Trump policies unite allies against him at European security forum

Former US Vice President Joe Biden gives a speech at the 55th Munich Security Conference in Munich, southern Germany, on February 16, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2019
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Trump policies unite allies against him at European security forum

  • “America will be back” once Donald Trump leaves office, Biden won a standing ovation at the Munich Security Conference

MUNICH: In 2009, then-US Vice President Joe Biden came to Munich to “press the reset button” with Russia. A decade later he came again to offer the world better relations, this time with his own country.
Promising that “America will be back” once Donald Trump leaves office, Biden won a standing ovation at the Munich Security Conference from delegates who find the president’s brusque foreign policy stance hard to like.
But their elation also exposed the weakened state of Western diplomacy in the face of Trump’s assertiveness, according to European diplomats and politicians who were present.
Biden’s successor, Mike Pence, was met with silence at a reception in the palatial Bavarian Parliament on Friday evening after he delivered his signature line: “I bring you greetings from the 45th president of the United States, President Donald Trump.”
His four-day trip to Europe succeeded only in deepening divisions with traditional allies over questions such as Iran and Venezuela and offered little hope in how to deal with threats ranging from nuclear arms to climate change, diplomats and officials said.
Misgivings about Washington’s role in the world are being felt by ordinary people as well as foreign policy specialists.
In Germany and France, half the population see US power as a threat, up sharply from 2013 and a view shared by 37 percent of Britons, the Washington-based Pew Research Center said in a report before the Munich foreign policy gathering.
Asked about European anxiety over Trump’s leadership style, a senior US official on Pence’s Air Force Two plane said the vice president’s Munich conference speech on Saturday at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof would “help give them a different perspective.”
But if the Europeans did not like the “America First” message, there was no concerted response to it. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was on her own after a last-minute cancelation by French President Emmanuel Macron.
That caused some to lament the failure of the West to uphold the rules-based international order that Washington itself championed in the 70 years that preceded the arrival of Trump in the White House.
“The tit-for-tat logic is unfortunately prevailing ... I think that takes us back to the question of enlightened leadership,” said Thomas Greminger, secretary general of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a security and human rights watchdog.
“We need leaders again who do not believe exclusively in short-termism,” he told Reuters.
It fell to China to aid Merkel in her defense of the post-World War Two order, as the country’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, spoke in flawless English for over 20 minutes about the virtues of open trade and global cooperation.
Pence’s message was, in fact, that the pillars of US foreign policy were being rebuilt on a different foundation: isolating Iran, containing China, bringing American troops home and requiring European powers to fall into line.
After using a speech in Warsaw on Thursday to accuse Britain, France and Germany of trying to undermine US sanctions on Iran, Pence called in Munich for the European Union to recognize Venezuelan congressional leader Juan Guaido as president over Nicolas Maduro, whom he called a dictator.
That drew an angry response from Spain’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, who said the European Union could acknowledge Guaido as interim president until new elections, in line with the Venezuelan constitution.
French foreign minister Jean-Yves LeDrian said he was mystified by US policy on Syria after Trump’s decision to withdraw troops because it would only benefit Iran, which Washington wants to be tough on.
European diplomats and officials also took issue with Pence’s insistence that EU governments stay away from Chinese telecoms companies as they build the latest generation of mobile networks, preferring first to have an internal discussion about the potential risks and US claims of Chinese espionage.
“US pressure has a tendency to make us do the opposite. US pressure is counterproductive. It’s best that they don’t try and pressure us,” a senior French diplomat said.
Whatever the threats, officials seemed to be mainly talking past each other.
Kumi Naidoo, global head of Amnesty International, said security was often defined too narrowly, failing to address the wider dangers of climate change.
“The narrative here at the Munich Security Conference is broken. They are talking about the right topics but in the wrong language. The mentality here is that security is only a national issue,” Naidoo told Reuters.


Mexico demands apology for colonial ‘abuses,’ Spain hits back

Handout photo released by the Mexican presidency showing Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador answering questions during a press conference at the Palacio Nacional, in Mexico City on March 25, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 26 March 2019
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Mexico demands apology for colonial ‘abuses,’ Spain hits back

  • “The government of Spain deeply regrets that the letter the Mexican president sent to his majesty the king, whose contents we firmly reject, has been made public,” it said in a statement

MEXICO CITY: The 500-year-old wounds of the Spanish conquest were ripped open afresh on Monday when Mexico’s president urged Spain and the Vatican to apologize for their “abuses” — a request Madrid said it “firmly rejects.”
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, an anti-establishment leftist, reopened the debate over Spain’s centuries of dominance in the New World with a video posted to social media, urging Spanish King Felipe VI and Pope Francis to apologize for the conquest and the rights violations committed in its aftermath.
“I have sent a letter to the king of Spain and another to the pope calling for a full account of the abuses and urging them to apologize to the indigenous peoples (of Mexico) for the violations of what we now call their human rights,” Lopez Obrador, 65, said in the video, filmed at the ruins of the indigenous city of Comalcalco.
“There were massacres and oppression. The so-called conquest was waged with the sword and the cross. They built their churches on top of the (indigenous) temples,” he said.
“The time has come to reconcile. But let us ask forgiveness first.”
Spain’s reaction was swift and unequivocal.
“The government of Spain deeply regrets that the letter the Mexican president sent to his majesty the king, whose contents we firmly reject, has been made public,” it said in a statement.
“The arrival, 500 years ago, of Spaniards to present Mexican territory cannot be judged in the light of contemporary considerations,” it said.
“Our two brother nations have always known how to read our shared past without anger and with a constructive perspective, as free peoples with a shared history and extraordinary influence.”

Lopez Obrador took office in December after a landslide election win that represented a firm break with Mexico’s traditional political parties.
A folksy populist, he pulls no punches in going after traditional elites — but had so far cultivated cordial relations with Spain, including during a visit to Mexico City by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez earlier this year.
Lopez Obrador made the remarks during a visit to his native Tabasco state, in southern Mexico.
He was later due to visit the nearby city of Centla. On March 14, 1519, the site was the scene of one of the first battles between Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes and the indigenous peoples of the land now known as Mexico.
With the help of horses, swords, guns and smallpox — all unknown in the New World at the time — Cortes led an army of less than 1,000 men to defeat the Aztec empire, the start of 300 years of Spanish rule over Mexico.