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Monday
Jan232017

White House Open to Cooperation with Russia in Syria, Press Secretary Says 

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggested Monday that President Donald Trump would be willing to collaborate with Russia on military operations against ISIS in Syria.

The comment in a press conference at the White House on Monday afternoon came after the Pentagon earlier in the day denied a Russian government claim that it had collaborated with the United States on a combat mission in northwestern Syria.

"I think the president says he is going to work with any country that shares our interest in defeating ISIS," Spicer said at his first daily press briefing. "If there is a way we can combat ISIS with any country, Russia or anyone else, and we have a shared national interest sure we will he take it."

The Russian Defense Ministry said Monday that Russian forces conducted an airstrike against ISIS in Syria using coordinates provided by the United States and transmitted through a hotline in the international coalition headquarters.

Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon denied that the United States worked with Russia on the airstrike.

“The Department of Defense is not coordinating airstrikes with the Russian military in Syria. [The department] maintains a channel of communication with the Russian military focused solely on ensuring the safety of air crews and deconfliction of coalition and Russian operations in Syria,“ Pahon said.

The hotline was established last year to ensure air safety so that Russian and coalition military aircraft flying over the skies of Syria do not come close to each other. There is daily contact via the hotline, but Pentagon officials have emphasized it is not used for the coordination of military activities with Russia. ABC News' Luis Martinez contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Jan232017

Gambia's New President Returning After Exit of Longtime Leader

iStock/Thinkstock(DAKAR, Senegal) -- Gambia's new president Adama Barrow says he will return home now that the country's longtime former leader, Yahya Jammeh, has left the country.

Jammeh had refused to step down for Barrow who won the election and ended the former president's 22-year reign.

Barrow is in Senegal while West African troops prepare for his inauguration.

The new president appointed Fatoumata Tambajang as the nation's Vice President on Monday, according to Nigerian News.

Tambajang was a former advisor on women and children’s affairs, earning Gambia's highest national citizen award by Gambia's first president, Dawda Kairaba Jawara.  She has also chaired the Gambia National Women's Council.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Jan232017

Behind Trump's Plan to Move the US Embassy From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Israeli officials are awaiting what could be one of the first announcements from the new Trump administration: A decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Such a move, which Trump repeatedly promised on the campaign trail, may please many Israelis but anger Palestinians as well as officials in Arab nations, who could see it as directly provocative and a hindrance to future peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Palestinians claim Jerusalem as a capital of their future state, and Trump, like the Israeli government, views Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal capital." Since Israel's creation, the United States has maintained that the status of the holy city of Jerusalem should only be settled in negotiations between the two parties, and Trump appears prepared to dramatically break with tradition.

Trump spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, but neither leader’s report of their conversation referenced the U.S. embassy move.

“The President emphasized that peace between Israel and the Palestinians can only be negotiated directly between the two parties, and that the United States will work closely with Israel to make progress towards that goal,” the White House said in a statement.

It also said that Trump invited Netanyahu to visit the White House in early February, making him one of the first foreign leaders invited to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. under the new administration.

“We are at the very beginning stages of even discussing the subject,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told ABC News on Sunday about the embassy’s location.

Aides to Netanyahu told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz over the weekend that that no announcement of a U.S. embassy move was imminent, leaving questions about when a decision could be announced or if it might be a gradual process.

The right-wing mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, said that the Trump administration is committed to the move, telling Army Radio Monday that he’s had conversations with people in the new administration that show “they are serious about their intentions.” Barkat has long advocated for the move.

"I applaud President Trump on his historic announcement that the White House has begun discussions regarding moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem,” Barkat said in a statement. “President Trump has proven that he is a true friend of the State of Israel and a leader who keeps his promises. [Monday] evening's announcement has sent a clear message to the world that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as the indivisible capital of the State of Israel. We will provide any and all necessary assistance to the U.S. administration to ensure that the embassy move is done seamlessly and efficiently."

In December, Trump spokesman Jason Miller affirmed Trump’s commitment to moving the embassy, telling reporters on the phone that Trump made that promise “numerous” times during the campaign. Miller did not speculate on a timeline for a move or potential sites for the embassy.

