Washington Post 7-6-2017

The main storylines as Trump returns to Europe

President Trump left behind a humid and soggy Washington on Wednesday for his second official visit to Europe. He landed in Poland on Wednesday night for a brief tour ahead of the main item on his agenda: the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg. There, Trump is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin face-to-face for the first time.

From most accounts, Trump’s time at a NATO meeting in Brussels and the Group of Seven summit in Sicily in May did not go well. It was marked by awkward public exchanges with his European counterparts and barbed comments in private. The following week, apparently angered by French President Emmanuel Macron’s gloating commentsabout a white-knuckle handshake with the U.S. president, Trump decided to thumb his nose at Europe and pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord.

The stakes are even higher — and the potential for gaffes perhaps greater — on Trump’s return visit.

Trump walks past NATO leaders at the alliance's new headquarters in Brussels on May 25. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Trump walks past NATO leaders at the alliance’s new headquarters in Brussels on May 25. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The shadow of the North Korean crisis

The big, global conundrum on everyone’s mind lies further to the east. North Korea’s Independence Day gift to Americans — a first-ever test of an intercontinental ballistic missile — was perhaps its most provocative move yet. It prompted sharp repudiation from U.S. officials and an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the option of using military force against North Korea was on the table. She urged China, whose president will be at Hamburg, to exert more pressure on Pyongyang. She also said the United States was preparing a resolution to expand sanctions against North Korea. Haley’s Chinese and Russian counterparts at the Security Council instead cautioned against escalation and pushed for further dialogue. Expect concerns over the North Korean threat to surface at the summit.

The Trump-Putin meeting

On Friday, the biggest focus for many Americans will be the tete-a-tete between Trump and Putin, a meeting that has been hotly anticipated since Trump’s victory in November. In the intervening months, Trump’s eagerness to mend fences with the Kremlin has run up against a firestorm of controversy at home over Russian efforts to hack the U.S. election and suspected collusion between members of Trump’s campand Russian officials.

“For the foreseeable future, the most important item by far on the U.S.-Russia relations agenda will be avoiding direct collision, which might lead to war,” said Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, to my colleague David Filipov.

According to reports, aides have repeatedly briefed Trump — who seems conspicuously averse to preparation — ahead of the meeting. The ongoing disputes over Syria and Ukraine, among other thorny issues, are expected to be discussed. But national security adviser H.R. McMaster said last week that Trump has “no specific agenda” for the meeting, and there’s a fear that Trump, a novice in a world of realpolitik where Putin is a master, may get sucked into problematic discussions.

“You could end up having the entire conversation on [Putin’s] topics and his terms,” said Jon Finer, a former Obama administration official, to my colleague David Nakamura.

“There’s a fair amount of nervousness in the White House and at the State Department about this meeting and how they manage it because they see a lot of potential risks,” said Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, to the New York Times. “There is this gray cloud for the president of the investigations about collusion, so any kind of a deal is going to get the micro-scrutiny of, ‘Is this a giveaway to the Russians?’ ”

When it comes to Russia, Trump has few good options to grant or win concessions from Putin. As some experts suggest, no deal may be the best deal for now.

A curious visit to Poland

Before facing the G-20 in Hamburg, Trump will enjoy a happier moment in Poland. The country’s right-wing nationalist government is ideologically friendly to his brand of populism, and Warsaw has been at odds with much of the European establishment on a host of issues, including its hostility to migrants and asylum seekers.

Trump’s speech at a nationalist monument in the Polish capital gives both governments a pleasant photo op. In fact, according to Polish media reports, Warsaw specifically promised the White House cheering crowds as part of the invitation to Trump.

Trump’s remarks, McMaster said, are expected to “lay out a vision, not only for America’s future relationship with Europe, but the future of our transatlantic alliance.”

The showdown at the G-20

The Warsaw speech could set the stage for what happens in Hamburg. Already, battle lines are being drawn over Trump’s rejection of the international consensus on climate change, his seeming apathy toward the U.S.-authored liberal order and his hostility to globalization.

The E.U. and Japan are expected to announce on Thursday plans for a new free trade agreement; U.S. officials, meanwhile, are expected to push their counterparts at the G-20 to crack down on China’s steel export practices. “The divergent trade approaches have set up the G-20 as a potential crossroads for the international economic order,” note my colleagues Damian Paletta and Ana Swanson.

“Anyone who thinks the world’s problems can be solved with isolationism and protectionism is simply delusional,” warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week in Berlin, in a broadside clearly aimed at Trump. The divisions may only be exacerbated at the summit.

