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Tuesday
Dec122017

Tillerson to North Korea: ‘We're ready’ to meet ‘without precondition’

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) --  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. is "ready to talk any time North Korea would like to talk ... without precondition," in a surprising change for a member of the Trump administration.  The offer to North Korea comes amid crippling sanctions on the country and high tension over its nuclear weapons program -- and just after another intercontinental ballistic missile test just two weeks ago.

"Let's just meet and we can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table if that’s what you’re excited about," Tillerson said at the Atlantic Council in Washington Tuesday. "But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face and then we can begin to lay out a map, a roadmap of what we might be willing to work toward?"

The new message stands in contrast to President Donald Trump’s warnings that talks have failed and that Tillerson was wasting his time – another sign of policy difference between the president and his top diplomat.

But it also is a shift from Tillerson’s own previous comments that the U.S. would not negotiate its way to the negotiating table with North Korea and that it would only talk once the regime was ready to address its denuclearization.

Tillerson added later, "If there was any condition at all to this is that, 'Look, it’s going to be tough to talk if in the middle of our talks you decide to test another device.'" There needed to be a "period of quiet," he said, "or it's going to be very difficult to have productive discussions."

Tillerson didn't outline any timelines or metrics for how long that period should be.

This shift -- removing the commitment to denuclearize as a precondition to talking -- was also a practical idea, according to Tillerson. "It's not realistic to say we're only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your program. They have too much invested in it," he said.

"The president is very realistic about that as well," he added, although Trump has tweeted the opposite before -- arguing that talks will not work.

"Presidents and their administrations have been talking to North Korea for 25 years, agreements made and massive amounts of money paid," he tweeted on Oct. 7. "... [It] hasn't worked, agreements violated before the ink was dry, makings fools of U.S. negotiators. Sorry, but only one thing will work!"

It was unclear then what the "one thing" was.

Still, the final goal for the administration has not changed, with the ultimate objective continuing to be the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula -- and Tillerson said he remains optimistic diplomatic efforts can achieve that. He said Trump is calling on China to cut off the flow of oil to North Korea to accelerate that effort.

Tillerson also addressed the U.S.'s relationship with China amid the tension with North Korea. He said the two countries have had talks about how to secure North Korea's nuclear weapons in the event of the regime's collapse -- with the U.S. reassuring China that it would retreat back below the 38th parallel that divides North and South Korea if it ever had to invade the North.

The Chinese are also working on their own contingency plans to deal with a massive flow of North Korean refugees into China if the regime fell apart, Tillerson said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Dec122017

Russia will allow its Olympic athletes to compete as neutral after ban

iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Russia’s Olympic Committee has voted to back a plan for its athletes to compete at 2018 Winter Olympics under a neutral flag. The move means that there will now likely be a sizeable Russian contingent competing when the Olympics take place in Pyeonchang, South Korea, this February.

Last week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) barred Russia from the upcoming Olympics as punishment for what it says was a systematic cover up of doping by country's athletes. The IOC said it would allow some individual Russian athletes to compete as neutrals, provided they could pass an IOC anti-doping panel. It was initially unclear whether that would be acceptable to the Russian authorities, who had previously threatened to boycott the Games.

At a meeting in Moscow Tuesday, Russia’s Olympic Committee voted unanimously to support its athletes wishing to participate in the Games.

Speaking at a televised news conference after the meeting, the committee’s head Alexander Zhukov said he expects around 200 athletes to be able to compete in Pyeongchang, though it would be up to the IOC to determine how many would be approved.

A day before, the Russian Committee said that the majority of its athletes had expressed a desire to compete. Last week, president Vladimir Putin had seemed to clear the way when he said Russian authorities would place no obstacle in the path of those wishing to go.

The Russian Olympic Committee president, Zhukov, said that his committee had decided to swallow the IOC punishment in order to let athletes compete, saying they “have taken the blow ourselves, so as to give athletes the chance to realize their Olympic dreams."

The IOC's executive committee suspended the Russian Olympic Committee, including Zhukov himself, last week as a penalty for the doping cover up that already saw Russia partly excluded from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio-de-Janeiro.

