President Donald Trump on Monday assailed the Obama administration for being hoodwinked by Iran, making his case with a frequently told and false story about the U.S. giving billions of dollars to Tehran.
In an extended news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron and other remarks at the G-7 summit, Trump also asserted inaccurately that the U.S. has the cleanest air, as well as energy riches that only he brought to life. Many countries outperform the U.S. on measures of air quality. Energy production surged under President Barack Obama.
Here’s a look at some of Trump’s statements and how they compare with the facts:
TRUMP on Iran: “We gave them $150 billion and $1.8 billion and we got nothing. … Look at what they did to John Kerry and to President Obama. Look what happened, where they’re bringing planeloads of cash, planeloads, big planes, 757s, Boeing 757s coming in loaded up with cash. What kind of a deal is that?” — news conference with Macron.
THE FACTS: It’s the kind of deal that did not actually take place.
When Iran signed the multinational deal to restrain its nuclear development in return for being freed from sanctions, it regained access to its own assets, which had been frozen abroad. There was no $150 billion gift from the U.S. treasury or other countries. Iran was allowed to get its money back.
The $1.8 billion refers to a separate matter, also misstated by the president going back to before the 2016 election.
A payout of roughly that amount did come from the U.S. treasury. It was to pay an old IOU.
In the 1970s, Iran paid the U.S. $400 million for military equipment that was never delivered because the government was overthrown and diplomatic relations ruptured. After the nuclear deal, the U.S. and Iran announced they had settled the matter, with the U.S. agreeing to pay the $400 million principal along with about $1.3 billion in interest.
The $400 million was paid in cash and flown to Tehran on a cargo plane. The arrangement provided for the interest to be paid later.
In Trump’s telling, one cargo plane with $400 million that was owed to Iran has become “big planes, 757s, Boeing 757s,” loaded with a $1.8 billion giveaway.
TRUMP: “We’re, right now, having the cleanest air and cleanest water on the planet.” — remarks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
THE FACTS: That’s not true. Air quality hasn’t improved under the Trump administration and dozens of nations have less smoggy air than the U.S.
Water? One measure, Yale University’s global Environmental Performance Index, finds the U.S. tied with nine other countries as having the cleanest drinking water.
But after decades of improvement, progress in air quality has stalled. Over the last two years the U.S. had more polluted air days than just a few years earlier, federal data show.
There were 15% more days with unhealthy air in America both last year and the year before than there were on average from 2013 through 2016, the four years when the U.S had its fewest number of those days since at least 1980.
The Obama administration set records for the fewest air-polluted days.
The non-profit Health Effects Institute’s State of Global Air 2019 report ranked the United States 37th dirtiest out of 195 countries for ozone, also known as smog, worse than the global average for population-weighted pollution. Countries such as Britain, Japan, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Albania, Cuba, Russia, Vietnam, New Zealand and Canada have less smoggy air.
The U.S. ranks eighth cleanest on the more deadly category of fine particles in the air.
On environmental quality overall, the Yale index put the U.S. 27th, behind a variety of European countries, Canada, Japan, Australia and more. Switzerland was No. 1.
TRUMP: “I feel that the United States has tremendous wealth. The wealth is under its feet. I’ve made that wealth come alive. … We are now the number one energy producer in the world.” — news conference with Macron.
THE FACTS: Sole credit to himself is not accurate. The greatest energy revolution of the past half-century happened on Obama’s watch as U.S. petroleum and natural gas production achieved pre-eminence.
In 2013, the U.S. became the world’s top producer both of natural gas and petroleum hydrocarbons, says the government’s U.S. Energy Information Administration. As for crude oil specifically, the agency says the U.S. became the world’s top crude oil producer last year. That is largely attributed to the shale oil boom that began late in George W. Bush’s administration and proceeded apace during the Obama years.
The boom came because of fracking and other technology, such as horizontal drilling, that made it possible to find much more oil and gas without drilling more holes. As well, Obama lifted a decades-long ban on shipping U.S. oil overseas in 2015, helping increase demand for U.S. crude.
TRUMP, on addressing climate change: “I feel that the United States has tremendous wealth. The wealth is under its feet. … I’m not going to lose it on dreams, on windmills, which frankly aren’t working too well.”
THE FACTS: In criticizing wind power, Trump misidentified his target. Wind turbines produce energy. Windmills mill grain and flummox Don Quixote.
Trump has ascribed a variety of evils to wind power over the years, usually with scant evidence, while praising coal, a well-documented cause of health problems.
TRUMP on North Korea’s leader: “With respect to North Korea — Kim Jong-un, who I’ve got to know extremely well, the first lady has gotten to know Kim Jong-un and I think she’d agree with me, he is a man with a country that has tremendous potential.” — news conference with Macron.
THE FACTS: Melania Trump doesn’t know Kim. They have never met.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham clarified the president’s comment, saying Trump confides in his wife on his relationship with Kim and “feels like she’s gotten to know him, too.”
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Michael Biesecker contributed to this report.
With North Korea, President Donald Trump puts on the charm. But with Iran, he cranks up the pressure with economic sanctions and a stronger military presence in the Persian Gulf. He has warned its leaders they are “playing with fire.”
Nuclear weapons are at the heart of the difficult U.S. relations with both Pyongyang and Tehran. But it’s in North Korea where Trump has more leeway and perhaps a greater chance of striking a deal.
Kim Jong Un has seemed as willing to meet with Trump as the U.S. president has been to talk and shake hands for the cameras with him. The North Korean leader jumped at the chance to meet Trump at the Demilitarized Zone between the Koreas last weekend.
Trump has made repeated overtures to Iranian leaders, too, but without the same results.
“I think Trump would be equally on a charm offensive with the Iranians if he had a dance partner,” said Mark Dubowitz, an Iran nuclear deal skeptic with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Also, Israel, which views Iran as its archenemy, is pressuring Trump to take a hard-line approach to Tehran, which has threatened to wipe Israel off the map. There is no big anti-North Korea lobby in the United States pressuring the White House to shun Kim’s repressive government.
Trump inherited heavy U.S. sanctions on North Korea and then for months traded fiery rhetoric with Kim, saber rattling that caused jitters across the world. That has given way to flowery correspondence, meetings between the two and this weekend’s historic visit when Trump became the first U.S. president to step into North Korea while in office.
Not that Pyongyang has taken big steps in return. Critics point out that North Korea has not moved to “denuclearize” as Trump has demanded. But the country has refrained from conducting nuclear tests or test-firing long-range missiles.
Trump tweeted late Monday that “our teams will be meeting to work on some solutions to very long term and persistent problems. No rush, but I am sure we will ultimately get there.
Not so smooth with Iran.
Trump campaigned on pulling the United States out of the nuclear agreement that Tehran signed with the U.S. and other world powers in 2015. He complained that the deal, which eased economic sanctions in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program, didn’t address Iranian ballistic missile capabilities or its support of militant groups.
After failing to adjust what Trump condemned as a fatally flawed deal, the U.S. exited the agreement last year and re-imposed sanctions that had been eased when the deal was finalized under the Obama administration.
The pressure campaign evolved not like the Trump-Kim lovefest, but to what seemed like the brink of war.
