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Not mine or yours, It’s our America: Michelle Obama

WASHINGTON, July 20: Former first lady Michelle Obama added her voice Friday to the Democratic outcry following President Donald Trump’s attack on four ethnic minority congresswomen, saying “there’s a place for all of us.”

“What truly makes our country great is its diversity... Whether we are born here or seek refuge here, there’s a place for all of us,” Obama tweeted, without mentioning Trump.

“We must remember it’s not my America or your America. It’s our America.”

Trump has come under intense fire after he attacked four first-term Democratic congresswomen known as the “Squad.”

In a rare move, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on Tuesday rebuked Trump for “racist comments” after he said the four should “go back” to their countries of origin if they are not happy in the United States.

But chants of “Send her back!” directed at Somali-born congresswoman Ilhan Omar broke out at Trump’s “Make America Great Again” rally in Greenville, North Carolina on Wednesday night.

Trump claimed to reporters in the Oval Office the following day that he was not pleased by the taunts and attempted to cut them short.

Television footage, however, showed he let the chant continue for more than 10 seconds before he resumed speaking.

“Those are incredible people. Those are incredible patriots,” Trump told reporters outside the White House on Friday when asked about the chants.

“She’s lucky to be where she is, let me tell you,” he added about Omar.

The first-term lawmakers -- all but one of whom, Omar, were born in the United States -- are of Hispanic, Arab, Somali and African-American descent.

Some Republicans have urged Trump to tone down the rhetoric, but the president has made it clear that attacks on the “Squad” will be a centerpiece of his 2020 re-election strategy -- despite the risk of inflaming racial tensions and widening the partisan divide.

Omar responded to the chants by condemning Trump’s “racist remarks” and branding him a “fascist.”

The president’s “nightmare is seeing a Somali immigrant refugee rise to Congress,” she told supporters when she returned home to Minnesota Thursday night.

“We are going to continue to be a nightmare to this president, because his policies are a nightmare to us,” she said through a megaphone to the cheering crowd at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

US calls previous arrests of Hafiz Saeed ‘window dressing’, says it made no difference

WASHINGTON, July 20: The Trump Administration Friday expressed doubts over Pakistan’s intentions in arresting terrorist Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, the mastermind of the 2001 Parliament attack and the 2008 Mumbai attack, saying his previous arrests made no difference either to his activities or that of his outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“We’ve seen this happen in the past. And we have been looking for sustained and concrete steps, not just window dressing,” a senior administration official told reporters Friday, ahead of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the US.

Saeed, a UN-designated terrorist was arrested on Wednesday -- the seventh times since December 2001, when he was nabbed in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament.

“Let me reassure you, we are clear eyed about the history here. We’re under no illusions about the support that we could see from Pakistan’s military intelligence services to these groups. So we will look for concrete action,” the official said when asked about the actions that Pakistan has taken against terrorist group and if the US believes in them.

“I noticed that Pakistan has taken some initial steps such as pledging to seize assets of some of these terrorist groups. And, of course, they put under arrest yesterday Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba which is responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks,” said the official requesting anonymity.

But the official quickly noted that this was the seventh time that Saeed was arrested since 2001 attack on India’s Parliament when he was detained right after that attack and was subsequently released.

“That is why we are very clear eyed and realistic when you see him arrested” as he has been arrested and released in the past. “So we would look to see that Pakistan take sustained action in actually prosecuting these people,” the official said.

“Quite frankly, the previous arrest of Hafiz Muhammed Saeed hasn’t made a difference and the LeT has been has been able to operate. So we’re monitoring the situation,” said the senior administration official as reporters asked questions on the links between Pakistani intelligence services and terrorist groups.

The US “remains concerned” about terrorist groups that continue to operate in Pakistan, such as Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Haqqani network. “We do have concerns about link between these groups and Pakistan intelligence services in military. That’s no secret,” the official said.

The US, the official said, welcomes Prime Minister Khan’s pledge that Pakistan will not allow its soil to be used by militant groups and its vocal leadership and the Trump Administration is pressing for a new direction in this regard.

According to the official, the US has seen some initial steps with Pakistan pledging to seize the assets of some of these terrorist leaders, pledged to reform the madrasa and has taken under administrative control some of the facilities owned by these groups.

