Trump rebukes aide Navarro for attacking popular Fauci

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump issued a rare rebuke of his senior adviser Peter Navarro on Tuesday, saying Navarro should not have written a scathing opinion piece about Anthony Fauci, a top government coronavirus expert who is hugely popular.

Navarro, a trade adviser who at times has expanded his reach within the Trump White House, launched an attack on Fauci in an article for USA Today.

“Dr. Anthony Fauci has a good bedside manner with the public, but he has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on,” Navarro wrote.

The initial lack of a push-back from the White House for the article fed a belief that Navarro’s article was supported at the top levels of the White House.

But departing for a trip to Atlanta, Trump was asked whether Navarro had gone rogue.

“Well he made a statement representing himself. He shouldn’t be doing that. No, I have a very good relationship with Anthony,” Trump said.

A White House official said Trump did not endorse Navarro’s op-ed and that Navarro was told “explicitly in recent days to de-escalate the situation.” The official said that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is “fully engaged” on the matter and that Meadows thought Navarro’s article was “unacceptable.”

Fauci is a member of the government’s coronavirus task force led by Vice President Mike Pence. The 79-year-old infectious diseases expert aided the search to treat the HIV disease in the 1980’s and is a revered figure for not letting politics intrude on his judgment.

“We’re all on the same team, including Dr. Fauci,” Trump said. “We all want to get rid of this mess.”

Tensions between Trump and Fauci have emerged at times with the president focused on getting Americans back to work and school while Fauci has urged caution to prevent the spread of infection.

Fauci, in an interview with The Atlantic, said the White House’s recent attacks have been a “major mistake on their part.”

“I can’t explain Peter Navarro. He’s in a world by himself,” Fauci said.

He said he had not spoken with Trump “in a while,” but had been working with Pence on the U.S. struggle to gain control of the virus.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Howard Goller)

New U.S. CDC school reopening guidelines promised after Trump complains

By Doina Chiacu and Daphne Psaledakis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to issue new guidelines for reopening schools, Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday, after President Donald Trump criticized the agency’s recommendations as too expensive and impractical.

Trump, a Republican who is seeking re-election in November, accused Democrats of wanting to keep schools shut for political reasons and threatened to cut off federal funding to schools that do not reopen, despite a surge in coronavirus cases.

“I disagree with @CDCgov on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools. While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!” Trump said on Twitter.

Flanked by top administration health and education officials, Pence said the CDC next week will issue a “new set of tools … to give more clarity on the guidance going forward.

“The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” Pence said at a White House coronavirus task force briefing at the Department of Education.

CDC Director Robert Redfield stressed that agency guidelines were not requirements.

“It would be personally very disappointing to me, and I know my agency, if we saw that individuals were using these guidelines as a rationale for not reopening our schools,” Redfield said.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told reporters the White House did not pressure the CDC to revise its recommendations.

The CDC has made a number of recommendations for schools, including testing for COVID-19, dividing students into small groups, serving packaged lunches in classrooms instead of cafeterias, and minimizing sharing of school supplies.

It has advised that seats be spaced at least six feet apart and that sneeze guards and partitions be put in place when social distancing is not possible.

Administration officials said local leaders would tailor their decisions on how schools reopen.

“Ultimately it’s not a matter of if schools should reopen, it’s simply a matter of how. They must fully open,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said.

States are responsible for primary and secondary education under the U.S. Constitution, but some have been holding off on deciding when and how to open schools, concerned about the resurgence of coronavirus across the country.

The U.S. outbreak has crossed the 3 million mark in confirmed cases, with a death toll of 131,336, according to a Reuters tally.

“The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!” Trump said on Twitter.

Acknowledging that the lion’s share of school funding comes from states, Pence said that the administration would work with Congress to look for ways “to give states a strong incentive and encouragement to get kids back to school.”

“It’s time for us to get our kids back to school,” he said.

The federal government provides some supplementary funding for schools, including through congressional appropriations. With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, any effort to curtail funding is sure to face roadblocks.

McEnany said Trump is “looking at potential redirecting (of funding) to make sure it goes to the student and it is most likely tied to the student and not to a district where schools are closed.”

Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said school re-openings were necessary for the U.S. economic recovery. Business and conservative groups have said parents need to get back to work.

