Sep 6, 2020 - World

Trump hunts for foreign policy wins

Golden pen hitting bulls' eye

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

President Trump is on the hunt for foreign policy wins he can showcase ahead of November's election — even if that means getting creative.

Why it matters: Trump's aides are working to recast him as "a true peacemaker," as national security adviser Robert O'Brien put it on Friday. “It’s happened in the Balkans, it’s happened in the Middle East, and we have more to come.”

Be smart: The grand bargains Trump has sought with North Korea, Iran and China remain far out of reach.

  • More events like Friday's Oval Office ceremony could be in store between now and Nov. 3.

Setting the scene: Trump was flanked by the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo to sign what he heralded as “a truly historic commitment” to "economic normalization."

  • In a surprise twist, Serbia also said it would move its embassy to Jerusalem, while Kosovo agreed to recognize Israel (Trump described that as a "great day for peace with Middle East," though Kosovo is in Europe and has never fought with Israel).
  • The Serbia-Kosovo deal addressed some sticking points in relations, but a long-sought breakthrough proved elusive after Serbia made clear it would not recognize Kosovo's independence.

Between the lines: “There is substance in this agreement, but it didn’t deserve an Oval Office signing with President Trump,” emails Ryan Scherba, editor of Balkan Insider. “Even after reading through it multiple times, it really seems all over the place.”

What’s next: “It’s time for the president to start harvesting some of the accomplishments that he spent years building the foundation in order to achieve,” Jared Kushner said on Friday.

  • Leaders from Israel and the UAE are expected to gather at the White House the week of Sept. 13 to sign another normalization deal, Axios’ Barak Ravid reports.
  • Kushner and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both recently visited several Arab capitals and hope to be able to announce another deal on recognition of Israel soon, perhaps with Bahrain or Sudan.
  • It's unclear if those efforts will bear fruit before the ceremony, but in any case, the White House plans to invite Arab ambassadors to attend as a signal of support, Barak reports.
  • Israel-UAE talks are ongoing, and the rush is on to get as much agreed to as possible before heading to the White House.

What we're watching: Nuclear proliferation is "the most important thing” facing the world, Trump declared on Friday.

  • He's had a string of calls with Vladimir Putin on arms control, and his administration recently dropped its insistence that China take part in any nuclear talks in order to pursue a framework agreement with Russia.
  • The impetus for talks is the expiration in February of the Obama-era New START. But Trump clearly wants a separate agreement before then, and perhaps before November.
  • In a recent interview with Axios, arms control envoy Marshall Billingslea expressed caution about the prospects of a deal. If one is reached, it could involve a summit between Trump and Putin.
Go deeper