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Manchester terror attack: Police investigating ‘network’ of suspects; 4 in custody

TERRORISM

Manchester terror attack: Police investigating ‘network’ of suspects; 4 in custody

Four people were in custody Wednesday in connection with Monday’s deadly concert bombing, as British authorities continued to conduct “extensive” searches while investigating the “network” behind the attack.

“It is very clear that it is a network we are investigating,” Manchester police said on Wednesday.

British officials said they deployed nearly 1,000 military troops at high-profile sites in the country, some in London, instead of police. Manchester police said the increase in threat level gave the green light to deploy military support operation under the code name “Temperer.”

Multiple law enforcement agencies swept through Manchester in a bid to head off a follow-up to the suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert that killed 22 people. Manchester police said they will continue doing “extensive” searches to disband the “network” of suspects. Officials also raised the number of wounded Wednesday to 119.

Soldiers were replacing armed police on Wednesday at sites like Buckingham Palace, 10 Downing Street and Parliament. London Police Commander Jane Connors said the goal was to “make our city as hostile an environment as possible for terrorists to plan and operate.” She said police also would be ready to respond quickly to any incidents with armed officers, and have added more armed police walking patrols.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, and the suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, is unlikely to have acted alone, officials said. In fact, investigators said he may have acted as a “mule,” hauling a shrapnel-packed explosive device that somebody else built, the BBC reported.

Abedi was believed to have traveled to Syria and had “proven” links with ISIS, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said Wednesday on BFM television, adding that British and French intelligence have information that Abedi had been to Syria. He did not provide details, and said it was unclear whether Abedi was part of a larger network of attackers.

Abedi’s father told the Associated Press that his son was in Libya a month-and-a-half ago and was preparing to visit Saudi Arabia. Living in Tripoli, Ramadan Abedi said that his family “aren’t the ones who blow up ourselves among innocents.”

MANCHESTER VICTIMS IDENTIFIED

In addition to the three arrests in the south of Manchester, police also handcuffed a man at a house just a 10-minute walk from Abedi’s home — but they did not immediately confirm it was connected to the concert bombing. “There was a policeman, armed policeman, shouting at my neighbor … and I realized there is something wrong here … they arrested the father, and I think the rest of the family kind of disappeared,” neighbor Omar Alfa Khuri said, adding that he knew the arrested man from the local mosque.

Abedi had been known to security forces “up to a point,” Home Secretary Amber Rudd said.

Prime Minister Theresa May Wednesday chaired a meeting of her emergency security cabinet group, known as COBRA, to review intelligence reports about Abedi and concerns that he might have had outside support.

Britain raised its threat level to “critical,” which May said means an attack could come at any time. “This means that the assessment is that, not only is a further attack likely, but that it could be imminent.”

DOZENS STILL HOSPITALIZED AFTER ATTACK

Police raided Abedi’s house earlier, using a controlled explosion to blast down the door. Neighbors recalled him as a tall, thin young man who often wore traditional Islamic dress and did not talk much.

Police also raided and searched a property elsewhere in Manchester where Abedi’s brother Ismail is thought to have lived. A 23-year-old man has also been arrested as part of the investigation but officials have released no details about him.

British soldiers have been deployed in place of police officers to guard high-profile sites such as Buckingham Palace and Parliament.

Abedi was born in Britain to a Libyan family, grew up in Manchester’s southern suburbs and attended the local Salford University for a time.

Officials are looking into how often Abedi had traveled to Libya, which has seen an eruption of armed Islamist groups since dictator Moammar Qaddafi was overthrown and killed in 2011. British officials have not commented on whether Abedi had links to ISIS or other extremist groups.

In addition to those killed in the concert attack, 64 people are being treated for their wounds, Jon Rouse of the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership said Wednesday.

He said some of the wounded had been discharged, but that the number of patients being treated had increased due to “walking wounded” who came in hours after the attack. Rouse said many of those hospitalized had serious wounds that would require “very long term care and support in terms of their recovery.”

Collomb, who spoke with May after the attack, said the two countries should continue cooperating closely on counterterrorism efforts despite Britain’s pending exit from the European Union.

Critical Obamacare Payments

US President Donald Trump sits during his meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem, Monday, May 22, 2017. (Atef Safadi, EPA Pool via AP)
US President Donald Trump sits during his meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem, Monday, May 22, 2017.
– The Washington Times – Monday, May 22, 2017

The Trump administration punted Monday on a long-awaited decision about the legality of critical Obamacare payments, asking a federal appeals court for more time to sort out competing demands, and leaving the insurance markets scrambling to figure out what to do next year.

Attorneys for the Justice Department and House of Representatives requested 90 more days to figure out how to unwind a long-running court battle over the payments, known as “cost-sharing reductions,” that pay insurers who lose money on low-income customers under Obamacare.

Lawyers for the administration said they need more time to figure out a permanent solution, which they hope will involve Congress passing a repeal of Obamacare.

In the meantime, however, more insurers could withdraw from the Obamacare exchanges, frightened that they will lose money without the taxpayer-funded payments, Democrats said.

“Unfortunately, by kicking the can down the road once again, the administration is continuing to sow uncertainty in the markets that will hurt millions of Americans,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said.

Trump Weighs Sending as Many as 5,000 More Troops to Afghanistan

Trump Weighs Sending as Many as 5,000 More Troops to Afghanistan

Trump, however, is still deciding on a variety of options being presented to him by U.S. military leaders, senior administration officials told NBC News.

The Washington Post first reported that the plan could involve an increase of at least 3,000 troops, with the U.S. asking other NATO nations to match. The U.S.’s force in Afghanistan currently totals about 8,400.

Trump considers shift in Afghanistan strategy, possibly sending thousands more troops 1:56

A U.S. official told The Post that Trump wants to “start winning” again and has the backing of top Cabinet officials. He is expected to make his mind up on strategy before attending a May 25 NATO summit in Brussels, the newspaper reported.

One senior administration source told NBC News a decision would happen “soon.”

But former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday that the president will need to better explain his strategy in a country that remains mired in conflict for over 15 years.

“What is the strategy now?” Rice said on TODAY. “It doesn’t make sense to increase troop strength to keep doing the same thing.”

Condoleezza Rice: Increasing troops in Afghanistan ‘doesn’t make sense’ without new strategy 5:16

Among the possibilities that are being mulled over: allowing Defense Secretary James Mattis to set the troop levels for Afghanistan — similar to the Pentagon doing so for Iraq and Syria, sending potentially several thousand more troops there, and ending some Obama-era rules on how the U.S. military operates in the country, including on its ability to go after the Taliban.

Discussion surrounding how to handle Afghanistan comes just weeks after the U.S. dropped the largest non-nuclear weapon ever used — also known as the “mother of all bombs” — to obliterate an ISIS tunnel complex in eastern Afghanistan. Two U.S. Army Rangers were also killed last month in the same region during a firefight outside of an ISIS compound.

Coalition forces have been engaged in a dual conflict against both the Taliban, which was toppled in 2001, as well as ISIS’s regional branch for South Asia known as ISIS-K.

Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has suggested to Congress that the NATO coalition needs several thousand more troops in the country. He has also not refuted previous reports that Russia is helping to arm the Afghan Taliban.

Trump held a different view on Afghanistan before he entered politics, tweeting in 2013 that the U.S. should leave immediately or “if we have to go back in, we go in hard & quick.”

We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives. If we have to go back in, we go in hard & quick. Rebuild the US first.

Rice, who was also national security adviser under President George W. Bush, didn’t specifically say whether she believes additional troop deployment would do the trick this time around — particularly after the Obama administration’s surge that saw 100,000 troops there in 2010 failed to suppress the Taliban.”

“Well, I’d certainly urge the President to look at how we can turn the tide in Afghanistan,” she told TODAY. “I know we’ve been there a very, very long time and obviously the goal is to have a government that’s stable in Kabul that can’t be assaulted by the Taliban.”

While the U.S. may find Russian diplomacy helpful for dealing with North Korea, Rice cautioned about trusting President Vladimir Putin when it comes to Middle East policy.

“One of the first conversations needs to be with Vladimir Putin and to say, ‘Do you really want to get back into Afghanistan after what happened to you before in Afghanistan?’ There’s no reason for the Russians to be arming the Taliban,” Rice added, “and so that conversation needs to take place.”

North Korea accuses US, South Korea of assassination attempt

North Korea accuses US, South Korea of assassination attempt

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea on Friday accused the U.S. and South Korean spy agencies of an unsuccessful assassination attempt on leader Kim Jong Un involving bio-chemical weapons.

In a statement carried on state media, North Korea’s Ministry of State Security said it will “ferret out and mercilessly destroy” the “terrorists” in the CIA and South Korean intelligence agency for targeting its supreme leadership.

North Korea frequently lambasts the United States and South Korea, but its accusation Friday was unusual in its detail.

The ministry said the spy agencies in June 2014 “ideologically corrupted and bribed” a North Korean citizen who had been working in Russia to carry out the alleged assassination on Kim after returning home.

It said South Korean agents gave $20,000 and satellite communication equipment to the North Korean to attack Kim during a public event with a bio-chemical weapon, such as a “radioactive” and “nano poisonous” substance.

The ministry threatened that a counterattack would begin immediately. “Korean-style anti-terrorist attack will be commenced from this moment to sweep away the intelligence and plot-breeding organizations of the U.S. imperialists and the puppet clique,” it said, referring to South Korea.

Officials at South Korea’s National Intelligence Service were not immediately reachable for comment.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, who is 95, to step down from royal duties this autumn – Buckingham Palace

13 Dead, Dozens Injured After Tornadoes, Storms Batter South

13 Dead, Dozens Injured After Tornadoes, Storms Batter South

The National Weather Service said that in addition to the flooding over the center of the nation, severe thunderstorms were possible from the Mid-Atlantic and into the Northeast on Monday afternoon and evening, bringing damaging winds, isolated tornadoes and possible large hail.

Canton, Texas, Mayor Lou Ann Everett said Sunday that at least four people were killed and 49 others were taken to hospitals after four tornadoes touched down in the eastern part of the state on Saturday afternoon and evening.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the damage was “devastating” during a news conference with local officials Sunday afternoon.

“You saw homes and other buildings that were incompletely flattened, as well as others that were nothing more than rubble,” he said, adding that he saw “large swath after large swath of devastation.”

Tornadoes, floods ravage parts of South and Midwest: At least 15 killed

The tornadoes touched down Saturday as severe storms ripped through parts of the South and Midwest, bringing heavy rain and flash flood warnings for a section stretching from eastern Oklahoma to western Kentucky and parts of Illinois.

The NWS said on Monday that “major to record flooding” continued over portions of the central U.S., including Oklahoma, northern Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. Rivers were expected to gradually recede over the next few days, the NWS said.

On Sunday in Missouri, the state highway patrol said that 18-year-old Gideon Jenkins died after his vehicle was swept away by flash floods while trying to traverse a low-water crossing area.

Another man, Clifford Brandt, 77, died after slipping and falling into a creek. And on Saturday, a 72-year-old woman drowned after her car was swept away by floodwaters. The husband of Madelaine Krueger attempted to rescue her, the highway patrol said.

In Arkansas, a total of at least three people were killed including a 10-year-old girl who died after being swept away by rushing waters in Springdale on Saturday, authorities said on Sunday.

Image: The Rustic Barn, an event hall, which suffered major tornado damage, is seen from an unmanned aerial vehicle in Canton, Texas
The Rustic Barn, an event hall, which suffered major tornado damage, is seen from an unmanned aerial vehicle in Canton, Texas on April 30. Brandon Wade / Reuters

The Cleburne County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Sunday afternoon that Cove Creek Pearson Fire Chief Doug Deckard died during a “tragic accident” while serving in the middle of a torrential thunderstorm.

Another person was killed on Saturday after a tree fell onto a mobile home in Dewitt, Arkansas County Emergency Management spokeswoman Whitney Green said.

In Madison County, authorities were looking for two children, a 4-year-old boy and an 18-month girl, who went missing after they were separated from their mother after her car got stuck in high water on Saturday night. The county sheriff’s office said Sunday that the search for the missing toddlers had become a recovery operation, and that the two were believed to be dead because of their age.

In Mississippi, two storm-related deaths were reported Sunday, in Holmes County and Rankin County, where a child died from electric shock in floodwaters, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said. No details of the Holmes County death were immediately available.

A 2-year-old girl was killed Sunday in Antioch, Tennessee, when a heavy metal soccer goal toppled onto her in high winds, Nashville police said.

