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Trump Deflects On Remarks About African Nations, Doesn't Apologize On Immigration

President Trump and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari hold a joint news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday.
Saul Loeb
AFP/Getty Images
President Trump and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari hold a joint news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday.

In his first meeting at the White House with a sub-Saharan African leader, President Trump said controversial remarks he reportedly made, in which he referred to some developing nations as "shithole countries," didn't come up.

Trump, however, didn't deny making the comment, and as Nigeria's president, Muhammadu Buhari, chuckled, Trump said at a news conference Monday, "You do have some countries that are in very bad shape — and very tough places to live in."

Trump also chose not to apologize, when given the opportunity, for his immigration rhetoric, as his travel ban — derided by critics as a Muslim ban — awaits a decision at the Supreme Court. One of the arguments against the ban made by challengers at the court last week was that Trump intended it as a Muslim ban because of his rhetoric during the 2016 presidential campaign — and showed no remorse for his comments.

Apologizing, Trump said, "wouldn't make 10 cents' worth of difference." Instead, he called U.S. laws "a disaster" and said the U.S. and those laws are laughed at all over the world "for their stupidity."

Buhari, for his part, tried to walk a fine diplomatic line. (Trump also noted that the U.S. had sold military equipment to Nigeria and provided the country with "well over $1 billion in aid every year.") "I'm very careful," Buhari said, adding, "I'm not sure about the validity or whether that allegation against the president was true or not, so the best thing for me is to keep quiet."

Trump noted, "The president [Buhari] knows me, and he knows where I'm coming from, and I appreciate that. We did not discuss it."

Trump also referred to Nigeria as a "strong democracy in the region" and when asked if he would visit there said he would like to, calling it a "beautiful" country. "Well I would like very much to visit Nigeria," Trump said. "It is an amazing country. In certain ways, I hear from the standpoint of the beauty of a country — there's no country more beautiful."

(Not everyone thinks Nigeria's democracy and freedoms are as strong as they should be. See criticism hereand here, and some in the country have called on Buhari to step down, in part, for his handling of the missing-girls crisis.)

NPR and other news outlets reported in January that during a closed-door meeting with lawmakers at the White House Trump questioned why the United States continues to admit immigrants from "shithole countries" like Haiti and African countries.

Trump said that "tough" language was used, "but this was not the language used."

Democrat Dick Durbin, one of the senators in the room, said Trump did use the language. "He said these hate-filled things," Durbin said. "And he said them repeatedly."

See you in the DMZ?

Trump also addressed questions regarding a possible summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. He said a meeting was possible, that it "will be a success" and that while the location for the proposed meeting hasn't yet been determined, "everybody wants it."

Trump said that Kim has been "very open and very straightforward so far," talking about getting rid of North Korea's nuclear testing site, ending nuclear research, testing and launching of ballistic missiles and that "he has lived up to that "for a long period of time."

Trump said he is pushing to hold the talks with Kim in the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas, "because you're actually there," and if things work out, "there's a great celebration to be had, on the site."

On Iran deal, "I've been 100 percent right"

Trump denied that his threat to pull out of the nuclear agreement with Iran was inconsistent with his optimism about reaching an agreement for North Korea to denuclearize.

"I think it sends the right message," he said, calling the seven-year length of the agreement with Iran "not acceptable."

The allegation Monday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Iran has lied about pursuit of nuclear weapons, Trump said, means, "I've been 100 percent right."

And he said that while he wasn't ready to reveal his decision on whether to withdraw from the Iran deal, "that doesn't mean we won't negotiate a real agreement."

Netanyahu said that "in a few days' time, President Trump will decide what to do" about the Iranian deal. He added, "I'm sure he'll do the right thing."

Editor's note: NPR is spelling out the vulgar word that the president reportedly used because it meets our standard for use of offensive language: It is "absolutely integral to the meaning and spirit of the story being told."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: April 30, 2018 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this story misspelled Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari's last name as Buharu.
NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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