WASHINGTON — President Trump placed a congratulatory call to Vladimir Putin Tuesday, seeking to set up a meeting between the two leaders after Putin’s election to another six-year term as president of Russia.
“We will probably get together in the not-too-distant future so we can discuss arms — we can discuss the arms race,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office Tuesday as he met with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince.
Putin offered an olive branch to the West on Monday after his overwhelming re-election victory, saying he wanted to resolve differences with other countries and end the arms race.
Trump said Tuesday that Putin repeated that desire in their phone call. The arms race, Trump said, is “getting out of control, but we will never allow anybody to have anything close to what we have.”
Apparently not discussed: Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and the poisoning of former Russian spies in the United Kingdom with a Russian-made nerve agent. “I don’t believe it came up on this specific call,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
Russian accounts say the call was placed “on the initiative of the American side” and “focused on overcoming the problems that have accumulated in Russian-U.S. relations.”
Such post-election phone calls are a routine part of diplomacy. President Obama called the Kremlin after Putin’s election in 2012, touting the success of a “reset” in relations under former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
But lingering controversies over the legitimacy of the Putin’s election — and Putin’s role in trying to undermine U.S. elections in 2016 — led to swift denunciations of the call.
“An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement.
Sanders declined to pass judgment on those elections Monday. “We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate,” she said. “We can only focus on the freeness and the fairness of our elections.”
The Russian state news service said the two sides also discussed lower-level relations after Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had a personal relationship with Putin. The Kremlin described the call as “constructive and businesslike.”
Also discussed by the two leaders, according to the Russian accounts, were the Syrian civil war, the Ukrainian crisis, terrorism, nuclear disarmament and North Korean talks.
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