Trump Suggested Putin Visit the White House, Officials Say
MOSCOW — When President Trump called President Vladimir V. Putin last month, he not only ignored advisers’ pleas that he not congratulate the Russian leader on his lopsided election victory but also suggested that Mr. Putin visit the White House.
That was the account of the leaders’ March 20 conversation given on Monday by a Kremlin foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov. He told reporters in Moscow that Mr. Trump had suggested a meeting at the White House, saying, “This is a rather positive idea.”
The White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said Monday that the White House was among “a number of potential venues” discussed during the March 20 phone call. She said the administration had no further comment.
Mr. Trump had told reporters in the Oval Office shortly after his call with the Russian leader that “probably we’ll be seeing President Putin in the not-too-distant future,” but officials said at the time that there were no plans for the two men to meet before November, when they are both expected to attend a Group of 20 gathering in Argentina.
In the two weeks since the call, relations have spiraled downward, with the United States and numerous nations in Europe and elsewhere agreeing to the simultaneous expulsion of scores of Russian diplomats in retaliation for the March 4 nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Salisbury, England.
Mr. Ushakov said that the two countries had not started any preparatory talks for a White House meeting, because of the tailspin in relations. He nonetheless voiced hope that Mr. Trump would not drop the idea. “I hope the Americans won’t abandon their proposal to discuss the possibility of holding the summit,” he said.
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Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dimitri Peskov, however, was quickly quoted as dismissing Mr. Ushakov’s account as incorrect.
Just as Mr. Trump has shown a curious reluctance to criticize Mr. Putin, even when the two countries are ejecting each other’s diplomats, the Kremlin and the Russian news outlets it controls have often avoided criticizing Mr. Trump directly.
Many Russian officials and commentators have embraced the idea that, no matter how much the two countries shout at each other over the former spy’s poisoning, election meddling, Ukraine, Syria and various other points of friction, Mr. Trump wants a rapprochement but is being held back by “Russophobic” forces in Congress and the “Deep State.”
Mr. Trump’s telephone call to Mr. Putin took place six days after Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats over the Salisbury attack. It angered many in Washington, including some of Mr. Trump’s advisers, who wanted the president to address Moscow’s role in the nerve agent assault and to not congratulate the Russian leader for his victory in an election in which his best-known opponent was barred from competing. Mr. Trump followed neither recommendation, nor did he raise the issue of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting.