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By Lauren Egan

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump welcomed the Boston Red Sox to the White House Thursday afternoon to celebrate their 2018 World Series win.

“Each Red Sox player is a shining example of excellence living out an American sporting tradition that goes back many generations,” Trump said, honoring the team on the White House South Lawn.

Trump, a native of New York, joked about the Red Sox’s defeat of the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series, telling players “I think I’ll be neutral in this one.”

Some members of the team opted against neutrality.

Team manager Alex Cora, who is Puerto Rican, declined to attend the White House celebration, pointing to disagreements with Trump’s political positions, including his administration’s handling of hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

Other players who declined the invitation included Mookie Betts, David Price, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rafael Devers, Hector Velazquez, Xander Bogaerts, Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez, according to the Boston Globe. All of them are people of color.

They aren’t the first championship players to decline an invitation to a celebratory White House visit since Trump took office. The University of Virginia men’s basketball team recently decided not to attend a White House ceremony after their 2019 NCAA win. And Trump has made clear that some teams, such as the Golden State Warriors and the Philadelphia Eagles, were not welcome at the White House amid widespread criticism by players on those teams of the president and his policies.

After the brief ceremony on the South Lawn, Trump invited the Red Sox inside the White House for a private tour of the Lincoln Bedroom.

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Iran’s Zarif says Saudi Arabia, not Iran, is to blame for Middle East instability

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Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Thursday that Saudi Arabia — and not Iran — is to blame for sowing instability in the Middle East, and accused the Trump administration of turning a blind eye to Riyadh’s “malign” actions.

Speaking to reporters at Iran’s United Nations Mission in New York, Zarif also proposed what he called a “substantial” diplomatic offer in which Iran would agree to permanent and enhanced inspections of its nuclear program in return for a permanent lifting of U.S. sanctions.

The proposal will likely be rejected by the Trump administration, which has demanded the regime agree to a list of concessions, including giving up uranium enrichment and halting its support for proxies in the region. It has imposed harsh oil and banking sanctions on Iran, and Thursday added sanctions against alleged “front” companies accused of procuring material for Iran’s nuclear program.

Hours after Zarif’s briefing with reporters, President Donald Trump said the USS Boxer a Navy amphibious assault ship — had destroyed an Iranian drone that had flown within 1,000 yards of the warship.

The drone was “threatening safety of the ship and the ship’s crew” and “was immediately destroyed,” Trump said.

Zarif said the United States had singled out the wrong country by painting Iran as the culprit fueling chaos and conflict in the Middle East and North Africa.

Saudi Arabia, he said, was the main “source of malign activity.”

Zarif asked why Washington penalizes Tehran instead of Riyadh, citing a litany of alleged Saudi activities, including civilian casualties from Saudi-led air raids in Yemen, promoting a renegade general in Libya, the alleged kidnapping of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in 2017, and last year’s killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

“You support Saudi Arabia to bomb the hell out of the Yemenis. Why do you complain against us?” Zarif said. “You supported them while they had the prime minister of Lebanon in custody. Why do you complain against us? What’s the malign behavior?”

“OK, we are involved in Lebanon and Syria and Iraq,” he acknowledged, but argued that Iran is “always on the right side,” while alleging the Saudi kingdom is trying to stir up trouble in nations that are afflicted by civil wars.

“Are we involved in Libya? Are we involved in the Sudan?” he asked.

The Trump administration says Iran has backed militant proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere for years that have carried out violent attacks on civilians and undermined governments, while backing a brutal regime in Syria led by Bashar al-Assad. The administration has defended its strong ties to Saudi Arabia, saying the country is a crucial counterweight to Iran and a loyal ally. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has condemned the killing of Khashoggi but said last year that the “kingdom is a powerful force for stability in the Middle East.”

Since Washington tightened oil sanctions on Iran in April, the two countries have entered into a tense showdown around the Strait of Hormuz, a vital waterway for the world’s oil shipments.

Zarif was asked if he had the shape of an agreement in mind that could end the standoff and that leaders in both countries could support.

