Half of American adults expect war with Iran ‘within next few years’: Reuters/Ipsos poll

FILE PHOTO: A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

By Chris Kahn

(Reuters) – Half of all Americans believe that the United States will go to war with Iran “within the next few years,” according to a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll released on Tuesday amid increased tensions between the two countries.

While Americans are more concerned about Iran as a security threat to the United States now than they were last year, few would be in favor of a pre-emptive attack on the Iranian military. But if Iran attacked U.S. military forces first, four out of five believed the United States should respond militarily in a full or limited way, the May 17-20 poll showed.

Historically tense relations between Washington and Tehran worsened in May after U.S. President Donald Trump hardened his anti-Iran stance and restored all sanctions on Iranian oil exports following his decision a year ago to pull the United States out of a 2015 international nuclear accord with Tehran.

The United States moved an aircraft carrier and forces to the Gulf region in response to intelligence that Iran may be plotting against U.S. interests, an assertion Iran denies.

Nearly half – 49% – of all Americans disapprove of how Republican Trump is handling relations with Iran, the poll found, with 31% saying they strongly disapprove. Overall, 39% approve of Trump’s policy.

The survey showed that 51% of adults felt that the United States and Iran would go to war within the next few years, up 8 percentage points from a similar poll published last June. In this year’s poll, Democrats and Republicans were both more likely to see Iran as a threat and to say war was likely.

Iran was characterized by 53% of adults in the United States as either a “serious” or “imminent” threat, up 6 percentage points from a similar poll from last July. In comparison, 58% of Americans characterized North Korea as a threat and 51% characterized Russia as a threat.

Despite their concerns, 60% of Americans said the United States should not conduct a pre-emptive attack on the Iranian military, while 12% advocate for striking first.

If Iran attacked, however, 79% said that the U.S. military should retaliate: 40% favored a limited response with airstrikes, while 39% favored a full invasion.

Both the United States and Iran have said they do not want war, although there have been bellicose statements from both.

Despite Trump’s decision to withdraw, the poll showed 61% of Americans still supported the 2015 deal between Iran and world powers to curb Iran’s potential pathway to a nuclear bomb in return for sanctions relief. Republicans also favored the accord negotiated by the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama, with a little more than half saying they supported it.

Gulf allies and U.S. government officials have said they believe Iran-backed groups are responsible for a series of attacks on shipping and pipelines in the Gulf in the last week.

Trump has said he would like to negotiate with the Islamic Republic’s leaders. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejected talks on Tuesday and has said “economic war” is being waged against Iran.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 1,007 adults, including 377 Democrats and 313 Republicans, and has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of 4 percentage points.

To see a copy of the full poll results and methodology, click here: https://tmsnrt.rs/2WUpjFT

(Reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)

North Korea says “biggest issue” in U.S. ties is impounded ship

North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations Han Tae Song attends an interview with Reuters at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.S. seizure of a North Korean cargo ship is the biggest stumbling block to improving bilateral relations, a senior North Korean official said on Wednesday, warning Washington against using the “logic of strength” against Pyongyang.

The Trump administration must make a “big decision” on lifting sanctions before stalled nuclear negotiations can resume, Han Tae Song, North Korea’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, added in an interview.

“It would be the greatest miscalculation if America thought my country is among the countries where American-style logic of strength or pressure might work,” Han, who is also North Korea’s disarmament ambassador, told Reuters.

North Korea, under U.S. and U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and missile programs, has stepped up a campaign for the return of the ship, which Washington says it seized over accusations it was used for coal shipments in violation of the curbs.

The country has warned Washington that the impounding of the “Wise Honest” ship had violated its sovereignty and could affect “future developments” between the two countries.

“Yes, (it is) the biggest issue,” Han said of the vessel, which U.S. officials say is en route to American Samoa. “It is because it is the infringing upon the sovereignty of our country.”

Han described the seizure as a “wanton violation of international law” and demanded its immediate return.

Han said he had no information on its cargo, but on the consequences of a U.S. failure to return the ship, he said: “We don’t want, the Americans also don’t want and the international community don’t want the situation again worsening.”

At their second summit meeting in February, talks broke down between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, stalling moves toward denuclearization.

Han said his country’s short-range missile tests carried out earlier in May were a “routine checking of our national defense capabilities”, indicating that they would continue.

