US President Donald Trump says he is in the early stages of considering whether to lift sanctions on Russia, as British Prime Minister Theresa May cautioned that such a move would be premature.
His caution on the Russian sanctions came in response to a question at a joint news conference at the White House with May, the first foreign leader to visit the president since his inauguration.
It comes on the back of Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war and US intelligence agencies finding that Moscow meddled in the US election campaign.
“As far as the sanctions, (it is) very early to be talking about that,” Trump said, insisting he wanted to follow through on his campaign pledge to pursue better relations with Russia.
May made clear Britain wants to continue sanctions until Russian President Vladimir Putin carries out the requirements in a ceasefire agreement arranged in Belarus in 2014.
“We believe the sanctions should continue until we see the Minsk agreement fully implemented. And we’ve been continuing to argue that inside the European Union,” May said.
Trump and May took pains to demonstrate a readiness to maintain the “special relationship” between the United States and Britain, something that is particularly important for May as she steers Britain out of the European Union.
We have the opportunity, indeed the responsibility, to renew the special relationship for this new age. pic.twitter.com/vvOMAtPyvZ
— Theresa May (@theresa_may) January 27, 2017
They posed for photos before a bust of Winston Churchill in the Oval Office and Trump accepted an invitation from Queen Elizabeth to visit Britain later this year.
A long-time Putin critic, Senator John McCain, urged Trump not to lift the sanctions, which he called “a reckless course.
“If he does not, I will work with my colleagues to codify sanctions against Russia into law,” said McCain, a long-time Putin critic.
House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top U.S. elected Republican, told Politico the sanctions “should stay”.
The White House encounter between Trump and May was heavily scrutinised for signs on how the relationship would develop between the leaders.
“I’m not as brash as you might think,” Trump said at the news conference.
“I’m a people person and I think you are too, Theresa. I think we’re going to have a fantastic relationship.”
It was left up to May to issue support for NATO in her opening remarks at their news conference, and to encourage Trump’s backing of the organisation, which he has called obsolete.
“On defence and security cooperation, we are united in our recognition of NATO as the bulwark of our collective defensc,” she said.
“Today we’ve reaffirmed our unshakeable commitment to this alliance – Mr. President I think you confirmed that you are 100 percent behind NATO.”