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Thursday
Dec142017

Rodman on his relationship with Kim Jong Un: 'He treats me as a friend'

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Retired NBA player Dennis Rodman sat down for an interview with "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" on Wednesday to discuss his controversial relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Rodman, who's visited North Korea at least five times over the last four years, said the two aren’t “best friends,” but he described their relationship as “close.”

“I'm not protecting him. And people think that I sit there and say, ‘Hey, he's my best friend.’ That's not the case,” Rodman said. “He just treats me as a friend.

“I'm close enough to him to the fact that he can discuss anything with me. The deal is I don't discuss politics because that's not my job,” he added.

Rodman, an NBA Hall of Famer, said he and Kim first bonded a few years ago when the rogue leader asked for his trust.

“When I went over there, the first thing he said to me [was], ‘Mr. Rodman we just want to know, can we trust you?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ And that's how our conservation started,” he recalled. “I went over there to try to solve things, to try to open the door so we can have some communication.”

Rodman said he does not agree with all of Kim’s political decisions, but he does want to act as a bridge between the U.S. and North Korea.

“He's more of a kid, than anything,” Rodman said. “I think he really wants to change his culture, but I think he's forced to be in this position because every time I go over there, he's changed so much for the people. The people don't see that.

“Like I said, you don't have to like somebody to be around them. You don't have to love somebody to like them,” Rodman added.

In the past, Rodman, who said he is a supporter of President Donald Trump, has called on the president to unite with North Korea, but that seems unlikely as North Korea continues to defy demands for it to abandon its nuclear and missile programs.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Dec132017

A New Era of Friendship...

(LONDON) --  iStock/Thinkstock"The new embassy signifies a new era of friendship between our two countries," U.S. Ambassador Woody Johnson announced to reporters Wednesday at the press preview of the new U.S. Embassy in London.

"When you look out through the window, it reflects the global outlook of the U.S. in the 21st century," he said, flanked by the American flag and the Union Jack, in front of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the River Thames.

On this grim, drizzly London day he spoke about a "very bright future," as reporters were left to imagine the main cafeteria awash in sunlight sometime, perhaps, in August.

Johnson, 70, is the billionaire owner of the New York Jets and heir to pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson who has rallied big money for Republican candidates including President Donald Trump. Just six weeks officially into the ambassadorial gig, Trump's long-time friend stuck to the administration script at a time when that special relationship between the U.S. and U.K. appears to be in some trouble.

"This relationship is strong and enduring," he repeated multiple times on Wednesday.

When asked about the damage done when President Trump re-tweeted three videos shared by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain First, last month, he brushed it off.

"I don't think these kind of things will deter [Trump and UK Prime Minister Theresa May] from the objectives they both have," he said. He wouldn't say it was wrong for the president to retweet the videos and added that it's not really his job to smooth this out. For her part, May made it clear last month that "retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do." 

The imposing cube-shaped building is now the centerpiece of the largest regeneration project in Europe, Nine Elms in the Wandsworth borough of London. It spans 518,050 square feet, climbs more the 200 feet tall and cost a billion dollars, making it the most expensive U.S. Embassy building ever.

"It's a neighborhood with a great view. And a great future," Johnson said, joined today by key partners in this decade-long project.

For more than 200 years, the home of the U.S. diplomatic post has been in Grosvenor Square, in London's swanky Mayfair borough. The most recent embassy building, which opened in 1960, has now been sold to a Qatari developer, and “Little America," as it's called here, "is moving south of the river," said Johnson.

The new ambassador described the current embassy as a "window to the special relationship that the U.S. and U.K. have built together." It's famously topped with a bronze sculpture of the American Bald Eagle which will remain behind, and a flag that “the president would like ... because it’s a very big flag," the ambassador quipped.

The new building will open for business on January 16, 2018, but the dedication will come at a later, undisclosed date.

Asked if President Trump would dedicate the building, Johnson said "it depends on his schedule... He's a busy president at the moment, traveling the world and traveling the U.S. Yeah, we'd love to have him over here and we look forward to welcoming the president when he gets here."

Under fire to rescind her invitation last month over those Britain First retweets, Prime Minister May has reiterated that the invitation to the American president still stands. Speaking in Amman, Jordan last month, May told reporters that "an invite for a state visit has been extended and has been accepted. No date has been set."

In recent weeks, calls from both the British public and politicians to protest the American president's state visit have grown louder - but Johnson isn't worried.

