The Korea Times

US opens door to possible Trump-Putin meeting

White House considered as venue for summit


— The Trump administra­tion says it is amenable to a White House meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, raising the prospect of the Russian president’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 said earlier Monday that Trump invited Putin during the call.

Both sides said they hadn’t 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 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.

“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 phone 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. But 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 U.S. and many European Union nations, and NATO expelled more than 150 Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, the former spy, 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, told reporters Monday 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 wouldn’t derail discussion­s about a summit.

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

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe private discussion­s, said Trump raised the possibilit­y of a White House meeting in a “casual, open-ended” fashion during the call. The official reiterated that no extensive preparatio­ns had taken place.

Talk of a White House summit comes as Trump is preparing to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at an undetermin­ed location. White House welcomes are typically reserved for friends and allies.

Trump has avoided criticizin­g Putin personally even as his administra­tion has crossed Moscow by providing Ukraine with lethal weapons and upholding Obama-era sanctions against Russia and its shuttering of diplomatic outposts.

Michael McFaul, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Russia under 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.”

Trump had already fallen under sharp criticism from some Republican lawmakers for congratula­ting Putin on his re-election during the call and for not raising the ex-spy’s poisoning. The fact that Trump also extended a White House invitation during that call was likely to increase concerns that Trump, when in direct contact with Putin, is inclined to offer olive branches and reluctant to raise difficult issues.

“I worry that Trump wittingly or unwittingl­y may be sending a more positive signal to Putin than he deserves,” said Nicholas Burns, a top State Department official during the Bush administra­tion who also served as U.S. ambassador to NATO.

Russia’s disclosure of the invitation came the day before the leaders of three Baltic countries — Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — were to visit the White House. The three NATO nations are seen as a bulwark against Russia’s aspiration­s of extended influence west of its border.

Trump has met Putin twice as president, at the Group of 20 summit in Germany last summer and briefly at the Asia-Pacific economic summit in Vietnam in November.

Putin, who was president of Russia once before, visited the White House in 2005, when Bush welcomed him in the East Room as “my friend.”

 ?? UPI-Yonhap ?? U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk out onto the Truman Balcony with a person in an Easter Bunny costume during the 140th annual Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., Monday.
UPI-Yonhap U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk out onto the Truman Balcony with a person in an Easter Bunny costume during the 140th annual Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., Monday.

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