Trump Open to Lifting Russian Sanctions

Trump is looking into changing relations with Russia and China while the US Senate Intelligence Committee probes his relations with Russia
US president-elect, Donald TrumpUS president-elect, Donald Trump

US president-elect, Donald Trump, expressed willingness on Friday to lift sanctions on Russia if it assists the US in other efforts such as counterterrorism.

Trump told the Wall Street Journal that he intended to keep sanctions imposed on Russia by the outgoing administration of Barack Obama in response to cyberattacks during the election “at least for a period of time”. But the president-elect implied sanctions would not be warranted if Russia helped the US in other ways, Politico reported.

Trump also stood by his previous remarks on China, which he’s repeatedly criticized on the stump. The president-elect said he would not commit to the decades-old agreement of not recognizing Taiwan diplomatically, a policy known as “One China”.

“Everything is under negotiation, including One China,” Trump said.

The president-elect caused a diplomatic furor in early December when he spoke to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen over the phone, the first president or president-elect to do so in over 35 years.

Trump stood by that decision on Friday by saying, “It would have been very rude not to accept the phone call.”

He added: “We sold them $2 billion of military equipment last year. We can sell them $2 billion of the latest and greatest military equipment but we’re not allowed to accept a phone call.”

  Obama Counterattacks

This is while Obama decreed to extend earlier sanctions against Russia over the ongoing developments in Ukraine for another year starting in March, according to Friday’s statement from the White House.

The statement said quoting the US leader that Russia’s alleged involvement in developments in neighboring Ukraine since the spring of 2014 “continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”.

“For this reason, the national emergency declared on March 6, 2014, and the measures adopted on that date, on March 16, 2014, on March 20, 2014, and on December 19, 2014, to deal with that emergency, must continue in effect beyond March 6, 2017,” Obama was quoted as saying in the statement.

“Therefore,… I am continuing for one year the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13660 (issued on March 16, 2014),” Obama said.

A total of three US presidential executive orders were issued in regard to Russia over the developments in Ukraine, namely on March 16 and 20, 2014, as well as on December 19, 2014 on the globally-debated issue of Crimea’s reunification with Russia.

The ensuing sanctions on behalf of the United States hit a number of Russian state officials, businessmen and national companies, as well as officials from the government of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and authorities of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

  Intelligence Community’s Scrutiny

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr said late Friday that his committee will investigate possible contacts between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, reversing himself one day after telling reporters that the issue would be outside of his panel’s ongoing probe into Moscow’s election-disruption efforts.

Burr and the intelligence panel’s top Democrat, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, said in a joint statement that the committee’s probe would touch on “intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns” as well as “Russian cyberattacks” and other election meddling outlined in an intelligence report released last week.

The bipartisan Senate announcement came hours after several House Democrats aired their frustrations with FBI Director James Comey following a classified briefing on Russian election disruption.

The Democrats were livid that Comey refused to confirm whether he is conducting an inquiry into potential Trump ties to Russia—a question that he publicly declined to answer earlier this week.

Burr said late Thursday that he did not plan to touch on possible contacts between Trump emissaries and Russia, asserting that the issue likely falls under the FBI’s purview.

“We don’t have anything to do with political campaigns,” the Republican said.

But Warner had said during a Tuesday committee hearing that he wanted the probe to touch on possible contacts between Moscow or its emissaries and political campaigns, putting the two senators potentially at odds.

Warner told reporters late Thursday that his view had not changed, meaning that the Friday joint announcement effectively brought Burr around to the Democrat’s perspective.

The Senate move also creates a split with the House, where intelligence panel chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, told POLITICO earlier on Friday that Congress should not be investigating any possible contacts between Russia and the Trump camp.

“House committees don’t go operational like that,” said Nunes, who is a member of Trump’s transition team. “It’s a law enforcement issue.”

A Nunes spokesman said late Friday that the Senate’s decision had not changed the House chairman’s view.

The joint announcement from Burr and Warner commits the Senate intelligence panel not only to probing possible Trump-Russia ties, but also to releasing “both classified and unclassified reports” that will include its conclusions and holding some open hearings.

However, “the bulk of the committee’s business” during the investigation will be tackled in private, the senators said.

Warner added in his own statement that although the intelligence panel is “clearly best positioned” to tackle a wide-ranging Russia investigation, he would not rule out supporting legislation “to empower whoever can do it right” if the committee runs into difficulties.

The Virginian is among a group of Democrats who have yet to endorse a proposal from senior members of their party for a select committee that would look at Russia’s election cyberattacks and cybersecurity in general.

Republicans in the House have taken a different tack, focusing on what they say are shocking leaks of Trump-related material to the media.

Nunes is one of several Republicans who have called for intelligence officials to probe those leaks, following the publication of an unverified 35-page “dossier” that alleges Russia had amassed compromising information about the president-elect.

Trump himself raised the prospect that intelligence officials had leaked the document in a Wednesday news conference, saying “it would be a tremendous blot on their record”.


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