Turkey’s Erdogan may call off U.S. trip after Congress votes: officials

Turkey’s Erdogan may call off U.S. trip after Congress votes: officials
By Orhan Coskun and Dominic Evans

ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan may call off a visit to Washington next week in protest at votes in the House of Representatives to recognize mass killings of Armenians a century ago as genocide and to seek sanctions on Turkey, three Turkish officials said.

Erdogan is due in Washington on Nov. 13 at President Donald Trump’s invitation, but said last week that the votes put a “question mark” over the plans.

“These steps seriously overshadow ties between the two countries. Due to these decisions, Erdogan’s visit has been put on hold,” a senior Turkish official said, adding that a final decision had not been taken.

Turkish sources say Trump and Erdogan have a strong bond despite anger in Congress over Turkey’s Syria offensive and its purchase of Russian air defenses, and despite what Ankara sees as Trump’s own erratic pronouncements.

Those personal ties could be crucial given NATO member Turkey’s purchase of Moscow’s S-400 missile defense system, which under U.S. law should trigger sanctions.

Turkey is already suspended from the F-35 fighter jet program in which it was both joint producer and customer, and the offensive it launched against Kurdish forces in northeast Syria on Oct. 9 set the stage for further U.S. retaliation.

Although Trump appeared to clear the way for the incursion by withdrawing troops, the White House briefly imposed sanctions before lifting them after a deal to halt the fighting and clear the Kurdish fighters from the border.

Then, two weeks after that deal, the Congressional votes infuriated Turkey once more.

‘POLITICAL TIMING’

Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests the figures and denies that the killings were orchestrated or constitute genocide.

“They took advantage of the current political climate against Turkey in Washington to pass this resolution,” a source close to the presidency said. Like the other officials, he spoke on condition of anonymity.

Trump has expressed sympathy for Turkey over its purchase of Russian defense systems, blaming his predecessor for not selling Ankara U.S. Patriot missiles. His eagerness to pull U.S. forces out of Syria also aligned with Erdogan’s plan to send troops across the border to drive back the Kurdish YPG.

However, last month Trump threatened to “obliterate” Turkey’s economy, and Trump sent Erdogan a letter on the day the offensive started warning him he could be responsible for “slaughtering thousands of people”.

“Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” Trump wrote.

A Turkish security official cited Trump’s letter, along with the votes in Congress, as damaging: “If the atmosphere doesn’t change, there won’t be any point to this visit”.

Erdogan himself said three weeks ago he could no longer keep up with Trump’s blizzard of tweets.

Still, for Ankara, Trump remains the best hope of salvaging a partnership between two countries that, despite their difficulties, want to quadruple their annual trade to $100 billion.

“The two leaders have a good relationship,” the source close to the presidency said. “President Trump wants to have good relations with Turkey in spite of his own establishment.”

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

North Korea breaks off nuclear talks with U.S. in Sweden

By Johan Ahlander and Philip O’Connor

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Working-level nuclear talks in Sweden between officials from Pyongyang and Washington have broken off, North Korea’s top negotiator said late on Saturday, dashing prospects for an end to months of stalemate.

The talks, at an isolated conference center on the outskirts of Stockholm, were the first such formal discussion since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in June and agreed to restart negotiations that stalled after a failed summit in Vietnam in February.

The North’s chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Myong Gil, who spent much of the day in talks with an American delegation, cast the blame on what he portrayed as U.S. inflexibility, saying the other side’s negotiators would not “give up their old viewpoint and attitude.”

“The negotiations have not fulfilled our expectation and finally broke off,” Kim told reporters outside the North Korean embassy, speaking through an interpreter.

The U.S. State Department said Kim’s comments did not reflect “the content or spirit” of more than 8-1/2 hours of talks, and Washington had accepted Sweden’s invitation to return for more discussions with Pyongyang in two weeks.

“The U.S. brought creative ideas and had good discussions with its DPRK counterparts,” spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. North Korea is also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

She said the U.S. delegation had previewed a number of new initiatives that would pave the way for progress in the talks, and underscored the importance of more intensive engagement.

“The United States and the DPRK will not overcome a legacy of 70 years of war and hostility on the Korean peninsula through the course of a single Saturday,” she added.

“These are weighty issues, and they require a strong commitment by both countries. The United States has that commitment.”

North Korea’s Kim downplayed the U.S. gestures.

“The U.S. raised expectations by offering suggestions like a flexible approach, new method and creative solutions, but they have disappointed us greatly and dampened our enthusiasm for negotiation by bringing nothing to the negotiation table,” he said.

