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►  While His Asia trip winding down, Trump meets with allies

Donald Trump is winding down his lengthy Asia trip with an international summit and a series of meetings with Pacific Rim allies, including his host in the Philippines who is overseeing a bloody drug war.

Trump jointly met Monday with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with whom he had a contentious phone call last winter, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who hosted the president in Tokyo earlier in the trip. Trump raved about his accomplishments on his five-nation journey, including on trade and North Korea, but said he would wait until his return to Washington on Wednesday to elaborate with a “major statement.”

“We’ve made some very big steps with regard to trade — far bigger than anything you know,” Trump told reporters at the beginning of the meeting in Manila, touting business deals forged between U.S. and foreign companies.

“We’ve made a lot of big progress on trade. We have deficits with almost everybody. Those deficits are going to be cut very quickly and very substantially,” Trump said.

“Except us,” Turnbull chimed in, to laughs.

“You’re the only one,” Trump responded. Trump also the trip had been “very fruitful” for the United States and pointed to the warm welcomes he had received in capitals like Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing.

“It was red carpet like nobody, I think, has probably ever received,” Trump said. “And that really is a sigh of respect, perhaps for me a little, but really for our county. And I’m really proud of that.”

The opening ceremonies of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations conference began with pageantry, including a group photo of the leaders and the summit’s traditional handshake. That cross-body handshake, during which each leader shakes the opposite hands of those next to him or her, briefly baffled Trump, who then laughed as he figured out where to place his arms.

One of the leaders on his flank: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has overseen a bloody drug war that has featured extrajudicial killings. The two men held longer, formal talks on Monday and White House aides signaled that Trump was not expected to publicly bring up human rights in their discussions.

During brief remarks to reporters, Trump said he and Duterte have “had a great relationship” but avoided questions on whether he’d raise human rights issues. The White House said the two leaders discussed the Islamic State, illegal drugs and trade during the 40 minute meeting. Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said human rights came up “briefly” in the context of the Philippines’ fight against illegal drugs.

Trump will also meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, which plays a key role in the U.S. vision of an Indo-Pacific region that attempts to de-emphasize China’s influence. And he is slated to have dinner with Turnbull.

But swirling questions about Russia followed Trump halfway across the globe.

He tried to have it both ways on the issue of Russian interference in last year’s presidential race, saying he believes both the U.S. intelligence agencies when they say Russia meddled and Putin’s sincerity in claiming that his country did not.

“I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election,” Trump said Sunday in Hanoi, Vietnam.

“As to whether I believe it, I’m with our agencies,” Trump said. “As currently led by fine people, I believe very much in our intelligence agencies.”

But just a day earlier, he had lashed out at the former heads of the U.S. intelligence agencies, dismissing them as “political hacks” and claiming there were plenty of reasons to be suspicious of their findings that Russia meddled to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Former CIA director John Brennan, appearing Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said Trump was deriding them in an attempt to “delegitimize” the intelligence community’s assessment.

“I think Mr. Putin is very clever in terms of playing to Mr. Trump’s interest in being flattered. And also I think Mr. Trump is, for whatever reason, either intimidated by Mr. Putin, afraid of what he could do or what might come out as a result of these investigations,” Brennan said.

Brennan said Trump’s ambiguity on Russia’s involvement was “very, very worrisome from a national security standpoint.”

“I think he’s giving Putin a pass and I think it demonstrates to Putin that Donald Trump can be played by foreign leaders who are going to appeal to his ego and play upon his insecurities,” Brennan said.

Questions about whether Trump believes the assessment about Russian election-meddling have trailed him since January, when he said for the first time, shortly before taking office, that he accepted that Russia was behind the election-year hacking of Democrats that roiled the White House race.

A special counsel’s examination of potential collusion between Moscow and Trump campaign aides so far has led to indictments against Trump’s former campaign chairman and another top aide for crimes unrelated to the campaign, and a guilty plea from a Trump foreign policy adviser for lying to the FBI.

