Trump decries ‘permissive’ U.S. abortion laws at rally

Participants attend the annual March for Life anti-abortion rally in front of the Washington Monument in Washington, U.S. January 19, 2017.

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump criticized U.S. abortion laws as among the most permissive in the world in a speech to anti-abortion activists at the annual March for Life on Friday, and pledged his administration would always defend “the right to life.”

The Republican president’s speech, relayed via video link from the White House Rose Garden to thousands gathered on Washington’s National Mall, highlighted his shift in recent years from a supporter of women’s access to abortion to a powerful opponent.

“As you all know, Roe v. Wade has resulted in some of the most permissive abortion laws anywhere in the world,” he said, criticizing the 1973 Supreme Court decision that affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion at most stages of a pregnancy.

Trump said the United States “is one of only seven countries to allow elective late-term abortions,” mentioning China and North Korea. “It is wrong. It has to change.”

The other countries that allow elective abortions after 20 weeks are Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore and Vietnam, according to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group.

Trump listed some anti-abortion measures his administration had taken, including an announcement March for Lifeearlier in the day by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The agency said it was revoking Obama administration legal guidance that had sought to discourage states from trying to defund organizations that provide abortion services, such as Planned Parenthood.

Roe v. Wade effectively legalized abortion nationwide. In the 45 years since the decision was issued on Jan. 22, 1973, the March for Life has been staged near the ruling’s anniversary in protest.

“Because of you, tens of thousands of Americans have been born and reached their full, God-given potential,” Trump, a Christian, told the marchers, who included many groups of students from Roman Catholic schools.

Trump has pledged to appoint more federal judges who oppose abortion with the hope that the ruling might eventually be overturned.

Trump is the third sitting president to address the march: Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both made supportive remarks to the march at least twice each during their presidencies, speaking via telephone broadcast by loudspeakers.

Trump sent Vice President Mike Pence, a vocal abortion opponent, to speak at last year’s march, a few days after the presidential inauguration. This year, Pence introduced Trump, saying the president would “restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law.”

Many marchers, carrying signs with slogans such as “Pray to end abortion,” said they were excited to hear from a president they see as an ally, but hesitated to point to any specific advancements in their agenda from Trump’s first year in office.

“It’s so refreshing to have a standing president who supports pro-life,” Tim Curran, a 66-year-old grocer who had traveled to the march from Kentucky, said before the remarks and the march to the steps of the Supreme Court for a rally. “He seems to be moving us back in the direction of traditional families and morality.”

U.S. President Donald Trump greets a young girl among families gathered in the White House Rose Garden as he addresses the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the nearby National Mall in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2018.

U.S. President Donald Trump greets a young girl among families gathered in the White House Rose Garden as he addresses the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the nearby National Mall in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The event came a day before the first anniversary of Trump’s inauguration, a milestone to be marked by the second Women’s March in cities across the United States, including Washington. Organizers hope to recreate last year’s huge anti-Trump protests by hundreds of thousands of people who saw Trump as a foe of women’s rights and reproductive freedom.

Trump previously supported women’s access to abortion, saying in an interview in 1999, when he was still a celebrity real-estate tycoon in New York City, that while he “hated the concept of abortion,” he was “very pro-choice.”

As a candidate for the presidency in 2016, Trump said his position had “evolved,” describing himself as “pro-life with exceptions,” such as in cases of rape or incest.

Trump has said he hopes Roe v. Wade will eventually be overturned and that each state will instead be allowed to decide whether to ban it.

Americans tend to split roughly down the middle on abortion access, with 49 percent saying they supported it and 46 percent saying they opposed it in a 2017 Gallup poll.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington and Jonathan Allen in New York; Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis)

Clock running out to avert U.S. government shutdown as Congress faces deadline

The U.S. Capitol building is lit at dusk ahead of planned votes on tax reform in Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017.

By Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump postponed plans to leave Washington on Friday while the U.S. Congress faced a midnight deadline to come up with funding legislation to avoid federal agency shutdowns.

Although the House of Representatives voted 230-197 on Thursday night for a bill to extend expiring funding through Feb. 16, the measure appeared to be on the verge of collapse in the Senate.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said that on Thursday he was ratcheting up the likelihood of a shutdown from 30 percent to a 50-50 possibility.