“The contrast between the visits to Poland and Germany could spark the reemergence of the ‘old Europe’ versus ‘new Europe’ narrative that soured transatlantic relations over a decade ago,” wrote Derek Chollet, a former Obama administration official, referring to how the administration of President George W. Bush fell out with leading nations in Western Europe over the 2003 invasion of Iraq. “After a rousing stop in Warsaw, it is easy to see the Trump team pushing this line, explaining away its problems with Europe as not part of some broader problem, but an issue specifically with France and Germany.”

That would make matters even more interesting ahead of another trip next week, when Trump will fly to Paris.

• There’s no end in sight for the political crisis in the Persian Gulf. After Qatar dismissed a list of demands made by a bloc of four Arab states, the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain said they would maintain the month-old air, land and sea blockade of Qatar.  Significantly, they did not announce any new punitive measures, nor did they relax their stance on Qatar, which they claim is backing Islamist extremists and using its influence to “sabotage” its neighbors. Doha rejects these charges.

From my colleagues’ report: ”The joint statement by the four foreign ministers expressed ‘regret’ for Qatar’s refusal, which it said ‘shows a lack of seriousness in dealing with the roots of the problem.’…

“Taking questions at a news conference, the ministers did not rule out that they would impose further sanctions. But they also emphasized that they intend to solve the crisis ‘peacefully.’ Their next step, the statement said, would be to hold another meeting in Bahrain, but they did not say when that would be.”

• More grim scenes in Venezuela today as supporters of President Nicolas Maduro stormed the halls of the country’s National Assembly, a legislature dominated by the opposition, and beat up lawmakers and other opponents of the government. The attack left at least 15 people injured, according to opposition leaders, including one lawmaker who was rushed to the hospital with broken ribs and a head wound.

From my colleagues: “The assault appeared to mark a dangerous new escalation of violence against opponents of the leftist government, although it was not the first time lawmakers have been bloodied by the pro-Maduro gangs, known as ‘colectivos.’…

“The attackers were eventually cleared out of the building Wednesday by security forces using tear gas and fire extinguishers. Opposition lawmakers remained in the building. They sang the country’s national anthem and said they would continue with their legislative meetings.”

• As opposition protesters continue their rather epic march to Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is still talking tough about the supposed threats to his rule. He gave a rare interview to the editor of German publication Die Zeit. The full thing is certainly worth the read.

Here’s an interesting excerpt that dovetails with my piece earlier this week on how Erdogan’s thinking sometimes aligns with that of Trump:

“ZEIT: Why would the media, which is independent in Germany, engage in anti-Turkey propaganda? What kind of interest would it have in doing so?

“Erdogan: I don’t believe there is such a thing as ‘independent media’ anywhere in the world. At some level, they are all — whether print or broadcast media — dependent, either ideologically, or they are pursuing their own interests. If there were such a thing as independent media, we wouldn’t have all these problems. We see things quite clearly: They head in whichever direction the wind is blowing. The German media is no different. Nobody can say that isn’t the case. We know very well that’s how things are.”

A pick-up truck filled with migrants returns to the city of Agadez, Niger, after it was turned back by military checkpoints in the Sahara desert. (Javier Manzano for The Washington Post)</p>

A pick-up truck filled with migrants returns to the city of Agadez, Niger, after it was turned back by military checkpoints in the Sahara desert. (Javier Manzano for The Washington Post)

The other graveyard

Hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing war, poverty and persecution have crossed the Tenere, a barren, Texas-sized stretch of the Sahara, over the past few years. They scrounge together life savings and bet them all on a treacherous journey — first across the Tenere; then farther into the Sahara to Libya; then the choppy seas of the Mediterranean — in hopes of a better life in Europe.

The world has looked on in horror at the thousands who have died when their overloaded boats capsized at sea. And while more people do perish on that final leg, the sandy graveyard of the Tenere has claimed hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.

“I think we’ve over-talked the sea and under-talked the deserts,” said Tuesday Reitano, the deputy director of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime.

The Tenere is located in Niger, which, per the U.N.’s development rankings, has long held the grim position of the world’s poorest country. Smugglers in Agadez, a city on the edge of the desert that functions as a migrant transit hub, stuff people into pickup trucks and then speed through the roadless expanse for days until they reach the Libyan border, where their human cargo is dealt to new handlers.

