Nation & World briefs: 1-2-18

Iran protests: Supreme leader blames ‘enemies’ for meddling

TEHRAN, Iran — Breaking his silence over nationwide protests that included calls for his ouster, Iran’s supreme leader on Tuesday blamed the demonstrations on “enemies of Iran,” saying they were meddling in its internal affairs.

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The remarks by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the demonstrations — the largest seen in Iran since its disputed 2009 presidential election — came after a bloody night that saw protesters try to storm a police station and the first deaths among its security forces. The unrest has killed at least 21 people in the past six days.

The protests began Dec. 28 in Mashhad over the weak economy and a jump in food prices. They have since expanded to cities and towns in nearly every province. Hundreds have been arrested, and a prominent judge warned that some could face the death penalty.

Speaking to black-chador-clad women who were relatives of veterans and war dead, the 78-year-old Khamenei warned of an enemy “waiting for an opportunity, for a crack through which it can infiltrate.”

“Look at the recent days’ incidents,” he said. “All those who are at odds with the Islamic Republic have utilized various means, including money, weapons, politics and (the) intelligence apparatus, to create problems for the Islamic system, the Islamic Republic and the Islamic Revolution.”

Trump threatens to cut off US aid to Palestinian Authority

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is threatening to cut off U.S. aid money to the Palestinian Authority and acknowledging that the Middle East peace process appears to be stalled.

Trump says in a pair of tweets that, “we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue … peace treaty with Israel.”

He adds that, “with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

Trump infuriated many when he announced late last year that the U.S. would consider Jerusalem the capital of Israel and move its embassy there.

Trump has long said he wants to broker Mideast peace, calling it “the ultimate deal.”

Trump throws full US support behind protesters in Iran

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Tuesday threw the weight of the U.S. government behind the protesters taking to the streets of Iran, rooting them on despite the risk of helping Iranian authorities dismiss a week of major demonstrations as the product of American instigation.

As Iran’s supreme leader accused “enemies of Iran” of trying to destabilize his country, the State Department pressed Tehran to unblock social media sites used by the protesters. It even offered advice to tech-savvy Iranians on circumventing state internet controls.

President Donald Trump declared it was “time for change” in Iran, and other officials floated the possibility of additional sanctions. At the United Nations, Ambassador Nikki Haley sought a Security Council meeting to show support for those protesting in the Islamic Republic.

“We want to help amplify the voices of the Iranian people,” said Haley, who appeared before cameras to recite the chants of protesters across Iran. She said Iran’s claim that other countries were fomenting the unrest was “complete nonsense,” describing the dissent as homegrown.

Borrowing from a response playbook it has used before, Iran’s government blamed the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Britain for the protests. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the 78-year-old supreme leader, said Iran’s enemies were using money, weapons, politics and spies “to create problems for the Islamic system, the Islamic Republic and the Islamic Revolution.”

Sen. Hatch to retire, opening door for possible Romney run

WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said Tuesday he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the Senate, opening the door for 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney to run for his seat.

The 83-year-old Hatch, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, opted for retirement despite a full-court press from President Donald Trump to stay in Washington, particularly as Romney’s ambition for the seat became apparent.

Romney was a vocal critic of Trump’s during the 2016 election and could be a potential thorn in the president’s side in the Senate. He also has drawn the ire of Trump’s former White House adviser, Steve Bannon, who recently derided Romney as a draft dodger who “hid behind” his Mormon religion to avoid serving in the Vietnam War.

Hatch said he decided to retire at the end of his seventh term after “much prayer and discussion with family and friends” over the holiday break. He said he’s always been a fighter, “but every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves.”

“Only in a nation like ours could someone like me — the scrappy son of a simple carpenter — grow up to become a United States Senator,” he added.

South Korea offers talks with North on Olympic cooperation

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea to find ways to cooperate on next month’s Winter Olympics in the South. Seoul’s quick proposal following a rare rapprochement overture from the North a day earlier offers the possibility of better ties after a year that saw a nuclear standoff increase fear of war on the Korean Peninsula.

