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  • Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will not meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence during his upcoming trip to the Middle East because of the Trump administration's decision to name Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, according to Palestine's foreign minister.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has declared victory against ISIS after three years of war.
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  • Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived at the Vienna airport this week, he was greeted on the tarmac by three deputy chiefs of mission from the U.S. embassies in Austria.Of the three U.S. missions in Austria – the U.S. embassy to Austria, the embassy for Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the United Nations embassy – there isn’t a single ambassador leading the foreign offices 10 months into Tillerson’s term.The State Department has also not yet put forth a name to the White House for nomination to eventually serve as ambassador to the European Union, a major international organization that represents 28 European countries and the largest single market in the world with 200 million consumers.A White House official said they are still in the process of selecting an EU ambassador and it should be announced soon.There are 20 ambassadorship postings — both political appointee and career — still open across Europe.Tillerson's tensions with the White House have only exacerbated the slow pace of the White House's nominating and the Senate's confirming ambassadors, according to a State Department official and a White House Official.“I think it’s a shame,” former U.S. Ambassador to the EU Anthony Gardner told ABC News about the comparatively small number of ambassadors in Europe. “Some of these posts are quite important, particularly now.”A State Department spokesperson referred questions about political-appointee ambassador vacancies to the White House Office of Personnel, which submits its selections to the State Department.“We have worked closely with the State Department to get ambassadorship positions filled and have had great success in getting some of the most qualified and credible individuals in place to serve as representatives for our country,” White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said.Nomination process slowed to a crawlBefore taking office, President Donald Trump told all politically-appointed ambassadors that they had to vacate the posts by Inauguration Day on Jan. 20 He made clear there would be “no exemptions,” according to The New York Times.This left a vacuum at embassies that has yet to be filled, as a third of ambassadors are political appointees.The process for nominating and confirming ambassadors is an arduous one that takes three months at best. It starts with the White House Office of Personnel submitting its list of nominees to the State Department, which sends back its approvals to the White House to then nominate the ambassadors to the Senate for confirmation.Nominees must go through a rigorous, FBI vetting process after they’ve been approved by the White House. They must also go to ambassador school for training.For career ambassadors, the State Department offers selected names to the White House for approval, which are then put to the Senate for confirmation.But State Department sources say the process has slowed to a crawl.One White House official complained that Tillerson has been reluctant to approve ambassador recommendations from the White House because they are more ideologically aligned with Trump than the secretary of state's “establishment” positions.But a State Department official countered that the agency has been stifled by severe political filtering of potential career appointees.The official said the White House is shutting out nominees seen as too politically aligned with the Obama administration or too deeply involved in policy decisions that Trump has vowed to repeal, like the Iran nuclear deal.'Working through the process'All of this has had a big impact on U.S. diplomacy, sources tell ABC News.“The ambassador gets access that’s hard to replicate. For sensitive negotiations, there’s no alternative to having someone on the ground to have those conversations," said Gardner, the former envoy t
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  • Torsten Laursen/Getty Images(MADRID) -- The world's best sand sculptors come out each December to help build a giant nativity scene on the Las Canteras Beach in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain.The tradition was started by Canarian artist Etual Ojeda in the early 1980s, when he began creating sand sculpture works centered around the nativity scene, featuring the traditional imagery of the Virgin Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.Ojeda continued for a number of years, adding a new element to the Christmas scene each year, with other sculptors joining in.Today, the sand sculpture nativity scene has grown into the largest open-air sand sculpture in the world.Built by artisans from nine different countries, the sculpture uses over 2000 tons of sand, according to the Gran Canaria Tourist Board. It was visited by over 200,000 people in the last year alone.
