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Opportunities for easing Russian-US relations limited, experts warn

February 17, 2017, 22:00 UTC+3 WASHINGTON

"One month into the Trump administration, I don't think there is a single answer to what America wants from Russia", a US foreign policy expert wonders

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©  AP Photo/Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON, February 17. /TASS/. Opportunities for the normalization of U.S.-Russian relations are a priori limited at present, acclaimed American experts Philip Crowley, a former Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, and Dr. Andrew Kuchins, a former director of Russian and Eurasian research programs at Georgetown University.

"One month into the Trump administration, I don't think there is a single answer to what America wants from Russia," Philip Crowley said.

"President Trump wants a more constructive relationship and has downplayed some serious issues, from the situation in Syria to the hacking of America's political parties," he said.

"Members of his cabinet and leaders in Congress are far more skeptical of a positive trajectory," Crowley added. "In fact, members of Congress have been clear that there should be another round of sanctions in light of Russia's interference in the 2016 election."

"Sketching out a menu of overlapping interests in pretty straightforward: defeat the Islamic State and find a broader political solution to the Syrian civil war; implement the Minsk agreement in Ukraine; and launch a new round of nuclear talks," he said.

"But it's unclear if there is sufficient agreement to make genuine progress in any of these areas. If you broaden the list to include Iran and North Korea, the Trump administration may take a more confrontational approach that Moscow will be comfortable with," Crowley went on.

"Its important that President Trump and President Putin get to know each other," he said. "They will not lack for things to talk about, but we should be realistic about what can be accomplished under current conditions."

"From Syria to Ukraine to Iran, the two countries have different definitions of what is at stake," Crowley said. "The prospects for cooperation are limited, even with the more constructive tone the leaders have taken thus far."

Andrew Kuchins believes that "probably the most important thing Russia could do is really seek to implement the Minsk accords and/or engage in new diplomacy regarding Ukraine in which it shows clear desire for Ukraine to prosper as a sovereign state."

He also said the degrees of freedom for the Trump administration would anyway be quite limited.

"If Trump were to unilaterally lift some sanctions, there is no doubt that the US Congress will quickly legislate them," Dr. Kuchins said. "Already there is considerable pressure there to strengthen rather than weaken sanctions."

"Trump administration is also deeply constrained by the reverberations of the Russian hacking and other activities designed to interfere in our presidential campaign," he indicated.

"If classified sources do lead to conclusion with very strong evidence as is claimed that this was a strategic and comprehensive campaign orchestrated from the Kremlin (…), then I am aftaid we will far from ‘normalcy’ for a very long timealthough I would argue that this relationship has never been normal’," he said.

"Certainly, the Trump Administration is deeply concerned about Iran's activities in context of challenges of terrorism," Dr. Kuchins said.

"Syria is the first theater for more cooperation in this regard, but another place we may look to is Libya as the position of the GNA continues to weaken," he said. "There are a lot of moving pieces obviously tied to instability in the Middle East, and I think the Trump Administration will be studying very closely the extent they see Russia as supporting U.S. goals there."

"General Mattis is a very strong figure in this administration," Dr. Kuchins said.

He indicated he was not sure where the Trump Administration was on the problems of the former NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden but he believes that Snowden’s extradition to the U.S. would be "an important sign of good will."

"At a far lower level of political importance would be removing the ban on American citizens from adopting Russian orphans," Dr. Kuchins said.

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