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Melania Trump looks forward to India visit, celebrating close ties

WASHINGTON, Feb 13: US First Lady Melania Trump on Wednesday joined the growing excitement in anticipation of her trip to India with President Donald Trump saying they were both “excited” about it and looked forward to “celebrate” close ties between the two countries.

The US President and the First Lady are scheduled to arrive in India on February 24 for a two-day visit, for the first US presidential visit in five years. Though their schedules have not been released yet, they are expected to first visit Ahmedabad where the US president will address a rally with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and is expecting “millions” of people to show up. Their next stop will be New Delhi and then they will leave for home with a brief stopover in Agra.

“Thank you @narendramodi for the kind invitation,” the first lady wrote in a tweet, with a retweet of Prime Minister Modi’s post from Wednesday promising them a “memorable welcome”. She added, “Looking forward to visiting Ahmedabad & New Dehli (a typo, she meant Delhi) later this month. @POTUS & I are excited for the trip & to celebrate the close ties between the #USA & #India.”

It could not be immediately ascertained if this will be Melania Trump’s first visit to India. But she has met the prime minister before, during his June visit to the White House for his first meeting with the president. The First Lady had hosted a small reception for the Indian delegation and the president’s top aides.

The president has been to India before, at least once that could be confirmed. He visited Mumbai in 2014 as a businessman for the launch of the Trump Tower with local business partners. The Trump Organization’s overseas operations are the largest in India, with 16 properties, according to The Washington Post, all dating to before Trump election to the White House.

The president had cut himself from his business organisation, which is run by his two sons Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump, after his election to the White House and has not visited India since.

His eldest daughter Ivanka Trump, who is an adviser to the president, visited India in November 2017,where she shared the dais with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Ivanka led the US delegation to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. The delegation is a US initiative that had traveled out for the first time.

The president’s eldest son Trump Jr visited in February 2018 on a business trip. He visited four cities, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Kolkata where the Trump Organisation has businesses. The trip had raised eyebrows in the United States for expenses incurred on a private, business visit by the US government.

Trump's India visit from Feb 24

WASHINGTON, Feb 11: US President Donald Trump will reach India February 24 for a two-day visit accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump, the White House spokesperson said in a statement Monday. There was no word if a trade deal under discussion now will be ready for announcement during the visit.

The final details of the visit appear to have been wrapped up in a phone call, which the White House said, took place between President Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi past weekend. The two leaders agreed on the call, according to the statement, the “trip will further strengthen the United States-India strategic partnership and highlight the strong and enduring bonds between the American and Indian people”.

The White House said President Trump and the first lady will travel to New Delhi and Ahmedabad. Though it did not specify the order in which the visits will take place, people familiar with the planning of the visit said they will start the visit in Ahmedabad on February 24 and reach New Delhi the same night for the second leg of the visit, which takes place on February 25. Though there was no mention of Agra, the American president, who dislikes spending nights away from home, and his wife will stop by for a few hours to visit the Taj Mahal on their way home.

There was also no reference in the statement to a public rally that Trump and Modi were supposed to have had addressed in Ahmedabad, mirroring the Howdy Modi event in Houston, Texas the two leaders had jointly attended in September 2019. The White House only said about the Ahmedabad visit that the city “is in Prime Minister Modi’s home state of Gujarat and played such an important role in Mahatma Gandhi’s life and leadership of the Indian independence movement”.

A public reception appears to be on the president’s itinerary for Ahmedabad, though. The shape or size — a Howdy Modi-style event or not — is to be determined over the next few days, according to the people cited earlier. Details will be hard to come by for security reasons though, they cautioned, adding, advance teams from the US are on ground already.

The visit will be the first by President Trump to India and will cap efforts that started with India inviting the US president to attend the 2018 Republic Day parade as chief guest. The White House had begged off then citing scheduling issues.

No details were available yet of officials who will accompany the president and the first lady and their agenda. There was no word in the statement, for instance, on one of the most anticipated parts of the visit: a trade deal ending some, and not all, of the outstanding differences bedeviling relations, such as Indian demand for the restoration of eligibility for a preferential duty-free trade regime withdrawn in the summer of 2019, and US push for more market access for its manufacturers of medical devices and dairy producers.

Talks are under way and the two sides have “ironed out” most of their outstanding differences, according to the people cite earlier, and a deal may be ready for announcement during the visit.

Some defence deals are also expected to be announced such as Indian request from more Apache helicopters and P8 maritime surveillance aircraft, together worth an estimated $3 billion.

The Trump Organization, the family business the president has vowed to separate from the White House, has its largest overseas operations in India, according to The Washington Post. The Trump Organization has announced that it will be not expand overseas during the president’s tenure to avoid conflicts of interest.

Earlier US presidential visits:

January, 2015: President Barack Obama became the first US president to visit India twice while still in office, and the first US president to attend the January 26 Republic Day parade as chief guest. He had chewed a Nicorette gum probably the entire time, as many may remember, to curb his urge to smoke.