“The vote this afternoon looks challenging for us to keep the government open,” Trump’s legislative liaison, Marc Short, told Fox News. He expected negotiations to continue up until midnight.

Short and Mulvaney planned to brief the media Friday morning on plans for any possible shutdown.

The Senate was to reconvene later Friday morning. Congress has been struggling since October to resolve the issue and the current bill is endangered because of the deep rift between Republicans and Democrats on immigration issues that have found their way into the funding fight.

Markets were keenly focused Friday morning on the budget woes. The U.S. dollar moving to a near three-year low while Wall Street largely played down any fears of the looming possible shutdown and opened higher.

The government currently is being funded by a third temporary measure since the new fiscal year began in October.

Trump, who was scheduled to leave for his Florida resort in the afternoon, will remain in Washington until Congress passes legislation to avert a shutdown, White House officials said.

“The trip is on ice. If there is a shutdown he won’t go,” one official said on condition of anonymity.

In a morning tweet, Trump accused Democrats of holding up the measure over immigration.

“Democrats are needed if it is to pass in the Senate – but they want illegal immigration and weak borders. Shutdown coming?” he said.

Republicans control the Senate but with Senator John McCain undergoing cancer treatment at home in Arizona, they will need at least 10 Democrats to reach the 60 votes required to pass a spending bill. In addition to strong Democratic opposition, at least three Republican senators have said they will not back the continuing resolution in its current form.

Republican Senator Mike Rounds, who had earlier said he could not back the bill in current form, on Friday said in a statement that while the measure was “not ideal,” he would support it after being assured that other legislation to adequately fund the U.S. military would be raised soon.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has indicated he was leaning in favor of the stopgap measure. Manchin is one of 10 Democrats up for re-election this year in states Trump won in the 2016 presidential election.

When the government shuts down, which has only happened three times in a meaningful way since 1995, hundreds of thousands of “non-essential” federal workers may be put on furlough, while “essential” employees, dealing with public safety and national security, would keep working.

SHORT-TERM FUNDING

Nearly four months into the 2018 fiscal year, the two parties still have not agreed on top-line spending for defense and non-defense programs, rendering impossible the passage of a long-term government funding bill. Instead, Congress has been struggling to pass its fourth short-term appropriations measure.

Amid the deadlock, more senators were raising the possibility of merely approving enough new federal funds for a few days. The idea is to put pressure on negotiators to then cut deals on immigration, defense spending and non-defense funding by next week.

The immigration fight is over Democrats’ demand that 700,000 young undocumented immigrants be protected from deportation.

Given temporary legal status under a program started by former President Barack Obama, these “Dreamers,” as they are called, were brought into the United States, largely from Mexico and Central America, as children. Many have been educated in the United States and know no other country.

In September, Trump announced he was ending the program and giving Congress until March 5 to come up with a legislative replacement.

Since then, however, the president has engaged in a series of spats with Congress. Trump and conservatives in Congress have used the Dreamer fight to try and win tough new immigration controls, including the president’s promised border wall.

Late on Thursday, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who is leading the fight for the Dreamers, told reporters there had been some signs earlier in the day that talks with Republicans were taking a positive turn and a deal could be within reach.

But in a late-night speech on the Senate floor, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of aiming to “hold the entire country hostage” by demanding immediate resolution of a “non-imminent problem” related to immigration.

McConnell continued to push for passage of the bill approved by the House so that a government shutdown could be avoided.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Steve Holland; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Trott)

Trump to address U.S. anti-abortion march, cementing U-turn on issue

President Donald Trump departs following a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for former Senator Bob Dole at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2018.

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) – Donald Trump will become the third sitting U.S. president to address anti-abortion activists at the annual March for Life on Friday, highlighting his shift in recent years from a supporter of women’s access to abortion to a powerful opponent.

Trump is due to address the march in Washington via satellite from the White House Rose Garden on Friday afternoon. Ronald Reagan, Trump’s fellow Republican, made supportive remarks to the march in 1987 via telephone, while George W. Bush, another Republican, twice did the same, in 2003 and 2004.

“The President is committed to protecting the life of the unborn, and he is excited to be part of this historic event,” Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday.

