Putin: U.S. in position to deploy new cruise missile in Europe

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a joint news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in the Presidental Palace in Helsinki, Finland, August 21, 2019. Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva/via REUTERS

HELSINKI (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that the United States was in a position to deploy a new land-based cruise missile in Romania and Poland and that Russia considered that a threat which it would have to respond to.

The Pentagon said on Monday it had tested a conventionally-configured cruise missile that hit its target after more than 500 km (310 miles) of flight, its first such test since the demise of a landmark nuclear pact this month.

Putin, who was speaking during a visit to Helsinki, said that Washington could potentially use its launch systems in Romania and Poland to fire the missile and that Russia would have to respond in an appropriate and reciprocal manner.

(Reporting by Olesya Astakhova; Writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

Texas shale towns grapple with growth as oil-bust fears fade

FILE PHOTO: A sign soliciting applicants is seen outside of a truck stop in Midland, Texas, U.S., February 13, 2019. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

By Jennifer Hiller

ODESSA, TEXAS (Reuters) – In west Texas, the center of the U.S. oil boom, about 3,800 students at Permian High School are crammed into a campus designed for 2,500, with 20 portable buildings to help with the overflow.

School officials had expected enrollment to fall after the last oil price crash, starting in 2014, but it kept rising – one sign of a growing resilience in the region’s oil economy as Exxon Mobil, Chevron and other majors continue pouring billions of dollars into long-term investments here.

For most of the last century, oil money has flowed into this region like a rising tide during booms – but residents here had enough sense to know it would flow right back out again when the next bust hit. That cycle has always made officials, developers and voters wary of investing too much during the good times on everything from school construction to roads to housing.

That hesitance is fading fast as oil majors make ever-larger and longer-term commitments to drill in the Permian Basin and residents grow weary of traffic jams on once-rural roads, long waits for medical appointments, pricey housing and overcrowded schools. Local governments, industry and foundations are joining forces to tackle the region’s overwhelmed infrastructure and public services.

“When you have more students, you need more teachers,” said Danny Gex, principal at the Odessa school, which was made famous as the home of the Permian Panthers football team in the book and screen adaptations of “Friday Night Lights.”

Texas has a statewide teacher shortage, Gex said, and “when you’re in a desert, it makes it a lot more difficult to find them.”

Also in severe shortage: housing. The median price of a home in Midland, $311,000 in April, was higher than any other Texas city except the hip tech-industry hub of Austin, according to data tracked by Texas A&M University.

(For a graphic comparing Midland home prices to the rest of Texas, see: https://tmsnrt.rs/2Zd7YIS )

Former convenience store manager Ruben Garcia came to the region and now earns $2,000 to $2,500 a week hauling sand to fracking sites. But he had to sleep in his truck until he could find an RV to rent.

“I had to go where the money is, and the money is here,” Garcia said.

The city of Midland, the local hospital district and other employers are considering banding together to build apartments for workers, said Jerry Morales, mayor of Midland, the de facto capital of the Permian. In neighboring Odessa, the school district has considered buying a hotel to house new teachers.

“That’s crazy to even think that,” said Gex, the principal.

STAYING POWER

The oil industry, of course, still has its ups and downs, like any business involving global commodities subject to rapid market shifts.

Some of the smaller producers that pioneered shale drilling in the Permian, such as Concho Resources, Laredo Petroleum and Whiting Petroleum, are downshifting as West Texas oil prices have lost 16% and natural gas has tumbled 36% over the past year.

But the world’s biggest oil majors are increasingly taking control of the Texas shale business, and their drilling plans – sometimes sketched out in decades rather than years – are envisioned to withstand the usual price drops.

That means they will need to lure more staff to live permanently with their families in cities such as Midland and Odessa, rather than depending on “man camps” for transient roughnecks or relying on temporary worker-training schemes.

In Midland, a group of local foundations started by wealthy area families, as well as a consortium of energy firms, recently put up $38.5 million to finance 14 tuition-free charter schools to relieve the stress on local classrooms.

“The mindset is changing,” said Mayor Morales. “There are those who understand we’re growing and we need these things.”

But it’s a scramble to catch up: “We’re behind, because we never invested in ourselves.”

On the New Mexico side of the Permian, local governments, schools and foundations joined together to build a $63 million sports complex with a water park in Hobbs. Hotel taxes from visiting energy workers will pay part of the facility’s operating costs, said Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb.

