Trump bypasses Congress to push through arms sales to Saudis, UAE

The Trump administration on Friday cited a national security “emergency” allegedly caused by Iran to bypass Congress and rush through arms sales worth billions of dollars to Saudi Arabia and other Middle East allies, in a move that drew condemnation from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Citing a rarely used provision of arms control law, the administration informed lawmakers it was declaring a national security emergency, allowing it to go ahead with the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan without congressional approval, according to administration letters sent to senators and obtained by NBC News.

“I have determined that an emergency exists which requires the proposed sale in the national security interest of the United States, and, thus, waives the congressional review requirements,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote in a letter to Sen. James Risch, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The decision affected various arms packages worth roughly $8 billion, including deals for precision-guided bombs and related gear for Saudi Arabia and the UAE, according to the documents and congressional aides.

The two countries are staunch U.S. allies that support President Donald Trump’s policies on Iran and have been waging a war since 2015 in support of the Yemeni government against Houthi rebels backed by Tehran.

The move came despite growing bipartisan opposition to any arms sales to Saudi Arabia amid outrage over the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year, as well as over Riyadh’s air war in Yemen that has caused high numbers of civilian casualties.

A bipartisan majority in Congress has voted to halt U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen but President Donald Trump vetoed the legislation last month.

A memo accompanied Pompeo’s letters justifying the declaration of the emergency due to Iran’s actions, including its support for Houthi rebels in Yemen fighting the Saudi-led coalition.

“Iranian malign activity poses a fundamental threat to the stability of the Middle East and to American security at home and abroad,” the memo states. “Current threat reporting indicates Iran engages in preparations for further malign activities throughout the Middle East region, including potential targeting of U.S. and allied military forces in the region.”

Iran has accused the U.S. of trying to provoke a war and denied any role in recent attacks on ships near the coast of the UAE or on a pipeline in Saudi Arabia.

Pompeo said in a statement that delaying the arms shipments, which included bombs, parts for fighter jets and other hardware, could cause problems for allied aircraft and call into question U.S. reliability in providing equipment.

“The United States is, and must remain, a reliable security partner to our allies and partners around the world,” Pompeo said.

But the secretary of state said the decision to bypass Congress was a “a one-time event” and that the administration would uphold the long-established process for congressional review of proposed arms sales.

Democrats in Congress said the Trump administration expedited the arms packages because it could not secure a majority of lawmakers to support any proposed sales to the Saudis.

“President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove of this sale. There is no new ’emergency’ reason to sell bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen, and doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said in a statement.

Some Republicans also denounced the White House for circumventing Congress to complete the sale.

“I understand the administration’s frustration that key members of Congress held these arms sales for an extended period of time, in some cases for over a year,” said Rep. Mike McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

“However, the President’s decision to use an emergency waiver on these sales is unfortunate and will damage certain future congressional interactions.”

Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana called on the administration to reconsider the decision.

“I strongly urge the administration to reverse course from bypassing congressional oversight on arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” Young said.

“Iran remains the world’s largest state sponsor of terror but the current threats that have been briefed to members of Congress do not justify taking this dramatic step. “

Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, questioned whether the decision was legal and accused the Trump administration of flouting congressional authority while granting favors to Gulf governments accused of human rights abuses and alleged indiscriminate bombing in Yemen.

“I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Trump Administration has failed once again to prioritize our long term national security interests or stand up for human rights, and instead is granting favors to authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia,” Menendez said in a statement.

He said “the Trump administration decided to do an end run around the Congress and possibly the law.”

Menendez had held up the sale of tens of thousands of precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for a year, due to concerns about civilian deaths from Saudi-led airstrikes, the killing of Khashoggi and alleged rights abuses linked to the UAE in the war in Yemen.

Rights advocates and humanitarian groups also condemned the decision.

“The Trump Administration is manufacturing an emergency to push through the sale of deadly weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” Scott Paul of Oxfam America said. “The real emergency is the 12 million people at risk of famine in Yemen and the largest-ever recorded cholera outbreak continues to spread because of the conflict, but this administration shows little concern for the millions who suffer.”

Apart from precision-guided munitions or so-called “smart bombs,” the arms sales for Saudi Arabia include mortar bombs, engines and maintenance support for F-15 fighter jets and logistical services for the Saudi air force, according to documents sent to Congress from the administration.