With its economy diving, Iran lashed out by shooting down a $100 million, unmanned U.S. surveillance drone and attacking shipping vessels in the Persian Gulf region. Trump said he was “cocked and loaded” to retaliate with limited missile strikes but changed his mind when he learned 150 Iranians could have been killed.
He tweeted last week, “Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration.”
On Monday, Iran announced it now has a stockpile of more than 660 pounds (300 kilograms) of low-enriched uranium in violation of the 2015 deal. The U.S. is partly to blame because it failed to renew waivers that allowed Iran to swap its excess to other countries.
But officials say the administration is less concerned about Monday’s breach than possible further violations that could reduce the time Iran would need to produce a nuclear weapon. The deal aimed to keep that “breakout time” at one year.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister has warned the White House that it’s naive to think Iran will wilt under pressure, or that the Iranian people will revolt and throw out its government. He said Iran will not be forced to negotiate by having a knife put to its throat.
As for North Korea, administration officials caution that Trump’s charm offensive with Kim does not foreshadow a softening of its insistence that his country must not have nuclear weapons. The New York Times reported Monday that the administration might agree to a nuclear freeze as a first step toward denuclearization.
Under that scenario, which was quickly disputed by U.S. officials, North Korea would not make any new nuclear material, meaning it couldn’t expand its arsenal of 20 to 60 nuclear weapons. Under such a deal, North Korea would remain a nuclear power and would still have short and long-term missiles that could threaten U.S. allies like Japan and South Korea as well as the United States.
Stephen Biegun, U.S. special envoy to North Korea, said the report was “far from accurate.”
“What is accurate is not new, and what is new is not accurate. No one on our team who knows anything would speak right now anyway,” he said in a statement distributed by the State Department.
Trump’s hawkish national security adviser John Bolton, who has advocated a tough stance against both North Korea and Iran, also said the administration was not considering a softer approach.
However, Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said the fact that Bolton was in Mongolia when Trump met Kim at the DMZ suggested there is a “significant split” within the Trump administration.
Democrats have been quick to criticize Trump for his strategy with both Iran and North Korea.
“After three made-for-TV summits, we still don’t have a single concrete commitment from North Korea,” said former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. “Not one missile or nuclear weapon has been destroyed, not one inspector is on the ground. … North Korea has continued to churn out fissile material and is no longer an isolated pariah on the world stage.”
On Iran, Biden said Trump walked away from a deal that was temporarily keeping it from developing a first nuclear bomb and applied economic pressure that has led Tehran to restart its nuclear program and become more, not less aggressive.
“Trump’s Iran policy has alienated us from our allies and taken us to the brink of another war in the Middle East,” he said.
In its first year, the administration tried to work with Europeans allies to mend what Trump identified as flaws in the nuclear deal, such as its silence on ballistic missiles and Iran’s support for destabilizing proxies around the Middle East. The effort to create a separate agreement without Iran’s participation ultimately failed.
Michael McFaul, a U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama, says that while Trump has said he’s open to talks with Iran, he sees little evidence that’s the case. He wonders whether complete and verifiable denuclearization is not the goal in Iran or North Korea.
“In Iran, it may be that the real objective is regime change, including the option of U.S. military action,” he says.
“In North Korea, it could be that the goal is not complete denuclearization, but an outcome that allows Kim to maintain part of his nuclear arsenal while perhaps dismantling his intercontinental ballistic missile program to reduce the direct threat to U.S. national security.
President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision against military strikes may have prevented open military conflict with Iran, but it also showed him anew to be an unpredictable, unreliable, partner at home and abroad.
Trump won his job partly on his claims to be a great dealmaker. But the celebrity businessman-turned-president’s negotiating style — repeatedly pushing toward a brink only to pull back at the moment of action — leaves the U.S. lurching from crisis to crisis. On trade tariffs, immigration raids and now the standoff with Iran, his course reversals confound allies as well as adversaries, and his own party in Congress.
As fallout from Trump’s actions reverberated around the globe on Monday, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo jetted to the Middle East in search of a coalition of allies against Iran, the president offered a fresh round of equivocation, defending his decision not to attack Iran even while issuing new threats.
“I think a lot of restraint has been shown by us. A lot of restraint. And that doesn’t mean we’re going to show it in the future, but I felt that we want to give him this chance,” Trump said.
“We would love to be able to negotiate a deal if they want to. If they don’t want to that’s fine too.”
His backing off on military strikes that were about to be launched in retaliation for the shootdown of an unmanned U.S. drone was just one of several recent tactical shifts by the White House on significant issues. Over the weekend, Trump changed course over immigration raids that had stoked fear among people and families living in the country illegally. He postponed steep tariffs he had announced on Mexico earlier this month, giving immigration talks more time.
The Iran standoff, however, is perhaps the most dangerous, as the two countries escalate rhetoric and actions that raise concerns in Congress and the world at large that Iran and the U.S. could stumble into broad military conflict.
When lawmakers asked the president last week how he would be making his decision on Iran, he responded, “My gut.”
While that decision not to order military strikes appears to have calmed tensions with Iran, at least somewhat, Trump’s messages leave uncertainty about next steps.
“We’ve never seen anything like it,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., a newly elected freshman who served as an assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration.
“I’m glad that he changed his mind about the strike, made the right decision, but he made it in the worst possible way,” Malinowski said in an interview Monday. “I don’t think anyone has any clue what our policy is.”
GOP defense hawks, including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the former vice president’s daughter, warn against Trump’s approach, too. She told a radio host that “weakness is provocative” when it comes to confronting Iran and other adversaries.
Other Republicans say Trump is merely keeping his options open as he pushes Iran to negotiate. That’s different, they say, from his predecessor, Barack Obama, who drew a red line against Syria, but then wavered against taking military action.
Ohio GOP Rep. Mike Turner, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said in an interview Monday that Trump’s style is more like one you’d see from a litigator trying to get an outcome in talks. “It sort of sends a signal to Iran that if you continue, do expect a military response,” he said.
Trump’s shifting tactics have drawn mostly silence from U.S. allies across the globe, who have declined to publicly assess the president’s decision making or his ”maximum pressure” campaign that is using economic sanctions in an effort to force Iran to the negotiating table over nuclear issues.
The tensions with Iran come amid deepening divisions between the United States and its European allies over foreign policy and trade, with the allies appearing to talk past each other on a matter that all view as a crucial security issue.
While European leaders have been careful not to criticize Trump’s actions, they’re also cool toward U.S. talk of building a global coalition against Iran.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told ZDF television over the weekend, “The strategy of maximum pressure can’t be the right one, because one of the consequences is that we are all talking about how serious the situation is, and that there is a danger of war.”
Germany, France and Britain, as well as Russia and China, remain part of the nuclear deal that Trump abandoned last year as he tries to cut a new accord that would further curtail Iran’s nuclear capability.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close friend of the president, has welcomed Trump’s tough line toward Iran, including last year’s U.S. pullout from the nuclear deal. But the Israeli leader has said little in public during the recent crisis, apparently wary of being seen as pushing the U.S. toward war.
Yoel Guzansky, a former adviser on Iran policy in the prime minister’s office and now a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, said the administration’s decision against a strike essentially sent Iran the message that “if you don’t kill Americans you can do whatever you want in the Gulf.”
