Senate reaches agreement on opioids package

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced a deal had been reached on opioid legislation in the upper chamber. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

The Senate has reached an agreement on an opioids package aimed at addressing the national epidemic that killed 72,000 Americans last year.

The deal was first announced in a tweet Thursday night by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) spokesman, Don Stewart, who wrote that Democrats lifted a hold placed on the bill and that a floor vote was likely next week. Soon after, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) — who has several bills that are part of the package including an effort to combat synthetic drugs like fentanyl — released a statement saying that the bill would be voted on next week.

The House passed another package of opioid measures in June, and the two sets of bills would need to be reconciled before becoming law. President Trump has declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency and on Aug. 20 urged the Senate to pass legislation that tackled the fentanyl problem specifically.

The Senate bill had stalled over Democratic objections to a grant program they said was written too narrowly to benefit only one addiction advocacy group, the Addiction Policy Forum. The organization was closely connected to PhRMA and Democrats wanted the language broadened to cover more groups. This hold up was first reported Wednesday by Politico.

Senators had been working all summer to reach a deal on opioid legislation, which has emerged as a rare bipartisan priority ahead of November’s midterm elections. Trump increased the pressure by tweeting that they must pass the Portman-sponsored bill on shipments of illicit fentanyl through the international postal system.

“It is outrageous that Poisonous Synthetic Heroin Fentanyl comes pouring into the U.S. Postal System from China,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “We can, and must, END THIS NOW! The Senate should pass the STOP ACT — and firmly STOP this poison from killing our children and destroying our country. No more delay!”

Health-care industry experts expressed concern earlier this summer that politics could disrupt the bill’s chances, noting that McConnell may not want to give red state Democrats a chance to support something advantageous to their voters. But in announcing the vote next week, Stewart took a shot at those skeptics,

“Now that the Dem holds have been lifted,” he wrote in an email, “the Majority Leader, despite the assertions by the uninformed, anonymous sources, has sked (sic) a vote on the bill for next week.”

The bill, in addition to stopping the inflow of synthetic drugs, authorizes and expands programs for prevention, treatment and recovery. It allows the National Institute of Health to research new, non-addictive painkillers.

Regina LaBelle, a public policy consultant who served as chief of staff and policy adviser at the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the Obama administration, commended the lawmakers for moving the bill forward.

“It emphasizes emphasizes prevention, making sure we have more people who can treat people with addiction and it supports people in recovery, it does reflect what the science tells us,” she said. “There’s always more than can be done, but in an election year, I think this is pretty good. I really do appreciate there’s an effort being made to have a bipartisan solution.”


Trump lashes out at Russia probe, compares it to McCarthyism

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — President Trump reacted angrily Sunday to a new report that the White House counsel has cooperated extensively in the Russia investigation without Trump’s full knowledge, calling it a “Fake Story” and comparing the probe to McCarthyism.

In tweets, the president lashed out at a New York Times report that White House lawyer Donald McGahn had participated in at least three interviews with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III that spanned 30 hours.

McGahn has offered detailed accounts of “episodes at the heart of the inquiry” over whether Trump and his aides sought to obstruct justice, the Times reported, motivated in part by the fear the president might set him up to be held responsible.

The president suggested that McGahn had his full support to talk with Mueller.

The Failing New York Times wrote a story that made it seem like the White House Councel had TURNED on the President, when in fact it is just the opposite – & the two Fake reporters knew this. This is why the Fake News Media has become the Enemy of the People. So bad for America!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2018

Trump emphasized he has authorized his aides to cooperate with Mueller. The president’s initial legal team had believed that strategy could bring a quick end to the probe. “I have nothing to hide,” Trump wrote in one tweet.

But the Times reported that McGahn was caught off guard by that decision and developed his own strategy to protect his own legal liability and demonstrate he had done nothing wrong.

“It is not clear that Mr. Trump appreciates the extent to which Mr. McGahn has cooperated with the special counsel,” the Times reported. “The president wrongly believed that Mr. McGahn would act as a personal lawyer would for clients and solely defend his interests to investigators, according to a person with knowledge of his thinking.”

