After Bolton fireworks, Trump picks low-key Robert O’Brien for top job

By Steve Holland, Jonathan Landay and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump picked U.S. hostage negotiator Robert O’Brien on Wednesday as his fourth White House national security adviser, turning to a low-key choice for the position after the boisterous tenure of John Bolton.

O’Brien’s selection was a sign of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s clout with the president, with U.S. officials saying Pompeo had made clear he would be happy with either O’Brien or another candidate, former deputy national security adviser Ricky Waddell.

“I have worked long & hard with Robert. He will do a great job!” Trump said in a tweet.

Aides said Trump had gotten to know O’Brien through his work as the U.S. envoy for hostage negotiations and admired his ability to get hostages returned from North Korea and Turkey.

The job most recently took him to Sweden in a bid to get the American rapper known professionally as A$AP Rocky out of jail on an assault charge.

A source close to the White House said Trump wanted to pick a new adviser who would be able to get along well with Pompeo after the secretary of state sometimes struggled with Bolton.

O’Brien, the source said, “is a low-profile, articulate negotiator who has a strong relationship with Pompeo.”

O’Brien follows in the footsteps of three other national security advisers: Michael Flynn and H.R. McMaster and, most recently, Bolton, who clashed with the president over a host of issues from Iran to Afghanistan to North Korea.

Bolton parted ways with Trump a little more than a week ago, his stormy ending coming shortly after he disagreed with the prospect of the president easing some sanctions on Iran, a person close to Bolton said.

Within the National Security Council, O’Brien’s critical task will be to stabilize a sprawling foreign policy apparatus where morale has taken a major hit since Trump took office, according to an NSC insider.

Trump’s abrupt firing of Bolton added to a sense of unease among NSC staff. A key question is whether O’Brien will reinstate the inter-agency coordinating role for which the NSC was originally conceived but which was largely put on ice during Bolton’s tenure, the source said.

For Trump, O’Brien represents a low-key choice for the job, a sign that the president was happy to have someone without the television starpower of Bolton.

O’Brien is an attorney from Los Angeles who served as a foreign policy adviser to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and 2016 candidate Scott Walker. He has handled a number of high-profile legal cases and previously served in several State Department positions, including as an alternative representative to the U.N. General Assembly in 2005.

O’Brien has been a fan of the recently departed Bolton after the two worked together when Bolton was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 2005 during George W. Bush’s presidency.

In a December 2016 column for radio host Hugh Hewitt’s website, O’Brien called Bolton “a formidable diplomat and a patriot” in recommending the newly elected Trump pick Bolton for a high-profile assignment.

“John’s job as our man at the UN was never easy, often exhausting and painfully slow at points. But John, the definition of a diplomat, never grew physically tired or ever lost his temper with other diplomats or the mission’s staff,” O’Brien wrote.

Trump in March had complimented O’Brien for doing a “fantastic job” after gaining the release of American hostage Danny Burch in Yemen.

People close to the White House said Trump was looking for someone who would manage the national security process, voice opinions behind the scenes but not go public with differences.

One of the most prominent hostage cases O’Brien has worked on is that of Austin Tice, a freelance journalist believed by the U.S. government to be alive who was abducted in Syria in August 2012 while reporting on the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Tice’s parents, Marc and Debra Tice, praised what they described as O’Brien’s quiet, dogged efforts to win their son’s release.

“He’s kept us informed and been regularly in touch,” Marc Tice told Reuters in a telephone interview from his Houston home. “With Robert in this new role, Austin’s return can happen even sooner.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Jonathan Landay and Matt Spetalnick; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Makini Brice and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Lisa Shumaker and Tom Brown)

North Korea leader Kim invited Trump to Pyongyang in letter: report

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un invited U.S. President Donald Trump to visit Pyongyang in a letter sent in August amid stalled denuclearisation talks, a South Korean newspaper reported on Monday, citing diplomatic sources.