On Tuesday, Trump said he would pressure state governors to open schools in the fall.

However, the surge in U.S. cases has raised concerns about the increased risk of children spreading the virus to vulnerable adults at home as well as to older teachers and school staff.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the federal government has no authority on schools and his state will announce its reopening plans in the first week of August.

In neighboring New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy said he planned to reopen state schools in the fall, but reserved the right to “tweak that if it means saving lives.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall)

Trump says ‘may cut off funding’ if U.S. schools do not open

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened to cut off funding to schools that do not open in the fall and criticized a federal health agency’s guidelines for reopening schools as “very tough & expensive.”

The Republican president, who is seeking re-election in November, accused Democrats of wanting to keep schools shut for political reasons, despite a surge in coronavirus cases across the country.

“The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!” Trump said on Twitter, pointing to schools reopening in some European countries with no problems.

It was not clear what specific federal aid the Republican president had in mind. States are responsible for primary and secondary education under the U.S. Constitution, but the federal government provides some supplementary funding.

Trump also took aim at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation’s health protection agency whose director sits on the White House coronavirus task force.

“I disagree with @CDCgov on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools. While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!” Trump said in a separate Twitter post.

The White House did not elaborate on which CDC guidelines Trump took issue with.

The CDC has recommended a number of considerations for schools, including testing, dividing students into small groups, serving packaged lunches in classrooms instead of cafeterias, and minimizing sharing of school supplies. It advised sneeze guards and partitions be put in place when social distancing is not possible, and that seats be spaced at least six feet apart.

“It’s time for us to get our kids back to school,” Vice President Mike Pence said after a White House coronavirus task force meeting at the Department of Education on Wednesday.

Pence said the CDC plans to issue new guidelines on schools and stressed the agency’s guidelines were not meant to replace local school considerations and decision-making.

On Tuesday, Trump held meetings about school re-openings at the White House and said he would pressure state governors to open schools in the fall.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo retorted on Wednesday that the federal government has no authority on schools and his state will announce reopening plans in the first week of August.

Business and conservative groups have urged reopening schools safely as important to getting parents back to work and reviving the U.S. economy.

Educators say socialization and other benefits such as school food programs are critically important. Experts have also shown online learning exacerbates the divide between poorer and more wealthy Americans, who have greater access to technology.

The alarming surge in cases in the United States, however, has raised concerns about the increased risk of spread of the virus by children to vulnerable adults at home as well as to older teachers and school staff.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said on Wednesday he planned to reopen state schools in the fall, but reserved the right to “tweak that if it means saving lives.”

In Los Angeles, the top public health official said the planned reopening of primary and secondary schools in the fall is at risk. “Every single school district at this point needs to have plans in place to continue distance learning for 100% of the time,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told officials in a private conference call reported by the Los Angeles Times.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

Televangelists, Dallas megachurch that hosted Pence approved for millions in pandemic aid

By Chris Prentice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Dallas megachurch whose pastor has been a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump was approved for a forgivable loan worth $2 million to $5 million, according to long-awaited government data released on Monday.

Vice President Mike Pence spoke at a rally last month at the First Baptist Church of Dallas, whose pastor, Robert Jeffress, has been on Trump’s evangelical advisory board.

It was among the tens of thousands of religious organizations that received a total of $7.3 billion in pandemic aid from the Small Business Administration.

The list of religious organizations approved for about 88,400 small business loans also included Joyce Meyer Ministries Inc, a Missouri church which in 2007-2011 was investigated by the Senate over its finances. That church was approved for $5 million to $10 million – the largest sum an individual entity could apply for.

Neither organization immediately responded to requests for comment on the loans. Joyce Meyer fully cooperated with the Senate investigation and agreed to join the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

Monday’s data released by the U.S. Treasury Department and Small Business Administration (SBA) named borrowers that were approved for loans of $150,000 or more under the $660 billion Paycheck Protection Program.

The data showed religious organizations accounting for more than 1 million of the 51.1 million jobs protected by the high profile program. The list of named religious organizations was heavily skewed toward Christian denominations, according to a Reuters analysis.

Launched on April 3, the Paycheck Protection Program allows small businesses, non-profits and individuals hurt by the pandemic to apply for a forgivable government-backed loan.

