Russian Ambassador Invited Trump Administration to Syria Peace Talks as US Issued Sanctions

Defense Intelligence Agency(NEW YORK) -- Russia's ambassador to the U.S. invited the Trump administration to Syrian peace talks during a phone call in December -- on the same day the Obama administration announced sanctions against Russia in retaliation for its hacking during the U.S. election -- a Trump spokesperson said Friday.

Incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak extended the invitation to the talks, which are scheduled for later this month, during a phone call with President-elect Donald Trump's incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn on December 29th, the day the U.S. issued sanctions and expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the country.

The Obama administration was unsuccessful in securing a seat in Syria peace negotiations during talks with Russia and other regional powers and has been excluded from the most recent rounds. The next talks about Syria are scheduled for January 23rd in Astana, Kazakhstan, three days after Trump takes office.

Spicer initially told reporters the conversation between Flynn and Kislyak only focused on arranging a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President-elect Donald Trump after the Inauguration.

"They exchanged logistical information on how to initiate and schedule that call," Spicer said. "That was it. Plain and simple."

But Spicer later told ABC News the phone call included an invitation from the Russian ambassador to the Syrian peace talks. He emphasized that the topic of U.S. sanctions against Russia did not come up during the conversation.

Spicer said that Flynn and Kislyak exchanged text messages greetings on Christmas day. On December 29th, the same day the Obama administration announced its response to Russia's election-related hacking, Kislyak sent Flynn a text message asking if they could speak by phone. Flynn accepted the invitation, Spicer said. Spicer initially told reporters they spoke on the phone on December 28th, but later told ABC News he misspoke and clarified the call occurred on December 29th.

The Russian embassy declined to comment specifically on the call, but confirmed the ambassador will attend Trump's inauguration.

"The Embassy does not comment on multiple contacts, which are carried out on a daily basis with local interlocutors," a spokesperson for the Russian embassy told ABC News. "According to the practice and protocol rules, foreign ambassadors are invited to the U.S. president’s inauguration. The invitation to the event addressed to Russia’s ambassador Sergey Kislyak was received from the State Department. The ambassador will participate in the event."

The Washington Post previously reported Flynn spoke with Kislyak multiple times on December 29th, the same day the Obama administration formally announced sanctions and kicked 35 Russian diplomats out of the country.

The State Department and the White House both agreed Friday that there's nothing wrong with the incoming administration making contact with diplomats, but White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he could neither raise an objection to this specific call nor deem it appropriate without knowing exactly what was said.

"As a general matter, you know on principle, you can imagine why these kinds of interactions may have taken place, why the incoming national security advisor may have the need to contact the representative of a foreign government based here in Washington D.C.," Earnest told reporters at the White House briefing Friday. "It depends on what they discussed. It depends on what he said, in terms of whether or not we would have significant objections about those conversations.”

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Frozen Fox Extracted from Danube on Display in Germany as Warning of Icy River

Image Source/Thinkstock(BERLIN) -- An apparently drowned fox encased in a thick block of ice is being displayed in a small town in southern Germany.

Franz Stehle, a hunter, put the fox on display outside his home in Fridingen, near the upper reaches of the Danube, as a warning of the dangers of the icy river, according to BBC.

Stehle said he had discovered frozen deer and wild boars a number of times, noting it was not unusual for animals to break through the ice in the winter.

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UN: Freezing Temperatures in Europe Creating 'Dire' Situation for Refugees

UNHCR/Igor Pavicevic(UNITED NATIONS) — Freezing temperatures across Eastern Europe are imperiling the lives of thousands of refugees, many of whom are sheltered in makeshift tents with no heat, the U.N. said on Friday.

The harsh weather conditions have claimed the lives of five refugees in Europe so far this year, according to the U.N.

"We are deeply worried at the situation of refugees and migrants," Cécile Pouilly, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, said at a press briefing in Geneva.

"As a life saving measure, we continue to provide heaters, blankets and winter clothes to residents of informal sites who have not yet agreed to move to government centers," Pouilly added.

Some of the most vulnerable groups include about 1,000 people, among them families with young children, on the Greek island of Samos, and 1,200 males — up to a quarter of whom are unaccompanied or separated boys — living in tents in Belgrade, Serbia, the U.N. said.

The U.N. is calling for humanitarian measures to be taken in light of the life-threatening cold facing the refugees and migrants.

Calling the situation in Greece "dire," Sarah Crowe, a spokeswoman for UNICEF, urged government officials in to take the extreme weather into consideration. "It's about saving lives, not about red tape and keeping to bureaucratic arrangements," she said.