Kim, in the letter sent in the third week of August, spoke of his “willingness” for a third summit and extended an invitation for Trump to visit the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, the Joongang Ilbo newspaper reported, citing an unidentified source.

Trump on Aug. 9 said he had received a “very beautiful letter” from Kim.

But U.S. officials have not said anything about a second letter in August.

Trump and Kim have met three times since June last year to discuss ways to resolve a crisis over North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, but substantive progress has been scant.

Their first two meetings were formal summits, the second of which, in Vietnam in February, broke down after they failed to narrow a gap between U.S. demands for North Korean denuclearisation and a North Korean demand for relief from sanctions.

They met for a third time on June 30 in the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas and agreed to restart working-level talks but that has not happened.

Since the June meeting, North Korea has several times tested short-range projectiles.

The White House, the U.S. State Department and the North Korean mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the report.

‘THREATS AND HURDLES’

An unidentified director-general for U.S. affairs at North Korea’s foreign ministry said on Monday he hoped a “good meeting” with working-level U.S. officials would take place “in a few weeks”.

But whether a meeting would lead to a “crisis or chance” was up to the United States, the official said, calling for a more flexible approach.

“The discussion of denuclearisation may be possible when threats and hurdles endangering our system security and obstructing our development are clearly removed beyond all doubt,” the official said in a statement carried by North Korea’s official KCNA news agency.

North Korea’s vice foreign minister, Choe Son Hui, said last week Pyongyang was willing to have “comprehensive discussions” late this month.

Trump subsequently said he would be willing to meet Kim at some point this year.

South Korea’s foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, asked about the newspaper report, said there were “detailed explanations about such a letter” but declined to elaborate.

Kang said it could be “too much to expect” that Trump and Kim would meet before any working-level talks.

“No agreement was reached between the two leaders in Hanoi even after working-level negotiations,” Kang told a parliamentary panel.

“For the sake of the success of another summit, their working-level teams should meet and have primary discussions on the outcome of the summit,” Kang said.

(Reporting by Jack Kim and Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in NEW YORK and Arshad Mohammed in WASHINGTON; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Iran says U.S. should avoid ‘warmongers’ after Bolton departure

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, September 11, 2019. Official President website/Handout via REUTERS

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Wednesday Washington should distance itself from “warmongers” after the resignation of hawkish White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, and Tehran stood by its demand that sanctions be lifted before any talks.

The departure of Bolton removes one of the strongest advocates of a hard line towards Iran from President Donald Trump’s White House and raises the prospect of steps to open up negotiations after more than a year of escalating tension.

“America should understand that … it should distance itself from warmongers,” Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted President Hassan Rouhani as saying on Wednesday, without mentioning Bolton.

“Iran’s policy of resistance will not change as long as our enemy (the United States) continues to put pressure on Iran,” said Rouhani, a pragmatist who won two landslide elections in Iran on promises to open it up to the world.

Last year, the United States pulled out of an international accord between Iran and world powers under which Tehran accepted curbs on its nuclear program in return for access to world trade.

Washington says the agreement reached by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama was too weak because many of its terms expire in a decade and it does not cover non-nuclear issues such as Iran’s missile program and regional behavior.

The White House has followed what the administration calls a policy of “maximum pressure”, including sanctions aimed at halting all Iranian oil exports, saying its ultimate aim is to push Tehran to the table for talks on a new, tougher deal.

Immediately after Bolton’s departure, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that Trump could meet with Rouhani at an upcoming U.N, meeting with “no preconditions”.

“SIGH OF RELIEF”

Iran has rejected talks unless sanctions are lifted first. It said on Wednesday that Bolton’s exit had not changed that position.

“The departure of … Bolton from President Donald Trump’s administration will not push Iran to reconsider talking with the U.S.,” Iran’s U.N. envoy, Majid Takhteravanchi, was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.

Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif slammed the United States for ordering new sanctions on Iran despite Bolton’s departure.

