Thursday 30 March 2017

Trump's team talks tough after call with Putin

US president-elect Donald Trump. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
US president-elect Donald Trump. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

David Lawler in Washington

THE front-runners to become Donald Trump's secretary of state have advocated shows of military strength toward Russia, even as Vladimir Putin launched an offensive across Syria hours after his first conversation with the president-elect.

Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, said the US must be willing to threaten Russia with military force.

"Russia thinks it's a military competitor, it really isn't," he said, adding: "It's our unwillingness under Obama to even threaten the use of our military that makes Russia so powerful."

John Bolton, an avowed interventionist and former UN ambassador under George W Bush, said yesterday that Russia would back down if faced with a strong US president.

"One of the reasons Putin is very casual about expanding Russian influence, taking advantage of America in Eastern Europe and the Middle East is that he sees - quite correctly - Barack Obama as an exceedingly weak leader.

"I think Trump is going to be the opposite, I think he's going to be a strong leader," he told Fox News.

Local students and their supporters march during a walkout protest against US president-elect Donald Trump in Seattle. Photo: Jason Redmond/Getty Images
Local students and their supporters march during a walkout protest against US president-elect Donald Trump in Seattle. Photo: Jason Redmond/Getty Images

Sources within Mr Trump's transition team have said Mr Giuliani is the favourite to become America's top diplomat, with Mr Bolton also under consideration. Mr Giuliani is a longtime ally of Mr Trump's but has limited foreign policy experience and a history of controversial statements.

Mr Bolton, meanwhile, has taken hawkish positions including calling on the US to pre-emptively bomb Iran over its nuclear programme.

Mr Trump had said he hopes Russia and the US will "get along" once he becomes president, and has signalled he might be open to joining forces with Mr Putin in the Syrian conflict.

Hours after speaking with Mr Trump for the first time, Mr Putin began a wave of airstrikes in Syria.

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Analysts have long warned that Russia was likely to take Mr Trump's election victory as a green light to ramp up its bombing campaign in Syria, knowing that a more sympathetic US president will replace Barack Obama in January.

Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, said it was "hard to ignore the timing of Russia's offensive being 12 hours after Putin's call with Trump. Russia now has two free hands in Syria."

Mr Bolton, meanwhile, said Russia had seen "one last chance" to capitalise on Mr Obama's weakness.

Russia's defence ministry said its forces had begun a "major operation" and that strikes had been launched from the Admiral Kuznetsov, the newly deployed aircraft carrier which arrived this weekend.

Sukhoi-33 bombers took off from the ageing carrier while Kalibr cruise missiles were fired from a frigate at targets inside Syria, said Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defence minister.

Russia said the attacks were aimed at Isil and the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qa'ida-linked group in Syria, and were focused on Idlib and Homs provinces. It denied bombing Aleppo.

Russia has repeatedly claimed in the past to be bombing jihadist groups like Isil or al-Nusra when its fire has in fact been aimed at more moderate rebel groups opposed to the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

The 275,000 people trapped inside east Aleppo have enjoyed relative quiet since mid-October but yesterday afternoon the skies were once again filled with war planes and the city shook from bombs.

At least three people were reported dead.

Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that Mr Trump did not think his run for the White House would last beyond October 2015 and he expected to drop out to back Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, for the Republican presidential nomination. The two men were said to have made a pact early in the campaign that whoever failed first would endorse the other, and Mr Trump thought it more likely he would play the support role.

It was also disclosed that Mr Trump seemed "surprised" by the scope of the presidency following his first meeting with Barack Obama last week.

Mr Obama had to walk the president-elect through the process of governing, 'The Wall Street Journal' reported.

The outgoing president was also said to be keen to spend more time than is usual with his successor in the coming months in order to guide him. Mr Trump's team were reportedly unaware that he would have to bring in replacements for all the staff in the West Wing. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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