US man accused of plotting White House attack arrested

            By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - Authorities apprehended a Georgia man Wednesday who allegedly sought to attack the White House and other federal buildings in Washington, D.C. </p>  <p>Hasher Taheb, 21, is suspected of planning to use an anti-tank rocket and other explosives to attack the executive mansion and other &quot;targets of opportunity,&quot; U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia BJay Pak told reporters. </p>  <p>Chris Hacker, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Atlanta field office, said Taheb was arrested on a tip from the community.</p>  <p>The tip, that Taheb had become radicalized, was originally given to local law enforcement who contacted federal investigators last March. </p>  <p>He has been charged with attempting to attack a federal building with an explosive following a nearly year-long undercover operation. </p>  <p>The suspect was apprehended after attempting to trade his car in for guns and explosives, according to multiple reports which cited court documents that were not immediately available. </p>  <p>Taheb allegedly made his plans known during meetings with a confidential informant and at least one undercover FBI agent. </p>  <p>He allegedly told the informant he wanted to perform &quot;hijrah&quot; in reference to his desire to travel to Daesh-controlled territory. But because he lacked a passport, he instead chose to plot an attack within the U.S., mulling attacks on the White House and the Statue of Liberty.

US' Pence claims Daesh defeated hours after attack

            By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence claimed Wednesday the Daesh terrorist group has been finally defeated just after it claimed an attack that took the lives of a yet determined number of service members and civilians in Manbij, Syria. </p>  <p>&quot;The caliphate has crumbled and ISIS has been defeated,&quot; Pence declared at a State Department gathering of more than 180 ambassadors, using another name for Daesh.  </p>  <p>The U.S.-led anti-Daesh coalition said the number of American soldiers who were &quot;killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol&quot; remains unknown.</p>  <p>Initial reports suggested the attack, reported to be a suicide bombing, claimed the lives of four American service members. </p>  <p>President Donald Trump abruptly announced in December that all U.S. troops would be exiting Syria. </p>  <p>The pullout decision came during a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which the two leaders agreed on the need for more effective coordination over the civil war-ravished country.</p>  <p>But it has resulted in significant pushback within his administration and on Capitol Hill. Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned his post shortly after the announcement was made public, and Trump's closest legislative allies have warned against following through with the policy.</p>  <p>Speaking during a committee hearing, Senator Lindsey Graham reiterated his long-standing concerns adding &quot;you had set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we are fighting.</p>  <p>&quot;I would hope the president would look long and hard of where he is headed in Syria,&quot; said Graham.</p>  <p>Trump &quot;has been fully briefed and we will continue to monitor the ongoing situation in Syria,&quot; White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement. 

Tehran condemns journalist’s arrest by US authorities

            By Ahmed Dursun<br>

TEHRAN (AA) – Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasimi has condemned the arrest of Iranian journalist Marzieh Hashemi by the U.S. authorities, calling for her immediate release.

In a Wednesday statement carried by Iranian state television, Qasimi alleged that Hashemi had been subjected to mistreatment while in custody.

Hashemi was detained on Sunday for “unspecified offenses” at the St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

Born in the U.S., Hashemi currently works as an anchorwoman for Press TV, the Iranian government’s English-language television news service.

She had reportedly been on a visit to her family when she was arrested and sent to a detention facility in Washington DC.

She has not been formally charged with any offenses, however, while the U.S. authorities have yet to officially comment on her case.

House speaker asks Trump to delay State of Union speech

            By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged President Donald Trump on Wednesday to delay his State of the Union address as long as the partial government shutdown is ongoing.</p>  <p>Alternatively, Pelosi wrote in a letter to the president, Trump could submit his speech in writing to the Congress if he wishes to go forward with the planned Jan. 29 national address. </p>  <p>Pelso said the shutdown, now on day 26, has stymied the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security &quot;with critical departments hamstrung by furloughs.&quot;</p>  <p>&quot;Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29th,&quot; Pelosi wrote. </p>  <p>While Pelosi conveyed her letter as a courteous request, it is her decision as to when the House hosts the president for his annual prime-time address to the nation. </p>  <p>The House leader further suggested in remarks to reporters that Trump could conduct the State of the Union from the Oval Office if he so chooses.</p>  <p>The shutdown is already the longest in U.S. government history, and is set to round out its fourth week on Saturday. </p>  <p>Trump insists that lawmakers provide him with nearly $6 billion to fund the construction of his separation barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, but Democrats have so far uniformly rejected the demand, claiming a wall is inefficient and immoral. </p>  <p>Democrats have passed several bills to reopen the government without the funding, but Trump has worked alongside congressional Republicans to ensure they do not clear the federal legislature. </p>  <p>Public opinion polling indicates the majority of Americans blame the president and congressional Republicans for the funding deadlock, with Trump having the lowest approval ratings in a year. 

