WASHINGTON — Relations between the United States and Russia are “at an all-time low,” President Donald Trump said Wednesday during an event at which he also reversed his criticism of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as “obsolete.”
“Right now, we’re not getting along with Russia at all,” Trump said at a White House news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. “We may be at an all-time low in terms of a relationship with Russia . . . But we’re going to see what happens.”
Trump’s description echoed phrasing used in Moscow earlier in the day by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Trust between the countries is at a “low point,” Tillerson said, adding, “The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship.”
The Trump administration has hardened its rhetoric on Russia since U.S. officials said the Kremlin-allied Syrian government killed dozens of civilians last week by using banned chemical weapons.
Though Trump has condemned Syrian President Bashar Assad, calling him a “butcher” on Wednesday, Trump has not spoken harshly against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“It’d be a fantastic thing if we got along with Putin and if we got along with Russia,” Trump said. “And that could happen, and it may not happen. It may be just the opposite.”
He added, “I would love to be able to get along with everybody.”
Trump was asked whether he believes Putin had advance knowledge of the April 4 gas attack on Syrian civilians.
“I think it’s certainly possible. I think it’s probably unlikely,” Trump said. “ . . . I would like to think that they didn’t know, but certainly they could have. They were there.”
Russian forces shared the Syrian airfield from which U.S. officials said the gas bomb originated.
Also Wednesday, Trump praised NATO as a “bulwark of international peace and security,” though as recently as January, he called it “obsolete because it was designed many, many years ago.”
He said he and Stoltenberg discussed how NATO can combat terror threats.
“I complained about that a long time ago, and . . . now they do fight terrorism,” Trump said. “I said it was obsolete; it’s no longer obsolete.”
Trump stayed the course on his pledge to get NATO member states to dedicate more toward the alliance’s defense fund. Stoltenberg agreed the countries should be contributing 2 percent of their gross domestic products.
Stoltenberg said the alliance is making its “biggest reinforcement of collective defense since the end of the Cold War,” but he also noted that the organization acts defensively. “We don’t want a new Cold War,” he said. “We don’t want a new arms race.”
In a Fox Business Network interview that aired early Wednesday, Trump said the United States will not be sending ground troops into Syria following a cruise missile strike he ordered in retaliation for Assad’s chemical bomb.
“Just so you understand, we’re not going into Syria,” he said.
A senior White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the administration is looking to Russia to reverse course and contribute to the international community after it “engaged in a very sophisticated propaganda and disinformation campaign” to deflect blame from Assad after his use of banned chemical weapons.
“We owe it to humanity, we owe it to the Syrian people to do everything we can to allow Russia to play a productive role,” the official said.