Russian athletes wanting to compete will still have to be approved by a specially appointed IOC panel, made up of representatives from different international anti-doping bodies. The IOC’s decision last week said that no Russian athletes with previous doping records will be approved.

"I think the IOC will make sure that the strongest Russian athletes get the invitations, so that, for example, our hockey team consists of the best players," Zhukov said, according to the Associated Press.

Russian athletes competing in South Korea will now have to wear a specially designed uniform, labeled with "Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR)." Russia’s national anthem and flag will be absent from the Opening Ceremony and medal ceremonies. The Olympic anthem will play instead.

Russian and IOC officials suggested the punishment could end the doping scandal that has ravaged Russian sport for almost two years and has had little sign of abating, amid Russian refusals to accept the idea that the cover-up had been state-sponsored.

Last year, an investigation by the Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren for the World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA, found evidence that Russia's sports ministry had ordered hundreds of positive samples to be concealed. McLaren found that the system reached its height during the 2014 Winter Olympics that Russia hosted in Sochi, with agents from Russia's FSB intelligence service helping to switch out positive urine samples from the anti-doping lab there.

The IOC's own investigation, headed by a former Swiss president Samuel Schmid, confirmed "systemic manipulation" of the anti-doping system in Russia. However, Schmid said he had been unable to prove that the “highest state authorities” were aware of it, stopping short of calling it "state-sponsored."

Nevertheless, the head of Russia’s sports ministry, Vitali Mutko, was banned for life by the IOC, which said he must take responsibility for the doping scheme.

On Tuesday, Zhukov, like other Russian officials, emphasized that Schmid had found no evidence of a state system of doping. Russian officials previously insisted the scheme was carried out by individual coaches, officials and athletes.

The IOC decision to ban Russia over the doping system remains unprecedented in Olympic history. But since its announcement there have been signs that parts of the decision had been softened enough for Russia to accept.

Speaking directly after the decision, Zhukov had said it was “very important” that the uniforms Russian athletes will wear will still bear the word "Russia."

The IOC also stated that it may lift the Russian suspension for the Closing Ceremony in Pyeonchang, provided Russia had met the conditions laid out in the decision. That would mean Russian athletes could potentially still appear under their national flag to end the competition.

Russia fielded a team of 232 athletes at the Sochi Winter Olympics. Zhukov said he hoped 208 could take part as neutrals this year in Pyeongchang.

On Tuesday, six members of Russia's national women's hockey team were banned by the IOC over doping offenses at the Sochi Olympics. That brings the total number of Russian athletes disqualified from Sochi to 31, a loss that has seen the country drop from the top medal spot at the those Games. Twenty-two Russian athletes have appealed their disqualifications.

After an initial outcry from Russian officials and state media that the IOC decision was unfair, with some even comparing it to “genocide,” attitudes have since mellowed to righteous resignation.

"We are turning the page," Vitaly Smirnov, the head of Russia's Independent Civil Anti-Doping Commission, said at the news conference after supporting the Russian Olympic Committee decision.

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Tuesday
Dec122017

Imprisoned Paralympian Oscar Pistorius 'bruised' from inmate fight over phone use, officials say

iStock/Thinkstock(JOHANNESBERG) -- Paralympic athlete and convicted murderer Oscar Pistorius was apparently bruised in a prison fight over a telephone, South African prison authorities said today.

No serious injuries resulted from his altercation with another inmate over the use of the prison phone, Department of Correctional Services spokesman Singabakho Nxumalo said.

“Pistorius wasn’t seriously injured; he was just bruised, although I haven’t received information about the exact location of the bruise,” Nxumalo said. “We do regard the incident in a serious light and will act once we have all the facts.”

Pistorius, a double-leg amputee known as the “bladerunner” because of his prosthetics, was first convicted of culpable homicide (manslaughter) in 2014 for shooting and killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day 2013. The Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa upgraded his conviction to murder in 2015 on appeal.

The Pretoria High Court sentenced him to six years’ imprisonment in July 2016, which the Supreme Court of Appeal increased to 13 years last month.

Pistorius, 31, has reportedly been on the phone quite a bit since then.

Nxumalo, the prison spokesman, told ABC News an internal investigation, involving everyone including Pistorius, the other inmate, possible eyewitnesses and guards is underway.