“WE ARE NOT OBSESSED” OVER MORE TALKS

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously strengthened sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.

Asked whether North Korea was ready to resume nuclear negotiations with the United States, Han referred to Kim’s speech to the Supreme People’s Assembly in April.

“If they don’t change their minds, if they don’t make a big decision, we are not obsessed over another round of talks with the USA, out of (being) thirsty for lifting sanctions,” Han said.

“That’s why our leader said that if they made a big decision, there will be another round of talks with America.”

Han said that North Korean grain production was lower last year following drought, leading to a “shortage of food”.

U.N. agencies, including the World Food Programme (WFP), are providing food assistance, from donor contributions, he said.

“If there is food aid, it’s ok. But if there is no food aid, then we have to manage ourselves.”

Asked whether the food shortages were manageable, he replied: “It is manageable, but the problem is U.N. sanctions.

“We can’t transact for importing the food through banking systems, that is the main problem.”

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Editing by William Maclean)

Risk of nuclear war now highest since WW2, UN arms research chief says

FILE PHOTO: Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Hwasong-14 is pictured during its second test-fire in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang on July 29, 2017. KCNA via Reuters

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – The risk of nuclear weapons being used is at its highest since World War Two, a senior U.N. security expert said on Tuesday, calling it an “urgent” issue that the world should take more seriously.

Renata Dwan, director of the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), said all states with nuclear weapons have nuclear modernization programs underway and the arms control landscape is changing, partly due to strategic competition between China and the United States.

Traditional arms control arrangements are also being eroded by the emergence of new types of war, with increasing prevalence of armed groups and private sector forces and new technologies that blurred the line between offense and defense, she told reporters in Geneva.

With disarmament talks stalemated for the past two decades, 122 countries have signed a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, partly out of frustration and partly out of a recognition of the risks, she said.

“I think that it’s genuinely a call to recognize – and this has been somewhat missing in the media coverage of the issues  “that the risks of nuclear war are particularly high now, and the risks of the use of nuclear weapons, for some of the factors I pointed out, are higher now than at any time since World War Two.”

The nuclear ban treaty, officially called the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, was backed by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.

The treaty has so far gathered 23 of the 50 ratifications that it needs to come into force, including South Africa, Austria, Thailand, Vietnam and Mexico. It is strongly opposed by the United States, Russia, and other states with nuclear arms.

Cuba also ratified the treaty in 2018, 56 years after the Cuban missile crisis, a 13-day Cold War face-off between Moscow and Washington that marked the closest the world had ever come to nuclear war.

Dwan said the world should not ignore the danger of nuclear weapons.

“How we think about that, and how we act on that risk and the management of that risk, seems to me a pretty significant and urgent question,” she said.

She added that it was not being adequately addressed in arms control talks or multilateral bodies such as the U.N. Security Council nor by bilateral arrangements between states.

On Wednesday, China’s disarmament ambassador in Geneva accused Washington of sabotaging and tearing up deals and having a “Cold War mentality”, and said Washington displayed bullying behavior.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Prepare for difficult times, China’s Xi urges as trade war simmers

FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations in Beijing, China May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

By Michael Martina and David Lawder

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China must prepare for difficult times as the international situation is increasingly complex, President Xi Jinping said in comments carried by state media on Wednesday, as the U.S.-China trade war took a mounting toll on tech giant Huawei.

The world’s two largest economies have escalated tariff increases on each other’s imports after talks broke down to resolve their dispute, and the acrimony has intensified since Washington last week blacklisted Chinese telecom equipment company Huawei Technologies Co Ltd.

The listing, which curbs Huawei’s access to U.S.-made components, is a potentially devastating blow for the company that has rattled technology supply chains and investors, and saw several mobile carriers on Wednesday delay the launch of new Huawei smartphone handsets.

During a three-day trip this week to the southern province of Jiangxi, a cradle of China’s Communist revolution, Xi urged people to learn the lessons of the hardships of the past.

“Today, on the new Long March, we must overcome various major risks and challenges from home and abroad,” state news agency Xinhua paraphrased Xi as saying, referring to the 1934-36 trek of Communist Party members fleeing a civil war to a remote rural base, from where they re-grouped and eventually took power in 1949.

