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Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- At his annual end-of-year press conference, a marathon question and answer session where he takes questions for hours, Russian president Vladimir again dismissed suspicions of possible collusion between Russia and members of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, saying they were “invented” by Trump’s opponents.

“This is all invented by people who oppose Trump to give his work an illegitimate character,” Putin said, answering a question from ABC News’ Terry Moran.

Russia will hold presidential elections next March and this year Putin used the event to broadcast his own achievements while heading off the battered opposition who have been permitted to run against him.

The event is heavily stage-managed, with the Kremlin loosely arranging the order of questioning. Although Russia's handful of independent media outlets are allowed to ask questions, Putin usually moves swiftly over them. Follow up questions are not allowed, meaning Putin has little difficulty avoiding being pinned down.

During this year's event, more than 1600 journalists were present, asking questions on subjects ranging from nuclear arms treaties with the United States to the problems of local fish production.

On Donald Trump Asked how he would explain the unusually large number of Russians linked to his government being in contact with Trump’s campaign, Putin said there was nothing odd about it.

"Should we ban all contacts?" Putin asked. Bringing up the example of meetings by Russia’s then ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, with Trump advisors during the campaign, Putin asked, "What do you find egregious in that? Why does it all have to take on some tint of spymania?,” said Putin.

Putin also praised Trump, crediting him with some “major achievements” in his relatively short time in office. “Look at the market!” Putin said, referring to the stock market highs that have accompanied Trump's time in office. “This speaks to investors’ trust in the American economy.”

Putin went on that he believed there were things that Trump had not yet done that he would have wished, such as U.S. healthcare, but also improving relations with Russia. But he added: "It's already obvious that even if he would like to do that, he's not in a state to do that because of the well-known limits," seeming to refer to the uproar around Trump's relationship to Russia.

"I don't know if he still has such a wish or if it's entirely exhausted-- I hope there is," Putin said, adding he believes in the end the two countries "will normalize our relations and develop and overcome common threats."

On Olympic Doping
A week after Russia was banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics over systematic efforts to conceal doping by its athletes, Putin attacked the key whistle-blower who revealed the scheme, suggesting the man had given false evidence on the orders of the American intelligence services.

Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory who has claimed to have helped Russia's sports ministry cover up hundreds of positive tests, provided the key evidence to enquiries by international sporting bodies that eventually led to Russia’s banning from the Olympics. Rodchenkov is now in hiding in the U.S. under government protection.

Russia has never accepted the allegations that the doping cover up was state-sponsored, and Putin suggested the claims were the invention of U.S. intelligence.

"He is under the control and the protection of the FBI. That means he is working under the control of the American secret services," Putin said. "What are they doing with him there? What drugs do they give him, so that he says what’s needed?”

The Russian president added that he believed the doping allegations were being “ramped up” to weaken him in next year's presidential elections. Putin seemed to imply that Rodchenkov might even have been an American spy while carrying out the doping scheme.

“What’s strange for me, as a person who worked for a long time in the security service: he brought all this crap from North America —- from the U.S. and Canada. How did they let him through customs with such tough controls? Of course, certain thoughts arise on this account."

On his opponents Putin formally announced he would run in March’s presidential elections last week. With Russia’s opposition marginalized and the media dominated by the Kremlin, he is expected to win without difficulty.

At the press conference he dismissed the country's opposition, or the few opponents who have been allowed to run against him, as immature and dangerous.

“It’s not my job to nurture competitors," Putin said, adding that he also wonders why the political opposition remains small. Russia’s opposition are subjected to almost constant pressure from authorities, with their rallies regularly broken up by police and activists arrested.

Putin's most popular opponent, the anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny, who has led large protests around Russia, is barred from running in the elections by a fraud conviction that he says is politically-motivated.

Putin, as he often does, avoided mentioning Navalny's name, simply criticizing those "who make noise on the public square" without offering anything "constructive."

Navalny during the press conference posted a link on Twitter to his presidential campaign's political program, saying Putin must be "trying hard" to miss it.

