Trump defiant as lawmakers blast his ‘racist’ attacks on four congresswomen

U.S. Reps Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) hold a news conference after Democrats in the U.S. Congress moved to formally condemn President Donald Trump's attacks on the four minority congresswomen on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott

By Jeff Mason and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump doubled down on his attacks against four minority U.S. congresswomen on Monday and dismissed concerns that his comments were racist, prompting outrage from Democrats, who moved to condemn him in the House of Representatives.

Speaking at the White House, Trump said people he described as critical of the United States should leave the country.

Those remarks followed his Twitter messages on Sunday that said the four left-wing lawmakers, known in Congress as “the squad,” should go back to “the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.”

All four of the first-term House members are U.S. citizens and all but one were born in the United States.

“If you’re not happy in the U.S., if you’re complaining all the time, very simply: You can leave,” he said, drawing scattered applause from a crowd of businesspeople.

Asked if he was concerned that some viewed his remarks as racist and that white supremacists found common cause with him, Trump said he was not. “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” Trump said.

The president’s remarks were widely derided and some, though not many, of his fellow Republicans spoke out against them.

Trump did not identify the lawmakers by name in his Sunday tweets, but he appeared to refer to representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

All four have been critical of Trump, as well as of the current Democratic leaders of the House, straining party unity in that chamber.

At a press conference on Capitol Hill, the four lawmakers said Trump was trying to sow division and distract attention from what they characterized as failed policies on immigration, healthcare and taxation.

“Weak minds and leaders challenge loyalty to our country in order to avoid challenging and debating the policy,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Tlaib and Omar repeated their calls for Trump to be impeached.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been criticized by members of “the squad,” said her party would introduce a resolution condemning Trump’s “xenophobic tweets.”

A draft of the resolution, seen by Reuters late on Monday, said the House “strongly condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color …”

Representative Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, told reporters the resolution could be on the House floor for debate as soon as Tuesday.

Such a resolution could put Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress in an awkward position, forcing them either to vote against their party’s leader, who has strong support among conservatives, or effectively to defend his statements.

Trump’s attacks elevated the profiles of the four progressive Democrats, who have helped push the party’s agenda to the left, causing concern among Democratic moderates who are eager to hold onto their seats in the 2020 election.

A FEW REPUBLICANS SPEAK OUT

Trump has a history of what critics consider race-baiting. He led a movement that falsely claimed former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, and he said after a deadly, white supremacist-led rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that “both sides” were to blame for violence there.

“This is the agenda of white nationalists, whether it is happening in chat rooms, or it’s happening on national TV, and now it’s reached the White House garden,” Omar said.

Although most Republicans stayed silent on Trump’s divisive rhetoric, several began expressing concern late on Monday.

Texas Representative Will Hurd, the only African-American Republican in the House, called the attacks “racist” on CNN.

Tim Scott, the Senate’s only black Republican, called them “racially offensive” on Twitter.

Others did not go that far. Senator Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, and Senator Marco Rubio, who ran in 2016, both condemned the remarks but declined to characterize them as racist.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said the four lawmakers belonged in the United States, but did not criticize Trump. “The president is not a racist,” he told reporters.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell did not comment on the controversy.

Trump regularly used racially charged language during his campaign and continued in his presidency. His latest remarks came as some of his efforts to deal with immigration – a major issue for his conservative base – have faltered.

Trump promised as a candidate to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and that Mexico would pay for it. As president, very little has happened on wall construction and Mexico has resolutely refused to pay for a wall.

‘RACISM, DIVISION’

In his Sunday tweets, Trump said of the four congresswomen, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came … Then come back and show us how … it is done.”

Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley and Tlaib were born in the United States while Omar, a Somali refugee, arrived in 1992.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a sometime Trump golf partner and adviser, called the four congresswomen “communist” and “anti-Semitic” on Fox News on Monday, but he also called on Trump to stop making such personal attacks.

“Aim higher … Take on their policies. The bottom line here is this is a diverse country,” he said, adding that he had spoken to Trump.

