Barack Obama returns to the US political arena

Former US President Barack Obama has remained largely detached from the political debate since leaving office on January 20, in keeping with presidential tradition. (AFP)
Updated 19 October 2017
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Barack Obama returns to the US political arena

RICHMOND, United States: Barack Obama is returning to the political arena for the first time in months after keeping a low profile and avoiding direct confrontation with his White House successor.
The 56-year-old former president is scheduled to attend campaign rallies in New Jersey and Virginia on Thursday to support Democratic party candidates for governor.
Voters in both states will decide the gubernatorial contests on November 7, one year after Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton and stormed into the White House on a wave of anti-establishment fury.
The races are a potential indicator of voter sentiment ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, which will be a major test for Trump and his Republican party.
“There are only two big elections this year, for governor in NJ and VA,” political science professor Larry Sabato said.
“What’s at stake is bragging rights headed into the 2018 midterm elections,” Sabato said.
It is unclear what Obama’s message will be. The former US leader has remained largely detached from the political debate since leaving office on January 20, in keeping with presidential tradition.
Trump has meanwhile used his first nine months in the White House to methodically demolish key Obama administration policies.
After three months of vacation Obama began writing his memoirs. He has said little in public and granted almost no interviews.
The few times Obama broke his silence was to comment on issues of national importance, such as immigration, health care and climate change.
But the 44th president may be tempted on Thursday to take aim at Trump, who has frequently and publicly excoriated his predecessor.
In New Jersey, the post of governor will almost certainly go to Democrat Philip Murphy, who would succeed Chris Christie, a Trump ally whose popularity has plummeted to record lows.
New Jersey “is a runaway win for the Democrats, so Virginia is the only competitive contest. Obama is needed much more in Richmond than Trenton,” said Sabato, referring to the capitals of the two states.
Virginia is a pivotal state and the only southern US state that Clinton won in 2016. Its importance is amplified by its proximity to the US capital.
“If the GOP loses in Virginia, Trump will be widely blamed since he is so unpopular in a state carried by Hillary Clinton,” Sabato said.
“Should the Republicans win Virginia’s governorship, then Trump will not be viewed as such a liability for the GOP in 2018.”
In Richmond, Obama will back Ralph Northam, a former military doctor who was credited Wednesday with a slight lead over Republican Ed Gillespie in a Quinnipiac poll.
Obama’s impending arrival in the city of over 220,000 people sparked long lines of people seeking tickets to the campaign event.
Well aware of the importance of the vote, Trump has backed Gillespie and accused Northam of “fighting for the violent MS-13,” a Hispanic gang, as well as “sanctuary cities” that offer shelter to illegal immigrants.
Gillespie, a former adviser to president George W. Bush who has become a millionaire lobbyist, has so far kept a cautious distance from the mercurial Trump, whose backing recently failed to ensure the election of his pick in a Republican Senate race in Alabama.


France's Macron vows Iran will 'never' possess nuclear weapons

Updated 25 April 2018
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France's Macron vows Iran will 'never' possess nuclear weapons

  • French President Emmanuel Macron drew on the “shared bond” of US-French relations
  • Macron told Congress that Iran will “never” be allowed to develop atomic weapons

WASHINGTON: French President Emmanuel Macron drew Wednesday on the “shared bond” of US-French relations to call for a rejection of isolationism and instead for the countries to bond together anew for a 21st century security.
Macron opened a joint meeting of Congress, saying “the American and French people have had a rendezvous with freedom.”
The French president received a warm, three-minute standing ovation from US lawmakers before delivering — in English — a rare address to Congress, which he hailed as a “sanctuary of democracy.”
Macron shook hands with senators and representatives, and pressed his hand to his heart several times before a speech expected to touch on the two countries’ shared history and international challenges.
“Our two nations are rooted in the same soil, grounded in the ideals of the American and French revolutions,” Macron said.
“We have worked together for the universal ideals of liberty, tolerance, and equal rights.”
Speaking almost directly to President Donald Trump, Macron quickly turned to the top issues of Syria, free trade and the Paris accord on climate change — issues where he and Trump disagree — as he urged the United States not to retreat from world affairs, but to embrace its historic role as a military leader of world affairs.
“We are living in a time of anger and fear because of these current global threats,” Macron told lawmakers. “You can play with fears and angers for a time, but they do not construct anything.”
With a nod to great American leaders, including former President Franklin Roosevelt, he warned against sowing seeds of fear.
“We have two possible ways ahead. We can choose isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism. It can be tempting to us as a temporary remedy to our fears,” he said. “But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world.”
But he said international engagement was the only solution.
“This requires — more than ever — the United States’ involvement as your role was decisive for creating and guarding today’s free world. The United States is the one who invented this multilateralism. You are the one now who has to help preserve and reinvent it,” he said.
Macron told Congress that Iran will “never” be allowed to develop atomic weapons, as the fate of a landmark 2015 nuclear accord with Tehran hangs in the balance.
“Our objective is clear,” Macron told lawmakers on the final day of a state visit during which he and President Donald Trump called for a broader “deal” that would also limit Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for militant groups across the Middle East.
“Iran shall never possess any nuclear weapons. Not now. Not in five years. Not in 10 years. Never,” Macron said.
Macron has pushed for a new approach that would see the United States and Europe agree to block any Iranian nuclear activity until 2025 and beyond, address Iran’s ballistic missile program and generate conditions for a political solution to contain Iran in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
“Whatever the decision of the United States will be, we will not leave the floor to the actions of rogues. We will not leave the floor to this conflict of powers in the Middle East,” Macron told Congress.
“I think we can work together to build this comprehensive deal for the whole region, for our people, because I think it fairly addresses our concerns,” he said.
On climate change, Macron told US lawmakers there is “no Planet B,” acknowledging a disagreement with President Donald Trump, who pulled his nation from the landmark Paris accord.
“Let us face it. There is no Planet B,” Macron said in an address to Congress on the final day of his state visit to the United States.
“We have disagreements between the United States and France. It may happen, like in all families,” he said — but such differences would be short-term.
“We’re just citizens of the same planet,” Macron said.
“With business leaders and local communities, let us work together in order to make our planet great again and create new jobs and new opportunities while safeguarding our Earth. And I’m sure one day, the United States would come back and join the Paris agreement.”
Trump said last year that his country would withdraw from the accord, which aims to reduce damaging emissions and was signed by almost 200 countries.
Macron also lashed out against fake news — and gave a tongue-in-cheek apology for violating President Donald Trump’s “copyright” on the term.
He warned that lies disseminated online are threatening freedoms worldwide, saying: “Without reason, without truth, there is no real democracy because democracy is about true choices and rational decisions.”
Macron tasked his government this year with drafting a law to punish false information distributed during election campaigns. Macron says his presidential campaign last year was a victim of fake news, notably accusing Russian news sites RT and Sputnik.
He also warned against “terrorist propaganda that spreads its fanaticism on the Internet.”
In recounting common bonds from the earliest days of the United States, Macron talked about a meeting between Ben Franklin and the French philosopher Voltaire, “kissing each other’s cheeks.”
In an apparent reference to his friendly meetings this week with Trump, he said, “It can remind you of something.”
Macron was speaking as part of his visit to the United States. It’s the first time a president from France has addressed Congress in more than a decade, but follows a tradition of foreign leaders appearing at the US Capitol.