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Sunday
Jan152017

Reince Priebus: 'Yet To Be Seen' If Iran Deal Will Stand

ABC News(NEW YORK) --  President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming chief of staff offered some hope that the new administration will abide by the Iran nuclear deal instead of tearing it up.

Asked by ABC News' George Stephanopoulos on This Week if the Iran agreement would continue under Trump, incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said, “It's yet to be seen how that is going to shape up."

"We all know that President-elect Trump doesn't like the Iran deal, thinks it's a terrible document, thinks it will create a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, which it already is beginning to do,” Priebus added.

On the campaign trail, Trump vehemently criticized the Iran deal. He told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in May that "my number-one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran." He also later suggested that he would "renegotiate" the agreement.

But Trump's nominee for secretary of defense, retired Gen. James Mattis, made a noteworthy departure from his boss's position during his Senate confirmation hearing last week, saying, “I think it is an imperfect arms control agreement. It's not a friendship treaty. But when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies.”

Priebus told Stephanopoulos he thinks the Iran deal "is on life support."

“I'm not here to declare one way or the other ultimately where this is going to go,” Priebus said.

In response to Mattis and Trump's different opinions, Priebus said the best way for the administration to decide on the Iran deal is through "a collective decision that is made, of course, with President-elect Trump having the primary say ... but all of those opinions will be in the room."

U.S. allies, including a group of European Union foreign ministers, along with dozens of the nation's top scientists have urged Trump to keep the agreement. But nearly every Republican presidential candidate ran on destroying the deal, which remains unpopular among the president's elect's political party.

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Sunday
Jan152017

British Prime Minister Theresa May to Appear on US Vogue Cover

Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage via Getty Images(LONDON) -- British Prime Minister Theresa May is set to be featured on the cover of the U.S. version of Vogue, Downing Street confirmed to BBC, becoming the first prime minister to ever do so.

The spread, orchestrated by British-born editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, will appear in the magazine's April edition, a spokesman for Downing Street said to BBC.

May posed for renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz, who also photographed First Lady Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton for Vogue.

Since she became prime minister in July, her fashionable footwear has made headlines, particularly her trademark kitten heels. In September, a trade union urged her to ditch her heels for flat shoes in formal meetings to promote equality in the workplace, according to the Guardian.

Margaret Thatcher, the only other female British prime minister, posed for the U.K. version of Vogue several times.

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Sunday
Jan152017

For Many, the European Dream Stops in Serbia

Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images(BELGRADE, Serbia) -- Once applauded for its treatment of migrants and refugees, Serbia has recently become a frozen, forlorn purgatory. For those trapped on the Balkans route from the Mediterranean Sea to Germany, there's nowhere left to go.

"Serbia risks becoming a dumping zone, a new Calais where people are stranded and stuck," Andrea Contenta, humanitarian affairs officer for Medecins Sans Frontiere (MSF) in Serbia told the Guardian newspaper, referring to the French encampment cleared by authorities last fall.

"They choose to stay here in Belgrade, even if it's terrible," MSF press officer Gemma Gillie added. "They still have their freedom. If they do want to carry on their journey, which a lot of them do, they can. And so they're waiting here."

Some 2,000 people are living out of warehouses and empty train cars in Belgrade with no running water and no sanitation, the organization says. MSF runs a mobile clinic, treating about 100 people daily with coughs, colds, hypothermia and frostbite.

The UN estimates about half of the people currently taking shelter in Belgrade are younger than 18 years old, and MSF says they see patients as young as 7 or 8 years old traveling with older siblings.

With temperatures expected as low as -4 F this week, Save the Children warned that "the conditions here are very, very difficult, and with temperatures forecast to drop as low as -20 °C today, the lives of children are at risk," said Valentina Bollenback from Save the Children, who is in Presevo, Serbia on the border with Macedonia.

"The mothers I have met arriving here are distressed because they are unable to keep their babies warm and safe. We see children with early signs of hypothermia such as blue lips and hands, as well as high fevers and respiratory problems," she said. "Instead of focusing on closing their borders, Europe’s governments should be doing more to give people fleeing war a dignified and humane reception.”

"Children are particularly prone to respiratory illnesses at a time like this. It's about saving lives, not about red tape and keeping to bureaucratic arrangements," UNICEF spokeswoman Sarah Crowe said on Friday.

"I saw one man brought in who was unconscious from the cold," Tahir Bakhtiary, an MSF translator told the Sunday Times. "Something has to be done. There is nothing there. It could get a lot worse. People could die."

And they are dying. Aid agencies say at least five asylum-seekers have died in Europe, and more could follow when temperatures plummet this week.

"Saving lives is the most urgent priority right now," UNHCR spokeswoman Cécile Pouilly told reporters. "We are extremely worried about continued reports of push-backs in all countries along the Western Balkans. These practices are simply unacceptable and must be halted, as they place the lives of refugees and migrants at heightened risk and violate their most fundamental rights."

Speaking to Save the Children in Serbia, a man using the pseudonym Nasir, who fled the war in Syria five months ago with his wife and two small children, said they never expected this.

