London, Nov 17 (AP/UNB) — British Prime Minister Theresa May is fighting back against critics of her Brexit deal, telling her Conservative opponents that their alternative plans for Britain's departure from the European Union wouldn't work.
May is battling to win over rebels in her own ranks and save her leadership, with two Cabinet ministers quitting and other Conservative critics launching a bid to oust her after Britain agreed to a divorce deal with the EU this week.
In an interview with the Daily Mail on Saturday, May said alternatives favored by her critics to tackle a key stumbling block — the issue of the Irish border — wouldn't resolve the problem.
Disaffected "Brexiteers" believe they have the numbers required to trigger a challenge to May's leadership within days.
Washington, Nov 17 (AP/UNB) — U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. official said. The Saudi government has denied the claim.
The conclusion will bolster efforts in Congress to further punish the close U.S. ally for the killing. The Trump administration this past week penalized 17 Saudi officials for their alleged role in the killing, but American lawmakers have called on the administration to curtail arms sales to Saudi Arabia or take other harsher punitive measures.
The U.S. official familiar with the intelligence agencies' conclusion was not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke only condition of anonymity Friday. The conclusion was first reported by The Washington Post.
Saudi Arabia's top diplomat has said the crown prince had "absolutely" nothing to do with the killing.
Vice President Mike Pence told reporters traveling with him at a summit of Pacific Rim nations in Papua New Guinea that he could not comment on "classified information." He said Saturday "the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was an atrocity. It was also an affront to a free and independent press, and the United States is determined to hold all of those accountable who are responsible for that murder."
The United States will "follow the facts," Pence said, while trying to find a way of preserving a "strong and historic partnership" with Saudi Arabia.
Khashoggi, a Saudi who lived in the United States, was a columnist for the Post and often criticized the royal family. He was killed Oct. 2 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Turkish and Saudi authorities say he was killed inside the consulate by a team from the kingdom after he went there to get marriage documents.
This past week, U.S. intelligence officials briefed members of the Senate and House intelligence committees and the Treasury Department announced economic sanctions on 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the killing.
Among those targeted for sanctions were Mohammed al-Otaibi, the diplomat in charge of the consulate, and Maher Mutreb, who was part of the crown prince's entourage on trips abroad.
The sanctions freeze any assets the 17 may have in the U.S. and prohibit any Americans from doing business with them.
Also this past week, the top prosecutor in Saudi Arabia announced he will seek the death penalty against five men suspected in the killing. The prosecutor's announcement sought to quiet the global outcry over Khashoggi's death and distance the killers and their operation from the kingdom's leadership, primarily the crown prince.
President Donald Trump has called the killing a botched operation that was carried out very poorly and has said "the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups."
But he has resisted calls to cut off arms sales to the kingdom and has been reluctant to antagonize the Saudi rulers. Trump considers the Saudis vital allies in his Mideast agenda.
The Post, citing unnamed sources, also reported that U.S. intelligence agencies reviewed a phone call that the prince's brother, Khalid bin Salman, had with Khashoggi. The newspaper said the prince's brother, who is the current Saudi ambassador to the United States, told Khashoggi he would be safe in going to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents he needed to get married.
The newspaper said it was not known whether the ambassador knew Khashoggi would be killed. But it said he made the call at the direction the crown prince, and the call was intercepted by U.S. intelligence.
Fatimah Baeshen, a spokesperson for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, said that claim was false.
She said in a statement issued to The Associated Press that the ambassador met Khashoggi in person once in late September 2017. After that, they communicated via text messages, she said. The last text message the ambassador sent to Khashoggi was on Oct. 26, 2017, she said.
Baeshen said the ambassador did not discuss with Khashoggi "anything related to going to Turkey."
"Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman has never had any phone conversations with him," she said.
"You are welcome to check the phone records and cell phone content to corroborate this — in which case, you would have to request it from Turkish authorities," Baeshen said, adding that Saudi prosecutors have checked the phone records numerous times to no avail.
The ambassador himself tweeted: "The last contact I had with Mr. Khashoggi was via text on Oct. 26, 2017. I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the U.S. government to release any information regarding this claim."
Tehran, Nov 17 (AP/UNB) — Iraq's President Barham Salih began a visit to Iran on Saturday, where he pledged to improve relations less than two weeks after the United States restored oil sanctions that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran, which has had major influence over Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, is hoping to maintain exports to its neighbor despite the renewed sanctions. Iraq is Iran's second-largest market after China, buying everything from food and machinery to electricity and natural gas.
At a joint briefing after their meeting, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said they discussed increasing trade in electricity and oil products and the establishment of free trade zones along the border. He said they also discussed joint oil projects and improving transport links between the two countries.
Trade between the two countries was some $7 billion in 2017, and they have vowed to boost it to $8.5 billion this year. Rouhani said it could eventually reach $20 billion a year.
Salih also pledged to improve ties, and suggested the formation of a "new regional system" including Iraq and Iran, one based on "political integrity, national interests and cooperation between nations and governments." He did not elaborate.
President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in May. United Nations monitors say Iran still abides by the deal, in which it agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in return for the lifting of international sanctions.
Since then, Trump announced what he billed as the "toughest ever" sanctions against Iran, and the country has seen its oil exports plunge and its currency lose more than half its value. The full brunt of the measures came into effect Nov. 5 when the U.S. re-imposed oil and banking sanctions.
