Palestinian president will not meet Pence in upcoming trip: foreign minister

Posted on: December 10th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will not meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence during his upcoming trip to the Middle East because of the Trump administration’s decision to name Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, according to Palestine’s foreign minister.

Riyad al-Maliki said at the meeting of the Arab League in Cairo on Saturday that because of the decision, the U.S. has now “positioned itself as a party in a dispute and not as a mediator,” according to Al Jazeera.

Alyssa Farah, the vice president’s press secretary, said in a statement, “It’s unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region, but the Administration remains undeterred in its efforts to help achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians and our peace team remains hard at work putting together a plan.”

President Donald Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last week and said the U.S. would begin the process of moving its embassy from Tel Aviv. The decision sparked protests and backlash across the Muslim world.

Protests have continued four days after the president’s speech with demonstrations on Sunday outside U.S. embassies in Beirut, Lebanon, and Jakarta, Indonesisa, where both countries have a majority of Muslims. The Beirut protests turned violent when security forces fired tear gas and water canons into the crowds.

In Jerusalem on Sunday, Israeli police said a Palestinian assailant stabbed a security guard at the city’s central bus station.

The Arab League is petitioning other countries to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Palestinian President Abbas on Sunday visited Amman, Jordan, where he met with King Abdullah and said he was rallying international opposition to the U.S. decision.

“We communicated with the entire world and fortunately there was a positive response from all the countries in the world, from Europe, and from Africa and countries close to America that don’t support the U.S. in this behavior,” Abbas said. “The world’s general opinion is very important. The actions taking place in the world now including the Arab region like Palestine, Jordan and others are very important. These all are messages to Trump that what he did is an unacceptable crime.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Iraq declares victory over ISIS

Posted on: December 9th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) — Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has declared victory against ISIS after three years of war.

In an announcement in Baghdad on Saturday, the prime minister said Iraqi forces were in complete control of the Iraqi-Syrian border.

“Our enemy wanted to kill our civilization, but we have won through our unity and our determination,” Abadi said according to the BBC. “We have triumphed in little time.”

In January 2014, Iraq lost control of Fallujah and Ramadi to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In June, the liberation of Mosul marked a turning point in Iraq’s war against ISIS.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert released a statement after the announcement, offering “congratulations to the Iraqi people and to the brave Iraqi Security Forces, many of whom lost their lives heroically fighting ISIS.”

Nauert added that the prime minister’s announcement “does not mean the fight against terrorism, and even against ISIS, in Iraq is over.”

“The United States, along with the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, will continue to partner with the Iraqi Security Forces, advising, training, and equipping them,” she said in the statement. “Together, we must be vigilant in countering all extremist ideologies to prevent the return of ISIS or the emergence of threats by other terrorist groups.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Arab ministers demand reversal of Trump Jerusalem decision

Posted on: December 9th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Arab foreign ministers kick off emergency meeting with criticism of Trump.

Trump administration has yet to fill many US ambassador posts in Europe

Posted on: December 9th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived at the Vienna airport this week, he was greeted on the tarmac by three deputy chiefs of mission from the U.S. embassies in Austria.

Of the three U.S. missions in Austria – the U.S. embassy to Austria, the embassy for Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the United Nations embassy – there isn’t a single ambassador leading the foreign offices 10 months into Tillerson’s term.

The State Department has also not yet put forth a name to the White House for nomination to eventually serve as ambassador to the European Union, a major international organization that represents 28 European countries and the largest single market in the world with 200 million consumers.

A White House official said they are still in the process of selecting an EU ambassador and it should be announced soon.

There are 20 ambassadorship postings — both political appointee and career — still open across Europe.

Tillerson’s tensions with the White House have only exacerbated the slow pace of the White House’s nominating and the Senate’s confirming ambassadors, according to a State Department official and a White House Official.

“I think it’s a shame,” former U.S. Ambassador to the EU Anthony Gardner told ABC News about the comparatively small number of ambassadors in Europe. “Some of these posts are quite important, particularly now.”

A State Department spokesperson referred questions about political-appointee ambassador vacancies to the White House Office of Personnel, which submits its selections to the State Department.

“We have worked closely with the State Department to get ambassadorship positions filled and have had great success in getting some of the most qualified and credible individuals in place to serve as representatives for our country,” White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said.

