Washington, Nov 3 (AP/UNB) — The Trump administration on Friday announced the reimposition of all U.S. sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal, ramping up economic pressure on the Islamic Republic as President Donald Trump completed the unraveling of what had been one of his predecessor's signature foreign policy achievements.
The sanctions, which will take effect on Monday, cover Iran's shipping, financial and energy sectors and are the second batch the administration has reimposed since Trump withdrew from the landmark accord in May. The rollback ends U.S. participation in the nuclear deal, which now hangs in the balance as Iran no longer enjoys any relief from sanctions imposed by the world's largest economy.
Shortly after the announcement, Trump tweeted a movie poster-like image of himself walking out of what appears to be fog with the phrase "Sanctions are Coming, November 5."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the sanctions are "aimed at fundamentally altering the behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran." He has issued a list of 12 demands that Iran must meet if it wants the sanctions lifted. Those include ending support for terrorism and military engagement in Syria and a complete halt to its nuclear and ballistic missile development.
The 2015 deal, one of former President Barack Obama's biggest diplomatic successes, gave Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, which many believed it was using to develop atomic weapons. Trump repeatedly denounced the agreement as the "worst ever" negotiated by the United States and vowed to withdraw from it during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump and other critics of the deal said it gave Iran too much in return for too little, allowed Iran to gradually resume nuclear activity that could eventually be used for weapons development and did not address any of the country's other problematic activities.
With limited exceptions, the reimposed sanctions will hit Iran as well as countries that do not stop importing Iranian oil and foreign firms that do business with blacklisted Iranian entities, including its central bank, a number of private financial institutions, and state-run port and shipping firms, as well as hundreds of individual Iranian officials.
"Our ultimate aim is to compel Iran to permanently abandon its well-documented outlaw activities and behave as a normal country," Pompeo told reporters in a conference call with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. "Maximum pressure means maximum pressure."
Pompeo said eight nations will receive temporary waivers allowing them to continue to import Iranian petroleum products for a limited period as they move to end such imports entirely. He said those countries, which other officials said would include U.S. allies such as Turkey, Italy, India, Japan and South Korea, had made efforts to eliminate their imports but could not complete the task by Monday.
The waivers, expected to be announced Monday, will be valid for six months, during which time the importing country can buy Iranian oil but must deposit Iran's revenue in an escrow account. Iran can spend the money but only on a narrow range of humanitarian items. Pompeo said two of the eight countries would wind down imports to zero within weeks.
Mnuchin said 700 more Iranian companies and people would be added to the sanctions rolls. Those, he said, would include more than 300 that had not been included under previous sanctions.
"We are sending a very clear message with our maximum pressure campaign: that the U.S. intends to aggressively enforce our sanctions," he said.
Israel, which considers Iran an existential threat and opposed the deal from the beginning, welcomed Friday's announcement.
"Thank you, Mr. President, for restoring sanctions against an Iranian regime that vows and works to destroy the Jewish state," Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said in a tweet.
Some Iran hawks in Congress and elsewhere, however, were disappointed in the sanctions as they had been pushing for no oil import waivers as well as the complete disconnection of Iran from the main international financial messaging network known as SWIFT.
One group that has been highly critical of the deal welcomed the new sanctions but said there should be no exceptions.
"We encourage the Trump administration to fulfill the promise of a maximum pressure campaign — no exceptions — until Iran permanently and verifiably changes its behavior," United Against a Nuclear Iran said in a statement. "Oil and gas firms, including those from friendly countries like India, South Korea and Japan, should not be granted sanctions waivers. Similarly, financial entities — including SWIFT — must sever ties with Iranian banks and financial institutions."
Mnuchin defended the decision to allow some Iranian banks to remain connected to SWIFT, saying that the Belgium-based firm had been warned that it will face penalties if sanctioned institutions are permitted to use it. And, he said that U.S. regulators would be watching closely Iranian transactions that use SWIFT to ensure any that run afoul of U.S. sanctions would be punished.
Pompeo, meanwhile, defended the oil waivers, saying U.S. efforts to cut Iran's petroleum revenue had already been successful. He noted that since May, when the U.S. began to press countries to stop buying Iranian oil, Iran's exports had dropped by more than 1 million barrels per day.
Pompeo and Mnuchin both said the sanctions will have exceptions for humanitarian purchases, although Iran deal supporters said the people of Iran would suffer because companies will be reluctant to do any business in the country for fear of being excluded from the U.S. financial system.
They point to the fact that the Iranian economy is already reeling from the earlier sanctions with the currency losing half its value since April and the prices of fruit, poultry, eggs and milk skyrocketing.