Swedish broadcaster TV4 said the U.S. Special Representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, who led the team, had arrived back at the U.S. embassy in central Stockholm.

The Swedish foreign office declined to give details on the invitation for new talks, or whether Pyongyang had accepted.

Since June, U.S. officials had struggled to persuade North Korea, which is under sanctions banning much of its trade, due to its nuclear program, to return to the table, but that appeared to change this week when the North abruptly announced it had agreed to talks.

On Saturday, negotiator Kim accused the United States of having no intention of solving difficulties through dialogue, but said a complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was still possible.

It would only happen “when all the obstacles that threaten our safety and check our development are removed completely without a shadow of doubt,” he said, in an apparent reference to North Korea’s desire for Washington to ease economic pressure.

On Sunday, China’s President Xi Jinping and the North’s leader exchanged messages to reaffirm the neighbors’ relationship on the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties. China is the North’s only major ally.

Xi, who has met Kim five times in the past year, said they had “reached a series of important consensuses, leading China-North Korea relations into a new historical era”, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Kim replied the two leaders would “resolutely safeguard the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and the world,” Xinhua reported.

TENSIONS

The delegation from North Korea arrived in Sweden on Thursday. Analysts have said both countries’ leaders had growing incentives to reach a deal, but it was unclear if common ground could be found after months of tension and deadlock.

The readout from the talks did not sound very promising, said Jenny Town, a managing editor at 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea project.

“I think (North Korea’s) expectations were too high that the removal of Bolton would provide more flexibility on what the U.S. wants as initial steps,” she said, referring to Trump’s hardline former aide John Bolton, abruptly fired last month amid disagreements on how to tackle foreign policy challenges.

“While certainly it removes some pressure for an all or nothing deal, it seems the gap between what the two sides want as a baseline and are willing to reciprocate still has not narrowed,” Town added.

An official at South Korea’s presidential office said the talks in Sweden were nevertheless the beginning of negotiations, and that South Korea hoped the United States and North Korea would keep the momentum of the dialogue.

Only a day after announcing the new talks, North Korea said it had test-fired a new ballistic missile designed for submarine launch, underscoring the need for Washington to move quickly to negotiate limits on Pyongyang’s growing arsenal.

Speaking in Athens on a tour of southern Europe while the talks were still underway, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said he was hopeful of progress.

“We are mindful this will be the first time that we’ve had a chance to have a discussion in quite some time and that there remains to be a lot of work that will have to be done by the two teams,” he told a news conference.

(Reporting by Anna Ringstrom, Johan Ahlander, Simon Johnson, Niklas Pollard and Philip O’Connor in Stockholm; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Michele Kambas in Athens, Joori Roh and Ju-min Park in Seoul, Andrea Shalal and Julia Harte in Washington, Huizhong Wu and Hallie Gu in Beijing; Writing by Niklas Pollard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

China, U.S. to hold trade talks in October; Beijing says phone call went well

FILE PHOTO: Chinese and U.S. flags flutter near The Bund, before U.S. trade delegation meet their Chinese counterparts for talks in Shanghai, China July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo/File Photo

BEIJING (Reuters) – China and the United States on Thursday agreed to hold high-level trade talks in early October in Washington, amid fears that an escalating trade war could trigger a global economic recession.

The talks were agreed to in a phone call between Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, China’s commerce ministry said in a statement on its website. China’s central bank governor Yi Gang was also on the call.

“Both sides agreed that they should work together and take practical actions to create good conditions for consultations,” the ministry said.

“Lead negotiators from both sides had a really good phone call this morning,” ministry spokesman Gao Feng said in a weekly briefing. “We’ll strive to achieve substantial progress during the 13th Sino-U.S. high-level negotiations in early October.”

Gao also said Beijing opposes any escalation in the trade war.

Trade teams from the two countries will hold talks in mid-September before the high-level talks next month, the ministry said.

A spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office confirmed that Lighthizer and Mnuchin spoke with Liu and said they agreed to hold ministerial-level trade talks in Washington “in the coming weeks”.

News of the early October talks lifted most Asian share markets on Thursday, raising hopes these can de-escalate the U.S.-China trade war before it inflicts further damage on the global economy.

On Sunday, Washington began imposing 15% tariffs on an array of Chinese imports, while China began placing duties on U.S. crude oil. China said on Monday it had lodged a complaint against the United States at the World Trade Organization.