But Tzachi Hanegbi, a Cabinet minister close to Netanyahu, played down Trump’s last-minute decision to call off last week’s airstrike.
“The real big story is that the American policy toward Iran, which has changed to our delight in the last two, three years, is a policy that completely serves the world’s and Israel’s interests, to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,” he told Israeli public radio on Sunday.
That’s a sentiment shared by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are also supportive of Trump’s tough talk on Iran. The Gulf allies have not commented on Trump’s about-face. Indeed, they have been reluctant to publicly criticize him over any of his policies.
Danielle Pletka, a senior vice president at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said Trump has made his decisions all about himself, and that means some allies will stick with him while others will have concerns. “That would be the case if he bombed Iran or if he didn’t bomb Iran.”
“For Donald Trump, he’s damned if he’s does, damned if he doesn’t,” she said by phone from a security conference in Hamburg. “He’s so personalized everything in terms of Donald Trump.”
Associated Press writers Shahar Golan in Jersualem, Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin and Deb Riechmann and Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report.
It’s a perilous time to have temps running the Pentagon.
President Donald Trump’s brinkmanship with Iran is on the boil, spilling beyond diplomacy to a planned air attack on Iran that Trump said he ordered, then pulled back at least for now. This, as the U.S. undertakes an unusual troop deployment to the Mexican border , tends its nearly two-decade-old war in Afghanistan and grapples with stalled talks with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.
Through it all, the U.S. has no defense secretary , but rather an acting one who is taking over from another acting one, who suddenly quit.
And the latest one, Army Secretary Mark Esper, who takes over Sunday, might only be able to serve as acting Pentagon chief for less than two months under the rules, requiring yet another short-term boss before it’s all sorted out. On Friday night, Trump officially announced he intended to nominate Esper for the permanent job.
Temporary leadership is a hallmark of Trump’s administration . “It gives me more flexibility,” Trump has said of the many people in acting leadership jobs, not always by his choice.
The practice lets Trump quickly, if temporarily, install allies in important positions while circumventing the Senate confirmation process, which can be risky with Republicans running the chamber by a slim 53-47 margin.
But the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, says it’s out of hand.
“With everything going on in Iran and all the provocations and counteractions, and to have no secretary of defense at this time is appalling,” he said. “It shows the chaos in this administration. They have so many empty positions, revolving doors, in the most sensitive of security positions.”
Tensions with Iran quickly escalated this week after an attack on freighters at sea that the U.S. blamed on Iran. Tehran announced it was breaking from commitments it made under the accord that restrains its nuclear ambitions — a deal Trump withdrew from last year. Iran then downed a U.S. drone, prompting Trump to order a retaliatory strike that he said he shelved 10 minutes before Iran was to be hit.
As the situation grew more dangerous this week, the acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, stepped down, saying he wanted to spare his family a public airing of domestic problems linked to his messy divorce nearly a decade ago. Trump said months ago he would nominate Shanahan for the defense job and seek his Senate confirmation but he never did. Officials said repeatedly that the vetting of Shanahan was dragging on.
Trump immediately named Esper as the new acting secretary, but because of limitations laid out in court decisions and legislation governing how top vacancies are filled, he may only be able to serve for six weeks. Inside the Pentagon, lawyers are debating how to get Esper through what would be a difficult legal and congressional confirmation process. Defense officials said Thursday they had yet to find a clear way forward.
For the moment both Shanahan and Esper have been attending White House and other meetings and taking part in debates over how to respond to Iran’s destruction of the drone.
Esper is slated to take over as acting defense secretary at midnight Sunday, then head out Tuesday to a meeting of NATO defense ministers. There it will be critical for Esper to convince allies that he is now in charge, and that the U.S. national security leadership is stable and able to make decisions in crises.
While lawmakers have expressed initial support for Esper, who is well known on the Hill and previously served on committees as legislative staff, there is no guarantee he’ll get quick approval.
As a former executive at defense contractor Raytheon, Esper may have to excuse himself from decisions involving the company. That could include sensitive, top-level negotiations with Turkey over its decision to buy a Russian missile defense system, and America’s counteroffer of the Raytheon-made Patriot surface-to-air weapon.
The law prohibits Esper from being nominated for the job while also serving as acting secretary. If he is nominated, he’ll have to step down and move to another job until the Senate votes on his confirmation. So that would mean yet another acting secretary meantime.
Anyone chosen to fill in temporarily won’t have all of the decision-making power that a defense secretary needs when the nation is at war in several countries and conducting major military operations in dozens.
If the administration’s churning leadership suits Trump’s style, it’s not always his intent.
Appointments have been marked by missteps and confusion: Trump has withdrawn 63 nominees, compared with 31 pulled back by President Barack Obama at this point in his first term, according to the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. He’s also decided against nominating some candidates he favored after realizing the Republican-led Senate would reject them.
Altogether, 22 of the top 42 people in Cabinet jobs have been acting, or slightly over half, from the 2017 start of Trump’s presidency through mid-April, according to data compiled by incoming Yale political science professor Christina Kinane.
That’s well above the average. From the 1977 start of Jimmy Carter’s presidency through Obama’s administration, 224 people held Cabinet posts and 57 were acting, or just 1 in 4, Kinane’s figures show.
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.
The United States abruptly called off preparations for a military strike against Iran over the downing of a U.S. surveillance drone, a U.S. official said, while Iran claimed Friday it had issued several warnings before shooting down the drone over what it said was Iranian territory.
The Trump administration offered no immediate public account of the thinking behind the last-minute halt in U.S. preparations for retaliation, amid sharply escalating tensions between the two countries. A U.S. official, who was not authorized to discuss the operation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the targets would have included radars and missile batteries.
The swift reversal was a reminder of the serious risk of military conflict between U.S. and Iranian forces as the Trump administration combines a “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions with a buildup of American forces in the region. As tensions mounted in recent weeks, there have been growing fears that either side could make a dire miscalculation that led to war.
On Friday, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division told Iranian state television that Iran had given repeated warnings before launching a missile at the U.S. military surveillance drone.
Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, standing in front of what Iranian authorities described as pieces of the U.S. Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk drone, told state TV that Iranians gave the warnings over radio frequencies that are routinely monitored by drone pilots and the U.S. military. “Unfortunately, they did not answer,” he said.
He added Iran collected the debris from its territorial waters. The U.S. military says that the drone was in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz when it was shot down.
The New York Times separately reported that President Donald Trump had approved the strikes Thursday night, but then called them off. The newspaper cited anonymous senior administration officials.
According to the official who spoke to The Associated Press, the strikes were recommended by the Pentagon and were among the options presented to senior administration officials.
It was unclear how far the preparations had gone, but no shots were fired or missiles launched, the official said.
The military operation was called off around 7:30 p.m. Washington time, after Trump had spent most of Thursday discussing Iran strategy with top national security advisers and congressional leaders.
Asked earlier in the day about a U.S. response to the attack, Trump said, “You’ll soon find out.”
The downing of the U.S. drone — a huge, unmanned aircraft — over the Strait of Hormuz prompted accusations from the U.S. and Iran about who was the aggressor. Iran insisted the drone violated Iranian airspace; Washington said it had been flying over international waters.
Trump’s initial comments on the attack were succinct. He declared in a tweet that “Iran made a very big mistake!” But he also suggested that shooting down the drone — which has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 737 — was a foolish error rather than an intentional escalation, suggesting he may have been looking for some way to avoid a crisis.
