Trump aims to mend Muslim ties on first foreign trip

Trump can expect a warm reception when he arrives in the oil-rich kingdom for talks with King Salman, but the domestic mood was grim following news that the FBI’s investigation into his campaign’s ties with Russia extends to a current senior White House official.


Former FBI director James Comey has agreed to publicly testify about the probe, piling pressure on the White House as fresh allegations emerged about Trump calling him a “nut job” in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week and saying his sacking had relieved “great pressure”. 

Before departing, the president tweeted he would be “strongly protecting American interests” on his marathon eight-day trip to the Middle East and Europe, that presents a major diplomatic test.

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While his predecessor Barack Obama was viewed with suspicion by Gulf Arab states for his tilt towards their Shiite regional rival Iran, Trump is likely to take a harder line against Tehran.

That, together with a more muted focus on human rights and the likely announcement of new arms deals, should please Washington’s traditional Sunni Gulf allies.

“He’s going to be tougher on Iran,” said Philip Gordon, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“He’s not going to lecture them on democracy and human rights,” he added.

Ahead of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, where he will be accompanied by his wife Melania and daughter Ivanka, Washington and Riyadh issued their first “joint terrorist designation” – blacklisting a leader of the Iranian-backed Lebanese armed Shiite movement Hezbollah.

Late Friday, Saudi Arabia announced it had shot down a ballistic missile fired by Yemeni rebels southwest of Riyadh. 

The US provides weapons, intelligence and aerial refuelling to the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Huthi rebels, who are backed by Iran and oppose the government of Yemen President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

Related reading’Muslim ban’

Trump’s relations with the wider Islamic world are still strained by his travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority nations.

So all eyes will be on a speech on Islam that the president is scheduled to deliver to dozens of Muslim leaders at a summit in Riyadh on Sunday.

“I’ll speak with Muslim leaders and challenge them to fight hatred and extremism, and embrace a peaceful future for their faith,” Trump said ahead of his visit.

Trump wants Gulf states in particular to do more to tackle extremists such as the Islamic State jihadist group.

“He will encourage our Arab and Muslim partners to take bold, new steps to promote peace and to confront those, from ISIS to Al-Qaeda… who perpetuate chaos and violence that has inflicted so much suffering throughout the Muslim world and beyond,” said Trump’s National Security Adviser HR McMaster.

He will hold countless face-to-face meetings including with Pope Francis and France’s new leader, Emmanuel Macron.

It is a trip fraught with peril for the real estate magnate, who is known to dislike lengthy travel.

The avalanche of revelations in the run-up to his departure have eroded Trump’s standing at home – where the parallels with Richard Nixon’s ill-fated presidency are now being openly drawn.

On Friday, a report by The Washington Post that the probe into his campaign’s Russia ties had identified a “significant person of interest” in the White House, undercut Trump’s insistence his election bid had nothing to do with the Kremlin.

The White House was rocked by another bombshell when reports emerged that Trump said his firing of “nut job” Comey had relieved “great pressure” on him due to the investigation.

The scandals have revived questions about his ability to strike a presidential tone with his foreign counterparts, with Trump declaring himself the victim of the “greatest witch hunt” in American political history.

Arms contracts

His visit to the Gulf is expected to bring lucrative arms contracts for US firms.

“The big question mark that you should bear in mind is if Saudi Arabia signs up for a $100 billion arms deal with oil prices where they are today, how are they actually going to pay that in the future?” said Bruce Riedel, former CIA analyst and counterterrorism expert now with the Brookings Institution.

After Saudi Arabia, Trump will head to Israel and the Palestinian Territories where he hopes to revive the moribund peace process.

He will meet his “friend” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Bethlehem.

The Israeli leg of his trip is already awash in controversy – from a row over Trump’s visit to Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the holiest prayer site for Jews, to his alleged disclosure of Israeli intelligence to Russian officials.

Trump’s meeting with Pope Francis – two men at odds on everything from climate change to refugee policy – remains highly unpredictable, although the pontiff says he will give America’s bullish leader an open-minded hearing.

The president will also meet members of the North Atlantic alliance in Brussels and attend a G7 summit in the picturesque Sicilian town of Taormina overlooking the Mediterranean.

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Sam Mitchell on track for AFL record

He’s already won four premierships and a Brownlow medal, but West Coast midfielder Sam Mitchell will be in a league of his own if he can produce another big performance in Sunday’s AFL clash with Essendon at Etihad Stadium.


