Washington, July 17 (AP) — The United States is hitting four top Myanmar generals, including the country's commander in chief and his deputy, with sanctions over the mass killings of Rohingya Muslims.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Tuesday that the four are responsible for "gross human rights violations" involving extrajudicial killings in an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state.
The sanctions bar those targeted and their immediate families from traveling to the United States.
The four men are: Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, his deputy Soe Win, and two subordinates deemed responsible for the abuses.
Myanmar's military has been accused of widespread rights violations leading about 700,000 Rohingya to flee the country since August 2017.
Washington, Jul 16 (AP/UNB) — Defiant in the face of widespread criticism, President Donald Trump renewed his belligerent call for four Democratic congresswomen of color to get out of the U.S. "right now," cementing his position as the most willing U.S. leader in generations to stoke the discord that helped send him to the White House.
Content to gamble that a sizable chunk of the electorate embraces his tweets that have been widely denounced as racist, the president made clear that he has no qualms about exploiting racial divisions once again.
"It doesn't concern me because many people agree with me," Trump said Monday at the White House. "A lot of people love it, by the way."
The episode served notice that Trump is willing to again rely on incendiary rhetoric on issues of race and immigration to preserve his political base in the leadup to the 2020 election.
There was near unanimous condemnation from Democrats for Trump's comments and a rumble of discontent from a subset of Republicans — but notably not from the party's congressional leaders.
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the party's White House nominee in 2012 and now one of the president's most vocal GOP critics, said Trump's comments were "destructive, demeaning, and disunifying."
Far from backing down, Trump on Monday dug in on comments he had initially made a day earlier on Twitter that if lawmakers "hate our country," they can go back to their "broken and crime-infested" countries. His remarks were directed at four congresswomen: Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S.
"If you're not happy in the U.S., if you're complaining all the time, you can leave, you can leave right now," he said.
The president's words, which evoked the trope of telling black people to go back to Africa, may have been partly meant to widen the divides within the House Democratic caucus, which has been riven by internal debate over how best to oppose his policies. And while Trump's attacks brought Democrats together in defense of their colleagues, his allies noted he was also having some success in making the controversial progressive lawmakers the face of their party.
The president questioned whether Democrats should "want to wrap" themselves around this group of four people as he recited a list of the quartet's most controversial statements.
The four themselves fired back late Monday, condemning what they called "xenophobic bigoted remarks" from the president and renewing calls for their party to begin impeachment proceedings.
Trump "does not know how to defend his policies and so what he does is attack us personally," said Ocasio-Cortez.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said Trump's campaign slogan truly means he wants to "make America white again," announced Monday that the House would vote on a resolution condemning his new comments. The resolution "strongly condemns President Donald Trump's racist comments" and says they "have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color."
The Senate's top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, said his party would also try to force a vote in the GOP-controlled chamber.
Trump, who won the presidency in 2016 in part by energizing disaffected voters with inflammatory racial rhetoric, made clear he has no intention of backing away from that strategy in 2020.
"The Dems were trying to distance themselves from the four 'progressives,' but now they are forced to embrace them," he tweeted Monday afternoon. "That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats!"
Trump has faced few consequences for such attacks in the past. They typically earn him cycles of wall-to-wall media attention. He is wagering that his most steadfast supporters will be energized by the controversy as much, or if not more so, than the opposition.
"It's possible I'm wrong," Trump allowed Monday. "The voters will decide."
The president has told aides that he was giving voice what many of his supporters believe — that they are tired of people, including immigrants, disrespecting their country, according to three Republicans close to the White House who were not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
Trump on Monday singled out Omar, in particular, accusing her of having "hatred" for Israel, and expressing "love" for "enemies like al-Qaida."
"These are people that, in my opinion, hate our country," he said.
Omar, in an interview, once laughed about how a college professor had spoken of al-Qaida with an intensity she said was not used to describe "America," ''England" or "The Army."
She addressed herself directly to Trump in a tweet, writing, "You are stoking white nationalism (because) you are angry that people like us are serving in Congress and fighting against your hate-filled agenda."
Republicans, for their part, largely trod carefully with their responses.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close ally of the president who golfed with him over the weekend, advised him to "aim higher" during an appearance on "Fox and Friends," even as he accused the four Democrats of being "anti-Semitic" and "anti-American."
Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, said "I don't think that the president's intent in any way is racist," pointing to Trump's decision to choose Elaine Chao, who was born outside the country, as his transportation secretary.
Chao is one of the few minorities among the largely white and male aides in high-profile roles in Trump's administration. She is the wife of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who declined comment Monday on Trump's attacks.
The latest provocation came just two days after Trump inserted himself further into a rift between Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez, offering an unsolicited defense of the Democratic speaker. Pelosi has been seeking to minimize Ocasio-Cortez's influence in the House Democratic caucus in recent days, prompting the freshman lawmaker to accuse Pelosi of trying to marginalize women of color.