Critics of the program’s rules, though, say it is unconstitutional for religious groups to receive taxpayer funds because America’s founders, in a bid to preserve religious freedom for all, envisaged a strict separation between church and state.

“Going back to the founding of our country, one of the major principles is that no one should be forced to be taxed to propagate the religious ideas of another person,” said Alison Gill, vice president of legal and policy at religious equality watchdog American Atheists.

Among the other 19 religious organizations to be approved for between $5 million and $10 million was Oklahoma-based Life.Church Operations LLC. Its pastor Bobby Gruenewald said in response to Reuters questions that he was grateful that churches were able to qualify for the loans, but did not say how much his church got or whether it will seek loan forgiveness.

Also in the $5 million-$10 million bracket were the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino, California, which has publicly acknowledged its role in a decades-old sexual abuse scandal, and Willow Creek Community Church Inc. in Illinois. In 2018, the Chicago Tribune, citing court records, reported that Willow Creek paid $3.25 million to settle lawsuits alleging a church volunteer sexually abused children. Willow Creek did not respond immediately to request for comment.

A spokesman for San Bernardino diocese said its entities received about $8.5 million which were used to pay staff wages and utility costs, and that the diocese expects to seek loan forgiveness.

(Reporting by Chris Prentice; Additional reporting by Koh Gui Qing and Brad Heath; Editing by Michelle Price, Tom Lasseter and Gerry Doyle)

U.S. Vice President Pence supports governors pausing re-openings

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday he supported governors who are pausing their states’ re-openings during the coronavirus pandemic, but sees no need for a national mandate for people to wear masks.

Pence also said he believed schools could reopen on time in the fall and that the United States would keep opening up after the coronavirus pandemic that shut down the economy for several months.

The vice president made the remarks before a visit to hard-hit Florida, which shattered records on Thursday when it reported over 10,000 new coronavirus cases, the biggest one-day increase in the state since the pandemic started, according to a Reuters tally.

“I don’t think there’s a need for a national mandate,” Pence said in an interview with CNBC.

“The truth is that we’re monitoring right now 12 states that have rising cases and rising positivity and we’re fully supporting efforts that governors are taking and local health officials are taking to encourage people to practice good hygiene, social distancing, wear a mask when social distancing is not possible.”

Pence said that the rise in coronavirus cases across Sunbelt states in recent weeks – California, Arizona, Texas and Florida – reflects younger Americans beginning to congregate in settings where the virus can spread.

He said he and President Donald Trump support efforts by governors of those states “to modify or pause aspects of their reopening.”

To contain the outbreak, Florida closed bars and some beaches, but the governor has resisted requiring masks statewide in public or reimposing a lock-down.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Exclusive: U.S. considers discouraging some travelers from cruises – sources

By David Shepardson, Alexandra Alper and Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is considering ways to discourage U.S. travelers from taking cruises as part of a broader Trump administration effort to limit the spread of coronavirus, according to four officials familiar with the situation.

The officials, who asked to remain anonymous, said no decision had been made. The discussions were taking place ahead of a meeting this weekend between Vice President Mike Pence, who is in charge of leading the U.S. response to the coronavirus, and the cruise industry.

The administration could advise some or all U.S. travelers to temporarily avoid taking cruises in the face of a growing number of coronavirus cases on cruise ships or potentially impose travel restrictions related to cruises, officials said.

Pence’s office did not immediately comment.

Shares of cruise operators in U.S. trading turned negative after the Reuters report. Carnival Corp  and Royal Caribbean  shares dropped nearly 2% and Norwegian Cruise Lines  stock was down nearly 1%.

Shares in Royal Caribbean Cruises, Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings have fallen around 50% since January.

U.S. President Donald Trump signed a bill on Friday allocating $8.3 billion to bolster the country’s capacity to test for the new coronavirus and fund other measures to stem an outbreak that has now infected some 100,000 people worldwide.

Democrats have said Trump – a Republican who faces re-election on Nov. 3 – has not adequately prepared the country for the possibility of a pandemic.

Trump said during a visit to a tornado-stricken area in Tennessee on Friday that his administration was exploring options to help airlines and other industries hurt by the coronavirus outbreak, according to a pool report. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow also told CNBC that the administration was considering “targeted and timely” tax relief for such industries.

