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World's Most Influential People Gather For Davos Economic Forum

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Some of the world's most influential politicians, CEOs, artists and thinkers are in Davos, Switzerland, this week for the annual World Economic Forum. This year, President Donald Trump will join this group of global elites, making him and Bill Clinton the only sitting U.S. presidents to have attended Davos. We're joined now by Ishaan Tharoor. He writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post, and he is doing the hard work in the beautiful mountains of Davos.

Hey, Ishaan.

ISHAAN THAROOR: Hi, there.

MARTIN: I understand you guys had a little bit of snow. So the 1 percent are really roughing it.

THAROOR: (Laughter) It's been really quite remarkable. Davos, as you said, is a beautiful, picturesque mountain town. But in the past couple of days, it's experienced the worst - the largest snowfall it's seen in over two decades. So there's a lot of snow here. People have been slipping and sliding. So it's actually canceled a bunch of events.

MARTIN: Wow.

THAROOR: And some world leaders have been waylaid. So it's all...

MARTIN: Oh, OK. I shouldn't just make light, yeah.

THAROOR: Yeah. A bunch of presidents couldn't make it so far or have had panels canceled. So the forum has begun with this cloud over it.

MARTIN: But we know President Trump, so far, plans to still come to Davos, which is - I mean, we should note this. Donald Trump ran against the political establishment, not only in the U.S. but around the world, and against ideas like the kind that folks at Davos tend to embrace about a global community. So how is Trump's arrival shaping conversations there already?

THAROOR: It definitely is the kind of permanent conversation happening here. Everyone is very curious about what he's going to say and the kind of impact he's going to have. He's bringing a pretty significant-sized delegation as well. So there's a lot of interest in what his other Cabinet ministers that are coming with him will say.

And yes, it's interesting because Davos is all about things that are ideologically anathema, it seems, to the Trump administration. They talk about collaboration and multilateralism. They talk about the importance of reckoning with migration and the importance of honoring the dignity of migrants. They talk about, you know, collaborative trade deals. So it's all about stuff that Trump has consistently vilified in his rhetoric. Even Steve Bannon once referred to Trump's opponents as the party of Davos. So this place is really the embodiment of everything that you would think this administration has opposed.

MARTIN: Do we know if the president plans to address Davos in any formal way?

THAROOR: Well, he'll be delivering a big speech on Friday, and that's going to be the showpiece event. But it's also going to come after a number of other very important speeches. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking - that's kind of the big opening address of the whole event. And then we're going to see a kind of one-two punch of French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel tomorrow. And those will be interesting to watch because they'll potentially be a kind of pre-emptive broadside against Trump.

MARTIN: So what do we expect President Trump to say? I mean, what does he want out of this meeting?

THAROOR: To be completely honest, nobody is really quite sure. President Trump could use this as a forum to hammer home certain points on the supposedly unfair trade deals that the U.S. has stomached in recent times. The Trump administration has been very strong of late, specifically on China. They issued a report last week even suggesting that China should never have been allowed into the World Trade Organization a couple of decades ago. So he could hammer home a pretty protectionist, hawkish message. Or he could try to turn the page and reach out to the world in a way that he has not yet done.

MARTIN: All right, Ishaan Tharoor of The Washington Post talking to us from Davos, Switzerland. President Trump is expected to attend this year.

Ishaan, thanks so much.

THAROOR: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARK BARROTT'S "CIRRUS AND CUMULUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.