Organizers of the march, the largest anti-abortion event in the country, praised Trump for his policies on restricting abortion access. These policies include efforts to eliminate federal funding to groups providing abortions. Trump sent Vice President Mike Pence, a vocal abortion opponent, to speak at last year’s march, a few days after the presidential inauguration.

Trump has also pledged to appoint more judges that support the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion at most stages of a pregnancy, effectively legalizing the procedure nationwide.

The March for Life, where tens of thousands of people seeking to overturn that decision gather at the National Mall before rallying at the Supreme Court steps, is held close to the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling.

Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of U.S. House of Representatives, will also address the march, now in its 45th year.

Trump was previously a supporter of women’s access to abortion, saying in an interview in 1999, when he was still a celebrity real-estate tycoon in New York City, that while he “hated the concept of abortion” he was “very pro-choice.”

As a Republican candidate for the presidency in 2016, Trump said his position had “evolved,” describing himself as “pro-life with exceptions,” such as in cases of rape or incest.

Trump has said he hopes Roe v. Wade will eventually be overturned and that each state would instead be allowed to decide whether to ban the procedure.

Americans tend to split roughly down the middle on abortion access, with 49 percent saying they supported it and 46 percent saying they opposed it in a 2017 Gallup poll.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Andrew Hay)

Syrian opposition calls on Trump and EU to put pressure on Russia and Iran

Nasr Hariri, chief negotiator for Syria's main opposition, poses for a photograph in central London, Britain January 16, 2018.

By Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and European Union leaders should increase pressure on President Bashar al-Assad and his allies Russia and Iran to return to talks to end Syria’s civil war, Syria’s chief opposition negotiator said on Monday.

Nasr Hariri said that unless the West forced Assad and his big power allies to seek peace then Syrian civilians would continue to be killed.

“I would like to ask all those countries that promised they would support the Syrian people and their aspirations for democracy and peace: why didn’t they fulfil their promises?” Hariri, speaking in English, told Reuters in London.

The chief negotiator for Syria’s main opposition grouping, Hariri called for Trump and EU leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May to get tougher with Assad.

All diplomatic initiatives have so far failed to yield progress in ending the war, which is now entering its eighth year having killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven 11 million from their homes.

The map of Syria’s conflict has been decisively redrawn in favor of Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies during the past two years. They have recaptured major population centres in western Syria from rebels seeking to overthrow him and pushed back Islamic State in the east.

In the face of the collapse of rebel-held territory, most Western countries have quietly softened their positions that Assad must leave power as part of any peace deal. But the opposition entered the last formal talks last month without softening its demand Assad go, prompting the government to declare the talks pointless.

Nevertheless, Hariri suggested Western powers still had enough influence to push the government to negotiate.

“It is time for President Trump, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister May to say: ‘Stop’,” the former cardiologist said.

“It is time for Trump, Merkel and May to increase pressure and bring the international community together to get a genuine and just political situation in Syria.”

Hariri represents the Saudi-backed umbrella group of Syrian opposition groups which are opposed to Assad and supported by the West. He said the next round of the so-called “Geneva talks” on the fate of Syria would take place in late January, probably around Jan. 24-26 in Vienna.

A spokesman for Hariri said the opposition would attend those talks.

MORE TALKS?

Hariri said discussions in Washington, including with White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster, had been positive and that the Trump administration understood the situation.

“Iran and Russia are trying to deprioritise the transition,” he said. “We need the international community’s help to put pressure on the regime and their backers, Russia and Iran.

“The Americans want to test the Russians and the regime in the next round of talks. They want to move the Geneva process forward,” Hariri said.

When asked about U.S. plans to help support a 30,000-strong force dominated by the mainly Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), he said it could lead to Syria’s partition.

“What are the benefits of establishing such an army?” he asked. “It will open the door wide for a future struggle in the region. It could open the door to the future partition of Syria.”

Assad has responded to the plan by vowing to drive U.S. troops from Syria. Turkey has called the force a terrorist army and vowed to crush it. Iran said on Tuesday creation of the SDF force would “fan the flames of war”, echoing the vehement response of Syria, Turkey and Russia.