Multiple congressional committees are also investigating.

Trump told reporters traveling with him to Hanoi on Saturday that Putin had again vehemently denied the allegations. The two spoke during an economic conference in Danang, Vietnam. Trump danced around questions about whether he believed Putin but stressed Putin’s denials.

“Every time he sees me, he says: ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe — I really believe — that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump said, arguing that it makes no sense for him to belabor the issue when Russia could help the U.S. on North Korea, Syria and other issues.


►  Powerful earthquake on Iran-Iraq border kills over 400

A powerful 7.3 magnitude earthquake near the Iraq-Iran border killed over 400 people across both countries, sent residents fleeing their homes into the night and was felt as far away as the Mediterranean coast, authorities said Monday.

Iran’s western Kermanshah province bore the brunt of the temblor Sunday night, with authorities saying the quake killed 407 people in the country and injured 6,700. Kermanshah is a rural, mountainous region where residents rely mainly on farming.

In Iraq, the earthquake killed at least seven people and injured 535, all in the country’s northern Kurdish region, according to Iraq’s Interior Ministry.

The quake was centered 19 miles (31 kilometers) outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja, according to the most recent measurements from the U.S. Geological Survey. It struck at 9:48 p.m. Iran time, just as people began retiring for the night.

It could be felt on the Mediterranean coast, some 660 miles (1,000 kilometers) away.

The earthquake struck 23.2 kilometers (14.4 miles) below the surface, a shallow depth that can amplify damage. Magnitude 7 earthquakes can be highly destructive.

Iranian social media and news agencies showed images and videos of people fleeing their homes. More than 100 aftershocks followed.

The quake’s worst damage appeared to be in the town of Sarpol-e-Zahab in Kermanshah province, which sits in the Zagros Mountains that divide Iran and Iraq.

Kokab Fard, a 49-year-old housewife in Sarpol-e-Zahab, said she fled empty-handed when her apartment complex collapsed. “Immediately after I managed to get out, the building collapsed,” Fard said. “I have no access to my belongings.”

Reza Mohammadi, 51, said he and his family ran out into the alley after the first shock. “I tried to get back to pick up some stuff but it totally collapsed in the second wave,” Mohammadi said.

Sarpol-e-Zahab residents said the power and water were out and telephone and cellphone lines were spotty.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offered his condolences on Monday morning and urged rescuers and government agencies to do all they could to help those affected, state media reported. President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to tour earthquake-damaged areas Tuesday.

The semi-official ILNA news agency said at least 14 provinces in Iran had been affected by the earthquake. Behnam Saeedi, a spokesman for the country’s crisis management headquarters, told two semi-official news agencies that casualty figures stood at 407 killed and 6,700 injured.

In Iraq, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a directive for the country’s civil defense teams and “related institutions” to respond to the natural disaster. Brig. General Saad Maan, an Interior Ministry spokesman, gave the casualty figures for Iraq.

The quake could be felt across Iraq, shaking buildings and homes from Irbil to Baghdad, where people fled into the streets of the capital.

Amina Mohammed, who survived the quake in Darbandikhan, Iraq, said she and her sons escaped their home as it collapsed around them.

“I think it was only God that saved us,” she said. “I screamed to God and it must have been him who stopped the stairs from entirely collapsing on us.”

The Iraqi city of Halabja, closest to the epicenter, was the target of a 1988 chemical attack in which Saddam Hussein’s troops killed some 5,000 people with mustard gas — the deadliest chemical weapons attack ever against civilians.

Iraqi seismologist Abdul-Karim Abdullah Taqi, who runs the earthquake monitoring group at the state-run Meteorological Department, said the main reason for the lower casualty figure in Iraq was the angle and the direction of the fault line. He said the Iraqi geological formations were better able to absorb the shocks.

However, the temblor caused visible damage to the dam at Darbandikhan, which holds back the Diyala River.

