Climate activists block traffic in U.S. capital, chain themselves to sailboat

By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Activists seeking to pressure U.S. politicians to fight climate change blocked major traffic hubs in the U.S. capital on Monday – chaining themselves to a sailboat in one location – as they sought to draw attention to a U.N. Climate Summit that will be attended by leaders from about 60 countries.

Those attending the summit in New York will include the leaders of small island states most at risk from rising sea levels and companies expected to make fresh pledges to cut emissions of greenhouse gases.

Activists targeted four locations, including Farragut Square in downtown Washington, Columbus Circle, near the Union Station train terminal and at Folger Park on Capitol Hill.

Just north of the White House, at 16th Street and K Street, activists pushed a small sailboat into the middle of the intersection and chained themselves to it. Police arrived with a power saw to free the protesters, draping them with heavy blankets to protect them from flying sparks, and called a truck to haul the boat away.

About 200 protesters chanted nearby: “It’s dire, It’s dire, the house is on fire!”

“I’m fighting for our future because if things continue as they are with fossil fuel extractive industries… increasing greenhouse gases there’s not going to be a good future for anyone,” said Arielle Welch, 23, a volunteer for the Sunrise Movement, a nonprofit group.

The protest, called Shut Down DC, was backed by about two dozen groups, including the Metro D.C. chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, Extinction Rebellion D.C. and Black Lives Matter D.C.

Washington metropolitan police said they were equipped to handle a demonstration of any size.

Extinction Rebellion, which says it is backed by hundreds of scientists, promotes non-violent civil disobedience to press governments to cut carbon emissions and avert a climate crisis it fears will bring starvation and social collapse.

Over 11 days in April, the group disrupted parts of London, stopping trains and defacing the building of energy giant Shell.

Protesters aim to pressure U.S. government employees, who are helping to make Washington an obstacle in international climate negotiations, said Kaela Bamberger, a spokeswoman for Extinction Rebellion, D.C.

President Donald Trump, who is not scheduled to attend the U.N. climate meeting and intends to pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris accord, has rolled back Obama-era rules on emission cuts and wants to maximize U.S. energy output.

Monday’s protest also seeks to support the strikes of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who traveled to New York in a sailboat and is participating in the U.N. summit.

“I don’t want to be here really, but I have to… I don’t have a choice,” said Maria, a 15-year-old high school student from Virginia who skipped school and did not want to give her last name.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler)

President Trump presides over July 4th holiday with military show

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump smiles as he as walks on the South Lawn of the White House upon his return to Washington from South Korea, U.S., June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will preside over July Fourth Independence Day celebrations on Thursday with a speech about patriotism and a show of military might that critics say is politicizing an important holiday and wasting taxpayer money.

Trump, a Republican who admired flashy displays of national pride and military strength put on by France, has dismissed concerns about the expense and militaristic overtones of the Washington event, which will take place in front of the Lincoln Memorial and feature fireworks, a flyover by Air Force One and a display of tanks.

Democrats charge the president with staging a campaign rally. Though the White House has said his remarks would not be political in nature, the president has a history of veering off script with sharp partisan attacks even at events that are not meant to be overtly political.

“People are coming from far and wide to join us today and tonight for what is turning out to be one of the biggest celebrations in the history of our Country,” Trump tweeted on Thursday morning.

He is set to give a speech at 6:30 p.m. ET (2230 GMT), followed by fireworks later in the evening. Asked earlier this week if he could give a speech that would represent all Americans, he said he thought he could and then launched into an attack on Democrats’ policies on healthcare and taxes.

Flights will be suspended at nearby Reagan National Airport from 6:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET (2215 to 2345 GMT) and then again later in the evening for the festivities. “Perhaps even Air Force One will do a low & loud sprint over the crowd,” Trump tweeted, encouraging people to get there early.

Some at the White House were worried about the crowd size, according to an administration official. Trump fumed about reports in 2017 that the crowd at his inauguration ceremony on the National Mall in front of the U.S. Capitol was smaller than it was for President Barack Obama. The Lincoln Memorial is at the opposite end of the monument-covered Mall.

Republican political groups were given prime tickets for Trump’s speech, and the Washington Post reported that the U.S. National Park Service diverted $2.5 million in park entrance fees to help pay for the event.