Prime Minister Khan himself said that Pakistan cannot reach its full potential unless it has peace and stability in the region. Of course, peace and stability in the region would require it to crack down on the terrorist and militant groups that are creating the instability, the official said. Pakistan really needs to prove that this time they are something different, he said.

 

US proposes increasing merit-based immigration to 57%

WASHINGTON, July 17: The Trump administration is proposing a nearly five-fold increase in merit-based legal immigration and half those based on family and humanitarian system, in an effort to overhaul the outdated system.

Senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner, who is also the son-in-law of United States President Donald Trump, said having an immigration policy that would attract talented and meritorious people from across the world would create over USD 500 billion in tax revenues over 10 years.

“It brings in a lot of people that are paying into the social safety nets. Not people who are coming in and then immediately taking from the social safety nets, which right now have to support Americans who are currently citizens,” Kushner told the cabinet during a meeting at the White House.

At the direction of Trump, Kushner is leading the immigration reform project, which he said was now into its final stages and expects to make it public soon.

Kushner rued that America’s immigration system was a very outdated compared to some of the peer countries that it competes with for talent. He said just 12 per cent of people become legal immigrants through merit-based system right now.

“Compare that to some of our peer countries like Canada. They’re at 53 per cent, New Zealand at 59 per cent, Australia 63 per cent, Japan at 52 per cent,” he said. “Under President Trump’s proposal, we’ll go to 57 per cent, which puts right in the range and it will make us competitive.” Last year 1.1 million people has become citizens. “We are keeping the number the same. But we want to change the composition of what’s that made up of,” Kushner said.

The adviser said they came up with the proposal after studying the immigration system and the best practices of a lot of the other countries.

He asserted that the U S deserved to have the best immigration system in the world, adding that the Trump administration believed in safe, legal immigration but against illegal and random migration.

“We think we can have an immigration system that really is the envy of the world and also a border security system that keeps all of our citizens safe,” he said. “This bill will create a modern, merit-based immigration system that allows the best and the brightest from throughout the world to compete based on objective criteria to become American citizens.”

According to Kushner, the new system will enhance social diversity. “We’ve figured out how to make sure that we follow the practice that Australia does with diversity pooling to make sure that it gives us a good cross-section of people coming in to maintain what’s great about this country,” he said.

Trump described it as a common-sense proposal and acknowledged that there was a requirement of talented people in the country.

“You’re going to have a really beautiful system of immigration. People are going to be able to come into our country, be proud of our country, and help our country,” Trump said.

“We want them to help us. You know, it’s a two-way street; they have to help us also. And it’s met with great popularity,” he added.

US House condemns ‘racist’ Donald Trump tweets on 4 freshman members

WASHINGTON, July 16: The House voted Tuesday to condemn comments from President Donald Trump that have been criticized as racist, with some Democrats complaining that party leaders aren’t punching back hard enough.

The 240-187 vote backed a resolution that “strongly condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.” Several Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the measure.

As the top House Republican dismissed the planned vote as “all politics,” Trump earlier Tuesday continued his attacks on the four outspoken freshmen Democrats who’ve been the focus of the president’s ire.

Before the House vote, though, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was called out by Republicans for violating a House rule that prohibits calling the president a racist or saying his statements were racist. The Democratic-controlled chamber voted 232-190 against striking her remarks from the record, and the speaker told reporters she stood by her statements.

The president started the controversy on Sunday by tweeting that the four lawmakers, all women of color, should “go back” to the countries they “originally came from,” instead of telling Americans “how our government is to be run.”

On Tuesday, Trump said on Twitter, “Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don’t have a Racist bone in my body! The so-called vote to be taken is a Democrat con game.” Later, at a cabinet meeting, the president said of the four women lawmakers: “It’s my opinion they hate our country.”

All four of the women -- Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan -- are U.S. citizens, and all but Omar were born in the U.S.

Ocasio-Cortez, in her own tweet Tuesday, reminded Trump that she was born in his hometown of New York City, and said Trump may not have racist bones, but that he does have “a racist mind” and “a racist heart.”

