U.S. ties with Rus­sians at ‘low point’

Tiller­son, Trump lament poor state of re­la­tion­ship be­tween nu­clear pow­ers

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVE BOYER

Sec­re­tary of State Rex W. Tiller­son emerged from a meet­ing with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin on Wed­nes­day say­ing re­la­tions be­tween Moscow and Washington were “at a low point,” marked by se­ri­ous dis­trust in the wake of a chem­i­cal weapons at­tack by Krem­lin ally Syria.

“There is a low level of trust be­tween our coun­tries,” Mr. Tiller­son told re­porters at a joint news con­fer­ence with his Rus­sian coun­ter­part, For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov. “The world’s two fore­most nu­clear pow­ers can­not have this kind of re­la­tion­ship.”

In Washington, Pres­i­dent Trump echoed the dim U.S. view of Rus­sia dur­ing a news con­fer­ence with the sec­re­tary gen­eral of NATO.

“Right now, we’re not get­ting along with Rus­sia at all,” Mr. Trump said. “Right now, the world is a mess.”

The blunt air­ing of dif­fer­ences was one of the more frosty diplo­matic en­coun­ters in re­cent years be­tween the na­tions, with Washington and Moscow un­able to agree even on the facts of the deadly sarin gas at­tack on April 4 that killed more than 80 civil­ians in Syria.

The U.S. said Rus­sia, which has been fight­ing on the side of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad for two years, was likely com­plicit in the atroc­ity.

“I would like to think that they didn’t know, but they cer­tainly could have,” Mr. Trump said. “They were there. It’s dis­ap­point­ing no mat­ter who does it.”

Mr. Putin ac­cused the U.S. of fram­ing Mr. As­sad in the at­tack and has warned the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion not to re­peat any mil­i­tary ac­tions such as the mis­sile bom­bard­ment that the U.S. launched against Syr­ian forces last week in re­tal­i­a­tion for the gas at­tack.

Deep­en­ing the Syria dis­pute, Rus­sia ve­toed a res­o­lu­tion at the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil on Wed­nes­day con­demn­ing the chem­i­cal weapons at­tack. It was the eighth time dur­ing the 6-year-old Syr­ian civil war that Rus­sia has used its veto power to pro­tect the gov­ern­ment in Da­m­as­cus.

The events have marked a dra­matic turn from the hope that Mr. Trump had ex­pressed upon tak­ing of­fice that he could work with Mr. Putin to­ward the de­feat of the Is­lamic State ter­ror­ist group in Syria and Iraq.

But Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said the U.N. vote high­lighted a pos­i­tive bud­ding re­la­tion­ship be­tween Mr. Trump and Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping. China ab­stained from the U.N. vote af­ter Mr. Trump spoke on the phone with Mr. Xi in what a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial de­scribed as a warm con­ver­sa­tion.

“I think it’s won­der­ful that they ab­stained,” Mr. Trump said. “Very few peo­ple thought that was go­ing to hap­pen. We were hon­ored by the vote.”

Mr. Trump hosted Mr. Xi and his wife last week at the pres­i­dent’s re­sort at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, seek­ing pri­mar­ily the Chi­nese leader’s help in pres­sur­ing North Korea to dial back its nu­clear weapons pro­gram. White House of­fi­cials said Mr. Trump’s de­vel­op­ing bond with Mr. Xi was pay­ing im­me­di­ate diplo­matic div­i­dends by iso­lat­ing Rus­sia.

“It was the re­la­tion­ship that was so­lid­i­fied at Mar-a-Lago that helped make that pos­si­ble,” the se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said of the Chi­nese vote at the United Na­tions.

Amid height­ened con­cern that North Korea could soon launch an­other bal­lis­tic mis­sile or nu­clear test, the U.S. has di­verted the USS Carl Vin­son air­craft car­rier strike group to the waters off the Korean Penin­sula.

