Dorian’s death toll in Bahamas rises to 50 – official

NASSAU, Bahamas (Reuters) – Hurricane Dorian’s rampage through the Bahamas last week killed at least 50 people, largely on the hard-hit Great Abaco Island, an official said on Tuesday.

That is up from the last-reported figure of 45, Carl Smith, a spokesman for the islands’ National Emergency Management Agency, told reporters. Evacuees, rescue workers and officials widely expect the number to climb higher as more bodies are pulled from the rubble of a demolished neighborhood in Marsh Harbour in Abaco.

Dorian pummeled the Bahamas with 200-mile-per-hour (320-km-per-hour) winds. It was one of the strongest Caribbean hurricanes on record and stands as the worst disaster in Bahamian history.

As relief efforts got underway slowly, stirring frustration among locals, several Bahamians said they might attempt to emigrate to the United States rather than face an uncertain rebuilding at home.

It is not clear whether U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, which has sought to severely curtail legal and illegal immigration, will smooth their path.

But a growing chorus of Congress members, including Florida Republicans Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, have called for a suspension of visa requirements to help reunite stranded Bahamians with U.S. relatives.

Some 70,000 people were in need of food and shelter, the World Food Programme estimated. Private forecasters estimated that some $3 billion in insured property was destroyed or damaged in the Caribbean.

(Reporting by Zachary Fageson, writing by Maria Caspani; editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Trump says U.S. not involved in Iran satellite launch failure

FILE PHOTO: A satellite image shows what U.S. officials say is the failed Iranian rocket launch at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in northern Iran August 29, 2019. Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday that the United States was not involved with a failed Iranian rocket launch, and he wished Tehran luck at finding out what went wrong.

“The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran,” Trump said on Twitter.

The rocket exploded on its launch pad at a space center in northern Iran on Thursday, an Iranian official said. A U.S. official also said Iran suffered a satellite launch failure.

The United States has warned Iran against rocket launches, fearful the technology used to put satellites into orbit could enable Tehran to develop the ballistic missile capability needed to launch nuclear warheads.

Tehran denies the U.S. accusation that such activity is a cover for ballistic missile development.

The Trump administration has ratcheted up economic pressure on Iran with a series of economic sanctions to try to force it to renegotiate a pact reached with world powers in 2015 limiting its nuclear program.

Trump has offered to hold talks with Iran but Tehran says first it must get relief from U.S. sanctions.

(Reporting by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

Nuclear talks in doubt as North Korea tests ballistic missiles, envoy cancels trip

FILE PHOTO: South Korean people watch a live TV broadcast on a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Seoul, South Korea, June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

By Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea test-fired two new short-range ballistic missiles on Thursday, South Korean officials said, its first missile test since its leader, Kim Jong Un, and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to revive denuclearisation talks last month.

South Korea, which supports efforts by North Korea and the United States to end years of hostility, urged the North to stop acts that are unhelpful to easing tension, saying the tests posed a military threat on the Korean peninsula.

The South’s National Security Council said it believed the missiles were a new type of ballistic missile but it would make a final assessment with the United States.

Firing a ballistic missile would be a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban the North from the use of such technology. North Korea has rejected the restriction as an infringement of its sovereign right to self-defense.

North Korea launched the missiles from the east coast city of Wonsan with one flying about 430 km (267 miles) and the other 690 km (428 miles) over the sea. They both reached an altitude of 50 km (30 miles), an official at South Korea’s Defense Ministry said.

Some analysts said the North appeared to have retested missiles it fired in May, but two South Korean military officials said the missiles appeared to be a new design.

The launch casts new doubt on efforts to restart stalled denuclearisation talks after Trump and Kim met at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas at the end of June.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho had been expected to meet on the sidelines of a Southeast Asian security forum in Bangkok next week.

But a diplomatic source told Reuters on Thursday that Ri had canceled his trip to the conference.

