Washington, Mar 5 (AP/UNB) — Senators left a closed-door briefing with Trump administration officials Monday deeply frustrated by the lack of new information on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, with some raising the prospect of placing new sanctions on the government of Saudi Arabia.
Lawmakers had instructed President Donald Trump to order an investigation into Khashoggi's killing by invoking the Global Magnitsky Act. The request was made in October, which gave the president 120 days to respond. But the White House declined to submit a report by the deadline, angering members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the panel, called the briefing "a farce" and said Trump still needs to give Congress an answer.
"The law's very clear, there needed to be a determination," Menendez said.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said the briefing Monday contained "zero" new information. He criticized the lack of an intelligence official among the briefers, a move he described as "purposeful."
"They don't want us to have a conversation about the intelligence," he said, referring to the White House. "These folks had no new information and were not permitted to give us any new information."
Khashoggi, a writer for The Washington Post, was killed in a Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul last year by Saudi agents. The Saudi government said the slaying was carried out by rogue operatives and denied Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had any involvement.
Lawmakers have said they believe the Saudi crown prince ordered the killing, but Trump has been reluctant to place blame.
Absent a determination from Trump, Menendez said the Senate has to do something, "unless it is willing to accept the death of a U.S. resident, a journalist."
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, another member of the committee, said, "The Senate will have to decide if it's going to impose its own sanctions"
The dispute over Khashoggi's death comes at a point of rising tensions between the White House and Congress over the U.S.-Saudi relationship, fueled in part by the Trump administration's involvement in Yemen's civil war. With U.S. weapons and logistical support, Saudi Arabia is fighting a protracted war in the country, creating the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
After Khashoggi's death last year, the Senate passed a resolution with an overwhelming majority calling for the U.S. to end its support for the Yemen campaign, though that resolution did not pass the House. The Senate is expected to take up the issue again in the coming weeks, reviving the debate.
While it's unclear if the Yemen resolution can again pass the Senate, members of both parties made clear they aren't moving on from Khashoggi. Sen. Jim Risch, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a statement pledging the investigation would continue.
"We will not let it go," he said.
The Global Magnitsky Act of 2016 makes it possible to impose entry bans and targeted sanctions on individuals for committing human rights violations or acts of significant corruption.
South Korea, Mar 5 (AP/UNB) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un returned home on Tuesday after traveling two and a half days by train from Vietnam, where his high-stakes nuclear summit with President Donald Trump ended without any agreement.
The Kim-Trump summit broke down mainly because of disputes over the extent of sanctions relief the North could win in return for its nuclear disarmament steps. Both Washington and Pyongyang blame each other for the summit's breakdown, but neither side says they would pull out of diplomacy.
The crowd welcoming Kim at Pyongyang's railway station gave shouts of joy and loud hurrahs upon his return, the Korean Central News Agency reported.
Kim received a salute from the head of the army's honor guards and was presented with flowers from children. Senior officials also greeted Kim with "their ardent congratulations," KCNA reported.
The report briefly mentioned Kim's summit with Trump but didn't say the meeting failed to produce any agreement. The North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper previously reported that Kim and Trump had agreed to continue talks to resolve issues discussed in their Hanoi summit, but it also didn't mention the lack of agreement in the summit.
Some observers say the North's propaganda services won't report about the summit's collapse to prevent Kim from suffering any damage in his leadership at home. They say Kim is desperate to win sanctions relief to try to resolve his country's moribund economy and improve public livelihoods.
After his summit with Trump, Kim had a two-day official visit to Vietnam that included a meeting with Vietnamese Nguyen Phu Trong and paying his respects at the embalmed body of national hero Ho Chi Minh. It was the first Vietnam visit by a North Korean leader since his late grandfather and North Korea founder Kim Il Sung went in 1964. The KCNA dispatch Tuesday called Kim Jong Un's Vietnam visit "successful."
The Hanoi summit between Trump and Kim followed their meeting in Singapore last June that ended with Kim's vaguely worded promise to work toward "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
Berlin, Mar 5 (AP/UNB) — Americans and Germans differ widely on their assessments of the state of relations between their countries, but hold very similar views on international issues, including their support for NATO, according to survey results reported Monday.
A Pew Research Center report analyzing polls conducted in the United States and Germany in September, as well as Pew's 2018 Global Attitudes Survey, also showed that German confidence in the U.S. president has slumped dramatically with the election of Donald Trump.
It showed 70 percent of Americans thought relations with Germany were good, and only 25 percent thought them bad. In an almost mirror image, 73 percent of Germans saw relations with the U.S. as bad, and 24 as good.
As recently as 2016, 86 percent of Germans had confidence in President Barack Obama and 57 percent saw the U.S. favorably. By contrast, in 2018 only 10 percent of Germans had confidence in Trump, and 30 percent held a favorable view of the U.S., dropping to levels last seen in the final years of George W. Bush's presidency.
Since taking office, Trump has been critical of European military spending, frequently singling out Germany and others to do more to meet the NATO goal of committing 2 percent of their gross domestic product to defense. He has also raised the ire of many Europeans with the imposition of tariffs on aluminum and steel while threatening more.
