Russian nationals charged over Skripal novichok attempted murder

British police have charged two Russian nationals in absentia over alleged attempts to kill former spy Sergei Skripal with the nerve agent Novichok.

BBC – Salisbury Novichok poisoning: Russian nationals named as suspects

Two Russian nationals have been named as suspects in the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

The men, using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, are thought to be officers from Russia’s military intelligence service, the PM said.

Scotland Yard and the CPS say there is enough evidence to charge the men.

Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok in March.

Det Sgt Nick Bailey also fell ill after responding to the incident in Salisbury.

Police are linking the attack to a separate Novichok poisoning on 30 June, when Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley became unwell at a house in Amesbury, about eight miles from Salisbury.

Ms Sturgess died in hospital on 9 July. Mr Rowley was discharged from hospital on 20 July.

Speaking in the Commons, Prime Minister Theresa May said the government had concluded, from intelligence provided by UK agencies, that the men were part of the GRU intelligence service.

The poisoning was “not a rogue operation” and was “almost certainly” approved at a senior level of the Russian state, she said.

“We must now step up our collective efforts specifically against the GRU,” Mrs May added.

She condemned the “despicable attack” and promised “the full range of tools from across our national security apparatus” would be used to “counter the threat” caused by Russia.

Responding in a statement, Russia’s London embassy called on the British government to “give up politicised public accusations”.

This will further raise tension between the United Kingdom and Russia.

The CPS is not applying to Russia for the extradition of the two men, as Russia does not extradite its own nationals.

But a European Arrest Warrant has been obtained in case they travel to the EU.

So it seems it will be unlikely the named suspects will ever go to trial, but this is a very strong statement of condemnation based on claimed evidence of senior Russian involvement.

Dysfunctional democracies

There seems to be growing dysfunction in democracies with important associations with New Zealand.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom continues to struggle with it’s exit from the European Union after a controversial referendum in 2016 chose Brexit by a fairly close margin. It is claimed that the referendum was unduly affected by social media manipulation similar to what happened in the US election, also in 2016.

Prime Minister Theresa May made a disastrous decision to have a snap election and seems to have gone downhill from there. Her Conservative Party has been in a close contest with the opposing Labour Party in the polls for some time, largely because of the arguably equally unpopular leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Not only does UK politics look in dire straits, their future as a country, especially as a trading nation, looks precarious. They are struggling to sort out an exit of the European Union, and that is delaying attempts to negotiate with alternate trade partners.

The Telegraph: Theresa May is showing how thorny a ‘clean Brexit’ could be so voters reconsider her plan

The Telegraph: Who do you think should be the next leader of the Conservative Party?

Over the past few months notable Conservative politicians and outside voices have questioned Theresa May’s ability to lead the party through Brexit and beyond. This in turn has cast doubt over the stability and longevity of the Prime Minister’s position in the top job.

 

United States

Who is in the most disarray, the Republicans or the Democrats? Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton deserved to lose the 2016 presidential election, and it’s arguable that the worst person won.

Trump has had some short term wins with some policies, especially with huge tax cuts, but the effects of resulting huger debts may case major problems in the future, especially if the record length bull run in the markets hiccups, as it inevitably will at some stage. the odds are that that will be soonish.

Trump has had a shambolic approach to trade ‘negotiations’, and a high risk approach to international relations. He often seems to work (or tweet) at odds with his top officials, and has questionable inclinations towards appeasement with Russia (while his country increases sanctions for interference in their democracy).

National Security Adviser John Bolton: U.S. sanctions to stay until Russia changes its behavior

Trump’s claims of great success in his meeting with Kim Yong Un seem to have been premature: Trump says Pompeo won’t go to North Korea, criticizes denuclearization progress

And his potential legal problems grow. Graham: Trump Will “Very Likely” Fire Sessions After Midterms – sacking everyone who won’t support his attempts at interference is unlikely to save him in the long run.

