Donald Trump said to plan expulsion of Russian diplomats over spy-poison case in UK3 min read . Updated: 24 Mar 2018, 10:46 PM IST
Donald Trump is preparing to expel Russian diplomats from the US in response to the nerve-agent poisoning of a former Russian spy in the UK. The expulsions are likely to be announced on Monday
Washington: President Donald Trump is preparing to expel dozens of Russian diplomats from the US in response to the nerve-agent poisoning of a former Russian spy in the UK, two people familiar with the matter said on Saturday.
Trump agreed with the recommendation of advisers and the expulsions are likely to be announced on Monday, the people said, though they cautioned that Trump’s decision may not be final. Trump is prepared to act but wants to be sure European allies will take similar steps against Russia before doing so, aides said.
The advisers reached recommendations for a US response to the UK attack at a National Security Council meeting on Wednesday and honed the proposals on Friday. Trump discussed the issue Friday with US ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, attorney general Jeff Sessions, defence secretary James Mattis, director of national intelligence Dan Coats, outgoing national security adviser H.R. McMaster and others, two people said.
All of the people familiar with the discussions asked not to be identified. White House spokespeople declined to comment.
Deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah told Bloomberg on Saturday, “The United States stands firmly with the United Kingdom in condemning Russia’s outrageous action. The president is always considering options to hold Russia accountable in response to its malign activities. We have no announcements at this time."
A battle within the White House over how to best address the provocations of Russian President Vladimir Putin has been intensifying. The internal divisions flared this week after Trump congratulated Putin on his recent re-election without first reviewing written guidance that he not do so, a person familiar with the matter said.
Trump has meanwhile reshaped his national security staff. On Thursday, he announced he would replace McMaster, who favoured a tougher public posture toward Putin, with John Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations who is a staunch conservative and military hawk. That move came just a week after the president fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had also adopted a more confrontational stance toward Russia, and nominated Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, to replace him.
Congress has pressured Trump to get tougher on Putin and passed legislation in August giving lawmakers the power to block the president from lifting punitive U.S. measures imposed after Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. Substantively, Washington’s policy toward Russia has become tougher in recent months, though Trump’s critics say he has dragged his feet in responding to Putin’s provocations.
Trump has agreed to adopt increasingly tough policy stances on Russia. But the president places a priority on maintaining a personal relationship with the Russian president, won’t publicly attack him, and doesn’t see any benefit to the US in confronting Putin in one-on-one encounters, one administration official said Thursday.
Trump defended his call with Putin on Twitter on Wednesday, dismissing those who “wanted me to excoriate him."
“They are wrong!" Trump wrote. “Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing."
British Prime Minister Theresa May earlier this month condemned Russia for the nerve agent attack that critically injured the former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia. A British police officer was also hospitalized. May ordered 23 Russians — who she said were undeclared spies — to leave Britain in retaliation. She has sought the cooperation of other countries in her campaign to punish Moscow.
Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, said on Friday night that “the United States is considering a range of options to respond to Russia’s outrageous actions in the UK, both to demonstrate our solidarity with our ally and to hold Russia accountable for its clear breach of international norms and agreements."
She added that the State Department “doesn’t have any actions to announce today."
Regardless of Trump’s rhetoric, his administration sees the Kremlin as a threat.
A national defence strategy assembled by the Pentagon under Mattis and publicly summarized in January described China and Russia as the top global adversaries of the US. Earlier this month, the administration slapped financial sanctions against a St. Petersburg-based internet “troll farm" and its alleged owner — a close Putin ally — whom Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted over a covert social media campaign to influence the 2016 election. Bloomberg