Washington: There is no change in America's sanctions policy with regard to Russia, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said as opposition lawmakers grilled him over the recent meeting between President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland.
No change in US policy on Russian sanctions: Pompeo
Testifying before Senate Committee on Foreign Relations yesterday, Pompeo assured Senators that the US does not and will not recognise the Kremlin's purported annexation of Crimea.
"We stand together with allies, partners and the international community in our commitment to Ukraine and its territorial integrity. There will be no relief of Crimea-related sanctions until Russia returns control of the Crimean Peninsula to Ukraine. This Crimea declaration formalises United States policy of non-recognition," he said.
Responding to questions from angry lawmakers on the recent Trump-Putin meeting, Pompeo said there has been no change in sanctions policy with regard to Russia.
"The US policy with respects to sanctions remains completely unchanged," he said during a heated exchange of words with the Democratic Senator, Robert Menendez, who is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Pompeo said Trump was "very clear" with Putin about US positions. "They are the US positions that are the Trump administration's positions and he spoke about them very firmly and clearly when he met with Vladimir Putin," he said.
Pompeo said from the outset the US administration's approach has been to steadily raise the cost of aggression until Putin chooses a less confrontational foreign policy while keeping the door open for dialogue in national interest.
"Between our two nations, the US and Russia possess over 90 per cent of the world's nuclear weapons. President Trump believes the two great nuclear powers should not have a contentious relationship. This is not just in our interests but in the interests of the whole world," he said.
"He strongly believes that now is the time for direct communication, our relationship in order to make clear to President Putin that there is the possibility, however remote it might be, to reverse the negative course of our relationship. Otherwise, the administration will continue opposing tough actions against Russia in response to its malign activities," the top American diplomat said.
Defending Trump, Pompeo said in Helsinki, the US sought to explore whether Russia was interested in improving the relationship, but made clear that the ball is in Moscow's court.
"We defended America's fundamental strategic interest in Syria and Ukraine. And I, personally, made clear to the Russians, there will be severe consequences for interference in our democratic processes," he said.
Trump is well aware of the challenges that Russia poses to the United States, and its partners and allies. He's taken a staggering number of actions to protect our interests, he asserted.
As "proof", he cited several examples, including 213 sanctions on Russian entities and individuals in the Trump administration, expel of 60 Russian spies from the US and the closure of Russian consulates in Seattle and San Francisco.
On US sanctions over North Korea, Pompeo said it will remain in place till the country eliminates its weapons of mass destruction.
"America's objective remains the final, fully verified de-nuclearisation of North Korea...We're engaged in patient diplomacy. But we will not let this drag out to no one...President Trump remains upbeat about the prospects for North Korean de-nuclearisation. Progress is happening. We need Chairman Kim Jong-un to follow through on his commitments that he made in Singapore," he said.
Until North Korea eliminates its weapons of mass destruction, US sanctions and those of the United Nations will remain in effect. Multiple UN Security Council resolutions require the country to eliminate all of its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs, he told the lawmakers.
"Those resolutions were passed unanimously and they remain binding. We absolutely need every single nation to maintain the enforcement of those sanctions to which every nation has committed. The path ahead is not easy, but our hopes for a safer world and a brighter future for North Korea endure," Pompeo said.
Responding to questions, Pompeo said he is very confident that the North Korean's understand the definition of denuclearisation, and a very broad one, that it goes from the infrastructure of nuclear warheads, thorugh chemical biological weapons systems.
Pompeo said the North Koreans continue to produce vessel material. However, he refused to go into any further detail.
"We have made very clear that the entirety of the North Korean CBW programme is contained in the US understanding of denuclearisation and I am confident that the North Koreans understand clearly America's definition and they have agreed to denuclearize," he asserted.
When asked by Senator Ed Markey whether the US have an inventory of North Korea's warheads, materials, facilities and other programs, Pompeo said, "I can't answer that here", and added that human rights abuses continue in North Korea.