Some members of the media are very Angry at the Fake Story in the New York Times. They actually called to complain and apologize – a big step forward. From the day I announced, the Times has been Fake News, and with their disgusting new Board Member, it will only get worse!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2018

Trump compared Mueller’s investigation to the tactics employed by the late senator Joseph McCarthy, who alleged that communist agents and Soviet spies had infiltrated the U.S. government, accusing some of treason without evidence. Some of Trump’s critics have suggested it is the president, who last week stripped the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan and has vowed to pursue similar actions against a list of other critics, is the one who is acting like McCarthy.

Study the late Joseph McCarthy, because we are now in period with Mueller and his gang that make Joseph McCarthy look like a baby! Rigged Witch Hunt!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2018

The president is spending the weekend at his resort here in Bedminster. He is due back in Washington on Sunday evening.


On Twitter, Trump accuses ‘social media’ of limiting free speech of conservatives

President Trump speaks to reporters at the White House on June 15. (Evan Vucci/AP)

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — President Trump on Saturday waded into the growing debate over the role of social media companies in policing public discourse, accusing them of “totally discriminating” against Republicans and conservative commentators.

In morning tweets from his private resort in Bedminster, N.J., the president suggested the companies, which he did not name specifically, were engaging in censorship.

“Too many voices are being destroyed, some good & some bad, and that cannot be allowed to happen,” Trump wrote. He added that “mistakes are being made” and vowed that his administration “won’t let that happen.”

The president’s remarks came two weeks after YouTube, Apple, Spotify and Facebook took down Web pages operated by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a Trump supporter and radio-show host who had the president as a guest during Trump’s 2016 campaign. Twitter followed suit this week in suspending Jones’s account for posting a show that violated the platform’s rules against violent threats.

Social media companies, with platforms that reach hundreds of millions, have been the focus of an intensifying debate over their responsibility to limit the spread of misinformation. Online activists have targeted Jones and others, forcing some advertisers to drop support of the programs.

In his tweets, Trump said it was “absolutely impossible to police” the sites and, as he has done often, suggested that mainstream news organizations whose coverage he does not like are “Fake News.”

…..Censorship is a very dangerous thing & absolutely impossible to police. If you are weeding out Fake News, there is nothing so Fake as CNN & MSNBC, & yet I do not ask that their sick behavior be removed. I get used to it and watch with a grain of salt, or don’t watch at all..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 18, 2018

The president has lashed out angrily at the ongoing investigation from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russia’s alleged influence campaign in the 2016 election, including potential ties to the Trump campaign. Among other things, Russian operatives have been accused of spreading false information through ads on Facebook.

In another tweet, the president said that it wasn’t just Russia that might try to interfere in elections.

All of the fools that are so focused on looking only at Russia should start also looking in another direction, China. But in the end, if we are smart, tough and well prepared, we will get along with everyone!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 18, 2018


Senate investigation: Government fails to keep tabs on unaccompanied migrant kids after they leave its care

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) arrives at a closed-door GOP strategy session in June 2017. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

(This post has been updated.)

A bipartisan Senate investigation released Wednesday concluded the Department of Health and Human Service fails to adequately account for the well being of unaccompanied migrant children once they leave government custody.

The lawmakers who conducted the investigation, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), are urging the government to take responsibility for ensuring the safety and health of the minors even after they are turned over to an adult sponsor.

Portman and Carper, the chairman of and ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on investigations, are holding a hearing about the issue Thursday.

“These federal agencies must do more to care for unaccompanied minors and ensure they aren’t trafficked or abused,” Portman said. “This report details some small progress but also a glaring need for these agencies to take more responsibility for ensuring these children are safe and appear at their immigration court proceedings.”

HHS, the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department released a lengthy response Wednesday night that called the subcommittee’s report “misleading” and that it “demonstrates a fundamental misunderstandings of law and policy.”

Children crossing the border without an adult are housed in HHS-contracted shelters until they can be placed with a sponsor, typically a family member. HHS has repeatedly said that the agency is no longer responsible for children once they are released from its supervision — although it checks in with the sponsors by phone.

Portman has wanted to change that for years, and has been a leading voice on the issue since 2015 revelations that eight migrant children in Ohio had been released to human traffickers.

But the report says the situation is more urgent because of the Trump administration’s now-ended policy of separating families at the border. While the policy was in place, children separated from their parents were turned over to HHS as their parents awaited trial in a detention center, and they were given the same unaccompanied minor status as those who cross the border alone.

That has contributed to a massive backlog in an overburdened system, the report found.

