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Russia, feeling diplomatic heat, trumpets possible White House summit

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk after a meeting on the closing day of the 25th APEC Summit on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017 in Da Nang, Vietnam. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)

The Kremlin said on Monday that President Donald Trump invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to the White House when the two men spoke by phone last month, though the Kremlin and the White House both said that a summit is far from certain.

Trump alluded to the possibility in remarks to White House reporters shortly after the call, which he made to congratulate Putin on his controversial re-election.

“We will probably get together in the not-too-distant future so that we can discuss arms, we can discuss the arms race,” Trump said on March 20. Neither side has announced specifics, including a date or a place.

The president drew bipartisan criticism for his call, both because he congratulated Putin after an election widely seen as a sham and because he didn’t mention either a recent nerve-agent attack in England blamed on Russia or its interference in the 2016 U.S. election campaign.

Nothing more was said about a meeting subsequently, by either country, as the United States and some allies imposed additional sanctions and expelled Russian diplomats to punish Russia for election meddling and for the alleged nerve-agent poisoning in England of a British citizen who is a former Russian spy.

The Kremlin may be trumpeting the possibility of a summit with Trump to deflect attention. The Russian state news agency, Tass, reported the newest statements on a potential meeting of the two presidents.

“During a telephone conversation between our presidents, Trump suggested that the first meeting could be held in Washington,” Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov said on Monday, according to the news agency.

Ushakov said no discussions have occurred since March 20. “If everything goes well, I hope that the American side would not refuse its proposal to discuss the possibility of organizing the summit talks,” he told journalists, and “that there would be an end to the steps the Americans have taken based on groundless allegations.”

Russia is eager to resume such discussions, Ushakov added.

After the Tass report provoked questions in Washington, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement, “As the president himself confirmed on March 20, hours after his last call with President Putin, the two had discussed a bilateral meeting in the ‘not-too-distant future’ at a number of potential venues, including the White House. We have nothing further to add at this time.”

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© 2018 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.