Trump vows ‘insurance for everybody’ in replacing Obamacare

Donald Trump at conference disucssing Obamacare

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President-elect Donald Trump aims to replace Obamacare with a plan that would envisage “insurance for everybody,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post published on Sunday night.

Trump did not give the newspaper specifics about his proposals to replace Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature health insurance law, but said the plan was nearly finished and he was ready to unveil it alongside the leaders of the Republican-controlled Congress. The Republican president-elect takes office on Friday.

“It’s very much formulated down to the final strokes. We haven’t put it in quite yet but we’re going to be doing it soon,” Trump told the Post, adding he was waiting for his nominee for health and human services secretary, Tom Price, to be confirmed.

The plan, he said, would include “lower numbers, much lower deductibles,” without elaborating.

“We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” Trump said. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

Trump was also quoted as saying in the interview that he would target pharmaceutical companies over drug pricing and insist they negotiate directly with the Medicare and Medicaid government health plans for the elderly and poor.

U.S. House Republicans won passage on Friday of a measure starting the process of dismantling the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, despite concerns about not having a ready replacement and the potential financial cost of repealing the law.

With the vote, Republicans began delivering on their promise to end Obamacare, also a campaign pledge of Trump, who has called the program a “disaster.”

The law, which expanded health coverage to some 20 million people, has been plagued by increases in insurance premiums and deductibles and by some large insurers leaving the system.

Republicans have called Obamacare federal government overreach and have sought to undermine it in Congress and the courts since it was passed by Democratic majorities in the House and Senate in 2010.

Democrats say Obamacare has allowed growing numbers of Americans to get medical insurance and helped slow the rise in healthcare spending.

(Writing by Mary Milliken; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)

Obama says Israeli settlements making two-state solution impossible

Palestinian laborers working at construction site on Israeli settlement

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama, in an interview aired on Israeli television on Tuesday, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu policy backing settlements in occupied territory is making a future Palestinian state impossible.

“Bibi says that he believes in the two-state solution and yet his actions consistently have shown that if he is getting pressured to approve more settlements he will do so regardless of what he says about the importance of the two-state solution,” Obama said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.

Some 570,000 Israelis now live in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem, together home to more than 2.6 million Palestinians. Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. It later annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally.

Obama, who leaves office on Jan. 20, said that in the past few years both he and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had “countless times” personally appealed to Netanyahu to stop settlement activity, but that those pleas were ignored.

“Increasingly what you are seeing is that the facts on the ground are making it almost impossible, at least very difficult, and if this trendline continues – impossible, to create a contiguous, functioning Palestinian state,” Obama told Channel Two’s Uvda program.

Israel expects to receive more favorable treatment from Obama’s successor, President-elect Donald Trump.

Trump has denounced the Obama administration’s Israel policy and has vowed to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, riling the Palestinians. He has also named as U.S. ambassador to Israel a lawyer who raised money for a major Jewish settlement.

Relations between Netanyahu and Obama have been strained for years over their differences regarding settlement-building and Iran nuclear deal’s with world powers signed in 2015.

Ties deteriorated to a low point in December when Washington did not exercise its veto to stop a U.N. Security Council resolution that demands an end to Israeli settlement building, prompting harsh criticism from Netanyahu of Obama and Kerry.

The right-wing Netanyahu has accused the Obama administration of being obsessed with settlements and not recognizing what he called “the root of the conflict – Palestinian opposition to a Jewish state in any boundaries.”

Netanyahu, for whom settlers are a key constituency, has said his government has been their greatest ally. The Palestinians want the West Bank and East Jerusalem, along with the Gaza Strip – which Israel also captured in 1967 but withdrew from in 2005 – for an independent state.

The last U.S.-brokered peace talks broke down in 2014.

Washington deems settlement activity illegitimate and most countries view it as an obstacle to peace. Israel cites a biblical, historical and political connection to the land – which the Palestinians also claim – as well as security interests.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; editing by Mark Heinrich)

U.S. court puts Obamacare case on hold until Trump takes office

President-elect Donald Trump

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Monday brought to an end President Barack Obama’s bid to overturn a ruling that threatens to gut his signature healthcare law by putting the case on hold until after President-elect Donald Trump, who aims to repeal Obamacare, takes office.

The Obama administration had appealed a judge’s May ruling favoring the challenge filed by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives against a key part of the 2010 law. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed to a request by the Republicans to delay its consideration of the government’s appeal until after Trump takes office on Jan. 20.