Hariri said it was very unlikely that the Syrian opposition would attend a meeting on Syria organized by Russia in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The opposition had received no invitation so far, and no final decision on attendance had been made.

“We have not been invited yet,” he said. “The general mood is not to go to Sochi. My personal view is that in its current shape, it is unacceptable to attend Sochi.”

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Michael Holden and Peter Graff)

Palestinians protesting U.S Jerusalem move clash with Israeli troops

A Palestinian demonstrator hurls stones towards Israeli troops during clashes, near the border with Israel in the east of Gaza City January 12, 2018.

GAZA (Reuters) – Hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank on Friday in what they said was a protest against U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Such clashes occur weekly, but tensions have risen following U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement on Dec. 6, which stirred anger across the Arab and Muslim world and concern among Washington’s European allies as well as Russia.

The move was welcomed by Israel.

“There is almost nothing left for the United States to do before it clearly declares a state of war against the Palestinian people, its authority and leadership,” wrote commentator Rajab Abu Serreya in the widely-circulated Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam.

A total of 17 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed in the flare-up since Trump’s announcement, though analysts say neither Israel nor the Palestinians are interested in a major escalation.

A few hundred Gazans approached the border fence with Israel, throwing stones at soldiers who tried to disperse them by firing canisters of tear gas, according to Reuters video. Smaller crowds gathered in a couple of West Bank cities where protesters threw stones and burned tyres. Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and threw stun grenades.

East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want for the capital of a Palestinian state, was captured by Israel in the 1967 war and later annexed, though that action has not been internationally recognised.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have collapsed, partly due to Israeli settlement building on occupied land and to Israeli concerns over contact between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas which Israel considers a terrorist organisation.

Palestinian medical officials said 14 Palestinians were wounded by live ammunition in Friday’s clash. An Israeli military spokeswoman said she was checking the reports.

“We want the Americans to know that the bloodshed here of unarmed people is on the hands of their president,” said Ali, a 20-year-old university student in Gaza who did not want to give his family name.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; editing by Ralph Boulton)

European powers urge Trump to preserve Iran nuclear deal

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson attends a news conference with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel and European Union's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini after meeting Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (unseen) in Brussels, Belgium January 11, 2018.

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Britain, France and Germany called on Donald Trump on Thursday to uphold a pact curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions on the eve of a sanctions ruling by the U.S. president they fear could torpedo an accord he has relentlessly criticized.

Hailed by its admirers as key to stopping Iran from building a nuclear bomb, the deal lifted economic sanctions in exchange for Tehran limiting its nuclear program. It was also signed by China, France, Russia, Britain, Germany and the European Union.

The U.S. Congress requires the president to periodically certify Iran’s compliance and issue a waiver to allow U.S sanctions to remain suspended. The next deadline is on Friday.

In sharp contrast to Trump’s view that the 2015 pact was “the worst deal ever negotiated”, the foreign ministers of the three countries and the EU’s top diplomat said there was no alternative to it and that sanctions should remain lifted.

“We agree on this approach, we want to protect (the deal) against every possible decision that might undermine it,” Germany’s Sigmar Gabriel said alongside his French and British counterparts and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini after meeting Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“It is absolutely necessary to have this to prevent the development of nuclear weapons at a time when other parts of the world are discussing how to get them,” Gabriel said, later specifically mentioning North Korea in his remarks.

Trump’s choice comes at a delicate time for Iran’s government, which faced protests over economic hardships and corruption that are linked to frustration among younger Iranians who hoped to see more benefits from the lifting of sanctions.

The meeting in Brussels was choreographed to send a message to Washington before Trump is due to decide whether to re-impose oil sanctions lifted under the deal. If that happens, Iran has said it would no longer be bound by the pact and could return to producing enriched uranium.

Zarif tweeted that the Brussels meeting had shown a “strong consensus” that Iran was complying with the pact, had the right to enjoy its economic benefits and “any move that undermines (it) is unacceptable”.

“E3 (Germany, France and Britain) and EU fully aware that Iran’s continued compliance (is) conditioned on full compliance by the US,” Zarif added.

European countries have benefited from renewed trade with Iran as sanctions have been lifted, while U.S. companies are still largely barred from doing business with the Islamic Republic due to other sanctions unrelated to the nuclear issue..