The White House, Pentagon and U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the test had no immediate impact on Japan’s security, according to Kyodo News.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, who has taken a hard line toward North Korea, made no mention of the launches in a tweet on Thursday after a visit to South Korea. He said he had “productive meetings” on regional security.

South Korea’s nuclear envoy, Lee Do-hoon, had phone calls with his U.S. counterpart, Stephen Biegun, and his Japanese counterpart, Kenji Kanasugi, to share their assessment, South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a briefing that Beijing had noted the launch, and called for North Korea and the United States to reopen negotiations “as early as possible”.

‘CLEAR MESSAGE’

After Trump and Kim met last month, the United States and North Korea vowed to hold a new round of working-level talks soon, but Pyongyang has since sharply criticized upcoming joint military drills by U.S. and South Korean troops.

North Korea’s foreign ministry accused Washington this month of breaking a promise by holding military exercises with South Korea. On Tuesday, Kim inspected a large, newly built submarine from which ballistic missiles could be launched.

“By firing missiles, taking issue with military drills and showing a new submarine, the North is sending one clear message: there might be no working-level talks if the United States doesn’t present a more flexible stance,” said Kim Hong-kyun, a former South Korean nuclear envoy.

Kim Dong-yup, a former navy officer who teaches at Kyungnam University in Seoul, said the weapons tested on Thursday appeared to be the same as the ones tested in May, which were less of a challenge than long-range missiles but “enough to subtly pressure” Washington.

But the South Korean military believes they may be new because they traveled further. In North Korea’s previous missile test in May, the projectiles flew only 420 km (260 miles) and 270 km (168 miles) though they reached the same altitude of about 50 km (30 miles).

“We’re very cautious because it’s difficult to extend the range within such a short time,” said one military official, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that, according to a preliminary analysis, the missiles were similar to those tested in May but showed enhanced capabilities. They cautioned that it would take time before they were certain whether this was a new missile or not.

One of the officials added that North Korea had generally been shortening the time it took for them to prepare missiles to be launched, potentially decreasing the warning time the United States and allies have to detect the launches.

Nuclear talks between North Korea and the United States stalled after a second summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam in February broke down.

Trump has repeatedly lauded the North’s freeze in weapons testing as he is keen for a big foreign policy win as he campaigns for re-election in 2020.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee, Josh Smith, Hyonhee Shin and Jane Chung; David Brunnstrom and Idrees Ali in WASHINGTON, and Huizhong Wu in BEIJING; Editing by Jack Kim, Robert Birsel)

Trump says won’t deal with UK ambassador after leak of ‘inept’ memos

Britain's ambassador to the United States Kim Darroch (C) listens as U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May hold a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 27, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Michael Holden and William James

LONDON (Reuters) – Donald Trump said he would not deal with Britain’s ambassador to Washington after a leak of confidential memos in which the diplomat described the U.S. president’s administration as “inept”.

Trump also attacked Britain’s outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May, who had said her government had full confidence in ambassador Kim Darroch, criticizing her handling of Brexit and saying she disregarded his advice.

“What a mess she and her representatives have created,” he wrote on Twitter. “I do not know the Ambassador, but he is not liked or well thought of within the U.S. We will no longer deal with him. The good news for the wonderful United Kingdom is that they will soon have a new Prime Minister.”

The spat between the two close allies followed the leak to a British newspaper on Sunday of memos from Darroch to London in which he said Trump’s administration was “dysfunctional” and “diplomatically clumsy and inept”.

May’s spokesman said while Darroch’s opinions did not reflect the view of the government or ministers, he said the diplomat had London’s backing and ambassadors needed to have the confidence to give their frank assessments.

“Contact has been made with the Trump administration, setting out our view that we believe the leak is unacceptable,” May’s spokesman told reporters. “It is, of course, a matter of regret that this has happened.”

May is also due to leave office before the end of the month and has previously clashed with Trump over a number of issues from Brexit to the Iran nuclear deal.

However, the timing of the discord comes as Britain is hoping to strike a major trade deal with its closest ally after it leaves the European Union, an exit scheduled for Oct. 31.