Donald Trump sounds like he really misses not being president

Donald Trump sounds like he really misses not being president

“I loved my previous life, I loved my previous life. I had so many things going,” Trump told Reuters. “I actually, this is more work than my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”
Then, later: “I do miss my old life. This — I like to work. But this is actually more work.”
That sentiment is, in a word, strange. For a few reasons.
It’s absolutely true that all presidents express — privately and then, eventually, publicly — some level of longing for the life they left behind or the life they will return to. But that usually happens after, say, seven or eight years in the White House. Not after 99 days.
The truth is — and even Donald Trump might admit this in his most candid moments — that he had almost zero idea of what being president would entail when he started running for the office almost two years ago now.
When he entered the race in June 2015, there was no reasonable expectation that he would even sniff the top tier of the Republican field. He was seen as a curiosity, a celebrity calling everyone’s bluff who said he never could, should or would run.
Throughout the campaign — even as he improbably rose to the top of the GOP field and stayed there — Trump would always tell his crowds that being president would be easy, and that he would solve the problems of the country so quickly they wouldn’t believe it.
“Together we’re going to deliver real change that once again puts Americans first,” Trump promised a Florida audience last October. “You’re going to have such great health care, at a tiny fraction of the cost—and it’s going to be so easy.”
(Nota bene: Republican attempts to even hold a vote on legislation that would reform and replace the Affordable Care Act died Thursday night. For the second time in as many months.)
It’s, of course, true that no president is ever, really, ready for the job when they come into office. But Trump’s understanding of the office — and of the political process was minuscule. He had never run for or served in any elected office. (Say what you will about the relative inexperience of George W. Bush and Barack Obama before ascending to the presidency but they had been elected and served as governor and senator, respectively.) Trump’s experience in politics, by contrast, amounted to giving money when someone asked him to. And that’s about it.
Which is how someone who has been president for the last 99 days can repeatedly express amazement that the job is hard — far harder than he expected — and wax nostalgic about his old life.
Trump’s old life was, without question, easier than his current one. He starred in a reality TV show. He was the brand manager of a company built around his ostentatious personality. He did, basically, what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it.
Now his life is totally and completely proscribed. He has very little agency in all of it. He goes where he is told when he is told. And much of what Trump does on a daily basis is a radical departure from the “being Donald Trump” role that he had been playing for decades prior to winning the White House. He has to confront problems — the Middle East, North Korea, healthcare — in which he can’t just snap his fingers, make a decision and move on. Nothing — or almost nothing– is black and white. It’s all shades of gray. It’s, um, hard.
Given all of that, it’s easy to see why Trump might pine for the simpler life he led prior to being elected president. It’s just very, very odd he decided to say that publicly less than 100 days into his administration.

Pentagon Investigating Michael Flynn for Foreign Payments

Pentagon Investigating Michael Flynn for Foreign Payments

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the highest ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, released a Defense Intelligence Agency letter sent to the former Army lieutenant general as he entered retirement which specifically says Flynn cannot accept fees and gifts from foreign governments “unless congressional consent is first obtained.”

Cummings Releases Documents Showing Flynn Inaction on Russia Payment

“The Pentagon’s warning to Gen. Flynn was bold, italicized and could not have been clearer,” Cummings told reporters.

A second letter released by Cummings shows the Inspector General of the Department of Defense is investigating whether Flynn received proper permission to take the funds. A Defense Department spokesman confirmed the Flynn probe opened April 4.

Flynn, who resigned in February after misleading Trump administration officials about his conversations with Russian officials, is under fire for receiving nearly $34,000 in December 2015 for speaking at a gala celebrating Russian TV, and more than $500,000 for lobbying work on behalf of the Turkish government.

Another Defense Intelligence Agency released Thursday also revealed they could not locate any records of Flynn “seeking permission or approval for the receipt of money from a foreign source.”

Earlier this week Cummings, joined by Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, said Flynn may have violated the law by not disclosing the payments.

“I see no information or no data to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law,” Chaffetz, chair of the oversight committee, told NBC News on Tuesday.

A lawyer for Flynn said in a statement this week that the former Trump adviser “extensively” briefed the Defense Intelligence Agency “both before and after the trip” to Moscow.

Chaffetz and Cummings released a joint statement this week revealing the White House had denied their request for documents relating to Flynn. Chaffetz said he believes the administration simply does not possess the documents, while Cummings has said they are intentionally withholding information about Flynn.

“I don’t understand why the White house is covering up for Michael Flynn,” Cummings said Thursday.

Lawsuit Filed Against Fox News Channel Alleges Racial Discrimination

Lawsuit Filed Against Fox News Channel Alleges Racial Discrimination

NEW YORK — An expanded lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses Fox News Channel of racial discrimination “that appears more akin to Plantation-style management than a modern-day work environment.”

The lawsuit, filed in state Supreme Court, adds eight former and current Fox employees to a case involving three former Fox workers and their accusations against a since-fired Fox financial executive. It also expands the case to include Dianne Brandi, Fox’s chief counsel.

Fox News said it vehemently denies the allegations, calling them “copycat complaints.” It said Brandi denies the claims against her.

Bill O’Reilly breaks his silence, says ‘the truth will come out’3:41

The original lawsuit was filed in late March by two black women who worked in the network’s payroll department, and a third colleague later joined it. The expanded lawsuit, incorporating the other employees, seeks unspecified compensatory damages and an elimination of unlawful employment practices at Fox.

The workers allege that their complaints about the actions of Judith Slater, the fired former comptroller, went unanswered for years. They say Brandi told them it was because Slater “knew too much” about former Fox Chairman Roger Ailes and top-rated host Bill O’Reilly, who have been ousted over the past year because of sexual-harassment accusations.

Related: After O’Reilly, What’s Next for Fox News?

A lawyer for Slater, Catherine Foti, said the actions against Slater are meritless and frivolous. She said “all claims of racial discrimination against Ms. Slater are completely false.”

One plaintiff, on-air personality Kelly Wright, who’s black, said he’d been effectively sidelined and asked to perform the role of a Jim Crow, an insulting slang term to refer to a black man, according to the lawsuit. Wright said O’Reilly, who’s white, refused to show a piece Wright had prepared after racial protests in Ferguson, Missouri, because they showed blacks in too positive a light.

A former employee, Musfiq Rahman, a dark-skinned Bangladeshi, said he was punished after mistakenly walking into Ailes’ office by no longer being allowed on Ailes’ floor without an escort.

Mark LeGrier, a former financial employee who’s black, said he was subjected to retaliation when he complained to Brandi about Slater’s behavior.

“When it comes to racial discrimination, 21st Century Fox has been operating as if it should be called 18th Century Fox,” said Douglas Wigdor, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

MARCH 21: The changing landscape and faces at Fox News4:46

Meanwhile, Nielsen company ratings showed that Tucker Carlson moved into O’Reilly’s old time slot at Fox News on Monday night and took over his status as the most-watched host in cable news — at least for a night.

O’Reilly, who hosted “The O’Reilly Factor,” was fired by Fox last week following news about Fox settling sexual-harassment cases involving him for millions of dollars. He has denied the allegations.

Related: O’Reilly’s Departure From Fox News Caps Tumultuous Career

Nielsen said Carlson’s first night at 8 p.m. attracted 3.17 million viewers, beating the combined audience of MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, who reached 1.52 million viewers, and CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who reached 1 million.

Carlson did not beat O’Reilly’s nearly 4 million average during the first three months of the year. Carlson had averaged 3.3 million in the 9 p.m. time slot following O’Reilly.

Ivanka Trump in Germany: First Daughter Leaves Some Women Scratching Their Heads

Ivanka Trump in Germany: First Daughter Leaves Some Women Scratching Their Heads

This is a country run by Angela Merkel, a veteran politician with a doctorate in quantum chemistry: someone who grew up in communist East Germany, was elected German leader three times, and who is regularly referred to as the most powerful woman on the planet.

Alongside her husband, senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner, 35-year-old Ivanka Trump has emerged as one of the key powerbrokers in what has become a distinctly family-oriented White House.

The first daughter traveled to the German capital, Berlin, on Tuesday after being invited by Merkel to participate in a panel discussion at the Women20 summit — an international event that aims to “promote women’s economic empowerment.” She arrived having become a prominent champion of working women, and after co-writing an article on the importance of the economic empowerment of women that appeared in the Financial Times newspaper.