HHS calls sponsors to check on children 30 days after they are released from custody, a practice that began only after the Senate subcommittee’s initial investigation almost three years ago. HHS learned from these calls that it was unable to determine the whereabouts of 1,475 children who left its care from October to December 2017. Of the 7,635 calls HHS employees made, they discovered that 28 children had run away, five were removed from the United States and 52 were living with another person who was not their official sponsor, the report says.

The report alleges that HHS did nothing to try to locate the children after that.

The ongoing legal debate over President Trump’s family separations threw a spotlight on the broader problem. When a federal judge ruled in June that the government had to reunite separated children with their parents quickly, that work took precedence over all else. The subcommittee staff sought updated data from 2018 about the children’s whereabouts. But the report said HHS told them it “can either work to reunite families or update data — but not both.”

The Trump administration, in its response to the report, pushed back at the contention that its policies have made things worse.

“This report misses an opportunity to address decades of congressional inaction that have contributed to the significant influx of [unaccompanied children] and family units who come here in violation of the law and are effectively able to game our immigration system such that they do not fear the consequence of removal,” the trio of agencies said in their joint statement. “If we want to stem the tide of illegal immigration, we must end the legal pull factors that drive illegal aliens to our borders.”

The report also provides new statistics on the record of unaccompanied minors showing up for their scheduled court hearings. Sponsors sign an agreement upon taking the child from HHS that they will ensure their attendance at hearings, but the report emphasizes that there is no one in the federal government who enforces that.

There are 80,226 pending court cases for these unaccompanied minor children from 2014 through June 30. Out of 9,621 completed cases in that time, more than half of the children did not show up. When a child does not appear for a hearing, the judge can order their removal from the country.

“We have a moral responsibility to ensure that these migrant children fleeing their homes and extreme violence are safely and responsibly guided through the immigration process,” Carper said. “It is my hope that, finally, the administration officials coming before this subcommittee are prepared to discuss concrete steps being taken to better protect children living in our country.”

The senators are also calling for better coordination between HHS and the Department of Homeland Security. In April 2018, the two agencies signed an agreement that HHS would notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement when a child leaves a shelter and moves in with a sponsor.

But with the Trump White House’s hard line on immigration, the report notes concern that would-be sponsors who are undocumented may fear coming forward to claim a child for fear their information could then be used by ICE for enforcement.


Giuliani preparing letter to Mueller expressing ‘real reluctance’ over obstruction questions

Donald Trump, then the Republican presidential nominee, walks with his son Eric Trump, right, and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani through the Trump International Hotel in Washington on Sept. 16, 2016. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s lead attorney for the ongoing special counsel investigation, said Monday that Trump’s legal team is planning to send a letter to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III this week that will largely rebuff Mueller’s latest offer of a presidential interview that would include questions about possible obstruction of justice.

“We have a real reluctance about allowing any questions about obstruction,” Giuliani said in an interview with The Washington Post when asked about the overarching theme of the letter.

He said that he and other Trump attorneys have been discussing the details of a draft version of the letter in recent days and hope to send it to Mueller “sometime on Tuesday or Wednesday.”

Giuliani said he expects the letter to “continue the negotiations” rather than formally decline Mueller’s request.

“The president still hasn’t made a decision, and we’re not going to make a final decision just yet,” he said.

The delay comes as Trump is publicly attacking Mueller’s investigation as a “hoax” and after Trump tweeted Wednesday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should “should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now.”

Giuliani acknowledged that this week’s further stalling of a decision could irritate federal investigators, who have been talking with Trump’s attorneys for months about interviewing the president.

“Sure, it could,” Giuliani said. “But they are trying to get something on perjury, and that’s not going to happen. The answers, with regard to [former national security adviser Michael T.] Flynn and the firing of [FBI Director James B.] Comey are already well known, and they’re not going to change. He’d say the same thing in the interview that he’s said publicly.”

Giuliani added that Mueller “doesn’t need us. He’s got our explanation.”

Flynn, who is cooperating with Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Trump fired Comey in May 2017, several days after the FBI director told Congress that he could not comment on whether there was evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. At the time, Comey was overseeing the Russia investigation. Comey later testified that the president had asked him several months earlier whether he could see a way to “letting Flynn go.”

Mueller indicated in a letter to Trump’s attorneys last week that he would be willing to reduce the number of questions his investigators would pose to Trump in an interview, according to two people briefed on the negotiations.