With the opposition largely excluded from Russian state media, the event saw what might be the closest Russia gets to a presidential debate. Ksenia Sobchak, a former socialite turned celebrity journalist and the daughter of Putin's political mentor is likely to be his most high profile opponent in the election. From the audience, where she waved a red sign with her name on it, she asked Putin whether he feared competition, saying that being opposition figure in Russia was to face “being killed or jailed.” She also referred to Navalny, who has been imprisoned repeatedly for protesting.

“I promise you, the authorities haven’t been afraid of anyone and don’t fear anyone,” Putin retorted to Sobchak. He dismissed her as not offering a constructive program and suggesting she wanted to open the door to the chaos of the 1990s. “Do you want attempted coups? We’ve lived through all that. Do you really want to go back to all that? I am sure that the overwhelming majority of Russian citizens do not want this. We’ve already gone though all that. Do you want to go back to that?”

North Korea Putin said that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent statement that the U.S. is ready to negotiate with North Korea without pre-conditions was a “very good signal” and that Russia would cooperate in that direction.

But Putin heavily criticised the U.S. over its broader approach to North Korea, saying it had “provoked” the North Koreans into exiting previous negotiations and agreements. He also mocked the U.S. Congress.

"Have you noticed your Congressmen? They look great, suits, ties. Like smart guys," Putin said. "But they put us in one line with North Korea and Iran, while pushing president Trump to persuade us to help solve the problem. Are you guys normal over there at all?"

Nuclear Arms Race

Putin accused the U.S. of unilaterally withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF), a crucial arms control agreement that helped significantly reduce tensions between Russia and the U.S. at the end of the Cold War and that recently both sides had suggested is under threat.

The U.S. has accused Russia of violating the INF treaty by deploying a new ground-based cruise missile. Russia denies it is in violation and argues the U.S. has already breached the treaty by setting up an anti-missile system in Europe, something the U.S. also disputes.

"In fact and in essence, the process has started," Putin said of the possible unilateral withdrawal by the U.S. "If the things go the same way, there is nothing good about it."

He added that Russia would not withdraw from the treaty.

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iStock/Thinkstock(PARIS) -- A regional train and a school bus collided in southern France Thursday, killing four children and injuring more than a dozen others.

The incident occurred at around 4 p.m. local time in the village of Millas. About 20 students between the ages of 11 and 15 were being taken home in a school bus when it collided at a railway crossing with a train, local authorities said in a statement.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who flew to the scene of the accident, confirmed that four teenage children were killed and 11 others had been critically injured.

"The circumstances of this terrible drama are still undetermined," Philippe said.

A spokeswoman for the French national rail company, SNCF, told ABC News that the train normally travels at about 50 miles per hour at the location of the crash and that 25 people were on board at the time. Three of the train's passengers were slightly injured.

All emergency services have been mobilized and a crisis coordination unit has been set up, local authorities said. 100 firefighters were called to the scene, along with 10 ambulances, two air ambulances, and two police helicopters.

"All my thoughts are with the victims of this terrible accident of a school bus and with their families. The state is fully mobilized to come to their aid," French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted in French.

Psychological help is being offered to families and students on site, authorities said, and an investigation has been launched to determine the cause of the accident.

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Kate Green/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Holding white roses and photographs of their loved ones, families of the victims and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire gathered for a national memorial service at St Paul's Cathedral in London on Thursday.

Exactly six months ago, on July 14th, the fire in the 24-story high-rise in North Kensington claimed the lives of 71 people -- 53 adults and 18 children. Many of the survivors remain unsettled without permanent housing.

On the eve of the families' first New Year without their loved ones, members of the Royal Family and high-ranking officials joined the bereaved families to give thanks to those who stood with them since then.

With more than 1,500 people in attendance, the Bishop of Kensington, the Right Reverend Dr. Graham Tomlin, said he believes the catastrophe was the result of neglecting the community.

"Today we ask why warnings were not heeded, why a community was left feeling neglected, uncared for, not listened to," Tomlin said, addressing the audience that included members of the extended community, public support workers, emergency and recovery teams and volunteers.

Tomlin said he hoped it would become a turning point and that communities like Grenfell will be heard more in the future.

“My hope and prayer is that this new year can bring new hope of a future," Tomlin added, "a vision of a city where we lose our self-obsession and listen and learn from places and people that we wouldn’t normally think of reaching out to."