Mitchell has reached the 30-disposal mark an astonishing 118 times over his glittering career.

It’s the equal most on record in VFL/AFL history – tying the mark set by St Kilda’s Robert Harvey.

Mitchell has the chance to snare the outright record against the Bombers, and his confidence is high, coming off a 33-disposal match in last week’s win over the Bulldogs.

West Coast coach Adam Simpson said Mitchell’s achievement was remarkable.

And although Harvey took 69 more games to reach the same mark, Simpson pointed out that the St Kilda legend was tagged more often than Mitchell.

“I would assume Harvey would have been tagged every week,” Simpson said.

“I remember tagging him (and he still had) 30-plus a couple of times back in the day.

“It’s a different era, but it’s a fair effort by Sam. It’s a sign of his consistency.”

The Eagles have won three straight games to shoot into the top-four.

And although their form at the MCG remains a concern, they’ve proven they can win on the road after posting triumphs over North Melbourne (Etihad Stadium) and Port Adelaide (Adelaide Oval).

Eagles spearhead Josh Kennedy had a wayward outing in last week’s win over the Bulldogs, booting 3.6.

Simpson is confident it was just a rare blip for Kennedy, rather than the start of a worrying trend.

“It’s not a pattern,” Simpson said.

“He’s had games where he’s kicked 10 straight.

“He’s probably our best preparer in terms of how he goes about it off field with the mindset and how he prepares for the opposition.

“We’ll back him in to get it right.”

Essendon coach John Worsfold decided to stick with the same 22 who beat Geelong last week.

West Coast resisted the urge to recall fit-again veteran Drew Petrie.

The 34-year-old has made an early recovery from a broken hand, but will have to prove his fitness in the WAFL before earning a senior call-up.

Forward Jamie Cripps is back after recovering from an ankle injury, with fellow goalsneak Josh Hill forced to make way.

Cleaners’ wage fight at Vic ALP conference

Angry cleaners have confronted Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews over what they claim is systemic wage theft in the public school sector at Labor’s state conference.


United Voice officials and members held aloft a banner reading “Rip off, Victoria – The Wage Theft State” at the front of the conference in Melbourne on Saturday.

Others waved mock number plates carrying the slogan as Mr Andrews spoke to the crowded conference room at Moonee Valley Racecourse.

While talking about creating more employment opportunities including a new Victorian Jobs Partnership, Mr Andrews didn’t, however, address the issue.

The union says hundreds of “backyard operators” are ripping off state school cleaners with an audit finding 80 per cent are being paid below the award wage.

“We estimate the total wage theft bill to be up to $10 million a year, out of the pay packets of the state’s 4000 school cleaners,” United Voice state secretary Jess Walsh said in a resolution after Mr Andrews left.

Labor members also railed against the government over its plan to get the private sector on board to help roll out the national disability insurance scheme.

Unions and parents are worried that by including the private sector, the quality of worker conditions and client services will decline.

Last November central branch members were stripped of their rights to vote for candidate preselection and conference delegates after a branch stacking scandal and investigation.

A bid to restore those rights on Saturday was unsuccessful.

However the conference did vote to bring in affirmative action measures for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander preselection.

Earlier, when announcing his new Victorian Jobs Partnership, Mr Andrews said there would be a summit of experts to create a new jobs road map.

The talkfest of 50 experts, including 25 from unions, will work to grow local manufacturing, industry assistance initiatives, fill skill gaps and push more women into construction and engineering.

Mr Andrews also pushed the benefits of his CFA split plan.

In order to circumvent a CFA pay deal deadlock, the government announced on Friday it would make the fire service volunteers-only and create a new authority for career CFA firefighters to merge with their metropolitan counterparts.

The conference runs over two days, with federal Labor leader Bill Shorten to speak on Sunday.

Italy law obliges parents to vaccinate

Italy’s cabinet has approved a law obliging parents to vaccinate their children against infectious diseases as politicians spar over a spike in measles cases.


Children up to six years old will now need to be immunised to be eligible for nursery school, and parents who send their children to school after that age without vaccinating them first will be liable for fines.

Vaccines against measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox and meningitis, which were previously only recommended, will now become mandatory, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said.

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“The lack of appropriate measures over the years and the spread of anti-scientific theories, especially in recent months, has brought about a reduction in protection,” Gentiloni told a news conference in Rome.

The law will also oblige inoculation against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, whooping cough, and haemophilus influenzae type B.