“Instead of addressing something like veteran homelessness, he’s spending it on boosting his ego with a parade that’s fundamentally about him and then getting tickets in the hands of wealthy donors for the Republican Party. What a waste of money,” Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro said on CBS “This Morning” on Wednesday.

Fellow Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders also weighed in with criticism: “This is what authoritarians do: @realDonaldTrump is taking $2.5 million away from our National Park Service to glorify himself with a spectacle of military tanks rolling through Washington,” he wrote in a tweet.

Trump downplayed the expense.

“The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth. We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel,” he posted on Twitter on Wednesday. “We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats. Nice!” Andrews is the name of a nearby military base.

The July 4th holiday celebrates the U.S. founders’ declaring independence from Britain in 1776.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Steve Holland; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Washington white nationalist rally sputters in sea of counterprotesters

Counter-protesters march in front of white nationalists being escorted by police to a rally, marking the one year anniversary of the 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" protests, in Washington, D.C. August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Ginger Gibson and Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A white nationalist rally in the heart of Washington drew two dozen demonstrators and thousands of chanting counterprotesters on Sunday, the one-year anniversary of racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

A large police presence kept the two sides separated in Lafayette Square, in front of the White House. After two hours and a few speeches, the “Unite the Right 2” rally ended early when it began to rain and two police vans took the demonstrators back to Virginia.

Demonstrators hold hands at the site where Heather Heyer was killed, on the one year anniversary of 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" protests, in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyde

Demonstrators hold hands at the site where Heather Heyer was killed, on the one year anniversary of 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” protests, in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Sunday’s events, while tense at times, were a far cry from the street brawls that broke out in downtown Charlottesville a year ago when a local woman was killed by a man who drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.

“Unite the Right 2” had been denied a permit in Charlottesville this year but did secure one for Washington. Organizers had planned for up to 400 protesters.

At the head of the white nationalist group was Virginia activist Jason Kessler, who helped organize last year’s event in Charlottesville. He emerged with a handful of fellow demonstrators from a subway station holding an American flag and walked toward the White House ringed by police, while counterprotesters taunted the group and called them Nazis.

Dan Haught, a 54-year-old computer programmer from Washington, was attending his first protest at the White House holding a sign that said: “Back under your rocks you Nazi clowns.”

“We wanted to send a message to the world that we vastly outnumber them,” Haught said.

Police said that as of 6 p.m. ET (2200 GMT) they had made no arrests and would not give a crowd estimate. Late in the day, a small group of counter-protesters clashed with police in downtown Washington.

The violence last year in Charlottesville, sparked by white nationalists’ outrage over a plan to remove a Confederate general’s statue, convulsed the nation and sparked condemnation across the political spectrum. It also was one of the lowest moments of President Donald Trump’s first year in office.

At the time, Trump said there were “very fine people” on both sides, spurring criticism that he was equating the counter-protesters with the rally attendees, who included neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.

On Saturday, Trump condemned “all types of racism” in a Twitter post marking the anniversary.

People gather at Freedom Plaza to protest the white supremacist Unite the Right rally held in front of the White House on the one year anniversary of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, in downtown Washington, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Leah Millis

People gather at Freedom Plaza to protest the white supremacist Unite the Right rally held in front of the White House on the one year anniversary of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, in downtown Washington, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Leah Millis

ANTI-FASCISTS AND FAMILIES

Kessler said Sunday’s rally was aimed at advocating for “free speech for everybody,” and he blamed last year’s violence in Charlottesville on other groups and the media.

He thought Sunday’s rally went well in comparison.

“Everybody got the ability to speak and I think that was a major improvement over Charlottesville,” Kessler told Reuters. “It was a precedent that had to be set. It was more important than anything.”

The counterprotest which began earlier in the day was a smattering of diverse groups – from black-clad anti-fascists to supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement to families who brought children in strollers. Tourists took pictures and both protesters and observers zoomed around on electric scooters.

Sean Kratouil, a 17-year-old who lives in Maryland, was wearing a vest with “Antifa” on the back and said he was there to help start a movement of peaceful anti-fascists. He said he was concerned that when rallies turn violent, it makes his side look bad. “Public perception is key,” he said.

In the picturesque college town of Charlottesville, hundreds of police officers had maintained a security perimeter around the normally bustling downtown district throughout the day on Saturday. Vehicular traffic was barred from an area of more than 15 city blocks, while pedestrians were allowed access at two checkpoints where officers examined bags for weapons.