Audience Groans as Ivanka Trump Touts Father’s ‘Advocacy’ of Women 1:27

While Ivanka Trump was in Berlin to promote women, the president himself was front and center during a panel discussion at the summit. The first daughter defended Donald Trump after a handful of attendees booed and groaned when she mentioned his name, saying he had encouraged “thousands” of women who worked for him.

“As a daughter, I can speak on a very personal level knowing that he encouraged and enabled me to thrive,” she said. “I don’t take that lightly as a parent now myself. And there was no difference for me and my brothers.”

Ivanka Trump would have reason to know how her father treats women. Before moving into the White House, Ivanka Trump graduated cum laude from her father’s alma mater, the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. And after a brief modeling career, she went into the family business — the Trump Organization.

Some commentators have speculated Merkel’s personal invitation to Trump was the German leader’s way of opening a channel to President Donald Trump, after an awkward meeting last month in which he appeared to decline her handshake.

But many German women do not share their leader’s welcoming spirit.

Image: Ivanka Trump, Angela Merkel
Chancellor Angela Merkel listens as Ivanka Trump speaks during a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington on March 17. Evan Vucci / AP

Some, including 49-year-old creative director Inga Meyer, question Ivanka Trump’s contribution at an affair featuring other uber-qualified speakers such as International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.

“I think it’s outrageous,” Meyer, the creative director, told NBC News on Monday. “Why does she have the power and the position to meet Angela Merkel?”

Meyer stopped to chat with NBC News before cycling to an appointment along one of Berlin’s wide, cobbled streets, where bikes and trams are given equal billing alongside compact European cars and tourist buses.

“It’s not clear exactly what her position is,” Meyer added, referring to Ivanka Trump’s role as an unpaid presidential adviser. “She obviously has more power than what her official role suggests.”

As well as her presidential duties, she still owns an eponymous clothing and jewelry line.

Insofar that Wednesday’s summit is about women in business, she is a good fit given her previous experience, according to 35-year-old Sandra Toepke.

But “on a political level — I guess not,” said Toepke, who works at the International Film Festival and spoke while walking her dog near Berlin’s Alexanderplatz.

“It’s pure nepotism that she’s in that position,” she added. “She’s partaking in negotiations at the White House and has security clearance.”

Image: Inga Meyer
Inga Meyer in Berlin. Alex Smith / NBC News

Lea May, a 22-year-old medical student walking on her way to class, added: “I just don’t know if she’s really into politics like Angela is.”

That a number of successful, professional woman in Berlin expressed dismay that Ivanka Trump was joining such accomplished set should perhaps not come as a surprise.

President Donald Trump is deeply unpopular in Europe but particularly so in Germany, where just 6 percent of people said they had confidence in him when it came to world affairs, according to a Pew study last year.

Germany also has a far higher rate of intergenerational social mobility than the United States, according to a study of OECD countries in 2015. This means the future salaries of German children are less dependant on what their parents bank — they make their own way.

Merkel, 62, fits this mold. The daughter of a pastor and a teacher, she was born in the West German city of Hamburg but moved to the rural, communist East after her father was posted to a church there. She later earned a doctorate in quantum chemistry and worked at a science academy. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, she climbed up the ranks of the center-right CDU, the political party she now leads.

In contrast with Merkel’s understated style, many Germans find Donald Trump’s persona-driven politics unpalatable.

“It’s ridiculous, what’s happening in U.S. politics,” said Thyra Guenther-Luebbers, a 21-year-old college student who’s also interning at an art gallery in the German capital. “It’s something that’s never going to happen in Germany or anywhere else in Europe.”

Image: Sandra Toepke
Sandra Toepke. Alex Smith / for NBC News

Taking a stroll down the Unter den Linden boulevard, Guenther-Luebbers gave a similar view of Ivanka Trump: Would she be so successful if it weren’t for her last name? “I don’t think so.”

That’s not to say that everyone on Tuesday’s panel is elected. Among the high-profile guests is Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, who is married to the country’s king. Like Ivanka Trump, she too has a background in business, working in banking before meeting her prince.

It would also be inaccurate to say everyone in Berlin shared dislike for Ivanka Trump and her family-boosted resume.

“I like her because she has the ability to influence Donald Trump,” said 68-year-old Molly Schultz, who runs a book stall outside the Humboldt University of Berlin. “It doesn’t matter so much to me that she isn’t so qualified.”

The ability to influence her father — or at least be a significant voice in his retinue — is something that appears to have been seized upon by Merkel.

The German leader endured an excruciating first official visit to the Trump White House last month, when the president appeared to decline to shake her hand for the cameras. In 2015, the president said Merkel was “insane” to relax Germany’s borders to welcome migrants fleeing war and persecution in the Middle East and Africa. (Although the same year he also called her “probably the greatest leader in the world today.”)

During Merkel’s visit to Washington last month, some political commentators criticized the decision to seat her next to Ivanka Trump at an official meeting with business leaders, again citing Ivanka Trump’s lack of credentials. A photo of Merkel looking at her neighbor was described by Politico as “a look of bewilderment tinged with disdain enveloping her face.”

View image on Twitter

But it was off the back of this meeting that Merkel invited Ivanka Trump to Berlin, perhaps eager to nurture an ally in a new and unknown White House. In return, the president’s daughter would likely get to increase her international profile and champion a cause she says has long since been close to her heart.

While in Berlin, Ivanka Trump will also visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

In spite of her schedule, editorials and clear hard work, nearly everybody NBC News spoke to here remained unconvinced by their American guest.

“Everybody is someone’s daughter but the question is, ‘Is she qualified for the job?’ And I don’t think being the daughter of Trump qualifies you for this job, you know?” said 33-year-old sports science student Jennifer Benz.

Tennessee Teacher Tad Cummins Arrested in California, Teen Elizabeth Thomas Safe

APR 21, 2017

Tennessee Teacher Tad Cummins Arrested in California, Teen Elizabeth Thomas Safe

Tad Cummins, a former high school teacher in rural Tennessee, was nabbed in California after disappearing with Elizabeth Thomas on March 13, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said in a post on Twitter. The TBI said Thomas was recovered safely.

The two were discovered at daybreak Thursday morning after a caller had tipped authorities the night before that the pair was living “in a cabin in a remote area” of Cecilville, California, TBI spokesman Josh DeVine said at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

Missing Tennessee student Elizabeth Thomas found safe, teacher arrested

Authorities had previously referred to where Cummins and Thomas was found as “a commune.”

Siskiyou County authorities in California first discovered the Nissan Rogue used by Cummins early Thursday, and then later located the pair, according to a statement from TBI earlier Thursday.

Cummins surrendered without incident, the TBI said, and Thomas was rescued by authorities. Authorities were still working to reunite Thomas with her family.

“This afternoon we couldn’t be happier to tell you she will soon be on her way back home to Tennessee,” TBI Director Mark Gwyn said at the press conference.

