For­eign pol­icy hur­dles for Trump

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Deb Riech­mann As­so­ci­ated Press

WASH­ING­TON >> Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump starts the new year knee-deep in daunt­ing for­eign pol­icy chal­lenges at the same time he’ll have to deal with a likely im­peach­ment trial in the Se­nate and the de­mands of a re­elec­tion cam­paign.

There’s still no end in sight to Amer­ica’s long­est war in Afghanista­n. North Korea hasn’t given up its nu­clear weapons. Add to that sim­mer­ing ten­sions with Iran, fall­out from Trump’s de­ci­sion to pull troops from Syria, on­go­ing un­ease with Rus­sia and Tur­key, and er­ratic ties with Euro­pean and other long­time Western al­lies.

Trump is not pop­u­lar over­seas, and be­ing an im­peached pres­i­dent who must si­mul­ta­ne­ously run for re­elec­tion could re­duce the time, fo­cus and po­lit­i­cal clout needed to re­solve com­plex global is­sues like North Korea’s nu­clear provo­ca­tions. Some for­eign powers could de­cide to just hold off on fi­nal­iz­ing any deals un­til they know whether Trump will be re­elected. Trump himself has ac­knowl­edged the chal­lenge in his Dec. 26 tweet:

“De­spite all of the great suc­cess that our Coun­try has had over the last 3 years, it makes it much more dif­fi­cult to deal with for­eign lead­ers (and oth­ers) when I am hav­ing to con­stantly de­fend my­self against the Do Noth­ing Democrats & their bo­gus Im­peach­ment Scam. Bad for USA!”

At the same time, there is wide­spread ex­pec­ta­tion that Trump never will be con­victed by the Re­pub­li­can-con­trolled Se­nate, so 2020 could well bring more of the same from the pres­i­dent on for­eign pol­icy, said Ron­ald Neu­mann, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Academy of Diplo­macy.

“Amer­ica still has an aw­ful lot of power,” said Neu­mann, a three-time am­bas­sador and for­mer deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state. “With a year to go, a pres­i­dent can still make a lot of waves, im­peach­ment or not.”

For Trump, 2019 was a year of two steps for­ward, one step back — some­times vice versa — on in­ter­na­tional chal­lenges. De­spite claim­ing that “I know deals, I think, bet­ter than any­body knows deals,’’ he’s still try­ing to close a bunch.

Trump scored high marks for the U.S. mil­i­tary raid in Syria that killed the leader of the Is­lamic State, but U.S. mil­i­tary lead­ers worry about a resur­gence. He is cred­ited with coax­ing NATO al­lies to com­mit to spend bil­lions more on de­fense, but along the way has strained im­por­tant re­la­tion­ships.

His agree­ment on a “Phase 1” trade deal with China has re­duced ten­sions in their on­go­ing trade war. But the deal largely puts off for later com­plex is­sues sur­round­ing U.S. as­ser­tions that China is cheat­ing to gain supremacy on tech­nol­ogy and China’s ac­cu­sa­tion that Wash­ing­ton is try­ing to re­strain Bei­jing’s as­cent as a world power.

A deeper look at the state of play on three top for­eign pol­icy chal­lenges on Trump’s desk as 2020 be­gins:


The U.S. is watch­ing North Korea closely for signs of a pos­si­ble mis­sile launch or nu­clear test.

Py­ongyang had threat­ened to spring a “Christ­mas sur­prise” if the U.S. failed to meet Kim Jong Un’s yearend dead­line for con­ces­sions to re­vive stalled nu­clear talks. Trump spec­u­lated maybe he’d get a “beau­ti­ful vase” in­stead. Any test flight of an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile or sub­stan­tial nu­clear test would fur­ther de­rail the diplo­matic ne­go­ti­a­tions Trump opened with Kim in 2018.

Wash­ing­ton didn’t ac­cept Kim’s end-of-year ul­ti­ma­tum, but Stephen Biegun, the top U.S. en­voy to North Korea, said the win­dow for talks with the U.S. re­mains open. “We are fully aware of the strong po­ten­tial for North Korea to con­duct a ma­jor provo­ca­tion in the days ahead,” Biegun, the new deputy sec­re­tary of state, said re­cently. “To say the least, such an ac­tion will be most un­help­ful in achiev­ing last­ing peace on the Korean Penin­sula.”

In re­cent months, North Korea has con­ducted a slew of short-range mis­sile launches and other weapons tests.

In 2017, Trump and Kim traded threats of de­struc­tion as North Korea car­ried out tests aimed at ac­quir­ing the abil­ity to launch nu­clear strikes on the U.S. main­land. Trump said he would rain “fire and fury” on North Korea and de­rided Kim as “lit­tle rocket man.” Kim ques­tioned Trump’s san­ity and said he would “tame the men­tally de­ranged U.S. dotard with fire.”

Then the two made up and met three times — in Sin­ga­pore in 2018, in Viet­nam last Fe­bru­ary and again in June when Trump be­came the first U.S. pres­i­dent to set foot into North Korea at the Demil­i­ta­rized Zone.

While the get-to­geth­ers have made for good pho­toops, they’ve been de­void of sub­stan­tive progress in get­ting Kim to get rid of his nu­clear weapons.

Trump has held out North Korea’s self-im­posed mora­to­rium on con­duct­ing nu­clear tests and tri­als of long-range in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal mis­siles as a ma­jor for­eign pol­icy achieve­ment. “Deal will hap­pen!” he tweeted.

Trump’s for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser doesn’t think so.

