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Thursday
Jun222017

North Korea conducts another missile test

PeterHermesFurian/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- North Korea has held yet another missile test on Wednesday, a U.S. official says.

According to the official, North Korea conducted a static rocket engine test at its Sohae launch facility. It marked the first such test since March.

The test would have involved the upper stage of a multi-stage rocket for use either as a space launch or as an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Separately, at the Punggye-Ri underground nuclear test site, activity earlier this week has been followed by little change. The U.S. official said that it is unclear whether the earlier activity indicates an inspection of the facility, or a coming nuclear test.

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Thursday
Jun222017

Regional AQAP leader killed in airstrike in Yemen 

kylieellway/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A regional leader for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was killed last week in a U.S.-led airstrike, the U.S. military announced Thursday.

According to U.S. Central Command, a June 16 airstrike killed Abu Khattab al Awlaqi, the top AQAP leader in Shabwah Governorate of Yemen. The strike was aimed at disrupting terrorist compounds and attacking networks within Yemen.

Centcom says that Awlaqi was responsible for planning and conducting terrorist attacks against civilians, and had significant influence throught AQAP's infrastructure.

The U.S. has conducted a series of counterterrorism operations in Yemen in coordination with the Yemeni government.

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Thursday
Jun222017

No royal wants to be king or queen, Prince Harry says in new interview

Jonathan Brady/WPA Pool-Getty Images(LONDON) -- Prince Harry reveals in a candid new interview that he believes no one in the royal family wants to be king or queen.

"We are involved in modernizing the British monarchy. We are not doing this for ourselves but for the greater good of the people," Harry told Newsweek magazine. "Is there any one of the royal family who wants to be king or queen? I don't think so, but we will carry out our duties at the right time."

Harry, the fifth in line to the British throne, has made no secret about the downsides of being a royal but in the interview called the monarchy a "force for good."

Speaking of his grandmother, 91-year-old Queen Elizabeth II, he said, "We want to carry on the positive atmosphere that the queen has achieved for over 60 years, but we won’t be trying to fill her boots.”

The 32-year-old prince was also remarkably open about one of the most traumatic days of his life, the funeral of his mother, Princess Diana, and the decision to have him, then 12, and his brother Prince William, then 15, walk behind their mother's coffin in a public procession.

"My mother had just died, and I had to walk a long way behind her coffin, surrounded by thousands of people watching me while millions more did on television,” Harry said. “I don’t think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances. I don't think it would happen today."

That moment shaped his life. Harry admitted earlier this year the "total chaos" and near breakdown he had after Diana's death. He credited William, 35, with encouraging him to get counseling to deal with his grief.

Harry and William harnessed that energy to launch, with Duchess Kate, the Heads Together charity that aims to break down the stigma surrounding mental health.

"My mother died when I was very young. I didn't want to be in the position I was in, but I eventually pulled my head out of the sand, started listening to people and decided to use my role for good. I am now fired up and energized and love charity stuff, meeting people and making them laugh,” Harry told Newsweek. “I sometimes still feel I am living in a goldfish bowl, but I now manage it better."

He added, "I still have a naughty streak too, which I enjoy and is how I relate to those individuals who have got themselves into trouble.”

Harry also credits Princess Diana, who was just 36 when she died, with instilling in him the values he carries around in his everyday life, an appreciation for an ordinary life and making privacy a high priority. Diana was famously called the "Princess of Hearts" for her humanitarian work and Harry has earned the nickname the "Prince of Hearts" for his own compassionate charity work.

"My mother took a huge part in showing me an ordinary life, including taking me and my brother to see homeless people," he said. "Thank goodness I’m not completely cut off from reality. People would be amazed by the ordinary life William and I live."

Harry, who has been snapped several times with a baseball cap on buying groceries at supermarkets close to Kensington Palace, confirmed to Newsweek that he does his own grocery shopping.

"I am determined to have a relatively normal life, and if I am lucky enough to have children, they can have one too," said Harry, who is dating American actress Meghan Markle. "Even if I was king, I would do my own shopping.”

Even with his attempts to live a normal life, Harry conceded that preserving the "magic" of the monarchy is still a vital part of the institution.

