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Iran was at high level of military readiness; now U.S. trying to gauge what is the new normal

58 0 09 Jun 2019

ABOARD THE USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN IN THE NORTH ARABIAN SEA — In early May, the Iranians and their proxies were at extremely high levels of military readiness with ships, submarines, surface-to-air missiles and drones all prepared, according to two U.S. officials in the region.

Now, on Saturday, Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, said that the U.S.’s moving the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier, plus Patriot missiles and a B-52 bomber task force to the region has had a stabilizing effect on Iran.

McKenzie said this week that the threat is imminent and that Iran or its proxies could attack at any time.

On Saturday, he expanded on that view, saying, “I would say the threat has probably evolved in certain ways.”

The Iranians have pulled back some of their ships in the area, but U.S. officials are hesitant to say whether this movement is actually drawing down forces or if this is a period of Iran resetting its forces.

An F/A-18E Super Hornet from the “Jolly Rogers” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA-103) flying above the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) in the Arabian Sea on May 18, 2019.Logan Holshey / AFP – Getty Images

It’s yet to be seen what the new normal is,” said one U.S. official in the region.

Iranians fast boats continue to operate in the region’s waterways, according to Rear Adm. John Wade, the commander of the Strike Group on the USS Lincoln.

“Since we’ve been operating in the region, we’ve had several interactions with Iranians,” Wade said. “To this point all have been safe and professional, meaning, the Iranians have done nothing to impede our maneuverability or acted in a way which required us to take defensive measures.”

McKenzie said equipment carried by the aircraft carrier allows officials to gauge the evolving threat.

“You’re always working to build your awareness of what’s going on. And what this carrier gives you is a lot of ways to do that, through patrolling through the sensors that the carrier brings, through the sensors that its aircraft carry and report back,” McKenzie said. “So it just gives us great opportunities to see what’s going on out there. And then of course the carrier is seen by potential opponents. And they have to weigh the enormous capabilities that are resident aboard this platform.”

Cuba travel restrictions leave some American travelers in limbo

57 0 08 Jun 2019

When Alexis Henshaw and her husband planned their vacation for this year, they knew they wanted to visit Cuba. For them, it meant booking a cruise with a stop on the island.

“It was the entire reason we booked it,” Henshaw said. “It would be for our honeymoon with my husband”

But within a few hours of sailing out of Florida on Tuesday, the couple’s plans came to a screeching halt.

The Trump administration this week placed new restrictions on travel to Cuba, including blocking cruise ship travel to the island. This decision meant the Henshaw’s trip was re-routed to Nassau, Bahamas. They had just sailed out of Key West, Florida, when ship officials announced the diversion.

“I had wanted to go to Cuba for a very long time, and it was important for me to do that legally,” said Henshaw, adding that she and her husband had planned the trip carefully.

The Henshaws are among many whose hopes to visit Cuba on cruises were dashed by the new rules that went into effect Tuesday. Since then, cruise lines have been left to figure out solutions for trips with excursions in Cuba.

Alexis Henshaw and her husband were excited to take a cruise this week with a stop in Cuba. But due to the United States’ recently announced travel restrictions for the island, the couple’s cruise was re-routed to Nassau.Courtesy Alexis Henshaw

Royal Caribbean, for example, canceled its stops in Cuba on Wednesday.

Henshaw was traveling with Norwegian Cruise Line. Though there appeared to be some disorganization aboard the ship related to the announcement, she said, she felt the company handled it well.

In letter Norwegian sent to guests that Henshaw provided to NBC News, the cruise line said passengers would receive a 50 percent refund of their cruise fare and a 50 percent future cruise credit. Visa fees and shore excursions arranged through the company would also be refunded.

“I think that’s pretty generous,” she said.

Karen Nickols, an avid traveler who’s been on five cruises, has been planning a sixth trip since November that included a stop in Havana. Though she isn’t keen on visiting the island, her friends were eager to do so.

“I would have loved to go back,” Nickols’ friend Jerry Burch, who’s traveled to Cuba before, said in an email. “When I went before, I paid for the full cabin because I didn’t know when this situation would happen. Fascinating country.”