(Additional reporting by Makini Brice, Eric Beech, Richard Cowan, Mohammad Zargham and Roberta Rampton; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Jeff Mason; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Bill Trott, Dan Grebler and Cynthia Osterman)

Trump drops census citizenship question, vows to get data from government

U.S. President Donald Trump stands with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General Bill Barr to announce his administration's effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Jeff Mason and David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump retreated on Thursday from adding a contentious question on citizenship to the 2020 census, but insisted he was not giving up his fight to count how many non-citizens are in the country and ordered government agencies to mine their databases.

Trump’s plan to add the question to the census hit a roadblock two weeks ago when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against his administration, which had said new data on citizenship would help to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority rights.

The court ruled, in considering the litigation by challengers, that the rationale was “contrived.” Critics of the effort said asking about citizenship in the census would discriminate against racial minorities and was aimed at giving Republicans an unfair advantage in elections by lowering the number of responses from people in areas more likely to vote Democratic.

Trump, a Republican, and his supporters say it makes sense to know how many non-citizens are living in the country.

“We will utilize these vast federal databases to gain a full, complete and accurate count of the non-citizen population, including databases maintained by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. We have great knowledge in many of our agencies,” Trump said in remarks in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday. “We will leave no stone unturned,” he said.

Trump said he was not reversing course.

“We are not backing down on our effort to determine the citizenship status of the United States population,” he said.

But there could be more legal challenges ahead for the administration because the U.S. Constitution states that every person living in the country should be counted to determine state-by-state representation in Congress and that is done every 10 years in the Census, not by other means.

“We will vigorously challenge any attempt to leverage census data for unconstitutional redistricting methods,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, a law and policy institute at the NYU School of Law.

Waldman said his group would also challenge “any administration move to violate the clear and strong rules protecting the privacy of everyone’s responses, including the rules barring the use of personal census data to conduct law or immigration enforcement activities.”

IMMIGRATION POLICIES

Trump, who has made hard-line policies on immigration a feature of his presidency and his campaign for re-election in 2020, said he was ordering every government agency to provide the Department of Commerce with all requested records regarding the number of citizens and non-citizens. The U.S. Census Bureau is part of the Commerce Department.

“That information will be useful for countless purposes, as the president explained in his remarks today,” U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.

Barr cited a legal dispute on whether illegal immigrants can be included for determining apportionment of congressional districts. “Depending on the resolution of that dispute, this data may possibly prove relevant. We will be studying the issue.”

The approach announced by Trump on Thursday was similar to the one proposed by a Census Bureau official to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, according to a memorandum made public by congressional Democrats in 2018. It said the costs of adding a citizenship question to the Census would be high, but using existing administrative records would not.

Opponents called Thursday’s decision a defeat for the administration, but promised they would look closely to determine the legality of Trump’s new plan to compile and use citizenship data outside of the census.

Rights groups in citizenship-question lawsuits in federal courts in New York and Maryland have no plans to abandon the litigation, Sarah Brannon of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project, and John Yang, president of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said on a conference call with reporters.

They also see potential for future litigation over the Trump administration’s collection of data, as well as how those data are used in state redistricting.

“We will sue as necessary,” Brannon said.

The Census is also used to distribute some $800 billion in federal services, including public schools, Medicaid benefits, law enforcement and highway repairs.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and David Shepardson; additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Doina Chiacu, Makini Brice and Eric Beech in Washington and Andrew Chung and Lauren LaCapra in New York; Writing by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Grant McCool and Leslie Adler)

Kudlow says U.S. expects China to start purchasing crops very soon

FILE PHOTO: White House chief economic advisor Larry Kudlow speaks with reporters on the driveway outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Thursday the United States expects China to start purchasing crops and U.S. agricultural products soon and noted that trade talks between the two countries are ongoing.

The United States and China agreed last month to restart trade talks that stalled in May. President Donald Trump agreed not to impose new tariffs and U.S. officials said China agreed to make agricultural purchases, but those have not yet materialized.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Trump considers executive order to add citizenship question to U.S. census

FILE PHOTO: Balloons decorate an event for community activists and local government leaders to mark the one-year-out launch of the 2020 Census efforts in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Friday said he may issue an executive order in an effort to add a contentious citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. census as his administration faces a Friday afternoon court deadline to reveal its plans.

