World U.S. sanctions Venezuelan state oil firm, escalating pressure on Maduro
Kabul (AFP) – Afghanistan said on Monday it has been reassured by Washington that progress in talks with the Taliban remains geared towards facilitating peace negotiations with the government in Kabul.
US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Afghanistan late Sunday to update officials, including President Ashraf Ghani, on six days of talks with Taliban representatives in Qatar.
Both the US and the Taliban have cited „progress” as hopes rise that the unprecedented length of the negotiations could mean a deal paving the way to Afghan peace talks may be in sight, although sticking points remain.
But Afghan authorities have previously complained of being excluded from the discussions, and warned that any deal between the US and the Taliban would require Kabul’s endorsement.
„The US insisted in their talks with the Taliban that the only solution for lasting peace in Afghanistan is intra-Afghan talks,” Khalilzad said, according to a statement released by the presidential palace in Kabul.
„My role is to facilitate” such talks between the insurgents and Kabul, Khalilzad said according to Ghani, adding that the discussions are ongoing.
The Taliban have long refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, branding them as „puppets”.
The palace said Khalilzad also confirmed that no agreement had been made on the withdrawal of foreign troops, adding that any such decision would be coordinated and discussed in detail with the Afghan government.
The Taliban have insisted on the withdrawal of foreign troops, and US President Donald Trump’s clear eagerness to end America’s longest war has weighed on the negotiations.
On Saturday Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that until a withdrawal timetable is decided progress on other issues is „impossible”.
The palace’s statement also said Khalilzad denied reports that the issue of an interim government had been raised, and that the US and the Taliban had agreed on a timetable for a US withdrawal and a ceasefire.
„We have discussed a ceasefire with the Taliban, but there is no progress so far,” Khalilzad said, according to the statement.
Speculation of an interim government is „absolutely wrong”, he added, saying there were no discussions about the future government in the talks with the Taliban.
Afghans have expressed tentative hopes about the talks tempered by fears about an American exit, with Afghan security forces taking staggering losses, the government facing election upheaval, and civilians paying a disproportionate price after nearly two decades of bloodshed.
The Taliban and US officials have agreed to continue negotiations, though no date has been publicly announced.
World Islamist militants prime suspects in Philippine cathedral bombingAyee Macaraig•The deadly church bombing in the southern Philippines killed worshippers and soldiers during Sunday mass (AFP Photo/NICKEE BUTLANGAN)Investigators probing the Catholic cathedral bombing that killed 21 people in the Philippines’ restive south said Monday a group tied to notorious Islamists Abu Sayyaf is the prime suspect.Two explosions tore through the cathedral on the Muslim-majority island of Jolo, killing worshippers at Sunday mass and security forces in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.Authorities said the so-called Ajang-Ajang faction is a small band of several dozen that most likely carried out the bombing, the Philippines’ worst in years, in an act of revenge.”Last year their leader was killed. There have been persistent reports that they will retaliate,” regional military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Gerry Besana told AFP.”Yes, we saw them in the CCTV. It was the brother of the leader who was killed,” he said referring to footage from outside the cathedral. „He was seen with two other members of Ajang-Ajang.”Security forces say the group is composed of relatives of Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group members who have been killed in clashes with the government.
Abu Sayyaf, which is based on the remote Jolo island, has been blamed for the Philippines’ deadliest attack, a 2004 ferry bombing in Manila Bay that claimed 116 lives.
– ‘Revenge group’ –
„There are high-level law enforcement operations against them (Ajang-Ajang),” said Rommel Banlaoi, chair of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research. „It evolved into a revenge group.”
While Abu Sayyaf have sworn allegiance to Islamic State, that is not necessarily true for the motley members of Ajang-Ajang.
„Not all members of Ajang-Ajang group are pro-ISIS, but all of them are Abu Sayyaf group,” said Banlaoi using another acronym for IS. „It’s not IS-affiliated.”
The IS claim, in a formal communique, said two suicide bombers had detonated explosive belts, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist activities.
But a military report said a second bomb that went off at the cathedral was left in the utility box of a motorcycle in the parking area outside.
Police said they believe the explosives were likely detonated remotely, but did not elaborate. Despite the contradictions, authorities have not ruled out IS involvement.
Regardless of who staged the bombing, concern was growing Monday over the impact it will have on a decades-long push for peace that culminated last week in voters approving expanded Muslim self-rule in the south.
