President Donald Trump meets this week with international leaders, and for the first time with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. With each he must balance conflict and cooperation, respect and resolve.
Trump’s most urgent foreign policy problem, however, is North Korea, and the hostile nation reminded the world of that again on Tuesday when it successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that could have reached Alaska. North Korea’s attempt to build a weapon that can reach the mainland United States and arm it with a nuclear warhead is progressing quickly. And it is unclear whether the nation’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, can be reasoned with or mollified.
Trump doesn’t seem to have an alternative strategy to defuse tensions now that China has refused to impose financial sanctions. Any pre-emptive attack on North Korea’s nuclear capabilities would have limited success. Worse, it could mean a conventional war with devastating losses for both South Korea and the more than 30,000 U.S. troops stationed there.
This weekend, Trump will meet with the three leaders he must rely on most to stop North Korean aggression: the presidents of South Korea and China and the prime minister of Japan. Our relations with these nations are fraught with complexity.
So Trump has plenty to concentrate on even without considering Friday’s sit-down with Putin. Trump has to toe a fine line with the Russian president. Our nations are dangerously close to armed conflict with each other in the Middle East, where Putin backs Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Trump supports the rebels. And both claim to be working to stomp out the Islamic State that hates Assad and the West.
But Trump and Putin are also viewed as dangerously cozy on the generally accepted idea that the Russians tried to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election via propaganda and computer hacking. Putin, perhaps the wiliest and most experienced operator on the international scene, wants the United States to lift sanctions imposed by the Obama administration when Russia annexed Crimea and invaded Ukraine — and when it invaded our 2016 presidential election.
Trump must sit down armed with clear goals and tough strategy. And the president must set aside his personal anger at the suggestion that Russia’s election tampering sullied his win.
Putin’s Russia has done nothing to deserve the lifting of sanctions. The two so-called recreational compounds seized by the Obama administration in response to the election tampering, one in Upper Brookville, cannot be returned. The economic clampdown that came after the Ukraine invasion cannot be loosened. Trump must demand that the electronic meddling and propaganda push in our election stop immediately.
Trump’s second European visit will feature a major speech Thursday in Warsaw. It’s a great opportunity to modify his “America first” stance and remind the world what a committed and trustworthy United States can bring to these critical alliances.
We are a nation that stands up for other countries whenever it is right, and stands up to them whenever it’s necessary. That’s what Trump must do with Russia and North Korea.