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Haley: U.S. Tough on Russia -- WSJ

3 Apr 2017 6:32 am

U.N. ambassador's comments come amid shaky diplomacy between the countries
By Ben Kesling 

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's ambassador to the United Nations said she is continually "beating up on Russia" over its actions in Ukraine and its interference in the U.S. election, indicating the administration is sticking with America's adversarial stance toward Moscow despite earlier signs that Mr. Trump wanted warmer relations.

"There's no love or anything going on with Russia right now," Nikki Haley said in an interview that aired Sunday on ABC in which she was pressed to clarify the administration's approach toward Russia. "I think that Russia is very aware that they're on notice when it comes to certain issues."

Ms. Haley's hard line on Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, comes as hopes of a rapprochement between the two countries have faded and allegations of collusion between Trump associates and Russia during the campaign continue to bog down Mr. Trump's nascent presidency.

The ambassador's comments follow a week of shaky diplomacy between the two countries and indications from Congress that an investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election could further entangle Trump associates and executive-branch officials.

In her interview, Ms. Haley said she is "beating up" on Russia for that country's militarily backing of Ukrainian separatists who seek to return parts of that country to Russian control. She also criticized Mr. Putin for Russia's meddling in last year's U.S. presidential elections.

Ms. Haley was asked whether Mr. Trump's position aligns with Ms. Haley's hard-line stance with Russia. She was pressed on a television interview segment in which Fox News' Bill O'Reilly referred to the Russian president as a "killer" while Mr. Trump seemingly defended the Russian and disparaged the U.S.

"There are a lot of killers. Do you think our country is so innocent?" Mr. Trump responded during the interview.

Asked whether Mr. Trump himself needs to express more forceful positions in opposition to Moscow's policies, Ms. Haley demurred.

"He's got a lot of things he's doing, but he is not stopping me from beating up on Russia," she said.

Mr. Trump's campaign pleasantries and overtures toward Mr. Putin have been throttled back since the election as he rebuffed proposals by the Kremlin to arrange a meeting between the two men. A summit between the two was expected soon after Mr. Trump's inauguration, but now probably won't happen before the Group of 20 summit in Germany in July.

On ABC, Dmitry Peskov, Mr. Putin's spokesman, said: "We insist that any blaming that Russia could have been interfering in domestic affairs of the United States is slander." In the segment, which was taped Friday, Mr. Peskov said the way to calm the countries' volatile relations would be through a face-to-face meeting, something the Trump administration has given no indication it is planning.

During her interview, Ms. Haley also seemed to pull back on a policy put forth by both herself and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week that the Trump administration would no longer focus on the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a position Russia has long advocated.

"So Assad is always a priority. That is not an issue. He is a war criminal," Ms. Haley said when asked if the focus in Syria is removing Mr. Assad from power or defeating Islamic State militarily. "You don't have to have one or the other. We've got a lot of important issues. Assad's not going away, but we're not going to stop beating up on him."

Ms. Haley didn't provide specifics on the U.S. approach toward the Assad regime.

"We're not going to stop saying that the way he treats people in Syria is wrong, that he has actually killed his own people and America will never stand for that," Ms. Haley said.

Last week Ms. Haley said, in more decisive language, "Our priority is no longer to sit and focus on getting Assad out."

Mr. Tillerson said last week the people of Syria need to decide who the leader of the country should be, even as civil war rages in Syria and millions of people have been displaced, killed or wounded by Assad's regime.

Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), who has criticized Messrs. Trump and Putin, said Sunday on ABC that the Trump administration's statements last week about Syria were off base.

"Mr. Tillerson's statement that the Syrian people will determine their own future, that is one of the more unusual statements I've ever heard," Mr. McCain said. "I know that Mr. Tillerson was busy, but did he miss the barrel bombing?"

Write to Ben Kesling at benjamin.kesling@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 03, 2017 02:32 ET (06:32 GMT)

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