The two contenders to replace May, former London mayor Boris Johnson and foreign minister Jeremy Hunt, have both indicated they could support leaving the EU without a deal, making a future agreement with the United States even more important.

Trade minister Liam Fox, who was visiting Washington this week, said he would apologize to Trump’s daughter Ivanka whom he was due to meet during his trip.

‘SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES’ FOR LEAKER

In confidential memos to his government dating from 2017 to the present, Darroch had said reports of in-fighting in the White House were “mostly true” and last month described confusion within the administration over Trump’s decision to call off a military strike on Iran.

“We don’t really believe this Administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction driven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept,” Darroch wrote in one cable.

British officials have launched an inquiry to find out who was responsible for the leak and foreign minister Hunt promised “serious consequences” for whoever was responsible.

He told the Sun newspaper that the inquiry would consider whether the memos had been obtained by hacking by a hostile state such as Russia although he said he had seen no evidence for this.

Asked whether British spies would join in the hunt, Jeremy Fleming, the head of the GCHQ intelligence agency, told BBC radio: “I can’t get into the detail of the investigation. If they require our services then GCHQ will help.”

Christopher Meyer, a former British ambassador to Washington, said there was a “possible range of villains”.

“It was clearly somebody who set out deliberately to sabotage Sir Kim’s ambassadorship, to make his position untenable and to have him replaced by somebody more congenial to the leaker,” he told BBC radio.

Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party and long a thorn in the side of British governments, said figures such as Darroch would be “not be around” if Johnson, the favorite to replace May, was selected by Conservative Party members.

However, former British foreign minister William Hague said Darroch should not be removed from his post, pointing out that no U.S. diplomats had been withdrawn from their roles after the mass release of secret U.S. cables by WikiLeaks in 2010 which included highly critical appraisals of world leaders.

“You can’t change an ambassador at the demand of a host country. It is their job to give an honest assessment of what is happening in that country,” Hague told BBC radio.

May’s spokesman said police would be involved if there was evidence that the leaker had committed a crime.

Two months ago, May fired defense minister Gavin Williamson after secret discussions in the National Security Council about Chinese telecoms firm Huawei were leaked to the media, and an inquiry concluded that he was responsible.

Williamson denied any involvement and police said there was no reason for a criminal investigation.

(Additional reporting by Andrew MacAskill, Kate Holton and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Jon Boyle)

Iran to boost uranium enrichment level above nuclear pact’s limit

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is seen during meeting with health ministry top officials in Tehran, Iran, June 25, 2019. Official President website/Handout via REUTERS

By Babak Dehghanpisheh

GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran will boost its uranium enrichment after July 7 to whatever levels it needs beyond the cap set in the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday, while calling on Washington to rejoin the pact.

Iran announced this week it has stockpiled more low-enriched uranium than is permitted under the accord, a move that prompted U.S. President Donald Trump – who withdrew the United States from the deal last year – to warn Iran was “playing with fire”.

European co-signatories said on Tuesday they were “extremely concerned” by Tehran’s apparent breach of the deal while Israel said it was preparing for possible involvement in any military confrontation between Iran and the United States.

Weeks of tensions crested last month when Tehran shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone and Trump responded with a decision to launch air strikes only to call them off at the last minute. Washington also accused Iran of being behind attacks on several oil tankers in the Gulf, which Tehran denies.

“Our level of enrichment will no longer be 3.67. We will put this commitment aside by whatever amount we feel like, by whatever amount is our necessity, our need. We will take this above 3.67,” said Rouhani, according to IRIB news agency.

Uranium refined to a fissile purity of 3.67% is deemed suitable for electricity generation and is the maximum allowed by the deal. Enrichment to 90% yields bomb-grade material.

Rouhani added that the Islamic Republic’s actions were reversible. “All of our actions can be returned to the previous condition within one hour, why are you worried?” he said.

