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Trump's Negotiating Style Reshapes U.S. Role On World's Stage


President Trump is telling Mexico to slow the flow of migrants into the U.S. or face crippling tariffs. It's the latest high-stakes showdown for Trump. NPR's Ayesha Roscoe reports on how that negotiating style is reshaping the U.S. role on the world stage.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: President Trump is almost always confident he can get a good deal. Whether it's talks about nuclear weapons with North Korea or bargaining over trade with China, the former real estate developer always sounds optimistic the U.S. will get its way.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: As far as China is concerned, they want to make a deal.


TRUMP: I think we will have a deal with Japan. Likewise, I think we will have a deal with China.


TRUMP: I really believe that Iran would like to make a deal.

RASCOE: Trump has a few go-to methods. Making a bold threat is usually his first step. That's what happened with Mexico. Back in March, he warned he would shut down the southern border or impose tariffs if Mexico didn't act to stop Central American migrants traveling through the country on their way to the United States.


TRUMP: And I told Mexico very nicely that you can't let people walk 2,000 miles up your country because if we do that, we're going to close our border. If we have any more, we're going to close our border.


TRUMP: I don't care what it costs. We'll close our border.

RASCOE: Trump's generally not specific about what he wants exactly, and he often claims victory a short time later.


TRUMP: They've been doing a very good job over the last four days. I will tell you, we're going to shut it down if we have to. We're going to tariff the cars coming in that they make in Mexico if we have to. But Mexico has been doing a great job.

RASCOE: He didn't shut down the border then. But last week, he was back with his latest tariff threat. The back-and-forth with Mexico highlights another aspect of Trump's negotiating style. He doesn't always follow through, and his tone can shift quickly. With Iran, Trump has reimposed tough sanctions and issued aggressive warnings.


TRUMP: I'm hearing little stories about Iran. If they do anything, they will suffer greatly. We'll see what happens with Iran.

RASCOE: But two weeks later, Trump was less confrontational.


TRUMP: Again, I think Iran has tremendous economic potential. And I look forward to letting them get back to the stage where they can show that.

RASCOE: Wendy Sherman was a State Department official who negotiated with Iran during the Obama administration. She said Trump's approach may be effective at getting attention, but it's not clear it's actually achieving Trump's goals.

WENDY SHERMAN: The president likes to keep people guessing. He likes to play good cop-bad cop. He likes to use threats. He likes to use leverage. And those are all tactics. And tactics aren't a strategy.

RASCOE: Joel Wit says Trump is practicing the madman theory of foreign relations that goes back to President Richard Nixon. The idea is that other countries may comply because they're worried the president may do something extreme. The former State Department negotiator says there's a risk of miscalculation, especially in areas of national security.

JOEL WIT: Events can take over and lead you to a place you don't want to go - and that's a military confrontation.

RASCOE: So far, many of these big deals that Trump has talked about have remained elusive. Still, in the case of Mexico, Trump says he's not bluffing.

Ayesha Rascoe, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.