"The great thing about being in London and the great thing about being in the U.S. is the ability to express your point of view," he said. "That's something we live with every day and it's an important part of who we are."

"The new embassy is a signal to the world that this special relationship we have will get stronger and will get better," he concluded. "And I’m going to do that if I can."

"Drop the 'if I can,'" he quickly added. "We’re going to make it stronger.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Dec132017

Congress skips chance to kill Iran deal, leaves decision to Trump

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- When President Donald Trump announced two months ago that he would not certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, he automatically triggered a 60-day review period during which Congress could decide to snap tough economic sanctions on Iran back into place -- a move that would effectively kill the landmark nuclear arms agreement.

That review period expired Tuesday, and the results are in: Congress chose not to act.

The White House said Tuesday that there was never any expectation Congress would act on sanctions within the review period and that the administration is still working with Congress on a longer-term, legislative fix to the deal.

That means the deal, which Trump recently described as the "one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into," remains unchanged. And the Republican Congress, which the president hopes will make a decision for him, is signaling they may lack the political grit to pass a law that kills it.

Trump has said he wants Congress to "fix the flaws in the deal" by passing a law that would remove sunset clauses and impose restrictions on Iran's ballistic missile program. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called them "trigger points" that relate to unacceptable Iranian behavior. But all five international signatories to the deal agree a U.S. law like that would amount to a material breach.

Congress' inaction during the review period raises questions about whether they will pass a new law that could kill the deal later.

Micah Johnson, a spokesman for Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told ABC News the senator is having "productive discussions" with the administration and other congressional leaders about the "appropriate path forward."

Sens. Corker and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., released a legislative framework for fixing the Iran deal two months ago, but sources on Capitol Hill told ABC News that so far there is no new legislation circulating.

Trump has threatened to end the deal on his own if Congress does nothing. "In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated," the president said in October. "It is under continuous review, and our participation can be canceled by me, as president, at any time."

Assuming Congress doesn't put forward any new legislation on Iran, the next step lies with Trump, and he could reach a tipping point when he's confronted with making a decision on the next round of sanctions waivers on Jan. 13.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Dec132017

Marine Corps apologizes after aircraft part falls on Japanese school again

NHK News(OKINAWA, Japan) -- For the second time in less than a week, a part from a U.S. military aircraft has fallen on a school in Okinawa, Japan.

A Marine CH-53E helicopter window fell onto the sports field of Daini Futenma Elementary School near the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma at about 10:09 a.m. Wednesday, 1st Lt. Karoline Foote, a spokeswoman from the First Marine Aircraft Wing, confirmed to ABC News.

The Japanese school is located in the southern prefecture of Okinawa. The helicopter crew immediately returned to MCAS Futenma and reported the incident, Foote said.

About 50 students were on the field when the aircraft’s window fell, city education board officials told NHK News, a Japanese public broadcaster. One boy sustained minor injuries after being hit by some gravel that was stirred up when the window hit the field, according to official reports.

Police said the helicopter’s window is about 35 inches wide, 33 inches long and weighs about 17 pounds, NHK News reported.

The window reportedly landed about 10 yards from where the students were playing.

“We take this report extremely seriously and are investigating the cause of this incident in close coordination with local authorities,” Foote said. “For safety purposes and to preserve the site for an investigation, we ask the community remain clear from the object's landing site. This is a regrettable incident, and we apologize for any anxiety it has caused the community.”

The incident is “inexcusable,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference today.

The mishap has angered Okinawans, coming six days after a cylindrical object fell on the roof of a nursery school from a U.S. military aircraft passing overhead. There were no injuries, and the Marine Corps is also investigating that incident.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Dec132017

Meghan Markle to join Prince Harry, royal family for Christmas Day service

Karwai Tang/WireImage(LONDON) -- Meghan Markle will join Prince Harry and other members of the royal family at Sandringham, Queen Elizabeth's estate, on Christmas Day, Kensington Palace said Wednesday.

"You can expect to see the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge -- Prince Harry and Ms. Markle -- at Sandringham on Christmas Day," a Kensington Palace spokeswoman said.

The Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton did not attend Christmas services at Sandringham in 2010 when she was still engaged to Prince William. She spent Christmas with her family before her wedding to William the next year.

Other royal fiancés have traditionally not attended either. Mike Tindall, the husband of Queen Elizabeth's granddaughter, Zara Philips, also did not join the royal family for Christmas before the couple married.