US concerned over China's expanding influence

            By Umar Farooq</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - The U.S. is growing concerned over China's moves to expand its influence worldwide through both military and economic means.</p>  <p>In a report published Monday, the Pentagon said China is working towards outnumbering the U.S. military presence in the Indo-Pacific and replacing it as the foremost power in that region.</p>  <p>&quot;The Department is concerned by actions China’s government has taken that are out of step with international norms, diminish countries’ sovereignty, or undermine the security of the United States, our allies, or our partners,&quot; the Pentagon said.</p>  <p>China currently has a military base in Djibouti and is expected to open more in other countries, allowing them to &quot;sustain operations abroad and hold strategic economic corridors at risk&quot;.</p>  <p>The report also said that China's One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, while also an economic venture, is a foreign policy tool used by the country to deter other nations from speaking out against or confronting Beijing on issues it finds sensitive.</p>  <p>The same is said about the 21st Century Digital Silk Road project, which Chinese President Xi Jinping has advocated for alongside OBOR.</p>  <p>&quot;While providing benefits to host countries, these projects will also facilitate China’s efforts to expand science and technology cooperation, promote its unique national technical standards, further its objectives for technology transfer, and potentially enable politically-motivated censorship,&quot; the Pentagon said in the report.</p>  <p>The OBOR initiative could also help bolster military advantages by allowing the Chinese naval access to areas like the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, which are all a long way from mainland China.</p>  <p>&quot;China seeks this presence based on its changing military focus and expanding international economic interests, which are increasing demands for the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] to operate in more distant maritime environments to protect Chinese citizens, investments, and critical sea lines of communication,&quot; the Pentagon said.</p>  <p>The report also asserts that increased global activities by Beijing have been leveraged to obtain political influence in other countries, citing 17 examples where Chinese investment abroad led to negative effects on the host countries’ economies.</p>  <p>In some cases, China used &quot;economic coercion to achieve specific political objectives&quot;.</p>  <p>While the Defense Department noted that not all of Beijing's activities were a problem, they would respond by building a more lethal force to gain military advantage, strengthening allies and partners, and potentially reforming the department.</p>  <p>Although the U.S. is open to working with China in areas of mutual interest, Washington will confront Beijing over its market-distorting practices, failure to respect intellectual property and cyber intrusions into commercial networks, the report added.

US House votes to rebuke Republican lawmaker

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to condemn white nationalism and white supremacy after Rep. Steve King Tuesday defended the overtly racist movements.

The 424-1 vote comes after an interview with the New York Times in which King asked, "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization – how did that language become offensive?”

The resolution voted on Tuesday is likely to precede a formal resolution of censure for the Iowa Republican who has a long track record of overtly racist statements.

He tweeted June 12 "Europe is waking up… Will America… in time?", with a link to an anti-immigration story posted by a Nazi sympathizer who questions the Holocaust. He has refused to delete the post after it prompted public furor.

He also tweeted March 12, 2017: "We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies" in a post that emphasized "culture and demographics are our destiny" — rhetoric that mirrors the ideals of white nationalism and supremacy.

King was stripped of all committee posts late Monday over his most recent comments to the Times. He insists the decision was purely political, and claims his comments during the interview were "mischaracterized."

Rep. Bobby Rush, the sole lawmaker to vote against Tuesday's resolution, said he opposed the measure because it "just restates the obvious."

"It does not address his violent, vitriolic and rabid racism. We need to be clear to Americans that we use condemnation to express our disapproval of those not in the House. We use censure for those in the House. #CensureSteveKing," he wrote.

At least two censure resolutions, including one introduced by Rush, are under consideration in the House.