“There are horizontal and vertical cracks on the road and in the body of the dam, and parts of the dam sank lower,” said Rahman Hani, the director of the dam.

Turkey dispatched emergency aid to northern Iraq as officials expressed their “deep sadness” at the tragedy. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said his country took immediate action to provide medical and food aid to northern Iraq.

Kerem Kinik, the Turkish Red Crescent’s vice president, told The Associated Press from Habur border crossing that 33 aid trucks were en route to the northern Iraqi city of Sulaimaniyah, carrying 3,000 tents and heaters, 10,000 beds and blankets as well as food.

A Turkish military cargo plane arrived in Iraq as the official Anadolu news agency reported multiple dispatches by Turkey’s disaster agency. Ankara also said it would help Iran if Tehran requests assistance.

Relations between Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region and Turkey were strained following the Iraqi Kurds’ September independence referendum.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country stands with the region in difficult times and wished the Iraqi and Iranian people a speedy recovery. Speaking en route to Sochi, Russia, Erdogan said a convoy of 50 aid trucks has crossed the border into Iraq. Pakistan also extended its condolences for the loss of life and injuries suffered by “our Iranian and Iraqi brethren.”

Iran sits on many major fault lines and is prone to near-daily quakes. In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake flattened the historic city of Bam, killing 26,000 people. The last major casualty earthquake in Iran struck in East Azerbaijan province in August 2012, killing over 300 people.

The Latest on a powerful earthquake near the Iran-Iraq border that has killed more than 400 people (all times local):

7:30 p.m.

A powerful 7.3 magnitude earthquake near the Iraq-Iran border has killed over 400 people across both countries, sent residents fleeing their homes into the night and was felt as far away as the Mediterranean coast.

Iran’s western Kermanshah province bore the brunt of the temblor Sunday night, with authorities saying Monday that the quake killed 407 people in Iran and injured 6,700. Kermanshah is a rural, mountainous region where residents rely mainly on farming.

Iraq’s Interior Ministry says the earthquake killed at least seven people and injured 535 in the country’s northern Kurdish region.

The quake was centered 19 miles (31 kilometers) outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja, according to the most recent measurements from the U.S. Geological Survey.

It could be felt on the Mediterranean coast, some 660 miles (1,000 kilometers) away.


►  Spain warns EU about cyber-meddling suspicions in Catalonia

Spain on Monday warned its European Union partners about a disinformation campaign aimed at destabilizing its volatile northeast region of Catalonia, which Madrid claims appears to be coming from Russia.

Spanish Defense Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal told reporters that “many of the actions come from Russian territory,” but that it’s not yet possible to determine what their exact source is or if the Russian government is involved.

She said some of them are “repeated from Venezuelan territory.”

The Spanish government took control of Catalonia’s powers and called a snap regional election for December 21, after the Catalan government held a banned independence referendum on October 1.

Several regional government ministers have been jailed, and the region’s ousted leader, Carles Puigdemont, is in Brussels with four associates fighting extradition to Spain for trial. They could face up to 30 years in prison on charges of rebellion, sedition and extortion.

De Cospedal declined to guess what impact the disinformation might be having on the election campaign or how big the fake news campaign might be.

She said the number “is changing every day. The figure cannot be specified.”

Earlier, referring to a recent London meeting between WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and a prominent Catalan pro-independence figure, Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said there were signs that Assange and others “are trying to interfere and manipulate” amid the Catalonia crisis.

Spain said last week that the signs don’t necessarily mean the Russian government is involved, and it hasn’t made public any evidence to back the interference claim.

The EU’s strategic communications unit — the East StratCom Task Force — has recently reported several instances of disinformation coming from Russian news outlets linked to the Kremlin.

An analysis last month on the Russian talk show Vesti Nedeli said that the view from some Russian television stations is that Europe is “falling apart” and that Spain is being compared to Ukraine, whose Crimean Peninsula was annexed by Russian troops in 2014.

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