Tillerson: US Could Remain in Paris Climate Pact, Under Right Conditions

FILE - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at the State Department in Washington on U.S. policy in Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2017.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at the State Department in Washington on U.S. policy in Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2017.

 

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday the United States could remain in the Paris climate change agreement under the right conditions.

He told the CBS news show "Face the Nation" that President Donald Trump "is open to finding those conditions where we can remain engaged with others on what we all agree is still a challenging issue."

Tillerson, the top U.S. diplomat, said, "We are willing to work with partners in the Paris climate accord, if we can construct a set of terms that we believe is fair and balanced [for] the American people and recognizes our economy and our economic interest."

But he said a problem remains in the difference in commitments between the United States and China.

"If you look at those targets in terms of the Paris climate accords, they were really out of balance for the world's two largest economies," he said.

Trump's stance unchanged

The White House on Saturday said Trump had not changed his mind on withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris accord unless it gets "pro-America terms."

The White House reiterated Trump's environmental stance Saturday after The Wall Street Journal published a report saying that Trump administration officials at a warming summit in Montreal had said the U.S. would not pull out of the Paris Agreement and had, instead, offered to re-engage in the international deal to fight climate change.

The newspaper wrote that "multiple officials" at the global warming summit had corroborated the seeming about-face by the U.S. officials attending the summit.

The account said the U.S. officials in Montreal, "led by White House senior adviser Everett Eissenstat, broached revising U.S. climate-change goals, two participants said, signaling a compromise that would keep the U.S. at the table even if it meant weakening the international effort."

The newspaper said "Multiple participants at the Montreal gathering said Mr. Eissenstat's approach, though it is likely to entail a significant reduction in the U.S.'s ambition to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, fueled optimism among proponents of the Paris deal."

Canadian ecology minister Catherine McKenna (R) confers with American Deputy Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council Everett Eissenstat (C) during the meeting of environmental ministers in Montreal, Sept. 16, 2017.
Canadian ecology minister Catherine McKenna (R) confers with American Deputy Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council Everett Eissenstat (C) during the meeting of environmental ministers in Montreal, Sept. 16, 2017.

After the summit, Miguel Arias Canete, European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy said "The U.S. has stated that they will not renegotiate the Paris accord, but they will try to review the terms on which they could be engaged under this agreement."

However, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted a different message shortly after Canete's statement was released. "Our position on the Paris agreement has not changed.," she said. "@POTUS has been clear, US withdrawing unless we get pro-America terms."

Trump drew international criticism when he declared the U.S. would pull out of the Paris Agreement and seek a renegotiation.

The Paris Agreement is a U.N.-negotiated deal signed in 2015 by every nation except Syria and Nicaragua. A withdrawal by the United States is seen as a possible catalyst for withdrawals by other nations.

The agreement seeks a global response to curb carbon dioxide emissions.

The United States produces the world's second-highest level of greenhouse gas emissions, next to China.

Trump Administration Seen Taking Harder Line on Iran

President Donald Trump talks with reporters aboard Air Force One, en route to Washington, Sept. 14, 2017.

President Donald Trump talks with reporters aboard Air Force One, en route to Washington, Sept. 14, 2017.

 

President Donald Trump on Thursday threatened to take unspecified action against Iran next month, expressing continued dissatisfaction with the 2015 nuclear agreement signed by Iran and a group of world powers, including the United States.

"We are not going to stand for what they're doing to this country," Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One. "They have violated so many different elements, but they've also violated the spirit of that deal. And you will see what we'll be doing in October. It will be very evident."

He reiterated that "it's a deal that should have never, ever been made."

The United States on Thursday extended some sanctions relief for Iran under the 2015 nuclear deal. But no decision has been made on whether to preserve the deal itself.

Imposed sanctions

The U.S. Treasury Department, meanwhile, imposed sanctions Thursday against 11 entities and individuals for supporting Iranian activity the Trump administration considers hostile, including cyberattacks against U.S. financial institutions.

FILE - Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin takes a question during the news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Aug. 25, 2017.
FILE - Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin takes a question during the news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Aug. 25, 2017.

"Treasury will continue to take strong actions to counter Iran's provocations, including support for the IRGC-Quds Forces and terrorist extremists, the ongoing campaign of violence in Syria, and cyberattacks meant to destabilize the U.S. financial system," U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement posted on the agency's website.

IRGC stands for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the branch of the Iranian military meant to protect the country's Islamic republic system. The IRGC's Quds Force is its extraterritorial unit.

The Treasury action freezes any assets the individuals and companies hold in the U.S. and bars U.S. citizens, residents and companies from doing business with them. Foreign financial institutions that do business with them risk losing access to the U.S. financial system, according to the Treasury statement.

