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Where Does Donald Trump Stand on Syria, ISIS, North Korea?

Will President-elect Donald Trump go for that burger with North Korea’s leader to discuss the reclusive nation’s nuclear ambitions like he suggested?
Image: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observes an artillery drill in an undated photo released by North Korea's Rodong Sinmun newspaper.RODONG SINMUN / EPA, file

Will Donald Trump go for that burger with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to discuss the reclusive nation’s nuclear ambitions like he suggested on the campaign trail?

Image: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observes an artillery drill in an undated photo released by North Korea's Rodong Sinmun newspaper.RODONG SINMUN / EPA, file

And how will the president-elect actually deal with ISIS, China, the Middle East and leaders like Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin?

It’s hard to tell.

Trump hasn’t held any news conferences since his election.

He has only given interviews to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and released two video statements to the country — including one outlining the “executive actions” he plans to implement on the first day of his presidency.

"There is no moral purpose. It’s pretty crass what he seeks to gain for the U.S."

Trump has also only attended two intelligence briefings since he won the election — a much lower number than his predecessors and fewer than even Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

So it’s unclear whether the weight of the office has tempered some of the fiery rhetoric Trump expressed about foreign leaders and hot-button issues on the campaign trail and what his actual foreign policy will be.

One thing is for sure, when he was asked about how he sees America’s role in the world by the New York Times, he replied that the U.S. should not “be a nation builder.”

Dana Allin, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, fears American foreign policy is in “danger of being greatly diminished” under Trump.

Allin pointed out that Trump did say a lot during the course of the campaign, and his 30 years in public life, which taken together offer a clue to his worldview.

He is most worried about Trump’s “admiration for authoritarian leaders and his lack of devotion to liberal democratic norms” which every president in recent memory has adhered to.

Allin said Trump has also shown himself to be consistently isolationist and protectionist.

Leslie Vinjamuri, an associate fellow at the London-based Chatham House think tank, said Trump has made it clear that his number one priority is battling radical Islamist terrorism, followed by the partnership with Russia.

Vinjamuri said we can likely count on Trump moving “away from multilateralism and towards bilateral agreements. A strategy that just says: ‘What’s in it for me? What’s in it for me?’”

“He has no visionary foreign policy, there is no moral purpose. It’s pretty crass what he seeks to gain for the U.S.,” Vinjamuri added.

Here’s a look at what Trump has promised to do about some global hot spots.


Since winning the election, the Obama administration has warned Trump’s transition team that it considers North Korea to be the top national security threat for the incoming White House team, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Image: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in an undated photo released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Nov. 4.KCNA / via Reuters

Candidate Trump called North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un a “bad dude” and a “maniac,” but also said he’d be willing to meet him over hamburger to discuss rapprochement between the U.S. and the nuclear-armed nation.

After North Korea claimed that it carried out its first hydrogen bomb test in January, Trump said that China has “total control” over North Korea and that if Beijing didn’t “solve the problem, we should make trade very difficult with China.”

Trump also said that South Korea and Japan should pay for more of their own defense and if they don’t he would be willing to have U.S. withdraw troops from those countries.

He also suggested that he would support Japan and South Korea developing their own nuclear arsenals, in an interview with the New York Times in March. He added that he believes nuclear capability is the “biggest problem” the world has.

Trump has not addressed North Korea specifically in any of his post-election interviews.


From the start of Trump’s election campaign, China has been in his crosshairs. In his June 2015 speech announcing his candidacy, Trump accused China of devaluing their currency and dumping their cheap goods on the U.S. market — stealing U.S. manufacturing jobs in the process. Trump promised to designate China as a currency manipulator and to slap Chinese imports with hefty tariffs.

Related: Why a Trade War on China Might Hurt America

He criticized Beijing’s build-up in the South China Sea and suggested in a March interview that the U.S. should use its economic power and trade with China as a bargaining chip “to negotiate” on the issue.

But Trump has also praised China’s ability to build incredible infrastructure — from bridges and roads to airports, compared to what he called “third-world” airports in the U.S.

During the campaign he promised to spend $1 trillion to rebuild America. Will he lean on Chinese expertise to do that?


“We have to end that craziness that’s going on in Syria,” Trump said during the New York Times interview on Nov. 22.

He said that he has some “very definitive” and “strong ideas” about how to deal with the civil war in Syria. But didn’t elaborate on what those ideas are.

During his Nov. 11 interview with the Wall Street Journal, he suggested focusing more closely on a fighting ISIS, rather than on ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Trump explained that given Russia’s support of Syria in the civil war, if the U.S. attacks Assad, Trump reasoned, “we end up fighting Russia, fighting Syria.”

He said in March that he believes “our far greater problem is not Assad, it's ISIS.”

And also he suggested that one way to combat ISIS would be to hit their “dark banking channels” to cut off their financing.


Dismissing criticism of his alleged chumminess with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the campaign, Trump told the New York Times that he would “love to be able to get along with Russia” and that better relations with Moscow are in “our mutual interest.”

He also suggested Moscow could become an ally, saying “wouldn’t it be nice if we went after ISIS together.”

During the campaign, Trump questioned the relevance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the alliance created in 1949 to counter the threat of the Soviet Union, calling it “obsolete.”

Related: Trump's NATO Stance Threatens 'West' as We Know It

He said the U.S. shoulders too much of the financial burden of NATO, compared to other member states, and argued that it was not an effective tool to combat the biggest threat now: terror.

Despite his critique, Trump said that as president he would abide by the commitments of the treaty and defend Baltic states if Russia invaded them.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told BBC News that he has spoken to Trump directly since the election and that he said the “United States will remain strongly committed to NATO.”

During the election Trump praised Putin, saying he would give him an “A,” for leadership, as opposed to President Barack Obama.

The bromance has continued since Trump won the election. Putin called Trump to congratulate him on his victory and the two agreed to work to “normalize” relations.

A Kremlin statement about the call said that the new relationship will be based "on the principles of equality, mutual respect and respective non-involvement in the other party's domestic affairs."

The statement from the Russians added that Putin and Trump agreed on combating "global enemy number one" — international terrorism and extremism.


Trump told the Wall Street Journal that he sees negotiating peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians as “the ultimate deal.” The president-elect said he’d like to broker “the deal that can’t be made. And do it for humanity’s sake.”

During his interview with the New York Times, he said he might seek to make his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a special envoy charged with brokering peace in the Middle East.

Image: Jared Kushner
Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of of President-elect Donald TrumpCarolyn Kaster / AP

He said Kushner, who is an observant Jew, “could be very helpful” because he “knows the region, knows the people, knows the players.”

Right-wing Israeli’s have been buoyed by Trump’s election because they believe he is staunchly pro-Israeli and will not push for “two-state solution” to the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, which has been the official U.S. foreign policy for decades.

Shortly after the election, a co-chairman of the Trump campaign’s Israel Advisory Committee told an Israeli radio station that his boss does not view settlements as “an obstacle to peace.” That is a sharp break from the policy of Obama, who was vocal about his opposition to the Israeli expansion of settlements which sit on Palestinian land that they see as part of their future state.

Related: 'Law That Recognizes Robbery' Inches Forward in Israel

To the international affairs expert Allin, Trump’s apparent belief that he can make a deal between the Israelis and Palestinians, at the same time that he supports the building of settlements is an “obvious misreading of the situation” and shows his promises to be just “bluster.”

Image: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands next to Donald Trump during a meeting in New York on Sept. 25.HANDOUT / Reuters