Trump calls Trudeau “two-faced,” cancels NATO press conference

President Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “two-faced” on Wednesday after Trudeau appeared to mock the president during a reception at Buckingham Palace.

The president also canceled a news conference that was scheduled to take place at the conclusion of the NATO summit.

“When today’s meetings are over, I will be heading back to Washington,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “We won’t be doing a press conference at the close of NATO because we did so many over the past two days.” He had previously signaled to reporters he might cancel the news conference, which was slated for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. 

Mr. Trump has engaged in some tense interactions with fellow world leaders, including Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron. During a reception at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday, Macron, Trudeau and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared to joke about Mr. Trump.

“He was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top,” Trudeau can be heard telling Macron and Johnson, adding, “You just watched his team’s jaws drop to the floor.”

When asked by reporters about Trudeau’s comments, Mr. Trump called the Canadian prime minister “two-faced” and suggested Trudeau “wasn’t happy” he was called out by the president for not meeting NATO’s 2% commitment. 

“I’m representing the U.S. and he should be paying more than he’s paying, and he understands that,” Mr. Trump said on Trudeau. “So I can imagine he’s not that happy, but that’s the way it is.”

Earlier, the president criticized Macron for suggesting NATO is experiencing “brain death,” defending the institution he says he has made stronger. 

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the House Judiciary Committee is expected to hold its first public impeachment hearing. Mr. Trump continued to blast House Democrats’ impeachment process while in London, even as he said he might like for some of his top aides to testify in any Senate proceedings. 

During his trip, Mr. Trump also announced the U.S. will host the G-7 summit next year at Camp David, a place acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney had previously derided as an undesirable location because no one liked it. Mulvaney announced in a memorable news conference earlier this fall that the G-7 would take place at Mr. Trump’s resort in Florida, before the White House reversed course under intense political pressure. 

[CBS News]

Trump, Macron hold tense meeting: ‘Would you like some nice ISIS fighters? I can give them to you’

President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron held a tense meeting Tuesday on the sidelines of a NATO summit, with Trump at one point telling the French leader he could send him some “ISIS fighters” if he wanted them.

“Would you like some nice ISIS fighters? I can give them to you,” Trump said with a slight smile at the meeting, which was carried live on cable news. “You can take every one you want.”

“Let’s be serious,” Macron replied sternly, reasoning that most ISIS fighters came from Syria, Iraq and Iran and disputing Trump’s common refrain that the terrorist group had been defeated.

Trump has complained that European countries have been unwilling to accept ISIS fighters the U.S. had captured.

The French president insisted that the number of European ISIS fighters was a “tiny” part of the overall problem of addressing destabilization in the region. He was also adamant that the terrorist group had not entirely been defeated, a break with a common declaration from Trump.

“I think [the] No. 1 priority, because it’s not finished, is it to get rid of ISIS,” Macron said.

“That was one of the greatest nonanswers I ever heard,” Trump said after Macron had concluded. “And that’s OK.”

If the meeting was tense, the days leading up the the one-on-one session were equally so. 

A day before the meeting, the Trump administration announced it was prepared to impose 100 percent tariffs on wine and other products from France in response to complaints about a French tax that has hit U.S. technology companies.

A myriad of disagreements between the two leaders played out in public over the course of the 40 minute meeting, which came hours after Trump called Macron’s comments critical of NATO “insulting.” The icy tone was a far cry from the warm embraces and state visit the two men have shared over the past two years. 

Trump emphasized his “very good relationship” with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after Macron noted disagreements between Turkey and the rest of the alliance on their definition of terrorism. 

“I can only say we have a very good relationship with Turkey and president Erdoğan,” Trump said when asked about Turkey’s standing in NATO. “We have a very good relationship.” 

Macron interjected shortly thereafter: “We have lost cooperation with Turkey.” 

The French president demanded “clarification” from Ankara on how it could be a member of the NATO alliance and also purchase Russian S-400 missile systems amid NATO opposition. Macron also said Turkey wanted to “blow up” the summit if the other alliance members did not recognize Ankara’s view of groups that are terrorists. 

When Trump suggested that his predecessor, former President Obama, pushed Turkey toward purchasing the Russian missiles by refusing to sell Ankara the Patriot missile, Macron shot back, saying it was Turkey’s “own decision” to purchase the missiles after Europe offered another option that was compliant with NATO.  