DEBATING MEASURES

Trump said on Friday that he had spoken to Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsom about a cruise ship that was barred from docking in San Francisco after at least 35 people developed flu-like symptoms. The ship has been linked to two confirmed cases of the illness caused by the virus.

The administration is urgently debating measures aimed at reducing outbreaks on board cruise ships with several officials confirming the administration has reviewed potential restrictions on U.S. cruise ship travel.

Officials differed on whether the dramatic step of temporarily barring new cruises was being seriously considered. Cruise lines in recent days have liberalized cancellation and rebooking policies and some cruise travelers reported ships are traveling with far less than maximum capacity.

The Cruise Lines International Association said this week cruise lines would take steps to limit coronavirus concerns, denying boarding to all persons who had traveled from hot spots including South Korea, Iran, China and parts of Italy. The group also said cruise lines would conduct illness screening for U.S. citizens who have recently visited those destinations.

The cruise industry contributed nearly $53 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018 and generated more than 420,000 jobs, according to an analysis by the association.

Senior Trump administration officials discussed the cruise ship issue on Thursday and expected to revisit it during a meeting on Friday, according to a White House official.

The official called the ships “huge incubators” and said older cruise ship passengers could be especially vulnerable.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said its current information suggests that older people and people with severe chronic health conditions such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, have a higher risk of developing a serious illness as a result of the virus.

The U.S. State Department said in guidance last month that Americans should reconsider travel on cruise ships in Asia due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The department said the situation remained “dynamic” and that any travel by ship could be subject to restrictions and quarantine by local authorities.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Alexandra Alper and Ted Hesson in Washington; Editing by Chris Sanders and Howard Goller)

World leaders at Jerusalem conference condemn rising anti-Semitism

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – World leaders voiced alarm at resurgent anti-Semitism on Thursday as they gathered at Israel’s national Holocaust Memorial to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence also castigated Iran in their speeches to the World Holocaust Forum, accusing it of rabid anti-Semitism and of seeking Israel’s destruction.

Leaders of Russia and France looked closer to home in lamenting the killing of six million Jews in Europe during World War Two by the Nazis and vowing to combat rising anti-Semitism.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the conference at the Yad Vashem memorial center that he bowed his head in “deepest sorrow (for) the worst crime in the history of humanity” committed by his countrymen.

“I wish I could say that we Germans have learned from history once and for all. But I cannot say that when hatred is spreading,” he said.

Steinmeier spoke in English rather than in German, a choice made, his office said, to avoid causing any distress to Holocaust survivors in the audience.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said it was vital to oppose xenophobia and anti-Semitism everywhere.

“You just said that it’s not known where anti-Semitism ends,” Putin told Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at a meeting before the conference convened.

“Unfortunately we do know this – Auschwitz is its end-result.”

A global survey https://global100.adl.org/about/2019 by the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League in November found that global anti-Semitic attitudes had increased, and significantly so in Eastern and Central Europe. It found that large percentages of people in many European countries think Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.

More than one million people, most of them Jews, were killed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Israel hailed the memorial conference, attended by more than 40 world leaders, as the biggest international gathering in its history.

IRAN DENOUNCED

In his speech to the forum, Netanyahu denounced Iran as “the most anti-Semitic regime on the planet” and vowed that Israel would always defend itself against those out to destroy it.

Netanyahu has long accused Iran of seeking nuclear weapons, an allegation it denies.

Pence, in his comments, described Iran as the one country “that denies the Holocaust as a matter of state policy and threatens to wipe Israel off the map”.

Other guests at the commemoration included French President Emmanuel Macron and Britain’s Prince Charles.

Warning of the “dark shadow of anti-Semitism”, Macron met French survivors of the Holocaust at a memorial near Jerusalem to some 76,000 Jews arrested in wartime France and transported to death camps such as Auschwitz, where most died.

One notable absentee from Thursday’s commemoration was President Andrzej Duda of Poland, who turned down his invitation because Poland he was not allowed to speak at the conference, unlike the wartime victors the United States, Russia, Britain and France, and also Germany.

Polish leaders have also been angered by comments made by Putin last month suggesting Poland shared responsibility for the war. Poland, which was invaded first by Nazi Germany and then by Soviet forces in September, 1939, sees itself as a major victim of the war, in which it lost a fifth of its population.