The United States plans to increase the tariff rate to 30% from the 25% duty already in place on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports from Oct. 1.

U.S. President Donald Trump had warned on Tuesday he would be tougher on Beijing in a second term if trade talks dragged on, compounding market fears that disputes between the United States and China could trigger a U.S. recession.

Chinese leaders will have a packed schedule next month, gearing up for National Day celebrations scheduled for Oct. 1.

They will also hold a key meeting in October to discuss improving governance and “perfecting” the country’s socialist system, state media has said.

(Reporting by Kevin Yao, Yawen Chen and Beijing Monitoring Desk; Editing by Paul Tait and Richard Borsuk)

Trump says won’t deal with UK ambassador after leak of ‘inept’ memos

Britain's ambassador to the United States Kim Darroch (C) listens as U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May hold a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 27, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Michael Holden and William James

LONDON (Reuters) – Donald Trump said he would not deal with Britain’s ambassador to Washington after a leak of confidential memos in which the diplomat described the U.S. president’s administration as “inept”.

Trump also attacked Britain’s outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May, who had said her government had full confidence in ambassador Kim Darroch, criticizing her handling of Brexit and saying she disregarded his advice.

“What a mess she and her representatives have created,” he wrote on Twitter. “I do not know the Ambassador, but he is not liked or well thought of within the U.S. We will no longer deal with him. The good news for the wonderful United Kingdom is that they will soon have a new Prime Minister.”

The spat between the two close allies followed the leak to a British newspaper on Sunday of memos from Darroch to London in which he said Trump’s administration was “dysfunctional” and “diplomatically clumsy and inept”.

May’s spokesman said while Darroch’s opinions did not reflect the view of the government or ministers, he said the diplomat had London’s backing and ambassadors needed to have the confidence to give their frank assessments.

“Contact has been made with the Trump administration, setting out our view that we believe the leak is unacceptable,” May’s spokesman told reporters. “It is, of course, a matter of regret that this has happened.”

May is also due to leave office before the end of the month and has previously clashed with Trump over a number of issues from Brexit to the Iran nuclear deal.

However, the timing of the discord comes as Britain is hoping to strike a major trade deal with its closest ally after it leaves the European Union, an exit scheduled for Oct. 31.

The two contenders to replace May, former London mayor Boris Johnson and foreign minister Jeremy Hunt, have both indicated they could support leaving the EU without a deal, making a future agreement with the United States even more important.

Trade minister Liam Fox, who was visiting Washington this week, said he would apologize to Trump’s daughter Ivanka whom he was due to meet during his trip.

‘SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES’ FOR LEAKER

In confidential memos to his government dating from 2017 to the present, Darroch had said reports of in-fighting in the White House were “mostly true” and last month described confusion within the administration over Trump’s decision to call off a military strike on Iran.

“We don’t really believe this Administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction driven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept,” Darroch wrote in one cable.

British officials have launched an inquiry to find out who was responsible for the leak and foreign minister Hunt promised “serious consequences” for whoever was responsible.

He told the Sun newspaper that the inquiry would consider whether the memos had been obtained by hacking by a hostile state such as Russia although he said he had seen no evidence for this.

Asked whether British spies would join in the hunt, Jeremy Fleming, the head of the GCHQ intelligence agency, told BBC radio: “I can’t get into the detail of the investigation. If they require our services then GCHQ will help.”

Christopher Meyer, a former British ambassador to Washington, said there was a “possible range of villains”.

“It was clearly somebody who set out deliberately to sabotage Sir Kim’s ambassadorship, to make his position untenable and to have him replaced by somebody more congenial to the leaker,” he told BBC radio.

Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party and long a thorn in the side of British governments, said figures such as Darroch would be “not be around” if Johnson, the favorite to replace May, was selected by Conservative Party members.

However, former British foreign minister William Hague said Darroch should not be removed from his post, pointing out that no U.S. diplomats had been withdrawn from their roles after the mass release of secret U.S. cables by WikiLeaks in 2010 which included highly critical appraisals of world leaders.

“You can’t change an ambassador at the demand of a host country. It is their job to give an honest assessment of what is happening in that country,” Hague told BBC radio.

May’s spokesman said police would be involved if there was evidence that the leaker had committed a crime.

Two months ago, May fired defense minister Gavin Williamson after secret discussions in the National Security Council about Chinese telecoms firm Huawei were leaked to the media, and an inquiry concluded that he was responsible.

Williamson denied any involvement and police said there was no reason for a criminal investigation.

