Rex Tillerson: a rocky road with Trump that ended with a surprise firing

The secretary of state had known a battle was brewing – but he had survived similar clashes with the president before

Rex Tillerson’s last significant act as secretary of state was characteristically out of tune with the White House.

Donald Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Sanders had avoided any blame of Russia for the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain, but minutes later Tillerson issued his own statement, which was definitive in supporting the UK assessment that Moscow was behind the attack.

Continue reading…

Trump-Kim talks: US signals hardline stance as it scrambles to define position

Donald Trump will take a hardline position at his planned summit with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the White House said on Friday, as US officials scrambled to keep pace with the president after his sudden acceptance of Kim’s offer to talk.

In briefings after the surprise announcement – which would be the first ever meeting of leaders of the two countries – US officials made no mention of possible concessions that Trump might offer, other than saying that severe sanctions would stay in place until North Korea took verifiable steps to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme.

At the daily White House briefing, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders even cast doubt on Trump’s acceptance of the offer of a summit, suggesting it was dependent on preconditions.

“Let’s be very clear. The United States has made zero concessions but North Korea has made some promises. This meeting won’t take place without concrete actions that match the promises that have been made by North Korea.”

Sanders did not specify what actions the US required Pyongyang to take, and whether the demands amounted to more than the requirement of a pause in missile and nuclear testing, which Pyongyang appears to have already agreed to.

The White House later appeared to minimise the impact of Sanders’ remarks, with one official telling the Wall Street Journal: “The invitation has been extended and accepted, and that stands.”

Later, on Friday evening, Trump added to the confusion with a tweet about the meeting in which he added a qualifying phrase: “if completed”.

Donald J. Trump
(@realDonaldTrump)

The deal with North Korea is very much in the making and will be, if completed, a very good one for the World. Time and place to be determined.

March 10, 2018

The speed of events had Trump’s administration scrambling to keep up with the president. Thursday’s announcement appeared to have taken some senior US officials unawares: the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was travelling in Africa, and had told reporters – while the South Korean delegation was in the White House conveying the offer – that talks with the North were a distant prospect.

Tillerson said on Friday that the US had been taken aback at Kim’s “forward-leaning” approach but described the outcome as a success for the US policy of severe sanctions executed by the state department. He said Trump had made the decision himself after determining the time was right for “talks” but not formal negotiations.

The vice-president, Mike Pence, said that Kim’s invitation to suspend nuclear tests and meet the US president proved that Trump’s strategy was working.

The North Koreans “are coming to the table despite the United States making zero concessions and, in close coordination with our allies, we have consistently increased the pressure on the Kim regime”, Pence said in a statement.

“Our resolve is undeterred and our policy remains the same: all sanctions remain in place and the maximum pressure campaign will continue until North Korea takes concrete, permanent, and verifiable steps to end their nuclear program.”

Q&A

Why does the North Korean regime pursue a nuclear programme?

Much of the regime’s domestic legitimacy rests on portraying the country as under constant threat from the US and its regional allies, South Korea and Japan.

To support the claim that it is in Washington’s crosshairs, North Korea cites the tens of thousands of US troops lined up along the southern side of the demilitarised zone – the heavily fortified border dividing the Korean peninsula. Faced with what it says are US provocations, North Korea says it has as much right as any other state to develop a nuclear deterrent.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un is also aware of the fate of other dictators who lack nuclear weapons.

Thank you for your feedback.

Reacting to the announcement of the summit, the Chinese and Japanese governments have echoed the US line that there would be no let-up in the economic pressure on North Korea until Pyongyang began to dismantle its nuclear weapons and missiles programmes.


North Korea must ‘match words with concrete actions’, says South – video

It remained unclear if Kim is prepared to limit his arsenal and what he might require in return for doing so. Pyongyang had not commented officially on the summit plans since they were revealed by a South Korean delegation on Thursday night.

A previous deal, the 1994 Agreed Framework, involved deliveries of fuel oil and the promise to build civilian nuclear reactors for North Korea. But Kim has consistently demanded an end to what Pyongyang calls Washington’s “hostile policies” which involve its military presence on and around the Korean peninsula and joint exercises with its ally, South Korea.

Rex Tillerson, arriving in Djibouti on Friday, appeared to be caught on the hop by news of the North Korea talks as he toured Africa.