The vote was the result of negotiations started in the 1990s with the nation’s largest rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and will give it considerable power over the so-called Bangsamoro region.
„This is a big challenge for the Bangsamoro government,” said Banlaoi.
The former rebels need to show they will be able to pull the region toward peace in order to attract much-needed investment to alleviate poverty and counter extremism, he told AFP.
„MILF needs to prove it can make a difference… the gravity of the problem faced by MILF is wow, so overwhelming,” he added.
– ‘Squandered opportunities’ –
The church attack came despite President Rodrigo Duterte, who visited the cathedral Monday, putting the southern Philippines under martial rule after pro-IS militants seized the southern city of Marawi in May 2017.
Government officials have argued that martial rule, which gives authorities extra powers, has been effective in taming the perpetually restive region.
But families of the dead, who began holding funerals on Monday, have become the latest in the Philippines’ south to mourn loved ones killed in a bomb attack.
„My 81-year-old mother does not deserve this kind of death,” Edward Non told AFP, with a row of victims’ coffins behind him.
„This has to stop. It’s the innocent civilians who suffer.”
Experts were also worried about how the bombing would impact the hopes for new development in the region, which were spurred by the self-rule vote victory.
„It’s a terrible human tragedy, it’s also a development tragedy,” World Bank economist Andrew Mason told broadcaster ABS-CBN.
„When we see conflict areas, when we see ups-and-downs and negative impacts due to violence and conflict, what we see is also these are development opportunities that are squandered.”
Trump, who regularly bashes media outlets such as CNN and NBC, took aim at two new targets in a tweet Sunday night: Fox News’ John Roberts and Gillian Turner. It was a rare moment of criticism from the president toward his favorite cable news network.
“Never thought I’d say this but I think [Roberts] and [Turner] @FoxNews have even less understanding of the Wall negotiations than the folks at FAKE NEWS CNN & NBC!” the president tweeted.
Banderas, who frequently appears on Fox News’ “Outnumbered,” slammed Trump in a series of tweets Monday, lambasting him for “bullying” and “insulting” her fellow journalists.
“This is NOT right,” she tweeted. “They don’t deserve this. No reporter does. They are doing their jobs and reporting the facts.”
She added: “Our jobs are not meant to please others. But the office of the @POTUS ought not to be the one lashing out. That’s not how this country works. That’s not how Freedom of the Press works. … Bullying journalists is not Presidential. Period.”
@realDonaldTrump This is NOT right. I stand by my colleagues @johnrobertsFox and @GillianHTurner They don’t deserve this. No reporter does. They are doing their jobs and reporting the facts. They are not opinion journalists and deserve the respect from the @WhiteHouse they cover.
Donald J. Trump
Never thought I’d say this but I think @johnrobertsFox and @GillianHTurner @FoxNews have even less understanding of the Wall negotiations than the folks at FAKE NEWS CNN & NBC! Look to final results! Don’t know how my poll numbers are so good, especially up 19% with Hispanics?
We can and do stand plenty of criticism every day which is fine coming from everyday viewers. Our jobs are not meant to please others. But the office of the @POTUS ought not to be the one lashing out. That’s not how this country works. That’s not how Freedom of the Press works.OhioMark@MarkH1951Replying to @JulieBanderas and 4 others
Can’t stand some criticism, time to find a new line of work.
By going on Twitter and insulting two of our journalists @realDonaldTrump is putting a target on their backs. In turn his followers will then attack @johnrobertsFox and @GillianHTurner in support on Twitter. Bullying journalists is not Presidential. Period.Dennis Mark@DJMESQ53Replying to @JulieBanderas and 4 others
You’re one of my favorites Julie but you missed the point on this one by calling it “not “ right. Everyone is entitled to have and express their opinion. You can disagree but calling it not right goes a bit too far…
I have always stood up for journalists no matter what network they work for. We all should support each other.Jen Moody@JimMood50830760Replying to @JulieBanderas and 5 others
Very true. But where have you been the last few years? Trump has criticized virtually EVERY OTHER REPORTER ON THE PLANET (other than Fox). Where were you when targets were being put on their backs?
Neither Fox News nor the White House immediately responded to HuffPost’s requests for comment.
Trump routinely tears into reporters and tries to undermine the free press by accusing the “fake news” media of acting as the “enemy of the people.” In November, the White House was forced to restore press credentials for CNN’s Jim Acosta after it stripped him of his pass following a heated exchange with Trump during a press conference.