The arms packages for the United Arab Emirates cover precision-guided bombs, equipment for AH-64 helicopters, laser-guided rockets, javelin anti-tank missiles, .50 caliber semi-automatic rifles, Patriot missiles, F-16 fighter jet engine parts and U.S. Marine Corps training of the country’s presidential guard. The weapons sale for Jordan involved a transfer of Paveway precision-guided bombs from the Emirates.

Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

The Trump administration has refrained from public criticism of the Saudi-led coalition’s campaign in Yemen and has focused on Iran’s support of Houthi rebels in the conflict, accusing Tehran of fueling the war.

But some experts and former officials say the war in Yemen benefits Iran and Al Qaeda-linked militants and that the U.S. needs to use its influence with the Saudis to bring an end to the fighting.

“The longer the civil war in Yemen continues, the more opportunity Tehran will have to undermine the interests of the U.S. and our security partners,” said Bradley Bowman of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank.

“It is in U.S. national security interests to end the civil war in Yemen and address the horrible humanitarian crisis there — both of which are pushing the Houthis deeper into the welcoming arms of Tehran.”

Menendez and other lawmakers said they would look at a possible legislative response to the Trump administration’s decision. Two Democratic congressional aides said senators were discussing legislation that would possibly bar future arms sales to Saudi Arabia without congressional approval.

The White House move could trigger a backlash in Congress that would jeopardize future arms sales, Bowman said.

“An administration end-run around Congress to complete arms sales to Riyadh risks inciting a congressional reaction that will undermine the administration’s broader goals related to its conventional arms transfer policy,” he said.

Under U.S. arms control law, Congress must be given 30 days to approve U.S. arms sales to foreign countries. However, in a rarely used provision of that law, the president can declare an “emergency,” sidestepping Congress and sending the sale through immediately.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan used the same provision to sell 400 Stinger missiles and 200 launchers to Saudi Arabia in response to its urgent request for help in defending the kingdom against Iran.

Saudi Arabia remains the United States’ largest foreign military sales customer with more than $129 billion in approved purchases.

[NBC News]

Trump trashes Tillerson for saying Putin outfoxed him

President Donald Trump on Thursday bashed former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as “dumb as a rock,” saying he was “totally ill prepared and ill equipped” to be America’s top diplomat, after Tillerson shared unflattering information about Trump with top House members.

The president’s outburst on social media comes after Tillerson met with the top Democrat and Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and some of their staffers on Tuesday. He said during the meeting that Russian leader Vladimir Putin had out-prepared the U.S. president when the pair met for the first time in July 2017 in Hamburg, Germany.

Tillerson, whom Trump fired in March 2018, left the impression that the Russians had outmaneuvered the Republican president on at least two occasions, three people familiar with Tillerson’s meeting with the lawmakers told POLITICO.

Trump denied he was under-prepared for the meeting with Putin, who he has long sought to charm.

“Rex Tillerson, a man who is ‘dumb as a rock’ and totally ill prepared and ill equipped to be Secretary of State, made up a story (he got fired) that I was out-prepared by Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Hamburg, Germany,” the president tweeted. “I don’t think Putin would agree. Look how the U.S. is doing!”

It was not the first time the president has lashed out at his former secretary of state, who was ousted last year after frequently being at odds with Trump on policy issues. Trump also called Tillerson “dumb as a rock” in December.

According to the people familiar with Tillerson’s Tuesday session, which lasted roughly seven hours, he said that while in Germany, the Russians indicated to U.S. officials that the meeting between Trump and Putin would be quick, essentially a meet-and-greet.

The Russians also proposed not having anyone present to take notes, according to Tillerson’s statements, and Tillerson and others agreed to that condition, the people said. “Tillerson said, ‘It’s the way the Russians preferred it,’” one of the people told POLITICO.

But instead of lasting just a few minutes, the session turned into a wide-ranging meeting that stretched more than two hours.

It is still not clear what the two leaders discussed; Tillerson has said cyber issues and allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election came up. He indicated Tuesday that there were other topics discussed, though he declined to go into specifics, the people familiar with the meeting said.

Tillerson told those attending Tuesday’s session that he does not recall crafting a written record of the meeting after it ended and that he doesn’t know if anyone did.

