By Prabasi Nepali
United States & Mexico
A summit meeting between the presidents of the United States and its southern neighbour Mexico was slated for Tuesday this week. However, hours after Donald J. Trump tweeted that the meeting should be scrapped if Mexico didn’t agree to pay for a wall along the nearly 2,000 mile border, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto responded via the same platform. Under intense domestic pressure, he unilaterally cancelled the planned meeting. Trump — untruthfully — claimed that calling off the meeting was a mutual decision, in order to save face, something which seems to be of great importance to him. This signaled, without doubt, a remarkable impairment of relations between the US and one of its most important international partners just days into the new administration.
The dispute was the climax of increasingly confrontational remarks on Twitter and in public appearances between the two leaders whose countries conduct some US $ 1.6 billion a day in cross-border trade, and cooperate on everything from migration to anti-drug enforcement to environmental issues. The world is watching closely how the new US President unravels his idee fixe — ‘Trump’s Wall’ on the border to Mexico, which itself will not be dictated to by the likes of Trump. The Mexican president tweeted: “This morning we have informed the White House I will not attend the working meeting planned for next Tuesday.” He further added diplomatically: “Mexico reaffirms its willingness to work with the United States to reach agreements that benefit both partners.”
Later on last Thursday, Trump demonstrated that he was intent on browbeating Pena Nieto whom he apparently considered an adversary and not a partner: “Unless Mexico is going to treat the United States fairly, with respect, such a meeting would be fruitless, and I want to go a different route. We have no choice.” He even hinted at a new possible threat to Mexico, one of America’s biggest trade partners, accounting for about 80 percent of its exports and which has vowed not to pay for a wall: “We’re working on a tax reform bill that will reduce our trade deficit, increase American exports and will generate revenue from Mexico that will pay for the wall, if we decide to go that route.” Trump’s spokesman later clarified that he was calling for a 20 percent tax on imports to pay for the southern wall. Trump does not realize that this is two-edged sword and would also mean that imported goods would be more expensive for American consumers.
Trump has also pledged to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada: “I will not allow the citizens or the taxpayers of the United States to pay the cost of this defective transaction.” Trump is not likely to make much headway, since a new agreement would involve give and take on both sides. Mexico has already indicated considering walking away from NAFTA if negotiations mean making too many concessions. The same would apply to Canada. If Trump insists on a parting of ways, it could be quite damaging to the U.S. economy also, but for Mexico it would be devastating.
United States Bans Refugees & Visitors from Muslim Countries
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have called on the Trump administration to continue offering asylum to people fleeing war and persecution. The two Geneva-based agencies said in a joint statement: “The needs of refugees and migrants worldwide have never been greater and the US settlement programme is one of the most important in the world.” Last Saturday, President Trump signed an executive order putting a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily prohibiting travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries — Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen — from entering the U.S. Trump contends the moves would help protect Americans from terrorist attacks.
The two agencies hoped “that the US will continue its strong leadership role and long tradition of protecting those who are fleeing conflict and persecution,” and to ensure their equal treatment, regardless of race, nationality or religion. More than 30 countries take part in the programme, which starts with vetting/evaluation by the UNHCR. Some 25,000 refugees were resettled in the US between October and yearend under the UNHRC programme for the most vulnerable. UNHCR and IOM further stated: “The longstanding policy has offered a double win: first by rescuing some of the most vulnerable people in the world, and second by enabling them to enrich their new societies. The contribution of refugees and migrants to their new homes worldwide has been overwhelmingly positive.” More than 100,000 Nepali/Bhutanese refugees were also beneficiaries of the US programme. But Trump is adamant and claims that his administration needed more time to develop more stringent screening processes for refugees, immigrants and visitors.
Trump’s immigration ban lost its first legal battle when a federal judge partially blocked it by ordering authorities not to deport refugees and other travelers detained at US borders. Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Saturday tweeted in support of numerous protests that sprang up: “I stand with the people gathered across the country tonight defending our values and our Constitution. This is not who we are.” Tempers are running very high. The singer Rihanna speaking against Trump said he is an “Immoral pig” [!] Strangely, Trump’s Muslim ban excludes countries (also with Muslim majorities) where he has business interests – Egypt, Turkey, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia (where the 9/11 terrorists originated) and the United Arab Emirates (whose crown prince and deputy supreme commander of the armed forces was this year’s chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations). A US commentator said of Trump (now frequently branded as the Narcissist-in-Chief): “What seems to be first and foremost on his mind is his own self-interest and an obsession with his brand.”
Canada, France & Germany Concerned, UK Accomodating
There was broad international condemnation for Trump’s attempt to suspend refugee admissions. One of the clearest early rejection of Trump’s visa ban came from Canada where PM Justin Trudeau vowed to welcome refugees turned away by the US: “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.” A US-Canadian confrontation, especially over trade, is bound to happen.
France and Germany, the two leading members of the European Union, have expressed ‘concern’ about a number of decisions by US President Trump, particularly his move to restrict refugee arrivals. French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault after meeting with his new German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel said last Saturday: “This decision can only cause us concern.” Furthermore: “Welcoming refugees who are fleeing war is part of our duty. But there is a lot of other issues that are causing us concern.”
The two foreign ministers plan to contact the new US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson “to discuss the issues point by point and have a clear relationship . . . . Clarity, coherence and if necessary firmness are needed to defend our beliefs, our values, our vision of the world, our interests, French, German and European.” European leaders are aware that Trump has been highly dismissive of the EU and NATO and condemned German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy as “catastrophic”. Unlike ex-President Barack Obama, he also openly welcomed Brexit — the UK leaving the EU.
In the meantime, British Prime Minister Theresa May has gone to Washington and extended the hand of friendship to Donald Trump. He has promised an early trade deal with Britain once it leaves the EU, extolling Brexitas “a tremendous asset and not a tremendous liability.” Apparently, Trump has committed not to abandon NATO and praised what he called “this most special relationship”. However, May’s embrace of aspects of Trump’s policies infuriated her opponents in Britain and is likely to trouble other European leaders. British Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said May “clearly spent her time with Trump dodging his despicable comments on torture, on women, on Muslims and on Mexicans.” Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said May “failed to challenge Trump and stand up to our values.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani did not comment directly on the visa ban, but said Iran had “opened its doors” to foreign tourists since the signing of a nuclear agreement with world powers in 2015 — which has been condemned by Trump several times. However, he did categorically say now was “not the time to build walls between nations . . . They have forgotten that the Berlin Wall collapsed many years ago. Even if there are walls between nations, they must be removed”.
Trump Against the World
By Prabasi Nepali