Hobbs’ next proposal involves a $60 million vocational high school that would help turn out welders, electricians and other skilled blue-collar workers. Oil firm executives will consult on the curriculum by offering insight into the skills they need in new hires, he said.

“I think there’s more sustainability because all of the supermajors have come back into the area,” Cobb said.

While many local officials and civic leaders say the region has permanently left its boom-and-bust cycle behind, others remain wary. Alan Herig arrived in Midland in 1977 to sell oilfield equipment and later opened an office supply store. He went from flying to Houston for steak lunches to painting houses after oil prices crashed.

“Midland became a ghost town,” said Herig, who now owns three hotels in the area and believes hard times could come again any day.

Still, Herig understands why city officials and civic groups are scrambling to upgrade local infrastructure and services.

“Midland is way behind,” Herig said. “They need to invest.”

ORANGE BUCKETS AND FOLDING TABLES

The latest shale boom, which started about three years ago, has brought jobs and wealth but also many hassles to day-to-day life.

Midland resident and energy executive Kaes Van’t Hof had a hard time scheduling an eye-doctor’s appointment for new contacts before his wedding earlier this year.

“Simple things have to be planned far in advance here,” Van’t Hof said.

Max Campos, a tattoo artist who lives in Odessa, recently sold his motorcycle after concluding it was no longer safe to ride alongside heavy truck traffic.

Odessa, a city of 120,000 people, drew unwanted attention last year after a school teacher equipped a classroom with orange buckets and folding tables because of a lack of chairs and desks. The school found tables after photos of students using the makeshift furniture went viral online.

Several groups have formed to bring change to the region, and local officials are finding that voters are more receptive to approving new spending on services such as schools and roads.

Priority Midland – a long-range planning initiative formed this year by officials in government, business and philanthropy – plans get-out-the-vote efforts to press for increased school financing and a possible sales tax hike to pay for hospital services or improved roads, Morales said.

The Permian Strategic Partnership, a group of 20 energy companies operating in the area, promises to spend $100 million to promote training, education, health care, housing and roads. The partnership chipped in $16.5 million for the charter school initiative, which will open its first campus in August 2020 and plans to offer public education to 10,000 students over time.

One member of the organization is Travis Stice, chief executive at Midland’s Diamondback Energy, which has been among the Permian’s fast-growing firms.

It’s time for the community, he said, to trust that the oil industry is here to stay.

“We’ve allowed ourselves to be rangebound by thinking: ‘Don’t invest during the boom time because the bust time is coming,'” Stice said.

(Graphic: How shale booms affect Midland, Texas, home prices link: https://editdata.thomsonreuters.com/#/portal/groups/editorcharts).

(Reporting by Jennifer Hiller in west Texas; Editing by Gary McWilliams and Brian Thevenot)

G7 or G5? Trump and Johnson add unpredictability to French summit

A view shows the beach and Le Bellevue summit venue ahead of the G7 Summit in the French coastal resort of Biarritz, France, August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

By John Irish and Marine Pennetier

PARIS (Reuters) – Brexit Britain’s overtures to U.S. President Donald Trump risk further complicating the search for common ground this weekend at a Group of Seven summit already clouded by transatlantic rifts over trade, Iran and climate change.

The summit host, President Emmanuel Macron of France, has set the bar low for Biarritz to avoid a repeat of the fiasco last year when Trump threw Canada’s G7 summit into disarray by leaving early, scotching the final communique.

Macron, an ardent europhile and staunch defender of multilateralism, will count on incremental advances in areas where a united front can be presented, with the meeting, which runs from Saturday to Monday, officially focusing on the broad theme of reducing inequality.

On hot-button issues, they will, when necessary, have to agree to disagree.

“We have to adapt formats. There will be no final communique, but coalitions, commitments and follow-ups,” Macron said. “We must assume that, on one subject or another, a member of the club might not sign up.”

The G7 groups the United States, France, Britain, Japan, Germany, Italy and Canada, and the European Union also attends. Macron has also invited the leaders of Australia, Burkina Faso, Chile, Egypt, India, Senegal, Rwanda and South Africa, in order to widen the debate on inequality.

