President Donald Trump is considering a recommendation from his National Security Council to expel Russian diplomats from the U.S. in response to a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in the UK, according to Bloomberg and CNN reports Saturday.
Bloomberg, citing two people familiar with the matter, reports that Trump agrees with his advisers on the recommended expulsions that are “likely to be announced Monday.” Both people, however, cautioned that his “decision may not be final.”
Aides told Bloomberg that despite Trump being “prepared to act,” he “wants to be sure European allies will take similar steps against Russia before doing so.” CNN also reports that Trump had been waiting to see what European Council members would do.
Since the March 4 poisoning of Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury, the UK has expelled its Russian diplomats and 10 European countries announced on Friday that they would follow suit.
U.S. officials are reportedly “working through the weekend to develop a coordinated response with the Europeans,” Bloomberg reports, following British Prime Minister Theresa May’s gathering of support this week to condemn Russia in light of the poisoning.
Bloomberg and CNN report that advisers reached expulsion recommendations at a National Security Council meeting Wednesday and “honed the proposals” Friday. Bloomberg notes that Trump held discussions Friday with U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, outgoing National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and others.
“The United States stands firmly with the United Kingdom in condemning Russia’s outrageous action,” Deputy White House Press Secretary Raj Shah told Bloomberg on Saturday. “The president is always considering options to hold Russia accountable in response to its malign activities. We have no announcements at this time.”
Last week Trump joined May, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a statement declaring “there is no plausible alternative explanation” to Russian responsibility in the poisoning.
However, the Washington Post reported Tuesday that Trump ignored his advisers’ briefing instructions to condemn the poisoning and to “NOT CONGRATULATE” Russian president Vladimir Putin following his re-election victory.