Trump Denies Telling NRA More Background Checks for Gun Buyers Are ‘Off the Table’  

President Donald Trump is denying reports he told the NRA chief that expanded background checks for gun buyers are “off the table,” and now says he backs such measures.

Trump spoke to reporters outside the White House Wednesday as he appears to waver back and forth on how he plans to address gun violence in the United States.

He said Wednesday he is considering ways to make background checks stronger, but warned of what he calls the “slippery slope” he believes would restrict legal gun ownership.

“I want guns in the hands of people that are mentally stable,” Trump said Wednesday. “I want them to be easily able to get a gun. But people who are insane, people who are sick, I don’t want them to be able to get a gun.”

Trump expressed strong support for more background checks after two gunmen massacred 31 people earlier this month in EL Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

FILE – National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre speaks at the NRA Annual Meeting of Members in Indianapolis, Indiana, April 27, 2019.

But he seemed to grow lukewarm toward tougher gun measures after conversations with Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, White House officials have said.

A report by The Atlantic magazine Tuesday said Trump told LaPierre that expanded background checks were “off the table.”

Trump said Wednesday, “We have a lot of background checks right now, but there are certain weaknesses. We want to fix the weaknesses.”

He has also noted that many of his supporters are strong believers in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to own guns.

Some Democrats who wholly support more gun control say they are upset with Trump’s perceived back-and-forth on background checks.

“It’s time for Republicans and President Trump to decide whose side they’re on,” Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy said. “Are they going to stand with 90% of Americans who want universal background checks, or are they going to once again kowtow to the desires of the gun lobby?”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted that Trump’s “retreats are heartbreaking, particularly for the families of the victims of gun violence.”

FILE – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer heads to a briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 10, 2019.

White House and congressional teams from both parties have been talking about ways to strengthen gun laws. But the NRA has been a major force on Capitol Hill in opposing more regulations. 

A gunman killed 22 people at a Walmart store in El Paso Aug. 3 in a shooting that appears to have targeted Mexicans. The suspect is in jail.

Hours later, another gunman shot and killed nine others in Dayton before police killed him. The motive for that attack is still unclear

Both shooters used military-style assault weapons.

The killings, along with past mass shootings and a recent spate of threatened shootings, have renewed the nationwide debate over gun control in the U.S.

Putin: US Missile Test Raises New Threats to Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that the test of a new U.S. missile banned under a now-defunct arms treaty has raised new threats to Russia and will warrant a response.

The U.S. tested a modified ground-launched version of a Navy Tomahawk cruise missile that accurately struck its target more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) away. Sunday’s test came after the U.S. and Russia withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty that banned such weapons.

Speaking after talks Wednesday with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Putin argued that the quick test indicated the U.S. had begun work on the missile long before declaring its intention to withdraw from the pact.

FILE – The Defense Department conducted a flight test of a conventionally configured ground-launched cruise missile at San Nicolas Island, Calif., Aug. 18, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Defense.gov)

“The Americans have tested this missile too quickly after having withdrawn from the treaty,” Putin said. “That gives us strong reason to believe that they had started work to adapt the sea-launched missile long before they began looking for excuses to opt out of the treaty.”

The U.S. has explained its withdrawal from the treaty by Russian violations — the claim Moscow has denied.

The Russian leader said that Russia would also work to design such weapons, but reaffirmed that it wouldn’t deploy the missiles previously banned by the INF treaty to any area before the U.S. does that first.

Putin charged that Sunday’s test was performed using a launcher similar to those stationed at a U.S. missile defense site in Romania. He argued that the Romanian facility and a prospective similar site in Poland could also be used for missiles intended to hit ground targets instead of interceptors.

“Such missiles could be launched from facilities in Romania, as well as those to be deployed in Poland,” he said. “It only requires software tweaks. I’m not sure that our American friends will share the information about which software they use even with their European partners.”

He said that for Russia that means “the emergence of new threats, to which we will react accordingly.”

Trump Says He Wants Russia Back at G-7 Summits  

U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday he wants Russia back at the Group of Seven summits of the world’s leading economies, even though it still controls Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Moscow was booted from the group over its unilateral 2014 annexation of the peninsula.

As the G-7 leaders head to the French Atlantic seaside town of Biarritz for their annual meeting this weekend, Trump said it would make sense for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be part of the group again.

Trump seemed unconcerned that Russia considers Crimea part of its territory, instead blaming former U.S. President Barack Obama for Russia’s takeover of Crimea.

“They took over during [Obama’s] term, not mine,” Trump said. “The fact is President Putin totally outsmarted President Obama on Crimea and other things. He made a living on outsmarting President Obama and frankly because of it, Obama was upset and he got [Putin] out of what was the G-8 into the G-7.”

