Photo: AFP / Doug Mills

Addressing a divided Congress for the first time on Tuesday night in a speech that had to be postponed due to a bitter legislative impasse, US President Donald Trump began with an attempt to strike a bipartisan note.

“Many of us have campaigned on the same core promises to defend American jobs and demand fair trade for American workers,” Trump said at the outset of the State of the Union Address.

“To build on our incredible economic success, one priority is paramount: reversing decades of calamitous trade policies – so bad,” he added later in the speech, after an extended summary of what he touted as tremendous economic successes.

Trump called out China for unfair trade practices but expressed optimism that his administration is close to a deal with Beijing

“I have great respect for President Xi, and we are now working on a new trade deal with China. But it must include real, structural change to end unfair trade practices, reduce our chronic trade deficit and protect American jobs.”

Trump hailed his progress on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and confirmed his second summit with Kim Jong Un, will be held later this month in Vietnam.

“If I had not been elected President of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea,” Trump said.

The US commander in chief defended his decision to exit the 30-year-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, suggesting that Washington is ready to engage in a new arms race, if necessary.

“We really have no choice. Perhaps we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others, or perhaps we can’t, in which case we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far.

He also hailed his efforts to bring “endless” wars in the Middle East to an end, declaring “it is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home.”

“I have also accelerated our negotiations to reach, if possible, a political settlement in Afghanistan,” he said.

The US announced last month that a draft framework for a peace deal had been agreed to with the Taliban, spurring optimism that the 17-year US military operation in Afghanistan – the longest armed conflict in the history of the United States – may come to an end.

The key domestic policy item on the agenda was immigration policy and the disagreement about a border wall that ultimately led to a 35-day shutdown of the federal government.

There was speculation in the days leading up to the speech that Trump might use it to declare a state of emergency to fund a border wall. The president backed down from that threat and also did not threaten to force another government shutdown. But he reiterated his demands for funding for a barrier of some kind.

“This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier – not just a simple concrete wall,” he explained. “It will be deployed in the areas identified by border agents as having the greatest need,” he said.

——

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