Top North Korea envoy meets Pompeo, headed for talks with Trump

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo escorts Vice Chairman of the North Korean Workers' Party Committee Kim Yong Chol, North Korea's lead negotiator in nuclear diplomacy with the United States, into talks aimed at clearing the way for a second U.S.-North Korea summit as they meet at a hotel in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A North Korean nuclear envoy held talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday and was then due to meet President Donald Trump at the White House, a diplomatic flurry aimed at laying the groundwork for a second U.S.-North Korea summit.

The visit of Kim Yong Chol, Pyongyan’s lead negotiator with the United States, marked a rare sign of potential movement in a denuclearization effort that has stalled since a landmark meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore last year.

Kim Yong Chol and Pompeo, with tight smiles, posed together for photographs at a Washington hotel before holding about 45 minutes of talks that could determine whether the two sides can make headway. There has been no indication of any narrowing of differences over U.S. demands that North Korea abandon a nuclear weapons program that threatens the United States or over Pyongyang’s demand for a lifting of punishing sanctions.

Hours before Kim Yong Chol’s arrival on Thursday, Trump – who declared after the Singapore summit in June that the nuclear threat posed by North Korea was over – unveiled a revamped U.S. missile defense strategy that singled out the country as an ongoing and “extraordinary threat.”

The State Department said after the meeting that Pompeo had a “good discussion” with Kim Yong Chol “on efforts to make progress on commitments President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un made at their summit in Singapore.” But it provided no specifics.

After the talks with Pompeo, Kim Yong Chol, a hardline former spy chief, the White House confirmed that he would hold a meeting with the president in the Oval Office later on Friday.

The high-level visit could yield an announcement of plans for a second summit. Both Trump and Kim have expressed an interest in arranging but some U.S.-based analysts say it would be premature due to the lack of obvious progress so far.

Their first meeting produced a vague commitment by Kim to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but he has yet to take what Washington sees as concrete steps in that direction.

(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Alistair Bell)

On Day 28, no sign of end to U.S. partial government shutdown

Long lines are seen at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport amid the partial federal government shutdown, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

By James Oliphant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As the partial U.S. government shutdown hit the four-week mark on Friday, tensions mounted in Washington on either side of the standoff over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to help fund a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

That ultimatum, which congressional Democrats have rejected, has prevented Congress from approving legislation to restore funding to about a quarter of the federal government, which closed down partially on Dec. 22 when several agencies’ funds expired for reasons unrelated to the border.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives has left town for a three-day weekend, returning late on Tuesday. The Senate was expected to reconvene on Friday, but its exact plans were unsettled.

The Republican-controlled Senate, toeing Trump’s line on the wall, has not acted on any of several shutdown-ending bills approved in recent days by the House, all lacking wall funding.

The partial shutdown – already the longest in U.S. history – seemed certain to drag well into next week, meaning 800,000 federal workers nationwide would continue to go unpaid and some government functions would remain impaired.

Any serious debate about immigration policy has deteriorated into a test of political power. After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested to Trump that he delay the annual State of the Union address until after the government reopens, Trump responded by denying Pelosi and a congressional delegation use of a military aircraft for a planned trip to Belgium and Afghanistan.

Trump’s intervention stopped the trip just as Pelosi and other lawmakers were about to travel.

Pelosi’s spokesman said on Friday that the congressional delegation had been prepared to fly commercially after the military plane was revoked, but learned the administration had also leaked the commercial travel plans.

“In light of the grave threats caused by the President’s action, the delegation has decided to postpone the trip so as not to further endanger our troops and security personnel, or the other travelers on the flights,” Drew Hammill wrote on Twitter.

Hammill said the State Department had to pay for the commercial flight, which was how the White House knew about the travel plans that Hammill said were leaked.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied leaking the travel plans, adding, “When the speaker of the House and about 20 others from Capitol Hill decide to book their own commercial flights to Afghanistan, the world is going to find out.”

In tweets on Friday, Trump reiterated his claim that farmworkers would still be able to enter the country and stressed again his demand for the border wall, which he says is needed to stem illegal immigration and drug trafficking. Democrats have resisted the wall as wasteful and unworkable.