Rex Tillerson, arriving in Djibouti on Friday, appeared to be caught on the hop by news of the North Korea talks as he toured Africa. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/AFP/Getty Images

Tillerson said it will take “some weeks” to arrange the timing for their meeting. US officials said that no time or place had been agreed. Bilateral talks in the past have been conducted in Geneva, New York and Beijing, but those involved diplomats. Kim Jong-un has not ventured outside North Korea since inheriting power from his father in 2011.

A strong possibility as a venue would be the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas, a backdrop that would only add to the drama of an extraordinary encounter.

In the coming weeks, the Trump administration will have to develop a negotiating strategy almost from scratch. Former officials have said that while much time and effort had gone into designing and enforcing sanctions, and planning military options, almost none had been devoted to putting together a plan for negotiation.

The US special envoy for North Korean policy, Joseph Yun, left his post last week, depriving the administration of the single diplomat who had been in contact with North Korea. He had been contemplating retirement for some time, one of his colleagues said, but would have stayed on if he felt the White House had been interested in his efforts.

The state department has been cut out of the loop on several critical moments in the evolution of administration policy on North Korea.

Leadership on Korean policy has shifted to the White House. A likely key figure in the weeks running up to a summit is Allison Hooker, the only official left in the administration with firsthand experience of North Korea.

She travelled there in 2014 when she was director for Korean affairs at the national security council and accompanied the US intelligence chief, James Clapper, to Pyongyang to negotiate the release of American detainees.

You can stick it: protest posters in the age of Trump – in pictures

This paper-cut artwork by Zierlein, a German illustrator based in Northampton, Massachusetts, was inspired by the 2017 US Senate
vote to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren’s objections to confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions as US attorney general. Following the vote, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted”

Donald Trump Jr cancels US foreign policy speech in India

A scheduled speech by Donald Trump Jr on US foreign policy in India has been abruptly changed to a “fireside chat” hours before the address was supposed to begin in Delhi.

The 15-minute speech was initially called “Reshaping Indo-Pacific ties: the new era of cooperation”, but the title was amended on the website of the business conference to remove any reference to a topic.

Trump Jr was interviewed instead by the journalist Supriya Shrinate about his experiences as the son of the US president and his views on India’s business culture.

Ethics watchdogs and Democratic lawmakers had questioned why Trump Jr, who has been in India since Tuesday touring properties licensed by the Trump Organization, was discussing US foreign policy on what was ostensibly a business trip by a private citizen.

The US state department and the US embassy in Delhi have denied any involvement in the speech or knowledge of its contents.

Organisers of the business summit, which was also addressed by India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, and several cabinet ministers, did not respond to questions about why the topic and format of Trump’s appearance had been changed.

Trump Jr told the audience of about 2,000 people he rarely talked politics with his father any more. “We see him so little that when we’re together it’s really about being a family,” he said.

Asked about corruption in India, his response – “There’s an entrepreneurial spirit here … that’s different to elsewhere in the world” – drew laughter from the crowd.

Trump stressed he was “here as a businessman, not representing anyone”.

The New Jersey senator, Bob Menendez, said earlier this week his visit could send the “mistaken message” that he was speaking on behalf of the US government.

In a letter to Kenneth Juster, the new US ambassador to India, Menendez said he expected the US state deparment and the embassy in Delhi to “treat Mr Trump no differently than it would any other American individual visiting on private business, and will take every effort to avoid any perception of special treatment or a conflict of interest”.

He asked whether US officials would have any role in a dinner hosted by Trump Jr on Friday with investors in a Trump Organization-licensed project in Gurgaon, a city about an hour’s drive from Delhi.

One partner in the project boasted that the visit, announced in front-page advertisements in national newspapers, had generated around $15m (£10.7m) in sales for the project.

At least one journalist allowed to interview Trump Jr said they were given strict instructions that political questions were off limits, and that minders had blocked several questions about his father.

Trump Jr spoke of his frustration at not being able to do new business deals, a measure his father imposed to avoid conflicts of interest, but which ethics lawyers say does not sufficiently isolate Trump’s policy decisions from his finances.

“When we’re out of politics, I think we will get some credit for it and will be welcomed again with open arms,” Trump Jr said.

The Trump Organization has licensed its name to four other projects in Gurgaon, Pune, Kolkata and Mumbai.