"We don’t want to dilute the magic," Harry said. "The British public and the whole world need institutions like it.”

Harry, an uncle to Prince George and Princess Charlotte, has made no secret of his desire for children. Now, speculation is mounting that Harry is ready to settle down and propose to Markle, whom he began dating last summer.

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Thursday
Jun222017

Three panda cubs born in China

iStock/Thinkstock(BEIJING) -- Northwest China just got three new residents.

Three panda cubs were born in China at the Shaanxi Rare Wild Animals Rescue and Breeding Research Center last week. They now weigh 11.2 ounces, according to the center, and are all healthy.

Their mother, 14-year-old Yang Yang, is not a first-time mother. According to the center, she also gave birth in 2009 and 2014.

The center's vet, Ma Qingyi, said two other female pandas there are expecting bundles of joy soon.

According to the Shaanxi Province's forestry department, Yang Yang and her cubs are among 22 captive giant pandas in the area. The province also has 345 wild pandas living in a nearly 890,000-acre habitat.

Giant pandas typically live 20 to 30 years in captivity, according to Chinese wildlife sources.

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Wednesday
Jun212017

Despite Trump tweet, Mattis, Tillerson are full steam ahead on China, North Korea

US State Department(WASHINGTON) -- After a day of meetings with top Chinese officials, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. and China have made progress on a handful of issues and are pushing ahead on pressuring North Korea -- despite President Donald Trump’s claim that “it has not worked.”

“China continues to work these issues,” Mattis told reporters.

“They have a diplomatic responsibility to assert much greater economic and diplomatic pressure on the regime if they want to prevent further escalation in the region,” said Tillerson, at Mattis's side.



So what did Trump mean by his tweet on Tuesday then?

“He represents the American people’s view of North Korea right now,” said Mattis, referencing anger over the death of Otto Warmbier, held captive by the regime for over a year.

“We see a young man go over there healthy, and with a minor act of mischief, come home dead, basically. ... What you’re seeing, I think, is the American people’s frustration with a regime that provokes and provokes and provokes and basically plays outside the rules, plays fast and loose with the truth,” he said.

It was another strongly worded warning to North Korea, but given the administration's different statements, it’s unclear what it will do next.

For his part, Tillerson doubled down on the current strategy, saying both the U.S. and China agreed to stop doing business with U.N.-sanctioned North Koreans. But with their Chinese counterparts absent from the press conference, there was no word from China on whether or not they will finally fully do that.

“We reaffirmed our commitment to implement in full all relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions. For example, we both agree that our companies should not do business with any U.N.-designated North Korean entities,” said Tillerson -- adding more positive spin on the summit later when he said two delegations also had a “frank exchange of views” on the South China Sea, but that China said it was committed to resolving the disputes there peacefully.

In the meantime, the U.S. will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever the freedom of navigation allows, according to Mattis.

In general, both secretaries praised their summit, formally known as the Diplomatic and Security Dialogue, for involving higher level officials in both civilian and military posts than in the past and for laying the groundwork for greater engagement, better communication and reducing the risk of dangerous incidents going forward. Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Gen. Fang Fenghui, the chief of the People's Liberation Army's Joint Staff, led their country’s delegation.

The American delegation also included Amb. Joseph Yun, who just returned from North Korea to secure Warmbier’s release; Amb. Terry Branstad, the longtime Iowa governor who will soon begin his time as ambassador to China; and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“This has been a unique opportunity for our nations to engage in philosophical level discussions about how we discuss these issues and discuss the way ahead,” said Mattis. “While competition between our nations is bound to occur, conflict is not inevitable.”

Wednesday’s meetings consisted of four working sessions, each focused on a couple of top security issues, like North Korea and the South China Sea.

The U.S. wants China to do more on defeating ISIS as well -- in particular, helping the Iraqi government to ensure long-term stability and economic growth, according to Tillerson.

Tillerson also made a public nudge on human rights, something he’s been hesitant to do otherwise.

“We will not be shy about raising our concerns about China’s human rights record, and I was direct and candid in our meetings today,” he said.

Later in the year, high-level representatives from both countries will meet for an economic dialogue, a law enforcement and cyber dialogue, and a social and people-to-people dialogue.

