May 19, 2017

From Washington, this is VOA news. I'm Steve Miller reporting.

President Donald Trump took to Twitter Thursday morning, commenting on former FBI Director Robert Mueller being named special counsel. From the Capitol, VOA's Michael Bowman reports.

The president took to Twitter to disparage the appointment of a special counsel with enhanced powers to investigate Russia's meddling in last year's presidential election and any collusion by the Trump campaign, writing, "This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!"

"President Trump again is demonstrating his contempt for the rule of law." Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said former FBI Director Mueller is an excellent choice to uncover the truth.

"He has not only the expertise and experience, he has the grit and backbone to stand up to potential political influence. And the best sign that he will need that grit is Donald Trump's tweet about witch hunt."

Some Republicans continue to question the need for an independent prosecutor, noting that multiple probes have been under way for months.

Michael Bowman, VOA news, the Capitol.

President Donald Trump later on Thursday said he respects the appointment of a special counsel to investigate his campaign links to Russian, but he denies that there was any collusion.

The president told reporters that he is "fine with whatever people want to do," but said his administration has to get back to running the country.

When one reporter asked President Trump if he fired FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into Russia collusion, the president replied with a terse "no."

This is VOA news.

The U.S.-led coalition has conducted airstrikes against pro-Syrian government forces near an area where Syria, Jordan and Iraq intersect. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb explains the engagement.

According to a U.S. defense official, these pro-Syrian government forces were in an established de-confliction zone. Our talking to Major Josh Jacques, he is a spokesman for U.S. Central Command. They are the ones who are conducting operations inside the Middle East and Major Jacques told me that they can within this 55-kilometer radius around al-Tanf base. Now, al-Tanf base is where the U.S. is training hundreds of Syrians."

Local media have reported the strikes caused casualties and destroyed a number of vehicles

It is unclear whether Russian troops were operating in the pro-Syrian government forces at the time of the attack.

Under siege in other parts of Syria, IS forces staged a surprise attack Thursday on two government-held villages in central Syria's Hama province that killed more than 50 people.

Fierce clashes between IS fighters and pro-Syrian government forces in the villages of Aqareb and Al-Mabujeh left at least 15 civilians and 27 pro-regime troops dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

IS suffered 15 casualties.

Syria's state news agency put the death toll at 52, including 15 children. There are reports of IS torturing villagers and looting homes.

The White House has signaled Congress that it wishes to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Speaking at a U.S. State Department event, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said Mexico welcomes the renegotiation of NAFTA.

"This is something that we very much welcome, and this is a development that we've been waiting for for quite some time. It's good news for Mexico."

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told reporters NAFTA has helped strengthen the U.S. agriculture, investment services and energy sectors but it does hurt U.S. factories and resulted in well-paying manufacturing jobs being sent to Mexico.

Lighthizer said in a letter that NAFTA needs to be updated to more effectively address matters involving digital trade, intellectual property rights, and labor and environmental standards.

The State Department summoned Turkey's ambassador after bodyguards and supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan beat protesters outside the Turkish embassy earlier this week.

Republican Senator John McCain, head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he would like to see the Turkish ambassador out of the country.

Other U.S. officials have also criticized Erdoğan supporters.

In Washington, I'm Steve Miller.

That's the latest world news from VOA.