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No proof Russian hacking influenced U.S. election: Trump spokesman

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

Chief Strategist & Communications Director for the Republican National Committee Sean Spicer arrives in the lobby of Republican president-elect Donald Trump’s Trump Tower in New York, New York, U.S. November 14, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

No evidence has emerged to suggest Russian hacking influenced the outcome of the U.S. presidential election and it would be irresponsible to jump to conclusions before receiving a final intelligence report, Donald Trump’s spokesman said on Monday.

“There is zero evidence that they influenced the election,” Sean Spicer told Fox News.

Due to become White House press secretary when Trump enters the White House on Jan. 20, Spicer told CNN the president-elect would see the intelligence report once it was completed later this week. On Saturday, Trump warned against being quick to pin the blame on Russia for the hacking of U.S. emails.

“The idea that we’re jumping to conclusions before we have a final report is irresponsible,” Spicer told CNN.

President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian suspected spies and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies last week for alleged Kremlin involvement in hacking that intelligence officials said aimed to help the Republican Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 election.

Leading lawmakers from both parties have voiced alarm at the suggestion of Russian interference, whether or not it made a difference in the outcome.

Republican John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has scheduled a Thursday hearing on foreign cyber threats. The new Congress, elected on Nov. 8, takes office on Tuesday.

Calling for closer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump has repeatedly played down the hacking affair.

Over the weekend Trump said he knew “things that other people don’t know” and would disclose some information on the issue on Tuesday or Wednesday. He gave no further detail.

“He’s going to talk about his conclusions and where he thinks things stand,” Spicer told CNN. “He’s not going to reveal anything that was privileged or shared with him classified.”

On Sunday Spicer said the White House may have disproportionately punished Russia.

“It’s baffling,” U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC on Monday. “President-elect Trump does not have any better information than President Obama.”

A Gallup Poll released on Monday showed less than half of Americans were confident in Trump’s ability to handle an international crisis, to use military force wisely or to prevent major scandals in his administration.

The poll said at least seven in 10 Americans were confident in presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in those areas before they took office.

(Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Howard Goller)

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Pompeo visits North Korea, forms ‘good relationship with Kim’, says Trump

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

FILE PHOTO: A combination photo shows CIA Director Mike Pompeo (L) in Washington, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) in Pyongyang, North Korea and U.S. President Donald Trump (R), in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., respectively from Reuters files. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (L) & KCNA handout via Reuters & Kevin Lamarque (R)

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – CIA director Mike Pompeo, U.S. President Donald Trump’s nominee to become the top U.S. diplomat, visited North Korea last week and met leader Kim Jong Un with whom he formed a “good relationship”, Trump said on Wednesday.

Pompeo became the most senior U.S. official known to have met Kim when he visited Pyongyang to discuss a planned summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.

“Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un in North Korea last week. Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed. Details of Summit are being worked out now. Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!” Trump said on Twitter.

Pompeo’s visit and the Tweet provide the strongest sign yet about Trump’s willingness to become the first serving U.S. president ever to meet a North Korean leader, amid a protracted standoff over the North’s nuclear and missile programs it pursues in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

U.S. officials said earlier Pompeo visited over the Easter weekend, March 31 to April 2. Representatives for the White House and the State Department did not immediately respond to a query on the exact date of the meeting with Kim.

At the same time, old rivals North Korea and South Korea are preparing for their own summit, between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, on April 27, with a bid to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War a major factor in talks.

“As one of the plans, we are looking at a possibility of shifting the Korean peninsula’s armistice to a peace regime,” a top South Korean presidential official told reporters in Seoul earlier on Wednesday when asked about the North-South summit.

“But that’s not a matter than can be resolved between the two Koreas alone. It requires close consultations with other concerned nations, as well as North Korea,” the official said.

South Korea and a U.S.-led U.N. force are technically still at war with North Korea after the Korean War ended with a truce, not a peace treaty. The U.S.-led United Nations Command, Chinese forces and North Korea signed the 1953 armistice, to which South Korea is not a party.

“I do not know if any joint statement to be reached at the inter-Korean summit would include wording about ending the war, but we certainly hope to be able to include an agreement to end hostile acts between the South and North,” the official said.

Trump said on Tuesday he backed efforts between North and South Korea aimed at ending the state of war.