FILE – Then-U.S. President Barack Obama (L) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-8 Summit at Lough Erne in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, June 17, 2013.

“We spend a lot of time talking about Russia at those meetings and they’re not there,” Trump told reporters Wednesday as he fielded questions on the White House driveway. “I think it would be a good thing if Russia were there, so we could speak directly, not have to speak by telephone.”

Trump added, “We’re looking for world peace, trade and other things. It would be a lot easier to have Russia in where they had always been.”

A day earlier, Trump said that if another country at this week’s summit moved to readmit Russia, “I would certainly be disposed to think about it very favorably.” 

The G-7 includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., described by the International Monetary Fund as the world’s seven largest advanced economies, representing 58% of the global net wealth. China is the world’s second-biggest economy, after the U.S., but is not part of the G-7. Russia has the world’s 12th largest economy.

It was not immediately clear whether any of the other countries support Russia rejoining the G-7 to again make it the G-8. 

The White House says Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron agree that Russia should be invited to the 2020 G-7 meeting, when Trump is hosting it in the United States.

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for a photo during a meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019.

However, Macron took a firmer stance Wednesday against simply letting Russia rejoin the G-7 without resolving the Ukraine conflict, where, aside from the Crimean annexation, Russian-supported insurgents have fought Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine for years, killing thousands.

“I think to say that without any conditions Russia can return to the table would be signing off the weakness of the G-7,” Macron said. “It would be a strategic error for us and the consecration of this age of impunity.”

Macron said that while it is important to discuss international affairs with Russia, the Ukraine crisis must be resolved before Russia can return to the G-7.

 

4 Students Shot at Block Party near Clark Atlanta University

Four college students were wounded when a gunman opened fire into a crowd of 200 people outside a library near Clark Atlanta University and then escaped in the chaos, authorities said.

All four injured women were in stable condition after the gunfire, which happened shortly after 10:30 p.m. Tuesday. None of their injuries were life-threatening, Atlanta police said.

The shooter had not yet been apprehended Wednesday morning.

The four students were shot outside a library that serves Clark Atlanta and other nearby historically black colleges.

The block party, held the night before the first day of classes, was celebrating the end of orientation for new students.

“Parents should send their kids away and think they’re OK,” Clark Atlanta junior Brooklyn Scott told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Scott said the shooting underscores the need for more campus police officers and security measures.

“Anyone can get on this campus,” sophomore Jasmine Phelps told the newspaper.

On Wednesday, there was a heavy security presence on campus and in front of the library. A couple of Atlanta police officers stood on a corner across the street.

Investigators on Wednesday were checking surveillance cameras in the area, Atlanta police spokesman Carlos Campos told The Associated Press. Police wouldn’t say what the cameras might have captured.

The gunshots began after an argument broke out between two parties and someone opened fire, investigators said. Video aired by WXIA-TV shows dozens of students running frantically after the gunshots were heard.

“It appears there were two separate groups that were targeting each other, and these people were just caught in the crossfire,” Atlanta police Capt. William Ricker told reporters.

Two of the victims are 17-year-old and 18-year-old students at Spelman College, a nearby all-women’s school. Investigators believe the other two women are 18-year-old and 19-year-old Clark Atlanta students, police said.

Clark Atlanta’s Office of Religious Life announced a prayer vigil for Wednesday evening. “Evil will not have its way on our campus,” it said on social media.

Some students Wednesday discussed the shooting among themselves as they walked past the library. Security guards did not permit interviews with the students in front of the library, which is private property.

“We are asking our faculty to be aware and prepared to support those students experiencing the effects of this incident, Lucille Mauge, Clark Atlanta’s interim president, said in a message to students.

Atlanta police routinely work with Clark Atlanta’s police department, as they do with campus police at other schools in the city such as Georgia State University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

“We’re always very much aware when school is open at the campuses inside the city of Atlanta and we do make a concerted effort to work closely with the campus police, and make sure we properly patrol our areas,” Campos said.

 

2 US Service Members Killed in Afghanistan

Two U.S. service members were “killed in action” Wednesday in Afghanistan, the U.S. military said, as talks between the U.S. and the Taliban were set to resume in Qatar. 
 
U.S. officials confirmed this was an active combat situation but would not say which enemy the U.S. troops were fighting. An official with the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan told VOA an investigation was continuing. 
 
The identities of the two service members were not released, pending notification of their next of kin. 
 
The Trump administration and the Taliban have been negotiating to find a way out of the United States’ longest war. 
 
U.S. President Donald Trump shared details of the meetings with reporters on Sunday as he headed back to the White House from New Jersey, suggesting a U.S. troop drawdown plan was still in the works. 
 
