The Oklahoman

Trump, Putin talk trade, security


An Iraqi pleaded for his life to President Donald Trump. A former Iraqi translator for the U.S. military landed in his new home with words of praise for America still on his lips. And community and church groups, geared up to welcome Syrian families, looked in dismay at homes prepared for refugees that may never be filled.

Trump signed a sweeping executive order Friday that he billed as a necessary step to stop “radical Islamic terrorists” from coming to the U.S. Included is a 90-day ban on travel to the U.S. by citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen and a 120-day suspension of the U.S. refugee program.

Around the country and the world, refugees and foreign-born Muslim visitors already approved for asylum here but not yet arrived, and families and refugee workers who had been eager to greet newcomers, adjusted to Trump’s ban abruptly barring them and others from seven predominan­tly Muslim countries.

“What’s next? What’s going to happen next?” asked Mohammed al Rawi, an Iraqi-born American citizen in the Los Angeles area, on Saturday after his 69-yearold father, coming to visit his grandchild­ren in California, was abruptly detained at a transit stop and sent back to Iraq after 12 hours in detention. “Are they going to create camps for Muslims and put us in it?”

Refugee-rights groups and others immediatel­y challenged the orders in court, and said the bans scapegoate­d Muslims and Arabs without making the United States safer.

Trump’s order came down as Hameed Khalid Darweesh, a translator and assistant for the U.S. military in Iraq for 10 years now fleeing death threats over his U.S. ties, was just minutes away from landing at John F. Kennedy airport in New York.

U.S. officials detained Darweesh and another Iraqi whom the U.S. government also had already approved for entry to this country. After lawyers for refugee-rights organizati­ons filed emergency petitions in federal court for their release, Darweesh walked free, to the applause of sign-waving demonstrat­ors gathered at the airport to protest the ban.

“This is the soul of America,” Darweesh told the crowd and reporters there, of those who had worked for his asylum and his release.

Asked what he thought of the United States now, Darweesh pointed a finger in the air, and said emphatical­ly, “America is the greatest nation, the greatest people in the world.”

Meathaq Alaunaibi, also a refugee from Iraq, was hoping to soon be reunited with her twin 18-year-old daughters who are in Baghdad. Alaunaibi, her husband, a son and another daughter were settled last August in Tennessee, as the twins completed their government review to enter the U.S. After Trump signed the order, she spoke by phone with her daughters.

“They are so worried and afraid because they’re stuck there in Baghdad,” Alaunaibi said Saturday. “They are young and they are strong, but I am crying all the time. I miss them.”

Staff at U.S. agencies that resettle refugees were scrambling to analyze the order and girded for the wrenching phone calls that would have to be made to the thousands of refugees just days away from traveling to the U.S. Several staff who spoke to the AP burst into tears as they contemplat­ed the future for people who had waited years to come into the country.

“It’s complete chaos,” said Melanie Nezer, policy director for HIAS, one of nine refugee resettleme­nt agencies that work with the U.S. State Department. “It’s heartbreak­ing.”

The Internatio­nal Refugee Assistance Project, which aids foreign nationals targeted for their work for the U.S. government as well as other refugees, was sending the same message to asylum-seekers, most of them who had been waiting for years.

“We have to reach out to hundreds of our clients and explain that their future has been taken away from them, and we don’t know when they’ll get it back,” said Becca Heller, the group’s executive director.

An Iraqi in Mosul, an Iraqi city where the Islamic State group had seized control, despaired at word that what he had thought was an imminent flight to safety in America was now canceled, indefinite­ly.

“If you can write to Mr. Trump or find any other way to help me reunite with my family, please, I am dying in Iraq, please,” the man, whose identity was withheld because he is still in danger in Iraq, wrote back to his U.S. lawyer by email.

Will President Donald Trump usher in a new era for U.S.-Russian relations, or are the two powers going to continue down the path as geopolitic­al foes?

Now that Russian President Vladimir Putin has held his first conversati­on with America’s newly inaugurate­d leader, attention turns to the fate of U.S. sanctions against Moscow and whether the two will look to enhance military cooperatio­n against the Islamic State group.

Trump was noncommitt­al about whether he was considerin­g lifting the economic sanctions ahead of the call, telling reporters Friday, “We’ll see what happens. As far as the sanctions, very early to be talking about that.”

While the White House has yet to comment on Saturday’s phone call, the Kremlin released a statement hinting that the two men discussed the sanctions, implemente­d by the Obama administra­tion as a consequenc­e of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

The two leaders emphasized the importance of “restoring mutually beneficial trade and economic ties between business circles of the two countries, which could additional­ly stimulate the incrementa­l and sustainabl­e developmen­t of the bilateral relationsh­ip,” the Kremlin said.

Putin and Trump will also maintain “regular personal contact” and will begin preparatio­ns for a face-to-face meeting.

The Kremlin has applauded Trump’s promises to rebuild U.S.Russian relations, which have been pushed to their worst level since the Cold War by the Ukraine crisis, war in Syria and allegation­s of Russian meddling in U.S. elections.

The Kremlin said that Putin and Trump spoke in particular about internatio­nal issues, including the fight against terrorism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iran’s nuclear program, the situation on the Korean peninsula and the Ukraine crisis.

“The presidents spoke out in favor of the establishm­ent of real coordinati­on of Russian and American actions with the aim of destroying the Islamic State,” according to the statement.

In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region and backed separatist­s fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine, drawing widespread condemnati­on in Europe and the United States.

In response, sanctions were implemente­d against sectors of Russia’s economy, including financial services, energy, mining and defense. The Obama administra­tion also sanctioned people in Putin’s inner circle.

Shortly before leaving office, President Barack Obama also ordered sanctions on Russian spy agencies, closed two Russian compounds in the United States and expelled 35 diplomats that he said were really spies. These sanctions followed an assessment by U.S. intelligen­ce that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election to help Trump become president.

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