Trump was noncommittal on reaching a deal to avert U.S. tariffs set to be imposed on $2.4 billion in French imports. He expressed frustration with the French tax, which he sees as targeting U.S. companies.

“They’re American companies,” he said. “The tech companies you’re talking about, they’re not my favorite people because they’re not exactly for me, but that’s OK. I don’t care, they’re American companies. And we want to tax American companies. We want to tax them. That’s not for somebody else to tax them.”

Tuesday’s icy meeting underscored the evolution of the Trump-Macron relationship.

The two men came into office within months of each other and enjoyed a close relationship. They famously shared a lengthy and intense handshake at one of their first meetings, and Trump later hosted Macron at the White House for a state visit.

But Macron has become more outspoken as he seeks to take the mantle in Europe in the face of changing governments there and Trump’s unpredictability.

On Tuesday, the French president stood by his controversial comments about NATO, Macron said he was a supporter of a stronger European component in the alliance and agreed with Trump that the U.S. was overinvested compared with other countries, but he said there was more to the alliance than discussions about money and burden sharing.

“When you speak about NATO, it’s not just about money,” Macron said. “We have to be clear on the fundamentals of what NATO should be.”

[The Hill]

Trump wastes no time distorting Zelensky statement

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered an unmistakable rebuke to President Trump in an interview published Monday by Time and three European news outlets. Then Trump, as is his wont, declared himself totally exonerated.

According to the partial transcript posted by Time, Zelensky mostly discussed the war with Russian-backed rebels along Ukraine’s eastern border. When he got onto the topic of the United States’ role, he started by saying he didn’t want Ukraine to be a pawn in a great-powers game of chess. But then he got into how Trump and other U.S. officials had been publicly labeling Ukraine a “corrupt country” and the difficulties that this causes with global investors and businesses.

”This is a hard signal,” Zelensky said. “For me it’s very important for the United States, with all they can do for us, for them really to understand that we are a different country, that we are different people. It’s not that those things don’t exist. They do. All branches of government were corrupted over many years, and we are working to clean that up. But that signal from them is very important.”

In other words, the chaff thrown up by Trump and his allies in defense of his attempt to persuade Zelensky to announce two investigations that could help Trump’s reelection bid — “Ukraine is corrupt, and Trump was just trying to protect taxpayers’ money” — is at least as harmful to Ukraine’s new housecleaning government as it is helpful to Trump.

But that comment wasn’t the one that got Trump’s attention. It was one at the end of the interview, when Zelensky was asked the $300-million question: “When did you first sense that there was a connection between Trump’s decision to block military aid to Ukraine this summer and the two investigations that Trump and his allies were asking for? Can you clarify this issue of the quid pro quo?”

There’s a great deal of confusion over this precise point. The White House froze nearly $300 million in security aid to Ukraine about two weeks before Trump spoke with Zelensky and asked for “a favor” in the form of those two investigations. But the hold on the aid didn’t become public until Politico broke the news in late August.

Here’s Zelensky’s response, according to Time’s transcript: “Look, I never talked to the president from the position of a quid pro quo. That’s not my thing.… I don’t want us to look like beggars. But you have to understand. We’re at war. If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us. I think that’s just about fairness. It’s not about a quid pro quo. It just goes without saying.”

There are a million different ways to parse that, but the meaning seems clear: Zelensky really, really, really wants to get out of the middle of this controversy. Yet it’s also clear that he’s not forgiving Trump for delaying the aid approved by Congress, more than 10% of which is apparently still on hold.

Trump, though, offered a completely different read:

Nothing wrong? How about “If you’re our strategic partner, you can’t go blocking anything for us”? How about Zelensky imploring Trump to stop driving capital away from Kyiv?

But that’s how Trump operates, counting on people not to take the extra step and read the Zelensky interview for themselves.

It’s kind of like Trump’s fallback line, “Read the transcript.” If people actually read the reconstructed transcript that the White House released, they would see Trump telling Zelensky how dependent Ukraine is on the United States, then find him asking Zelensky to conduct two investigations that are clearly beneficial to Trump politically — including one specifically into the Democrat who’s leading the race to oppose Trump in 2020, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Granted, some folks may not be troubled by a president using the power of his office to try to persuade a foreign government to help him win reelection. But even they would have to concede it’s something less than “perfect.”

