White House communicated with two members of Congress about rebutting Russia stories

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The White House communicated with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes and Senate Intelligence Chairman Sen. Richard Burr about rebutting reports that Trump associates had contacts with Russian officials during the campaign.

The Washington Post first reported on Friday that the White House turned to senior members of the intelligence community and Congress to rebut the news reports after the FBI declined to do so publicly.

The White House maintains that there were no improper communications and that the FBI came to them to discredit an earlier New York Times report on contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials. The White House then asked the FBI if they could help shoot down the story publicly but the bureau declined.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that, similarly, a congressman reached out to the White House to refute the New York Times report.

"A congressman who also had the same information also reached or to us not the other way around," Sanders said. "The bigger story here isn't that they called us, but that the New York Times story was false."

The White House acknowledged that in addition to communicating with Nunes, the administration also reached out to Burr.

Burr has yet to respond to an ABC News request for comment, but a spokesman for Nunes maintains that the congressman did nothing wrong in communicating with the White House on refuting the news reports.

"Chairman Nunes did nothing inappropriate," Nunes spokesman Jack Langer said in a statement. "He made inquiries into the allegations published by the New York Times and couldn't find evidence to support them. So he told that to multiple reporters, and then a White House aide asked if he would speak to one more. So he spoke to that reporter as well, telling that person the same thing he told the other reporters."

Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says he has "grave concerns" about what role the White House played in seeking help from members of Congress and the intelligence community to rebut the story.

"I have called [CIA Director Mike Pompeo] and Chairman Burr to express my grave concerns about what this means for the independence of this investigation and a bipartisan commitment to follow the facts, and to reinforce that I will not accept any process that is undermined by political interference," Warner said in a statement.

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4-year-old Syrian girl reunites with family in US after months apart

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A 4-year-old Syrian girl whose reunion with her family in the United States was delayed by President Donald Trump's travel ban had a joyful return to her parents on Friday.

Muna Khadra and her family have lived in the United States since 2013. After a family trip to visit relatives in Lebanon in October, Muna was the only one denied entry back into the United States because of an issue with her visa. Her family was forced to leave her behind with her grandmother in Jordan, where she has lived since.

Her father, Abdallh Khadra, was trying to get his daughter back into the United States when the president on Jan. 27 signed an executive order temporarily banning the entry of people from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Syria, where Muna was born. Khadra told ABC News at the time that he was told his daughter is now “ineligible for U.S. entry.”

“This is heartbreaking. We cannot believe this happened," said Khadra, who fled Syria with his family after speaking out against the government there. He was vetted and cleared for U.S. entry in 2011 on a religious work visa, and later applied for political asylum.

Trump's executive order has since been put on hold by a federal judge in Seattle.

Muna's father was finally able to get her on a plane back to the United States after four months of their being apart. The child flew into O'Hare International Airport in Chicago with Khadra's sister, Hagar Haltam.

Her family drove from their home in Raleigh, North Carolina, to greet Muna with balloons, hugs and tears.

“She’s part of me. She’s part of me,” Khadra told ABC owned-and-operated station WLS on Friday. “You feel a part of you is missing, so how do you live?”

Haltam captured the emotional reunion in a cellphone video, which was provided to ABC News.

In the video, Abdallh runs through the terminal with open arms upon seeing Muna for the first time in months. The little girl, dressed in pink and carrying a Hello Kitty backpack, wraps her arms around her father’s neck as he scoops her up into an embrace and breaks down in tears. Muna’s mother then kneels by her husband’s side and begins to cry as she takes the little girl into her arms.

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French President Francois Hollande dismisses President Trump's criticism of Paris

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images(PARIS) -- French President Francois Hollande on Saturday dismissed President Trump's recent remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference about Paris and Europe.

In his speech at the conservative conference, the president said he had a friend named "Jim" that did not want to go to Paris anymore because "Paris is no longer Paris."

"Take a look at what's happening to our world, folks, and we have to be smart... We can't let that happen to us," President Trump said.

At the annual International Agricultural Show in Paris, Hollande responded according to BBC, "It's never good to show distrust toward an ally."

"I won't make comparisons, but here there’s no circulation of firearms. Here we don’t have people who take firearms and shoot at people in order to get the satisfaction of creating drama or tragedy," he said. "There is, sadly, terrorism here. And we have to fight terrorism all together. It’s never good to show distrust toward an ally. I don’t do that to our allies, and I ask the American president to do the same toward France."