Italy’s Higher Health Institute warned in April that a fall-off in vaccinations had led to a measles epidemic. The United States warned visitors to Italy about exposure to the potentially fatal disease.

The institute has recorded some 2395 measles cases so far this year compared with some 840 in all of 2016 and 250 in 2015.

The website of the European Commission, the European Union’s executive, says it encourages all member states to “ensure that as many children as possible receive the main childhood vaccines”.

Gentiloni’s centre-left government has accused the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement of sowing fear among parents by questioning the safety of some vaccines and the scruples of multinational pharmaceutical firms.

5-Star members, who run Rome’s city hall, abstained on Thursday from a vote on obliging schoolchildren in the capital to be vaccinated, stoking fresh controversy over their stance.

“5-Star is riding the wave of disinformation, nourishing fear and favouring a position that is anti-science and dangerous for the whole community,” said Federico Gelli, a deputy from the ruling Democratic Party.

Paola Ferrara, 5-Star’s leader in city hall, said the party had abstained because of the pending vote in parliament, and considered vaccinations “essential”.

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Beach protesters say no to Bight drilling

Ocean-loving protesters have linked hands across the nation’s beaches in a bid to protect the Great Australian Bight from oil and gas drilling.


Hundreds lined the sands at more than a dozen beaches in five states for Hands Across the Sands events on Saturday, including at Melbourne’s St Kilda, Adelaide’s Glenelg and Fremantle’s Bathers Beach.

They called on the Liberal and Labor parties to protect the southern waters and wildlife from the risks of oil and gas exploration.

Former Australian Greens leader Bob Brown spoke at the Adelaide event, saying a major oil spill in the Bight would be environmentally devastating.

“The Bight is one of the most intact natural ecosystems left on earth,” Dr Brown said.

“Such a spill here would wreck the South Australian, Victorian and Tasmanian coastlines, including the Tarkine.”

Wilderness Society’s SA director Peter Owen said Australia’s major parties must join the Greens and Senator Nick Xenophon in saying no to drilling.

“Both major parties seem more interested in imaginary oil and gas industry jobs than the 10,000 real fishing and tourism jobs in South Australia’s coastal regions that would be threatened by an oil spill,” he said.

Hands Across the Sand started in the US after energy giant BP spilled about 800 million litres of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days, killing millions of fish and an estimated 75,000 dolphins and whales.

The Bight is home to sea lions, migratory birds, sharks, dolphins, giant cuttlefish and dozens of whale species, including an important southern right whale nursery.

Firing ‘nut job’ Comey took pressure off

President Donald Trump told Russian diplomats last week his firing of “nut job” James Comey had eased the pressure on him, even as the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation had moved into the White House.


White House hopes that Trump could leave scandalous allegations at home were crushed in a one-two punch of revelations that landed shortly after his departure for the Middle East on Saturday

A Washington Post report, citing anonymous sources familiar with the matter, said a senior Trump adviser is now considered a “person of interest” in the investigation into whether Trump’s campaign associates co-ordinated with Russia in an effort to sway the 2016 election.

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And The New York Times reported that the president had told Russian officials he felt the dismissal of his FBI director had relieved “great pressure” on him.

The White House has said the firing was unrelated to the FBI’s Russia investigation.

Late on Friday, the Senate intelligence committee announced Comey had agreed to testify at an open hearing at an undetermined date after Memorial Day.

Comey will certainly be asked about encounters that precipitated his firing, including a January dinner in which, Comey has told associates, Trump asked for his loyalty.

In the Oval Office weeks later, Comey told associates, the president asked him to shut down an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Comey is known to produce memos documenting especially sensitive or unsettling encounters, such as after the February meeting.

He turned down an invitation to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The new headlines were a fresh indication Trump would not be able to change the subject from what appears to be an intensifying investigation reaching toward the president and his inner circle.

The White House repeated its assertion that a “thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity”.

Watch: US Democratic representative on Comey firing 0:00 Share

It did not deny the Times report that Trump was critical of Comey to the Russians the day after he fired him.

The Times reported Trump noted the Russia investigation as he told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak of his decision to fire Comey.

“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” the Times reported that Trump said during the May 10 meeting. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

White House spokesman Sean Spicer called the president’s rhetoric part of his deal-making.

“By grandstanding and politicising the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia,” Spicer said.

“The investigation would have always continued and obviously the termination of Comey would not have ended it.

Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.”

Trump says he plans to nominate a new FBI director soon but there was no announcement Friday.

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Sharks sign Dugan to play centre

Cronulla have pulled off one of the major recruitment coups of the season after signing St George Illawarra fullback Josh Dugan on a lucrative four-year deal from the 2018 NRL season.


The Sharks on Saturday confirmed the prize signature of Dugan on a reported $3 million deal.

“Josh will bring quality and experience to our backline next year and, to sign the current Origin and Australian Test centre, is a major coup for the club and for our future,” Flanagan said.

“We have a number of exciting young backs coming through our grades and Josh’s experience will be invaluable in helping with their continued development.

“Josh has just turned 27 and I am confident his best football is still ahead of him.”

The Sharks’ signing ends a six-month standoff between Dugan and Dragons officials over whether he was worth the big money as a fullback, or a lesser paid centre.

Both Dugan and Dragons coach Paul McGregor insist that he is a fullback, while recruitment boss Ian Millward was adamant the club viewed him as a long-term three-quarter.

However Sharks coach Shane Flanagan suggested that Dugan, would play a mentoring role for current fullback Valentine Holmes.

“He is looking forward to being part of the development of players such as Val Holmes,” he said.

“As to where he might play for next year, quite simply he is the current Test right centre and who can also play fullback which is a bonus for our club.”

Sharks captain Paul Gallen had no doubt Dugan would be an asset for years to come.

“We are wrapped to have him. I’ve been lucky enough to play rep footy with Josh over the years and he is a good guy and an outstanding team player,” Gallen said.

“He is going to be an enormous boost to our team and Josh will be a great benefit to the club.”

Dugan has scored 53 tries in 144 NRL games in stints at Canberra and then St George Illawarra, and has played seven Tests for the Kangaroos and nine Origins for the Blues.

His exit from Wollongong means the Dragons will now be on the lookout for a new fullback, although the club does have young options in Matt Dufty and Jai Field.

Sydney beat Saints, continue AFL climb

Surging Sydney hammered out another warning that their AFL season isn’t over by dismantling St Kilda’s at Etihad Stadium.


The hard-tackling Swans capitalised on the Saints’ spate of horrendous turnovers, particularly in the back half, to storm to a 18.10 (118) to 10.8 (68) win.

Swans coach John Longmire lauded his players’ application to effectively seal the win by early in the second half.

“We were really happy. There was a 15 minute patch in the third quarter that was as powerful, strong footy as we’ve played,” he said.

The Swans’ third consecutive victory after the 0-6 start to the season was built on collective pressure to stifle the Saints’ run and rebound, especially off half-back.

The Saints succumbed to relentless intensity to regularly cough up the ball that resulted in at least a dozen of the Swans’ goals.

“Just getting after them and the fierceness we want to get into our game was evident,” Longmire said.

“We like the tackles, but if they’re going to kick it under pressure, we like that, particularly a team that transfers the ball so well. We had pressure and speed in our forward half which is important for us.”

The Swans reaped the benefits of cleaner use of the ball, despite being beaten in the overall clearances, with an astonishing 12 players among the goalkickers.

Lance Franklin was the main contributor with four goals, admittedly, three of them in the last quarter when the contest was effectively over.

On the vast array of scoring options, Longmire said: “Not as pleased as I was with the pressure, but it normally goes hand-in-hand. If you get the pressure right, other things tend to flow a bit better.”

St Kilda paid a high price for the inability to contain or match Swans’ onballers, led by Dan Hannebery, with 30 possessions, Josh Kennedy (35) and Luke Parker (27).

While the Saints trailed by only 11 points at halftime, it seems they were just hanging in the contest. And the Swans blew it open with the ferocious attack on the ball at the restart.

The Swans specifically targeted in-form Saints onballer Jack Steven and returning young key forward Paddy McCartin with physical attention, even before the opening bounce.

Stevens just kept hunting the ball in the packs and used his breakaway speed to collect 27 possessions. McCartin worked hard but struggled after five games in the VFL and he kicked his only goal from a set shot with three minutes left on the game clock.

McCartin didn’t deserve to shoulder all the blame as St Kilda’s other tall targets, including Nick Riewoldt, scrounged only a handful of marks inside the forward 50 against Swans key defenders Heath Grundy and Lewis Melican.

McLaughlin extends Supercars run at Winton

Ford star Scott McLaughlin has claimed a third-straight win for the first time in his Supercars career with a commanding victory in Saturday’s 120km race at Winton.


