Posts Tagged ‘Tillerson’

Tillerson Balances Trump’s Goals With His Own

October 20, 2017

In interview, secretary of state reflects on his role in administration, warns China on trade and territory

WASHINGTON—Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described how he seeks to manage an often-fraught relationship with President Donald Trump, saying he tries to deliver short-term victories to an impatient commander-in-chief while focusing on a longer horizon himself.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal Thursday, Mr. Tillerson acknowledged the contrasting styles of the two men and described his effort to bridge the gaps, while rejecting swirling rumors of his impending departure. “I see those differences in how we think,” Mr. Tillerson said in his State Department office. “Most of the things he would do would be done on very short time frames. Everything I spent my life doing was done on 10- to 20-year time frames, so I am quite comfortable thinking in those terms.”

His solution: “Delivering the incremental wins,” he said. “Incremental progress is taking you toward the ultimate objective, which is, as I say is eight, 10 years down the road.”

Mr. Tillerson said one of his top long-term priorities is shifting the balance of the trade and national-security relationship with China, even as he adopted Mr. Trump’s stern tone on Asia’s economic power.

On Thursday, Mr. Tillerson warned China that the U.S. has an arsenal of economic weapons to force Beijing to address trade imbalances and a continuing territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

“We can do this one of two ways,” Mr. Tillerson said during the interview, seeming at times to speak directly to his Chinese counterparts. “We can do it cooperatively and collaboratively, or we can do it by taking actions and letting you react to that.”

Tools he might apply include tariffs, World Trade Organization actions, quotas and other mechanisms, he said.

The president and Mr. Tillerson are scheduled in November to visit Asia for a 10-day trip through five countries, including China, where the two former businessmen—both first-time public office holders—will push these issues.

Mr. Tillerson said the race to stem North Korea’s nuclear program, as well as trade issues with Japan and South Korea, will also dominate the trip. His tough talk on China came as the country’s leaders are meeting at the Communist Party Congress, a summit that takes place every five years.


  • Tillerson to Travel to Mideast, South Asia Next Week

In a response to Mr. Tillerson’s recent tough talk, the Chinese Embassy in Washington on Wednesday released a statement. “Through dialogue and cooperation with the countries in the region, the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable. Countries outside the region should fully respect these efforts to safeguard regional peace and stability,” it said.

“The track record demonstrates that China and the U.S. are better together. We hope the U.S. side can work in the same direction with China to ensure the healthy and sound development of the China-U.S. relationship,” the statement continued.

Mr. Tillerson’s comments follow a rocky summer in his relationship with Mr. Trump. Signs of tension between them have continued to overshadow the insistence from both men that all is well.

“If I were a world leader—doesn’t matter who—I wouldn’t talk to Tillerson,” said Larry Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, citing the public divide between the two men. “The president must feel that this person can do the work for him…this is not the case here. It’s becoming antagonistic.”

During a meeting at the Pentagon one weekend in July, Mr. Tillerson rolled his eyes as he reluctantly acquiesced to the president’s criticism of the Iran nuclear pact. “It’s your deal,” Mr. Tillerson said in his Texas drawl as he peered in the direction of other cabinet officials, instead of Mr. Trump.

After that meeting, Mr. Tillerson referred to the president as a “moron,” according to people familiar with the conversations. Mr. Tillerson’s spokeswoman has denied he made the remark.

Mr. Trump has also disparaged his top diplomat, complaining that Mr. Tillerson doesn’t understand his “Make America Great” philosophy and has few original thoughts. “Totally establishment in his thinking,” he has told aides.

Asked Thursday if he believed Mr. Trump should be re-elected, Mr. Tillerson paused for a beat, then said, “Well, of course.”

“I mean, I don’t think about it, quite frankly, right now,” he said. “We’ve got these things we’re dealing with, but yeah.”

Early on in the administration, Messrs. Trump and Tillerson seemed to have an easy rapport. They are both successful businessmen, and Mr. Tillerson’s global experience as the CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp. was a major appeal for the new president as he put his cabinet together.

When they first arrived in their new jobs and their wives had yet to join them in Washington, they often ate dinner together, joined by a combination of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis ; John Kelly, now the White House chief of staff; and General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

While those dinners have largely stopped, Mr. Tillerson and the president continue to meet, as they did in the Oval Office on Thursday, in what was at least their second meeting this week. In what a State Department spokeswoman described as a “positive,” they had lunch together earlier this month after initial reports of name-calling between them.

Mr. Tillerson’s openness to speaking to reporters comes after he was prompted to hold a news conference to address rumors that he was on the verge of quitting and had made derogatory remarks about the president. On Thursday, Mr. Tillerson expressed confusion about rumors of his departure. “Who in the world is telling you that stuff?,” he said.

He said he would remain in the job “as long as the president thinks I’m useful.”

The secretary pointed to successes on strengthening capabilities of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, particularly on counterterrorism, a peaceful pressure campaign on North Korea, the campaign to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the administration’s approach to South Asia.

“Look, I’m my own person, I’m a serious person,” Mr. Tillerson said. “And I’m not of any use to the president if I’m not that. If I try to be anything other than that, I’m no use to him.”

Mr. Tillerson said Thursday he likes to view foreign-policy problems according to region.

