U.S. President Donald Trump is "looking at" the series of sanctions imposed on Russia by the Obama administration over Moscow's interference in Ukraine and has no position right now on whether to maintain them, a senior official said.
White House economic adviser Gary Cohn said that European leaders who met with Trump n Brussels on May 25 asked whether he plans to extend the sanctions, first imposed in 2014 over Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea.
Trump's response was that he hasn't decided what to do yet, Cohn said in a briefing for reporters on Air Force One en route to a Group of Seven summit in Sicily after a NATO meeting.
"I think the president is looking at it. Right now, we don’t have a position," Cohn said, adding that Trump has "many options" he is considering.
Trump said during the presidential campaign that he would "be looking at" the possibility of lifting sanctions against Russia if elected, and also suggested he would also consider recognizing Crimea as part of Russia.
But senior members of his administration have said clearly that sanctions would remain in place unless Russia takes steps that would prompt the United States to consider easing them.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has said the administration would not lift the sanctions imposed over Russia's seizure of Crimea unless Russia returns the peninsula to Ukrainian control.
After Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Washington on May 10, the State Department said that Tillerson told Lavrov that "sanctions on Russia will remain in place until Moscow reverses the actions that triggered them."
Sanctions were imposed separately by the United States and European Union in 2014 and have been repeatedly extended and expanded since then.
Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, after sending in troops, ensuring control of the regional legislature, and staging a referendum denounced by the United States and the majority of UN members as illegitimate. Russia also fomented unrest against the government in eastern and southern Ukraine and has backed separatists in a war that has killed more than 9,900 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.
After talks with Trump on May 25 in Brussels, European Council President Donald Tusk said he was "not 100 percent sure...that we have a common position, common opinion about Russia. Although when it comes to the conflict in Ukraine it seems that we were on the same line."
With reporting by AP and Reuters