Trump puts brakes on new Rus­sian sanc­tions

Re­mains com­mit­ted to Syria troop pullout

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

Pres­i­dent Trump on Mon­day or­dered a hold on new eco­nomic sanc­tions against Rus­sia over its sup­port for Syria and said he re­main com­mit­ted to pulling U.S. troops out of the war-torn na­tion, de­spite what was widely seen as a suc­cess­ful strike with al­lies on Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s chem­i­cal weapons in­fras­truc­ture over the week­end.

The re­ver­sal an­nounced by the White House on Mon­day seemed to un­der­score Mr. Trump’s con­tin­ued am­biva­lence over the way for­ward in Syria, where he has clashed with his own civil­ian and mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers over the wis­dom and ne­ces­sity of keep­ing U.S. troops sta­tioned on the chaotic Syr­ian bat­tle­field where fight­ers from Rus­sia, Iran, Tur­key and ter­ror groups like Is­lamic State are all jock­ey­ing to ter­ri­tory and in­flu­ence.

A day af­ter U.S. Am­bas­sador to the U.N. Nikki Ha­ley said new eco­nomic penal­ties on Rus­sia for its sup­port of Syria’s chem­i­cal weapons pro­gram were im­mi­nent, Mr. Trump said, essen­tially, not so fast.

“We’re eval­u­at­ing, but noth­ing to an­nounce right now,” White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders told re­porters of pos­si­ble sanc­tions.

Those fa­vor­ing a tougher line Rus­sia got fresh am­mu­ni­tion late Mon­day when the FBI, Depart­ment

of Home­land Se­cu­rity and Britain’s Na­tional Cy­ber Se­cu­rity Cen­ter is­sued an ex­tra­or­di­nary “joint tech­ni­cal alert” con­tain­ing some of the most de­tailed warn­ings to date of “ma­li­cious cy­ber ac­tiv­ity car­ried out by the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment.”

The hacks, tar­get­ing routers, switches, fire­walls and other vul­ner­a­ble nodes, be­longed to “pri­mar­ily gov­ern­ment and pri­vate-sec­tor or­ga­ni­za­tions, crit­i­cal in­fras­truc­ture providers, and the in­ter­net ser­vice providers (ISPs) sup­port­ing these sec­tors.”

“Rus­sian state-spon­sored ac­tors are us­ing com­pro­mised routers to con­duct spoof­ing ‘man-in-the-mid­dle’ at­tacks to sup­port es­pi­onage, ex­tract in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, main­tain per­sis­tent ac­cess to vic­tim net­works, and po­ten­tially lay a foun­da­tion for fu­ture of­fen­sive op­er­a­tions,” the three-page alert said.

“The ac­tiv­ity high­lighted to­day is part of a re­peated pat­tern of dis­rup­tive and harm­ful ma­li­cious cy­ber ac­tion car­ried out by the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment,” Howard Mar­shall, FBI deputy as­sis­tant di­rec­tor, said in a state­ment.

The alert comes as the U.S. and its al­lies and Syria and its al­lies try to as­sess the al­tered strate­gic land­scape af­ter the large but lim­ited strikes car­rier out in the early hours of Satur­day morn­ing by U.S., Bri­tish and French forces.

Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary is sup­port­ing the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment, and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion said Moscow bears re­spon­si­bil­ity for fail­ing to re­strain the chem­i­cal-weapons at­tack by its ally on April 7 that killed dozens of civil­ians in Douma area near Da­m­as­cus. Af­ter the at­tack, the last anti-gov­ern­ment rebel forces in the re­gion around the cap­i­tal agreed to leave their en­clave.

Ha­ley and Trump

On Sun­day, Ms. Ha­ley, who has emerged as one of Mr. Trump’s more hawk­ish ad­vis­ers when deal­ing with Rus­sia, said the ad­min­is­tra­tion was ready to fol­low up the airstrikes with eco­nomic sanc­tions to pun­ish Moscow for its sup­port of the As­sad chem­i­cal weapons pro­grams.

“You will see that Rus­sian sanc­tions will be com­ing down,” she said on CBS. “[Trea­sury] Sec­re­tary [Steven] Mnuchin will be an­nounc­ing those on Mon­day, if he hasn’t al­ready. And they will go di­rectly to any sort of com­pa­nies that were deal­ing with equip­ment re­lated to As­sad and chem­i­cal weapons used.”

But Mr. Trump, who has never given up a hope that he and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin could forge a bet­ter bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship, re­port­edly was an­gered by Ms. Ha­ley’s com­ments and told na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials he wasn’t ready to roll out new sanc­tions yet.

Af­ter Ms. Ha­ley’s com­ments, Krem­lin press sec­re­tary Dmitry Peskov said the pro­posed sanc­tions were a U.S. ploy to med­dle with the Rus­sian econ­omy with “undis­guised at­tempts of un­fair com­pe­ti­tion.”