Nomination process slowed to a crawl

Before taking office, President Donald Trump told all politically-appointed ambassadors that they had to vacate the posts by Inauguration Day on Jan. 20 He made clear there would be “no exemptions,” according to The New York Times.

This left a vacuum at embassies that has yet to be filled, as a third of ambassadors are political appointees.

The process for nominating and confirming ambassadors is an arduous one that takes three months at best. It starts with the White House Office of Personnel submitting its list of nominees to the State Department, which sends back its approvals to the White House to then nominate the ambassadors to the Senate for confirmation.

Nominees must go through a rigorous, FBI vetting process after they’ve been approved by the White House. They must also go to ambassador school for training.

For career ambassadors, the State Department offers selected names to the White House for approval, which are then put to the Senate for confirmation.

But State Department sources say the process has slowed to a crawl.

One White House official complained that Tillerson has been reluctant to approve ambassador recommendations from the White House because they are more ideologically aligned with Trump than the secretary of state’s “establishment” positions.

But a State Department official countered that the agency has been stifled by severe political filtering of potential career appointees.

The official said the White House is shutting out nominees seen as too politically aligned with the Obama administration or too deeply involved in policy decisions that Trump has vowed to repeal, like the Iran nuclear deal.

‘Working through the process’

All of this has had a big impact on U.S. diplomacy, sources tell ABC News.

“The ambassador gets access that’s hard to replicate. For sensitive negotiations, there’s no alternative to having someone on the ground to have those conversations,” said Gardner, the former envoy to the EU who, before Trump took office, was working on sensitive issues like privacy shields and trade.

At Tillerson’s first stop in Brussels, he gave a pep talk to U.S. diplomats based in Belgium working in the NATO, European Union and Belgian missions.

At the residence for the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, where no ambassador is currently living, Tillerson noted the elephant in the room.

“We’re still awaiting a lot of nominees to clear the processes and be confirmed,” Tillerson said. “I get a little criticism for that from time to time.”

He added, “The State Department is not missing a beat because we’re still working through the process.”

Tillerson was introduced by NATO Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the only political appointee carrying out her term from the three embassies in Belgium.

After Brussels, he stopped at a U.S. Air Force base in Germany to be briefed for his upcoming trip to Africa in 2018. But again, he was not greeted by an ambassador.

In Germany, there is a nominee for ambassador, Richard Grenell, who is awaiting Senate confirmation.

U.S. Ambassador to France Jamie McCourt, a businesswoman from California, was confirmed by the Senate in November along with four other ambassadors to European countries including Spain, Croatia, Switzerland and Denmark.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Woody Johnson was confirmed in August.

In addition, Wess Mitchell was recently confirmed as the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs. He’s based in Washington, D.C.

A sharp contrast

The empty ambassador posts in Europe contrast sharply with the status of similar positions in other parts of the world.

Trump was quick to name his ambassadors to Israel and China, two countries he made a priority on the campaign trail. He said he could solve Middle East peace and fix China’s currency manipulation.

Traditionally, the European Union has been a close ally of the U.S.

But Trump in July tweeted his support for the U.K. breaking away from the EU.

“Working on major Trade Deal with the United Kingdom. Could be very big & exciting. JOBS! The E.U. is very protectionist with the U.S. STOP!” Trump tweeted.

Brexiteer and anti-EU politician Nigel Farage has been a friend and surrogate for Trump with a similar populist message.

A White House official said the timing of ambassador appointments has nothing to do with priority, but more to do with the length of the background check process and the acceptance of the nominee by the host country.

And, one senior EU diplomat said vacancies in U.S. embassies are the not the most important concerns in dealing with the new administration.

“It doesn’t matter who the ambassadors are, it’s the policy,” the diplomat said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Trump administration has yet to fill many US ambassador posts in Europe

Posted on: December 9th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Twenty ambassador positions in Europe remain open.

Italy’s left rallies to warn that fascism could return

Posted on: December 9th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Governing Democrats have led a rally to warn about the danger of fascism.

Tillerson ends Europe trip after wave of rebukes on Trump positions

Posted on: December 9th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)(WASHINGTON) — During his week in Europe, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sought to shoot down any perceptions of distance between him and Trump while answering questions from allies at every turn about the president’s most controversial decisions, including his bombshell midweek announcement that the U.S. was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

But Tillerson defiantly made his way to Europe on Monday, telling reporters he’s here to stay.