“We’re having very good discussions [with the Taliban]. We will see what happens. We’ve really got it down to probably 13,000 people [troops], and we’ll be bringing it down a little bit more and then we will decide whether or not we will be staying longer or not,” he said. 
 
The U.S. plans to leave behind a “very significant intelligence” force, Trump stressed, for operations against the Islamic State group and al-Qaida, maintaining that Afghanistan remained “a breeding ground” for terrorists. 

Pentagon: State Dept Approves Possible $8B Fighter Jet Sale to Taiwan

The U.S. State Department has approved a possible $8 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said on Tuesday in an official notification to Congress.

The potential deal is for 66 aircraft, 75 General Electric Co engines, as well as other systems, the agency said in a statement, adding it served the interests of the United States and would help Taiwan maintain a credible defense.

China has already denounced the widely discussed sale, one of the biggest yet by the United States to Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province. It has warned of unspecified “countermeasures.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch, a Republican, has welcomed the proposed sale of the Lockheed Martin Corp F-16 jets.

“These fighters are critical to improving Taiwan’s ability to defend its sovereign airspace, which is under increasing pressure from the People’s Republic of China,” he said in a recent statement. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News on Monday that President Donald Trump notified Congress of the sale last week.

Pompeo told Fox News the sale was “consistent with past U.S. policy” and that the United States was “simply following through on the commitments we’ve made to all of the parties.”

In Tapei, President Tsai Ing-wen said the sale would help Taiwan build a new air force and boost its air defense capacity.

In a post on Facebook, Tsai said she was grateful for Washington’s “continuous support for Taiwan’s national defense.”

“With strong self-defense capacity, Taiwan will certainly be more confident to ensure the cross-strait and regional peace and stability while facing security challenges,” she said.

Taiwan unveiled its largest defense spending increase in more than a decade last week, amid rising military tensions with China.

Envoy Says US Ready to Restart North Korea Nuclear Talks

U.S. envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun says the Trump administration is ready to resume stalled negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program.

Speaking Wednesday in Seoul where he was meeting with South Korean officials, Biegun said the United States is “prepared to engage as soon as we hear from our counterparts in North Korea.”

President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter earlier this month that he had received a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressing a desire “to meet and start negotiations” after the conclusion of U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises, which ended Tuesday.

North Korea considers the exercises a threat to its existence, and since late last month it carried out six short-range ballistic missile tests that Kim said were in response to the drills.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday he was concerned about the latest missile tests, disagreeing with Trump, who has shrugged off their importance.

“I wish that they would not” launch the missiles, the top U.S. diplomat told CBS News.

The two latest projectiles, fired last Friday, flew 230 kilometers into the waters off North Korea, but, aimed differently, could reach South Korea as well as American troops and civilians living there.

Trump has voiced his discontent as well, not about North Korea’s missile tests, but about the costs of the military drills with Seoul.

President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, walk up to view North Korea from the Korean Demilitarized Zone from Observation Post Ouellette at Camp Bonifas in South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019.

Asked about the missile tests, Trump told reporters, “I have no problem. These are short-range missiles.”

Trump called the missiles “smaller ones.”  He said earlier this month that Kim had sent him “a really beautiful letter” that included a “small apology” for conducting the missile tests.

The U.S. leader has held out hope that he can bring about Pyongyang’s denuclearization by the time his first term in the White House ends in January 2021.

Pompeo acknowledged in the CBS interview, however, that the United States and North Korea “haven’t gotten back to the table as quickly as we would have hoped” to continue the nuclear weapons talks.

Pompeo said the U.S. knew “there will be bumps along the way” in the negotiations.

“We hope Chairman Kim will come to the table and a get a better outcome” than by maintaining North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, he said.

“It will be better for the North Korean people,” Pompeo concluded. “It’ll be better for the world.”

US Marines Chief Acknowledges Worries on Japan-Korean Ties

Gen. David Berger, the new U.S. Marines commandant, acknowledged Wednesday that he is concerned about deteriorating relations between Japan and South Korea, both key regional allies, but expressed hopes politicians would work out a resolution.

Berger stressed that Japan and Korea have common interests despite their differences, such as the threat posed by China and pursuing stability in Asia.  

“I’m optimistic it will get worked out,” said Berger, during his first trip to Japan after being appointed to his post.

Besides meetings with Japanese government and military officials, his visit also includes going to the southern islands of Okinawa, where most of the U.S. forces here are based. He heads to South Korea later this week.  

Bilateral relations worsened after Tokyo removed South Korea’s preferential trade status in early July. South Korea has decided to do the same to Japan, with the new rules taking effect in September.  

Seoul sees Japan’s move as retaliation for South Korean court rulings that Japanese companies compensate South Koreans forced into labor during World War II. Japan says it is a security issue.

