Putin says Russia will retaliate if U.S. quits nuclear missile treaty: agencies

Russia's President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with top officials of the Russian Defence Ministry in Sochi, Russia November 19, 2018. Picture taken November 19, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday the Kremlin would retaliate if the United States withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, Russian news agencies reported.

Putin discussed possible Russian retaliation with top Russian Defence Ministry officials and added that the Kremlin was ready to discuss the INF treaty with Washington.

The Cold War-era treaty, which rid Europe of land-based nuclear missiles, has come into question against a backdrop of renewed tensions between the West and Russia, most notably over Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and role in eastern Ukraine.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has accused Russia of non-compliance with the 31-year-old missile accord and warned it will pull out of the deal as a result. The Kremlin denies violating the pact.

NATO and Russian envoy addressed the dispute during rare talks on Oct. 31, with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urging Moscow to make quick changes to comply in full with the treaty. He said Russia’s development of the land-based, intermediate-range SSC-8 cruise missile posed “a serious risk to strategic stability”.

European leaders worry any collapse of the INF treaty could lead to a new, destabilizing arms race.

(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Canadian diplomats hit by Cuba illness feel ‘abandoned’: paper

People pass by the Canada's Embassy in Havana, Cuba, April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

OTTAWA (Reuters) – A group of Canadian diplomats who left the embassy in Cuba after they suffered unusual health symptoms says their foreign ministry has abandoned them, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported on Monday.

Canada said in April it would remove the families of staff posted to Havana, where both Canadian and U.S. diplomats have complained of dizziness, headaches and nausea.

The diplomats complained the foreign ministry – unlike the U.S. State Department – had said very little about the matter in public and did not appear to be making their case a priority. Getting specialized medical care had been difficult, they added.

“We did not expect to be abandoned, or more precisely, sacrificed — that’s how we’re feeling now,” the paper quoted one of them as saying.

Several of those affected believe Ottawa has said little in public because it wants to maintain friendly relations with Cuba, the Globe added.

The office of Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland was not immediately available for comment. The Globe cited Freeland spokesman Adam Austen as saying “we will continue to do all we can to provide advice and support” to those affected.

U.S. and Cuban officials met at the State Department in September to discuss the mysterious health problems. The United States has reduced embassy staffing in Cuba from more than 50 to a maximum 18.

NBC News said in September that U.S. officials believe the health problems may have been caused by sophisticated electromagnetic weapons.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Families anxious to learn fate of hundreds missing in California fire

A cadaver dog named Echo searches for human remains near a van destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Terray Sylvester

PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – Family members and survivors of the deadliest wildfire in California history sought news on Friday on the missing 630 people – 10 times the number of confirmed dead – from the fast-moving blaze that reduced much of the town of Paradise to ash and charred rubble.

With nearly 12,000 homes and buildings burned, refugees from the fire have taken up residence in tents or their vehicles and filled evacuation centers to overflowing. Search teams, meanwhile, are combing through burned-out areas looking for bodies – or anything else that might carry human DNA for identification purposes.

Members of a volunteer search and rescue team from Marin County search for human remains in a car destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Members of a volunteer search and rescue team from Marin County search for human remains in a car destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

The number of people unaccounted for after the fire has fluctuated all week and officials have warned those numbers are almost certain to change day by day. In some cases, those unaccounted for have likely survived but not yet notified family or authorities that they are alive, or relatives may not yet have reported people missing. Poor cell phone coverage after the fire has also made communications difficult.

Last weekend, the Butte County Sheriff’s office initially put the total of missing people at 228, many of whom have now been accounted for. But as fresh reports from relatives caused the list to rise to 130 from 103 late Wednesday, 297 by Thursday morning and 630 as of Thursday night.

On Friday morning the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, said the death toll in the fire held at 63 overnight. The blaze, named the Camp Fire, was now 45 percent contained, up from 35 percent on Thursday, even though it had grown slightly to 142,000 acres (57,000 hectares).