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GOP congressman says special prosecutor needed to investigate Russia election meddling

U.S. House of Representatives(WASHINGTON) --  California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa said a special prosecutor is needed to investigate into Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Bill Maher asked Issa during an interview on his show Real Time about reports that members of President Trump's campaign had contact with Russian officials.

Maher presented the Republican representative with a hypothetical scenario -- if Russians had hacked the campaign of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 and if there had also been contacts between the Obama administration and the Russians.

"You're going to let that slide?" Maher asked Issa.

"No," Issa said.

"So you're not going to let this slide?" Maher followed up, referring to Russia and the Trump campaign.

"No," Issa said again.

When Maher then pushed Issa on the need for an independent investigation, the California Republican agreed that a special prosecutor is necessary. The investigation shouldn't be overseen by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was appointed by the president and was active in Trump's campaign, Issa said.

"You cannot have somebody -- a friend of mine, Jeff Sessions -- who was on the campaign and who is an appointee," Issa said. "You're going to need to use the special prosecutor's statute and office."

"There may or may not be fault," Issa said.

But he said, "The American people are beginning to understand that Putin ... is a bad guy ... We need to investigate [the Russian leader's] activities and we need to do it because they are bad people."

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Family of Indian man killed in possible hate crime shooting in Kansas urges authorities to investigate thoroughly, Kan.) -- The family of an Indian man killed in a possible hate crime shooting in Kansas spoke out Friday and urged authorities to thoroughly investigate the matter, which they said they believed was not a random incident.

The Indian government "should voice out this strongly [to U.S. authorities] because our brothers, sisters and our relatives are there," Venu Madhav, a brother of shooting victim Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, told South Asian news agency Asian News International (ANI) on Friday.

Madhav suggested to ANI that he believed the incident was not just a random shooting, saying, that "if you really look into this incident, this is not done by a teenager or a burglar, or something like that [or] a drug addict. It is [allegedly] done by a [51-year-old] man."

Another brother to Kuchibhotla, K.K. Shastri, told ANI that he wants authorities to release Kuchibhotla's body to the family overseas as soon as possible.

"We want the body to be here at the earliest," Shastri said. "We are waiting."

As the brothers spoke to reporters outside of their home in India, other relatives of Kuchibhotla were seen on video mourning quietly in the home, including one woman who was wiping away tears.

Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies in the U.S. are investigating whether the shooting that left Kuchibhotla dead was a hate crime.

The shooting happened at the Austins Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kansas, on Wednesday evening, according to authorities.



The FBI is investigating whether the shooting was a bias crime, according to Kansas City FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Eric Jackson. He said that the FBI was going to investigate "from every angle to "determine what the true facts are."

Local police added that they would also look into whether the shooting was racially motivated.



The shooting killed Kuchibhotla and injured two others -- Alok Madasani, 32, and Ian Grillot, 24, officials said.

Madasani and Grillot were taken to a local hospital where they were listed in stable condition, officials said.

The suspect, Adam W. Purinton, fled after the shooting, according to Olathe Police Chief Steven Menke.

Purinton was found and arrested early the following morning in Clinton, Missouri, and charged with one count of premeditated murder and two counts of premeditated attempted murder, according to Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe.

Purinton is being held on a $2 million bond, Howe said.

The triple-shooting has shaken many, both in the U.S. and in India.

"I am very disturbed by last night's shooting in Olathe," Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran said in a statement. "I strongly condemn violence of any kind, especially if it is motivated by prejudice and xenophobia."



India's minister of external affairs, Sushma Swaraj, wrote on Twitter that she was "shocked at the shooting incident in Kansas in which Srinivas Kuchibhotla has been killed."

Swaraj said she sent her "heartfelt condolences to [the] bereaved family" and that she has been in contact with Navtej Sarna, India's ambassador to the U.S. Swaraj said Sarna told her that two Indian embassy officials "have rushed to Kansas."



"We will provide all help and assistance to the bereaved family," Swaraj said. "I have spoken to the father and Mr. K.K. Shastri, brother of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, in Hyderabad and conveyed my condolences to the family."

Madasani, who survived the shooting, has been discharged from the hospital, Swaraj noted on Twitter.

Grillot, the other survivor of the shooting, said in an interview from his hospital bed that he was "incredibly lucky."

"I could have never walked again or seen my family again," he said in a video posted online by the University of Kansas Health System.

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What we know about VX nerve agent that allegedly killed Kim Jong Nam

JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images(KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia) -- The fast-acting poison used in the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam at a crowded airport terminal in Malaysia last week was the banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent, according to police. Kim Jong Nam is the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The Royal Malaysia Police said in a statement Friday that a preliminary analysis found VX nerve agent on the eyes and face of the victim, who was allegedly attacked in a departure area of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and died as he was being transported to the hospital on Feb. 13. The man was carrying North Korean travel documents bearing the name Kim Chol with a birth date of June 1970 and birthplace of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.