“As the world … was breathing a sigh of relief over the ouster of #B_Team’s henchman in the White House, (Washington) declared further escalation of #EconomicTerrorism (sanctions) against Iran,” Zarif tweeted. “Thirst for war —maximum pressure— should go with the warmonger-in-chief (Bolton).”

Zarif has often said that a so-called “B-team” including Bolton could goad Trump into conflict with Tehran.

The United States on Tuesday announced sanctions on a “wide range of terrorists and their supporters”, including Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Iran says it hopes to save the deal but cannot do so indefinitely if it gets none of its economic benefits. It has responded to U.S. sanctions with steps to reduce its compliance with the accord and has said it could eventually leave it unless other parties shield its economy from penalties.

“Iran’s commitments to the nuclear deal are proportional to other parties and we will take further steps if necessary,” Rouhani said.

Iran started using advanced centrifuges last week to ramp up output of enriched uranium and reduced its commitments to the nuclear deal, but said it was giving European countries another two months to come up with a plan to protect its economy.

France has proposed giving Iran a multi-billion dollar credit line which would shield it from some impact of U.S. sanctions, although any such deal would require the Trump administration’s tacit approval.

(This story was refiled to correct spelling of ‘weak’ in paragraph 6)

(Additional Reporting by Tuqa Khalid; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Peter Graff/William Maclean)

Trump fires Bolton, foreign policy hawk, citing strong disagreements

By Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly fired his national security adviser John Bolton amid disagreements with his hard-line aide over how to handle foreign policy challenges such as North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan and Russia.

“I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday, adding that he would name a replacement next week.

Bolton, a leading foreign policy hawk and Trump’s third national security adviser, was widely known to have pressed the president for a harder line on issues such as North Korea. Bolton, a chief architect of Trump’s strident stance against Iran, had also advocated a tougher approach on Russia and Afghanistan.

The 70-year-old Bolton, who took up the post in April 2018, replacing H.R. McMaster, had sometimes been at odds with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, one of Trump’s main loyalists.

Offering a different version of events than Trump, Bolton tweeted: “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, “Let’s talk about it tomorrow.”

Trump had sometimes joked about Bolton’s image as a warmonger, reportedly saying in one Oval Office meeting that “John has never seen a war he doesn’t like.”

A source familiar with Trump’s view said Bolton, an inveterate bureaucratic infighter with an abrasive personality, had ruffled a lot of feathers with other key players in the White House, particularly White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

“He doesn’t play by the rules,” the source said. “He’s a kind of a rogue operator.”

During his time at the State Department under the administration of Republican former President George W. Bush, Bolton kept a defused hand grenade on his desk. His 2007 memoir is titled: “Surrender Is Not An Option.”

Trump’s North Korea envoy, Stephen Biegun, is among the names floated as possible successors.

“Biegun much more like Pompeo understands that the president is the president, that he makes the decisions,” said a source close to the White House.

Also considered in the running is Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, who had been expected to be named U.S. ambassador to Russia.

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said “many, many issues” led to Trump’s decision to ask for Bolton’s resignation. She would not elaborate.

“HE’LL BOMB YOU”

Trump would sometimes chide Bolton about his hawkish ways in meetings, introducing him to visiting foreign leaders by saying, “You all know the great John Bolton. He’ll bomb you. He’ll take out your whole country.”

Officials and a source close to Trump said the president had grown weary of his hawkish tendencies and the bureaucratic battles he got involved with.

Bolton traveled widely in the role and on his travels, for example, he warned Russia against interfering in U.S. elections and promoting strong ties with Israel.

Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Fox News television commentator, had opposed a recent State Department plan to sign an Afghan peace deal with the Taliban militia, believing the group’s leaders could not be trusted.

Sources familiar with his view said Bolton believed the United States could draw down to 8,600 troops in Afghanistan and maintain a counter-terrorism effort without signing a peace deal with the Taliban.

U.S. officials have said it was Bolton who was responsible for the collapse of a summit in February between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi by recommending the presentation a list of hard-line demands that Kim rejected.