November, 2010: President Obama travelled to India first with First Lady Michelle Obama fresh from a “shellacking” in a mid-term election in which his party lost control of the House of Representatives. He addressed parliament in New Delhi and got pulled to the dance floor at an event with the first lady in Mumbai.

March, 2006: President George W Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a nuclear deal that ended India’s nuclear isolation, enabled it to acquire technology and material for civilian nuclear energy generation while retaining its nuclear weapons out of public sight and inspection.

March 2000: But the foundation of that deal may have been laid six years before when President Bill Clinton visited India, ending a chill in relations — accompanied by US sanctions — that had set in in the aftermath of the Pokhran II nuclear tests conducted by the Vajpayee government in 1998.

January, 1978: President Jimmy Carter visited New Delhi, where he met President Neelam Sanjiva Reddy and Prime Minister Morarji Desai and addressed Parliament. He also visited a small town outside Gurgaon called Daulatpur Nasirabad, which has since been named Carterpuri.

July 1969: President Richard Nixon met acting President Hidayatullah. He would meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi a more than a year later in 1971 in Washington DC. They went on to share the most acrimonious relationship yet between leaders of the two countries. Nixon had used insulting language for Gandhi in private conversations with this secretary of state Henry Kissinger, which were caught on Oval Office recordings the president had kept and that led eventually to his exit during the Watergate investigations.

December 1959: Dwight Eisenhower became the first US president to visit India. Met President Rajendra Prasad and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and addressed a joint sitting of parliament. He also visited Agra.

US clears sale of $1.9 b air defence weapon system to India

WASHINGTON, Feb 10: The United States on Monday announced clearing the sale of an Integrated Air Defense Weapon System (IADWS) to India at an estimated cost of $1.87 billion to boost defence ties between the two countries, a development that came just days ahead of an expected India visit by US President Donald Trump.

The government-to-government sale cleared by the US State Department was announced by a US defence department agency after a notification was issued to the US Congress.

The IADWS, which was sought by India, comprised five AN/MPQ-64Fl Sentinel radar systems; 118 AMRAAMs (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile) AIM-120C-7/C-8 missiles; three AMRAAM Guidance Sections; four AMRAAM Control Sections; and 134 Stinger FIM-92L missiles.

Also included are a host of related equipment and services, such as US government and contractor technical support; engineering and logistics support services; warranty services; Systems and Integration Checkout (SICO); field office support; and other related elements of logistics and programme support.

The development comes after India’s first chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat recently asked top officials of HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) to prepare a proposal to create an Air Defence command to enhance military synergy and optimally utilise the resources of the armed forces. Rawat has set a June 30 deadline for the proposal to be submitted.

India has stepped up defence purchases from the US in recent years as part of a growing defence relationship that includes greater interoperability and joint exercises. From nil in 2008, India-US defence trade has gone up to $17 billion, facilitated by the signing of key foundational agreements to enhance interoperability and changes in the US export regime.

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to strengthen the US-Indian strategic relationship and to improve the security of a major defensive partner, which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia region,” the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said in a statement.

The agency said India planned to use the system to “modernise its armed forces, and to expand its existing air defence architecture to counter threats posed by air attack”.

It added that the proposed system will, on delivery, will be “further enhancing greater interoperability between India, the US, and other allies”.

The system, with Raytheon Corporation and Kongsberg Defense and Aerospace as principal contractors, will not “alter the basic military balance in the region”.

India and the US are expected to announce more defence deals during Trump’s proposed visit later this month, to the tune of $3 billion and could include more Apache helicopters and P8 maritime surveillance aircraft, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Senate acquits Trump of impeachment charges

WASHINGTON, Feb 6: The United States President Donald Trump has been acquitted of all impeachment charges. The US Senate has acquitted President Trump on two articles of impeachment that are- abuse of power and obstruction to Congress.

The Republican-majority Senate voted 52-48 to acquit him of abuse of power and 53-47 to acquit him of obstruction of Congress. Democrats required two-thirds of votes in the 100-member House to impeach the president. The ruling Republican party has 53 seats while the Democrats have 47.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney, who was the party's presidential nominee in 2012, voted against the president on the first charge, but followed the party line on the second article of impeachment. Rest of the members voted on party lines.

Trump likely to visit India from Feb 21

NEW DELHI, Jan 28: US President Donald Trump is set to visit India between February 21 and February 24, with a day devoted to a joint public function with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, possibly in Ahmedabad although the final programme is yet to be sealed, according to people familiar with the matter.

Officials with direct knowledge of the arrangements said that the US government has booked Delhi’s ITC Maurya Hotel for the forthcoming presidential visit from Feb 21-24, including the hotel’s presidential suite. The ITC Maurya has hosted other US Presidents, including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

Officials said that the highlight of Trump’s India visit is expected to be a trade deal, and the two leaders will also discuss China, the Indo-Pacific, Afghanistan, Iran and terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

They added that India’s expectation from the interaction is the reinstatement of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) scheme, which allowed zero tariffs on exports worth $5.6 billion to the US. India is likely to roll back its retaliatory tariffs post the withdrawal of GSP. While US wants India to buy around USD $6 billion worth of farm goods in order to cut down the trade deficit, New Delhi would like to get assurances on oil or shale gas to strike the deal.