“I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said at the White House. “I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it.”
Trump, who has said he wants to avoid war and negotiate with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, cast the shootdown as “a new wrinkle … a new fly in the ointment.” Yet he also said “this country will not stand for it, that I can tell you.”
He said the American drone was unarmed and unmanned and “clearly over international waters.” It would have “made a big, big difference” if someone had been inside, he said.
But fears of open conflict shadowed much of the discourse in Washington. As the day wore on, Trump summoned his top national security advisers and congressional leaders to the White House for an hour-long briefing in the Situation Room. Attendees included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton, CIA Director Gina Haspel, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Army Secretary Mark Esper, whom Trump has said he’ll nominate as Pentagon chief.
Pompeo and Bolton have advocated hardline policies against Iran, but Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, said “the president certainly was listening” when congressional leaders at the meeting urged him to be cautious and not escalate the already tense situation.
On Capitol Hill, leaders urged caution, and some lawmakers insisted the White House must consult with Congress before taking any actions.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said no specific options for a U.S. response were presented at the meeting. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “The administration is engaged in what I would call measured responses.” And late Thursday, House Republicans on the Foreign Affairs, intelligence and Armed Services committees issued a statement using the same word, saying, “There must be a measured response to these actions.”
The Trump administration has been putting increasing economic pressure on Iran for more than a year. It reinstated punishing sanctions following Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of an international agreement intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from earlier sanctions.
Citing Iranian threats, the U.S. recently sent an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf region and deployed additional troops alongside the tens of thousands already there. All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the U.S. and Iran into an open conflict 40 years after Tehran’s Islamic Revolution.
The paramilitary Guard, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said it shot down the drone at 4:05 a.m. Thursday when it entered Iranian airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in southern Iran’s Hormozgan province. Kouhmobarak is about 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) southeast of Tehran.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander of U.S. Central Command air forces in the region, disputed that contention, telling reporters that the aircraft was 34 kilometers (21 miles) from the nearest Iranian territory and flying at high altitude when struck by a surface-to-air missile. The U.S. military has not commented on the mission of the remotely piloted aircraft that can fly higher than 10 miles in altitude and stay in the air for over 24 hours at a time.
“This attack is an attempt to disrupt our ability to monitor the area following recent threats to international shipping and free flow of commerce,” he said.
Late Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration barred American-registered aircraft from flying over parts of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman and several major airlines from around the world on Friday began rerouting their flights to avoid the area, including British Airways, Australia’s Qantas, Germany’s Lufthansa and the Dutch carrier KLM.
Democratic leaders in particular urged the president to work with U.S. allies and stressed the need for caution to avoid any unintended escalation.
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said he told Trump that conflicts have a way of escalating and “we’re worried that he and the administration may bumble into a war.”
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Lisa Mascaro and Matthew Lee in Washington, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and AP video producer Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.
In President Donald Trump’s reckoning, an Iran tamed by him no longer cries “death to America,” the border wall with Mexico is proceeding apace, the estate tax has been lifted off the backs of farmers, the remains of U.S. soldiers from North Korea are coming home and China is opening its wallet to the U.S. Treasury for the first time in history.
These statements range from flatly false to mostly so.
Here’s a week of political rhetoric in review:
TRUMP, speaking about Iranians “screaming ‘death to America’” when Barack Obama was in the White House: “They haven’t screamed ‘death to America’ lately.” — Fox News interview Friday.
THE FACTS: Yes they have. The death-to-America chant is heard routinely.
The chant, “marg bar Amreeka” in Farsi, dates back even before Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. Once used by communists, it was popularized by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the revolution’s figurehead and Iran’s first supreme leader after the U.S. Embassy takeover by militants.
It remains a staple of hard-line demonstrations, meetings with current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, official ceremonies, parliamentary sessions and main Friday prayer services in Tehran and across the country. Some masters of ceremonies ask audiences to tone it down. But it was heard, for example, from the crowd this month when Khamenei exhorted thousands to stand up against U.S. “bullying.”
In one variation, a demonstrator at Tehran’s Quds rally last month held a sign with three versions of the slogan: “Death to America” in Farsi, “Death to America” in Arabic,” ″Down with U.S.A.” in English.
WAGES and TAXES
TRUMP: “Wages are growing, and they are growing at the fastest rate for — this is something so wonderful — for blue-collar workers. The biggest percentage increase — blue-collar workers.” — remarks Tuesday in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
THE FACTS: He’s claiming credit for a trend of rising wages for lower-income blue-collar workers that predates his presidency.
Some of the gains also reflect higher minimum wages passed at the state and local level; the Trump administration opposes an increase to the federal minimum wage.
With the unemployment rate at 3.6%, the lowest since December 1969, employers are struggling to fill jobs. Despite all the talk of robots and automation, thousands of restaurants, warehouses, and retail stores still need workers.
They are offering higher wages and have pushed up pay for the lowest-paid one-quarter of workers more quickly than for everyone else since 2015. In April, the poorest 25% saw their paychecks increase 4.4% from a year earlier, compared with 3.1% for the richest one-quarter.
Those gains are not necessarily flowing to the “blue collar” workers Trump cited. Instead, when measured by industry, wages are rising more quickly for lower-paid service workers. Hourly pay for retail workers has risen 4.1% in the past year and 3.8% for hotel and restaurant employees. Manufacturing workers — the blue collars — have seen pay rise just 2.2% and construction workers, 3.2%.
TRUMP: “And to keep your family farms and ranches in the family, we eliminated the estate tax, also known as the ‘death tax,’ on the small farms and ranches and other businesses. That was a big one. … People were having a farm, they loved their children, and they want to leave it to their children. … And the estate tax was so much, the children would have to go out and borrow a lot of money from unfriendly bankers, in many cases. And they’d end up losing the farm, and it was a horrible situation.” — remarks in Council Bluffs.
THE FACTS: There still is an estate tax. More small farms may be off the hook for it as a result of changes by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2017 but very few farms or small businesses were subject to the tax even before that happened.
Congress increased the tax exemption — temporarily — so fewer people will be subject to those taxes.
Previously, any assets from estates valued at more than $5.49 million, or nearly $11 million for couples, were subject to the estate tax in 2017. The new law doubled that minimum for 2018 to $11.2 million, or $22.4 million for couples. For 2019, the minimums rose to $11.4 million, or $22.8 million for couples. Those increased minimums will expire at the end of 2025.
According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, only about 80 small farms and closely held businesses were subject to the estate tax in 2017. Those estates represent about 1 percent of all taxable estate tax returns.
TRUMP: “I think we’re going to do very well with North Korea over a period of time. I’m in no rush. … Our remains are coming back; you saw the beautiful ceremony in Hawaii with Mike Pence. We’re getting the remains back.” — joint news conference Wednesday with Poland’s president.
THE FACTS: The U.S. is not currently getting additional remains of American service members killed during the Korean War.
With U.S.-North Korea relations souring, the Pentagon said last month it had suspended its efforts to arrange negotiations this year on recovering additional remains of American service members. The Pentagon said it hoped to reach agreement for recovery operations in 2020.
The Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency said it has had no communication with North Korean authorities since the Vietnam summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in February. That meeting focused on the North’s nuclear weapons and followed a June 2018 summit where Kim committed to permitting a resumption of U.S. remains recovery; that effort had been suspended by the U.S. in 2005.
The agency said it had “reached the point where we can no longer effectively plan, coordinate, and conduct field operations” with the North during this budget year, which ends Sept. 30.
Last summer, in line with the first Trump-Kim summit in June, the North turned over 55 boxes of what it said were the remains of an undetermined number of U.S service members killed in the North during the 1950-53 war. So far, six Americans have been identified from the 55 boxes.
U.S. officials have said the North has suggested in recent years that it holds perhaps 200 sets of American war remains. Thousands more are unrecovered from battlefields and former POW camps.
The Pentagon estimates that about 5,300 Americans were lost in North Korea.
TRUMP: “We’re building a wall … And by next year, at the end of the year, we’re going to have close to 500 miles of wall.” — remarks Tuesday at the Republican Party of Iowa annual dinner.
TRUMP: “We’re going to have close to 500 miles of wall built by the end of next year. That’s a lot. And we’re moving along very rapidly. We won the big court case, as you know, the other day. And that was a big victory for us.” — remarks Monday with Indianapolis 500 champions.
THE FACTS: He’s being overly optimistic. It’s unclear how Trump arrives at 500 miles (800 km), but he would have to prevail in legal challenges to his declaration of a national emergency or get Congress to cough up more money to get anywhere close. Those are big assumptions. And by far the majority of the wall he’s talking about is replacement barrier, not new miles of construction.
So far, the administration has awarded contracts for 247 miles (395 km) of wall construction, but more than half comes from Defense Department money available under Trump’s Feb. 15 emergency declaration. On May 24, a federal judge in California who was appointed by Obama blocked Trump from building key sections of the wall with that money. In a separate case, a federal judge in the nation’s capital who was appointed by Trump sided with the administration, but that ruling has no effect while the California injunction is in place.
Even if Trump prevails in court, all but 17 miles (27 km) of his awarded contracts replace existing barriers.
The White House says it has identified up to $8.1 billion in potential money under the national emergency, mostly from the Defense Department.
Customs and Border Protection officials say the administration wants Congress to finance 206 miles (330 km) next year. The chances of the Democratic-controlled House backing that are between slim and none.
TRUMP: “Right now, we’re getting 25% on $250 billion worth of goods. That’s a lot of money that’s pouring into our treasury. We’ve never gotten 10 cents from China. Now we’re getting a lot of money from China.” — remarks Monday.
TRUMP: “We’re taking in, right now, billions and billions of dollars in tariffs, and they’re subsidizing product.” — remarks Tuesday in Council Bluffs.
THE FACTS: He’s incorrect. The tariffs he’s raised on imports from China are primarily if not entirely a tax on U.S. consumers and businesses, not a source of significant revenue coming into the country.
A study in March by economists from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Columbia University and Princeton University, before the latest escalation, found that the public and U.S. companies were paying $3 billion a month in higher taxes from the trade dispute with China, suffering $1.4 billion a month in lost efficiency and absorbing the entire impact.
It’s also false that the U.S. never collected a dime in tariffs before he took action. Tariffs on goods from China are not remotely new. They are simply higher in some cases than they were before. Tariffs go back to the beginning of the U.S. and were once a leading source of revenue for the government. Not in modern times. They equate to less than 1% of federal spending.
TRUMP: “Look, without tariffs, we would be captive to every country, and we have been for many years. That’s why we have an $800 billion trading deficit for years. We lose a fortune with virtually every country. They take advantage of us in every way possible.” — CNBC interview Monday.
THE FACTS: Trump isn’t telling the whole story about trade deficits.
When he refers to $800 billion trade gaps, he’s only talking about the deficit in goods such as cars and aircraft. He leaves out services — such as banking, tourism and education — in which the U.S. runs substantial trade surpluses that partially offset persistent deficits in goods. The goods and services deficit peaked at $762 billion in 2006. Last year, the United States ran a record $887 billion deficit in goods and a $260 billion surplus in services, which added up to an overall deficit of more than $627 billion.
The U.S. does tend to run trade deficits with most other major economies. But there are exceptions, such as Canada (a nearly $4 billion surplus last year), Singapore ($18 billion) and Britain ($19 billion).
Mainstream economists reject Trump’s argument that the deficits arise from other countries taking advantage of the United States. They see the trade gaps as the result of an economic reality that probably won’t bend to tariffs and other changes in trade policy: Americans buy more than they produce, and imports fill the gap.
U.S. exports are also hurt by the American dollar’s status as the world’s currency. The dollar is usually in high demand because it is used in so many global transactions. That means the dollar is persistently strong, raising prices of U.S. products and putting American companies at a disadvantage in foreign markets.
TRUMP: “You know, France charges us a lot for the wine and yet we charge them little for French wine. So the wineries come to me and they say — the California guys, they come to me: ‘Sir, we are paying a lot of money to put our products into France and you’re letting – meaning, this country is allowing this French wine which is great, we have great wine, too, allowing it to come in for nothing. It is not fair.’” — interview Monday with CNBC.
THE FACTS: Trump, who’s been in the wine business, is technically wrong about France applying tariffs. The European Union does.
He’s right about a disparity in wine duties.
Tariffs vary by alcohol content and other factors. A bottle of white American wine with 13 percent alcohol content imported into the EU carries a customs duty of 10 euro cents (just over 11 U.S. cents). A bottle of white wine from the EU exported to the United States has a customs duty of 5 U.S. cents.
The gap in duties is narrower for red wine with an alcohol content of 14.5 percent.
Bulk wines are another story. The U.S. tariff is double the EU one, a break for American producers because bulk wine represents 25% of the volume of U.S. wine coming into the EU, according to the French wine exporter federation.
The value of wine imported by France has jumped 200% over a decade. Americans are the top consumers of French wine exports.
TRUMP, on special counsel Robert Mueller’s report: “The Mueller report spoke. … It said, ‘No collusion and no obstruction and no nothing.’ And, in fact, it said we actually rebuffed your friends from Russia; that we actually pushed them back — we rebuffed them.” — remarks Wednesday in Oval Office.
THE FACTS: He’s wrong to repeat the claim that the Mueller report found no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign; it’s also false that his campaign in 2016 denied all access to Russians. Nor did the special counsel’s report exonerate Trump on the question of whether he obstructed justice.
Mueller’s two-year investigation and other scrutiny revealed a multitude of meetings with Russians. Among them: Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer who had promised dirt on Clinton.
On collusion, Mueller said he did not assess whether that occurred because it is not a legal term.
He looked into a potential criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign and said the investigation did not collect sufficient evidence to establish criminal charges on that front.
Mueller noted some Trump campaign officials had declined to testify under the Fifth Amendment or had provided false or incomplete testimony, making it difficult to get a complete picture of what happened during the 2016 campaign. The special counsel wrote that he “cannot rule out the possibility” that unavailable information could have cast a different light on the investigation’s findings.
In an interview broadcast Wednesday with ABC News, Trump said if a foreign power offered dirt on his 2020 opponent, he’d be open to accepting it and that he’d have no obligation to call in the FBI. “I think I’d want to hear it,” Trump said. “There’s nothing wrong with listening.”
