President Donald Trump has a habit of referring to countries not by their names. First, he declared a host of African nations “shitholes.” Then, he changed Nepal to “nipple” and Bhutan to “button” in a briefing ahead of a meeting with India’s prime minister, two sources with knowledge of the meeting told Politico.
Politco’s report, published Monday, listed many of Trump’s “diplomatic faux-pas,” including those mispronunciations, awkward meetings, and joking that he would play matchmaker for India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Earlier this year, the Washington Post reported that Trump even took on an Indian accent and imitated the prime minister in another instance. He's also been calling foreign leaders in the middle of the night, sources told Politico.
“He wasn’t great with recognizing that the leader of a country might be 80 or 85 years old and isn’t going to be awake or in the right place at 10:30 or 11 p.m. their time,” a former Trump NSC official told the news outlet about Trump attempting to call Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the middle of the night in Japan.
“When he wants to call someone, he wants to call someone. He’s more impulsive that way. He doesn’t think about what time it is or who it is,” a person close to Trump added to Politico.
But some in government take Trump’s calls at odd hours as a sign of disrespect and a lack of understanding of foreign policy. On the other hand, defenders of Trump said those criticisms are completely overblown. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told Politico that Trump has close relationships with foreign leaders who “appreciate that the president is willing to take their calls day and night.”
“The president has made clear that when leaders reach out for calls, [aides should] set them up right away,” Sanders told Politico. “He has had foreign leaders calls very late at night and never wants another leader to wait before their call is returned.”
But as other officials recounted Trump’s many diplomatic foibles to Politico, the issues may go further than disregarding time zones, including finding humor in mispronouncing the names of countries, like Nepal and Bhutan. He also once struggled to pronounce Namibia.
One White House official told Politico that the mispronunciation of Nepal and Bhutan never happened, but a former National Security Council official told the outlet that Trump just avoids words and names he doesn’t know how to pronounce. Others who attended the meeting said Trump's behavior went further than a mispronunciation: They told Politico the president didn’t know where Nepal and Bhutan were.
“He thought it was all part of India,” one person familiar with the meeting told Politico. “He was like, ‘What is this stuff in between and these other countries?’”
Correction 8/13 5:25 p.m. ET: The original text and headline stated that President Donald Trump reportedly called Nepal "nipple" in a meeting with India's prime minister, instead of a prep session for that meeting. The story and headline have been updated to correct this error.
Cover image: Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and American president Donald Trump at the Partnership with Africa working session, the third session of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, 8 July 2017. (Michael Kappeler/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)