Easing Russia Sanctions ‘Under Consideration’

File Photo of White House with South Lawn and Fountain

(Bloomberg – bloomberg.com – Jennifer Epstein, Stepan Kravchenko – January 27, 2017)

President Donald Trump is willing to consider removing U.S. sanctions against Russia when he has his first official discussion with Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin on Saturday, according to senior advisor Kellyanne Conway.

“All of that is under consideration,” Conway said in a TV interview Friday on Fox News, when asked whether the lifting of sanctions will be on the table at the talks from the outset. “If Vladimir Putin wants to join with the U.S. to have a serious conversation about how to defeat radical Islamic terrorism,” then “we’re listening,” she said.

“It’s America first and that includes in his foreign policy and his national security moves,” Conway said, in response to a question on whether Trump would first require Russia to change its international behavior in countries including Syria.

Relations between Trump and Putin are being watched closely in the U.S. amid assertions from intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the election campaign to aid the Republican in defeating Democratic contender Hillary Clinton. Trump, who’s repeatedly spoken of improving relations with Russia, said at a Jan. 11 press conference, his first since the election, that “if Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability.” He also said that Russia could help the U.S. in defeating Islamic State.

Stirring Unease

The first talks between the two leaders since Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration are stirring unease in Europe over the future of sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the European Union after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its support of separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine. Trump also is due to speak on Saturday with the leaders of France and Germany, which back the sanctions.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he wasn’t aware of plans to discuss sanctions when Putin and Trump have their phone call. The two leaders will exchange views on Russia-U.S. relations and Putin will congratulate Trump on taking office, he told reporters on a conference call Friday before Conway’s comments.

“This is the first telephone contact since President Trump took office, so one should hardly expect that this phone call will involve substantive discussions across the whole range of issues,” Peskov said.

“If Trump unilaterally lifts Russia sanctions it means torpedoing the Minsk agreement” between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany that’s intended to resolve the Ukrainian conflict, former Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt said on Twitter.

“If reports of easing sanctions on Russia are true, Trump will have upended U.S. relations with Asia, Europe and Americas in less than a week,” Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, wrote on Twitter.

Revoking sanctions would be an “historic mistake” that encourages Russia into “further actions, you’re not stopping their aggressive behavior,” Zygimantas Pavilionis, a former Lithuanian ambassador to the U.S. who’s now an MP on its parliamentary foreign affairs committee, said Friday. Trump risks humiliation from Putin “if we start a new term with new signs of weakness” because “the Russians will cross new red lines” that former President Barack Obama failed to defend, he said.

Article ©2017 Bloomberg L.P. All Rights Reserved. Article also appeared at bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-27/putin-trump-to-have-first-official-talks-saturday-kremlin-says