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US foreign policy | + Addr met Trump to call Putin as he considers lifting Russia sanctions Theresa May sticks to Obama-era policy in White House meeting with US president ©arP eCe0°0 Bam swe 5 HOURS AGO by: Max Seddon in Moscow and Courtney Weaver In Washington Donald Trump will wade into the most contentious foreign policy issue of his tumultuous young presidency on Saturday, when he speaks to President Vladimir Putin of Russia as he considers whether to lift Obama-era sanctions against the Kremlin. At a White House meeting with Theresa May, the UK prime minister, Mr Trump said while he wanted good relations with Russia, it was “very early to be talking about” lifting sanctions. “We'll China, that would be a and ¢ what happens,” he said. “If we could have good relations with Russi: tremendou: Mrs May made clear she was sticking to the established western policy of maintaining sanctions until the Kremlin lives up to the terms of a Ukrainian peace deal struck in Minsk in 2015 — the same stance as Mr Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama “As far as the UK is concerned, we believe that sanctions should continue until that agreement is fully implemented, “ Mrs May said. ‘The firm stance by Mrs May echoes similar firmness in Berlin and could foreshadow transatlantic tensions between Washington and its European allies should Mr Trump pursue rapprochement with Moscow. The call to Mr Putin, scheduled the same day as Mr Trump’s first White House calls with the leaders of Germany and France, will be his first chance to make good on his pro-Russia campaign rhetoric, in which he falsely boasted the Russian leader called him a genius and praised Moscow’s Syrian offensive as a forceful counterterrorism campaign. During the campaign, Mr Trump raised the prospect of scrapping sanctions imposed on Moscow for Mr Putin’s support for Ukrainian separatists and his annexation of Crimea. Kellyanne Conway, a senior White House aide, said the move was being evaluated. “All of this is under consideration,” Ms Conway told Fox News. According to senior congressional staff, a member of Mr Trump's team has already drafted an executive order to lift sanctions on Russia. The staff members said they had learned of the report from concerned career personnel at the National Security Council, who privately sounded the alarm. While scrutiny of possible ties between Mr Trump and the Kremlin coloured the presidential race, concerns intensified after the US intelligence community concluded Mr Putin had ordered a propaganda campaign to undermine Mr Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, including the hacking of campaign computer servers. Mr Trump has the power to revoke many of the US sanctions as most were imposed through executive action rather than by Congress. However, two senators warned on Friday that they would seek to work with Congress to codify the sanctions into law if Mr Trump tries to lift them. Lifting sanctions “would send a dangerous message”, said senator Rob Portman. “Each of our last three presidents had high hopes for building a partnership with the Russian government. Each attempt failed, not for lack of good faith and effort on the US side but because Putin wants to be our enemy,” added senator John McCai EU sanctions imposed in concert with the US are not due to be renewed until July, but European diplomats worry the EU’s already fragile consensus on maintaining them could quickly crumble following a unilateral White House decision. Related article “It would be seen certainly as a change because on this issue [the EU and US] have In US, Theresa May strikes balance between courtship and candour co-operated and co-ordinated closely with each other,” said a senior Brussels diplomat. Russian politicians have greeted Mr Trump’s UK leader hails special relationship | election with euphoria — the Russian but warns Trump not to ‘step back’ Peale parliament gave him a standing ovation and Mr Putin later claimed that no one but Russia thought Mr Trump would win — but the Kremlin said it was not expecting any quick decisions on sanctions in Washington. “This is the first phone contact since Trump, took office. We're hardly expecting substantive contacts across the board from this phone conversation,” Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s spokesman, told reporters. “Let’s see and stock up on patience.” Mr Peskov said no plans had been finalised for the two presidents to meet in person, though officials on both sides have been working behind the scenes to set up a summit in a neutral country, most likely Iceland. In addition to unsettling European allies — particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was the lead advocate for the EU sanctions regime — the move could also wreak havoc on Mr Trump's relations with Republicans in Congress, many of whom are hawkish on Russia. ‘Two Republican congressional staff members said a move to lift the sanctions could derail the Senate's confirmation of Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump's choice for secretary of state. Crities fear that the former ExxonMobil boss will not be tough enough on Russia, given his previous business relationship with Mr Putin while running the oil company, a big Russia investor. erted that he can improve relations with Ru: Mr Trump ha: as president and establish a better personal relationship with Mr Putin than Mr Obama. Still, observers question what Mr Trump and his administration would want in return for lifting sanctions on Russia. One possibility would be a counterterrorism agreement with Russia encompassing Syria, while others envisage a series of smaller compromises by Moscow, such as lifting a ban on US families adopting Rus children. Russian officials have discussed holding the first Trump-Putin meetingin Reykjavik, which would echo the historic Ronald Reagan-Mikhail Gorbachev meeting that helped bring about the end of the cold war. Related article It would also underscore any rapprochement with Mr Trump on issues Mr Putin has long, What the world hears seen as core to Russia’s interests. These from Donald Trump include abandoning the transatlantic Foreign powers prepare to live doctrine of containment held by Nato, in with a rogue US leader favour of an end to western sanctions over Ukraine and a global anti-terror alliance led jointly from Washington and Moscow. But officials in Moscow are wary of whether Mr Trump's professed desire for warmer relations — which runs against public statements made by key cabinet figures — will be enough to end the impasse. “The head of state of any country is obliged to act in the interests of his state first and foremost,” said Alexei Kondratiev, a member of Russia’s upper house of parliament. “All these groundless statements people are making that Trump’s our guy are just wrong.” Berlin is growing alarmed as Mr Trump has shown little sign of retreating from his views in his first week in office and instead pressed ahead with contentious proposals, such as the border wall. Even Ms Merkel, who is generally restrained in criticising allies, has hinted of the problems presented by Mr Trump’s criticisms of the co-operative liberal world order and open economic ties. Standing next to President Francois Hollande of France in Berlin, the chancellor said: “We see that the global framework conditions are changing dramatically and quickly and we must respond to these new challenges, including those concerning the defence of a free society, those concerning the defence of free trade, and those concerning the economie challenges coming, for example, from the growing competitiveness of the developing countries.” Additional reporting by Stefan Wagstyl in Berlin and Arthur Beesley in Brussels Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.