He said he hoped the word "Grenfell" would transform over time from a symbol of "sorrow, grief or injustice" to "a symbol of the time we learned a new and better way: to listen and to love."

During the service, a young Syrian musician played mournful music with an oud, an instrument used in countries in the Middle East and Africa, from which many of the Grenfell fire victims had heritage.

“Remember Me” by Persian poet, Rumi, was read by one of the fire's survivors, Nadia Jafari. She managed to escape from the tower, but lost her elderly father, Ali, to the fire.

Among the officials and Royal Family members attending the service were Prime Minister Theresa May, the opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Prince Charles and his sons Prince William and Prince Harry.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Two weeks after a media report alleging that U.S. Army Special Forces were involved in the killing of unarmed civilians in Somalia, the head of U.S. Africa Command has ordered a new probe into the operation.

"After subsequent media reports alleged misconduct by U.S. personnel who participated in the operation, Gen. [Thomas] Waldhauser referred the matter to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to ensure a full exploration of the facts given the gravity of the allegations," a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) told ABC News. "AFRICOM takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and will leverage the expertise of appropriate organizations to ensure such allegations are fully and impartially investigated."

The Daily Beast reported Nov. 29 that the 10 to 13 U.S. Green Berets, along with a group from the Somali National Army, shot dead 10 civilians in the village of Bariire, Somalia, about 30 miles outside the capital of Mogadishu, on Aug. 25.

Shortly after the Daily Beast reported its story, AFRICOM released the results of its investigation into the civilian casualty allegations made after the Aug. 25 operation, concluding "the only casualties were those of armed enemy combatants."

Villagers who spoke to the Daily Beast alleged that after civilians were killed, U.S. forces directed Somali soldiers to raid the home used to store the villager's guns and place the weapons beside the dead civilians before photographing them.

The report goes on to say that the villagers brought the dead civilians to Mogadishu in a refrigerated truck, as evidence to present to the Somali government. Within days, Somalia's chief of defense forces and minister of information said civilians had been killed in the operation, the Daily Beast reported.

But the Somali government's investigation into the incident was never publicly released.

A Somali government official and former security official told the Daily Beast that was because of pressure from the U.S. government. To appease the families of the victims, both sources said, the Somali government paid the families between $60,000 and $70,000 each, one source even alleging that money came from the U.S. government.

There is about 400 U.S. military personnel in Somalia partnering with the Somali government on counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabab and ISIS. The United States has conducted 32 airstrikes inside Somalia in 2017, in addition to accompanying Somali military forces on ground operations as part of an advise-and-assist mission.

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Subscribe To This Feed -- Russian President Vladimir Putin took a page out of the playbook of President Donald Trump on Thursday by referring to allegations of contact between U.S. and Russian officials during the 2016 election as "all invented."

Putin spoke to reporters at a marathon press conference on Thursday -- an annual tradition for the Russian leader.

ABC News' Terry Moran asked Putin about the allegations of contact between Trump and the Kremlin during last year's election, a charge currently being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Putin echoed Trump's favorite phrase of "fake news" in dismissing the allegations.

"All of this has been invented, made up by people who are in opposition to President Trump with a view to shedding a negative light on what President Trump is doing " Putin said, translated from Russian, and going on to call it "nonsense."

He accused those suggesting collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign as "not respecting the voters who voted for him."

Trump has used similar language to deny any Russian meddling in the election.

Putin praised the work of Trump in the first year of his presidency, citing the record-high stock market as evidence.

"Objectively, we see some serious achievements accomplished over the short span he is president," Putin said. "Look at the markets, how they’ve grown. This attests to the trust investors show in him on the American economy."

Putin said there "were also things that [Trump] has not yet managed to do that he would like to."

Mueller's probe into the Trump campaign continues, with him interviewing White House communications director, and former campaign aide, Hope Hicks earlier this week. Donald Trump Jr. also appeared on Capitol Hill Wednesday for a nine-hour interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Two Trump associates -- campaign chairman Paul Manafort and aide Richard Gates -- have been indicted on multiple charges resulting from Mueller's investigation. They have pleaded not guilty. Former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn have both pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI while in the course of the investigation.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Retired NBA player Dennis Rodman sat down for an interview with "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" on Wednesday to discuss his controversial relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Rodman, who's visited North Korea at least five times over the last four years, said the two aren’t “best friends,” but he described their relationship as “close.”

