Erdogan says Discussed Turkey Setting up Safe Zone in Syria with Trump
President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday he had discussed a safe zone which Turkey would set up inside Syria along the length of their border, during a phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump which he described as positive.
Trump, who announced he was pulling U.S. troops out of northeast Syria last month, suggested in a tweet on Sunday creating safe zone, without elaborating.
“The safe zone issue, including a safe zone along Turkey’s borders that will be formed by us — an issue that I have brought up since the Obama era — was reiterated by him as 20 miles,” Erdogan told members of his AK Party in parliament.
He later told reporters that the zone could be extended beyond 20 miles, but did not say by how far.
Turkey has promised to take over the fight against Islamic State in Syria following the U.S. withdrawal. However, bitter differences between Washington and Ankara over the Kurdish YPG militia had soured talks between the two NATO partners.
The YPG has been a main U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic State, but Turkey views it as a terrorist organization and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.
Monday’s call between the two leaders came after Trump threatened Turkey with economic devastation if Turkish forces attacked the YPG militia.
Erdogan said he was saddened by Trump’s tweet but that the phone call later in the day was positive.
Trump’s threat to devastate Turkey’s economy also sparked concern among investors, sending the lira down as much as 1.6 percent on Monday. Erdogan said he and Trump had agreed to improve economic ties during their phone call.
“Turkey will continue to do what it has to in order to solve this issue in line with the spirit of its alliance, so long as our rights and laws are respected,” he said. “We reached a historic understanding with Trump last night.”
Trump Denies, Denounces New Questions of Russian Influence
President Donald Trump has declared he has “never worked for Russia,” days after news reports suggested he might be beholden to Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump’s denial to reporters Monday was in response to a New York Times article published late Friday that the FBI had opened a counter-intelligence investigation into whether he was acting as a Russian agent when he fired James Comey as FBI director in May 2017. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Pentagon Agrees to Extended Role on US-Mexico Border Mission
The military is taking on a new and extended role on the U.S.-Mexico border, the Pentagon said Monday.
At the request of the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon agreed to provide personnel to operate security cameras and to lay about 150 miles (240 kilometers) of concertina wire between official ports of entry, officials said. The military also will continue to fly aircraft in support of Customs and Border Protection personnel.
“DOD is transitioning its support at the southwestern border from hardening ports of entry to mobile surveillance and detection, as well as concertina wire emplacement between ports of entry,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
Troops last fall put down about 70 miles (110 kilometers) of concertina wire.
An official familiar with the agreement said the Pentagon has not yet determined how many additional active-duty troops will be required to carry out the additional work. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details that were not made public after Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan approved the plan.
There are about 2,350 active-duty troops performing the border mission, which began Oct. 30 and initially was to end Dec. 15. It was extended to Jan. 31 before DHS submitted a new request for help Dec. 27 and will now stretch to the end of September.
The official said it is possible that National Guard troops could perform some of the aviation support.
The military’s current role at the border has been widely debated, in part because it began just days before the congressional midterm elections in November and was attacked by critics as a political ploy.
The military is prohibited by law from performing domestic law enforcement tasks but has periodically provided assistance to civilian border security authorities.
LA Teachers Go on Strike in 2nd-Largest US School District
Tens of thousands of Los Angeles teachers went on strike Monday after contentious contract negotiations failed in the nation’s second-largest school district.
“Students, we are striking for you,” teachers union President Alex Caputo-Pearl told a cheering crowd of teachers marching in pouring rain.
Members of United Teachers Los Angeles voted last year to walk off the job for the first time in three decades if a deal wasn’t reached on issues including higher wages and smaller class sizes.
Months of talks between the union with 35,000 members and the Los Angeles Unified School District ended without a deal. It follows teacher walkouts in other states that emboldened organized labor.
Schools will stay open because the district with 640,000 students has hired hundreds of substitutes to replace teachers and others who leave for picket lines. The union has called it irresponsible to hire substitutes and called on parents to consider keeping students home or join marchers.
The district maintained that the union’s demands could bankrupt the school system, which is projecting a half-billion-dollar deficit this budget year and has billions obligated for pension payments and health coverage for retired teachers.
Negotiations broke down in December and started again this month, but little progress was evident in the contract dispute. The union rejected a district offer Friday to hire nearly 1,200 teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians and reduce class sizes by two students.
It also included a previously proposed a 6 percent raise over the first two years of a three-year contract. The union wanted a 6.5 percent hike at the start of a two-year contract.
The union also wants significantly smaller class sizes, which routinely top 30 students, and more nurses, librarians and counselors to “fully staff” the district’s campuses in Los Angeles and all or parts of 31 smaller cities, plus several unincorporated areas.
Teachers are hoping to build on the “Red4Ed” movement that began last year in West Virginia and moved to Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado and Washington state. It spread from conservative states with “right to work” laws that limit the ability to strike to the more liberal West Coast with strong unions.
