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White House stalled pro-Ukraine trade ruling in August: report

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The White House stalled a proposal to restore trade privileges to Ukraine in August, at the time that President Donald Trump was pressing Kiev to investigate his political rival, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.

[WASHINGTON] The White House stalled a proposal to restore trade privileges to Ukraine in August, at the time that President Donald Trump was pressing Kiev to investigate his political rival, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.

The newspaper reported that the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer had proposed that month to restore benefits that Ukraine had enjoyed under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) system.

But Mr Lighthizer was told by then-White House national security advisor John Bolton that Mr Trump would likely oppose the idea and to drop it.

At the time, according to a whistleblower and congressional testimony from several officials, Mr Trump was withholding nearly US$400 million in military aid to Ukraine.

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He was allegedly using the hold-up to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky to open investigations into Democrat Joe Biden and into a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine helped the Democrats against him in the 2016 campaign.

The allegation that Mr Trump abused used his powers to get Mr Zelensky to help him politically is at the core of an impeachment inquiry in Congress.

The Post said the communications between Mr Bolton and Mr Lighthizer are "the first indication that the administration's suspension of assistance to Ukraine extended beyond the congressionally authorised military aid and security assistance to other government programmes."

But it said it was not clear whether Mr Trump became involved in the GSP issue.

"Bolton intervened with Lighthizer to block it," an unnamed administration official told the Post.

Mr Trump fired Mr Bolton in early September.

In the past two weeks two senior diplomats have told Congress Mr Bolton was strongly opposed to Mr Trump's pressuring of Mr Zelensky, comparing it to a "drug deal."

Another administration official told the Post that the GSP decision was delayed as part of a routine review.

AFP