The group is traveling with MSC Cruises, which has been working to modify its itineraries for trips to Cuba, according to the company’s website.

Nickols said she was more disappointed with the administration’s decision to approve the restrictions than with not being able to visit Cuba in September.

“He’s controlling where we can go, like a dictator, sort of,” Nickols said of President Donald Trump.

“Now you can still fly,” Nickols added. “[But] why punish people that are on cruises? It’s not right, it’s not fair. It’s our choice to go and Trump has denied us our choice.”

In 2014, former President Barak Obama took steps to normalize bilateral relations with Cuba, including restoring full diplomatic ties and easing travel restrictions.

But the Trump administration said it didn’t want Cuba’s military benefiting from U.S. tourism dollars, citing the country’s domestic “repression” and its support of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro.

Under Trump arms deal, high-tech U.S. bombs to be built in Saudi Arabia

43 0 07 Jun 2019

WASHINGTON — A controversial arms deal for Arab allies approved by the Trump administration will allow U.S. hi-tech bomb parts to be manufactured in Saudi Arabia, giving Riyadh unprecedented access to a sensitive weapons technology.

The production arrangement is part of a larger $8.1 billion arms package for Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan announced two weeks ago. The Trump administration pressed ahead with the sale without congressional approval, declaring an “emergency” based on what it said was a heightened threat from Iran.

The deal came as a surprise to lawmakers, who were outraged that the administration chose to bypass Congress. But most members of Congress only learned days after the deal was announced May 24 that it opens the door for Saudi Arabia to host the production of electronic guidance and control systems for Paveway precision-guided bombs, congressional aides said.

The New York Times first reported on the co-production arrangement.

Lawmakers are expected to grill a senior State Department official — R. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs — about the arms deal and the bomb production plan at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday.

The U.S. government tends to closely guard technology linked to sophisticated weapons, and limits how much of that technology is shared through co-production projects with other countries.

Lawmakers opposed to the deal said the production scheme sent the wrong signal to Saudi Arabia given its human rights record and its air war in Yemen, raised security concerns about sharing so-called “smart bomb” technology with Riyadh and undercut one of President Donald Trump’s arguments for selling weapons to the Saudis — to generate jobs in the United States.

“The concerns over this sale are only one more reason showing the importance of congressional review and why it is deeply disturbing that the Trump administration is trying to circumvent the law and Congress to give the Saudis not only American jobs but also American weapons technology,” Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said.

The co-production plan had raised eyebrows among some lawmakers more than a year ago when the administration first tried to secure approval for tens of thousands of precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a Democratic congressional aide told NBC News.

Menendez held up the sale of 120,000 precision-guided bombs for Saudi Arabia and the UAE last year because of numerous accounts of civilian casualties from Saudi-led air raids in Yemen. The senator has said the administration failed to persuade him that selling more of the so-called “smart” bombs would prevent more civilian deaths.

Human rights, U.N. investigators and aid groups have accused Saudi Arabia and its allies of striking civilian targets, including hospitals and schools, in indiscriminate bombing raids in Yemen since Riyadh launched an armed intervention against Houthi rebels in 2015. Congressional resistance to weapons sales to Saudi Arabia only grew after the killing last year of Saudi writer and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The Trump administration has defended the arms sale as a way of ensuring Arab allies can defend themselves amid an allegedly increased danger from Iran, and that Washington’s credibility as a military partner was at risk if it did not deliver spare parts and other weapons promptly. U.S. officials privately have also said that maintaining arms sales helps Washington exert a constructive influence over the kingdom.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, an outspoken critic of U.S. support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, condemned the production arrangement.

“To think that we would co-produce these bombs and in turn contribute to an arms race, regional instability, and civilian deaths is unfathomable,” Murphy said. “Congress needs to put a stop to the way we do business with the Saudis and start acting like the senior partner in this relationship rather than succumbing to whatever the kingdom wants.”

“A secretive monarchy that commits atrocities in Yemen, that murders dissidents and journalists and lies to the world about it, and that treats women as property is not one to which we should be giving some of our most sensitive military technology,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said.

