"I think it's important that we have dialog between countries that control 90 percent of the nuclear weapons in the world," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in a press conference call this morning, responding to critics who see something sinister in a U.S. senator traveling to Russia for meetings with politicians there, given that Russia is accused of meddling in U.S. elections.
Paul visited Russia to meet with members of the Russian Federation Council (the nation's upper legislative body) and Duma, and to deliver a message from President Donald Trump to Russian President Putin, as well as meet with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
He was "excited to announce" that Russian legislators agreed to "continue these discussions" by "coming to Washington after our November election."
Because of existing U.S. sanctions, some specific Russian legislators cannot enter the United States, a policy Paul hopes to change. He also hopes to to be able to meet further with such barred legislators "in a third party neutral country."
Paul summoned memories of Reagan's diplomacy with the Soviet Union in the last days of the Cold War when mentioning his own pow-wow with Gorbachev.
In addition to the nuclear weapons question, Paul also spoke of cooperation in fighting terrorism as a good reason for high-level, continual, and friendly interactions between the U.S. and Russia.
"Ways to resolve military conflict in the Middle East" are another area in which he thinks we need open lines with Russia, since "many say that the war in Syria will not come to a military conclusion with complete victory or loss to any party" and "we have to get to the point where we can find some peace in Syria." That's another reason he thinks those who "want to diplomatically isolate us to not have relations with Russia are making a big mistake."
Perhaps as a jab back at those who insult aspects of Paul's peace-oriented foreign policy as "isolationist," Paul made frequent references to those against dialog with Russia as represented by his Russia trip as "diplomatic isolationists." He criticized Democrats who let partisan dislike for the Trump administration blind them to the dangers of refusal to have decent relations with Russia, especially as it relates to nuclear arms control.
The New START nuclear arms treaty with Russia will be expiring in 2021, and Paul hopes that some form of agreement on the curbing of nuclear arms possession with the two countries can continue. He grants that Trump himself has spoken out against New START in the past, and when it comes to that and the 1987 INF (Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces) treaty, there are "allegations that both sides have done activities that violate either the spirit or details of New START or INF."
Still, the "only way to figure out nuclear arms agreements' complicated details" is to get the people involved in dialog. Not just politicians, but nuclear arms negotiators "need to be talking to each other" and if Trump believes aspects of the existing treaties are a bad deal, getting down to the specifics of why and what to do about it needs to be discussed openly.
Paul did discuss his trip to Russia with Trump before leaving, he says. In addition, "we were briefed by the State Department several times in advance of our meetings in Russia" and Paul will also brief them on his return tomorrow.
Paul being the most prominent legislator openly on Trump's side regarding relations with Russia has helped mark him as a "comeback" kid when it comes to foreign policy influence, with some crediting him with keeping Trump on the peace side of U.S. conflicts with Iran.