Markle, 36, and Harry, 33, announced their engagement on Nov. 27. Just a few days later, they attended their first official engagement as a newly engaged couple in Nottingham, England. The couple plans to wed at Windsor Castle next May.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Dec132017

Landmarks across the globe lit blue and white for Hanukkah's first night

ABC(NEW YORK) -- Buildings and bridges across the world were bathed in blue and white light Tuesday night in honor of the first night of Hanukkah.

From New York City to Winnipeg, Manitoba to Tel Aviv, the eight-day Jewish "festival of lights" is staying true to its nickname and lighting up cities of all sizes.

The Empire State Building was lit blue and white, with red light in its antenna, meant to represent a flickering candle. During Hanukkah, one candle of a menorah is lit each night.

In Israel, Tel Aviv City Hall's exterior was lit up in the shape of a menorah, with one candle lit. The city's official Twitter account simply tweeted, "Here we go! #HappyHanukkah."

In Winnipeg, the city's "Winnipeg" iconic 8 foot-by-53 foot sign, was illuminated in blue and white. "Tonight marks the beginning of #Hanukkah," tweeted Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman. "To celebrate the #WinnipegSign will be blue & white for the duration of the Festival of Lights!"

In Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney attended a Hanukkah lighting at Boathouse Row, a historic site located on the east bank of the Schuylkill River. "Celebrating the first night of Hanukkah at the Boathouse Row lighting tonight! Wishing a happy holiday to everyone celebrating," Kenney tweeted.

The Benjamin Franklin Bridge -- a suspension bridge across the Delaware River connecting Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey -- was also lit blue and white in honor of Hanukkah. ABC affiliate WPVI-TV tweeted video of the bridge's twinkling lights.

Other structures lit blue and white for Hanukkah include the U.S. Bank Tower in downtown Los Angeles, the Lowry Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, Orlando's Orlando Eye and the High Level Bridge in Edmonton, Alberta.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Dec122017

Tillerson to North Korea: ‘We're ready’ to meet ‘without precondition’

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) --  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. is "ready to talk any time North Korea would like to talk ... without precondition," in a surprising change for a member of the Trump administration.  The offer to North Korea comes amid crippling sanctions on the country and high tension over its nuclear weapons program -- and just after another intercontinental ballistic missile test just two weeks ago.

"Let's just meet and we can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table if that’s what you’re excited about," Tillerson said at the Atlantic Council in Washington Tuesday. "But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face and then we can begin to lay out a map, a roadmap of what we might be willing to work toward?"

The new message stands in contrast to President Donald Trump’s warnings that talks have failed and that Tillerson was wasting his time – another sign of policy difference between the president and his top diplomat.

But it also is a shift from Tillerson’s own previous comments that the U.S. would not negotiate its way to the negotiating table with North Korea and that it would only talk once the regime was ready to address its denuclearization.

Tillerson added later, "If there was any condition at all to this is that, 'Look, it’s going to be tough to talk if in the middle of our talks you decide to test another device.'" There needed to be a "period of quiet," he said, "or it's going to be very difficult to have productive discussions."

Tillerson didn't outline any timelines or metrics for how long that period should be.

This shift -- removing the commitment to denuclearize as a precondition to talking -- was also a practical idea, according to Tillerson. "It's not realistic to say we're only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your program. They have too much invested in it," he said.

"The president is very realistic about that as well," he added, although Trump has tweeted the opposite before -- arguing that talks will not work.

"Presidents and their administrations have been talking to North Korea for 25 years, agreements made and massive amounts of money paid," he tweeted on Oct. 7. "... [It] hasn't worked, agreements violated before the ink was dry, makings fools of U.S. negotiators. Sorry, but only one thing will work!"

It was unclear then what the "one thing" was.

Still, the final goal for the administration has not changed, with the ultimate objective continuing to be the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula -- and Tillerson said he remains optimistic diplomatic efforts can achieve that. He said Trump is calling on China to cut off the flow of oil to North Korea to accelerate that effort.

Tillerson also addressed the U.S.'s relationship with China amid the tension with North Korea. He said the two countries have had talks about how to secure North Korea's nuclear weapons in the event of the regime's collapse -- with the U.S. reassuring China that it would retreat back below the 38th parallel that divides North and South Korea if it ever had to invade the North.