“Our country is still in a period of important strategic opportunities for development, but the international situation is increasingly complicated,” he said.

“We must be conscious of the long-term and complex nature of various unfavorable factors at home and abroad, and appropriately prepare for various difficult situations.”

The report did not elaborate on those difficulties, and did not directly mention the trade war or of the United States.

No further trade talks between top Chinese and U.S. negotiators have been scheduled since the last round ended on May 10, the same day President Donald Trump increased tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods and took steps to levy duties on all remaining Chinese imports.

Negotiations between the United States and China have stalled since early May, when Chinese officials sought major changes to the text of a proposed deal that the Trump administration says had been largely agreed.

However, Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai, speaking to the Fox News Channel, said on Tuesday that Beijing was still open for talks.

Repercussions of the blacklisting mounted for Huawei, with some mobile operators, including the Ymobile unit of Japan’s Softbank Corp and rival KDDI Corp putting launch plans for Huawei’s new P30 Lite smartphone on hold.

Another big Chinese tech firm, video surveillance equipment maker Hikvision Digital Technology Co Ltd, could also face limits on its ability to buy U.S. technology, the New York Times reported, citing people familiar with the matter, sending the firm’s Shenzhen-listed shares down 5.54 percent.

RETALIATION

While China has not said whether or how it may retaliate to the measures against Huawei, state media have taken an increasingly strident and nationalistic tone.

U.S. firms said in a survey released on Wednesday they were facing retaliation in China over the trade war. The American Chamber of Commerce of China and its sister body in Shanghai, said members reported that they faced increased obstacles such as government inspections, slower customs clearances and slower approval for licensing and other applications.

It also said that 40.7% of respondents were considering or had relocated manufacturing facilities outside China. Of the almost 250 respondents to the survey, which was conducted after China and the United States both raised tariffs on each other’s imports this month, almost three-quarters said the impact of tariffs was hurting their competitiveness.

To cope, about one third said they were increasingly focusing their China operations on producing for Chinese customers and not for export, while one third said they were delaying and canceling investment decisions.

Long considered a solid cornerstone in a relationship fraught with geopolitical frictions, the U.S. business community has in recent years advocated a harder line on what it sees as discriminatory Chinese trade policies.

The United States is seeking sweeping changes to trade and economic policies, including an end to forced technology transfers and theft of U.S. trade secrets. Washington also wants curbs on subsidies for Chinese state-owned enterprises and increased access for U.S. firms in Chinese markets.

China for years has blocked major U.S. tech firms, including Google and Facebook, from fully operating in its market. Those and other restrictions have fueled calls from within the U.S. business community for Washington to pursue more reciprocal policies.

Cui told Fox News Channel that U.S. restrictions on Huawei “are without any foundation and evidence” and could undermine the normal functioning of markets.

“Everybody knows Huawei is a privately owned company. It is just a normal Chinese private company,” Cui said. “So all the action taken against Huawei are politically motivated.”

(Reporting by David Lawder and Stella Qiu; Additional reporting by Makini Brice and Eric Beech in Washington and Michael Martina and Ben Blanchard; writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsel)

Iranians tense and apprehensive as whispers of war spread

FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech during the ceremony of the National Army Day parade in Tehran, Iran April 18, 2019. Tasnim News Agency/via REUTERS

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

LONDON (Reuters) – Iranian and U.S. leaders have reassured their nations that they do not seek war. But among ordinary Iranians who already face hardship from tightening sanctions, nerves are being strained by worry that the situation could slip out of control.

In interviews conducted from outside the country by telephone and online, Iranians described heated discussions at home, on the streets and on social media.

The prospect of war was now the main topic of conversation in workplaces, taxis and buses, Nima Abdollahzade, a legal consultant at an Iranian startup company, told Reuters.

“Apart from the deterioration in the Iranian economy, I believe the most severe effect” of confrontation with the United States “is in the mental situation of ordinary Iranians,” he said. “They are sustaining a significant amount of stress.”

The United States pulled out of an agreement between Iran and world powers a year ago that limited Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting economic sanctions.

This month tensions have risen sharply, with Washington extending its sanctions to ban all countries from importing Iranian oil. A number of U.S. officials led by National Security Adviser John Bolton have made hawkish remarks, citing Iranian threats against U.S. interests. Trump himself tweeted: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.”

