Prince William, Duchess Kate land in Paris for two-day tour

Patrick van Katwijk/Getty Images(PARIS) -- Prince William and Kate touched down in Paris Friday and kicked off a two-day charm offensive ahead of Brexit by meeting with French President Francois Hollande inside the Elysee Palace and attending a black-tie reception and dinner at the British Embassy.

William, 34, reassured the French in his speech at the ambassador's residence that the partnership between Britain and France remains.

"This partnership will continue despite the United Kingdom's recent decision to leave the European Union," William said.

William and Kate, 35, will be front and center in Paris at a series of events to honor and celebrate the French for their resilience in the wake of the Paris and Nice terrorist attacks and to celebrate French arts and culture. The royal couple's visit to Paris has enormous political significance in the wake of the U.K.'s Brexit decision to withdraw from the European Union.

William and Kate were greeted for a series of photographs outside the Elysee Palace before they met with President Hollande for bilateral discussions inside the palace. Hollande later escorted the couple around the terrace for a view of the grounds.

William joked with President Hollande that he will be "cheering the Welsh" on Saturday when the French take on Wales in rugby at Stade de France. William, who will attend the match with Kate, is royal patron of the Welsh Rugby Union, a position he took over from his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, in December 2016.

William famously showed his solidarity with the French people just days after the November 2015 terror attack in Paris, which targeted Stade de France. William attended the England versus France soccer match at London's Wembley Stadium and sang the French national anthem in support.

The royal family has scheduled a series of visits to European countries in the months ahead -- including William's and Kate's July visit to Germany and Poland -- to remind Great Britain's European neighbors that they are still allies and partners after last summer's Brexit vote.

The couple is reportedly staying at the British ambassador's residence during their visit. The residence, built in the 18th century, is one of the best known buildings in Paris and is located close to Elysee Palace.

On Saturday, William and Kate will also visit Les Invalides, a Paris landmark known for its golden dome that includes the Tomb of Napoleon, to highlight its work with veterans. They will also meet with survivors and first responders from the July 2016 terror attack in Nice, France, and the November 2015 terror attack in Paris.

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Rex Tillerson: Pre-emptive military action against North Korea is an option

Song Kyung-Seok-Pool/Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says pre-emptive military action against North Korea is possible "if they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action."

"All of the options are on the table," Tillerson said.

After visiting the militarized border between South Korea and North Korea, Tillerson spoke at a press conference with South Korean foreign minister Yun Byung-se in Seoul, where he was asked if he would rule out military action against North Korea.

Tillerson said the U.S. does not want to engage in a military conflict, "but obviously if North Korea takes actions that threatens South Korean forces or our own forces, that would be met with (an) appropriate response. If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action that option is on the table."





Referring to how the Obama administration hoped sanctions would cripple North Korea to the point where it would renew de-nuclearization negotiations, Tillerson added, "Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended."

He also emphasized that the U.S. had no plans to curtail its military activities in the region.

"We don't believe conditions are right for talks and we have no intention of ending military exercises," he said.

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Prince William, Duchess Kate celebrate St. Patrick's Day

Karwai Tang/WireImage(LONDON) -- The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attended a traditional St. Patrick's Day event Friday to honor the Irish Guards.

Prince William, 34, who is colonel of the Irish Guards, and Duchess Kate, 35, visited the 1st Battalion Irish Guards at their base and later joined officers and their families for lunch and a pint of Guinness.

William and Kate traditionally present shamrocks to the regiment before they march in a parade. They were joined by the officers' honorary mascot, an Irish wolfhound.

The event was William's first official engagement since a weekend-long break in Switzerland where he was caught "dad dancing" at a nightclub and criticized for missing an important Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey attended by other members of the royal family.

Following Friday's lunch with the Irish Guards, William and Kate boarded a charter plane for a two-day official visit to Paris. The couple will serve as unofficial ambassadors in Paris, utilizing soft diplomacy as the U.K. negotiates its exit from the European Union.

William and Kate left their two young children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, at home as they visit Paris to cement ties between Britain and France.

