Trump appears to threaten Seoul: “It’s a very strong card”

Developments on Day 434 of the Trump Administration:

Trump Lauds, Then Pulls Back Accord with Seoul

In a rambling speech in Ohio, Donald Trump praises a new trade agreement with South Korea but then immediately suggests he may delay it.

“I may hold it up until after a deal is made with North Korea,” Trump said, immediately after celebrating the new agreement. “Does everybody understand that? You know why, right? You know why? Because it’s a very strong card.”

Having effectively threatened his allies in Seoul, Trump added, “We’ll probably hold that deal up for a little while, see how it all plays out.”

Trump never explained what leverage he was seeking over South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in amid discussions over North Korea’s nuclear program.

Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, insisted in a statement that South Korea and the US had reached a trade deal “in principle”: “The President, taking into account all relevant considerations — including negotiations with North Korea — will determine the best time to sign a finalized agreement on behalf of the United States.”

The maneuvers with South Korea date back to the ill-fated steel and aluminum tariffs announced by the Trump Administration at the start of March. The duties ran into trouble when it became clear that they had little effect on China — the rhetorical target of Trump — but instead hit allies such as South Korea, Japan, Canada, and Germany.

Last week the Administration declared exemptions for those countries as well as others like Australia and Brazil, while refocusing on Beijing with a declaration of tariffs on $60 billion of Chinese imports.

Then South Korea announced a limited agreement to further push back any US restrictions. Seoul said it would voluntarily limit steel exports by 30%, while 25% duties on South Korean small trucks would be extended by the US for 20 years.

However, the White House was muted in what appeared to be a triumph from the wreckage of the steel-aluminum initiative. It waited several days after Seoul’s announcement before confirming the arrangements to reporters.

And on Thursday, Trump spent almost all his time attacking an earlier version of the US-South Korea trade agreement as a “horror show” and a “Hillary Clinton special”.

Trump: We’ll Pull Out of Syria

Trump was supposed to speak on an infrastructure plan in Ohio, promoting an attempt to leverage $200 billion in federal spending to generate $1.5 trillion in total spending on projects such as tunnels, bridges and highways. However, he only mentioned the initiative briefly near the end of his commments.

Instead he veered from The Wall with Mexico, “job killing” regulations, his battles with Democrats, and the insistence,
“Really, I have gotten done much more than I promised. We did a lot of things I didn’t even promise.”

Trump also appeared to wander into other unplanned commitments. He said that he plans to withdraw US troops from Syria, abandoning their support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces who had pushed the Islamic State out of much of the north and east of the country.

“We’re knocking the hell out of ISIS,” Trump said. “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.”

As the crowd applauded, he pressed ahead: “Very soon, very soon we’re coming out. We’re going to have 100% of the caliphate, as they call it — sometimes referred to as ‘land’ — taking it all back quickly, quickly.”

The comments are at odds with the Pentagon, which plans to keep a US force in place alongside the SDF. The issue has been sharpened in the past two months by a Turkish-rebel offensive which has taken Kurdish territory in northwest Syria and is threatening to challenge the SDF in the northern city of Manbij.

See Syria Daily, March 30: France Supports Kurdish Forces in Northeast, Offers Mediation with Turkey

And when Trump finally got to infrastructure, he pushed aside any prospect of an advance this year: “I don’t think you’re going to get Democrat support very much. You’re probably going to have to wait until after the election.”

Mueller Investigating Russia Links at 2016 GOP Convention

The team of Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating possible Trump-Russia links that affected the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Mueller’s team are asking about a convention-related event attended by both Jeff Sessions, a key Trump advisor and now Attorney General, and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. They are also examining the Trump team’s involvement in removing language in the GOP platform which criticized Russia over its operations in Ukraine.

The final platform deleted a reference to supply of “lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine’s armed forces”, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and involvement with eastern Ukraine separatists. The change reportedly occurred after the intervention Trump’s foreign policy advisor J.D. Gordon.

Investigators are also looking into an April 2016 encounter between Sessions and Kislyak on the sidelines of a Trump campaign speech at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel in April 2016.

Sessions’ staff have denied any private discussions with Kislyak at the Mayflower. The Attorney General told a Congressional hearing last year that he could not recall any conversations with Russian officials at the hotel but could not rule out that a “brief interaction” with Kislyak may have occurred there.

Immigration Officers End Practice of Releasing Pregnant Women from Detention

Immigration and Customs Enforcement ends its practice of automatically releasing pregnant women from detention.

ICE is changing its procedures because of Donald Trump’s executive order “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States”.

Pregnant women will now only be free if an ICE officer makes the determination on a case-by-case basis.

Immigrants’ rights advocates say pregnant women are more likely to miscarry if they are in detention.

Administration to Weaken Emissions Standards for Cars

The Trump Administration will soon weaken greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards for automobiles.

The move undermines one of Barack Obama’s central efforts to fight climate change. An Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman confirmed that head Scott Pruitt has sent a draft of the 16-page plan to the White House for approval.

The plan is likely to bring a legal battle with California, which has vowed to stick with the stricter rules, and 12 states following its lead.