US Navy fires warning flare at Iranian vessel in Persian Gulf

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan B. Trejo/Released(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. guided-missile destroyer fired a flare in the direction of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard ship this week during an encounter in the Persian Gulf, a Navy official has confirmed to ABC News.

The "guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) had an unprofessional interaction with an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessel while transiting the international waters of the Arabian Gulf, April 24," a spokesman for the Naval Forces Central Command said of the Monday encounter.

The Iranian ship came within 1,100 yards of the Mahan, closing the distance, despite the U.S. ship’s maneuvering to open the distance between the two vessels, the spokesman said.

The Mahan employed bridge-to-bridge radio in an effort to reach the Iranian ship, and issued warning messages prior to the firing of the flare, the spokesman said.

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US military begins installations of missile defenses in South Korea

iStock/Thinkstock(SEOUL, South Korea) -- In a surprise move, the U.S. military transferred key parts of a controversial anti-missile defense system into operational position overnight on Wednesday, drawing angry reaction from local residents near the site in Seongju, South Korea.

The Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense System, or THAAD, was originally scheduled to be installed after South Korea elects a new president on May 9, giving the next administration a chance to review the contentious missile defense system.

The site of the overnight maneuvers was located at a golf course in the country's south. The action comes amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea over the latter's nuclear and missile programs.

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Ivanka Trump brushes off hissing in Germany: ‘Politics is politics’

ABC News(BERLIN) -- Ivanka Trump brushed off the hissing that some audience members directed at her during the Women 20 Summit in Germany Tuesday when she expressed pride in her father’s advocacy of women, and specifically his campaign proposal for paid family leave.

“Politics is politics, as I’m learning,” Ivanka Trump said, taking questions from reporters after the panel discussion where she was jeered.

She then further defended her father as a “champion for all Americans,” including women.

Asked whether she thought the moderator’s questioning of her was a little tough, Ivanka shrugged it off: “I’m used to it. It’s fine.”

When the jeers erupted during the panel, the moderator referenced the crowd’s reaction in following up with Ivanka by noting that many people are suspicious of President Trump’s stated support for women’s empowerment.

“I’ve certainly heard the criticism from the media and that’s been perpetuated,” Ivanka said, prompting further heckling from some in the crowd at the panel on women’s entrepreneurship.

She went on to vouch for her father’s record in empowering women -- pointing to his business and her own upbringing -- as evidence of his belief in gender equality.

“As a daughter, I can speak on a very personal level knowing that he encouraged me and enabled me to thrive,” she said, noting that her father did not distinguish between how she and her brothers were treated at home.

Ivanka Trump participated in the panel along with other high-profile women, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who personally invited her to Germany for the summit, and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde.

Trump, 35, was also asked by the moderator whether she is representing her father, the U.S. people or her business.

“Certainly not the latter,” she said, going on to say the role as first daughter is still very new to her but that she’s looking for the best ways to empower women in the workplace.

She said she’ll bring the knowledge she gains at the summit back to her father.

She specifically pointed to equal pay and paid family leave as useful policies to help level the playing field for women, and noted that the United States is the only developed country without a paid family leave policy.

She also touted the cause of STEM education -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- for young women and girls.

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What you need to know about rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula

iStock/Thinkstock(SEOUL) -- All 100 U.S. senators will gather Wednesday for a White House briefing on the volatility in North Korea.

The meeting -- announced last week and requested by Senate leadership – comes amid the U.S. Navy’s bilateral military exercises with South Korea and Japan, and North Korea’s live-fire drills to celebrate the anniversary of its military's founding.

Here’s what you need to know about the situation:

U.S. Navy exercises

The destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyers is conducting bilateral maritime exercises with a South Korean destroyer in waters west of the Korean Peninsula Tuesday and Wednesday, while the destroyer USS Fitzgerald is partnering with a Japanese destroyer in waters west of Japan, according to the U.S. 7th Fleet.

"Both exercises demonstrate a shared commitment to security and stability in Northeast Asia as well as the U.S. Navy's inherent flexibility to combine with allied naval forces in response to a broad range of situations," the 7th Fleet said in a news release.

The Meyers is part of the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group, which will arrive off the Korean Peninsula at the end of the month.

Also arriving in the area is the USS Michigan, one of the Navy's Ohio-class nuclear-powered guided missile submarines.

The Michigan arrived in the South Korean port of Busan Tuesday. Its deployment is not part of the Vinson strike group, but its presence in the area is intended to send a message to North Korea, a U.S. Defense Department official told ABC News.