In the letter sent July 30, Mueller’s team suggested that investigators would reduce the number of questions about possible obstruction of justice they would ask in person and instead seek some answers in written form, one person said.

The two sides have been at an impasse since March, when Mueller raised the threat of issuing a subpoena to the president, and Trump’s team has sought to make Trump’s conduct as president off-limits to Mueller’s investigators, should an interview occur.

Trump has long told his attorneys that he is willing to be interviewed and would like to sit with Mueller to hasten the inquiry’s conclusion. But Giuliani and other Trump attorneys have repeatedly warned him about the potential challenges of doing so and delayed a decision.

Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.


White House announces summit with South Korean leader ahead of planned meeting with North Korea

President Trump reacts to people’s cheers Friday on the South Lawn. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

President Trump will host South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House later this month as part of preparations for the planned summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the White House said Friday.

The May 22 meeting “affirms the enduring strength of the United States-Republic of Korea alliance and the deep friendship between our two countries,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Trump’s meeting with Kim is expected in late May or early June. Moon held his own summit with Kim on April 27, at the heavily militarized border between the two Koreas. That session was considered among the last steps before Trump could schedule a face-to-face meeting with Kim.

Another step may be the release of three Americans held in North Korea, which would be a significant show of goodwill from Kim. Trump attorney Rudolph W. Guiliani had predicted their release this week, and Trump suggested it may be imminent.

Trump said Friday that the date and time for his session with Kim are set and would be announced soon. The meeting would be an extraordinary development after more than a year of insults and escalating tension between the United States and nuclear-armed North Korea.

“I think you’re going to see very good things,” Trump said. “As I said yesterday, stayed tuned.”

The White House denied Friday that Trump has ordered the Pentagon to present options for withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea.

Moon came to power last year with a promise to try to improve North-South relations. He made a bold gesture with the invitation to North Korea to send athletes and a delegation to the Winter Olympics, held in South Korea earlier this year. Trump has taken credit for jump-starting diplomacy by giving Moon his “blessing.”

South Korean officials made an unusual trip to North Korea after the February Olympics and then in March carried to Trump the North’s offer to meet directly with the U.S. president. Trump stunned nearly everyone involved by agreeing on the spot.


White House claims Wall Street Journal misquoted Trump as saying he has a good relationship with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un

President Trump in the Oval Office on Wednesday with Vice President Pence and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.). (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Trump claimed Sunday that the Wall Street Journal deliberately misquoted him as saying he probably has a good relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The White House is disputing the newspaper’s story from an interview last week in which Trump claimed some success in countering the nuclear threat from North Korea and said he could be open to talks under the right conditions. He claimed good relationships with other Asian leaders dealing with North Korea. The Journal quoted Trump as then saying, “I probably have a good relationship with Kim Jong Un.”

“Obviously I didn’t say that,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday morning. “I said ‘I’d have a good relationship with Kim Jong Un,’ a big difference,” Trump continued. “Fortunately we now record conversations with reporters…”

In a second tweet, Trump finished the thought. “…and they knew exactly what I said and meant,” Trump wrote. “They just wanted a story. FAKE NEWS!”

The Wall Street Journal stated falsely that I said to them “I have a good relationship with Kim Jong Un” (of N. Korea). Obviously I didn’t say that. I said “I’d have a good relationship with Kim Jong Un,” a big difference. Fortunately we now record conversations with reporters…

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 14, 2018

…and they knew exactly what I said and meant. They just wanted a story. FAKE NEWS!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 14, 2018

We have reviewed the audio from our interview with President Trump, as well as the transcript provided by an external service, and stand by what we reported. Here is audio of the portion the White House disputes.

— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) January 14, 2018

The president’s accusation echoed one from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Saturday evening. She posted the White House recording of the session.

In an article posted shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday, the Journal stood by its report and said ground rules for the interview Thursday had included a pledge from the White House that recordings made by both reporters and the White House would be used only for purposes of transcribing the session.

“The Journal stands by what it reported,” the article said.

“After the White House challenged the Journal’s transcription and accuracy of the quote in a story, The Journal decided to release the relevant portion of the audio. The White House then released its audio version of the contested segment,” the newspaper wrote.

Earlier on Saturday evening, Sanders had tweeted that “Fake news is at it again!” and accused the newspaper of  “falsely quoting” the president.

“President Trump said, I’D probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un of North Korea. I’D — I’D — I’D — NOT I!” Sanders wrote.