“I believe you solve a problem in Afghanistan not by just dealing with Afghanistan,” he said. “You solve it by solving a regional problem, and that’s the way we’re looking at the Middle East.”

He has honed that approach in brainstorming sessions that have evolved over his time at Foggy Bottom. In his first months in office, Mr. Tillerson and a small circle of aides convened weekend sessions during which they kicked around policy approaches by sketching ideas on a white board. Those sessions are now twice a week, sometimes on Saturdays when convenient, and include career state department officials, an official said.

The Texas oilman turned chief diplomat said he spends the bulk of his time concentrating on North Korea, Iran, counterterrorism, China and Russia.

Noting that U.S. and China officials have long been able to negotiate their differences peacefully, he repeatedly said China “went too far” in its push to claim resources in the South China Sea, one of the most ​important trade arteries for the world’s largest economies.

“Our view is you’re going to have to walk some of that back,” he said.

Mr. Tillerson said the Trump administration is seeking agreement on a code of conduct in the region, noting that other countries “are guilty of having done the same thing to a lesser extent” as China. He said the Philippines is looking for “mutually agreeable ways” to share disputed areas without conflict.

“Look, some things have gotten out of whack,” Mr. Tillerson said about U.S.-China relations. “We’ve got to address them.”

Write to Michael C. Bender at and Felicia Schwartz at


Risk of Failure Is Enormous for Donald Trump’s Iran Strategy

October 14, 2017


By Nick Wadhams Margaret Talev

  • Pathway to success is narrow while chance of failure is high
  • European allies “should be terrified,” Trump backers say
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a statement on Iran in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., Oct. 13.

 Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg

The strategy that President Donald Trump has laid out to confront Iran and renegotiate a 2015 nuclear agreement requires a string of big bets to pay off in short order. The risk of failure is enormous.

A hostile Congress must agree to pass legislation to toughen the terms of the accord. European allies with little appetite to upend the meticulously constructed agreement will have to change their minds. And Iran, no friend of the U.S. for decades, needs to get on board.

The plan Trump announced Friday, worked out over the course of months by State Department and National Security Council officials with the help of outside advisers, will need all of those pieces to fall into place in just the right order. If they don’t and Trump carries out his threat to back out of the deal, the U.S. risks isolation from its allies and may lose critical leverage — verified international controls on Iran’s nuclear program.

The biggest challenge will be getting allies on board, said Michael Singh, former senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council under President George W. Bush and an advocate of toughening the deal. “The diplomacy will be difficult,” he said.

With his speech Friday, Trump articulated an approach that’s been months in the making to reshape a deal he’d promised to shred. It’s in keeping with his belief that the nuclear agreement, worked out under his predecessor Barack Obama, was too narrow in its scope and only emboldened Iran to sponsor terrorist groups and pursue ballistic missiles.

Read More: Analysts Weigh In on How Far Iran Will Go in Repudiating Trump

The Trump administration argues that Iran, which says it has no intention of seeking a nuclear weapon, is in what the State Department calls “tactical compliance” with the accord but is only waiting for many of its terms to expire in the coming decades to develop a bomb.

“I urge our allies to join us in taking strong actions to curb Iran’s continued dangerous and destabilizing behavior,” Trump said. “We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout.”

Trump’s first stop will be Congress. In refusing to certify that Iran is complying with 2015 legislation reviewing the accord, he’s asking lawmakers to consider tough new sanctions on Iran. Those measures would go into effect automatically if Iran fails to meet more stringent restrictions on its ballistic missile development, sponsorship of terrorism and uranium enrichment.

With that legislation in hand, the administration is betting it will be able to present a solid front to European allies, playing off their own unease about some weaker elements of the deal to threaten new economic isolation of Iran.

That’s despite a joint statement Friday by British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron reaffirming their commitment to the accord, which they called “a major step towards ensuring that Iran’s nuclear programme is not diverted for military purposes.”

Read More: Four Flashpoints That Define Trump’s Dispute With Iran

With the U.S., France, the U.K. and Germany all on one side of the table, the Trump team’s theory goes, Iran would feel sufficiently isolated and willing to make concessions it wasn’t prepared to stomach when the accord was negotiated. It’s a bet that U.S. economic and military might are too great to be ignored.

But domestically, Congress could simply fail to pass the bill Trump wants, or conservatives in Congress could push to reimpose sanctions without waiting. Internationally, the European allies could join Iran, Russia and China in pressing ahead with the accord regardless of the U.S.

In the worst case, there’s the threat of U.S. military force to take out Iran’s nuclear program — if that’s even possible. Or it may come down to economic warfare: European countries, along with China, Russia and other Iranian trading partners, would have to choose between doing business with Tehran or retaining access to the U.S. financial system.

Iran’s Response

If Iran backed out of the nuclear deal, it could blame Trump, and the U.S. would be left with less insight than it had previously into the country’s nuclear activity.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran will not be the first to withdraw from the deal, but if its rights and interests in the deal are not respected, it will stop implementing all its commitments and will resume its peaceful nuclear program without any restrictions,” Gholamali Khoshroo, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, said Friday in a letter to the Security Council.

It could also fracture relations with Germany, France and the U.K.

“This creates a giant wedge — it’s Iran and the rest of the world on one side and the U.S. on the other,” said John Glaser, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington.

