European diplomats scramble to gain access to Trump allies for insights

European diplomats scramble to gain access to Trump allies for insights
European diplomats scramble to gain access to Trump allies for insights

We show you our most important and recent visitors news details European diplomats scramble to gain access to allies for insights in the following article

Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - WASHINGTON — European diplomats in Washington are frantically working to set up meetings with allies of former president Donald Trump as they prepare for his potential return to the White House, sources familiar with the effort tell CNN.

At face-to-face sit-downs in private DC clubs, hotels, embassies and think tanks around town, diplomats are asking questions about Trump’s policy intentions and his possible personnel choices, and sending notes back to their European capitals where officials are hungry for any insights as they work to set up guard rails for NATO and try to ensure lasting support for Ukraine in its war with Russia.

As ambassadors and diplomatic staffers jostle to make contact with those who might know what Trump is planning, informal lists of some former high-ranking Trump officials are floating around embassies, including former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, and Keith Kellogg, former Vice President Mike Pence’s top national security adviser.

The meetings aren’t always pleasant and have at times become emotional, but in most interactions, the diplomats simply listen diligently, according to two sources who have been present for some of them. But they are coveted, and in many cases, easier for some diplomats to set up than for others.

Ambassadors from larger countries, and those who have been in Washington for several years, are having an easier time tapping into Trump’s circle, compared to ambassadors who are new to DC, and those from smaller countries, multiple diplomats said.

The activity ahead of November’s presidential election starkly contrasts the lead up to the 2016 election, when most diplomats assumed Hillary Clinton would win and made little effort to plug-in with Trump allies or any Republican foreign policy circles.

Now, they’ve learned a key lesson.

“We are not that nervous because we know that with Trump it is all about relationships,” said one veteran European diplomat who has been in DC since the Trump administration. “We are working on them, and we are telling the capital that the Prime Minister’s office needs to establish a personal connection with Trump right out of the gates.”

It’s unclear how much true influence some of these contacts still have with Trump and his campaign, but sources tell CNN that in some cases diplomats are casting a wide net – courting Republican think tanks and seeking meetings with former Trump cabinet members – to gain any semblance of insight.

A senior adviser to Trump said no meetings were being held at the direction of the campaign.

Back in Europe, officials from NATO and the European Union are working to harden support for Ukraine in anticipation of a potential Trump administration that almost certainly would be less supportive of the war-torn country. Sources say these efforts have long been eyed but that Trump’s rise in the polls and handy victory in the Republican primaries have given them new urgency.

Chief among them is establishing a roughly $100 billion NATO fund over the next five years aimed at funneling money into Ukraine. Those funds would be drawn specifically from the alliance members as a way to lock in a base of support ahead of a potential second Trump term.

“It is future-proofing,” said one senior European diplomat familiar with the discussions, explaining that changes being considered will make it more challenging for individual NATO members to alter and disrupt ongoing support for Ukraine as swiftly – especially as they anticipate Trump possibly coming into the White House.

In Brussels, EU officials are busy examining how to make use of the $300 billion in Russian Central Bank assets that have been frozen in the West since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Specifically, they are looking at how to direct interest that has accumulated on the holdings directly toward Ukraine. The move would require the EU coming to an agreement on how Ukraine could use the funds, whether for military expenditures or reconstruction. The EU passed a law earlier this year to set aside windfall profits from the Russian central bank funds, which US officials endorsed.

In another sign of NATO countries’ growing desire to tap into Trump’s orbit, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron met with Trump at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago club on Monday night.

Cameron’s trip to South Florida came as the former prime minister is set to travel to Washington to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week. A spokesperson for the British government called it “standard practice” for engagement between ministers and opposition candidates of partner nations.

The meeting was setup when the UK government reached out to the Trump campaign suggesting it, said sources familiar with the planning.

The pair discussed NATO defense spending, upcoming US and UK elections, Brexit and “ending the killing in Ukraine,” during their dinner together, according to a readout from the Trump campaign. Cameron refused to get into the details of the meeting but told reporters that he passionately makes the case to anyone that he talks to that backing Ukraine is “an investment in US security” and “good for American jobs.”

When NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visited Washington in January, he gave a speech on the future of NATO at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that is a bastion of the Republican foreign policy establish in Washington.

The location was handpicked by Stoltenberg’s team, an effort to reach out to Republicans given the possibility of Trump winning in November and amid concerns about his commitment to NATO, explained sources familiar with the planning.