Niger’s military once escorted smugglers’ convoys to the Libyan border, raking in bribes along the way. Then, late last year, Niger began to enforce a new law criminalizing the smuggling business. Military and police officers were replaced at all desert checkpoints between Agadez and the Libyan border. Raids were conducted on migrant ghettos in Agadez, aiming to shutter the shadow smuggling economy.

Halfway through 2017, it appears the strategy has succeeded only in pushing smugglers and migrants toward riskier routes where they are at lower risk of detection by security forces. “They say that very few people are coming through Agadez now, but that’s not true. People are just avoiding the checkpoints now because it is illegal,” said Ibrahim Manzo Diallo, a journalist based in Agadez.

Crossing tougher terrain has increased the odds that smugglers will abandon migrants in the desert. The IOM has confirmed such 52 deaths since April — the real number is certainly many times higher.

“A lot of migrants come back from the desert saying ‘I didn’t know what it was like,'” said Monica Chiriac, an IOM spokeswoman in Niger. “‘Had I known, I would have never left.'” — Max Bearak

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un&nbsp;celebrating the successful test-fire of a Hwasong-14&nbsp;ICBM on July 4. (Agence France-Presse/Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service)</p>

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un celebrating the successful test-fire of a Hwasong-14 ICBM on July 4. (Agence France-Presse/Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service)

The big question

After Tuesday’s first-ever North Korean test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, the issue of how to deal with Pyongyang is back at the top of the U.S. foreign policy agenda. But President Trump’s preferred strategy has been to dump the North Korean problem in China’s lap, demanding that Beijing pressure its ally instead of Washington. Beyond that, Trump has seemingly done little planning on how to conduct diplomacy if China failed or refused — and it has mostly done the latter so far. So we asked Post national correspondent Philip Bump: How light has Trump’s thinking been on North Korea?

“There are two ways you could look at Trump’s rhetoric.

“One school — the one championed by Trump — holds that he was deliberately vague about his foreign policy plans so as not to tip his hand to his campaign opponents. The other school counters that Trump’s vagueness was driven not by strategy but by either incuriosity or general laxity.

“On North Korea, his rhetoric almost certainly fell into the latter category.

“Trump formulated his strategy on North Korea years before he ran for office, arguing that the situation should be left to China. He repeated this often on the campaign trail, fleshing out his proposal no further than to advocate for improved missile defenses for the U.S. and South Korea.

“Beyond that, the argument was China, China, China. China wouldn’t contain North Korea because it didn’t respect Barack Obama, he argued at one point. Were he president, he’d use economic pressure on the Chinese to get them to intervene.

Once he became president, though, his tune changed. After meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he explained that the North Korea situation wasn’t as simple as one (read: he) might have thought. He explained that he wouldn’t label China a currency manipulator (one of his favorite campaign trail threats) because the country was helping with the North Korean threat. He vacillated between praising China’s efforts and giving up on them.

“The biggest tell that Trump wasn’t prepared to deal with North Korea was a tweet on January 2Trump explained that the country was developing a nuclear weapon that could strike the U.S. but that, on his watch, “[i]t won’t happen!” This week, that promise looks awfully hollow. It was the sort of promise made by someone who is either vastly overconfident, vastly underinformed — or both.”

Many Poles are amped up about President Trump’s visit — which may not be a great thing. Meanwhile, how is Vladimir Putin preparing for his own Trump audience? The Post takes a guess. In other Europe news, you just read about some of the horrors of the journey migrants must make in attempting to reach the continent, and Bloomberg View explains why this year’s edition of the migrant and refugee crisis is so intractable. And in Britain, some prominent Brexiteers seem to be turning against their own project.

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Conspicuous meal debt reminders can lead to embarrassment for pupils from less wealthy backgrounds, argues Department of Agriculture as reforms urged.
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A Wisconsin Republican looks back with regret at voter ID and redistricting fights
Republican efforts to impose voter ID laws and redraw election districts both wound up in federal court. Dale Schultz ended 30 years in state politics lamenting the recent displays of partisanship.
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The images that emerged from Wednesday’s clash at the Venezuelan National Assembly are simply stunning — and horrifying. But opposition lawmaker Armando Armas, who was bloodied in the attack by pro-Maduro gangs (Armas isn’t pictured above), compared his wounds dismissively to the suffering of people who have protested for weeks in the streets. “Nearly 100 young people have been killed in this mess,” he said. “A few punches are nothing.” (Miguel Gutierrez/European Pressphoto Agency)

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