“GOOD NEIGHBOUR”

“The deal is working. It is delivering on its main goal which means keeping the Iranian nuclear program in check and under close surveillance,” Mogherini said, adding that the International Atomic Energy Agency had shown in nine reports that Iran is meeting its commitments.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the pact was also a way for Iran to show it was “a good neighbour” in the region by complying.

Trump formally rejected the deal in October, although the United States has not yet pulled out.

That major shift in U.S. policy put the United States at odds with its European allies, as well as Russia and China that are also signatories to the nuclear accord, in the most visible transatlantic split on foreign policy since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

European governments are troubled by Trump’s “America first” rhetoric and inconsistent statements on NATO and the European Union, while they consider the Iran nuclear deal one of West’s the biggest diplomatic achievements in decades.

In a gesture to Trump, France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Paris shared Washington’s concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile program and involvement in wars in Yemen and Syria, but stressed the nuclear deal should still stand.

“We do not hide other disagreements, which exist … both in the ballistic field and over Iran’s actions in the whole region,” Le Drian said.

Tehran has repeatedly vowed to continue building up its ballistic missile arsenal, one of the biggest in the Middle East, saying it is for defense purposes only. The West sees it as a threat and has installed a U.S.-built missile shield in southeastern Europe, under NATO command.

Gabriel said Zarif agreed at the Brussels meeting to discuss the issues in a more regular and structured way, but diplomats said there was no immediate timetable for talks.

(Additional reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Peter Maushagen; Editing by Robin Pomeroy, William Maclean)

South Korea’s Moon says Trump deserves ‘big’ credit for North Korea talks

South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivers a speech during his New Year news conference at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, January 10,

By Christine Kim and Soyoung Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Moon Jae-in credited U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday for helping to spark the first inter-Korean talks in more than two years, and warned that Pyongyang would face stronger sanctions if provocations continued.

The talks were held on Tuesday on the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone, which has divided the two Koreas since 1953, after a prolonged period of tension on the Korean peninsula over the North’s missile and nuclear programs.

North Korea ramped up its missile launches last year and also conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, resulting in some of the strongest international sanctions yet.

The latest sanctions sought to drastically cut the North’s access to refined petroleum imports and earnings from workers abroad. Pyongyang called the steps an “act of war”.

Seoul and Pyongyang agreed at Tuesday’s talks, the first since December 2015, to resolve all problems between them through dialogue and also to revive military consultations so that accidental conflict could be averted.

“I think President Trump deserves big credit for bringing about the inter-Korean talks, I want to show my gratitude,” Moon told reporters at his New Year’s news conference. “It could be a resulting work of the U.S.-led sanctions and pressure.”

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un exchanged threats and insults over the past year, raising fears of a new war on the peninsula. South Korea and the United States are technically still at war with the North after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

‘BASIC STANCE’

Washington had raised concerns that the overtures by North Korea could drive a wedge between it and Seoul, but Moon said his government did not differ with the United States over how to respond to the threats posed by Pyongyang.

“This initial round of talks is for the improvement of relations between North and South Korea. Our task going forward is to draw North Korea to talks aimed at the denuclearization of the North,” Moon said. “(It’s) our basic stance that will never be given up.”

Moon said he was open to meeting North Korea’s leader at any time to improve bilateral ties, and if the conditions were right and “certain achievements are guaranteed”.

“The purpose of it shouldn’t be talks for the sake of talks,” he said.

However, Pyongyang said it would not discuss its nuclear weapons with Seoul because they were only aimed at the United States, not its “brethren” in South Korea, nor Russia or China, showing that a diplomatic breakthrough remained far off.

North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper said all problems would be resolved through efforts by the Korean people alone.

“If the North and South abandon external forces and cooperate together, we will be able to fully solve all problems to match our people’s needs and our joint prosperity,” it said.

Washington still welcomed Tuesday’s talks as a first step toward solving the North Korean nuclear crisis. The U.S. State Department said it would be interested in joining future talks, with the aim of denuclearizing the North.

The United States, which still has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, initially responded coolly to the idea of inter-Korean meetings. Trump later called them “a good thing” and said he would be willing to speak to Kim.

Lee Woo-young, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said it was wise of Moon to praise Trump, his sanctions and pressure campaign.