TOUGH TOPICS

But the tougher discussions lie elsewhere. The Sino-U.S. trade war has spurred fears of a global economic slump; European powers are struggling to defuse tensions between Washington and Tehran; and Trump has shown little enthusiasm for France’s push for a universal tax on digital multinationals such as Google and Amazon, and turned his back on efforts in Europe and around the globe to limit carbon emissions to slow climate change.

The crisis in Kashmir and street protests in Hong Kong may also be touched on during the talks in France’s Atlantic coast surfing capital, where some 13,000 police will be drafted in to prevent any violent anti-globalization demonstrations.

“There’s no doubt that we will discuss how trade frictions could affect the global economy,” a Japanese government official said. “But it is difficult to deliver messages to the outside since a communique won’t be issued.”

Strained relations between the United States and its top allies mean that where once they were in agreement, they now seek the lowest common denominator.

“It won’t be productive to push something that someone — whether it’s America or some other country — would not agree to do,” the Japanese official added.

Moreover, Italy’s prime minister resigned on Tuesday, Canada is heading for an election, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s influence on the world stage is waning ahead of her departure, and Britain is probably on the verge of either leaving the EU or a snap election.

POLITICAL NITROGLYCERINE

One unknown is where British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will position himself, making his debut on the global stage at a summit that will lay bare new realities as Britain’s influence in Europe collapses and its dependency on the United States grows.

With less than three months to go before the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU – with or without a divorce deal, according to Johnson – his government has sought to cozy up to Trump’s White House with a view to future trade deals.

Francois Heisbourg of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said the combination of two personalities “not well-known for their self-control” was “political nitroglycerine”.

He said it might be entertaining, “but if it actually gets in the way of more substantive proceedings, that would be another story”.

While Johnson will want to avoid crossing a volatile Trump and putting trade ties at risk, analysts say, he will also be wary of alienating himself from other leaders who have a more multilateral approach to world politics.

One French diplomat who declined to be named said Paris was curious to see how the Trump-Johnson dynamic played out in Biarritz:

“Even with Brexit in the background, we still have the sense that the British reflex when it comes to international crises is to turn to us and the Germans first.”

(Additional reporting by Lucien Libert in Paris and Tetsushi Kajimoto in Tokyo; Editing by Richard Lough and Kevin Liffey)

Parkland massacre survivors unveil sweeping U.S. gun-control plan ahead of 2020 election

FILE PHOTO: David Hogg, a student at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, site of a February mass shooting which left 17 people dead in Parkland, Florida, thrusts his fist in the air as he speaks during the "March for Our Lives" event demanding gun control after recent school shootings at a rally in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo

By Gabriella Borter

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Survivors of the Parkland, Florida, high school massacre on Wednesday released a sweeping gun-control plan that would ban assault-style rifles and take other steps in hopes of halving U.S. firearms deaths and injuries.

The proposal included a measure to register more young voters, and the group’s leaders addressed it to 2020 candidates seeking the presidential nomination, urging them to make gun control a top priority.

“We urge them to take a look at this agenda,” Tyah Amoy-Roberts, a former student who survived the shooting, said in a statement. “We cannot allow mass shootings in grocery stores, churches, shopping malls, and schools to be the new normal.”

The former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students have worked to inspire a sense of urgency about gun violence since they started the national campaign “March for Our Lives” after a former student massacred 17 people with an assault rifle at their high school on Feb. 14, 2018.

Their plan comes the same month that saw 31 people killed in back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, within 24 hours.

The steady drumbeat of shootings has provoked limited federal action. Days after the twin massacres, President Donald Trump publicly mulled backing stronger background checks for gun buyers but by this week Congressional Democrats were accusing him of backtracking after a meeting with the National Rifle Association gun lobby.

The NRA and gun-rights supporters say the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution blocks most restrictions on gun ownership. NRA officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The Parkland student’s plan calls for several hard-line gun control measures, including a national gun buy-back and disposal program, a federal system of gun licensing that requires background checks and annual renewals, and it urges politicians to declare a national emergency around gun violence.

The plan also calls on the government to automatically register all U.S. citizens to vote when they turn 18, a measure that March for Our Lives has pushed in an effort to turn out the youth vote and sway elections to yield tighter gun policies.

March for Our Lives and ally Giffords are planning an Oct. 2 forum for 2020 candidates to discuss gun violence.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio)

Iran says top waterways won’t be as safe if its oil exports cut to zero

FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, August 14, 2019. Official President website/Handout via REUTERS

GENEVA (Reuters) – If Iran’s oil exports are cut to zero, international waterways will not have the same security as before, its president said on Wednesday, cautioning Washington against upping pressure on Tehran in an angry confrontation between the longtime foes.

