By Arshad Mohammed and Andrew Osborn LONDON (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid a U.S. military strike by surrendering all his chemical weapons within a week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday, but immediately made clear he was not making a serious offer. President Barack Obama is seeking support from Congress for punitive military action against Syria over a suspected chemical weapons attack in a civil war that the United Nations says has killed at least 100,000 people. When asked by a reporter in London whether there was anything Assad's government could do or offer to stop a military strike, Kerry answered: "Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week - turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting (of it), but he isn't about to do it and it can't be done." The State Department later said Kerry had been making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility of Assad turning over chemical weapons, which Assad denies his forces used in the August 21 poison gas attack. In an interview with U.S. television network CBS, Assad said the United States would be going against its own interests if it got involved in Syria, warning of repercussions. Russian President Vladimir Putin, Assad's only big-power supporter, says opponents of Assad staged the attack to provoke U.S.-led military intervention, an allegation Kerry dismissed out of hand on Monday. Putin's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, met Assad's foreign minister, Walid al-Moualem, in Moscow on Monday and the two urged Washington to concentrate on convening a Syrian peace conference rather than on military action. Moualem suggested the chemical attack was a pretext to trigger military intervention and asked whether Obama was backing "terrorists" - an allusion to radical Islamists, who are prominent in the ranks of rebels fighting to topple Assad. WAR IN SYRIA Kerry said he was confident of the evidence that the United States and its allies had presented to support their case that Assad's forces used poison gas, though he said he understood skepticism lingering from the 2003 Iraq war - in which cited intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was later proven wrong. He avoided directly answering a question on whether the United States had evidence directly linking Assad to the alleged August 21 chemical weapons attack, but said such weapons were controlled by only three people in Syria: Assad, his brother Maher, and an unnamed general. Kerry, a former lawyer, said he had successfully prosecuted people with less evidence and warned that doing nothing was worse than doing something, saying inaction would come back to haunt the United States and its allies. "If you want to send Iran and Hezbollah and Assad a congratulatory message: 'You guys can do what you want,' you'd say: 'Don't do anything.' "We believe that is dangerous and we will face this down the road in some more significant way if we're not prepared to take ... a stand now," Kerry said. When asked about the CBS interview with Assad, British Foreign Secretary William Hague cautioned against giving too much weight to the Syrian president's words. "We mustn't fall into the trap of attaching too much credibility to the words of a leader, President Assad, who has presided over so many war crimes and crimes against humanity (and) shown such a murderous disregard for the welfare of his own people," Hague said. "So let's not fall into the trap of believing every word that ... comes out of such a man." Kerry stressed that ties between Britain and the United States were as strong as ever despite the British parliament voting not to endorse military action against Syria, prompting a government decision not to take part. "The relationship between the United States and the UK has often been described as special, essential and it has been described thus because it is," Kerry said. "The bond ... is bigger than one (parliamentary) vote." While in London, Kerry said he had held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he described as "productive", but did not give further details. (Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Stephen Addison and Mark Heinrich)
- NBC News
"The situation at the border isn't going to be transformed overnight," a senior Biden transition official told NBC News in an exclusive interview.
- Associated Press
A New Mexico county official and founder of the group Cowboys for Trump who had vowed to return to Washington after last week’s riot at the U.S. Capitol to place a flag on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk has been arrested Sunday by the FBI. Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin was arrested on charges of illegally entering the U.S. Capitol. According to court documents, Griffin told investigators that he was “caught up” in the crowd, which pushed its way through the barricades and entered the restricted area of the U.S. Capitol, but he said he did not enter the building and instead remained on the U.S. Capitol steps.