Berger declined to comment on what might happen if South Korea makes good on the threat to end an agreement with Japan to share military intelligence, called the General Security of Military Information Agreement, or GSOMIA, which went into effect in 2016. He said such sharing was important from a military standpoint, and discussions were ongoing outside the military.

“I never said I was not concerned. We are. What I did say is we have a common focus on an assessment of what the near and long-term threats are. But absolutely we should all be concerned when any part of any alliance has some challenges,” said Berger.

“I am confident that the right leaders are talking. I am confident that we all share a common view of the threat to stability in this region.” 

While in Okinawa, Berger will go to Henoko, where a U.S. Marine air base is being built on a coastal landfill. The Henoko base, decades in the making and backed by the Japanese government, would replace a base that’s considered noisy and dangerous and is in a crowded residential area of Okinawa.

Many residents want the base moved completely off Okinawa, and its new governor, Denny Tamaki, was elected last year while pushing that demand.

Berger played down worries about delays and said construction was going smoothly, while stopping short of giving a detailed timeline.

He said he earlier checked out the construction of a Marines facility in U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, where some of the Marines from Japan will be transferred.    

“I think the progress is solid,” he said, adding that the overall plan to begin the moves in the early 2020s is “on track.”

Japan sees the U.S. as its most important ally. Berger said the military of the two nations work closely together.
“This is the most consequential region for us. Our alliance with Japan is an essential part of that,” he said.

US Aims to Double Financing in Latin America to $12 Billion

The United States has created a new agency to promote development around the globe, with a particular emphasis on Latin America.

David Bohigian, acting president and chief executive officer of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, said an agency known as the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation will start operating on Oct. 1st.

In addition to loans, loan guarantees and political risk insurance, DFC will have the authority to make limited equity investments with a $60 billion cap.

Specifically, the U.S. expects to double its financing in the Western Hemisphere to $12 billion.

A statement on OPIC’s website said: “DFC will help countries sidestep opaque and unsustainable debt traps being laid by Beijing throughout the developing world and help more American businesses invest in emerging markets, including many places that are of key strategic importance to the United States.”

Chinese state banks have financed development projects in Latin America for $14 billion since President Donald Trump took office, according to a database jointly run by the Inter-American Dialogue and the Global China Initiative at Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center.

But Bohigian told reporters it is a mistake to look only at government-to-government money because the United States is the main source of the $237 billion Latin America received in direct foreign investment as recently as 2017.

“Private sector investments from the United States far outstrips” the funds provided by the Chinese government, he said.

Report: Trump Says More Background Checks for Gun Buyers ‘Off the Table’

President Donald Trump has told the head of the National Rifle Association that strengthening background checks for gun buyers is “off the table,” the Atlantic magazine reports.

“He was cementing his stance that we already have background checks and that he’s not waffling on this anymore,” Atlantic quotes a top White House official who witnessed a telephone call between Trump and NRA chief Wayne LaPierre.

Trump came out in favor of stricter background checks for gun buyers immediately after mass shootings this month in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

But he now appears to be lukewarm on the idea, telling reporters Tuesday the country already has “very, very strong background checks.” He said he is worried about a “slippery slope” when “all of a sudden everything is taken away.”

But the president also said his administration is having “meaningful” talks with Democrats on gun control.

“We’re looking at different things. And I have to tell you that it’s a mental problem as I’ve said it a hundred times — it’s not the gun that pulls the trigger, it’s the person that pulls the trigger. These are sick people,” Trump said.

According to The Atlantic, Trump was excited about the idea of a Rose Garden ceremony during which he would sign documents tightening background checks for gun purchases.

Demonstrators hold a banner to protest the visit of President Donald Trump to the border city after the Aug. 3 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019.

But a former White House official says when Trump asked LaPierre whether the NRA would be open to more checks, LaPierre said “No,” and that Trump immediately tossed out the idea of what could have been an historic Rose Garden event.

The White House has so far not commented on The Atlantic report.

A gunman killed 22 people at a Walmart store in El Paso August 3 in a shooting that appears to have targeted Mexicans. The suspect is in jail.

Hours later, another gunman shot nine others dead in Dayton before police killed him. The motive for that attack is still unclear.

Both shooters used military-style assault weapons.

The killings, along with a spate of threatened mass shootings in the past week that have resulted in a number of arrests, have renewed the nationwide debate over gun control in the United States.

The NRA has been a major force on Capitol Hill in opposing more gun laws. Gun rights supporters consistently point to the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees Americans the right to own a gun.

But millions of other Americans say they have had enough of mass shootings and the legislative inaction that follows such crimes and many gun owners themselves have said they support tighter background checks.