Trump Jr has no official role in the Trump administration and took the reins of the family company, with his brother Eric, after their father was inaugurated.

The Guardian view on Theresa May’s Munich speech: partnership should be indivisible | Editorial

Britain is offering commitment and cooperation to Europe on security and intelligence. It should do the same in its Brexit strategy

Theresa May and Angela Merkel speak in Berlin on 16 February 2018






Theresa May and Angela Merkel speak in Berlin on 16 February 2018. ‘Theresa May is in every context except Brexit a traditional multilateralist.’ Photograph: Markus Schreiber/AP

A year ago, the annual Munich security conference – the most important gathering of international defence chiefs and ministers in the calendar – met to debate the proposition: “Post-truth, post-West, post-Order?” A year on, this weekend’s Munich conference has a new theme: “To the Brink – and Back?” The sense of relief implicit in the difference between the 2017 and the 2018 themes is unmistakeable and, to an extent, justifiable. The Trump administration has not, after all, trashed everything in the policymakers’ world, as it threatened to do 12 months ago. Explosions in relations with Iran, North Korea and even China have been averted, for now. Washington has not so far rolled over in the face of Russian aggression in eastern Europe. The so-called Islamic State has been pushed back, for the moment. The insurgent political tide that swept the US and the UK in 2016 has mostly been kept at bay elsewhere.

Yet while the worst may have been avoided, genuine positives are thin on the ground. Global confrontations continue and in some cases – the Middle East, for example – to deteriorate dangerously. The alliances that exist to control and resist them are still in shock at the Trump effect. Theresa May is in every context except Brexit a traditional multilateralist. She will certainly give a less thoroughly provocative speech at the Munich conference on Saturday than the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, did at the same venue 12 months ago, when he ludicrously described Brexit as a national “liberation”. Yet, viewed from elsewhere in Europe, Mrs May still leads a country that, by voting for Brexit, has made a serious contribution to the problem of instability, not one that is playing a reliable role in solving it.

Mrs May’s rhetorical answer is the mantra that Britain is leaving the European Union but not leaving Europe. Her visit to Angela Merkel in Berlin on Friday and her appearance at the Munich conference are designed to underpin that message and to make it a springboard for her Brexit strategy. Britain, Mrs May says, is fully committed to European cooperation, through Nato and in other ways, to deal with common threats to security. She will cite the fact that British troops are on the frontline against Russia in Estonia, that she has just pledged a new support role with France in the Sahel, that planned troop withdrawals from Germany are now being reexamined, and that the UK is a heavy-hitting and reliable partner in intelligence sharing and police coordination.

Security and intelligence have now been placed squarely in the vanguard of Mrs May’s political effort to persuade the rest of Europe that Britain remains a reliable and committed post-Brexit partner. The head of MI6, Alex Younger, appeared in Munich on Friday with his French and German counterparts to commit themselves to cross-border information sharing. His predecessor Sir John Sawers and the former GCHQ chief Robert Hannigan took to the media with a similar message. And the prime minister will cap this all off on Saturday in a speech that repeatedly urges closer cooperation with Europe and proposes a new UK-EU security treaty.

There are things to welcome here. After a grim two years of government negativity about the EU, it is a relief to hear the prime minister praising the union and being practical about it. Yet it is hard to see what EU partners are supposed to make of a prime minister who embraces the union at one moment then turns her back on it the rest of the time. The one thing that she could do to make her protestations more credible is to bolster it with a soft Brexit strategy. But this, disastrously, is the one thing she is terrified of doing.

The best signs from the Women’s March in London – in pictures

[unable to retrieve full-text content]

US government shutdown: anniversary of Trump inauguration marred by chaos

A year to the day after Trump took office, government goes into shutdown as nationwide protests take aim at his divisive presidency

Federal workers were told to stay home after the White House and Congress failed to pass a government spending bill.






Federal workers were told to stay home after the White House and Congress failed to pass a government spending bill.
Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s first anniversary in office was marked by the turbulence and division that have defined his presidency, with a government shutdown and protests in cities across the country.

Up to 800,000 federal workers were told to stay home after the White House and Congress failed to strike a compromise on a government spending bill. Workers deemed essential and armed forces personnel were asked to stay at work. If the shutdown continues, they will likely go unpaid.

Armed services personnel abroad got their first taste of the looming cuts on Saturday when they were told they would not be able to watch Sunday’s NFL playoff games because the armed forces broadcasting network had shut down.

