Mexico City, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim says he supports President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's objectives and estimates that he will make investments of more than $5.2 billion through his companies during López Obrador's six-year term.
Slim highlighted the president's efforts to rein in government spending, raise the minimum wage, eradicate corruption, address crime, give scholarships to students and focus development on the country's ignored southeast.
Slim says he is interested in bidding on contracts for segments of the planned Train Maya.
He says López Obrador "has done very well."
Slim spoke Wednesday at a news conference updating his foundation's charitable reconstruction work since the September 2017 earthquakes. The Carlos Slim Foundation put up more than $107 million (2 billion pesos) to rebuild homes, schools, medical centers and historic buildings.
Brussels, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — The European Union and Britain inched ever closer to a Brexit deal, with the leaders of France and Germany saying they expected an agreement could be sealed at Thursday's EU summit.
Positive vibes radiated from French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a joint news conference Wednesday in Toulouse, France, where Merkel said that negotiations were "in the final stretch."
Macron added that "I want to believe that a deal is being finalized and that we can approve it" Thursday, when EU leaders are due to meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Brussels.
Differences between the two sides remained but were narrowing to some technical and complicated customs and value-added tax issues, officials said. Negotiating teams were working into the night at EU headquarters to solve them.
"Good progress, and work is ongoing," EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters Wednesday evening.
Johnson, meanwhile, likened Brexit to climbing Mount Everest, saying the summit was in sight, though still shrouded in cloud.
And the EU Parliament's chief Brexit official, Guy Verhofstadt, said Johnson had already moved mountains over the past days, seeking compromise where once he had been unbending.
"Before, the proposals of Mr. Johnson were absolutely unacceptable," Verhofstadt said. "There has been a fundamental shift, that is clear."
But Brexit negotiations have been here before — seemingly closing in on a deal that is dashed at the last moment. But with Britain's Oct. 31 departure date looming and just hours to go before the EU leaders' summit, hopes were increasingly turning toward getting a broad political commitment, with the full legal details to be hammered out later. That could mean another EU summit on Brexit before the end of the month.
Negotiators were locked inside EU headquarters with few details leaking out. Wild movements in the British pound Wednesday underscored the uncertainty over what, if anything, might finally be decided.
The focus of recent talks has been the thorniest component of a deal: how goods and people will flow across the land border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K.
So far, all plans to keep an open and near-invisible border between the two have hit a brick wall of opposition from Johnson's key Northern Irish ally, the Democratic Unionist Party. Leaders from the party met several times with the British prime minister Wednesday as he tried to win their support. Without it, any Brexit deal is likely to be rejected by Britain's Parliament — which has already voted down prospective deals three times.
Johnson told Conservative Party lawmakers on Wednesday that he believed a deal was close.
Legislator Bim Afolami quoted the prime minister as saying "the summit is in sight, but it is shrouded in cloud. But we can get there."
Northern Ireland is not the only issue. The eventual withdrawal agreement will be a legal treaty that also lays out other aspects of the U.K.'s departure — including issues like the divorce bill Britain must pay to leave and the rights of U.K. and EU citizens living in each other's territories. It will set up a transition period in which relations would remain as they are now at least until the end of 2020, to give people and businesses time to adjust to new rules.
But the agreement will likely leave many questions about the future unanswered, and Britain's departure is sure to be followed by years of negotiations on trade and other issues.
Even if a deal is inked this week, moves in the British Parliament could still mean another delay to Britain's planned Oct. 31 departure.
U.K. lawmakers are determined to push for another delay rather than risk a chaotic no-deal Brexit that economists say could hurt the economies of both the U.K. and the EU. They have passed a law ordering Johnson's government to seek to delay the departure if a deal isn't in place by Saturday.
Johnson has both promised to obey Parliament's order and vowed to leave the bloc on Oct. 31, deal or no deal.
Parliament has also repeatedly rejected previous attempts at a Brexit deal. With the need to get Parliament's approval looming over negotiations, EU leaders are seeking reassurances from Johnson during this week's summit that he has the political weight to push any new deal through the House of Commons, which is due to meet Saturday for its first weekend session in almost 40 years.
The Brexit talks plodded ahead Wednesday, further delaying preparations for the EU summit. Since the weekend, negotiators have been locked in long sessions on how to deal with detailed customs, value-added tax and regulatory issues under British proposals to keep goods and people flowing freely across the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
"Talks have been constructive, but there still remains a number of significant issues to resolve," EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said after being briefed by Barnier.
