U.S. warns on Russia’s new space weapons

The sun reflects off the water in this picture taken by German astronaut Alexander Gerst from the International Space Station and sent on his Twitter feed July 17, 2014. REUTERS/Alexander Gerst/NASA/Handout via Reuters

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United States voiced deep suspicion on Tuesday over Russia’s pursuit of new space weapons, including a mobile laser system to destroy satellites in space, and the launch of a new inspector satellite which was acting in an “abnormal” way.

Russia’s pursuit of counterspace capabilities was “disturbing”, Yleem D.S. Poblete, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, told the U.N.’s Conference on Disarmament which is discussing a new treaty to prevent an arms race in outer space.

A Russian delegate at the conference dismissed Poblete’s remarks as unfounded and slanderous.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, at the Geneva forum in February, said a priority was to prevent an arms race in outer space, in line with Russia’s joint draft treaty with China presented a decade ago.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled in March “six new major offensive weapons systems”, including the Peresvet military mobile laser system, Poblete said.

“To the United States this is yet further proof that the Russian actions do not match their words,” she said.

Referring to a “space apparatus inspector”, whose deployment was announced by the Russian defense ministry last October, Poblete said: “The only certainty we have is that this system has been ‘placed in orbit’.”

She said its behavior on-orbit was inconsistent with anything seen before, including other Russian inspection satellite activities, adding: “We are concerned with what appears to be very abnormal behavior by a declared ‘space apparatus inspector’.”

Russia’s pursuit of counterspace capabilities “is disturbing given the recent pattern of Russian malign behavior,” she said, and its proposed treaty would not prohibit such activity, nor the testing or stockpiling of anti-satellite weapons capabilities.

Alexander Deyneko, a senior Russian diplomat in Geneva, dismissed what he called “the same unfounded, slanderous accusations based on suspicions, on suppositions and so on”.

The United States had not proposed amendments to the Sino-Russian draft treaty, he said.

“We are seeing that the American side are raising their serious concerns about Russia, so you would think they ought to be the first to support the Russian initiative. They should be active in working to develop a treaty that would 100 percent satisfy the security interests of the American people,” he said.

“But they have not made this constructive contribution,” he said.

China’s disarmament ambassador Fu Cong called for substantive discussions on outer space, leading to negotiations.

“China has always stood for peaceful use of outer space and we are against weaponization of outer space, an arms race in outer space, or even more turning outer space into a battle field,” he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Russia reels, denounces new U.S. sanctions as illegal, unfriendly

FILE PHOTO: National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

By Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia condemned a new round of U.S. sanctions as illegal on Thursday after news of the measures sent the rouble tumbling to two-year lows and sparked a wider asset sell-off over fears that Moscow was locked in a spiral of never-ending curbs by the West.

Moscow has been trying with mixed success to improve battered U.S.-Russia ties since Donald Trump won the White House in 2016, and Russia’s political elite was quick to chalk up a summit last month between Trump and Vladimir Putin as a victory.

But initial triumphalism swiftly turned sour as anger over what some U.S. lawmakers saw as an over deferential performance by Trump and his failure to confront Putin over Moscow’s alleged meddling in U.S. politics galvanized a new sanctions push.

Having bet heavily on improving ties with Washington via Trump, Moscow now finds that Trump is under mounting pressure from U.S. lawmakers to show he is tough on Russia ahead of mid-term elections.

In the latest broadside, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday it would impose fresh sanctions by the month’s end after determining that Moscow had used a nerve agent against a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, in Britain, something Moscow denies.

In an early reaction, the Kremlin said the sanctions were illegal and unfriendly and that the U.S. move was at odds with the “constructive atmosphere” of Trump and Putin’s encounter in Helsinki.

The new sanctions come in two tranches. The first, which targets U.S. exports of sensitive national-security related goods, comes with deep exemptions and many of the items it covers have already been banned by previous restrictions.

However, the second tranche, activated after 90 days if Moscow fails to provide “reliable assurances” it will no longer use chemical weapons and allow on-site inspections by the United Nations or other international observer groups, is more serious.

NBC, citing U.S. officials, said the second tranche could include downgrading diplomatic relations, suspending the state airline Aeroflot’s ability to fly to the United States and cutting off nearly all exports and imports.

