Trump:”If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.”

Developments on Day 73 of the Trump Administration:

Trump’s Tough Talk About China

Days before a visit by Chinese leader Xin Jinping, Donald Trump talks tough, declaring that he will resolve the North Korean issue with or without Beijing.

Trump told The Financial Times:

Yes, we will talk about North Korea. And China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t. And if they do that will be very good for China, and if they don’t it won’t be good for anyone.

Trump said trade provided the incentive for China to work with the US, but asserted that he can “totally” handle the situation in North Korea without China’s help.

The President — who said during his campaign that he would gladly sit down for a hamburger with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, offered no idea of what he would do, from bilateral negotiations to military action; however, his language pointed to coercion:

I’m not going to tell you. You know, I am not the United States of the past where we tell you where we are going to hit in the Middle East.

Pressed whether he would consider Chinese pressure on Pyongyang in exchange for a guarantee that the US will later remove troops from the Korean peninsula, he repeated: “Well, if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you.”

Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, offered a different line from Trump’s comments. While expressing firmness over the issue, she avoided the warning of American unilateral action and indeed emphasized Beijing’s essential role.

They need to show us how concerned they are. They need to put pressure on North Korea. The only country that can stop North Korea is China, and they know that.

Asked what the U.S. would do if China doesn’t cooperate, Haley said, “China has to cooperate.”

North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and two dozen tests of ballistic missiles last years. Since Trump became President in January, Pyongyang has carried out two high-profile missile launches.

K.T. McFarland, the Deputy National Security Advisor and an ally of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, played up the threat in her interview with the Financial Times, “There is a real possibility that North Korea will be able to hit the US with a nuclear-armed missile by the end of the first Trump term.”

Trump has also tried to set a tough economic line with the Chinese before the meetings next weekend in his Mar-a-Lago resort in south Florida. He tweeted last week, “The meeting…with China will be a very difficult one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses. American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives.”

However, he stepped back from an immediate confrontation in the Financial Times interview, saying that he doesn’t “want to talk about tariffs yet. Perhaps the next time we meet.”

He also vaguely spoke of a sudden breakthrough in Mar-a-Lago:

I have great respect for him. I have great respect for China. I would not be at all surprised if we did something that would be very dramatic and good for both countries and I hope so.

Donald Trump at the White House, March 1, 2017 (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Democratic Representative: Trump’s “Wild Goose Chase” Diversion From Russia Investigation

A Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee speaks about Donald Trump’s repeated attempts to divert attention from the investigation of his associates’ links with Russia.

Representative Jackie Speier said
of the “wild goose chase”, including Trump’s unsupported allegations that President Obama wiretapped his campaign, “I am absolutely convinced it started in the Oval Office.”

The effort has effectively compromised the GOP head of the committee, Devin Nunes, who was summoned to the White House grounds almost two weeks ago to receive intelligence about the incidental surveillance of Trump’s transition team as US agencies monitored Russian officials.

The next day, Nunes spoke with Trump about the next steps. The chairman then suspended the committee’s hearings after only one session.

“There’s no question in my mind that the President, with the aid of his National Security Advisor’s staff, came up with some kind of a ruse to try and suggest there was some kind of validity” to the wiretapping claims, Speier said.

She said of Nunes, “I don’t believe he can remain on the committee. This wasn’t done to him…. He took an action that impeded his credibility.”

Pentagon Scepticism Over “Combat Tourist” Kushner

As Jared Kushner — Donald Trump’s son-in-law, senior advisor, and envoy to the Middle East — heads to Iraq, Buzzfeed’s Nancy Youssef reports scepticism among the US military and Department of Defense:

Trump Has Filled 1 of 53 Senior Pentagon Vacancies

Donald Trump has filled one of 53 senior posts at the Department of Defense.

Only Defense Secretary James Mattis has completed the process. Former Representative Heather Wilson, the nominee for Air Force Secretary, was interviewed was interviewed last week by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The top lawmakers on the House Armed Services oversight subcommittee have sent a letter to Trump urging him to fill the existing vacancies at the Office of the Inspector General and Office of Special Counsel.

“We strongly encourage you to expeditiously put forth new nominees and move them through the confirmation process so that these offices can fully exercise their statutory duty to be effective and independent watchdogs,” Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Seth Moulton, the GOP chairwoman and ranking Democrat of the subcommittee, said in the letter.

The confirmation process for DoD nominees is tougher than for other appointments because of rules such as the complete divestiture of business interests. Both the nominees for Army Secretary and Navy Secretary stepped aside because of difficulties over financial regulations.

However, the Trump White House has compounded the problem by only send 43 nominations across the Government to the Senate, which has confirmed 21. At the same point in his administration, President Obama had sent 92 nominees to the Senate and had 37 of them confirmed.

More than 480 other positions across the government still need nominees.

At the Pentagon, there has been further difficulties because of conflict between the White House and Defense Secretary Mattis. A lobbyist summarized:

Early on a lot of names that were floated by the Trump folks were rejected by the Mattis folks. A lot of names that Mattis floated were rejected by the Trump folks. That really slowed things down and there’s a been lot of friction between the two.”

A defense industry consultant said Mattis has found Trump’s Pentagon offerings to be “just utterly unqualified, [as] they don’t have any background” in defense policy.