The royal family has scheduled a series of visits to European countries in the months ahead -- including William's and Kate's July visit to Germany and Poland -- to remind Great Britain's European neighbors that they are still allies and partners after last summer's Brexit vote.

William and Kate are scheduled to attend a reception and black-tie dinner Friday night at the British ambassador's residence, where the couple is reportedly staying during their visit. The residence, built in the 18th century, is one of the best known buildings in Paris and is located close to Elysee Palace, the home of France's president.

On Saturday, William and Kate will visit Les Invalides, a Paris landmark known for its golden dome that includes the Tomb of Napoleon. They will also meet with survivors and first responders from the July 2016 terror attack in Nice, France, and the November 2015 terror attack at the Bataclan.

William famously showed his solidarity with the French people just days after the Bataclan attack, which also targeted a soccer game at Stade de France. William attended the England versus France soccer match at London's Wembley Stadium and sang the French national anthem in support.

In another symbolic show of support, William and Kate will travel Saturday to Stade de France to watch France take on Wales in the Six Nations rugby match. William is royal patron of the Welsh Rugby Union, a position he took over from his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, in December 2016.

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Dazzling bioluminescent event lights up Tasmania sea

iStock/Thinkstock(TASMANIA, Australia) --Crowds gathered to experience the dazzling glow of a bioluminescence event that lit up beaches in Tasmania, Australia, this week.

The event, reportedly created by a living organism called Noctiluca scintillans as it feeds on plankton, caused the sea to illuminate with a bright neon-blue light.

A photographer captured footage of the natural phenomenon at the shore near George Town Tuesday as beachgoers moved their hands and feet in the glowing water.

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What you need to know about tensions in the South China Sea

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is to arrive in Beijing on Saturday, the last stop on his trip to Asia that has included meetings in Tokyo and Seoul, South Korea.

The secretary of state's visits with Chinese officials, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, may have any number of issues on the table, including economic cooperation and countering North Korean provocations. China has vocally criticized the U.S. deployment of the THAAD missile defense system to South Korea earlier this month.

But another topic that will be hard to avoid is heightened tensions in the South China Sea.

The disputed territory most recently drew attention when a Chinese ship seized a U.S. Navy underwater-research drone in the sea in December. The drone was completing a preprogrammed military oceanographic survey route when it was taken. At the time, the State Department said the drone was “absolutely operating inside international waters and it was absolutely performing necessary scientific research, certainly within the bounds of international law.”

China ultimately returned the drone, but the State Department made it very clear that its seizure was "not doing anything to de-escalate tensions" between China and the U.S.

This week, two U.S. senators, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., proposed legislation that would "sanction Chinese individuals and entities that participate in Beijing’s illegitimate activities in the South China Sea and East China Sea," according to a press release.

“China’s illegitimate actions in the South China Sea threaten the region’s security and American commerce,” Rubio said in the release. “These ongoing, flagrant violations of international norms cannot be allowed to go unchecked, and the sanctions called for in this legislation would put Beijing on notice that the United States means business and intends to hold violators accountable.”

The South China Sea has become a focal point for China, the U.S. and other countries in the region.

Here's what you need to know:

What’s going on in the South China Sea?

In recent years, China has been building ports, runways and radar facilities on several manmade islands in the South China Sea.

Some of the latest satellite images of the islands, released in a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), show that China now appears to have installed large anti-aircraft guns and weapons systems as well.

The seven new islands were constructed by dredging sand onto reefs -- an effort by China to boost its claim to all of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan all claim to occupy portions of the island chain.

China’s development in the region is seen as threatening to other nations that occupy territory in the chain of islands to the east of Vietnam and west of the Philippines and Malaysia. This area of the ocean is valuable because it contains fisheries and possible oil and gas reserves.

China had previously committed to not militarizing the controversial manmade islands, but satellite images appear to show evidence to the contrary, according to the CSIS report, raising concerns that China is developing military outposts in the event of conflict.

Why does this matter to the U.S.?