Former officials who helped hammer out the nuclear deal were dispirited.

“It is indeed a very dangerous path that the president has set us on,” said Wendy Sherman, a former undersecretary of State who led the U.S. negotiating team. “I think it will make the allies incredibly anxious. The president again sees this as a negotiating tactic, but this is war and peace, and this kind of blackmail tactic does not get you where you want to go.”

Trump’s strategy for Iran balances the president’s hostility to the nuclear accord against his advisers’ wariness of abandoning it. Trump’s senior-most national security officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have advocated remaining in the agreement, as have even some hard-line conservatives in Congress.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who plans to introduce the legislation critical to Trump’s plan, said he was optimistic about winning passage in Congress.

“We have provided a route to overcome deficiencies and to keep the administration in the deal, and actually make it the kind of deal that should have been in the first place,” Corker told reporters.

Corker is pressing the legislation despite an ongoing feud with the president. After Corker said the White House had become an “adult day care center,” Trump lambasted him as “Liddle Bob Corker” and falsely claimed the senator backed the initial Iran deal.

Trump’s own advisers played down their prospects for success. Tillerson said the Congress plan isn’t a “slam dunk” and repeatedly raised the possibility that it might now work.

“We may be unsuccessful, we may not be able to fix it, and if we’re not, we may be out of the deal,” Tillerson told reporters. “I don’t want to suggest to you that we have a high chance of success.”

— With assistance by Kambiz Foroohar, and Ladane Nasseri

Trump Expected Not to Certify Iran Compliance With Nuclear Pact

October 13, 2017

Decision doesn’t mean U.S. will withdraw from deal; president will also lay out broader Iran policy

Trump and Khamenei

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump is expected to announce on Friday that he won’t certify Iran is complying with the 2015 multinational nuclear agreement and will take Tehran to task more broadly for practices ranging from missile tests to support of violent groups, U.S. officials said.

The refusal to certify Iran’s compliance doesn’t mean the U.S. will pull out of the deal, the officials added, and Mr. Trump isn’t expected to ask Congress to re-impose economic sanctions that had been lifted as part of the agreement. But it could send the White House down a road of trying to change a deal that U.S. allies still support.

Mr. Trump, a longtime opponent of the accord negotiated under his predecessor’s administration, is expected to announce his decision in a speech in which he will also lay out plans to crack down on Iran’s missile program and its support for Hezbollah and other militant groups in the Middle East, the officials said.

Mr. Trump is also likely to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s elite military branch, as a terrorist organization, a step that has been the subject of internal administration debates, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

Members of Iran’s revolutionary guard on parade in Tehran.

Members of Iran’s revolutionary guard on parade in Tehran. Photograph: Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters

Iran vowed a “crushing” response if the U.S. takes that step.

The venue for Mr. Trump’s remarks was the subject of debate as well. Officials said they had discussed the possibility of the speech taking place in front of the unoccupied Iranian Embassy in Washington, although that plan was set aside.

Mr. Trump’s speech will mark the end of a months-long Iran policy review by the administration and begin an uncertain process under which Congress has 60 days to consider on an expedited basis reinstating sanctions that had been lifted under the terms of the nuclear accord.

The president will speak in advance of a Sunday deadline to inform Congress about whether or not Iran is complying with the nuclear deal, under the terms of a U.S. law passed in 2015 meant to provide congressional oversight.

Iranian women took part in an anti-US demonstration in Tehran last month.Photo: Abedin Taherkenare/EPA/Shutterstock

That deadline, and Mr. Trump’s decision, have no effect on U.S. adherence to the nuclear accord, unless Congress reinstates the sanctions. For now, however, the Trump administration’s move will allow the president to criticize the deal while also providing some assurances to European allies that the U.S. won’t walk away from it.

The Trump administration has been working with Congress to amend U.S. legislation that provides for congressional oversight. Several proposals for changes to the legislation exist. One draft was offered by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) and another by Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), people familiar with the draft said.

Some of the ideas in the drafts include expanding the definition of compliance with the deal to include limits on Iran’s nuclear activities under the purview of the U.N. nuclear watchdog and extending or eliminating the quarterly certification time requirement.

Mr. Trump last month extended sanctions relief to Iran under the nuclear agreement, and will next face a deadline to do so in January.

The European governments that helped the Obama administration negotiate the nuclear deal—the U.K., France and Germany—are preparing a formal response to Mr. Trump’s expected move, officials said.

The European statement, likely to be made within hours of the U.S. announcement, will refrain from criticizing Washington an d instead emphasize Europeans’ strong backing for the deal, officials said.

It likely will acknowledge U.S. concerns about Iran’s regional behavior and missile tests, but stress these issues, which weren’t part of the talks leading to the nuclear deal, should be dealt with separately, officials said.

As the policy review has been going on in the past several months, U.S. officials have been trying to persuade Europe to work with them to raise pressure on Iran. Europe’s trade with Iran has grown markedly since sanctions were suspended in January 2016 and dwarfs U.S.-Iranian commerce.

At the same time, the quarterly deadlines for certifying Iran’s compliance have been an irritant and embarrassment for the president, officials said. Mr. Trump has twice certified Iran to be in compliance.

The United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, which is charged with enforcing the deal, also has determined Iran to be in compliance, a conclusion with which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson agreed.