“By doing that, he can help the U.S. build logic for moving toward negotiations and turning around the state of affairs in the future, so when they were ready to talk to the North, they can say the North came out of isolation because the sanctions were effective.”

The United States and Canada are set to host a conference of about 20 foreign ministers on Jan. 16 in Vancouver to discuss North Korea, without the participation of China, Pyongyang’s sole major ally and biggest trade partner.

China would not attend the meeting and is resolutely opposed to it, said foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang.

“It will only create divisions within the international community and harm joint efforts to appropriately resolve the Korean peninsula nuclear issue,” he told a regular briefing on Wednesday.

LARGE OLYMPICS DELEGATION

Pyongyang also said it would send a large delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Washington agreed with Seoul last week to postpone until after the Olympics joint military exercises that Pyongyang denounces as rehearsals for invasion. But it also said the apparent North-South thaw had not altered the U.S. intelligence assessment of the North’s weapons programs.

The United States has also warned that all options, including military, are on the table in dealing with the North.

“We cannot say talks are the sole answer,” Moon said. “If North Korea engages in provocations again or does not show sincerity in resolving this issue, the international community will continue applying strong pressure and sanctions.”

Seoul said on Tuesday it was prepared to offer financial assistance and lift some unilateral sanctions temporarily so North Koreans could attend the Olympics. North Korea said its delegation would include athletes and officials, among others.

However, Moon said on Wednesday South Korea had no plans for now to ease unilateral sanctions against North Korea, or revive economic exchanges that could run foul of United Nations sanctions.

Moon also said his government would continue working toward recovering the honor and dignity of former “comfort women”, a euphemism for those forced to work in Japan’s wartime brothels.

But historical issues should be separated from bilateral efforts with Japan to safeguard peace on the Korean peninsula, he added.

“It’s very important we keep a good relationship with Japan,” Moon said.

On Tuesday, South Korea said it would not seek to renegotiate a 2015 deal with Japan despite determining that the pact was insufficient to resolve the divisive issue, and urged Japan for more action to help the women.

 

(Additional reporting by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL and Michael Martina in BEIJING, Writing by Soyoung Kim, Editing by Paul Tait)

Trump promises to ‘take the heat’ for broad immigration deal

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD), holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan

By Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he was ready to accept an onslaught of criticism if lawmakers tackle broad immigration reforms after an initial deal to help the young illegal immigrants known as Dreamers and build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.

Trump told lawmakers at the White House he would back a two-phased approach to overhauling U.S. immigration laws with the first step focused on protecting immigrants who were brought here as children from deportation along with funding for a wall and other restrictions that Democrats have opposed.

Once that is done, Trump said, he favors moving quickly to address even more contentious issues, including a possible pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants that is opposed by many Republicans and many of his supporters.

“If you want to take it that further step, I’ll take the heat, I don’t care,” Trump told lawmakers about a broad immigration bill. “You are not that far away from comprehensive immigration reform. And if you wanted to go that final step, I think you should do it.”

Trump campaigned for the White House in 2016 with a hard-line approach on illegal immigration, and many of his supporters consider potential citizenship for undocumented immigrants to be an unacceptable grant of amnesty.

Trump said on Tuesday he would sign a bill that gives legal status to the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, known as Dreamers, as long as the bill had the border security protections he has sought, including funding for a wall.

“Now, that doesn’t mean 2,000 miles of wall because you just don’t need that … because of mountains and rivers and lots of other things,” Trump said. “But we need a certain portion of that border to have the wall. If we don’t have it, you can never have security.”

Trump and his fellow Republicans, who control the U.S. Congress, have been unable to reach agreement with Democrats on a deal to resolve the status of an estimated 700,000 young immigrants whose protection from potential deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program ends in early March.

“A VERY PRODUCTIVE MEETING”

Under pressure from immigrant groups ahead of midterm congressional elections in November, Democrats are reluctant to give ground to Trump on the issue of the wall, his central promise from the 2016 presidential campaign.

But after the meeting, lawmakers from both parties said they would meet as early as Wednesday to continue negotiations on a deal covering DACA and border security, as well as a visa lottery program and “chain migration,” which could address the status of relatives of Dreamers who are still in the United States illegally.

