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VOL. 132 | NO. 80 | Friday, April 21, 2017

Corker Sees Trump Foreign Policy Evolving, Not Moderating

By Bill Dries

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U.S. foreign policy should be to “keep the volume up” on North Korea’s progress in developing a nuclear capability and intercontinental ballistic missiles, says U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, “with the acknowledgement that what you could bring in is Russia, China, South Korea and Japan into a conflict.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, left, with state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville has watched what he termed an “evolution” of Donald Trump from running for president to becoming president four months ago.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“So you’ve got to be careful as to how you do it,” the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind the Headlines.”

The interview, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, covers a wide range of foreign and domestic policy issues. It airs Friday, April 21, at 7 p.m. on WKNO-TV/Channel 10, with a replay Sunday, April 23, at 8:30 a.m. It can also be seen next week on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

“In another couple of years, it is beyond return,” Corker said of North Korea’s nuclear threat. “It’s got to be dealt with. And China – it’s almost cliché to say this – but China is the most important partner.”

The Tennessee Republican also said it is possible to pursue a foreign policy of destroying ISIS in Syria and across its borders while working to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“It can’t be just going in and crumbling this regime,” he said, drawing a distinction between a violent overthrow and Assad being forced out “in a constructive way.”

“He has lost his legitimacy,” said Corker, who has met Assad. “My hope is he is going to end up behind bars. This guy is a war criminal. There is no question.”

Corker talked with President Donald Trump the night the U.S. launched missile strikes on a Syrian air base where a chemical attack on a Syrian town originated. He backed the decision.

“I think for the president it made a personal connection to what was happening there,” he said of images of victims of the chemical attack. “And in some ways I do think quickly he realized what it meant to be president of the United States and commander in chief on issues like that. In many ways, yes, I do think it affected his foreign policy.”

But Corker doesn’t think Trump has moderated in four months as president. Nor does he think Trump took office with a right-wing approach from which he could moderate.

“I don’t think it’s moderating. … I knew from day one he was not a right-wing person in any way,” he said. “I think what’s happening is he’s having people come in to see him from other parts of the world. He’s beginning to understand these issues are much more complex than a soundbite or something said at a rally. I think that’s a good thing. He’s developing a depth of knowledge that wasn’t there obviously before he was elected.”

Corker was being considered for vice president during the 2016 campaign but took himself out of the running after spending a day on the campaign trail with Trump. He also was on the short list for secretary of state after the election.

“In that particular case, had I been asked, that would have been something that would have been strongly considered and done,” Corker said.

He was a vocal critic of U.S. policy in Syria during President Barack Obama’s administration, terming the 2013 decision by the U.S. to not support “moderate” rebel forces who were moving toward Syria’s capital, Damascus, as “the lowest moment in my career.”

He also said a U.S.-Turkish “no-fly” zone on the Turkish border and the northwest part of Syria, including Aleppo, could have averted the massive flood of refugees from the violence into Europe.

“Our former president just never could get to that decision process,” he said of Obama. “And I’m not sure that Turkey wasn’t continuing to move the ball.”

Corker, whose work on ending modern slavery has become his dominant cause in the Senate, has traveled to countries where the refugee crisis has been the worst and maintains contact with refugees on an individual basis.

He was a critic of the Trump administration’s first immigration travel ban and argued against continuing to include Iraq in the second travel ban order. Corker said he hopes the court case pending on the second travel ban is resolved quickly with the legality of its various parts decided.

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