Malaysian police officially use the passport identity, Kim Chol, and have requested DNA from family members to confirm the man’s identity. But Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters last week that the North Korean embassy in Malaysia had confirmed the man was Kim Jong Nam, the eldest sibling of Kim Jong Un who has been living overseas for years.

The South Korean Unification Ministry also said at a press briefing last week that it recognized the victim was “certainly Kim Jong Nam.”

Malaysian police have arrested four people in connection with the attack and said they are searching for additional suspects.

Inspector-general of police, Khalid Abu Bakar, told reporters on Wednesday the two women suspected of fatally poisoning the man were trained to coat their hands with toxic substances and wipe them on his face. Khalid said the women knew what they were doing and had practiced the attack multiple times.

Here’s what is known about the deadly toxin that allegedly killed Kim Jong Nam.

What is VX?

VX is a man-made chemical warfare agent that’s classified as a nerve agent, the most toxic and quick-acting of the known chemical warfare agents. Nerve agents are similar to pesticides in terms of how they work and the noxious effects, but they are much more potent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

VX is an oily liquid that is odorless, tasteless and amber in color. It has the consistency of motor oil and evaporates very slowly, according to the CDC.

The aging half-life for VX is about 48 hours, making it the slowest aging nerve agent, according to the ABC News Medical Unit.

Where is it found?

VX was first produced in the United Kingdom in the early 1950s, according to the CDC.

The nerve agent is banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international treaty which North Korea never signed. Instead, the isolated nation has spent decades developing a complex chemical weapons program that has long worried its neighbors and the international community.

How does it work?

Like all nerve agents, VX unleashes its toxic effects by preventing the proper operation of an enzyme that acts as the body’s “off switch” for glands and muscles. Without this “off switch,” the glands and muscles are stimulated relentlessly. They may tire and no longer be able to sustain breathing function, according to the CDC.

VX enters the body through the skin or inhalation. Its works fastest if inhaled through the lungs, according to the ABC News Medical Unit.

Symptoms will appear within seconds of exposure to the vapor form of VX; for the liquid form, it could take minutes or hours for symptoms to show. Even a tiny amount of this nerve agent can be lethal, according to the CDC.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of VX exposure include blurred vision, confusion, cough, diarrhea, drooling, drowsiness, eye pain, excessive sweating, headache, increased urination, nausea, rapid breathing, runny nose, vomiting, watery eyes and weakness. These symptoms could last for hours after exposure, depending on the amount.

A victim exposed to a large dose of VX may also experience convulsions, loss of consciousness, paralysis or respiratory failure possibly leading to death.

Victims exposed to a small or moderate dose of VX usually recover completely. Those who are severely exposed are not likely to survive, according to the CDC.

Death usually occurs within 15 minutes after absorption of a fatal dose of VX, according to the ABC News Medical Unit.

Is there treatment?

Recovery from VX exposure is possible with treatment, which consists of removing the deadly toxin from the body as soon as possible and providing medical care in a hospital setting. An antidote can be administered by injection but it must be used quickly to be effective, according to the CDC.

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Pentagon review of ISIS strategy will lay out options to accelerate fight

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Pentagon is expected to deliver a review of its ISIS strategy to the White House early next week that will include new recommendations for how to defeat the group.

On Jan. 28, President Trump issued an executive order that gave Defense Secretary James Mattis 30 days to develop the review.

“We’re on track to deliver it on time,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Tuesday, adding that any public rollout would only occur after the report was reviewed privately by the president.

The new recommendations from the Pentagon were done in consultation with other departments, the intelligence community, and military commanders on the ground and at the Pentagon, according to Davis.

“This is going to be a comprehensive whole of government plan that’s going to address not only the core ISIS in Iraq and Syria issue, but it’s going to address the other areas where ISIS has sprung up,” Davis said. “And it will include all manner of things, diplomacy, and information, intelligence.”

The tough fight ahead to retake Western Mosul

The current U.S. strategy is to put pressure on ISIS from multiple fronts – assisting Iraqi forces in the retaking of Mosul while also preparing for an offensive in Raqqa, ISIS’ de facto capital in Syria. The U.S. has also taken military action against ISIS in Libya and Afghanistan.

Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, told reporters Wednesday on a trip to the region that “simultaneous pressure on the Islamic State and continuing to present them with lots of dilemmas” has been successful.