Poland will host its own ceremony at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum on Jan. 27, as it does every year.

(Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak in Warsaw, Darya Korsunskaya in Jerusalem and Sabine Siebold in Berlin; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Pence tells Hong Kong protesters in China speech: ‘We stand with you’

Pence tells Hong Kong protesters in China speech: ‘We stand with you’
By Alexandra Alper

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday accused China of curtailing “rights and liberties” in Hong Kong in a wide-ranging critique of Beijing’s behavior but also insisted that the United States does not seek confrontation or to “de-couple” from its main economic rival.

Pence delivered a major policy address on China just ahead of a new round of talks aimed at resolving a bitter trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.

“No longer will America and its leaders hope that economic engagement alone will transform Communist China’s authoritarian state into a free and open society that respects private property, the rule of law, and the international rules of commerce,” he said.

Pence took China to task over its handling of pro-democracy protests that have rocked Hong Kong for more than four months. President Donald Trump has warned previously that it would be harder for Washington to make a trade deal with Beijing if there were violence in the former British colony.

“Hong Kong is a living example of what can happen when China embraces liberty,” he said. “And yet, for the last few years, Beijing has increased its interventions in Hong Kong and engaged in actions that curtail the rights and liberties that Hong Kong’s people were guaranteed through a binding international agreement.”

He said the United States stands with the protesters in Hong Kong.

“We stand with you, we are inspired by you. We urge you to stay on the path of non-violent protest,” Pence said.

U.S. lawmakers are pushing legislation that would put Hong Kong’s special status under tighter scrutiny, which would anger Beijing.

TRADE TALKS

The closely watched speech to a Washington think tank comes ahead of a new round of talks between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his counterparts on Friday and was being seen as a gauge of how tough the Trump administration is prepared to get with China on a wide range of issues.

Pence, who has often struck a hawkish tone on China, spoke just weeks before Trump is due to attend a summit in Chile where he has said he hopes to close a “phase one” trade deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Fears of antagonizing Beijing prompted the White House in June to postpone the speech ahead of a meeting between the leaders aimed at getting trade talks back on track.

Pence said that United States is “not seeking to contain China’s development” “We want a constructive relationship with China’s leaders,” he said, calling on China to “seize this unique moment in history to start anew by ending the trade practices that have taken advantage of the American people for far too long.”

Pence on Thursday sharply criticized China for its treatment of Muslim Uighurs in the Xinjiang region.

Earlier this month, the United States imposed visa restrictions on Chinese government and Communist Party officials it believes responsible for the detention or abuse of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

U.S. authorities this month also included Chinese video surveillance firm Hikvision on a trade blacklist for its alleged role in the Uighur crackdown.

Lawmakers such as Republican Senator Marco Rubio have also slammed Chinese companies for boycotting the NBA after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey expressed solidarity with Hong Kong protesters.

Pence sharply criticized the basketball association for how it has handled the controversy.

“In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of the authoritarian regime,” Pence said.

That spat played out amid unexpected progress in U.S.-China trade talks to end a 15-month trade war that has roiled markets and damaged global growth. The United States launched the trade war over allegations of unfair trading practices such as theft of U.S. intellectual property and generous industrial subsidies at the expense of foreign competitors.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Additional reporting by David Lawder and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Pence meets Erdogan to urge halt to Turkey’s Syria offensive

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrives at Esenboga International Airport in Ankara, Turkey, October 17, 2019. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

Pence meets Erdogan to urge halt to Turkey’s Syria offensive
By Orhan Coskun and Humeyra Pamuk

ANKARA (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met President Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey on Thursday on a mission to persuade him to halt an offensive against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria, but Turkish officials said the action would continue regardless.

The assault has created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with 200,000 civilians taking flight, a security alert over thousands of Islamic State fighters abandoned in Kurdish jails, and a political maelstrom at home for President Donald Trump.

Trump has been accused of abandoning Kurdish-led fighters, Washington’s main partners in the battle to dismantle Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria, by withdrawing troops from the border as Ankara launched its offensive on Oct. 9.