The State Department’s announcement fueled already worsening investor sentiment about the possible impact of more sanctions on Russian assets and the rouble at one point slid by over 1 percent against the dollar, hitting a two-year low, before recouping some of its losses.

The U.S. move also triggered a sell-off in Russian government bonds and the dollar-denominated RTS index fell to its lowest since April 11.

“There is local panic on the currency market,” BCS Brokerage said in a note. “At times, the number of those who want to ditch the rouble is becoming so high so there is not enough liquidity.”

ILLEGAL

The Kremlin said the new sanctions were “illegal and do not correspond to international law.”

“…Such decisions taken by the American side are absolutely unfriendly and can hardly be somehow associated with the constructive – not simple but constructive – atmosphere that there was at the last meeting of the two presidents,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Washington had become an unpredictable player on the international stage, Peskov added, saying “anything could be expected” from it and that it was important that Russia’s financial system, which he described as stable, was prepared.

In a sign the Kremlin was not eager to escalate an already difficult situation however, Peskov said it was too early to talk about Russian countermeasures.

He criticized the U.S. decision to link the sanctions to the British nerve agent case, an incident the Kremlin has long cast as a Western plot to damage its reputation and provide a pretext for more sanctions.

Skripal, a former colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, and his 33-year-old daughter were found slumped unconscious on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury in March after a liquid form of the Novichok type of nerve agent was applied to his home’s front door.

European countries and the United States expelled 100 Russian diplomats after the attack, in the strongest action by Trump against Russia since he came to office.

Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the upper house of parliament’s international affairs committee, was cited by the Interfax news agency as saying it looked like Washington was now behaving like “a police state.”

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and a former colonel in the Russian army, said the State Department’s move looked like the latest salvo in what he called a hybrid war.

“Sanctions are the U.S. weapon of choice,” Trenin wrote on Twitter.

“They are not an instrument, but the policy itself. Russia will have to brace for more to come over the next several years, prepare for the worst and push back where it can.”

At variance with Moscow over Ukraine and Syria, Western sanctions have already drastically reduced Western involvement in Russian energy and commodities projects, including large-scale financing and exploration of hard-to-recover and deep water resources.

Proposed U.S. legislation prepared by several senators calls on Trump to widen the sanctions further to include virtually all Russian energy projects and effectively bar Western companies from any involvement in the country.

Introduced by Republican and Democratic senators last week in draft form, Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the measure’s lead sponsors, has called it “the sanctions bill from hell.”

(Additional reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov, Tom Balmforth, Denis Pinchuk, Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Chemical weapons inspectors to collect new samples in UK nerve agent poisoning

A forensic investigator, wearing a protective suit, emerges from the rear of John Baker House, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve-agent Novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Inspectors of the world’s chemical weapons watchdog will return to Britain on request of the government to take new samples of the nerve agent which killed one person and injured another in Amesbury, England, in June.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Tuesday said it would deploy a team to collect additional samples, to be analyzed in two laboratories designated by the agency.

In July the British government asked the OPCW to independently identify a substance which the authorities had found to be Novichok — the same nerve agent used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March.

Britain blamed Russia for the Skripal poisoning but the Kremlin denied involvement.

In June, two Britons fell ill in Amesbury after being exposed to the poison in southwest England, close to where the Skripals were attacked. One of them died.

Britain is ready to ask Russia to extradite two men it suspects of carrying out a nerve agent attack on Skripal, the Guardian newspaper reported on Monday, citing government and security sources.

(Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Israel sees Syrian army growing beyond pre-civil war size

An Israeli soldier rides an armoured vehicle during an army drill after the visit of Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohe

MEROM GOLAN, Golan Heights (Reuters) – Israel’s defense minister said on Tuesday that Syria was building up its ground forces beyond their pre-civil war size, an assessment that suggests President Bashar al-Assad’s army has recovered from a critical manpower shortage earlier in the war.

The Syrian military was hit by major defections in the first years of the conflict, which began in 2011, and by 2015 Assad acknowledged that “a shortfall in human capacity” meant the army could not fight everywhere for fear of losing vital ground.

Russia intervened militarily soon afterward to turn the tide of war and has been helping arm and train the Syrian army. Iran has also backed Assad, sending military advisers and allied Shi’ite militia from across the region to support his troops.

Pro-government forces in the Syrian conflict have also included local militias raised by the Lebanese Hezbollah with Iranian support, including the National Defence Forces.