The Washington Post, which first revealed some details of Tillerson’s talks with lawmakers this week, has in the past reported that Trump took away the notes of his interpreter in that meeting. Tillerson, who could not be reached for comment for this story, told lawmakers that he did not witness the interpreter’s notes being taken away.

The Hamburg meeting may not have been the first time the Russians out-played the Trump administration, the people familiar with Tillerson’s remarks told POLITICO.

In May 2017, Trump met in the Oval Office with two top Russian officials, foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The people familiar with the Tillerson meeting Tuesday said he indicated that the U.S. side understood the session to be a mere courtesy call with no real agenda. Tillerson also said he did not recall a designated note-taker being in the room.

“The president twice went into a meeting with sophisticated diplomatic players from an adversary with no agenda and presumably no designated note-taker. That’s concerning, because it leaves the U.S. side open to being out-maneuvered,” one of the people familiar with Tuesday’s session said.

It was later reported that Trump divulged classified information to his Russian guests. Tillerson did not address those reports, however.

Tillerson was careful not to disparage Trump during his discussions Tuesday, the people familiar with the meeting said.

[Politico]

Trump brags about his China trade war ‘success’ as stock ticker shows market tanking

President Donald Trump on Monday boasted about how successful his trade war with China has been — even though stock markets took an absolute beating on the news that China was about to slap tariffs on $60 billion of American goods.

While giving remarks to White House reporters on Monday, Trump bragged that his tariffs were making the United States richer, while a stock-market ticker showed that the Dow Jones Industrial Average was falling by more than 600 points.

“We’re taking in right now hundreds of billions of dollars,” Trump said of his tariffs on Chinese goods. “We’re taking in billions of dollars of tariffs, and those tariffs are going to be tremendously, if you look at what we’ve done thus far with China, we’ve never taken in ten cents until I got elected, now we’re taking in billions of billions.”

Trump also falsely credited the tariffs for economic growth in the first quarter of 2019, even though the majority of economists say the tariffs had nothing to do with strong GDP growth.

“This is a very positive step,” Trump said as the stock ticker continued showing a bloodbath in the markets. “I love the position we’re in.”

[Raw Story]

Trump praises ‘respected’ Hungary Dictator Viktor Orbán

At a press conference, the US president said Mr Orbán was “respected all over Europe” and had “kept [Hungary] safe”.

The conservative Hungarian premier is a controversial figure over his stances on immigration, press freedom and Russia.

Critics of the visit, including some Republicans, argue that Mr Orbán has eroded democracy in Hungary.

Why is Orbán visiting?

US officials say the two leaders had a private meeting aimed at strengthening American “re-engagement” in central Europe, and to negotiate trade deals in arms and energy.Hungary PM defiant as EU debates action

Orbán’s spokesman, Zoltán Kovács, said in a statement that both countries have “much that keeps us close”, including “Nato, security co-operation, energy security, migration, pro-family policies, and the protection of our Judeo-Christian heritage”.

Why is the visit controversial?

Mr Orbán is a divisive figure in European politics and has been criticised for moves to consolidate power and curb the power of the judiciary and media.

Like Mr Trump, he is tough on immigration.

Critics also worry about his desire to strengthen Hungary’s ties with Russia.

He has been shunned by US presidents in the past. He first visited in 2001 during his initial term as prime minister, but was refused a meeting with President Bush.

In a joint letter, several Democrat lawmakers condemned the visit, saying Mr Orbán “represents so many things that are antithetical to core American values”.

What did Trump and Orbán say?

Speaking to reporters, Mr Trump said: “I know he’s a tough man, but he’s a respected man, and he’s done the right thing, according to many people, on immigration.”

Mr Orbán, in response, said Hungary was “proud to stand together” with the US “on fighting illegal migration, on terrorism and protecting Christian communities all around the world”.

[BBC]

Trump says Kim Jong Un ‘knows that I am with him’ after North Korea fires tactical guided weapons

President Donald Trump said Saturday that a deal with North Korea ‘will happen,’ hours after the South Korean military said Pyongyang had fired new tactical guided weapons.

Trump said he believes Kim Jong Un will do nothing to interfere with the “great economic potential” of North Korea.

“He also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me,” Trump said. “Deal will happen!”