With crisis talks under way, Trump cancelled a trip to his Florida retreat at Mar-a-Lago, where he had hoped to celebrate his year in office at a gala dinner.

Instead, as protesters marked their own anniversary of major anti-Trump demonstrations outside the White House and in other major cities, the president stayed in Washington, firing off angry tweets.

Quick guide

All you need to know about the US government shutdown

What is a government shutdown?

When the US Congress fails to pass appropriate funding for government operations and agencies, a shutdown is triggered. Most government services are frozen, barring those that are deemed “essential”, such as the work of the Department of Homeland Security and FBI. During a shutdown, nearly 40% of the government workforce is placed on unpaid furlough and told not to work. Many, but not all, are non-defense federal employees. Active duty military personnel are not furloughed.

Why is the government poised to shut down?

Members of Congress are at an impasse over what should be included in a spending bill to keep the government open. Democrats have insisted any compromise must also include protections for the nearly 700,000 young, undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, who were brought to the US as children.

The Dreamers, who were granted temporary legal status under Barack Obama, were newly exposed to the threat of deportation when Donald Trump moved to rescind their protections in September.

Trump and Republicans have argued immigration is a separate issue and can be dealt with at a later time.

How common is a shutdown?

There have been 12 government shutdowns in the US since 1981, although ranging in duration. The longest occurred under Bill Clinton, lasting a total of 21 days from December 1995 to January 1996, when the then House speaker, Newt Gingrich, demanded sharp cuts to government programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and welfare.

The most recent shutdown transpired under Obama in 2013, pitting the president against the Republican-led House of Representatives. Republicans refused to support a spending bill that included funding for Obama’s healthcare law, resulting in a 16-day shutdown that at its peak affected 850,000 federal employees.

What would be the cost of a shutdown?

A government shutdown would cost the US roughly $6.5bn a week, according to a report by S&P Global analysts. “A disruption in government spending means no government paychecks to spend; lost business and revenue to private contractors; lost sales at retail shops, particularly those that circle now-closed national parks; and less tax revenue for Uncle Sam,” the report stated. “That means less economic activity and fewer jobs.”

Nearly 1 million people would not receive regular paychecks in the event of a shutdown. In previous shutdowns, furloughed employees have been paid retrospectively – but those payments have often been delayed.

Sabrina Siddiqui


Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images North America
Thank you for your feedback.

Trump sought to blame Democrats for the shutdown, claiming they were putting immigrants before other Americans.

Democrats blamed Trump, for walking away from a compromise over the future of young undocumented migrants known as Dreamers. They pointed out that the shutdown, the first since October 2013, was the first when one party controlled all three branches of government.

Trump, who had intended to celebrate the anniversary at Mar-a-Lago, remained in Washington on Saturday.



Trump, who had intended to celebrate the anniversary at Mar-a-Lago, remained in Washington on Saturday. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

At a press conference, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi alluded to a tweet Trump wrote in May 2017, saying a shutdown would be good for the country.

“Happy anniversary Mr President, your wish came true,” Pelosi said. “You won the shutdown. The shutdown is all yours.”

Addressing the House, Republican speaker Paul Ryan

said: “Senate Democrats refuse to fund the government unless we agree to their demands on something entirely unrelated. They want a deal on immigration. And then they’ll think about reopening the government.”

Saturday’s talks were focused on passing a stopgap spending measure. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump was being updated and had been in touch with Republican leaders.

“The president will not negotiate on immigration reform until Democrats stop playing games and reopen the government,” Sanders said.

At a White House briefing, director of legislative affairs Marc Short did signal a concession when he said Trump would sign a resolution that would keep the government funded for three weeks. The spending bill rejected by the Senate late Friday night would have kept the government open for four.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca), Obama-era legislation that allowed approximately 700,000 Dreamers to stay in the country, is set to expire on 5 March after being rescinded by Trump. Democrats have refused to support any spending bill that does not restore such protection.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, said in a statement he believed a continuing resolution “through 8 February” and a commitment to “seek resolution on immigration, disaster relief, military and government funding, Chip [children’s health insurance], and other healthcare related issues” would pass the upper chamber.

Quick guide

What now for Daca and the Dreamers?

Who are the Dreamers?