The vote came against a backdrop of the 2020 campaign for the White House and Congress. Trump won election in part by exploiting anti-immigrant sentiments among some voters, and it’s a message he’s stuck to through his first term. Democrats, meanwhile, are seeking to harness the energy of female and minority voters who helped them win control of the House in 2018 and flip local and state offices in key swing states such as Wisconsin and Michigan.

Trump has indicated that he regards the controversy as a winner for him. Asked if he was concerned that his tweet was seen as racist and that white nationalists found common cause with him, Trump said no. “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” he said.

Trump on Tuesday also tweeted a thanks to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for publicly agreeing that his comments were not racist.

“Why isn’t the House voting to rebuke the filthy and hate laced things they have said?” Trump tweeted, referring to the four lawmakers. “Because they are the Radical Left, and the Democrats are afraid to take them on. Sad!”

On the Senate side, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, “The president’s not a racist,” though he refused to comment on Trump’s statements. “Everyone ought to tone down their rhetoric,” said McConnell, who noted that his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, came to the U.S. at age 8 “and didn’t know a word of English.”

‘Our Sisters’

Pelosi, in a closed-door meeting Tuesday morning with fellow Democrats, urged them to unify behind the condemnation measure and to back the four women, with whom she has had her own recent disagreements. She referred to them as “our sisters,” according to an aide in the room.

Some Democrats say Trump’s tweets have benefited Pelosi by unifying the party and helping her move past her own public squabbles with the same four women. “I think the longer that he does things like that, the easier it is for her to bring the caucus together on our main priorities,” said Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois.

The resolution, H.Res. 489, admonishes Trump for saying that immigrants and people “who may look to the president like immigrants should ‘go back’ to other countries.”

It also criticizes Trump for “saying that members of Congress who are immigrants (or those of our colleagues who are wrongly assumed to be immigrants) do not belong in Congress or in the United States of America.”

Some Democrats complained that Pelosi and party leaders -- who they said are already pulling their punches by not pursuing impeachment of Trump -- were doing so again by not bringing a formal censure resolution to the House floor. They said that would send a stronger message because the House has only rarely taken such action against a sitting president.

‘A Red Line’

“The president has crossed a red line in his chaotic commentary,” according to a statement from Democratic Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee, who introduced a censure measure. “Congress must censure him for this un-American and un-presidential language.”

But Democrat Dan Kildee of Michigan said a censure resolution would be less likely to get Republican support. “Where I come from, people want to know whether we are standing up to the president or not,“ he said. “And what word we attach to it is probably not that significant.”

Although some Republicans in Congress joined in the denunciations of Trump’s original tweets, McCarthy insisted the president’s comments were not racist.

“I will vote against this resolution. It’s all politics,” he told reporters, adding that the House should give similar scrutiny to comments by the four women, including their previous criticisms of Pelosi.

Louisiana Republican Ralph Abraham said on Twitter: “There’s no question that the members of Congress that @realDonaldTrump called out have absolutely said anti-American and anti-Semitic things. I’ll pay for their tickets out of this country if they just tell me where they’d rather be.”

China poses most serious threat to US: Top general

WASHINGTON, July 12: China poses the most serious threat to the national security of US in the long run, a top American general told the country’s lawmakers.

“I think China is the main challenge to the US national security over the next 50 to 100 years,” General Mark A Milley, said on Thursday in his confirmation hearing for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“I think some historian in 2119 is going to look back at this century and read a book and the central theme of the story is going to beat the relationship between the United States and China,” Milley said responding to a question from Senator David Perdue.

Milley agreed with Perdue that China was using trade as leverage to achieve its national security interests and the one belt road initiative was a part of it.

“With regard to their belt-road initiative and there made in China 2025, my experience is that they generally don’t tell their adversaries what they are going to do unless they have made a determination that they either don’t have the wherewithal or the will to stop them,” Perdue said.

The Georgia Senator expressed his concern over Chinese investments in ports around Africa and the Indian Ocean but also in South America where there are over 50 port investments that they have made with proprietary loans. “Now see in Colombo, Sri Lanka and then also Karachi and Pakistan where they have actually foreclosed and are now militarising those two ports in addition to what they have done in Djibouti,” he said.