The South Korean military said Sunday that North Korea fired multiple rocket launchers including new tactical guided weapons. A military official told NBC News that Pyongyang did not launch ballistic missiles.

Seoul originally said the North had launched a single missile, but subsequently changed its language and said Pyongyang had launched several unidentified, short-range vertical objects.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the projectiles landed in the sea east of the Korean peninsula and never posed a threat to South Korea, Japan or the United States.

“We know that they were relatively short range and beyond that we know they weren’t intercontinental ballistic missiles either,” Pompeo said.

The South Korean president’s office said Seoul and Washington are sharing detailed information and analyzing the material used in the projectiles and what exactly they were.

“In particular, we do notice that North Korea’s action this time has taken place when the de-nuclearization dialogue is in lull state,” presidential spokeswoman Koh Min Jung said. “We do hope that North Korea would positively participate in efforts to resume the dialogue.”

A senior U.S. administration official told NBC News that National Security Advisor John Bolton had “fully briefed” Trump on the situation.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the administration is aware of North Korea’s actions: “We will continue to monitor as necessary,” she said.

In April, North Korea claimed to have “tested a powerful warhead” in the first public weapons test for the regime since Trump and Kim met for a historic summit in Singapore last year.

Trump and Kim held a second round of talks in Vietnam February of this year, but negotiations collapsed after Trump reportedly handed Kim a note demanding he turn over the North’s nuclear weapons and bomb fuel.

[CNBC]

Trump calls Putin and talks of ‘Russian hoax’

US President Donald Trump has said he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an hour-long call, covering issues including the “Russian hoax”.

“Had a long and very good conversation with President Putin,” the US president tweeted.

Mr Trump rebuked a reporter who asked whether he had warned Mr Putin against meddling in the 2020 elections.

It was the leaders’ first conversation since the Mueller report cleared Mr Trump of colluding with Russia.

The Kremlin confirmed in a statement the two had spoken, saying the call had been initiated by the White House.

Mr Trump and Mr Putin last spoke informally at December’s G20 Summit in Buenos Aires.

The US president tweeted on Friday about their latest conversation: “As I have always said, long before the Witch Hunt started, getting along with Russia, China, and everyone is a good thing not a bad thing.”

When asked in the White House on Friday whether he had warned Mr Putin that Moscow should not interfere in the next US presidential election, Mr Trump told the reporter she was “very rude”.

“We didn’t discuss that,” he said.

“Getting along with countries is a good thing and we want to have good relations with everybody.”

But the White House said the matter of alleged Russian meddling had been broached in the call.

[BBC]

Trump says he did not confront Putin on election interference in post-Mueller call


President Trump
 said he did not confront Russian President Vladimir Putinabout interfering in U.S. elections during a lengthy phone call earlier Friday, their first known conversation since the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office they briefly addressed the outcome of the report, but lashed out at NBC’s Kristen Welker who interjected to ask whether he warned Putin not to interfere, telling her “you are very rude.”

“We didn’t discuss that. Really, we didn’t discuss it,” Trump said when asked a second time, adding they instead “went into great detail” on issues such as Venezuela, North Korea and nuclear arms control.

Trump added that when the report was brought up, Putin “sort of smiled” and said “something to the effect that it started off being a mountain and ended up being a mouse.” 

The president said he agreed with Putin’s assessment of the Mueller report.

Trump addressed his conversation with Putin hours after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders informed reporters of the call, which she said lasted more than an hour.

Sanders said the two men discussed Mueller’s probe “very, very briefly” but dodged when asked if Trump addressed the subject of election interference.

“It was discussed essentially in the context of that it’s over and there was no collusion, which I’m pretty sure both leaders were well aware of long before this call took place,” she said. “Now they moved on to talk about those topics.”

Trump said the discussion was focused on brokering a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and possibly China, as well as the crisis in Venezuela and denuclearizing North Korea.

The president’s comments are sure to reignite criticism that he is not doing enough to counter Moscow’s attempts to meddle in elections. Those criticisms reached a fever pitch last summer when Trump failed to publicly confront Putin during a summit meeting about his government’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election.

Mueller’s 448-page report determined that Russia interfered in the 2016 election “in systematic fashion,” an effort that included a social media campaign and the release of stolen documents from key Democrats in order to help Trump.