“We’re working on a lot of things including an executive order,” Trump told reporters outside the White House as he left for his resort in Bedminster, New Jersey.

He also suggested that a query about citizenship could be added at a later date even if it is not on the questionnaire currently being printed.

Maryland-based U.S. District Court Judge George Hazel wants the administration to state its intentions by 2 p.m.

A White House spokesman said on Thursday that officials are examining “every option” available to add the query to the decennial population survey.

Trump administration officials have been scrambling in the aftermath of a Supreme Court ruling on June 27 that blocked the inclusion of the question, saying administration officials had given a “contrived” rationale for including it. But the court left open the possibility that the administration could offer a plausible rationale.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Tuesday said the Census Bureau had started the process of printing the census questionnaires without the citizenship query, giving the impression that the administration had backed down.

But Trump then ordered a policy reversal via tweet on Wednesday, saying he would fight on, although the government has said the printing process continues.

The census is used to allot seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and distribute some $800 billion in federal services, including public schools, Medicaid benefits, law enforcement and highway repairs.

Critics have called the citizenship question a Republican ploy to scare immigrants into not participating and engineer a population undercount in Democratic-leaning areas with high immigrant populations. They say that officials lied about their motivations for adding the question and that the move would help Trump’s fellow Republicans gain seats in the House and state legislatures when new electoral district boundaries are drawn.

Trump and his supporters say it makes sense to know how many non-citizens are living in the country. His hard-line policies on immigration have been a key element of his presidency and 2020 re-election campaign.

A group of states including New York and immigrant rights organizations challenged the legality of the citizenship question, arguing among other things that the U.S. Constitution requires congressional districts to be distributed based on a count of “the whole number of persons in each state” with no reference to citizenship. Three different federal judges blocked the administration before the Supreme Court intervened.

The Supreme Court ruled that in theory the government can ask about citizenship on the census, but rejected the rationale given by the Trump administration for adding.

The administration had originally told the courts the question was needed to better enforce a law that protects the voting rights of racial minorities.

Administration officials had repeatedly told the Supreme Court they needed to finalize the details of the census questionnaire by the end of June.

Even if a citizenship question is not included, the Census Bureau is still able to gather data on citizenship, which the Trump administration could provide to states when they are drawing new electoral districts.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Alexandra Alper and David Morgan; Editing by Grant McCool)

Defying critics, Trump salutes military in pomp-filled July 4 celebration

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump react as they arrive for the "Salute to America" event during Fourth of July Independence Day celebrations at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., U.S., July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With U.S. fighter jets flying overhead, President Donald Trump praised the military and reveled in a show of pomp and patriotism on Thursday in a celebration of Independence Day that critics accused him of turning into a political event.

A Bradley Fighting Vehicle is seen during the "Salute to America" Fourth of July Independence Day celebration at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, U.S., July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

A Bradley Fighting Vehicle is seen during the “Salute to America” Fourth of July Independence Day celebration at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, U.S., July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Trump, a Republican who was inspired to stage the flashy affair after seeing a similar display in France, dismissed concerns ahead of the ceremony about the expense and militaristic overtones of the event outside the 97-year-old Lincoln Memorial, a symbol of national unity.

“Our nation is stronger today than it ever was before. It is its strongest now,” Trump said from a platform in front of the famous memorial, echoing a theme he uses at campaign rallies.

Flanked by Bradley fighting vehicles, Trump otherwise steered clear of divisive political rhetoric, in a departure from the majority of his speeches. At times, an enthusiastic crowd could be heard chanting: “USA! USA! USA!”

Trump, 73, praised American military might despite having himself avoided the draft during the Vietnam War with bone spurs in his feet. With well-planned choreography, he told stories about each military branch before separate, dramatic flyovers of their respective military aircraft.

