Washington, Oct 20 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump's national security adviser will raise thorny subjects with his counterparts when he visits Moscow to help craft a script for another high-level meeting between Trump and Russia President Vladimir Putin.
John Bolton leaves Saturday on a trip to Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. His first stop is Moscow to meet with senior Russian officials at a time when Moscow-Washington relations remain frosty over the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race and upcoming U.S. midterm elections.
The New York Times citing unnamed sources reported Friday that Bolton is expected to tell Russia that the U.S. is getting ready to leave the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The U.S. has accused Russia of violating the treaty for years; Russia says the United States is in violation.
The 1987 pact, which helps protect the security of the U.S. and its allies in Europe and the Far East, prohibits the United States and Russia from possessing, producing or test-flying a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles.
The Trump administration would not confirm reports that Trump will exit the treaty.
"Across two administrations, the United States and our allies have attempted to bring Russia back into full and verifiable compliance with INF," a senior administration official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue. "Despite our objections, Russia continues to produce and field prohibited cruise misses and has ignored calls for transparency."
Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said pulling out of the treaty would play into Russia's hands, undermine U.S. security and betray NATO allies. He said any attempt by the Trump administration to leave the treaty will spark a fight with Congress.
"Without question, Russia is violating the INF treaty. Threatening American withdrawal will not increase our negotiating leverage, it only falls hook, line, and sinker for Putin's predictable attempts to goad the United States into justifying Russian noncompliance," Markey said.
Bolton also is expected to emphasize U.S. desire to maintain sanctions against North Korea to pressure Pyongyang to eliminate its nuclear weapons program.
The Russians and Chinese have suggested it might be time to ease up on sanctions, but that is not the U.S. view and "we will not relent," said a senior administration official. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of Bolton's trip.
Putin and Trump met last in Helsinki, Finland, where Trump was criticized for appearing to doubt U.S. intelligence conclusions that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.
Trump could see Putin at an Armistice Day parade in Paris next month, or at the G20 summit in late November and early December in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but Trump still wants Putin to visit Washington, the official said,
After Russia, Bolton will travel to Azerbaijan for discussions on a range of regional issues, including Iran, before continuing to Armenia and Georgia.
Brighton, Oct 20 (AP/UNB) — The man who gunned down three people in a suburban Denver Walmart last year was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole. But more than 11 months after the crime, his motive remains a mystery.
Scott Ostrem, 48, received three consecutive life terms plus 48 years as part of a deal he made with prosecutors to avoid a potential death sentence for first-degree murder. He did not speak at the hearing and was motionless when he was sentenced.
Ostrem walked into a Walmart in Thornton the evening of Nov. 1, 2017, opened fire and left without saying anything, witnesses said.
Investigators said he fired seven times in about 20 seconds — killing Victor Vasquez, Pamela Marques and Carlos Moreno.
"There seems to be no motive, rationale for Mr. Ostrem's actions," said Judge Mark D. Warner, who heard emotional testimony from relatives of all three victims who died.
The only explanation the judge could offer was that Ostrem has a "black and malignant heart, fatally bent on spreading fear, misery and death in our community."
Vasquez, 26, of Denver, had two young daughters and a third child on the way, according to a GoFundMe page set up to collect donations. Marques, 52, was a grandmother, also from Denver. Moreno, 66, was a grandfather and maintenance worker from Thornton.
"If he (Ostrem) would have walked up to Carlos that day in the store and told Carlos, 'I'm having problems. I need help,' Carlos would have helped him, as Carlos would have helped anybody," Alice Acosta, Moreno's sister-in-law, said after the hearing.
Nothing has emerged publicly to suggest a reason for the attack.
The victims were Hispanic and Ostrem is white, but prosecutors did not charge him with a hate crime. Police said they found nothing to suggest the shootings were related to terrorism. After Ostrem underwent a mental health evaluation, a judge ruled he was competent to stand trial.
"I think we had an individual who is a psychopath," Adams County District Attorney Dave Young said after the hearing. "I think he wanted to kill people. He practiced it. He went to the shooting range that afternoon, and he fulfilled what he wanted to do."
Ostrem's stepsister, Michelle Willoughby of Cocoa Beach, Florida, told The Denver Post that Ostrem was tormented by voices in his head after taking LSD at a party in 1988.
Willoughby said she did not know what might have triggered the shootings. After the drug episode, she said, Ostrem transformed from an outgoing, sociable and athletic person to a recluse haunted by voices saying the devil was after him.
"He is not cold-blooded," she said. "He hears these voices. Honestly, in my heart, I believe there is only so much a person can take."