Besides exchanging political notes on the global issues, India, the US and the ASEAN countries are looking to enforcing the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as well as the Indo-Pacific.

The government officials said President Trump is also expected to share his vision on Afghanistan. Though it is unlikely that there will be any new military hardware deal during the Trump visit, India is expected to buy Apache attack helicopters, multi-purpose helicopters for the Indian Navy, and P8I multi-mission aircraft from American defence contractors. The acquisition of Predator B armed drones from the US is also on cards.

Trump again offers to help on Kashmir as he meets Imran

GENEVA, Jan 21: US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he was “talking about the situation in Kashmir” with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and “will certainly be helping”, a remark that came ahead of a meeting of the two leaders on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Trump made the remarks at a media briefing before talks with Khan, who the US President described as his “very good friend.”

“We’re talking about Kashmir and in relation to what’s going on with Pakistan and India… if we can help, we certainly will be helping. We’ve been watching that and following it very, very closely,” said Trump.

Khan said Pakistan “always hoped” that the US plays a part in resolving the issue. “India is a big issue for us in Pakistan and we always hoped that the US would play a part in resolving the issue because no other country can,” the Pakistan PM said.

India has maintained that the Kashmir issue is an internal matter of the country. The remarks come ahead of an expected visit by Trump to India, which officials say could happen as early as in February.

Trump did not give a clear reply to a question on whether he will “also visit Pakistan” after his trip to India.

America seeing economic boom never seen before: Trump

GENEVA, Jan 21: US President Donald Trump on Tuesday said the US is in the midst of an economic boom that has never been seen before anywhere in the world.

The American dream is back and it’s better than ever and there is no one better than the American middle class today, Trump said.

In a special address at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual summit, he said since he last addressed Davos two years ago, the US has enjoyed the “great American comeback” that he had predicted.

“Today I am proud to declare that the United States is in the midst of an economic boom the like of which has never been seen before,” he said.

According to him, 11 million jobs have been gained by America since his election and average unemployment rate is the lowest for the tenure of any US President in history.

He also noted that the new trade deal initiated with China is very important.

Earlier, Trump had tweeted, “Heading to Davos, Switzerland, to meet with World and Business Leaders and bring Good Policy and additional Hundreds of Billions of Dollars back to the United States of America! We are now NUMBER ONE in the Universe, by FAR!!” Two years ago here in Davos, Trump had said, “I will always put America First ... But America First does not mean America alone.”

Trump calls US-China trade deal momentous

WASHINGTON, Jan 15: President Donald Trump on Wednesday ended two years of escalating trade battles with China, with an partial agreement to resolve some areas of conflict.

“Today, we take a momentous step, one that’s never taken before with China,” that will ensure “fair and reciprocal trade,” Trump said at the White House signing ceremony.

“Together, we are righting the wrongs of the past.”

However, tariffs will remain in place on hundreds of billions of two-way trade.

US ready to embrace peace with Iran: Trump

WASHINGTON, Jan 8: Iran struck back at the United States early on Wednesday for killing its most powerful military commander, firing a barrage of ballistic missiles at two Iraqi military bases that house American troops in what was initially feared to become an escalation of the conflict. But the two sides stepped back with US President Donald Trump indicating his country would not launch a further military response.

Speaking from the White House, Trump said no American troops were harmed and damages were minimal after the Iranian strikes, which leaders in Tehran said was a “tight slap” for the United States amid rising domestic anger.

Trump also announced new economic sanctions against Iran and vowed, once again, to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. He did not offer any specifics of the “additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime”.

But the President signalled that he did not intend to use military power in response to the missiles Tehran rained on US forces in Iraq’s Erbil and al-Asad air bases.

“The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it. American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent,” Trump said in a televised address from the White House, flanked by top officials of his administration.

“Iran appears to be standing down which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world,” he said.

Trump said he would ask NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) to play a larger role in West Asia, and urge the remaining signatories of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or the Iran nuclear deal) to withdraw, following the American pullout in 2018, to force Iran to sign a new agreement.

The agreement is already unraveling, with Tehran announcing on Sunday that it would roll back the limit on the number of centrifuges used in uranium enrichment, one of its commitments under the agreement.

“The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China to recognise this reality. They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal, or JCPOA,” Trump said.

And then he sent a message of peace. “The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it,” he said.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei earlier on Wednesday made clear that Iran’s actions were in response to the US killing of Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani, whose death last week in a drone strike in Baghdad prompted angry calls for vengeance and drew massive crowds of Iranians to the streets in mourning. Khamenei himself wept at the funeral in a sign of his bond with the commander.

“Last night they received a slap,” Khamenei said in a speech after the missile strikes. “These military actions are not sufficient (for revenge). What is important is that the corrupt presence of America in this region comes to an end.”

