President Donald Trump defended his foreign policy positions during his first cabinet meeting of 2019 on Wednesday, backing away from a quick U.S. pullout from Syria and asserting that there would be a “big fat war in Asia” if he had not met with North Korea’s leader in Singapore.
Trump said the U.S. would get out of Syria “over a period of time,” but didn’t announce a more specific deadline. The president last month announced the planned exit within 30 days of the U.S. military from Syria against the advice of his top aides and without consulting lawmakers. During lengthy remarks, he called the country “sand and death” and said it was lost long ago.
Trump also showed frustration with former Pentagon chief Jim Mattis, asking “what’s he done for me?” and criticizing Mattis’ record in Afghanistan. Trump reportedly wants to draw down U.S. troops from that country. The president made reference to reports on U.S. spending in Afghanistan, telling acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan it’s “insane” that they are made public.
‘GREAT LETTER’ FROM KIM
Trump said he’d gotten a “great letter” from North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, and that he’d established a good relationship with him. The warm words came a day after Kim threatened to backtrack on promises to abandon his country’s nuclear program if the U.S. keeps its sanctions. Trump brandished the letter for reporters at the meeting and said he wished he could share it with the media.
The cabinet meeting came ahead of a visit by congressional leaders to the White House to discuss the standoff over Trump’s proposed border wall, which has led to a partial government shutdown. With the shutdown in its 12th day, Trump declined to say how long it would last.
“Could be a long time or could be quickly,” the president said.
Market participants are watching the shutdown as it enters its second week. Trump told reporters the stock market
had suffered a “glitch” in December but predicted it would rise again when trade deals are settled.
RESPONSE TO ROMNEY
After Mitt Romney’s scorching Washington Post op-ed, Trump said he wanted the senator-elect from Utah to be a “team player.”
In his piece for the Post, Romney said Trump’s presidency “made a deep descent in December,” citing as evidence the departures of Mattis and chief of staff John Kelly. On Twitter Trump also said Romney “should be happy for all Republicans.”
Want news about Asia delivered to your inbox? Subscribe to MarketWatch’s free Asia Daily newsletter. Sign up here.