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  • iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Never has any leader in Saudi Arabia had so much power since Ibn Saud founded the country in 1932.Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 32, has grabbed, consolidated and inherited much of the power over the kingdom, still officially ruled by his father, King Salman, 81.Widely known by his initials, MBS, the young prince's critics call him a reckless hothead while his supporters say he is a bold, young leader.He was promoted to crown prince last summer, leapfrogging over his older cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, as the heir apparent.His titles now include defense minister, deputy prime minister, chair of the Supreme Economic Council, head of a council overseeing the state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco, head of the Public Investment Fund and a pivotal member of the Council of Political and Security Affairs, among others.He is the favorite son of King Salman, and before his swift ascension to power as the state's number two, he was the head of his father's royal court. Shortly after Salman became king in January 2015, MBS was appointed defense minister at just 29 years old.Battling Iranian influenceTwo months later, the young, untested defense minister sent Saudi forces into war in Yemen, ostensibly to counter Iranian influence in the region.Speaking to The Economist last year in one of his rare interviews with Western press, MBS said "[The timing of the war] has nothing to do with the fact that I became minister. It has everything to do with what the Houthis did.""I have surface-to-surface missiles right now on my borders," he added. "Is there any country in the world who would accept the fact that a militia with this kind of armament should be on their borders?"Saudi forces, armed with American weapons, are fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, but the cost is high and the Houthis maintain control over Yemen while millions starve. According to UNICEF, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is dire.“More than 20 million people, including over 11 million children, are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. At least 14.8 million are without basic health care and an outbreak of cholera has resulted in more than 900,000 suspected cases," UNICEF says.When asked about the strategic goals in Yemen, MBS told The Economist, "All of our efforts are to push for the political solution. But this does not mean we will allow for the militia to expand on the ground, they must realize that every day they do not get closer to the political solution, they lose on the ground."In his most recent television interview, on Saudi TV and Al Arabiya in May, MBS ruled out any dialogue with Iranian officials, saying Iran’s goal was “to control the Islamic world” and to spread its Shiite doctrine.He added that in Saudi Arabia, "We know we are a main target of Iran."Now, seven months since that interview, tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are even higher following the kingdom's latest provocation and an ensuing crisis involving its longtime ally, Lebanon.Two weeks ago, Saudi Arabia summoned Lebanon's Sunni Muslim prime minister, Saad Hariri, and forced him to resign publicly on Saudi television.Hariri's fiery resignation statement blamed Iran for interfering in "the internal affairs of Arab countries." Hariri, also a Saudi citizen, has long been a weak leader of a Lebanon government partly controlled by the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah.Shortly after his resignation, a rocket flew over the Saudi border from Yemen. “The involvement of Iran in supplying missiles to the Houthis is a direct military aggression by the Iranian regime,” the Saudi news agency SPA reported MBS as saying, “and may be considered an act of war against the kingdom.” Iran denies that it supports the Houthis.Also as defense minister, MBS inked the latest multibillion dollar arms deal with the United States. And since January, he has become close to the Trump administration, notably, Trump's son-in-law
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  • PeterHermesFurian/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Though President Donald Trump is on a high-profile visit to Asia this week, North Korea has refrained from testing another ballistic missile or nuclear bomb, making this the longest period of time in which the regime has not conducted a test since Trump took office.Is it a sign the administration's approach to North Korea is working, even as Washington and Pyongyang continue to exchange volleys in a war of words?North Korea tested its first missile just 22 days after Trump was inaugurated on Jan. 20. Between March and May, the regime was conducting tests approximately every one to two weeks.It has been 56 days since North Korea's last ballistic missile test -- an intermediate-range KN-17 that flew over the Japanese island of Hokkaido.As Trump has made his way through South Korea, Japan and China this week -- touting the strength of the U.S. alliance and commanding North Korea to "not try us" -- the regime has remained quiet.In his address to the South Korean National Assembly this week, Trump directly spoke to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, telling him his weapons are putting his country in "grave danger."“North Korea is not the paradise your grandfather envisioned. It is a hell that no person deserves," Trump said.Shortly after that speech, North Korean officials told CNN, “We don’t care about what that mad dog may utter," referring to Trump.It's a continuation in the ongoing war of words, even as the regime's missile test have noticeably paused -- a surprising development given that North Korea has often followed these verbal spars with threats and missile tests.On Aug. 8, Trump threatened the regime with "fire and fury like the world has never seen," leading Kim to say he would consider sending missiles into the waters off the coast of Guam in "mid-August."Several weeks later, North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles, not toward Guam, but rather into the Sea of Japan.In other instances, tests have followed high-profile visits from U.S. officials.In March, the regime tested mobile-launched missiles a week after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's trip to Asia. In April, they tested a KN-17 missile as Vice President Mike Pence was en route to South Korea.But, there was no test when Secretary of Defense James Mattis traveled through Asia at end of October, nor a test pegged to Trump's trip there now ... so far."They [North Korea] likely understand that -- unlike visits of high-level officials -- to do an ICBM while the president is in the region is a bigger gamble," said Jenny Town, managing editor of 38 North, a website devoted to analysis on North Korea.Town told ABC News that if Pyongyang conducted a test during or following Trump's trip, it would likely be with a Hwasong-14, what the U.S. refers to as the KN-20 -- a two-stage intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).That test would be the 15th ballistic missile test since Trump took office, and the first since September.The Trump administration has said all military options remain on the table when dealing with the North Korean threat, but top U.S. officials have consistently emphasized the U.S. is pursuing a diplomatically led effort, including additional economic pressure.Trump has at times expressed impatience with that effort, but this week, he seemed to back away from "fire and fury," instead expressing hope for diplomacy."I really believe that it makes sense for North Korea to come to the table and to make a deal," Trump said in a press conference with South Korean President Moon Jae-in."Ultimately, it'll all work out," Trump added.In the White House briefing room last week, Trump's national security adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters the administration would wait "a few months" before reassessing their strategy.“I think we have to be a little patient here for at least a few months to see what more we and others can do, including China,” McMaster said. “I don&rsqu