Much of the world watches in wonder at what the most powerful democracy in the world has become.

While many stupid and troubling things are by Trump there’s hope that his big mouth and little fingers won’t work there way towards the big button – however there are risks that Trump might escalate attempts to divert from all his problems by choosing a military sideshow, a common ploy of tyrants who can make their people revere them.

But the Democrats look in disarray after the disastrous Clinton presidential campaign. Hillary may be considering another shot at the presidency, which would likely dismay many, and there is no clear alternative (although in US politics it’s a long time until the next presidential election (2020). Trump was just an unlikely contender in a crowd of wannabe candidates two years before he won.

Australia

Our relatively) close neighbours the Aussies have a new Prime Minister that most Kiwis are unlikely to have heard of (Scott Morrison, after two leadership votes in a week. The deposing of Malcolm Turnbull adds to the procession of Australian Prime Ministers who have failed to see out a term in office.

See Out with the not very old Aussie PM, in with the new.

The change of leadership looks like a bit of a move right, but looks likely to be tested at an election soon, if Turnbull resigns and the Government loses it’s one seat majority.

Labour’s left has been riven by ructions in the not very distant past.

Depressing

This could be quite depressing for those who yearn for healthy democracies and competent politicians and parties. Is democracy self imploding, or can it recover?

Meanwhile, New Zealand

Here we have a three party government that has it’s challenges, and it’s critics, but the big local political stories of the week have been about the leak of expenses details several days before they were due to be released, and the semi-demotion of a Minister who didn’t properly record or advise having a meeting with someone who could potentially be a big benefit to the country.

Brexit, government disarray in UK – Davis, Johnson resign

Theresa May’s leadership in Britian is said to be on very shaky ground, aas is their Brexit plans,  after Brexit Secretary David Davis resigned from the government.

BBC:  Brexit Secretary David Davis resigns

Brexit Secretary David Davis, who has been leading negotiations to leave the EU, has resigned from the government.

In his resignation letter, Mr Davis criticised the PM’s Brexit plan – agreed by the cabinet on Friday – saying it would leave Parliament with “at best a weak negotiating position”.

In his letter, Mr Davis told Mrs May that “the current trend of policy and tactics” was making it “look less and less likely” that the UK would leave the customs union and single market.

He said he was “unpersuaded” that the government’s negotiating approach “will not just lead to further demands for concessions” from Brussels.

Mr Davis, who was appointed Brexit Secretary in 2016, said: “The general direction of policy will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one.”

In her reply, Mrs May said: “I do not agree with your characterisation of the policy we agreed at cabinet on Friday.”

Junior minister Steve Baker quit shortly after Mr Davis – as Mrs May prepares to face MPs and peers later.

Sounds very messy.

The Conservatives have struggled since May took over as Prime Minister and led them into a disastrous snap election. And it looks worse now.

UPDATES: Missy has been updating in comments as things unfold in the UK on Monday (their time). Here is the big new news:

  • Boris Johnson resigns as foreign secretary amid growing crisis over UK’s Brexit strategy

Johnson could ‘not champion proposals’

In his resignation letter to the prime minister, Boris Johnson wrote:

“Brexit should be about opportunity and hope. It should be a chance to do things differently… That dream is dying, suffocated by needless self doubt.”

Mr Johnson said “we appear to be heading for a semi-Brexit” and had concluded he “must go” since he “cannot in all conscience champion” the proposals agreed by Cabinet on Friday.

“As I said then, the government now has a song to sing,” he wrote. “The trouble is that I have practised the words over the weekend and find that they stick in the throat.”

  • His resignation came hours after David Davis quit as Brexit secretary, followed by a junior minister
  • Days ago the cabinet had agreed to the PM’s Brexit plan at Chequers
  • But Mr Davis said he did not “believe” in the Chequers plan and was not the best person to deliver it
  • Prominent Leave campaigner Dominic Raab has been appointed new Brexit secretary

https://www.bbc.com/news/live/uk-politics-44762836

 

US launch missile attack on Syria

As threatened by Donald Trump earlier this week he has ordered a US missile strike against targets in Syria.