Ostrem was a sheet-metal worker with an unremarkable past. He had minor run-ins with police, including a 1999 charge of resisting arrest that was dismissed. He filed for bankruptcy in 2015, listing $47,000 in income and more than $85,000 in debts.
He left conflicting impressions at work and at his apartment building.
For three years, Ostrem worked quietly and without trouble fabricating metal flashing for roofs, said David Heidt of B&M Roofing. But at midmorning on the day of the shootings, he left his work station without explanation.
Neighbors described him as a hostile loner who cursed at them and often carried a shotgun in and out of his third-floor apartment.
"He didn't seem to have anybody," said Teresa Muniz, who also lived at the complex. "Being angry all the time. That's what he seemed like, always angry."
El Cajon, Oct 20 (AP/UNB) — A small plane with a student pilot on board made an emergency landing in the middle of traffic on a Southern California freeway.
The California Highway Patrol says the plane landed safely in the westbound lanes of Interstate 8 in El Cajon on Friday morning after reporting engine trouble.
Authorities say the single-engine Piper was carrying a 25-year-old pilot and a 36-year-old student.
The CHP says the instructor landed the plane. Video taken by a motorist on the freeway shows the plane gliding down between cars and rolling along two lanes.
The pilot and student pushed the plane to the freeway shoulder to avoid blocking traffic.
Washington, Oct 19 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump acknowledged Thursday it "certainly looks" as though missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead, and he threatened "very severe" consequences if the Saudis are found to have murdered him. His warning came as the administration toughened its response to a disappearance that has sparked global outrage.
Before Trump spoke, the administration announced that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had pulled out of a major upcoming Saudi investment conference and a U.S. official said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had warned the Saudi crown prince that his credibility as a future leader is at stake.
Pompeo said the Saudis should be given a few more days to finish and make public a credible investigation before the U.S. decides "how or if" to respond. Trump's comments, however, signaled an urgency in completing the probe into the disappearance of the journalist, last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
The messaging underscored the administration's concern about the effect the case could have on relations with a close and valuable strategic partner. Increasingly upset U.S. lawmakers are condemning the Saudis and questioning the seriousness with which Trump and his top aides are taking the matter, while Trump has emphasized the billions of dollars in weapons the Saudis purchase from the United States.
Turkish reports say Khashoggi, who had written columns critical of the Saudi government for The Washington Post over the past year while he lived in self-imposed exile in the U.S., was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul by members of an assassination squad with ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudis have dismissed those reports as baseless but have yet to explain what happened to the writer.
Trump, who has insisted that more facts must be known before making assumptions, did not say on what he based his latest statement about the writer's likely demise.
Asked if Khashoggi was dead, he said, "It certainly looks that way. ... Very sad."
Asked what consequence Saudi leaders would face if they are found to be responsible, he replied: "It will have to be very severe. It's bad, bad stuff. But we'll see what happens."
Vice President Mike Pence said earlier in Colorado that "the world deserves answers" about what happened to Khashoggi, "and those who are responsible need to be held to account."
In Istanbul, a leaked surveillance photo showed a man who has been a member of the crown prince's entourage during trips abroad walking into the Saudi Consulate just before Khashoggi vanished there — timing that drew the kingdom's heir-apparent closer to the columnist's apparent demise.
Turkish officials say Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb flew into Istanbul on a private jet along with an "autopsy expert" Oct. 2 and left that night.
In Washington, Pompeo, who was just back from talks with Saudi and Turkish leaders, said of the investigations in Istanbul:
"I told President Trump this morning that we ought to give them a few more days to complete that so that we, too, have a complete understanding of the facts surrounding that, at which point we can make decisions about how, or if, the United States should respond to the incident surrounding Mr. Khashoggi."
Although Pompeo suggested the U.S. could wait longer for results, an official familiar with his meetings in Riyadh and Ankara said the secretary had been blunt about the need to wrap the probe up quickly.
The official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss details of the private meetings and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Pompeo told the crown prince that "time is short." The official added Pompeo had warned him that it would be "very difficult for you to be a credible king" without a credible investigation. The prince is next in line for the throne held by his aged father King Salman.
Shortly after Trump and Pompeo met at the White House, Mnuchin announced that after consulting the president and his top diplomat "I will not be participating in the Future Investment Initiative summit in Saudi Arabia."
The Saudis had hoped to use the forum, billed as "Davos in the Desert," to boost their global image. But a number of European finance ministers and many top business executives have pulled out as international pressure on Riyadh has intensified over Khashoggi.
Pompeo said that whatever response the administration might decide on would take into account the importance of the long-standing U.S.-Saudi partnership. He said, "They're an important strategic ally of the United States, and we need to be mindful of that."