North Korea media in May referred to Bolton as a “war maniac” who “fabricated various provocative policies such as designation of our country as ‘axis of evil’, preemptive strike and regime change.”

During an earlier period of U.S.-North Korea tensions in 2003, North Korea called Bolton “human scum.”

Bolton’s departure – the latest in a series from Trump’s national security team in recent months – comes a day after North Korea signaled a new willingness to resume stalled denuclearization talks with the United States, but then conducted the latest in a recent spate of missile launches.

U.S. oil prices fell more than 1 percent on the news of Bolton’s departure with investors believing it could lead to a softer U.S. policy on Iran.

Bolton had spearheaded Trump’s hard-line policy against Iran, including the U.S. abandonment of an international nuclear deal with Tehran and reimposition of U.S. sanctions.

Bolton was widely believed to have favored a planned U.S. airstrike on Iran earlier this year in retaliation for the downing of a U.S. surveillance drone, an action Trump called off at the last minute. Trump has since expressed a willingness to talk to Iranian leaders under the right conditions.

Bolton was an ardent opponent of arms control treaties with Russia. He was instrumental in Trump’s decision to withdraw last month from a 1987 accord that banned intermediate-range missiles because of what Washington charged was Moscow’s deployment of prohibited nuclear-capable cruise missiles, an allegation Russia denied.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Arshad Mohammed, David Brunstromm, Jonathan Landay; Writing by Matt Spetalnick,; Editing by Mary Milliken and Alistair Bell)

Trump: U.S. will maintain presence in Afghanistan even if deal reached with Taliban

FILE PHOTO: U.S. military advisers from the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade sit at an Afghan National Army base in Maidan Wardak province, Afghanistan August 6, 2018. REUTERS/James Mackenzie/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Thursday that U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan were being reduced to 8,600 but that American forces would remain in the country even if Washington reaches an agreement with the Taliban to end the 18-year war.

“Oh yeah, you have to keep a presence,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News radio. “We’re going to keep a presence there. We’re reducing that presence very substantially and we’re going to always have a presence. We’re going to have high intelligence.”

Trump said the U.S. force level in Afghanistan was being reduced to 8,600 “and then we make a determination from there as to what happens.” Some 14,000 U.S. service members are currently in Afghanistan, among whom about 5,000 are dedicated to counterinsurgency operations.

The Taliban said on Wednesday it was close to a “final agreement” with U.S. officials on a deal that would see U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan in exchange for a pledge that the country would not become a haven for other Islamist militant groups.

“We hope to have good news soon for our Muslim, independence-seeking nation,” Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha said.

Both U.S. and Taliban negotiators have reported progress in their talks in recent weeks, raising the prospect of an end to the conflict. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative for peace in Afghanistan, was due to travel from Doha to Kabul this week for a meeting with Afghan leaders.

The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and ousted its Taliban leaders after they refused to hand over members of the al Qaeda militant group behind the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Trump has long called for an end to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, writing on Twitter seven years ago that the war was “a complete waste” and six years ago that “we should leave Afghanistan immediately.”

Since becoming president in January 2017, he has repeatedly said he could end the Afghanistan war quickly if he didn’t mind killing millions of people, a claim he repeated in the interview with Fox News radio.

“We could win that war so fast if I wanted to kill 10 million people … which I don’t. I’m not looking to kill a big portion of that country,” Trump said.

He denied the United States was acting too quickly by reducing troop levels, something he criticized his predecessor, Barack Obama, for doing in Iraq.

“We have to watch Afghanistan, but we’re bringing it down,” he said.

Trump warned that any attack on the United States again from Afghan territory would bring a massive response.

“We will come back with a force like they’ve never seen before,” Trump told Fox News radio.

On Wednesday, the top U.S. military officer, Marine General Joseph Dunford, told reporters that it was too early to talk about the future of U.S. counterterrorism troops in Afghanistan.

“I honestly think it’s premature to talk about what our counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan may or may not be without a better appreciation for what will the conditions (be),” said Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He said that in the current security environment, local Afghan security forces needed U.S. support to deal with the violence.