The U.S., which provided crucial military support to Iraq in its battle against the Islamic State group, has granted Iraq a 45-day waiver to allow it to continue to purchase gas and electricity from Iran.
Salih said Iraq should not be "a field for struggle between conflicting demands and wills."
Sydney, Nov 17 (AP/UNB) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has visited a shrine in Darwin, Australia, commemorating the deaths of 80 Japanese submariners in waters near the city in World War II.
Abe arrived in Darwin on Friday for meetings with Australian counterpart Scott Morrison, becoming the first leader of Japan to visit the northern port city since it was bombed by Japanese forces in 1942.
After laying a wreath with Morrison to remember the 240 people estimated to have died in the Darwin bombings, Abe on Saturday honored servicemen from his own country killed in a lesser-known incident, at a memorial for the Japanese submarine I-124.
The sub was sunk in January 1942, during an attempted attack and remains on the seabed. Darwin was bombed a month later.
Paradise, Nov 17 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump heads to Northern California on Saturday to see firsthand the grief and devastation from the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century, as confusion continued over how many people remain unaccounted for.
Authorities confirmed a new death toll of 71 and say they are trying to locate 1,011 people even as they stressed that not all are believed missing.
California's outgoing and incoming governors, both Democrats and vocal critics of Trump, planned to join the president Saturday. Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom welcomed Trump's visit, declaring it's time "to pull together for the people of California."
The blaze that started Nov. 8 all but razed the town of Paradise, population 27,000, and heavily damaged the outlying communities of Magalia and Concow. It destroyed more than 9,800 homes and at its height displaced 52,000 people.
Details of Trump's itinerary had not been released late Friday.
This patch of California, a former Gold Rush region in the Sierra Nevada foothills, is to some extent Trump country, with Trump beating Hillary Clinton in Butte County by 4 percentage points in 2016.
But Trump has stirred resentment among survivors over comments he made two days after the disaster on Twitter, then reiterated on the eve of his visit.
In an interview taped Friday and scheduled for broadcast on "Fox News Sunday," Trump said he was surprised to see images of firefighters removing dried brush near a fire, adding, "This should have been all raked out."
Asked if he thought climate change contributed to the fires, he said: "Maybe it contributes a little bit. The big problem we have is management."
Those comments echoed his initial reaction to the fires Nov. 10 when he blamed the wildfires on poor forest management and threatened then to withhold federal payments. Trump subsequently approved a federal disaster declaration.
"If you insult people, then you go visit them, how do you think you're going to be accepted? You're not going to have a parade," Maggie Crowder of Magalia said this week outside an informal shelter at a Walmart store in Chico.
But Stacy Lazzarino, who voted for Trump, said it would be good for the president to see the devastation up close: "I think by maybe seeing it he's going to be like 'Oh, my goodness,' and it might start opening people's eyes."
Firefighters returning to a command center in the neighboring city of Chico after a 24-hour shift Friday were reluctant to weigh in on Trump's visit, but some shared their thoughts.
Nick Shawkey, a CalFire captain from rural Northern California, said Trump's visit was the mark of a good leader. But to imply the state was to blame for mismanaging the forests was based on a misunderstanding because much of the forest land in California is controlled by the U.S. Forest Service, he said.
"The thing he's tweeting about is his property," Shawkey said.
Paul Briones, a firefighter from Bakersfield, predicted Trump's visit would be a huge boost to the community, showing "that this on a national level is a priority."
More than 5,500 fire personnel were battling the blaze that covered 228 square miles (590 square kilometers) and was 50 percent contained officials said.
Firefighters were racing against time with a red flag warning issued for Saturday night into Sunday, including winds up to 50 mph and low humidity. Rain was forecast for mid-week, which could help firefighters but also complicate the challenging search for remains.
"It's a disheartening situation," Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told a news conference Friday. "As much as I wish we could get through this before the rains come, I don't know if that's possible."
The number of people unaccounted for grew to more than 1,000 on Friday. But Honea acknowledged the list was "dynamic" and could easily contain duplicate names and unreliable spellings of names.
The roster probably includes some who fled the blaze and do not realize they've been reported missing, he said.
"We are still receiving calls. We're still reviewing emails," Honea said. "This is a massive undertaking. We have hundreds and hundreds of people working on this."
Families searching for loved ones have scoured shelters and social media and say they understand the chaos of the situation, But the wait for information is agonizing.
For one family, good news arrived by telephone.
Monica Whipple said Friday she was boarding a plane back to North Carolina from Northern California when she got a call two days ago that her mother, Donna Price, had been found alive. Price had been presumed missing but was tracked down at a shelter.
"It was so crazy, I started crying in front of everybody," Whipple said. "She's doing OK."
For too many others, the wait to learn a loved one's fate has ended with bad news.
Sol Bechtold searched for his 75-year-old mother, Caddy, posting flyers of her on bulletin boards and searching for her in shelters.
On Thursday, Bechtold went to the Butte County Sheriff to provide DNA samples. As he was driving back to his home in Pleasanton, California, he got a call from an officer with the coroner's unit of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office and was told his mother's remains were found in her home in the community of Magalia. The home had burned down to its concrete foundation.
"It's hard to realize your mother is gone," Bechtold said.
Family members remembered her personality, her wonderful heart and great smile, he said. She raised four children.
"It's been a pretty emotional 24 hours. Lots of tears," he said.