“Across the way we see the Syrian military, which is not satisfied with just taking over all of Syrian territory but is expressly building a broad-based, new ground army that will return to its previous proportions and beyond,” Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman told reporters during a tour of the Golan Heights.

Israel closely monitors the military capacity of Syria, an adversary against which it has fought three wars. It captured part of the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and has occupied it since.

With Assad now regaining control, Israel has voiced worry that he might defy a 44-year-old Golan demilitarisation deal that had stabilized their standoff.

An Israeli soldier is dressed-up playing the role of the enemy takes part in a army drill after the visit of Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

An Israeli soldier is dressed-up playing the role of the enemy takes part in an army drill after the visit of Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

In a Twitter statement, Lieberman said that Israel’s tanks, deployed on parts of the strategic plateau that it captured from Syria in a 1967 war, were “our crushing strike force and will know how to defend the border in any eventuality”.

In a May interview, Assad also said Syria had improved its air defenses with Russian help.

The Golan saw large tank battles in 1967 and the subsequent Israel-Syria war in 1973. Israel annexed its side of the Golan in 1981, in a move not recognized internationally.

In a July 19 briefing, the chief of Israel’s armored corps told reporters that while the number of Israeli tanks fielded was unlikely to grow, a new, improved tank model would be introduced in 2021.

(Writing by Dan Williams and Angus McDowall, Editing by William Maclean)

U.S., Turkey agree to try to resolve disputes after relations dive

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at Royal Malaysian Air Force base in Subang, Malaysia August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

By David Brunnstrom

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu agreed on Friday to try to resolve a series of disputes, after relations between the NATO allies sank to their lowest point in decades.

Their meeting in Singapore followed Washington’s imposition on Wednesday of sanctions on two Turkish ministers over the case of Andrew Brunson, a U.S. pastor on trial in Turkey for backing terrorism.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert described their conversation on the sidelines of a regional ministers’ meeting as constructive. “They agreed to continue to try to resolve the issues between our two countries,” she said.

Cavusoglu said he had repeated Turkey’s message that “the threatening language and sanctions does not achieve anything”, but added that he and Pompeo would take steps to resolve their differences when they returned home.

“Of course you can’t expect all issues to be resolved in a single meeting,” he told Turkish television channels. “But we have agreed to work together, closely cooperate and keep the dialogue in the coming period,” he added, also describing the talks as very constructive.

Washington imposed sanctions on Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, accusing them of playing leading roles in organizations responsible for the arrest and detention of Brunson, an evangelical Christian who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades. The move sent the Turkish lira to record low.

Within hours Turkey vowed to retaliate ‘without delay’ but since then the tone of comments from Ankara has moderated and so far it has taken no such step. Finance minister Berat Albayrak, who is President Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law, also said relations with the United States would never break down, despite the temporary escalation.

Pompeo told reporters the United States had put Turkey on notice “that the clock had run and it was time for Pastor Brunson to be returned”.

“I hope they’ll see this for what it is, a demonstration that we’re very serious,” he said of the sanctions. “We consider this one of the many issues that we have with the Turks.”

“Brunson needs to come home. As do all the Americans being held by the Turkish government. Pretty straightforward. They’ve been holding these folks for a long time. These are innocent people,” he said. “We are going to work to see if we can find a way forward; I am hopeful that we can.”

The United States has also been seeking the release of three locally employed embassy staff detained in Turkey.

ATTEMPTED COUP

Brunson is charged with supporting a group Ankara blames for orchestrating an attempted coup in 2016. He denies the charges but faces up to 35 years in jail.

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

Turkey has been trying to have Gulen extradited from the United States for two years.

Finance Minister Albayrak said on Thursday the sanctions would have a limited impact on the Turkish economy, although investors’ deepening concern over ties with the United States, also a major trading partner, sent the lira to record lows.

On Friday, the currency fell to 5.1140 against the dollar. The sell-off also hammered Turkish stocks and debt risk profile.

Brunson was in a Turkish prison for 21 months until he was transferred to house arrest last week. On Tuesday, a court rejected his appeal to be released altogether during his trial.

Washington and Ankara are also at odds over the Syrian war, Turkey’s plan to buy missile defenses from Russia and the U.S. conviction of a Turkish state bank executive on Iran sanctions-busting charges this year.