Iran has tended to dismiss the tough talk as a bluff – “psychological warfare” from a U.S. administration not ready for a fight. But some Iranians say the tension could have its own logic, raising the chance of a mistake leading to violence.

‘A DOG THAT WON’T BITE BARKS’

A labor activist who spent months in an Iranian jail for his activities and asked not to be identified, said: “War and sanctions are two sides of the same coin, designed by the (U.S.) capitalist system. The working class would bear brunt of the pressures.”

Some Iranians expect pressure to lead to negotiations, as when former President Barack Obama tightened sanctions that crippled the Iranian economy and led to the 2015 deal.

But others believe their leaders will never go back down that road following Trump’s reimposition of sanctions.

“Any politician who starts negotiations with America would make a fool of himself,” said a student who also asked not to be identified. “Even (Mohammad Javad) Zarif has given up on that,” she said, referring to Iran’s U.S.-educated foreign minister.

Zarif told CNN this week Iran had “acted in good faith” in negotiating the deal that Washington abandoned. “We are not willing to talk to people who have broken their promises.”

Trump has said Washington is not trying to set up talks but expects Tehran to call when it is ready. A U.S. official said last week Americans “were sitting by the phone”, but had received no call from Iran yet.

Foad Izadi, a political science professor at Tehran University, told Reuters that phone call is not coming.

“Iranian officials have come to this conclusion that Trump does not seek negotiations. He would like a phone call with Rouhani, even a meeting and a photo session, but that’s not a real negotiation,” Izadi said.

Despite saying talks are now off the table, Iranian leaders still say war is unlikely. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority, said the United States would not attack as “it’s not in their interests.”

The logic makes sense to Mohsen Mortazavi, a young cleric who graduated from a religious school in the city of Qom.

“There won’t be any war because a military confrontation will not resolve any of the U.S. problems, it will only add to them,” Mortazavi told Reuters. “Trump’s shouts and threats are a psychological war. A dog that cannot bite barks.”

But Izadi, the political science professor, disagrees. “A war is highly probable. There are officials in Washington who have planned for invading Iran for years,” he said.

STOCKPILING

Meanwhile, Iranians cope with the day-to-day implications of sanctions and tension. Worries over access to products have prompted some Iranians to stock up on rice, detergent and tinned food, residents and shopkeepers said.

An advertisement on state TV discourages stockpiling. A middle-aged man heading home after work is drawn to a supermarket when he sees people panic shopping. He buys anything he can put his hands on, causing shelves to be emptier.

Ali, an Iranian student in Tehran, told Reuters that unlike many, he was not against a U.S. military invasion, as he believed the fall of the Islamic Republic would be the only solution to the rising economic and political problems.

“My only hope is a war so I can take my revenge. I am telling my friends in the university that our only way is an armed struggle…. We have nothing to lose.”

Shahin Milani, a 38-year-old who tweets about Iranian politics to more than 7,000 followers on Twitter, believes military intervention could never bring democracy.

“The people should do it themselves … If someone is truly worried about the threat of war, they should work to create a democratic, secular government in Iran … As long as the Islamic Republic is in power, the shadow of war will loom over Iran.”

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Peter Graff)

High Risk for Dangerous Storms, Flooding and Tornadoes In Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas

Severe Weather outbreak potential. May 20,2019

By Kami Klein

A dangerous and potent spring weather system is expected to bring severe weather to parts of the plains today bringing hail, damaging winds, flash flooding, and large, violent tornadoes.  According to the National Weather Service, these strong tornadoes are possible from western portions of Texas into western and central Oklahoma. A major threat of flash flooding is expected from northwest Texas into Oklahoma, Kansas, western Missouri, and northwest Arkansas.

Many school systems, including Oklahoma University in Norman, Oklahoma canceled classes for the day due to the strong possibilities of this weather system. Since the disastrous 2013 F5 tornado that hit Moore Oklahoma killing 23 and injuring 337 people, school authorities have taken a very cautious approach when advised by the National Weather Service.  

“We believe this is the best decision for our students, staff and families as their health and safety are priority,” Moore Public Schools officials posted to Facebook. “Please ensure safety plans are in place for your family in case needed for severe weather.”

According to the Weather Channel, this highest threat level of severe weather was last issued by SPC just over two years ago on May 18, 2017.

