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News Brief: U.S. Troops To Middle East, Trump Reelection, African Migrants


If you accept their statements at face value, the United States and Iran agree.


Yeah, that's right. Iran says it doesn't want a war or a nuclear weapon. The U.S. says, in return, that Iran better not want those things. Morgan Ortagus is a State Department spokesman.


MORGAN ORTAGUS: We continue to call on the Iranian regime not to obtain a nuclear weapon, to abide by their commitments to the international community.

KING: But all those words come alongside certain actions. Iran says it plans to break one of the limits on nuclear activity that it agreed to in a deal in 2015. The United States withdrew from that deal but wants Iran to keep it. And now the U.S. is sending an additional thousand troops to the region.

INSKEEP: NPR's Peter Kenyon has covered Iran for years. He's in Istanbul, and he's on the line. Hi there, Peter.


INSKEEP: So let's move through the way people around the world are reviewing - are viewing these actions. What do Middle Eastern nations, Iran's neighbors in effect, say about the U.S. moves first?

KENYON: Well, the ones that are Washington's regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, are fully on board with this pressure campaign, so sending more troops will be welcomed there. On the other hand, you've got a country like Iraq. It's got important trade links with Iran - electricity, things like that - so there'll be concern in Baghdad about the potential for these tensions to boil over to the point where Iran-Iraq trade suffers.

INSKEEP: Yeah, so some concern in some countries, and you say the potential for tensions to boil over. We should be clear about where we are. We have two countries that have pushed and pulled against each other before, they're doing that again. We don't know if it's heading for war, but there are warlike moves. What about reaction to Iran's announcement that it's going to go beyond the amount of enriched uranium it is supposed to have on hand?

KENYON: Well, some say this as a fairly predictable response. Iran usually responds to pressure with defiant statements even at significant economic cost. At the moment, Tehran remains a long way from having a nuclear weapon. That was the intent of the nuclear agreement - to keep Iran far from weapons capacity so that should it ever try to break out, as they say, and attain a weapon, the outside world would have plenty of time to step in. As for this announcement by Iran being potentially dangerous, certainly the main danger would seem to be to what's left of the nuclear deal.

INSKEEP: And so let's talk about that deal and recall where we are. The United States withdrew from the deal. It says it wants maximum pressure on Iran to put some kind of more extreme limits on its nuclear program. European countries that were part of the deal have wanted to stay in. Where did these developments leave the Europeans?

KENYON: In an increasingly difficult spot, I would say. None of the other signers of this deal - that's Britain, France, Germany, as well as Russia and China. None of them support this American pressure campaign. They think the deal was working. U.N. inspectors routinely verified Iran's compliance. Why go back to confrontation and uncertainty? A senior Chinese diplomat is warning against a Pandora's box about to be opened in the Middle East. But European efforts to save the deal have to have a mechanism, and, so far, that alternative payment scheme they've been working on has not impressed Iranian officials so far.

INSKEEP: Well...

KENYON: And now if Iran does breach the agreement, Steve, Europe will find it even tougher to save it.

INSKEEP: Well, how much pain is this maximum pressure campaign causing inside Iran?

KENYON: It's a bit of an opaque situation as always there, but the economy is clearly suffering. Even Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps, designated a terrorist group by Washington, is reportedly feeling some pain. President Rouhani today is repeating Iran's message that it doesn't intend to wage war with any nation, but, he says, we're facing a group of politicians with little experience. Meanwhile, the troop buildup and economic pressure continues.

INSKEEP: Peter, thanks.

KENYON: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon.


INSKEEP: All right. Last night, one of our correspondents swung by the site of a scheduled campaign rally.

KING: Yeah. And she reports that people were camping outside, waiting for the formal start of President Trump's reelection campaign. Now, this raises some questions, including a big one - wasn't President Trump already running?

INSKEEP: Yeah. Let's ask NPR's Scott Detrow, who is here with a preview. Scott, good morning.


INSKEEP: I thought the president had a campaign organization in place almost since the beginning of his term as president.

DETROW: They actually filed for reelection on Inauguration Day...


DETROW: ...So this has been going on since the beginning. He's been raising a lot of money, been selling a lot of hats and, of course, holding political rallies all across the country throughout his presidency. But after we've had 23 different Democratic candidate kickoffs, this is the formal, symbolic launch of President Trump's reelection campaign. He's doing it in a critical state - Florida. This is a state he narrowly won. And Republicans had two big wins there in 2018 in a year where Democrats won all over the country. So Republicans are feeling good about Florida. Of course, if a Democrat did compete and carry Florida, that would all but eliminate President Trump's path to a second term. So it's a big state, as it always is.

INSKEEP: So we've had a couple of years to preview the campaign that formally begins today, as you point out. How different is the 2020 campaign likely to be for the president as opposed to his 2016 campaign?

DETROW: Well, President Trump is still President Trump. And as he's changed course on so many things, his political approach to life has been very consistent since the beginning of his entry into politics. But under the hood, the organization of this campaign is completely different. Last time, for most of the race, it was really just President Trump and a handful of advisers and friends flying around on a plane. This time, it's an enormous infrastructure raising a lot of money, doing a lot of data analysis and targeted voter outreach, working closely with the Republican National Committee. Those are all things that didn't really happen until the very final weeks or months...


DETROW: ...Of the 2016 campaign.

