Friday 24 May 2019

Trump terrified aides with tweet that would've started war in Korea

Revealed: Donald Trump’s doctor had the US president’s schedule cut back due to ‘stress’. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Revealed: Donald Trump’s doctor had the US president’s schedule cut back due to ‘stress’. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Nick Allen in Washington

Donald Trump nearly started a conflict with North Korea in early 2018, when he proposed a tweet that "scared the daylights" out of his Defence Secretary James Mattis, a new book claims.

"This is all about leader versus leader," said Mr Trump, according to 'Fear', an upcoming book by legendary Watergate journalist Bob Woodward. "Man versus man. Me versus Kim."

Mr Woodward reveals that Mr Trump wanted to send a tweet ordering US military dependents - thousands of family members of 28,500 troops - to leave South Korea.

It sent his national security staff into panic mode. A senior figure in the North Korean politburo had already signalled to them that any evacuation would be interpreted in Pyongyang as a precursor to military attack.

Knowing that, Mr Trump's tweet would effectively be a declaration of war and could have provoked Mr Kim into attacking South Korea. The tweet was never sent.

The book also reveals that Mr Trump decided early in his presidency that the United States would stay in Nato, but told Mr Mattis to become its "rent collector".

Following a crunch meeting at the White House, to decide whether Mr Trump was "in or out" of the alliance, the president was persuaded and told Mr Mattis: "You can have your Nato."

According to the book, Mr Trump's doctor had the president's schedule cut back because of "stress".

And a picture emerged of Melania Trump as a key, tough, behind-the-scenes player, with one senior adviser describing her as like a "hammer".

The dinner meeting to decide Nato policy was convened in the Red Room of the White House at 6.30pm on February 8, 2017, by then chief of staff Reince Priebus. US policy had to be settled ahead of a speech by Mr Mattis in Munich a week later.

Mr Trump insisted on talking about the gossip of the day, until dessert, when Mr Priebus said: "We've really got to deal with the Nato issue."

Retired general Keith Kellogg, the National Security Council chief of staff, argued Nato was "obsolete" and the US was being "used" by allies. Mr Mattis and Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, argued in favour of Nato, according to the book.

Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, also interjected, saying the US was only losing "pennies on the dollar" in supporting Nato.

Mr Mattis expressed confidence Germany would meet the target of paying 2pc of GDP on defence. He added: "If you didn't have Nato you would have to invent it. There's no way Russia could win a war if they took on Nato."

At the end of the dinner, Mr Trump told Mr Mattis the US would support Nato but allies must pay. He told Mr Mattis: "You can have your Nato. But you become the rent collector." Mr Mattis reportedly laughed and nodded.

During the same meeting, Mr Trump reportedly asked C Boyden Gray, former US ambassador to the EU: "Which is going to be the next country to drop out (of the EU after Brexit)?"

Mr Gray said he did not think there would be another one. Mr Trump said he agreed.

The prospect of conflict with North Korea reportedly came closest early this year when Mr Trump proposed sending a tweet ordering home families of the 28,500 US military personnel stationed in South Korea. Mr Trump's planned tweet was considered "almost unthinkable" by aides, Mr Woodward wrote.

According to the book, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, Mr Trump's doctor until earlier this year, repeatedly advised John Kelly, his chief of staff, to "dial back" the president's schedule because he was "under stress".

People close to the first couple told Woodward there was "sincere affection" in the relationship but Ms Trump "operated independently". Steve Bannon, Mr Trump's former chief strategist, was quoted as saying: "Behind the scenes she's a hammer."

He believed Ms Trump had the most influence with the president, identifying who was telling her husband the truth, and who was "sucking up". (© Daily Telegraph London)

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