“The North Kore­ans are very happy to de­clare that they’re go­ing to give up their nu­clear weapons pro­gram, par­tic­u­larly when it’s in ex­change for tan­gi­ble eco­nomic ben­e­fits, but they never get around to do­ing it,” John Bolton told Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio.


Ten­sions with Iran have been ris­ing ever since Trump last year with­drew the U.S. from the 2015 nu­clear deal that Tehran had signed with the U.S. and five other na­tions. Trump said the deal was one-sided and gave Iran sanc­tions re­lief for rolling back, but not per­ma­nently dis­man­tling, its nu­clear pro­gram.

After pulling out of the deal, Trump be­gan a “max­i­mum pres­sure” cam­paign, re­in­stat­ing sanc­tions and ad­ding more that have crip­pled Iran’s econ­omy. His aim is to force Iran to rene­go­ti­ate a deal more fa­vor­able to the U.S. and other na­tions that are still in the agree­ment.

In re­sponse, Iran has con­tin­ued its ef­forts to desta­bi­lize the re­gion, at­tack­ing tar­gets in Saudi Ara­bia, in­ter­rupt­ing com­mer­cial ship­ping through the crit­i­cal Strait of Hor­muz, shoot­ing down an un­manned U.S. air­craft and fi­nanc­ing mil­i­tant proxy groups. Since May, nearly 14,000 U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel have de­ployed to the re­gion to de­ter Iran.

Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani said his coun­try’s nu­clear ex­perts are test­ing a new type of ad­vanced cen­trifuge. Iran re­cently started ex­ceed­ing the stock­piles of ura­nium and heavy water al­lowed by the nu­clear deal and is en­rich­ing ura­nium at a pu­rity level be­yond what is per­mit­ted.

Tehran’s vi­o­la­tions, which it says are re­versible, are an at­tempt to get France, Ger­many, Bri­tain, China and Rus­sia — the other na­tions that signed the Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion — to of­fer new eco­nomic in­cen­tives to off­set the Amer­i­can sanc­tions.

The White House says its pres­sure cam­paign is work­ing. The Ira­nian econ­omy is col­laps­ing, in­fla­tion is high. And crush­ing U.S. sanc­tions block­ing Iran from sell­ing its crude oil abroad have helped fuel na­tion­wide protests.

Ear­lier this month, there was a rare diplo­matic break­through when a Chi­nese-Amer­i­can Prince­ton scholar, Xiyue Wang, who has held in Iran for three years, was freed in ex­change for a de­tained Ira­nian sci­en­tist in the U.S.

Trump said the pris­oner ex­change could be a “pre­cur­sor as to what can be done.”

Iran says other pris­oner swaps can be ar­ranged, but there will be no other ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Tehran and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. AFGHANISTA­N When Trump made his first visit to Afghanista­n on Thanks­giv­ing Day, he an­nounced that ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Tal­iban, which had fallen apart in Septem­ber, were back on track. He claimed the mil­i­tant group wanted to find a po­lit­i­cal res­o­lu­tion to the war, now more than 18 years old.

“We’ll see if they want to make a deal,” he told U.S. troops at Ba­gram Air Base. “‘It’s got to be a real deal, but we’ll see. But they want to make a deal.”

Less than two weeks later, talks were back on pause after an at­tack out­side Ba­gram killed two Afghans and wounded 70 oth­ers, in­clud­ing mem­bers of the U.S.-led coali­tion force. The Tal­iban later claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack, which also dam­aged the base.

It’s no se­cret that Trump wants U.S. en­gage­ment in Afghanista­n to end, but crit­ics worry that this will lead him to make too many con­ces­sions to the Tal­iban.

De­spite progress in the ne­go­ti­a­tions, Trump abruptly can­celed the talks in Septem­ber when vi­o­lence con­tin­ued and a U.S. ser­vice mem­ber was killed. This time around, the U.S. is seek­ing a re­duc­tion in vi­o­lence with the end goal of get­ting the Tal­iban to agree to a per­ma­nent cease-fire and start all-Afghan talks to find a peace­ful fu­ture for the coun­try.

For­mer De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis, who re­signed from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion over his op­po­si­tion to the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to re­move troops from Syria, said the Tal­iban have not proven trust­wor­thy in the past so in­stead of “trust and ver­ify,” the U.S. should “ver­ify and then trust.”

But he added: “I think the pres­i­dent was right to start the ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Tal­iban and I think he was right to call it off when the bomb­ings oc­curred.”’

Gen. Mark Mil­ley, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress this month that the Pen­tagon is con­sid­er­ing sev­eral op­tions to re­duce the num­ber of troops in Afghanista­n. One op­tion would mean shift­ing to a leaner counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sion. That would leave only a min­i­mal U.S. foot­print in Afghanista­n to bat­tle Is­lamic ex­trem­ists.

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, RS.C., who vis­ited Kabul this month, said Trump might an­nounce an Amer­i­can troop draw­down from Afghanista­n be­fore the year’s end. He said that be­gin­ning next year, the pres­i­dent could re­duce troop num­bers to 8,600, down from the cur­rent es­ti­mate of 12,000.

Gra­ham has op­posed a with­drawal be­fore, but says 8,600 U.S. troops would be enough to make sure that Afghanista­n doesn’t be­come a launch­ing pad for an­other 9/11-style at­tack on the U.S. The Tal­iban have said any peace agree­ment must in­clude get­ting all Amer­i­can troops out of the coun­try, where more than 2,400 Amer­i­can ser­vice mem­bers have been killed.


In this June 30, 2019 photo, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the bor­der vil­lage of Pan­munjom in the Demil­i­ta­rized Zone, South Korea.

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