Trump said early warning systems helped prevent casualties in Iran’s missile attack, but there were also reports that indicated Iran provided advanced warning of the attacks to the Iraqis, who passed it on the US and coalition forces.

Also, there were suggestions that Iran intentionally avoided hitting US forces because the attack was only intended to send a signal in the aftermath of the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, who headed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, in a US drone strike last Friday.

An Iranian army spokesperson denied “foreign media reports” suggesting there had been some kind of coordination between Iran and the US before the attack to allow bases to be evacuated, Fars news agency said.

Iranian state television said Iran fired 15 ballistic missiles from its territory at US targets. The Pentagon said al-Asad air base and another facility in Erbil were targeted.

According to the Iraqi military, 22 missiles were fired between 1:45am -2:45am (4:15am-5:15am IST) on Wednesday. The Iranian state TV put the number at 15. While 10 missiles hit the al-Asad air base, which played a key role in the campaign against the Islamic State, one missile hit Erbil, according to two US officials who did not want to be named. They said four missiles failed.

Iranian state television said 80 “American terrorists” had been killed, and US helicopters and military equipment damaged. It did not say how it obtained that information.

Germany, Denmark, Norway and Poland said none of their troops in Iraq were hurt. Britain, which also has personnel in Iraq, condemned the Iranian action and said Tehran “should not repeat these reckless and dangerous attacks”.

Experts said the Iranian action appeared calibrated to avoid an escalation into an all-out war. Iran’s attacks “appeared designed for maximum domestic effect with minimum escalatory risk,” Henry Rome, an analyst with Eurasia Group, told news agency Associated Press.

“For a president who wants to avoid a war in the Middle East during an election year, the Iranians have provided an off-ramp he will likely take,” Rome said.

In first reactions to the Iranian strike, Trump had earlier tweeted: “All is well”. “Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning,” he wrote.

He then went into a huddle with his top national security officials. Defence secretary Mark Esper and secretary of state Mike Pompeo were seen driving into the White House.

Trump says US ready to strike 52 Iranian sites if Tehran attacks

WASHINGTON, Jan 5: President Trump has warned the US is "targeting" 52 Iranian sites and will strike "very fast and very hard" if Tehran attacks Americans or US assets.

The president's remarks followed the US assassination of Qasem Soleimani, a top Iranian general, in a drone strike.

Soleimani's killing was a major escalation between the two nations, and Iran vowed to take "severe revenge".

Writing on Twitter, Mr Trump accused Iran of "talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets".

He said the US had identified 52 Iranian sites, some "at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture", and warned they would be "HIT VERY FAST AND HARD" if Tehran struck at the US.

The president said the targets represented 52 Americans who were held hostage in Iran for more than a year from late 1979 after they were taken from the US embassy in Tehran.

Shortly after the president's tweets were posted, the website of a US government agency appeared to have been hacked by a group calling itself "Iran Cyber Security Group Hackers". A message on the American Federal Depository Library Programme site read: "This is a message from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

"We will not stop supporting our friends in the region: the oppressed people of Palestine, the oppressed people of Yemen, the people and the Syrian government, the people and government of Iraq, the oppressed people of Bahrain, the true Mujahideen resistance in Lebanon and Palestine, [they] will always be supported by us."

The web page contained a doctored image of President Trump, depicting him being hit in the face and bleeding at the mouth. "This is only small part of Iran's cyber ability!" read text on the site.

Trump's tweets followed a huge funeral procession for General Soleimani held in Baghdad, where he was killed in a targeted drone strike on Friday as he left the airport in a convoy. Mourners waved Iraqi and militia flags and chanted "death to America".

Several rocket attacks shook the area shortly after the procession, including one in the Green Zone near the US embassy. The Iraqi military said nobody had been hurt.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks. Pro-Iranian militants have been blamed for other recent attacks.

Soleimani's body arrived back in Iran on Sunday, the country's IRIB news agency reported.

Two missiles hit US base housing troops in Iraq: Report

BAGHDAD, Jan 4: Two mortar rounds hit the Iraqi capital’s Green Zone Saturday and two rockets slammed into a base housing US troops, security sources said, a day after a deadly American strike.

The precision drone strike outside the Baghdad airport on Friday killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, top Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and a clutch of other Iranian and Iraqi figures.

In Baghdad, mortar rounds on Saturday evening hit the Green Zone, the high-security enclave where the US embassy is based, security sources said.

The Iraqi military said that one projectile hit inside the zone, while another landed close to the enclave.

Sirens rang out at the US compound, sources said.

A pair of Katyusha rockets then hit the Balad airbase north of Baghdad, where American troops are based, security sources and the Iraqi military said.

Security sources there reported blaring sirens and said surveillance drones were sent above the base to locate the source of the rockets.

According to a report, Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah militia warned on Saturday Iraqi security forces to stay away from U.S. bases in Iraq, quoting al-Mayadeen television.

“Security forces must stay clear of American bases by a distance not less and a thousand metres starting Sunday evening,” al-Mayadeen quoted the militia as saying.