The fire – which roared through Paradise, a town of 27,000 people in the Sierra foothills 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco, on Nov. 8 – is among the deadliest to have hit the United States over the last century.

Authorities attribute the death toll partly to the speed with which flames raced through the town, driven by wind and fueled by desiccated scrub and trees.

Weather conditions now are helping the firefighting effort, Nick Pimlott, a Cal Fire engineer, told KRCR TV. He said the winds had died down, allowing crews around Lake Oroville to the southeast of Paradise to construct fresh lines to contain the fire.

Many on the missing list are over the age of 65. Local officials and realtors have long sold Paradise as an ideal place to retire.

Brandon DuVall of Seattle said he last communicated with his retired father, Robert DuVall, in July after his father had bought a new pickup and camper. He received a call earlier this week that his father’s remains might have been found and now will go to California to provide a DNA sample.

Relatives of retired U.S. Navy veteran David Marbury, 66, are waiting to hear from him. No one has managed to speak with him since the wildfire began, and relatives’ phone calls have gone directly to his voicemail.

On Thursday, Marbury’s landlord confirmed to relatives that his duplex in Paradise had burned down. Sheriff’s officials told them his car was still in the garage.

“I really hope he’s still alive and we’re going to be able to see him,” Marbury’s niece Sadia Quint, 30, told Reuters by phone. “We just hope that he’s still with us.”

Pictures of people missing in the aftermath of the Camp Fire are posted at an evacuation center in Chico, California, U.S., November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Pictures of people missing in the aftermath of the Camp Fire are posted at an evacuation center in Chico, California, U.S., November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

‘WHY AM I HERE?’

Some in Paradise were experiencing survivors’ guilt. “You’re like, ‘Why am I here?'” Sam Walker, a pastor at the First Baptist Church of Paradise, told WBUR radio. “‘Why is my family all here? Why are our churches still standing?’ I don’t know. My house is gone, like so many others.”

Thousands of additional structures remain threatened as firefighters, many from distant states, try to contain and suppress the flames.

There have been other smaller blazes in Southern California, including the Woolsey Fire, which is linked to three fatalities and has destroyed at least 500 structures near the Malibu coast west of Los Angeles. It was 57 percent contained.

Scientists say two seasons of devastating wildfires in California are ascribable to drought that is symptomatic of climate change.

Two electric utilities say they sustained equipment problems close to the origins of the blazes around the time they were reported.

Republican U.S. President Donald Trump is due to visit the fire zones on Saturday to meet displaced residents. Critics say Trump politicized the fires by blaming them, without supporting evidence, on bad forest mismanagement by California, a largely Democratic state. Trump had threatened to withhold federal assistance.

Smoke from the Camp Fire has spread far and wide. Public schools in Sacramento 90 miles (145 km) to the south, and as far away as San Francisco and Oakland, canceled classes for Friday due to poor air quality.

Many of those who survived the flames but lost homes stayed with friends or relatives or at American Red Cross shelters.

Some of Paradise’s older residents who had lost their homes were concerned about where they would live.

“I’m just very hopeful I can work something out for the future,” Norris Godsey, 82, told the San Francisco Chronicle at a church evacuation center in Chico. “If that’s not possible, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Jonathan Allen in New York; Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Writing by Nick Carey and Bill Trott; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Steve Orlofsky and Grant McCool)

North Korea’s Kim inspects newly developed ‘tactical’ weapon, releases U.S. prisoner

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a constructions site of Yangdeok, in this undated photo released on October 31, 2018 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA/via REUTERS/File Photo

By Joyce Lee and Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s leader publicly inspected a new weapon for the first time in nearly a year, state media reported on Friday, while it also decided to release a U.S. prisoner, sending conflicting signals at a time of sensitive negotiations.

Kim Jong Un’s visit to the test site of a new “tactical weapon” threatened to sour the diplomatic atmosphere as negotiations between his country and the United States appear to have stalled.