Hundreds of students and activists took to the streets on Saturday evening. Many of the protesters directed their anger at the heavy police presence, with chants like “cops and Klan go hand in hand,” a year after police were harshly criticized for their failure to prevent the violence.

On Sunday morning, activist Grace Aheron, 27, donned a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and joined hundreds of fellow Charlottesville residents who gathered at Booker T. Washington Park to mark the anniversary of last year’s bloodshed.

“We want to claim our streets back, claim our public space back, claim our city back,” Aheron said at the park.

Charlottesville authorities said four people had been arrested on Sunday.

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson and Jonathan Landay in Washington; Additional reporting by Joseph Ax in Charlottesville and David Shepardson and Michelle Price in Washington; Writing by Dan Wallis and Mary Milliken; Editing by Grant McCool, Cynthia Osterman, and Susan Thomas)

Anniversary of fatal Charlottesville rally puts city, D.C. on edge

White nationalists participate in a torch-lit march on the grounds of the University of Virginia ahead of the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11, 2017. Picture taken August 11, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

By Joseph Ax and Makini Brice

(Reuters) – Joan Fenton knows she will not make much money at her Charlottesville gift shop this weekend when the downtown district will be virtually locked down for the anniversary of last year’s deadly white nationalist rally. But like many other owners, she will be open anyway.

“They want to be open in solidarity with the community,” Fenton said. “They feel that not being here is giving in to fear and terror.”

Officials in Charlottesville have vowed a massive police presence – with some 1,000 personnel assigned – to deter any violence.

The “Unite the Right” rally last August, called to protest the removal of a Confederate statue, turned the picturesque Virginia college town into a chaotic scene of street brawls, and one woman was killed when an Ohio man rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.

The organizer of last year’s event, white nationalist Jason Kessler, was denied a permit in Charlottesville this year but has secured permission to hold a demonstration on Sunday in Washington, across the street from the White House.

Washington officials said on Thursday that police were ready for the rally as well as five planned counterprotests that could attract close to 2,000 people in all.

Officers will endeavor to keep the two sides separate, Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham said. Guns will be prohibited from the demonstration area.

Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of neighboring Maryland, said on Friday that “hate has no place in our society,” and that he had directed state agencies to work with their counterparts in Washington and Virginia to ensure the safety of all citizens.

“As we face this invasion of vile and perverted ideology infesting our region, we stand united in our conviction that a diverse and inclusive Maryland is a stronger Maryland,” he said.

UNPRECEDENTED LOCKDOWN

Amid continuing controversy over President Donald Trump’s views on race, the events will likely revive memories of his comments after Charlottesville when he said both sides were to blame for the violence. The remarks sparked criticism from across the political spectrum as the Republican president refused to condemn the white nationalists.

In Charlottesville, officials have announced an unprecedented lockdown of the bustling downtown district. Vehicles are prohibited, and pedestrians will be allowed in at only two checkpoints, where police will confiscate contraband.

Prohibited items include everything from metal pipes and swords to fireworks and skateboards.

Guns, however, can still be legally carried. After last year’s violence, the city asked the state legislature to ban firearms from major public events, but the bill failed to advance.

It is not clear whether any white nationalists will come to Charlottesville this weekend, but officials said they were preparing for any contingency. Police were widely criticized after last year’s event, where some officers did not intervene to stop fistfights and other mayhem.

Virginia’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, pre-emptively declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, a procedural move that freed up additional resources.

Many business owners have said the plan is too restrictive and will cost them significant revenue on what would normally be a busy summer weekend. Merchants already suffered a downturn after last year’s event; sales tax revenue dropped 11 percent in September 2017 compared with the year before, according to city figures.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York and Makini Brice in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis)

Protestors, lawmaker arrested in Senate building sit-in over immigration

Immigration activists wrapped in silver blankets, symbolising immigrant children that were seen in similar blankets at a U.S.-Mexico border detention facility in Texas, protest inside the Hart Senate Office Building after marching to Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some 600 protesters were arrested during a clangorous occupation of a U.S. Senate office building in Washington on Thursday, where they decried U.S. President Donald Trump’s “zero- tolerance” stance on illegal immigration.

The protesters, mostly women dressed in white, sat on the Hart Senate Office Building’s marbled floors and wrapped themselves in metallic silver blankets similar to those given to migrant children separated from their families by U.S. immigration officials.