- National Review
Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) warned Friday that one-third of Republican voters could leave the party if GOP senators vote in impeachment proceedings to convict President Trump. Paul made the comments in an interview on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle. The senator’s remarks come amid an increasing divide between congressional Republicans who oppose impeaching the president and a smaller number who support the measure following the riots at the Capitol on January 6. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) is reportedly hopeful that Republicans can use impeachment to purge Trump from the GOP, although he would need the support of at least 16 additional Republican senators to vote to convict. “Look, I didn’t agree with the [Capitol] fight that happened last week, and I voted against overturning the election, but at the same time, the impeachment is a wrongheaded, partisan notion, [and] if Republicans go along with it, it’ll destroy the party,” Paul said during the interview. “A third of the Republicans will leave the party,” Paul continued. “This isn’t about, anymore, the Electoral College, this is about the future of the party, and whether you’re going to ostracize and excommunicate President Trump from the party. Well, guess what? Millions of his fans will leave as well.” While a majority of Americans believe Trump should be removed from office immediately, just 17 percent of Republicans support expelling Trump from the presidency, according to an Axios–Ipsos poll released on Thursday. Support for Trump among Republicans has fallen since the Capitol riots; however, 60 percent believe the party should continue to follow Trump once he leaves office, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Sunday that a convoy of trucks carrying emergency oxygen supplies for Brazil's northern Amazonas state, where a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic has hit hard, has departed and is set to arrive at the border by Monday morning. Reading from a message sent by Justo Noguera, governor of Venezuela's southern Bolivar state, Maduro said during a state television appearance that the six trucks would arrive at the Santa Elena de Uairen border crossing by morning, where they would be handed over to Brazilian health authorities. From there, the trucks - carrying some 136,000 liters of oxygen, enough to fill 14,000 individual canisters - would take 14 hours to arrive in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas, whose hospital system is collapsing due to the pandemic.
- The Week
Israel has vaccinated at least 25 percent of its population against the coronavirus so far, which leads the world and makes it "the country to watch for herd effects from" the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, says infectious disease expert David Fishman. Recently, the case rate in Israel appears to have declined sharply, and while there could be a few reasons for that, it's possible the vaccination effort is beginning to play a role.> Israel's reproduction number appears to have declined rather sharply in recent days, with around 25% of the country vaccinated, and some additional percentage having at least partial immunity via prior infection. pic.twitter.com/sVyCYYd9dj> > — David Fisman (@DFisman) January 17, 2021One study from Clalit that was published last week reports that 14 days after receiving the first Pfizer-BioNTech shot, infection rates among 200,000 Israelis older than 60 fell 33 percent among those vaccinated compared to 200,000 from the same demographic who hadn't received a jab.At first glance, Fishman writes, that might seem disappointing since clinical trials suggested the vaccine was more than 90 percent effective. But he actually believes the 33 percent figure is "auspicious." Because vaccinated and non-vaccinated people are mingling, there could be "herd effects of immunization." In other words, when inoculated people interact with people who haven't had their shot, the latter individual may still be protected because the other person is. On a larger scale, that would drive down the number of infections among non-vaccinated people, thus shrinking the gap between the two groups' infection rates.> Estimated vaccine efficacy is a function of relative risk of infection in the vaccinated...when there is indirect protection via herd effects, we expect efficacy estimates to decrease because the risk among unvaccinated individuals declines.> > — David Fisman (@DFisman) January 17, 2021More data needs to come in, and Fishman thinks "we'll know more" this week, but he's cautiously optimistic about how things are going.More stories from theweek.com 5 more scathing cartoons about Trump's 2nd impeachment Trump's vaccine delay is getting suspicious New Yorker reporter's footage provides 'clearest view yet' of Capitol rioters inside Senate chamber
- NBC News
She displayed "a round metallic object later identified as a Military Police Challenge Coin" and said she was part of law enforcement, police said.