"The boat journey was the hardest part. It was extremely cold, everything was wet and the babies were ill," he said. "Sometimes I fear for my children. We couldn’t remain in Syria, but it doesn't get this cold there. We have never been this cold."

English language graffiti pleading for help is scrawled across the walls in Belgrade.

"No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark," reads one message, in an image snapped by the MSF press officer, Gemma Gillie. Other messages read: "We are helpless" and "Please don't forget about us."

Of the more than 7,000 refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants currently in Serbia, most are in heated government shelters. But it's the nearly 2,000 that remain outside, unregistered, that has aid agencies terrified.

An Iraqi refugee staying at one of the centers told UNHCR: “The room is small, but I cannot be angry at Serbia because we did not get beaten up here. We were given a bed and warm meals."

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Saturday
Jan142017

Donald Trump Suggests He's Open to Lifting Russian Sanctions, 'One China' Policy

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- President-elect Donald Trump has suggested that he is open to lifting the recently-imposed sanctions on Russia if Vladimir Putin assists the U.S. in its anti-terror initiatives and in other matters.

But the sanctions, imposed by President Obama in late December in response to Russia's alleged attempts to influence the presidential election via cyberattacks, will remain for "at least for a period of time," Trump told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published Friday night.

"If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?" he asked.

Trump also said that once he's sworn in as the 45th president, he will happily meet with Putin. "I understand that they would like to meet, and that’s absolutely fine with me," he said.

Also noteworthy was Trump's suggestion that the American "One China" policy -- which views Taiwan as part of China, not as a separate country -- could be modified.

"Everything is under negotiation including 'One China,'" Trump told The Wall Street Journal.

Such a move would anger China, considering it views Taiwan as a renegade province. China, for example, lodged a formal complaint with the U.S. after Trump accepted a congratulatory phone call last month from Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen.

Trump has repeatedly said in the past that he would label China a currency manipulator, but he told The Wall Street Journal he's not looking to do that on his first day in the Oval Office. "I would talk to them first," he said. "Certainly they are manipulators. But I'm not looking to do that."

But he didn't back down from his previous criticism of the Chinese. "Instead of saying, 'We're devaluating our currency,' they say, 'Oh, our currency is dropping.' It's not dropping," he said. "They're doing it on purpose ... Our companies can't compete with them now because our currency is strong and it’s killing us."

Trump did have kind words to say about Chinese leader Xi Jinping, though, who sent the incoming commander in chief a holiday greeting card. "I have a beautiful card from the chairman," he said.

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Saturday
Jan142017

Poland Officially Welcomes US Forces Deployed for NATO Allies

iStock/Thinkstock(ZAGAN, Poland) -- More than 3,000 U.S. troops were welcomed by Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and the country's defense minister, Antoni Macierewicz, on Saturday in a NATO show of force.

In the snowy, western Polish town of Zagan, Szydlo said it was an important day "for Poland, for Europe and our common defense" as the U.S. troops were sent under "Operation Atlantic Resolve" to reassure NATO allies against Russian threats.

The U.S. force is expected to rotate every nine months through several countries in Eastern Europe. It marks the first time western forces have been deployed on a continuous basis to NATO's Eastern Flank.

"America will always stand with Poland to defend freedom," U.S. ambassador Paul W. Jones said Saturday.

Russian officials this week criticized the increased military presence of its neighbor. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, told BBC the move "threatens our interests and our security."

"It's a third country that is building up its military presence on our borders in Europe," he said to BBC. "It isn't even a European country."

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Saturday
Jan142017

Senate Intel Committee May Use Subpoenas in Russian Hacking Investigation

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate Intelligence Committee is launching an investigation into the Russian hacking scandal which has cast a pall over the 2016 election, lawmakers said Friday.

"As part of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s oversight responsibilities we believe that it is critical to have a full understanding of the scope of Russian intelligence activities impacting the United States," the statement said.

The U.S. intelligence community issued a report earlier this month saying that the Russian government and intelligence agencies, at the direction of the country's president, Vladimir Putin, waged a campaign in an attempt to influence the U.S. election.

Part of the campaign included cyber operations that targeted the Democratic National Committee, according to intelligence officials.

President-elect Donald Trump cast doubt on the intelligence community's assessment, only conceding this week that Russia was likely behind the hacking efforts.

According to the intelligence committee's statement, the body will be reviewing the intelligence that led the IC to its conclusion, any potential links between Russian and individuals in the political campaigns and Russian cyberactivity directed against the U.S. during the election and "more broadly."

The committee, which has subpoena power, led by Republican Richard Burr, of South Carolina, plans to interview members of both the Obama and Trump administrations.

"The Committee will follow the intelligence wherever it leads," the statement said. "We will conduct this inquiry expeditiously, and we will get it right."

Lawmakers from both political parties have expressed outrage over the suspected Russian activity.

"This issue impacts the foundations of our democratic system, it’s that important," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, said. "This requires a full, deep, and bipartisan examination. At this time, I believe that this Committee is clearly best positioned to take on that responsibility, but whoever does this needs to do it right."

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Friday
Jan132017

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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Friday
Jan132017

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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Friday
Jan132017

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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Friday
Jan132017

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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