Image: Tad Cummins
Tad Cummins is seen mugshot released by the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office on April 20, 2017 in Yreka, Calif. Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office

Cummins was in custody of the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department in California, while awaiting extradition to Tennessee on charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor.

U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee Jack Smith announced at the press conference that his office had filed federal charges against Cummins for transportation of a minor across state lines for sexual purposes. The charge carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison, he said.

Thomas’ father, Anthony, said he and his family were “overjoyed” that Elizabeth was finally found.

“I’m just so overjoyed to have her home, that she’s safe,” he told reporters outside a courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee, Thursday afternoon.

“We’re going to have to figure out what kind of state of mind she’s in, of course, and probably get her some help. It may be a long road, but at least we’ve got her back now,” he added.

Family lawyer Jason Whatley told reporters outside court that their ultimate goal was “nothing less than just to get Elizabeth back home safely in Tennessee.”

Images of missing Tennessee teen spotted with her teacher emerge in Oklahoma

Whatley added that he had been informed that the commune where the two was found was in a very remote area with no cell phone service.

“It was off the grid … this was the perfect place to hide out,” he said.

The arrest in California comes weeks after authorities said the two had been spotted on surveillance camera at a Wal-Mart in Oklahoma City on March 30.

Authorities were on a nationwide manhunt for the two, after Tennessee authorities issued an AMBER Alert said they were deeply concerned “about his intentions for her.” Cummins had been added to the state’s “Top 10 Most Wanted” list.

Image: Tad Cummins and Elizabeth Thomas
Tad Cummins, 50, and Elizabeth Thomas, 15, in undated photos released by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

Cummins had been suspended from teaching at the Culleoka Unit School, where Thomas attends, in February after disobeying an order barring Thomas from his classroom following an incident the month before where a student reported seeing the two kissing.

The Maury County Public Schools district said in a statement that Thomas’ safe return was “wonderful news for our community, and now, we can begin healing as a community, school district and as families touched by the AMBER alert.”

The TBI told NBC News last month that Cummins had been searching for information on “teen marriage” online on March 5 — more than a week before Thomas went missing.

The girl’s father had told NBC News that he believed Cummins was grooming the children in his class — telling them lies including that he had previously worked for the FBI and CIA.

“He had lied to all these kids,” he said. “I told them it couldn’t possibly be true.”

He added that his daughter told him Cummins claimed to have millions of dollars and multiple pieces of property.

Cummins’ wife, Jill, had pleaded with her husband to turn himself in.

“You know you can’t hide forever,” Jill Cummins said in an interview with NBC News. “For your sake and for Beth’s sake, please go to the police or please just drop Beth off somewhere safe.”

She later announced that she had filed for divorce on March 31.

“The filing of the divorce complaint is the first step to removing Jill from this situation,” Michael Cox, her attorney, said at the time. “Jill will attempt to move forward with her life. This is a difficult time for her and her family.”

James Thomas, Elizabeth’s brother, said that on the day his sister disappeared she told another sibling that if she was not home by 6 p.m. to call the police.

Syria’s chemical program: Rubio ‘gravely concerned’ about Iran & Russia complicity

Syria’s chemical program: Rubio ‘gravely concerned’ about Iran & Russia complicity

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told Fox News he’s “gravely concerned” about the Iran’s role in helping Syria develop its chemical welfare program that ended up killing dozens of people weeks ago.

Rubio, a Republican, said he was troubled by reports that both Iran and Russia were complicit in Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons program. While the Trump administration accused Moscow of covering up the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons attack, the U.S government has not mentioned Iran’s possible role.

“Congress and the White House should work together to hold the Assad regime accountable for its war crimes and impose harsh sanctions against its enablers,” Rubio told Fox News.

Mounting evidence shows Iran’s regime enabled Assad to develop a lethal gas program that he used on civilians earlier this month and in 2013. Assad’s Air Force dropped the poisonous gas sarin on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in April, killing more than 80 people, many of them children.

IRAN ISSUES THREAT OVER US STRIKES IN SYRIA

In response to Assad’s chemical attack, the U.S. launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat Air Base, which served as the departure point for planes carrying the deadly nerve agent. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah have long used the Shayrat Air Base, experts say.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that Ahmet Uzumcu, the director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said the attack in Khan Sheikhoun “indicate that sarin or a sarin-like substance was used.”

Iran sided with Russia’s denial that the Syrian regime did not use chemical weapons.  Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said the “unilateral action is dangerous, destructive and violates the principles of international law.”

Assad first used sarin nerve gas to attack the Damascus suburb of Ghouta in 2013, killing nearly 1,500 civilians, including 426 children.

Last July, Fox News reported exclusively that Iran sought chemical and biological weapons technology, according to multiple German intelligence documents.

The British publication Jane’s Defense Weekly reported in 2005 that the Islamic Republic of Iran worked with Assad’s regime to build an “innovative chemical warfare program.” According to the report, Iran provided crucial know-how to build equipment to produce “hundreds of tons of precursors for VX, sarin nerve agents and mustard blister agent.”

According to a WikiLeaks cable on the Iran-Syria chemical warfare activities, “New Zealand assesses that the cooperation is mainly driven by Iran’s desire for increased strategic importance in the region. New Zealand also assesses that Iran’s biotechnology sector is far more advanced than Syria’s, and Iran does not mind sharing its knowledge with Syria.”

US LAUNCHES MISSILES INTO SYRIA IN RESPONSE TO CHEMICAL WEAPONS ATTACK

In 2007, a joint Iran-Syria project accidentally caused an explosion while attempting to load a chemical warhead onto a Scud-C missile, wrote Jane’s Defense. The deadly test killed dozens of Syrian military personnel and Iranian engineers.

Sarin gas, along with mustard gas and VX nerve gas, were cited as the lethal toxins during the 2007 explosion at an Aleppo factory.

Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the Washington D.C-based American Enterprise Institute, told Fox News that Iran has long viewed Syria as a partner.

“The thing that makes Iran so dangerous is it not only exports its weapons to proxies in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, but it brags about exporting the ability to manufacture weapons,” Rubin said.

Rubin, who has written about Iran’s chemical weapons program, said it makes strategic sense for Iran to help other countries obtain chemical agents.

“Plausible deniability has always been central to post-revolutionary Iran’s strategic calculation,” he said, “and so to proliferate unconventional weapons enables Iran to avoid accountability by raising the number of suspects every time they are used.”

Fox News reported last week that defected Syrian Brig. Gen. Zaher al-Sakat,  who oversaw the regime’s chemical weapons, said Bashar Assad  would not “completely give up” his chemical weapons arsenal.

The recent chemical attack debunked former Secretary of State John Kerry’s assertion in 2014 that the U.S. “got 100 percent of the chemical weapons [out of Syria].

A 2017 Congressional Service report released this month said Iran not only has the capability to produce chemical warfare but probably “has the capability to produce some biological warfare agents for offensive purposes, if it made the decision to do so.”

The report notes that “this raises questions about Iran’s compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which Iran signed on January 13, 1993, and ratified on June 8, 1997.”

