Coronavirus stay-at-home directives multiply in major U.S. states

By Steve Gorman and Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – New Jersey’s governor was expected on Saturday to follow four other states – California, New York, Illinois and Connecticut – demanding that millions of Americans close up shop and stay home to slow the spread of coronavirus infections.

The sweeping state-by-state public health restrictions, unprecedented in breadth and scope, added to the distance being experienced among ordinary Americans.

“I know people want to hear it’s only going to be a matter of weeks and then everything’s going to be fine,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference on Saturday. “I don’t believe it’s going to be a matter of weeks. I believe it is going to be a matter of months.”

Meanwhile, the global pandemic seemed to close in on the highest levels of power in the nation’s capital.

An aide to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, leading the White House task force formed to combat the outbreak, tested positive for the virus, but neither President Donald Trump nor Pence have had close contact with the individual, Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, said in a statement late on Friday.

Pence’s office was notified of the positive test on Friday evening, and officials were seeking to determine who the staffer might have exposed, Miller said.

The aide was not publicly identified, and the vice president’s office did not immediately respond to a request for further details of the diagnosis or whether Pence would be tested.

“He’s recovering and has very, very mild symptoms,” Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short told CNN on Saturday.

The White House said last week that Pence did not require testing after dining with a Brazilian delegation, at least one member of which later tested positive for the respiratory illness. Trump has tested negative for the virus, his doctor said last week.

Two members of the U.S. House of Representatives tested positive on Wednesday, becoming the first members of Congress known to have contracted the disease, which has killed 266 people in the United States.

The total number of known U.S. coronavirus cases has risen exponentially in recent days, climbing past 19,000 in a surge that health officials attributed in large part to an increase in diagnostic testing. More than 270 Americans have died.

Click  for a GRAPHIC on U.S. cases.

Cuomo said New York state was sending 1 million N95 respirator masks to New York City on Saturday. He said the state has identified 6,000 ventilators for purchase, which he described as a major step, but added that it needs 30,000.

“We are literally scouring the globe for medical supplies,” the governor said. New York state has recorded 10,356 cases, he said, 6,211 of them in New York City.

SOCIAL-DISTANCING GOES STATEWIDE

Expanding on social-distancing measures increasingly adopted at the local level, California Governor Gavin Newsom instituted the first statewide directive requiring residents to remain indoors except for trips to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and other “essential businesses.”

Newsom’s order, announced late on Thursday, made allowances for the state’s 40 million people to venture outside for exercise so long as they kept their distance from others.

On Friday, his counterparts in New York state, Illinois and Connecticut followed suit, and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he planned to issue similar directives on Saturday.

The five states where governors have banned or will soon ban non-essential businesses and press residents to stay inside are home to 84 million people combined, about a quarter of the entire U.S. population and account for nearly a third of the nation’s economy.

The state directives were for the most part issued without strict enforcement mechanisms to back them up.

“What we want is for people to be in compliance and we’re going to do everything that we can to educate them,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a briefing on Saturday. Police officers would “admonish” those found to be on non-essential outings to go home, she said.

“That’s what we hope is the end of any kind of contact that anyone might have with the police department,” Lightfoot said.

Cuomo said there will be a civil fine and mandatory closure for any business that is not in compliance.

Even before the flurry of statewide stay-at-home orders, the pandemic had virtually paralyzed parts of the U.S. economy and upended lifestyles over the past week, as school districts and colleges canceled classes and many companies were shuttered, either voluntarily or by local government mandates.

Washington state, which documented the first known U.S. coronavirus case in January and now accounts for the greatest number of deaths – 83 as of Friday – has since March 16 closed bars, restaurants, recreation venues and entertainment facilities, while banning all gatherings of more than 50 people.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Gabriella Borter in New York; Additional reporting by Caroline Spezio in New York; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Daniel Wallis)

Pence announces ceasefire deal with Erdogan to end Turkey’s Syria offensive

Pence announces ceasefire deal with Erdogan to end Turkey’s Syria offensive
By Orhan Coskun and Humeyra Pamuk

ANKARA (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday he had reached a deal with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan for a ceasefire in northern Syria to end an eight-day-old Turkish offensive against Kurdish-led forces.

