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Protests Roil Swiss Cities Ahead of Trump's Davos Visit


Protesters carry banners during a demonstration against U.S. President Donald Trump, ahead of Trump's visit to the World Economic Forum (WEF), in Zurich, Switzerland, Jan. 23, 2018.

U.S. President Donald Trump arrived Thursday in the Swiss ski resort of Davos where he is slated to present his America First message in a speech Friday to global business and political leaders gathering at this week's World Economic Forum. As Air Force One landed in Switzerland, protesters went into the streets of several cities in the country to tell the U.S. leader he is not welcome.

U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he arrives in Zurich, Switzerland, Jan. 25, 2018.
U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he arrives in Zurich, Switzerland, Jan. 25, 2018.


On the eve of his arrival, members of Trump’s economic team previewed the strategy for increasing U.S. global competitiveness.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, one of 10 Cabinet secretaries attending the gathering, endorsed a lower dollar, pushing the greenback to its lowest level in three years, according to the Bloomberg Dollar Index.

"Obviously, a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities," Mnuchin told reporters at Davos.

Steven Mnuchin, United States Secretary of the Treasury, walks through the snow during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 24, 2018.
Steven Mnuchin, United States Secretary of the Treasury, walks through the snow during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 24, 2018.

A day after Trump imposed tariffs on imported solar-energy components and large washing machines, Mnuchin said he was not worried about what many see as a clash between Trump's protectionist policies and the concept of globalism.

"This is about an 'America First' agenda, but 'America First' does mean working with the rest of the world" on free trade issues, Mnuchin said.

But many observers and analysts see an irreconcilable conflict of economic philosophies.

Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at Washington's Peterson Institute for International Economics, expressed amusement at the prospect of the populist Trump speaking at a forum that has become a symbol of the growing consensus around an increasingly globalized world.

"It's hard to square 'America First' with the Davos ethos of globalism, but Trump might put it this way: Every other country pursues its own interests first and foremost, while America makes concession after concession and carries burden after burden," Hufbauer said in a written answer to a VOA request. "The time has come for America to act just like all the other countries represented in Davos."

Presidential scholar Joshua Sandman of the University of New Haven likens Trump's visit to the biblical story of Daniel in the Lion's Den.

"Even though the Davos people are antithetical to his populist message, he wants to confront them and to establish the legitimacy of the American approach as he articulates it, which is to confront globalism and put American interests first," Sandman said in a phone interview.

Briefing White House reporters this week, Trump's chief economic adviser Gary Cohn said the president would use his speech at Davos to tell the world America is open for business. "We want the world to invest in America and create jobs for hardworking Americans," he said.

"He's going to talk to world leaders about making sure we all respect each other, we all abide by the laws, we all have free, fair, open, and reciprocal trade," Cohn explained. "And if we live in a world where there are not artificial barriers, we will all grow and we will all help each other grow. And the president truly believes that."

Political scientist Thomas Whalen of Boston University says Trump is unlikely to win many converts among the globalist crowd at Davos.

"Trump at Davos would be greeted about the same way an appearance by [disgraced Hollywood producer] Harvey Weinstein would go off at the Oscars," Whalen said. "His approach to world affairs is anathema to those world leaders. We live in a 21st century interconnected globalized economy, and his idea of erecting trade barriers is going to unspool the entire system if left unchecked."

Sideline meetings

The president 's schedule includes sideline meetings with several other world leaders, including British Prime Minister Theresa May. The president earlier canceled a planned trip to Britain for the opening of the new U.S. embassy in London, where he would be likely to face fierce protests. But National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Trump is prioritizing the meeting with May.

FILE - Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, Dec. 13, 2017.
FILE - Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, Dec. 13, 2017.

"We do have a special relationship," McMaster said, adding that the meeting would touch on critical global issues, such as "the conflict in Syria, Iran's destabilizing behavior, ways to address shortcomings in that Iran nuclear deal, and our shared goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula."

Trump also will meet the incoming African Union chairman, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, to "reaffirm the U.S.-Africa relationship and discuss shared priorities, including trade and security," McMaster said.

The meeting comes weeks after Trump was reported to have used a vulgar slur to describe African countries during a conversation about immigration.

Trump will be the first U.S. president to attend the Davos forum since Bill Clinton in 2000. Other world leaders in attendance for the first time include Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also will be there, but her advisers say she will not meet with Trump.

Economic adviser Cohn has attended several Davos meetings in his previous role as president of the Wall Street banking firm Goldman Sachs. Asked what Trump might find on his first trip to the Swiss resort that he would not expect, Cohn replied, "A lot of snow. Fourteen feet [4.25 meters] of snow."

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