His tone was unusually tough. Rouhani was the architect of the nuclear pact and is seen as a pragmatist, unlike senior clerics in Iran’s ruling elite who opposed his opening to the West and have kept up their denunciations of the United States.

Rouhani further urged the Trump administration to “adopt a rational approach again” and return to the negotiating table.

Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy aims to push Iran into negotiate a wider-ranging deal also reining in its ballistic missile program and its backing of proxies around the Middle East in a struggle with Saudi Arabia for regional dominance.

HEAVY-WATER REACTOR

Rouhani said that if the other signatories did not protect trade with Iran promised under the deal but blocked by Trump’s reimposition of tough sanctions, Tehran would also start to revive its Arak heavy-water reactor after July 7.

As required by the accord, Iran said in January 2016 that it had removed the core of the reactor and filled it with cement.

“From (July 7) onward with the Arak reactor, if you don’t operate (according to) the program and time frame of all the commitments you’ve given us, we will return the Arak reactor to its previous condition,” said Rouhani.

“Meaning, the condition that you say is dangerous and can produce plutonium,” he said, referring to a key potential component of a nuclear bomb. “We will return to that unless you take action regarding all your commitments regarding Arak.”

He kept the door open to negotiations, saying Iran would again reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium below the 300-kilogram limit set by the nuclear pact if signatories Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China honored their deal pledges.

Iran will gain nothing by departing from the terms of the deal, the French foreign ministry cautioned on Wednesday.

“Putting (the deal) into question will only increase the already heightened tensions in the region,” ministry spokesman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters in a daily briefing.

U.S. SANCTIONS NOOSE

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated since Trump pulled Washington out of the pact in May 2018 and acted to bar all international sales of Iranian oil, the Islamic Republic’s economic lifeblood.

The European signatories to the accord have sought to pull the two longstanding adversaries back from the verge of military conflict, fearing a mistake could spiral into a wider Middle East war endangering global security and energy supplies.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denies that Iran is in violation of the nuclear accord by exceeding the cap on low-enriched uranium, saying Iran is exercising its right to respond after the U.S. withdrawal.

The nuclear accord lifted most global sanctions against Iran in return for curbs on its uranium enrichment capacity.

It aimed to extend the time Tehran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, from roughly 2-3 months to a year.

Tehran has denied any intent to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran’s main demand – in talks with the European parties to the deal and as a precondition to any talks with the United States – is to be allowed to sell its oil at the levels that prevailed before Trump left the deal and restored sanctions.

Iranian crude exports were around 300,000 barrels per day or less in late June, industry sources said, a small fraction of the more than 2.5 million bpd Iran shipped in April 2018, the month before Trump abandoned the nuclear deal.

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, John Irish and Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Trump to Putin: Please don’t meddle in U.S. elections

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump talk during a bilateral meeting at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Roberta Rampton

OSAKA (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Friday sardonically asked his Russian counterpart to please not meddle in U.S. elections, appearing to make light of a scandal that led to an investigation of his campaign’s contact with the Kremlin during 2016 elections.

A two-year investigation into a Moscow-run influence campaign during the election has hung over Trump’s presidency, frustrating the Republican president who has said he seeks better relations with Russia.

Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin were speaking to reporters in Osaka, Japan, ahead of their first formal face-to-face meeting since a controversial high-profile summit in Helsinki last July.

Asked by reporters whether he would raise the issue during their meeting, held on the sidelines of a Group of 20 (G20) summit, Trump said: “Yes, of course I will,” drawing a laugh from Putin.

Trump then turned to Putin to give the directive twice, as he pointed a finger at the Russian leader.

“Don’t meddle in the election, please,” Trump said.

Trump’s critics have accused him of being too friendly with Putin and castigated him for failing to publicly confront the Russian leader in Helsinki after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russian operatives had hacked into Democratic Party computers and used fake social media accounts to attack his opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

A U.S. special counsel, Robert Mueller, spent two years investigating whether there were any ties between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

Mueller found that Russia did meddle in the election but found no evidence that the Trump campaign illegally conspired with it to influence the vote.