In advance of Mr. Trump’s announcement Friday, Mr. Tillerson has called counterparts in the U.K., France, China and Russia to discuss the U.S. plans, according to the State Department.

Mr. Trump’s speech on Friday will start what officials expect to be a lengthy diplomatic process to negotiate ways to strengthen the Iran accord, first with European officials and perhaps eventually with Iran, either by revisiting the accord or by enacting related but freestanding agreements.

Among the U.S. concerns, the Trump administration has criticized the Iran deal for limits on Iran’s nuclear activity that eventually will expire—known as “sunset clauses”—and has faulted the agreement for not addressing Iran’s ballistic missile program.

European ambassadors in Washington have spent time in recent days meeting with U.S. lawmakers to express their willingness to discuss U.S. concerns about Iran and even the agreement, but that the U.S. must first make clear it will abide by the deal.

French President Emmanuel Macron last month floated the idea of supplementing the agreement with separate pacts to “control Iran’s ballistic [missile] activities, and to govern the situation after 2025,” when the deal’s limits on Iran’s nuclear work start to expire.

Other countries also have expressed concern about the IRGC, the elite military organization that reports directly to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and has a command structure separate from Iran’s traditional armed forces.

The IRGC was established following the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and has grown to dominate Iran’s economy, with holdings in property, oil and gas and telecommunications. U.S. officials estimate the IRGC controls as much as 50% of Iran’s economy.

Mr. Trump is expected to designate the IRGC as a terrorist group under an executive order that was created after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to target terrorist financing. It would not be classified as a foreign terrorist organization under more punitive U.S. laws, officials said.

France, like the U.S., has expressed concerns that the deal gives Iran greater freedom to work on more advanced centrifuges, which would allow Tehran to produce weapons-grade uranium more quickly, people familiar with the discussions said.

The Obama administration and European partners have said the aim of the deal was to confront Iran’s nuclear program only. As part of the deal, Iran agreed to ratify a side agreement, known as the additional protocol, which provides for broader and more intrusive inspections that Tehran said it would accept as part of the deal.

—Laurence Norman contributed to this article.

Write to Felicia Schwartz at

BBC News
Activists protest in front of the White House October 12, 2017
Protesters outside the White House have urged Donald Trump to back the deal. Credit Getty Images

US President Donald Trump is expected to withdraw backing from the nuclear accord with Iran on Friday and lay out a more confrontational strategy.

The move would not withdraw the US from the deal but give Congress 60 days to decide whether to do so by re-imposing sanctions.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been consulting with counterparts in Europe and China, officials said.

Mr Trump has been under pressure at home and abroad not to scrap the deal.

Under the 2015 accord, Iran agreed to freeze its nuclear programme in return for the partial lifting of sanctions.

President Trump has been a longstanding critic of the deal and pledged to scrap it during his campaign.

What Trump’s said about the Iran deal

Congress requires the US president to certify every 90 days that Iran is upholding its part of the agreement. Mr Trump has already recertified it twice.

Speculation that Mr Trump might refuse to recertify the deal has caused alarm among US allies and some members of his own administration.

Defence Secretary James Mattis told a Senate hearing earlier this month it was not in the national interest to abandon it.

Analysis: Trump tries to ‘fix’ Iran deal

Barbara Plett Usher, BBC News, Washington

President Trump has called the Iran nuclear accord the “worst deal ever negotiated”, and threatened to tear it up.

It looks, though, as if he will first try to “fix” it. He is expected to tell Congress that Iran is not meeting certain conditions set by US law; that the deal’s benefits are too meagre, for example, to justify continued sanctions relief.

Then it would be up to lawmakers to decide whether to re-impose sanctions.

Mr Trump is unlikely to advocate they do so now. Even critics of the deal fear this would isolate the US and weaken its credibility, because Iran is complying with the agreement.

Republicans have suggested they could use decertification as leverage to get the changes they want.

Ed Royce, Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that though the deal was “flawed, I believe we must now enforce the hell out of it”.

Foreign leaders, including British PM Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron, have urged Mr Trump to keep the deal.

Mr Trump recently reaffirmed his long-held opposition to the accord, calling it “one of the most incompetently drawn deals I’ve ever seen”.

“They got a path to nuclear weapons very quickly, and think of this one – $1.7bn in cash,” he told Fox News, referring to a decision by the Obama administration to settle a decades-long legal claim with Iran as part of the deal.

Mr Trump has repeatedly said Iran has broken the “spirit” of the deal, although the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Congress agree Iran is complying with the terms of the agreement.

President Trump and Iran’s President Rouhani traded insults at the UN

The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was designed to prevent Iran developing a nuclear weapon.

It lifted some sanctions that stopped Iran from trading on international markets and selling oil.

The lifting of sanctions is dependent on Iran restricting its nuclear programme. It must curb its uranium stockpile, build no more heavy-water reactors for 15 years, and allow inspectors into the country.

Includes videos:

Trump Has Confidence in Tillerson, White House Says — Trump said on Sunday that Tillerson was wasting his time trying to talk to North Korea — President Undercut His Own Team (Again)

October 3, 2017

President said Sunday chief diplomat was ‘wasting his time’ in bid to negotiate with North Korea

WASHINGTON—The White House said Monday that President Donald Trump has confidence in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a day after Mr. Trump said the chief diplomat was “wasting his time” by trying to negotiate with North Korea.

