Entries in United States (210)


North Korea Threatens Nuclear Strike Against US

Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) -- Just hours before the United Nations votes on tougher sanctions against the country, North Korea has issued a new threat against the United States.

In a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency on Thursday, North Korea's foreign ministry said, "Now that the U.S. is set to light a fuse for a nuclear war, the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will exercise the right to a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors and to defend the supreme interests of the country," Bloomberg reports.

Such harsh rhetoric is regular practice when it comes to North Koreans, but it has been notably frequent in recent days.

On Thursday, U.N. diplomats are scheduled to vote on new sanctions against North Korea following its recent nuclear test.  The country is also angry over the U.S.-South Korean military drills taking place this month.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Obama Administration Expected to Directly Aid Syria’s Rebels

Scott Peterson/Getty Images(ROME) -- Secretary of State John Kerry will meet on Thursday with leaders of Syria’s opposition council and other nations that have been supporting the opposition at the Friends of Syria meeting in Rome. The outcome of that meeting is expected to move the United States towards more direct involvement in the nation’s conflict.

Kerry is expected to announce for the first time that the Obama administration is prepared to provide direct support to vetted members of the Free Syrian Army, the military wing of the opposition effort.

On Wednesday in Paris, Kerry acknowledged that the Syrian opposition needs more help. Kerry said the United States still believes that a political solution is the best way to end the bloodshed, but after two years of conflict it’s clear that the process needs to be sped up.

“That may require us to change President Assad’s current calculation.  He needs to know that he can’t shoot his way out of this,” said Kerry.  “We need to convince him of that, and I think the opposition needs more help in order to be able to do that.  And we are working together to have a united position with respect to that.”

U.S. officials confirmed to ABC News that the United States is considering providing “non-lethal” help to selective rebel fighters that will include communications equipment, medical and other supplies. Under the U.S. legal definition of non-lethal assistance, any aid that is not weaponry or ammunition qualifies. That means the U.S. could also provide body armor, military training, armored vehicles and help with intelligence.

“What you’re doing is you’re giving them the capability to manage their force without giving them the weapons,” former Gen. James Cartwright told ABC News.

The United States has been providing about $50 million of non-lethal assistance to Syria’s political opposition, including providing communications equipment like radios and computers to advocates and political opposition councils.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said on Wednesday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy that he thinks the United States should go further, providing ammunition for the rebel fighters. Rubio’s comments followed his recent trip to the region, where he met with the former prime minister of Syria who defected to Jordan last August.

“There are plenty of weapons in Syria. What the opposition really needs is access to ammunition,” he said. “Ammunition is something we can provide that is not weaponry per se, but is essential. That’s the stuff I’m prepared to advocate for.”

But providing weapons and ammunition to Syria’s rebel army comes with risks. Extremist elements of the opposition, including groups with ties to al Qaeda in Iraq, have emerged in the conflict. More than 50 people, many of them women and children, were killed last week in a terror attack in Damascus, Syria, carried out by a suicide bomber.

Kerry acknowledged during his Paris news conference that extremist elements within the opposition have filled what Syrians perceive as a vacuum of assistance from the U.S. and its allies.

“Some folks on the ground that we don’t support and whose interests do not align with ours are delivering some of that help,” said Kerry.

He told reporters that the United States needs to address the problem by helping Syria’s opposition do a better job to meet the needs of the Syrian people in areas they control.

“We need to help them to be able to deliver basic services…where you have a vulnerable population today that needs to be able to resist the pleas to engage in extremism,” he said.

Cartwright said that the Obama administration’s caution over the United States’ level of involvement in Syria’s drawn-out and complicated conflict isn’t surprising.

“There are people there that are clearly not from inside Syria that are participating,” Cartwright said.

“They’re either in agreement with one side or the other, or they’re there to be postured when the conflict comes to an end [so] they will be able to influence the state affairs at the end,” he added. “Not knowing that makes it very difficult to stick your nose into someone else’s fight.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


US, Iran Band Together to Save Wrestling as an Olympic Sport

ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/GettyImages(NEW YORK) -- Washington and Tehran have finally found common ground although it has nothing to do with Iran's rogue nuclear program.

Last week's announcement that the International Olympic Committee's executive board has recommended dropping wrestling as an event for the 2020 Summer Games is putting the U.S. and Iran on the same side.

Both countries want to save wrestling and will make an appeal to the IOC to keep it as an Olympic sport.