The Paveway bombs can strike a target within 10 feet when fired from 40,000 feet, according to William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Washington-based Center for International Policy, and will almost certainly be used in the war in Yemen. “The weapons are going to be put to use in a civilian slaughter,” he said.

Displays of missiles stand at the Raytheon International Inc. chalet on day two of the Farnborough International Airshow (FIA) 2018 in Farnborough, U.K., on July 17, 2018.Simon Dawson / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

The deal fits in with Saudi Arabia’s long term economic plan, Saudi Vision 2030, which calls for the country to dramatically increase its domestic arms production. “They are trying to build up their own military manufacturing base,” Hartung said.

But the assembly of bomb parts in the kingdom raises security and proliferation questions for the United States, he added. “If they can master the production process, they could sell it.”

The defense firm that makes the precision-guided bombs, Raytheon, based in Waltham, Massachusetts, said co-production deals in other countries were not unusual.

“Local work share is a common practice used in the majority of aerospace and defense exports around the world,” spokesman Mike Doble said in an email. Raytheon has a number of other international co-production arrangements that are all approved by the U.S. government and adhere to U.S. arms export regulations, he said.

Doble added that production in Saudi Arabia will likely start within about two years after the U.S. government approves a manufacturing license.

People inspect the site of an airstrike by Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa, Yemen on May, 16, 2019.Hani Mohammed / AP

The long-term nature of a joint production plan with the Saudis also prompted criticism in Congress, as the administration had insisted the arms package had to be expedited given the “emergency” conditions in the Middle East.

“This is a long-term endeavor in Saudi Arabia. How is this an emergency? ” one Democratic congressional staffer said.

In a memo last month explaining why the administration had declared an emergency to fast-track the arms sale, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that “Iranian malign activity poses a fundamental threat to the stability of the Middle East and to American security at home and abroad.”

He added: “Current threat reporting indicates Iran engages in preparations for further malign activities throughout the Middle East region, including potential targeting of U.S. and allied military forces in the region.”

Abigail Williams contributed.

In search for Jennifer Dulos, investigators focusing on properties owned by estranged husband

42 0 07 Jun 2019

As the search for a missing Connecticut mother of five hit the two-week mark Friday, investigators have been focusing on homes owned by her estranged real estate developer husband.

When New Canaan police searched Jennifer Dulos’ home after she went missing May 24, they found blood and “evidence of attempts to clean the crime scene.” Her blood was also found on items that her husband, Fotis Dulos, was seen on surveillance footage shoving into trash cans in Hartford with his girlfriend, Michelle Troconis

Fotis Dulos, 51, and Troconis, 44 were arrested Saturday on charges of evidence tampering and hindering prosecution.

Troconis has since been bailed out and police said she and her attorney met with investigators Thursday. Meanwhile, Fotis Dulos remained at Bridgeport Correctional Facility on $500,000 bond, according to jail records.

By Thursday, New Canaan police had received 225 tips regarding Jennifer Dulos’ disappearance and 70 responses to a call they put out Monday for private surveillance video taken from homes and businesses between May 22 and May 25.

Jennifer DulosNew Canaan Police Dept.

Police said they were continuing to search a waste-to-energy plant in Hartford and had obtained warrants to search properties Fotis Dulos owned.

Fotis Dulos lives in Farmington, but five additional properties — in Avon, New Canaan and Farmington — are listed on the website for his custom home building company, the Fore Group.

A neighbor of one of the New Canaan houses, listed at $4.8 million, told the Stamford Advocate that he heard loud metal-banging sounds from the property May 25, the day after Jennifer Dulos vanished. Police searched there Wednesday, but said details of the searches won’t be released so as not to “compromise this very active criminal investigation.”

It’s not clear which other multimillion-dollar Fore Group properties police had searched.

One of the Avon plots was the scene of what police determined was a fatal accident in 2010 — the family’s 24-year-old nanny ran over Fotis Dulos’ mother with a car.