North Korean live-fire drills

The latest bilateral maritime exercises come as North Korea conducted large-scale, live-fire drills Tuesday numbering 300 to 400 pieces of artillery near the eastern port city of Wonsan, South Korea's military said.

The drill marked the 85th anniversary of the founding of North Korea's military in which people dance at an outdoor party in the capital city of Pyongyang. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un likely participated in the event, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

The United States has speculated that North Korea could carry out another nuclear or missile test timed to Tuesday’s celebration.

Earlier this month, North Korea conducted its fifth missile test this year. Though the missile exploded seconds after launch, the test occurred hours after the country rolled out intercontinental ballistic missiles and other military hardware at a huge parade to celebrate the birthday of the country's late founder, Kim Il Sung, grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un.

Senators convene at White House for North Korea briefing

Wednesday's briefing on the situation in North Korea will be attended by every U.S. senator. While it's not uncommon for all 100 Senators to be briefed at the same time, the typical venue is the Senate floor, not the White House.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats are expected to conduct the briefing.

The meeting, in addition with an increased U.S. military presence in the Asia Pacific, is just part of an all-hands-on-deck approach to how the Trump administration will tackle North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

During a working lunch Wednesday with the ambassadors to the countries of the United Nations Security Council, Trump called North Korea "a real threat to the world."

“North Korea is a big world problem," Trump said, adding, "People have put blinders on for decades.”

He encouraged the U.N. Security Council to act on North Korea, saying the organization has "tremendous potential."

As Tuesday's military exercises with South Korea and Japan show, the United States is remaining in lock-step with its allies in the region.

The U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, Joseph Yun, on Tuesday agreed with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Tokyo that the three nations would "coordinate all actions" on North Korea.

"We agree among the three of us that we will coordinate all actions -- diplomatic, military, economic -- regarding North Korea," Yun told reporters. "We'll continue to work very closely among the three of us together as well as with our international partners."

They also agreed that China plays a key roles in pressuring North Korea to abandon its nuclear and missile programs, something President Trump and his administration have continuously emphasized.

“We believe China -- we’ve talked about this before -- has unique leverage when it comes to North Korea, and frankly China’s influence on North Korea is outsized in the sense of if they fully implement, and we’ve seen them take additional steps in that regard, the sanctions, then they can apply the kind of pressure that will make Pyongyang take notice," State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner said in Monday's press briefing.

“This has been front and center of our discussions with the Chinese government," Toner added. "We believe we have made headway in convincing them of the urgency of this situation, and that they are going to take steps to address it.”

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Trump picks fight with Canada over dairy products and trade -- President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that the United States 'will not stand for' Canadian dairy trade policies that hurt American dairy farm exports, adding that the rules have "made business for our dairy farmers in Wisconsin and other border states very difficult."



It's the third time in the last week that Trump has bashed America's northern neighbor and close ally for its rules on imported dairy products.

"In Canada, what they've done to our dairy farm workers is a disgrace. It's a disgrace," Trump said in the Oval Office last week, as the President welcomed union leaders, steel workers and CEOs of steel companies for the signing of the memorandum ordering an investigation into steel dumping.

Trump made similar remarks in Wisconsin last Tuesday, calling the dairy trade relationship between the United States and Canada "very, very unfair."

"We're also going to stand up for our dairy farmers in Wisconsin," Trump told the crowd. "I've been reading about it and I've been talking about it for a long time and that demands, really, immediately, fair trade with all of our trading partners."

"That includes Canada, because, in Canada, some very unfair things have happened to our dairy farmers and others," Trump continued. "It's another typical one-sided deal against the United States and it's not going to be happening for long."

Several countries with high dairy product exports oppose Canada's current protectionist policies, which include high tariffs on imported milk and cheese products.

Trump based his 2016 presidential campaign on increasing the number of jobs in the United States by renegotiating trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), both of which Canada has signed.

Halting business from moving overseas has been a key promise of Trump's early presidency.

The comments precede the upcoming renegotiation of NAFTA, expected this summer. The U.S. has been at odds with Canada over other imports, as well; one of the largest disputes has been about softwood lumber imports from Canada to the U.S. On Monday, Trump told media attending a reception that he would impose a 20 percent tariff on imports of the Canadian product.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross told reporters in today's White House briefing that even though Canada is a "good neighbor, that doesn't mean they don't have to play by the rules." He went on to say "there may be a small increase" in lumber prices because of the tariff.