The US embassy in Baghdad as well as the 5,200 American troops stationed across the country have faced a spate of rocket attacks in recent months that Washington has blamed on Iran and its allies in Iraq.

One attack last month killed a US contractor working in northern Iraq, prompting retaliatory American air strikes that killed 25 hardline fighters close to Iran.

Tensions boiled over on Friday when the US struck Soleimani’s convoy as it drove out of the airport and US diplomats and troops across Iraq had been bracing themselves for more rocket attacks.

Trump Ordered Killing Of Iran Guards Commander In Baghdad: Pentagon

WASHINGTON, Jan 3 : US President Donald Trump ordered the killing of Iran Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani, who died in Baghdad "in a decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad," the Pentagon said.

"General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more," the Department of Defense said.

Following Soleimani's death, Trump tweeted an image of the US flag without any further explanation.

The strike, which occurred at Baghdad's international airport on Friday in Iraq, also killed the deputy chief of Iraq's powerful Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force.

A pro-Iran mob this week laid siege to the US embassy following deadly American air strikes on a hardline Hashed faction.

The US had called the strikes in response to a rocket attack days earlier that had killed an American contractor working in Iraq.

The Baghdad airport was hit in a volley of missiles just after midnight Friday, Iraq's military had announced.

Soleimani heads the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force and also serves as Iran's pointman on Iraq, visiting the country in times of turmoil.

"At the direction of the President, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization," the Pentagon said.

"This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans," it added.

The Pentagon said that Soleimani had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the past months, including on December 27, the day the US contractor was killed.

"General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the US Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week," it said.

US urges its citizens to ‘depart Iraq immediately’ after Soleimani’s killing

BAGHDAD, Jan 3: The United States embassy in Baghdad on Friday urged its citizens to “depart Iraq immediately” fearing fallout after the killing of Iranian Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani.

“Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, the US Embassy urges American citizens to heed the January 2020 Travel Advisory and depart Iraq immediately. US citizens should depart via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land,” it said in a statement.

The embassy issued the statement hours after the Quds Force leader and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed in an air strike.

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani called the US airstrike near Baghdad’s airport a “heinous crime” and said the country “will take revenge”.

Iran’s president added that “the path of resistance to US excesses will continue.”

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps confirmed on Friday the commander of its Quds Force foreign operations arm had been killed by US forces in Baghdad, with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denouncing it as a “dangerous escalation”.

Meanwhile, China appealed for restraint from all sides, especially the US, and said it opposes the use of force in international relations after Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in the US strike in Iraq.

Soleimani, one of the most popular figures in Iran, seen as a deadly adversary by America and its allies

 

13 people shot at house party in Chicago: Police

CHICAGO, Dec 22: A shooting at a house party early Sunday on Chicago’s South Side wounded 13 people, four of them critically, Chicago police said.

The shooting stemmed from a dispute at a house party that was “given in memorial of a subject slain in April,” Chief of Patrol Fred Waller said. He said shots were first fired just after 12:30 a.m.

The victims range in age between 16 and 48 and suffered “different and various gunshot wounds to their bodies.”

Two people are being questioned, Waller said. One of them was arrested with a weapon, he said, while the other was wounded. Waller said police recovered a revolver.

Waller described three different shooting scenes at the residential location in the city’s Englewood neighborhood. The shooting started inside, and then more shots were fired as people began spilling out of the house. He said shots were also fired at a third place in the vicinity.

He described the shooting as an “isolated incident.”

Trump impeached by US House

WASHINGTON, Dec 18: President Donald Trump was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday night, becoming only the third American chief executive to be formally charged under the Constitution’s ultimate remedy for high crimes and misdemeanors.

The historic vote split along party lines, much the way it has divided the nation, over the charges that the 45th president abused the power of his office by enlisting a foreign government to investigate a political rival ahead of the 2020 election. The House then approved a second charge, that he obstructed Congress in its investigation.

The articles of impeachment, the political equivalent of an indictment, now go to the Senate for trial. If Trump is acquitted by the Republican-led chamber, as expected, he would have to run for reelection carrying the enduring mark of impeachment on his purposely disruptive presidency.

Democrats led Wednesday night’s voting, framed in what many said was their duty to protect the Constitution and uphold the nation’s system of checks and balances. Republicans stood by their party’s leader, who has frequently tested the bounds of civic norms. Trump called the whole affair a “witch hunt,” a “hoax” and a “sham,” and sometimes all three.

The trial is expected to begin in January in the Senate, where a vote of two-thirds is necessary for conviction. While Democrats had the majority in the House to impeach Trump, Republicans control the Senate and few if any are expected to diverge from plans to acquit the president ahead of early state election-year primary voting.

Pelosi, once reluctant to lead Democrats into a partisan impeachment, now risks her majority and speakership to hold the president accountable.

“Today we are here to defend democracy for the people,” Pelosi said opening debate.

Trump, who began Wednesday tweeting his anger at the proceedings, scheduled an evening rally in Battle Creek, Michigan.