“This result today is a justification of the party’s policy focused on defense science and technology, another display of our rapidly growing defense capabilities to the whole region, and a groundbreaking change in strengthening our military’s combat capabilities,” Kim said.

In Washington, in response to the North Korean announcement, a U.S. State Department spokesman said, “We remain confident that the promises made by President Trump and Chairman Kim will be fulfilled.”

The official was referring to an unprecedented summit in June between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in Singapore, where they agreed to work toward denuclearization and peace on the Korean peninsula and establish new relations.

But the agreement was short on specifics, and negotiations have made little headway since.

In a possibly conciliatory gesture, however, North Korea also announced on Friday it was releasing an American citizen detained since October after “illegally” entering North Korea from China.

North Korea has often held previous American detainees for more extended periods.

‘STEEL WALL’

The military test was successful and the weapon could protect North Korea like a “steel wall”, its KCNA news agency said, adding that Kim had observed “the power of the tactical weapon”.

The only picture released by state media showed Kim standing on a beach surrounded by officials in military uniforms, but no weapons were visible.

International weapons experts said the officials around Kim included a leader of the artillery corps of the Korean People’s Army.

South Korea’s defense ministry said it did not have an immediate comment but was analyzing the North Korean weapon test.

Friday’s understated announcement was more likely aimed at reassuring the North Korean military rather than trying to torpedo diplomatic talks, however, said Choi Kang, vice president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

“North Korea is trying to show its soldiers that they are becoming high-tech and keeping a certain level of military capability while trying to eliminate dissatisfaction and worries inside its military,” he added.

The test may also have been a response to recent joint military drills by the United States and South Korea, which North Korea said violated recent pacts to halt to “all hostile acts”, said Yang Uk, an analyst at the Korea Defence and Security Forum.

Kim said the weapons system tested was one in which his father, Kim Jong Il, had taken a special interest during his life, personally leading its development.

Kim’s last publicized military inspection was the launch of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Nov. 29 last year, though he engaged in at least eight other military-related activities this year, the South’s Unification Ministry said.

STALLED TALKS

Kim this year declared his nuclear force “complete” and said he would focus on economic development.

North Korea has continued to showcase its conventional military capabilities, including at a large military parade in its capital, Pyongyang, on Sept. 9.

But any testing of new weapons threatens to raise tension with Washington, which has said there will be no easing in international sanctions until North Korea takes more concrete steps to abandon its nuclear weapons or long-range missiles.

North Korea has increasingly expressed frustration at Washington’s refusal to ease sanctions and recently threatened to restart development of its nuclear weapons if more concessions were not made.

“They’re trying to signal that they are willing to walk away from talks and restart weapons testing,” said Adam Mount of the Federation of American Scientists. “It is the most explicit in a series of escalating statements designed to send this message.”

A meeting in New York planned this month between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korea’s Kim Yong Chol, a senior aide to Kim, was postponed.

On Thursday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said Trump planned to meet Kim again in 2019 and will push for a concrete plan outlining Pyongyang’s moves to end its arms programs.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Jeongmin Kim in Seoul, and Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Clarence Fernandez)

U.S. retail sales rebound on autos, building materials

FILE PHOTO: A woman walks with shopping bags at Bryant Park in New York, U.S. December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. retail sales rebounded sharply in October as purchases of motor vehicles and building materials surged, likely driven by recovery efforts in areas devastated by Hurricane Florence.

The report on Thursday from the Commerce Department also showed broad gains in sales ahead of the holiday shopping season, which bodes well for consumer spending and the overall economy as the fourth quarter gets underway.

Sales could also get a boost from declining oil prices, which are expected to lead to cheaper gasoline.

“The consumer has the wind at their backs and with gasoline prices falling at the pump, we expect even more spending in the next couple of months,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.

Retail sales increased 0.8 percent last month. But data for September was revised down to show sales slipping 0.1 percent instead of rising 0.1 percent. August sales were also weaker than previously thought.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales increasing 0.5 percent in October. Sales rose 4.6 percent from a year ago.

Excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, retail sales increased 0.3 percent last month. These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product.

Data for September was revised lower to show core retail sales rising 0.3 percent instead of gaining 0.5 percent as previously reported. August core retail sales were also revised down to show them falling 0.2 percent instead of being unchanged.

While that suggests some loss of momentum in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, consumption remains underpinned by a strong labor market, characterized by a 3.7 percent unemployment rate.

The lowest unemployment rate in nearly 49 years is boosting wages, with annual wage growth recording its biggest increase in 9-1/2 years in October. Jobs market strength was underscored by a separate report from the Labor Department on Thursday showing a marginal increase in the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits last week.

“Solid job growth and wage increases are the main sources of support for consumer spending and so far, so good,” said Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto.

Strong domestic demand and a tightening labor market support views that the Federal Reserve will increase interest rates in December for the fourth time this year. The U.S. central bank last Thursday kept rates unchanged, but noted that data “indicates that the labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been rising at a strong rate.”

The dollar was trading higher against a basket of currencies after Thursday’s data, while U.S. Treasury yields fell.

BROAD GAINS

The trend in retail sales, if sustained, could keep the economy on a solid growth path even as business investment is slowing, the trade deficit is expected to deteriorate further and the housing market continues to weaken.

The government reported last month that consumer spending expanded at its fastest pace in nearly four years in the third quarter. Given the downward revisions to core retail sales in August and September, the third-quarter consumer spending estimate is likely to be lowered when the government publishes its second estimate of gross domestic product later this month.

While the Commerce Department said it could not isolate the impact of Hurricane Florence, which lashed North and South Carolina in mid-September, on the retail sales, the storm probably boosted purchases of automobiles and building materials last month.

Auto sales jumped 1.1 percent last month likely as residents in areas affected by Florence replaced damaged cars. Auto sales fell 0.1 percent in September. Sales at building material stores surged 1.0 percent in October.

There were also increases in sales at clothing stores, online retailers and service stations last month. Americans also spent more on hobbies and at bookstores, while cutting back on furniture purchases.

But spending at restaurants and bars slipped 0.2 percent, likely hurt by Hurricane Michael, which soaked the Florida Panhandle in mid-October. Sales at restaurants and bars dropped 1.5 percent in September.

Other data on Thursday offered a mixed picture of the manufacturing sector in early November. The New York Fed said its Empire State general business conditions index rose to a reading of 23.3 this month from 21.1 in October.

A slight moderation in the new orders index was offset by strong increases in labor market measures.

Separately, a survey from the Philadelphia Fed showed a slowing in factory activity in the mid-Atlantic region this month, with its current general activity index tumbling to a reading of 12.9 from 22.2 in October amid a sharp slowdown in new orders.

Firms, however, remained upbeat about business conditions over the next six months. There was also a strong improvement in capital expenditure plans.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Trump to meet North Korea’s Kim in 2019, wants plan to end arms program: Pence

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a news conference in Singapore, November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

By John Geddie

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday President Donald Trump plans to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2019 and will push for a concrete plan outlining Pyongyang’s moves to end its arms programs.

The United States and North Korea have been discussing a second meeting of their leaders after a June summit in Singapore to lay the groundwork for ending a nuclear standoff between the old foes.

“The plans are ongoing. We believe that the summit will likely occur after the first of the year, but the when and the where of that is still being worked out,” Pence told reporters after meeting South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

In a separate interview with NBC News, Pence said the United States would not require Pyongyang to provide a complete list of nuclear weapons and locations before the second summit but that the meeting must produce a concrete plan.

“I think it will be absolutely imperative in this next summit that we come away with a plan for identifying all of the weapons in question, identifying all the development sites, allowing for inspections of the sites and the plan for dismantling nuclear weapons,” Pence said.

Pence and Moon were meeting on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit hosted by Singapore.

