Neither President Donald Trump nor Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is a fan of the new congressional sanctions on Russia, particularly because they may hinder attempts at restoring the relationship between the two countries, the top U.S. diplomat admitted Tuesday.
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"The action by the Congress to put these sanctions in place and the way they did, neither the president nor I were very happy about that," Tillerson told reporters in the State Department briefing room. "We were clear that we didn't think it was going to be helpful to our efforts, but that's the decision they made. They made it in a very overwhelming way. I think the president accepts that."
Despite his displeasure with the sanctions, Tillerson said of Trump, "all indications are he will sign that bill."
Tillerson's comments sound at odds with those of Vice President Mike Pence, who said Trump is "unified" with Congress.
"President Trump will sign the Russia sanctions bill soon," Pence said at a press conference this week in Georgia with Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili. "And let me say that in signing the sanction, our president and our Congress are speaking with a unified voice."
Tillerson said the sanctions may hinder attempts to restore the relationship between the two counties. "We were clear. We didn't think it would be helpful to our efforts ... We can't let it take us off track of trying to restore the relationship ... [which is] under considerable stress."
He revealed that during their meeting in the Oval Office in May, Trump told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, "We need some good news" from Moscow. The two met a day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey over the Russia investigation.
Tillerson said he understood why Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the U.S. to drastically cut its diplomatic presence in Russia, even though the move was in retaliation for a similar U.S. action last year under President Barack Obama. Still, Putin's decision to do so came right after Congress voted to slap Russia with more economic sanctions.
"I think it's important to recognize that any leader of any country has their whole population watching them as well, and President Putin has his population of Russia watching him," Tillerson said. "And so I think the fact that they felt the need to take symmetrical action — and that's the way they view it — is that they were delayed in taking this action, and I think President Putin has said that. He didn't react when the two dachas were taken away in December. He didn't react when 35 diplomats were sent home. He waited. And now this action came on top of that, and I think, from his perspective and how he looks in the eyes of his own people, he felt he had to do something."