The UK and France  have also taken part in the attack.

Theresa May has announced the UK involvement.

It has been described as a one off limited attack, but there must be some risk of escalation.

Probably the key thing now will be Russia’s response, having warned against any punishment of Syria for alleged chemical weapons attacks.

Statement on Syria

Jacinda Ardern

RT HON JACINDA ARDERN

This morning the Government was advised that targeted military action would be taken in response to the latest chemical weapons attack in Syria, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

“The Government has always favoured diplomatic efforts and a multilateral approach. The use of the veto powers at the Security Council prevented that course of action. We have always condemned the use of the veto, including by Russia in this case.

“New Zealand therefore accepts why the US, UK and France have today responded to the grave violation of international law, and the abhorrent use of chemical weapons against civilians.

“The action was intended to prevent further such atrocities being committed against Syrian civilians.

“We stand firm in our condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta. This is clearly in breach of international law.

“It is now important that these issues are returned to the United Nations multilateral processes including the Security Council,” Jacinda Ardern said.

Theresa May calls for long term response to Russia

The spat between the United Kingdom and Russia over the alleged nerve gas poisoning continues to escalate with UK Prime Minister Theresa May calling for a long term response, after a growing number of countries (New Zealand excluded) expelling Russian diplomats.

Reuters: Britain’s May calls for ‘long-term response’ to Russia after spy poisoning

British Prime Minister Theresa May called on Tuesday for a “long-term response” by the West to the security threat from Russia as NATO followed member states in expelling Russian diplomats over the poisoning of a double agent in England.

In the most sweeping such action against Moscow since the height of the Cold War, the United States and European Union members plan to expel scores of Russian diplomats in action against the Kremlin for the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter which they have blamed on Russia.

Russia, which denies any part in the March 4 attack on the Skripals, says the West’s action is a “provocative gesture” and has said it will respond.

The coordinated action among Western allies is seen as a huge diplomatic coup for May whose country is preparing to exit the EU bloc and may have had doubts about how much support she could count on.

Speaking to senior cabinet members in London on Tuesday, May said countries had acted against Russia not just out of solidarity but because they recognized the threat it posed.

Other diplomat/spy expulsions:

  • NATO 7 (plus 3 others pending)
  • Australia 2
  • USA 60 (their largest expulsion since 1986)
  • New Zealand 0

Russia has threatened symmetrical expulsions.

Bloomberg: Trump’s Russian Expulsions Leave Moscow Stunned

The MOEX Russia index of stocks closed down more than 2 percent, its steepest slide in almost a year, led by Gazprom PJSC and Sberbank PJSC. The ruble erased gains, trading little-changed at 57.3075 per dollar as of 7:12 p.m. in Moscow. The government’s 10-year ruble bonds dropped, lifting the yield five basis points to 7.06 percent. Russian credit-default swaps climbed to the highest since Jan. 1.

While the nerve gas poisoning has precipitated this it may be just a final straw.

Reuters: Before expulsions, a brick-by-brick hardening of U.S. stance toward Russia

America’s most sweeping expulsion of Russian diplomats since the Cold War may have seemed like a dramatic escalation in Washington’s response to Moscow, but the groundwork for a more confrontational U.S. posture had been taking shape for months — in plain sight.

While President Donald Trump’s conciliatory rhetoric toward Moscow has dominated headlines, officials at the U.S. State Department, Pentagon and White House made a series of lower-profile decisions over the past year to counter Russia around the world – from Afghanistan to North Korea to Syria.

The State Department earlier in March announced plans to provide anti-tank missiles to Ukraine to defend against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Trump’s predecessor as president, Barack Obama, had declined to do so over fears of provoking Moscow.

