Trump takes his message to the world
With turmoil enveloping his Administration at home, US President Donald Trump was to head abroad today for a trip the White House hopes will shift focus away from domestic controversies and on to his foreign policy agenda.
Trump was to leave for Saudi Arabia today and will make stops next week in Israel, Belgium and Italy. The trip was billed as a chance to visit places sacred to three of the world’s major religions while creating face time with Arab, Israeli and European leaders.
But the political uproar in Washington over Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey, allegations that he pressed Comey to stop investigating former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and the subsequent appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to look into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and poten- tial ties with Trump’s campaign threaten to overshadow his trip.
“We look forward to getting this whole situation behind us,” the Republican President told a news conference at the White House yesterday.
The sojourn abroad, his first foreign trip since taking office in January, may or may not help.
Trump i s expected to be welcomed warmly by leaders in Riyadh and Jerusalem, but lingering questions over his views on the Iran nuclear deal, commitment to Nato security and scepticism of the Paris climate agreement could generate tension at meetings with European counterparts in Brussels and Sicily.
“It’s almost always true that when a president goes on a big foreign trip, especially one that has important summits . . . that dominates the news and knocks most other stuff out,” said Republican strategist Charlie Black.
“Whether by accident or design, this will help him in terms of Russia news for a while.”
The White House laid out three purposes for the trip: reaffirming US leadership globally, building relationships with world leaders and broadcasting “a message of unity to America’s friends and to the faithful of three of the world’s greatest religions,” said national security adviser H. R. McMaster.
“What President Trump is seeking is to unite peoples of all faiths around a common vision of peace, progress and prosperity,” he told reporters.
Trump generated controversy as a presidential candidate with his call that Muslims be banned temporarily from entering the United States. His Administration’s proposal to limit travel from several Muslim- majority countries is tied up in court.
McMaster said Trump would deliver a speech in Saudi Arabia expressing hope that a peaceful vision of Islam would resonate worldwide.
The national security adviser, who publicly defended Trump this week against allegations that he improperly shared intelligence information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during an Oval Office meeting, has a lot riding on the trip himself.
“He’s already on thin ice after his attempt to defend the President’s discussion of intelligence with the Russians, and he urged the President to do this trip, which may have been a bad idea,” said one US official. “It’s too long and covers too much ground and too many topics. If it goes badly, no matter who’s fault it is, it will be H. R.’ s.”
Although he kept a busy schedule as a candidate, Trump is fond of being home at night, often flying back to New York after campaign events. The nine- day trip will be his longest since becoming President. New video footage has surfaced appearing to show President Recep Tayyip Erdogan looking on as members of his security team attack protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington. The video, released by Voice of America’s Turkish service, shows the moment before the clashes taken from a different angle. Demonstrators can be heard chanting in the background on the pavilion. The video then seems to show a member of Erdogan’s security team bend down to speak to the President in the back of a black Mercedes sedan. The bodyguard then passes a message on to another aide who walks towards the group of supporters and out of the range of the camera. Seconds later, several men in suits run towards the protesters and confront them before clashes begin. Around 15 seconds after that, Erdogan emerges from the car, briefly looking on at the brawl before heading into the residence. Nine people were injured in the violence, some of whom were kicked and stamped while on the ground. Some of the demonstrators were carrying the flag of the Kurdish PYD ( Democratic Union Party) party. Two Chinese SU- 30 aircraft carried out what the US military described as an “unprofessional” intercept of a US aircraft designed to detect radiation while it was flying in international airspace over the East China Sea. “The issue is being addressed with China through appropriate diplomatic and military channels,” said Air Force spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Lori Hodge. Hodge said the US characterisation of the incident was based on initial reports from the US aircrew aboard the WC- 135 Constant Phoenix aircraft “due to the manoeuvres by the Chinese pilot, as well as the speeds and proximity of both aircraft”. “Distances always have a bearing on how we characterise interactions,” Hodge said, adding a US military investigation into the intercept was under way. She said the WC- 135 was carrying out a routine mission at the time and was operating in accordance with international law. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying declined to comment. A man accused of steering his car on to one of the busiest sidewalks in the United States and mowing down pedestrians for three blocks before a row of steel security barriers finally stopped him told police he was “hearing voices”, law enforcement officials said. Police said 23 people were struck, including an 18- year- old tourist from Michigan who died, in yesterday’s incident. The driver, Richard Rojas, a 26- year- old Bronx man who had been discharged from the US Navy following disciplinary problems, told police he was hearing voices and expected to die, two law enforcement officials said. After the wreck he emerged from his vehicle running, yelling and jumping before being subdued by police and bystanders in a chaotic scene. Rolf Harris has returned to his home near Maidenhead in Berkshire, England, after being released from prison after serving almost three years. The 87- year- old, who denies four charges of indecent assault against three women between 1971 and 1983, is currently standing trial at Southwark Crown Court and will have to appear in person when the case resumes on Monday.