Trump told advisers later that he was pleased with his meddling, believing that dividing Democrats would be helpful to him, as would elevating any self-proclaimed socialists as a way to frighten voters to steer clear of their liberal politics, the Republicans said.
Among the few GOP lawmakers commenting Monday, Rep. Pete Olson of Texas said Trump's tweets were "not reflective of the values of the 1,000,000+ people" in his district. "We are proud to be the most diverse Congressional district in America. I urge our President immediately disavow his comments," he wrote.
Several other Republicans went out of their way to say they were not condoning the views of the Democrats, while encouraging Trump to retract his comments.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who is up for re-election next year, said Trump's tweet was "way over the line and he should take that down."
Sen. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania said of the Democrats, "We should defeat their ideas on the merits, not on the basis of their ancestry."
In an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll from February 2017, half of Americans said the mixing of culture and values from around the world is an important part of America's identity as a nation. Fewer — about a third — said the same of a culture established by early European immigrants.
But partisans in that poll were divided over these aspects of America's identity. About two-thirds of Democrats but only about a third of Republicans thought the mixing of world cultures was important to the country's identity. By comparison, nearly half of Republicans but just about a quarter of Democrats saw the culture of early European immigrants as important to the nation.
Washington, Jul 16 (AP/UNB) — Republicans found themselves unwilling Monday to swiftly and unequivocally rebuke President Donald Trump's attack on progressive women of color in Congress, almost ensuring no real fallout from his party in Congress.
Some Republicans spoke up against Trump's suggestion that the women should "go back" to the countries they came from. But others leveled their criticism of Trump in careful comments that also criticized the women. Most notably, the GOP leadership in Congress said more than most by staying silent or defending the president's incendiary remarks.
The result is that once again Republicans in Congress are allowing Trump to break the norms of civic behavior — as when he equivocated over the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville and used a vulgarity to describe immigrants from Africa and other countries — with a muffled response that does little to change outcomes.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declined to discuss the situation after he opened the chamber Monday, telling reporters he'd "address whatever questions you have" at his regularly scheduled news conference Tuesday.
Asked if Trump's comments were racist, the top Republican in the House, Kevin McCarthy of California, said: "This is about ideology. And the ideology of the Democratic Party is socialist. This debate is going to go on for a long time."
Part of the problem for Republicans is a strategic one — they, too have piled on the freshmen lawmakers, using their liberal views to scare off voters.
Hardly a day goes by without Republicans raising warnings against the "squad" of newcomers: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. They have become big money-makers for the GOP, portrayed as a more daunting threat than HouseSpeaker Nancy Pelosi. Omar, a Muslim refugee from Somalia, has been criticized by Republicans almost since she arrived.
With an uneven response from leaders on Capitol Hill, it fell to rank-and-file Republicans to deliver some of the more critical rebukes.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the party's 2012 presidential nominee, said in a tweet, "The president failed badly."
Romney said, "The President of the United States has a unique and noble calling to unite the American people — of all different races, colors, and national origins." He called the remarks "destructive, demeaning, and disunifying."
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black Republican senator, said Trump made "unacceptable personal attacks" and used "racially offensive language."
For lawmakers in tough reelection battles, the open-ended reaction allowed them to craft the message that best fit their brand.
Sen. Susan Collins, the centrist Maine Republican who faces a potentially tough reelection race alongside Trump in 2020, called the president's comment "way over the line." But Collins also said she disagrees "strongly" with many of the views of the "far-left" members of the House Democrats.
Another Republican up for another term, Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, tweeted that people in his state are "sick and tired of listening to anti-American, anti-Semite, radical Democrats trash our country and our ideals." Daines tweeted, "I stand with @realDonaldTrump."
One party leader, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, put Trump's remarks in terms of a political strategy rather than the moral or civic debate the comments inspired.
"I think it's a mistake and an unforced error," said Cornyn. "I don't think the president is a racist."
Strategic thinking has guided Republicans throughout the Trump era, as they have repeatedly shown they are unwilling, and unable, to confront Trump even when he pushes the outer bounds of political rhetoric.
When Trump derided immigrants from Africa and Caribbean countries with a vulgarity, saying he preferred those from places like Norway, some Republicans objected. But two Republicans who were in the private meeting, Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, issued a statement at the time saying they could not recall the president using that specific insult.
When Trump said there were good people "on both sides" of a white supremacist neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville that resulted in the death of a protester, then-House Speaker Paul Ryan said Trump "messed up."
On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted that the "'Progressive' Democrat Congresswomen" should "go back" and help fix the "broken and crime infested" countries they came from and then return and "show us how it is done."