REPUBLICAN SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, Judiciary Committee chairman, in response to Trump’s comments that he’d be open to accepting political dirt from foreign adversaries like Russia: “The outrage some of my Democratic colleagues are raising about President Trump’s comments will hopefully be met with equal outrage that their own party hired a foreign national to do opposition research on President Trump’s campaign.” — tweet Thursday.
THE FACTS: Graham is making an unequal comparison.
He seeks to turn the tables on Democrats by pointing to their use of a dossier of anti-Trump research produced by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer, that was financed by the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Graham also insists on “equal outrage” over Democrats using that information from a former intelligence officer of Britain, an ally with a history of shared intelligence with the U.S. That’s a different story from a foreign adversary such as Russia, which the Mueller report concluded had engaged in “sweeping and systematic” interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Moreover, Steele was hired as a private citizen, though one with intelligence contacts.
The Mueller report found multiple contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, and the report said it established that “the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”
Trump and his GOP allies typically point to the Steele dossier as the basis for the Russia probe. But the FBI’s investigation began months before it received the dossier.
TRUMP: “The Democrats were very unhappy with the Mueller report. So now they’re trying to do a do-over or a redo. And we’re not doing that. We gave them everything. We were the most transparent presidency in history.” — Oval Office remarks Wednesday.
THE FACTS: It’s highly dubious to say Trump was fully cooperative in the Russia investigation.
Trump declined to sit for an interview with Mueller’s team, gave written answers that investigators described as “inadequate” and “incomplete,” said more than 30 times that he could not remember something he was asked about in writing, and — according to the report — tried to get aides to fire Mueller or otherwise shut or limit the inquiry.
In the end, the Mueller report found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia but left open the question of whether Trump obstructed justice.
According to the report, Mueller’s team declined to make a prosecutorial judgment on whether to charge partly because of a Justice Department legal opinion that said sitting presidents shouldn’t be indicted. The report instead factually laid out instances in which Trump might have obstructed justice, specifically leaving it open for Congress to take up the matter.
TRUMP: “We have people on the Fed that really weren’t, you know, they’re not my people, but they certainly didn’t listen to me because they made a big mistake.” — CNBC interview.
THE FACTS: Actually, most of the members on the Fed’s Board of Governors owe their jobs to Trump.
In addition to choosing Jerome Powell, a Republican whom Obama had named to the Fed board, to be chairman, Trump has filled three other vacancies on the board in his first two years in office. Lael Brainard is the only Democrat on the board.
There are still two vacancies on the seven-member board. Trump had earlier intended to nominate two political allies — Herman Cain and Stephen Moore — but both later withdrew in the face of sharp opposition from critics.
TRUMP: “Tariffs are a great negotiating tool, a great revenue producer and, most importantly, a powerful way to get … companies to come to the U.S.A., and to get companies that have left us for other lands to come back home. We stupidly lost 30% of our auto business to Mexico.” — tweets Tuesday.
TRUMP: “They took 30% of our automobile companies. They moved into Mexico. All of the people got fired.” — interview Monday with CNBC.
THE FACTS: He’s incorrect that Mexico took 30% of the U.S. automobile business in the years since the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect in 1994.
In 2017, 14% of the vehicles sold in the U.S. were imported from Mexico, according to the Center for Automotive Research, a think tank in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Parts imported from Mexico exceed 30%.
TRUMP: “If the Tariffs went on at the higher level, they would all come back.” — tweet Tuesday.
TRUMP: “What will happen is the companies will move into the United States, back where they came from. … They would all move back if they had to pay a 25% tax or tariff.” — interview Monday with CNBC.
THE FACTS: He’s wrong to assume that auto companies in Mexico would immediately move back to the U.S. if there were a 25% tariff on Mexican-made vehicles and parts.
It takes three years or four years minimum to plan, equip and build an auto assembly plant, so there would be little immediate impact on production or jobs. Auto and parts makers are global companies, and they would also look to countries without tariffs as a place to move their factories. The companies could also just wait until after the 2020 election, hoping that if Trump is defeated, the next president would get rid of the tariffs.
“They’re not going to invest in duplicative capacity in response to short-term policy incentives,” said Kristen Dziczek, a vice president at the Center for Automotive Research.
It is possible that some production could be shifted back to the United States. General Motors, for instance, makes about 39% of its full-size pickup trucks at a factory in Silao, Mexico, mainly light-duty versions, according to analysts at Morningstar. If the U.S. imposed a 25% tariff on assembled automobiles, GM could shift some production to a factory in Fort Wayne, Indiana, that also makes light-duty pickups. But there are limits. That plant already is running on three shifts and is almost near its maximum capacity.
Tariffs on Mexico probably would cost auto jobs in the U.S., too, because Mexico would almost certainly retaliate with tariffs of its own. Tariffs on both sides would raise prices of vehicles, because automakers probably would pass the charges onto their customers.
Industry experts say higher prices would cause more buyers to shift into the used-vehicle market, cutting into new-vehicle sales. Tariffs could be higher than 25% because parts go back and forth across the border multiple times in a highly integrated supply chain.
Vehicles built in Mexico get 20% to 30% of their parts from the U.S., so the tariffs would drive up prices there. That would hit lower-income people hard because automakers produce many lower-priced new vehicles in Mexico to take advantage of cheaper labor. About 62% of U.S. vehicle and parts exports go to Canada and Mexico, according to the Center for Automotive Research.
Tariffs would add $1,300 to $4,500 to the price of vehicles based just on the cost of parts, the center estimated.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Christopher Rugaber, Martin Crutsinger and Paul Wiseman in Washington, Elliot Spagat in San Diego, Tom Krisher in Detroit and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.
Iranians on Monday shrugged off the possibility that a bellicose exchange of words between President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart could escalate into military conflict, but expressed growing concern America’s stepped-up sanctions could damage their fragile economy.
In his latest salvo, Trump tweeted late on Sunday that hostile threats from Iran could bring dire consequences.
This was after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani remarked earlier in the day that “American must understand well that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”
Trump tweeted: “NEVER EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKE OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.”
Within hours, Iran’s state-owned news agency IRNA dismissed the tweet, describing it as a “passive reaction” to Rouhani’s remarks.
On Tehran streets, residents took the exchange in stride.
“Both America and Iran have threatened one another in different ways for several years,” shrugged Mohsen Taheri, a 58-year-old publisher.
A headline on a local newspaper quoted Rouhani as saying: “Mr. Trump, do not play with the lion’s tail.”
Prominent Iranian political analyst Seed Leilaz downplayed the war of words, saying it was in his opinion “the storm before the calm.”
Leilaz told The Associated Press he was not “worried about the remarks and tweets,” and that “neither Iran, nor any other country is interested in escalating tensions in the region.”
Citing harsh words the United States and North Korea had exchanged before the high-profile summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Leilaz said Trump and Kim got “closer” despite the warring words.
Meanwhile, Trump’s tweet was reverberating across the Mideast.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the U.S. president’s “strong stance” after years in which the Iranian “regime was pampered by world powers.”
Trump earlier this year pulled the U.S. out of the international deal meant to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon and ordered increased American sanctions, as well as threatening penalties for companies from other countries that continue to do business with Iran.
With the economic pressure, Trump said earlier this month that “at a certain point they’re going to call me and say ‘let’s make a deal,’ and we’ll make a deal.”
Iran has rejected talks with the U.S., and Rouhani has accused the U.S. of stoking an “economic war.”
Rouhani also suggested Iran could immediately ramp up its production of uranium in response to U.S. pressure. Potentially that would escalate the very situation the nuclear deal sought to avoid — an Iran with a stockpile of enriched uranium that could lead to making atomic bombs.
Trump’s tweet suggested he has little patience with the trading of hostile messages with Iran, using exceptionally strong language and writing the all-capitalized tweet.
“WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!,” he wrote.
Another Tehran resident, Mehdi Naderi, fretted that the U.S. measures and his own government’s policies are damaging the lives of the average Iranian.
“America is threatening the Iranian people with its sanctions and our government is doing the same with its incompetence and mismanagement,” said the self-employed 35-year-old.
Trump has a history of firing off heated tweets that seem to quickly escalate long-standing disputes with leaders of nations at odds with the U.S.
In the case of North Korea, the public war of words cooled quickly and gradually led to the high profile summit and denuclearization talks. There has been little tangible progress in a global push to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons program since the historic Trump-Kim summit on June 12.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Pyongyang for follow-up talks earlier this month, but the two sides showed conflicting accounts of the talks. North’s Foreign Ministry accused the United States of making “gangster-like” demands for its unilateral disarmament.
Some experts say Kim is using diplomacy as a way to win outside concessions and weaken U.S.-led international sanctions.
Many in Iran have expressed frustration that Trump has seemed willing to engage with North Korea, which has openly boasted of producing nuclear weapons, but not Iran, which signed the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Since Trump pulled out of the deal, other nations involved — Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China as well as the European Union — have reaffirmed their support for the deal and have been working to try and keep Iran on board.
“Iran is angry since Trump responded to Tehran’s engagement diplomacy by pulling the U.S. out of the nuclear deal,” Iranian lawmaker Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh told the AP.
He added, however, the war of words between the two presidents was to be expected, since official diplomatic relations between the two countries have been frozen for decades.
“They express themselves through speeches since diplomatic channels are closed,” said Falahatpisheh who heads the influential parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy.
On Sunday in California, Pompeo was strongly critical of Iran, calling its religious leaders “hypocritical holy men” who amassed vast sums of wealth while allowing their people to suffer.
In the speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, Pompeo castigated Iran’s political, judicial and military leaders, accusing several by name of participating in widespread corruption. He also said the government has “heartlessly repressed its own people’s human rights, dignity and fundamental freedoms.”
He said despite poor treatment by their leaders, “the proud Iranian people are not staying silent about their government’s many abuses,” Pompeo said.
“And the United States under President Trump will not stay silent either.”
Lester reported from Washington. Associated Press writers David Rising in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, Aron Heller in Jerusalem and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.
President Donald Trump’s triumphant assertions about the success of the unprecedented Singapore summit are being met with skepticism and outright derision from critics seizing on the contradiction between his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and his willingness to accept vague pledges from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
White House officials have repeatedly stressed that this week’s meeting in Singapore is the beginning, not the end, of a process that Trump’s team argues could have only been jump-started with the face-to-face meeting. The Singapore summit set out broad goals to be met in the coming months while the Iran deal, signed by President Barack Obama in 2015 and approved by seven nations, was an imperfect end to 18 months of negotiations, they say. Criticism that Tuesday’s commitment does not include specifics on denuclearization and verification is too early, they argue.
“While I am glad the president and Kim Jong Un were able to meet, it is difficult to determine what of concrete nature has occurred,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He said he wanted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who will lead the follow-on negotiations, to explain details of what the administration has in mind.
The top Democrat on that panel, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who also opposed the Iran deal, took issue with Trump’s zeal as well as his announcement of the suspension of U.S.-South Korea military exercises.
“In exchange for selfies in Singapore, we have undermined our maximum pressure policy and sanctions,” Menendez said.
For Iran deal proponents, though, the Singapore summit was evidence of Trump’s lack of preparedness and poor negotiating skills. Iran deal opponents, meanwhile, seemed willing to wait and see.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a Trump advocate and fervent Iran deal foe, urged patience and sought to dispel suggestions that the president had unwisely plunged into a meeting with a dictator after having withdrawn from the accord with Tehran. He noted, as did other Trump allies, that North Korea already had nuclear weapons and the capability to deliver them whereas Iran did not.
“There is a school of thought that … the United States president should not sit down with two-bit dictators,” Cotton told conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt. “I think there’s some validity to that school of thought with the exception (of) once those dictators have nuclear weapons.”
“You know, countries like Iran and Cuba and other two-bit rogue regimes don’t have nuclear weapons, yet,” he said. “They can’t threaten the United States in that way. Once they have missiles that can deliver them to use, I would liken it to past presidents sitting down with Soviet dictators.”
Victor Cha, a Georgetown University professor and former National Security Council director for Asia in President George W. Bush’s administration, lamented that the summit results “left a lot to be desired.” But he also maintained that the Trump-Kim meeting had reduced the chance of conflict even if it was only a “modest start.”
“Despite its many flaws, the Singapore summit represents the start of a diplomatic process that takes us away from the brink of war,” Cha wrote in The New York Times in the immediate aftermath of the summit. “Mr. Trump’s unconventional approach leaves a lot to be desired in the foreign policy of the United States, but there was no other path to this less-than-satisfying but digestible outcome.”
Kelsey Davenport, the nonproliferation policy director at the Arms Control Association, which supported the Iran deal, called the summit result “mediocre.”
“The vague language on denuclearization is not a breakthrough, it is a boilerplate reiteration of past statements,” she said, adding: “It is far too early in the process for Trump to declare success.”
In the case of the Iran deal, even the most generous assessors of the Singapore summit sought to remind the White House that intense diplomacy preceded the agreement with Tehran.
“Pompeo will now have to undertake the kind of arduous, multiyear negotiations with Pyongyang that former secretary of state John Kerry undertook with Tehran,” Cha and Koreas expert Sue Mi Terry said in a paper for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Trump has assailed Obama’s deal with Iran as the ‘worst ever,’ but he now faces substantial challenges to achieve as much as Obama did.”
Iran itself cautioned North Korea against taking Trump at his word.
“We are facing a man who revokes his signature while abroad,” the semi-official Fars news agency quoted government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht as saying on Tuesday.
Unable or unwilling to completely erase his predecessor’s signature initiatives, President Donald Trump this week turned to another approach: wreaking havoc.
Trump’s back-to-back body blows against President Barack Obama’s health care law and nuclear agreement with Iran demonstrated the president’s embrace of turmoil as strategy. In both cases, he plunged a pair of policies with broad domestic and international implications into a state of confusion and uncertainty, hoping that the disorder will force Congress to take action.
Trump has long thrived on unpredictability, an attribute he views as a virtue. But to the lawmakers, foreign partners, businesses and consumers now sorting through the implications of his announcements this week, the strategy looks far less appealing.
International allies who spent years negotiating the nuclear accord alongside the U.S. are now left waiting to see if Congress will reinstate nuclear sanctions on Tehran, a move certain to jettison the deal. Trump didn’t specifically ask for the sanctions to be put back in place. But, in a speech declaring he would no longer certify the deal, he did ask lawmakers to add new, unspecified conditions for U.S. cooperation in the agreement.
On health care, millions of Americans face the prospect of higher insurance premiums as a result of Trump’s decision to immediately halt payments to insurance companies that provide lower-cost plans to low-income people. Trump calls the payments a bailout to insurance companies and he cited as justification a legal dispute over whether the payments were legally authorized. Trump yanked the money without any plan in place for offsetting cost increases for customers. Insurance companies, too, are at the mercy of lawmakers, who must now decide whether to restore the payments.
“We are going to have to figure out a way to stabilize the situation,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, a Pennsylvania Republican who dubbed the move “ill-advised.” Democrats branded it sabotage. The president was “determined to inject chaos and confusion” into the health care system, said Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat.
As a businessman, a candidate and now as president, Trump has gravitated toward chaos. His campaign was rife with bitter internal rivalries, often stoked by the man at the top of the ticket. His West Wing has careened from crisis to crisis and endured more staff upheaval in nine months than some presidents experience in a full term.
Still, Trump has made clear he sees unpredictability as an advantage. Indeed, his vague statements — “we’ll see,” he often says when asked about looming decisions — and seemingly improvisational policy positions can leave his political rivals maddeningly frustrated. He’s vowed to keep international adversaries off balance with diversionary tactics or a simple lack of transparency about U.S. actions — a goal some foreign diplomats say he has indeed fulfilled.
Trump’s approach, however, hasn’t yet translated into success when it comes to making good on his vows to overhaul some of the cornerstones of Obama’s legacy, including the Iran deal and the health care law, that have long loomed as targets for Republicans. As a candidate, he promised to rip up the Iran deal on his first day in office. He boasted that overhauling health care would be “easy.”
Health care has proven to be anything but simple. Even with Republicans in charge on Capitol Hill, the GOP has been unable to muster the votes to muscle through an “Obamacare” replacement package. Lawmakers’ impotence has deeply frustrated Trump and left him casting about for ways to undermine the law on his own.
Thursday’s announcement halting the subsidies for insurance companies marked Trump’s most aggressive move yet to chip away at the law. Eliminating the payments would trigger a spike in premiums for some Americans next year, unless Trump reverses course or Congress authorizes the money, a step that would almost certainly require the kind of bipartisanship that has been absent on Capitol Hill this year.
In a sign of the potential difficulties to come, Trump appeared to pre-emptively blame Democrats if no deal is reached, tweeting that they should “call me to fix!” And Democratic leaders made clear they would turn the blame-game back around on the president.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she wanted voters to know “what it means in their lives when he goes off on a spiteful, cruel toot to diminish their access to affordable care.”
Trump also has been angered by his struggle to roll back the Iran nuclear accord Obama vigorously championed. Amid warnings from his advisers about the risks of withdrawing from the accord, he ordered national security advisers to help him find a way to avoid having to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal every 90 days.
That plan, which Trump announced from the White House on Friday, still falls short of scrapping the agreement. Instead he asked Congress to toughen the law that governs U.S. participation and fix what he sees as deficiencies in the measure.
Trump’s half step followed weeks of pleas from allies who argue Trump cannot pull out of a deal that was negotiated alongside Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, declared Friday: “The president of the United States has many powers. Not this one.”
For allies looking for reassurances that Trump was done threatening to withdraw from the Iran deal, he offered nothing but more uncertainty.
“We’ll see what happens over the next short period of time,” Trump said.
Editor’s Note: Julie Pace has covered the White House and politics for the AP since 2007. Follow her at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC
Republicans demanded a major say on the Iran nuclear agreement two years ago and never got it from Democrat Barack Obama. Now that President Donald Trump has directed Congress to make the international pact more stringent, the GOP is finding it won’t be easy.
Republicans will have to win over skeptical Democrats and key allies in Europe who are wary of altering the accord that they believe has prevented Iran from assembling an arsenal of atomic weapons in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. Republican leaders also may face resistance from members of their own party.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Friday he’ll reserve judgment on any legislation but has “serious doubts about whether it is even possible to fix such a dangerously flawed agreement.”
Trump on Friday angrily accused Iran of violating the spirit of the nuclear deal that was forged with the U.S. and other world powers in 2015, blaming Tehran for a litany of malign behavior and hitting its main military wing with anti-terrorism sanctions. But the president, breaking with a campaign pledge to rip up the agreement, said he was not yet ready to pull the U.S. out or re-impose nuclear sanctions.
Instead he kicked the issue to Congress and told them to toughen the law.
Taking the lead will be the Republican whom Trump has been feuding with — Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Trump belittled Corker this past week with a series of tweets and erroneously blamed the senator, who will retire at the end of next year, for the original Iran deal. Corker dubbed the White House an “adult day care center” and charged that Trump could be setting the nation on the path toward World War III.
Corker, in a conference call with reporters on Friday, focused on perhaps the most significant task of his chairmanship and didn’t address the bitter back and forth with Trump.
He previewed the main elements of legislation he is developing with Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a national security hawk who has echoed Trump’s more confrontational approach toward Iran, to toughen the nuclear accord and the law governing U.S. participation in the deal.
“Over the last several months, we have been working closely with the State Department, National Security Council and Senator Cotton to develop a legislative strategy to address bipartisan concerns about the (Iran deal) without violating U.S. commitments,” Corker said in a statement.
On the call, Corker promised an open legislative process.
“You’re going to see all this evolve in daylight,” he said, adding that the bill could be introduced in the next two weeks.
The legislation would amend a two-year-old law that allowed Congress to review the accord. It would reduce from four to two the number of times a year Trump is required to certify to Congress that Iran is complying with the terms of the agreement.
It would also rid the deal of sunset provisions, which expire after predetermined periods of time. The provisions relate to enriching uranium to levels near those needed to produce the fuel for a nuclear weapon, as well as other activities that limit Iran’s atomic capabilities at various sites. The bill would propose a mechanism to automatically restore the prior U.S. sanctions if Iran gets within a year of acquiring a nuclear weapon.
The emerging bill also would give the International Atomic Energy Agency greater power to verify that Iran is complying with the deal.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., welcomed Trump’s decision and cast it as an opportunity for Congress to strengthen the law it passed in 2015 and “create a standard for certification that is consistent with our interests.”
Democrats condemned Trump’s announcement and criticized him for punting presidential responsibilities to Congress just as he did on health care and extending protection from deportation for young immigrants known as “Dreamers.”
Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, issued a sharply worded statement that called Trump’s move a “reckless, political decision” that put U.S. national security at risk. He said the president and his Cabinet should be principally in charge of addressing concerns about the Iran deal.
“Instead, he is abdicating his leadership role to Congress, just like with Dreamers and just like with affirming and strengthening our health care system,” said Cardin, who opposed the nuclear deal two years ago but is now opposed to ditching the pact. “It is a troubling pattern. We will not buy into the false premise that it is Congress’ role to legislate solutions to problems of his own making.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called Trump’s move a “grave mistake.”
Without changes, Trump warned, he would likely pull the U.S. out of the deal — which he has called the worst in U.S. history — and snap previously lifted sanctions back into place. Such a step would likely kill the landmark deal.
Follow Richard Lardner on Twitter at http://twitter.com/rplardner