President Donald Trump does not plan to apologize to Israeli leaders for disclosing sensitive intelligence provided by the Jewish country to senior Russian diplomats.
Asked by reporters Monday on Air Force One if Trump will apologize to Israeli leaders for sharing password-only classified intelligence about an Islamic State plot to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson replied: “I don’t know that there’s anything to apologize for.”
In a tweet last Tuesday morning, Trump not only confirmed reports that he gave the information to Lavrov and Moscow’s ambassador to the United States, but the president appeared to boast about sharing information that Israel reportedly provided Washington — intelligence data Israel had asked not be widely discussed.
The Russia disclosure is just one of a growing list of scandals that followed Trump and his team on their first diplomatic trip, a five-country trek from the Middle East to the Vatican to Europe.
Trump’s first tweet vacillated from saying he was trying to “share with Russia,” then pointing out the meeting with the Russian officials was on his public schedule and ending with his declaration that he has “the absolute right to do” it. (On the latter, sitting presidents do have the legal authority to instantly declassify just about anything.)
In a second tweet that morning, the president wrote he revealed the classified data out of his own concerns about “terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”
As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2017
...to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2017
Those tweets came about 12 hours after Trump dispatched some of his top national security advisers to shoot down the reports of the disclosure to Russian officials.
Later Tuesday, national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster defended Trump’s sharing the information with Russian diplomats, saying it was “wholly appropriate” given the conversation. McMaster also said Trump was unaware about the source of the information.
“What I will do is tell you that in the context of that discussion, what the president discussed with the foreign minister is wholly appropriate in that conversation,” McMaster said.
Meanwhile, a day after Trump delivered a major policy speech in Saudi Arabia before more than 40 Muslim leaders in which he used a softer tone about the religion, those countries and extremism, Tillerson explained the new message.
“The president is increasing his own perspectives,” Tillerson said. “Nothing helps you learn and understand people better than coming to their homes, where they live and seeing them face to face, seeing their families, and seeing their communities, finding out we all share the same wants and desires for ourselves and our people, and our families: peace, prosperity, we want our children to grow up without fear.
“That’s such a strongly held view around the world, certainly among the Muslim world certainly among the non-Muslim world,” Tillerson said.
More than 15 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Tillerson said of the U.S. and Muslim world: “We need to put a lot more effort into understanding one another better, understanding each other’s cultures, understanding each other’s beliefs, and I think talking more openly about those. I think there’s a great deal that’s misunderstood about the Muslim world — by Americans and the Western world.”
The statement and Trump’s speech, collectively a big shift from his sharp criticisms of the Islamic world during the presidential campaign, puts the Trump administration in line with the Obama administration, and, to a lesser extent, the George W. Bush administration.
Speaking alongside Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem on Monday, Trump said one major takeaway during a U.S.-Arab summit in Saudi Arabia over the weekend was Muslim countries moving toward the Jewish state in a collective move to counter Iran.
The day before he criticized Iran for causing much of the instability in the region.
“But no discussion of stamping out this [terrorism] threat would be complete without mentioning the government that gives terrorists all three — safe harbor, financial backing, and the social standing needed for recruitment,” Trump said Sunday. “It is a regime that is responsible for so much instability in the region. I am speaking of course of Iran.”
He criticized Tehran for helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his bloody civil conflict, saying Iran’s “most tragic and destabilizing interventions have been in Syria.”
“Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace,” Trump said, “all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.”
But in the Trump administration’s latest contradiction between top officials, Tillerson told reporters that he would be willing to talk to his Iranian counterpart if conditions were right.