Such discussions between the two Koreas, and between North Korea and the United States, would have been unthinkable at the end of last year, after months of escalating tension, and fear of war, over the North’s weapons programs.

But then Kim declared in a New Year’s speech his country was “a peace-loving and responsible nuclear power” and called for lower military tension and improved ties with the South.

He also said he was considering sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February, a visit that began a succession of steps to improve ties.

But finance ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized countries said in a statement they were still concerned about North Korea’s evasion of sanctions and its “ability to access the international financial system”.

CHINA’S XI TO VISIT PYONGYANG?

Pompeo’s visit to the North was arranged by South Korean intelligence chief Suh Hoon with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yong Chol, and was intended to assess whether Kim was prepared to hold serious talks, a U.S. official said.

Pompeo flew from a U.S. air force base in Osan, south of Seoul, an official with the South’s defense ministry said. The South’s presidential office declined to comment on the trip.

Amid the diplomatic flurry, CNN reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping also planned to visit Pyongyang soon, after North Korean leader Kim made a surprise trip last month to China, its major sole ally.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she had no information about any Xi visit to North Korea.

“What I can stress is that China and North Korea have a tradition of high level mutual visits,” she told reporters.

“China is willing to strengthen high-level exchanges with North Korea, deepen strategic communications, expand talks and cooperation, and to bring out the important leading role of high-level contact in China-North Korea relations.”

Trump said on Tuesday he believed there was a lot of goodwill in the diplomatic push with North Korea, but added it was possible the summit – first proposed in March and which the president said could take place in late May or early June – may not happen, in which case the United States and its allies would maintain pressure on North Korea through sanctions.

Nevertheless, Pompeo’s conversations in North Korea had fueled Trump’s belief that productive negotiations were possible, according to a U.S. senior official briefed on the trip.

The two Koreas have meanwhile been pressing ahead with preparations for the inter-Korean summit next week.

South Korea’s presidential office said they had agreed to broadcast live, for the first time, parts of the summit, including the hand shake between the two leaders.

Additional reporting by Soyoung Kim and Joyce Lee in SEOUL, Susan Heavey, John Walcott and Steve Holland in WASHINGTON, and Christian Shepherd in BEIJING; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie

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Meeting with Trump to focus on NoKor – Japan PM

by UNTV   |   Posted on Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the opening of a welcome dinner hosted by Abe at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, Japan, November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Shizuo Kambayashi/Pool

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Tuesday that his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump will focus on seeking common ground on how to deal with North Korea’s nuclear challenge.

The comment comes amid fears in Tokyo that Trump might be prone to make too many concessions.

Japan wants Trump to avoid a deal in which Pyongyang gives up ballistic missiles that can hit the U.S. mainland but keeps shorter-range missiles that threaten Japan.

Abe also wants Trump to bring up the topic of Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang in the past.

The Japanese prime minister is due to arrive at Trump’s Mar-a Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Florida, for two days of talks expected to also cover trade and relations with China. — Reuters

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Russia warns any U.S. missiles fired at Syria will be shot down

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

A man walks with his bicycle at a damaged site in the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria March 30, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Russia has warned that any U.S. missiles fired at Syria over a suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel enclave would be shot down and the launch sites targeted, raising the possibility of a U.S.-Russian confrontation.

Issuing the warning on Tuesday evening, the Russian ambassador to Lebanon also said such a clash should be avoided and Moscow was ready for negotiations. But his remarks could raise fears of direct conflict for the first time between major powers backing opposing sides in Syria’s protracted civil war.

Moscow and Washington sparred at the United Nations on Tuesday over the use of chemical weapons in Syria as Washington and its allies considered whether to strike at Syrian government forces over the alleged poison gas assault.

At least 60 people were killed in Saturday’s suspected chemical weapons attack on the town of Douma, Syrian relief workers said. An estimated 500 people were being treated for “symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals”, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

The Syrian government and Russia say the reports are bogus. The Kremlin said on Wednesday it hoped all sides involved in Syria would avoid doing anything that could destabilize an already fragile situation in the Middle East, and made clear it strongly opposed any U.S. strike on its ally.

After the attack, the rebel group holed up in Douma – Jaish al-Islam – finally agreed to withdraw from the town. That sealed a big victory for President Bashar al-Assad, who has now crushed the rebellion in the eastern Ghouta region near Damascus.