The U.S. sees China’s acts as raising tensions in the region and threatening U.S. allies, but senior officials have also said that the U.S. is not taking sides in the territorial disputes between China and other countries in the region.

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter repeatedly said that the U.S. does not want to see any country with a claim to the islands militarize the region and that the U.S. will continue to ensure its right of passage through international waters and airspace.

“We will fly, we will sail, we will operate everywhere international law permits in the South China Sea," Carter has said, which is why the U.S. Navy has conducted “freedom of navigation” patrols that sail within the 12-nautical mile territorial limits of some of the disputed islands.

Additionally, an estimated $5 trillion in global trade passes through the region each year.

Carter visited a U.S. aircraft carrier in the South China Sea last April on a trip to India, the Philippines and the Middle East.

At the time, China had recently announced that one of its top military officers had toured the islands in the South China Sea. China said the official was overseeing construction on the islands, including in the Spratly region.

How have other countries in the area reacted to China's construction?

The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who is trying to mend his country’s relationship with China, has avoided inflammatory rhetoric on a particular issue that once divided the two nations: China's taking of the disputed South China Sea's Scarborough shoal in 2012.

The dispute caused the Philippines' previous administration to initiate court proceedings, backed by the U.S., against China before an international arbitration tribunal.

Late last year, Duterte said he would “set aside” the July decision by the tribunal that China could not legally claim most of the South China Sea. The ruling included a rebuke of China’s construction of the artificial islands.

“I will not impose anything on China,” Duterte said.

The Philippines' secretary of foreign affairs, Perfecto Yasay Jr., said the Philippines would also not take action against China in response to the new satellite images, not wanting to heighten tensions between the two countries.

"There is nothing that we can do about that now, whether or not it is being done for purposes of further militarizing these facilities that they have put up,” Yasay said in December of the images.

But the Philippines’ national defense secretary, Delfin Lorenzana, showed more concern.

"If true, it is a big concern for us and the international community who uses the South China Sea lanes for trade," Lorenza said. "It would mean that the Chinese are militarizing the area, which is not good."

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Trump to meet Germany's Angela Merkel at the White House

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel Friday at the White House — the first time the two leaders will meet. Although the U.S. and Germany are close allies, Trump and Merkel disagree on just about everything, from immigration and refugee policies to the future of NATO.

But Merkel has never shied from criticizing Trump — when he was on the campaign trail, when he was president-elect and now that he is in office.

In November, when he threatened to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (he did so days after his inauguration), she said she was “not happy” that the agreement “will probably not become reality.”

In February, the day after he tweeted that the press was the “enemy of the American people,” she talked about the importance of the press during a speech at the Munich Security Conference.

“I am for a free and independent press and have great respect for journalists. We have had good experiences here in Germany with respecting one another. We discuss divergent opinions but accept freedom of the press as an essential pillar of democracy,” Merkel said.

In the Munich speech, she urged the U.S. to support the European Union.

Before the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote last June, Trump backed the country’s withdrawal from the EU, and after the “leave” side won, he predicted other countries would follow suit. In an interview with The Times of London in January, he called the European Union “a vehicle for Germany.”

Merkel fired back, saying in a news conference, “I think we Europeans have our fate in our own hands.”

Among the biggest issues to be discussed in Friday’s meeting: immigration and the future of NATO, according to U.S. officials. ABC News breaks down the divide between Trump and Merkel on these hot-button topics.

Immigration and refugee policies

Trump has long blasted Merkel for her policy of welcoming refugees to Germany, including 1 million in 2015 alone.

“I think she made one very catastrophic mistake, and that was taking all of these illegals, you know, taking all of the people from wherever they come from,” he told The Times of London in January. “And nobody even knows where they come from. So I think she made a catastrophic mistake, very bad mistake.”

He added that he has “great respect” for Merkel.

In an August speech on terrorism he compared her policies to those of his then-rival, Hillary Clinton.

“In short, Hillary Clinton wants to be America’s Angela Merkel, and you know what a disaster this massive immigration has been to Germany and the people of Germany. Crime has risen to levels that no one thought would they would ever see,” he said.

