Seoul, Jun 3 (AP/UNB) — The Pentagon has told the White House to stop politicizing the military, amid a furor over a Trump administration order to have the Navy ship named for the late U.S. Sen. John McCain hidden from view during President Donald Trump's recent visit to Japan.
Trump's top aide scoffed at the idea that anyone working for the White House might be punished. "We think it's much ado about nothing."
A U.S. defense official said Patrick Shanahan, Trump's acting defense chief, is also considering sending out formal guidance to military units in order to avoid similar problems in the future.
Shanahan confirmed details about a Navy email that said the White House military office wanted the USS John McCain kept "out of sight" when Trump was in Japan about a week ago. The internal Navy email came to light last week, triggering a storm of outrage.
Trump, who long feuded with McCain, has said he knew nothing about the request, but added that "somebody did it because they thought I didn't like him, OK? And they were well-meaning, I will say."
Shanahan told reporters traveling with him to South Korea on Sunday that he is not planning to seek an investigation by the Pentagon's internal watchdog into the matter "because there was nothing carried out" by the Navy. He added that he still needs to gather more information about exactly what happened and what service members did.
"How did the people receiving the information — how did they treat it," Shanahan said. "That would give me an understanding on the next steps" to take.
Shanahan did not detail what those steps could be, but a defense official said Shanahan is considering a clearer directive to the military about avoiding political situations. The goal would be to ensure there is less ambiguity about how the military should support VIP events and how service members should respond to such political requests, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Shanahan also said that he spoke with McCain's wife, Cindy, a few days ago. He declined to provide any details.
The order to keep the Navy destroyer out of sight reflected what appeared to be an extraordinary White House effort to avoid offending an unpredictable president known for holding a grudge, including a particularly bitter one against McCain.
Trump's acting chief of staff, in appearances on two Sunday news shows in the U.S., said he did not expect anyone working for the White House to face discipline. "To think that you're going to get fired over this is silly," said Mick Mulvaney, making the comparison to someone who tries to sit bickering colleagues apart from each other at an office meeting.
"The fact that some 23- or 24-year-old person on the advance team went to that site and said 'Oh my goodness, there's the John McCain, we all know how the president feels about the former senator, maybe that's not the best backdrop, can somebody look into moving it?' That's not an unreasonable thing to ask," Mulvaney said.
The McCain incident has dogged Shanahan throughout his weeklong trip to Asia, even as he tried to deal with critical national security issues involving the eroding U.S. relationship with China and the continuing threat from North Korea.
Shanahan, who has been serving in an acting capacity since the first of the year, has yet to be formally nominated by Trump as permanent defense chief. His speech to a major national security conference in Singapore on Saturday was a chance to audition for the job on the international stage.
A formal nomination has been expected, and Congress members have said they believe there will be a hearing on his nomination in the next month or so. The McCain issue is sure to come up, but it's not clear how it may affect either his nomination or confirmation by the Senate. It may well depend on what steps he takes to respond to the matter in the coming days.
According to Shanahan spokesman Lt. Col. Joseph Buccino, Shanahan told his chief of staff on Friday to speak with the White House military office "and reaffirm his mandate that the department of defense will not be politicized." Buccino said the chief of staff reported back that he delivered the message.
Asked what he has learned about the incident so far, Shanahan said he was told that despite the White House request, the Navy did not move the ship and that a barge that was in front of it was moved before Trump arrived. He said that a tarp that had been draped over the ship's name was removed, but that it was put there for maintenance, not to obscure its identity.
Asked directly if members of his senior staff were aware of the White House request before the president's visit, Shanahan said he's been told they did not know. He also has said he was not aware of the request and that he would never have authorized it.
What is still unclear, however, is who at the Pentagon may have known about the request and either agreed with it or chose not to discourage it. It's also not clear whether Navy leaders deliberately chose the McCain crew as one of the ships to be on holiday leave during Trump's visit, or if other measures were taken to ensure that the McCain was not visible from where the president stood when he arrived on the USS Wasp to make remarks.