The comment by President Hassan Rouhani coincided with a remark by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that Tehran might act “unpredictably” in response to “unpredictable” U.S. policies under President Donald Trump.

“World powers know that in the case that oil is completely sanctioned and Iran’s oil exports are brought down to zero, international waterways can’t have the same security as before,” Rouhani said while meeting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to Khamenei’s official website.

“So unilateral pressure against Iran can’t be to their advantage and won’t guarantee their security in the region and the world.”

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have risen since Trump’s administration last year quit an international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and began to ratchet up sanctions. Iranian officials have denounced the new penalties as “economic warfare”.

In a speech at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Zarif appeared to echo Rouhani’s tone.

“Mutual unpredictability will lead to chaos. President Trump cannot expect to be unpredictable and expect others to be predictable. Unpredictability will lead to mutual unpredictability and unpredictability is chaotic,” Zarif said.

Global commodity trading has been rocked in recent months after a series of attacks on international merchant vessels, which the United States has blamed on Iran, and the seizure of a British tanker. Tehran has denied the accusations.

Washington, which has by far the strongest Western naval contingent in the Gulf, has been calling for its allies to join it in an operation to guard shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital gateway for the world’s oil industry.

So far, Britain, Australia and Bahrain have joined the U.S.-led security mission to protect merchant vessels traveling through key Middle East waterways.

Reiterating Iran’s chilly response to the security mission, Iranian Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, a deputy commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards, said no one can secure the Gulf other than Iran and countries of the region, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

“Securing the Persian Gulf is the responsibility of Iran and the countries of the region,” Fadavi said. “Other than us, no one can secure the Persian Gulf.”

(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; additional reporting by Simon Johnson in Stockholm and Tuqa Khalid in Dubai, Editing by William Maclean)

U.S. removed almost 2.7 million barrels daily of Iranian oil from market: Pompeo

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reacts as he talks to the media after his meeting with Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri at the State Department in Washington, U.S., August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has removed nearly 2.7 million barrels of Iranian oil from global markets daily as a result of Washington’s decision to reimpose sanctions on all purchases of Iran’s crude, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday.

In an interview with MSNBC, Pompeo said the U.S. government was confident it could continue with its strategy.

The United States re-imposed sanctions on Iran in November after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and six world powers. In May, Washington ended sanction waivers given to importers of Iranian oil, aiming to cut Tehran’s exports to zero.

Iran exported about 100,000 bpd of crude in July, according to an industry source who tracks such flows and data from Refinitiv Eikon. If condensate, a light oil, is included, shipments were about 120,000 bpd a day.

“We have managed to take almost 2.7 million barrels of crude oil off of the market, denying Iran the wealth to create their terror campaign around the world, and we have managed to keep the oil markets fully supplied,” Pompeo said.

“I am confident we can continue to do that,” he added.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Russia and other producers have been cutting 1.2 million bpd since Jan. 1 to reduce global supply. OPEC in July renewed the pact until March 2020 to avoid a build-up of inventories as worldwide demand is seen weakening.

Despite OPEC’s actions along with U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela, Brent crude international oil prices <LCOc1> have been relatively weak, falling on Tuesday to $59 a barrel from a 2019 high of $75, pressured by concerns about slowing demand.

The exact level of Iranian exports has become harder to assess since U.S. sanctions returned in November, meaning estimates fall into a range rather than a definitive figure.

 

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Paul Simao)

Pompeo says North Korea talks have not resumed as quickly as hoped: CBS

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has not returned to the negotiation table with North Korea as quickly as it had hoped, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday, but he added that Washington knew there would be ‘bumps on the road’ in the denuclearization talks.

Speaking in an interview with CBS, Pompeo said Washington was concerned about North Korea’s firing of short-range missiles. “I wish they would not,” he said, referring to the tests.

The latest of the missile tests by North Korea was carried out on Friday as Pyongyang fired two more short-range projectiles into the sea off its east coast.

The launches have complicated attempts to restart talks between U.S. and North Korean negotiators over the future of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Those denuclearization talks have been stalled despite a commitment to revive them that was made at a June 30 meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“We haven’t gotten back to the table as quickly as we hoped but we’ve been pretty clear all along, we knew there would be bumps along the way,” Pompeo said.

