trump had described as “dumb”.

Pence told a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that the deal would be subject to vetting, and that honoring it “doesn’t mean that we admire the agreement”.

“We will honor this agreement out of respect to this enormously important alliance,” Pence said at Turnbull’s harbor side official residence in Sydney.

Australia is one of Washington’s staunchest allies and has sent troops to fight alongside the U.S. military in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Under the deal, agreed with former President Barack Obama late last year, the United States would resettle up to 1,250 asylum seekers held in offshore processing camps on South Pacific islands in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru.

In return, Australia would resettle refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

The White House has already said it would apply “extreme vetting” to those asylum seekers held in the Australian processing centers seeking resettlement in the United States.

The deal has taken on added importance for Australia, which is under political and legal pressure to shut the camps, particularly one on PNG’s Manus Island where violence between residents and inmates flared last week.

Asylum-seeker advocates welcomed the U.S. commitment, although they remained concerned that “extreme vetting” could see fewer than 1,250 resettled in the United States.

“What still isn’t clear is how many people will have this opportunity, and that clarity must be provided,” said Graham Thom, Refugee Coordinator at Amnesty International Australia.

“The violence on Manus Island last weekend only further demonstrates that the Australian government needs to give a clear commitment that no refugee or person seeking asylum will be left behind in Papua New Guinea or Nauru,” he said.

ACRIMONIOUS CALL

An inquiry by an upper house Senate committee in Australia said the government must be more transparent about the operations of the processing centers in PNG and Nauru, which are run by contractors.

The report, released on Friday, also said the Australian government had a duty of care to the asylum seekers being held in the camps.

Australia’s relationship with the new administration in Washington got off to a rocky start when Trump lambasted Turnbull over the resettlement arrangement, which Trump labeled a “dumb” deal.

Details of an acrimonious phone call between the pair soon after Trump took office made headlines around the world.

Turnbull acknowledged Trump’s reluctance, but said the U.S. commitment was a measure of Trump’s new U.S. administration.

“It speaks volumes for the commitment, the integrity of President Trump,” he said.

Pence was speaking on the final leg of a 10-day tour of the Asia-Pacific region that included meetings with political and business leaders in South Korea, Japan and Indonesia.

His trip to Australia is the first by a senior official in the Trump administration as the United States looks to strengthen economic ties and security cooperation amid disputes in the South China Sea and tension on the Korean peninsula.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Colin Packham; Additional reporting by Peter Gosnell; Writing by Paul Tait; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

Vice President Pence heads to Seoul as North Korea tensions flare

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrives for the swearing-in ceremony of Judge Neil Gorsuch as an Associate Supreme Court Justice in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts /File Photo

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will travel to South Korea on Sunday in what his aides said was a sign of the U.S. commitment to its ally in the face of rising tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program.

Pence’s Seoul stop kicks off a long-planned 10-day trip to Asia – his first as vice president – and comes amid concerns that Pyongyang could soon conduct its sixth nuclear test.

President Donald Trump has warned against further provocations, sending an aircraft carrier group to the region as a show of force. His officials have been assessing tougher economic sanctions as well as military options to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Pence plans to celebrate Easter with U.S. and Korean troops on Sunday before talks on Monday with acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn.

“We’re going to consult with the Republic of Korea on North Korea’s efforts to advance its ballistic missile and its nuclear program,” a White House foreign policy adviser told reporters, previewing Pence’s trip.

Pence will land in Seoul the day after North Korea’s biggest national day, the “Day of the Sun.” The White House has contingency plans for Pence’s trip should it coincide with a another North Korean nuclear test by its leader Kim Jong Un, the adviser said.

“Unfortunately, it’s not a new surprise for us. He continues to develop this program, he continues to launch missiles into the Sea of Japan,” the adviser said.

“With the regime it’s not a matter of if – it’s when. We are well prepared to counter that,” the adviser said.

‘FREE AND FAIR’ TRADE

Pence expects to talk about the “belligerence” of North Korea at stops in Tokyo, Jakarta and Sydney, the White House adviser said.

But the need for “free and fair trade” will also be a theme, the adviser said.

