Trump says Iranian shootdown of US military drone may have been a 'mistake'

U.S. Navy photo by Erik Hildebrandt(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump said Thursday that the Iranian shootdown of an American drone may have not have been intentional, but a "mistake" by someone "stupid."

Trump spoke following a morning meeting with his top national security advisers after Iran, in what appeared to have been a major provocation, shot down what the U.S. military said was an unarmed and unmanned U.S. RQ-4A Global Hawk drone flying in international airspace over the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz.

Shortly before, Trump had tweeted that "Iran made a very big mistake" after a top Iranian commander warned Iran was "ready for war."

 When asked early afternoon whether the U.S. would strike back during an Oval Office meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump said: "You'll soon find out."

But at the same time, he said, "I find it hard to believe it was intentional if you want to know the truth."

"It could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it," he said.

"I would imagine it was a general or somebody who made a mistake in shooting the drone down," Trump said. "Fortunately, that drone was unarmed. It was not -- there was no man in it, it was in international waters but we didn't have a man or woman in the drone, we had nobody in the drone. Would have made a big, big difference."

"I have a feeling -- and I may be wrong and I may be right but I'm right a lot -- that it was a mistake made by somebody that shouldn't have been doing what they do," he said. "I think they made a mistake and I'm not just talking about the country made a mistake somebody under the command of the country made a mistake."

"It was a very foolish move," he said. Nevertheless, he said, "This country will not stand for it."

Iran continued to maintain that the American drone indeed violated its airspace and made no mention of Trump's suggestion the shootdown was a mistake.

Earlier, the president did not respond when ABC News asked him for a comment as he walked into the West Wing late Thursday morning. A White House official confirmed he was headed into a meeting with Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Top congressional leaders were invited to an afternoon briefing in the White House Situation Room, a source said. Trump was expected to attend.

A U.S. official confirmed to ABC News that the U.S. Navy was working to recover the drone in a debris field the official said was located in international waters near the Strait of Hormuz. At a short, mid-day Pentagon briefing, a U.S. military official speaking from the region reiterated that the drone was shot down in international airspace.

The commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, said the American drone was flying over the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz on a surveillance mission near previous tanker attacks when it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired from a location in the vicinity of Goruk, Iran.

The Pentagon released a grainy video it said showed the shootdown.

Calling the strike an "unprovoked attack," Guastella said it was "an attempt to disrupt our ability to monitor the area following recent threats to international shipping and free flow of commerce." He said the drone was operating "at high-altitude approximately 34 kilometers from the nearest point of land on the Iranian coast" when it was shot down, falling into international waters.

The incident was sure to trigger serious discussions within the Trump administration about how to respond to a direct attack on a U.S. military asset that goes beyond recent attacks in the Middle East that the U.S. has blamed on Iran.

Mid-morning Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that President Trump has "been kept up to date" and was briefed both Thursday morning and Wednesday night. She said the White House would “keep in touch with members on the Hill.”

Top congressional leaders from both parties and chairs and ranking members of the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees received a closed-door classified intelligence briefing from Trump administration officials at the Capitol.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that at least 20 of the top lawmakers on Capitol Hill were invited to attend the exclusive briefing.

“I think it's a dangerous situation,” Pelosi said. “We have to be strong and strategic about how we protect our interests. We also cannot be reckless in what we do. So, it would be interesting to see what they have to say, whether the - I don't think the President wants to go to war. there's no appetite for going to war in our country.”

A close ally of the president, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., when asked how the U.S. should respond, answered, "With firmness, and resolve. The only way Iran changes its behavior is that if they believe Americans will put options on the table that will create pain for the regime."

Graham said he had spoken with the president.

"I talked to him last night. He had a meeting last night. He believes that we're going into a we're getting into a bad space, that his options are running out, that he's not going to be intimidated to redo a nuclear deal. That was terrible. He's not going to relieve sanctions because the Iranians are worse than they been. The Iranian deal was to get them to change their behavior, the nuclear deal. They did everything but change their behavior," Graham told reporters.

"I think what President Trump believes is that this regime is spoiling for a fight but they understand how a conflict would end, it would end badly for them. He does want to try and get a better deal but not this way," he said.

There was a National Security Council meeting at the White House earlier Thursday morning to discuss Iran, an administration official said, which Shanahan and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford attended. Another NSC meeting was to take place Thursday afternoon, which U.S. officials said Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva and Pompeo would attend, officials said.

Gen. Hossein Salami, commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, offered a strongly worded threat to the U.S. after the drone was downed.

"Shooting down the American spy drone had a clear, decisive, firm and accurate message," he said, translated from Farsi. "The message is that the guardians of the borders of Islamic Iran will decisively respond to the violation of any stranger to this land. The only solution for the enemies is to respect the territorial integrity and national interests of Iran."

"We do not intend to engage in war with any country, but we are completely ready for the war. Today’s incident is a clear sign of this accurate message," Salami added.

Earlier, Iranian state media had quoted Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as saying it had downed the drone when it entered Iranian airspace near the Kouhmobarak district north of the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, tweeted, "The US wages #EconomicTerrorism on Iran, has conducted covert action against us & now encroaches on our territory. We don't seek war, but will zealously defend our skies, land & waters. We'll take this new aggression to #UN & show that the US is lying about international waters."

After Trump spoke, Zarif tweeted specific information about Iran's claims.

"Iranian reports that the aircraft was over Iran are false," said CENTCOM spokesperson Navy Capt. Bill Urban in a statement on Thursday morning, before Zarif's most recent tweet. "This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset in international airspace."

Urban said the RQ-4A Global Hawk, which "provides real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions (ISR) over vast ocean and coastal regions," was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system while operating in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz at approximately 11:35 p.m. GMT on June 19.

The incident is not the first time in recent days that Iran has targeted an American drone off its coast.

Last Thursday, Iran attempted to shoot down an MQ-9 Reaper that was surveilling the attack on one of two tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The United States has blamed Iran for being responsible for the attacks on the two tankers -- a claim Iran has denied.

"According to our assessment, a modified Iranian SA-7 surface-to-air missile attempted to shoot down a U.S. MQ-9, at 6:45 a.m. local time, June 13, over the Gulf of Oman, to disrupt surveillance of the IRGC attack on the M/T Kokuka Courageous," CENTCOM spokesperson Lt. Col. Earl Brown said in a statement to ABC News on Saturday.

"Subsequent analysis indicates that this was a likely attempt to shoot down or otherwise disrupt the MQ-9 surveillance of the IRGC attack on the M/T Kokuka Courageous," Brown said.

In early May, the Pentagon rushed the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and a B-52 bomber task force to the Middle East to deter possible attacks by Iran or Iranian-backed groups on U.S. forces and U.S. interests in the region.

