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Turkey urges US to reverse visa halt, summons another staffer

ANKARA, Turkey (AFP) — Turkey on Monday urged the United States to reverse a decision to halt the issuing of all regular visas at American consulates in the country, as prosecutors summoned another Istanbul mission staffer in an escalating crisis.

The dispute, which analysts have described as the worst between the NATO allies in half a century, erupted when Turkey jailed a Turkish employee working at the American consulate in Istanbul.

Ankara hit back at the US suspension of the issuing of non-immigrant visas — a move described by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as “very, very saddening” — with a tit-for-tat response against American citizens.

The Turkish foreign ministry summoned the US embassy’s deputy chief of mission on Monday, urging Washington to reverse its visa decision.

Ministry officials told the diplomat the move was creating “unnecessary escalation and victimization,” the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The US embassy in Ankara said Sunday that it would suspend issuing visas for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work or study, after the arrest last week.

“Above all, this decision is very, very saddening,” Erdogan said in his first reaction to the decision, at a news conference with his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko in Kiev.

“For the (US) ambassador in Ankara to take a decision like this, to put it into practice, is saddening,” he added.

‘Historic low’

Last week, an Istanbul court remanded in custody the consulate employee over accusations of links to the group of US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for the failed 2016 coup aimed at unseating Erdogan.

He has been formally charged with espionage and seeking to overthrow the Turkish government, accusations the US embassy rejected as “wholly without merit.”

On Monday, Turkish prosecutors summoned another local employee working at the American consulate in Istanbul, Anadolu said.

Turkish television, including the private NTV channel, said earlier that an arrest warrant had been issued for the employee, though this was not confirmed in the Anadolu report.

But the employee’s wife and child, whose age was not given, have been detained in the Anatolian city of Amasya on suspicion of being key members of Gulen’s group, it said.

The Hurriyet daily reported that the individual wanted by prosecutors has taken sanctuary at the US consulate in Istanbul.

“It’s definitely a historic low in ties, at least in recent memory,” said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute, adding that the last such dispute of this magnitude was after the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus.

“Neither side is willing to step back,” he said.

‘Hard to restore ties’

The developments also came after a Turkish employee at the US consulate in the southern city of Adana was arrested in March on charges of supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Turkish officials had expressed hope of a new page in Ankara-Washington relations under President Donald Trump, and had pressed Washington for the extradition of the Pennsylvania-based Gulen, who denies any link to the coup bid.

The lack of movement on the issue has further strained ties already fraying over Washington’s support for a Syrian Kurdish militia that Ankara deems a terror group.

Meanwhile, members of Erdogan’s security detail were indicted by US authorities after clashes with protesters during an official visit this year, infuriating the Turkish president.

American pastor Andrew Brunson, who ran a church in the western city of Izmir, has been held by Turkish authorities since October 2016 on charges of being a member of Gulen’s group.

Erdogan suggested last month that Turkey could release him in exchange for Gulen, but Washington showed little interest in the proposal.

“It will be hard for relations to be restored any time soon to what they used to be,” Cagaptay said.

‘Most unfortunate’

Turkey’s influential Industrialists’ and Businessman’s Association (TUSIAD) described the move by the US as “most unfortunate,” saying it risked hurting citizens who had nothing to do with the row.

Flag carrier Turkish Airlines offered refunds or exchanges to passengers with Turkish passports flying to the US and vice versa. Its shares were hit heavily by the row, falling 9.26 percent to $8.43 a share.

The tensions put pressure on the Turkish lira, which lost 3.0% against the US dollar to trade at 3.72 lira while, the Borsa Istanbul 100 index was down 2.7% at 101,298 points.

Seeking to reassure markets, the Turkish deputy central bank governor Murat Uysal said: “There could be a temporary impact because of geopolitical concerns, we are watching closely.”

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In first, IS urges women to join jihad and carry out terror attacks

The Islamic State has for the first time called on women to carry out terror attacks and wage jihad against the West, the UK’s Independent reported Saturday.

A newspaper run by the terror group called on Muslim women to “fulfil their duties on all fronts in supporting the mujahedeen in this battle” and “prepare themselves to defend their religion by sacrificing themselves by Allah,” the British paper reported.

