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4 February 2019

Five key foreign policy questions for Trump’s second State of the Union

President Trump will address both houses of Congress on Tuesday evening.

By Nicky Woolf

On Tuesday evening at 9pm EST, Trump will give his second State of the Union address. His first before a hostile Congress – the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in last November’s midterm elections – comes at a time of international chaos. From Venezuala to Russia, and from Afghanistan to Iran, the president’s chaotic leadership style has led to a rolling series of crises around the world.

The headline of the speech is expected to be Trump’s announcement of an imminent second summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, which may take place as soon as this month, according to reports. The summit comes at a time when Kim has been shown to have a flagrant disregard for any agreement to draw down his nuclear weapons program, despite Trump’s assurances that he would do so.

But there are a number of other areas Trump may well address, including Russia – with whom Trump has just torn up a landmark nuclear non-proliferation agreement signed by Ronald Reagan – and the crisis in Venezuela.

Brett Bruen, the president of consulting firm Global Situation Room and former US diplomat who served as Director of Global Engagement in President Obama’s White House, gave me the five key foreign policy areas that Trump has to address in his speech on Tuesday.

1) North Korea. “Trump actually needs to acknowledge reality. This would be the moment. Kim Jong Un will not now – nor will he ever – likely hand over his nukes. Such an inconvenient truth doesn’t negate the need to negotiate. Yet, Congress and the American people need to hear that our President is headed into a second summit with some grounding in reality. Otherwise, we are going to see a rerun of his reality show with few substantive changes in Pyongyang’s position.”

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2) Iran. “Despite significant efforts to rally other nations behind their position, the American government largely remains isolated on Iran. Yes, European companies are pulling out, but their governments are actively developing workarounds. Trump needs to propose a new path forward. Extend an olive branch to Tehran. Allow them to make a few minor concessions. Claim victory and then the world can get back to collectively enforcing the most robust nuclear nonproliferation deal. As the intelligence chiefs acknowledged last week, time is running out to convince Iran conformity is their best option.”

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3) Venezuela. “Management of the crisis has actually been a bright spot for the Administration. It has provided them with an opportunity to reinforce and reassure allies that core American values still contribute to Washington’s calculations. They have also cobbled together a strong coalition to support their position. Trump needs to tread carefully here. Bolton and Pompeo have undermined Guaidó’s cause with their reckless rhetoric. They have been too aggressive, too attached to their other fights against Iran and Cuba. The tough talk fails to account for or even acknowledge past American errors in Latin American. This makes it much more difficult for key leaders to lend their support to Guaidó and the actions needed to secure his claims to the presidency.”

4) Russia. “He just yanked the United States out of the INF (intermediate-range nuclear forces) treaty. This was less a blow to Moscow than to traditional treaties. Trump continues to largely treat Putin with kindness and kid gloves. This is the chance to clearly and unambiguously put the Kremlin on notice that time is up for its mass meddling and mischief. End the excuses. Tell the world that America will no longer abide these abuses.”

5) Iraq, Syria, & Afghanistan. “He needs to clean up the mess created by his comments and the confusion over whether the United States is going to finish the job. Outsourcing our security is not an option that our allies or American lawmakers are going to tolerate. Trump should take a cue. Lay out a strategy that envisions a responsible end to our engagement. At the same time reassure them that we will not abandon the battlefield before the threat has been adequately addressed.”