The House has passed short-term spending bills that would end the shutdown and reopen the government, but Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to allow a floor vote on them, saying they lacked White House support.

A House Republican aide told Reuters on Thursday that no back-channel talks to resolve the shutdown were taking place.

During the week, a small group of Senate Republicans sought support for a plan to urge Trump to agree to a short-term funding bill in exchange for a debate on border security. Their efforts went nowhere.

The Trump administration worked to minimize the damage being done to government operations across the country. On Thursday, the State Department said it was calling furloughed employees back to work.

(Reporting by James Oliphant; additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell, Jeff Mason and Makini Brice; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)

‘Super Blood Wolf Moon’ to get star billing in weekend lunar eclipse

FILE PHOTO: A combination photo shows the lunar eclipse from a blood moon (top L) back to full moon (bottom right) in the sky over Frankfurt, Germany, July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Look up into the night sky on Sunday and – if it is clear – you may witness the so-called “Super Blood Wolf Moon” total lunar eclipse, which will take a star turn across the continental United States during prime time for viewing.

The total eclipse, which will begin minutes before midnight on the East Coast (0500 GMT) and just before 9 p.m. in the West, will unfold on the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday when most Americans have no school or work.

That means even the youngest astronomy buffs may get to stay up late and attend one of many watch parties that have been organized from Florida to Oregon.

The total eclipse will last for about an hour, and the best viewing is from North and South America, according to National Geographic. Partial eclipses leading up to and following the total eclipse mean the entire event will last 3.5 hours.

Total lunar eclipses occur when the moon moves into perfect alignment with the sun and earth, giving it a copper-red or “blood” appearance to those watching from below.

“Amateur astronomy clubs are throwing parties because this is what they live for – to get entire families excited about our place in the universe by seeing the mechanics of the cosmos,” said Andrew Fazekas, spokesman for Astronomers Without Borders.

In Pennsylvania, the York County Astronomical Society has invited the public to peer through its observatory’s telescopes for a close-up look. In Los Angeles, Griffith Observatory said it was anticipating “extremely large crowds,” and its website will live-stream a telescopic view of the eclipse.

COPPERY RED GLOW

A “super” moon occurs when the moon is especially close to earth, while a “wolf moon” is the traditional name for the full moon of January, when the howling of wolves was a sound that helped define winter, according to The Farmers Almanac.

In a total lunar eclipse, the moon never goes completely dark. Rather, it takes on a reddish glow from refracted light as the heavenly bodies move into position – hence the “blood moon” moniker. The more particulate or pollution in the atmosphere, the redder the moon appears.

“All of the sunrises and sunsets around the world are simultaneously cast onto the surface of the moon,” Fazekas said.

As many as 2.8 billion people may see this weekend’s eclipse from the Western Hemisphere, Europe, West Africa and northernmost Russia, according to Space.com.

While total lunar eclipses are not especially rare, the 2019 version takes place early enough in the evening that it can be enjoyed by U.S. stargazers of all ages, said George Lomaga, a retired astronomy professor from Suffolk County Community College. He plans to attend an eclipse party at Hallock State Park Preserve on New York’s Long Island.

There, astrophotographer Robert Farrell will demonstrate how to use a mobile phone to photograph celestial objects through a telescope so the spectacle can be shared online.

If skies are clear, the phenomenon can be seen with the naked eye and no protection is needed to safely enjoy the view, Griffith Observatory said.

Granted permission to stay up past his 8 p.m. bedtime, Gabriel Houging, 8, of Citrus Heights, California, is already dreaming of what he’ll see.

“It’s going to be a moon, but it’s going to look like you painted it orange!” Houging said.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; editing by Frank McGurty and Rosalba O’Brien)

U.S. names three killed in Syria blast claimed by Islamic State

American flags fly on National Mall with U.S. Capitol on background as high-wind weather conditions continue in Washington, U.S. March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

(Reuters) – The United States on Friday identified three Americans killed in a suicide attack in northern Syria this week that the U.S. government said was likely carried out by the Islamic State militant group.

