Morning News Brief: Trump Moves On To Second Stage Of Foreign Trip

May 22, 2017
Originally published on May 22, 2017 7:50 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Donald Trump had some harsh words for Iran, and this was just in time for his arrival in Israel.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yeah. Israel and Iran are longtime adversaries. Israeli leaders have long wanted to unite Arab nations in that region with Israel and against Iran, and President Trump sent some signals he's taking that course. Over the weekend, in Saudi Arabia, the president spoke supportively of his hosts and very differently about Iran.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It is a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death to America and ruin for many leaders and nations in this very room.

INSKEEP: That's a different tone than President Obama's administration which sanctioned Iran heavily but also ultimately made a deal over its nuclear program. And Iran just re-elected a president who says he favors more freedom and openness.

GREENE: OK. Well, President Trump on his first foreign trip as president in Saudi Arabia. Now moving on to Israel, NPR's Daniel Estrin is on the line with us now from the Old City in Jerusalem awaiting Trump's arrival. Hey, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi.

GREENE: So describe what you're looking at there.

ESTRIN: Well, right now, I'm at a family's home in the ancient walled Old City of Jerusalem. The Old City right now is a maze of alleyways closed off by policemen. I'm really close to some of the holiest sites in the city, and Trump is visiting two of those sites.

He's visiting the church that marks the tomb of Jesus and the Western Wall, which is a Jewish site. It's a remnant of the ancient Jewish temple complex, holy to Jews. So for Trump, it's not really a trip focused on issues and policy, it's more of a kind of a Kodak moment, a chance to visit these spiritual sites and reaffirm the U.S. relationship with Israel.

GREENE: Well, speaking of some substance, President Trump gave that speech in Saudi Arabia before leaving where he came down very hard on Iran, which I gather was music to the ears of Israel.

ESTRIN: Right. Well, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, thinks Iran is interested in getting nuclear weapons one day and threatening Israel's very existence with them. So he was very unhappy with the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran, and he's been very happy with the stance that Trump has taken so far.

GREENE: And, Daniel, President Trump is also going to be meeting with the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, in the short time that he is on the ground there. What exactly is Abbas looking for here?

ESTRIN: He's looking for some love. He's not very popular among his people. You know, and he's going to enjoy this bear hug from Trump. And I think Trump needs Abbas as well. He needs a Abbas to be a strong leader because Trump wants a peace deal. And between the Israelis and the Palestinians, you know, to make peace, it takes two to tango, so Trump needs Abbas to be a strong leader.

INSKEEP: And we now know that Air Force One is on the ground beginning this visit. And it's going to be certainly interesting in the days ahead. President Trump has said he thinks a Mideast peace deal is a little bit easier to make than people have imagined.

He's actually not the first person to say that. Many diplomats have said they see the elements of this deal, but it is actually getting the parties to do that, given the interests that play on them, that has proven very difficult.

GREENE: Yeah, it's just getting there. Daniel, it sounds like some lovely music there in this family's home you're in.

ESTRIN: Yes. Yes. I'm in a very gracious family's home. And, you know, there are bells - church bells ringing. It's a lively scene.

GREENE: OK. That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in the Old City in Jerusalem as President Trump arrives there. Daniel, thanks.

ESTRIN: Thank you.

GREENE: And let's talk now about three words.

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TRUMP: Radical Islamic terrorists.

INSKEEP: While campaigning for president, Donald Trump insisted those were the only acceptable words to describe the terrorist threat facing the U.S. and the world. Others resisted the phrasing, saying that it demeans countless Muslims who are not terrorists. Now that he's visiting majority Muslim allies, President Trump used more careful phrasing that he once called politically correct.

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TRUMP: Of course, there is still much work to be done. That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamic extremism and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds.

GREENE: OK. NPR's Scott Detrow from NPR's Politics team is in the studio with us this morning. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Morning, David.

GREENE: So it was Donald Trump who said that those words and the choice of words was really important. Is this a sign of a new approach from him going forward?

DETROW: You know, beyond this specific speech, I think it's unclear. We did see one thing in the speech that's really in line with how the White House has conducted itself so far, and that was a line from President Trump about not being there to lecture but to work with.

I mean, Trump has made it clear that big ideas like human rights and the promotion of democracy will often take a backseat to more immediate goals like countering ISIS and other terror groups. But when it comes to talking about Islam as a whole, this is so striking because this comes after a long campaign where Trump would often paint Islam in big brushes as a whole, as an entire religion as part of the problem.