According to an Avon Police Department report from the time, Kleopatra Dulos, 77, asked the nanny to move the Land Rover since the older woman had a broken arm. The nanny told police that she asked Kleopatra Dulos to move away from the car so that she wouldn’t strike her, and when the nanny didn’t see her anymore, she assumed the woman had moved.

But Kleopatra Dulos had fallen, and the nanny ran over.

Kleopatra Dulos suffered internal bleeding at the hospital and died. Fotis Dulos told police he was in Italy at the time, but his mother had been in poor health before she was run over, and he “had no reason to suspect that the incident was anything but an accident.”

Fotis Dulos and Jennifer Dulos, 50, had been married for about seven years at the time of the tragic incident in the driveway of the house they lived in at the time. Seven years later, Jennifer Dulos filed for divorce.

“I am afraid of my husband. I know that filing for divorce, and filing this motion will enrage him. I know he will retaliate by trying to harm me in some way,” she wrote in her application for custody of their five kids, ages 8 to 13, including two sets of twins.

Fotis Dulos and Michelle Troconis were arrested in connection with the disappearance of Jennifer Dulos in Connecticut.New Canaan Police Department

“He has the attitude that he must always win at all costs. He is dangerous and ruthless when he believes he has been wronged. During our marriage, he told me about sickening revenge fantasies and plans to cause physical harm to others who have wronged him,” she wrote.

The couple’s children were taken by their nanny to the apartment of Jennifer Dulos’ mother in New York City the day she went missing. Before his arrest, Fotis Dulos accused his mother-in-law, Gloria Farber, 85, of keeping the kids under armed guard.

Farber was involved in a lawsuit against Fotis Dulos for $1 million she said she loaned him for his business in 2004 and never got back. On Tuesday, she filed for custody of the children.

Deadline approaching, Trump says good chance for tariff deal with Mexico

39 0 07 Jun 2019

The Trump administration resumed negotiations with Mexican officials on Friday, though still moving toward slapping a 5 percent tariff on Mexican goods on Monday, officials said.

“They’ve made a lot of progress over the course of the last few days. The meetings have gone well, but we’re still on track for tariffs on Monday,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters on Air Force One as President Donald Trump flew back to Washington from Europe.

The president sounded optimistic about reaching a deal in a tweet from the presidential plane.

“If we are able to make the deal with Mexico, & there is a good chance that we will, they will begin purchasing Farm & Agricultural products at very high levels, starting immediately,” the tweet said. “If we are unable to make the deal, Mexico will begin paying Tariffs at the 5% level on Monday!

In order for the tariffs to go into effect on June 10, Trump has to sign an executive order directing them to do so on Friday, a White House official confirmed to NBC News. The order would not be binding, the official noted, meaning Trump could still pull the plug on the tariffs over the weekend if the two sides were to strike a deal.

Asked if it was possible Trump would do so, Kevin Hassett, the outgoing chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, told NBC News the president “always has every option on the table.”

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador told reporters in Mexico City that “it’s a good sign that talks have not broken down.”

“There is dialogue and an agreement can be reached. I’m optimistic we can achieve that,” Obrador said.

Trump announced that he would impose the tariff last week, and that it would “gradually increase” until “Mexico substantially stops the illegal inflow of aliens coming through its territory.”

The two sides met for a third straight day on Friday. Administration officials say there has been “significant progress,” but stressed that Trump will have the final say.

A White House official told NBC News after negotiations Thursday that Mexico seemed willing to entertain a number of proposals that the White House had put on the table Wednesday.

Those proposals include putting 6,000 Mexican national guards at the border region with Guatemala, and the possibility of a “safe third country” designation. That would include a provision requiring Central Americans to seek refuge in the first foreign country they enter.

The Washington Post reported that such a plan would mean the U.S. would deport Guatemalan asylum-seekers to Mexico, and Honduran and Salvadoran applicants to Guatemala.

Mexico had initially said a “safe third country” designation would be a red line.

The White House said Mexican officials were also considering a proposal for “Migration Protection Protocols,” which would require migrants seeking to come into the United States to stay in Mexico until their cases are processed.