“If an agreement happens in the future, if the security environment changes, then obviously our posture may adjust,” Dunford said.

(Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Trump slams ‘corrupt’ Puerto Rico as Storm Dorian heads for island

Tropical Storm Dorian is shown in this photo taken by NASA's Aqua satellite MODIS instrument as it moved over the Leeward Islands, as it continues its track into the Eastern Caribbean Sea, August 27, 2019. NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS)/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday called Puerto Rico “one of the most corrupt places on earth” as the U.S. territory prepared for a hit by Tropical Storm Dorian, which brought back memories on the island of devastation from hurricanes two years ago.

Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover from back-to-back hurricanes in 2017, which killed about 3,000 people just months after it filed for bankruptcy.

Dorian was bearing down on Puerto Rico from the southeast and was expected to become a hurricane soon as it barrels towards Florida, which it could hit as a major hurricane.

After approving an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico late on Tuesday, Trump took a swipe at the U.S. territory in a tweet on Wednesday morning.

“Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth. Their political system is broken and their politicians are either Incompetent or Corrupt. Congress approved Billions of Dollars last time, more than anyplace else has ever gotten, and it is sent to Crooked Pols. No good!” Trump wrote.

Trump has a history of disputes with Puerto Rico’s leaders. He was heavily criticized for a tepid response to the 2017 hurricanes that battered Puerto Rico.

This week, Democrats in the U.S. Congress also slammed him for shifting $271 million earmarked for disaster aid and cyber security to pay for detention facilities and courts for migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, on Tuesday described the shift as “stealing from appropriated funds.”

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Dorian was blowing maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph) about 25 miles southeast of the island of St. Croix on Wednesday morning.

“Dorian is forecast to be near hurricane strength when it approaches the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico,” the NHC said.

Puerto Rican officials warned that the eastern part of the island should brace for particularly heavy rains.

“We are better prepared than when Hurricane Maria attacked our island,” Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez said on Tuesday.

Vazquez, who took office this month after political turmoil led to the resignation of her predecessor, said preparations for the storm were more than 90% complete.

Infrastructure ranging from electric power lines to telecommunications and banking networks were in better shape than they had been in 2017, she added.

BAD HISTORY

Two years ago, Puerto Rico was recovering from Hurricane Irma when Hurricane Maria struck in September 2017, destroying roads and bridges and leaving much of the Caribbean island without electricity for months.

The U.S. response to Maria became highly politicized as the Trump administration was criticized as being slow to recognize the extent of the devastation and in providing disaster relief to Puerto Rico, an island of more than 3 million people. Trump later disputed Puerto Rico’s official death toll of 3,000.

Hogan Gidley, a White House deputy press secretary, accused Puerto Rican authorities on Wednesday of misusing taxpayer funds in the 2017 hurricanes.

“The money we sent down there, we now know, several on the ground have been indicted for misusing that money, giving it to politicians as bonuses, watching that food rot in the ports, the water went bad,” he told reporters.

Puerto Rican public schools are closed on Wednesday and public workers have been instructed to stay home, Vazquez said.

Royal Caribbean’s cruise liner “Allure of the Sea” canceled a scheduled visit to the island on Thursday, and Carnival Cruise Line also adjusted its itineraries, the governor said.

The NHC’s latest forecasts predict that Dorian could reach Florida as a major hurricane early on Monday.

The Dominican Republic has also upped storm preparations. Juan Manuel Mendez, director of the emergency operations center, said authorities have identified 3,000 buildings that can be converted into shelters, with capacity for up to 800,000 people.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; additional reporting by Ezequiel Abiu Lopez, Alex Dobuzinskis, Rebekah F Ward, Lisa Lambert and David Alexander; Writing by Julia Love; Editing by Alison Williams and Alistair Bell)

Pastor Paula White-Cain is returning to Grace Street at Morningside for a special taping on The Jim Bakker Show Thursday, October 10th!

