Washington, Jan 10 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump walked out of his negotiating meeting with congressional leaders Wednesday — "I said bye-bye," he tweeted— as efforts to end the 19-day partial government shutdown fell into deeper disarray over his demand for billions of dollars to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a negotiating session that was over almost as soon as it began, Democrats went to the White House asking Trump to reopen the government. Trump renewed his call for money for his signature campaign promise and was rebuffed. Republicans and Democrats had differing accounts of the brief exchange, but the result was clear: The partial shutdown continued with no end in sight.
Hundreds of thousands of federal workers will miss paychecks on Friday; a little more than half of them are still working without pay. Other key federal services are suspended, including some food inspections. And as some lawmakers expressed discomfort with the growing toll of the standoff, it was clear Wednesday that the wall was at the center.
Trump revived his threat to attempt to override Congress by declaring a national emergency to unleash Defense Department funding for the wall. He's due to visit the border Thursday to highlight what he declared in an Oval Office speech Tuesday night as a "crisis." Democrats say Trump is manufacturing the emergency to justify a political ploy.
That debate set the tone for Wednesday's sit-down at the White House.
Republicans said Trump posed a direct question to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: If he opened the government, would she fund the wall? She said no. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump slammed his hand on the table, said "then we have nothing to discuss" and walked out.
Republicans said Trump, who passed out candy at the start of the meeting, did not raise his voice and there was no table pounding. Pelosi said Trump "stomped" out of the room and was "petulant." Republicans said he was merely firm.
"The president made clear today that he is going to stand firm to achieve his priorities to build a wall — a steel barrier — at the southern border," Vice President Mike Pence told reporters afterward.
Trump had just returned from Capitol Hill, where he urged jittery congressional Republicans to hold firm with him. He suggested a deal for his border wall might be getting closer, but he also said the shutdown would last "whatever it takes."
He discussed the possibility of a sweeping immigration compromise with Democrats to protect some immigrants from deportation but provided no clear strategy or timeline for resolving the standoff, according to senators in the private session. He left the Republican lunch boasting of "a very, very unified party," but GOP senators are publicly uneasy as the standoff ripples across the lives of Americans and interrupts the economy.
Trump insisted at the White House: "I didn't want this fight." But it was his sudden rejection of a bipartisan spending bill late last month that blindsided leaders in Congress, including Republican allies, now seeking a resolution to the shutdown.
The effects are growing. The Food and Drug Administration says it isn't doing routine food inspections because of the partial federal shutdown, but checks of the riskiest foods are expected to resume next week.
The agency said it's working to bring back about 150 employees to inspect more potentially hazardous foods such as cheese, infant formula and produce. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency can't make the case that "a routine inspection of a Nabisco cracker facility" is necessary during the shutdown, however. He said inspections would have ramped up this week for the first time since the holidays, so the lapse in inspections of high-risk foods will not be significant if they resume soon.
Republicans are mindful of the growing toll on ordinary Americans, including disruptions in payments to farmers and trouble for home buyers who are seeking government-backed mortgage loans — "serious stuff," according to Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was among several senators who questioned Trump at the Capitol.
"I addressed the things that are very local to us — it's not just those who don't receive a federal paycheck perhaps on Friday, but there are other consequences," she said, mentioning the inability to certify weight scales for selling fish. The president's response? "He urged unity."
That unity was tested late Wednesday when the House passed a spending bill, 240-188, to reopen one shuttered department, Treasury, to ensure that tax refunds and other financial services continue. Eight Republicans joined Democrats in voting, defying the plea to stick with the White House.
Democrats said before the White House meeting that they would ask Trump to accept an earlier bipartisan bill to reopen the government with money for border security but not the wall. Pelosi warned that the effects of hundreds of thousands of lost paychecks would begin to ripple across the economy.
"The president could end the Trump shutdown and reopen the government today, and he should," Pelosi said.
Ahead of his visit to Capitol Hill, Trump renewed his notice that he might declare a national emergency and try to authorize the wall on his own if Congress won't approve the money he's asking.
"I think we might work a deal, and if we don't, I might go that route," he said.
Republicans are particularly concerned about such a threat, seeing that as an unprecedented claim on the right of Congress to allocate funding except in the direst circumstances.
"I prefer that we get this resolved the old-fashioned way," Thune said.
Trump did not mention the idea of a national emergency declaration Tuesday night. A person familiar with deliberations who was unauthorized to discuss the situation said additional "creative options" were being considered, including shifting money from other accounts or tapping other executive authorities for the wall.