The Chinese are also working on their own contingency plans to deal with a massive flow of North Korean refugees into China if the regime fell apart, Tillerson said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Dec122017

Russia will allow its Olympic athletes to compete as neutral after ban

iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Russia’s Olympic Committee has voted to back a plan for its athletes to compete at 2018 Winter Olympics under a neutral flag. The move means that there will now likely be a sizeable Russian contingent competing when the Olympics take place in Pyeonchang, South Korea, this February.

Last week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) barred Russia from the upcoming Olympics as punishment for what it says was a systematic cover up of doping by country's athletes. The IOC said it would allow some individual Russian athletes to compete as neutrals, provided they could pass an IOC anti-doping panel. It was initially unclear whether that would be acceptable to the Russian authorities, who had previously threatened to boycott the Games.

At a meeting in Moscow Tuesday, Russia’s Olympic Committee voted unanimously to support its athletes wishing to participate in the Games.

Speaking at a televised news conference after the meeting, the committee’s head Alexander Zhukov said he expects around 200 athletes to be able to compete in Pyeongchang, though it would be up to the IOC to determine how many would be approved.

A day before, the Russian Committee said that the majority of its athletes had expressed a desire to compete. Last week, president Vladimir Putin had seemed to clear the way when he said Russian authorities would place no obstacle in the path of those wishing to go.

The Russian Olympic Committee president, Zhukov, said that his committee had decided to swallow the IOC punishment in order to let athletes compete, saying they “have taken the blow ourselves, so as to give athletes the chance to realize their Olympic dreams."

The IOC's executive committee suspended the Russian Olympic Committee, including Zhukov himself, last week as a penalty for the doping cover up that already saw Russia partly excluded from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio-de-Janeiro.

Russian athletes wanting to compete will still have to be approved by a specially appointed IOC panel, made up of representatives from different international anti-doping bodies. The IOC’s decision last week said that no Russian athletes with previous doping records will be approved.

"I think the IOC will make sure that the strongest Russian athletes get the invitations, so that, for example, our hockey team consists of the best players," Zhukov said, according to the Associated Press.

Russian athletes competing in South Korea will now have to wear a specially designed uniform, labeled with "Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR)." Russia’s national anthem and flag will be absent from the Opening Ceremony and medal ceremonies. The Olympic anthem will play instead.

Russian and IOC officials suggested the punishment could end the doping scandal that has ravaged Russian sport for almost two years and has had little sign of abating, amid Russian refusals to accept the idea that the cover-up had been state-sponsored.

Last year, an investigation by the Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren for the World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA, found evidence that Russia's sports ministry had ordered hundreds of positive samples to be concealed. McLaren found that the system reached its height during the 2014 Winter Olympics that Russia hosted in Sochi, with agents from Russia's FSB intelligence service helping to switch out positive urine samples from the anti-doping lab there.

The IOC's own investigation, headed by a former Swiss president Samuel Schmid, confirmed "systemic manipulation" of the anti-doping system in Russia. However, Schmid said he had been unable to prove that the “highest state authorities” were aware of it, stopping short of calling it "state-sponsored."

Nevertheless, the head of Russia’s sports ministry, Vitali Mutko, was banned for life by the IOC, which said he must take responsibility for the doping scheme.

On Tuesday, Zhukov, like other Russian officials, emphasized that Schmid had found no evidence of a state system of doping. Russian officials previously insisted the scheme was carried out by individual coaches, officials and athletes.

The IOC decision to ban Russia over the doping system remains unprecedented in Olympic history. But since its announcement there have been signs that parts of the decision had been softened enough for Russia to accept.

Speaking directly after the decision, Zhukov had said it was “very important” that the uniforms Russian athletes will wear will still bear the word "Russia."

The IOC also stated that it may lift the Russian suspension for the Closing Ceremony in Pyeonchang, provided Russia had met the conditions laid out in the decision. That would mean Russian athletes could potentially still appear under their national flag to end the competition.

Russia fielded a team of 232 athletes at the Sochi Winter Olympics. Zhukov said he hoped 208 could take part as neutrals this year in Pyeongchang.

On Tuesday, six members of Russia's national women's hockey team were banned by the IOC over doping offenses at the Sochi Olympics. That brings the total number of Russian athletes disqualified from Sochi to 31, a loss that has seen the country drop from the top medal spot at the those Games. Twenty-two Russian athletes have appealed their disqualifications.