Trump defended his move on Wednesday as “strategically brilliant”. He said he thought Pence and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan would have a successful meeting, but warned of sanctions and tariffs that “will be devastating to Turkey’s economy” otherwise.

The White House released a letter from Trump to Erdogan from Oct. 9 that said: “Don’t be a tough guy” and “Don’t be a fool!” Turkish broadcaster CNN Turk said Turkey had rejected Trump’s appeal to reach a deal to avoid conflict and the letter was “thrown in the trash”.

A Turkish official told Reuters: “The letter Trump sent did not have the impact he expected in Turkey because it had nothing to take seriously.

“What is clear is that Turkey does not want a terrorist organization on its border and the operation will not stop because of the reaction that has been coming.”

Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not speak to reporters before the start of the meeting with Erdogan, but the official said they were likely to convey the same U.S. demands, adding: “However, negotiating with a terrorist organization or turning back from the ongoing operation are not on the agenda.”

On Monday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CNBC that the United States was prepared to levy additional sanctions on if necessary “to keep Turkey in line”.

A top aide to Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, said Turkey’s foreign ministry was preparing to retaliate for the sanctions by its NATO ally.

UNTIL GOALS MET

Erdogan has dismissed the sanctions and rejected a global chorus of calls to halt the offensive, which Turkey says will create a “safe zone” extending 20 miles (32 km) into northeast Syria to ensure the return of millions of Syrian refugees and clear the area of Kurdish militia Ankara views as terrorists.

Turkey will end its operation when Kurdish forces withdraw from the “safe zone” and “no power” can deter the operation until it reaches its goals, the Turkish leader said.

Trump has defended his move to withdraw troops from Syria as part of a wider effort to bring U.S. soldiers home from “endless wars”, despite criticism by members of his own Republican Party.

Turkey’s operation has allowed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to send his Russian-backed forces to an area that had been beyond his control for years in the more than eight-year-old Syrian war.

It also prompted the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), of which the Kurdish YPG is the main component, to strike a deal with Damascus for its help in countering Turkish forces.

Russia has promised Turkey that the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia targeted by the offensive will not be in the Syrian territories across the border, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the BBC on Thursday.

Earlier in the day, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said Syria should get control over its border with Turkey as part of any settlement of the conflict in the region.

Assad vowed that Syria would respond to the Turkish offensive on any part of its territory with “all legitimate means” available, Syrian state media said on Thursday.

Ankara views the U.S.-backed YPG as a terrorist organization because of its link to Kurdish militants waging an insurgency inside Turkey, and had been infuriated by Washington’s support.

A Reuters cameraman along the Turkish border with Syria said clashes continued around the border town of Ras al Ain on Thursday and that Turkish warplanes were flying overhead after a lull in fighting overnight.

Ankara had previously said it has taken control of Ras al Ain and Tel Abyad, two key towns along the frontier.

The region’s Kurdish-led authority called for a corridor “to evacuate dead and wounded civilians” from Ras al-Ain. It said people were trapped in the town, urging foreign powers including the U.S.-led coalition and Russia, to intervene to get them out.

Syrian troops accompanied by Russian forces have meanwhile entered Kobani, a strategic border city and potential flashpoint for a wider conflict, said the British-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen TV reported that Russian-backed Syrian forces had also set up outposts in Raqqa, the one-time capital of Islamic State’s caliphate, which the Kurds captured in 2017 at the peak of their campaign with U.S. support.

Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV said from the Tabqa military air base near Raqqa that Syrian government troops had advanced in that area.

“We entered the Tabqa military airport easily, there was no difficulty,” an army officer told the channel from the base, where Islamic State fighters executed scores of Syrian troops and circulated a video of their corpses in 2014.

Soldiers entered Tabqa and nearby villages on Monday, state media said, a deployment that restored the state’s foothold in that part of Syria for the first time in years.

With U.S. air power and special forces, the SDF had battled for weeks in 2017 to take Tabqa and a nearby hydroelectric dam – the country’s largest dam – from Islamic State.

CIVILIAN CASUALTIES

The Kurdish-led administration in the region said theTurkish offensive had killed 218 civilians, including 18 children since it started a week ago. The fighting has also wounded more than 650 people, it said.

Turkish authorities say 20 people have been killed in Turkey by bombardment from Syria, including eight people who were killed in a mortar attack on the town of Nusaybin by YPG militants on Friday, according to the local governor’s office.