In Syria last month, the U.S. military killed or injured as many as 300 men working for a Kremlin-linked private military firm after they attacked U.S. and U.S.-backed forces. The White House, meanwhile, firmly tied Russia to deadly strikes on civilians in Syria’s eastern Ghouta region.

In particular Europe is joining in taking a stand. NY Times: How an Outraged Europe Agreed to a Hard Line on Putin

The European Union is not usually a model of decisiveness, but the expulsion of Russian diplomats across the Continent on Monday was a dramatic and pointed gesture. It came in concert with a similar, larger move by the United States, which expelled 60 Russians, and signaled a new, tougher effort to punish bad behavior by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

“I can’t think of any previous occasion when so many countries have coordinated on expulsions,” said Ian Bond, a former British diplomat in Moscow, adding that for many of the smaller countries, “it’s the first time since the Cold War that they’ve even expelled one Russian diplomat.”

Russia is always a tricky issue for the European Union, given its critical role as an energy supplier to the Continent, as well as the divided opinion among leaders on how confrontational, or not, the bloc should be with Mr. Putin.

But the March 4 poisoning in Salisbury, England, of the former Russian spy, Sergei V. Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, crossed a line. The British authorities say they were exposed to the nerve agent Novichok, representing the first use of a chemical agent on European soil since before the Second World War.

The brazen nature of the act was too much for European officials to ignore.

“This is an intelligence operation carried out with intelligence capacity with weaponized, weapons-grade chemical agents,” one senior European official said. “It has taken matters to an entirely different level.”

Alluding to Russia’s earlier aggressions in Ukraine, the senior official added, “Russia keeps violating international law in Crimea and Ukraine and unwritten rules on nonintervention, and now there is the use of nerve agents in Britain.”

Mr. Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany were prominent supporters of Mrs. May’s call for action, having planned tactics with Britain before the dinner. The French had provided the British with technical assistance on analyzing the poisoning case and come to the same conclusion. And when the Franco-German couple agree, others tend to fall into line, even if grumpily.

The decision was finalized Monday morning, as European Union ambassadors met in Brussels to describe what each country was prepared to do.

tensions are likely to continue and will probably increase as Russia retaliates.

Government problem with Russia – Winston Peters

Appointing Winston Peters to the role of Minister of Foreign Affairs was always going to be a risk for the Jacinda Ardern led government. Problems are already emerging, over Peters’ and Russia.

Hamish Rutherford at Stuff (Opinion): Winston Peters’ Russian trade deal hopes could cost New Zealand elsewhere

Anyone who follows international events will not have been surprised when the British Government began calling for action this week over the poisoning of a Russian double agent and his daughter in London.

More than a week ago the UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, stood in Parliament to warn of sanctions and punishment, suggesting that British officials may snub the upcoming football World Cup and that Russia was “a malign and disruptive force”.

So it was extremely strange that days later our own Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, an avowed Anglophile – he has called for a pan-Commonwealth free trade bloc – would go on television on Saturday and appear to question Russian involvement in other controversial events, the downing of a commercial jet over Ukraine and interference in the 2016 US election.

New Zealand, he said, was “deadly serious” about a free trade deal with Russia, accusing the European Union of “attacking” New Zealand agricultural markets.

That conflict between EU and Russian trade interests would have caused problems at any time, but now with the escalating problems between the UK and Russia especially so.

After calls from Britain, Peters has now condemned the nerve agent attack, which he acknowledged was “transported from Russia”.

But his position on Russia – both now and in the weeks following the formation of the Labour-led Government – has caused confusion within the diplomatic community.

Why on earth would he go there? What is driving a position which he must know is highly controversial for many of New Zealand’s trading partners? Does he represent the views of the New Zealand Government?

It is his job to represent the views of the New Zealand Government.

Ardern sort of defended Peters after his comments in the weekend: “It strikes me that a lot of the conversation the deputy prime minister was having was around … New Zealand being able to access trade agreements in a fair way, relative to other countries.”