“I'm not protecting him. And people think that I sit there and say, ‘Hey, he's my best friend.’ That's not the case,” Rodman said. “He just treats me as a friend.

“I'm close enough to him to the fact that he can discuss anything with me. The deal is I don't discuss politics because that's not my job,” he added.

Rodman, an NBA Hall of Famer, said he and Kim first bonded a few years ago when the rogue leader asked for his trust.

“When I went over there, the first thing he said to me [was], ‘Mr. Rodman we just want to know, can we trust you?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ And that's how our conservation started,” he recalled. “I went over there to try to solve things, to try to open the door so we can have some communication.”

Rodman said he does not agree with all of Kim’s political decisions, but he does want to act as a bridge between the U.S. and North Korea.

“He's more of a kid, than anything,” Rodman said. “I think he really wants to change his culture, but I think he's forced to be in this position because every time I go over there, he's changed so much for the people. The people don't see that.

“Like I said, you don't have to like somebody to be around them. You don't have to love somebody to like them,” Rodman added.

In the past, Rodman, who said he is a supporter of President Donald Trump, has called on the president to unite with North Korea, but that seems unlikely as North Korea continues to defy demands for it to abandon its nuclear and missile programs.

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(LONDON) --  iStock/Thinkstock"The new embassy signifies a new era of friendship between our two countries," U.S. Ambassador Woody Johnson announced to reporters Wednesday at the press preview of the new U.S. Embassy in London.

"When you look out through the window, it reflects the global outlook of the U.S. in the 21st century," he said, flanked by the American flag and the Union Jack, in front of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the River Thames.

On this grim, drizzly London day he spoke about a "very bright future," as reporters were left to imagine the main cafeteria awash in sunlight sometime, perhaps, in August.

Johnson, 70, is the billionaire owner of the New York Jets and heir to pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson who has rallied big money for Republican candidates including President Donald Trump. Just six weeks officially into the ambassadorial gig, Trump's long-time friend stuck to the administration script at a time when that special relationship between the U.S. and U.K. appears to be in some trouble.

"This relationship is strong and enduring," he repeated multiple times on Wednesday.

When asked about the damage done when President Trump re-tweeted three videos shared by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain First, last month, he brushed it off.

"I don't think these kind of things will deter [Trump and UK Prime Minister Theresa May] from the objectives they both have," he said. He wouldn't say it was wrong for the president to retweet the videos and added that it's not really his job to smooth this out. For her part, May made it clear last month that "retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do." 

The imposing cube-shaped building is now the centerpiece of the largest regeneration project in Europe, Nine Elms in the Wandsworth borough of London. It spans 518,050 square feet, climbs more the 200 feet tall and cost a billion dollars, making it the most expensive U.S. Embassy building ever.

"It's a neighborhood with a great view. And a great future," Johnson said, joined today by key partners in this decade-long project.

For more than 200 years, the home of the U.S. diplomatic post has been in Grosvenor Square, in London's swanky Mayfair borough. The most recent embassy building, which opened in 1960, has now been sold to a Qatari developer, and “Little America," as it's called here, "is moving south of the river," said Johnson.

The new ambassador described the current embassy as a "window to the special relationship that the U.S. and U.K. have built together." It's famously topped with a bronze sculpture of the American Bald Eagle which will remain behind, and a flag that “the president would like ... because it’s a very big flag," the ambassador quipped.

The new building will open for business on January 16, 2018, but the dedication will come at a later, undisclosed date.

Asked if President Trump would dedicate the building, Johnson said "it depends on his schedule... He's a busy president at the moment, traveling the world and traveling the U.S. Yeah, we'd love to have him over here and we look forward to welcoming the president when he gets here."

Under fire to rescind her invitation last month over those Britain First retweets, Prime Minister May has reiterated that the invitation to the American president still stands. Speaking in Amman, Jordan last month, May told reporters that "an invite for a state visit has been extended and has been accepted. No date has been set."

In recent weeks, calls from both the British public and politicians to protest the American president's state visit have grown louder - but Johnson isn't worried.