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Wednesday
Jun212017

US military: ISIS destroyed historic mosque

dk_photos/iStock/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- ISIS has destroyed a historic mosque in western Mosul, the U.S. military announced on Wednesday.

The destruction of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri was announced by the Iraqi government on Wednesday. That mosque was the site where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his speech calling for a caliphate on July 4, 2014.

The mosque stood in Mosul for more than eight centuries.

"As our Iraqi Security Force partners closed in on the al-Nuri mosque, ISIS destroyed one of Mosul and Iraq's great treasures," Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin, Commanding General of the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command - Operation Inherent Resolve, said.

U.S. and Coalition Commander in Iraq and Syria, Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend called the news "sad."

"I was just in Mosul Wednesday afternoon and close enough to see the mosque and its famous leaning minaret. Little did I know it was for the last time. This is just another example that ISIS is a cruel, heartless and god-less ideology that cannot be permitted to exist in the world."

"This is a crime against the people of Mosul and all of Iraq, and is an example of why this brutal organization must be annihilated," Martin added.

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Wednesday
Jun212017

Russia cancels meeting with US on improving relations amid updated sanctions

ronniechua/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Russian deputy foreign minister has canceled his meeting with his American counterpart –- a long-planned summit to address more minor problems in the relationship –- because of the updated U.S. sanctions announced Tuesday.

Undersecretary of State Tom Shannon is traveling to London on Wednesday, but he will not continue on to St. Petersburg Friday, as previously scheduled. The State Department officially announced his travel Tuesday, seemingly caught off guard by Russia’s cancellation that dealt a serious blow to the Trump administration’s efforts to improve relations.

In a strongly worded statement, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Rybakov said Russia was canceling the meeting because the U.S. ruined the circumstances by announcing updated sanctions this week, and by not returning two Russian diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York.

"The new American jab will not go without reaction from our side, including practical reciprocal measures," he warned.

Rybakov went on to rail against America for the current state of poor relations between the two countries and declare that sanctions will never force Russia to "submit."

"In the U.S., of course, they can further soothe themselves with the illusions that they can 'pressure' Russia. Many previous 'waves' of American sanctions have not brought the result on which their initiators counted. Just as futile will be any new attempts to force the Russian side to 'submit,'" he said.

But the State Department fired back, offering a strong defense of those sanctions, while clarifying that the announcement Tuesday simply brought them up to date without adding anything new. The Treasury Department announced Tuesday that it was adding 38 pro-Russian individuals and entities to existing sanctions against Russia.

"Let’s remember that these sanctions didn’t just come out of nowhere. Our targeted sanctions were imposed in response to Russia’s ongoing violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbor, Ukraine. If the Russians seek an end to these sanctions, they know very well the U.S. position," said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert in her own strongly worded statement.

She added that the U.S. remains open to future discussions, but those sanctions will remain until Russia ends its occupation of Crimea and meets its obligations under the Ukrainian peace deal known as the Minsk agreement.

President Trump and his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have been advocating for improving relations with Russia, arguing that the world's two greatest nuclear powers should not be at odds and that there are areas of common grounds, like fighting ISIS.

The planned meeting between Shannon and Rybakov would have been the second, after a May meeting in New York. The two senior officials were tasked by their bosses, Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, to lead a working group to deal with "irritants" in the relationship -– including the Russian diplomatic compounds.

The State Department confirmed earlier this month that returning those compounds would have been part of the discussions at Friday’s summit, despite bipartisan calls on Capitol Hill not to do so. Now, it seems, their return has become more uncertain.

In addition to the current updated sanctions, the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill last week that would expand sanctions on Russia and prevent the administration from making changes to any Russian sanctions without Congressional approval. The White House hasn't said if the president would sign the bill, but the Republican House leadership has held it up, citing a procedural issue that will delay a vote for now.

Tillerson had expressed reservation about the legislation when testifying on the Hill last week, saying he needed "the flexibility to turn the heat up when we need to, but also to ensure that we have the ability to maintain a constructive dialogue."

After Russia scrapped Friday's summit, any sort of dialogue is expected to become more difficult.