Brunson’s case has resonated with President Donald Trump and particularly with Vice President Mike Pence, who has close ties to evangelical Christians. Pence has been pressing behind the scenes for action, aides said.

(Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul; Editing by Nick Macfie, Paul Tait and David Stamp)

Sweden to sign $1 billion Patriot missile deal this week: report

FILE PHOTO: A man looks at a Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) model by Lockheed Martin at an international military fair in Kielce, Poland September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden will sign a contract to buy the Patriot air defense missile system from U.S. arms manufacturer Raytheon Co  this week, Swedish radio reported on Wednesday.

Although it is not a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member, Sweden has close ties to the alliance and has been beefing up its armed forces after decades of neglect amid increased anxiety over Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Crimea.

Sweden, whose existing air defense system cannot shoot down ballistic missiles, will buy four Patriot firing units and an undisclosed number of missiles, Swedish radio said.

“This system has been proven in action … there are a number of other countries that already have it and we expect the first delivery in 2021,” Swedish radio quoted Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist saying.

The Defence Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment on the Swedish radio report, which said Stockholm will formally sign the deal on Thursday.

Sweden began talks over the purchase, initially worth around 10 billion crowns ($1.14 billion), last November.

The contract includes an option to buy up to 300 missiles, which would bring the final bill to around $3 billion.

The main, center-right opposition has backed the plan, though there are differences over how to finance the deal.

So far, 15 other countries have purchased Patriot, including NATO members Germany, the Netherlands, Romania and Poland, while neutral Switzerland has said it is considering Patriot among other systems.

(Reporting by Simon Johnson; Editing by Alexander Smith)

Facebook says it uncovers new meddling before 2018 U.S. elections

FILE PHOTO: Facebook logo is seen at a start-up companies gathering at Paris' Station F in Paris, France on January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

By Joseph Menn and Paresh Dave

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc has identified a new coordinated political influence campaign to mislead users and organize rallies ahead of November’s U.S. congressional elections, taking down dozens of fake accounts on its site, the company said on Tuesday.

A Russian propaganda arm tried to tamper in the 2016 U.S. election by posting and buying ads on Facebook, according to the company and U.S. intelligence agencies. Moscow has denied involvement.

Facebook on Tuesday said they had removed 32 pages and accounts from Facebook and Instagram, part of an effort to combat foreign meddling in U.S. elections, attempts that lawmakers have called dangerous for democracy.

The company said it was still in the early stages of its investigation and did not yet know who may be behind the influence campaign for 2018 elections that will determine whether or not the Republican Party keeps control of Congress.

Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said on a call with reporters that the attempts to manipulate public opinion would likely become more sophisticated to evade Facebook’s scrutiny, calling it an “arms race.”

“This kind of behavior is not allowed on Facebook because we don’t want people or organizations creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are, or what they’re doing,” the company said in a blogpost.

More than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the pages and that about $11,000 had been spent on about 150 ads, Facebook said. The pages had created about 30 events since May 2017.

Facebook for months has been on the defensive about influence activity on its site and concerns over user privacy tied to longstanding agreements with developers that allowed them access to private user data.

DIVISIVE ISSUES

Facebook identified influence activity around at least two issues, including a counter-protest to a “Unite the Right II” rally set next week in Washington. The other was the #AbolishICE social media campaign aimed at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

In the blog post, Facebook said it was revealing the influence effort now in part because of the rally. A previous event last year in Charlottesville, South Carolina, led to violence by white supremacists.

Facebook said it would tell users who had expressed interest in the counter-protest what action it had taken and why.

Facebook officials on a call with reporters said that one known account from Russia’s Internet Research Agency was a co-administrator of one of the fake pages for seven minutes, but the company did not believe that was enough evidence to attribute the campaign to the Russian government.

The company previously had said 126 million Americans may have seen Russian-backed political content on Facebook over a two-year period, and that 16 million may have been exposed to Russian information on Instagram.

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, in a statement urged Facebook to move against foreign groups trying to sway American voters and to warn legitimate users that such activity, as seen in 2016, is recurring this year.

“Today’s announcement from Facebook demonstrates what we’ve long feared: that malicious foreign actors bearing the hallmarks of previously-identified Russian influence campaigns continue to abuse and weaponize social media platforms to influence the U.S. electorate,” Schiff said.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican, said in a statement there would be a hearing on Wednesday about the online threat to U.S. election security.