Despite the friction between governments over these issues, the study indicated German and American citizens hold similar views.
On NATO, 64 percent of Americans hold favorable views of the alliance, as do 63 percent of Germans. Likewise, 74 percent of Americans consider trade with other countries good, while 89 percent of Germans do.
Both countries have low opinions of Russia, with 35 percent of Germans expressing a favorable view compared to 21 percent of Americans. Still, the ratings are up from a low of 19 percent in both the U.S. and Germany after the Russian annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
China is similarly perceived, with 38 percent of Germans and 39 percent of Americans viewing the country favorably. Forty-eight percent of Americans see China's power and influence as a major threat to the U.S., however, while only 33 percent of Germans see it as a threat to Germany.
The report analyzed results from a Pew Research Center telephone survey of 1,006 American adults conducted Sept. 11-16 and a poll of 1,002 German adults conducted Sept. 13-26 by the Koerber Foundation in Germany.
The Pew survey had a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.
The German component to Pew's Global Attitudes Survey of 1,001 adults was conducted May 24-June 30, 2018 and had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points. The American component, involving 1,500 adults was conducted May 14-June 25, had a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.
Syria, Mar 5 (AP/UNB) — Hundreds of people, including Islamic State fighters, evacuated the extremist group's last foothold in eastern Syria on Monday, after U.S.-backed Syrian fighters again slowed their offensive to allow a way out of the tiny enclave.
The new exodus came only three days after the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces resumed military operations against the militants holed up in Baghouz, a village on the banks of the Euphrates River close to the Iraqi border.
In past weeks, thousands of civilians left the speck of territory in organized evacuations following an earlier halt in fighting. The SDF said its fighters were surprised by the number of civilians, who include IS family members, cooped up in the small area that has been squeezed smaller and smaller by intermittent military offensives.
The militants and their families and other civilians are believed to have used tunnels, caves and holes to hide from airstrikes and missiles by the U.S.-led coalition and the SDF. The SDF said the militants are using civilians as human shields
An SDF media official who goes by his nom de guerre Ciyager said over 1,000 people, including a number of fighters, evacuated the area controlled by IS on Monday through a safe passage that has allowed those wishing to exit a way out. Dozens of men, women and children climbed hills on foot and were later seen getting into small trucks after they were searched by SDF fighters manning the evacuation corridor.
Shortly before sunset, more than 20 trucks, usually used to transport animals, emerged from the IS-held area, carrying men, women and children. One woman covered in black flashed a victory sign as she left.
The evacuees included a man who said he was French, men and women from Indonesia, Turkey, Turkistan and Bosnia and many Syrians and Iraqis.
Some of the men were of fighting age and appeared healthy while others were wounded. Some carried crutches, and a man with face burns and a broken leg was carried off the truck on a mattress, intravenous needles visible in his arm and hand. A skinny man, with short dreadlocks, stepped off the truck in a daze.
Since Feb. 20, more than 10,000 people have left the IS-held pocket, producing dramatic scenes of women shrouded in black and many children climbing off trucks into a desert area to be screened and searched. They were then whisked to a camp for displaced people to the north, while suspected fighters were moved to detention facilities.
Military operations restarted Friday, with a ground advance a day later that followed a spectacular air assault that lit the skies of the tiny village. IS militants desperately fought back with snipers, car bombs and other weapons trying to slow the SDF advance.
Lewla Abdullah, an SDF official, said at least three car bombs had been deployed in the campaign, and at least four SDF fighters and more than 100 IS fighters were killed since Friday. She said IS was holding civilians and others hostage.
Despite the slowing of the offensive, officials said the campaign was expected to finish soon. With the militants besieged on three sides by the SDF and civilians continuing to leave the pocket, a military defeat of the IS fighters seemed inevitable, though it wasn't clear how many fighters remained in Baghouz.
An SDF official, who goes by the name Mervan The Brave, said many IS gunmen were still inside and prepared to fight.
"This is not the end. We are maybe on the threshold of a new battle," he said.
Retaking the sliver of land would be a milestone in the devastating four-year campaign to end the Islamic State's self-proclaimed "caliphate" that once straddled a vast territory across both Syria and Iraq.
The extremist group continues to be a threat, however, with sleeper cells in scattered desert pockets along the porous border between the two countries.
Hong Kong, Mar 5 (AP/UNB) — A double-decker bus has crashed into a broken-down truck at the entrance to a harbor tunnel in Hong Kong, killing the drivers of both vehicles.
Along with the two fatalities, 15 people aboard the bus and one inside the truck were injured in Monday morning's collision in the semi-autonomous Chinese region's Kowloon district.
Police said the 59-year-old bus driver, identified only by his surname, So, apparently failed to brake in time and slammed into the truck, which was sitting in a middle lane awaiting a tow truck. They said So had worked as a bus driver for 17 years, while the truck driver, identified by his surname, Lam, was self-employed.
Police were investigating So's physical state along with the bus's mechanical condition. Crowded Hong Kong relies heavily on public transportation.