On the diplomatic front, Moscow and Washington stymied attempts by each other in the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to set up international investigations into chemical weapons attacks in Syria. [

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday canceled a planned trip to Latin America later this week to focus instead on talks with Western allies about possible military action to punish Assad for the suspected gas attack on a rebel-held town that had long withstood a devastating Syrian government siege.

Trump had on Monday warned of a quick, forceful response once responsibility for the attack was established.

“If there is a strike by the Americans, then … the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,” Alexander Zasypkin, the Russian ambassador in Beirut, told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV, speaking in Arabic.

He said he was referring to a statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian armed forces chief of staff.

The Russian military said on March 13 that it would respond to any U.S. strike on Syria by targeting any missiles and launchers involved. Russia is Assad’s most powerful ally and its devastating air power has helped him wrest back large swathes of territory from rebels since 2015.

Zasypkin also said a clash between Russia and the United States over Syria “should be ruled out and therefore we are ready to hold negotiations”.

Earlier in the week, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said there was no threat of the situation in Syria spiraling into U.S.-Russian hostilities. TASS news agency quoted him as saying he believed common sense would prevail.

MISSILE SALVO FROM MEDITERRANEAN?

Any U.S. strike is likely to involve the navy, given the risk to aircraft from Russian and Syrian air defense systems. A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, is in the Mediterranean.

With tensions mounting, pan-European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol warned airlines to exercise caution in the eastern Mediterranean due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria over the next 72 hours.

Eurocontrol said that air-to-ground and cruise missiles could be used within that period and there could be intermittent disruptions of radio navigation equipment.

Both Russia and Iran, Assad’s other main ally, have warned his enemies against military action in recent days, underlining their commitment to the Syrian government they have armed and supported through years of conflict.

Ali Akbar Velayati, the top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said during a visit to Damascus on Tuesday that an Israeli attack on an air base in Syria earlier this week would “not remain without response”.

RISK OF “UNCONTROLLABLE ESCALATION”

On Monday, U.N. Syria peace envoy Staffan de Mistura cited the air base strike along with other recent events in Syria in a briefing to the Security Council, cautioning against a “situation of uncontrollable escalation”.

Syria’s Russian-supplied air defenses shot down an Israeli F-16 jet in February during a previous bombing run against what Israel described as Iranian-backed positions in Syria.

Last year, the United States carried out strikes from two Navy destroyers against a Syrian air base after another toxic gas attack on a rebel-controlled pocket.

The U.S. and Russian militaries have sought to avoid conflict in Syria, notably last year in the Euphrates River Valley where they supported rival sides in the campaign against Islamic State militants.

However, U.S. forces in February killed or injured hundreds of Russian contractors fighting on Assad’s side during a confrontation in Deir al-Zor province.

U.S. officials said last month pro-Syrian government forces including Russian mercenaries massed near U.S. and U.S.-backed forces in the same region, but a potential confrontation was defused after the U.S. military contacted Russian officers.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that any military action would not target the Syrian government’s allies or anybody in particular, but rather the Syrian government’s chemical facilities.

Any U.S. strike similar to the limited one launched last year would not cause a shift in the course of the war that has been going Assad’s way since Russia intervened on his side.

DEADLY CHEMICAL ATTACK

Syrian aid workers reported more than 1,000 people injured in the reported gas attack on Douma. Doctors and witnesses said victims showed symptoms of poisoning, possibly by a nerve agent, and reported the smell of chlorine gas.

France and Britain discussed with the Trump administration how to respond to the Douma attack. Both stressed that the culprit still needed to be confirmed.

The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Assad’s government had been asked to make necessary arrangements for an OPCW investigation team to visit shortly.

The mission will aim to determine whether banned munitions were used but not assign blame.

The Assad government and Russia both urged the OPCW to investigate the allegations, a move by the two countries that was apparently aimed at averting any U.S.-led military action.

A European source said European governments were waiting for the OPCW to carry out its inquiry and for more solid forensic evidence from the attack to emerge. Any plan by Washington and its allies to take military action was likely to be on hold until then, the source told Reuters.

Despite the international revulsion over chemical weapons attacks, the death toll from such incidents in Syria is only a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of combatants and civilians killed since the war erupted in 2011.

Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Andrew Osborn and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow, Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam, Steve Holland, Idrees Ali, Mark Hosenball and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Jamie Freed in Singapore, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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