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Putin warns U.S. over Iran in annual call-in show

Adam Berry/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Amid increased tensions between Iran and the U.S., Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the U.S. that a military conflict with Iran would be “catastrophe” and said that Iran was observing its commitments under the Iran nuclear deal.

Speaking during his annual phone-in event, Putin said that he was concerned by the shooting down of an American drone by Iran this week and worried that the U.S. had no ruled out using military force against Tehran in the ongoing crisis between the two countries.

“I will say it straight, it would be a catastrophe, at a minimum for the region,” Putin said, adding it could lead to a new mass exodus of refugees.

The Russian leader also said that he believed Iran was still complying with its commitments under the Iran nuclear deal agreed with the U.S. under the Obama administration. In the past week, Iran has threatened to increase its enriched uranium stockpile beyond limits set by the deal, in a bid to force European countries to help it manage sanctions re-imposed after the the U.S. withdrew from the agreement.

Russia is also a party to the deal and, like the other European countries, supports its continuation, provided Iran remains compliant.

The comments came as Putin answered dozens of questions during the “Direct Line” show, a marathon telethon where the he takes questions from ordinary people and that has become an annual fixture of Putin’s rule. This year, state television said it had received 1.5 million questions from Russians. The event went on for more than 4 hours.

In previous years, Russians have asked Putin to help with fixing pot-holed roads, getting pension back-payments to choosing a new puppy. A response from the president on television can cause regional officials, worried about embarrassing the president, to leap into action.

This year, the questions -- and Putin’s prepped answers -- focused on everyday difficulties, with the president signalling he understood Russia’s economy was struggling and that increasing growth ought to be the country’s top priority.

Putin blamed some of the problems on Western sanctions, saying they had cost Russia $50 billion and claimed that the country’s economy was beginning to grow again.

Putin said his focus was putting the economy “on new rails” and wanted to use large national projects to achieve that.

The heavily choreographed show is the embodiment of the system and the image Putin has sought to cultivate in his two decades in power: one founded on the idea that only he is capable of solving Russians’ problems, big or small.

It also plays on a much older Russian tradition, of ordinary people petitioning the tsar to solve their problems.

One such demonstration this year came when Putin announced that two orca and six beluga whales had been released from a so-called “whale jail” in Russia’s far east. Dozens of whales were being held in unsanitary conditions in tanks by poachers who intended to illegally sell them. The case has attracted global attention but had also been notable for authorities’ seeming inability to solve it, even after the Kremlin signalled the animals should be released.

Putin also seemed to make a careful acknowledgment of the existence of popular anger that has sparked up in recently in a series of largely local issue protests that have captured wide attention on the Russian internet. Last month, there have been unusual protests in several towns near Moscow over plans to divert the city’s garbage there and in June authorities were forced to make a rare reversal in dropping charges against a prominent investigative journalist, who police had tried to crudely frame by planting drugs on him.

Putin made reference to both and other high profile incidents, acknowledging the problem but downplayed them, saying of the garbage that it was a long-time problem, and noting it was partly because Russia was now a “consumer society.”

In a carefully calibrated moment, Putin was asked what was he ashamed of. He replied by telling a story from his travels in the early years of his presidency when he met an elderly woman, who he said had fallen to her knees in front of him and handed him a paper petition.

Putin said he had given the paper to an aide, but it had later been lost. “I will never forget it, and I am ashamed about it now,” Putin said, his voice shaking. He said he tried to resolve any problems that Russians asked him.

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Paul Whelan, ex-Marine held as spy in Moscow, pleas for help from Trump

Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(MOSCOW) — Paul Whelan, the former U.S. Marine held in Russia on espionage charges, on Thursday called on President Donald Trump to help free him, saying he is the victim of a “political kidnapping” by Russia’s security services.

Whelan made the statement in Moscow’s City Court, where his lawyers were appealing the latest extension of his pre-trial detention. He has been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison since his arrest in late December while visiting the city for a friend’s wedding. Agents of Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, the FSB, detained him in his hotel room and accused him of spying.

Whelan has denied the charges and in court hearings has accused Russia of seizing him as a political pawn. In court on Thursday he appealed directly to Trump for help.

“Mr. President, we cannot keep America great unless we aggressively protect and defend Americans wherever they are in the world,” Whelan said in a prepared statement to journalists while speaking from inside a glass cage in the courtroom, flanked by a masked guard.

Whelan accused Russian authorities of violating his human rights and deliberately isolating him to pressure him. He said he had been denied consular access and prevented from receiving letters.

The judge rejected Whelan’s appeal, upholding his detention until mid-August.

“This decision is pre-ordained,” Whelan told reporters as the judge read out the sentence.

Whelan also holds Irish, British and Canadian citizenship and on Thursday he called on those countries’ governments to help.

Russia has still not made public the charges against Whelan. But his Russian lawyers have slowly released details, saying Whelan is the victim of a setup.

His lawyers say during that Whelan's December trip, a Russian friend gave Whelan a memory card that, unknown to him, held classified material. Immediately after Whelan received the card in his hotel room, they said, FSB agents burst in and arrested him. The friend, Whelan's lawyers said, also worked for Russia’s security services.

Paul Whelan's lawyer says he is a victim of a setup

Whelan’s family has accused Russia of seizing Whelan as a hostage and has urged the U.S. government to help free him. Former U.S. intelligence officials have also said the case looks like a classic KGB-style frame-up.

It is unclear why Whelan would have been targeted. A self-described Russophile, he has visited Russia several times over the past decade, according to his family. He left the Marines in 2008 with a bad conduct discharge for attempted larceny and other charges.

In court Thursday, Whelan suggested for the first time that his arrest may be linked to his work, where he is a director of global security for the Michigan-based auto-parts supplier, BorgWarner.

Addressing his employer, Whelan said, “This situation is work-related,” and asked them to provide “maximum co-operation."

Whelan’s family has also expressed concerns about his Russian lawyers. His chief lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, has at times behaved oddly, praising investigators and repeating that his client is “fine” when Whelan himself has complained that his rights are being abused.

Olga Karlova, Whelan’s English-speaking Russian lawyer, told ABC News their access to Whelan was limited in part because defense lawyers' access to their clients is limited by a lottery system at the prison, in which lawyers pick a number from a black bag to determine who goes first -- sometimes resulting in no access at all.

The U.S. State Department has recently become increasingly vocal in criticizing Whelan’s detention, asking why Russia has still not provided any evidence in his case.

Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth Whelan, met with National Security Advisor John Bolton and other senior national security advisors at the White House last week. Afterward Bolton tweeted, “Russia has provided no evidence of wrongdoing.”

Trump is expected to meet with Vladimir Putin in Japan next week at the G20 summit, where he may be under pressure to bring up Whelan’s case with the Russian president.