"The outcome of the investigation would determine if any remedial action would be undertaken against any of the inmates involved,” Nxumalo said, stressing that any punishment is a long way off but could include forfeiting prison privileges such as visitation rights, phone calls and letters and Christmas concessions.

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Monday
Dec112017

Saudi Arabia to reopen cinemas that have been banned since the 1980s, says crown prince

iStock/Thinstock(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) -- Cinemas are set to open in Saudi Arabia in March 2018 for the first time since they were banned in in the early 1980s, according to the Saudi minister of culture.

"It's a beautiful day in Saudi Arabia!" tweeted Haifaa al-Mansour, the first female Saudi director of a feature film, the acclaimed "Wadjda".

 This is the second major social reform, after the lifting of the ban on women driving, announced in recent months as part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's "Vision 2030", a socioeconomic program aimed at modernizing the Saudi economy and shepherding the conservative kingdom into the 21st century.

"This is the best news! I've been waiting for it for 33 years" said Nahar Alhamrani, a self-described movie fanatic from Jeddah. "It will spark creativity and help build a change in people's mindset."

Cinemas existed in Saudi Arabia until they were banned in the early 1980s after a puritanical religious establishment gained control over social and educational affairs in the country.

"Today, the organized Islamist undercurrents that thrived in the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s no longer have influence in society," said Mohammed Alyahya, a nonresident fellow at The Atlantic Council.

Back then, "young and old people traded DVDs, downloaded movies and visited Bahrain to watch movies. The reintroduction of movie theaters is long overdue" added Alyahya.

A multimillion-dollar bootleg industry flourished as a result. Saudis amassed large collections of pirated DVDs of the latest Hollywood blockbusters, circumventing both the ban and censorship. It’s this revenue that the decision today also aims to recapture.

"Opening cinemas will act as a catalyst for economic growth and diversification," said Minister of Culture Awwad Alawwad. "By developing the broader cultural sector, we will create new employment and training opportunities, as well as enriching the kingdom's entertainment options"

The Saudi cinema industry is still nascent but has been receiving more attention over recent years with breakthrough movies like "Wadjdah" and "Barakah meets Barakah."

In September, it was announced that Saudi actress Ahd Kamel will star in the Netflix series "Collateral."

"Born a King," a coming-of-age story about the teenager who would become King Faisal, wrapped filming last month. It is the first Saudi English-language feature film officially licensed to be shot in the kingdom.

The announcement by the ministry of culture did not specify whether seating in cinemas would be gender-segregated as most public spaces are in Saudi Arabia or how heavily censored movies will be. Films are usually greatly censored with pixelation added to cover the chest and legs of actresses, as seen on a recent Saudi Airlines flight. Regulations are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

Multiple malls currently being built had already received licenses to build multiplexes before today's announcement.

By 2030, over 300 cinemas with 2000 screens are expected to have opened across Saudi Arabia.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Dec102017

Palestinian president will not meet Pence in upcoming trip: foreign minister 

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will not meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence during his upcoming trip to the Middle East because of the Trump administration's decision to name Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, according to Palestine's foreign minister.

Riyad al-Maliki said at the meeting of the Arab League in Cairo on Saturday that because of the decision, the U.S. has now "positioned itself as a party in a dispute and not as a mediator," according to Al Jazeera.

Alyssa Farah, the vice president's press secretary, said in a statement, "It's unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region, but the Administration remains undeterred in its efforts to help achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians and our peace team remains hard at work putting together a plan."

President Donald Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last week and said the U.S. would begin the process of moving its embassy from Tel Aviv. The decision sparked protests and backlash across the Muslim world.

Protests have continued four days after the president's speech with demonstrations on Sunday outside U.S. embassies in Beirut, Lebanon, and Jakarta, Indonesisa, where both countries have a majority of Muslims. The Beirut protests turned violent when security forces fired tear gas and water canons into the crowds.

In Jerusalem on Sunday, Israeli police said a Palestinian assailant stabbed a security guard at the city's central bus station.

The Arab League is petitioning other countries to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Palestinian President Abbas on Sunday visited Amman, Jordan, where he met with King Abdullah and said he was rallying international opposition to the U.S. decision.