Burr said the goal of influence operations “is to sow discord, distrust, and division in an attempt to undermine public faith in our institutions and our political system. The Russians want a weak America.”

Washington imposed punitive sanctions on Russia following U.S. intelligence agency conclusions that Moscow interfered to undermine the 2016 U.S. elections, one of the reasons U.S.-Russian relations are at a post-Cold War low. Both U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have said, however, that they want to improve ties between the two nuclear powers.

Facebook disclosed in September that Russians under fake names had used the social network to try to influence U.S. voters in the months before and after the 2016 election, writing about divisive issues, setting up events and buying ads.

U.S. intelligence agencies said Russian state operators ran the campaign combining fake social media posts and hacking into Democratic Party networks, eventually becoming an effort to help Republican candidate Trump, who scored a surprise victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Over the past several months, the company has taken steps meant to reassure U.S. and European lawmakers that further regulation is unnecessary. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg says the company has 20,000 people working to police and protect the site.

Costs associated with that effort are part of the reason Facebook said last week that it expects its profit margins to decline, a warning that sent shares tumbling about 25 percent, the biggest one-day loss of market cap in U.S. stock market history. Shares of Facebook were up about 1.5 percent in Tuesday’s midafternoon trading, part of a broader tech rebound.

(Joseph Menn and Paresh Dave in San Francisco; additional reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru, Kevin Drawbaugh in Washington; writing by Peter Henderson; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Grant McCool)

Pentagon creating software ‘do not buy’ list to keep out Russia, China

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington, June 15, 2005. REUTERS/Jason Reed

By Mike Stone

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon is working on a software “do not buy” list to block vendors who use software code originating from Russia and China, a top Defense Department acquisitions official said on Friday.

Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters the Pentagon had been working for six months on a “do not buy” list of software vendors. The list is meant to help the Department of Defense’s acquisitions staff and industry partners avoid buying problematic code for the Pentagon and suppliers.

“What we are doing is making sure that we do not buy software that has Russian or Chinese provenance, for instance, and quite often that’s difficult to tell at first glance because of holding companies,” she told reporters gathered in a conference room near her Pentagon office.

The Pentagon has worked closely with the intelligence community, she said, adding “we have identified certain companies that do not operate in a way consistent with what we have for defense standards.”

Lord did not provide any further details on the list.

Lord’s comments were made ahead of the likely passage of the Pentagon’s spending bill by Congress as early as next week. The bill contains provisions that would force technology companies to disclose if they allowed countries like China and Russia to examine the inner workings of software sold to the U.S. military.

The legislation was drafted after a Reuters investigation found that software makers allowed a Russian defense agency to hunt for vulnerabilities in software used by some agencies of the U.S. government, including the Pentagon and intelligence agencies.

Security experts said allowing Russian authorities to look into the internal workings of software, known as source code, could help adversaries like Moscow or Beijing to discover vulnerabilities they could exploit to more easily attack U.S. government systems.

Lord added an upcoming report on the U.S. military supply chain will show that the Pentagon depends on foreign suppliers, including Chinese firms, for components in some military equipment.

She said the Pentagon also wants to strengthen its suppliers’ ability to withstand cyber attacks and will test their cybersecurity defenses by attempting to hack them.

The Pentagon disclosed the measures as the federal government looks to bolster cyber defenses following attacks on the United States that the government has blamed on Russia, North Korea, Iran, and China.

The Department of Homeland Security this week disclosed details about a string of cyber attacks that officials said put hackers working on behalf of the Russian government in a position where they could manipulate some industrial systems used to control infrastructure, including at least one power generator.

(Reporting by Mike Stone; Editing by Chris Sanders, Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

Turkish court rules that U.S. pastor move from jail to house arrest

FILE PHOTO: A prison vehicle, believed to be carrying jailed U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, leaves from the Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan

By Ezgi Erkoyun and Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A Turkish court ruled on Wednesday that an American pastor be transferred from jail to house arrest, his lawyer said, after nearly two years in detention on terrorism charges in a case which has strained ties between Ankara and Washington.

Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has worked in Turkey for more than 20 years, was detained in October 2016 and indicted on charges of helping the group which Ankara says was behind a failed military coup earlier that year.