Iran's other strong allies, Russia and Cuba, are also said to be angered by the IOC decision, which could be reversed later this year although most Olympic observers don't believe that will happen.

While the U.S. and Iran can agree on this issue, there have been no diplomatic ties between the two governments in more than three decades.

Wrestling is a particularly big sport in Iran.  Tehran will host the Wrestling World Cup starting Thursday.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Russians Blame Texas Parents for Adopted Boy's Death

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- The emergency room death of a 3-year-old boy adopted from Russia is being called "murder" by officials in Moscow, but Texas officials investigating the case say they don't know where the Russians are getting their claims that the toddler died after being abused by his adoptive mother.

Russian investigators have launched an inquiry into the death of Max Shatto in an Ector County, Texas, hospital on Jan 21. Russia's Children's Rights Commissioner Pavel Astakhov said Monday that Max died after being fed psychiatric drugs by his adoptive parents. In a post on Twitter, Astakhov said this was a case of "murder."

Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry's special representative for human rights, issued a statement saying that Max (formerly Maxim Kuzmin) also had signs of injuries that "could only be caused by strong blows."

Olga Batalina, deputy head of a State Duma committee on family, women and children's welfare, said Russia would seek the return of Max's 2-year-old brother, who had been adopted by the Shattos at the same time as Max.

U.S. officials, from the local authorities in Texas to the State Department, say the Russians are leaping to unsubstantiated conclusions.

"None of us, not here, not anywhere in the world, should jump to a conclusion about the circumstances until the police have had a chance to investigate," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "There have been very strong assertions made from Moscow. We are going to wait until the investigation is complete."

The allegations are bolstering those Russian lawmakers who supported the government's decision earlier this year to ban adoptions to the United States, as well as dimming chances that the ban will be reversed or more leniently applied in the near term.

Russia's parliament on Tuesday held a moment of silence in Max's memory, according to RIA Novosti.

Authorities in Ector County, Texas, declined to discuss the case but did confirm they are trying to determine the young boy's cause of death.

The sheriff's office said Tuesday that it is working with Child Protective Services and Dr. Sergey Chumarev, the senior counselor for the Russian embassy.

Police said they went to Medical Center Hospital at 4:49 p.m. on Jan. 21 after Max Shatto was rushed to the emergency room, where he died. The sheriff's office began an investigation into his death, the statement said.

Laura and Alan Shatto, Max's parents, declined to comment Tuesday on the allegations. They have not been charged with any crimes in connection with the child's death.

Astakhov, who has said he wants a full ban on the adoption of Russian children by any foreigners, said he had been told by investigators in Ector County that Max's body showed signs of severe bruising and internal organ damage during an autopsy, and that police were investigating Laura Shatto for child abuse. Astakhov also said that the child had been given psychiatric drugs for an alleged psychiatric disorder.

Sgt. Gary Duesler of the Ector County Sheriff's Department declined to comment Tuesday on the allegations made by Astakhov. He said the investigation into Max Shatto's death is ongoing as police await the autopsy results and cause of his death.

The results are expected in two to four weeks, Duesler said. Sondra Woolf, an investigator at the Ector County Medical Examiner's office, said the office would not release any details on the boy's death until the entire report was completed, including toxicology lab results that are not yet finalized.

Russia cut off adoptions to the United States as of Jan. 1, citing the cases of 19 Russian children who died after being adopted by Americans. Max Shatto would be the 20th. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, American families have adopted more than 60,000 Russian children, according to the State Department.

The ban was seen by U.S. officials as part of Russia's retaliation for a set of human rights sanctions imposed by the United States in December that threatened to place financial and travel sanctions on Russian officials believed to have committed human rights abuses.

Recently, however, Russian officials have denied the adoption ban was a response to the American sanctions.

After a few tense weeks, Russia allowed several dozen adoptions that had already received court approval to proceed. However, they have so far held up hundreds more cases where the children had met their prospective parents, but had not yet received the go-ahead from a judge. American diplomats have tried in vain to convince Russia to reverse that decision.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Blind Teen Stands Up to Putin on Adoption Ban

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) — A blind Russian teenager’s withering, at times sarcastic, criticism of the country’s new ban on adoptions to the United States has garnered a lot of attention in Russian media, and even from the Kremlin.