‘POSITIVE THINGS’

Relations between the two countries have been sour for years, worsening after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian war.

In a recent television interview, Putin said that relations between Moscow and Washington were “getting worse and worse.”

Trump has sought to turn the page to work with Putin on issues such as reining in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. On Friday, he emphasized the positive.

“It’s a great honor to be with President Putin,” he told reporters. “We have many things to discuss, including trade and including some disarmament.”

Trump and Putin had been scheduled to meet at the end of November at the last G20 in Buenos Aires, but Trump canceled the meeting as he flew to Argentina, citing Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian navy ships and sailors. The two spoke informally at the event, and at a lunch in Paris earlier that month.

In May, they had their first extensive phone conversation in months. Trump said they talked about a new accord to limit nuclear arms that could eventually include China.

“We’ve had great meetings. We’ve had a very, very good relationship,” Trump said on Friday. “And we look forward to spending some very good time together. A lot of very positive things going to come out of the relationship.”

In a further attempt to lighten the mood, Trump sought common ground with Putin at the expense of the journalists gathered to catch the leaders at the outset of their meeting.

“Get rid of them. Fake news is a great term, isn’t it? You don’t have this problem in Russia but we do,” Trump said.

To which Putin responded, in English: “We also have. It’s the same.”

(Additional reporting Maria Vasilyeva in MOSCOW; Writing by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

U.S. seeks funds for Middle East peace plan but details are vague and Palestinians unhappy

Palestinians burn a picture of U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and representations of Israeli flags during a protest against Bahrain's workshop for U.S. Middle East peace plan, in Gaza City, June 25, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

By Matt Spetalnick

MANAMA (Reuters) – The Trump administration prepared to launch its $50 billion economic formula for Israeli-Palestinian peace in Bahrain on Tuesday but the Palestinian leadership reiterated its disdain for the plan and Saudi Arabia, envisaged as one of its main bank-rollers, also indicated some reservations.

Bahraini armoured vehicle takes up position on bridge leading to Manama’s Four Seasons hotel for first day of U.S.-hosted “Peace to Prosperity” conference, in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019. REUTERS/Matt Spetalnick

Bahraini armoured vehicle takes up position on bridge leading to Manama’s Four Seasons hotel for first day of U.S.-hosted “Peace to Prosperity” conference, in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019. REUTERS/Matt Spetalnick

The two-day international meeting, led by Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, has been billed as the first part of Washington’s broader political blueprint to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But the political details of the plan, which has been almost two years in the making, remain a secret. Neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments will attend the curtain-raising event in Manama, which Lebanon and Iraq are staying away from.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, was scathing about its prospects of success.

“Money is important. The economy is important. But politics are more important. The political solution is more important.”

Washington will be hoping that attendees in Manama such as wealthy Gulf states will show a concrete interest in the plan, which expects donor nations and investors to contribute $50 billion to Palestinian territories, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia – a close U.S. ally which shares a common foe with Israel in Iran – voiced support on Tuesday for “international efforts aimed at improving prosperity, investment and economic growth in the region”.

But Riyadh reiterated that any peace deal should be based on the Saudi-led Arab peace initiative that has been the Arab consensus on the necessary elements for a deal since 2002.

That plan calls for a Palestinian state drawn along borders which predate Israel’s capture of territory in the 1967 Middle East war, as well as a capital in East Jerusalem and refugees’ right of return – points rejected by Israel.

Kushner said the plan would not adhere to the Arab initiative. “It will be somewhere between the Arab Peace Initiative and between the Israeli position,” he told Al Jazeera TV in an interview to air on Tuesday.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Kushner is “committed to the initiatives of Israel’s colonial settlement councils.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close Trump ally, said Israel was open to the plan. “We’ll hear the American proposition, hear it fairly and with openness,” he said on Sunday.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrive at Manama's Four Seasons hotel, the venue for the U.S.-hosted "Peace to Prosperity" conference, in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019. REUTERS/Matt Spetalnick

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrive at Manama’s Four Seasons hotel, the venue for the U.S.-hosted “Peace to Prosperity” conference, in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019. REUTERS/Matt Spetalnick

Expectations for success are low. The Trump team concedes the economic plan – billed “Peace to Prosperity” – will be implemented only if a political solution to one of the world’s most intractable conflicts is reached.