A report released by the German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation in November 2015 found that refugees committed crimes at the same rate as native Germans. Another study, released in February by the Centre for European Economic Research, found that while there was no “crime epidemic” after the massive increase in refugees admitted to Germany, there were “muted increases” in some criminal activities, like “drug offenses and fare dodging.”

Merkel has defended her policies against claims of increased crime due to refugees.

“We have to look closely at the crime rate among refugees, and the picture is varied. That is also the right answer, that you have to differentiate,” she said in December.

“The fact that some people want to exploit that is something we have to withstand and defend ourselves against,” she added.

Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert was quoted by a German news agency saying she was “convinced that even the necessary, resolute fight against terrorism doesn’t justify putting people of a particular origin or particular faith under general suspicion.”

Trump and Merkel spoke by phone on Jan. 29 for the first time since his inauguration, and a joint statement about the call did not mention his executive order on immigration, which suspended the U.S. refugee program and temporarily barred citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S.

The order was blocked by U.S. courts, and Trump released a revised version in March.

The future of NATO

During his presidential campaign, Trump put U.S. allies on edge by declaring NATO “obsolete” and calling into question whether he would come to the aid of some of the Baltic states if are attacked by Russia.

Since those comments, Vice President Mike Pence reassured those allies that the U.S. commitment to NATO is “unwavering.”

“Your struggles are our struggles. Your success is our success,” Pence said at the Munich Security Conference. “And ultimately, we walk into the future together.”

But the administration has not stopped pressing NATO members to pay their fair share. The NATO agreement recommends that members spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. Currently, only five nations meet that goal, and Germany is not one of them, spending only 1.3 percent.

“We will do everything we can in order to fulfill this commitment,” Merkel said at the Munich Conference. “But let me add, however, that I believe while NATO is very much in the European interest, it’s also in the American interest. It’s a very strong alliance where we are united together.”

A U.S. official told ABC News that Trump “looks forward to talking to the chancellor about how to strengthen the NATO alliance” and is “heartened” that Germany has agreed to meet the 2 percent goal in the coming years.

The official added Trump will ask Merkel about her experience with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“He’s going to be very interested in hearing her insights on what it’s like to deal with the Russians,” the official said.

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US officials deny airstrike on al-Qaeda targeted nearby mosque

the_guitar_mann/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. military says an air strike Thursday in northwestern Syria targeted a large gathering of al-Qaeda members meeting in a building across the street from a mosque, but deny that a nearby mosque was hit by the airstrike.

A human rights group has alleged that as many as 42 people were killed in an airstrike on a mosque in a rebel held village in Idlib Province. U.S. Central Command said several al-Qaeda militants were killed in the airstrike.

"U.S. forces conducted an airstrike on an al-Qaeda in Syria meeting location March 16 in Idlib, Syria, killing several terrorists," read a statement released Thursday night by CENTCOM.

"Idlib has been a significant safe haven for al-Qaeda in recent years," the statement added.

Located west of Aleppo, Idlib Province is held by various rebel groups. The U.S. military has previously targeted al-Qaeda members who it said gravitated there to take advantage of the security vacuum created by the Syrian civil war to plan overseas terror plots.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a human rights monitoring group based in the United Kingdom, said Thursday that an airstrike on a mosque in al Jina, a village near Aleppo, had killed 42 people and injured dozens of others.

But several U.S. military officials disputed that allegation saying the airstrike targeted a building near a mosque where the al-Qaeda members were gathered. They stressed that the mosque itself was not damaged by the airstrike.

"We did not strike nor did we hit the mosque that was within 50 feet of the half of the building that we struck where a meeting of al-Qaeda in Syria was taking place," said CENTCOM spokesman Colonel John Thomas.

A military official said they targeted "a significant-sized gathering" of al-Qaida members. The official said that an assessment is underway to determine how many al-Qaeda members may have been killed in the strike and will look at the allegations of possible civilian casualties from the airstrike. Another military official said it was indeed possible that dozens of al-Qaeda militants may have been killed in the airstrike.

