Iran, U.S. tension is a “clash of wills”: Guards commander

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Iran's Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Baqeri in Ankara, Turkey August 16, 2017. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

GENEVA (Reuters) – The standoff between Iran and the United States is a “clash of wills”, a senior commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards said on Thursday, suggesting any enemy “adventurism” would meet a crushing response, Fars news agency reported.

Tensions have spiked between the two countries after Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East in a show of force against what U.S. officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.

FILE PHOTO: Iranian Revolutionary Guards speed boats are seen near the USS John C. Stennis CVN-74 (not pictured) as it makes its way to gulf through strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Phot

FILE PHOTO: Iranian Revolutionary Guards speed boats are seen near the USS John C. Stennis CVN-74 (not pictured) as it makes its way to gulf through strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo

“The confrontation and face-off of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the malicious government of America is the arena for a clash of wills,” Iran’s armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Baqeri said.

He pointed to a battle during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war where Iran was victorious and said the outcome could be a message that Iran will have a “hard, crushing and obliterating response” for any enemy “adventurism”.

On Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”

Trump restored U.S. sanctions on Iran last year and tightened them this month, ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own.

Trump wants Iran to come to the negotiating table to reach a new deal with more curbs on its nuclear and missile programs.

Reiterating Iran’s stance, the spokesman for its Supreme National Security Council said on Thursday that “There will not be any negotiations between Iran and America.”

Keyvan Khosravi was also quoted as saying by the state broadcaster that some officials from several countries have visited Iran recently, “mostly representing the United States.”

He did not elaborate, but the foreign minister of Oman, which in the past helped pave the way for negotiations between Iran and the United States, visited Tehran on Monday.

“Without exception, the message of the power and resistance of the Iranian nation was conveyed to them,” he said.

In Berlin, a German diplomatic source told Reuters that Jens Ploetner, a political director in Germany’s Foreign Ministry, was in Tehran on Thursday for meetings with Iranian officials to try to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and cool tensions in the region.

(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva, Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London, Editing by William Maclean)

Trump to meet lawmakers at White House as shutdown enters 25th day

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a "roundtable discussion on border security and safe communities" with state, local, and community leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 11, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump will meet members of Congress at the White House on Tuesday as the partial U.S. government shutdown enters a 25th day without resolution amid a standoff over border wall funding.

Trump is scheduled to host the lawmakers for lunch, according to his public schedule, which did not say who was attending. Moderate House Democrats were invited, CNN and Politico reported.

Representatives for the White House and congressional leaders did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Neither Trump nor Democratic leaders in Congress have shown signs of bending on wall funding but the Washington Post on Monday reported a new bipartisan group of U.S. senators is searching for an agreement that could help end the partial shutdown.

Trump, who has demanded $5.7 billion from Congress to build his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, on Monday rejected a call by fellow Republicans to temporarily reopen the government while talks continue on border security issues.

He campaigned in 2016 on a promise of building a wall to stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking and more recently raised the possibility of declaring a national emergency to go around Congress to secure funding for the wall. In recent days, however, he has said that he would prefer Congress to act.

Democrats, who took over the U.S. House of Representatives this month, have rejected the border wall but back other border security measures.

House Democrats have passed a number of bills to fund the roughly one-quarter of federal operations that have been closed, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has said the chamber will not consider legislation that Trump will not sign into law.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday called on McConnell to move forward, suggesting that Congress go around the president.

The partial shutdown is the longest in U.S. history and its effects have begun to reverberate across the country.

Longer lines have formed at some airports as more security screeners fail to show up for work while food and drug inspections have been curtailed and farmers, stung by recent trade spats, have been unable to receive federal aid.

The shutdown began on Dec. 22 and its impact is worrying some on Wall Street. Roughly 800,000 federal employees are feeling the financial sting after missing their first paycheck last week, a loss of income expected to have ripple effects.

Speaking on CNBC, Delta Air Lines Inc Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian said the partial shutdown will cost the airline $25 million in lost revenue in January because fewer government contractors are traveling.

Other U.S. airlines also are not able to open new routes or use new airplanes because they need certification from federal officials who are furloughed.

A number of companies, already concerned about a global economic uncertainty, also have urged Republicans and Democrats to end the stalemate in Washington.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bill Trott)

Police name murder suspect in Los Angeles store hostage standoff

Police respond to a hostage situation at a Trader Joe's store in Los Angeles, California, Saturday July 21, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen

(Reuters) – Los Angeles police named a 28-year-old man on Sunday as the suspect who took hostages and barricaded himself for three hours inside a Trader Joe’s grocery store in which he fatally shot a woman.

Gene Atkins is being held on a $2-million bail on suspicion of murder for Saturday’s attacks, said Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Drake Madison.

A Trader Joe's employee waits in a parking lot near a Trader Joe's store where a hostage situation unfolded in Los Angeles, California, July 21, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen

A Trader Joe’s employee waits in a parking lot near a Trader Joe’s store where a hostage situation unfolded in Los Angeles, California, July 21, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen

Atkins is likely to appear in court to be formally charged early this coming week, Madison added.

Atkins is suspected of repeatedly having shot his grandmother and another woman in a separate part of the city before being chased by police and crashing his car outside the Trader Joe’s, according to the police account. He exchanged gunfire with police and entered the crowded store, police said.

Some people managed to escape the store by climbing through a window down a rope ladder, according to video footage. The stand-off came to an end after the gunman, who at one point was shot in the arm, talked with police over the phone to negotiate a surrender before emerging.

The woman killed at the store was identified as Melyda Corado by relatives, who said she worked there as a manager.

Trader Joe’s called the attack the “saddest day in Trader Joe’s history” in a statement on its website, saying the store would remain closed indefinitely.

“Our thoughts are with her family, and our Crew Members and customers who experienced this terrifying and unimaginable ordeal,” the statement said.

Atkin’s grandmother was left in critical condition in the earlier attack on Saturday, police said. There was no update on her condition on Sunday, they said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Suspect in deadly Florida standoff had stockpiled guns: police

Gary Wayne Lindsey Jr., 35, is seen in this Volusia County Corrections booking photo taken in Florida, U.S., May 8, 2018. Picture taken May 8, 2018. Courtesy Volusia County Corrections/Handout via REUTERS

By Joey Roulette

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) – A convicted felon found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his Orlando, Florida apartment alongside the bodies of four children after a standoff in which he shot a police officer had stockpiled an arsenal of guns, police said on Tuesday.

Officers who stormed a three-bedroom unit at the Westbrook Apartments on Monday night, nearly a full day after responding to an emergency call, found two rifles, two shotguns and a handgun inside, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said at a late-afternoon press conference.

Mina said it was still unclear when the four children, two of whom belonged to suspect Gary Wayne Lindsey, 35, were shot to death. Lindsey had also shot and killed himself.

“It is still a very active and ongoing investigation,” Mina said. “We’re trying to gain as much information about him as possible.”

The 21-hour ordeal started shortly before midnight on Sunday when Orlando police responded to a domestic violence call by the suspect’s girlfriend.

Lindsey shot and wounded an officer through the apartment’s front door before barricading himself inside with the four children, aged 1, 6, 10 and 11, as hostages, police said. The standoff ended at about 9 p.m. local time on Monday, when police entered the apartment and found the children and the suspect dead of gunshot wounds.

The police officer shot at the front door was listed in critical condition at a local hospital.

The woman who called the police was the mother of all four of the children, and Lindsey had fathered the two youngest, Orlando police spokeswoman Michelle Guido said in an email.

Lindsey was a convicted felon on probation after pleading no contest to arson and battery charges. In a 2008 incident, Lindsey became violent during an argument with his former fiancee and set the house on fire after the woman fled.

