Sanctions on table ahead of US-Putin call
Saturday President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will speak by telephone according to the White House and the Kremlin. The two world leaders are expected to discuss bilateral affairs and national security in the first call since Mr Trump’s inauguration.
Trump has also hinted at lifting some of the US sanctions on Russia. He will also speak to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on the same day.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the phone call between Mr Trump and Mr Putin, but said it was unlikely to result in any specific agreements.
“This is the first contact by phone since President Trump assumed office so it is hardly likely there will be substantive contact on all issues. Let’s be patient,” he said.
But Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News on Friday that removing US sanctions on Russia was “under consideration”.
“I assume they will discuss, in the interests of their respective countries, how to come together and work together on issues where you can find common ground and where these two nations could maybe defeat radical Islamic terrorism,” she also told CBS News.
Trump has vowed to strengthen relations with the Kremlin despite allegations from the US intelligence community that Russia tried to interfere in the US president election to benefit Mr Trump.
As a result, President Barack Obama issued a new round of sanctions against Russia and expelled 35 Russian diplomats for Moscow’s alleged election-related cyber attacks.
Donald Trump’s planned phone conversation with President Vladimir Putin could lay the groundwork for a rollback of US sanctions on Russia.
There are reports that a presidential order undoing Barack Obama’s executive actions has already been drafted.
If this ends up being the case, it would likely ignite a battle between the administration and a bipartisan coalition in Congress.
While Republican Capitol Hill leadership may be loath to pick a fight with Mr Trump so early in his presidency, anti-Russia hawks in the Senate – led by Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham – may find common cause with the body’s Democratic minority.
Together they could push legislation that enshrine the administration-imposed sanctions into law, much the way Congress solidified Bush-era anti-Iran measures during Mr Obama’s presidency.
Mr Trump has been bedevilled by criticisms that he has too close a relationship with Mr Putin, inflamed by intelligence reports of Russian meddling in the US election and an ongoing investigation into ties between Russia and former Trump campaign aides.
While the new president may see sanction-removal as the first step in forging closer ties with a former adversary, the move could come with at a high political price.
The Kremlin has vehemently denied any allegations that it coordinated hacks on the US election.
Earlier this month, Mr Trump suggested he would ease sanctions on Moscow imposed by the Obama administration if the nation helped in the battle against terrorism.
US and European Union (EU) sanctions were already in place after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea as well as its backing of separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Last month, the EU extended economic sanctions against Russia until 31 July due to the continued violence in eastern Ukraine.
Mr Obama had also tried to reset relations with Russia when he took office in 2009, but the strained relations over the course of his presidency ultimately deteriorated over the fighting in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.
British Prime Minister Theresa May became the first foreign leader to meet Mr Trump at the White House on Friday, as part of an effort to reaffirm the “special relationship” between the two nations.