Saturday, January 14, 2017

Trump: Russia Sanctions to Be Upheld, but Maybe Not for Long

The U.S. president-elect says he would maintain sanctions against Russia imposed by the Obama administration, but that could be short-lived.

In a interview with The Wall Street Journal posted on the newspaper’s website late Friday, Donald Trump said he would keep the sanctions “at least for a period of time,” but might lift them if Russia helps in the fight against terrorists and is helpful in reaching other goals important to the U.S.

“If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things,” he told the newspaper.

Once he is sworn into office, Trump added, he would be ready to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I understand that they would like to meet, and that’s absolutely fine with me,” he told The Journal.

Syrian peace talks invitation

In another development, a report in The Washington Post says Russia has invited the Trump administration to attend a round of Syrian peace talks being held in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, just days after Trump’s inauguration. The Post said Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador in Washington, extended the invitation last month in a telephone call with Michael Flynn, Trump’s incoming national security adviser. The Obama administration was not invited to the talks.

Flynn reportedly had several telephone conversations with Kislyak on December 29, the same day President Barack Obama ousted 35 Russian diplomats and imposed other sanctions in response to Russia’s apparent attempts to influence last year’s presidential election.

FILE - Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn stands by the elevators as he arrives at Trump Tower where U.S. President-elect Donald Trump lives in New York.

FILE – Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn stands by the elevators as he arrives at Trump Tower where U.S. President-elect Donald Trump lives in New York.

A senior U.S. official said Friday the Obama administration is aware of the calls and other frequent communications between Flynn and Russia’s ambassador, according to The Associated Press.

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Friday that Flynn and the ambassador communicated December 28 and discussed setting up a call between Trump and Putin after Trump’s January 20 inauguration. Spicer added they also exchanged Christmas greetings via text over the holidays.

Discussions between incoming administrations and foreign governments are not unusual, but multiple discussions on the day of the U.S. retaliatory actions would raise questions about whether Flynn and the ambassador discussed a possible Russian response.

One day after the sanctions and the expulsion of dozens of Russian officials from the U.S., Putin said he did not plan to retaliate. Trump, who has repeatedly praised Putin, applauded the Russian president’s decision.

Flynn’s multiple phone calls with Russia’s ambassador was first reported Thursday by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who wrote that the calls could be in violation of the Logan Act, a more than 200-year-old law that prohibits U.S. citizens from trying to influence foreign governments that are engaged in disputes with the U.S.

Russian hacking, Clinton

Meanwhile, in a series of tweets Friday, Donald Trump renewed last week’s vow to release a report on Russia’s alleged hacking of last year’s presidential election within 90 days, made accusations about unconfirmed reports containing compromising information about him, and launched another attack against former presidential opponent Hillary Clinton.

U.S. Intelligence agencies have said Russian hacking interfered with election results, a claim the president-elect asserted to be true Wednesday during a news conference.

But Trump appeared to reverse himself Friday when he tweeted the conclusions reached by the U.S. intelligence community were not based on evidence of Russian cyber-interference in the presidential election.

The president-elect also strongly denied unsubstantiated reports that Russia has compromising personal information about him. Trump accused “sleazebag political operatives,” “political opponents,” and “intelligence” operatives of fabricating and releasing the information.

Earlier this past week, the BuzzFeed digital media site posted online what it said was the full dossier in question, which alleged tawdry personal conduct by Trump on a visit to Moscow and that Russia’s government had been “cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump” for years.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Wednesday he told Trump the intelligence community did not create the document of unconfirmed claims.

Although Trump’s victorious presidential run ended more than two months ago, he continues to attack his Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s latest attacks against Clinton came one day after the Justice Department announced it will investigate Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey’s decision to again review Clinton’s improper use of emails while she was secretary of state days before the election, prompting accusations from Clinton’s campaign aides that the FBI influenced voters.

Trump has several meetings scheduled Friday, including with Marillyn Hewson, CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, which manufactures the F-35 fighter jet. After meeting in Trump tower with the president-elect, Hewson told reporters she is close to finalizing an agreement to significantly lower the cost of the fifth-generation combat plane.

Hewson also said Lockheed plans to create 1,800 new jobs at its Fort Worth, Texas facility, a move she said would add “thousands and thousands of jobs” across the supply chain in 45 U.S. states.

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