At an October Trump rally in Israel, Trump’s nominee for the next U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, told ABC News that if State Department employees refused to move the embassy, they’d be fired. The former ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, a career diplomat, has already packed up and vacated his office in Tel Aviv.

Israeli Settlements in East Jerusalem

Israel continues to build Israeli settlements -- Jewish towns and cities in the occupied Palestinian territories including the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Right-wing Israelis, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, defend settlement construction for various historical, religious, political and security reasons. But the United Nations considers Israeli settlements in occupied territory illegal under international law. U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, passed last month, states settlements have "no legal validity."

The U.S., Israel’s oldest and strongest ally, has traditionally seen the settlements as a one of the key obstacles to a two-state solution. For this reason, the Obama administration routinely and strongly warned Israel to freeze settlement expansion.

Weeks before leaving office, Obama directed the U.S. to abstain from the aforementioned UNSC 2334, a move that angered Trump and Netanyahu.

According to former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, more than 590,000 Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Over the weekend, Israel announced plans to build nearly 600 new Jewish settlement homes in East Jerusalem, with Netanyahu pledging “unrestricted” building in East Jerusalem soon, a move that has angered Palestinians.

"The rules of the game have changed with Donald Trump's arrival as president," Meir Turgeman, Jerusalem's deputy mayor, said on Sunday.

Turgeman, who also serves as the chair of the planning and building committee, told Israel Radio, "We no longer have our hands tied as in the time of Barack Obama. Now we can finally build,” Turgeman said.

On Monday, the prime minister said he, too, sees "significant opportunities" under a Trump administration.

In an interview with Israel's Army Radio, Jason Greenblatt, co-chairman of the Trump campaign’s Israel Advisory Committee, said, “It is certainly not Mr. Trump’s view that settlement activities should be condemned and that it is an obstacle for peace, because it is not an obstacle for peace.”

In an ABC News interview in October, Friedman echoed Greenblatt’s view, saying he believed Trump saw the settlements as legal.

Friedman, as the president of the American Friends of Bet El Institutions, associated with the Jewish settlement of Bet El, has consistently and actively supported the construction of new settlements. Friedman, already a frequent visitor to Israel, also owns property in West Jerusalem.

The Battle for Jerusalem

Previous U.S. administrations from both parties have long recognized Jerusalem as the thorniest issue in any peace process, maintaining that the final status of the city should be resolved in negotiations. East Jerusalem contains some of the holiest sites for Christians, Jews and Muslims, making it a particularly contentious topic between Israelis and Palestinians, who both lay claims to the city for historic and religious reasons.

Most foreign nations keep their embassies in nearby Tel Aviv, including the U.S. embassy since 1966.

The city of Jerusalem has been contested for centuries. In recent history, after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Israel and Jordan decided to divide the city, giving East Jerusalem to the Jordanians. During the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel captured East Jerusalem.

While never officially annexed, the eastern half of the city is now under the jurisdiction of the Israeli government but Palestinians living in East Jerusalem do not enjoy Israeli citizenship as do the residents of West Jerusalem. In 1980, an Israeli law declared that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Jerusalem.” An amendment to that law later stipulated that Jerusalem’s boundaries were those from the 1967 war plus East Jerusalem.

In 2002, Yasser Arafat, then head of the Palestinian Authority, ratified a law that also proclaimed Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Jan232017

Seven Major Foreign Policy Challenges Facing President Donald Trump

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, has inherited a number of foreign policy challenges spanning the globe from the Middle East through East Asia.

Trump tweeted Monday morning that "THE WORK BEGINS!" yet many of his top foreign policy positions have yet to be confirmed by the Senate, including CIA director and secretary of state.

The White House website says Trump will execute an "American first foreign policy ... focused on American interests and American national security." The White House policy will center on "peace through strength," made possible in part, it says, by pursuing "the highest level of military readiness."

ABC News looked at seven of the most challenging foreign policy issues facing the new administration, and what Trump said about each over the past several months:

1. ISIS

The White House announced Monday that for this new commander-in-chief, defeating ISIS and eliminating the direct threat it poses to Americans at home and abroad will be the "highest priority."