“You all need to get some new sources,” he said.

On Tuesday in Brussels, he stood next to the European Union’s chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, while she condemned the U.S. for abandoning the Iran nuclear deal. The next day at the NATO headquarters, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, ahead of walking into a meeting with Tillerson, called the U.S.’s Jerusalem decision a “grave mistake.”

After that, the U.K.’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stepped away from Tillerson to insist that the U.S. implement their Middle East process immediately.

Throughout the week, Tillerson faced questions from the press about whether the U.S.’s European allies will still stand with the U.S., given that the new administration has abandoned the Europeans on agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran nuclear deal.

But Tillerson seemed to suggest that the door is still open on issues that Trump has wholly dismissed.

The “truth of the matter is, we’ve not disengaged from the climate discussions,” Tillerson said at a press conference in Vienna. He noted that the U.S. still sent a representative to the United Nations’ Climate Change conference. In the past, Trump has seemed skeptical of climate change.

And though the president has called the Iran deal an “embarrassment,” Tillerson said this week that the U.S. is still a part of the deal.

“We are using that agreement and working with our European partners in particular to truly hold Iran accountable to its responsibilities as to its nuclear program,” he said.

Tillerson had a short break from rebukes at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, where Ukraine was top of the agenda. He sought to rally European allies to be more aggressive with Russia, calling it the “biggest threat to European security.”

He also came seeking commitments from Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to protect peacekeeping forces in Ukraine and to ultimately halt Russian aggression in the region.

On Thursday, when asked what type of progress came of meeting with Lavrov, Tillerson said, “We get progress. That’s what we get.”

“We get dialogue. We get cooperation,” he added. “We don’t have it solved. You don’t solve it in one meeting.”

Tillerson called Ukraine the “single most difficult obstacle to normalizing relations with Russia,” omitting any mentions of election interference or cyberhacking.

For his part, Lavrov was one of the few leaders who did not publicly condemn Tillerson for the Jerusalem announcement. In fact, when pressed, he claimed he couldn’t hear a question on the matter twice shouted by ABC News.

The next day in Paris, Tillerson faced pushback on Jerusalem from the French President Emmanuel Macron and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri while he sat in the front row of the French foreign minister’s office watching their statements.

Tillerson also weighed in on Saudi Arabia’s blocking humanitarian aid to Yemen, saying, “I think we would encourage [the Saudis] to be a bit more measured and a bit more thoughtful in those actions to, I think, fully consider the consequences.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

PM announces on state TV Iraq’s war against IS has ended

Posted on: December 9th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Iraq’s PM announces on state TV the country’s war on the Islamic State is over after more than three years of combat operations

Hope Hicks met with special counsel’s team for interviews

Posted on: December 9th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Hicks has been a member of Trump’s inner circle since joining the campaign.

The Latest: White House says president has called for calm

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

The White House is urging all parties to "act in a matter conducive to peace" amid violent protests over President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

Reporter’s notebook: Chaos at Jerusalem protests, ABC News at the flash point

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

"It’s not Trumpland," a Palestinian from Jerusalem said.

White House calls on Saudi-led coalition to end blockade in Yemen, as humanitarian crisis escalates

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) — The White House called on the Saudi-led coalition Friday to allow aid and commercial goods into Yemen, as the humanitarian crisis there continues to escalate.

Two weeks ago, the coalition — which has been fighting Yemeni Houthi rebels for almost 3 years — eased an air, land, and sea blockade of Yemen that had been in place for three weeks, putting millions at risk of starvation, according to the United Nations.

The White House praised Saudi Arabia for opening one seaport and airport, but had called for “additional steps” to ensure an unfettered flow of humanitarian aid.

When that didn’t happen, President Donald Trump increased his pressure on the country, directing his administration to call the leaders of Saudi Arabia “to request that they completely allow food, fuel, water, and medicine to reach the Yemeni people who desperately need it.”

“This must be done for humanitarian reasons immediately,” Trump said in a statement on Wednesday.

Now, the White House is repeating its call for the coalition to facilitate aid and goods through all Yemeni ports and allow commercial flights to resume out of Sana’a Airport.

“The Iranian-backed Houthi militias must allow food, medicine, and fuel to be distributed throughout the areas they control, rather than diverted to sustain their military campaign against the Yemeni people,” Friday’s statement reads. “This humanitarian aid must be allowed to immediately reach all points of need.”