Kevin McCarthy warned members to not call out colleagues by name, citing potential political violence
Members of the House Republican Conference ignored leader Kevin McCarthy last week when he warned them against criticizing colleagues by name based on intelligence that doing so could trigger more political violence. Why it matters: McCarthy made clear that name-dropping opponents, instead of spelling out complaints in more general terms, can put a literal target on a politician, especially with tensions so high following the events of Jan. 6.Get smarter, faster with the news CEOs, entrepreneurs and top politicians read. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.That's what happened to Rep. Liz Cheney, the GOP conference chairperson, after she said she would support impeaching President Trump. * She and several other members had to increase their security and take extra precautions because of death threats and other alarming warnings after their colleagues singled them out in their complaints.What McCarthy said: The House minority leader issued his warning during a conference call last Monday. He said his concern was driven by the FBI briefings he receives. * "It doesn’t matter which side of the position you were: I respect it, I respect why you did what you did. But what we are saying on television, when we say a member’s name. ... This is not the moment in time to do it." * "You can incite something else. The country is very divided and we know this. Let’s not put any member, I don’t care who they are Republican, Democrat or any person not even in Congress. Watch our words closely. I get these reports on a weekly basis. I’ve seen something I haven’t seen before.”Several minutes later, McCarthy repeated the message: “Emotions are high. What you say matters. Let’s not put other people in danger. Let’s watch what words we’re using and definitely not be using other members' names in any media.”Days later, some GOP members ignored him and openly criticized their colleagues * Rep. Adam Kinzinger tweeted that the name of his Republican colleague, Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene, "will be one forgotten by next January." * Rep. Lauren Boebart (R-Colo.) mocked Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the House's new mask fines.One of the most blatant attacks, leading to a media firestorm, was when several members of the House Freedom Caucus went after Cheney for voting to impeach Trump. * On the day of the vote, the members circulated a petition to remove her from her leadership role. * Cheney is now fielding a series of threats against her, many from fiery Trump supporters angered by her vote, a source with direct knowledge of the threat said. * “We don’t comment on security matters,” Cheney’s communications director, Jeremy Adler, told Axios.What we’re hearing: McCarthy's team told Axios he isn't looking for repercussions. Spokesman Matt Sparks said the leader wants to lower the temperature and is encouraging members to be mindful of the current environment.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.
- The Independent
The latest updates from the White House and beyond on 17 January 2021
The U.S. Army has identified a 1st Armored Division staff sergeant from Fort Bliss, Texas found dead at his home Thursday.
Britain's government said on Saturday it would give financial aid to airports before the end of March, after the industry called for urgent support as tighter COVID-19 rules for international travellers start on Monday. Aviation minister Robert Courts said the government would launch a new support program this month. "The Airport and Ground Operations Support Scheme will help airports reduce their costs and we will be aiming to provide grants before the end of this financial year," he announced on social media, adding that more details would follow soon.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) called on his Republican Party to rebuild itself and "repudiate the nonsense that has set our party on fire" in an in an op-ed for The Atlantic Saturday on the QAnon conspiracy theory.Why it matters: Many of the mob involved in the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots wore items signaling their support for the far-right QAnon and a prominent member of the cult was among those arrested following the siege.Get smarter, faster with the news CEOs, entrepreneurs and top politicians read. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here. * Several Republicans who ran for Congress last year publicly supported or defended the QAnon movement or some of its tenets — something Sasee noted in his op-ed, headlined "QAnon is Destroying the GOP From Within." * Sasse blames the violence on "the blossoming of a rotten seed that took root in the Republican Party some time ago and has been nourished by treachery, poor political judgment, and cowardice."Driving the news: Sasse wrote in his op-ed that "until last week, many party leaders and consultants thought they could preach the Constitution while winking at QAnon." * "They can't," he added. "The GOP must reject conspiracy theories or be consumed by them. Now is the time to decide what this party is about." * Sasse criticized House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for not denouncing QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) when she was running for Congress in 2020. * "She's already announced plans to try to impeach Joe Biden on his first full day as president," Sasse wrote. "She'll keep making fools out of herself, her constituents, and the Republican Party."Worth noting: Sasse said before the House impeached President Trump for a second time he'd consider "definitely consider" any articles of impeachment against him over his conduct and comments at a rally before the riots. * The Nebraska senator criticized Trump's embrace of QAnon supporters last August, warning that Democrats could "take the Senate" this "will be a big part of why they won." * Months later, the Democrats went on to win control of the Senate.The bottom line: Sasse wrote that his party faces a choice when Trump leaves office: "We can dedicate ourselves to defending the Constitution and perpetuating our best American institutions and traditions, or we can be a party of conspiracy theories."Go deeper: * The Capitol siege's QAnon roots * House freshmen at war after Capitol siegeSupport safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
- Associated Press
In taking charge of a Pentagon battered by leadership churn, the Biden administration will look to one holdover as a source of military continuity: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. President-elect Joe Biden will inherit Milley as his senior military adviser, and although Biden could replace Milley, he likely won't. A Princeton-educated history buff with the gift of gab, Milley has been a staunch defender of the military’s apolitical tradition even as President Donald Trump packed the Pentagon with political loyalists.