Trump campaigned on an “America First” trade policy, complaining that trade partners in Asia and elsewhere had taken advantage of the United States.

One of his first acts in office was to remove the United States from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal negotiated by former President Barack Obama.

“Withdrawing from the TPP shouldn’t be seen as a retreat from the region. On the contrary, our economic presence in the region is enduring,” the adviser said.

On Tuesday, Pence will kick off economic talks with Japan requested by Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The discussions will focus more on setting a “framework” for future talks rather than on specific industry issues, a White House official said.

Pence will meet with business leaders at each stop, including in Jakarta, though he was not expected to wade into the weedy details of disputes between the Indonesian government and U.S. companies like mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Inc <FCX.N>.

“We’re going to discuss the business environment in Indonesia in a general sense,” a White House official said.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Michael Perry)

Pittsburgh cafe finds politics and coffee can leave bitter taste

Nick Miller, co-owner of the Black Forge Coffee House punches a customer loyalty card for a patron in the Allentown neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., March 31, 2017. REUTERS/Maranie Staab

By David DeKok

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) – The owners of a Pittsburgh coffee shop found out the hard way that in the hyper-polarized political climate of 2017, punching holes in pictures of President Donald Trump and other conservative stalwarts is no laughing matter for some.

The Black Forge Coffee Shop has been fielding phone calls this week from people around the country upset about the cafe’s customer loyalty cards featuring a who’s who of prominent conservatives, according to its owners.

The idea puts a topical twist on a familiar perk: Buy a coffee and the store punches a hole through a photo of Trump, Vice President Mike Pence or one of the others. After all 10 conservatives are punched, the customer gets a free cup.

“We wanted to do something unique that would stand out,” said Nick Miller, who has run the shop with his business partner Ashley Corts for about 18 months. “It’s not a statement; it’s really just a joke.”

More than a few people apparently were not amused.

While some people were calling the shop to voice their displeasure, others emailed images of the owners’ faces superimposed with targets. Disparging comments about the shop suddenly started popping up Facebook and Yelp.com.

“HORRIBLE PLACE,” Yelp user Alexis K. of Oceanside, California, wrote. “I refuse to support a busines who can act this way about our president who WE ELECTED fair and square.”

In addition to Trump and Pence, the cards feature the likenesses of Senator Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. Rounding out the gallery are five conservative commentators: Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Mike Huckabee and Pat Robertson, as well as controversial pharma executive Martin Shkreli.

The shop has been handing out the cards for months, but the deluge of calls, many of them abusive, only started after Fox News picked up the story on Wednesday, the co-owner says.

Fortunately, no one who has come into the shop in person has been abusive to the staff, said Miller, a Democratic voter.

It may help that Black Forge is next door to a Pittsburgh police stations, and many officers are regular customers, Miller said.

“They thought it was pretty funny,” he said. “They were surprised no one could see it was just a joke.”

Despite the ire that the cards have stirred up, Miller said he has no regrets. After all, publicity is publicity – and business is booming, he said.

(Editing By Frank McGurty and Cynthia Osterman)

New Trump travel order expected in coming days, Pence says

DAY 19 / FEBRUARY 7: Vice President Mike Pence was called in to break a Senate vote tie that threatened to defeat the confirmation of billionaire Betsy DeVos as education secretary.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump plans to finalize a new order limiting travel to the United States in the coming days, his vice president said on Wednesday, after federal courts blocked the administration’s earlier travel ban.

A White House source had previously said the new order was likely to be announced on Wednesday.

More than two dozen lawsuits were filed in U.S. courts against the Jan. 27 travel ban, which temporarily barred entry to the United States for people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, as well as halting the U.S. refugee program.

The ban was suspended by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling in a case brought by Washington state. The Trump administration then said it would produce a new order.

“They’re putting out the finishing touches on that executive order. It should be out in the next few days,” Vice President Mike Pence told CBS program “This Morning.”

The original order triggered chaos at airports as people, including legal residents known as green card holders, were temporarily blocked from entering the country and federal agencies tried to interpret the new guidelines.

The administration has said it is likely the new directive will exclude legal permanent residents, making it harder for opponents to challenge the ban. [L2N1GD20P]

Pence did not elaborate on the revised directive.

