WASHINGTON – Trump administration officials were unable to immediately clarify on Tuesday what President Donald Trump’s Helsinki summit will yield for foreign and military policy, underscoring the confusion caused by the president’s improvisational style and embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The day after Trump huddled with Putin in an extended one-on-one meeting, the Pentagon, State Department and other agencies struggled to publicly reconcile Trump’s friendly treatment of the Russian president with governmentwide policies identifying Russia as a chief threat to U.S. security.
Further complicating efforts to digest the summit was a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry on Tuesday that said Moscow was ready to implement “agreements on international security” reached by the leaders.
The White House has not announced any deals, and spokesmen in Washington said they were unaware of new accords.
At the State Department, the bureaus responsible for policies involving Syria and the New START Treaty, which seeks to limit nuclear-capable armaments, said they had heard nothing about agreements between Trump and Putin. Spokesmen noted that it often takes several days for details of top-level meetings to trickle down.
While such delays are common, senior agency officials are typically looped into presidential decisions involving their portfolios, even if they are not present for the discussions where those decisions are made.
Michael Carpenter, who specializes in Russia and worked at the Pentagon during the Obama administration, said the lack of clarity about what the leaders may have been agreed to was a problem for agencies trying to implement foreign policy.
Carpenter said the Russian Defense Ministry’s reference to a U.S.-Russian understanding “sounds vague, as I’m sure the discussion was.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who attended a larger meeting following Trump’s solo encounter with Putin, did not make any statements Tuesday.