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  • Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)(WASHINGTON) -- During his week in Europe, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sought to shoot down any perceptions of distance between him and Trump while answering questions from allies at every turn about the president’s most controversial decisions, including his bombshell midweek announcement that the U.S. was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.But Tillerson defiantly made his way to Europe on Monday, telling reporters he’s here to stay.“You all need to get some new sources,” he said.On Tuesday in Brussels, he stood next to the European Union’s chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, while she condemned the U.S. for abandoning the Iran nuclear deal. The next day at the NATO headquarters, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, ahead of walking into a meeting with Tillerson, called the U.S.’s Jerusalem decision a “grave mistake.”After that, the U.K.’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stepped away from Tillerson to insist that the U.S. implement their Middle East process immediately.Throughout the week, Tillerson faced questions from the press about whether the U.S.'s European allies will still stand with the U.S., given that the new administration has abandoned the Europeans on agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran nuclear deal.But Tillerson seemed to suggest that the door is still open on issues that Trump has wholly dismissed.The "truth of the matter is, we’ve not disengaged from the climate discussions,” Tillerson said at a press conference in Vienna. He noted that the U.S. still sent a representative to the United Nations' Climate Change conference. In the past, Trump has seemed skeptical of climate change.And though the president has called the Iran deal an “embarrassment,” Tillerson said this week that the U.S. is still a part of the deal.“We are using that agreement and working with our European partners in particular to truly hold Iran accountable to its responsibilities as to its nuclear program,” he said.Tillerson had a short break from rebukes at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, where Ukraine was top of the agenda. He sought to rally European allies to be more aggressive with Russia, calling it the “biggest threat to European security.”He also came seeking commitments from Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to protect peacekeeping forces in Ukraine and to ultimately halt Russian aggression in the region.On Thursday, when asked what type of progress came of meeting with Lavrov, Tillerson said, “We get progress. That’s what we get.”"We get dialogue. We get cooperation,” he added. “We don’t have it solved. You don’t solve it in one meeting."Tillerson called Ukraine the "single most difficult obstacle to normalizing relations with Russia," omitting any mentions of election interference or cyberhacking.For his part, Lavrov was one of the few leaders who did not publicly condemn Tillerson for the Jerusalem announcement. In fact, when pressed, he claimed he couldn’t hear a question on the matter twice shouted by ABC News.The next day in Paris, Tillerson faced pushback on Jerusalem from the French President Emmanuel Macron and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri while he sat in the front row of the French foreign minister’s office watching their statements.Tillerson also weighed in on Saudi Arabia's blocking humanitarian aid to Yemen, saying, “I think we would encourage [the Saudis] to be a bit more measured and a bit more thoughtful in those actions to, I think, fully consider the consequences.”Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) -- The White House called on the Saudi-led coalition Friday to allow aid and commercial goods into Yemen, as the humanitarian crisis there continues to escalate.Two weeks ago, the coalition -- which has been fighting Yemeni Houthi rebels for almost 3 years -- eased an air, land, and sea blockade of Yemen that had been in place for three weeks, putting millions at risk of starvation, according to the United Nations. The White House praised Saudi Arabia for opening one seaport and airport, but had called for "additional steps" to ensure an unfettered flow of humanitarian aid.When that didn't happen, President Donald Trump increased his pressure on the country, directing his administration to call the leaders of Saudi Arabia "to request that they completely allow food, fuel, water, and medicine to reach the Yemeni people who desperately need it.""This must be done for humanitarian reasons immediately," Trump said in a statement on Wednesday.Now, the White House is repeating its call for the coalition to facilitate aid and goods through all Yemeni ports and allow commercial flights to resume out of Sana’a Airport."The Iranian-backed Houthi militias must allow food, medicine, and fuel to be distributed throughout the areas they control, rather than diverted to sustain their military campaign against the Yemeni people," Friday's statement reads. "This humanitarian aid must be allowed to immediately reach all points of need." Last weekend, the chiefs of several United Nations agencies and other top humanitarian officials said millions of Yemenis depend on supplies that can't get through the Saudi blockade, and many cities are already out of fuel, which means health and facilities can't operate.Nearly 400,000 Yemeni children suffer from severe acute malnutrition and more than 8 million Yemenis “could starve without urgent food assistance coming into Yemen,” they said. The most recent White House statement also condemned the killing of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Salih by the Houthis on Monday, as well as "their reckless missile attacks" against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.Salih had ruled Yemen for over three decades before being ousted during the Arab Spring in 2012."The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its partners are arming, advising, and enabling the Houthis’ violent actions, which accelerate the cycle of violence and human suffering, obstruct the flow of humanitarian aid, and disrupt efforts toward a political resolution," the White House said on Friday.Separately, the U.S. military announced on Friday that U.S. airstrikes had killed five al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants on Nov. 20.AQAP continues to operate in southern areas of Yemen in the midst of the country's years-long civil war.The U.S. military regularly strikes AQAP targets, and more recently in October, struck ISIS training camps in the same area. Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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