The emergence of Iran’s role in enabling Syria’s use of chemical weapons comes on the heels of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying: “Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terror, through many platforms and methods.” Tillerson said this week, however, that a recent review shows Iran has been compliant with its 2015 nuclear deal.

During the Iran-Iraq war 1980-1988, both Iran’s Islamist regime and Saddam Hussein’s secular Baath party employed poisonous gas on soldiers.

Iran’s UN diplomatic missions in New York and Geneva did not immediately respond to requests from Fox News for comment.

U.S. May Not Be Able to Shoot Down North Korean Missiles, Say Experts

U.S. May Not Be Able to Shoot Down North Korean Missiles, Say Experts

Top generals have been insisting for years that if North Korea launched a missile at the United States, the U.S military would be able to shoot it down.

But that is a highly questionable assertion, according to independent scientists and government investigators.

In making it, the generals fail to acknowledge huge questions about the effectiveness of the $40 billion missile defense system they rely on to stop a potential nuclear-armed ballistic missile fired by North Korean or Iran, according to a series of outside reviews.

“They are leading political leaders to believe that they have a military capability that they don’t, in fact, have,” says physicist David Wright, who has studied the program for years as co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Related: Maybe Those North Korean Missiles Were Just Big Green Tubes

Chris Johnson, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, said the Pentagon “is confident in our ability to defend the homeland against ballistic missile threats.” While the program had reliability challenges early in its development, “we have made significant improvements over the last several years to ensure the system is able to operate as designed,” he added.

The missile defense system relies on 60-foot-tall, three-stage rockets of its own to knock the enemy projectiles out of space, a task that has been compared to shooting a bullet with a bullet. The system is known as the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, or GMD.

North Korea Missile Launch: Why Did It ‘Immediately’ Blow Up?

There are 36 interceptors in operation, according to the Missile Defense Agency — four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and 32 at Ft. Greely, Alaska. Eight more are due online by year’s end. In contrast to the Iron Dome system in Israel, which is designed to counter shorter range missiles and artillery, the GMD is made to hit missiles above the earth’s atmosphere — a more difficult proposition. It is among the heirs to the Strategic Defense Initiative, the so-called Star Wars program launched under Ronald Reagan.

Related: Trump’s Options for North Korea Include Putting Nukes in South Korea

The missiles are based in Alaska and California because the West Coast is the best place from which to intercept missiles that would travel the shortest routes from both Iran and North Korea. Congress has pushed for a third site on the East Coast.

Image: A flight test of the exercising elements of the GMD system launched at the Vandenberg AFB
A flight test of the exercising elements of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system is launched by the 30th Space Wing and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency at the Vandenberg AFB, California on June 22, 2014. Gene Blevins / Reuters file

Intelligence agencies don’t assess that North Korea is yet capable of firing a nuclear-armed missile at the U.S., but analysts believe it is on course to reach that goal.

But even through the system has been fielded, it hasn’t been proven to work.

Last year, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, concluded that the agency that runs the missile defense system “has not demonstrated through flight testing that it can defend the U.S. homeland.”

In nine simulated attacks since the system was deployed in 2004, interceptors have failed to take out their targets six times, even though the flight tests were far less challenging than an actual attack, according to The Los Angeles Times, which published an investigation of the missile defense system last year that uncovered a previously unknown test failure.

North Korea is putting missile program ‘into overdrive,’ expert warns 2:24

“Despite years of tinkering and vows to fix technical shortcomings, the system’s performance has gotten worse, not better,” The Times concluded.

Last July, the highly regarded Union of Concerned Scientists, which is often skeptical of military programs, weighed in with a 47-page report calling the U.S. approach to missile defense “disastrous.” Of the GMD, it concluded: “Its test record is poor and it has no demonstrated ability to stop an incoming missile under real-world conditions.”

A 2012 National Academy of Sciences study called the GMD “deficient” and recommended a complete overhaul of the interceptors, sensors, and concept of operations. No such overhaul has happened.

A senior Congressional aide who regularly receives classified briefings on the system told NBC News Tuesday: “None of this stuff works reliably. Nothing. Their interceptor programs are not working. They shoot down targets some of the time, but it’s not reliable enough that we would want to risk the catastrophic failure of a miss.”

The Pentagon and its Missile Defense Agency strongly disagree. Officials have repeatedly assured lawmakers and the public that the system, despite its testing failures, is up to the task of protecting the United States.

“Today we have exactly what we need to defend the United States of America against North Korea,” Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson, commander of the U.S. Northern Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 6.

Sen Lindsey Graham asked: “So if a missile were launched from North Korea in the next year we could knock it down?”

“Yes sir,” Robinson replied.

There is no basis for such certainty, Wright and other experts say.

The Pentagon has spent more than $40 billion to field a system that has not been proven in a real world scenario.

Related: Experts Say North Korea Is Showing Off Missiles That Can’t Fly

The system has failed about half the time in tests that are scripted, Wright says — meaning those operating the missile defense system have information about the target they would not have in real life. In 2002, the program was exempted from normal testing and procurement standards so that it could be deployed faster.

The system has still not been tested against realistic targets such as tumbling warheads, warheads accompanied by credible decoys, or warheads traveling at speeds and from distances similar to that of incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs),” the Union of Concerned Scientists report said. “Nearly 15 years after the GMD system was put on the fast track, the Pentagon’s own testing officials have said the system has not demonstrated an operationally useful capability to defend the U.S. public from a missile attack.”

Johnson, the missile agency spokesman, disputed that, asserting that the system had relied on “operationally realistic intercept tests.”

Image: Television pictures in South Korea showed file footage of a North Korean ballistic missile.
Television pictures in South Korea showed file footage of a North Korean ballistic missile. Ahn Young-joon / AP

Military officials have acknowledged that the technology is not where they would like it to be. One of the ways they would seek to improve their odds is to fire four or five interceptors at any one missile, under what is known as “shot doctrine.”

“Today the shot doctrine, or number of (interceptors) launched at one incoming long range ballistic missile to ensure success, would be a high number,” says the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, a group of contractors that build the systems, on its web site.

However, the Union of Concerned Scientists has calculated that if five warheads were headed to the U.S., and each interceptor had a 50 percent chance of hitting its target, there would be a 28 percent chance that one warhead would get through. Those are not odds a president would want to rely on in the case of a nuclear weapon.

Related: U.S. Begins Shipping Controversial Anti-Missile System to South Korea

Moreover, those odds leave aside the potential use of decoys and countermeasures, which has bedeviled missile defense for years. The GMD relies on heat sensors to distinguish between the real warhead and decoys, Wright said, but that could be defeated by something as simple as using liquid nitrogen to cool the warhead before launch.

Supporters of the program argue that failed tests are part of the learning process.

“In the space business, that’s how you go fast,” said Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, in a recent appearance before Congress.