Obama-era officials as well as the other parties to the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the European Union — have vehemently defended it. The Europeans have mounted a drive to save the agreement from the U.S. withdrawal, fearing that the new sanctions will drive Iran to pull out and resume all of its nuclear work.
Columbia, Nov 2 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump implored voters on Thursday to reject Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and to instead install a Republican in her seat who would fully back his agenda.
Trump appeared at a rollicking campaign rally in Columbia, home of the state's largest university, in an airline hangar draped in American flags. It was his second rally in an 11-stop, eight-state tour designed to boost Republican turnout ahead of Tuesday's crucial midterm elections.
The president, accompanied by McCaskill's Republican challenger, Josh Hawley, declared that Hawley "will be a star."
Hawley, the current attorney general, sought to link McCaskill to Trump's Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, who lost the state in 2016 by nearly 19 percentage points.
"Claire McCaskill has spent her lifetime in politics just like Hillary," Hawley said. "Claire McCaskill wanted us to call Hillary Clinton 'Madam President.' On Nov. 6, we're going to call Claire McCaskill 'fired.'"
With four days to go until midterm elections that determine control of Congress, Republicans are optimistic they could make gains in the Senate, but they might struggle to maintain a majority in the House.
McCaskill is among a number of vulnerable Democrats running in red states. She is a top target for Republicans seeking to expand the party's slim 51-49 edge in the U.S. Senate.
McCaskill is pitching herself as a moderate as she seeks to hold onto her seat. She has sought to distance herself from "crazy Democrats" and said in an appearance on Fox News that she supports Trump's efforts to secure the southern border. Hawley has dismissed her efforts and argues that she is not the right fit for an increasingly conservative state.
Trump said that McCaskill has been "saying nice things" but that she "wants to get elected and then she'll always vote against us."
A check of her record, however, shows that McCaskill votes with the president about half the time, though she has opposed him on some key issues, including his tax cuts and the recent confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The president, who this week threatened to end a constitutional right that automatically grants citizenship to any baby born in the United States, railed against the 14th Amendment during the Thursday rally, calling it a "crazy, lunatic policy" supported by Democrats.
"The Democrats want to continue giving automatic birthright citizenship to every child born to an illegal immigrant, even if they've been on our soil for a mere matter of seconds," Trump said. "Hundreds of thousands of children born to illegal immigrants are made automatic citizens of the United States every year because of this crazy, lunatic policy that we can end."
Trump expressed optimism for the midterm elections, though he noted that Republican momentum had been blunted in recent days by "two maniacs" — a reference to a mail bomb scare and a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. He added, "We don't care about momentum when it comes to a disgrace like just happened to our country."
However, he said, "It did nevertheless stop a certain momentum. And now the momentum is picking up."
The president will return to Missouri before Election Day, rallying voters Monday in Cape Girardeau.
Washington, Nov 1 (AP/UNB) — At an apparent turning point in one of its hardest foreign policy challenges, the Trump administration is demanding a cease-fire and the launch of U.N.-led political talks to end the Saudi-Iran proxy war in Yemen. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called for a halt to hostilities within 30 days.
The renewed diplomatic drive reflects a convergence of political pressures: international outrage over the slaying of a U.S.-based Saudi journalist and a Yemeni humanitarian crisis fueled by the dual threats of war and hunger in the Arab world's poorest country.
"The time is now for a cessation of hostilities," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a written statement late Tuesday. His plea came shortly after Mattis spoke in unusual detail about diplomacy to end a crisis that has put vast numbers of Yemenis on the brink of starvation.
The administration's new push comes amid mounting fears of a fresh Arab coalition assault on the Red Sea port of Hodeida, the entry point for 70 percent of food imports and international aid to Yemen.
"Yemen has more problems than any people deserve to carry," Mattis said.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, and the toppling of the government by the Houthis, a Shiite Muslim minority in the country. The Saudi-led coalition allied with the government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.
An estimated 10,000 people have been killed. The war has also left around two-thirds of Yemen's population of 27 million relying on aid, and more than 8 million at risk of starvation.
The fact that the Pentagon chief offered detailed thoughts on the urgency of a need for diplomatic progress, even before Pompeo had weighed in, strongly suggests that the administration has reached a turning point in its approach to Yemen, which also confounded the Obama administration. At stake is not only the humanitarian crisis in Yemen but also the future of the American relationship with Saudi Arabia, long the linchpin of U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf.
