Trump's first year of diplomacy finds friends and foes

President Donald Trump has welcomed doze...

Posted: Jan 16, 2018 11:28 AM
Updated: Jan 16, 2018 11:28 AM

President Donald Trump has welcomed dozens of his counterparts to the White House since he entered office a year ago and has visited 13 countries himself, each time deepening ties to the club of world leaders he's now joined.

The at-times bombastic Trump has also shown a flair for diplomacy, befriending and charming unlikely world leaders, as both a host and a guest.

Trump has visited 13 countries in his first year

He's also hosted many world leaders for meetings at the White House

As he looks out across the globe one year in, the President finds both friends and adversaries -- though the distinction is rarely clear-cut.

And as he enters his second year, here's a look at the state of Trump's global ties:

The Linchpin: Chinese President Xi Jinping

Everything Trump wants to do in Asia rests on his relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. That was clear in April, mere months into Trump's presidency, when the businessman-turned-President hosted Xi at Mar-a-Lago, his opulent private club in Palm Beach, Florida.

Trump has maintained a hot-and-cold approach to China since launching his presidential campaign. The President slammed the world power during the campaign but leaned heavily on China and Xi to tighten the world's grip on North Korea. The strategy has had its low points, such as Trump suggesting Xi wasn't doing enough to clamp down on North Korea or when the Trump administration slammed China's trade practices.

But the President also relished the pomp and circumstance bestowed upon him during his November visit to China. A year into his presidency, what has remained clear is that Trump's fate in Asia is inextricably tied to Xi.

The Interpreter: French President Emmanuel Macron

Elected in May, French President Emmanuel Macron is one in a small club of leaders with less experience in office than Trump. Macron appears to have used that to his advantage, forging strong ties with the White House based on a mutual desire to change the status quo.

The pair's first meeting in Brussels was symbolized by a prolonged, white-knuckle handshake. Since then, there have been highs (an intimate dinner with wives on the second landing of the Eiffel Tower) and lows (Macron has openly aired his disagreements with Trump on Iran, climate change and the Middle East).

Through it all, Macron's aides say he views himself as Trump's interpreter in Europe, sifting through the brash pronouncements to find places of common interest. As leaders in Berlin and London find themselves distracted by internal politics, Paris-Washington ties are enjoying renewed strength. And Macron is charting France to play a bigger role on the world stage as Trump looks inward.

The Meddler: Russian President Vladimir Putin

No leader looms larger over Trump's presidency than Russian President Vladimir Putin, who US intelligence agencies agree directed an election meddling campaign in 2016 designed to favor Trump.

The parallel investigations into the potential role that Trump campaign officials had in Russia's meddling have loomed large over Trump's first year in office.

At the same time, however, Trump has steadfastly insisted that US-Russia ties must improve. He's met with Putin on the sidelines of various world summits, each time with their interactions thoroughly scrutinized. After their last encounter, in Vietnam, Trump declared he took Putin at his word that the Russian President believes his country didn't interfere in the US election. Meanwhile, congressional leaders have insisted the administration take a harder line on Moscow, requiring new sanctions by the end of this month.

The Rocket Man: North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un

Few leaders have drawn more of Trump's attention -- and scorn -- than Kim Jong Un of North Korea. Looking to brandish his diplomatic credentials and strike a deal that perplexed more experienced presidents, Trump made stopping the North Korean nuclear program a key focus of his first year in office. He's bashed and disparaged the unpredictable North Korean leader, slammed other countries for continuing to work with Kim and devoted his longest international trip to combating the issue.

Even as Trump has ramped up sanctions and tried to muster the international community, little has outwardly changed on the peninsula and 2017 was a year of rapid progress for North Korea's missile program.

Trump, more recently, has signaled a willingness to talk to Kim, even going so far as to leave the door open to whether they have already talked. Though it's highly unlikely, experts say, Trump's willingness shows his desire to buck tradition to address the North Korea issue.

The Golf Buddy: Japanese Prime Minister Shinz- Abe

There are few things Trump likes more than golf -- and Japanese Prime Minister Shinz- Abe was sure to indulge those desires when he visited Trump's private Florida club last February. The two back-slapped their way to warm relations that weekend and have since held a number of friendly talks, including multiple phone calls and face-to-face meetings at international summits.

One reason for the warmth may be that Abe seems willing to let Trump be the alpha male in the relationship, smiling through his jokes about Japan being second to the United States and engaging in a 20-second-long Oval Office handshake in February.

He has also flattered Trump, touting his golf score ('My scores in golf is not up to the level of Donald') and America's booming economy. In addition to their warm personal connection, the two are united by a common enemy -- North Korea -- and Trump has leaned heavily on Japan to curb the rogue nation's ambitions.

The Explainer: German Chancellor Angela Merkel

When Trump took office a year ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was widely regarded as the most politically secure leader in Europe -- if not the entire West -- and, as such, looked to as a bulwark against Trump's nationalist instincts. She came to the White House in March armed with maps and charts that she hoped could instill in the visual-learner President a sense of how important American engagement was in maintaining the international order.

But it was an awkward match, highlighted by Trump's seeming refusal to shake her hand. Since then, Merkel has established herself as a voice for the types of international agreements that Trump relishes ripping up. But she was badly weakened in last year's elections, leaving some to fear that her sway with Trump could wane.

The Negotiator: South Korean President Moon Jae-in

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, though uncertain of Trump at the start of his administration, has come around to the unconventional leader. He now seems wed to working with the United States to fix the nagging issue of North Korea.

Jae-in rolled out the red carpet for Trump when he visited in November and has since looked to flatter him with praise for his work in North Korea, telling reporters earlier this year that the American President deserves "big credit" for his work to counter North Korea.