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World's 1st age-verification system for online pornography delayed in the UK after administrative error

jurgenfr/iStock(LONDON) — The implementation of the world’s first Age Verification Certificates for accessing online pornography in the U.K. will be delayed for up to six months after an administrative error.

In a speech to the U.K. Parliament on Thursday, Jeremy Wright, the government’s secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, told lawmakers he wanted to “apologize for the mistake.”

The Age Verification Certificates, or AVCs, were due to come into force for online pornographic websites on July 15, but Wright said the government failed to notify the European Commission of the proposed guidance on the “standards that companies need to comply with” regarding the new system, which they were required to do so under EU law.

“It has come to my attention in recent days that an important notification process was not undertaken for an element of this policy and I regret to say that this will delay the commencement date,” he said. “Upon learning of this administrative oversight I have instructed my department to notify this guidance to the EU and relay the guidance in Parliament as soon as possible.”

The delay to the legislation, which he said was “was to ensure children were protected from pornographic material they should not see,” would take about six months.

Government officials haven't yet explained exactly how AVCs would work, although they have said producers of pornographic material which could face massive fines or be banned from service providers if they don't comply. The government based the policy decision on polling data from YouGov that suggested 88 percent of U.K. parents with children younger than 18 believe age-verification technology should be used to curb access to adult content.

But the administrative failing was criticized by the opposition Labor Party lawmaker Cat Smith, who described the situation as a “shambles” that showed the government was “letting children down.”

In April, the digital rights organization Open Rights Group decried the AVC system as a "serious failing" for users' privacy and was introduced without proper public consultation.

"It's understandable why the government wants age verification on porn sites," Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group, told ABC News. "However, they have refused to regulate AV for safety and privacy of customers. This is a serious failing and something they could fix immediately. Unfortunately, there was little public debate when the laws were passed."

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What to know about the rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet

MagicDreamer/iStock(NEW YORK) -- An unusual warming pattern has caused the Greenland ice sheet to melt at "unusual," potentially record-breaking rates, causing it to dump even more water into the already-rising ocean, experts told ABC News.

The weather has been so warm -- up to 59 degrees Fahrenheit above the mean in some areas -- that two billion tons of the ice sheet melted on just June 13, according to Polar Portal, a website run by the Danish Meteorological Institute, which monitors the ice and climate in the arctic based on scientific models.

In addition, the warming season began about a month earlier than usual, DMI announced last month.

Warming events are becoming 'more and more frequent'

The warm temperatures on June 13 and 14 resulted from a pocket of air that led to clear skies and persisted for a long period of time over the eastern portion of Greenland, said Marco Tedesco, a polar scientist specializing in Greenland for the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York.

The clear skies created more solar radiation, which heated the ice sheet and promoted the melting, Tedesco told ABC News.

Scientists are noticing that these events are becoming "more and more frequent," Tedesco said. Researchers believe it is connected to the jet stream, or polar vortex, becoming less stable, which creates high-pressure systems that can be sustained for longer periods of time and leads to the "exceptional melting," Tedesco said.

Last week, the temperatures were "very warm," even for summer, which hasn't yet started in the region, said Martin Stendel, senior climate and arctic researcher for the Danish Meteorological Institute.

About 40 percent to 45 percent of the ice sheet was melting on the hottest days, a new record for that time period, Tedesco said.

The ice sheet is the largest contributor of water into the ocean every year

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in April found that the melting of the Greenland ice sheet has contributed to more than a half-inch of rising ocean waters since 1972, making it the largest contributor of new water into the ocean every year.

The warming has accelerated so much in recent years that about a quarter inch of the additional water occurred in the last eight years, the study found.

On average, the Greenland ice sheet produces about 270 gigatons of discharge in the oceans per year, Tedesco said. Since 2003, the ice sheet has contributed about 10 millimeters every year, and scientists expect that number to increase as the earth continues to warm, which would equate to about a 1 meter sea rise by the end of the century, Stendel said.

The warming temperatures also melted sea ice

About 40 percent of Greenland experienced "unusual" melting as a result of the unseasonably warm temperatures, which included a considerable amount of sea ice, according to DMI.

A photo taken by Danish Meteorological Institute climate scientist Steffen Olsen on June 13 shows dogs running across the sea ice in northwest Greenland, the surface of which had melted, making it appear as if they were running on water.

The water remained on top due to the rapid melt and few cracks in the ice, so there was nowhere for it to go, Stendel said.

The sea ice is more than a meter thick, which made it "perfectly safe" for the researchers to cross, he added.

A similar trend occurred in 2012

The warming season in 2012 set the record for the amount of melting in the ice sheet, according to experts. That year, melting reached more than 90 percent of the ice sheet and continued past the typical peak of high pressure from July through August, Tedesco said.

In 2012, the high-pressure system also began in April, which promoted more solar radiation and triggered a melt at the beginning of the season, Tedesco said.

The Greenland ice sheet contributed about twice the amount of water into the ocean that year, Tedesco said. While the record for the largest-ever melting was set that year, there is a possibility that 2019 could beat it, Stendel said.

It would take thousands of years for the ice sheet to recover

The ice sheet formed from thousands of years of snow layers accumulating on top of each other, Tedesco said. The weight of the top layer of snow would cause the snow below to begin expelling air, compressing the ice and making it denser.

Not only does that process take thousands of years, but it requires that the snow deposits do not melt in the warming season, Tedesco said.

The amount of snowfall during the winter can affect how fast or slow the ice melts

An abundance of snowfall during the winter months not only adds to the mass of the ice sheet, but also makes it brighter, which reflects the sun more and acts as a "blanket" for the ice, Tedesco said. This can slow down the melting in the warming season.

However, if the snow goes through multiple melting and freezing cycles, such as what happened in the past week, it transforms into "metamorphous snow," which tends to absorb more solar energy and causes the ice to melt sooner, Tedesco said.

This past winter did not see a lot of snowfall, according to Tedesco.

Sea levels rising can have catastrophic consequences

The rapidly rising sea levels are important to note, not only in terms of the next century but perhaps in the next decade or two, Tedesco said.

The sea levels surrounding New York City have been rising at around 3 millimeters per year, Tedesco said.

For example, if someone were to stand in the Hudson River in New York City where the water barely covered his or her feet in 1871, that same area of water would now come up past knee-level, Tedesco said.

Scientists expect the rising sea levels to exacerbate weather events such as storm surge, tides, rain and precipitation, Tedesco said.

One thing people should be especially aware of is the permafrost located in the northern arctic regions, particularly Canada and Siberia, that is trapping greenhouses gases, Stendel said. If temperatures rise more than 10 degrees in the arctic, the permafrost will become unstable and could release the greenhouse gases.

