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Pompeo holds crisis talks in Riyadh on missing journalist

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Khashoggi

Riyadh | US top diplomat Mike Pompeo held talks with Saudi King Salman on Tuesday seeking answers about the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, amid US media reports the kingdom may be mulling an admission he died during a botched interrogation.

“Rogue killers” could be blamed for the disappearance of Khashoggi, who has not been seen since he walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to sort out marriage paperwork, US President Donald Trump said after telephone talks with the king.

Trump dispatched Pompeo to Riyadh for what the State Department described as “face to face meetings with the Saudi leadership”.

After his talks with the king, Pompeo was to have dinner with his powerful son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a US official told the accompanying press.

Turkish police on Monday searched the consulate for the first time since the disappearance of Khashoggi, a Saudi national and US resident who had become increasingly critical of Prince Mohammed.

Turkish officials have said they believe he was killed – a claim Saudi Arabia has denied – with the controversy dealing a huge blow to the prince’s efforts to showcase a reform drive and burnish the kingdom’s image.

US media reported on Monday that the kingdom is considering an admission that Khashoggi died after an interrogation that went wrong during an intended abduction.

The UN human rights chief called Tuesday for the lifting of the immunity of officials who might be involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance.

“In view of the seriousness of the situation surrounding the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi, I believe the inviolability or immunity of the relevant premises and officials… should be waived immediately,” Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.

Until Monday, Riyadh had not allowed Turkish investigators to search the consulate – officially Saudi territory – with reports both sides were at odds over the conditions.

The investigators, who searched the premises for eight hours into Tuesday morning, took samples with them, including soil from the consulate garden, one official at the scene said.

Istanbul police are now also planning to search the nearby consul’s residence, a diplomatic source said.

Trump’s comments came after a telephone conversation with King Salman, father of the crown prince, the first such talks since the crisis erupted.

“Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened ‘to our Saudi Arabian citizen’,” Trump tweeted.

Riyadh’s most recent comments have focused on having no knowledge of any killing or denying that any order to kill Khashoggi had been given.

“The denial was very, very strong,” Trump later told reporters at the White House. “It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?”

But CNN cited two sources as saying the Saudis are preparing a report that his death resulted from a botched interrogation, while the Wall Street Journal said the kingdom was weighing whether to say that rogue operatives killed Khashoggi by mistake.

After his crunch talks in Riyadh Tuesday, Pompeo was expected in Turkey on Wednesday to meet Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

The search came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and King Salman also had their first telephone talks since the controversy erupted.

The controversy has troubled Saudi’s traditional Western allies, who are key arms suppliers to the kingdom, and also undermined efforts by Mohammed bin Salman to present himself as a modernising ruler.

An investment conference seen as a platform for the crown prince and dubbed the “Davos in the Desert”, scheduled to take place in Riyadh next week, has been hit by a string of prominent cancellations.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Ford chairman Bill Ford and Larry Fink, the head of investment giant BlackRock, were among the latest business barons to cancel plans to attend.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he still plans to attend but would “take (it)… into account” if more information came out.

The controversy meanwhile threw into doubt a USD 400 million deal the Saudi Public Investment Fund negotiated with Hollywood’s most powerful talent agency as part of the crown prince’s drive for a foothold in the entertainment industry.

Endeavour CEO Ari Emanuel said the Khashoggi case was “very, very concerning”, although he stopped short of pronouncing the deal was dead.

Trump has threatened the kingdom with “severe punishment” if it is shown that

Khashoggi was killed inside its Istanbul mission.

But he has also made clear he is reluctant to curb all-important arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Britain, France and Germany also released a rare joint statement saying they were treating Khashoggi’s disappearance “with the utmost seriousness” and calling for a “credible investigation”.

Riyadh, however, has vowed to hit back against any punitive measures imposed over the affair.

International

Trump to make ‘major’ announcement on shutdown, border issue

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Donald Trump

Washington | US President Donald Trump has said he will make a “major” announcement Saturday on the ongoing federal government shutdown and the humanitarian crisis on the country’s southern border. No further detail about the announcement was immediately available from the White House.

The shutdown, the longest-ever in US history, is a result of the bitter political divide over border security issue between the Trump-led Republican party and the opposition Democratic party led by the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The Democrats, who now enjoy majority in the House, have refused to approve a legislation approving USD 5.7 billion in federal funding to construct a wall across the US-Mexico border, a poll promise by the Republican president. “I will be making a major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown, tomorrow afternoon at 3 P.M. (1:30 am Sunday IST), live from the @WhiteHouse,” President Trump tweeted Friday.

Functioning of several key wings of the US government, including Security and State departments, has been paralysed for nearly four weeks now because of the ongoing partial government shutdown. President Trump insists that building a wall is the only solution to protect the nation from a large flow of illegal immigrants and drug smuggling.