U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Acting Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford attend the “Salute to America” event at the Lincoln Memorial during Fourth of July Independence Day celebrations in Washington, D.C., U.S., July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

“We celebrate our history, our people, and the heroes who proudly defend our flag: the brave men and women of the United States military,” Trump said. “For over 65 years, no enemy Air Force has managed to kill a single American soldier. Because the skies belong to the United States of America.”

Not all the choreography appeared to go off as planned.

A flyover by Air Force One, which Trump had teased earlier in the day on Twitter, occurred unannounced and without fanfare. But a low and spectacular flyover by six F-18s known as the “Blue Angels” at the conclusion of Trump’s speech thrilled the crowd. Some people shouted “Four More Years!” in support of the president.

Trump paid tribute to the U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, two agencies that have played leading roles in carrying out his tough immigration policies.

He cited as great Americans both Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, African-Americans who campaigned for the abolition of slavery more than 100 years ago. That praise could draw criticism as Trump’s administration in May decided to keep Tubman’s image off the $20 bill. He previously raised doubts about his knowledge of Douglass by speaking of the former slave in the present tense as ”somebody who’s done an amazing job.”

U.S. Air Force does a fly past as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the "Salute to America" event at the Lincoln Memorial during Fourth of July Independence Day celebrations in Washington, D.C., U.S., July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

U.S. Air Force does a fly past as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the “Salute to America” event at the Lincoln Memorial during Fourth of July Independence Day celebrations in Washington, D.C., U.S., July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

MILLIONS OF DOLLARS, WORRIES ABOUT CROWDS

Earlier in the day thousands of supporters wearing Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” hats, along with opponents questioning the cost of the event, poured into the U.S. capital despite scorching temperatures and intermittent rain, while a diapered “Baby Trump” balloon sat next to a banner calling Trump a traitor.

Protesters burned a U.S. flag in front of the White House.

Ahead of the speech, Democrats accused the president of staging an out-of-place campaign rally, aware he has a history of veering off script with sharp partisan attacks even at events that are not meant to be overtly political.

Trump supporters and opponents carried American flags and wore red, white and blue outfits.

“I think what Trump’s doing with the tanks, all the flyovers, I think it’s great,” said Brandon Lawrence, his face painted with the colors of the American flag.

Some at the White House had worried about the crowd size, according to an administration official.

In January 2017 Trump fumed about reports that the crowd at his inauguration ceremony in front of the Capitol was smaller than it was for President Barack Obama.

Perhaps with the crowd size in mind, Trump sent out tweets urging people to attend and saying the event would be “one of the biggest celebrations in the history of our Country.” As it happened, the crowd lined both sides of the reflecting pool in front of the memorial, and Trump later called it a “great crowd.”

Opponents were not impressed.

“This is costing us millions and millions of dollars. We the taxpayers are paying for it, for Donald Trump to use our military as a prop. And that’s just not right,” said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the women-led peace group Code Pink, before the event.

Republican political groups were given prime tickets for Trump’s speech, and the Washington Post reported that the U.S. National Park Service diverted $2.5 million in park entrance fees to help pay for the event.

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders weighed in with criticism: “This is what authoritarians do: @realDonaldTrump is taking $2.5 million away from our National Park Service to glorify himself with a spectacle of military tanks rolling through Washington,” he wrote in a tweet.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, leading in opinion polls in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, said in Iowa: “Donald Trump, I believe, is incapable of celebrating what makes America great, because I don’t think he gets it.”

Trump played down the expense.

“The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth. We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel,” he posted on Twitter on Wednesday. “We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats. Nice!” Andrews is the name of a nearby military base.

The July 4th holiday celebrates the U.S. founders’ declaring independence from Britain in 1776.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Steve Holland, Greg Savoy, Valerie Volcovici, Lawrence Hurley and Makini Brice; editing by Howard Goller)

Netanyahu says Trump knew in advance of Israel’s Iran archive mission

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 30, 2019. Oded Balilty/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that he informed U.S. President Donald Trump in advance of what Israel has described as a spy mission in Tehran last year to capture a secret Iranian nuclear archive.