Ross added that it's not a matter of "Trump messing with the Canadians," but rather, the White House believes "they violated legitimate practice."

The tariff would be "collected on a retroactive basis going back 90 days," Ross added.

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Ivanka Trump denies she was behind father's decision to strike Syria

Sean Gallup/Getty Images(BERLIN) -- Ivanka Trump dismissed the idea that her father was influenced in his decision to authorize a strike against Syria because of her reaction to the chemical attack there days prior that killed dozens.

"That’s a flawed interpretation," said Ivanka, first daughter and assistant to the president, while on her first foreign trip to Germany on the behalf of President Trump.

Ivanka Trump's comments come after her brother Eric Trump said in an interview with "The Daily Telegraph" that a "heartbroken and outraged" Ivanka was the influence behind the president's decision to launch airstrikes on a Syrian airbase.

"Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence," Eric Trump said. "I'm sure she said: 'Listen, this is horrible stuff.' My father will act in times like that."

"I think it would be very hard as a human being to see the images that we saw and not react and not be very shaken to the core," Ivanka said of the chemical attack at the beginning of the month that killed at least 80 civilians, including children.

While she acknowledged that she did share her perspective with her father -- noting it "aligned with his" -- Trump's daughter stressed that the decision to retaliate for the chemical attack was a clear decision her father made with the advice from the highest levels of the government.

"That said and while I expressed that sentiment – as a leader of a country you can’t make decision based on emotion alone," she said. "His decision was incredibly well-informed and advised at every level."

Trump added that she was "proud of the action" her father took and praised it for "how decisive it was and the clear message he sent that heinous attacks of this nature using chemical weapons will not be condoned by the United States."

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Spain arrests 9 suspected members of jihadi group in probe of Brussels attacks

zabelin/iStock/Thinkstock(BARCELONA) -- Nine suspected members of a jihadi group were arrested in raids today in Spain, most of whom are alleged to have a direct connection to people suspected of carrying out attacks in Brussels in 2016 that killed 32 people and wounded 300 others, according to police.

All nine are Moroccan citizens living in Spain, police said. Guns and drugs were found during the arrest.

A Spanish interior ministry official said the arrest of the nine in the Catalonia region was focused on Oussama Atar, the suspected mastermind of the attacks on Brussels' airport and subways last year.

In a separate operation, two other people were taken into custody in what authorities described as an anti-terror raid in Segovia, north of Madrid, a Spanish interior ministry official said. One of the two was a Spanish citizen, the other Moroccan, the official said. Authorities provided no confirmation that the two arrested have any connection to the Brussels attacks.

The arrest in Segovia was linked to an arrest Saturday of an Egyptian citizen, Hatem Mokhtar Abdallah Said, the interior ministry official said.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks in Brussels in March 2016.

Last month, Brussels observed a moment of silence to remember the victims on the one-year anniversary of the bombings, which were the deadliest such attacks in Belgium's history.

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Yemen aid summit looking to pull nation from famine threatening millions with starvation

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A pledging conference to raise funds for war-torn Yemen is taking place in Geneva on Tuesday to help combat what the United Nations has called "largest humanitarian crisis in the world."

Ongoing violence has created a food crisis in Yemen, leaving nearly 7 million people, including, 2.2 million children, malnourished, the UN's United Nations Children's Fund said in a statement on Monday.

Hosted by the U.N. and the governments of Switzerland and Sweden governments, the funding event aims to make up for a $2.1 billion funding shortfall in the U.N,'s fight to deliver crucial aid and lifesaving assistance to Yemen, a country that has been dogged by intense war conflict for more than two years.

Yemen has been hit by at least 325 verified attacks, which have hit health facilities, schools, markets, roads, and other infrastructure, according to research released by the World Health Organization on Monday.

The conflict has disrupted essential aid and resources to the county, causing the flow of key medicines to declined 70 percent since March 2015, when the fighting first began, according to WHO.

“Without further action from parties to the conflict and the international community, Yemen is at a serious risk of plunging into famine – with even more children’s lives hanging in the balance,” UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Geert Cappelaere said in a statement Tuesday. “We are in a race against time,” he added.

UNICEF said the rampant violence has made large parts of Yemen inaccessible to humanitarian workers, leaving many of the county’s 25.6 million occupants vulnerable to famine.


In a joint statement with the World Food Program humanitarian agency on Tuesday, UNICEF said its efforts were less than 20 percent funded and called for “an immediate political solution to end the war in Yemen.”

