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Trump renews vow to withdraw from Afghanistan

  • 5 Feb 2020

The US president delivered his annual State of the Union address to Congress, one day before the Senate will vote on his impeachment. Trump's speech was interrupted by a protestor shouting at him to do something about gun violence.

US President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of the US Congress in the House Chamber of the USCapitol in Washington, US on February 4, 2020. ( Reuters )

In his annual State of the Union address to Congress, US President Donald Trump on Tuesday renewed his vow to negotiate a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying he had no desire to kill "hundreds of thousands" in unending fighting.

"We are working to finally end America's longest war and bring our troops back home," Trump said.

Trump also stressed the new trade agreements his administration has negotiated in his speech. The President called the previous North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, "disastrous" and touted its replacement, USMCA.

He also spoke about the use of tariffs and the new, recently signed agreement with China.

Trump was speaking one day before the Senate will vote on whether to remove him from office for pressuring Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political rival.

He is widely expected to be acquitted after his impeachment by the Democratic-led House of Representatives.

Trump did not pronounce the word "impeachment" once in the prepared text of the 20-page self-congratulatory speech.

Trump vows to 'smash' Maduro

Trump also vowed  to "smash" the rule of Venezuela's leftist leader Nicolas Maduro during his speech. 

In an extraordinarily direct sign of support, Trump invited Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido – considered interim president by some 60 countries – to watch his State of the Union address from the guests' gallery above.

"Maduro is an illegitimate ruler, a tyrant who brutalises his people," Trump said.

"But Maduro's grip of tyranny will be smashed and broken," he said.

Calling Guaido the "legitimate president of Venezuela," Trump said the 36-year-old engineer-turned-politician was "a man who carries with him the hopes, dreams and aspirations of all Venezuelans."

Trump's forceful words come after a period of relative reticence on Venezuela that triggered commentary on whether he was putting the crisis on the backburner.

Maduro has shown little sign of leaving more than a year after the United States and most Western and Latin American nations declared him to be illegitimate, citing elections that were widely criticised for irregularities.

Maduro, who presides over a crumbling economy that has sent millions fleeing, still enjoys the support of the military, and Guaido's efforts to overthrow him through street protests have fizzled.

The leftist leader also enjoys support from Russia, China and Cuba.

Trump's salute to Guaido came in a highly partisan speech that included fresh vows of a hard line on immigration from Latin America as he cited crimes by individual foreigners.

But Guaido enjoyed a mostly bipartisan welcome, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also applauding him as the Venezuelan opposition leader, a serious look on his face, waved back at the chamber.

For Trump, however, Venezuela has also become a political byword for socialism as he attacks the rival Democratic Party for proposed reforms such as expanding health care coverage.

"Socialism destroys nations. But always remember, freedom unifies the soul," Trump said.

Trump only briefly mentioned his pro-Israel plan for the Middle East, which he unveiled last week next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after more than a year of delay.

On Iran, Trump highlighted his pressure campaign against the clerical regime and boasted of the controversial strike he ordered last month that killed Iran's best-known general, Qasem Soleimani.

"Because of our powerful sanctions, the Iranian economy is doing very poorly," Trump said. "We can help them make it very good in a short period of time, but perhaps they are too proud or too foolish to ask for that help."

Trump in 2018 withdrew from an internationally backed nuclear deal negotiated under his predecessor, Barack Obama, and imposed sweeping sanctions.

Protests

A protester interrupted Trump's State of the Union speech by shouting at him to do something about gun violence.

The protester appeared to be Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter, Jamie, was among 17 people killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018.

Guttenberg is a well-known visitor to Capitol Hill advocating for gun violence prevention. He interrupted a section of Trump's speech about support for the Second Amendment, and he was removed from the House visitors' gallery.

Guttenberg was the guest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's.

He tweeted his thanks to her earlier on Tuesday for the invitation and her “commitment”to “dealing with gun violence.”

Pelosi rips up copy of Trump speech

Top US Democrat Nancy Pelosi ripped up her copy of Trump's State of the Union address , in a pointed political gesture after listening tight-lipped to the president tout his achievements in office.

Upon arrival, Trump had broken with custom by not shaking hands with Pelosi, the House speaker, who oversaw his impeachment last month.

Seated behind the president, Pelosi frowned and smiled disbelievingly at his claims until he finished speaking – at which point she rose and very visibly tore up the papers in front of her.

Asked by a reporter to give a reason for her gesture, Pelosi replied: "Because it was the courteous thing to do, considering the alternatives."

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