Paula White Cain - Something Greater

As a celebrated author and teacher, popular TV personality, and spirit-led preacher of God’s Word, Paula White Cain has impacted people from every walk of life in more than 100 countries. Pastor White-Cain has been the spiritual advisor to President Trump for many years and delivered the invocation at President Trump’s inauguration, becoming the first female clergy member to pray at a Presidential inauguration.  

Jim and Lori Bakker are thrilled to welcome Paula to the stage to share her incredible testimony and promote her new book, “Something Greater.”   

Early in Paula’s life, she didn’t know God, but there was always a pull to something greater. Once she prayed for salvation at the age of eighteen, Paula finally understood the meaning of grace and purpose and realized God had been taking care of her the whole time.

Paula shares her journey of faith in SOMETHING GREATER, what she calls “a love letter to God from a messed up Mississippi girl.” She details feeling led to a higher calling as a child, how she came to serve others as a female pastor, and what led to being asked to become spiritual advisor to President Donald Trump.

SOMETHING GREATER will encourage readers to know and understand the “something greater” that is in all of them and will teach them how to cling to Jesus Christ in times of need and abundance.

Paula wants to help you on your walk with God’s grace and not to be a victim to whatever the enemy wants.  “No matter what I am going through, I know God has something greater!” Paula says. “And I know God has something Greater for you too!”  

We hope you will join us here at Morningside as this powerful woman of God, Paula White Cain graces our stage with timely, divine words about our lives and our nation! 

Don’t forget!  Taping begins at 11 am on Tuesday, October 10th on Grace Street at Morningside! Admission is free! And an added bonus, Paula is bringing along some copies of  “Something Greater” to have available to the studio audience during taping! Don’t miss it!  

Trump says ready to meet Iran’s president to solve nuclear impasse

U.S. President Donald Trump attends a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron (not seen) at the end of the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, August 26, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

By John Irish and Michel Rose

BIARRITZ, France (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he would meet Iran’s president under the right circumstances to end a confrontation over a 2015 nuclear deal and that talks were underway to see how countries could open credit lines to keep Iran’s economy afloat.

But Trump, speaking at a G7 summit in the French resort of Biarritz, ruled out lifting economic sanctions to compensate for losses suffered by Iran.

Trump told reporters it was realistic to envisage a meeting between him and President Hassan Rouhani in coming weeks, describing Iran as a country of “tremendous potential”.

“I have a good feeling. I think he (Rouhani) is going to want to meet and get their situation straightened out. They are hurting badly,” Trump said.

French President Emmanuel Macron, host of the G7 summit, told the same news conference that Rouhani had told him he would be open to meeting Trump. Macron said he hoped a summit between the two men could happen in coming weeks. Trump and Rouhani head to the United Nations General Assembly in September.

Rouhani is not Iran’s top decision-maker. That role is held by the fiercely anti-American Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – and anything agreed at a Trump-Rouhani encounter would be subject to Khamenei’s approval.

European leaders have struggled to calm the deepening confrontation between Iran and the United States since Trump pulled Washington out of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy.

But Macron has spent the summer trying to create conditions for a period of pause to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.

“What I hope is that in coming weeks, based on these talks, we can manage to see a summit between President Rouhani and President Trump,” Macron said, adding that he believed if they met a deal could be struck.

Macron’s efforts took a surprise turn on Sunday when Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is under U.S. sanctions, flew to the French seaside town of Biarritz where the Group of Seven leaders were meeting.

“VERY VIOLENT FORCE”

Appearing to refer to Iran’s recent combative rhetoric about its ability to attack U.S. interests, Trump suggested Iran would meet “violent force” if it followed through on its threats.

“They can’t do what they were saying they were going to do because if they do that, they will be met with really very violent force. So I think they are going to be good,” he said.

Trump said he was not open to giving Iran compensation for sanctions on its economy. However he said that the idea under discussion would be for numerous countries to give Iran a credit line to keep it going.

“No we are not paying, we don’t pay,” Trump said.

