U.S. President Donald Trump, speaking two weeks before a planned summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has declined to rule out recognizing Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.
Asked by reporters on Air Force One late on June 29 whether reports about him dropping Washington's longstanding opposition to the annexation were true, Trump said: "We're going to have to see."
Trump gave a similar answer when asked whether he would consider lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia which were imposed over the annexation. He has said the goal of his upcoming summit is to improve Washington-Moscow relations, which are at a post-Cold War low.
"We'll see what Russia does," Trump said.
Trump's apparent willingness to consider lifting penalties that were imposed on Russia in 2014 over its annexation of Crimea comes amid news reports which have cited European leaders as saying that Trump argued privately at a recent Group of Seven summit that Crimea should be part of Russia because most of the people are Russian-speaking.
Trump while campaigning for the presidency in 2016 also refused to rule out recognizing Russia's land grab in Ukraine as he vowed repeatedly to improve U.S. ties with Moscow.
But since becoming president, Trump has adhered to the stance taken by the United States under his predecessor Barack Obama, who said Russia's annexation of Crimea violated international law. Besides the tough penalties that Washington has imposed on Russia over the move, the European European has also hit Moscow with parallel sanctions.
Trump's refusal to reaffirm U.S. opposition to the Russian intervention in Ukraine likely will dismay European allies ahead of next month's NATO summit.
After the July 11 NATO meeting, Trump plans to fly to Helsinki for his first one-on-one summit with Putin on July 16.
Trump scheduled the Putin summit this week in what he said was an effort to reverse a year of souring relations over matters from Moscow's backing of Syria's alleged chemical weapons attacks to its own alleged use of a chemical weapon against a former Russian spy in England.
While speaking to reporters on Air Force On en route to New Jersey, Trump also said he would raise the issue of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election during his meeting with Putin.
"I'll talk to him about everything," Trump said.
"We're going to talk about Ukraine, we're going to be talking about Syria. We'll be talking about elections... We don't want anybody tampering with elections."
The Kremlin's spokesman said on June 29 that Putin is prepared to tell Trump, as he has in previous brief encounters, that Moscow did not attempt to influence the election.
"If [the matter of election interference] is be raised by the U.S. president, then the Russian president will repeat that Russia could not and did not have anything to do with this situation, around which such insinuations have been spawned," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.
While the meddling allegations have been repeatedly dismissed by both Putin and Trump, they have sparked a special counsel investigation in Washington and multiple congressional investigations which have come to different conclusions.
The special counsel, U.S. intelligence agencies, and Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee all have concluded that Russia did try to influence the election through a social media campaign and other efforts.