US bars entry to 16 Saudis over Khashoggi killing: Mike Pompeo

The announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo comes as the administration of President Donald Trump has faced pressure from Congress over its response to the killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October, which sparked unprecedented international scrutiny of the kingdom's human rights record. (Photo: File)

 The announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo comes as the administration of President Donald Trump has faced pressure from Congress over its response to the killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October, which sparked unprecedented international scrutiny of the kingdom’s human rights record. (Photo: File)

Washington: The United States on Monday barred entry to 16 Saudi nationals over what it described as their role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo comes as the administration of President Donald Trump has faced pressure from Congress over its response to the killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October, which sparked unprecedented international scrutiny of the kingdom’s human rights record.

 

Some US lawmakers have publicly stated that they suspect the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was directly responsible for the killing, based on the CIA’s conclusions.

The State Department previously revoked the visas of nearly two dozen Saudi officials and froze the assets of 17 others.

Trump’s return policy for asylum seekers blocked by US judge

Los Angeles: A US federal judge on Monday blocked President Donald Trump’s policy of returning asylum seekers to Mexico to wait out the processing of their cases, saying the Department of Homeland Security had overstepped its authority.

The ruling by US District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco marked a rebuke for the Trump administration’s efforts to stop the flow of migrants seeking asylum through the US border with Mexico.

 

The decision, which goes into effect on Friday, also comes just days after outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen had vowed to expand the controversial program.

Several hundred people seeking asylum have been returned to Mexico to await the outcome of their request under the policy first implemented in January at the San Ysidro port of entry in California and later extended to Calexico, a second California border point, and El Paso, Texas.

Rights groups welcomed the ruling on Monday, saying the return policy known as Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) failed to provide adequate safeguards to protect asylum seekers from persecution.

“The court strongly rejected the Trump administration’s unprecedented and illegal policy of forcing asylum seekers to return to Mexico without hearing their claims,” said Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

“Try as it may, the Trump administration cannot simply ignore our laws in order to accomplish its goal of preventing people from seeking asylum in the United States.

The ACLU and several other groups, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, had sought an injunction against the policy on behalf of 11 asylum seekers from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala who were returned to Mexico after seeking asylum at the US border.

In his 27-page ruling, Seeborg said at issue was not whether the MPP is “a wise, intelligent, or humane policy” but rather whether it exposes aliens to “unduly dangerous circumstances.”

He noted that the plaintiffs in the case were not challenging the “system” of expedited removal.

“Indeed, in essence, plaintiffs are arguing that because they are subject to expedited removal, they should at a minimum have the protections they would enjoy under that regime, either by being exempt from contiguous territorial return, and/or by having additional procedural and substantive protections against being sent to places in which they would not be safe from persectuion,” the judge wrote.

There was no immediate reaction from the Department of Homeland Security or Trump on the ruling, which can be appealed.

Trump, who originally dubbed the measure the “Remain in Mexico” policy, unveiled it last year as a series of caravans with thousands of Central American migrants made their way to the US-Mexican border.

He called the caravans an “invasion” by “thugs” and “criminals,” and regularly pointed to them as evidence in support of his declaration of a national emergency on the southern border and plans to build a wall there.

Mexico said it was cooperating with US authorities concerning the migrants being sent back, but only for humanitarian reasons.

Migrants who reach US soil have a legal right to seek asylum and are usually held in detention facilities while their application is processed or released into the United States.

US, China yet to find common ground in trade talks: White House official

Washington: US officials are “not satisfied yet” about all the issues standing in the way of a deal to end the US-China trade war but made progress in talks with China last week, a top White House official said on Monday.

The United States and China have been embroiled in a tit-for-tat tariff battle since July 2018, roiling global financial markets and supply chains and costing both of the world’s two largest economies billions of dollars.

 

US officials are pressing China to make changes to address longstanding concerns over industrial subsidies, technology transfer and intellectual property rights.