And here, we get a complete tonal shift, but we saw this with China too actually. That's a country that Trump railed on over and over again during the campaign, but when he sat down in person face to face with the president of China, he seemed eager to try to work towards some sort of conductive relationship at least on certain immediate goals.

GREENE: So, Scott, I mean, let's just think about this trip. I mean, the president could have decided to make, you know, an easy trip, to somewhere where there's not a lot of tension. This is an ambitious trip in difficult parts of the world. What does he need to do to call this a success?

DETROW: Well, I think we should think about how notable it is that so much of the reaction to the speech yesterday was that wow, President Trump really stayed on message. He was focused. He delivered the speech as scripted. This is a man who's president of the United States, has been for months, but it's notable that hasn't happened that often with big high-profile moments, so it is worth pointing out.

So I think the success is continuing to do that - stay on message, stay disciplined. Because, I mean, as we've been talking about, this is a trip with a lot of different political landmines where setting and tone and kind of following the diplomacy is a key part of success.

GREENE: I mean, speaking of landmines, there are some awaiting him too when he gets home.

DETROW: That is true. I think a lot of this growing problem that the White House is facing with this investigation into Russia is going to begin playing out behind closed doors with the special investigation, but there are some key moments coming up in congressional hearing. This week, we'll hear from the former CIA Director John Brennan.

INSKEEP: You know, when we talk about President Trump shifting tone, we should be fair, he's not the first president to do this. Many have shifted their tone about nations when they get into office. It's just that in Trump's case, the statements were so numerous and so extreme, even criticizing Michelle Obama for not covering her hair in Saudi Arabia. And then, of course, first lady Melania Trump didn't do it, either.

GREENE: NPR's Scott Detrow. Thanks, as always, for coming in.

DETROW: Thank you.

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GREENE: All right. We're going to check back now on a story that we really haven't talked about in quite some time.

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BILL COSBY: I have not performed in over two years. I have not spoken at a graduation in two years.

INSKEEP: That is, of course, the voice of Bill Cosby, who was talking with Michael Smerconish last week on Sirius XM, describing his life as he awaits his sexual assault trial that begins with jury selection today.

GREENE: A trial that Bobby Allyn from member station WHYY has been following. Hey, Bobby.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.

GREENE: So I know there were dozens of women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, but just remind us, this is just one case brought by one accuser?

ALLYN: Yeah, exactly. So almost exactly 13 years ago today, in fact, a woman named Andrea Constand was invited over to Bill Cosby's mansion in suburban Philadelphia. Constand then worked for the women's basketball team at Temple University. Cosby, of course, is a Philadelphia native. He was a trustee at the school. And Constand saw him as kind of an acquaintance and a mentor.

She says after drinking wine and conversing a bit, Cosby drugged her then sexually assaulted her. And in a deposition Cosby sat for as part of a civil settlement Constand later filed, Cosby admitted to obtaining drugs and giving them to women he was hoping to seduce.

So once that explosive deposition was unsealed, prosecutors said Cosby's statements about the use of drugs was incredibly important to the charges he's now on trial for. So we've gone through a year-and-a-half of pretrial hearings over what evidence can come in, what can't. And lawyers on both sides today are finally starting the process of vetting potential jurors.

GREENE: And how is that all going to work today?

ALLYN: Yeah, so about 3,000 notices have gone out to people who in Allegheny County, which is the county that contains Pittsburgh, will potentially sit on the jury for Bill Cosby. Both the prosecution and the defense team will be just going through each and every one of them and trying to determine, do you have an agenda? Have you made up your mind about whether or not Cosby is innocent and guilty?

GREENE: Oh, and so they're trying to get some people from elsewhere in the state too so they don't have sort of preconceived views of this.

ALLYN: Well, actually the - all of the jurors are going to be chosen from Pittsburgh. And the reason for that is because Cosby actually became a political football during a race for a district attorney in suburban Philadelphia back in 2015.

So the prosecution had a huge win by getting the jurors to be selected from Pittsburgh, which is about 300 miles away from Philadelphia. And it should be noted that Pittsburgh is far more diverse than Philadelphia. And the prosecutor said having a jury of more diverse and opposing views might be beneficial to Cosby. And many legal experts say that indeed may be the case.

GREENE: All right. So that jury selection begins today after quite some time. Bill Cosby facing these allegations. That is Bobby Allyn from WHYY member station in Philadelphia. Bobby, thanks, as always.

ALLYN: Hey, thanks, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF D33J'S "PARK - TAPE SONG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.