IS is infamous for its oppression and subjugation of women under its rule, and has traditionally entrusted females only with homemaking roles. But the organization’s increasingly desparate struggle as it loses ground in Iraq and Syria may have encouraged a more flexible attitude.

The jihadist paper rationalized the new approach by noting that women had in fact partaken in combat at some points in history, including during Islam’s Golden Age.

The Independent noted that the call to arms could have significant consequences in Western nations, where threats by Islamists have so far been almost entirely limited to the male population. Female Mideast refugees have generally been considered far less of a potential danger, and have undergone less comprehensive screenings.

IS has seen its self-declared “caliphate” straddling Syria and Iraq shrink steadily over the past two years and has lost all but a few of its main hubs in both Arab states.

Syrian regime forces on Friday broke into the eastern town of Mayadeen, one of the Islamic State’s last bastions in Syria, backed by Russian air raids taking a deadly toll on civilians.

Mayadeen in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir Ezzor is seen as the jihadist group’s “security and military capital” in Syria, and its loss would deal “a severe blow” to the jihadists, according to a Syrian military source.

Over the course of months of successive defeats, Mayadeen and nearby Albu Kamal on the Iraqi border have taken in IS fighters fleeing the battle to the north for Raqqa city in the face of an offensive launched by US-backed Kurdish and Arab forces.

IS remains in control of half of Deir Ezzor province, despite advances by President Bashar Assad’s forces and a separate offensive against the jihadists by the Kurdish-Arab alliance.

Meanwhile on Friday the FBI said it thwarted a jihadist plot to attack US targets including New York’s subway and Times Square.

Three people have been charged with involvement in the planned attacks, which were to be carried out in the name of IS during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan in 2016.

Trump Urges Unity, but Puerto Rico and Las Vegas Visits Could Test His Words

WASHINGTON — President Trump called on the nation to seek “unity and peace” on Monday, in the aftermath of one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history. Less than two hours later, he offered conciliatory words to the people of Puerto Rico, promising to visit the hurricane-ravaged island on Tuesday, the day before he travels to Las Vegas.

The week will pose the greatest test yet of whether a president who plays to America’s divisions can also appeal to its sense of national unity, whether it is binding the wounds left by a rampaging gunman or the wreckage left by a deadly hurricane.

Whether Mr. Trump can sustain his empathetic tone over what promise to be two emotional, exhausting days also is an open question — particularly as critics attack his position on gun laws, or if he faces further criticism from local officials in Puerto Rico over the slow-to-start relief effort there. On Monday afternoon, some of the president’s aides were urging him to put off the trip to Puerto Rico because they worried that he could be set off by protests.

Over the weekend, Mr. Trump launched an acrid attack on the mayor of San Juan after she criticized the federal response to Hurricane Maria. While subdued so far about the Las Vegas massacre, he was already facing critics who said his embrace of gun rights abets the kind of violence that targeted a concert crowd outside a casino late Sunday night.

Hours later, at the White House, a somber Mr. Trump quoted Scripture and talked about the search for “some kind of meaning in the chaos.” He said nothing about his own connection to Las Vegas: The mass shooting happened at the other end of the city’s Strip from his 64-story luxury hotel, which is wrapped in gold-mirror glass and stamped with the Trump name.

“Our unity cannot be shattered by evil,” the president said, reading slowly from a teleprompter. “Our bonds cannot be broken by violence. And though we feel such great anger at the senseless murder of our fellow citizens, it is our love that defines us today – and always will, forever.”

It was a rigorously disciplined performance from a president who, as a candidate, regularly seized on mass shootings to warn of the threat posed by what he calls “radical Islamic terrorism,” and to justify banning immigrants and foreign visitors from mostly Muslim countries.

He was similarly restrained about Puerto Rico. After a weekend of restless tweeting about Hurricane Maria – during which Mr. Trump accused San Juan’s mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, of being “nasty to Trump” and claimed Puerto Ricans “want everything to be done for them” – the president on Monday tried to put the focus back on humanitarian relief.