Just in the last two days, the United States military conducted two separate rounds of airstrikes in Libya and Syria it says killed nearly 200 ISIS and al-Qaeda militants. The U.S. Department of State has a standing "worldwide travel caution" for all Americans traveling abroad, which warns about the continuing threat of terror attacks.

"In the past year, major terrorist attacks occurred in Belgium, France, Germany, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh among others," the State Department warning says. "Authorities believe there is a continued likelihood of attacks against U.S., Western, and coalition partner interests throughout the world, especially in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Asia."

The new administration will be under enormous pressure to finish the fights to retake ISIS strongholds in Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria -- and could easily be faced with a shift in enemy tactics, an insurgency and a protracted fight that could force the White House to make difficult decisions about whether to commit more U.S. forces on the ground.

Guiding stable government institutions to fill the vacuum left by ISIS and encouraging a successful political resolution to the five-year civil war in Syria, including the removal of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, are also enormous challenges.

The refugee crisis caused by both the war in Syria and the violent tactics of ISIS is another pressing issue. Amnesty International estimates the conflict in Syria has forced more than 4.5 million refugees from Syria who are now living in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. The Trump administration will need to work with world powers to manage that refugee flow to prevent more humanitarian suffering and potential they have to destabilize governments that take them in.

What Trump has said: Trump has not presented a clear strategy to defeat ISIS, often claiming that public strategy discussion would tip off the enemy. He has said, though, that he would fight ISIS aggressively.

On Sunday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced that the Trump administration would be keeping the State Department's top counter-ISIS planner, Brett McGurk, to ensure continuity.

But in regards to the refugee crisis, Trump rejected calls from former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to increase the number of refugees from Syria and Iraq admitted into the U.S. He instead proposed banning Muslim immigration to the U.S. and later called for "extreme vetting" of applicants.

2. RUSSIA

The U.S.-Russian relationship is at its lowest point since the Cold War. President Trump has said a closer relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin would be an asset to the United States. But much of his incoming administration has maintained that Russia needs to be confronted for its aggression, including for its annexation of Crimea and military incursions into Eastern Ukraine, hacking during the 2016 presidential election and backing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and Russia's brutal aerial bombing campaign to assist his efforts.

Unprecedented Russian hacking into the Democratic National Committee also highlights the enormous security threat posed to critical components of the U.S. government, infrastructure, defense technology and many other government operations that rely heavily on cybertechnology.

On it's website, Trump's White House announced it "will make it a priority to develop defensive and offensive cyber capabilities at our U.S. Cyber Command, and recruit the best and brightest Americans to serve in this crucial area."

Russia's military intervention inside Syria has effectively set up a proxy war with the U.S. and the rebel forces it backs. The U.S. has blamed Russia for its subsequent breakdown of cease-fire negotiations and the devastating siege of Aleppo, Syria.

On Monday, the Russians will hold peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan. It's unclear if anyone from the Trump administration will attend.

And finally, Putin's war in Ukraine and illegal annexation of Crimea has sparked fears that he's seeking to reclaim Soviet-era borders and eventually could bait the NATO alliance into a military conflict.

What Trump has said: Trump's recent comments on Russia have so far defied the conventional wisdom of either party and have drawn criticism from both sides.

Trump has not condemned the Russian hacks into the U.S. election process and has said he "would be looking at" the possibility of lifting sanctions against Russia tied to its illegal military annexation of Crimea, which the U.S. government has refused to accept.

He publicly doubted the intelligence community's assessment that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee, compared them to Nazis and blamed them for leaking false information about his ties to Russia.

Rather than stand against a potential revival of Soviet expansionism, critics say Trump seems to be embracing it. He has described the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) -- considered the first line of defense against Russian expansionism -- as "obsolete," while also suggesting he may not honor the organization's most sacred covenant of mutual defense.

During his confirmation hearing Trump's pick for secretary of state, former Exxon Mobile Chief Rex Tillerson, was questioned about his ties to Russia, where he did deals with the state-run oil industry and developed a personal relationship with President Vladimir Putin. Tillerson denied lobbying against Russian sanctions brought on by its aggression in Ukraine and said that sanctions are a "powerful tool."