[Los Angeles Times]

Trump administration eases US stance toward Israeli settlements in West Bank

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday that the U.S. government will ease its stance on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, in the latest move by the Trump administration to bolster Israel’s position and undermine Palestinian claims regarding land sought for a future state.

Pompeo essentially rejected a 1978 State Department legal opinion holding that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law.” He also said the White House was reversing an Obama administration directive that allowed the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution declaring the settlements a “flagrant violation” of international law.

“The Trump administration is reversing the Obama administration’s opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank,” Pompeo said. “The establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank is not inconsistent with international law.”

Pompeo added that the Trump administration believes that calling the Israeli settlements illegal under international law is not moving a peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians forward.

“Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace,” he said. “The hard truth is that there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict, and arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace.”

Pompeo added: “The vision of peace this administration has, we’ve created space for this.”

Trump already broke with his predecessors by deciding earlier to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the U.S. Embassy to that city and closing the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington.

Even though the decision is largely symbolic, it could give a boost to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is fighting for his political survival after he was unable to form a coalition government following recent elections.

In addition, it could spell further trouble for the administration’s oft-promised peace plan, which is unlikely to gather much international support by endorsing a position contrary to the global consensus.

The Netanyahu government was dealt a blow on settlements just last week when the European Court of Justice ruled products made in Israeli settlements must be labeled as such.

The 1978 legal opinion on settlements is known as the Hansell Memorandum. It had been the basis for more than 40 years of carefully worded U.S. opposition to settlement construction that had varied in its tone and strength depending on the president’s position.

The international community overwhelmingly considers the settlements illegal. This is based in part on the Fourth Geneva Convention, which bars an occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population to occupied territory.

“It hasn’t worked,” Pompeo said about the Obama administration’s move. “It hasn’t advanced the cause of peace.”

Pompeo said that the U.S. would not take a position on the legality of specific settlements and that that the new policy would not extend beyond the West Bank and create a precedent for other territorial disputes. He added that the decision did not mean the administration was prejudging the status of the West Bank in any eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

“This is only solved by negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinians,” he added. 

The anti-settlement monitoring group Peace Now, along with AP reporting, has found a sharp increase in settlement planning and construction since Trump took office.

Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and quickly began settling the newly conquered territory. 

Today, some 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the two areas, which are both claimed by the Palestinians for their state. After the war, it immediately annexed east Jerusalem, home to the holy city’s most important religious sites, in a move that is not internationally recognized.

But Israel has never annexed the West Bank, even as it has dotted the territory with scores of settlements and tiny settlement outposts. While claiming the fate of the settlements is a subject for negotiations, it has steadily expanded them.

Some major settlements have over 30,000 residents, resembling small cities and serving as suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. 

The Palestinians and supporters say the settlements undermine hopes for a two-state solution by gobbling up land sought by the Palestinians.

[Fox News]

Trump pardons and reinstates three more war criminals against his own DOD

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday pardoned two Army officers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan and restored the rank of a Navy SEAL platoon commander who was demoted for actions in Iraq, a move critics have said would undermine military justice and send a message that battlefield atrocities will be tolerated.

The White House said in a statement Trump granted full pardons to First Lieutenant Clint Lorance and Major Mathew Golsteyn, and ordered that the rank Edward Gallagher held before he was convicted in a military trial this year be restored.

“For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history,” the statement said.

A Pentagon spokesperson said the Department of Defense has confidence in the military justice system.

“The President is part of the military justice system as the Commander-in-Chief and has the authority to weigh in on matters of this nature,” the spokesperson said.

In recent weeks, Pentagon officials had spoken with Trump about the cases, provided facts and emphasized the due process built into the military justice system.

The White House said in a statement Trump granted full pardons to First Lieutenant Clint Lorance and Major Mathew Golsteyn, and ordered that the rank Edward Gallagher held before he was convicted in a military trial this year be restored.

“For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history,” the statement said.

A Pentagon spokesperson said the Department of Defense has confidence in the military justice system.

“The President is part of the military justice system as the Commander-in-Chief and has the authority to weigh in on matters of this nature,” the spokesperson said.

In recent weeks, Pentagon officials had spoken with Trump about the cases, provided facts and emphasized the due process built into the military justice system.

But presidents have occasionally granted pardons preemptively to individuals accused of or suspected of a crime.