Milley said that China has expanded throughout all of the regions of the globe and they are clear competition, they are primarily in competition for resources in order to build and improve their military in order to fund and feel their economy. “I think that what we need to do is to uphold the norms of the international order that has been in place for the last seven decades,” he said.

Responding to another question, he said there is anxiety and fear among the countries due to an aggressive China and they want the United States there.

“They want us there as a security partner, they want us there as a security guarantor, they want full presence forward presence. They believe that we are a force of stability and there is great concern,” he said.

China, though he noted is not an enemy of the United States. “I want to make that clear. They are an adversary, I would say, they are our competitor. But that’s different than an enemy. An enemy in military language means they are in an active armed conflict. You are at war. We’re not there. We don’t want to be there,” Milley said.

“We want peace, not war with China. But having said that, I think that the best way to do that is to make sure that we are prepared. China is improving their military very, very rapidly... they are outspending us in research, development and procurement. You would never think that but they are,” he said.

“The United States need to make sure that we do not lose our advantage that we have relative to other countries specifically to China,” Milley said.

“China went to school on us. They watched us very closely in the first Gulf War, the second Gulf War, they watched our capabilities. And in many, many ways they have mimicked those and they have adopted many of the doctrines in the organisations, etc.,” he told the lawmakers.

Reiterating that China has already militarised the South China Sea and have capabilities in air, sea and ground to influence surface sea operations, Milley asserted that freedom of navigation operations is critical to ensure that the Asia Pacific region remains free and open to commercial access.

India's high tarriffs no longer acceptable: Trump

WASHINGTON, July 9: US President Donald Trump complained about Indian tariffs once again on Tuesday, raising the issue just days after discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, in June.

“India has long had a field day putting Tariffs on American products,” he wrote on Twitter. “No longer acceptable!”

It could not be immediately ascertained if he was setting up forthcoming punitive trade actions or was merely venting his frustration on an issue that has clearly been a major priority for him: trade, tariff and balance of trade. The White House didn’t immediately respond to a query on the context and reason for the tweet.

Trump used a variation of the post in a tweet while headed for Osaka. “I look forward to speaking with Prime Minister Modi about the fact that India, for years having put very high Tariffs against the United States, just recently increased the Tariffs even further. This is unacceptable and the Tariffs must be withdrawn!”

The president might be setting up an upcoming visit of two senior officials from the office of the US Trade Representative, the key trade negotiator for the United States, who are leaving for India for three days of talks, according to people familiar with these discussions.

Trump and Modi held detailed discussions on trade at Osaka and decided to let their respective ministers pick it up from there, with the American leader saying “big trade deals” could be announced.

India and the United States have been trying to sort out trade differences that have come to bedevil ties that have been on the upward trajectory in most other areas, especially defence exercises and trade, with India’s purchase orders for high-tech equipment fast-tracked like that of some close US allies such as Israel.

Just days after Prime Minister Modi started his second term, the Trump administration terminated special trade privileges for India, under the Generalized System of Preferences, citing India’s failure to open up its markets to US companies. New Delhi responded with retaliatory tariffs, that it had proposed in 2018 in response to US levies on steel and aluminium, but had kept in abeyance to allow for talks to continue.

Bilateral trade between India and the United States has been rising, going up to more than $142 billion in 2018, but President Trump has been focused on market access for US dairy and medical devices sectors and India’s trade surplus, which it has been able to cut through stepped-up oil and gas purchases and other imports.

US Congress to vote Green Card bill, Indian H-1B visa holders to benefit

Lifting the cap on Green Card would mainly benefit high-tech professionals on H-1B work visas from countries like India
Congressman Paul Gosar said this is another gift for big-tech companies at the expense of American workers and students

WASHINGTON: The US House of Representatives will vote Tuesday on a legislation that seeks to lift the country-cap on issuing green cards. Being supported by more than 310 lawmakers from both the Republican and the Democratic Party, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act is all set to sail through the 435-member House of Representatives.

Buoyed by the fact of 203 Democrats and 108 Republicans co-sponsoring the bill, the proponents of the legislation are using a fast-track process which requires 290 votes to pass a bill without hearing and amendments.