“From that standpoint it was a very productive meeting,” said Senator David Perdue, a Republican. “We have a scope now.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters the broader bill with a path to citizenship was not a focus for now.

“We’re certainly open to talking about a number of other issues when it comes to immigration, but right now this administration is focused on those four things and that negotiation, and not a lot else at this front,” she said.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who also was at the meeting, said negotiators in Congress still faced difficulties but it was important that Trump had shown he had “no animosity toward the Dream Act kids” and the “wall is not going to be 2,220 miles wide.”

PARTY DIFFERENCES ON BORDER SECURITY

The U.S. Congress has been trying and failing to pass a comprehensive immigration bill for more than a decade, most recently in 2013 when the Senate passed a bill that later died in the House of Representatives.

The latest immigration negotiations are part of a broader series of talks over issues ranging from funding the federal government through next September to renewing a children’s health insurance program and giving U.S. territories and states additional aid for rebuilding after last year’s hurricanes and wildfires.

Top congressional leaders did not attend the hour-long meeting. The guest list included lawmakers from both parties involved in the immigration debate, such as Graham and Democratic Senator Dick Durbin.

A majority of those protected under DACA are from Mexico and Central America and have spent most of their lives in the United States, attending school and participating in society.

Trump put their fate in doubt in early September when he announced he was ending the DACA program created by former President Barack Obama, which allowed them to legally live and work in the United States temporarily.

Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives, said a DACA bill could win support for passage even though there are differences between the parties over what constitutes necessary border security.

“Democrats are for security at the border,” Hoyer told Trump during the meeting. “There are obviously differences, however, Mr. President, on how you affect that.”

On Monday, Trump announced that he was ending immigration protections for about 200,000 El Salvadorans who have been living legally in the United States under the Temporary Protection Status program. Haitians and other groups have faced similar actions.

A congressional aide told Reuters that negotiators in Congress also have been talking about legislation that would expand TPS in return for ending a visa lottery program that Republicans want to terminate.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Steve Holland, Susan Heavey and Amanda Becker; Writing by John Whitesides and Jeff Mason; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Trump to order mental health aid to prevent suicide among military veterans

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin (L) after signing the Veterans Affairs Choice and Quality Employment Act at Trump's golf estate in Bedminster, New Jersey U.S. August 12, 2017.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday was set to sign an executive order that will direct government departments to try to prevent suicide among military veterans by treating mental health problems before they become more serious.

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin told reporters on a conference call that Trump wants to address an alarming trend, that of 20 veterans a day taking their own life.

“That is just an unacceptable number and we are focused on doing everything we can to try to prevent these veteran suicides,” Shulkin said.

Trump’s order will direct the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs to develop a plan in 60 days to provide access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention resources for uniformed service members in the first year following military service.

The new order will cost about $200 million year to implement, money that will be diverted from the agencies’ current budget, a senior administration official said.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by David Gregorio)

FEMA allows churches to apply retroactively for disaster aid

Interstate highway 45 is submerged from the effects of Hurricane Harvey seen during widespread flooding in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency said on Tuesday that churches may apply for aid relating to disasters declared after Aug. 23, 2017, following pressure from President Donald Trump and a lawsuit by Texas churches.

The federal disaster relief agency was sued in September by three Texas churches severely damaged in Hurricane Harvey, over what they called its policy of refusing to provide disaster relief to houses of worship because of their religious status.

Trump had said in a tweet that Texas churches should be able to receive money from FEMA for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey. It was not clear whether the three churches provided aid to victims.

The churches that sued are the Rockport First Assembly of God in Rockport, which lost its roof and steeple and suffered other structural damage, and the Harvest Family Church in Cypress and Hi-Way Tabernacle in Cleveland, which were both flooded.

In a complaint filed in federal court in Houston, the churches said they would like to apply for aid but it would be “futile” because FEMA’s public assistance program “categorically” excluded their claims, violating their constitutional right to freely exercise their religion.

They said FEMA’s ban on providing relief where at least half a building’s space is used for religious purposes, a policy also enforced after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, contradicted a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision making it easier for religious groups to get public aid.

(Reporting by Chris Sanders; Editing by Leslie Adler)