Speaking after crisis talks with Erdogan in Ankara, Pence said that under the deal all military operations would be paused to allow a pullback of Kurdish YPG militia over a 120-hour period. The Turkish military operation would end once that withdrawal was complete, Pence told a news conference.

“Today the United States and Turkey have agreed to a ceasefire in Syria,” Pence told a news conference after more than four hours of talks at the presidential palace in Ankara.

“The Turkish side will pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow for the withdrawal of YPG forces from the safe zone for 120 hours,” Pence said. “All military operations under Operation Peace Spring will be paused, and Operation Peace Spring will be halted entirely on completion of the withdrawal.”

Pence said U.S. forces in the region had already begun to facilitate a safe disengagement of YPG units.

The deal struck with Erdogan also provided for Turkey not to engage in military operations in the flashpoint Syrian border town of Kobani.

Pence said the United States and Turkey had committed to a peaceful resolution of Ankara’s demand for a “safe zone” in northern Syria near Turkey’s border, one of the objectives of the Turkish offensive.

Pence added that he had spoken to U.S. President Donald Trump after the talks and that Trump had expressed his gratitude for the ceasefire accord.

The deal was a major contribution to relations between NATO allies Turkey and the United States, which have become strained in recent months.

After Pence and Erdogan met at the presidential palace, talks between Turkish and U.S. delegations continued for over four hours – well past their expected duration.

Pence’s mission was to persuade Erdogan to halt the internationally condemned offensive, but Turkish officials had said before the meeting began that the action would continue regardless.

The Turkish assault has created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with 200,000 civilians taking flight, a security alert over thousands of Islamic State fighters abandoned in Kurdish jails, and a political maelstrom at home for President Donald Trump.

Trump has been accused of abandoning Kurdish-led fighters, Washington’s main partners in the battle to dismantle Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria, by withdrawing troops from the border as Ankara launched its offensive on Oct. 9.

Trump had defended his move on Wednesday as “strategically brilliant”. He said he thought Pence and Erdogan would have a successful meeting, but warned of sanctions and tariffs that “will be devastating to Turkey’s economy” otherwise.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Ellen Francis in Beirut and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Dominic Evans and Mark Heinrich)

Trump officials rush to Turkey as Moscow advances to fill Syria void from U.S. retreat

Trump officials rush to Turkey as Moscow advances to fill Syria void from U.S. retreat
By Tuvan Gumrukcu

ANKARA (Reuters) – The Trump administration dispatched its top officials to Turkey on Wednesday for emergency talks to try to persuade Ankara to halt an assault on northern Syria, while Russian troops swept into territory abandoned by Washington in a sudden retreat.

Robert O’Brien, White House national security adviser since last month, arrived in Turkey aiming to meet Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are expecting to meet the following day with President Tayyip Erdogan.

The administration is trying to contain the fallout from Erdogan’s decision to send forces last week to attack Syrian Kurdish militia that were Washington’s close allies.

Erdogan again insisted there would be no ceasefire, and said he might call off a visit to the United States next month because of the “very big disrespect” shown by U.S. politicians.

He also denounced the United States for taking the “unlawful, ugly step” of imposing criminal charges against a Turkish state bank over allegations it broke sanctions on Iran.

Turkey’s assault, launched after a call between Erdogan and President Donald Trump, forced Washington to abandon a strategy in place for five years and pull its troops from northern Syria.

It has spawned a humanitarian crisis, with 160,000 civilians taking flight, a security alert over thousands of Islamic State fighters abandoned in Kurdish jails, and a political maelstrom at home for Trump, accused by congressional leaders, including fellow Republicans, of betraying loyal U.S. allies, the Kurds.

Syrian government forces, backed by Washington’s adversaries Russia and Iran, have meanwhile taken advantage of the power vacuum left by retreating U.S. troops to advance swiftly into the largest swath of territory previously outside their grasp.

Trump played down the crisis on Wednesday, saying the conflict was between Turkey and Syria and that it was “fine” for Russia to help its ally Damascus. Sanctioning Turkey would be better than fighting in the region, he said.

Washington announced sanctions to punish Turkey on Monday, but Trump’s critics said the steps, mainly a steel tariffs hike and a pause in trade talks, were too feeble to have an impact.

