Top news stories for today – August 5, 2016
Obama insists payment to Iran was not ransom
President Obama on Thursday defended a $400 million payment to Iran that came in a flurry of diplomatic activity tied to the Iran nuclear deal in January. The cash was airlifted to Iran on the same day four detained Americans were released in Tehran.
Republicans have accused Obama of paying Iran ransom. The Obama administration says the money was part of the settlement of Iran’s longstanding claim that the US failed to come through on an arms deal struck before the Iranian revolution toppled the Shah of Iran in 1979. “The United States does not pay ransoms,” Obama said, adding that the $400 million payment was not “some nefarious deal.” The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Week
S Korea faces criticism over refugee policy
As European countries struggle to cope with over a million migrants who have escaped the ongoing violence in the Middle East, a relatively small number of Syrians have sought protection in South Korea. But only a few have been officially recognized as refugees. Most receive so-called humanitarian visas that allow them to live in the country without financial support, housing or health care. Government figures show that since 1994, 1,144 Syrians have requested asylum in South Korea, but refugee status has been granted to only three.
Some observers accuse South Korea of not fulfilling its commitment as a signatory of the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, a treaty that defines who is a refugee and what responsibilities a host nation has in providing for that individual.
“Clearly Seoul is reluctant to undertake those obligations except for in the most clear-cut cases,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division. Robertson said South Korea’s humanitarian visas are an “artificial category” that “gives less rights” to asylum seekers, noting that Japan, too, has come under similar criticism in regard to its refugee policy. VOA
Pentagon blocks military aid for Pakistan
The Pentagon has withheld $300 million in military aid to Pakistan, according to US military officials. “The funds could not be released to the government of Pakistan at this time because the secretary has not yet certified that Pakistan has taken sufficient action against the Haqqani network,” Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said Thursday.
The Haqqani network, labeled a terrorist organization by the US, is a violent guerilla insurgent group operating on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Congress had stipulated that $300 million of the $1 billion in US military aid authorized to go to Pakistan in 2015 could only be transferred once Secretary of Defense Ash Carter decided that Pakistan had made satisfactory progress against the group. The deadline for payment was June 30, and Carter let the deadline pass without authorizing the final funds. VOA
Protesters block airport in London
Transport routes in other British cities have come to a standstill, with demonstrators chaining themselves together in Birmingham and Nottingham. More protests are planned in Manchester later today.
The UK-wide protests mark five years since 29-year-old black man Mark Duggan was shot and killed by police in north London, his death sparked riots across the capital and other British cities.
Payroll boom US added 255,000 jobs in July
The labor market turned in a strong showing for the second straight month in July as employers added 255,000 jobs, pointedly easing concerns stoked by a spring slump. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.9%, the Labor Department said Friday. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had forecast 180,000 job gains.
Businesses added 217,000 jobs, led by professional and business services, health care and finance. Federal, state and local governments added 38,000. Also encouraging: Job gains for May and June were revised up by a total 18,000. May’s was revised to 24,000 from 11,000, and June’s to 292,000 from 287,000.
