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British Foreign Secretary Calls For U.S. And Europe To Unite In Response To Russia


The new British foreign secretary, the man who took over after Boris Johnson resigned, is making his first visit to the U.S. since taking office. And he's using his trip to call on the U.S. and Europe to speak with one voice when it comes to Russia. That's because London accuses Moscow of killing a British citizen and trying to poison a former Russian spy by using a nerve agent on U.K. soil. The U.S. has imposed sanctions in response and is considering more, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The U.S. and U.K. have usually been in lockstep in their attitudes toward Russia. And Britain's new foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, says that must continue.


JEREMY HUNT: Of course, we must engage with Moscow. But we must also be blunt. Russia's foreign policy under President Putin has made the world a more dangerous place.

KELEMEN: Speaking at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Hunt accused Russia of aggressive behavior in Georgia and Ukraine and said Moscow is flouting international norms by using chemical weapons. He says there must be costs for that.

HUNT: And we must make sure that we are standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States. It doesn't mean to say that we will react in exactly the same way as the United States. But this is a very important time for trans-Atlantic unity and for European Union. So I'm sure we will have big discussions inside the EU whilst we're still a part of it.

KELEMEN: In Russia, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said his British colleagues have a, quote, "high opinion of themselves."


SERGEY LAVROV: (Speaking Russian).

KELEMEN: "The country that is leaving the European Union through Brexit is trying to dictate Europe's foreign policy," Lavrov said, adding, "Now it wants to dictate Washington's policy toward Russia, as well."

President Trump has been trying to improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Asked about the mixed signals, Foreign Secretary Hunt says he looks at what President Trump does, not just what he says. That was basically the same line coming from the State Department point person on Europe, Wess Mitchell, at a Senate foreign relations committee hearing today.


WESS MITCHELL: The strategy overall I would characterize on Russia in one sentence - continue raising the costs until Russian aggression ceases, while keeping the door open to dialogue.

KELEMEN: The Treasury Department just added four more names to a sanctions list, angering Moscow, which is vowing to retaliate. Mitchell says the Trump administration has done a lot to impose costs on Russia for a range of issues, including that chemical attack in the U.K.


MITCHELL: These include to date 217 individuals and entities sanctioned, six diplomatic and consular facilities closed and 60 spies removed from American soil.

KELEMEN: Mitchell says the sanctions are having an impact on Russia's economy, but lawmakers are questioning whether they're effective in changing Russian behavior. And several senators on the committee, including Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, say the president himself is undercutting this position.

JEANNE SHAHEEN: Because of his behavior in Helsinki, because of his frequent tweets, because of his failure to consistently acknowledge Russia's actions to influence the 2016 elections and their ongoing meddling in 2018.

KELEMEN: Assistant Secretary Mitchell says the only thing that Trump and Putin agreed to in Helsinki was to have their national security advisers meet. And they're going to do that this week in Geneva. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.