The two sides wrapped up the latest round of talks in Washington late last week and will be resuming discussions this week remotely.

“We’re making progress on a range of things, and there’s some stuff where we’re not satisfied yet,” Clete Willems, a top White House trade official, told Reuters on the sidelines of a US Chamber of Commerce event on Monday.

He declined to get into specifics on which issues remained unsettled. Last week, President Donald Trump said a deal could be reached in about four weeks.

Willems also declined to specify a timeline for the pact, noting: “It should be a good sign for people that we’re not rushing into this we want to get it right and we need to nail down specifics.”

Willems said that the two sides were still trying to settle on how to handle existing tariffs. The United States has slapped tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods, and the Trump administration sees those as leverage to ensure Beijing keeps any promises made in the deal. Chinese officials want the levies removed.

The United States and China have agreed on an enforcement structure that would give Washington the right to retaliate if Beijing was not honouring the terms of the agreement, Willems said.

European Union leaders did not take issues with Chinese trade policy as seriously as they should have in the past, but the United States and the EU are now “working hand in hand” at the World Trade Organization on China’s non-market economic policies, Willems said earlier in remarks at the Chamber of Commerce.

The United States and the EU want to work together on joint projects that provide market-based alternatives to state-led initiatives “that can come with strings attached,” he said.

This month China is hosting its second summit for its Belt and Road initiative, which envisions connecting China with Asia, Europe and beyond with massive infrastructure spending, but the United States will not be sending high-level officials to the event.

Washington views Beijing as a major strategic rival. The United States has said it views the initiative as a way of spreading Chinese influence overseas and saddling low-income countries with unsustainable debt using opaque projects.

Willems, who has been a key figure in negotiations with China, said last month he will be leaving the White House in the coming weeks to spend more time with his family after the birth of a new baby.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey receives salary of 1 dollar 40 cents for 2018

Silicon Valley: Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey received USD 1.40  as his first salary in 2018 – one cent for each of the 140 characters Twitter users were allowed to include in tweets earlier. The 140-character limit was then increased to 280 characters in 2017. It is not yet known if Mr Dorsey’s salary would double, too.

Mr Dorsey has declined all direct compensation and benefits for three years since 2015. In 2018, he declined all compensation other than a salary of USD 1.40, the social media company said in an regulatory filing on Monday.

 

The Twitter co-founder has for years elected to not receive any salary from Twitter “as a testament to his commitment to and belief in Twitter’s long-term value creation potential,” the filing added.

Mr Dorsey, however, has shares whose value went up 20 per cent since the beginning of 2018. He returned as Twitter chief in 2015, having held the position when the start-up was nascent.

Mr Dorsey is not the only one who takes home a symbolic pay. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s base salary has remain unchanged at USD 1 for many years. Since 2004, Alphabet’s chief executive Larry Page has also received a base salary of USD 1 per year and declined any additional compensation.

Pakistan Party’s US branch leader arrested over ‘slaughter’ threat

Virginia: The head of a Pakistani political party based in Maryland has been accused of threatening to ‘behead’ and ‘slaughter’ a man and his family in their Virginia home, according to Virginia police.

The accused named, Qaiser Ali, aged 53, from Maryland was arrested on Thursday and is facing a felony charge of promising to kill the unnamed victim and his family via a text message and video in Urdu which was posted on Twitter in November, police said. Police declined to reveal the exact reason that prompted Ali to give these threats.

 

Ali heads the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, or MQM party which is based in Maryland. The party has a record of creating violence in Pakistan and Pakistani authorities are trying to bring the party down. The human rights group are also very critical of the organization. The party has a strong support in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi. The founder of the party, Altaf Hussain, fled Pakistan in the early 1990’s and now resides in London.

“We are Brother Altaf Hussain’s loyalist workers, God willing, we will storm through and kill you in the house,” read the tweet which was translated by police in Fairfax County.

