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Trump threatens Afghanistan militants after ousting Bolton

Eli Stokols and Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump sought Wednesday to justify his now-scuttled summit with the Taliban while threatening the Afghan militants and other enemies with "power the likes of which the United States has never used before."

The comments, at a Pentagon ceremony commemorating the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, underscored the president's seemingly conflicting inclinations on foreign policy and his tendency to cloak his isolationist, deal-making leanings in bellicose threats.

Coming a day after the departure of national security adviser John Bolton, who often pushed back on the president's ad hoc diplomacy, the president thus made clear he's prepared to push forward on his initiatives in Afghanistan and other global hot spots.

"Trump has made clear that he's his own principal adviser," said David Rothkopf, who wrote a book about the National Security Council. "Right now I wouldn't say there's much of a national security process. And that's dangerous because the president is inexperienced and erratic."

Trump has been willing to meet with adversaries in pursuit of diplomatic deals, or at least a showy and dramatic sort of summitry that captures the world's attention. Since early last year, he often did so against Bolton's advice.

Bolton had opposed Trump's desire to meet with Taliban officials face-to-face at Camp David, and the president later blamed him for leaking stories about division in the White House, specifically a report that Vice President Mike Pence had sided with Bolton, which Pence vehemently denied.


He also opposed a possible meeting between Trump and Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York later this month.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said at the White House that Trump "is prepared to meet with no preconditions."

Iran has said it wouldn't join such talks until the administration eases the sanctions Trump imposed after he withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran, the U.S. and five other countries.

Trump claimed Wednesday that after his proposed summit with the Taliban last weekend had collapsed -- he says he canceled it, but the Taliban said it never planned to come -- the Pentagon and U.S. allies sharply stepped up attacks on the militants.


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