Mr. Tillerson disclosed over the weekend that the U.S. has had direct contact with Pyongyang and was trying to ascertain whether North Korean officials want to hold talks on their nuclear program. His statements, during a trip to Beijing to meet Chinese leaders, prompted Mr. Trump to tell Mr. Tillerson…

White House: Trump still has confidence in Tillerson


The White House said Monday that President Trump has confidence in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, even though the president publicly contradicted his top diplomat on North Korea.

“He does, yes,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said when asked if Trump still has confidence in Tillerson.

Sanders said she believed the two men have spoken in the past day.

Trump on Sunday tweeted that Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” a reference to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“Save your energy, Rex, we’ll do what has to be done,” the president tweeted.

The comments raised questions about Tillerson’s standing in the administration. The former ExxonMobil chief executive has periodically butted heads with the White House over policy and personnel decisions.

Traveling in China over the weekend, the secretary of State said the U.S. was in direct contact with North Korean representatives in an effort to lower tensions with the country.

Sanders reiterated on Monday that Trump does not believe direct negotiation with Kim will resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis.

“Now is not the time to talk,” she said.


Trump Says Rex Tillerson Is ‘Wasting His Time’ on North Korea — And More Times the President Undercut His Own Team

This isn’t the first time President Trump has undercut a member of his own staff

President Donald Trump has publicly called out his own secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, for “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets on Sunday, referring to his nickname for Kim Jong-un. “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”

“Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now? Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won’t fail,” Trump added in another tweet.

I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man…

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017

…Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017

Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now? Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won’t fail.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017

The comments came after Tillerson, who was traveling in China over the weekend, told reporters that the U.S. has open “lines of communication” with North Korea in an effort to “calm things down” following threatening exchanges between Trump and Kim.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in Monday’s press briefing that Trump still has confidence in Tillerson but added that “now is not the time simply to have conversations with North Korea.”

This isn’t the first time the president has undercut a member of his own staff. Here’s a list of others who have felt their boss’ frustration in very public ways.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivers a speech outlining the Department of Justice policy regarding Sanctuary Cities and crime by illegal immigrants at the US Attorney’s Office in Center City Philadelphia, PA, on July 21, 2017. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Trump repeatedly called out Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. After publicly announcing his displeasure — including telling The New York Times that Sessions’ move was “extremely unfair … to the president” — Trump took to Twitter in July to attack Sessionsfor taking “a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes” and “intel leakers.”

So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 24, 2017

Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign – “quietly working to boost Clinton.” So where is the investigation A.G. @seanhannity

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017

The president also expressed regret over appointing Sessions in the first place, telling the Times, “If he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.”


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President Donald Trump and H.R. McMaster are pictured. | Susan Walsh/AP
President Donald Trump said of H.R. McMaster (right). | Susan Walsh/AP

In May, Trump contradicted H.R. McMaster after the national security advisor denied reports that the president had shared classified information with Russian officials.

As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2017

…to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2017

Early the following morning, Trump tweeted that he had in fact shared information with Russia, which he said he had “the absolute right to do.”

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer … and Vice President Mike Pence … and the White House itself 

After Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May, the White House issued a statement, attributed to Spicer, that said the president “acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”

That night, after hiding among some bushes on the White House grounds, Spicer emerged to give the same explanation. “It was all him,” Spicer said of Rosenstein, according to The Washington Post.

RELATED VIDEOWatch: Natasha Stoynoff Breaks Silence, Accuses Donald Trump of Sexual Attack

Vice President Mike Pence and Trump’s then-deputy press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, also insisted at the time that Trump made his decision based on Rosenstein’s recommendation.

But then Trump himself spoke out with an entirely different explanation.

“I was going to fire Comey. My decision. I was going to fire Comey. There’s no good time to do it, by the way. I was going to fire regardless of recommendation,” Trump said in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt.

Trump also said he factored into his decision the Comey-led FBI probe into Russian interference in the election.

“And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said: ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won,’ ” Trump said.

Donald Trump Jr. 

Trump contradicted his own son — and his own self — when the president revealed in July that he knew about his eldest son’s June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer who promised to give the Trump campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Trump Jr. first said in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity that his father didn’t know about the meeting, a claim the president also made in a subsequent interview with Reueters.

“No, that I didn’t know until a couple of days ago when I heard about this,” Trump said at the time.

Just hours later, however, Trump told pool reporters of the meeting, “In fact maybe it was mentioned at some point.”

Trump Says Rex Tillerson Is ‘Wasting His Time’ on North Korea — And More Times the President Undercut His Own Team

China says ‘opposes’ N. Korea missile launch, urges restraint

September 15, 2017


© AFP | Pedestrians walk in front of a large video screen in Tokyo broadcasting a news report about North Korea’s latest missile test that passed over Japan on September 15, 2017

BEIJING (AFP) – China condemned North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile over Japan Friday and appealed for restraint to avoid inflaming tensions in the region.

“The Chinese side opposes the DPRK’s violation of the resolution of the (UN) Security Council, and its use of ballistic missile technology for launch activities,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing.

