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Author: Subject: Ahead of summit, lawmakers worry over what Trump will say to Putin

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[*] posted on 6-7-2018 at 01:29 PM
Ahead of summit, lawmakers worry over what Trump will say to Putin

By: Joe Gould and Leo Shane III   10 hours ago

U.S. President Donald Trump has cast doubt on claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to sway the 2016 presidential election. (Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — As U.S. President Donald Trump gets set to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, this month, U.S. lawmakers are reminding him that Russia is a bad actor and not a friend.

But on Thursday, administration officials were offering public assurances that they’ve got this under control.

The U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, told reporters that the July 16 summit between the two superpower leaders will include discussions of holding Russia “accountable for its malign activities,” which he characterized as a potential national security threat.

“The president hopes that a meeting can help reduce tensions and lead to constructive engagement that improves peace and security throughout the world,” Huntsman said. “Because you can’t solve problems if you aren’t talking about them.”

A senior administration official confirmed issues on the agenda will include Russia’s support of Syrian military forces, its occupation of Ukrainian territory and its interference in U.S. elections. But the official also acknowledged that Trump will drive the conversation and could deviate from those planned discussion points.

That’s the fear of multiple members of Congress who see Trump’s handling of Putin thus far as too accommodating.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., during his trip to the Baltics this week called Russia “destabilizing” and sent a veiled warning to Trump not to recognize Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

“Recognizing Crimea as part of Russia would undermine the rules-based international order that was created with U.S. leadership and has caused democracy to thrive around the world and made America a safer home for our citizens,” Corker said in a tweet on Monday, without mentioning Trump directly.

In the “upcoming Helsinki summit, the U.S. must stand firmly with our NATO allies and affirm our transatlantic partnership. Doing otherwise strengthens Putin and undermines democratic values,” Corker added.

Corker was not the only member of Congress in the region. A day later, a group of Republican lawmakers met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow in hopes of reviving relations between the two countries.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said he’s come to realize “we have a strained relationship, but we could have a better relationship between the U.S. and Russia,” according to Radio Free Europe video footage.

His view of the upcoming meeting was more upbeat than Corker’s.

“We’re hoping that coming out of the Putin-Trump meeting will be the beginning of a new day,” Shelby said. “We will have to wait and see, but we recognize the world’s better off, I believe, if Russia and the U.S. have fewer tensions.”

The fighting in Ukraine, the Syrian war and allegations that Russia meddled in U.S. elections have frayed ties between Washington and Moscow. The lawmakers urged Russia to leave upcoming midterms alone, with Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., telling The Associated Press he called for a “change in behavior” on Moscow’s part.

Democrats took aim at the optics of Senate Republicans meeting with Russians on Independence Day, not long after the Senate Intelligence Committee announced its findings: that Putin was trying to help Trump when Moscow meddled in the 2016 election.

California Democratic Rep. Eric Swallwell, a senior member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, accused the Republicans via Twitter on Wednesday of “cozying up” with Russians, adding: “If they can’t confront Russia, shouldn’t they just stay?”

Yet Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and a delegate on the trip, told Fox News on Thursday that the lawmakers talked tough with Russian officials about their allied nuclear arms treaty violations. Dialogue between the two nuclear-armed nations is important, he said.

“This relationship is at a very strained level, arguably the lowest its been post Cold War,” Daines said. “We sent a very strong message and direct message to the Russian government: First of all, don’t interfere in U.S. elections; second, respect the sovereignty of Ukraine and exit Crimea; and third, work with us in bringing about peace in Syria instead of working against us.”

The talks came ahead of the NATO summit in Brussels next week, from where Trump will depart for the meeting with Putin.

With relations between the U.S. and its European allies already strained over Trump’s trade policies, he reportedly sent letters to European leaders threatening consequences if they do not step up their defense spending. (The Pentagon reportedly studied the cost of keeping U.S. troops in Germany.)

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee next week is set to take up a nonbinding sense-of-the-Senate resolution emphasizing the strategic importance of NATO to the collective security of the transatlantic region — and urging its member states to cooperate to strengthen the alliance.

Several Democratic lawmakers worried publicly whether Trump would champion the post-World War II order in those talks, or democratic values, including Senate Armed Services Committee member Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

“President Trump abruptly canceled US-South Korea military exercises after his first meeting with Kim Jong-un ― what he will promise Putin, four months before another American election? Will he be holding the KGB thug accountable for his meddling in our democracy? Doubtful,” Blumenthal said in a June 28 tweet.