But it must be tricky for Ardern to manage her Minister, who must consider himself her senior in every way but as deputy PM (and he will be acting PM when Ardern is on maternity leave).

Peters’ comments on Russia have now had to be managed by Ardern at least twice.

First when she assured the German president during a press conference in November that a trade deal with Europe was a much higher priority than one with Russia. Then again on Monday when she said Peters was simply responding to questions he was being asked.

Ardern has used a similar explanation when defending the fact that she repeatedly talked about New Zealand’s offer to take Manus Island refugees, raising tension with the Australians: she was just answering questions being asked of her.

As an excuse it makes both the Prime Minister and now the Foreign Minister seem rather helpless in the face of the media.

Anyone who has interviewed Peters, ever, knows he is capable of steering away from questions that do not interest him.

It also appears that Labour did not appreciate how controversial it would be to publicly state that as a Government it would seek a free trade deal with Russia.

While Ardern has now repeatedly reiterated that a trade deal with the EU is the top priority, the initial moves gave greater prominence to negotiating with Moscow.

Ardern seems to have a problem controlling Peters and his own agenda.

At a time when US President Donald Trump is introducing tariffs which could spark a global trade war, New Zealand could find itself on the wrong side of a battle between Russia and the rest of Europe if Peters continues to push for the deal.

Although Russia and its allies offer significant potential as a growth market, it seems foolish to risk the opportunity to strike a deal with the EU, or Britain.

Without the posioned spy scandal this would be a serious potential clash between Peters and the interest of the Government and New Zealand. With the escalation between the UK and Russia, more so.

Stuff – Russian spy scandal: Britain reaches out to New Zealand

British diplomats took the extraordinary step on Tuesday of briefing New Zealand media on the Salisbury spy attack after its prime minister Theresa May issued an ultimatum to Moscow over the poisoning.

The briefing looks to be part of a world wide effort by Britain to stir up condemnation of Moscow over the attack against a back drop of what May labelled a “a well-established pattern of Russian state aggression”.

Britain is looking to countries including New Zealand to join possible reprisals against Russia.

That would not help trade talks between NZ and Russia.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the New Zealand Government had grave concerns. “How this military grade nerve agent was transported from Russia and released abroad is the key issue here, and warrants urgent international investigation,” Peters said.

Peters said use of chemical weapons was “repugnant”.

“We share and support the concerns expressed by other nations about such use of chemical weapons,” he said.

Perhaps Theresa May will force Peters into line. Ardern seemed to be struggling to do so.

It was said the appointing him as Minister of Foreign Affairs would allow Peters to swan around the world with prestige and no pressure. That might have worked if there were no serious international issues to deal with, and if Peters didn’t have a Russian trade agenda.

It has become quite tricky, and the UK-Russia issue seems set to escalate.

It could become even trickier when Ardern goes on leave for three months and Peters becomes acting Prime Minister.

UK versus Russia escalates over poisoning

Following the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England, the UK Prime Minister accused the Russian government of being responsible and demanded an explanation, giving a deadline for this (now expired).

Yesterday:  ‘Don’t threaten a nuclear power’: Russia’s extraordinary warning to Theresa May

Russia tonight warned Britain not to threaten a nuclear power as it refused to meet a midnight deadline for explaining a nerve agent attack on a double agent.

The extraordinary threat came as Theresa May signed up US President Donald Trump’s support to back the UK “all the way” in the stand off with the Kremlin.

As the incendiary row grew rapidly, Kremlin spokeswoman Maria Zakharova was reported as saying in Moscow one should not threaten a nuclear power.

Before speaking to Trump tonight, May had already secured the backing of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Following the call with President Trump, Downing Street said: “The Prime Minister spoke to President Trump earlier this afternoon to update him on the ongoing investigation into the Salisbury incident.

