Trump to call world leaders amid backlash over refugee ban

‘Not the time to build walls between nations’: International reaction to immigration policy

A day of whirlwind diplomacy for Donald Trump on Saturday - he was due to make calls to five world leaders, including Russian president Vladimir Putin - was overshadowed by a global backlash against his ban on refugees.

The president was expected to speak with German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president François Hollande, both of whom are sharply at odds with his radical vetting policy.

Mr Trump's meeting with British prime minister Theresa May at the White House passed successfully but a crisis erupted with neighbouring Mexico, whose president, Enrique Pena Nieto, abruptly cancelled a planned visit.

Mr Trump had moved ahead with plans for a border wall and appeared to threaten a hefty border tax on Mexican imports. The spat played out on Twitter.


The US president began Saturday by calling Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who visited him at Trump Tower in New York during the transition.

“President Trump affirmed the ironclad US commitment to ensuring the security of Japan,” the White House said. During the election campaign, Mr Trump suggested that America’s defence of Japan was too one-sided and expensive.

Mr Trump and Abe also discussed the threat posed by North Korea and "committed to deepen the bilateral trade and investment relationship" ahead of a meeting in Washington on 10th February, the White House added. Earlier this week, the US withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a flagship 12-country deal drawn up by Barack Obama, raising the prospect of a bilateral agreement with Japan.

Earlier on Saturday, French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault held talks with Germany's Sigmar Gabriel in Paris. Ms Ayrault said Mr Trump's order on Friday - barring all refugees from entering the US for four months and those from war-ravaged Syria indefinitely - "can only worry us".

The French minister told a press conference: “We have signed international obligations, so welcoming refugees fleeing war and oppression forms part of our duties.”

The ministers expressed a desire for a meeting with Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, who is still awaiting confirmation.

“There are many other issues that worry us,” Ms Ayrault said. “That is why Sigmar and I also discussed what we are going to do. When our colleague Tillerson is officially appointed, we will both contact him.”

Syria conflict

Germany has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees since the outbreak of civil war in Syria. In a recent interview, Mr Trump described Ms Merkel's open-door policy as "a catastrophic mistake".

Mr Gabriel told reporters: "The United States is a country where Christian traditions have an important meaning. Loving your neighbour is a major Christian value, and that includes helping people. I think that is what unites us in the west, and I think that is what we want to make clear to the Americans."

Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn was also critical. "The American president is dividing the Muslim world into good and evil with this," he told the Tagesspiegel German newspaper. "The decision is also bad for Europe because it will increase the Muslim world's mistrust and hatred of the west."

Mr Trump's executive order, which he said will keep out "radical Islamic terrorists", has been condemned within the US and around the world. No visas will be issued for migrants or visitors from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 90 days.

During a visit to Turkey, British prime minister Theresa May declined to criticise the move directly, saying that the US immigration policy was a matter for the US.

In response to Ms May's comments, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the she should have stood up for British values and condemned Mr Trump's actions.

He said: “President Trump’s executive order against refugees and Muslims should shock and appal us all.

“Theresa May should have stood up for Britain and our values by condemning his actions. It should sadden our country that she chose not to.

“After Trump’s hideous actions and May’s weak failure to condemn them, it’s more important than ever for us to say to refugees seeking a place of safety, that they will always be welcome in Britain.”

‘Walls between nations’

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday now was "not the time to build walls between nations". Speaking at a tourism convention in Tehran, he added: "They have forgotten that the Berlin Wall collapsed many years ago. Even if there are walls between nations, they must be removed."

But spokesman for Czech president Milos Zeman praised Mr Trump’s actions. “US president Trump protects his country, he’s concerned with the safety of his citizens. Exactly what EU elites do not do,” Mr Zeman’s spokesman Jiri Ovcacek said in a tweet.

Along with a frank exchange of views over refugees, Ms Merkel was also likely to seek reassurance from Mr Trump over the future of the Nato military alliance, which he has previously questioned. On Friday, after becoming the first foreign leader to meet Mr Trump in person, Theresa May said he was "100 per cent behind Nato".

Just an hour after his conversation with Ms Merkel, Mr Trump was due to speak with Mr Putin, who stands to benefit from cracks in the alliance. US vice-president Mike Pence was expected to join that call, but not others that Mr Trump planned on Saturday.

Russia’s security chief, Nikolai Patrushev, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying he had high hopes for the call. “Everything will be positive,” he told the Associated Press.

The US president's admiration for the authoritarian Russian leader has caused consternation in America and beyond. On Friday he said it was "very early" to be talking about possibly lifting sanctions that were imposed on Russia over its incursion into eastern Ukraine.

“As far as, again, Putin and Russia, I don’t say good, bad or indifferent,” Mr Trump told reporters at a joint press conference with May. “I don’t know the gentleman. I hope we have a fantastic relationship. That’s possible and it’s also possible that we won’t. We will see what happens.”

US intelligence agencies found that Russia had interfered in the presidential election with the aim of harming Hillary Clinton and helping Mr Trump. House and Senate intelligence committees have announced investigations into possible links between Moscow and members of the Trump campaign. An unsubstantiated document claimed that Russia holds compromising information about Trump's private life.

Members of Trump’s own party have warned against lifting sanctions. John McCain, chairman of the Senate armed services committee, said: “For the sake of America’s national security and that of our allies, I hope president Trump will put an end to this speculation and reject such a reckless course. If he does not, I will work with my colleagues to codify sanctions against Russia into law.”

Trump's last phone call of the day will be to Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who said on Saturday he remained confident that a refugee deal struck with Obama will stand.

“You will have seen the executive order that has been published today and we are very confident and satisfied that the arrangement, the existing arrangements will continue,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Port Lincoln.

Guardian service