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April 27, 2016
by Carl Schreck
WASHINGTON — Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, has vowed to seek improved relations with Russia and China if he is elected to the White House, saying Washington and Moscow “should seek common ground based on shared interests.”
In an April 27 foreign-policy speech, Trump said that while the United States and Russia had “serious differences,” he believes it is “absolutely possible” to ease current tensions with Moscow if Washington approaches the relationship “from a position of strength.”
“Common sense says this cycle — this horrible cycle of hostility — must end, and ideally it will end soon,” Trump said as Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, sat in the front row for the candidate’s wide-ranging speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.
U.S.-Russian ties have plunged to levels of acrimony unseen since the end of the Cold War following Russia’s military seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and an ensuing war between Kyiv’s forces and Russia-backed separatists that has killed more than 9,100 people.
Both U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration and the European Union have slapped several rounds of sanctions on Moscow in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, punitive measures that have angered the Kremlin.
Trump, who described Obama’s overall foreign policy as “a complete and total disaster,” said Washington and Moscow can find common ground, in part, because Russia “has also seen the horror of Islamic terrorism.”
“Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable,” Trump said. “I intend to find out. If we can’t make a deal under my administration, a deal that’s great — not good, great — for America, but also good for Russia, then we will quickly walk from the table. It’s as simple as that.”
Kislyak, who has served as Moscow’s envoy to Washington since 2008, declined to comment on Trump’s comments about Russia when questioned by RFE/RL following the candidate’s speech.
Trump was critical of U.S. allies for not “paying their fair share of the security burden” and said other NATO members must step up their spending or Washington would “let countries defend themselves.”
The United States and its European allies have strengthened NATO’s presence on the alliance’s eastern flank, where member states that were under Moscow’s domain during Soviet times have voiced particular alarm about Russian expansionism in Ukraine.
Trump, who has previously said that the Ukraine conflict was “really a problem that affects Europe a lot more than it affects us,” said that NATO had an “outdated mission.”
If elected, he said, “we will discuss how we can upgrade NATO’s outdated mission and structure grown out of the Cold War to confront our shared challenges, including migration and Islamic terrorism.”
Trump said the United States was in a “war against radical Islam” and pledged to wipe out the militant Islamic State (IS) group that controls parts of Syria and Iraq.
“Containing the spread of radical Islam must be a major foreign-policy goal of the United States and indeed the world. Events may require the use of military force, but it’s also a philosophical struggle, like our long struggle in the Cold War,” he said.
Trump also accused Obama’s policies of turning Iran into “a great, great power in a short time,” and that U.S. foreign-policy mistakes in Iraq, Egypt, and Libya had helped to “throw the region into chaos.”
Trump, 69, is currently far ahead of both U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Governor John Kasich in the race to become the Republican presidential candidate.
With reporting by CNN and Reuters
Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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