Last year, a record of more than 5,000 refugees and migrants died or went missing attempting to reach Europe by the Mediterranean Sea, while some 360,000 arrived on Europe's shores, according to figures from the U.N. Many of the refugees hail from countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan that have been mired in conflict.

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US Ending 'Wet Foot/Dry Foot' Immigration Policy for Cubans

Thinkstock/iStock(WASHINGTON) — The Obama administration has ended the Clinton-era policy known as "wet foot, dry foot," which allows Cubans special immigration status just days before he leaves office.

The change in the policy would effectively mean Cubans are treated like other immigrants in that those who enter the United States illegally would be subject to return, according to the White House.

Other countries in the region have been asking the U.S. to end the special status because of what they say is the burden that Cuban immigrants trying to make it into America has placed on them.

Cubans have been offered a "special visa" status that allows them, with a single "dry" foot on U.S. soil to claim a green card and get onto a pathway to citizenship, a policy developed in the mid-1990s by President Bill Clinton.

The Clinton measure was designed to slow the tide of Cuban migrants coming to the U.S. by sea. Before that even migrants rescued at sea would be brought to the United States.

The "wet foot, dry foot" policy was continued under Presidents Bush and Obama.

"Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities," the White House statement said. "By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries."

According to the White House, the Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of those entering the U.S. illegally as well as those who are stopped at sea.

The administration has for months said it can't end the special immigration status for Cubans coming to the U.S., claiming that decision rested with Congress.

According to Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, the decision to end the program with only a week left in the Obama administration came after negotiations with Cuba.

"Since I took office, we have put the Cuban-American community at the center of our policies," the White House said. "With this change we will continue to welcome Cubans as we welcome immigrants from other nations, consistent with our laws."

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British Woman Sets Up Coat Exchange to Keep Homeless Warm

Fay Sibley(LONDON) -- One British woman wanted to go above and beyond for her local homeless community and her selfless act is getting attention around the world.

Fay Sibley, who lives in Colchester, Essex, became concerned about the homeless people living in her neighborhood after weather forecasters predicted up to 4 inches of snow.

She decided to place a clothing rack filled with coats right outside her local library with the simple message: "Need a coat? Take one. Want to help? Leave one."

Sibley, 30, told ABC News that she got the idea after spotting a similar exchange in Yorkshire on social media. She gathered up coats from her friends and family and set up her coat rack outside of the Colchester Library.

"Then I took a picture of what I've done and popped it on Facebook and asked people to share it," she explained.

Within days, the photo had been shared more than 900 times.

"This is a particularly difficult time for [the homeless]," Sibley said. "The weather here has turned really cold and we’ve got snow on the way."

Sibley said so far the coat exchange has been successful.

"By Saturday afternoon, we had 40 [coats] on the rail," she recalled. "So we get about 40 each day. We cover up the coats so they don't get damaged each night. And by then, there's only three or four left."

Sibley's older sister Jo has been helping her collect coats to be added to the rack daily. For her own efforts, Jo has collected 15 or so coats from coworkers at her local school and friends.

"She had a little idea where she thought maybe it'll stay there for a couple of days, and I think it's actually amazing to see how quickly it's grown," Jo said.

Although Sibley's work schedule can be demanding, she doesn't mind maintaining the coat exchange.

"It takes so little time investment for me," she said. "My main hope is that people think they can go do this too. It's a simplistic pay-it-forward gesture. It's something we can all do."

Sibley said the coat exchange will be active outside of the library "as long as there's a need for it. We don't have a time limit."

"As long as people are there and donating, we'll try to keep it there," she added.

Sibley's coat exchange has gotten the attention of her local member of parliament, Will Quince. He tweeted that the paramedic had "great initiative in making it happen. Loving your work."

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Amazon Pulls Flag Doormats After Complaints From India

Thinkstock/iStock(NEW DELHI) -- After India's foreign minister demanded Amazon apologize for allowing doormats featuring India's flag to be sold on its Canadian website, the retail giant pulled the products and, according to the foreign ministry, expressed "regret" they had ever been available.

The doormats caused a diplomatic uproar in India after they appeared on the Amazon site. Some viewed walking on the flag as insulting the national symbol, a crime in India.

Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted Wednesday that if Amazon did not “withdraw all products insulting our national flag immediately” and “tender unconditional apology,” India would not grant a visa to "any Amazon official" and would rescind previously issued visas.





A spokesman for the ministry, Vikas Swarup, tweeted a letter on Thursday in which he said Amazon expressed “regret” over the incident. In the letter Swarup posted, India's country manager, Amit Agarwal, said a third-party seller, not Amazon itself, was behind those products –- which he said were immediately removed.