- The Telegraph
Almost a third of recovered Covid patients will end up back in hospital within five months and one in eight will die, alarming new figures have shown. Research by Leicester University and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found there is a devastating long-term toll on survivors of severe coronavirus, with many people developing heart problems, diabetes and chronic liver and kidney conditions. Out of 47,780 people who were discharged from hospital in the first wave, 29.4 per cent were readmitted to hospital within 140 days, and 12.3 per cent of the total died. The current cut-off point for recording Covid deaths is 28 days after a positive test, so it may mean thousands more people should be included in the coronavirus death statistics. Researchers have called for urgent monitoring of people who have been discharged from hospital.
- The Independent
Biden’s plan to get 100m Americans vaccinated in first 100 days is ‘doable,’ Dr Fauci says
- Yahoo News Video
The spokesman for Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert has quit less than two weeks after she was sworn into office, saying he felt like he need to due to the insurrection at the nation's Capitol.
Fanny Mergui has no doubt: Moroccan Jews "are already packing their suitcases" to board direct flights to Israel after the kingdom normalised ties with the Jewish state.
- Miami Herald
A man who did prison time for aggravated stalking and has convictions for domestic violence and violating a restraining order has an 18-year-old girl he has kidnapped at gunpoint, Pembroke Pines police said.
- National Review
Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) on Sunday advised the president not to grant presidential pardons to the rioters who stormed the Capitol this month, warning that doing so would “destroy” Trump. “Mr. President, your policies will stand the test of time. You’re the most important figure in the Republican party. You can shape the direction of the party. Keep your movement alive,” Graham said on Fox News. “There are a lot of people urging the president to pardon folks who participated in defiling the Capitol, the rioters,” Graham continued. “I don’t care if you went there and spread flowers on the floor, you breached the security of the Capitol, you interrupted a joint session of Congress, you tried to intimidate us all, you should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and to seek a pardon of these people would be wrong. I think it would destroy President Trump and I hope we don’t go down that road.” On Wednesday, a large group of Trump supporters overpowered Capitol Police and forced their way into the halls of Congress. Pence and the assembled lawmakers evacuated the Senate floor, where a joint session of Congress was being held to certify the presidential election results. The violence followed a rally outside the White House earlier in the day where President Trump addressed the “Save America March” and repeated his claims that November’s election was rife with voter fraud that threatened to deprive him of his rightful second term. The violence on January 6 resulted in five dead, including a Capitol Police officer. Since then, dozens of criminal cases have been brought in connection with the riot. Graham defended Trump’s rhetoric at the rally, which received bipartisan condemnation and sparked a second impeachment against the president by House Democrats. “President Trump never said, ‘Go into the capitol and try to interrupt a joint session of Congress.’ That was the choice they made and they need to live with that choice,” Graham said. Graham added that there were “irregularities in mail-in voting,” but said “the election is over,” noting that the electoral votes have been certified.” “It is now time to move on,” the South Carolina Republican said. Graham also had a message for incoming president Joe Biden, calling on him to stand up against the second impeachment of Trump, which the Senate is expected to take up after he leaves office.
Guatemalan security forces on Sunday used sticks and tear gas to beat back a large migrant caravan bound for the United States, just days before the advent of a new U.S. administration, which urged travelers to abandon the journey. Between 7,000 and 8,000 migrants, including families with young children, have entered Guatemala since Friday, authorities say, fleeing poverty and violence in a region hammered by the coronavirus pandemic and back-to-back hurricanes in November. "Guatemala's message is loud and clear: These types of illegal mass movements (of people) will not be accepted, that's why we are working together with the neighboring nations to address this as a regional issue," the Guatemalan president's office said in emailed comments.
- Associated Press
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Sunday that his government has agreed with a U.N. proposal to delay shipments of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to countries like Mexico that had exiting purchase agreements, in order to get more doses to poorer countries quicker. López Obrador said the delayed shipments would be made up later. “Anyway, that won't change our plan, because we are already seeking out other vaccines,”' López Obrador said, referring to the AstraZeneca vaccine as well as the Chinese CanSino and Russian Sputnik V vaccines, neither of which has been approved for use yet.