What happens when two factions within the White House hold differing views on the same agreement? A war of words, to say the least…
A fascinating AP story by Josh Lederman outlines the conflict. In one corner, President Donald Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro. In the other corner, the U.S. Department of State. The controversy: what the airline deal with the United Arab Emirates actually meant, especially concerning Fifth Freedom routes.
Navarro is an “economic nationalist” who fiercely advocates for the protection of American businesses, including airlines. He has insisted, publicly, that the latest deal with Gulf Carriers places a freeze on all new Fifth Freedom flights, like Emirates Milan to New York flight.
Small problem: it doesn’t. And the State Department has made clear that it does not.
[B]ehind the scenes, the dispute devolved into one-upmanship, word games and subtle subterfuge, magnified by hard-hitting lobby groups that have seized the chance to exploit divisions within Trump’s administration.
The May 11th agreement with the UAE did not even mention Fifth Freedom flights. Those were addressed in a side-letter, which simply stated that the UAE has “no current plans in place to make any changes” to its Fifth Freedom routes. It allowed both sides to save face and certainly does not prohibit the Gulf Carriers from expanding to additional routes in the future.
I wrote about how Delta and its puppet Airlines for America organization interpreted the letter. Turns out Navarro is on the paryoll also. This prompted the Emiratis to assert Emirates and Etihad were “free to continue to add and adjust routes and services.”
> Read More: Delta’s Victory Lap Over a Meaningless Agreement
It Gets Worse
The State Department attempted to fix the issue, scheduling a conference call with Navarro to brief industry insiders about the deal.
To the horror of the State Department, Navarro insisted on the call that no new Fifth Freedom routes would be added, boasting, “That’s a promise that will be kept.” A State Department spokesman contradicted Navarro, stating there was no agreed freeze. Navarro again fought that claim, promising “a freeze on routes until further notice. So there it is.”
Although the briefing was supposed to be confidential and off the record, Airlines for America immediately posted a partial transcript on its website and promoted it on Twitter and other social media outlets with pictures of Navarro. The White House was angry, but it took a few days for the lobbyist group to pull down the transcript from its website, which of course is still widely available online.
Someone higher up in the Administration had a conversation with Navarro, who was added as a speaker at a Hudson Institute (conservative) event on Monday. For his speech, Navarro simply read an op-ed he wrote for the Washington Examiner that was published concurrently with the event. It used the “no current plans” State Department language. He backed down. For now.
This wasn’t the first time Navarro was at odds with the Administration. Earlier this month Navarro and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin exchanged a profanity-laced verbal battle in Beijing over trade negotiations with China.
During the separate deal with Qatar, Navarro also tried to intervene at the eleventh hour by inserting additional protections for U.S. airlines when the agreement was about to be signed. Fearing the whole deal would be ruined, the State Department urged all parties to complain to the White House about Navarro. They did.
> Read More: Qatar vs. Delta – Who Really Won?
image: White House – Peter Navarro at center