But having a new administration in the White House provides an opportunity to assess what could be done differently. It’s a moment former Vice Adm. Robert Harward, who served as deputy commander of U.S. Central Command from 2011 to 2013, called a “reflection point.”

Harward, who last week turned down an offer from President Trump to serve as his national security adviser, said the new administration can take a “fresh look at the problem.”

“We may have a wider range of options that the U.S. is willing to support or initiate,” he told ABC News Thursday. Harward is an ABC News contributor.

In addition to reviewing specific military options to change conditions on the ground, a broader issue will be building a coalition of willing support, Harward said.

“If you have a broader coalition, stronger, more nations involved willing to commit, it puts a lot of pressure on those nations who are not cooperating or staying outside the fold,” he said, adding, “It’s as much political as anything else.”

Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasized the political aspect of the plan as well.

“This plan is a political-military plan, it is not a military plan,” he said during a rare public appearance at the Brookings Institution Thursday. “Anything we do on the ground has to be in the context of political objectives or it’s not going to be successful.”

According to Dunford, the plan will be framed beyond just dealing with ISIS in Syria and Iraq, addressing a “trans-regional threat” that includes al-Qaeda and other groups.

“I’m in the business of providing the President with options and we’re prepared to do that. We’ve been given a task to go to the President to accelerate, accelerate the defeat of ISIS specifically, but obviously other violent extremist groups as well,” Dunford said. “So we’ll go with him a full of range of options from which he can choose.”

“The president has been very direct. He wants to be as aggressive as possible, and I applaud that,” Harward said of the ISIS strategy review. “I think that, in and of itself, will strengthen the coalition and bring more assets to bear throughout the region and other ways as necessary.”

ABC News looks at some of the specific options the Pentagon could present to the president on how to accelerate the fight against ISIS, according to experts and US officials.

More Americans troops inside Syria

The U.S. has 500 special operations troops operating inside Syria, but one option the Pentagon could present is upping that number to assist Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Turkish forces. The SDF includes multiple ethnic forces including Kurds and Arabs.

These American troops would not be placed in direct combat, but serve as enablers who could facilitate operations between the SDF and Turkish forces preparing for the offensive to retake Raqqa, US officials said.

While Turkey has not yet agreed to work with the SDF in that fight, the US is discussing what role they could play. American troops could provide a stabilizing security presence for the rival sides. (Talking to reporters last week in Baghdad, Mattis said of having a strong Turkish element in the Raqqa fighting force, “We’re still sorting it out.”)

“I am very concerned about maintaining momentum,” Votel said. “It could be that we take on a larger burden ourselves. That’s an option,” he added.

A proposal for additional American troops, which could number as many as a few thousand according to US officials, would not necessarily be for special operations forces. A conventional brigade could bring its own infantry troops, artillery equipment, and intelligence units.

“We want to bring the right capabilities forward,” Votel said. “Not all of those are necessarily resident in the Special Operations community. If we need additional artillery or things like that, I want to be able to bring those forward to augment our operations.”

While Harward would not comment on the specific troop numbers, he did caution that in certain instances, having U.S. troops on the ground can be “counterproductive” because of major cultural and language challenges as opposed to their Arab and Turkish counterparts.

Additional support to Syrian Democratic Forces

Another option could be sending additional support to the SDF, such as sending in Apache attack helicopters when needed, U.S. officials said.

While the Obama administration decided to leave the decision of arming the Kurds to the Trump administration, President Obama did approve the use of three Apaches to support Turkish forces fighting for the city of al-Bab, northwest of Aleppo. While approved, the Apaches have not yet been deployed to Syria.

According to U.S. officials, support could also come in the form of regular artillery or HIMARS, a long range artillery rocket system. HIMARS have already been used to good effect against ISIS in Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq, so this system could be beneficial in Syria.

Changing the rules of engagement

Currently airstrikes go through a rigorous vetting process to ensure there are no civilian casualties from a strike.

While maintaining that standard remains a priority, US officials say an additional way to accelerate the fight against ISIS is changing those rules of engagements – the directives governing how force is applied – so that local commanders can approve lower level strikes, giving them more flexibility and the ability to act more quickly.

“Those rules of engagement can be limiting,” Harward said, adding that any changes would be reviewed in line with a change in strategy.

For instance, if additional US troops are in Syria, it becomes appropriate to lower airstrike approval thresholds there because of the trusted intelligence on the ground, he said.

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Kim Jong Nam was exposed to nerve agent: Police

TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images(KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia) — Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, had been exposed to nerve agent, police in Malaysia said Thursday.

According to the police, a preliminary analysis found VX nerve agent on the face of the victim, who was killed on Feb. 13.

