Dubai, May 20 (AP/UNB) —The U.S. military command that oversees the Mideast has confirmed an explosion outside the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad and says there are no U.S. or coalition casualties.
A spokesman for U.S. Central Command, Bill Urban, says in a statement that Iraqi Security Forces are investigating Sunday's incident.
A State Department spokesman says that "a low-grade rocket" landed within the International Zone near the U.S. Embassy and that there was no significant damage or impact on any U.S.-inhabited facility.
The spokesman says that such attacks will not be tolerated and will be responded to "in a decisive manner" and that the U.S. will hold Iran responsible "if any such attacks are conducted by its proxy militia forces or elements of such forces."
Days after saying he hoped the U.S. and Iran would not go to war, President Donald Trump threatened Iran with destruction if it seeks a fight.
Trump issued the warning after a rocket landed less than a mile from the U.S. Embassy on Sunday in Baghdad's Green Zone, further stoking tensions in the region.
Trump tweeted: "If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!"
Iranian officials say the country is not looking for war.
Trump had seemed to soften his tone after the U.S. recently sent warships and bombers to the region to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran. On Thursday, when asked if the U.S. and Iran were headed toward armed conflict, he answered: "I hope not."
An apparent rocket attack has exploded in the Iraqi capital's heavily fortified Green Zone, home to government headquarters and the U.S. Embassy.
Iraq's state-run news agency says a Katyusha rocket crashed inside the area without causing any casualties.
Alert sirens sounded briefly in Baghdad after the explosion was heard, according to Associated Press reporters on the east side of the Tigris River.
The apparent attack comes amid heightened tensions across the Persian Gulf, after the White House ordered warships and bombers to the region earlier this month to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran. The U.S. also has ordered nonessential staff out of its diplomatic posts in Iraq.
Iraq hosts more than 5,000 U.S. troops, and is home to powerful Iranian-backed militias, some of whom want those U.S. forces to leave.
The U.S. Navy says it has conducted exercises in the Arabian Sea with an aircraft carrier strike group ordered to the Persian Gulf to counter an alleged, unspecified threat from Iran.
The Navy said Sunday the exercises and training were conducted with the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group in coordination with the U.S. Marine Corps, highlighting U.S. "lethality and agility to respond to threat," as well as to deter conflict and preserve U.S. strategic interests.
Also taking part in exercises were the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, both deployed to the U.S. Fifth Fleet area of operations in the Persian Gulf.
The Navy says the exercises, conducted Friday and Saturday, included air-to-air training and steaming in formation and maneuvering.
A top Saudi diplomat says the kingdom does not want war but will defend itself, amid a recent spike in tensions with archrival Iran.
Adel al-Jubeir, the minister of state for foreign affairs, spoke early Sunday, a week after four oil tankers were targeted in an alleged act of sabotage off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and days after Iran-allied Yemeni rebels claimed a drone attack on a Saudi oil pipeline.
Saudi Arabia has blamed the pipeline attack on Iran. Gulf officials say an investigation into the tanker incident is underway.
A-Jubeir told reporters: "We want peace and stability in the region, but we won't stand with our hands bound."
Ministers from major oil-producing countries were to meet in Saudi Arabia later Tuesday.
New York (AP/UNB) — Firefighters have responded to the scene of digital billboard on fire in Times Square.
Flames stated to shoot out of the LED billboard just after 3 p.m. Saturday.
The Fire Department says no injuries have been reported and there was no damage to the building the sign is attached to.
A department spokesman says firefighters are working to turn the billboard's power off.
Washington, May 17 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump said Thursday that he hopes the U.S. is not on a path to war with Iran amid fears that his two most hawkish advisers could be angling for such a conflict with the Islamic Republic.
Asked if the U.S. was going to war with Iran, the president replied, "I hope not" — a day after he repeated a desire for dialogue, tweeting, "I'm sure that Iran will want to talk soon."
The tone contrasted with a series of moves by the U.S. and Iran that have sharply escalated tensions in the Middle East in recent days. For the past year, national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been the public face of the administration's "maximum pressure" campaign against Tehran.
The friction has rattled lawmakers who are demanding more information on the White House's claims of rising Iranian aggression. Top leaders in Congress received a classified briefing on Iran Thursday, but many other lawmakers from both parties have criticized the White House for not keeping them informed.
