On Tuesday evening, President Trump repeated his standard foreign policy line during the State of the Union address, saying that he wants to put “America’s interests first.” As usual, that meant strong lines on immigration and trade — and plenty of praise for his own diplomatic efforts over the past year.
Here’s what Trump said during the speech about the biggest foreign policy issues:
Trump announced that his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will take place Feb. 27 and 28 in Danang, Vietnam. He commended his decision to engage with Kim, saying the United States “would be in a major war with North Korea” had he not been elected president.
It’s not clear how effective this second meeting will be. Trump’s summit with Kim in Singapore last June was a show of good faith and diplomacy, but negotiations between the two sides have produced virtually no progress since.
Still, South Korean officials welcomed Trump’s announcement that he will meet with Kim again and remarked on the significance of Vietnam as the meeting place.
“Vietnam and the United States used to point guns and knives at each other but have now become friends,” presidential spokesman Kim Eui-keum told journalists on Wednesday. “We expect Vietnam to be a perfectly suitable backdrop to a new history to be written between North Korea and the United States.” He added that South Korea will “look forward to a more specific and substantial step of progress.”
Trump stuck to his usual positions on immigration, reiterating his calls to fund his border wall between the United States and Mexico. Migrants who risk their lives to cross the border are part of an “urgent national crisis,” he said.
Trump again warned that “large organized caravans” are on the march toward the United States. He also claimed that the MS-13 gang is operating “in at least 20 different American states” and that his administration is “removing these gang members by the thousands.” The Washington Post’s fact-checkers said this claim was “dubious.”
As The Post’s Aaron Blake reported, Trump didn’t make his calls for a wall as an ultimatum — many in Washington have worried he will shut down the government for a second time this year if wall funding isn’t passed by Congress — but insisted that he will “get it built.” This time, he did away with his once standard line that Mexico will pay for the wall.
The president claimed success in revising “calamitous trade policies” with China, Mexico and Canada.
He praised the tariffs his administration has imposed on China but also commended Chinese President Xi Jinping, saying he has “great respect” for Xi. He also placed blame on past U.S. leaders for the country’s problems with trade and China.
As U.S. and Chinese officials continue trade negotiations, Trump called for “real structural change” that would “protect American jobs.”
The address didn’t elicit any immediate response from Beijing, with the country practically shut down for the Lunar New Year this week. The Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, didn’t cover the speech, and the official Xinhua News Agency skipped all mention of China in its report on the address.
Trump also slammed the North American Free Trade Agreement, or, as he called it, “the catastrophe known as NAFTA.” He urged Congress to pass his preferred replacement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, to “bring back manufacturing jobs.”
On Venezuela, Trump emphasized his support for Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader whom the United States and many other countries have recognized as Venezuela’s interim president.
“We stand with the Venezuelan people and their noble quest for freedom,” Trump said. He then took aim at Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s socialist policies, saying they turned the state into one of “abject poverty and despair.”
In a somewhat unexpected move, he compared Maduro’s authoritarian socialism to democratic socialists in the United States. He said we was alarmed by what he said were new calls to adopt socialism in the United States, adding, “America will never be a socialist country.”
Syria and Afghanistan
Trump took credit for the ongoing talks between American and Taliban representatives, saying that he “accelerated our negotiations to reach a political settlement in Afghanistan.” The two sides recently agreed to the broad outlines of a deal in which U.S. forces would leave the country in return for guarantees that Afghanistan would not harbor terrorists.
The progress, Trump said, would allow the United States to reduce its presence in Afghanistan, where about 14,000 U.S. troops are stationed. “Great nations do not fight endless wars,” he said.
Many experts raised the alarm late last year when Trump ordered the Pentagon to cut the number of troops in Afghanistan in half, worrying that Washington might leave a power vacuum that the Taliban will fill.
Trump also called for the withdrawal of the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, saying that “it is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home.”
Gerry Shih contributed from Beijing, Simon Denyer from Tokyo and Min Joo Kim from Seoul.