World

Yes men? No, sir

Trump's picks for top Cabinet posts contradict US President-elect's foreign policy views

WASHINGTON: Getting tough on Russia and China, supporting the Iran nuclear deal, searching for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Donald Trump's diplomacy and military picks have outlined the incoming administration's foreign policy in Senate confirmation hearings this week.

And on many strategic issues, in particular the President-elect's desire for improved ties with Russia, Mr Rex Tillerson, the former head of ExxonMobil chosen for Secretary of State, and Mr James Mattis, the retired Marine Corps general picked for Defense Secretary, have contradicted Trump in the hearings on Wednesday and Thursday.

CRITICAL OF RUSSIA

Taking a stance resolutely at odds with Mr Trump, Mr Tillerson and Mr Mattis criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr Mattis was particularly harsh, accusing the Russian president of "trying to break the North Atlantic alliance".

And Mr Tillerson said: "Our Nato allies are right to be alarmed at resurgent Russia."

He also noted that Russia "poses a danger" to US and European interests, while Mr Mattis said Russia "has chosen to be a strategic competitor".

Mr James Mattis.PHOTO: REUTERS, AFP

Mr Trump, who takes office on Jan 20, has repeatedly praised Putin's intelligence, and said on Wednesday that if the Russian leader "likes" him, it would be an "asset" to help repair the strained US-Russian relationship. The US and Russia have had turbulent ties since 2012, notably because of conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

STRONG ON CHINA

Both nominees also took a strong line with China, the US rival in the Asia-Pacific.

The US will send "a clear signal" to China that it must stop building islands in the South China Sea and Washington will block its access to those islands, Mr Tillerson said.

The island-building, criticised by the Obama administration, is illegal and "akin to Russia's taking of Crimea," he said.

Mr Mattis was even fiercer.

"China is shredding trust" with its Asian neighbours, he said, warning that China could "act contrary to our interests."

MIDDLE EAST

Trump has promised to "dismantle" the "disastrous" international agreement reached in July 2015 to control Iran's nuclear programme. That deal has been viewed as a major diplomatic success for Obama.

Mr Mattis, who is deeply hostile toward Iran and called the agreement "imperfect," still said: "But when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies."

He also seemed to distance himself from Mr Trump, who has vowed to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and considers the disputed Holy City the capital.

"What's the capital of Israel?" asked a senator in the confirmation hearing."The capital of Israel I go to, sir, is Tel Aviv," Mr Mattis responded. - AFP

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