Listening to the recordings, it is difficult to tell whether Trump said “I” or “I’d.”

Elsewhere in the interview with several Journal reporters, Trump asked to be treated “fairly,” to which a reporter replied, “We always do.” Trump would not say whether he has ever spoken to Kim, whom he has mocked as “Little Rocket Man.”

Here is the official audio showing WSJ misquoting @POTUS

— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) January 14, 2018


Trump ‘cancels’ London visit to dedicate new U.S. Embassy, citing ‘bad deal’ to sell and relocate building

President Trump said Jan. 12 he canceled an official visit to London to dedicate the new U.S. embassy because it was a ‘bad’ real estate deal. Trump’s tweet came after months of speculation about whether the visit would take place. (Reuters)

President Trump said he has called off a planned ceremonial visit to Britain because he didn’t want to be associated with what he called a bad real estate deal in which the U.S. Embassy is being relocated from central London to “an off location.”

In a Twitter message shortly before midnight Thursday, Trump implicitly rejected reports that the trip — never announced but widely assumed to be in February — was being scrapped over concerns that the U.S. leader would be met with widespread protests.

“Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for ‘peanuts,’ only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO,” Trump wrote.

Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for “peanuts,” only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2018

In fact, it was never certain that Trump would make the visit to Britain, historically America’s closest ally. The last word from the U.S. ambassador there, Woody Johnson, was that while he hoped Trump would come to dedicate the new embassy, no date had been set for such a journey.

U.S. diplomats are expected to move in to the new quarters this month. The embassy’s website has a large banner reading, “1 week until we move.”

Trump had been expected to combine a ceremonial opening for the new building — a distinctive glassy cube — with an official visit at the invitation of Prime Minister Theresa May.

May was the first foreign leader to visit Trump after his inauguration a year ago, and extended a return invitation that was put on hold in part because British lawmakers and others vowed to protest and boycott Trump over policies seen as anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant.

Trump told May in a phone call last month that he planned to visit early in 2018. The Daily Mail reported that Trump had backed out because he was unhappy about arrangements for the visit, which was billed as a “working” visit rather than a full state visit that could include a meeting with Queen Elizabeth.

The George W. Bush administration had decided more than a decade ago to relocate the embassy from offices on prime land in the tony neighborhood of Mayfair in central London to a plot on the banks of the Thames in the south of the city. Security concerns drove the move, in line with a worldwide upgrade and redesign of embassy facilities to better protect them from vehicle bombs and other terrorism.

The old embassy was sold to the real estate division of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund in November 2009.

May rebuked Trump in November after he retweeted unverified anti-Muslim videos from the far-right Britain First political group. She said Trump was “wrong” to do it and called the British group “hateful.”

British members of Parliament had called on May to rescind the invitation to Trump over the video incident and earlier actions, including his attempt to temporarily block immigration from several Muslim-majority nations.

“I am deeply uncomfortable because he is deliberately divisive, and this would be divisive at a time when we are trying to unite our country,” Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said in November.

Earlier this week, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had rejected suggestions that now was not the time for a state visit.

“I think Her Majesty the Queen is well capable of taking this American president — or indeed any American president — in her stride, as she has done over six remarkable decades,” Johnson said. “She has seen them come and she has seen them go.”


Treasury secretary says new Iran sanctions are coming as administration faces another deadline on nuclear deal

Vice President Pence and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) watch as President Trump signs into law the bipartisan Interdict Act to curtail opioids trafficking during a ceremony in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington on Jan. 10. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The Trump administration said Thursday that it plans additional sanctions on Iran that are separate from those covered under the international nuclear deal with Iran, an indication that President Trump is unlikely to break the 2015 deal now.

The president’s top national security advisers met with Trump on Thursday afternoon at the White House ahead of a deadline Friday for the president to again exempt Iran from a suite of tough economic sanctions imposed years ago. Announcement of the decision was expected Thursday night or Friday morning. If those sanctions are reimposed, the United States would violate the deal brokered by his predecessor that lifted sanctions in exchange for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear development program.

“You’re going to be finding out very soon,” Trump said Thursday when asked about Iran. “You’ll be finding that out very soon.”

U.S. officials and others have said Trump is expected to take the recommendation of senior advisers that he keep the old nuclear-related sanctions in suspension, while announcing new ones that would target other aspects of Iran’s behavior, including mass arrests during anti-government protests this month.

