Cohn: White House won’t roll back Russia sanctions

The White House will not move to reduce U.S. sanctions on Russia and may even pursue further action against Moscow, top White House adviser Gary Cohn told reporters on Friday, clarifying previous remarks.

“We’re not lowering our sanctions on Russia,” said Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser and one of the most powerful voices in the White House. “If anything, we would probably look to get tougher on Russia.”

“I think the president’s made it clear how the Russians could have the sanctions lifted and how they could have the sanctions taken away,” Cohn added.

Cohn spoke to reporters from the sidelines of the G7 summit in Sicily, Trump’s final stop on his nine-day, five-stop overseas trip.

Cohn had said earlier in the week that Trump was “looking at” the issue of Russia sanctions and that the White House did not yet have a position.

That statement startled many in the US, along with allies in Europe, who have been wary of Russian aggression in Ukraine and concerned about Trump’s conciliatory attitude toward Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump has repeatedly praised Putin and called for better relations between the U.S. and Russia.

Cohn apologized Friday for the confusion. “I should have just been much clearer,” Cohn said.

There was anger among NATO allies in the wake of the organization’s Thursday summit in Brussels, at which Trump sidestepped a reaffirmation of the organization’s mutual defense clause. NATO has been increasing its presence in Eastern Europe in the wake of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and support of separatist forces elsewhere in Ukraine.

Complicating the matter further was Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Putin ordered an influence campaign to disrupt the process to benefit Trump at the expense of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, according to the US intelligence community. A special counsel was recently appointed to lead the FBI’s investigation into the interference, including whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.

Trump has dismissed the issue as a “witch hunt” and “fake news,” but a number of people who worked closely with his campaign, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, have come under intense scrutiny for possible Russia ties.

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