“Amazon India is committed to respecting Indian laws and customs," Agarwal, an Amazon vice president, wrote to the foreign minister, according to Swarup. "To the extent that these items offered by a third-party seller in Canada offended Indian sensibilities, Amazon regrets the same. At no time did we intend or mean to offend Indian sentiments.”

Asked by ABC News if Amazon had indeed sent the letter, a spokesman for the company, Aaron Toso, only said in a statement, "The item is no longer for sale on the site."

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Four Charged in Paris Kardashian Robbery

Timothy White/E!(PARIS) -- Four people have been charged in France in the connection with alleged robbery of Kim Kardashian West, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office.

A 27-year-old faces charges of complicity with an armed robbery by an organized gang, sequestration and association with criminals, as do a 62-year-old and 63-year-old, authorities said.

Another suspect, 44, has been charged with concealment/fencing by an organized gang and association with criminals.

Six others are still being questioned, authorities said.

Last October, Kardashian West, 35, was allegedly robbed at gunpoint in a Paris apartment she had rented for Fashion Week. The assailants, whom the reality TV star's publicist described as "armed, masked men dressed as police officers," allegedly tied up Kardashian West and stole jewelry worth an estimated $10 million.

The French newspaper Le Monde first reported, and Us Weekly has confirmed, a report claiming that one of the 17 suspects arrested in connection with the Oct. 3, 2016 robbery works for the limo company that the Kardashian-Jenner family regularly used during their trips to the French capital.

According to Le Monde, the chauffeur was the last person to drive Kardashian West before the robbery, during which she was bound and held at gunpoint by five masked assailants who made off with an estimated $10 million worth of jewelry. Police are reportedly trying to determine whether the driver passed information to the thieves.

A representative for Kardashian West had no comment on the charges or arrests when reached by ABC News Thursday.

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Brawl Erupts in Turkey's Parliament over Constitutional Reform

iStock/Thinkstock(ANKARA, Turkey) — Lawmakers from opposing parties in Turkey's general assembly clashed during a tense session on a controversial set of constitutional reforms on Thursday, with the physical confrontation being caught on video and posted to social media.

The general assembly is in the midst of a two-week debate over proposed sweeping changes to the country's constitution that would give the president the power to appoint and dismiss government ministers, lead his own political party, propose budgets and declare states of emergency.

The changes would also allow current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to remain in office until 2029.

The debate comes after weeks of tumult in Turkey that include a spate of terrorist attacks within its borders. The proposed changes are seen by many as a response to the failed coup in July that Erdogan has blamed on U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.



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Prince William Consoles Grieving Girl: 'I Lost My Mummy' Too

Matt Dunham - WPA Pool/ Getty Images(LONDON) — Prince William, who rarely speaks about his mother Princess Diana's death, comforted a young girl who was mourning the loss of her father at a charity event in Stratford, London Wednesday.

“Do you know what happened to me?" William told 9-year old Aoife, who lost her father to pancreatic cancer six years ago. "You know I lost my mummy when I was very young too. I was [15] and my brother was 12. So we lost our mummy when we were young as well.

"Do you speak about your daddy?" William asked the girl. "It’s very important to talk about it. Very, very important.”

William is royal patron of the Child Bereavement U.K. Centre, a charity that helps families deal with the loss of a loved one.

Aoife’s mother, Marie, spoke to journalists after the event and said the conversation almost brought her to tears.

“I couldn’t believe it when he started to talk about his mother. It was very emotional and I was willing myself not to start to cry. I almost did,” she said.

William and Kate met with children at the facility in Stratford Wednesday and encouraged them to create memory jars to help them deal with their grief.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry have made mental health awareness a key focus of their charitable activities this past year and are encouraging children to open up and ask for help if they're suffering. The royal trio has been praised for their work on mental health and their ability to empathize with young people struggling with life's challenges.

William admitted to the children he was very angry about his own mother's death.

“He told us how he felt angry when she died. He very specifically used that word anger, he felt angry about it," another mother named Lorna said of William’s interaction with the children. "He also told us how important it was to talk about how we feel when we lose someone as he found it very difficult to talk about it.”

“I am telling my children that if they take anything away from this day, it is what he said about how important it is to talk. Kids do not forget that. Sometimes it hurts but we can remember the happy things too. It is so important to talk.”

One of Princess Diana's closest friends, Julia Samuel, founded the charity in 1994 with Diana's support. William took over as royal patron of the charity in 2009. William and Kate named Samuel one of Prince George’s godmothers.