In Geneva, humanitarian agencies said they were struggling to meet the needs of up to 200,000 civilians who had fled the fighting and reported water shortages in the Syrian city of Hasaka.

The operation has also created a land-rush between Turkey and Russia – now the undisputed foreign powers in the area – to partition Kurdish areas that were formerly under U.S protection.

Russia, Assad’s most powerful ally, has called the offensive “unacceptable” and said it must be limited in time and scale.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Ellen Francis in Beirut and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Dominic Evans and Mark Heinrich)

U.S. holds out for more from Mexico in talks over tariffs, border

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Mexican and U.S. officials are set to resume talks on trade and migration on Thursday, with the United States resisting calls from its southern neighbor, businesses and some Republican lawmakers to ease up on a plan to impose import tariffs on Mexico.

Vice President Mike Pence, who led an initial round of negotiations in Washington on Wednesday, said talks were positive but emphasized the Trump administration still wants Mexico to commit to working harder to combat illegal immigration.

“We welcomed the efforts of the Mexican officials to offer solutions to the crisis at our southern border, but we need Mexico to do more,” Pence said on Thursday.

He was echoing President Donald Trump, who said on Wednesday that “not nearly enough” progress was made in the first round of talks, and warned that the tariffs would go into effect on Monday if Mexico cannot help stem the flow of mostly Central American migrants heading for the U.S. border.

Last week, Trump said Mexico must take a harder line on migrants or face 5% tariffs on all its exports to the United States from June 10, rising to as much as 25% later this year.

The unexpected announcement rattled global financial markets and even Trump’s fellow Republicans fretted about the potential economic impact on U.S. businesses and consumers who would have to absorb the costs.

MEXICO ECONOMY

Mexico would also take an economic hit that analysts warn could spark a recession. Credit ratings agency Fitch downgraded Mexico’s sovereign debt rating on Wednesday, citing trade tensions among other risks, while Moody’s lowered its outlook to negative.

Staff-level meetings are scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Thursday with Mexican officials at the White House, a White House official said. Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard earlier had meetings at the U.S. State Department.

The immigration issue came into sharper focus on Wednesday with news that U.S. border officers said they apprehended more than 132,000 people crossing from Mexico in May, the highest monthly total in more than a decade and reaching what officials said were “crisis” levels.

German bond yields fell to new lows on Thursday and U.S. treasury yields resumed their fall as trade tensions doused a rally fueled by hopes for more central bank stimulus ahead of a European Central Bank meeting. [US/]

Sentiment had soured on a lack of progress in talks between U.S. and Mexican officials, and Trump issuing a fresh threat to hit China with tariffs on at least another $300 billion worth of goods.

With Trump on a trip to Europe until Friday night, a quick agreement in the U.S.-Mexico talks is not anticipated by the U.S. side, although Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador struck a positive note.

“The U.S. authorities have behaved very well, (including) President Trump, because they haven’t closed themselves off to dialogue and we hope that a deal is reached today,” he told a news conference on Thursday.

Nevertheless, Mexican officials have prepared a list of U.S. products that may face retaliatory tariffs if talks do not end in agreement.

The tariffs would target U.S. products from agricultural and industrial states regarded as Trump’s electoral base, a tactic China has also used with an eye toward the Republican’s re-election bid in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Mexico ramped up efforts to halt the flow of Central American migrants crossing the border to the United States on Wednesday, with Mexican soldiers, armed police and immigration officials blocking migrants along its own southern border with Guatemala.

It was unclear whether the hardening of Mexico’s response would appease Trump, who is struggling to make good on his key 2016 presidential campaign promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a hard-line immigration stance.

Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican chairman of the finance committee, had expressed hope on Wednesday of a quick deal with Mexico but he was more cautious on Thursday.

“The fact that there wasn’t any agreement probably isn’t surprising as long as they are going to be here two or three days,” said Grassley, one of several Republican lawmakers who have expressed concern about imposing tariffs on Mexico.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington; Additional reporting by Alexandra Alper, Susan Cornwell and Lesley Wroughton in Washington and Anthony Esposito and Diego Ore in Mexico City; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Bernadette Baum and James Dalgleish)