In addition to saying the U.S. would benefit from a friendlier relationship with Putin, Trump has also praised him on Twitter recently, calling him "very smart" for deciding not to retaliate when President Obama kicked out Russian intelligence offers in response to the election hack.

3. NORTH KOREA

In September, North Korea conducted its largest ever nuclear test, detonating a bomb that analysts detected had a yield equivalent to 10 kilotons of TNT. It was the reclusive country's second nuclear test this year and its fifth test since 2006.

The United States is now more concerned than ever that North Korea is closer to its goal of miniaturizing a nuclear weapon that can be placed on long-range missiles, a move that could destabilize the region and the world. Just this week a South Korean news agency reported the North Koreans announced they're preparing to test mobile-launched ICMBs, but U.S. intelligence officials would not confirm those reports.

Unlike with Iran, the U.S. has not been able to negotiate an agreement on nuclear issues. The U.S. and North Korea have virtually no diplomatic relations and China is considered the only global power with any leverage over the regime.

Considering that three of North Korea's five nuclear tests have occurred during the rule of Kim Jong-un, it's clear the dictator is undeterred by the suffocating economic sanctions imposed by foreign nations. Though China's Foreign Ministry has criticized the North Korean test and urged international dialogue, recent tensions between the United States and China over the South China Sea could suppress Chinese support for taking a more aggressive approach to the North Korean regime.

What Trump has said: In response to North Korea's latest nuclear test, Trump's spokesman Kellyanne Conway said that if Trump is elected, North Korea will know the Americans "aren't messing around."

In January, after the North said it was close to being able to firing off a nuclear weapons that could reach the United States, Trump tweeted "It won't happen," which has been interpreted as a possible "red line" for the Trump administration.

In May Trump said he would be open to the idea of allowing North Korea's neighbors, including U.S. allies South Korea and Japan, to acquire their own nuclear arsenals -- a move that would effectively nuclearize the entire region and negate the cost and justification for stationing U.S. troops in the region.

"We cannot afford to be the military and the police for the world," he said at the time.

4. CLIMATE CHANGE

A report released in November by the United Nations World Meteorological Organization said that 2011-2015 was the hottest five-year period on record.

One year ago, nearly 200 nations signed a global pact, the Paris Agreement, to combat climate change with the shared goal of preventing global temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The U.S., along with other developed countries, will have to make good on commitments to fund new low-carbon emissions systems in countries that are complaining that the finances are not coming as promised.

But the challenges on the road to achieving this shared goal are vast -- and they begin with the United States. Already, legal cases in the U.S. Supreme Court have stalled President Obama's plan to phase out coal power plants as part of his "Clean Power Plan." The delay could take years as the cases brought by various states play out.

Meeting the goals outlined in the Paris climate agreement will take significant effort both domestically and abroad.

Trump's pick to be the head of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, said during his nomination hearing he did not believe climate change is a "hoax" as Trump has previously claimed, but said he was in favor of rolling back environmental regulations he claims have hurt American industries.

What Trump has said: In May of this year, Donald Trump said he would "cancel" U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement.

"Any regulation that's outdated, unnecessary, bad for workers or contrary to the national interest will be scrapped and scrapped completely," Trump said. "We're going to do all this while taking proper regard for rational environmental concerns."

As mentioned, Trump has also tweeted that global warming is a "hoax" perpetrated by the Chinese.

While Tillerson has acknowledged climate change is a problem, ExxonMobil came under fire at its shareholders' meeting last year for rejecting resolutions that would have pushed the company’s resources toward renewable energy, according to the Washington Post.

5. TURKEY

Turkey's proximity to the conflict in Syria, ownership of a military base leased by the United States, failed attempt at a military coup, and resentment of U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria and Iraq are just some of the contributing factors to its increasingly fraught relationship with the United States.

Turkey, a NATO ally, is also accusing the United States of harboring a person that its leaders say is the equivalent of what Osama bin Laden was to the U.S. That was how the Turkish Minister of Justice described Fethullah Gulen, the cleric living in Pennsylvania and the man Turkey's government blames for inciting that failed coup this past summer. Turkey is insisting Gulen be extradited to Turkey, but the U.S. Justice Department has suggested Turkey has failed to present sufficient evidence of wrongdoing.