"We communicated with the entire world and fortunately there was a positive response from all the countries in the world, from Europe, and from Africa and countries close to America that don't support the U.S. in this behavior,” Abbas said. “The world's general opinion is very important. The actions taking place in the world now including the Arab region like Palestine, Jordan and others are very important. These all are messages to Trump that what he did is an unacceptable crime."

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Saturday
Dec092017

Iraq declares victory over ISIS

iStock/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has declared victory against ISIS after three years of war.

In an announcement in Baghdad on Saturday, the prime minister said Iraqi forces were in complete control of the Iraqi-Syrian border.

"Our enemy wanted to kill our civilization, but we have won through our unity and our determination," Abadi said according to the BBC. "We have triumphed in little time."

In January 2014, Iraq lost control of Fallujah and Ramadi to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In June, the liberation of Mosul marked a turning point in Iraq's war against ISIS.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert released a statement after the announcement, offering "congratulations to the Iraqi people and to the brave Iraqi Security Forces, many of whom lost their lives heroically fighting ISIS."

Nauert added that the prime minister's announcement "does not mean the fight against terrorism, and even against ISIS, in Iraq is over."

"The United States, along with the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, will continue to partner with the Iraqi Security Forces, advising, training, and equipping them," she said in the statement. "Together, we must be vigilant in countering all extremist ideologies to prevent the return of ISIS or the emergence of threats by other terrorist groups."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Dec092017

Trump administration has yet to fill many US ambassador posts in Europe

Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived at the Vienna airport this week, he was greeted on the tarmac by three deputy chiefs of mission from the U.S. embassies in Austria.

Of the three U.S. missions in Austria – the U.S. embassy to Austria, the embassy for Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the United Nations embassy – there isn’t a single ambassador leading the foreign offices 10 months into Tillerson’s term.

The State Department has also not yet put forth a name to the White House for nomination to eventually serve as ambassador to the European Union, a major international organization that represents 28 European countries and the largest single market in the world with 200 million consumers.

A White House official said they are still in the process of selecting an EU ambassador and it should be announced soon.

There are 20 ambassadorship postings — both political appointee and career — still open across Europe.

Tillerson's tensions with the White House have only exacerbated the slow pace of the White House's nominating and the Senate's confirming ambassadors, according to a State Department official and a White House Official.

“I think it’s a shame,” former U.S. Ambassador to the EU Anthony Gardner told ABC News about the comparatively small number of ambassadors in Europe. “Some of these posts are quite important, particularly now.”

A State Department spokesperson referred questions about political-appointee ambassador vacancies to the White House Office of Personnel, which submits its selections to the State Department.

“We have worked closely with the State Department to get ambassadorship positions filled and have had great success in getting some of the most qualified and credible individuals in place to serve as representatives for our country,” White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said.

Nomination process slowed to a crawl

Before taking office, President Donald Trump told all politically-appointed ambassadors that they had to vacate the posts by Inauguration Day on Jan. 20 He made clear there would be “no exemptions,” according to The New York Times.

This left a vacuum at embassies that has yet to be filled, as a third of ambassadors are political appointees.

The process for nominating and confirming ambassadors is an arduous one that takes three months at best. It starts with the White House Office of Personnel submitting its list of nominees to the State Department, which sends back its approvals to the White House to then nominate the ambassadors to the Senate for confirmation.

Nominees must go through a rigorous, FBI vetting process after they’ve been approved by the White House. They must also go to ambassador school for training.

For career ambassadors, the State Department offers selected names to the White House for approval, which are then put to the Senate for confirmation.

But State Department sources say the process has slowed to a crawl.

One White House official complained that Tillerson has been reluctant to approve ambassador recommendations from the White House because they are more ideologically aligned with Trump than the secretary of state's “establishment” positions.

But a State Department official countered that the agency has been stifled by severe political filtering of potential career appointees.

The official said the White House is shutting out nominees seen as too politically aligned with the Obama administration or too deeply involved in policy decisions that Trump has vowed to repeal, like the Iran nuclear deal.

'Working through the process'

All of this has had a big impact on U.S. diplomacy, sources tell ABC News.