“The Prime Minister set out the conclusion reached by the UK Government that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

In a series of incendiary tweets tonight, Russia’s London embassy said: “Moscow will not respond to London’s ultimatum until it receives samples of the chemical substance to which the UK investigators are referring.

“Britain must comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention which stipulates joint investigation into the incident, for which Moscow is ready.

“Without that, there can be no sense in any statements from London. The incident appears to be yet another crooked attempt by the UK authorities to discredit Russia.

“Any threat to take ‘punitive’ measures against Russia will meet with a response. The British side should be aware of that.”

Russia continues to deny involvement and did not respond as requested, so May has taken action.

BBC – Russian spy: UK to expel 23 Russian diplomats

The UK will expel 23 Russian diplomats after Moscow refused to explain how a Russian-made nerve agent was used on a former spy in Salisbury, the PM says.

Theresa May said the diplomats, who have a week to leave, were identified as “undeclared intelligence officers”.

She also revoked an invitation to Russia’s foreign minister, and said the Royal Family would not attend the Fifa World Cup later this year.

The Russian Embassy said the expulsion of 23 diplomats was “unacceptable, unjustified and short-sighted”.

It is the largest mass expulsion since 31 were ordered out in 1985 after double agent Oleg Gordievsky defected.

Moscow refused to meet Mrs May’s midnight deadline to co-operate in the case, prompting Mrs May to announce a series of measures intended to send a “clear message” to Russia.

They include:

  • Expelling 23 diplomats
  • Increasing checks on private flights, customs and freight
  • Freezing Russian state assets where there is evidence they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents
  • Ministers and the Royal Family boycotting the Fifa World Cup in Russia later this year
  • Suspending all planned high-level bilateral contacts between the UK and Russia
  • Plans to consider new laws to increase defences against “hostile state activity”

Mrs May told MPs that Russia had provided “no explanation” as to how the nerve agent came to be used in the UK, describing Moscow’s response as one of “sarcasm, contempt and defiance”.

The use of a Russian-made nerve agent on UK soil amounted to the “unlawful use of force”, she said.

The PM, who was earlier briefed by senior intelligence chiefs in Downing Street, added there was “no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable” for the attack.

She said it was “tragic” that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “chosen to act in this way”.

Russia denies being involved in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal.

This looks likely to escalate further.

If the Russian government was not involved I would have thought they would have offered to help identify the poison and the culprits.

 

Theresa May: “Highly likely” Russia was responsible for poisoning”

Missy adds:

Theresa May has made a statement in the House of Commons today stating that the attempted murder of the former spy was by a military grade nerve agent developed in Russia, and that it is highly likely the Russian state were behind the attack.

She is ready to conclude that this is amounts to the use of unlawful force against the UK. That essentially says she believes it is an act of war against the UK.

Trump meets May

US president Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Theresa May have met in Davos at the annual World Economic Forum.

BBC: President Trump predicts ‘tremendous increase’ in UK-US trade

In a series of warm exchanges in Davos, Switzerland, President Trump also told the UK PM: “We love your country.”

He also rejected “false rumours” of differences, saying that the two leaders “like each other a lot”.

The two leaders met in Davos, at the World Economic Forum, with post-Brexit trade relations between the two countries high on the agenda.

Mr Trump said: “One thing that will be taking place over a number of years will be trade. Trade is going to increase many times.

Typical exaggeration from Trump, although ‘increase many times’ is also typically vague.

“I look forward to that… the discussions… that will be taking place are going to lead to tremendous increases in trade between our two countries which is great for both in terms of jobs. We look forward to that and we are starting that process, pretty much as we speak.”

He added the US would be “there to fight for you – you know that” and the two were “joined at the hip when it comes to the military”.

Mrs May replied that the “really special relationship” between the UK and US continued and they stood “shoulder to shoulder because we are facing the same challenges across the world”.