The Centers for Disease Control says VX "is a human-made chemical warfare agent classified as a nerve agent."

"Nerve agents are the most toxic and rapidly acting of the known chemical warfare agents," the site adds.

Three suspects have been arrested in connection with the apparent assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s exiled half-brother, Kim Jong Nam.

The suspects — two women and a man — were picked up separately by Malaysian police.

According to the Royal Malaysia Police, a North Korean man who “sought initial medical assistance” at the customer service counter in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport died as he was being transported to the hospital. Police said the 46-year-old man was carrying North Korean travel documents bearing the name Kim Choi with a birth date of June 1970 and birthplace of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.

The cause of death remains under investigation, police said.

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Landing gear on plane carrying 59 collapsed during touchdown, airport says

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  It was a rocky and scary landing for passengers on board a Flybe flight arriving in the Netherlands today from Edinburgh, Scotland.

"Flybe can confirm that there has been an incident involving one of our aircraft," the airline said in a statement. "The incident occurred at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport at approximately [4:59 p.m.] local time."

In a statement, the airport said the plane's landing gear "collapsed during touchdown," with 59 people on board.

"Nobody is injured," and the "cause of the incident is being investigated," the statement said.

Flybe said all passengers on board the Bombardier Q-400 had been transported to the airport terminal.

"All 59 passengers who were on board have now left the airport to continue their journeys," Flybe said.

In a statement, Flybe CEO Christine Ourmieres-Widener said: "The safety and well-being of our passengers and crew is our greatest concern. ... We will now do all we can to understand the cause of this incident and we have sent a specialist team to offer any assistance it can to the investigation."

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Homeland Security chief John Kelly: There will be 'no mass deportations'

CARLOS BARRIA/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) --  Just hours after President Donald Trump described his new deportation policies as “a military operation,” Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly criticized the media for using that term and insisted there will be no "mass deportations."

Kelly, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, is in Mexico City for a brief trip, meeting with President Enrique Pena Nieto and his Cabinet amid heightened tensions over the U.S.’s new immigration policies, heated rhetoric and insistence that Mexico will pay for a border wall.

“No, repeat, no, use of military force in immigration operations. None,” said Kelly in a brief press statement alongside his Mexican counterpart. “At least half of you try to get that right because it continually comes up in the reporting.”

Earlier in the day, President Trump told reporters his administration was getting “gang members,” “drug lords,” and “really bad dudes out of this country” at a roundtable with manufacturing CEOs.

“We're getting really bad dudes out of this country, and at a rate that nobody's ever seen before. And they're the bad ones. And it's a military operation because what has been allowed to come into our country, when you see gang violence that you've read about like never before, and all of the things -- much of that is people that are here illegally,” he said.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer later clarified that Trump was using the description "as an adjective" and that the process is "happening with precision" and in a "streamlined manner."

Kelly also announced that there will be “no, repeat, no mass deportations” despite concerns that new DHS memos opened the door for law enforcement to deport anyone without legal documentation that they encounter.

“Everything we do in DHS will be done legally and according to human rights and the legal justice system of the United States,” he said.

“All of this will be done, as it always is, in close coordination with the government of Mexico,” he added.

Before Kelly spoke, Tillerson made a rare public statement, saying he and Kelly had productive meetings with their Mexican counterparts and addressed those differences between the two neighbors.

“During the course of our meetings, we discussed the breadth of challenges and opportunities in the U.S.-Mexico relationship,” he said, standing alongside Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray. “In our meetings, we jointly acknowledged that in a relationship filled with vibrant colors, two strong sovereign countries from time to time will have differences."

He added: "We listened closely and carefully to each other as we respectfully and patiently raised our respective concerns.”

The amicable tone was shared by Videgaray, but he also made a point to highlight those differences.

“In a moment where we have notorious differences, the best way to solve them is through dialogue,” he said.

Tillerson has been notably quiet since he was sworn in last month. The former ExxonMobil CEO has not done an interview or held a press conference, and the department has not resumed its daily briefing for reporters -- a fixture at Foggy Bottom that goes back to the Eisenhower administration -- since he took office.

The silence has generated headlines that Tillerson and the State Department have been sidelined by a White House that has centralized power, especially on foreign policy decisions. Tillerson did not participate in White House meetings with foreign leaders last week. And top posts at the State Department have still not been filled over a month after inauguration, including the secretary's deputy.

The trip abroad is the first for Kelly and the second for Tillerson, although it is his first one-on-one visit to a foreign country -- a sign of how important the relationship is, according to the State Department.

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