A U.S. think tank said on Monday it had identified at least 13 of an estimated 20 active, undeclared missile bases inside North Korea, underscoring the challenge for American negotiators hoping to persuade Kim to give up his weapons programs.

North Korea had entered into agreements with regional powers in 1994 and in 2005 to dismantle its nuclear program in return for economic benefits and diplomatic rewards, but those deals broke down after Pyongyang clandestinely continued to pursue building weapons of mass destruction.

With scant sign of progress on negotiations since the June summit and recent high-level meetings canceled, Trump said last week he was now in “no rush” but still wanted to meet with Kim for a second time.

“We’re going to keep the pressure on. We’re going to keep the sanctions in place,” Pence told NBC. “President Trump continues to be very hopeful that in that next summit, we’ll come out with a plan for actually implementing and achieving denuclearization.”

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un after they signed documents that acknowledged the progress of the talks and pledge to keep momentum going, after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un after they signed documents that acknowledged the progress of the talks and pledge to keep momentum going, after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

U.S. officials have said sanctions forced North Korea to the negotiating table and vowed to keep pressure until complete denuclearization. But North Korea has credited its nuclear and missile breakthroughs for providing it the standing to meet the world’s biggest powers.

Pence told reporters that Moon agreed to work closely with the United States toward the second U.S.-North Korea summit, as Washington maintains the “maximum pressure” campaign by keeping the sanctions against Pyongyang in place.

Asked if China, which has been the North’s main economic benefactor, was doing enough to maintain sanctions pressure, Pence said Beijing has done more than they have ever done before and Trump was grateful for that.

A U.S. congressional commission said on Wednesday China appeared to have relaxed enforcement of sanctions on North Korea as Pyongyang began to engage with the United States this year.

Trump is expected to speak more about enforcing sanctions when he meets Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit late this month and the unique role that China can play in ensuring the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, Pence said.

North Korea has not tested a nuclear device or ballistic missile since last year, and has said it has shuttered its main nuclear test site, with plans to dismantle several more facilities.

But it has warned it could restart its nuclear program if the United States does not drop the sanctions regime.

(Reporting by John Geddie in Singapore; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Paul Tait, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Bernadette Baum)

Saudi Arabia seeks death penalty in Khashoggi murder case

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator wearing a mask of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a protest outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal//File Photo

By Stephen Kalin

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor is seeking the death penalty for five out of 11 suspects charged in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, his office said on Thursday, as the kingdom tries to overcome its biggest political crisis in a generation.

Khashoggi, a royal insider turned critic of Saudi policy, was killed in the country’s Istanbul consulate on Oct. 2, after a struggle, by a lethal injection dose, deputy public prosecutor and spokesman Shalaan al-Shalaan told reporters.

His body was dismembered, removed from the building and handed over to a “local cooperator”, whose identity has not been confirmed, he added. The whereabouts of Khashoggi’s remains are unknown.

Shalaan said the Washington Post columnist was murdered after “negotiations” for his return to the kingdom failed and that the killing was ordered by the head of a negotiating team sent to repatriate Khashoggi after he decided it was unfeasible to remove him from the consulate.

Shalaan said the order to repatriate Khashoggi had come from former deputy intelligence chief General Ahmed al-Asiri, who was sacked last month following an initial investigation.

Asked if Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman played a role in the murder, he said: “He did not have any knowledge.”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said the order for the operation came from the highest level of Saudi leadership but probably not King Salman, putting the spotlight instead on his 33-year-old heir Prince Mohammed.

U.S. President Donald Trump has suggested ultimate responsibility lies with the prince as de facto ruler.

Riyadh initially denied any knowledge of Khashoggi’s disappearance, then offered contradictory explanations including that he was killed in a rogue operation. The case has sparked a global outcry, opened the kingdom to possible sanctions and tarnished the image of Prince Mohammed.

