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“Gave exemptions to some after they sought ‘help’ to keep oil prices down”: Trump on Iran sanctions

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Washington | President Donald Trump said he gave temporary exemptions to India and seven other major importers of Iranian oil as they sought US’ “help” and he did not want to drive oil prices “up to USD 100 a barrel or USD 150 a barrel”.

The US on Monday imposed “the toughest ever” sanctions on a defiant Iran aimed at altering the Iranian regime’s “behaviour”. The sanctions cover Iran’s banking and energy sectors and reinstate penalties for countries and companies in Europe, Asia and elsewhere that do not halt Iranian oil imports.

However, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that eight countries — India, China, Italy, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey — were temporarily allowed to continue buying Iranian oil as they showed “significant reduction” in oil purchase from the Persian Gulf country.

“I gave some countries a break on the oil. I did it a little bit because they really asked for some help,” Trump told reporters at a press conference in the White House on Wednesday.

The President said he also did it “because I don’t want to drive oil prices up to USD 100 a barrel or USD 150 a barrel”.

“I am driving them (oil prices) down. If you look at oil prices, they have come down very substantially over the last couple of months,” he asserted.

Trump said the sanctions may “get tougher as time goes by”, but he does not want them to have any effect on the global oil prices worldwide as he “consider that to be a tax, and I don’t like taxes”.

Later at another press conference, the State Department said its goal is to go down to zero oil import from Iran and during the next six months, it will monitor the diplomatic progress and the price of oil to ensure that the imposition of the sanctions was calibrated in the right way.

“We have an adequate oil supply market. We have to ensure that we advance our national security objectives without injuring our economic interests. If we were to increase the price of oil, it would be bad for American consumers, it would be bad for the global economy, and it would give an advantage to Iran,” Deputy State Department Spokesperson Robert Paladino said.

He claimed that in 2019, there will be more oil supply than demand, which will put US in a “much better position to bring all countries importing Iranian crude to zero”.

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

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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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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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