A day later U.S. prosecutors’ charges were unveiled against Turkey’s majority state-owned Halkbank for taking part in a scheme to evade Iran sanctions. Washington says the case is unrelated to politics. Halkbank denies wrongdoing and called the case part of the sanctions against Turkey.

U.S. “SHOW OF FORCE”

The Turkish advance, and Washington’s need to swiftly evacuate its own forces, have brought the two biggest militaries in NATO close to confrontation on the battlefield. Washington has complained about Turkish artillery fire near its troops.

In the latest potential flashpoint, U.S. military aircraft made a “show of force” over the border city of Kobani after Turkish-backed fighters came close to American troops there, a U.S. official said.

Pence said Erdogan had promised Trump by phone that Turkey would not attack Kobani, a strategically important border city where U.S. forces first came to the aid of Kurds against Islamic State, which massacred Kurdish civilians there in 2014.

Erdogan said he had not broken his promise to Trump: “Mr Trump’s remark on Kobani was ‘Don’t strike there’,” Erdogan told reporters late on Tuesday. “We said that we had only done an encircling operation there at the moment.”

LAND RUSH

Washington’s hasty exit has created a land rush between Turkey and Russia – now the undisputed foreign powers in the area – to partition the formerly U.S.-protected Kurdish area.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the eight-year Syrian war, said on Wednesday Russian troops had crossed the Euphrates River to advance to Kobani’s outskirts.

Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen TV reported that Russian-backed Syrian forces had also set up outposts in Raqqa, the one-time capital of Islamic State’s caliphate, which the Kurds captured in 2017 at the peak of their campaign with U.S. support.

Hours after Washington announced its pullout on Sunday, the Kurds made a rapid deal with Washington’s adversaries, the Russia- and Iran-backed government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia-backed Syrian troops have swiftly moved across the breadth of the Kurdish-held area including Manbij city, a target of Turkey which U.S. forces said on Tuesday they had quit.

Reuters journalists traveling with Syrian government forces on Tuesday entered Manbij and saw Russian and Syrian flags on buildings nearby. Russian state media said on Wednesday Syrian government forces had occupied bases abandoned by U.S. troops.

Erdogan, due in Moscow later this month, said he had told President Vladimir Putin that Russia could move forces into Manbij, provided that the Kurdish YPG militia was cleared out.

Erdogan says Trump approved his plan for a “safe zone” about 30 km (20 miles) inside Syria. Trump says he did not endorse the plan but Washington could not stay to police the Middle East.

“They say ‘declare a ceasefire’. We will never declare a ceasefire,” Erdogan told reporters. “Our goal is clear. We are not worried about any sanctions.”

The Turkish campaign shows no sign of abating on the ground, with most fighting so far around two border cities, Ras al Ain and Tel Abyad. A Reuters cameraman in the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar reported the sound of heavy gunfire just across the frontier in Ras al Ain, which Turkey’s Defence Ministry had earlier said its forces controlled.

(Additional reporting by Mert Ozkan; Writing by Dominic Evans and Peter Graff; Editing by Alison Williams)

Scrambling to limit damage, Trump tells Turkey to stop its Syria invasion

By Steve Holland and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday demanded Turkey stop its military incursion in Syria and imposed new sanctions on the NATO ally as Trump scrambled to limit the damage from his much-criticized decision to clear U.S. troops from Turkey’s path.

Vice President Mike Pence said Trump had told Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call on Monday to agree to an immediate ceasefire. He also said he would travel to the region soon to try to mediate the crisis.

Pence said Trump had been firm with Erdogan on the phone.

“The United States of America simply is not going to tolerate Turkey’s invasion in Syria any further. We are calling on Turkey to stand down, end the violence and come to the negotiating table,” Pence told reporters.

Turkey launched a cross-border operation into northern Syria on Wednesday just days after Erdogan told Trump in a phone call that he planned to move ahead with a long-planned move against America’s Kurdish allies in the region.

Trump abruptly announced a redeployment of 50 American troops from the conflict zone to get them out of harm’s way, dismissing criticism that this would leave the Kurds open to attack. This was widely seen as giving Erdogan a green light for his operation.

With lawmakers in the U.S. Congress moving to impose sanctions of their own, Trump issued an executive order authorizing sanctions against current and former officials of the Turkish government for contributing to Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria.

In a statement, Trump said he had increased tariffs on imports of Turkish steel back up to 50 percent, six months after they were reduced, and would immediately stop negotiations on what he called a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey.

