Turkey, Jan 8 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump's shifting timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Syria has left allies and other players in the region confused and jockeying for influence over a withdrawal strategy that appeared to be a work in progress.
One day after White House national security adviser John Bolton announced the U.S. pullout would not be as immediate as Trump had initially declared, U.S. allies on Monday sought clarification from American diplomats. The Kurds, who have fought alongside U.S. forces against the Islamic State group and fear an assault by Turkey if the U.S. withdraws, were still asking publicly for an explanation from Washington.
Bolton said the U.S. would first seek assurances from Turkey that it would not harm the Kurds — for the first time adding a "condition" to the withdrawal. He arrived Monday in Turkey to seek those guarantees from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but there was little reason for optimism. In a New York Times op-ed published ahead of the Tuesday meeting, Erdogan referred to the Syrian Kurdish Peoples Protection Units, or YPG, as a terrorist group, Turkey's longtime position, and rejected any role for Kurdish fighters in restoring peace to the war-torn region.
The piece set up a contentious day of diplomacy for Bolton and underscored the destabilizing impact of Trump's shoot-from-the-hip approach to foreign policy. Trump's spur-of-the-moment withdrawal came with no details, leaving allies scrambling for answers and aides crafting a strategy that can satisfy all the players, including Trump.
Trump discussed Syria during a phone call on Monday with French President Emmanuel Macron, who had panned Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops and warned it could have dangerous consequences. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said they discussed the commitment of their two countries "to the destruction of ISIS as well as plans for a strong, deliberate, and coordinated withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria."
Bolton said Sunday, "We don't think the Turks ought to undertake military action that's not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States." Trump has made clear that he would not allow Turkey to kill Kurds, Bolton added. "That's what the president said, the ones that fought with us."
Erdogan proposed in his op-ed to stand up a "stabilization force featuring fighters from all parts of Syrian society" to safeguard northeast Syria once American troops leave, though he said an "intensive vetting process" will exclude fighters with "links to terrorist organizations," which in his government's view includes the YPG.
Bolton did not respond to the op-ed ahead of Tuesday's meetings, but such an offer would appear unlikely to be acceptable to the U.S. Bolton had said the protection of U.S. allies in Syria, including the YPG, was among "the objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal" of U.S. forces.
Speaking to The Associated Press from northern Syria on Monday, a Syrian Kurdish official said the Kurds have not been informed of any change in the U.S. position and were in the dark about Bolton's latest comments.
"We have not been formally or directly notified, all what we heard were media statements," Badran Ciya Kurd said.
Kurdish officials have held conversations with Moscow and Syrian President Bashar Assad's government about protection, but Bolton called on them to "stand fast now."
Bolton's pronouncements were the first public confirmation from the administration that the pace of the drawdown had changed since Trump's announcement in mid-December that U.S. troops are "coming back now." Trump faced widespread criticism from allies about his decision, including that he was abandoning the Kurds in the face of Turkish threats. Officials said at the time that although many details of the withdrawal had not yet been finalized, they expected American forces to be out by mid-January.
At the time, Trump had also said that Turkey would step up the fight against the remnants of the Islamic State in Syria, but Bolton said Sunday U.S. troops will eliminate what remains of IS as another "condition" to northeastern Syria.
Trump on Monday struck back to the perception that his intentions in Syria had changed. "No different from my original statements, we will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight ISIS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary!....." he said in a tweet.
While Sanders said last month the administration had "started returning United States troops home," the Pentagon said Monday no U.S. troops have withdrawn from Syria yet, but added that there is an "approved framework" for withdrawal.
Bolton maintained there is no fixed timetable for completing the drawdown, but insisted it was not an indefinite commitment to the region. Still, some 200 U.S. troops will remain in the vicinity of al-Tanf, in southern Syria, to counter growing Iranian activity in the region, he said.
In meetings with Turkish officials Tuesday, Bolton said he will seek "to find out what their objectives and capabilities are and that remains uncertain."
He will be joined by the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, who will remain in Turkey for additional meetings with Turkish military officials, as well as Jim Jeffrey, the special representative for Syrian engagement and the newly named American special envoy for the anti-Islamic State coalition. Jeffrey will travel from Turkey into Syria to reassure the Kurdish fighters that they are not being abandoned, Bolton said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left Washington on Monday for an eight-nation trip of the Middle East. Both he and Bolton are seeking input and support for the specifics of the withdrawal plan, according to one official, who said U.S. partners were eager for details.
San Francisco, Jan 8 (AP/UNB) — Utility crews restored power to thousands of people Monday and mopped up the damage from a winter storm that swept through Northern California, as they braced for more stormy weather later this week.