New migrant 'caravan' heading to US: Trump

                              By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - President Donald Trump warned Tuesday of a &quot;big new&quot; group of migrants coming to the U.S. from Latin America as he continues to insist on funding for a border wall in order to reopen the federal government. </p>  <p>Trump said the newest &quot;caravan&quot; is coming from Honduras where rampant gang violence and poverty has led many people to leave their countries for the U.S. </p>  <p>&quot;Tell Nancy and Chuck that a drone flying around will not stop them. Only a Wall will work,&quot; Trump said as the partial shutdown hit day 25. &quot;Stop playing political games and end the Shutdown!&quot;</p>  <p>The president has sought to emphasize the new migrant group in recent days, a parallel to his strategy in the run-up to last year's midterm elections when he repeatedly sought to warn of new migrants coming to the U.S. in an effort to rally his base. </p>  <p>Trump has adamantly insisted lawmakers allocate $5.7 billion for the wall he wants to build on the U.S.-Mexico border, but Democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, have consistently rejected the demand, instead passing several pieces of legislation to reopen the government without the funding. </p>  <p>Alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Trump has worked to ensure any legislation without the allocations he is seeking are stymied in the chamber.  </p>  <p>Roughly 800,000 federal employees are either being forced to work without pay, or stay home from their jobs as Trump seeks funding for the barrier he said Mexico would pay for.</p>  <p> The shutdown is now the longest in U.S. history with no apparent end in sight. </p>  <p>&quot;@realDonaldTrump, stop holding the paychecks of 800,000 Americans hostage. There is no reason for them to be suffering right now. Re-open the government! #TrumpShutdown,&quot; Pelosi said on Twitter after Trump asked on the social media website why the lawmaker is being paid during the shutdown. </p>  <p>Recent polling has shown Trump's approval rating to be hovering around 40 percent with the vast majority of Americans faulting him and congressional Republicans for the budget stalemate. 

Lift sanctions before negotiations, Iran tells US

                             By Ahmet Dursun</p>    <p>ANKARA (AA) – Iran would enter negotiations with the U.S. if the latter first lifted economic sanctions on Tehran, Iranian state media quoted President Hassan Rouhani as saying Tuesday.</p>    <p>“Sanctions cannot be used as a tool for forcing Iran to the negotiating table,” he said, adding that Washington should “respect the Iranian people and lift sanctions before holding talks”.</p>    <p>According to Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency, Rouhani made the remarks while addressing Shia and Sunni Muslim scholars in Iran’s Golestan Province.</p>    <p>“The country is certainly facing unusual circumstances, but we don’t fear sanctions,” he was quoted as saying.  “Nor will we retreat from our objectives.”</p>    <p>Rouhani also accused the U.S., Israel and certain Arab Gulf States of waging an “economic war” on Iran.</p>    <p>“Iran will never be isolated,” he went on to assert. “Now, globally, only a few countries support [Washington’s] policies regarding the [2015] nuclear deal and the sanctions.”</p>    <p>Last year, U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew his country from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany).</p>  <p>Shortly afterward, Washington re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran targeting the country’s energy and banking sectors.

Iran satellite fails to reach orbit

TEHRAN (AA) – Iran on Tuesday failed to launch a satellite into space, a process criticized by the U.S. and deemed challenging to UN Security Council resolutions.

Iran's state T.V. quoted Minister of Information and Communication Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi as saying the satellite failed to reach the required speed in the third stage of launching.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that Iran's plans to send satellites into space showed the country's defiance of a UN Security Council resolution calling on Tehran not to engage in any ballistic missile-related activities that could be capable of producing nuclear weapons.

Iran has confirmed that satellite launching does not violate Security Council resolutions.

UPDATE 2 – Turkey has no issue with Kurds: Erdogan


By Ozcan Yildirim

ANKARA (AA) – Turkey has no problem with Kurds and aims to fight terror groups Daesh, PKK and its Syrian affiliate PYD/YPG threatening national security, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a phone call with his U.S. counterpart on Monday.

A statement from the Turkish presidency said Erdogan and Donald Trump discussed the idea of a terror-free safe zone in Syria's northern region.

Turkey backs Trump's decision on the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, Erdogan said.

The two leaders agreed to advance bilateral economic relations.

The phone call came after Trump threatened to "devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds," conflating "Kurds" with the terrorist PYD/YPG, a confusion that Turkey has repeatedly criticized.

The leaders emphasized that the Manbij Road Map should be completed to avoid a vacuum of authority in the region.

Trump "expressed the desire to work together to address Turkey’s security concerns in northeast Syria while stressing the importance to the United States that Turkey does not mistreat" the PYD/YPG terror group, the White House said in a separate readout of the call.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford is set to meet with his Turkish counterpart Yasar Guler on Tuesday for further consultations, the White House said.

In a tweet later Monday evening Trump said he spoke with Erdogan "to advise where we stand on all matters including our last two weeks of success in fighting the remnants of ISIS, and 20 mile safe zone."

The discussions, Trump said, also focused on bilateral economic ties, which he added have "great potential to substantially expand!"

Erdogan has signaled that a cross-border operation against the PYD/YPG terrorist group in northeastern Syria will happen soon. Since 2016, Ankara has carried out two similar military operations in northern Syria.

Turkish and U.S. troops began joint patrols in Manbij on Nov. 1 as part of an agreement that focuses on the withdrawal of PYD/YPG terrorists from the city to stabilize the region.

PKK is a terrorist group recognized by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU, which in its 30-year terror campaign has taken some 40,000 lives.

*Michael Hernandez contributed to this report from Washington