“Unfortunately, Turkey does not appear to be mitigating the humanitarian effects of its invasion,” said Trump.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the United States had imposed sanctions on Turkey’s ministers of defense, interior and energy, as well as their departments.

The scenes of carnage from Turkey’s assault have exposed Trump to harsh criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike for abandoning the Kurdish allies who were instrumental in the U.S. battle against Islamic State militants in Syria.

As Congress has vowed to act if he will not, Trump said Turkey’s action is precipitating a humanitarian crisis and “setting conditions for possible war crimes” but he made clear he had no plans to reverse his decision to withdraw.

“As I have said, I am withdrawing the remaining United States service members from northeast Syria,” said Trump.

U.S. troops coming out of Syria will stay in the region to monitor ISIS and a small footprint will remain at the Tanf base in southern Syria, he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican allied with Trump, expressed his displeasure with the president’s decision in a statement.

“Abandoning this fight now and withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria would recreate the very conditions that we have worked hard to destroy and invite the resurgence of ISIS,” he said.

A statement from Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic senators Robert Menendez and Jack Reed said the only person who is able to “immediately stop this tragedy unfolding is the president himself.”

“The first step when Congress returns to session this week is for Republicans to join with us in passing a resolution making clear that both parties are demanding the president’s decision be reversed,” they said.

Trump said his executive order would enable the United States to impose sanctions on those current or former Turkish officials who may be involved in human rights abuses. He said it will authorize sanctions such as blocking of property and barring entry into the United States.

Turkey’s lira, which had weakened some 0.8% in the day, reacted minimally to Trump’s announcement. It stood at 5.9300 at 2018 GMT, from 5.9260 beforehand.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Lisa Lambert, Eric Beech, Humeyra Pamuk, Patricia Zengerle and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Sandra Maler and Sonya Hepinstall)

Ukraine president says Trump didn’t seek to blackmail him

By Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Thursday that U.S. President Donald Trump did not seek to blackmail him during a phone call in July or a meeting in September.

Zelenskiy said he had not known that U.S. military aid to Ukraine had been blocked at the time of the call. Having been made aware of this by his defense minister later, he raised the issue during a separate meeting in September in Poland with Vice President Mike Pence.

The U.S. House of Representatives has launched an impeachment inquiry against Trump, focused on whether he used congressionally approved aid to Ukraine as leverage to pressure Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump’s main Democratic rivals as he seeks re-election in 2020.

Trump has made allegations, without evidence, that Biden engaged in improper dealings in Ukraine. Biden’s son Hunter was on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma.

Zelenskiy told reporters that his aim in having a phone call with Trump was to arrange a subsequent meeting and that he had asked the White House to change its rhetoric on Ukraine.

He said Kiev was open to a joint investigation into Biden but added that Ukraine was an independent country with independent law enforcement agencies that he could not influence.

“There was no blackmail. This was not the subject of our conversation,” Zelenskiy said about his call with Trump, speaking to reporters in a day-long series of televised briefings with the press, held at a Kiev food court.

Zelenskiy said there were no conditions attached to him meeting Trump, including whether he should investigate the activities of Hunter at Burisma.

The White House published its summary of the call between Zelenskiy and Trump in September. Asked whether the Ukrainian version matched up to the U.S. one, Zelenskiy said: “I didn’t even check, but I think that it matches completely.”

Biden for the first time on Wednesday made a direct call for Trump’s impeachment. Trump meanwhile continued to paint the probe as a partisan smear and accused the U.S. intelligence officer who filed the whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment row of having political motives.

Zelenskiy said he had no desire to interfere in the U.S. election.

Zelenskiy said he had been made aware by his defense minister that Washington had frozen military aid to Ukraine.

He raised the issue at a meeting with Pence in Warsaw when they met at a commemoration to mark the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War.

“I told him … please help to resolve it,” Zelenskiy recalls asking Pence. “And after our meeting America unblocked the aid.”

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets, Maria Tsvetkova and Matthias Williams; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by John Stonestreet and Peter Graff)

Trump says U.S. agency will begin removing millions of illegal immigrants

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees arrive at FCI Victorville federal prison in Victorville, California, U.S. June 8, 2018. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Monday that U.S. authorities would begin next week removing millions of immigrants who are in the United States illegally.

“Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States,” Trump tweeted, referring to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. “They will be removed as fast as they come in,” he said. He did not offer specifics.

There are an estimated 12 million immigrants who are in the United States illegally, mainly from Mexico and Central America.

Under a deal reached earlier this month, Mexico has agreed to take Central American immigrants seeking asylum in the United States until their cases are heard in U.S. courts.

The agreement, which included Mexico pledging to deploy National Guard troops to stop Central American immigrants from reaching the U.S. border, averted a Trump threat to hit Mexican imports with tariffs.

Trump also said in the tweet that Guatemala “is getting ready to sign a Safe-Third Agreement.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence suggested last week that Guatemala could receive asylum seekers from its neighbors as a so-called safe third country.

Details of the plan have not been made public, and Guatemala has not publicly confirmed talks that the U.S. State Department said were taking place in Guatemala on Friday.

U.S. rights group Human Rights First said, however, it was “simply ludicrous” for the United States to assert that Guatemala was capable of protecting refugees when its own citizens are fleeing violence.

Mexico has agreed that if its measures to stem the flow of migrants are unsuccessful, it will discuss signing a safe third country agreement with the United States.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Peter Cooney)

U.S. wants U.N. to revoke credentials of Maduro’s government

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), talk during their meeting at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela April 9, 2019. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence called on the United Nations on Wednesday to revoke the U.N. credentials of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government and recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate leader.

He said the United States had drafted a U.N. resolution and called on all states to support it.

“The time has come for the United Nations to recognize interim president Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela and seat his representative in this body,” Pence told the U.N. Security Council.

Diplomats said it is unlikely Washington will get the support needed to adopt such a measure. It was not immediately clear if Pence was proposing a resolution in the 15-member Security Council or the 193-member General Assembly.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Hours after U.S. troops killed in Syria, Pence says Islamic State defeated

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks to the news media outside the West Wing with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD) after a meeting with President Donald Trump and congressional leadership about the partial government shutdown at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 9, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

By Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Islamic State has been defeated in Syria, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday, hours after Americans were killed in a northern Syria bomb attack claimed by the militant group.

Pence did not mention the attack in his address to 184 chiefs of U.S. diplomatic missions who gather annually in Washington from around the world to discuss foreign policy strategy.

“The caliphate has crumbled and ISIS has been defeated,” Pence told the U.S. ambassadors and other senior American diplomats, referring to Islamic State.

In separate statements later, both the White House and Pence condemned the attack and expressed sympathy for the deaths of the U.S. personnel.

The Pentagon said two U.S. servicemembers, a Department of Defense civilian employee and one contractor working for the military were killed and three servicemembers were injured in the blast in the northern Syria town of Manbij.

An Islamic State-affiliated website said the attack was the work of a suicide bomber.

Trump made a surprise announcement on Dec. 19 that he would withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria after concluding that Islamic State had been defeated there. His decision led to the resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who cited policy differences with the president for his departure.

FILE PHOTO: A Syrian national flag flutters next to the Islamic State's slogan at a roundabout where executions were carried out by ISIS militants in the city of Palmyra, in Homs Governorate, Syria in this April 1, 2016 file photo. Omar Sanadiki/Files/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A Syrian national flag flutters next to the Islamic State’s slogan at a roundabout where executions were carried out by ISIS militants in the city of Palmyra, in Homs Governorate, Syria in this April 1, 2016 file photo. Omar Sanadiki/Files/File Photo

LACK OF PROGRESS

Despite talks of a second leaders’ summit between Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, Pence acknowledged that efforts to convince Pyonyang to give up its nuclear arsenal had not made headway.

“While the president is promising dialogue with Chairman Kim we still await concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle the nuclear weapons that threaten our people and our allies in the region,” he said.

The vice president also criticized China’s “unfair” trade practices and loans to developing countries that pushed up their debt levels as it tries to gain greater influence in the world.

“The truth is that too often in recent years China has chosen a path that disregards the laws and norms that have kept the world state prosperous for more than half a century,” he said. “The days of the United States looking the other way are over,” he added.

Pence said the administration’s foreign policy was based on Trump’s “America First” agenda. “No longer will the United States government pursue grandiose, unrealistic notions at the expense of American people,” he said.