Their chant “Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here” echoed through the building, drawing scores of Senate staff to upper mezzanine floors from where they watched the commotion.

Capitol Police warned protestors that if they did not leave the building they would be arrested. Soon after, protesters were lined against a wall in small groups and police confiscated their blankets and signs.

U.S. Capitol Police direct U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) to stand for arrest as she joined demonstrators calling for "an end to family detention" and in opposition to the immigration policies of the Trump administration, at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. Capitol Police direct U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) to stand for arrest as she joined demonstrators calling for “an end to family detention” and in opposition to the immigration policies of the Trump administration, at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

It took police about 90 minutes to arrest them and end the demonstration. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat, sat with the protesters and was also arrested.

Capitol Police said in a statement that about 575 people were charged with unlawfully demonstrating and they would be processed at the scene and released. They said people who were charged and fined could pay 24 hours after their arrests, but it was not clear who had been fined and how much.

Democratic senators Mazie Hirono, Tammy Duckworth, Kirsten Gillibrand and Jeff Merkley, who have been critical of Trump’s immigration policies, spoke with some of the protesters. Gillibrand held a sign that read: “End Detentions Now.”

Women’s March, a movement that began in the United States when Trump was inaugurated in 2017 and spread around the world, had called on women to risk arrest at Thursday’s protest.

Organizers said in a statement that 630 women were arrested during the protest.

“We are rising up to demand an end to the criminalization of immigrants,” Linda Sarsour, one of the leaders of the Women’s March, said in the statement.

Before arriving at Capitol Hill, the protesters marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, pausing to chant “Shame! Shame! Shame!” at the Trump International Hotel.

The Women’s March demonstration is part of a wave of actions against Trump, whose administration began seeking in May to prosecute all adults who cross the border without authorization.

More than 2,000 children who arrived illegally in the United States with adult relatives were separated from them and placed in detention facilities or with foster families around the United States.

The policy led to intense criticism in the United States and abroad, and Trump signed an executive order that would let children stay with their parents as they moved through the legal system, drawing renewed criticism.

Loretta Fudoli took a bus to Washington from Conway, Arkansas, to join Thursday’s protest. She said she had been arrested at demonstrations three or four times since she became politically active after Trump’s election.

“Their parents shouldn’t even be locked up,” Fudoli said. “This is not a bad enough crime to lock them up and take their children away.”

Most of the children separated from their families before the order was signed have not yet been reunited with them.

The White House has said that the order was not a long-term solution and has called for Congress to pass immigration reform.

Larger protests are being planned for Saturday in Washington, D.C., and cities around the country under the banner of #FamiliesBelongTogether.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Writing by Bill Tarrant and Jonathan Allen; Editing by David Gregorio, Toni Reinhold)

Man arrested in wave of package bombs in Washington, D.C

Thanh Cong Phan, 43, is shown in this undated booking photo provided March 28, 2018. Yolo Country Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Washington state man has been arrested in connection with a series of package bombs sent to U.S. military installations and a CIA mail office in the Washington, D.C., area earlier this week, the FBI said on Tuesday.

The suspect, Thanh Cong Phan, 43, was arrested on Monday at his home in Everett, Washington, by federal agents and sheriff’s deputies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement.

A U.S. security official said Phan had a history of writing incoherent letters to government officials and was believed to have mental problems. The official declined to be named during an ongoing investigation.

Court documents made public on Tuesday afternoon showed that Phan had been charged in U.S. District Court in Seattle with one count of shipping explosive materials.

Suspicious packages were received on Monday at mail processing sites at Fort Belvoir, Virginia; Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, which is a Navy-Air Force facility in the District of Columbia; and Fort Lesley J. McNair in the U.S. capital, the agency said.

The packages also turned up at mail facilities at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia, and the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia. None of them detonated.

“It is possible that further packages were mailed to additional mail processing facilities in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area,” the FBI said. The packages were being analyzed at the FBI laboratory at Quantico, Virginia.

Ashwin Cattamanchi, a federal public defender representing Phan, declined to comment when reached by phone.

Officials at Fort McNair evacuated a building after one of the packages was delivered, a spokesman said. An Army bomb squad confirmed that the package tested positive for explosive residue and determined a fuse was attached, he said.

Earlier in March in a separate incident at a U.S. military base, a man died after driving a minivan through the gate of Travis Air Force Base in California and igniting propane tanks and gasoline cans.