The special counsel concluded there were multiple “Russian offers of assistance” to the Trump campaign and in some cases, the campaign was “receptive to the offer” but other times “campaign officials shied away.”

Trump has instead seized on Mueller’s finding that the Trump campaign and Moscow did not engage in a criminal conspiracy, claiming there was “no collusion” and calling the report a “complete and total exoneration.”

Members of Trump’s administration have cautioned that Russia still poses a real threat to the nation’s elections.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said last week that Russia is committed to interfering again in the 2020 contests, calling it a “significant counterterrorism threat.” But Trump has reportedly bristled at their warnings behind closed doors because he sees questions about Russian influence as undermining the legitimacy of his victory in 2016. 

Sanders defended the Trump’s handling of the Putin call and faulted former President Barack Obama for not doing enough to deter the interference campaign in 2016.

“We’re actually doing things to prevent everybody from meddling in our elections, something the other administration failed to do,” she told reporters later Friday. “The president’s been clear that no one needs to meddle in our election. He doesn’t need to do that every two seconds.”

[The Hill]

After Call, Trump Says Putin ‘Not Looking at All to Get Involved in Venezuela’

President Donald Trump spoke with Vladimir Putin today about a number of topics––apparently not Russian meddling, though––including Venezuela.

The United States recognizes Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela, and amid the uprising this week officials in the Trump administration have called out Russia’s role in helping prop up Nicolas Maduro.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed on CNN earlier this week that Maduro was ready to leave but was talked out of it by the Russians. (The Russian foreign ministry called this “fake news” in response.)

In an interview yesterday, Pompeo said, “The Cubans invaded some time ago; the Russians have now followed suit. The numbers of Cubans in the security apparatus alone are in the thousands. The Russians have people working over there in the hundreds, if not more. These are the folks who are actually controlling the direction of travel for Venezuela.”

Both John Bolton and Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan also called out Russia for propping up Maduro:

Trump said today Venezuela came up in his call with Putin:

“Venezuela was one of the topics. And he is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he’d like to see something positive happen in Venezuela, and I feel the same way.”

[Mediaite]

Stock Market Falls as Trump threatens tariffs on $11 billion of EU goods

U.S. stocks closed lower Tuesday, with the S&P 500 snapping its eight-day winning streak, on fears over escalation of trade tensions with the European Union and a weaker global outlook from the International Monetary Fund.

How did the benchmarks fare?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.72%  dropped 190.44 points, or 0.7%, to close at 26,150.58, while the S&P 500 index SPX, -0.61% fell 17.57 points. or 0.6%, to 2,878.20. The Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, -0.56% declined 44.61 points, or 0.6%, to 7,909.28.

What drove the market?

The office of the U.S. Trade Representative threatened to levy tariffs on many European goods late Monday. The threat is a retaliation against European companies’ subsidies for aircraft manufacturer Airbus SE EADSY, -1.82% If the U.S. follows through, the proposed tariffs would affect about $11 billion in imports to the U.S., including helicopters, bicycles, cheese and wine.

Lighthizer said the Trump administration would wait for World Trade Organization clearance to implement the duties. President Donald Trump Tuesday morning tweeted that the EU has taken advantage of the U.S., adding that it would “soon stop!”:

The U.S.-EU tensions comes with the administration reportedly close to resolving a yearlong spat with China, which has roiled markets amid fears the clash between the world’s largest economies could disrupt global economic growth.

The IMF lowered the outlook for global economic growth in 2019 to 3.3% from 3.5% projected in January, marking its third reduction of growth expectations in six months. The decline has been broadly felt, with all advanced economies, including the U.S., and most major emerging-market economies seeing deterioration in their outlook.

Meanwhile, data pointed to a tightening of the U.S. labor market. The number of job openings in the U.S. fell by 538,000 to 7.1 million on the last business day of February, marking the smallest number of job openings since March of 2018.

The National Federation of Independent Business’s small-business optimism index edged up 0.1 point to a seasonally adjusted 101.8, marking the third month in a row in a narrow range.

What were strategists saying?

“The tariff threat is probably what’s moving markets negatively,” Karen Cavanaugh, senior market strategist with Voya Investment Management, told MarketWatch, though she noted that tariffs being discussed are relatively small. “We’re in an information vacuum before earnings season, and right now any little thing could move markets until we get something substantial to sink our teeth into.”

