Can the United States be allowed to advance its relationship with Russia while leaving unchecked Moscow's behaviour to challenge the rule of law and democracy?
US President Donald Trump has held a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin. They agreed during the talks to cooperate in working toward bringing Syria's civil war under control and destroying the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group.
Citing the prevention of terrorism by Muslim extremists as a top-priority task, Trump is seeking a united front with Russia. Putin is striving to end his country's isolation from international society and to expand the nation's influence in the Middle East through improved relations with the United States.
The honeymoon between the two leaders seems to be the result of common ground in their respective motives.
The US government has issued a statement praising the phone conversation, saying it was "a significant start to improving the relationship between the United States and Russia that is in need of repair." The Russian government indicated hope for an end to the sanctions imposed on that nation, unilaterally emphasising the conversation had underlined "the importance of restoring mutually profitable trade and economic connections between the business circles of the two countries."
The problem is that Trump is making light of Russia's conduct, which has led to the worsening of the bilateral relationship.
Since 2014, the US has joined hands with the European Union to impose sanctions on Russia, opposing that country's annexation of Crimea and its military intervention in the Ukraine conflict. The US administration of then President Barack Obama also slapped additional sanctions on Russia, saying the Kremlin had intervened in the latest US presidential election through such means as cyber-attacks.
There is no indication that Trump brought up the Crimean problem and the suspected cyber-attacks as he talked with Putin. Doesn't Trump intend to tolerate Russia's "rule of force" for the sake of his own nation's safety, and to take a misguided step toward lifting the sanctions in exchange for Russia's cooperation in antiterrorism efforts?
The German and French leaders had good reason to tell Trump their view that it was too early to lift the sanctions, through phone conversations with him.
French President Francois Hollande also expressed concerns about the Trump administration's anti-terrorism measure, saying it did not respect the principle of refugee protection.
This is because Trump's executive order, the pillars of which entail stricter immigration vettings and a temporary halt to the acceptance of refugees, is causing widespread confusion. In airports across the US and in other nations, there has been a series of cases in which Iraqi and Syrian refugees and others have been detained and denied access to flights.
It can be said that Trump's radical campaign promise to impose an entry ban on Muslims has nearly been translated into action. His action seems to be aimed at making this known to his supporters, such as white workers, who have insisted that jobs have been taken away by immigrants and that public safety has deteriorated.
Trump has explained his action as a measure to reinforce national border control. However, if anti-US sentiment heightens in the Middle East, it could have the opposite effect to what was intended, such as inducing acts of terrorism.
Before taking various measures, Trump must be called on to cautiously weigh their influence.
The Yomiuri Shimbun is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 news media entities.