In a closely watched New Year’s address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday that he was willing to send a delegation to the Olympics, though he also repeated fiery nuclear threats against the United States. Analysts say Kim may be trying to drive a wedge between Seoul and its ally Washington in a bid to reduce international isolation and sanctions against North Korea.

Kim’s overture was welcome news for a South Korean government led by liberal President Moon Jae-in, who favors dialogue to ease the North’s nuclear threats and wants to use the Pyeongchang Olympics as a chance to improve inter-Korean ties.

Moon’s unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, proposed in a nationally televised news conference that the two Koreas meet Jan. 9 at the shared border village of Panmunjom to discuss Olympic cooperation and how to improve overall ties.

Earlier Tuesday, Moon spoke of what he described as Kim’s positive response to his earlier dialogue overtures and ordered officials to study how to restore talks with North Korea and get the North to participate in the Olympics.

Most big public colleges don’t track suicides, AP finds

BOSTON — Most of the largest U.S. public universities do not track suicides among their students, despite making investments in prevention at a time of surging demand for mental health services.

Tabulating student suicides comes with its own set of challenges and problems. But without that data, prevention advocates say, schools have no way to measure their success and can overlook trends that could offer insight to help them save lives.

“If you don’t collect the data, you’re doing half the job,” said Gordon Smith, a former U.S. senator from Oregon who became a prevention advocate after his son, Garrett, took his life in 2003 while attending college. “We need information in mental health if we’re actually going to be able to better tailor health and healing.”

The Associated Press asked the 100 largest U.S. public universities for annual suicide statistics and found that 46 currently track suicides, including 27 that have consistently done so since 2007. Of the 54 remaining schools, 43 said they don’t track suicides, nine could provide only limited data and didn’t answer questions about how consistently they tracked suicides, and two didn’t provide statistics.

Schools that don’t track suicides include some of the nation’s largest, including Arizona State University and the University of Wisconsin, which have both dealt with student suicides in the recent past, according to news reports. There were at least two suicides at Arizona State in 2017. Health officials at Wisconsin said they’re finalizing a database to track the causes of student deaths.

Deadly cold disrupts US; warming centers open in Deep South

INDIANAPOLIS — Dangerously cold temperatures blamed for at least nine deaths have wreaked havoc across a wide swath of the U.S., freezing a water tower in Iowa, halting ferry service in New York and leading officials to open warming centers even in the Deep South.

The National Weather Service issued wind chill advisories and freeze warnings Tuesday covering a vast area from South Texas to Canada and from Montana through New England.

Indianapolis early Tuesday tied a record low of minus 12 degrees Fahrenheit (-24 Celsius) for Jan. 2 set in 1887, leading Indianapolis Public Schools to cancel classes. And the northwest Indiana city of Lafayette got down to minus 19 (-28 Celsius), shattering the previous record of minus 5 (-21 Celsius) for the date, set in 1979, the National Weather Service said. After residents there began complaining of a hum, Duke Energy said it was caused by extra power surging through utility lines to meet electricity demands.

“The temperatures are certainly extreme, but we’ve seen colder,” said Joseph Nield, a meteorologist in Indianapolis, noting that the all-time low temperature in Indiana was minus 36 (-38 Celsius) in 1994.

Nevertheless, the cold is nothing to trifle with, forecasters warned.

2 new faces and old partisan standoffs as Congress returns

WASHINGTON — There will be two fresh Senate faces and some familiar but stubborn clashes facing lawmakers Wednesday as Congress begins its 2018 session staring at the year’s first potential calamity — an election-year government shutdown unless there’s a bipartisan spending pact by Jan. 19.

Looking to prevent a closure of federal agencies, top White House officials planned to meet at the Capitol Wednesday with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and each chamber’s top Democrat.

Their goal is to find a compromise on raising limits on defense and domestic spending that eluded lawmakers before they left Washington for the holidays. In a statement Tuesday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Donald Trump wants a two-year pact “that provides realistic budget caps and provides certainty for our national security,” suggesting he was open to a bargain.

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In one complication, Democrats have linked closure on the budget to protecting from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. Both parties have been divided over the so-called Dreamers.

Parachuting into this is a Democratic duo whose Senate arrivals are extraordinary.