“We’re going to be seeing the people of Puerto Rico,” he told reporters, before a meeting with the prime minister of Thailand. “There’s never been a piece of land that we’ve known that was so devastated.”

The White House sought to tamp down both brush fires. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary, said the administration had invited Ms. Cruz to take part in the president’s meetings on Tuesday. “We hope that she will join with us in those efforts,” Ms. Sanders said.

Echoing a line typically used by gun-rights advocates, Ms. Sanders said now was not the time to open a new debate over gun laws. But she noted that Mr. Trump campaigned as a staunch defender of the Second Amendment, and made clear the White House was not interested in restricting gun ownership.

“If you look to Chicago, where you had over 4,000 victims of gun-related crimes last year, they have the strictest gun laws in the country,” she said. “That certainly hasn’t helped there.” She added, “When that time comes for those conversations to take place, then I think we need to look at things that may actually have that real impact.”

At the White House – where the chief of staff, John F. Kelly, was briefed on the shooting in its immediate aftermath, sometime around 3 a.m. in Washington, and told the president about it some time between 5:30 a.m. and 6:15 a.m. – the day unfolded with a mixture of solemn ceremony and urgent consultations.

Mr. Trump ordered flags lowered to half-staff. At 2:45 p.m., he and first lady Melania Trump walked out to the South Lawn, under a brilliant early-autumn sky, to take part in a moment of silence for the victims.

Mr. Trump spoke to the governor of Nevada, Brian Sandoval; the mayor of Las Vegas, Carolyn Goodman; and the sheriff of Clark County, Joseph Lombardo. At the same time, the White House staff struggled with the logistics of a visit to the islands devastated by the hurricane. They opted to have the governor of the United States Virgin Islands, Kenneth E. Mapp, fly to Puerto Rico rather than have Mr. Trump make several stops.

Mr. Trump’s five-minute statement about the Las Vegas shootings was a group effort, officials said. Among the key contributors were Rob Porter, the staff secretary; Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump’s main speechwriter; and Thomas P. Bossert, the homeland security adviser, a person familiar with the process said.

For Mr. Trump, the rhythms of grief after a national tragedy have never come naturally. After five police officers were murdered in Dallas in July 2016, Mr. Trump’s aides coaxed the presumptive Republican nominee into delivering a pretaped statement in which he said the shootings had “shaken the soul of our nation.”

That statement stood in contrast to some of the heated responses Mr. Trump has unleashed after other attacks. During the 2016 election, he frequently fired off tweets within hours of an extremist attack, often saying it vindicated his own view of terror threats.

“Appreciate the congrats,” Mr. Trump tweeted the day of a deadly shootingin a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., by the American-born son of Afghan immigrants, who had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State.

Mr. Trump’s anger at incidents involving reports of radical Islamist assailants has nearly always been instantaneous, while his response to other violence, like the bombing of a mosque in Minnesota, has been more muted. After the Orlando shooting, Mr. Trump reiterated his call for a temporary ban on Muslims traveling into the United States – a proposal he first made in December 2015, after the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., that also were linked to the Islamic State.

Mr. Trump has been less vocal about the role of guns in attacks. The National Rifle Association flooded airwaves with ads in support of Mr. Trump during the 2016 race. He often talked about “Second Amendment people” as his base of support, even once suggesting at a rally that they could take matters into their own hands to prevent Hillary Clinton from winning the presidency.

On Monday, advisers were mostly pleased with Mr. Trump’s response to the bloodshed. The president, who pledged to stop “American carnage” in his inaugural address, refrained from reactive tweets that could have undermined his morning statement.

Since taking office, one senior administration official noted, Mr. Trump has generally been more reserved about attacks that have taken place on American soil as opposed to violence abroad. He also tends to be more comfortable around law enforcement officials, almost guaranteeing he will be looser on Wednesday in Las Vegas than in Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and a friend of Mr. Trump, insisted the president had an impulse to unify people in his previous life as a real estate developer and entertainer. “I think politics brought out a side of him where he feels like he has to strike back every time,” he said.

