16 Jan 2017

Trump would end Russian sanctions in exchange for nuclear deal

5:36 pm on 16 January 2017

US President-elect Donald Trump will propose offering to end sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea in return for a nuclear arms reduction deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he says.

A billboard in Montenegro sums up a possible future policy direction.

"Let's make the world great again - together!": A billboard in Montenegro sums up a possible future policy direction for the US president-elect (file). Photo: AFP

Mr Trump, in an interview with London's The Times published online on Sunday (Monday NZT), was deeply critical of previous US foreign policy, describing the invasion of Iraq as possibly the gravest error in the country's history and akin to "throwing rocks into a beehive".

But ahead of his inauguration as the 45th US president, Mr Trump raised the prospect of the first major step toward nuclear arms control since President Barack Obama struck a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia 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 US and Russia are by far the world's biggest nuclear powers. The US has 1367 nuclear warheads on deployed strategic missiles and bombers, while Russia has 1796 such deployed warheads, according to the latest published assessment by the US State Department.

Mr Trump has vowed to improve relations with Moscow, even as he faces criticism he is too eager to make an ally of Mr Putin, a former KGB spy who rose to the top of the Kremlin in 1999.

The issue has faced renewed scrutiny after an unsubstantiated report that Russia had collected compromising information about Mr Trump.

Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with his Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow in October 2015.

Syria's Bashar al-Assad, left, and Russia's Vladimir Putin: Donald Trump said Russia's involvement in the Syrian civil war was "a very bad thing". Photo: AFP

The unverified dossier was summarized in a US intelligence report presented to him and Mr Obama this month that concluded Russia tried to sway the outcome of the 8 November election in Mr Trump's favour by hacking and other means. The report did not make an assessment on whether Russia's attempts affected the election's outcome.

Mr Trump accused US intelligence agencies of leaking the dossier information, which he called "fake news" and phoney stuff." Intelligence leaders denied the charge.

Russia's intervention in Syria 'very bad thing'

In the interview with The Times, Mr Trump was also critical of Russia's intervention in the Syrian civil war, which, along with the help of Iran, has tilted the conflict in President Bashar al-Assad's favour.

Mr Trump said Mr Putin's intervention in Syria was "a very bad thing" that had led to 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, Mr Trump repeated his view that the military alliance was obsolete but added it was still very important for him.

"I took such heat, when I said NATO was obsolete," Mr Trump told The Times, speaking of comments during his presidential 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."

Mr Trump added that many NATO members were not paying their fair share for US 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," Mr 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."

Mr Trump also said he would appoint his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to broker a Middle East peace deal, urged Britain to veto any new UN Security Council resolution critical of Israel, and criticised Mr Obama's handling of the Iran nuclear deal.

On Britain's vote to leave the European Union, Mr Trump said: "Brexit is going to end up being a great thing" and said he was eager to get a trade deal done with the UK.

- Reuters

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