Beyond the questions of disrupting daily life, an open Irish border underpins both the local economy and the 1998 peace accord that ended decades of Catholic-Protestant violence in Northern Ireland. But once Britain exits, that border will turn into an external EU frontier that the bloc wants to keep secure.
The big question is how far Johnson's government is prepared to budge on its insistence that the U.K., including Northern Ireland, must leave the EU's customs union — something that would require checks on goods passing between the U.K. and the EU.
An alternative is to have checks in the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland. But Northern Ireland's DUP, the party that props up Johnson's minority Conservative government, strongly opposes any measures that could loosen the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.
Pro-Brexit Conservative British lawmaker David Davis said success in passing a Brexit deal rests on the stance of the DUP.
"If the DUP says, 'This is intolerable to us' that will be quite important," he said.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said the party had not yet consented to a deal. She tweeted: "Discussions continue. Needs to be a sensible deal which unionists and nationalists can support."
Washington, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — A "dark day." A "betrayal." The "biggest mistake of this presidency," and "really delusional."
And that was President Donald Trump's fellow Republicans.
Trump's decision to pull American troops out of northern Syria — triggering a deadly Turkish invasion targeting the U.S.'s erstwhile Syrian Kurdish allies — has unmuzzled GOP lawmakers in a manner seldom seen since Trump entered the White House.
In a time when the threat of a caustic Trump tweet is enough to stifle open internal dissent, the extent and strong language Republicans are using to assail his policy is Syria has been striking.
A statistical measurement of the party's disgruntlement was on eye-catching display in in the House, which voted Wednesday by an overwhelming 354-60 to voice its opposition to Trump's troop pullback.
Remarkably, Republicans voted 129-60 for the nonbinding measure, delivering a stinging repudiation of Trump. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and the chamber's two other top GOP leaders joined in lawmakers' lopsided slap at Trump's decision.
Making Republican defections all the more noteworthy: They came as the two parties are at each other's throats over the Democratic impeachment inquiry of the president.
While virtually all Republicans have rallied behind Trump in the impeachment fight, this is a moment — barely a year from the 2020 elections — when the White House and GOP lawmakers can ill afford to show divisions.
No one was suggesting the GOP's schism with Trump over Syria would soften the party's opposition to tossing him out of office.
"That's a completely different issue," said No. 2 House GOP leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
No Republicans attacked Trump personally, instead carefully focusing their criticism on the policy.
Still, the unfettered way in which Republicans openly belittled his troop withdrawal was noteworthy, both for its sweep and for the freedom that GOP lawmakers seemed to feel in opposing him.
Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called it a "dark day" that would have been "much darker" if the two parties hadn't united in voicing their opposition to the troop pullback.
No. 3 House GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming said Syrian Kurds are "facing what looks like a betrayal" by the U.S.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who's been a staunch Trump defender since he entered the White House but a critic of his troop withdrawal, said Trump was making "the biggest mistake of this presidency."
While Trump had said the Kurds would be fine because "they know how to fight," Graham told reporters, "To suggest the Kurds are safer is really delusional."
And Graham all but said Trump would be to blame if there's a new terrorist attack by Islamic State militants. Many fear that group will be revived as Turkey batters the very Kurdish fighters who've been helping the U.S. neutralize them.
"It's going to be to the president's detriment if there's any attacks on our country, inspired attacks, not directly attacks, then he'll own it," Graham said.
Also wading in was Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, who's not seeking reelection and has clashed with Trump over immigration and other issues.
Hurd called Trump's withdrawal a "disastrous decision" because the U.S. is abandoning an ally and ceding influence in the region to adversaries like Russia and Iran. He recalled his pre-Congress experience as an undercover CIA counter-terrorism officer.
"One of the things I learned when I was in the CIA was to be nice with nice guys and tough with tough guys, not the other way around," he said pointedly.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has repeatedly called the move "a mistake" and expressed a determination to do something to correct it, though the answer is unclear.
A former senator and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who had frequent clashes with Trump and retired last year, has made few public statements since leaving Congress but weighed in on Wednesday.
Asked in an interview why the GOP pushback has been so strong, Corker said, "It was such an irresponsible, precipitous decision where thousands of people are going to die. It's at a whole new level."
Democrats, of course, showed no hesitance in using even stronger language against Trump.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., labeled the withdrawal a "dangerous and stupid decision."
And Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., a former Marine and Iraq War veteran, said Trump "has never put his life on the line for his country" like U.S. soldiers in Syria have done.
"Perhaps if he had not dodged the draft by lying about his feet, sending another American in his place to Vietnam," he'd know that "nothing is more evil than betrayal," Moulton said.
That was a reference to a deferment that allowed Trump to not serve in the Vietnam War due to bone spurs. Critics have accused him of draft dodging because Trump hasn't been able to recall which foot had the problem.
Washington, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — A common denominator runs through the impeachment probe and the chaos unfolding in Syria: President Donald Trump's improvisational style of conducting foreign policy.
The president's decision to push Ukraine to investigate a political rival prompted Democrats to launch the House impeachment inquiry, and Trump's critics equate his abrupt decision to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria with throwing a match on a powder keg.
Both actions reflect an increasingly confident Trump's inclination to listen to his gut over his foreign policy and national security advisers, a proclivity that is rattling U.S. allies and emboldening enemies. Where Trump believes that standing up to the foreign policy establishment holds appeal for voters in next year's election, his critics see him gambling with U.S. national security and making America's word worthless on the global stage.
Trump's response has been to dig in his heels, despite bipartisan criticism on both counts.
The president says he did nothing wrong on the July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that is now at the heart of the impeachment inquiry — a conversation that set off alarm bells throughout his foreign policy apparatus.
In the call, Trump urged Zelenskiy to investigate a firm tied to political rival Joe Biden's son Hunter and to look into Ukraine's own involvement in the 2016 presidential election. Trump staffers expressed concern that he was misusing his presidential authority in making the request and White House lawyers ordered that a memorandum documenting the call be moved into a computer network typically used for covert operations to keep it under wraps.
On Syria, Trump insists he understands the situation "better than most." He argues that America should not be the world's policeman — but admitted over the weekend that "now I'm sort of an island of one" on his decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria.
Indeed, the House delivered a bipartisan and overwhelming rebuke Wednesday of Trump's withdrawal of American forces, voting 354-60 to condemn the action.
The president is taking a backwards approach to policymaking, in the view of foreign policy experts.
Instead of listening to his advisers, then making a decision, Trump does the reverse.
In the case of Syria, Trump talked to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the phone and warned him against launching an offensive against Kurdish forces. Turkey views them as terrorists, but they were America's ally on the battlefield against Islamic State militants.
After warning Erdogan that he would pull the trigger on economic sanctions, Trump announced that he was pulling U.S. forces out of Syria. The Kurds felt abandoned. IS fighters that Kurds were guarding escaped from detention. Iran, and Russia saw a green light to amass more influence in the region.
"It's a complete debacle," said Mark Dubowitz, who has advised the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations and lawmakers on U.S. foreign policy.
"He keeps doing the same thing — making decisions without advisers — and then everybody has to scramble to mitigate the damage," Dubowitz said. He cited Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's rush to craft new sanctions against Turkey and the president's decision to dispatch Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the region to mediate.
Trump, for his part, sees his approach to Turkey and Syria as "strategically brilliant."
It also dovetails nicely with his campaign pledge to bring American troops home from what he calls never-ending wars. He has told aides that the chants of "Bring them home!" from his rally crowds, including one in Minnesota earlier this month, are evidence that the decision is popular with his base supporters.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, typically one of the president's strongest allies on Capitol Hill, says the president is "not listening."
"This decision and line of thinking is against all sound military advice," Graham said. "No one in his national security team believes that Turkey's invasion of Syria is of no consequence to us."
On Ukraine, meanwhile, Trump and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, did an end-run around the formal diplomatic circles in Ukraine, asking Kyiv to investigate the Bidens. Trump listened to Giuliani instead of seasoned diplomats. Former White House aide Fiona Hill testified that then-national security adviser John Bolton was so alarmed by Giuliani's back-channel activities in Ukraine that he described him as a "hand grenade who is going to blow everybody up."
There's little sign that any of the criticism on either Ukraine or Syria has caused Trump to rethink his approach. In fact, he sees political gold in both. He seemed to conflate the two issues when he lashed out Wednesday and called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a "third-rate politician."
"I think we're going to take the House, based on what's happening with the impeachment stuff," he told reporters earlier in the day.
He was equally bullish on the politics of pulling troops out of foreign entanglements.
"I won an election based on that, and that's the way it is," he said. "Whether it's good or bad, that's the way it is."