Canada passes complete binary options ban, urges Israel to follow suit

The Canadian Securities Administrators, the umbrella group for provincial securities regulators, has announced a complete ban on advertising or selling binary options to Canadians. The ban, announced Thursday, defines a binary option as a financial instrument that is “based on the outcome of a yes/no proposition” and that pays out depending on whether the price of a particular asset goes up or down within a given time period. The ban will apply to binary options whose expiry period is shorter than 30 days.

Binary options is a largely fraudulent Israel-based industry that is estimated to bring in $5 billion-$10 billion a year. Fraudulent Israeli binary options companies ostensibly offer customers worldwide a potentially profitable short-term investment. But in reality — through rigged trading platforms, refusal to pay out, and other ruses — these companies fleece the vast majority of customers of most or all of their money. The fraudulent salespeople routinely conceal where they are located, misrepresent what they are selling, and use false identities.

Jason Roy, chairman of Canada’s Binary Options Task Force and a senior investigator with the Manitoba Securities Commission, told The Times of Israel in an interview shortly after the ban was announced that websites offering binary options without a license were already illegal in Canada but that the newly enacted ban sends an even stronger message.

Roy said the number of Canadians who have come forward in 2017 claiming to be victims of binary options fraud is on track to be about the same as in 2016, in spite of, or perhaps because of, Canada’s efforts to warn consumers.“Previously we would say there is no one registered in Canada to offer binary options. We thought that by [now] banning this product [outright] we would say not only is no one registered here to do this, but no one will ever be registered here to do this.”

“It looks like our numbers will be similar to last year — more than 800 complaints, and we’re at a similar pace for 2017. We had a big initiative in March of 2017 where we created the website binaryoptionsfraud.ca. We received over 10,000 visits in that month and there were more than 500 news stories written about it. We’re hoping there’s a drop in the numbers of Canadians actually being victimized, but because the word is out we may have more victims coming forward.”

Another possible reason that the number of complaints has remained steady in spite of the media attention and regulatory crackdowns is because, Roy said, there is a “lag time” between the moment someone becomes involved with an online broker to the time they come forward to complain of fraud.

“People don’t get involved with a criminal company and the next day call us. It’s usually six months later or eight months later. Often the scam being run is not ‘Let’s get the first amount of money and stop talking to him.’ It’s an ongoing pitch to get as much as they can and sometimes that lasts six months or more before the investor realizes that they keep asking for money and every time he asks to take money out they ignore him. At some point they have a moment of realization and they say, ‘Oh no,’ and that’s when they call us.”

Roy said Canada hopes to achieve three goals with the ban: warning investors, and persuading both credit card and technology companies to crack down.

“Our goal is to make every Canadian aware of binary options fraud and make it a toxic word here. When people hear the term they will immediately know it’s more than likely a scam and that they should contact us.”

He adds that the ban helps in Canada’s ongoing dialogue with credit card companies and banks to help stop the flow of money offshore, as well as with technology companies like Google and Facebook to stop advertising such products.

“We have been in contact with both major credit card companies in North America. They’re blocking certain companies at our request as well as identifying companies that are selling binary options and banning them from their credit card network.”

Roy said Twitter is the first big technology company to ban binary options ads and he hopes others will follow suit. On August 30, Twitter updated its advertising guidelines to ban “ads making misleading or deceptive claims, such as ‘get rich quick’ offers and binary options schemes.”

Ultimately, the goal is to make binary options company leave Canadians alone.

“We hope we’ll be able to protect Canadians by shutting off these various advertising and payments avenues or significantly increase the cost to acquire a Canadian victim. We hope the cost will go up so high that it won’t be worth it for them; they’ll have to focus their efforts elsewhere.”

From binary options to cryptocurrencies

Despite the fact that the number of complaints regarding binary options has held steady, Roy said he has noticed a shift in the type of products these same companies, many of them operating from Israel, are advertsing. In recent months, Roy has seen binary options companies switching to products like forex, CFDs and cryptocurrency trading.

“We heard from a family who lost $180,000 to a company called WMOption. They noticed on their account statements this spring that the company had changed its name to PrimeCFDs. It looks like this particular company changed their product from binary options to CFDs.”

