Trump talks with world lead­ers

He or­ders plan for ISIS, adds con­tro­ver­sial aide Ban­non to se­cu­rity staff


Pres­i­dent Trump on Satur­day or­dered the Pen­tagon to de­vise a strat­egy to de­feat the Is­lamic State and re­struc­tured the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to in­clude his con­tro­ver­sial top po­lit­i­cal ad­viser as he forged a part­ner­ship with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin in their first of­fi­cial phone call.

Trump and Putin spoke for one hour and vowed to join forces to fight ter­ror­ism in Syria and else­where, ac­cord­ing to the White House and the Krem­lin, sig­nal­ing a po­ten­tial shift in U.S.-Rus­sian re­la­tions that have been marked by high ten­sion.

Mean­while, Trump signed a pres­i­den­tial memo di­rect­ing the Pen­tagon to sub­mit a plan within 30 days to de­feat the Is­lamic State, an ef­fort to make good on his cam­paign prom­ise to more ag­gres­sively con­front Is­lamist ter­ror­ism than his pre­de­ces­sor did.

Even prior to the memo, mil­i­tary of­fi­cials had been at work de­vel­op­ing po­ten­tial ac­tions for Trump and De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis to con­sider. Those in­clude po­ten­tially de­ploy­ing ad­di­tional ad­vis­ers to Iraq and Syria, al­low­ing U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel to ac­com­pany lo­cal forces closer to the front lines, and del­e­gat­ing greater de­ci­sion-mak­ing power to field com­man­ders.

As he signed his di­rec­tive at his desk in the Oval Of­fice, Trump said, “I think it’s go­ing to be very suc­cess­ful. That’s big stuff.”

Coun­sel­ing Trump in the ef­fort will be Stephen K. Ban­non, the White House chief strate­gist whose in­flu­ence in­side the ad­min­is­tra­tion is ex­pand­ing far be­yond pol­i­tics. In a sep­a­rate pres­i­den­tial memo, Trump re­or­ga­nized the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to, along with other changes, give Ban­non a reg­u­lar seat on the prin­ci­pals com­mit­tee — the meet­ings of the most se­nior na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the sec­re­taries of de­fense and state.

That memo also states that the di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence and the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will sit on the prin­ci­pals com­mit­tee only when the is­sues to be dis­cussed per­tain to their “re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and ex­per­tise.” In

the pre­vi­ous two ad­min­is­tra­tions, both were in­cluded as reg­u­lar at­ten­dees.

The White House thinks the changes will make the NSC more adap­tive to mod­ern threats. Trump said the changes would bring “a lot of ef­fi­ciency and, I think, a lot of ad­di­tional safety.”

The changes af­firm the as­cent of Ban­non, the for­mer ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of Bre­it­bart, a con­ser­va­tive web­site that is pop­u­lar with white na­tion­al­ists, who has emerged as Trump’s po­lit­i­cal con­sigliere and the keeper of the pres­i­dent’s pop­ulist flame.

Ban­non has al­ready been play­ing a ma­jor role in di­rect­ing Trump’s for­eign pol­icy, ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials say, and joined the pres­i­dent in the Oval Of­fice on Satur­day for his calls with Putin and sev­eral other world lead­ers.

In their call, Putin and Trump dis­cussed Ukraine and Syria, and they agreed to build stronger eco­nomic ties be­tween the United States and Rus­sia, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment is­sued by the Krem­lin. They said they would ar­range an in-per­son meet­ing, but Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the In­ter­fax news agency that the two pres­i­dents did not specif­i­cally talk about a lift­ing of the sanc­tions the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion im­posed against Rus­sia over al­leged Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and Moscow’s mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in Ukraine.

Elim­i­nat­ing the sanc­tions is a pri­or­ity for Moscow, but Trump is un­der pres­sure in the United States to main­tain them and said Fri­day that he thought it was pre­ma­ture to con­sider lift­ing them.

The White House de­scribed the con­ver­sa­tion as “a con­grat­u­la­tory call” ini­ti­ated by Putin.

“The pos­i­tive call was a sig­nif­i­cant start to im­prov­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the United States and Rus­sia that is in need of re­pair,” read a state­ment from the White House. “Both Pres­i­dent Trump and Pres­i­dent Putin are hope­ful that af­ter to­day’s call the two sides can move quickly to tackle ter­ror­ism and other im­por­tant is­sues of mu­tual con­cern.”