According to a White House official, negotiations were now mainly being conducted between lawyers for both countries, including White House counsel Pat Cipollone. That was viewed as a sign the talks were pretty far along, but the source said Thursday it was “premature” to say there’s a deal in place.

Marc Short, chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence, told Fox News that Cipollone was going “to try to hammer out some more details.”

Short told reporters outside the White House that Mexico’s first proposals on Wednesday had been “insufficient,” but that the administration had been encouraged by how talks have proceeded since then.

“The legal teams are talking today, and we’ll see how that progresses, but it’s clear that there’s still a long way to go,” Short said.

The proposed tariffs have been opposed by Democrats and several Senate Republicans, who’ve warned they could have a negative impact on the U.S. economy. Trump has said Republicans would be “foolish” to try to block his plans.

Hallie Jackson, Peter Alexander and Reuters contributed.

NYPD formally apologizes for 1969 Stonewall raid

44 0 06 Jun 2019

New York Police Department Commissioner James P. O’Neill on Thursday apologized for the 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, that caused an uprising and helped launch the modern-day LGBTQ rights movement.

“What happened should not have happened. The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple,” O’Neill said at a briefing on security preparations for the 50th anniversary of the riots on June 28. “The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that, I apologize.”

In the early hours of Saturday, June 28, 1969, the NYPD attempted to enforce a law that made it illegal to serve alcohol to known homosexuals. While gay bar raids were not unusual, on this particular night, the patrons decided they had finally had enough. The police were met with resistance, which then unfolded into a full-on rebellion. The uprising lasted several nights and is widely credited with being the spark that ignited the modern-day LGBTQ rights movement.

The Stonewall Inn and the surrounding area has since become a national monument — the first to tell the story of the LGBTQ rights movement — and the bar, in the words of one of its current owners, has become a “gay church” of sorts.

The NYPD had never formally apologized for the raid, but pressure had been building from local politicians and civil rights organizations.

On Wednesday, for example, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is gay, told 1010 WINS news that the NYPD should apologize, and on Thursday, Heritage of Pride, the nonprofit organization that runs the official NYC Pride March, said in a press release that it had voted unanimously to demand that the department do so.

“The department can never take back what it has done to LGBTQIA+ people, but it can and must take responsibility for it,” Heritage of Pride said. The group offered O’Neill a slot on the stage at the Stonewall commemoration rally to deliver an apology, writing “the platform is yours on June 28th.”

Their press release was sent just over an hour before the commissioner delivered his apology at NYPD headquarters.

Mark Segal, a long-time LGBTQ activist who was at the Stonewall Inn on the night of the raid, encouraged the NYPD commissioner to apologize to veterans of the Stonewall uprising in person on June 30, during the annual NYC Pride March.

“It would not only be welcomed, it would close the books on this chapter and give some of us closure,” Segal told NBC News.

The NYPD’s overall security briefing on Thursday touched upon the growing threat of right-wing extremism both domestically and abroad; NYPD officers said that this year’s Pride celebrations face new threats from white supremacists and jihadists.

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U.S. commander says American forces face imminent threat from Iran

46 0 06 Jun 2019

BAGHDAD — The top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East says he believes the Iranians or their proxies may orchestrate an attack at any moment.

“I think the threat is imminent,” Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie said in an exclusive broadcast interview with NBC News in the Iraqi capital. “We continually evaluate our force posture in the region.”

The U.S. has beefed up its military presence in the region in an effort to deter Iran and protect American forces and allies.

Over the last month, the Trump administration announced that it was sending an aircraft carrier strike group and Air Force bombers to the Middle East, as well as Patriot missiles and additional troops, amid heightened concerns of an Iranian attack.

For more on this story, tune in to NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET/ 5:30 p.m. CT or check your local listings.

Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, with NBC News’ Courtney Kube in Iraq on June 6, 2019.NBC News

McKenzie stressed that tensions remain high.

“I don’t actually believe the threat has diminished,” McKenzie said after holding a series of meetings with the Iraqi prime minister and defense chief. “…I believe the threat is still very real.”