While this may not affect the frequency of strong storms, such as hurricanes, each individual storm could become stronger because warm air can carry more water vapor than cold air, Stendel said.

In addition, people should expect more of what is already occurring -- wet regions will get more wet, and dry regions will become drier, Stendel said.

Since a large portion of world's population live near coastlines, this could -- and already has -- lead to deaths and billions of dollars in damage, Tedesco said.

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Royal couples announce split of their charitable work

Stephen Pond/Getty Images(LONDON) -- The two royal couples known as the "Fab Four" -- Prince William and Kate along with Prince Harry and Meghan -- have taken another step to divide their work.

Prince Harry and Meghan are leaving the Royal Foundation, the charitable organization they shared with Prince William and Kate, and will establish their own foundation, according to Kensington Palace.

The Royal Foundation was the organization under which the two couples ran several joint charities, including their Heads Together mental health initiative that William, Kate and Harry launched in 2016.

The royals are expected to still work together on certain projects, like Shout, the free text messaging mental health support service they launched in May.

The split of the Royal Foundation comes nearly four months after William and Harry split their royal households.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate, who share three children, remained based at Kensington Palace. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan, who welcomed their son Archie in May, moved their staff and resources to Buckingham Palace, reporting to Queen Elizabeth II.

Royal watchers have said the division is a sign of differing responsibilities for the only children of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana. William is preparing to be king while Harry is growing his family and focusing on his and Meghan's initiatives.

Harry and Meghan also recently moved from Kensington Palace, where they were neighbors with William and Kate, to Frogmore Cottage, a royal household in Windsor, about 25 miles from London.

Meghan, who is now on maternity leave, set her charitable focus earlier this year, becoming the royal patron of four charitable organizations, focusing on women, young people, animals and the arts.

She became a patron of the Royal Foundation when she and Harry wed on May 19.

Just before the wedding, Meghan joined Kate, William and Harry at a forum to talk about the work of the Royal Foundation.

"Catherine, Harry and I are delighted to be here this morning and we’re particularly happy to be at our first Royal Foundation event with Meghan," William said at the time. "When we first started, it started as a very small idea and started with Harry and I scratching our heads thinking how can we do something for the future."

The Royal Foundation, established in 2009, is focused on four core areas of young people, conservation, mental health and Armed Forces, according to its website.

In addition to Heads Together, the foundation also oversaw the Invictus Games, Harry's Paralympic-style sporting event for wounded service people, and the royals' conservation efforts such as United for Wildlife.

William, Kate, Harry and Meghan last appeared together on June 8 for Trooping the Colour, an annual celebration of Queen Elizabeth's birthday.

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US State Dept. says no 'uptick' in deaths of Americans in Dominican Republic

cristianl/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Despite a string of high-profile deaths this year of Americans from illnesses in the Dominican Republic, the U.S. State Department said Wednesday there has not been an "uptick" in fatal incidents of Americans in the Caribbean country.

The State Department confirmed at least nine American tourists have died in the Dominican Republic in roughly the past 12 months, and some of their families say they became gravely ill before they perished.

"We have not seen an uptick in the number of U.S. citizen deaths reported to the Department" in the Dominican Republic, a State Department spokesperson told ABC News.

The spokesperson said that more than 2.7 million U.S. citizens visit the Dominican Republic each year and, as in most countries, "the overwhelming majority travel without incident."

The U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo said last week that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is now helping to probe the deaths of at least three Americans who perished in a five-day span at neighboring hotels in the same resort run by Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts.

Dominican authorities asked for the FBI's help in conducting toxicology analysis in the investigations stemming from the deaths at the luxury destination, according to officials at the U.S. Embassy.

Nathaniel Holmes, 63, and his fiancée, Cynthia Ann Day, 49, of Maryland were found dead on May 30 in their room at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana Resort in San Pedro de Macoris on the southeast coast of the Dominican Republic.

Autopsies performed in the Dominican Republic determined preliminary causes of death for both Holmes and Day were respiratory failure and pulmonary edema, or water in the lungs.

A lawyer for the families of Day and Holmes said they are awaiting the results of independent autopsies on the couple.

The couple died just five days after Miranda Schaupp-Werner, 41, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, was found dead at the Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville hotel at the same resort.

An autopsy performed on Schaupp-Werner determined that she also died from respiratory failure and pulmonary edema, according to the Dominican Republic National Police.

The FBI, at the request of Dominican officials, is conducting toxicology analysis to determine how Holmes, Day and Schaupp-Werner died. The results of the analysis have not been completed.

"The safety of U.S. citizens that live in, work in, and visit the Dominican Republic remains our highest priority," Robin Bernstein, the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, said in a statement earlier this month. "These incidents are tragic and we offer our deepest condolences to those personally impacted."

According to the U.S. State Department's website, 13 Americans died in the Dominican Republic in 2018, but those deaths were not all from natural causes and included homicides, drownings and vehicle accidents.

The State Department confirmed this week the Jan. 26 death of Thomas Jerome "Jerry" Curran, 78, of Bedford, Ohio, who became ill while staying at a different Dominican Republic resort.

Curran's death brings the total of Americans who died in the Dominican Republic since June 2018 to nine.

Other Americans who perished after coming down with illnesses while in the Dominican Republic were Yvette Monique Sport, 51, of Pennsylvania, in June 2018; David Harrison, 45, of Maryland, in July 2018; Robert Wallace, 67, of California, on April 14; Leyla Cox, 53, of New York, on June 10; and Joseph Allen, 55, of New Jersey, on June 13.

It's unclear if Sport and Harrison's death were included in the U.S. State Department's report of Americans who perished in the Dominican Republic in 2018.

Dominican officials are working to reinforce the island's food and beverage safety standards amid the deaths, following reports that some Americans died after consuming beverages from their hotels and suddenly falling ill.

Dominican Tourism Minister Francisco Javier Garcia said in a statement last week that his agency is working with the National Hotel Association "to reinforce safety conditions and quality control in food, beverages and any other element that has a positive impact on the satisfaction of those who visit our county as tourists."

But Garcia cautioned against a rush to judgment.

"While what happened is tragic and regrettable," García said, "it is important for everyone who wishes to disseminate information about the situation to do it in context and with perspective. It is advisable to wait for the official reports before speculating on the causes of death."

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Prince Harry, Meghan prepare for royal baby Archie's christening

Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage(LONDON) -- Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, the son of Prince Harry and Meghan, has been introduced to the world at Windsor Castle, met his royal relatives and will soon cross another item off the royal newborn must-do list: his christening.

Archie's christening -- during which he will join the Church of England -- is expected to be held sometime in July. Buckingham Palace has not confirmed any plans.

Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are a history-making couple but they are expected to follow royal traditions when it comes to the christening of their first child, according to ABC News' royal contributor Victoria Murphy.