“But they may need some money to get them over a very rough patch and if they do need money, and it would be secured by oil, which to me is great security, and they have a lot of oil… so we are really talking about a letter of credit. It would be from numerous countries, numerous countries.”

The 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers, reached when Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama was in office, aimed to curb Iran’s disputed uranium enrichment program in exchange for the lifting of many international sanctions on Tehran.

Since ditching the deal last year, Trump has pursued a policy of “maximum pressure” to try to force Iran into broader talks to restrict Iran’s ballistic missile program and end its support for proxy forces around the Middle East as well.

During his brief visit on Sunday, Zarif held talks with Macron and British and German officials before returning home.

Though potentially a diplomatic minefield, Macron’s gamble with Zarif appears to have worked out for now, as Trump on Monday endorsed the French president’s initiative and toned down his usual harsh rhetoric on Tehran.

“MAKE IRAN RICH AGAIN”

While Trump reaffirmed Washington’s goal of extracting further-reaching security concessions from Iran, he said he wanted to see “a really good Iran, really strong”, adding that Washington was not looking for regime change.

“I knew (Zarif) was coming in and I respected the fact that he was coming in. We’re looking to make Iran rich again, let them be rich, let them do well, if they want,” Trump said.

While Trump’s European allies also want fresh negotiations with Iran, they believe the nuclear deal must be upheld to help ward off the risk of wider war in the Middle East. Macron had already met Zarif in Paris on Friday ahead of the G7 summit.

“What we want is very simple. It’s got to be non-nuclear (as well),” Trump said. “We’re going to talk about ballistic missiles…, about the timing. But they (Iran) have to stop terrorism. I think they are going to change, I really do.”

Trump said it was too early for him to meet Zarif himself.

Rouhani signaled a readiness to meet Trump if that helped Iran, according to the official presidency website.

“If I know that in meeting with somebody the problem of my country would be solved, I wouldn’t hesitate because the central issue is the national interests of the country,” Rouhani said.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Marine Pennetier, and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Writing by John Irish; Editing by William Maclean and Gareth Jones)

Trump moves to cool tension over China, Iran as G7 summit wraps up

French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Donald Trump attend a joint press conference at the end of the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, August 26, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

By Jeff Mason and Richard Lough

BIARRITZ, France (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday offered an olive branch to China after days of intense feuding over trade that has spooked financial markets and he opened the door to diplomacy with Iran, easing tensions on the last day of a strained G7 summit.

The leaders of the world’s major industrialized nations, meeting in the French coastal resort of Biarritz, agreed on a deal to provide $20 million in emergency help to Brazil and its neighbors stop the Amazon forest fires.

While they were not expected to leave Biarritz with a more comprehensive set of agreements or even a joint communique, Trump and his Western allies appeared to have at least agreed cordially to disagree on issues dividing them.

These ranged from Washington’s escalating trade war with China, which many fear could tip the slowing world economy into recession; how to deal with the nuclear ambitions of both Iran and North Korea; and the question of whether Russian President Vladimir Putin should be readmitted to the group.

Trump, a turbulent presence at last year’s G7 gathering, insisted during the Biarritz meeting that he was getting along well with other leaders of a group that also comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

The trade war between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, escalated last Friday as both sides leveled more tariffs on each other’s exports.

On Sunday, a White House spokeswoman said that when Trump told journalists that he had had second thoughts about last week’s tariff blow against China, they were regret for not raising them more.

However, the mood-music changed abruptly on Monday, hours after China’s yuan fell to an 11-year low against the dollar amid fears that the quickening Sino-U.S. trade war would inflict more damage on the world’s largest economies.

Speaking on the sidelines of the G7 summit on Monday, Trump said he believed China wanted to make a trade deal after it contacted U.S. trade officials overnight to say it wanted to return to the negotiating table.

Trump hailed Chinese President Xi Jinping as a great leader and said the prospect of talks was a very positive development.

“He understands, and it’s going to be great for China, it’s going to be great for the U.S., it’s going to be great for the world,” he said.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he had not heard that a phone call between the two sides had taken place.