The victim told police that he feared for his and his family’s survival because in the past he knew of people being executed on MQM leader’s insistence. Police also informed that Ali and the victim knew each other.

Detective Chad Mahoney, in a detailed mail to The Washington Post said that there was no indication that the suspect made any plans to carry out the threat that was communicated. Mahoney also wrote that police had not uncovered any evidence that Ali had weapons or knew the victim’s address.

Ali did not immediately respond to messages sent to him on Twitter. His phone number is not listed. Messages to the MQM and the national organization were not returned either.

A thorough investigation was launched in November after the victim saw the Twitter message, which was then filed to obtain information about Ali’s IP address, according to search warrant. The victim and his two witnesses told police that they were convinced that Ali was responsible for the post. Detectives eventually tied all the threats to Ali, according to the search warrant.

In 2016, Ali was charged in Baltimore with second-degree assault and for having dangerous weapons with intent to harm. Though these charged were eventually dropped.

Ali is due for trial in Fairfax County on Thursday.

US Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen leaving her position: Donald Trump

Washington: US President Donald Trump on Sunday announced Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, the front-line defender of the administration’s controversial immigration policies, would leave her position.

The 46-year-old’s departure marks the end of a tortured relationship with her boss, who blamed her for a recent spike in the number of migrants coming through the Mexico border and reportedly felt she wasn’t tough enough to implement his policies.

 

Trump’s announcement comes days after he and Nielsen visited the Mexican border where the president delivered a message to would-be illegal immigrants and asylum seekers: “Our country is full.”

He had previously threatened to close the US-Mexico border if Congress and Central American governments did not act to stem a flow of migrants that saw Nielsen last week order an “emergency surge” of personnel to handle the situation.

 “Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen will be leaving her position, and I would like to thank her for her service,” Trump tweeted Sunday.

He added US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan would become acting secretary.

On Friday, US media reported that Trump also pulled his nominee to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement department — saying he wanted someone “tougher” to lead the department — a sub-agency of Nielsen’s.

The personnel shake-ups were seen by observers as a signal the president wants to tack an even harder line in his crack down on illegal immigration.

Family separations

Nielsen initially joined the Trump administration in January 2017 as a an assistant to Trump’s first DHS secretary, John Kelly. When Kelly moved to the White House as Trump’s chief of staff in July 2017, Nielsen went with him as his deputy.

But by October she was back at DHS, this time as secretary. Disaster relief, cyber security, transportation security, the Coast Guard, customs and policing the borders all fall under the department’s purview.

But most notably, she has become the face of the Trump administration’s fierce anti-immigration policy.

That includes the widely condemned practice of separating migrant children from their parents as part of a “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting all illegal border crossers.

Images of sobbing children being taken from their parents last year fuelled a national outcry that saw Democrats demand she resign, as condemnation poured in from the United Nations, human rights groups, and four former first ladies — all mothers — who called the policy “cruel” and “immoral.”

Although Trump’s ambiguous announcement left the details of her exit up in the air, Nielsen’s relationship with the president has long been said to be difficult.

But despite reports he complained constantly about her performance — and that he believed she was not harsh enough — she remained steadfastly loyal.

Last month, she defended the president’s declaration of a national emergency to secure funding for his pet project: a wall on the US-Mexico border.

Naked woman arrested after breaking into children day care centre in US

USA: Police arrested a naked woman on Thursday after she broke into a day-care centre in Stafford, Virginia, authorities reported.

Heaven Connor, aged 23, of Spotsylvania, had recently been released from Rappahannock Jail when she broke into ‘Kids on the Move Learning Center’ on Cambridge Street, the County Sheriff’s Office reported.

 

Two employees arrived at the centre in the wee hours of Thursday morning to open for the day. As one employee turned on the classroom lights, she noticed a naked Conner in a doorway, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Amanda Vicinanzo said.

Connar politely told the the worker that she was merely tresspassing. The chaos then attracted the attention of the second employee, who also saw Connor naked, Vicinanzo said.

