In Phone Call, Trump and Putin Agree to Improve ‘Unsatisfactory’ Relations Between Countries

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Pool photo by Sergei Karpukhin via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (Pool photo by Sergei Karpukhin via AP)

President-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in a telephone conversation Monday that relations between their countries were “unsatisfactory” and vowed to work together to improve them, the Kremlin said in a statement.

The statement said the two leaders discussed combining efforts in the fight against terrorism, talked about “a settlement for the crisis in Syria” and agreed their aides would begin working toward a face-to-face meeting between them.

Trump’s office said in a statement that Putin had called to “offer his congratulations” and that the two had discussed “a range of issues including the threats and challenges facing the United States and Russia, strategic economic issues and the historical U.S.-Russia relationship that dates back over 200 years.”

Although Trump’s statement did not mention Syria or other specific issues, it said that he told Putin “that he is very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the People of Russia.”

The call came as Trump faced a growing backlash against his decision to name campaign chairman and former Breitbart News head Stephen K. Bannon as chief strategist at the White House, a choice critics say will empower white nationalists.

Since his victory last week, Trump has received congratulatory calls from a number of foreign leaders. Putin had initially sent Trump a telegraph last week expressing his desire for a dialogue based on “mutual respect and genuine consideration for each other’s positions.”

During the campaign, Trump repeatedly praised Putin as a strong leader, and said that the two countries should join together to fight terrorists, particularly the Islamic State in Syria. He indicated that closer relations with Russia would keep the Kremlin from establishing tighter ties with China.

Trump appeared to absolve Russia from responsibility for intervention in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, and questioned the relevance of NATO, which has charged Moscow with engaging in provocative air and sea actions on the alliance’s eastern flank.

Giving Putin a free pass on those issues is directly counter to the Russia policy of the Obama administration, which has, among other things, called for an international war crimes investigation of Russia’s actions in Syria. It could also undermine current European negotiations with Moscow over Ukraine, and support for U.S. and European Union sanctions.

Russia is interested not only in getting the sanctions removed, but also in getting global recognition of equal status as a player in the Middle East and elsewhere.

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SOURCE: Elise Viebeck, Jerry Markon and Karen DeYoung  
The Washington Post