"The great thing about being in London and the great thing about being in the U.S. is the ability to express your point of view," he said. "That's something we live with every day and it's an important part of who we are."

"The new embassy is a signal to the world that this special relationship we have will get stronger and will get better," he concluded. "And I’m going to do that if I can."

"Drop the 'if I can,'" he quickly added. "We’re going to make it stronger.”

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- When President Donald Trump announced two months ago that he would not certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, he automatically triggered a 60-day review period during which Congress could decide to snap tough economic sanctions on Iran back into place -- a move that would effectively kill the landmark nuclear arms agreement.

That review period expired Tuesday, and the results are in: Congress chose not to act.

The White House said Tuesday that there was never any expectation Congress would act on sanctions within the review period and that the administration is still working with Congress on a longer-term, legislative fix to the deal.

That means the deal, which Trump recently described as the "one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into," remains unchanged. And the Republican Congress, which the president hopes will make a decision for him, is signaling they may lack the political grit to pass a law that kills it.

Trump has said he wants Congress to "fix the flaws in the deal" by passing a law that would remove sunset clauses and impose restrictions on Iran's ballistic missile program. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called them "trigger points" that relate to unacceptable Iranian behavior. But all five international signatories to the deal agree a U.S. law like that would amount to a material breach.

Congress' inaction during the review period raises questions about whether they will pass a new law that could kill the deal later.

Micah Johnson, a spokesman for Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told ABC News the senator is having "productive discussions" with the administration and other congressional leaders about the "appropriate path forward."

Sens. Corker and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., released a legislative framework for fixing the Iran deal two months ago, but sources on Capitol Hill told ABC News that so far there is no new legislation circulating.

Trump has threatened to end the deal on his own if Congress does nothing. "In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated," the president said in October. "It is under continuous review, and our participation can be canceled by me, as president, at any time."

Assuming Congress doesn't put forward any new legislation on Iran, the next step lies with Trump, and he could reach a tipping point when he's confronted with making a decision on the next round of sanctions waivers on Jan. 13.

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NHK News(OKINAWA, Japan) -- For the second time in less than a week, a part from a U.S. military aircraft has fallen on a school in Okinawa, Japan.

A Marine CH-53E helicopter window fell onto the sports field of Daini Futenma Elementary School near the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma at about 10:09 a.m. Wednesday, 1st Lt. Karoline Foote, a spokeswoman from the First Marine Aircraft Wing, confirmed to ABC News.

The Japanese school is located in the southern prefecture of Okinawa. The helicopter crew immediately returned to MCAS Futenma and reported the incident, Foote said.

About 50 students were on the field when the aircraft’s window fell, city education board officials told NHK News, a Japanese public broadcaster. One boy sustained minor injuries after being hit by some gravel that was stirred up when the window hit the field, according to official reports.

Police said the helicopter’s window is about 35 inches wide, 33 inches long and weighs about 17 pounds, NHK News reported.

The window reportedly landed about 10 yards from where the students were playing.

“We take this report extremely seriously and are investigating the cause of this incident in close coordination with local authorities,” Foote said. “For safety purposes and to preserve the site for an investigation, we ask the community remain clear from the object's landing site. This is a regrettable incident, and we apologize for any anxiety it has caused the community.”

The incident is “inexcusable,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference today.

The mishap has angered Okinawans, coming six days after a cylindrical object fell on the roof of a nursery school from a U.S. military aircraft passing overhead. There were no injuries, and the Marine Corps is also investigating that incident.

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Karwai Tang/WireImage(LONDON) -- Meghan Markle will join Prince Harry and other members of the royal family at Sandringham, Queen Elizabeth's estate, on Christmas Day, Kensington Palace said Wednesday.

"You can expect to see the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge -- Prince Harry and Ms. Markle -- at Sandringham on Christmas Day," a Kensington Palace spokeswoman said.

The Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton did not attend Christmas services at Sandringham in 2010 when she was still engaged to Prince William. She spent Christmas with her family before her wedding to William the next year.

Other royal fiancés have traditionally not attended either. Mike Tindall, the husband of Queen Elizabeth's granddaughter, Zara Philips, also did not join the royal family for Christmas before the couple married.