“The ambassador gets access that’s hard to replicate. For sensitive negotiations, there’s no alternative to having someone on the ground to have those conversations," said Gardner, the former envoy to the EU who, before Trump took office, was working on sensitive issues like privacy shields and trade.

At Tillerson’s first stop in Brussels, he gave a pep talk to U.S. diplomats based in Belgium working in the NATO, European Union and Belgian missions.

At the residence for the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, where no ambassador is currently living, Tillerson noted the elephant in the room.

"We're still awaiting a lot of nominees to clear the processes and be confirmed," Tillerson said. "I get a little criticism for that from time to time."

He added, "The State Department is not missing a beat because we're still working through the process.”

Tillerson was introduced by NATO Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the only political appointee carrying out her term from the three embassies in Belgium.

After Brussels, he stopped at a U.S. Air Force base in Germany to be briefed for his upcoming trip to Africa in 2018. But again, he was not greeted by an ambassador.

In Germany, there is a nominee for ambassador, Richard Grenell, who is awaiting Senate confirmation.

U.S. Ambassador to France Jamie McCourt, a businesswoman from California, was confirmed by the Senate in November along with four other ambassadors to European countries including Spain, Croatia, Switzerland and Denmark.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Woody Johnson was confirmed in August.

In addition, Wess Mitchell was recently confirmed as the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs. He’s based in Washington, D.C.

A sharp contrast

The empty ambassador posts in Europe contrast sharply with the status of similar positions in other parts of the world.

Trump was quick to name his ambassadors to Israel and China, two countries he made a priority on the campaign trail. He said he could solve Middle East peace and fix China’s currency manipulation.

Traditionally, the European Union has been a close ally of the U.S.

But Trump in July tweeted his support for the U.K. breaking away from the EU.

“Working on major Trade Deal with the United Kingdom. Could be very big & exciting. JOBS! The E.U. is very protectionist with the U.S. STOP!” Trump tweeted.

Brexiteer and anti-EU politician Nigel Farage has been a friend and surrogate for Trump with a similar populist message.

A White House official said the timing of ambassador appointments has nothing to do with priority, but more to do with the length of the background check process and the acceptance of the nominee by the host country.

And, one senior EU diplomat said vacancies in U.S. embassies are the not the most important concerns in dealing with the new administration.

“It doesn’t matter who the ambassadors are, it’s the policy,” the diplomat said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Dec092017

Elaborate sand sculptures depict the birth of Jesus

Torsten Laursen/Getty Images(MADRID) -- The world's best sand sculptors come out each December to help build a giant nativity scene on the Las Canteras Beach in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain.

The tradition was started by Canarian artist Etual Ojeda in the early 1980s, when he began creating sand sculpture works centered around the nativity scene, featuring the traditional imagery of the Virgin Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.

Ojeda continued for a number of years, adding a new element to the Christmas scene each year, with other sculptors joining in.

Today, the sand sculpture nativity scene has grown into the largest open-air sand sculpture in the world.

Built by artisans from nine different countries, the sculpture uses over 2000 tons of sand, according to the Gran Canaria Tourist Board. It was visited by over 200,000 people in the last year alone.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Dec092017

Tillerson ends Europe trip after wave of rebukes on Trump positions

Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)(WASHINGTON) -- During his week in Europe, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sought to shoot down any perceptions of distance between him and Trump while answering questions from allies at every turn about the president’s most controversial decisions, including his bombshell midweek announcement that the U.S. was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

But Tillerson defiantly made his way to Europe on Monday, telling reporters he’s here to stay.

“You all need to get some new sources,” he said.

On Tuesday in Brussels, he stood next to the European Union’s chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, while she condemned the U.S. for abandoning the Iran nuclear deal. The next day at the NATO headquarters, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, ahead of walking into a meeting with Tillerson, called the U.S.’s Jerusalem decision a “grave mistake.”

After that, the U.K.’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stepped away from Tillerson to insist that the U.S. implement their Middle East process immediately.

Throughout the week, Tillerson faced questions from the press about whether the U.S.'s European allies will still stand with the U.S., given that the new administration has abandoned the Europeans on agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran nuclear deal.

But Tillerson seemed to suggest that the door is still open on issues that Trump has wholly dismissed.

