(This article has been updated following new remarks by President Trump. See below.)
“I’m speaking to Theresa May today. It sounds to me like it would be Russia, based on all of the evidence they have. But she’s calling me today…
“It sounds to me like they believe it was Russia and I would certainly take that finding as fact. As soon as we get the facts straight – if we agree with them – we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.”
– President Trump, 13 March 2018.
A day after Trump made these comments, how many of the promises has he followed through on?
Speaking to Theresa May
The White House and Theresa May have confirmed that the two leaders spoke over the phone.
The British prime minister said: “In the last 24 hours I have spoken to President Trump, Chancellor Merkel and President Macron.”
Take UK findings as fact
Theresa May has now confirmed the British government’s beliefs about who was responsible for the attack.
“On Monday I set out that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with Novichok—a military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia,” she explained.
“Based on this capability, combined with Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations – including against former intelligence officers whom it regards as legitimate targets – the UK Government concluded it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for this reckless and despicable act.
“There are only two plausible explanations: either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country; or, conceivably, the Russian Government could have lost control of a military-grade nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.
Mrs May added: “The Russian Government have provided no credible explanation that could suggest that they lost control of their nerve agent, no explanation as to how this agent came to be used in the United Kingdom, and no explanation as to why Russia has an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law. Instead it has treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.
“There is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter.”
However, so far, Donald Trump has not directly stated publicly that he believes this finding to be factual.
Instead, a summary of the phone call between the two leaders published by the White House simply says that Russia should provide an explanation.
“President Trump stated the United States stands in solidarity with its closest ally and is ready to provide any assistance the United Kingdom requests for its investigation,” it said.
“President Trump agreed with Prime Minister May that the Government of the Russian Federation must provide unambiguous answers regarding how this chemical weapon, developed in Russia, came to be used in the United Kingdom.”
Of course, Trump could tweet or make a statement at any moment. But, for now, it seems he has not publicly declared accepted the British government’s findings to be fact.
Condemning ‘Russia or whoever it may be’
The UK government clearly believes that Russia was responsible for the attack. But the phone call summary published by the White House does not mention any direct condemnation of Russia by Mr Trump.
Instead, it talk only about “the need for consequences for those who use these heinous weapons in flagrant violation of international norms”.
Again, it is possible Trump may condemn Russia over this incident in the future, and we will update this blog if he does.
Where does this leave us?
Mr Trump said: “As soon as we get the facts straight – if we agree with them – we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.”
Given that Mr Trump has not stated publicly that he believes the findings to be factual, or condemned Russia, this leaves us with a few possible situations:
Either Mr Trump does not accept the UK’s findings to be fact, and wants further investigation before making a statement. Or he accepts the findings, but is wary of publicly condemning Russia.
Alternatively, it could simply be a matter of time. Perhaps Trump has not yet had an opportunity to review the evidence, make a decision and issue a statement.
We will update if he makes any statement on the subject.
UPDATE (15 March, 2018):
During a meeting in the White House, President Trump said: “It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it. Something that should never, ever happen, and we are taking it very seriously, as I think are many others.”
He added: “I spoke with the Prime Minister and we are in deep discussions. A very sad situation.”