“Von Braun, in the early days of the rocket business, he had a 60 percent failure rate; maybe the greatest rocket scientist of all time,” he added, referring to German scientist Wernher von Braun, who is credited with inventing the V-2 rocket for Nazi Germany before being secretly spirited to the U.S., where he developed the Saturn V, which propelled the Apollo spacecraft to the moon.

But the problem, Wright and other critics say, is that the generals aren’t leveling with Congress and the American people about the uncertain state of the current technology. And they are spending billions fielding a system that may not work.

“More money to buy more bad stuff is not the answer,” the senior Congressional aide said. “More for research and development is the answer.”

On North Korean border, Pence tells CNN US will drop ‘failed policy’

On North Korean border, Pence tells CNN US will drop ‘failed policy’

“We’re going to abandon the failed policy of strategic patience. But we’re going to redouble our efforts to bring diplomatic and economic pressure to bear on North Korea. Our hope is that we can resolve this issue peaceably,” Pence said in an exclusive interview at the DMZ.
What is the DMZ?

The demilitarized zone (DMZ) is a heavily-fortified buffer, four kilometers (2.5 miles) wide and 250 kilometers (160 miles) long, that separates North and South Korea.

It was established by the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War in 1953, though both sides technically remain at conflict as no peace treaty has ever been signed.

Numerous US officials have visited military bases overlooking the border, and the Panmunjom Joint Security Area, where North and South Korean soldiers stand watch facing each other and several meeting rooms straddle the border between the two countries.

To achieve this new strategy, the administration is relying heavily on China, a country President Donald Trump spent his entire campaign railing against, but has since stopped as it became clear North Korea would be a top priority requiring China’s help.
“I know the President was heartened by his discussions with President Xi (Jinping). We’ve seen China begin to take some actions to bring pressure on North Korea but there needs to be more,” Pence said.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a daily briefing Monday that the onus was on all parties — including the US and China — to reach a peaceful solution.
“Resolving this issue requires all relevant parties, especially parties that bear major responsibility and play a key role in this issue, to work in the same direction and make a joint effort,” he said.

Nuclear ambition

The North Korean regime began its nuclear program in earnest during the Clinton administration, which tried to prevent its buildup with a diplomatic agreement.
It ultimately failed after Pyongyang violated it by continuing its nuclear buildup. Later, the Bush administration tried global pressure with the so-called “six party talks,” but those failed too, and North Korea launched its first nuclear test in 2006. During the Obama administration, the regime launched four more nuclear tests.
Now, some estimates are that North Korea may have the capability to launch a missile that could hit the continental US by the year 2020.
Asked about that, Pence paused for several seconds before answering.
“I know the President of the United States has no higher priority than the safety and security of the American people. The presence of US forces here in South Korea are a long-standing commitment to the Asia Pacific. And insuring the security of the continental US will be a priority in this administration.
“Look, we want to be clear: our hope and frankly our prayer is that by marshaling the resources of nations across the Asian Pacific — not just South Korea, Japan, other allies — and China bringing renewed pressure to bear,” he said.

Pence breaks with security plan

The plan was for the vice president to stay inside the glass enclosed Freedom House at the DMZ and not step outside towards the military demarcation line (MDL), where North Korean soldiers are standing.
However, once there, Pence declared he wanted to go outside — and so he did just that. As the vice president stood and looked on, North Korean soldiers quickly came out on their side of MDL and began taking pictures of Pence.
A North Korean soldier takes a photo during US Vice President Mike Pence's visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), April 17.

Military officials here told CNN in advance that snapping photos is what North Korea does when seeing VIPs across the way — both to document their presence and intimidate.
Most US dignitaries go even closer to the North Korean side when here — to a set of blue buildings called conference row that spans the MDL and allows them to actually step foot in North Korea. For security reasons, Pence did not.
He did, however, go to Observation Point Ouellette, a lookout post from where not only are the North Korean hills visible, but its propaganda machine can be heard — music and political messages blast there across the DMZ.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrives at Observation Post Ouellette in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), near the border village of Panmunjom.

Pence’s father awarded Bronze Star

For the vice president, this first trip to the Korean Peninsula is an emotional one. His father, 2nd Lt. Edward J. Pence, Jr., US Army, was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in the Korean War.
US military officials prepared a briefing for Pence about the so-called Battle of Pork Chop Hill, where his father earned his medal.
“It’s very meaningful for me and my family to be here. So many years after my father’s service. To be honest with you, my dad didn’t talk about his combat experience much until we were all grown up. It was a lot of tough fighting here,” Pence told CNN.
“I think, in some way, my Dad just might be smiling from heaven to see the sacrifices that he and other American soldiers and South Korean soldiers made here are now passed on to my generation. That’s not changed out our commitment to the secure and prosperity of South Korea.”

BIG NEWS

BIG NEWS

Former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump’s then nominee for Secretary of State, testifies during his confirmation hearing before Senate Foreign Relations Committee January 11, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Awkward Moment—Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, as tensions appear to be running high between the U.S. and Russia over the use of chemical weapons by Russian-aligned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the ongoing congressional investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election. Putin and Tillerson go way back to when Rex was the CEO of Exxon, and they once worked so well together to advance their shared drilling interests in Siberia and the Arctic that Putin gave the Wichita Falls native a friendship award. But Wednesday’smeeting was not a friendly one. Even as late as Tillerson’s arrival in Moscow on Monday, it was uncertain whether he’d actually be able to meet with Putin. The two were finally scheduled to meet on Wednesday, but according to Politico, Putin made Tillerson wait for hours before agreeing to see him. They met behind closed doors for two hours, and apparently did not make much progress. “There is a low level of trust between our countries,” Tillerson said in a press conference after his meeting with Putin, according to the Washington Post. “The world’s two primary nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship.” Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov both said in the press conference that Tillerson and Putin talked about a range of issues, including Syria, Ukraine, and North Korea. But not much ground was made on any of those subjects.

EYEWITNESS SAYS SYRIAN MILITARY ANTICIPATED U.S. RAID

EYEWITNESS SAYS SYRIAN MILITARY ANTICIPATED U.S. RAID

Syrian military officials appeared to anticipate Thursday night’s raid on Syria‘s Shayrat air base, evacuating personnel and moving equipment ahead of the strike, according to an eyewitness.

Dozens of Tomahawk missiles struck the air base near Homs, damaging runways, towers and traffic control buildings, a local resident and human rights activist living near the air base told ABC News via an interpreter.

U.S. officials believe the plane that dropped chemical weapons on civilians in Idlib Province on Tuesday, which according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights killed 86 people, took off from the same air base.

The attack lasted approximately 35 minutes and its impact was felt across the city, shaking houses and sending those inside them fleeing from their windows. Firefighters responded shortly after the attack was over.

By Friday, shops were closed, traffic was flowing normally, and regime forces were back in the air base to assess the damage. A Syrian Army spokesman announced on State TV that six people were killed and several more were injured in the attack. Both of the air base’s major runways were struck by missiles, and some of its 40 fortified bunkers and some out-of-service planes, parked in a hangar, were damaged as well.

