Trump backtracks on cyber-security tie-up with Russia

US President Donald Trump (right) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin speak during their meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017.
US President Donald Trump (right) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin speak during their meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has backtracked on his push for a cyber-security unit with Russia, tweeting that he did not think it could happen, hours after his proposal was harshly criticised by Republicans who said Moscow could not be trusted.

Mr Trump said on Twitter early on Sunday that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed last Friday forming "an impenetrable cyber-security unit" to address issues like the risk of cyber meddling in elections. His fellow Republicans immediately questioned why the United States would work with Russia after Moscow's alleged meddling in the 2016 US election.

"It is not the dumbest idea I have ever heard, but it is pretty close," Senator Lindsey Graham said on NBC.

Mr Ashton Carter, who was defence secretary until the end of former Democratic president Barack Obama's administration in January, told CNN flatly: "This is like the guy who robbed your house proposing a working group on burglary."

Mr Trump's advisers, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, had recently sought to explain Mr Trump's cyber push. Mr Mnuchin said last Saturday that the two presidents agreed to create "a cyber unit to make sure that there was absolutely no interference whatsoever".

But Mr Trump later downplayed the idea of working with Russia to create an "impenetrable" cyber- security unit.

"The fact that President Putin and I discussed a cyber-security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't - but a ceasefire can, & did!" he told his 33.5 million Twitter followers on Sunday, citing the ceasefire in parts of Syria announced after his meeting with Mr Putin in Hamburg last Friday.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said yesterday the two leaders made no promises to each other to form a joint group on cyber security, but stated their readiness to work in this direction.

Senator John McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, acknowledged Mr Trump's desire to move forward with Russia, but added: "There has to be a price to pay."

Mr Trump argued for a rapprochement with Moscow in his campaign but has been unable to deliver because his administration has been dogged by probes into the allegations of Russian interference in the election and ties with his campaign.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the matter, including whether there was collusion on the part of Trump campaign officials, as are congressional committees, including the House of Representatives and Senate intelligence panels.

Moscow has denied any interference, and Mr Trump said his campaign did not collude with Russia.

Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN that Russia could not be a credible partner in a cyber-security unit. "If that is our best election defence, we might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Moscow."

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2017, with the headline 'Trump backtracks on cyber-security tie-up with Russia'. Print Edition | Subscribe