Army Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida; Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician Shannon Kent, 35, identified as being from upstate New York, and Scott Wirtz, a civilian Department of Defense employee from St. Louis, died during the Wednesday attack in Manbij, Syria, the Department of Defense said in a statement.

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida is pictured in an undated photo released by the U.S. Army, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S., January 18, 2019. U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida is pictured in an undated photo released by the U.S. Army, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S., January 18, 2019. U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS

The Pentagon did not identify the fourth person killed, a contractor working for a private company.

The Manbij attack on U.S. forces in Syria appeared to be the deadliest since they deployed on the ground there in 2015. It took place in a town controlled by a militia allied with U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.

Two U.S. government sources told Reuters on Thursday that the United States views the Islamic State militant group as likely responsible for the attack. Islamic State has claimed responsibility.

The attack occurred nearly a month after President Donald Trump confounded his own national security team with a surprise decision on Dec. 19 to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, declaring Islamic State had been defeated there.

U.S. Navy Cryptologic Technician Shannon M. Kent, 35, is pictured in an undated photo released by the U.S Navy, in Washington, DC, U.S., January 18, 2019. U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

U.S. Navy Cryptologic Technician Shannon M. Kent, 35, is pictured in an undated photo released by the U.S Navy, in Washington, DC, U.S., January 18, 2019. U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

If Islamic State carried out the attack, that would undercut assertions, including by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence several hours after the blast on Wednesday, that the militant group has been defeated.

Experts do not believe Islamic State has been beaten despite its having lost almost all of the territory it held in 2014 and 2015 after seizing parts of Syria and Iraq and declaring a “caliphate.”

While the group’s footprint has shrunk, experts say it is far from a spent force and can still conduct guerilla-style attacks. An Islamic State statement on Wednesday said a Syrian suicide bomber had detonated his explosive vest in Manbij.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

U.S. State Department recalls furloughed employees amid shutdown

People enter the State Department Building in Washington, U.S., January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department said on Thursday it was calling its furloughed employees back to work next week as it takes steps to pay salaries despite a partial shutdown of the government.

“As a national security agency, it is imperative that the Department of State carries out its mission,” Deputy Under Secretary of State Bill Todd said in a statement posted on the department’s website. “We are best positioned to do so with fully staffed embassies, consulates and domestic offices.”

Todd said the department’s employees would be paid on Feb. 14 for work performed beginning on or after this coming Sunday. The department would review its available funds and “legal authorities” beyond the upcoming pay period to try to cover future payments, he said.

“Although most personnel operations can resume, bureaus and posts are expected to adhere to strict budget constraints with regard to new spending for contracts, travel, and other needs” given a lapse in congressionally appropriated funds, Todd added.

About one-quarter of federal agencies have been shuttered since Dec. 22, with Democratic lawmakers refusing to accede to President Donald Trump’s demands to pay for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Trump is holding out for $5.7 billion for a border wall. Democrats, who took over the U.S. House Representatives this month, have rejected his demands, saying there are cheaper, more effective ways of enhancing border security.

(Reporting by Tim Ahmann; editing by David Alexander and James Dalgleish)

U.S. labor market strong; mid-Atlantic factory activity improves

FILE PHOTO: People wait in line to attend TechFair LA, a technology job fair, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for jobless benefits unexpectedly fell last week, pointing to sustained labor market strength that should continue to underpin the economy.

Other data on Thursday showed factory activity in the mid-Atlantic region rebounded in January from near a 2-1/2-year low, driven by a surge in new orders, which could allay concerns that manufacturing production was slowing sharply.

While the data so far suggest the economy is in relatively good shape, there are concerns an ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government could erode both business and consumer confidence, leading to cuts in spending.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits decreased 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 213,000 for the week ended Jan. 12, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims would rise to 220,000 last week.

The dollar gained against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury yields largely rose while stocks on Wall Street were mixed.

The claims data covered the survey period for the nonfarm payrolls portion of January’s employment report.