Markle, 36, and Harry, 33, announced their engagement on Nov. 27. Just a few days later, they attended their first official engagement as a newly engaged couple in Nottingham, England. The couple plans to wed at Windsor Castle next May.

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ABC(NEW YORK) -- Buildings and bridges across the world were bathed in blue and white light Tuesday night in honor of the first night of Hanukkah.

From New York City to Winnipeg, Manitoba to Tel Aviv, the eight-day Jewish "festival of lights" is staying true to its nickname and lighting up cities of all sizes.

The Empire State Building was lit blue and white, with red light in its antenna, meant to represent a flickering candle. During Hanukkah, one candle of a menorah is lit each night.

In Israel, Tel Aviv City Hall's exterior was lit up in the shape of a menorah, with one candle lit. The city's official Twitter account simply tweeted, "Here we go! #HappyHanukkah."

In Winnipeg, the city's "Winnipeg" iconic 8 foot-by-53 foot sign, was illuminated in blue and white. "Tonight marks the beginning of #Hanukkah," tweeted Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman. "To celebrate the #WinnipegSign will be blue & white for the duration of the Festival of Lights!"

In Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney attended a Hanukkah lighting at Boathouse Row, a historic site located on the east bank of the Schuylkill River. "Celebrating the first night of Hanukkah at the Boathouse Row lighting tonight! Wishing a happy holiday to everyone celebrating," Kenney tweeted.

The Benjamin Franklin Bridge -- a suspension bridge across the Delaware River connecting Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey -- was also lit blue and white in honor of Hanukkah. ABC affiliate WPVI-TV tweeted video of the bridge's twinkling lights.

Other structures lit blue and white for Hanukkah include the U.S. Bank Tower in downtown Los Angeles, the Lowry Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, Orlando's Orlando Eye and the High Level Bridge in Edmonton, Alberta.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) --  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. is "ready to talk any time North Korea would like to talk ... without precondition," in a surprising change for a member of the Trump administration.  The offer to North Korea comes amid crippling sanctions on the country and high tension over its nuclear weapons program -- and just after another intercontinental ballistic missile test just two weeks ago.

"Let's just meet and we can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table if that’s what you’re excited about," Tillerson said at the Atlantic Council in Washington Tuesday. "But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face and then we can begin to lay out a map, a roadmap of what we might be willing to work toward?"

The new message stands in contrast to President Donald Trump’s warnings that talks have failed and that Tillerson was wasting his time – another sign of policy difference between the president and his top diplomat.

But it also is a shift from Tillerson’s own previous comments that the U.S. would not negotiate its way to the negotiating table with North Korea and that it would only talk once the regime was ready to address its denuclearization.

Tillerson added later, "If there was any condition at all to this is that, 'Look, it’s going to be tough to talk if in the middle of our talks you decide to test another device.'" There needed to be a "period of quiet," he said, "or it's going to be very difficult to have productive discussions."

Tillerson didn't outline any timelines or metrics for how long that period should be.

This shift -- removing the commitment to denuclearize as a precondition to talking -- was also a practical idea, according to Tillerson. "It's not realistic to say we're only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your program. They have too much invested in it," he said.

"The president is very realistic about that as well," he added, although Trump has tweeted the opposite before -- arguing that talks will not work.

"Presidents and their administrations have been talking to North Korea for 25 years, agreements made and massive amounts of money paid," he tweeted on Oct. 7. "... [It] hasn't worked, agreements violated before the ink was dry, makings fools of U.S. negotiators. Sorry, but only one thing will work!"

It was unclear then what the "one thing" was.

Still, the final goal for the administration has not changed, with the ultimate objective continuing to be the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula -- and Tillerson said he remains optimistic diplomatic efforts can achieve that. He said Trump is calling on China to cut off the flow of oil to North Korea to accelerate that effort.

Tillerson also addressed the U.S.'s relationship with China amid the tension with North Korea. He said the two countries have had talks about how to secure North Korea's nuclear weapons in the event of the regime's collapse -- with the U.S. reassuring China that it would retreat back below the 38th parallel that divides North and South Korea if it ever had to invade the North.

The Chinese are also working on their own contingency plans to deal with a massive flow of North Korean refugees into China if the regime fell apart, Tillerson said.

