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  • Olivier Douliery/Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump could be presented with an option to approve a $47 million grant to allow the Ukrainian government to purchase American defense arms aimed at deterring aggression from pro-Russian separatists, three State Department officials tell ABC News.National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster has been presented with three options for arming the Ukrainians as outlined in an interagency memo sent last week to the National Security Council. Of those three options, the State Department and Defense Department are advocating for the $47 million arms package funding, according to a State Department source.Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Gen. Jim Mattis have been in discussions since June about how to best make the sale, which could include anti-tank missiles that require approval from the president and Congress.A State Department official cautioned that the proposal is unlikely to get approval while Trump is on a 13-day foreign trip to Asia.The State Department declined to comment on the details of the recommendation.Kurt Volker, the department’s special representative for Ukraine negotiations, also declined to confirm any final decision.“Ukraine has been facing a conflict on its own territory for the last three years. ... It is a reasonable thing for a country to defend itself, and it’s also reasonable for others to help countries defend themselves as well,” he said.In an email, National Security Council spokesperson Michael Anton told ABC News, “The U.S. has never ruled in or out lethal aid to Ukraine, and we have no announcement at this time.”Ukrainian officials have been publicly optimistic about relations with the United States.“We are really satisfied with the acceleration of U.S.-Ukraine relations at the moment,” Artur Gerasymov, a member of Ukrainian parliament and chairman of a military subcommittee, told the publication Foreign Policy in late October.Mattis stressed the administration's desire to strengthen ties with Ukraine in an August press conference in Kiev with President Petro Poroshenko."This permits me, better informed, to go back and advocate for what I believe you need, as brought to me by your minister of defense and, certainly, your president," Mattis said. "For example, we've just approved -- just very recently, last couple of weeks -- another $175 million worth of equipment, including some specialized equipment that can be used to help defend the country, bringing to a total of nearly $750 million in the last several years."Mattis also said U.S. military leadership was reviewing the American position on providing defensive lethal weapons."I would also point out that, on the defensive lethal weapons ... we are actively reviewing it," Mattis said. "I will go back now -- having seen the current situation -- and be able to inform the secretary of state and the president in very specific terms what I recommend for the direction ahead."The decision to offer Ukraine a U.S. grant to purchase defense arms to deter aggression from pro-Russian separatists would be a shift from Trump’s position on the campaign trail. At the time, he vowed not to weigh in on arming Ukraine and promised a reset in relations with Russia.The Obama administration did not provide arms assistance to Ukraine during the conflict that started in 2014 over the annexation of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine by the Russian Federation. Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(SAITAMA, Japan) -- Donald Trump and Shinzo Abe first bonded over a gifted golden golf club in honor of Trump’s election. Then, Trump invited the Japanese prime minister to play a round at his exclusive private course in Mar-a-Lago, Florida.Now, Abe is returning the favor on the president’s first official visit to Japan -- and making a round of golf the first official activity of Trump’s 13-day Asia tour.The White House said Trump and Abe will play Sunday at the Kasumigaseki Country Club, the planned site of the 2020 Olympics golf tournament.The club said its guiding principle is “good fellowship, as expressed in the spirit of fair play, familiarity and trust in the members.”Building trust and personal rapport between the two leaders is one of the key objectives of the visit, administration and Japanese officials have said. The men also planned a private lunch at the club.Trump, 71, and Abe, 63, will be joined by 25-year-old Japanese professional golfer Hideki Matsuyama, according to the White House.“I wasn’t sure if I’d be good enough. But I hope to have fun so that it will be engraved in my memory,” Matsuyama, who is No. 4 in the PGA world rankings, said Friday at a tournament in Shanghai, according to the Japan Times.  When Trump hosted Abe in Florida in February 2016, he invited South African pro golfer Ernie Els to join the round.The Kasumigaseki course, founded in 1929, is widely considered the birthplace of Japan’s popular golf craze but has recently been at the center of controversy. Facing public criticism over the club’s policies toward women, 2020 Olympics organizers threatened to move to a different venue unless the rules were changed.The club ultimately ceded to pressure in March and now allows women to be full members.Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • ABC News(TONGO TONGO, Niger) -- The operation in Niger that led to the death of four American soldiers was not a reconnaissance mission, as initially described by U.S. officials, but instead a kill-or-capture mission conducted without additional support requested by Nigerien forces, four senior Nigerien officials told ABC News.The American team leader also expressed concerns about the mission, after a second U.S. and Nigerien unit was unable to join them for the operation, a senior U.S. intelligence source said.While top Pentagon officials have described the mission as “reconnaissance,” local Nigerien military commanders said the Oct. 4 mission was always to kill or capture one of the most dangerous terrorist leaders in the country known locally as Dandou and code-named “Naylor Road” by the Americans.Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told reporters last week that the group of 12 U.S. and 30 Nigerien soldiers was on a "reconnaissance mission" when they were ambushed by about 50 ISIS-linked fighters outside the village of Tongo Tongo.Dunford emphasized that the U.S. was in an "advise and assist" role when partnering with the Nigerien force, but multiple sources in Niger told ABC News that the mission was organized and led by Americans from the start.Dandou is believed to be responsible for a number of attacks in Niger and has ties to ISIS and al-Qaeda, ABC News has learned. Nigerien officials said they believe he was involved in the deadly ambush against U.S. troops that killed Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright and Sgt. La David Johnson.Yet, even among American and Nigerien sources close to the investigation, there is discrepancy about the initial mission assigned to the team. While the Nigeriens insist it was “kill or capture” from the start, two U.S. intelligence sources told ABC News the team was first asked to meet local leaders and were only assigned the “Naylor Road” mission on their way back to base.Either way, the team proceeded in search of the target’s campsite in an overnight raid. The change in plan meant the team was out for over 24 hours, potentially putting them at greater risk.