Some details provided on Thursday again contradicted previous versions, none of which mentioned a drug-induced death and one of which called the killing premeditated based on information provided by Turkish authorities.

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo

DEATH PENALTY

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that the measures announced by the Saudi public prosecutor’s office were “positive but insufficient”, and repeated Ankara’s demand that the 15-man team be tried in Turkey.

“The Public Prosecutor has requested the death penalty for five individuals who are charged with ordering and committing the crime and for the appropriate sentences for the other indicted individuals,” Shalaan said, without naming them.

He said 11 out of 21 suspects have been indicted and will be referred to court, while investigations with the remaining suspects will continue to determine their role in the crime.

A travel ban has been imposed on a former top aide to the crown prince, Saud al-Qahtani, while investigations continue over his role, Shalaan said.

He said Qahtani had coordinated with Asiri, meeting the operatives ahead of their journey to Istanbul to brief them on the journalist’s activities.

Qahtani has already been fired from the royal court, but four sources based in the Gulf told Reuters this week that he was still at liberty and continued to operate discreetly.

A senior government official previously identified the head of the negotiating team as Maher Mutreb, an aide to Qahtani who has appeared in photographs with Prince Mohammed on official visits this year to the United States and Europe.

Six weeks after the murder, Turkey is trying to keep up pressure on Prince Mohammed and has released a stream of evidence that undermined Riyadh’s early denials of involvement.

Turkey says it has recordings related to the killing which it has shared with Western allies. Erdogan said the recordings are “appalling” and shocked a Saudi intelligence officer who listened to them, Turkish media has reported.

Last month two intelligence sources said that Qahtani gave orders over Skype to Khashoggi’s killers. More recently, a government source familiar with the matter said Qahtani featured prominently throughout the recordings.

Shalaan declined to confirm or deny whether Saudi authorities heard the recordings. He said Riyadh asked Ankara to share witness testimonies and hand over Khashoggi’s phones.

(Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan and Asma Al Sharif in Dubai; Writing by Tuqa Khalid and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Gareth Jones, William Maclean)

U.S. Postal Service loss triples, even as package deliveries rise

FILE PHOTO: A view shows U.S. postal service mail boxes at a post office in Encinitas, California February 6, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Postal Service lost almost $4 billion in 2018 even as package deliveries rose, according to results released on Wednesday, giving U.S. President Donald Trump potential ammunition against Amazon.com Inc, which he claims pays too little for the agency’s services.

Trump, without presenting evidence, has attacked Amazon repeatedly over the past year, accusing the world’s largest online retailer of taking advantage of USPS by not paying enough for deliveries to make the service profitable.

USPS, an independent agency within the federal government, reported operating revenue of $70.6 billion for fiscal year 2018, which ended on Sept. 30, as sales at its shipping and packages business rose 10 percent.

However, its net loss more than tripled to $3.9 billion from a loss of $1.2 billion in 2017, hurt by rising pay and benefits and higher transport costs, such as gas prices.

Package delivery, especially for major customer Amazon, has become a key part of USPS’s business but has not been enough to offset the sharp decline in first-class letters caused by the internet and email.

The president does not have the power to determine postal rates. They are set by the Postal Regulatory Commission, an independent government agency with commissioners from both political parties who are selected by the president. That panel raised prices on packages by almost 2 percent in November.

Amazon is run by founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, a newspaper Trump has repeatedly railed against. It has shown interest in delivering its own packages and has tested drones for doing so.

In 2015, Amazon spent $11.5 billion on shipping, 46 percent of its total operating expenses that year. It has not commented publicly on Trump’s criticisms.

(Reporting by Chris Sanders and Diane Bartz; Editing by Bill Rigby)

U.S. lays barbed wire at border as migrant caravan draws closer

U.S. Marines work to move building materials as they harden the border with Mexico in preparation for the arrival of a caravan of migrants at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego, California, U.S., November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Lizbeth Diaz

TIJUANA (Reuters) – Hundreds of Central American migrants planning to seek asylum in the United States moved toward the country’s border with Mexico on Tuesday as U.S. military reinforced security measures, laying barbed wire and erecting barricades.