Iran poses a particular challenge for Trump. While he talks tough against foreign adversaries to the delight of his supporters, a military confrontation with Iran could make him appear to be backtracking on a campaign pledge to keep America out of foreign entanglements.
Lawmakers and allies, however, worry that any erratic or miscalculated response from Trump could send the U.S. careening into conflict.
Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal last year and reinstated sanctions on Tehran that are crippling its economy.
Tensions rose dramatically May 5, when Bolton announced that the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group would be rushed from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf ahead of schedule in response to "a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings," without going into details.
Since then, four oil tankers, including two belonging to Saudi Arabia, were targeted in an apparent act of sabotage off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, according to officials in the region, and a Saudi pipeline was attacked by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels from Yemen. The U.S. also ordered non-essential staff out of Iraq and has dispatched additional military assets to the region.
The Senate will receive a classified briefing on Iran on Tuesday, according to Jim Risch of Idaho, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. The House has requested a classified briefing as well.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said briefings are necessary because informing leaders "is no substitute for the full membership of the Congress." She said a failure to inform lawmakers is "part of a pattern" for the Trump administration "that is not right," because the power to declare war resides with Congress.
"I hope that the president's advisers recognize that they have no authorization to go forward in any way" against Iran, Pelosi said.
Trump has dismissed suggestions that any of his advisers, particularly Bolton, are pushing him into a conflict.
"John has strong views on things, but that's OK. I actually temper John, which is pretty amazing isn't it?" Trump said recently when asked if he was satisfied with Bolton's advice. "I have different sides. I mean, I have John Bolton, and I have other people that are a little more dovish than him. And ultimately I make the decision."
Mark Dubowitz, an advocate of a hardline policy toward Iran and chief executive of the Federation for Defense of Democracies, said, "Trump is smart to let these advisers play the roles they play and it really does help him lay the table for negotiation, but ultimately, it comes back to his ability to oversee a negotiation and do so wisely and judiciously, and that's an open question."
Tensions started to spiral last year when Trump pulled out of a deal the U.S. and other world powers signed with Iran during the Obama administration. The deal lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbing of its nuclear program.
Trump agreed with critics of the deal that it didn't address Tehran's work on ballistic missiles or its support of militant groups around the region. His administration reinstated sanctions that had been lifted under the deal — the Europeans and other signatories are still in it — and has piled on more.
Trita Parsi, an adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University who advised the Obama administration on Iran, thinks the Iranians are trying to exploit Trump and Bolton's divergence on foreign policy issues.
He cited a recent tweet from Hessamoddin Ashena, an adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, directed squarely at Trump and Bolton, who is easily recognized in public by his white, bushy mustache.
"You wanted a better deal with Iran. Looks like you are going to get a war instead. That's what happens when you listen to the mustache," the Iranian adviser said.
Chicago, May 17 (AP/UNB) — Columbia University Libraries in New York will produce the official oral history of Barack Obama's presidency.
Obama Foundation officials announced Thursday that the project at The Columbia Center for Oral History Research will provide a record of the decisions, actions and effects of Obama's presidency. The former president is a graduate of Columbia University, which also is home to the oral history of Dwight Eisenhower's presidency. The Obama project also will include former first lady Michelle Obama's legacy.
The University of Hawaii and the University of Chicago will partner on the effort, focusing respectively on Obama's early years in Hawaii and the Obamas' lives in Chicago.
Columbia University officials say the Obamas' histories are expected to be publicly available online no later than 2026.
Washington, May 17 (AP/UNB) — Unveiling a new immigration plan, President Donald Trump said Thursday he wanted to provide a sharp contrast with Democrats, and he did — aiming to upend decades of family-based immigration policy with a new approach that favors younger, "totally brilliant," high-skilled workers he says won't compete for American jobs.
Trump's sweeping immigration plan is more a campaign document than anything else. It's a White House attempt to stretch beyond the "build-the-wall" rhetoric that swept the president to office but may not be enough to deliver him a second term. As Trump heads into reelection season, his campaign sees the plan as a way to help him look more reasonable on a signature issue than he often seems — and to cast Democrats as blocking him.