William and Harry are commemorating the 20th anniversary of the late Princess Diana's death later this summer.

The Duchess of Cambridge accompanied William to the engagement in a royal blue coat dress by the designer Eponine.

Earlier in the day, Kate attended her first engagement of the new year. The young mother stopped by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families’ early years parenting unit and met with young mothers who have had to overcome family life battling addiction and abuse.

Kate encouraged the women, conceding "parenting is tough" no matter who you are or the circumstances you encounter while raising children.

Kate also visited with young mothers of children struggling with personality disorders and mental health challenges and commended them for their work.

"And with the history and all the things and the experiences you've all witnessed, to do that on top of your own anxieties, and the lack of support you also received as mothers," Kate said. "I find it extraordinary how you've managed actually. So really well done.”

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Rex Tillerson's Views on a Number of World Issues

Thinkstock/Alexandru Dobrea(WASHINGTON) -- Donald Trump's pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was grilled on a variety of topics, including nuclear weapons, human rights and climate change during his Senate confirmation hearings Wednesday.

He also shared his views on a number of critical regions around the world, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States would take a more assertive position overseas than the Obama administration if he is confirmed.

Tillerson may have hit a stumbling block because Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said, after questioning him about human rights violations in a number of countries, was mum about whether he would vote for the former ExxonMobil chief.

Here is a look at what Tillerson had to say about a wide range of topics, starting with Russia:

Most of the questions directed at Tillerson focused on Russia, where, as an oil executive, he’s established deep and decades-long ties with influential leaders, including Vladimir Putin.

At times he voiced firm objections to recent Russian aggression, calling the Putin regime a “danger” to the United States and labeling the annexation of Crimea as “illegal." He called economic sanctions against Russia a “powerful tool” and rejected claims that ExxonMobil lobbied against them during his tenure to advance the company’s financial interests.

He also claimed never to have lobbied against sanctions personally.

Tillerson was critical of the Obama administration’s reaction to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and said the lack of a “proportional response” left open the door to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The “absence of a firm and forceful response to Crimea was judged by Russia to be weak,” Tillerson said. He said that if he were in charge at the time, he would have recommended the United States help Ukraine defend itself by providing it with weapons and intelligence, actions the Obama administrations was reluctant to take.
Tillerson acknowledged that Putin was behind the hacking of the 2016 U.S. election.

But he was reluctant to call him a war criminal for his brutal bombing campaign targeting innocient civilians and hospitals inside anti-rebel held areas of Syria. Asked directly by Rubio whether Russian President Vladimir Putin should be considered a war criminal, Tillerson said, “I would not use that term.”
Tillerson was also reluctant to recognize widely reported claims that Putin orders the killing of his political enemies. “I would have to have more information,” he told Rubio.

And in an apparent break with the president-elect's position during the campaign, Tillerson said he would uphold the mutual defense clause of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which states that an attack against one is an attack against all, whether or not each country had fulfilled its entire financial obligation.

Trump suggested during the campaign he may abandon mutual defense, but President Obama said after the election that Trump was committed to the alliance.


As demonstrators repeatedly interrupted the hearing, Tillerson was asked to address concerns that an incoming Trump administration would withdraw from international commitments to reduce carbon emissions based on a belief that climate change is a myth, as Trump himself has stated.

“I think it's important that the United States maintain its seat at the table on the conversations around how to address threats of climate change, which do require a global response, Tillerson said. “No one country is going to solve this alone.”

But his views on the impact of global warming appear to represent a significant shift from the Obama administration, which strongly advocated government and international climate intervention.

“I came to my personal position over about 20 years as an engineer and a scientist understanding the evolution of the science," he said. "I came to the conclusion a few years ago that the risk of climate change does exist and that the consequences of it could be serious enough that actions should be taken.”

But when asked directly, Tillerson would not say that “human activity” negatively affects the climate. “The increase in the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are having an effect, but our ability to predict that effect is very limited,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson said he would recuse himself from any future issues involving ExxonMobil that he might confront as secretary of state, but claimed not to know about one past confrontation between his former company and the U.S. government. Financial documents show that during his leadership at ExxonMobil, the Securities and Exchange Commission raised concerns that the company was doing business via a European subsidiary with three sanctioned countries listed as state sponsors of terrorism. The company’s actions were technically legal.

Nevertheless Tillerson said he doesn’t remember the exchange and deferred to ExxonMobil for comment.