The Times of Israel has been exposing the widely fraudulent binary options industry since early 2016, beginning with a March 2016 article entitled “The wolves of Tel Aviv: Israel’s vast, amoral binary options scam exposed. Last December, Canadian businessman Fred Turbide died by suicide after losing most of his life’s savings to an Israeli binary options company called 23Traders.

A draft law introduced earlier this year to ban Israel’s entire binary options industry, as well as forex and CFD companies that operated from Israel without a license, was subsequently watered down to apply narrowly to binary options. Critics have charged that this creates a loophole and that, if and when the law is passed, fraudulent binary options companies can simply tweak the product they offer and continue to operate. This could explain the change in products.

Having passed a first reading in the Knesset, and then been approved by the Knesset Reforms Committee on August 7, the narrowed-down bill is awaiting its final approval in the Knesset. Tal Schneider reported in Globeson September 28 that despite the persistent urging of the Israel Securities Authority, MK Rachel Azaria and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the cabinet secretariat has yet to schedule a date for Israel’s binary options ban to be brought before the Knesset plenary for a final vote.

Roy told The Times of Israel that now that Canada has passed a binary options ban, he hopes Israel will quickly follow suit and pass its own.

“A number of countries have been in touch with Israel and have expressed concern about the whole binary options industry there. That’s what led Israel to introduce this law. I am not sure why the law is stalled.”

Added Roy, “My hope is that Israel does the right thing. It looks like they were on track to do the right thing and I hope they do it.”

Roy also said that the Ontario Securities Commission and the Autorite des Marches Financiers of Quebec both have whistle-blower programs allowing those with knowledge of criminal binary options activity affecting Canadians to come forward and share information.

Leading Senate Democrat urges Trump not to scotch Iran deal

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Ben Cardin, one of a handful of Senate Democrats who opposed the Iran nuclear deal, urged the Trump administration not to pull out of it — the latest indication of congressional resistance to killing the agreement.

“If we violate a UN resolution, in the eyes of the international community, do we have any credibility?” Cardin asked Wednesday at a monthly meeting he holds with foreign policy reporters, referring to the Security Council resolution that undergirds the deal. “I don’t understand the strategy to set up the potential of the United States walking away from a nuclear agreement.”

Cardin, who is Jewish and the top Democrat on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, was one of four Senate Democrats who opposed the 2015 deal, which trades sanctions relief for Iran’s rollback of its nuclear program.

He warned the administration to stick to the deal as long as Iran is abiding by it. President Donald Trump has called the agreement one of the worst he ever encountered and intimated he might kill it or at least open it up to renegotiation.

Cardin said he was speaking for many opponents of the deal.

“We thought it was the wrong decision,” he said, “but we want to see it implemented.”

Trump has said his decision on what to do with the deal will be known by next month. The president can declare Iran is not complying with the agreement under a law that Cardin co-authored that requires the president to periodically certify Iran is abiding by the pact. That would give Congress 60 days to reimpose sanctions — effectively leaving it up to lawmakers whether to withdraw from the deal. The certification is due by October 15.

Cardin said kicking the ball to Congress would be an abdication of executive responsibility.

“This is not a congressional agreement, this is an agreement entered into by the president,” he said.

Trump may also unilaterally stop the deal simply by refusing to waive sanctions.

Cardin echoed warnings issued earlier this week by European ambassadors that there is little appetite among US allies to end the deal.

“It’s pretty universal that our friends don’t want us to walk away from the agreement,” he said.

Cardin last week joined six other Senate Democrats in top security positions in a letter to administration officials demanding evidence that Iran is not in compliance. UN nuclear inspectors have repeatedly certified Iranian compliance.

The resistance to ending the deal is not confined to Democrats. The top foreign policy Republican in the US House of Representatives, Rep. Ed Royce of California, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said earlier this month that he would prefer to keep the deal in place. He added that Trump should “enforce the hell out of it.”

And on Wednesday in the House, a Republican, Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida, and a Democrat, Gerald Connolly of Virginia, introduced a bill that would devolve oversight of the agreement on a bipartisan commission to include 16 lawmakers — equally split between Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate — and four executive branch officials.