The Associated Press, citing unidentified U.S. officials, reported late on Tuesday that the new order will remove Iraq from the list of countries whose citizens face a temporary travel ban.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Pence says U.S. will stand firm with Europe, NATO

US Vice President Mike Pence

By Roberta Rampton and John Irish

MUNICH (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday brought a message of support for Europe from Donald Trump but failed to wholly reassure allies worried about the new president’s stance on Russia and the European Union.

In Pence’s first major foreign policy address for the Trump administration, the vice president told European leaders and ministers that he spoke for Trump when he promised “unwavering” commitment to the NATO military alliance.

“Today, on behalf of President Trump, I bring you this assurance: the United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to this transatlantic alliance,” Pence told the Munich Security Conference.

While Poland’s defense minister praised Pence, many others, including France’s foreign minister and U.S. lawmakers in Munich, remained skeptical that he had convinced allies that Trump, a former reality TV star, would stand by Europe.

Trump’s contradictory remarks on the value of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, scepticism of the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and an apparent disregard for the future of the European Union have left Europe fearful for the seven-decade-old U.S. guardianship of the West.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Twitter expressed his disappointment that Pence’s speech contained “Not a word on the European Union”, although the vice president will take his message to EU headquarters in Brussels on Monday.

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the opposition Democrats, said he saw two rival governments emerging from the Trump administration.

Pence, Trump’s defense secretary Jim Mattis and his foreign minister Rex Tillerson all delivered messages of reassurance on their debut trip to Europe.

But events in Washington, including a free-wheeling news conference Trump gave in which he branded accredited White House reporters “dishonest people”, sowed more confusion.

“Looks like we have two governments,” Murphy wrote on Twitter from Munich. The vice president “just gave speech about shared values between US and Europe as (the U.S. president) openly wages war on those values.”

The resignation of Trump’s security adviser Michael Flynn over his contacts with Russia on the eve of the U.S. charm offensive in Europe also tarnished the message Pence, Mattis and Tillerson were seeking to send, officials told Reuters.

U.S. Republican Senator John McCain, a Trump critic, told the conference on Friday that the new president’s team was “in disarray,” breaking with the American front.

The United States is Europe’s biggest trading partner, the biggest foreign investor in the continent and the European Union’s partner in almost all foreign policy, as well as the main promoter of European unity for more than sixty years.

Pence, citing a trip to Cold War-era West Berlin in his youth, said the new U.S. government would uphold the post-World War Two order.

“This is President Trump’s promise: we will stand with Europe today and every day, because we are bound together by the same noble ideals – freedom, democracy, justice and the rule of law,” Pence said.

MUTED APPLAUSE

While the audience listened intently, Pence received little applause beyond the warm reception he received when he declared his support for NATO.

Ayrault, in a speech defending Franco-German leadership in Europe, lauded the virtues of multilateralism at a time of rising nationalism. Trump has promise ‘America First.’

“In these difficult conditions, many are attempting to look inward, but this isolationism makes us more vulnerable. We need the opposite,” Ayrault said.

Pence warned allies they must pay their fair share to support NATO, noting many lack “a clear or credible path” to do so. He employed a tougher tone than Mattis, who delivered a similar but more nuanced message to NATO allies in Brussels this week, diplomats said.

The United States provides around 70 percent of the NATO alliance’s funds and European governments sharply cut defense spending since the fall of the Soviet Union. Russia’s resurgence as a military power and its seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea has started to change that.

Baltic states and Poland fear Russia might try a repeat of Crimea elsewhere. Europe believes Moscow is seeking to destabilize governments and influence elections with cyber attacks and fake news.

Pence’s tough line on Russia, calling Moscow to honor the international peace accords that seek to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, were welcomed by Poland.

“Know this: the United States will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground, which as you know, President Trump believes can be found,” Pence said.

Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz said Pence’s speech “highlighted on behalf of President Trump that the U.S. supports NATO, Ukraine and Europe.

“They want to show the U.S. military potential,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Noah Barkin, Andrea Shalal, Vladimir Soldatkin, John Irish and Jonathan Landay; Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Janet Lawrence)