Lifting the per-country cap on Green Card would mainly benefit high-tech professionals on H-1B work visas from countries like India, for whom the wait for Green Card is more than a decade.

Some of the recent studies have said the waiting period for Indian IT professionals on H-1B visas is more than 70 years.

The Library of Congress Tuesday said the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, also known as HR 1044, is the most viewed bill in the week beginning July 7. According to independent Congressional Research Service (CRS), this bill increases the per-country cap on family-based immigrant visas from seven percent of the total number of such visas available that year to 15 percent and eliminates the seven percent cap for employment-based immigrant visas.

It also removes an offset that reduced the number of visas for individuals from China.

The bill also establishes transition rules for employment-based visas from FY 2020-22 by reserving a percentage of EB-2 (workers with advanced degrees or exceptional ability), EB-3 (skilled and other workers), and EB-5 (investors) visas for individuals not from the two countries with the largest number of recipients of such visas.

“Of the unreserved visas, not more than 85 percent shall be allotted to immigrants from any single country," CRS said.

The bill, however, has to be passed by the Senate, wherein the Republicans enjoy a majority, before it can be signed into law by the US president.

A similar bill being supported by a bipartisan group of senators including Senator Kamala Harris is slated to come up for consideration soon. Both the identical bills in the Senate and the House were introduced on February 7 this year.

In the House it was introduced by Congressman Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat who represents portions of Northern California’s Silicon Valley, and Republican Ken Buck from Colorado, while in the Senate it was introduced by Harris, and Mike Lee from Utah.

In a news report, Breitbart on Tuesday described it as a giveaway legislation to 300,000 Indian H-1B visa workers.

This will incentivize “more low wage Indian graduates" to take US jobs from middle class American graduates, it said and urged Republican lawmakers supporting the bill to withdraw their co-sponsorship.

Democrats, Breitbart alleged, “have kept the legislation secret — the bill has had no hearing or committee votes — and it is being backed by the immigration lawyer who helped Democratic Sen Chuck Schumer write the disastrous “Gang of Eight" amnesty in 2013."

Joining Breitbart, the Center For Immigration Studies said the bill would reward the employers who literally replaced American workers with hundreds of thousands of low cost and less skilled contract workers who entered on temporary visas (mainly H-1Bs), often working in the tech sector.

These employers are mainly Big Tech and foreign outsourcing companies.

“Under current rules, citizens of India are getting about 25 percent of all the professional employment green cards each year. If this bill becomes law citizens of India will get more than 90 percent of the professional employment green cards, according to USCIS, for at least the next 10 years.

"Green cards would be unavailable to applicants from all other parts of the world (and many other occupations) for at least a decade," alleged the Centre for Immigration Studies. It argued that a bill with “such sweeping implications" for US workers should not be passed without a hearing and without opportunity for members to offer amendments.

“Adopting a different green card selection system that chooses the most highly educated and skilled workers would eliminate the need for a per- country cap system, and would not reward the exploitative employers who thrive on the existing system," it said.

Congressman Paul Gosar said this is another gift for big-tech companies at the expense of American workers and students. “We should not allow" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pass the bill without following the rules, he said, adding the bill has not had a hearing or markup.

Iran better be careful on nuclear enrichment: Trump

MORRISTOWN, July 8: US President Donald Trump warned Iran on Sunday over its imminent breach of a uranium enrichment cap.

“Iran better be careful, because you enrich for one reason, and I won’t tell you what that reason is. But it’s no good. They better be careful,” he told reporters in Morristown, New Jersey.

Trump’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, earlier Sunday said Iran will face further sanctions in response to the expected breach of the cap set by an endangered nuclear deal reached with international powers but from which the United States withdrew last year.

The 3.67 percent enrichment limit set in the agreement is far below the more than 90 percent level required for a nuclear warhead.

Iran to face more isolation, sanctions: Mike Pompeo

By Deepak Arora

WASHINGTON, July 7: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said Iran would face further isolation and sanctions in response to its expected breach Sunday of a uranium enrichment cap.

“Iran’s latest expansion of its nuclear program will lead to further isolation and sanctions,” the top US diplomat said on Twitter.

