President Donald Trump hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sign the Abraham Accords at the White House in 2020 (Alamy)
4 min read
Foreign secretary James Cleverly has said that he believes former US President Donald Trump did some “very surprising and positive things” in his approach to foreign policy.
Cleverly, who has recently returned from attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York and a state visit to France, told The House magazine that he thought Trump’s style of diplomacy had been “surprisingly effective” when he held the top office between 2017 and 2021.
“I’m very conscious that Donald Trump has got a particular rhetorical style and when he was president, he did some very surprising and positive things with regard to international relations,” Cleverly said.
“We have got to recognise that sometimes his particular style can be surprisingly effective.”
He added that in his view, the Abraham Accords – a Peace Treaty signed in 2020 between Israel, UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco – was something which Trump succeeded on in an effort to improve Arab-Israeli relations.
However, the foreign secretary, who has never met the former president, would not comment on whether he thought a victory for Trump in the next US election would be a positive thing for international efforts in Ukraine.
“The US is a mature democracy,” he said.
“It wouldn’t be right for me to pass comment on who they choose to be their national leader.”
Cleverly conceded that the Ukraine war was “putting pressure on countries all over the world”, but insisted that the UK would remain “proactive” and a “major player”.
“If we don’t stick with our support to Ukraine, if we send the signal that aggressors can prosper, then all the problems that we are currently facing: those inflationary pressures on food and on fuel, the political pressure that comes from having a conflict like this, they will just get worse,” he said.
“Which is why the UK’s government position is resolute. We make that point to all our international partners.
“This is tough and this is painful. But it will only be more tough and more painful if we falter.”
As well as maintaining a strong stance on Ukraine, developing the UK’s relationship with the Indo-Pacific is one of his top priorities.
“We are focusing on those countries, on India, on Indonesia – I probably shouldn’t list them because I will miss some out – on that growing pool of countries that economically [and] diplomatically are going to be influential,” he said.
“If people are critical of that, as a strategy, and are suggesting that we should just rely on the comfort blanket of our nearest neighbours, the whole world would see that as being a failure to understand the world as it is and how it will be.”
The foreign secretary told The House he was still hopeful for a trade deal with India, although negotiations have stalled for months. Describing the country as “big, diverse and complicated”, he admitted negotiations are going to “take a while”.
Cleverly has made 58 international visits since being appointed as foreign secretary by then-prime minister Liz Truss in September 2022 – evidence, he said, that the UK is still a central figure on the world stage post-Brexit.
One of these visits was, controversially, to China, when in August he became the first foreign secretary to visit China in five years.
He claimed that he is continuing to raise human rights issues with the country and warn China against carrying out “any kind of aggression over the Taiwan Strait”.
However, he stood by his decision to invite the East Asian country to join the UK’s global AI summit in November, a move that has been criticised by some of Cleverly’s Conservative colleagues, including former party leader Iain Duncan Smith, as being “naive”.
The foreign secretary said that not inviting them would be “setting ourselves up for a severely suboptimal outcome”.
“It would immediately mean there’s a gap in our thinking, there’s a gap in our defences,” he added.
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