Tillerson’s Ouster Could Kill the Iran Nuclear Deal

The Iran nuclear deal might have died Tuesday.

That, at least, is one potential upshot of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s ouster and likely replacement by CIA director Mike Pompeo.

Friends and foes alike of the nuclear deal say the switch might clear the path for President Donald Trump to act on his oft-expressed desire to abandon the July 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran, a signature achievement of President Barack Obama that Trump has called “the worst deal ever.”

When Trump spoke about Tillerson at the White House Tuesday, he mentioned only one specific point of contention with his deposed diplomat. “We disagreed on things,” Trump said. “When you look at the Iran deal — I think it’s terrible, I guess he thought it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something and he felt a little bit differently. So we were not really thinking the Continue reading “Tillerson’s Ouster Could Kill the Iran Nuclear Deal”

Trump, North Korea and a never-been-done foreign policy

When a reporter asked President Donald Trump last May whether he would ever meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump didn’t flinch. “If it would be appropriate for me to meet him, I would absolutely. I would be honored to do it,” Trump told Bloomberg News.

Boasting that he had just made "breaking news," Trump added with pride: “Most political people would never say that."

That paled in comparison to the breaking news Thursday night, when the White House confirmed that Trump had accepted Kim’s invitation for the first meeting between an American president and a North Korean leader.

But it spotlighted an instinct that has defined Trump’s early foreign policy: say the things others wouldn’t say; do the things they didn’t dare.

“He likes to be the first. He likes doing things no one has ever done before,” one senior Trump official said.

Trump’s taboo-breaking instinct Continue reading “Trump, North Korea and a never-been-done foreign policy”

Trump extends Iran nuclear deal again

President Donald Trump is once again extending the Iran nuclear deal, but “this is the last such waiver he will issue,” unless the deal is strengthened by Congress and European allies, a senior administration official said Friday.

Trump faced a Friday deadline to decide whether to reimpose economic sanctions on Iran that the U.S had suspended as part of a 2015 nuclear agreement negotiated with Tehran by the Obama administration and five other nations.

Trump is targeting 14 Iranian individuals and entities, including the head of Iran’s judiciary, with new sanctions unrelated to the nuclear deal, the official said. But he also expects Congress and European nations, with whom the White House has been negotiating new provisions to crack down on Tehran, to take action before he faces another deadline for extending the deal, officials said.

Trump shatters decades-old nuclear taboo

President Ronald Reagan was warming up for a national radio address on Aug. 11, 1984, when an open microphone caught him joking about nuclear war.

“My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever,” Reagan quipped. “We begin bombing in five minutes.”

The international outcry that followed — newspapers condemned Reagan, and some Soviet forces were reportedly placed on alert — underscored one of the first rules of the American presidency: Don’t speak lightly about nuclear war.

To President Donald Trump’s critics, that is one of many norms he has recklessly shattered, most recently with a tweet on Monday in which Trump declared that his “nuclear button” was “much bigger [and] more powerful” than the one North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, claimed in a recent speech to have on his desk.

Democrats and foreign policy experts fiercely denounced Continue reading “Trump shatters decades-old nuclear taboo”

How Trump could kill the Iran nuclear deal in January

President Donald Trump allowed the Iran nuclear deal to survive through 2017, but the new year will offer him another chance to blow up the agreement — and critics and supporters alike believe he may take it.

By mid-January, the president will face new legal deadlines to choose whether to slap U.S. sanctions back on Tehran. Senior lawmakers and some of Trump’s top national security officials are trying to preserve the agreement. But the deal’s backers fear Trump has grown more willing to reject the counsel of his foreign policy team, as he did with his recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The decision represents an opportunity for Trump to deliver on a campaign promise to rip up the Iran deal, one he has repeatedly deferred at the urging of senior officials.

When Trump last publicly addressed the status of the Iran agreement, in mid-October, he indicated Continue reading “How Trump could kill the Iran nuclear deal in January”

Trump foreign policy plan stresses home front

President Donald Trump is set to unveil a national security plan Monday that reflects the most inward-focused vision of American foreign policy in recent memory – with a heavy emphasis on economic strength and defending U.S. borders.