He said: "Nations should restore the longstanding standard of no enrichment for Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s regime, armed with nuclear weapons, would pose an even greater danger to the world."

Iran said earlier it was hours away from breaching the cap set by an endangered nuclear deal reached with international powers but from which the United States withdrew last year.

California Struck By 7.1 Earthquake, Home Shifted, Roads Cracked

LOS ANGELES, July 6: A powerful magnitude 7.1 earthquake shook Southern California on Friday, causing some damage to buildings, with 11 times more force than an apparent foreshock that rattled the same area a day earlier.

The latest quake struck at about 8:20 p.m. local time (0320 GMT) near the town of Ridgecrest on the edge of Death Valley National Park, about 125 miles (202 km) northeast of Los Angeles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). It was also measured at 7.1 by the European-Mediterranean Seismological Agency.

Lucy Jones, a seismologist for the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), said Friday's quake was the most powerful to hit the region since another 7.1 temblor in the same area in 1999.

The San Bernadino County Fire Department reported that Friday's quake had caused some damage to buildings.

"Homes shifted, foundation cracks, retaining walls down," the department said on Twitter. "One injury (minor) with firefighters treating patient. No unmet needs currently."

A swarm of strong aftershocks have jolted the high desert region of Southern California since a 6.4 quake on Thursday morning. Only a few injuries were reported in Thursday's quake but two houses caught fire from broken gas pipes, officials said.

The USGS said Friday's earthquake was about 11 times more forceful than Thursday's tremor, which geologists described as a foreshock to the larger one.

The Metrolink commuter rail service said on Twitter it had halted service in Los Angeles, a city of 4 million people, for the time being in the immediate aftermath of the latest quake.

Pools in Los Angeles sloshed wildly and TV cameras at major league baseball's Dodger Stadium were shaking as they filmed the night game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres.

Thursday's quake hit during America's Independence Day celebrations and was one of the largest in Southern California since the 1994 Northridge temblor.

The Northridge temblor, which was centered in a heavily populated area of Los Angeles, killed 57 people and caused billions of dollars of damage.

Trump says Iran ‘playing with fire’ after nuclear deal limit breached

WASHINGTON, July 2: US president Donald Trump warned Monday that Iran is “playing with fire” after Tehran said it exceeded a limit on enriched uranium reserves under a 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by Washington.

Israel urged European states to sanction Iran, while Russia voiced regret but said the move was a consequence of US pressure, which has pushed the deal towards collapse.

Britain called on Tehran “to avoid any further steps away” from the landmark deal, and the UN said Iran must stick to its commitments under the accord.

“Iran has crossed the 300-kilogram limit based on its plan” announced in May, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told semi-official news agency ISNA.

But he also said the move could be reversed.

“They know what they’re doing. They know what they’re playing with and I think they’re playing with fire,” Trump told reporters at the White House when asked about Iran.

The United States withdrew from the nuclear deal last year and hit Iran’s crucial oil exports and financial transactions as well as other sectors with biting sanctions.

Tehran, which has sought to pressure the remaining parties to save the deal, announced on May 8 it would no longer respect the limit set on its enriched uranium and heavy water stockpiles.

It threatened to abandon further nuclear commitments unless the remaining partners -- Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia -- helped it circumvent sanctions, especially to sell its oil.

The White House had earlier said that “the United States and its allies will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons,” vowing to continue exerting “maximum pressure” on the regime.

“It was a mistake under the Iran nuclear deal to allow Iran to enrich uranium at any level,” spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

Zarif insisted Iran had done nothing wrong. “We have NOT violated the #JCPOA,” he tweeted, referring to the deal.

He said Iran would “reverse” its decision “as soon as E3 abide by their obligations” -- referring to the European parties to the deal: Britain, France and Germany.

Zarif’s American counterpart Mike Pompeo accused Iran of using its nuclear program “to extort the international community and threaten regional security.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Iran had exceeded the limit that the deal imposed on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU).

A diplomat in Vienna, where the UN’s nuclear watchdog is based, said that Iran had exceeded the 300 kilogram (661 pound) limit by two kilograms.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said Iran’s move was a cause for “regret” but also “a natural consequence of recent events” and a result of the “unprecedented pressure” from the US.