Trump almost certainly was referring to the four new lawmakers — Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley and Tlaib — who are among the most outspoken against Trump administration policies and have made headlines in their ongoing divisions with Pelosi. They all support impeachment.
Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx, Pressley in Cincinnati, Tlaib in Detroit. Omar has been a top target of Republicans for being critical of the U.S., and of Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.
By Monday, as the White House sought to smooth Trump's tweets, the president doubled down and said it was up to the women to apologize for "their horrible & disgusting actions!"
One Republican ally of Trump's, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, piled on, calling the women "communists" and "anti-American" as he also sought to nudge the president to focus on their policies.
It was left to lesser-known Republicans to offer some of the strongest rebuttals.
Rep. Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican, said the president's tweets were "racist" and Trump should apologize. "We must work as a country to rise above hate, not enable it," said the nine-term congressman.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican from Alaska, said, "There is no excuse for the president's spiteful comments — they were absolutely unacceptable and this needs to stop."
Pressed Monday on whether the women should go, McCarthy, the House minority leader, conceded that "nobody believes somebody should leave the country."
McCarthy added, "The president is not a racist."
Mexico City, Jul 16 (AP/UNB)— A fire in the Sian Ka'an nature reserve on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula spread to more than 6,000 acres (2,500 hectares) on Monday, with just 30% under control.
The fire's advance across the brush and high grass has slowed but continues to burn, said the Environment Department of Quintana Roo state. The ruin site of Muyil, which was once an important stop along Mayan trade routes, was closed until the danger had passed, authorities added.
Environment Secretary Alfredo Arellano told Imagen Radio that drought and intense heat contributed to the blaze.
"This fire is taking place in a region of savannah that is very difficult to control because it's basically high grass where the fire spreads rapidly," he said.
More than 50 firefighters and a water-dropping Air Force helicopter are working to control the flames.
The Sian Ka'an reserve on Mexico's Caribbean coast is a UNESCO World Heritage site and an important tourist destination. It includes jungle, wetlands, coral reef, and Mayan archaeological sites, in addition to pumas, monkeys and crocodiles.
The fire is located about 19 miles (30 kilometers) south of the popular beach town Tulum.
Washington, Jul 16 (AP/UNB) — Delegations from the U.S. and Russia are expected to meet this week to discuss arms control and the possibility of coaxing China into negotiating a new, three-way nuclear weapons pact, two senior administration officials said Monday.
The New START treaty, the last major arms-control treaty remaining between the U.S. and Russia, expires in 2021. There has been talk of negotiating an extension to the existing treaty, but the White House thinks the next generation of arms control must include China.
China has nuclear weapons, ballistic missile capabilities and the know-how to make chemical and biological weapons — and it is updating its nuclear arsenal. China has signed various international weapons agreements, but none limiting nuclear weapons.
New START restricts both the U.S. and Russia to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads on a maximum of 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles and strategic bombers.
Daryl Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association, has advocated for a five-year extension of New START, saying there is no chance a new agreement adding China can be negotiated before the treaty expires in 2021.
"It would malpractice to discard New START in the hopes of negotiating a more comprehensive, ambitious nuclear arms control agreement with Russia and China and getting it ratified and into force," according to Kimball, who accuses the Trump administration of dithering for more than a year before beginning talks.
Before the Group of 20 summit last month in Japan, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he planned to push President Donald Trump for an extension to New START. Putin said his nation was ready to agree to an extension, but that Russia had not seen any initiative from the Americans even though the treaty expires in 2021.
At the same time, Russia also has expressed an interest in multilateral arms control deals, according to one of the administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the issue ahead of the talks Wednesday in Geneva.
The senior administration officials said any comprehensive dialogue about the thorny issues of arms control has been made difficult by a series of actions by Moscow: interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, poisoning a former spy and his daughter in Britain, capping the size of the U.S. Embassy in Russia, and seizing Ukrainian vessels.
John Sullivan, deputy secretary of state, will lead the American delegation comprising officials from the State Department, National Security Council, Defense Department, Joint Chiefs of Staff and the National Security Agency. The eight or nine members of the U.S. team will meet with a similar-size delegation from Russia led by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.
The latest talks are being held just months after the Trump administration pulled the plug on a separate nuclear arms treaty with Russia. Washington accused Moscow of violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with "impunity" by deploying banned missiles. Moscow denied it was in violation and has accused the United States of resisting its efforts to resolve the dispute.
Democrats in Congress and some arms control advocates criticized Trump's decision as opening the door to an arms race, but Trump said the United States cannot be the only country in the world unilaterally bound by the treaty.
China's military has grown significantly since the late 1980s and the pact had prevented the U.S. from deploying weapons to counter some of those being developed in Beijing.