“The concerned parties should exercise restraint. They should not take any further action that could aggravate the situation on the peninsula and in the region,” Hua said.


The launch, from near Pyongyang, came after the United Nations Security Council imposed an eighth set of measures on the isolated country following its sixth nuclear test earlier this month.

It was by far its largest nuclear test to date and Pyongyang said it was a hydrogen bomb small enough to fit onto a missile.

In New York, the Security Council called an emergency meeting for later Friday.

Shinzo Abe

The United States, meanwhile, called on China and Russia to take “direct actions” to rein in North Korea.

“China supplies North Korea with most of its oil. Russia is the largest employer of North Korean forced labor,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement.

“China and Russia must indicate their intolerance for these reckless missile launches by taking direct actions of their own.”

Asked at the briefing if Beijing would change its approach, Hua said China will “continue to comprehensively and completely implement the relevant resolutions of the Security Council.”

U.S. will remain steadfast ally to Britain through Brexit

September 14, 2017

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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Britain’s State Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson speak during a news conference at Lancaster house in London, Britain, September 14, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) – The United States will stand by Britain as it exits the European Union, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Thursday after a meeting with British foreign minister Boris Johnson in London.

“While Brexit does present unique challenges to the British people, please know that you have a steadfast ally in the United States,” Tillerson said at a news conference.

“We will stand by our ally as Brexit continues to take shape. We look forward to continuing this long relationship.”

US Urges China to Use Oil Leverage on North Korea

September 14, 2017

LONDON — The Latest on U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to London (all times local):

6:05 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is urging China to use its leverage as North Korea supplier of oil to get the North to “reconsider” its development of nuclear weapons.

The United States has sought an embargo on oil imports to North Korea at the U.N. Security Council in response to North Korea’s most powerful nuclear test to date.

But the U.N. has agreed to weaker measures against the North — although the U.N. is banning ban textile exports, an important source of its revenue for the North.

Tillerson says it was going to be “very difficult” to get China to agree to an oil embargo. Still he’s urging China as a “great country and a world power” to use its leverage as the supplier of virtually all North Korea’s oil.


10:25 a.m.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is holding talks in London with British and French officials on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

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The U.S., Britain and France are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and the council this week approved new sanctions to punish North Korea’s latest nuclear test explosion.

The officials also intend to discuss the response to Hurricane Irma, which struck the southeastern United States and the Caribbean.

And expect the situation in Libya to come up during talks with representatives from the U.N., Italy, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

It’s Tillerson’s second visit to Britain since taking office in February.


Tillerson in London to urge pressure on North Korea

September 14, 2017


© POOL/AFP | US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at the US Embassy in London on September 14, 2017

LONDON (AFP) – US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discussed the need to boost pressure on North Korea in talks with Prime Minister Theresa May in London on Thursday where the Iran nuclear deal was also raised.The two discussed North Korea’s “destabilising activities” and the importance of the international community coming together “to put pressure on the regime,” May’s spokesman said.

On the Iran nuclear deal, which is viewed sceptically in Washington, May was “underlining its importance in preventing Iran from procuring Iran nuclear deal ,” the spokesman said.

Tillerson’s policy adviser Brian Hook said the Secretary of State “never misses an opportunity in bilateral, multilateral settings to raise North Korea and the need to increase pressure on North Korea”.

Tillerson is also scheduled to meet with his British counterpart and a French foreign ministry official in London later on Thursday.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson reiterated Britain’s commitment to tackle “the aggressive and illegal actions of the North Korean regime”.

“The UK is at the heart of mobilising world opinion with the aim of achieving a diplomatic solution to the situation on the Korean peninsula,” Johnson said in a statement ahead of the meeting.

On September 3, North Korea detonated its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date, prompting the UN Security Council to implement new sanctions.

Although Britain and France backed the US demand for tougher sanctions, the final resolution was toned down to secure backing from China and Russia.

In another meeting, Tillerson will also discuss the situation in Libya, where two competing governments and dozens of militias have jousted for power followed the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

The aim of the meeting — attended by the UN envoy for Libya Ghassan Salamé and representatives from France, Italy, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates — is to “discuss how to break the political deadlock in Libya,” Britain’s foreign ministry said.

The US hopes the trip will give “new energy and focus to mediation efforts led by the United Nations,” Hook said.

“The big goal of this is to avoid a military solution,” he added, warning that the lack of stability in the country “creates space for terrorists to plot attacks against the West”.

In July, the UN-backed Government of National Accord headed by Fayez al-Sarraj and east Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar committed to a ceasefire and holding elections as soon as possible.

Trump again puts off Afghanistan war decision

August 19, 2017

The Hill

Trump again puts off Afghanistan war decision
© Getty

President Trump on Friday again deferred on choosing a path forward for the 16-year-old Afghanistan war, despite a high-level meeting at Camp David to discuss options with his core national security team.

The meeting included Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Vice President Pence cut short a trip to South America to attend the meeting.

This is not the first time the president was widely expected to make a decision on an updated strategy for the war in Afghanistan but held off, frustrating top national security and defense officials as well as lawmakers.

Administration officials expected Trump to pick a path in May prior to attending the NATO summit in Belgium. And Mattis in June promised lawmakers that a decision would likely come in July.