In London on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Iran was "clearly in default" of expectations under the 2015 nuclear deal.

While international inspectors have found Iran is meeting requirements to limit its nuclear program, Tillerson said that it was violating language about regional peace and security, citing its ballistic missile program and its support for Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

Economic sanctions against Iran were dropped in exchange for Tehran's limiting of its nuclear program.

The Japanese government's alert message, called a J-alert, notifying citizens of a ballistic missile launch by North Korea is seen on a television screen in Tokyo, Sept. 15, 2017.
The Japanese government's alert message, called a J-alert, notifying citizens of a ballistic missile launch by North Korea is seen on a television screen in Tokyo, Sept. 15, 2017.

North Korea

The U.S. president, returning from seeing hurricane damage and meeting survivors in Florida, also commented on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

Amid indications Pyongyang may soon carry out further provocations beyond its recent ICBM launches and sixth nuclear test, Trump said a new response beyond the latest U.N. and U.S. sanctions and warnings was being formulated.

"I can't tell you, obviously, what I'm working on. But believe me, the people of this country will be very, very safe," Trump told reporters. "I think that a lot of effort is being put into this. We're looking at what's going on. As we speak, we are literally at it right now."

Hours after Trump spoke, North Korea fired a missile from Pyongyang that flew over Japan and about 2,200 kilometers out into the Pacific Ocean.

The commander of the U.S. Strategic Command on Thursday was the latest authoritative voice to indicate the North Koreans on September 3 most likely set off a thermonuclear device in a tunnel at their Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

"I have to make the assumption that what I saw equates to a hydrogen bomb," Air Force General John Hyten said.

Trump Praises Malaysia's Purchase of Boeing Jets, Fight Against Terrorism

U.S. President Donald Trump greets Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at the White House, Sept. 12, 2017.

U.S. President Donald Trump greets Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at the White House, Sept. 12, 2017.

 

U.S. President Donald Trump is hosting Malaysia's scandal-tainted Prime Minister Najib Razak and praising his country's investment in the United States and the fight against terrorism.

Trump said Tuesday he and Najib "were working on very large trade deals," including $10 billion to $20 billion worth of Boeing commercial aircraft, as well as General Electric jet engines.

The deal, within five years, "will be worth beyond $10 billion," confirmed Najib, saying the aircraft would go to state carrier Malaysia Airlines.

"We are committed to 25 planes of the 737 Max-10, plus eight 787 Dreamliners and there is a strong probability, not possibility" of the purchase of an additional 25 737 Max-10 jets, Najib told Trump.

"We will also try to convince Air Asia to purchase GE engines," added the Malaysian prime minister.

President Donald Trump, right, gestures while speaking during a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, second from left, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Sept. 12, 2017.
President Donald Trump, right, gestures while speaking during a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, second from left, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Sept. 12, 2017.

A major pension fund with $7 billion already invested in the United States will also invest "three to four additional billion dollars to support your infrastructure and redevelopment in the United States," added Najib.

The prime minister also said his country remains committed to fighting terrorist groups, such as Islamic State and al-Qaida. Najib said the groups are the "enemy" of both the United States and Malaysia, adding "we will do our part to make sure our part of the world is safe."

Najib stressed the key for the United States "to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world" is to support "moderate and progressive Muslim regimes and governments around the world," such as Malaysia's "because that is the true face of Islam, that is the authentic face of Islam."

Najib "has been very, very strong on terrorism in Malaysia and a great supporter from that standpoint, so that's a very important thing from the United States," Trump said.

Corruption investigation

Najib's visit comes as some of his family members and associates are under scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department, which is investigating corruption and money laundering of funds from the 1MDB state development company.

Najib, before his White House visit, was upset with U.S. media reports accusing his country of sliding into dictatorship. Najib fired back in a blog post contending the opposition's ability to criticize him was proof of democracy and free speech in the Muslim-majority federation.

Najib said, however, that critics "falsely running down Malaysia's vibrant democracy and spreading smears and falsehoods about this government in foreign newspapers just for political gain is another matter."

Freedom House describes Malaysia's media as "partly free," while Reporters Without Border notes "several proposed amendments would reinforce the already draconian Official Secrets Act and Communications and Multimedia Act, but the Sedition Act continues to be the biggest threat to journalists."

'Downplaying democracy'

Analysts say they are not surprised Trump hosted Najib.

"It's unfortunate but consistent with Trump's policy of downplaying democracy and human rights as an aspect of U.S. policy," says Joshua Kurlantzick, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council for Foreign Relations.

