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Helsinki Turmoil: Pentagon Authorizes US Allies Buying Russian Weapons

Helsinki Turmoil
U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin leave a press conference after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018.

After President Donald Trump’s stunning press conference Monday beside Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. lawmakers of both sides quickly rebuked Trump for embracing Putin’s assertion that Russia would not interfere within the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

But beyond messaging, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Republicans to do this, to ratchet up sanctions on Russian defense and intelligence services, and abandon efforts to enact a “special rule,” used often by the Pentagon, that would enable the Trump administration to waive some penalties on U.S. allies for buying Russian weapons.

It was area of the avalanche of criticism for Trump after he sided with Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies and the national security advisers, whose consensus view is Russia attacked the U.S. elections. “They said, ‘I think it is Russia.’ I have President Putin. He just said hello just isn’t Russia,” Trump said in Helsinki.

Detailing actions according to him Republican colleagues will need to take to remedy damages, Schumer referred to as the summit, “an insult to all or any Americans: Democrats, Republicans, independents. We have to fully stand up together to push back.”

“If we wait for a long time, our global alliances will fracture, the institutions we created in the wake of World War II will crumble, our allies will consider abandoning us to China yet others, and Putin’s Russia will emerge stronger,” Schumer said.

Democrats are eyeing language in the House-passed 2019 National Defense Authorization Act that might afford more flexibility to waive sanctions needed by the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which Congress overwhelmingly passed recently. The Senate-passed bill failed to have a corresponding provision.

Schumer’s remarks threw a spotlight on negotiations between the House and Senate since they workout various differences in their competing versions from the bills behind closed doors. Lawmakers as well as their staffs are rushing the trouble, hoping to wrap up prior to the end of July, though it’s unclear they will.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has asked lawmakers to permit special national security exemptions for U.S. allies who are buying Russian systems but mean to eventually stop, citing India, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Mattis told lawmakers in April that they wanted the opportunity to interest the secretary of state when it’s inside the country’s interest to waive Russian sanctions. “Then we an enclosed treatments for this method, however it keeps us from being boxed in through the Russians,” he said.

Democrats are argue the proposed fix is over-broad and would likely give Trump the energy to undo the sanctions on anyone, provided that he declares it’s because they’re altering their ties with Russia. “His record doesn’t necessarily suggest he’d feel confined to use the ability only for that narrow purpose,” said one House Democratic aide.

It’s unclear whether Republicans will accede to Schumer’s demands, but half them happen to be critical of Trump’s Helsinki conduct.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., called Trump’s press conference with Putin, “one in the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” The summit was “a tragic mistake” and Trump displayed “naivete” and “egotism,” he was quoted saying.

Trump’s national security team is “competent and patriotic,” which made it “inexplicable” they allowed the president’s “blunders and capitulations,” McCain said, adding: “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”

Separately, another frequent Republican critic of Trump’s way of foreign policy, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, told reporters he was “disappointed and saddened” by Trump’s remarks.

“I felt that everyone who’s dealt with Putin understands fully that the best method to manage him is via strength,” said Corker, R-Tenn. “And I just felt such as the president’s comments made us look like a nation similar to a pushover, and I was disappointed in this.”

Trump’s selecting Putin capped a four-country swing through Europe in which he lobbed criticism at NATO members, particularly Germany.

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a pace for NATO at the top of Trump’s visit to express support for NATO and necessitates a whole-of-government tactic to counter Russia’s meddling inside the U.S. along with other democracies.

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