Several package bombs left on doorsteps and some sent from a Federal Express office detonated in Austin, Texas, leaving two people dead and others injured. The suspected bomber blew himself up as police closed in on him.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball, Ian Simpson and Dan Whitcomb; editing by Scott Malone, Marguerita Choy and Cynthia Osterman)

Voters in Maine approve expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare

Voters in Maine approve expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – Voters in Maine on Tuesday approved a ballot initiative to expand the state’s Medicaid program under Obamacare, sending a clear signal of support for the federal healthcare law to lawmakers in the state and Washington D.C.

The approval of the ballot question in Maine comes after Republicans in Washington failed several times over the last few months to pass legislation that would dismantle the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law.

Maine has recently figured prominently in the nation’s debate on how to reform healthcare. U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, helped block her party’s efforts to repeal Obamacare this year, which angered President Donald Trump.

Maine, which becomes the first U.S. state to approve Medicaid expansion by ballot initiative, is one of 19 states that has not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

About 60 percent of voters in Maine approved the ballot initiative, according to the Bangor Daily News newspaper.

Tuesday’s ballot asked Maine voters to approve or reject a plan to provide healthcare coverage under Medicaid for adults under the age of 65 with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which in 2017 is about $16,000 for a single person and about $22,000 for a family of two.

The state’s Republican governor, Paul LePage, staunchly opposes expansion of federal health care insurance, vetoing legislation to do so on several occasions.

“I’ve said it before, “free” is very expensive to somebody,” LePage said in a radio address last week.

About 70,000 residents in Maine would be eligible for the state’s Medicaid program when and if state officials certify the results of the election. Lawmakers could vote to repeal or alter the referendum, much like they have recently for several citizen-initiated referendums, the Bangor Daily News reported.

“It is now the responsibility and the duty of the governor and the legislature to fully and faithfully implement this law,” the state’s Speaker of the House, Sara Gideon, said in a statement.

The Legislature’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review in Maine estimated that expansion of Medicaid would cost the state about $55 million and bring in about $525 million of federal money to the state each year, according to the Bangor Daily News.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Nick Macfie)

White House sidewalk to be closed to public permanently

Tourists take selfies by the original South Lawn security fencing at the White House in Washington May 28, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Secret Service said it would end public access to a sidewalk along the south fence of the White House beginning on Wednesday night.

The sidewalk has been closed nightly from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. since 2015 and will now be off-limits around the clock, the Secret Service said in a statement.

The closure will “lessen the possibility of individuals illegally accessing the White House grounds,” Secret Service Communications Director Cathy Milhoan said.

In March, a man scaled a fence east of the White House at night and was on the property’s grounds for 16 minutes before being detained. He never entered the White House, the Secret Service said.

President Donald Trump was inside the residence at the time of the March 10 incident.

The intrusion was the latest in a series of breaches at the White House in recent years. Security has been boosted, including the installation in 2015 of sharp spikes on top of the black iron fence that circles the 18-acre (7-hectare) property.

Blocking use of the south fence sidewalk will not obstruct the public’s ability to view or photograph the White House and its grounds, the Secret Service said, adding no additional “physical” barriers would be installed.

The same restrictions are in place on the north fence of the White House grounds, according to the Secret Service.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Peter Cooney)

U.S. judge denies tribe’s request to stop oil flow in Dakota Access pipeline

Members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and others sing as they prepare to evacuate the main opposition camp against the Dakota Access oil pipeline near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., February 22, 2017. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. federal judge on Tuesday denied a request by a Native American tribe for an emergency injunction to prevent oil from flowing through part of the Dakota Access Pipeline, saying such a move would be against the public interest.

The ruling, issued in court documents ahead of plans to start pumping oil through the pipeline next week, follows months of demonstrations in a remote part of North Dakota, where the Standing Rock Sioux tribe demonstrated in an attempt to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline crossing upstream from their reservation.

Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued his decision denying the request by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, saying the court “acknowledges that the tribe is likely to suffer irreparable harm to its members’ religious exercise if oil is introduced into the pipeline, but Dakota Access would also be substantially harmed by an injunction, given the financial and logistical injuries that would ensue.”

The pipeline is nearing completion after President Donald Trump signed an executive order last month smoothing the path for construction. He also cleared the way for the Keystone XL project that would pipe Canadian crude into the United States.

