WASHINGTON -- In a rare apology by a Trump administration official, top White House trade adviser Peter Navarro on Tuesday walked back his inflammatory statement that there was a "special place in hell" reserved for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Navarro offered the apology at a conference sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, saying that "my job was to send a signal of strength" after an economic summit in Quebec marked by tensions over Trump's recently imposed steel tariffs on Canada and other allies. "The problem was that in conveying that message, I used language that was inappropriate," he said.
Asked whether he was apologizing, Navarro replied, "Yes, absolutely."
Navarro's apology was unusual in that President Donald Trump and his aides have seldom walked back harsh and even incorrect statements. There was no immediate response to the apology from Trudeau. While the apology could help ease tensions, analysts said Navarro's outburst had made it harder for the parties to reach an agreement on updating the North American Free Trade Agreement among the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
The economic summit, attended by Trump, Trudeau and other leaders of the Group of Seven advanced nations, concluded Saturday with Trump leaving early en route to Singapore. On board Air Force One, Trump tweeted that he was pulling out of the leaders' joint statement, and derided Trudeau for being "dishonest" and "weak" at his closing G-7 news conference.
On Sunday morning Navarro and Trump's director of the National Economic Council, Larry Kudlow, piled on the criticisms. Appearing on separate news shows, Kudlow accused Trudeau of "betrayal" and Navarro called the news conference a "stunt" and went on to assail the prime minister in unusually harsh terms.
"There's a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door," Navarro said on "Fox News Sunday."
Trudeau's office responded with a statement that the prime minister had said nothing new. At the news conference, Trudeau called the U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs "insulting" and stated that Canada would go ahead with retaliatory tariffs on July 1 unless the American duties were dropped.
"I have made it very clear to the president that it is not something we relish doing, but it is something that we absolutely will do, because Canadians, we're polite, we're reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around," Trudeau said.
Other leaders of the G-7, including the United Kingdom, France and Germany -- which were also hit by Trump's steel tariffs -- came to Trudeau's defense. And in Washington, GOP lawmakers criticized Navarro for crossing the line.
Navarro "should have kept his big mouth shut because I don't think that helps us in foreign policy," said Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah.
Navarro, a former University of California, Irvine economics professor, has made caustic remarks before in advocating hard-hitting actions on trade, particularly against China. Trump's steel tariffs and threats to tax auto imports, among other protectionist policies, have strained relations with America's closest allies, including Canada, with whom the administration has been struggling to re-negotiate NAFTA.
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