“They should have been up and back in a day,” a senior U.S. intelligence official told ABC News. “But they were up there so long on a mission that morphed. They were spotted, surveilled and ultimately hit.”One Nigerien military officer told ABC News that this second phase of the operation led the group to the Niger-Mali border, a dangerous area known to locals as the "red zone." The U.S. State Department warned on Monday that "terrorist organizations, armed groups and smugglers" operate in the area.Dunford, however, told reporters last week that leaders on the ground assessed that enemy contact was unlikely during the mission.A Nigerien officer said he asked for more soldiers and weapons to bolster the operation, but claimed that request was rejected by the American side.And there were more concerns raised later in the day.A second team, also composed of American and Nigerien forces, was supposed to join the mission, but for reasons that remain unclear, they were unable to do so. While one U.S. official told ABC News that weather had grounded the team, another senior American source disputed that claim and said miscommunication may have been to blame.The original 12-member team and their Nigerien partners were told to proceed on their own in a convoy of six to eight vehicles, one senior intelligence source said, despite concerns voiced by the American team leader.The Americans were traveling in two pickup trucks with mounted machine guns and one unarmed Land Cruiser. A fourth vehicle, said to have been provided to the Nigeriens by the CIA, had specialized surveillance equipment on board.Dunford said last week that he had no knowledge of CIA involvement.At least one of the American trucks was captu
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(OKINAWA, Japan) -- Two Hawaiian mariners who say they were stranded at sea for five months had an emergency beacon aboard their sailboat that was never activated, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.Jennifer Appel and Natasha “Tasha” Fuiava, who said they left Honolulu on May 3 aboard aboard a 50-foot sailboat, told Coast Guard officials that they never turned on the boat’s Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) because they never felt "truly in distress," nor did they think the situation was "dire" enough to warrant it, a spokesperson for Coast Guard District 14 confirmed to ABC News on Monday.The EPIRB -- which the Coast Guard confirmed was properly registered -- would have immediately notified search and rescue teams of a vessel in distress, officials said.Appel and Natasha Fuiava told reporters over the weekend that they feared they had less than 24 hours to live when they were rescued in the Pacific Ocean nearly 900 miles southeast of Japan.But some people said they have questions about their story.Linus Wilson, a boating expert and author of three sailing books, told ABC News that he wondered if the women had fabricated some of their claims.“Several of Ms. Appel’s statements about her voyage do not check out and don’t ring true to many experienced sailors,” he said in an e-mailed statement on Monday. “I think a reasonable person may start out thinking that Ms. Appel was just a foolish skipper, but it seems likely many events that she recounts may have been fabricated to sensationalize the story.”“It would be a shame if someone used a very expensive U.S. Navy rescue as a publicity stunt,” he added.Similarly, Phillip Johnson, a retired Coast Guard officer who was responsible for search and rescue operations, said something about the women’s story just doesn’t add up."There's something wrong there," Johnson told The Associated Press on Monday. "I've never heard of all that stuff going out at the same time."The Coast Guard said it has some additional questions for the women, but it characterized their process as a routine "review" and not an "investigation."Appel and Fuiava said they sent distress calls for 98 consecutive days, but got nothing. They had drifted thousands of miles in the wrong direction when a Taiwanese fishing vessel found them and allowed them to make a mayday call, they said.The women also declined to say why they felt they only had 24 hours to live.“I would love to answer that question now. I’m not actually allowed to answer that as long as we are on the vessel,” Appel said before going on to detail how their sailboat was damaged while it was being towed by the Taiwanese vessel.Appel and Fuiava, along with their dogs, Zeus and Valentine, made it to solid ground in Okinawa, where they credited the crew of the USS Ashland for saving their lives.The pair said they became stranded after storm hit and caused a mast malfunction. Soon, their engine flooded with water and nearly all of their communication capabilities were severed, according to the women.“We actually talked about how we believed we’d been left for dead,” Appel added.Despite the tumultuous journey, the women said they looked forward to recovering their damaged vessel and sailing the Pacific again."We would like to build the unsinkable and unbreakable boat ... and still sail the Pacific because we never got a chance to go to Tahiti," Appel said. "And we still never got to see the 20,000 islands, so I think that would be the most fantastic trip for May of next spring." Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • Zach Gibson/Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner recently traveled to Saudi Arabia, a senior White House official confirmed. The trip was not announced ahead of time.On his third trip to Saudi Arabia this year, Kushner, whose White House portfolio includes the Middle East, left the U.S. on Wednesday and returned Saturday. Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser, and Jason Greenblatt, the administration's Middle East envoy, accompanied him in Saudi Arabia. Greenblatt also traveled to Cairo, Amman, Jerusalem and Ramallah."The senior adviser to the president, the deputy national security adviser for strategy, and the special representative for international negotiations recently returned from Saudi Arabia," a senior White House official said. "The senior adviser has also been in frequent contact with officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Saudi Arabia."The White House official would not say whom Kushner met with while in Saudi Arabia, but reaffirmed the president's desire to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal."While these regional talks will play an important role, the president reaffirms that peace between Israelis and Palestinians can only be negotiated directly between the two parties and that the United States will continue working closely with the parties to make progress toward that goal," he said. "No deal will be imposed on Israelis and Palestinians; we are committed to facilitating a deal that improves conditions for both parties."Kushner has made several trips to the Middle East since joining the administration. Prior to this week, Kushner's most recent trip occurred in August, when he met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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