The "truth of the matter is, we’ve not disengaged from the climate discussions,” Tillerson said at a press conference in Vienna. He noted that the U.S. still sent a representative to the United Nations' Climate Change conference. In the past, Trump has seemed skeptical of climate change.

And though the president has called the Iran deal an “embarrassment,” Tillerson said this week that the U.S. is still a part of the deal.

“We are using that agreement and working with our European partners in particular to truly hold Iran accountable to its responsibilities as to its nuclear program,” he said.

Tillerson had a short break from rebukes at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, where Ukraine was top of the agenda. He sought to rally European allies to be more aggressive with Russia, calling it the “biggest threat to European security.”

He also came seeking commitments from Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to protect peacekeeping forces in Ukraine and to ultimately halt Russian aggression in the region.

On Thursday, when asked what type of progress came of meeting with Lavrov, Tillerson said, “We get progress. That’s what we get.”

"We get dialogue. We get cooperation,” he added. “We don’t have it solved. You don’t solve it in one meeting."

Tillerson called Ukraine the "single most difficult obstacle to normalizing relations with Russia," omitting any mentions of election interference or cyberhacking.

For his part, Lavrov was one of the few leaders who did not publicly condemn Tillerson for the Jerusalem announcement. In fact, when pressed, he claimed he couldn’t hear a question on the matter twice shouted by ABC News.

The next day in Paris, Tillerson faced pushback on Jerusalem from the French President Emmanuel Macron and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri while he sat in the front row of the French foreign minister’s office watching their statements.

Tillerson also weighed in on Saudi Arabia's blocking humanitarian aid to Yemen, saying, “I think we would encourage [the Saudis] to be a bit more measured and a bit more thoughtful in those actions to, I think, fully consider the consequences.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Dec082017

White House calls on Saudi-led coalition to end blockade in Yemen, as humanitarian crisis escalates

iStock/Thinkstock(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) -- The White House called on the Saudi-led coalition Friday to allow aid and commercial goods into Yemen, as the humanitarian crisis there continues to escalate.

Two weeks ago, the coalition -- which has been fighting Yemeni Houthi rebels for almost 3 years -- eased an air, land, and sea blockade of Yemen that had been in place for three weeks, putting millions at risk of starvation, according to the United Nations.

The White House praised Saudi Arabia for opening one seaport and airport, but had called for "additional steps" to ensure an unfettered flow of humanitarian aid.

When that didn't happen, President Donald Trump increased his pressure on the country, directing his administration to call the leaders of Saudi Arabia "to request that they completely allow food, fuel, water, and medicine to reach the Yemeni people who desperately need it."

"This must be done for humanitarian reasons immediately," Trump said in a statement on Wednesday.

Now, the White House is repeating its call for the coalition to facilitate aid and goods through all Yemeni ports and allow commercial flights to resume out of Sana’a Airport.

"The Iranian-backed Houthi militias must allow food, medicine, and fuel to be distributed throughout the areas they control, rather than diverted to sustain their military campaign against the Yemeni people," Friday's statement reads. "This humanitarian aid must be allowed to immediately reach all points of need."

Last weekend, the chiefs of several United Nations agencies and other top humanitarian officials said millions of Yemenis depend on supplies that can't get through the Saudi blockade, and many cities are already out of fuel, which means health and facilities can't operate.

Nearly 400,000 Yemeni children suffer from severe acute malnutrition and more than 8 million Yemenis “could starve without urgent food assistance coming into Yemen,” they said.

The most recent White House statement also condemned the killing of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Salih by the Houthis on Monday, as well as "their reckless missile attacks" against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Salih had ruled Yemen for over three decades before being ousted during the Arab Spring in 2012.

"The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its partners are arming, advising, and enabling the Houthis’ violent actions, which accelerate the cycle of violence and human suffering, obstruct the flow of humanitarian aid, and disrupt efforts toward a political resolution," the White House said on Friday.

Separately, the U.S. military announced on Friday that U.S. airstrikes had killed five al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants on Nov. 20.

AQAP continues to operate in southern areas of Yemen in the midst of the country's years-long civil war.

The U.S. military regularly strikes AQAP targets, and more recently in October, struck ISIS training camps in the same area.

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