The president tweeted earlier this month that he had told White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders “not to bother” with press briefings, claiming without evidence that reporters often cover her “rudely” and “inaccurately.”
“This retreat from transparency and accountability sets a terrible precedent,” White House Correspondents’ Association President Olivier Knox said in a statement at the time. “Being able to question the press secretary or other senior government officials publicly helps the news media tell Americans what their most powerful representatives are doing in their name.”
Roger Stone, a longtime friend and adviser to Donald Trump, proclaimed his innocence Friday of federal charges filed in a Florida courtroom earlier in the day. He was charged by special counsel Robert Mueller with seven counts, including obstruction of justice, making false statements and witness tampering, in Mueller’s ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Following his early morning arrest at his home in Fort Lauderdale and formal indictment in court, Stone posted a $250,000 bond and emerged from federal district court to begin making his case in public.
“I am innocent,” Stone told Alex Jones, the host of InfoWars, the conspiracy theory website on which Stone is a frequent guest. With dozens of reporters gathered outside the court building awaiting a statement, Stone proclaimed that the charges against him were “politically motivated” and that he had been “framed” by Mueller’s prosecutors. “The whole Russia investigation is a distraction from the real crimes of the Clintons and the Obamas,” Stone said.
When he emerged from the courthouse, Stone, wearing jeans and a blue polo shirt, was met with a mixture of boos and cheers from the large crowd waiting for him outside. He raised his arms in the V-for-victory pose made famous by his original political mentor, Richard Nixon — including on the day Nixon left the White House after his resignation.
“As I have long said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about,” Stone said.
Calling the Mueller investigation a “two-year inquisition,” Stone insisted that “the charges relate in no way to Russian collusion, WikiLeaks collaboration or any other illegal act in connection with the 2016 campaign.”
In the indictment of Stone, however, Mueller’s team alleges that a top Trump campaign official directed Stone to contact WikiLeaks regarding the hack and release of thousands of Democratic emails.
Stone directly rebutted that claim Friday. “That is incorrect,” he said.
Asked point blank whether he, in any way, worked with the Russians to help the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, Stone was adamant.
“Categorically not, no. Absolutely not,” Stone said.
Repeating many of the same denials made to Jones, Stone also vowed that he would never, unlike the president’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, testify against Trump.
“There is no circumstance, whatsoever, under which I will bear false witness against the president,” Stone said, adding, “I will not testify against the president.”
Trump appeared to reference Stone’s arrest and indictment in an early morning tweet.
Stone said he is “preparing” for his next scheduled court appearance next week in Washington.
After 35 days, President Trump announced that the federal government shutdown — the longest in the nation’s history — would come to a temporary end. With the public taking Trump at his word that he would be “proud to shut down the government,” White House surrogates stumbling in their efforts to spin the shutdown’s effect on the American people and Republican senators beginning to defect to a Democratic bill in Thursday’s vote, Trump agreed to reopen the government without funding for his border wall.
The shutdown’s cause was Trump’s inability to secure funding for the wall that was a staple of his rallies during the 2016 campaign. Along the way there were complications, including his attempt to end President Barack Obama’s program of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which stayed deportation for undocumented immigrants who arrived as children, and attempts by some in Congress and the administration to limit legal immigration and grants of asylum.
With 800,000 federal workers finally set to be paid, here’s a timeline of how we got here.
June 16, 2015
“I will build a great wall ― and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me ―and I’ll build them very inexpensively,” said Trump while announcing the launch of his presidential campaign in New York. “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
Trump’s campaign website, in a now-deleted campaign promise, proposed that Mexico would pay for the wall, reading, “It’s an easy decision for Mexico: make a one-time payment of $5-10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year.”
On Jan. 5, the New York Times reported the wall was conceived by campaign advisers as a way to keep Trump focused on immigration while campaigning instead of veering off topic.
“How do we get him to continue to talk about immigration?” Sam Nunberg, an early Trump adviser, told the Times. “We’re going to get him to talk about he’s going to build a wall.”
July 18, 2016
The Republican National Convention adopts the official platform for the 2016 convention nominating Donald Trump. It reads, “That is why we support building a wall along our southern border and protecting all ports of entry. The border wall must cover the entirety of the southern border and must be sufficient to stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.”
Nov. 8, 2016
Trump wins the presidential election and Republicans maintain majorities in the U.S. Senate and House, giving them unified control of the federal government after the Jan. 20 inauguration.