The warship , commissioned in 1994, was originally named for the senator's father and grandfather, both Navy admirals named John Sidney McCain. Last year, the Navy rededicated the ship to honor the senator as well.
Bellinzona, Jun 3 (AP/UNB) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that the Trump administration is ready for unconditional discussions with Iran in an effort to ease rising tensions that have sparked fears of conflict. But the United States will not relent in trying to pressure the Islamic Republic to change its behavior in the Middle East, America's top diplomat said.
Pompeo repeated long-standing U.S. accusations that Iran is bent on destabilizing the region, but he also held out the possibility of talks as President Donald Trump has suggested. Trump himself had raised the idea of talks "without preconditions" in July 2018, although that was well before tensions had reached their current point.
In the 11 months since then, the U.S. has imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, first in November and then again last month, targeting the most lucrative sectors of its economy. The action has drawn Iran's ire and strong words of threatened retaliation.
Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, said the U.S. must return to the historic 2015 nuclear deal, which Trump withdrew from in May 2018. He was quoted by Iran's state-run IRNA news agency as saying that if the U.S. "realizes that the way it chose was incorrect, then we can sit at the negotiating table and solve any problem." Otherwise, he said, Iran has no choice but resistance.
While the latest offer may not pan out, Pompeo made it during a visit to Switzerland, the country that long has represented American interests in Iran, as part of a European trip aimed at assuring wary leaders that the U.S. is not eager for war .
"We're prepared to engage in a conversation with no preconditions," Pompeo told reporters at a news conference with his Swiss counterpart. "We're ready to sit down with them, but the American effort to fundamentally reverse the malign activity of this Islamic Republic, this revolutionary force, is going to continue."
Iran's foreign minister dismissed Trump's invitation for Iranian officials to contact him about possible talks.
"It's not very likely because talking is the continuation of the process of pressure. He is imposing pressure. This may work in a real estate market. It does not work in dealing with Iran," Javad Zarif told ABC's "This Week."
Separate from Pompeo's remarks about Iran, The Washington Post reported Sunday that the American secretary of state recently told a private gathering of Jewish leaders in New York that the administration's long-awaited Mideast peace plan might be argued to be "unexecutable" and might not "gain traction." Citing an audio recording of the remarks delivered Tuesday, the Post reported that Pompeo expressed his hope that the peace deal isn't simply dismissed out of hand.
The plan that Trump has called "the deal of the century" has been delayed several times, as Pompeo noted to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Downplaying expectations for finding the key to an agreement ending the conflict, he told the group there are "no guarantees that we're the ones that unlock it."
In Switzerland, Pompeo's meeting with Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis in the southern Swiss town of Bellinzona came amid concerns about the potential for escalation and miscalculation with Iran — a situation that has many in Europe and the Middle East on edge.
Cassis, whose country has been an intermediary between the two before, made no secret of that nervousness.
"The situation is very tense. We are fully aware, both parties are fully aware, of this tension. Switzerland, of course, wishes there is no escalation, no escalation to violence," he said. "Both parties are now increasing the pressure, and for the rest this is a matter of worry, but we cannot do anything unless we get a mandate from both parties."
Cassis said Switzerland would be pleased to serve as an intermediary, but not a "mediator," between the United States and Iran. To do so, however, would require requests from both sides, he said.
Neither he nor Pompeo would say if such requests had been made of the Swiss.
Pompeo thanked Switzerland, which serves as the "protecting power" for the United States in Iran, for looking after Americans detained there. Trump administration officials have suggested they would look positively at any move to release at least five American citizens and at least two permanent U.S. residents currently imprisoned in Iran.
Pompeo declined to comment on whether he had made a specific request to the Swiss about the detainees. But, he said the release of unjustly jailed Americans in Iran and elsewhere is a U.S. priority.
Pompeo was in Switzerland on the second leg after Germany of a four-nation tour of Europe in which he is both trying to calm nerves and stressing that the U.S. will defend itself and not relent in raising pressure on Iran with economic sanctions.