There have been 545 tornadoes nationally through May 6, according to NOAA. Historically, an average of 321 tornadoes occur in the U.S. through the end of April, based on a 25-year average.

These warnings are rare both for the flooding potential and chances of very powerful tornadoes. Please stay tuned to weather alerts and take appropriate action by staying away from windows and seeking shelter in basements, closets or bathrooms in the middle of your home or in storm shelters.   

 

 

Measles outbreak spreads to Oklahoma as U.S. reports 41 new cases

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A vial of the measles, mumps, and rubella virus (MMR) vaccine is pictured at the International Community Health Services clinic in Seattle, Washington, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo/File Photo/File Photo

(Reuters) – The worst measles outbreak in the United States in 25 years has spread to Oklahoma, federal health officials said on Monday as they reported 41 new cases nationwide, raising the total number sickened this year to 880 people.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 4.9% increase in the number of measles cases from May 10 to May 17 in an outbreak that has now reached 24 states. The agency has been providing weekly updates every Monday.

The CDC said there had been one confirmed case in Oklahoma.

Most of the new cases were in New York, CDC spokesman Jason McDonald said, with 21 cases recorded in New York City and nine in Rockland County.

Health experts say the virus has spread among school-age children whose parents declined to give them the vaccine, which confers immunity to the disease. A vocal fringe of U.S. parents, some in New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, cite concerns that the vaccine may cause autism, despite scientific studies that have debunked such claims.

Although the virus was eliminated from the country in 2000, meaning the disease was no longer a constant presence, outbreaks still happen via travelers coming from countries where measles is still common, according to the CDC.

Experts warn that the outbreak is not over as the number of cases approaches the 1994 total of 958. That was the highest number since 1992, when the CDC recorded 2,126 cases.

More than 40 people in 2019 brought measles to the United States from other countries, most frequently Ukraine, Israel and the Philippines, federal officials said.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York, Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot)

Trump, Saudi Arabia warn Iran against Middle East conflict

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir speaks during a news conference with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (not pictured) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

By Marwa Rashad and Stephen Kalin

RIYADH (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump issued a new threat to Tehran on Sunday, tweeting that a conflict would be the “official end” of Iran, as Saudi Arabia warned it stood ready to respond with “all strength” and said it was up to Iran to avoid war.

The heightened rhetoric follows last week’s attacks on Saudi oil assets and the firing of a rocket on Sunday into Baghdad’s heavily fortified “Green Zone” that exploded near the U.S. embassy.

“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” Trump said in a tweet without elaborating.

A U.S. State Department official said the rocket attack in Baghdad did not hit a U.S.-inhabited facility and produced no casualties nor any significant damage. No claims of responsibility had been made, but the United States was taking the incident “very seriously.”

FILE PHOTO: A damaged Andrea Victory ship is seen off the Port of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A damaged Andrea Victory ship is seen off the Port of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar/File Photo

“We have made clear over the past two weeks and again underscore that attacks on U.S. personnel and facilities will not be tolerated and will be responded to in a decisive manner,” the official said in an emailed statement. “We will hold Iran responsible if any such attacks are conducted by its proxy militia forces or elements of such forces, and will respond to Iran accordingly.”

Riyadh, which emphasized that it does not want a war, has accused Tehran of ordering Tuesday’s drone strikes on two oil pumping stations in the kingdom, claimed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group. Two days earlier, four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

In response, countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) began “enhanced security patrols” in the international waters of the Arabian Gulf area on Saturday, the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said on Sunday.

Iran has denied involvement in either incident, which come as Washington and the Islamic Republic spar over sanctions and the U.S. military presence in the region, raising concerns about a potential U.S.-Iran conflict.

“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not want a war in the region nor does it seek that,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir told a news conference on Sunday.

“It will do what it can to prevent this war and at the same time it reaffirms that in the event the other side chooses war, the kingdom will respond with all force and determination, and it will defend itself and its interests.”

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Sunday invited Gulf and Arab leaders to convene emergency summits in Mecca on May 30 to discuss implications of the attacks.

“The current critical circumstances entail a unified Arab and Gulf stance toward the besetting challenges and risks,” the UAE foreign ministry said in a statement.

