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Trump opens the Russia file, finally

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | March 21, 2017

The first half of April will witness the first major forays by the United States into the foreign policy arena under President Donald Trump. The summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping is slated for April 6-7 at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. On April 12, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be visiting Moscow.

There is much heartburn already in Washington and in some European capitals that Trump administration is showing preference for big powers and is ‘ignoring old allies’. The lamentation is factually baseless. There have been a string of visits by leaders of allied powers to meet with Trump in the White House – Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Shinzo Abe and so on.

Interestingly, however, Tillerson showed disinterest in attending the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on April 5-6 and is instructing his deputy Tom Shannon to represent the US, pleading he will be preoccupied with Xi’s visit to Florida. The Reuters reported that NATO offered to re-schedule the Brussels meeting to suit Tillerson’s convenience, but that Washington ‘rebuffed’ the offer.

If so, it is a big statement on the Trump administration’s foreign-policy priorities. Possibly, Washington has decided to subject the alliance to a spell of benign neglect if only to show who calls the shots in the western alliance system. There were some testy exchanges between the US and Germany over Trump’s taunt against the backdrop of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent trip to the White House that “Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!” German Defense Minister Ursula von Der Leyen, a close associate of Merkel, promptly snapped back at Trump the next day saying, “There is no debt account at NATO.” (See my blog Trump hangs tough on Germany, eases on China.)

At any rate, the symbolism is profound when Tillerson signals that he has more important things to do than wasting time with NATO counterparts. The message Trump conveys here is that he doesn’t care to consult the NATO allies or to handle Russia ties on the basis of a unified policy toward Russia with the European allies. Trump would rather pursue US interests. In essence, it means he will not be held hostage by the European allies in the pursuit of his agenda to engage with Russia constructively and improve relations with Russia, western sanctions notwithstanding.

Interestingly, mutinous elements within the US state department – probably Obama-era holdovers – appear to have leaked the info regarding Tillerson’s intention to travel to Russia on April 12, presumably with a view to create a public controversy and somehow force the cancellation of the visit. (Guardian ) This, in turn, prompted the state department to formally announce on Monday within a few hours of the Reuters report that Tillerson proposes to travel to Moscow. It is extremely unusual for a VIP visit to be formally announced full 3 weeks in advance. In sum, Trump administration is creating a fait accompli. Curiously, Moscow learnt about Tillerson’s visit from the state department announcement!

In the Byzantine world of diplomacy, this presents itself indeed as one of those extraordinary spectacles where powerful interest groups or die-hard ideologues in Washington and holdovers from the Obama administration within the USG plus kindred souls in some European capitals — Britain and Germany, in particular — just do not want any easing of US-Russia tensions! They would rather have war drums beating! One is reminded of the famous slice of our own history in 1960 in Delhi when some of Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet colleagues demanded that the visiting Chinese Premier Chou-En Lai should not be allowed to have a private session with the then Defence Minister Krishna Menon, which, they feared, might lead to some amicable formula for border settlement! (Indira Gandhi apparently received Chou at Nehru’s reception at Teen Murti House clad in a Tibetan dress.)

Be that as it may, it seems Trump is beginning to force the pace of his foreign-policy agenda. What all this underscores is that Trump is finally asserting. His address to the US Congress, in retrospect, would have been the turning point. All the hoopla over the FBI investigation over alleged Russian interference in the November election in the US hasn’t affected him. Trump seems supremely confident of weathering the storm, and is going ahead on that basis.

One purpose of Tillerson’s visit to Moscow could be to prepare a summit meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

March 22, 2017 - Posted by | Aletho News | , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. A “real news” good posting. Thank you.

    Like

    Comment by roberthstiver | March 22, 2017 | Reply


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