McKenzie said he was “heartened” by the efforts of the Iraqi government to protect American forces and its allies in the region. Roadside bombs have posed the major danger to American forces in Iraq, McKenzie added, but he said the threat from the Iranians is evolving.

“They probe for weakness all the times,” McKenzie said. “I would say the threat has probably evolved in certain ways even as our defensive posture has changed and become more aggressive, and we certainly thank our Iraqi partners for many of the things they’ve done.”

“I think we’re still in the period of what I would call tactical warning,” he said. “The threat is very real. “

McKenzie declined to go into specifics on the nature of the threats.

A day after the U.S. announced it was sending additional military assets to the region to “send a clear and unmistakable message” to Iran, four oil attackers were attacked in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. suspects Iran was responsible for the attacks; the Iranian government has denied having any role in the incident.

Last month, U.S. officials said that the decision to beef up military forces in the region was based in part on intelligence that the Iranian regime has told some of its proxy forces that they can now target American military personnel and assets.

The intelligence shows that an Iranian official discussed activating Iranian-backed groups to target Americans, but did not mention targeting the militaries of other nations, the officials said.

Among the specific threats the U.S. military is now tracking, officials say, are possible missile attacks by Iranian dhows, or small ships, in the Persian Gulf and region; attacks in Iraq by Iranian-trained Shiite militia groups; and attacks against U.S. ships and against Saudi Arabia by the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The U.S. has accused Iran of moving missiles and missile components through the region’s waterways for years, shipping missiles to the Houthis in Yemen and others. And Shiite militia groups like Baghdad Katib Hezbollah (BKH) have been in Iraq for years, acting essentially as sleeper cells.

But the call to awaken and activate the existing threats represented a new and alarming escalation, the U.S. officials said.

Some U.S. allies and members of Congress have expressed skepticism over the Trump administration’s claims that Iran is responsible for the escalating tensions. The Iranians have also criticized the U.S. posture.

Trumps U.K. visit had its thrills and spills but not the drama some expected

55 0 06 Jun 2019

LONDON — President Donald Trump began his U.K. and Ireland trip by causing shock, dismay and offense. Moments before he landed in England at the start of the week, he called London Mayor Sadiq Khan a “stone cold loser.”

But he leaves it having managed to inflict relatively few diplomatic gaffes on his hosts, during a trip that may be memorable for its lack of Trumpian bluster.

There was still time for some outlandish statements, however. On Wednesday evening in Ireland, Trump prompted a collective face-palm with a comment about the sensitive and potentially explosive situation surrounding the Irish border.

“I think it will all work out very well … with your wall, your border,” the president told Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. “We have a border situation in the United States, and you have one over here.”

While Trump might dream of a wall spanning the Mexico border, that’s the last thing the vast majority of the Irish people want.

Varadkar had to jump in and clarify: “The main thing we want to avoid, of course, is a border or a wall.”

The Irish Republic is a separate country from Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K. and will therefore leave the E.U. after Brexit. There are widespread fears that a “no-deal” Brexit — something Trump has supported — could see the invisible boundary between the two nations fortified, risking a return to the sectarian violence that plagued Ireland for decades.

And yet, between these outspoken bookends at the start and end of Trump’s trip, it was not quite the diplomatic nightmare that some had predicted.

True, the president denied plain facts, claiming there there was only a small protest outside his meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May, when in fact there raged a demonstration of around 75,000, chanting and waving sometimes profane placards.

Trump suggested he could disrupt Britain’s beloved National Health Service as part of a proposed Anglo-American trade deal, called Bette Midler a “washed-up psycho,” and may or may not have breached diplomatic protocol by touching Queen Elizabeth II during their state banquet.

But compared with his visit to the U.K. last year — when he humiliated May with an explosive tabloid interview, published just as she was hosting him at a lavish black-tie dinner — these moments felt relatively minor.

“Everybody expected much worse gaffes, so this trip has seemed moderate by Trump’s standards,” said Samuel Brazys, an associate politics professor at University College Dublin.