Bei­jing this week sent a flotilla of North Korean freighters loaded with coal, the coun­try’s big­gest ex­port to China, back to their home ports, Reuters re­ported. Mean­while, China has placed mas­sive or­ders for the steel-mak­ing com­mod­ity from U.S. pro­duc­ers.

The Dan­dong Cheng­tai trad­ing com­pany said it had 600,000 tons of North Korean coal sit­ting at var­i­ous ports and that 2 mil­lion tons were stranded at Chi­nese ports to be sent back to North Korea, Reuters said.

At the same time China was tak­ing these ac­tions fa­vor­able to U.S. in­ter­ests, Mr. Trump an­nounced Wed­nes­day that he would not la­bel China as a cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tor in a re­port due this week.

Back­ing away from a cam­paign pledge, Mr. Trump told The Wall Street Jour­nal that he changed his mind be­cause he now thinks China hasn’t ma­nip­u­lated its cur­rency re­cently and be­cause forc­ing the is­sue might jeop­ar­dize his ef­forts to ob­tain help from Bei­jing on con­fronting the threat of North Korea.

“They’re not cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tors,” Mr. Trump said.

The de­ci­sion rep­re­sents one of the sharpest re­ver­sals in the first three months of Mr. Trump’s pres­i­dency. He re­peat­edly told vot­ers dur­ing the cam­paign that China was “killing us” on trade, partly be­cause of cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tion.

A se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said Wed­nes­day that “there was no spe­cific link­age that I’m aware of” be­tween the de­ci­sion on cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tion and China’s help on North Korea and at the United Na­tions.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Demo­crat, blasted Mr. Trump for his re­ver­sal on cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tion.

“China steals our in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, doesn’t let Amer­i­can com­pa­nies com­pete in China and has ma­nip­u­lated their cur­rency, caus­ing the loss of mil­lions of jobs,” Mr. Schumer said. “When the pres­i­dent fails to la­bel them a cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tor, he gives them a green light to steal our jobs and wealth time and time again.”

On the Syria cri­sis, a rare bright spot emerged Wed­nes­day when Mr. Lavrov told re­porters that Mr. Putin was will­ing to re-es­tab­lish the U.S.-Rus­sia de­con­flic­tion line.

“We are will­ing to put it back into force,” but it re­quired that Washington reaf­firm that its Syria strat­egy is fo­cused on de­feat­ing the Is­lamic State and not on desta­bi­liz­ing the regime of Mr. As­sad, Mr. Lavrov said.

The an­nounce­ment was made af­ter Mr. Tiller­son’s two-hour meet­ing with Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Putin as part of the bi­lat­eral se­cu­rity sum­mit in Moscow.

Mr. Trump as­serted that the talks in Moscow went “maybe bet­ter than an­tic­i­pated.”

Asked whether his views of Mr. Putin have changed, Mr. Trump replied, “I would love to be able to get along with every­body. Rus­sia is a strong coun­try. I don’t know Putin.”

The es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions with Rus­sia un­der­scored the im­por­tance of Mr. Trump’s meet­ing at the White House with NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg.

Af­ter rais­ing ques­tions about NATO’s value dur­ing the cam­paign, Mr. Trump said Wed­nes­day that he is “100 per­cent” com­mit­ted to the se­cu­rity al­liance and that it is no longer ob­so­lete.

“They made a change, and now they do fight ter­ror­ism,” Mr. Trump said of NATO. “I said it was ob­so­lete. It’s no longer ob­so­lete.”

Mr. Trump and Mr. Stoltenberg also dis­cussed press­ing NATO mem­bers to pay more of their “fair bur­den” for the al­liance — 2 per­cent of each coun­try’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct. Only six na­tions in the 28-mem­ber al­liance have reached that goal, which Mr. Trump made a cam­paign is­sue.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

PES­SIMISTIC: Pres­i­dent Trump, af­ter Sec­re­tary of State Rex W. Tiller­son’s high­level meet­ing in Rus­sia on Wed­nes­day, said, “Right now, the world is a mess.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Trump met at the White House with NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg on Wed­nes­day and said the se­cu­rity al­liance is no longer ob­so­lete.

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