“If we act now, many lives could be saved in Yemen,” said Muhannad Hadi, WFP Regional Director for the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and East Europe. “We call on the international community to urgently provide us with sufficient funding and to help us avert famine across Yemen.”

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Leading French candidate targeted by group behind DNC hacks, research firm says

iStock/Thinkstock(PARIS) -- Leading French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron's campaign has been the target of cyberattacks at the hands of the same group linked to attacks against the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign team, according to a reputable security research firm.

Feike Hacqueboard, a senior threat researcher with security firm Trend Micro, told ABC News that he has identified four internet domain names connected to a group called "Pawn Storm" that were used to target the French centrist's campaign with so-called phishing attacks.

"The attacks could have started [in the middle of] March and I think they went on for half of April," Hacqueboard told ABC News in a phone call from the Netherlands.

Pawn Storm is also known as Fancy Bear and APT28, among a number of other monikers. The group has been linked by several private security firms to the Russian government, and in some cases, the Russian military intelligence agency called the GRU.

For its part, Trend Micro -- as a policy -- does not point fingers at state actors for fear of interfering in the political process, Hacqueboard said. But he conceded that Pawn Storm are after targets that are of interest to the Russian government.

In addition to the DNC, the group was behind the recent cyberattacks on the Turkish parliament and Angela Merkel's party in Germany (the CDU), as well as cyberattacks on the parliaments of Montenegro and Germany, according to Hacqueboard.

“We see that the fingerprints of these attacks are the same," the researcher said. "The mode of operation is very, very similar."

A spokesman for the French government cybersecurity agency ANSSI confirmed the attacks on the Macron campaign to Reuters, but would not comment on whether Pawn Storm was behind them.

Among the group's favored attack methods, Hacqueboard said, is an attack called "phishing."

This attack method sees hackers send duplicitous emails to their targets that appear to be from legitimate institutions or organizations. The emails usually demand that the target hand over some personal information, such as a password, in order to avoid some negative outcome, such as having a social media or email account locked.

The emails appear authentic, but in reality are designed to gather personal information that hackers can then exploit to gain further access to systems.

Richard Ferrand, secretary-general of Macron's party, previously accused Russia of trying to influence the French election in a February news conference and urged the French government to take action to prevent any "foreign meddling," according to Reuters.

The French election is in full swing. A first round of votes on Sunday saw Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen best nine other candidates and advance to a second round of voting that is scheduled for May 7.

Le Pen has in the past expressed support for Russia's annexation of the Crimea region from Ukraine, according to BBC News. That annexation was widely condemned by the international community.

Le Pen has also called for the European Union to lift sanctions imposed on Russia, saying that they were "counterproductive," the BBC reported.

The Macron campaign did not return ABC News' request for comment.

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Russia may be aiding Taliban, US general in Afghanistan says

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Russia is believed to be the source of an influx of weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said in a press conference on Monday.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who appeared with Nicholson at Resolute Support headquarters, said the U.S. would have to "confront Russia" over "denying the sovereignty of other countries," including Afghanistan.

"For example, any weapons being funneled here from a foreign country would be a violation of international law," said Mattis.

Asked if he would refute claims that Russia is providing weapons to the Taliban, Nicholson answered definitively.

"Oh no, I’m not refuting that," the general said.

Nicholson said the U.S. has continued to receive reports of Russian assistance to the Taliban.

While Mattis said that the U.S. would "engage with Russia diplomatically," he spoke in stronger terms about the threat of the Taliban and of ISIS in Afghanistan and expressed confidence about his ability to advise President Donald Trump on U.S. policy in the region upon his return.

“We are under no illusions about the challenges associated with this mission,” said Mattis, who called the Taliban a "barbaric enemy" as he referenced an attack Friday that killed more than 100 at an Afghan military base.

On ISIS, Nicholson issued a warning to the terrorist organization that is currently centered within Iraq and Syria.

"If they come here to Afghanistan, they will be destroyed. In keeping secretary’s intent, they will be annihilated," said Nicholson, who noted that ISIS attempts to gain a foothold in the country have been mostly repelled.

"We’re going to keep going until they’re defeated in 2017," said Nicholson. "Now they have an aspiration, I think, to move fighters here from Syria. We haven’t seen it happen. And, in fact, by reducing their sanctuary here, by annihilating them here, it should very clear to ISIS main there is no space to come to in Afghanistan.”

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