He pumped his fist before an enthusiastic crowd, boasted of “tremendous support” in the Republican Party and said, “By the way it doesn’t feel like I’m being impeached.”

What Pelosi called a sad and solemn moment for the country, coming in the first year that Democrats swept control of the House, unfolded in a caustic daylong session that showcased the nation’s divisions — not only along party lines, but also by region, race and culture.

The House impeachment resolution laid out in stark terms the two articles of impeachment against Trump stemming from his July phone call when he asked the Ukraine president for a “favor” — to announce it was investigating Democrats ahead of the 2020 election. He also pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to probe unsubstantiated corruption allegations against Joe Biden, the former vice president and 2020 White House contender.

At the time, Zelenskiy, a young comedian newly elected to politics, was seeking a coveted White House visit to show backing from the U.S. ally as it confronts a hostile Russia at its border. He was also counting on $391 million in military aid already approved by Congress. The White House delayed the funds, but Trump eventually released the money once Congress intervened.

Narrow in scope but broad in its charge, the resolution said the president “betrayed the nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections,” and then obstructed Congress’ oversight like “no president” in U.S. history.

“President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office,” it said.

Republicans argued that Democrats are impeaching Trump because they can’t beat him in 2020.

“This vote is about one thing, and one thing only: They hate this president,” said Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah. “They want to take away my vote and throw it in the trash.”

But Democrats warned the country cannot wait for the next election to decide whether Trump should remain in office because he has shown a pattern of behavior, particularly toward Russia, and will try to corrupt U.S. elections in 2020.

“The president and his men plot on,” said Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., of the Intelligence Committee that led the inquiry. “The danger persists. The risk is real.”

The outcome brings the Trump presidency to a milestone moment that has building almost from the time the New York businessman-turned-reality-TV host unexpectedly won the White House in 2016 amid questions about Russian interference in the U.S. election --- and the rise of the “resistance.”

Democrats drew from history, the founders and their own experiences, as minorities, women and some immigrants to the U.S., seeking to honor their oath of office to uphold the constitution. Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., spoke in Spanish asking God to unite the nation. “In America,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., “no one is above the law.”

Republicans aired Trump-style grievances about what Arizona Rep. Debbie Lesko called a “rigged” process.

“We face this horror because of this map,” said Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Ala., before a poster of red and blue states. “They call this Republican map flyover country, they call us deplorables, they fear our faith, they fear our strength, they fear our unity, they fear our vote, and they fear our president.”

The political fallout from the vote will reverberate across an already polarized country with divergent views of Trump’s July phone call when Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate Democrats in the 2016 election, Biden and his son, Hunter, who worked on the board of a gas company in Ukraine while his father was the vice president.

Trump has repeatedly implored Americans to read the transcript of the call he said was “perfect.” But the facts it revealed, and those in an anonymous whistleblower’s complaint that sparked the probe, are largely undisputed.

More than a dozen current and former White House officials and diplomats testified for hours. The open and closed sessions under oath revealed what one called the “irregular channel” of foreign policy run by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, which focused on investigating the Bidens and alternative theories of 2016 election interference.

The question for lawmakers was whether the revelations amounted to impeachable offenses to be sent to the Senate for a trial.

Few lawmakers crossed party lines without consequence. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-N.J., who is considering changing parties over his opposition to impeachment, sat with Republicans. Rep. Justin Amash, the Michigan conservative who left the Republican party and became an independent over impeachment, said: “I come to this floor, not as a Republican, not as a Democrat, but as an American.”

Beyond the impeachments of Andrew Johnson or Bill Clinton, this first impeachment of the 21st century is as much about what the president might do in the future as what he did in the past. And unlike investigation of Richard Nixon, who resigned rather than face the House vote over Watergate, the proceedings against Trump are playing out in an America already of mixed views over Trump.

Rank and file Democrats said they were willing to lose their jobs to protect the democracy from Trump. Some newly elected freshman remained in the chamber for hours during the debate.

“This is not about making history, this is about holding a lawless president accountable,” said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.

GOP Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia said of the Democrats: “You’ve been wanting to do this ever since the gentleman was elected.’’

Top Republicans, including Rep. Devin Nunes on the Intelligence Committee, called the Ukraine probe little more than the low-budget sequel to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mueller spent two years investigating the potential links between Moscow and the Trump campaign, but testified in July that his team could not establish that Trump conspired or coordinated with Russia to throw the election. Mueller did say he could not exonerate Trump of trying to obstruct the investigation, but he left that for Congress to decide.

The next day, Trump called Ukraine. Not quite four months later, a week before Christmas, Trump was impeached.

India, US sign key defence pact

WASHINGTON, Dec 18: India and the United States on Wednesday sealed a key defence agreement to further enhance the interoperability of their militaries and said they discussed the threat of cross-border terrorism India faces from Pakistan at the 2+2 meeting of their foreign and defence ministers.

The signing of the Industrial Security Annex (ISA) would allow American manufacturers of defence equipment to strike deals with Indian private sector companies, expanding their ability to co-produce and co-develop sensitive technologies from the current confines of public sector partners.