Jordan and Egypt, the only Arab states to have reached peace with Israel, are sending deputy finance ministers. Kushner’s plan has hit a political nerve in Jordan, home to millions of citizens of Palestinian refugee origin.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates want to move on from a Palestinian conflict they believe has held back the Arab world. Other Gulf states such as Kuwait, Qatar and Oman have not said who they are sending to the conference.

“If there is a one percent chance we do something good here, we should get together and try,” billionaire Mohamed Alabbar, one of Dubai’s most prominent businessmen, said after arriving at the venue in Manama and embracing two American rabbis.

POLITICAL PLAN?

It is not clear whether the Trump team plans to abandon the “two-state solution,” which involves creation of an independent Palestinian state living side by side with Israel.

The United Nations and most nations back the two-state solution and it has underpinned every peace plan for decades.

But Trump’s team has consistently refused to commit to it, keeping the political stage of the plan a secret.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the pursuit of “peace efforts to realize the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security”.

Any such solution would have to settle long-standing issues such as the status of Jerusalem, mutually agreed borders, satisfying Israel’s security concerns and Palestinian demands for statehood, and the fate of Israel’s settlements and military presence in territory in Palestinians want to build that state.

In Gaza, businesses closed doors in a general strike called by the ruling Islamist Hamas group and other factions.

In the West Bank on the outskirts of Ramallah, where a small crowd of protesters was dispersed by Israeli troops firing tear gas, Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti said: “There can be no economic solution as a substitute for our freedom.”

The workshop is being held in Bahrain, home of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, at a time of heightened tension between Tehran and Washington and its Gulf allies. Trump on Monday imposed sanctions on Iran’s Supreme Leader and other officials after Iran downed an U.S. drone last week.

Palestinian leaders have boycotted the conference, and are refusing to engage with the White House – accusing it of pro-Israel bias. Breaking with international convention, Trump in 2017 recognized disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – a move that infuriated the Palestinians and other Arabs.

Seven Palestinian businessmen gathered in the lobby of the Four Seasons hotel, the conference venue. They estimated that 15 to 20 Palestinian business representatives would be present.

“The politicians will not bring us anywhere,” said conference attendee Shlomi Fogel, an Israeli entrepreneur. “We, the business people, should be able to show them there might be another way.”

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Stephen Farrell; Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Rami Ayyub in Ramallah; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Trump says hard to believe Iranian shooting of U.S. drone was intentional

FILE PHOTO: This combination photo shows a U.S. military Global Hawk drone taking off from Sigonella NATO Airbase in the southern Italian island of Sicily March 20, 2011, in this still image taken from video. REUTERS/REUTERS TV/File Photo

By Roberta Rampton, Phil Stewart and Parisa Hafezi

WASHINGTON/DUBAI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump played down Iran’s downing of a U.S. military surveillance drone on Thursday, saying he suspected it was shot by mistake and “it would have made a big difference” to him had the remotely controlled aircraft been piloted.

While the comments appeared to suggest Trump was not eager to escalate the latest in a series of incidents with Iran, he also warned: “This country will not stand for it.”

Tehran said the unarmed Global Hawk surveillance drone was on a spy mission over its territory, but Washington said it was shot down over international airspace.

“I think probably Iran made a mistake – I would imagine it was a general or somebody that made a mistake in shooting that drone down,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

“We had nobody in the drone. It would have made a big difference, let me tell you, it would have made a big, big difference” if the aircraft had been piloted, Trump said as he met Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Oval Office.