“But it’s hard to say whether he has actually been behaving a bit more like a normal president, or it’s just that everyone has got Trump-fatigue,” he said. “We’re all so acclimatized to the gaffes, the insults, and the naivety or lack of knowledge about certain subjects.”

Trump meets with Varadkar in Shannon, Ireland, on Wednesday.Alex Brandon / AP

Aside from some questionable tailoring, Trump’s state banquet with the queen went by without a hitch. Elsewhere, he quickly rowed back his comments about the NHS and paid fitting tributes to veterans at the several events commemorating 75 years since D-Day.

In Portsmouth, where Allied ships departed for Normandy in June 1944, Trump read a prayer originally delivered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He paid tribute to those who fought in “what may have been the greatest battle ever,” and echoed those sentiments again in northern France on Thursday.

Even the protests against him were down from last year. Tuesday’s crowds were noticeably smaller than the horde of 250,000 who turned out last year — although a drizzly British summer day played its part.

As well as becoming desensitized to Trump, there’s also a sense that Britain is engulfed in so much chaos of its own that the visiting president was more of a sideshow.

The future of Brexit is as uncertain as ever and May is days away from resigning as Conservative Party leader ahead of vacating Downing Street in the near future. British political commentators were more keen on determining what impact the president would have on the ongoing race to replace her.

In Ireland, while Trump’s comments caused eye-rolls, the government itself will be keen to brush off any sense of a diplomatic rift. Trump may not be popular there, but the Irish economy still relies heavily on the U.S., Brazys said.

“It’s a delicate balancing act,” he said. “So you just kind of hold your nose.”

Talks over U.S. tariffs on Mexico to resume Thursday at White House

43 0 06 Jun 2019

WASHINGTON — U.S. and Mexican officials on Thursday were set to resume a second day of negotiations over President Donald Trump’s threatened tariffs against Mexico, an administration official told NBC News.

The meeting, expected to begin at 2 p.m., comes a day after officials began talks to prevent the tariffs from taking effect next Monday, but did not reach a resolution.

Vice President Mike Pence said meetings will also be held at the State Department on Thursday, but he did not say what time or who would attend. Pence, who is traveling in Virginia and Pennsylvania, is not expected to participate.

Speaking to reporters in Shannon, Ireland, before departing Thursday morning for Normandy, France, President Donald Trump said “a lot of progress was made” Wednesday, but Mexico has to “step up to the plate” to curb illegal immigration to the U.S.

“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “But something pretty dramatic could happen. We’ve told Mexico the tariffs go on. And I mean it, too. And I’m very happy with it. And lot of people, senators included, they have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to tariffs. They have no — absolutely no idea.”

In an interview with Fox News later in the morning, Trump said Republicans in Congress, who have expressed concerns over the tariffs, “should love what I’m doing.”

“When you’re the piggy bank that everybody steals and robs from, and they deceive you, and they’ve — like they’ve been doing for 25 years — tariffs are a beautiful thing,” Trump said. “It’s a beautiful word if you know how to use them properly.”

During the meeting on Wednesday, which lasted about an hour and a half, the Mexican delegation offered what the White House viewed as a “good faith,” if “minimalist,” approach to solving the “crisis” at the border, a senior administration official who attended the meeting said.

But the White House is demanding that Mexico hold Central American asylum-seekers in a “safe third country” designation, rather than letting them cross the U.S. border, another senior administration official said. Additionally, the White House is also asking Mexico to accept the “Migration Protection Protocols,” which require migrants to remain in Mexico until their cases are processed.

Trump threatened last week to impose a 5 percent tariff on Mexican imports beginning Monday, June 10, with the tariffs climbing to as high as 25 percent over time.

Senate Republicans voiced strong opposition to the policy this week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Wednesday asked White House officials to urge Trump to delay the tariffs until he is back in the country and able to meet with party members to hear their concerns and share his views directly on such a major policy change, according to two Republican officials familiar with the exchange.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Wednesday that Trump is treating Mexico like an “enemy” and suggested he is overstepping his presidential authority.

