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AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EDT

Amid tough talk, Trump says he could be Iran’s ‘best friend’

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Saturday that military action against Iran was still an option for its downing of an unmanned U.S. military aircraft, but amid heightened tensions he dangled the prospect of eventually becoming an unlikely “best friend” of America’s longtime Middle Eastern adversary.

Trump also said “we very much appreciate” that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard chose not to target a U.S. spy plane carrying more than 30 people.

The president’s softer tone Saturday marked a stark contrast to the anti-Iran rhetoric he employed throughout the presidential campaign and presidency, including his use of punishing economic sanctions in an attempt to pressure Iran to give up its quest to build nuclear weapons.

“The fact is we’re not going to have Iran have a nuclear weapon,” he said as he left the White House for a weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat. “And when they agree to that, they are going to have a wealthy country, they’re going to be so happy and I’m going to be their best friend.”

“I hope that happens. I hope that happens, but it may not,” Trump said. He later said Iran will be hit with unspecified new sanctions on Monday.

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‘We all feel it’: Bikers mourn 7 of their own killed on road

RANDOLPH, N.H. (AP) — Investigators pleaded Saturday for members of the public to come forward with information that could help them determine why a pickup truck hauling a trailer collided with a group of 10 motorcycles on a rural highway, killing seven bikers.

The crash in remote northern New Hampshire involved members of Marine JarHeads, a motorcycle club that includes Marines and their spouses, authorities said. The tragedy sent shockwaves through New England’s communities of motorcyclists and military veterans, which often overlap.

“When something like this happens, we all feel it,” said Cat Wilson, who organizes a motorcycle charity event in Massachusetts and is a friend of some of the crash victims. “There is no tighter community than our biker community.”

Authorities identified the pickup driver as Volodoymyr Zhukovskyy, 23, an employee of a Springfield, Massachusetts, company called Westfield Transport.

Zhukovskyy survived the accident, did not need to be hospitalized and has not been charged, authorities said, but they didn’t address details on his whereabouts. A phone listing for him couldn’t be found.

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Skydiving plane in Hawaii crash had scary 2016 mishap

HONOLULU (AP) — A skydiving plane that crashed in Hawaii, killing 11 people, was involved in a terrifying midair incident three years ago in Northern California that prompted the 14 skydivers aboard to jump earlier than planned to safety, according to government investigative records.

The Beechcraft King Air plane crashed and burned on Oahu island’s north shore Friday evening after witnesses said it appeared to turn back shortly after takeoff.

In the July 23, 2016, incident near Byron, California, the twin-engine plane stalled three times and spun repeatedly before the pilot at that time managed to land it safely, the National Transportation Safety Board said in its investigative report. The agency blamed pilot error.

No one aboard survived the Hawaii crash, which left a small pile of smoky wreckage near the chain link fence surrounding Dillingham Airfield, a one-runway seaside airfield.

Steven Tickemyer saw the plane take flight, get 75 to 100 feet (22 to 30 metres) off the ground and turn away from the mountain range nearby.

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North Korea leader receives ‘excellent’ letter from Trump

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — President Donald Trump sent North Korean leader Kim Jong Un an “excellent” letter, the North’s state-run news agency reported Sunday, quoting Kim as saying he would “seriously contemplate it.”

The White House declined to confirm that Trump had sent a letter to Kim.

It comes as nuclear talks between the U.S. and North Korea broke down after the failed summit between Kim and Trump in February in Vietnam.

The U.S. is demanding that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons entirely before international sanctions are lifted. North Korea is seeking a step-by-step approach in which moves toward denuclearization are matched by concessions from the U.S., notably a relaxation of the sanctions.

Kim “said with satisfaction that the letter is of excellent content,” Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency reported.

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Sentencing looms in Charlottesville attack; man seeks mercy

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The self-avowed white supremacist who plowed his car into counterdemonstrators opposing a white nationalist rally in Virginia two years ago, killing one person and injuring dozens, has asked a judge for mercy and a sentence shorter than life in prison.

Lawyers for James Alex Fields Jr., 22, said in a sentencing memo submitted in court documents Friday that the defendant should not spend his entire life in prison because of his age, a traumatic childhood and a history of mental illness. Fields pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes in March and is set to be sentenced on June 28.

“No amount of punishment imposed on James can repair the damage he caused to dozens of innocent people. But this Court should find that retribution has limits,” his attorneys wrote.

But prosecutors countered that the avowed anti-Semite and Adolf Hitler admirer has shown no remorse since he drove the car into the counterdemonstrators on Aug. 12, 2017, killing anti-racism activist Heather Heyer and injuring others protesting against the white nationalists.

The attorneys for Fields said that giving him something less than a life sentence would be akin to an “expression of mercy” and a “conviction that no individual is wholly defined by their worst moments.”

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Device to trap plastic waste in Pacific Ocean relaunches

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A floating device designed to catch plastic waste has been redeployed in second attempt to clean up a huge island of trash swirling in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii.

Boyan Slat, creator of The Ocean Cleanup project, announced on Twitter that a 2,000-foot (600-meter) long floating boom that broke apart late last year was sent back to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch this week after four months of repair.

A ship towed the U-shaped barrier from San Francisco to the patch in September to trap the plastic. But during the four months at sea, the boom broke apart under constant waves and wind and the boom wasn’t retaining the plastic it caught.

“Hopefully nature doesn’t have too many surprises in store for us this time,” Slat tweeted. “Either way, we’re set to learn a lot from this campaign.”

Fitted with solar-powered lights, cameras, sensors and satellite antennas, the device intends to communicate its position at all times, allowing a support vessel to fish out the collected plastic every few months and transport it to dry land.

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AP sources: US struck Iranian military computers this week

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. military cyber forces launched a strike against Iranian military computer systems on Thursday as President Donald Trump backed away from plans for a more conventional military strike in response to Iran’s downing of a U.S. surveillance drone, U.S. officials said Saturday.

Two officials told The Associated Press that the strikes were conducted with approval from Trump. A third official confirmed the broad outlines of the strike. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the operation.

The cyberattacks — a contingency plan developed over weeks amid escalating tensions — disabled Iranian computer systems that controlled its rocket and missile launchers, the officials said. Two of the officials said the attacks, which specifically targeted Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps computer system, were provided as options after Iranian forces blew up two oil tankers earlier this month.

The IRGC, which was designated a foreign terrorist group by the Trump administration earlier this year, is a branch of the Iranian military.

The action by U.S. Cyber Command was a demonstration of the U.S.’s increasingly mature cyber military capabilities and its more aggressive cyber strategy under the Trump administration. Over the last year U.S. officials have focused on persistently engaging with adversaries in cyberspace and undertaking more offensive operations.

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Harris, Warren, others counter Biden’s electability argument

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Standing before a throng of party faithful in a key early primary state, Joe Biden’s leading rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination sought Saturday to undercut the former vice-president’s argument that he’s the ideal Democrat to oust President Donald Trump.

They did it without mentioning the 76-year-old front-runner at all. Biden, in turn, didn’t mention them either.

California Sen. Kamala Harris charged straight at Trump as she addressed hundreds of activists at the South Carolina Democratic Party Convention.

“We need somebody on our stage when it comes for that general election, who knows how to recognize a rap sheet when they see it and prosecute the case,” Harris said, playing off her experience as a state and local prosecutor as she shredded Trump on a litany of policy fronts.

Then, in a seeming reference to Biden, the 54-year-old senator added that South Carolina voters mustn’t “turn back the clock” but instead, “Let’s start the next chapter. Let’s turn the page.”

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2020 Democrats strongly defend abortion rights at forum

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Twenty Democratic presidential candidates attending a Planned Parenthood forum on Saturday vowed to defend abortion rights under nearly any circumstance while largely ignoring nuances around the issue that have already roiled their party heading into the 2020 election.

The event sponsored by Planned Parenthood Action Fund — the group’s political arm — was the first of the election season centred on abortion. It came on the sidelines of the South Carolina Democratic Party’s state convention, a pivotal gathering of the party faithful in the South’s first primary state.

The candidates were united in decrying a series of tough, recent abortion restrictions approved by Republican-controlled legislatures around the country geared to ultimately provoke a Supreme Court case that could overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

Those efforts have come alongside attempts to strip taxpayer funding from Planned Parenthood, which abortion rights advocates and some leading medical groups say would make it harder for low-income women to get access to basic health care, not only abortion.

“We’ve been on defence for 47 years and it’s not working,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion. Warren, who turned 70 on Saturday, said trying to restrict abortion usually boils down to sexism.

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Trump postpones nationwide immigration enforcement sweep

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Saturday delayed a nationwide immigration sweep to deport people living the United States illegally, including families, saying he would give lawmakers two weeks to work out solutions for the southern border.

The move came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Trump on Friday asking him to call off the raids. But three administration officials said scrapping the operation was not just about politics. They said Immigration and Customs Enforcement leaders had expressed serious concerns that officers’ safety would be in jeopardy because too many details about the raids had been made public.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to speak about private discussions.

“At the request of Democrats, I have delayed the Illegal Immigration Removal Process (Deportation) for two weeks to see if the Democrats and Republicans can get together and work out a solution to the Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “If not, Deportations start!”

The operation, which sparked outrage and concern among immigrant advocates, had been expected to begin Sunday and would target people with final orders of removal, including families whose immigration cases had been fast-tracked by judges.

The Associated Press