Europeans React With Caution or Silence Regarding Trump’s SOTU Speech, China and Iran Hit Back

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By Axel Krause
Paris January 31, 2018

For millions of Europeans the speech was a lot of first-class showmanship, but among policy wonks deeply interested in trans-Atlantic relations, they noted that much of his discussion of the US economy had no relevance for them; and most wondered why there was no mention of Europe, US-EU trade relations, NATO, or even Russia, while ignoring to mention a single European ally or more broadly, trans-Atlantic relations.

This only partly reflects the understandable caution and silence among political leaders on this side of the Atlantic at this writing. Why?

Because, in part much of what key allies like France, Germany and Britain historically believe and support – multilateralism, international cooperation and open, deregulated markets – was expressed supportively, openly at the meeting of global leaders in Davos, Switzerland last week. Notably by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s President Emmanuel Macron.

Thus, today, after listening to the speech, they and others felt there was little point in repeating what all who were following Davos heard and praised as necessary – staking out opposition to many of President Trump’s position, notably opposing ongoing trade negotiations with partners in Asia and with a far larger number of nations pursuing implementation of the Paris accords regarding cooperation on climate change; the latter another key, global issue ignored in the president’s address.

Another reason for Europe’s immediate and any criticism of the speech, was that Merkel had already responded before and after Davos in declaring that Europe now needed to take its “destiny” in its own hands; pursuing closer EU integration and pursuing trade agreements without the US; and which is already taking place regarding Pacific nations. Most EU leaders agreed with her and still do.

France’s Macron, being a hard-nosed, pragmatist, and who has a friendly relationship with Trump, (who reportedly told Britain’s ITV on Sunday that the French leader was “a friend of mine” and “a great guy,”) and is looking forward to a state visit to the US in April, has his own, familiar agenda – Making France Great Again. According to Politico Europe, the French leader further believes that the president “ought to be kept in (or brought back into) the circle of Western leaders to discuss and sometimes decide on world affairs.”

Some EU governments and officials in Brussels seemingly share the view that it would serve no useful purpose to openly say what they did not like the speech, specifically what was not even mentioned, like trans-Atlantic cooperation, and climate change. And hope that what Trump only mentioned in passing – negotiating trade agreements that are “fair and reciprocal” – actually succeed, though he has pledged to pull out of most, notably regarding participating Pacific nations and Canada and Mexico.

In sharp contrast, other key countries targeted for praise or criticism in the speech lost no time in reacting publically.

In Tokyo, the government’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was quoted as saying that Japan “highly praises President Trump for sending a powerful message in his own words,” (no Tweets) regarding North Korea’s pursuance of its dangerous nuclear military program.

Regarding Iran, the government’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, reacting to Trump’s warning of “rogue regimes” like Iran and Russia, only confirmed his “ignorance” regarding Iran. “We know where he stands, and it is certainly not with Iranians.

In China, providing no details, the president’s declaring that China and Russia (mentioned only once) were “rivals”, a foreign ministry spokeswoman declared that common interests outweigh differences and that the US should view the relationship “correctly.”

Thus, Chinese like EU leaders also remained silent or cautious, acknowledging , even implicitly, that the peace and hopefully non-violent relations is the way forward.

Axel Krause is the Paris-based Contributing Editor of TransAtlantic Magazine.

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