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New Senate foreign relations chair on how to handle Saudi Arabia, China and working with Trump

As the new chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Sen. James Risch said he will “work with the president” and resolve any differences “personally” — a sharp contrast to the approach taken by his predecessor, former Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who often sparred with President Donald Trump.

Still, Risch said Tuesday in his first television interview as chair of the committee, he doesn’t agree with every move the president has made. Risch, of Idaho, told the PBS NewsHour’s Nick Schifrin that Trump’s decision to withdrawal from Syria was rolled out “on Twitter as opposed to a deep, in-depth paper on the position.”

The administration is creating a withdrawal plan through negotiations with Turkey, and Risch criticized Turkey’s long-standing concerns that the Syrian Kurdish forces teamed with the United States in Syria are “terrorists.”

“The Turks,” Risch said, “are not as sophisticated as they should be in dealing with the Kurds.”

Risch defended Trump’s rhetoric on Russia, called China a “larger concern,” and criticized Iran.

When asked if confronting Iran required supporting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who has been condemned for leading a war in Yemen that has killed tens of thousands of civilians ,and who the Senate called “responsible” for Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, Risch said: “I think what you need to focus on is Iran.”

Among the other highlights from Risch’s interview:

On North Korea: Risch hinted some of Trump’s aides might not agree with the President’s approach to North Korea, but that any divergence was a natural product of the president personally leading the negotiations with Kim Jong Un. “Always, you’re going to have lieutenants are going to be happy. And you’re going to have lieutenants whining probably on both sides. And sometimes it’s done for messaging purposes, sometimes it’s done for diplomatic purposes. But I think this thing is moving in a way that we want it to move.”

On China: Risch criticized China for what he described as predatory trade practices. He pointed to reporting thatChinese nationals infiltrated Micron Technology, the world’s second-largest producer of memory chips based in his home state of Idaho. “This kind of thing can’t go on,” he said.

Can Turkey eliminate ISIS in Syria? Trump has discussed allowing Turkey to target the last remnants of ISIS in Syria after the U.S. withdraws. Asked whether the Turkish military was capable of that, Risch said: “I don’t know that you want to say that it’s going to be primarily the Turks.”

Was U.S. condemnation of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder enough? “There’s going to be a robust oversight of what Saudi Arabia does itself to hold the people accountable inside,” Risch said.

A plug for Idaho. Asked why he was interested in the chairmanship, Risch said that Idahoans were “as engaged as anyone” on American foreign policy. “We in Idaho are producers,” whether it’s in agriculture, technology or another industry, he said. “We realize that 95 percent of our customers live outside the borders of the United States. It is incredibly important to us” that we have good relations with other countries.

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