Trump on Wednesday floated ideas for a broader immigration overhaul. Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has suggested a compromise that would include wall funding as well as protecting some immigrants — young "Dreamers" and those in Temporary Protective Status, two programs Trump is eliminating — from deportation.
Beijing, Jan 10 (AP/UNB) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has reportedly told the leader of his only major ally, China, that he wants to "achieve results" on the nuclear standoff on the Korean Peninsula in a second summit with President Donald Trump.
The comments, contained in reports Thursday from Chinese and North Korean state media, came a day after Kim left Beijing on his special armored train for Pyongyang after a two-day visit to the Chinese capital.
Kim's trip to China — his fourth in the past 10 months — is believed to be an effort to coordinate with Beijing ahead of a possible second summit with Trump. It comes after U.S. and North Korean officials are thought to have met in Vietnam to discuss the site of the summit.
North Korea will "make efforts for the second summit between (North Korean) and U.S. leaders to achieve results that will be welcomed by the international community," Kim was quoted as saying by China's official Xinhua News Agency.
All sides should "jointly push for a comprehensive resolution of the Korean Peninsula issue" and North Korea would "continue sticking to the stance of denuclearization and resolving the Korean Peninsula issue through dialogue and consultation," Xinhua quoted Kim as saying.
Kim also said North Korea hopes its "legitimate concerns" would be given due respect, a reference to Pyongyang's desire for security guarantees and a possible peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War.
He also credited President Xi Jinping with helping reduce regional tensions, saying "the Korean Peninsula situation has been easing since last year, and China's important role in this process is obvious to all."
It wasn't clear from the reports if Kim was in back in the North, but his train presumably would arrive sometime Thursday.
Xi was quoted as saying that China supports the U.S.-North Korea summits and hopes the two sides "will meet each other halfway." The North said in its report that Xi accepted an invitation to visit North Korea, although details of when he might come were not given.
Xi has yet to visit North Korea since taking office in 2012.
Trump and Kim met in Singapore in June for the first-ever leaders' meeting between their nations, but there has been a standoff ever since, with dueling accusations of bad faith.
Kim's Beijing visit was seen as part of an effort to win Chinese support for a reduction of U.N. sanctions imposed over his nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which have severely impacted his country's already ailing economy.
While North Korea hasn't conducted any launches or detonations in more than a year, it's displayed no real intention of abandoning the programs that are seen as guaranteeing the government's survival.
The trip also came after he expressed frustration in his annual New Year's address over the lack of progress in negotiations with Washington since the Singapore summit, saying that if things don't improve — meaning that if sanctions relief and security guarantees aren't in the offing — Pyongyang might have to find "a new way" forward.
While Trump says he considers Xi key to enticing Kim into taking concrete steps toward denuclearization, the president's own relationship with his Chinese counterpart has frayed over the U.S.-China trade war.
Officially, at least, China says it considers the tariff battle and North Korea's weapons programs to be entirely separate.
South Korea's Yonhap News Agency said Kim visited a technology development zone on the outskirts of Beijing on Wednesday and spent around 20-30 minutes touring a factory run by famed traditional Chinese medicine maker Tong Ren Tang.
Yonhap said Kim met with Xi for about an hour on Tuesday and later attended a dinner at the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing hosted by Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan. Kim was accompanied by his wife, Ri Sol Ju, the news agency said.
At Tuesday's daily Foreign Ministry briefing, spokesman Lu Kang said Beijing remains supportive of efforts to end tensions over U.S. demands for a halt to North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.
"We always believe that, as key parties to the Korean Peninsula issue, it's important for the two sides to maintain contact and we always support their dialogue to achieve positive outcomes," Lu said.
Tuesday was Kim's birthday but there was no word of any official celebrations.
Sydney, Jan 10 (AP/UNB) — Four women held a topless protest in Sydney on Thursday to support runaway Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, as Australia began considering her bid to settle in the country as a refugee.
Alqunun was on Wednesday deemed a refugee by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, after being detained in Bangkok en route to Australia. The 18-year-old publicized her case via social media after barricading herself in her Bangkok hotel room, saying she feared for her safety if sent back to her family in Saudi Arabia.
In downtown Sydney on Thursday morning, four women, dressed only in jeans and calling themselves the Secret Sisterhood, protested outside the building housing the Saudi Consulate, calling on Australia to grant Alqunun residency.