A variety of reasons are driving the delay, including the complexity of the conflict and the president’s hesitation to make a decision that may ultimately prove to be the wrong move, according to James Carafano, a defense policy expert at the Heritage Foundation

“We need a strategy that’s going to be sustainable maybe eight years. There is no short answer here,” said Carafano, who was a member of the Trump transition team.

“The burden really is on the national security team to show Trump they have the most effective strategy to do that, because this is then going to be his war, his responsibility.”

Members of the administration still hold disagreements on the best path forward for Afghanistan, which will include how to handle conflicts along the border of Pakistan. Military leaders are pushing for additional U.S. troops, but Trump has reportedly been wary of continued American presence in the region.

Mattis and National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. HR McMaster want to send 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops to the country to combat the Taliban, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and al Qaeda. Recently ousted chief strategist Stephen Bannon, however, had urged against it, saying that would amount to nation building.

Other options on the table include using private contractors, withdrawing altogether or keeping the current strategy, which consists of the existing 8,400 U.S. troop continuing to train, advise and assist Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban and conducting counterterrorism missions.

In July, Trump showed his reluctance to side with his military advisors by increasing troop numbers.

“We’ve been there for now close to 17 years, and I want to find out why we’ve been there for 17 years, how it’s going, and what we should do in terms of additional ideas,” Trump told reporters.

When asked about a possible troop increase, Trump only said, “We’ll see.”

The immobility on a plan also has bothered lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who earlier this month unveiled his own strategy for Afghanistan.

“Now, nearly seven months into President Trump’s administration, we’ve had no strategy at all as conditions on the ground have steadily worsened,” McCain said in a statement. “The thousands of Americans putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan deserve better from their commander-in-chief.”

Anthony Cordesman, a military strategy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the president is deeply frustrated with his list of military options, a complex formula that depends upon the backing of the Afghan government.

Foreign policy experts have expressed doubt that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will be able to stop corruption and effectively use American aid to bolster the Afghan National Security Forces. Pentagon leaders would depend on the forces to keep out terrorist groups once U.S. troops leave.

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President Ashraf Ghani

“The Afghan government is very divided, it’s weak,” Cordesman said. “Even if [Trump] does all the military recommends, there is a 50-50 chance that the Afghanistan response is going to be effective enough. Everything we’re doing depends on the Afghans.”

Cordesman also suggested that Trump’s reported criticism of the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Nicholson, “likely stems from Nicholson told him the truth and the truth is unpleasant.”

Trump in July 19 meeting with his national security team pushed to fire Nicholson, NBC News reported earlier this month.

“We aren’t winning,” Trump complained during the meeting. “We are losing.”

“The options are so uncertain and so complex and confusing,” Cordesman said. “Not the kind of forward, positive proposal that [Trump] may be used to.”

Cordesman added that the longer Trump waits to make a decision, the worse it will be for soldiers on the ground. Afghanistan’s fighting season lasts into the fall. With no plan yet given as of late August, “nothing you do now is going to be effective, you lost pretty close to a year to actually influence the situation on the ground.”

Even with no decision yet made, Carafano said it was significant that Trump and his national security team went off site to Camp David to discuss options.

“Obviously I wish the process had gone on sooner, I think part of that is the difficulty of the decision. Afghanistan involves a lot of moving pieces and you have to make a commitment that will stick longer over time,” he said.

Mattis, meanwhile, promised again Thursday that the administration is “coming very close to a decision, and I anticipate it in the very near future.”

Earlier this month, Trump assured reporters of the same thing at his club in New Jersey.

“We’re getting close. We’re getting very close,” Trump said. “It’s a very big decision for me. I took over a mess and we’re going to make it a lot less messy.”


  (Includes map)

Trump Eyes China Sanctions While Seeking Its Help on North Korea

August 13, 2017

BEIJING — In a diplomatic gamble, President Trump is seeking to enlist China as a peacemaker in the bristling nuclear-edged dispute with North Korea at the very moment he plans to ratchet up conflict with Beijing over trade issues that have animated his political rise.

Mr. Trump spoke late Friday with his counterpart, President Xi Jinping of China, to press the Chinese to do more to rein in North Korea as it races toward development of long-range nuclear weapons that could reach the United States. Mr. Xi sought to lower the temperature after Mr. Trump’s vow to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea, urging restraint and a political solution.

But the conversation came as Mr. Trump’s administration was preparing new trade action against China that could inflame the relationship. Mr. Trump plans to return to Washington on Monday to sign a memo determining whether China should be investigated for intellectual property violations, accusing Beijing of failing to curb the theft of trade secrets and rampant online and physical piracy and counterfeiting. An investigation would be intended to lead to retaliatory measures.

The White House had planned to take action on intellectual property earlier but held off as it successfully lobbied China to vote at the United Nations Security Council for additional sanctions on North Korea a week ago. Even now, the extra step of determining whether to start the investigation is less than trade hawks might have wanted, but softens the blow to China and gives Mr. Trump a cudgel to hold over it if he does not get the cooperation he wants.

While past presidents have tried at least ostensibly to keep security and economic issues on separate tracks in their dealings with China, Mr. Trump has explicitly linked the two, suggesting he would back off from a trade war against Beijing if it does more to pressure North Korea. “If China helps us, I feel a lot differently toward trade, a lot differently toward trade,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Mr. Trump has sought to leverage trade and North Korea with China for months, initially expressing optimism after hosting Mr. Xi at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, only to later grow discouraged that Beijing was not following through. The effort has now reached a decisive point with the overt threats of American military action against North Korea — warnings clearly meant for Beijing’s ears.