The Gulen movement is designated as a terrorist organization inside Turkey and Turkish President Recep Erdogan has been using the failed coup as an excuse to purge all his opposition. Disturbing accusations of imprisoning teachers and journalists and committing torture threaten the state's democracy and have forced the U.S. to distance itself from the country, which has been a critical ally in the past. The tensions have created a pathway for Turkey to form partnerships with adversaries of the U.S.

Meanwhile, the U.S. relies on Turkish border control, Turkish armed forces and its military base in the fight against ISIS. A diplomatic rift with Turkey could damage U.S. efforts, though both Turkey and the U.S. have insisted they don't want that to happen.

What Trump has said: In a campaign interview with The New York Times last July, Trump applauded the Turkish president and the Turkish people for suppressing the failed coup attempt. He also said he thinks "Turkey can do a lot against ISIS, and I would hope that if I’m dealing with them, they will do much more about ISIS."

Asked about Erdogan jailing tens of thousands of people and Turkey's problems with civil liberties, Trump said, "I think it’s very hard for us to get involved in other countries when we don’t know what we are doing and we can’t see straight in our own country."

6. CHINA

President Trump faces three potential threats from China. First, he's said he will label China a currency manipulator and flirted with an idea of increasing tariffs. This could set off a trade war and, depending on China's response, could create economic problems on a global scale.

Second, Trump has already taken the provocative step of questioning America's One China policy, which recognizes the island of Taiwan as a part of China. After winning the election, Trump held an unprecedented phone call with the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, which he says was initiated by Taiwan, that prompted the Obama administration to reaffirm its stance. U.S. policy does allow, however, for the sale of weapons to Taiwan, which it could use in a potential military conflict with the mainland.

And third, Trump will need to decide how to confront China's militarization of disputed islands in the South China sea and its claim to Island in the East China Sea. Tillerson has said China's military actions are illegal, likening them to the taking of Crimea by Ukraine, and said the U.S. should send a signal that their action are "not going to be allowed."

Chinese state media responded by saying the Trump administration risks "large-scale war" if it attempts to intervene.

7. IRAN

Trump and a number of his incoming cabinet members have suggested the new administration either ought to abandon or renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal. Vice President Pence has said he would "rip up the Iran deal." But Trump's nominee for Ambassador to the United Nations, Gov. Nikki Haley, suggested during her confirmation that the U.S. would strictly enforce the terms -- which many see as a threat to dismantle it.

For instance, if the U.S. were to accuse Iran of violating the deal, sanctions could snap back into place and the deal could fall apart. If Trump is unable to negotiate a new deal, Iran would likely return to making a nuclear weapons, which even President Obama drew as a red line. Without a nuclear deal, Trump would have no option other than military force to dismantle Iran's nuclear program.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Jan232017

Low Expectations as Syrian Government, Rebels Meet for Peace Talks

iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Representatives of the Syrian government and rebel factions met Monday for the first time in a year for peace talks brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran.

The talks are expected to focus on maintaining a cease-fire reached on Dec. 30 rather than a long-term political solution, analysts say.

“In a best-case scenario, you get increased humanitarian access to besieged areas accompanied by a beefed up cease-fire enhancement mechanism to be monitored by the three external actors [Russia, Turkey and Iran],” Julien Barnes-Dacey, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told ABC News.

If these first steps are agreed to, it could pave the way for continuing negotiations on a broader political solution when United Nations-led talks are expected to take place in Geneva in February, he said.

In Monday's meeting, the Syrian opposition is represented by militants on the ground in Syria rather than a Syrian opposition based outside of the country. George Krol, the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, attended Monday's session, but the U.S. and other Western countries are not directly involved in the negotiations.

“It reflects a lack of Western leverage on the ground,” said Barnes-Dacey. “This has been a conflict driven forward by regional actors. The U.S. and Europe have been very reluctant to get involved militarily.”

Haid Haid -- an associate fellow specializing in the Middle East at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, a policy institute based in London -- said that the warring sides met ahead of Monday's official talks and weren’t able to agree on a deal. At the same time, Russia and Iran are divided, he said, which will make it more difficult to achieve an agreement. He said that the talks were planned to take place now to benefit from the administrative transition in the U.S.

