American officials are in initial talks with Russian representatives in a bid to arrange a summit between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, The Wall Street Journal reported late Friday.
Jon Huntsman, U.S. ambassador to Russia, has been in Washington to help work out details for such a meeting, a senior administration official told The Journal.
“This has been an ongoing project of ambassador Huntsman, stretching back months, of getting a formal meeting between Putin and Trump,” the official said.
Trump and Putin have already met face-to-face, twice, but on the sidelines of larger international meetings last year — during the Group of 20 summit in Germany last summer and at a November summit in Vietnam.
The two nations have a number of conflicts to discuss, including Syria, Ukraine, and U.S. intelligence findings that the Kremlin interfered via social media in a bid to influence the presidential election. That would be a particularly sticky topic for Trump because special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating claims his campaign possibly colluded with Russian individuals.
“Of course there are discussions of the political perception” of such a meeting between Trump and Putin, another administration source told The Journal.
Trump invited Putin to Washington in a controversial March phone call to Putin congratulating him on winning a presidential election widely seen as rife with corruption, including harsh crackdowns on rivals and dissidents. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) blasted Trump at the time, saying: “An American president does not lead the Free World, by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.”
On the call, Putin and Trump discussed a meeting in the “not-too-distant future,” Trump later told reporters in the Oval Office, The New York Times reported.
Trump widely lauded Putin during his campaign, calling the former KGB spy a better leader than former President Barack Obama, and expressing a desire to improve relations with the Kremlin. Trump’s often puzzling praise of Putin has raised concerns about the relationship between the two men. In July 2016 just months before the election, Trump publicly challenged Russia to uncover emails Hillary Clinton kept on her personal server while she was secretary of state.
Putin has denied interfering in the U.S. election. Trump told reporters on Air Force One after meeting with Putin in Vietnam: “He said he didn’t meddle. I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. I think he’s very insulted by it, if you want to know the truth.”
Former presidents Obama and George W. Bush held summits with Putin within six months of taking office, The Journal noted.