Trump’s Tough Love Toward Putin Sets New Tone

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Donald Trump is poised to take his most aggressive actions yet against Russia amid criticism that he’s dragged his feet in responding to Vladimir Putin’s provocations.

The U.S. president is likely to announce today the expulsion of dozens of diplomats in response to the nerve-gas attack on a former Russian spy living in the U.K., Jennifer Jacobs and Nick Wadhams report.

The move, almost certain to provoke retaliation from Moscow, will align Trump with European counterparts with whom he’s had a turbulent relationship. Several European countries are also expected to say they’re throwing out Russian envoys.

Even as U.S. policy toward Russia has gradually grown more strident in recent months, Trump has prioritized maintaining a personal relationship with Putin and has shied away from publicly attacking him — and indeed may meet Putin before long.

Ahead of possible summits with Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Trump and his new foreign policy team would do well to examine two precedents, Marc Champion writes.

One — 1986 negotiations between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev that helped reverse the nuclear arms race — is considered a historic success. The other — a 1961 encounter between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev — came close to causing World War III.

Global Headlines

Ballistic missiles fly | Saudi Arabia said it intercepted seven ballistic missiles fired at the capital, Riyadh, and other cities by Houthi forces in Yemen, marking an escalation from previous attacks as its military intervention in the neighboring country enters its third year. One person was killed, raising questions about the nation’s defenses. Saudi Arabia blames Tehran for backing the rebels, a charge Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is sure to remind the U.S. of as Trump weighs whether to scrap Iran’s nuclear deal.

Alleged affair | Adult film star Stephanie Clifford’s prime-time interview offered the second intimate account in 72 hours of Trump’s purported extramarital sexual behavior — disclosures that could deepen the president’s legal difficulties if they ultimately force him to testify. Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels, appeared yesterday on CBS’s “60 Minutes” and said she had sex with Trump in 2006, the year after he married Melania Trump. She also said she was physically threatened in 2011 to stay silent. 

A fugitive no more | The detention of Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont in Germany yesterday was hailed by anti-separatist forces as a decisive blow against the push for Catalan independence from Spain. Yet as Charles PentyEsteban Duarte and Stefan Nicola write, the risk is that his detention acts as the catalyst needed to pressure sparring separatist camps into unity three months after regional elections.

Inflection point ? | Here’s another reason to circle 2020 on the calendar. Already marking a U.S. election, it may well be the year of the next U.S. recession, Rich Miller writes. Economists warn that fading fiscal stimulus, higher and rising interest rates, and cresting world demand could leave the economy vulnerable to a contraction —  just in time for a Trump re-election bid.

Trump’s bargain | The U.S. agreed to spare South Korea from Trump’s steel tariffs while gaining a larger potential export market for U.S. carmakers, as the strategic allies sought to resolve trade disputes before planned meetings with North Korea’s Kim. The deal would be Trump’s first since taking office promising to put “America First” and triggering a series of trade spats with nations from Canada and China. 

What to watch today:

  • Egyptians begin three days of voting. President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, running virtually unopposed for a second, four-year term, is widely expected to win.
  • U.K. Jewish groups are set to gather in Parliament Square to protest against perceived antisemitism in the main opposition – it marks a low point for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who up until now could do no wrong politically.

And finally... Was it the beginning of a new youth political movement? Chants of “vote them out” punctuated speeches at the foot of Capitol Hill on Saturday as hundreds of thousands of high school students and supporters gathered in Washington and across the U.S. to demand tougher gun laws from an older generation that’s delivered little change after years of mass shootings. The student organizers raised more than $3 million through an online GoFundMe campaign. 

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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