The Standing Rock Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux last week lost a legal bid to halt construction of the last link of the pipeline under Lake Oahe in North Dakota, which they say threatens tribal lands. The pipeline will be ready to carry oil by April 1.

Among the Republican Trump’s first acts in office was to sign an executive order that reversed a decision by the previous administration of Democratic President Barack Obama to delay approval of the Dakota pipeline, a $3.8 billion project by Energy Transfer Partners LP <ETP.N>.

Boasberg noted in his decision that any ruling to allow the tribe’s request for an injunction preventing oil from flowing through the pipeline would likely be overturned on appeal.

Thousands of Native American demonstrators and their supporters marched to the White House last Friday to voice outrage at Trump’s decision.

(Reporting by David Gaffen; Writing by Eric Walsh; Editing by G Crosse and Peter Cooney)

Israeli PM seeks ‘no gaps’ with Trump ahead of White House talks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

By Luke Baker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, preparing for his first meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House, will work with advisers on Tuesday to align Israeli and U.S. thinking on the Middle East and ensure “no gaps” remain.

Staff have cleared most of Tuesday for discussions with Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, and other senior advisers ahead of Wednesday’s Oval Office meeting. The only event of the day is an evening meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“There isn’t going to be any daylight, no gaps,” one adviser said as the prime minister left for Washington, the first time Netanyahu, the head of a right-wing coalition, has overlapped with a Republican in the White House in four terms in office.

Those reassurances came as Netanyahu took a cautious line on whether he would support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the bedrock of U.S. diplomacy for two decades, when he sits down with Trump.

During the presidential campaign, Trump was often unabashedly pro-Israel, promising to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, backing David Friedman, a supporter of settlements, as his envoy to Israel, and saying that he wouldn’t apply pressure for talks with the Palestinians.

But in the three-and-a-half weeks since taking office, positions have shifted. The embassy transfer has been put on hold as the fallout from such a move, not least the potential for unrest across the Middle East, has been explained, including by Jordan’s King Abdullah during an impromptu visit.

When it comes to settlements, Trump has laid out a more nuanced position, saying that while he does not see them as an obstacle to peace, building new ones or expanding existing ones beyond their current boundaries is “not good”.

And rather than no pressure for peace talks, Trump has said he wants to have a go at the “ultimate deal”. In an interview with newspaper Israel Hayom last week, he urged Israel to act “reasonably” in the Middle East peace process.

LEADERS IN LOCKSTEP

For Netanyahu, under investigation at home in two criminal cases involving allegations of abuse of office, ensuring he and Trump are in lockstep is critical to putting the friction of the Obama administration behind him and laying the ground for a more fruitful relationship with the United States.

At a time when the Middle East is in turmoil and Palestinian politics is fractured by long-standing divisions between the Western-backed Fatah party and the Islamist group Hamas, Israeli officials argue that the time is not ripe for peace.

But while Netanyahu has announced plans for 6,000 more settlement homes, he is also uneasy about pressure from the far-right in his coalition for more dramatic steps, such as the annexation of parts of the West Bank, which the Palestinians want for their own state together with Gaza and East Jerusalem, or the rejection of a Palestinian state altogether.

Netanyahu’s task during the scheduled two-hour meeting with Trump will be to find common ground on both the settlements issue and the prospects for a two-state solution to the conflict: Israel and a Palestine side by side and at peace.

The prime minister committed to the two-state goal in 2009 and has reiterated the position since. But on Monday, a senior minister in his cabinet said no ministers, foremost Netanyahu, truly believed in the emergence of a Palestinian state.

Officials with Netanyahu declined to comment on the remark. But Netanyahu has spoken of a “state minus”, something short of full sovereignty for the Palestinians. It was unclear if the contours of that idea would be discussed with Trump.

As well as Palestinian issues, the two leaders will discuss regional stability and the threat from Iran, with both intent on re-examining and strengthening the nuclear deal with Tehran.

“The alliance between Israel and America has always been extremely strong and it’s about to get even stronger,” Netanyahu said as he prepared to leave Israel on Monday.

“Donald Trump and I see eye-to-eye on the dangers emanating from the region but also on the opportunities. We’ll talk about both as well as upgrading the relations between Israel and the United States in many, many fields.”

Aside from Trump and Tillerson, Netanyahu will meet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence during the Feb. 13-16 visit.

(Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Mary Milliken)