Trump to raise 'how to make Russia pay' in Saudi meeting: official

Trump to raise 'how to make Russia pay' in Saudi meeting: official
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpIran claims it rejected Trump meeting requests 8 times ESPY host jokes Putin was as happy after Trump summit as Ovechkin winning Stanley Cup Russian ambassador: Trump made ‘verbal agreements’ with Putin MORE will raise the issue of finding “joint ways to make Russia pay” for its activities in the Middle East when he meets with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince at the White House on Tuesday, according to a senior administration official.

The president will point to Russia’s support for Bashar Assad’s government in Syria and its decision to block a United Nations Security Council resolution in February that would have put pressure on Iran for allegedly violating an arms embargo on Houthi insurgents in Yemen.

“Part of the discussion will be: Consider how Russia is attempting to exploit these situations to their benefit,” the administration official said on Monday. “They blocked the U.N. Security Council resolution that would have held the Iranian regime responsible … but at the same time have turned to the Saudis and offered sophisticated air defense systems.”

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“They ratchet up a crisis and then come in as a way to try to undermine that and move forward.”

The U.S. has watched warily as Russia-Saudi relations have appeared to warm in recent months, despite the fact that at least officially they remain on opposite sides of the conflict in Syria.

The kingdom is a longtime ally of the United States, but Moscow has sought to broaden its sphere of influence in the Middle East and has become an increasingly powerful political force in the region. The two countries are the two largest oil producers in the world and in October, Saudi Arabia's King Salman made the first official state visit by a Saudi king to Russia in the nations’ histories.

That visit produced a deal for Saudi Arabia to purchase an advanced anti-aircraft system from Russia.  

The decision to raise the issue of Russia’s involvement in the region with the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, comes as the Trump administration has broadly been ratcheting up pressure on Moscow.

Whether Trump will speak publicly about their discussions remains to be seen. Even as his administration has levied new sanctions and harsh diplomatic words in recent days, the president himself has stayed relatively quiet on Moscow.

Trump in the past had spoken warmly of Russia and said he would like to partner with the Kremlin to ensure peace in Syria and to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Officials and national security experts have long argued that such a proposal is fanciful, saying Russia’s primary goal is to maintain influence in the region by propping up Assad.

“Ultimately, discussions will center on how we can find joint ways to make Russia pay a price for its activities in Syria and its support for Iran’s missile proliferation into Yemen, all of which risk deepening this crisis and leading to a major regional catastrophe,” the official said Monday.

The Russian veto of the U.N. resolution in February outraged U.S. officials, who say there was a mountain of evidence showing that Iran had provided missiles to the Houthis, the insurgent group fighting a Saudi-led military intervention that seeks to restore the Yemeni government.

The issue is embroiled in the politics surrounding another key priority facing the Trump administration: the so-called Iran nuclear deal, which Trump has repeatedly threatened to dismantle. The administration has grabbed onto the existence of Iranian weapons in Yemen as evidence that Iran is not abiding by international agreements.

Trump plans to discuss the nuclear agreement with the crown prince, the official said Monday, but only to “discuss his views and look for his counsel and … important regional perspective.”

Other officials have also previously criticized Russia’s efforts in the region as an attempt to grow its own influence at the expense of western peace efforts.

"Diplomatically and militarily, Moscow plays both arsonist and firefighter: fueling tensions among all parties in Syria, the Syrian regime, Iran, Turkey, the Syrian Democratic Forces, the United States and other coalition partners, then serving as arbiter to resolve the disputes, attempting to undermine and weaken each party's bargaining positions," Gen. Joseph Votel, who oversees military efforts in the Middle East, told a House Armed Services Committee hearing last month.

An estimated 10,000 civilians have been killed in the ongoing civil war in Yemen, according to the United Nations, stirring increasing opposition in the United States.

The Senate is preparing to vote, possibly as soon as Tuesday, on a bipartisan measure that would bring an end to U.S. military support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign.

That resolution has met with swift opposition from the Trump administration, which is weighing approval of further arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The official said Monday that the U.S. would continue to offer its support to Riyadh, describing its effort as “modest.”