Claims fell 4,000 between the December and January survey periods. While that would suggest little change in labor market conditions after the economy created 312,000 jobs in December, the longest government shutdown in U.S. history raises the risk of a drop in payrolls.

Some 800,000 government workers missed their first paycheck last Friday because of the partial shutdown, which started on Dec. 22 as President Donald Trump demanded that Congress give him $5.7 billion this year to help build a wall on the country’s border with Mexico.

The pay period for most federal employees that includes the week of Jan. 12 runs from Jan. 6 to Jan. 19. About 380,000 workers have been furloughed, while the rest are working without pay. Furloughed workers will probably be counted as unemployed.

“The federal government shutdown could make the payroll jobs number a walking disaster,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. “Payroll employment is likely to dive in January with perhaps 300 or 400 thousand jobs lost.”

Private contractors working for many government agencies are also without pay. But Trump has signed legislation for all employees to be paid their salaries retroactively when the shutdown ends. Some economists say that could result in the shutdown having a small impact on January payrolls.

MODEST-MODERATE GROWTH

The Trump administration has been recalling some employees to work without pay in an effort to minimize the fallout from the shutdown. Publication of economic data compiled by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis and Census Bureau has been suspended during the shutdown.

That includes December’s housing starts and building permits report, which was scheduled for release on Thursday. November’s construction, factory orders and trade figures have also been delayed, as well as December retail sales and November business inventories data.

The incomplete data is making it hard to get a clear read on the economy, which could complicate policy decisions.

The Federal Reserve said on Wednesday in its Beige Book report, which offers a snapshot of the economy, that eight of the U.S. central bank’s 12 districts reported “modest to moderate growth” in late December and early January.

The Fed noted that while outlooks generally remained positive, “many districts reported that contacts had become less optimistic.”

That was corroborated by a separate report on Thursday from the Philadelphia Fed showing its business conditions index increased to a reading of 17.0 in January from 9.1 in December, which was its lowest level since August 2016.

The survey’s six-month business conditions index increased to a reading of 31.2 this month from 29.9 in December. But its six-month capital expenditures index slipped to a reading of 31.6 in January from 34.5 in the prior month.

Despite the modest rebound in manufacturing in the region that covers eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware, the level of activity is lower than it was for most of 2017 and 2018.

This fits in with other signs that national factory activity is slowing, having hit a two-year low in December. A report from the New York Fed earlier this week showed a second straight monthly drop in its Empire State manufacturing index in January.

“Conditions have certainly downshifted from earlier in 2018 and compared with 2017,” said Adam Ozimek, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “This reflects simmering risks that threaten to derail the otherwise strong economy.”

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

North Korea called ‘extraordinary threat’ in Trump missile defense review

FILE PHOTO: Intercontinental ballistic missiles are seen at a grand military parade celebrating the 70th founding anniversary of the Korean People's Army at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) February 9, 2018. KCNA/via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is due to unveil a revamped missile defense strategy on Thursday that singles out North Korea as an ongoing “extraordinary threat,” seven months after he declared that the nuclear threat had been eliminated.

“While a possible new avenue to peace now exists with North Korea, it continues to pose an extraordinary threat and the United States must remain vigilant,” the report said in its executive summary, which was reviewed by Reuters ahead of its release on Thursday.

The Missile Defense Review is a sweeping examination of efforts to shield America from missile threats. It singles out concerns about advancing capabilities by North Korea, Iran, Russia and China.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Turkish prosecutor seeks extradition of NBA’s Kanter over Gulen links: Anadolu

FILE PHOTO: Dec 29, 2018; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; New York Knicks center Enes Kanter (00) warms up prior to the game against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish prosecutors are seeking the extradition of New York Knicks center Enes Kanter over his links to the U.S.-based cleric accused of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016, state-owned Anadolu news agency said.

Kanter, a vocal critic of President Tayyip Erdogan, was indicted by a Turkish court last year over alleged membership of an “armed terrorist group” after being contacted repeatedly by people close to Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen.

The Istanbul prosecutors’ office was not immediately available to comment on the report on Wednesday.