The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet said in its statement about increased maritime patrols that GCC countries were “specifically increasing communication and coordination with each other in support of regional naval cooperation and maritime security operations in the Arabian Gulf,” with navies and coast guards working with the U.S. Navy.

Saudi Arabia’s Sunni Muslim ally the UAE has not blamed anyone for the tanker sabotage operation, pending an investigation. No-one has claimed responsibility, but two U.S. government sources said last week that U.S. officials believed Iran had encouraged the Houthi group or Iraq-based Shi’ite militias to carry it out.

The drone strike on oil pumping stations, which Riyadh said did not disrupt output or exports, was claimed by the Houthis, who have been battling a Saudi-led military coalition in a war in Yemen since 2015.

FILE PHOTO: A damaged ANDREA VICTORY ship is seen off the Port of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A damaged ANDREA VICTORY ship is seen off the Port of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar/File Photo

The Houthi-controled SABA news agency said on Sunday, citing a military source from the group, that targeting Aramco’s installations last week was the beginning of coming military operations against 300 vital military targets.

Targets include vital military headquarters and facilities in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, as well as their bases in Yemen, the source told SABA.

The head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, derided Riyadh’s call to convene Arab summits, saying in a Twitter post that they “only know how to support war and destruction”.

A Norwegian insurers’ report seen by Reuters said Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were “highly likely” to have facilitated the attack on vessels near the UAE’s Fujairah emirate, a main bunkering hub lying just outside the Strait of Hormuz.

SAUDI PRINCE CALLS POMPEO

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has dismissed the possibility of war erupting, saying Tehran did not want conflict and no country had the “illusion it can confront Iran”. This stance was echoed by the head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards on Sunday.

“We are not pursuing war but we are also not afraid of war,” Major General Hossein Salami was cited as saying by the semi-official news agency Tasnim.

Washington has tightened economic sanctions against Iran, trying to cut Tehran’s oil exports to zero, and beefed up the U.S. military presence in the Gulf in response to what it said were Iranian threats to United States troops and interests.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed regional developments, including efforts to strengthen security and stability, in a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Saudi Media Ministry tweeted on Sunday.

“We want peace and stability in the region but we will not sit on our hands in light of the continuing Iranian attack,” Jubeir said. “The ball is in Iran’s court and it is up to Iran to determine what its fate will be.”

He said the crew of an Iranian oil tanker that had been towed to Saudi Arabia early this month after a request for help due to engine trouble were still in the kingdom receiving the “necessary care”. The crew are 24 Iranians and two Bangladeshis.

Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran are arch-adversaries in the Middle East, backing opposite sides in several regional wars. In a sign of the heightened tension, Exxon Mobil evacuated foreign staff from an oilfield in neighboring Iraq.

Bahrain on Saturday warned its citizens against travel to Iraq and Iran and asked those already there to return. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has issued an advisory to U.S. commercial airliners flying over the waters of the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to exercise caution.

(Additional reporting by Lisa Barrington in Dubai, Nandita Bose in Washington, Ali Abdelaty in Cairo, Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Writing by Stephen Kalin, Ghaida Ghantous and David Lawder; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Mark Potter, Chris Reese and Sandra Maler)

Missouri governor expected to sign new abortion restrictions into law

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with the Governor of Missouri Mike Parson as he arrives in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

(Reuters) – Missouri’s Republican governor could sign a law as early as this week banning most abortions in the Midwestern state after the eighth week of pregnancy, part of a wave of restrictions aimed at driving a challenge of abortion to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Republican Governor Mike Parson told reporters on Friday he planned to sign the bill, which was approved by the Republican-controlled state legislature last week and would enact one of the United States’ most restrictive bans. He did not set a date for the signing but has until July 14 to do so, according to local media reports.

The state is one of eight where Republican-controlled legislatures this year have passed new restrictions on abortion. It is part of a coordinated campaign aimed at prompting the nation’s now conservative-majority top court to cut back or overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.

The most restrictive of those bills was signed into law in Alabama last week. It bans abortion at all times and in almost all cases, including when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest but allows exceptions when the mother’s life is in danger. The Missouri bill also offers no exception for cases of rape or incest.

The American Civil Liberties Union has said it will sue to block Alabama’s law from taking effect. Last week, the ACLU joined Planned Parenthood, the women’s reproductive healthcare provider, in suing Ohio over its recent six-week abortion ban.