The defence agreements, which were expected to be the highlights were announced by US defense secretary Mike Esper at a joint news conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and their Indian counterparts Rajnath Singh and S Jaishankar.

The Indian external affairs minister told reporters after the meeting the two sides discussed “free, open and prosperous” Indo-Pacific region centered around ASEAN and cross-border terrorism in the region and agreed to work closely at international forums including the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Pompeo named Pakistan as the source of threat of terrorism faced by India, in response to a question about the future of Afghanistan.

Jaishankar said he was very “satisfied” with the discussions on cross-border terrorism.

The US secretary of state said the discussions about China included issues related to “predatory” practices and communications lines such as 5G.

Going into the meeting, Pompeo wrote on Twitter, “Throughout 2019 we’ve seen rapid growth in the #USIndia strategic partnership (and) … aim to review our successes and take this vital relationship to the next level.”

Pompeo and Esper met their Indian counterparts at the state department for the second edition of the 2+2 ministerial that was kicked off by the two countries in 2018, with New Delhi hosting the inaugural meet last September.

Singh and Jaishankar met one-on-one with their respective counterparts before the 2+2. Singh took to Twitter to say that he had an “excellent meeting” with Esper and “reviewed the full range of India-US defence cooperation”. The countries are “cooperating extensively in strategic & military areas”, he added.

The 2+2 ministerial came amidst growing strategic convergence between the two countries and continuing efforts to resolve the vexatious issue of trade, with a deal still not in sight, not even a modest, scaled down version the two sides have been aiming for leaving the more difficult issues to a later date, including an ambitious Free Trade Agreement.

The state department noted the importance of trade in the relationship even though it is not in the purview of the ministries participating in the meeting.

“The US and #India have shared interests in economic prosperity through trade, investment, and connectivity,” it tweeted. “In 2018, bilateral trade between our nations was $142 billion, up 13% from the prior year. We look forward to continuing our strong partnership with India.”

The second 2+2 ministerial meet took place without the postponements and cancellations that had plagued the first round, delaying it almost a year, forced by the sacking of then secretary of state Rex Tillerson and President Trump’s preoccupation with talks with North Korea at that time.

The highlight of the inaugural 2+2 meet, which finally took place in September in New Delhi, was the signing of Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), an enabling agreement that would dramatically expand interoperability between the militaries of the two countries. It had capped a year-long series of developments such as the US designating India a Major Defense Partner and according STA-1 status, bringing it at par with its NATO allies for the sharing of sensitive defense technology.

But the key substantial outcome of the second edition is the signing of the Industrial Security Annex, an enabling agreement that will allow US defense manufacturers to do business with Indian private sector companies.

Honour Indian democracy: US on India’s citizenship law, religious freedom

WASHINGTON, Dec 18: The United States honours Indian democracy as they have a robust debate inside the country on the issues like citizenship and religious freedom, a top American diplomat said Wednesday.

“We care deeply and always will about protecting minorities and religious rights everywhere. We honour Indian democracy as they have a robust debate on the issue that you raised,” US Seceretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters at a news conference here at the conclusion of the 2+2 ministerial talks.

Pompeo along with the Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday hosted their Indian counterparts External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh for the talks.

The top American diplomat was responding to a question on the protests by a section of society in India after the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act, alleging that this is religiously discriminatory in nature.

“Mr Secretary, your State Department has been a very vocal advocate of religious rights around the world. Do you think it appropriate for democracy to use faith as a determining criteria for citizenship,” he was asked.

“The question that you asked relating to India, if you had followed the debate on that particular legislation carefully, you would see that it is a measure which is designed to address the needs of persecuted religious minorities from certain countries,” Jaishankar said in his response to the question.

“If you look at what those countries are and therefore what their minorities are, perhaps you understand why certain religions were identified in terms of characterising those who had come across,” Jaishankar said.

Pompeo said the United States has been consistent in the way that it has responded to these issues, not only in India but all across the world.

Officials, so far, has not confirmed or denied if the issue of religious freedom and human rights in India appeared during the 2+2 talks.

In the past, the Secretary of States had raised the issue of human rights and religious freedom with their Indian counterparts in their bilateral meetings.

US, China reach phase one trade deal

NEW YORK, Dec 13: China and the US have agreed on the text of a phase one trade deal, which will see the removal of tariffs on Chinese goods in stages, Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen said, as US President Donald Trump announced some reduction in tariffs.

China will increase imports from the US and other countries, Wang said at a briefing in Beijing Friday. The comments are China’s first response to a deal signed off by Trump on Thursday that would halt higher tariffs planned for December 15 and represent the first phase in defusing the trade war that’s shaken the global economy.

Trump said that existing tariffs of 25 percent on $250 billion of Chinese imports will stay in place pending further negotiations on a second phase deal, along with 7.5 percent tariffs on another $120 billion of imports.

Trump tweeted, “we have agreed to a very large Phase One Deal with China. They have agreed to many structural changes and massive purchases of Agricultural Product, Energy, and Manufactured Goods, plus much more. The 25% Tariffs will remain as is, with 7 1/2% put on much of the remainder..."