Actions elsewhere emboldened Los Angeles teachers, Caputo-Pearl said before the strike.
The union argues that the district is hoarding reserves of $1.8 billion that could be used to fund the pay and staffing hikes. The district said that money is needed to cover retiree benefits and other expenses.
District Superintendent Austin Beutner asked Friday for Gov. Gavin Newsom to step in to avoid a strike.
The union says Beutner, an investment banker and former Los Angeles deputy mayor without experience in education, and school board members who voted him in are trying to privatize the district.
The union says they’re encouraging school closures and flipping public schools into charters, which are privately operated public schools that compete for students and the funds they bring in.
Beutner has said his plan to reorganize the district would improve services to students and families. He and his supporters on the board envision an education system with public and charter schools under the same leadership.
Two Women Victims Unharmed After UPS Hostage Situation
Prosecutors say an armed man burst into a UPS facility in New Jersey and took two female workers hostage before officers stormed in and resolved the ordeal.
Gloucester County Prosecutor Charles Fiore says the suspect was apparently shot and injured, but the women were unharmed in the situation Monday at the supply chain processing facility in Logan Township, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Philadelphia.
Employee Allen Anthony Dowling tells The Associated Press he heard a fellow worker say someone had a gun. Dowling says he then heard what he thought was a gunshot and began to run along with other employees.
Fiore says there was apparently a prior relationship between the gunman and one of the women he took hostage.
Police swarmed the area in the morning and evacuated employees.
‘Miracle’ Flight Survivors Mark Decade of Thankfulness
It’s been 10 years, but there isn’t anything Tripp Harris doesn’t remember about the cold January day he cheated death on US Airways flight 1549.
The jolt when the plane collided with a flock of geese and the engines stopped moments after takeoff from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport. The smoke filling the cabin. The electric, burning smell. The panic from the people around him. The calm, steady tone of Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger telling everyone to brace for impact as he steered the Airbus A320-214 into the frigid waters of the Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009.
And, of course, he knows the happy ending of the “Miracle on the Hudson”: All 155 people aboard survived.
Harris has also never forgotten what that day taught him about what really mattered: his wife and then-2-year-old son.
“Everything that I could think about was the things I was going to miss,” said Harris, 47, of Charlotte, North Carolina, where the flight was headed. “That fundamentally shifted my priorities.”
It’s colored his life ever since. He decided to spend more time with his family and have adventures and experiences he might otherwise have put off.
That day “made me a better father, a better husband,” Harris said.
It’s a common refrain among survivors, of how that day led to big life changes and small everyday choices, and to feeling joy more readily. But some also speak of the anxiety that can still rise every time they’re on a flight.
“I have a lot more gratitude about my life,” said Sheila Dail, 67, one of the flight attendants. After taking the better part of a year off, she returned to working in the skies and helped to create a peer support group for air stewards at her airline. “I have three grandsons I possibly would never have seen.”
Flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia a decade ago Tuesday, with Sullenberger’s co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles at the controls, three flight attendants and 150 passengers aboard. It was cold, only about 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 degrees Celsius), but the skies were clear.
“What a view of the Hudson today,” Sullenberger remarked to Skiles, according to National Transportation Safety Board’s report on the crash.
Less than a minute later, plane and birds collided at 3,000 feet (915 meters). Both engines stopped. Sullenberger took the controls and told air traffic controllers he couldn’t make it back to LaGuardia. His choices were a small airport for private aircraft in New Jersey — possibly too far — or the river. Sullenberger picked the water.
At 3:31 p.m., the plane splashed down, somehow stayed in one piece, and began floating fast toward the harbor. Passengers got out on the wings and inflatable rafts as commuter ferries raced to the rescue.
One flight attendant and four passengers were hurt, but everyone else was mostly fine.
The submerged and damaged plane was recovered and is now held at the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, where survivors are planning to gather Tuesday to mark the 10-year anniversary, including a toast at the exact time of the crash.
“While I don’t know that I would do it again, it certainly gave me some clarity around my life priorities and the importance of my family,” said Pam Seagle, 52, of Wilmington, North Carolina, who was on the flight.
In the aftermath, she made some big life decisions.
She and her family moved away from Charlotte to a new home at the beach in Wilmington. While she still works for Bank of America, her employer in 2009, she moved to a division that promotes women’s economic empowerment. She took time to be with loved ones, including a long-overdue break with her sister. She held those moments with family even dearer after her sister’s unexpected death months later in 2009.
That January day 10 years ago “kind of put me on this path to where I am now, and where I’m very happy and content,” she said.
Getting over the trauma of the experience took some time for passenger Steve O’Brien, 54, of Charlotte.
“That first year was tough. You’re scattered. You can’t focus. You’re impatient,” he said. “There’s this thin place between life and death … and we were at a really thin place and then you get yanked back.”