“Sentiment in continental Europe is holding up well, considering the heightened tensions between Washington, D.C., and Brussels in relation to the threat of $11 billion worth of tariffs being imposed on European imports,” wrote David Madden, market analyst at CMC Markets, in a research note.

Which stocks were in focus?

Apple Inc. AAPL, -0.30%  surrendered early gains to fall 0.3%, bringing its nine-day win streak to a close as its effort to reclaim $1 trillion in market cap took a pause.

Shares of Wynn Resorts LtdWYNN, -3.86% dropped 3.9% after the company terminated talks to purchase Australia’s Crown Resorts.

Shares of Paris-listed Airbus SE AIR, -1.86%  were off 1.9% amid the U.S. tariff threat. U.S. listed shares EADSY, -1.82% also fell 1.8%.

Avaya Holdings CorpAVYA, +4.17% shares gained 4.2% after Bloomberg reported that the communications software company is organizing a sales process for the company, following the receipt of unsolicited bids.

General Electric CoGE, -2.85% shares slid 2.9% a day after J.P. Morgan analyst Stephen Tusa downgraded the stock.

Shares of American Airlines Group IncAAL, -1.68% fell 1.7% after the company cut its first quarter guidance.

How were other markets trading?

Markets in Asia closed on a mixed note, with Japan’s Nikkei 225 NIK, -0.61%adding 0.2%, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index HSI, -0.35% rising 0.3%, while the Shanghai Composite Index SHCOMP, -0.39% lost 0.2%. European stocks were lower, with the Stoxx Europe 600 SXXP, -0.47% down 0.5%.

In commodities markets, the price of oil CLK9, +0.19% retreated from five-month highs, while gold futures GCM9, -0.13% settled higher. The U.S. dollarDXY, +0.02% was mostly unchanged.

[MarketWatch]

Trump Overrules Own Experts on Sanctions, in Favor to North Korea

President Trump undercut his own Treasury Department on Friday with a sudden announcement that he had rolled back newly imposed North Korea sanctions, appearing to overrule national security experts as a favor to Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.

The move, announced on Twitter, was a remarkable display of dissension within the Trump administration. It created confusion at the highest levels of the federal government, just as the president’s aides were seeking to pressure North Korea into returning to negotiations over dismantling its nuclear weapons program.

“It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!”

The Treasury Department announced new sanctions on Friday against Iran and Venezuela, but not North Korea.

However, economic penalties were imposed on Thursday on two Chinese shipping companies suspected of helping North Korea evade international sanctions. Those penalties, announced with news releases and a White House briefing, were the first imposed against North Korea since late last year and came less than a month after a summit meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim collapsed in Hanoi, Vietnam, without a deal.

It was initially believed that Mr. Trump had confused the day that the North Korea sanctions were announced, and officials said they were caught off guard by the president’s tweet. Asked for clarification, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, declined to give specifics.

“President Trump likes Chairman Kim, and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary,” she said.

Hours later, two officials familiar with Mr. Trump’s thinking said the president was actually referring to additional North Korea sanctions that are under consideration but not yet formally issued.

That statement sought to soften the blow that Mr. Trump’s tweet had dealt to his most loyal aides. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, personally signed off on the sanctions that were issued on Thursday and hailed the decision in an accompanying statement.

“The United States and our like-minded partners remain committed to achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea,” Mr. Mnuchin said in the statement. He described the sanctions as part of an international campaign against North Korea that “is crucial to a successful outcome.”

Sanctions are one of America’s most powerful tools for pressuring rogue nations. Mr. Mnuchin has taken great pride in bolstering Treasury’s sanctions capacity and often says that he spends half of his time working on sanctions matters.

Tony Sayegh, a Treasury Department spokesman, referred questions about Friday’s sanctions confusion to the White House.

John R. Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, had also hailed the earlier action against North Korea in a tweet on Thursday: “Everyone should take notice and review their own activities to ensure they are not involved in North Korea’s sanctions evasion.”

Mr. Trump has been eager to strike a deal for North Korea to surrender its nuclear weapons arsenal and, in turn, hand him a signature foreign policy achievement that has eluded his predecessors. Hawks in the administration, such as Mr. Bolton, have been wary of trusting Mr. Kim despite Mr. Trump’s professed strong personal connection to the North Korean leader.

