President Vladimir Putin thanked Slovenia on Friday for offering to host his first meeting with US President Donald Trump, but added that the prospect hinges on Washington.
The Russian leader hailed Slovenia, where Trump’s wife Melania was born and grew up, as an “excellent” venue for possible talks with Trump.
“It depends not only on us, but we are naturally ready for it,” he said.
Speaking after holding talks at the Kremlin with his Slovenian counterpart Borut Pahor, Putin said Russia welcomes Trump’s statements about his intentions to restore the strained Russia-US ties.
“We always welcomed that and we hope that relations will be restored in full in all areas,” Putin said. “It relates to trade and economic ties, security issues and various regions of the world, which are suffering from numerous conflicts. By pooling our efforts, we naturally would be able to significantly contribute to solving those issues, including the fight against international terrorism.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he’s looking forward to an opportunity to talk to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Germany, where they both will attend a security conference and a meeting of the G-20 foreign ministers next week. Lavrov told NTV television that Putin and Trump agreed about the need to meet soon during their phone call on Jan. 28 and told diplomats to negotiate the time and venue.
In recent years, Russia-US relations have plunged to post-Cold war lows over the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and the allegations of Russia hacking of the Democrats in the US presidential election.
In 2001, Slovenia hosted Putin’s first meeting with former US President George W. Bush that led to a short-lived thaw in relations between Moscow and Washington. A similarly short warm spell early during Barack Obama’s presidency gave way to new tensions.
As part of Obama’s early effort to “reset” ties with Moscow, the two nations in 2010 signed a pivotal arms control pact that set new lower caps on the number of warheads each country can deploy.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the prospects of extending the New START Treaty that is set to expire in 2021 will “depend on the position of our American partners” and require negotiations.
He wouldn’t say whether the Kremlin favors extending the pact that limited Russian and US nuclear arsenals to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads each.
Speaking in a conference call with reporters, Peskov pointed to a “certain break in dialogue on strategic security issues” during the Obama administration, and said Moscow and Washington now need “an update of information and positions.”
Peskov on Friday denied a report by the Washington Post claiming that Michael Flynn, the retired general who is now Trump’s national security adviser, had discussed a possible review of anti-Russian sanctions with the Russian ambassador to Washington in December. Peskov said Ambassador Sergei Kislyak did talk to Flynn, but the rest of the report was wrong.
While suggesting possible cooperation with Moscow to fight the Islamic State group in Syria, as a candidate Trump was critical of the New START and talked about a need to strengthen US nuclear arsenals.
In December, Trump declared on Twitter that the US should “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability” until the rest of the world “comes to its senses” regarding nuclear weapons.
Putin also has said strengthening Russia’s nuclear capabilities should be among the nation’s priorities.
The platform of Trump’s Republican Party had promised to “abandon arms control treaties that benefit our adversaries without improving our national security” and called for the development of “a multi-layered missile defense system.”
Kislyak told Russian media in Washington that he sees little chance for a compromise on missile defense, as Moscow believes the US wants to develop the shield against Russia despite assurances that it’s directed against other threats.
“I don’t exclude that at a certain stage we may have a mutual interest to talk about those issues, but as of now I’m not seeing any basis for reaching agreement,” he said, according to the Interfax news agency.
He voiced hope, however, that joint efforts to fight the IS could help break the ice in Russia-US ties. “If we have serious cooperation, it could help to start rebuilding trust,” Kislyak said in televised remarks.
Lavrov said Friday that Putin and Trump had a “good, detailed talk” about nuclear non-proliferation, including issues related to Iran and North Korea during their phone call.