The Obama administration opposed the move.

If the law is repealed by Congress, the case would be moot. The court’s decision to put the case on hold will not have an immediate effect on the law, as the lower court ruling was put on hold pending the appeal. The court said both sides should provide an update on the status of the case by Feb. 21.

The challenge targeted government reimbursements to insurance companies to compensate them for reductions that the law required them to make to customers’ out-of-pocket medical payments.

Trump has said he favors repealing and replacing Obamacare but would consider retaining certain elements.

The law has enabled millions of previously uninsured Americans to obtain health insurance, but Republicans condemn Obamacare as a government overreach and have mounted a series of legal challenges.

The Obama administration appealed U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer’s ruling that the government cannot spend billions of dollars in federal funds without congressional approval to provide subsidies under the healthcare law to private insurers to help people afford medical coverage.

The House Republicans argued that the administration violated the U.S. Constitution because it is the legislative branch, not the executive branch, that authorizes government spending.

The Obama administration has interpreted the provision as a type of federal spending that does not need to be explicitly authorized by Congress.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 and 2015 issued major rulings authored by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts that preserved Obamacare and rejected conservative challenges.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Obama, trying to protect legacy, unlikely to act on Mideast peace

President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu

By Arshad Mohammed and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama, keen to preserve his legacy on domestic health care and the Iran nuclear deal, is not expected to make major moves on Israeli-Palestinian peace before leaving office, U.S. officials said on Thursday.

One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the last word on the president’s failed peace effort might come from Secretary of State John Kerry at an appearance on Sunday at an annual Middle East conference in Washington.

Obama’s aides are wary of being seen picking a fight with Donald Trump at a time when he hopes to persuade the Republican President-elect to preserve parts of his legacy, including the Iran nuclear deal, Obamacare and the opening to Cuba.

While Obama has yet to present his final decision, several officials said he had given no sign that he intended to go against the consensus of his top advisers, who have mostly urged him not to take dramatic steps, a second official said.

“There is no evidence that there is any muscle behind (doing) anything,” said a third official.

Putting new pressure on Israel could be seen as a vindictive parting shot by Obama at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the first official said, noting they have had a testy relationship.

There is concern that Trump, in response, might over-react in trying to demonstrate his own pro-Israel credentials, for example by moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a step that would enrage Palestinians and create an international furor.

Officials said Obama has weighed enshrining his own outline for a deal in a U.N. Security Council resolution that would live on after he gives way to Trump on Jan. 20. Another idea was to give a speech laying out such parameters.

These options appear to have lost steam.

Kerry, who led the last round of peace talks that collapsed in 2014, appears on Sunday at the Saban Forum conference of U.S., Israeli and Arab officials.

Officials could not rule out that Obama might also talk about Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy before he leaves office. The White House and the Israeli embassy declined comment.

The central issues to be resolved in the conflict include borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state, the fate of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which most nations regard as illegal, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

Israeli officials remain concerned that Obama and his aides have not explicitly ruled out some kind of last-ditch U.S. action, either at the United Nations or in another public forum.

U.S. officials said Obama could also have his hand forced, notably if another nation like France put forward a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity as illegal or illegitimate, daring Washington to veto it as it did a similar French-proposed resolution in 2011.

U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, asked if Washington would again veto a French proposal, told Israel’s Army Radio: “We will always oppose unilateral proposals.”

He added: “If there is something more balanced, I cannot guess what the response will be.”

(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and James Dalgleish)

Obama, Putin talk about Syria and Ukraine in quick summit meet

Obama and Putin

LIMA (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin spoke for around four minutes on Sunday at the APEC summit about Syria and Ukraine, in what is likely to be their last in-person meeting before Obama leaves office.

The two men met at the start of the summit meeting in Lima, Peru’s capital. They exchanged pleasantries and remained standing as they spoke.

Obama later said at a news conference he told Putin the U.S. is deeply concerned about bloodshed and chaos in Syria “sown by constant bombing attacks” by the Syrian and Russian militaries, and that a ceasefire and political transition were needed.

“As usual I was candid and courteous but very clear about the strong differences we have on policy,” Obama said.

Putin said at a separate news conference he thanked Obama during Sunday’s meeting in Lima “for the years of joint work”.

“I told him that we would be happy to see him (Obama) in Russia anytime if he wants, can and has desire”, Putin said.

