Lionel Barber on FT Trump interview
Donald Trump has spoken exclusively to the Financial Times. Lionel Barber, editor, talks about the highlights of his conversation with the US president.
Filmed by Nicola Stansfield and Rod Fitzgerald. Produced by Seb Morton-Clark.
Well, the president was alternately charming, pugnacious, direct. He has a very blunt way of speaking. The language is often quite crude, not in terms of swear words, but it's just very direct. In terms of his temperament, again, it's a strange mixture between really quite relaxed and then suddenly, quite tough and tense. And I think the really dramatic moment, of course, was when he said that the United States would be prepared to take unilateral action against North Korea if China didn't support efforts to shut down this nuclear programme.
I think this was definitely a message right to President Xi Jinping, who he is seeing at his winter White House in Mar-a-Lago, this opulent resort in Florida. And they're going to be wide-ranging bilateral talks. There's obviously a very important economic relationship and trading relationship.
But the security matter is largely about North Korea, and Mr. Trump believes, I think correctly, that the country that has most leverage over this rogue regime led by Kim Jong Un, is China, and therefore he needs to speak directly to China and convince the Beijing leadership that America is prepared to act unilaterally.
That must be very-- a very much a last resort in terms of a missile strike, because we don't know where exactly the Koreans have stashed their nuclear programme. We know that they've got enriched uranium. We know they've conducted ballistic missile tests, and we-- what they're worried about is obviously putting a nuclear warhead miniaturised on one of these missiles.
But to invite-- to attack North Korea would invite retaliation, and the North Koreans have formidable arsenal of weapons, artillery, and they could literally obliterate Seoul, the South Korean capital, never any other attack on Japan. So that would be high, high risk. I think they're looking much more economic options and perhaps even cyber warfare.
I think that they're going to be toughish, but it'll be talk at the beginning. So they're not ready to, for example, brand China as a currency manipulator. They're not ready to President Trump made this very clear in his interview that he's not prepared to talk about tariffs, imposing tariffs against Chinese goods or anything like that.
What they are trying to do, and we spoke to Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Secretary. who's very influential longtime friend of the president. And last week through an executive order, they introduced new regulations orders which sets out principles for fair trade. That's what they're talking about. It's a stiff message to the Chinese and saying if you don't recognise these principles, then we may have to go further to direct retaliatory action against you.
There is the most interesting, serious power plays going on behind the scenes between a camp led by, I would say the realists, the tough realists. People like Gary Cohn, the ex-number two at Goldman Sachs who's head of the National Economic Council, and Wilbur Ross, the private equity billionaire. And these are the people who are in for-- enforcing trade rules, but they're not looking at overturning the complete-- the system.
People like Steve Bannon, the ideological firebrand and former campaign manager to President Trump, is a very influential figure behind the scenes, and he's almost certainly for pushing for more. What I can say with some certainty is you're not going to see ever again any Trump administration signing up to a comprehensive Trans-Pacific Partnership deal. That-- that's not on the, the table. They're going to look for aggressive bilateral deals with different countries.
They're now saying we don't believe the European Union should collapse or disintegrate following Brexit. We see it as important that it holds together. And by the way, we would like to do a free trade deal with the EU.