"Even though this couple have shown that they are often keen to do things their own way, the christening does not obviously offer too many opportunities to do that," she said, noting that royal watchers expect the christening to take place at St. George's Chapel, where Harry and Meghan wed and where Harry was baptized.

Archie is expected to follow in the footsteps of his cousins, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, by wearing a christening gown used for every generation of royal infants.

The gown, remade by the Queen's dresser, Angela Kelly, in 2008, is an exact replica of the gown first commissioned by Queen Victoria 174 years ago and has been used for every generation of royal infants.

The Lily Font, a silver gilt baptismal font also commissioned by Queen Victoria, is also expected to be used along with water from the River Jordan, two more royal traditions, according to Murphy.

In keeping with the private nature of the christenings of Prince William and Kate's children, only close family members and Archie's godparents are expected to attend his christening.

One of the notable absences could be Archie's great-grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, who may have prior commitments. Queen Elizabeth also did not attend the christening last year of William and Kate's youngest child, Prince Louis.

Meghan's mom Doria Ragland, who stayed with the couple after Archie's birth, is expected to travel from the U.S. to be present for the christening of her only grandchild.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, who presided over Louis, George and Charlotte's christenings, is likely to be involved in Archie's christening, although no announcements have been made by Buckingham Palace. Meghan herself became a member of the Church of England after being baptized and confirmed last year by Welby.

"The couple will undoubtedly be overseeing plans for the christening, however this won't be anywhere near the level of planning that has been involved with their wedding or even their house move," Murphy said. "While we are expecting to see images of the family on the day of the christening, the event itself will be an intimate and private affair."

The godparents

Royal babies typically have around six godparents and Harry and Meghan are likely to follow that tradition, according to Murphy.

Prince William and Kate are not expected to be included as godparents.

"Harry is not godparent to any of their children," Murphy said. "I think this is a recognition of the fact that as an uncle or aunt you already have an important role."

The names of whom Harry and Meghan may include as godparents include Serena Williams, Jessica Mulroney and Benita Litt, all close friends of Meghan's.

On Harry's side, his cousin Princess Eugenie, mentor Mark Dyer and close friend Jake Warren are all names to watch, according to Murphy. Harry could also honor his mom, the late Princess Diana, by choosing one of her close friends or siblings.

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Iraq in the middle of growing US-Iran tensions

CT757fan/iStock(BAGHDAD) -- Rocket attacks Wednesday on American and Turkish oil facilities in southern Iraq, which Iraqi officials believe were carried out by Iranian-backed militias, are the latest example of how Iraq finds itself squarely in the middle of increasing tensions between its two closest partners, the United States and Iran.

While the U.S. seeks to deter Iranian threats in the region, it is also focused on maintaining its strong relationship with Iraq to fully defeat the Islamic State inside that country.

No one was hurt in Wednesday's attacks, but as a result of the strike on the American facility, ExxonMobil has reportedly evacuated 40 of its personnel from the facility, including Americans.

Iraq is used to finding itself in the middle of the tensions between the two countries that have been at odds for decades but are, ironically, Iraq's closest partners.

Iraq gets security and economic support from the United States for the long-term effort to defeat ISIS, while Iran also provides security support and is aligned with Iraq's majority Shiite population.

But this time the stakes are higher for Iraq as the U.S. accuses Iran of engaging in a "campaign" across the Middle East to threaten U.S. forces and partner nations, the main reason why the Pentagon dispatched an aircraft carrier and other forces to deter attacks that could be carried out by Iran or Iranian-backed groups.

U.S. officials are concerned that Iran has given the green light to Iranian-backed militias in Iraq to attack the more than 5,200 U.S. forces helping Iraqi Security Forces. And reflecting the unique situation in Iraq, some of those security forces are Iranian-backed militias that fall under the control of the Iraqi government.

The U.S. believes that Iran or Iranian-backed groups were behind an unsuccessful May 19 rocket attack fired at the Green Zone in Baghdad that targeted the U.S. embassy.

Amid concerns U.S. forces also could be targeted inside Iraq, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said on Tuesday that Iraq would not tolerate having its territory become the scene of direct or indirect combat between the two nations.

In late May, Iraq's foreign minister offered to help serve as a mediator between Iran and the United States. That offer was a natural progression from the balancing act that Iraq has maintained between two sides which are almost always at odds with each other.

"I actually think Iraq is pretty good at playing this game," said Michael O'Hanlon, with the Brookings Institution.

O'Hanlon said Iraq could continue that balancing act as long as Iran does not gain overall influence with the Iraqi government.

"To the extent that the Iraqis are able to maintain some degree of separation, and we are able to maintain that balance, through our military presence and our economic aid, I think the Iraqis are pretty good at that," he said.

O'Hanlon said that Iraq's last two prime ministers wanted "the balance relationship with both countries and that's good enough for us, given our core interests there."

Last Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo phoned al-Mahdi to make the case that Iran was responsible for last week's attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

According to a State Department readout of Pompeo's call, the secretary of state "appreciated Prime Minister al-Mahdi's commitment to protect U.S. personnel in Iraq supporting the Iraqi people and continuing the defeat ISIS campaign, and his continued efforts to counter threats to Iraq's sovereignty from Iran-backed militias. The United States will continue to help Iraq build out its security forces."

The statement made clear that while deterring Iranian attacks is the key focus right now, the United States wants to maintain the key strategic effort of working with Iraq to defeat Islamic State militants inside that country.

"This relationship is among our most compelling strategic interests," Michael Mulroy, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, said in a statement provided to ABC News.

While defeated militarily inside Iraq, the Iraqi government continues fighting insurgent fighters -- remnants of ISIS -- in its territory. And it will continue to rely on American and coalition support with its long-term goal to fully eliminate the Islamic State.

Ensuring a final defeat of ISIS is "vital U.S. national security interests," he added.

The 5,200 U.S. military personnel, as well as others from 15 other members of the anti-ISIS coalition, remain in Iraq to support the fight.

According to Mulroy, the U.S. currently helps train and equip 28 Iraqi brigades to maintain their readiness.

"The priority is to empower Iraq's professional and capable security forces to protect its sovereignty and to prevent an ISIS resurgence," Mulroy said. "The more capable Iraq's security institutions, the more resilient Iraq will be in the face of its enemies."

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Top US official refuses to say if Trump has authority to strike Iran after Pompeo lays out 'red line'

CIL868/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump's top envoy for Iran refused to say whether the administration believes it has the authority to strike Iran militarily, amid heightened tensions with the country over its threats to expand its nuclear fuel stockpiles and its reported attacks on oil supply chains in the Middle East.