“As a diplomat, I have to always think about alternatives. That’s my job. But it is not my job to make those alternatives public because otherwise, I would not be able to use those alternatives,” he said. “I have several.”

Zarif outlined one which he described as “a substantial move.” He suggested that Iran and the other parties to the 2015 nuclear accord, known as the JCPOA, could simply move up the date of a key provision that was originally planned to enter into force in 2023.

Under the terms of the deal, the U.S. agreed to end all sanctions in return for Iran agreeing to what’s known as the “additional protocol,” requiring a full disclosure of Iran’s nuclear history and an agreement to permit surprise international inspections anywhere on Iranian territory.

“In October 2023, we are supposed to do two things,” Zarif said. “Iran is supposed to ratify the additional protocol and the United States Congress is supposed to lift the sanctions. If he wants more for more, he can lift the sanctions. He has said he will take any measure to Congress. Fine! Lift the sanctions and you’ll have the additional protocol.”

Trump, he said, could agree to that “tomorrow.”

The foreign minister told NBC News on Monday in an interview that he believed prudence prevailed when Trump chose not to retaliate against Iran after it shot down a U.S. drone.

Zarif said Iran was ready to enter into negotiations with the U.S. if Trump lifted the array of sanctions he has imposed since 2017. Trump pulled Washington out of the nuclear deal last year. The agreement between Iran and world powers curtailed Tehran’s nuclear program in return for an easing of U.S. and international sanctions.

Dan De Luce reported from Aspen, Colorado.



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U.S. Marines jam an Iranian drone in the Gulf, destroying it

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U.S. Marines jammed an Iranian drone in the Gulf of Hormuz Thursday, senior defense officials said, bringing the aircraft down and destroying it. It was the latest in a series of tense incidents between Washington and Tehran.

President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday that the USS Boxer an amphibious assault ship “took defensive action” against the Iranian drone that had “closed into a very, very near distance, approximately 1,000 yards.”

The drone was “threatening safety of the ship and the ship’s crew” and “was immediately destroyed,” he said.

“This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions against vessels operating in international waters,” the president said, adding that the United States “reserves the right to defend our personnel, our facilities, our interests, and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran’s attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce. “

“I also call on other nations to protect their ships as they go through the strait and to work with us in the future,” Trump added.

A defense official told NBC News that the drone was brought down by members of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The downing of the drone was just the latest incident to be reported near the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway off Iran’s coast which separates the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. A third of the world’s seaborne oil shipments and 20 percent of oil traded worldwide pass out of the Persian Gulf through the strait.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard forces seized a foreign oil tanker after accusing its 12 crew members of smuggling oil, state TV reported Thursday.

Earlier this month, several Iranian boats attempted to stop a British commercial vessel sailing through the strait, but the vessels were driven away by a British military ship, a senior U.S. defense official and a British government spokesperson said.

And last month, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said it shot down a U.S. surveillance drone. Iranian officials claimed they shot down the unmanned aircraft after it entered Iranian airspace, but the U.S. has disputed that and said the drone was in international airspace above the Strait of Hormuz.

After the U.S. drone was shot down, Trump tweeted that the U.S. was “cocked & loaded” to retaliate with military strikes on Iranian targets, but called off the action after being told 150 people could die.

The U.S. has also blamed Iran for what the military said was a limpet mine attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman in June. Iran has denied any involvement in the incident.

Pressure in the region has been building since the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement and imposed punishing sanctions on the country. The administration has also designated the Revolutionary Guard a foreign terrorist organization. Last month, Trump signed an executive order putting in place new sanctions.

CORRECTION (July 18, 2019, 7:11 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated the action taken by the U.S. military to bring down an Iranian drone in the Gulf. The drone was jammed; it was not shot down.



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Boris Johnson's PM vision: 'Nobody should have to sell their home for dementia care costs'

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BORIS JOHNSON pledges to end the cruel injustice of families being forced to sell their homes to cover the cost of caring for loved ones with dementia if he becomes prime minister next week.

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