In a Jan. 6 blog post, addressed to President Vladimir Putin, Natasha Pisarenko asked what will be done for disabled Russian children now that they cannot be adopted by Americans. She slammed the dismal state of Russia’s orphanages and medical care, using her own life as an example.

Pisarenko was born blind, she explains, and even though her father recognized it almost instantly it took doctors three months to identify it, and it took German doctors to make a proper diagnosis. Now she plans to have surgery in the United States that could restore her sight.

In perhaps a sign of how sensitive the Kremlin is to the outrage surrounding the adoption ban, Putin’s spokesman Dmitri Peskov said, “Of course we will pay attention to such a statement. This girl is well known to us. She’s known by the regional authorities and by the health ministry.”

The adoption ban was a late amendment to a bill retaliating for America passing the so-called Magnitsky Act, a set of human rights sanctions that President Obama signed into law in December. The U.S. law was named after an anti-corruption lawyer who died in prison after he uncovered evidence of massive fraud. The act freezes the assets and visas of Russian officials accused of human rights abuse.

Russia is one of the most popular countries for Americans seeking to adopt overseas. Americans have adopted over 60,000 Russian children since the collapse of the Soviet Union, according to the State Department, but Russian officials have pointed to the cases of 19 Russian children who died after being adopted by Americans.

When the ban went into effect on Jan. 1, it left 52 orphans in legal limbo. Their adoptions to the United States had been approved by a court, but they had not yet received papers to leave the country. Russian officials have said some of them will still be allowed to leave, but have not said which ones or how many.

A majority of Russians supported the ban in a December poll by the Public Opinion Foundation, but thousands took to the streets of Moscow on Sunday to protest the measure. They chanted “Hands off our children” and hoisted signs with the photos of lawmakers who voted for the ban with “Shame” written across their faces.

Russia’s state-owned news channels, however, dismissed the large protest, accusing participants of promoting the sale of children abroad. One presenter said children were many times more likely to be killed in the United States than in Russia.

On Monday a petition with over 100,000 signatures asking lawmakers to overturn the ban was dismissed by a committee in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, according to RIA Novosti.

Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodents said on Monday that approximately 128,000 of Russia’s estimated 650,000 orphans were waiting for adoption, yet only 18,000 Russian families had applied to adopt children.

Last week, Maxim Kargopoltsev, a 14-year-old orphan due to be adopted by an American couple he had known for years, made headlines when he was reported to have penned a letter to Putin and to lawmakers asking for the ban to be overturned. Later reports, quoting his orphanage director, said there was no letter.

The next day, however, the regional governor visited Maxim and vowed to look after him. He also took him to buy the cellphone of his choice. The boy was quoted later saying he still hoped to be adopted by the Americans.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Karzai in Washington to Discuss US Military Future in Afghanistan

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan arrived at the Pentagon Thursday for the first in a series of discussions with senior American leaders about the future of the U.S. military role in Afghanistan after American combat troops leave the country at the end of 2014.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta greeted Karzai with all the pomp and circumstance accorded a head of state – a 21-gun salute, and marching bands and honor guards from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard.

Topping the agenda for Karzai’s meetings in Washington is a discussion over the effort to reach a security agreement between the two countries.  The White House is currently considering the number of troops to be kept, with the leading options numbering between 3,000 and 9,000 forces, although earlier this week the possibility that no troops may be left behind was raised.

At the Pentagon, Karzai and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met for an hour. Panetta later described the meeting as touching on the United States’ “enduring commitment” to Afghanistan.

Later in the day, at a news conference with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Panetta said his meeting with Karzai helped “lay the groundwork” for Karzai’s meeting with President Obama on Friday.

Neither Panetta nor Dempsey would speculate on the options, particularly the zero-troop option, though Dempsey acknowledged, “We’ve said from the start no option is off the table.”

Karzai’s relationship with the United States has at times been a rocky one as he has sometimes made critical statements about the allied troop presence in his country. U.S. officials believe he has made those comments out of political expediency to improve his standing with Afghans and show his independence.

Coalition forces have been transitioning security to Afghan forces over the past year, so that by now they are in the lead for security in areas where 76 percent of the Afghan population lives.

Despite that, most Afghan military units still remain unable to work independently of the logistical and combat support provided by the U.S. and its allies.  The U.S. currently has 66,000 troops, with 34,000 troops from other NATO countries, serving alongside Afghanistan’s 352,000 security forces.