“MAKE IRAN RICH AGAIN”

Trump also backed away from confrontation over Iran on Monday, a day after French President Emmanuel Macron stunned other leaders by inviting Iran’s foreign minister to Biarritz for talks on the stand-off between Washington and Tehran.

Trump told journalists that they had been wrong to report that he was blindsided by the five-hour visit of Mohammad Javad Zarif to the summit’s sidelines, and said that while he thought it was too soon for a meeting he had no objections to it.

European leaders have struggled to calm a confrontation between Iran and the United States since Trump pulled his country out of Iran’s internationally brokered 2015 nuclear deal last year and reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy.

Macron has led efforts to defuse tensions, fearing a collapse of the nuclear deal could set the Middle East ablaze.

Trump indicated an openness to discussions with Iran on a nuclear deal and said he was not looking for regime change.

“I’m looking at a really good Iran, really strong, we’re not looking for regime change,” he said. “And we’re looking to make Iran rich again, let them be rich, let them do well.”

Trump and Macron met over a long lunch on the first day of the summit and, as they gathered with other leaders for further talks on Monday, they greeted each other warmly and smiled.

DIGITAL TAX

Taking more heat out of the annual meeting, French and U.S. negotiators meeting behind the scenes reached a compromise agreement on France’s digital tax, a levy that had prompted Trump to threaten a separate tax on French wine imports.

The row had threatened to open up a new front in the trade spat between Washington and the EU as economic relations between the two appeared to sour.

France’s 3% levy applies to revenue from digital services earned by firms with more than 25 million euros in French revenue and 750 million euros ($830 million) worldwide.

Trump skipped a session of G7 leaders on climate change at which they agreed to the $20 million technical and financial help for the Amazon. Macron said Trump agreed on the initiative but could not attend because of bilateral meeting engagements.

A record number of fires are ravaging the rainforest, many of them in Brazil, drawing international concern because of the Amazon’s importance to the global environment.

Macron shunted the blazes fires to the top of the summit agenda after declaring them a global emergency. Last week he accused Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s government of not doing enough to protect the area and of lying about its environmental commitments.

(Reporting by Richard Lough, John Irish, Crispian Balmer, Marine Pennetier, John Chalmers, Jeff Mason, William James, Andreas Rinke and Michel Rose; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Alison Williams)

Trump says he will push to close background check loopholes for gun buys

FILE PHOTO: A prospective buyer examines an AR-15 at the "Ready Gunner" gun store In Provo, Utah, U.S. in Provo, Utah, U.S., June 21, 2016. REUTERS/George Frey/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday his administration would seek to close background check loopholes for gun purchases after Democrats accused him of reversing course on gun control measures.

Trump spoke with the leader of the National Rifle Association lobbying group, Wayne LaPierre, on Tuesday, a White House official said. Speaking to reporters outside the White House, Trump said he did not tell LaPierre, whose group strongly opposes increased gun restrictions, that he would avoid pursuing measures on background checks.

Trump, who was endorsed by the NRA in the 2016 presidential race, said he views the number of U.S. gun deaths as a public health emergency and reiterated his belief that people who are mentally ill should not be allowed to buy guns.

“We’re working on background checks. There are things we can do. But we already have very serious background checks. We have strong background checks. We can close up the gaps. We can do things that are very good and things that frankly gun owners want to have done,” Trump said.

“We have background checks but there are loopholes in the background checks. And that’s what I spoke to the NRA about yesterday. They want to get rid of the loopholes as well as I do. At the same time, I don’t want to take away people’s Second Amendment rights,” Trump added later.

On Tuesday, Trump, a Republican, said his administration was engaged in meaningful talks with Democrats, who control the U.S. House of Representatives, about gun legislation after gunmen in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, killed 31 people using semi-automatic rifles and high-volume magazines earlier this month.

Congressional aides, however, said the discussions have been low-level and generally unproductive.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Paul Simao)