A new wet system is expected in the region on Tuesday night that won't be as intense but two more powerful storms are expected over the weekend, National Weather Service forecaster Emily Heller said.
Strong winds and downed trees knocked out electricity for nearly 90,000 customers across the Sacramento region Sunday night. Toppled utility poles and trees prompted the temporary closure of a major highway.
By Monday afternoon, about 3,000 customers were still without power, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District said.
Spokeswoman Lindsay Van Laningham said the utility was getting ready for more potential work later this week.
"We'll have all hands on deck for crews to repair damages. We are ready for it, and we're sort of mopping up from today's storm and damage," she said.
In Oregon and Washington, tens of thousands of people remained without power after windstorms struck parts the northwest over the weekend.
Interstate 80 from Placer County in California to the state line with Nevada reopened Monday but it remained closed in Nevada's Washoe County, the California Transportation Department said.
Officials shut down the highway Sunday after the snowstorm reached the Lake Tahoe area as weekend visitors were leaving.
The National Weather Service on Monday issued a winter storm warning for areas in the Sierra Nevada above 4,000 feet (1,200 meters), saying snowy and gusty conditions will limit visibility.
Over three days 4.5 feet (1.37 meters) of snow accumulated at the summit of Mammoth Mountain, 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of Tahoe, the resort said Monday. More than a foot (30 centimeters) fell in the upper elevations around Tahoe, including 19 inches (48 centimeters) at Squaw Valley.
Up to 5 inches (13 centimeters) of rain fell in some Northern California coastal and valley areas, while mountain communities got heavy snow.
In Southern California, light to moderate rain fell early Monday as a second system followed heavy Saturday night downpours that unleashed massive mud flows from the fire-scarred Santa Monica Mountains onto Pacific Coast Highway.
Cleanup work kept about 13 miles (21 kilometers) of the scenic highway closed from western Malibu to Ventura County. Caltrans said the closure might last into Tuesday.
While the latest rain was modest, powerful winds swept the Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles early Monday because of a so-called mountain wave — southwesterly winds rising up and over the San Gabriel Mountains and then plunging down into the high desert. The National Weather Service said a 78 mph (125 kph) gust was recorded at Lake Palmdale.
In the northwest, about 30,000 Puget Sound Energy customers in Oregon and Washington remained without power Monday afternoon. Crews had restored power to 288,000 customers since the height of the storm. Seattle City Light had approximately 1,000 customers without power as of Monday morning, the utility said on Twitter.
In Oregon the lights were back on for most people.
The storm caused Alaska Airlines to ground all its flights between 4:20 a.m. and 5:15 a.m. Sunday after a power outage in the Seattle area, where its operations are based. Twenty seven flights were delayed and five were canceled.
The National Weather Service reported winds included gusts of more than 60 mph (95 kph) at the storm's peak Saturday night and early Sunday morning.
Washington, Jan 8 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump is taking over the nation's airwaves Tuesday night to argue his case for a U.S.-Mexico border wall — and Democrats are not happy about it.
Representatives for ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox Broadcasting, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, MSNBC and NBC confirmed plans to air Trump's address live at 9 p.m. Eastern.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer say Democrats should be given time to respond after Trump's address.
"Now that the television networks have decided to air the President's address, which if his past statements are any indication will be full of malice and misinformation, Democrats must immediately be given equal airtime," they wrote in a joint statement Monday night.
Trump's address will come in the third week of a partial government shutdown, the result of a stalemate with congressional Democrats over $5 billion the president wants for the U.S.-Mexico border wall. Democrats are refusing to pay for it, noting that he repeatedly promised that Mexico would foot the bill for it.
The speech is part of a public relations blitz by the president. Trump has scheduled a trip to the border Thursday to highlight his demands for a wall.
Washington, Jan 7 (AP/UNB) — With no weekend breakthrough to end a prolonged partial government shutdown, President Donald Trump is standing firm in his border wall funding demands and newly empowered House Democrats are planning to step up pressure on Trump and Republican lawmakers to reopen the government.
Trump showed no signs of budging on his demand for more than $5 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, though on Sunday he did offer to build it with steel rather than concrete, a concession Democrats panned.
With the shutdown lurching into a third week, many Republicans watched nervously from the sidelines as hundreds of thousands of federal workers went without pay and government disruptions hit the lives of ordinary Americans.
White House officials affirmed Trump's funding request in a letter to Capitol Hill after a meeting Sunday with senior congressional aides led by Vice President Mike Pence at the White House complex yielded little progress. The letter from Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Russell Vought sought funding for a "steel barrier on the Southwest border."
The White House said the letter, as well as details provided during the meeting, sought to answer Democrats' questions about the funding request. Democrats, though, said the administration still failed to provide a full budget of how it would spend the billions requested for the wall rom Congress. Trump campaigned on a promised that Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexico has declined refused.