While Democrats in Congress are concerned about Trump's legal authority, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Iraqi leaders last month that the administration's "red line" for military action against Iran would be the killing of an American citizen -- something Trump allies in Congress said would not require the legislature's approval.

The debate over military strikes comes after a series of attacks in the Middle East that the U.S. has blamed on Iran, including two oil vessels that were -- according to U.S. officials -- attacked with mines by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Four oil vessels suffered similar sabotage in May while also transiting near the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping waterway off the coast of Iran.

On Tuesday, a rocket attack outside Basra in southern Iraq blasted workers' sleeping quarters at an oil drilling site operated by ExxonMobil and other international firms. Three Iraqi workers were wounded and a second rocket damaged a Turkish oil facility, but caused no injuries. No one has claimed responsibility, and the U.S. -- so far -- has not pointed the finger at Iran.

Iran denies responsibility for nearly all of these incidents, but analysts say elements within the country are lashing out to protest U.S. sanctions and drive up the price of oil, to help ease the economic pain of Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign. Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran's oil industry, central bank and much more after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, which lifted those sanctions in exchange for limits on and inspections of Iran's nuclear program.

Without those economic benefits, Iran threatened on Monday to break the deal and enrich uranium at levels higher than allowed, pressuring European countries to come to its economic rescue.

"Our pressure campaign is working," U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, adding that the administration's intense enforcement -- with no waivers for oil purchases, for example -- has cost Iran billions of dollars.

But lawmakers are concerned that despite those budget shortfalls, Tehran is responding to this pressure with more aggressive action of its own. At the risk of stumbling into a heightened conflict, House Democrats pressed Hook on whether the administration believes it has authority to strike Iran under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.

Passed three days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the AUMF provides the executive branch with broad authority to use force "against those nations, organizations, or persons" that it determines "planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks" on Sept. 11, "or harbored such organizations or persons."

There have been growing concerns that the administration may cite connections between Iran and al-Qaeda to justify military strikes, even though some doubt how strong those ties currently are.

When asked repeatedly about that, Hook declined to answer, instead telling Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., "If the use of military force is necessary to defend U.S. national security interest, we will do everything that we are required to do with respect to congressional war powers, and we will comply with the law."

Hook was also asked whether the administration has the power to declare war and if he had read the Constitution, which gives Congress the authority to declare war, but gives the president certain powers as the commander-in-chief.

He said he had read the Constitution, but Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., who had asked, cut off the line of questioning and submitted the Constitution to the hearing's record.

Hours later, the House voted in favor of an amendment to repeal the AUMF as part of a defense spending package, although the bill's chances in the Senate are slim.

Questions around the AUMF, however, may be beside the point, in particular if Iran or a proxy force attacks an American. A State Department official confirmed to ABC News that while on a surprise visit to Baghdad last month, Pompeo told Iraqi leaders that the death of one U.S. citizen by Iran or any of its associated forces would spark a U.S. counterattack -- a message he wanted them to convey to their neighbor and ally Iran.

Hook suggested as much to Congress, saying, "Everything that we are trying to do now is defensive. ... There is no talk of offensive action."

Trump's allies in Congress agree.

"The AUMF is irrelevant. You don't need an AUMF to respond to an attack. I don't know why people are confused," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told ABC News.

It's unclear if the administration would go further, as some Senate Republicans have suggested. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said on Sunday that last week's attacks "warrant a retaliatory military strike," while Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Tuesday if Iran continues to disrupt oil supplies, "We should put their refineries on the target list ... I'm talking about blowing it up."

But Hook repeated what Trump and Pompeo have said -- that the administration does not seek war. Instead, he said, they hope their maximum pressure campaign drives Iran to the negotiating table, adding that the U.S. intelligence community assessed this is the strongest way to convince Iran to negotiate.

On Wednesday, Hook, acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Kathryn Wheelbarger and an unnamed intelligence officer for Iran briefed senators in a classified setting.

After that briefing, Hook departed for the Middle East to meet with leaders in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain, where he will work to bolster Arab allies' support for the U.S. He will next travel to Paris to meet with the United Kingdom, Germany and France on the same day that Iran has promised it will begin making good on its threat to enrich more uranium.

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Dutch prosecutors charge 4 in shooting down of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine

Jetlinerimages/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Dutch prosecutors said they are charging four pro-Russian separatist commanders for their role in the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014, pledging that the trial would begin in March 2020.

Three of the men charged were Russian citizens, and Dutch police said they believed one of the commanders may have been an active member of Russia's military intelligence service at the time of the shooting down in July 2014.

A Dutch-led international investigation has been examining who was responsible for the disaster, which killed all 298 passengers, and on Wednesday at a press conference in Nieuwegein in the Netherlands, investigators announced they now had enough evidence to bring charges.

The Netherlands' chief prosecutor, Fred Westerbeke, said charges would be brought against Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Leonid Kharchenko, saying they were suspected of being responsible for acquiring the anti-aircraft missile from Russia that was used to bring down the airliner. The men will be charged as criminally liable for causing the crash and with the murder of the 298 passengers, he said.

Westerbeke said that even though the men had "not pushed the button" launching the missile, they were responsible for having worked together to obtain it.

"In Dutch criminal law, persons not present themselves during the committing of a crime, but do play an important organizing role are just as punishable as the persons who actually committed the crime," Westerbeke said.

Igor Girkin, known by nom-de-guerre "Strelkov", is a former colonel in Russia's FSB domestic intelligence service who was the top military commander of the rebels' self-proclaimed People's Republic Donetsk or DNR, at the time of shooting down, when his forces were engaged in heavy fighting with Ukrainian government troops. Dubinsky was Girkin's deputy, running the rebels' military intelligence, and Pulatov and Kharchenko both served under him, the investigators said.

The Dutch officials claimed the men had "formed a chain linking the DNR to the Russian Federation," which had allowed the rebels to acquire heavy weapons, including the Buk anti-aircraft missile from Russia's 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade based in Kursk.

International arrest warrants have now been issued for the men, the Dutch officials said. But the men are unlikely to be at the trial when it starts in March next year since they are believed to be in Russia and rebel-held eastern Ukraine.

Russia has for years vehemently denied any involvement in the shooting down and instead has sought to blame Ukraine, releasing multiple alternative versions of events that have been repeatedly debunked. In making the charges on Wednesday, the Dutch investigators made clear they considered Russia was involved in the disaster and accused it of deliberately withholding information.

"We now have proof Russia was involved in this tragedy, this crime. One day after 17 July [2014] they were in a position to tell us exactly what happened. They knew. The Buk was used in eastern Ukraine and they knew this. They didn’t give us this information," Westerbeke said. He called Moscow's refusal to cooperate with the investigation a "slap in the face" to victim's families.