The most famous such case was the blanket pardon President Gerald Ford bestowed on his predecessor, Richard Nixon, after Nixon’s resignation during the Watergate scandal in 1974.

[Reuters]

Transcript Shows WH Made Up Details of Trump’s Zelensky Call

The release of the transcript of President Donald Trump’s first call in April with Ukrainian President-elect Volodomyr Zelensky was meant to bolster the case that Trump had nothing but good intentions in his dealings with Ukraine—but it also showed a White House summary of the same call released to the public shortly after it occurred was largely fabricated. 

The White House readout, a summary of the call released hours after it occurred, claimed Trump “underscored the unwavering support of the United States for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity—within its internationally recognized borders—and expressed his commitment to work together with President-elect Zelensky and the Ukrainian people to implement reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption.”

Such statements are nowhere to be found in the transcript of the call released by the president on Friday. That transcript shows Trump congratulating Zelensky on his recent election win, promising to arrange a White House visit for him, and recounting the large number of Ukrainian women who participated in Trump’s Miss Universe competitions.

Nowhere does Trump mention efforts to address Ukrainian corruption, economic prosperity, or democratic institutions. Nor does he even allude to its efforts to beat back the Russian occupation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on those discrepancies.

The White House released the transcript in an effort to undercut claims by congressional Democrats that Trump sought to leverage a Zelensky White House visit and delayed military aid to Ukraine to solicit an investigation by Ukrainian prospectors into the son of former Vice President Joe Biden and into conspiracy theories regarding a supposed Ukrainian role in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee in 2016.

Trump and his allies have claimed that the president was simply seeking to root out corruption in Ukraine, a stated objective of U.S. foreign policy for years. The readout of Trump’s April call with Zelensky indicated that Trump had indeed pressed Zelensky on that issue in particular.

But the transcript released Friday, which notes that it is not a “verbatim” account of the conversation, doesn’t even mention the word “corruption.”

The Trump White House has a checkered record of releasing summaries of his calls with foreign leaders, a practice viewed as standard in prior administrations. Many of those readouts have contained scant details of the conversations, even as foreign leaders put out far more detailed summaries, a practice that experts say allows foreign governments to put their own spin on highly consequential interactions with the president.

[The Daily Beast]

Trump: Erdoğan has ‘great relationship with the Kurds’

President Trump on Wednesday said his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has a “great relationship with the Kurds” amid concerns of possible ethnic violence against the minority group in northern Syria.

The two leaders met for the first time in Washington one month after Turkey launched its offensive into northeastern Syria against Kurdish forces allied with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS. Turkey claims the Kurdish group is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is designated as a terrorist group by both Ankara and Washington.

“I think the president has a great relationship with the Kurds,” Trump said. “Many Kurds live currently in Turkey, and they’re happy, and they’re taken care of, including health care — we were talking about it before — including health care and education and other things, so that’s really a misnomer.”

The question came from reporter Rahim Rashidi of the Iraqi Kurdistan network K24, who was dubbed “Mr. Kurd” by Trump during a press conference last year when discussing the fight against ISIS. Rashidi has adopted the nickname, putting it on business cards and introducing himself that way when interviewing the president and other lawmakers.

Erdoğan reasserted that Turkey’s offensive is rooting out “terrorist organizations.”

“We have no problems with the Kurds. We have problems with terrorist organizations, and of course you’re not going to own up to the terrorists, are you?” he asked.

Turkey is home to one of the largest populations of Kurdish minorities, about 19 percent of its population.

[The Hill]

The US Navy canceled a routine Black Sea patrol after Trump complained that it was hostile to Russia

Christopher Anderson, an aide to former Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, testified that the White House canceled a Navy freedom-of-navigation operation in the Black Sea after President Donald Trump complained to then-national security adviser John Bolton about a CNN report that framed the operation as a counter to Russia, Politico reported.

According to Anderson’s testimony, the news report in question came from CNN and characterized the operation as antagonistic toward Russia. Anderson testified that Trump called Bolton at home to complain about the article, and the operation was later canceled at the behest of the White House, Anderson said.

“In January, there was an effort to get a routine freedom-of-navigation operation into the Black Sea,” Anderson testified. “There was a freedom-of-navigation operation for the Navy. So we — we, the US government — notified the Turkish government that there was this intent.”