Netanyahu said in April 2018 that Mossad operatives had spirited thousands of hidden documents out of Tehran that proved Iran had previously pursued a nuclear weapons program. Trump cited the Israeli findings in his decision, a month later, to quit a 2015 deal that had scaled down Iran’s nuclear project.

Iran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons and has accused Israel of faking the Tehran mission and documents trove.

Awarding an Israeli national security prize on Tuesday to the Mossad team credited with the so-called “Atomic Archive” capture, Netanyahu said he had discussed the planned operation with Trump when they met at the Davos forum in January 2018.

“He asked me if it was dangerous. I told him that there was a danger to it that was not negligible, but that the outcome justified the risk,” Netanyahu said at the closed-door ceremony, according to a transcript issued by his office.

Netanyahu said that, when he later presented main findings from an Israeli analysis of the documents to Trump at the White House, the president “voiced his appreciation for the boldness”.

“I have no doubt that this helped to validate his decision to withdraw from this dangerous (Iran nuclear) deal,” he said.

With the United States having reimposed sanctions on Iran, tensions have been soaring in the Gulf in recent weeks.

Mossad officials have said the Tehran mission took place in February 2018, but have not given details on how the documents were brought out to Israel.

Six Mossad officers – four men and two women – received Tuesday’s prize for leading the mission, which also involved “hundreds” of others, the intelligence agency’s director, Joseph (Yossi) Cohen, told an international security forum this week.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Trump says China trade talks ‘back on track,’ new tariffs on hold

U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping shake hands before their bilateral meeting during the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 29, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Roberta Rampton and Michael Martina

OSAKA (Reuters) – The United States and China agreed on Saturday to restart trade talks after President Donald Trump offered concessions including no new tariffs and an easing of restrictions on tech company Huawei in order to reduce tensions with Beijing.

China agreed to make unspecified new purchases of U.S. farm products and return to the negotiating table, Trump said. No deadline was set for progress on a deal, and the world’s two largest economies remain at odds over significant parts of an agreement.

The last major round of talks collapsed in May.

Financial markets, which have been rattled by the nearly year-long trade war, are likely to cheer the truce. Washington and Beijing have slapped tariffs on billions of dollars of each other’s imports, stoking fears of a wider global trade war. Those tariffs remain in place while negotiations resume.

“We’re right back on track,” Trump told reporters after an 80-minute meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 (G20) major economies in Osaka, Japan.

“We’re holding back on tariffs and they’re going to buy farm products,” Trump said, without giving details about the purchases.

Trump tweeted hours later that the meeting with Xi went “far better than expected.”

“The quality of the transaction is far more important to me than speed,” he tweeted. “I am in no hurry, but things look very good!”

The U.S. president had threatened to slap new levies on roughly $300 billion of additional Chinese goods, including popular consumer products if the meeting in Japan proved unsuccessful. Such a move would have extended existing tariffs to almost all Chinese imports into the United States.

In a lengthy statement on the two-way talks, China’s foreign ministry quoted Xi as telling Trump he hoped the United States could treat Chinese companies fairly.

“China is sincere about continuing negotiations with the United States … but negotiations should be equal and show mutual respect,” the foreign ministry quoted Xi as saying.

Trump offered an olive branch to Xi on Huawei Technologies Co [HWT.UL], the world’s biggest telecom network gear maker. The Trump administration has said the Chinese firm is too close to China’s government and poses a national security risk, and has lobbied U.S. allies to keep Huawei out of next-generation 5G telecommunications infrastructure.

Trump’s Commerce Department has put Huawei on its “entity list,” effectively banning the company from buying parts and components from U.S. companies without U.S. government approval.

But Trump said on Saturday he did not think that was fair to U.S. suppliers, who were upset by the move. “We’re allowing that, because that wasn’t national security,” he said.

CHEERS FROM CHIP MAKERS

Trump said the U.S. Commerce Department would study in the next few days whether to take Huawei off the list of firms banned from buying components and technology from U.S. companies without government approval.