"We want immigrants coming in. We cherish the open door," Trump said in a Rose Garden speech as Cabinet members and Republican lawmakers filled the front rows.
Trump said his new system, with points given for those with advanced degrees, job offers and other attributes, will make it exactly "clear what standards we ask you to achieve."
Nowadays, "we discriminate against genius," he said, using a softer tone than his usual fiery campaign rallies. "We discriminate against brilliance. We won't anymore once we get this passed."
Even before the speech, Democrats, whose votes would be needed for any bill to be approved by the divided Congress, panned the effort and questioned the Republican Party's commitment to families.
"Are they saying family is without merit?" asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "Are they saying most of the people who've come to the United States in the history of our country are without merit because they don't have an engineering degree?"
Pelosi continued: "Certainly we want to attract the best to our country." But she said "merit" is a "condescending" word that means "merit in the eyes of Donald Trump."
Trump's new plan has been months in the making, a project of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has been meeting privately with business groups, religious leaders and conservatives to find common ground among Republicans on an issue that has long divided the party.
Kushner has long complained that many advocates on the immigration issue are very clear about what they're against, but have much more trouble articulating what they're "for." Kushner set out to create a proposal that Republicans might be able to rally around, his mission to give the president and his party a clear platform heading into the 2020 elections.
Trump didn't mention his son-in-law's work during the address but noted that the proposal wasn't written by politicians. Instead, the president said it had input from law enforcement personnel. It also had echoes of White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, who wants to push down the country's immigration levels and has driven much of the administration's policy.
With a humanitarian crisis at the border — officials said this week that a fourth child, a 2-year-old Guatemalan migrant, died in U.S. custody — Trump promised to halt illegal border crossings with the "most complete and effective border security package ever assembled." He did not mention the child's death.
As part of the plan, officials want to shore up ports of entry to ensure all vehicles and people are screened and to create a self-sustaining fund, paid for with increased fees, to modernize ports of entry.
The plan also calls for building border wall in targeted locations and continues to push for an overhaul to the U.S. asylum system, with the goal of processing fewer applications and more quickly removing people who don't qualify.
In addition, the plan includes a proposal to allow public donations to pay for the president's long-promised border wall.
The plan does not address what to do about the millions of immigrants already living in the country illegally, including hundreds of thousands of young "Dreamers" brought to the U.S. as children — a top priority for Democrats. Nor does it reduce overall rates of immigration, as Miller and many conservative Republicans would like.
Republicans in Congress who were briefed on the plan by Kushner and Miller earlier this week welcomed, but did not fully embrace, the approach. Some of those up for reelection, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, objected to its failure to account for the young Dreamers. In Colorado, a Democrat running against GOP Sen. Cory Gardner blasted it as part of Trump's "hateful" immigration agenda that would do nothing but "build Trump's wall and keep families apart."
"It's obviously just a start," said Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn, who will be among those running for reelection in 2020. "It's a clear statement of what our immigration policy should be. ... We're not eliminating family connections, it's just adding an emphasis on merit."
At its core, the proposal would fundamentally overhaul how the country for decades has approached immigration. The country has long placed a preference on providing green cards to family members of immigrants.
Under the Trump plan, the country would award the same number of green card as it now does, about 1 million annually. But far more would go to exceptional students, professionals and people with high-level and vocational degrees. Factors such as age, English language ability and employment offers would also be considered.
Far fewer green cards would be given to people with relatives already in the U.S. They would be reserved just for immediate family members — Trump mentioned spouses and children — rather than parents and adult siblings. Fifty-seven percent would be awarded on merit as opposed to the current 12%.
While Trump is seeking to put a softer facade on the top issue from his first campaign, he also is making a direct appeal to his supporters. He says his plan means fewer low-skilled immigrants will compete for low-paying American jobs.
"Our plan is pro-American, pro-immigrant and pro-worker," Trump said, saying it contrasts with what he called Democrats' support of "chaos."
Efforts to overhaul the immigration system have gone nowhere for three decades, and prospects for an agreement seem especially bleak as the 2020 elections approach.
Lisa Koop, director of legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Center, called Trump's plan "a political stunt intended to posture rather than problem-solve."
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for lower immigration rates, welcomed a "very positive effort" that was "undermined by the embrace of the current very high level of immigration."