Trump Meets with World Leaders

United States President Donald Trump and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzō Abe Photo courtesy of Business Insider)

US President Donald Trump began his diplomatic debut speaking by phone Saturday with world leaders — most significantly Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Japan’s Shinzo Abe and Germany’s Angela Merkel. This is in addition to his first meeting with a foreign leader as president the day before, when he hosted British Prime Minister Theresa May.

The world held its breath during President Trump’s meeting with May as president, not only because it was a major test for an untested politician on the global stage, but since it was only a day before that he had soured his diplomatic relations with Mexico’s president on Twitter. The conversation was described as “warm, free flowing and unscripted,” by a source on May’s team. The leaders not only discussed their “shared admiration” of Reagan and Thatcher, but also Brexit, Russia, and the NATO military alliance. Trump told May he believed Brexit would be “a wonderful thing” for her country– adding, “You’re going to have your own identity and you’re going to be able to make your own trade deals without having someone watching you”.

On Saturday, Trump discussed diplomatic relations through a series of phone calls with five world leaders. The 50-minute call with Russian president, Vladimir Putin, covered topics ranging from stabilizing relations and restoring trade ties to the threat of radical Islamic terrorism and situations in Ukraine and the Koreas. According to the Kremlin, the two agreed to develop relations ‘as equals’ and to establish ‘real coordination’ against the Islamic State group in Syria. The call ended with plans to begin preparations for a face-to-face meeting. At his first White House news conference, Trump emphasized his willingness to work with Russia saying, “We’re looking to have a great relationship with Russia and China and all countries, I’m all for that.” The Kremlin, however, lowered expectations, suggesting Putin was calling as a matter of protocol to congratulate the US leader on his inauguration.

President Trump also spoke to German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Trump and Merkel agreed on the “fundamental importance” of NATO and made plans for an in-person visit soon. Merkel, however, declined to comment on Trump’s remarks over her refugee policy in which he said she made “one very catastrophic mistake”.
Trump and Abe spoke on the subject of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which the U.S withdrew from after Trump’s signing of its executive order. Trump had vowed to do so during the campaign since it was harmful to American workers and manufacturing. The pair arranged a meeting in Washington for February 10th.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described his conversation with President Trump as frank, constructive, and practical. He told his nation, “We discussed the vital importance of the United States’ continued strong presence in our region.” Trump also spoke French president Francois Hollande, a leader who has been critical of him since their past calls last November. For instance, Hollande insisted Europe must oppose Trump with a “firm” response, adding that Trump would be a “challenge” for Europe’s leaders.

Trump’s earlier calls were placed to the leaders of Mexico and Israel. Trump and Mexican president, Pena Nieto said their call was productive, implying that tensions had fallen, but they stood their ground on their positions. There was no indication that they had resolved their disagreements over important issues such as Trump’s order to build a border wall—and who should pay for it. Trump said his phone call with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu was “very nice”. The two leaders discussed the Iran nuclear agreement, the process with the Palestinians and other subjects. The conversation lasted less than 30-minutes with plans to meet in person next month.

As President Trump continues his diplomatic agenda, the calls are an early as well as crucial opportunity to explain new policies that have preoccupied much of the rest of the world—especially his executive order to pause all refugees and travelers from mainly Muslim countries temporarily.