China is widely seen as critical to any resolution to the nuclear crisis because of its outsize role as North Korea’s main economic benefactor. China accounts for as much as 90 percent of North Korea’s total trade and supplies most of its food and energy while serving as the primary purchaser of its minerals, seafood and garments.

But even though the effectiveness of the new United Nations sanctions depends largely on China’s willingness to enforce them, the Trump administration so far has failed to come up with enough incentives to compel China to do so, analysts said.

In their phone conversation on Friday night, Mr. Xi stressed that it was “very important” for the two leaders to maintain contact to find “an appropriate solution to the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula,” according to a statement carried in the Chinese state-run media. The language indicated China wants to push forward with a diplomatic proposal for North Korea that the Trump administration has brushed aside.

The Chinese statement urged the “relevant sides” — a reference to North Korea and the United States — to “avoid words and actions that exacerbate tensions.” It did not explicitly criticize North Korea, which issued its own searing rhetoric all week, including a threat against Guam, and did not draw a clear distinction between Washington and Pyongyang.

In its own account of the call, the White House emphasized points of concurrence. “President Trump and President Xi agreed North Korea must stop its provocative and escalatory behavior,” read a statement from the White House issued early Saturday morning. “The presidents also reiterated their mutual commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

If Mr. Trump was trying to move Mr. Xi toward bolder action against the North, he did so while the Chinese leader is preoccupied with his own domestic political machinations, attending to a once-every-five-year political shake-up in the top ranks of the Communist Party.

Mr. Xi is believed to be at the beach resort at Beidaihe on the coast east of Beijing, where the leadership conducts a secretive retreat every summer, sometimes emerging casually dressed in open neck shirts and Windbreakers for photographs on the strip of sand along the beachfront.

The final stages of the political process to win Mr. Xi’s favor for a place on the standing committee of the party, now a seven-member body that makes the final decisions on the nation’s affairs, is underway among the resort’s villas and hotels, China’s political analysts said.

The selection will be unveiled at a national congress in Beijing sometime between September and November. Until then, almost all other matters, including foreign policy, are put on hold, the analysts said.

Still, the leadership has been vexed that the Trump administration has paid scant attention to China’s proposal for a “freeze for freeze” solution to North Korea. Described many times by China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, the notion calls for North Korea to freeze its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program at current levels in exchange for the United States drawing down military exercises off the Korean Peninsula.

So far, the United States has dismissed the proposal as a nonstarter. Instead, to China’s irritation, the United States is looking to increase missile defenses in South Korea. In some respects, though, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has tried to please Beijing by pledging that Washington does not seek to overthrow the North Korean leader, and does not plan to send American troops north of the 38th parallel that divides North and South Korea.

Mr. Xi is said to be exasperated with Kim Jong-un, a leader much his junior, whom he openly disparaged during his meetings in Florida in April with Mr. Trump, American officials say. But despite the frustration with Mr. Kim, China still prefers to have what it considers a relatively stable North Korea under Mr. Kim rather than a collapsed state that could result in a united Korean Peninsula on its border, with American troops in control.

In rebuffing the “freeze for freeze” proposal, Washington has raised suspicions in Beijing about its true intentions, said Yun Sun, a China expert at the Stimson Center in Washington. Chinese leaders believe the United States sees its true rival as China, a mammoth economy, and not North Korea, one of the poorest countries on earth, Ms. Sun said. In this estimation, Washington is merely using North Korea to mount a military containment strategy around China, she said.

“The Chinese operate from the conviction that China remains and will always be the No. 1 strategic threat to the U.S., so the issue of North Korea will be used against China — through sanctions, provocations and everything else,” she said. China was also annoyed, Ms. Sun said, that the United States refuses to discuss a “grand bargain” or “end game” on the future of the Korean Peninsula. Of most interest to China, she said, is the future disposition of American forces in South Korea, now standing at 28,500 troops.

The phone conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi will be followed by a visit from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who is expected in Beijing on Monday. General Dunford will also visit South Korea and Japan.

The general’s visit, planned earlier this summer, is the first by a senior American official to Beijing since Mr. Tillerson met with Mr. Xi in March.

Much of the diplomacy between China and the United States has been conducted between Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the Chinese ambassador in Washington, Cui Tiankai. Those talks have concentrated on Mr. Cui’s efforts to stave off punishing trade tariffs against China that are gathering momentum in White House discussions.

During his two-day visit, General Dunford is likely to use the opportunity to drive home arguments for the Chinese to put more pressure on the Kim government, said Brian McKeon, who was a senior Pentagon official in the Obama administration.

A major point of dispute will likely be American plans to deploy more missile defenses in South Korea, he said. China vehemently opposes the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or Thaad, that has already been deployed in South Korea, calling it a threat to its own security.

“I would expect that Dunford will make the usual request that they put more pressure on the regime to behave, and to recognize that Kim’s actions threatens our core interests, which means we will have to continue to take measures that Beijing doesn’t like, for example the deployment of Thaad,” Mr. McKeon said.