The Democrats are opposed to any such funding. After Trump walked out of a meeting at the White House last week, Democrats have refused to come to the negotiation table. Pelosi and the Democratic party argue that such a funding is a wastage of tax payers payer and does not reflect the ethos of American culture. The divide between the parties has led to some 800,000 federal government employees being rendered without work.

The ongoing shutdown on January 12 broke the previous record of 21 days of US government shutdown under the Bill Clinton administration in December 16, 1995 to January 5, 1996.

Besides the border issue, the divide between Trump and Pelosi deepened after he denied her a military plane for an “excursion” to Brussels and war-torn Afghanistan, a tit-for-tat retaliation after the House Speaker asked the president to reschedule his annual State of the Union address slated for January 29. Pelosi, who is third in line to the presidency, had made the suggestion citing security reasons triggered by the shutdown that has entered its 28th day.

The House Speaker Friday accused Trump of endangering the lives of US nationals by revealing to the world about her secretive trip to Afghanistan. She told reporters that “any time anyone with a bright light, of the presence of a high-level, or any level of Congressional Delegation in a region, you’ve heightened the danger. And this was a high power.”

However, Trump had alleged that Pelosi and her Congressional delegation was headed on an “excursion” trip.  Why would Nancy Pelosi leave the country with other Democrats on a seven-day excursion when 800,000 great people are not getting paid. Also, could somebody please explain to Nancy & her big donors in wine country that people working on farms (grapes) will have easy access in! Trump tweeted.

The White House denied Pelosi’s allegations, with as senior administration official saying, When the speaker of the house and about 20 others from Capitol Hill decide to book their own commercial flights to Afghanistan, the world is going to find out. The idea we would leak anything that would put the safety and security of any American at risk is a flat out lie.”.

Pelosi later told reporters that she has abandoned her trip to Afghanistan.

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Fuel pipeline blaze in Mexico kills 20, 54 injured: government

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Mexico City |  A leaking fuel pipeline triggered a massive blaze in central Mexico on Saturday, killing at least 20 people and injuring another 54, officials said.

Omar Fayad, governor of Hidalgo state, said locals at the site of the leak were scrambling to steal some of the leaking oil when at least 20 of them were burned to death. “I’ve been told that 20 have been burned to death and another 54 burn victims being treated” in hospitals, Fayad told local FaroTV.

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Trump to meet Kim Jong-un again in February: White House

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Trump; North; Kim

Washington | US President Donald Trump will hold a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in late February on Pyongyang dismantling its nuclear and missile programmes, the White House has announced. The two leaders had met on June 12 last year in Singapore for the first summit.

While the White House did not identify a location for the second summit between the two leaders, according to media reports preparations were under way to host the summit, most likely in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi or coastal city of Danang. The announcement came after Trump met with North Korean envoy, Kim Yong Chol, on Friday for a discussion that included talk about Kim Jong-un’s unfulfilled pledge to dismantle his country’s nuclear weapons programmes.

President Trump sat down with Kim Yong Chol, a high-level official in North Korea’s Communist government, in the Oval Office, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said. “President Donald J Trump met with Kim Yong Chol for an hour and half, to discuss denuclearization and a second summit, which will take place near the end of February.  “The president looks forward to meeting with Chairman Kim at a place to be announced at a later date. she said in a statement. The press secretary told reporters: “We continue to make progress, we continue to have conversations.”

The US is going to continue to keep “pressure and sanctions” on North Korea until “we see fully and verifiable denuclearization”, she said. “We had very good steps and very good faith from the North Koreans with the release of hostages and other moves and so we’ll continue this conversation.And the President looks forward to it next February,” Sanders’ told reporters.

The North Korean envoy arrived at the White House after a closed-door meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun at a hotel here.

Following the White House meeting the North Korean official and a delegation he was leading were invited to lunch by Pompeo at Foggy Bottom headquarters of the State Department.

The Secretary, Special Representative Biegun, and Vice Chairman Kim discussed efforts to make progress on the commitments President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un made at their summit in Singapore. At the conclusion of the Secretary’s meeting with Vice Chairman Kim, the two sides held a productive first meeting at the working level, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino said.

Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman said that in Singapore, Trump capitulated to Kim Jong-un handing North Korea a propaganda coup in exchange for empty words. During a second summit, he must deliver concrete, verifiable commitments from Pyongyang, he demanded.

Last year in Singapore, Trump had described his first-ever historic meeting with Kim Jong-un as “really fantastic” and said they had agreed to “sign” an unspecified document after their “very positive” summit, aimed at normalising ties and complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. The US president had said he believed he and Kim Jong-un will “solve a big problem, a big dilemma” and that by working together, “we will get it taken care of”.

The summit at Singapore’s Sentosa island – the first between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader – had marked a turnaround of relations between Trump, 72, and Kim, 36, after a long-running exchange of threats and insults.

The US insists it will accept nothing less than complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

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