President Donald Trump said Friday it was “too early” to start discussing lifting sanctions on Russia, whose leader he will speak with Saturday, though he indicated his interest in warmer ties.
Earlier Friday, though, top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News that lifting US sanctions on Russia would be up for discussion when the two countries’ leaders talk.
“All of that is under consideration,” Conway said when asked specifically whether lifting sanctions approved by the Obama administration would be considered.
Friday night, however, a senior administration official said the current plan was not to lift the Russian sanctions.
Saturday’s phone call will be the first phone conversation between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin since the inauguration. Vice President Mike Pence also will join the call.
“I hear a call was set up and we will see what happens,” Trump said regarding sanctions during a White House news conference.
“We’re looking to have a great relationship with all countries,” Trump added. “If we can have a great relationship with Russia and China and all countries, I’m all for that.”
He added, “How the relationship works out, I won’t be able to tell you that (until) later. I’ve had many times where I thought I’d get along with people and I don’t like them at all.”
Trump also said there was “no guarantee” on a path forward.
The President said he hopes to have a good rapport with Putin but that it was possible they would be adversaries.
“I hope we have a fantastic relationship. That’s possible, and it’s also possible that we won’t. We will see what happens,” he said.
Obama imposed sanctions on Russia throughout his eight years as president and earlier this month expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the United States for alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Obama’s administration also sanctioned a host of Russian banks, defense contractors and energy companies in 2014 for Russia’s continued support for separatists in Ukraine and earlier in the year the administration imposed a range of measures, including asset freezes and travel bans, in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Trump spoke warmly of Putin throughout the 2016 campaign, even questioning whether Russian interests hacked Democratic organizations as part of an attempt to influence the election — a determination made by the US intelligence community.
“The Democratic National Committee would not allow the FBI to study or see its computer info after it was supposedly hacked by Russia,” Trump tweeted earlier this month. “So how and why are they so sure about hacking if they never even requested an examination of the computer servers? What is going on?”
During the campaign, Trump said he didn’t think “anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC,” arguing instead that it could have been “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”
Trump has also said, as he did earlier this month as a news conference, that if Putin likes him, that is a good thing.
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, slammed the Trump administration for considering lifting sanctions on Russia.
“For the sake of America’s national security and that of our allies, I hope President Trump will put an end to this speculation and reject such a reckless course,” McCain said. “If he does not, I will work with my colleagues to codify sanctions against Russia into law.”
McCain added that it would be “naive and dangerous” for Trump to think Putin isn’t an enemy to the United States.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed Friday that Trump would speak with Putin on Saturday, as well as leaders from France and Germany.