Tuesday 17 January 2017

Trump preserves his options on Israel and Iran

In an interview with British and German press over the weekend, President-elect Donald Trump roiled European capitals for repeating his skepticism of the NATO alliance, support for Brexit and criticism of Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, for accepting "illegal" refugees into her country by the hundreds of thousands.

But Trump was disciplined in his silence on his plans for Israel and Iran— two critical portfolios that were rallying cries for his supporters during his campaign as forces of good and evil.

On Iran— and the nuclear deal he has long called the worst diplomatic agreement brokered in modern history– Trump reiterated his concerns with the deal. Beyond that, he declined to comment.

"I don’t want to say what I’m gonna do with the Iran deal. I just don’t want to play the cards," he said. "I mean, look—I’m not a politician, I don’t go out and say, ‘I’m gonna do this — I’m gonna do —’. I gotta do what I gotta do. But I don’t wanna play. Who plays cards where you show everybody the hand before you play it?"

While Trump said during his campaign that he would rip up the nuclear agreement, his national security cabinet posts all testified this week before the Senate that they would advise strict enforcement. He has not commented on their testimonies or on Iran policy since.

Similarly, Trump offered strategic opacity on whether he truly plans to move America's embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem— a move that has been discussed extensively by his staff in private and in public, and was touted by his choice for Israel ambassador, David Friedman, as one of his top priorities.

"I don’t want to comment on that, again, but we’ll see what happens," Trump said of his embassy plans.

With these two crucial countries, Trump is putting his doctrine of unpredictability to the test— preserving for himself space and flexibility just days before taking the oath of office.

Trump has laid out broad strokes for policy on the Middle East— embracing of Israel, hostile to Iran and aggressive against non-state Islamist organizations.

But now, mere hours away from the presidency, Trump is offering more caution– an acknowledgment, perhaps, of the challenges that lay before him in a complex region and of the policy nuance that will be required for him to make progress.



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