Last weekend, the chiefs of several United Nations agencies and other top humanitarian officials said millions of Yemenis depend on supplies that can’t get through the Saudi blockade, and many cities are already out of fuel, which means health and facilities can’t operate.

Nearly 400,000 Yemeni children suffer from severe acute malnutrition and more than 8 million Yemenis “could starve without urgent food assistance coming into Yemen,” they said.

The most recent White House statement also condemned the killing of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Salih by the Houthis on Monday, as well as “their reckless missile attacks” against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Salih had ruled Yemen for over three decades before being ousted during the Arab Spring in 2012.

“The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its partners are arming, advising, and enabling the Houthis’ violent actions, which accelerate the cycle of violence and human suffering, obstruct the flow of humanitarian aid, and disrupt efforts toward a political resolution,” the White House said on Friday.

Separately, the U.S. military announced on Friday that U.S. airstrikes had killed five al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants on Nov. 20.

AQAP continues to operate in southern areas of Yemen in the midst of the country’s years-long civil war.

The U.S. military regularly strikes AQAP targets, and more recently in October, struck ISIS training camps in the same area.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

The Latest: Israel urges others to follow US on Jerusalem

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

The Palestinians are telling the United Nations that the decision by the United States to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel "undermines and essentially disqualifies its leadership role to seek peace in the region."

Israeli warplanes hit targets in Gaza Strip after rockets

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Israeli warplanes have struck Hamas military targets in the Gaza Strip after Palestinian militants fired rockets into Israel

The Latest: Palestinians at UN denounce Trump action

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

The Palestinians are telling the United Nations that the decision by the United States to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel "undermines and essentially disqualifies its leadership role to seek peace in the region."

The Latest: US allies criticize Trump’s Jerusalem pivot

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Traditional U.S. allies in the U.N. Security Council, including Britain, France, Sweden, Italy and Japan, are criticizing President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

The Latest: Leading Muslim cleric refuses to meet with Pence

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Egypt, the Sunni Muslim world’s leading religious institution, says he will not meet with Vice President Mike Pence because of the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

The Latest: US says Jerusalem move advanced peace

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations says President Donald Trump knew his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would raise "questions and concerns" but took it to advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians

Angry worshippers lash out against Trump across Muslim world

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Angry crowds of worshippers lash out against Trump across the Muslim world

The Latest: UN calls for urgent Mideast peace efforts

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

The U.N.’s Mideast envoy is calling for urgent international efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace, warning that if the conflict isn’t resolved "it risks being engulfed in the vortex of religious radicalism throughout the Middle East."

The Latest: Yemenis protest US pivot on Jerusalem

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Thousands of Yemenis have protested against a U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv to the disputed city

Clashes erupt across West Bank, Gaza over US Jerusalem pivot

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Palestinians clash with Israeli troops in West Bank; Muslims from Jordan to Indonesia denounce Trump’s move

The Latest: Gazan killed in clashes over Jerusalem move

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

The Palestinian Health Ministry says a 30-year-old Gazan was killed and dozens more were wounded in skirmishes between Israeli forces and protesters along Gaza’s border with Israel

The Latest: Tillerson says embassy move could take years

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says it will likely take several years before the United States opens an embassy in Jerusalem

The Latest: Czech PM says he won’t move embassy to Jerusalem

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

The new Czech prime minister has dismissed a suggestion by President Milos Zeman that the Czech Republic should follow the U.S. example and move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

The Latest: Protests in Somalia against US over Jerusalem

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Several hundred people are protesting in Somalia’s capital against President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

The Latest: Protesters in Indian Kashmir denounce Trump

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

The Latest: Hundreds rally in Indian-controlled Kashmir against Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel ‘s capital

Vatican prosecutors urged to go after money laundering

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Vatican financial authority praised for efficiency, but prosecutors faulted for lack of money laundering trials

Gay marriage becomes law in Australia; weddings start in Jan

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Gay marriage in Australia has become a law as the prime minister gained a final signature on a bill hours after it was overwhelming endorsed by Parliament, and the nation started planning weddings that can take place in a month.

British PM in Brussels amid possible Brexit breakthrough

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

British Prime Minister Theresa May is meeting with top European Union officials to make a final push to expand talks on her country leaving the bloc to the vital issues of future relations and trade