United Nations, Sept 24 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump made his political priorities clear Monday within an hour of arriving at the United Nations for a three-day visit: He breezed by a major climate change summit to focus instead on religious persecution, an issue that resonates with his evangelical supporters.
The climate summit, a centerpiece of this year's UN schedule, was not on Trump's agenda at all. But he stopped in to observe for about 15 minutes before heading to what he saw as the main event, a meeting on protecting religious freedom.
Trump said it was an "urgent moral duty" for world leaders to stop crimes against faith, release prisoners of conscience and repeal laws restricting religious liberty.
"Approximately 80% of the world's population live in countries where religious liberty is threatened, restricted or even banned," Trump said, adding that when he first heard the statistic, he didn't believe it and asked for verification.
Trump's speech Monday extends a long-running focus on international religious freedom that speaks to a key priority of his evangelical base. His administration has hosted annual meetings on the topic in Washington, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced during this year's event that he would create an international alliance dedicated to the issue.
Underscoring the importance of Trump's action on the issue to evangelical voters who are critical to his 2020 reelection bid, one prominent evangelical backer Dallas-based pastor Robert Jeffress lauded Trump for focusing on religious freedom instead of climate change.
"What president in history would have the guts to do what President Trump is doing?" Jeffress, who was set to be in the audience for Trump's speech, said on Fox News. "And it's this kind of leadership that is absolutely infuriating the president's enemies, but it's also energizing his base, especially his religious base of voters."
Trump listed his administration's efforts on religious freedom and declared, "We've done a lot."
As for the climate summit, he told reporters as he left: "I'm a big believer in clean air and clean water and all countries should get together and do that, and they should do it for themselves. Very, very important."
The Republican president arrived in New York against a backdrop of swirling international tensions, including questions about his relationship with Ukraine, the uncertain future of Brexit, the U.S. trade war with China, stalled nuclear negotiations with North Korea and a weakening global economy. The president met Monday with leaders of Pakistan, Poland, New Zealand, Singapore, Egypt and South Korea.
His most immediate challenge may be Iran. He will try to convince skeptical global capitals to help build a coalition to confront Tehran after the United States blamed it for last week's strike at an oil field in Saudi Arabia.
Asked as he arrived at the U.N. building if he will meet soon with Iran President Hassan Rouhani, Trump was noncommittal. "We'll see what happens," he said. "We have a long way to go, we'll see what happens."
Trump's fulfillment of a campaign promise to exit the Iran nuclear deal has had wide ripple effects, leading Tehran to bolster its nuclear capabilities and dismaying European capitals who worked to establish the original agreement.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran spiked after a Saudi Arabia oil field was partially destroyed in an attack that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed on Iran and deemed "an act of war."
He also was noncommittal about a possible fourth meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un to discuss the easing of sanctions in exchange for Pyongyang's commitment to give up its nuclear weapons. He said only that it "could happen soon."
Trump's meetings with other leaders highlighted other hot spots around the globe.
In his meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Trump was peppered with questions from Pakistani reporters about India's role in the crisis in Kashmir. Khan has invited Trump to mediate the long-running conflict between Pakistan and India over the disputed Himalayan region. India has not agreed to mediation, but Trump renewed his offer to play middleman between the two nuclear-armed nations.
"I've never failed as an arbitrator," he said.
With Polish President Andrzej Duda, Trump said more U.S. troops will be stationed in Poland as a result of a new defense cooperation agreement they signed. He said Poland asked the U.S. to station more troops there and will pay for the new facilities.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien-Loong and Trump signed a memorandum to update defense cooperation between the two nations.
With President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt, Trump talked about the recent attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities, which the U.S. has blamed on Iran, and about Libya, which slid into chaos after a 2011 uprising that left the country split between rival authorities in the country's east and west.
His meeting with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was closed, but the White House said their talks included a discussion of the March shooting deaths of 51 people at mosques in Christchurch.