Local residents say the Russian military had used the air base in early 2016 but have since withdrawn their officers, so the base is now mainly operated by Syrian and Iranian military officers. There is also a hotel nearby where Iranian officers have been staying, though it was not clear whether it was damaged.

The city remains on high alert, and there is already a wave of people flowing out of the area surrounding the air base, possibly fearing a followup strike.

The airstrike follows confirmation by the Turkish Health Ministry that autopsies on several victims of Tuesday’s attack confirmed the use of the nerve agent sarin in violation of international law and represents an escalation of U.S. involvement in the six-year conflict.

Soon after the strike, President Donald Trump delivered a statement from his Mar-A-Lago retreat, where he was meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping.

“There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the chemical weapons convention and ignored the urging of the UN security council,” Trump said Thursday night. “Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically.”

Former National Security Adviser and ABC News contributor Richard Clarke said this attack, one of the quickest displays of force by a new president in recent history, is largely “symbolic.”

Following a 2013 chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1400 people outside of Damascus, which a U.S. government intelligence assessment concluded likely used a nerve agent, the Obama administration threatened retaliation but ultimately called off planned airstrikes after Assad agreed to turn over the majority of his chemical weapons arsenal to an international watchdog group.

Trump, who was critical of Obama’s decision during his presidential campaign, despite the fact that he in 2013 he urged Obama via Twitter not to take military action, has recently attempted to blame Obama’s “weakness” for the worsening violence in Syria.

“This attack on one air base seems more symbolic,” Clarke said. “I think Secretary of Defense [General] James Mattis gave the president a list of options, this being the smallest. It was a targeted attack not designed to overwhelm the Syrian military … I think the president was trying to differentiate himself from his predecessor.”

BREAKING: China Has Conceded To The U.S. – Trump Has Done Something Obama Never Could!

BREAKING: China Has Conceded To The U.S. – Trump Has Done Something Obama Never Could!

China has offered concessions to the Trump administration in the attempt to avert a trade war. They have wavered and granted market access in a way that Obama never could. From Reuters: China will offer the Trump administration better market access for financial sector investments and U.S. beef exports to help avert a trade war, the Financial Times reported on Sunday, citing officials familiar with the matter. China is prepared to raise the investment ceiling in the Bilateral Investment treaty and is also willing to end the ban on U.S. beef imports, the newspaper also reported. “China was prepared to (raise the investment ceilings) in the BIT but those negotiations were put on hold (after Trump’s election victory),” the Financial Times also reported citing a Chinese official involved in the talks. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Friday that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed to a new 100-day plan for trade talks on Friday. Read more: (Link: www.reuters.com)

BREAKING NEWS: U.S. Launches Missile Strike On Syria

BREAKING NEWS: U.S. Launches Missile Strike On Syria

The United States has attacked a Syrian air base with roughly 60 cruise missiles in response to a chemical weapons attack it blames on President Bashar Assad.

U.S. officials say the Tomahawk missiles were fired from two warships in the Mediterranean Sea, targeting a government-controlled air base in Syria.

U.S. officials say Syrian government aircraft killed dozens of civilians by using chlorine mixed with a nerve agent, possibly sarin, earlier this week.

The bombing represents President Donald Trump’s most dramatic military order since taking office. The Obama administration threatened attacking Assad’s forces for previous chemical weapons attacks, but never followed through.

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes to Step Aside From Russia Investigation

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes to Step Aside From Russia Investigation

Nunes, R-California, has come under fire after claiming last month that a secret source had provided him with information suggesting President Donald Trump and his associates may have been “monitored” by U.S. intelligence during his transition. It later emerged that Nunes went to the white House to read the documents about the alleged surveillance.

Image: Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes
Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes questions FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers during a hearing into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election on Capitol Hill on March 20. Joshua Roberts / Reuters, file

Nunes later backed down from the explosive claim, saying he could not be sure that Trump and his associates were “monitored.” Democrats had called for him to recuse himself from the intelligence investigation into Russian meddling of the election and any potential ties to Trump or his associates.

The Republican lawmaker said in a statement morning that he believed it was in the “best interests” of the committee and Congress for him to temporarily step aside.

“Several leftwing activist groups have filed accusations against me with the Office of Congressional Ethics,” Nunes said in the statement. “The charges are entirely false and politically motivated, and are being leveled just as the American people are beginning to learn the truth about the improper unmasking of the identities of U.S. citizens and other abuses of power.”

Still, he added that despite the “baseless of these charges” he would be stepping aside, and Representative Mike Conaway, along assistance from Representatives Trey Gowdy and Tom Rooney, would temporarily take charge of the investigation.

North Korean missile launch likely a failure, US officials say

NORTH KOREA

North Korean missile launch likely a failure, US officials say

The Pentagon now assesses the North Korean missile launch Wednesday likely was a failure, Fox News has learned.

The missile did not go as far as intended, officials with knowledge of the latest intelligence reports said. It did not reach Japanese waters and may have “pinwheeled in flight,” according to one official.

‘CLOCK HAS NOW RUN OUT’ ON PYONGYANG, U.S. OFFICIAL SAYS

What’s more, the missile might be an older SCUD and not the advanced land version of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (KN-15), as first assessed by the U.S. Pacific Command last night. North Korea launched a KN-15 missile in February — as President Trump hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Florida.

In a 23-word statement, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made it clear the administration was moving in a new direction: “North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.”

TILLERSON’S TERSE WORDS SEEN AS TACTICAL CHANGE OVER NORTH KOREA

U.S. officials have said they hope China will play a larger role in easing tensions in the region. While China opposes the deployment of a U.S. military anti-ballistic missile system to North Korea, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying on Wednesday called for de-escalation of tensions. “China has noticed such reports, we all know that the Security Council at the United Nations has issued regulations related to the missile launch by North Korea. We think that all sides involved should exercise restraint and not do anything that will escalate the difficult situation in the region.”

The Pentagon continues to see signs North Korea is close to conducting another nuclear test, after two tests last year.

The KN-15, known as “Pukguksong-2” in North Korea, uses pre-loaded solid fuel, which shortens launch preparation times, boosts its mobility and makes it harder for outsiders to detect ahead of liftoff. Most North Korean missiles use liquid propellant, which generally must be added to the missile on the launch pad before firing.

The South Korean military said the missile was fired from land near the east coast city of Sinpo and flew about 40 miles.

Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS think tank in Honolulu, said he was expecting North Korea would do something significant to coincide with President Trump’s first meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping later this week.

The missile launch may be a precursor, with more to come as the summit starts Thursday, Cossa said. “I’ve joked before that they don’t mind being hated but they definitely hate to be ignored.”

Analysts also say North Korea might time nuclear and long-range rocket tests to the April 15 birthday of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korea is pushing hard to upgrade its weapons systems to cope with what it calls U.S. hostility. Many weapons experts say the North could have a functioning nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the continental U.S. within a few years. North Korea carried out two nuclear tests last year.

The rogue nation’s latest missile launch also came during annual military drills between the United States and South Korea. North Korea sees the drills as an invasion rehearsal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.