The investigators on Wednesday said they had grounds to believe that the suspect Dubinsky, who ran the DNR's military intelligence, may also have still been an active member of Russia's military intelligence service, the GRU, when MH17 was brought down. Westerbeke on Wednesday said they had been asking Russia to answer this question for a year, but had received no response.

Russia's foreign ministry on Wednesday reacted as it previously has, in a statement calling the Dutch investigation "absolutely hollow" and intended to "discredit Russia in the eyes of the international community." The response underscored that Russia was unlikely to make the four men available for trial when it begins next year.

The Dutch officials said the trial would begin on March 9 at 10 a.m. at a court in The Hague, regardless of whether the men appeared, meaning they would be tried in absentia. Holland had requested that Russia serve the men with court summons, they said, noting they had not asked for extradition since Russia and Ukraine's constitutions prohibit it.

Girkin on Wednesday told Reuters that the "rebels did not shoot down the Boeing," but did not elaborate. Girkin left his post as the DNR's defense minister in 2014 and is now often in Moscow, where he makes embittered comments accusing the Russian government of betraying the rebels by failing to formally annex the separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.

In March, the Netherlands' foreign ministry said it and Australia had begun talks with Russia on how to resolve the stand-off and assign blame. But on Wednesday, the Dutch Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus wrote to the parliament that unspecified "diplomatic steps" had been taken against Moscow for failing to fully comply with legal requests or providing incorrect information, according to Dutch paper NLTimes.

The charges are based on an investigation by an international commission called the Joint Investigation Team, made up of the 4 countries that lost the most citizens, Holland, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, as well as Ukraine. The JIT has spent years painstakingly reconstructing the minutes around the shooting down, as well as the missile and its launcher's route from Russia to rebel-held areas of Ukraine in the days before.

Investigators have questioned over 200 witnesses, analyzed hundreds of thousands of photos and videos and intercepted phone calls. They also reconstructed the destroyed nose-section of the plane from thousands of fragments collected from the crash site.

Despite the extensive evidence presented, Russian officials have claimed the JIT has never presented any hard proof of what happened. The Kremlin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday told reporters, "Russia was unable to take part in the investigation despite expressing an interest right from the start and trying to join it."

The independent online investigative group Bellingcat, which has published extensively about MH17, on Wednesday also released its own report identifying a dozen individuals it said were involved in the shooting down. The four suspects were named, and Bellingcat's description of the role they played was similar, with the researchers saying the DNR's military intelligence under Dubinsky had played an important role in obtaining and guarding the Buk missile.

Telephone intercepts released by the JIT have suggested that the rebels accidentally shot down MH17, mistaking it for a Ukrainian military aircraft. Westerbeke on Wednesday said that even if that were the case, they still hold the suspects responsible for the shooting down and that a court would have decide what they had known and their intentions.

"The suspects will have the opportunity to tell their side of the story in court," he said.

The charges announced Wednesday are just the first, the JIT investigators said, saying they were determined to also establish who had been key parts of the "chain of command" inside Russia in supplying the missile.

They said they also had reasons to believe the crew of the missile's launcher had included Russian military servicemen and that they were now focused on determining if this was the case. Wilbert Paulissen, the head of Holland's National Police, called on witnesses to come forward to aid the investigation.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Confidence in vaccines low in some major European countries amid global measles outbreaks

Hailshadow/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. is just one country where measles outbreaks are a health concern, and a new report published Wednesday evaluates vaccine confidence around the world.

It found that vaccine confidence is particularly low in some countries experiencing ongoing measles outbreaks, as a lack of confidence in vaccines could lead to lower vaccination rates and therefore, an easier spread of the disease.

In France, when asked how much they trust that vaccines are safe, 47 percent of respondents said that "yes" they trust vaccines or have "some" belief that they are safe, while 33 percent said that they have “no” or “not much” trust that vaccines are safe.

That finding, which comes from the Gallup World Poll 2018, funded by the Wellcome Global Monitor, makes France the country with the largest percentage of apparent vaccine skeptics in the world.

By comparison, the number of people who said they have “no” or “not much” trust in vaccines in the U.S. was 11 percent, while 72 percent of respondents said they have "a lot" or "some" trust in vaccines.

The majority of Western European countries have upwards of 70 percent trust in vaccines, but those numbers drop when looking at some Eastern European and former Soviet countries like Belarus, which has 36 percent trust in vaccines, Romania, which has 63 percent, and Ukraine, which has 29 percent.

The report also found that high-income regions like North America and Northern Europe have higher rates of vaccine confidence -- 72 percent and 73 percent respectively -- while that rate is lower in Western Europe, 59 percent, and Eastern Europe, 50 percent.

There are ongoing measles outbreaks or confirmed cases of measles in France, Poland, and Ukraine, as well as Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Colombia and Venezuela and the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Over the last century, vaccines have made many devastating infectious diseases a distant memory. Vaccines save up to 3 million lives every year -- and research has consistently shown that they are both safe and effective," Charlie Weller, the head of Wellcome's Vaccines Programme, said in a news release.

"It is reassuring to hear from this survey that worldwide, almost all parents are vaccinating their children. There are pockets across the world where trust in vaccines is of concern, therefore we cannot be complacent. To ensure society gets the full benefit of vaccines we need to close the gap between scientific consensus and public attitudes towards vaccines," Weller said.

Around the world, the Gallup World Poll found that 92 percent of parents said that their children are vaccinated, but the more than 188 million parents who have not vaccinated their children still pose a health threat.

Globally, 79 percent of people "somewhat" or "strongly agree" that vaccines are safe, while only 7 percent "somewhat" or "strongly disagree."

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Saudi leadership responsible for Khashoggi murder, says UN report

MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/Getty Images(BEIRUT) -- The killing of Jamal Khashoggi was a crime perpetrated at the highest levels of the Saudi Arabian power structure and requires further investigation of ranking Saudi officials, including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to a new report published by a special U.N. investigator.

Khashoggi, 59, was a Washington Post columnist and a Saudi Arabian citizen who had legal residency in the United States.

Human rights legal advocate and United Nations special investigator Agnes Callamard published her conclusions Wednesday following a months-long examination into the details of Khashoggi's death at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

Khashoggi's execution constituted an "extrajudicial killing for which the State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible," the report stated.

Saudi Arabia's minister of state for foreign affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, rejected the content of the U.N. report as "nothing new." He added in a tweet that the report "contains clear contradictions and baseless allegations which challenge its credibility."

Al-Jubeir also said the 101-page report only reiterated what has already been reported in the media. "We affirm that the sovereignty of the Kingdom and the jurisdiction of its judicial institutions over this issue is not compromised," he said.

Although stopping short of lodging a formal accusation against the Saudi crown prince for ordering the murder, the report recommended there was enough "credible evidence" to justify further investigation.

Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's day-to-day ruler, shares power with his elderly father, the king, and wields a great amount of authority in the kingdom, demanding strict loyalty and fealty from all his top-level executives.

The report detailed at length the power structure in the kingdom, which in almost all cases emanates downward from the office of the crown prince. The report concluded that any campaign against dissidents and political opponents would not be possible without the crown prince's "agreement of acquiescence."

The large amount of government coordination, resources and finances required to fund and expedite the 15-member team believed to have been dispatched to Turkey to carry out the execution was significant, according to the U.N.'s findings. "Every expert consulted finds it inconceivable that an operation of this scale could be implemented without the Crown Prince being aware, at a minimum, that some sort of mission of a criminal nature, directed at Mr. Khashoggi, was being launched," the report said.

"Taking accountability seriously means that the Saudi Arabia government must accept State responsibility for the execution," Callamard wrote.

Callamard also found serious flaws in the Saudi investigation in the days immediately following the murder, citing "credible evidence pointing to the crime scenes having been thoroughly, even forensically, cleaned." The report went on to allege that "the Saudi investigation was not conducted in good faith, and that it may amount to obstructing justice."

Despite a wide search by Turkish investigators in the weeks and months following the murder, Khashoggi's body has never been found.

Khashoggi's abduction and murder by a team of Saudi operatives provoked global outrage and tarnished the image of the crown prince, who had been celebrated as a moderate reformer who championed modernizing Saudi Arabia's finances and granting women the right to drive.

Callamard denounced the lack of transparency at the kingdom's secretive hearings for 11 suspects accused in the murder, and called on Saudi authorities to reveal the defendants' names, the charges against them, and the fate of 10 others initially arrested.

The Trump administration is pressing Saudi Arabia to show "tangible progress" toward holding Khashoggi's killer's accountable, and wants them to do so before the one-year anniversary of his murder, a senior administration official said one week ago.

In the wake of her findings, Callamard endorsed a course of action for the United States. It includes opening an FBI investigation into the execution of Khashoggi and pursuing criminal prosecutions in the U.S. as appropriate. She also implored Congress to hold hearings to determine the responsibility of high-level Saudi officials, including the crown prince, and to demand access to underlying classified materials.

"To the greatest extent possible consistent with national security," the report recommended, the United States should "declassify and release to the public all materials relating to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, including all intercepts."

"Callamard's report underscores that there will be no justice for Jamal Khashoggi unless Congress steps up," Rob Berschinski, a former Obama-era State Department official and Senior Vice President for Policy for the advocacy group Human Rights First told ABC News. "Saudi leaders have made it clear that they intend to get away with murder. President Trump has made it clear that he values arms sales over the killing and dismemberment of a U.S. resident. Congress must make it clear that it will not let this stand."

A failure by Washington to respond to the U.N. recommendations would "signal a green light to autocrats around the world that they can murder dissidents without repercussion, even if those dissidents seek shelter in the United States." Berschinski said. "The future safety of Americans, and that of brave activists around the world, depends on it."

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Ex-Trump adviser gives $188M to Oxford University for new AI center

georgeclerk/iStock(LONDON) -- The world-renowned University of Oxford has received the single biggest philanthropic donation in its history from a former adviser to President Donald Trump.

Stephen Schwarzman donated 150 million pounds (more than $188 million) to Oxford to fund a revamped humanities hub and an institute that will focus on research into ethics and artificial intelligence.

Schwarzman, a private equity billionaire and chief executive of the firm Blackstone, told the BBC he was donating such a substantial amount of money because AI was "the issue of our age."

He previously made a donation of $350 million to the Schwarzman College of Computing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Schwarzman grew up in Huntingdon Valley in Pennsylvania and attended Harvard before going on to work at Morgan Stanley. He served on Trump's Business Council in 2017.

Professor Louise Richardson, vice chancellor of the University of Oxford, said: “This generous donation marks a significant endorsement in the value of the Humanities in the 21st century and in Oxford university as the world leader in the field. The new Schwarzman Center will…enable Oxford to remain at the forefront of both research and teaching while demonstrating the critical role the Humanities will play in helping human society navigate the technological changes of the 21st century.”

Schwarzman, who was estimated last year by Forbes to have a net worth of around $12.4 billion, was not a student at Oxford but was enthralled by its beauty when he visited as a teenager in 1963, telling the Guardian newspaper: “I vividly remember going to Oxford because I’d never seen anything like it.

"The beauty and the ancient characters of the buildings made a huge impression on me, so that was one factor," he said. "But the second thing was the excellence of the areas that this project is involved with, and the fit between what Oxford is doing and the values that they have been part of developing for western civilization and the need to apply those core values to this rapidly growing area of technology.”

The British government said it was a "globally significant" investment in Britain.

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Namibia to auction off elephants, giraffes in response to crippling drought

Eivaisla/iStock(PRETORIA, South Africa) -- Drought-stricken Namibia will auction off at least 1,000 animals from its national parks -- including elephants and giraffes -- to mitigate the lack of grazing land as the country faces its deadliest drought in years.

The auction is being advertised in local newspapers and the intended buyers are game farmers who have the facilities to maintain the animals which include 600 disease-free buffaloes, 150 Springbok, 65 oryx, 60 giraffes, 35 Eland, 28 elephants 20 Impala and 16 kudus -- all from national parks.

The Namibian government declared a national disaster last month, while the country’s meteorological services estimate that some parts of the country faced the deadliest drought in as many as 90 years.

In April, an agriculture ministry report said 63,700 animals died in 2018 because of deteriorating grazing conditions brought on by dry weather.

"Given that this year is a drought year, the ministry would like to sell various type of game species from various protected areas to protect grazing and at the same time to also generate much-needed funding for parks and wildlife management," environment ministry spokesman Romeo Muyunda told the French news service AFP.

"The grazing condition in most of our parks is extremely poor and if we do not reduce the number of animals, this will lead to loss of animals due to starvation," Muyunda said.

The Namibia Professional Hunting Association (NAPHA) has welcomed the move, saying it is the most responsible and sustainable approach during very difficult times.

“Trying times call for appropriate management practices to assure that core breeding herds stand a chance of survival; sustainable management includes reducing herd size," NAPHA CEO Tanja Dahl told ABC News. "Our Ministry of Wildlife and Tourism (MET) as custodian of parks and wildlife, intends selling selected animals to gather income and reduce the pressure on habitat for the remaining wildlife.”

It’s estimated that the sale of the animals would raise $1.1 million, that would go towards a state-owned Game Products Trust Fund for wildlife conservation and parks management.

"Our thinking needs to evolve around best practices based on drought conditions and this would also include looking at the viability of livestock as opposed to game management," Dahl said. "Protection of habitat should be the main concern, as nothing can thrive without appropriate habitat.”

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