Panguitch, Sep 21 (AP/UNB) — A tour bus crashed on a highway running through the red-rock landscape of southern Utah, killing four people from China and injuring dozens more.
On Friday, the bus from Southern California rolled onto a guard rail, crushing its roof and ramming the rail's vertical posts into the cab, Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Nick Street said.
Five passengers remained in critical condition Friday night, and the death toll could rise, he said.
All 31 people on board were hurt. Twelve to 15 were considered in critical condition shortly after the crash, but several of them have since improved, Street said. Not everyone was wearing a seatbelt, as is common in tour buses, he said.
The crash happened near a highway rest stop a few miles from southern Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park, an otherworldly landscape of narrow red-rock spires.
Authorities believe the driver swerved on the way to the park on Friday morning, but when he yanked the steering wheel to put the bus back onto the road the momentum sent the bus into a rollover crash.
The driver, an American citizen, survived and was talking with investigators, Street said. The driver didn't appear intoxicated, but authorities were still investigating his condition as well as any possible mechanical problems, he said.
There was some wind but not strong enough to cause problems, Street said.
The crash left the top of the white bus smashed inward and one side peeling away as the vehicle came to rest mostly off the side of the road against a sign for restrooms.
The National Transportation Safety Board was sending a team to investigate.
The company listed on the bus was America Shengjia Inc. Utah business records indicate it is based in Monterey Park, California. A woman answering the phone there did not have immediate comment.
Injured victims were sent to three hospitals. Intermountain Garfield Memorial Hospital said it received 17 patients, including three in critical condition and 11 in serious condition.
Patients also were taken to Cedar City and St. George hospitals.
Millions of people visit Utah's five national parks every year. Last year, about 87,000 people from China visited the state, making them the fastest-growing group of Utah tourists, according to state data.
More than half of visitors from China travel on tour buses, said Vicki Varela, managing director of Utah Office of Tourism.
The Chinese Embassy tweeted that it was saddened to learn of the crash and that it was sending staff to help the victims.
Bryce Canyon, about 300 miles (480 kilometers) south of Salt Lake City, draws more than 2 million visitors a year.
"You have a group from China who have worked hard to come to the states, got the visa and everything they needed, excited about it, and for a tragedy like this to happen it just makes it all the more tragic," Street said.
Washington, Sep 21 (AP/UNB) — The Pentagon says the U.S. will deploy additional troops and military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to beef up security, as President Donald Trump has at least for now decided against any immediate military strike on Iran in response to the attack on the Saudi oil industry.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper says this is a first step, and he is not ruling out additional moves down the road. He says it's a response to requests from the Saudis and the UAE to help improve their air and missile defenses.
Esper and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, say details of the deployments will be determined over the coming days.
President Donald Trump is signaling that he's not inclined to authorize an immediate military strike on Iran in response to the attacks on the Saudi oil industry, saying he believes showing restraint "shows far more strength" and he wants to avoid an all-out war.
Trump has laid out new sanctions on the Iranian central bank.
Trump spoke just before he gathered his national security team at the White House to discuss how to respond to the weekend drone and missile attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.
He left the door open a bit for a later military response, saying people thought he'd attack Iran "within two seconds." But he says he has "plenty of time."
Hiko, Sep 20 (AP/UNB) — About 75 people arrived early Friday at a gate at the once-secret Area 51 military base in Nevada — at the time appointed by an internet hoaxster to "storm" the facility to see space aliens — and at least two were detained by sheriff's deputies.
The "Storm Area 51" invitation spawned festivals in the tiny Nevada towns of Rachel and Hiko nearest the military site, and a more than two-hour drive from Las Vegas.
Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee estimated late Thursday that about 1,500 people had gathered at the festival sites and said more than 150 people also made the rugged trip several additional miles on bone-rattling dirt roads to get within selfie distance of the gates.
An Associated Press photographer said it wasn't immediately clear if a woman who began ducking under a gate and a man who urinated nearby were arrested after the crowd gathered about 3 a.m. Friday.
Lee scheduled a media briefing later Friday morning.