Connolly in a joint news release with Rooney indicated that the aim of the commission would be to protect the deal from the whims of the president.

“Congress has a role to play in effective oversight of this agreement, and we must assert that role regardless of whether the President certifies Iran’s compliance,” he said.

Trump derided the deal last week during the UN General Assembly as one of the worst he had ever encountered, and he was joined in that assessment by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump is also under pressure from some conservatives to kill the deal.

This week, a letter from 45 national security experts urged Trump to quash the deal, hewing to a plan drafted by John Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations. Among the signers was Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Like the European ambassadors who warned against pulling out of the deal, Cardin urged Trump to use the available tools to pressure Iran to modify its behavior, outside the parameter of the nuclear agreement, including a range of sanctions targeting Iran’s missile testing and its military adventurism.

“Seeking the support of our allies to isolate Iran for its non-nuclear activity,” he said. “That should be our strategy.”

Saudi Arabia urges Kurds to scrap independence referendum

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday urged Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani to call off a planned referendum on independence for his autonomous region to avoid further “crises” in Iraq and the region.

A Saudi government official said Barzani should drop plans to hold a referendum “in light of the situation in the region and the dangers it is facing, and in order to avoid new crises.”

He called on the Kurdish leader to make use of his “wisdom and experience,” the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.

Holding the referendum as planned on September 25 could have “negative consequences on the political, security and humanitarian fronts.”

It could also “affect efforts to establish security and stability in the region, as well as efforts to fight against terrorist organizations and their activities,” the official added.

Regional kingpin Saudi Arabia is the latest country to voice its opposition to the referendum in oil-rich Iraqi Kurdistan.

But Barzani has so far resisted pressure from Baghdad and Iraq’s neighbors Turkey and Iran, as well as from the United States and its Western allies, to call off the vote.

Iraq’s supreme court has ordered the suspension of the referendum to examine claims made by the federal government that it was unconstitutional.

The Saudi official called on “all concerned parties to engage in a dialogue that would serve the interests of the entire Iraqi people.”

Israel has become the only country to openly support an independent Kurdish state, a result of good ties between Kurds and Jews and expectations that it would be a front against Iran and extremism, experts say.

Israel became the first, and so far only, country to openly voice support for “the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to attain a state of its own,” as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week, without specifying where and how.

Trump, in UN debut, urges the world body to reform

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — US President Donald Trump made his debut at the United Nations on Monday, using his first moments at the world body to urge the 193-nation organization to reduce bureaucracy and costs while more clearly defining its mission around the world.

But while Trump chastised the United Nations — an organization he sharply criticized as a candidate for president for its spiraling costs — he said the United States would “pledge to be partners in your work” in order to make the UN “a more effective force” for peace across the globe.

“In recent years, the United Nations has not reached its full potential due to bureaucracy and mismanagement,” said Trump, who rebuked the United Nations for a ballooning budget. “We are not seeing the results in line with this investment.”

The president pushed the UN to focus “more on people and less on bureaucracy” and to change “business as usual and not be beholden to ways of the past which were not working” while also suggesting that the United States was paying more than its fair share to keep the New York-based world body operational.

But he also complimented the steps the United Nations had taken in the early stages of the reform process and made no threats to withdraw his nation’s support. His measured tone stood in stark contrast to his last maiden appearance at a global body, when he stood at NATO’s new Brussels headquarters in May and scolded the member nations for not paying enough and refusing to explicitly back its mutual defense pact.

While running for office, Trump labeled the UN as weak and incompetent, and not a friend of either the United States or Israel. But he has softened his tone since taking office, telling ambassadors from UN Security Council member countries at a White House meeting this year that the UN has “tremendous potential.”

Trump more recently has praised a pair of unanimous council votes to tighten sanctions on North Korea over its continued nuclear weapon and ballistic missile tests.

Trump’s big moment comes Tuesday, when he delivers his first address to a session of the UN General Assembly. The annual gathering of world leaders will open amid serious concerns about Trump’s priorities, including his policy of “America First,” his support for the UN and a series of global crises. It will be the first time world leaders will be in the same room and able to take the measure of Trump.