Residents Miguel and Maria Lopez returned early on Tuesday to the Orlando apartment complex after being evacuated the night before.

“I can’t even sleep. I have all the images in my mind, like the police officers, the guns shooting.” Maria said. “I don’t feel safe here.”

(Reporting by Joey Roulette in Orlando; additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Makini Brice in New York; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; editing by Frank McGurty and G Crosse)

Russia, in spy rift riposte, expels 59 diplomats from 23 countries

Ambassadors' cars with Lithuanian, Croatian and Swedish flags are parked near the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow, Russia March 30, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

By Andrew Osborn and Christian Lowe

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia expelled 59 diplomats from 23 countries on Friday and said it reserved the right to take action against four other nations in a worsening standoff with the West over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain.

Russia said it was responding to what it called the baseless demands for scores of its own diplomats to leave a slew of mostly Western countries that have joined London and Washington in censuring Moscow over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

A day earlier, Moscow ordered the expulsion of 60 U.S. diplomats and the closing of the U.S. consulate in St Petersburg, Russia’s second city, in retaliation for the biggest ejection of diplomats since the Cold War.

Preparations appeared to be under way on Friday to close the St Petersburg mission down, with a removals truck making repeated journeys to and from the consulate which took delivery of a large pizza order for its staff.

Russia summoned senior envoys on Friday from most of the other countries that have expelled Russian diplomats and told them it was expelling a commensurate number of theirs.

Russia has already retaliated in kind against Britain for ejecting 23 diplomats over the first known use of a military-grade nerve agent on European soil since World War Two. British ambassador Laurie Bristow was summoned again on Friday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Bristow had been told London had just one month to cut its diplomatic contingent in Russia to the same size as the Russian mission in Britain.

A spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office did not say how many British diplomats would be affected, but said Russia’s response was regrettable and Moscow was in flagrant breach of international law over the killing of the former spy.

The poisoning, in southern England, has united much of the West in taking action against what it regards as the hostile policies of President Vladimir Putin. This includes the United States under President Donald Trump, who Putin had hoped would improve ties.

Russia rejects Britain’s accusation it stood behind the attack and has cast the allegations as part of an elaborate Western plot to sabotage East-West relations and isolate Moscow.

The hospital where she is being treated said on Thursday that Yulia Skripal was getting better after spending three weeks in a critical condition due to the nerve toxin attack. Her father remains in a critical but stable condition.

The BBC, citing sources, reported on Friday that Yulia was “conscious and talking”.

EXPULSIONS

During the course of Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned senior embassy officials from Australia, Albania, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Croatia, Ukraine, Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Canada and the Czech Republic.

All were seen arriving in their official cars at the Foreign Ministry’s gothic building in Moscow.

“They (the diplomats) were handed protest notes and told that in response to the unwarranted demands of the relevant states on expelling Russian diplomats … that the Russian side declares the corresponding number of staff working in those countries’ embassies in the Russian Federation persona non grata,” the ministry said in a statement.

Four other countries — Belgium, Hungary, Georgia and Montenegro — had only “at the last moment” announced that they too were expelling Russian diplomats over the Skripal affair, and Moscow reserved the right to take retaliatory action against them too, it said.

Emerging from the Foreign Ministry building, German ambassador Rudiger von Fritsch said Russia had questions to answer about the poisoning of Skripal, but Berlin remained open to dialogue with Moscow.

The U.S State Department said after Russia announced the expulsions on Thursday evening that it reserved the right to respond further, saying the list of diplomats designated for expulsion by Russia showed Moscow was not interested in diplomacy.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in a conference call with reporters on Friday, disagreed with that assessment, saying that Putin still favored mending ties with other countries, including with the United States.

(Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Maxim Rodionov and Christian Lowe in Moscow, Toby Sterling in The Hague, Elisabeth O’Leary in London, Steve Scherer in Rome and Jussi Rosendahl in Helsinki; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Edmund Blair and Peter Graff)