At the same time, the official document presents relatively conventional views at odds with Trump’s own positions—including praise for the role of diplomacy and warnings about Russia’s malign intentions.

The strategy “is wildly inconsistent with Trump administration behavior,” said Kori Schake, a former State Department official now at Stanford University’s conservative Hoover Institution who is familiar with portions of the document.

A draft excerpt of the document, formally known as the National Security Strategy, sternly declares that Russia, along with China, “challenge[s] American power, influence and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity.”
It also warns against the belief that “engagement with rivals” will turn them into “benign actors and Continue reading “Trump foreign policy plan stresses home front”

Trump cedes Syrian post-war planning to Putin

Six months after President Donald Trump ordered an airstrike against a Syrian government airbase, an act his aides said would give the U.S. renewed leverage across the Middle East, he is increasingly a bystander as Russian President Vladimir Putin takes the lead in shaping post-war Syria.

On Wednesday, Putin will host the presidents of Iran and Turkey in the resort city of Sochi — one of several Russian-brokered meetings the U.S. will not attend as the Syrian conflict winds down.

With rebel fighters largely routed and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, driven from most of Syria’s territory, experts and U.S. officials say the real fight now is about a regional power struggle playing out in the country.

The Sochi summit follows a surprise Tuesday meeting between Putin and Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has survived a six-and-a-half-year civil war thanks largely to Russian support. Putin Continue reading “Trump cedes Syrian post-war planning to Putin”

North Korea may upstage Trump’s Asia arrival, U.S. officials fear

White House officials and Asian leaders are worried that North Korea may provoke a crisis in an effort to throw President Donald Trump’s trip to the region off script.

Their concern is that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, might conduct a ballistic missile test — or even a far more shocking atmospheric nuclear test — during Trump’s visit to Japan or South Korea, and that Trump would respond by escalating rather than defusing tensions.

Trump has met Kim’s recent provocations with growing anger, including his August threat to unleash “fire and fury” against the North.

“The biggest challenge may be crisis management,” said Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. “We have to be ready for how we deal with the unexpected.”

South Korean intelligence has detected activity at a North Korean missile facility that would be consistent Continue reading “North Korea may upstage Trump’s Asia arrival, U.S. officials fear”

Trump swallows a bitter pill on Russia

President Donald Trump plans to sign a Congressional law restricting his ability to lift sanctions on Russia, the White House said Friday night, in a severe blow to his budding relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Confronted by a united Congress and suspicions about his intentions towards the Russian leader, Trump had little choice but to sign the measure, whose passage the White House had opposed.

“It would have been foolhardy for the Trump administration to veto this bill,” said Edward Fishman, a former Obama State Department official who worked on Russia sanctions policy. “Congress would have overriden the veto, and all it will do is fuel the fire of the Russia scandal in Washington.”

The White House statement sought to save face from a resounding political setback, arguing that Trump had negotiated changes to early drafts of the bill and, "based on its responsiveness to his negotiations, approves Continue reading “Trump swallows a bitter pill on Russia”

Trump swallows a bitter pill on Russia

President Donald Trump plans to sign a Congressional law restricting his ability to lift sanctions on Russia, the White House said Friday night, in a severe blow to his budding relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Confronted by a united Congress and suspicions about his intentions towards the Russian leader, Trump had little choice but to sign the measure, whose passage the White House had opposed.

“It would have been foolhardy for the Trump administration to veto this bill,” said Edward Fishman, a former Obama State Department official who worked on Russia sanctions policy. “Congress would have overriden the veto, and all it will do is fuel the fire of the Russia scandal in Washington.”

The White House statement sought to save face from a resounding political setback, arguing that Trump had negotiated changes to early drafts of the bill and, "based on its responsiveness to his negotiations, approves Continue reading “Trump swallows a bitter pill on Russia”

Trump swallows a bitter pill on Russia

President Donald Trump plans to sign a Congressional law restricting his ability to lift sanctions on Russia, the White House said Friday night, in a severe blow to his budding relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Confronted by a united Congress and suspicions about his intentions towards the Russian leader, Trump had little choice but to sign the measure, whose passage the White House had opposed.