“It’s hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth,” he added, saying it could have been carried out by someone who was acting “loose and stupid,” and minimizing the incident as “a new wrinkle … a new fly in the ointment.”

The United States, which called the event an “unprovoked attack” in international airspace, is using economic sanctions to pressure Iran to contain its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and to limit its role in regional wars.

It was the latest in an escalating series of incidents in the Gulf region, a critical artery for global oil supplies, since mid-May, including explosive strikes on six oil tankers.

It was unclear how the United States might respond and U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said Washington had no appetite for war with Iran and should “do everything in our power to de-escalate.”

After a White House briefing for lawmakers, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, told reporters he was worried Trump “may bumble into a war” and said he and his fellow Democrats believed congressional approval was needed to fund any conflict with Iran.

Iran has denied involvement in the tanker attacks, but global jitters about a new Middle East conflagration disrupting oil exports have triggered a jump in crude prices.

Saudi Arabia, Washington’s main Gulf ally, said Iran had created a grave situation with its “aggressive behavior” and the kingdom was consulting other Gulf Arab states on next steps.

Tensions with Iran flared with Trump’s withdrawal last year from a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran and have worsened as Washington imposed fresh sanctions to throttle Tehran’s vital oil trade. Iran retaliated earlier this week with a threat to breach limits on its nuclear activities imposed by the deal.

‘SPY’ DRONE

Iranian state media said the “spy” drone was brought down over the southern Iranian province of Hormozgan, which is on the Gulf, with a locally made “3 Khordad” missile.

A U.S. official said the drone was a Global Hawk that had been downed in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a third of the world’s seaborne oil exits the Gulf.. Earlier, a U.S. official had described the drone as Triton, a similar aircraft.

Navy Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for the U.S. military’s Central Command, said Iran’s account that the drone had been flying over Iranian territory was false.

“This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset in international airspace,” Urban said.

Lieutenant General Joseph Guastella, the top U.S. Air Force commander in the Middle East, told reporters the drone was shot down at high altitude about 34 km (21 miles) from the nearest point of land on the Iranian coast.

Iran’s foreign ministry said the drone had violated Iranian airspace and warned of the consequences of such “illegal and provocative” measures.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter that the aircraft had taken off from the United Arab Emirates “in stealth mode & violated Iranian airspace.”

Independent confirmation of the drone’s location when it was brought down was not immediately available.

A Iranian Revolutionary Guards statement said the drone’s identification transponder had been switched off “in violation of aviation rules and was moving in full secrecy” when it was downed, Iranian state broadcaster IRIB reported.

IRANIAN ‘RED LINE’

“Our airspace is our red line and Iran has always responded and will continue to respond strongly to any country that violates our airspace,” Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, told Iran’s Tasnim news agency.

The Global Hawk’s manufacturer, Northrop Grumman Corp, says on its website that it can fly for over 24 hours at a time at altitudes higher than 10 miles (16 km).

Upping the ante in its dealings with Iran, Washington said on Monday it would deploy about 1,000 more troops, along with Patriot missiles and manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft, to the Middle East on top of a 1,500-troop increase announced after the May tanker attacks.

European diplomats have said more evidence is needed to pinpoint responsibility for the tanker strikes.

U.S. sanctions have hammered Iran’s economy, scuttling its oil exports and barring it from the dollar-dominated global finance system. That undoes the promise of trade rewards from the 2015 deal to curb its nuclear ambitions.

Trump has sent forces including aircraft carriers, B-52 bombers and troops to the Middle East over the past few weeks. Iran said last week it was responsible for the security of the Strait of Hormuz, calling on American forces to leave the Gulf.

Tehran has also said it will shortly suspend compliance with the nuclear deal’s curbs on its uranium enrichment, meant to block any pathway to nuclear weapons capability, and threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz.

