‘VERY BIG STEPS’

HIS ASIA TRIP WIND­ING DOWN, TRUMP MEETS WITH AL­LIES

West Hawaii Today - - Nation & World - BY JONATHAN LEMIRE AND JILL COLVIN

MANILA, Philip­pines — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is wind­ing down his lengthy Asia trip with an in­ter­na­tional sum­mit and a se­ries of meet­ings with Pa­cific Rim al­lies, in­clud­ing his host in the Philip­pines who is over­see­ing a bloody drug war.

Trump jointly met Mon­day with Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Mal­com Turn­bull, with whom he had a con­tentious phone call last win­ter, and Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, who hosted the pres­i­dent in Tokyo ear­lier in the trip. Trump raved about his ac­com­plish­ments on his five-na­tion jour­ney, in­clud­ing on trade and North Korea, but said he would wait un­til his re­turn to Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day to elab­o­rate with a “ma­jor state­ment.”

“We’ve made some very big steps with re­gard to trade — far big­ger than any­thing you know,” Trump told re­porters at the be­gin­ning of the meet­ing in Manila, tout­ing busi­ness deals forged be­tween U.S. and for­eign com­pa­nies.

“We’ve made a lot of big progress on trade. We have deficits with al­most ev­ery­body. Those deficits are go­ing to be cut very quickly and very sub­stan­tially,” Trump said.

“Ex­cept us,” Turn­bull chimed in, to laughs.

“You’re the only one,” Trump re­sponded. Trump also the trip had been “very fruit­ful” for the United States and pointed to the warm wel­comes he had re­ceived in cap­i­tals like Tokyo, Seoul and Bei­jing.

“It was red car­pet like no­body, I think, has prob­a­bly ever re­ceived,” Trump said. “And that re­ally is a sign of re­spect, per­haps for me a lit­tle, but re­ally for our county. And I’m re­ally proud of that.”

The open­ing cer­e­monies of the As­so­ci­a­tion for South­east Asian Na­tions con­fer­ence be­gan with pageantry, in­clud­ing a group photo of the lead­ers and the sum­mit’s tra­di­tional hand­shake. That cross-body hand­shake, dur­ing which each leader shakes the op­po­site hands of those next to him or her, briefly baf­fled Trump, who then laughed as he fig­ured out where to place his arms.

One of the lead­ers on his flank: Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, who has over­seen a bloody drug war that has fea­tured ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings. The two men are also slated to hold longer, for­mal talks later Mon­day and White House aides sig­naled that Trump is not ex­pected to pub­licly bring up hu­man rights in their dis­cus­sions.

Trump will also meet with Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi of In­dia, which plays a key role in the U.S. vi­sion of an Indo-Pa­cific re­gion that at­tempts to de-em­pha­size China’s in­flu­ence. And he is slated to have din­ner with Turn­bull.

But swirling ques­tions about Rus­sia fol­lowed Trump half­way across the globe.

He tried to have it both ways on the is­sue of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in last year’s pres­i­den­tial race, say­ing he be­lieves both the U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies when they say Rus­sia med­dled and Putin’s sin­cer­ity in claim­ing that his coun­try did not.

“I be­lieve that he feels that he and Rus­sia did not med­dle in the elec­tion,” Trump said Sun­day in Hanoi, Viet­nam.

“As to whether I be­lieve it, I’m with our agen­cies,” Trump said. “As cur­rently led by fine peo­ple, I be­lieve very much in our in­tel­li­gence agen­cies.”

But just a day ear­lier, he had lashed out at the for­mer heads of the U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, dis­miss­ing them as “po­lit­i­cal hacks” and claim­ing there were plenty of rea­sons to be sus­pi­cious of their find­ings that Rus­sia med­dled to help Trump de­feat Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton.

For­mer CIA di­rec­tor John Bren­nan, ap­pear­ing Sun­day on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said Trump was de­rid­ing them in an at­tempt to “dele­git­imize” the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity’s assess­ment.

“I think Mr. Putin is very clever in terms of play­ing to Mr. Trump’s in­ter­est in be­ing flat­tered. And also I think Mr. Trump is, for what­ever rea­son, ei­ther in­tim­i­dated by Mr. Putin, afraid of what he could do or what might come out as a re­sult of these in­ves­ti­ga­tions,” Bren­nan said.

Bren­nan said Trump’s am­bi­gu­ity on Rus­sia’s in­volve­ment was “very, very wor­ri­some from a na­tional se­cu­rity stand­point.”

“I think he’s giv­ing Putin a pass and I think it demon­strates to Putin that Don­ald Trump can be played by for­eign lead­ers who are go­ing to ap­peal to his ego and play upon his in­se­cu­ri­ties,” Bren­nan said.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump — ac­com­pa­nied by Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, left, and Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull, right — speaks to re­porters at a meet­ing dur­ing the ASEAN Sum­mit at the Sof­i­tel Philip­pine Plaza, to­day in Manila, Philip­pines.

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