Even on vacation, Trump sows confusion about his foreign policy Hunter Walker 3 hours ago 2:190:282:480:332:262:40Trump sends another warning to North Korea WASHINGTON — It’s been a week of walk backs from the White House after President Trump took questions from reporters at his golf club in New Jersey about some sensitive foreign policy issues.On Friday, a National Security Council official told Yahoo News that Trump was “being sarcastic” the day before in saying he was “very thankful” Putin had ordered a reduction of hundreds of employees, including diplomats and support staff, in U.S. missions in Russia.“The president was being sarcastic. We take seriously Moscow’s unwarranted actions against our personnel and diplomatic properties, and we are exploring our response options,” the official said, echoing remarks by White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.The official also praised American diplomatic personnel in Russia and blamed the Kremlin’s “interference in our election and treatment of our diplomats” for starting a “negative trend in our relationship.”“Our diplomats at our embassy in Moscow and three consulates serve with great distinction and courage,” the official said, adding, “Along with our Russian employees, they face harassment and intimidation as they seek to manage a troubled bilateral relationship and deepen our ties with the Russian people. The president and the secretary of state value their tremendous work and salute them.”It was the second time in a week that Trump’s comments required a cleanup effort from administration officials. Trump previously raised the possibility of military action against North Korea during one of his working-vacation question and answer sessions, a position that led to multiple clarifications from State Department officials.Alexander Vershbow, who served as ambassador to Russia and to South Korea under President George W. Bush, told Yahoo News that the messages Trump sent from his golf club seemed “incoherent” and could cause serious risks. Vershbow, who also served as deputy secretary general of NATO and an assistant secretary of defense under President Barack Obama, said clear communications are particularly important in foreign relations.“In diplomacy, but also in the kind of signaling that you have to conduct against a potential military adversary, you’ve got to be very precise on what your red lines are, and that certainly hasn’t been the case,” Vershbow said of Trump.Officials from both the National Security Council and the State Department did not respond to requests for comment from Yahoo News asking if they believe the president is articulating a clear posture toward North Korea and Moscow.Trump addressed the diplomats’ expulsion from Russia in an availability with reporters on Thursday as he continued a working vacation at his Garden State golf course. The president said there was “no real reason” for the diplomats to return to Russia and expressed gratitude to Putin for helping him save money. Trump’s 2018 budget proposed slashing 29 percent from the State Department.“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump said.The president’s comments immediately drew the attention and scrutiny that has surrounded every aspect of his relationship with Russia in light of the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion the Kremlin interfered in last year’s election to aid Trump. There are currently multiple investigations into whether Trump’s campaign team colluded with Russia. Trump has repeatedly expressed doubts Russia intervened in the election and, when he signed off on the sanctions bill that provoked Putin’s order, he issued a statement calling them “seriously flawed” and criticizing Congress for limiting his ability to negotiate with Moscow.“It’s nice to belatedly hear that it was in jest or being sarcastic, but it didn’t sound that way on delivery,” Vershbow said of Trump’s comments, adding, “But we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that one.”Trump addressed the expulsion of diplomats in Russia during one of two availabilities he held with reporters in New Jersey on Thursday. The president has not had an extensive interaction with the press corps at the White House since February. An official told Politico that Trump made the decision to take questions on Thursday and did not give his staff much advance notice.Trump was similarly loquacious on Tuesday when he engaged reporters and vowed to respond to North Korean threats against the U.S. with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” That comment provoked a flurry of contradictory responses from the Trump administration.Aides later described the president’s remarks on North Korea as “unplanned and spontaneous.” Some officials and experts who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity suggested Trump’s impromptu escalation of rhetoric toward North Korea was unhelpful and could hamper diplomatic efforts.Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explained the president’s comments by saying Trump was speaking in language the North Korean regime “would understand” since diplomatic efforts haven’t been successful thus far. But Tillerson also seemed to temper Trump’s fiery remarks when he said the American people “should sleep well at night” without fear of a potential military conflict. On Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert further said there was no contradiction between Tillerson’s comments and Trump’s.”We are all singing from the same hymnbook,” Nauert said.However, in a subsequent interview on Thursday, deputy assistant to the president Sebastian Gorka cast doubt on that assertion. Gorka suggested Tillerson was not qualified to discuss the administration’s position on potential military action in North Korea.“You should listen to the president; the idea that Secretary Tillerson is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical,” Gorka said.After Gorka’s comment made headlines, he suggested he was being misconstrued. Gorka told Fox News he was admonishing reporters from the “fake news-industrial complex“ for trying “to force our chief diplomat … to give details of military options” that are outside of his purview. Gorka did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Yahoo News.Trump further complicated the administration’s position on North Korea during one of his two press availabilities on Thursday when he said his “fire and fury” remark may not have been “tough enough.” When asked what could be tougher than “fire and fury,” the president was coy.“We’ll see,” Trump said.Vershbow, the veteran diplomat, said Trump’s comments seem to “open the door to possible military action just in response to North Korean rhetorical threats” or a test or missile launch in the vicinity of the American territory of Guam. He noted that this posture contradicts what other American officials have said, that the U.S. would not take preemptive military action against North Korea. The danger, Vershbow said, is that Trump’s comments do not give the North Korean regime clear “red lines.”“The language certainly is open to many interpretations, and that’s risky when you’re dealing with a very insecure regime in Pyongyang,” Vershbow said.Vershbow said some of the experts on North Korean policy he communicates with are “alarmed” by the situation while others see a “glimmer of strategy” from Trump. Vershbow allowed that Trump’s comments could be a strategic attempt to apply “political pressure” on North Korea to de-escalate its rhetoric and nuclear missile testing program. He also suggested the tough talk could push North Korea’s top ally, China, to do more to implement sanctions against the regime. However, Vershbow was decidedly pessimistic about the possibility there was a well thought out rationale behind Trump’s remarks.“It’s hard to know whether this is part of some diabolically clever plan to put the heat on China by basically scaring the hell out of them,” Vershbow said, later adding, “It’s hard to be sure whether it’s that well coordinated. It looks rather incoherent to me.”