"It's about time," said one congressional critic, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif. "After more than three years of war, thousands of dead, millions on the brink of starvation, and growing pressure from Congress, the Trump administration is finally calling for an end to the Saudi-led war in Yemen," Khanna said in a statement.
The Oct. 2 killing of Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Turkey has prompted critics of the Saudi ruling family to urge an end to American arms sales to the kingdom and a reappraisal of U.S. military support for the Saudi-led Arab coalition that has been bombing Iranian-supported Houthi rebels, sometimes at the expense of killing civilians.
A top Turkish prosecutor said Wednesday that Khashoggi, who wrote columns critical of the Saudi government for The Washington Post, was killed and dismembered in a premeditated murder at the consulate. As details about the case have emerged, U.S. lawmakers stepped up demands for responses to the murder and to the crisis in Yemen.
Pompeo urged a cease-fire, citing both missile and drone strikes into Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates by Houthis and the airstrikes "in all populated areas" of Yemen by the U.S.-backed Arab coalition. He urged implementation of "confidence-building measures" to address the underlying issues of the conflict.
Mattis was more specific than Pompeo in his call for urgent movement toward a political solution to the fighting under peace talks being urged by the U.N. special envoy, Martin Griffiths. Mattis said a cease-fire should take effect within 30 days.
"We're calling on all the parties, specifically the Houthis and the Arab coalition, to meet in Sweden in November and to come to a solution," Mattis said.
The U.S. proposal was greeted with skepticism in Houthi-controlled Sanaa. Sultan Al-Samaey, a member of the Houthi political council, said that while the war needed to be brought to an end, the group would only support "a peace which will preserve our independence."
Ayoub Al-Tamimi, a Sanaa resident and political activist, said: "This is simply a solution that will only plant land mines in the future of this region. There is no solution that can come from Trump or the Democrats, only booby traps."
Sweden on Wednesday said it had accepted Griffiths' request that it host such talks but that nothing was definite.
Griffiths on Wednesday welcomed the U.S. calls for immediate resumption of the political process and said the United Nations remains committed "to bring the Yemeni parties to the negotiations table within a month."
Mattis called for demilitarization of Yemen's border with Saudi Arabia "so that the Saudis and the Emirates do not have to worry about missiles coming into their homes and cities and airports." He also said measures should be taken to "ensure that all Iranian-supplied missiles to the Houthis" are put under "international watch."
"This has got to end. We've got to replace combat with compromise," Mattis said.
Mattis put the primary blame on Iran. He said its proxies and surrogate forces are fueling the conflict.
"They need to knock it off," he said. Mattis said the political process should "set the conditions for a return to traditional areas inside Yemen and a government that allows for this amount of local autonomy that Houthis or that southerners want."
A group of five Republican senators cited the situation in Yemen as well as the Khashoggi killing as reasons for calling on the administration to halt ongoing negotiations with Saudi Arabia on a civilian nuclear energy agreement. Among them, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has proposed legislation that would stop arms sales to the Saudis.
The administration's diplomatic push highlights the severity of the crisis in the Yemeni port city of Hodeida. A protracted siege of Hodeida by the U.S.-supported Arab coalition could imperil the international lifeline to the port.
The International Committee for the Red Cross said Wednesday that its team in Hodeida this week found dreadful living conditions for thousands of displaced families "who own only the clothes they wear and survive on a little rice or a thin mix of flour and water, if they find any food to eat at all."
Juchitan, Nov 1 (AP/UNB) — Thousands of weary Central Americans in a migrant caravan aiming to reach the United States had their visions of quick transport hundreds of miles ahead to Mexico City dashed Wednesday as dozens of hoped-for buses failed to materialize.
The migrants took the day off from walking and hitching rides in packed trucks from small town to small town as representatives tried to negotiate rides for all 4,000 or so in hope of relief from the long and exhausting grind.
But as the day wore on there was no sign Mexican authorities intended to accede to the demand, and by evening leaders acknowledged it wasn't going to happen.
"The attempt to travel by bus failed," coordinator Walter Cuello said.
After spending the night at a city-owned property on the outskirts of the southern city of Juchitan, the migrants wandered around looking for something to eat as classic songs by Mexican singer Vicente Fernandez, known as "the king of ranchera music," played in the background. Loudspeaker announcements discussed bathroom use and a prohibition on charging money to power their cellphones.
Red Cross personnel bandaged the swollen feet of Honduran farmer Omar Lopez, who had pounded the hot asphalt of highways every day for the last two weeks after spending nights on concrete sidewalks with just a thin sheet of plastic for cover. Lopez said playing soccer back home had given him stamina but the "exaggerated" walk has taken its toll.