Some 400 migrants who broke away from the main caravan in Mexico City arrived in the border city of Tijuana on Tuesday by bus, according to a Reuters witness. Larger groups are expected to arrive in the coming days, human rights organizations said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he would travel to the border area on Wednesday, his first visit since the military announced that over 7,000 U.S. troops would go to the area as the caravan of mostly Hondurans has made its way through Mexico.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a statement that it would close lanes at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa crossings from Tijuana to allow the Department of Defense to install barbed wire and position barricades and fencing. Tijuana, in the Mexican state of Baja California, is at the westerly end of the border, around 17 miles (38km) from San Diego, California.

“CBP has been and will continue to prepare for the potential arrival of thousands of people migrating in a caravan heading toward the border of the United States,” Pete Flores, the agency’s director of field operations in San Diego, said in a statement, citing a “potential safety and security risk.”

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has taken a firm stance against the caravan, which began its journey north on Oct. 13 and briefly clashed with security forces in the south of Mexico early on its route.

On Friday, Trump signed a decree that effectively suspended the granting of asylum for those who cross the border illegally, a move that could drastically slow claims at gates of entry.

But migrants planning to seek asylum in the United States said they were undeterred by the crackdown.

“I prefer to be in detention in the United States than to return to my country, where I know they are going to kill me for being different,” said Nelvin Mejía, a transgender woman who arrived in Tijuana on Monday with a group of about 70 people seeking asylum. “Last month, they killed my partner, and I do not want to end up like that.”

For years, thousands of mainly Central American immigrants have embarked on long journeys through Central America and Mexico to reach the United States. Many of them die in the attempt or are kidnapped by organized crime groups.

Several thousand more migrants in at least three caravan groups are making their way through Mexico toward the border.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; writing by Julia Love, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

U.S. bishops delay action on clergy abuse at Vatican’s request

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo (R), president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks with other attendees at the USCCB general assembly in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will delay action to deal with a crisis involving sexual abuse of minors by clergy until after a global meeting in February at the request of the Vatican, conference president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said on Monday.

The Catholic Church worldwide is reeling from crises involving sexual abuse of minors, deeply damaging confidence in the Church in the United States, Chile, Australia, Ireland and elsewhere.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks during a press conference at the USCCB general assembly in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks during a press conference at the USCCB general assembly in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said the Congregation for Bishops in Rome had sent a letter asking U.S. bishops to wait until after the Vatican-convened global meeting on sex abuse takes place in February.

“We have accepted with disappointment this particular event that took place this morning,” Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said at a media conference on Monday, the opening day of the conference. “We have not lessened in any of our resolve for actions.”

In the United States, 13 state attorneys general have launched statewide investigations into sexual abuse by clergy.

In August, an 884-page report made public by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro stated that Roman Catholic priests in the state sexually abused nearly 1,000 children over a 70-year period and silenced victims through “the weaponization of faith” and a systematic cover-up campaign by their bishops.

The conference of bishops had expected to focus this week on measures to combat abuse, including establishing a new code of conduct, according to a September statement.

“We humbly welcome and are grateful for the assistance of the whole people of God in holding us accountable,” the statement said.

Terry McKiernan, co-director of victims’ advocacy group BishopAccountability.org, said the Pope’s intervention in this week’s conference was a frustrating setback.

“This situation is so terrible that the only way that it’s really going to be solved is if bishops convincingly demonstrate their remorse and concern,” McKiernan told Reuters in a phone interview.

DiNardo called the delay “a bump in the road” on Monday but said it does not reflect U.S. bishops’ lack of determination to deal with the issue.

“We were all set to move to reach an action stage here this week,” DiNardo said. “I don’t look upon any of this as a change in direction for the Catholic bishops of the United States.”

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Susan Thomas)