“It would have been foolhardy for the Trump administration to veto this bill,” said Edward Fishman, a former Obama State Department official who worked on Russia sanctions policy. “Congress would have overriden the veto, and all it will do is fuel the fire of the Russia scandal in Washington.”

The White House statement sought to save face from a resounding political setback, arguing that Trump had negotiated changes to early drafts of the bill and, "based on its responsiveness to his negotiations, approves Continue reading “Trump swallows a bitter pill on Russia”

Trump Jr.’s love affair with Moscow

It sounded like a scene from a Cold War spy movie: Donald Trump Jr. was in a helicopter flying low on the outskirts of Russia’s capital city.

“Buzzing the treetops outside Moscow at 100 knots,” Trump Jr. tweeted, adding the aircraft was flying “below radar in closed airspace,” for reasons he did not explain.

It was June 2011, and the future president’s son was on a business trip to Moscow, where Trump Jr. had recently become a regular—and admiring—visitor.

“I really prefer Moscow over all cities in the world,” he had told an audience a few years earlier.

The younger Trump, now the focus of charges of collusion with the Kremlin, was such a frequent presence in the city that he even had a favorite landmark: the colorful onion-domed St. Basil’s cathedral on Red Square.

“St. Basil’s Cathedral Moscow to me one of the cooler structures I know,” Trump had Continue reading “Trump Jr.’s love affair with Moscow”

Trump’s nationalists triumphant after Europe trip

President Donald Trump’s trip to Europe was a victory for his nationalist advisers over their so-called globalist rivals as the two camps gird for more showdowns this summer.

In Warsaw, Trump delivered a starkly nationalist speech lauding the right-wing Polish government’s defense of “civilization” from foes like refugees and European Union bureaucrats. At the G-20 summit in Germany, Trump stuck to his dissent from a global climate change consensus, befriended Russian President Vladimir Putin and weighed potential new steel tariffs that a top European Union official angrily branded “protectionist.”

In each instance, the influence of nationalist White House advisers, like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller — along with Trump’s own raw instincts — were on clear display. And all represent setbacks for the likes of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, who are trying to steer Trump’s policies in a more conventional direction.

Continue reading “Trump’s nationalists triumphant after Europe trip”

Trump’s pursuit of friendship with Putin fulfills his campaign promise

HAMBURG — When it comes to dealing with Russia, President Donald Trump is keeping his promise.

As president, Trump has backed away from campaign promises to impose tariffs on China, scrap the Iran nuclear deal and quickly build a wall on the Mexican border.

But nothing has deterred him from his vow to test the possibilities of diplomacy with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Not three federal investigations, not talk of impeachment—not even his wife.

First Lady Melania Trump interrupted her husband’s Friday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin here at the G-20 summit in an unsuccessful attempt to end an unexpectedly long and chatty session between the leaders of two ostensibly hostile powers.

“We went another hour after she came in to see us,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters in a briefing afterwards, with top White House and State Department aides looking on. “There was such a level Continue reading “Trump’s pursuit of friendship with Putin fulfills his campaign promise”

Trump’s pursuit of friendship with Putin fulfills his campaign promise

HAMBURG — When it comes to dealing with Russia, President Donald Trump is keeping his promise.

As president, Trump has backed away from campaign promises to impose tariffs on China, scrap the Iran nuclear deal and quickly build a wall on the Mexican border.

But nothing has deterred him from his vow to test the possibilities of diplomacy with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Not three federal investigations, not talk of impeachment—not even his wife.

First Lady Melania Trump interrupted her husband’s Friday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin here at the G-20 summit in an unsuccessful attempt to end an unexpectedly long and chatty session between the leaders of two ostensibly hostile powers.

“We went another hour after she came in to see us,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters in a briefing afterwards, with top White House and State Department aides looking on. “There was such a level Continue reading “Trump’s pursuit of friendship with Putin fulfills his campaign promise”

Trump’s pursuit of friendship with Putin fulfills his campaign promise

HAMBURG — When it comes to dealing with Russia, President Donald Trump is keeping his promise.