Anadolu said on Tuesday prosecutors had sought the issue of a “red notice” for Kanter, an Interpol request to locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition.

It said the extradition request includes social media comments made about Gulen by Kanter, who has often declared his support for the cleric.

Kanter took to Twitter to deny any wrongdoing.

“The Turkish Government can NOT present any single piece of evidence of my wrongdoing,” he said. “I don’t even have a parking ticket in the U.S. (True)

“I have always been a law-abiding resident.”

He later added: “The only thing I terrorize is the rim.”

Turkey previously revoked Kanter’s passport and declared him a fugitive for his support of Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of being behind the attempted putsch of July 2016 – an accusation Gulen denies.

In May 2017, Kanter was refused entry into Romania because of the cancellation of his Turkish passport.

Earlier this month, Kanter said he would not go to London for a game with his NBA team because he fears he could be assassinated for criticizing Erdogan.

“If it’s for his own safety I don’t want to see a guy get harmed,” Washington Wizards Sam Dekker, who will be up against the Knicks in London, told Reuters.

“Hopefully it will get worked out with him but it’s a tough situation. It’s never a good thing to see a guy not playing for personal reasons.”

Since the putsch attempt, some 77,000 people have been jailed pending trial and 150,000 state employees including teachers, judges and soldiers have been suspended or dismissed in a crackdown on alleged supporters of Gulen.

Kanter holds a U.S. green card that allows him to live and work in the country on a permanent basis.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Daren Butler; Additional reporting by Martyn Herman, Editing by David Dolan, William Maclean)

Finding the bright side in a graying U.S. workforce

By Mark Miller

CHICAGO (Reuters) – (The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)

U.S. Economists call it the “old-age dependency ratio” – a rough measure of the balance between people who work and retirees.

The ratio compares the number of people over age 65 – classified as old – with those aged 15 to 64 – and it is not headed in a healthy direction: by 2040, there will be 2.7 working-age Americans for each retiree, down from 4.8 in 2010.

That number from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta points toward a shortfall of workers available to support an aging population, and it is cited often to justify doom-and-gloom warnings about economic growth, federal spending and the health of our social insurance programs.

But do not tell that to Chris Farrell. The senior economics contributor to “Marketplace,” American Public Media’s nationally syndicated public radio business and economic program is bullish on aging. Farrell is the author of a new book, “Purpose and a Paycheck: Finding Meaning, Money, and Happiness in the Second Half of Life,” that seeks to upend a range of myths about old age and dependency, replacing them with a new vision of contribution to society and purpose-driven living.

He argues the case with convincing economic analysis and on-the-ground reporting – interviewing dozens of older workers finding their way forward in the labor market, and profiling companies on the leading edge of change.

For starters, he notes that the dependency ratio itself is deeply flawed because it assumes everyone over age 64 has left the workforce – and increasingly, that is not the case. Participation in the labor force by older workers has been rising steadily in recent years. Farrell cites U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures showing that from 1995 to 2016, the share of men ages 65 to 69 in the labor force rose from 28 percent to 38 percent; for women, the figure jumped from 18 percent to 30 percent.

“I’m convinced there is a large segment of people out there who think we all just go from age 60 to 90 in one year, Farrell told me in an interview. And when you look at all the research coming out of Wall Street and many economists, their perspective is not that much different.”

RESHAPING THE ECONOMY

Farrell sees the aging of the U.S. population not as a problem, but a major opportunity to create a more inclusive society and vibrant economy. He argues that a more engaged older population will shape everyday life – everything from housing markets to public transportation, urban design and healthcare.

“We have this image of the way life unfolds – you go to school, work and raise children and then retire somewhere else,” he said. “Plenty of our institutions have reflected that. But as people work longer and stay in urban areas longer, the impact will be profound – just for one example, older people tend to want public transportation – and so do younger people.”

Farrell’s analysis of the labor market for older workers is especially provocative. The Great Recession ushered in a decade of high U.S. unemployment rates for millions who found themselves shut out of the job market by age discrimination. And age discrimination is alive and well.

