White House stops announcing calls with foreign leaders

The White House has suspended the practice of publishing public summaries of President Donald Trump’s phone calls with world leaders, two sources with knowledge of the situation tell CNN, bringing an end to a common exercise from Republican and Democratic administrations.

It’s unclear if the suspension is temporary or permanent. A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Official descriptions of the President’s calls with foreign leaders — termed “readouts” in Washington parlance — offer administrations the chance to characterize in their own terms the diplomacy conducted at the highest levels between countries. While news is rarely contained in the rote, often dry descriptions, they do offer the only official account that a phone call took place.

Trump has had at least two calls with other leaders in the last two weeks, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The White House confirmed that the calls took place after they were reported by foreign media, but declined to elaborate on what was said.

Calls with world leaders are highly coordinated events that in the past have required careful planning by the President’s national security team. Leaders are typically patched through the Situation Room, and sometimes aides listen in. Once the call is over, both sides typically publish a readout of what was discussed. However, readouts have been known to differ between governments.

After Trump spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in April 2017, the two sides offered vastly different accounts of what was discussed.

“President Donald J. Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke today. The two leaders discussed the dairy trade in Wisconsin, New York State, and various other places. It was a very amicable call,” the White House’s version read.

Canada’s readout was more descriptive.

“The prime minister and the President reaffirmed the importance of the mutually beneficial Canada-US trade relationship,” Canada’s readout said. “On the issue of softwood lumber, the prime minister refuted the baseless allegations by the US Department of Commerce and the decision to impose unfair duties.”

Tony Blinken, who served as the deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration from 2015 to 2017, said there are two main reasons why issuing the readouts are important.

“One is transparency,” Blinken told CNN. “There is a public interest in knowing who he talked to and what they talked about. Secondly, these readouts help shape the narrative.

If we aren’t doing a readout, but the other country is, their narrative is going to prevail. ”

[CNN]

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