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‘Let it be an arms race,’ says Trump after controversial tweets

December 23, 2016 at 6:50 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama has broken with decades of the U.S. diplomatic practice of defending Israel at the United Nations by using the U.S. veto to squash resolutions of disapproval.

Today, instead, the U.S. abstained from the latest such resolution, despite pressure from Israeli government and President-elect Trump. The vote was 14 to nothing, as the Security Council condemned Israeli settlement building on lands the Palestinians want.

Ambassador Samantha Power defended the U.S. decision.

SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. Ambassador To The United Nations: The United States has been sending a message that the settlements must stop privately and publicly for nearly five decades. Our vote today is fully in line with the bipartisan history of how American presidents have approached both the issue and the role of this body.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Israel rejected the resolution and the U.S. abstention, and so did top Republicans in Congress. House Speaker Paul Ryan called the administration’s action, quote, “absolutely shameful”. And South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said the president’s foreign policy “has gone from naive and foolish to flat-out reckless.”

President-elect Trump who had urged the White House to veto the resolution tweeted that, quote, “things will be different after January 20th” — when he takes office.

We’ll get the White House perspective, right after the news summary.

The president-elect also added more fuel to the fire today over his views on nuclear weapons. John Yang has that story.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Welcome back to “Morning Joe.”

JOHN YANG: A Christmas-themed cable morning show was the messenger for President-elect Trump’s latest salvo on the national’s nuclear arsenal.

Mr. Trump called MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski during a commercial break.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: The president-elect told you what?

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: And outlast them all.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: And outlast them all.

JOHN YANG: Later, on NBC’s “Today,” newly named White House press secretary Sean Spicer tried to clarify.

MATT LAUER: But if there’s going to be an arms race–

SEAN SPICER, Incoming White House Press Secretary: There’s not going to be.

MATT LAUER: That’s what he said, so be it? We will match them at every turn?

SEAN SPICER: There’s not going to be ’cause he’s going to ensure that other countries get the message that he’s not going to sit back and allow that. And what’s going to happen is, they will come to their senses, and we will all be just fine.

JOHN YANG: It was all part of the ongoing fallout from the president-elect’s tweet yesterday, “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin had addressed top military officials in Moscow:

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through translator): We need to strengthen combat capability of strategic nuclear forces, first of all by reinforcing missile complexes that will be able to reliably penetrate existing and future missile defense systems.

JOHN YANG: Today, Mr. Putin told a year-end news conference that Russia does not want “an arms race that we can’t afford.”

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (through translator): Regarding the newly elected President Trump, there is nothing new here. He was talking during his campaign about the importance of strengthening the nuclear aspect of the United States. There is nothing unusual.

JOHN YANG: Today, Mr. Trump released a letter the Russian leader sent him on December 15th. “Relations between Russia and the U.S. remain an important factor in ensuring stability and security of the modern world.” President Putin called for “real steps” to restore “bilateral cooperation.”

Mr. Trump said, “I hope both sides are able to live up to these thoughts, and we do not have to travel an alternate path.”

Chinese foreign ministry officials said they’re watching closely, too.

HUA CHUNYING, Spokeswoman, Chinese Foreign Ministry (through translator): We have noticed the relevant reports, and are also paying attention to what policies the new U.S. government will adopt. China always upholds and actively advocates the complete ban and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons.

JOHN YANG: It’s not clear whether Mr. Trump is signaling a change in the four-decades-old U.S. policy of working for nuclear arms reduction. In 2010, President Obama signed a new arms-reduction treaty with Russia, placing further limits on each nation’s arsenal.

In addition, the United States is moving forward with a program to upgrade America’s aging nuclear stock pile, at an estimated cost of $1 trillion.

For the “PBS NewsHour”, I’m John Yang

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