Abortion is one of the most bitterly contested social issues in the United States. Opponents often cite religious belief in saying that fetuses deserve rights similar to those of infants. Abortion rights advocates say the bans deprive women of equal rights and endanger those who end up seeking riskier, illegal methods to end a pregnancy.

Kentucky, Georgia, Utah, Mississippi and Arkansas have also passed new restrictions on abortion this year.

Conservative lawmakers have been emboldened in their efforts to roll back Roe v. Wade by two judicial appointments by President Donald Trump that have given conservatives a 5-4 majority on the court.

The Supreme Court could act as early as Monday on appeals seeking to revive two abortion restrictions enacted in Indiana in 2016.

Abortion rights activists on Sunday marched on the Alabama state capital in Birmingham to protest that state’s new law, which would take effect in two months.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S., China bicker over ‘extravagant expectations’ on trade deal

A surveillance camera is seen next to containers at a logistics center near Tianjin Port, in northern China, May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee

By Ben Blanchard and David Lawder

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China accused the United States on Monday of harboring “extravagant expectations” for a trade deal, underlining the gulf between the two sides as U.S. action against China’s technology giant Huawei began hitting the global tech sector.

Adding to bilateral tension, the U.S. military said one of its warships sailed near the disputed Scarborough Shoal claimed by China in the South China Sea on Sunday, the latest in a series of “freedom of navigation operations” to anger Beijing.

Alphabet Inc’s Google has also suspended business with China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd that requires the transfer of hardware, software and technical services, except those publicly available via open source licensing, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Sunday, in a blow to the company that the U.S. government has sought to blacklist around the world.

Shares in European chipmakers Infineon Technologies, AMS and STMicroelectronics fell sharply on Monday amid worries the Huawei suppliers may suspend shipments to the Chinese firm due to the U.S. blacklisting of it last week.

The Trump administration’s addition of Huawei to a trade blacklist on Thursday immediately enacted restrictions that will make it extremely difficult for it to do business with U.S. counterparts.

In an interview with Fox News Channel recorded last week and aired on Sunday night, Trump said the United States and China “had a very strong deal, we had a good deal, and they changed it. And I said ‘that’s OK, we’re going to tariff their products’.”

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said he didn’t know what Trump was talking about.

“We don’t know what this agreement is the United States is talking about. Perhaps the United States has an agreement they all along had extravagant expectations for, but it’s certainly not a so-called agreement that China agreed to,” he told a daily news briefing.

The reason the last round of China-U.S. talks did not reach an agreement is because the United States tried “to achieve unreasonable interests through extreme pressure”, Lu said.”From the start, this wouldn’t work.”

China went into the last round of talks with a sincere and constructive attitude, he said.

“I would like to reiterate once again that China-U.S. economic and trade consultation can only follow the correct track of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit for there to be hope of success.”

No further trade talks between top Chinese and U.S. trade negotiators have been scheduled since the last round ended on May 10 – the same day Trump raised the tariff rate on $200 billion worth of Chinese products from 10 percent.

Trump took the step after the United States said China backtracked on commitments in a draft deal that had been largely agreed to.

STERNER TONE

Since then, China has struck a sterner tone, suggesting that a resumption of talks aimed at ending the 10-month trade war between the world’s two largest economies was unlikely to happen soon.

Beijing has said it will take “necessary measures” to defend the rights of Chinese companies but has not said whether or how it will retaliate over the U.S. actions against Huawei.

The editor of the Global Times, an influential tabloid run by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily, tweeted on Monday that he had switched to a Huawei phone, although he said his decision did not mean that he thinks it is right to boycott Apple and said he was not throwing away his iPhone.

“While the U.S. spares no efforts to subdue Huawei, out of personal belief, I chose to support the well-respected company by using its product,” Hu Xijin tweeted.

Trump, who said the interview with Fox News host Steve Hilton had taken place two days after he raised the tariffs, said he would be happy to simply keep tariffs on Chinese products, but said that he believed that China would eventually make a deal with the United States “because they’re getting killed with the tariffs”.

But he said that he had told Chinese President Xi Jinping before the most recent rounds of talks that any deal could not be “50-50” between the two countries and had to be more in favor of the United States because of past trade practices by China.

(Reporting by David Lawder and Ben Blanchard; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Richard Borsuk, Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)