The flying New Zealander continued the form he showed in Perth, where he scooped back-to-back wins, to take out the weekend’s opening race in northeast Victoria.

“I’ve won two in a row but never three – it’s pretty special,” McLaughlin said.

After starting in pole position, McLaughlin was never headed, maintaining control throughout the race.

“I had confidence that I had the car underneath me to do that, but it takes a lot to win a race in this championship,” he said.

“We got pole, the start was good and then the stop by the boys was fantastic.”

Holden’s six-time series champion Jamie Whincup finished second after a tense battle with McLaughlin’s DJR Team Penske teammate Fabian Coulthard who was third.

Whincup said McLaughlin and Coulthard had a speed advantage, but was confident his Red Bull Racing team could turn it around.

“It’s nice to just go hard the whole race; it’s almost like GT racing,” Whincup said.

“Instead of nurturing it and just trying to make the tyres survive, we were just flat stick from start to finish.

“We got the most points we could today but we certainly need more speed to go one better.”

The win catapulted McLaughlin to second on the Supercars leaderboard, 10 points adrift of Coulthard.

“It’s great to have Fabs up there too and we’re pushing each other so hard,” McLaughlin said.

“As a team, we’re working together, we’re trying different things and I guess the rewards come.

“But we’ve got to keep on our toes – it’s going to be a big fight all the way.”

Walkinshaw Racing’s James Courtney had a tumultuous race, recovering from going off the track shortly after the start only to make contact with Nick Percat on the final lap to end his day in the gravel.

Chaz Mostert, who started from second on the grid, was shattered after withdrawing with a mechanical issue on the 15th lap.

“I feel sorry for the boys. It’s upsetting for the team to go out with a mechanical issue,” Mostert said.

Qualifying for Sunday’s 67-lap race kicks off at 11:00am, with the main event at 1:45pm.

Iranians deliver emphatic win for Rouhani

Iranians yearning for more freedom at home and less isolation abroad have emphatically re-elected President Hassan Rouhani.


State television congratulated Rouhani on his victory early Saturday afternoon.

The architect of Iran’s still-fragile detente with the West, he led with 58.6 per cent of the vote, compared with 39.8 per cent for his main challenger, hardline judge Ebrahim Raisi, according to near-complete results.

Although the powers of the elected president are limited by those of unelected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who outranks him, the scale of Rouhani’s victory gives the pro-reform camp a strong mandate.

Raisi is a protege of Khamenei and was tipped in Iranian media as a potential successor for the 77-year-old supreme leader who has been in power since 1989.

The re-election will likely safeguard the nuclear agreement Rouhani’s government reached with global powers in 2015, under which most international sanctions have been lifted in return for Iran curbing its nuclear program.

And it delivers a setback to the Revolutionary Guards, the powerful security force which controls a vast industrial empire in Iran. They had thrown their support behind Raisi to safeguard its interests.

“I am very happy for Rouhani’s win. We won. We did not yield to pressure. We showed them that we still exist,” said 37-year-old reformist voter Mahnaz.

“I want Rouhani to carry out his promises.”

Nevertheless, Rouhani stills faces the restrictions on his ability to transform Iran that prevented him delivering substantial social change in his first term and thwarted the reforms of predecessor Mohammad Khatami.

The supreme leader has veto power over all policies and ultimate control of the security forces.

Rouhani has been unable to secure the release of reformist leaders from house arrest, and media are barred from publishing the words or images of his reformist predecessor Khatami.

“The last two decades of presidential elections have been short days of euphoria followed by long years of disillusionment,” said Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment who focuses on Iran.

“Democracy in Iran is allowed to bloom only a few days every four years, while autocracy is evergreen.”

The re-elected president will also have to navigate a tricky relationship with Washington, which appears at best ambivalent about the nuclear accord signed by former US president Barack Obama.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly described it as “one of the worst deals ever signed”.

Rouhani, known for decades as a mild-mannered member of the establishment, campaigned as an ardent reformist to stir up the passions of young, urban voters yearning for change.

At times he crossed traditional rhetorical boundaries, openly attacking the human rights record of the security forces and the judiciary.

During one rally he referred to hardliners as “those who cut out tongues and sewed mouths shut”.

Saturday’s big turnout appeared to have favoured Rouhani, whose backers’ main concern had been apathy among reformist-leaning voters disappointed with the slow pace of change.