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Wednesday
Jun212017

Jared Kushner meets with Netanyahu on first day of Middle East trip 

Photo by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- Jared Kushner, President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, arrived in Israel Wednesday morning to begin a trip aimed at moving toward a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The trip, which comes as Kushner faces increased scrutiny over his connections to Russia amid the investigation into that country's interference in the 2016 election, provides an opportunity for the 36-year-old to make a mark in an area of diplomacy in which his father-in-law has high hopes.

In an interview with the New York Times in November, Trump said he “would love to be able to be the one that made peace with Israel and the Palestinians" adding that it "would be such a great achievement.”

Kushner, who is Jewish, “knows the region, knows the people, knows the players,” Trump told the Times in the same interview. The night before his inauguration, Trump reportedly told Kushner, “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can.”

Kusher met with Prime Minister Netanyahu soon after his arrival Wednesday. Netanyahu's spokesperson, Ofir Gendelman, tweeted a video of the start of their meeting.



“This is an opportunity to pursue our common goals of security, prosperity, and peace,” Netanyahu told Kushner. “I know of your efforts and the President’s efforts, and I look forward to working with you to achieve these common goals.”

In reference to Trump’s earlier trip to the Middle East, Netanyahu said the president “made an indelible impression on the people of Israel.”

“The president sends his best regards and it’s an honor to be here with you,” said Kushner.

Kushner's arrival in Israel comes at a contentious time in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Israel had broken ground on its first new settlement in two decades in the West Bank. This comes after an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in February to uproot the Amona settlement.

On Wednesday morning, Kushner also met with the family of Hadas Malka, the 23-year-old border police officer who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian attacker near Damascus Gate on Friday. Kushner said he was personally asked by Trump to express his condolences to her grieving family. He was accompanied by the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.

Kusher will later travel to Ramallah in the West Bank and speak with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

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Wednesday
Jun212017

Brussels attacker identified as 36-year-old Moroccan

Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(BRUSSELS) -- The man who was shot dead at a Brussels train station Tuesday after attempting to explode a suitcase of nails and gas canisters was unknown to authorities as a terror suspect, a Belgian prosecutor said Wednesday.

The would-be attacker -- identified by the initials "O.Z." -- was a 36-year-old of Moroccan origin, Brussels federal prosecutor Eric Van der Sypt said at a news conference Wednesday morning. He said the man was not known to authorities to be involved in any terror activities, but the prosecutor did not comment on whether he had a criminal record.

Van der Sypt said the man's home in the Molenbeek district of Brussels had been searched after the attack.

The man entered Brussels Central Station at 8:39 p.m. local time holding a suitcase and headed toward a group of people, Van der Sypt said. Five minutes later, his suitcase caught fire after a small explosion ignited in which no one was injured.

The attacker then ran down a flight of stairs toward a station employee and a soldier, Van der Sypt said. His suitcase exploded again.

As the attacker screamed "Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great,” in Arabic, a soldier shot the suspect several times, killing him.

The federal prosecutor said the man was not wearing an explosive belt, contrary to initial reports, and that he was carrying only the case that was full of nails and small gas canisters.

"It was clear he wanted to cause much more damage than what happened," Van der Sypt said. "The bag exploded twice but it could have been a lot worse."

The train station has reopened after closing Tuesday night in the aftermath of the incident.

The country's terror level remains at three, signifying a serious and likely threat.

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Wednesday
Jun212017

Prince Philip hospitalized as a ‘precautionary measure’

Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images(LONDON) -- Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital in London on Tuesday night as a "precautionary measure" for treatment of an infection arising from a pre-existing condition, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson told ABC News.

The Duke of Edinburgh, who turned 96 this month, is in good spirits and was said to be disappointed to have to miss the State Opening of Parliament and Royal Ascot.

In Philip's place, Charles, the Prince of Wales, will accompany the queen to the State Opening.

Last month, Prince Philip announced that he would be stepping down from public life in the fall.

Prince Philip was admitted to the hospital in 2013 for an exploratory abdominal surgery.

In 2012, he was admitted to the hospital during the queen's Diamond Jubilee for a bladder infection, an ailment that affected him again in 2015.

In 2011, he underwent a "minimally invasive procedure of coronary stenting," which was successfully performed after he was taken to the hospital suffering from chest pains.

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