Trump: If North Korea attacks US, it ‘will regret it fast’ Associated Press Get the app Despite Trump’s threats, U.S. military doesn’t seem set for war BEDMINSTER, N.J. — President Donald Trump on Friday issued fresh threats of swift and forceful retaliation against nuclear North Korea, declaring the U.S. military „locked and loaded” and warning that the communist country’s leader „will regret it fast” if he takes any action against U.S. territories or allies.The warnings came in a cascade of unscripted statements throughout the day, each ratcheting up a rhetorical standoff between the two nuclear nations. The president appeared to draw another red line that would trigger a U.S. attack against North Korea and „big, big trouble” for its leader, Kim Jong Un. Trump’s comments, however, did not appear to be backed by significant military mobilization on either side of the Pacific, and an important, quiet diplomatic channel remained open.”If he utters one threat in the form of an overt threat — which by the way he has been uttering for years and his family has been uttering for years — or he does anything with respect to Guam or anyplace else that’s an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it and he will regret it fast,” Trump told reporters at his New Jersey golf resort.Asked if the U.S. was going to war, he said cryptically, „I think you know the answer to that.”The compounding threats came in a week in which longstanding tensions between the countries risked abruptly boiling over. New United Nations sanctions condemning the North’s rapidly developing nuclear program drew fresh ire and threats from Pyongyang. Trump responded by vowing to rain down „fire and fury” if challenged. The North then threatened to lob missiles near Guam, a tiny U.S. territory some 2,000 miles from Pyongyang.Tough talk aside, talks between senior U.S. and North Korean diplomats continue through a back channel previously used to negotiate the return of Americans held in North Korea. The talks have expanded to address the deterioration of the relationship. They haven’t quelled tensions, but could be a foundation for a more diplomacy, according to U.S. officials and others briefed on the process. They weren’t authorized to discuss the confidential exchanges and spoke on condition of anonymity.Trump on Friday sought to project military strength, only dialing back slightly throughout the day.He began with a morning tweet: „Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”He later retweeted a posting from U.S. Pacific Command that showed B-1B Lancer bomber planes on Guam that „stand ready to fulfill USFK’s #FightTonight mission if called upon to do so.” Such declarations, however, don’t indicate a new, more aggressive posture. „Fight tonight” has long been the motto of U.S. forces in South Korea to show they’re always ready for combat on the Korean Peninsula.Trump declined to explain the boast of military readiness when asked by reporters later in the day at an event highlighting workforce development programs. He also brushed away calls for caution from world leaders, including Germany’s Angela Merkel.”I don’t see a military solution and I don’t think it’s called for,” Merkel said Friday, declining to say whether Germany would stand with the U.S. in a military conflict with North Korea. She called on the U.N. Security Council to continue to address the crisis.”I think escalating the rhetoric is the wrong answer,” Merkel added.”Let her speak for Germany,” Trump said, when asked about the comment. „Perhaps she is referring to Germany. She’s certainly not referring to the United States, that I can tell you.”By evening, after a briefing with top advisers and standing next to his secretary of state and U.N. ambassador, Trump suggested diplomacy could yet prevail.”Hopefully it’ll all work out,” Trump said. „Nobody loves a peaceful solution better than President Trump.”The president said he intended to speak Friday evening with China’s President Xi Jinping, whom he has pushed to pressure North Korea to halt a nuclear weapons program that is nearing the capability of targeting the United States.Faced with perhaps his biggest international crisis as president, Trump has responded with an abundance of swagger and a lot of words. He’s held a series of freewheeling press conferences with reporters, answering complex and delicate questions apparently off the cuff. On Friday, he veered from North Korea to comments on politics. He even suggested he would consider military action against Venezuela, puzzling his military planners.Trump announced he planned to hold another press conference in Washington Monday.Behind the threats, U.S. officials insist there has been no new significant movement of troops, ships, aircraft or other assets to the region other than for long scheduled military exercises with South Korea.American and South Korean officials said the exercises would happen as planned this month. North Korea claims they’re a rehearsal for war.As it is, the U.S. has a robust military presence in the region, including six B-1 bombers in Guam and Air Force fighter jet units in South Korea, plus other assets across the Pacific Ocean and in the skies above. Military options range from nothing to a full-on conventional assault by air, sea and ground forces. Any order by the president could be executed quickly.The U.S.-South Korea exercises are an annual event, but they come as Pyongyang says it’s readying a plan to fire off four medium-range missiles toward Guam, a U.S. territory and major military hub. The plan would be sent to Kim for approval just before or as the U.S.-South Korea drills begin.Called Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, the exercises are expected to run Aug. 21-31 and involve tens of thousands of American and South Korean troops on the ground and in the sea and air. Washington and Seoul say the exercises are defensive in nature and crucial to deterring North Korean aggression.__Associated Press writer Eric Talmadge contributed from Seoul, South Korea. Associated Press writers Josh Lederman, Matthew Pennington and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.
Senate GOP rallies behind McConnell in feud with Trump JULIE BYKOWICZ and ERICA WERNER,Associated Press 6 hours ago