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Trump says he’s decided on Iran pact, now plays it for suspense

President Donald Trump speaks during a luncheon with

President Donald Trump speaks during a luncheon with African leaders at the Palace Hotel in midtown Manhattan during the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. Credit: AP / Evan Vucci

A nuclear cliffhanger

For two years, Donald Trump has been blasting the agreement designed to stop Iran’s nuclear weapon development as “a terrible deal.” On Wednesday, he told reporters “I have decided” what to do about it.

And when’s he going to say what that is?

“I’ll let you know.”

Trump called the deal an “embarrassment” in his UN General Assembly address Tuesday, saying, “We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program.” But European allies who signed on to the agreement are urging him to stay.

Trump has until Oct. 15 to certify to Congress whether Iran is in compliance with the deal. If he says no, it wouldn’t end the agreement immediately. The Trump administration could seek a renegotiation, but Iran says it would refuse to go along.

See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.

Name tag

Trump administration officials spun the president’s use of a nickname for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un — “Rocket Man” — as brilliant branding.

On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said: “It worked. I was talking to a president of an African country yesterday and he actually cited ‘Rocket Man’ back to me. So I will tell you that, look, this is a way of, like, you know, getting people to talk about him.”

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump was showing he’s a strong leader. “That’s a President Trump original. As you know, he’s a master in branding,” she said.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, arriving in New York for the UN meeting, was asked about Trump’s “Rocket Man” line. “I feel sorry for his aides,” Ri replied.

Game on

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani gave name-calling a try Wednesday in his UN General Assembly speech hitting back at Trump’s threat to tear up the nuclear deal.

“It will be a great pity if this agreement were to be destroyed by rogue newcomers to the world of politics,” Rouhani said.

The take-away: Manafort destiny

Under an ever-tightening squeeze by special counsel Robert Mueller, it’s not looking good for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. What’s not yet clear, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison: What, if anything, does it mean for Trump?

The president’s defenders are focusing on the electronic surveillance of Manafort, which dates to 2014, as somehow confirming Trump’s March accusation on Twitter that former President Barack Obama tapped his phones.

Trump has never explained what was behind his charge, which the Justice Department recently called baseless. It’s conceivable the tap of Manafort scooped up a Trump conversation or two.

Was it insider trading?

As Trump got ready to accept the GOP nomination last year, Manafort offered private briefings on the campaign to a Russian billionaire, Oleg Deripaska, who is a top ally of Vladimir Putin, The Washington Post reported.

Investigators believe emails now in their hands show Manafort tried to profit from his top-level role with Trump and crested a potential opening for Russian interests with the campaign, the report said. They also reflected efforts to collect money that Manafort believed he was owed by Eastern European clients.

The Post and The New York Times also wrote that Mueller is seeking documents from the White House in 13 distinct areas of investigation, including links between Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey as the president was pushing to shut down Russia investigations.

Price is no object

Over a three-day period last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price last week took private jets on five flights for official business at a cost charter operators estimated at $60,000, Politico reported.

The three organizations who hosted Price in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New Hampshire said they didn’t cover his travel costs.

HHS refused to say who paid for the flights but said there weren’t good commercial-travel options, even though one leg of the trip — between Washington and Philadelphia — has convenient airline and Amtrak options.

Out of Africa

Speaking to leaders from African countries, Trump gave a shout-out to progress in “Nambia.”

Don’t look for it on the map. He misread Namibia, which happens to share a border with Zambia.

Trump also praised Africa’s “tremendous business potential,” saying, “I have so many friends going to your countries, trying to get rich. I congratulate you.”

He may have meant that as an applause line, but no one clapped.

What else is happening:

  • A trusted Trump security man and ex-Fed hired in 2015 had close knowledge of the past of the criminal involvements and government cooperation of Trump organization real estate associate Felix Sater of Port Washington, the McClatchy news organization reports.
  • And Mueller's team includes the former FBI general counsel who in the 1990's worked on a case related to the Mafia and Russian organized crime that involved Sater, CBS News reports.
  • Chief of staff John Kelly was photographed with his head in his hands during Trump’s UN speech Tuesday, but Huckabee Sanders said those interpreting his posture as distress are off base. “Just like the rest of us, we’re tired trying to keep up with this president,” she said.
  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, meeting with Trump, praised U.S. efforts to broker peace with Israel. Trump said, “I think we have a pretty good shot ... Who knows, stranger things have happened.” Privately, Palestinians say Trump hasn’t offered specific ideas, The Associated Press reports.
  • Jeff Mateer, a Trump’s nominee for a federal judgeship in Texas, called a child identifying as transgender evidence of “Satan’s plan,” CNN reports.
  • Trump tweeted a pitch for the latest Senate Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, declaring, “I would not sign Graham-Cassidy if it did not include coverage of pre-existing conditions.” But the bill gives states a way to gut that protection.
  • Ivanka Trump revealed in a “Dr. Oz” TV interview that she suffered from “some level” of postpartum depression after delivering each of her three children. “I felt like I was not living up to my potential as a parent or as an entrepreneur and an executive,” she said.
  • CBS News, CNN, Fox News, ABC News and NBC News have all passed on offering former White House press secretary Sean Spicer a job as an exclusive paid contributor, NBC reported. News executives said he had a “lack of credibility” issue.
  • Famously fired by Trump, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has joined CNN as a legal analyst

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