While Anderson in his testimony placed the report in January, details from his testimony match a story from early December, which had the headline “US makes preparations to sail warship into the Black Sea amid Russia-Ukraine tensions.”

Anderson said the White House asked the Navy to cancel the freedom-of-navigation operation because the report portrayed the operation as a move to counter Russia, which has increased its naval presence there since annexing Crimea in 2014. In November 2018, its forces attacked Ukrainian assets transiting the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea with the Azov Sea. Russia seized three Ukrainian ships and held 24 Ukrainian service members captive.

“We met with Ambassador Bolton and discussed this, and he made it clear that the president had called him to complain about that news report. And that may have just been that he was surprised,” Anderson said.

“We don’t — I can’t speculate as to why, but that, that operation, was canceled, but then we were able to get a second one for later in February. And we had an Arleigh-class destroyer arrive in Odessa on the fifth anniversary of the Crimea invasion.”

The White House and the US Navy’s 6th Fleet, which conducts operations in Europe, did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment. 

[Business Insider]

Trump celebrates resignation of Bolivia’s president

President Trump on Monday hailed the ouster of Bolivian President Evo Morales as a “significant moment for democracy” even as Morales’s supporters and some U.S. lawmakers likened it to a coup.

Trump issued a statement approving of Morales’s resignation, which capped weeks of unrest following the country’s elections last month.

“After nearly 14 years and his recent attempt to override the Bolivian constitution and the will of the people, Morales’s departure preserves democracy and paves the way for the Bolivian people to have their voices heard,” Trump said in a statement.

Trump said the events in Bolivia “send a strong signal to the illegitimate regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua that democracy and the will of the people will always prevail. We are now one step closer to a completely democratic, prosperous, and free Western Hemisphere.”

Mexico on Monday offered asylum to Morales, and later said the Bolivian leader had requested it. 

Morales and his leftist government have been in power for 14 years, but the country’s first indigenous president has come under scrutiny toward the end of his tenure. Morales changed the country’s laws in order to run for office a fourth time and declared he won last month’s election despite widespread accusations of fraud.

The Washington Post reported the the heads of the armed forces and police withdrew their support for the government in recent days amid escalating protests. By Sunday, all four socialist officials atop the Bolivian government had resigned in what Morales likened to a coup.

That language was echoed by prominent liberals in the U.S. Congress, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), both self-described democratic socialists.

“I am very concerned about what appears to be a coup in Bolivia, where the military, after weeks of political unrest, intervened to remove President Evo Morales,” Sanders tweeted.

“What’s happening right now in Bolivia isn’t democracy, it’s a coup,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “The people of Bolivia deserve free, fair, and peaceful elections — not violent seizures of power.”

Trump has used socialist governments around the world to attack Democrats and their progressive policies ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

The Trump administration has pushed for the ouster of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, but has thus far been unsuccessful.

[The Hill]

Trump says he’s ‘thinking about’ attending Russia’s May Day parade

Donald Trump says he’s considering attending Russia‘s May Day parade in 2020.

The president told reporters outside the White House that he was “invited” by Russian President Vladimir Putin and is “thinking about” attending the procession, which commemorates the end of the Second World War with a display of the country’s military might.

“It’s right in the middle of our campaign season, but I would certainly think about it”, Mr Trump told reporters on Friday. 

Not to be confused with May Day parades, the Moscow Victory Day Parade on 9 May 2020 will mark the 75th anniversary of the fall of Nazi Germany on the war’s Eastern front.

“President Putin invited me to the… It’s a very big deal, celebrating the end of the war, etcetera, etcetera, a very big deal, so I appreciate the invitation”, Mr Trump said. “It is right in the middle of political season, so I’ll see if I can do it, but I would love to go if I could.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Mr Trump had been invited earlier this year.

Mr Peskov told reporters that Mr Trump had reacted positively to the invitation.

On Thursday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reportedly confirmed to Russian news agency RIA that Mr Putin’s invitation was “received with interest”, according to Reuters, but the White House did not respond with an affirmative.

Mr Trump’s response on Friday arrives amid ongoing tensions between the two countries, including Russia’s manoeuvring in Ukraine and its interference in 2016 elections and US politics, in Washington and on social media.

Facing the president and members of his cabinet at the White House last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is leading the impeachment charge against Mr Trump, said that she likely was thinking, “All roads lead to Putin” while addressing the president.

[The Independent]

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