“Russia and Turkey agree on any attempt to sideline the West because they believe that it will make it easier for them to reach a deal on Syria,” he told ABC News.

But a long-term solution needs Western involvement, he said, because Turkey doesn’t have influence on all the rebel groups in Syria and can’t impose a deal on all of them. Similarly, Russia doesn’t have control of all the factions who are supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“That’s why the U.N. has to be involved in order to ensure the stability of such a deal,” he said. “You need independent observers and actors who have influence over the rest of the actors in this. The U.N., the U.S., and the EU would take part in rebuilding Syria in the future. It is difficult to imagine how they would participate in rebuilding if they weren’t involved in the peace process.”

Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov described Monday's meeting as “a clear manifestation of the international community’s efforts directed to peaceful settlement of the situation in Syria.”

“Kazakhstan believes that the only way to find a solution to the Syrian crisis is through negotiations,” he said.

Syria’s six-year war has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions of Syrians.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Jan232017

Three Puppies Found Alive in Italy Avalanche

Hemera/Thinkstock(FARINDOLA, Italy) — Emergency rescuers were able to experience some joy in their search and recovery efforts after the avalanche that struck last week near a hotel in central Italy. The rescuers broke down a wall to retrieve three puppies buried alive for at least five days in an avalanche in central Italy.

The Abruzzo shepherd puppies, all born in December, were found buried alive in the hotel’s boiler room. The puppies are in good health.

The search for avalanche survivors, now in its sixth day, continues as emergency personnel work to locate 23 people still trapped in the hotel. Eleven people so far have been rescued, with five deceased recovered.


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Sunday
Jan222017

McCain, Graham to Vote in Favor of Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson 

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Sen. John McCain praised President Donald Trump's cabinet picks and revealed he will vote in favor of Rex Tillerson, Trump's pick to lead the State Department, despite concerns about the nominee's relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I will be voting in favor of his nomination," McCain said of Tillerson in an interview Sunday with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos on This Week.

"Listen, this wasn't an easy call. But I also believe that when there's doubt the president, the incoming president, gets the benefit of the doubt, and that's the way I've treated every president that I've had the obligation to vote for or against as a member of the United States Senate."

Sen. John McCain and his fellow Republican foreign policy hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham released a joint statement Sunday supporting Tillerson's nomination.

"After careful consideration, and much discussion with Mr. Tillerson, we have decided to support his nomination to be secretary of state. Though we still have concerns about his past dealings with the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin, we believe that Mr. Tillerson can be an effective advocate for U.S. interests," the statement said.

But, another prominent Republican senator has still apparently not made up his mind on Tillerson.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who sharply questioned Tillerson on Russia's involvement in Syria during the confirmation hearing, has not decided whether to vote for Tillerson, according to Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee, who spoke to Rubio on Friday.

Rubio has met with Tillerson privately since the hearing, the senator's office said. He's also met with Vice President Mike Pence on the subject, according to Corker.

Wihtout Rubio's vote, Tillerson's nomination would not move out of committee. Republican leadership could still hold a full Senate vote and confirm him, especially now that he has McCain and Graham's public support, but it would be an embarrassing bruise for Trump administration.

McCain also praised some of Trump's other Cabinet picks on This Week, saying he has the "utmost confidence" in Trump's national security team, in particular.

"I have the utmost confidence in Gen. Mattis, Gen. Flynn, Gen. Kelly, Dan Coats. I couldn't have picked a better team," he said.

But, the Arizona senator did not have the same praise for the president himself.

Asked by Stephanopoulos if he has the "utmost confidence" in the commander-in-chief, McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, replied, "I don't know because he has made so many comments that are contradictory."

"I think the fact that he's appointed and nominated these outstanding individuals is bound to be an encouraging sign," McCain added. "I trust them, and I believe in them, and I've worked with them over many years.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Jan222017

Millions Reportedly Missing After Gambia's Longtime Leader Flees

iStock/Thinkstock(BANJUL, Gambia) -- More than $11 million is missing from the Gambia's state coffers after the country's longtime leader flew into exile, an adviser to the new president, Adama Barrow, said according to BBC.

