Senior US administration officials said revelations that rocked the White House this week have not hurt President Donald Trump’s credibility overseas.
“People in the rest of the world do not have the time to pay attention to what is happening domestically here,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday after high-level meetings with Mexican officials about how to combat international drug cartels.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, at the State Department for the meeting, said he often deals with foreign counterparts and feels “no effect from when the President is taken to task by the press for something he may or may not have said, and certainly something he may or may not have meant.”
Trump is set to leave Friday on an eight-day trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy and Belgium, a trip that has now become a high-stakes test for the besieged White House.
Kelly and Tillerson spoke to reporters after meeting with their Mexican counterparts to discuss fighting cross border drug traffic that yields billions of dollars in revenue for criminal cartels. The meeting came as the administration notified Congress that it has started a 90-day countdown to renegotiate NAFTA, the 1994 trade pact between the US, Mexico and Canada.
Ready to rework NAFTA
As a candidate, Trump had insisted on the need to ditch NAFTA, shut down immigration from Mexico and build a border wall, statements that inflamed tensions between the US and its southern neighbor. On Thursday, Kelly, Tillerson and Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray emphasized the close relationship between their countries and their readiness to rework the trade agreement.
“Mexico welcomes this development, we are prepared, we are ready,” Videgaray said, calling the re-opening of NAFTA a “significant net positive for the Mexico-US relationship.”
Kelly said, “Our working relationship is vitally important and it is a very, very good one.”
The officials spoke a day before Trump leaves for his first international trip. The president is packing his bags after a punishing 10 days that have cast a shadow over the White House, including the appointment of a special counsel to investigate possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the election.
Last week began with former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testifying under oath on May 8 that the White House waited 18 days to fire former national security adviser Michael Flynn after learning he was vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
A rocky 10 days
In the days that followed, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, admitted in an NBC interview that he did so with the Russia probe in mind, and appeared to threaten Comey on Twitter with the prospect that he had tapes of their conversations.
This was before reports revealed that Trump apparently pushed Comey to drop his investigation into Flynn — which critics have painted as an attempt to obstruct justice — and before news broke that the President had apparently revealed classified information to Russian officials.
Tillerson said Thursday the world at large isn’t obsessed with the US drama, but is instead “more concerned about what they see happening in the relationship with their country and what we are bringing to address these very serious challenges that are affecting all of us.”
Terrorism tops that list, Tillerson said.
He said that after a period of what is seen as “neglect to outright dismissal of their concerns” during the Obama administration, foreign leaders are “ready for re-engagement with America.”
“And so I think there is a great anticipation of the President’s trip as to what could be accomplished,” Tillerson said.