Brunson’s lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt confirmed Turkish media reports that the court had ruled for him to be moved to house arrest. He will have to wear an electronic ankle bracelet and is banned from leaving the country, Halavurt said.

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

It said Brunson’s defense had been completed and evidence for the case was almost all collected.

Brunson’s detention deepened a rift between NATO allies Washington and Ankara – also at odds over the Syrian war and Turkey’s plan to buy missile defenses from Russia – and financial markets took his transfer order as a positive sign.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Reporting by Daren Butler and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Dominic Evans; editing by David Stamp)

Trump’s U.N. envoy: ‘Every day I feel like I put body armor on’

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley addresses a United Nations General Assembly meeting ahead of a vote on a draft resolution that would deplore the use of excessive force by Israeli troops against Palestinian civilians at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., June 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump came into office disparaging the United Nations and appointed politician Nikki Haley as the ambassador to carry out his disruptive agenda, but she has also shown Trump how the world body serves his purposes, specifically on North Korea.

The U.N. Security Council’s unanimous adoption of tougher sanctions three times last year that put pressure on Pyongyang to enter talks on scrapping its nuclear weapons program is the example Haley gave Trump in a phone call in June.

In an interview with Reuters, Haley recalled telling Trump: “We would not be in the situation we are with North Korea without the U.N. because that was the only way to get the international community on the same page.”

The United States and other countries believe the sanctions helped to bring North Korean leader Kim Jong Un around to meeting with Trump at a historic summit in Singapore in June.

Haley said Trump asked her what she thought of the United Nations, then 17 months into her post and after the United States became the first country to quit the U.N. Human Rights Council. She said she rattled off a litany of complaints.

“Unbelievably bureaucratic, it wastes a lot of money, it has some real biases against Israel, against us at times, it ignores a lot that’s going on that needs attention.”

Haley’s relay of their phone call illustrates how she guides the president who shuns the international forums and pacts the United States has helped build over decades. When Trump took office, he called the U.N. “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

Some diplomats have said they see the former South Carolina governor as the stable face of U.S. foreign policy. When Trump leaves them confused, some say they look to her for interpretation.

“My job is to give clarity to everything the administration’s doing so that no one wonders where we are. I always wanted to make sure there was no gray. That it was black and white,” Haley said in the interview during a trip last month to India, the country from which her parents emigrated to the United States.

Richard Gowan, a U.N. expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, described Haley’s job as selling the “administration’s anti-U.N. positions to the public.”

“That annoys other diplomats,” Gowan added.

RUSSIA TENSIONS

Haley has long taken a tougher public stance on Russia than her boss. In May she described Russian expansionism in Ukraine as “outrageous” and said the U.S. position “will not waver.”

Days later, however, Trump urged the Group of Seven countries to reinstate Russia, booted out for its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Two weeks before Trump’s July 16 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Haley told Reuters that “basically what the president is saying is it’s better for us to have communication than not.”

But then the summit turned into a nightmare for the White House when Trump, at the joint news conference, sided with Putin’s denials of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election rather than the conclusions of his own intelligence agencies.

A political outcry in Washington drowned out Trump’s message that the two nuclear powers should improve their relations, which are at a post-Cold War low.

Haley has not responded to Reuters’ requests for comment on the summit.

Differences over Russia also caused rare public friction for Haley within the administration when she announced in April that Washington was going to sanction Moscow over its support of Syria’s government. Trump then decided not to go ahead.

“The president has every right to change his mind, every right,” Haley said. Trump never raised the incident with her, she said.

Her U.N. counterparts describe her as charming and yet very tough. She sees herself as a fighter.

“I don’t see (my role) as pushing an ‘America First’ policy, I see it as defending America because every day I feel like I put body armor on. I just don’t know who I’m fighting that day,” Haley said.

Haley carved out a high-profile role within the Trump administration from the moment she was offered the job, telling the president she would only accept it if she was made a member of the Cabinet and the National Security Council.

“She’s got an eye and ear for where the politics of an issue are,” said a senior Western diplomat, who, like all those consulted at the United Nations, would only speak on condition of anonymity.

Those kinds of instincts have helped put the 46-year-old mother of two on the list of possible Republican presidential candidates. She dismisses the presidential chatter and said it has never come up with Trump, who intends to run again in 2020, “because he knows he doesn’t need to raise it.”

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)