China welcomed the step.

“If the U.S. does what it says, then of course, we welcome it,” said Wang Xiaolong, the Chinese foreign ministry’s envoy for G20 affairs.

U.S. microchip makers also applauded the move.

“We are encouraged the talks are restarting and additional tariffs are on hold and we look forward to getting more detail on the president’s remarks on Huawei,” John Neuffer, president of the U.S. Semiconductor Association, said in a statement.

Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, however, tweeted that any agreement to reverse the recent U.S. action against Huawei would be a “catastrophic mistake” and that legislation would be needed to put the restrictions back in place if that turned out to be the case.

Last month, Rubio and Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner urged Trump to not use Huawei as a bargaining chip for trade negotiations.

Huawei has come under mounting scrutiny for over a year, led by U.S. allegations that “back doors” in its routers, switches and other gear could allow China to spy on U.S. communications.

The company has denied its products pose a security threat. It declined to comment on the developments on Saturday.

The problems at Huawei have filtered across to the broader chip industry, with Broadcom Inc warning of a broad slowdown in demand and cutting its revenue forecast.

Trump said he and Xi did not discuss the extradition proceedings against Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, who was arrested in Canada in December on charges alleging she misled global banks about Huawei’s relationship with a company in Iran.

RELIEF AND SCEPTICISM

Scores of Asia specialists, including former U.S. diplomats and military officers, urged Trump to rethink policies that “treat China as an enemy,” warning that approach could hurt U.S. interests and the global economy, according to a draft open letter reviewed by Reuters on Saturday.

Investors, businesses and financial leaders have for months been warning that an intractable tit-for-tat tariff war between the United States and China could damage global supply chains and push the world economy over a cliff.

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde on Saturday urged G20 policymakers to reduce tariffs and other obstacles to trade, warning that the global economy had hit a “rough patch” due to the trade conflict.

Although analysts cheered a resumption of talks between Washington and Beijing, some questioned whether the two sides would be able to build enough momentum to breach the divide and forge a lasting deal.

“Translating this truce into a durable easing of trade tensions is far from automatic … especially as what’s in play now extends well beyond economics to include delicate national security issues of both immediate- and longer-term nature,” said Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser at Allianz.

The United States says China has been stealing American intellectual property for years, forces U.S. firms to share trade secrets as a condition for doing business in China, and subsidizes state-owned firms to dominate industries.

China has said the United States is making unreasonable demands and must also make concessions.

The negotiations hit an impasse in May after Washington accused Beijing of reneging on reform pledges made during months of talks. Trump raised tariffs to 25% from 10% on $200 billion of Chinese goods, and China retaliated by raising levies on a list of U.S. imports.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Michael Martina and Chris Gallagher in Osaka; Additional reporting by Koh Gui Qing in New York, Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Leika Kihara in Osaka and Jennifer Ablan in New York; Writing by Linda Sieg, Malcolm Foster, Jeff Mason and Paul Simao; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Himani Sarkar)

U.S. aims to restart China trade talks, will not accept conditions on tariff use

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States hopes to re-launch trade talks with China after President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping meet in Japan on Saturday, but Washington will not accept any conditions around the U.S. use of tariffs in the dispute, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.

Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on another $325 billion of goods, covering nearly all the remaining Chinese imports into the United States – including consumer products such as cellphones, computers and clothing – if the meeting with Xi produces no progress in resolving a host of U.S. complaints around the way China does business.

The two sides could agree not to impose new tariffs as a goodwill gesture to get negotiations going, the official said, but he said it was unclear if that would happen.

The United States was not willing to come to the Xi meeting with concessions, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Washington wants Beijing to come back the table with the promises it withdrew before talks broke down, he said.

China has shown no softening in its position and said on Monday that both sides should make compromises in the trade talks and that a trade deal has to be beneficial for both countries.

The back-and-forth set up what could prove to be a tricky meeting between Trump and Xi at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Osaka. The session will be the first time they have met since trade talks between the world’s two largest economies broke down in May, when the United States accused China of reneging on reform pledges it made.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, who has led trade talks for Beijing, held a phone conversation with his counterparts, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, on Monday, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce. The three men are helping to pave the way for talks between the leaders later this week.