The president on Monday praised UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who also spoke at the reform meeting and said he shared Trump’s vision for a less wasteful UN to “live up to its full potential.”

The US has asked member nations to sign a declaration on UN reforms, and more than 120 have done so. The president also kicked off his maiden speech at the world body by making a reference to the Trump-branded apartment tower across First Avenue from the UN.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, said Trump’s criticisms were accurate at the time, but that it is now a “new day” at the UN. An organization that “talked a lot but didn’t have a lot of action” has given way to a “United Nations that’s action-oriented,” she said, noting the Security Council votes on North Korea this month.

Guterres has proposed a massive package of changes, and Haley said the UN is “totally moving toward reform.”

Trump also planned to hold separate talks Monday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Emmanuel Macron. US national security adviser H.R. McMaster said the conversations would be wide-ranging, but that “Iran’s destabilizing behavior” would be a major focus of Trump’s discussions with both leaders.

Breakthroughs on a Middle East peace agreement are not expected. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser on the issue, recently returned from a trip to the Middle East.

The United States is the largest contributor to the UN budget, reflecting its position as the world’s largest economy. It pays 25 percent of the UN’s regular operating budget and over 28 percent of the separate peacekeeping budget — a level of spending that Trump has complained is unfair.

The Trump administration is conducting a review of the UN’s 16 far-flung peacekeeping operations, which cost nearly $8 billion a year. Cutting their costs and making them more effective is a top priority for Haley.

Republican senator (Black Idiot, Nigger) urges Trump to be more careful on racial matters

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate’s lone black Republican urged President Donald Trump on Wednesday to avoid inflammatory racial rhetoric such as his statement blaming “many sides” for the violence at a recent white nationalist protest in Virginia.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said he met for roughly a half hour with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the White House. He said the president tried to explain his comment, and why he said there were “very fine people” among the nationalists and neo-Nazis protesting the possible removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month.

“We had three or four centuries of rape, murder and death brought at the hands of the (Ku Klux Klan) and those who believe in a superior race,” Scott told reporters later at the Capitol. “I wanted to make sure we were clear on the delineation between who’s on which side in the history of the nation.”

Scott bluntly criticized Trump for assigning blame in a way that put white supremacist protesters on equal footing with counterdemonstrators who turned out for the August 12 protests, sparked by Charlottesville officials’ decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

That remark, Scott said, compromised Trump’s moral authority as president.

On Wednesday, Trump told Scott that he just meant to convey “that there was an antagonist on the other side” — to which Scott replied, “The real picture has nothing to do with who is on the other side.”

Scott continued: “I shared my thoughts of the last three centuries of challenges from white supremacists, white nationalists, KKK, neo-Nazis, so there is no way to find an equilibrium when you have three centuries of history.”

The president said that he got the point, Scott said. Asked if the president can regain his moral authority, Scott responded, “That will take time.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump and Scott had an “in depth” discussion about the Charlottesville comments, “but the focus was primarily on solutions moving forward.”

“That was what both people came to the meeting wanting to discuss,” Sanders said during a White House briefing. “What we can do to bring people together, not talk about divisions within the country.”

Scott said Trump also brought up Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, who has accused Las Vegas police of using racially motivated excessive force against him.

Bennett sat on the bench during the national anthem before Sunday’s game at Green Bay, one of several NFL players protesting in support of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who remains unsigned after starting the protests last year to bring attention to police brutality against minorities.

“I believe he found it unsettling and challenging,” Scott said.

This came as several athletes, activists and celebrities signed a letter of support for Bennett.

“Michael Bennett has been sitting during the anthem precisely to raise these issues of racist injustice that are now an intimate part of his life. Now we stand with him,” the letter said.

It was signed by Kaepernick; tennis legend Martina Navratilova; academic Cornel West; John Carlos, a US Olympic champion who famously raised his black-gloved fist during a 1968 medal ceremony, and other athletes and activists.