Dreamers are young immigrants who would qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (Daca) program, enacted under Barack Obama in 2012. Most people in the program entered the US as children and have lived in the US for years “undocumented”. Daca gave them temporary protection from deportation and work permits. Daca was only available to people younger than 31 on 15 June 2012, who arrived in the US before turning 16 and lived there continuously since June 2007. Most Dreamers are from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and the largest numbers live in California, Texas, Florida and New York. Donald Trump cancelled the program in September but has also said repeatedly he wants Congress to develop a program to “help” the population.

What will happen to the Dreamers?

Under the Trump administration, new applications under Daca will no longer be accepted. For those currently in the program, their legal status and other Daca-related permits (such as to work and attend college) will begin expiring in March 2018 – unless Congress passes legislation allowing a new channel for temporary or permanent legal immigration status – and Dreamers will all lose their status by March 2020.

Technically, as their statuses lapse they could be deported and sent back to countries many have no familiarity with. It is still unclear whether this would happen. Fear had been rising in the run-up to last week’s announcement. Those with work permits expiring between 5 September 2017 and 5 March 2018 will be allowed to apply for renewal by 5 October.

What does this week’s ruling by Judge William Alsup mean?

In his ruling, Alsup ordered the Trump administration to restart the program, allowing Daca recipients who already qualify for the program to submit applications for renewal.

However, he said the federal government did not have to process new applications from people who had not previously received protection under the program.

When the Trump administration ended the Daca program, it allowed Daca recipients whose legal status expired on or before 5 March to renew their legal status. Roughly 22,000 recipients failed to successfully renew their legal status for various reasons.

Legal experts and immigration advocates are advising Daca recipients not to file for renewal until the administration provides more information about how it intends to comply with the ruling.

“These next days and weeks are going to create a lot of confusion on the legal front,” said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, which has filed a separate lawsuit against the Trump administration’s termination of Daca.

Thank you for your feedback.

But Short said Senate Democrats were “basically conducting a two-year-old temper tantrum in front of the American people” and said: “We will not negotiate the status of 690,000 unlawful immigrants while hundreds of millions of tax-paying Americans, including hundreds of thousands of our troops in uniform and border agents protecting our country, are held hostage by Senate Democrats.”

White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney accused Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer of lying about his Friday meeting with Trump.

Trump and Schumer shared a cheeseburger lunch at the White House. The president reportedly agreed to more time for a deal on Dreamers in return for more defence spending, funding for a border wall and tougher enforcement of immigration law.

But the deal began to fray over the duration of the stopgap and the toughness of immigration provisions and John Kelly, the White House chief of staff and an immigration hardliner, called Schumer to kill the talks.

On Saturday, Schumer said dealing with President Trump was “like negotiating with Jello”, later adding that this was “because he can’t stick to the terms.”

Schumer’s No 2 in the Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said a bipartisan group of senators had been on the cusp of an agreement late on Friday, only for Ryan to inform his counterparts in the Senate that House Republicans would not agree to it.

AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, insisted in an email the speaker and McConnell had been “in communication and full agreement throughout”.

The Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey said Republicans had ceded their negotiating position to a bloc of hardline House conservatives.

“I was not elected to genuflect to the Freedom Caucus,” Casey said, before walking to the floor to vote down the funding measure that passed the House on Thursday.

People participate in the second annual Women’s March in Washington.



People participate in the second annual Women’s March in Washington. Photograph: Aaron P Bernstein/Reuters

By Saturday morning, it appeared the White House had calculated that by making Daca non-negotiable, the Democrats had made themselves vulnerable to blame.

“Democrats are far more concerned with illegal immigrants than they are with our great military or safety at our dangerous southern border,” one presidential tweet said. “They could have easily made a deal but decided to play Shutdown politics instead.”

In a CNN poll, 31% blamed Democrats for the shutdown, 26% blamed Republicans and 21% held Trump responsible. Although a plurality blamed Republicans and there is broad support for protecting Dreamers, a majority thought it was more important to avoid a shutdown.

On Capitol Hill, there was some optimism. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, said there was “certainly a real possibility [of a deal] if there’s good faith on both sides”.

In the White House’s view, Friday night saw “the first real serious negotiations about this [spending bill] which only happened because of the vote result”.

Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican, said Democrats “may have wanted to bring out their Trump posters for a couple of days, show their extreme elements of the party that they were with them”.