Trump proposes dropping Russia sanctions in exchange for nuclear arms deal
Donald Trump told the London Times in an interview that he is willing to entertain the idea of swapping the removal of sanctions on Russia imposed after their annexation of Crimea for a nuclear arms reduction treaty.
He also called NATO "obsolete" for its failure to address the problem of terrorism and called Brexit "a great thing."
But Trump, who will be inaugurated on Friday as the 45th U.S. president, raised the prospect of the first big nuclear arms control agreement with Moscow since the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed by President Barack Obama in 2010.
"They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia," the Republican president-elect was quoted as saying by The Times.
"For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it. But Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit."
The United States and Russia are by far the world's biggest nuclear powers. The United States has 1,367 nuclear warheads on deployed strategic missiles and bombers, and Russia has 1,796 such deployed warheads, according to the latest published assessment by the U.S. State Department.
Under the 2010 New START treaty, Russia and the United States agreed to limit the number of long-range, strategic nuclear weapons they can deploy.
Trump has said he will seek to improve relations with Moscow despite criticism that he is too eager to make an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The United States and other Western powers imposed sanctions on Russia in 2014 over its annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine and its support for pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Asked whether he would trust German Chancellor Angela Merkel or Putin more, Trump said: "Well, I start off trusting both --but let’s see how long that lasts. It may not last long at all."
Many of Trump's foreign policy positions had been talked about during the campaign, including his view that NATO is obsolete. But this is his first hint of how he might approach negotiating with Vladimir Putin.
In the interview with The Times, Trump was also critical of Russia's intervention in Syria's civil war which, along with the help of Iran, has tilted the conflict in President Bashar al-Assad's favor.
"I think it's a very rough thing," Trump said of Russian intervention in Syria. "Aleppo has been such a terrible humanitarian situation."
The war has killed more than 300,000 people, created the world's worst refugee crisis and aided the rise of the Islamic State militant group.
On NATO, Trump repeated his view that the military alliance was obsolete but said it was still very important for him.
"I took such heat, when I said NATO was obsolete," Trump told The Times, referring to comments he made during his presidential election campaign. "It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror. I took a lot of heat for two days. And then they started saying Trump is right."
Trump said many NATO member states were not paying their fair share for U.S. protection.
“A lot of these countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States," Trump said. "With that being said, NATO is very important to me. There’s five countries that are paying what they’re supposed to. Five. It’s not much."
The idea that Trump is a tool of Russia, as hinted at by Democrats, is a product of the hysteria generated by Trump's victory. It's irrational to believe such nonsense, but that won't stop Trump's opponents from trying to make the ridiculous sound reasonable.
But at the same time, the idea that Putin would trade sanctions relief for a nuclear arms reduction is a non-starter. The sanctions aren't bitting the Russian economy as much as they could have. They are mostly aimed at individuals in Putin's inner circle, with restrictions on foreign bank accounts and travel.
And why should Putin look to reduce nuclear arms when he's spending billions to modernize them? Unless Trump is ready to give away the store and allow Russia's modernization while curbing efforts by the U.S. to improve our own arsenal, Putin probably won't bite.
Trump may be trying to light a fire under NATO by calling it "obsolete." NATO is alliance in search of a reason for being, and getting NATO members to think about the future of the alliance can only be a good thing.
Trump has put Europe on notice that they have a brand new negotiating partner who is taking an entirely different approach to transatlantic relations from his predecessor's.