He added that Stephen Biegun, U.S. special envoy for North Korea, was in the region on Tuesday and Wednesday, but did not elaborate on the details of his trip. The State Department said last week that Biegun would travel to Japan and Seoul this week.

(The story was refiled to fix a typographical error in paragraph 6)

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)

California tightens restrictions on police use of lethal force

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a sign at a rally to protest the police shooting of Stephon Clark, in Sacramento, California, U.S., March 31, 2018. REUTERS/Bob Strong/File Photo

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – California police officers will be allowed to use lethal force only when “necessary” in response to a threat, instead of the existing standard of “reasonable”, under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday.

Under the stricter standards, officers must believe they have no other choice to “defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person,” an abstract of the law published online says.

The new law, which officials say is one of the most restrictive in the United States, is partly a response to police shootings of unarmed black men. Those include the death of Stephon Clark, 22, who was killed by Sacramento police in March 2018, touching off protests across the state.

Clark, who was black, was standing in his grandmother’s yard, holding a cell phone, when he was shot and killed last year. The two officers were exonerated in March, touching off more protests.

At the signing, Newsom said he hoped California’s new law would become a model for the nation.

“As California goes, so goes the rest of the United States of America,” Newsom said, according to news media. “And we are doing something today that stretches the boundaries of possibility and sends a message to people all across the country – that more can be done.”

Clark’s family attended the signing ceremony at the invitation of the governor. The law goes into effect in January. But not all of them were entirely pleased.

“The bill is watered down, everybody knows that,” Stevante Clark, brother of Stephon Clark, told the Los Angeles Times.

Neither the governor’s office nor Clark’s family members of could be immediately reached by Reuters early on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; editng by Larry King)

Russia, China accuse U.S. of stoking tensions with missile test

FILE PHOTO: National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

By Tom Balmforth and Maria Kiselyova

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia and China accused the United States on Tuesday of stoking military tensions by testing a ground-launched cruise missile, but the foreign ministry in Moscow said it would not be drawn into an arms race.

The Pentagon said on Monday it had tested a conventionally-configured cruise missile that hit its target after more than 500 km (310 miles) of flight, its first such test since the demise of a landmark nuclear pact this month.

The United States formally withdrew from the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with Russia on Aug. 2 after accusing Moscow of violating it, a charge dismissed by the Kremlin.

The text would have been banned under the INF, which prohibited land-based missiles with a range of between 310 and 3,400 miles, reducing the ability of both countries to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.

Washington had “obviously taken the course of escalating military tensions,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said

Russia would, however, not allow itself “to be pulled into a costly arms race” and did not plan to deploy new missiles unless the United States did so first, he was quoted as saying by TASS news agency.

The Kremlin said the U.S. missile test showed that Washington had long been preparing to exit the nuclear pact.

“It is simply not possible to prepare for such tests in a few weeks or a few months. This …shows that it was not Russia, but the United States with its actions that brought the breakdown of the INF,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

China also expressed concern.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the test showed the United States was stoking a new arms race and confrontation, which would have a serious negative impact on regional and global security.

“We advise the U.S. side to abandon outdated notions of Cold War thinking and zero-sum games, and exercise restraint in developing arms,” Geng told a daily news briefing.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Heavens and John Stonestreet)

Florida trucker arrested, charged with plotting church shooting: prosecutors

Police Lights

(Reuters) – Federal authorities said they have arrested a Florida truck driver who “was thinking about shooting up a church” in Memphis this week, making him at least the fourth person this month charged with plotting a mass shooting.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Thomas McVicker, 38, in Indianapolis on Monday after a friend in Alabama alerted agents to text messages he sent in which he described his plans for a mass shooting and suicide, according to court papers.

McVicker, who is from Punta Gorda but lives in his truck, is under treatment and is on medication for schizophrenia, according to his mother, FBI Special Agent Ketrick Kelley said in an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Alabama.

It was not immediately clear if McVicker had an attorney.

The alleged mass shooting, which Kelley said McVicker appeared to be planning to carry out on Thursday, comes after law enforcement authorities in Ohio, Florida and Connecticut said they arrested three men who planned mass shootings.

Since July 28, shooting sprees in Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, killed 34 people.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)