American troops continue to partner with Afghan troops in preparation for withdrawal, though the rapid spike in insider attacks last year has created new challenges.

It is against this backdrop that on Thursday Karzai assured Panetta that with the U.S. and NATO assistance provided the past decade to Afghanistan that it “will be able to provide security its people and to protect its borders so Afghanistan will not ever be threatened by terrorists from across our borders.”

Thursday evening Karzai met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for talks that would also focus on American security commitments after 2014.  After their meeting they were joined by Panetta for a working dinner.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Iran Threatening to Take US to Court over Drones

Erik Simonsen/Getty(TEHRAN, Iran) -- Iran is not backing down from its claim that it captured a U.S.-made drone over its airspace recently.

In fact, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi went as far to say on Wednesday that Tehran will move ahead with legal action against the U.S. because of its alleged "drone incursion."

According to Salehi, Iran would seek prosecution against Washington in international court because a ScanEagle was supposedly gathering intelligence as it entered Iran's airspace.

Tehran said this was a further example of a U.S. attempt at spying.  Last December, an unmanned RQ-170 stealth aircraft was found in eastern Iran although the Pentagon said the drone was brought down by mechanical failures.

Last month, Washington acknowledged that a Predator drone was fired upon by the Iranians while over international airspace.  The aircraft was not hit.

As for the disputed ScanEagle, which is smaller and flies lower than other drones, a U.S. Navy spokesman in Bahrain said that no such aircraft was missing in the Persian Gulf -- a claim reiterated by the White House.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Iran Confirms Firing at US Drone

Erik Simonsen/Getty(TEHRAN, Iran) -- Iran has confirmed that it used warplanes to fire at a U.S. drone over a week ago. Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said Friday that the country's armed forces took "smart and firm" action when an unidentified aircraft entered Iranian airspace over the Persian Gulf, according to Iranian media reports.

Vahidi was responding to claims by U.S. Department of Defense officials who said that the drones were unarmed and that the incident occurred over international waters.

General Masoud Jazayeri said that Iran would confront any "flying object" that entered its air space and Iranian forces would respond strongly to any ground, sea or air "invasion."

"The defenders of the Islamic Republic of Iran give decisive response to any aerial, ground or sea aggression," Jazayeri said responding to a FARS News Agency question about the Pentagon's statement, adding, "If any kind of alien flying object wants to enter our country's airspace, our armed forces will confront it."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Iranian Fighter Jets Fire on US Predator Drone

File photo. U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Julianne Showalter(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon disclosed Thursday that an unarmed U.S. military Predator surveillance drone was fired at by Iranian military jets last week in international airspace over the waters of the Persian Gulf.

Officials stressed that the U.S. drone had never entered Iranian territory and that the entire incident occurred in international airspace. The drone was not hit by the plane's gunfire and was able to return to its undisclosed base in the region.

At a Pentagon briefing, spokesman George Little told reporters that the incident had occurred last Thursday at approximately 4:50 a.m. Eastern Time when an unarmed Predator drone "conducting routine surveillance" over the Gulf "was intercepted by Iranian Su-25 Frogfoot aircraft and was fired upon with guns."

The incident occurred 16 nautical miles off the Iranian coastline, said Little. The internationally recognized territorial limit of waters and airspace begins 12 nautical miles from a nation's coastline. Though Little did not disclose where the incident occurred, a Defense official told ABC News that it occurred in the northern part of the Persian Gulf east of Kuwait.

The White House and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta were informed of the incident as soon as it happened, as were relevant members of Congress. The incident was not disclosed until today when CNN was first to reveal the details of the incident. Little said that the Pentagon does not talk about classified missions like the one the Predator was undertaking, but decided to go public with details following "the unauthorized leak."

Little said that the United States communicated to Iran via Swiss intermediaries that "we will continue to conduct surveillance flights over international waters over the Arabian Gulf consistent with long-standing practice."

Little described last Thursday's incident as the first time that an unmanned American aircraft has been shot at over the international waters of the Persian Gulf.

When asked if the United States considered the shooting an "act of war," Little said he was "not going to get into legal labels." He added, "The reality is that we have a wide range of options, as I said before, to protect our assets and our forces in the region and will do so when necessary." He later acknowledged that no manned American aircraft had responded to the incident.

