News Brief: Tariffs, D-Day Anniversary, Syria To Repatriate Americans

Jun 6, 2019
Originally published on June 6, 2019 10:17 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Is time running out for the U.S. and Mexico to come to an agreement on trade and immigration?

NOEL KING, HOST:

President Trump says it might be. He was talking in Ireland this morning, and he said that yesterday there was some progress in these talks but not enough.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're having a great talk with Mexico. We'll see what happens, but something pretty dramatic could happen. We've told Mexico the tariffs go on. And I mean it, too. And I'm very happy with it.

KING: He wants Mexico to do more to stop the flow of migrants into the U.S. In the meantime, Customs and Border Protection says the number of people crossing the border illegally hit a seven-year high back in May.

MARTIN: So let's talk about where this leaves negotiations - which continue today, by the way - and where that leaves the president, who's getting a lot of pushback from members of his own party. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is with us.

Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: Let's start with Mexico's foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, who had this to say after he met with the vice president, Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday.

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MARCELO EBRARD: It's going to hurt the people, this tariff issue - people in both countries.

MARTIN: I mean, members of President Trump's own party - Republicans agree on this point. Don't they? So what does the president have to gain with this tactic?

LIASSON: Well, that is a really good question because, as Republicans in Congress keep on telling him, putting tariffs on Mexico is the same thing as putting taxes on Texas because, despite the president's deep beliefs about how tariffs work, no one else agrees with him. The fact is that Mexico does not pay these tariffs; U.S. companies and consumers do.

And trade really has been the rare issue where Republicans in Congress are willing to split with the president. And he, right now, is facing his biggest revolt yet of Republicans. There isn't a veto-proof majority in Congress yet, but he's getting a lot of pushback.

MARTIN: So I mean, these negotiations - or any negotiation is this dance between a give and a take. Right? So if the tariffs are the president's stick here in these negotiations with Mexico, what is the incentive? What is the carrot? Is he offering Mexico anything in return?

LIASSON: Well, we don't know if he's offering Mexico anything in return so far. He's the person who says the deal-making is his brand, but he doesn't approach these negotiations as a win-win kind of situation. It's more of a zero sum.

One of the things that he could offer is to spend money to attack the root problem, solve some of the causes in Central America that are forcing these migrants to the southern border. But he's done the opposite. He's actually cut off aid to Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala. And the other thing is that Mexico has politics, too. In some ways, people are saying that Trump is making it harder for Mexico to do what he wants because it looks like they're capitulating to the United States.

MARTIN: And do we know the standard by which the president is measuring this change he wants to see at the border?

LIASSON: Well, that's really interesting. At some points, he has said that all immigration much stop; drugs must stop from coming over the border. But that's going to be very hard to do. Here's Earl Anthony Wayne, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, explaining the situation.

EARL ANTHONY WAYNE: It's not a problem you can turn on and off in a week period, as some of the tweets we've seen suggest. It's very deeply rooted, and it is hard to control.

LIASSON: So it's hard to see how those numbers are going to go down in the short term, and it's possible that the president has put himself in another box of his own making.

MARTIN: NPR's Mara Liasson for us this morning. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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KING: All right. Moving from one strained relationship with an important U.S. ally to another, President Trump is in France today.

MARTIN: Yeah. He is there for several reasons, but chief among them, to mark 75 years since the D-Day invasion that changed the course of World War II. President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron are supposed to meet today. They are also honoring Allied troops who stormed the beaches of Normandy to free France from Nazi control. The U.S.-French alliance has changed lately, especially the once very friendly relationship between these two men, Trump and Macron.

KING: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is at the site of today's commemoration in Normandy.

Hi, Eleanor.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, y'all.

KING: So almost two years ago, President Trump visits France. And he and President Macron were very complimentary of each other, had nice things to say about each other. What changed?

BEARDSLEY: Well, yes. It's completely changed. Today is sort of the end of the illusion that there's any kind of working relationship between them. You know, Macron tried to cultivate President Trump, but he failed. So gone are the days where they affectionately called each other Emmanuel and Donald and praised each other. Their direct phone conversations are said to be less frequent. You know, the next time they see each other might be at a G-20. There's not going to be any more personal invitations, for example, to see military parades.

What changed is that the two leaders agree on just about everything. And though Macron tried to cultivate President Trump - you know, tried to convince him to stay with the Iran deal and to stay with the climate change, you know, the Paris treaty on, you know, reducing global warming - he broke with everything. So there's sort of - you know, he has egg on his face, Macron. It didn't work.