“I am expecting new sanctions on Iran,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters Thursday. “We continue to look at them, we’ve rolled them out, and you can expect there will be more sanctions coming.”

He did not say when, but other officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said they expect the announcement of additional sanctions to be coordinated with what, to Trump, is the distasteful task of granting a waiver under the Iran deal he has blasted as weak and a giveaway to Iran. He also faces a deadline Friday to say whether he will “certify” to Congress that Iran is complying with the deal and that it remains in U.S. interests to adhere to it. Trump declined to make that certification in October, throwing the deal into limbo but not breaking it outright.

“The president has been very clear, okay, that many aspects of the Iran deal need to be changed, that there are many activities outside of the Iran deal, whether it be ballistic missiles, whether it be other issues, that we will continue to sanction that are outside the JCPOA,” Mnuchin said, using the acronym for the deal’s formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “Human rights violations. We couldn’t be more focused,” he said. “We have as many sanctions on Iran today as we have on any other country in the process. And we’ll continue to look at things.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump “still strongly believes this was one of the worst deals of all time.”

“One of the single greatest flaws is that its restrictions leave Iran free in the future to openly develop their nuclear program, and rapidly achieve a nuclear weapons breakout capability. Obviously we see big problems with that,” Sanders said. “The administration is continuing to work with Congress and with our allies to address those flaws.”

Britain, France, Germany and the European Union united Thursday to call on the United States to protect the Iran nuclear pact. European powers that co-signed the deal say Iran has complied with its terms and deserves the sanctions relief it was promised. The Trump administration and congressional leaders have sought European agreement on ways to toughen the deal, and such agreement is considered essential before U.S. legislation could go forward. A legislative “fix” Trump requested in October has not materialized.

“The accord is essential and there is no alternative,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters in Brussels. He added that unrelated international complaints about Iran can be dealt with separately. “We do not hide the other points of disagreement that exist,” Le Drian said.

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to Trump about the deal Thursday, Macron’s office said.

“President Macron reaffirmed France’s determination to see the agreement strictly enforced and the importance for all of its signatories to abide by it,” Macron’s office said in a statement to reporters. “The smooth implementation of the agreement should be accompanied by a stepped-up dialogue with Iran on its ballistic missile program and its regional policy in order to guarantee greater stability in the Middle East.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke by phone Thursday with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, the State Department said in a brief statement that did not mention whether the two diplomats discussed the coming sanctions deadline and Trump’s response. European officials separately said they did.

“They discussed Iran’s repressive actions against protesters and its destabilizing activities in the Middle East,” and Gabriel briefed Tillerson on meetings this week among European powers and Iranian representatives, the statement said.

Steve Goldstein, the State Department’s under secretary of state for public diplomacy, said U.S. responses to the Iranian protests should be kept separate from decision-making on U.S. participation in the deal.

“I don’t think we should conflate the two,” Goldstein said.


Vice President Pence will lead U.S. delegation to Olympics in South Korea

President Trump, with Vice President Pence by his side, speaks before a swearing-in ceremony for Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Dec. 8, 2017. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

President Trump informed South Korean President Moon Jae-in that Vice President Pence would attend the games in PyeongChang. Moon provided an update on recent talks between South Korea and North Korea, a White House statement said.

“The two leaders underscored the importance of continuing the maximum pressure campaign against North Korea. President Trump expressed his openness to holding talks between the United States and North Korea at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances,” the statement said.

Trump had said last week that he is open to U.S.-North Korean talks under the right conditions, a shift from his Twitter rhetoric in recent months that called talks a waste of time.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has worked for months to open the door for talks, arguing that direct negotiations will eventually be the key to lessening the threat of nuclear war. The U.S. goal would be “denuclearization,” jargon for getting Pyongyang to give up its weapons. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed he will not do that.

In the meantime, Moon’s government has moved to accept an overture from Kim for cross-border talks. North Korea is sending athletes and an official delegation to the games. The State Department said Tuesday that there are no plans for any meetings between U.S. officials and the North Korean delegation during the games.

Pence will also visit Alaska and Japan as part of the trip, Reuters reported. South Korea and Japan are key U.S. allies in Asia and those most affected by the risk of conflict with North Korea.

Pence’s wife, Karen, is also expected to attend the Games, which begin Feb. 9.


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