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(VENICE, Italy) -- After years of studies, protests and legal debates, the Italian government has announced that large cruise ships and other massive vessels will no longer be able to enter Venice's large canal, preventing tens of thousands of tourists a day from disembarking in the heart of the famous city on the water.The vessels will now dock in a new passenger facility that will be built in the nearby industrial port town of Marghera on the Venetian mainland. The mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, hailed the plan as a compromise to residents and environmental groups and said the move will not affect the lucrative tourism businesses.Cruise ships with more than 3,000 passengers had been halted in legislation passed after the 2012 Costa Concordia disaster, but those regulations were overturned. Under the new plan, only small cruise ships, commercial ferries, private yachts and the city’s famous gondolas will be allowed in the Giudecca Canal, the passage of sea that passes by the most famous Venetian landmarks. Under the new plan, the huge ships will take a longer route but they can still transit the lagoon, a highly sensitive and delicate ecosystem.Italian transport minister Graziano Delrio said the decision was a "real and definitive solution” but acknowledged that it will take up to four years for preparations to be completed in Marghera.Environmental activists have warned that wakes caused by larger ships have eroded the underwater supports of the buildings and polluted the waters, killing the surrounding sea life. Residents have complained that the tens of thousands of day visitors from the city are overwhelming the infrastructure and making it nearly impossible to walk in the narrow streets during parts of the day.Local residents have periodically organized small flotillas to blockade the ships. Tommasso Cacciari, from the No Big Ships protest group, argued that the new plan means nothing. Marghera is not big enough at the moment to handle the number of ships that come daily to Venice and the levels of pollution in the lagoon will stay the same, he said.Cruise line companies are opposed to any restrictions on the popular destination and merchants that cater to tourists have concerns that the new plan will mean less business.The government promises that immediate controls will begin to protect the UNESCO Heritage city from further damage while the port of Marghera is rebuilt, but critics are doubtful that the new regulations will ever come into effect or say they will be overruled once again.Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • ABCNews.com(BEIJING) -- Prior to kicking off talks with his Chinese counterpart Thursday morning, President Donald Trump was given a grand red carpet welcome -- complete with military marching bands and throngs of Chinese school children excitedly waved flags of both countries -- outside the Great Hall of the People at the western edge of Tiananmen Square.Trump, the eighth U.S. president to visit China, seemed to be soaking it all up, chatting amiably with Chinese President Xi Jingping, repeatedly complimenting the ceremonial display and patting him on the back -- eight back-pats and three handshakes, to be exact.As Trump reviewed the troops with Xi, walking long runs of red carpet crossing the square, first ladies Melania Trump and Mrs. Xi looked on from the steps of the Hall.Nearby were the members of the American delegation, including U.S. ambassador to China Terry Branstadt, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, National Security Adviser HR McMaster, Whote House press secretary Sarah Sanders, Chief of Staff John Kelly and senior advisers Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller and Hope Hicks.After the parade, the leaders climbed the steps of the Great Hall -- known here as "G-HOP" -- and looked out into Tiananmen Square before heading inside.
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  • ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Nearly two months after Hurricane Maria pummeled Puerto Rico, approximately 3,000 people are still in shelters on the island. Now, FEMA is offering to airlift these Hurricane Maria victims from Puerto Rico to the United States to reach temporary housing.Under this plan, Puerto Rican residents who were displaced by the hurricane and staying in shelters can choose to relocate to the U.S. mainland.According to FEMA’s website, the Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program "provides short-term lodging assistance for evacuees who are not able to return home for an extended or indeterminate period of time following a disaster."In a statement to ABC News, a FEMA spokesperson said, "FEMA is working to establish host-state agreements with both Florida and New York to accept those identified survivors."There are people in the U.S. who are currently taking advantage of the TSA program, but this is FEMA’s first attempt at creating an "air bridge," where they would airlift families from Puerto Rico to host states like Florida and New York.While priority is being given to the approximately 3,000 survivors who are still residing in shelters, interest in the TSA program has been low.In an interview with CBS News, Mike Byrne, a federal coordinating officer for FEMA, said that out of about 300 families FEMA agents interviewed only 30 expressed an interest in being airlifted to the mainland. Those 30 families wouldn’t even fully commit to the plan yet.Byrne did not give an exact date for when families would start to be airlifted, saying FEMA is still working out the logistics of the program and gauging people’s interest.FEMA hopes to provide a full-service operation, including transportation to and from the airport, once families arrive on the mainland.The agreement with Florida and New York would have FEMA fly survivors to New York and put them up in a hotel for two months. Those already in New York can get two months too if they qualify.Maria came ashore in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20 as a Category 4 storm with sustained maximum winds of 155 mph. Over 20 inches of rain fell in many areas and power was knocked out to the entire island. The governor's office reported just 30.5 percent of the island had power as of Oct. 30.The official death toll for those killed on the island in the storm is 51 people. Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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