Trump wants Putin summit in Reykjavik: Britain fears leak of its secrets to Moscow
By Tim Shipman, Toby Harnden, Richard Kerbaj and Tom Harper – The Times, UK
Donald Trump is planning to hold a summit with Vladimir Putin within weeks of becoming president — emulating Ronald Reagan’s Cold War deal-making in Reykjavik with Mikhail Gorbachev.
Trump and his team have told British officials that their first foreign trip will be a meeting with the Russian leader, with the Icelandic capital in pole position to host the superpower talks as it did three decades ago.
In a bid to reset western relations with the Kremlin, Trump will begin work on a deal limiting nuclear weapons
Sources who have discussed the plans with officials at the Russian embassy in London say Moscow is set to agree to a summit between the two leaders.
Senior figures in the government fear that a warming of US-Russian relations under Trump risks leaving Britain — which has led the calls for sanctions against Moscow over Putin’s aggression in Ukraine and Syria — out in the cold.
With Trump reeling from claims that Russia holds material with which it can blackmail the new president, The Sunday Times can reveal that:
- British intelligence has sought reassurance from the CIA that the identity of British agents in Russia will be protected when intelligence is shared, amid concerns about the closeness of Trump’s team to Moscow
- Christopher Steele, the former MI6 spy who drew up the dossier on Trump, circulated it out of a sense of “patriotism” because he feared that his findings would be hushed up by the FBI
- Trump’s claims that he has “nothing to do with Russia” had been called into question by his son, Donald Jr, who reportedly said in a speech in 2008 that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our [Trump Organisation] assets”
- Russia sparked fresh alarm by announcing plans to move thousands of tanks and tens of thousands of troops to Nato’s borders this year in a development that has deeply unnerved the Baltic states.
- Downing Street is finalising plans for Theresa May to visit Trump at the White House in the second half of February.
Yesterday Trump said he would consider dropping sanctions against Russia if the Kremlin proved helpful in fighting terrorism and reaching other goals important to the United States, although the sanctions would remain in place “at least for a period of time”.
He added that he was willing to meet Putin. “I understand that they [the Russians] would like to meet, and that’s absolutely fine with me,” he said.
A source who has discussed the plan with Trump and with officials at the Russian embassy in London said: “The idea of a summit with Putin is definitely on the cards. The Russians are also keen on it.”
A Trump adviser confirmed that the new president intended to meet Putin at a venue outside the United States and Russia “very soon” and that Reykjavik was under “active consideration”. The Icelandic capital was the site of a 1986 summit between Reagan and Gorbachev, the Soviet leader. Those talks broke down, but ultimately led to a 1987 nuclear accord.
The Trump adviser said such a meeting would play to the Russian president’s longing to be seen as a major player on the world stage. “What does Putin want?” the adviser said. “Prestige — centre stage at the summit, the one-on-one meeting, the hand on the back from Trump. That gives the US tremendous leverage. Mr Trump is master of the photo op and he will use that skill.”
Until we have established whether Trump and his team can be trusted, we’re going to hold back
The prospect of a Trump-Putin “love-in” is causing concern in British intelligence and political circles following the furore last week over claims that Russia holds material that gives it leverage over Trump.
A US intelligence source said the CIA and other agencies saw Trump as a “hostile actor” who was “very possibly compromised by Russia”. A British intelligence source with extensive transatlantic experience said US spies had labelled Trump and his advisers’ links to the Kremlin “problematic”.
“Until we have established whether Trump and senior members of his team can be trusted, we’re going to hold back,” the source said.
“Putting it bluntly, we can’t risk betraying sources and methods to the Russians.”
There are already political tensions between Britain and America over Trump’s approach to Russia. A Foreign Office source said Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, had been briefed on the contents of Steele’s dossier before travelling to New York and Washington last week to meet Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, senior advisers to Trump.
A source who has discussed the talks with Trump’s team said Johnson’s insistence on warning about Russian “dirty tricks” was not welcomed by Bannon and Kushner: “The meeting didn’t go well. They were not very impressed.”
Concerns about Russian aggression have been stoked by the recent reports that Putin is planning to move troops and tanks to Belarus and its Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad this autumn. The deployment will be 20 times larger than a 2013 exercise that was itself described as “very provocative” and “worrisome” by Nato’s then supreme commander, General Philip Breedlove.
The Russian embassy in London referred calls to the foreign affairs ministry in Moscow which did not comment.