When he flies now, he looks for the emergency exits and can’t sleep as easily in his seat anymore.
“I’ll be on a plane and I’ll be nodding off or something, and a bump will happen and all of a sudden it comes back, and you just feel this electric scared, overwhelming feeling that hits you in the chest,” he said.
But he says he feels he’s a more relaxed person now with life’s lesser frustrations.
“I realize that little things are to be appreciated, that mundane things are what make up your life,” he said, “and that’s the things you’re going to miss if it’s going to be yanked away from you.”
Top Trump Senate Ally Urges President to Reopen Shuttered Parts of Government
One of President Donald Trump’s closest allies in the U.S. Senate is urging him to at least temporarily reopen the shuttered federal government and negotiate with Democrats on a border wall.
South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham told Fox News Sunday he would still support a presidential emergency declaration after giving talks another chance.
“I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug, see if we can get a deal. If we can’t at the end of three weeks, all bets are off,” Graham said.
Graham echoed Trump by blaming the three-week long government shutdown on Democrats – specifically House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who joked she would give Trump $1 for the border wall.
“How do you negotiate with the speaker of the house when she tells you even if you open up the government, we are not going to give you but $1 for the wall? So until that changes, there’s not much left except the national emergency approach,” Graham said on Fox.
Declaring a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexican border would allow Trump to spend the $5 billion he wants for a wall without congressional approval – a move Democrats would be expected to immediately challenge in court.
Democrats see waste of money
Most Democrats say they agree on the need for border security, but say there is no national security crisis and believe a wall would be an impractical waste of money.
“I do think if we reopen the government, if the president ends this shutdown crisis, we have folks who can negotiate a responsible, modern investment in technology that will actually make us safer,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware said on Fox.
Coons blames the impasse on border wall funding that led to the shutdown on Trump. He said the president had accepted a border security package that included money for a wall, then changed his mind.
“The only crisis here is one that’s been created by the president’s abrupt change in position at the end of last year in the last days of a Republican-controlled Congress,” Coons said. He added that Trump should test the Democrats’ willingness to compromise by the concessions he is willing to make clear to everyone.
Trump insists building a wall along the border will bring down the nation’s crime rate. He says illegal drugs are pouring into the United States from Mexico, even though security experts say most come through legal ports of entry.
He said he is in the White House waiting for Democrats to come and make a deal.
Trump chided 30 congressional Democrats for heading to a Hispanic Caucus retreat in Puerto Rico to watch a charity performance of the smash Broadway show “Hamilton.”
Trump mocked them for “having fun” while he remains in snowy Washington.
Watch related video by VOA’s Michael Bowman:
But the lawmakers reportedly bought their own tickets to the show. They will also meet Puerto Rican officials on the recovery from Hurricane Maria – the powerful storm that devastated the island in 2017. They have also brought donated medical supplies.
Meanwhile, 800,000 federal employees will begin their 24th day Monday either furloughed or working without pay.
Newspapers and TV newscasts across the country are filled with stories of government workers lying awake at night wondering how they are going to pay their bills.
Congress says all affected federal workers will get back pay as soon as the shutdown is over, but that brings little assurance to those who have immediate expenses and little or no savings in case of an emergency.
While Trump has said he “can relate” to their loss of income, he says a broken border is more damaging than a government shutdown.
Congressman Blasted for Defense of White Nationalism
The leader of the Republican minority in the U.S. House of Representatives said Sunday that “action will be taken” against Congressman Steve King, a Republican lawmaker from rural Iowa who has questioned why the terms “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” are offensive.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told CBS News that he is holding a “serious conversation” with the 69-year-old King on Monday, reviewing whether King should be stripped of his House committee assignments, which would leave him all but powerless to shape legislation.
King has drawn widespread condemnation after last week telling The News York Times in an interview, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”
After his remarks were published, King said, “I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I reject those labels and the evil ideology that they define.” On Friday, in a House speech, he expressed regret for the “heartburn” his remarks had caused.
But McCarthy sharply condemned King’s comments.
“That language has no place in America,” McCarthy said. “That is not the America I know.”
McCarthy said he would be discussing King’s future role in the Republican party when he meets with the lawmaker.
“I will not stand back as a leader of this party, believing in this nation that all are created equal,” and let King’s remarks stand as representative of the Republican party, McCarthy said.
Senator Tim Scott, the Senate’s only black Republican, said in a Washington Post opinion article, “When people with opinions similar to King’s open their mouths, they damage not only the Republican Party and the conservative brand but also our nation as a whole.”
He said, “King’s views are not conservative views but separate views that should be ridiculed at every turn possible.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democratic majority, said Friday that the House would take some punitive action against King.
“We’ll see what we do about Steve King, but nonetheless, nothing is shocking anymore, right?” she told reporters. “The new normal around here is to praise white supremacists and nationalism as something that shouldn’t be shunned.”