Expectations for that meeting so far appear to be low. The best-case scenario would be a resumption of official talks, which could ease fears in financial markets that the already long trade dispute might continue indefinitely. The fears have pummeled global markets and hurt the world economy.

Trump advisers have said no trade deal is expected at the meeting but they hope to create a path forward for talks. Once negotiations resume, they could take months or even years to complete, the senior Trump administration official said, with some parts agreed early and others needing more time.

A resumption of negotiations could put that threat of further tariffs on hold, at least for now.

But if Trump sees no progress and decides to raise tariffs, the relationship between the world’s two largest economies would deteriorate further.

“I think if they go with the tariffs, the trade talks are dead. Period,” said one person familiar with the talks.

The United States has made clear it wants China to go back to the position it held in a draft trade agreement that was nearly completed before Beijing balked at some of its terms, particularly requirements to change its laws on key issues.

Beijing wants the United States to lift tariffs, while Washington wants China to change a series of practices including on intellectual property and requirements that U.S. companies share their technology with Chinese companies in order to do business there.

As part of the trade war, Washington has already imposed 25% tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods, ranging from semi-conductors to furniture, that are imported to the United States.

PRESSURE BUILDING

The president has spoken optimistically about the chances of a deal.

The administration official said rounds of meetings between top trade officials from both countries likely would begin again after the G20 summit. He noted that although the vice premier still led China’s trade delegation, new names had been added to the list who could be hard-liners.

The official said Trump and Xi were unlikely to get into the fine details of the draft trade pact, although the case of Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Co may come up during talks.

Pressure on Huawei, which the U.S. government has labeled a security threat, has increased in recent days.

About a dozen rural U.S. telecom carriers that depend on Huawei for network gear are in discussions with its biggest rivals, Ericsson and Nokia, to replace their Chinese equipment, sources familiar with the matter said.

And the U.S.-based research arm of Huawei, Futurewei Technologies Inc, has moved to separate its operations from its corporate parent since the U.S government in May put Huawei on a trade blacklist, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Trump has indicated a willingness to include the Huawei issue in a trade deal, despite the national security implications cited by his advisers about the company. Meanwhile, U.S. parcel delivery firm FedEx Corp on Monday sued the U.S. government, saying it should not be held liable if it inadvertently shipped products that violated a Trump administration ban on exports to some Chinese companies.

The move came after FedEx reignited Chinese ire over its business practices when a package containing a Huawei phone sent to the United States was returned last week to its sender in Britain, in what FedEx said was an “operational error.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Alexandra Alper, Jane Lanhee Lee, Tarmo Vikri, Andrew Galbraith and Angela Moon; editing by Simon Webb and Cynthia Osterman)

Longtime Trump aide Stephanie Grisham will succeed Sanders as press secretary

Stephanie Grisham, spokesperson for first lady Melania Trump, arrives for a campaign rally with U.S. President Donald Trump in Orlando, Florida, U.S., June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Stephanie Grisham, the communications director for first lady Melania Trump and a longtime aide to President Donald Trump, will succeed Sarah Sanders as White House press secretary, Mrs. Trump announced on Tuesday.

Melania Trump announced the development in a tweet to close out the president’s search for a press secretary after Sanders decided to resign and go back home to Arkansas earlier this month.

Grisham, 42, a fixture in the Arizona Republican Party, was one of Trump’s first hires for his presidential campaign – as a press aide in 2015. She served as a deputy press secretary in the White House when he took office in January 2017 and eventually moved over to the first lady’s operation.

A clue that the president was leaning toward Grisham for the job was when aides said she had now been added to the White House team going with Trump to the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, this week.

The fact that Mrs. Trump announced the appointment, instead of the president himself, showed that the first lady was willing to part with Grisham for the greater good.

Grisham will have the dual role of press secretary and communications director. Sanders had essentially been doing both roles as well, without the communications director title.