The speech, which emphasized the collective strength of NATO ahead of its 75th anniversary this summer, was well-received, the sources said.

“The logic of doing it at Heritage was not lost on us,” said Victoria Coates, a deputy national security advisor to former President Trump who is now a vice president at the think tank.

Stoltenberg made the case for continued support for Ukraine, but he also noted an understanding of the US imperative to deal with the US border issue urgently.

“He does not blame anyone for thinking that we need to get that handled, and then move on to Ukraine,” Coates said in reflecting on how Stoltenberg’s speech nodded to a top Republican priority.

Less than two weeks later, Trump went for the jugular.

At a political rally Trump proclaimed that he would tell Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to any NATO country that doesn’t pay enough to the defense alliance.

The comments sent chills up the spines of NATO members, said diplomats familiar with the reactions.

NATO members are well aware that Trump would press for every member nation to hit their 2% spending contribution, but hearing him lay out such drastic repercussions – which would effectively undermine Article 5 – was alarming.

The comments sent European diplomats into over-drive, eager to understand exactly what Trump meant.

“We are getting a lot of calls from ambassadors, we know what they are doing, they are pumping us for information and trying to find out what will happen if Trump comes back in,” said one former Trump administration official who has had about 30 meetings with European diplomats in DC.

The typical Washington parlor games of making connections to those in power is extending to foreign diplomats, who are in some cases looking high and low to make any connections to the former Republican president.

“The demand signal has been through the roof. People are grazing the entire Republican space, trying to talk to everybody to figure out what is going on,” said James Carafano, a vice president at the Heritage Foundation.

Some of the diplomats were told in their meetings not to take Trump so literally after his comments about NATO at a rally, multiple sources said.

“It is just campaign talk, it is not what he really thinks,” said one European diplomat in describing what they were told.

But across the board they were told that living up to the 2% spending goal would not be negotiable, and some had a drastic warning for the alliance if the goal was not achieved.

“If they are worried about how President Trump is going to react to them, they hold it in their hands to do something about it,” Coates said. “There’s no one on this planet who can say to them, ‘Oh, it’s okay. I will persuade Trump not to get out of NATO. And you don’t have to worry about the 2%.’ Anyone who says that to them is lying to them.”

During those conversations many European ambassadors learned that Trump would consider pushing for a two-tier NATO. The structure would mean that the countries that don’t live up to 2% of spending could fall into the second tier of membership, meaning they would not be protected by NATO’s Article 5, which guarantees that the resources of the whole alliance can be used to protect any single member nation if it’s attacked.

“He’s always talked about the financial crisis of NATO,” said a second former Trump official. “He will remain serious about that, and we tell them that.”

As the GOP wrestles over Ukraine funding, European diplomats in DC are watching closely this week as Trump meets with Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson on Friday.

But European diplomats are not only worried about NATO.

Trump is known to shoot from the hip and have “random bursts of rage,” explained one ambassador, citing their concerns about the unpredictable moves.

“It’s more the general, rather than the specific: something may go very, very wrong just because some decision is made – basically shooting from the hip, without enough information, without appreciation of the possible second or third order effects,” said one senior European diplomat, noting that Trump during his first term engaged regularly in policy by tweet.

Asked about Trump’s unpredictable nature, one former Trump official explained that even when Trump makes a decision, a process to implement that decision follows. The former official says that he tells embassies around Washington that when Trump had a stated end-goal, his cabinet worked with him on how to achieve it effectively.

Some foreign diplomats in DC have been told that Trump’s plan to end the Ukraine war would begin with getting both sides to sit down and talk, and pushing for an agreement to halt the fighting, sources said.

If Trump wins in November he is likely to reach out to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky the day after being elected or the day after inauguration to begin coordinating the talks, said a person familiar with Trump’s thinking on the matter.

Trump would likely use US military aid to Ukraine as leverage to get both sides to the table, the person said.

Europeans are worried that following Trump’s lead might mean Ukraine losing some territory, but the end goal would be to bring an end to the loss of life.

“If Ukraine wants continued aid they gotta to sit down and negotiate, and if Russia doesn’t want us to give mass amounts of new support to Ukraine then they have to sit down and negotiate,” the person said. “It does not mean giving into Ukraine or giving Putin all that he wants.” — CNN

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