“As for sanctions, very early to be talking about that,” Mr. Trump said Friday at a White House news conference with Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain. “But we look to have a great relationship with all countries, ideally.”
As for Mr. Putin, he offered a far more distant assessment after months of praising the Russian president for his leadership. “I don’t know the gentleman,” Mr. Trump said. “I hope we have a fantastic relationship. That’s possible, and it’s also possible that we won’t. We will see what happens.”
Standing at Mr. Trump’s side, Mrs. May warned against easing sanctions unless Russia abides by a peace settlement for Ukraine negotiated in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. “We believe the sanctions should continue until we see that Minsk Agreement fully implemented, and we’ve been continuing to argue that inside the European Union,” she said.
Any talk of lifting sanctions is all but certain to spark the first serious conflagration between Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans, who have largely given the president a pass on myriad policy areas where they disagree. Republican lawmakers have been bracing for Mr. Trump to make this move, and their concerns deepened Friday when his counselor, Kellyanne Conway, said in an interview that removing sanctions was under consideration.
Senator John McCain of Arizona warned Mr. Trump on Friday against lifting sanctions and vowed to push legislation reinstating them if he does, a measure that already has strong bipartisan support, including from Republicans like Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, who has largely shunned confrontation with Mr. Trump, has been a longstanding opponent of lifting sanctions, a position he forcefully reiterated on Friday.
In a scathing statement against Mr. Putin, Mr. McCain cataloged all of Russia’s controversial actions in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere and said it could not be trusted as a partner.
“President Trump should remember this when he speaks to Vladimir Putin,” Mr. McCain said. “He should remember that the man on the other end of the line is a murderer and a thug who seeks to undermine American national security interests at every turn. For our commander in chief to think otherwise would be naïve and dangerous.”
Mr. Portman concurred, saying in a statement, “We must stand by our allies in the region, including Ukraine.”
Mr. Trump’s meeting with Mrs. May was his first with a visiting foreign leader since taking office with a promise to pursue an “America First” foreign policy. For Mr. Trump, it was a debut on the world stage that took on additional meaning after a scheduled White House visit by Mexico’s president next week fell apart in a dispute over the border wall Mr. Trump wants to build.
Mr. Trump appeared comfortable and confident with Mrs. May standing to his right. He offered a brief opening statement that referred twice to the “special relationship” between the two countries, a phrase Britons take seriously. He offered crisp answers, in contrast to Mr. Obama, who tended to talk at length. While Mr. Trump did not demonstrate detailed policy knowledge, he went out of his way to emphasize commonalities with Mrs. May.
He also tried to reassure Europeans who view him with deep skepticism. When a British reporter referred to him as a “brash TV extrovert,” Mr. Trump replied, “Actually, I’m not as brash as you might think.”
Mrs. May, eager to forge a relationship with him akin to Margaret Thatcher’s alliance with Ronald Reagan, reciprocated the warm sentiments, praising his “stunning election victory” and conveying an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II for the president to make a state visit, which he accepted.
Addressing one area of disagreement, Mrs. May said that the president had privately expressed his support for NATO, despite past comments disparaging the alliance as “obsolete.” “Mr. President,” she said, “I think you said, you confirmed that you’re 100 percent behind NATO.”
Mr. Trump embraced the decision by British voters to exit the European Union, a referendum known as “Brexit” that he and others have seen as a precursor to his own election. “I think Brexit’s going to be a wonderful thing for your country,” he said. “I think when it irons out, you’re going to have your identity and you’re going to have the people that you want in your country.”
Mr. Trump and Mrs. May talked about negotiating a new free-trade agreement between the two English-speaking nations.
Ms. May is not the only European leader worried about Mr. Trump’s blossoming friendship with Russia, which United States intelligence agencies have concluded hacked Democratic email accounts to influence the American election last year. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has been a leading voice of keeping the pressure on the Kremlin, and Mr. Trump is scheduled to talk with her by telephone, too.
The United States and Europe have imposed a sanctions on Russian officials and companies, mainly in response to the seizure and annexation of Crimea and the separatist war fomented in eastern Ukraine. Before leaving office, Mr. Obama imposed additional sanctions in response to the Russian election hacking.
In an interview with The Times of London shortly before taking office, Mr. Trump suggested a bargain that would ease sanctions on Russia in exchange for nuclear arms cuts and cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State.
One topic that may come up on Saturday’s call is the fate of Austin Tice, a freelance journalist who disappeared in Syria in 2012. Mr. Trump may ask Mr. Putin for help in pressuring Russia’s ally, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, to release Mr. Tice, according to an official briefed on the matter. Syria has never acknowledged holding him, but Mr. Trump has considered dropping support for the Syrian opposition.
Continue reading the main story