A group of senior Senate Democrats pressed Trump in a letter this week: Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate Democratic whip; Mark Warner, D-Va., the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; and Jack Reed, D-R.I., the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“During your meeting with President Putin, we ask that you convey that there will be clear consequences for Russia’s interference in democratic processes in the United States and elsewhere, its support for violence and bloodshed in Ukraine and Syria, and the illegal occupation of Crimea,” they wrote.

Congress, they warned, “will strongly oppose any step to degrade our strong bilateral relationship with Ukraine, including decreasing security assistance.”

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said on CNN this week that he was troubled Trump appears to be ”trying to reorient U.S. foreign policy towards Russia and away from our democratic allies in Europe.”

“I believe the president is lining us up with an authoritarian dictator instead of with democracies that promote economic and political freedom,” Smith said. “I don’t think that’s what the United States should stand for. And I don’t think it’s in our long-term best interests in terms of our policy.”
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[*] posted on 18-7-2018 at 11:00 AM

In Helsinki backlash, Democrats target sanctions loophole for US allies buying Russian arms

By: Joe Gould   1 day ago

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin leave a press conference after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

WASHINGTON — After President Donald Trump’s stunning press conference Monday beside Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. lawmakers of both parties quickly rebuked Trump for embracing Putin’s assertion that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

But beyond messaging, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Republicans to take action, to ratchet up sanctions on Russian defense and intelligence services — and to abandon efforts to enact a “special rule,” favored by the Pentagon, that would allow the Trump administration to waive some penalties on U.S. allies for buying Russian weapons.

It was part of the avalanche of criticism for Trump after he sided with Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies and his national security advisers, whose consensus view is Russia attacked the U.S. elections. “They said, ‘I think it is Russia.’ I have President Putin. He just said it is not Russia,” Trump said in Helsinki.
Detailing actions he says Republican colleagues must take to remedy the damage, Schumer called the summit, “an insult to all Americans: Democrats, Republicans, independents. We have to stand up together to push back.”

“If we wait much longer, our global alliances will fracture, the institutions we created in the wake of World War II will crumble, our allies will consider abandoning us to China and others — and Putin’s Russia will emerge stronger,” Schumer said.

Democrats are eyeing language from the House-passed 2019 National Defense Authorization Act that would afford more flexibility to waive sanctions required by the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which Congress overwhelmingly passed last year. The Senate-passed bill did not have a corresponding provision.

Schumer’s remarks threw a spotlight on negotiations between the House and Senate as they work out various differences in their competing versions of the bills behind closed doors.

Lawmakers and their staffs are rushing the effort, aiming to wrap up before the end of July, though it’s unclear they will.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has asked lawmakers to permit special national security exemptions for U.S. allies who are buying Russian systems but intend to eventually stop, citing India, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Mattis told lawmakers in April that he wanted the ability to appeal to the secretary of state when it’s in the country’s interest to waive Russian sanctions. "Then we get an internal management of this process, but it keeps us from being boxed in by the Russians,” he said.

Democrats are argue the proposed fix is over-broad and would just give Trump the power to undo the sanctions on anyone, as long as he declares it’s because they’re altering their ties with Russia. “His record doesn’t necessarily suggest he’d feel confined to use the power just for that narrow purpose,” said one House Democratic aide.

It’s unclear whether Republicans will accede to Schumer’s demands, but a fraction of them have been critical of Trump’s Helsinki conduct.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., called Trump’s press conference with Putin, “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” The summit was “a tragic mistake” and Trump displayed “naivete” and “egotism,” he said.

Trump’s national security team is “competent and patriotic,” which made it “inexplicable” that they allowed the president’s “blunders and capitulations,” McCain said, adding: “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant."

Separately, another frequent Republican critic of Trump’s approach to foreign policy, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, told reporters he was “disappointed and saddened” by Trump’s remarks.

“I felt like that everyone who’s dealt with Putin understands fully that the best way to deal with him is through strength,” said Corker, R-Tenn. “And I just felt like the president’s comments made us look as a nation more like a pushover, and I was disappointed in that.”

Trump’s meeting with Putin capped a four-country swing through Europe in which he lobbed criticism at NATO members, particularly Germany.

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a measure in support of NATO at the top of Trump’s trip to express support for NATO and calls for a whole-of-government strategy to counter Russia’s meddling in the U.S. and other democracies.
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[*] posted on 18-7-2018 at 07:58 PM

Did they forget Trump just kicked-off the biggest trade conflict of all history with Chynah?

i.e. make Putin less peaved while dealing with the real game, which is the economic, technical and industrial machine which can (eventually) build a competitive navy and actual 5th gen fighter bomber force---if not more or less disrupted, soonish.
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