Millions of people had responded to a June internet post calling for people to run into the remote U.S. Air Force test site that has long been the focus of UFO conspiracy theories.
"They can't stop all of us," the post joked. "Lets see them aliens."
The military responded with stern warnings that lethal force could be used if people entered the Nevada Test and Training Range, and local and state officials said arrests would be made if people tried.
"It's public land," the sheriff said. "They're allowed to go to the gate, as long as they don't cross the boundary."
A music group called Wily Savage erected a stage Thursday near the Little A'Le'Inn in Rachel and began playing after dark for several hundred campers who braved overnight temperatures about 45 degrees (7 Celsius).
Daniel Martinez, 31, a Pokemon collectible cards dealer from Pomona, California, was among the first to whirl and dance at the dusty makeshift festival grounds — warm beneath a wolf "spirit hood" and matching faux fur jacket.
"Here's a big open space for people to be," he said. "One person starts something and it infects everybody with positivity. Anything can happen if you give people a place to be."
The entertainment kicked off weekend events that also feature a gathering Friday and Saturday at the Alien Research Center souvenir store in Hiko.
Owner George Harris said it would focus on music, movies and talks about extraterrestrial lore.
Authorities reported no serious incidents related to festivals scheduled until Sunday. Hiko and Rachel are about a 45-minute drive apart on a state road dubbed the Extraterrestrial Highway, and a two-hour drive from Las Vegas.
Earlier, as Wily Savage band members helped erect the wooden frame for a stage, guitarist Alon Burton said he saw a chance to perform for people looking for a scene in which to be seen.
"It started as a joke, but it's not a joke for us," he said. "We know people will come out. We just don't know how many."
Michael Ian Borer, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, sociologist who researches pop culture and paranormal activity, called the festivities sparked by the internet joke "a perfect blend of interest in aliens and the supernatural, government conspiracies, and the desire to know what we don't know."
The result, Borer said, was "hope and fear" for events that include the "Area 51 Basecamp" featuring music, speakers and movies in Hiko, and festivals in Rachel and Las Vegas competing for the name "Alienstock."
"People desire to be part of something, to be ahead of the curve," Borer said. "Area 51 is a place where normal, ordinary citizens can't go. When you tell people they can't do something, they just want to do it more."
Eric Holt, the Lincoln County emergency manager, said he believed authorities could handle 30,000 visitors at the two events. Still, neighbors braced for trouble after millions of people responded to the "Storm Area 51" Facebook post weeks ago.
"Those that know what to expect camping in the desert are going to have a good time," said Joerg Arnu, a Rachel resident who can see the festival grounds from his home.
Those who show up in shorts and flip-flops will find no protection against "critters, snakes and scorpions."
"It will get cold at night. They're not going to find what they're looking for, and they are going to get angry," Arnu said.
The Federal Aviation Administration closed nearby airspace, although Air Force jets could be heard in the sun-drenched skies, along with an occasional sonic boom.
New York, Sep 19 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump asked a federal judge Thursday to block an effort by New York prosecutors to obtain his tax returns.
Trump's attorneys filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New York against the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who recently subpoenaed the president's accounting firm for eight years of Trump's state and federal returns.
The lawsuit was not immediately made public. But Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow told The Associated Press the lawsuit is intended "to address the significant constitutional issues at stake in this case."
A message was left with Vance seeking comment. Trump's accounting firm declined to comment.
The lawsuit opens a new legal front in Trump's long-running fight to prevent his tax returns from becoming public. It comes as the Republican president already is fighting efforts by Democratic-led congressional committees to obtain his tax returns and other records that could provide a window into his finances.
Trump and three of his children filed a lawsuit in April seeking to block two House committees from getting records that his longtime lender, Deutsche Bank, has said includes tax returns. And in July, the president sued to block the application of a new state law in New York that could allow a House committee to obtain his state tax returns.
Vance also has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for records related to payments that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen helped arrange to a porn actress who claimed she had an affair with Trump. The Democratic district attorney is also pursuing a mortgage fraud case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.