For example, a recent analysis of data from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study by ProPublica and the Urban Institute found that 56 percent of older workers are laid off at least once or leave jobs under such financially damaging circumstances that it’s likely they were pushed out rather than choosing to go voluntarily. The report also found that just one in 10 of these workers earn as much as they did before their job losses.

Farrell acknowledges that discrimination remains a tough problem, but he argues we are at an inflection point where employers will be forced to accommodate older workers due to the overall tight labor market. “It’s not that employers have suddenly become enlightened, but they will have to look at older workers with a different eye and think about hiring differently,” he said. “Do they want to fulfill their missions and grow their businesses, or not?”

Farrell tells the stories of dozens of experienced workers and later-life entrepreneurs who are forging new paths in their sixties, seventies and beyond. He also digs up plenty of examples of companies that are rethinking their approaches to accommodating older workers.

A small Minnesota precision machine company facing a thin pipeline of skilled machinists has invested in new equipment to reduce the physical strain on older workers so they can stick around longer. A healthcare company in Virginia changed the way it calculates pension benefits to avoid penalizing workers who cut back to part-time hours close to retirement.

“I really believe we’ve crossed the Rubicon on this problem,” he said. “Older workers just will be looked at differently – we’ve crossed a line and can’t go back.”

(Reporting and writing by Mark Miller in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Hours after U.S. troops killed in Syria, Pence says Islamic State defeated

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks to the news media outside the West Wing with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD) after a meeting with President Donald Trump and congressional leadership about the partial government shutdown at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 9, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

By Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Islamic State has been defeated in Syria, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday, hours after Americans were killed in a northern Syria bomb attack claimed by the militant group.

Pence did not mention the attack in his address to 184 chiefs of U.S. diplomatic missions who gather annually in Washington from around the world to discuss foreign policy strategy.

“The caliphate has crumbled and ISIS has been defeated,” Pence told the U.S. ambassadors and other senior American diplomats, referring to Islamic State.

In separate statements later, both the White House and Pence condemned the attack and expressed sympathy for the deaths of the U.S. personnel.

The Pentagon said two U.S. servicemembers, a Department of Defense civilian employee and one contractor working for the military were killed and three servicemembers were injured in the blast in the northern Syria town of Manbij.

An Islamic State-affiliated website said the attack was the work of a suicide bomber.

Trump made a surprise announcement on Dec. 19 that he would withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria after concluding that Islamic State had been defeated there. His decision led to the resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who cited policy differences with the president for his departure.

FILE PHOTO: A Syrian national flag flutters next to the Islamic State's slogan at a roundabout where executions were carried out by ISIS militants in the city of Palmyra, in Homs Governorate, Syria in this April 1, 2016 file photo. Omar Sanadiki/Files/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A Syrian national flag flutters next to the Islamic State’s slogan at a roundabout where executions were carried out by ISIS militants in the city of Palmyra, in Homs Governorate, Syria in this April 1, 2016 file photo. Omar Sanadiki/Files/File Photo

LACK OF PROGRESS

Despite talks of a second leaders’ summit between Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, Pence acknowledged that efforts to convince Pyonyang to give up its nuclear arsenal had not made headway.

“While the president is promising dialogue with Chairman Kim we still await concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle the nuclear weapons that threaten our people and our allies in the region,” he said.

The vice president also criticized China’s “unfair” trade practices and loans to developing countries that pushed up their debt levels as it tries to gain greater influence in the world.

“The truth is that too often in recent years China has chosen a path that disregards the laws and norms that have kept the world state prosperous for more than half a century,” he said. “The days of the United States looking the other way are over,” he added.

Pence said the administration’s foreign policy was based on Trump’s “America First” agenda. “No longer will the United States government pursue grandiose, unrealistic notions at the expense of American people,” he said.

He acknowledged that Trump’s foreign policy was “different from what the world has come to expect” and that the United States faced different threats than during the Cold War.

“Today we are not up against one superpower but several great powers competing with us for preeminence across the world,” he said, saying the United States faced a “wolf pack” of rogue states including Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman)