Monday 22 May 2017

Trump upsets friend and foe in extraordinary day of diplomacy

In a series of unexpected moves Mr Trump made it clear that no country - friend or foe - would be safe from a tirade if it invited his displeasure. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
In a series of unexpected moves Mr Trump made it clear that no country - friend or foe - would be safe from a tirade if it invited his displeasure. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Nick Allen and Ruth Sherlock

President Donald Trump set an unprecedented tone for US diplomacy as he told Iran "nothing is off the table," picked a fight with key ally Australia and joked about invading Mexico.

In a series of unexpected movesm Mr Trump made it clear that no country - friend or foe - would be safe from a tirade if it invited his displeasure.

Relations with Australia were sent into a tailspin after an acrimonious phone call with Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull. Earlier, Mr Trump had told Enrique Pena Nieto, the Mexican President, to round up the "bad hombres" or the US military would do it.

In a separate development, the US Treasury began allowing US companies to make limited transactions with the Russian FSB intelligence agency. The White House denied that this signalled an easing of sanctions against Moscow, with Mr Trump saying: "I haven't eased anything."

He responded aggressively to Iran's launch on Sunday of a medium-range ballistic missile. A UN Security Council resolution prohibits Iran from testing ballistic missiles specifically designed to carry a nuclear warhead.

The US president said: "Iran has been formally put on notice for firing a ballistic missile." Asked if military action was on the table, he said: "Honestly, nothing is off the table."

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: AP
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: AP

Sean Spicer, his spokesman, added: "We will have further updates on those additional actions, but clearly this is not going unresponded to." Senior officials in the administration said they were actively considering a "range of options" which included economic measures and more support for Iran's regional adversaries, laying the groundwork for a more confrontational approach toward the country.

Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker, said: "I'd like to put as much toothpaste back in the tube as possible. I think the last administration appeased Iran far too much."

Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, said: "This is not the first time that an inexperienced person has threatened Iran. The US government will understand that threatening Iran is useless."

Mr Trump's extraordinarily tense phone call with Mr Turnbull dominated headlines in Australia and led to warnings it will have to reassess an alliance which has underpinned its security since the Second World War. The disagreement centred on a refugee swap deal which Mr Trump described to Mr Turnbull as "dumb" and "the worst deal ever". He accused Mr Turnbull of trying to export the "next Boston bombers".

A call scheduled to last an hour was terminated after 25 minutes. Earlier in the day, Mr Trump had spoken to world leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto but told Mr Turnbull that his call was "the worst so far".

In the call with Mr Pena Nieto, he suggested sending in the US military: "You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren't doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn't, so I just might send them down to take care of it."

The White House later said the remarks had been "light-hearted".

Australia agreed its deal with former President Barack Obama late last year to house in the US up to 1,250 asylum seekers held in offshore processing camps.

Mr Trump signed an executive order last week suspending the US refugee programme. Mr Turnbull, a self-made millionaire who has made much of the business prowess he shares with Mr Trump, told the US president: "I'm a businessman, you're a businessman. A deal's a deal." But Mr Trump reportedly said he was "going to get killed" politically by the deal, adding: "I don't want these people."

A White House spokesman later said the deal would stand.

Irish Independent

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