“One mustn’t dramatize the situation,” Ryabkov, whose country is a close ally of Tehran, said in comments reported by Russian news agencies.

Britain’s Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said on Twitter that London was “deeply worried” and urged Iran to “come back to compliance” with the nuclear deal.

UN chief Antonio Guterres said it was “essential” that Iran stick to the deal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged European countries to impose sanctions on his country’s arch-foe Iran.

Trump spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday about Iran’s breach of the nuclear deal limit, the White House said.

The US president expressed hope in an interview broadcast Monday -- which was taped prior to Iran’s announcement on the uranium limit -- that Tehran will come to the negotiating table.

“Hopefully, at some point, they’ll come back and they’ll say, ‘We’re going to make a deal.’ Let’s see what happens,” Trump told Fox News Channel’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

The European Union said Friday after a crisis meeting aimed at salvaging the deal that a special payment mechanism set up to help Iran skirt the sanctions, known as INSTEX, was finally “operational” and that the first transactions were being processed.

But “the Europeans’ efforts were not enough, therefore Iran will go ahead with its announced measures,” Zarif said.

INSTEX, which “is just the beginning” of their commitments, has not yet been fully implemented, he added.

The 2015 deal saw Iran commit to never acquiring an atomic bomb, accept drastic limits on its nuclear program and submit to IAEA inspections in exchange for a partial lifting of crippling international sanctions.

Iran has also threatened to start enriching uranium above the agreed maximum purification level of 3.67 percent from July 7. That remains far short of the 90 percent purity required to build a weapon.

The latest tensions coincide with a buildup of US forces in the Gulf and a series of incidents including Iran’s shooting down of a US drone it claimed had entered its airspace.

US senate passes law to bring India at par with NATO allies

WASHINGTON, July 2: The US Senate in a key move has passed a law that brings India at par with America's NATO allies Japan, Australia and South Korea eyeing to increase defence partnership including transfer of advanced technology.

The National Defense Authorisation Act or NDAA for the fiscal year 2020, which contained this proposal has been passed by the US Senate.

The development comes amid meeting between the Prime Mindister Modi and the US President Donald Trump in Osaka and visit of US Secretary of State to Delhi.

Introduced by Senate India Caucus Co-Chair Senator John Cornyn with the support of Senate India Caucus Co-Chair Senator Mark Warner, the legislation provides for increased US-India defence cooperation in the Indian Ocean in the areas of humanitarian assistance, counterterrorism, counter-piracy and maritime security.

Last week, House India Caucus Co-Chair Brad Sherman, along with Congressmen Joe Wilson, Ami Bera, Ted Yoho, George Holding, Ed Case and Raja Krishnamoorthi introduced a similar legislative proposal to the House FY2020 NDAA that would greatly enhance the US-India relationship.

The bill would be signed into law after both the chambers of the US Congress the House of Representatives and the Senate passes it. The House is expected to take up its version of the NDAA sometime in July before legislators adjourn for the month-long August recess on July 29.

The defence budget passed by the Senate said, "It is the sense of the Senate that the United States should strengthen and enhance its major defence partnership with India" and listed six specific actions it wanted US President Donald Trump's Administration to take.

The Senate directed the Trump administration to explore "additional steps to implement the major defence partner designation to better facilitate interoperability, information sharing, and appropriate technology transfers" and to undertake "strategic initiatives to help develop the defence capabilities of India".

The Senate also urged for "increasing the frequency and scope of exchanges" between senior civilian officials and military officers "to support the development and implementation of the major defence partnership".

While India and the US have been holding joint exercises in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, the Senate urged to increase them and also conduct them in the Persian Gulf.

In recognition of the shared democratic values and commitment to free navigation, another suggestion in the budget document is to increase engagement with India in multilateral frameworks "to promote regional security and defend shared values and common interests in the rules-based order". It said the quadrilateral dialogue among the US, India, Japan and Australia should be enhanced.

The US recognised India as a "Major Defence Partner" in 2016, a designation that allows India to buy more advanced and sensitive technologies from America at par with that of the US' closest allies and partners, and ensures enduring cooperation into the future.

 

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