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iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Russia’s Olympic Committee has voted to back a plan for its athletes to compete at 2018 Winter Olympics under a neutral flag. The move means that there will now likely be a sizeable Russian contingent competing when the Olympics take place in Pyeonchang, South Korea, this February.

Last week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) barred Russia from the upcoming Olympics as punishment for what it says was a systematic cover up of doping by country's athletes. The IOC said it would allow some individual Russian athletes to compete as neutrals, provided they could pass an IOC anti-doping panel. It was initially unclear whether that would be acceptable to the Russian authorities, who had previously threatened to boycott the Games.

At a meeting in Moscow Tuesday, Russia’s Olympic Committee voted unanimously to support its athletes wishing to participate in the Games.

Speaking at a televised news conference after the meeting, the committee’s head Alexander Zhukov said he expects around 200 athletes to be able to compete in Pyeongchang, though it would be up to the IOC to determine how many would be approved.

A day before, the Russian Committee said that the majority of its athletes had expressed a desire to compete. Last week, president Vladimir Putin had seemed to clear the way when he said Russian authorities would place no obstacle in the path of those wishing to go.

The Russian Olympic Committee president, Zhukov, said that his committee had decided to swallow the IOC punishment in order to let athletes compete, saying they “have taken the blow ourselves, so as to give athletes the chance to realize their Olympic dreams."

The IOC's executive committee suspended the Russian Olympic Committee, including Zhukov himself, last week as a penalty for the doping cover up that already saw Russia partly excluded from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio-de-Janeiro.

Russian athletes wanting to compete will still have to be approved by a specially appointed IOC panel, made up of representatives from different international anti-doping bodies. The IOC’s decision last week said that no Russian athletes with previous doping records will be approved.

"I think the IOC will make sure that the strongest Russian athletes get the invitations, so that, for example, our hockey team consists of the best players," Zhukov said, according to the Associated Press.

Russian athletes competing in South Korea will now have to wear a specially designed uniform, labeled with "Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR)." Russia’s national anthem and flag will be absent from the Opening Ceremony and medal ceremonies. The Olympic anthem will play instead.

Russian and IOC officials suggested the punishment could end the doping scandal that has ravaged Russian sport for almost two years and has had little sign of abating, amid Russian refusals to accept the idea that the cover-up had been state-sponsored.

Last year, an investigation by the Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren for the World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA, found evidence that Russia's sports ministry had ordered hundreds of positive samples to be concealed. McLaren found that the system reached its height during the 2014 Winter Olympics that Russia hosted in Sochi, with agents from Russia's FSB intelligence service helping to switch out positive urine samples from the anti-doping lab there.

The IOC's own investigation, headed by a former Swiss president Samuel Schmid, confirmed "systemic manipulation" of the anti-doping system in Russia. However, Schmid said he had been unable to prove that the “highest state authorities” were aware of it, stopping short of calling it "state-sponsored."

Nevertheless, the head of Russia’s sports ministry, Vitali Mutko, was banned for life by the IOC, which said he must take responsibility for the doping scheme.

On Tuesday, Zhukov, like other Russian officials, emphasized that Schmid had found no evidence of a state system of doping. Russian officials previously insisted the scheme was carried out by individual coaches, officials and athletes.

The IOC decision to ban Russia over the doping system remains unprecedented in Olympic history. But since its announcement there have been signs that parts of the decision had been softened enough for Russia to accept.

Speaking directly after the decision, Zhukov had said it was “very important” that the uniforms Russian athletes will wear will still bear the word "Russia."

The IOC also stated that it may lift the Russian suspension for the Closing Ceremony in Pyeonchang, provided Russia had met the conditions laid out in the decision. That would mean Russian athletes could potentially still appear under their national flag to end the competition.

Russia fielded a team of 232 athletes at the Sochi Winter Olympics. Zhukov said he hoped 208 could take part as neutrals this year in Pyeongchang.

On Tuesday, six members of Russia's national women's hockey team were banned by the IOC over doping offenses at the Sochi Olympics. That brings the total number of Russian athletes disqualified from Sochi to 31, a loss that has seen the country drop from the top medal spot at the those Games. Twenty-two Russian athletes have appealed their disqualifications.