Senior officials from Iran, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia will meet on June 28 in Vienna to discuss ways to save the 2015 nuclear accord, the European Union said on Thursday.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Phil Stewart and Parisa Hafezi; Additional reporting by Asma Alsharif and Stephen Kalin in Riyadh, Makini Brice, Doina Chiacu, Richard Cowan, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason in Washinigton and Robin Emmott in Brussels; Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney)

Trump says he has a ‘feeling’ that U.S., China can strike trade deal

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a fundraiser in Des Moines, Iowa, June 11, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he had a “feeling” that a U.S.-China trade deal could be reached but again threatened to increase tariffs on Chinese goods if no agreement is reached.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump also reiterated his intention to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping but gave no further details.

“I have a feeling that we’re going to make a deal with China,” Trump said.

Trump and administration officials have been eyeing a possible meeting between the two leaders at the upcoming G20 summit in Japan, but Beijing has not confirmed any planned talks.

Trade talks between the world’s two largest economies fell apart in May.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe)

British cigarettes, a body in the road: memories of D-Day

Yves Faucon, 86, from Tilly-sur-Seulle in the Normandie region visits his town's military cemetery as he attends an interview with Reuters in Tilly-sur-Seulle, France, May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

By Richard Lough

TILLY-SUR-SEULLES, France (Reuters) – It is the sounds and smell of war that are indelibly imprinted in the memory of Yves Faucon, who was 12 when allied troops landed in Normandy and set about driving Nazi Germany’s forces out of France.

“I remember seeing a German body lying on the road and a column of British tanks advancing. One ran over the body,” recalled Faucon, now 87. “It made a grim noise.”

Faucon’s village of Tilly-sur-Seulles, south of Bayeux, lay on the frontline of the allied push toward the city of Caen. The village was won and then lost by the British more than 20 times over a three-week period.

“One morning some Brits arrived and chatted with us. I’ll always remember the smell of their English tobacco. It wasn’t something we were used to.”

More than 150,000 allied soldiers stormed the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944, bursting through German coastal defenses to open the way to the liberation of western Europe from the Nazi regime.

Seventy-five years later, French President Emmanuel Macron, U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May will attend ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the largest seaborne invasion in history and the soldiers who gave their lives.

Faucon’s widowed mother ran their family-owned hotel in Tilly-sur-Seulles. It was requisitioned by the Germans and as many as 250 German soldiers were holed up in the building. One lunchtime, Faucon said, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who commanded the 7th Panzer Division during the 1940 invasion of France, ate there.

Yves Faucon, 86, from Tilly-sur-Seulle in the Normandie region shows a photograph of his mother's hotel in downtown Tilly, which was destroyed during operationsÊafter D-Day, as he attends an interview with Reuters in Tilly-sur-Seulle, France, May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Yves Faucon, 86, from Tilly-sur-Seulle in the Normandie region shows a photograph of his mother’s hotel in downtown Tilly, which was destroyed during operationsÊafter D-Day, as he attends an interview with Reuters in Tilly-sur-Seulle, France, May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

“A German soldier watched on as she (Faucon’s mother) cooked for Rommel. She said to him: ‘If I was going to poison a German I would have done it already’.”

Faucon was awoken at dawn on the morning of the landings by a schoolmaster who told him to dress quickly and grab a blanket, as the incessant pounding of artillery on the coast 20km (12.4 miles) north reverberated through the air.

“They put us in a roadside ditch. We hid there the whole day, 80 of us,” said Faucon, who still lives in the village that lay in ruins by the time it was liberated. “The first English soldiers we saw were flanked by Germans. They were prisoners.”

The British forces suffered heavy losses in the battle for control of Tilly-sur-Seulles, fighting which forced the Faucon family to seek refuge in neighboring villages and remote homesteads.

Outside Tilly-sur-Seulles, flowers are planted at the feet of more than 1,200 crosses in a manicured war cemetery, most of them marking the final resting place of British soldiers.

“When you read these headstones, many of them say ‘Rest in Peace’. But they didn’t know peace,” said Kenneth Loughman, a retired U.S. Navy chaplain who served in Vietnam and was visiting the region’s memorials. “We gotta end going to war.”

(Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Andrew Heavens)