Istanbul, Oct 16 (AP/UNB) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived Tuesday in Saudi Arabia for talks with King Salman over the disappearance and alleged slaying of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, who vanished two weeks ago during a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Pompeo landed in Riyadh on Tuesday morning and was to immediately meet the king over the crisis surrounding Khashoggi. He made no remarks on landing.
Turkish officials say they fear Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside the consulate. Saudi officials previously have called the allegations "baseless," but reports in U.S. media on Tuesday suggested the kingdom may acknowledge the writer was killed there.
Meanwhile, a Turkish forensics team finished earlier in the morning a search inside the consulate. Technicians in coveralls, gloves and covered shoes treated the diplomatic mission as a crime scene during their hours-long search. It wasn't immediately clear what evidence they gathered.
President Donald Trump, after speaking with King Salman, had dispatched Pompeo to speak to the monarch of the world's top oil exporter over Khashoggi's disappearance. Trump himself said without offering evidence that the slaying could have been carried out by "rogue killers," offering the U.S.-allied kingdom a possible path out of a global diplomatic firestorm.
However, left unsaid was the fact that any decision in the ultraconservative kingdom rests solely with the ruling Al Saud family. Noticeably absent from discussions was Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom Khashoggi wrote critically about for The Washington Post and whose rise to power prompted the writer to go into a self-imposed exile in the United States.
"The effort behind the scenes is focused on avoiding a diplomatic crisis between the two countries and has succeeded in finding a pathway to deescalate tensions," said Ayham Kamel, the head of the Eurasia Group's Mideast and North African practice. "Riyadh will have to provide some explanation of the journalist's disappearance, but in a manner that distances the leadership from any claim that a decision was made at senior levels to assassinate the prominent journalist."
CNN reported that the Saudis were going to admit the killing had occurred but deny the king or crown prince had ordered it — which does not match what analysts and experts know about the kingdom's inner workings.
The New York Times reported that the Saudi royal court would suggest that an official within the kingdom's intelligence services — a friend of Prince Mohammed — had carried out the killing. According to that reported claim, the crown prince had approved an interrogation or rendition of Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, but the intelligence official was tragically incompetent as he eagerly sought to prove himself. Both reports cited anonymous people said to be familiar with the Saudi plans.
Saudi officials have not answered repeated requests for comment over recent days from The Associated Press.
What evidence Turkish officials could gather at the consulate remained unknown. Saudi officials have been in and out of the building since Khashoggi's disappearance Oct. 2 without being stopped. Under the Vienna Convention, diplomatic posts are technically foreign soil that must be protected and respected by host countries.
Forensics tests like spraying luminol, a chemical mixture, can expose blood left behind, said Mechthild Prinz, an associate professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who previously worked at the New York City's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
"It depends on how well they cleaned it up," Prinz told the AP. "Obviously, you don't want anybody to have a chance to clean it up, but very often people do miss blood."
Told that a cleaning crew walked into the consulate before the team arrived, she said: "You saw that? Wow. That's going to be a problem."
Turkey has wanted to search the consulate for days. Permission apparently came after a late Sunday night call between King Salman and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In statements after the call, both praised the creation of a joint Saudi-Turkish probe.
The Turkish inspection team included a prosecutor, a deputy prosecutor, anti-terror police and forensic experts, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported. Certain areas of the consulate were to remain off-limits, although officials would be able to inspect surveillance cameras, Turkish media reported.
Khashoggi has written extensively for the Post about Saudi Arabia, criticizing its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women's rights activists after the lifting of a driving ban for women. Those policies are all seen as initiatives of Prince Mohammed, the son of King Salman, who is next in line to the throne.
Prince Mohammed has aggressively pitched the kingdom as a destination for foreign investment. But Khashoggi's disappearance has led several business leaders and media outlets to back out of the upcoming investment conference in Riyadh, called the Future Investment Initiative.
They include the CEO of Uber, a company in which Saudi Arabia has invested billions of dollars; billionaire Richard Branson; JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Jamie Dimon; and Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford.
Trump previously warned of "severe punishment" for the kingdom if it was found to be involved in Khashoggi's disappearance, which has spooked investors in Saudi Arabia and SoftBank, a Japanese firm that manages tens of billions of dollars for the kingdom.
Trump's warning drew an angry response Sunday from Saudi Arabia and its state-linked media, including a suggestion that Riyadh could wield its oil production as a weapon. The U.S. president has been after King Salman and OPEC to boost production for weeks to drive down high crude oil prices, caused in part by the coming re-imposition of oil sanctions on Iran after the U.S. withdrawal from that's country's nuclear deal with world powers.