Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicated to senators Wednesday that President Donald Trump is serious in his desire to have Russia rejoin the Group of 7 countries even absent any improvements in Moscow’s support for Russian separatists in Ukraine.
The U.S. president startled European allies earlier this month when he announced his wish to have Russia back in the G-7 fold. Moscow was expelled in 2014 from the influential grouping of wealthy industrialized democracies — at the urging of President Barack Obama — as a consequence for Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Since that time, there has been scant improvement in the military situation in Ukraine where, in the eastern part of the country, Russian-backed separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk have carved out weak proto-states.
“Whether you like it or not, and it may not be politically correct, but we have a world to run,” Trump said recently. “And in the G-7, which used to be the G-8, they threw Russia out. They should let Russia come back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”
Pompeo told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee responsible for funding the State Department, that “the president’s comments speak for themselves.”
“The president deeply believes that having Russia be part of these important geo-strategic conversations is inevitable,” the secretary testified, adding that Trump is searching for venues that will allow him to have “productive conversations” with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Earlier in the day, U.S. national security advisor John Bolton announced Trump and Putin had agreed to hold their first formal summit in July with the exact date and location to be revealed on Thursday. The timing of the summit so close to this year’s NATO summit in Brussels is raising concerns in Europe that Trump could publicly renew his past criticisms of the alliance as “obsolete.”
Pompeo declined to reveal much about the president’s thinking going into the Russia summit, including on whether Trump was prepared to bargain away U.S. opposition to the annexation of Crimea in return for improvements in other parts of the bilateral relationship.
“I am confident that when the president meets with Vladimir Putin, he will make clear that meddling in our elections is absolutely unacceptable,” Pompeo added.
Even as Trump is eager to engage more with the Russian leader, his State Department is working to ensure that Italy’s new populist-nationalist government, which is friendly to Moscow, stays on board with European Union sanctions against Russia. The sanctions were imposed in 2014 in response to the Crimea annexation and must be renewed every six months. But that requires a consensus vote by the entire 28-member union.
“It suggests that unless something we can’t predict happens that the European Union will lift sanctions on Russia in a short-time,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill.
But Pompeo said his department has been working hard at persuading the Italians to hold the line on sanctions. “I am more optimistic than you are,” he told Durbin.
Watch: Tillerson Would Have Advocated for Military Show of Force in Crimea Situation