Intelligence minister urges PM to lobby Trump for Iran deal do-over

Swayed by Israel, Lithuanian minister (White Freemason) urges EU rethink on Iran deal

Lithuania’s foreign minister on Monday called for stronger cooperation between Jerusalem and the European Union regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions, saying his visit to Israel this week has opened his eyes about problematic aspects of the nuclear agreement the international community reached with Tehran in 2015.

“I told [my Israeli interlocutors] that many think the Iranian deal is a way to mitigate the problem [of Iran’s nuclear ambitions] through engagement, but here I heard a lot of criticism of the Iranian deal. We need to put all the arguments on the table and to look at them very carefully. Otherwise it would be very difficult to find a common approach,” Linas Linkevičius told The Times of Israel.

“For me it was a bit new to hear about holes in the agreement, doubts about the implementation, doubts about [Iran] continuing the nuclear program regardless of what was agreed.”

The nuclear deal, which rolled back punishing sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on enrichment of nuclear material, was heavily criticized by Israel for failing to effectively prevent Iran’s nuclear ambitions and ignoring its conventional aggression in the region. US President Donald Trump has also threatened to cancel the deal, but the EU, three of whose members are party to the agreement, has continued to champion the pact as the best way to keep Tehran from building a nuclear weapon.

Linkevičius, who has been Lithuania’s foreign minister since 2012, said he heard about Israeli concerns when he week met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also spoke to President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and other senior officials and security analysts.

“I heard about [Iran] from the prime minister and analysts, from many sources, and I believe it should be addressed,” he said, citing “discrepancies in the approach” between Jerusalem and Brussels.

“This is something that should be addressed by us if we can have a decent dialogue. But dialogue does not exist so far. So far there’s nothing between Israel and the European Union, and that’s not good… We can disagree, we can agree but we have to talk. So far we’re just making statements, and that doesn’t help.”

Formally, the EU was not a party to the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which was reached between Iran and six world powers, including France, Britain and Germany. But the union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, has played a leading role in promoting the deal and defending it in the face of critics from Israel, the United States and elsewhere.

Nuclear watchdogs and the EU assert that Iran is adhering to the terms of the agreement, but Trump has recently suggested otherwise.

Last year, Linkevičius traveled to Tehran and met with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, to “lay the foundation for fostering more systematic cooperation,” according to Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry.

At the time, Linkevičius spoke of opening “a new page in political relations between Lithuania and Iran,” adding that Vilnius and Tehran “always maintained friendly relations without any ‘dark spots’ in the fabric of their bilateral ties.”

Linkevičius said that Lithuania, which joined the EU in 2004, was interested in improving ties with Tehran, as other states did after the sanctions on the regime were lifted.

“We have contacts. We have no negative pages in our history. We do not have much in common, but we try to get in touch to see if we could get more tangible relations. But that’s it,” he said.

During the interview Monday, he denounced Iran’s calls for Israel’s destruction, saying he could “share the position” of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who maintains that full relations with the regime could only be established after it recognized Israel’s right to exist in security.

This is not the first visit to Israel for Linkevičius, 56. During his first visit in the mid-1990s as defense minister, he met then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Linkevičius expressed support for a two-state solution and the resumption of Israeli-Palestinians peace talks while condemning settlement building.

“Settlements are really not very helpful, to put it mildly,” he said.

However, Vilnius has voted with Israel at the UN, and is considered one of Israel’s better friends in the European bloc.

On May 2, Lithuania was one of 10 countries that voted against a resolution at the UN Educational Scientific, Cultural Organization that denied Israeli claims to Jerusalem; 22 countries had voted in favor and 23 abstained.

The status of Jerusalem is so delicate and therefore should not be further complicated with such resolutions, Linkevičius said. “These decision wouldn’t help a rapprochement.”

Lithuania’s pro-Israel positions have raised the ire of some in the Arab world, the foreign minister said. “There were some calls from time to time. We still did it, so what we did was the right thing to do. What will be in the future we will see,” he said, indicating Lithuania will base any vote on its wording.

“We’re always quite careful. It should be balanced, not one-sided. If you do that at the expense of others, it’s really not helpful,” he said. “If we feel it’s not balanced, we’re not supporting, regardless of what the majority does.”