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Former Ambassador Discusses Trump's Emerging Foreign Policy


And also this week, President Trump announced new sanctions on Iran following that country's test of a ballistic missile. And the president of the United States lashed out at the president - at the prime minister of Australia - Australia - which has supported the U.S. on every foreign policy issue since World War II, including sending troops to Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. To talk about President Trump's emerging foreign policy, we turn now to Thomas Pickering. He was the U.S. ambassador to Jordan, Nigeria, El Salvador, Israel, the United Nations, India, Russia - you missed Iceland, didn't you, Mr. Ambassador?

THOMAS PICKERING: I did, Scott, and I'm really lamenting this because it's a great place. I have friends there.

SIMON: Well, it's not too late. He's now co-chair of the International Crisis Group. Thanks so much for being with us.

PICKERING: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: These new sanctions on Iran - 25 people and companies connected to Iran's ballistic missile program. Is this essentially a continuation of U.S. policy under the Obama administration?

PICKERING: That's how I would read it. And the public statement in connection with it or at least the White House backups indicated they did not want to take steps that, in their view, would be violations of the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action, the treaty with or the deal with Iran over its nuclear program.

SIMON: So is this seen rechewing (ph)?

PICKERING: I think it's seen as a mark of - put it this way - some sensitivity and maybe even sensibility in the connection with Iran, which I think is important because tearing up the agreement puts everything back at zero. Iran's free to do its own nuclear program again - all the things that that long and very hard and very difficult and I think quite successful negotiation made impossible for Iran.

SIMON: The Trump administration also said this week that while it doesn't consider Israeli settlements on the West Bank an impediment to peace, they think that more settlements are a bad idea. Does this - yeah, go ahead.

PICKERING: I think the phrasing was a little different. From what I heard, they said they weren't going to take a statement or make a statement on settlements. They hadn't solved their policy decision problem yet on that, but they did think the expansion was not a good idea in connection with finding peace.

SIMON: Does this represent either a shift in U.S. policy or in what the Trump administration indicated U.S. policy would be?

PICKERING: I think it's a shift in perhaps what people felt the policy might become - if I could put it that way - on the basis of public statements. We found that those are not really reliable campaign public statements one way or another in where things are going. We're in a period of uncertainty on this issue. I think most who follow this - this particular issue very closely would welcome the notion that expansion of settlements is a problem in connection with peace but perhaps even would welcome more the notion that the settlements themselves constitute that same difficulty. And one would hope for that, but I don't think one has a chance yet of expecting it.

SIMON: And let me ask you about the president's diplomatic style. According to reports, he cut short a conversation with Prime Minister Turnbull of Australia over the U.S. taking 1,200 refugees mostly from the Middle East from camps in Australia over a year's period. And in a tweet, he called it a dumb deal. Let me put it this bluntly - was that a dumb thing for President Trump to say?

PICKERING: Well, I mean, those are your words. I think it was entirely...

SIMON: His words, his words - he put them in my mind, yeah.

PICKERING: Well, maybe (laughter) OK, put them in your line (ph). I would agree with him on that. It was a dumb thing to do, with respect to Australia, a close and very important and very helpful ally in a world perhaps where it's beginning to diminish. And it's, I think, very significant that we should treat Australians with the same dignity and respect that they've constantly treated us with, wars in and wars out, for a very long period of time. And gratuitously doing that doesn't make any sense. But it appears as if the style - at least in the phone calls, which we hear just a little about, both with Mexico and with Australia - was, to put it this way - I'm going to be diplomatic - up the ante on the phone call to see if you can use that as a way to pressurize toward a conclusion that you would like to reach on a bilateral transactional basis and I'm - that may work in business. But my experience in diplomacy, it doesn't work very well in diplomacy. And it does produce a lot of side effects that are certainly unforeseen consequences of such action and you have to take that into account, and that's not good.

SIMON: Thank you, Thomas Pickering.

PICKERING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.