"The sacrifice is worth the effort," Lopez said. "I promised to buy my son a real motorcycle and I'm going to make good. I promised him many other things ... not only things, I also want to give them education. Everything good costs money."
Amid the increasing exhaustion of the migrants, a Guatemalan woman gave birth to the first known caravan baby at a hospital in Juchitan. Mexico's governmental National Human Rights Commission said it had arranged for medical attention for the woman, who was 28 weeks pregnant, and the girl was healthy.
The plan for Thursday was to set out around 3 a.m., taking advantage of the cool pre-dawn and morning temperatures to trek to Santa Maria Jalapa del Marques, about 35 miles (57 kilometers) to the west.
The migrants had not said what route they intended to take northward or where on the U.S. border they planned to reach, and Juchitan, still about 900 miles from U.S. soil, was something of a crossroads. Choosing Jalapa del Marques as the next destination appeared to indicate they were opting to travel via Oaxaca state's eponymous capital instead of turning north toward the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, the latter a common transit route toward McAllen, Texas.
In Washington on Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders praised Mexico for stopping the migrants from getting rides. "Mexico has stepped up in an unprecedented way," Sanders told Fox News. "They have helped stop a lot of the transportation means of these individuals in these caravans, forcing them walking. They have helped us in new ways to slow this down, to break this up and keep it from moving as aggressively toward the United States."
The Mexican government, has, in fact, taken a fairly contradictory stance on helping or hindering the first caravan, reflecting the country's balancing act: Officials don't want to irk Trump, but Mexicans themselves have long suffered mistreatment as migrants.
For the first week of the caravan, Mexican federal police sometimes enforced obscure safety rules, forcing migrants off paid mini-buses, citing insurance regulations. They also stopped some overloaded pickup trucks carrying migrants and forced them to get off. But in recent days, officials from Mexico's immigrant-protection agency have organized rides for straggling women and children on the caravan as a humanitarian effort.
And police have routinely stood by as migrants piled aboard freight trucks.
A second, smaller group of 1,000 or so migrants who forced their way into Mexico on Monday was trailing some 250 miles back. They spent Tuesday night in the city of Tapachula.
Behind them, a third group of migrants from El Salvador had already made it to Guatemala, and on Wednesday a fourth group of about 700 Salvadorans set out from the capital, San Salvador, with plans to walk to the U.S. border, 1,500 miles away.
Salvadoran man Jose Santos, 27, brought his baby son with him on the quixotic quest.
"I didn't want to go, but I'm unemployed and I have to get money to buy food for my son," Santos said. "There is no work here, and the violence never stops."
The caravans combined represent just a few days' worth of the average flow of migrants to the United States in recent years. Similar caravans have occurred regularly over the years and passed largely unnoticed, but U.S. President Donald Trump has seized on them to try to make border security a hot-button issue less than a week before midterm elections.
The Pentagon has announced it will deploy 5,200 troops to the Southwest border, though federal law restricts the military from engaging in law enforcement on U.S. soil. So their role would largely be limited to activities such as providing helicopter support for border missions, installing concrete barriers and vehicle maintenance, rather than detaining migrants.
Trump said Wednesday that the number could go as high as 15,000. He also tweeted: "We will NOT let these Caravans, which are also made up of some very bad thugs and gang members, into the U.S. Our Border is sacred, must come in legally. TURN AROUND!"
Worn down from long miles of walking and frustrated by the slow progress, many migrants have done just that, dropping out and returning home or applying for protected status in Mexico. The initial group is significantly diminished from its estimated peak at more than 7,000 migrants. A caravan in the spring ultimately fizzled to just about 200 people who reached the U.S. border at San Diego.
Mexican Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete Prida said about 2,300 have applied to stay in Mexico under a government plan, and hundreds more have accepted assisted repatriation.
New York, Nov 1 (AP/UNB) — Police investigating the mysterious deaths of two Saudi Arabian sisters whose bound bodies washed up on New York City's waterfront on Oct. 24 say it appears they were alive when they went into the water.
New York City police said Wednesday that 16-year-old Tala Farea and 22-year-old Rotana Farea were last seen Sept. 24 in Virginia, where they lived, and appear to have traveled together to New York.
Investigators haven't determined how the sisters died. They say there were no obvious signs of trauma.
The sisters' mother told detectives that a Saudi official called her the day before the bodies were discovered and said the family had to leave the U.S. because her daughters had applied for political asylum.
The NYPD says there's no known nexus between the sisters' death and the Saudi government.