At the same time, initial jobless claims, a reliable gauge of layoffs, remained at prerecession levels, and more consumers surveyed said jobs were plentiful. USA Today
2016 Rio Olympic
Rio gears up for tonight’s Olympics Opening Ceremony: The Rio Olympics officially get underway on Friday night with an Opening Ceremony that Brazilian officials hope will put concerns about their preparations, security, Zika, and doping to rest. Competition will unfold under tight security — the US reportedly has sent more than 1,000 security personnel, including intelligence analysts, law enforcement agents, and more than a dozen highly trained Navy and Marine Corps commandos, to work with the Brazilian police and military. The US has chosen swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history with 22 medals, to carry the American flag in the Opening Ceremony. Baltimore Sun, NBC News
Olympic officials block a third of Russia’s Rio roster amid doping scandal: The International Olympic Committee on Thursday approved 271 of Russia’s 389 athletes to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Russia’s other 118 qualifiers were barred over Russia’s government-sanctioned doping regime. The excluded athletes can appeal to a special Rio court of the world sporting arbitration panel, but the appeals could easily swamp the court. Anti-doping officials had called for Russia’s entire roster to be banned, but the IOC considered input from officials in each sport, as well as each athlete’s drug-test history. The New York Times, The Week
Nigerian soccer team welcomed to Rio with wrong anthem: Nigeria defeated Japan 5-4 on Thursday, and when it came time before the game to honor each country with the playing of the national anthem, Nigeria heard a tune that was definitely not right. The Nigerians were evidently unfazed by the error, holding off Japan for a 5-4 victory. But their disappointment was apparent when the music began playing. Yahoo
Fast facts on the 2016 US Olympic Team:
US Presidential election
New poll shows Clinton with largest lead over Trump yet: A new McClatchy-Marist poll released Thursday shows Hillary Clinton has opened her biggest polling lead against Donald Trump yet. The poll, conducted after the conclusion of both parties’ nominating conventions, shows Clinton holding a 15-point lead in a head-to-head match-up against Trump, pulling 48 percent support to his 33 percent. In a four-way race including the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and the Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Clinton still leads Trump by 14 points, 45 percent to 31 percent. Further, the poll finds Clinton has made inroads with some of Trump’s most reliable supporters: whites and men. Earlier polls Thursday also showed Clinton holding leads in the key states of Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Florida, and Michigan. McClatchyDC, The Week
Obama insists National Security briefings for Trump, Clinton required by law: Obama said Thursday that his administration was required by law to give national security briefings, including classified information that is not disclosed to the public, to major presidential nominees. This includes Republican Donald Trump, whom Obama has called unfit to serve as president. During the past year of political campaigning, Trump has become known as a public speaker who often ignores prepared texts and relies instead on spontaneous remarks that are sometimes seen as unusually frank or critical of other American public figures. That has prompted concern in some quarters about how Trump would treat information gained from national security briefings.
“If they want to be president,” Obama, speaking of party nominees, told reporters at the Pentagon, “they’ve got to start acting like a president, and that means being able to receive these briefings and not spread them around.” The main reason for the nominees’ briefings, Obama said, is to ensure that a president-elect, whether a Democrat or a Republican, does not step into the job unprepared. VOA
US Military veterans press Republicans to ‘unendorse’ Trump: US military veterans denounced Donald Trump and delivered petitions Thursday to Capitol Hill, urging Senator John McCain and other Republican elders to withdraw endorsements of their party’s presidential nominee. “Donald Trump’s reckless ignorance about America’s responsibilities in the world shocks me to the core,” said Marine veteran Alexander McCoy. “We have listened as he praised and has been praised by brutal dictators. We have listened as he threatened to abandon our most loyal allies. … I am done listening.
“We cannot afford to have Donald Trump as commander in chief,” McCoy added. “Donald Trump’s hate speech, bigotry and unabashed incitement to violence against minorities, to include the Muslim community, desecrate the very values of liberty and equality which we as American military veterans swore an oath to protect,” said Muslim Navy veteran Nate Terani. “It should be the solemn duty of lawmakers like Senator John McCain to denounce and unendorse Donald Trump.” VOA
Ryan still endorsing Trump, but it’s not a ‘blank check’: House Speaker Paul Ryan supports Donald Trump presently, but he said endorsements aren’t “blank checks.” Ryan, in a radio interview with Wisconsin’s The Jerry Bader Show on Thursday, said that Trump has “had some pretty strange run since the convention.” Ryan was also asked Thursday about Trump’s refusal to endorse Ryan in his Tuesday primary. Ryan insisted that he has never asked for Trump’s endorsement, adding that the only endorsement he’s concerned about it the voters of Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. USA Today
- A Safer World, Thanks to the Iran Deal
- A U.S. Strategy beyond the Cold War
- Diplomacy Wins in Iran
- FBI suspects Russia hacked DNC to help Donald Trump