(Additional reporting by Andrew MacAskill, Kate Holton and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Jon Boyle)

Iran to boost uranium enrichment level above nuclear pact’s limit

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is seen during meeting with health ministry top officials in Tehran, Iran, June 25, 2019. Official President website/Handout via REUTERS

By Babak Dehghanpisheh

GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran will boost its uranium enrichment after July 7 to whatever levels it needs beyond the cap set in the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday, while calling on Washington to rejoin the pact.

Iran announced this week it has stockpiled more low-enriched uranium than is permitted under the accord, a move that prompted U.S. President Donald Trump – who withdrew the United States from the deal last year – to warn Iran was “playing with fire”.

European co-signatories said on Tuesday they were “extremely concerned” by Tehran’s apparent breach of the deal while Israel said it was preparing for possible involvement in any military confrontation between Iran and the United States.

Weeks of tensions crested last month when Tehran shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone and Trump responded with a decision to launch air strikes only to call them off at the last minute. Washington also accused Iran of being behind attacks on several oil tankers in the Gulf, which Tehran denies.

“Our level of enrichment will no longer be 3.67. We will put this commitment aside by whatever amount we feel like, by whatever amount is our necessity, our need. We will take this above 3.67,” said Rouhani, according to IRIB news agency.

Uranium refined to a fissile purity of 3.67% is deemed suitable for electricity generation and is the maximum allowed by the deal. Enrichment to 90% yields bomb-grade material.

Rouhani added that the Islamic Republic’s actions were reversible. “All of our actions can be returned to the previous condition within one hour, why are you worried?” he said.

His tone was unusually tough. Rouhani was the architect of the nuclear pact and is seen as a pragmatist, unlike senior clerics in Iran’s ruling elite who opposed his opening to the West and have kept up their denunciations of the United States.

Rouhani further urged the Trump administration to “adopt a rational approach again” and return to the negotiating table.

Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy aims to push Iran into negotiate a wider-ranging deal also reining in its ballistic missile program and its backing of proxies around the Middle East in a struggle with Saudi Arabia for regional dominance.

HEAVY-WATER REACTOR

Rouhani said that if the other signatories did not protect trade with Iran promised under the deal but blocked by Trump’s reimposition of tough sanctions, Tehran would also start to revive its Arak heavy-water reactor after July 7.

As required by the accord, Iran said in January 2016 that it had removed the core of the reactor and filled it with cement.

“From (July 7) onward with the Arak reactor, if you don’t operate (according to) the program and time frame of all the commitments you’ve given us, we will return the Arak reactor to its previous condition,” said Rouhani.

“Meaning, the condition that you say is dangerous and can produce plutonium,” he said, referring to a key potential component of a nuclear bomb. “We will return to that unless you take action regarding all your commitments regarding Arak.”

He kept the door open to negotiations, saying Iran would again reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium below the 300-kilogram limit set by the nuclear pact if signatories Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China honored their deal pledges.

Iran will gain nothing by departing from the terms of the deal, the French foreign ministry cautioned on Wednesday.

“Putting (the deal) into question will only increase the already heightened tensions in the region,” ministry spokesman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters in a daily briefing.

U.S. SANCTIONS NOOSE

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated since Trump pulled Washington out of the pact in May 2018 and acted to bar all international sales of Iranian oil, the Islamic Republic’s economic lifeblood.

The European signatories to the accord have sought to pull the two longstanding adversaries back from the verge of military conflict, fearing a mistake could spiral into a wider Middle East war endangering global security and energy supplies.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denies that Iran is in violation of the nuclear accord by exceeding the cap on low-enriched uranium, saying Iran is exercising its right to respond after the U.S. withdrawal.

The nuclear accord lifted most global sanctions against Iran in return for curbs on its uranium enrichment capacity.

It aimed to extend the time Tehran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, from roughly 2-3 months to a year.

Tehran has denied any intent to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran’s main demand – in talks with the European parties to the deal and as a precondition to any talks with the United States – is to be allowed to sell its oil at the levels that prevailed before Trump left the deal and restored sanctions.

Iranian crude exports were around 300,000 barrels per day or less in late June, industry sources said, a small fraction of the more than 2.5 million bpd Iran shipped in April 2018, the month before Trump abandoned the nuclear deal.

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, John Irish and Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Mexico says presidential plane sale to help fund migration plan

Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador attends a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Gustavo Graf

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday the sale of the former presidential jet and other aircraft from the last government would help fund efforts to curb migration under a deal struck last week with Washington.