The employees, bewildered and confused, rushed out of the day care and called the police. When the sergeant arrived, he saw Connor clothed but she was holding ‘a fork’ in each hand.

Connor was charged with unauthorized entry and indecent exposure, acoording to the sheriff’s office.

White House shruggs off Democrats request for Trump’s tax returns

Washington: President Donald Trump’s tax returns will never be handed over to Democratic lawmakers, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said on Sunday, defying an effort in Congress to learn more about the real estate mogul’s personal finances.

Asked on “Fox News Sunday” if congressional Democrats will succeed in obtaining the Republican president’s tax returns, Mulvaney said: “No, never. Nor should they.”

 

He dismissed an effort to obtain the returns, launched on Wednesday by US House of Representatives tax committee Chairman Richard Neal, as a political ploy from Democrats who will never stop attacking Trump.

“Democrats are demanding that the IRS turn over the documents. That is not going to happen, and they know it. This is a political stunt,” Mulvaney said.

Democrats countered that Neal’s request to the Treasury Department for Trump’s returns is grounded in law and a needed inquiry, given Trump’s refusal to disclose his tax records and to divest himself of his business interests.

“This is a legitimate authority that the Congress has. This president, by the way, is the least transparent president that we’ve had in half a century,” Democratic Representative Dan Kildee, a tax committee member, told ABC’s “This Week.”

Democratic Representative Ben Ray Lujan noted that presidents for decades have voluntarily released their income tax returns. “This is not political, as our Republican colleagues are making it out to be,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”

An attorney for Trump on Friday blasted House Democrats’ request for six years of Trump’s personal and business returns as “a misguided attempt” to politicize the tax laws, accusing lawmakers of harassment and interference in IRS audits.

In a statement that mapped out the legal battlefield ahead, Trump lawyer William Consovoy said the request filed by Neal flouts “constitutional constraints.”

Republican Senator Mitt Romney urged Trump to release his tax returns as promised but criticized Democratic efforts to force the issue through legislative action as “moronic.”

“The courts are not going to say that you can compel a person running for office to release their tax returns,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

One of many investigations targeting Trump on Capitol Hill and in the US court system, the House Democrats’ probe into the president’s tax returns could pull back the curtain on his business empire and his reputation as a dealmaker.

As a presidential candidate in 2016, Trump broke with a decades-old practice of making his tax returns public and continues to refuse to release them as president, while retaining ownership in many enterprises, ranging from golf courses and hotels and other properties.

If Congress takes the administration to court over Trump’s taxes then little case law would be available to help guide judges, legal experts said, both because the statute cited by Neal to obtain the returns has hardly ever been contested, and because most document disputes between the legislative and executive branches of government are resolved by negotiation.

The losing party could appeal, ultimately to the US Supreme Court. If litigation extends into 2021, a judge could also force a newly elected Congress to start the process over, said Ross Garber, an attorney who specializes in political investigations.

Donald Trump to pressure Iran by branding its Guard a terror group

Washington: In an unprecedented step to ramp up pressure on Tehran, the Trump administration is planning to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a “foreign terrorist organisation.”

The move is expected to further isolate Iran and could have widespread implications for US personnel and policy in the Middle East and elsewhere. The Trump administration has escalated rhetoric against Iran for months, but this will mark the first such designation by any American administration of an entire foreign government entity.

 

Portions of the Guard, notably its elite Quds Force, have been targeted previously by the United States. Officials informed of the step said an announcement was expected as early as Monday. Two US officials and a congressional aide confirmed the planned move.

They were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, seemed to anticipate the designation, saying in a tweet Sunday aimed at President Donald Trump that Trump “should know better than to be conned into another US disaster.”

This would be just the latest move by the Trump administration to isolate Iran. Trump withdrew from the Obama administration’s landmark nuclear deal with Iran in May 2018 and, in the months that followed, reimposed punishing sanctions including those targeting Iran’s oil, shipping and banking sectors.

