Washington: US President Donald Trump has delivered his second State of the Union address after the speech was postponed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for almost two weeks over the government shutdown.
Speaking in the chamber of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Trump once again pledged to build a wall along the US border with Mexico to prevent immigrants, whom he called “criminals,” from crossing into the US.
“Now is the time for the Congress to show the world that America is committed to ending illegal immigration and putting the ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers out of business.”
“In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall — but the proper wall never got built. I will get it built,” Trump said.
Trump has made his hard-line stance on immigration an integral part of his presidency and has promised to build a wall along the Mexican border to curb the flow of migrants from Mexico and Central America.
The president’s latest remarks come as he and Congress will need to try and find a solution to avert another government shutdown on February 15 even though he and Pelosi are still at an impasse over the wall.
“Simply put, walls work and walls save lives,” Trump said. “So let’s work together, compromise and reach a deal that will truly make America safe.”
Trump also encouraged unity between legislative and executive branches of the government at a moment of deep partisan division, calling for a new era of compromise on immigration and security in his address.
At the same time, he warned that Democratic efforts to investigate his administration would endanger the US economy.
“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.”
‘2nd summit with Kim due in Vietnam’
Trump also announced that his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was slated for late February in Vietnam.
“If I had not been elected President of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea with potentially millions of people killed. Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong-un is a good one. And Chairman Kim and I will meet again on February 27 and 28 in Vietnam.”
Trump held a historic meeting with Kim in Singapore in June, when the two agreed to work towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Subsequent diplomacy between the two sides has, however, made little progress in recent months, mainly because the US refuses to lift harsh sanctions on the North.
Trump defended his decision to accelerate an end to the war in Afghanistan and to pull US troops out of Syria.
“Our brave troops have now been fighting in the Middle East for almost 19 years,” Trump said. “As a candidate for president, I pledged a new approach. Great nations do not fight endless wars.”
On Afghanistan, the president said he had sped up talks with the Taliban terrorist group, claiming that the two sides are able to find a political solution to the crisis in the war-torn country.
“I have also accelerated our negotiations to reach a political settlement in Afghanistan. Our troops have fought with unmatched valor — and thanks to their bravery, we are now able to pursue a political solution to this long and bloody conflict.”
He added, “We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement – but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace.”
Washington and the Taliban ended six days of negotiations in Doha, Qatar last month, with Kabul saying that the US had assured Afghan officials that the focus of the talks was on finding a way to facilitate peace and ensure foreign troop withdrawal, rather than the establishment of a government.
Up until now, the Taliban have repeatedly rejected the Afghan government’s offer of talks, preferring instead to negotiate directly with the American side.
Despite the presence of US-led forces in Afghanistan 17 years after their invasion to drive the Taliban from power, the terrorist group controls nearly half of the country.
Trump also claimed victory against Daesh terrorists in Syria on December 19, announcing that he was planning to pull out some 2,000 US troops from the conflict-torn Arab country.
The announcement resulted in the resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, US anti-Daesh coalition envoy Brett McGurk and Pentagon chief of staff Rear Admiral Kevin Sweeney, who disapproved of the president’s decision.
Trump, nevertheless, seemingly gave in to pressure to slow down the troop pullout two weeks later, granting the US military up to four months to withdraw.
‘Trade talks will end China’s theft of US jobs’
President Trump said that the US aggressive trade talks with China would put an end to what he described as Beijing’s “theft” of American jobs and wealth.
“We are now making it clear to China that after years of targeting our industries, and stealing our intellectual property, the theft of American jobs and wealth has come to an end.”
Any agreement with China “must include real, structural change to end unfair trade practices,” he added.
Trump initiated what is effectively a trade war with China in April last year, when he first imposed unusually heavy tariffs on imports from the Asian country, prompting Beijing to retaliate with tariffs of its own.
The tariffs aimed to put pressure on Beijing to meet a long list of demands that would rewrite the terms of trade between the two countries.
The demands include changes to China’s policies on intellectual property protection, technology transfers, industrial subsidies and other trade barriers.
In December, Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a 90-day truce in the trade war to give their teams time to negotiate a deal.
Early in January, US negotiators traveled to Beijing to talk with Chinese counterparts to end the months-long dispute.
Trump has hailed his decision to pull the United States out of a nuclear agreement reached between Iran and the world powers, once again accusing the Islamic Republic of sponsoring terrorism.
Trump withdrew Washington in May 2018 from the landmark Iran nuclear agreement, reached between Tehran and the P5+1 group of countries in 2015, and decided to re-impose unilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Under the deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran undertook to put limits on its nuclear program in exchange for the removal of nuclear-related sanctions.
“My administration has acted decisively to confront the world’s leading state sponsor of terror — the radical regime in Iran. It is a radical regime. They do bad, bad things. To ensure this corrupt dictatorship never acquires nuclear weapons, I withdrew the United States from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal.”
This is not the first time that Trump has leveled such accusations against Iran. Tehran outright rejects the allegations, saying that as one of the world’s biggest victims of terrorism, it has been fighting the menace and helping other countries in the global demand to uproot terror.
Responding to Trump’s latest anti-Iranian rant, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif posted a tweet on Wednesday in which he said the US has been backing “dictators, butchers & extremists, who’ve only brought ruin to our region.”
Trump reiterates support for Venezuela’s Guaido
The US president also reiterated his support for Venezuela’s self-proclaimed “interim president” Juan Guaido, calling the government of President Nicolas Maduro a brutal one.
“Two weeks ago, the United States officially recognized the legitimate government of Venezuela, and its new interim president, Juan Guaido,” Trump said.
“We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom — and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair.”
Venezuela plunged into a state of chaos when Guaido, the opposition leader in the country’s National Assembly, proclaimed himself as the “interim president” and urged Maduro to resign just after he began his second term in office last month.
The US rushed to support Guaido, announcing sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry.
Vice President Mike Pence even said on Saturday that the Trump administration will forgo “dialogue” and consider “all options” to help Guaido against Maduro.
Trump doubled down on his decision to suspend US’ participation in a landmark Cold War-era arms control treaty with Russia.
On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US will withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia over claims that Moscow had been violating the key pact and jeopardizing Washington’s security interests.
During his speech, Trump made the same claim, saying, “while we followed the agreement to the letter, Russia repeatedly violated its terms. It’s been going on for many years.”
“Perhaps we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others, or perhaps we can’t — in which case, we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far,” he added.
He went on to say that the US “is developing a state-of-the-art missile defense system. Under my administration, we will never apologize for advancing America’s interests.”
His remarks came hours after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow would develop new missiles in the next two years in response to the US withdrawal from the INF.