The agreement reached on Friday averted escalating import tariffs of 5% on Mexican goods, which U.S. President Donald Trump had vowed to impose unless Mexico did more to contain migration via Central America to the United States.

In return, Mexico has agreed to toughen up its migration controls, including deploying its National Guard security force to its southern border with Guatemala.

“About how much this plan is going to cost, let me say, we have the budget,” Lopez Obrador said at his regular daily news conference. “It would come out of what we’re going to receive from the sale of the luxurious presidential plane.”

Lopez Obrador said the price tag of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner used by his predecessor Enrique Pena Nieto would start at $150 million, citing a United Nations evaluation. The plane has been on sale for several months.

As soon as he took office in December, the leftist announced plans to sell the plane, whose spacious interior includes a bedroom and is emblazoned with official government seals on the walls and flat-screen monitors.

The jet was acquired in late 2012 for $218 million. It is on sale along with 60 government planes and 70 helicopters.

Lopez Obrador has shunned the often luxurious trappings of Mexico’s wealthy elites, choosing to fly coach.

He has also rolled out a string of welfare programs for the poor and the elderly, cut salaries for top civil servants and says he is saving public money by eliminating corruption.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, editing by Hugh Bronstein and Susan Thomas)

U.S. measles cases in 2019 highest since 1992

FILE PHOTO: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tami Chappell/File Photo/File Photo

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – The United States recorded 971 cases of measles in the first five months of 2019, surpassing the total for any year since 1992, which was before the disease was declared eradicated in the country, federal officials said on Thursday.

The United States declared measles eradicated from the country in 2000, but officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Thursday that the country risks losing its measles elimination status.

There were a total of 2,126 U.S. cases of measles in 1992, the CDC said in a statement.

The disease has spread mostly among school-age children whose parents declined to get them vaccinated.

Public health officials blame the resurgence on the spread of misinformation about vaccines. A vocal fringe of parents opposes vaccines, believing, contrary to scientific studies, that ingredients in them can cause autism.

“Measles is preventable and the way to end this outbreak is to ensure that all children and adults who can get vaccinated, do get vaccinated,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement.

“Again, I want to reassure parents that vaccines are safe, they do not cause autism,” Redfield said.

When measles was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000, it meant the virus was no longer continually present year-round although outbreaks have still happened via travelers coming from countries where measles is common.

Communities in New York City’s Brooklyn borough and Rockland County, an area of New York state about 30 miles (50 km) north of Manhattan, are dealing with measles outbreaks that have lasted nearly eight months.

Other measles cases have occurred in Oklahoma and Washington state.

Decades ago, before widespread use of the measles vaccine, about 3 million to 4 million people a year became sick with the disease in the United States with 400 to 500 deaths a year.

(Reporting by Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Editing by Richard Chang and Diane Craft)

Millions in central U.S. brace for ‘life-threatening’ blizzards, potential floods

Floodwaters flow along a street in Pullman, Washington, U.S. in this still image taken from April 9, 2019 social media video. ELLIE STENBERG/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A blizzard hitting the U.S. Rockies on Wednesday was forecast to move eastward over the next day, threatening to bring new flooding to the Plains states including parts of South Dakota and Missouri that are still recovering from last month’s inundation.

High spring temperatures will give way to heavy snow, gale-force winds and life-threatening conditions across a swathe of the central United States running from the Rockies to the Great Lakes, according to the National Weather Service.

“This is potentially a life-threatening storm,” Patrick Burke, a meteorologist with the NWS’s Weather Prediction Center in Maryland, said Wednesday.

A sign for shops is seen as floodwaters flow along a street in Pullman, Washington, U.S. in this still image taken from April 9, 2019 social media video. ELLIE STENBERG/via REUTERS

A sign for shops is seen as floodwaters flow along a street in Pullman, Washington, U.S. in this still image taken from April 9, 2019 social media video. ELLIE STENBERG/via REUTERS

A cyclone last month dropped heavy rains over that region, causing extensive flooding along the Missouri River and more than $3 billion in damage to property and crops in Nebraska and Iowa.

Pueblo, Colorado, hit 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius) on Tuesday, but will drop down to 25F (minus 4C) by early Thursday. Similar temperatures are forecast in Denver.

The storm is expected to bring blinding, heavy wet snow across the region, likely downing trees and causing widespread power outages, widespread road closures and making driving treacherous, Burke said.

“It’s slow moving. It won’t push farther east until Friday,” he said.