The Revolutionary Guard designation, planning for which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, comes with sanctions, including freezes on assets the Guard may have in US jurisdictions and a ban on Americans doing business with it or providing material support for its activities.

Although the Guard has broad control and influence over the Iranian economy, such penalties from the US may have limited impact. The designation, however, could significantly complicate US military and diplomatic work, notably in Iraq, where many Shiite militias and Iraqi political parties have close ties to the Guard.

And in Lebanon, where the Guard has close ties to Hezbollah, which is part of the Lebanese government. Without exclusions or waivers to the designation, US troops and diplomats could be barred from contact with Iraqi or Lebanese authorities who interact with Guard officials or surrogates.

The Pentagon and US intelligence agencies have raised concerns about the impact of the designation if the move does not allow contact with foreign officials who may have met with or communicated with Guard personnel.

Those concerns have in part dissuaded previous administrations from taking the step, which has been considered for more than a decade. It was not immediately clear whether the designation would include such carve-outs.

In addition to those complications, American commanders are concerned that the designation may prompt Iran to retaliate against US forces in the region, and those commanders plan to warn US troops remaining in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere of that possibility, according to a third US official.

This official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Aside from Iraq, where some 5,200 American troops are stationed, and Syria, where some US 2,000 troops remain, the US 5th Fleet, which operates in the Persian Gulf from its base in Bahrain, and the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, are potentially at risk.

A similar warning is also expected from the State Department of possible Iranian retaliation against American interests, including embassies and consulates, and anti-American protests, the first two US officials said. Similar alerts were issued at the start of the Iraq War in 2003 and more recently when the Trump administration announced it would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Despite the risks, Iran hard-liners on Capitol Hill, such as Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and elsewhere have long advocated for the designation. They say it will send an important message to Iran as well as deal it a further blow after Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed economic sanctions. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton have taken up the call and have in recent months spoken stridently about Iran and its “malign activities” in the region.

Pompeo has made clear in public comments that pressure on Tehran will only increase until it changes its behavior. Just last week, Pompeo’s special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, accused Iran and its proxies of being responsible for the death of 608 US troops in Iraq between 2003 and 2011.

He cited newly declassified Defense Department information for the claim, which is expected to be used in the justification for the Guard designation. “Secretary Pompeo will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to press the regime to change its destructive policies for the benefit of peace in the region and for the sake of its own people, who are the longest-suffering victims of this regime,” Hook said, in an indication that new action is coming.

The department currently designates 60 groups, such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State and their various affiliates, Hezbollah and numerous militant Palestinian factions, as “foreign terrorist organizations.” But none of them is a state-run military. Once a designation is announced by the secretary of state in coordination with the Treasury secretary, Congress has seven days to review it.

If there are no objections, it then will take effect.

US Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen out

Washington: US President Donald Trump on Sunday announced the departure of Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, underscoring his intent to toughen immigration policy amid a surge in illegal crossings along the southern border.

Nielsen’s exit marks the end of a difficult relationship with her boss, who was said to be unhappy with her performance despite her unswerving loyalty and full-throated defense of the president’s most controversial policies.

 

During her 18 months at the helm of the powerful agency, the 46-year-old became synonymous with the controversial practice of separating children from their parents, making her a frequent target of progressive groups and the Democratic opposition who repeatedly called on her to resign.

None of this, however, seems to have been enough for Trump. “Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen will be leaving her position, and I would like to thank her for her service,” Trump tweeted on Sunday.

He added US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan would become acting secretary.

“Despite our progress in reforming homeland security for a new age, I have determined that it is the right time for me to step aside,” Nielsen said.

The move came just two days after she and Trump visited the Mexican border in California together, with the president delivering a stern message to would-be illegal immigrants and asylum seekers: “Our country is full.” Despite warnings of dire economic consequences, including by top Republicans, Trump has repeatedly threatened to close the US-Mexico border, demanding that Congress and Central American governments act to stem the flow of migrants.