In the foreign policy section of his State of the Union Address, U.S. President Donald Trump spoke of ending conflicts where American troops have fought for years, and preventing what he sees as inevitable future conflicts if not for the policies enacted by his administration.
Afghanistan, Iraq wars
Trump noted the vast costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have resulted in the deaths of nearly 7,000 U.S. military personnel since 2001.
He said that after so many years of fighting in Afghanistan, now is the time “to at least try for peace,” saying the Taliban wants the same.
“My administration is holding constructive talks with a number of Afghan groups, including the Taliban. As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troop presence and focus on counterterrorism,” Trump said.
He has also ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, where they have been fighting to dislodge the Islamic State group since the militants swept through large areas of northern Iraq and eastern Syria in 2014.
“Today, we have liberated virtually all of the territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty monsters. Now, as we work with our allies to destroy the remnants of ISIS, it is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home,” Trump said, using an acronym for the militant group.
Following up on a June 2018 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump announced Tuesday he would again meet with Kim on February 27 in Vietnam.
He touted a list of what he said were the successes of a “bold new diplomacy” toward North Korea, including the return of American hostages and a halt in nuclear and missile testing that followed the first summit.
“If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea,” Trump said, adding that his relationship with Kim “is a good one.”
His rhetoric toward Iran was much stronger, remaining consistent with the tone he has struck since before becoming president when he was strongly critical of the international agreement that limited Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
“My administration has acted decisively to confront the world’s leading state sponsor of terror: the radical regime in Iran,” Trump said in his address. “It is a radical regime. They do bad, bad things.”
Last year, Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Partners Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany have remained committed to the deal, along with Iran, and the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency has certified in multiple reports that Iran remains in compliance with measures meant to ensure it cannot develop a nuclear weapon.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to Trump’s comments on Twitter, saying, “U.S. hostility has led it to support dictators, butchers & extremists, who’ve only brought ruin to our region.”
Nuclear Arms Treaty
Trump last week announced the U.S. withdrawal from a 30-year-old nuclear arms treaty with Russia that banned the countries from possessing certain missiles. He says Russia violated the pact, which Russia denies.
Trump suggested in his speech Tuesday the possibility of negotiating a new agreement that would add other nuclear powers such as China. But in a comment that came shortly after he highlighted an increase in U.S. military spending, he warned that in the absence of such a deal, “we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far.”
Trump also used part of his speech to express support for the people of Venezuela, saying the United States stands with them “in their noble quest for freedom.”
The country has seen massive protests ahead of and following President Nicolas Maduro’s re-election last year in a vote the opposition called a sham.
The U.S. leader condemned what he called “the brutality” of Maduro’s government, saying its policies have put the country “into a state of abject poverty and despair.”
Trump reiterated U.S. support for Juan Guaido, who has also received the support of a number of European and South American countries since declaring himself president last month. Russia and China are among the governments insisting Maduro remains president.
China and economic conflict
China featured in a much shorter section of Trump’s speech that dealt with economic conflict.
“We are now making it clear to China that after years of targeting our industries, and stealing our intellectual property, the theft of American jobs and wealth has come to an end,” Trump said.
He cited new tariffs he has imposed on imports of Chinese goods, and said negotiations continue toward a new U.S.-China trade deal that he is insisting includes protecting American jobs, reducing the U.S. trade deficit with China and ending unfair trade practices.
In one of the few specific requests he made to the joint session of Congress gathered to listen to his speech, Trump asked lawmakers to pass legislation that would respond to a country placing tariffs on U.S. goods by enacting equivalent tariffs on imports of the same products from that country coming into the United States.
Trade with Canada, Mexico
His other economic focus was trade with neighbors Canada and Mexico.
After his decision to abandon the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, representatives from the three countries came together last year to craft a new trade deal known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
The new deal has not yet been ratified, but Trump said Tuesday it would boost U.S. manufacturing jobs and automobile production, while also helping the agriculture sector and offering protections for intellectual property.