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President Donald Trump has asked National Security Council staff to come up with “deliverables” that he can offer to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Germany next week, The Guardian reported Thursday.
It is unclear what those deliverables would look like, but they could include an offer to ease sanctions – which the Trump administration has reportedly looked into at least twice since January – or to give back the Russian diplomatic compounds that President Barack Obama ordered evacuated in December. Obama issued new sanctions and closed the facilities in response to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
The news comes on the heels of a report published by The Associated Press last week that said Trump had been pushing for a full bilateral meeting with Putin rather than just an informal “pull-aside” on the sidelines of the G-20 summit.
It is unclear what Trump would ask for in return for such concessions, if anything. A former official familiar with the debate inside the White House told The Guardian that the NSC had resisted “offering anything up without anything back in return.”
A White House official recently told Business Insider that the administration would not lift or alter the existing sanctions until Moscow “fully honors its commitments to resolve the crisis in Ukraine.” But the White House has twice looked into lifting the sanctions since January, including just days after the president’s inauguration.
Tom Malinowski, who stepped down as Obama’s assistant secretary of state for human rights on January 19, said in an interview earlier this month that if those efforts had been successful, it would have given the Russians “exactly what they wanted in exchange for absolutely nothing.”
“As you would expect for a president who campaigned on getting rid of impediments to chummy US-Russia relations, his administration immediately started charting ways forward to achieving that,” Malinowski said.
Malinowski said that he and Daniel Fried, who was the chief US coordinator for sanctions policy until he retired in late February, had to lobby Congress to halt the development of the sanctions-lifting package after government officials began ringing “alarm bells about possible concessions being made” to Russia.
The president’s defenders say that offering such concessions is a standard diplomatic technique. Others, however, have said the Russians would most likely perceive an offer to roll back sanctions or return the compounds, while asking for little or nothing in return, as a sign of weakness.
“This isn’t how negotiation with the Kremlin works,” said Molly McKew, an expert on information warfare and a foreign-policy consultant. “If you go in prepared to offer things for ???, you already conceded too much.”
But top administration and intelligence officials have reportedly been struggling to convey to Trump the gravity of the threat posed by Russia’s election meddling, according to CNN.
Former FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee in testimony earlier this month that Trump never asked him about Russia’s interference in the US election as it related to national security in their nine conversations before Trump fired him in May. And National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers told lawmakers in a recent closed-door briefing that he was struggling to persuade Trump to accept the intelligence community’s conclusions about Russia’s interference, CNN reported.
The Guardian report also follows news that the White House is pushing to remove a key portion of a new Russia sanctions bill passed by the Senate earlier this month that would require the president to inform Congress before taking any action that could alter the sanctions regime.
“There are some provisions in the Senate bill that would inadvertently impair the Treasury’s ability to wield its sanctions tools (as we did the other day), risk endangering the trans-Atlantic sanctions coalition, and weaken the administration’s ability to credibly signal that it would calibrate our sanctions in response to Russian behavior,” a White House official told Business Insider last week.
The official added that while the administration “remains committed” to the existing sanctions and to working with Congress, any effort to alter or remove those provisions “is ultimately a bid to preserve the idea of co-equal branches of government.”
“This isn’t about sanctions on Russia,” the official said. “It is about Congress trying to usurp the executive branch’s prerogative to conduct US foreign policy.”