Obama and Putin have had a challenging relationship. The U.S. president said last week he had warned Putin about consequences for cyber attacks attributed to Moscow that were seen as trying to influence the U.S. election.

Obama said he also urged President Putin to help implement the Minsk peace agreement by working with France, Germany, Ukraine and the United States to halt the conflict in Donbass region of Ukraine.

During his race for the White House, Republican President-elect Donald Trump praised Putin. Putin said on Sunday that Trump had confirmed to him that he was willing to mend ties.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, additional reporting by Denis Pinchuk, Caroline Stauffer and Mitra Taj; Editing by Alan Crosby and Simon Cameron-Moore)

Some Republicans see attacking Obamacare through regulation

Obama signs Affordable Care Act AKA Obamacare

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Congressional Republicans are looking for the quickest ways to tear down Obamacare following Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president, including rapidly confirming a new health secretary who could recast regulations while waiting for lawmakers to pass sweeping repeal legislation.

Trump’s victory on Tuesday means Republicans will control the White House, Senate and House of Representatives. But congressional Democrats are expected to put up a huge fight against Republican efforts to repeal the 2010 law considered President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.

The Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare, has provided 25 million previously uninsured Americans with health coverage. Republicans have launched repeated legal and legislative efforts to dismantle the law, which they call a government overreach.

Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, a member of Senate Republican leadership, said one way for the incoming president and Congress to attack Obamacare immediately after Trump takes office on Jan. 20 would be to quickly confirm a new secretary of Health and Human Services, the official who writes the rules and regulations that enforce the law.

“We could confirm someone on Jan. 20 who could come in immediately and could be working right now on rewriting rules and regulations to give more freedom and choice to the states, to insurance companies and to businesses that are trying to provide affordable care to their workers,” Barrasso said in a telephone interview.

Barrasso noted that the Senate needs only a simple majority vote in the 100-seat chamber to confirm Cabinet members, as opposed to 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles the Democrats could present to repeal legislation.

Passing repeal legislation “is not a ‘Day One’ activity. But a new secretary of HHS going after the regulations can be a ‘Day One’ activity,” Barrasso added.

Trump during the campaign called Obamacare “a disaster” and joined fellow Republicans in vowing to repeal and replace it with proposals like tax-free health savings accounts. His transition website says Trump wants a solution that “returns the historic role in regulating health insurance to the states.”

In repealing Obamacare, congressional Republican may have to resort to a special procedure known as reconciliation to get around Democrats in the Senate, where rules protect the rights of the minority party.

Republicans in Congress used reconciliation to try to undo large chunks of Obamacare in January, but Obama vetoed the legislation. The bill would have wiped out tax subsidies provided to help people afford insurance coverage, as well as tax penalties on people who do not obtain insurance as required by the law, and would have eliminated expansion of the Medicaid insurance health insurance program.

Republican Representative Chris Collins of New York, one of Trump’s earliest supporters on Capitol Hill, said he hopes Congress can pass a similar bill gutting Obamacare within Trump’s first 100 days in office, a promise Trump made during the presidential campaign. But some changes will doubtless be phased in over time, Collins said.

“There’s nothing that we will be able to do or would want to do that would impact anyone’s health insurance plan for 2017,” Collins said in an interview.

“From a replacement standpoint, our position has always been as Republicans to move forward in a step-by-step fashion,” Barrasso said.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Friday, Trump said he was considering retaining parts of Obamacare including provisions letting parents keep adult children up to age 26 on their insurance policies and barring insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.


While waiting for Congress to act on legislation, the new HHS secretary could be reworking Obamacare regulations, Barrasso said. For example, regulations could give U.S. states more flexibility under a provision that lets states seek waivers from key provisions of the law, such as exemptions from the so-called individual mandate requiring Americans to obtain insurance and the employer mandate to provide it.

Kim Monk, an analyst at Capital Alpha Partners, which provides policy research to financial institutions, said Trump’s HHS might be able to tighten up the rules governing special enrollment periods for Obamacare. Insurers complain that these periods have allowed some people who initially skipped buying insurance to sign up after becoming ill.

HHS might also be able to alter the language on “essential benefits” that the law requires insurance plans to cover, which include trips to the emergency room, maternity and newborn care, and mental health services, Monk said.

“The law requires they have to cover 10 essential health benefit categories, but how that gets defined, a lot of that is interpretative,” Monk said. “And of course, everything the Obama administration interpreted was more, more, more, more expensive coverage, and all these things lead to premium increases.”