Despite the firm stance, Trump has signaled a willingness to talk with Iran's leadership. Iranian officials have hinted at the possibility but also insisted they will not be bulled.
"If they want to talk, I'm available," Trump said last week, even as Pompeo and the White House national security adviser, John Bolton, were stepping up warnings that any attack on American interests by Iran or its proxies would draw a rapid and significant U.S. response.
The U.S. is sending hundreds of additional troops to the region after blaming Iran and Iranian proxies for recent sabotage to tankers in the Persian Gulf and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil infrastructure.
Some analysts believe Iran is acting to restore leverage it has lost since Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal and the U.S. reimposed sanctions that have hobbled Iran's economy.
Last month, the administration ended sanctions waivers that had allowed certain countries to continue to import Iranian oil, the country's main source of revenue, without U.S. penalties. The U.S. also designated Iran's Revolutionary Guards a "foreign terrorist organization," adding new layers of sanctions to foreigners that might do business with it or its affiliates.
Despite the U.S. withdrawal, Iran has remained a party to the nuclear deal that involves the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Germany and the European Union. Iran has continued to broadly comply with the terms, which called for it to curb its nuclear work in exchange for sanctions relief. On Friday, however, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog reported that Iran may be in violation of limits on the number of advanced centrifuges it can use.
Pompeo declined to comment on the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency other than to say the U.S. is "watching closely" what is going on in Iran.
"The world should be mindful of how we are watching closely how Iran is complying with the requirements that were set out," he said.
Washington, Jun 3 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump says Israel has got to "get their act together" after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to form a new governing coalition and a second election was set for later this year.
Saying the political situation in Israel is "all messed up," Trump adds, "We're not happy about that."
Meanwhile, Trump says Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may be right in assessing that the administration's forthcoming Mideast peace plan may not go anywhere. A Washington Post report quoted Pompeo as telling a group of Jewish leaders in New York that the long-delayed plan may not "gain traction."
Trump told reporters, "I think we have a good chance, but we'll see what happens."
Trump spoke Sunday as he prepared to fly to Europe.
Washington, Jun 3 (AP/UNB) — Like a bull who keeps returning to the china shop, President Donald Trump is headed back to Europe, where on previous visits he has strained historic friendships and insulted his hosts. This time, he faces an ally in turmoil and a global call to renew democratic pacts.
The agenda for Trump's weeklong journey is both ceremonial and official: a state visit and an audience with Queen Elizabeth II in London, D-Day commemoration ceremonies on both sides of the English Channel and his first presidential visit to Ireland, which will include a stay at his coastal golf club.
But the president will arrive at a precarious moment, as he faces a fresh round of impeachment fervor back home and uncertainty on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
British Prime Minister Theresa May will step down days after Trump visits and French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to use the 75th anniversary of the World War II battle that turned the tide in Europe to call for strengthening the multinational ties the U.S. president has frayed.
"My greatest hope is this: the president and all the leaders stay focused on the extraordinary heroism of that of D-Day and focusing on what brought allies to that position," said Heather Conley, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Dark clouds are forming once again in Europe, and rather than encourage those forces we need to find much better tools to defeat them."
Trump is to arrive in London on Monday for a two-day whirlwind of pomp, circumstance and protests, including meetings with the royal family and an extravagant state dinner at Buckingham Palace. He is likely to be shadowed by demonstrators, who during his visit to England last summer flooded the streets and flew an inflatable balloon depicting the president as a baby.
A year ago, Trump played the ungracious guest, blasting May in an interview just hours before Air Force One touched down in England. He has done it again, this time sparing May but praising her rival, prime ministerial hopeful Boris Johnson, just before she steps down as head of the Conservative Party on Friday for failing to secure a Brexit deal.
"I think Boris would do a very good job. I think he would be excellent," Trump told The Sun, the same publication to which he gave an interview last summer. "I like him. I have always liked him. I don't know that he is going to be chosen, but I think he is a very good guy, a very talented person."