With "Secret Sisterhood" written on their backs, the women held placards with messages including "Let her in," ''Rahaf Sisterhood Hero" and "All women free + safe."
Secret Sisterhood founder Jacquie Love said the protest was held to urge the Australian government to recognize Alqunun's plight, and that of oppressed women everywhere.
"We are here to encourage them to let her in," Love said. "She's been recognized by the U.N. as a refugee so we believe the Australian government needs to step up, recognize her plight and recognize what she's gone through, and she could be an icon for the rest of the world that women shouldn't be oppressed and they should be fleeing countries that they are oppressed in."
"We decided to go topless because we believe all women should be able to express themselves freely and safely and we wanted to send a message to Rahaf that we can actually do that in Australia, that women can actually be free and safe," Love said.
Secret Sisterhood has also set up a GoFundMe account, which had raised $2,290 dollars for Alqunun by Thursday morning.
Alqunun's case has highlighted the cause of women's rights in Saudi Arabia. Several female Saudis fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home. Human rights activists say many more similar cases will have gone unreported.
After mounting a campaign for assistance on Twitter from her Bangkok airport hotel, Alqunun was allowed to temporarily stay in Thailand under the care of the U.N. refugee agency, which ruled her claim for asylum valid and referred her case to Australia. Following that decision, Australia's Home Affairs Department said it would "consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals."
Alqunun's father arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday, but his daughter refused to meet with him.
Thailand's Immigration Police chief Lt. Gen. Surachate Hakparn said the father — whose name has not been released — denied physically abusing Alqunun or trying to force her into an arranged marriage, which were among the reasons she gave for her flight.
Surachate said Alqunun's father wanted his daughter back but respected her decision. Surachate described the father as being a governor in Saudi Arabia.
"He has 10 children. He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes," Surachate said. "But he didn't go into detail."
Before the U.N. agency's decision to refer her case to Australia, the country's Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said there would be no "special treatment" for her.
However, Health Minister Greg Hunt, also speaking before the U.N.'s decision, said: "If she is found to be a refugee, then we will give very, very, very serious consideration to a humanitarian visa."
Guatemala City, Jan 10 (AP/UNB) — Guatemala's highest court issued a ruling Wednesday blocking President Jimmy Morales' decision to unilaterally end a U.N. anti-corruption commission.
The commission, known by its Spanish initials as CICIG, has angered Morales by investigating him, his sons and his brother on accusations of corruption, which they deny.
Guatemala's Constitutional Court overruled Morales' decision after all-night deliberations on five appeals against the president's cancellation of the agreement with the United Nations.
Hours later, Guatemala's Supreme Court announced that it would let a petition by a group of lawyers to strip the Constitutional Court justices of their immunity from prosecution advance to the nation's congress.
Supreme Court spokesman Mario Siekavizza said late Wednesday the lawyers were accusing the constitutional justices of interfering in the president's foreign policy decisions. The congress has the power to lift the justices' immunity and Morales and his allies control a majority of the votes.
It was not immediately clear what could happen if the nation's top court was suddenly open to investigation.
Morales has argued the commission had violated Guatemala's sovereignty and violated the rights of suspects.
Given the government's refusal to guarantee the commission's security, the U.N. has withdrawn the commission's members.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the United Nations would not comment on the court's ruling, calling it an "internal legal issue." And he said managing the commission, including the return of its personnel, is up to its chief, Ivan Velasquez.
Dujarric said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has made clear that the U.N. expects Guatemala's government to respect its commitment for the commission to continue working until September 2019, and that includes "ensuring the safety and security of all staffers."
The court has tussled with Morales before over the commission, though he has sometimes tried to ignore its rulings. The court has said the commission's mandate is valid through 2019.
Guatemala's human rights prosecutor, Jordan Rodas, said Morales' administration has to obey the new ruling.
"The government is under obligation to comply," said Rodas, who presented one of the appeals to the court. "If it doesn't obey, that is a whole other matter, and would constitute a coup, because the cornerstone of the rule of law is respect for the judicial branch."
During its 11 years operating in Guatemala, CICIG has pressed corruption cases that have implicated some 680 people, including top elected officials, businesspeople and bureaucrats. The commission said in November that it has won 310 convictions and broken up 60 criminal networks.
The commission participated in investigations that forced former Vice President Roxana Baldetti and President Otto Perez Molina to step down from office in 2015 to face fraud and corruption charges.