“Alongside that working for a good trade relationship for the future which will be for both our benefits, so the UK and the US both do well out of this – and it’s been great to see you today.”

It will be interesting to see how trade works out between the US under Trump and the UK given Trump’s other moves on trade.

Trump withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, NAFTA (with Canada and Mexico) looks shaky, and the US has just slapped high tariffs on solar panels and washing machines – see Job creator, or job killer? Trump angers solar installers with panel tariff and US tariff on solar panels is ‘job destroyer,’ says Joseph Stiglitz

May and the UK have good cause to be wary of trade deals with Trump.

Merkel may now attend Davos forum

There could be more attention to the World Economic Forum due to be held in Davos, Switzerland in about two weeks, with US President Donald Trump scheduled to attend. It is seen as contradictory that Trump would want to attend a forum focussed on globalisation given his preference for US isolation.

Reuters: Swiss mountain town Davos relishes its turn in Trump spotlight

The Swiss Alpine town of Davos is used to celebrities and high-rollers, but even it is relishing the new challenge posed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to attend the World Economic Forum this month.

“This is the 48th WEF,” said Reto Branschi, CEO of Davos Klosters Tourism. “Every year, we have 20 presidents from all over the world. We are used to the visits of presidents.”

Trump’s visit to Davos for the annual meet-up of global political and business leaders will be the first by a sitting U.S. president since Bill Clinton came in 2000.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Ernst Wyrsch, who was director of the hotel where Clinton stayed during his WEF visit and now heads the region’s hotel association.

“Davos, for at least a couple of days, will be at the center of the world.”

While dignitaries come each year — British Prime Minister Theresa May and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping made the trek to the town last year — they lack the media pulling power of a U.S. president that throws a spotlight on a community reliant on tourism.

Trump, whose entourage will include Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, may drop in for just a day, give a speech and then depart.

There is something of a contradiction in all this.

The WEF is a haven for supporters of globalization espousing the very free trade pacts that Trump has blasted as unfair to the United States.

It had been thought that German leader Angela Merkel would not attend but after a preliminary agreement on a coalition was reached last week this may change.

Reuters: Merkel could join Macron in Davos for epic clash with Trump

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is considering joining French President Emmanuel Macron at the World Economic Forum in Davos next week in what could turn into an epic clash of competing world views with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Merkel, who has been struggling to put together a government since a German election in September, had been expected to skip the annual gathering of leaders, CEOs, bankers and celebrities in the Swiss Alps for a third straight year.

But after clinching a preliminary coalition agreement with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) on Friday, German officials said Merkel could travel to Davos after all, possibly setting up a major confrontation with Trump, who is expected to speak on the final day of the forum.

An appearance would signal Merkel’s return to the world stage after months of political limbo in which she has avoided the limelight and been dismissed by some in the German and international media as a spent force.

It would also allow her and Macron, who is scheduled to speak at the forum on Jan. 24, two days before Trump, to reaffirm their commitment to reforming the European Union after Britain’s decision to leave, and to defend liberal democratic values in the face of Trump’s “America First” policies.

Brexit plus Trump’s “America First” aims are likely to change international affairs and alignments significantly.

However it seems that the New Zealand Prime Minister won’t be at Davos.

Stuff: The international year ahead: What international trips could be on the prime minister’s radar?

World Economic Forum: This is held in Davos, Switzerland, every year and Trade Minister David Parker is going. And incidentally, the US Government has just announced President Trump will be there. But it’s not a common one for the leaders to visit every year, and it’s unlikely Ardern will have the chance to attend this year – the meeting is just two weeks away.

There are no plans (made public anyway) for Ardern to meet with Merkel, but that would be a significant event if it happened. New Zealand is working towards a trade agreement with the European Union.

A meeting with Theresa May would also be significant as the UK looks for trade deals outside the EU. May attended and spoke at Davos last year and is expected to attend again this year.

Ardern will probably be happy to not meet Trump in the US.