US President Donald Trump proposed a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the White House in a recent phone call, but preparations have reportedly stalled over the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats from the US.
“When our presidents spoke on the phone, Trump suggested having the meeting in Washington at the White House,” Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said, referencing a 20 March call in which Mr Trump congratulated the Russian leader on being re-elected.
Mr Ushakov called the proposal an “interesting, positive idea,” but said the two leaders have not made preparations for such a meeting thus far. The policy aide blamed the delay on Mr Trump’s decision to expel 60 Russian diplomats last week, which formed part of a larger international response to Moscow’s alleged use of a nerve agent in the attempted murder of an Russian ex-spy, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, in the UK town of Salisbury.
Around 150 Russian diplomats have been expelled from more than two dozen nations in solidarity with Britain, who blame Russia for the poisoning. The Kremlin has denied Russian involvement.
“Against the backdrop of these events, it’s difficult to discuss the possibility of holding a summit,” Mr Ushakov said, according to Russian news agencies.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that a White House meeting had been discussed, saying in a statement: “As the President himself confirmed on March 20, hours after his last call with President Putin, the two had discussed a bilateral meeting in the ‘not-too-distant future’ at a number of potential venues, including the White House.”
Mr Trump expelled dozens of diplomats and closed the Russian consulate in Seattle, Washington last Monday, in his strongest retaliatory measure against the country since taking office. It was the biggest ever US expulsion of alleged intelligence officials in one go, and included 48 diplomats attached to the diplomatic mission in Washington and New York, and a further 12 from the Russian mission to the United Nations.
Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov called the expulsions “unfortunate,” but said the two countries were “destined to become friends again,” in a video address last week.
Mr Ushakov, the policy aide, echoed this sentiment on Monday, saying he hoped the US had stopped taking action against Russia so that “serious and constructive dialogue” could start.
Mr Trump said last week that he hoped to meet with Mr Putin in the “not too distant future,” to discuss topics such as the global arms race, and situation in North Korea, and Syria.
Mr Trump’s relationship with Russia is under intense scrutiny in the US, where both the Justice Department and Congress have launched investigations into possible collusion between the Kremlin and the US president’s campaign.
Mr Trump has repeatedly denied colluding with Russia, calling the investigations into his campaign a “witch hunt”.