After an initial outcry from Russian officials and state media that the IOC decision was unfair, with some even comparing it to “genocide,” attitudes have since mellowed to righteous resignation.

"We are turning the page," Vitaly Smirnov, the head of Russia's Independent Civil Anti-Doping Commission, said at the news conference after supporting the Russian Olympic Committee decision.

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iStock/Thinkstock(JOHANNESBERG) -- Paralympic athlete and convicted murderer Oscar Pistorius was apparently bruised in a prison fight over a telephone, South African prison authorities said today.

No serious injuries resulted from his altercation with another inmate over the use of the prison phone, Department of Correctional Services spokesman Singabakho Nxumalo said.

“Pistorius wasn’t seriously injured; he was just bruised, although I haven’t received information about the exact location of the bruise,” Nxumalo said. “We do regard the incident in a serious light and will act once we have all the facts.”

Pistorius, a double-leg amputee known as the “bladerunner” because of his prosthetics, was first convicted of culpable homicide (manslaughter) in 2014 for shooting and killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day 2013. The Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa upgraded his conviction to murder in 2015 on appeal.

The Pretoria High Court sentenced him to six years’ imprisonment in July 2016, which the Supreme Court of Appeal increased to 13 years last month.

Pistorius, 31, has reportedly been on the phone quite a bit since then.

Nxumalo, the prison spokesman, told ABC News an internal investigation, involving everyone including Pistorius, the other inmate, possible eyewitnesses and guards is underway.

"The outcome of the investigation would determine if any remedial action would be undertaken against any of the inmates involved,” Nxumalo said, stressing that any punishment is a long way off but could include forfeiting prison privileges such as visitation rights, phone calls and letters and Christmas concessions.

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iStock/Thinstock(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) -- Cinemas are set to open in Saudi Arabia in March 2018 for the first time since they were banned in in the early 1980s, according to the Saudi minister of culture.

"It's a beautiful day in Saudi Arabia!" tweeted Haifaa al-Mansour, the first female Saudi director of a feature film, the acclaimed "Wadjda".

 This is the second major social reform, after the lifting of the ban on women driving, announced in recent months as part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's "Vision 2030", a socioeconomic program aimed at modernizing the Saudi economy and shepherding the conservative kingdom into the 21st century.

"This is the best news! I've been waiting for it for 33 years" said Nahar Alhamrani, a self-described movie fanatic from Jeddah. "It will spark creativity and help build a change in people's mindset."

Cinemas existed in Saudi Arabia until they were banned in the early 1980s after a puritanical religious establishment gained control over social and educational affairs in the country.

"Today, the organized Islamist undercurrents that thrived in the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s no longer have influence in society," said Mohammed Alyahya, a nonresident fellow at The Atlantic Council.

Back then, "young and old people traded DVDs, downloaded movies and visited Bahrain to watch movies. The reintroduction of movie theaters is long overdue" added Alyahya.

A multimillion-dollar bootleg industry flourished as a result. Saudis amassed large collections of pirated DVDs of the latest Hollywood blockbusters, circumventing both the ban and censorship. It’s this revenue that the decision today also aims to recapture.

"Opening cinemas will act as a catalyst for economic growth and diversification," said Minister of Culture Awwad Alawwad. "By developing the broader cultural sector, we will create new employment and training opportunities, as well as enriching the kingdom's entertainment options"

The Saudi cinema industry is still nascent but has been receiving more attention over recent years with breakthrough movies like "Wadjdah" and "Barakah meets Barakah."

In September, it was announced that Saudi actress Ahd Kamel will star in the Netflix series "Collateral."

"Born a King," a coming-of-age story about the teenager who would become King Faisal, wrapped filming last month. It is the first Saudi English-language feature film officially licensed to be shot in the kingdom.

The announcement by the ministry of culture did not specify whether seating in cinemas would be gender-segregated as most public spaces are in Saudi Arabia or how heavily censored movies will be. Films are usually greatly censored with pixelation added to cover the chest and legs of actresses, as seen on a recent Saudi Airlines flight. Regulations are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

Multiple malls currently being built had already received licenses to build multiplexes before today's announcement.

By 2030, over 300 cinemas with 2000 screens are expected to have opened across Saudi Arabia.

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