Washington, April 13
United States President Donald Trump appeared to have moved the farthest yet from his determination to work with Russia when he suggested on Wednesday that bilateral relations were at an “all-time low” and that Moscow might have known about the chemical attack in Syria.
Trump also seemed to have changed his position on Nato, saying the western defence alliance he had railed against as a candidate is “no longer obsolete”, and, gong against another campaign rant, stating China was not a currency manipulator. And all of these consequential and dramatic foreign policy changes came in just one day, reversing major headline-making campaign promises and positions that had contributed to defining him as a fearless candidate of change.
“Right now, we’re not getting along with Russia at all,” Trump told reporters at a news conference with visiting Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg. “We may be at an all-time low in terms of a relationship with Russia.”
Asked if Russia, which is a major ally of Syria and has a substantial presence there, could have known about the chemical weapons attack that led to retaliatory strikes from the US, he said, “I think it’s certainly possible; I think it’s probably unlikely… I would like to think that they didn’t know, but certainly they could have. They were there.” Secretary of state Rex Tillerson had earlier delivered a similar message to Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow, telling him US-Russia relations were at a “low point”. But he was careful not to suggest Russia knew of the gas attack.
Over 80 people, including a large number of children, were killed in a chemical weapons attack in rebel-controlled Idlib province of Syria on April 4. Blaming the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad for it, the US bombed an airbase used in the attack last week.
But faithful to its ally, Russia has sought an independent investigation into the attack to ascertain responsibility, thereby suggesting it might have been the handiwork of entities opposed to the regime.
And it vetoed a UN resolution on the chemical attack on Wednesday drafted by Britain, France and the United States. China abstained from voting, a development Trump chalked it up to his meetings last weekend with President Xi Jinping.
Trump has said he has struck up “very good bonding” and “a very good chemistry” with Xi.
And he told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published on Wednesday China will not be named a currency manipulator in a report due out in a few weeks because, he added, it has not been manipulating its currency in recent months and, critically, designating it as one could jeopardize its help discipline North Korea, a client state.
Trump had ranted against China during his presidential campaign accusing it of cheating – “raping” – the United States in bilateral trade and had vowed punitive actions against it including naming it a currency manipulator.
Now, he told the Journal, “They’re not currency manipulators”.
Trump has also come around on Nato, which he had once said was obsolete and was sponging off the United States, with member countries not paying their agreed share. He had been severe about its lack focus on terrorism.
“The Secretary General and I had a productive discussion about what more Nato can do in the fight against terrorism,” Trump said at news briefing with Stoltenberg. “I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism. I said it was obsolete; it’s no longer obsolete. It’s my hope that Nato will take on an increased role in supporting our Iraqi partners in their battle against Islamic State.”
Washington, April 13