“We are very surprised and worried that he has been received by the President of the United States in the White House,” says Alejandro Salas of Berlin-based Transparency International. “It doesn’t send a very good signal to anyone except Najib.”

There is a pragmatic reason for the Trump administration to host Najib, according to Kurlantzick, who tells VOA "we do need Malaysia's cooperation on certain issues, on the South China Sea and terrorism."

The U.S. Justice Department in June moved to seize more than a half a billion dollars in assets related to the 1MDB case, including a Picasso given to actor Leonardo DiCaprio, the screen rights to two Hollywood movies and a $27 million diamond necklace belong to Najib's wife, Rosmah Mansor.

In all, according to Justice Department investigators, more than $3.5 billion from the 1MDB fund is alleged to have been diverted, including $731 million into Najib's bank accounts.

The prime minister has repeatedly insisted he has done nothing wrong.

Najib, in 2015, fired the country's attorney general and replaced him with a new one who quickly cleared the prime minister of any wrongdoing in the 1MDB probe.

Pentagon Memorial Stands as Tribute 16 Years After Terror Attack

At the Pentagon Memorial, a K-9 officer pauses as he looks toward the U.S. flag as it is draped on the side of the Pentagon where the building was attacked on September 11 in 2001, on the 14th anniversary of the attack, Sept. 11, 2015, outside Washington.
At the Pentagon Memorial, a K-9 officer pauses as he looks toward the U.S. flag as it is draped on the side of the Pentagon where the building was attacked on September 11 in 2001, on the 14th anniversary of the attack, Sept. 11, 2015, outside Washington.

 

 

Sixteen years ago, the building housing the U.S. Department of Defense came under attack. American Airlines Flight 77 was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon, killing all 59 passengers on board the plane and 125 people working in the building.

 

Today, the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial stands next to where the plane entered the building, honoring those lost on a day that forever changed America.

 

Jamie McIntyre, The Washington Examiner’s senior defense writer, was inside the Pentagon working as a correspondent for CNN at the time of the attacks. Speaking with VOA at the memorial, he called it “sacred ground.”

 

“I stood here on September 11,” McIntyre said, “and to someone who lived through it, it’s kind of a defining moment in your life.”

 

Among those killed in the attack was David Laychak, a civilian employee with the U.S. Army who had been in and out of his office at the Pentagon because of renovations to the building.

 

“I didn’t even know if Dave was in the building. I didn’t expect him to be in the building,” his brother James Laychak, the president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, told VOA.

 

Laychak recalled being at home about three kilometers from the Pentagon when he and his wife felt the windows shake. They were watching their TV screens air footage from the Twin Towers attack in New York, and they remember wondering whether the Pentagon could have also been a target.

 

 

 

As the hours turned into days without contact from David Laychak, the nightmare was confirmed: He had gone to the Pentagon that day, and he had not survived the attack. He left behind a wife, Laurie, and two children, Zach, 9, and Jenny, 7.

 

Symbolism of memorial

 

Plans for the memorial started a few weeks later.

 

Laychak said the victims’ family members first worked with the Pentagon to secure a plot of land near the impact point.

 

After years of fundraising, designing and building the memorial, it was dedicated and opened to the public on September 11, 2008. The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial was the first of the 9/11 memorials to be opened, Laychak said. Even though it’s just steps away from the U.S. military headquarters, it’s open to the public 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

 

“I think that’s a testament to our country,” Laychak said. “The only time it’s been closed is when we’ve had major snowstorms.”

 

The memorial is designed like a timeline, with September 11, 2001, serving as what Lachak calls the “zero line.”

 

A woman reaches out to touch flowers placed on one of the benches of the Pentagon Memorial at the Pentagon, outside Washington, Sept. 11, 2014.
A woman reaches out to touch flowers placed on one of the benches of the Pentagon Memorial at the Pentagon, outside Washington, Sept. 11, 2014.

 

 

From there, there are benches, one for each victim, organized by their birthdays. Five benches bunched near the zero line serve as memorials to the five children killed onboard Flight 77. After a gap, more benches emerge on the timeline to represent all of the adults killed in the attack, whose ages range from their early 20s to 71, the age of retired U.S. Navy Captain John Yamnicky Sr., who was killed on the plane.

 

If a visitor has to face the Pentagon to read a victim’s name on a bench, the visitor knows that person was killed in the building. If a visitor reads a name on a bench and sees the skyline, then the visitor knows that person was killed in the plane. The trees on the memorial’s grounds, once tiny saplings, have grown over the years to provide shade as people sit and reflect in the memorial. The sound of the cool water that runs below the benches is calming.

 

Laychak thinks his brother would approve of the site.