Collins, a member of the Trump transition team’s executive committee, said the job of HHS secretary or surgeon general “would be great for Ben Carson,” referring to the neurosurgeon who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination and later endorsed Trump.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. health officials outline Zika spending priorities

County vector sprays neighborhood for mosquitos with Zika

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. health officials outlined on Tuesday how they planned to divide up $1.1 billion in funds approved by Congress to fight the Zika virus, including repaying $44.25 million they were forced to borrow from a fund allocated for other emergencies.

The funds were borrowed from the Public Health Emergency Preparedness cooperative, which helps state and local public health departments develop response plans to emergencies, while Congress battled over whether to supply the funds.

President Barack Obama in February requested $1.9 billion in emergency Zika funding. Congress approved $1.1 billion in September after months of political bickering.

On a conference call with reporters, health officials said$394 million would go to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, $152 million to the National Institutes of Health and $387 million for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, which supports the nation’s ability to respond to public health emergencies.

A further $40 million is aimed at expanding primary healthcare services in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, and $20 million for projects of national and regional significance in those areas.

Puerto Rico has been particularly hard hit by Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that has been linked with a rare birth defect known as microcephaly. The virus has spread to almost 60 countries and territories since the current outbreak was identified last year in Brazil.

As of Oct. 12, more than 29,000 cases of Zika infection had been reported in the United States and territories. Of those, more than 2,600 cases are in pregnant women. Nearly 26,000 of those cases are in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories.

The government will be allocating funds, based on a competitive process, to support Zika virus surveillance and other programs. The funds will also be used to expand mosquito control, continue vaccine development and begin studies on the effect of Zika on babies born to infected mothers.

(Reporting by Toni Clarke in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Islamic State said to lose ground as coalition closes on Mosul

Peshmerga forces after attacking Islamic State

* Iraqi and Kurdish forces say took villages near Mosul

* Consolidating territory, still some way from city

* Civilians at risk, aid groups say, gas attack possible

* IS leader and explosive expert in Mosul-Kurdish official

By Maher Chmaytelli and Michael Georgy

BAGHDAD/ERBIL, Oct 18 (Reuters) – Iraqi and Kurdish forces closing in on Mosul said on Tuesday they had secured some 20 villages on the outskirts of the city in the first day of an operation to retake what is Islamic State’s last major stronghold in Iraq.

With around 1.5 million people still living in Mosul, the International Organisation for Migration said it was preparing gas masks in case of chemical attack by the jihadists, who had used such weapons previously against Iraqi Kurdish forces.

Tens of thousands of civilians could be forcibly expelled, trapped between fighting lines or used as human shields, said the IOM, one of many aid organizations to sound the alarm.

The fall of Mosul would signal the defeat of the ultra-hardline Sunni jihadists in Iraq but could also lead to land grabs and sectarian bloodletting between groups which fought one another after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

For U.S. President Barack Obama, the campaign is a calculated risk, with U.S. officials acknowledging that there isno clear plan for how the region around Mosul will be governed once Islamic State is expelled.

The Iraqi army and Peshmerga forces from autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan began moving towards the city at dawn on Monday under air cover from a U.S.-led coalition set up after Islamic State swept into Iraq from Syria in 2014.

Hoshiyar Zebari, a senior Kurdish official, said initial operations succeeded due to close cooperation between the Iraqi government and Kurdish peshmerga fighters, allowing them to clear Islamic State from 9 or 10 villages east of Mosul.

“Daesh is disoriented they don’t know whether to expect attacks from the east or west or north,” he told Reuters, using an Arabic acronym for the hardline Sunni group.

On Tuesday the attacking forces entered another phase, he said. “It won’t be a spectacular attack on Mosul itself. It will be very cautious. It is a high risk operation for everybody.”

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and explosives expert Fawzi Ali Nouimeh were both in the city, according to what he described as “solid” intelligence reports, indicating the group would put up significant resistance.

A total of 20 villages were taken from the militants east, south and southeast of Mosul by early Tuesday, according to statements from the two forces, fighting alongside one another for the first time.

Islamic State said on Monday its fighters had targeted the attacking forces with 10 suicide bombs and that their foes had surrounded five villages but not taken them. None of the reports could be independently verified.

The advancing forces were still between 20 and 50 km (12-30 miles) from Mosul and officials described it as a “shaping operation” designed to enhance positions ahead of a major
offensive by taking hilltops, crossings and important crossroads.


Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the offensive on Monday around two years after Iraq’s second-largest city fell to the militants, who exploited the civil war that broke out in Syria in 2011 to seize territory there.

The operation had been planned since July with U.S. and other coalition forces and Western and Iraqi officials, mindful of the civil war that followed Saddam’s fall, say plans for
administering the mainly Sunni city and accommodating those who flee the fighting are in place.

The United Nations has said up to a million people could flee the city and that it expected the first wave in five or six days.

Fighting is expected to take weeks, if not months, as some 30,000 government forces, Sunni tribal fighters and Kurdish
Peshmerga first encircle the city then attempt to oust between 4,000 and 8,000 Islamic State militants.

More than 5,000 U.S. soldiers are also deployed in support missions, as are troops from France, Britain, Canada and other Western nations.

The Iraqi army is attacking Mosul on the southern and southeastern fronts, while the Peshmerga carried out their operation to the east.

The Peshmerga, who are also deployed north and northwest of the city, said they secured “a significant stretch” of the 80 km (50 mile) road between Erbil, their capital, and Mosul, about an hour’s drive to the west.

Obama is seeking to put an end to the “caliphate” – a launch pad for attacks on civilians in the West – before he leaves office in January and the Mosul campaign comes three weeks before the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 8.

Coalition warplanes attacked 17 Islamic State positions in support of the Peshmerga operation in the heavily mined area, the Kurdish statement said, adding that at least four car bombs were destroyed.

There was no indication about the number of military or civilian casualties in the Iraqi or Kurdish statements.


The Mosul plan calls for the governor of the city’s Nineveh province, Nawfal al-Agoub, to be restored and the city divided into sub-districts with local mayors for each. Agoub will govern along with a senior representative from Baghdad and from Erbil, capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.

Screening procedures for civilians fleeing Mosul have been enhanced, in an effort to learn from the battle for Fallujah, in Anbar province. There, Sunni men and boys were held, tortured and in some cases killed by Shi’ite militia members, who had erected makeshift checkpoints.

The U.N. refugee agency said it had built five camps to house 45,000 people and plans to have an additional six in the coming weeks with a capacity for 120,000, that would still not be enough to cope if the exodus is as big as feared.

Amnesty International urged Iraqi authorities to keep Shi’ite paramilitary groups away from Mosul whose population is largely Sunni.

The rights group said the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad would bear responsibility for the actions of the militias, known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces, which are officially considered to be part of the country’s armed forces.

U.S. and Iraqi officials are working to ensure displaced civilians take safe routes out of the city, and that checkpoints are overseen by provincial authorities and monitored by international non-government groups.

(Additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in ERBIL, Ahmed Rasheed and Stephen Kalin in BAGHDAD, Stephanie Nebehay in GENEVA, Warren Strobel, Yara Bayoumy and Jonathan Landay in WASHINGTON; writing by Philippa Fletcher; editing by Giles Elgood)

Peres funeral, attended by Obama, briefly brings Israeli, Palestinian leaders together

Still image taken from video of Israeli politician's funeral

By Jeffrey Heller and Jeff Mason

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli and Palestinian leaders shook hands during a brief chat and U.S. President Barack Obama gently reminded them of the “unfinished business of peace” at the funeral Friday of Shimon Peres, the last of a generation of Israel’s founding fathers.

But there was no indication that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s rare visit to Jerusalem and the amiable words he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exchanged would lead to any movement in long-stalled peacemaking.

Peres, a former president and prime minister who died on Wednesday at the age of 93, shared a Nobel Prize for the interim land-for-peace accords he helped reach with the Palestinians as Israel’s foreign minister in the 1990s.

Long-hailed abroad and by supporters in Israel as a visionary, Peres was seen by his critics as an overly optimistic dreamer in the harsh realities of the Middle East.

“I know from my conversations with him, his pursuit of peace was never naive,” Obama said in his eulogy of Peres, who did much in the early part of his 70 years in public life to build up Israel’s powerful military and nuclear weapons capabilities.

With divisions deep over Jewish settlement in Israeli-occupied territory that Palestinians seek for a state, as well as other issues, U.S.-sponsored negotiations on a final agreement between the two sides have been frozen since 2014.

Netanyahu and Abbas have not held face-to-face talks since 2010. Abbas opted to attend Peres’s funeral, making the short drive from nearby Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, through Israeli military checkpoints.

“Long time, long time,” Abbas told Netanyahu and the prime minister’s wife Sara, after shaking his hand before the start of the ceremony held in the “Great Leaders of the Nation” section of Mount Herzl cemetery, overlooking a forested valley.

