President Trump, Secretary Tillerson to Meet Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov at White House

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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
  • Trump Weighs Sending as Many as 5,000 More Troops to Afghanistan

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Wednesday, in his first visit to Washington since August 2013.

The visit takes place during a time when U.S.-Russian relations are “at a low point,” according to Tillerson, and tensions surrounding Russian attempts to influence recent U.S. elections remain high.

The meeting with Tillerson was first announced on last Wednesday, but also notably comes the day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey — ostensibly for his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But many have pointed to the fact that Comey was also in charge of an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

Lavrov will be the highest-ranking Russian official to meet with Trump since he took office.

The last time a Russian president visited Washington was then Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in June of 2010. Tillerson and Lavrov have met twice, first in Bonn, Germany in February and again in Moscow in April.

Lavrov and Tillerson are expected to discuss “the need to stop the violence” in Eastern Ukraine, according to the State Department, and will work to “set the stage for a political settlement in Syria.” It was these same two points of tension that dominated the dynamic of the two world powers in the closing years of the Obama administration.

The United States and Russia still have sharp differences on the solution to the over six-year Syrian war. The Kremlin continues to back Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad despite Washington’s expressed view that his regime can play no role in the country’s political future.

And the two governments still disagree on Assad’s role in last month’s chemical gas attack, which left dozens of civilians dead and spurred Trump to retaliate by launching 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase.

In the meantime, the Trump administration is weighing a drastic change when it comes to Afghanistan: Whether to send as many as 5,000 more troops in the fight, a military official told NBC News.

Trump, however, is still deciding on a variety of options being presented to him by U.S. military leaders, senior administration officials told NBC News.

The Washington Post first reported that the plan could involve an increase of at least 3,000 troops, with the U.S. asking other NATO nations to match. The U.S.’s force in Afghanistan currently totals about 8,400.

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A U.S. official told The Post that Trump wants to “start winning” again and has the backing of top Cabinet officials. He is expected to make his mind up on strategy before attending a May 25 NATO summit in Brussels, the newspaper reported.

But two senior defense officials told NBC News that Defense Secretary James Mattis has not made his formal recommendations to the president. One official said that the Afghanistan policy review has not formally made it to the principals committee at the National Security Council, an indication that a final decision on troop levels is unlikely to come soon.

At the press briefing Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer stressed that no decision has been made and that Trump has asked his national security team “to actually actually rethink the strategy.”

The goal, Spicer said, is “reducing the threat, especially when it comes to ISIS and the Taliban.”

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday that the president will need to better explain his strategy in a country that remains mired in conflict for over 15 years.

“What is the strategy now?” Rice said on TODAY. “It doesn’t make sense to increase troop strength to keep doing the same thing.”

NBC

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