 

“I do this to honor my brother’s memory and to honor all the people who died here so we never forget them,” he said.

 

He’s now working to fund a Visitor Education Center to complement the site and help tell the stories of those lost. When completed, the new center will rest on the other side of Washington Boulevard, overlooking the highway on the flight path of Flight 77 right before it entered the building.

White House: Unprecedented Mobilization Under Way to Help Florida, Caribbean

Servicemen from the California National Guard and the Oregon Air National Guard load onto a Texas Air National Guard C-130H Hercules at Hurlburt Field, Florida, Sept. 11, 2017. Supplies, equipment and personnel were transported to the Florida Keys to help

Servicemen from the California National Guard and the Oregon Air National Guard load onto a Texas Air National Guard C-130H Hercules at Hurlburt Field, Florida, Sept. 11, 2017. Supplies, equipment and personnel were transported to the Florida Keys to help

 

An unprecedented rescue and relief response by the United States is under way not only in Florida, but also in the Caribbean following Hurricane Irma, according to the Trump administration.

It is “the largest-ever mobilization of our military in a naval and marine operation,” for relief operations, White House Homeland Security Advisor Thomas Bossert told reporters on Monday.

Nine large ships, including the 335-meter (1,100 feet) long USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier which arrived at Key West on Sunday night, are being used as platforms for sorties by at least 80 rotary wing aircraft, according to officials.

Ships, troops on the move

The U.S. Navy also moved the USS Iwo Jima, which is an amphibious assault ship and USS New York, an amphibious transport dock, towards Key West.

Another amphibious assault ship, the USS Kearsarge, and a dock landing ship, the USS Oak Hill are in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, moving people and supplies to the islands.

An MV-22 Osprey aircraft assisted in the movement of British Marines from St. Croix to the British Virgin Islands, according to the Pentagon.

“We're saving hundreds, if not thousands, of people off of these islands at this point collectively,” said Bossert.

Attention is not only focused on the hard-hit U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, but missions are being conducted to repatriate American citizens on 88-square kilometer (55 miles) St. Martin (jointly held by the Dutch and French), where outbreaks of looting and violence have been reported.

The U.S. Air National Guard says it successfully rescued more than 1,000 Americans from St. Martin on Sunday.

Additional evacuation flights landed there on Monday to take U.S. citizens to Puerto Rico, according to the State Department.

Although Puerto Rico was only grazed by Irma, the storm knocked out the power grid of the effectively bankrupt electrical utility of the U.S. commonwealth, overall teetering on financial collapse.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas and St. John took a direct hit. Many buildings, including those built to supposedly hurricane-safe code after damaging storms in 1989 and 1995 were destroyed or seriously damaged.

Residents of St. Thomas say looters with machetes and guns have also been robbing people.

'Roaming like zombies'

On St. John “people there are roaming like zombies,” bar owner Stacey Alvarado, who managed to leave for the U.S. mainland, was quoted by The Washington Post. She described the island as “as wiped out. It's like the walking dead down there.”

Commercial air service to St. Croix, where the airport was extensively damaged, is scheduled to resume on Tuesday.

Bossert, at the White House, said he wants people in the U.S. islands to know they are getting immediate and long-term assistance, but he is asking for patience.

“While I'm preaching caution to make sure people understand that this is an ongoing and there's still going to be long painful days ahead, I am doubling-down on my assertion that this is the best integrated full-scale response effort in our nation's history,” Bossert said.

The U.S. Northern Command says its main focus Monday was pre-positioning of search and rescue assets in Florida should those capabilities be requested.

Soldiers prepare to load a Blackhawk helicopter into a C-5M Super Galaxy, Sept. 11, 2017. The helicopter is one of 35 aircraft relocating in preparation to support Hurricane Irma relief efforts.
Soldiers prepare to load a Blackhawk helicopter into a C-5M Super Galaxy, Sept. 11, 2017. The helicopter is one of 35 aircraft relocating in preparation to support Hurricane Irma relief efforts.

 

Helicopters on the way

Military elements at Naval Air Station Key West and Homestead Air Reserve Base worked on Monday to re-establish airfield operations for use in search and rescue missions.

Air Force C-5 and C-17 cargo planes are flying to Homestead carrying helicopters, as well as relief supplies for search and rescue operation.

The U.S. Transportation Command is postured to airlift additional search and rescue assets staged in the United States around the storm as airfields become operational, and help move search and rescue assets returning from Puerto Rico, according to the Defense Department.

The State Department on Monday warned U.S. citizens to avoid travel to the Bahamas, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Turks and Caicos, as well as other parts of the eastern Caribbean “due to continuing hazardous conditions in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.”

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