Beijing, Jan 10 (AP/UNB) — Uncertainty over the outcome of China-U.S. trade talks cast a pall Thursday over Asian markets as both sides kept mum about what lies ahead.
Most Asian markets opened lower after the talks wrapped up the day before without clear indications of whether progress was made on resolving a dispute over Chinese technology policies that has the world's two biggest economies embroiled in a bruising trade war.
The three-day talks that started Monday were the first face-to-face meetings since Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, agreed Dec. 1 to suspend further action against each other's imports for 90 days while they negotiate over U.S. complaints that Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology.
The Chinese Ministry of Commerce issued a statement saying the two sides had "detailed exchanges" and would "maintain close contact" but gave no details.
A statement from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative didn't characterize the tone of the talks or say what would happen next. It said U.S. negotiators would await "guidance on the next steps" after reporting back to Washington.
So far, the U.S. side has described the exchanges in a positive light.
Trump said late Tuesday on Twitter that the talks were "going very well!" On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the Fox Business Network, "We're optimistic." She added, "we expect that something will come of this. I don't know the timing and exactly what that will look like, but what I can be sure of is that we are moving towards a more balanced and reciprocal trade agreement with China."
Still, the U.S. statement said the negotiations dealt with the need for any deal with China to be "subject to ongoing verification and effective enforcement" — a comment that reflects U.S. frustration that the Chinese have failed to live up to past commitments.
The USTR also said the negotiations "focused on China's pledge to purchase a substantial amount of agricultural, energy, manufactured goods and other products and services from the United States." Trump has complained repeatedly about the U.S. trade deficit with China, which last year likely exceeded the 2017 gap of $336 billion.
U.S. stocks surged Wednesday on optimism that the midlevel talks in Beijing will be followed up with discussions between higher-ranking U.S. and Chinese officials. Investors were encouraged that talks planned for two days were extended to three.
But the enthusiasm was wearing thin by Thursday, when Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 0.5 percent in early trading while the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo dropped 1.4 percent.
Washington wants Beijing to change its plans to use government support to make Chinese companies world leaders in robotics and advanced technologies.
Chinese officials have suggested Beijing might alter its industrial plans but reject pressure to abandon what they consider a path to prosperity and global influence.
Neither side has given any indication its basic position has changed. Economists say the 90-day window is too short to resolve all the conflicts between the biggest and second-biggest global economies.
"We can confidently say that enough progress was made that the discussions will continue at a higher level," said Craig Allen, president of the U.S.-China Business Council. "That is very positive." The council and other U.S. business groups have pressed for a resolution to the trade hostilities between the world's two biggest economies.
Chinese exports to the U.S. have held up despite tariff increases of up to 25 percent on $250 billion of Chinese imports, partly due to exporters rushing to fill orders before more increases hit. Forecasters expect American orders to slump this year.
China has imposed penalties on $110 billion of American goods, slowing customs clearance for U.S. companies and suspending issuing licenses in finance and other businesses.
As the trade talks wound down, China's top economic official, Premier Li Keqiang, met with CEO Elon Musk of electric car brand Tesla Inc.
"We hope you can get a firm foothold and expand the market," Li told Musk during the meeting at the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China's legislature. "We hope your company can become an in-depth participant in China's opening and a promoter of the stability of Chinese-U.S. relations."
Tesla broke ground this week in Shanghai on its first factory outside the U.S. Musk said production of its Model 3 would start late this year.
China is the largest electric vehicle market and is strongly encouraging its development. Last year it ended restrictions on foreign ownership of EV producers to help spur the industry's growth, and in July, Tesla announced plans to build the Gigafactory 3 facility in Shanghai.
Beijing has offered concessions on investment regulations and stepping up purchases of American soybeans, natural gas and other exports, seeking to defuse complaints from the U.S. and other trading partners.
However, the U.S. side is pressing Beijing to scrap or change rules Washington says block market access or improperly help Chinese companies.
U.S. companies also want action on Chinese policies they complain improperly favor local companies. Those include subsidies and other favors for high-tech and state-owned industry, rules on technology licensing and preferential treatment of domestic suppliers in government procurement.
For its part, Beijing is unhappy with U.S. export and investment curbs, such as controls on "dual use" technology with possible military applications. They say China's companies are treated unfairly in national security reviews of proposed corporate acquisitions, though almost all deals are approved unchanged.
With cooling economic growth raising the urgency for a settlement, this week's talks went ahead despite tension over the arrest of a Chinese tech executive in Canada on U.S. charges related to possible violations of trade sanctions against Iran.