Spot­light fo­cuses on Rus­sian con­flicts with U.S. in­ter­ests

Syria, eastern Europe source of strife

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY CARLO MUÑOZ

Cur­rent and for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity lead­ers and U.S. diplo­mats took to the air­waves Sun­day to ar­tic­u­late the threat posed by Rus­sia to Amer­i­can in­ter­ests — and how the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion plans to re­spond.

Moscow’s ag­gres­sive ac­tions in eastern Europe, as well as its overt ef­forts to prop up the regime of Syr­ian dic­ta­tor Bashar al-As­sad con­tinue to roil U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials, U.S. Am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions Nikki Ha­ley said Sun­day.

But the ad­min­is­tra­tion, she said, is try­ing to im­ple­ment a for­eign pol­icy that sees Rus­sia as a crit­i­cal ally in the fight against the Is­lamic State and as a bul­wark against an in­creas­ingly bel­liger­ent North Korea and its Chi­nese over­lords.

“We beat up on [Rus­sia] be­cause we thought that what they did with Crimea and what’s hap­pen­ing in Ukraine is wrong. And we called them out for it. And ... they are not be­ing help­ful in the way that they and Iran are cov­er­ing up for As­sad,” Mrs. Ha­ley said dur­ing an in­ter­view on ABC’s “This Week.”

That said, the Trump White House “needs [Rus­sia’s] pres­sure when it comes to deal­ing with ISIS, and we also need their pres­sure when it comes to deal­ing with China and North Korea,” the for­mer South Caro­line gover­nor said, ar­tic­u­lat­ing the del­i­cate bal­ance Amer­i­can diplo­mats are at­tempt­ing to strike in its dealings with Moscow.

Achiev­ing that bal­ance has be­come even more dif­fi­cult in re­cent weeks, as the Trump White House con­tin­ues to face in­creas­ing po­lit­i­cal pres­sure over its re­ported close ties to the Krem­lin.

FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey tes­ti­fied last month that there is an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether mem­bers of the Trump cam­paign are linked to Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the elec­tion.

The Wall St. Jour­nal re­ported Thurs­day that for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn is will­ing to tes­tify be­fore Congress — if he is given im­mu­nity from fed­eral pros­e­cu­tion. Mr. Flynn was forced to step down in Novem­ber, after ad­mit­ting to ly­ing about con­ver­sa­tions he had with Rus­sian of­fi­cials prior to Pres­i­dent Trump tak­ing of­fice.

For her part, Mrs. Ha­ley said there was no doubt that Rus­sia ac­tively in­ter­fered with the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. But she noted that con­gres­sional law­mak­ers need time to fin­ish their on­go­ing in­quiries into Moscow’s ac­tions be­fore the White House can ap­pro­pri­ately re­spond.

“We don’t want any coun­try in­volved in our elec­tions ever. And so once that in­for­ma­tion comes out, I ex­pect that that will be han­dled ac­cord­ingly,” Mrs. Ha­ley said.

But the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­abil­ity or un­will­ing­ness to ad­dress its al­leged ties to the Krem­lin will con­tinue to weaken the United States’ po­si­tion on the world stage, at a time when Amer­i­can ad­ver­saries are look­ing to take ad­van­tage of the do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal tu­mult in­side Washington, says one for­mer se­nior Pen­tagon of­fi­cial.

“There does need to be clar­ity and con­sis­tency. And with re­spect to the Rus­sians, they need to hear that from the United States,” for­mer De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter said Sun­day.

Since the end of the Cold War, Washington and Moscow have been able to co­op­er­ate on in­ter­ests across the globe — but those joint ef­forts have be­come in­creas­ingly strained un­der Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, Mr. Carter said dur­ing an in­ter­view with ABC.

“That align­ment has be­come more and more dif­fi­cult un­der Putin. You see that in Ukraine, you see it in the Mid­dle East. To an ex­tent where he ac­tu­ally de­fines Rus­sian suc­cess as thwart­ing the United States,” he said.

In the Mideast specif­i­cally, Rus­sian pres­sure to keep the As­sad regime in power has now gained a foothold in­side the White House.

Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son said Thurs­day that the fate of the As­sad regime will be up to the peo­ple of Syria, a sig­nif­i­cant shift from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s stance that an As­sad regime must not be part of a post­war Syria.

Mrs. Ha­ley pushed back on that as­ser­tion Sun­day, say­ing the As­sad regime can­not be al­lowed to re­tain power in Syria and ac­count­able for the hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions com­mit­ted by regime forces in Syria’s six-year war.

“Our goal is we want to bring As­sad to jus­tice. We want them to pay for the crimes that he’s done. We’re go­ing to con­tinue to let Rus­sia know how dan­ger­ous it is to keep As­sad in power,” she said. Those ef­forts are not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive to Washington’s ef­forts to lead the in­ter­na­tional coali­tion bat­tling Is­lamic State in the coun­try.

“You don’t have to have one or the other,” she said.


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