“The Penalty Tariffs set for December 15th will not be charged because of the fact that we made the deal. We will begin negotiations on the Phase Two Deal immediately, rather than waiting until after the 2020 Election. This is an amazing deal for all. Thank you!," according to his Twitter post.

For its part, Beijing would buy more US farm products, increase Americans companies' access to the Chinese market and tighten protection for intellectual property rights.

U.S. stocks rallied, with the S&P 500 Index jumping to a record, amid signs the tensions are easing between the world’s two largest economies. Washington and Beijing have been in trade war for about 18 months involving nearly $500 billion in products shipped between the two nations.

The text, which comprises nine chapters, includes sections on intellectual property, forced technology transfer, food and agricultural products, finance, currency and transparency, boosting trade, bilateral assessment and dispute resolution, according to the officials.

Both sides agreed to finish the final stages such as legal review and translation as soon as possible and work on arrangements for the final signing, said Wang.

First announced by Trump on Oct. 11, the interim deal with China offers a short-term political victory for the president and will allow him to claim that his tariffs have paid dividends, at the risk of being accused of postponing tougher issues like China’s industrial subsidies.

For Beijing, reducing even some of the tariffs that have been imposed since last year represents a win for President Xi Jinping, who is also facing pressure to not give in to the other side.

Trump impeachment proceedings to go ahead: Speaker

WASHINGTON, Dec 5: U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said she has instructed the House Judiciary Committee to draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump over his effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival.

“The facts are uncontested. The president abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security by withholding military aid and (a) crucial Oval Office meeting in exchange for an announcement of an investigation into his political rival,” Pelosi said in a televised statement.

“Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our Founders and our hearts full of love for America, today I am asking our chairman to proceed with articles of impeachment,” she added, referring to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler

Pelosi made the remarks a day after the Judiciary Committee held a hearing in which three constitutional law experts called by Democratic lawmakers said Trump had engaged in conduct that represents impeachable offenses under the Constitution. A fourth expert called by Republican lawmakers called the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry rushed and flawed.

The House Intelligence Committee this week submitted findings from its inquiry into Trump’s push for Kiev to launch an investigation related to former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, a top contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Trump also wanted Ukraine to look into the discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.

Democrats have accused Trump of abusing his power by withholding $391 million in security aid to Ukraine - a U.S. ally facing Russian aggression - to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce the investigation.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing and called the impeachment investigation a hoax.

Kamala Harris drops out of 2020 US presidential race

NEW YORK, Dec 3: Sen. Kamala Harris of California dropped out of the Democratic presidential race Tuesday after months of slumping poll numbers, a dramatic comedown after her campaign began with significant promise.

The decision to drop out of the race comes after upheaval among staff and disarray among Harris’ own allies. She told supporters in an email Tuesday that she lacked the money needed to fully finance a competitive campaign.

“My campaign for president simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need to continue,” Harris wrote in the email.

The announcement is both dramatic and unexpected, perhaps the most sudden development to date in a Democratic presidential campaign where Harris began in the top tier.

She began her campaign on Martin Luther King Jr. Day with comparisons to historic black politicians such as Barack Obama and Shirley Chisholm. Her speech that day in Oakland, California, had more than 20,000 people in attendance, giving credence to the idea that she could become the first woman of color elected president.

Harris had struggled financially in recent months as her online fundraising slowed and her large donors increasingly turned away from her campaign. In the third quarter of the year, she spent more than $1.41 for every dollar she raised, burning through millions of her treasury.

She stopped buying advertisements, both online and on television; slashed staff in New Hampshire; and retrenched to Iowa, where she spent the Thanksgiving holiday with her family.

But it was not enough, as the determination was made that she did not have enough financial resources to compete, even as a supportive super PAC began reserving ads Tuesday, the day she told people she was dropping out.

Trump says China trade deal might have to wait for 2020 election

LONDON, Dec 3: US President Donald Trump said a trade agreement with China might have to wait until after the US presidential election in November 2020, denting hopes of a quick resolution to the dispute which has weighed on the world economy.

"I have no deadline, no. In some ways I think it's better to wait until after the election with China," Trump told reporters in London where he was due to attend a meeting of NATO leaders.

"But they want to make a deal now, and we'll see whether or not the deal's going to be right, it's got to be right."

European share prices and the Chinese yuan currency fell on Trump's comments.

Investors have been hoping that the United States and China can avert an escalation of their trade tensions which have slowed global economic growth.

Washington and Beijing have yet to ink a so-called "phase one" agreement announced in October, which had raised hopes of a de-escalation in their prolonged trade war.

Trump said a deal with China would only happen if he wanted it to, and he thought he was doing very well in the talks.

"I'm doing very well on a deal with China, if I want to make it," he said. "I don't think it's up to if they want to make it, it's if I want to make it. We'll see what happens."

"I'm doing very well, if I want to make a deal, I don't know that I want to make it, they're going to find out pretty soon."

 

 

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