He acknowledged that Trump’s foreign policy was “different from what the world has come to expect” and that the United States faced different threats than during the Cold War.

“Today we are not up against one superpower but several great powers competing with us for preeminence across the world,” he said, saying the United States faced a “wolf pack” of rogue states including Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman)

U.S. Christian pastor leaves Turkish prison after court ruling

U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson reacts as he arrives at his home after being released from the prison in Izmir, Turkey July 25, 2018. Demiroren News Agency, DHA via

By Ezgi Erkoyun and Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A U.S. Christian pastor on trial in Turkey on terrorism charges left prison on Wednesday after a court ruled he should be transferred to house arrest, a step that could help reduce tension between the NATO allies.

Andrew Brunson, who has worked in Turkey for more than 20 years and has been detained for the last 21 months, was escorted out of prison by officials in the coastal city of Izmir, live television footage showed. He departed in a convoy of cars.

Brunson, who is from North Carolina, was detained in October 2016 and charged with helping the group which Ankara says was behind a failed military coup earlier that year.

His lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt said Brunson has to wear an electronic ankle bracelet and is banned from leaving the country.

The same court rejected a week ago a call by Brunson’s defense for his release. The state-owned Anadolu news agency said the court had decided, after re-evaluating the case, that he could leave prison on health grounds and because he would be under effective judicial control.

Brunson’s detention deepened a rift between NATO allies Washington and Ankara, who are also at odds over the Syrian war and Turkey’s plan to buy missile defenses from Russia.

A source in the United States familiar with the developments said the sudden shift came a day before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence had been set to unveil a harsh new policy on Turkey.

The source, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said U.S. and Turkish officials had been working on a deal that would lead to Brunson’s release, with Washington expecting him to be freed at the trial last week.

U.S. officials had been under the impression that the deal was in place, the source said, adding that when Brunson was not released, Pence spoke with President Donald Trump and the two agreed harsh new policy measures were needed to force the issue.

Pence spoke by phone on Wednesday with Brunson, who expressed gratitude for the help from Trump and his top officials in securing his move from prison, the source said.

“LONG OVERDUE NEWS

Brunson was accused of helping supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric who Turkish authorities say masterminded the coup attempt against President Tayyip Erdogan in which 250 people were killed. He was also charged with supporting outlawed PKK Kurdish militants.

The pastor, who denies the charges, faces up to 35 years in jail if found guilty.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed what he said was the “long overdue news” of Brunson’s transfer, but said it was not enough. “We have seen no credible evidence against Mr. Brunson, and call on Turkish authorities to resolve his case immediately in a transparent and fair manner,” he said on Twitter.

Financial markets took the transfer order as a positive, seeing in it the potential for improvement in ties between Ankara and Washington.

The Turkish lira strengthened to 4.8325 against the dollar from 4.8599 before the report. Shares of Halkbank, whose former deputy general manager was convicted in January of evading U.S. sanctions on Iran, jumped 12 percent.

Erdogan has previously linked Brunson’s fate to that of the Muslim cleric Gulen, whose extradition from the United States has been a long-held demand of Turkish authorities. Gulen denies any involvement in the coup bid.

Trump said in a tweet last week that Brunson was being held hostage and that Erdogan should “do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father”.

The U.S. Senate passed a bill last month including a measure that prohibits Turkey from buying F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets because of Brunson’s imprisonment and Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defence system.

(Additional reporting by Omer Berberoglu in Istanbul; Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Roberta Rampton and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Dominic Evans and David Dolan; editing by David Stamp and Mark Heinrich)

North Korea says no U.S. talks planned at Olympics, Pence vows continued pressure

Members of North Korean cheering squad arrive at a hotel in Inje, South Korea, February 7, 2018.

By Christine Kim and Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL, South Korea (Reuters) – North Korea has no intention of meeting U.S. officials during the Winter Olympics that start in South Korea on Friday, state media said, dampening hopes the Games will help resolve a tense standoff over the North’s nuclear weapons program.

However, the North’s high-ranking delegation, including the younger sister of its leader Kim Jong Un, will meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in and have lunch with him on Saturday.