Melania Trump’s tweet said: “I am pleased to announce @StephGrisham45 will be the next @PressSec & Comms Director! She has been with us since 2015 – @potus & I can think of no better person to serve the Administration & our country. Excited to have Stephanie working for both sides of the @WhiteHouse. #BeBest”

Grisham was viewed internally as the candidate with the best rapport with President Trump, a key requirement.

With his tweets and multiple exchanges with reporters, Trump is in many ways his own press secretary and communications director, and Sanders’ role grew to being a senior adviser.

Whether Grisham would bring back the daily press briefing was unclear. Trump has all but ended the practice and it has been more than three months since the last one.

The other top candidate had been Sanders’ principal deputy press secretary, Hogan Gidley.

Tony Sayegh, a former Treasury Department spokesman, had been considered as well but was in the midst of a move home to New York. Former State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert withdrew herself from consideration.

Gidley tweeted his congratulations to Grisham.

“Amazing announcement! So proud and blessed to have my good friend @StephGrisham45 working with our team. She is a rockstar and perfect to fill Sarah’s shoes!” he said.

Sanders is contemplating a political future in Arkansas, considering a 2022 run for state governor, a position once held by her father, Republican Mike Huckabee.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Trump threatens “obliteration” as Iran slams sanctions on Khamenei

FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves his hand as he arrives to deliver a speech during a ceremony marking the 30th death anniversary of the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran, Iran June 4, 2019. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump threatened on Tuesday to obliterate parts of Iran if the Islamic Republic attacked “anything American”, as Iran said the latest U.S. sanctions had closed off any chance of diplomacy.

“Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force,” Trump tweeted just days the United States came within minutes of bombing Iranian targets.

“In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration,” the U.S. president tweeted.

Trump on Monday signed an executive order imposing sanctions against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other senior figures. Sanctions against Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are expected later this week.

“Imposing useless sanctions on Iran’s Supreme Leader and the commander of Iran’s diplomacy is the permanent closure of the path of diplomacy,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi tweeted.

“Trump’s desperate administration is destroying the established international mechanisms for maintaining world peace and security.”

The moves came after Iran shot down a U.S. drone last week and Trump called off a retaliatory air strike minutes before impact. It would have been the first time the United States had bombed Iran in decades of hostility between them.

Trump said last week that he had decided at the last minute that too many people would die.

In a televised address on Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said sanctions against Khamenei would have no practical impact because the cleric had no assets abroad.

Rouhani, a pragmatist who won two elections on promises to open Iran up to the world, described the U.S. moves as desperate and called the White House “mentally retarded” – an insult that other Iranian officials have used in the past about Trump, but a departure from Rouhani’s own comparatively measured tone.

Rouhani and his cabinet run Iran’s day-to-day affairs, while Khamenei, in power since 1989, is Iran’s ultimate authority.

“The White House actions mean it is mentally retarded,” Rouhani said. “Tehran’s strategic patience does not mean we have fear.”

U.S. SANCTIONS

The United States has imposed crippling economic sanctions against Iran since last year, when Trump withdrew from an agreement between Tehran and world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.

The crisis has escalated sharply since last month, when the Trump administration tightened the sanctions, ordering all countries to halt purchases of Iranian oil.

That has effectively starved the Iranian economy of the main source of revenue Tehran uses to import food for its 81 million people, and left Iran’s pragmatic faction with no benefits to show for its nuclear agreement.

Washington says the 2015 agreement reached under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama did not go far enough because it is not permanent and does not cover issues beyond the nuclear program, such as missiles and regional behavior.

Iran says there is no point negotiating with Washington when it has abandoned a deal that was already reached.

The downing of the U.S. drone – which Iran says was over its air space and the United States says was international skies – followed weeks of rising tensions that had begun to take on a military dimension.

The United States and some regional allies have blamed Iran for attacks on tankers in the Gulf, which Tehran denies. Washington’s European allies have repeatedly warned both sides of the danger that a small mistake could lead to war.

(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Writing by Peter Graff and Kevin Liffey; Editing by Jon Boyle)