Last month, Mr. Trump was criticized for defending Mr. Kim over the death of Otto F. Warmbier, an American college student who died in 2017 after being imprisoned in North Korea. Mr. Trump said he believed Mr. Kim’s claim that he was not aware of Mr. Warmbier’s medical condition.

But in recent weeks there have been increasing signs that the thawing relations between the two countries could again turn frosty.

This month, a vice foreign minister of North Korea, Choe Son-hui, accused Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mr. Bolton of creating an “atmosphere of hostility and mistrust” despite the chemistry between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim.

In another sign of hardening on Friday, North Korea withdrew its stafffrom the joint liaison office it has operated with South Korea since September. The office was viewed as a potential first step toward the Koreas establishing diplomatic missions in each other’s capitals. But North Korea has expressed frustration with how South Korea has been handling its role as a mediator with the United States.

The talks between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim broke down because North Korea wanted the United States to roll back some of its most economically painful sanctions without the North immediately dismantling its nuclear program.

As the linchpin of the global financial system, the United States relies on sanctions as one of its most powerful tools for international diplomacy. Officials at the Treasury and State Departments, including career staff members and political appointees, spend months carefully drafting sanctions based on intensive intelligence gathering and legal research.

The North Korea sanctions were no different, and the White House held a formal briefing on Thursday afternoon to explain the rationale behind the actions.

During the briefing, senior administration officials pushed back on the idea that the sanctions sought to increase pressure on North Korea. Instead, they said, the new measures were meant to maintain the strength of existing sanctions.

But one of the senior administration officials strongly rebutted any suggestion that the administration would ease some sanctions as confidence building, or in return for smaller steps by North Korea.

“It would be a mistake to interpret the policy as being one of a step by step approach, where we release some sanctions in return for piecemeal steps toward denuclearization” said the administration official, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity. “That is not a winning formula and it is not the president’s strategy.”

While it is not unusual for the White House to have comment and even final approval of major sanctions, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have expressed doubts about Mr. Trump’s ability to execute sanctions policy responsibly.

In 2017, Congress passed legislation imposing sanctions on Russia and limiting the president’s authority to lift them. Under pressure from his own party, Mr. Trump reluctantly signed the bill.

The reversal on the North Korea sanctions drew swift condemnation on Friday from Democrats, who accused the president of being reckless with national security.

“Career experts at the Treasury Department undertake a painstaking process before imposing sanctions,” said Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee. “For Donald Trump to overturn their decision via tweet because he has an inexplicable fondness for one of the world’s most brutal dictators is appalling.”

He added, “Without a well-conceived diplomatic strategy, Trump is simply undermining our national security by making clear that the United States is not a trusted foreign policy partner.”

Some Republicans also pushed back against the president, with Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado saying that North Korea sanctions should be imposed. “Strategic Patience failed,” he tweeted. “Don’t repeat it.”

Mr. Trump’s decision stunned current and former Treasury Department officials, some of whom wondered if the move was planned in advance as a gesture to Mr. Kim. Others feared that America’s vaunted sanctions regime had been compromised.

“For an administration that continues to surprise, this is another first — the president of the United States undercutting his own sanctions agency for imposing sanctions on Chinese actors supporting North Korea,” said John E. Smith, the former director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, who left the department last year. “It’s a win for North Korea and China and a loss for U.S. credibility.”

Sarah Bloom Raskin, who was deputy Treasury secretary under President Barack Obama, said the sudden backtracking on a decision that would normally be made with comment from intelligence agencies and the National Security Council was perplexing.

“Reversing sanctions decisions within hours of making the announcement that you would impose them in the first place is a head-spinner,” she said. “This reversal signals the injection of some peripheral consideration or factor that only the president seems to know about and that may have nothing to do with national security.”

The Trump administration did issue some new sanctions on Friday. The Treasury Department announced sanctions against Iran, targeting a research and development unit that it believes could be used to restart the country’s nuclear weapons program. It also imposed sanctions on Bandes, Venezuela’s national development bank, and its subsidiaries, as part of its effort to topple the government of President Nicolás Maduro.

[The New York Times]

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