Jan. 27, 2017
In a phone call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Trump insists he has to keep up the pretense that Mexico will pay for the wall and asks Peña Nieto not to embarrass him by saying the opposite: “[T]he fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind because I have to have Mexico pay for the wall – I have to. I have been talking about it for a two-year period. … They are going to say, ‘who is going to pay for the wall, Mr. President?’ to both of us, and we should both say, ‘We will work it out.’”
Sept. 5, 2017
Trump announces he is ending DACA.
Obama issues a statement on Facebook, calling the decision „cruel” and „self-defeating, adding that “the action taken today isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision, and a moral question.”
Sept. 13, 2017
Democratic leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer attend a dinner meeting at the White House and state afterward that they had reached a deal with Trump that would provide a plan to replace DACA as well as providing funding for border security — although not a wall.
Sept. 14, 2017
Trump tweets that “No deal was made last night on DACA.”
Oct. 8, 2017
The White House sends a list of immigration demands to Congress, including removing protections for unaccompanied minor immigrants, increasing the authority of state and local police to investigate immigration status and curbing “chain migration” by limiting visas for spouses and family members of immigrants who come to the United States to work.
„The Administration can’t be serious about compromise or helping the Dreamers if they begin with a list that is anathema to the Dreamers, to the immigrant community and to the vast majority of Americans,” said Pelosi and Schumer in a joint statement. „The list includes the wall, which was explicitly ruled out of the negotiations. If the President was serious about protecting the Dreamers, his staff has not made a good faith effort to do so.”
Oct. 25, 2017
Trump tells reporters on the White House lawn he’d be interested in doing a deal for DACA.
„I’d love to do a DACA deal,” said Trump, “but we have to get something very substantial for it – including the wall, including security, including a strong border.”
Jan. 9, 2018
In a bipartisan meeting at the White House, Trump seems to agree with the suggestion of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to pass DACA before moving on to comprehensive immigration reform.
“We’re going to come out with DACA,” said Trump, “We’re going to do DACA, and then we can start immediately on the Phase 2, which would be comprehensive.”
“Would you be agreeable to that?” asked Feinstein.
“Yeah, I would,” said Trump. “I think a lot of people would like to see that, but we have to do DACA first.”
At this point Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., reminded the president that the deal he was agreeing to was not the position of the Republican Party.
“You’ve got to be clear here,” said McCarthy. “What Sen. Feinstein is asking, we don’t want to be back here in two years later, you have to have security as the secretary would tell you.”
McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, said Congress wouldn’t pass DACA without also addressing border security and chain migration.
„This should be a bill of love,” Trump said. „Truly, it should be a bill of love, and we can do that.”
Jan. 20, 2018
The government shuts down for three days as Senate Democrats insist that language to protect Dreamers be included in the spending deal. They eventually relent, agreeing to a short-term funding bill.
Schumer likens negotiating with Trump to negotiating with Jell-O.
Jan. 25, 2018
The White House releases a plan that includes a path toward citizenship for DACA recipients, $25 billion for the border wall and a gutting of the legal immigration system. Members of both parties urged Trump to drop the demands for legal immigration cuts while the right-wing website Breitbart referred to him as “Amnesty Don” for his plan to protect Dreamers.
Feb. 15, 2018
The Senate fails to find the 60 votes to move forward with any of four immigration-related bills. The bill with the proposals backed by the White House garnered just 39 votes. A measure that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and $25 billion for general border security received 54 votes.
June 21, 2018
The House fails to pass a hardline immigration bill that would have severely cut legal immigration, by a final tally of 193 to 231, including 41 defecting Republicans in opposition. A moderate Republican plan to force a vote on a bill to protect Dreamers using a tactic known as a discharge petition fell two signatures short after pushback from House Speaker Paul Ryan.
June 27, 2018
House Republicans plan to vote on a new immigration deal and receive encouragement from Trump via an all-caps tweet: “HOUSE REPUBLICANS SHOULD PASS THE STRONG BUT FAIR IMMIGRATION BILL, KNOWN AS GOODLATTE II, IN THEIR AFTERNOON VOTE TODAY, EVEN THOUGH THE DEMS WON’T LET IT PASS IN THE SENATE. PASSAGE WILL SHOW THAT WE WANT STRONG BORDERS & SECURITY WHILE THE DEMS WANT OPEN BORDERS = CRIME. WIN!”