The strategy worked: Trump has lauded the South Korean President for his leadership and a relationship that could have been fraught, given their political differences, has so far remained stable.

The Tightrope Walker: British Prime Minister Theresa May

British Prime Minister Theresa May arrived at the White House just seven days after Trump took office, and found herself hand-in-hand with the new President as they strolled along the Rose Garden. In the year since, things have become more complicated.

Embroiled in her own political woes, May has been forced to balance Trump's deep unpopularity in Britain with a necessity to maintain the US-UK "special relationship." It hasn't been easy for her. Trump has sparked a series of fights, including retweeting anti-Muslim videos created by a British nationalist group.

The invitation to London that May extended a year ago still hasn't been fulfilled, and last week Trump announced he would forgo a visit to open the new US Embassy there -- though large protests are expected to greet him whenever he does arrive.

The Autocrat: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte

Where President Barack Obama distanced himself from Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Trump has embraced him. Duterte, an autocratic leader who has bragged about personally killing people and has overseen a ruthless drug war that has killed thousands, hosted Trump in Manila in November.

Many foreign policy experts were confused as to why Trump, who was in the Philippines attending the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, was honoring Duterte with a one-on-one meeting. The confusion continued after the meeting The White House said the two leaders discussed human rights, while the Philippine side said the issue never came up.

Whatever they discussed, the indelible image of Trump and Duterte may have been when the two took part in the ASEAN handshake, leaving Trump tied in knots standing next to the Philippines strongman.

The Confronter: Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull, the affable Prime Minister of a longtime US ally, may have been the first world leader to directly confront Trump. During a call eight days after Trump stepped into the White House, according to a transcript posted by The Washington Post, the two held a contentious call where Trump said that upholding a refugee-swap deal "will make us look awfully bad" and called the agreement "stupid." Turnbull didn't back down from Trump, telling the new President that "a deal is a deal" and urging Trump to "act in good faith."

Since then -- at least publicly -- Trump and Turnbull have had a warm relationship. The two met in New York aboard the USS Intrepid in May, and they joked about their trade deficit during a November meeting in the Philippines. The two have looked to work together on North Korea and, for now at least, the refugee swap deal that caused their confrontation remains intact.

The Foil: Mexican President Enrique Pe-a Nieto

"I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I'll have Mexico pay for that wall." That promise, made repeatedly by Trump throughout the 2016 campaign, animated his base, defined his presidential run and -- as president -- has been one of his most glaring failures.

The man on the other side of the "wall" is Pe-a Nieto, whose relationship with Trump has been entirely colored by Trump's harsh rhetoric about Mexican immigrants and his pledge to crack down on undocumented immigrants crossing the United States' southern border.

Pe-a Nieto has yet to come to Trump's White House after he canceled his first visit, which was slated for early February 2017. The reason for the international incident: Trump tweeted that he shouldn't come unless Mexico would pay for his long-promised border wall.

Though they later met for the first time in Germany around the G-20, the so-far-unfunded wall along the border has dominated the US-Mexico relationship and threatens to do so throughout Trump's second year in office. It has also left Pe-a Nieto damaged, with little goodwill back home and a approval rating lower than Trump's.

The Northern Neighbor: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Compared with Pe-a Nieto, Trump's relationship with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is positively sunny. The two met face-to-face for the first time last February at the White House and they appeared to get along well. It's their differences, though, that dominate the relationship.

Trudeau looks younger than his 46 years and is seen as a liberal darling as much as Trump is a conservative hero. Trump was a political outsider. Trudeau followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both Canadian politicians. Trudeau was also famous for his "bromance" with Obama, the man whose legitimacy Trump regularly questioned.

Trudeau has aired his differences with Trump -- for example, he said refugees are welcome in Canada after Trump pushed his travel ban. And yes, the US-Canadian relationship remains in flux given yet another round of negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement. But Trump's personal relationship with Trudeau could be seen as a bright spot in an otherwise hit-or-miss year.

The Strongman: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Like a number of autocrats frozen out of the Obama White House, Erdogan has enjoyed a warmer welcome under Trump, including a friendly visit to the White House in May.

But if there had been any inkling that the Turkish leader had changed his ways, it was dashed after his security forces violently clashed with protesters outside the Turkish Embassy in Washington.

Trump has maintained chummy ties nonetheless, in the hopes Erdogan can help resolve the security situation in Syria. Trump agreed in November to stop selling arms to Kurds in Syria, a move Erdogan has long advocated. Also on Erdogan's wish list: the extradition of a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania, who he accuses of fomenting an attempted coup in 2016. There's no indication yet that Trump will agree.

The Dealmaker: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

For a US President who's cast himself as the ultimate dealmaker, a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians remains the ultimate prize.

But any accord will have to go through Netanyahu, who has taken a hard line on most of the issues that will need to be hammered out before Trump can claim victory.

So far, the men are largely on the same page. Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and vowed to move the US Embassy there, steps his predecessors avoided. But the decision drew recrimination from the Palestinians, and it's not clear how the peace process will move forward.

The Flatterers: Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman

Trump's first foreign stop after winning the White House was Riyadh, where he received a gold-trimmed celebration that included his own airbrushed face projected onto the side of the Ritz-Carlton hotel as his motorcade pulled up.

Now that hotel has been transformed into a high-end prison for Saudi royals swept up in an anti-corruption effort ordered by Mohammad bin Salman, the powerful crown prince. The prince is consolidating power at the same time he's bolstering ties to the White House. His close relationship with Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, has helped matters.

What's not yet clear is how he'll use his new influence -- or how far afield Trump is willing to allow him to wield it. The White House applied pressure on the kingdom late last year to help end widespread suffering in Yemen, but only after a weeks-long Saudi blockade spurred along a humanitarian crisis.

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