US says Russia’s return to fold ‘inevitable’ as summit looms
WASHINGTON (AP) — As the U.S. and Russia finalize plans for a summit, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that President Donald Trump views Moscow’s return to the international fold as inevitable and that “trade-offs” could allow it to rejoin the Group of Seven club of industrialized democracies without giving Crimea back to Ukraine.
Pompeo’s comments to the Senate Appropriations Committee came as Trump’s national security adviser met in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin to prepare for a summit between the two leaders next month in Europe. Trump told reporters at the White House he’ll probably meet with Putin during a July trip to Europe. He mentioned Helsinki, Finland, and Vienna, Austria, as possible venues, adding that he would be receiving an update from his adviser, John Bolton.
The venue and date for the Trump-Putin summit were to be formally announced Thursday by both sides, Bolton said earlier in Moscow.
“I’ve said it from day one, getting along with Russia and with China and with everybody is a very good thing,” Trump said. “It’s good for the world, it’s good for us, it’s good for everybody.” He said they would discuss Syria, Ukraine and “many other subjects.”
In his remarks, Pompeo said he could imagine a series of “trade-offs” with Russia to allow its return to the G-7. He would not elaborate but stressed that the U.S. position remains that Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, a move that led to its suspension from the G-7.
“The president deeply believes that having Russia be part of these important geo-strategic conversations is inevitable,” Pompeo told the committee in response to questions about Trump’s comments that Russia should be included in G-7 discussions. “There is a long history of that.”
Pompeo added that current relations with Russia are about as bad as they have been in his lifetime and repeated assertions that the Trump administration has been tougher on Russia than many previous ones. That said, he added that Trump is convinced improving those ties is necessary.
“The president is looking forward to an opportunity to find those handful of places where we can have productive conversations that lead to improvements for each of our two countries,” he said. “Our eyes are wide open that that field space is pretty small, they don’t share our values in the same way that European countries do. But the president is hopeful that we can reduce the temperature, reduce the risk for America and find a handful of places where we can perhaps get a good outcome for Ukraine.”
After meeting with Putin and other Russian officials, Bolton said the planned summit would be a success in itself regardless of the results.
“I think the fact of the summit itself is a deliverable,” he said. “There are a lot of issues to talk about that have accumulated, and I think this was one of the reasons why President Trump believed so strongly that it was time to have this kind of meeting. And as you can see, President Putin agreed.”
The summit would offer Putin a chance to try to persuade Washington to lift some of the sanctions imposed on Russia over its annexation of Crimea, interference in eastern Ukraine’s separatist fighting and alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Pompeo said the administration continues to support those sanctions.
Putin and Trump had two brief meetings on the sidelines of international summits last year and both men spoke of a mutual desire for a full-fledged one-on-one summit during a March telephone call. But planning for the meeting was delayed amid the investigations into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia.
Trump has consistently called for improving relations with Russia, prompting criticism that he is willing to overlook Russian abuses. However, an array of new Russian sanctions has been imposed during his presidency.
Greeting Bolton in the Kremlin, Putin noted that U.S.-Russian relations are at a low point and offered his opinion that this was mostly a function of American political infighting.
Putin said he hoped Bolton’s visit would be the start of a step up. He added that Russia never wanted a confrontation with the United States and offered to discuss what could be done to “restore full-fledged relations based on equality and mutual respect.”
Bolton replied that he was looking forward to discussing “how to improve Russia-U.S. relations and find areas where we can agree and make progress together.”
Speaking to reporters after the talks, Putin’s foreign policy aide, Yuri Ushakov, said the summit would take place in a location “very convenient for both us and the U.S. side.”
Austria previously offered to host a Trump-Putin summit in Vienna. Some media reports have mentioned Finland’s capital, Helsinki, as a possible venue.
The summit will include one-on-one talks between the presidents along with a broader session and conclude with a joint news conference, Ushakov said. He said Trump and Putin are expected to issue a joint statement.
Wednesday’s discussions touched on the state of U.S.-Russia ties, nuclear arms control, the situation in Syria, the Ukrainian crisis, developments around North Korea and the U.S. exit from the Iranian nuclear deal — topics Ushakov said would shape the summit agenda.
Isachenkov reported from Moscow.