Tillerson said the nation needs to be honest about the threat of radical Islam. “It is with good reason that our fellow citizens have a growing concern about radical Islam and murderous acts committed in its name against Americans and our friends,” Tillerson said.

“Radical Islam poses a grave risk to the stability of nations and the well-being of their citizens. Powerful digital media platforms now allow ISIS, al-Qaida, and other terror groups to spread a poisonous ideology that runs completely counter to the values of the American people and all people around the world who value human life.”

“If confirmed,” Tillerson said, “I will ensure the State Department does its part in supporting Muslims around the world who reject radical Islam in all its forms."

Trump has placed a premium on publicly identifying radical Islamic terrorism as one of the key threats to the United States, whereas the Obama administration has been limited in its public pronouncements.


“When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Defeating ISIS must be our foremost priority in the Middle East,” Tillerson said.

And according to Tillerson, that means putting the defeat of ISIS before removing Syrian President Bashar Assad. He even questioned whether removing Assad would be ultimately be a prudent decision. The Obama administration has steadily called for the ouster of Assad, claiming there is no political future for Syria as long as he remains in power, but was unwilling to strike Assad’s forces.

“The truth of the matter is carrying both of those out simultaneously is extremely difficult because at times they conflict with one another,” Tillerson said. “The clear priority is defeat ISIS, we defeat ISIS we at least create some level of stability in Syria, which then lets us deal with the next priority which is what is going to be the exit of Bashar Assad.

"But importantly before we decide that is in fact what needs to happen we have to answer the question what comes next? What is going to be the government structure in Syria and can we have any influence in that or not.”

Tillerson told Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), that although well-intentioned, the Iraq War did not enhance U.S. national security interests or serve to further stabilize the Middle East.

Consistent with Trump, Tillerson recommended a "full review" of President Obama's signature nuclear weapons agreement with Iran. However he at one point incorrectly characterized the agreement, which extends the amount of time it would create for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, by stating "the current agreement does not deny them the ability to purchase a nuclear weapon." In fact, the agreement explicitly denies Iran that right.

Sen. Rubio asked Tillerson about a bill introduced by the last Congress that would remove the travel ban to Cuba by Americans. Tillerson said that Trump has requested all agencies on Day One to do a review of recent executive orders by the Obama administration as they relate to Cuba.

“It would be my expectation that the president would not immediately approve that bill until after that review had occurred because that would be part of a broader view of our posture toward Cuba,” he said.

“If a bill were to pass Congress that would remove the U.S. embargo against Cuba and there hasn't been democratic changes on the island of Cuba, would you advise the president to veto a bill that lifted the embargo on Cuba?” Rubio asked.

“If confirmed, yes I would,” Tillerson replied.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, asked whether or not it is helpful for Americans to be afraid of Muslims. Drawing on his professional experience, Tillerson said “I've traveled extensively in Muslim countries, not just in the Middle East but throughout southeast Asia and have gained appreciation of this great faith and that's why I made a distinction that we should support those Muslim voices that reject this radical Islam that we reject.

"This is part of the winning the war not just on the battlefield but one of our greatest allies in this war is going to be the moderate voices of Muslim, people of the Muslim faith who speak from their perspective and their rejection of that representation of what is otherwise a great faith.”

When asked if there should be a restriction on Muslim travel and immigration.

"I think what's important is that we are able to make a judgment about the people that are coming into the country and so no, I do not support a blanket type rejection of any particular group of people, but clearly, we have serious challenges," Tillerson said.

But he did say he was willing to look into a registry. "I would have to have lot more information on how an approach were even to be constructed," Tillerson said. "If it were a tool for vetting then it probably extends to people as well. Other groups that are threats to the U.S., but that's -- it would just require much more information around how that would even be approached."

Tillerson was asked by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, if he agreed with Trump’s controversial comment at the start of his presidential campaign where he declared that some Mexican immigrants were “rapists” bringing “drugs” and “crime” across the southern border.

“I would never characterize an entire population of people with any single term at all,” Tillerson replied. Tillerson promised to engage with Mexico, citing the country’s importance to the hemisphere and shared issues of concern with the US. “Mexico is a longstanding neighbor and friend of this country,” Tillerson said.

Sen. Rubio also pressed Tillerson about Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s the anti-drug campaign that, according to multiple press reports, has been resulted in thousands of extrajudicial deaths carried out by hit squads.

Duterte has recently spoken ill of President Obama and thrown support behind Trump. “My question is 6,200 people killed, do you believe that's an appropriate way to conduct the operation or something that's conducive to human rights violations that we should be concerned about?” Rubio asked.

Tillerson said he “would want to understand the greater detail,” before answering.

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