As president, Trump has backed away from campaign promises to impose tariffs on China, scrap the Iran nuclear deal and quickly build a wall on the Mexican border.

But nothing has deterred him from his vow to test the possibilities of diplomacy with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Not three federal investigations, not talk of impeachment—not even his wife.

First Lady Melania Trump interrupted her husband’s Friday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin here at the G-20 summit in an unsuccessful attempt to end an unexpectedly long and chatty session between the leaders of two ostensibly hostile powers.

“We went another hour after she came in to see us,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters in a briefing afterwards, with top White House and State Department aides looking on. “There was such a level Continue reading “Trump’s pursuit of friendship with Putin fulfills his campaign promise”

Trump’s pursuit of friendship with Putin fulfills his campaign promise

HAMBURG — When it comes to dealing with Russia, President Donald Trump is keeping his promise.

As president, Trump has backed away from campaign promises to impose tariffs on China, scrap the Iran nuclear deal and quickly build a wall on the Mexican border.

But nothing has deterred him from his vow to test the possibilities of diplomacy with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Not three federal investigations, not talk of impeachment—not even his wife.

First Lady Melania Trump interrupted her husband’s Friday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin here at the G-20 summit in an unsuccessful attempt to end an unexpectedly long and chatty session between the leaders of two ostensibly hostile powers.

“We went another hour after she came in to see us,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters in a briefing afterwards, with top White House and State Department aides looking on. “There was such a level Continue reading “Trump’s pursuit of friendship with Putin fulfills his campaign promise”

Trump’s pursuit of friendship with Putin fulfills his campaign promise

HAMBURG — When it comes to dealing with Russia, President Donald Trump is keeping his promise.

As president, Trump has backed away from campaign promises to impose tariffs on China, scrap the Iran nuclear deal and quickly build a wall on the Mexican border.

But nothing has deterred him from his vow to test the possibilities of diplomacy with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Not three federal investigations, not talk of impeachment—not even his wife.

First Lady Melania Trump interrupted her husband’s Friday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin here at the G-20 summit in an unsuccessful attempt to end an unexpectedly long and chatty session between the leaders of two ostensibly hostile powers.

“We went another hour after she came in to see us,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters in a briefing afterwards, with top White House and State Department aides looking on. “There was such a level Continue reading “Trump’s pursuit of friendship with Putin fulfills his campaign promise”

Trump readies for his turn with Putin

President Donald Trump heads into a high-stakes meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, pursuing his expressed desire to improve relations with Moscow amid the radioactive politics around the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election.

The sit-down, scheduled for Friday afternoon at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, comes after years of praise from Trump for Putin—dating to at least 2013, when Trump asked in a tweet whether Putin will “become my new best friend” after Trump publicly invited the Russian to attend his Miss Universe contest in Moscow.

Since then Trump has called Putin “tough” and “strong,” repeatedly said he is “outsmarting” the U.S., and speculated that he’d “get along very well” with the Russian leader.

Along with the praise has come an unwillingness to criticize Putin personally—including for authorizing a Kremlin plan to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Trump’s behalf. That Putin did Continue reading “Trump readies for his turn with Putin”

Trump readies for his turn with Putin

President Donald Trump heads into a high-stakes meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, pursuing his expressed desire to improve relations with Moscow amid the radioactive politics around the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election.

The sit-down, scheduled for Friday afternoon at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, comes after years of praise from Trump for Putin—dating to at least 2013, when Trump asked in a tweet whether Putin will “become my new best friend” after Trump publicly invited the Russian to attend his Miss Universe contest in Moscow.

Since then Trump has called Putin “tough” and “strong,” repeatedly said he is “outsmarting” the U.S., and speculated that he’d “get along very well” with the Russian leader.

Along with the praise has come an unwillingness to criticize Putin personally—including for authorizing a Kremlin plan to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Trump’s behalf. That Putin did Continue reading “Trump readies for his turn with Putin”