Wed, Apr 04, 2018 - Page 7 News List

US mulls Trump-Putin White House meet


Russian Central Election Commission Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova yesterday hands Russian President Vladimir Putin his new president-elect certificate following his victory in the March 18 election, during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow.

Photo: AFP

The Trump administration on Monday said it was amenable to a White House meeting between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, raising the prospect of the Russian leader’s first Washington visit in more than a decade even as relations between the two powers have eroded.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the White House was among “a number of potential venues” discussed in Trump’s telephone call last month with Putin.

The Kremlin earlier on Monday said that Trump invited Putin during the call.

Both sides said they had not started preparations for such a visit.

If it happens, Putin would be getting the honor of an Oval Office tete-a-tete for the first time since he met then-president George W. Bush at the White House in 2005.

Alarms rang in diplomatic and foreign policy circles over the prospect that Trump might offer Putin that venue without confronting him about Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election or allegations that Russia masterminded the March 4 nerve agent attack on a former Russian double agent in Britain.

“It would confer a certain normalization of relations and we’re certainly not in a normal space,” said Alina Polyakova, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Nothing about this is normal.”

Much has happened since Trump and Putin spoke in the March 20 call.

Trump said afterward he hoped to meet with Putin “in the not too distant future” to discuss the nuclear arms race and other matters.

However, their call was followed by reports that Trump had been warned in briefing materials not to congratulate the Russian president on his re-election, but did so anyway.

Since the call, two dozen countries, including the US and many EU nations, and NATO expelled more than 150 Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain over the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Moscow has denied any involvement in the nerve attack and retaliated by expelling the same number of diplomats from each nation.

Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, on Monday told reporters that when the two leaders spoke by phone, “Trump suggested to have the first meeting in Washington, in the White House,” calling it a “quite interesting and positive idea.”

Ushakov voiced hope that tensions resulting from the diplomatic expulsions would not derail discussions about a summit.

Trump has said maintaining a strong personal relationship with Putin is in the US interest and has signaled to allies that he trusts his own instincts in dealing with the Russian president.

Michael McFaul, who served as the US ambassador to Russia under former US president Barack Obama, said the “symbolism of Putin standing in the East Room with the president at a news conference” would be a major goal for the Russian leader.

“The only reason you should do it is if you’re going to obtain a concrete objective that serves America’s national security interest before the meeting,” he said.

McFaul said he feared that Trump “thinks that a good meeting with Putin is the objective of his foreign policy with Russia. That should never be the objective. That should be the means to achieve things that are actually of importance to the United States.”

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