“The sanc­tion cam­paign against Rus­sia is truly as­sum­ing the na­ture of an ob­ses­sive idea,” Mr. Peskov said. “We still do not see these sanc­tions as law­ful. Cer­tainly, this can­not have any re­la­tion to and can­not be mo­ti­vated by con­sid­er­a­tions of the sit­u­a­tion in Syria or any other coun­try.”

Separately, a team of ex­perts from the Hague-based Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons (OPCW) said it had run into prob­lems reach­ing the site in Douma where the sus­pected chem­i­cal weapons at­tack had been launched — de­spite prom­ises from Syr­ian and Rus­sian of­fi­cials of unim­peded ac­cess for the team’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion. It was not clear what was pre­vent­ing the OPCW team, which had been in the coun­try more than two days, from mak­ing the trip.

But Mr. Trump’s Rus­sia de­ci­sion was al­ready re­ver­ber­at­ing across Capi­tol Hill.

Rep. Eliot L. En­gel of New York, rank­ing Demo­crat on the House Com­mit­tee on For­eign Af­fairs, said he was “out­raged” that the pres­i­dent was pulling back from sanc­tions on Rus­sia for its sup­port of the As­sad gov­ern­ment.

“This sends a mes­sage to gov­ern­ments around the world that they can sup­port bru­tal, crim­i­nal be­hav­ior with­out se­ri­ous con­se­quences,” Mr. En­gel said. “We must ex­act a cost if As­sad’s al­lies con­tinue their sup­port. Pres­i­dent Trump is out of step with the Amer­i­can peo­ple, Amer­i­can val­ues — and as this sit­u­a­tion has made clear, his own ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

Get­ting out

The White House said Mon­day that the dra­matic events of re­cent days have not changed Mr. Trump’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to avoid a long-term U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence in Syria, de­spite a claim by French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron that he per­suaded Mr. Trump to keep Amer­i­can forces on the con­flict.

“We still have troops on the ground, but the pres­i­dent wants to bring those peo­ple home and that hasn’t shifted,” Mrs. San­ders said, adding, “We don’t have a time frame on it.”

Mr. Macron said af­ter the mis­sile strikes last week­end that he per­suaded Mr. Trump to sta­tion U.S. troops there for the long run. Mr. Trump had an­nounced two weeks ago that he wants to with­draw about 2,000 U.S. troops as soon as pos­si­ble from Syria, where they have been fight­ing the Is­lamic State. In a TV in­ter­view Sun­day night, Mr. Macron took the credit for the strike in Syria, say­ing he worked out a list of tar­gets with Mr. Trump and per­suaded him to limit ac­tion to chem­i­cal-weapons fa­cil­i­ties.

Mrs. San­ders said U.S. pol­icy in Syria “hasn’t changed.”

“We’re still com­mit­ted to de­feat­ing ISIS. We wanted to see that hap­pen,” she said. “The pres­i­dent also wants the peo­ple in the re­gion, our Gulf part­ners, to step up and do more.”

Mr. Trump wasn’t the only West­ern leader fac­ing heat for the Syria mis­sion.

In Lon­don, Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May told restive law­mak­ers Mon­day that mil­i­tary airstrikes on Syria were right both legally and morally, ac­cus­ing Ms. As­sad and the Krem­lin of at­tempt­ing to cover up ev­i­dence of a deadly chem­i­cal weapons at­tack.

Mrs. May faced down her do­mes­tic crit­ics in Par­lia­ment as Euro­pean Union for­eign min­is­ters united to say they un­der­stood the need for the airstrikes and called for a new push for a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to the war in Syria, The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported.

Jeremy Cor­byn, leader of the main op­po­si­tion La­bor Party, called the airstrikes “legally ques­tion­able” and ac­cused Mrs. May of “fol­low­ing Don­ald Trump’s lead.” Mr. Cor­byn said the Con­ser­va­tive prime min­is­ter should re­mem­ber she “is ac­count­able to this Par­lia­ment, not to the whims of the U.S. pres­i­dent.

Mr. Trump on Mon­day hailed the suc­cess of the mis­siles strikes on Syria, boast­ing that Syr­ian and Rus­sian air de­fense sys­tems were un­able to shoot down even one of the al­lies’ mis­siles last week­end.

“With way over 100 mis­siles shot in, they didn’t shoot one down,” Mr. Trump said to cheers at an event on the econ­omy in Hialeah, Florida. “The equip­ment didn’t work too well, their equip­ment.”

The pres­i­dent scoffed at re­ports that Syr­ian and Rus­sian forces had shot down dozens of the U.S. mis­siles.

“You heard, ‘Oh, they shot 40 down. Then they shot 50 down,’” Mr. Trump said. He in­sisted, “Ev­ery sin­gle one hit their tar­get.”

The pres­i­dent told the crowd, “We just had a big suc­cess­ful hit. Did our gen­er­als do a great job?”

Mr. Trump also in­tro­duced his new na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, John R. Bolton, who re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion from the crowd.

“John, that’s pretty good, I didn’t ex­pect that,” Mr. Trump joked. “I’m a lit­tle jeal­ous.”

Mr. Trump asked the crowd, “Are you giv­ing him all the credit? You know that means the end of his job.”

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