Davenport, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — Seeking to leverage his experience in foreign policy, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Wednesday ripped Donald Trump's withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Syria as the latest proof that the president is a "complete failure" who is gutting American credibility around the world.
Biden used a 40-minute speech in Iowa to excoriate Trump for withdrawing American forces and leaving Syrian Kurds, key U.S. allies in the yearslong fight against the Islamic State group, open to attacks from Turkey.
"It's more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners; it's more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS," the former vice president said. "Trump is demolishing the moral authority of the United States of America" while emboldening U.S. adversaries, including Russia and Iran.
Biden's speech marks his latest attempt to push foreign affairs to the front-burner of the 2020 campaign. The core of Biden's message to voters from the start has been that Trump is unfit for the job, and Biden often references foreign affairs as he campaigns, but the 76-year-old candidate and his aides see the Syria situation as a new crystallization of what's at stake.
"He is a complete failure as commander in chief," Biden said. "He is the most reckless and incompetent commander in chief we've ever had."
Biden forecast a domino effect for Trump's decision and his isolationist approach in general. "Who will stand with us" in the next international crisis, Biden asked, "if the United States is reduced to an unreliable partner?"
Trump's "incompetence," Biden said, demands that he be replaced by someone who "on Day One is ready to command the world stage" and rebuild a world order. "There's not going to be time to build relationships from scratch," he said, adding that he can "pick up the phone, call our NATO allies, know them by their first name."
Biden's remarks come as his successor, Vice President Mike Pence, prepares to lead a U.S. delegation to press Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a cease-fire. That mission was complicated Wednesday as Trump dismissed Turkey's offensive move after the U.S. withdrawal.
"If Turkey goes onto Syria, that's between Turkey and Syria. It's not between Turkey and the United States," Trump said in the Oval Office, even as his administration imposes economic sanctions on Turkey.
The former vice president tacitly brought his top primary rival, Elizabeth Warren, into his argument, as well. Without naming her, Biden referenced an opponent saying in Tuesday night's Democratic debate that she'd withdraw troops from the Middle East.
Warren didn't go into detail then but said, "I don't think we should have troops in the Middle East." Her campaign later clarified that she meant combat troops. Warren has said previously that she wants to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Withdrawing troops from the entire region would go further and end generations of U.S. presence in the volatile region.
"We can be strong and smart at the same time. And when we do draw down, there's a right way and a wrong way," Biden retorted in Iowa.
For his part, Biden has promised to stop "endless wars" in the region, but with qualifications. He advocated in a sweeping foreign policy address in July for removing most combat troops from Afghanistan in favor of "narrowly focusing our mission" in the region, but he was careful to say that military force would always be an option in his White House.
And he outlined again Wednesday a vision of the U.S. leading world alliances with diplomacy and military strength while mocking Trump's isolationist tendencies and his embrace of U.S. adversaries like Russia and North Korea.
"'America first' means America alone," Biden said, nodding to Trump's stated international doctrine.
Instead, the former vice president said, "leading the free world requires us to show up, have some skin in the game" with investments that yield open markets for U.S. products while providing security for Americans at home and abroad.
Biden recalled that as vice president he negotiated on behalf of President Barack Obama with Turkey's Erdogan, Kurdish forces and other Middle Eastern players who were part of a "global alliance" to fight the Islamic State group.
Leaving the Syrian Kurds without U.S. aid, he said, forces them to fashion uneasy alliances with "two devils," Russian President Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad's regime in Syria, while Islamic State fighters regroup and rebuild.
Biden highlighted Trump's sanctions on Turkey as more evidence of the consequences of an "erratic" president because he said it allows Putin to expand his influence in the region amid increasing tensions between two NATO allies — the U.S and Turkey. Russia is not a member of NATO, and Putin has sought to weaken the group.
"Don't believe Trump's con here. This is not American leadership," Biden said. "And this is not the end of forever wars. It's a recipe for more forever wars."
Foreign policy hasn't typically ranked as a top-line issue for likely Democratic voters in 2020, but Biden found a receptive audience Wednesday.
Ann Cassidy Pfifner, a 66-year-old retired nurse from Long Grove, Iowa, said she came to the event with a short list including Biden, Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar. She came away as a Biden supporter.
"He's just right-on as far as foreign policy," she said. "That's the thing he knows. And I think it's what we needed to hear because we haven't really heard that yet from a candidate."