Trump: 'No guarantee' on Russia relations

media captionCould Trump defrost Russian relations?

US President Donald Trump has said he wants a "great relationship" with Russia, but would not say if he would lift US sanctions against the country.

Mr Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will speak on Saturday, according to the White House and Kremlin.

They are expected to discuss bilateral affairs and national security in the first call since the inauguration.

But Mr Trump said it was "very early" to talk about the sanctions imposed on the country by his predecessor.

He was asked about his plans in a joint press conference with UK Prime Minister Theresa May on her visit to Washington - the first national leader to be welcomed by the president.

"We will see what happens," said Mr Trump. "We look to have a great relationship with all countries, ideally. That won't necessarily happen, unfortunately, [and it] probably won't happen with many countries.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMr Trump spoke about the phone call in a press conference with the UK prime minister

"But if we could have [a relationship] as we do with Prime Minister May… if we can have a great relationship with Russia and with China and with all countries, I am all for that.

"That would be a tremendous asset. No guarantees, but if we can, that would be a positive, not a negative."

Mrs May said the UK had been "very clear" that sanctions should remain in place until the Minsk agreement, bringing the conflict in Eastern Ukraine to an end, had been fully implemented.

Republicans have expressed opposition to any softer White House line against Moscow.

Senator John McCain - a vocal critic of Mr Putin, who has called him a "thug" - said that it would be a "reckless course" and he would pursue legislation to enforce the sanctions.

And two of the party's key political leaders have warned against dropping the sanctions, in interviews with Politico magazine.

image copyrightReuters
image captionPaul Ryan, left, and Mitch McConnell, right, have both warned Trump against lifting sanctions

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, told the publication: "These sanctions were imposed because of their behaviour in Crimea, eastern Ukraine and now we know they've been messing around in our elections as well."

"If there's any country in the world that doesn't deserve sanctions relief, it's Russia," he said.

Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, also said "I think they should stay," adding that the measures had been "overdue" when implemented.

Can Mr Trump undo Russian sanctions? - Anthony Zurcher, BBC News North America Reporter

Donald Trump's planned phone conversation with President Vladimir Putin could lay the groundwork for a rollback of US sanctions on Russia.

There are reports that a presidential order undoing Barack Obama's executive actions has already been drafted.

If this ends up being the case, it would likely ignite a battle between the administration and a bipartisan coalition in Congress.

While Republican Capitol Hill leadership may be loath to pick a fight with Mr Trump so early in his presidency, anti-Russia hawks in the Senate - led by Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham - may find common cause with the body's Democratic minority.

Together they could push legislation that enshrine the administration-imposed sanctions into law, much the way Congress solidified Bush-era anti-Iran measures during Mr Obama's presidency.

Mr Trump has been bedevilled by criticisms that he has too close a relationship with Mr Putin, inflamed by intelligence reports of Russian meddling in the US election and an ongoing investigation into ties between Russia and former Trump campaign aides.

While the new president may see sanction-removal as the first step in forging closer ties with a former adversary, the move could come with at a high political price.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the phone call between Mr Trump and Mr Putin, but said it was unlikely to result in any specific agreements.

But Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News on Friday that removing US sanctions on Russia was "under consideration".

"I assume they will discuss, in the interests of their respective countries, how to come together and work together on issues where you can find common ground and where these two nations could maybe defeat radical Islamic terrorism," she also told CBS News.

image copyrightAFP
image captionPro-Russian rebels - pictured during the withdrawal from the village of Petrovske - still control large areas of Eastern Ukraine after three years of fighting

The president has vowed to strengthen relations with the Kremlin despite allegations from the US intelligence community that Russia tried to interfere in the US presidential election to benefit Mr Trump.

As a result, President Barack Obama issued a new round of sanctions against Russia and expelled 35 Russian diplomats for Moscow's alleged election-related cyber attacks.

The Kremlin has vehemently denied any allegations that it had co-ordinated hacks during the US election.

Earlier this month, Mr Trump suggested he would ease sanctions on Moscow imposed by the Obama administration if Russia helped in the battle against terrorism.

Mr Trump will also speak to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on Saturday.

US and European Union (EU) sanctions were already in place after Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and last month, the EU extended them.