Aug. 31, 2018
A federal judge declines to issue an order blocking DACA, ruling on a lawsuit brought by seven states, thus allowing the program to continue. The decision followed a January ruling that said the program should be kept running while it is being litigated, a February ruling blocking the administration from ending DACA, an April ruling that also went against the White House and an Aug. 3 ruling that the program should be restarted in full.
Nov. 8, 2018
A federal appeals court rules against the White House on DACA, stating it cannot immediately end the program.
Trump signs a proclamation banning migrants who enter the United States between official ports of entry from claiming asylum. On Nov. 20 a judge blocked the proclamation, allowing asylum seekers to enter between official ports, and on Dec. 7 a federal appeals court upheld that decision.
Dec. 11, 2018
In a televised meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, Trump stated that he was comfortable shutting down the government for border security.
“I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck,” said Trump. “Because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into this country. So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I won’t blame you for it.”
Dec. 19, 2018
The Senate passes a spending bill that would keep the government open through Feb. 8 without providing funding for the wall, legislation the White House had not publicly endorsed. Conservative pundits Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin all speak out against the lack of funding for the wall.
„Trump gets nothing and the Democrats get everything, including control of the House in a few short weeks,” said Limbaugh on his radio show.
Dec. 20, 2018
Trump tells lawmakers he will not sign the deal the Senate passed the day before. Speaker Ryan declines to bring the Senate bill up in the House, where it might have passed with a veto-proof supermajority.
„Any measure that funds the government has to include border security — not for political purposes, but for our country,” said Trump.
Dec. 21, 2018
The House passes a stopgap funding bill that includes $5 billion for the wall. Following Democratic opposition in the Senate, the bill stalls there.
Dec. 22, 2018
As appropriations run out with no new spending authority, a partial government shutdown begins, affecting approximately 800,000 federal employees.
Jan. 8, 2019
Trump gives a primetime address from the Oval Office demanding funding for a wall and calling the situation on the border a “crisis.” Pelosi and Schumer respond, saying they want to reopen the government but remain opposed to money for the wall.
Jan. 9, 2019
Pence says that DACA isn’t on the negotiating table until the ongoing lawsuit over it is decided by the Supreme Court.
Jan. 10, 2019
Trump visits the border in McAllen, Texas. Contradicting his months of campaign promises, he denies promising that the wall would be paid for by Mexico.
“When I said Mexico would pay for the wall in front of thousands and thousands of people, obviously I never said and never meant they’re going to write out a check,” he said. “Mexico will pay for the wall indirectly.”
Jan. 13, 2019
Contradicting Pence’s statement four days prior that DACA wasn’t on the table, Trump tweets: “Democrats are saying that DACA is not worth it and don’t want to include in talks. Many Hispanics will be coming over to the Republican side, watch!”
Jan. 19, 2019
Trump offers Democrats a deal of temporary protections for DACA and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders — refugees living in the United States who face persecution or other dangers in their home countries — in exchange for $5.7 billion for the construction of new physical barriers along the southern border. The bill also would make it more difficult for Central American minors to apply for asylum.
Immigration hawks on the right decried Trump’s proposal as “amnesty.” Pelosi called the deal “a nonstarter.” In a statement, Schumer said, “It was the president who singled-handedly took away DACA and TPS protections in the first place — offering some protections back in exchange for the wall is not a compromise but more hostage taking.”
Jan. 22, 2019
The Supreme Court declines to take action on the Trump administration’s DACA appeal, meaning the November ruling keeping the program in place stays in effect.
Jan. 24, 2019
The Senate votes on two bills to reopen the government, a short-term funding bill put forward by Democrats, without an appropriation for the wall, and the Trump plan. Both bills failed to get the requisite 60 votes, but the Democratic bill came closer, failing by 52-44 (including six Republicans who crossed the aisle to vote yes). The White House plan lost, 50-47. Two Republican senators voted against the Trump bill while Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted yes.
After the votes fell short, Trump offered a deal that provided a “prorated down payment” on the wall. Pelosi said she didn’t think it was a “reasonable agreement” and questioned what exactly the president meant. “I don’t know if he knows what he’s talking about,” she asked reporters. “Do you?”
Jan. 25, 2019
Trump announces a deal to open the government through Feb. 15, allowing federal employees to receive their backpay. The agreement contains no funding for the wall. He held open the possibility that the shutdown could resume or he could declare a national emergency to build the border wall without a congressional appropriation.