INSKEEP: I'm also thinking about messaging. The president positioned himself as the outsider who was going to be independent and tear everything down in 2016, and now he's the insider.

DETROW: Yeah. There are going to be two big themes of this campaign based on what we've been hearing so far and what President Trump has been talking about, again, in those rallies that have been happening all along. First is his economic track record - unemployment at its lowest level in decades, the stock market is up, as he regularly reminds us, consumer confidence is up. These are all things that historically if they're all trending in that direction, a president makes it to a second term.

INSKEEP: And we should point out you can argue about how much credit a president deserves or this president deserves, but those things are real.


INSKEEP: The economy is doing very well and by many measures anyway.

DETROW: So that's the first focus. Of course, that's what the campaign wants to focus on. That was the plan in 2018 as well. And of course, President Trump in the final weeks of the race talked a lot about cultural issues, his hard-line immigration policy and...

INSKEEP: He changed the subject from the economy.

DETROW: Yeah. And that really hurt Republicans in a lot of those swing districts in the House that they ended up losing. He's also going to go on the attack against Democrats, try to paint whoever the eventual nominee is as a socialist, as someone untenable. The idea is to really fire up his base and turn moderate and independent voters off from even considering voting for a Democrat. We've seen him go after Joe Biden a lot already as well as a lot of other Democratic candidates.

INSKEEP: That was part of his strategy in 2016 - right? - saying Hillary Clinton is so awful, you can't possibly vote for her, and even though you don't like me, you have to vote for me. So that's going to be part of his case this time you're saying.

DETROW: And if you looked at the results a lot, there was there was less Democratic enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton than there had been in previous elections - whatever the cause for that was.

INSKEEP: Scott, thanks for the preview.

DETROW: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Scott Detrow.


INSKEEP: All right. We know that migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, Central America, have sought asylum in Mexico and the United States in growing numbers, and the number of migrants from Central Africa has also surged in recent months.

KING: That's right. These are families and individuals, and they're fleeing political upheaval and violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Cameroon, in Angola, and more of them are coming even though this is a journey that can take months and is very dangerous.

INSKEEP: NPR international correspondent Carrie Kahn is in Mexico City and covering this story. Hi there, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, good morning.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note it's not new that people come from Africa to Latin America and then try to reach the United States, but it's not something we normally think about. It's a little surprising when it comes back up into the news. What kind of numbers are we seeing here?

KAHN: They're pretty incredible numbers. The U.S. Border Patrol says in just one sector of the border, the Del Rio portion - it's west - sort of west of San Antonio between Laredo and El Paso and South Texas - since May 30, they've detained more than 500 Africans.


KAHN: And in that time frame, there was a group of a hundred that tried to cross and that sounds similar to crossing trends we're seeing of Central Americans attempting to come into the U.S.

INSKEEP: How are people getting from Africa to the U.S.-Mexico border?

KAHN: Oh, my God, it's such a long, incredible and, for so many, a harrowing journey. They are coming by boat and flights into South America, boats or flights into Brazil, into Ecuador, too, and then they start the trek northward through Colombia and into Panama. And, you know, that stretch of border between Colombia and Panama is the most treacherous. It's a hundred-plus-mile stretch known as the Darien Gap. And there are no roads there, none.


KAHN: It is a mesh of mountains, jungles, swamps, and now it's rampant with drug traffickers, smugglers and bands of robbers. And you talk to migrants who walk, they just walk that hundred miles. And they tell you of chilling, horrific stories of robberies, rapes and people just dropping dead from pure exhaustion on that trip.


KAHN: I've been on the Panama side of the border when they - people come out of the gap, and their legs and feet are so swollen, bitten, bloody, and they're stressed, exhausted and traumatized. And then, you know, you're just in Panama, you still have the whole swath of journey still in front of you.

INSKEEP: That's the amazing part. And of course, they would already have crossed an ocean and several countries just to get to that horrible part and then have so much more to go. So why, from what you've heard, are they choosing to take that risk?

KAHN: Well, it's unclear. As some experts are saying, they think a crackdown in North Africa may have something to do with it, shifting the migrant trends. But, you know, this is - as you said, it's a well-worn path, and so it seems that these smuggling routes are working for them and that's why they're coming now.

INSKEEP: And so when our correspondents for the region have talked with some of these people, what have they heard?

KAHN: Right. In southern Mexico just over the border from Guatemala, there are hundreds of Africans held up in the border city of Tapachula, and many are just in desperate situation trying to get some sort of travel documents from Mexican officials or humanitarian visas. And our colleague who you spoke with last week, James Fredrick, was just in Tapachula and he met with many Africans. Here's this one 24-year-old man from Cameroon. He talked to Furtoon Amori (ph) who left Africa in 2017. He flew into Ecuador and started his journey. He said he fled his country after his parents were killed and harassment by authorities because he is gay.

FURTOON AMORI: I'm suffering a lot of my life. But I'm working with (ph) my life. I need to go to good life.

KAHN: It's a bit hard to hear because he's in front of this immigration facility that's just jammed-packed with people. But he says he suffered so much in his life, but he's confident God will help him get to the U.S. That's all he wants to do. He wants to get to the U.S. and apply for asylum.

INSKEEP: I need to go to a good life, he says. Carrie, thanks so much.

KAHN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.