Before departing the White House Sunday evening, Trump waded in again to his hosts' domestic affairs. He said he might meet with another pro-Brexit politician, Nigel Farage, during his visit, and brushed back concerns that he was being discourteous.
"Don't ask me the question if you don't want me to talk about it," he said.
Trump also fired back at London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who called the U.S. leader a "global threat" ahead of his trip. Trump said he has no interest in meeting Khan and that "I don't think much of him." Trump added that "he's the twin" of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, "except shorter."
In the interview with The Sun, Trump weighed in on the American-born Duchess of Sussex. The former Meghan Markle, who gave birth in May and will not attend the week's events, was critical of Trump in the past, prompting the president to tell the tabloid, "I didn't know that she was nasty." He said later in the interview that he thought Markle would be "very good" as a royal.
Trump pushed back Sunday against reports that he had described Markle as "nasty," tweeting: "I never called Meghan Markle "nasty." Made up by the Fake News Media, and they got caught cold!" The newspaper posted the audio of the interview on its website.
Trump will make his first presidential visit to Ireland on Wednesday. But what should have been a routine visit with the prime minister grew complicated due to the president's unprecedented blending of government duties and business promotion. Trump will spend two nights at his club in Doonbeg, which sits above the Atlantic, and the White House originally insisted that he and his Irish counterpart meet there.
After Dublin balked, a deal was struck for Trump to meet Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at Shannon's airport.
The centerpiece of the president's visit will be two days to mark the D-Day anniversary, likely the last significant commemoration most veterans of the battle will see. The anniversary events will begin in Portsmouth, England, where the invasion was launched, and then move to Normandy, France, where Allied forces began to recapture Western Europe from the Nazis.
The day is normally a heartfelt tribute to unity and sacrifice, outweighing any national or political skirmish of the moment. But some on both sides of the Atlantic are nervous about Trump, who has shown a willingness to inject partisanship into such moments. Trump also has been embroiled in simmering disputes over trade and military spending with fellow Western democracies.
On a trip to Brussels last summer, he upbraided NATO leaders on their defense budgets and caused near-panic when rumors spread that he was considering pulling out of the alliance formed in the aftermath of World War II. Just days later, in Helsinki, Trump rattled European capitals by publicly siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies.
On his most recent European visit, last November in France, Trump skipped a ceremony at an American military cemetery to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I when rain grounded his helicopter.
Washington, Jun 3 (AP/UNB) — Retired Gen. Colin Powell and his wife, Alma, are "two people to really look up to," President Donald Trump said Sunday.
Trump congratulated the Powells at the close of an annual gala at Ford's Theater during which they received the Lincoln Medal, along with American political humorist Mark Russell. The theater's society has awarded the medal annually since 1981 to individuals whose body of work, accomplishments or personal attributes embodies the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated in the theater in 1865.
"We do want to preserve this heritage and this center's treasured legacy," said Trump, who was accompanied by his wife, first lady Melania Trump, the gala's honorary chairwoman. "I also want to congratulate tonight's Lincoln Medal recipients, a man I have a lot of respect for, Gen. Colin Powell and his wife, Alma. And maybe even more respect for you, Alma."
Trump thanked the couple for their service to the U.S., saying "you have been outstanding. Two people to really look up to."
Powell, a Republican, ended a 35-year career in the Army by becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush.
He also served as national security adviser and separately was secretary of state under President George W. Bush. Alma Powell has worked with several charities and nonprofit associations. Colin Powell also helped launch the America's Promise Alliance, an organization to support young people.
Russell's career as a political humorist dates to the Eisenhower administration. Trump said Russell is "somebody I used to watch a lot."
Trump also talked about attending the gala for years to come, hinting at his reelection in 2020.
"This is an event that we hope to be here, what do you figure? Another six times, right?" he said.
Earlier Sunday, Trump stood on stage as the pastor of a Northern Virginia church asked God to give Trump wisdom to lead the country.
Trump stood with David Platt, pastor of McLean Bible Church in Vienna as Platt made the request as part of a nationwide day of prayer for Trump that had been called for by the Rev. Franklin Graham.