Trump Twitter outburst tests US-UK ‘special relationship’

US President Donald Trump recently met with British Prime Minister Theresa May during the former’s state visit in the UK. (File/AFP)
Updated 09 July 2019
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Trump Twitter outburst tests US-UK ‘special relationship’

  • Publication of Ambassador Kim Darroch’s confidential cables set off a furious Trump Twitter storm
  • The “special relationship” term has always been more widely used in Britain than it has in the US

LONDON: Donald Trump’s refusal to deal with the UK ambassador following the leak of his frank assessment of the US president’s chaotic rule raises a big question: can the countries’ much-vaunted “special relationship” survive?
The Mail on Sunday’s publication of Ambassador Kim Darroch’s confidential cables set off a furious Trump Twitter storm.
Darroch had called Trump “inept” and his administration “uniquely dysfunctional.”
Trump tweeted back that Darroch “is not liked or well thought of within the US We will no longer deal with him.” He also welcomed the “good news” that Prime Minister Theresa May was stepping down in two weeks.
All of which creates another headache for UK politicians during a tumultuous period in which they must decide how — or even if — Britain will leave the EU on October 31.
The hunt is on for the culprit and the “whodunnit” theories are flying.
Most concern the nuanced politics at play in the UK leadership fight between Brexit-backing former London mayor Boris Johnson and underdog Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
One popular theory says the leak was aimed not at Darroch but at the person who is due to replace him in January.
The senior official tipped for the plum US assignment holds pro-European views that upset most Brexiteers.
This would suggest that the culprit was trying to make sure Johnson — seemingly assured of May’s office — settles on someone else.
But the leak has also damaged Britain’s foreign standing and some talk is focused on how much an old rival like Russian President Vladimir Putin stands to gain.
“Of course it would be massively concerning if it was the act of a foreign, hostile state,” Hunt told The Sun.
UK politicians of all stripes have rallied behind the embattled ambassador and bristled at the tought of Trump simply shoving their man out of Washington.
Whether Darroch can still perform his duties depends on what Trump actually meant in his tweets.
Darroch has already been taken off one White House dinner guest list.
But the UK envoy will be more concerned about maintaining his private contacts and talking to people in Trump’s inner sanctum.
If Trump means “the whole White House staff is closed to you, including the national security adviser, that would be much more serious,” Britain’s former US envoy Christopher Meyer said.
UK diplomats worry that the publication of what Downing Street described as Darroch’s “unvarnished” views will put off others from reporting similarly delicate matters.
“The damage is to the confidence of civil servants to put their frank thoughts to ministers,” the Foreign Office’s former permanent under-secretary, Peter Ricketts, wrote in The Guardian.
Ricketts also expressed worry that “Britain’s reputation as a country that knows how to keep its secrets” might be hurt.
Hunt agreed that it was “very important” that UK ambassadors all over “continue to give us their frank assessments.”
The scandal piles on the pressure for Johnson, Britain’s presumptive premier, to either bow to Trump’s pressure or stick by London’s envoy.
“For Boris Johnson, removing Darroch swiftly from office would be seen as a humiliating cave-in to a bullying foreign power,” the Politico news site wrote.
“But voicing support for the beleaguered ambassador risks damaging relations with Trump from the outset.”
The choice is made all the more important by the next ambassador’s role in negotiating a new US trade agreement that can mitigate the potential damage of Britain’s split from the EU.
The “special relationship” term has always been more widely used in Britain than it has in the United States, a superpower that also enjoys “special” ties with countries such as Israel and Canada.
But London provides Washington with a vital and reliable European ally that has been by its side through two world wars.
The sides rely on each other for intelligence and share the same global security vision that has spanned decades and which is almost certain to last.
“The relationship with Washington is based on strong and deep shared interests,” former under-secretary Ricketts wrote.
“Those are unchanged by the leaks.”


Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

Updated 22 July 2019
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Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

COLOS, Portugal: More than 1,000 firefighters battled a major wildfire Monday amid scorching temperatures in Portugal, where forest blazes wreak destruction every summer.
About 90% of the fire area in the Castelo Branco district, 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) northeast of the capital Lisbon, was brought under control during cooler overnight temperatures, according to local Civil Protection Agency commander Pedro Nunes.
But authorities said they expected heat in and winds to increase again in the afternoon, so all firefighting assets remained in place. Forests in the region are tinder-dry after weeks with little rain.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said 321 vehicles and eight water-dumping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze, which has raced through thick woodlands.
Nunes told reporters that the fire, in its third day, has injured 32 people, one seriously.
Police said they were investigating what caused the fire amid suspicions it may have been started deliberately.
Temperatures were forecast to reach almost 40 C (104 F) Monday — prolonging a spell of blistering weather that is due to hit northern Europe late this week.
Recent weeks have also seen major wildfires in Spain, Greece and Germany. European Union authorities have warned that wildfires are “a growing menace” across the continent.
In May, forest fires also plagued Mexico and Russia.
Huge wildfires have long been a summer fixture in Portugal.
Residents of villages and hamlets in central Portugal have grown accustomed to the summer blazes, which destroy fruit trees, olive trees and crops in the fields.
In the hamlet of Colos, 50-year-old beekeeper Antonio Pires said he had lost half of his beehives in the current wildfire. Pires sells to mainly Portuguese and German clients, but also to Brazil and China.
“(I lost) 100 out of 230 (hives), so almost half,” Pires said. “A lot of damage.”
The country’s deadliest fire season came in 2017, when at least 106 people were killed.
The average annual area charred by wildfires in Portugal between 2010 and 2016 was just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). That was more than in Spain, France, Italy or Greece — countries which are significantly bigger than Portugal.
Almost 11,500 firefighters are on standby this year, most of them volunteers. Volunteers are not uncommon in fire brigades in Europe, especially in Germany where more than 90% are volunteers.
Experts and authorities have identified several factors that make Portugal so particularly vulnerable to forest blazes. Addressing some of them is a long-term challenge.
The population of the Portuguese countryside has thinned as people have moved to cities in search of a better life. That means woodland has become neglected, especially as many of those left behind are elderly, and the forest debris is fuel for wildfires.
Large areas of central and northern Portugal are covered in dense, unbroken stretches of forest on hilly terrain. A lot of forest is pine and eucalyptus trees, both of which burn fiercely.
Environmentalists have urged the government to limit the area of eucalyptus, which burns like a torch. But it is a very valuable crop for Portugal’s important paper pulp industry, which last year posted sales worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion). The government says it is introducing restrictions gradually.
Experts say Portugal needs to develop a diversified patchwork of different tree species, some of them more fire-resistant and offering damper, shaded.
Climate change has become another challenge, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers. The peak fire season used to run from July 1 to Sept. 30. Now, it starts in June and ends in October.
After the 2017 deaths, the government introduced a raft of measures. They included using goats and bulldozers to clear woodland 10 meters (33 feet) either side of country roads. Property owners also have to clear a 50-meter (164-feet) radius around an isolated house, and 100 meters (328 feet) around a hamlet.
Emergency shelters and evacuation routes have been established at villages and hamlets. Their church bells aim to toll when a wildfire is approaching.
With 98% of blazes caused by human hand, either by accident or on purpose, officials have also been teaching people how to safely burn stubble and forest waste. Police, army and forest service patrols are also increased during the summer.