In its statement, CENTCOM noted an airstrike in January had destroyed an Al Qaeda terrorist training camp in Idlib Province that killed more than 100 fighters it said were being trained in terror tactics.

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Egyptian statue not of Ramses II, but believed to be of a different ruler

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images(CAIRO) -- In a case of mistaken identity, Egypt's antiquities minister says that a statue pulled from the mud is not of Pharaoh Ramses II, as believed, but could be another king.

BBC News reports that Khaled el-Anani said at a Thursday news conference that the statue was likely Psamtek I, who ruled from 664 B.C. to 610 B.C. It had been thought that the statue portrayed the leader known as Ramses the Great due to its proximity to a temple dedicated to that leader.

However, one of the names of Psamtek I was found engraved on the statue Thursday.

The 29-foot tall artifact was moved from a pool of groundwater to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It was there that the engraving was spotted.

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Several injured as tourists, BBC crew caught in eruption on Mount Etna

Roberto Lo Savio/iStock/Thinkstock(ROME, Italy) -- Tourists and reporters were caught in an eruption on Italy's Mount Etna on Thursday.

BBC science reporter Rebecca Morelle tweeted about the incident, saying that her group had been "pelted by rocks" and had to dodge "burning boulders and boiling steam." She said about eight people were hurt and some had to be evacuated by rescue teams.


BBC News reports that lava flow mixed with steam to cause the explosion.



Mount Etna is among the more active volcanoes in the world.


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Prince Harry raises mental health awareness at veterans conference

Samir Hussein/WireImage(LONDON) -- Prince Harry lent his support at a conference Thursday to help draw attention to the daunting recovery many veterans face after leaving the battlefield and reentering society.

While their physical injuries are often evident, Harry hopes to raise awareness of veterans' invisible injuries and make mental health more accessible to those who need it.

Harry, a former Apache Pilot and founder of the Invictus Games for veterans, led a panel discussion on mental health with medical experts and military members at the Veterans' Mental Health Conference at King’s Center for Military Health Research in London.

"We all have mental health in the same way that we all have physical health," Harry, 32, told attendees.

Harry, fifth in line to the British throne, launched a mental health campaign, Heads Together, last year with Prince William and Duchess Kate. The campaign is focused on destigmatizing the taboo around mental health issues and encouraging people from all walks of life to open up and ask for help.

William has focused his energy on mental health among young men while Kate has been leading the charge to raise awareness among children and parents.

Harry is targeting the military community.

"Our campaign, Heads Together, is encouraging people to be more open, without the fear of judgement, prejudice or stigma," Harry said Thursday. "It starts with a conversation either with a friend, family member or a colleague."

Harry was joined at the conference by Ivan Castro, a U.S. Army major who was blinded in Iraq, and Karl Hinett, a U.K. veteran badly burned while also serving in Iraq. The two veterans are running on Team Heads Together next month in the 2017 Boston Marathon before taking on the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon six days later.

"During my 28 years of service, I was honored to serve with some incredible soldiers, motivational and inspirational men and women around the world, many from the United Kingdom," Castro said Thursday. "There is a special relationship between the U.S. and U.K. troops on and off the battlefield. We have trained together. We have fought together. We have bled together and we have healed together."

Castro, who was blinded in both eyes when enemy mortar shells landed near him, joined Harry on the Walking With The Wounded expedition to the South Pole in 2013 along with other injured service members. He also has competed in Harry's Invictus Games.

"I am proud to be running alongside Karl in the Boston and London marathons next month in support of Heads Together," he said. "Two marathons in a week will hurt but we are doing this for all veterans and serving brothers who carry the weight of mental health issues every day because we believe that we all feel pressure on our mental health at some point in our lives and, when we understand this the better, we can support ourselves and each other."

Castro and Hinett turned to running as both a recovery tool and a platform for raising awareness about military mental health. They have run over 200 marathons combined as a result.

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