Some areas of western Minnesota and southeast South Dakota were expected to get up to 30 inches of wet, heavy snow, the NWS said.

Two factors may limit the flooding effect, forecasters said. Thawed ground will be able to absorb more precipitation than last month’s frozen ground and a fall of heavy snow rather than rain will slow the runoff process.

Nearly 500 flights were canceled at Denver International Airport on Wednesday, about a quarter of its total schedule, according to FlightAware.com, an airline tracking website.

Airport officials said they had snow-removal crews in place.

The coming storm was expected to exacerbate flooding along the Missouri River in areas where dozens of levees were breached in March, exposing communities to future surges. The river was not expected to crest in areas of Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri until between three to five days after the storm.

The storm is expected to weaken and push off into the Great Lakes area and northern Michigan on Friday, bringing more rain and snow, the weather service said.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Alison Williams and Susan Thomas)

Trump says time for U.S. to recognize Israeli sovereignty over Golan

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visit the border between Israel and Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, March 11, 2019 REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday it was time to back Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War.

“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” Trump said on Twitter.

The recognition of the disputed area would mark a major shift in U.S. policy a week before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in Washington to meet with Trump and address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Netanyahu, who faces an election in Israel on April 9, has been pressing for the United States to recognize its claim to sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Israel captured much of the Golan from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed it, a move not endorsed internationally. Netanyahu raised the possibility of U.S. recognition in his first White House meeting with Trump in February 2017.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by David Alexander and Susan Thomas)

U.S. high court takes up sentencing appeal in ‘D.C. Sniper’ case

FILE PHOTO : 18-year old sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo is surrounded by deputies as he is brought into court to be identified by a witness during the trial of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad at the Virginia Beach Circuit Court in Virginia Beach, Virginia, U.S., October 22, 2003. REUTERSDavis Turner/POOL/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider whether a man serving life in prison over his role in a deadly 2002 shooting spree in the Washington area should be resentenced because he was only 17 years old at the time.

The nine justices will hear an appeal filed by the state of Virginia objecting to a lower court’s decision ordering that Lee Boyd Malvo’s sentence of life in prison without parole in the so-called D.C. Sniper crimes be thrown out. If Malvo wins, he and other prison inmates in similar cases involving certain crimes committed by minors could receive more lenient sentences.

Malvo and an older accomplice, John Allen Muhammad, shot dead 10 people over three weeks in Washington, Maryland and Virginia. Muhammad also was convicted and was executed in 2009 at age 48 in a Virginia state prison.

Virginia appealed in the Malvo case after the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in June 2018 that he should be resentenced. The appeals court cited Supreme Court decisions issued since the shooting spree finding that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles were unconstitutional, and that this rule applied retroactively.

Malvo, 34, received four life sentences in Virginia, where he was convicted of two murders and later entered a separate guilty plea to avoid the death penalty. He also received a sentence of life in prison without parole in Maryland.

The appeals court called these crimes “the most heinous, random acts of premeditated violence conceivable.” Malvo and Muhammad were arrested when police found them sleeping at a Maryland rest area in a Chevrolet Caprice after a frantic search over crimes that panicked the U.S. capital region.

The appeal concerns the scope of a 2012 decision in which the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that mandatory life sentences without parole in homicide cases involving juvenile killers violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In 2016, the court decided that the 2012 ruling applied retroactively, enabling people imprisoned years ago to argue for their release.

Malvo’s appeal concerns whether the earlier rulings do not apply only to people facing automatic life without parole sentences but also to instances in which a judge had discretion over what sentence to impose. Courts across the United States are divided on that question.

The justice who cast the pivotal vote in the 2012 case, Anthony Kennedy, retired last year. His replacement, President Donald Trump’s conservative appointee Brett Kavanaugh, could have an important role in the eventual ruling.

Malvo’s Maryland sentence would not be directly affected by the outcome in the Virginia dispute.

The justices on Monday also took up two other criminal cases.

One centers on whether the Constitution requires jury verdicts to be unanimous. In that case, 10 of 12 jurors agreed the defendant was guilty in a 2016 Louisiana murder conviction.

Louisiana and Oregon at the time were the only states that allowed such split verdicts – which would end in a hung jury elsewhere – but Louisiana voters last November approved a state constitutional amendment to end the practice for serious felonies, starting this year.

The other case, involving a death sentence for a 2009 murder in Kansas, challenges limitations that some states impose on the defense arguing that the accused person was insane when committing a crime.

The Supreme Court will decide the cases in its next term, which begins in October and ends in June 2020.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)