Welcoming Abbas, as participants recorded the encounter on their mobile phones, Netanyahu said of the Palestinian leader’s attendance: “It’s something that I appreciate very much on behalf of our people and on behalf of us.”

In Israel for just a few hours to pay tribute to Peres, Obama said in the eulogy that Abbas’s “presence here is a gesture and a reminder of the unfinished business of peace”. He was the only speaker to acknowledge Abbas’s presence.

In Gaza, ruled by the Islamist group Hamas, hundreds of Palestinians rallied after Friday prayers condemning the participation of Palestinian and Arab leaders in the funeral.


Abbas was given a front-row seat between European Council President Donald Tusk and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Obama briefly greeted the Palestinian leader with a kiss on each cheek before walking down the line to stand next to Netanyahu.

“Even in the face of terrorist attacks, even after repeated disappointments at the negotiation table, (Peres) insisted that as human beings, Palestinians must be seen as equal in dignity to Jews and must therefore be equal in self-determination,” Obama said in his address.

U.S. officials have held open the possibility of Obama making another formal effort to get peace negotiations back on the agenda before he leaves office in January, possibly via a U.N. Security Council resolution.

Netanyahu recalled in his eulogy that he had once argued with Peres, a former leader of the center-left Labour Party, about what was more important for Israel – peace or security.

“Shimon, you said, ‘Bibi: the best security is peace.’ And I said, ‘without security there can be no peace.'”

“And you know what our surprise conclusion was? We are both right… The goal is not power. Power is the vehicle. The goal is existence and co-existence,” Netanyahu said.

Peres, who suffered a stroke two weeks ago, was buried in a Jewish religious ceremony in a plot between two other former prime ministers, Yitzhak Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir. Rabin was assassinated by an ultranationalist Israeli in 1995 over the interim peace deals struck with the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

“Gone too soon,” one of Peres’s two sons, Yoni, quoted his father as telling him when asked what he wanted as his epitaph.

Amos Oz, the celebrated Israeli author and peace campaigner who was a long-time friend of Peres, said in his eulogy it was time to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. “We must split this house into two apartments,” Oz said. “Where are the brave and wise leaders who will continue his legacy?”

The rulers of Egypt and Jordan, the only Arab states to have signed peace treaties with Israel, in 1979 and 1994, were not in attendance. But the Egyptian foreign minister came and King Abdullah of Jordan sent a telegram of condolences.

Britain’s Prince Charles, French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Polish President Andrzej Duda, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former British leaders David Cameron and Tony Blair also were at the funeral.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Luke Baker and Mark Heinrich)

Obama, Singapore leader push Pacific trade deal in state visit

Obama and Loong discussing Trans-Pacific Deal

By Timothy Gardner and Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama welcomed Singapore’s prime minister for a state visit on Tuesday with a major trade deal and China’s development of islands in the South China Sea at the top of their agenda.

Both the United States and Singapore are signatories to the 12 nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which Obama hopes Congress will approve before he leaves office in January.

Obama and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong touched on the trade issue at the opening ceremony for Lee’s visit, which is the first official one by a prime minister from Singapore since 1985.

“We stand together for a regional order where every nation large and small plays and trades by the same rules,” Obama said.

Lee said TPP would be a major trading group linking both sides of the Pacific. “Not only will the TPP benefit American workers and businesses, it will send a clear signal and a vital signal that America will continue to lead in the Asia Pacific and enhance the partnerships that link our destinies together,” he said.

The TPP faces a battle in Congress. Some U.S. voters blame trade deals for shutting factories, shipping jobs overseas and favoring corporations over the environment. The deal also is opposed by presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, and Donald Trump, a Republican.

Obama believes the TPP will fix problems in a previous trade deal, the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, and will create jobs by allowing people around the world to buy U.S. products. The TPP aims to liberalize commerce in 40 percent of the world’s economy and would be a check against China’s influence in Asia.

Also on the agenda during Lee’s visit will be China’s build up of islands in the South China Sea. China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which trillions of dollars worth of shipping trade passes annually and has been fortifying islands in the sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims there.

China has accused the United States of fuelling tensions in the region with patrols and exercises.

Singapore is not a claimant to the South China Sea, but the tiny city-state has the largest defense budget in Southeast Asia at a time when nations are stepping up their military spending in response to China’s assertiveness in the region.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Bill Trott)