WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he has asked Congress to pass legislation ensuring that US aid is only delivered to “America’s friends” and always serves its interests.
He made the remarks in his first State of the Union speech, delivered in the chamber of the House of Representatives Tuesday night.
The remarks about the foreign assistance followed his mentioning of the United Nations General Assembly vote against America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“Shortly afterwards, dozens of countries voted in against America’s sovereign right to make this recognition. American taxpayers generously send those same countries billions of dollars in aid every year.
“That is why, tonight, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests, and only go to America’s friends,” he said in the speech.
Trump urged Congress to ensure America continues to retain its power to be able to detain terrorists wherever “we chase them down”.
Terrorists are not merely criminals but are unlawful enemy combatants, he stressed, adding that whenever they are captured, they “should be treated like terrorists”.
Trump also announced to keep Guantanamo Bay open, breaking from his predecessor Barack Obama´s lengthy and ultimately failed efforts to shutter the maligned detention facility.
“I just signed an order directing Secretary Mattis to reexamine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay,” Trump said.
Under president George W. Bush, the US military hastily constructed a prison camp on Guantanamo Bay, located on the US naval base on the eastern tip of Cuba, in the months following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
At the height of its operations after 9/11, the facility held 780 people, detained mostly for their alleged ties to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Since then, hundreds have been transferred back to their home countries or other places.
Some of the most notorious inmates, including several alleged 9/11 co-conspirators, among them accused mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, are still awaiting trial.
‘No longer undermined by artificial timelines in Afghanistan’
Trump said in his address that the US military is no longer undermined by “artificial timelines” in Afghanistan.
“Our warriors in Afghanistan also have new rules of engagement. Along with their heroic Afghan partners, our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans.”
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert tweeted US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement on Trump’s State of the Union address.
“As President Trump emphasizes, we keep America safe when our national security is based on the principle of peace through strength. We will continue to pursue the peaceful denuclearization of North Korea, prevent terrorists from regaining safe havens in Syria and Afghanistan, and hold Iran accountable for its full range of threatening activities.
“We work closely with allies and partners around the world to achieve all of our foreign policy objectives,” the statement added.
Trump earlier this week rejected the idea of talks with the Taliban following a series of deadly attacks in Kabul. Talking to reporters at the White House on Monday, Trump condemned the militant group for recent carnage in Kabul and said the United States was not prepared to talk now. He also pledged to “finish what we have to finish”.
Trump had last year ordered an increase in US troops, air strikes and other assistance to Afghan forces.
‘North Korea could very soon threaten US soil’
Trump warned that the North Korean regime is very close to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that could threaten American cities.
“North Korea´s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland. We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from ever happening,” Trump said.
“When the people of Iran rose up against the crimes of their corrupt dictatorship, I did not stay silent. America stands with the people of Iran in their courageous struggle for freedom.
“I am asking the Congress to address the fundamental flaws in the terrible Iran nuclear deal. My Administration has also imposed tough sanctions on the communist and socialist dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela.
“But no regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea,” Trump said.
“Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position,” he continued.
Call for hardline curbs on immigration
Earlier, in excerpts of the speech released officially, Trump was supposed to push for more efforts against Daesh in the war on terrorism, as well as nuclear weapons, the Iran deal, and North Korea’s missile tests.
Instead, he chose to spend a large portion of the time talking about employment, infrastructure, immigration, trade, and national security.
He sought to put the spotlight on a robust Trump economy, while pointedly calling on a packed joint session of Congress to enact hardline curbs on immigration.
“Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve,” Trump said.
“Tonight, I want to talk about what kind of future we are going to have, and what kind of Nation we are going to be. All of us, together, as one team, one people, and one American family.
“This is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream,” he said.
The unity plea will first be put to the test in his drive for a compromise on protecting 1.8 million “Dreamers” — people brought illegally to the country as children — who face a March-5 deadline on whether they can begin to be deported.
Trump said he was “extending an open hand” for an immigration deal and that he would provide Dreamers a pathway to citizenship over 10 to 12 years in exchange for funding for a border wall with Mexico and restrictions on legal immigration.
Trump called his plan a “down-the-middle compromise”, but some Democrats booed when he said he wanted to rein in “chain migration”, the ability of legal immigrants to bring a wide-ranging number of family members into the country.
“Let’s come together, set politics aside and finally get the job done,” Trump said.
He took credit for US economic gains, including a soaring stock market and a low jobless rate. He highlighted the economic growth he believes will result from tax cuts Republicans pushed through Congress late last year.
Trump said he would like a compromise over a plan to rebuild ageing roads, bridges, and other infrastructure. He said he wanted legislation to generate at least $1.5 trillion through a combination of federal, state, and local spending as well as private-sector contributions.
“I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve,” he said.
While Trump called for bipartisanship, evidence of the deep divide between the parties was clear. Republican lawmakers cheered wildly at the president’s applause lines, while Democrats often sat in their seats silently.
Whether Trump would follow through on his appeal for bipartisan harmony was far from clear.
Trump’s past attempts at a unifying message have been undermined by rancorous tweets and divisive statements that have angered Democrats and frequently annoyed lawmakers in his own Republican Party.
He singled out a speech guest, 12-year-old Preston Sharp, for leading an effort to put American flags on the graves of 40,000 veterans, saying the initiative was “why we proudly stand for the national anthem.”
His belittling of National Football League players who refused to stand for the anthem in protest against police shootings of minorities dominated headlines last autumn.
A Gallup poll said the incumbent American head-of-state had an average job approval in 2017 of 38 per cent, the lowest first-year rating for any president in the firm’s history.
Gallup said that was nearly 20 points lower than the 57 per cent averaged by Barack Obama — his Democratic predecessor.
Just before the event, stock markets around the world experienced a bearish trend, with the value of the US dollar dipping.-Web Desk