But even so, Macron is still considered maybe the only major Western European leader that Trump can somehow get along with. So they can talk, but there's no - any kind of special relationship anymore. And by the way, I'm at that ceremony. It's just about to begin, high up on a bluff over Omaha Beach in the American cemetery here.

KING: And what's expected to happen in the ceremony?

BEARDSLEY: Well, we're going to hear from President Trump and from President Macron. There will be, of course, the moving ceremony with, you know, cannon salutes, talk about the men who lost their lives here. And then there's going to be a bilateral meeting between Macron and Trump in the neighboring town of Caen after the ceremony.

KING: OK. So they still have things to talk about. You've covered these D-Day commemorations in the past. Is there anything different about this year? Is there anything that stands out to you?

BEARDSLEY: Yeah. Really, there's an intensity to this year. There's a feeling that you've got to be here. You know, Americans come over for this, but hundreds of thousands of Europeans have shown up. There's said to be 2 million people here.

KING: Wow.

BEARDSLEY: And there's an intensity because - yeah - there's a feeling that this really is the last chance to be with some of these men who landed here on D-Day. You know, these veterans are all in their 90s now. And the big celebrations are every five years, so this may be the last time. And they are stars here. You instantly recognize them. They're very old. They're in their uniforms. They usually have a chest full of medals, and people gather around.

They're treated like the heroes that they are. People want pictures with them, autographs. And they just come up and thank them. Many French people from Normandy thank them and want to get their pictures taken with them.

KING: Seventy-five years on from D-Day. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, thank you.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: And we're learning more about eight American citizens - two women, six children - who are set to leave Syria and come back home to the U.S.

KING: Yet Kurdish authorities in Syria say the women and kids are being sent home at the request of the American government. They are reported to be family members of ISIS fighters who were captured by U.S.-backed forces.

Now, tens of thousands of people from around the world, not just the United States, traveled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS back when the group was powerful. So the big question now is, what does this mean for all of those people who were captured?

MARTIN: Yeah. NPR's Ruth Sherlock has been reporting on this for months now. She joins us from Beirut.

Hi, Ruth.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Hello.

MARTIN: What more can you tell us about these people - these women and children - who are set to come to the U.S.?

SHERLOCK: Well, a Kurdish official told me that they were handed over to U.S. authorities about two weeks ago. And - however, these Kurdish officials and U.S. officials are keeping their identities private, perhaps for their safety. But it's likely that these are families of ISIS fighters or people who were captured in ISIS territory by U.S.-backed forces who took this area.

There are now thousands of these people, as you say, held in prisons and detention camps across northeast Syria. And the Kurds are saying that they're dealing with the humanitarian cases first - so not people who are ISIS fighters, but rather people who, you know, were, for example in this case and in the majority, are children.

MARTIN: Has this happened before? I mean, has the United States done this - taken people connected to ISIS and brought them back to America?

SHERLOCK: It's happened once before with the case of Samantha Elhassani and her four children. She's now standing trial in an Indiana federal court where she's pleading not guilty to material support for terrorism. She says that her husband essentially forced her to come to Syria. You know, the U.S. has been sort of a leader in the Western world on this in terms of taking people back. President Trump actually has urged other countries to take their citizens back.

But it's not a blanket acceptance. They say - a State Department official says that they're looking at these people on a case-by-case basis, trying to assess if they are American citizens. And this is controversial. There's the case, for example, of Hoda Muthana, who was born in New Jersey. She has two - she's been issued with two U.S. passports previously. But the U.S. is challenging her citizenship because her father is Yemeni. So it's not simple.

MARTIN: No. I mean, it's all about making these very difficult decisions about how much agency these people had in their choices, if they're really victims. It's complicated, right?

SHERLOCK: Right, exactly. And you know, it's a huge problem. There's people from over 46 countries currently held in northeast Syria. There's about 13,000 women and children. The majority are children...

MARTIN: Wow.

SHERLOCK: ...People who were born there and - you know, or brought to Syria by their parents. And while some countries, like, for example, Kazakhstan and Sudan, have taken their people back, a lot of European governments are saying they don't want to.

You know, there's a lot of right-wing governments across Europe especially who are saying that it's too politically toxic an issue, that it's - yeah, too dangerous for their domestic constituents to take these people back. There is some talk of bringing children back. Even yesterday, a U.K. defense secretary said that, you know, minors should be brought back to the U.K. And the U.K. has taken quite a hard stance in the past, even stripping some people of citizenship rather than having them back.

But even the idea of bringing back children is itself controversial because then, in many cases, you're going to end up having to separate them from their parents to do so.

MARTIN: Right. NPR's Ruth Sherlock for us from Beirut. Thanks, Ruth. We appreciate it.

SHERLOCK: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.