This was one of five con­ver­sa­tions Trump had Satur­day with world lead­ers. Seek­ing to cul­ti­vate a per­sonal rap­port, Trump spoke with the lead­ers of Aus­tralia, France, Ger­many and Ja­pan, but his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sus­pen­sion of the ac­cep­tance of all refugees and a sus­pen­sion of en­try by ci­ti­zens from seven ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim na­tions in­jected some diplo­matic ten­sion into the con­ver­sa­tions.

In their call, French Pres­i­dent François Hol­lande told Trump that he be­lieves de­fend­ing their democ­ra­cies would be ef­fec­tive only if their govern­ments ad­here to “the prin­ci­ples on which they are founded, in par­tic­u­lar the re­cep­tion of refugees,” ac­cord­ing to the El­y­see Palace, the French pres­i­dent’s of­fice.

Trump’s con­ver­sa­tion with Putin was hotly an­tic­i­pated, con­sid­er­ing the warmth with which each man has spo­ken of the other.

Trump spoke with Putin from be­hind his desk in the Oval Of­fice, which was stacked with pa­pers and a glass of Diet Coke. The pres­i­dent was flanked by Vice Pres­i­dent Pence, na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer and Ban­non.

Trump be­gan the day with a call to Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe to dis­cuss se­cu­rity and trade is­sues be­tween the two coun­tries and the mu­tual threat posed by North Korea, ac­cord­ing to the White House.

Abe, who dur­ing Trump’s tran­si­tion phase be­came the first for­eign leader to talk face-to-face with the pres­i­dent-elect, agreed to meet Trump dur­ing a visit to Wash­ing­ton on Feb. 10, ac­cord­ing to the White House.

Trump then spoke with Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, whom he had blasted re­peat­edly on the cam­paign trail over the Ger­man pol­icy of ad­mit­ting large num­bers of Syr­ian refugees. Trump and Merkel cov­ered a range of is­sues, in­clud­ing the North At­lantic Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion, ac­cord­ing to the White House.

Af­ter Trump’s crit­i­cism of NATO dur­ing his cam­paign, the pres­i­dent and Merkel agreed on the al­liance’s “fun­da­men­tal im­por­tance to the broader transat­lantic re­la­tion­ship and its role in en­sur­ing the peace and sta­bil­ity of our North At­lantic com­mu­nity,” read a White House state­ment.

Trump ac­cepted Merkel’s in­vi­ta­tion to visit Ham­burg, in July for the G-20 sum­mit, and Trump in­vited the chan­cel­lor to visit Wash­ing­ton soon, the White House said.

Later Satur­day, Trump talked with Hol­lande as well as Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull. Hol­lande told Trump that it was im­por­tant to main­tain the Paris agree­ment on cli­mate change, ac­cord­ing to Hol­lande’s of­fice. Trump has said he wants the United States to with­draw from the ac­cord.

In Moscow, lead­ers had ex­pressed cau­tious op­ti­mism that the new Amer­i­can leader could forge stronger ties than Obama did. From Moscow’s point of view, lift­ing the sanc­tions im­posed by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for in­ter­fer­ence in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and Rus­sia’s in­ter­ven­tion in Ukraine would be a good start, as would a re­duc­tion of NATO’s mil­i­tary pres­ence near Rus­sia’s bor­ders.

Trump has said he sees his pos­ture to­ward Putin as in the geopo­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests of the United States. He has con­sis­tently ar­gued that Rus­sia can be a strong ally, say­ing the two coun­tries could co­op­er­ate on coun­tert­er­ror­ism as well as coun­ter­ing nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion.

U.S. law­mak­ers from both par­ties — as well as some of Trump’s Cabi­net nom­i­nees — have raised alarms, or at least ques­tioned, his ap­proach.

Also on Satur­day, Trump signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der fi­nal­iz­ing new lob­by­ing rules that had been in­for­mally es­tab­lished dur­ing the tran­si­tion pe­riod. It stip­u­lates that ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials can­not reg­is­ter as lob­by­ists for five years af­ter leav­ing the gov­ern­ment — and can never lobby on be­half of a for­eign gov­ern­ment.

“Most of the peo­ple stand­ing be­hind me won’t be able to go to work or do any­thing ad­verse to our won­der­ful coun­try,” Trump said, as the aides stand­ing be­hind him in the Oval Of­fice laughed.


Pres­i­dent Trump speaks Satur­day with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. Also present, from left, are White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice Pres­i­dent Pence, chief strate­gist Stephen K. Ban­non, whom Trump has given a seat on the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, and press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer.


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