The letter includes a request for $800 million for "urgent humanitarian needs," a reflection of the growing anxiety over migrants traveling to the border — which the White House said Democrats raised in the meetings. And it repeats some existing funding requests for detention beds and security officers, which have already been panned by Congress and would likely find resistance among House Democrats.
Trump sought to frame a steel barrier as progress, saying Democrats "don't like concrete, so we'll give them steel." The president has already suggested his definition of the wall is flexible, but Democrats have made clear they see a wall as immoral and ineffective and prefer other types of border security funded at already agreed upon levels.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi intends to begin passing individual bills to reopen agencies in the coming days, starting with the Treasury Department to ensure people receive their tax refunds. That effort is designed to squeeze Senate Republicans, some of whom are growing increasingly anxious about the extended shutdown.
Among the Republicans expressing concerns was Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should take up bills from the Democratic-led House.
"Let's get those reopened while the negotiations continue," Collins said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Adding to concerns, federal workers might miss this week's paychecks. Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that if the shutdown continues into Tuesday, "then payroll will not go out as originally planned on Friday night."
Trump reaffirmed that he would consider declaring a national emergency to circumvent Congress and spend money as he saw fit. Such a move would seem certain to draw legal challenges.
Incoming House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said on ABC's "This Week" that the executive power has been used to build military facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan but would likely be "wide open" to a court challenge for a border wall. Speaking on CNN's "State of the Union," Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff called the idea a "nonstarter."
Trump also asserted that he could relate to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who aren't getting paid, though he acknowledged they will have to "make adjustments" to deal with the shutdown shortfall.
Los Angeles, Jan 7 (AP/UNB) — A powerful winter storm unleashed mudslides in Southern California wildfire burn areas and trapped motorists on a major highway, and the northern part of the state braced for more wet weather Sunday.
Saturday's deluge loosened hillsides where a major blaze burned last year in and around Malibu, clogging the Pacific Coast Highway with mud and debris.
A stretch of the scenic route northwest of Los Angeles was expected to remain closed in both directions until Monday while crews tow away stuck vehicles and clear lanes. No injuries were reported.
The rapper Soulja Boy was among those whose cars were mired in the muck that was up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) deep in some areas.
The 28-year-old retweeted a photo of the mudslide and posted: "My car got stuck too almost went into the ocean," along with a prayer emoji.
An automated rain gauge in the western Santa Monica Mountains showed nearly three-quarters of an inch (nearly 2 centimeters) of rainfall in one hour, said the National Weather Service.
"These are heavy rates," the weather service tweeted.
Up to 1 ½ inches (3.8 centimeters) of rain fell in coastal and valley areas, while mountain communities got heavy snow.
Flash-flood watches and warnings were eventually lifted for areas burned by the fires that scorched more than 155 square miles (404 square kilometers) of brush and timber acres in November, destroyed about 1,600 structures and claimed three lives.
The sun emerged in Los Angeles on Sunday and the red carpet for the evenings Golden Globe awards were expected to remain dry. Scattered showers were possible later in the night.
To the north, wind and rain forced delays or cancelations of flights out of San Francisco International Airport for a second day. A wind advisory was in place until 10 p.m. Sunday.
The San Francisco Bay Area could get up to 1 ½ inches (3.8 centimeters) of rain, with the heaviest downpours coming after sunset.
Strong winds and downed trees knocked out electricity for at least 20,000 customers across the Sacramento region Sunday night. The National Weather Service said Sunday that winds gusted up to 49 mph (79 kph).
Saturday's storm brought about a foot (30 centimeters) of snow to the Sierra Nevada and twice that amount was expected Sunday. A winter storm warning was in effect until 4 a.m. Monday.
Avalanche warnings were posted in parts of California, Nevada and Utah. The Sierra Avalanche Center issued a backcountry avalanche warning for the Lake Tahoe area stretching south into the Sierra along the California-Nevada line from noon Sunday until 7 a.m. Monday.
The National Weather Service says blizzard conditions with gale-force winds could trigger widespread avalanche activity.
Two feet (61 centimeters) of snow was reported at Mammoth Mountain 150 miles (241.39 kilometers) south of Tahoe. More than a foot (30 centimeters) fell in the upper elevations around Tahoe, including 19 inches (48 cm) at Squaw Valley.
Windstorms that pummeled parts of Washington state and Oregon over the weekend left hundreds of thousands of people without electricity.
A strong system brought winds that registered gusts of about 60 mph (96 kph) at Sea-Tac Airport in Washington, the National Weather Service in Seattle said. Dozens of flights in the region were canceled or delayed.