During an unusual private meeting on the sidelines of Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast, President Donald Trump promised a Ukrainian opposition leader that the United States won’t lift sanctions on Russia until it pulls out of Ukraine, according to three people briefed on the meeting.
Within hours of meeting with both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the prayer breakfast, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko relayed the contents of the meeting to separate audiences at the Heritage Foundation and the Hudson Institute, according to people who attended the off-the-record events at the conservative think tanks.
The sources said that Tymoshenko, a member of parliament who is positioning herself for a presidential campaign against the beleaguered incumbent president Petro Poroshenko, told the think tanks that Trump assured her he would “not abandon” Ukraine, which claims that Russian troops are responsible for increased fighting in the region near the countries’ shared border. The international community largely supports this view, but Moscow denies it and blames the fighting on pro-Russian separatists.
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President Trump, who has made support for Israel a cornerstone of his foreign policy, shifted gears on Thursday and for the first time warned the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hold off new settlement construction.
“While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal,” the White House said in a statement.
The White House noted that the president “has not taken an official position on settlement activity,” but said Mr. Trump would discuss the issue with Mr. Netanyahu when they meet Feb. 15, in effect telling him to wait until then. Emboldened by Mr. Trump’s support, Israel had announced more than 5,000 new homes in the West Bank since his Jan. 20 inauguration.
The statement resembled those issued routinely by previous administrations of both parties for decades, but Mr. Trump has positioned himself as an unabashed ally of Israel and until now had never questioned Mr. Netanyahu’s approach. Mr. Trump picked as his ambassador to Israel a financial supporter of West Bank settlement, and he harshly criticized former President Barack Obama in December for not blocking a United Nations resolution condemning settlements.
–Peter Baker, The New York Times
President Trump promised faith leaders Thursday that he would “totally destroy” the law that prohibits churches from engaging in political activity, a move that would upend 63 years of settled tax law.
In an appearance at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, Trump said he would make good on his promise to overturn the so-called Johnson Amendment, which bans public charities — including churches — from campaigning for or against a candidate for for elected office. Those who do risk losing their tax exemption.
“Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs. That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution,” Trump said. “I will do that, remember.”
The statement was met by enthusiastic applause from the religious leaders.
–Gregory Korte, USA TODAY
President Trump early Thursday threatened to cut federal funding to the University of California, Berkeley after violent protests broke out on its campus Wednesday in response to a planned appearance by a far-right commentator.
“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view — NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” the president tweeted Thursday morning.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) on Thursday released a statement calling the president’s apparent threat an “abuse of power.”
A day after the Trump administration put Iran on notice for its launch of a ballistic missile, a war of words erupted between the American president and the Iranian government, with President Trump insulting Tehran on Twitter and the Iranians responding in kind.
A top adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Thursday that Iran would not be intimidated by threats from “an inexperienced person.” Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, had warned Iran that it faced unspecified reprisals from the United States if it did not cease aggressive behavior toward its neighbors.
Mr. Trump echoed Mr. Flynn’s threat with a pair of early morning Twitter posts, in which he accused the Iranians of ingratitude for the nuclear deal negotiated with the West, which he asserted had rescued Iran from collapse. Continue reading “Thur, Feb. 2, 2017: Trump, Iran in Twitter feud after missile test”
Apparently following through on his pledge of aggressive foreign policy, President Trump has used his first two weeks in office to put Iran “on notice” from the United States, shut down refugee programs, and engage in reportedly contentious, sometimes threatening, telephone calls with leaders of two U.S. allies — Australia and Mexico.
Trump’s national security adviser announced the notice on Iran on Wednesday over a reported missile launch, while leaked documents reflected the calls between Trump and the presidents of Mexico and Australia over the fraught issues of drug trafficking, immigration and refugees. Continue reading “Reports: Trump’s calls with foreign leaders contentious, aggressive”
7:15 am: Attends the National Prayer Breakfast; Washington
10:00 am: Meets with Chief of Staff Priebus
10:30 am: Participates in a legislative affairs strategy session
11:15 am: Meets with Senator Orrin Hatch, Senator Ron Wyden, Congressman Kevin Brady, and Congressman Richard Neal; Roosevelt Room
1:00 pm: Has lunch with Harley Davidson executives and union representatives; Roosevelt Room
President Donald Trump asked attendees at the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday morning to pray for former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who replaced him as the host of NBC’s “The Celebrity Apprentice,” because the show’s ratings have not reached the level they did with Trump as the star.
Trump was introduced at the breakfast by Mark Burnett, the producer and creator of both “The Celebrity Apprentice” as well as the show’s original version, “The Apprentice.” Trump called Burnett “a special, special friend” and said they had “had an amazing life together.” But the president also took a shot at the producer who launched the reality TV show that magnified his fame and broadcast him into millions of living rooms around the country. Continue reading “Thur, Feb. 2, 2017: Trump attends National Prayer Breakfast”