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WORLD | 29-06-2019 08:41

Donald Trump steals spotlight in Osaka

The US president will hold highly-anticipated bilateral meetings with Chinese premier Xi Jinping and Saudi leader Mohammed Bin Salman on today.

Arguably, this was US P r e sident D on a ld Trump’s G20 summit. With a global trade war to figure out, rising tensions in the Middle East, and continued suspicions regarding the role of Russia in his controversial election, Trump was the one everybody wanted to speak to in Osaka.

Trump had held seven bilateral meetings by press time, most notably with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin which contained several statements that would be considered “gaffes” for most other world leaders.

During a joint press briefing yesterday, a reporter asked Trump if he would tell Putin not to meddle in the 2020 US presidential elections. With a grin, the US president turned to his Russian counterpart and said, “don’t meddle in the election, President” while wagging his finger with a tangibly large dose of sarcasm. Rather than reacting as if he had been castigated by the leader of the free world, Putin merely chuckled.

Though the issue of Russian interference in US elections may have been a laughing matter to the two heads of state, this is their first meeting since the special counsel headed by Robert S. Mueller III found that Russia conducted “sweeping and systematic” efforts to sway the results of the 2016 elections. Trump has long contended that there was “no obstruction” of the investigation and “no collusion” with Russia. However, the 448 page report detailed several efforts by the US president to end the investigation which were rebuffed by his staff. Though it did not find conclusive evidence of conspiracy with Russia, it provided ample territory for further investigation.

Special counsel Mueller is set to testify in Congress next month, and Trump’s meeting with Putin has reignited frustrations among Democrats regarding the US president’s coziness with the Russian leader despite what they consider interference in US democracy.

Beyond making light of election interference, Trump also seemed to bond with Putin over their mutual disdain for mainstream media. “Get rid of them,” Trump said, referring to journalists. “Fake news is a great term, isn’t it? You don’t have this problem in Russia but we do.” “We also have,” Putin responded, in English. “It’s the same.”

While cozying up to Putin, Trump also lashed out the US’ traditional allies, Japan –the host of this year’s summit– and Germany. Trump lamented that if the US were ever attacked, the Japanese would not come to their defence but would rather, “watch it on a Sony television” calling into question the mutual-defence treaty that has been the core of US-Japanese relations since 1960 and is one of the longest lasting bilateral treaties in world history. Bloomberg even reported that Trump privately mused about ending the treaty. He also repeated his frequent criticism that Germany does not pay its fair share of NATO’s budget leaving the US to fund “close to 100 percent” of the organisation.

Today, Trump is scheduled to meet with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping. The two countries have been engaged in a multibillion dollar trade war for nearly a year and there have been talks of a temporary halt to tariffs while negotiations are carried out. “I think we have a very good chance” of doing “something,” Trump told reporters at the G-20 summit in Japan. Xi for his part criticisedLater in the day, he is will meet with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia who has been pinpointed by certain groups within US intelligence as the intellectual author of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2018. MBS, as bin Salman is known in the media, was also accused by the United Nations of being behind Khashoggi’s murder. Saudi Arabia is also Iran’s main rival in the Middle East. Tensions have risen in recent weeks between the Shia nation and the US as Iran shot down a US drone. Trump then claimed to have been seconds away from ordering a strike on Iran before having second thoughts. Trump said he has no “exit strategy” if the US goes to war with Iran. Saudi Arabia has urged the US to apply “maximum pressure” on their Shia rival and this is sure to be a large topic of conversation in Saturday’s meeting.

It was, once again, the Trump show at the G20 summit. – without mentioning it by name – US attacks on global trade.

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