After an initial outcry from Russian officials and state media that the IOC decision was unfair, with some even comparing it to “genocide,” attitudes have since mellowed to righteous resignation.

"We are turning the page," Vitaly Smirnov, the head of Russia's Independent Civil Anti-Doping Commission, said at the news conference after supporting the Russian Olympic Committee decision.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Dec122017

Imprisoned Paralympian Oscar Pistorius 'bruised' from inmate fight over phone use, officials say

iStock/Thinkstock(JOHANNESBERG) -- Paralympic athlete and convicted murderer Oscar Pistorius was apparently bruised in a prison fight over a telephone, South African prison authorities said today.

No serious injuries resulted from his altercation with another inmate over the use of the prison phone, Department of Correctional Services spokesman Singabakho Nxumalo said.

“Pistorius wasn’t seriously injured; he was just bruised, although I haven’t received information about the exact location of the bruise,” Nxumalo said. “We do regard the incident in a serious light and will act once we have all the facts.”

Pistorius, a double-leg amputee known as the “bladerunner” because of his prosthetics, was first convicted of culpable homicide (manslaughter) in 2014 for shooting and killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day 2013. The Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa upgraded his conviction to murder in 2015 on appeal.

The Pretoria High Court sentenced him to six years’ imprisonment in July 2016, which the Supreme Court of Appeal increased to 13 years last month.

Pistorius, 31, has reportedly been on the phone quite a bit since then.

Nxumalo, the prison spokesman, told ABC News an internal investigation, involving everyone including Pistorius, the other inmate, possible eyewitnesses and guards is underway.

"The outcome of the investigation would determine if any remedial action would be undertaken against any of the inmates involved,” Nxumalo said, stressing that any punishment is a long way off but could include forfeiting prison privileges such as visitation rights, phone calls and letters and Christmas concessions.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Dec112017

Saudi Arabia to reopen cinemas that have been banned since the 1980s, says crown prince

iStock/Thinstock(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) -- Cinemas are set to open in Saudi Arabia in March 2018 for the first time since they were banned in in the early 1980s, according to the Saudi minister of culture.

"It's a beautiful day in Saudi Arabia!" tweeted Haifaa al-Mansour, the first female Saudi director of a feature film, the acclaimed "Wadjda".

 This is the second major social reform, after the lifting of the ban on women driving, announced in recent months as part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's "Vision 2030", a socioeconomic program aimed at modernizing the Saudi economy and shepherding the conservative kingdom into the 21st century.

"This is the best news! I've been waiting for it for 33 years" said Nahar Alhamrani, a self-described movie fanatic from Jeddah. "It will spark creativity and help build a change in people's mindset."

Cinemas existed in Saudi Arabia until they were banned in the early 1980s after a puritanical religious establishment gained control over social and educational affairs in the country.

"Today, the organized Islamist undercurrents that thrived in the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s no longer have influence in society," said Mohammed Alyahya, a nonresident fellow at The Atlantic Council.

Back then, "young and old people traded DVDs, downloaded movies and visited Bahrain to watch movies. The reintroduction of movie theaters is long overdue" added Alyahya.

A multimillion-dollar bootleg industry flourished as a result. Saudis amassed large collections of pirated DVDs of the latest Hollywood blockbusters, circumventing both the ban and censorship. It’s this revenue that the decision today also aims to recapture.

"Opening cinemas will act as a catalyst for economic growth and diversification," said Minister of Culture Awwad Alawwad. "By developing the broader cultural sector, we will create new employment and training opportunities, as well as enriching the kingdom's entertainment options"

The Saudi cinema industry is still nascent but has been receiving more attention over recent years with breakthrough movies like "Wadjdah" and "Barakah meets Barakah."

In September, it was announced that Saudi actress Ahd Kamel will star in the Netflix series "Collateral."

"Born a King," a coming-of-age story about the teenager who would become King Faisal, wrapped filming last month. It is the first Saudi English-language feature film officially licensed to be shot in the kingdom.

The announcement by the ministry of culture did not specify whether seating in cinemas would be gender-segregated as most public spaces are in Saudi Arabia or how heavily censored movies will be. Films are usually greatly censored with pixelation added to cover the chest and legs of actresses, as seen on a recent Saudi Airlines flight. Regulations are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

Multiple malls currently being built had already received licenses to build multiplexes before today's announcement.

By 2030, over 300 cinemas with 2000 screens are expected to have opened across Saudi Arabia.

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