The Gambia's leader of 22 years, Yahya Jammeh, had refused to leave the country, but agreed to exit after talks with regional leaders, BBC reports. Jammeh cited "irregularities" in the vote after initially conceding the election to Barrow in a huge upset.

Adviser Mai Ahmad Fatty said to reporters the Gambia's coffers were "virtually empty" ahead of Barrow's arrival to the country, adding that it was "confirmed by technicians in the ministry of finance and the Central Bank of the Gambia," according to BBC.

Jammeh was criticized by human rights groups for reportedly restricting freedom of the press, calling for anti-gay violence, and for claiming he could cure HIV/AIDS and infertility. Barrow said he would investigate the allegations.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Jan222017

Trump Invites Israeli PM Netanyahu to Washington, Israel Says

RONEN ZVULUN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington next month, the prime minister's office said Sunday, making the Israeli one of the first foreign leaders with whom Trump will have met after taking office.

During a phone call on Sunday, one of Trump's first with a foreign leader since assuming the presidency Friday, Trump and Netanyahu discussed "the nuclear deal with Iran, the peace process with the Palestinians and other issues," Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

Trump also invited the Israeli prime minister to visit Washington in February, with a final date to be determined in the coming days, the statement said.

The call was the third Trump has held with a foreign leader since Friday, according to the White House. He previously spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Saturday.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is scheduled to meet with Trump in the Oval Office on Friday -- which would be Trump's first meeting with a foreign leader -- and Pena Nieto is set to meet with Trump at the end of the month.

Netanyahu and former President Barack Obama long had a frosty relationship, but Netanyahu has signaled he looked forward to working with Obama's successor. His office characterized their conversation as "warm."

"There are many issues between us including the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the situation in Syria and the Iranian threat," Netanyahu tweeted Sunday, before the call. "Stopping the Iranian threat, and the threat reflected in the bad nuclear agreement with Iran, continues to be a supreme goal of Israel."

Trump has said he would move the United States' embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which Israel considers its capital, a move Palestinians and Israel's other Arab neighbors have warned could prove destructive to the peace process.

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Saturday
Jan212017

US Will Not Take Part in Syria Peace Talks in Kazakhstan

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The United States will not send a delegation to Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan, citing "Our presidential inauguration and the immediate demands of the transition," the State Department announced Saturday. However, the United States ambassador to Kazakhstan will be an observer to the talks being sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran.

"The U.S. Government this week received an invitation from the Government of Kazakhstan to attend the January 23 talks in Astana," said Mark Toner, the acting State Department spokesman. "We welcome and appreciate Kazakhstan’s invitation to participate as an observer.

"Given our presidential inauguration and the immediate demands of the transition, a delegation from Washington will not be attending the Astana conference," Toner said. "The United States will be represented by our Ambassador to Kazakhstan."

Toner added, "The United States is committed to a political resolution to the Syrian crisis through a Syrian-owned process, which can bring about a more representative, peaceful, and united Syria."

Scheduled to begin on Monday, the talks in Kazakhstan's capital of Astana will bring together representatives from the Syrian government and rebels groups. Russia, Turkey and Iran arranged the talks following a ceasefire in the Syrian civil war enabled by the defeat of rebel forces in the northern city of Aleppo. Russian airstrikes and Iranian advisers supported the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the fight over the city.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has yet to schedule a vote on Rex Tillerson's nomination to become the next Secretary of State that would lead to a full confirmation vote by the Senate.

For now, Thomas Shannon, a career diplomat and the previous under secretary for political and military affairs, is serving as acting secretary of state.

Last week, then Secretary of State John Kerry had urged the incoming Trump administration to attend the peace talks.

"My hope is the next administration will decide to go," he said. "I think it would be good for them to go."

Kerry told reporters traveling with him in Paris that he hoped the Astana talks would not be a substitute for stalled United Nations-led peace talks being held in Geneva, Switzerland, but would spur their resumption.

Reflecting the complexity of the Syrian Civil War, there is disagreement among the participants in the Astana talks about whether the United States should have participated.

While Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had expressed hope that the U.S. would participate in the talks, Iran opposed any American participation.

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