Such a meeting would be the first such event between a South Korean head of state and a member of the Kim family since a 2007 summit meeting of Kim Jong Il and late South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who has described North Korea as the world’s most tyrannical regime, spoke with Moon on Thursday ahead of the opening ceremony in the mountain resort of Pyeongchang, just 80 km (50 miles) from the heavily armed border with the reclusive North.

Friday’s ceremony will be attended by North Korea’s delegation, including its nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam.

Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the North’s leader, and her entourage, will travel by private jet to Seoul’s Incheon International Airport on Friday, North Korea told the South.

“We have never begged for dialogue with the U.S. nor in the future, too,” the North’s KCNA news agency said, citing Jo Yong Sam, a director-general in the North’s foreign ministry.

“Explicitly speaking, we have no intention to meet with the U.S. side during the stay in South Korea… Our delegation’s visit to South Korea is only to take part in the Olympics and hail its successful holding.”

The United States had not requested talks with North Korea, but Pence left open the possibility of some contact although his message for denuclearisation remained unchanged.

In opening remarks during his meeting with Moon, Pence said the United States would never waver in its goal of getting North Korea to give up its nuclear and ballistic missile program through strong pressure, an aim shared with South Korea.

Pence has said Washington would soon unveil “the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever” while South Korea wants to use the Olympics to re-engage with the North.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters all sides, not just the two Koreas, needed to work hard and dialogue between the United States and North Korea should be expanded for this to happen, Wang said.

“You can’t have it that one person opens the door and another closes it,” he said.

North and South Korea are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The North defends its weapons programmes as necessary to counter U.S. aggression. The South hosts 28,500 U.S. troops, a legacy of the war.

MILITARY PARADE

North Korea marked the founding anniversary of its army with a large military parade in Pyongyang on Thursday broadcast by state media, having last month changed the date of the celebration to the eve of the Olympics.

Kim Jong Un, in a black hat and matching coat, saluted troops while his wife walked beside him, television images showed. One of Kim’s close aides, Choe Ryong Hae, and Kim Yong Nam were also in attendance.

The North’s state media also showed what appeared to be intercontinental ballistic missiles on launchers as thousands of North Koreans filled Kim Il Sung Square, named after Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, in Pyongyang.

“We have destroyed the enemy’s risk-taking provocations at every move,” Kim Jong Un said in a speech. He did not mention the United States, which North Korea considers its main enemy and regularly threatens to destroy in a sea of flames.

Analysts said the parade seemed smaller than those of previous years, but was still focused on the North’s goal of strengthening its nuclear missile capabilities.

Trump has ordered Pentagon and White House officials to begin planning a military parade in Washington similar to the Bastille Day parade he saw in Paris in July, the Washington Post said.

On Friday, before he attends the Olympic opening ceremony, Pence will visit a memorial for 46 South Korean sailors killed in the 2010 sinking of a warship that Seoul blamed on a North Korean torpedo attack.

SEATING COMPLICATIONS

The 28-year-old sister of the North Korean leader will be the first member of the Kim family to cross the border into the South. Kim Yo Jong is a propaganda official blacklisted last year by the U.S. Treasury Department over alleged human rights abuses and censorship.

“By sending key figures like his sister, Kim Jong Un is aiming to send a signal to the South that it is giving more weight to inter-Korean ties while driving a wedge between South Korea and the United States,” said Kim Sung-han, a former South Korean vice foreign minister.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will also attend the ceremony, adding to seating complications for the hosts.

South Korea has asked the United Nations for an exemption to allow a U.N.-sanctioned North Korean official, Choe Hwi, to attend the opening ceremony with Kim Yo Jong.

Pyongyang has yet to mention any change in plans to send him, Seoul said.

The U.N. Security Council, which has slapped sanctions on North Korea for its weapons programmes, imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on Choe last year when he was vice director of the Workers’ Party of Korea Propaganda and Agitation Department.

A group of 280 North Koreans arrived in South Korea on Wednesday, made up of a 229-member cheer squad, taekwondo performers, journalists and the sports minister.

(For graphic on North Korea’s Olympic delegations, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2E1Qa9Q)

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Christine Kim in SEOUL; Additional reporting by Heekyong Yang and Josh Smith in SEOUL, Ossian Shine in PYEONGCHANG, Tim Kelly and Linda Sieg in TOKYO, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON, Michelle Nichols at the UNITED NATIONS and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)