The State Department said it has ongoing conversations with the White House on issues concerning the safety of American diplomats abroad, hours after several media reported the department had warned that the president’s retweeting of several anti-Muslim videos could spark unrest in the Muslim world or put U.S. embassies at risk.
The White House, however, said the videos “elevate the conversation to talk about a real issue and a real threat, and that’s extreme violence and extreme terrorism.”
When asked if the State Department warned the White House that the retweets might have repercussions, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told VOA Thursday in a briefing, “When it comes to specific conversations, you know all too well that I can’t comment on our sort of private internal conversations, but it wouldn’t be unusual for us to have those kinds of conversations about any matter in the world.”
“One of the things we will always say is the safety and security of our American personnel and of U.S. citizens abroad is our top concern,” Nauert said. “The State Department has continuous conversations with the White House and the National Security Council about anything that could affect any Americans’ safety and security abroad.”
Retweeting unverified videos
Earlier this week, President Donald Trump retweeted three unverified videos that allegedly show Muslim acts of violence that were posted on Twitter by far-right British politician Jayda Fransen, deputy head of the anti-immigrant Britain First party.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said Thursday that Trump was wrong to retweet unverified videos purporting to show a Muslim migrant beating up a Dutch boy on crutches, a Muslim destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary, and an Islamist mob pushing a teenage boy off a roof and beating him to death.
But the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Britain is not changed, according to the State Department.
“Our relationship with many countries are stronger than a tweet,” said a senior State Department official.
At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump’s intention was to bring up important issues through social media platforms.
Sanders acknowledged Trump likely did not know these anti-Muslim videos came from far-right British politician Fransen.
“I think what he’s done is elevate the conversation to talk about a real issue and a real threat, and that’s extreme violence and extreme terrorism,” said Sanders, adding it’s “something the president feels strongly about” and the administration is “looking at the best ways to protect Americans” every day.
Foreign policy experts said Trump’s tweets speak volumes and reinforce the widespread international perception of anti-Muslim bigotry.
“I would assume that embassies in many already volatile areas will be reviewing security postures in preparation for protests and possible violence,” Laura Kennedy, former deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, told VOA on Thursday.
“Surely, any sensible foreign policy or security professional would be concerned about the potential consequences of such inflammatory rhetoric from such a high level ricocheting around the world,” Kennedy added.
Retired Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, former deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism, told VOA that while Twitter can be tricky and it’s possible for individuals to make mistakes, President Trump’s tweets of anti-Muslim videos leave the international community confused.
“Withdraw the videos and let’s all move on,” Abercrombie-Winstanley said. “I don’t believe these videos should spark anti-America sentiment.”
Daniel Serwer, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, said “the Islamophobic tweets” distracted press and public attention away from imminent national security issues, including North Korea’s success in developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the United States, something President Trump had said would not happen.
British Ambassador to the U.S. Kim Darroch said he had raised concerns about anti-Muslim videos with the White House on Wednesday.
“British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right, which seeks to divide communities & erode decency, tolerance & respect. British Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding citizens,” Darroch said in a tweet.