The spokesman said that Iranian Su-25 "Frogfoot" aircraft intercepted the drone in international waters and then fired at it with machine guns. The shots missed and the drone moved beyond the 16 nautical-mile range and it was fired upon again though the shots once again missed. At that point "the Iranian aircraft continued to pursue the MQ-1 for some period of time before letting it return to base." Little believed that the Iranian jets tailed the drone for at least "several miles."

When asked if the Iranian misses may have been "warning shots," Little replied, "Our working assumption is that they fired to take it down. You'll have to ask the Iranians why they engaged in this action."

"We believe that they fired at least twice," he added, "and made at least two passes." A Defense official told ABC News that the approaching Iranian aircraft were spotted by one of the cameras aboard the drone. After the first strafing run the official says the Iranian aircraft made a circular pass around the drone to get in position for another strafing run.

Little said that the Pentagon had not disclosed the incident until Thursday's CNN report because it doesn't talk about classified surveillance missions undertaken by drones. "There is absolutely no precedence for this, so this is the first time that a UAV has been fired upon, to our knowledge, by Iranian aircraft. So I wouldn't draw any parallels between this and past incidents. We routinely do not advertise our classified surveillance missions."

Little downplayed the idea that the White House might have asked the Pentagon to not talk about the incident for political reasons given it occurred so close to the upcoming election. "We don't typically comment on classified surveillance missions," he said. "And I'm not going to get into discussions at the classified level that occurred between this department and the White House. They were informed early on."

An unmanned RQ-170 surveillance drone crashed in Iran last December. At the time Iran claimed that it had been shot down, but U.S. officials said a technical malfunction had brought the aircraft down while conducting a secret surveillance mission over Iran for the CIA.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Russia Takes Swipe at US Democracy Ahead of Election

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Moscow’s Foreign Ministry took a shot at American democracy on Wednesday.

“The #US lectures the world on democracy and human rights, but looks only to its own laws when flaws in its voting system are pointed out,” the ministry tweeted from its English-language account.

“The #US electoral system is decentralised, fragmented and obsolete,” the ministry added in another tweet moments later.

Opponents of the electoral college (which could include more Americans if one candidate loses next Tuesday’s election despite winning the popular vote) might not disagree with the broad strokes of that second point.

Of course, recent Russian elections have been marred by reports of widespread voter fraud. And since President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration in May, human rights activists have sounded the alarm about a string of new, increasingly restrictive laws and policies that appear aimed at intimidating Russia’s opposition.

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s statements came amid rising anti-American rhetoric from the Kremlin and echoed criticism from Russia’s election chief, who penned a lengthy piece ripping apart the American election process in a state-owned newspaper on Wednesday.

“The elections for the president of the USA are not direct, not universal, not equal and do not preserve voting secrecy,” Vladimir Churov wrote, according to Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “It’s a stretch of the imagination to talk about the right of American citizens to choose their president.”

The ministry’s criticism also followed a pair of tweets slamming threats by the Texas State Attorney General that international election observers could be prosecuted if they try to enter polling places there.

The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, an arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, is one of several international observers that keep an eye out for voting fraud around the world and plans to operate in Texas.

“The situation around the #ODIHR observers monitoring the upcoming #US presidential election in #Texas is disturbing,” the ministry tweeted Wednesday, before adding some criticism of the OSCE as well.

“Unfortunately, the #ODIHR has not fully assessed the #Texas authorities’ threats to file criminal charges against international observers,” the ministry tweeted.

Last week, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to warn that the OSCE was still subject to Texas state law.

“It appears that OSCE is under the misimpression that the State Department can somehow help its representatives circumvent the Texas Election Code,” Abbott wrote. “Texas law prohibits unauthorized persons from entering a polling place — or loitering within 100 feet of a polling place’s entrance — on Election Day. OSCE monitors are expected to follow that law like everyone else.”

In the end, Russia’s concerns and Texas’ uproar may all be for nothing. OSCE Ambassador Daan Everts, dismissed Abbot’s concerns, saying his observers had no plans to enter polling places.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that the OSCE is attempting to resolve the situation.

“The OSCE has reassured us. They have also made commitments to Texas that they have no intention of violating any U.S. laws. They are now talking to Texas authorities about how to proceed here, and that’s the right channel for the conversation to go on,” she told reporters last Friday.

Nuland also confirmed that the OSCE monitors “are eligible for full immunities in the United States.”

“We don’t think that it’s going to come to having to invoke these. We have every confidence that OSCE representatives in Texas and any other state where they are observing will be able to work things out,” she added.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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