“We haven’t seen anything yet except a tweet — a tweet and then this statement of the authority under which they would do this,” Pelosi said. “But we haven’t seen anything that we would be overruling and then going to the next step.”

“I think that this is dangerous territory,” she said. “This is not a way to treat a friend. It’s not a way to deal with immigration. It’s not a way to deal — to meet the humanitarian needs at the border.”

Leigh Ann Caldwell and Frank Thorp V contributed.

Last few remaining U.S. veterans thanked on 75th anniversary of D-Day

42 0 06 Jun 2019

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France — Most were little more than boys when they fought in one of the greatest battles in modern history and turned the Nazi tide.

And now they are back.

At the 75th anniversary celebrations of the D-Day landings — the largest amphibious and airborne invasion in history — returning World War II veterans are treated like rock stars by tourists and locals.

“Thank you for your service,” most say as they shake hands at the surrounding landing beaches and the American Cemetery, the resting place for 9,387 Americans. Others simply say, “Merci.” Many ask for selfies with the old warriors.

President Donald Trump will pay homage to the many fighters who lost their lives and honor returning World War II veterans at a ceremony due to start at 11 a.m. (5 a.m. ET).

Veteran Ray Lambert, 99, in Normandy, France on June 5, 2019.Lucie Mach / for NBC News

Arnold Raymond “Ray” Lambert, 98, has been feted more than most. As a medic in the 16th Infantry Regiment of the army’s First Division, he was among the troops that landed on Omaha Beach early on June 6, 1944. They faced especially vicious resistance, and within hours German guns had wounded or killed thousands. Lambert was one of those wounded, but who nonetheless fought to save and shelter fellow soldiers.

He shrugs off the bravery he showed that day.

“We knew that in order to stop Hitler and get rid of the evil things he was doing we had to fight,” Lambert told NBC News at a small ceremony in his honor in the town hall of Colleville-sur-Mer on the eve of the Thursday celebrations.

French and U.S. flags at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, northwestern France, on June 6, 2019.Damien Meyer / AFP – Getty Images

He believes it’s important for people to remember what his generation sacrificed.

“I would like people to remember that we grew up in a time when it was a real Depression,” he said. “We freely went to war. We went to war to protect our mothers and fathers and families and country.”

Lambert is one of a tiny handful here. Some 170 veterans of the Battle of Normandy returned for the celebrations, up to 40 of whom crossed the beaches or landed on June 6.

Lt. Col. Alvan Markle III, 100, in Normandy, France on June 5, 2019.Lucie Mach / for NBC News

Alvan Markle III, 100, who served as a captain in the 266th Field Artillery Battalion and landed on Omaha Beach, did not want to remember for decades.

“I did my best to forget, and now they all want to learn about it,” he said as he looked out over Omaha Beach during a tour organized and paid for the World War II Museum in New Orleans.

There are many horrors that have stayed with Markle, from the horses that pulled German artillery to the rooms in Buchenwald concentration camp where victims were hung from hooks. Bloody patches showed where men and women in their death throes scratched bloody patches into the plaster. There is one thing he really wants the world to remember.

“We have, I hope, learned what can happen to a country like Germany with its wonderful talents if their worst people are allowed to be in control,” said the resident of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. “It could happen in any country.”

While this is likely the last major ceremony honoring living veterans of D-Day, younger generations are getting the message.

Veterans in Omaha Beach in Normandy, France on June 5, 2019.Lucie Mach / for NBC News

Jackson Allaman, 18, from Atlanta, Georgia, made the trip especially to honor his great-uncle, who died after the Normandy landings, and lay flowers at his grave.

“It is important to honor those who have served, specifically those who died in combat because they were willing to risk everything in order to protect their homes and the ones they love,” said Allman, who traveled with Normandy with EF Educational Tours. “They also fought … to protect the lives of people they have never known.”

American veterans are held dear by locals in Normandy too, and the small towns and villages are festooned with American flags. Patrick Thomimes, the mayor of Colleville-sur-Mer where the Normandy American Cemetery lies, put it very simply: “We are very thankful for the Americans who gave up their youth for our freedoms.”